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 2004 Challenge Series Finals & Car Show Report

 September 4th & 5th Virginia International Raceway


What is probably the largest field ever of 1965 roadster replicas takes to the track @ VIR Labor Day weekend 2004!


The 2004 Factory Five Racing Nationals made its return to the home of the very first FFR Challenge Race:  Virginia International Raceway. Almost exactly four years to the day, the FFR Challenge Series was held Labor Day weekend in conjunction with the FFR Nationals car show and customer event.

The once-a-year event brought together over 100 customers and 27 of the fastest FFR-NASA Challenge series drivers from all four national regions for the two day event that was both car show, customer rally and race finals.


Owner Rick Lacourse and his red 289 powered roadster.  Barry from Whitby judges the 100+ car show field.


The variety of customer cars was amazing, and the quality of the hardware on display was beyond belief.  Special thanks to customer Bob Frederick (FFR3297) for a really comprehensive group of photos of the cars in the car show.  Take the time to download his killer photos of all the show cars as well as the nice movie mpg clips of the racing action on the track.  Bob happened to catch the high speed pass and ensuing crash that happened mid-race and forced last years defending champion Brian Dobyns out of the race!

The racing action was up-close and exciting!  David Lang chases Bob Evans (#55)
The car show included awards for many categories.  The crew from Whitby Motorsports assisted the FFR Owners Group in the judging of the full field of stunningly beautiful cars.  The car show began at 10:00 am and judging ended at 4:00 PM.  The results were as follows…

Left:  “Best in Show” … and a blue car.  Right: The quality of the hardware was unbelievable!


Car Show Awards and Prizes


Best in Show Over-all                                       Best Use of Chrome

Henry Renaud                                                  1st Place           Jimmy Marcus

                                                            2nd Place          David Ward

Best in Show FFR Roadster                             3rd Place           Kevin Moses

            1st Place           Oliver Hemphill

            2nd Place          John Knight                              Most Innovative Design

            3rd Place           Jerry Carleson                          1st Place           Henry Renaud

                                                                                    2nd Place          Oliver Hemphill

            Best in Show FFR Coupe                                 3rd Place           David Ward

            1st Place           Joe Drumheller

            2nd Place          Stewart Sklut                            High Mileage Award

            3rd Place           Mark Mayberry                        1st Place         Dan Garoury 38,738 miles

                                                                                    2nd Place          Rob Walker 36,000 miles

                                                                                    3rd Place           David Ward 33,000 miles

Best Engine                                                     

1st Place           Jay Young                                Best Paint

2nd Place          Henry Renuad                          1st Place           Sonny Young

3rd Place           Tom Miller                               2nd Place          Oliver Hemphill

3rd Place           Bob Jones

            Best Interior/Details

1st Place           Brad Edwards             

            2nd Place          Sonny Young

            3rd Place           Oliver Hemphill


The gang from Whitby did the difficult work of judging the car show.  They brought a 100 point show-car coupe that they did NOT enter into the show for fear that folks would complain.  It was a real winner.


The car show was hotly contested as there were numerous “multiple award” winners.  In what has become an expensive FFR tradition, one customer who had his car present at the show and race was selected in a random drawing to win a free FFR kit of his choice!  The winner was selected to be Rob Twine, whose silver 428 powered FE car was a great entry among many show winners!

The car show wasn’t the only action at the Nationals…


Evans Racing was all business with a fleet of four cars making the trip from the west coast!


The racing action was intense as this year saw a wide variety of talented drivers, from excited and talented amateurs to experienced professionals.  (some text courtesy Dan Elam).

The team from Evans Racing came from the west coast with a fleet of four Challenge cars and notable drivers David Lang and Donnie Edwards heading up their team of talented drivers.  Bob Evans, team owner is one of the series best sponsors and race team owners in the west coast series.  We want to thank Bob for his excellent support and also for many of the high quality photos used in this story.


Series driver David Lang talks shop with Donny Edwards and crew.  Edwards  leads in practice.

Marcus Motorsports also fielded a team of four challenge cars.  The east coast based team Marcus motorsports is headed by team owner and driver Steve Marcus, whose team included some very talented and recognized names.  Steve was the very first Challenge car customer, having taken delivery of the first challenge car kit back in the spring of 2001.  Driving for Marcus Motorsports was Brian Cunningham (Danville, KY), who has competed successfully in Grand-Am/World Challenge racing, was the fastest on the track during qualifying.  Brian is also the grandson of the legendary Briggs Cunningham.  Also driving for Marcus motorsports was Grand-Am driver Spencer Pumpelly (Lime Rock, CT), and Hugh Plumb (Richmond, VA).  The three Marcus team drivers qualified in the front of the pack with some of the fastest lap times.  Hugh Plumb was driving a Panoz-built FFR Challenge car that suffered cooling problems all weekend long and failed to complete the Sunday finals.
Bob Lawson gets the “feel” of east coast racing (grass not dirt on the shoulder..)

The addition of pro drivers made for great racing as last year’s 2003 Nationals defending champion Brian Dobbyns (Manassas Park, VA) and 2003 Nationals second place winner Spencer Sharp (Phoenix, AZ) were forced to drive hard to stay up front.  2003 returning drivers included a good field of seasoned racers and amateurs alike who kept the top ten drivers within only three seconds on the 3.27 mile VIR roadcourse.  .

Brian Cates (Cates Engineering) (Broad Run, VA) tore off a 2:12 was driving out of his mind fast, check out the cockpit video from Cates as he battles with Cunningham during lap 2 of the race finals.  Many folks have wondered if the spec cars are fast enough with “only 225 hp”.  Watch Cates at speed and you’ll be BLOWN away with the speed and handling of these latest generation FFR Challenge cars!

Victor Seabor (Raleigh, NC) and Robert Mau (Montpelier, VA) rounded out the locals who ran incredibly fast all weekend.  The west coast contingent included crowd favorites like the Lawson brothers (Sunnyvale and Santa Cruz, CA) and Mike Easton (Freemont, CA).  The regular crowd of spec racers, led by defending Nationals champion Bryan Dobyns, showed that they were ready to fight.  The title race would prove to be a hard fought race. 

The Friday practice featured Grand-Am/World Challenge drivers Brian Cunningham and Spencer Pumpelly running less than a second ahead of Dobyns by lap times.  More interesting however was that a total of nine drivers would end up running faster laps than the track record set by Dobyns the previous May. 

Saturday morning qualifying saw Robert Mau breaking into the top five and Marcus Motorsports third driver, Hugh Plumb, who also races Grand Am and ALMS go fast.


One big factor was obviously track familiarity as last years 2nd and 3rd place drivers Spencer Sharp and Gary Cheney were stuck further down the pack.  Spencer’s lap times plummeted when he swapped motors between races, bringing his lap times down to the 2:12’s!  Cheney never found his rhythm and ended in the bottom third of the pack.

A Saturday exhibition race for the crowd was run with an inverted field. The expected chaos showed Donny Edwards (Napa, CA) taking the early lead before being replaced by Dan Elam (Richmond, VA). When Elam mistakenly put the car into first gear it resulted in contact with Edwards which allowed Brian Cates to slip into the lead.  Brian Cunningham worked his way from 23rd position to first in the short seven lap race to claim the win in the fun and mayhem filled exhibition race. 

With the fun and games out of the way, the attention turned to Sunday. A short practice session left racers with some last minute testing and final tuning. Outside pole-sitter Cunningham jumped the start and the starter waiver off the start. It was a decision that would have later implications.

The second time the field came around it wasn’t bunched up properly and the starter again waived off the field. The third time proved the charm as the 20 car field roared to life and down the front straight towards VIR’s first right hand turn one. 

Pumpelly, Cunningham, Dobyns, Cates, and Mau opened a small gap after three turns while Plumb and Elam fought at the lead of the next group with drivers with Midwestern regional champion John McIver (Detroit, MI), Factory Five engineer, Dave Riha (Wareham, MA), Victor Seaber (Raleigh, NC), David Lang (Napa, CA), Bob Lawson (Santa Cruz, CA), and Spencer Sharp.

The four Evans Racing cars staged for qualifying laps.  Right: 2003 Champion Dobyns and his crew of one racing effort.

After the first lap Dobyns had moved into second place and was chasing Pumpelly while Mau lead Cunningham and Cates. The next few laps resulted in some passes, a Dobyns spin, and Plumb’s car retired due to overheating. Robert Mau made a spectacular, gasp-inspiring save from 140MPH when he and Cunningham had contact that spun Mau sideways before he collected it and kept charging down the track. At the halfway point of the race it was all east coasters as Pumpelly maintained the lead, Cunningham in second, followed by Cates, Mau, and Elam.

As the pack came down VIR’s “rollercoaster” and into “hogpen” the race changed. Elam and Riha ended up in contact with Elam spinning in front of a hard charging Dobyns and then into a nose-to-nose collision with Sharp who had driven the Levy Racing car extremely well and into contention for what might have been a Top 5 finish.

Victor Seaber, who had his car damaged at Sears Point two years earlier en route to setting the track record, managed to get through the carnage unscathed and continue racing. When the checkered flag fell the finish order was Pumpelly 1st, Cunningham 2nd, Cates 3rd, Mau 4th, and Seaber crossing the line in fifth.  Spencer Pumpelly, who normally drives Porsches in the Grand-Am Rolex Series, performed flawlessly to win the Factory Five National Race Title, coming home 12.753sec ahead of Brian Cunningham, the grandson of the late Briggs Cunningham who raced at VIR in the 1950s and 60s.

Unfortunately, Cunningham was disqualified for being five pounds underweight, handing the runner-up position to Brian Cates of Broad Run, VA. Robert Mau of Montpelier, VA, recovered from a big spin early in the race to come back and claim the third position.


In a real testament to the improvements made to the Factory Five Challenge cars and the caliber of the drivers in the series, the slowest cars in the field would have challenged for podium finishes in the very first spec race four years earlier!  It was also a great indication of how much the series has grown since the early days and just how thoroughly competitive the field was for the Nationals weekend.

A lot of speculation had been focused on whether competitors were cheating with engine combinations and the post-race inspection was particularly important since it would either confirm the rumors or put them to rest. A very thorough inspection showed that none of the cars had illegal engine configurations, but Cunningham’s car was found to be a mere 3 lbs under the weight limit. The car was disqualified and someone later calculated that each waived-off start resulted in the cars burning about 3.5 lbs of fuel for each lap. The jump start that Cunningham had made ended up costing him a podium finish! 

It was obvious to everyone that the cars were evenly matched and while the pro drivers undeniably raised the performance bar of the racing, the series regulars proved that they could compete with anyone in what was arguably the best racing the series has seen yet.


Left: East Coast show winner Rick Lacourse drove straight from NH to get to the show on time.  Right: The Challenge car field was bigger and better than ever!


At noon on Saturday all the show cars left the field and took to the track for what would prove to be the fastest “parade” laps ever conducted.  NASA director Chris Cobetto lead the group of 89 cars around the 3.27 mile roadcourse.  The pace was pedestrian at the start but as more and more cars filled the track and began to get separated from the pack the cars began to, in some cases, drive ahem.. a bit too fast.  FFR President Dave Smith commented that with 89 cars on the track it was curious that the average speed was also about 89 mph!  But seriously, the parade laps were a hoot and ended safely, with everyone getting a great close-up look at the path that the Challenge cars would soon be following for the race finals and title.

Ordinarily NASA events require a “donation” from drivers (usually $5-$10) that goes to the track charity.  Since FFR customers had to pay a gate fee at the entrance to the track, Factory Five Racing decided to cover the parade laps donation and presented the track officials with $1,000 to the charity “Victory Junction Gang” which is Kyle Pettys charity that benefits sick children.  Check out the press release on 

The Roush Coupe sets out to pace parade laps.  Right: Mike Easton gives a friend a few thrills in the parade laps.
Saturday ended with a cookout and awards presentation.  One great moment during the awards presentation was particularly sweet.  FFR customer Henry Renaud was awarded “Best in Show”.  While receiving his award, the FFR President asked everyone to recognize Henry for his service to our country during combat in Afghanistan and Iraq!  The crowd came to their feet and everyone made Henry feel their deep thanks for his work. 

The 2004 Factory Five Nationals are a memory (a great one!).  The event was a huge success and we’re in the process of trying to set a date and track location for next year.  The staff at VIR was BLOWN away with the FFR customers and asked to be kept in mind for next year’s event.  Thanks to everyone for a great and successful Nationals… We’ll see you in 2005 or sooner!


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