Race day in late November brought racetime rain and the event wasdelayed until nearly midnight. Organizers were committed to completingthe season on that night. Even though the race finished at 3 a.m., thedrama far outweighed the hour.
Rogers ended up winning the war without winning the battle. Despite aproblem that put him a lap down, Rogers battled back (without the helpof a "Lucky Dog" rule) to get back on the lead lap. As Rogers began tomove to the front, Gordon slowed and pitted. A broken bracket caused thebelts to come off and Gordon spent many laps on pit road. When he didreturn to the track, the engine expired. Rogers needed a top finish totake the title away.
In the late stages, it became apparent Rogers would have enough to winthe title, but the battle for the race capped the season in grandfashion. Veterans Jay Fogleman and Bobby Gill engaged in a full-contactbattle that tested their respective racing abilities with the leadswapping hands no less than six times in the last 10 laps. Fogleman ranout of gas on the last lap, but Gill was prepared for a last turndefense that was never needed. Gill scored his 10th USA InternationalProCup win in 21 races at the track and his 39th series victory, bothrecords.
On the strength of his fourth place finish, Rogers will carry the mantelof champion for the series, getting the word from series official FritzAugustine during the cooldown laps. It was the culmination of a greatseason.
Rogers (44) leads northern...
Rogers (44) leads northern division competitor Glenn Gault (32).
In the end, Rogers assessed the championship from the point of that lastrace. "It was the most mentally challenging thing," he remembers. "Wehad problems right from the get go with the clutch. I really wasn't surewe had done it until I heard Fritz tell me. Once I heard that, it was arelief. I probably gave one of my worst interviews afterward because ofhow I was feeling."
The day didn't hold much promise. The team had a nearly complete racecar on standby if there were problems, but series rules don't allowteams to make changes once the car is qualified.
"It started when we came in from qualifying. I pushed the clutch to stopand it was very soft. I pumped the pedal and thought maybe it would bealright."
The problem would surface after a pit stop during the race, but itturned out only to heighten the drama. "I knew this championship wasours to win," Rogers adds. "We went out there set to kill. I needed tostay calm. I knew we had good enough stuff to do it."
When it was over, the right front tire was flat. An inspection of theengine found a broken inner valve spring that held up to the end. It wasclearly meant to be.
"I wouldn't trade this," says Rogers, who competed in his first seriesrace on the very day he graduated high school. "This is for everybodywho stood behind me. We've got our chance to sit at the big table."
They deserved it. The youngest champion in the series history gets toclaim the biggest prize of the year and it was a great ride.