Racing was tight at the short oval at Roseburg, Oregon, where the GASS cars were a support
Let's assume you're like Howard Johnston, a successful businessman who always wanted to give racing a try. The idea of belting into a high-performance stock car and driving wheel-to-wheel with other drivers is appealing. But with the demands of business and family, there's no time to build a team, buy a car, haul it to the track, and go through the hassle of registration, tech inspection, and all the problems involved in working with a sanctioning body.
You'd give racing a try, if all you had to do was show up, suit up, buckle up, and fire up.
Johnston found a way to do just that, and probably for a lot less money than you might think.
The Great American Stockcar Series (GASS) is ready to launch its first full season in 2009, with roughly a dozen races on speedways, short tracks, and road courses. Venues will range from high-speed ovals at Iowa and Phoenix to the short ovals such as the Douglas County Fairgrounds in Roseburg, Oregon, and the road course at Reno-Fernley in Nevada.
Chris Evans, the man with the money behind the concept, ran a short season in 2008 to test the waters. And he found the water to be just fine.
Evans owns GASS. He owns the cars, writes the rules, schedules the races, collects the money, and distributes the purse.
"I looked at how NASCAR, IROC, and all the other series work and I picked the best parts of each," he says.
Like NASCAR's France family, Evans is the benevolent dictator of GASS. Like IROC, he owns and prepares the cars and gets them to the track in well-equipped haulers.
Instructors give students a bit of last minute advice before sending them out on their own
The cars are created and readied on what is close to a race car assembly line in a crowded corner of his metal fabrication business in an aging industrial park in Portland, Oregon. While Evans Metal Fabrication employees build everything from circular staircases to precision platforms used in the high tech industry, another group of employees who work for Chris Evans Inc. maintain and repair the race cars.
The race shop is really not much more than a long aisle surrounded by tube frame chassis under construction, and all the parts and pieces needed to get them on the track.
Workspace is at a premium, so the crew uses an overhead electric crane from the metal fab business to lift the cars from the shop floor onto the suspension platform, then over to the scales.
Evans augments the race program with driving schools and corporate days at a host of different tracks.
During an early summer corporate day, a dozen cars were lined up in the hot pits at Portland International Raceway, their V-8 engines snarling as the right feet of nervous drivers twitched in anticipation.
One-by-one, each driver was checked by a crewmember. Belts. Helmet. Mirrors. Attitude. Then each one was sent off for a high speed run around the almost 2-mile course.
Most of the drivers feathered the throttle as they approached the corners. For a few, the heavy racing clutch and the whine of a racing transmission were a bit intimidating.
"I'm not sure that for a couple of them, this may be the first time they've been in a car without an automatic transmission," says Kevin Culver with a grin. "But they all catch on."
Culver is a former NASCAR Winston West driver and local track hero at the now defunct Portland Speedway. He was at PIR this day to work with students in the driving school program.
"I'll admit that the first time I got into the car during a ride-along I was convinced I was in over my head," says Johnston, who is a successful 54-year-old businessman. "I thought there was no way I could do this. I wanted to, but figured I was out of my league.