Amy Ruman, in the No. 23 McNichols Company Chevrolet Corvette, captured her fifth TA class victory of the year with a win in the Ryan Companies Independence Day Classic at Brainerd International Raceway Sunday, overcoming class traffic and a strong challenge from Cliff Ebben during the final length of the race. Ruman started the day in second position behind polesitter Doug Peterson, in the No. 87 3Dimensional.com Chevrolet Corvette, but took the lead on only the fifth lap of the race and never looked back.
“This McNichols 23 car has just been awesome all year long,” said Ruman. “I just waited patiently and set Doug up for that pass, and we made it stick. I thought Cliff had something for us at the end, but I just tried to focus and stay out front, and to God be the glory on this one, because they threw everything at us; it was hot, it was dirty, it was grimy, it was slick, and it was just a long race— but luckily we prevailed.”
The Independence Day Classic was the featured event during BIR’s 29th Annual PleasureLand RV Show & Go, an action-packed weekend that included Muscle Car Series drag racing and National Auto Sport Association road racing, as well as a classic car show, fireworks, live music and more.
While Ruman seemed uncatchable in TA, the second half of the race featured a major league battle between the top three TA2 drivers, one of which was Duluth’s Tommy Archer, a track favorite. He was locked into a slug fest with Gar Robinson and Dillon Machavern, who passed Robinson and Archer during the 37th lap and held them off for the win. The Classic was a 40-lap, 100-mile race, with 39 cars on the track.
The win dramatically increased Ruman’s points lead as she exits Round 6 of the 2015 Trans Am Championship with 193 points, opening up a 37 point lead over runner-up Paul Fix, whose day was ended prematurely resulting in a 10th place finish.
“We were hoping to come into this weekend and try and gain as many points as we could and thankfully that happened for us,” said Ruman. “Unfortunately for Paul things didn’t turn out well, but we’ll take the points. We really want to win this championship; there are six races to go yet and it’s a long season. We’re not going to take anything for granted, and we’ll take that momentum into our hometrack at Mid-Ohio next round.”
Ruman was followed across the finish line by Cliff Ebben, in the No. 36 Stumpf Ford/McMahon Group Ford Mustang, whose second place finish marked his third podium of the year. Peterson, the two-time defending TA Champion, managed to recover from contact with a lapped car to secure third place on the podium, bolstering his own points total to 144—strong enough for third in the Championship race.
David Pintaric, in the No. 59 Kryderacing Chevrolet Corvette, finished fourth in the TA class, his best finish of the year, while Kerry Hitt, in the No. 19 Advanced Composite Products, Inc., Chevrolet Corvette rounded out the top five.
Machavern, driver of the No. 24 UniFirst/PPG Ford Mustang, had his hands full with Robinson, in the No. 74 74 Ranch Resort Chevrolet Camaro, and Archer, in the No. 54 c3controls Chevrolet Camaro— surging into first place when both Robinson and Archer were blocked by lapped traffic. Machavern managed to fend off the charges of Robinson and Archer for the final three laps of the race and came home with his first TA2 victory, this time over the 20-car TA2 field.
“We’ve worked really hard to get here,” said Machavern. “Finally we get the win! We’ve been working all season— every race we’re getting better. We’re improving, and we’re learning more about the car and this platform. I just want to thank the Heritage Motorsports Group for giving me a great car. It was a hard battle out there, and I was just lucky to come out on top.”
Machavern has been competitive all season as he continues his rookie year in Trans Am; and while the victory marks his fourth podium appearance on the year, the competition certainly has not made it easy on him.
“I have to say I think the competition in TA2 is some of the best out there,” said Machavern. “I raced in the Continental Tire Series last year, and the competition has nothing on this—it’s been incredibly challenging getting to this top step. These cars are a blast to drive, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere other than TA2 right now.”
Machavern also reaped the points benefits of his win, propelling him to second in the TA2 Championship race with a total of 139 and moving him within 20 points of current Championship points leader Cameron Lawrence, driver of the No. 1 MOPAR Dodge Challenger, and into the lead of the Rookie of the Year standings.
Robinson finished third, increasing his own points total to 133, now tied with Adam Andretti for third position in the Championship chase. Archer, who began the race on pole and spent much off it battling back and forth with Robinson, and secured a second place finish in his return to the driver’s seat after overcoming a battle with prostate cancer.
Lawrence would finish fourth while Tony Ave, in the No. 70 Lamers Motor Racing Ford Mustang, finished fifth—both drivers effectively had a hard cap set on their finishes halfway through the race, as they were misfortunate enough to be on the wrong side of Ruman when the full course yellow came out on lap 18, splitting the TA2 field in half.
In TA3, Cindi Lux, in the No. 45 Lux Performance Dodge Viper, and Jason Fichter, in the No. 79 Turn 7 Motor Sports Chevrolet Camaro, both captured their first Trans Am victories in the International Group and American Muscle Group, respectively.
For Lux the race marked a flag to flag victory as she battled both teammate Steve Stremier, driver of the No. 42 Lux Performance Dodge Viper, and the slippery Brainerd surface in pursuit of her first Trans Am finish and victory.
“BIR absolutely lived up to its reputation as a survivor’s course,” said Lux. “It’s a race, but it’s also a war. It’s not about the war between us; it’s the war with the course and the clock. That’s the cool thing about the race; there’s so much to manage. We carry the most weight in the class, so we really have to focus on not over-driving the car. The guys set up the cars so that it’s easy for anyone to drive them; I’m just the lucky gal who gets behind the wheel. I’ve got a lot to learn from the Series, this being my first finish.”
Streimer would outlast Jerry Greene, driver of the No. 93 Temp Air Porsche 996 GT3, for second place, his second podium on the year, while Greene’s third place finish marked his fourth podium finish and moved the veteran up to third in the TA3 International Championship points.
Fichter began the race in third, inheriting the lead from polesitter, teammate, points leader and defending Champion Ernie Francis, Jr., driver of the No. 98 Breathless Performance Chevrolet Camaro, who saw his race hampered by a power failure halfway through the race and fending off eventual second place finisher Todd Napieralski, in the No. 39 Tremec/SKF/Backstreet Chevrolet Camaro, for the second half of the race. The win marked Fichter’s second podium and victory in the American Muscle Group.
“The track was pretty messy out there with all those cars,” said Fichter. “I tried to just run a clean race—keep out of it all as best I could. We had a little bit of contact out there, but it wasn’t too bad. Hopefully, we can be up here again. Ernie had some issues out there with overheating—not sure exactly was it was—but he wanted to dedicate this race to his grandmother; so I’m going to go ahead and dedicate this win to all the grandmothers, his included.”
Todd Napieralski would finish second, closing the gap between himself and Francis to only 19 points; while Tim Rubright, in the No. 77 Blue Knob Auto Ford Mustang, took home third—his first ever TA3 podium placement.
In total, 39 cars participated in the race at Brainerd International Raceway as the Trans Am Series made its 28th appearance on the Minnesota-based track.
The race will be broadcast in full on CBS Sports Network on July 25, at 11 a.m.