Kevin Fandozzi named 41st annual recipient of RRDC Mark Donohue Award
Kevin Fandozzi, of St. Joseph, Mich., was selected as the 41st annual recipient of the prestigious Road Racing Drivers Club Mark Donohue Award for his outstanding Touring 3 class victory at the 2011 SCCA National Championship Runoffs at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., in September. He will be officially presented the award at the 2012 SCCA National Convention on March 1-3, 2012, at the South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa in Las Vegas.
Fandozzi, 41, a mechanical engineer, formerly with General Motors and now running his own company, Insight Driven, won his first SCCA National Championship after four straight appearances at the Runoffs, racing his Insight Driven/Carbotech/Hoosier 2008 Chevy Cobalt SS.
Starting from pole position on dry tires in damp and changing racing conditions, while the majority of his competitors were competing on rain tires, he outlasted them all in the 13-lap event to take the win, despite a last-lap passing attempt by Chris Puskar, of Charlotte, N.C. Fandozzi won by a margin of 1.278 seconds, both impressing and confounding his competitors with his performance in the rain.
"I will be honest," said Fandozzi, who is also, ironically, working technical support for a tire company in a professional series. "I was struggling out there. There's a lot of races that are uncomfortable and obviously we put ourselves in these situations. But it was very uncomfortable out there.
"After a lot of discussion with (RRDC members and fellow racers) John Heinricy and Don Knowles, we decided that running the dry tires was the way to go," added Fandozzi. "Heinricy was on the radio giving me the lap times I needed to run to stay in the lead. Unfortunately, to run those kind of lap times I was very unstable entering the turns and very unstable exiting the turns, sliding and drifting and hoping it was going to stick, going sideways quite a few times. I knew that if I kept doing that I'd be too slow to keep Chris off. In hindsight, if I'd had rain tires it would have eased the burden."
Fandozzi was selected to receive the Mark Donohue Award by the RRDC members attending and/or competing in the SCCA Runoffs, who watched the action in all 25 classes. He was chosen not only because of his outstanding performance in winning his first National Championship in a close race under adverse conditions, but also because of his determination, sportsmanship, competitiveness and humility, the traits which best exemplify the spirit of the multi-talented champion and road-racing legend for whom the award is named.
"Winning my first National Championship is wonderful, of course," he said, "but earning the Mark Donohue Award is beyond that. I don't deserve it. After reading Mark's book ("The Unfair Advantage") when I first got into racing I realized, wow, we shared a lot of similarities. I was from New Jersey, an engineer working through college, racing, and trying to find a way to integrate it into my life.
"I went to Detroit and figured, OK, let me give automotive engineering a try and fell in love with road racing at a little track called Waterford Hills. I met some great people in racing and realized what a special sport it is.
"And, at the end of the day, we always look for those little advantages that Mark Donohue would always try to find. Conceptually, I always thought I was doing it, but when you meet drivers of the highest caliber you realize that these guys are working at a whole different level. It signals to me that I'm doing some of the right things and it really gives me a great motivation to achieve."
Every year, the RRDC Mark Donohue Award trophy is an engraved glass top mounted on a special, racing-experienced wheel, provided through the efforts of an RRDC member. This year's wheel was donated by Chip Ganassi. It was mounted on the Target Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates Lexus Riley that won both the 2007 and 2008 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona races. In 2007 the car was driven by Scott Pruett (RRDC member), Salvador Duran, and Juan Pablo Montoya. In 2008 RRDC members Pruett and Dario Franchitti co-drove to the win with Montoya and Memo Rojas.
RRDC President Bobby Rahal, a Runoffs champion long before he won the Indianapolis 500, emphasized the Mark Donohue Award is "about personal spirit and performance behind the wheel. Those qualities are more important for this award than winning the race. This year Kevin Fandozzi excelled at both.
"Mark Donohue would have been proud to see Kevin win this award," said Rahal. "There are few racing driver/engineers who excel in both disciplines. Mark was definitely unique, and Kevin appears to share those qualities. And to win in the rain on dry tires against a field of drivers on rain tires, demonstrates the kind of focus every racing champion possesses."