The Super Touring® Under (STU) race at the 60th running of the SCCA® National Championship Runoffs® at VIRginia International Raceway, taking place Oct. 1, 2023, as part of day three of Hagerty Race Days, was astoundingly different from a year ago.
In 2022, the STU race took place in the remnants of Hurricane Ian, and a race stoppage brought that battle to an early conclusion. This year, the race went the distance caution free, and Chip Herr – who came up one spot short in his impressive run from the back during 2022’s Runoffs – completed the feat Sunday in his No. 18 Warwick Autopark/Carbotech/Hoosier Audi A4 to earn his first SCCA National Championship title.
At the race’s start, all eyes were on Johan Schwartz, who earned the Tire Rack Pole in the No. 4 VanSteenburg Performance Porsche 944, setting a time three quarters of a second faster than second-place qualifier and past pro driver Herr in second. Schwartz’s time was also more than a second faster than Joe Moser’s, who won the Super Touring Lite National Championship race earlier in the weekend, and 2.3sec quicker than Mark Miller in fourth.
At the green, it was Schwartz in the lead with Herr and Moser embroiled in the top-spot battle. Herr’s fight seemingly came to an end in Turn 3, though, as he slid wide and stopped after making contact with the tire barrier.
Schwartz led the 14-car field, trailed by Moser and Liller – but Liller stretched his legs on the front straight, knocking Moser back to third. Liller then passed Schwartz for the lead into lap four. Moser then sent Schwartz back another spot when he sliced under in Left Hook.
Darin Treakle was holding tight in fourth, with just enough speed to keep the leaders in sight and to pressure Schwartz for a step on the podium.
Liller pulled a gap on Moser, but by lap eight, Moser was back on his bumper, pushing hard through Oak Tree – the duo nearly six seconds ahead of Schwartz and Treakle. A lap later, Moser saw an opening as Liller slid wide in Oak Tree, giving Moser the run down the Madison Avenue backstretch. Soon thereafter, Treakle forced the issue with Schwartz, passing into Turn 1 to occupy the third position.
Two laps later, it was Moser’s turn to bobble in Oak Tree, handing the lead back to Liller.
Sneaking through the field during all of this was Herr, passing Schwartz on lap 11 through Left Hook and setting his sights on Treakle.
“I went out on [Hoosier] R7s today,” Herr said. “I figured the temperatures are a little hotter and I was hoping everyone else had gone out on [Hoosier A7s] and I’d have the better car – and I threw it off myself because it wasn’t ready. I had nothing to lose, so I just figured I’d put my head down … it had a little bit of tire rub, [so] send it.”
On the penultimate lap, Moser made contact with Liller’s No. 19 AngrySheepMtrSprt/Hoosier/Carbotech Dodge Neon SRT-4, spinning both at the Oak Tree turn. Moser recovered fast, but not fast enough, as Herr – now ahead of Treakle – landed the pass for the lead on Moser into Turn 1 on the final lap.
As Herr pulled a gap through the Snake section on the last lap, Treakle made contact with Moser, spinning both himself and Moser into the grass – Moser rejoined, but now Liller was in second, Moser third, and Herr was up front, cruising to his first Runoffs gold medal.
But the last lap’s wild ride wasn’t over, as Moser pulled into the pits early, handing third to Jose Osiris Pena and his No. 199 Toyota GT86.
“This is amazing! Blessed is the only word I can come up with – blessed,” Pena said after scoring his second Runoffs podium of the weekend (his first coming on Saturday with a third-place finish in STL). “In the first lap, I lost the ABS on the car, so I didn’t have the correct braking on the car. Every time that I braked, the car did whatever it wants – it brakes back, then forward. So I kept it up, and my guy on the radio said to keep the pace and you’re going to be seventh or sixth. I kept it up and then he told me on the last lap, ‘Come on, come on, pick up the pace, they’re fighting each other up front.’ I continued the same pace, and here I am.”
Understandably disappointed, Liller was still happy with his second-place finish.
“The car felt great – it was actually a lot of fun right up until the end,” Miller said. “I made a mistake at one point [and] Moser got around me, and we were battling the rest of the way until the incident. The car’s fast in a straight line. It’s a Dodge Neon, so it doesn’t really handle that well, so I’m doing everything I can.”
Standing on the top step of the podium with a wide grin and ready to spray Mazza Sparkling Wine, was Herr. “I kind of skipped the [Runoffs] and went to pro [racing] for 20 years,” he explained. “You get married and have kids, and you just can’t stop racing, so this car popped up [for sale] and I’ve always liked it. I jumped on the roof [on pit lane and in victory circle to celebrate] because I did the same at Mid-Ohio when I won my first Touring Car race [in the same car].”
“It’s a fantastic day,” he announced. “I’m just happy to be here. This means a lot. I’ve been with SCCA 26 years, and being a National Champion means a lot to any of us.”
David Fiorelli, who ran from 10th on the grid to fourth, earned the Sunoco Hard Charger Award, with Moser in fifth.
The 60th running of SCCA’s National Championship Runoffs®, the Pinnacle of American Amateur Motorsports, crowns Sports Car Club of America’s Road Racing National Champions this year at VIRginia International Raceway — in Alton, VA — during Hagerty Race Days, Friday, Sept. 29, through Sunday, Oct. 1.
Live, online video coverage of Runoffs races, presented by Mazda, is available throughout the three days of competition at SCCA.com/live, and at SCCA’s official YouTube and Facebook social media channels. Live timing and scoring for each race is also available at SCCA.com.
Below are official results for Sunday's Super Touring Under race at the 2023 SCCA National Championship Runoffs, with finish position, starting position in parentheses, driver, hometown, car, and laps completed.
1, (2), Chip Herr, Lititz, PA, Audi A4, 15.
2, (4), Mark Liller, Bowie, MD, Dodge Neon SRT-4, 15.
3, (6), Jose Osiris Pena, Miami, FL, Toyota GT86, 15.
4, (10), David Fiorelli, Coppell, TX, Ford Mustang, 15.
5, (5), Darin Treakle, Marshall, VA, BMW 325, 14.
6, (11), James Slechta, Moab, UT, Nissan 300ZX, 14.
7, (3), Joe Moser, Dallas, TX, Honda CRX Si, 14.
8, (14), Michal Kuna, Wells, ME, BMW M3, 14.
9, (12), Michael Reece, Brooklyn, NY, Honda S2000, 14.
10, (13), Whitfield Gregg, Bellevue, WA, Mazda Miata, 14.
11, (7), Anthony Geraci, Glen Head, NY, Lotus Exige, 12.
12, (1), Johan Schwartz, Huntersville, NC, Porsche 944, 10.
DNF, (8), Jorge Nazario, San Juan, PR, Mazda MX-5, 4.
DNF, (9), John Schmitt, Sunbury, OH, Honda Accord, 1.
Length of Race: 49.05 miles
Overall Time of Race: 31.10.521 (avg. 94.402mph)
Margin of Victory: 37.250 seconds
Fastest Race Lap: #19 Mark Liller, 2:02.302 (96.254 mph)
Lap Leaders: #4 laps 1-2; #19 laps 3-8, 10-13; #36 laps 9, 14; #18 lap 15
Sunoco Hard Charger: #190 David Fiorelli
Photo caption: While this was Chip Herr’s first Runoffs gold medal, it was his third time standing on the Runoffs podium.
Photo by: Jay Bonvouloir