June Sprints®, “It’s not just another race”

“It’s not just another race” this is quite a claim, but true, with the history to back it up. The Chicago Region SCCA, June Sprints® is the longest consecutively run SCCA National Road Race. Contested every year since 1956 on the 4.048 miles, 14 turn Road America race circuit. The first running of the June Sprints was part of the SCCA National Sports Car Championship, a series that determined the SCCA Champions prior to the now-familiar Runoffs. The 1956 Championship Series consisted of races at Walterboro, Pebble Beach, Cumberland, Eagle Mountain, Road America, Beverly, Seafair, Thompson, Watkins Glen, and Palm Springs. Road America and Watkins Glen are the only circuits still in existence today. 

The fact that the race circuit at Road America has remained unchanged since the beginning just adds to the distinctiveness of the event. Many notable drivers have competed in the June Sprints over the years. Carroll Shelby, John Fitch, Carl Haas, Roger Penske, Birdie Martin, Jim Jeffords, Augie Pabst, Briggs Cunningham, Bobby Rahal, Paul Newman, and Walter Payton, they all have a place in June Sprints history. Shelby won the first June Sprints driving a Ferrari 121 LM to victory. In the early days it was not un-common to see the most current and competitive cars available entered in the Sprints. In 1957 a long nose 3.8 liter D-Jaguar entered by Briggs Cunningham won the feature race. At the 1960 June Sprints a heated battle between Augie Pabst and Dick Thompson lasted the entire race. In the end Pabst in his Meister Brauser Scarab took the win besting Thompson driving the Bill Mitchell entered Sting Ray racer. In 1977 spectators witnessed one of the fastest cars ever to enter the June Sprints when a Porsche 917-10 CanAm car competed for the coveted June Sprints Flag. Jerry Hansen was a perennial favorite at the Sprints often entering multiple races. In 1983 Jerry won three out of four races entered with an A-Sports Racing Lola, a Showroom Stock GT, and in Formula Atlantic.

Now today, the June Sprints still has notable drivers and entries, some competitors still compete in multiple classes and drivers from 27 different classifications leave with a coveted June Sprints trophy and checkered flag. To give you an idea of the level of preparation, competitiveness, and performance seen at this year’s running of the 64th Chicago Region SCCA June Sprints on Sunday June 16th here are some qualifying times for pole positions. In race group 5 in the Formula Atlantic group Hans Peter set the fastest time of the day at; 2:03.515, followed by Jason Miller in race group P1 with a time of 2:03.674. Clearly two of the fastest race groups of the weekend in purpose built race cars. Then came Tony Ave with a GT1 Corvette, taking the pole position for race group 4 with a time of 2:05.624, and during the race turned a lap time of 2:05.479.   To say Tony was doing well was an understatement, he was just flying. To help you put all of these time into perspective the weekend after this year’s Sprints the IndyCar race was run at Road America on June 23rd. Colton Herta captured the pole position with a qualifying time of 1:42.9920. Tony Ave’s qualifying time was just 0:23 seconds behind Herta’s and Peter and Miller were closer, and this is amateur club racing. It’s not just another race!!!     

The June Sprints trophies have become a standard which are presented to all competitors finishing in a trophy position. Renowned racing artist and past Chicago Region member Jim Swintal has been providing original artwork for years which is engraved in hardwood trophy plaques. In the last two years and continuing in our near future Jim will be providing new artwork. The same artwork is also printed on the trophies for the Saturday SCCA Majors races. 

Beginning in 2017 the Chicago Region observed its seventieth anniversary and with that the Region began its “Seven Decades of Motorsports” celebration. As part of this celebration Jim Swintal has been commissioned to create special original artwork which is printed on tee-shirts that are presented to all drivers and volunteer staff. With three designs already presented and four more in the series to go, these shirts have already become collectables for many. As the shirts are handed out at the Sprints people ask which one this is, how many more will there be, along with personal comments praising the artwork to “I was there”. Jim Swintal himself has also entered in the conversation about the shirts. One recipient of a shirt this year stated, “I saw Jim at another race earlier this season and he (Jim) told me wait until you see this year’s shirt, you’re going to like it”. The artwork on the three shirts already given out represent historical events and locations. The first shirt featured Denny Hulme taking the checkered flag in front of the beloved Pagoda at the 1968 CamAm race. The second year showed the battle between Augie Pabst and Dick Thompson as they pass under the Bill Mitchell Bridge in the 1960 June Sprints. The 2019 shirt was a Jim Swintal favorite depicting Phil Hill in a Jaguar leading Fred Wacker in his Eight Ball Allard in the 1952 race at the corner of Lake and Rhine in downtown Elkhart Lake. “It’s not just another race”     Beginning this year the Chicago Region welcomed all returning 2018 June Sprints winners, GT1 -Cliff Ebben, FC – Brian Tomasi, HP – Mark Brakke, AS – Andy McDermid, FE – Scott Rettich, GT2 – Johathan Start, FF – Tim Kauz, F5 – Aaron Ellis, SM – Jim Drago, FP – Eric Prill, B-Spec – Kent Carter, T3 – James Berlin, EP – Jon Brakke, P1 – Jason Miller, STL – Danny Steyn, SRF – Bobby Sak, FA – Hans Peter, and FV – Andrew Whitson with an eight foot high feather flag designed by Past Chicago Region “RE” and former June Sprints competitor Jim Marinangel proclaiming their Sprints win. These flags were on display in the competitors paddock space for all race fans to see. All twenty-seven of the 2019 June Sprints winners are eligible to receive a feather flag to proudly display in the paddock area if they enter the 2020 June Sprints. Of these twenty-seven, nine of them will be repeat winners taking home their second flag. “It’s not just another race” 

Beginning this year the Chicago Region wanted to recognize members that exemplify good sportsmanship, and a willingness to help and support others at the June Sprints. The Region’s Board of Directors and the Competition Committee were pleased to present Bonnie Gladish (volunteer) and Denny Lamers (driver) the 2019 “Spirit of the Sprints Award”.           Another award that is deeply entrenched in June Sprints history with its beginnings dating back to 2001 is the Chicago Region’s “Triple Crown® Award”. To qualify and win the Triple Crown® a driver must have a season of winning performance that includes winning the June Sprints, at Road America followed by competing   in his or her home division and winning that class championship, then win the SCCA National Championship Runoffs®. This award has been presented 54 times since 2001 to 44 different drivers. The 2018 winner of the Chicago Region’s Triple Crown Award is STL driver Danny Steyn. There are currently twenty-seven drivers on the path to the 2019 Triple Crown.   Who will return to the 2020 June Sprints with the 2019 Triple Crown award to their credit? 

No race weekend would be complete without a party and the June Sprints is no exception. After the checkered flag drops at the end of the day on Friday and Saturday the evening parties and dinners begin. The Friday night party is usually pizza and beer (wine, soda, and water also). Saturday’s party has giveaways for our volunteers and dinner is a buffet style sit down white table cover event. This year the dinner was a huge success with everyone enjoying BBQ Ribs, beans, and potato salad. After dinner the June Sprints Grand Marshal will speak to the crowd and share some stories and some laughs. This year’s Grand Marshal was Greg Creamer, and he was right at home here at Road America, having come from the F&C ranks. Like everyone else here at the track, he was catching up with old friends, sharing stories and joining in on good laughs and great times. 
“It’s not just another race” the June Sprints has been and still is the event of the year. An opportunity for old and new friends alike to gather, enjoy the competition on the track, the sights, sounds, and smells of racing. Over the years, famous drivers, notorious race cars, and dear friends have gathered here at Road America, to celebrate the Chicago Region SCCA June Sprints®, “It’s not just another race”.