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Nov 5, 2013

Team Johnny Killmore Wins SRA-West Formula Sidecar Championship At Las Vegas Classic Course

2013 SRA-West Formula Sidecar Champions Team Johnny Killmore, Driver John Wood (left) and Passenger Giorgina Gottlieb (right). Photo courtesy of SRA-West.
Series: SRA-West Formula Sidecar Series
Venue: Las Vegas Motor Speedway Classic Course
Date: November 2-3

Las Vegas, Nevada: The culmination of the SRA-West Formula Sidecar Series could not have packed more drama as it swept into Las Vegas Motor Speedway with host club WERA. The double-header event began with series points leaders Team Johnny Killmore (John Wood/Giorgina Gottlieb) running into extreme handling problems in morning practice. A violent headshake that could only be described as "death wobble" appeared as they tried to brake for certain corners. The condition was so violent it could clearly be seen from the pit wall. Driver John Wood explained, "We have been chasing this headshake all season and finally got our geometry correct, but the front wheel was warped. I got the wheel replaced but this new unit is a half-inch narrower and a bit heavier than the old one. I have no idea why it made the problem so bad, but we'll dial it out.â"

Truth be told, the points-leaders would only reduce the problem as the weekend progressed, with further problems mounting as things progressed. However unfortunate this was for Team Johnny Killmore, it was a huge boon to fans as Saturday's eight lap sprit would be among the most memorable in recent series history. From the flag Team Johnny Killmore was in trouble. Although they lead through the tight section early in the first lap, they were instantly under pressure from team Wood Brothers One (Chris Wood/Aaron McEwen) and Team DJ (Donn Sayre/ John Heenan). Onto the long back straight Wood Brothers rocketed past Team Johnny Killmore with Team DJ in their wake. Bending into high-speed turn six, Team DJ threaded both bikes and went to the extreme outside of the corner, passing for the lead in the loose marbles on the track's edge.

Into the right-hand hairpin of turn seven, Wood Brothers responded by diving to the inside, with Team Johnny Killmore refusing to relent, making it three-wide. Despite near collision, the order across the stripe remained teams DJ, Wood, and Killmore. However, with the handling problems of Team Johnny Killmore still obvious, the new leaders took off while involved in an outright dogfight. Team DJ maintained the lead for the bulk of the race, but remained under constant pressure. It appeared Wood Brothers could close the gap in the many tight left-hand corners, but Team DJ kept the advantage in rights. The two crucial straights on the Classic Course are both preceeded by right-hand turns, and the race played out on this script quite well.

Meanwhile, Team Johnny Killmore was in damage control mode and things did not look good. They came under fire by Wood Brothers Two (Phil Wood/ Gary McEwen) and a pass seemed inevitable. Driver Phil Wood said after the race, "I kept showing the nose in [turns] one and three but the shake [from Team Johnny Killmore] was so awful I thought they'd come off the bike any second." This battle raged until midway when Wood Brothers Two ran into transmission problems and were forced to stop. The battle did not end though, as Team Big Dog Garage (Bernard Juchli/ Kevin Kautsky) began to close the gap on Team Killmore. Just as they moved into striking distance, a sudden slide on lap six caught Big Dog by surprise, pitching Kautsky off the machine in unceremonious fashion. Injuries seemed minor though, as Juchli continued around the track to pick up Kaustsky, allowing them to finish seventh.

Up front though it was all Team DJ and Wood Brothers One. An excellent drive out of the final corner brought Wood/McEwen side by side with Sayre/Heenan, but they came up 0.341 short at the line, giving team DJ their first win in the series. Of the win, driver Donn Sayre said, "I'm still in shock. I knew Chris [Wood] would be there the whole time. He made me work for it." The podium was completed by the struggling Team Johnny Killmore, who finished 22.1 seconds behind the winners.

The championship was now certainly shaken up. With one race remaining, if Wood Brothers One could pull off the win it would force Team Johnny Killmore to finish fourth or better to take the title. If Wood Brothers One finished second, all Team Killmore would have to do is finish. Based on Saturday's race it looked unlikely that Killmore could hold off the two teams that pressured them, as they only fell out of contention after having problems of their own. Killmore's driver John Wood joked, "The bad luck on our bike is so bad that it sprays back on anyone who gets in our draft!" Truly they were beset by problems, but with eight laps to decide it all, the stage was set for some serious drama.

Morning practice showed an improvement in Killmore's stability problems, but from race start they looked to be in trouble. They got the holeshot from the front row and braked early with a hint of headshake. They were instantly beset upon by a pack of riders. Somehow they fought off early attacks, using their skill on cold tires to hold the lead through the first lap. It was of little use though as Wood Brothers One was all over them and finally found a gap in turn 8. It took Team DJ another half lap to make a pass for second, but they took off with purpose after the leaders and a dogfight began once again.

While Team DJ continued to struggle in left turns-- their chair wheel wagging frustratingly in the air-- they excelled in rights, including the extremely high speed turn six. This made for a stunning race, with Wood Brothers One making easy work of Team DJ in the slower corners, only to be re-passes in the right hand bends. A total of nine lead changes took place between the two, with five of them happening in the last two laps. Team DJ tended to have the lead across the stripe each time though ,as the final corner leading onto the straight is a right-hander. With a huge slide on the back side of the track in the final lap, it appeared that a gap had appeared. However, on the final corner Wood Brothers made a tremendous drive from second place and came along side. At the checkers it was Wood Brothers One by .577 seconds over Team DJ.

The battle for third place was also of concern to series fans. It seemed Team Johnny Killmore might be in luck, as Team Wood Brothers Two had not been able to correct their transmission problems and did not start. This left Big Dog Garage as the only threat. Even if they managed to wrestle the spot away from Team Killmore, the series leaders would finish fourth and tie for the championship, wining on basis of having the most wins. However, no one had counted on the rookie team of Hank Nelson and Laura Saggers. In their first race together they had managed to find a lot of speed, working up from the back into fourth position. They slowly were gaining on Team Killmore. A little at a time, they were nose to tail by lap five.

Before they could make a move, Nelson/Saggers machine dropped a cylinder from their wild Arctic Cat, 800cc two-stroke powered machine. The snowmobile engine had just come off of extensive dyno time and showed a lot of speed, but the stuttering engine caused Nelson/Saggers to retire. This left Big Dog Garage as the only threat to the championship. In the last three laps this looked possible. Team Johnny Killmore was short-shifting down the front straight and they began to fall into the clutches of Big Dog. However, at the stripe, a 4.4 second gap remained against the two, giving the series title to Team Johnny Killmore's Wood/Gottlieb, their first championship.

Wood Brothers One was also on a high from their first race win in the series. Driver Chris Wood said, "Because of [Team Johny Killmore's] mechanical problems I knew we had to get in front of him quick and get a gap on Donn [Sayre, Team DJ]. It worked, but they came up quick just the same. On Saturday we ran out of brakes on the last lap trying to trail brake and pass on the entries. Today we used a wider line and tried to pass on the exits, which really helped. They were really fast through [turn] six but I could close on the left before the final turn. I just went deep onto the brakes and slid past to get [the win] by less than a second."

So the season concluded with not one but two teams earning their first win in the series, and Team Johnny Killmore just holding the championship by two points. Of their weekend's troubles, driver John Wood said, "What a mess! We finally got the bike under control [at the] last round but we had a bent front wheel. I don't know what was different with the new wheel, but the bike shook it's head all weekend. To top it off, in [Sunday's] race the engine gave us trouble. I'm pretty sure it was a bad ground or something, but the engine refused to take throttle. I was waiting for an asteroid to hit us...that was the only way it could have gone worse." Of the team's first championship he added, "Yeah it's great things worked out. With [William and Eric] Becker not making most of the season it seemed like we could pull off the championship, but I couldn't believe how close things were. It was kind of cool though, with two teams getting their first win and us getting the championship. I want to dedicate the title to my good friend Jason Bartell, who recently lost his battle with cancer. He reminded me that you can keep smiling through adversity, which was something we needed this weekend!" Second place driver and passenger points went to Wood Brothers One's Chris Wood and Aaron McEwen. Third was a split with Team DJ's Donn Sayre taking the driver spot and Big Dog Garage's Kevin Kautsky taking third overall passenger.

And with that the 2013 SRA-West Formula Sidecar Series championship concludes. For full results and standings go to www.sra-west.us. The championship is expected to be much more intense next year. With Team DJ getting used to their 2002 Becker/Suzuki outfit, their speed will only increase. A look back shows both Wood Brothers One and Team DJ's best times were less than a second off of Team Johnny Killmore's lap times from last year, indicating a field that is slowly drawing in on the new champions. The SRA-West would like to thank the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association (AHRMA), the Chuckwalla Valley Motorcycle Association (CVMA), and the West-East Racing Association (WERA) for their continued support of the sidecar racing discipline. Special thanks to the Best of the West Championship for including a sidecar class in their series. Thanks are also due to Overstock.com, Lucas Oils, and SF Vodka for their support by way of prizes and promotion.

RESULTS:
Driver/Passenger, Chassis/Engine
Saturday, November 2nd:

1. Donn Sayre/John Heenan, Becker/Suzuki
2. Chris Wood/Aaron McEwen, ART/Suzuki
3. John Wood/Giorgina Gottlieb, Windle/Suzuki
4. Steve Stull/Heidi Neidhoefer, Becker/Suzuki
5. Henry Nelson/Laura Saggers, Baker/Arctic Cat
6. Scott Lane/Elizabeth Herlocker, Becker/Suzuki

Sunday, November 3rd:

1. Chris Wood/Aaron McEwen, ART/Suzuki
2. Donn Sayre/John Heenan, Becker/Suzuki
3. John Wood/Giorgina Gottlieb, Windle/Suzuki
4. Bernard Juchli/Kevin Kautsky, CSR/Honda
5. Steve Stull/Heidi Neidhoefer, Becker/Suzuki
6. Scott Lane/Elizabeth Herlocker, Becker/Suzuki