Rob Huffmaster has a bit of experience with the SCCA National Championship Runoffs. But the car he drove to the 2013 Super Touring Lite National Championship has more titles than he does.
Huffmaster drove the Mazda RX-8 to the 2007 Touring 3 National Championship victory when the Runoffs was held at Heartland Park Topeka. His father, Ray, raced the same car to the – unofficial – STL title in 2012 (it was a supplemental class that year). Ray had intended to drive the car in STL again in 2013 and Rob was expecting to drive an RX-7 in the same category, but circumstances intervened.
“It was quite a week of ups and downs,” he explains. “Starting off the week I didn’t think I would be driving the RX-8. I was planning on driving the Mazda RX-7 in STL and my dad was going to run the RX-8 again. I was also going to help my dad run another car in STU. Some misfortune hit my dad in the STU car [it was crashed heavily] and he wanted to sit out the rest of the week. We realized the RX-7 wasn’t as fast as the RX-8 and the rest is history – everything worked out from there.”
Fortunately for Huffmaster, it wasn’t completely unfamiliar. Although he had driven the car at the Runoffs prior, that was in a different configuration – a racecar with a full interior and fewer go-fast goodies. A test in the middle of the season acquainted him with the car in STL form; but his first time around Road America with it was in qualifying – which resulted in the pole position. Front-row start secured, it was time to think about the race.
“The first thing I thought about after qualifying was the start of the race. Road America has a super-long front straightaway. My dad raced [STL Miata driver] Jim Drago last year, and was underpowered in comparison. The RX-8 was better in handling and braking, but on the straightaway Drago was passing him. The first thing that hit my mind, was, ‘Oh boy…I hope I can get to Turn 1 in the lead.’ So I put a lot of emphasis on mentally preparing for that. I basically did everything I could to get as good a start as I could to the point that if they were going to wave it off, I was OK because at least I was going for it,” Huffmaster recounts.
“The start ended up working out pretty good. I got on the gas pretty darn quick and the green flag came out, which is nice. Drago helped me out and pushed me up the front stretch and also pushed me from Turn 3 to Turn 5. I know for sure if he didn’t do that, I might have been in third or fourth place going into Turn 5 on lap 1. That was everything in the race, because after that I was able to open up a little bit of a gap.” Drago ended up third in his Miata.
When the Super Touring category took off a couple of years ago and Ray Huffmaster decided he wanted to race in the class, the RX-8 underwent a transformation from Touring 3 – a category for essential stock production cars – to the new specifications. That meant removing the interior, modifying the suspension and putting smaller brakes on the car. Yes, smaller. A rule change meant the stock brakes were too big by a few millimeters, so the Huffmasters worked with StopTech to come up with a system that worked. Rob says the rule change almost stopped them from racing in the class, but he’s glad that they continued.
The father-son racing partnership began when Ray turned 40 and Rob’s mother bought him a Derek Daly Racing School for his birthday. When Ray found out the Waterford Hills race circuit was only five minutes from his house, the hook was set. As for Rob, “I started out at an eighth-of-a-mile clay oval karting track. I did that until I turned 15, then got my waiver from Waterford to race. From there it’s been a father-and-son deal. For a while, it was he got a new car and I’d race the old one. After a while, he started letting me drive the new cars,” Rob says.
The Huffmasters aren’t sure what they’re going to do in 2014. While they’d love to race at the Runoffs at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, it’s a long way from their Michigan homes. For sure they know they’ll be doing some ChumpCar racing, a lighthearted series for $500 racecars, with some old RX-7s. As for the RX-8, time will tell if it has another championship in it yet.