Rebuild at the Runoffs

Rebuilding a racecar after a massive wreck isn’t a task for the faint of heart, especially in the space of a few days at a racetrack. Derrick Ambrose saved his Runoffs week doing just that.

The Runoffs hadn’t even officially started, and already Derrick Ambrose was facing a racer’s nightmare.

“The first session, the car felt a bit different – we were playing with some tire pressures trying to get the car set up,” Ambrose says of the Monday test day before the SCCA National Championship Runoffs at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in October, where he was racing his B-Spec Mazda2. “In the afternoon, the track got really greasy. I went through [Turn] 6 the first time around, it felt OK, so I tried it faster next time. I went though it flat – it wasn’t OK that time. I went off the track and got far enough out that I hit the rain grate, popped the car up sideways, then swung back across the track and hit the wall after all the tires. Conveniently, there’s a bright red spot there where a Ferrari had wrecked into the wall, so I’m keeping good company.”

It was a big hit, one that could easily end his Runoffs. Back to the pits to tear the car down and assess the damage. Now comes the decision…pack it in, or attempt the rebuild?

“I slept on it, woke up, and said, ‘If parts are available, let’s do this. I went to the phone book, found a body shop that was super, super helpful – Spectrum Auto Collision in Salinas. They said they had a frame machine that was empty. So I dialed up a tow truck, hauled it down there and got some parts on overnight shipping. We only had one little adventure on a part coming from Toronto that didn’t make it – otherwise we would have had the car done a day sooner.

SCCA National Championship Runoffs, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Oct. 7-12, 2014:

“Thursday evening we got the car back, having missed all of qualifying. We slammed the car, got the whole motor together – we actually broke the block [in the crash], cracked it in two different spots – got the car assembled, ready to go, and drove it around the paddock to make sure it was OK,” Ambrose explains.

It was by virtue of Ambrose having a second engine that they were able to make the race – they swapped the cylinder head over while waiting for the car to come back. The only issue they had once they got everything together was a misfire. Fortunately the Mazda Motorsports crew had a diagnostic tool on hand, and Ambrose discovered that a wire had snapped off the crank trigger.


This is what Ambrose’s car looked like two days before the Runoffs race.

Ambrose made the race, started at the back because he had no qualifying time, and moved up four places to finish seventh. It was a good result from a massive effort to overcome an obstacle that would have ended many racers’ event. And it may not have been the right call for everybody, Ambrose warns.

“Sleep on it before you jump into it and start spending money,” he says. “It took a lot to put this back together. The amount of effort – most people don’t have to give to do this. I’m a very focused person, and when we decided to do this, I was going to make it happen. We were going to make it happen no matter what it took. I wasn’t going to let anything stop me from racing.”