Ryan Pilla, “the Car Doctor,” won both ends of a national sports car doubleheader at Watkins Glen over the course of a recent weekend, setting the track’s speed record for Mazdas in the process.
“I’ve been racing all summer long, and I’ve always been in the top five,” Pilla said on his return, “though this is my biggest achievement — the Sports Car Club of America’s Mazda series has been contested since 1990, almost 23 years.”
Watkins Glen, he said in answer to a question, was “similar to the old Bridgehampton track, though there’s significant elevation, it being upstate.”
The opener, said Pilla, was “on the long [3.4-mile] track. I had the pole position; there were 60 entries in the field. I went from first to third to fifth and back to second with two minutes left in the 40-minute race. I was able to outbrake the car that was in first going into a high-speed turn at about 135 miles per hour, and was able to take the lead again with two laps remaining and took the checkered flag.”
Pilla and his Car Doctor Motorsports crew, which had built “a brand new” Mazda for the weekend, then went to work preparing the car for the second race the following day over the short (2.451-mile) course. “This track,” said Pilla, “is known as the Nascar track because Nascar runs its sprint series races on it. I qualified second out of 60 and was thus one position shy of the pole.”
“My goal was to be in the top five,” he continued, “but I moved into first place after the third lap and stayed in first place for the entire race.”
“As the front pack reached the 35th minute of the 40-minute race, lap traffic started to play an interesting role. We had to keep our composure vis-a-vis each other while trying to get past the lap traffic at the same time. The top three were all within a car length of each other, with fourth through eighth not far behind. It was anyone’s race. . . . It was a door, nose, to tail photo finish. Coming out of the last turn before the final straightaway, I was able to hold on and cross the finish line a half-car length ahead of the second-place guy, who almost, through drafting, was able to slingshot by me. What a race!”
“The spectators said it was one of the best racing events they’d seen in years. But it wasn’t over for me yet: I had to go to the scales to make sure that my car was legal, which it was. Then I learned from the chief steward that I had turned a new track record. . . . It doesn’t get any better than this.”