Road Racing’s Best Kept Secret: Sports 2000
In this Tales from the Tower, legendary track announcer Greg Rickes brings us back to the prime of Sports 2000, detailing the history and star-studded entries of the racing class. This piece originally appeared in The Daily Rev, Lime Rock Park’s official spectator event publication.
There’s a lot to like about these hidden gems.
Sports-racers have been popular on the other side of the Atlantic since the early 60s, typified by the Lotus 23. In the late 60s into the early 70s this style of car was a dual-purpose racer aimed at “privateer” enthusiasts, eligible for both the European endurance classics like the 24 Hours of LeMans as well as a separate European 2 liter sports car championship. In the US these cars had a smaller, but equally dedicated, following. The costs and complexity of maintaining these cars with their high-output, high-maintenance, powerplants was however a major factor in their limited following and inevitable thinning of the ranks.
(David Stamman Archives/Texas Spokes Sports Car Club photo)
In the mid 1970s British promoter John Webb was looking to expand the scope of national racing in England. Drawing on prior success with Formula Ford and then Formula Ford 2000 he came up with the idea of using a stock-specification Ford 2000cc powerplant (best known as the “Pinto”, from Ford’s subcompact) in the 2 liter sports car chassis. Well-known chassis builders like Lola, March, Crossle’ and Tiga quickly jumped in.
(Greg Rickes photo)
The cars have a strong visual appeal, purposeful and flowing, untainted by distracting tacked-on aerodynamic bits.. Their growing popularity saw the Sports 2000 class recognized for Sports Car Club of America National Championship status in 1980.
(Steve Johnson Arhcives)
Thought the Midwest was the hotbed for sports racers of all sorts, S2000 developed its own following at Lime Rock Park. The enigmatic Steve Johnson tweaked his sinister black Lola-based SR71 into a front-runner in National-level competition. After two decades of frustration he’d clinch an SCCA Run-Offs title in 2003. Now another 20 years later he’s back with the same car for Historics 41.
There was star-power in S2000 too. Ohio’s John Fergus was the Grand-Master, with seven National titles. Others who passed through the ranks included almost- Indy-500 winner Scott Goodyear, racer-turned-TV-broadcaster Calvin Fish, and Lime Rock Drivers Club director Simon Kirkby
(Jerry Winker photo)
Kikby’s first race after coming to the United States from England (where he raced against a rising talent named Ayrton Senna da Silva) was in the futuristic looking Shrike. Doesn’t it remind you of something right out of “Star Wars”?
For several decades the North Atlantic Road Racing Championship produced some of the most competitive racing of the era, and made multiple stops at Lime Rock Park. 1990 was a benchmark, when a pair of teen-agers, Mike Borkowski and Chris Simmons, went head to head on a repeated basis. They were backed up by stalwarts like Joby Graham, Dave Belden, Joe Marcinski, Jeff McCusker, Brian and Simon Green, Brett Roubinek, Trish Pellegrino (Blethen) and many other dedicated weekend warriors. Chris Simmons went on to win SCCA National Champion in 1991, and both he and Borkowski advanced toward the upper levels of American motorsports. More recently Chris Simmons and his brother Jeff have both had prominent engineering roles in Indycar racing.
(Randy McKee photo)
The popularity of Sports 2000 wasn’t limited to just the cognoscenti. When the late Walter Payton,star running back for the NFL Chicago Bears (and a Skip Barber Racing School graduate) , shifted his focus to sports cars he chose Sports 2000. Payton raced at Lime Rock in 1990.
(Mark Windecker photo)
Until you’ve been within arms-length of an NFL Hall of Famer you really don’t have an appreciation for the physique of an elite athlete. Payton was shaped like an inverted triangle, broad shoulders tapering to a muscular midsection. Seeing him fill the cockpit of his S2000 you had the impression they put him in the seat and then built the car around him.
Randy McKee photo
Another personality who felt the allure of the Sports 2000 car was Rock N Roll Hall of Famer John Oates (of the Hall & Oates duo, and another SBRS graduate ).
(John Oates Archives/Jerry Winker Photo)
When not out touring in the early 1980s Oates was often be found behind the wheel of the Essex Racing Tiga SC81 at tracks like LRP and Bridgehampton. He recalls those days vividly “I really enjoyed my 2 seasons in the SCCA Pro S2000 series. The cars were fast, fun and the competition was fierce. I had done one season in Formula Ford but didn’t like the open wheel classes so when S2 came along I was excited to be part of it. Mike Gue and Essex racing did a great job for me and I enjoyed the camaraderie among the drivers.”
(John Oates photo)
Decades later Sports 2000 had not lost its allure for Oates “A few years ago I bought another SC 84 that I had raced against and enjoyed some track days in it. Kevin Jeanette from Gunnar Racing restored it and created a unique Rock and Roll livery. We put it up for auction at Amelia Island in 2020 and my wife and I donated the proceeds of the sale to Spina Bifida Jacksonville”.
(Jessica Johnk photo)
By the second decade of our 21st century the lustre had worn off a range of SCCA categories, including Sports 2000. The final champion was crowned in 2013, and it seemed as if these cars might fade into obscurity.
As they disappeared from one racing scene their inherent appeal and quality however gave them a new life in another realm.
For Historics 41 more than 20 cars will take to the track here at LRP, the largest field since the Sisapa Pro Series of 1989 & 90. So what’s the appeal that has rejuvenated Sports 2000?
Rob Dusek, who comes from a racing family (his father, who will be racing with him this weekend, also owns a Can-Am Ferrari, which for many years was towed on an open trailer behind the family station wagon) takes up this narrative:
“As the design evolved with improved aerodynamics and suspension it splintered the class, and older cars got parked. Eventually there were more cars sitting in garages than on the track. These are quality cars and too much fun to sit idle.
We came up with three sub-categories. Historic is for the original cars from the ‘70s, the Lola T490, Crossle’, Tiga. Vintage covers the ‘80s, the Swift, Shrike, 590 series Lolas. S2 brings in designs of the 90s and 2000s , the second gen Swift, last of the Lolas, Carbir, Shannon. That makes a place for everyone.
Don’t underestimate the performance. The Pinto engine may have “only” 150 horsepower, but the cars are light and nimble at just over 1300 pounds. We’ll get up to 130 (mph), and lap times will be in the low to mid 50 second range. Sports 2000 will be among the fastest cars on the track this weekend.
There’s also a great family atmosphere. Besides me and my Dad there will two each for the Thompsons and Kanes, and three cars for the Payne family. It’s teamwork that helps both in the garage and at the track.
The Sports 2000 is as much car as most hobbyists can handle, in both cost and capability. A well-driven car will always rise to the top”
We’re honored to have Sports 2000 as part of Historics 41. It’s a secret that’s meant to be shared.