The Post-Journal

Lawrence, Oag: Top Drivers In North East

Two drivers from the Jamestown area competed in the Champion Spark Plug Road Racing Classic, where, for the 17th consecutive year, the Sports Car Club of America crowned its National Champion.

To qualify for this event, the pilots have to finish in the first three positions in their district. A fourth person is the alternate and the winner of last year's event is also eligible.

Al Oag, Sinclairville, and Jack Lawrence, Jamestown, were the No. 1 and No. 2 drivers for the North East Division in the F Production Class. Minimum weight for the cars in this classification is 1625 pounds.

The North East Division comprises drivers from New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and all the New England states.

For drivers to qualify for the National Championship, the best six finishes in the North East Division are recorded. Oag had three firsts and three seconds for 49 points, two more than Lawrence had with four firsts and one second-place.

Lawrence is the owner of Motor Sports Service, 1406 East Second Street, and Oag is an employee. This is a mail-order business, selling retail and wholesale Saab products, specializing in on-road exhaust systems and off-road racing equipment. Lawrence also designs and sells racing products in the continental United States and Alaska.

Crew members for the Lawrence-Oag racing team are Rick Couchenour, Mark Lorraine, Robert Knobloch and Tim Dean.

This past summer the Lawrence-Oag duo had a terrific streak going from June to September, winning seven events in a row. Jack was the winner at Pocono, PA and Watkins Glen, NY in June and Lime Rock, CT the first week in July before Al won at Nelson Ledges, OH in the middle of July. Jack won again the first week of August at Watkins Glen and Al finished out the regular season with first-places at Summit Point, WV and Lime Rock.

The Lawrence-Oag team missed the first two races of the season at Summit Pint and Bryan, CT and the final one at Bridgehampton, Long Island.

Besides running regularly in the North East Division, the drivers are eligible to pick up points in two events from any of the seven districts in the U.S. Lawrence-Oag usually run the extra events in the Central Division in Ohio.

The SCCA has 22 classes and in the F Production class, the group the Lawrence-Oag team competes in, there are four groups: sedan, showroom stock, formula and production.

Lawrence and Oag were the only pilots in the October 25th, 26-car race, driving Saab Sonnets. Other entries were MG Midget, Hanna 1500 Midget, Triumph Spitfire, Volvo F1800, Turner Roadster, Fiat X1/9, Fiat Spyder and Alfa Romero.

The events are usually 50-mile sprints, a minimum of 30 minutes long. The tracks vary in length from 1� up to 3� miles in length with 12 or 13 corners. Events at Watkins Glen are 15 laps while those at Lime Rock are 30. Straightaway speeds range up to 135 miles per hour while the corners vary from 50 to 100 mph depending on difficulty. Some tracks have severe elevation changes with uphill and downhill turns. No public roads are used.

This year was the first experience for the Lawrence-Oag team at the Road Atlanta race. Lawrence finished fifth despite having carburetor problems while Oag went out early with mechanical failure.

Lawrence has been in the SCCA racing business for a number of years. He started in 1957, took a couple of seasons off and returned in 1960.

Oag is in his third season of competition. He went to driving school in 1973. First he received his novice license, then his regional license and finally his national license. Drivers have to pass a physical exam every year. The minimum driving age is 18.

"This type of racing is supposedly non-contact. We race in rain and sleet but miss the snow due to the season ending in October," Lawrence noted. "Before every race the car is fully inspected. The same goes for the clothes the driver is wearing, right down to the undergarments."

When asked about the cost of the cars, Lawrence remarked, "To build a racing car the caliber of ours would cost between $25-$30,000. The two Saab Sonnets have 1700cc V4 Ford engines with front wheel drive."

What was the toughest race of the season? Lawrence answered, "Pocono, the first race of the season. The ones you work the hardest for are the ones you finish second."

"Atlanta was a hairy experience. It was cold weather and my tires weren't working. This year was my first experience at Atlanta. It's a very difficult course to learn."

"I had one serious incident this year. At Lime Rock I severely damaged one corner, but was able to repair the car overnight was able to run the next day."

"Sports Car Club of America racing is very expensive. This is an amateur sport," Lawrence noted in closing.

Jack and Pat Cooper Lawrence reside on Buffalo Street Extension with their pet German shepherd "Stuka." Al Oag is single and resides on the family dairy farm in Towerville.

These two drivers have given Western New York a good name with their SCCA accomplishments and are looking forward to another successful season come April 1981.

The additional financial assistance of the community is critical to the success of the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame.
We gratefully acknowledge these individuals and organizations for their generous support.