by Dent Thorpe
November 16, 1983
Lawrence Completes Undefeated Season With National Title
The 27-year pilot on the Sports Car Club of America circuit came home with the National Championship in F Production to complete an undefeated season.
"It's a race that you run that's over in a hurry," Lawrence said. "I was really fired up and engrossed in the race. It seemed like it was only 10 minutes long instead of about half an hour. You have no time but for 100 percent concentration all the time."
Prior to road Atlanta, the 52-year-old driver won all six events he entered. His successes were at Nelson Ledges in Warren, Ohio (twice), Watkins Glen (twice), and a double weekend race at Pocono International Raceway.
After the preliminary races were completed and Lawrence had qualified for Road Atlanta, he had eight weeks to prepare his Saab Sonnet, owned and sponsored by Motor Sport Service, for the National Championship.
"I probably averaged 70 hours a week for eight weeks," Lawrence pointed out. "I had to rebuild an engine, overhaul two transmissions and have a new one. I had to recheck my spare engine and prepare another spare engine for practice. I also had to have spare parts for everything."
On race week, Lawrence had two days of practice followed by two days of qualifying in which he finished second in both sessions to 1982 champion Bob Criss of Bethel Park, PA. Criss drives an MG.
"I had to have three sets of tires for race day in case of a wet track, dry track, or a downpour with water running on the course," Lawrence said. "It was misty but I ran tires for a dry track because the cars would dry the track."
Criss, the pole-sitter, led almost every lap. Lawrence tried an outside pass on the start and was running nose-to-tail with Criss on the fourth and fifth laps. After 12 laps, the race developed into just a two-car affair, Criss and Lawrence.
On the 13th lap, Lawrence tried an outside pass on corner 11, but failed. He slipped slightly ahead of Criss on the outside of corner 12, but was slightly out of shape and Criss regained the lead. After 14 laps the local driver trailed by four car lengths.
On turn one of the 16th lap, Lawrence tried an inside pass but Criss shut the door. On the 17th lap the cars were side-by-side. On the 18th and final lap, Lawrence passed Criss on the outside of the sixth corner. He held off Criss in the seventh corner and finally won by 50 feet for first-ever national crown.
Contingency money available from suppliers and manufacturers netted Lawrence $1000 from Saab for advertising rights, $500 from Goodyear tires and a jacket, $300 from Valvoline and $185 from VP Racing Fuel.
SCCA racing is considered an amateur event.
The pit crew for Lawrence is made up of his wife, Pat, Doug Sandmeyer and Gerald Vinciguerra of Jamestown, and Russell Rung of Buffalo.
"This was the fourth year in a row I've qualified for Road Atlanta," Lawrence said. "I was fifth in 1980, second in '81, and leading in '82 when struck by another car in a battle for first place that damaged my car and forced me out of the race."
When asked about his plans for 1984, Lawrence answered, "Road Atlanta, an invitational event, requires past champions to finish in three national events to qualify for the next year. I don't have to run in the North East Circuit of the SCCA next year."
Over the past 27 years, Lawrence has run in about 150 national events and has 46 wins to his credit. He recalled, "Prior to 1980, I had a car that was a real challenge. The past four years I've had a car that was both competitive and a challenge."
Lawrence was honored this past weekend in Rochester by the North East Circuit of SCCA, being named "Driver of the Year" and receiving the F Production championship trophy.
"As long as I'm doing a good job on the track, I'll keep on racing," Lawrence said.