Keeping the Pace

1991 Toyota MR2

When it comes to racing, Jim Blumenfeld has done it all. From autocross to the IMSA Firehawk Series, from rallycross to rally stage captain, Jim has tried pretty much every form of amateur motorsports except for lawn mower racing, and I’m not even sure about that. I’ve known Jim from several of these venues for many years. It was our mutual interest in amateur radio, as demonstrated by the callsigns on our license plates, that really broke the ice and got us talking. At my first Track Night in America event at Thompson Speedway this past May, Jim spotted me and made a point of saying hello. He was driving the pace car for the novice and open pace laps. They had already happened by the time we talked, but he invited me to hop in with him at the next event. True to his word, I found myself riding shotgun in the pace car during the Novice pace laps at the beginning of the June event.

Jim BlumenfeldJim’s pace car of choice is a 1991 Toyota MR2. This SW20 chassis began life as a naturally aspirated model. After getting “tired of being passed by Camrys and minivans,” Jim swapped the stock powerplant for a turbo motor putting down 260hp, double the stock numbers and 60 more than the factory turbo version. This isn’t necessary for the 45mph pace we were keeping, but Jim created an opportunity to demonstrate the power. The minivans have a more difficult time keeping up now. A white and amber light bar, magnetically attached, glowed on the roof until the checkered flag waved, at which point Jim set it to flashing mode. The only obvious interior modification is the 2-meter band amateur radio installed in the dashboard as though it belonged there. This is useful for general chit-chat as well as rally logistics. The SCCA uses their own handheld radios for track communications, which Jim monitored and participated in deftly throughout our slow ride.

Pace car at NHMSBecoming a pace car driver isn’t that difficult. In the SCCA, a competition license is required. At local SCCA races, drivers used to take turns sitting out a race and driving the pace car instead. Jim was getting out of racing, and volunteered to drive the pace car himself so that no one would have to miss a race. He and his MR2 have been a fixture at New England Region SCCA races ever since.

After the open pace lap session, there was no more need for a pace car. Jim removed the light bar from the MR2’s roof  and joined me on track for the final Advanced group session. The Run/Work option gives SCCA members the chance to get on the track for one 20 minute session in exchange for $35 and working the rest of the event. It’s a great way to get an up close look at the action and try your hand at it yourself for less than an autocross. Or, in Jim’s case, it’s a great way to make sure his turbo still works at speeds quite a bit higher than pace laps.