Novato Advance, August 21, 1996 - A-7


Novatan races through peaks and valleys in new GTA class


by JOHN JACKSON
Advance Editor

Two races into the next step in his career, Novato race car driver Todd Schneider has already reached the emotional equivalent of Death Valley and Mt. Shasta, if not yet Mt. Everest.

Still to come is the ultimate peak of victory in the new GTA American Class, but Schneider reached a high success plateau when he finished eighth at Sears Point in his first race in the class.

But before he could even get on the track, he had to endure the distress of virtually destroying the first engine he ever installed in his Ford Thunderbird.

This is only the second year for the GTA series which features NASCAR-similar stock cars with very specific engine and chassis requirements designed to make competition as equitable as possible.

Schneider, who had driven on the sports car circuit for four years before deciding to step up to the stock cars, bought his Ford Thunderbird chassis in October 1994 and spent a year and a half rounding up sponsors and preparing the car.

Schneider has run two out of four possible series events this year, following the Sears Point success by crashing early on in a race on Ukiah's tight quarter-mile oval.

He calls the Sears Point race, "the most frustrating and most satisfying time I've ever had in racing."

"The three days leading up to the race were unbelievable. We ended up doing five engine switches in those three days and then to finish the race and do so well was incredible."

The problem turned out to be a coupling on the oil pump that eventually led to the destruction of the entire engine. George Bevis of George Bevis Racing at Sears Point spearheaded the almost Herculean effort to rebuild the engine.

The effort paid off and Schneider was able to make his long-anticipated Sears Point debut.

After qualifying 14th out of 18 cars in the race, Schneider pushed his Thunderbird to an eighth-place finish and won the "Hard-Charger Award" for improving the most places. His team was also selected the "Best Appearing" car and crew.

Schneider's success came despite not having a chance to even touch the chassis and suspension set up, since all his crew's time had been devoted to solving his engine problems.

It also came on a weekend when more than 50,000 spectators a day showed up at Sears Point to watch a Winston Cup NASCAR race. "It was an absolute honor to race in the same show with those guys in front of 50,000 people. It was an awesome feeling," Schneider says.

His next time out in Ukiah, Schneider found out there is a whole lot of difference between racing on Sears Point's road course and a tight quarter-mile oval.

It was a lesson learned by many of the GTA drivers. "It got to be a little bit of a derby (as in destruction)," explains Schneider.

The derby caught up with Schneider on the sixth lap when two cars tangled in front of him and one ended up directly in his path. "I just hammered him," the driver says.

His crew ripped off parts of the Thunderbird's front end and Schneider continued on for another two laps before the damage caused the car to heat and he gave up for the night to protect the vehicle.

Schneider will get another chance on the tight oval when the GTA series rftums to Ukiah this Saturday, Aug. 24.

"We'll be ready this time," he says. "We have a whole different set up under the vehicle and we've added a few things. Of course, the car has a new nose and fender. Fortunately, the frame was OK.

Schneider acknowledges it has been a trial to get the funds necessary to put the car on the track, but enough sponsorships have come through to help him complete his first season.

His sponsors include: Moylan's Brewery, Aramark Uniforms, KFTY-TV 50, SpeeDee Oil Change, George Bevis Racing, Terry at the Village Clip Joint, All American Printing and Ech Designs.

Working with Schneider as his crew have been Tim Molonari, Joe Tachis, Greg Tuftken and Brian Scott.

"The crew has just been fantastic," he says. "They have gone above and beyond to keep me on the track."