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Endurance pays dividends for Crystal River graduate

By GREG AUMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 20, 2001


SEBRING -- Just after midnight, Terry Borcheller's cell phone rang.

"Wish you were here," Borcheller said to a friend and fellow driver, and you'd have thought it would be the other way around, considering the friend was calling from vacation in Hawaii.

Borcheller was in a different kind of paradise Saturday night. The Crystal River graduate had just finished leading the Saleen/Allen Speedlab racing team to victory in its class at the 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race.

"It hasn't hit me yet," said the 34-year-old driver, who moved from Crystal River to Phoenix in 1990. "What's just now hitting me is that we actually finished the race."

Fewer than than half of the 43 cars that qualified were running when 12 hours passed, but the Saleen entry was one of them. Driving for a new manufacturer making its Sebring debut, Borcheller and two other drivers held their own against more established teams. Saleen's victory, in a class that included two Chevrolet Corvettes and a pair of Dodge Vipers, was immediately touted as a David-and-Goliath upset.

Tiny Saleen, an Irvine, Calif., company that has produced just 8,000 specialty cars since its inception in 1984, had gone up against mighty General Motors, which sold nearly 6-million cars in North America last year. Not surprisingly, Saleen's corporate slogan is "Power in the hands of a few."

"From a car standpoint, it's unbelievable," said Borcheller, who turned in the car's fastest lap at an average speed of 110.07 mph on a 3.7-mile course that includes 17 turns.

The Vipers never were a factor in the race, but the Corvettes, which are factory cars with strong financial backing from the manufacturer, had been consensus favorites to win the GTS class. Cars in the 12-hour race typically rotate three drivers. After Oliver Gavin started, Borcheller took his first shift at 11:32 a.m., just under one hour into the event, with the No. 26 Saleen car clinging to a narrow lead on the Corvettes.

Saleen led when Borcheller was replaced by Franz Konrad, but at 12:43 p.m., the car had to pit to repair damaged rear body work, and the No. 4 Corvette took the lead. The No. 3 Corvette fell out of the running two hours later, when it needed a prolonged pit stop to change the right front brake.

Borcheller took his second stint behind the wheel at 3:04, and he passed the lead Corvette a half-hour later. When Borcheller went to the pits at 4:02 and was replaced again by Konrad, the Corvette regained the lead, but the Saleen returned the favor when the No. 4 changed fuel, tires and driver at 5:17.

The back-and-forth jockeying continued into the early evening, and the Saleen saw its lead trimmed to one minute when it needed its right front brake replaced with about three hours left. With one hour to go, the Saleen's lead was 6.2 seconds -- about three-and-a-half football fields long. The Corvette actually led for about two minutes when the Saleen opted for its final pit stop one lap ahead of the Corvette. When the Corvette went in for its final fueling, the Saleen took the lead for good.

In addition to steady driving, another key for Saleen was the durability of its car. In 12 hours, it spent a total of 24:34 in pit stops, which was 1:47 less than the runner-up No. 4 Corvette. Borcheller said the only trouble he ran into was a tire problem in his final leg that saw his right rear tire go from 30 pounds of pressure to just 12.

"That was the only time the car was hard to drive," he said. "Aside from that, it was great. The car's just a dream to drive."

Two other Saleen drivers had combined to win the GTS class two weeks earlier at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but Saturday's victory easily was the biggest for Saleen/Allen Speedlab, which has comedian Tim Allen as a sponsor. The official name is "RRR" Speedlab, a nod to the grunting noise Allen often made in stand-up routines and on the TV comedy Home Improvement.

For Borcheller, the victory is a big career step. He got his start in racing in go karts in Citrus County, turned pro in 1991 and found success on smaller circuits. He won the driver's championship in Grand American GTO racing last year and has earned wins at Sears Point, Road Atlanta and Las Vegas in the Professional Sports Car Series.

Sebring had given him one of his greatest racing memories four years earlier, when he won a Speedivision Cup race on the same track after being in fourth place entering the first turn of the final lap. The amazing finish came on the 10th anniversary of him becoming a Christian, and he said his victory was "truly a miracle."

Religion has become an increasingly important part of Borcheller's life and his driving. He has worked extensively with Motorsports Ministries and is studying to become an ordained minister. His faith also helped him meet his wife, Tracy, and the two have a 2-year-old daughter, Taylor, and are expecting a second daughter this year.

Next up for Borcheller is another Grand Am race back home in Phoenix, where he also works as a senior driving instructor at the Bob Bondurant School of High-Performance Driving. Saturday's surprising win makes Saleen a more legitimate contender for an even longer endurance race, June's 24 Hours of Le Mans in France, but for now, Borcheller is savoring another memorable run at Sebring International.

"It's such a great track," Borcheller said. "There are certain tracks you seem to like every year. Daytona is one that's not one of those for me, but Road Atlanta is, and Sears Point (in Sonoma, Calif.) has been good to me. Sebring is certainly one of those places."

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