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Delta Region, SCCA - Cajun Challenge 2004
By: Patty Poupart

Question: “How do you get thunder in Belle Chasse, LA on an otherwise clear and sunny day?” 
Answer: “Invite a bunch of prepared Corvettes and a prepared Camaro to an autocross.”

    This was one of many corny statements that drivers, crew and volunteers were forced to listen to while I took over the announcing duties at the Cajun Challenge, a two-day event held at Belle Chasse Naval Air Station on
September 24-25, 2004.   This Grand Finale event, the last to be held in 2004 at the NAS, was also a charity event to raise funds to be donated to the Navy Marine Corps Relief Fund. The fun actually started on Friday night, September 24th, with a registration and hospitality party held at Performance Specialists International (“PSI”) on the west bank in Harvey.  PSI is the automotive shop owned by fellow racers and event co-chairmen, Allen Murrell and Hassan Malik.  Other event sponsors included Big John Combel of Combels Customs Collision Center; Jerry Burkart of LA Independent Insurance; and Terry Friedman of Horizon Realty, Inc.  The course maps were sponsored by Gregory Lion of Lion Grafix.  Mike Poupart of Bowtie Automotive, Inc. was a trophy sponsor.

    The smell of smoke filled the air on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons after the racing was finished.  Luckily, it was only the bar-b-que pit.  I heard that on Sunday Benson Young was turbo-charging the coals to get them hot by using a lawn blower.  The event co-chairs threw a cook-out style party with free drinks, hamburgers & hot dogs (dressed any way you wanted ‘em) to everyone who stayed around.  That seemed like a good time to draw door prizes each day and we had some great stuff donated by Pep Boys Automotive Supercenters, located at 6638 Veterans Blvd. in Metairie, LA.  We divided up the prizes into two groups and each day I pulled the winners from the names of the daily entrants and volunteers that were placed in a helmet (so appropriate).  If you participated in the event on both days, you got double the chances to win.  The only rule was that “you must be present to win.”

    The course was pretty much the same on both days with only minor changes on Sunday.  The start was a right turn after the launch (nationals-style) into a left sweeping arc across the runway to a set of pivot cones.  Once you made the left-hand 180 pivot, you nailed the gas in the short straight through a sweeping right turn onto the main runway into a 4-cone slalom followed by a coned box which you entered straight and exited to the left.  Next you accelerated through four sets of “lane changes” to a narrow bottleneck through which you exited to another 180 pivot but this time to the right.  Then you nailed it again to go back through the bottleneck and make your way back down the runway through a series of interesting slalom set ups before you stomped it through the finish lights with a quick shut down as you idled through a cone-lined lane back into the grid area.  In my opinion, the course “favored” the smaller cars that could run almost flat to the floor and make the pivots with little effort.  The “average” time was approximately 50 seconds for most drivers.  Then there are those drivers who are much better than average.

    There were 29 drivers in 17 classes on Saturday who enjoyed the luxury of getting 6 timed competition runs.  On Sunday there were 48 drivers in 18 classes with 4 timed runs each in regular competition. Saturday’s competition was considered one event with no trophies.  Sunday’s event was a separate points event with trophies presented at the end of the day.  If you entered and participated on both days, you qualified for a special trophy for the Cajun Challenge.  The results that are posted on Delta's website from this event will speak for themselves.  You’ll be able to see for yourself who competed against whom in which class, who was fastest in their class, and who topped out on the pax.  What you won’t see there is the battle that went on between the fastest drivers and who qualified to go on to the King of the Hill competition held each day. 

    On Saturday, when Ken Orgeron made his 1st run in his Honda S2000 in B-Stock, he ran only .039 seconds faster than Chip MacLaughlin, who was co-driving a 2004 VW R32 in STX on street tires.  That was the closest anyone came to Orgeron as he got faster and faster with each run he made.  His 5th run was his fastest at a 46.587 giving him FTD for the day’s event.  But now it was time to look for the qualifying competitors for the King of the Hill competition.  We would be bringing the 5 fastest drivers back to the grid for a 1 run shootout.  The competition times would be put aside and each driver would get only one chance to let it all hang out to see who was King of the Hill. 

    Orgeron was automatically in the 1st spot with his FTD time.  MacLaughlin’s fastest time for the day was a 48.121 which put him in the 2nd spot.  In the 3rd spot was Mike Wells, driving the only American car in the lineup, a Ford Mustang Cobra.  Wells’ best time was a 48.432, which was not bad for an ESP car.  Hassan Malik, co-driving a Mazda RX8 in BS, slid into the 4th spot with a time of 48.723 which he pulled out on his last competition run.  A surprise qualifier in the 5th spot was Mike Gaudet with a 49.025 driving a VW GTi 337 in GS.  As an alternate, Paul Storey, with the next fastest time of 49.263 driving a CS Miata, was put on standby in case one of the top 5 competitors would not be able to compete for the King of the Hill.

    To build up the excitement, the slowest of the 5 drivers would go first and the reverse order continued until the pressure was on the guy who had the fastest competition time.  First up was Gaudet who ran a clean but slower time of 49.867.  Not to worry, anything could happen.  Malik picked up a cone on his run and still managed a time of 49.790(1) which was .077 faster than Gaudet.  Wells ran clean with a 48.146 and was the only driver that actually went faster than his fastest competition time.  With a lead of 1.644 seconds, Wells watched as MacLaughlin ran a slower raw time and picked up a cone.  With a 50.309(1), MacLaughlin went to the bottom spot.  Everyone watched anxiously as Orgeron moved to the start line.  With the RPMs revved up, he launched the S2000 and drove through the course with one cone called in against him.  Tension grew as he approached the finish lights.  The numbers came up on the timer of a 45.763, but with a cone.  The final time was a 47.763(1) and was still .383 seconds faster than Wells.  Orgeron was King of the Hill!

    The prepared Corvettes showed up on Sunday to support the event which spiced up the rivalry between the American-made cars and the imports.  There were 5 prepared Corvette drivers (including yours truly) between 3 cars and it wasn’t long before the import drivers and Corvette drivers were talking smack.  Remarks like, “It smells like fiberglass burning out there” from Ken Orgeron to Mike Poupart’s “I think the rice is sticking to the pot” were flung back and forth all day.  Poupart, co-driving with Johnny Walter in the #98 Liberto Cleaners BP Corvette, put down a 47.314 followed by a 45.557 for FTD in the 1st heat.  Walter was only .027 behind his co-driver with a 45.584.  Remember, the course was altered only slightly from Saturday when Orgeron’s FTD was a 46.587 which would be too slow today. 

    The 2nd heat drivers were up and the gauntlet had been thrown down.  On his first run, Orgeron ripped a raw time of 45.313, but caught 2 cones adding a 4 second penalty, followed by a clean 2nd run of 45.540, taking FTD from Poupart by .017 seconds!  Chip MacLaughlin pulled out a 46.327 for his first run which would end up being his best for the day.  Time for the 3rd heat and the Corvettes were back in grid.  Poupart ran a 45.6 on his 3rd run leaving Orgeron feeling confident, but that wouldn’t last long.  Poupart came back on his 4th run and threw down a 44.666 to take back FTD, an improvement of .874 over Orgeron’s best run.  Walter was the only driver for the rest of the day that got close to that with a 45.276. 

    And so the stage was set for the second King of the Hill competition.  Mike Poupart in a BP Corvette would be in the top spot since he had FTD.  The rest of the line-up would include Johnny Walter with the next fastest time of 45.276 co-driving the same BP Corvette with Poupart.  The 3rd spot would go to Ken Orgeron in the BS Honda S2000 with a time of 45.540 followed by John Centanni in the 4th spot in his AP Corvette whose fastest time was a 45.930.  In the 5th spot would be Chip MacLaughlin in the borrowed VW R32 he was running in STX whose fastest time was 46.327. The alternate was Eric Johanson who drove a Mustang Cobra in SM with a fastest time of 47.204. Since Poupart and Walter were co-driving the same car, Poupart volunteered to run 1st to allow the car time to breathe before Walter would make his challenge for King of the Hill.  Poupart ran a 45.203 and no one was able to best him.  MacLaughlin’s time was a 54.023(2) followed by Centanni’s clean 45.855.  Orgeron ran a 49.836(2) and Walter finished with a 46.184.  The prepared Corvettes finished 1-2-3 with the imports picking up the cones.  Like Orgeron the day before, Poupart ended up walking away with 1st place in class, FTD for the event, and King of the Hill.

      On a personal level, I had not autocrossed in about 2 years, but racing again proved 2 things.  1) You don't really forget how to autocross.  The lessons you learned stay the same, the skills you once perfected just aren't as fine tuned as they used to be.  2) Mike needs to finish MY race car - SOON!!!!

    I can honestly say that I had a lot of fun announcing this event over the two days it ran and thank everyone for being so kind with your compliments.  It’s very natural for me to run my mouth about racing and it took a lot less effort than it did to write this article!  I’d also like to thank Travis Lehman who got volunteered by me to take some event photos throughout the day on Sunday. Hopefully he will share them with us and we’ll see them up on Delta’s web page.  On behalf of the event co-chairs, thanks go out to all the participants, volunteers and sponsors whose collective efforts helped make the event as successful as it was.  Hopefully, we’ll all meet again at Zephyr Stadium during the winter months!

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