Kendall sets record with ninth straight Trans-Am win
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (AP) _ Tom Kendall set a record for perfection with a perfect race, leading every lap of Saturday’s Serengeti Eyewear Trans-Am Classic on the way to his ninth straight victory.
The 30-year-old Kendall, unbeaten in 1997 in the SCCA’s top division, broke the record of eight straight Trans-Am victories set in 1968 by the late Mark Donohue in a Penske Camaro. Donohue won 10 of 13 races on the way to the championship that season.
``What can I say?″ Kendall said. ``It’s staggering. The most wins I had ever had in a season before this year was six. Now we’ve got nine wins in a row. It’s unbelieveable.′
This one was never in doubt with Kendall’s Ford Mustang Cobra starting from the pole and beating Paul Gentilozzi’s Chevrolet Camaro to the finish line by 0.985-seconds _ about eight car-lengths.
``I thought if we could get a long run, like 20 laps, under green, we might have a shot,″ Gentilozzi said. ``Maybe we could have made Tommy hurt his tires. But we never got the chance.″
The 42-lap race on Watkins Glen International’s 2.45-mile, 11-turn road course was interrupted by five full-course caution flags for 19 laps. That made Kendall’s job easy, although Dorsey Schroeder, who was second for much of the race, and Gentilozzi tried to pressure him on the restarts.
Gentilozzi, who passed Schroeder, the defending race winner, for second place on lap 37, tried hard to force Kendall into a mistake on the last restart at the start of the final lap. But Kendall, well on the way to an unprecedented fourth Trans-Am title, turned the fastest lap of the race on the way to the checkered flag, averaging 121.915 mph.
``I had a lot of time to think about it,″ Kendall said. ``I didn’t want it to end under yellow. Thankfully, it didn’t. But all those yellows were really frustrating. It was painful for me and for the fans who were watching it.
``But they did give me time to think about restarts,″ he added. ``They were killing me early on, but I finally got it right.″
The winner averaged just 71.47 mph in the caution-marred event.
Kendall, driving for Jack Roush, who also has a three-car Winston Cup team, has 24 career victories. That’s second only to Donohue’s 29. The victory Saturday gave Mustang its 75th victory and clinched the 1997 Trans-Am Manufacturers’ Championship for Ford.
Donohue had his victory string broken at Watkins Glen in the first Trans-Am race ever held at the track. And Watkins Glen is where Kendall had his legs badly broken in a sports car crash in 1991.
``I’ve been telling people that this track doesn’t owe me anything,″ he said. ``But I said if it wants to pay off, I’ll take it. It paid off big today.″