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BARTONE: Five Checkered Flags

Anthony Bartone files his first column for Sportscar365 following solid weekend in St. Pete…

Photo: Bartone Bros Racing

I am a newcomer to sports car racing. My dad Tony has, over a three-decade career in NHRA, won more than 50 Wally trophies as a driver and equal that as the owner of Bartone Bros Racing.

I used to travel to the track with dad and the team on occasion, but I never really dreamed of running quarter miles, now the eighth-mile.

A little over a year ago I had never driven a race car and was a normal college student at the University of Colorado at Boulder. My dad, who has been friends with Andy Pilgrim for over two decades, had me go visit him at the track he was managing up in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

At the time I weighed 273 pounds and knew this was not an acceptable weight to show the best version of myself while on track racing.

Since then, with the help of Andy I am nearly down 100 pounds and feel fine with the workload of testing and race weekends.

Andy put me in a C7 Stingray, and I was able to run a bunch of laps doing lead/follow and data in between. I was supposed to just visit for a weekend, but that turned into multiple trips in a few month span. Andy is a great coach and has become a great mentor, teammate, and coach.

I think he saw a sliver of promise in my driving, after all he’s a multi-champion in sports cars and has helped everyone from the track day amateur to the legend Dale Earnhardt.

One thing led to another, and we ended up buying a couple of Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport cars and running some more laps. We then progressed to running a few races in Pirelli GT4 America, GT Celebration, and International GT events.

We were able to post a few wins and podium finishes. Needless to say, I found a passion and knew I wanted to put all my effort into becoming the best that I can be.

Over the off-season we put a plan together that included World Challenge champions RealTime Racing and a host of other people that Andy knows in the sport like engineer Jim Bell.

We settled on the Mercedes-AMG GT3 cars and set our focus on running the full season of GT America. We received our cars in time to do some testing at Sebring and NOLA before the season opener in St. Petersburg.

In testing, I found the Mercedes-AMG GT3 cars very confidence inspiring.

I had a taste of street racing at last season’s GT America race in Nashville, so the walls were not that intimidating to me. St. Pete is a fun track that, like all street circuits, has consequences if you are not totally locked in.

The goal, from Jim for the weekend was to see five checkered flags – that is, finish every session.

The practices and qualifying leading up the first 40-minute race were very educational. I did some laps on my own then Andy and I took turns following each other. When you have a teammate like Andy you try to soak up everything he says and does on the track like a sponge.

The first race was pretty good — we lined up sixth and seventh. The race went as expected, a couple of cautions that we managed to navigate, and I came home in sixth with Andy fourth. I got passed late in the running by a Corvette by a veteran driver. Another lesson learned.

In Race 2 I started fourth with Andy in fifth, based upon our lap times from Race 1. I was pretty comfortable running at St. Pete. We also had GT4 cars on the track, so we would encounter them on our long runs, so I got a good taste of managing traffic on the close confines of the bayfront course.

Race 2 also had two caution periods. We paraded around for about 30 minutes, but that is street racing. I managed to finish fourth with Andy fifth.

I was able to get the Crowdstrike Fast Lap award and Andy won both Masters Class trophys on the weekend. More importantly we took five checkered flags and loaded our cars in perfect shape for the Sonoma race in three weeks.

Anthony Bartone, the son of legendary NHRA drag racer Tony Bartone, competes in GT America powered by AWS in the No. 427 Bartone Racing Bros by RealTime Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo.

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