Throughout the year, Continental Tire will focus on celebrating the fans, media, drivers, and teams and their contributions to sports car racing, including a weekly trip down memory lane in Sportscar365’s Continental Tire IMSA Reflections series.
This week, Chad McCumbee reflects on his transition to sports car racing after a career spent racing on ovals, the significance of his Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge ST class championship, and how racing in that series has set him up for the next stage of his career.
How big of an adjustment was it for you coming from stock car racing to Continental Tire Challenge?
“It was a huge adjustment for me when I moved over from stock cars to a Mazda in the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge.
“Previous to my first Continental Tire Challenge event at Daytona, my only road course experience was at New Jersey Motorsports Park in an ARCA car and one single Mazda MX-5 Cup event at Lime Rock, both in 2011.
“I grew up racing Karts on dirt ovals and had stayed on circle tracks my entire career up through the NASCAR ranks.
“Going from a 3400lb, 800hp stock car to a 200hp Mazda MX-5 weighing around 1000lbs less was a massive adjustment.
“Other than turning right, I had not used a clutch to do much more than get off pit road in the past seven years, nor had I driven a race car with ABS brakes.
“I had to adjust back to a lighter, lower horsepower car, which I had previous success with in stock car racing in the Allison Legacy Series. Ironically, the Legacy cars were powered by a Mazda engine.”
What are your memories of your first few races in the series?
“My first few events in the Continental Tire Challenge series were filled with anticipation, excitement, anxiety and, admittedly, bits of frustration.
“I really put a lot of effort into understanding the art of sports car racing and getting acquainted with a totally different arena of motorsports.
“A glimpse of brilliance was almost always followed with a humbling experience to keep me wanting more and pushing harder. Going fast was one thing but developing race craft was another.
“Then there was racing in the wet, which I thought may be like dirt, but quickly realized there was no cushion. There were similarities, but again, a different approach.”
What did winning a ST class championship in the series mean for you?
“Winning the ST Championship in 2015 was a huge milestone not only in my development as a sports car racer but also in my career.
“[Co-driver] Stevan [McAleer] and I had seen success and a chance at a championship in 2014 but misfortune took us out of the running.
“We really developed a tremendous amount of chemistry and had complete focus on winning that title in 2015.
“ModSpace, Mazda and CJ Wilson Racing gave us everything we needed to succeed and it was such a great moment for everyone involved.”
Outside of the championship, what moment or moments stand out for you from your time in sports car racing?
“Aside from the 2015 Championship there have certainly been moments that stand out while in Continental Tire Challenge.
“I mentioned racing in the rain earlier, and Stevan and I winning at Watkins Glen in 2015 was a huge moment for me.
“Wet racing was something I had zero idea about previous to sports car racing so being able to take the lead and drive away to a victory there was very rewarding.
“Later that season, to clinch the championship, I had one of my strongest stints ever in the wet at Road Atlanta.
“The season finale in 2016 was also memorable as we were poised to win another championship in ST.
“Unfortunately the week before the race I broke my wrist. With the injury I was able to qualify 3rd and hang onto the leaders throughout the race.
“We led the race and the championship until a mechanical failure ended our day; it would have been an amazing story if we could have pulled it off.
“This season’s win at Watkins Glen most certainly has to be one of the most memorable moments of my sports car career, however.
“The GS class is stacked with talented drivers and teams throughout the field so being able to get a win in the four hour enduro was huge to say the least.
“I didn’t know what to expect this season moving into a different car, a different team, a different manufacture and with a different co-driver but am so proud of what we accomplished.
“Multimatic is such an amazing team and Patrick [Gallagher] did a great job during the middle of the race to get us out front. It was truly a group effort from everyone at ModSpace, Mazda, Multimatic, and Ford.”
How has the Continental Tire Challenge series helped shape your career?
My time in the series has for sure altered my career course. Becoming a champion and race winner in sports car racing is something I never dreamed of or envisioned 10 years ago, or even five years ago.
“What it has done to my vision now, however, is make me want to get to the top level. Continental Tire Challenge has some of the best drivers and teams in the sport so it gives me confidence that I can compete and be successful in any level.
“That is something I had doubts on if you had asked me in 2012. I have been so blessed and have been shown so much favor from the good Lord above to but me in the path of the right people.
“I am very thankful for my relationship with ModSpace and Mazda who have been the cornerstone to my sports car success.”