Chad McCumbee’s first sports car win is a story three years in the making.
And he’d be the first person to say he didn’t expect it would come in a waterlogged race at Watkins Glen International.
McCumbee, who first raced with CJ Wilson Racing in the Mazda MX-5 Cup for two races in 2011 and joined the team’s Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge program ahead of the 2012 season, has come close but no cigar in terms of capturing his elusive first victory.
A pole position in his second career start at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas in March 2013 was the first sign the potential was there, but through various instances of bad luck or missed opportunities fell through.
But he seized his moment two weeks ago. McCumbee started third at Watkins Glen and made an early-race pass of fellow Mazda MX-5 driver Justin Piscitell for the lead around the outside of the toe of the boot.
Co-driver Stevan McAleer brought it home in the No. 5 ModSpace-backed entry.
“Yeah I have felt like we had a couple wins slip away for sure,” McCumbee told Sportscar365. “We have had the fastest car a number of events last year, this year. But we haven’t been able to close the deal.
“For my first win to come in a rain race, for me a win does solidify I have made a big transition.”
While McCumbee has made considerable progress, he’s still not where he wants to be in his development phase.
“I’m my own worst critic,” he said. “Everybody can tell you I’ve made the transition, I’m where I need to be, but I tell you I’m the hardest person on myself.
“To be in that position, I’m so thankful for that. I’m thankful that was the pass for the win. I can turn right and left. It was a perfect storm from that perspective to get the first win.”
McCumbee grew up in stock car racing and spent several years in the NASCAR ranks before making the switch to sports cars. He’s also spent a fair amount of time racing on dirt.
The Supply, N.C. native used his dirt experience as a go-to line in pre-race interviews, but driving on slick, damp surfaces may have actually played to his benefit at the Glen.
For McCumbee, just racing in the rain comes as an abnormality given his NASCAR pedigree.
“I surely didn’t expect [to win] in a wet race, that’s for sure,” he said. “Coming from the stock cars, when it drizzles, we go to sleep and let the jet driers take care of it.
“The thing was phenomenal in the wet. I really needed to know what we had to do in wet conditions. It’s a lot like driving on dirt. You’re trying to avoid the wet spots.”
“Today was a huge confidence booster for sure, as a lot of that is attributed to the team. And working with Stevan, he has been instrumental.”
The two have fully bonded in their second full season as co-drivers, beyond the cockpit itself.
McCumbee and McAleer have also formed McCumbee McAleer Racing, which runs in the Mazda MX-5 Cup series, and both drivers raced this past Sunday in a late model stock car racing at Myrtle Beach Speedway.
It’s obvious the level of chemistry is there between the two beyond just the Continental Tire Challenge, and McCumbee feels confident the pair’s early season success could lead to further glory in ST later this year.
McCumbee and McAleer currently are second in ST points, trailing Andrew Carbonell and Liam Dwyer by just two heading to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
“It solidifies we’re in the hunt for this championship, and now other guys have to watch that 5 car.”