Racing History of Brian Cates

Brian entered his first auto racing competition event at the age of 18.  He competed in a 1965 Pontiac GTO and finished second in class.  The event was what is commonly refereed to as “Auto-X” (X is pronounced as cross)”. An Auto-X typically takes place in a parking lot. A makeshift track is defined by rubber pylons spaced in a series of gates. The object is to drive the course as fast as you can without hitting a pylon.  The driver is only able to walk the course prior to driving, no practice laps are allowed.  The driver gets three attempts with only his best time counting.  This time is compared to the other drivers in his class and the lowest time wins.  If the car hits a pylon there is typically a 2 second penalty assed and added onto his time for that run.  Depending on the length of the track, each run typically lasts between 40 to 60 seconds.  Speeds are typically less than 50 mph, however the courses have lots of turns and they can be quite difficult.  Considering the GTO was really not designed for such a tight course, Brian and his competition felt his second place finish was pretty good for a first time showing.
 
During his college years from 1977 to 1882, Brian was a member of the Virginia Tech Sports Car Club.  He competed in approximately twenty Auto-X events in the Blacksburg , Roanoke area of southwest Virginia where he had considerable success with his 1972 Mazda Rx-2.  The little Wankel powered Mazda was usually faster than his primary competition, a Porsche 924.  After graduation, Brian moved to the Northern Virginia area and continued to Auto-X in various club events in the area with his Mazda Rx-2 and a Renault Le Car.  After gathering many trophies, he decided he wanted to go faster and wanted to give Road Racing a try.
 
In 1983, Brian competed in his first event at a real road racing track, Summit Point Raceway, located in West Virginia .  The track is 2 miles long, with 10 turns and approximately 125 foot of elevation change.  The event was still considered a Solo race where he competed against other drivers based on their best lap times. Top speeds of around 120 mph were reached with average speeds of around 75 mph.  He managed to win his class and was able to finish ahead of a Jaguar XKE.  He continued to participate in Solo events at Summit Point until he felt he was ready to do door to battle against other competitors in real races. 
 
In 1985, he attended his first SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) Driver’s School.  The SCCA is a club organization dedicated to road racing at numerous facilities across the country.  In order to compete against other drivers, the SCCA makes you attend 2 “Driving Schools” before you can obtain your competition license. They want to make sure you know what you are doing before they send you out on the track with other cars.  These schools last for 2 days and provide approximately 8 hours of classroom instruction and 8 hours of track time.  On the last day, you get to compete in a 5 lap race.  They also reverse the starting order so that the fastest car starts last and the slowest car starts first.   Brian and his little Mazda stated at the back of the field and within four laps he was leading the race. He went on to finish first.
 
Brian’s second “Driver’s School” was at Nelson Ledges, Ohio .  Since Brian did not own a trailer or tow vehicle, he was forced to drive his race car 6 hours to the track.  With no stereo or muffler, it was a long drive!   Nelson Ledges is a fun and fast course to drive, approximately 2 miles in length and eleven turns.  The course is predominately flat but if you run off the track in the “Carousel”, you end up in a swamp.  The track’s facilities were not real good, no running water and outhouses that looked and smelled like they had been there from the 1950’s.  Brian did well all weekend and again was the fastest car in his class.  He again started at the back of the back and within three laps was in the lead.  His lead was short lived however.  In all his excitement on the track, he forgot to put more gas in the car!  On the second to last lap, the car started to sputter out of the Carousel and by the last lap, he had been overtaken and finished third. Although he didn’t win, he proved that he was a competitive and fast driver and he also learned an important lesson.  In order to finish first, you must first finish.
 
Once he obtained his SCCA regional competition racing license, he could compete in actual races and score points for a season championship.  He entered his trusty Mazda in the SCCA’s ‘Improved Touring” class.  The class allows certain modifications to stock based production cars, such as a roll cage, fire extinguisher, bigger wheels and tires, open exhaust, and minor suspension and motor upgrades. His first race was in the summer of 1985.  The racing season had already begun, but he wanted to gain some track experience so he could compete for the championship the following year.  In his first race, he qualified first in a field of more experienced drivers and supposedly faster cars. His main competition was from two Datsun 240 Z’s and some Mazda Rx-3’s.  Brian led every lap with his competition right on his tail.  When the dust had settled, he had finished first in his first attempt in a road racing event.  Although he wasn’t able to compete in all of the races, he scored enough points to finish third for the year and quickly became the driver to beat.  He also set a lap record for the Improved Touring class that year.
 
In 1986, he set his goals for first place in the Mid-Atlantic Road Racing Series. Although he was not able to make every race, he had enough first and second place finishes to be in the hunt for the championship.  He was even able to take first in his first event at Watkins Glenn International Raceway in New York .  (Watkins Glenn is a beautiful 3.6 mile track located in the Fingerlakes region of southwest New York .)  He also was able to take first at Nelson Ledges, where he made sure he had plenty of gas this time. He was leading the championship points and it looked like he had the series won. It all came down to the last two races of the season.  In the first race that weekend, the competition all got a little faster (pushed the rules) so Brian was getting past on the straights.  However, he was making up time by braking real late at the end of the straights and was able to stay up front.  Eventually, his brakes overheated and he slid off the track.  In trying to get back on the track as quickly as possible, he collided with one of his competitors and took both of them out of the race.  The car was wrecked too bad to fix before the next race. All he needed was a third place finish in these last two races to win the championship. But he came away that weekend with no points and a second place overall finish for the year. 
 
The following year, 1987, would be a little better.  However the poor little red Mazda he had driven since 1976 was now wrecked beyond repair. However he just happened to have another Rx-2 that he drove on the street.  So he pulled the motor, roll cage, suspension and all of the other racing parts off the red car and turned the blue car into a race car.  He also obtained racing sponsorship for the first time with Ted Britt Mazda.  He completed the transformation himself over the winter and by spring the new blue Rx-2 was ready to go.
 
There was also more competition and they had also gotten a lot faster.  Brian continued to have success and by the end of the year he had wrapped up the D.C. Region Series Championship in Improved Touring, class A, and was in a tight battle for the Mid Atlantic Region Championship. It all came down to the last two races again at the Double Regionals at Summit Point held over Labor Day weekend. Since it was a double race, both race grid positions were determined by one qualifying session.  Since he had such a disaster the previous year at this same event, he was very cautious in his qualifying attempt. It turned out way too cautious as he qualified 6th in class and 35th overall out of 42 cars.  To make things worse, rain had come and delayed the racing activities due to all of the cars going off the track. In order to get back on schedule, the SCCA officials decided to shorten the 15 lap scheduled races to 8 laps.  In Sunday’s race, he passed most of the competition on his charge to the front but ran out of time and ended up third in class. He was still in the hunt for the championship, but he needed to finish first in the last race.  In Monday’s race he drove as hard as he could and was making passes everywhere.  By the 6th lap he had the leader in sight.  By the last turn leading onto the straight he was right on his competition’s bumper.  He drafted up and tried a slingshot move to attempt the pass on the straight.  He made the pass, but not before crossing the finish line. He lost the race by less than 1/10th of a second (half a fender) and ended up one point shy of the championship.  If the races had not been shortened due to rain, he would have won the championship, but in racing, “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings”
So another second place MARRS finish for the season.
 
In 1988 things would be different.  Brian was clearly the driver to beat at every race.  When the season had ended he had won 11 races with only one second place finish.  He won the D.C region championship again as well as the MARRS Series Championship.  He also won the SCCA’s “Dick Lord trophy” for the most points obtained out of all the drivers and classes. About 250 drivers competed for this award. After almost four years of amateur road racing, Brian was ready to go professional racing.  He sold his little blue Rx-2 and decided to go endurance racing.
 
In 1989, he partnered with one his previous competitors, Bert Duval.  With Cates Design as their sponsor, they set out to compete in the International Motor sports Association, (IMSA) in the “Firestone Firehawk Series Championship”.  This racing series was for mildly modified street cars broken down into three classes, Grand Sports, Sports and Touring.  The grand Sport cars consisted of V-8Camaro’s, Turbocharged Porsche 944’s and other really fast cars.  Brian and Bert decided to compete in the Touring Class, where Hondas, Nissans, Mazda’s and similar 4 cylinder cars were allowed. They chose a black 1989 Honda CRX for the mission and numbered it 03.
 
Although Brian was still road racing, the races were now much longer, ranging from 4 to 24 hours in length.  In the 24 hour races, they would bring in two additional drivers.  Their competition was much tougher than in SCCA, and many of their competitors made their living by racing.  A 1st place finish would get over $10,000.  Not bad but not enough to pay the bills. They got faster each race and by their fourth race, they were running in the top five out of around twenty competitors.  They did well enough to land Honda Motor Company as a sponsor and were able to get anything they wanted from Honda at no charge.  They continued to improve and by their fifth race they were running third before car problems dropped them back. 
 
At the 24 hours of Watkins Glenn, things went quickly downhill.  Bert had rebuilt the engine to gain some power on the front runners. (The competition had a big horsepower advantage) In a rush to get the car back together, he installed the distributor one tooth off, thus reducing the engine’s power instead of getting more.  By the time they realized what had happened, it was already time to qualify and they had no time to make the repair. Brian was sent out to qualify the best he could.  If the times were not sufficient, they would have to pack it up and go home since there were more cars than spaces available for the race.  Brian was driving as hard as he could, trying to make up time under braking and around the corners. He pushed so hard that he cooked the brakes and wasn’t able to slow down enough for a downhill corner.  He entered the corner at 90 mph when he should have been going about 75 mph.  The car slid off the track and came in contact with a tire wall, thus bouncing the car back onto the track and rolling over several times.  When the car came to a stop, Brian was upside down and the car was destroyed.  They never even made it to the race.  That was the end of that season.  Honda was kind enough to give us a new car for the next year.
 
By the next season, Brian was so busy with Cates Design; he had no time to race cars.  The cost was also becoming too much to justify, since most of their competition was from full factory sponsored teams. Bert decided to continue on and found some other drivers.  Brian was invited back to compete in the 24 hours of Watkins Glenn along with three other drivers.  In Brian’s first 2 hour stint in the car, he made up a lot of positions and drove well.  But on his final lap before coming in to change drivers, he lost his brakes.  However this time, it was the pit crews fault. It turned out that in their haste to change brakes, they left the brake line rubbing against the tire and eventually it wore through and all the brake fluid was lost.  Brian managed to hit the tire wall easy and was able to drive the car back to the pits. With only several laps lost, the repairs were made and the next driver went out.  Six hours later, Brian returned as driver.  By this time the car was pretty beat up and was down to one front headlight and a wheel bearing was ready to go. Brian struggled to find the braking zones as the car was too fast for the one headlight.  He was maintaining pace when he noticed one of the faster Camaros in the Grand Sports class coming up quickly behind him.  The faster cars would use the slower cars to draft behind and they would pull out to make the pass at the last moment.  However this time, the Camaro driver waited too late and clipped the right rear of the Honda, thus sending Brian and the little black Honda head on into a Jersey barrier at the pit straight.  The car was demolished and Brian had some sore ribs.  That was Brian’s last IMSA race. 
In 1993, he competed in the 24 hours of Nelson Ledges in a Datsun 260Z. It had been almost four years since he had driven a race car, but he was still the fastest driver on the team. The car was fast but was not prepared well. They were leading the race when nightfall came.  In the middle of the night, Brian was driving the car when the rear axle broke.  He managed to limp the car back to the pits but they lost over an hour making repairs. Fortunately the other competition had problems as well.  By the next morning they were still in the hunt, but no one was sure exactly how many laps they had completed.  Brian had had only three hours sleep in the last two days but was picked to finish the last stint in the car.  He was in a heated battle with the previous year’s race winner, but was able to pull away.  In the last hour of the race he was turning lap times 2 seconds faster than qualifying and faster than anyone had ever gone in a 260Z.  However when the race ended, they were still three laps down to the leader and finished third.  Had the car been better prepared would have easily won the race. Brian still enjoyed racing, but a wife, a kid and a business to run; racing had to take a back seat.
 
In 2000, Cates Engineering was looking for ways to advertise and expand the business. Racing was one of the many venues the company would use to pursue its goals. The company was also trying to find a way to keep existing clients coming back to the company’s web site.  It was felt that clients who knew Brian may be interested in seeing his racing activities through pictures and in car videos. This information would be displayed on the web site and the clients would come back to the web site on a regular basis, thus seeing the companies’ progress and recent accomplishments.
 
In 2002, Brian was back to racing in the Factory Five Racing Challenge Series.  The series allows drivers to compete in replica 1965 427 Cobras in a spec format. In his first event at Virginia International Raceway, he qualified on the pole, set a lap record and won his first race.  He finished second overall at Sears Point in the National Championship, six weeks later.  He will be campaigning a full season next year in the Cates Engineering Cobra.