History of Brian Cates
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.