On this Day in Trans Am History:
September 28, 2020
Sept. 27, 1997
Tommy Kendall had everything going his way in 1997 in the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli. Winner of the opening 11 races in the No. 11 All Sport Body Quencher Ford Mustang Cobra, Kendall captured the pole for Round 12 at Pikes Peak International Raceway with a lap of 52.575-seconds on the 97.82-mile “roval” circuit.
Would Kendall make it an even dozen? On race day, Mike Borkowski had a different idea.
With the Goodyear Fast Five drawing for the top five positions, fifth-fastest qualifier Borkowski drew the pole in the No. 4 Textron Automotive Mustang Cobra fielded by Tom Gloy Racing in association with Team Rahal Letterman. Entering the event, Borkowski had seven top-five finishes in his rookie Trans Am campaign, including a third at Detroit.
The box score shows Borkowski leading every lap and winning by 10.452-seconds. But that’s not a good indication of what actually happened. Borkowski went out to the lead, while fifth-starting Kendall spun on the first lap after contact with Dorsey Schroeder. Kendall fought back, caught Borkowski midway through the race and the two put on a heck of a scrap the rest of the way.
“It was a classic David and Goliath story,” Borkowski recalled. “We were having a good rookie season, but TK was an absolute first rate driver, a multi-time champion, and totally dominant in TA at the time. He was on the longest win streak in any North American professional series. I was the rookie coming from winning pro FF2000 championship in low-powered open-wheel cars.
“Tom Gloy gave me an excellent car. TK and I had an epic battle. Nose to tail and side by side for probably the last 30 laps. We rubbed, touched, banged probably 15-20 times fighting to the end. It was exciting for the fans, both at the track and watching on TV. He had in-car cam, bumper cam, etc....so you could literally see our fenders bending a couple of times we touched. It made for awesome TV.”
Their final touch in Turn 4 sent Kendall spinning, and that was all that Borkowski needed to break away from Kendall and pull away for the victory. Greg Pickett finished third in the No. 6 Autolink/HighwayMaster Camaro, followed by Paul Gentilozzi in the No. 5 RISO Camaro and Brian Simo in the No. 22 Valvoline Mustang.
“He drove a great race--my hat's off to him,” Kendall said after the race. “He drove to win, not just to not make a mistake."
“’97 Pikes Peak was a great career breakthrough day for me,” Borkowski said. “It was the first big-time win for me. I got a lot of attention from it. It broke his streak. I won that race and the next one at Reno to be third in points and get Rookie of the Year.”
At the Reno season finale, the top-two cars crashed out on a late-race restart. Borkowski managed to slip through unscathed and take the victory. It proved to be his final career start in Trans Am.
“I wish I could have done it longer, but my career took a different path in open-wheel and prototypes. But I’ve loved Trans-Am since I was only 5 years old, watching every race on TV with my Dad. Man, I miss those cars. Raw old school badass cars. I think I need find a way to get back in one!
“To this day, fans, drivers, and crew members in racing still bring that race up to me – Pikes Peak, 1997.”
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