What's on Tap

What's on Tap

Locals compete in high-end sports car race this weekend

Posted August 19, 2015

— Not afraid of fast. It sounds like a slogan that fictional NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby would use. It is, however, the motto of real-life driver Jim Taggart.

Taggart owns and operates Taggart Autosport in Cary. His dealership sells exotic cars and customized off-road vehicles, the type of transportation you only see in the movies. A James Bond film comes to mind. A bright yellow Lamborghini catches your eye as soon as you walk into the showroom. If you can get past the Lambo, a Porsche sits off to the side, right next to a black Jaguar.

While those are pretty impressive, Taggart’s prized possession in the room is the Maserati Trofeo. That’s the car he will strap himself into on Aug. 21 as part of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship at the Virginia International Raceway (VIR) in Danville, Va.

Taggart, 53, didn’t begin his racing career until 2011. He is what’s called a “gentlemen’s driver” – a second career driver who picked up the sport later in life. Taggart attended Skip Barber’s three-day racing school and quickly made a name for himself, holding track records at multiple tracks, including VIR, and was named the 2013 Pirelli World Challenge Rookie of the Year.

A one-time owner of a pharmaceutical company before his career change, Taggart is now well respected in the racing business despite his late start.

“I just went head over heels into racing,” Taggart said.

In his short career, Taggart has “well over 100 races” under his belt. And he hasn’t done badly. In his Taggart Autosport office, medals hang off one of the walls, while pictures of his accomplishments on the track decorate an entire corner of the office. After winning Rookie of the Year in the SCCA, Taggart went pro. That was a different animal. He didn’t make his way to the winner’s podium his first year, but the following year he raced in the Porsche GTE series and found his way there several times.

“As you move up the ladder, there are still opportunities to step back and race at an amateur level,” Taggart said. “When you step back it’s a lot easier, it’s a lot more fun, you’re a lot more successful. It’s just one of those things.”

He described his next race as “really cool.” The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship is widely considered the premier sports car series in North America. The stop in Danville is the 10th stop of only 12 tracks on the 2015 schedule. Taggart has raced in both the Porsche GTE Cup as well as the Maserati Trofeo World Series.

All 26 drivers will be in identically prepared Maseratis, just like the one Taggart has sitting a few steps outside his office. Nobody gets an advantage because of added horsepower or extra rubber.

“We go out there and mix it up,” Taggart said. “It’s a really good race, with a lot of good action.”

Taggart’s entire crew is housed in his shop in Cary. When asked how hands-on he is with the cars, he quickly responded, “Very little. They don’t let me. I just mess things up.”

In a car that gets up to 160 miles per hour, it’s probably best Taggart leave the mechanical work to the experts. Going down a straight away with other drivers all around at high speeds is the easy part he said. Hitting curves, knowing when to break and when to “hit your marks” in a tiny vehicle fitted for one person is where Taggart earns his stripes.

“That’s hard,” he said. “Then you go through some turns at well over 100 miles per hour. That’s what gets scary.”

Taggart has walked away from his 100 races without any major injuries (knocking on wood as he said it), but he has totaled one of his cars. The race also takes a toll on the body. On a sunny day, temperatures inside the Maserati can reached up to 130 degrees. There is also the wear and tear on your body, muscling that car around for more than an hour, while taking hits from other cars.

When asked which is harder to prepare for, the mental or the physical toll, Taggart leaned back in his chair and thought for a moment.

“That’s a good question,” he said. “I think the mental creates physical draining. I’m exhausted. These guys who race all the time, they are real men.”

Taggart, who will do between 5-10 races a year, preps by improving his cardio, and a lot of work on his shoulders, traps and forearms. He even came up with his own routine where he does a full workout in a sauna to simulate the heat in the car.

He calls VIR his “home track” and, obviously, hopes to place. But his main goals are to bring the car, and himself, back to Cary in one piece. Taggart considers that a successful day, but pointed out in racing the “highs are really high, and the lows are really low.”

He said a good day can turn bad in a matter of seconds. All it takes is for someone to cut in front of you and put you into a wall, causing damage to the car.

“It just makes for an awful day,” Taggart said. “Or you just put everything together and things work out and you win the race. As far as a goal, I always want to win.”

Taggart isn't the only local driver racing this weekend.

Tom Long, a native to the Raleigh, started his racing career in grassroots sports car racing. Long is a pro driver for the Mazda Motorsport team but will also compete this weekend in the Maserati Trofeo World series race. He is particularly excited about returning to race on what he considers his hometown track because of the challenging course and the opportunity the setting provides for fans. “This event is perfect for fans to enjoy racing in a great family friendly environment,” Long said. “Once you enter the gates it is like entering a race theme park. You aren’t stuck in a chair in one spot. There are multiple events going on and you can move around and get an up close look at the cars down in the paddock."

Advanced tickets for the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship weekend at VIR are available online for $40 for Friday-only, $45 for Saturday-only, $55 for Sunday-only, $65 for a two-day Saturday and Sunday ticket, and $75 for a three-day ticket. All tickets will be an additional $10 when purchased at the gate. Children 12 and under are admitted free of charge.

John Huisman contributed to this report.


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