Sapp hopes luck's wheel will spin his way in D.C.

Recent history for driver has been a tale of woe

Auto Racing

July 17, 2002|By Alex Koustenis | Alex Koustenis,SUN STAFF

Neal Sapp drives race cars for a living, so maybe it's not so odd to hear he's recovering from a wreck. Except this one didn't happen on the racetrack.

In June, Sapp was returning to his Ellicott City home on his motorcycle. He was within a mile of his house when a deer crossed his path. Sapp slammed on the brakes, but could not avoid the collision. He was thrown from the motorcycle and suffered a separated left shoulder, broken ribs and lacerations on his arms and hands.

After a month of recovery, during which he missed two events, Sapp will return to his BMW330I for the Speed World Challenge competition in the Cadillac Grand Prix of Washington this weekend.

"I'm excited about racing," Sapp said. "I'm still a little sore, though. I just don't want to be involved in an accident this weekend. But it's pretty neat. I guess I'd consider this a home track. I think it'll be quite successful."

The accident was just another in a series of mishaps for Sapp, 40, this year.

Earlier this season at Mosport International Raceway in Ontario, he was forced off the track and out of the race. Then, at Lime Rock in Connecticut, he could not complete the race when his radiator was damaged by a piece of debris that another car had run over.

Because drivers earn points only for races they finish, Sapp sits in 35th place in the Challenge series standings. That's not a spot he's accustomed to.

Last year, he won four races in 10 starts on the Challenge circuit and finished the season in second place. In 2000, he was named the Sports Car Club of America's Touring Car Rookie of the Year and was second in the final Challenge points standings.

But Sapp is hoping his recent string of bad luck will change with a little help from his crew chief for the Cadillac Grand Prix, Jim McGurgan.

"We're hoping to turn our series around," Sapp said.

The Washington event will mark a reunion - though just for this race - for McGurgan and Sapp after four years apart.

The two previously put together wins in several high-profile sports-car races. In 1997, McGurgan was crew chief for Sapp's victory in the Valvoline Runoffs National Championships. They paired up again in 1998 to capture the Minneapolis Grand Prix.

In 1997, after consulting with his wife, Jane, Sapp decided to leave his job as a car sales manager to make racing his full-time job. But neither racing nor sales compare to the job Sapp describes as the hardest he has ever had - playing Mr. Mom to his daughters Katelyn, 4, and Megan, 2.

"We had talked about one of us staying home with the kids," said Jane Sapp, who holds a senior laboratory position with McCormick.

"Racing is what he loves, and we've worked it out so this could be his career."

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