Peter Cunningham's Record Is Acura-ate
© Andrew S. Hartwell
"The R is for Racing and the L is for Logistics." Speedvision World
Challenge competitor, and several time champion, Peter Cunningham
refers to the name of his company, RealTime R & L, a small concern
that has made a huge impression in this road racing series. He heads
up a squad of professionally prepared Honda cars the Acura in the title
- that compete in the Speedvision GT and Touring Car series. "I have
been involved with this series, and its predecessor since it started (it
began life as the Playboy Cup) in 1985. It was a neat series to get into
from my roots of showroom stock racing in the early 80's. It was so
accessible and it was what I had done. It was just a natural evolution for me.
Few can point to a record of success as lengthy as his and his team's cars
and drivers. So, OK Peter, we get the "R" but what's the "L"?
"The logistics area of our company will do 30+ events around the country this year, on behalf of different automotive related companies. They are commonly referred to as a 'Ride & Drive'. We set up a little active safety course or autocross course in a parking lot, and the participants are invited to drive different vehicles with the help of our instructors. They are basically doing a product comparison, be it a tire comparison or a car comparison. We do these for tire and car companies who are introducing new products and want to demonstrate that product to either their dealer group, or a consumer group, or to the media."
The 38-year-old Cunningham is proud of what he and his race team have accomplished on the track. That same sense of pride is obvious when he talks about his off track operations as well. "It is a prevalent industry out there. Many of the tire and car companies are involved with this to help launch new products or provide sales training and so on. While there are a number of companies that provide this kind of service, I really feel our company has some of the best people involved and that is why we maintain our steady client base.
"We have 10 employees at RealTime R & L. Four of them are dedicated to the race team and have little to do with the Logistics side of the business. The racing program is a stand- alone operation that, in a good season is breaking even. We continue to work to improve our operation in all areas. It is difficult but, from our very humble beginnings we now have a beautiful shop and a lot of equipment and good dedicated people who are dedicated to doing only this. They aren't getting super rich from this, but they are doing it for the fun and for the pride they have in doing a job well done.
The fast orange & white cars we see cutting through the esses and under the bridge at Lime Rock are on the track only because fate and circumstance have allowed them to be. It takes skill, talent and timing to achieve success. For Peter Cunningham, all three crucial elements began to come together when his first customer approached him. "I was a Skip Barber instructor in the early 1990's and a company came to me one time asking for help with an event. I helped them and then started doing many more events on their behalf. It just grew from there. I think being involved with racing gave me the credibility to do the events.
And Cunningham certainly has made his mark in the series with 80 races started since 1990. Of those, he has pulled down 20 first place finishes, 57 top-fives and 65 top-ten spots. That is a record of enviable caliber and one that precious few others possess. And Cunningham can readily tell you what three elements have combined to make RealTime R & L such a success story.
"Our cars have been a huge part of our success. We have won 6 championships in this series and an SCCA Pro Rally Championship, and 3 International Ice Racing championships. The one common denominator over all these years is the Honda and Acura connection. There is not much magic that goes into these cars. Because of the capabilities of these cars when they come off the showroom floor, they require the least amount of modification and massaging to get to the winner's circle. Anyone who has raced a Honda or an Acura knows that. Yet not everyone chooses to run one and instead they show up in all different makes. I think that makes for an interesting series but it puts them at a disadvantage as well.
"We have six cars running in the Speedvision Series, 5 Acura Integra Type R's running in the Touring Car division and an Acura NSX running in GT. That is the car I drive." In that car, Cunningham picked up his record 20th win at Sebring this season, putting him one up on Lou Gigliotti.
The people who prepare the cars at RealTime make up the second element. "The guys who are responsible for the success of the entire team include my Crew Chief (for the NSX) Andrew Armistead. The Integra program Crew Chief is Jerome Zimmermann. Nathan Bonneau, is the team manager. Duane Wickham and Matt Moga are our lead mechanics. Glenn Ehlers drives the truck to all the events. At race events the full time group is supported by a host of top-notch weekend warriors. These folks all have other real life commitments but are very much a part of the team at the races. We couldn't do it without them."
And the third element is the talented hands that grip the steering wheels. Putting the rubber to the road in RealTime Racing's machines are two-time and defending Touring Car champion Pierre Kleinubing in the #1 Integra. Four-time race winner Hugh Plumb is in the #43 Type R. Mike Fitzgerald, the 2000 Worldwide Porsche Cup winner, is in the #44 car. Fred Meyer is 73 years old and ninth in all-time series starts and drives #45. The #46 car is driven by Brazilian Carlos Steyer.
Looking back, it is easy to see that the elements took time to blend together into the success story that RealTime Racing has become. "In 1993, the World Challenge switched from an endurance race format to a sprint series. That was the first year we ran in this series as RealTime Racing. We fielded a pair of Honda Preludes in the Touring Division and ran them in '93 and '94. In '95 we built another new one. The NSX came on the scene in '96. I moved into that car and stepped up into the big class, and hired Michael Galati and Fred Meyer to drive the Preludes. We went from a 2-car team to a 3-car team.
"In '97, we went from a 3 car team to a 5 car team keeping the 2 Preludes and the NSX and adding a pair of Integra Type R's and Pierre Kleinubing to the lineup. Acura was excited about seeing the Type R out there. The Touring Cars are reasonably cost-effective to maintain when compared to the NSX. That car is very costly to run relative to the Touring Cars.
"We frankly needed to run more cars to improve our economy of scale because we could fit 5 cars in our transporter. It was just the most cost effective way to make it all happen. More cars mean more prize money and more sponsorship. And some of that sponsorship comes to a team through its drivers. "Ideally we would want to have the best drivers who bring with them the best in sponsorship support. I'm sure some people see RealTime Racing as a hugely funded operation. I think that is the case because we have always done our best to look as professional as possible. But, while we may look like a Michelob team, we actually run on a Pabst Blue Ribbon budget!
Cunningham has also driven for Tom Milner's PTG BMW team. "I tested for them coming into the Daytona race in '98, on the hope that they might need an extra driver. From there it turned into a full time ride. I drove the NSX and BMW that year but for 1999, I had to choose between the brands. If I wanted the BMW ride, I couldn't drive the Acura too. For '99 and 2000, I drove BMW cars exclusively. I sat out the Speedvision Challenge in '99 and went crazy. The sprint format was so much fun so when the opportunity arose to drive a BMW M3 in that series I jumped on it.
"We were successful with the M3, pulling down the most poles and getting the 19th win, tying me with Lou Gigliotti. But we weren't able to convert that into a championship. This year we are back with the NSX and we finished second in the season opener and came home first in the second race (Sebring).
Having moved from instructor to entrepreneur, is it time for Peter Cunningham to now move his team up to the Grand Am or American Le Mans Series? "All of my racing experience has been in the 'tin tops'. I would certainly love to run in a prototype but those rides are few and far between. I would love to do Le Mans and it would be great to run in the Trans Am.
"For me though, I think the Speedvision series is a pretty viable way to go racing these days because we are racing in real cars. And there is an ever increasing interest from the manufacturers and other automotive related entities. All of this will help the series to thrive, in any economy."
"I just think the Speedvision Series is pretty neat."