This Time, Team Seattle Will Be Looking Ahead
© Andrew S. Hartwell
Team Seattle is planning on looking ahead to - and throughout - the Rolex 24 hours of Daytona in 2002. This team of "Seattle Saleens" is once again taking to the high banking of Daytona in pursuit of a special victory. And with every lap they simply complete in this grueling endurance race, another child comes up a winner.
Don and Donna Kitch are two of the principal motivators behind the annual Team Seattle effort to raise money for the Seattle Children's Hospital. They collect per-lap pledge money from donors big and small and then they set out to "Make No Mistakes" and successfully complete lap after lap after lap in the race.
Don Kitch explains the workings of the pledge drive. "The money we generate from the pledges goes directly to the hospital. We don't even see the actual dollars, they are sent from the donors to the hospital. After the race, the hospital sends an invoice to everyone who pledged and they get the money that way.
"We knew going into this back in 1997 that it was critical that the racing team never touch the money. We knew we had to find sponsorship for our team, like every other team, and that every dime we collected in pledges had to be shown as going to the hospital, not towards supporting our racing effort. To do that, the hospital had to be the ones to collect the funds, not the team. The most important thing to remember about helping Team Seattle with a pledge is that, you get a nice letter directly from the hospital, and a tax deductible receipt. Not one dollar goes to helping us race."
Each year since 1997, this team has worked hard to put a dependable and competitive car on the racetrack at the Rolex 24. Until the 2002 event, the car of choice was a GT class Porsche. And that choice meant the drivers had to keep one eye on the road ahead and another on their rearview mirrors because the Porsche ran in the slower class (If you consider top speeds of 165 miles per hour slow!), GT. Getting passed was just the way it went for the GT cars. This time, they will be spending more time looking ahead then behind, as they will run with the big boys in GTS.
"Our original Team Seattle effort was started by Donna and I, and two of our original partners were Chris Bingham and his dad, David. When we first started, Chris was one of our original co-drivers
and our earliest meetings as the Team Seattle guild were held at the Park Place Ltd. offices. I have known David for 20 years. I gave Chris his very first ride in a racecar when he couldn't even see over the dashboard! We go back a long ways.
"We did Daytona together in 1997. We raced Porsches each year from that point on. But this year we sat down with Chris and David and said the city of Seattle would really like it if the team were entirely Seattle based. The Porsche story was getting a little old with us being one of over 50 Porsches in the field. So we thought wouldn't it be great if we could come up with a second Saleen, under the Park Place banner, and run the whole team from Seattle?
The Champion Will Lead These Champions
"One of our cars is the Park Place car that Chris won the Grand AM GTS Championship with this year. The other car is brand new. We will paint one of the cars white and the other black. Both cars will carry the Team Seattle graphics and show the Park Place logo.
"I will be in one car teamed with David, Don Valencia and Mike Solomon. Chris, Dave Gaylord, Wade Gaughran and Peter MacLeod will be in the other car. For the first time ever, all the drivers are from Seattle. Chris and I will qualify and start the cars for the race."
"The speeds in the car will be higher than in the Porsche. For the first time in the history of the Team Seattle effort, we are not only going to be passed (by the SR and SR2 cars), we are going to be passing. The majority of the Rolex field is made up of GT cars. Our car runs in the larger GTS class, which means we run higher on the banking and we are going to have to make faster and better decisions as the closing rate on the smaller cars is pretty dramatic.
"We have to stay out of trouble. We have to be attentive to the James Weavers of the world who will be coming around us in the prototypes but we are going to be lapping about 10 seconds a lap faster than the GT cars. It is going to be a big challenge for us. Rearward vision in the Saleen is significantly more limited than in the Porsche.
"The speed of this car dictates that you have to look way out ahead to stay out of trouble. The plan then is to stay on our pace and see where we are on Sunday morning. And each car has a small sign on the dash that reads, "Make no mistakes".
"The cars are prepared by Fordahl Motorsports, the same crew that helped Chris win the championship. Park Place owns both the cars and the plan is to run them both in the American Le Mans Series. One of the two cars will continue to represent the city of Seattle and run with the Team Seattle banner. A major FORD Saleen dealer in Seattle is also running a promotion leading up to the Sebring 12 hours race, to benefit the hospital."
Terrorists Weren't Going To Stop Team Seattle
Getting people to contribute to almost any worthy cause is more difficult this year, when so many had already donated so much to the charities created after the events of September 11th. Team Seattle knew the challenge that lay ahead. "We knew going in that it was going to be tougher this year to get pledges. We have been working hard to try and prove to people that we are worthy of their contributions. We knew we had two choices. We could sit at home and say, 'well there are terrorists out there', or we could say no to that and go out and do the best job we can. We knew that meant doing more to attract the attention of the sponsors, and the people who make the pledges.
"This year the hospital will be mailing out over 2,000 requests for lap pledges. It will also include a complete newsletter from the team showing them what we have accomplished over the last 5 years. It will even have photos of the testing we just did at Button Willows racetrack.
"We have been going back to the basics this year to pull out all the stops. For example, I've driven across town just to pick up pledges for as little as $.25 a lap. We are doing whatever it takes. No pledge is too small and there is nothing we won't don't do to get that pledge.
"Last year we ran 616 laps at the Rolex. Our goal this year is 700. We feel good about the car. We had a long talk with Steve Saleen and looked for ways to make the cars last as long as possible to pile up the laps. We believe that we could be lapping at $500 in pledges per lap, and that this car will get us to the 700-lap mark. That works out to $350,000. That is a goal we think we could actually achieve at this race, with this car, and this team of drivers.
"Last year we lapped at $458 per lap. If we fall short of the $500 mark, the kids still win. Today, we are ahead of last years pace, having reached the $60 mark. But, even if the race were held tomorrow, the kids still win if we make the other goal of 700 laps. Then the hospital would still get $42,000. But I can tell you, as hard as we are working, we will be racing for more than $60 a lap!"
This time, Team Seattle will actually be in a position to run for a podium finish maybe even first place in the GTS class, in their oh-so-fast Saleens. But they don't have to finish first on the last lap to win. They win with every last lap they finish.
The Team Seattle effort really makes sense. And your cents can help them get to their goal. Why not make a pledge? Better yet, get the gang in your office or company to each say they will put in 5 cents a lap and then pool that into one contribution. Remember, any amount you put in beats any amount you leave out.
You can make pledges by calling Barbara Koler
at the Seattle Children's Hospital at 206-368-4877,
or by visiting their web site at