After coming up short 29 times in a row, 2019 was the year it finally came together on the course for one local driver who has been the Sports Car Club of America’s (SCCA) southwest champion every year since 1989.
“It’s very hard to get there, I hit the course and give 120% every time to hopefully make it to the top of the podium and sometimes it’s determined by just a couple tenths of seconds but I always run as hard as I can,” said John Phillips III, who finally claimed his championship Oct. 13 at VIRginia International Raceway.
“It was very emotional to spray the champagne. Been on the podium plenty of times but never on the top step. It was freakin’ awesome, that’s the only way to put it,” he said in an interview last week. “I knew I had the drive to keep at it and I got close so many times but I’m not a quitter and I’ve got great sponsors who keep me going; G-Loc breaks, Honda Development and Fisher Tires.”
Although he set a record for most championship appearances before claiming a win with 29, he related his title pursuit to the record-setting one seen in the late ’90s on the gridiron in Sealy.
“It’s awesome to bring a championship back to Sealy to make it proud the same way it was when the football team won theirs. I do it all for the love of the town,” Phillips said.
Not only did he win the National Championship Runoffs, the pinnacle of American motorsports that crowns SCCA’s Road Racing National Champions, he was also one of just three men nationwide to complete a Super Sweep this year.
“To earn the award in 2019 a driver had to, in a single class, win a U.S. Majors Tour Conference Championship, a Hoosier Racing Tire SCCA Super Tour Points Championship, and the National Championship Runoffs race at VIRginia International Raceway (VIR),” explained a release from the SCCA.
Phillips checked all of those boxes, racing to yet another regional championship before trading cars with a longtime friend of his who he credited the most for his championship.
“An old-time friend of mine, we go back into the ’90s, David Daughtery, this all would not have been possible without him,” Phillips said. “He was the one who sold me the car and he actually drove my car in that race so we did a little swap and the plan was that whoever was in the lead, the other would help him stay there.
“He was able to do that until he got some car trouble but his was much newer,” Phillips continued. “Mine was four seasons old so it had 28 races on it, David’s only had three races under its belt so he helped everything come together. He’s based out of North Carolina now and before then he lived in Indianapolis so it’s a long-distance friendship that goes back a long time.”
Since hoisting the trophy and basking in the win, he’s returned to earth from cloud nine and is already preparing for the next season.
“It was a combination (of aging like a fine wine and just being overdue), I'm friends with hundreds of racers and have gotten messages from a lot of people just saying how overdue it was, even some people I haven’t heard from in 20 years reached out to say congratulations and I said, ‘Wow I didn’t even know y’all were still following,’” Phillips recounted. “I’ll break down this car, see what we can work with and start building the car for next season which starts in January but I probably won’t make that, I'll be making two new cars so I'm looking to start in February.”
Originally from Cypress, Phillips moved to Sealy in 1979 and has since opened up a garage at his house that his daughter, Jamie, helps run while also working at a garage in Houston that helps him live out his dream.
“I’ve always dreamt of being behind a wheel driving, I do prefer the wheel to wheel, open-road racing as opposed to the drag racing,” he said. “You’re out there for 40 minutes and anything can happen in those 40 minutes. In drag races, you’re there for only four or five seconds, not saying that’s not a specialty on its own, but open-road racing is more of driver vs. car; you’re not abusing the car, getting everything you can out of it quick, you’re working with it to get to the finish line.”