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GT title would cap Sahlen's big year

With a very prestigious award already in his back pocket for 2012, a successful and strong sponsorship partnership with Watkins Glen International and with Team Sahlen really making an impressive run toward the top of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Grand Touring (GT) class, one could say that Elma's Joe Sahlen is having a pretty good year so far.

The best could be yet to come. If recent results are any indication, the team's lead No. 42 entry featuring co-drivers Dane Cameron and Wayne Nonnamaker, may get a checkered flag very soon.

Sahlen a sports car driver and sponsor with the three-car Team Sahlen Mazda RX-8 contingent owned by the Nonnamaker family of North Canton, Ohio, in the Grand-Am GT class. Also, through his Buffalo-based Sahlen's Packing Company he is the sponsor of the Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen which will be held June 29-July 1.

The year began in a big way last January at the Rolex 24 at Daytona when he was the second recipient of the Bob Snodgrass Award of Excellence presented by Gorsline.

The award is given to a team owner or team manager who possesses the qualities of integrity, passion for the sport and the love of sports cars for which the late Snodgrass was known.

Snodgrass, an Elmira native who died in 2007 at age 64, first developed his love for racing at Watkins Glen. He lived for his last 35 years in Jacksonville, Fla., and was CEO of Brumos Racing and the Brumos auto dealerships.

"There were four individuals nominated and the award event was held in a large tent just outside Daytona Speedway during the Rolex 24 weekend," said Sahlen. "There was about 20-25 former winning cars of the Rolex 24 on display there also as it was the 50th anniversary of that race.

"I got the award and it was so very special. Legendary drivers were there at the ceremony including Sir Jackie Stewart, Derek Bell, David Hobbs, and Hurley Haywood.

"For many years, I mean almost four decades my family and I were fans and spectators at so many sports car events and after I got involved in the sport further, to find myself in a position to have won this award was unreal. "

Making the award even more meaningful was the fact that Sahlen knew Snodgrass well. "I know at Watkins Glen we would park in the RV paddock for the events, and Bob did too. We usually were parked in the same spots every year so we got to know each other. He was a very nice man and a true gentleman. I also think that as we are both from the same general area with me from Western New York and him from Elmira and that The Glen was our main track gave us a real identity with each other as well."

On the track, Team Sahlen began its march toward the front of the top-ranked teams in the GT class last season. In 2010 the team added noted race engineer Catherine Crawford to their operation, and she has made a positive difference. Last season, Wayne Nonnamaker was teamed with co-driver John Edwards of Cincinnati in the team's lead No. 42 entry. The pair produced solid second place finishes at Road America (Elkhart Lake, Wis.) and at New Jersey Motorsports Park (Millville, N.J.).

Edwards departed for another organization at the conclusion of last season but Team Sahlen found a very capable replacement in sports car racing veteran Cameron of Sonoma, Calif.

Thus far in 2012, Cameron and Wayne Nonnamaker, have taken the No. 42 car to a second place at Miami, April 29 and then led in the late going at New Jersey on May 13 before Cameron slid too wide in one of the turns slipping back to a sixth-place finish. The duo is currently seventh in GT points.

Team Sahlen also enters two other cars in most Grand-Am events including the No. 43 and No. 49 Mazda entries. The co-driving duties for these cars is generally handled by Sahlen along with Wayne Nonnamaker's father, Joe, and brother, Will. Wayne does some driving in the No. 43 as well. "After last season the cars went back to our shop and the team spent many hours going over every part and piece and giving the cars a through examination," Sahlen explained. "We also concentrated on trying to get more downforce and looking for car weight reduction. It meant spending a lot of money and it's amazing how much it cost to get even a small amount of weight reduction. It like the meat business. It's price per pound."

In just a few week's Sahlen will celebrate his tenth anniversary season as the title sponsor of Grand-Am's Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen. The race is also the second leg of the prestigious and newly created three-race North American Endurance Championship which began at Daytona in January and will conclude with Grand-Am's first visit to the infield road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in July.

"We have a great relationship with Watkins Glen and it's hard to believe that this year's event will be the tenth anniversary running of the six hours," said Sahlen. "The fact that it's now part of the North American Endurance Championship is very big."