Most of the folks reading this post have likely never heard of Max Lagod, as he was a race car driver who never hit the "big time" (NASCAR, IndyCar, F1, etc.), but nevertheless, he was one of those guys who I followed whenever I saw results online or in magazines for big bore sedan racing, or on the off chance that a TransAm or SCCA GT-1 race managed to make it on to TV. I never met Mr. Lagod, but he was one of those guys who struck me as a scrappy, underfunded underdog, who was able to drive a race car to the exact speed that it was absolutely capable of. With all of this in mind, and knowing that he was somebody that I stumbled across early on in my race fandom, I was extremely saddened to hear that he died on March 12 of lymphoma.
The first time I was aware of Lagod, he was in the process of absolutely demolishing the GT-1 field at the SCCA June Sprints at Road America, a race that my parents took me to in lieu of a high school graduation party (they gave me the choice; I thought about it for about 0.042 seconds before picking the Sprints). In qualifying for his race, I distinctly remember the track announcer excitedly exclaiming that on Road America's brand new pavement, Lagod had just broken the all-time GT-1 track record. Given the speed and quality of the equipment that this class contains (ex-TransAm cars), I knew that this was no mean feat. Race day was no different. Lagod sped off into the distance, and left the rest of the field in the proverbial fight for 2nd.
So, among the amateur racer set, Lagod was obviously incredibly quick, but was he professional material? As I'd find out a few years later, the answer was definitely "yes". Lagod made periodic appearances in the TransAm series in his family-prepped Camaro over the years, with a little success sprinkled in here and there, but I managed to cross paths with him again at Cleveland in 2003. Most folks will remember this race weekend as being the world's first major road race held at night, but I also remember Max Lagod's run in the TransAm race that year. The race was won by Scott Pruett (who I'm sure said hello to his kids at home afterward), and was notable for Paul Gentilozzi hitting pretty much every car within a mile of Burke Lakefront Airport, but Lagod largely kept his nose clean and finished on the podium, only the second of his career. In such storied company, this was no mean feat. After the race, I took my pit pass and headed toward the padddock to see if I could congratulate Lagod on such a great finish and mention that I'd last seen him race eight years before in that demolition job at Road America. Well, between my crippling bashfulness around real, actual race car drivers and the fact that the ChampCars were being pushed toward the grid before I could spot Lagod wandering around his paddock spot, I never got a chance to say hi.
Anyway, this is a far cry from a real eulogy, and of course, I never even met the man, but I just couldn't let this piece of news go by without saying a little something. Thanks, Max, for giving this race fan some thrills on the track, and Godspeed.