Mike Canney had just three laps to go in an 18-lap, 45-mile race at the Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa. He was in second place and about to lap a slower car when the other vehicle slammed into the wall, spinning wildly and sending a tire across the track. Canney gripped the wheel and mashed the gas pedal, opting to go between the two obstacles instead of around them. It was the wrong choice.

Canney has been mulling a lot of decisions like this since selling his defense contracting firm, Intelligence Data Systems, in April. He started racing as a casual hobby seven years ago, at age 40, about the same time he started his company. "The more I raced, doing it full time was all I could think about," he says. Last year, he entered the GT-1 class of the Sports Car Club of America, a highly competitive amateur circuit. Canney spends about $20,000 a month on his pit crew and supplies such as racing tires and brake pads.

Last season, Canney finished third in his class (ahead of Paul Newman, GT-1's celebrity driver, in 11th place). Now, with a larger bankroll and no distracting CEO duties, Canney has turned his attention to the GT-1 championship. He's in the market for a new $250,000 car, which he hopes will be the final piece he needs.

But his run at the championship will have to wait until 2006. Canney didn't finish that race at the Pocono because the stray tire, with a skeleton of suspension still clinging to it, had spilled tiny pieces of metal debris across his path. One of the chunks punctured his radiator, causing the engine to overheat and spilling 280-degree water into the cockpit and onto Canney's left leg. His fire-retardant suit protected him, but he couldn't continue racing without blowing his engine.

No matter. Canney is already looking beyond next season's GT-1 championship. If he wins, he wants to move up to the SCCA's Trans-Am circuit, the professional equivalent of the GT-1 class.

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