Ken Mantovani’s commitment to doing everything himself when it comes to auto racing has been a running joke with his family.
“They go, ‘When you win a race, and they interview you, what do you do?’” Mantovani said. “’I’d like to thank me for all the hard work that I’ve done. I’d like to thank me for all the great driving. I’d like to thank me for getting those tires changed fast. It’s a running joke, but racing is just my passion.”
Mantovani, like many racers in NASA, is a one-man team, handling everything, including car maintenance, towing and driving duties. The big difference is the West Palm Beach, Fla., resident, is the favorite in any Super Touring 2 race he enters.
“When we look at the entry list, we know if Ken (Mantovani) is there, he’s our target,” said Super Touring 2 team owner Don Sanzera, whose son, Danny, drives the car. “We’ve got to run as fast as him or beat him.”
Catching Mantovani at the 2021 NASA Championships presented by Toyo Tires was an impossible task for fellow Super Touring 2 competitors. Mantovani knew Daytona International Speedway well, notching the fastest qualifier time and winning both qualifying races en route to the Super Touring 2 Championship.
“I have countless hours on Daytona, so that was definitely a clear advantage,” Mantovani said. “I knew that once I went over and spoke with my closest competitor. He hadn’t driven on the track before and I can see every single session he was going out there, he was getting much faster. He was just learning the nuances of the track, and I knew them inside and out.”
Proud of his clean sweep at the NASA Championships, Mantovani took greater pride in building the 2003 Chevrolet Corvette that he raced to victory in Daytona, Fla. He purchased the car in 2019 and with the exception of the roll cage and engine, Mantovani built it entirely himself after work and on weekends.
“I just wanted to build my own car because there’s so many things that you want to do differently,” he said. “All the stuff I’ve learned from owning two racecars that other people built and then paying attention to other people’s builds, I went ahead and put all the best that I’ve learned into one package and that was this car.”
Racing a Corvette at any level is expensive, and when Mantovani first joined NASA, he started racing in Super Touring 1. He quickly recognized the class was an arms race and beyond what he was willing to spend to stay competitive.
“The issue with ST1 is that guys are constantly making their car bigger, badder, and faster, and every single one of those things just costs money to do,” he said. “It just gets out of hand after a while, and you just get tired of chasing that.”
Mantovani employs a couple of techniques to keep costs down. He runs a square tire set, opting for a cost-friendly 275 DOT tire instead of a 315 racing slicks most competitors use. Mantovani runs the same calipers, rotors and pads on all four corners to extend their lifecycle.
“I actually take my front rotors when they’re halfway through their life, throw it to the rear and put new ones on the front and then once I wear all that out, then I go for a new set,” Mantovani said. “I get one and a half times more out of my rotors than you normally would, if you were just throwing away a front set, because your rotors are different.”
Racers will be hard pressed to find Mantovani under the car during a race weekend. The 41-year-old is a stickler for preventive maintenance, something he learned as a kid while working with his father on the family’s 1955 and 1962 Chevrolet Bel Airs and a couple of street rods.
Every season Mantovani does a refresh on his Corvette, rebuilding the brakes and injectors and replacing the spark plugs and wires. Mantovani replaces the water pump and coilovers after a set number of hours.
“When I go to a racetrack, I want to just race,” he said. “I’m putting in the same amount of energy and effort and work that everybody else does. It’s just spread out over a long period of time as opposed to cramming it all into a race weekend.”
The car is fully prepped when it leaves for a race weekend and Mantovani loathes doing track days unless absolutely necessary. He is a member of the Palm Beach Driving Club and uses the Wednesday track meet up to test any changes.
“I have a huge advantage over a lot of people, because I can test and tune my car way more often than others do that have to go to a race weekend,” he said.
Mantovani is the rare driver who doesn’t look at data or video, but is happy to share his advice and spare parts with his Super Touring 2 competitors. It’s one of the reasons why he is popular with the racers in the Florida Region.
“We’re not officially a team, but he helps us when we need something, and we help him when he needs something,” said Sanzera, who competes in Super Touring 2. “That’s what makes this sport so special, when you have camaraderie, and you enjoy each other’s company.”
Mantovani is expected to be back on track in March after having surgery in early January to fix a herniated disc. While Mantovani likely won’t get his 12 weekends of racing in this year, he looks forward to running the car pain free. That could be bad news for his competitors.
“It was painful for quite a while,” he said. “I had to take it easy but (my back) healed quickly. I can’t wait to back out there and start racing again.”
|Hometown:||West Palm Beach, FL|
|Day Job:||Real Estate|
|Favorite Food:||Track Food|
|Favorite TV show:||YouTube|
|Favorite Movie:||In Car Video|
|Favorite Book:||My Log Book|
|Favorite Track:||Any track I’m allowed into|
|Dream Racecar:||Any car I’m given the keys to|