NASA NorCal racer Shaun Webster is happy to tell you he wasn’t naturally quick, but he didn’t let that stop him. This year’s ST4 Champion, Webster dedicated himself to mastering his craft through diligence and thoughtful application, which he’s proven are able to compensate for any lack of God-given ability.
His steady and sensible driving in the Edge Motorworks No. 38 E46 has helped him rack up a respectable collection of trophies. Despite being a solid contender for race wins in the last few years, it wasn’t until this year’s NASA Championships that he felt he was a capable wheel-to-wheel driver.
Starting in his mid-30s, Webster had a bit of an uphill battle to fight if he wanted to live up to the standards set by his highly competitive nature, but he managed. Webster committed to the craft in a way that reflects a thoughtful, exacting nature. His guidance under NorCal ace Matt Powers has helped immeasurably. “I think it’s been due to quality seat time and coaching,” Webster said. “I haven’t been able to build any bad habits.”
And his commitment is clear. Even after a couple big crashes, both of which he walked away from, he kept the fire burning somehow.
“It’s persistence, growth, and resourcefulness,” Webster said. “I defer to guys who are better at the mechanical side of things and just want to focus on my driving.”
His mindset is evident in his choice of spending and setup. The E46 is sorted, but not perhaps a test lab like some other cars could be. “I’m not interested in spending time on finding ways to find the utmost potential of the car,” he said. “I wanted to gel with the car, so that meant getting it to handle to my liking and spending enough time to learn it thoroughly.”
It’s also evident in where he’s chosen to compete. He took a stab at SRO World Challenge/TC America back in 2018 with Hard Motorsport, then began campaigning a TCR Audi with dreams of moving it from the club ranks to IMSA, but the flirtation with pro racing wasn’t enough to sustain him. “The pro stuff is stressful and too expensive,” he said.
His return to club racing and the E46 he cut his teeth in has been the most fruitful. His formative wheel-to-wheel years took place in a Spec E46, which fascinated him with its balance and predictability. The stable platform and torquey motor helped develop a smooth, steady driving style that’s helped him excel in the latter stages of a race. When combined with his E46’s kindness to its tires, he’s found his late-race pace is one of his biggest strengths.
After racing the 25 Hours of Thunderhill, Webster’s racecraft improved. “Dealing with traffic in the 25 can be overwhelming. There’s a huge delta in speed from the prototypes to Miatas,” he said. “It always makes the race interesting and tests a driver’s patience. I’ve learned not to force the issue. Sometimes it’s better just to wait and see how things develop.”
That patience was tested this year’s effort at the 2023 NASA Championships, where the Edge team was plagued with troubles before they got on track.
Dogged by a broken axle on his rig, their truck driver did not arrive until midday Thursday, which forced Webster to miss practice. Considering the cost of transport, he wasn’t thrilled, but Webster took the whole affair in his stride. “I’ve had so many mechanical issues over the years that I’ve learned to not get too worked up. I wasn’t happy, but it was out of my hands.”
They got the car running Friday morning, much to Webster’s surprise, but their woes weren’t over. The gearbox was not cooperating. His teammate Anthony Zwain couldn’t get it out of gear in the pits. The flywheel, a rare Clutchmasters item not used by anyone else in the pits, had broken.
Back in California, Angelo Todoran took it upon himself to fly out to Pittsburgh to deliver and change the flywheel. Webster had gone to the hotel Thursday night without much enthusiasm, but when he arrived the next morning and saw the car purring in the pits, his spirits lifted. Todoran and Zwain had swapped everything out at 4 o’clock that morning.
After a lackluster first qualifying session, the rubbered-in track gave him enough grip to be encouraging, but the times didn’t get any better. It wasn’t until the last lap of the second session that he logged a lap good enough for third on the grid. For a car down 11 horsepower at a track with long straights, that was impressive.
The joy was short-lived. On the way into impound, he spied smoke exiting his hood vents. The trumpet line on the power steering had ruptured, spilling some fluid on something hot. Thankfully, Perception Motor Werks was able to provide Shaun with a replacement.
The following day, they skipped practice to be safe. The weather boded well for smooth running the rest of the afternoon, but Webster had seen how the first-place car had put in a lap a second faster. Thankfully, a little traffic would help Webster stay in the fight.
His third-place starting position in the qualifying race and a gutsy bit of defense from Nick DeRosa behind kept him in third after Turn 2, but he and other front-runners had to deal with the slower traffic from the group ahead. The ST4 pack caught the GTS3 tail-enders by the end of the first lap, and Webster was watching his mirrors nervously.
A long battle with Nick DeRosa culminated in DeRosa driving off track at Turn 1, and Webster was able to focus on reeling in leader Scott Smith. Smith had been consistently quicker all weekend, so Webster felt he’d have to make an attempt if he wanted to get ahead and play the defensive game.
There was contact with a GTS3 backmarker and Smith, which caused some damage. Webster had bent his front-right toe link, which made it tough to get through the fast-flowing right-handers, and Smith bent his front-left control arm. The stewards deemed the contact as incidental, but that didn’t change the unfortunate fact that Smith limped home in sixth place.
After bringing home the win, Shaun did the gentlemanly thing and bought Smith a new arm from the same company that had sold him a trumpet line earlier.
I was alive with confidence after that,” Webster said. “I felt that I might be able to hold onto my starting position with my race craft in the main, but I had to get through the first corner in one piece first and hopefully build a gap.”
Determined to come out ahead, Webster charged Turn 1, held the inside, and exited strongly. He began to build his lead, which grew to a full 7 seconds by the halfway point. “I was relaxed. All I had to do was concentrate on driving cleanly and getting around traffic without losing time,” Webster said.
Then a car crashed at the top of Turn 2 and Webster was forced to watch his mirrors under the full-course yellow. DeRosa and Smith were back on his bumper, and DeRosa was eager to make up for his earlier mistake. On the penultimate lap, DeRosa stuck his car down the inside and gave Webster the option of taking the grass or lifting. Webster kept his foot in it and made a brief agricultural excursion before rejoining the track alongside DeRosa and taking the inside of Turn 1. After that, DeRosa couldn’t find another opening.
Webster crossed the line and a wave of relief washed over him. “I’d won Nationals in TT, I’d stood on the podium in ST, but I’d never won before,” he said. “I guess all the ST races and the 25 Hours paid off. I was kept busy most of that race, but I remained calm and bided my time as best as I could with Nick nipping at my heels.”
Validated for all his effort over the last decade, Webster took home the big trophy and slept easily for the first time in a week. He’d worked his backside off for his new mantlepiece, and he proved to himself — a competitive, exacting, serious-minded racer — that hard work pays off.
|Racing Class:||NASA Super Touring 4|
|Sponsors:||Edge Motorworks, Dormatech, Build Ops, Total Environmental Management, Wilwood, LiquiMoly|
|Day Job:||Sales Engineer|
|Favorite TV show:||“Eastbound and Down”|
|Favorite Movie:||“Fire Down Below”|
|Dream Racecar:||BMW M4 GT3|