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|ST, GTS, TT|
|Lowe Group Racing, Hoosier, VAC Motorsports, Smith Alling PS, wife, family and friends.|
Favorite TV show:
|“Black Sails,” “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” “Vikings”|
|Tom Clancy original novels: “Hunt for Red October,” “Red Storm Rising,” “Debt of Honor,” etc.|
|The Ridge Motorsports Park and Sonoma Raceway|
|McLaren F1 GTR|
Michael McAleenan points the motorhome and trailer south on Interstate 5 as he settles in for the 12-hour drive from Seattle to Sonoma Raceway in Northern California.
Along for the weekend of racing is his wife, Mellani, father, Emmett, and Auggie, the family dog. That might sound like the makings for a TV comedy series, McAleenan but wouldn’t have it any other way.
“My wife would always complain about how long I was gone playing golf,” said McAleenan, who was a scratch golfer. “Her classic quote now is that she rues the day she ever complained about how much time golf took because it just pales in comparison (to racing).”
Instead of spending his weekends driving golf balls, McAleenan is often at the track putting his BMW through its paces. Whether racing at local tracks in Seattle or making several trips a year to California to compete in regional and national NASA races, McAleenan clearly has a passion for auto racing. The 42-year-old McAleenan was a latecomer to the sport when a friend took him to a sports driving course eight years ago at a local track.
“We had a great time and it kind of hooked me,” McAleenan said. “I’ve spent a ton of time and money since then and the guy that brought me into the sport just laughs every time he sees me. He started painting or something like that.”
After chewing through street tires and brakes in his commuter BMW M3, McAleenan knew it was time to get a dedicated racecar. He turned to Lowe Group Racing near Seattle to transform a 2001 BMW by going with a newer model V8 engine with a sequential transmission, aerodynamic changes and suspension improvements.
McAleenan finally had a car to match his ability on the track. He won a GTS4 National Championship in 2013 and followed it up the next year by winning the National Championship in ST3. That victory qualified McAleenan for the Mazda Race of NASA Champions in 2015.
McAleenan had a strong showing in the race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca despite having issues with his car during the weekend. The drivers picked their cars at random and could not make modifications.
“I usually don’t go off-track very often but on that particular track I was off-track three times,” said McAleenan, who finish in sixth place with Matt Powers of San Rafael, Calif., winning the event.
McAleenan says he continues to evolve as a driver, especially after the Mazda Race of NASA Champions, which featured top-flight competition. He studies data after races but acknowledges he could do more to analyze the information between races.
“If you’re merely in a qualifying race, is it that important to try and make that pass in those awkward places when all it’s going to do is move you up on position in the starting grid?” McAleenan said. “Or is it more important to preserve the car when it’s really going to matter for the championship race?
“Trying to gauge that is part of what you learn over the years and with experience,” he added. “Maybe when I first started out I wouldn’t have thought that way.”
Friend and fellow racer Cavan O’Keefe of Seattle said that McAleenan will rarely make the same mistake twice on the track. Both drivers have campaigned two cars together at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill.
“He’s aggressive and he runs very hard, but he also doesn’t make many mistakes,” said O’Keefe, adding, “He’s a passively-aggressive driver if that makes any sense. He’s a very clean driver and because of that he’s been extremely successful, to the frustration of some who’ve tried to beat him, including me.”
An attorney by day, McAleenan’s competitive streak started in college where he played collegiate baseball at Arizona State University for one year before transferring to Washington State University. He gave up baseball and eventually earned his law degree. To fuel his competitive streak, McAleenan took up golf and had a single-digit handicap before turning his attention to racing.
Tony Colicchio of TC Design in Campbell, Calif., says McAleenan’s competitive spirit helps make him one of the top drivers in NASA.
“If you’re successful in other parts of your life, you can generally figure out a game plan of how to be successful on the next thing you’re working on,” Colicchio said.
In the paddock, racers say McAleenan is one of the more laid-back drivers. His family will put on a barbecue for fellow racers who they see several times a year during their trips to Northern California. Unlike other classes in NASA, McAleenan said drivers generally don’t share data or setup secrets because the competition is so tight.
“We’re friends and we have a good time, and we race cleanly, but they’re not coming over asking me for advice or telling me about their setup, and likewise I’m not doing the same with them,” he said.
O’Keefe added, “One little setup secret can make a huge difference in those cars based on the power-to-weight setup.”
It’s in the paddock that McAleenan leans on his family to keep him competitive on the track. Because McAleenan races in two groups on race weekends, he has little time to work on his car. The family handles refueling the car, changing the tires or any other minor repairs that are needed.
“Everybody has a role to play and things can get a little bit heated at times … but you recognize at the end of day it’s all family, you’re all friends, and we’re doing this for fun,” McAleenan said. “It works out because some people go camping on the weekends, some people do other family events. We all go to the racetrack and race during the day and hang out at night with our friends. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”