Scott Gress

Racetracks are filled with competitive people, whether it’s on a road course or in their professional career. Sometimes when amateur drivers aren’t obsessed with finishing first, it can cause friction with hypercompetitive drivers and eventually cause racers to leave the sport.

As the series leader for Spec E30 in NASA’s Southeast Region, Scott Gress has created a culture that allows competitive racers and weekend warriors to coexist. The results are a Spec E30 class that routinely has 25 cars at each event, making it one of the largest fields in the country.

How did a retired military officer bring peace to a group when racers can’t agree on what to have for dinner? Gress’ answer: Have fun.

“It’s a successful mindset that keeps people, because if it is so important to win, the people who don’t win, you can’t keep them,” said Gress of Savannah, Georgia, who works in information technology. “But, if you’re just there to have fun with your buddies, you can keep that guy forever.”

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Competition and camaraderie aren’t mutually exclusive. The Southeast Spec E30 group polices itself, especially when a driver is too aggressive. Gress will approach the driver, showing them videos of their transgressions on the track. If the behavior doesn’t change, they’ll approach Regional Director Jim Pantas with video evidence and ask him to make the call.

“You can be a very competitive person yet be considerate on the track,” he said. “But if you are not considerate on the track, we get rid of you because we are buddies and you have to look out for your buddies. You cannot shut the door and put your buddy in a crisis.”

Spec E30 racer Ty Young has raced several other series but said he’s never seen the camaraderie like that in the Southeast Region’s Spec E30 class.

“They’ll go out and they’ll race you hard, I mean as hard as any racing there is. But when it’s all over, it’s all a bunch of friends hanging out,” Young said. “It’s an extraordinary group.”

Gress started with NASA 11 years ago, and his first day at the track he was on the Internet looking for a used racecar, because he realized his daily driver, an old Porsche, would be too expensive to race for his budget.

“I was making this decision to quit buying things that said Porsche on them,” said Gress, adding, “I went from a car where a brake rotor was hundreds of dollars to a car where I can get a brake rotor for $17 shipped.”

When recruiting new drivers to Spec E30, Gress emphasizes the affordability of the class. It’s something he practices with his own race program. When he started racing nearly a decade ago, he slept under a tarp at the racetrack instead of a hotel room to save money. He eventually bought an old enclosed trailer and restored it to sleep. “I don’t get rained or snowed on anymore,” he said.

He works on his own car to save money and has done everything but rebuild a transmission. If he runs into a problem, Gress turns to forums and Facebook, and usually has an answer in short time. “I’m sure I made lots of mistakes but they’re all survivable and if I can figure it out, anyone can figure it out,” he said.

Gress also doesn’t buy new tires for his BMW, opting to race used tires until they are on cord. Running used tires costs him on-track performance, but the 56-year-old racer doesn’t care about winning races. Young says Gress is a midpack racer by choice.

“He’s not a midpack racer because he can’t be up front, it’s because he buys old tires and he’s happy when everybody else is happy and the series is growing,” Young said. “It’s not about being on the podium for him. It’s about everybody having a good time and him being the guy that facilitates that great time everybody is having.”

It’s a strange dichotomy considering when Gress was younger he was a champion triathlete who trained two to three times daily, and traveled the world to compete in triathlons. He served in the Army and went into the Marines after college.

“I was ax murderer serious about triathlons,” Gress said wryly. “I had to adjust that I’m not that great as a racecar driver … and I have to be OK with that because if I can’t be OK with that, I’ll be disappointed and then it won’t be fun.”

Gress’ favorite tracks are Virginia International Raceway and Road Atlanta. He likes VIR because he can see big improvements as a driver, while Road Atlanta has fewer walls and allows him to take greater risks. Regardless of the track, Gress will find a group to race with whether it’s near the front of the pack or near the rear. Racing alone is no fun, Gress said.

Asked about his favorite memory racing with NASA, Gress remembered the end of the 2017 season when the group gives out a “Spirit of Spec E30” trophy. Gress had arranged to give it to another racer but the group switched the name and gave it to him. “They snookered me and gave me my own award,” he said with a laugh.

The racers rushed the stage and picked Gress up and threw him into the air.

“They’re flinging me up into an air like something you would see in a third-world country,” Gress said. “It was hilarious.”

Young said the Spec E30 series in the Southeast Region is a reflection of Gress and the work he has put in since taking over as series leader in 2013. Gress is by the book and applies the rules fairly to all the competitors, Young said.

“He’s a really nice guy and he really loves racing,” Young said. “(Scott) really loves the guys and because of that, the group reflects him and that’s why it brings in more people.”

Name: Scott Gress
Age: 56
Region: NASA Southeast
Hometown: Rainier, Oregon
Racing Class: Spec E30
Sponsors: N/A
Day Job: Computer Geek
Favorite Food: N/A. I’ve been obsessed by endurance sports since high school. For me, food is just fuel.
Favorite TV show: N/A
Favorite Movie: Star Wars
Favorite Book: Too many to name, but Manchester’s three-volume biography of Winston Churchill made a big impression upon me.
Favorite Track: VIR
Dream Racecar: I don’t care about the car, I care about the people.
Image courtesy of Scott Gress