At every NASA Championships since 2006, it’s a safe bet Tony Senese was there competing in Spec Miata. Whether it was the first championships at Mid-Ohio Sport Car Course, or this year’s event at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Senese has missed just two NASA Championships over the 16-year span.
It’s a testament to Senese’s consistency as a driver and the 62-year-old’s dedication to competing in the Spec Miata championship. Senese has only missed two Championships events: one at Utah Motorsports Campus — formerly Miller Motorsports Park — and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
The first championship at Mid-Ohio in 2006 was unforgettable for Senese. Passing a Spec Miata in the infamous Carousel with two laps left in the race, Senese went off the track and into the grass, rolling his car and landing upright.
“I kind of looked up and I realized that if I didn’t do something, there was going to be a yellow flag at the end of the race and I was going to be the cause of that,” Senese said. “I kind of slowly backed down the grass, but you’re not supposed to do that, and I went into the pits.
“I was heartbroken because it was the first big championship, and I didn’t get to finish. It certainly was early enough in my career that I wasn’t used to those kinds of things.”
Senese started doing track days at Watkins Glen International more than two decades ago and has been racing since.
“When I did my first track day, I never thought there was a chance that I would ever do any sort of wheel-to-wheel racing,” he said. “But the first turn I did at Watkins Glen in my streetcar, I was completely addicted to the whole idea.”
When it came time to buy a racecar, a friend told Senese about the Spec Miata class starting up in the northeast region. Senese liked the Miata’s speed, handling and plentiful supply of used cars.
“The most fun part of racing for me is the corners and (the Miatas) are so fast and dynamic and so fun to drive on any of the technical tracks,” Senese said. “Somebody asked me if I was going to get a faster car and I said never. There is no car faster than this car in the corners and that’s where the fun is for me.”
Senese works on his own racecars to save money and even rebuilt the engine on the first Miata he owned. “I rebuilt a motor with zero training, and not even YouTube videos because they weren’t around then, the second year I was racing,” he said. “It was talking to people I knew and asking them questions as I went. That motor lasted quite a while, actually.”
Senese started racing Spec Miata 15 years ago in Vermont and earned seven championships in the NASA Northeast Region while the car counts were building. Five years ago, Senese moved to Northern California and the average 35-car Spec Miata fields in the NorCal Region were only something he experienced at the NASA Championships.
Mix in a bunch of Teen Mazda Challenge Series racers and Senese readily admits not being a strong qualifier. He knows he has his work cut out for him any given weekend.
“I always want to finish the race because not finishing the race is never fun,” he said. “I try to make up as many spots during the race that’s possible without crashing so that I finish the race.”
Brett Cox has raced with Senese the past five years and calls his friend a fierce competitor out on the track, but off it he’s a teddy bear.
“Tony is the first guy to help another racer,” Cox said. “If something breaks or if a guy gets his fender caved in and his wheels are pointing the wrong way, Tony will run out there, take a guy’s fender off and have it fixed by the time the guy’s got a new tie rod on. He always jumps in there.”
Senese said the camaraderie is why he has raced Spec Miata with NASA for so many years. He was expecting a cold reception, remembering the days of going to track when his grandfather raced.
“I really didn’t expect it to be a social thing. I really expected it to be a very kind of intense, because when I grew up my grandpa built stock cars and I was around the racetrack as a kid,” Senese said. “Everybody was really competitive and there were a lot of rivalries, so it could be a tense thing.”
Asked about the difference in driving between the West Coast and East Coast, Senese jokes about offending friends on both coasts. In general, he’s found that drivers on the East Coast have two skill sets — racing in the rain and racing on dry tracks.
“I think that’s one of the biggest differences, is that people who wean themselves on driving on the East Coast, racing in the rain is not that big of a deal,” Senese said. “As a matter of fact, most of us really like it.”
Senese believes the West Coast is a better path for someone looking for a career in racing, pointing to Teen Mazda Challenge Series as one example.
“I think we have 10 or 12 Teen Mazda Challenge racers at almost every event we have, so that presence of new, undeveloped raw talents on the West Coast is more dominant than it is on the East Coast,” he said.
Cox appreciates the effort Senese undertakes to race at the NASA Championships each year. Fellow Spec Miata racers can expect to see Senese racing at Pittsburgh International Race Complex in Wampum, Pa., Sept. 7-10, 2022.
“It takes a lot of commitment to drive from the West Coast to Daytona (Florida) last year or the Circuit of the Americas (in Texas) a couple of years before that,” Cox said. “It shows you how much he likes racing in the Championships and the kind of commitment he’s willing to make.”
|Castro Valley, CA
|Larry’s Tire, Hawk Performance, Toyo Tires, Mazda Motorsports
|Manager, Business Development Panasonic EMBD
|Favorite TV show:
|“Star Trek” (All of them!)
|“The Stand,” Stephen King
|Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course