The movie, “Casino” starred Robert De Niro as Sam “Ace” Rothstein, a sports handicapper who was in tight with La Cosa Nostra in the seedy days of gaming in Las Vegas. The movie tells a long, sordid tale of violence, substance abuse, subversion and debauchery. Rothstein managed to avoid the ultimate demise of his costars, Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone, retired to San Diego and resumed handicapping sports for the mob.
“In the end, I wound up right back where I started,” Rothstein said. “I could still pick winners and I could still make money for all kinds of people back home. And why mess up a good thing? And that’s that.”
In the spirit of Sam Rothstein, I’m going to attempt to pick the winners of this year’s Eastern States Championships, or at least tell you whom to look for on the podium. Rothstein’s methods might have been more scientific than mine — then again, maybe not. Maybe he just paid close attention.
The following picks stem from a few years of experience covering NASA Championships, from sifting through hundreds regional race reports every year and from time spent on the road visiting nearly every NASA region — and paying close attention.
By the end of September, we’ll know how accurate these picks were. Bear in mind that this exercise just for fun. No one is going to win or lose any money based on these picks — I hope — so I’m hoping that, in the end, I won’t get whacked.
Over the years, NASA Great Lakes’ Dan Piña has shown dogged determination in just getting to the Championships, starting a fundme.com campaign to get to the 2014 Western States Championships after competing in the Eastern States Championships the month before. Piña finished second at Road Atlanta and third at Sonoma in 2014. In 2015 he won it all at the Eastern States Championships at Virginia International Raceway.
Of course, if NASA Southeast’s Jason Stanley has anything to say about it, he’s going home with the gold. Stanley led a few laps at the 2014 Eastern States Championships at VIR, but ended up finishing second. Look for these two to go after each other at Watkins Glen. Advantage: Piña.
NASA Northeast’s AJ Hartman has a car that’s been dialed in to the full extent of the rules in American Iron. His business creating aerodynamic bits shows a strong focus on SN95 Mustangs, which is what he races. Hartman currently leads the points race in American Iron in the Northeast, with four firsts, three seconds and one third-place finish.
Southern California’s Corey Weber is making the long trip east to see if he can play the spoiler. Weber took first in the Western States Championships in 2014 and 2015. Look for him challenge the local favorite Hartman this year.
American Iron Extreme
American Iron Extreme is typically a bout between Paul Faessler and Chris Griswold, a battle between two outlandishly powerful Mustangs. For Watkins Glen, however, Griswold wasn’t registered as of press time. Unless Griswold shows up, look for Faessler to run away with American Iron Extreme.
The odds are about even between NASA Great Lakes Regional Director Jay Andrew and NASA Southeast racer Robert Miller in American Iron. Each has a championship to his name. Miller won the Eastern States Championships last year at VIR. Andrew won the American Iron Championship at Mid-Ohio in 2007 before he took over as Great Lakes Regional Director. I’m going to give the edge to Miller.
Camaro Mustang Challenge
Bob Denton hails from the Great Lakes Region, one of the toughest places to win in Camaro-Mustang Challenge, and he’s been on the podium in all but two races this season. Russ Carter is from the Mid-Atlantic region and has been on a tear this season, and is currently leading the points chase. This is a tough call, but I’m going to give the nod to Carter, who scored pole position and the win last year at VIR.
German Touring Series
In GTS1, the Championships field isn’t very large for Watkins Glen, and I hesitate to pick a winner among the all-Porsche-944 field. I can tell you which two racers likely will be dicing for the lead. That said, look for NASA Southeast’s Larry Helm to take the win just ahead of NASA Great Lakes’ Michael Dearstyne. Helm has six wins and four second-place finishes this year, which makes me think he’ll finish stronger.
The GTS2 field is strong for the 2016 Eastern States Championships. Michael Sousa is tied for the points lead with Anthony Bodine in NASA Northeast. These guys have been in each other’s mirrors all year long, but when they arrive at Watkins Glen, they’ll likely have to deal with NASA Great Lakes’ Luke Perkowski, who has four wins, six second-place finishes and five thirds this year. There are a lot of podiums among all three of these guys. I’ll give the nod to Sousa because I think he’s got more experience at this track.
The GTS3 field at Watkins Glen is one of the biggest in years. Hugh Stewart and Frank Ferrara race together in the Northeast all the time. In fact, where they finished last year at the Eastern States Championships at VIR, first and third, respectively, is also where they are currently in the points chase in the Northeast. Look for these guys to battle hard all race long. So who finishes first? It’s a tough call, but give the not to Stewart at the Glen.
As always, the GTS4 field will be the biggest in German Touring Series at the Glen this year. Two Northeast racers quickly come to mind as the ones to watch this year: GTS National Director Michael Gershanok and Will Vanjonack. Gershanok is currently the Northeast Points leader with solid finishes all year. Vanjonack is currently fifth in points, but only because his attendance record has been spotty. However, every time Vanjonack has shown up this year, he’s won. Look for Vanjonack to be up front.
True to its usual form, GTS5 is all Porsche 911s. NASA Great Lakes racers Ed Baus and Robert Wisen look appear likely to be up front, but another Great Lakes racer, Brian Hicks will be in the mix. Given these drivers’ records in the current points standings, this race could go to any of them. If I had a three-sided coin, that’d be how I’d call this race, which is going to be a battle.
Honda Challenge 1 promises to be a free-for-all at Watkins Glen. As of press time, all but one entry was a Honda S2000. NASA Southeast’s Stephen Pearce, who has three wins this season will square off against Michael Kanicsak from NASA Northeast and NASA Mid-Atlantic’s John Oldt, who finished third at the Eastern States Championships at Road Atlanta in 2014. I’m going to give the nod to Oldt for 2016.
NASA Northeast’s Robert Casella suffered a heartbreaking mechanical failure at VIR last year while leading Honda Challenge 2 late in the race. As a result NASA Northeast’s Spencer Anderson took the win and the Championship. Look for some fastidious car prep from Casella this year because he’s going to be looking for redemption from last year’s loss. The win this year will be as difficult as ever because the Northeast is one of the most competitive in H2. If it isn’t Casella in first, it likely will be Anderson. Good luck with that one, guys.
The NP01 was largely the brainchild of NASA Director of Business Development Jeremy Croiset, and he has more time in these cars than anyone, so look for him up front at Watkins Glen. Of course, you can expect to NP01 Atlantic series racer Bryan Putt up front, too. Putt set the NP01 track record at Mid-Ohio and has held a competition license since 1999. That kind of experience definitely helps, so look for some great racing in NP01. I’m giving the nod to Croiset.
When I think if Dave Schotz, I think of this photo: him standing next to one of his cars with four Championship trophies. It makes for a pretty convincing argument for thinking he’s a good pick for PTB Champion this year. However, NASA Northeast’s Jeff Ricca has racked up five wins in six races this year, so Schotz will have his work cut out for him. Advantage: Schotz.
NASA NorCal’s Charlie Hayes has won all but one race he’s entered this season, so he looks good for a serious shot at the PTD Championship. His experience racing in Spec Miata and crewing for the Flying Lizard Motorsports should be a bonus. However, NASA Northeast’s Adam Mouradian and Rick Goryeb each have three wins apiece this season in their home region. It will be interesting to see if Mouradian and Goryeb, both driving BRZ/FRS cars can top Hayes in his Miata. Look to Hayes for the win.
In NASA’s Central Region, Brett Westcott and Warren Dexter are the hot shoes in PTE. Westcott has been dialing in his Nissan Sentra SE-R for years, and Dexter relies on the proven Miata platform. It’s anybody’s race at Watkins Glen, which favors neither car. Neither driver is intimately familiar with this track, so we’ll give the nod to Dexter who finished second at the 2014 Western States Championships, showing that he can come to an unfamiliar track and perform.
Jon McAvoy had a terrible start at last year’s Eastern States Championships at VIR and yet he won it anyway. That’s why he’s the favorite going into to the Eastern States Championships at Watkins Glen. He’ll have to deal with Robin Sparrow who finished third at VIR last year. Advantage: McAvoy.
Spec E30 will have the second largest field at this year’s Eastern States Championships, and neither of the favorites are from the Northeast region. Of course they aren’t from the Mid-Atlantic Region, either, but that didn’t stop Larry Fraser and Sandro Espinosa from putting on a clinic of fierce competition at VIR. I’m giving the advantage to Fraser, who made a mistake at VIR last year while leading the race, which he had been doing for most of the race. He and Espinosa will be the cars to watch. Of course, Ryan Whitinger, Robert Grace and Anthony Magagnoli will be in the mix, too. This will be one of the better championship races at Watkins Glen this year.
With two Championships in Spec Miata and a full season of MX-5 Cup racing under his belt, including races at Watkins Glen, Mark Drennan is the odds-on favorite to win Spec E46 at this year’s Eastern States Championships. NASA Northeast’s Richard Bocanegra will be on hand to play spoiler this year and he’ll be the guy to beat. Bocanegra has won seven of eight races this season and he won’t care how many laps Drennan has turned at the Glen. He plays to win.
With more than 50 cars set to take the green flag, Spec Miata will be the can’t-miss race. Watkins Glen is Tyler Kicera’s home track, which puts him at the top of the watch list. But there will be no running away with anything for Kicera. This is Spec Miata, a class in which two drivers cooperating in a draft can team up against the leader who’s out by himself. There could be any one of 10 or so other drivers in the mix for the win. After all, the top 13 finishers at VIR last year posted lap times within one second of one another. Look for Danny Steyn to be on the podium along with Marc Cefalo. Also look for Mark Drennan, Blake Clements, Trevor McCallion, Andrew von Charbonneau and Dan Williams to be in the hunt.
Terry Mathis was a standout in American Iron in NASA Southeast, with a well-prepped Camaro regularly beating a field of Mustangs. He won American Iron at the Eastern States Championships at VIR and has since moved up to ST1 in a Corvette Z06. Mathis will be the favorite to win this year in ST1, but he’ll have to deal with Russ Oasis who is leading the ST1 points race in NASA Northeast in his Dodge Viper. This race should be a classic Vette vs. Viper battle. I can’t wait.
Adrian Wlostowski has piloted his Corvette Grand Sport to five wins in eight races in NASA Northeast. His closest regional competitor, John George, has three wins in a Factory Five Challenge Cobra. Between these two drivers, they have taken all the wins in NASA Northeast in ST2, so look for them to put on a show at Watkins Glen. Advantage: Wlostowski.
Super Touring 3 has the biggest ST field at Watkins Glen and a hugely diverse group of cars. Great Lakes Region racer Chandler Premo has proven he learns new tracks well, by going 6 seconds faster than his nearest competitor at the inaugural races at National Corvette Museum Motorsports Park in March. Look for him to finish on top unless Mid-Atlantic standout Vernon McClure, who has won two of six races this season. Both drivers are in BMW M3’s. Look for Rocky Mountain Regional Director Dave Balingit to give both of them all they can handle in his Ford-powered ASA stock car.
For Super Unlimited, it would be hard to bet against Brian Frisselle driving a Norma chassis that won the 25 Hours of Thunderhill and podiumed at the 2014 Western States Championships. NASA Great Lakes racer Ray Sweers will give Frisselle all he can handle in his Dodge Viper. If the Norma doesn’t make it to the end, look for Sweers to break on through. Advantage: Frisselle.