Time Out with Brian Bohlander

A major part of the job of series leader is to lead and grow a given class within a region. There are no hard and fast methods for accomplishing those goals, and it isn’t easy given the many idiosyncrasies and brand loyalties racers bring to the table. NASA Great Lakes Thunder Roadster series leader Brian Bohlander understands that and tailors his efforts accordingly. We caught up with Brian to ask him about his program.

Q: What attracted you to the Thunder Roadster in the first place?

A: I was using my daily driver in HPDE and began looking into converting it to a racecar. I didn’t have time to build a car, so began the search for a racecar. At the time, 2009, there was a small group of Thunder Roadsters racing in the Great Lakes Region. They looked like fun racecars that would be easy to repair and maintain. NASA also had a program with INEX that allowed them to race under a tightly controlled rule set.

Q: Your goal as series leader of Great Lakes Thunder Roadsters is, obviously, to try to grow the class. What are some of the things you’ve been doing?

A: When it comes down to it, if you’re set on a specific car, I’m probably not going to persuade you to race a Thunder Roadster. The series leader’s best opportunity to capture drivers is getting involved with the HPDE students who know they want to race, but don’t know what they want to race yet. When those students compare the options, the Thunder Roadster gets recognized on its economics.

A set of tires costs less than $500 and are competitive for a season, and brakes can last over two seasons. This becomes the conversation starter that leads to a test drive. After driving this purpose-built racecar, most people seriously consider purchasing one. If that still hasn’t convinced them, the tiebreaker becomes our series marketing. We create an annual poster with the drivers and cars in a collaborative effort with our series photographer, Nick Schleitwiler, from Redline Photo. We also feature pit signs with our driver bios, paddock together, and we have a hospitality area that provides space to bring in HPDE students, NASA regional guests, and gives us a place to educate the youth market, such as local Boy Scout troops and their families.

We are growing a media presence as well with race recaps in Speed News magazine, the thunderroadsterseries.com website, Facebook, and YouTube pages that feature video recaps with race footage, driver interviews, and behind-the-scenes content. We even have a preseason media day where we gather content for event promo videos for our social media channels.

Q: Those sound like pretty professional programs. Where do you get your ideas?

A:I’ve been fortunate to work in corporate marketing for close to 20 years, primarily in brand marketing and motorsports activation for a leading automotive brand. Over that time, I’ve worked with NASCAR, NHRA, and IndyCar on series sponsorship programs as well as with top teams and drivers. A lot of these ideas come from those experiences.

Q: You’ve been converting cars in your region from regular Thunder Roadsters to GTR Thunder Roadsters. What are the differences between those two types of cars?

A: There really isn’t a major difference between these cars other than the engine and a few parts upgraded for longevity. Visually they look identical, with the same tires, wheels, chassis, and spec bodywork. All the specs are the same as Thunder Roadster with exception of a brake upgrade, some reinforced parts for road racing and the engine swap to a Gen II Suzuki Hayabusa. The engine conversion is straightforward, with only minor changes to increase oil pressure and simplifying the ignition system since the original fuel injection is replaced with the stock carburetors from the Yamaha Thunder Roadster. These upgrades promote close racing and save racers money in the long run.

Q: What was the impetus for those changes?

A: The Yamaha XJ motor just isn’t suited for a road race car. In 2009, US Legends Cars developed a water-cooled variation, but this didn’t solve the heat issues or a string of broken crankshafts. The Hayabusa became the solution, but this upgrade classed the cars into Super Touring, which required many other modifications to be competitive and took away the spec intention of the cars. Gary Tinker (toysbytink.com) developed a conversion kit for the Hayabusa that retained the Yamaha carburetors and simplified the ignition system, making a less expensive and more reliable engine package than the EFI system from the production Hayabusa. When combined with the INEX Thunder Roadster specifications, it makes an ultra-competitive car. In fact, our last event featured the lead cars only .039 seconds apart in lap times.

Q: What would you like to see happen with GTR cars and the class? What is your ultimate goal?

A: We’d like to see these cars get a national spec class. Short term would be GTR, but the Yamaha powered cars are becoming extinct, so ultimately these cars will evolve into a modified Thunder Roadster spec at some point. Several regions now have cars being converted or already built to this spec and the racing has been extremely close.

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