Time Out With: Mark Drennan

The name Mark Drennan is one you might have heard before. He’s the guy who won the 2015 Spec Miata Western States Championships at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, then travelled across the country to take a second national title at Virginia International Raceway. That earned him an invitation to the Mazda Road to 24 Shootout, but he didn’t nab the big prize. We caught up with Drennan to see what he’s learned and what he’s been up to.

Q: You’ve been through the Mazda Road to the 24 Shootout, and didn’t win it, but you went racing in MX-5 Cup anyway. How’s the racing in MX-5 Cup? 

A: The racing is intense, as you’d expect in any pro or amateur spec series where you have lots of talented drivers racing in equal equipment. The unique challenge of MX-5 Cup is “the draft.” The convertible cars punch huge holes in the air and most of the tracks raced in the series have significant straightaways — Road America, Indianapolis, Toronto, Watkins Glen, and even Barber. As a result, it’s nearly impossible for the leader(s) to drive away from the field. This makes partnering to get the perfect draft in qualifying critical. It also means you’re in for 45 minutes of “pack racing” – very tight quarters where you attack and/or defend and/or go side-by-side in practically every corner! Again, very intense!

Q: Can you describe the differences between racing in MX-5 Cup and racing at the front in Spec Miata during the NASA Championships? 

A:The top SM drivers at the NASA Championships are some of the best drivers in the country. Compared to the 2016 MX-5 crash-fest season, the SM drivers raced just as hard, but with less contact because they raced more respectfully and fairly … most of the time. I specifically remember thinking exactly this at last year’s championships, right after going three- or four-wide with no contact at Watkins Glen last year in one of the qualifying races.

Q: What is the camaraderie like in the pro series like MX-5 Cup? Is there any? Or is it all business? 

A: In MX-5 Cup, we’re —pretty much — all pleasant to each other, but the depth of camaraderie between teams/drivers just isn’t the same as you’ll find at your typical NASA weekend. I’m not sure why, but probably because there’s a lot more resources — money and time — involved and everyone takes it very seriously. It’s not just “for fun.”

Q: You’re one of those quick drivers who has admitted he isn’t much of a mechanic. Are there times that has held you back? 

A: It’s not really my lack of mechanical skills that’s held me back. It’s my lack of experience/understanding when it comes to chassis dynamics and setup that’s occasionally hampered me. That said, I’m no dummy, which is arguable, so I’ve always partnered with the best in the biz – guys like Tim Barber with TFB Performance and earlier in my experience Jason Hoover with Atlanta Motorsports Group, who have always given me the best prepared and set-up equipment, so I have no excuses when I cross the finish line.

Q: What do you suppose were the most helpful things you did to become a fast driver? 

A: Seat time, seat time, seat time! Whether it’s on a simulator, indoor/outdoor kart track, autocross course, or an actual race track, more experience equals more speed and skill. The critical caveat is that it needs to be quality seat time versus just pounding away, doing laps. I’ve always pushed myself to get better, constantly evaluating and improving my performance — corner after corner after corner. I’m a self-taught racer by way of 10,000-plus hours of seat time, starting with simulators. Looking back, I should have hired a driver coach to shorten my learning curve by having them to guide me down the right path to greater speed.

Image courtesy of Brett Becker