Bryan Cohn is NASA’s Technical Director of Competition. Based in Lawrence, Kan., Cohn has been going to races since age 7 and literally grew up at racetracks across the Midwest. He started competing in 1986, and 2016 marks his 31st year in racing. He has worked in the motorsports industry, since opening his race shop, Bryan Cohn Racing in January 1990, and has worked for three sanctioning bodies. Cohn got the chance to go to work for NASA in February 2006 as Technical Director of Competition. He was given a clean sheet of paper and seven months to create the NASA Championships. Cohn said, “Without question, the NASA Championships success has been the pinnacle of my career.”
Q: What has been your greatest challenge so far as NASA’s Director of Competition?
A: Getting back up to speed with all things NASA. I had a health scare in late 2010 that caused me to step away from working for NASA MW/GL and it took about six months to get back on my feet. I consulted with Matt Rivard in the building of NASA Central, and in early February of 2015 the opportunity came about to work for NASA as the Technical Director of Competition.
Q: How are you planning to overcome problems with enforcing unenforceable rules?
A: This involves training the national series leaders as well as regional series directors, but it also means better rule writing. Often we write ourselves into a rule that we cannot enforce in a legitimate effort to stop rule creep or new technology from taking us places we don’t necessarily want to go.
Q: What classes are running smoothly and to your liking, and what do you think needs tweaking?
A: I can’t say that any one class needs a particular thing because all our classes are evolving all the time. We have new technology, new cars, old cars, old technology. It’s all a constant dance. The trick is to get out front of the new tech and cars while keeping the old tech and cars relevant. In my experience working for three sanctioning bodies, NASA runs smoother and is more driver focused than any other by far.
Q: What do you think is key to growing classes and recruiting new NASA drivers?
A: Growing classes and recruiting drivers are both things I am intimately familiar with. I’ve grown numerous classes over the years, all within the Midwest. All went from low single digits to mid teens in around three years. PTE in Central Region has followed a similar path. The key? Always have fun. Always help others. Reach out to anyone you think might have the slightest interest. Grab them off social media and forums of all kinds. I’ve found over time it takes communicating with dozens of people before you get that one person to jump in with both feet. You have to be relentless and you can’t let it get you down. And finally, you have to choose the right class. Not as many people have $50k to spend on a GTS3 car but lots of people have $10k to spend on a PTE car. I’ve always applied that simple economic concept to my recruitment.
Q: How do you differentiate between the perceptions of cheating and actual cheating?
A: It’s actually simple, believe it or not. More drivers think others are cheating than actually are. That has been the case since the first race. The real problem is when a driver isn’t a believable character, for whatever reason. No matter what that driver does, no matter how many times he is found legal, no one will believe it. I’ve seen drivers talk openly about how they are working to skirt a rule or how they have found a secret or loophole and then wonder why everyone thinks they cheat. The truth is, the cheating most often happens with drivers who aren’t quite as fast as the class leaders and they convince themselves the others must be cheating in order to beat them, so they decide to cheat to “keep up.” There are also those who just can’t help themselves and cheat cause they get a thrill out of trying to beat the system. I’ve never understood this type of driver.