Speed News is embarking on a new angle for its “Timeout With” interviews, in which we’ll be talking with series leaders across the country in an effort to share their best practices and find out how they make their individual series tick in their regions.
Series leaders work to grow a given class in their regions by motivating existing drivers while working to recruit new drivers to the class. That can take a number of forms, including keeping an eye on HPDE and Time Trial for the appropriate cars and drivers who might be interested in racing in a series. It also might involve efforts through social media channels to bring in new drivers and introduce them to all the joys of racing in the class they serve.
Series leaders also serve as the liaison between regional and national series directors to address concerns, and maintain stability and growth of their class in their region. Because the idea for this angle for “Timeout With” is new, we’ll begin with the newest series leader in NASA.
Dane Byrd is the new Honda Challenge series leader in the NASA Texas Region. Now in his second year of racing, Byrd took the plunge last year and trailered all the way to Daytona, Fla., for the 2021 NASA Championships Presented by Toyo Tires and finished eighth in a field of 13.
Not long after Byrd stepped up to be the newest series leader for Honda Challenge in the NASA Texas Region, we caught up with him to find out what his plans are and how he will begin to expand Honda Challenge.
Q: First off, NASA has more than 25 classes in which to race. What attracted you to Honda Challenge?
A: Hi, Brett, thanks so much for having me. So, like most competitors that I have talked to in HC, almost all of us seem to have a connection to these cars from our younger days. I had a CRX in high school that I absolutely loved. After the motor spun a bearing from lack of TLC and me beating the tar out of it, I was too dumb and inexperienced to fix it, so I eventually sold It for $500.
Years later, I really wanted another CRX, and I happened to come across a beat up hooptie that had a roll cage and safety equipment for $1,500. After campaigning it in some budget endurance series for a couple of years, the car was starting to resemble sormewhat of an actual racecar. So I started looking around at different race series, and Honda Challenge piqued my interest.
What I really liked was that the class is unique in that it caters to one manufacturer, Honda. But isn’t a spec series that is limited to a single car model, like Spec Miata, or rival cars like Camaro-Mustang Challenge. That means you get all these different chassis and engine combinations competing against each other. This casts a wide net, so practically any sporty — and some not-so sporty — Honda chassis can be classed and race with other Hondas. The aftermarket is huge, parts are relatively cheap, they are light and easy on consumables. People like to race the cars they have a connection to, and you’ll find that in the Honda Challenge paddock. We are passionate about Honda cars, and that’s why we race them!
Q: What’s your background in racing?
A: I have always dreamed of being a racer. I can’t explain why, but I remember distinctly the first time I had my first taste of speed. I must have been 4 or 5 years old, and my dad had acquired an old dry-rotted Power Wheels from a neighbor for free. Of course, the old lead-acid batteries were totally smoked. He rigged a 12-volt motorcycle battery to get it going, and man, that thing would fry it’s little plastic wheels when you hit the switch. The 6-volt motor didn’t last long, but after it was said and done, I was hooked.
Later on, as an adolescent, I was able to part together some go-karts and dirt bikes, but never really had the means to race them even though I really wanted to. After coming across this junky CRX that was built for “LeMans,” it wasn’t until after a Google search that I found out it was really “LeMons.” I finally found my way in: junkyard endurance racing. I got some buddies to chip in to share expenses and we dived in headfirst. Over time, the car matured and so did we. We started racing in the World Racing League when it was first getting started and had several top 10 finishes, but eventually, marriages, careers, and children started to peel team members off. So, to keep my childhood dreams alive, sprint racing with NASA was the natural next step.
Q: What is your professional background and how do you think that will help you in your role as series leader?
A: In my professional life, I am a technical adviser and team lead for a services company. I lead a team of scientists and engineers that provide technical solutions to clients. It is a fast-paced and demanding job that requires a high level of technical expertise, but I also have to break down complicated topics in front of large and small groups. So I’m leading a multi-disciplinary team, keeping it cohesive, while also being able to pragmatically address managers, employees and clients with many different backgrounds. I really hope this has positioned me to be a successful series leader.
Q: NASA Texas Regional Director Will Faules said you’ve already helped the class grow locally. What have you been doing?
A: Oh man, I can’t really take credit for anything. It has been very much a team effort. Everyone in the region is making efforts to reach out to other Honda drivers. You nailed it in the intro. We have been keeping an eye out for signup rosters, making digital flyers to share on Facebook groups and Instagram. I have been working on a couple of race footage/hype videos to share on social media. Dai Nguyen, Jeremy Zeitler, and Scott Adams have done a ton to spread awareness and reach out to current and prospective Honda racers. Word of mouth is also a powerful tool. That work has paid off!
Last race at MSR Cresson we had five racers. There are two more that are about to go through comp school this month, and two to three that are working their builds and are getting close. In late 2022 or early 2023, I am confident we will get some 10-plus car fields. To me, that is excellent progress in a fairly short amount of time, since Texas Honda Challenge was established in 2021. Currently, I am in the process of condensing the NASA Honda Challenge webpage into a brochure with an overview and FAQ to hand out at car meets and local drag races. I have found that a lot of people don’t know that Honda Challenge exists, or that road racing is something almost anyone can do. There is this stigma out there that road racing is something only for the uber rich, with fully built tube-chassis racecars. I used to believe that at one time as well.
Q: When a new driver comes to Honda Challenge in your region, how do you make him or her feel welcome?
A: Help them. Most of the time, a new racer is oblivious to the pace and prep that goes into a NASA weekend. Lend them a torque wrench, show them what order to rotate wheels, offer track advice, give them a heads up when it’s time to grid. The best thing you can do is help flatten that learning curve a bit, and you might have made a new friend. That can be — wink, wink — very handy in multi-class racing. We also try to get all the Honda cars to set up together in the paddock, even if they are in TT or HPDE. We share tools, spares, fluids, stories and BS. Honda. Strong. Together.
Q: What was it like when you first started racing with NASA? How did NASA members and staff make you feel welcome?
A: I’ll never forget when I came to my first NASA event. I maybe knew three people there because Jeremy, Scott, Dai, and myself had already talked about getting Honda Challenge going in Texas. I really just barely knew those guys at the time too. I remember going through tech, and one of the inspectors, Ed McKinnon found out I was new to NASA. After my logbook was signed, he shook my hand and said, “Welcome to the NASA family.” It seems like a small gesture, but I was taken aback a bit. I had been racing in other organizations for a handful of years, and there was always this feeling of contentiousness in tech and around the paddock. Everyone had their clique and we were all opponents, competitors. I have never felt that with NASA, the camaraderie and family spirit has made me a lifelong member. We even get along with the Spec Miata guys! We all race and love being on track, and that extends beyond the class we are racing in.
Q: What do you think the most effective recruitment tool is at your disposal?
A: Social media, by far. Technology has made information more accessible than ever before. For better or worse, it is the world we live in today. However, don’t underestimate old fashion hitting the beat. There are things that get lost in translation, and there is a slow trickle of information online, so being there in person to hand out flyers and answer questions on the spot has merit as well.
Q: Have you been able to speak with other series leaders to get their best practices?
A: Yes and no. I am still really new to the position, I just accepted it this month. I have thumbed around the NASA forums and Facebook chats to get an idea of what has been going on in years prior. The East and West coasts have been Honda Challenge mainstays for years. I haven’t been able to get a solid pulse on why those regions have been so successful in particular. Is it a car culture thing? Is there something they were doing that we weren’t? As far as I can tell, there seems to be this inevitable ebb and flow of classes that rise and fall around the regions, but it seems like when entries hit a critical mass, the class starts to become self-sustaining.
People want other people to race against, so if there are only ever two to three racers in a weekend, you have might a guy that would rather go play in TT, ST, USTCC, ABCDEFG, or whatever. I think if we can get a consistent 10 entries for almost every race in a season, Honda Challenge will be in Texas for a long time.
Q: What would you like to see happen with Honda Challenge in the Texas Region over the next five years?
A: Obviously, I would love to have some larger fields. Like I was explaining earlier, if we can get a big enough crew together, we can play racecars at every event. The older Honda cars are becoming more rare and expensive, but relatively speaking … all the 90s and 00s cars are, and not just Hondas. It’s time to embrace the newer, modern cars. A lot of people complain that the newer cars have bunk suspension geometry, or are heavy and uninspiring. But they have sophisticated ABS, electronic brake distribution, variable cam phasing, and some even have drive-by-wire. Some of these cars are already being developed here and in other regions.
We have two RSXs signed up for the next event, and I have been keeping an eye some good deals on eighth-gen Civics. These cars are pushing 15 years old and are getting pretty cheap! There is good chance a 10th generation turbo Civic will be making its way in soon. As the golden era cars start to age, it would be prudent for some of those cars to start incorporating some of this technology as well. But overall, I’d really like to see more of these modern chassis start racing in the region, I think people will be surprised of how capable they are with a good driver.
Q: Let’s say you were the king of amateur motorsports for a season. What would you do to bring motorsports to more people?
A: Easy. I would livestream every, single, race. Not just the big ones like state or nationals championships. I feel like there is really big hole to fill here. We have the technology! NASA has tons of volunteers. Get some guys to be commentators, too. It doesn’t have to be good, but with amount of social media platforms that provide this service for essentially free, it can be done with just about any budget. Drone footage is a big plus, but I admit there are some liabilities, costs, operator skills that I don’t know much about. No big media companies or TV time needed like in the old days. A cell phone or GoPro can do this!
This seems like a no-brainer and can help bring hype to amateur motorsports. Why aren’t we already doing this? I feel like I am taking crazy pills here! Friends, family, and loved ones get to see the action in real time. The younger generations are going to be the future racers, and what better way to connect and inspire by showing them firsthand how exciting it can be.