David Cook started with Mazda Motorsports in 2014, and in his role as the business development manager, Cook has been actively involved in such programs as Spec Miata, the Teen Mazda Challenge, the NASA Championships and the contingencies and prizes packages associated with those programs.

More recently, Cook and the Mazda team developed Spec MX-5, a new racing class based on the third-generation Mazda MX-5, known as the NC chassis. With a tight rules set and generous prize packages, Spec MX-5 is yet another rung on Mazda’s ladder into professional motorsports.

This year, Mazda Motorsports announced the formation of a club racing factory team, which will compete in the Spec MX-5 Challenge in 2021. What’s most interesting is that the Mazda-funded club racing factory team will feature two new drivers ushered in from the ranks of kart racing.

Ten finalists were invited to take part in the MX-5 Cup Shootout at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta in early November to vie for two spots in the club racing factory team. Two lucky young drivers, Bryson Morris from Mt. Juliet, Ill., and Alexander Berg, from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, earned those spots and will be competing not only in the Spec MX-5 Challenge, but also as Teen Mazda Challenge drivers, which gives them the opportunity to compete to earn a spot in next year’s MX-5 Cup Shootout, when the cycle will begin anew.

“At Mazda, we believe that sports car racing has a very bright future, which we want to make as available as possible,” said Mazda Motorsports Director Nelson Cosgrove. “Providing racers from the karting community the opportunity to experience what sports car racing has to offer, and what Mazda has to offer, is something we are proud to do.”

The new programs are the direct result of Cook’s hard work and dedication. Speed News will be doing feature stories in the near future on the Shootout winners, but before too much time passed, we wanted to catch up with Cook to get some perspective on these new initiatives from Mazda Motorsports.

Q: You just got back from the MX-5 Cup Shootout. How’d it go?

A: When the nine drivers competing for the MX-5 Cup Shootout scholarships all come prepared off-track for the interviews, and most are within three tenths of a second on track, we feel very good about it. It certainly makes it harder to choose who earns the $110,000-valued scholarship and who are the two who earn the additional $75,000-valued scholarships, but that’s what Mazda and our partner BFGoodrich Tires want. It reinforces the whole process leading up to the Shootout, and gives us confidence we have discovered and retained more great talent in our program.

Q: You all had to squeeze a lot more activities into the usual two days of the Shootout. How did you fit it all in?

A: Primarily, it comes down to surrounding yourself with the right people, and making smart investments. The biggest addition to the MX-5 Cup Shootout this year was adding the Spec MX-5 Shootout to the event to help karters advance to sports cars, getting one step closer to making a career as a pro racer. To pull this off, we leaned on great partners and people. BFG helped secure Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta and helped judge the MX-5 Cup Shootout. Adding Max Papis as a judge was fortunate for us and for the karters. His passion, knowledge and simply electric personality provided so much to all involved. Having great teams such as Flis Motorsports, Panic Motorsports, and W2 Motorsports to help keep the cars running was critical to give all the racers the time they deserved on track to showcase their capabilities. Also, the corner marshals such as Abe, in particular, helped coordinate and execute the plan, making the whole Shootout a success.

Q: You have a good grasp of who’s who in amateur racing, in Spec Miata and Spec MX-5. What was it like to rely so heavily on eKartingNews for a list of kart racing candidates you weren’t familiar with?

A: Great. Better said, we were fortunate. We have absolute faith in and respect for Rob Howden and David Cole at EKN. If not for them, this could not have been a success. Not like it was. They are the most knowledgeable, least biased, helpful group one could find in the karting community. When they talk, we listen. By listening, we were set up for success and could give 10 deserving racers opportunity at the Shootout that otherwise would not have gotten it, thanks to EKN.

Q: The list of kart racers were younger than most of the drivers you usually see at the MX-5 Cup Shootout. What stood out for you regarding these young kart racers?

A: We knew they were talented on track, and got to know them some off track prior to the Shootout. But when you meet them in person, you just see there is something different and special about them. It’s in their approach. Critical thinking skills. Confidence, but not over-confident. There is something about their natural skills and attributes that show through that make you realize this is why they are so special and talented on track. The best racers have the “it factor.” But when you see it in a teenager as young as 14 years old, as we did, you realize it’s something they are born with. This differentiation is glaring, more evident, at this age. For me, it’s something I would like to better understand.

Q: How would you counter a narrative that Teen Mazda Challenge and Spec MX-5 might be harmful to kart racing by pulling racers from its ranks?

A: There are two perspectives here, but they both align. You can look at it from purely the business-perspective or purely from the passion to help others achieve their dreams. And we should do both.

From the passion to help others side, like open-wheel or other forms of racing, sports car is another opportunity and provides another choice. We are not pulling karters, but providing opportunities and creating awareness within them about sports car racing career opportunities and Mazda’s investment in sports car drivers. Overall, people in this sport want to see racers achieve their dreams, particularly those who work for it. This is one path that does that. EKN and others want to see these racers’ dreams come of being a pro racer come true.

And purely from the business-side, when doing well in karting rewards racers with additional opportunities, it encourages karters to keep at it. And if there were no viable endgame or career path, some would not enter karting or keep investing in it. For some, it’s a destination just like club racing, autocross, and more. As an industry, we need to give options and opportunities in the sports to build value. We need success stories. We all benefit more this way, which allows us (Mazda) to do more versus less.

Q: Shifting gears a bit, Mazda offered three scholarships to MX-5 Cup this year, one at $110,000 and two more at $75,000. What was the rationale for the increase?

A: My boss, Nelson Cosgrove, wanted to make this event more special this year. He feels, as do our series lead Jonathan Applegate and I, the move to IMSA for the MX-5 Cup series will provide additional opportunities and value for sports car drivers. We have a lot of momentum going for the series. Let’s keep on the throttle and further differentiate the Mazda brand. This also ties back to passion for the sport and for people that we (Mazda) have. It’s justifiable in a business sense to create more opportunities for hardworking and deserving racers, which enables us again to demonstrate our industry-leading support of racers in the sport. I would even argue our industry-leading support extends beyond just racers, but the racer support is certainly what gets noticed.

Q: You also focused on expanding opportunities for women racers this year. Will that be an ongoing effort?

A: Absolutely. It’s an investment that will take time to prove valuable. We are thrilled to award Savanna Little with the scholarship to help her fulfill her dream of becoming a pro racer. But we also want to send the message to women that this sport is also for you. The sport needs the diversity, and we can make the most impact, at least to start, by sending a message directly to 50 percent of the population. Our team is going to keep at it. We will only build and reach more groups and people from here.

Q: What are some of the things you’re looking forward to in 2021?

A: Supporting more racers and teams to help them achieve their goals and dreams. For us, it’s primarily about the people. This is what drives us at Mazda, even more than making great road cars and racecars. For those who work hard, are passionate, and support others, our drive and passion to support you only increases. It’s why we put in the long hours and increase our investments. NASA’s Teen Mazda Challenge, Spec MX-5 Challenge Series, and MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires are three great examples. The investments we will make in these programs in 2021 are the most ever, and almost all of it involves investment in driver development and direct support to the drivers. This is what we most look forward to.

Image courtesy of David Cook

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