Two years ago, Jason Griepentrog and Jeff Abrams formed Team Irie Racing to race in Spec Miata in the NASA Arizona Region. They used the team format to share financial and mechanical responsibilities, and they split the driving duties down the middle.
That model might work well for endurance racing where one driver can take over for the other during a fuel stop, but it’s a bit more difficult to administer in sprint racing, and could be a recipe for friction. Not only did they make it work, but the two found themselves on top of the points standings at the end of 2019, which makes their team regional champions. That’s definitely a first in Spec Miata in NASA Arizona and it might be a first in all of NASA.
What’s even more remarkable is that they topped Team 8 Ball Racing, another team of two drivers competing in Spec Miata in NASA Arizona. We caught up with Griepentrog and Abrams to see how they put together such a magical season.
Q: So, you guys formed a team to compete in one car in Spec Miata. How do you make that work?
JA: It is surprisingly easy, actually. That, I think, is mostly because Jason and I are so completely different in temperament, and we derive satisfaction from different aspects of competition. We just naturally gravitate toward taking responsibility for different aspects of maintaining the car and keeping it rolling, and we each take different approaches to driving.
JG: Jeff and I have been teammates for two full seasons now. He is truly the yin to my yang. We are both relatively easy-going about things, and we respect each other’s opinions and schedules. Initially I was concerned about the splitting of seat time and possibly not feeling like I’m getting enough of it. Instead, I discovered that I really enjoy watching the races and cheering on my teammate equally as much as driving in them.
Q: What kinds of things do you do to bring each other up to speed?
JA: Sometimes it’s just a lot of pointing and grunting. But really it’s just taking advantage of that individualistic approach. A little discussion about what we experienced in each session usually highlights what each of us found was slowing us down or where we found time.
JG: During the course of a race weekend, we spend time analyzing video and talking about the different ways we are attacking corners. We often find that our gear choices will be different in certain areas. Usually by the end of the weekend, we are both driving the same lines and using the same gears. We are aspiring to get more involved with using data in 2020.
Q: How do you guys decide who drives which tracks and which races?
JA: We each drive at every weekend. That can be tricky if the configuration changes from day-to-day, but it seems we just sort of fall in based on how we feel about the workflow that weekend. On some weekends, we just divide the driving up by alternating days and on others we split qualifying and racing each day, which can be, in itself, pretty challenging.
JG: There are a few factors that we weigh going into the weekend. Jeff and I are both NASA officials, so our track day schedules tend to be really busy. We usually try to base the driving duties around that, but sometimes the track direction can be the deciding factor.
Q: I understand you lost two motors and two transmissions during the course of the 2019 season. That’s a lot. How did you manage to come back from that?
JA: Was it only two each? I’m pretty sure we lost a third motor on the dyno and just destroyed a perfectly good tranny on the dyno this past weekend. We’re very popular at the junkyard. We definitely brought a “Sanford & Son” approach of hardware management to the team effort. I had been winning local ST3 and ST4 championships in years past in a car built entirely from hand-me-downs, so I am not one who is entirely convinced that having expensive, pro-built stuff is going to be a better investment than just tightening the nut behind the wheel. When something breaks, we just hunker-down and deal with it.
JG: Fortunately, Jeff and I are very mechanically inclined, and Miata parts are relatively inexpensive. One of the great benefits of the team is financially the burden is shared between us, as well as the mechanical work. Swapping out a motor or transmission becomes a lot easier when you have the help of a friend.
Q: The car you beat for the NASA Arizona Spec Miata championship also was driven by a team of two drivers, Michael Kasdorf and Mike Glancy (Team 8 Ball). How did that play out among the four of you?
JA: The level of respect, friendship and sportsmanship in our region is really kind of surreal. I can’t think of a better group of people then NASA Arizona Spec Miata. When something breaks in any camp, you can count on a steady cavalcade of support and parts from the surrounding camps. Our battle for the championship played out like a bunch of friends sitting down for a poker game. I know Mike and Whitey were disappointed, but they fought really hard and, in the end, it was largely a battle against cascading failures and math.
JG: The season was filled with tons of mechanical drama for both teams. Team 8 Ball had their racecar destroyed after it came off a tow dolly during transit. They had to rent a car for the remaining three events of the season. Jeff and I were both happy that the loss of their car was not the end of their championship run. We didn’t want to win it that way.
Q: The points race in NASA Arizona Spec Miata was close. How did the points race play out in the closing races of the season?
JA: It was close enough that I don’t think I really thought about it much. When I did sit down and look at the spreadsheet, it mostly just gave me a headache. I figured the best strategy for me was to make it to every race and win as many as possible, and the points would sort themselves out.
JG: The points race was very close all year, with Team 8 Ball holding the top spot for most of the season. The championship was decided during the final race. Team 8 Ball had made a mistake in their fuel calculations and were forced to make a pit stop during the race.
Q: What’s on deck for you guys next season?
JA: I am mostly concerned with what Jason calls “driver development.” I call it finding my balls again. I always feel like I leave time out there, so this year is the year I find most of it. Of course, building a stockpile of spare parts is a priority as well. We are also planning on building a second car and introducing it before the mid-season.
JG: We are certainly planning to defend our Spec Miata championship In 2020 as well as build a backup Spec Miata that we can use to do some endurance racing.