NASA Northeast racer Robert Mesmer has driven in the Trans Am series, with IMSA and in the Continental series. He has worked as a NASCAR road course coach and most recently he took second in NP01-EVO at the 2021 NASA Championships Presented by Toyo Tires.
Mesmer also is noteworthy because he recently launched Iron Will Racing, an NP01-EVO factory team and dealer. Mesmer is looking to expand the NP01-EVO series in the Northeast region in 2022 and beyond. We caught up with Mesmer to hear about his Championships experience and, of course, to learn more about his plans for Iron Will Racing.
Q:You just took second at the 2021 NASA Championships in your NP01-EVO. What was that like?
A: Daytona and the NASA championships were a great weekend. It’s funny thinking back that we almost didn’t come to Daytona. On September 1, a tornado came through New Jersey and my house took a hit head on. Half of our home was destroyed in the tornado, let alone other miscellaneous damage that we suffered. We were displaced from our home, and it was all just a big mess.
With the Championships coming up two weeks later, we had some hard decisions to make, and thanks to my wife, Sharon, she convinced me to get away from what we had going on at home and to go down there and put all of my energy into the race that weekend. She said I worked too hard on this all year to not go. It was certainly an emotional weekend for us as a team and a family.
We were very happy with the results overall. The car ran extremely well. The other teams were fun to race with. The camaraderie overall was amazing, and the event itself was well done, and well put together, which helped make it a memorable experience. First place was in our grasp, but some slower traffic on the final lap held me up from a late pass to take first, but it made for some exciting racing and we are very happy with the second-place finish we took home.
Q: How was it driving the NP01-EVO on the same course the IMSA Prototypes race on at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona?
A: The NP01-EVO is still a car that impresses me overall. The handling of the car on this track, the down force, I mean everything about it is quite impressive. Having considerable previous experience on this track in many other classes and car types, I can tell you that this car can hold its own among the crowd. The NP01-EVO was impressive in all aspects, being flat through Turn 4, the high speeds and stability it had on the NASCAR banking. Even after a slight lift and downshift coming into the Bus Stop, we were running these cars just about flat for the remainder of the Bus Stop all the way around to the Start/Finish line. The NP01-EVO literally begs you to be at high speed all the time. The car performs its best when the throttle is smashed into the firewall, and Daytona is a place that allows for exactly that, which really showed us what the car is capable of.
Q: What kinds of setup changes did you have to make to conquer the high banks of the oval and handle the tricky infield?
A: A lot. Being an engineer and having a good understanding of racecar engineering as well as having previous experience at Daytona, we were able to take a lot of knowledge and put it into the car prior to the weekend. With these types of cars, it’s hard striking a good balance between banking and the flat infield, so you try to find that right setup that works for the car and driver. Prior to the race weekend, we had the car torn down and basically reset everything to a zero starting point. We then moved forward with changing everything from compression and rebound on our shocks to caster and camber changes on the front end, camber changes on the rear end, ride height changes, changed the rake of the car and corner weight rebalanced.
The hard part with that, this being a new car, we had no idea and no direction as to what this car actually liked under these types of racing conditions, so needless to say our fingers were crossed on our first few sessions out for testing. All in all, I think we hit it spot on, because I didn’t feel the need to change anything in the car after those test sessions.
We did play a lot with tire pressures and monitoring tire temperatures and I think that we were able to find the ideal setup for this as the weekend went on. We were running the new spec Hoosier tire, which we are pretty happy with overall. We have been searching for the right tire temperature and the right tire pressure all year. We believe we dialed it in correctly for all the tracks that we raced on this year, including Daytona. It was a lot of work though throughout the year with these new tires because we couldn’t get any data from anyone as to the best pressures or temps that should be used as a starting point. At this point, though, we’ve collected a lot of data through a lot of test weekends and our race weekends, and believe we set a really good baseline for the cars moving forward.
Q: You bought four NASA Prototypes in 2021 to launch Iron Will Racing. That’s serious commitment. What was it about the car that got your attention?
A: A few years ago I had the opportunity to get into one of the original NP01s not an EVO model — less horsepower and none of the major downforce changes) — at my home track New Jersey Motorsports Park. Being familiar with the track, I was able to push that car pretty close to its limits and when I was turning lap times that were pretty close to my TA2 Trans Am car that was pushing 500-plus horsepower, I will tell you I was impressed right then and there.
I was able to run that car flat out from Turn 1 all the way to Turn 5 without touching the brakes or lifting. That car would again be flat from Turn 5 to Turn 9 — with a lift at six — and then flat again from Turn 10 to Turn 1. Even coming into Turn 1, I remember barely touching the brakes when I’m coming into the braking zone, using brake marker three as my reference point. That’s getting pretty deep into the zone at about 130 mph. So, yeah, I was impressed. As a point of reference, the new EVO package has us braking at marker two.
Then I do my research and I find out the price point of the car. I was blown away that I could have a purpose-built race car capable of what I just witnessed and putting down the lap times I did for the value that this car was. I mean with all seriousness, I couldn’t justify buying and racing any other type of car from the cost-to-value standpoint. Needless to say, I was sold. So here I am, it’s the middle of 2018, and I’m considering my options on purchasing multiple NP01s. September comes and Mr. Panoz passes away, God bless his soul.
The relevance of his passing to the story is that Panoz owned Elan Motorsports, manufacturer of the original NP01, and for all those who don’t know, there was immediate talk about unloading the Elan program. In finding out about all this, it put my plans on hold waiting and watching to see what the future would bring to the NP01 program. Fast forward to 2020, and the guys at SEBECO take over the program and make it their own. Knowing the background of Ben (Cooper) and Ed (Sullivan) and their commitment to the program, I was excited to jump in.
Q: What other high-end racecars have you driven, and how does the NP01-EVO compare?
A: Wow, that’s a loaded question. There have been so many over the years that I have had the opportunity to test or race in. From stock cars for various NASCAR teams, LMP2, LMP3, Porsche Cup cars and Caymans, Mustangs, Corvettes, TA2 Trans Am cars, Ferrari Challenge cars, Lamborginis, Swift 017, and so many more. I don’t know that it’s a fair question to compare one car to another because there’s so many variables that change the dynamics between those cars.
Some of the cars on that list are high horsepower, low performance, meaning they don’t do well in corners, but they’re very fast on the straights. Others are high-performance, low-horsepower and some of that list are a combination of high horsepower and high performance. The NP01 is exactly that. It is a well-thought-out machine that from a power-to-weight ratio is high horsepower and with the aero package and design, it is high performance. In my mind this car truly stands on its own among that list.
Q: Tell us about Iron Will Racing. What do you hope to accomplish with the team?
A: We put a lot of thought into the development of this race team and what we wanted to offer to our customer base. At its core, Iron Will Racing is developed to be a premier arrive-and-drive team for the NP01 series. We are offering available seat time in any of our cars in all of the races for the NP01 East Coast championship series as well as East Coast NASA regional race weekends. Whether you want to race a single weekend, or you want to commit to a full schedule in a single car, we have options for everyone.
In addition to those weekends, we will be looking to add endurance race weekends in other series. Besides myself, we have other pro drivers that will be available on the weekends to help provide driver coaching and driver development. On top of the arrive-and-drive side, we are offering sales and service of the NP01-EVO in the Northeast Region to customers that wish to purchase their own car, and we also have test drives available for interested customers.
I have worked with a lot of teams over the years, and when we started this team, we took the things that we liked and we took the things that we didn’t like from other teams and reviewed them carefully so that we could offer the best experience possible to our customers. One thing about the racing business is that it’s been the same forever, and everyone does it the same way. At iron Will Racing we are looking to change that thought process to let the customer have the best experience possible while still being very competitive.
Being a racecar driver isn’t just about driving the car. It’s about understanding the car. It’s about knowing what the car is doing and how to communicate those changes to the crew. I personally believe that a good racecar driver knows these things and can jump in with his own two hands if necessary to help make those last-minute adjustments or whatever is needed. They don’t just stand around and look pretty. Our goal is to work with our drivers to teach them about the car, the engineering of the car, the setup of the car and allow them to understand what we’re doing as a crew so they have a better understanding of the car’s capability when out on track. I believe this will produce better drivers.
Our overall goal is to be the premier NP01 race team, provide the best racing services possible, create an experience for our drivers and crew, and to have the customer at the end of the weekend, no matter what the result is, be happy, excited and leave with a smile on his or her face. Do we want to win races? Of course we do, but we also want the drivers to feel happy and accomplished and walk away knowing that they learned something, not only about themselves, but about racing, car engineering, etc. That is what a full racing experience should be about.
Lastly, we want to expand the NP01 series here on the East Coast. The series doesn’t have a large presence currently, and we hope that with our support we can help build the excitement for the car and the program, bring more drivers to the series, and help get more people interested in buying one of these cars.
Q: Your team bio says you’re an NP01 dealer and a racing team. How does that work?
A: It’s pretty straightforward. We took an approach based on our geographical location. Our race shop is located in southern New Jersey, approximately 30 minutes from New Jersey Motorsports Park. Additionally, we have up to six additional race tracks that are within approximately five hours from our location. So my thought process and conversations with Sebeco were exactly that, and that since they were located in the Southeast, I could be their rep and support up here in the Northeast, support car owners, sell cars, service cars, provide test drives, etc. Sebeco just wants to be a manufacturer, so if I can help and be their support team with boots on the ground, then it helps everyone.
Q: How can interested drivers get involved?
A: Simple, give me a call or send me an email or message me on Facebook at our Facebook page, Iron Will Racing. I am always happy to answer any questions that anyone may have about the car. Most people who have already talked to me about it know that I’m passionate and sometimes I’m guilty of not shutting up. Any driver interested in a race weekend or a full season arrive-and-drive needs to have a race license and some background and references for us to check out. I just can’t put anybody in the seat of these cars.
Q: What are your hopes for the future of Iron Will Racing?
A: I hope that I can keep Iron Will Racing at the forefront of the NP01 series, maintain its status as a championship team, continue to add more cars year by year and continue to bring in drivers who are equally as passionate about the program as we are.
We’re getting off to a little bit of a slow start in preparing for the 2022 season. Unfortunately, in mid-October, right before the NASA Watkins Glenn weekend, I unknowingly had a heart attack. This put me into afib and I ended up racing that weekend all the while unknowingly being in that condition. It took me another six days to go to the hospital because I had no idea what the problem was. A day after I was admitted and I went back into normal sinus rhythm, I ended up having a stroke. I am in good shape now and I’m stable, but the doctors are still trying to figure out why this happened.
None of this changes my plans for the race team or its future, although it may sideline me for a little while from driving. My wife Sharon likes to use this as an opportunity to tell me that maybe it’s time I become more like Doc Hudson from the “Cars” movie. She always likes to make note of how much I enjoy teaching the younger drivers, and how she sees the joy I get in sharing my experience and knowledge. There certainly is a lesson in there somewhere.