NASA NorCal Spec Miata series leader Tommy Lo has been involved with NASA since 2001. Lo began racing Spec Miata in 2003 when Spec Miata was just taking off, and he also won a National Championship in TTE in 2014 at Sonoma Raceway, which earned him a spot in the Mazda Race of NASA Champions at Laguna Seca in May 2015.
Lo also raced on two different teams in two different cars at the 2020 25 Hours of Thunderhill Presented by Hawk Performance. One team finished sixth in E2 and the other in third in E3S.
The close competition in Spec Miata taught him race craft, tenacity and persistence, and the camaraderie in Spec Miata has led to many lifelong friendships.
We caught up with Lo to find out how Spec Miata is going in NorCal and learn what he’s doing as a series leader to keep things vibrant in his region.
Q: You took over from Ron Gayman, who was instrumental in building the Spec Miata field in NorCal — arguably one of the largest in the NASA Nation — with fields upward of 40 cars. Do you think there’s any room for more growth in Spec Miata in the NASA NorCal Region?
A: There is absolutely room for growth. Spec Miata remains one of the best entry points and sustainable series for wheel-to-wheel racing because the rules are consistent, the cost is reasonable, and it is well supported by Mazda, Toyo Tires and NASA. Mazda did a really great job in setting up the foundation of the series, and cost of ownership is kept in check due to the consistency with the rules. The rules naturally balance the car performance and place emphasis on driving skills. The close racing accelerates driver development, and that’s why we see up-and-coming drivers in their teens racing alongside seasoned veterans. It’s a recipe for success when racing is made affordable, simple and fun. These are the reasons Spec Miata has been thriving for more than two decades, and it will continue to do so for many years to come.
Q: Why do you think Spec Miata is so popular in NorCal?
A: The top reason that Spec Miata is so popular in NorCal is the people. The NorCal Spec Miata racers and their families are fantastic people. When you walk through the paddock on any given race weekend, the Spec Miata area is usually the most lively. People are hanging out, helping each other, cooking meals together, it has a true family atmosphere to it. Our HPDE4 leader Albert Butterfield has a famous saying: It’s difficult to get three people to agree on a movie to see. Check out how many people we have gathered here this weekend with a common interest to have fun with our cars. The series is so popular because of the camaraderie we have on and off the track.
Q: What are some of your best practices to attract new drivers to Spec Miata? What could series leaders in other regions learn from you?
A: I’ve been lucky to race in other series with great leaders, and I am using a lot of their techniques today with the Spec Miata series. The attributes that helped them grow and maintain a strong series are keeping a positive and fun attitude with the participants, upholding fairness with the rules and frequent communication. When it comes to attracting new drivers, we have to remember how it felt when we started racing. There’s so much to learn and the cost for error is very high. I find that spending the extra time to share lessons learned, to help set expectations for race weekends, and to help them network with the veterans in the paddock will lead to happy, returning racers.
Q: Do you confer with other series leaders within NorCal or around the country to come up with other ideas for best practices?
A: This is something that I personally need to do more in 2024. I learned a lot in my first year managing the series in 2023, but I see the need to leverage the knowledge at the national level. For example, racers naturally push the boundaries in the rules. The series leaders and the NASA technical team need to be in tune with the latest developments to keep a level playing field. As the custodian of this series, we need to be consistent in rules interpretation.
Q: What are some of the things you do to ensure parity and legality at the front of your fields?
A: The Spec Miata rules are well thought out to start with. This makes tech inspection much easier and transparent. The NorCal tech inspection team and I usually focus on monitoring performance as well as safety items. We are fortunate to have a Dynojet available at most race weekends, and we have a database to help look for any anomalies. I also work closely with local Spec Miata service providers to solicit their feedback on inspection ideas. This approach has worked well so far as proven by how close the racing is every single weekend.
Q: You drove the NC chassis in the 2015 Mazda Race of NASA Champions. What do you think of Spec MX-5?
A: It is a fantastic progression to the original Spec Miata series. It is hard to believe that Spec Miata started over 20 years ago. It is inevitable that quality NA and NB chassis and parts are becoming harder to find, and I am glad to see Mazda is active in supporting the Spec MX-5 series. The Spec MX-5 series has a lot of the same ingredients that make the original Spec Miata so strong. I am excited to see if Spec MX-5 will enjoy the same success as the original Spec Miata series.
Q: Have any of the NorCal Spec Miata racers moved from Spec Miata to Spec MX-5?
A: Yes! We had some top drivers that are now in Spec MX-5. They are doing very well and making us proud.
Q: OK, what’s your favorite track and why?
A: I love Sonoma Raceway. I have been going there for 20 years, and there’s always something new to learn. While I’ve had some success there, I can confidently say I am still looking for that perfect lap.
Q: What did I miss? What were you hoping I’d ask you, but didn’t?
A: I was hoping you’d ask me what’s my favorite food at the track. The answer is the smoked brisket at the NorCal NASA. The cook starts his giant smoker at 7 a.m. The sound of impact guns and angle grinder dies off in paddock around sunset, that’s how you know dinner is ready.