Climbing the ladder to become a professional racer. People from across the country seek to do just that, and no company provides a ladder with sturdier rungs than Mazda. A focal point of the company’s program is the Mazda Club Racer Shootout, with a prize fund valued at more than $75,000 to be used to finance a full season of professional racing in the Battery Tender MX-5 Cup Presented by BF Goodrich.
Since 2007, Mazda has continued to refine the ladder system, which gives amateur racers a legitimate shot at turning pro, and climbing further from there. This year is no exception because it is accepting drivers from new and different talent pools.
“Each year this Shootout evolves,” said John Doonan, Director of Motorsports for Mazda North American Operations. “For 2014 we have our first simulator-racing champions, from the iRacing MX-5 Cup, and our first racers from outside North America. The criteria for the Shootout is to identify the aspiring professional racer who has the best range of skills required to succeed, including speed, consistency, race craft, technical feedback, and off-track business and PR skills. History has shown that a driver will be limited in success if they are lacking in any of these areas. Past Shootout winners have performed well on and off the track, using this prize as a springboard for their career.”
Just getting to the Shootout takes a great deal of hard work and dedication. To become a semifinalist, you need to have won a Championship at the Eastern or Western States Championships in a Mazda or a Mazda-powered car. You also can become a semifinalist by winning the Teen Mazda Challenge in your region.
Once you’ve been chosen as a semifinalist, you must submit a formal written business proposal and a video demonstrating why you should be invited to the Shootout as a finalist. Of course, after you have been named a finalist, another phase begins and you face a new set of challenges.
On the day of the Shootout, the first meeting is the business presentation, which is key for aspiring drivers who hope to secure sponsorships among the professional ranks. It’s the first time drivers meet the panel of judges face to face. Track activities follow, but it’s more than just seeing who is fastest. If they are at the Shootout, they already have demonstrated that. It’s about which driver provides the best feedback on what the car is doing, who has the best grasp of data acquisition and how he can advise engineers to improve setup. Drivers also face scrutiny from journalists, who point cameras at them and pepper them with questions.
NASA has been filling more than its share of the semifinalist and finalist slots with its racers. In 2013, for example, NASA drivers occupied seven of 18 semifinalist slots, and three of the last four Shootout winners have been NASA racers. This year, NASA racers comprise an unprecedented five of the eight finalist slots.
Ben Anderson races in the Central Region, which takes commitment because his hometown of Minneapolis is far from all the tracks the Central Region visits regularly. His PTE victory at the Eastern States Championships in his second-generation Mazda RX-7 secured him a spot as a semifinalist.
Joey Jordan won the West Coast Teen Mazda Challenge. Originally from Fallbrook, Calif., Jordan is majoring in history at the University of California Santa Barbara, and has raced all over the state in a 1.6-liter Spec Miata and a later-model 1999 car this season.
Kyle Loustaunau lives in Vacaville, Calif., and races in the NorCal Region. Last year, Loustaunau finished second at the National Championships at Miller Motorsports Park, but this year, he took the top spot on the podium at the Western States Championships at Sonoma Raceway.
Zachary Munro won the Rocky Mountain Region’s Teen Mazda Challenge to become a finalist this year. It’s important to note that Munro also won that region’s Teen Mazda Challenge last year and is the only NASA finalist this year who has been to the Shootout before.
Eric Powell lives in Orlando, Fla., and races in the Florida region. Powell has had his sights set on getting to the Shootout ever since he began his racing program. After coming up short at the Eastern States Championships at Road Atlanta in September, Powell shipped his car west to take another shot at a Championship, and ended up winning Performance Touring D.
“NASA has a stellar track record of producing top-level racers that have excelled in the professional ranks,” said Jeremy Croiset, NASA’s Director of Business Development. “Last year’s Shootout winner, Joey Bickers, was a NASA racer, and we’re very proud to see NASA racers securing a majority of the finalist positions in this year’s Shootout. This goes a long way toward validating the fact that NASA competitors are as serious as they come, and that there is no better place to try accomplishing one’s dream of moving into the world of professional motorsports than NASA. We look forward to seeing the outcome at the Shootout and wish all our finalists good luck.”
Speed News got in touch with all the NASA finalists to find out how they got interested in racing and what it took to climb the ladder to become a finalist at the Mazda Club Racer Shootout. Here’s a brief look at each of them.
|Racing Class:||Performance Touring E|
|Sponsors:||Martin Pevzner Engineering|
“I started my racing career a bit later than most. At age 25, I had never been to a racetrack. So when an opportunity arose to drive my daily driver at an HPDE event, I jumped on it. I still remember getting out of my car after a session, absolutely hooked. It just felt natural. I needed more.
After that first experience, I attended a three-day school at Derek Daly Racing Academy, setting the school’s student track record. I remember the lead instructor sitting me down and saying, ‘You’re fast, but you’re too old.’
It was that challenge that became a driver for me. Over the last few years, I have had the opportunity to drive more than 15 different racecars for various amateur teams ranging from Spec Miatas to Porsches to prototypes. I also own many wins and track records in NASA competition.
I want to thank Mazda for support of club racing and investment in the Mazda Shootout. It’s a tremendous opportunity for an individual who didn’t follow the typical racing career path.”
|Racing Class:||Spec Miata, Teen Mazda Challenge|
“Making it to the Shootout is a huge step. The first step, being winning a Championship, was hard enough, especially with winning the highly competitive Western Teen Mazda Championship, where the two of the last three Shootout winners came from: Elliott Skeer and Joey Bickers. The next step, though, was much more challenging and, in my opinion, much more important. It is one thing to be a fast driver, but in the next step it is being a finalist to the Shootout. You had to prove you have the ability to market yourself and that you had an understanding of the business side of racing. You needed to prove that you can provide a valuable partnership to the businesses that are looking to invest in racing. Oh, and a little luck doesn’t hurt either.”
|Racing Class:||Spec Miata|
“For me it has been pure determination, persistence and patience. When you have limited racing funds, you must pick and choose the races that are going to be most beneficial and within budget.
When I heard this year’s NASA Western State Championship was going to be held at Sonoma, I knew this would be a prime opportunity and my shot at winning the Championship.
I knew my 1.6 wouldn’t be enough motor to compete against the front runners. The most significant decision I made was to rent a car that had enough torque and horsepower that could challenge for the lead. The 1.8 motor enabled me not only to close in on the leader, but in the end overtake him, leading me to the checkered flag.”
|Racing Class:||Spec Miata, Teen Mazda Challenge|
|Sponsors:||Mountain Madness, Freeman Insurance West, Steere Equipment Co., Fraser Valley Ace Hardware, Lucas Oil Guy|
“The road to the 2014 Mazda Club Racer Shootout this year, like last year, was not an easy one to achieve. It required putting in a lot of time and extreme dedication, along with quite a bit of track and travel time.
Winning 10 of 14 races and clinching the 2014 Teen Mazda Challenge Championship in the Rocky Mountain Region for the second year in a row was a perfect way to start my road back to the Shootout.
What it really came down to was taking on each race one at a time and being consistent in trying to secure a win. It’s all about how much work and effort you put into it. You must be willing to make sure your car is fast, safe and well maintained throughout the year.
Racing is a team sport. We win and lose together. I could not be here today without the support of my family, friends and my sponsors. Without them, I could never accomplish my dream of making a successful, sustainable career in racing. To that point, I want to thank Mazda for putting on this event and giving me this amazing opportunity.”
|Racing Class:||Performance Touring D|
|Sponsors:||Mazda Motorsports, AXCEL Sports, GoPro, Redline Autosports, 5X Racing, CCP Fabrication, Operation Surf|
“Mazda has an incredible driver development platform to bolster the grassroots motorsports community with a racer-support program and through awarding up-and-coming racecar drivers with opportunities to go pro through their Club Racer Shootout. Winning a Championship to be eligible for the Shootout was priority one from the genesis of my program. After two long years of development, I had a lot of confidence in the car.
Unfortunately I was forced into a last-minute class change for the Eastern States Championships to PTE and came up short, finishing second. From there, I was determined to get my car to California for the Western States Championships for another shot. With a little help, I managed to get the car to Sonoma, quickly got the car dialed in, and was able to win the PTD Championship race — from the back after a DQ in one of the qualifying races — and the TTD championship with track records in each to boot. From there I had one week to construct a business plan and produce a video that would be judged for me to become a finalist. Luckily, I was the last name called. Thank you, Mazda!”