We all have those moments when we realize we’re car people. Nearly everyone reading this article is doing so because at some point in their lives, they were initiated into this community of people obsessed with cars, which led them here, reading this story. For some, it may have been their first Hot Wheels car. For others, the first race they attended.
For me, it was John Hughes’ 1986 cult classic, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Something about that Ferrari GT California Spyder racing around Chicago, being jumped by valets, and being the star of the movie without being in the credits hooked me.
Ironically enough, HyperFest 2016 at Virginia International Raceway fell on the same weekend as the 30th anniversary of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” For me, the movie that started my love of cars also is to blame for my desire to learn to drive well. It’s what drew me to begin participating in NASA events.
This year’s HyperFest was the 15th annual event, and the second year it has been held at Virginia International Raceway. I’ve heard about HyperFest for years, but never attended, so I was in for a surprise. Looking at the schedule, there was everything from a car show to rally rides to drifting in addition to a full weekend of NASA racing.
HyperFest started Friday with the annual Grassroots Motorsports “Ultimate Track Car Challenge,” an event that brings out some of the fastest and well-driven cars from around the country. Walking around the paddock, the machinery was impressive. Everything from an American Expedition Vehicles Jeep Wrangler — yes, really — to crazy tube-chassis cars were out on track. As the Ultimate Track Car Challenge wound down, the paddock began to fill up with racers for the weekend’s festivities. I saw license plates from all over the country. Friday evening also set the stage for the Power Wheels Downhill Attack, where adults get to race each other on Fisher Price Power Wheels vehicles downhill on the track. I’ll be entering this one in the future, for sure.
Saturday morning came bright and early and nearly everywhere you looked there was something going on. After helping some of my Honda Challenge friends get ready, I ventured over to the car show area. Everyone was cleaning and polishing, all to the sound of cars going by on the track. Walking around looking at some of the cars, I was amazed at the attention to detail. I even found one owner of a mostly nondescript Scion FR-S had swapped in a Toyota 2JZ turbo motor out of a Supra into his car. The swap was done so nicely, it looked almost factory.
Next up was something that is often mentioned as a joke, but was actually super fun to watch: lawnmower racing. The Virginia Lawn Mower Racing Association was out in full force at HyperFest. I’d never seen lawnmower racing before, but came away impressed. Imagine a chassis with no suspension being raced in a bumpy field against other machines of the same type, and you’ve got a recipe for success. Watching these things race and enter a turn three- and four-wide, bouncing around and oversteering on exit with grass and dirt flying everywhere was a spectacle. This was probably one of the more unique things I saw at HyperFest.
After the lawnmower racing, I decided to give the barbecue a try. While I was eating, I talked to a gentleman named Andy Watts. Watts used to race with NASA, but stopped a few years back. Even though he no longer drives on track, he was at HyperFest visiting with some old friends. Anyone reading this has probably seen his car because it was the red, white, and blue BMW featured on the banner of the NASA website for many years. It was one of the first S54-swapped E36s in the country, if I remember correctly. You never know who you’re going to meet at HyperFest.
After lunch, I ventured back to the kart track where a crowd of people were waiting to drive. It seems that being around all these varied motorsports things going on, people wanted to drive themselves. Watching some people in the karts, it was apparent that they needed more work on their driving than others, but everyone left with a smile. I missed the karting enduros on Friday and Saturday nights, but they looked like a lot of fun.
Beyond the kart track, a dirt road led up the hill to an open field filled with Jeeps and Dodge Rams from American Expedition Vehicles. AEV takes new Jeeps and Rams and modifies them for rugged off road use. All of this is offered with a factory warranty and available through select new car dealers. They had an obstacle course set up for customers and prospective customers to try out their vehicles that featured off-camber sections, rock gardens, water crossings and other varied off-road terrain. HyperFest attendees also could elect to drive their personal vehicles on the courses as well. The vehicles covered with mud in the parking areas were evidence that many attendees took advantage of this opportunity.
With 1,300 acres, VIR easily had space for a massive rally course. Those who participated in the Exedy rally ride-alongs can attest that it was a substantial course. Seeing Subarus and Civics fly around the course with excited attendees brought a smile to my face. Everywhere you looked at HyperFest, there were people enjoying themselves. Many were getting exposed to things that they had only seen on TV or on the internet. What an awesome way to be able to experience so many different types of motorsports.
On the Patriot course, a crowed had gathered to watch one of the main attractions at HyperFest: drifting. The smell of burnt rubber filled the air as I neared the grandstands. Cars sliding sideways, with smoke pouring off the rear tires, and the engines hitting the rev-limters – this was probably the most visceral thing at HyperFest. Watching as professional drifters Vaughn Gittin, Jr., Chris Forsberg, and Ryan Tuerck all came into view sideways only feet from each other was something I won’t soon forget. I doubt the people who were lucky enough to ride-along with the pros will forget the experience anytime soon either.
Between drift sessions, the Patriot course also was home to Hyperdrives – a single session HPDE experience that lowers the barriers to getting on track. These are a great way for somebody to experience driving on track with NASA without a full weekend or large monetary commitment. Each Hyperdrive session was packed with cars, and it seems as though more than a hundred people got their first taste of the track at this year’s event.
In addition to all the other attractions, a full NASA race and HPDE weekend also was going on with many classes well represented. I didn’t get to watch many races, but the race group consisting of Honda Challenge 2, Spec Miata, Spec E30, 944 Spec and Spec E46 was wildly entertaining. All classes had a large showing and I have never seen so many spectators enjoying NASA racing excitement than I have at HyperFest. It really brought a lot of exposure to NASA and its different classes.
Away from the track, HyperFest featured a chili pepper eating contest, music by the School of Rock, and an air guitar contest sponsored by Paul Reed Smith Guitars. Kaden Thrower, 13, of Cary, N.C., was the winner of the air guitar contest and received a new electric guitar courtesy of Paul Reed Smith. It was her first time to HyperFest. Not a bad way to walk away from the weekend.
After most of the main motorsports festivities were done and the NASA awards ceremony was over, the main track became a playground for the drifters. Different games such as drift soccer were setup and attendees could easily get a beer from the beer garden and watch the madness.
To cap the day off, we headed over to the burnout arena. Now, I’ve been to burnout contests before, but nothing on this level. HyperFest used a small oval track at VIR, and spectators circled the area used for burnouts. Any car could take part in the contest, and with a little coaxing from the crowd, huge plumes of tire smoke emerged. At one point, one of the cars started flinging hot rubber chunks at the barriers where I was standing. I had to duck for cover behind the barrier as the scalding rubber sailed by. It was in that moment, tucked behind a concrete barrier that I was able to look around at the crowd, and I realized that everyone was here because at some point in their lives they had been exposed to something, somewhere that made them a car person. For a lucky few, it was this HyperFest weekend that turned them into a car person.
As much as I wish I had been driving at HyperFest, it was an eye-opening experience. Had I been driving, I couldn’t have seen everything. After all, in the words of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.”
It’s a tough call which is more fun to watch at Hyperfest, the people or the action on track.
Hyperfest is a great way for people to become familiar with NASA, and how they can drive their street car on a track. Between Hyperdrives and the full NASA HPDE program at the event, there has never been an easier way for anyone who wants to get out on track. Nathan Cisna, 36, of Baltimore, Md., was invited to HyperFest by his friend and Honda Challenge driver, Josh Mauldin, from Lexington, Ky.
“Josh told me about the event and about HPDE1, and four days later I ended up signing up for it,” Cisna said. “I’ve always wanted to drive my car on the track and this seemed like a great opportunity to hang out with a friend and learn some new stuff.”
Nathan borrowed a helmet, made sure everything on his 2006 Scion TC was safe to go on track and went out and had a great time at his first high performance driving event.
“I’m definitely hooked,” he said. “I bought a helmet yesterday and I’ve already contacted all my other friends who are into cars, and told them they have to come next year.”
A Drifter Turned Racer?
One area of Hyperfest always crowded with spectators was the Patriot Course during drift sessions. Professional Drifter Ryan Tuerck from Auburn, N.H., made the trip to HyperFest for the second time this year.
“It’s such a big motorsports event. It’s hard to compare [to anything else]. It’s so well rounded,” he said. “The ride-alongs for people, camping out, partying, and then the road racing on the bigger course, it’s awesome. I definitely want to come again next year. It’s one of the only times of the year I get to run with Vaughn [Gittin, Jr.] and Chris [Forsberg] outside of Formula D.”
Ryan started drifting back in the early 2000s when it wasn’t nearly as popular as it is now. Asked about drifting’s continued growth, Ryan said, “The cars are bouncing off the rev limiter, smoke pouring everywhere, side-to-side action, how can you not enjoy watching that?” Based on the crowds at the event, I’d say the majority of people agree. One thing I found interesting was that Ryan also has an interest in road racing.
“I think road racing is awesome,” he said. “The skill level those guys have is phenomenal. I’d love to give it a shot one day.”
Maybe Hyperfest can make that happen for him next year.