It’s no secret that winning the Mazda Club Racer Shootout is one of the biggest prizes an amateur club racer can achieve. After 15 years of competing in many different types of racecars, from karts, stock cars, open-wheel and touring cars, Florida racer Eric Powell has set out to do just that in his PTD/TTD Miata. He is making an intense push to ensure he is one of the guys to beat come Eastern States Championships time in August. When we first started getting emails from Eric in 2012, he made it clear from day one that his goal was to represent Mazda and to have a chance at the Shootout, which is no easy feat. Eric started running events in the Florida and Southeast Regions last year, and while he wasn’t on pace right away, he soon got things sorted and set several rack records late in the year as he got the car developed, letting us know he was serious. We sat down with Eric to discuss his path, and to find out what he is all about.
Felton: Please tell us a bit about your racing experience, trials and tribulations, and general process that led you to the 2014 season.
Powell: Well, of all things, my dad owned a junkyard growing up, so naturally I was drawn to cars. A few trips to some local short tracks and the Daytona 500 many times when I was a kid had me begging my dad for years to help me get started. Eventually we bought some second- — maybe third- — hand karting equipment and got after it. We realized karting was just as expensive as racing cars, so I moved up to full size stock cars fairly quickly. We tore a lot of stuff up those first couple of years. I was 14. I learned a lot!
In 2004, I had a pretty serious eye injury in which multiple doctors told me I would never see again. I found a miracle-working doctor, who did what was sort of a groundbreaking surgery at the time. When I came out of that, I focused on a switch to road racing, all while going to automotive school to learn more about cars.
I ended up testing with a Pro Star Mazda team for my first taste of road racing, so I guess you can say I was thrown into the deep end. I ended up being one of the winners of the ’06 Jim Russell Scholarship driver shootout, which gave me a lot of confidence as well. After that, I did some stuff in what was Grand-Am Continental and even tested for an ALMS team in ’09. Through that experience, I have also done quite a bit of private driver coaching. To me, what’s missing is consistency, a championship. At some point I wish I would have focused on one specific championship and gone after it. All I want to do is win races and championships. Second place does not interest me!
Felton: So why this? Why now?
Powell: Mazda presents this opportunity to up-and-coming road racers who have won a National Championship. So, why not? I still believe that I am good enough to make a career out of this, and I am not getting any younger. I hadn’t raced for a couple years and I bought the Miata to have as a fun street car, and then I woke up and decided to pour every ounce of energy into turning it into what it is today. Its been a long and taxing process for me. A lot of things I have had to figure out on my own, but I have learned so much and I think I am at the top of my game.
Felton: Please explain for our readers the differences between your car and a Spec Miata.
Powell: Good question. I chose to build my car for PT/TT because it requires some creativity and ingenuity. And also, I didn’t have the funds to buy a 30-40k Spec Miata to compete at the national level. With the PT/TT rules, you have options to run the car in a number of configurations and power/weight ratios. My car in particular, has some aero, more power, different shocks, some lightweight parts, and well, a lot of things a Spec Miata can’t have. It’s essentially totally different. Quite a bit faster. It’s been interesting getting it all sorted. I don’t have the budget to hire a race engineer or anything, so it has been built partly on internet advice from guys like Emilio Cervantes of 949 Racing, who has a couple national titles in these types of cars, and there has been a lot of trial and error. A lot of headaches later, I am now a much smarter person and could probably build, and develop the car for half the money.
Felton: Tell us how you spend your days.
Powell: I have the coolest job on the planet! I am a full-time stunt driver for Walt Disney World in Orlando. We have a stunt driving show (The “Lights, Motors, Action Extreme Stunt Show”) that we do all sorts of crazy stunts in: tons of close proximity drifting, 360s, 540s, jumping ramps, and even driving on two wheels. I am on my seventh year working there, so that keeps my car control skills pretty fresh. Never a dull moment up there!
Felton: There have to be some people you need to thank.
Powell: Absolutely! In the end, I way overshot my budget, but it hasn’t happened overnight. It has evolved. And I couldn’t have done any of it without the generous support that Mazda offers racers with their Racer Support Program and my other sponsors. The obvious ones being my partnerships with AXCEL Sports, which supplies my custom driving suit and gear, local used Miata parts warehouse Redline Autosports, Rod Rojas at GoPro, Ayou Bekkach with Luxe Royale Vacation Club, CCP Fabrication, and the Hoosier tires contingency program.
In addition to my very gracious parents still helping me out every now and then, I also have a whole host of people to thank for donating to my cause via a donation website I set up, and all those people have their names on the car as well. I also have an amazing friend that comes to the races, Neftali Lopez, who is my right-hand man and travels to the races with me as my mechanic. I couldn’t do it without him. I also try to raise awareness for my good friend’s non-profit organization, Operation Surf, which provides some positive adventures for wounded active military heroes.
Felton: We hope you can bring a National Championship back to Florida for us! Good Luck!
Powell: Thank You. I will push with everything I have to get it done. I am 100 percent dedicated to winning. That would be the best feeling in the world and obviously gets me in a position to show my face to Mazda, and a chance to represent them at the professional level.