You never know what sort of entertainment you might find at NASA Mid-Atlantic’s HyperFest. One evening a few years ago, a guy was towing a rider on a framed plywood skid behind a four-wheel ATV up a ramp and over a roaring bonfire — like a boat would pull a ski jumper at Cypress Gardens.
Funny thing is, it was not part of the planned activities — and security was beefed up the following year.
It’s not like the planned activities aren’t entertainment enough. NASA Mid-Atlantic Regional Director Chris Cobetto goes to great lengths to ensure the crowd gets its money’s worth, and HyperFest is his region’s biggest event of the year.
“It is the event for the ADD generation, which is all of us. With cell phones and media all over the place, instant gratification, everybody is ‘I want it now,’ and they get bored quickly,” Cobetto said. “HyperFest is great because there is so much stuff going on that it’s hard for you to see everything in one day. If you spend too much time on one thing, you’re probably going to miss something else.”
HyperFest began life as a much humbler event. At its core, it was devised as a way to expose people in the region to road-course racing in general and NASA specifically. The inaugural event took place in 2001, when NASA was a much younger organization with fewer regions than it has today.
“There were so many people that just didn’t realize they could put their car on a track like we do in HPDE,” Cobetto said, adding that HyperFest’s core mission is still to introduce people to NASA. “The first idea we had was, hey, we have Summit Point, this huge facility, we rent the track out for the entire weekend. There’s got to be somebody out there who does car shows that would like to have a venue.”
In searching for someone to run the car show, he uttered those famous last words, “How hard could it be?” Luckily, Cobetto ended up getting in touch with Mike DeFord at Carlisle Productions, which specializes in car shows. So now they had NASA racing and a car show, which is when he and the management at Summit Point Motorsports Park, a partner in HyperFest, began asking themselves what else they could bring in for entertainment. DeFord mentioned this new form of motorsport called drifting.
“Of course, it had never been done in the country at that time,” Cobetto said. “We were the first ones to do a professional drifting event.”
Drifting is still a big part of HyperFest and one of the event’s big draws. Vaughn Gittin Jr. made his debut at that HyperFest and he’s been coming back ever since. His Monster Energy Drink Mustang is a real crowd pleaser, and for $75, fans can ride along in a drift car with a pro driver on Summit Point’s Jefferson Circuit. A portion of the proceeds from the rides is donated to charity.
HyperFest benefits two charities. The “Laps for Life” program benefits the Kimmel Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins hospital in Baltimore. Developed by NASA racer and CEO of Paul Reed Smith Guitars, Jack Higginbotham, “Laps for Life” is a program in which people sponsor racers and pledge certain amount of money per lap. The racer who nets the highest dollar amount gets a Paul Reed Smith guitar autographed by a lot of professional road racing drivers. HyperFest also donates a portion of its proceeds to Wounded Warriors.
Beyond the causes it supports, HyperFest continues to live up to its billing as “The automotive amusement park.” In addition to a full NASA weekend of sprint racing, Time Trials and HPDE and the drifting competition, HyperFest also includes a 24 Hours of LeMons race.
“I happened to be having a conversation with the general manager at Summit, and he was telling me LeMons organizers wanted to race at Summit Point, and I said, ‘Wow, that’s cool. Why don’t they do it during HyperFest?’” Cobetto said. “They said sure, and we put them on the Shenandoah Circuit. They’re pretty turn-key. They do their thing and it ends up being another piece of content for the event.”
There’s also the Daredevil Throwdown, which has some pretty zany competitions in addition to the hot pepper eating contest and the blind driver golf cart race. If kitsch is your thing, you’ll want to sign up for the Rice-Rice Challenge, a contest in which HyperFest supplies teams with a compact car along with a “ricer trunk kit,” which consists of some basic tools and random building materials such as spray paint, plywood, PVC pipe. Your team will have two hours to build the best ricer. Judges determine the winner based on creativity and humor.
NASA Rally Sport gets into the act by offering rides on Saturday and staging competition on Sunday on Summit Point’s rally course.
“Anders Green, he does a great job,” Cobetto said. “The NASA Rally Sport guys do a phenomenal job of entertaining people. We charge $15 for the rally rides and we sold them out this year. It’s a fun ride. We started at $5 and we had lines of people trying to get in. It’s obviously popular enough.”
Three other popular events are the Daisy Dukes competition — think ladies in cut-off jean shorts — the stunt-bike riders and the rollover contest in which contestants pilot one side of a clunker car off a launch ramp. This year’s rookie stole the show, hitting the ramps at a much greater speed than the others and flipping and doing pirouettes in the air. Cobetto said he tries to attach a sponsorship to each contest or activity.
“My thing is, with the sponsorships, it all goes back out,” he said. “I spend it on the event. Whatever we can bring in from a marketing partner, it gets spent on the event, either making it better or letting people know about us. Generally it’s a combination of those things. If we bring in X amount of dollars for sponsorship, that’s how big a party we’re going to have.”
Part of what makes HyperFest work is NASA Mid-Atlantic’s partnership with Summit Point Motorsports Park, which has the facilities to accommodate everyone. It has three tracks, a karting circuit, rally grounds and enough open area to accommodate the car show, which grew from 120 cars in 2012 to 306 cars this year. HyperFest also brought in more than 15,000 people through the gates this year.
It also is made better due to sponsorships from such companies as Hawk, Exedy, Koni, Monster, OG Racing, Paul Reed Smith Guitars, Toyo Tires, Mazda and the Marines, which keep coming back year after year.
“Summit Point is like a food court for speed nuts,” Cobetto said. “I sort of run the mall, and we just bring in everybody. It’s a party around racing. If a NASA event is like going to a barbecue where a race breaks out, you take that concept and put a supercharger on it, and that’s HyperFest.”
Taking the No Hurl Challenge
NASA Mid-Atlantic staged a contest in which three lucky winners would get one lap in the passenger’s seat of Chris Cobetto’s Ready to Rock American Iron Mustang at NASA Mid-Atlantic’s April event at Summit Point. The aim for the contest is to promote HyperFest, but also to capture on video whether he can get any of the three “lucky” winners to hurl into a barf bag they carry onboard.
The video uses multiple cameras and shows each of the contestant’s faces as Cobetto whisks them around Summit Point in his AI Mustang. Nobody puked, but they were digging the ride. The sound of the big V8 is intoxicating, and the video itself is well done and worth watching.
“As it turned out, nobody really ended up coming close to tossing their cookies,” he said. “But we have some ideas on how to do No Hurl II and No Hurl III until we get someone who’s going to need a garbage can at the end of a lap.”