Anyone who participates in NASA events long enough can tell you it’s about more than just driving. Sure, getting behind the wheel of a car at tracks where NASA regions run events is what brings us all together, but there are a lot of other reasons that NASA members keep coming back for more. What many people attending events find sooner or later is a supportive community — on and off the track. In many cases that community extends beyond the track gates. One such example can be found among a group of 944 Spec racers centered on the “Chicken Shack,” located a little north of Atlanta.
Northern Georgia is home to an abundance of odd-looking buildings. Usually more than 100 feet in length and no more than 30-feet wide, these buildings often house chickens. It may surprise some that Georgia is the nation’s leading poultry-producing state, with annual output of eggs and chicken broilers — chickens meant for consumption — surpassing all other states in the country. One quick drive through the communities north of Atlanta, and you start to understand the magnitude of the industry. If you live in the area, you start to see that a few of these buildings are no longer used to raise chickens and simply sit empty.
944 Spec Racer Brian Evans had the opportunity to rent one of these buildings from a friend’s elderly father and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have a large storage space and workshop for his various vehicles. At the time, Brian had only started to participate in NASA HPDE events in the Southeast region in his daily driven Acura TSX. A client who participated in NASA events himself invited him to his first HPDE. Brian went to that first event and he was hooked. He had to go back for more.
“At what was maybe my second HPDE event, I got the OK to drive solo and had a lot of fun battles in my TSX with a Porsche 944 driven by Michael Dearstyne,” Evans said. “We had met that day in the classroom sessions and were pretty evenly matched.”
That was the beginning of a friendship that lasts to this day. At the time, Dearstyne was one of the only people tracking and building a Porsche 944 for the 944 Spec Class in the Southeast. The class had been around awhile, but had fizzled in the Southeast. Through Dearstyne’s enthusiasm, Evans eventually bought a 944 turbo to use as a DE car while he gained seat time and worked his way toward a NASA competition license. At some point, he approached Dearstyne with the idea of taking the old chicken shack he had rented and turning it into a workshop so that he too could build a 944 Spec racecar. Dearstyne agreed and “The Chicken Shack” was born.
They purchased a lift and other tools, and Evans bought his donor car — and another donor car, and another. With Michael Dearstyne’s help, Brian Evans was able to build and prep his car into a 944 Spec racecar all at the Chicken Shack. During all of this time, the two were tracking their 944s at various events throughout the Southeast.
“I was more of the mechanical and technical guy, while Brian was the promoter and PR guy,” says Dearstyne.
When the two went to NASA events, Brian would talk to other people with 944s at the event, or just generally talk to people about the 944 Spec class they were starting to build up. Through his enthusiasm and eagerness to share the fun of the 944 Spec class with others, they soon had the interest of other like-minded enthusiasts in the Southeast. Soon, Brian’s brother Alan also wanted to participate.
“Brian would tell them that they didn’t have to own a car or know anything about the cars, but to just come over to the Shack,” Dearstyne recalled.
“We had part-out parties at the Shack every year” says Evans. “We would get a keg of Octoberfest beer and get everyone together and pull the donor cars apart. Half of the building was the shop with a concrete floor, while the other half was dirt floor and we would keep the donors cars back there.”
These part-out parties would have good turnouts and fellow 944 Spec drivers would bring their friends, some of who had never driven on a track before. It even became a family outing with families showing up with their kids. Over the course of the day, they would dismantle donor cars to help with the racecars. In addition to these part-out parties, they would build racecars from the ground up, from caging cars to rebuilding motors.
Some of the people whom friends brought to the part-out parties started taking an interest in the activities at the track and decided to check out a NASA event themselves. A few of them even decided to run 944s, and one even decided to build a 944 Spec car to race alongside the strangers he had met at this obscure “Chicken Shack” converted to a racing garage. It became the local clubhouse for the 944 Spec racers in the area.
As Evans recalls, “Other 944 racers would stop by on the weekends to see what was going on or pick up a part they needed for their cars. Often they would end up helping build a new car, or dismantling a new parts car we had bought. There was always something to do at the Chicken Shack.”
Dearstyne, who lived in South Carolina during all of this, would come over and provide mechanical knowledge to the group.
“When I started I didn’t know anything about the 944. Michael showed us a lot,” Evans said. “A timing belt service books for around 10 hours at a shop, I’ve done it in as little as 45 minutes now.”
The Chicken Shack wasn’t the only place where they would hang out. They would paddock together at NASA events and go karting together. It became more than a group of people who raced together. It became a social group — a family. It also became a support group that helped keep the cars running and ready for the next race.
“We’ve spent many late nights at the Shack before a race weekend getting cars ready,” Evans said. “If something happens at the track and we needed to go back to the Shack that night and rebuild something or pick up a part, we would – and did – many times.”
Asked about the growth of the class in the Southeast, Evans and Dearstyne aren’t quick to take credit. They didn’t anticipate it or plan for it, but they were able to revive the class to a field in the double digits. In a region dominated in the spec ranks by Spec E30 and Spec Miata, that’s no small feat.
“The cars are a lot more affordable than a Miata or E30 and have the lines of a more traditional racecar, with the long hood,” Evans said.
The 944s aren’t too expensive to run and the rule set keeps an easily obtainable budget in mind.
“I ended up being the Southeast series leader for the class for a few years,” says Dearstyne. “We knew the cars, and knew how to build them. I did all the inspections too. We would help people through DEs and licensing, and get them to come race with us.”
With that kind of expertise and enthusiasm all under one roof, paired with the social events and support group, it’s easy to see how the 944 Spec group grew in the region.
At the most recent event at Road Atlanta March 12 and 13, there were 11 entrants in the 944 Spec class on Saturday and not everyone in the region showed up. Considering that a few years ago there was only one 944 Spec car, that’s quite impressive.
Unfortunately, the original Chicken Shack was torn down a few months ago due to a road-widening project. All of the contents were relocated to another facility and Brian and friends still get together and work on the cars. On my recent trip to the new location to talk to some of the 944 Spec racers about the class, I caught Brian Evans, Brian Stetson, and a few others working on Alan Evans’ freshly painted 944. Hanging out with them, it’s easy to see why the class has grown so much. They get along like old friends, and give each other a hard time like you’d expect. There was bench racing, but also talk about things going on in one another’s personal lives, and some talk about dirt bikes and potentially taking trips on dual-sport motorcycles.
Though the original building is gone, the Chicken Shack became more than just a place — it’s a social group — one that happens to revolve around 944 Spec and NASA. On the way home, all I could think about was where to find a 944 donor car. The Chicken Shack guys will do that to you.
A Look at 944 Spec
Racing a Porsche sounds expensive, doesn’t it? Normally that is the case. However, NASA’s 944 Spec class is one of the most affordable racing classes to participate in. From the purchase price of the cars to the build and running costs, 944 Spec has one of the lowest costs of entries within the organization. Eligible cars are 1983-1988 Porsche 944 and 1987-1988 Porsche 924s models powered by a 2479cc eight-valve four-cylinder. Unlike traditional Porsche cars where the motor is located somewhere behind the driver, these cars have the motor up front like most vehicles. To even out the weight, they have a rear five-speed transaxle, which gives them near perfect 50/50 weight distribution.
A quick Craigslist search in most areas gives a long list of donor cars, ready and willing to be turned into a 944 Spec, starting from around $1,500 for rougher examples. To keep costs down, NASA rules have adopted a power cap of 138. Power in this case is determined by averaging the horsepower and torque numbers. You could spend big money to build a motor like in other spec classes, but it won’t benefit you much and you may end up over the power cap. Balancing and lightening of engine internals is not allowed. An OEM ECU is required and the factory header must be used.
To further promote affordability, the rear glass hatch must be kept, while all other glass can be replaced with Lexan. This is due to the fact that the rear glass is quite heavy and replacing it with Lexan can help save nearly 65 pounds, but also add $650 to the cost of the build. The only wheels allowed are factory Porsche 15x7s, which also helps contain costs.
Supporting the 2,600-pound minimum competition weight cars are specific Koni or Bilstein shocks. Spring rates and sway bars are open. Spec tires are 225/50/15 Toyo RRs with the same size RA-1s available as wets. Toyo Tires also offers contingency for the class.