Racing with an Audience

Over the last several years I’ve been going to an event in Monterey, Calif., called “Miatas at Mazda Raceway.” The name originated before it became WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

The event was basically a track day for nothing but Miatas. It’s like Rennsport, but for Miata geeks like me. People come from all across the United States to be part of it, and even from other countries, such as Canada, Japan and New Zealand.

Back in 2014, the new 2016 ND Mazda MX-5 made its first public appearance in the United States at the event. It was so new at the time that it was a right-hand drive model. Mazda wheeled the car out of the trailer, drove it up Barloy Canyon Road overlooking the raceway for the assembled crowd, put it back on the trailer, then took it away to its next appearance. It was in the sun for all of about 10 minutes.

That was just one of the attractions at the 2014 event. The other attractions included a Miata-specific vendor village, lots of track time, nightlife in the city of Monterey, and on Sunday, an exhibition race for Miata racecars that passed tech. To be clear, it was an exhibition race. There were no trophies or money, no points at stake, nothing but the sheer joy of racing.

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Because every kind of Miata racecar was there, from turbocharged monsters to cars with engine and aero enhancements, to the garden variety Spec Miata, the field varied greatly in terms of speed. To make it more interesting, the organizers started the race with the fastest cars in the back of the field. An inverted grid.

The race itself was a hoot. It was chaotic and frantic at first, then it settled into a familiar rhythm with similar cars and drivers facing off on the world-famous racetrack. I don’t think I realized it at the time, but we had an audience. The attendees whose Miatas weren’t racecars, those who were there just to be part of the event, all had assembled to watch the race. Most of them had probably never seen an amateur sports car race.

When we pulled off the track after the race ended, the people in the stands were clapping enthusiastically for all of us, front runners and midpack alike. They loved watching the race. As I pulled off the track and into the paddock, I have to admit I got a charge out of the applause.

I bring this up because the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, site of the 2019 NASA Championships, is almost famous for the locals coming to watch the races, professional and amateur alike. They know that some of the best racing they’ll ever see happens among the amateur ranks, and the NASA Championships showcases the best grassroots racing anywhere.

The reward for NASA racer is racing for an audience. The joy of racing is even better when you see the crowds on the hills surrounding turns 4 and 5. Knowing how much the locals love racing is part of the draw. Knowing that people love watching what we do somehow makes it more fun.

That’s something to think about while you’re packing up for Mid-Ohio. Racing for an appreciative audience is hard to quantify, but palplable nonetheless. When the green flag drops at Mid-Ohio, the locals will be on hand to see the action on track and show their appreciation. I hope to see you there.

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