It’s remarkable how much progress some people can make when they have the right people around them, even if they make a few mistakes at the start.

NASA Southeast driver Allen Patten’s first passion, powerlifting, was his all-obsessive pursuit until a major injury in 2022 put the brakes on one of the greatest sources of joy in his life. The doctor’s report was not encouraging: his torn rotator cuff, labrum, and bicep tendon were torn badly enough to make a full recovery unlikely. Sure enough, Patten could not regain his previous level of strength and range of motion.

After healing on the couch for several dreary months, Patten found himself mostly mended, bored, and desperate for some exhilaration. Finding something that offered the same satisfaction with somewhat less physical exertion would be challenging, but those long months on the couch had given him time to think — and he had come up with an idea.

Patten had spent a decade crewing for Nate Wielkiewicz’s drag team, running powerful cars at events like TX2K, where they won the Stick Shift Pro title in 2021. All those years watching from the other side of the pit wall were, at times, frustrating. Then, he lacked the means to try it himself. Now, with a desperate need for a new adrenaline supply and the support of his significant other, he could. So they went car shopping one afternoon and came home with a new Camaro SS 1LE.

“I’m kind of an idiot,” Patten began. “I probably should have started with a Miata, but being accustomed to powerful street cars, buying a 400-horsepower car seemed like the right thing to do.”

If Patten had taken a leap too far for a first-timer, his natural talent kept him from making a complete fool of himself. At the end of his first lapping day, his instructor was stunned by his ability. “Are you sure this is your first time?” he asked incredulously.

Almost as if part of a Hollywood montage, a big shunt was part of his rockstar debut. Following a gaggle of Porsches into VIR’s Turn 1, one Cayman braked too hard, locked up, and forced Patten to take evading action. Unfortunately, the 4,000-pound Camaro refused to decelerate. Ice mode intervened and the resulting contact with the P-car was bad enough to make some eager amateurs throw in the towel.

But Patten had found his source of bliss and wasn’t going to relinquish it that easily — it’s not easy to fill the void left by losing your favorite hobby. Plus, he’d been wise enough to purchase track day insurance and the payout helped him move onto a new platform.

Studying the NASA Time Trial contenders, namely David Kramar, who placed second overall at 2023 Championships with a 2020 Supra, he had to give the big Toyota GR a chance. Big, but lighter than the Camaro, easily modified, and already proven in several different categories, it seemed like nothing would be better.

The weeks away from the track were beginning to feel like months, so when a 2021 Supra with several choice modifications popped up on his Facebook feed, he jumped at it.

The first outing in his mostly stock Supra was disappointing and encouraging. Running factory shocks with nothing other than camber plates and a front sway bar, he was frustrated with the GR’s flop and lack of response — compared to the pointy Camaro, the Supra felt “like a wet noodle.” Before he could begin regretting his purchase, he glanced at his lap timer and immediately changed his tune. He’d gone a full second faster than he’d ever gone in the Camaro in what was basically a factory car — it only had seats, harnesses, camber plates, and a front sway bar at this stage.

Despite its roll and GT-cushiness, it had performed well and hinted at its potential. He turned to the forums where his peers pushed him toward several off-the-shelf performance products. After realigning the car, he added Eibach sway bars, HKS springs and collars, 18-inch x 11-inch Apex VS-5RS wheels, and Nankang CRS tires.  Even better than the improvements in feel and lateral support were the lap times during his first outing at VIR.

“I got a sense of how competitive this car was pretty quickly. Since I had been eyeing Time Trial lap times since the beginning. My friend Jack Haddix came along in his LS3-powered E90 and, even though he ended up beating me by a second, I felt great. He’s the Mid Atlantic TT3 Champion, and keeping him in sight made me realize this would be a contender in TT3.”

Bolstered by that strong start, he made the leap into Time Trial. Two weeks later at Carolina Motorsports Park, he took the win on Sunday against a prepped C5 Corvette. Only three months into owning the car, and Patten was already bringing home hardware.

Rapid Rise

With the help of Haddix, Patten laid out a plan to climb the TT ladder as quickly as possible. Real shocks and a little aero would help him toward the sharp end of the TT pack.

Patten (L) and Haddix celebrating a successful outing.

Patten tends to ask a lot from the front axle, and his growing confidence made the Supra’s understeer issues more apparent. To remedy this lack of urgency, he had to alter ride height, aerodynamic balance, and even brake bias.

Haddix helped by sourcing a set of MCS two-way remotes through his company Jax Speed. “We went through pros and cons of the top brands before we settled on MCS. I like the flexibility of the MCS dampers in regard to spring changes without the need for revalving. MCS also has a longer service interval than most premium shocks, and servicing is a straightforward process. They even offer NASA contingency!”

Haddix ordered a few more pieces to remove the slop from the suspension: SPL spherical caster bushings up front and Turner front control arm spherical bushings helped sharpen the front of the car.

At this stage, Patten recognized the need to bring in Kale Fortenberry of Thunder Bunny Racing to help develop the suspension. “Kale implemented a data driven approach to improve the car. We have plans to broaden the scope of our data collection. We’re able to collect and share remotely. This should make it possible to fine-tune the car at events across the country,” Patten elaborated.

Fortenberry’s pragmatism and his experience racing the Supra GT4 gave him the credibility Patten was after when searching for talented people to bring into his inner circle. “Allen seeks advice, but he’s knowledgeable and capable enough to do a lot of the work himself. However, it’s easy to get lost when adding so much to a street car. You can buy all the parts you want, but getting the right people to integrate them properly is a separate expense,” he explained.

Patten (L) and Fortenberry, the man who’s helped the Supra straddle the fence between road car and race car.

After studying some onboards, Patten decided to try the “IMSA” line through VIR’s T10. This requires dipping his front right wheel into a depression just beside the track prior to apexing. Taking this line is only fruitful with an extremely compliant setup — the car must absorb the bump nicely when negotiating it at 106 miles an hour. Thankfully, the MCS shocks absorb that dip just fine. “The car just floats over it,” he laughed. “When Jack tried following my line in his car, which runs lower-range KWs, he was launched into the air and thrown off line.”

After finding the right amount of compliance, the next aim was getting the car to point eagerly.

Stiffening the rear some would help the front-heavy Supra find the apex a little bit faster, so he added SPL adjustable rear arms, SPL adjustable caster bushings, Millway rear cradle bushings, and Turner Motorsports sphericals. Even with a solid-mounted engine, transmission, and differential, and rear cradle mounts, the Supra remains relatively comfortable.

While getting the car to point and be predictable was a large part of stiffening the rear, he also wanted the car to have a stable aero platform. At the recommendation of Supra specialist Jackie Ding, Patten added a Spage SP012 68” wing and one of Haddix’s custom-built front splitters, complete with Professional Awesome quick releases and Zebulon tunnels.

While the blade-style splitter works well at higher speeds, it struggles to match the wing in slower sections. As is common with this sort of aero, the broad rear wing produces far more than the homemade splitter can. At higher speeds, the aero balance is manageable. Patten trims a reassuring amount of understeer with a lift of the throttle. In medium-speed sections, the blade lingers behind. It cannot keep up with the rear wing’s rate of downforce production. This mismatch causes a brief moment of moderate understeer that, after the front wing begins to build aero grip while the rears are asked to put the power down, typically leads to snap-oversteering — a push-loose situation.

Early Rotation

Thunder Bunny Racing took the helm and started dialing out the Supra’s understeer by mechanical means. By adding lots of rake, installing a custom rear sway bar as thick as a firepole, and softening up the front with an Eibach front bar, they helped encourage more turn-in rotation.

Being a powerful car with a straightline advantage to exploit, this approach did not seem too sensible at first. “To me, it was counterintuitive — I thought that softening the rear as much as possible would help with corner exit. That’s true, but since I can get the car straightened a little faster than before, I don’t need to worry about compliance as much. Forcing the car to rotate makes it much easier to put the power down.”

Although aero has little to do with the car’s low-speed understeer, it has been a persistent problem which Patten struggled to totally resolve until recently. Replacing the OEM front brakes with a set of six-piston AP Racing Radi-Cal 9668 front brakes and CSG CE12/C18 pads, as suggested by Jackie Ding, would do the trick. They handled the thermal loads, reduced some unsprung mass, and lengthened the time between pad changes. For some time, these were more than enough.

As Patten developed as a driver, the brake bias stopped suiting his trail braking technique. With the front tires handling the brunt of the braking forces, they would quickly overheat and give up once he started turning the wheel. To spread the load more evenly across all four corners and encourage more of that turn-in rotation, he replaced the OEM rears with AP 9540s.

“With big brakes at all four corners, the car is more stable during deceleration and much easier to trail-brake. The whole car squats down under braking rather than getting up on the front tire,” he elaborated.

Last Piece of the Puzzle

The B58 engine is known to produce power with relatively little effort, and the ZF 8HP automatic transmission gives the Supra a distinct straight-line advantage over comparable sports cars with similar power outputs. Since the transmission modifier is less significant in TT2, it only made sense to take a step into the next fastest Time Trial category and extract some more from the motor.

Haddix designed the center-exit exhaust to reduce weight and turbulence.

Fortunately, all the B58 needed was an MHD tune to make a healthy 419 average horsepower, and the 151-mph terminal speed at the end of VIR’s straight made it clear it was capable of dicing with the punchiest cars in the TT2 paddock. Like before, one of his first events in a new category left no one doubting the car’s capabilities; rewriting the TT2 record at Carolina Motorsports Park with a 1:34.2 — a second faster than the previous best set by heavy hitter Ben Grambau.

Two weeks later, he returned to VIR and set a new NASA Mid Atlantic TT2 record: a 1:55.6. Patten and his “Yellow Demon” were now established front-runners.

Vulgar Display of Power

Although Patten was wise enough to prioritize perfecting his Supra’s handling and braking first, the giddy teenager in him was eager to see what sort of speeds he’d reach when the motor was given the typical Supra treatment — as well as the modifications a powerful car made for the road course requires.

CES Motorsport in Charlotte fitted the straight-six with a Pure 850 turbo, an Evolution of Speed port injection manifold, and a set of Injector Dynamics ID1050 injectors — all basic bolt-ons, really. The first item retains the stock turbo housing, the second doubles the charge cooler size, and the third makes E85 a possibility — a must when running the B58 at higher boost levels.

After tuner Zach Tucker from Counter Space Garage increased the boost from 20 to 30 PSI, the lump needed some assistance staying cool. A full PWR cooling catalog consisting of two side radiators, a main radiator, and an oversized heat exchanger now keep it from cooking itself in the swampy summer weather.

With the amount of grip produced currently — peaks of 2.5 g’s aren’t uncommon — the stock saddle tank starves at seven-eighths of a tank, or after two to three laps. CSG has developed a kit to fix this issue that consists of a Radium fuel hanger and surge tank. While they were installing it, they prepped the motor for E85.

Though the motor remains unfazed with an additional 300 horsepower, the stock ZF transmission struggles with any more than 500 pound-feet of torque. Patten turned to Pure Drivetrain Solutions and futureproofed his setup with one of its Stage II transmissions — a gearbox good for 1,200 horsepower.

His motor might not make anywhere near that now, but the decision was a prudent one since Patten doesn’t quite know which series he’ll be competing in next year. Making sure this grand tourer remains versatile and reliable has been a vital part of this build.

The car’s perennial limiting factor is still there, though it’s made it trustworthy and easy to lean on. Perhaps Thunder Bunny Racing’s motorsport-style mechanical differential will change all that, but it remains to be seen.

All this advancement in just under a year’s time seems almost impossible for an amateur — even an unusually talented one. But a loving spouse, a significant investment, and a crew of bright and talented friends made it a reality for Patten.

More than just a new lease on life, this ambitious project has helped Patten view things more philosophically than before. “All this work has taught me that there’s no such thing as instant gratification and that everything that’s worthwhile will require a lot of effort. I have a desire to excel in the pursuits that I’m passionate about, so I will pour almost all of my time and energy into this car. More than that, I’m trying to make up for the 15 years I spent sitting on the sidelines,” he said.

With the right mentality and the right people around you, it’s never too late to start.

Images courtesy of Tradd Slayton, Tony Politi, Allen Patten, Brett Becker, AJ Allen, Ryan Mowrer and Kevin Webn


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