NASA Florida region’s Danny Steyn grew up racing motocross in his native South Africa, so the need for speed has been in his blood for a long time. But motocross is a sport reserved for one’s youth, and his career was over in 1987 when he wound up in a coma for 10 days after a bad crash.
After emigrating to the United States, Steyn replaced motocross with competitive windsurfing, but that need for speed was still there. So in 2006, after he had enjoyed some success in his photography business, Steyn bought himself an AMG Mercedes, and one of the perks of the purchase was a driving experience day at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where one of the instructors was Jeff Andretti.
“One of the things they did was an autocross and so Jeff set the reference lap, and everybody else went around a second or two slower than that,” Steyn said. “I went out and beat his time, which really upset him, so he went out and set another time.”
Steyn went out and beat that time, too, and upon the advice of Linda Pobst, who also was instructing that weekend, Steyn decided to go racing. He signed up for the Panoz Racing Series and off he went. Before one of the Panoz events staged as a support race to the Petit LeMans, Steyn was looking to rent a car so he could get some more seat time at Road Atlanta. A friend suggested he sign up with OPM Autosports and rent one of the company’s Spec Miatas. Steyn was, well, hesitant.
“I did not want to do Spec Miata. I was just miserable about it,” he said. “I did not want to enjoy the car. I thought that I should be going much faster. I thought I should be in a V8 car with lots of horsepower, but the instant I got in that car and we went four-wide through Turn 1 at Road Atlanta, at that moment I was hooked because I realized this was motocross with a cage. Rubbing mirrors and door handles, it’s just like motocross and it’s a very special class, and I’ve never wanted to be in anything else since I’ve been there.
“I honestly expected to hate every moment of it,” he added. “And from the moment I saw the car to everything about it, even driving out of the pits, I was just miserable. Then in the very first session, we went three or four wide through Turn 1. In Panoz, nobody would even think about going two wide into a corner because that was unheard of. Everybody went through single-file in a procession. This was my first experience with the madness of Spec Miata, and I was hooked from that moment.”
In 2008, Steyn commissioned OPM Autosports to build the 1999 model shown here. OPM Autosports also built Steyn a 2001 model, which looks nearly identical save for a few decals here and there. Steyn uses the 1999 for tracks with an abundance of long straights and the 2001 for tighter technical tracks where the additional torque of the variable valve timing engine is a plus.
OPM Autosports also maintains and supports the cars for Steyn, who is in the enviable position of arriving and driving. But he puts in a great deal of effort into his training and OPM Autosports has focused on getting the most out of the car.
“There are hundreds if not thousands of hours spent getting the car to roll freely, because there’s only so much you can get from the engine,” Steyn said. “128, 129 horsepower, that’s about all you can get, and it doesn’t matter who your engine builder is. What you don’t want is to drag a parachute behind you. Massaging the brakes so the pads don’t make contact with the rotors, getting the bearings to be really free. The engines are critical, but in the end I think most of us at the front will have very similar outputs from the engine.”
By the time you read this, Steyn will have campaigned the car at the Eastern States Championships at Road Atlanta — in a racing class he never expected to enjoy. His prep work involves spending what he deemed a stupid amount of hours studying data and video and running laps on iRacing. He doesn’t participate in the races. He just runs laps so he can experiment with lines and car setups on the MX-5 Cup cars available on the online racing program.
“The amazing thing about Spec Miata is that it’s such a popular class that there’s generally well-subscribed races and it doesn’t matter if you’re in 10th, 15th or 20th place, there’s always somebody trying to take that piece of track real estate away from you,” he said. “You’re always racing. You’re never just circulating. If people like racing, Spec Miata is the place to do it.”
|2,415 lbs. w/driver
|1.8-liter four-cylinder, .010” over
|Front: Spec Bilstein shocks, spec Eibach springs
Rear: Spec Bilstein shocks, spec Eibach springs
|Front: Toyo RR 205-50-15
Rear: Toyo RR 205-50-15
|Front: Carbotech XP24
Rear: Carbotech XP12
|Adept Studios, Rossini Racing Engines, Traqmate, Carbotech