NASA Mid-Atlantic’s HyperFest lives up to its billing as “the automotive amusement park.”
To hear NASA Mid-Atlantic Regional Director Chris Cobetto tell it, HyperFest doesn’t just compete with other motorsports events. It competes with events of all kinds, and so HyperFest has grown and evolved into something of an automotive circus. This event is Mecca for gear heads.
Walk around HyperFest and there’s something for everyone. There’s so much to see and do, it’s impossible to see and do it all in one year, so people return year after year after year. For 2017, Cobetto said HyperFest enjoyed a 31 percent increase in spectator attendance. More than 10,000 people came to the event this year. In addition, there were some 1,200 participants in HPDE, racing, Time Trial, instructing, running in the Ultimate Track Car Challenge, drifting, HyperDrives and rally rides.
“The reality is when you do something like this, it’s entertainment,” Cobetto said. “And when you are in the entertainment business, you’re going to be competing with movies, you’re going to be competing with video games, texting and phones, and we know the events today have to be multifaceted. It’s not like the 1960s where the race was the entertainment. Today you have to have the racing, you have to have the drifting, you have to have a lot going on because that’s how culture is today. People are inundated with information and they’re used to it and you need to provide enough stimulation to fire off enough synapses that keep people interested.”
In addition to the on-track action, HyperFest had numerous car corrals and car shows, photo booths, radio-controlled cars, karting, rally ride-alongs, an off-road experience. Of course, there were also the crazy contests.
Sponsored by Paul Reed Smith Guitars, the air guitar contest’s top prize was a PRS electric guitar worth $800. If you won the hot pepper eating contest, you won a Nashin brake kit worth $1,800. And if you did win the contest, you really earned it because the tie-breaker involved downing a jalapeno pepper injected with habanero sauce.
Of course, the sponsorships determine the size of the party and the 2017 HyperFest brought in a bunch. Grassroots Motorsports, Monster Energy, Paul Reed Smith, Mazda, Nitto Tires, Red Line Oils, Bimmerworld, Koni Shocks, Mustang RTR and many others help make HyperFest what it is. Sponsors also help HyperFest do what it does.
“These sponsors, they’re not just doing it purely as a marketing, branding exercise,” Cobetto said. “They are doing it as that, but they’re also doing it because they get it. They understand the market and they appreciate the event and what it does to help promote the sport, that bigger picture of the sport itself. You have to grow the sport. If you grow the sport, the tide rises and all boats rise with the tide.”
Cobetto approaches the event as he would approach hosting a party — a huge party.
Highlights this year included the Power Wheels Downhill Attack, where participants drive little plastic toy cars down the 100-foot drop from Turn 14 to Turn 17. Believe it or not, there was a reigning champion and he was unseated this year. Then, just for fun, they reran all 25 competitors at the end in a race that featured a LeMans-style start.
Another fan favorite is the tire massacre burnout contest, and many of the drift cars took part, melting tires to the point they shredded them down to the cords and even to the wheels. This year’s winner was a Mazda Miata drift car powered by a GM LS V8 that smoked its rear tires, and then its clutch, which exploded and started a fire. The Miata left on a tow truck, but the driver left with the trophy for the best burnout. Just Google “HyperFest Miata burnout,” to see video footage.
Mazda was on hand as was Long Road Racing, which was giving fans ride-alongs in the Global MX-5 Cup Car with Mazda factory driver Tom Long. As a result, plans are in the works for HyperFest to be one of the venues for a Teen Mazda Challenge race.
Similarly, Factory Five had cars on display, on track and taking part in the Ultimate Track Car Challenge, and Bimmerworld was serving up barbecue on Saturday night.
HyperFest is as much about entertainment as it is about exposing more people to the sport and there is probably no better way than a HyperDrive: one classroom session and one session on track in a student’s car with an instructor, for around $50. If there were ever a device that could demonstrate the appeal of driving on a road course, a HyperDrive is it.
Cobetto spoke of numerous examples of people who were introduced to the sport during a HyperDrive and now have NASA competition licenses. One of those drivers had his car entered in a car show at HyperFest, tried his hand on track, then completely reversed all the show mods on his car and turned it into a Honda Challenge car while he developed himself as a driver in HPDE. He now races with NASA.
Of course, this is NASA Mid-Atlantic at VIR, and that means racing takes center stage on the long course. HyperFest gives people a taste of how fun and competitive amateur road racing can be. For the spectators, it’s a hoot, and for the drivers, it’s a rare treat to have an appreciative audience.
“Whenever I first introduced HyperFest, when the concept was born, part of the impetus was to give a professional level event to the amateur driver,” Cobetto said. “And it is. There is an energy that exists in the event itself whenever you have thousands and thousands of people that are there.”
Each year, Cobetto tries to outdo the previous year. By signing up more sponsors, the party only gets bigger and better. So, for 2018, who knows what he has up his sleeve. Odds are pretty good it too will be over the top.
“It’s like I’m throwing this huge party at the track and all my car friends are coming out,” he said. “You have to have fun at your own party, although I will say this: I’m pretty sure that everybody else was probably having more fun than me. But it’s still a party that I would like to attend. And I think that’s how I want to keep doing it.”