Cold weather started setting in as NASA Southeast returned to Carolina Motorsports Park in Kershaw, S.C., in November. Those cool temps made for a fast track with great grip during the morning qualifying session. Eric Gerchak set the Spec Miata pole with a lap time of 1:48.721. Behind him, Keith Williamson, Capers Zentmeyer, Yan Dia, Teen Mazda Challenge driver Dean Dybdahl and Jeremy Barnes set times that were only separated by .362 seconds. Better yet, close lap times were prominent throughout the field, making an excellent setup for great racing.
Gerchak and Williamson led 20 Miatas in wave two of Saturday’s Lightning race. The start at CMP is always a bit hairy in Turn 1, but everyone managed to get through. Gerchak maintained the lead early, with Zentmeyer getting a good jump up to P2 by Turn 3. By lap two, Zentmeyer took the lead away from Gerchak and stayed up front from there. By lap three, the Miatas started mingling with the Spec E30s, which started ahead in wave one.
As always, this adds to the strategy and racecraft required to be successful. A full-course caution came out on lap seven, bunching up the field. The order was now Zentmeyer, Gerchak, Barnes, Williamson, Peter Rigg, Dia, and Dybdahl. When racing resumed, it was a two-lap shootout to the finish. Gerchak was caught off guard and lost two positions to Barnes and Williamson in Turn 14. Unfortunately, Rigg was involved in an incident coming out of Turn 14 as all classes were competing for the same real estate. Just behind the incident, Dybdahl managed to miss the mayhem and moved into the top five. In the end, Zentemeyer took the win, with Barnes in P2, Williamson in P3, Gerchak in P4, and Dybdahl in P5.
Race two had Barnes on the pole this time with the fastest lap from Saturday’s race. Zentmeyer started on his outside. Zentmeyer owned the outside lane and was able to clear Barnes at the start, taking over P1 pretty quickly. Just behind them, Dybdahl and Dia were duking it out for P3 side by side through Turn 8 and headed toward The Kink. This slowed them both down a little, just enough to give Gerchak an opportunity. He got them both just before The Kink, taking over P3.
By Turn 12, Dybdahl moved ahead of Dia, taking P4 as Dia fell to P5. All this and it’s only lap one! For the remainder of the race, Zentemeyer stayed out front, but positions two through five gave each other the business, challenging each other at every opportunity. It came down to the last lap, where each was within striking distance of the podium. Barnes and Dybdahl were side by side through The Kink. Barnes had the inside line and held strong, making a successful pass as they entered Turn 11. Dia thought he could follow Barnes and pass on the inside of Dybdahl as well, but instead left the door open for Gerchak to tuck in and take the inside of Turn 12, thus getting passed for position. Zentmeyer won the race by 3.322 seconds with Barnes in P2, Dybdahl in P3, Gerchak in P4, and Dia in P5.
The final race of the weekend started again with Barnes and Zentemeyer on the front row. Zentmeyer again took the early lead, but this time Dybdahl launched himself into P2 ahead of Barnes. Those front two pulled slowly away and didn’t have much racing in class from that point on, each maintaining their top spots while positions three through seven were being settled. Barnes and Gerchak had a great fight for the last podium spot, with Barnes eventually passing Gerchak with three laps to go. Behind them, Williamson, Dia, and Steven Champlin were trying to settle who would finish in the top five. Williamson got around Dia in Turn 14 on lap 10. After that, Dia’s mirror was full of Champlin pressuring him to make a mistake. The race finished with Zentmeyer earning another win and sweeping the weekend. Dybdahl finished strong in P2, one of his best this season. Barnes landed another podium in P3 with Gerchak in P4, and Williamson rounding out the top five
This event is named the “Brady Memorial” in honor of Darren Brady, who passed away in 2020. Darren helped grow Spec Miata in the Southeast region, but his influence can be seen all over the paddock. He was a longtime racer and instructor for NASA Southeast. His wife and daughter joined us on Saturday as we celebrated his memory.