Call it the art of clinching in the rain. NASA Northeast’s 2019 season drew to a close with an exciting weekend at New Jersey Motorsports Park’s Thunderbolt circuit. Saturday’s clear conditions and crisp temperatures led to some great racing and fresh track records. Sunday’s weather took a turn, and racers battled out for every point in blinding rain, dodging puddles large enough to swallow a Miata.
In ST2, Mark Petronis arrived hungry to close the gap in points between him, A.J. Hartman, and Doug Winston. The regional championship podium order was to be decided by the final event’s points. Unfortunately for Mark, his chase ended during Saturday’s qualifying. Coming onto the front straight at blistering speed, a slower car yielded the line then abruptly snapped across the track leaving Mark with nowhere to go but into their fender. Both drivers were fine, but their weekends ended and Mark landed the short step on the podium for 2019 ST2.
Fresh off a National Championship in American Iron, A.J. Hartman just had to play it cool and run defense with Doug Winston for his shot at the ST2 regional championship. All Hartman needed were two good clean finishes toward the front of the pack. After finishing Saturday’s race in P4, right behind Doug, all Hartman needed was a finish. Sunday’s weather brought torrential downpours, and most of the Thunder Race Group drivers who took the green flag had their season riding on it. The race went clean, and the ST2 podium was set: Hartman, Winston, Petronis.
In Lightning race group, the battle for the final podium spot came down to the wire in three classes: Honda Challenge 2, Spec E30 and Spec Miata. Each had the third place slot clinched in the last race of the year, in the pouring rain. The final points spread between third and fourth position? Two points in SM and H2 and three in SE30!
In Honda Challenge 2, Marc Dias had a fantastic run in the rain and was able to clear second place by almost 50 seconds. Despite his commanding lead, Marc refused to back down and his second to last lap was his fastest. His tenacity was rewarded, and the 100- point win landed him a total of 637 points, just squeezing by Nathan Bookbinder’s 635.
In Spec E30, Larry Marks and Christian Sandmann had been battling it out in the middle of the field all year, with their exciting back-and-forth drama continuing through the last event. After a solid finish Saturday, Sandmann took the green flag for Sunday’s race with a 13-point lead. Marks needed to finish ahead of Sandmann and put a few SE30s in between if he wanted to steal the last podium spot from Sandmann. Marks was nursing a hurt motor — he burned 3 gallons of oil that weekend — and forgot to apply a fresh coat of antifog to his windshield.
“I was trying to stay on the track long enough to get to the front straight, wipe, rinse, repeat,” Marks said.
Despite his lack of visibility, Marks was able to pull away from Sandmann and Tom Samuelson, but ultimately couldn’t catch T.J. Yard. Sandmann secured the third spot on the season podium with 678 points, Larry right on his heels with 675. Robert Casella took the regional championship. T.J. Yard took second in points.
Spec Miata has been enjoying a lot of fresh blood in the Northeast, with four of the top five finishers having earned comp licenses in the last three years. Veteran series leader Ben Miller comfortably took the top spot in season points, with Mike Smith in second. The battle for the last podium spot echoed the above paragraphs.
On Saturday, Jim Tramontano was able to close the points gap between him and Chris Graham and started Sunday just seven points behind Graham. Tramontano needed to beat Graham with just one SM between them to steal the final podium spot. As the green flag dropped, Tramontano was able to pass Dave Deerson in the blinding wall of water kicked up by the tight pack. Maintaining a comfortable lead from the cars behind, Tramontano just had to carry on and hope the cars behind did the same. Halfway through the race Graham and Jeff Lombardo deftly used traffic to push past Deerson, putting Graham back in the points to clinch third place. Graham was able to stave off Lombardo for the remainder of the race. Lombardo was in position to take the fourth slot if Tramontano or Graham didn’t finish the race. At the end, Graham held onto the spot and maintained his points lead, clinching the podium by just two points, 735 to 733.
All around the classes, exciting battles decided final standings for the season. Slightly less dramatic, but no less impressive was H1’s Jose Suero, who clinched the top step for the Northeast. Adding the NE Regional Championship to his National Championship win at Mid-Ohio. Eric Magnussen capped a perfect season in GTS3, finishing first in every race he entered, adding to his pile of hardware from dual podium Mid-Ohio Championship finishes.