October marked NASA Southeast’s return to Rockingham Speedway. “The Rock” opened in October 1965 and has a vintage feel as you enter the infield through the narrow tunnel. It recently had the oval portion repaved with brand new asphalt at the end of 2022. The infield surface remains old and worn with potholes and large cracks throughout. Will it treat your tires nicely? No. Is it fun to race? Absolutely! Spec Miata qualifying started Saturday morning on a decently wet track, only getting worse as the session went on. Racers were challenged with water and foggy windshields, making visibility poor. Capers Zentmeyer secured pole position with a lap time of 1:13.601 on rain tires. The next fastest lap was 1:16.341 set by Jeremy Barnes.
The big decision for race one was tire choice: Toyo Proxes RA1 rain tires or RR dry tires. It had rained all morning, then misted much of the afternoon. The rain had stopped and the track was drying, but there were still huge puddles in the two most important corners: Turn 3 coming in from the high bank oval and Turn 9 heading out of the infield and back onto the banking.
As a group, all the top qualifying Spec Miatas went out on rain tires. It became apparent pretty quickly that the track wasn’t wet enough to need them. While it might not have been the “correct” decision, having everyone on them didn’t give any advantages or disadvantages to the top six. Zentmeyer took the lead immediately, with Barnes in chase mode. Barnes stuck to the bumper of Zentmeyer and charged hard for the top position, but spun on lap five as he entered Turn 3. He recovered quickly and made up some ground to close the gap, only to spin again on lap eighteen.
Zentmeyer finished in P1 with a 15-second lead over Barnes in P2. The closer battle was for the final podium spot. Keith Williamson in P4 was turning faster lap times, but had to get around Yan Dia in P3. This ended up being a back and forth dance as the two worked different lines to beat the other. In the end, Williamson secured P3, leaving Dia in P4 and Don Elvington in P5.
The track was dry on Sunday, so no more decisions about tire choice. Barnes sat on the pole with Zentmeyer to his outside. Barnes and Dia got a great run on the inside lane and pushed ahead of Zentmeyer at the start. Zentmeyer made relatively quick work of passing Dia back for P2, then making the front battle again between him and Barnes. By the end of the race, Barnes crossed the finish line by over 5 seconds ahead of second place Zentmeyer.Behind them, Dia and Williamson made for an entertaining race again for the last podium step. Just as in Saturday’s race, each was faster in different sections of the track, making it difficult for passing. In the end, Dia finished in P3, just .184 seconds ahead of Williamson in P4. Kimball Markam finished in the final top five position.
Barnes showed a dominant performance in race three, leading the race immediately and keeping that lead to the finish. Zentmeyer kept him honest, staying in close pursuit, even getting a nose ahead of him on the high banks halfway through. But those charges never resulted in a successful pass. Behind them, Dia seemed to be having a calm Sunday drive in P3, never challenging nor being challenged throughout the race. The battle for P4 was more entertaining with Williamson, Goodrich, Markham, and Elvington all vying for position. Williamson eventually bested the group and started gaining ground on Dia, but there just wasn’t enough time to catch him. The top four finishers were exactly the same as in race two, with the addition of Matt Goodrich rounding out the top five. NASA Southeast won’t be returning to Rockingham in 2024, so we said goodbye for now.