At the season opener in January at Motorsports Ranch Houston, NASA Texas had a bit of weather come through on Saturday, which created slick conditions for qualifying for race group B. Come race time, the track had a drying line, but with some standing water in some places.
Well, the first wave of cars found one of those pools of standing water at the exit of the last turn that emptied onto the front straight, hit it, splashed the drying line and the end result was a pileup of Honda Challenge cars and Spec Miatas along the K wall. One of those cars was driven by longtime NASA Texas Spec Miata racer Trevor McCallion.
“There was probably one semi-dry line, so we were able to hustle it up a little bit better than we were during qualifying,” McCallion said. “As the Hondas leaders and a couple of the front guys were hitting a puddle that was on the left-hand-side apex, as they were trying to tighten it up before they go to the wall, they were basically then spraying water all over the track as they were going through it. By hitting the puddle, they were putting water back on the dry line.”
When McCallion and the rest of the Spec Miatas came through, the grip they had experienced on the out lap — and were expecting again — was not there and the pileup occurred. The first one in, McCallion’s car hit the wall and was hit from behind by a couple of cars. This car was wrecked beyond repair.
“As the Miata wave came through, we basically ended up hitting the same thing,” McCallion said. “I literally came through the turn, looked over, saw the car and lifted, We’re not flying in there, but we’re going at a decent rate. But when I lifted, I knew it would be dry enough in the conditions I was in, I felt I had I had slowed down enough to where I would be able to hustle it over to the left after I cleared the apex and not have a problem of getting entangled with the car. But literally as soon as I cleared, I ended up on wet ground and literally the steering wheel’s turned in the video and I’m just going dead straight. I honestly felt I’d lifted enough, and it hit wet pavement and the car went dead straight. And then I tried to get back into full braking because I realized it wasn’t going to turn.”
Farther back in the Spec Miata field, Pradeep Tatineni managed to avoid the melee, but later that day, his engine spit two rods out of the left side of the block and oil pan. This is where X-Factor Racing owner Chris Haldeman enters the story.
“He’s kind of a new guy, right? He bought the car, used, didn’t know what he had, and the engine expired,” Haldeman said. “We had a crashed car and a blown-up car. All the rest of my work was done for the day, so we just decided to swap it. Three guys took probably about two hours and 20 minutes to pull the engine from both cars and put McCallion’s engine in Tartineni’s car.”
Luckily, they were able to find and borrow an engine hoist from a fellow NASA Texas member who was on site, find another set of jack stands from another, and get the swap going. McCallion and Tartineni came to terms, money changed hands and the engine swap proceeded as though it had been planned all along. It’s not the first time something like this has happened and it won’t be the last. It’s always a good story.
“During the second qualifying session, my engine blew up. I literally had like a like cup size hole in the side of my block, and I looked at Chris Haldeman and I said, Hey, I’m assuming we can’t fix that. How long is it before you can get me a new engine?” Tartineni said. “And he said, usually I ask about four weeks to build a new engine. But he said, ‘You know what? I built Trevor a new engine like a week ago and he just totaled his car, and the engine looks fine.’
“I was like, OK, Chris, hear me out. Can you get that engine in my car for tomorrow so I can race tomorrow? And he was like, it’ll be a pinch for time, but I’ll do it. And he literally putting both cars up on stands and literally overnight swapped a brand new engine from Trevor’s car into my car. Caught me up ready to go for the next race the next day.”
NASA Texas has two races on Saturday and one on Sunday, but while Tartineni was on gridded up for Sunday’s race, he noticed the needle on his gas gauge wasn’t pointed in the right direction. He had forgotten to put in enough fuel for the race.
“That the one thing I didn’t check. I was lined up in grid about like, they had a three minute call and that’s when I noticed that I had like less than a quarter tank of fuel. And so I just told myself honestly, I’m just going to get out there and at least do like five or six laps for the fun of it and then just pit before I stall out on track. So I went and did I think like six laps. I got like three good passes in and then just came back into the pits. But it felt great.”