In February, NASA Southeast returned to Carolina Motorsports Park for their Winter Meltdown event. Friday started with competition school where Javier Laurnaga, Peter Rigg and Scott Brown joined the ranks of Spec Miata racers by earning their provisional race licenses! In addition, it was yet another weekend where fast drivers would be paired with cold weather and a dry track. In qualifying, Teen Mazda Challenge driver Raiden Nicol earned pole position with a time of 1:48.456.
Race One started with 22 Spec Miatas taking the green flag. On the front row was Nicol in P1 and Eric Gerchak in P2. They led the field into Turn 1, which at CMP is always challenging as cars take a sharp left-hand turn that never seems to have enough grip or space. Gerchak took the turn wide and fast, running his car off into the grass. He managed to squeeze back in at Turn 3 only losing one position to Capers Zentmeyer, who was now in second place. Making up for his mistake, Gerchak passed Zentmeyer in Turn 14, taking back second place.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Barnes, who started in P9, was marching toward the front and joining the lead pack. This made for a great second-place battle between Barnes, Zentmeyer, Gerchak and Keith Williamson. What about first place? Well Nicol was having nothing to do with all this, cutting his way through traffic and building a nice lead on all the commotion behind him. Barnes eventually fought his way up to P2, with some excellent racing among the top five positions. Unfortunately for Gerchak, he started having wheel bearing issues, which affected his performance and helped move him just outside of the top five finishers. In the end, Nicol won by more than 18 seconds, followed by Barnes in P2, Williamson in P3, Zentmeyer in P4, and Yan Dia in P5.
Race two started bright and early Sunday morning with 23 Miatas hitting the track. Nicol started again on pole with Barnes to his outside. Barnes made a successful pass in Turn 12 taking over the lead on lap one. Nicol regained the lead on lap two by passing Barnes in the Carousel. Barnes continued to challenge Nicol in Turn 8, but went wide sailing off into the sand, hitting the tire wall, and ending his race.
With Nicol up front, Zentmeyer and Williamson battled for positions two and three as Brandon Sloan, Gerchak, and TMC driver Dean Dybdahl battled for positions four through six. As with most NASA race weekends, out-of-class traffic was a help and a hindrance, but seemed to keep the racing closer. Nicol ended up winning by more than 17 seconds. He was followed by Zentmeyer in P2, Williamson in P3, Gerchak in P4, and Sloan in P5. Adding to Nicol’s day, he also set a new track record with a time of 1:48.371!
With help from fellow racers, Barnes was able to get his car repaired and ready for the third and final race of the weekend. They started off clean through Turn 1 with Barnes taking an early lead by Turn 3. Gerchak, stuck on the outside of Turn 5, was passed by Zentmeyer and Dybdahl, moving him back to P7. Dia also moved to his inside, but was unable to get the pass completed. The two challenged again through Turn 8, but Dia lost traction and had to catch the car. Spencer Conrad saw the opportunity and passed Dia for P8 with TMC driver Aryton Grim pushing for position as well.
Up front, Nicol took over the lead as he passed Barnes in Turn 14. As Nicol and Barnes pulled away, Sloan was being challenged for P3 by Williamson. In Turn 12, Williamson completed the pass on the outside of Sloan, but with Dybdahl, Zentmeyer, and Gerchak all getting by him as well. On the next lap, Williamson went too deep in Turn 12 where Dybdahl made a pass on the inside and moved into P3. Later on lap 5, Dybdahl lost some momentum exiting Turn 8, setting up Williamson to make a successful pass on him in Turn 12, taking back P3. Turn 12 was definitely the place to see lots of action! On the last lap, Dybdahl lost two more positions in the Carousel after going off track.
Farther back, a great battle ended with a three-wide finish across the line between Don Elvington, Conrad and Grim, finishing in P9, P10, and P11 respectively with only a margin of .083 seconds between them! The race ended with Nicol sweeping the weekend as he clinched yet another win. He was followed by Barnes in P2, Williamson in P3, Zentmeyer in P4, and Gerchak in P5.