It was a short off season for NASA Southeast, with the season opener on the silky smooth surface of Roebling Road Raceway the second weekend of January. The weekend started with competition school on Friday where Spec Miata newcomer Dan Kite earned his provisional racing license.
On Saturday, the weather was cold, making for great horsepower and fast lap times. Jeremy Barnes had the fastest lap of all cars in Lightning with a lap time of 1:21.666. This time was over a second faster than the current track record. But Barnes wasn’t the only one with a fast time. The five cars behind him all had lap times faster than the track record. Just .008 seconds behind Barnes, Michael Carter earned the other front row position.
For Saturday’s race, the Lightning group started in three waves. The Spec Miata group started in wave two, meaning they would have their own start separate from the E30s in wave one. As the Miata wave took the green flag, they were abruptly slowed by waiving yellow flags in turns 1, 2 and 3. The Spec E30s had a multi car incident, which eventually brought the entire field to double yellow condition. Once track cleanup was complete, racing resumed.
However, the leader, Barnes, didn’t get the memo, and was instantly split on both sides by a stampede of racers. By the time everyone reached Turn 1, Carter was now in the lead, followed by Yan Dia, Capers Zentmeyer, and Keith Williamson. Barnes fell all the way back to P6. On the next lap, Zentmeyer passed Dia on the front stretch, taking over P2. Carter had a nice lead in first place, but the E30 field proved difficult to pass, allowing Zentmeyer and Dia to close in by the final lap.
As they came through Turn 9, Carter went wide with Zentmeyer to his inside. It was a drag race to the finish line, with Zentmeyer taking the win by just .037 seconds ahead of Carter in P2 and .114 seconds ahead of Dia in P3! Barnes regained some lost positions and ended up in P4 with Don Elvington behind him in P5.
Race grids for Sunday were set by the fastest lap times in Saturday’s race. This put Carter on the pole with a lap time of 1:21.165 and Zentmeyer to his outside. Both rows got a good start, but Dia was able to tuck in behind Carter through Turn 1, followed by Zentmeyer, Barnes, Williamson, Elvington, and John Palazzolo. They quickly caught the E30 field and worked to get through the traffic as efficiently as possible.
The front four cars began to separate from the pack, but they kept one another within their sights. When one car would create a small gap, it would rapidly dissolve dealing with traffic. This kept the race relatively close and exciting. On lap seven, Zentmeyer passed Dia on the front straight, taking over P2. Further back, Brendan Shattles, Ann Morey, and Charles Lankford were having a nice battle for positions 9-11. They finished less than 1.5 seconds apart with Shattles in P9, Morey in P10 and Lankford in P11. The top five were Carter in P1, Zentmeyer in P2, Dia in P3, Barnes in P4, and Elvington in P5. Not only did Carter win, but he broke the track record with a blistering time of 1.21.106!
Race three started similarly to race two. In turns 1 and 2, Carter took the lead followed by Dia, Zentmeyer, Barnes and Williamson. On lap two, Dia lost traction in Turn 4, sending him off the track and losing five positions during his agricultural excursion. A few laps later, Carter also went off track in Turn 4, but got stuck in the sand. This put Zentmeyer in the lead — and he never looked back. Carter sat in the sand for several laps and eventually got going again, although ending his day of racing.
As Zentmeyer slowly pulled away from the field, Dia was making his way back toward the front. By lap 14, Dia had moved back up to P2. Traffic added excitement once again, challenging racers to master their inter-class race craft. On the last lap, Elvington went off track in Turn 6 and hit the tire wall head on. While his car was damaged, he was OK. He was sore from the impact, but his safety equipment did its job. The top five finishers were Zentmeyer by 7.408 seconds followed by Dia in P2, Barnes in P3, Williamson in P4, and Palazzolo in P5.
Dang good write up Yan!