With the future of Auto Club Speedway in question, NASA SoCal Spec Miata racers converged in Fontana, Calif., for what should be the first of their last two events at this track. As reported on Racer.com in September, 2020, the NASCAR-owned track is slated to be converted from a 2-mile oval with a road course in its infield to a half-mile short track starting in 2021.
When the NASA SoCal 2021 season was initially unveiled, there were no dates at Auto Club Speedway on its schedule. That changed in February when NASA SoCal announced two 2021 dates at the venue.
Saturday morning started out damp and slick, but the track dried for qualifying, which put Ryan Pond on pole, with MX-5 Cup racer Chris Nunes in second and Blake Minasian in third.
Those three formed the front pack for the entire race. Pond led for most of the race, but fell back to third as the three entered the infield. As they entered the complex of turns that lead onto the front straightaway, Nunes and Minasian were locked in a battle to the finish. Pond noticed, backed off a bit and got a good run on both of them and ended up taking the win three-wide in a photo finish at the line, in one of the closest margins of victory in recent NASA SoCal history.
“I didn’t really want to be in third. My goal would have been to be in second, but first and second were battling too hard, so they were side by side in the last three corners onto the main straight,” Pond said afterward. “My only chance was if I pulled back and I tried to get my best exit onto the main straight. And I had enough. I thought I was going to have to push someone into the lead, but I just went for it. I went the long way. I wasn’t sure it was going to work. I thought, ‘I’m either going to come in first or third.’”
Blake Minasian finished ahead of Nunes, but from his perspective, he wasn’t sure whether he’d won.
“It wasn’t until that last lap where I was battling with Chris, going two-wide through the last three, four corners and it was just a drag race to the finish,” Minasian said. “We were giving each other room and it was super clean, but it was a close one. I didn’t even see Ryan coming because I was focused on the mirror, to stay as close as I can, but also seeing if I’m going to beat Chris, and I ended up getting him by 6 or 7 inches. And then Ryan comes out of nowhere. It was a great race.”
For Sunday’s main event, Minasian led for the first few laps, but racing at Auto Club Speedway means bump-drafting, and Pond and Nunes used the draft to their advantage, and both of them got around Minasian.
Minasian kept in contact with Nunes and Pond, and lay in wait till the white flag. Minasian dived inside coming off the Roval in Turn 3, and retook the lead, which he held to the finish.
“I was hoping they wouldn’t train up behind me coming onto the Roval, but they weren’t able to, so it was a lot of fun,” Minasian said.
Starting from third, Pond moved up one into the lead briefly, but finished in second place just ahead of Nunes.