An Easter weekend event at Summit Point meant racing was on Friday and Saturday and a much less crowded paddock than the region is used to seeing. Even with those circumstances, NASA Spec3 fielded one of the larger classes and even had their second rookie of the 2022 season complete their competition evaluation and join their ranks.
On Friday, Sean O’Hara took pole position with a blistering 1:24.838 lap time, followed by Jon McAvoy, Joey Thomas, Taylor Johnson and Edward Higginbotham, one of the latest racers to join the class in 2022. The race that evening started with a typical standing start, with McAvoy and O’Hara battling for first going into Turn 1, and Thomas and Johnson battling for third. Over the next 30 minutes, these two games of cat and mouse played out as expected until a new variable was thrown into the mix. A Spec Miata dropped oil in the famous “Carousel” portion of the track, which consists of a high-speed drop during a right-hander dubbed “The Chute” followed by a hairpin left and a long sweeping right. This tricky part of the track requires careful throttle modulation, left foot braking, and a lot of nerve.
The oil caused the race pace to change considerably, and the Spec3 leader became its first victim. As the remaining laps counted down, O’Hara maintained his lead but had significant pressure in his rearview, and a loss of traction in Turn 5 due to the oil slick caused enough understeer to send him through the grass. McAvoy took advantage and claimed the lead position, but his success was short lived because the rear of his car stepped out aggressively in Turn 7 near where the Spec Miata had pulled off track after the spill, and the Spec3 national series leader spun off track toward the tire wall. Luckily, speeds at this part of the track are at their lowest and McAvoy was able to slow to a stop and rejoin the race, now a distant second place again.
Meanwhile, the battle for third had been won by Joey Thomas, who enjoyed a lead of over a second on the fourth-place Taylor Johnson. Now, however, Thomas was within striking distance of McAvoy for second place after his spin. The two spent the remaining laps jostling for silver while Johnson used the battle to his advantage to gain ground. Ultimately, the remaining laps dwindled to zero and the finishing order was O’Hara, McAvoy, Thomas, Johnson, Higginbotham.
Saturday morning saw the qualifying race, the “Beast of the East,” which allotted extra season points for the winners of classes within the field grouped by their best time from the race the previous day. Group one saw the five fastest of the lightning racers, McAvoy, O’Hara, and the front runners of the Honda Challenge class. Group two saw the next five fastest, and this included Thomas, Johnson, and the lightning fast Jason Griscavage in his Spec E30. Three more groups of racers followed behind as well.
The qualifying race churned on with not much out of the ordinary until the racers encountered a red flag as the result of the newest Spec3 racer in the field going off in Turn 1 and rolling the car onto its side. The driver, Edward Higginbotham was unscathed, however, during the incident, the windshield was damaged and an engine mount broke. This marked the end of the qualifying race, with Jon McAvoy taking the overall winner position as well as winning his group.
The race grid for the Saturday Lightning race saw Sean O’Hara once again on pole, followed by McAvoy, Thomas, Johnson and Thomas Norton, who had just completed his competition evaluation the day before. Edward Higginbotham raced with no windshield and only one mirror after kicking the windshield out and replacing a broken motor mount to get his car back on track after his rollover.
The battles for first and third that took place Friday were back, and back with a vengeance. McAvoy and O’Hara spent the first several laps basically door to door while Johnson and Thomas traded third place back and forth. Each lap, Johnson orchestrated a run through the final turn that allowed for a pass crossing the Start/Finish line heading into Turn 1, where time after time, Thomas out-maneuvered Johnson, and the two headed into the high speed, blind, off camber Turn 3 side by side. Down into the chute, Johnson was able to out brake Thomas and make up lost ground to follow nose to tail through the Carousel and the whole dance played out again, lap after lap. Johnson attempted Turn 1 on the inside and outside of Thomas and could not make the pass stick either way.
This battle raged on until the closing laps where Johnson plotted a pass to steal the final podium position. McAvoy had already managed to snatch first place from O’Hara, with a pass between turns 1 and 3 laps prior. The racers received the white flag, and the Spec3 racers knew the time was now to execute their plans. However, Johnson’s fuel gauge had long since bottomed out on “E” and his fuel level was dangerously low. As the third and fourth place racers rounded the final turns of the track, Johnson’s car began to sputter as the fuel pumps struggled to find what remaining fuel there was. Johnson finished the race, but there was no way a pass could be made unless something dramatic happened.
Then something dramatic happened. The front-running Spec Miatas had collected each other right before the checkered flag and this caused a waving yellow in the final turn of the race. No passing allowed and the racers were forced to slow as they crossed the line. All of the racers escaped without injury and the Spec3 results showed McAvoy, O’Hara, Thomas, Johnson, Norton, Higginbotham. You can watch the Saturday race here.