August 18-20 saw NASA Northeast hosting a joint event with NASA Mid-Atlantic in Millville, N.J., home of the New Jersey Motorsports Park. NJMP is an interesting and unique facility due to the sheer variety of vehicles using the area at any given time due to its proximity to the Millville airport.
On this weekend, a racer could see dirt bikes peaking over the trees as they flew through the air beyond the front straight, see a helicopter landing just outside the track near the villas, see go karts on Tempest Raceway, or see a small-engine plane or private jet land over their head in the paddock. The aviation connections do not end there. The track is built where a WWII air base was located. There are so many nods to that history, including the hangar-shaped officer’s club, the timing tower that looks like an air-traffic control tower, and even the name of the two tracks on site!
This event also happened to be the last time NASA Northeast will race on the Thunderbolt track at NJMP before repaving and configuration changes planned for this offseason. Any lap record that stands today will surely fall soon after the fresh pavement is laid, so this is the last chance for any racer to secure the record with an asterisk: *pre-2023-repave. This also may have been the last chance to experience the famous — or infamous — slippery, slidey pavement at NJMP and the amazing racing it leads to. We will have to wait and see how much more grip the new pavement provides next year!
A combined event between Northeast and Mid-Atlantic also meant the “OG” Spec3 field was coming to square off on the home turf of the newest Spec3 field in the Northeast. The regional points race in the Mid-Atlantic being tight between the top five meant none in the fight could afford to miss this event no matter how close to the NASA National Championships it was. However, not everyone was in the same position across all of the NASA classes, so the average field size was only about 7-10 across the race groups.
Saturday qualifying placed the Spec3 National Championship favorite, Charles Ford, on pole, Northeast Spec3 leader Taylor Johnson second, Spec3 National Series Leader Jon McAvoy third, Sean O’Hara fourth, Jake Thiewes fifth, rookie Angel Arias sixth, and rookie Harry Ramos seventh.
When the green flag dropped for the Saturday points race, the field tore away from their standing start positions and into Turn 1. Johnson overshot the exit of Turn 2 and rejoined the field on track in fourth falling in behind Ford, McAvoy, and O’Hara. A four-car conga line formed as the race progressed with no position changes until out of class traffic compromised a turn for McAvoy, and O’Hara completed a pass on the uphill section between turns 3 and 4, dipping two tires off to accomplish it.
This success was short lived because McAvoy was able to get a run and use the draft to execute a pass under braking into Turn 1 a few laps later. All the while, Johnson was there to spectate, only close enough to poke a nose into the action, but not to execute a pass, and Ford was able to pull slightly ahead while the cars behind him battled. Eventually Johnson suffered a minor mechanical that did not remove him from the race, but slowed his pace by enough to remove him from podium contention … until a car from another class dropped oil on the back half of the course, and caused the leader Ford to slide off track and drop to third place, rejoining the track mere feet in front of Johnson.
The two fought through the final turns and Ford fended off a passing Taylor Johnson at the line. Final results, McAvoy, O’Hara, trailing McAvoy by less than half a second, Ford, Johnson, trailing Ford by less than a tenth of a second, Thiewes, Ramos, and Arias who also went off track due to the dropped oil.
NASA Northeast does a qualifying race for Lightning racers on Sunday morning, so the grid was set by finishing positions on Saturday and the field would take the green in the same fashion. The finishing order of the qualifying race was Ford, McAvoy, O’Hara, Johnson, Thiewes, Arias, Ramos with the top four running best lap times less than . 2 seconds apart across the group. All within .3 seconds of the Spec3 track record as well.
Sunday’s green flag for the main race dropped and the field battled for a few laps before a full-course caution due to a Miata on the inside of Turn 4.
On the restart, Ford, McAvoy and O’Hara timed the flag perfectly and rocketed away from the rest of the field that was still in the “octopus” complex when the green flag flew. The three battled through a now tightly packed group of out-of-class cars ahead of them until a Honda spun on the entrance to the front straight causing a chain reaction of cars checking up, allowing O’Hara, the trailing car to have a run down the straight and pass Ford and McAvoy.
O’Hara enjoyed the lead until Ford was able to perform a superhuman outside pass in the braking zone of Turn 1 and the two navigated turns 2, 3, 4, and 5 door to door, side by side with Ford having the inside line for turn 5 and pulling out ahead. Ford would hang onto the lead and the finishing order for the Sunday points race was Ford, O’Hara, McAvoy, Johnson, Thiewes, Arias and Ramos.