New for 2024, in an effort to maximize value for racers, NASA Mid-Atlantic now hosts three points races per weekend. After just one weekend, the new schedule is already a massive hit with racers. No class enjoyed this three-race structure more than Spec3, because those E36 spec racers split the race wins evenly among three drivers throughout the weekend. Racers from NASA Northeast and NASA Southeast also were in attendance, hoping to steal some trophies from Mid-Atlantic drivers.

After a rainy Friday test day at Virginia International Raceway, the skies cleared and temperatures warmed to provide a beautiful day for racing on Saturday. Spec3 had one of the larger fields at the event and all but one of them was patiently waiting for qualifying. Racer Taylor Johnson, in a misguided attempt at some last minute “tidying up” dropped his ABS module on the ground while cleaning up wires in his car. This led to a broken ABS system and a last-minute run to Al Taylor’s BMW parts stash a few miles from the track. Taylor installed the new module, and got to grid just a few seconds before it was too late to go out. Needless to say, the rest of the racers in the field were cautious around him until it was clear he had regained ABS functionality.

The results of the Saturday qualifier revealed one of the fastest overall Spec3 fields to grace the track, with the top seven all running 2:13 or faster with pole position running a 2:11. The Spec3 track record is a high 2:10.

Race one saw much jostling for position in the midfield and ultimately ended with the win going to Sean O’Hara, with Andy Schmidt and Joey Thomas sharing the podium.

Race two, the new addition to the Mid-Atlantic schedule, was an early race at 9 a.m. Cold brains and cold tires meant an interesting race surely would ensue. Charles Ford and Jon McAvoy started from the rear of the field due to compliances issues from race one and stormed through the field when the green flag dropped. Just as the field began to sort itself a few laps in, double-yellows came out to retrieve a Honda Challenge car from the grass inside the Oak Tree turn, so the field bunched back up with Andy Schmidt in the lead for the restart. As the green flag flew on the front straight, the Spec3 field quickly found itself mixed with the rear of the Honda Challenge field in Turn 1, with one line going four wide. During the commotion of the restart, Taylor Johnson found himself on the outside of Turn 1 in the marbles, where a small twitch of the rear tires sent him on a grassy ride where he would have to wait for the entire Lightning group to pass before rejoining.

Ever the opportunists, Jon McAvoy and Joey Thomas found themselves at the front of the field exiting Turn 1, having made up many positions in the chaos. Ford and O’Hara followed closely though the mass of cars hoping to reach the front during what turned out to be a two-lap shootout because the race was cut short by an incident in another class. Ford was starting to close the gap to McAvoy as the checkered flag flew, and the win went to the reigning National Champion McAvoy.


Onboard with Charles Ford for race two in Spec3 race two at VIR.

Race three  saw a starting grid similar to race one and Ford, McAvoy and O’hara pulled ahead while the midpack duked it out behind. As the laps ticked away, the Spec3 field remained close and tidy as the tires heated up along with the track surface. At some point, McAvoy spun off inside Turn 1 and rejoined the field midpack,  and what followed can only be described as “controlled chaos.” As McAvoy attempted to work past cars to get back to the front — no easy task as this stacked field put up quite a battle — the Spec3 racers also found themselves dancing through out-of-class traffic.

From then on, so many passes, tires in the grass, and sideways moments — assisted by fuel spillage from another car ahead — occurred that it’s best to just share the footage from race three instead of attempting to describe it. Spec3 racers fought door to door through the Roller Coaster, through the Lower Esses into the Uphill Esses, through Oak Tree, and all down the straights. If the race could have continued for another hour, surely positions 4-7 would have traded positions 100 more times. Charles Ford took the win in race three.


Ride along with NASA Northeast Spec3 racer Taylor Johnson at the NASA Mid-Atlantic season opener at VIR.

Spec3 ended the weekend with many smiling faces, dusty but undamaged cars, and a collective eagerness to get back out there and do it again soon. In April, Spec3 anticipates its largest field in the Southeast to date at Roebling Road Raceway, followed by a large field at Summit Point with Mid-Atlantic and  Watkins Glens in the Northeast. In the meantime, look for Spec3 builds at Sonoma with NorCal in March!

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Image courtesy of Tony Politi

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