Getting to the podium at the NASA Championships takes a combination of bravado, survival skills, a few people skilled with turning wrenches — and, of course, a welcome dose of good luck.
The National Auto Sport Association wrapped up its 2021 Championships at Daytona International Speedway and crowned 21 new racing champions and eight new Time Trial champions.
In the world of motorsports, professional or grassroots, Time Trial is akin to baseball. Played at any level, it is a thinking man’s game.
Each session on track is like an at-bat for a ball player. It teaches you a little bit more about what to expect from your opponent, but that doesn’t eliminate surprises, most of which come in the form of what those opponents also are learning about you. Ideally, you are getting a little bit better with each at-bat, but then again, so are your opponents.
When they top your lap time, you have to find a new way to top theirs. TT cars lapping the track might seem somewhat simple, but it’s no easier than trying to use a round bat to hit a round ball coming at you at 90 mph. The cognition is stratospheric, and it levels up the entire weekend.
This year’s Time Trial competition at the 2021 NASA Championships Presented by Toyo Tires was intense. At a track like Daytona International Speedway, which favors teamwork through drafting, the lone Time Trial driver has to get it done all on his or her own.
Here are the drivers who came out on top.
NASA Great Lakes AIX and TTU driver Brian Faessler brought his familiar Mustang to Daytona and walked away with the TTU Championship on a 12-second margin of victory.
Allen Cohen brought his GM LS-powered Trans Am chassis Ford Mustang to race in SU and TTU. He took second in TTU with a 1:58.890-second lap time.
Running in his home region, Greg Slayton drove his heavily modified Camaro SS to a third-place finish in TTU with a 2:03.548-second lap time.
When he wasn’t supervising the tire operation at Appalachian Race Tire, Johnny Miller took the TT1 Championship with a smokin’ 1:55.340-second lap time.
Frederick Harris II piloted his C6 Z06 to second place in TT1. His winning lap time was a 1:56.720.
NASA Great Lakes’ Dylan Gerding drove his wiper-less C5 Z06 to third place in TT1 with a 1:57.122.
NASA NorCal’s Alessandro Sensoli edged out the TT2 Championship in his Ford Mustang. His fast lap of 1:56.482 was quick enough for the win.
NASA NOLA’s Dylan Brown took second in TT2 in his GT350, missing out on the top spot by just .096 seconds. His fast lap was a 1:56.578.
NASA Mid-Atlantic’s Ben Grambau overcame severe differential issues in his C5 Z06 to take third in TT2 with a 1:57.778-second lap.
Coming in from the NASA NOLA Region, Joey Dumas came out on top in TT3 in his Porsche 911 with a 2:04.508 lap.
NASA Florida’s Duncan Conner took second in TT3 with a fast lap of 2:06.081.
Hailing from the NASA Utah Region, Grant Ellis ran a fast lap of 2:06.444, which was quick enough for third place in TT3.
Driven by Scott Adams, Team Scott Adams Driver Development took this first-gen Acura NSX to a TT4 Championship with a 2:06.218-second lap time.
On his home turf, Florida Region TT4 driver David Farrar took second in TT4, just .108 seconds out of first. His fast lap was a 2:06.326.
The Team Kids Racing For Life Mazda Miata came in third in TT4 with a 2:07.967-second lap time.
Lucio D’Isep dominated TT5 in his Honda S2000, winning the TT5 Championship by more than 5 seconds with a fast lap at 2:09.230.
NASA Arizona’s Joseph Cattaneo took home second place in TT5 with a fast lap of 2:14.627.
NASA SoCal’s Pat Garrett brought home the bronze in TT5 with a fast lap at 2:15.874 seconds.
Mike Rossini of Rossini Racing Engines took first in TT6 with a fast lap of 2:24.787, but there was no photo available.
NASA Mid-Atlantic’s Xavier Calderon took second in TT6 with a 2:25.450.
The lone entry in TTEV, Team Rattlesnake Electric Sport took the TTEV Championship in a wrapped Tesla Model 3. Their fastest lap was a 2:03.611, faster than all of the TT3 cars.
Preston Pardus captured the NASA Spec Miata Championship race, making a late move to get back in front of the field and won by .079 seconds over Harry Voigt, with Matthew Cresci right on their heels in third place.
“It was a little harder than I thought it was going to be at the end,” Pardus said. “There at the end they drafted by me and luckily coming out of the Bus Stop I was able to pull one back and then get behind, I think it was Matt (Cresci) there, and back up to Harry coming out of NASCAR 4 and slingshot him. It worked out really well.”
Pardus said some of the cars were struggling through the corners a little bit at the beginning of the race and he was able to get some separation from the pack before they were able to catch back up by working together. That left him out in front of the field quite a bit longer than he would have liked.
“I didn’t want to be leading that much,” he said. “Usually you’re a sitting duck here. I didn’t expect it to go that way, for sure.”
Pardus said it was great to get to go head-to-head with so many talented drivers.
“It was good racing,” he said. “Obviously, NASA and Toyo put on a great event. It’s a pleasure driving these cars around this track.”
Harry Voigt finished second and Cresci came in third.
Teen Mazda Challenge
Teen Mazda Challenge is the exclusive NASA program that lets drivers as young as 13 move from karting or other motorsports to compete in a full-size sports car on the track at the same time as Spec Miata. Call it a race within race.
Harry Voigt was running just off the front pack for the whole race, and without a drafting partner, he had his doubts as to whether he’d be able to stay within striking distance.
“In the beginning of the race I was barely hanging on to the back of the front pack,” Voigt said. “I was talking to my spotter saying, ‘Man, I don’t think I have a chance to keep up with these guys. I’m a lone man. I don’t have a partner.’”
Enter Matt Cresci, who let up a bit so Voigt could push him and the two could charge to the front. But the draft giveth and the draft taketh away, and Voigt got around Cresci to take second in Spec Miata and first in Teen Mazda Challenge.
“Unfortunately, Todd and Danny, they got taken out, but overall it was a phenomenal race with Matt Cresci, who I couldn’t have done it without,” Voigt said. “He pushed me all the way up.”
Andrew Balgoyen came in second and Zach Rubin finished third.
After watching Daniel Goldburg dominate the Super Unlimited class the first two days, it may have been a surprise to see him in second place throughout a good portion of Sunday’s Championship race. But he made his move when the time was right and went on to capture the class title with a 3.277-second victory over Jacek Mucha.
Mucha was driving a Cadillac DPi, while Goldburg was behind the wheel of a Ligier JS P320, which made his task a tough one.
“There’s such a horsepower/speed disparity on the straights,” Goldburg said. “I was doing lots of work on the infield and losing it on the straights. I did kind of have that plan if I wasn’t in the lead, to wait until we got into traffic and hopefully dice through there a little quicker.”
Goldburg took the lead late in the race and was able to extend his lead a little bit before the checkered flag flew.
“I think I clicked my fastest lap there at the end,” he said. “I got a clear last lap.”
Goldburg said the track was tricky at times, but you have to expect that at Daytona.
“The track felt like it was a little slippery in general this whole weekend,” he said. “Lots of different cars, lots of different tires, but it’s Daytona. It’s always fun.”
John DeAngelis placed second and Brian Tyler finished third.
Super Touring 1
There was little doubt the ST1 class was going to be a real battle and it came down to the last lap, where Justin Oakes was able to take the checkered flag.
“It was extremely difficult,” Oakes said. “Terry Mathis is a very powerful driver. He caused me to push. I worked really hard. I got him on the last lap in the braking zone into Turn 1. I used traffic and it worked. I was able to maintain it to the Bus Stop.”
Oakes crossed the finish line first, but Terry Mathis was awarded the win after post race disputes.
Oakes was moved to second and Timothy Savage finished third.
Super Touring 2
In hockey, scoring three goals is called a hat trick. We didn’t ask Ken Mantovani if he ever played any hockey, but he now knows what it feels like to score a hat trick. Mantovani notched the fastest time in qualifying on Friday, then won Q1 on Friday afternoon and Q2 on Saturday on his way to winning the Super Touring 2 Championship on Sunday.
“Well, honestly, the caution is really what did it for me, just like it did in the last qualifying race, that I just had the top end speed so I used that to my advantage,” Mantovani said afterward. “And, of course, we restart on a green on the banking, so I got a good run on it. (Jonathan Giahn) pulled hard, but I went right to the wall. I don’t even think he realized I’d probably get that tight, and got in front of him and outbraked him into Turn 1, and then just kept them behind me the whole time. But I gapped him pretty good on the banking, but then he’d come right back on me. So he never let up.”
Giahn finished second, with Rokket Horton in third.
“I’m proud of the car. I built the car 100 percent myself from scratch, from a cars and coffee show car, Mantovani said. “Hankook was a great sponsor to put some good tires on the car for me. And I think I laid down the fastest lap in ST2. At least my timer said 1:59 flat, and that was toward the end of the race. So I’m fantastic. Just love it.”
Super Touring 3
Eric Magnussen took the top spot in qualifying and in Friday’s qualifying race. Competitor John Huebner got the better of him in Q2, which set the stage for Sunday’s Championship race.
Magnussen was having major transmission issues. His fourth gear synchro was shot, which left him with essentially two gears with which to race. Despite that handicap, he brought home the 2021 ST3 Championship.
“I found some time braking into Turn 1 to double-clutch it into fourth and I just left it in fourth until the exit of Turn 6,” Magnussen said. “So I was banging the rev-limiter into Turn 5, but it saved me a downshift into third in Turn 3 and an upshift into fifth in Turn 4 and another downshift into three in Turn 6.”
By focusing on carrying as much mid corner speed as possible and keeping the engine in its power band, Magnussen was able to come away with the win over John Huebner in second and Chris Heinzen in third, even with a lengthy full-course caution early in the race.
“The caution broke up a lead that I was working hard on the first couple of laps, but it did give me the opportunity to get past the back of ST2 cleanly,” Magnussen said. “On the restart, some of those guys were on non DOT slicks and they might have been a little cooler than my tires, so I was able to outbreak them into Turn 1 and 3 and get around them.”
German Touring Series 4
With three cars in the field today, Randy Mueller was looking forward to some friendly competition from Vytis Aranauskas and Michael Gershanok. Unfortunately, Aranauskas was involved in an incident and dropped out of the race. Gershanok also dropped out of GTS4, leaving Mueller all alone among a sea of Super Touring and Super Unlimited cars.
“We didn’t have the field to make it super exciting, but starting behind all those other classes made it really fun,” he said. “Working my way through traffic, I did have a little skirmish with a Corvette that put a donut on my door. But I had caught up to the ST3 leaders and let them race for a while and then just drove by them on the straightaway so that I didn’t interfere. But our car was quick today. It’s fast.”
Aranauskas finished in the third spot in GTS4 and Gershanok finished second.
German Touring Series 3
After Randy Mueller notched a Championship in GTS4, he checked the oil, put more gas in his car, changed the tune and went out and won a second Championship in 2021 in GTS3.
Mueller was running lap times about a second quicker than second-place finisher Michael Gershanok and third place Mike Fallin. Based on lap times alone, it’s likely that Meir Rigen would have finished third, but he was DQ’d for a pass under yellow.
“We did minimal testing on Thursday,” Mueller said. “I know the track fairly well, so I didn’t have to do that, and we had been here earlier in the year so we had a good setup on the car.”
Current 944 Spec champion Marcelo Vine had been facing some challenges all weekend. He was not the fastest in Friday morning qualifying, and was looking at the back bumper of Charlie Buzzetti all weekend, including in Q2, when some contact with another car dropped him back a position or two. Or three.
Vine rendered all of that moot in Sunday’s title race and took home the 944 Spec Championship.
“Charlie basically made a small mistake in Turn 1 and I was able to get on the inside and obviously, both of us being from SoCal, we worked together,” Vine said. “If he was in front, I was going to push him, and if I was in front, he was going to push me, and we were going to duke it out at the end, you know? To bring the trophy back to SoCal.”
The two drivers will bring two trophies with them back to SoCal. Buzzetti finished second and NASA Great Lakes driver Matt Giuffre finished third.
“Obviously, I got a little bit lucky. He had the faster car all weekend,” Vine said. “That’s for sure. I got lucky with the double-yellows and the traffic. I was basically able to put some cars between us for the last lap. That gave me the chance to win it, and I did.”
Honda Challenge 2
To say it was a weekend of highs and lows for Christopher Michaels would be an understatement. But after several days of lows, the weekend ended on a definite high note, when Michaels crossed the finish line first in Honda Challenge 2 to take the Championship race.
“This has been the pinnacle of ups and downs,” Michaels said. “To start from dead last yesterday, get to the front and then the fuel line comes off. Thank God the car didn’t catch on fire. To start dead last again today and somehow get all the way back up front and take this thing is amazing.”
It was quite the battle up near the front, with the Honda Challenge cars trying to chase down the overall leader, Spec E46 driver, Dalton Hilliard. While he wasn’t in their class, he did have an impact on how the Honda Challenge race played out after the race went back to green with a couple of laps remaining.
“I knew that Spec E46 was in first place,” Michaels said. “I had to either stay right on his bumper or follow him as close as I could. He was my ticket. I had to stay on his bumper and I did the best I could coming into 1, got right on his bumper and held it all the way through.
“I was doing this little jab in the Bus Stop and I said ‘When this white flag comes out, that’s the end of the jab with the brake. You’ve got to send it’ because this car was not doing it, but it all worked out.”
Holden Metzner was second and Morgan Zeger was third to complete the Mid Atlantic Region podium sweep.
Carlos Mendez wasn’t the fastest qualifier on Friday morning, but that didn’t seem to matter. Mendez won the qualifying races on Friday afternoon and Saturday, then put it all together to take the Spec E30 Championship at Daytona International Speedway.
“That last lap! We were mixed in with the 944s, and I knew I didn’t have to worry about the rest of the pack because there were some 944s behind the two of us. He (Scott McKay) got around me because of traffic, and I knew it was the last lap and I just kept pushing.
Scott McKay got around Mendez on the last lap and was in the lead as the field headed back out onto the high banks. By the time the two approached the very fast Bus Stop on the back straight, Mendez was close enough to attempt a pass under braking.
“We had another 944 in between and I was able to stick behind him, and in the Bus Stop I got around him in the braking zone,” Mendez said. “I just, you know, prayed. It was good fun.”
Scott McKay came in second with Eric Pennington in third.
Turner Hilliard had dominated the first two days of Spec E46, so on Sunday he went out and did one better – he captured the Group C overall victory on his way to winning the Spec E46 Championship.
“I think we came in pretty confident,” Hilliard said. “My dad called for the tire swap this morning, so we found some brand new tires. That made a really big difference, the car really hooked up. I think we also got the track record. The car was amazing. Morehead Speed Works did a great job, all the guys at the shop. We’re just really happy with everything and how this weekend turned out.”
After turning in such an outstanding performance, some may wonder if Hilliard has any plans to move to another class, but he’s perfectly fine where he is at right now.
“In the past I’ve looked to move elsewhere,” Hilliard said. “I made the jump from Miatas to Spec E30 to this. But I really love this car and I think it would be a tough decision to move elsewhere, so I think I’m going to stick with it.”
Christopher DeShong placed second and Cagri Yilmaz placed third.
The sportsmanship in the Legends class is, well, legendary. After borrowing a car from a fellow competitor on Saturday and then winning with that car over the guy who loaned it to him, Bobby Pugh went on to take the Championships race on Sunday.
Bobby Christensen, who won Friday’s Q1 race, was leading when Pugh got around him. Now Christensen had the draft and when the two went barreling into Turn 1, Christensen was leading, but came in a bit hot and found himself in the tire wall. That gave Pugh the boost he needed to go on to take the win.
“He got a boost of speed and started chasing me down, and when he passed me, we had a big burst of speed going with the draft. And he stayed a little bit wide to let me have room on the inside, and when he did, it’s slippery out there, and he made a mistake, went into the tires,” Pugh said. “And let me get about 10 or 15 seconds in front of him, and then it was pretty tough for him. So I hit cruise control from there.”
Christensen finished second and Bryan Poage finished third.
Mark Abouzeid looks forward to battles on the racetrack. But his biggest battle may have been just getting himself back on the track, which made his victory in NP01 especially meaningful.
“I tried to keep the tears out of my eyes. It was beautiful,” Abouzeid said. “When I saw that checkered, I was like ‘yes.’ It’s a long way from getting knocked off a ladder a year ago and spending 70 days in the hospital with seven broken ribs, a punctured kidney and traumatic brain injury.”
For most of the race it looked as though drivers were going to be fighting for second place, but a late spin by Tony Brakohiapa opened the door for others and Abouzeid was there to take advantage.
“Tony spun with about three laps to go and that left me in the lead,” he said. “I passed 227 (Robert Mesmer) a few laps prior to that. He and I went back and forth a couple of times and had a blast. Very clean racing and we had fun together.”
Mesmer placed second and Brakohiapa was able to grab the final podium spot.
Super Touring 4
Scott Adams found himself involved in some good battles in the ST4 Championship race. But when they ran into problems, he was able to capitalize on them and go on to take the checkered flag.
“The car was great. It was dependable, thank goodness,” Adams said. “I think the other two guys I was pushing hard with both had car problems. I definitely didn’t have anything for them. I was just trying to keep pressure on as much as I could and do what I could on the infield and watch them sail away by me on the big banking.”
Adams stayed within striking distance and was quick to take advantage of opportunities when they presented themselves.
He said the victory was a total team effort, with a bit of help from some friends.
“We worked super hard to make sure that we were here,” Adams said. “I had a whole bunch of friends to make sure we were here. I definitely couldn’t have done it without my buddies around. I have to thank Jeremy Croiset and Marie, my wife, for setting this thing up. We’re glad we made the trip.”
Elijah Thompson placed second and Patrick Kroll finished third.
Super Touring 5
After winning the Spec E30 Championship, Carlos Mendez added a second victory to his weekend by taking the ST5 win. The key to his win was keeping Nicholas Barbato behind him. Barbato took the win in the Q2 race on Saturday, so he had what it takes to win.
“I knew that he could run some quick laps, and I knew I had to be consistent and run my laps. He was faster in the infield, so he was always catching me on the infield, but on the banking I was a little quicker, so I could pull away. But he would come in on the braking zone and get right behind me, and he was running super consistently because he was right there the whole time putting pressure on me. I knew if I made any mistake, he was going to be there and I didn’t want him to be there. I stayed focused and brought home the win.”
Barbato finished second and Cagri Yilmaz finished third.
Super Touring 6
It seems every year, the two top 944 Spec drivers who cross over to race in ST6 bring their dominance with them. Charlie Buzzetti and Marcelo Vine had raced previously on Sunday in 944 Spec, with Vine coming out on top.
That was all his car had in it because his gearbox gave out during the race and Buzzetti raced toward a championship in ST6.
“Marcelo led a few laps. I led a few laps. We were going at it, doing battle, great racing going on,” Buzzetti said. “I made a minor sway bar adjustment to my car to take some of the push away and that was really key to being able to run at the front.”
Xavier Calderon finished in second with Dan Miller in third.
Thunder Roadster GTR
It’s hard to imagine a NASA racing class more closely matched than Thunder Roadster GTR. In Sunday’s Championship race we lost count of how many times the leaders changed positions by midrace. Without exaggeration, there were 20-plus lead changes all race long.
When the dust settled — oh, and there was dust — Alex Wolenski crossed the finish line first in Thunder Roadster GTR. However, he was later disqualified, which moved James Wheeler into first for his second consecutive Thunder Roadster GTR Championship.
Ryan Raduechel was second and John Spain was third.
Coby Shield was able to fight off some talented competition and went on to post a 6-second victory in the American Iron class to take the weather-shortened victory.
“It would have been fun to have a few more laps to battle with those guys,” Shield said. “Jeff (Lindstrom) and Patrick (Wehmeyer) were phenomenal today and they made me drive my butt off and props to them. This is a very fast region, a great group of guys. They’re incredible drivers.”
Shield said racing against such a solid field definitely made the race more enjoyable and he’s definitely looking forward to the opportunity to do so again.
“This is probably the most fun I’ve ever had in a car,” Shield said. “I hope we all get to race again under different circumstances. It was great.”
Shield said the abrupt end to the race came as a surprise to him, as he was unaware of the weather.
“Honestly, I was so focused in the car that all I saw was the cloud cover, I didn’t even see the lightning, nor did I know about the lightning,” he said. “They just went full-course yellow, and I didn’t even know why and the guys on the radio told me there were lightning strikes. I honestly had no clue what was happening.”
Shield said his friends and family were a big help, along with the guys at Carroll Shelby Racing, High Performance, Cortex Racing and Toyo Tires.
“I can’t thank those guys enough,” he said.
Lindstrom placed second and Wehmeyer finished third.
American Iron Extreme
The final race of the day ended a bit early due to lightning in the area and when the checkered flag dropped it was Robert Shaw who was in front of the field.
Shaw said he didn’t remember a whole lot about his move into the lead, only that he was going fast.
“Billy (Griffin) saw me coming, he went for a block, middle track, and I honestly don’t remember if I went up or down,” he said. “I just know I looked down and saw about 176 mph and just kept going.”
Shaw crossed the finish line first, but was later disqualified. Billy Griffin was awarded the win, with Dean Martin in second and Team Rattlesnake Electric Sport in third.
Consistency is key in racing, and Spec Iron driver Cale Phillips modeled that philosophy all weekend long.
“I was just kind of trying to survive the first two qualifying races. I was pretty consistent. I finished third in both of them, and I was able to get on pole for today,” he said. “The start was key.”
Phillips got out in front of Matthew Shaw and Cash Canada and built a gap he was happy with, but then an early caution bunched up the field again for the restart in a race shortened by lightning in the area.
“I had a nice little gap, but then on the restart I was able to get through some of the AI cars and build up another gap, and I tried to stay consistent, running good laps after that,” Phillips said. “I didn’t really have too much pressure.”
Shaw finished second and Canada finished third. No photo was available at press time.
Proving that good fortune lies at the intersection of opportunity and preparedness, Joshua Sooknanan won everything in Camaro-Mustang Challenge, topping the time sheets in qualifying and winning the qualifying races on Friday and Saturday.
“It’s unreal. We prepared so much for this. The team crushed it,” Sooknanan said. “We used some new pit techniques, taking notes and really keeping up with the car setup.”
In the race, an early yellow bunched up the field and the restart caught a bunch of drivers unaware, and Sooknanan overtook a lot of cars in short order with Russ Carter and Hunter Lydic in pursuit. Sooknanan held them off in a race shortened due to lightning in the area.
“We passed probably 30 cars. It was wild,” he said. “Other than that, I knew I had to keep it clean, don’t drop wheels, keep it on track and watch out for incidents.”
Lydic finished second and Bob Denton finished third.