Top amateur racers are ready for action on Thunderhill Raceway

The fourth annual NASA Western States Championships presented by Toyo Tires is racking up entries from across the country that will ensure strong competition October 6-8 at Thunderhill Raceway.

In Spec Miata, Teen Mazda Challenge racer Nick Sommers won last year’s Championships event at Buttonwillow Raceway. Obviously, Sommers is looking for a repeat. His performances this year certainly indicate that he can get it done again. His first-generation 1.6-liter Mazda Miata is well prepped and as competitive as any car in the field.

Nick Sommers

“At Thunderhill, you can be competitive in a 1.8 or a 1.6. I think the 1.6 is a little bit more competitive on the first half of the track because you’ve got to be able to carry a little bit more speed, and the 1.6 allows you to do that,” Sommers said. “But the 1.8 helps you down the straights a little bit more and there are a few long straights there, so it’s about a 50/50.”

Sommers is bringing a large crew and a lot of friends and family to Thunderhill to watch the NASA Western States Championships. Look for Sommers to be dicing with Tristan Littlehale, Justin Casey and other Teen Mazda Challenge drivers Matt Million and Hannah Grisham.

Hannah Grisham with Morningstar Racing, is looking for a top-five finish and to establish herself as one of the elite drivers in the Teen Mazda Challenge and NASA overall. Grisham is currently third in points in the Teen Mazda Challenge.

Hannah Grisham

“She’s trying to make her place as a driver and gain the respect and trust of her fellow competitors,” said Morningstar Racing team owner James Brown. “She’s going there to show Mazda that she has the talent and capability to be a Mazda factory works driver.”

In Spec E30, Steve Stepanian finished fifth at the 2016 Western States Championships, and is currently fourth in the 2017 points chase in the Southern California Region. Stepanian has had some big wins this year, so he’s making sure his car is tip-top and, after a DQ earlier this season, compliant with the rules. Stepanian is also competing in German Touring Series 2 class.

“So, getting the car stuff together, it’s pretty much like a normal race weekend for us,” he said. “We’re just being a little more aggressive because we’re running in two classes.”

Steve Stepanian

In terms of preparing himself as a driver, Stepanian has been reviewing video of the track and focusing on visualization to add to his experience at Thunderhill racing at the NASA 25 Hour.

“I haven’t raced Thunderhill that much,” Stepanian said. “I’ve only done the 25 Hour stints there, which is a lot of seat time, sort of, but it’s a different type of racing, so you’ve got to prepare for sprints a little differently. The biggest thing I have to remind myself of is to enjoy it. I have raced in NASA for many years, some of them I’ve really wanted to win, and I’ve focused on it. This last season, I focused on fun. I didn’t care where I started. I didn’t care what I did. If I qualified well, great. If I didn’t, I just made sure I enjoyed my time there, and it was probably my most enjoyable season of racing.”

Image courtesy of Brett Becker

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