It’s usually about this time of year, when the entry list for the NASA Championships Presented by Toyo Tires begins to take shape, that the energy starts to pick up in anticipation of who seems poised to take one of the top honors in all of amateur motorsports: a NASA National Championship.
Maybe that’s just here in my office, and only because I’m tasked each year with writing the “who will win” story.
However, the best NASA racing drivers in the country are those who leave little to chance, so it’s no stretch to think that lots of them have been looking at the entry lists for their classes, sizing up their competition and seeing how they can beat them.
Back issues of Speed News are a good source for “opposition research.” Interviews from past Championships and race reports from Around the Regions might provide a hint at what now-deceased racing driver Mark Donohue called the unfair advantage. YouTube is also a good source for finding out more about the drivers who will be taking the grid next to you at the 2021 NASA Championships Presented by Toyo Tires.
I’ve been up and down the entry lists at least a dozen times, checked race reports and interviews from past championships and regional race reports, Thunderhill coverage, and I’ve put together a list of who I think stands the best chance to win at this year’s NASA Championships Presented by Toyo Tires.
Every year this story produces a bit of a stir, usually from the people who aren’t mentioned or aren’t registered. To those people I can only say one thing: I’d love nothing more than for you to sign up and prove me wrong. Here’s the top prospects for this year’s NASA Championships Presented by Toyo Tires.
No, wait. That’s gutless. I’m going to go with Marcelo Vine, who enjoys the support of 7’s Only Racing, the racing shop headquartered at Buttonwillow Raceway. Support aside, Vine has been on a tear this year in the Southern California Region, winning six of 10 races. It’s worth nothing that Buzzetti won three of the four races Vine did not, so this year’s Championship is going to worth watching.
We did leave one past champion off that list, however. Bruce Byerly nabbed the American Iron Championship at Sebring International Raceway in 2017, and given Daytona is on his home turf, we’re betting on Byerly as the favorite for 2021.
Byerly has seven wins and five second-place finishes this season, including one win and one second-place finish at Daytona in May. This is not to say that betting on Byerly is easy money. Patrick Wehmeyer and Marcos Rodriguez have gotten the better of Byerly this season, and let’s not forget another speedy Florida guy, Carmine Pace, who has a Spec Iron Championship from Sebring in 2017. And again there’s Dean Martin, who was a chassis development engineer at Ford who has raced with Rehagen Racing in IMSA and World Challenge.
American Iron Extreme
In their place, NASA Southeast’s Robert Shaw has emerged as a new top contender in American Iron Extreme. Shaw has an AIX Championship from Mid-Ohio in 2019 and a win at Daytona in May, so he looks poised to take home the big trophy in September.
Shaw could have a mirror full of Rattlesnake Electric Sport’s AMC Javelin — yes, an AMC — driven by Richard Hilleman, the team owner of Rattlesnake Electric Sport, an FIA Category V, Group 2, Class 1 EKart racing and development team.
Joshua Sooknanan took third at Circuit of The Americas in 2018. Bob Denton won the CMC Championship in 2016 at Watkins Glen and set the track record. Russ Carter took the CMC Championship at VIR in 2015 and currently leads the points race in the Mid-Atlantic Region.
It’s a tough call, but we’re going to give the nod to Bob Denton because of his breadth of experience in CMC — some 20 years — and because we think the aerodynamics of his Pontiac Firebird are superior to the Camaros and Mustangs he’s racing against, and that’s probably more important at Daytona than nearly any other track in the country.
German Touring Series 2
As of press time, there were only five GTS2 cars registered for Daytona, and one entrant has since crashed his car, so the field could be a bit thin this year.
Of those entered NASA Rocky Mountain’s Steve Dunn is looking good, as is NASA Mid-Atlantic’s Glenn Spiegler. Both drivers have multiple podiums within their regions, but of the field that we have so far, we’ll give the nod to Spiegler, who has less distance to travel, which can make a Championship effort a little less taxing.
German Touring Series 3
German Touring Series 4
Honda Challenge 2
This year, it looks like it’s going to come down to two guys from the Mid-Atlantic and Texas regions. NASA Mid-Atlantic’s Christopher Michaels has six wins and two seconds in eight races this season. NASA Texas’ Dane Byrd also has six wins, but three second-place finishes and one third. Only twice has he finished off the podium and those were fourth-place finishes.
It’s important to note that the four races Dane Byrd didn’t win were won by Team Scott Adams Driver Development, who should be in the mix, too.
But since we need to choose, we’ll go with Dane Byrd on the top step in this year’s Honda Challenge 2 Championship.
Croiset also is tasked with running large portions of the 2021 NASA Championships Presented by Toyo Tires, so he might be a little distracted from the business of racing, which is why we’re going to put our chips down on Sam Mangiamelli. It’s clear that Mangiamelli is quick. He took second place at Circuit of The Americas in 2018 and won the NP01 Championship at Mid-Ohio in 2019. We think he looks poised to take another one in 2021.
Alert Speed News readers will recognize Mendez as the driver in the July 6 Move of the Month video. He clearly understands how to get the job done at Daytona. Really, really alert Speed News readers will notice that the car that finished in front of Mendez in that race was Scott McKay.
Look for McKay and Mendez up front, and Chris Allen and Phillippe Pellerin, too, if they register in time. On the top step, when all is said and done, it’s likely going to be Scott McKay.
A fixture in Spec Iron since the beginning of the class, Robert Miller has championships from Watkins Glen in 2016 and Virginia International Raceway in 2015. Robin Burnett won the Spec Iron Championship in 2019 at Mid-Ohio and another in American Iron in 2008 at Mid-Ohio.
You can bet these two will be going at it up front, but if we had to pick a favorite — and isn’t that the point here? — we would have to hand it to Robert Miller. Look for him on top of the podium in Spec Iron.
Obviously, Danny Steyn, Jim Drago and Todd Buras are the most recognizable names in the field, and if we had to pick one, we’d go with Danny Steyn. He’s won at Daytona — and lots of other places for that matter — and he’s always got outstanding equipment under him.
However, if he misses that one shift, or over revs it or loses focus for a second, Drago and Buras will be the first guys to pass him for the lead. Also be on the lookout for NASA Great Lakes’ Kyle Webb and NASA Florida’s Mark Gibbons, who has beaten Steyn at Daytona before.
Sean O’Hara currently has the points lead in the Mid-Atlantic Region, but Jon McAvoy has more wins than O’hara. McAvoy also is a two-time National Champion in Spec 3, which makes him the easy choice to take the win in Spec 3 at Daytona.
Super Touring 1
Based on his experience and history, the easy pick is Mathis, which is why we’re going with him. He’s got the capability to get the job done, but he better keep an eye on his mirrors. Johnson and Bidwill aren’t going to make it easy.
Super Touring 2
Magnussen will have to deal with Florida standouts Billy Griffin, Rokket Horton and Ken Mantovani. Look for Great Lakes’ Ralf Lindackers to be in the mix, too.
Super Touring 3
Super Touring 3 has a big field this year, 17 cars in all as of press time, and Crescencio might find some stiff competition from NASA Southeast’s Frank Acosta and Paul Davison, with a possible charge from NASA SoCal’s Justin Bordonaro.
Super Touring 4
If we had to name his closest competition, we’d look for NASA Texas’ Scott Adams Driver Development in the Acura NSX and NASA Great Lakes’ Patrick Kroll.
Super Touring 5
Yilmaz has podiumed at every event he’s entered this year in his home region, but he will have to contend with Carlos Mendez, the Spec E30 racer who is double-dipping in ST5 at this year’s Championships.
At last year’s Championships at Mid-Ohio, Spec E30 racer Daniel Goldburg scored the top time in qualifying Friday, and won Saturday’s qualifying race. He started from pole for the Championships race and took the Championship.
This year he’s moved up to Super Unlimited and is racing a Ligier JS P320 prototype, which is very likely the best car to have at this year’s event. Look for Goldburg on the top step.
Look for a number of other familiar names to be hot in pursuit. Jon Van Caneghem in his Mazda-powered Élan DP02 will be there as will Brian Faessler in his psychotic Mustang and Alan Cohen in his Trans Am chassis Mustang.
Thunder Roadster GTR
Brian Bohlander, James Wheeler and Jason Oehler all hail from the Great Lakes Region, and any one of them can win. Wheeler won the Championship in 2019 at Mid-Ohio, but we’re going to go with NASA Florida’s John Spain, who won in 2017 at Sebring and took second at Circuit of The Americas in 2018. We think Spain will have the slightest edge this year and we’ll be looking for him up front.
Time Trial 1
Time Trial 2
Time Trial 3
Time Trial 4
Time Trial 5
NASA Great Lakes’ Mark Phillips has been doing well in his home region and currently leads the points race in TT5. Phillips has We think he has the skills and the car to take this year’s TT5 Championship at Daytona.
Time Trial Unlimited