Driving home from a NASA Championships event is a bit like leaving Las Vegas. You almost can’t believe what took place over the last three days, you’re not sure if any of it was real or how you survived, and even if you try to tell the stories, your friends might not believe you.
You can almost hear yourself telling them, “I swear to you guys, that’s how it happened. Really.”
But you were there. You know it happened and the 2022 NASA Championships are now part of the long and checkered history of racing at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. IndyCar, MotoAmerica, SRO, Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion and now NASA all have secured their place in the record books.
Because the Championships were in California, we didn’t expect rain for the event. However, hurricanes off the coast of Mexico triggered all sorts of unusual weather patterns, including showers during a couple of the Championships races, which made things just wet enough to be interesting without making things muddy and miserable.
WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca is a bucket-list track for motorsports fans and racing drivers the world over, and it proved to be a great venue for the 2022 NASA Championships. We know some of the stories might seem hard to believe, but we swear to you guys, this is how it happened. Really.
Aaron Jeansonne started from second on the Spec Miata grid after Wyatt Couch got the better of him in Saturday’s qualifying race. For Sunday, Jeansonne was not interested in a repeat performance from Saturday. He wanted to win.
He leapt from the green and got into first place early on in the first lap, with Couch just behind him, and fourth-place Harry Voigt pushing Dan Williams in third. A couple of laps in, Couch lost the third-gear synchro in his transmission, essentially leaving him with no second gear because the two-three shift just didn’t work. That meant he didn’t have the oomph coming out of Turn 11 or Turn 2, and Couch began to drop back.
Jeansonne, Williams and Voigt continued to break away from the field and Williams and Voigt got close to Jeansonne at times, but Jeansonne turned up the wick and soldiered on for the win.
“As soon as Harry got in second, I said this guy’s not going to wait. So, I pushed as hard as I could,” Jeansonne said afterward. “We prepared the setup a bit for mixed conditions and that is not what we experienced out there, so I was trying as hard as I could with the car. Luckily it was put together extremely well by Eddie Lee … my whole team, and it’s such a dominant car. We were still able to come away with the win. So, I’m really proud of this whole team.”
Early on, Voigt looked as though he was going to push Williams all race long, but it became clear he had the advantage in certain corners. Eventually, Voigt got around Williams into second place, where he finished.
“So, Dan and I worked together for a bit, and I got to the point where I thought I would be better off maybe if he pushed me, so I made the pass into 5,” Voigt said. “He fell off a bit and I just tried to put my head down and make my way up to Aaron. I didn’t have enough, though. He’s just a man on a mission.”
Dan Williams, who remarked on Saturday that he didn’t think he had anything for Voigt, Couch or Jeansonne, somehow managed to stay with the lead pack and finished in third place.
“It was definitely tough at the end. Harry and I had a couple chances to make the pass and he closed in on him, and I thought it was too early. It looked like Aaron kept missing shifts and I thought it was going to get worse. So I just waited, thinking that we’d have an easier opportunity later, and maybe we should have taken it,” Williams said. “You know, coulda woulda, shoulda. But I started having a lot of difficulty through Turn 4. Harry had a lot of pace on me there and I was struggling. So that’s where he knew it was time for him to go. It got really free in right-handers at the end of the race, but it was still great. God, the car was fun to drive. I love these things.”
Teen Mazda Challenge
The race for the Teen Mazda Challenge Championship took place within the Spec Miata race. Harry Voigt finished second in Spec Miata, but he was the highest-finishing driver in Teen Mazda Challenge, which netted him the TMC Championship, a fitting capstone to his TMC career in his last season of eligibility.
Voigt tailed Dan Williams for most of the race, but he knew there were places he could perhaps get around him and take a shot at Aaron Jeansonne. He did get by Williams, but Jeansonne was out of reach.
“You know what, it’s really nice to win my last year in TMC, but to be honest, this is my last year racing competitively,” Voigt said. “I’m a college student. I’ve got to get my degree. We’re more focused on school coming up next year, so it’s a good way to end the TMC and the Miata stuff for now.”
After starting from pole, Wyatt Couch finished fifth overall and second in TMC. Couch suffered some gearbox issues that greatly hampered his acceleration in a couple of corners.
“I lost second gear on the first lap. Second gear is pretty crucial here, especially going down the front straightaway because it’s uphill. So I just did the best I could without a second gear,” Couch said. “There was a good five of us that were battling there. It was just hard, though, because I couldn’t make any moves. I just couldn’t do anything without second gear.”
NASA NorCal TMC driver Clayton Williams finished third in TMC, and he had to fight hard to keep that spot till the finish. All race long, he was surround by other TMC drivers angling for that last spot on the TMC podium.
“Yeah, it was pretty eventful. We were all nose-to-tail the whole race and we all had to drive perfectly,” Williams said. “My tires fell off pretty quickly and these guys were super-fast, so it was hard to keep them behind me and keep up, but it was a good race.”
Bobby Pugh looked unbeatable in Sunday’s Legends Championship race. He had leapt out to a big lead and even extended it after the full-course caution about 25 minutes into the race. But trouble was brewing in Pugh’s No. 3 Legends car. The car was no longer turning left as well as it had been early in the race — and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca is mostly left turns — and he ended up going off track late in the race, and that’s when Jacobson Dennett pounced to take first place and hold it till the end.
“The caution worked to my advantage,” Dennett said. “I still had some traffic to get through once the caution went away, but other than that, it actually gave me a lot of time to just kind of self-reflect and calm myself down, smooth up a little bit, not worry so much about what the car was doing and just drive it, man. I pulled it off on the last lap and got lucky to shape up and make a clean pass.”
Pugh held on to finish second, a position he seemed glad to have under the circumstances.
“Well, after the caution, apparently my tires cooled down. I’m not sure, but it wouldn’t turn left,” Pugh said. “I saw Jacob catching me, but I couldn’t do anything about it, so I just kept hammering. It went off the track a little bit, but it was good. It was fun. If I’m going to get beat by somebody, it’d rather be one of my own guys.”
Bobby Christensen had a mirror full of fourth-place finisher Bryan Poage, and a few Honda Challenge cars in front of him, so the full-course caution only meant he’d have to work even harder to finish on the third step on the podium.
“It helped me pass a bunch of the Honda Challenge cars, but it brought Brian right up behind me. So he was right on my tail,” Christensen said. “It was a fun race. This was a great track. So, it was a good time and I kept everything together, and didn’t make any big mistakes. I had a lot of fun.”
Super Touring 5
It would be safe to call the Team Palomar Racing’s ST5 efforts at the NASA Championships a dominant performance. Driver Matt Million was inch-perfect all weekend, scoring the fastest lap times Friday, winning the Saturday qualifying race, and capping it off with a win on Sunday and the ST5 Championship.
Million had to get through a caution period about 25 minutes into the race, which bunched up the field and put a lot of out-of-class cars around him at the restart, but he was able to hold off Team Moorewood Creative and take the ST5 win.
“This was super cool to kind of bring this program full circle right now and give the team an ST5 National Championship, which was our goal from January until now,” Million said. “That was the strangest race in my life, because cars were spinning in front of me. It was passing a lot of lower-class cars. It felt like an endurance race. I was just trying to manage out front kind of clicking off a nice pace.”
Team Moorewood Creative Group inched closer to Million during the caution, but was not able to get close enough to attempt a pass.
“I was trying to capitalize on that, but I just couldn’t just couldn’t pull it out. Matt’s an animal,” said driver Larry Moore. “It’s different out there with this group, such a mixed class. You kind of never know what you’re going to get. Those little Legends cars are pretty quick in a straight line, but they’re always sideways, so you never know what’s going to happen. So you’re always on eggshells around them, and we were mixed up with them most of the race.”
In the Moorewood Creative sister car, driver Tony Domenici also remarked about the speed of the Legends cars and the constant presence of mixed-class traffic, and he thought he might be able to challenge for second place, but in the end he held on for third.
“We were just managing a lot of out-of-class cars and a double-yellow. I thought we’d get a chance of getting back at my teammate there, and I could see him, but it was just too little too late,” Domenici said. “But the Moorewood Creative, Bay City Electric Works, Kohler generators car by good old Magic Developed built Larry and I a hell of a piece, and it’s just cool to be here at the nationals.”
Super Touring 6
Nebraska driver Eric Nemnich of Team Driving Force Motorsports continued his winning ways in Super Touring 6 on Sunday, finishing more than 3 seconds ahead of his nearest competitor in the championship race.
The driver and lead technician for his team’s No. 0 Mazda Miata, Nemnich, who also assisted four Spec Miata entries during the event, was thrilled to earn his first NASA Championship.
“I have the regional Spec Miata championship this year as well in the Rocky Mountain Region, so to throw on the championship for ST6 is the cherry on the top. That made the trip worth it,” Nemnich said. “We didn’t have to deal with any rain so that was great. The track was a little slicker than yesterday’s race, but overall the car did great and the crew did a great job. I’m happy they got it right and we were able to pull out the first place.”
Nemnich made sure to thank X-Factor Racing for setting the car up with a great engine.
The second-place finisher in the race was NASA NorCal driver Christopher LaBouff.
“I struggled with the car a little bit, but we got it fixed by the end of the weekend, which is when it really mattered,” LaBouff said. “It was tricky. It was sprinkling on the backside a little bit. But overall, it felt pretty good and I was pretty happy it didn’t rain too much.”
Fellow NASA NorCal driver Eric Talistu rounded out the podium in third place.
“Obviously I’d like to be on top of the podium, but yeah, I was happy. We had a great time out here with my family. And the guys that were in second and first place in front of me are both great racers. Had some good battles all weekend, really had a blast and I love being in our first national event,” Talistu said. “A podium any day of the week is better than not on the podium. I haven’t been to Laguna in a couple of years, so I’m glad I got out here on Wednesday and really got a couple days to prep and get back in focus on the track. I lost it coming out of Turn 11 as we were kind of having a battle between second and third, and then after that I just couldn’t catch back up.”
Honda Challenge 2
When the green flag dropped, most of the Honda Challenge 2 field approached the Andretti Hairpin from wide right. That left an opening on the inside for Jonathan Baker to dive down the inside and take the lead from his third-place starting position. Through all the traffic and cautions, Baker held that lead till the very end to take the biggest win of his career.
After eight attempts, and an assortment of second- and third-place trophies at the NASA Championships, Baker, who came all the way from Maryland, captured his first Honda Challenge 2 Championship.
Baker led Alexander Tarradelles-Newell for the first 25 minutes of the race. Baker was able to put a gap on Tarradelles-Newell until a full-course caution stacked up the field as crews cleaned up an incident on track.
“Once we went green, he kept falling back and I guess at some point, even Alex and Scott Adams got into a bit of a battle. Then we took the white flag and we passed the H4 leaders and passed the Start/Finish, and that was it. I was so excited and so surprised that it went down the way it did, but it was amazing.”
The key to Baker’s killer restart was in-car communication. When the green flag waved at the Start/Finish line, he was able to get back to racing early and start putting out-of-class cars between himself and Tarradelles-Newell. It was the advantage he needed to lock in the win.
“Luckily I have someone on the radio, and I got the green basically coming out of Turn 10. So I passed probably four cars on the way into 11,” Baker said. “I always feel bad doing that because they obviously weren’t aware, but it’s kind of like one of those eat or be eaten sort of situations. So I dove down the middle and took a few spots.
“It was a little tough going through, like I could tell I was battling with the leaders sometimes and I didn’t want to mess up their race,” he added. “And I hung back a couple of times because I knew I had a bit of a gap so that I didn’t mess someone else’s race up.”
Following Tarradelles-Newell’s DQ, the podium ended up with Team Scott Adams Driver Development in second.
“I didn’t love the start. I got roughed up and got hit on the straightaway before we even got to the braking zone. After that, I just sort of sat behind with Baker so that we could check out,” Adams said. “I couldn’t get it into second gear coming out of 11 and then all of a sudden there was like a maybe 2-second gap, and we maintained that for a while. And then the double yellow happened and then it was it was complete chaos. There was more opportunity back again, I think for everybody. I think we all knew that it was like maybe two or three to go probably at that point. And the gloves were off. It got a little hairy, cars swerving all over the place. We had two cars spin on the way up to the Corkscrew. There was definitely diversion into the dirt and everybody moving. I almost got Alex back at that point. And he put a great move on me in Turn 5 on the outside just like yesterday, and it was really good. It was a pleasure to race with these guys.”
Also resulting from Tarradelles-Newell’s DQ, NASA Texas Honda Challenge series leader Dane Byrd finished in third in his Honda CRX.
Honda Challenge 4
Carlos Valenzuela had been dominant in Honda Challenge 4 all weekend, but a dodgy transmission might have ended his chances for a Championship. That’s where Team Double Nickel Nine got around Valenzuela, and survived a caution period to grab the lead and hold it till the very last lap and the very last turn, when contact with James Landry caused Double Nickel Nine driver Keith Kramer to spin.
“Joe was behind me last lap, last corner. He was about a car length behind. I took the defensive line, stayed in the middle, took the apex,” Kramer said. “He had room, he went for it. He hit my side door over here somewhere, knocked me into the gravel, and that was that.”
The incident was investigated, and Landry came away with the win.
“Obviously, that super long that yellow in the middle was like a little bit of a perfect break, and then I made it from sixth to about second or third pretty quick,” Landry said. “Those guys at the front are fast. Keith and I had a real great battle. Last corner of the last lap, I put it up inside and I don’t know if he saw me and he turned down on me and boom, we hit and he kind of went in the dirt and I went to the front, so I’m sure we’ll go to the video and see what happens. But, I don’t know. I thought it was clean.”
Driven by NASA National Chairman Ryan Flaherty, Team Double Trouble started from third, and spent much of the race getting shuffled back and forth on and off the podium. When the full-course caution came out, Flaherty’s spotter wasn’t looking in the right area, and it wasn’t a restart, but a resumption, which is a simple matter of corner workers pulling in the yellow flags, and it’s less obvious.
“On the restart, I was in the wrong gear, so I kind of got freight-trained. That’s how I got passed the second time,” Flaherty said. “So after a full-course yellow, they pulled in the yellows and we almost came to a stop in Turn 11. So the speed was excessively slow and I was in the wrong gear, but at least we’re on the podium at the end. So that’s what counts.”
An emotional Ashley Burt paused for a second to collect his thoughts and let it all sink in. The Colorado Spec Z driver was overcome with joy as he took a deep breath, laughed and even choked back some tears as he found himself victorious at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca following Sunday’s Group C NASA Championship race in which he edged out his nearest competitor, fellow Rocky Mountain region driver Bill Bowdish by three-tenths of a second.
“Oh man, this is amazing. I don’t even know what say. Yesterday’s race was a bitter pill to swallow, but as one of my good friends always says, ‘Champions adjust,’ and that’s what we did out there today. If we didn’t adjust, we wouldn’t deserve to be on the top step,” Burt said, referring to yesterday’s race in which he and Bowdish got tangled up toward the end of race, allowing fellow Colorado racer Matt McCarthy to pass both of them and earn pole position for the final race. “I feel lucky to be here. You know, everything has to go right. It’s not one thing, and there’s not one person. It’s a team effort.”
Burt said he knew Bowdish would be charging hard for the entire 45-minute finale.
“That was an incredible race. I got a great start that allowed me to cut through a little bit of lapped traffic to get the jump on No. 16 (Bowdish’s Spec Z),” he added. “Bill is a fabulous hunter. He just puts his head down drives his line. I knew he was coming for me, so I took some risks out there that I normally might not do. Luckily they worked, even though he hunted me down — because that’s what Bill does, he keeps grinding — and somehow I was able to hold him off. Wow this feels so good.”
Driving the car Tom Kaminski used to win his Spec Z championship at Buttonwillow Raceway in 2016, Bill Bowdish finished in second place.
“The start was a wild one again and Ashley managed to get ahead of me with all the lapped traffic,” Bowdish said. “I was able to chase him down some, but was never really able to reel him in. Overall we had a great time here. This is a very fun place to race.”
NASA Arizona driver Matt McCarthy finished in third.
Changing conditions was the name of the game. When the NASA Prototypes took the green flag, there were as many blue patches of sky as there were clouds, so a coin toss might have been as good a method for choosing tires as any phone-based Doppler app.
At the green, Jeremy Croiset jumped out to an early lead, with Sam Mangiameli not far off his tail and Danny Dyszelski on Mangiameli’s diffuser. Then came the cautions. Then came the lapped traffic. Then came the rain.
Croiset had chosen to go out on slicks. Mangiameli opted for rain tires and in the closing laps of the race, conditions had gone wet enough that rain tires were a must. Croiset bobbled in the wet, and Mangiameli took over first place.
“We chose to go out on rain tires, you know, hoping it would rain. Jeremy was out on slicks,” Mangiameli said. “So I was really impressed with how well the rain tires held up the whole entire time to be able to push on Jeremy. And then, you know, that little bit of rain at the very end just helped get his car upset and a little squirrely and I was able to make a move on the last lap.
However, Mangiameli and Dyszelski were DQ’d after the race for using the incorrect rain tires, which meant Owen McCallister took the win followed by No. 27 Mark Abouzeid in second and No. 34 Tony Brakohiapa in third.
“I thought it was over, but when it started to rain, it got pretty sketchy on the slicks and Jeremy who was also on slicks, just couldn’t quite hold it together around 6 and went off. And so I managed to get third there in the last lap, by the skin of my teeth,” McAllister said. “Traffic management is obviously pretty huge in these mixed-class races. The real issue with traffic was just the spacing between me and the other train, because we were pretty tight for the first couple of laps and then traffic spaced us out. And for a lot of the race, I was just trying to close that gap again and catch the front three guys. And so traffic, it both spaced me out and then allowed me to catch back up. So, you know, there were times when it hurt and times where it helped overall.”
In a class as diverse as Super Unlimited, anything can happen in a 45-minute final race. And that’s largely what occurred in the NASA Championship on Sunday at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca as Northern California driver Vasili Stratton drove his Wolf GB08 Extreme to a first-place finish after working his way up 11 positions and holding off hard-charging James Paul, who had the fastest lap of the class at 1:26.174.
Pole-sitter Jonathan Finstrom, who had the fastest car on the track in any class at the NASA Championships, was forced out following an on-track incident six laps into the race. Another class favorite, Henry Hill fell off the pace toward the end with a mechanical issue in his Wolf Mistral while Michael McAleenan held the lead until the end of the race before his RCR Superlite Car spun in Turn 11 heading into the home stretch, dropping him down to seventh place.
“I’m stoked. I’m really stoked. What else can you say? It was an interesting race with a lot of changes, and you know the Wolf V8 came through. Who says a bunch of horsepower doesn’t win the race?” Stratton said with a chuckle. “There were a lot of changes out there and people were having a hard time. We had some bad crashes. But I just pounded and had a good time and tried to pass people reasonably. It was a lot of fun.”
Stratton, who thanked his sponsor, Golden Eagle Development, added that he was excited to win his first NASA Championship and hopes to race in the 2023 event at Pittsburgh International Race Complex in Pennsylvania.
California driver James Paul finished second. Paul is the 2019 SU champion, and he was looking for a repeat of that performance three years ago, but mechanical issues were hampering his efforts.
“It was difficult, man. My car was broken and I don’t know how many different pieces I had. I had problems with the right rear from getting hit in the qualifying race. Unfortunately, I lost the motor basically in the middle of the race. I don’t know if we lost a cylinder if we lost the turbo, but we basically lost all power. So we didn’t have any juice on the straightaways,” Paul said afterward. “I spun the car twice. It was really a rough race. But, you know, I’d take about four steps forward and then take two steps back and then I did another four forward and then another two back, and I just kind of kept pulling it out, and I think I had a shot to win if the motor would have held together. I put a move on (Stratton) going into Turn 2, took the lead and when we came back around for Turn 11, I just didn’t have any horsepower left and he just went flying down the straightaway from me, but it was a lot of fun.”
Not far behind Paul in Super Unlimited was Utah driver James Ingram, who had a faster lap time than Paul, but finished in third place.
“Well, I had a little bit of hard luck all weekend. I never ran really the way I wanted, but the field came to me today, and I ran consistently,” Ingram said. “I’m happy with a third. In my opinion there was too much traffic for too small a race course all weekend. But you know, that’s what everybody had to deal with. So a lot of traffic at times, but you know, that’s just part of it.”
Super Touring 1
NASA Arizona’s Timothy Bidwill capped an impressive week of racing, capturing the Super Touring 1 title on Sunday in his 2019 Porsche GT3 Cup. Bidwill, who was sponsored by Ben’s Soft Pretzels, was excited to bring home first-place trophies in ST1 as well in Time Trial 1 after recording a 1:30.830 lap time in the first round on Friday.
“I did the ‘triple crown’ this year — I got the TT1 and I won the qualifying race and the championship race. For me that was a big deal, and I’m pretty emotional right now. It’s finally hitting me,” Bidwill said, adding that he was glad his team took the rain tires off at the last possible moment. “We had a bit of a fire drill. We went out to the pre grid with the wet tires and with about 5 or maybe 6 minutes remaining, we made the decision to pop the car up and put the dry slicks on. My crew did a fantastic job getting the car set up and getting me back on the ground so I didn’t lose any time getting the car out for the formation lap.
“The race went fairly smooth. We had a clean start and there were no issues with the track at all until frankly the rain started to come down on the white flag,” he continued. “My hat’s off to Martin (Daszkal) and to Max (Panchuk) for being such a great group to compete against. I really enjoyed running with those guys. The one guy that was missing is my teammate, Ricky Johnson. He had a mechanical so he had to withdraw. I’m sort of miffed that he wasn’t up here celebrating on the podium with me, but we’ll get there eventually.”
Taking the next spot on the podium was Martin Daszkal, who came up from his home region in SoCal to take part in the Championships.
“There were a lot of cars, so some of the slower SU cars to get around. With that yellow, we had a lot of the other fast cars, Super Unlimited, catch us,” Daszkal said. “So it was good. Everybody was safe. I think the last lap unfortunately one car spun out.”
Another SoCal driver, Max Panchuk, finished in third place, never having raced at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca before.
“Well, the race was treacherous given the drizzling, the changing conditions. A lot of cars were hitting walls and going off track. That was unusual, but I guess usual for a championship race,” Panchuk said. “I predicted one or two double yellows. I made an unforced error in Turn 9. My tires were giving out, so I lost a bunch of time, but other than that, I had a great battle.”
Super Touring 3
Matt McIntyre had been nearly perfect all weekend. Except when he had to start from the back for making slightly too much horsepower on the dyno Friday afternoon, he had been at the front all alone all weekend. By the time checkers flew on Sunday afternoon, it was very much the same story. McIntyre was up front taking the win and the Super Touring 3 Championship.
“What a relief, man. It’s been a crazy weekend with the Friday sessions and disqualifications,” McIntyre said. “That was totally my fault. But I live and learn, and with a little bit of weather, I came back to win.”
McIntyre got a clean start and survived the two double-yellows, and when the rain got heavy at the end, he held on for the win.
“In the last two laps, it started pouring a little bit, so it was getting a little slippery,” he said. “I think they put the flag out for a slippery surface.”
NASA SoCal’s JC Meynet finished second.
Greg Nester also remarked about track conditions, but he was able to rise to the challenge and finish in third.
“We got up to speed and got to run at my favorite track of Laguna Seca and it seems like we did OK,” Nester said. “It became really slippery right at the end. Really slippery. I’m running street tires. So that was probably a little bit of an advantage. I’m part of the Spec Corvette series and this is our spec tire, and I decided I’m just going to run them, so I think it turned out OK today.”
2022 was shaping up to be another classic 944 Spec battle between Marcelo Vine and John Pentelei-Molnar. However, on the rain-soaked lap one, Vine got tangled up with an out-of-class car and was shuffled far enough back in the pack that he never posed a threat to Pentelei-Molnar.
However, the rain, two caution periods, out-of-class traffic and competitor Kevin Fry were factors. Fry had the lead briefly as Pentelei-Molnar at times struggled with a loose car that didn’t have windshield wipers. But in the end, Pentelei-Molnar said his win boiled down to focusing on the fundamentals of smooth inputs, and he captured his second 944 Spec Championship.
“I’ve got to thank my wife, Sherry. We took the car apart last season, redid everything, spent a ton of money,” he said. “The car needed a lot of updating and she was so patient with the hundreds of hours and then being here for four days, I promised her a vacation in Monterey and she got to see this for four days. I had my hands full, but that car was so twitchy out there, but I know everybody was battling with it.”
Kevin Fry put his third-place starting position to good use and finished second.
“It was wet and slippery. I forget what happened off the start, but I was in third, just chasing one and two JP and Marcelo, and then Marcelo broke or came in for rain tires or something, then it was me and Fletch having a good battle,” Fry said. “Then it started raining hard and then it was all me and JP. I got in front of him for three laps, so I was leading it for three laps and then I got loose out of the last corner, Turn 11, I slid and he got by me.”
Driving a car prepped by 7’s Only, Kalem Fletcher finished third.
“It was like crazy karts. There was no grip anywhere. It was just hunting for different lines and going sideways and trying to catch it and at one stage I just thought I’m going to have to bring the car home and just be safe and conservative and keep it on the track,” Fletcher said.
By the time the Spec E46 field took to the track, the rain had begun to fall and the track was soaked enough to require rain tires. Casey Mashore had enjoyed pole positions and running out front all weekend, with one minor exception for a tech violation that put him back to fifth for Saturday’s race.
But Mashore had never really raced in the rain, so he was swapping positions with the JDZ Motorsports car until he was finally able to learn from the lines JDZ was taking, then use them to his advantage to make a pass, make it stick and pull ahead for the win and the Spec E46 Championship.
“So, Jared knew to stay off the line in the rain. And I didn’t know that. It’s kind of my first real race in the rain,” Mashore said. “So after he passed me and showed me that you can drive on the outside of the turns, it was all a game changer. I was able to come back by him. The last lap, I think he ended up having a hard time. Yeah, I think he got into some traffic and might have caused him some grief.”
NASA NorCal driver Jason Fraser finished second.
“What a change of events, you know, Mother Nature had its plan, I guess. We kind of thought it was going to rain. I’m from the Northwest. So we have some other things in the car that help a little bit with the rain. I’ve raced quite a bit in the rain up in the Northwest, so it’s understanding where on the track to go for extra grip,” he said mentioning how traffic created a last-lap dash with the JDZ Motorsports car of Jared Zachem. “He was coming with probably 10 miles an hour. And I used the 944 to keep him blocked in, and then he drove off in the dirt to go by him. And when he got back on the track, you know, off, he went. So, from there, for me it was just mistake free. That was all it was. I think I probably could have taken a few more chances. Maybe had a shot at Mashore up there. The lap times are real comparable. I just didn’t take any chances.”
Driven by Phil Buffington, Team Legacy Motorworks PB finished in third.
“I haven’t driven in the rain, but I knew that I’d like it. Does that make sense?” Buffington said. “I just kept saying ‘I hope it rains’ because I didn’t qualify. I kept inching my way back to the front. I didn’t bring a bunch of sticker tires. I brought one set. I like the rain. If you stay offline, you’re golden. You’ve just got to expect what’s coming. And luckily, I had him as a Guinea pig (ahead of me) so I could see which line he was taking and figure it out. But as soon as you cross over the racing line, it’s like ice. So it was good. It was fun. I feel like I did a workout.”
There were several close races at the 2022 NASA Championships, but there wasn’t a more exciting back-and-forth battle for first and second than what transpired on Sunday in Spec E30. Respected NASA NorCal drivers Sean Lovett and Sylas Montgomery swapped positions at the front of the 31-car pack several times during the race.
Eventually Lovett, who earned the pole following a close qualifying race on Saturday, took the lead for good with a few laps remaining and managed to keep Montgomery in his rearview mirror, winning by a little more than 3 seconds.
“That was the most amazing race I’ve ever had in my life. I was hoping for some rain and we got it. I had a feeling there would only be a few of us that could do this in the rain, and I knew it would be Sylas and me, and we did it,” Lovett said. “Racing with Sylas, being the driver he is — a past national champion — was just so clean, bumper to bumper. We were learning from each other out there, and we both knew where we needed to be for most of the race. We nearly took each other out probably a dozen times. But it was really more lapped traffic that was the hardest. It was all about being patient and trusting that wet line.
“I was just trying to keep the car underneath me, which wasn’t easy,” he continued. “I can’t say enough for North Bay Bavarian for just giving me the best car possible. They were working on the car literally 10 minutes before the start of the race. What a great weekend.”
Finishing in second behind Lovett was NASA NorCal driver and 2014 Spec E30 Champion Montgomery.
“You know making the call before going out, we had the car up on jack stands waiting to see if we were going to go out on slicks or rains, so it was a last minute adjustment, disconnecting the sway bar getting the rain setup ready and getting out on track,” Montgomery said. “Halfway through the stint, you know we had a heavier drizzle and it was lightening up and drizzling again, and toward the end finally got the sunshine. So it was a challenge out there. It was an awesome battle with Shawn Lovett, who ended up finishing first. Lapped traffic definitely came into play. So we definitely had some picks and swapped positions a handful of times.”
Mickey Miller finished third in the race, but was DQ’d afterward, which moved fourth-place finisher Nick Thiemann into third place.
Although he didn’t have rain tires for his Thunder Roadster GTR, Ryan Raduechel of Raduechel Performance Motorsports in Northern California was able to survive a wet track during the Thunder Roadster finale to bring home his first NASA Championship. The pole-sitter did not have an easy go of it as he fell behind early in the wettest race of the day and was forced to be patient and battle his way back to front.
“We didn’t bring rain tires, so we went out there on slicks and Dave (Standridge, who was disqualified after finishing second) had the rain tires on and I thought if I could just go slow enough, I could keep him behind me, but he was able to get in front,” Raduechel said. “Then my dad reeled me in and passed me and I just kind of thought, ‘I just need to slow down and settle down,’ and see if we can reel him back in.”
Raduechel did just that. But how did he find his pace and position on the wet track that he said didn’t start to dry up until about the last two laps?
“I moved my line—I just found a line that was working better. I had to calm down and slow down and find where I could get the drive off the corner and find where it would turn. It worked out and I ran them down,” Raduechel said. “It has been a long time coming. I’ve run second, I think, four times in a row now, so it finally feels good to get one in the bank.”
Following the Standridge DQ, No. 77 Tom Boyd ended up in second place and Raduechel’s brother, Robert, No. 8, took third.
Super Touring 2
Although two double-yellows in the Group E race, which included the American Iron Xtreme, Super Touring 2 and Super Touring 4 classes, took away any hope that Colorado driver Jake Latham had of pulling away from the rest of the Super Touring 2 field in his Corvette, he still managed to come out on top, winning his first NASA Championship by less than a second ahead of California’s Brett Strom.
“That was the most intense, hardest race of my life. I don’t think I’m going to quit tingling until after midnight. It was amazing. This has been a lifelong goal, so to come out on top is kind of surreal,” Latham said. “Those restarts absolutely killed me because Brett had such a huge straight-line speed advantage. I knew I just had to find some way to stay ahead of him and I did … barely.”
Latham said his car performed perfectly.
“It was absolutely perfect out there. GSpeed built the car and Zebulon built the aero and it worked amazing,” he added.
Brett Strom finished second in Super Touring 2 in a car he brought to run in the Seaside Cup enduro the Monday after the Championships.
“It was interesting because he’s on some Hoosier autocross tires and I’m on slicks, so my car is a little good in the long run, but not so good in the short run, and all the quick yellows made it interesting,” Strom said. “This car actually wasn’t even meant for this class. We’re here for the enduro, so this was where it sort of fit for the weekend. And I thought, ‘You know, why not?’ It was just that the car so quick, we were like, ‘Yeah, let’s just run it today.’”
After struggling with mechanical issues on Saturday, Oli Thordarson went from the rear of the field up to third in his C5 Z06.
“Yesterday, I was kind of in the hunt for something on the podium and then I had some problem with my throttle body and the car went into limp mode, wouldn’t make power,” Thordarson said. “I managed to coast into pits and reset everything and went out, but nonetheless, I was still last place. In a 30-minute race, everybody was long gone. So I had a lot of work to do starting from the back of the pack today. And there was some carnage and a lot of rough driving ahead of me, but somehow I cleared that and I was surprised I ended up in third.”
Super Touring 4
In the hotly contested Super Touring 4 class, which had been dominated through qualifying rounds by Andre Eisenbach, the unofficial results had the GT Auto Lounge team in first place ahead of second-place finisher Jason Beacham with Eisenbach in third. After the race, the results were still up in the air, so three different podium shots were taken.
When the dust settled, Beacham was the new champion, with Team ST Edge MV in second with Eisenbach behind the wheel and Justin Sprugasci in third.
“We had such a stacked field of competitors here this week. It was a little frantic before the start of the race because it was still wet out and we were making last-minute decisions about what tires to use,” said Beacham, who was unsure if he finished second or first following the race.
“I was just trying to run as clean and as smooth a race as possible. I knew I had to be patient because it was a long race. Toward the end, I had two or three cars behind me that were just pushing. They seemed to have better pace than I did so I was just making my car as wide as possible so they couldn’t make a move.
“I’ve had an incredibly fun time at Laguna Seca. I came out here with a goal of top five, so to be on the podium is just like a dream,” he added. “And, if in the end I do actually win, after the review is complete, I’ll be speechless.”
Post-race DQs put Team ST EDGE MV, driven by Andre Eisenbach, in second place.
“Crazy, crazy, crazy, what a show,” Eisenbach said. “The yellow flag robbed me. I got mugged. I saw yellow and then I didn’t see yellow. My plan of staying ahead fell apart. And then in the end, contact and all the things. Crazy, crazy race, but it’s been a fantastic championship. You know, this is the second time driving this car that crashed a few weeks ago. Team Edge Motorworks rebuilt it. They did fantastic job. They worked all weekend to get us on track. And I’m just exhausted and drained. But we’re national TT champion. We’re probably on the podium in ST, so it’s been a fantastic weekend.”
NASA NorCal driver Justin Sprugasci finished third.
American Iron Extreme
By the time the American Iron Extreme cars had taken to the track for their Championships race, the track had dried, but the conditions were still different from the day before. Rain tends to rinse away accumulated rubber and change the nature of the track. There might not be much grip where there once was.
Changing conditions and a transmission that was on its last legs didn’t stop Sal Molinare from taking the American Iron Extreme Championship on Sunday. After convincing performances on Friday and Saturday, Molinare found himself in and out of the lead a few times on Sunday. Whenever he would miss a shift, he would get passed. In the end, Molinare held out to take the AIX Championship.
“I’m pretty happy with that. I mean, it doesn’t look very fancy, but it’s got all Cortex suspension. It makes all the difference in the world,” Molinare said. “It’s got a cambered rear end and the short-long arm, front suspension and the JRI shocks and the torque arm and the Watts link, everything.”
Charlie Bosselman finished in second place, though he was driving an American Iron car, not an AIX car.
“It was kind of hard to keep up with these AIX guys. But since I was the only guy that signed up for American Iron, they asked me to run with them,” Bosselman said. “I was not quite as fast as them and my tires weren’t near as wide as them, and I didn’t get quite as much bite as they did, but, you know, I tried to keep up as best as I could, and my car didn’t break down at all. So, I guess there’s something to be said for that. Everybody else seemed to have a lot of problems.”
David Gordon finished third, although he finished two laps down due to a stalled car that would not restart.
“It was going well, car was running hot. We’ve had problems all weekend and buttoned them mostly up,” Gordon said. “I don’t know, I went off a little bit, couple wheels and I think it’s time to get rid of the carburetor. It wouldn’t start again. Car is fine. Car just wouldn’t restart after I took two wheels off. So that’s twice that’s happened now. It’s time to get rid of that damn carburetor, I think. But it was great. We’re having fun rebuilding this American Iron Extreme class and we hope to keep adding some people to it.”