The 2023 NASA Championships were the culmination of hard work and sacrifice for the drivers who came from across the United States to compete at the Pittsburgh International Race Complex.
As they’ve learned after a long season of racing, so many things are out of their control, from the weather to parts that fail without notice. It’s no different at the NASA Championships, where the races are longer and the stakes are higher.
That makes the champagne even sweeter when they pop the cork on the podium as a new crop of National Champions were crowned Sunday, Sept. 10 at PittRace in Wampum, Pa. Whether they made the podium or were middle of the pack, for drivers in 21 racing classes, it was a weekend of racing they’ll remember forever.
The stories below are listed in alpha-numeric order. You can scroll down to the series you are interested in and read from there. The classes are listed in bold face type.
Polesitter Matt Giuffre’s main competition from Saturday, Bart Welte, suffered engine problems during Friday’s qualifying race, and that put Giuffre in the catbird’s seat for Sunday’s 944 Spec Championships race.
Giuffre got off to a good start and Todd Checkley was on his bumper for a lap or two, but then Giuffre seemed to switch on the afterburner and began to increase his lead lap after lap. After 30 minutes of green-flag racing, Giuffre had put 15 seconds between himself and second place. One would think Giuffre would have been content to cruise to victory — but no.
“The first lap there I was being a little timid letting the tires come in nicely up the temperature. But once they gripped up, man, I decided to just throw the hammer down, see if I could put a gap on Todd,” Giuffre said. “Then a smarter person than me might’ve let up a little bit and just kind of managed the gap from there. But I was just having so much fun out there. And then I started seeing Miatas at the end of those straightaways and I was like, ‘Well, I guess I could probably go and try and catch those guys,’ like a little carrot dangling in front of me. And yeah, it was a fun time. I just had a ball.”
In the end, Giuffre was aces all weekend, winning qualifying, the qualifying race and the Championship. Todd Checkley battled early on with NASA Mid South Regional Director Shawn Taylor, who managed to start the Championships race even after suffering an engine fire in qualifying. Taylor dropped out and Checkley took command of second place, finishing 15 seconds behind Giuffre.
Starting his first Championships in his first season of racing with NASA Great Lakes, John Koryto started from P3 and finished third, after overcoming a number of difficulties throughout the event.
“Well, luckily I had my son here as my crew chief because we spent Friday morning putting a new axle in. We had a couple of broken bolts that we luckily saw because we were putting rain tires on,” Koryto said. “So we caught it before I went out. Spent the day doing that. So it was a hardship lap on Friday. And today was the survival of the fittest, because we lost two other competitors.”
Bruce Byerly has been racing nearly 20 years, and Sunday was the first national championship for the American Iron driver.
“This is the first win. It’s pretty sweet and pretty awesome after all this time,” said Byerly, who races in the Florida Region. “I’m sad for my buddies Marcos Rodriguez and Pat Wehmeyer. They broke down. We couldn’t do this if we weren’t all working together, so I’m happy to be here, but. …”
From the outside, Byerly’s victory looked easy, with a 14.5-second differential over second-place finisher Carmine Pace. Byerly said it was anything but easy.
“It looked better than it did from in the car because the transmission quit shifting,” Byerly said. “I had to do one shift with two hands, it wouldn’t go into fourth gear and fifth gear, so I struggled. I was just praying for the checker, quite frankly, but we made it work.”
Pace got a great start, which was helpful in the opening laps, but Championships races are 45 minutes long, and this one ran from green to checkers with no full-course cautions to bunch up the fields. Pace said this was his seventh NASA Championships and his third time on the podium, including winning the Spec Iron Championship at Sebring in 2017.
“I ran with Bruce, who’s one of our Florida guys and he took the win,” Pace said. “And it was just a blast out there, long race, though, but it was about tire management.”
NASA Great Lakes racer Bob Collins was a Speed News favorite to win because he has put in so many laps at PittRace, but his car was giving him a bit of trouble, and he ended up finishing in third.
‘We all get along real well. We’re rooting for each other for a nice, clean, fair race. And we’ll do it out on the track and try to do without contact — and with driving skills,” Collins said. “I got past Pat. I had a mechanical issue where the car. The car quit, I started it back up and then worked back up through. It’s been two years since a rebuild. So I probably should have done that before this this weekend.
American Iron Extreme
Brian Faessler has the ability to detune his car from the settings he uses for Super Unlimited and Time Trial Unlimited, and adjust the engine so it makes the appropriate power levels for American Iron Extreme, 5:1 according to AIX rules. Even at those reduced power levels, it was more than good enough to get him to the front of AIX and to get him the Championship.
Faessler simply unplugged his car’s boost controller and ran on the boost-control spring, which brought the car down to about 580 horsepower at the wheels. But because he hadn’t turned a wheel in any of the qualifying races in AIX, he had to start from the rear of the field and make his way forward. Once he got by Daniel Manis, he never looked back. When he had Manis in his mirrors, he was able to build a gap, add another AIX National Championship to his collection, and set the track record at 1:47.502.
“I just wanted to make sure the start was clean, not piss anyone off. We’re all in this together and I just wanted to just make it a clean race for everyone,” Faessler said. “The traffic to me is not really all that bad, at least, for our Great Lakes Region. Usually there’s 50, 60 cars here on track. So this is actually kind of nice not having as many.
Daniel Manis finished in second place after dicing with Dustin Drollinger in his GT350R. Manis got to the second step of the podium driving one of the more innovative and unexpected cars in AIX, a fastback Fox body with a modern T-56 transmission and a Ford Coyote 5.0-liter with the cooling system mounted in the rear of the car for better weight distribution. With 462 horspower on tap, Manis’ car tips the scales at 3,300 pounds.
“The traffic was pretty good. Dustin, here is my main competition, so we always have a lot of fun playing cat and mouse,” Manis said. “So, in this race, I was trying to conserve the car, and in the last 10 minutes I had enough left to try to catch him, which worked out.”
Despite starting from pole position, Drollinger was passed by Faessler for the lead early on in the race and then couldn’t hold off the hard-charging Manis. Drollinger finished third.
“I pushed a little hard in the beginning trying to see how fast Faessler was and … good God. So, I let that party go and tried to pace myself and stay out of trouble,” Drollinger said. “And I backed off a little, just try to conserve tires and fuel because that’s a long run with that kind of car. And before I knew it, Daniel was right on my back bumper. So we had a battle for a while. And what can I say? He just out-drove me today, no excuses. And I got third because that’s where I was at. So, good times. We had a lot of fun, and we’re taking them home in one piece. That’s more important.”
Hunter Lydic built a large lead early in Camaro-Mustang Challenge after an entanglement between Tom Long and Derek Wright, but Lydic had bigger worries when his car started smoking halfway through the race.
“It started smoking pretty badly under braking, so I wasn’t exactly sure what it was,” Lydic said. “I thought it might have been a rear brake line or a pinion seal. It was pretty tough to manage that and not get black flagged, but I was happy to bring it home.”
Lydic and his Team Topdog were the team to beat in CMC, having won the qualifier and qualifying race before heading into Sunday’s Championship. Lydic, who knows the Pittsburgh International Race Complex well, said it was some of the best conditions he’s run on the track.
“There’s tons of grip out there and with the weather we couldn’t have gotten luckier with the clear skies,” said Lydic, who earned a podium spot at the Daytona International Speedway NASA Championships in 2021. “It wasn’t too hot, but toward the end of the race it was getting up there.”
Provisional results showed Derek Wright in second place, but Wright acknowledged contact with another car, and he was eventually DQ’d for a punt. That put Team TS Racing in third and moved Steven Gernon up from his third-place finish to second place.
“This is my first weekend ever here and my first Nationals ever, my third year in the group. And for me to even get to P3 was amazing,” Gernon said. “I was happy with the top five. And I just got an amazing start and I was just able to hold that off. Luckily, some other things happened and I just kept my head down and kept a clean race. If you don’t nail the start here, it’s hard to get around anybody, and you’re kind of stuck where you are. So, you get a great start. I pulled up two positions at that point, The incident that Derek and Tom had was unfortunate, but it gave me an advantage and put me in a good position. I think Bob (Denton) had a clutch go out. Otherwise he would have battled me super hard, and he’s a really tough competitor. I was just thankful that I got lucky today and ended up on podium.”
Starting from fourth on grid, Team TS Racing finished third in CMC.
German Touring Series 3
Any good racer knows that if you drive off line long enough and often enough during a race that you might get your tires dirty with “marbles” and lose some grip. You also could collect enough of those bits of rubber on the inside of your wheels to cause an imbalance, which is what Dan Williams experienced during the qualifying race on Saturday.
As if that weren’t bad enough, a heim joint in his front suspension went bad and his car was shaking, vibrating mess by the time the qualifying race was over. With a full evening for his crew to make the needed repairs, Williams took his BMW E36 and scampered to a large early lead till lap 11, when double-yellows came out and bunched up the field. At the restart, Williams simply pushed the “rinse and repeat” button and finished German Touring Series 3 in first place 5.677 seconds in front of Roberto Crescencio in second and Peter Agapoglou in third.
“It was just super fun and I was certainly after the checker, but even during the race, I was just overwhelmed with gratitude for how fun it is and how lucky I am to be here,” Williams said. “And so many NASA staff helping make this show happen for us. It’s really amazing how many people it takes, and they work so hard to make it great. So a lot of appreciation to them and my family as well, helping me make this possible.”
When the double-yellows came out, Crescencio got back within sight of Williams, but he was still kind of learning the nuances of the track on his first time at PittRace.
“This is truly my third day at this track. So, I’m still learning. I think I improved, all things considered, throughout the weekend,” Crescencio said. “Dan was just in a league of his own, so I was fighting for best of the rest, and ecstatic that I was able to hold off Peter throughout the race. He was (on my butt) after the double yellow. I knew he was going to try it because I could see the clock was running out, so I just had to fend off the few spots I knew he was going to try.”
Turns out that what Crescencio was thinking about Agapaglou was true.
“I was actually waiting to make a move. I was being patient because yesterday I wasn’t patient. I ended up in the wall,” Agapaglou said. “So, I had a move and I was waiting to make the move. I was trying to be patient, wait until the 30-minute mark. Double yellow, his tires are able to cool off. And at that point we had parity again, so I’d been managing tires up until that point, just waiting for an opportunity or mistake. But I waited a little bit too long, but I’ll take it. It’s my first time competing nationally, so I’ll take it.”
Honda Challenge 2
Back-to-back championships are rare, but NASA Mid-Atlantic’s Jonathan Baker nailed a repeat championship in Honda Challenge 2, nabbing two championships in two consecutive years at two different tracks in two different time zones.
Baker didn’t get the best of starts against former National Champion Brian Shanfeld, but he did manage to put Shanfeld behind him by the exit of Turn 5. When a double-yellow emerged in lap three, it bunched the field up, but Shanfeld had dropped well back after an off-track incident, and by the time the race drew to a close, Baker had an 18-second lead over second-place Jeremy Lucas and third-place Yevgeniy Noak.
“We knew that the other guys were going to be fast on the start. We’re kind of a long-game player, so yeah, Brian was right in the mix with me,” Baker said. “He was next to me. He looked like he missed his braking point, I think honestly, because I was blocking where he could see the brake markers and I could see he braked way too late. So instead of turning in with him, I just waited, turned in behind him.”
Driving the only S2000 in the H2 field and the only rear-wheel-drive car, Lucas placed second, a finish he attributed to a good start and maintaining pressure on the cars ahead of him.
“I think I got a couple spots on the start there. It was a super quick flag. I almost want to say the starter jumped the start because he’s supposed to unfurl it and then do it, and he just went up and down and that was it. So it was super quick and caught a lot of people off guard. Luckily, I was already revved up and able to take advantage of it,” Lucas said. “This car is kind of handicapped by the weight and the tire size, but I just have to be persistent, so the longer the race is, the better chance I have of doing better in the end. I just can keep nagging and nagging on the guys and pressuring them. And both the spots I got were from people going off and just from being behind them and pressuring them. So I’ve just got to keep at it.”
Noak finished third, ahead of fourth-place finisher Leland Wamboldt, who actually turned a quicker fast lap, and who was ahead of Noak for the majority of the race.
“Luckily I got a good start for this time around. Stuck on the inside. Was able to hold my position this time around and just try to run consistent laps. Try to make sure that Lee and Jeremy weren’t getting too far head out of sight. Try to keep my distance, see how if they were going to make any mistakes, they were driving flawlessly to be quite honest,” Noak said. “I think he actually ended up spinning, I believe, right on the final corner or something must have happened … and I was able to overtake him on the outside.”
All the Legends cars are built in the same shop, and according to newly crowned Legends National Champion Bobby Christensen, what separates the cars is how the driver handles the 2.78-mile PittRace course.
“They’re dead equal, so just whichever driver happens to have the best day or something didn’t break is probably going to win,” Christensen said. “Bobby (Pugh) got black flagged and that messed his day up. Bryan (Poage) got knocked off the track by a Thunder Roadster and I happened to be the lucky one.”
Christensen has tried five times to win a National Championship and Sunday’s Championship was the first for the Texas Region driver. He broke a gear in qualifying, so he didn’t know what to expect.
“I was always close, but never quite there,” Christensen said. “Today happened to be my day.”
After scrambling to repair his car after a crash at Hallett two weeks ago, Poage found he had some more work to do at PittRace before he could even think about racing hard, much less finishing second.
“I literally just got it fixed rolling into the trailer and drove for two days to get here, and still had issues. I had a bent wheel and bent driveshaft, which I didn’t know about,” Poage said. “We definitely took all day practice day on Thursday to figure that out. And then Friday too, so I didn’t really have much track time until Saturday. I kind of got up to speed on Saturday and then it was good today. Never been here before. It’s an awesome track. But there are several corners that sneak up on to you pretty quickly, and they really grab a hold of you if you’re not careful.”
Though he has two previous National Championships to his credit, Pugh suffered mechanical troubles after running a near-perfect weekend. Pugh held on to finish third.
“At least it’s my closest friends that beat me. I don’t know if they’re sad for me to not to win, but I had a great time,” Pugh said. “And like I said, just failures. You know, they happen, mechanical failures. When you’re racing cars, that happens.”
It was Great Lakes Region’s Gobel Newsome’s first time competing in the NASA Championships, and he came away with a championship by outlasting rookie racer Harry Colson, who joined the NP01 class this season after participating in HPDE.
Newsome, who had a clean sweep by winning qualifying and the qualifying race earlier in the event, built an early lead after getting through traffic and rode it to the checkered flag.
“My brakes got a little hot, I got a little nervous there for a little bit,” Newsome said. “But I let it cool off for a few laps and brought it home.”
Colson’s first year in wheel-to-wheel racing is one he’ll remember.
“It was a great experience being out here on track with a lot of fast guys in Super Unlimited, ST1, 2 and 3,” Colson said. “I’m a first year out here, so I’m just loving it. Perfect conditions out here today, compared to what it was the past few days off and on with the rain and stuff, but I was prepared to go racing in the rain if I had to. Again the challenge out there was just chasing Gobel Newsome down, who was as pretty fast out there, but it was great fun.”
In Friday’s Q1 and Q2, Charles Ford was looking like the man to beat, but a less-than-optimal tire choice in Saturday’s qualifying race relegated him to a second-place finish behind Jon McAvoy, who started on pole for the Championships race on Sunday.
Well, you don’t give Jon McAvoy any advantage if you can help it, because he will capitalize on it. And he did just that when he sprinted from pole position and took an early lead in the Spec3 race, which was shortened by a voided start due to a Spec E46 crash in Turn 1 on lap one. McAvoy led from flag to flag and took the Spec3 National Championship, his third such title.
“If you don’t have somebody to fight with the way those two guys were fighting (behind me), then I get lucky, right? I mean, they’re battling each other. They’re looking in the mirrors. That might be a 10th, 10th and a half a lap and I can just focus straight ahead. That was luck today,” McAvoy. “We’ve been here all weekend having a great time. I’m lucky and I’m happy to be up here and I’m blessed for the guys I ran with, and I’m thankful for the group across the board. Everyone was aware today, heads up driving in the mirrors if you came up on lapped traffic or if they came up on you, and that’s just what this is all about. It was a blast.”
Sean O’Hara started from third on grid, and fought his way past Ford to take second place at PittRace.
“Traffic played a pretty minimal role actually, which was pretty nice. I mean, having Charles in front of me for a little while, obviously he had a bit of a mechanical I was able to take advantage of, but anytime you pass a guy that quick, you got to be happy with the end result,” O’Hara said. “And Mr. McAvoy was Mr. Consistency as always. He is a pro at that and he did what he does best, so I couldn’t be happier.”
Ford looked strong in Friday’s qualifying sessions, nabbing the top time in Q1 and Q2. He made the wrong tire choice for the qualifying race, and his troubles continued in the Championships race, where he finished third.
“Yeah, so my brake pedal got really long, which is really strange in this car. We’ll have to check it out after the race. So it was kind of a shock. I was starting to blow braking zones, so then I had to start backing them up, and I figured out if I just slammed the thing down I could get back to my regular braking markers,” Ford said. “But that was maybe seven or eight laps into the race. And the gaps had already built out at that point? But it was very strange where I was hitting the brakes and it was just blowing through the turn. So I started backing it up and then just pressing as much as I could.”
You know, for a while there during the 2023 NASA Championships, it looked like it was going to come down to a battle between Jack Cobetto and Eric Pennington for the Spec E30 crown, but the two drivers made mistakes that cost them a number of positions on grid for the Championships race.
Then there was Robert Grace, who put together a measured approach to the qualifying race and wound up on pole, which was what he needed to break away and nab the win — and his third Spec E30 National Championship.
It was a good thing that the race had been shortened by an aborted start due to a Spec E46 crash in Turn 1 on lap one. If the race had been a lap or two longer, Cobetto might have caught him, which could have been due to Grace being on cruise control or Cobetto driving wheels off his car.
“Probably a little bit of both. He was driving great, for sure,” Grace said. “I got a good gap at the start and was trying to just kind of manage at that point. But Jack was closing in there, so maybe a little too close for comfort at the end.”
Dousing himself with water and fighting back tears after the finish, Cobetto said he was hoping for a few more minutes.
“Oh my gosh. Where do I even begin? I mean, I had a really good start and luckily I got by Eric in the beginning. I knew he was going to be really strong. And then Jason, I don’t know what happened with Jason and my dad, but they hit each other or something. I was able to take advantage of that and I kind of used traffic to the best of my abilities,” Cobetto said. “I mean, I was right there. I was roughing him up. But if I had two more laps, one more lap even maybe … I’ll be back again. This isn’t over.”
Jason Griscavage had been kind of sneaking up on a podium finish all weekend. He finished fourth in Q1 and Q2 and then second in the qualifying race on Saturday. That put him second on grid, but a less-than-stellar start left him with plenty of work to do, even with the prolonged red/black flag after the E46’s got tangled up in Turn 1 on lap one.
“I started P2 and I probably fell back to P5, P6 right at the start, and then kind of worked my way back and got third and kind of held there,” Griscavage said. “It looked like Jack came through. He probably had some pretty good traffic help and yeah, that’s how it goes. I’d like to thank my sponsor Runway Travel, but yeah, P3 is cool. Be nicer for a P1 or P2, but take what you can get. It’s a podium.”
The Spec E46 race was marred by an aborted start due to an incident in Turn 1 on lap one. The race was red-flagged and started late, so drivers knew the race likely was going to be shorter than the usual 45 minutes. That meant they had less time to get the job done.
Michael Kanisczak might have had pole position, but Casey Mashore leapt from his second-place starting position and took over the lead by lap two and built a bit of a gap on Kanisczak. However, as out-of-class traffic thickened for the two front runners, Kanisczak began to reel in Mashore and eventually and methodically overtook him to take the lead and to hang on for the win.
“I think his car is strong. He definitely had the advantage in the straights. I had a little bit in the corners, so I had to be patient, right?” Kanisczak said after the race. “I had to be patient, wait for tires, look for weak points, and then when one was there, just take advantage of it.
“So, I mean, I think he has a very strong car. So coming out of any straight, he just pulled a little bit, so it was hard to stay on the gap. But anytime it went into the Esses or 11 or 12, I would scrunch that gap a little bit and it would stretch again on the back straight. So a little bit of a Slinky, but again, waiting for an opportunity, pounce on and it worked.”
Mashore started from second on grid, and took the early lead. When the red flag delay ended and the race resumed, Mashore got the jump and took the lead, which he held for most of the race, but finished second.
“I was pretty lucky through traffic. It was just mostly greasing up on tires. He just held a better pace and I fell off at the end,” said Mashore, who won the Spec E46 Championship in 2022. “I tried to make one more run at the end toward the finish and looks like I was about a half a car off.”
Starting from third, Eric Haagenson — who is, appropriately enough, a fighter pilot in the Air National Guard — was ahead of the car that caused the Turn 1 melee, and theoretically out of the danger zone, but he still got collected and suffered some body damage before the entire field was black flagged and then sent back out for a restart.
“Once we got back out on the track, car felt good, felt solid. I just didn’t have the pace with one and two, Casey and Mike. I’m just not there with the pace,” Haggenson said. “I had a good battle with Rich Brainerd for quite a while for three and four. Eventually got split up and then I felt pretty solid with my pace at that point. I know Matt was bringing it up from P5, got P4 and then he had some issues with his car, but it was a great weekend. A lot of fun, great racing. A little tough at the end. Got a little body damage we’ll have to take care of on the way home.”
When the checkers flew it appeared Alex Schwartzenberger won the competitive Spec Iron Class, getting the best of Jeff Wood and Robin Burnett, who finished in second and third place, respectively. However, Schwartzenberger was DQ’d afterward for noncompliance, and that moved Wood up for the win, with Burnett in second and Christopher Williams in third.
From start to finish the front three were all over each other, and the racing action was as good as it gets. Wood kept angling for the win, but also tried to keep Burnett behind him.
“I was chasing him like a rabbit trying to keep pace and save my tires until the end, which kind of seemed to pay off.” Wood said after the race, but before the DQ. “I caught him, but I just couldn’t quite get the job done. We got into some lapped traffic and got side-by-side a couple times and had a good race.”
2019 Spec Iron Champion Burnett had a bit of contact with Schwartzenberger going into Turn 1 about midway through the race, and after that, Burnett couldn’t get the car to do what he wanted it to do.
“I think maybe he either missed a shift or his car started to get hot, and I gained on him and got a run, pulled up next to him in 1 and just kind of slid together, bent a toe link, I think, because the steering wheel was crooked and it just didn’t handle,” Burnett said. “I couldn’t turn it in the way I want it to the left. The right seemed OK, which is odd. We couldn’t make it happen. Jeff got by me and I couldn’t keep up with them. They were quicker than me at the end and all I could do was hold on to (second) at that point.”
Shown in provisional results as finishing in fourth, Christopher Williams moved up as a result of the DQ and finished third, where he started from on grid.
Starting from pole position, like Travis Wiley did on Sunday, does have its benefits, but in a 45-minute-long Championships race, it doesn’t offer much advantage over P2, which is where Michael Carter started.
When the green flag dropped, Wiley used pole position to take the early lead, with Carter just behind and Marc Cefalo, Aryton Grim and Dan Williams in hot pursuit.
The front five began to separate from the rest of the field, as Carter and Wiley began to trade the lead back and forth. Because there were no full-course cautions, Carter and Wiley were cat-and-mouse the entire time. When the checkers flew, it was Carter with the win.
“Yeah, I’m not sure how much working together there was, but we did get a gap and that’s kind of what you want in a Spec Miata race, make it where your race is with as few cars at the end as possible,” Carter said. “And yeah, it was funny. My dad came over the radio and said three laps to go and I saw the white flag. Obviously this is the last lap, so I’m sure Travis didn’t know either, so that was all she wrote, I guess. But no, it was a good race. Some rubbing. Some bumping.”
From pole position, Wiley led the early laps. With Carter right on his tail, the two began to separate from the third-, fourth- and fifth-place cars. By lap seven, Carter got around Wiley, which is how they remained till the finish, with Wiley in second.
“There was a bunch of contact where I was not left room properly. It happens. It’s a bummer,” Wiley said. “We couldn’t come away with the win today, but congrats to him for coming away with the win. I mean, it’s a game of luck getting the right opportunity at the right time, so it happens.”
From his sixth place position on grid, third-place finisher Jonathan Davis had the most ups and downs of anyone on the podium, and some of it began before he even set foot on the PittRace premises. In the week before the event, Davis pieced together a short block and a used cylinder head and put it in the car. With no testing of any kind, Davis didn’t know what to expect.
“This is a motor I put together about four days before the event with a new short block and a used head on it. And it ran. It did all right. Thanks to Rossini for all the help he’s given me,” Davis said. “But yeah, the two cars ahead of me went two wide into Turn 1 and they both went off. Then I found myself and fourth in no man’s land there for most of the race. I ended up catching Dan Williams and Cefalo. We had quite a battle for a couple laps there, then I got around them. Then I made a mistake and Cefalo got back past me again. Anyway, we all got together coming out of Turn 1, a couple laps from the end there, and on the last lap I finally had a little bit of a gap on Cefalo and I got by and maintained it and just tried not to make any more mistakes. I set my car up to be a little better toward the end instead of toward the beginning and I could see they were running the tires off. So I was just hoping they would come back to me and they did.”
Super Touring 1
In hockey, for whatever reason, scoring three goals in a single game is called a hat trick, and we’ve kind of adopted that nomenclature for the NASA Championships when a driver wins Friday’s Super Touring 1 qualifying, Saturday’s qualifying race and Sunday’s Championship race. Joe Kellerman never touched a hockey stick during the NASA Championships, but he earned his hat trick, winning everything there was to win at the event.
“I got a nice gap at the beginning to get me a little bit of traction, get out in front of some people and kept my lead the entire time and just maintained my gap,” Kellerman said. “So it was a fun race. And just finally for the first time in four years, I got second a couple times, and finally got my first place. I won a National Championship. It’s exciting.”
Brian Clarke had been running in third for a good portion of the race, but was able to get around Chris Ludwig in second. Clarke was driving a production-based Camaro in a class filled with Corvettes, Vipers and one stock car chassis. His was car was about 140 pounds overweight and lacking horsepower, but he was happy to finish second.
“It was not my driving. That was Jake and him. He had a little incident there and I took advantage of it, went the grass and stayed away from them both and just tried to stay in front of him as best I could,” Clarke said.
Driving in his first NASA Championships, NASA Great Lakes driver Chris Ludwig finished third.
“Yeah, the car went bad loose and I spun probably halfway through. And the guys that ran first and second, they did a heck of job. They just didn’t make any mistakes. And it was the guy that made the mistake that ended up third,” Ludwig said. “I think a guy behind us too had some problems, and you just got to be clean. I just made a big mistake today and it cost us a spot. Congrats to Joe Kellerman. He is just fast, the winner in ST1 and nobody had anything for him. So we were all racing for second and Brian got it. And so congrats to all those guys.”
Super Touring 2
Jake Latham had a NASA National Championships to remember with victories in Super Touring 2 and Time Trial 2. Although Latham defended his 2022 Super Touring 2 championship at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, he was a little melancholy after Sunday’s championship race.
Latham had contact with a Viper and quickly went over to the other driver after the race ended.
“It’s a little bit bittersweet. I’m really happy to have the Championship,” Latham said. “I feel terrible I ruined the other guy’s race, so I’m a little bit happy, a little bit sad. I don’t make a habit of running into people.”
Latham won Saturday’s qualifying race, putting him on pole, and he was able to capitalize on a mistake at the start by Ben Grambau, who finished second. Nick Smither earned the final podium spot.
“It was like the messiest race I’ve ever been part of,” said Latham, who races the Rocky Mountain Region. “Nick (Smither) was behind me, I think he had a problem with his car, and he disappeared all of a sudden. I was wondering what the heck was going on. My radio wasn’t working, so I was very confused.”
There was also a little confusion at the start for second-place finisher Ben Grambau, who started from second. Grambau explained.
“The race start was messed up and that’s my fault. We started all on one green flag yesterday, and apparently, we’re all getting different green flags today,” he said. “When the SU green flag dropped, you know, my radio guy called it and I went, so I was way ahead. When I slowed down, let Jake pass. It just wasn’t much of a race after that, unfortunately. At that point he was gone and then then I’ve had a lot of vibration in the race. It might be the tires’ mounting, I don’t know.”
Driving the lone Ford Mustang in ST2, Nick Smither pushed ahead for the lead on lap one, but Latham didn’t let that stand for long. Smither said the car was hooked up making good power, but the C5 Corvettes of Latham and Grambau are well developed and maximized for ST2 — and even lighter than Smither’s Mustang.
“Jake’s got so much pace, and he’s a really good driver. That car is really well sorted. It’s really fast. And you know, I can hang with him on the straights, but in the corners, he’s just wicked fast,” Smither said. “I think the Mustang is a great platform. If I’m going to be competitive with these guys, we are going to do a lot of work to it. And it’s a real fun track. keeps you busy all the way around.”
Super Touring 3
The Super Touring 3 race between Eric Magnussen and Mark Burt was one of the most exciting races in Sunday’s Championships, with the pair swapping leads late in the race before Magnussen drove his GM LS-powered BMW to victory.
The pair got caught up in traffic and were trading leads with neither Magnussen nor Burt able to pull away more than a few car lengths. To illustrate how close it was, Burt set a track record for Super Touring 3 with a 1:51.688 lap on the 2.78-mile PittRace course yet ended up in second place.
“I got to tell you, I don’t remember the last time I raced that close with anybody,” said Magnussen, who won a National Championship at Daytona International Speedway in 2021. “He was on it and so was I. We did a lot of sliding around as the tires got hot, the track got hot. The first one to take the checkered flag is all that matters.”
Mark Burt started from pole and diced with Magnussen all race long. The two had contact late in the race, and Burt’s left front wheel was touching the inside of the caliper.
“It was good until the point he tried to drive me off the track,” Burt said. “So I mean, it’s OK. I like racing hard, but at the point of destroying cars, it’s not worth it. It was a good race up until that point.”
Burt filed body contact forms, but it did not change the finishing order. Burt also set the ST3 track record at 1:51.688.
Andrew Stevens finished third in the six-car class. He and John Hyer were dicing hard for the last step on the podium, but the two made contact and went off track. Both drivers came back to finish, but the first- and second-place cars were out of sight by then.
“John and I had a great race for third. We were side by side for quite a while. He just pushed a little bit and ended up getting inside my door,” Stevens said. “We spun through the infield and both were able to recover and finish the race. But yeah, I mean, if we would’ve stayed clean, I don’t think we would’ve had anything for first and second. But a podium at the Championships is still something to be proud of.”
Super Touring 4
Team ST EDGE MV was fighting mechanical gremlins all week with its BMW 328i. The team had to replace a high-pressure power steering line, a clutch pressure plate and a tie rod. That made the team’s championship in Super Touring 4 all the more sweeter.
“This happens so often with cars. They do break and you just have to be as prepared as possible,” said driver Shaun Webster. “We’re coming from the West Coast, so we tried to bring as many parts as we could, and we still didn’t have enough. But luckily a lot of the people around here in the paddock had a bunch of parts, which was huge.”
Webster built a substantial 4- to 6-second lead early in the race, but a yellow flag bunched the field back up. Webster said he had to back off his pace until the tires warmed up.
“There were some elements of stress toward the end,” Webster said. “I wanted to build the gap as big as possible, and it worked out.”
Second-place Nick DeRosa finished 1.39 seconds behind Team ST EDGE MV. DeRosa’s quickest lap was a 1:55.561, a bit over a second off ST EDGE MV’s pace. He finished with a cone stuck in his grille.
“The whole race, Shawn had a pretty good gap on me. Luckily, the yellow came out, I was able to bunch up with him, and then was able to finish nose to tail at the end there and had a cone in my grill as a trophy,” DeRosa said. “It was partly because I had to avoid some guy who spun out, and we had to go into the grass and the cone was the trophy with that. So luckily, I kept my car. I just get a cone instead. I didn’t even know. Luckily, it was the last lap. It didn’t do any damage. It’s still stuck in there. I think I’m going to keep the cone.”
Driving in his sixth National Championships and scoring his third podium, Scott Smith of the NorCal Region was third. Smith also was quick to thank Edge Motorworks for helping him install a lower control arm and loaning him tools to do the job.
“Edge Motorworks started with the lead and kept the lead the whole time. I tried to put pressure on second-place car to get a nose in, but couldn’t make it work,” Smith said. “And then the car just started failing. The steering rack must be starting to go. Right-hand turns became very difficult. And then left-hand turns became difficult. And then there was shaking and twitching.”
Super Touring 5
Traditionally drivers aren’t fans of yellow flags, especially when leading most of the race. For Nicholas Barbato, the yellow flag may have been a blessing in disguise. With a warmer PittRace track on Sunday and a 45-minute race, Barbato could feel the tires starting to give.
The yellow flag was thrown on Lap 11, bringing the field back together, but Barbato held off Samed Rizvi and Jeff Stutler, who finished second and third, respectively.
“I would have preferred it to be green because I had a big gap, but once it went yellow, I said, ‘OK, I’m going to really get these tires cooled down in case it goes green,’” Barbato said. “If we had to go yellow, getting those (tires) cooled down was a better thing for the Maxxis.”
Barbato credits the Championship to the prep work on the BMW M3.
“All those hours busting my butt in the garage for months to make it perfect, it all paid off,” Barbato said. “I’m so happy, man.”
After starting from fourth on grid, Samed Rizvi worked his way forward. In fact, Saturday was his first time on the PittRace track and he started from the back and worked his way forward from there. Still in his rookie season of racing, Rizvi won the TT5 National Championship at Mid-Ohio in 2019.
“Those multiple laps and the yellow really allowed us to cool down the tires, big time. And then the guy that was in front of me, which I wasn’t really reeling in, he slept on the start and I got right by,” Rizvi said. “But at the same time, the guy behind me beat me on the start and then got by me and then it was just racing from there through the last couple of laps. If it wasn’t for that yellow, it would have been a different result in the race.
Starting from second on grid, Stutler made the most of his S2000 to capture third. He got around Rizvi on the restart, but Rizvi passed him again to take over second place. Stutler ended up finishing third.
“Now these BMWs are super fast. I got lucky on the on the restart, and I was able to make up a couple of positions and the last one back, but still managed the podium at my first National Championship. Pretty happy about that,” Stutler said. “You know, everybody works really hard to get to these things. And yeah, it’s great just to race with these guys and be here in front of my family, and have some success.”
Super Touring 6
All weekend long, the front of the Super Touring 6 field was a slugfest between Isaac Beekman and Christo Armbruster. The two traded positions — and a flew flakes of paint — all weekend long. The Championships race on Sunday was no different, with Armbruster leading most of the race until a double-yellow on lap 11 bunched up the field.
Beekman was able to get close enough to Armbruster to pounce when Armbruster made a mistake, take the lead and carry on for the win and the ST6 Championship.
“Yeah, same story as last time. It was longer race, so I just settled in and waited. To his credit, he kept his composure for a long time, and it came down to the restart,” Beekman said. “We had some passing traffic and some slow traffic that we were coming up on, and he spun it and then somehow got it back on the track. But I was parked right behind him, basically trying to avoid the carnage, and so by the time we came to the finish line, he was right back on me. So coming down the back straight, he went on the outside going on the last turn, I think he locked up a little bit, but it was still drag race to the finish and he nearly got me.”
Armbruster finished second, after dicing with Beekman all weekend, each showing strengths in different areas of the track, due in part to their strengths as drivers and the characteristics of their cars.
“We actually had really good pace even after the restart. In truth, my tires were wearing out, so the double yellow gave me a chance to get back in it because Isaac’s on a wider footprint tire, so I was able to let them cool down, get some more grip,” Armbruster said. “But then we started hitting lapped traffic because that’s what double yellows do. We had some movement at the kink and I couldn’t hang out on the outside and the marbles at the kink and I looped it around. And then got it back going and lost it by a bumper. Man, that was a pretty good photo finish. Isaac drove a real good race.”
Andrew Janosik was running lap times comparable to Armbruster, and he had a shot at second place in the closing laps, but finished third.
“We had an opportunity. The last lap was a good race between us three,” Janosik said. “Just being conservative trying to keep a clean race and just see how it went. Those guys are really quick, so I didn’t think I really had much for them if they were working together to get away. But I was able to hold off Jordan and the Spec Miata guy as well.”
Sometimes racing comes down to strategy more than outright speed, and Jonathan Finstrom’s pursuit of a Super Unlimited Championship is a perfect example — even though he had plenty of speed. Finstrom sat out Saturday’s qualifying race to preserve his car for Sunday’s Super Unlimited Championship race and, as it turned out, for the Time Trial Unlimited Championship, and it paid off.
Because he didn’t start the qualifying race, he started last in a field of six and clawed his way forward to face off against Brian Faessler and his thundering Mustang. Finstrom trailed him for a few laps but found an opening, made the pass and went on to win the Super Unlimited Championship. The two drivers also reset the track record four times during the race.
“He was definitely protecting the inside line, and he’s a great driver, great car. Hat’s off. I mean for him to be in a tin top, going against my car and being that competitive, it’s amazing what they’ve done with that car. So congratulations to him. He’s been Champion several times, so great job to him,” Finstrom said. “I was just reading him a little bit there and I see his protection, the inside lines and so he was kind of having to slow his corners up a little bit and I held back a little bit, and then I timed it where I could get a run at him and where he couldn’t do anything about it. So that’s how I got him on Turn 8.”
After swapping the track record back and forth with Finstrom four times during the race, Faessler held off Finstrom in the early going, but went on to finish second.
“Yeah, that was a tough race. I just tried to get him on the start, get as big a lead as I could. Lapped traffic kind of messed me up a couple times, but obviously Jonathan did a great job today. I was able to hold him off, but just not long enough.”
After qualifying in fifth place on Friday and finishing second in the qualifying race, Brian Tyler came in third in the Championship race in his C&R Lightning Crown car, ahead of a Ferrari 488 and two Dodge Vipers.
“The car was good. Lapped traffic, I seemed to hit it at every point on the racetrack that was one of my strong points versus a couple other corners that weren’t so good,” Tyler said. “So lapped traffic really worked to my favor when that Ferrari and I were racing. I was able to get through the traffic a little better than he was. I think that’s what let me get away from him.”
Thunder Roadster GTR
Jeremy Zumwalt was running the perfect race when he hit an oil patch on a blind corner, giving Derrek Morehead the separation needed to win the National Championship in Thunder Roadster.
“It was a tough break for him, really a tough break,” Morehead said. “I caught a little bit of it myself. We almost touched coming up over the blind corner there and I was lucky enough to hold it together.”
Zumwalt was in first place from the start until lap 12 when Morehead took the lead on laps 13 and 14. Zumwalt regained the lead the next two laps before Morehead overtook him on the final lap.
Morehead finished on the podium in 944 Spec at the National Championships in 2019, but this year was his first Championship.
“I’ve been wishing for this step for quite some time now,” Morehead said. “I’ve been working a lot of hard hours and putting a lot of effort into trying to do it, and I want to thank my family for coming out and supporting me in this whole endeavor. When you get six, seven, eight guys that are covered by second, second and a half, it can be a coin toss and that’s multi-, multi-sided sided coin on who may end up on top.”
Zumwalt had been the man to beat all weekend, having won Friday qualifying and the qualifying race on Saturday. Zumwalt also had led the lion’s share of the race, but some oil on the track on a blind rise sent Zumwalt off track and Morehead sprinted ahead to take the win.
“I just came over that crest and the left front hit the oil and I was about to hit the wall basically,” Zumwalt said. “I think there’s nothing I could do. I mean, we didn’t put a foot wrong all weekend and just got hit by lady luck.”
No stranger to the podium in Thunder Roadster, Jason Oehler finished second at Mid-Ohio in 2019. Despite hitting the same oil patch that befell Zumwalt, he found his way to the podium in 2023, taking third in Thunder Roadster.
“The oil was terribly unfortunate, and it was almost over the blind crest. I had no idea it was there. I saw smoke and so I was able to adjust my line enough. It’s unfortunate that Jeremy hit it and had a change of position because of it,” Oehler said. “It was a dogfight. I needed a little bit more of a mistake from one of them, and I didn’t get it, so that’s why P3 is what I deserved today. It was all the car had in it too. I was fighting some handling issues, but I made the most of it.”