Winning a NASA Championship is a little like trying to get lightning to strike in a spot you designate. So much of it is out of your hands. You have to drive to your utmost ability, make good decisions, stay out of trouble and keep the car intact until the big race on Sunday. The rest is out of your control.
Lightning struck at least 22 times in NASA’s racing classes at Daytona International Speedway and, given the track-mandated delays due to lightning in the area, probably even more than that.
We published quick, abbreviated coverage of the event Sept. 19 when the event was over, but we have more complete coverage available now that dust has settled and the champagne has flowed.
Preston Pardus captured the NASA Spec Miata Championship race, making a late move to get back in front of the field and won by .079 seconds over Harry Voigt, with Matthew Cresci right on their heels in third place.
“It was a little harder than I thought it was going to be at the end,” Pardus said. “There at the end they drafted by me and luckily coming out of the Bus Stop I was able to pull one back and then get behind, I think it was Matt (Cresci) there, and back up to Harry coming out of NASCAR 4 and slingshot him. It worked out really well.”
Pardus said some of the cars were struggling through the corners a little bit at the beginning of the race and he was able to get some separation from the pack before they were able to catch back up by working together. That left him out in front of the field quite a bit longer than he would have liked.
“I didn’t want to be leading that much,” he said. “Usually you’re a sitting duck here. I didn’t expect it to go that way, for sure.”
Pardus said it was great to go head-to-head with so many talented drivers, including Harry Voigt, who came in second.
“This is my second time here, but I qualified eighth and my goal was just to see if I can just stick with them,” Voigt said. “And I did, and I had Matt Cresci’s help. Matt Cresci helped a lot. He helped me to get through the field, a good draft partner, but phenomenal race. Probably, uh, once I caught up with that lead pack, I was like, all right, I’m back in. And I had some hope in me and I was like, as long as I can get with a partner at work, I’ll be fine.”
Cresci faced a series of choices he had to make to stay in the game to be there at the end. He got shuffled back to the rear of the lead pack at the start and suffered contact in lap one, Turn 1, but managed to work his way forward from there. About halfway through the race, he made the painful, yet strategic decision to lift and wait for Voigt so the two could catch the leaders by working together. By the time the white flag flew, they were in striking distance.
“It was Preston, me and then Voigt behind me. We came out of Turn 6, I decide to pass Preston. Harry follows me, pushes me past Preston, and we found ourselves leading Preston into the Bus Stop, and here’s where I made my decision,” Cresci said. “As I left the Bus Stop, I dragged the brakes hoping that Harry would push me to the line, but as soon as I looked in my mirror I saw he was dragging his brakes even harder and allowing Preston to push him. At that point, I knew I was screwed, so I just had to keep my foot in it and hope for the best, but obviously we ended up getting freight-trained to the line. In hindsight, sure there were things I could have done, but in the information I had at that moment, I did the best I could.”
Teen Mazda Challenge
Teen Mazda Challenge is the exclusive NASA program that lets drivers as young as 13 move from karting or other motorsports to compete in a full-size sports car on the track at the same time as Spec Miata. Call it a race within race, even though TMC drivers are often at the front anyway.
Harry Voigt was running just off the front pack for the whole race, and without a drafting partner, he had his doubts as to whether he’d be able to stay within striking distance.
“In the beginning of the race I was barely hanging on to the back of the front pack,” Voigt said. “I was talking to my spotter saying, ‘Man, I don’t think I have a chance to keep up with these guys. I’m a lone man. I don’t have a partner.’”
Enter Matt Cresci, who let up a bit so Voigt could push him and the two could charge to the front. But the draft giveth and the draft taketh away, and Voigt got around Cresci to take second in Spec Miata and first in Teen Mazda Challenge.
“Unfortunately, Todd and Danny, they got taken out, but overall it was a phenomenal race with Matt Cresci, who I couldn’t have done it without,” Voigt said. “He pushed me all the way up.”
Andrew Balgoyen came in second, but his race was not without its share of drama. For reasons that still weren’t clear to him after the race, his engine began to misfire above 6,000 rpm about six or seven laps in, and he was struggling.
“Usually a cam sensor pops like that and then it dies. I was waiting for it to die, but it never did,” Balgoyen said. “I put myself in a really good position to start. I built up to what I think was eighth (overall), and then from there I was strategic with the drafts, but at some point it was so bad I couldn’t even keep up in the draft, so I was just lucky I was able to push so hard in the beginning.”
Three spots behind Balgoyen overall, and one back in TMC, Zach Rubin finished third in TMC.
“It was definitely eventful. I was able to hook up with someone. Obviously I don’t even know who at this point, but we were doing well together, moving up in the field,” Rubin said. “I carried too much speed through the Bus Stop, so I lost pretty much all that work I did in the first 15 minutes. I got trained on, but I was finally able to pick up someone again and worked my way back up to pretty much where I started, so first Championships, I’ll take it.”
After watching Daniel Goldburg dominate the Super Unlimited class the first two days, it may have been a surprise to see him in second place throughout a good portion of Sunday’s Championship race. But he made his move when the time was right and went on to capture the class title with a 3.277-second victory over Jacek Mucha.
Mucha was driving a faster Cadillac DPi, while Goldburg was behind the wheel of a Ligier JS P320, an LMP3 car, which made his task a tough one.
“There’s such a horsepower/speed disparity on the straights,” Goldburg said. “I was doing lots of work on the infield and losing it on the straights. I did kind of have that plan if I wasn’t in the lead, to wait until we got into traffic and hopefully dice through there a little quicker.”
Goldburg took the lead late in the race and was able to extend his lead a little bit before the checkered flag flew.
“I think I clicked my fastest lap there at the end,” he said. “I got a clear last lap.”
Goldburg said the track was tricky at times, but you have to expect that at Daytona.
“The track felt like it was a little slippery in general this whole weekend,” he said. “Lots of different cars, lots of different tires, but it’s Daytona. It’s always fun.”
Mucha crossed the finish line in second, but was repositioned to last due to a pass under double-yellow. That put No. 38 John DeAngelis in second and Brian Tyler up into third in his Lightning Crown car.
Super Touring 1
There was little doubt the ST1 class was going to be a real battle and it came down to the last lap, where Justin Oakes was able to take the checkered flag.
“It was extremely difficult,” Oakes said. “Terry Mathis is a very powerful driver. He caused me to push. I worked really hard. I got him on the last lap in the braking zone into Turn 1. I used traffic and it worked. I was able to maintain it to the Bus Stop.”
Oakes crossed the finish line first, but Terry Mathis was awarded the win after post race disputes. Contact resulted in Mathis losing his rear wing.
“The car got loose because that’s where my downforce is,” Mathis said.
Oakes was moved to second and Timothy Savage finished third.
“The track was good, but my tires got too hot,” Savage said. “The track was great. The drivers were great. I had a little contact with the 116, hit in the back, but whatever, great race.
Super Touring 2
In hockey, scoring three goals is known as a hat trick. We didn’t ask Ken Mantovani if he ever played any hockey, but he now knows what it feels like to score a hat trick. Mantovani notched the fastest time in qualifying on Friday, then won Q1 on Friday afternoon and Q2 on Saturday on his way to winning the Super Touring 2 Championship on Sunday.
“Well, honestly, the caution is really what did it for me, just like it did in the last qualifying race, that I just had the top-end speed, so I used that to my advantage,” Mantovani said afterward. “And, of course, we restart on a green on the banking, so I got a good run on it. (Jonathan Giahn) pulled hard, but I went right to the wall. I don’t even think he realized I’d probably get that tight, and got in front of him and outbraked him into Turn 1, and then just kept them behind me the whole time. But I gapped him pretty good on the banking, but then he’d come right back on me. So he never let up.”
Giahn had the lead at times Sunday, but couldn’t quite close the deal.
“I actually officially met him yesterday in the paddock and he’s an awesome dude. And I knew from that moment that we would be both competitive, both be aggressive, yet, be respectful of each other, which we were,” Giahn said. “We raced hard. We exchanged leads a couple of times and unfortunately on the last restart, he got the better of me and he stayed ahead of me. I reeled them in a little bit, but I didn’t have enough room at the end. So, congrats to him. He did a great job.”
Rokket Horton got tripped up a bit by the full-course caution and the consequent resumption. He was a couple of seconds slower than the Corvettes ahead of him, but only about .100 seconds quicker than the car behind him. Horton, who finished third in GTS4 at the 2017 NASA Championships, finished third in ST2 at Daytona.
“Really good drivers out there,” Horton said. “You know, it’s hard to keep up with those guys, but we’re here. I had a little bit of a lead. And when they pulled the yellow and everybody kind of choked up. So all the work you did for the first 23 minutes, it’s kinda like negated, you know, but yeah, they’re great drivers and this is a great event. I’m really happy to be here.”
Super Touring 3
Eric Magnussen took the top spot in qualifying and in Friday’s qualifying race. Competitor John Huebner got the better of him in Q2, which set the stage for Sunday’s Championship race.
Magnussen was having major transmission issues. His fourth gear synchro was shot, which left him essentially two gears with which to race. Despite that handicap, he brought home the 2021 ST3 Championship.
“I found some time braking into Turn 1 to double-clutch it into fourth and I just left it in fourth until the exit of Turn 6,” Magnussen said. “So I was banging the rev-limiter into Turn 5, but it saved me a downshift into third in Turn 3 and an upshift into fifth in Turn 4 and another downshift into three in Turn 6.”
By focusing on carrying as much midcorner speed as possible and keeping the General Motors LS3 engine in its power band, Magnussen was able to come away with the win over John Huebner in second and Chris Heinzen in third, even with a lengthy full-course caution early in the race.
“The caution broke up a lead that I was working hard on the first couple of laps, but it did give me the opportunity to get past the back of ST2 cleanly,” Magnussen said. “On the restart, some of those guys were on non DOT slicks and they might have been a little cooler than my tires, so I was able to out-brake them into Turn 1 and 3 and get around them.”
John Huebner was trying to stay within striking distance in case there was another caution. The yellows never came and Huebner finished second. A post-checkers incident marred an otherwise clean race.
“I would make up a little distance and fall back some, and I was just trying to keep them in my sights in case there was another caution,” Huebner said. “It was a little frustrating the way it ended. We got together, I guess, right after the race finished. Um, I didn’t even know the race had finished. That’s kind of what he thought happened. Yeah. All right. So I was far right side of the track and he just came right over into me. Um, so that was a little frustrating, but car ran great all week.”
Chris Heinzen posted a fast lap quicker than Magnussen and Huebner, but he had his hands full just holding on for the last spot on the podium.
“I mean, it was a hard-fought battle for third. I had this blue Camaro and that, uh, Mitsubishi Evo there just on my tail lap after lap. Pretty cool,” Heinzen said. “Oh, my God, man, it was so hard keeping them behind me in the infield, but I had the advantage on the oval. So I was able to maintain that gap and just keep them behind me.”
The race resumption tripped him up as it did many others in the group.
“It was unfortunate,” he said. “I thought I might’ve had an opportunity to catch the front too, but uh, you know, over the 45 minutes. So the caution kinda, I think ruined that, but you know, I still got a podium, so I’m excited about that.”
German Touring Series 4
With three cars in the field Sunday, Randy Mueller was looking forward to some friendly competition from Vytis Aranauskas and Michael Gershanok. Unfortunately, Aranauskas was involved in an incident and dropped out of the race. Gershanok also dropped out of GTS4, leaving Mueller all alone among a sea of Super Touring and Super Unlimited cars.
“We didn’t have the field to make it super exciting, but starting behind all those other classes made it really fun,” he said. “Working my way through traffic, I did have a little skirmish with a Corvette that put a donut on my door. But I had caught up to the ST3 leaders and let them race for a while and then just drove by them on the straightaway so that I didn’t interfere. But our car was quick today. It’s fast.”
Gershanok finished second and Aranauskas finished in the third spot, but was DQ’d for contact.
German Touring Series 3
After Randy Mueller notched a Championship in GTS4, he checked the oil, put more gas in his car, changed the tune and went out and won a second Championship in 2021 in GTS3.
Mueller was running lap times about a second quicker than second-place finisher Michael Gershanok and third place Mike Fallin. Based on lap times alone, it’s likely that Meir Rigen would have finished third, but he was DQ’d for a pass under yellow.
“We did minimal testing on Thursday,” Mueller said. “I know the track fairly well, so I didn’t have to do that, and we had been here earlier in the year so we had a good setup on the car.”
Michael Gershanok finished second, with Mike Fallin in third.
Current 944 Spec champion Marcelo Vine had been facing some challenges all weekend. He was not the fastest in Friday morning qualifying, and was looking at the back bumper of Charlie Buzzetti all weekend, including in Q2, when some contact with another car dropped him back a position or two. Or three.
Vine rendered all of that moot in Sunday’s title race and took home the 944 Spec Championship.
“Charlie basically made a small mistake in Turn 1 and I was able to get on the inside and obviously, both of us being from SoCal, we worked together,” Vine said. “If he was in front, I was going to push him, and if I was in front, he was going to push me, and we were going to duke it out at the end, you know? To bring the trophy back to SoCal.”
The two drivers will bring two trophies with them back to SoCal. Buzzetti finished second and NASA Great Lakes driver Matt Giuffre finished third.
“Obviously, I got a little bit lucky. He had the faster car all weekend,” Vine said. “That’s for sure. I got lucky with the double-yellows and the traffic. I was basically able to put some cars between us for the last lap. That gave me the chance to win it, and I did.”
Buzzetti seemed to think that his 924 had better aero than a 944, and that might have been the reason for his early successes at the Championships. However, a setup that was not exactly to his liking might have hampered him when it counted most.
“I had a little bit of push on the infield and I just couldn’t get the drive off the corner,” he said. “And then with the restart Marcello did a masterful job. He got cars in between us and you just can’t make up that difference in one or two laps. And, uh, we just weren’t there. Yeah, but Marcelo did a great job. He deserves the win”
NASA Great Lakes’ Matt Giuffre was in the mix all weekend, but in the Championships race, he was just a tick slower than Vine and Buzzetti.
“I was pushing as hard as I could, but I don’t know that there was any way I could close the gap on them. So that, that full course, yellow really bunched us back up and helped me out a ton, uh, on the restart,” Giuffre said. “I just couldn’t capitalize as well as I would’ve hoped. So, I don’t know. I was hoping that with traffic, we might be able to dice it up a little bit better and I could push forward. But no luck on that. These guys are top-notch drivers, so there was no tripping them up getting through traffic. They know what they have to do. So I just tried to stick with them.”
Honda Challenge 2
To say it was a weekend of highs and lows for Christopher Michaels would be an understatement. But after several days of lows, the weekend ended on a definite high note, when Michaels crossed the finish line first in Honda Challenge 2 to take the Championship.
“This has been the pinnacle of ups and downs,” Michaels said. “To start from dead last yesterday, get to the front and then the fuel line comes off. Thank God the car didn’t catch on fire. To start dead last again today and somehow get all the way back up front and take this thing is amazing.”
It was quite the battle up near the front, with the Honda Challenge cars trying to chase down the overall leader, Spec E46 driver, Dalton Hilliard. While he wasn’t in their class, he did have an impact on how the Honda Challenge race played out after the race went back to green with a couple of laps remaining.
“I knew that Spec E46 was in first place,” Michaels said. “I had to either stay right on his bumper or follow him as close as I could. He was my ticket. I had to stay on his bumper and I did the best I could coming into 1, got right on his bumper and held it all the way through.
“I was doing this little jab in the Bus Stop and I said ‘When this white flag comes out, that’s the end of the jab with the brake. You’ve got to send it’ because this car was not doing it, but it all worked out.”
Familiar with racing against fellow Mid-Atlantic H2 competitor Michaels, Holden Metzner finished second in a podium that was dominated by Mid-Atlantic H2 drivers. Turns out Metzner was running just a tad bit quicker than Michaels.
“We had kind of joked about sweeping the podium before the event and to come out and do it is really great for our region,” Metzner said. “I wish we had one more lap. I made a mistake out there and could have used a little more time.”
Morgan Zeger was third to complete the Mid-Atlantic Region podium sweep.
“Right now I’m leading the championship in our home region,” Zeger said. “I was hoping to be able to come here and win here, and win the regional championship at home, but just to get all three Mid-Atlantic guys on the podium, I’m happy no matter what order it was. I’m just happy it was the three of us.”
Carlos Mendez wasn’t the fastest qualifier on Friday morning, but that didn’t seem to matter. Mendez won the qualifying races on Friday afternoon and Saturday, then put it all together to take the Spec E30 Championship at Daytona International Speedway.
“That last lap! We were mixed in with the 944s, and I knew I didn’t have to worry about the rest of the pack because there were some 944s behind the two of us. He (Scott McKay) got around me because of traffic, and I knew it was the last lap and I just kept pushing.
Scott McKay got around Mendez on the last lap and was in the lead as the field headed back out onto the high banks. By the time the two approached the very fast Bus Stop on the back straight, Mendez was close enough to attempt a pass under braking.
“We had another 944 in between and I was able to stick behind him, and in the Bus Stop I got around him in the braking zone,” Mendez said. “I just, you know, prayed. It was good fun.”
Three-time NASA National Champion Scott McKay, who started from second, was eyeing a fourth as he turned out onto the oval for the final time.
“I was following Carlos around, got a lead with a lap to go. Toyo Tires were sticky and good, and I just didn’t get it done in the end,” he said. “You get the Bus Stop done and then you got to get away from the draft and he did a great job finding a tow when I couldn’t find the tow, and we were coming, but couldn’t quite get there. Great time. Anyway, we appreciate all the folks at NASA, the people at Toyo tires, Panzer Performance for keeping it all running for us.”
No stranger to the podium from the looks of his left quarter window, Eric Pennington rounded out the podium in third.
“It’s fun to come down here and play with these Florida guys. They know to stick together and they know what to do on these ovals,” he said. “So, it took a few days of learning and as I kept staying close enough, but not close enough to make the moves, you know, they get separated once they’re together and took a little help from our friend, Brian here in fourth place to push me past Corey and get me on the podium. So I appreciate what my buddy Brian Edmonds was doing.
“I get around as much as I can,” he said. “You know, I did Lime Rock this year. I try to knock one off the list I haven’t been to each year. So I came back for this, though. Daytona is a fun place. There’s nothing like bump-drafting on these ovals.”
Turner Hilliard had dominated the first two days of Spec E46, so on Sunday he went out and did one better – he captured the Group C overall victory on his way to winning the Spec E46 Championship.
“I think we came in pretty confident,” Hilliard said. “My dad called for the tire swap this morning, so we found some brand new tires. That made a really big difference, the car really hooked up. I think we also got the track record. The car was amazing. Morehead Speed Works did a great job, all the guys at the shop. We’re just really happy with everything and how this weekend turned out.”
After turning in such an outstanding performance, some may wonder if Hilliard has any plans to move to another class, but he’s perfectly fine where he is right now.
“In the past, I’ve looked to move elsewhere,” Hilliard said. “I made the jump from Miatas to Spec E30 to this. But I really love this car and I think it would be a tough decision to move elsewhere, so I think I’m going to stick with it.”
Christopher DeShong, in a car he built with his father at home, placed second.
“Our car is a true home-built Spec E46 car built in our shop together in Tampa with my father and I about four years ago,” DeShong said afterward. “And unfortunately he passed on a month and a half ago, and I decided to go in and race in his honor. But due to circumstances, I’m blessed to have second place. And especially that restart, I love being able to fly by the Honda challenge cars on that restart. You know, if I got new tires, I may have been able to sit with them in the draft. But other than that, I had my doubts, you know, just some slight differences here and there between all of our cars. Like I said, I’m a pure budget builder as it is. So what can we do? I’m still happy with the results.”
NASA Great Lakes driver, Cagri Yilmaz, who finished third in ST5 at the 2019 NASA Championships at Mid-Ohio in 2019, brought a brand new car he had just finished. But the car had some problems.
Due to low compression in cylinder No. 6, they had to replace the engine before they left home. When they got to Daytona, they had ABS issues, clutch trouble and the expansion tank blew, and then the oil pump failed. Undeterred, Yilmaz found a shop in Daytona to lend a hand.
“We couldn’t find an oil pump, so I sent someone to Tampa, and I called a shop over here. They are such great people. They helped me out,” he said. “They opened up the shop last night. Up until nighttime, they were fixing my car. They fixed my car. I started all the way in the back. I finished third. I couldn’t be happier. Thank you guys so much. First time ever I’m driving this car. It was so much fun.”
The sportsmanship in the Legends class is, well, legendary. After borrowing a car from a fellow competitor on Saturday and then winning with that car over the guy who loaned it to him, Bobby Pugh went on to take the Championships race on Sunday.
Bobby Christensen, who won Friday’s Q1 race, was leading when Pugh got around him. Now Christensen had the draft and when the two went barreling into Turn 1, Christensen was leading, but came in a bit hot and found himself in the tire wall. That gave Pugh the boost he needed to go on to take the win.
“He got a boost of speed and started chasing me down, and when he passed me, we had a big burst of speed going with the draft. And he stayed a little bit wide to let me have room on the inside, and when he did, it’s slippery out there, and he made a mistake, went into the tires,” Pugh said. “That let me get about 10 or 15 seconds in front of him, and then it was pretty tough for him. So I hit cruise control from there.”
Once Christensen got going again, he found himself in Thunder Roadster traffic, and if you know anything about Thunder Roadsters, you know their traffic patterns are tight and dense. With that much traffic between him and Pugh, Christensen settled in for second place.
“And until I did that, we were running really good times,” Christensen said. “We were cooking at a good time. It’s a little greasy in five and six. But, you know, that’s what we expect. It’s hot and high humidity, and we’re used to that where we run in Texas and Oklahoma.”
Bryan Poage, who finished third, was happy to finish at all. His car had been breaking driveshafts and axles all weekend and the Championships race was the first race he finished all weekend.
“So they outraced me at the start and I couldn’t run them down, but I had a really good race for several Thunder Roadsters,” Poage said. “I set up somewhat for rain thinking that big cloud was going to drop some dewdrops. So I missed my setup a little bit. It was a little slick anyway, made her start to finish. So anyway, we finally got it in one piece and we made it through another race.”
Mark Abouzeid looks forward to battles on the racetrack. But his biggest battle may have been just getting himself back on the track, which made his victory in NP01 especially meaningful.
“I tried to keep the tears out of my eyes. It was beautiful,” Abouzeid said. “When I saw that checkered, I was like ‘yes.’ It’s a long way from getting knocked off a ladder a year ago and spending 70 days in the hospital with seven broken ribs, a punctured kidney and traumatic brain injury.”
For most of the race it looked as though drivers were going to be fighting for second place, but a late spin by Tony Brakohiapa opened the door for others and Abouzeid was there to take advantage.
“Tony spun with about three laps to go and that left me in the lead,” he said. “I passed 227 (Robert Mesmer) a few laps prior to that. He and I went back and forth a couple of times and had a blast. Very clean racing and we had fun together.”
Competing in his first NP01 Championship event, Robert Mesmer placed second, and once Brakohiapa spun out of contention, he enjoyed the battle for the top spot.
“We were battling back and forth and I lost my camera inside the car, so I couldn’t see behind me,” Mesmer said. “So after I took the second place from him, he ended up getting in on me, coming up behind me. He passed me in 3 and I had no idea until he was by me. I thought I was going to make a run on him. We were gaining time, gaining time and caught in traffic.”
On the last lap coming into the Bus Stop, Abouzeid put a car between himself and Mesmer and headed for checkers.
“I feel bad for Tony because he was way ahead all day and to make a mistake, and I don’t know what happened yet, but to have that go on and then for him to get knocked down to third, it’s just a shame,” Mesmer said. “My heart breaks for him, but I’ll take second.”
Brakohiapa, whose performance had been largely error-free all weekend, spun and wound up finishing in third.
“Classic mistake, you know. I realized I didn’t need to push so hard, that I had a huge gap and it’s almost one of the classic things, you know, you don’t back off too much cause you lose focus,” he said afterward. “These cars, they’re hard to restart because I had quite a bit of a gap. So if I had started it right up, I would’ve been OK, but it just took two, three seconds too long. I’ve been in a good rhythm all weekend, you know, and there’s honestly zero excuse. I totally made a mistake and it’s just what it is. And I’m going to just kind of roll with it and move on.”
Super Touring 4
Scott Adams found himself involved in some good battles in the ST4 Championship race. But when they ran into problems, he was able to capitalize on them and go on to take the checkered flag.
“The car was great. It was dependable, thank goodness,” Adams said. “I think the other two guys I was pushing hard with both had car problems. I definitely didn’t have anything for them. I was just trying to keep pressure on as much as I could and do what I could on the infield and watch them sail away by me on the big banking.”
Adams stayed within striking distance and was quick to take advantage of opportunities when they presented themselves.
He said the victory was a total team effort, with a bit of help from some friends.
“We worked super hard to make sure that we were here,” Adams said. “I had a whole bunch of friends to make sure we were here. I definitely couldn’t have done it without my buddies around. I have to thank Jeremy Croiset and Marie, my wife, for setting this thing up. We’re glad we made the trip.”
After ST4 driver Paul Costas was DQ’d after the race, Elijah Thompson placed second and Patrick Kroll third.
“I mean, this is a track you see on TV, you read about what it’s actually like,” Thompson said. “It’s definitely a fast, fast track, you know, making it all the way down the oval.”
Super Touring 5
After winning the Spec E30 Championship, Carlos Mendez added a second victory to his weekend by taking the ST5 win. The key to his win was keeping Nicholas Barbato behind him. Barbato took the win in the Q2 race on Saturday, so he had what it takes to win.
“I knew that he could run some quick laps, and I knew I had to be consistent and run my laps. He was faster in the infield, so he was always catching me on the infield, but on the banking I was a little quicker, so I could pull away. But he would come in on the braking zone and get right behind me, and he was running super consistently because he was right there the whole time putting pressure on me. I knew if I made any mistake, he was going to be there and I didn’t want him to be there. I stayed focused and brought home the win.”
Like so many other drivers in this race group, Nicholas Barbato, got a little crossed up when the race resumed after a full-course caution.
“I looked down for half a second and then, Carlos and Charles started going by me and I said, oh, it’s green,” Barbato said. “It was pretty much over from there. I ran down Carlos a couple times. I was right on his butt under braking, but it was like, every time we got into traffic, I just got the dirty end of the stick.
“And man, he was just so darn fast on the straights,” he added. “I mean, it was like a good 15, maybe even 20 car lengths out of the Bus Stop. If he got a good run and I could make most of that back on the infield, but I just think it was pretty much over at that point.”
Cagri Yilmaz, who had finally worked out all the problems on his freshly-built Spec E46 and finished third in that class, double-dipped and finished third again in ST5.
Super Touring 6
It seems every year, the two top 944 Spec drivers who cross over to race in ST6 bring their dominance with them. Charlie Buzzetti and Marcelo Vine had raced previously on Sunday in 944 Spec, with Vine coming out on top.
That was all his car had in it because his gearbox gave out during the race and Buzzetti raced toward a championship in ST6.
“Marcelo led a few laps. I led a few laps. We were going at it, doing battle, great racing going on,” Buzzetti said. “I made a minor sway bar adjustment to my car to take some of the push away and that was really key to being able to run at the front.”
Xavier Calderon double-dipped from his usual home in Spec Miata and brought home second place in ST6.
“This is probably one of the reasons why I love multi-class racing with NASA,” he said. “You know, I was racing in SM earlier, and then I got the opportunity to race in ST6 and share the battlefield with these gentlemen. And it was awesome racing, clean racing, and I’m just honored to be here.”
Third-place finisher Dan Miller changed his final drive ratio after Saturday’s racing to give him an advantage, and it paid off.
“We had a good start and then started to fall back a little bit, but we changed gears yesterday, made a big difference,” Miller said. “So I was able to stay ahead of it. So, looking at my first podium at the nationals, and I’m excited to be here.”
Thunder Roadster GTR
It’s hard to imagine a NASA racing class more closely matched than Thunder Roadster GTR. In Sunday’s Championship race we lost count of how many times the leaders changed positions by midrace. Without a hint of exaggeration, there were 20-plus lead changes all race long.
“It was a fantastic race. It was, it was nose to tail, the whole thing. You get a little gap, they catch you back,” said James Wheeler. “Absolutely awesome. What a series, man. If nobody is set on a Thunder Roadster by now, they haven’t got any blood in their veins because this stuff is fantastic.”
When the dust settled — oh, and there was dust — Alex Wolenski crossed the finish line first in Thunder Roadster GTR. However, he was later disqualified for noncompliant rear rotors, which moved James Wheeler into first for his second consecutive Thunder Roadster GTR Championship.
That moved Ryan Raduechel to second. He said the race all came down to who could make the most of the draft.
“This is Daytona. It’s whoever can draft, and this is not a driver’s track,” he said. “So I came from last to first, the first I led, dropped back to second and third. And unfortunately with no help, I, I didn’t really have a chance, but I made do with what I could.”
John Spain finished third. If his name rings a bell, it should. Spain won the TRGTR Championship at Sebring in 2017 and came in second at Circuit of The Americas in 2018. Spain found a few openings and turned them into a podium finish.
“I just got a break in traffic and it sort of worked that way. In this series, when you see an opening, every one of these drivers is on it all the time. And when there’s a hole, you gotta take it,” he said. “The number of position changes we had in the top six cars today is mind boggling for a 45 minute race. And, hey, we’re all here. We all finished.”
Coby Shield was able to fight off some talented competition and went on to post a 6-second victory in the American Iron class to take the weather-shortened victory.
“It would have been fun to have a few more laps to battle with those guys,” Shield said. “Jeff (Lindstrom) and Patrick (Wehmeyer) were phenomenal today and they made me drive my butt off and props to them. This is a very fast region, a great group of guys. They’re incredible drivers.”
Shield said racing against such a solid field definitely made the race more enjoyable and he’s definitely looking forward to the opportunity to do so again.
“This is probably the most fun I’ve ever had in a car,” Shield said. “I hope we all get to race again under different circumstances. It was great.”
Shield said the abrupt end to the race came as a surprise to him, as he was unaware of the weather.
“Honestly, I was so focused in the car that all I saw was the cloud cover, I didn’t even see the lightning, nor did I know about the lightning,” he said. “They just went full-course yellow, and I didn’t even know why and the guys on the radio told me there were lightning strikes. I honestly had no clue what was happening.”
Shield said his friends and family were a big help, along with the guys at Carroll Shelby Racing, High Performance, Cortex Racing and Toyo Tires.
“I can’t thank those guys enough,” he said.
Lindstrom, who won both qualifying races, placed second in the Championships race.
“The weather looked a little crummy, but we had a nice clean battle up by us. The three of us, we checked out,” Lindstrom said. “I saw the lightning. About two or three laps prior to the caution, I could see lightning over NASCAR Turn 1 out to the west. I knew it was probably coming. I was just hoping it was before I got passed for the lead. It was a lot of fun. The track was fast. Two out of three races. I’ll take that.”
Wehmeyer survived the mayhem at the start and moved up from third to second. Then he missed a shift and lost the position again, ultimately taking third.
“We had a good top three breakaway. It was sad to see the double yellow come out for the Spec Iron crash because it bunched the field back up, couple of competitors passed under yellow, which is gonna make it complicated for the race director,” Wehmeyer said. “But, other than that, when the green came back out we had a couple of good laps, so nose to tail, hard running and drafting. The cars performed well, everybody drove clean, at least in my area and my group at the front. And it was a fantastic, but kind of sad to see it end for lightning. Overall, awesome. NASA always puts on a great show. Daytona is super fast, super smooth. We run at Sebring all the time, and it’s completely the opposite to that. And they’re both uniquely awesome. It’s fantastic to run, you know, 165, 167 mph in a ragged-out old Fox body Mustang down the front straight. So you’ve got to love it.”
American Iron Extreme
The final race of the day ended a bit early due to lightning in the area and when the checkered flag dropped it was Robert Shaw who was in front of the field.
Shaw said he didn’t remember a whole lot about his move into the lead, only that he was going fast.
“Billy (Griffin) saw me coming, he went for a block, middle track, and I honestly don’t remember if I went up or down,” he said. “I just know I looked down and saw about 176 mph and just kept going.”
Shaw crossed the finish line first, but was later disqualified for a pass under yellow. Billy Griffin was awarded the win, with Dean Martin in second and, after the post-race reshuffle, Team Rattlesnake Electric Sport in third.
“You know, I think for our class, I was where we were going to be, you know, a little outgunned with probably about 150 horsepower too little,” Martin said. “But it was a good race. I mean, it was fun. I wish it could’ve gone a little bit longer and had a little more fun, but yeah, it was a decent result. It’s awesome. I love this place. I’ve raced here quite a bit, and it’s still one of my favorite tracks.”
Consistency is key in racing, and Spec Iron driver Cale Phillips modeled that philosophy all weekend long.
“I was just kind of trying to survive the first two qualifying races. I was pretty consistent. I finished third in both of them, and I was able to get on pole for today,” he said. “The start was key.”
Phillips got out in front of Matthew Shaw and Cash Canada and built a gap he was happy with, but then an early caution bunched up the field again for the restart in a race shortened by lightning in the area.
“I had a nice little gap, but then on the restart I was able to get through some of the AI cars and build up another gap, and I tried to stay consistent, running good laps after that,” Phillips said. “I didn’t really have too much pressure.”
Shaw finished second after spending as much time under his car as he did in it.
“It’s been a tough weekend, man. I qualified P2 in qualifying race one, my transmission blew up running P2,” he said. “Instead of racing that second qualifying race, I had to rebuild a transmission on the ground. You know, I still had a chance and I made it happen. I got the housing out of Georgia flown here. I worked all night and got it working two hours before this race, started dead last and hauled ass.
“There was a lot of carnage in front. Someone out there was watching out for me, wanted me to start further back so that I couldn’t be in that carnage,” he added. “It’s been a tough week, man. I lost one of my mentors, my boss, in a helicopter accident. We’re all pilots. So I just want to dedicate this race to him. I also want to thank all the men and women that have served us. I’ve got a lot of friends in the military coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq and just want to thank y’all as well.”
No stranger to the Spec Iron podium, Canada finished third.
“We were fortunate enough to stay out of the melee and got a good start,” he said. “And on the restart, Matt came on strong and got around me. He had a good car and got a good drive, and he was driving with his eyes up and it worked out well for him. And I’m just glad we came away unscathed. There was a lot of carnage out there in Spec Iron and I’m just glad we got a car to put on the trailer.”
Proving that good fortune lies at the intersection of opportunity and preparedness, Joshua Sooknanan won everything in Camaro-Mustang Challenge, topping the time sheets in qualifying and winning the qualifying races on Friday and Saturday.
“It’s unreal. We prepared so much for this. The team crushed it,” Sooknanan said. “We used some new pit techniques, taking notes and really keeping up with the car setup.”
In the race, an early yellow bunched up the field and the restart caught a bunch of drivers unaware, and Sooknanan overtook a lot of cars in short order with Russ Carter and Hunter Lydic in pursuit. Sooknanan held them off in a race shortened due to lightning in the area.
“We passed probably 30 cars. It was wild,” he said. “Other than that, I knew I had to keep it clean, don’t drop wheels, keep it on track and watch out for incidents.”
When the checkers flew, the finishing order was Russ Carter in second and Hunter Lydic in third. However, Carter was DQ’d for a pass under yellow, which moved Lydic to second and NASA Great Lakes’ Bob Denton to third.
“Well, I got the lead out of Turn 1. There was a yellow, but I was slightly ahead, so I was able to take that and then held the lead for about half lap until the yellows came out,” Lydic said. “And then as soon as the yellows dropped, we all got a huge run on all the sleepers. The whole group D field was sleeping. So, CMC passed like 40 cars. So then we were mixed up with all the Spec Iron and AI guys. And then after that, Josh got me in the draft and the straight, and then race ended a little early, but pretty happy with my first national podium. I’m super excited. It was a fun weekend.”