California Mark Drennan crossed the country hoping to add to his Spec Miata curriculum vitae with a win at the 2015 Western States Championships.
The start, as you might imagine, had all the hallmarks of a Spec Miata race, including contact, cars off track and early retirements. As the field barreled into Turn 1, a driver in the top 10 locked his brakes. Kyle Watkins tried to take the inside route away from the melee developing ahead of him, but his late-braking inside move caused him to drop wheels in the damp grass, lose control and spin into the path of Danny Steyn. Both drivers retired then and there.
There was even more contact between Drennan, two more cars in the front five, including 2012 Spec Miata Champion Yiannis Tsiounis, entering Turn 3. The contact bumped Tsiounis off track and into the tire barriers. Tsiounis was able to continue, but wound up finishing midpack.
“The start was crazy,” Drennan said. “I think we were three or four wide going into Turn 2 or 3. Things were bunched up. Somebody braked right in front of me. I got into the back of someone. It’s unfortunate there was a lot of contact throughout the race.”
The two incidents brought out a full-course caution. The race resumed one lap later only to have the double-yellows come out again.
When the race resumed again, the field settled down and got down to racing. Drennan, Blake Clements, Hernan Palermo, Jonathan Davis and Brian Henderson comprised the top five for much of the race, swapping positions and bump drafting with anyone who would cooperate.
On the white flag lap, Drennan had the lead going down the back straight, but Clements and Palermo just motored on by him in a draft. As the leaders approached turns 14 and 14a, Clements went wide and off track at the exit, leaving Palermo in the lead and Drennan in second. The two drivers charged side by side in a drag race toward the finish line. Palermo finished first by less than a couple of feet, with Drennan in second, Davis in third and Clements in fourth.
“I had a couple of dices and ultimately moved to the front,” Clements said. “I took the white flag, and I went to second then went to first coming down the back straight and I got into the top of the roller coaster — and I’m going to have to watch the video — but I’m pretty sure somebody knocked me off the track.”
Palermo was DQ’d for contact with deviation. That moved Clements up to third and Davis into second.
“I found myself in third and saw Clements come back on so I tried to stay wide so I didn’t get collected by him if he re-entered badly,” Davis said. “But I got a run on front two and they were banging wheels all the way down the front straight. I was just trying to stay in the draft and at the last second I popped out and tried to make a run down the inside, but I wasn’t quite close enough.”
Brian Henderson started from 36th and finished fifth, giving him the unofficial hard-charger award. That left Drennan on the top step with his second NASA Championship in 2015.
“The car is a little worse for wear, but I feel fine. I had fun,” Drennan said afterward. “That’s probably not the way you want to race, with so much contact, but that’s why they call it spec piñata.”