The champagne was flying Sunday at the NASA Championships Presented by Toyo Tires as the drivers celebrated hard-fought victories and the satisfaction that only a national title can bring.
Bear in mind, these are just the first-place finishers. Speed News will publish comprehensive race coverage on all classes for all podium finishers in this week’s newsletter!
A total of 338 drivers were chasing championships in 24 classes at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. After two days of qualifying, drivers finally had the opportunity to race all-out for the championship. For many of the drivers, the championships are a culmination of a season of hard work.
Whether a driver finished at the front of the pack or near the rear, they are among an elite group of racers. These are their stories from the NASA Championships Presented by Toyo Tires.
NASA Mid South’s Jim Drago has been chasing a NASA Championship for a long time. Not to give away the ending, but he finally got one. Well, that does kind of give it away, doesn’t it?
Drago started from second behind Jared Thomas, with Great Lakes racer Jonathan Davis in third, David Dirks in fourth and Kyle Webb in fifth.
When the green flag dropped, Drago didn’t waste any time and got around Thomas on lap two, a position he would hold until a double yellow bunched up the field. When the race restarted, Drago powered on for the win and his first NASA Spec Miata Championship.
“It was a really good race. I’ve won everything in the other division that I could, and I’ve been trying to win this NASA Championships for eight or nine years so this is the last box I really wanted to check and I’m glad I was able to do that,” Drago said. “It was a really good race with Jared. I knew he would be fast. I had to get around him pretty quickly. At the start we touched and it knocked my toe off so I was tight through all the infield sections the whole time where he could get to me.”
Thomas finished second with Kyle Webb in third.
“I think I could have checked out but the car was really good other than that. I want to thank Mazda and Toyo and all my guys Mike and Dean for the work on the car,” Drago said.
German Touring Series 1
While you were probably relaxing with a cocktail Saturday night, GTS1 driver Michael Dearstyne was on his back changing the transmission in his Porsche 944. In Saturday’s qualifying race, Dearstyne’s transmission failed and if he was going to be able to start the Championships race, he was going to have to swap transmissions.
That meant he had to start from last, and claw his way forward through the field, then deal with traffic and keep everything together for the full 45-minute race.
“There was a lot of fast cars a lot of traffic. These guys here gave me a hell of a fight for quite a while,” Dearstyne said. “Even though I got my transmission fixed, my clutch was still ailing. So I was out there, trying to nurse the clutch and trying to keep this guy off my butt. It was a fun race.”
Dearstyne finished first to take the Championship, followed by Christopher Simmons in second and Shane Denney in third.
“I think the length of the race did play to my advantage because eventually I did get some space, and then it was just a waiting game,” Dearstyne said. “Watch my mirrors and keep playing.”
German Touring Series 2
All racers have a game plan going into the championship race and it’s usually out the window by Turn 1. That wasn’t the case for Zach Hillmann who had a plan and rode it to the championship.
“We had a good plan going into the race today,” he said. “We were going to save the car the best we could. We had a pace that we wanted to run, went out and did a couple of flyer laps, built a gap, ran our pace the whole race and managed from there.”
Hillmann knew he had a fast car after clinching pole in Saturday’s qualifying race. Hillmann was able to build a 12.6-second lead over second-place finisher Michael Sousa and 13.2 seconds over Scott Blair, who finished third.
“Our lap times were really close to the target we wanted to hit and I had Dad managing the race from the radio the whole time and he was telling me what to do whether to slow down or go a little faster,” Hillmann said.
German Touring Series 3
Tyler Clarke had never raced at Mid-Ohio Sport Car Course before and was a quick study, getting acquainted with the track to win his first championship. Coming from Seattle, Clarke had only seen the track in videos.
“Gerald Lowe with Lowe Group Racing really does a great job putting our cars together and getting them tuned well for the track,” Clarke said. “Having his racing knowledge in general has been a huge benefit to us and has really helped me to basically learn a track quickly.”
Clarke earned pole for the championship and pushed hard by second-place finisher Eric Magnussen. Only 1.668 seconds separated the two German Touring Series 3 cars. Rob Williams took third place.
“We came from Seattle this year and it’s been a fun adventure coming out to Ohio and seeing the new track and racing on a historical track has been a lot of fun,” Clarke said.
German Touring Series 4
Standing atop the podium is a familiar spot for Michael McAleenan who won his third championship on Sunday. He won last year at the Circuit of the Americas and in 2013 at Utah Motorsports Campus.
“We know what we’ve got to do, but this track was a little bit different in that there are a lot of locals here that had local knowledge, so it took us a while to kind of get up to speed being our first time here,” McAleenan said. “We knew all we had to do was get to the championship and be there at the end and it all played out.”
McAleenan had the pole coming into the championship and made the most of it. Second-place finisher Robert Thorne, who had the fastest lap of 1:29.343, had an incident late in the race and couldn’t catch McAleenan.
“(Robert) who was chasing me knows this track and he knew where to pass so it took me a while but at the end I knew I could turn just as fast of lap times as him and keep him behind me, so that was the game plan,” McAleenan said.
Ryan Upham finished second, ahead of Vytis Aranauskas in third.
Honda Challenge 1
Jose Suero’s Honda S2000 developed a severe vibration about four laps before the finish and Suero wondered if his dream of a championship would vanish. A crash elsewhere on the course allowed Suero to finish under a yellow flag and secure his first championship.
“It was a dream for us,” Suero said. “Since we started with NASA Northeast racing in autocross to come here and (get) a championship is awesome. It’s what you think about when you come racing.”
Suero said the rear end started to have issues in the middle of the 25-lap race but he was to keep some distance from Kevin Helms, who finished second. The rumble grew more severe as the race continued and eventually Suero had to back off the gas and that allowed Helms to draw closer but Suero won with about 2 seconds separating the cars.
“We expect to be out front and we did,” Suero said. “It was insane.”
Kevin Helms finished second, with Matthew Briddell in third.
Honda Challenge 2
Nicolas Hammann knew that if he didn’t come home with a victory in Honda Challenge 2 he’d hear about it Monday morning from his coworkers at the Honda plant in Marysville, Ohio.
“I’ve got all these guys that I’ve got to work with, managers and stuff, and I’m the kid, so I’ve got to at least represent,” Hammann said with a laugh.
Hammann can walk into work holding the trophy above his head as he put on a clinic from qualifying to the final. The young driver was quick to credit his team THR. The fastest lap Hammann turned all weekend came on lap 13 when he ran 1:38.690, besting second-place finisher Jeremy Lucas by 0.40 seconds. Robert Paszkiewicz was third.
“It’s a true testament to what Honda products makes every day and they are amazing to drive on the race track,” Hammann said.
Jeremy Lucas finished second, with 2018 H2 Champion Robert Paszkiewicz in third.
Honda Challenge 4
After winning four championships in a row, Robert Krider is considering retiring from the Honda Challenge 4 class.
“I think I might retire from Honda Challenge. I’m going to give my buddy Keith (Kramer), who got second today, he might be the next one in line, we’ll see, I haven’t decided yet,” Krider said. “My wife wants me to, but I might finish on top, you never know.”
The veteran driver earned pole heading into Sunday’s championship race and took advantage. Krider started in the lead and never relinquished it despite Kramer pressing him hard on the track.
“We actually ran into a bunch of stuff this weekend but you never would have known it because we had all the spares we needed,” Krider said. “We went through the car, nut and bolted everything, every session and just made sure everything was perfect so on the last race when it really matters we could make it happen and we did.”
Kramer took second and Dillon Brennan was third.
There were only three NP01s in this year’s NASA Championships Presented by Toyo Tires, so a podium finish was guaranteed. But Sam Mangiamelli wasn’t going to be satisfied with anything less than a win. Mangiamelli had been dominant all weekend, but he fell back to second early in the race when he nearly spun in some fluids on the track.
He was able to put his head down and get back in front of Barry Brooks and march toward the win and his first NASA Championship.
“I was hoping the clock wouldn’t run down too much and that everyone would kind of stay close together,” Mangiamelli said. “So, I was kind of watching as we were coming through the final few turns looking for the green to come back out, and as soon as I saw it waving over there, I was getting past some of the lappers that Barry put in between me and him under a full course yellow.
Brooks finished second and William Moore finished third.
“You never know,” he said. “I just had to keep my head down, keep focused and go for it.”
Marcelo Vine has had an arduous climb to a 944 Spec championship. He got edged out in 2017. In 2018, he won the race, but failed a tech inspection after the race. This year, he was determined, but things started looking like same-old, same-old when he was DQ’d for a dyno infraction after Saturday’s qualifying race.
That put him at the back of the pack for the start, so he began another arduous climb through the field to try to get past the quick Michael Cooper and Derrek Morehead. The climb finally got him to the top and post-race tech inspections kept him there. Vine finally had a 944 Spec championship.
“We detuned the car and we went way below where we were supposed to be,” Vine said. “So then we blew the engine anyways, so we had to rebuild the engine, that’s why we didn’t make it yesterday for qualifying races so we had to start in the back.”
Cooper finished second and Morehead finished third.
“These guys are an awesome group here at Mid-Ohio and I want to thanks to 7’s Only that brought me here,” Vine said. “If it wasn’t for them, I wasn’t going to come.”
Daniel Goldburg enjoyed something of a dream weekend in which everything fell together. He scored the top time in qualifying Friday, and won Saturday’s qualifying race. Everything seemed to be firing off right.
He’s had some experience putting together a championships effort. He raced at Mid-Ohio in 2008 and then raced at the Eastern States Championships at Sebring in 2017, where he took second. Last year at COTA, he finished seventh. This year, he takes his first win as a national champion.
“I had a good start, not as awesome as yesterday and No. 2 came through the first corner next to me but I edged him out into the Keyhole and came through there in a better run,” Goldburg said. “He then had people around him after that, I had a couple car lengths, head down and after a few laps I had a pretty good gap and I just managed it from there.”
Olivier Bellanger finished second, with Robert Grace hanging on for a nail-biter in third.
“I prepared coming to this event,” he said. “I did video, iRacing, the team and I have been working together a lot really to prep for this. This year was about coming here to win this.”
Michael Kanisczak had been a man on fire all weekend in Spec E46. He won qualifying on Friday and the qualifying race on Saturday. That sealed pole position for the championship race on Sunday. Kanisczak used pole position to establish and keep a lead he would hold till the end, netting him his second national championship. He earned his first one at Watkins Glen in 2016.
“I knew it was going to be tough,” Kanisczak said. “My goal was to set the best qualifying time, win the qualifying race, and I knew I had a huge target on my back for the final race. I had serious guys right behind me, so my goal was to build the biggest gap I could before I hit the Spec E30 traffic.”
The strategy worked because he added a Spec E46 championship to his trophy collection. 2017 Spec E46 champion Broderick Bauguess finished second with Team Razors Edge MV in third.
“I like this one better. More cars, it’s a more consistent rulebook so I just think the competition is a lot closer,” he said. “That’s what I’m here for.”
A.J. Hartman had been on top in American Iron all weekend. He scored the top time in qualifying Friday and won the qualifying race. Meanwhile, lurking just behind all weekend was 2018 American Iron champion Michael LaPaglia.
LaPaglia jumped into the lead shortly after the green flag and held it for a while fighting off a hard-charging Hartman, who eventually did get around him, but it was fleeting. LaPaglia held on to take the checkered flag first, but Hartman ended up with the Championship after LaPaglia was DQ’d in the days following the event.
The DQ moved Jeff Wood up to second and Bruce Byerly up to third.
“He got me on the start and I was able to hang with him, but couldn’t quite make a pass stick,” Hartman said immediately after the race. “It was fun for sure.”
American Iron Extreme
Robert Shaw may have won the American Iron Extreme by 43 seconds but he considers himself lucky to be hoisting the first-place trophy.
“I’m feeling very lucky today, to be honest, because, again, American Iron Extreme cars are all about whose car stays together and today we got lucky,” Shaw said.
Shaw needed a little luck to go his way as his car was only to complete four laps during Saturday’s qualifying race. He looked unbeatable on Friday’s qualifying session, setting the fastest lap of 1:32.429. Billy Griffin took second and Elliott Fisher was third.
Racing in the last group of the day, Kent Owens didn’t have time to worry about his race. Owens, race director for the Great Lakes Region, was too busy helping run the overall NASA Championships Presented by Toyo Tires.
“It was good thing I was busy today, so I didn’t have time to worry about my race,” Owens said. “My mind was elsewhere for most of the day.”
CMC featured some of the tightest racing of the weekend with the top five drivers finishing within 2.2 seconds of each other. Owens was first, followed by Derek Wright in second place and John Kelchen rounded out the podium.
After a rough showing in Saturday’s qualifying, Robin Burnett had to start at the back of his group because his car’s engine blew up and he borrowed someone else’s. It didn’t matter as he climbed eight spots to bring home a NASA Championship presented by Toyo Tires.
Burnett fended off Jay North in the Ford Mustang, which finished just 1.616 seconds behind him. Bringing home third place was Christopher Williams in the nine-car field.
Burnett started out fast, recording his fastest lap on the third lap with a scorching 1:40.477-second trip around the road course. Despite mixing it up with slower traffic, Burnett had enough left to cross the finish line ahead of North.
James Wheeler wasn’t planning to compete at the championships until he received some encouragement from his wife. Good thing Wheeler listened because he now has some new hardware for the house.
“My wife made me race, she encouraged me, so this is for her,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler won a thrilling Thunder Roadster race where the top four drivers finished within 4.8 seconds of each other. Jason Oehler, who finished second, pushed Wheeler hard but he was able to overcome a late mistake.
“I started to build a bit of a gap and then we had the safety car that brought us all back together and I’m like, ‘No I worked so hard for that,’ and as we started going again it took ages for the heat to get into the tires,” Wheeler said. “On the last lap I almost lost it. I had almost a full turn of opposite lock on braking trying to turn right and I was just screaming at myself inside the helmet but I managed to stay together.”
Gary Tinker of New Port Richey, Florida finished third.
Super Touring 1
Terry Mathis already had one championship in NASA. Now he has two. He had his hands full all weekend with Mark Burt and Dmitri Goliakov, who jumped out to the early lead. After placing at the top all weekend, Mark Burt didn’t start the race due to mechanical issues.
Goliakov took the early lead, and despite clutch troubles he managed to set his fastest lap during the race. Mathis managed to get in front of Goliakov, hold the lead through a double-yellow and a restart and go on for the big win in ST1.
“It was going to be a tough road. I’m bad about not running the first corner hard and Demtri just drove by me and went on, and of course I just tried to stay with him all I could,” Mathis said. “On the race course, the tires finally come in, we set the car up a little bit too loose, but they were great. About halfway through, the car was great, so that’s when it was working.”
Goliakov finished second and David Greenman finished third.
“I just feel blessed to be my age, I just turned 66 and being able to run with them, it means a lot to have the ability to do this,” he said.
Super Touring 2
NASA Texas ST2 driver Paul Costas has been to two NASA Championships. His first year was last year, when he won TT3 and this year he can add an ST2 Championship trophy to his mantle.
Costas finished first ahead of Team 5.2 Motorsports driver Anthony Magnagnoli in second, and Michael McAleenan in third.
“Our approach was to go a good push throughout the first half,” Costas said. “The two cars that were in front of us that we were kind of concerned about, obviously the NSX and the Mustang, both are heavier cars and narrower tires, so our plan was to push pretty good the first half and then literally as soon as we hit the second half, my crew is going to radio me and say go and then I would turn it loose and push, push, push and either pound them into a mistake or have them burn their tires off or hopefully, if I’m in front, get away from them. It came together. Sometimes the sun shines on you.”
Super Touring 3
Ross Thompson was trailing Luke Rumburg at the finish of the race, but Rumburg was bumped down one spot due to a procedural violation. That reshuffled the order a bit, putting Thompson in first, Rumburg in second and Eric Magnussen in third. Thompson is the new ST3 National Champion.
“You know something, it was an awesome, awesome weekend,” Thompson said. “I can’t say enough for Desert Flight Racing. It was a lot traffic, a lot of carnage. I had a spin at the beginning of the race, back to fifth, back up to second and then gave it back to Luke. Congratulations to Luke, he ran an awesome race.”
Super Touring 4
To be perfectly honest, Matthew Wasilewski looked like the man to beat in ST4 all weekend. He was the fastest of the field. Some suspension damage during the qualifying race knocked him out, then an overheating issue crept in during the Championships race and knocked him out again.
That put Andre Eisenbach firmly in command of ST4, and he maintained a solid lead over Jeffrey Birdwell. In the end, Eisenbach took the top step on the podium.
“Man, what a roller coaster ride,” Eisenbach said. “We had a well sorted car, but best laid plans, we had ABS issues, we had lots of other issues but Team Edge Motorworks from Fremont they did a hell of a job getting the car always back on track even when I went off in Turn 2. It’s absolutely amazing. Thank you to the Edge family.
Birdwell finished second and Team Performance Eurowerks finished third.
Super Touring 5
The front four cars in Super Touring 5 were all within sight of one another and battling back and forth all race long. It was as tight as racing gets. Eric Waddell managed to keep Thai Diep and Cagri Yilmaz behind him for the whole race.
“Man that was hard work. That was hard work,” Waddell said. “They did not give me one second to rest. Never did I get a nice lead.”
For most of the race, Yilmaz and Diep hounded Waddell, who won a championship in 2012 at Mid-Ohio. There was a bit of argy-bargy and Yilmaz dropped back a few spots, leaving Diep in second. Yilmaz ended up finishing third.
“This one was a lot harder,” Waddell said. “We put together a brand-new car and it’s been trials and tribulations trying to get it to be where we want it to be and it finally came together at this event.”
Super Touring 6
In the months leading up to the 2019 NASA Championships Presented by Toyo Tires, ST6 driver Nolan Feathers didn’t think he was going to make it. He just couldn’t afford it.
That’s when his friends, specifically Rick Young, initiated a GoFundMe campaign to get Feathers the money he needed to register for the Championships. Young started it one morning at 9 a.m., and by noon enough money was collected so Feathers could race at the NASA Championships. There was even money left over, so they threw a party Saturday night at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
When the race began, Feathers was trying to keep up with Luke Wilwert. His shifter kept popping out of gear, so he steered with one hand and kept his other hand on the shifter to hold it in gear. Feathers nursed it through a double yellow in lap 14, then hung it out in a mad dash to the finish. In the end, it was all worth the trouble and the expense.
“Luke and I had a great battle, and I was kind of hanging with him for most of the race trying to conserve the car,” Feathers said. “His tires started to fall off a bit and then we had that full-course yellow and his tires cooled down, and then got back to normal.”
Wilwert finished second with Jason Walsh in third.
“It’s really neat to be a national champion, and I almost didn’t make it here at all,” Feathers said. “I was funded by all my friends and family and everybody that wanted me to be here, and I came here to do what they wanted me to do, and what I wanted to do, of course, but yeah, it’s a great feeling.”
During most NASA Championships, the Super Unlimited champion is normally awarded to a sleek sports racer. For 2019, Super Unlimited was dominated by Brian Faessler’s monster twin-turbo Mustang. This car rattles your eyeballs as it goes by, and it went by competitors Jacek Mucha’s Swift and John DeAngelis in an Elan DP02.
“I got the jump on the start and was just able to get the lead going into Turn 1, just kind of maintained,” Faessler said. “Thankfully I was able to stay out of the way of all that debris on the track and come out of madness. So thankfully I was able to just maintain.”
Mucha finished second and DeAngelis finished third.
“Just to be able to prove what the Paul’s Automotive Engineering Mustang can do against these small prototypes, that’s definitely not something easy to do,” he said.
Time Trial Champions
The champagne was flying and flowing in Time Trial competition, too. NASA also added six new names to the Championships record books at Mid-Ohio.
James Paul piloted his Elan RSR to the TTU championship with a blazing-fast lap time of 1:20.595, the fastest time of all cars at the 2019 NASA Championships Presented by Toyo Tires.
Johnny Miller put his C6 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 to good use in securing the TT1 championship with a 1:27.569-second lap time.
Denis Clavette drove his BMW E46 M3 to a TT3 championship with a 1:31.98-second lap time.
Driven by Andre Eisenbach, Team EDGE Motorworks ‘ntagen took the TT4 championship in a BMW E36 M3 with a lap time of 1:32.760.
Samed Rizvi took the TT5 championship by just .048 seconds ahead of the competition with a 1:36.474-second lap time.
Sonny Watanasirisuk took the TT6 championship with a 1:40.714-second lap time, some 2 seconds faster than his nearest competitor.