Race Recap: Rounds 7 & 8 of the NASA Florida Spec Miata Challenge presented by 5X Racing
Rounds 7 & 8 of the NASA Florida Spec Miata Challenge presented by 5X Racing were held at Sebring International Raceway on June 19th-20th 2010. The track might as well have been called “Searing” instead of Sebring as Florida’s famous summer season is getting into full swing and it was insanely hot! Ambient air temperatures were in the 90’s all weekend and most likely well over 100 degrees in the paddock with the blazing sun beating down on our helpless canopies and awnings. Some of the Spec Miata racers grabbed the open pit lane garage locations, which were much cooler than the grassy area and a benefit of racing with NASA as the SCCA does not allow the use of the garage areas. Some of the SM contingent was lucky to have their RV’s to save them from the heat, and the rest of us did not want to part from our trailers which are our mobile shops that contain all of the tools necessary to tune our Spec Miata’s. This was also going to be a fun weekend for many of the racing wives, as they were treated to rooms at the Chateau Elan which offered balcony views of the hairpin and the comfort of air conditioning while cheering on their husbands! This definitely made them happy, as they could drive back and forth to the hotel and paddock in between races and get out of the heat for a bit. As we all know, the extra money is worth it to keep these ladies happy, because a happy wife makes the race weekends go much smoother! The hotel was also the designated race headquarters; most everybody involved with the weekend was staying there and was also partying at the bar on Friday and Saturday night! Our most dedicated racers, such as Carey Atkinson, Eric Gebhardt, and Al Thomas were getting the most out of their race weekend by staying in their trailers and RV’s at the track overnight. These guys are the hardest of the hardcore racers, and know how to make the most out of their race season! Although they are hardcore, they did partake in the festivities by making an appearance at the hotel pool to hang out on Saturday night, but would not be swayed by an invitation for a drink as they wanted to make sure they did not lose focus for the racing on Sunday!
We had a lot of new faces join in the Spec Miata fun for our first visit to Sebring in the 2010 season; SCCA regulars: Al Thomas, Gary Frierson, and Charlie Lowrance gave NASA FL SMC a shot and NASA Thunder Group hot shots: Chris Burson, Denise Stubbs, and Bruce Byerly were all trying out their newly purchased Spec Miata’s. We were also proud to have Lucas Bize racing with us; our second graduate of the Mazda Teen Spec Miata Challenge program after Micheal Lliteras graduated at the last event. Lucas is also a graduate of the Skip Barber Racing School, a participant in the Skip Barber MX-5 Challenge, and of course the 14 year old brother of Dennis Bize, who is making headlines in SCCA National Racing this season after a stellar performance in the 2009 SCCA SARRC Championship. Lucas is definitely on the path to becoming a pro racer, as with Micheal Lliteras. These two young men are the future of our class and we will surely be seeing them on television one day, we should all be proud to have these guys training with us in our safe, courteous racing environment. As much as we love having these guys racing with us, we all know they are on their way to bigger races and we should all cheer them on as they advance in their careers. Well, onto the racing!
Round 7: Saturday June 19th 2010
The biggest topic of the weekend was not the heat; it was the Spec Miata Challenge having the Lightning group all to themselves! Since the Spec Miata Challenge racers outnumbered all other racers combined, the change was made by NASA Race Officials to let the Spec Miata racers have their own group and absorb the remaining Lightning group cars into the Thunder group, as there was only a couple of them it was a way to balance out the two race groups with even numbers. Although it was fun to have our own group, we hope in the future the other race classes draw more competitors as it will help keep the entry fees lower.
Keeping with the format of the 2010 NASA FL SMC season, we had our shakedown practice session on Saturday morning. This is always a nice benefit of racing with NASA FL, as jumping into your racecar after a month or so of not driving a Miata is a little stressful, especially if you have to set a qualifying time! Sebring is the home track to many of our racers, such as: Jim Blaisdell, Carey Atkinson, Al Thomas, Gary Frierson, and John Adamczyk. These racers have put in countless laps at Sebring and would all look strong in the practice session. Other racers were either getting used to the track again, or visiting it for their first time. Rick Adamczyk, Tim Allen, David Pazdur, Bruce Byerly, and Denise Stubbs were all getting back up to speed at the 18 turn 3.5 mile track. Over the course of their weekend these racers would improve their fastest laps by several seconds! Eric Gebhart was visiting Sebring for his first time, 18 turns and the rough surface are all hard things to get used to, but in typical fashion Eric was up to speed right away and would be at the front of the field for the race.
The timing computer gremlins attacked for our qualifying session and we had to be manually timed. After it was all sorted out, 5X Racing Team Driver Jim Blaisdell put his #65 car on pole! This was a first for Jim and he was very excited to have the opportunity to start from pole at his home track which is also his favorite. John Adamczyk would start on the front row with Jim, as the two worked together in qualifying to help the low horsepower Miata’s get down the long strait-a-ways! Unfortunately since there was not time sheet printed out, I am not sure of the rest of the starting order. It really didn’t matter, as the 7 rows of cars lining up for the green flag would only be separated by a few seconds.
With first time pole sitter Jim Blaisdell leading the pack of Spec Miata’s around turn 18 onto the strait-a-way, the tension was high for the drop of the green flag starting Round 7 of the NASA FL Spec Miata Challenge. Jim had a picture perfect start, and going into turn one John Adamczyk slotted in behind the #65 car going into the turn 2-3-4 complex. The pack was breathing down the #25 car’s rear bumper as the group made its first couple of laps. John Adamczyk was drafting the #65 down the back strait trying to get his team mate out to a comfortable lead, but the top five racers behind us had other ideas. After a couple of laps, John Adamczyk saw an opportunity to make a move through turn 17-18 to take the lead and pull the #65 car in his draft in an attempt to get both 5XR Team cars a podium finish, but in typical NASA FL SMC fashion the top five cars were right there to not let that happen! Jim Blaisdell ended up in a fight for his life by the time the pack reached the hairpin, as the wives watched from the balconies they were treated to 3-4 car wide racing going through the tightest turn on the track! The #25 car opened up a several second lead, but Al Thomas fought his way through the top five to make sure John’s mirrors were filled with black and blue! Carey Atkinson found himself in a battle with Gary Frierson, American Iron racer Bruce Byerly, and Jim Blaisdell for 3rd place. Carey’s most memorable moment from Round 7’s race was he called an “overzealous” move to take the 3rd position from Gary Frierson, as he drifted by Frierson narrowly missing him only to have Frierson counter the pass in the next corner! Although Atkinson lost out on 3rd position, the wild ride he took resulted in the fastest lap of the race for him! For that he will be awarded the 5X Racing Cool Move of the Race Award, which was last awarded to Eric Gebhardt for full lock drifting his car through turn 9 at a rain soaked Homestead race in January, all while keeping the lead and eventually winning the race! Carey will be awarded a 5XR Grip Plate Miata Floorpan for his triumphs, or $40 store credit at 5X Racing’s Spec Miata Online Race Shop: www.5xracing.com. Congratulations to Carey and 5X Racing is proud to award him for an amazing lap! Although Carey obtained fastest lap, he did not do so by much. Bruce Byerly was only 1/100th of a second off of Carey’s fast lap, which is an amazing display of driving talent for Bruce considering it is his first time racing a Spec Miata! While the action was hot for 3rd place, there were battles going on right on down the order as Tim Allen and Rick Adamczyk were fighting to catch up with Spec Miata first timer Denise Stubbs in 9th place. Tim Allen was making his return to Sebring after 15 months and said he “had to remember his Skip Barber training” to keep 5X Racing Team Driver Rick Adamczyk behind him! Luckily the Skip Barber training paid off as Tim was able to keep his perfect looking yellow #59 1.8 Spec Miata in front of Rick Adamczyk’s perfect looking gray #44 1.8 5X Racing built Spec Miata. 5X Racing Team Driver Eric Gebhardt was having shifting troubles for the second consecutive race, this problem ruined Eric’s race for the last round and even after replacing most of his clutch’s hydraulic system the problem reemerged at Sebring in Saturdays race. Despite not having the use of a clutch for shifting, Eric was able to muscle his #37 Miata around the track for the first half of the race, but eventually a clutchless downshift caused a spin for Eric which dropped him out of the fight for 3rd place. Although Eric salvaged a 7th place finish, but unfortunately Eric felt it was best to retire the #37 car for the rest of the weekend to avoid further damage. Luckily there is a two month summer break in progress from the Challenge and Eric should have time to figure out what’s bugging his clutch system before the next race at PBIR in September. Manny Ferro also found car trouble as he suffered a puncture to his tire and had to retire his #369 Spec Miata. Fortunately Jimmy Platis at Performance Tread was able to set him up with a new Toyo RA-1 tire for Sunday’s race. After the checkered flag waved for Round 7 of the NASA FL Spec Miata Challenge, this is how the results looked after all cars passed a rigorous tech inspection that included: weight checks, restrictor plate checks, and a hoods up policy for all racers.
Round 8: Sunday June 20th 2010
Sunday brought a couple of new drivers into the event with the shared cars of several SMC racers. Chris Burson would be taking over the #16 car from Denise Stubbs and Charlie Lowrance would be taking over the #151 car from Gary Frierson. These drivers would get a chance to become acclimated in their cars during the combined Lightning/Thunder practice session Sunday morning. Going into qualifying on Sunday, the thought of rain was in everybody’s mind. The weather outlook was saying “rain” and the clouds building up were not looking to dry. Qualifying for Round 8 was to turn out a little different than for Round 7 as Chris Burson showed his driving skills and nabbed the 2nd starting spot next to pole sitter John Adamczyk. Bruce Byerly got more comfortable and took 3rd place, as well as Lucas Bize did by putting in a great effort and showing everyone that he was taking it easy on Saturday when he captured the 5th starting spot right behind Saturdays fastest lapper Carey Atkinson. Jim Blaisdell and Al Thomas followed, despite Thomas having a spin going into turn 10 early into the qualifying session. Charlie Lowrance brought the #151 into the pits in 8th place at a 2:47.4, which was separated the top 7 cars by less than 2 seconds! Tim Allen, Rick Adamczyk, David Pazdur, and Manny Ferro rounded out the field.
With the skies darkening and the wind gusts picking up, the thought of rain turned into the threat of rain. Fittingly, there was even lightning in the distance as the Lightning group made its pace lap! Everyone made a gut decision and went with dry tires, and luckily the rain held off as the worries set in heavily when drops starting dotting our windshields on the grid. Rounding turns 17 and 18 and onto the front strait, the green flag dropped and Bruce Byerly was shot out of a cannon from a 3rd place starting position and quickly jumped the #25 car to take the lead into turn 1! Always willing to do battle, John Adamczyk went two cars wide on the outside into turn 1 with Bruce and pulled slightly ahead and retaking the lead going into turn 2, showing that the NASA FL SMC drivers are top notch with racecraft and courteous to their fellow drivers. The first several laps were made up of a tight group of beautiful looking Spec Miata racecars, which made good photo opportunities for the wives in the Chateau Elan balconies! As the battles sectioned out, the battle for the lead was heating up as Bruce Byerly was right on John Adamczyk’s rear bumper for several laps. Eventually Byerly caught the #25 car going into the hairpin and locked up the brakes on his #12 Miata, which caused him to bump into the #25 car. Both Miata’s and their drivers showed their strength and skill by keeping themselves in one piece through the turn. After the bump, Byerly seemed to back off the pressure a bit and stay in the draft of the #25 car, the two would finish in this order. 3rd place was being owned by Lucas Bize, our 14 year old Mazda Teen Challenge Driver! Lucas would follow Adamczyk and Byerly to a fantastic podium finish and cap off a great weekend! Lucas will make a great Spec Miata racer as he handles his car like a veteran; racing against him one would never know that the driver does not even qualify to have a street driver’s license! The battle once again raged, but this time for 4th place, as Carey Atkinson, Jim Blaisdell, and Al Thomas tested each others might through the course of the race. Atkinson was able to capitalize on a missed shift by Burson at the start, but had a rear window full of black, white, and blue as Blaisdell and Thomas battled each other for a chance at Atkinson’s 4th place position. The duo would catch Atkinson through Bishops bend and turns 14-15, and with Thomas getting passed Blaisdell, he attempted an skillfully intense, “so close they almost hit” pass on Atkinson into the hairpin. Both cars came through unscathed and Atkinson was able to hold off a surging Thomas for the remainder of the race. Tim Allen in the yellow #59 traded his foe Rick Adamczyk in for Charlie Lowrance in the #151 for Sunday’s race. Lowrance was able to best Allen and eventually claim the 7th position at the line. With the rain clouds about to let loose, the checked flag flew and the top 4 cars quickly reported to impound. All cars passed the weight check and post race impound to secure their finishing positions, and promptly packed the cars away before the storms arrived! When all was said and done, the finishing order was slated as follows:
Another great, incident free weekend in the NASA Florida Spec Miata Challenge presented by 5X Racing! We are making great progress towards having an awesome, fun, personalized and professionally run series being grown right here in the grassroots of Florida. We really hope that all of our current dedicated racers, new racers, and future racers keep supporting this series and keep coming back to fill our grids.
Thanks as always for supporting NASA FL and 5X Racing!