By on August 25, 2016

neon

“Should I start racing with NASA, or should I build a car for SCCA?” That used to be the most common question that I heard from would-be novice racers. Nowadays, though, those two sanctioning bodies aren’t even in the picture. Today’s novice racer is looking at LeMons, Chump, WRL, and my personal favorite, American Endurance Racing. It’s easy to understand why. If you start racing with the SCCA or NASA, you’ll either need to be capable of doing everything yourself soup-to-nuts, or you’ll need a crew, whether volunteer or paid.

With the new endurance-racing series, you get five other dudes together (or, in the case of my AER team, four other dudes and one chick) and — PRESTO! — you’ve got a team, a crew, and a way to split the expenses six ways instead of, uh, one way. I know a fair number of people who have left NASA or SCCA to focus exclusively on street-tire enduros, but I’m not ready to follow them just yet. I like sprint races. I like being solely responsible for my success (or failure) on the track. I hate not being able to split the costs but I also like the fact that cars last a lot longer when you run them two hours a weekend instead of twenty.

This weekend, NASA is holding a race at Mid-Ohio. Danger Girl will be there driving her Fiesta in HPDE since her race car is still being prepped in Memphis. I’ll be there as well, to help her out a bit, say hi to people, and serve as random crew for people who need a hand. But I won’t be racing, because I’ve been banned. And, I have to say, it was my fault.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been disciplined by NASA. To the contrary. I got into two separate scraps with the same dude in 2007 and 2008 that resulted in multiple penalties for both of us, my demotion off a National Championships podium, two totaled cars, and a very steep bill from Mid-Ohio for replacement concrete barriers. I think there was also a ride in a LifeFlight involved. I remember getting into a screaming match with the fellow who owned the NASA region at the time. He was telling me to stop writing public articles about my NASA penalties.

“I have the right to write about any God-damned thing I want!” I snarled.

“And I have the right to have you escorted off the premises at every NASA race from now until the end of time,” he replied.

“I see your point,” I said.

All of that stuff is long in the past, all amends have been made, and everybody’s cool, even me and the dude I wrecked those cars with. In recent years, I’ve committed to keeping my temper in check both during and after the races. There was a minor incident last year where I got into a bit of a shoving match on-and-off-track with some dudes from Jersey, but that was resolved to everybody’s satisfaction and we’re all pals. As I enter my late middle age, I’m really mellowing. Fatherhood helps too, although the first time some other kart kid wrecks my son I’m sure I’ll have an agitated moment or two.

Two months ago, I raced the Neon with NASA. There was no way I was going to win — I’m hugely down on power and racing a car that wasn’t competitive when I built it eight years ago — but I was able to push to the front once or twice before the other guys caught up to and drove around me. I had a good time. Everybody was very nice.

During conversations with another racer who was not in our class, I was told that a particular car was “bad fast,” meaning that it was probably skirting the edge of the rules. At the time, I didn’t really care either way. I was happy that my car finished. For the past year, I’ve tried to make my Frankenstein minivan/Neon/Stratus engine work in the car. It works now. It’s not stunningly fast, but it starts and runs. (Until it overheated at the AER race, but that’s another story.)

After I published a story about the race, another driver in my region decided to “correct some facts” about what I’d written. His “correction” was basically a long brag about how one of his buddies always wins and gets free tires and therefore I should tell everybody that racing in NASA is free because his buddy gets free tires. I had some serious issues with what he’d written, so I contacted him privately. Somehow, the regional director of our series got involved. We had a contentious but civil discussion.

During that civil discussion, he decided that my car was illegal because it was a motor swap. Strictly speaking, it’s an assemblage of Mopar engine parts that equates to a 20-percent stroked Neon motor, and that’s what I’d written on my class form. But because I’d gotten him angry, he decided that he was going to use what limited power he had to kick me out of the race.

I appealed to the National director and was told that I could race my Neon as long as I came up with a dyno sheet for the car. I was also told that I was not allowed to match the power-to-weight ratio of the regional director’s car. You see, the regional director races in his own series, against me. It’s not a big gap, but it’s a difference that will be noticeable in every front and back straight we race.

I’ve traveled nonstop for Road & Track over the past few weeks, so I was unable to get my poor little Neon to a dyno between three weeks ago and today. So I won’t be racing NASA this weekend. The question for me is whether I’ll ever bother to race NASA again. I love NASA, and I really like the way they try to find a place for everybody to race, but I also don’t really care for the idea of racing against my own series director using rules that place me at a deliberate disadvantage. I also don’t care for the idea of being grounded for a race weekend because I had the temerity to disagree with the guy.

So this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to race SCCA at Mid-Ohio this fall instead of racing NASA at Mid-Ohio. I’ve never raced an SCCA amateur event; everything I’ve done sprint-race-wise has either been NASA or a pro series like Grand-Am or CTCC. If the SCCA can class the Neon — I’m thinking ITE, so I can go heads-up against Corvettes — I’ll race the Neon. If not, I’ll buy or rent an SCCA-legal car and do that.

After that race, I’ll determine whether I’m going to:

A) swallow my pride and try to come up with enough extra talent to overcome my legislative disadvantage in NASA;
B) stick with the SCCA for 2017.

Watch this space. But I can say this: pending a few things, I’ll also be making my return to “pro” racing in 2017 with an appearance or two in the Pirelli World Challenge. I’ll also be racing the AER event at Mid-Ohio in October and every AER race I can get to next year. But for now, my answer to the old “SCCA or NASA” question will be: Please hold!

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28 Comments on “Trackday Diaries: My Stupid Mouth...”


  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Man I thought School Board politics were ridiculous…

    • 0 avatar
      Rick T.

      Had a for-profit charter school (focusing on high school dropouts) client that was staffed with a mixture of educrats and not-for-profit employees topped off with a CFO and owner with business backgrounds. What a clusterfark that was when it came to setting policies and strategies.

      On a side note, when we had application meetings with the state school bureaucracy you could feel the hostility in the room even though they were legally mandated to approve some charters. The “grant ladies” overseeing the state grants were very helpful I must say and treated the client well.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Had a for-profit charter school…

        That was their first mistake. I worked for Edison Schools Inc. back in the 2000-2002 timeframe. They were supposed to “make money” through economies of scale. It didn’t happen.

  • avatar
    chaparral

    Hang that from an Ohio Turnpike streetlight.

    Come up to East Lansing MI and race a kart. Bill Wolters can put together a whole machine for you for the cost of a weekend’s tire bill. It’s the biggest race of the season this weekend.

  • avatar
    st1100boy

    Left field, off topic question for you, Jack:

    Do you (past or present) participate in motorcycle track days or racing? I’ve done a fair few motorcycle track days and schools (STAR, CLASS, Cal Superbike School, YCRS), but I never made the jump to try a race.

    I’m 44, so if I’m ever going to do it, I better do it soon.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Closest I’ve come to motorcycle racing was breaking my leg at Glen Helen MX in California last year *in preparation for* the Elsinore GP.

      Never raced motorcycles. My joints are frankly too worn out. I’m jealous of anybody who can.

      • 0 avatar
        RRocket

        Try supermoto. .In some areas it’s even done on go kart tracks. It’s stupid fun, cheap and even old guys like us can do it without getting injured.

      • 0 avatar
        yamahog

        Glen Helen is a gnarly track! Respect!

        Not to try to persuade you, just to let you know ‘whats out there’ – there are more than a few MXers who have broken their back / other important parts and they still race. Overwhelmingly, they ride KTMs: either special edition bikes or they send out the non-special-edition suspension for tuning from this one geezer. They describe the suspension as ‘stepless’ it has almost no sticktion and dampens the jolts or “steps” that trash joints.

        You might never get to ride an MX track. But if you get a chance to go off roading / single track racing with a KTM with excellent suspension, you might handle it better than you thought was possible.

        *Showa and KYB pro suspension can be ‘stepless’ as well but it usually isn’t and the suspension easily costs 10k so don’t count on seeing it outside of top amateur rides (ranked either by skill or funding)

  • avatar
    -Nate

    No matter where you go , life always has bitches and they’re usually in charge because they’re insecure at some level .

    Even if you do whatever thing they’re crying about this moment , they’ll just move the goal posts on you so you cannot really win .

    Be honest , with them and your self , that’s the best you can do .

    The needle dick who used to own your NASA region was a coward plain and simple , he had every right to be angry but telling you not to write about the facts , is wrong and clearly shows he didn’t have confidence in what he was doing , regardless of your guilt , that you publicly accepted .

    I hope you keep your cool when John is kart racing , I’ve seen way too many middle age ‘ men ‘ who are trying to relive their glory days via their Children and act like fools and generally ruin it for their Kids .

    I’m no racer but I do read your racing exploits , they’re well written and insightful .

    -Nat

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      +1 Director sounds like he has a Napoleon complex and fully enjoys having his ass kissed more than any human being should then just a little bit more.

      If this is the way NASA is predominantly run I then have about as much respect for that series as I do NASCRAP and the people that control it.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

      Here, here.

      I’ve never raced (yet lol) either, but I can relate.

  • avatar
    John

    Stock car racing has a long and glorious history of cheating. I’m not suggesting you do anything like “lose” a shop rag in your intake just before the dyno run, then “find” it soon after, then spank your National Director on the track….

  • avatar
    rwelty

    i’m an SCCA tech guy from the Northeast. ITE will probably be just fine. the history of the class is complicated but it’s devolved in most places to a run-what-you-brung DOT tire class as long as the basic IT safety rules are met. if you pass NASA tech you probably will have no issues with SCCA tech.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    I raced SCCA 14 different seasons between ages 18 and 39. I’ve only raced one enduro, and that was in IMSA way back when the Radial Challenge existed. What I really enjoy is racing wheel to wheel, and it just doesn’t seem like that happens much in the amateur enduros, and it definitely doesn’t happen much when the car preparation ruleset is loose or is poorly enforced.

    If I were going back to racing (I’m not) I’d get one of the SCCA’s Gen 3 spec racers. I spent half my racing career in modified production cars and the other half in a Formula Ford. The purpose built race car with a stock production motor is the way to go, the cars are easier to work on and are more robust, and the stock engines are generally bulletproof.

    • 0 avatar
      rwelty

      the gen3 SRF is working out really well. i think this is a much easier transition than renault->ford was in the same chassis.

    • 0 avatar
      baconator

      SRF is really appealing for all the reasons you say, but the dangers of open-cockpit cars are sobering. NASA’s new Spec Prototype seems like the right formula. Alas, they’re about 3x the buy-in cost of an SRF.

      So, back to Lemons for me.

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Baruth

        Dude. LeMons is like a zillion times more dangerous than SRF.

        The only reason I’m not already in an SRF is simple: I want to go a little faster on the straights.

  • avatar
    yamahog

    250cc superkarts
    250cc superkarts
    250cc superkarts

    Let me live vicariously through you.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I have to think I’m just too damned fat and always will be, even at the 215lbs I got to in order to race Koni Challenge in 2009.

      • 0 avatar
        chaparral

        Nope. At 215 pounds you can race TaG Masters with a Parilla X30 engine.

        180 lbs for a carefully built (lots of plywood and magnesium) kart
        15 lbs for driving gear
        215 lbs for the driver

        sums to 410 lbs, which is the minimum weight for the class.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      An unsuspended high G kart is too hard on the body for those of us who are over 40.

      • 0 avatar
        yamahog

        Mind over matter.
        Mind over matter.
        Mind over matter.

        Just use your mind to think about how much a good value matters. Superkarts appear to be the second cheapest way to mess up your neck – the cheapest being falling asleep on a park bench.

  • avatar
    RRocket

    Let’s see.

    You can’t write about the series if it’s anything bad.

    You can’t disagree with an official or risk being punished.

    The officials get special rules for their cars.

    I see no reason to continue with this garbage, BS race organization. Frankly, I’d be too ashamed to be associated with them anyways.

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