In a little over a month, Formula 1 will be racing at Circuit of The Americas, but the weekend of Sept. 15-16, it was all about the NASA Championships Presented by Toyo Tires. The record number of attendees, more than 450 competitors, came from NASA regions all across the country to race at a track many drivers and even race fans have placed high on their bucket lists.
“There’s no better place than COTA to bring back the combined event as a single NASA National Championships,” said NASA Texas Regional Director Will Faules “COTA Vice President Eric Paradis has been totally instrumental in not only getting NASA Texas regional events here, but also putting on this huge National Championship. I’m really pleased with how the event turned out, and we’re grateful for everyone at COTA for helping us make it happen.”
The weekend of racing was packed with the kind of competition that only a singular national championships event can bring. Here are the big winners from the 2018 NASA Championships Presented by Toyo Tires.
Michael Lapaglia had to wait a few minutes to enjoy his first National Championship until officials sorted out a protest that was ruled in his favor.
The Southern California resident outdueled Michael Patterson and Corey Weber to earn the checkered flag. Lapaglia celebrated with his family who traveled to Austin, Texas to watch him compete.
“Corey and Michael had a tough time keeping their tires hooked up out there, and I tried to focus on that and was able to put down clean laps,” said Lapaglia, who has been racing with NASA for a year. “I just focused on myself and I’m stoked to win a National Championship. It’s unbelievable to say that.”
American Iron Xtreme
Brian Faessler was feeling snakebit Sunday morning when his car broke during a Time Trial session about 40 minutes before the Championship race. His father, Paul, loaned him his Ford Mustang, and the younger Faessler drove it home to a National Championship.
Faessler was going to run in Super Unlimited, but by swapping seats with his dad and running in American Iron Xtreme, he had to start at the back of the group. It didn’t matter as Brian Faessler finished ahead of second-place finisher Robert Shaw for the checkered flag after some very close racing before and after the restart.
“It feels good to finally have some good luck,” said Faessler of Cincinnati, Ohio. “I’ve usually had pretty bad luck here at the Nationals, so it feels good to finally bring a Championship home to Paul’s Automotive Engineering.”
Super Touring 1
In his first time running at the Circuit of The Americas, Mark Burt is going home with more than memories. Burt can call himself a National Champion after winning the Super Touring 1 race.
Burt had a rough Saturday, completing just one lap in the rain-soaked qualifying race as he watched Timothy Bidwill capture pole position. What a difference a day can make with a dry race track.
“The top three or four got bottled up in Turn 1 and a couple of guys got taken out and it was basically given to me at that point,” said Burt, who lives in Orange City, Fla. “I was just trying not to make a mistake. Keep it smooth, keep it going, tires down.”
Super Touring 2
The start made all the difference as Chad Gilsinger brought home his first National Championship as he slipped by Todd Clarke for the victory.
Gilsinger and Clarke were battling all weekend, with Clarke getting the better of Gilsinger in qualifying races heading into Sunday’s final race.
“It really came down to the first turn, honestly. I had a really good start. I knew Todd (Clarke) was a lot quicker than me, so I had to get as big of a gap as I could,” said Gilsinger of Marysville, Ohio. “I was able to get by a lot of the ST1 cars, which he ended up having to battle through a lot, and then with lapped traffic you really just had to be aggressive to get by him or else you get held up too much.”
Super Touring 3
Running just the fifth race of his career, John Hyer went into the Circuit of The Americas hoping to just finish the weekend. He’s going home as a National Champion with a large first-place trophy to prove it.
“I drove 16 hours to get here, we just wanted to do it as a bucket list kind of thing,” he said. “I wanted to gain more experience and compete with the best in the nation.”
Hyer said four or five cars were battling it out for the first couple of laps when he found himself around 15-time NASA Champion David Schotz, who finished in third in the race that was black flagged because of an accident.
Super Touring 4
Setting the fastest lap time in Friday qualifying got Andy Kwitowski a good spot on the grid for the qualifying race, and he managed to take pole for Sunday’s Championship race, too. It’s Sunday that counts and that’s when Kwitowski got the job done in a race shortened by a red flag due to a wreck.
“It just kind of went to plan. Starting P1, I just wanted to create a little gap, so I pushed it a little extra hard on the first two laps, built a gap,” he said. “The front tires were going off a little bit, so it just became a management thing and I just watched the rest of the field and maintained the same gap throughout. Unfortunately, we stopped short again. It’s bad to see another bad wreck like that. We were steady all weekend long. Everything worked out just the way we wanted it to.”
Super Touring 5
Calling it one of the most exciting races in his 19 years of racing, Nik Romano won a thrilling Super Touring 5 race to win his first National Championship.
Romano started on pole, but lost the lead quickly to Charles Buzzetti. Romano was in second-place on the last lap when he did what he called a “Days of Thunder” moment by diving in to get past Buzzetti and holding him off for the last stretch to win the championship.
“Charlie and I were going at it for the entire fricking race,” Romano said. “I was in second on the last lap. I gave it to him earlier, I missed third gear coming out of one of the hairpins and I was about ready to turn the car right and run into the wall and end it right there, I was so pissed off at myself. Just kidding.”
When defending Western States National Champion Brian Frisselle started having trouble with his car, it opened the lane for James Devenport to earn his first NASA National Championship.
“Obviously, the defending champ had some issues,” Devenport said. “We’ve never run against (Frisselle) but we wanted to. That thing is a rocket ship. We do it in corners and brakes, they do it on a lot of horsepower. Unfortunately, they broke so we didn’t really get to see how it played out.”
Second-place finisher Jimmy Casey was able to narrow the lead to 1.6 seconds but Devenport was able to hold on.
Sunday’s National Championship was three years in the making for Jeremy Croiset, who was consistently the fastest driver all weekend in NPO1.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled with this weekend,” said Croiset, who sat in his car soaking up the victory. “It’s a pretty big personal triumph simply because I’ve been working toward this event for three-plus years and to see it all come together, everybody to have a good time, I can’t say enough about this NASA crew, the staff, all these racers that come here to make this event happen and I’m proud to be part of that.”
A slow start didn’t stop Croiset who won the race by 5.3 seconds over runner-up Sam Mangiamelli.
Kevin Jander has been a man on fire in Camaro-Mustang Challenge this weekend at the NASA Championships. After scoring the fastest time in Friday’s first qualifying session and winning Saturday’s qualifying race to nab pole position, Jander still had to prove himself through 45 minutes of hard racing.
“The cautions made things fairly interesting, and with the full-course caution, once we got grouped back up and did the restart, we were right at the back of the Spec E46’s and it was a bit tough navigating the traffic,” Jander said. “It was a good race. There was a little bit of frustration with some of the out-of-class cars, but I managed it and managed to get around them and everything ended up well.”
Rocking the old-school Miller High Life logo on his car and racing suit, Tim Barber was celebrating the good life in Spec E30. Barber continued his strong performance from earlier in the weekend to pull a 5.9-second victory over Sylas Montgomery.
“I hope the wrap on the car and the suit gets a lot of press because it was a big waste of money,” he said with a laugh.
Montgomery pushed Barber most of the race but found himself caught up in lapped traffic. “Sylas kept getting screwed by lapped traffic, to be honest with you,” Barber said. “But that’s racing.”
Jason Fraser had never driven the Circuit of The Americas, but spent plenty of time on a simulator to prepare for the weekend. The homework paid off for Fraser, who took home the National Championship in the deep and competitive Spec E46 group.
Fraser posted his fastest laps of the weekend on Sunday morning before heading into the Championship race. The simulator proved invaluable to learn the turns and the nuances of the 3.4-mile track.
“I’m not a rookie, but I’m newer to the road racing stuff,” Fraser said. “This is the first road racecar I ever built, I ever raced. I came from NASCAR—circle track stuff—so I feel I had that expectation coming in. We had plenty of practice time. The way I look at it, if I can’t figure this place out in three days, I don’t deserve to win.”
Spec Miata Deux
Tim Barber was the only two-time National Champion over the weekend after winning Spec Miata Deux and Spec E30. By winning the second chance race in Spec Miata, Barber took home a $2,000 check courtesy of Toyo Tires.
Barber didn’t make it into Saturday’s 60-car Spec Miata race because his rental car had issues cutting in and out before they corrected the problem. Once the problem was fixed, Barber pretty much led his race from start to finish.
Asked what it was like running two cars in hot and humid conditions in Texas, acknowledged it was tough especially the last race of the weekend.
“I didn’t throw up in my helmet, that’s what I can tell you about that. I kind of wanted to,” Barber said. “It was warm, I started getting a ripping headache half way through that one. I had my hand out the window just trying to cool off.”
Performance Touring D
Racers often talk about the NASA spirit when it comes to sharing parts and racing knowledge. Brett Westcott knows firsthand as a fellow competitor let him use his car, which he powered to a National Championship in Performance Touring D.
“We’ve been trying for five years and we only get it done when my car doesn’t work and a fellow competitor lets me use their car,” Westcott said with a laugh. “It’s that spirit of NASA, right? It’s the racers that will do anything, they’ll give you their extra car, they’ll help you set it up, they’ll throw their own tires on it.”
Westcott, who ran the car for the first time Saturday afternoon, had to adjust from driving a front-wheel-drive car to a rear-wheel-drive racecar.
“The thing is dialed in, it’s a really good car,” Westcott said. “They’re not really that different. Slipping is slipping.”
German Touring Series 2
Kerry James didn’t necessarily have the speed to stay with his fellow competitors, so he considers himself a little lucky to win a National Championship. Late in the race, the three front runners got tangled up in the Esses and spun off track.
That moved James from fourth to first. Doug Young and Will Choice were close behind at the checkers. Waiting to go up on the podium, James said winning a championship was surreal.
“I didn’t quite have the pace of the three in front but I was staying with them and then hoping that something would happen and they would come to me,” James said. “In the end it did.”
German Touring Series 3
Roberto Crescencio had such strong qualifying races that it didn’t seem his car needed any changes going into the German Touring 3 series National Championship.
He kept the setup on the car, but decided to swap his front windshield for a Lexan windshield. The change proved to be the difference as he beat second-place finisher Jeff McGuinness.
“I put it on for today only,” Crescencio said of the windshield. “I guess it’s not a secret anymore.”
Crescencio’s victory on Sunday was redemption for last year at the 2017 Eastern States Championships where he fell short of a championship.
German Touring Series 4
Michael McAleenan’s lead toward the end of the GTS4 race was more than 30 seconds. So, when he saw the red flags come out due to a crash late in the race, he was thinking about the possibility of a green-white-checkers finish that could jeopardize the lead he’d worked so hard to establish. When the black flags came out and he returned to the paddock, he knew his lead — and his win — were safe.
“I was worried we were going to bunch up again and have to restart,” McAleenan said. “Gerald Lowe and the guys at Lowe Group Racing put the car back together. They rebuilt the front end of the car and it was almost perfect, so I’m pretty happy with the result after that. They did a great job and everyone hustled. Our other teammates did well in GTS3, so this session went a lot better for us.”
Honda Challenge 2
Winning his second Championship in a row, Robert Paszkiewicz led from Turn 1 on the first lap until the finish. But his fellow competitors in the 16-car field made him earn the victory.
“This one I had to work for, so I’m really happy,” said Paszkiewicz, who won the 2017 Eastern States Championships. “I couldn’t ask for more. I don’t think I’ve driven this hard in a while now.”
Paszkiewicz held off Christopher Michaels of Glen Burnie, Maryland, who trailed by 1.453 seconds. Brian Shanfeld of Raymond, Ohio placed third.
Honda Challenge 4
Few drivers had as good a weekend as Rob Krider in his Acura Integra, winning every race he competed in during the weekend. Krider was so dominant, he led every race from flag to flag in the seven-car field.
“We have a sign in our shop that says that champagne is victory at the track but races are won weeks before in the shop,” Krider said. “All we did this week was shine our cars. We just polished them in garage 18, it made all the difference.”
Krider has two Western States Championships but considers Sunday’s victory the top prize.
“That’s junior varsity,” Krider said of his Western States titles. “I wanted to win the Nationals, so I got it done today.”
Tom Kaminski knew he needed to bring his A-game if he had a chance at beating Daniel Williams in the Spec Z National Championship race.
“Dan is an excellent driver. This is the first time I ever raced with him. I just kind of know his pedigree,” said Kaminski, who celebrated his championship after the race. “I kind of knew going in that if I lose focus one or two times, it’s done. I got that in my head at the beginning and was full bore, 100 percent and I just tried to run as aggressive as I could. The car held together so I’m happy.”
Traveling from Utah for the race, Kaminski considers it a victory their trucks and trailers didn’t break down on the trip to Austin.
“I’m just so glad we made it here,” he said. “We all kind of have older trucks, rigs and trailers. I’m so happy my car even made it.”
Thunder Roadsters are the smallest, lightest cars that race in NASA. They’re also among the fastest, but they take a light touch to drive well. Gary Tinker had just the right touch in Sunday’s Championship race. He found his way to the front and held on the for the win.
“I didn’t lead all of it. I got passed quite a few times. They worked me real hard,” he said. “It was back and forth for the first few laps. By lap three, I kind of burned my brakes up, which made me a little bit faster. I was just trying to save the tires and not slide it through the corners, and that eventually paid off for me. That’s why at the end of the race I had cool rear tires and I could just walk away.”
Post-race inspections resulted in a disqualification of Marcelo Vine, who led the entire race. That DQ meant that second-place finisher Charlie Buzzetti was bumped up for the win and the Championship in 944 Spec, a class he’s won twice before.
“It’s my first time here. The track is pretty tough. It takes a bit of time to get comfortable with it,” Buzzetti said. “There are high-speed corners, slow-speed corners, really demanding esses that have a decreasing speed as you get deeper and deeper into them. It’s really difficult to have the car under control in that area, because you want to be as fast as you can, but too fast and you’re going for a big ride.”
Performance Touring E
Chris Kopitski’s luck hasn’t been the best at National Championships in past years. His car always seemed to be plagued by mechanical gremlins at the time when they were most unwelcome. You know, when he’s racing for a Championship. This year was different. Kopitski notched the fastest lap in PTE qualifying on Friday and went on to win the qualifying race on Saturday. That put him on pole position for the race, a position he never relinquished.
“It was unbelievable. I couldn’t have asked for a better start in this perfect race all the way through,” Kopitski said. “I missed a couple of apexes and missed a shift about three quarters of the way through the race. Other than that, it was flawless. This has been a long time coming. I’ve been waiting for this. I’ve been trying so hard to get this Championship. I’ve had mechanical issues every year, but this year I finally pulled it through, and this car is capable of so much more than this. It feels great. I’m on top of the world.”