Hi all, it has certainly been a wicked year for us all between COVID, the West Coast being on fire and record-breaking hurricane landfall numbers. And personally, not due to natural disasters, I had multiple people close to me pass away. My race season has been pushed back further and further throughout the year, and as I watched others compete in the Spec MX-5 Challenge, I patiently waited until the last event before the championship weekend to compete. Fortunately, I was able to test the car for a couple days in June at COTA, which is where the championship event will take place on November 5-8. For those that don’t know, drivers will carry points into the finale by way of a West Regional, East Regional, or National Championship. There is also an opportunity to score nearly just as many points by performing well as an invitational driver at a single event, which is what I have been able to do courtesy of Mazda Motorsports. However, I knew I needed more than a two-day test to be prepared to do well in my chosen event.
At the end of August, the same very weekend my hometown was destroyed by Hurricane Laura, I competed in a Spec Miata race for the first time at Barber Motorsports Park (above, photo by Dave Thomas). The car was run very well by 2019 Mazda Road to 24 Scholarship winner Jared Thomas. The car was on rails, and Jared was a huge help with expanding my knowledge on car setup adjustments and understanding what I’m feeling behind the wheel. We were able to improve the car nearly to perfection, which allowed me to set a new track record on our first day. A bit of rust held me back from a perfect weekend, but we were able to grab a podium finish in race two in a closely contested, weather-shortened race. I felt this event was just what I needed to get the mistakes out the way and prepare for my Spec MX-5 event for points.
Unfortunately, when my girlfriend Kennedy and I returned home to assess the damages from Laura (below), we quickly found that the costs to repair our trailer would be more than the value of it, and temporarily moved to North Louisiana. In November, we will be moving to Indianapolis and I will continue to pursue a racing career.
Fast forward to this recent weekend, and I headed Sonoma Raceway just as Hurricane Delta was set to destroy what was left of Southwest Louisiana. I knew several people that decided to stay in the area for this one. It was very unfortunate and unbelievable, but I had to clear my mind and focus on the task forward. It wasn’t as difficult when I arrived at the circuit and saw the place (below), and I could picture watching my favorite drivers, especially Jeff Gordon, race around the track. I couldn’t believe I was actually there. But seeing all the twists, turns and elevation changes had me prepared for a difficult Friday practice day to learn the track, since most of my competitors had been there before.
Friday went much better than expected. I could feel immediately what I wanted out of the car, and the team and I worked quickly to make significant adjustments. By the end of the day the car was already much better and only required small tweaks. At the end of Friday practice, we actually blew the differential. And the Winding Road Racing crew wasted no time installing another one and having the car ready for qualifying Saturday morning.
I wasn’t too sure where we would be on the charts for qualifying but I had confidence that we had speed. I didn’t quite realize that we had speed for pole position though. I chose the outside lane for the start and got a fabulous start that was good enough to clear the second-place car before Turn 2. The top four cars were all within 0.2s in qualifying, so I knew I was in for a tough race. After a hard-fought race filled with multi-class traffic, and being shuffled back to second, I made a run at a last turn/last lap pass into Turn 11. I came up 0.006s short of the win but it made for a brilliant photo finish (below, photo by Winding Road Racing) with myself and Tom Martin.
After another great start in race two, I was able to conserve my tires while under immense pressure for the lead by fellow open-wheel racer Bryce Cornet, and eventually start building a manageable gap. After getting through traffic quickly this time, I was able to stretch out a comfortable lead that I would hold the entire race. It felt absolutely amazing to win again, and to cross the checkered flag first at such an iconic race track.
I know the competition will be extremely stiff at COTA in the championship finale next month, given the East, West, National and Invitational drivers will all meet, but I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to race some of the best and have a chance to win the $50,000 prize. I feel I have been able to make great strides in my knowledge of vehicle dynamics and tuning setup this year. Thank you to Jared Thomas and Winding Road Racing for helping me with this, and I also appreciate the e-book I received from Ross Bentley: How to Tune Your Car’s Handling: A Driver’s Guide.
I have also been listed as a nominee for the 2020 Mazda Road to 24 Scholarship. I am thrilled to have another opportunity at the shootout after coming so close last year, and to display what I have learned and worked on this year on and off the track. Of the 31 nominees, a select few will have a chance to compete in the shootout on November 16-17 at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta (a track that I have had the pleasure to race twice and even score a victory). At the shootout, one winner will be chosen for the $110,000 scholarship into Global Mazda MX-5 Cup.
Thank you to Mazda for all they do for talented racers all over and supporting me to keep racing and learning along this journey. Big thanks to BFGoodrich, Battery Tender, VP Racing, Fast Cooling, Idemitsu, and everyone involved that helps make this possible.