NASA championships launch at Road Atlanta

More than 300 competitors vied for championships.

NASA championships launch at Road Atlanta
Randy Mueller
Mazda racing action

The National Auto Sport Association’s (NASA) ninth annual NASA Championships presented by Toyo Tires Eastern States Championships crowned its winners.  

After two days of qualifying races the 300+ NASA Eastern Championships competitors at Road Atlanta lined-up to compete for bragging rights and the NASA Eastern States Championship trophy. 

American Iron Extreme, American Iron, Spec Iron, CMC

In the first of the days 45-minute championship races Chris Griswold, No. 71 Ford Mustang, and Brian Faessler in his No. 018 Ford Mustang continued their nose-to-tail racing with Griswold taking the early advantage in American Iron Extreme. On lap eight Faessler passed and began to gap Griswold by three seconds, but on lap 11, Faessler did not come back around handing the Championship win to Griswold, his sixth (2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014). Griswold’s fast lap time was a 1:27.26 and he is the winningest driver in NASA Championship history with six American Iron Extreme wins. 

“The last half of the race was easy,” Griswold said. “At the beginning Brian was right there battling with me and swapping the lead. I decided to back off a little and save my Hoosier tires. He then pulled off on the back stretch, I am not sure what happened to him. This is my sixth NASA Championship. It feels good. I had a great day. It felt good and I feel great about all of the work we put in early in the week.”

In American Iron (AI) Will Stukas led the field early in his No. 93 Chevrolet Camaro from pole position. On lap 12 Scott McKay took over the lead of American Iron in his No. 171 Ford Mustang.  

“We got a shaggy start yesterday, I didn’t finish the race with a broken throttle cable,” McKay said. “We put it all back together and started sixth on the grid. We had a good run going moving up to second place for a while behind Will and then he had some issues. I took the lead and then with three laps to go I dropped a cylinder. I started looking in my rearview mirror for cars coming, but by that time we built up a big enough lead and took the win.” 

In Spec Iron it was Corey Rueth, Saturday’s qualifying race winner, heading the field in his No.13 Ford Mustang. By lap nine Rueth was able to give himself a three-second cushion to his closest pursuer. 

“It was a fantastic race,” Rueth said. “We got a great run with the Late Model Restoration Mustang. I got to thank my crew Jeff Brooks, Robert Beaudreau and my wife Lisa Rueth for helping me get the car prepped. Paul Costas set-up the car with Witch Doctor Racing and got the Mustang just right for this track. All I had to do was pilot the car and keep it together. I managed to stay a couple of turns ahead of the drama. It was a long race and I was glad to see the checker.” 

In CMC the No. 93 Camaro driven by Derek Wright was the class of the field. 

“The start of the race was fantastic,” Wright said. “I was able to get a pretty good lead and I was letting traffic go by without losing too much time. I was maintaining my pace, cruising a little. Then with two laps to go something in the rear gear began to go. I went from a five second lead down to the next guy right on my bumper. It became exciting at the end. The early work paid off. I won by a half of a car length.”

Super Unlimited, FFR ST1, ST2, ST3

In the Super Unlimited Championship race Joseph Freda in his No. 22 Chevrolet Camaro and Alan Palmer in his No. 3 West WX10 car took turns leading the fast field. On lap five a full caution flew as the No. 25 ST2 Lotus of Greg Vannucci was in the wall on the front stretch. Palmer was the overall leader at the yellow. The race restarted on lap nine. Marc Cantor led ST2 in the No. 26 BMW M3. In the Factory Five Racing Class Paul Arnold was running upfront in his No. 5 Factory Five Racing car and held on for the win. In ST3 the No. 85 of David Ziegler took the win in his Chevrolet Corvette Z06. In ST2 it was Matt Isbell in his No. 88 Chevrolet Corvette. As the checkered flag dropped surprise ST1 winner Benjamin Lesnak took overall honors in his No. 98 Chevrolet Corvette. In Super Unlimited it was Mike Howard in his No. 00 Chevrolet Corvette taking that championship trophy. 

“It was a blast,” Howard said. “I didn’t have anything for the little sports racer. I raced him real clean and he broke before I did this time. I broke in the first two races this weekend, so I was due. I was catching him at the yellow, but the yellow helped me cool the car down.” 

“It was really a matter of attrition,” Isbell said. “Greg Vannucci had me by three-thousandths of a second, but he had that big off coming out of the exit of 12. After that I just had to manage the gap, which I had three seconds on and well as manage my car. I hope Greg is ok. I am glad for MTI, we have won three national championships together and I thank them.” 

“It was a hot day,” Lesnak said. “The track was slowing down. The Viper which was my main competition had me down the straights. I was making my plan to get around him. I made an early move into Turn Seven and then he repassed me. I was able to get by him again coming down the hill into 12. The yellow helped and I was able to get away after the caution.” 

“I started on the pole,” Ziegler said. “I ran into some slower ST2 traffic and I got passed and fell to second. We were racing hard for a few laps. The yellow saved my tires. I think at the end of the day it came down to managing the slower cars.” 

“I missed last year as I was mending from a back injury,” Arnold said. “It has taken me most of the year to get the feel of the car again. We had a good battle and I was in a good position to take the win. This has been a long time coming.” 

Spec E30, Spec 3

Eric Palacio, pole sitter, in his No. 175 BMW 325 brought the 39 car field to the green. Immediately he began swapping the front spot with Robert Grace in the No. 174. By lap 11 Steven Lako, No. 81 BMW 325, took the lead and had a two second gap to the second place of the No. 609 of Robert Gagliardo.  In Spec 3 the No. 23 of Barry Battle took the race by two seconds over the No. 07 BMW 325 of Jon McAvoy.  

 “It was awesome,” Lako said. “Five of us took off and had a great race for 40-minutes. We battled, exchanged potions, working together with different people. A little entanglement mid-race helped me get up in the lead. I had some clean track and that really helped. Nobody on my bumper I was able to run my line as they battled behind me.” 

“The weekend started a little rough,” Battle said. “In the first qualifying race my ABS went out on the first lap so I had to drive through that failure. Saturday was pretty smooth I dropped to second on the last lap. Today’s race was pretty clean. There was a lot of Spec E30 traffic, but altogether a great race.” 

Spec Miata

Matthew Pombo, winner of both qualifying races, led the 34 car field to the green for the Championship race in his No. 60 Mazda Miata. Danny Steyn was able to get a run on Pombo at the exit of Turn One and lead the first lap in his No. 39 Miata. By lap four the No. 57 driven by Alex Bolanos joined the front pack. On lap seven Bolanos moved by Pombo into second and two laps later drove to the overall lead. On lap 12 Bolanos was relegated to third with Steyn back in the lead and Pombo in second. The trio were circulating bumper-to-bumper. By lap 13 the three combatants had amassed a three second lead to the fourth place runner. On lap 14 Steyn was able to get some separation as Pombo and Bolanos were running side-by-side. James Drago, No. 2, moved into third position on lap 16 as Pombo began to fade. By lap 18 it was a two car race between Steyn and Bolanos as they changed positions over the last couple of laps. At the checker it was Bolanos, Steyn and Pombo for the Spec Miata Championship podium. 

“It is really hot out today,” Bolanos said. “It was really about managing tires for the full 45-minutes of the race. We usually line-up and start passing later, but the popping started earlier than usual. Even in the lead pack I tried not to abuse the tires through the esses. I was able to have some rubber at the end and pick them off one at a time. We had a clean race, no cautions and I got to the checkered flag first.” 

“It was an amazing run,” Steyn said. “All of us were like a train the first few laps. We knew Alex would be a threat. He has been on form all year. Matt Pombo, my teammate, and I worked together well in the qualifying races. I knew if we got split up things were going to change. Matt dropped off later in the race and Alex had a little more than me and was the better driver today. He earned it.” 

“Unfortunately mid-way through the race coming through Turns Three and Four the car just lost power,” Pombo said. “I had to shut it off and restart it. It did it to me three or four times during the race, so it cost me. I have to thank Tom and Tracy Fowler and all of the OPM Autosports gang. We have a 1999 Miata and the 02s had the legs on me, but we proved it was competitive. I just wish we didn’t have the problems in the Championship race we had. Spec Miata is such a great class and the best racing series in the country. If you can run with these guys you can race with anyone.” 

GTS 1-4

In GTS the GTS4 car of Randy Mueller continued to be the class of the field on the weekend. Following up on a qualifying race win from yesterday Mueller jumped into the early lead. On lap 10 a full course caution bunched the field. The caution eliminated a 10 second gap that Mueller had amassed, but on the restart he was able to go away for the overall class win. The victory is Mueller’s fourth NASA Championship win (2007, 2011, 2012, 2014).  In GTS3 it was Edgar Cabrera in the No. 777 BMW. Rafael Torres won the GTS2 race in his BMW 328 and Tim Pruitt drove his No. 329 Porsche 944 to the GTS1 win. 

“It was hard, I went from first to fourth,” Torres said. “A guy tried to put me off early and then on the restart he waved me by. I was able to get back on my horse and retake the lead. My BFGoodrich tires were great today they helped me to drive to the front and take the win.” 

“It was extremely hot out there,” Mueller said. “I started on the pole and opened up a gap early on, but then the yellow bunched it up. The Porsches in my rear view mirror on the restart got my attention. I just put my head down and ran fast laps.” 

“It was a good race,” Pruitt. “I changed position with the Team Fire Engine car about three times during the race. When I got in the lead I could hold him off. On the restart he got by me and I was able to reign him in and get by and I was able to drive to the win.” 

“It was incredible,” Cabrera said. “I had a guy behind me at the end that I had to hold off. The caution period brought everyone back together. I had a lead and the yellow took away the gap that I worked so hard for from the beginning.” 

HPD Honda Challenge Class 1-2

In HPD Honda Challenge 1 twin qualifying race winner Kris Popovic in his orange No. 9 Acura Integra led the field to the green. By lap 10 Popovic had raced to a five second lead over David Isbell in his No. 7 Acura Integra. In Challenge 2 Robert Paskiewicz, No. 10 Acura Integra, was locked in a battle with the No. 31 Honda Accord of Karl Kandor. The race was red flagged on lap 15. The stoppage erased Popovic’s seven second lead. The race took the green and white flags making it a one lap trophy dash to the checker. Popovic was able to hold off the field for one lap and sweep the qualifying races and the win the Challenge 1 Championship. Isbell second and the No. 75 of John Oldt was third in his Honda S2000.  In Challenge 2 it was Kondor getting by Paskiewicz on the last lap. Kevin LeClair, No. 79 Honda Civic came home in third. 

“Wow, I swept the weekend,” Popovic said. “I worked hard and it paid off. I have to thank my engine tuner Jason Suge from Suge 1 Motorsports. We built a motor at the last minute on Thursday morning. I had a good gap before the red flag came. I thought they were going to end the race. At the double yellow I had low fuel. I knew once we went green again that I had the power to get them down the straights.”

“It was incredible,” Kondor said. “The last couple of laps my car is running hot and we are under caution. I was wondering if we were going to go green. We get the green, I am pushing really hard and there is traffic in front of us. We ran into some traffic on the back straight and use it to my advantage to get by through the chicane. Without the red/yellow and restart I may have been able to get a look, but not to get by.”

Spec Z

Jay Pellegrini III took the lead in his No. 12 Nissan 350Z with the No. 0 of John Baldwin close behind in his 350Z. The race was reflagged on lap 15. The race was restarted with one lap remaining. Pellegrini was able to hold off Brian Kleeman, No. 23, for the win with Baldwin taking the last step on the Spec Z podium. 

“It was a wild run,” Pellegrini said. “I didn’t have any grip in the rear tires the first few laps. I was drifting all over the place. We had a close race up front with the 23 of Kleeman and William Dryer. I want to NASA, Nissan and BFGoodrich for a great event, great car and great tires.” 

944 Spec, PTB-F

At the start of the 944 Spec and PTB-F race the race went full course on lap one. The race went green on lap four with Dan Pina leading the Spec 944 field in his No. 149 Porsche. On lap 12 Daniel Williams, No. 76 Porsche, passed Pina to take the lead and held on to take the checkered flag. In PTB David Schotz, No. 34 Pontiac Firebird, was able to pass Jeremiah Fox in his No. 033 Subaru Impreza on the restart lap. Schotz and Fox were locked in a two car battle the entire race distance. On lap Fox retook the lead, with Schotz retaking the point on the very next lap and holding on for the win. In PTE it was Ben Anderson on the top step of the podium in his No. 38 Mazda RX7. The PTF winner was Ken Brewer in the No. 6 Toyota MR2. 

“That was an experience of a lifetime,” Williams said. “The camaraderie of the team and how we came together to make it all work is amazing. I had some cars spinning in front of me and then I hit a patch of oil made it a little dramatic. The hardest thing was to stay focused when I was in the lead. I just wanted to keep my mind on the track. Keep it in the now. If you make one mistake these guys will be all over you.”

“It was an incredible battle,” Schotz said. “Traffic played a part in it. I tried to keep a couple of these cars between me and Jeremiah because I know he has a lot of top speed. It was a great race. My car has a few issues, but we were able to make to the finish and the win. I want to thank CarboTech and Hoosier tires for a fun weekend.” 

“Road Atlanta is tough when it is hot like this,” Anderson. “We have by far the heaviest car, by 500 lbs. and it is all about tire management. It is 95-degrees and it is one of the hardest cars to drive managing the tires. I was in second for a few laps and then was able to pass and I had a gap. The yellow came and I was able to keep the focus and pull off the win.” 

“My car is really stock,” Brewer said. “I bolted up fresh Hoosiers for the race. I started third as I didn’t make qualifying. I had to borrow an ECU from a fans street car so I could make the race today. My competitors are great and fun to race with. It was a fun weekend and taking home the trophy makes it a great weekend.” 

Highlights of the weekend

-Chris Griswold drove his No. 71 Ford Mustang to a record six NASA Championship win (2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014). The win makes him the winningest driver in Championships history. 

-Fast race lap of the weekend was put in by Alan Palmer in his West WX10 a 1:27.666 lap time. 

-Benjamin Lesnak won the ST1 Class in his No. 98 Cadillac XLSR as well as the TT1 Class in his Corvette. 

-Randy Mueller drove his No. 0 BMW M3 to a fourth NASA Championships title (2007, 2011, 2012, 2014). 

2014 NASA National Championship winners 

American Iron Extreme, Chris Griswold, No. 71 Ford Mustang *Six time Championships winner

American Iron, Scott McKay, No. 171 Ford Mustang

Spec Iron, Corey Rueth, No. 13 Ford Mustang

CMC, Derek Wright, No. 913 Chevrolet Camaro

Super Unlimited, Mike Howard, No. 00 Chevrolet Corvette

ST1, Benjamin Lesnak, No. 98 Cadillac XLSR

ST2, Matt Isbell, No. 88 Chevrolet Corvette

ST3, David Ziegler, No. 85 Chevrolet Corvette

Factory Five Racing, Paul Arnold, No. 5 Factory Five Racing

Spec E30, Steven Lako, No. 81, BMW 325

Spec 3, Barry Battle, No. 23 BMW 325

Spec Miata, Alex Bolanos, No. 57 Mazda Miata

GTS4, Randy Mueller, No. 0 BMW M3

GTS3, Edgar Cabrera, No. 187 BMW M3

GTS2, Rafael Torres, No. 777 BMW 328

GTS1, Tim Pruitt, No. 329 Porsche 944

HPD Honda Challenge 1, Kris Popovic, No. 9 Acura Integra

HPD Honda Challenge 2, Karl Kondor, No. 31 Honda Accord

Spec Z, Jay Pellegrini, No. 12 Nissan 350Z

PTB, David Schotz, No. 34 Pontiac Firebird

PTE, Ben Anderson, No. 38 Mazda RX7

PTF, Ken Brewer, No. 6 Toyota MR2

944 Spec, Daniel Williams, No 74 Porsche 944

TT1, Benjamin Lesnak, No. 98 Chevrolet Corvette

TT2, Greg Vannucci, No. 25 Lotus Exige

TTU, Reese Cox, No. 9, Chevrolet Corvette

TTB, Jeremiah Fox, No. 033 Subaru Impreza STI

TTC, Chi Ho, No. 10X Honda S2000

TTD, Jon Kozlow, No. 36, BMW M3

Kyle Chura Associates

NASA Championships presented by Toyo Tires ready for Road Atlanta
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