Racer Boy: NASA Performance Touring –Road racing with whatever you got in the driveway.
You’ve always wanted to get into road racing but you don’t own the requisite Spec Miata or Spec E30. No problem. The National Auto Sport Association (NASA) has you covered. Their Performance Touring class allows just about any four wheeled production car to run in their series. Using a system of points based on modifications allows almost any car to be equally competitive in a multi-class system. So forget the excuses, take the back seat out of your Mom’s Buick and start welding in a roll cage. Chances are NASA is holding a race in the next few weeks at a track somewhere right around the corner from your house. THE COST This is road racing, which means it isn’t cheap, however it’s probably not as expensive as you may think. If you are starting from absolute scratch (meaning you need personal safety equipment, competition licensing and safety equipment for the car) then, yes, this is going to set you back some clams. But if you build a car over time and start to piece together your safety gear as you progress through NASA’s High Performance Driving Experience (HPDE) then you may be able to spread the cost over time. I/O Port Racing Supplies has some cool package deals that can help you get most of your equipment in a bundle and save you some money. But down to brass tax, how much is this really going to cost? Because this is road racing you are required to have a fire resistant driving suit, a Snell rated helmet, gloves, shoes, nomex socks and a NASA required HANS device (or other approved head and neck restraint). Your car will have to have a safety cage, a fire extinguisher, a five point harness, a racing seat with proper rearward support, right and left side nets, tow hooks/straps and a transponder. Plus don’t forget the required class markings and numbers which you can get from Figstone Graphics. Once all of that is done and you have built a bad ass racing car, now you need to find a way to get that probably not-street-legal machine to the race track. That means a truck and trailer. Yup, mo money, mo money, mo money. No, this isn’t autocrossing which you did in your street car and spent $20. You are in the big leagues now and are spending the big bucks. I’d add it all up for you but if I did, then I would know how much I spent, which would mean my wife would know how much I spent, and I don’t really want to have that conversation right now. SANCTIONING BODY Performance Touring, where you can run just about anything, is the brain trust of the National Auto Sport Association (NASA). Before you can race you will need to join NASA here for only $45 a year which is a great deal because you get Grassroots Motorsports Magazine free with your membership. NASA is all over North America with different events and races in almost every part of the country. Specifically for Performance Touring you will need to pay attention to the points and classing system. The rules and guidelines for Performance Touring can be found here. An example of how the points system works is as follows: a 1991 Nissan Sentra SE-R is classed in PTF with no modifications. With a few modifications, springs, intake, and exhaust, the car only earns a few points and can remain in PTF. However, with a few more modifications, like ST Suspensions sway bars, Jim Wolf Technology racing cams and Hoosier slicks, then the car earns enough points to graduate to a faster class, PTE. Even more modifications/points would move it to PTD, and so on. THE HIGH You are doing it, this is the real deal, full blown, door to door, road racing. The speeds are high, the noise is real and you are trying to out brake the guy next to you as you head into the first turn. You’ll know right away if you have what it takes, because if you don’t, the rest of the field is going to take turns passing you. You will be wearing the fireproof suit, the helmet and the HANS device just like the big boys on TV. You’ll hold your breath through some corners as you drive on the edge of adhesion and narrowly miss things like walls and other cars. This is serious, this is fast, and this is dangerous, all the things that make your adrenaline race through your veins. And when the checkered flag drops you’ll know why you were there. There really is no substitute to road racing in motorsports. CAR WEAR Cars can last for years in NASA’s performance touring ranks, but they can also die in a single split second mishap. This is head to head competition, you go off line, there will probably be another car there and then “crunch” I hope you’re good at body work and paint. NASA’s rule on the prettiness of cars is at 60 feet at 60 miles per hour the cars need to look straight. This rule keeps the road racing cars from looking like a Saturday night dirt track heap or a ChumpCar survivor. In any NASA road racing weekend I have seen up to three cars totaled. The driver’s generally walk away from the accidents but the cars are nothing more than recycling at that point. It is something to think about. If this is the car that has to get you to work on Monday, don’t road race it. One thing you really need to be prepared for in road racing is brake wear. Fresh rotors, high temperature brake fluid, cooling ducts and high heat brake pads, like from Carbotech, are a must. When thinking of car wear, nothing will destroy a car quicker than a car with faded brakes. Remember kids, once the brakes won’t stop you, the only thing left to get the job done are the concrete walls. YOUR DAY Your day running in NASA’s Performance Touring series is actually a long weekend. Before you can actually run you will have to take care of a few pre-race details. One is online registration where you will sign up for your class, register your transponder number, request your car number, etc. This is also when you will shovel out approximately $350 for two days of racing (depending on the track). Prior to running the event your car will need to have a yearly safety inspection completed and a log book issued. This is a relatively painless experience and usually costs around 70 bucks from a certified race shop. I had 7s Only Racing handle this for our car. Now it is time to roll to the track. I hope you have some friends because road racing is not a solo sport. You will want to feed your friends well and have plenty of beer on hand for these guys because they will be helping you get in and out of your car (with your new astronaut outfit), changing tires, spotting you on the track and telling you where to grid. Trust me, take care of these guys, you’ll want these friends to come again. Every race weekend with NASA has a very tight schedule (which is available online) so print it out and stick it on your trailer or tow rig or wherever. Just make sure it is next to a clock because being punctual means you will get the track time you paid for and also make sure you don’t miss any important driver meetings. You must attend these meetings, as crucial information is disseminated, like how the start of the race will be run. Generally you will get one warm up session in the morning, this is where you learn where the track goes left and where it goes right. A few hours later you will get a qualifying session where your lap times will determine your starting position. In your qualifying session try to space yourself out, away from other cars, to get a nice clean lap without any traffic. Find out where they will be posting the qualifying times because there you will receive your grid position, which is where you will line up in the paddock or the hot pits prior to the start of the race. When the moment you have been waiting for finally comes and the race begins make sure you have downed a lot of fluids. Your new fire proof outfit will make you extremely hot in a racecar and even during a short 30 minute sprint you can get dehydrated. You will line up in your designated grid spot and wait for the pace car to take you around the track. Generally, starts are done in double row formats. As you come around the final turn before start/finish, and the pace car has pulled off, watch the starter closely. As soon as you see him flinch, he’s about to bring out the green flag, floor the gas. The race is on! During the race you will want to keep your eyes on the different flag stands for important signs from the safety crews, yellow flags, red flags, etc. Use your mirrors to watch faster cars passing you. Performance Touring races generally run with multiple class formats meaning you are racing maybe six guys in your class, but there are forty cars on the track racing in different classes. These multiple classes have differential speeds so it is not uncommon to get lapped by faster cars during the event so keep your eyes in the back of your head peeled. Nothing can ruin a race weekend like a fast American Iron class Mustang parked in the trunk of your slow Performance Touring class Sentra. When the checkered flag drops hopefully you are ahead of the other cars in your class. If that is the case then head toward the podium to pick up your trophy. If you liked how the first day of racing went, good, because the second day will usually be exactly the same with the same schedule, a warm up, a qualifying session and then the race. At the end of the weekend you will be tired, broke and absolutely hooked for life. The experience is second to none in any other racing I have competed in. THE PEOPLE NASA folks are a cool group people. The entire series is really run by racers for racers. There is less elitism that is often felt with the road racing segment of the SCCA. I’ve never had a bad experience with the people I’ve met on the track or in the pits with NASA. And these guys can drive. Since this series is run by people who care about the sport, the rules and the layout of the event is very participant friendly. One thing you will need to do with NASA is be patient. Almost everyone working a NASA event is usually also racing in the same event. This work/participate system is what keeps costs down. So when you are looking for an impound guy or a race director, understand they are busy getting their cars ready and racing while also handling the details of the event. If you are patient with them and understand where they are coming from you will eventually get the information you are looking for. GLORY Winning a race in NASA Performance Touring gives you the accolades you have come to expect from years of watching racing on television. They have trophies, sometimes they even have hot trophy girls. I have even seen champagne sprayed. If you come across the finish line first in class with that checker waiving above your head it will be a moment you will never forget. There will be an awards ceremony, your name will be called and you will get your moment on the podium. With NASA you will have the opportunity to win races at world class race courses like Laguna Seca, Infineon, Virginia International Raceway, etc. OH, YOU WANT TO WIN, DO YA? The key to success in NASA’s Performance Touring is working with the points system and choosing the correct car to start with. Yes, you can enter a Dodge Dart, but even with enough modifications to put it into PTA chances are a modified Corvette is going to crush you. Be careful not to put foolish modifications on your car that will earn you enough points to move up from PTF to PTE when those modifications do almost nothing for you performance wise. For instance a cheap strut bar that maybe isn’t doing anything anyway or a cheesy Pep Boys spoiler that actually just creates drag and no actual down force. You would be better off to lose those items, stay away from the points and race in the slower PTF class. The other major thing to work on (and car guys love to modify their cars and completely forget this) is your driving ability. Road racing is a real art and learning the craft isn’t an overnight process. I guarantee you no matter how fast you think you are, someone else can jump in your car and embarrass you (it has happened to me). This is a very sobering moment, but one you can truly learn from. So listen to the guys around you, follow the lines of the more experienced drivers and send yourself to racing school. Trust me, you can only learn to go faster. RACER BOY GAUGE Let’s review the Racer Boy gauge cluster here: FUEL (Cost): The fuel gauge is less than a quarter tank because this isn’t cheap. This requires safety equipment both for the car and for yourself, it often requires a tow rig and a trailer. Don’t forget entry fees, tires, race fuel, etc. You can race yourself poor here. However, over time a lot of this stuff is accumulated and then you only have the perishable items, tires, brake pads, fuel and entry fees to keep paying for. Lesson here kids, finish college! RPMs (Adrenaline): The tachometer is at 6,800 RPMs because this is the real deal. Racing door to door at over a hundred miles an hour while trying to beat the guy next to you through the next set of esses will get your adrenaline pumping like nothing else. MPH (Danger): The speedometer is at 123 miles per hour because if you drive a fast car, chances are at a NASA race you will be going 123 miles per hour heading right toward a hairpin corner and a pile of tires. You can do sheet time at the hospital if you’re not careful here. VOLTS (Time): The volts gauge is less than a quarter full because your life is about to become very busy. You gotta prep the car, you gotta prep the tow vehicle, you gotta tow the car, you gotta qualify, you gotta race, you gotta get all this crap back to your house and store it somewhere. This ain’t autocrossing. This sport takes a lot of time and can engulf your life. MILEAGE (Car Wear): The mileage is at 150,000 miles because wheel to wheel racing can be hard on your fenders (and your head). Some cars (Nissans) live fine lives at 150,000 miles while others at 150,000 miles die a horrible death (like my Dodge truck tow vehicle). NASA Performance Touring is a similar situation on the track, racing is hard on cars, some survive while others don’t. CHECKERED FLAG NASA Performance Touring is a fantastic opportunity for you to get involved in road racing with whatever car you have sitting in your driveway, which for a lot of us is all we have to work with. The licensing opportunities with NASA are friendly and the HPDE ladder system makes road racing an actual reality for people who really want to achieve that level of competition. What this all means is if you want to road race the only thing between you and actually doing it are a pile of excuses… and admittedly a small pile of money. See you at the track!