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Story by Jack Baruth – Race Photography by Dave Everest

My mother used to say, “It’s better to be lucky than good”, and there was no better proof of that saying than the fact that our poor little Neon’s junkyard motor didn’t commit suicide until the cool-down lap of Sunday’s race. Literally two thousand feet after I crossed the finish line, there was a massive “BOOM!” and smoke started billowing from under the hood. Accompanied by the hideous rattling sound of two cylinders flopping around uselessly in their worn-out bores, I nursed it in to the pit lane and shut that piece of junk down for the last time. How lucky was I? It turns out that, thanks to a timing and scoring error, they threw the finish flag a lap early… so without that error, I’d have blown up during the race. Instead, I managed to snag my ninth podium in a row (not counting DNFs) before coming to a halt right in front of the impound lane, a quarter-mile from our paddock. No worries, though; we just used our hilariously awesome new F-250 Lariat Crew Cab to tow the long-suffering Mopar the rest of the way back to said paddock. That truck, by the way, is going to be the first subject of our new series, Towin’ Speed:Sport:Life. In this series, we will be evaluating trucks solely from the perspective of race vehicles, so if you’re trying to decide what you’ll use to tow your race rig, we hope to put some solid, no-nonsense information in your hands.

We won’t miss our old engine, known non-affectionately as “Mr. 130K” for the 130,000 miles it covered in its original home before being pick-and-pulled into competition duty, but we did manage to score third-place finishes on both Saturday and Sunday in very different fields. Saturday’s race saw my pal Steve Jones, whom I dutifully followed into the sand trap during April’s Mid-Ohio event, win big despite starting in the pit lane. On Sunday two Hondas battled it out about half a lap ahead of me for what turned out to be virtually a photo finish. We’re running about three seconds a lap behind the very fastest Performance Touring “E” cars in qualifying, although in the actual races the gap isn’t that far due to my willingness to try any and all available passing maneuvers regardless of their merit. As you’ll see below, the lower-power NASA races have the potential to get a little crazy…

The Neon was pretty good at fighting off the swarm of Miatas, even though many of them were faster in a straight line.

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NASA’s Peformance Touring classes are, I think, the future of club racing. Using the same “points” approach which has proven so popular for their Time Trial classes, Performance Touring allows a driver to build the car of his choice any way he wants it. You’re free to build a high-power car with no suspension tuning, create a corner-carver with a factory exhaust and catalytic converter, or choose something in-between. The headlining Performance Touring A cars wouldn’t be out of place in Rolex GT, and in fact a few them are Rolex GT cars, while down in our class, Performance Touring E, the choices range from the sensible (a low-prep Spec Miata fits just fine in PTE) to the truly amazing (our friend Gene Hoesman is running a Fiero with a 3.4L V-6). The most common cars in the class are Miatas, Neons, Sentra SE-Rs, and Honda Civics, and it’s possible to build a decent car with a very safe cage and seat for around eight to sixteen grand, depending on your choices. With our Neon, we went overboard on the cage, harnesses, and seats while skimping on the engine, just to make sure we were on the grid and ready to race in April.

A Performance Touring F-class Cavalier loops out, and I’ve got traffic on my right… time to roll through the weeds at 70MPH!

Now that “Mr. 130K” is down for the count, however, we’re going to work with a local engine shop to put some real motor in our trusty Mopar. We’re looking to improve our situation from the 95-100 sick old horses we had at the front wheels to 130-140 stout front-wheel-Clydesdales, which should catapult us to the top of the class. With any luck, we’ll be at the top of the Great Lakes Region by the end of the year – and, as we’ve already established, luck is all you need!

First lap of the race. As you can see, we’re down on power, and it takes some poking and prodding to make it up through the pack. Watch that ‘Stang wiggle!

One sad note from the weekend: on Sunday morning an accident in practice sent a GTS-class racer to the hospital via LifeFlight. This young man had painstakingly built a high–power Audi Quattro Coupe 20v to run in the GTS5 class, and in this, his first weekend after completing the project, a mechanical failure of some type put him into the trees at triple digits. We’ve been told he is still fighting for his life; please join us in wishing him a complete and healthy recovery.

The aftermath of an M3 spin: WTF LOL DOOD U R GOIN TEH WRONG WAY!

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Jack Baruth

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