Since I campaigned my Spec Miata throughout the Southeast in 2004 and won the NASA Southeast points championship for that class, many people have asked me why I no longer compete in NASA events. The reasons that I only compete with SCCA these days are, in my opinion, the major differences between the two organizations, which anyone planning to compete with NASA Southeast should know.
Though both SCCA and NASA are nationally run businesses, according to my understanding, on a regional level, they are entirely different. SCCA appears to operate primarily with volunteers and incorporates numerous checks and balances through stewards, boards, and hearings about any infractions or changes. The way I see it, NASA SE is basically a franchise business where all decisions are made by one person with absolutely no checks or balances.
In my case, problems began with NASA at the end of 2004 when I realized that I had probably accumulated enough points to become the individual NASA Southeast points champion. Another competitor had shared his car with a different driver all year, and made an attempt to combine their individual points to win the championship. I could see that my win was in jeopardy until I pointed out a national rule citing that all championships were individual, unless stated as a team championship at the beginning of the season.
For the 2005 season, the person who had attempted to, in my opinion, claim my championship, was appointed the Regional Director for our class, which immediately raised “red flags” in my mind. And, it only took one race into the 2005 season to prove I was right!
The first NASA SE race of the season was held at Road Atlanta, and the new director advised us by email that cars would be weighed, which had never been a problem for me. When we went through the annual tech inspection on the evening prior to the race, however, no scales were available to check our weights.
For me, the next day was extremely hectic with practice, qualifying, and riding with a student as his instructor between every session. Luckily, I had filled my race car completely with gas that morning, but was still sweating having enough gas for the race in the afternoon.
Following my last instructor session, I returned to the paddock after my race class was already on the grid. So, even though I had a can of gas in the paddock, I didn’t feel that I had enough time to pour it prior to the race.
It was a great race with about a dozen Spec Miatas swapping places constantly, and I managed to finish second. After the race, however, I was told to go and be weighed by the new set of scales that had appeared at 8 o’clock that morning. Though I had never been underweight on any SCCA scales before…even with an empty tank, I was on this new scale. The new director, who had finished fourth behind me, immediately disqualified me, which moved him to a podium finish. Without any hearing, the decision was upheld by the NASA SE organizer, so I assured them that I would not be racing with them in the future because of this obvious conflict of interest.
In my opinion, that series of events is a prime example of the difference between SCCA SE and NASA SE. It is my understanding that in SCCA, no competitor would ever be allowed to make a ruling that would move his finishing position up in any race, and that with so many mitigating circumstances, I would have at least had an official hearing in front of the race stewards in private.
Despite being asked by the organizer to return and even being offered a free race weekend, I declined because I felt that there was a huge conflict of interest and that the entire incident had been handled poorly. Therefore until August, I had nothing more to do with NASA SE.
My good friend and long time SCCA Atlanta Region driver, Rob Ebersol, had often talked about him driving my race car for a weekend at Road Atlanta, and since NASA SE had a race scheduled there for August, I agreed to let Rob use my car for the event. It would be like a practice for Rob, and would let me see how good my Miata could perform with a really great driver.
Both of a serious nature and to somewhat needle the organizer, when we went through tech inspection, I asked that my car be weighed by the mysterious scale that had disqualified me earlier in the year. However, neither the scale nor the director was present that weekend, and my question appeared to visibly irritate the organizer.
Though Rob put my car on the pole for the Saturday race, another car in the race was just so much faster on the straight sections of the track; Rob had to settle for second place. Knowing that NASA has an engine-buy rule of $2000 to eliminate those kinds of expensive engines and that following a race, time was of the essence for any protest, I approached the organizer. In my opinion and that of another friend that was present, his response was way out of line, and at some point he remarked about a problem on the track that he was hearing in his headset, which I understood was important. I’m sure that he must have a different memory of the situation, but what I recall is that as I walked away, I said something to him about the importance of filing my grievance in a timely fashion, and he blasted me back with profanity and told me to leave the race track.
In my view, I had done no more than ask about procedures to file a protest, and the organizer had taken it personally. Nevertheless, about a week later, without any hearing or even a phone call from anyone in NASA, I was banned from going to, or participating in any NASA event anywhere in the nation, and the national office returned my membership fee! This could have never happened in SCCA without a hearing!
After a year of racing in NASA SE, myself and some of my friends, who also participated in NASA SE events, are of the opinion that many factors, which include organization, safety, and dictatorial decisions, should be considered before entering their events. For me the choice was easy, even before I was tossed nationally by NASA…I’m staying home with SCCA where I started!