Full House—The 2019 NMCA West Nitto Cup AutoX season kicks off in sold-out style

Written by Brandy Phillips

Photography by Brandy Phillips and Claudia Robles

Winter was in full swing throughout the majority of the country, but the forecast for Southern California called for clear skies and sunshine during the 2019 season opener of the NMCA West Nitto Cup AutoX. The sold-out event became highly sought after, as it continues to draw competitors from all over the West Coast. Though the main objective is to have fun, several drivers have one mission in mind — claim the coveted Nitto Cup.

With two additional events added to the 2019 series, a total of six autocross are scheduled, allowing for more heated competition in the race to win the overall grand champion, as well as class championship titles. Though several of the regulars took to the winter months making modifications to their vehicles, there were also a handful of new drivers with surprises up their sleeves. As the first of six events came to an end, it was clear that this year might be a game-changer in who will take the lead for class and overall titles.

Though Rob Phillips is a regular at these NMCA West AutoX events, he could always be found in the pits rather than behind the wheel. As crew chief to team PCHRODS, Phillips finally took to the drivers seat and laid down some impressive times in the PCHRODS 1972 C10R. Though he did not win the Truck class, his victory did not fall short, as he earned the title of overall point’s leader in the Truck class for the weekend as well as a special recognition for his enthusiasm and perseverance.
Ashton Robinson traded in her 2016 VW GTI for the weekend to have a chance at the Modern Muscle class in her dad’s 2015 race-ready Camaro. Robinson started out cautiously, since the added horsepower was quite a bit more than her usual daily driver, but her 10-second improvement over the two-day event earned her a special recognition award at the end of the weekend.
With several other events taking places across the country, it is hard for some people to attend them all. Valerie Pichette and her 1988 Pontiac Trans Am are typically traveling the Midwest and East Coast, but the winter season allowed her to attend the season opener at the NMCA West AutoX. Pichette earned a special recognition for all her hard work even though she broke and had to pack up early.
A new segment was added to the NMCA West AutoX events for the 2019 season. The Racing Byrds hosted a kids Power Wheels competition on Saturday during lunch. Kids were encouraged to bring out their Power Wheels and run laps on a mini autocross. The fastest lap was awarded a special trophy. Natalie Priestley, a three-year-old with a promising future in automotive racing, took to the wheel of her recently modified pink-and-white Corvette earning her the title of Power Wheels champion for the first NMCA West AutoX.
New rules to the 2019 season state all previous season class winners are immediately put into a Pro Category within their class. These drivers included Greg Thurmond and his 1965 Corvette in Classic Muscle, Greg Nelson and his 2015 Camaro in Modern Muscle, Marc Lewis and his 2017 Miata MX5 in Compact Class, and Jordan Priestley with his 2017 Corvette in the Sports Car Class.

David Carroll came all the way out from Northern California with his four-cylinder-turbo-powered 1973 Vega. The car, which Carroll has been dialing in over the past year, was unstoppable over the two-day autocross. Carroll took the lead early Saturday winning the Classic Muscle class, then again on Sunday winning the PRO Classic Muscle class.

Tom Kamman’s showcased his newly purchased 1987 Corvette for the first time out on track. The ’87 Corvette, which recently underwent an LS swap, meant business when it hit the track Saturday morning. Though Carroll brought unexpected competition to the Classic Muscle class, Kamman managed to sweep the remainder of the commotion on Sunday, winning the Classic Muscle class.

Though Paul Molina missed part of the season last year, he returned strong for the 2019 season in his 2017 Mustang. The Mustang underwent several performance and aesthetic changes over the past year, including the addition of several carbon-fiber components. Molina quickly took the lead Saturday in the Modern Muscle class, as well as the PRO class win on Sunday.
Kurt Burris and his 2015 Mustang returned this season to make a statement and that he did. Burris took home the Modern Muscle class win on Sunday, moving him into the PRO Modern Muscle class for the remainder of the year. Though his quick times out on course earned him a spot in the PRO Modern Muscle class, he will have his work cut out for him against drivers like Paul Molina and Greg Nelson during round two in April. 
The first event brought out new faces and new vehicles, including a highly modified 2013 Lamborghini. The car caught the attention of several fellow competitors, since supercars are not common at NMCA AutoX events. Once everyone saw who was behind the wheel, everyone had a good hunch which driver would take the lead in the Sports Car class throughout the weekend. As Austin Barnes sat behind the wheel of Robert DeuPree’s Lambo, he swept away his competition both Saturday and Sunday, though his average time earned him a second-place win overall for the weekend Grand Champion.
Scot Spiewak is a man with a target on his back as he and his 2003 Corvette have been extremely competitive throughout the past couple years. Not only has Spiewak won the Sports Car class on several different occasions, he has gone home as overall weekend champion as well as overall class champion. Spiewak did not disappoint as he took the lead in the Sports Car class Sunday, moving him into the PRO Sports Car class for round two.

Sammy Valafar brought out his 2004 Miata, which has become a popular autocross car at these NMCA AutoX events. Valafar was noticeably fast first thing Saturday morning and only continued to get faster as the day went on. This eventually resulted in Valafar securing his win in the Compact class Saturday as well as the PRO Compact class on Sunday.
Rafer Chambers was one of three drivers to sit behind the wheel of a 2007 Mazda Miata. The car, which rarely had time to cool down, was extremely fast out on course. Chambers proved, though, that he was the fastest behind the wheel of the Miata on day two, earning him the title of Compact Class champion.
It was only three weeks since your author, Brandy Phillips, gave birth to her son, but that did not slow her down—in fact some say it made her faster. Phillips was back in the drivers seat wheeling her 1972 C10, known as the PCHRODS C10R, alongside her husband, who was also racing the truck over the weekend. Little did Phillips know that her husband would soon become her biggest competition, though she held strong both Saturday and Sunday taking the lead in the Truck Class and PRO Truck classes.
Sean Kelly had the biggest victory throughout the weekend. Kelly had raced consistent times in his C10 both Saturday and Sunday. As Sunday started to wind down, Kelly was comfortably sitting in fourth place in the truck class. As Kelly took his last run for the weekend he miraculously found another second on track, officially putting him in the lead for the Truck class win. Kelly has improved immensely from last year and will definitely be one to watch throughout the remainder of the year.
After close evaluation Sunday evening, it was tough to determine who would go home with the overall weekend championship. Austin Barnes had run the fastest lap time overall both Saturday and Sunday, but as we have seen in the past, fast does not always equal a win. The overall champion must be consistent, clean and fast, which Barnes had trouble with. In the end, Jordan Priestley and his JDP-equipped 2017 Corvette took home the overall Grand Championship for the weekend. Priestley, who was the 2018 Nitto Cup overall Grand Champion, has big shoes to fill this year, but did not disappoint as he secured his lead in round one as overall points leader.
There’s only a seven-week break before the second race of the series. As drivers prepare for round two we can expect there to be several more awards, including some humorous and some inspirational, as well as the usual class and overall winners. The competition is only firing up, though, as it’s about to get a lot hotter as the NMCA West Nitto Cup AutoX season continues.

For all of the event results, click HERE.