How The West Was Won—Recapping another successful season of carving up cones on the West Coast

Written by Brandy Phillips

Photography by the Author

As the Nitto Tire NMCA WEST Auto-X Series grows in terms of events and participation, the overall point accumulation becomes a focal point of the series. The 2019 season included two additional events, making the NMCA West Auto-X a six-event series. Recognized for bringing some of the best autocross tracks in 2019, the Nitto Tire NMCA WEST Auto-X Series had ever seen. Each track layout, created by Rob Byrd of Racing Byrds, elicited speed, technical maneuvers, precision, and elegance that challenged cars to a dance around the courses.

To say that the series inspired a high level of competition is an understatement. The 2019 Nitto Tire NMCA WEST Auto-X Series attracted some of the fiercest completion the series had ever seen. From the regulars to the SCCA pro drivers, it was difficult to predict the potential overall class and grand champions. With speed, accuracy and consistency, victors in certain classes became apparent early in the year, while the points lead in other classes were not determined until the final laps of the year.

So how does one win earn the title of class points leader for the overall season? Racing in at least five of the six events was the first step. It was necessary to race in at least five events because one of the six events would be a throwaway round. Next you must maintain clean and fast runs on both Saturday and Sunday of each race. This will place you higher in the overall average for the weekend, earning you more points for that particular race. The driver with the highest average between five of the six events in each class is awarded Class Grand Champion for the season. Second place is also recognized in each class during the official award banquet. Let’s not forget the overall victor in the series. The same rules apply as the class victors, but this competitor will outdrive all other racers in the series earning their title as the Nitto Tire NMCA WEST Auto-X Grand Champion. Now let’s dive into the winners circle as we take a look at the 2019 Nitto Tire NMCA WEST Auto-X  overall Class Champions and Grand Champion.

Pelton Barnes was a name that became popular throughout the 2019 season. Barnes brought out his 2015 BRZ to compete in the growing Compact Class. His name came up several times throughout the year as he won his class on numerous different occasions. However, it was Marc Lewis who was giving him a run for his money as the season neared to an end. It was not until the last event of the season where Barnes squeezed by Lewis earning him the title of Compact class champion for the 2019 season.

Greg Thurmond and his 1965 Corvette named SCAR have raced for several years at a variety of different venues, but the NMCA West Auto-X Series is one that Thurmond was dedicated to for the 2019 season. He had high hopes of winning the Classic Muscle class this year; backing up his win from last season. Thurmond came so close, but fell short by a small margin as he was announced the runner-up in the Classic Muscle class for 2019.

Chad Ryker was back in action this year in his 1968 Camaro. After a scheduling conflict with another race during the 2018 season made him fall short in his average and a chance at the Classic Muscle title, Ryker came back with vengeance while fighting for the overall title once again. Ryker was a dominant car in the points chase within his class, which became readily apparent as he earned the overall Classic Muscle class win.

Greg Nelson, another popular name within the NMCA West Auto-X Series, took home several wins in the past. However, the growing competition in the Modern Muscle class left Nelson fighting for a chance at the title once again. Nelson got back into his groove as he got behind the wheel of his 2015 Camaro Z28, earning the title of the 2019 runner-up in the Modern Muscle class.

Paul Molina has had quite a bit of seat time behind the wheel of his 2017 Mustang. Between the Nitto Tire NMCA WEST Auto-X and SCCA series, Molina and his Mustang maintained a busy schedule throughout their race season. Molina was a tough competitor and it showed as he was presented as the overall points leader for the Modern Muscle class for the 2019 season.

Early on in the season, Scot Spiewak swapped cars from a Corvette to driving Pat Sheely’s Ford Focus RS for the remainder of the season. Since both cars were within the same class, Spiewak continued to earn points in the Sports Car class. The RS was a fast little car regardless who drive it, but It was not long before Spiewak took the Focus to a whole new level, earning him the spot as runner-up for the season in the Sports Compact class.

Jordan Priestley is a familiar name within the Nitto Tire NMCA West Auto-X Series. As owner of JDP Motorsports, last season’s overall victor and multi-time Sports Car class champion, the pressure was on for Priestley to back up his title. He did not disappoint. Not only did Priestley take home the Sports Car title in his 2017 JDP-equipped Corvette, he once again earned the overall Grand Champion trophy. With a total of 247 points for the year, Jordan Priestley took home the title as the Nitto Tire NMCA West Auto-X Grand Champion for the 2019 race season.

Your author, Brandy Phillips, earned the title of runner-up in the Truck class in the PCHROD C10R.  Three weeks after giving birth to her second son, Phillips was back in the driver’s seat racing at the first NMCA West Nitto Cup Auto-X of the season. As the season continued Phillips fell in her podium positions, but her clean runs landed her high averages at each event. This in turn resulted in a second-place finish overall earning her the title of runner-up in the Truck Class for the 2019 season.

Rob Phillips’ comeback story was quite impressive as he returned to the driver’s seat after sitting out for five years. Apparently the years of coaching his wife and our correspondent Brandy helped his skills behind the wheel and it showed during the 2019 season. Rob Phillips earned the title of Truck Class Champion while co-driving the PCHRODS C10R. His consistency was key during the season as a paved a major points lead gap between himself and his wife who sat in second place. This lead also placed him in the top 15 overall for the season out of over 100 competitors.