Written by RJB
Photography by Claudia Robles
After what seemed like an eternity—actually 125 days—it was finally time for the 2020 Nitto Tire NMCA West Auto-X Powered by Speedtech season to begin. With competitors ready to race, the track was set and it was time to autocross. Blessed with a beautiful Southern California winter day with temperatures reaching 75 degrees, the tone was set for the weekend.
Being the first event of the year, the course was designed to be easy to see with wide lanes, a nice flow, and yet challenging enough for the experienced drivers. With two long straights and 12 turns, the slogan for the weekend quickly became: “Smiles per Mile.” Our tank was definitely full.
One hundred drivers showed up for this sold-out event and we love that they brought friends and family. Husbands, wives, aunts, uncles, moms, dads, sons, daughters brothers, sisters, grandkids, grandparents, kids of all ages, you name it, they showed up in force to support their favorite drivers. After the official greeting/drivers meeting was completed, our purveyor of parking lots, facilitator of fun, and our cone consigliere called the first run group and said the words that we were all waiting to hear; “Let the autocross begin!”
New challengers, different cars, and lots of upgrades in the off-season set the stage for what proved to be an exciting battle for class wins in every group. We also witnessed an epic head-to-head clash of the champions in the Sports Car Class. Two former champs competed in a brand-new Porsche GT3RS, giving us a driver-versus-driver showdown that was like watching an 18-lap heavyweight title fight that went back and forth keeping us all on the edge of our seats watching to see who would come out on top.
The second round of the season is right around the corner and we can’t wait to see what will happen next… Will there be more new challengers? What will the course look like? Who knows what the Spring Fling event holds in store for us but I’m sure it will be entertaining.
There’s an old saying, I think I seen it on a T-shirt, that goes like this… “Not all show cars are race cars, but all race cars are show cars!” This ’64 Falcon driven by Brent Jennings shows exactly why this is true. Not only did the car look great, it ran great all weekend. Brent improved greatly since his last event, and he took home a well-deserved Cool Car Award for not only driving his beautiful car, but for building something different!
Speaking of different, here’s something you don’t see everyday… the aptly named “Race Deuce” comes from the brilliantly creative and somewhat twisted mind of James Crosby. It is amazing in-person and the pictures don’t do justice to the incredible metalwork on the car. This was the first time to really put the car to the test, but it was no surprise that the car ran as good as it looks! It earned a Cool Car Award for being in a class of its own.
Being the one that is always making sure the timing is right, Trish Byrd rarely finds time to get behind the wheel and have some fun. This topic came up in conversation and one of our drivers offered to let Trish drive his car during lunch on Sunday. True to his word, Robert DuPree showed up at the timing trailer with the keys to his Lamborgini. At this point I didn’t think that either of them was sure about what they had gotten themselves into, and with some nervous excitement, they got in the car.
Robert took the time to give Trish some instruction on the car and once they were both much more comfortable, they set out for the first lap. She took it easy to start, but by her third lap, she put in a very solid time in what would be considered a bucket-list car. One of the many cool aspects of this whole thing was after getting out of the car, Trish proved again that she is a true race chick at heart by saying, “If I only had a few more laps…”
Did we mention that Robert just got the car? Other than a short test drive and loading it in the trailer, this was his first time driving the car. There isn’t a better place to get used to the car and he got faster every run. Finishing third on Saturday and second on Sunday, Robert was only a few tenths off the fastest laps of the day. This is a car and driver combo that will be challenging for the top spot at every event.
Chad Ryker is our Big Hairy American Racing Machine and defending Classic Muscle Champion. Consistent and fast as always, Chad finished first on Saturday and second on Sunday in the highly competitive Classic Muscle group. Quick lap times and clean runs all weekend allowed him to finish with the highest point total in a car equipped with Wilwood brakes and earned this Special Award. Chad will forever hold the distinction of winning the first Wilwood Award and five other drivers will share in the honor of receiving one of these awards as a different driver will receive the award at each event.
One of our many autocross families, the father daughter team of Kurt and Ashton Robinson showed up ready for the new season. There were many changes over the off-season with one of the biggest being Ashton no longer driving her GTI in the Compact Class. Instead, she co-drove her dad’s Fifth-gen Camaro named SCAR1LET in the Modern Muscle Class.
Kurt made some changes to SCAR1LET, adding new aero and a few other upgrades. The car was ready and so were they. Kurt set the fastest time for both days in the Modern Muscle Class and showed that he will be a strong contender for the Championship. Ashton received the Fastest Lady Award for the event and the picture says it all; that’s a proud dad right there!
Don “Speedy” Gonzales is part of the Auto-X family and a perfect example of the spirit of our event. He shows up to compete with his friends, talk a little crap, and have a great time doing it! Back in the day, we would just stand around in the parking lot waiting for our turn to run, but not anymore. Laura, Donnie’s better half, has the RV setup in the pit with all the comforts of home. Their kids bring the grand kids and it becomes a big party, having fun together as a family. As Donnie would get ready to run Kinsley, Justin, Emily, and Peyton would line up near the starting line and cheer him on as loud as they could for the entire lap! These are the memories that last a lifetime; it doesn’t get better than that!
Continuing with the family theme, Pat Sheely and his son Eric always bring a large group of friends and family including several employees, their families, and the neighbor girl Nikki just to name a few. This year, Pat is driving the ‘55 Apache and had a big smile on his face all weekend, giving rides to anyone that wanted to ride in the big, brown truck. The smiles didn’t stop, as he pulled off a clean sweep with the fastest laps in the Truck Class for both days.
Eric had a lot to smile about this weekend as well. Winning the Classic Muscle Class on Sunday will put a smile on anyone’s face, but the real joy this weekend was having his wife and kids with him at the event. Eric’s son Mateo may be mommy’s little surf dude, but he is also the big smile in his daddy’s heart.
This is what we hope is at the heart of all our events—Family!
Showing the younger generations that meeting new people, making friends, and even having competitive rivals all while sharing our passion for cars is healthy fun that builds character, strength, and friendships that last a lifetime!
The result of our passion for cars has given us a love for racing. We saw close finishes in every class and a Champions Showdown that culminated in a fight for the Victor Award.
In this corner, three-time and back-to-back defending Nitto Tire NMCA WEST Auto-X Grand Champion Jordan Priestley.
And in this corner, 10-time National SCCA and 15 time Pro Solo Champion Tom Berry.
The same Porsche GT3RS was used by both drivers and an epic battle played out in front of the entire field. Tom took an early lead with a 42.5 after the first session of Saturday. Jordan set the mark to beat by running a 42.2 twice, but on his final lap of the day, Tom crossed the line with a time of 42.0 to claim the top spot of the day. An early cone penalty caused Jordan to push hard on Sunday and with three of his last six runs being 41.1s, he secured the fastest lap and the top finish on Sunday. In one of the closest finishes for an event weekend, an 84.26 edged out an 84.43 and Tom Berry was awarded the event Victor at the 2020 season opener. It really was fun to watch and we congratulate all of our winners.