Spring Forward—The Nitto Tire NMCA West Auto-X Spring Fling packed the Fontana lot with cone-carving competitors

Written by Brandy Phillips
Photography by Brandy Phillips and Claudia Robles

With one event already in the books, the NMCA West Nitto Cup Autocross has continued to grow in popularity and size. There is no question that the Racing Byrds and the Nitto Tire NMCA West Auto-X have come a long way since their first autocross in the back lot near Auto Club Dragway.

Not only are this year’s courses bigger and faster, Rob Byrd of Racing Byrds continues to add new elements to each track. One course might have a more technical layout while another might cater to faster speeds. Not only does this keep a driver guessing what’s next, but the series in general is more appealing to the wide range of vehicles that come out to race.

The layout of the autocross course was different from the first course back in February. Though several of the competitors were there to compete for the points lead in their class, there were also other participants looking to have a good time and improve their skills behind the wheel. In addition to the drivers there was an increase in spectators during the April event. Spectators were able to watch the racing under the main event tent, walk through the pits and talk to the drivers.

Sponsors of the event also came out to showcase their products and support their sponsored drivers. These sponsors are usually found around the perimeter of the starting line. One particular sponsor was not able to attend the first event of the 2019 season, but was back out for round two. Will Baty and Centerforce Clutches could be found right beside the starting line along with a couple displays and some sponsored drivers pitting in his booth. It was refreshing to see Centerforce back out as Baty has always supported many of the racers within the series.

When taking to the track it is hard not to get overwhelmed by the sea of cones that make up the course, but for the seasoned racer this is hopefully not the case. Mistakes do happen, though, and rather than punishing cone annihilators, the Racing Byrds highlight their mistakes during the award ceremony. A cone annihilator is one who demolishes a cone and that cone must be put to rest. Though there were a handful of those who were recognized for this award, Robb McIntosh had the most epic run throughout the weekend. After lodging a cone between the wheel and caliper of his ’69 Camaro, the cone managed to break the valve stem deflating his tire. This was a first, and because of its rarity, McIntosh earned a Special Recognition Award in addition to the keepsake of his annihilated cone.

Though there are a handful of kids that consistently come out to these events with their parents, it is always inspiring to see these kids get involved and go for rides. One particular Special Recognition was given to a little girl named Ava Sheely who came out with her father Eric Sheely and became hooked on riding as his passenger. With only a couple more years until she can start driving herself, we hope to see Ava at more of these events as a passenger and hopefully some day as a racer.

As the largest class in the series, the Classic Muscle Class is also one of the toughest fields with some of the best drivers. During the first event of this season Tom Kamman and his 1987 Corvette were declared the overall points leader for this class, but Chad Ryker came back with vengeance bumping Kamman out of the overall points lead by one spot during round two. At this point it is anyone’s game in who might win the class championship at the end of the year, but Ryker and his 1968 TCI equipped Camaro definitely made it known that they were there to win.

Paul Molina is a familiar name that has won multiple NMCA West Autocross events, but he couldn’t secure the title of overall Modern Muscle Class Champion last season after missing an event. Molina and his 2017 Mustang sit five spots ahead of last year’s Modern Muscle Champion, Greg Nelson. If he can maintain this lead he will be in a good spot going into the four remaining events.

Though it is not the smallest class at these events, the Compact Class has typically less drivers than the other classes. This does not mean the competition is not tough, especially as new drivers continue to register for this class. Marc Lewis has been able to stay ahead of this competition for the past couple years. As last year’s Compact Class Grand Champion, he and his 2017 Mazda Miata MX5 have continued to remain on top as Compact Class Points Leader and Compact Class Pro Driver for the 2019 season.

As the smallest class in the NMCA West Autocross Series, the truck class is consistently growing and so is the competition. However, there are only a few drivers who can keep their overall consistency near perfect lap after lap, especially in a truck. Rob Phillips had no problem keeping consistent as he took the points lead once again in the Truck class. This consistency would help him and the PCHRODS C10R retain the overall points lead during round two of the six events.

The battle for the overall weekend Grand Champion was tough as Scott Spiewak, in his 2003 Corvette, and Jordan Priestley, in his 2017 Corvette, went head-to-head in one of the closest finales this season. With only seven hundredths of a difference, Spiewak just barely fell short and was declared a second place overall win at the second Nitto Tire NMCA West Auto-X event.

For the second time in a row this year, Jordan Priestley from JDP Motorsports took home the overall win for the weekend as well as maintaining the points lead in the Sports Car Class with his 2017 Corvette. Locking his second win also meant he is the current points leader of the season. With four events still remaining a lot can change, but Priestley is off to a very good start for the overall championship trophy.

NMCA West Nitto Cup Autocross Saturday Class Award Winners CLASSIC MUSCLE: Chad Ryker, 1968 Camaro; CLASSIC MUSCLE PRO: Greg Thurmond, 1965 Corvette; MODERN MUSCLE: Kurt Robinson, 2015 Camaro; MODERN MUSCLE PRO: Paul Molina, 2017 Mustang; SPORTS CAR: Wes Drelleshack, Focus RS; SPORTS CAR PRO: Jordan Priestley, 2017 Corvette; COMPACT: Pelton Barnes 2015 BRZ; COMPACT PRO: Marc Lewis, 2017 Miata MX5; TRUCK: Cole Reynolds1962 Ranchero; TRUCK PRO: Sean Kelly, 1967 C-10; EXHIBITION: Michael Ahlstrom, 1965 Dunebuggy

NMCA West Nitto Cup Autocross Sunday Class Award Winners CLASSIC MUSCLE: Mike Cuthbertson, 1968 Camaro; CLASSIC MUSCLE PRO: Greg Thurmond, 1965 Corvette; MODERN MUSCLE: John D Grow, 2018 Camaro; MODERN MUSCLE PRO: Paul Molina, 2017 Mustang; SPORTS CAR: Eric Sheely, Corvette ZR1; SPORTS CAR PRO: Wes Drelleshack, Focus RS; COMPACT: Mario Torres, 2004 S2000; COMPACT PRO: Marc Lewis, 2017 Miata MX5; TRUCK: Rob Phillips, 1972 C-10; TRUCK PRO: Brandy Phillips, 1972 C-10; EXHIBITION: Michael Ahlstrom, 1965 Dunebuggy