NASA Mid-South Summer in February: Racing, Come Hell or High Water

You never know what the weather in Memphis, Tennessee, will bring in February, but the National Auto Sport Association (NASA) Mid-South chapter is a very optimistic group! It could be 80 degrees and sunny, or it could be sleeting, snowing, or like this year — raining. I’m not talking about a couple of sprinkles either, I’m talking about 40 degrees, blowing wind, and driving rain. Like I said, this chapter is optimistic and they don’t let a little rain get in the way of having fun; they’ll run come hell or high water!

Manuel Moody leads a pack of Porsche 944 Spec racers into turn 3 at a soggy Memphis International Raceway.

The Summer in February event took place at Memphis International Raceway on February 17-18 and is the season opener for NASA Mid-South. Despite the dreadful forecast, a good number of diehard racers and High Performance Driving Event (HPDE) students showed up to give it a go. The morning session saw pretty substantial rainfall, but luckily for the racers these time slots were mostly filled with HPDE1 through 4 sessions and the race warm-up. 

Chris Johnston driving our project car we bought for $1000. Prior to this we had about 20 minutes of seat time. Not exactly the weather you want to learn in.

NASA Mid-South is optimistic, but they aren’t reckless, so for the 11:00 qualifying session the decision was made to not run down the front stretch that incorporates the dragstrip. For those of you who have never driven on a dragstrip in the “off-season” it can be greasy when dry; put any precipitation on it and you can compare it to any NHL rink — not something you want to be driving high-horsepower racecars on. A smart decision that saw the course diverted down the “hot pit” (an access road beside the dragstrip) before reentering the strip just past the finish line.

Despite the steady rainfall and significant puddling on the course, the 11:00 am qualifying session went off without a hitch. Classes represented were GTS2, Honda Challenge 1, Spec Miata, Super Touring 3, and 944 Spec Porsche. With some racers taking it extra careful, it was hard to tell who would come out on top in the race.

The next thing I’m going to tell you might just blow your mind. After the checkered flag flew to end the session, a Honda Odyssey minivan would sit on the pole for the 1:20 pm race! Yes, you read that right, a minivan! To be fair to driver Karl Hertel and Team HMA Racing, this isn’t your mom’s minivan, it’s a full-on race . . . um, er . . . van?

Karl Hertel in the 2011 Honda Odyssey surprised everyone with the grocery getter jumping out to the lead.

Hailing out of Birmingham, Alabama, Team HMA took one of the first minivans off of the Honda assembly line and turned it into a track car — proof that you actually can race anything. Devoid of the 72 cupholders, DVD players, passenger seating, and other kiddy creature comforts, this Odyssey sports a stock V6 and nothing else but sheet metal, tube roll cage, chassis stiffening, sport suspension, and huge disc brakes the size of mom’s Thanksgiving dinner platter.

Race #1 on Saturday saw some great racing at rain-soaked MIR. Karl Hertel in the '11 Honda Odyssey set fastest lap (1:25.5) and Jim Drago in his Spec Miata laid down a 1:27.5 lap for second. Rod Marovitz went for a ride in the swamp in his Vette.

As lunchtime approached, the clouds finally began to lighten and the rain subsided. Though parts of the track were thoroughly soaked, this allowed the NASA and MIR crew time to knock the ponds down to puddles before the race. They still couldn’t use the dragstrip and only the highest of spots started to show signs of drying, but at least they weren’t having to race airboats!

With the great mix between the 12 cars, and the wet track, this was shaping up to be a fun race. As the green flag flew, the Odyssey jumped out to an early lead from the pole and never looked back to take the win in the Honda Challenge 1 class over second place Daniel Madamba from the Nashville area in his S2000. GTS2 and Super Touring winners David Schram and Rod Markovits, respectively, were uncontested in their classes. Spec Miata saw Christian Ogle edge out Jim Drago for the win, but the 944 Porsche Spec class was the hottest contest of the day with Manuel Moody just edging Michael Morris by .327 and Chris Simmons by .876 seconds. You could’ve thrown a blanket over the three!

The 944 Spec class saw the closest racing with Manuel Moody (117) taking the win over Michael Morris. Christian Ogle managed to pull out the win in Spec Miata despite a spin.

Race 2 would see different results as the track began to dry later in the day. Madamba’s S2000 would take the win over Hertel’s Odyssey. Drago and Cotton had problems in Spec Miata which gave the win again to Ogle. 944 Spec saw Morris take the checkered 10 seconds ahead of Simmons, while Pat Magruder came over the stripe just 6 seconds later for third place.

As day 2 dawned, the MIR crew worked feverishly to dry the dragstrip for racing. NASA delayed the start and combined HPDE1 and 2 so they could stay on schedule. The race warm-up ran a lower speed entering the strip and by the time qualifying rolled around at 10:30, the track was virtually dry except for a few places.

Along with the sun, some very nice cars came out to play for Sunday's HPDE4 session including this S2000, Corvette, Lotus Exige, and Porsche GT3R. And they were FAST!

The big race of the weekend was set for the 1:20 time slot. A 25-lap Aussie Pursuit race that handicapped the now 13 drivers based on their qualifying times. Racers would be flagged onto the track according to their qualifying order, so the first car entered the track a full 4 minutes ahead of the last. For those familiar with drag racing bracket racing, theoretically, every car should arrive at the finish together. But just like bracket racing, that is never the case, but man was it a blast to watch as the cars caught and passed each other on the track.

It was difficult to keep track of who was leading as some of the cars had to make up multiple laps, but the most exciting and noticeably fastest (and therefore last to start) car was #74 John Gleason in his Lotus Exige racer. Gleason would eat up football fields worth of distance on other competitors as he motored around the track. Unfortunately for him, the gap was just to great to make up and he ended up 6th overall.

John Gleason was the fastest on track during the Aussie Pursuit. His Lotus Exige was flying.

Amazingly, it was the two Honda Challenge competitors that would take first and second place with the Odyssey of Hertel besting Madamba’s S2000. Third place would fall to the GTS2 competitor, David Schram in his BMW E-46.

It is not very often that you can say you went to race where a minivan won the entire event over Corvettes, Porsches, BMWs, Lotus, or even S2000s and Miatas, but it’s not very often you see a minivan built to this caliber. Keep an eye on Team HMA; they will prove you can never judge a book by its cover. And they’ll race anything come hell or high water!

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About the author

Shawn Brereton

Previously Operations Director at Xceleration Media, Shawn is a lifelong car enthusiast that appreciates all things automotive. He is the proud owner of a ’55 Chevy, a daily-driven ’63 Oldsmobile, and a Miata track car.
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