Carrying Speed: Meet Shawn Meze, NASA’s Technical Director Of Racing

For years, I have attended numerous High Performance Driving Events (HPDE) and track days, and never really took the time to get to know any of the men and women who ran the events. Without their efforts to organize, monitor, and run the events, we drivers wouldn’t be able to get out on the track.

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to meet more of the people who work behind the scenes and have gained a newfound appreciation for what they do. They work long hours, in often difficult conditions — typically without pay — so you and I can go out and turn-and-burn for a weekend. Long after we’re gone, they are still at the track tirelessly completing their duties for the weekend.

One of the better-known officials for the National Auto Sport Association (NASA) in Southern California is Shawn Meze. Meze is a no-BS kind of guy who will keep you honest, but also hugs you hello when he sees you. For a few years, he was the regional race director here in SoCal where he was steadfast and fair, but also courteous and understanding. It stands to reason that he was promoted by the NASA brass in 2018, and I thought it would be great to get to know one of the key members of NASA’s Club Racing officiating team.

I love racing. I put in more hours doing this than any other job I’ve ever had — and I love it. — Shawn Meze, NASA Technical Director of Racing

The view from the tower at Buttonwillow Raceway Park. Shawn sees what you did there.

The Need For Speed

KA: How did you get started in racing?

SM: My first exposure to racing was as a spectator, watching racing on TV as a small boy. I felt a huge connection to racing and knew that I wanted to be a race car driver. I’ve always been a big fan of all racing. I wasn’t from a family who could put me in a kart as a kid, nor was I able to drive in any capacity until I was an adult. My finances were such that all I could afford was autocross, and even then it was a tight budget, but at least I was getting seat time.

As I got older, the finances got better and I was eventually able to get into road racing. When my financial situation changed again, I attended my first TT event with NASA. I’ve been a NASA member ever since. Even though my current position doesn’t quite allow me the joys of putting tires on track as much as I’d like, I still race whenever I get the chance.

Shawn’s early days in racing saw him behind the wheel of this bitchin’ VW Scirocco.

How did you get started with NASA?

I attended my first NASA event in 2005 and quickly fell in love with the organization. Initially, I worked with the Time Trial (TT) program and was asked to be the assistant of the TT & PT [Performance Touring] Series. From there, I became the assistant to the national TT, PT, and ST [Super Touring] series. In 2010, I left those duties to pursue getting the Spec E30 program running in SoCal. With the help of a bunch of people, we were able to create the series and it grew to be one of the most popular classes here.

All the while, I was helping out where help was needed. I’ve done almost every job within NASA from tech to grid worker. I’ve worked the hot pits during Enduros, driven the pace car, and even been the race director. I’ve seen every angle of an event. I guess the short answer is, ‘I got involved and I participated.’ I’ve made many mistakes, but this is how I learn, and I learn something new each and every single day. I self-critique and move forward.

The Job

What are your job titles at NASA?

My main job is Technical Director of Racing, where I am responsible for maintaining and enforcing the rule sets for all of the racing classes within NASA. I’m also responsible for all of the Race Directors in their duties. Additionally, I’m the National Spec E30 Series Director as well as Co-National Series Director of the NASA NP01 series. Finally, I’m the Regional Race Director for Southern California.

Shawn surveys Spec 944 cars lined up for the afternoon race at a recent event.

What do you REALLY do?

My day-to-day isn’t regular — at all. This is not a Monday through Friday, punch-the-clock type of job.  This job requires one to be a self-starter, take initiative, prioritize tasks efficiently, and then execute them. I’m not always as efficient as I strive to be, but these setbacks are how I learn to try and stay one step ahead of things. Another part of my job is simply communicating with drivers, crew, and families, both at and away from the track. People have questions and I’m happy to answer them. I work until I’m done, or when my wife tells me it’s time to eat dinner.

Most recently, I worked with the National Series Directors to update the racing class rules within NASA. Before any changes happen, there is a discussion process that identifies problems or fixes needed to make the rules — and therefore the classes —  better. We worked long hours to make the necessary changes and updates to the CCR [Club Codes and Regulations] which will be published soon.

I’ve also been working on classroom materials for the HPDE program to be used across all NASA regions. We figured out how to have a Race Directors’ class to make sure that all of our Race Directors, or future Race Directors, have the proper training so they do the very best job at their regions. Consistency and knowledge are what we are after. We feel that more training will only benefit the drivers!

As National Spec E30 Series Director, I’m responsible for the class rules, its Regional Series leaders, and drivers to make decisions about the series. So, you could say that I talk to myself when finalizing rules for the next season. I listen to all of my Regional Series leaders for their input on topics that may or may not need to be addressed. Their experiences and opinions are invaluable for me to know what’s going on across the nation in this very popular class. My role as the Co-Director for the NP01 series is similar but not quite as involved, as the series is very new — were not dealing with 30-plus-year-old chassis, and parts are not an issue.

As the SoCal Race Director, I’m responsible for the control of the track. I’m fortunate in that I’m the captain of a ship that runs itself! I’m privileged to work with a staff that does a great job and the events typically run smoothly. The worst part of the job as Race Director is having to penalize or disqualify a driver. That is not fun. I prefer to watch great racing, watch a driver get their license, and watch them race after race as they develop their skills and become a competitive driver.

I get to speak with the drivers all weekend long, answering questions, and generally helping them as much as I can. Some of the challenges are to figure out more ways for the drivers to have fun. Other SoCal duties include maintenance and transportation of the tech trailer to and from events. When I get to events, I will distribute the items where they need to go, so that the staff can easily set up their areas. When the event is over, it’s time to pack up the trailer and head home. A typical day on race weekend is 14-plus hours. I love it!

When I go down to impound after a race and see all of the drivers high-fiving each other, and the excitement in the air of how much fun they had racing, to me that’s what it’s all about. — Shawn Meze

What do you get from this job personally?

I love racing. I put in more hours doing this than any other job I’ve ever had — and I love it. When I go down to impound after a race and see all of the drivers high-fiving each other, and the excitement in the air of how much fun they had racing, to me that’s what it’s all about. I enjoy seeing all of my friends having a great time, and I consider all of my fellow racers my friends. Being at the racetrack is my church!

Shawn considers the racers as friends. But rules are rules and he is there to enforce rules and consistency.

Challenges And The Road Ahead

What are the biggest challenges you face in your current role at NASA?

There are many aspects of the job that I’m still learning about. I’m a hands-on person, and some of this office work is so new to me. It’s not a job where there is a manual you pull out of a drawer that says ‘this is your job, clock-in and do these things, then go home.’ It’s a very fluid position.

I am focused on certain aspects of the job at different times of the year. As an example, the NASA Championships at COTA were last month. Leading up to the event, I learned a ton of new tasks that needed doing. The total amount of work-hours that went into the event, and leading up to it, were mind-boggling! My biggest challenge is to be flexible with the workloads as they come in, and make sure I manage my time effectively so that I’m always ahead of the game.

Meze is firm, but fair while doing the job that often translates into 14-plus hour days. He loves it and wouldn’t have it any other way.

What goals do you have for NASA and the membership in coming seasons?

It’s the other way around! My goal is to achieve the goals NASA has set for 2019. My part of the equation is to ensure that the rules for all of the racing classes are reviewed and any changes or fixes are carefully examined and implemented. Rules-creep is everyone’s irritation, but also a necessary evil. There has to be a middle ground there, which I seek. I have a few things in the works to ensure our Race Directors are top-notch nationwide. Ultimately, I want to help others who share my love for racing, experience racing for themselves in a fun, safe environment!

 

Final note: I hope you enjoyed learning about Shawn and his passion for his work as much as I did. He’s one of the many great people whose tireless efforts give the rest of us an opportunity to race and improve our craft. Stay tuned for more interviews in the coming months!

About the author

Kasra Ajir

Having competed, raced, or trained with SCORE, SCCA, NASA, BMW CCA, and more, Ajir is well seasoned in the various series that pollinate the grassroots and professional auto racing world.
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