Steven Cole Smith
Steven Cole Smith Contributor
1/3/20 9:32 a.m.

Story by Steven Cole Smith • Photography as Credited

 

Precisely 30 years ago, in 1989, sports car enthusiasts Jerry Kunzman and Ali Arsham began discussing a different kind of automobile racing club, one that was perhaps less rigid and a little more inclusive than the Sports Car Club of America of the day.

In 1991, talking gave way to action. The National Auto Sport Association was born in the Bay Area.

Yes, NASA. Of course, there was already another NASA. That NASA was quite busy in 1991, launching six space shuttles and dozens of other unmanned missions that year. After all, 1991 was the final year of the Soviet Union: The space Cold War had suddenly melted, and the U.S. and Russia were forging a lasting period of cooperation in space exploration.

And when the other NASA launched, the space agency wasn’t amused. There were discussions, but the racers were allowed to keep the name. And so the National Auto Sport Association began to prod the sleeping motorsports giant, the SCCA, which had cornered the sports car racing market for so long that it arguably developed some bad habits. Now it would face some competition.

The fledgling NASA–which, at the bottom of its website, admits is “Not affiliated with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration”–was viewed more as an amusement than a serious competitor for the SCCA. After all, how many sports car organizations had come and gone in the decades prior?

But as NASA approaches its 30th birthday, the organization–it isn’t a club, like theSCCA, it’s a for-profit business–is stronger than ever. That said, the SCCA has become more relevant than ever, a gradual process begun by SCCA President Jeff Dahnert, then Lisa Noble, and currently Mike Cobb.

Leaders of the SCCA and NASA aren’t much interested in comparing the two sanctioning bodies, with one executive commenting, “That’s a dangerous question.” But when pressed, both sides admit the other is doing a lot of things well. “I see them as helping create a higher tide of opportunity for enthusiasts across thecountry,” says the SCCA’s Cobb.

“In life, business and in motorsports, a little healthy competition often serves to create new opportunities and drive growth,” Cobb continues. “While we are competing motorsports sanctioning bodies, we’re both focused on serving enthusiasts and delivering the best experience possible–and in the end, we believe this creates more opportunity for all. This said, if we get a shot at getting to that next apex before them, we’re going to do all we can to own it.”

The consensus: that a rising tide floats all race cars. That there’s room for both groups, along with the plethora of other clubs and businesses offering track time, driving schools, and low-buck endurance racing. The important thing is to get new enthusiasts into the tent. Where they go from there is their decision. But until they turn that first wheel in competition or find a place to help out a program they like, no one stands to benefit.

Read the rest of the story

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_ Dork
1/3/20 10:04 a.m.

Does nasa do autox, or just road racing? I've never really looked into either with them. I just assumed nasa did only road racing. 

ebonyandivory
ebonyandivory PowerDork
1/3/20 11:10 a.m.
_ said:

Does nasa do autox, or just road racing? I've never really looked into either with them. I just assumed nasa did only road racing. 

Don't ever, for any reason, do anything to anyone for any reason ever, no matter what, no matter where, or who, or who you are with, or where you are going, or where you've been, ever, for any reason

bcp2011
bcp2011 Reader
1/3/20 11:18 a.m.

Never been to an autox event with NASA.  All the ones close to me in the Great Lakes region are road course events.  I did SCCA Autox way back, and quite frankly got bored at driving for a total of 5 min while standing in the sun for the rest of the day picking up cones.  

I also went to a driver school two years ago, and upon completion was told that it qualified me for an SCCA wheel to wheel racing license and all I needed to do was apply.  Knowing what I know from a few events under my belt with NASA at the time, I quickly ruled out running with SCCA in any road course racing environment as I was in no way qualified for any wheel to wheel racing license!  

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_ Dork
1/3/20 12:01 p.m.

In reply to ebonyandivory :

Yeah but the link doesn't work. Maybe they just don't have a great presence here in the PNW. 

SavageHunter11
SavageHunter11 None
1/6/20 9:41 a.m.

N.A.S.A., We're the race guys, not the space guys

Kreb
Kreb UberDork
1/6/20 10:03 a.m.

Admittedly I live and participate in NASA's home region, so can't speak for the rest of the country, but have always been very impressed at how they run their events. 

One thing that happened when I was actively participating was that Jerry thought that driver instruction was getting lax. At which time he decertified his entire instructor pool and made them do a training before he'd allow them to resume their duties. This pissed off a number of guys who felt disrespected, and he lost a few, but that was the price to pay to keep standards up.

I'm sure that there are track day organizers who run a similarly tight ship (I imagine that SCCA does a good job), but I haven't run with any yet. In fact, that's become a little bit of a problem, because NASA makes drivers exhibit skill and/or work through levels 1-3 before they turn them lose altogether, and self-styled hotshots prefer to go to events where they don't have that oversight. This has resulted in smaller event fields, but again, safety.

bcp2011
bcp2011 Reader
1/6/20 11:20 a.m.
Kreb said:

I'm sure that there are track day organizers who run a similarly tight ship (I imagine that SCCA does a good job), but I haven't run with any yet. In fact, that's become a little bit of a problem, because NASA makes drivers exhibit skill and/or work through levels 1-3 before they turn them lose altogether, and self-styled hotshots prefer to go to events where they don't have that oversight. This has resulted in smaller event fields, but again, safety.

I can't echo this enough.  NASA is by far the most organized and well run group in the great lakes region.  The standards are high, and safety drills are run starting in group 1 at random to emphasize safety above all else (e.g, black flag for cars that have done nothing wrong, red flags during a session, etc.).  I am a far faster, safer driver due to the training I've received there. On top of that, a really friendly and genuine group of folks!

Carbon
Carbon UltraDork
1/7/20 5:36 p.m.

I believe way more of what this nasa says than the other one. cheeky

Dave M
Dave M HalfDork
1/7/20 6:05 p.m.

I've loved the folks running, instructing and participating in NASA Mid-Atlantic. They're running a tight, tight ship that is also very friendly and welcoming.

codrus
codrus UberDork
1/7/20 6:34 p.m.

There used to be a NASA autox chapter here, but some kind of internal politics about 15 years ago resulted in it splitting off into another club.  Dunno about other areas -- certainly it's not the same level of focus as SCCA has.

 

 

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