Here I am, just days away from a shot at a dream come true – winning the Mazda Road to 24 (MRT24) Shootout and the $100K Mazda scholarship that would punch my ticket to becoming a professional race car driver in the 2016 Battery Tender MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires.
Like most other aspiring professional racers, my dream started when I was a little kid. I absolutely loved everything about racing – the beautiful cars, the iconic drivers, and the historic tracks that kept me glued to the TV as I watched my heroes put it all on the line battling for glory and the checkered flag. I spent countless hours recreating those scenes with my Hot Wheels toys before spending every quarter I earned mowing lawns down at the local arcades, dominating anyone who dared challenge me on “Sprint” and “Pole Position” (millennials…Google is your friend).
After college, the arcade games were replaced with computer simulators where I first learned the skill of “threshold everything”, the art of nailing the perfect qualifying lap, and the craft needed to win races. For nearly a decade, I raced people online from around the world on Grand Prix Legends (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Prix_Legends) and iRacing, both developed by David Kaemmer.
Racing finally “got real” for me around 10 years ago when I started frequenting the local indoor kart track before moving up to outdoor race karts, both TaG and shifter karts. From the skills I honed racing on my computer, I was immediately competitive and began what’s become a long string of championship winning performances nearly every year I’ve raced.
After having success in karting, I was ready to take the next step and start racing sports cars. After researching the various classes, Spec Miata was clearly the class to be in because of its relatively inexpensive costs, high car counts, and extremely close competition. I bought my first Spec Miata in ‘07 from Brad Rampelberg and won a closely contested regional championship in my rookie year. Brad became a good friend and my racing hero as he went on to blaze the trail to my dreams by winning the ’07 MRT24 Shootout (previously known as the Club Racer Shootout) and later, the ’09 MX-5 Cup Championship.
Since then, I’ve been determined to follow in Brad’s footsteps with the goals of winning a national championship in a Mazda, winning the MRT24 Shootout, and winning the MX-5 Cup championship…oh, and go one step further by winning a Rolex watch at the 24 Hours of Daytona!
After a couple failed soul-crushing championship attempts in 2008 and 2014 that bookended a four year hiatus from racing due to “recession-related-broke-racer-syndrome”, it feels great to have finally achieved my national championship goal this year by winning NASA’s Western AND Eastern States Championships in Spec Miata. This earned me a place among 22 other Mazda champions and “at large” semi-finalists for the coveted invite to the MRT24 Shootout. While I felt relieved to be one step closer to reaching my dream, little did I realize how much of a challenge the next step would be to earn a finalist spot for the MRT24 Shootout.
The assignment – you have 8 days to submit a racing bio, professional resume, social media & website co-op marketing plan, and 4 minute video describing your 2-3 year racing goals and detailed plans and funding strategy to achieve them. While the assignment represented a lot of work in a short amount of time, each element made sense and would give the selection committee an indication of whether a semi-finalist could assemble the components necessary to sustain themselves as a professional racer beyond their scholarship year.
I already had a professional resume ready but developing the other items took me back to my college days, complete with an all-night cram session at the very end and turning in my assignment right at the 9pm Friday deadline. Then, I had to wait patiently until Sunday at 5pm to hear whether I made the cut. As I dialed into the conference call to hear the finalist announcement, I was surprised at the level of emotions and anxiety I was feeling. Had I done enough? What if I don’t make…and then I heard my name. YES, I’m in!!!
On to the next phase, preparing over the next two weeks to put on the performance of my life November 8-10th at Carolina Motorsport Park. A large part of my preparation has included speaking with former shootout participants, series champions, driver coaches, and race engineers to gain their insights and advice.
But wait, another assignment! We needed to generate local press on being one of the top club racers in the country and a leading contender for the $100K Mazda scholarship. Seeing as how I’d never done anything like this before and live in a “big pond” being the San Francisco region, I knew it was going to be a difficult task to get any traction from the local news outlets. I figured my best strategy was to partner with 17 year old fellow local racer and MRT24 finalist, Mason Filippi. Mason won the West Coast Teen Mazda Challenge and we’ve become friends competing with each other since last year. I drafted a joint press release “High Tech versus High School: Racing for $100K Prize” and asked Dean Case, Communications Officer for Mazda Motorsports, if he wouldn’t mind reviewing the draft. Dean generously agreed and provided expert level feedback that was simply fantastic.
Next, Mason and I adopted a divide and conquer approach to get the word out and get our story picked up. Despite lots of phone calls and emails, it was a struggle to get traction but Mason hit it out of the park by landing our story with KTVU Channel 2 news which is scheduled to air on Friday November 6th.
Enter my final week before the MRT24 Shootout. Monday – filming interviews with KTVU Channel 2, Tuesday/Wednesday – SEMA show in Las Vegas, Friday – testing at Sonoma Raceway in the AM and filming on track with KTVU Channel 2 in the afternoon. Saturday – leave for Kershaw, SC and my shot at taking the next step towards my dream of winning the MRT24 Shootout and winning championships as a professional race car driver!
For live updates on the Shootout and my racing endevours, follow me on Twitter and Instagram @mdracerx.
The Mazda Road to 24 is a Mazda Motorsports program that provides a series of scholarships supporting drivers up a well-defined racing ladder to reach the ultimate level in sports car racing in North America. From grassroots racing through professional categories such as the Global MX-5 Cup, the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and the Cooper Tire Prototype Lites powered by Mazda, championship-winning drivers earn scholarships all the way to potentially becoming a Mazda factory driver in the Prototype category in the IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship (becomes the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2016).
There is a similar program for open wheel racers, the Mazda Road to Indy program which offers a scholarship ladder supporting racers from karting all the way to the Indianapolis 500. This year, Mazda will award more than $2,340,000 in scholarships to winning drivers in sports cars and open wheel categories.
Additional information about the Mazda Road to 24 shootout, and 2016 MX-5 Cup race car, can be found at www.mazdamotorsports.com Mazda Motorsports will be providing live social updates from the Carolina Motorsports Park event on Twitter at @mazdaracing and with hashtag #MRT24.