NASA event puts racing enthusiasts on Kansas Speedway track

The last Saturday in September was a perfect day. A few wispy cirrus clouds streaked an otherwise azure blue sky as temperatures rose into the upper 70s.

Instead of heading to a barbecue, 160 race car enthusiasts took their own cars to Kansas Speedway to drive them in a National Auto Sport Association (NASA) Central Region event.

“The atmosphere is of a giant backyard barbecue where an auto race broke out,” said 50-year-old Bryan Cohn, who brought his 1995 Mazda Miata from Lawrence. “We strive for the gathering of a bunch of friends, having fun together like you would at a barbecue. We just happen to race cars instead of watch football or play softball.”

NASA was formed in 1991 to deliver motorsports events to enthusiasts at major racing venues throughout the nation. NASA has created programs that allow owners of race cars or high-performance street-driven vehicles to enjoy the full performance capabilities of their cars in a safe and controlled environment at a major race track.

Depending on the package they bought, the drivers ranged from those who were learning how to operate their car on the track with an instructor to those who drove their car around the oval as fast as they could.

“It is really cool,” said 31-year-old Brett Westcott, who brought his 1992 Nissan Sentra from Bellevue, Neb. “Another racer put it best: It is like your softball league being allowed to play at Royals Stadium.

“We are out here having a good time. Some people have nicer stuff and are taking it a little more seriously. We all like to have a good time on the weekend. Everybody is friends. Afterwards, everybody shakes hands and has a drink. It is a lot of fun.”

Unfortunately, because of unforeseen issues at the track, the two-day event was shortened to one day.

Matt Rivard, the Central Regional Director, said he couldn’t go into details why the second day was cancelled. But he is making every effort to bring the event back to Kansas Speedway next year.

On Saturday, Rivard was thrilled by what he saw. Not only was there an increase in the number of participants from the first year in 2014, the car show, put on by the Midwest Blue Oval Club, added to the number of spectators.

“Cars are a unique thing that everybody has a certain passion for,” Rivard said. “This does bring people together who normally wouldn’t get together, which is great. When you are here, even though you may have never met the guy you are next to, you are instantly his friend.”

If you were in the pit area on Sept. 26 and closed your eyes and listened to cars revving up and drivers talking to their mechanics, the sounds were similar to what will take place on the weekend of Oct. 17-18 when NASCAR returns to Kansas Speedway.

But instead of Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards or Jeff Gordon battling it out in The Chase, it’s 19-year-old James Pesek with his 2007 Ford Mustang, Mike McGinley with his 2008 Corvette and many others with so many different cars.

McGinley put in extra time at work on Friday as the vice president and general manager at Hendrick Chevrolet, 8300 W. Shawnee Mission Parkway in Merriam, so he could spend the weekend with his car on the track.

“It is a lot of fun,” McGinley said. “The banking is good so you don’t need to worry about carrying a lot of speed.”

After a test run, McGinley’s two-man crew went back to work on his Corvette to make sure it ran perfectly later in the day.

“We had to change the tune in the car, the set up and we are still doing some adjustments based on what we learned during the warm-up session,” McGinley said.

Harvey Kinnard of Leawood enjoyed his first spin around the track in his 1962 Triumph TR4.

“I am one of the older racers,” Kinnard said. “Yesterday (Sept. 25) was my birthday, but that is all you are getting.”

The beauty of NASA is participants can go as fast or as slow as they want in their cars.

“To be able to start with an instructor and work your way up to the different levels is absolutely the way to go,” Kinnard said.

“It is fun just to get out here after you see Indy cars run here and NASCAR run here. It is fun to be out on the same track. This is a big track for a little car like this. I am not doing 200 miles per hour. I can see the sights.”

One of the things that McGinley liked was seeing the wide-range of people at the event on Saturday.

“There are a lot of young people here and a lot of families and kids,” McGinley said. “There is a lot of enthusiasm from all age ranges. You see people in 20s and 30s. You see the enthusiasm of the car culture carrying on.”

Once on the track, Cohn said, the thrill is comparable to what an athlete feels in competition.

“It is satisfying to drive and control the car in the same way anyone who plays a sport well, throwing a great pass or hitting a line drive,” Cohn said. “It is a satisfying feeling that I have done a good job. I have used my skills and talents to the best of my ability.”

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