A few months ago, I was doing a bit of research to back up a statement I was going to make in a post about the Trans Am series. Yes, I actually do that on occasion. In that post I promised to visit the history of the formation of the National Auto Sport Association. Unfortunately, way up here in middle eastern Canada, we used to be well out of the loop in regards to road racing news from California. Some 10 years or so ago I remember reading about NASA in Grassroots Motorsports & even reading about some crazy guy who let his 13 year old race a Viper! There is no way the fuddy duddies at SCCA would have allowed that nonsense. Nope, that was this new group called NASA. Once again, the automotive scene in California seemed pretty cool from way up here in Ontario.
Fast forward to 2009.
That crazy guy was none other than Gary Faules and the 13 year old is his son Will. We’ve been pretty fortunate to have both of them contributing to The Garage for the past couple of years, so it made sense to ask Gary for a bit of history. Gary made a quick call to his friend, NASA founder Jerry Kunzman who graciously allowed us to share part of a story he wrote a few years ago for another publication. In this excerpt Jerry explains how a local Capri owner’s club evolved into one of the greatest motorsports organizations ever.
Cars and racing are two of the great loves of my life. I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t really explain this since my father was not that much into cars when I was growing up. He had an MG Sprite when I was five or six years old. But, that was traded in for an Oldsmobile Vista Wagon. The wagon became my motherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s car and my father bought a new 1972 Pinto. DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t laugh, it was a special edition! In 1976 my mother got a used 1974 Cougar XR7 and my father got a new Ford Van. So as you can tell, I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get the racing bug from my parents. Growing up I had a subscription to just about every car magazine there was and soon had the full page color pictures literally covering every square inch of my room. It was coolÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ yet had never actually even been to a race. I did watch them on TV, the few times per year that NASCAR was featured on ABC Wide World of Sports. So, how I got so hooked remains a mystery to me.
In 1982, after wrecking my Pinto (donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t laugh!), I bought a used Ford Capri and fixed it up. In 1983 I joined the California Capri Club (CCC) and met, then club president, Ali Arsham. I soon became the vice president and Ali and I became fairly active membersÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ although few others were active. The 100-110 member club was filled with somewhat non-participatory members, except for the annual caravan to Sears Point Raceway for the Mercury Capri Fall Classic each year.
The years went by and Ali and another friend discovered the Alfa Romeo OwnerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Club of Southern California and their time trial events. These events were for AlfaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s, but if you had a friend in the club, you could bring your car too, even if it wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t an Alfa. Ali and our other friend went to Riverside Raceway in Southern California, where they drove the track at speed and Ali managed to find a wall with the front fender.
After they came back we were all amazed that it was indeed true; that one could actually drive at high speed on a real road racing track with just seatbelts and helmetsÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ that is, if you had the right car, or knew the right people.
In February of 1987, I had a friend that was going to drive in another Alfa Club event, only this time it was at Laguna Seca. He invited me along to participate with my Ã¢â‚¬Å“hot rodÃ¢â‚¬Â Capri. I did well, capturing 4th place in my class with very little instruction. I was hooked.
In August of 1987 Ali and I managed to finagle our way into the Mini OwnerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Club event at Sears Point Raceway. This was where I first met Nick Becker; the president of the Mini club. I saw the way he operated and I remembered it. A short time passed and we attended some Shelby Club events. We learned a little more at each event.
By early 1989 Ali and I decided that we could put on our own event; as we were still president and vice president of the CCC. Ali managed to get a date for an open track event on November 26th, 1989. It was a one day event, and we knew we had our work cut out for us. I contacted Nick Becker and asked if he could help me understand how to run things. He met with me for about four hours and laid everything out, operationally speaking. But, we still had to market it and fill it up to pay the bills.
This was a risky venture. The CCC had only a few hundred dollars in the treasury and about 97 of the 100 members never showed up for anything those daysÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ not like the early eighties. We knew that we had to change the clubÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s charter to open it up to any make and model to attract as many as possible so as not to fall on financial hardship.
We worked very hard to get people to sign up. Sometimes Ali would go to someoneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s house late at night to have them fill out an entry form. There was no doubt about it, it was very hard work. As the event drew near, we got very nervous. But, in the end (with 109 entries) we had enough to pay the bills and a few thousand dollars on top of that (Ã¢â‚¬Â¦how times have changed!). We thought that we had hit a gold mine!
Next, we were very lucky to be able to book March 17th, 1990 at Laguna Seca. This event did even better; and now, with something like $5,000 in the treasury we set out to book all the dates we could find. We managed to obtain five more dates later that same year. One at Las Vegas (1.8 mile road course, now called the Ã¢â‚¬Ëœoutside road courseÃ¢â‚¬â„¢), three at Willow Springs International Raceway, and one at Seattle International Raceway. All were on Fridays in the summerÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ this would soon prove to be our undoing!
It didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t take long to realize that both Las Vegas and Willow Springs were outrageously hot in the summer and not many drivers would want to come out on a Friday. Seattle wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t hot, but it was far away. In fact, all three tracks were just far enough from our home base (and regular member base) in Northern California (Nor Cal) that we learned the hard way that you canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t Ã¢â‚¬Å“remote controlÃ¢â‚¬Â events. This is really the most important lesson- that is (again), you canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t remote control events. I have yet to be able to fully explain why, but itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s nearly impossible to start up an operation and control it from more than several hundred miles away.
By late 1990 we had lost most of the money that we made for the CCC treasury. Fortunately, the treasury was in slightly better shape than when we started, but only by a few dollars. Heading into 1991 we still wanted to continue, but we really didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want to jeopardize the Capri Club and its treasury. Additionally, we had only two or three members of the original Capri Club that had helped us along the way. The CCC was best left out of any future ventures.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“A new nameÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ something that will become a household word,Ã¢â‚¬Â I thought to myself. Ã¢â‚¬Å“That is what will be needed.Ã¢â‚¬Â Ali and I took a couple of days and made a list of every remotely applicable word that we could think of. Words, like Ã¢â‚¬Å“national, international, sports car, association, confederation,Ã¢â‚¬Â and so on. There were about 20-25 words that we came up with. We started to review the list and assemble them to form our new name. I knew that it was imperative to have a good acronym (even though I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think that Ali quite agreed). I mean who can remember HSCRGW or what it means? There is really a group that goes (or went) by this nameÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ unbelievable!
After several different possibilities, I discovered that Ã¢â‚¬Å“National Auto Sport AssociationÃ¢â‚¬Â has the acronym Ã¢â‚¬Å“NASA.Ã¢â‚¬Â We laughed and kept going through the list. Nothing really seemed to be that great. We kept mentioning Ã¢â‚¬Å“NASAÃ¢â‚¬Â and laughing. But, after a short time, I realized that the term Ã¢â‚¬Å“NASAÃ¢â‚¬Â was already a household word. It was easy to remember; heck everyone already knew it. It would then just be a matter of changing the way people thought about it. So, with AliÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s reluctant agreement, we decided on the name Ã¢â‚¬Å“National Auto Sport AssociationÃ¢â‚¬Â and NASA was born.
In 1991 we phased out the name CCC and phased in our new name, Ã¢â‚¬Å“National Auto Sport Association.Ã¢â‚¬Â We also only had one date in 1991 in early December at Sears Point Raceway. We concentrated on filling the event and trying to clear some profit to have in the bank as a buffer. We were successful.
Backing up just a bit, I should explain that we originally intended that NASA would be a not-for-profit corporation. This didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t mean that we couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t pay ourselves eventually. Our intention was not to make money, but to build a new club; one that was not based on the marquee of your car. We chose to set NASA up as a for-profit corporation because we saw the beating that the local SCCA chapter was taking from the IRS about making lots of money for their treasury. So, even though we pretty much function like a not-for-profit in a lot of ways, the Nor Cal NASA Region is a for-profit business.
By the fall of 1992 I knew that we really had something good and we set out to make a business plan. We started with a vision; a vision of the stand-alone Trans Am and IMSA GTP events of the 1980Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s; where the fans poured in to be a part of the action. A part? Yes, they had lots of things to do in the paddock like tire-changing contests, poster signings, simulator rides, and much more. When you went to these races, it was as much of a carnival in the paddock as it was a show on the track. And, it wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t so crowed that it was a pain in the ass, like some of the big NASCAR weekends can be these days.
So, we knew what we wanted to create and we figured it would take 20 years to create it; if we were good (and lucky). We mapped the plan out on paper, with the first 10 years shown in pretty good detail. We figured that it was unrealistic to detail the last 10 years at that point. Well, we passed year 10 in 1998! And, with the national expansion taking place in 2000, we still remain about 2 years ahead of schedule (as of 2006).
In fact, the success and growth rate was so great in late 1990Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s that I took on a lot of overhead to handle the anticipated growth rate in 2000. I also over-committed myself, by a long shot. Between trying to keep all the commitments and pay for all the additional overhead, such as several new employees, I quickly went into debt and fell behind on my work, despite literally working seven days per week. Late in 2001, Ryan Flaherty and John Lindsey stepped up with an offer to join me in the formation of a proper national corporation and take on many of my commitments and responsibilities. I could not have done this without their help and I am very grateful for that. Since that time in 2001, we have experienced the phenomenal growth and learned some valuable lessons.
So, where are we now? Well, one indicator might be the addition of the National Championships in 2006. Originally, we really didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know when the championships would take place, but we figured it would likely be more than 10 years, so that detail does not appear in the plan. So, how good was this? To compare- SCCA was formed in 1944 and their first Runoffs (national championships) was held in 1964. This was 20 years after they first started. And, it was a different day back then for auto racing, and in particular, road racing. Fans would pack the track even on regional weekends. I have a program from Vacavalley Raceway from 1959, and it show thousands of fans packing the track! It appears that road racing was a very popular sport with the fans and there was no lack of sponsors for the program.
To sum it up, it took SCCA 20 years to hold their first national championship event, back in a time when it was probably a lot easier to do; and we pulled it off in 14 years (September 1992 Ã¢â‚¬â€œ September 2006).
To learn more be sure to visit the NASA home page