ATLANTA'S VASSIAN, WEST RACE CARS TAKE ON HOMETOWN TRACK
BRASELTON, GEORGIA (September 24, 2010) -- From drawing pictures of automobiles on the wall as a child to owning the company that produces cars for the Lites 2 class in the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Championship, Atlanta's Eric Vassian has always been passionate about cars. So Vassian looks forward to getting back behind the wheel of his own West WX10 a car his company built to race at his home track of Road Atlanta, a circuit he describes as "harrowing" to the uninitiated.
"My Mom says that when I was two years old I was drawing pictures of cars on the wall," says Vassian, "so I've always been really interested in cars! In college, I had my own auto repair shop that paid my way through, so I've just always loved the mechanical side. But I didn't have the funds to race until much later in life I think I was 38 before I got into a race car, which was eight years ago. So I haven't really been racing that long.
"Once I got the racing bug, I went to the Panoz Driving School at Road Atlanta. I got a spec racer, then moved up to Radical sports racers and eventually became a dealer for Radical. Those cars go fast, but they didn't really have as much of a racing heritage, so I was looking around for that. It was about the time that IMSA chose West to become the Lites 2 car. My company invested in West, ended up handling the parts and working on the cars and I eventually bought the company.
"So from the time I started racing til I bought West was about four or five years. I don't know if that makes me the kind of guy who jumps in with both feet, or an idiot!"
In typical fashion, Vassian leapt into the sports car manufacturing business, spending the next year developing the West WX10, the successor to the popular WR1000 sports prototype car. He also moved the company - car assembly areas, inventory and parts departments, a machine room and a service area for West Racing, the race team and service arm of West Race Cars - into an 8,000+ square foot facility in Buford. In the current economy, car sales have been slow, though Vassian hopes the development of the increasingly popular Lites 2 class will eventually help his business grow.
"We haven't really even started marketing for Lites 2 next year, but seven cars at Road Atlanta is a good start. We'd like to get 10 to 15 cars running for the Championship next year, so the focus is working with IMSA to develop a successful Lites 2 class for next year, to keep things on the right track and keep growing. The Championship is really close this year, so hopefully guys who are deciding where to race next year will look at the competition that is here and realize it can only get better."
One casualty of Vassian's increased time at West Race Cars is the reduction in his own racing schedule, with Petit Le Mans being only his second race weekend this season. But the event at Road Atlanta is a must - even Vassian doesn't want to hazard a guess as to exactly how much track time he has on the famed circuit.
"I've been to Road Atlanta a lot. I don't even think I could put a number on it, the number of times I've been there, or the hours. It's got to be one of the best tracks in the world, but I'm there so much, I probably take it for granted.
"The track is hyper-exciting, intimidating, extremely fast - and scary for someone who's never been on it before. There are a lot of concrete walls, so pushing the car to the limit can be nerve-wracking. There are lots of blind turns, like turn two and three and coming over the bridge and down into turn 12. Until you get a feel for that, it can be pretty harrowing. The first time I went through there in a spec racer, which is much slower than these cars, someone told me you could be flat through there and I thought, there's no way! After a while, I could be flat through there, and now I could go flat through there backwards, but really, it's all about seat time.
"I think the consensus among most drivers is that Road Atlanta is one of their favorites. It's just a great track, it's a fun place to be. This should be a terrific weekend."
The Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Championship features racing between two sports racer prototype classes, Lites 1 and Lites 2, presenting a dimension of competition as drivers must be aware of classes with distinctly different speeds as they navigate the race track. This is the same challenge faced by the drivers of the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron.
The Championship concludes with Rounds 14 and 15 at the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, September 29 through October 2. Follow along on the race weekend at www.litestiming.com, on Facebook and Twitter and visit www.prototypelites.com for the latest schedule and updates.