INTERVIEW: Todd Covini-CMC Original Q. NASA has grown significantly in the past few years, but it has a long history. Tell us how you got involved with NASA, and the American Iron series, and your role as Director for the Southwest-Texas ...
INTERVIEW: Todd Covini-CMC Original
Q. NASA has grown significantly in the past few years, but it has a long history. Tell us how you got involved with NASA, and the American Iron series, and your role as Director for the Southwest-Texas region?
A. In 1993, I was living in Manhattan Beach, CA. At the time, I was relatively new to Southern California and met a lot of car-people at autocross events. Unfortunately, I was not very good at autocrossing and always seemed to get lost in the "sea of cones". (A typical weekend for me involved 3 DNFs followed by 1 decent lap time.) It was time for me to get on a road course!
One of my new autocrossing buddies was Dave Royce who introduced me to the opentrack experience and because of him; I attended some of my first opentrack days at Willow Springs. Oddly enough, I saw an ad in another sports car club's newsletter called "The Wheel", about NASA's "new" opentrack program. I was tired of hoping for open spots with other marquee car club track days and was happy that with a NASA membership, I could actually sign up for an event and get on track.
In 1995, I moved to Northern California in Walnut Creek, CA and found myself within hours of some of the most amazing road courses in the country. Since I had driven Willow Springs, I was hooked and wanted more. NASA was running events at (what was) Sears Point Raceway and I began to opentrack there and anywhere else I could. The racing bug bit hard as a handful of the same Mustang and Camaro owners began showing up on a regular basis and we were all hanging out and running Group 4 HPDE together.
It was then that I met father and son, Don & Jeff Trask, who were also opentracking in the early days of NASA. Their day job involved economical spec sailboat racing programs with J-Boats. With the assistance of former A-Sedan racer Ben Pfaff, the formula and rules were developed for an economical ponycar racing series which today is known as the Camaro-Mustang Challenge (CMC). CMC grew and attracted a lot of new ponycar racers in the mid to late 90's while at the same time, NASA was growing in California. We began to run events as far north as Thunderhill and as far south as the Pomona test track and Willow Springs. When CMC came to town in SoCal, it caught the eye of John Lindsey and Ryan Flaherty. Both were veterans of SCCA's ITE class in their pumped up Mustangs. Unfortunately, the CMC rules were based on low cost and a basically stock configuration, so their cars were not eligible to race with us.
In 1998, the CMC co-founder and Series Director at the time, Jeff Trask, had a CMC championship under his belt. After running up front of the field for years, Jeff decided to go pro racing with Motorola Cup. Having run the series since its inception and assisted with the philosophy of the rules, I was asked to now take over and be the new CMC Series Director.
In 1999, while new to the Series Director role in California, John Lindsey and Ryan Flaherty approached us with the concept of "Super CMC"...or American Iron (AI) where aftermarket parts were encouraged, higher horsepower could be had and a weight to power ratio would be the new formula. We liked the idea, but most of the CMC racers were afraid it could split our group and slow the momentum of growth we were seeing in CMC. As such, Lindsey and Flaherty took their AI concept and ran with it in Southern California ...and the American Iron Series was born.
From 1999 to 2001, while I was the CMC Series Director, we worked closely with John and Ryan such that the AI and CMC series schedules coincided and a large field of ponycars could be on the track together at the same time. With the combined series, it was an amazing roar of 30+ cars out on track and quite a sight to see!
Late in 2001, I moved to Houston, TX with a job transfer and essentially parked my CMC Mustang. Tony Guaglione took over the CMC Series Director role in NorCal and with a new baby on the way, a new job and a new home, I was now semi-retired from racing.
Soon thereafter, Texan Adam Ginsberg returned from a West Coast business trip where he had the opportunity to see the AI/CMC race groups race at Sears Point. Having a few opentrack events under his belt, he wanted to create the same experience back home in Texas with his fellow opentrack buddies. Tony Guaglione pointed Adam in my direction and told him to "give Todd a call" to see about getting something going in the Southwest...and the rest is history.
With Adam's help and our 3 year Texas plan, we have been able to achieve our series goals for AI/CMC here in the Southwest and currently have consistent 20-30 car fields. At the current rate of growth, we should be up to consistent 30-40 car fields by years end and into 2007. Most importantly, we've got a great bunch of guys and gals racing with us and it's just a lot of fun to hang out with all of them. We've created www.aicmctexas.com <http://www.aicmctexas.com/> to be able to keep the excitement alive between events and have a forum to discuss our racing series.
Q. It can not be easy running an entire racing series in a region, what are your days and weeks like preparing for the events?
A. Well my days are busy with a corporate job. Trying to keep a good work/family balance is tough enough without adding a racing effort AND series direction into the mix, but it's a labor of love. Having done it for some time, a lot of my preparation comes in the week or two before the events. I don't advocate that and wish I had more time to prepare, but for now it seems that it is the best I can do. I seem to work best under pressure.
Q. What has been your involvement with other racing organizations? How do you feel NASA compares?
A. I went to an SCCA licensing school some time ago in NorCal. I was somewhat disappointed that my car didn't fit well with any of the classes, series car count was low and my license would expire if I didn't race regularly on it. I love NASA's "run-whatcha-brung" attitude and "we'll find a race class for you" welcome matt. I've never looked back after obtaining my NASA racing license. I think NASA has the most customer friendly format going.
Q. How is the national series coordinated between all the regions, what types of issues do all the directors face?
A. The national series is coordinated from the West Coast. Both AI and CMC have National Series Directors there. This is expected, since both series have had the longest running history there and has likely come across most every twist & turn on the West Coast. The regional directors typically discuss things in email, and on occasion, via teleconference. The issues all directors typically face are "rules creep" and consistency amongst regions. I think we've got an excellent network of directors working the issues on a weekly basis now and both issues are being handled effectively. It will be great to have a "directors meeting" at the Nationals and get to meet/greet in person with a lot of the folks I've conversed with over the recent years.
Q. In September 2006, NASA will have its first National Championships at Mid-Ohio, how will you be involved in that effort?
A. I'm going for sure!!! We've talked about a National event for many years now. It's exciting to see AI & CMC regions crop up all over the country and I can't wait to see everyone with a common interest in one race paddock! In addition to racing my CMC Mustang, I'm not sure what my official capacity will be just yet but will help out in any way I can. I hope to assist with series tech & rules interpretations along with the other regional directors. In any case, I'm looking forward to seeing a whole bunch of old friends!!!!
Q. What is the next step for NASA and the American Iron series, what's in store for the future?
A. I think the National Championships at Mid-Ohio are going to be like a steroid-shot in the arm of NASA. Since the American Iron Series is now comprised of CMC, AI, as well as AIX (the extreme version of AI) I think the series is really going to take off. We see the auto manufacturers moving toward the retro-look and I think the timing of American Iron Racing is coinciding with a rebirth of the Pony Car wars of the late sixties. It's Trans-Am like it used to be in the '60's!!!
Q. The American Iron Racing series is getting pretty competitive, and serious....lap times are dropping every race and a lot of racers are increasing budgets to keep up. How do you think this plays into the original goals of the series?
A. I think each class within the American Iron Racing Series has remained true to its original goals of the series. That is the beauty of AI/CMC. CMC has remained steadfast in low-budget, stock configurations. AI has continued to explore the aftermarket world and allow increased budgets and horsepower. I do think the line between AI and AIX has gotten somewhat blurred, but the directors have been keenly aware of that over the recent years and have tried to ensure a gap between AI and AIX. New to the American Iron Series portfolio is the American Iron Vintage class, where a true historic prepared ponycar can be run with the group. I love the concept and hope to see more of these cars racing with us in the future.
Q. You are a race driver at the same time; tell us about your car, your team and your sponsorship?
A. I bought my 1988 Mustang GT convertible off the showroom floor in 1988. Had I known I would be road racing it today, I would have opted for a hardtop!!! A convertible is not the best racecar, but it's what I have and the car has developed to be quite competitive, so I'm hanging onto it for now. I am building a 1967 Mustang Fastback for the AIX class and have a goal of 500HP/500TQ as well as a full Griggs Racing GR350 suspension. Since I've raced CMC for nearly 10 years, I'm really anxious to try some serious horsepower and handling in the near future!
Q. Are there any key support people you would like to thank?
A. I say this to all our racers in Texas...first and foremost we have to thank our wives, significant others and families for letting us do what we do. It takes a great time and money commitment to race and I have to thank my wife, Sheryl and kids, Julia and Tony for supporting me in my efforts. I'd also like to thank Dave Royce for getting me hooked into roadracing, The Trask family for establishing the fun philosophy and lastly Adam Ginsberg for all his hard work to make it happen in Texas!