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2022 Nitto Tire NMCA WEST Auto-X Season Opener

Posted By: Steve Baur
Written by RJB
Photography by Will Estrada

As we kickoff, our seventh season, the Nitto Tire NMCA West Auto-X Season Opener provides a fresh start for everyone attending. With a short break and an early start to the season, it was surprising to see so many changes. They included champions running in different classes, new contenders, and upgrades all around. It seemed like anything was possible.

As the racers took to the track, one thing became crystal clear — this wasn’t going to be easy. The list of drivers included the return of our first series Grand Champion Jordan Priestley. Winning in 2016 as well as going Back-to-Back in 2018 and 2019 means that he also holds the record as the only person to win three times. Scot Spiewak is the 2017 Grand Champion and he showed up with his favorite red Corvette. Also in attendance, our defending and Back-to-Back Grand Champion for 2020 and 2021, Tom Berry, who found himself behind the wheel of a car he had never driven in competition.

Having all three of our past Grand Champions competing at this event meant that battling for a win would require a Herculean effort. The first event was a wild ride filled with tire smoke and some amazing results. A first-generation, naturally aspirated Miata took the fastest lap of the day and our defending champ hit more cones in this event than he did all of last year. OK, it was only one cone, but it was still more than he hit in a whole season.

If this is an indication of what we have to look forward to this season, buckle up, hold on, and get ready for some intense competition in 2022.

Trucks became the thing in Pro-Touring. Many of us learned how to drive in a truck. Sean Kelly has an amazing example of what can be done to a truck these days. His Stepside ’69 C10 gained several upgrades over the winter and a trip to the dyno for some tuning the day before the race it was time to see if his hard work would pay off. The results were a dominating performance as he was almost a full second faster than the rest of the truck class on Saturday. He also took the Pro class win by a half-second on Sunday. Defending The Sheely Collection Truck class champ, Mike Williams brought Sean to his first NMCA WEST event a year ago and it has been awesome watching two friends push each other to be faster. Word on the street is they met on Craigslist but that’s a story for another day.

Eric Sheely raced in The Sheely Collection Truck class last year and it was down to the wire going into the final event. The lead changed hands several times and going into the final day he had a slight lead. It was truly heartbreaking to see his Ranchero come to a stop on the course because of a mechanical failure costing him a championship. This year his focus is on the big prize — the Grand Championship. With the largest turnout, we have ever had in the Custom Machine Performance Super Car class it was going to be a difficult task. If that wasn’t enough, he got the car a week before the event and barely had time to put tires on the car. This young man can drive anything — from heavy equipment to a barstool pit cart — and you can count on him contending for the win. Taking a bone stock Acura NSX to the win on Saturday and a close second on Sunday (by 0.003 seconds) finishing fourth overall for the weekend, he put everyone on notice that this year was going to be a knock-down, drag-out fight for the win.

We had three Teslas show up at the event and whether you love them or you hate them, they deserve some acknowledgment. For us, the only thing that matters is that if we can drive it, we are going to race it. This Model S belongs to John Bickford, one of those new contenders. He finished sixth overall, which is impressive considering he hit several cones over the weekend. If you still have doubts, watching that thing come through the final corner in a four-wheel drift and rocket across the finish line just might change your mind about EV performance.

Speaking of Teslas, our first-ever series Grand Champion, Jordan Priestley showed up with a tricked-out Model 3. Considering he won his first championship in a Camaro then went back-to-back in 2018-2019 in one of the best C7 Corvettes in the nation, it was a little weird seeing him in a Tesla. The level of competition ramped up in the last couple of years and Jordan struggled on Saturday finishing fifth in class. Sunday didn’t start any better but during his last session one of the guys he was racing against went over and gave him a few tips. I don’t know what he said but it worked. His last two runs were his fastest by far and he managed to get ahead of Eric on his last run winning the Custom Machine Performance Super Car class by 0.003 seconds. It was really great to see him do well. We would also like to wish his daughter Natalie a Happy Birthday. We look forward to seeing her race her new go-kart at lunch and we hope she had Fun at Disneyland.

Here is a perfect example of how our championship points scoring works. It’s not about one fast lap, we have awards for that, but that won’t get you a championship. It requires you to be fast, you can’t just cruise around like an old lady. This requires running consistently and every lap counts, so you have to push every time out on track. Most importantly, you have to be clean, as hitting cones adds 2 seconds to your lap time per cone, and going off-track is devastating, it means your lap time is scored as 99.999 seconds. It takes a fast car, laser focus, and nerves of steel to get an overall win. Chad Ryker enjoyed a solid weekend behind the wheel of the TCI 1967 Mustang Fastback, getting the TCI Classic Muscle win on Saturday and the Pro class win on Sunday. His Clark Kent alter ego sees him working as an accountant through the week and normally he does the math and knows who won before we can generate the official results. For some reason, he thought that he didn’t stand a chance against all the Super Cars in the field. This is why you should always stick around for the awards ceremony; you never know until the official results are in! Taking a TCI Classic Muscle car to the top spot for the weekend proves that he is Superman behind the wheel. If we learned anything from this first event it’s that anyone can win and we can’t wait to see how it turns out!

NMCA WEST Auto-X Season Opener
TCI Classic Muscle                                         Chad Ryker
Modern Muscle Pro                                       Paul Molina
Anderson Composites Modern Muscle        Matt Ramirez
Custom Machine Performance Super Car    Eric Sheely
Sports Car                                                      Scot Spiewak
Truck Pro                                                        Mike Williams
The Sheely Collection Truck                          Sean Kelly
Compact Pro                                                  Pelton Barnes
Auto Ricambi Compact                                 Sammy Valafar

Classic Muscle Pro                                         Chad Ryker
TCI Classic Muscle                                         Chris Humphreys
Modern Muscle Pro                                       Matt Ramirez
Anderson Composites Modern Muscle       Tommy Maresca
Custom Machine Performance Super Car    Jordan Priestley
Sports Car Pro                                                Scot Spiewak
Sports Car                                                      Dannie Pinard
Truck Pro                                                        Sean Kelly
The Sheely Collection Truck                          Jeff Rode
Compact Pro                                                  Sammy Valafar
Auto Ricambi Compact                                 Mario Torres
Overall Top Five
Chad Ryker                                                     75.41 seconds
Tom Berry                                                       75.46 seconds
Sammy Valafar                                               75.48 seconds
Eric Sheely                                                      75.51 seconds
Matt Ramirez                                                  75.94 seconds

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