Spec Miata racer is taking on the new Spec MX-5 Challenge series, and winning
Many racers in the past utilized the old Skip Barber MX-5 Challenge that ran as part of the Battery Tender MX-5 Cup during the NC (third-generation) MX-5 era as a launching point into MX-5 Cup and beyond, including rising stars Kenton Koch and Robby Foley. Since then, those cars have found a new lease on life in the hands of Atlanta Speedwerks and Winding Road Racing with their new Spec MX-5 Challenge. And now, the series, which is running both East and Central in 2018, will meet at Road Atlanta in November for the championship. As the Skip Barber MX-5 Challenge did in the past this will once again provide a springboard to the Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires via a Mazda advancement scholarship.
Jason Connole is one of those taking advantage of the opportunity in hopes of winning the title and earning $100,000 toward a season in MX-5 Cup. He’s off to a good start, too, winning three of the four Eastern races so far.
“I’ve kind of lucked out because the first two weekends have been at my home track of VIRginia International Raceway,” Connole says. “I live only an hour and 20 minute from it. I feel like I’ve picked up the car pretty quickly, how they drive, and I know how to handle it and what to do with it – and I’m pretty confident with where we go from here.”
Connole is in his second round as a racing driver. The first started at age 12 on oval tracks in the Southeast in karts, then the Allison Legacy stock car series. Eventually, though, he had to make a choice: college or racing. He chose college. “I went to UNC Charlotte for college as a mechanical engineer and quickly learned I didn’t want to be an engineer,” he admits. “I wanted to drive, and I needed money to do that. I ended up with a degree in business management.” Now he runs his family’s business of full-service car washes and spray-on bed liner application.
When his father won a two-day session at the Bob Bondurant School in a raffle, they upped it to a four-day school and he joined in the fun. Praise and encouragement from the school staff, including Bondurant himself, led Connole to pursue racing once again. He chose Spec Miata as the avenue, starting in 2014 and building a more competitive car in 2015. When the Spec MX-5 Challenge Series, intended as a full-season arrive-and-drive series, was announced, he jumped in.
“I’ve always been interested in MX-5 Cup – I thought of [the Spec MX-5 Challenge] as a feeder series to MX-5 Cup,” he explains. “And I know [Atlanta Speedwerks owner] Todd Lamb pretty well, and I know he’s a nice, genuine, honest guy and I knew he’d put together a good series. It was very appealing how cost effective it is and what you get out of the series.
“Since I’ve been in the road course stuff, I’ve been nothing but Miatas and I’ve stayed true to the Mazda brand. I want to keep climbing that ladder and see this as a steppingstone and an opportunity to further my career into the pro series.”
He praises the quality of competition in the series, which includes fellow Spec Miata racer Peter Ensor and iRacing champ/Mazda Road to 24 Shootout finalist John Allen. Despite his results on his home track, he says winning in the series isn’t easy, but he’s hopeful he can go all the way and win the scholarship. “I see that as a great opportunity to own my own car and be able to do things with it later on after a season of MX-5 Cup or to continue doing more seasons in it, or just to have a great Mazda race car,” he says.
Connole also plans to pursue the big money Spec Miata race at Circuit of the Americas during the NASA Championships. In the meantime, however, he still has Spec MX-5 Challenge races at Road Atlanta, Summit Point and Monticello Motor Club. For more information on the Spec MX-5 Challenge, see www.specmx-5.com.