With Fatherâ€™s Day this weekend, several MX-5 Cup drivers are thankful for their fatherâ€™s involvement in their racing careers
Many budding professional racing drivers owe much to their parents. Whether it was financing their start in the sport or just being there as a helping hand, most couldnâ€™t have made it to where they are without assistance from Mom and Dad. Thatâ€™s especially true in the case of a couple of drivers in the Battery Tender Mazda Global MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires.
Nathanial Sparks is the 2016 champion of the series. He got his start racing in Spec Miata while his father raced in another class. Eventually they moved to MX-5 Cup, with Sparksâ€™s father handling much of the crew chief duties in addition to working to provide for the family.
â€œYou know with any father-son duo youâ€™ve got to have something youâ€™re both emotionally invested in that you can do together,â€ says Sparky, as Nathaniel is known around the paddock. â€œThatâ€™s something that brings any group of people closer together â€“ sports, camaraderie and all that. To be able to do something together that you have a bond, something you have an interest in with your dad, makes the world so much stronger. That was how we initially started racing. I was playing sports and he was coming on with work, and he said, â€˜Lets find something we can both do.â€™ When we started racing, we were taking turns, so we were both emotionally invested in each other and any improvements that we made together. It was one of those things that made it so much more than racing â€“ it was bonding time.â€
Sparksâ€™s father would come home from work, prep the car, then they would drive to the track; they would often arrive with a huge sleep deficit, which is not the way to start a race weekend if one wants to be successful. Eventually, Sparky hooked up with John Deanâ€™s Sick Sideways Racing, where heâ€™s been ever since as both crew and driver. That has made things a bit easier on his father.
â€œNow he gets full enjoyment â€“ he does still drive to the events, but heâ€™s not stressing over so many things about the car,â€ Sparky explains. â€œHe gets to come to the event and help with the car. Now itâ€™s a much more laid-back scenario and he can come and enjoy the event and look at some of the smaller things and make sure the car is tip-top. He gets to come, clean the windshield, look at all the suspension bushings and not worry about all the other stuff.â€
While Sparks fatherâ€™s role has progressed to more of an overseer in the paddock, things are different for 14-year-old MX-5 Cup racer Robert Noaker and his father Bob.
â€œWhen I was four years old, my parents got me a kart for Christmas,â€ explains the younger Noaker. â€œI started racing that for about a year. When I started doing pretty well in a series heâ€™d move me up into the next class, and so far thatâ€™s worked pretty well. We both wanted to get into MX-5 Cup because thatâ€™s the next step up from Spec Miatas. We saw there are many good drivers, so we thought it would be a good challenge.â€
Robert Noaker doesnâ€™t even get to the track without his fatherâ€™s help, but Bob is involved well beyond just facilitator. â€œHeâ€™s really involved, not only just in trying to push me further, but he also spends hours researching stuff and working on the car. Heâ€™ll sit down with me and watch the videos and heâ€™ll point out some things I can try differently,â€ Robert says.
With their fathers accompanying them, Sparks and Noaker and the rest of the MX-5 Cup field will race at Road America next weekend accompanying the Verizon IndyCar Series and Pirelli World Challenge. The conclusion of the doubleheader weekend will mark the midpoint of the season.