New Englander Dillon Machavern Eyes First Win at His Home Track; TA2 Rookie Thad Moffitt Ready for Maiden Voyage on Road Racing’s ‘Bullring’
AUGUSTINE, Fla. (May 24, 2023) – Since 1972, sportscar racing on Memorial Day weekend in the quaint, New England setting of Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Connecticut, has occupied a humble but rightful place on the motorsports calendar alongside three of the world’s most iconic events – the Indianapolis 500, NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, and Formula One’s Grand Prix of Monaco.
This weekend, the Big Machine Vodka Spiked Coolers TA2 Series continues the sixth decade of Lime Rock’s holiday weekend tradition with the annual Memorial Day Classic on its 1.478-mile, seven-turn hillside road course, which has seen the likes of legendary drivers Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney, Carroll Shelby and Brian Redman navigate its challenging confines since first opening for business in 1957.
Among the 39 car-and-driver combinations to watch in Saturday’s 68-lap, 75-minute TA2-class race – Round 4 of 13 on the 2023 schedule – are TeamSLR’s Dillon Machavern and Thad Moffitt. Machavern, the 27-year-old veteran road racer from Charlotte, Vermont, will be looking for his first career victory on his home racetrack, situated some 200 miles due south of his hometown on the shores of Lake Champlain. Moffitt, the 22-year-old from Trinity, North Carolina who joined the TA2 Series fulltime after spending the past six seasons racing primarily stock cars in the ARCA Menards Series, will be looking for his breakthrough run this weekend after a trio of 12th-place finishes in the opening three events.
While victory at Lime Rock has eluded Machavern over the years, the driver of the No. 17 Heritage Automotive/Unifirst SLR-M1 Racecars entry has come painstakingly close on numerous occasions. He drove to runner-up finishes in TA2-class competition there in 2015, 2019 and 2021, the latter coming with TeamSLR. He scored another runner-up finish in the 2017 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race there, and added a third-place run the following year and a fifth-place finish last October. After finishes of sixth in this year’s TA2 season opener at Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway and eighth in the most recent round March 26 at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, Machavern certainly feels he has the speed in his M1 Racecars equipment and the local knowledge that can help him finally achieve that maiden Lime Rock win. At Road Atlanta, he stormed to the eighth-place finish from the back of the 37-car field after a grid penalty.
Race-day speed also has been evident in Moffitt’s No. 43 Safety-Kleen/Victory Impact Chevrolet Camaro for TeamSLR through the season’s opening three events. The grandson of racing legend Richard Petty feels somewhat snakebit as he overcame getting spun from behind on the opening lap at Sebring before rallying for his first of three 12th-place finishes. At NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale, Lousiana, in round two, Moffitt was running top-five lap times and gaining ground on the lead pack before, again, getting turned from behind, dropping back to 16th, then battling back to 12th. And at Road Atlanta, he, too, had to rally from the back after a grid penalty. He arrives at Lime Rock eighth in the TA2 standings and atop the leaderboard for Rookie of the Year honors.
As with all races this season, Saturday’s 1 p.m. EDT race will be streamed live on the Trans Am and SpeedTour channels on YouTube. And Trans Am’s new TV partner this year, MAVTV, will rebroadcast it in a one-hour package Thursday, June 1, at 8 p.m. EDT.
Dillon Machavern, Driver, No. 17 Heritage Automotive/Unifirst/SLR-M1 Racecars Entry:
It’s back to racing after an eight-week break in the schedule. Safe to say it will take place at what can be called your home track?
“Geographically, it’s certainly the closest to home. I don’t know if I have as many laps around that place as some other tracks, but it’s definitely closest to home. I did the Skip Barber school there in 2011, and in 2012 I ran my first race there with Freedom Autosport in the IMSA Sports Car Challenge Series, so I do definitely have some history at that track. But there aren’t many places I don’t at this point, right? Normally, there’s a great turnout there, especially on Memorial Day weekend, which is fun. Everybody refers to it as the bullring of road courses. It’s certainly fast-paced there, no real opportunities to catch your breath, to relax, which I like because if you’re consistent, you’re usually able to be successful there. And a tenth of a second here and there on that track makes a lot bigger of a difference than on a longer track. You don’t necessarily need to be the fastest there every lap, but it pays off if you’re consistent every lap.”
What is it like to drive a TA2 car around that track?
“They feel big on that track. It’s definitely difficult to pass, and you don’t get as many opportunities to pass to begin with, just because of how large TA2 cars are, footprint-wise. It’s certainly a difficult job to get around another car at Lime Rock. If you can drive down the middle of the track, it’s really hard for somebody to get around on either side. Getting around slower cars is something you need to get done quickly there, but you’ve got to make sure you come out on the other side.”
You have three second-place finishes at Lime Rock since 2015, and another pair of podiums along with another top-five in the IMSA Challenge series. How important would a win at Lime Rock be for you?
“You want to win no matter where you are, no matter what the history of the track is, but it would be cool to win one close to home, especially since it’s eluded me for so long. Otherwise, it’s basically just another race weekend. My goal is to win the race, like it is every weekend no matter where we’re racing.”
How would you describe what it’s like to get around the track at Lime Rock?
“Obviously, your best passing zone is going into turn one. Depending on how you’re set up, that (turns) one-two (combination) there can be really cool, if you can find yourself having a lot of grip. I’ve seen a lot of passes on the outside there when you’re being held up by a slower car. That’s one of the things about Lime Rock, there can be a car that can be a second slower than you and you find yourself riding behind them for 10 laps, not being able to get around them, which can be very frustrating. You end up seeing a lot of cars lined up nose-to-tail for several laps and they’re all right on top of each other. That makes for cool TV, but it’s really frustrating because a lot of the time it’s because the car in front is just a little bit slower and nobody can find their way around. The lefthander (turn three) is one of those corners where you just want to get through it. Unless somebody loosens you up and gets underneath you, there’s not a whole lot that anybody can do there. As far as qualifying, you want to get through there well, but a lot of teams use that as a throwaway corner. The rest of the track is pretty straightforward.”
How do you expect the racing to be on such a short, tight track with the typical large field of TA2 cars?
“You can’t foresee how the race is going to go. No matter how many different scenarios you plan for, it’s going to unfold the way it unfolds, and everybody’s dealing with the same traffic. So the important part is to just be in the mix and up at the head of the field. There’s an ebb and flow with traffic, sometimes you get through it and get an advantage, and there are other times you lose a little bit depending on where you find that traffic. So traffic management is going to be super important, taking advantage of the opportunities that are presented, but also not pushing too hard where you can hurt yourself and end up driving off the track.”
Does it feel good to get back to racing after the eight-week break in the schedule?
“I’m a racer at heart, so I always want to be at the track. The break certainly was timely with everything we had going on at the (family auto dealership business), but eight weeks is a long time, so I’m ready to get back out there. There’s certainly a desire to get back out there and compete. It’ll be nice to have a lot more consistency with the schedule from here on out. It’s tough to get into and stay in a rhythm where there are big gaps in the schedule. But it is what it is and it’s the same for everybody.”
Thad Moffitt, Driver, No. 43 Safety-Kleen/Victory Impact Chevrolet Camaro:
You were able to take advantage of last Friday’s Lime Rock Drivers Club Lapping Day to drive on the track for the first time. How important was it for you to get to do that in preparation for this weekend’s TA2 race?
“After running laps there, I feel confident. With all the elevation changes and various quirks in getting around that track, the simulator doesn’t do it justice. I started out in one of the track’s cars, and then I was able to drive a Corvette, which is a little bit closer to the TA2 car. Lime Rock is similar what you encounter in NASCAR, just backwards. With the exception of the elevation changes, all your corners are high-speed, where you’re scrubbing speed through the middle of the corner, but all of them are righthanders, which took some getting used to. The one lefthander is not a very important corner, I feel like, because there’s no straightaway past it. But for me to get acclimated with elevation changes was really good. It’s like it was for me at Road Atlanta, it took me a little while when I went for a test day there to work my way up to speed in turn 12. Had I not been able to test at Lime Rock, it would’ve taken me some time to work my way up and down the hill, as well, with the TA2 car when we come back for race weekend.”
What do you expect the racing to be like in your TA2 Safety-Kleen Chevrolet?
“Man, that place is fun. I had a lot of fun climbing up the hill and going back down. It’s really like you’re asking a lot of the front tires in a lot of corners. Watching video of Connor (Mosack) in the TeamSLR car there last year, I feel like Scott (Lagasse Sr. and Jr.) are pretty dialed in there. I know TA2 is really competitive and a lot of those guys have been there before, but hopefully we can get that top-five or top-10 that we’ve been so close to getting and keep going in the right direction. We’ve had three top-12s in three races, so far. The thing is, we always had the speed to run better than 12th, we’ve just never run better than 12th because something happened.”
Can you describe some of the keys to getting around the track?
“I feel like turn one is very much like a short track, very similar approach to a corner in a Late Model Stock or an ARCA car on some of the short tracks. Turn two is its own deal, and it looks like there’s no wrong or right way to go through there, there are just three or four different ways. Of course, you have turn three, the righthander, it’s pretty straightforward into the esses, and then the uphill, where you get up on the wheel. Coming back down the hill, you set the nose a little bit and you’re right back in it. I found my lap times were a little better when I brushed the brakes a little bit coming down the hill and then be on the gas before the apex to turn seven leading onto the frontstretch. I’m sure the TA2 car will drive better than what I drove.”
Do you expect traffic to present any particular problems?
“I feel like this race will be very interesting because, even though it’s a smaller track, it’s really, really fast. There are no slow corners on the track where you’re coming down to 30 miles an hour. You’re really moving there, everywhere you’re at. It’ll be tough to pass. I think turn one will be where most of the passing is done, and then if you get a good run up the hill into turn six, you can pass there. Down the hill, everybody’s probably going to be moving pretty good, so it could get a little sketchy.”
After an eight-week break, you’re resuming the schedule with three races in the next two weekends. Your thoughts on that?
“I think it’s going to be really good for us to race back-to-back weeks. It felt like we had an offseason in the middle of the season. That was pretty difficult for me, I’ve never really raced a schedule like that. So just trying to stay sharp and in that frame of mind to be ready when it was time to go again was a challenge, for sure. I guess we’ll see this weekend how quickly it comes back. But it’ll be good to run Lime Rock and Detroit on back-to-back weekends and get a little more in the groove going into the summer stretch, where I think it’ll be a really big deal for us to finish races and gain a lot of points and start getting the finishes we deserve.”