ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. (Sept. 20, 2023) – The home stretch of the 2023 Big Machine Vodka Spiked Coolers TA2 Series is at hand as the TeamSLR driving duo of Dillon Machavern and Thad Moffitt head to World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois, for this weekend’s SpeedTour Grand Prix Festival, the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli’s first visit to the St. Louis area since 1985.
The 28-year-old Machavern and 23-year-old Moffitt are coming off a pair of solid top-five finishes two weekends ago at the iconic Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International circuit. They’ll look to keep the momentum going through the final three races of the season, beginning with Saturday’s 63-lap, 75-minute race around the 1.6-mile, eight-turn circuit located just across the Mississippi River from downtown St. Louis. This year’s 13-race campaign concludes with stops Oct. 8 at Virginia International Raceway in Alton and Nov. 5 at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
Machavern, driver of the No. 17 Heritage Automotive/Unifirst/M1 Racecars Ford Mustang for TeamSLR, started 15th and finished third in a Watkins Glen race that started in wet conditions and finished in the dry for his second podium of the season. Meanwhile Moffitt, the grandson of racing legend Richard Petty, drove his No. 43 Safety-Kleen/Victory Impact Chevrolet Camaro for TeamSLR from 35th on the starting grid after an incident in practice all the way to fifth place for his second top-five and fourth top-10 of his rookie TA2 season.
Like the rest of their TA2 counterparts, Machavern and Moffitt will be experiencing the World Wide Technology Raceway road course for the first time and are banking on their experience competing on layouts similar in concept, as well as the mentorship of TeamSLR’s Scott Lagasse Sr., and Scott Lagasse Jr., as cause for optimism this weekend.
A familiar face for more than a decade in multiple classes of IMSA racing, Machavern, who hails from Charlotte, Vermont, has turned countless laps at NASCAR oval facilities incorporating infield road-course segments over the years. Most notable are Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, Homestead-Miami Speedway, Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, and Kansas Speedway in Kansas City.
Moffitt, the recently turned 23-year-old from Trinity, North Carolina, has actually competed at World Wide Technology Raceway before, albeit on its 1.25-mile, egg-shaped oval. He qualified 14th and finished ninth there behind the wheel of the No. 46 Chevrolet for team owner John Corr’s Empire Racing Group in the June 2019 ARCA Menards Series race. It was one of Moffitt’s 26 top-10s in 45 career ARCA national series outings. He also competed on the road course at Daytona for the DGR-Crosley team in the August 2020 ARCA race, when he ran in the top-five all day before recovering from a late-race spin for an 11th-place finish.
A pair of test sessions kick off this weekend’s on-track action at 8 and 10:15 a.m. CDT Friday, followed by a pair of official practice sessions at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. Qualifying is set for 8:30 a.m. Saturday with the 63-lap, 75-minute race beginning at 1:10 p.m. Series partner MAVTV will provide live television coverage, augmented by live streaming video on the Trans Am and SpeedTour channels on YouTube. MAVTV will air a 60-minute race show at 8 p.m. EDT on Thursday, Sept. 28.
With Machavern’s third-place finish at Watkins Glen two weekends ago, at least one M1 Racecars entry has earned a spot on the podium at all 10 TA2 races so far this season. That streak includes a pair of victories by Peterson Racing’s two-time series champion Rafa Matos – at the season-opener at Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway in February and in June at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington. Machavern posted his first podium finish of the season at Mid-Ohio, and Connor Mosack opened the season with a third-place finish for TeamSLR at Sebring after starting on the pole and leading the first 19 laps of the race.
Dillon Machavern, Driver, No. 17 Heritage Automotive/Unifirst/SLR-M1 Racecars Ford Mustang:
You and the rest of the Trans Am field will be getting your first look at the 1.6-mile, eight-turn circuit at World Wide Technology Raceway this weekend. Any particular thoughts about that?
“It will be interesting. There’s not been a whole lot of video to find of racing on that track. It’s also going to be interesting because it’s going to be mixed-class racing, as well, even though a majority of the field is TA2. I’m not sure if that’s going to play to my advantage since I have quite a bit of experience with mixed-class racing and others might not. But that could potentially help us out a little bit. I think we did a pretty good job adapting to Detroit – a very different track, but a new track to everybody. Looking at this track, the closest thing to it I’ve done on my resume is Kansas, when I ran in the ST class in the IMSA Challenge Series. Other than that, I’ve done the old infield road course at Charlotte a long time ago in a Spec Miata. And I’ve run Homestead a bunch of times when there was road-course racing there.”
How would you describe the approach you need to take getting around those types of tracks?
“You just kind of have to find the best way to get around them. Generally, there’s not a lot of room to race in the infield, so staying clean through there and staying consistent tend to be the most important things on these tight tracks. You just try to get through the infield and get a run onto the banking because that’s where most of the passing is probably going to happen.”
Safe to say this weekend’s pre-event track walk will be one of the most important of the year?
“Absolutely. At Detroit, I was able to get out on track in a golf cart and that was very helpful. Luckily, it’s a pretty short course and there aren’t many turns to remember, so it’ll be a matter of feeling it out, and once we get to racing, not being overly aggressive and keeping your nose clean and getting around without incident because there’s probably going to be a lot of attrition on a tight track like that. Depending on how tight the racing turns out to be, the TA cars might not get around there much if any faster than the TA2 cars.”
Are you looking for advice from the Scott Lagasse Sr., and Scott Lagasse Jr., in new and different ways with their experience on oval-type tracks?
“I’ll definitely lean on Scott Sr., and Scott Jr., for some tips because, if you look at the field, I probably have less oval experience than most of them because a majority of the young guns now come from an oval background, so they might have a little bit of a leg up on me. One thing I’m most interested to see is if we’ll be able to run wide open on the oval part of the track.”
You’re coming off your second podium finish of the season with your third-place result at Watkins Glen two weekends ago. Do you feel that gives you momentum for these last three races of the season?
“I was really proud of our effort coming from 15th and driving through the field. Unfortunately, we had limited practice time after an incident in one of our practices and then rain in the other, which prevented us from starting a little closer to the front. In the race, we didn’t quite have the ultimate pace in the dry. We had kind of a middle-ground setup for half-wet, half-dry, because it was difficult to tell which way the weather was going to go. But we were one of the fastest cars on the track as the track was transitioning from wet to dry. If you look back at the last four or five races, we have had speed, we just had unfortunate incidents in the two races prior to Watkins Glen. I’m definitely looking forward to this weekend in St. Louis and finishing the season strong at VIR and COTA.”
Thad Moffitt, Driver, No. 43 Safety-Kleen/Victory Impact/SLR-M1 Racecars Chevrolet Camaro:
Your thoughts about the weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway, especially in light of your experience running the oval there in the 2019 ARCA Menards Series race?
“I think it’s cool that I’ll be back on a level playing field, kind of like Detroit, where nobody knew where they were going before we got there. So it’s pretty neat for me to run a place where I’m on a level playing field. And for this weekend, at least I’ve run the oval, so I know what turns three and four of the oval look like. It’ll be interesting to see how it all works because I feel like, if we set up our cars to turn left and give up the righthanders in the infield, I feel like we’ll be able to go flat through there. The TA2 cars make so much downforce, it’s very likely we might not need to do that. The first few laps of practice will definitely be interesting.”
How much do you feel the experience from the ARCA race could come into play for you this weekend?
“I think it will help, at least through oval turns three and four onto the frontstretch. Once we get into the infield, I’ll be just like everybody else, learning it lap by lap. I have experience on the Daytona road course when I drove the ARCA car for DGR-Crosley in 2020, so I’m familiar with the concept of this type of track. I ran fifth most of the race, spun late and ended up finishing 11th, but it was fun. Unlike St. Louis, Daytona has a ton of banking, and climbing the hill going back out onto the oval was pretty cool. And you were really moving by the time you got to the bus stop on the backstretch. That’s what I’m looking forward to at Gateway, going down the frontstretch, because we’ll really be moving by the time we get to turn one. One thing that will be new to me, but everybody’s also been dealt the same hand, is that we’re running with the TA cars this weekend. Everything I’ve ever raced – Late Models, go-karts – everybody on the track’s had the same stuff. That’ll be interesting, but fortunately the field is made up of mostly TA2 cars.”
What kind of advice will you be looking for from TeamSLR for this weekend?
“I think even them, without much if any good video this track to study, we’re all going to have a big learning weekend. It’s brand new for everybody, and we just go into it and learn, and I think we’ll have a good weekend. TeamSLR ran well on the Charlotte Roval last year and I think these cars will be really, really fun on the oval. I talked to Connor Mosack and we both thought the TA2 cars would be a lot of fun on an oval-style track. We run more than half of the oval, and I liked racing on that oval when I was there before. It was one of the few multiple-groove racetracks. You could run high through the corner and still make speed, and you could run the bottom and make speed if your car is turning well. I’ll be interested to see how the TA2 car reacts to that. It reminded me of turn three at Pocono when I did the ARCA race.”
You’re coming off the Watkins Glen weekend where the team scored a pair of solid top-five finishes. How does that set you up for the final three races of the season?
“It seems like this season either I’ve had a good day or Dillon’s had a good day and the other had a tough result, so it was nice for us to have a good team run. Of course, we wanted to continue TeamSLR’s winning streak at Watkins Glen. After driving through the field and the speed we had on the last restart, I would’ve liked to have seen what we could’ve done if we started in a halfway decent position instead of 35th. But we salvaged what we could and a fifth-place result is pretty solid anywhere. I’m pretty excited about these last three races because nobody knows St. Louis, which puts us on a level playing field there, and I got to test at both VIR and COTA. So for me to have laps going to those places isn’t a luxury I’ve had at a lot of other places this year. Seeing what we can do and try to come out with a few more podiums would be a nice way to end the season. We’re not in the championship battle, but we can end up with a solid top-five if we have a good final three weekends.”