ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. (Nov. 1, 2023) – Dillon Machavern and Thad Moffitt lead the charge for TeamSLR when they take to the track at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, for Sunday’s Big Machine Vodka Spiked Coolers TA2 Series season finale.
Machavern, the 28-year old driver of the No. 17 Heritage Automotive/Unifirst/M1 Racecars Ford Mustang for TeamSLR who hails from Charlotte, Vermont, already knows the taste of victory at COTA, having scored his third career TA2-class win in November 2016. Machavern started that race on the pole, made his final pass for the lead with six laps to go, and drove away to a more than 11-second margin of victory. He returned two years later to earn another podium finish of third in the 2018 race, then added a sixth-place finish in his most recent visit to the facility. Machavern is coming off a solid fifth-place finish Oct. 8 at Virginia International Raceway (VIR) in Alton, his fourth top-five of the season.
Moffitt, the 23-year-old grandson of NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty, relishes the chance to finish his TA2 rookie season at the track just two weekends removed from hosting this year’s 20th stop on the Formula One tour. The driver of the No. 43 Safety-Kleen/Victory Impact Chevrolet Camaro for TeamSLR embarked on the 2023 campaign with just three road-course races on his resume that came while competing the previous six seasons in the ARCA Menards Series, which races primarily on ovals. Under the tutelage of TeamSLR principals Scott Lagasse Sr., and Scott Lagasse Jr., Moffitt showed steady improvement in his road-course racecraft over the season’s first 12 TA2 events, highlighted by his first podium finish of second June 4 on the downtown Detroit street circuit, and his streak of top-eight finishes at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin (eighth), the downtown Nashville street circuit (eighth), Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International (fifth) and World Wide Technology Raceway outside St. Louis (fifth). Moffitt appeared on his way to his third consecutive top-five at VIR before an incident on the race’s final restart ended his bid. Moffitt arrives at COTA with an outside shot at finishing the season with rookie of the year honors as he sits in second place in the rookie standings, 62 points behind leader and fellow M1 Racecars driver Austin Green of Peterson Racing.
Joining TeamSLR in the contingent of M1 Racecars among 46 TA2 entries for this weekend’s 30-lap, 75-minute race around the 3.426-mile, 20-turn circuit will be the four-car effort of Peterson Racing, featuring drivers Rafa Matos, the two-time series champion, along with team owner Doug Peterson, Boris Said Jr., and Green.
M1 Racecars was represented on the podium at the first 11 TA2 rounds this season, highlighted by a pair of victories by Matos. Machavern and Moffitt have each been on the podium this season, as was TeamSLR driver Connor Mosack at the season-opening event at Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway, where he qualified on the pole and led the first 19 laps of the race before finishing third.
A pair of Friday test sessions kick off this weekend’s on-track action at 11:10 a.m. and 5 p.m. CDT. TA2 practice is set for 10 a.m. Saturday, followed by qualifying at 3:10 p.m. Race time Sunday is 10:05 a.m. CST with series partner MAVTV providing 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. EST on Thursday, Nov. 9.
Dillon Machavern, Driver, No. 17 Heritage Automotive/Unifirst/SLR-M1 Racecars Ford Mustang:
You scored your third career TA2 win at COTA back in 2016, and you earned another podium finish two years later. Are you excited about going back there this weekend and tackling that track once again?
“It’s funny because I’d only raced there a couple more times after that win, so it’s been a while. It’s definitely a diverse track. You have a lot of slow, tight stuff, you have the rhythm of the esses, and turn one is always interesting on the restarts because it creates quite the funnel there. It’s relatively bumpy. Watching the F1 race a couple of weekends ago, I could tell there are still a few spots that are bumpy, and there’s definitely some new surface down. It’s a difficult track to set up for because you have a lot of the slow-speed stuff where you have to have a lot of drive off, and you also have the high-speed stuff where you have to have rhythm to get through there. Overall, there’s a ton of elevation change. I’d call it an architectural track, it was designed for a purpose, so there are a lot of technical aspects that make you think about your entry and how you’re setting up for two corners later, rather than having a natural flow to it.”
What would you consider some of the key parts of the track that you have to get right in order to lay down a fast lap?
“Heading to turn one, you’re going so fast that you really don’t feel the climb up that elevation, but there’s a ton of gravity pushing back on you so you can get really deep in there, which could get you in trouble if you go even a little bit too deep. The esses are definitely all about rhythm and you can really haul the mail through there, but you have to give up a little bit at the end there before a tight righthander. There are a lot of really tight corners like turn one – the turn going onto the backstraight, and the turn coming off the backstraight. Through the carousel, if your car is not right, it can be a handful there.”
You arrive at COTA seventh in the points with an outside shot at finishing in the top-five, even after having missed a race earlier this season. How do you feel about the season you’ve had?
“There were times we were looking really good in the points because we were consistent, not necessarily the fastest car on the track, but we’d always find a way to run up front if we made it that far. You know, it really takes a special sauce sometimes to put an entire season together and make a solid championship run. It’s amazing because you have all the controllables, but then there are things that happen that you can’t control, like other cars and drivers, a rogue tire letting go on you like it did to us at Road America, a couple-of-dollars part that lets go like we had at Detroit, stuff that makes the difference between a successful day and a disappointing one. It’s nobody’s fault, just those unfortunate things that happen in racing sometimes. We had some adversity to deal with during the season, little things that would happen when we had a good car. But that’s all behind us and this weekend we have one last chance to finish the season on a really high note, at a track where I’ve won and the team has had really good cars in the past. We’re ready for it.”
Thad Moffitt, Driver, No. 43 Safety-Kleen/Victory Impact/SLR-M1 Racecars Chevrolet Camaro:
You’re headed to COTA this weekend, another of the few tracks where you’d actually had experience prior to this year’s TA2 race weekends. Your thoughts?
“I tested at COTA with TeamSLR before we started the season this year. It’s a lot to digest, like Road America was a lot for me, too. In my past experiences before this year, all I had to learn was four corners. For me this year, learning 10 corners has been a challenge, and then you go to places like Road America, with 14 turns, and COTA, with 20 turns, it’s a lot to digest, a lot to figure out all at once. As far as the facility and everything about it, that place is incredible. Just to be able to participate in a race there I think is really cool just because of everything about it. It’s definitely an immaculate facility and they take care of it really well, and it’ll be really neat to run a race there.”
How much do you think what you learned at that COTA test prior to the season, and the 12 race weekends you now have under your belt, will benefit you this weekend?
“I think some of the stuff that I had in my notebook from the test – it was far enough in the past that I had to go back and look at what I put down about it. And some of the stuff I had in my notebook I remember doing at the test and I think that’ll be beneficial this weekend. But all in all, how much more comfortable I am in the TA2 car now after running all the races is going to be really big for me. TeamSLR has been really good there the past couple of years, so hopefully we can continue that momentum. I feel like we’ve had speed. We went top-five, top-five, and then we had another legitimate shot at a top-five at VIR before a late wreck. So I think we’ve made our presence felt here late in the season and we’ll just try to continue what we had going before that last restart at VIR.”
What would you say are the keys to making a fast lap at COTA?
“For starters, going up the hill into turn one is incredibly cool, but it’s also incredibly difficult to judge how deep you can drive in and how deep you can go because you’re going up that hill trying to decide how much brake pressure you need to use with the 180-degree corner going back down the hill. The esses are really edgy, so I think it’ll be good to get through there well, but I’m not going to try to get more there than I can get – that’s not a place where I want to push it a whole lot. At what I would call the first backstretch, I think I’ve gotten so much better in the braking zones in this TA2 car, obviously that’ll help with corner exit there. And the carousel after that is pretty similar to what we have to do at Road America, so all those laps running stuff like that, which are opposite of what I had to do on oval tracks because it’s turning right, I now feel pretty comfortable in those situations. And then, obviously getting off the last corner to come to the start-finish line is going to be big all day. I think those straightaways that lead into the heavy braking zones are where you’re going to see most of the passing action. Everything else is pretty technical or edgy. It’s a lot to digest at that place and a lot to figure out. I’ll be leaning on the Lagasses pretty hard and I’ll be looking at the data from last year because Connor (Mosack) drove from the back to third before a mechanical issue. Being able to lean on those guys to help me figure that place out, I’m hoping, leads to another solid top-five to finish the season.”