For over a decade the Nitto Tires United States Touring Car Championship (USTCC) has quietly established itself as a beloved racing series. It was founded in 1998 as the Pacific Coast Touring Car Championship, and broadened to a nationwide competition in 2001. The format features a mix of sprint races (30-50 minutes) and an enduro (up to 2 hours). They utilize production-based sedans, coupes and hatchbacks that have been modified into proper race cars. All have been fitted with the necessary and compulsory safety devices as well. Models by companies like Acura, Honda, BMW, Mini, Dodge, Chevrolet, Subaru, Lexus, Hyundai, Mitsubishi and Mazda could be seen at USTCC events this year. Some teams have received support from manufacturers in a variety of ways like Honda, Mini and Mazda which reward teams for finishing well. The series’ official safety car is a Kia Optima Hybrid. Unlike sports car racing which features racing-spec supercars by Ferrari, Audi, SRT, Aston Martin and others; you’re likely to see a car that looks like your own daily driver tearing up the track at a USTCC event.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the USTCC is that for all their accomplishments they’ve remained humble. This is very important to the Nitto Tires USTCC organizers as series’ co-founder, Ali Arsham recently told us, “We try to be a professional series and do all these things that the pros do, but then we don’t want to forget where we came from, and forget our roots. All the teams, a lot of times in pro racing keep all these secrets from each other…we don’t do any of that. Everybody’s really friendly with each other. We have Bar-B-Que’s Saturday night. Everybody’s hanging out, having food together. If one guy breaks his car, all the other teams go over to help them. There’s a lot of that stuff going on, that personally I think that’s just awesome…it’s not just about racing. It’s about having fun too. It’s one big family. That’s what it is. Even at Christmas time, all the teams have parties and they all invite each other! You don’t see it very often but in our series it happens all the time, where a guy could break down and he needs parts; and the competitor is giving him parts to get his car going, so he can make it to the race.”
Arsham went on to say, “Most of our races, when you buy your ticket to come in, it actually includes a paddock pass and everything, so you could just walk right in and mingle with the drivers and check out the cars up close.” Teams have taken to the internet, drumming up fan support in forums and social media to come out and support their favorite drivers.
Despite having their hearts in the right place, money plays a huge role in the ability to hold an event or even participate in any form of auto racing today. Sponsorship dollars are precious and less accessible than ever, while a full season could amount to an enormous expense with very little return. The USTCC gives racers the opportunity to compete at a professional level but without the massive overhead, thus making it an excellent stepping-stone between club racing and the pro level. In addition, privateers get an opportunity to fulfill their dreams of racing on famous racetracks. “We try to do something where you race a pro series and you have all the benefits of running in a pro series without incurring a huge cost.” Arsham said. “One of the big things that reduces cost is our Nitto Tires. The Touring Cars have to use Nitto Tires, and the Nitto Tires are fantastic because they last a long time and they’re not that expensive to buy. If you race in say, some of these other groups, a set of tires costs twice as much and you need two sets of tires for one weekend. So all of a sudden, you’ve got to spend thousands just on tires.”
The USTCC is sanctioned by NASA (National Auto Sport Association), and most races are run through them. However, they’ve also been part of WTCC, AMLS and NASCAR events, among others. This season, their schedule included prestigious courses like: Thunderhill, Miller Motorsports Park, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and Buttonwillow Raceway Park. However it was at Race Sonoma this past weekend where they raced on the road course – at night!
“I’m kind of proud of what we’ve accomplished with our level of budget because I think we’ve gotten way more than what anybody else would have done with our funding.” – Ali Arsham.
What a way to end the 2013 season! The full list of winners is listed on their website. Next year’s complete schedule isn’t available quite yet but we encourage you to check out www.ustcc.com to see if and when there will be a fixture happening in your area. This is a fantastic way to spend an afternoon, especially if you have kids. The thrill of seeing the race cars up close and interacting with the race teams is something they’ll never forget. You never know. Some young driver you see there could be a huge star in days to come. Connect with the Nitto Tires USTCC on Facebook and Twitter for results, race photos and other news. Also, don’t miss any of the action by watching their race highlights show Final Drive TV that also features interview with drivers and other personalities in the series. My Life at Speed looks forward to bringing you more stories from this championship that was made by racers, for racers, and is still going strong.