I’ve been with the RealTime Racing team on and off for nearly a decade. Coincidentally, when I first got hooked on motorsports and started autocrossing in Wisconsin in 1989, my instructor was Peter (P.D.) Cunningham, the owner of RealTime and now holder of six World Challenge Championships.
I got to be good friends with Peter and RealTime crew chief Nathan Bonneau. I saw my first SCCA Club race a short time later, and I was hooked. I began club racing and did that for many years, with some pro racing sprinkled in. In 1995, I moved to San Diego and started my own direct-response consumer marketing company. I also continued racing and was quite successful, winning a lot of races.
After watching some of the World Challenge races, I wanted more. I couldn’t afford it at the time but, a few years later, I reached a turning point. My friend and teammate was killed in a racing accident in Phoenix and, at that point, I decided it was time to take it to the next level and be the best I could be, or give it up entirely. I knew I had the talent to compete on the pro stage, but I needed to break that goal down into manageable steps to get there.
My first World Challenge race didn’t go quite as planned, but it set me on the path to future success. I was at Sebring and the team I was racing with couldn’t get the car to work. I walked over to my friends at RealTime and asked if they had a car available.
They did. I started at the back, passed two-thirds of the field, won the Hard Charger Award, and the rest is history.
Except for a couple of seasons with a different team and manufacturer in 2008-’09, my professional racing career has been completely with RealTime. Unless I was in a different series – and I love World Challenge for the fact that there’s no risk of a teammate wadding up my car and me going home, without ever getting into the seat for the race – I can’t envision racing with anyone else.
RealTime runs a race team similar to the way the Blue Angels or the Thunderbirds run a top-flight military aerobatic team. Everything is catalogued, the planning done well in advance. They don’t wait for a part to break; they know the lifespan of every part, they put in a margin of error and replace a part before it can go bad. They simply have the most talented crew, management staff and driver lineup in World Challenge.
I think there were five of us racing in 2005, and there were 10 races on the schedule, for a total of 50 RealTime race starts. Only two times did a car not finish, and that was due to accidents. The attrition rate in World Challenge at the time was 25-30 percent. Our finishing rate was a tribute to the cars we were driving, Acuras, and this team being head-and-shoulders above every other team in terms of preparation and managing the fluid situations that we find at the track.
That said, my first years were tough in the 40-car fields that World Challenge featured at the time. You go from winning at the National level in Club racing, kicking everybody’s butt, then show up at a pro event and everybody’s good. It’s like a college football player going into the NFL. I was in the wrong car in the wrong year – driving an older RSX when the TSX was the latest and greatest. In Club racing, you could drive your way out of being in the wrong car. If you were a good driver, you would be able to minimize the differences in equipment.
In Pro racing, that’s not the case. Everyone was extremely talented, the fields were really deep and there was a lot of factory involvement.
I went in and was overconfident, thinking I was going to wake up after traveling in late with no sleep and be able to win. It was a rude awakening to get kicked around and be in the middle of the pack for the better part of the first year. Once I realized I needed to understand setup beyond alignment and tire pressures, that’s when I started to maximize my potential and realize that setup was a huge part of this style of racing, because you couldn’t qualify last and work your way up to first. That was the biggest change, the talent pool and that there was no margin of error in terms of your team selection, car selection and setup, and the knowledge of how to communicate what the car is doing to an engineer.
Learning that, I progressed to run at the front. I’ve won some races, but my biggest accomplishment isn’t mine alone. While racing is an individual sport, I have to say I am most proud of helping to win the 2005 Manufacturers’ Championship for Acura. Everybody contributed points to winning that championship. To contribute to that championship, with that group of drivers (PD, Pierre Kleinubing, Brandon Davis and Eric Curran) when there were grids of 35 or 40 cars, that’s a real accomplishment.
I could say winning my first World Challenge race ranks up there, or cite some hard-fought battles where starting in the back due to bad luck in qualifying and running all the way to the front after a crash at the start fall in there. But those Manufacturers’ Championships with RealTime – I think I’ve been a part of four – where you’ve been part of a team and contributed to a dynasty in World Challenge … No one can take that away.
I look forward to contributing to more.
Look for Nick Esayian, RealTime Racing Racing and the rest of the Pirelli World Challenge competitors on the West Coast at Laguna Seca Sept. 16-18. On the East Coast, the series has its finale on Sept. 28-Oct. 1 at Road Atlanta. Or you can catch the series on VERSUS.
And if you’re a racer in a Honda or with Honda Power, don’t forget to register for the Honda Racing Line program at www.hondaracingline.com.
Honda Racing Line is proud to offer original equipment replacement parts, performance parts and crate engines to Honda and Acura grassroots racers in the entry-level through professional ranks.