In Recess

Patience in the Roll Cage

Dallas attorney David Staab set to return to the racetrack

Interview by Eric Quitugua

Two race cars on a racetrack
David Staab’s primary racecar is his ND2 Mazda MX-5 Cup car, pictured in blue. Photos courtesy of David Staab.

David Staab doesn't need to drive a missile when he hits the racetrack. Just give him an ND2 Mazda MX-5 Cup car with VP fuel, A-plus responsiveness, and speed through the corners and this Dallas-based corporate restructuring attorney is ready to take on the pros of the Mazda MX-5 Cup race series. Patience and choosing the right battles have gotten Staab the gold in other series, and in the age of COVID-19, racetrack simulators and YouTube might do the same.

So let's start with your car. Do you race primarily with Mazdas?
Yes, up to this point, everything I’ve raced has been Mazda powered. The primary series that I’m focused on in 2021 is the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup, presented by BFGoodrich Tires, which is now sanctioned by the International Motor Sports Association, or IMSA. In this series, all of the cars are “ND2” generation (2019-2021) Mazda MX-5 Cup cars built to the exact same specifications. The cars start as MX-5 road cars from the Mazda factory in Japan before being shipped to Flis Performance in Daytona Beach, Florida. Flis Performance then transforms the street cars into race cars by stripping out the interior to remove unnecessary weight and adding a roll cage, fireproof fuel cell, a sequential transmission, race suspension, and race brakes, along with approximately 250 other racecar-specific parts.

Is there something you like about Mazda versus other manufacturers?
First, they’re fun to drive. No, the MX-5 Cup isn’t a ballistic missile on the straights that is going to impress at a local drag strip, but it’s well balanced, ultra-responsive, and fast through the corners. In terms of cost, I believe the MX-5 Cup is still the least expensive factory racecar on the market from an established manufacturer. Mazda provides parts discounts for racers, and the cars have strong reliability, which also helps to keep costs down. Mazda also provides an incredible level of support for racers, including contingency awards, race series support, technical advice, and promotion and PR, among other efforts.

David Staab and his wife and son
The Staab team includes David’s wife, Melanie,
and son, William. Photos courtesy of David Staab.

What is it like to race?
Racing for me is almost relaxing in a way. After I’m strapped in to the car and give the parting fist bumps to my race engineers, my focus is entirely on getting everything out of the car until the checkered flag. There isn’t time or capacity to think about any other stressors or obligations. You’re having to process so much information that you are completely living in that moment. I feel like I’m packing in a lot of clichés here, but it’s like becoming one with the car. You’re using all your senses at once with the sole purpose of going as fast as you can possibly go, while simultaneously weighing various risks and opportunities to move up the pack (or protect against getting moved back in the pack). One of the things I’m continuing to learn in MX-5 Cup is the importance of knowing when to be patient. For the first couple laps of the race, the patience threshold is pretty low. Starts and restarts are the biggest opportunities to gain positions, so if you see a gap, you go for it. The same isn’t necessarily true for the middle phase of the race. The MX-5 Cup cars have a huge draft effect so cooperating with the right cars at the right time can impact lap time. Conversely, battling with cars that have roughly the same pace can cost both of us unnecessary lap time and make it more difficult to catch the cars ahead. Choosing the right battles at the right time has definitely been a big part of the learning curve.

Has COVID-19 put a halt to racing for now? Or have you been able to get out on the track in the past year?
Starting in early March 2020, I withdrew from all racing and ended up sitting on the sidelines through the remainder of the year. To continue developing as a driver, I focused on simulator work and online racing, primarily through iRacing. The simulator has been an invaluable tool for me. When I made the jump to MX-5 Cup, I’d only ever driven Motorsport Ranch in Cresson and Circuit of the Americas in Austin. All of the other tracks on the calendar were brand new to me. The same is true for most of the tracks that are on the calendar this season—I’ve never driven Daytona, Sebring, St. Petersburg, or Road Atlanta. The sim is extremely helpful for learning those layouts and picking up different braking reference points. The tracks are laser scanned and the physics model is constantly improving. With the combination of simulator work, watching onboard videos on YouTube, and talking with other drivers that have raced on a particular track, I’m able to approach new tracks with a pretty good idea of what to expect. Most of the time, I find that my simulator lap times are within about a second of my real-world times.

After a lot of planning and research, I recently resumed in-person racing. IMSA has implemented rigid COVID-19 protocols that are strictly enforced. Among other things, masks must be worn at all times at the race facility (except when driving, but even then, drivers have to keep a mask in the pocket of their race suit for right after they get out of the car), daily medical checks during the event are required, and the drivers’ meetings are virtual.

Sebrig Pack on the racetrack
“Choosing the right battles at the right time has definitely been a big part of the learning curve,” David Staab told the Texas Bar Journal. Photo CourteSy of DaviD Staab.

Got any track time planned soon?
Next up on the MX-5 Cup calendar is Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (May 14-16), Road America (August 6-8), WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca (September 10-12), and Road Atlanta (October 6-8). All of the MX-5 Cup races will be broadcast live on NBC Sports TrackPass and IMSA.tv and will be replayed on NBC Sports. In December, I’m looking forward to the 25 hours of Thunderhill. TBJ

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