A Father’s Role in Racing

With Father’s Day this weekend, several MX-5 Cup drivers are thankful for their father’s involvement in their racing careers

Many budding professional racing drivers owe much to their parents. Whether it was financing their start in the sport or just being there as a helping hand, most couldn’t have made it to where they are without assistance from Mom and Dad. That’s especially true in the case of a couple of drivers in the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich® Tires.

Nathanial Sparks is the 2016 champion of the series. He got his start racing in Spec Miata while his father raced in another class. Eventually they moved to MX-5 Cup, with Sparks’s father handling much of the crew chief duties in addition to working to provide for the family.

“You know with any father-son duo you’ve got to have something you’re both emotionally invested in that you can do together,” says Sparky, as Nathaniel is known around the paddock. “That’s something that brings any group of people closer together – sports, camaraderie and all that. To be able to do something together that you have a bond, something you have an interest in with your dad, makes the world so much stronger. That was how we initially started racing. I was playing sports and he was coming on with work, and he said, ‘Lets find something we can both do.’ When we started racing, we were taking turns, so we were both emotionally invested in each other and any improvements that we made together. It was one of those things that made it so much more than racing – it was bonding time.”

Sparks’s father would come home from work, prep the car, then they would drive to the track; they would often arrive with a huge sleep deficit, which is not the way to start a race weekend if one wants to be successful. Eventually, Sparky hooked up with John Dean’s Sick Sideways Racing, where he’s been ever since as both crew and driver. That has made things a bit easier on his father.

“Now he gets full enjoyment – he does still drive to the events, but he’s not stressing over so many things about the car,” Sparky explains. “He gets to come to the event and help with the car. Now it’s a much more laid-back scenario and he can come and enjoy the event and look at some of the smaller things and make sure the car is tip-top. He gets to come, clean the windshield, look at all the suspension bushings and not worry about all the other stuff.”

While Sparks father’s role has progressed to more of an overseer in the paddock, things are different for 14-year-old MX-5 Cup racer Robert Noaker and his father Bob.

“When I was four years old, my parents got me a kart for Christmas,” explains the younger Noaker. “I started racing that for about a year. When I started doing pretty well in a series he’d move me up into the next class, and so far that’s worked pretty well. We both wanted to get into MX-5 Cup because that’s the next step up from Spec Miatas. We saw there are many good drivers, so we thought it would be a good challenge.”

Robert Noaker doesn’t even get to the track without his father’s help, but Bob is involved well beyond just facilitator. “He’s really involved, not only just in trying to push me further, but he also spends hours researching stuff and working on the car. He’ll sit down with me and watch the videos and he’ll point out some things I can try differently,” Robert says.

With their fathers accompanying them, Sparks and Noaker and the rest of the MX-5 Cup field will race at Road America next weekend accompanying the Verizon IndyCar Series and Pirelli World Challenge. The conclusion of the doubleheader weekend will mark the midpoint of the season.