The GASS race shop is crowded into an aisle inside the Evans metal Fabrication complex in
"But the way they teach you allows a driver to progress at his own pace. You begin following a pace car, and the next time it goes a little faster. By the time you are on the track by yourself, it begins to feel comfortable. I was amazed at how quickly I caught on and how fast I progressed."
Johnston had never been in a race car before taking the Portland school.
"I looked at what it would take to race-buying the car, getting a shop, assembling a team-and figured there was no way I could do all that," he says. "It's a huge undertaking."
The students pony up the $2,000-plus fee for a school day at the races. For that money they get an introduction to the car and track, lots of one-on-one guidance from experienced racers, and enough track time to send them home with aching muscles and tales to tell around the water cooler.
A similar program uses Iowa Speedway and a third one will be located at the road course just outside Reno.
"Some of the corporate day customers are there as guests of a business partner or as a reward from their boss for an exceptional performance," Evans says. "The driving schools draw folks who are intrigued with getting onto a car, or getting back into a car, and giving it a try.
"What we see is that some of the school drivers get hooked. They get so pumped they can't wait to do it again."
That's Where GASS Comes In.
The 10-race series costs an average of $5,000 per race, some higher or lower depending on where the race is held.
"We need to build more cars," Evans says, "because almost every weekend we have to turn people away."
He says his target customer is someone in his or her mid-40s, successful enough to have some disposable income.
All the tubes for the GASS chassis are cut in-house, based on a computer program that allo
"This isn't a development series for young kids who want to make racing a career," he says. "There are other programs for them. This is a series for drivers who want to run wheel to wheel and have fun doing it."
That describes Kim White. He's 55 years old, a successful businessman who runs, with his son, a group of auto body shops in Oregon.
"I got into one of Chris's cars at Portland and I was hooked," he says. "I've never had so much fun."
White says he grew up with high horsepower street cars that never handled especially well. He says it was an eye-opener to get into something with lots of power that you could drive into a corner fast enough to scare yourself and come out on the other end all in one piece.
The cars are modeled after the old NASCAR Elite Division chassis, formerly used in the now-abandoned Regional Touring Series.
"They went through several changes until we got something we were real happy with," Evans says. Now the chassis is on a computer at the metal fab business, and all Evans has to do is call up the program, gather up the tube, and begin cutting, bending, and welding.
Completed cars race with engines built by Schnell Automotive, a local machine shop with decades of experience building stock car engines.
"We began with crate engines but discovered we could get Schnell to build a better engine that would last longer and do it at a reasonable price," says Evans. "And it gives us some local control."
Engines are dry-sumped and mated to a Jericho transmission, ending at a quick-change rearend. Brakes are Performance Friction in Wilwood hydraulics.
"It's all off-the-shelf stuff," he says. "It's our way of keeping the cost reasonable."
The same chassis are used at each track. It takes his crew about eight hours per car to work through the checklist of changes to convert them from one type of track to another.
"We do pretty heavy maintenance on them every other race," says Brad Shafer, vice president of the motorsports program. "When they go into the trailer, they are ready to race. We don't have to do much to them at the track, because we want them to all be the same."