TransAm TA2 Class Producing NASCAR Stars of Tomorrow

Jackson Wheeler
10 Min Read


  • Look no further than today’s TA2 paddock, and you will see the future stars.
  • Brent Crews won the TA2 title in 2023 just before his 16th birthday to become the series’ youngest champion.
  • Connor Zilisch is a 17-year-old racer on everybody’s list as the hottest young American shoe in cars with fenders.

When you walk through a current Trans Am paddock, you often see stars of the twinkling type—older drivers who are getting their kicks following successful full-blown professional careers.

Think Paul Menard, Boris Said or Chris Dyson.

If you venture into the TA2 paddock, you will see the future stars. Brent Crews won the TA2 title in 2023 just before his 16th birthday to become the series’ youngest champion. Connor Zilisch, the 17-year-old racer on everybody’s list as the hottest young American shoe in cars with fenders, won five TA2 races while contesting the title against Crews.

Richard Petty’s grandson, Thad Moffitt, came through TA2 last season in route to a full time Craftsman Truck Series ride in 2024.

“We’ve seen a bunch of high-level factory kids who come wanting to get road racing skills and learn race craft on road courses,” said Scott Lagasse Jr., who operates the highly successful TeamSLR in TA2.

The money behind the talented youngsters looking to land rides with TA2 teams comes from factories and agencies and in some cases families. Crews is part of the KHI management agency of Kevin Harvick and is in the Toyota Racing Development pipeline. Zilisch is a Chevy development driver.

John Claggett, president of Trans Am, said it’s just like the original days of the factories backing drivers such as Parnelli Jones, Dan Gurney and Mark Donohue in “pony cars” during the 1960s. Only it now works in reverse – the factory money is currently creating the next generation of stars. “They are discovering these kids very, very young and are putting into place where they want these kids to develop,” said Claggett. “Brent Crews and Connor Zilisch are clearly proof of these development programs. Wherever the money comes from to put the car on the track, it’s the way it used to work (with factories funding drivers and teams in the 1960s). It’s just called the TA2 class.”

The immortally named Bob Stretch won the first TA2 title in 2011 at the tender age of 43. From the beginning, the TA2 was conceived by the Trans Am Race Company as an entry level version of a fire-breathing road racing series. They are catapulted by 530-horsepower engines in chassis supplied by three approved builders and outfitted with the silhouette bodies of Chevy Camaro, Dodge Challenger or Ford Mustang.

The TA2, which averaged 35 starters in 2023 over 14 races, is platform racing in every sense. A place to race competitively in relatively equal cars whose specs are tightly controlled; a cost-conscious formula; and a platform for youngsters who were plucked from karting and signed to development contracts. They come to TA2 to step up their horsepower and to hone their road racing skills, now obligatory for advancing in NASCAR.

Overall, the Trans Am formula, which also includes the GT, XGT and SGT classes, is clearly working and profitable due to series sponsorships, licensing of drivers, and entry fees. In late 2023, the Trans Am Race Company was purchased from owner Tony Parella by Velocity Capital Management as part of a deal that included the latter’s vintage racing series. Parella earlier bought out the original principal owners of the company—racers Jim Derhaag, Mike Miller and Tony Ave.

Lagasse Jr. operates TeamSLR in TA2 along with his father Scott Lagasse Sr., each a successful pro driver before focusing on team ownership. Sam Mayer came though TeamSLR, establishing winning road racing credentials before moving up to the Xfinity Series in 2021. In 2023, he scored victories on the road circuits at Road America (his first win in the series), Watkins Glen and the Roval in Charlotte, which helped the 20-year-old JR Motorsports driver to finish third in the playoffs. He also won his first oval Xfinity race at Homestead.

In addition to young gun factory drivers, TeamSLR fields cars for NASCAR drivers looking to brush up on road racing skills and for those who can afford to arrive and drive.

“There are established stock car guys who come to us to get better,” said Lagasse Jr. “We’ve seen what I would call professionals, business guys who didn’t think they can run up front like Scott Borchetta, who have some good natural talent and can be competitive.” Borchetta is the owner of the Big Machine recording group and his distillery produces Big Machine Vodka Spiked Coolers, the sponsor of the TA2 series.

If you want to compete against the kids and NASCAR Cup pros looking to brush up on their road racing like Austin Dillon, Christopher Bell or Daniel Suarez, how much does it cost? The typical fee for an arrive and drive runs between $30,000 to $40,000. That’s for a rugged, tube-frame car that can cost as much as $150,000 to build. Riding on Pirelli radials, the cars don’t have any driver aids and feature an H-pattern shift that requires some throttle blipping. Their safety is consistent with best practices in tube-frame cars.

“Typically, when you put somebody in one of these cars, they get out and say how much fun they are,” said Lagasse Jr. “You’re working all the time. The better the driver gets, the better the car goes.”

brent crews trans am

2023 TA2 champion Brent Crews, now 16, hopes to use Trans Am as a stepping stone.

Chris Clark/Trans Am Series

“The experience I have gotten from racing in Trans Am will prepare me for the next step,” said Crews, who drove the Nitro Motorsports Mustang. “Being the youngest champion in history is a huge accomplishment, especially for how full of talent Trans Am has been and will continue to be.”

Zilisch, who turns 18 in 2024, drove for Silver Hare Racing. He might have been a stronger title contender if his Camaro had not been DQ’d after a victory at the Glen because of an engine height violation. Undeterred, the Mooresville, N.C. driver came back to win the next TA2 race at Virginia International Raceway. The same weekend, he won his first start in the premier Trans Am category by a whopping 46 seconds. Zilisch’s next stop was Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, where he won both ends of a doubleheader in the MX-5 Cup, the series where he first began to turn heads.

“I really liked the TA2 car’s power,” said Zilisch, who first joined the series in 2022. “Until I drove it, the most horsepower I’ve had in a car was no more than 150. To jump straight into something with 500 horsepower was obviously a big jump, but that’s what made it fun. Having to control the throttle on the exit of the corner was something new to me. I picked it up quickly though, and soon felt very comfortable in the car.”

Driving more than 500 horsepower with the throttle off the corners? Sounds like fun and it also sounds like high-speed oval racing in NASCAR Cup—except for the latter’s additional 250 horsepower. If a future high-end ovalist has got to begin somewhere, TA2 and its more open-ended road racing corners are a pretty good start. Plus, there’s the fringe benefit of knowing how to road race.

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Jackson Wheeler is a skilled editor at Speedofdaily.com, specializing in automotive content. With a background in Journalism and Automotive Engineering, he combines his passion for cars with his writing expertise to deliver captivating articles. Jackson's deep knowledge of automotive technology and his racing experience make him a valuable asset to the team, providing readers with informative and engaging content.
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