Sierra College Car Club Takes Laps at Sonoma Raceway with Their Notta Miata 2002 Mini Cooper

January 9, 2024
Car Club Sonoma Raceway
Sierra College Car Club students and faculty proudly pose with their number #115 race car Notta Miata at the Sonoma Raceway.

Students Put Their Automotive Skills, Knowledge to the Test

The Sierra College Car Club has been working hard to reinvigorate and revitalize the club to expand its membership. As a way to build momentum and excitement, they decided to set a serious stretch-goal to garner more interest and participation in their club. The goal? Build and race a race car.

Putting pedal to the metal, the club set their sights on competing in time for the 24 Hours of LeMONS event held Dec. 1 and 2, 2023 in Sonoma.

The event is an endurance racing series that is, according to the organizers, a competition using a car that is “bought and track-prepped for $500 or less (not including safety equipment, brakes, and wheels/tires).”

But first, the club had to find a low- or no-cost car somehow.


Their goal began to unlock when a 2002 Mini Cooper was donated to the club. This sounds like a strong start, but because it was an abandoned car that no longer ran, they had a lot of work ahead of them. Nevertheless, the club members were elated. In fact, since they knew most lower budget race cars competing in the event tend to be Mazda Miatas, they decided to name their “new” pride and joy, Notta Miata.

From there, serious effort went into getting the car race-ready.

The work ranged from the engine, which had to be replaced with one from Pick-n-Pull due to a rod bearing failure in the original, to adding a safety cage being student-fabricated and installed in the car with the help of more than 100 student welding hours. The project required expertise and dedication from students and faculty.

“We had to take an interdisciplinary approach when preparing the race car for the LeMONS,” said Matt Casinias, student president of the Sierra College Car Club. “The project not only included car club members, but also required collaboration between the Engineering, Welding and Robotics clubs as well.”

Together, the students had a car ready in time for the LeMONS race. Check out the before and after pictures of Notta Miata.

Off to the Races

At the event, they successfully passed a rigorous safety inspection and soon had Notta Miata – race car number #115 – on the racetrack. It completed 53 running laps on its first day. Not bad considering that prior to the race, the car had only done a few laps around the parking lot at the Sierra College Rocklin Campus. But the first day wasn’t without challenges, including stuck starter solenoids, burned wiring and damaged alternators. Undeterred, the students took care of the minor issues, including changing the starter, replacing damaged wiring and rotating the tires.

There was so much energy and excitement in the team’s success on the first day that it spilled over onto other teams as the club walked around the paddock talking with and checking on competitors’ status. This turned into an evening of helping others. In fact, several teams who were preparing to leave due to hard failures were able to return to the track on Sunday with support from the Sierra College students. 

Teamwork Pays Off

This willingness to help others led to the team being given the eBay motors “Heroic Fix” award. The award is usually given to a team that overcame an obstacle with their car, but the Sierra College team was recognized for helping others up and down the pit row to overcome their obstacles and keep racing.

The racing weekend ended Sunday morning for the race car on its 16th lap when the car met the wall on turn 11. Thankfully, no one was injured, but it did end the race for Notta Miata.

“The camaraderie and teamwork that helped get us to the track was seen by everyone there and was an incredible representation of Sierra College,” said Roy Ingram, Sierra College Mechatronics instructor and Car Club advisor. “It was an incredible weekend and what a way to show how a community college can contribute to their community.”

Casinias added, “Just being involved in this club has opened a lot of doors and opportunities that I wouldn’t have been able to find on my own.”

Support the Car Club

While the cars may sometimes be free, the price tag to build a race car is expensive; however, the experience for students is priceless. If you want to support the Sierra College Car Club, follow them on Instagram @sierracollegemotorsports to find out when you can see their work and their cars.