I’ll admit it up front: NATOR is a pyramid scheme. “What?!” you proclaim. “Isn’t NATOR like family? Who would do that to family?” Let me explain why and how you can become the next Platinum Emerald Neon Iridium special level NATOR member! But seriously, here’s what I’m talking about.
The beginnings of NATOR
Back in the early days of NATOR AL (AL for Alabama), all we had was a few people posting on MazdaSpeedForms.org (MSF) in the South East section. I was relatively new to wrenching, having only recently learned how to change my own oil (yes, I know) or install an intake. Some guy named Ryan invited a few of us to his apartment for burgers, wings (spoiler: the wings weren’t fully cooked), beer, and wrenching. The meet was only four people, but the spark was there. Many stories were traded, laughs were had, and plenty of beer was consumed.
Over the next year, we steadily grew and started really wrenching on cars. Our first big “project” was HPFP internal installs. Only Ryan had done them before. Tension was high for this (now) trivial install, but everything went smoothly. Quick pro tip: There’s no reason to pull the intake or battery box.
Now here’s where the pyramid scheme comes in: It’s about knowledge transfer instead of products or sales. Whereas Ryan was the self-proclaimed “Mazda master tech” that knew everything about working on Speeds, Jason and I quickly picked up the new skill and were able to do HPFP internals later without Ryan’s oversight.
The benefits of NATOR communities
I can hear some of you now: “But Shane, HPFP internals are stupid easy.” And you’d be right. That’s exactly why it’s such a great thing to teach new guys that are timid with a wrench. Eventually, things such as intakes, test pipes, and internals were jobs that I didn’t have to participate in. This is when I realized the greatness of the NATOR pyramid scheme: If I teach someone what I know, then later I can sit back in a lawn chair drinking beer and not lift a finger at a meet. Over the years, I’ve seen countless people with no wrenching experience become comfortable working on their car by themselves. In one case, a member used his knowledge about starting an engine with no fuel pressure to reassure a friend working on a GTI that the car not immediately starting was due to pressure needing to build in the rail before it started cleanly.
Now, we haven’t simply stuck to the basic “intake, test pipe, tune” mods in AL. We’ve pretty much done everything performance-related there is to do on these cars. Countless turbo swaps, a handful of transmission jobs, engine swaps, head rebuilds, timing jobs, suspension swaps, interior gutting — all of these have been done in a NATOR AL garage.
One of the best parts of NATOR is that if you put in work helping someone else out, they’re willing to spend many weekends getting your car working again. We had a local member’s transmission die a horrendous death without any warning. He’d been at meets before and was always willing to lend a hand, so we offered to swap out his transmission. Five weeks, and a TON of fail later, he was back on the road as happy as could be.
Another great benefit is that the community is nationwide and international now. Twice a year, we do epic meets. One’s in April on the East Coast and the other is in late-August/early September in the Midwest. Enthusiasts from all over the country (plus some from Mexico, Canada, and even once someone from Germany) gather to celebrate these awesome cars and the community we’ve built around them.
Perhaps my favorite NATOR story was one involving the Epic Midwest NATOR Meet (EMWNM) in 2015. The meet was incredible with lots of great people attending, tons of alcohol was consumed, go-karts were raced, and many smiles were had. The conclusion of the meet was a track day on Monday at Autobahn Country Club. I spent the first two sessions feeling out the car and learning the track. On the third session, I was chasing down a BMW I had just let pass when I tried to accelerate out of the corner and got nothing. Seconds later, my oil light came on and I dove into the grass to (hopefully) save my engine. No luck … It spun a bearing.
After a very brief diagnostic session in the paddock, I asked a NATOR member if I could have my car towed to his house. He said “yes” immediately. I ordered an engine from Mazda Motorsports and was dropped off at the airport to catch a flight to get home for work. Fast forward three days later to Thursday, I arrive back in Chicago to an engine almost entirely out of the car. I literally took two clamps and a hose off the engine and it was free-hanging on the hoist. NATOR basically took my engine out of my car for me and then helped me put my new one in. Less than a week after I blew my engine, I was back on the road headed home thanks to this community.
What happened to me (free engine removal) isn’t the norm, but I’d do the same for any of those guys should they ever break down in Alabama. And that’s what NATOR is about: helping a fellow Speed owner in need, whether that’s “I need parts” or “I don’t know what I’m doing.”
How to join NATOR
So how can you get in on this awesome pyramid scheme? Search MSF, MSO (mazdaspeeds.org), or Facebook and find your local NATOR and show up to meets. Heads-up: Local might mean a two- to four-hour drive. Bring food, beer, or tools if you have specialty stuff. Wrench on cars with the NATOR group, or if you aren’t skilled in that, be the guy who grabs tools or makes runs to the parts store. Ask questions to expand your knowledge. Take a new guy under your wing and teach him what you know. As you spend more time with your group, you’ll find others offering help or parts when you need it.