NATOR: The Pyramid Scheme You Want to Join

A look at the parking situation at a NATOR group meet up.
If you see a bunch of Mazdaspeeds by a garage, you’re probably looking at a NATOR group.

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.

NATOR groups are great for learning about all sorts of Mazdaspeed repairs and mods.
A NATOR teaching moment.

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.

A Mazdaspeed gets towed from a NATOR event.
The helping hand of a NATOR community.

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.

A NATOR group in action at a local meet.
A NATOR group in action.

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.

Cheers,

Shane Fry

12 Replies to “NATOR: The Pyramid Scheme You Want to Join”

  1. Shane speaks the truth. Honestly if it werent for NATOR and all the things I learned I wouldnt have my dream job in the automotive field. Even though Ive moved onto a new platform, I pretty much only hangout with NATOR guys and gals. Best group ever….and they have good taste in hooch.

  2. Great to see an article about this great as we haven’t had any press in a while. This is the truth as it happened to me 4 years ago in the NC/SC group. I’ve had guys who need a roof live with me and never even truly know who they were. Good times were had and friendships grew. All because of a silly little K04.

  3. Is NATOR an acronym, if so than what does it stand for? Thanks for the insight into what NATOR is all about.

  4. what cars/ platforms are included? there are other MazdaSpeeds that aren’t MZR chain motors, & we don’t hear about this in our groups…

  5. OK long post, but this is 100% the truth! This is exactly how I got started – with some local NATOR assistance installing my HPFP internals and my FMIC.

    Outside of changing oil and swapping air filters, I had never really wrenched on a car before, so it was all a lot to take in at the time. However, if you are willing to learn, read, and SEARCH, you’ll find that Mazdaspeedforums.org and Mazdaspeeds.org both have hundreds of threads made up of thousands of posts loaded with knowledge and first-hand expertise. Oh, and heavy emphasis on that “search” bit. You’ll get torn a new one if you pop in to either of those sites and make a new thread asking how to do something without searching first. It’s almost guaranteed that someone has asked your question before and there are probably half a dozen threads on the same topic/issue already, so search thoroughly!!!

    Anyhow, after receiving help with the HPFP internals install, I bought and installed the CS Power Series 3″ intake myself which was fairly straightforward, and then returned to my bay area NATOR buddy to help me with my FMIC install which was a bit above my skill level at the time. He was willing to teach and I was willing to learn. Plus it helps that I brought beer. 95% of the time beer equals sufficient payment. The other 5% it’s food. I was so appreciative that I even brought the guy back some beer from The Bruery in So Cal for helping me with the FMIC install.

    Fast forward to the present and I’ve learned a lot, gained a lot more confidence working on my car, and have met some cool people in the process. And I’ve gone on to install a ton of stuff myself including, but not limited to: a full turbo back setup in a single night (granted I had done the down pipe like twice before to no avail due to fitment issues, but the third time going with a different setup [Ultimate Racing] was a charm), done a valve cleaning (that was a PitA), installed the CS injector seals, EGR delete kit, OCC, motor mounts, and most recently, swapped out the K04 for the BNR S4 with only a little help to get the turbo seated while I bolted it back up to the exhaust manifold. The me from a few years ago would have never thought I’d be doing any of this, but I love it!

    I’ve also helped others with installs, and as long as I have a garage to wrench in it will always be open to the community!

    If you’re on either one of those forums and need help or have a question please don’t hesitate to hit me up. I’m always more than willing to help out however and whenever I can.

  6. Nator started off because of the MZR DISI engine, but it’s members also own Miata’s, rotaries, and other mazda’s. Some guys have moved on to other platforms but still participate in Nator install days and BBQ’s. It’s a group of friends that work together like a family.

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