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

Car Girl is More than Just a Title, It’s a Way of Life

CorkSport Car Girl, Fae, shows off her MS3 and shares what it means to be a car girl to her.

I have always enjoyed cars. I had a large Matchbox collection growing up, but I never really considered myself a car enthusiast prior to meeting the group of Nator locals that I have the pleasure of knowing now.

Honestly, I wasn’t aware Speed3s (or Mazdaspeeds of any type) even existed prior to helping a friend car shop and talking them into getting a 2012 Speed3 we had looked at. From that endeavor, I was brought along to my first Nator meet. At first I was kind of boggled at the concept. I’m sorry, you wanna go to some random person’s house that you met on a forum and let them put parts on your brand new car, in exchange for some beer? That was almost 3 years ago. Now I own my own Speed3, which I learned to drive manual for (a feat I thought would always be lost on me), and have made friendships near and far. I have traveled to parts of the country I wouldn’t have seen unless I had a Nator meet calling me there. I’ve learned so much from this community in the 3 years I’ve been involved, none of which would ever have crossed my mind.

Car girls get shit done!

As you can imagine, although I appreciated cars and lusted after the ones I dreamed of owning, I was not handy with a wrench in the slightest. All of the mods on my car are explicitly possible because of my friends in Nator. I helped with the installation of many of them, but would’ve been lost without a mentor looking over my shoulder, telling me exactly what to do and having the patience to work with me. For that, I will always be thankful and hold a lot of respect for them, and most importantly, cherish the type of brotherly love that comes from bonding over a mutual interest.

The Speed is a badass car. Every day I drive it, I smile. I think of where I am now, where my car is now and what trials and tribulations that have brought Cosmo (yeah I named my car, step-off!) and I this far. However, THE COMMUNITY is what really sealed the deal. I wasn’t looking for a car when I bought my Speed — I wanted to bond with this amazing and knowledgeable community of people from all different walks of life, and geek out over these cars!

nator-meet

It’s not about the free/damn near free parts from my Nator Bros (this is a blanket term for EVERYONE within the community male and female alike), it’s not about labor at the price of some beer and food, it’s not about being noticed, it’s not about being the best whatever, it’s about realizing there is knowledge, BOAT LOADS OF IT. It’s about respecting that and helping with whatever you can. Whether you’re a parts runner or looking at a car for someone not in the area, or loaning/giving parts and services to others in need, you know you’re helping the community. You’re paying it forward in the ways you are able to and doing your best to grow yourself. THAT is what being a Car Girl means to me.

I have seen intense days and nights of labor on jobs, that would take most people weeks to complete, be completed within hours or days simply because a brother was in need. MULTIPLE times. I can include myself in this count, my car needed an emergency clutch job unexpectedly. Between the community scrambling to get me a list of parts I needed and lending the ones they had already laying around, to working late into the night to get the job done, I had my car back within a day of it going down.

It’s the real deal. Respect it and you’ll have a family to laugh, cry and share stories with for years to come and all you need to do is just be cool. Be one of them. Nothing special. The community is already special as a whole.

Cheers,

Fae Lunsford

Fae is a Systems Integrity Rep (Inside Sales/Administrative) and owns a 2008 Mazdaspeed 3.

Modifications: COBB V3 Accessport, Corksport Intake and TIP, Fidanza Flywheel, Autotech Internals, Damond Motorsports RMM, Ultimate Racing Test Pipe, Bilstein B8 Shocks/Struts, COBB Lowering Springs, Forge V1 BPV, Rally Armor Mud Flaps, Maisonvi Custom Shift Knob & Phate Tuned.