As a group, racecar drivers have some very interesting backgrounds. Having a keen interest in motorsports matched with the drive, determination and skill needed to compete at the highest level of competition is an uncommon mixture of personality traits. However, the drivers who do battle in the highly competitive SCCA Pro Racing Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich Tires have the right stuff for the job.
The backstory behind each driver gives him or her the tools which they use every day to make themselves a better racer. Some come from a family of racers and grow up at the racetrack, while others find auto racing later in life. Regardless, each driver has developed the traits it takes to become a success behind the wheel of a racecar.
Beth Chryst, of Herndon, Va., is the child of auto racing fans. Before seeing the light of day for herself, Chryst was at the racetrack, in her mother’s belly, as she attended races at the local asphalt short track.
Chryst’s father had participated in a few autocross events, but other than that her family had no experience competing in motorsports. In 2001, at the age of 13, she had an experience that would change her life goals.
“A family member of my dad’s co-worker was racing at Summit Point one weekend with the Woodbridge Kart Club, and we went up to watch,” Chryst said. “At the end of the day, they had an event called the ‘Fun Finale’ where you could head out on the track in someone’s kart for 20 minutes. From there, I was hooked. We bought a kart and never looked back.”
Chryst raced karts on both the regional and national level through the World Karting Association, missing only a handful of races in 10 years. While she enjoyed karting, Chryst wanted to take the next step in her racing career.
“In karting I made some really great friends,” Chryst said. “One of my best friends, Dean Copeland, had moved up to run Spec Miata. When I wasn’t racing we would go to Summit Point and watch him race. After being in that class for a couple of seasons he moved up to the Mazda MX-5 Cup.
“We went to a few of the races, to watch him, and really liked what we saw. While a spec series can be a tricky, it was something that really piqued our attention. Most of the tracks that were on the schedule were tracks I had raced at my entire racing career. In addition, the cars are evenly matched and this makes for some great racing at every event we attend.”
Robby Foley, of Randolph, N.J., is another young, up-and-coming driver who started running in the series in 2013. Foley grew up in an SCCA family, attending Solo and racing events from a very young age.
“I found interest in motorsports through my dad,” Foley said. “He is a 30-year SCCA member, so growing up I was always going to Solo events and races. At an early age, I developed my passion for racing by watching Formula 1, American Le Mans Series and Pirelli World Challenge races with him.
“He helped me get my start in karts, and from there he has supported me in turning my passion for racing into reality.”
For some drivers, the behind-the-wheel part of being a racecar driver is the most important, and only, part they like. Foley, like many racers of his generation, realizes that the part of being a racecar driver that happens outside of the car is equally important, and is very fun. The ability to be a spokesperson and role model is an important part of the job.
Foley has fully embraced that aspect of the job, which is exemplified by his work with Mazda and Project Yellow Light at the New York International Auto Show. Foley is an ambassador to young drivers, reminding them of the dangers of distracted driving.
“I always had the typical kid dream of becoming a racecar driver,” Foley said. “I want to be one of those guys on TV that people looked up to, like the drivers I looked up to.”
Aside from relishing in the off-track duties of a racer, Foley also enjoys the competitive side. That is of the many reasons he has returned for his second season in Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Pro Challenge, which runs with the Mazda MX-5Cup.
“The competitiveness and cost effectiveness was really the deciding factor in running with the Mazda MX-5 Cup and MAZDASPEED Pro Challenge,” Foley said. “There really isn’t a series out there that is more competitive, making it the perfect place to develop as a driver. Combined with the fact that Mazda MX-5 Cup is the most cost-effective way to go professional racing, it was really a no-brainer.”
The series also attracts many drivers who started their racing career later in life. Steve Bottom, of Newport Beach, Calif., has been in the automotive and motorsports market since 1980. Currently serving as an Associate Publisher at Racer Media & Marketing, Bottom has worked in motorsports promotions, aftermarket automotive parts and other automotive-based publishing and media. Having spent, now, over 30 years in the automotive industry, it wasn’t until Mazda became such a big player in amateur racing that Bottom had ever realized his dream of racing.
“Driving a racecar, as an amateur or professional, always seemed out of reach,” Bottom said. “Mazda’s programs made becoming a racing driver a reality for many people.
“The cars are affordable and a blast to drive, and the extensive parts program and technical help leads the industry. Not to mention, the level of competition is fantastic.”
With the financial barriers to entry lowered, Bottom took the chance to get involved first-hand with the industry he had been a part of for so many years.
“I started out in Spec Miata in 2002,” Bottom said. “Over the years, I have attended several driving schools. However, there is nothing like wheel-to-wheel racing in SCCA Club and SCCA Pro Racing.
“When there are 10, 20 or 30 closely-matched cars racing through every corner of the track, from the first to the last…it is a feeling and challenge that has to be experienced to be believed.”
Bottom very much enjoys racing in the Mazda MX-5 Cup and does not plan on racing elsewhere any time soon. However, like any driver, he would not turn down the chance to go faster.
“I keep waiting for the call from Pirelli World Challenge GT that they need me in the big cars for the next event,” Bottom joked. “They must have lost my number, or something.”
Chris Beaufait, of Freeland, Wash., is another car enthusiast who got his start in racing later in life. However, unlike Bottom, his career took him far from motorsports.
“I have had an interest in sports cars even before getting my driver’s license,” Beaufait said. “I became interested in motorsports, as a spectator, in 1993 after graduating from the United States Naval Academy.
“In 2010, I enjoyed my first track day in my street car and knew then it was the start of something special. I attended the Skip Barber Racing School in August of 2013 and have participated in regional and professional races as often as my schedule permits, since that time.”
For Beaufait, the thing that drives him each time at the track is the competition.
“I was a collegiate athlete and enjoy the competition and camaraderie the sport provides,” Beaufait said. “I also wanted to give better balance my life, and motorsports is a great avenue to push oneself.”
For now, Beaufait will work on improving his performance behind the wheel of his Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Pro Challenge car. However, as his career progresses, Beaufait’s goal is to race in an endurance series of some kind.
These four drivers, plus the rest of the SCCA Pro Racing Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich Tires field, is set to take on flowing turns and world-renowned Corkscrew of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, May 2-4.
More information on the Mazda MX-5 Cup can be found at http://www.mx-5cup.com. Like the series on Facebook at Facebook.com/MazdaMX5Cup, on Twitter @MazdaMX5Cup and Instagram @MazdaMX5Cup.