“I’m still absorbing it, to be honest,” says Joey Bickers, more than a week after winning the Mazda Club Racer Shootout and the $75,000 scholarship to race in the Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup that goes with it. “Now I’m kind of focused on the goals for next season.”
In less than two years, the 21-year-old business student from Moorpark, Calif., has gone from karting novice to pro racer. It’s a meteoric rise. His speed at learning impressed the Shootout judges as much as his speed in the MX-5 in which Bickers and the four other finalists – Michael Whelden, Zachary Munro, TJ Fischer and Cal Vandaalen – were tested. It’s all part of a great, still-unfolding story for the young racer with a passion for competition.
“The adrenaline I get knowing that I’m going against some top drivers, and the race is going to be close and its going to be difficult, but the best man is going to win,” he says as a way of explaining why he loves racing. “I just love the feeling of having to give your best. I have a passion for competition and the sport aspect and the camaraderie between drivers. We’re all friends off the track, but when we get on track, it’s intense competition and I really enjoy that aspect of it.”
His story begins with motocross, but for the purposes of car racing, truly starts in March of 2012 – 20 months ago – when his father suggested he go to a kart school.
“My dad’s kind of responsible,” Bickers laughs. “He knew I had a passion for driving because I did it as a hobby – I had a dirt truck I would take out and play with. But I told my dad I really wanted to try to make something out of racing. So I went to the karting school and then started doing some club races in karting throughout 2012, up until my first year in cars in 2013. I’ve really had to learn quickly and I’ve enjoyed that learning curve.”
When he went car racing, Bickers doubled up. He raced in the West Coast Teen Mazda Challenge – the series that earned him his place in the Mazda Club Racer Shootout – and the Pacific F1600 Championship Series for Formula F. In Formula F, he finished second to Colton Herta, son of former Indy car driver and now team owner Bryan Herta. In doing so, he attracted some key attention. But it was winning the Teen Mazda Challenge that got him to Buttonwillow Raceway Park on Nov. 11 and a shot at the Mazda scholarship.
The Teen Mazda Challenge is a series-within-a-series, where young drivers from ages 13 to 22 competing in N.A.S.A. Spec Miata races are fighting for their own championship. It would typically be six or seven drivers within 20- to 25-car fields. Of course, Bickers wasn’t just winning against the other Teen Mazda Challenge drivers, he won a couple of races overall.
“The high point of the season for me was definitely the last race of the season at Sonoma Raceway. I went in having to win both races on the weekend to win the championship, and I ended up doing that. It was a huge achievement for me, because going into it, I really had to set my mental side to believe I could do it and then prove it to everybody. That, along with my first win at Willow Springs in the first round of the series – I won the second race of that weekend and that boosted my confidence,” he says.
His performance there earned him an opportunity to land in the finals of the Club Racer Shootout, and his performance in the Pacific F1600 Championship Series earned him a spot in Jeremy Shaw’s prestigious Team USA Scholarship, which has funded the likes of Bryan Herta, Jimmy Vasser, Charlie Kimball, Joel Miller, Tristan Nunez and Matthew Brabham for overseas racing opportunities.
In his first year of auto racing, Joey Bickers was going to have a very busy fall.