West Columbia, SC – Panic Motorsports, LLC of West Columbia will celebrate a milestone 10 years of cars and racing this month.
Steve and Becca Bertok, owners of Panic Motorsports, launched their business in September 2006 in a garage in their backyard. “Steve wanted to own his own automotive business, and he did a lot of research to figure out where to start, but it finally came down to taking that leap,” Becca said. “He left his job on a Friday and was selling parts on his own within the week.”
Steve’s 20+ years of experience in automotive parts and salvage meant the business’ initial focus was on parts sales to individuals and race prep shops across the Southeast. After months of market research, Steve planned to focus almost exclusively on parts for the Mazda Miata / MX-5. The demand was huge, and the Sports Car Club of America’s (SCCA) Spec Miata racing class was a large part of that demand. In 2002, Steve had built his first Spec Miata, and after earning his competition license, he was hooked.
The Spec Miata class has been the SCCA’s largest since its inception in 2000. With specified requirements for car builds, Spec Miata evens out performance capability, making a driver’s talents that much more important. “This is one of those racing classes,” Steve said, “that if you can win in Spec Miata, you can win anywhere, and there’s nowhere more competitive than in the Southeast.” With a focus on Miatas, Steve quickly built Panic into in to the go-to supplier for Miata enthusiasts from Florida to Virginia, but he had bigger goals as well.
Within a year of opening Panic in 2006, Steve had hired a part-time employee and rented an old shop in South Congaree to hold their expanding business. By 2012, they had moved to a 4.5 acre property in West Columbia with a large shop and room enough for their growing race car stable. Today, Panic employs four full-time employees, two part-time employees, and travels more than 30 weekends each year for race weekends from Sebring International Raceway in south Florida and Virginia International Raceway (VIR) to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Watkins Glen International Raceway in New York. Panic’s drivers boast multiple regional champions, consistent podium finishes, and four Spec Miata class wins in the annual 13 Hour Charge of the Headlight Brigade at VIR. In seemingly no time, Panic Motorsports has become one of the largest, most successful SCCA race shops on the East Coast.
Panic now has more than 12 racing clients, a handful of track-day clients, and a host of loyal, street service customers. Their parts business also continues to thrive with online sales reaching worldwide. While Panic owns several Spec Miatas, for personal use and rentals, most vehicles under their roof are client owned, having been built and maintained by Panic’s staff. “It’s called an arrive-and-drive program,” Steve said. “We build and maintain the cars for a driver-owner, transport them to and from the track, and serve as crew while we’re there. We handle everything: race strategy, radios, driver coaching, pit stops…For the bigger races, they might even get lucky and Becca will feed the drivers and crew,” Steve added, laughing.
A native of Lexington and a graduate of USC with degrees in Integrated Marketing Communications and Design, Becca grew up in an SCCA family and knows firsthand the addictive nature of road racing; her dad is a former rally driver, and Becca attended her first race when she was just four weeks old. “There was no question that opening Panic came down more to passion for cars, than anything else, but I knew Steve would be able to make it grow,” Becca said. For her part, Becca handles the marketing, web site maintenance, T-shirt designs, race car graphics, and the overall “look” of Panic, which has a cult following among the SCCA and Miata faithful. “People have taken to collecting our T-shirts! I guess they can see, by our designs for the race cars, t-shirts, everything, that we really enjoy what we’re doing, and that makes me proud. I’m glad I’ve been able to help build the business in my own way.”
While Mazda Miatas and MX-5s remain the primary focus for Panic, there have also been a handful of LS1-swapped-RX-7’s along the way, as well as Porsches, Z-cars, Mini Coopers, and the occasional exotic or two. A passion for cars runs in the family, as evidenced by the Bertoks’ 11 year-old daughter. “She wants to be a race engineer and a zoologist,” Steve said. “…at least this month.”
Steve also works as a mechanic and communicator for the Mike Cope Racing – Heritage Motorsports No. 24 TA2 Mustang in the SCCA’s pro TransAm series. Driver Dillon Machavern began in Spec Miata with Panic in 2011 when he was just 16 years-old. When Dillon stepped up to TransAm in 2015, he took Steve with him.
“It hasn’t always been easy, and Steve still works 60 hour weeks, but we’ve worked well together to make things happen. I couldn’t be more proud of Steve, our employees, and our drivers. It’s incredible to see how far Panic has come from our backyard to now, and I can’t wait to see where we go!” Becca said, smiling.
Panic Motorsports invites you to try your skills on track and rent a Miata track day car; mechanical knowledge not required. They can handle it all! For more information on Panic Motorsports, visit www.panicmotorsports.com or call 803.261.7629. Panic Motorsports’ parts department can be reached at 803.331.5637.