Steve Bertok (L) with Dillon Machavern, Jonathan Black and Phil Kuhn.

Spirit of Mazda: Steve Bertok

Panic Motorsports owner is not only a great prep guy and driver, but also has “no quit in him”

Steve Strickland is a racer, competing in Touring 4 in a Mazda MX-5, and also helps out Mazda Motorsports in the Southeast by taking the parts trailer to the track. In those roles he has known Panic Motorsports’ owner Steve Bertok for almost 10 years as a competitor, a supplier and more.

“There’s a phrase I have used about him which is, ‘In Panic Motorsports, there is no panic,’ Strickland says. “What I mean is, no matter what happens at the track, he is one of the most clever and resourceful people in terms of keeping you running, getting you back on track and making sure you’ve done the best you can do on a given weekend. I have personal experience with him on weekends where I have had mechanical issues and there is absolutely no quit in him whatsoever; the car has got to be wadded up as small as a coffee can before he will throw in the towel.”

He lines up the perfect example, and it comes from when Strickland wasn’t a customer, but a competitor. Both he and Bertok were racing Spec Miata and paddocked near each other. Strickland, though, was having one of those weekends.

“I have seen him work on competitors’ cars until midnight,” he says. “The weekend I met him somebody crashed into my car and broke my suspension. I was loading the car up and he said, ‘Where are you going?’ I told him I got hit and was busted. He said, ‘I’ve got parts; you’re not leaving.’ He sold me the parts and we got the car running. I didn’t know him from Adam, I was just next to him in the paddock. And I’ve seen him do that for many other people.”

Bertok and his wife Becca own South Carolina-based Panic Motorsports, servicing club racers throughout the Southeast, mostly those racing Spec Miata and other Mazda cars. He’s built and worked on a lot of Mazda race cars, but he’s also done a lot of work developing drivers.

“It’s his support to the driver that goes beyond building cars and keeping the cars running,” Strickland explains. “There is a mental aspect to driving that he helps you get the best out of yourself. Sometimes he goads you, sometimes he’s very encouraging; but he seems to know what it takes to get each of us as drivers to put our best out on track, even when we’re not having the best of weekends. The step beyond, to me, is his ability to connect with the drivers that work with him.”

Working with him or not, Bertok is a beacon for Mazda drivers in the paddock for advice, and he’s happy to help. Strickland says he’s a great ambassador for the Mazda brand and was an early adopter of the NC MX-5 for Touring 4. “I think he sees the value not just in the availability of parts and technical support, but he understands Mazda’s commitment to club racing and he will tie that in with his commitment and help you understand that it’s one of the best platforms to be with.”

There are many elements of Spirit of Mazda that Strickland has noted in Bertok. There’s Flawless Execution, Continuous Kaizen (continue to improve with wisdom and ingenuity), Challenger Spirit and certainly Tomoiku – learning and teaching each other for mutual growth and success. Strickland says Bertok’s possession of all the Spirit of Mazda qualities makes him an excellent choice as the Spirit of Mazda winner for November.

“I consider him not only a great friend, but a great mentor to me and many other people as well,” Strickland says. “Everybody who gets on this list is deserving of it one way or another. I think he’s a really representative pick. In terms of the Spirit of Mazda and the competitiveness and wanting to be the best, he epitomizes that.”