Finding Joyce

Joyce Bezjian had no idea what to expect when she started her six-month journey to drive some of the country’s top road courses.

It was a trip that started in April 2017 with some self-questioning, but after logging 19,000 miles in a car and driving 22 tracks, Bezjian returned home to Florida empowered and encouraging other racers to do a track tour.

“I have grown so much as a person and made so many wonderful friends,” Bezjian said. “Do a two-week road trip or a one-month road trip. Get out there and see the country, drive on different tracks.”

So why did a 60-year-old empty nester, HPDE novice decide to pack up her daily driver to run HPDE events from Atlanta Motorsports Park to Summit Point? It took a little encouragement, initial planning and her son Rich’s BMW to put it into action.

Bezjian’s father worked for the State Department and it was overseas where she developed a love for European sports cars and Formula One road-course racing. “I had never raced and I’m not a racer. I’ve always been a car girl,” she said.

Bezjian’s son Rich handed her the keys to a BMW 135i and encouraged her to take the trip.

About three years ago, her son Rich discovered HPDE events and told his Mom about the program for novice drivers that includes classroom and on-track instruction. Rich recalls taking his Mom to her first track day when she went on track.

“When we came out, everyone was taken back by the novelty of some guy bringing his mom to a track day, which I’m sure doesn’t happen very often,” Rich said. “After that, when she started wanting to do it, I kind of got out of her way.”

Bezjian started testing performance cars for track days. She used a spreadsheet to document each car’s characteristics. Studying the sheet with Rich, Bezjian knew she needed more experience to make the right decision. That’s when Rich handed the keys to a BMW 135i to his mom.

“(Rich) was very encouraging about going to do this,” said Bezjian, whose job as a software project manager allows her to work anywhere with an internet connection. “He told me don’t wait, don’t procrastinate, don’t overthink it. Just go and figure it out as you go—and I did.”

 Contingency Plans

Using the BMW to drive to the tracks and for HPDE sessions provided its own challenges. If the car had a major mechanical problem or was in an accident, Bezjian would need transportation, so Rich bought her premium towing insurance.

For smaller problems, Bezjian traveled with a full-size spare tire, a jack and tools. She also brought along a track day box with rain and cold wear, snacks, a tire gauge, torque wrench and a camping chair. Rich loaded the JB4 app on her smartphone and taught his mom how to read engine codes.

When Bezjian was traveling to a new city, there was no unused space in the vehicle. She would leave suitcases and other non-essential items at her base camp before heading to the track for the weekend. Twice she had to ship home a box of items she acquired during her trip.

Even if Bezjian damaged the car beyond repair, she wouldn’t quit. “I would buy another performance car and continue on my way,” she said.

Though she lives in Florida, Bezjian crossed paths with Suzan Cassella of NASA Northeast, who alerted Speed News about Bezjian’s tour.

 One Month at a Time

Bezjian established base camps where she would work Monday-Friday but was within a three-hour drive of the regional tracks. Her first stop was in South Carolina where she stayed with a friend, and for other base camps, Bezjian either rented places on Airbnb or bunked with a friend. She stayed in motels for the track weekends.

Starting the trip in Orlando, Bezjian went north up the East Coast and then traveled west to the Great Lakes Region and southbound to return home. To plan her track days, Bezjian developed a list of all the tracks and downloaded HPDE events from Motorsportreg.com. She would plan her trips to a new region based on races and events. Her goal was to be on track or watching a race in-person every weekend.

Bezjian had no time frame for the trip, but limited her planning to a month at a time. The internet made for easy planning and execution, she said.

“I had a general trajectory in mind and I figured that if I stay a month ahead of myself … I could book my tracks and find my lodging, and I’d just figure it out as I go along,” Bezjian said. “If something bad happens or I get bored or I run out of tracks at some point, I’d just come home.”

Bezjian didn’t get bored, and in fact, she’s currently heading west on another track tour with plans to make it to California.

Bezjian made friends all over the Eastern Seaboard, including these women at Road America.

 Track Days

Having participated in track days with Rich, Bezjian liked the combination of classroom and on-track learning the NASA HPDE program offers. Her first stop was at Roebling Road Raceway in Georgia where she was paired with a young instructor who pushed her, but not too far.

“He gave me the confidence once I learned my lines to really start looking for speed,” Bezjian said. “That was the first time I had that kind of encouragement to try and drive the car a little more assertively.”

Bezjian’s instructor at Roebling Road, Will Hicks, really encouraged her to push herself harder.

Over the following months, she started memorizing where the track corner workers were staged to anticipate what’s ahead. Rather than driving from turn to turn, Bezjian learned to develop a flow on the track.

Becoming a better driver came with some challenges. Bezjian joked she sought “agricultural pursuits” four times and had one 360-degree spin during her visits to 20-plus tracks.

As her confidence grew behind the wheel, Bezjian posted more consistent lap speeds. Lap speeds that used to vary by 30 to 50 seconds were now just 2 seconds apart.

“Speed has never been an issue for me. I’ve always had a lead foot,” Bezjian said. “But I was getting smoother and more consistent and able to take each corner in the same way and my flow was better.”

Bezjian would watch YouTube video laps of the next track she was visiting to learn the layout and flow. Her study sessions included watching a high-horsepower car, a momentum car and a BMW. Frequently she would talk to her son Rich about the videos and he found himself learning from his mom.

“She takes the car further than I ever could,” Rich said.

With more seat time in the BMW, Bezjian used a break last July to change the car’s suspension and added wider tires at Hi-Speed Motorsports in Connecticut.

On her visit to NCM Motorsports Park, Bezjian ran into the man with the most famous pants in NASA, Paul Radey.

 Conversation Starter

As Bezjian logged more track days, she began to seek out female students to offer words of encouragement.

“I would go up to them and talk to them and say, ‘You’ll get it, it’ll be OK. Listen to your instructor, if you have any questions, come talk to me,’” Bezjian said. “I would try and mentor them as best I could.”

Bezjian’s track tour was a good conservation starter with the participants, especially if Bezjian moved to a new NASA region. Racers approached Bezjian with a mix of curiosity and jealousy regarding her track tour.

“The whole NASA family was so welcoming and so encouraging, and people would come up and talk to me,” she said. “I didn’t know anybody from anybody. I was a complete novice, a newbie. People would walk up and talk to me. It was wonderful.”

Bezjian recalls a track day where the car blew a radiator hose and she thought she was done for the weekend without a replacement hose. The organizer made an announcement and found a spare hose for the BMW. By night’s end the car was fixed.

Bezjian came away with incredible memories from her track tour like learning how to drive in the rain at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course last summer.

“That was another huge learning curve,” Bezjian said. “And I still have trepidations about driving on a wet track because it’s completely different.”

Among her memorable corners was a combo drift at Roebling Road Raceway and a couple of turns at Atlanta Motorsports Park. Her least favorite track was the Shenandoah Circuit at Summit Point Motorsports Park.

Bezjian participated in an autocross event, but it didn’t click with her. She enjoys doing the NASA HPDE program where she’s advanced to an intermediate level but doesn’t have any interest in getting her race license.

During the trip, Bezjian developed confidence on track and off, where she learned to make many of her own repairs and adjustments.

Rich said it’s been fun to watch his mom improve as a driver and he expects even more growth after her 2018 track tour.

“She’s good at analyzing. That’s one of the reasons she’s such a good driver,” Rich said. “She can see what’s coming and learns from her own mistakes very quickly.”

Not many sons would encourage their mom to travel the country alone and drive cars at high speeds on tracks. But Rich says his mom is in a place in her life that affords her this opportunity.

“I wanted my mom to get out,” Rich said. “(In) her previous couple of marriages, she devoted herself to her husband and she lost a lot of years devoting herself to seeing them succeed. It really, really was time for her to get out and do something for her. And the change in her shows.”

By the Numbers

19,000 Total miles put on her BMW
4,000 Miles on the track
22 Number of tracks visited
28 Hotels/motels visited
3 Complete sets of tires used
$37,247 Total cost of trip

 

Planning a Track Tour

Joyce Bezjian proved that a track tour can be done in a single car and be affordable. Here’s some advice on planning that journey:

Stay Regional: Rather than zig-zagging around the country, pick a region with multiple tracks. That keeps miles off the car and you’ll see familiar faces at the tracks.

Base camp: Bezjian would pick a city that was three hours from various tracks and use the “camp” to work Monday-Friday. She would stay in a local hotel during track days. Find friends to stay with or book places on Airbnb to save some money.

Planning: Find a list of all the tracks within a region and download a list of events from Motorsportreg.com. Try to line up two or three consecutive track weekends without having to do significant travel.

 Start small: Not everyone is cut out for a six-month track tour, so that’s why Bezjian recommends starting out with a shorter tour — two or three weeks.

Insurance policy: Accidents happen on and off the track. Invest in towing insurance policy that provides tows up to 200 miles in the case the car needs to go to a dealer or a performance shop for repairs.

Tool kit: Bezjian carried a full-size spare that allowed her to get back to base camp in case a tire was damaged. Carry minimal but essential tools to make minor repairs, plus spare fluids.

Pack lightly: Use the base camp to store nonessential items that aren’t needed at the track. Be mindful of acquiring too many items on the trip or it might require shipping items home.

Creature comforts: Make sure to bring items such as a cooler, a folding chair and an umbrella for shade. Other items should be stored in rubber storage bins for when the inevitable storm passes through.

 Have fun: Be social and introduce yourself to new people. Instructors are a great way to meet fellow classmates.

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Image courtesy of Joyce Bezjian