|Summerlin Asset Management, Stepco Insurance Agency, Inc., Offset Motorwerks
|Property and casualty insurance agent
Favorite TV show:
|It’s a tie: “Talladega Nights” and “Seabiscuit”
|“Goodnight Moon,” It was the first book I read to my daughter at bedtime.
|Whatever track I am on at that moment
When Steve Stepanian decided to join NASA more than seven years ago, he made the same mistake many inexperienced racers have.
“I found a cool-looking car and I bought it for the class I thought I wanted to race in,” Stepanian said of the 944 Spec car he purchased. “The first weekend I was going to race it and the car failed tech miserably, to the point the tech guys wouldn’t let me out with the race group.”
That mistake turned out to be fortuitous. Stepanian ended up renting at Spec E30 car that weekend and almost finished on the podium in the class. Stepanian sold the 944 Spec car three days later and bought a Spec E30.
The Spec E30 class in NASA’s Southern California region is better for it with Stepanian in its ranks. Stepanian not only serves as assistant series director, he created a competition school from scratch for NASA. It fits with Stepanian’s passion for racing and promoting safe driving.
Since his youth, Stepanian has been involved in racing, including BMX bikes, motocross and karts. His father took Stepanian to the track after he got his driver’s license — and too many tickets — but Stepanian admits he didn’t try to learn from experienced racers. “I realized I had a skill for driving but I wasn’t honing it in,” he said. When Stepanian went to race school, it finally sank in how to race a car.
“I remember sitting in a classroom and listening to what it took to get a car around a track quickly and that going fast was not sideways, it wasn’t with the tail-end out and it wasn’t when things were making a lot of noise,” he said.
Stepanian studied the sport by reading books and learning tips from racers in the paddock. He strategized races by looking at the strength and weaknesses of the drivers in his class and not by how much money he could spend on his racecar.
“Taking the time to study the drivers and learn more about them before just going out attacking makes it so much easier on the equipment, easier on the driver, and it’s definitely easier on me,” said Stepanian, who has two second-place finishes and an third at the NASA Championships.
At the track, Stepanian has a dual role serving as an assistant series director and a racer. Spec E30 National Series Director Shawn Meze doubles as NASA’s national series director, so much of the administrative duties fall upon Stepanian. Because the administrative work can be unpredictable on a race weekend, it’s one of the reasons that he uses Offset Motorwerks to maintain and deliver his racecar.
Stepanian reviews notes and videos from the last time he raced the track and has the car set up accordingly. Once on the track, Stepanian will drive around to look for any new resurfacing or freshly painted lines. He also stops by to visit with the course workers and thank them for their efforts.
Meze said that Stepanian often buys the course workers breakfast burritos to show his appreciation.
“Nobody asks him to do that, he does it on his own,” said Meze, who lives in El Cajon, Calif. “I didn’t realize how much he actually spends feeding everybody. This is all out of pocket and he doesn’t ask anybody to help out.”
The Spec E30 class averages about 10 to 12 cars per race in the Southern California region, and Stepanian notes that the class rarely has on-track issues. “They take a lot of pride in their abilities, so there’s not a lot we have to deal with now,” he said.
When there is a problem the racers tend to work it out themselves. Spec E30 racer Allan Hauser recalled a time he got tangled up with Stepanian that knocked both drivers out of a race.
“He’s the first one to come up say hey, ‘I’m completely sorry, I apologize. I’ll take care of anything. If something is wrong, let me know. If you need me to buy a fender, I’ll do it,’ which says a lot,” Hauser said. “It’s not as common as people think it is.”
When NASA’s national chairman Ryan Flaherty asked Stepanian to develop the curriculum for a new competition school, he jumped at the opportunity. Stepanian knew the two-day course had to be comprehensive, rigorous and emphasize safety.
“I try to get students to ask one question: Would you want to race with you? If you can’t answer yes, you’re not ready to race,” Stepanian said. “If you wouldn’t race with you, ask yourself why. If it has anything to do with safety, forget it, then you’re too aggressive for this level of racing.”
Hauser said it’s the same approach Stepanian takes with the E30 Spec class.
“It’s about safety, kind of bringing back the gentleman-racing mentality,” Hauser said. “He reminds us that this is amateur road racing, so there’s not much to be gained by wrecking your fellow man or woman.”
Stepanian acknowledges his approach on the track is different from his younger days. Maybe it’s his work as a property and insurance agent or the fact he recently turned 50. With more seat time has come greater wisdom.
“I have to figure out what I have to work with and then adjust what I do based on what shows up that day,” said Stepanian, who lives in La Verne, Calif. “When the car is just not there you’ve either got to work on the car or try and drive around it, so my strategy has to change.”
Like many racers in NASA, Stepanian counts the days to the next event to see his racing friends. “It’s my therapy, it’s my relaxation,” he said. “I have an absolute ball. I just turned 50 and I get to act 16 again.”