Born and raised in Richmond Hill, Joe Pecenka has been
interested in anything with a motor since he was a
small boy. His father owned a mechanical shop in Richmond Hill for more than 30 years, and Pecenka always loved working with and learning from him.
Now a real estate appraiser, Pecenka still enjoys working with cars and has even picked up the hobby of driving sports
cars at high speeds at various events.
“I guess I am what you call a track junkie,
but not a real racer,” Pecenka said. “I do not compete in door-to-door racing, but I participate in what is commonly referred to as ‘track days’ or HPDE (High Performance Driving Experience.)”
At these events, participants can bring anything from a street car to a track-prepped car to a full-out race car.
Each participant is placed in a run group based on his or her level of experience.
According to Pecenka, a ground school is offered for beginners where they can learn the basics of driving the course including how to pass and what the different colored flags mean. During these events, participants will usually run five or six sessions per day to hone their driving skills.
“You can experience the handling characteristics of your car while approaching the ‘edge’ all in a safe, legal environment where you have strictly enforced helmet, passing and safety rules,” Pecenka explained.
For Pecenka, who is also the vice chairman of the Bryan County School Board, it’s not about competitive racing as much as it is about the sport of it all.
“Right now, I am having a blast getting to experience the thrill of high speed driving on the track with no competitive driving,” Pecenka said. “I may decide to do some competitive driving in the future, but right now it is just a hobby.”
A hobby that includes some very fast cars. In 2005, when his hobby first began, Pecenka purchased a 1993 300zx convertible. He went to his first event at a Z club meet, which included a track day at Little Talladega in Alabama. The Z club meet offered a small, tight road course originally designed for motorcycles.
“After that first event, I was hooked,” Pecenka said. “I then proceeded to convert my car to a twin turbo and modify it to handle better.”
Pecenka participated in several events at Little Talladega and Roebling Road, which is in near Savannah.
According to its website, Roebling Road Raceway originally opened in 1959 and is now one of the Southeast’s most challenging and fastest tracks. The 2.02-mile asphalt road course consisting of nine turns hosts club events, driving schools and even television filming.
Deciding to move to a lighter car, Pecenka sold the 300zx and bought his first Miata – a 1994 model with a stiffer chassis that would be better suited for a track car.
“After various performance, handling and safety modifications, I took this car to Roebling Road multiple times and to Atlanta Motorsports Park in Dawsonville,” Pecenka said. “I added a supercharger to this car to increase the performance and enjoyed many track days with it. I enjoy working on the cars as well as driving them. I am probably better at working on them, but driving is more fun.”
Currently, Pecenka drives a 1999 Mazda Miata that he purchased last year. Pecenka said the engine and drive train are completely stock, but the car has many suspension upgrades for handling along with safety upgrades.
“The Miata is a great platform for track cars because it is agile, light and has a fairly rigid chassis,” Pecenka said. “There is nothing like the thrill of passing a 300-500 horsepower Porsche or Corvette on the track with a 140 horsepower car.”
Pecenka has taken this car to Roebling Road and one autocross event. Over the next year, he plans to take it to Barber Motorsports Park, Atlanta Motorsports and Road Atlanta.
“The most difficult part of this hobby, besides finding time, is overcoming the natural instinct of self-preservation to be able to truly drive a car at its limits,” Pecenka said.
Ken Schuster, Savannah, coaches with Hooked on Driving and has become friends with Pecenka over the last four years. He said he participates in three or four tracks days a year with Pecenka and has seen him grow over the years.
“It’s a combination of (a driver’s) approach to the track and not just learning how to go fast,” Schuster said. “It’s not just speed; it’s how you approach turns, how you maneuver the car through turns, how you think about where you need to be and how smooth you are on the track – those are all contributing factors.”
For more information on track days or to register for one of the open events, visit www.roeblingroad.com.