PWC

Series spotlight - James Sofronas

There's No Holding Back James Sofronas NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (Sept. 16, 2008) - James Sofronas never had a chance. From growing up with his car-loving dad in Vienna, Austria, to his move to Porsche-crazy Southern California; from his first...

There's No Holding Back James Sofronas

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (Sept. 16, 2008) - James Sofronas never had a chance. From growing up with his car-loving dad in Vienna, Austria, to his move to Porsche-crazy Southern California; from his first time trail event, to his three-car strong World Challenge team, every step in Sofronas' life has drawn him deeper into racing. Each new experience has amplified his passion for speed and it's that same passion that keeps him striving for his first World Challenge victory.

His father never raced, but Sofronas' love for cars was born out of rides around the Autobahn in his dad's BMW. Decades later, back in the U.S. and working as a salesman, Sofronas love for cars continued. It wasn't until some friends brought him to a time trial event that thoughts of racing entered his mind. He didn't have to think very long about what his next move was, and he plunged in head first.

"I just flat out bought a race car, an SCCA SSB car that I drove on the street," Sofronas grinned. "I used it as my sales car when I was making sales calls. I was as committed as you could get to finding a way to race within my means at that time and that meant buying a car that I could still drive on the street. I'd show up for sales calls with this No. 14 SSB. I'd pull up to the office in my parking spot and have to climb out over a roll cage with a briefcase. It was a great conversation starter. I used that a lot: 'I'm a struggling race car driver, help me out. Every sale I get goes to promoting my racing career.'"

No sooner did Sofronas get his SCCA Club Racing license in 1994, then Pro Racing beckoned.

"I started looking at this World Challenge thing, and right away I rented a car from Chuck Hemmingson. I finished ninth at Road America - way over my head. I was like 'this is the coolest racing! Forget regionals and Nationals I'm going straight to Pro!' I got my license in '94, my brother and I did it together, and I never looked back. I've pretty much raced every year in World Challenge since then, mainly with my own team and on my own small budget."

His World Challenge career began in an Oldsmobile Calais, but as Sofronas' handful of select races crept closer to a full season, he returned to the marque that ignited his enthusiasm for cars: BMW.

"I think my dad had something to do with it," Sofronas reflected. "He drove a 530i and that was the car that I first associated with driving on the Autobahn, so that's probably how my affinity for the German marque started. And frankly, the BMWs have always been my favorite. They're a more affordable car compared to others when I got into racing and they're probably the easiest car to race... but I think that it helped that my dad owned several BMWs when I was growing up."

Also taking a cue from his father, Sofronas continued to find success as a salesman, but longed to merge his day job and his passion for cars. A move to Southern California opened his eyes to the performance car culture, spawning the idea to open a tuning shop. As Sofronas was slowly becoming a World Challenge regular, he'd already made valuable contacts within the after-market parts industry and they encouraged him to bring his salesmanship to the tuning business.

"With my partner Fabrice [Kutyba], we started GMG [Global Motorsports Group] in 2001 as an idea, just an on-the-side deal, then 2004 was when we really launched it and opened up a shop. Two years ago, we opened up a 16,000 square-foot shop. We're growing every year."

Though GMG does work on many high-end marques including BMW, Ferrari and Audi, Sofronas and Kutyba made a strategic decision to focus on Porsches.

"We knew that the Porsche clientele in Southern California is huge. It's the best place in the world to have a business for Porsches."

So too, then, did Sofronas' World Challenge career make the switch to Porsches in 2005. Having his Porsche 911 GT3 branded with GMG livery in front of thousands of race fans and car enthusiasts every weekend has become a marketing marriage made in heaven for Sofronas.

"Racing is so expensive and the only way I can justify it without having a massive sponsor to write the check is to use this as a branding and advertising tool. Some of that budget that I have is put toward racing."

GMG recently took branding to a whole new level by introducing a World Challenge-inspired line of performance products for Porsches.

"It's a direct result of our racing experience in the series. I would say that we are one of the few race teams taking advantage of World Challenge and exploring it for products we can develop from the racing. I've always loved this series, business aside, but now it makes even more sense to be in the series and to promote our business. Eighty percent of our revenue comes from the street tuning side and 20 percent of it comes from the racing side. So, the street tuning side is what helps pay the bills, but the racing side is what helps us develop a brand as a credible, high-performance modification company for Porsches and also some BMW, Ferraris and Audis."

Running Southern California's premier Porsche tuning shop, operating a World Challenge race team and serving customers in the IMSA GT3 Cup takes infinite amounts of time and energy, which Sofronas appears to have an endless supply of. Confucius said "choose a job you love and you'll never have to work a day in your life," and Sofronas is living proof.

"I'm lucky," he says. "I have many people that work for me and my business partner Fabrice runs the shop. He handles all the retail sales and street tuning, so that allows me to focus on the high-end racing clients.

"It's tough sometimes. We put in the 12- or 14-hour days, but if I didn't love it, I wouldn't do it. It's very easy for me to work with the passion that I have, because I'm doing what I love."

Dig deeper and you'll find that something else is fueling Sofronas: the desire to win his first World Challenge race. He's stood on the podium and finished runner-up several times, he's led races and battled for the lead, but his win column remains empty. You'd be mistaken to think his success in business and his growing race team would overshadow that fact; it weighs on him heavily.

"I could be very happy with what I've accomplished and coming up from the days when I had a car, a trailer and a truck, no crew, my brother would help me, we're talking nothing! And now I've got a three-car team and a full crew of cars and millions of dollars worth of equipment. I should be happy, but I guess until I win, I'll never shake that competitive edge where I just need to keep going. I'm hoping it happens sooner than later, that's for sure."

Will that win come in a Porsche or a BMW though? Statistically, Sofronas has finished higher and stood on the podium more frequently when piloting the Tecmark BMW owned by Walter Swick, but currently running in the top five of the SPEED GT Drivers' Championship, Sofronas has shown significant improvement in the Porsche this season.

"I think, with the Touring Car, we could potentially be closer to having that happen [a win] than in the Porsche, because I haven't been racing the Porsches as long as the BMWs.

"Walter's been an incredible supporter and good friend for giving me the chance to drive his car, and I'm eternally grateful for that. The car is a great car. The BMW is a lot easier to driver than the Porsche on the limit, so I'm very comfortable in that car. Obviously I want to get that win, but partly I want to do it for Walter.

"I'm trying my damnedest in both series. That first one will be special I can tell you that."

Sofronas first win will be special and well-deserved, no question, but considering his passion for racing, it'd probably won't be enough.

Top Ten Finish

1. If I wasn't a race car driver I would be a...
"An actor"

2. Coke or Pepsi?
Coke

3. Besides racing, sport you watch the most:
"Racing or nothing"

4. Favorite cereal?
"It used to be Captain Crunch, but now it's Grape Nuts"

5. Last speeding ticket?
"On my way to the Long Beach Grand Prix last year. I was running late, hauling ass out of my shop and merging onto the highway. My foot was flat out on the gas and the car I was driving wasn't slow. Next thing I know, I'm already up to 85, merging, when a motorcycle cop comes up behind me and pulls me over. He didn't even give me a chance to put a sales spin on it. Not even a chance to open my mouth."

6. Last movie you saw in the theater?
"Wanted"

7. Best concert you've ever attended?
"Lenny Kravitz at the Hard Rock in Vegas. We were five feet away from the stage and I was being bullied by all these little hot girls trying to get to Lenny."

8. How big is your TV?
"60" high-def plasma. I traded that for working on a guy's Cayenne Turbo."

9. High school mascot:
"Fox Lane Foxes"

10. How much would gas have to be before you bought a Prius?
"$50 a gallon. In other words, I'm never going to buy a Prius."

-credit: scca pro racing

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About this article
Series PWC
Drivers Chuck Hemmingson , James Sofronas