Written by James Ray

Eddie Zemeck lives and works in Schenectady and is a member of the Mohawk-Hudson Region.  On March 19, 2021, Eddie will celebrate being 72 years young!  We think Eddie is a great example of how it’s never too late to start club racing.

Like many baby boomers, Eddie graduated High School and deferred military service by entering college and marrying his high school sweetheart, Miss Toni Nicotera.  He earned a B.S. Forest Engineering at SUNY College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry.  Initially thinking he might become a Forest Ranger, the courses at SUNY helped him discover his interest in engineering.  Eddie continued his education attending Syracuse University, earning another a B.S. degree in Civil Engineering.

Eddie and James during the Zoom interview.

Eddie Zemek

After University, Eddie began a successful career in civil engineering and design, environmental safety, and construction.  He owned and operated his own business for many years, specializing in the construction of antenna towers on everything from tall buildings to mountain peaks.  Eddie professes no fear of heights and possesses a wise appreciation for training and quality safety gear.  While discussing his experience ascending tall antenna masts and climbing high atop water towers, Eddie noted the parallels with wheel-to-wheel competition and driving at speeds above 100 mph.  We easily agreed, it’s all about getting trained (driving schools) and using safety gear (full face helmet, HANS, fire suit, fire suppression system in a roll caged race car).

Eddie and Toni raised two children Heather and Matthew.  Unfortunately, in 2018, Eddie’s loving wife for 48 years passed away after fighting breast cancer for almost two decades.  Both of Eddie’s adult age children live nearby, neither have married, and he doesn’t yet have any grandchildren.

One of the passions Eddie and Toni shared was a love of driving Ford Mustangs, beginning with their first used car purchased together.  Eddie said, “It was a 1966 Mustang in forest green with a white convertible top, wire wheel covers, and 289 cubic inch V8 producing a whopping 271 bhp.”  Years later, after Toni completed breast cancer surgery and treatments, the couple bought a new 2008 Mustang GT.  It was also a convertible, specially equipped with the Warriors in Pink package.  “Both the ‘66 and ‘08 were special cars,” he explained, but then added his current daily driver, a 2019 Mustang GT, with the 6 speed manual transmission, 5.0 liter V8 engine, and performance package “is the best car ever!”

Eddie and Toni with their green 1966 Mustang.

The 2019 Mustang GT, with the 6 speed manual transmission, 5.0 liter V8 engine, and performance package that Eddie claims “is the best car ever!”

After getting his newest Mustang, Eddie discovered the SCCA and considered our club’s many ways to have fun with cars.  Initially he planned on doing autocross, but the Mohawk-Hudson Region had lost their site at nearby Schenectady Airport.  Then Eddie discovered Track Night in America (TNiA) and enjoyed driving his new car at Pocono Raceway, Watkins Glen International, and Palmer Motorsports Park.  He began exploring options for professional instruction and learned about the Skip Barber Racing School at Lime Rock Park.  Remembering his celebrity idol Paul L. Newman raced at Lime Rock, Eddie invested in attending the one-day Skip Barber Racing School where, as serendipity would have it, the school provided car was a specially prepared Mustang GT.

Eddie also heard about professional race car driver and long-time New England Region (NER) member Elivan Goulart’s high performance driver education (HPDE) company called the Sports Car Driving Association (SCDA).  Eddie signed up for a SCDA track day at the Thompson Speedway.  At Thompson, Eddie met another NER member James Ray, who is one of SCDA’s instructors.  James is an experienced road racer and has owned and raced an older AS class Mustang.  Predictably, Eddie’s shiny new Ford Mustang GT attracted James’s attention.  The two Mustang aficionados paired up for in-car on-track coaching (2019 pre-COVID).  Per James, “It was a great day coaching. Eddie quickly learned the new track, his cornering speeds increased, and lap times reduced with every session.”

Afterwards, Eddie asked his instructor’s opinion about potential mods to the Mustang in hopes of making it more track worthy.  “James encouraged me to leave the Mustang bone stock and consider getting a finished race car for track work.” Eddie had already seen Mazda’s popular sports car at many track events and he had heard others proclaim “Miata Is Always The Answer.”  He worried the little convertible might be too small for his tall 6’2” stature.  By coincidence, his instructor was driving his race-prepped spec Miata in the advanced/instructor run group.  James’s Miata had a specially lowered floor and seat, a custom modification done by David Boutelle at DKB Motorsports.  James suggested Eddie try his car on for size.  Eddie sat in the specially lowered race seat and the spec Miata fit him well.  Discussions about a potential sale began and were later consummated.

James also encouraged Eddie to consider running his “new” race car in the Club Racing Experience (CRE).  “Our region’s CRE is a great way for novices to experience green flag starts, pass in turns and on straights without pointing by, and race wheel-to-wheel at high speeds.  It’s all about enjoying the whole club racing experience,” James advised.  Participating CRE drivers attend socially distanced training to learn the rules, study the basics of race craft, and understand the framework of racing events.  Interspersed with multiple training sessions, novices drive on track in a lower risk, less aggressive form of wheel-to-wheel racing to gain experience.  James also explained how the CRE could be on Eddies’ path towards earning a full competition license.

Doing track day events were challenging and loads of fun, but Eddie believed racing wheel-to-wheel was the ultimate challenge.  With James’s enthusiastic encouragement, Eddie registered to participate in an upcoming CRE event at Palmer Motorsports Park.  He said, “The experience was a dream come true.”  Eddie tells the story of his very first official race start at Palmer, when his instructor James was gridded inside on pole and he was on the outside in 2nd position – “Taking the green flag and racing side-by-side into turn one replays in my head like an scripted action movie.”

Eddie and James paired up for true wheel-to-wheel racing.

After the successfully completing the CRE at Palmer, James and Eddie discussed other driving school opportunities.  Eddie signed up to attend the Miata Driving School at Thompson Speedway.  Pete Morrison is the Chief Instructor for both the Miata Driving School and SCCA’s New England Region CRE program. There were half a dozen drivers in the school class and most drivers were in the school’s Miata rental racing fleet.  Eddie and Michael Leroux each brought their own cars for the school that coincidentally both had used at a CRE earlier at Palmer.  Eddie said, “My #38 Miata was closely matched with Michael’s ‘Jamaican Bacon’ Miata and we had lots of fun racing wheel-to-wheel and dicing it up on the Thompson track.”  Eddie also felt very comfortable on the track during the school, because he had driven the track the previous summer with James sitting in the right seat instructing.  Watching Elivan’s videos on YouTube also helped.  After successfully completing the school at Thompson, Eddie received his Road Racing Novice Permit.

Eddie rounded out his 2020 season doing a full race weekend at Thompson Speedway.  “Everything went well, in spite of having a rear shock come unbolted at the top, just before qualifying.”  Fortunately, experienced road racer Bob Karl and father of 2020 NERRC Spec Miata champion Evan Karl, helped repair Eddie’s #38 Miata in the pits.  With Bob’s help, Eddie made it to qualifying just in time.  This is but one of many stories Eddie tells about the camaraderie in the pits and the many new friends he has made with others having fun with cars.

Pandemic permitting, Eddie looks forward to racing his SM2 classed Miata for the 2021 season.  If you see Eddie in the pits, say hello and introduce yourself.