Racing Through the Ranks
DEERFIELD BEACH, Florida. (November 29, 2018) – Just as a driver must be trained to race, so must a mechanic.
Performance Tech Motorsports has dedicated nearly four decades to introducing drivers and crew members to the IMSA paddock. Similar to a technical school, they train new members via a rigorous ladder system to prepare them for the top tier of motorsport racing.
Performance Tech mechanic Michal Berk has progressed through this system and is now stepping into his new role at both the shop and the track.
“He’s a leader,” Team Principal Brent O’Neill said. “When he started, he immediately stepped in right beneath Frankie and began learning everything he could. When Frankie passed away, he stepped up to the job no question. He’s always on top of things and making sure everything gets done.”
Much like a driver, a crew member must climb the rungs of a technical ladder in order to reach the top level of racing. More often than not an individual will start as a parts-runner, or entry level mechanic for a club racing team. These positions familiarize them with the tools, parts and procedures involved in motorsports racing. They learn the jargon used to quickly and efficiently communicate car diagnostics and solutions.
Ideally the next step is to become a crew member in a support series for a professional team such as Performance Tech in IMSA Prototype Challenge. Berk followed these steps to a tee, joining the team in January of 2017 as a mechanic for its MPC cars. He took the next step at the beginning of the 2018 IMSA Prototype Challenge season taking on the role of car chief for Cameron Cassel’s No. 75 LMP3.
“Before Performance Tech I worked a lot in club racing,” Berk said. “I worked for an independent Porsche shop for eight years doing PCA (Porsche Club of America) things and some Radical Prototype races. Performance Tech was my introduction into the professional racing world.”
Berk’s role on the team expands further than at-track duties; he represents one of the team’s four full time employees. There is no off season for crew members like Berk who started prep for the 2019 season long before the 2018 season ended. In addition to his car chief and at-shop responsibilities Berk’s role has advanced in recent months as he has taken charge and stepped into the position of Crew Chief, left empty by the passing of O’Neill’s longtime friend and employee Frankie Parzych.
His already busy work days have grown more hectic with the addition of these new responsibilities, but he pushes forward leading his peers. In doing so he keeps track of the constantly rotating list of race cars, often times working on multiple projects at once.
“It’s been a hard transition,” Berk said. “Frankie was the heart of Performance Tech so when he passed somebody had to step up. There weren’t enough of us in the shop and Brent can’t do it all, so I took a chance and stepped up. I didn’t feel like it was an obligation or sacrifice, it was something I wanted to do.
“Frankie’s shoes are not a pair you can fill but at the very least I wanted to take pressure off Brent and make sure we made the races. We had to make sacrifices and miss races to regroup but we’re finally settling in again and making progress headed into next season.”
In addition to preparing the cars for the upcoming season, Berk soon will be faced with the task of introducing a new member to the crew. As the team continues to grow so does its need for more help. Due to Berk having worked through the crew ranks himself he is the ideal person for this job. His leadership skills and past experience provide him with the knowledge to seamlessly introduce the new member.
Even without an extra set of hands Berk has made great progress at the shop, helping O’Neill rework tear-down and rebuild processes. With the off season quickly coming to an end Berk is working frivolously to get the shop crew ahead so they can enjoy time at home. He credits Parzych for this standard as he greatly admired how Parzych was able to balance work and home-time so well.
“When I’m not at the track I like to spend my time at home,” Berk said. “Between my wife and I working and traveling for races it’s nice to sit down and enjoy family company. I also like to race online with my simulator or take my motorcycle for a ride. It’s great to really just take in that time and enjoy it. But after a little down time I’m always ready to be back at track.”