MEET BJ ZACHARIAS, DRIVING INSTRUCTOR AT BONDURANT HIGH PERFORMANCE DRIVING SCHOOL
In 2017, when BJ Zacharias moved from Ohio to Arizona, he had already been a successful racer for many, many years.
LET’S THROW THINGS IN REVERSE
BJ always loved racing and, thanks to his mom and dad, he had the opportunity to explore it as a child. Together, they spent weekends going to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and watching IndyCar and IMSA races on TV.
When BJ graduated high school, he got the gift that truly kept on giving … a three-day class at a performance driving school.
“I was horrible at it,” BJ recalled. “I remember being so excited to go, and then I was miserable while I was there.”
But it was that epic fail that drove him to drive himself into the winner’s circle.
FULL SPEED AHEAD
“I got home from the class and started practicing,” said BJ. “They didn’t teach footwork, and that’s where I struggled. So I started learning it on my own.”
Soon after, BJ attended Bondurant High Performance Driving School in a Pro Search program. There, he made a connection that would later bring his career full circle. The connection was Mike McGovern – his instructor. Mike made quite an impression on BJ, and vice versa.
After many hours of practice, BJ got involved in SCCA racing, where he won 2 National Championships (97 FC and 98 FA), which lead him to an opportunity with Team Kool Green Racing. “They had a ladder program for racers aged 18-25. I was one of 25 drivers selected to try out. We ran drills and did mock situations and they picked the top 5 people to advance. I was one of the five,” said BJ.
FROM TRAINING TO THE TREE
After a short stint testing a Formula 3000 in Europe, funding ran out and BJ returned to Ohio. He worked delivering office furniture by day, and on cars anytime else.
“I’d watch races on TV, and then right after, I’d call a local shop that was racing in Sports Car/Endurance racing. I’d ask them if I could help unload the trailer. I’d do it for free just for the experience and to make contacts,” said BJ.
His go-getter attitude paid off. The work he did at the shop got him involved with the racing team, and someone on the team kept telling him they’d find him a spot.
They were telling the truth.
“It was around noon one day, and I got a call asking if there was any way I could make it to Daytona. There was a team that needed another driver. I was like, ‘Hell yes, I can!’ Then the guy said I needed to be in Daytona that night. I called my boss and told him the situation. He finished my deliveries and I hopped on a 4 pm flight. I raced at 10:30 that night right after the Winston Cup qualifiers.
“The whole team was Italian and my co-driver was Swedish,” recalled BJ. “They barely spoke English. The first time I sat in the car was during the race.”
The team won their class at Daytona and two weeks later, BJ drove with the team at his home track at Road America in Wisconsin. Another class win earned him a seat in the next round at Brno in the Czech Republic. This lead to consistent adventures in various Sports Car seats in IMSA and Grand Am racing from 2000 to 2015.
DEEP IN THE RACE GAME
Fast forward to 2012, BJ found himself racing for Doran Racing in the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge series with another manufacture. The program also teamed up with PlayStation® GT Academy, where the best gamers were turned into real-time racers. BJ drove with the team until the end of 2015 when the manufacture pulled the plug.
“It was then I realized that even though I still loved the track, the business end and chasing the money was wearing on me, and it was time for the next chapter. My wife and I took a year to regroup and then I called one the best teachers I ever had, Mike McGovern, to see if he was looking for instructors at Bondurant.”
BACK IN CLASS
In 2017, BJ, his wife and two kids left Ohio and moved to Arizona to join the Bondurant family. And they are thrilled at where the ride has taken them.
“I never know who I am going to meet or how I am going to help. And I love that about the job. One day, I might be teaching a teen who has had two bad accidents and is afraid to get back behind the wheel. The next, I might be working with a veteran war pilot looking for an adrenaline surge.”
One of his favorite things is, at the end of their training, hearing someone say that they thought they knew how to drive when they came in, but realize they are just learning.
Says BJ, “Everyone who has a driver’s license should take our classes. Whether they are driving a racecar or taking their Sunday driver to the store to get a gallon of milk. It’s an investment in safety and awareness.”
THE BEST DAY ON THE TRACK
“When my family moved out west, I took my son (9) and daughter (6) out on the track. I was in the Hellcat and did the first lap at 500 HP. When I got done, my daughter loved it, and my son was freaking out,” recalled BJ.
“I told them I was going to press a magic button and then do another lap.
“Then I did another hot lap at 700 HP. When I was done, my son was as white as a ghost, and my daughter was laughing hysterically. The first words out of her mouth were, ‘Hey dad, is there another button you can push?’
“Days like those are some of the best ones on the track. Or when the instructors competed against one another on the auto cross course in Valet mode.
“We always seem to have fun in our SRT®s and enjoy the people in the SRT programs are a ton of fun. A lot of them come back for more training after the first course, and they are always a great group. They make every day a great day to drive.”