There aren’t many pictures with this one, but be careful. You’re going to be hungry by the time you get to the end. Hungry for success.
Who are you, where are you, and what do you do for a living?
My name is Anthony Porta. I grew up in the shadow of the Santa Monica mountains and, as soon as I had my license, I was up driving in those mountains. Currently, I keep it off the streets and on the track at various SCCA events. I live in Orange County, CA, and operate a pizza restaurant called Roccco’s Pizza. Racing and food service both satisfy my need to go fast and shave tenths!
Tell us a little bit about your track weapon. Did you buy it to race, or discover racing with it?
My autox car is a 2005 MAZDASPEED Miata, which I bought new as a more affordable option than the BMW I was driving before. I had previously owned Miatas and the MAZDASPEED ticked all my boxes. It wasn’t until I ran into a regional autox champion in the mountains that I began to race it. Being a rather unique car, it wasn’t classed well and, with no other street tire classes, my mods back then already bumped me in to the Street Prepared class. [These] are basically trailered race cars on big, meaty slicks. I was hooked.
It’s rather timely you would end up being a business owner – and that you would point out how both satisfy your need to go fast and shave tenths. We’ve long believed there’s a connection between the skills we develop building high performance machines and building high performance lives. Recently, I’ve decided to focus on gearhead entrepreneurs as a solid way of showing those connections in action. It’s not hard to imagine how running a restaurant parallels running a race, but could you go into those similarities in a bit more detail?
I’m a big believer in setting big goals then breaking them down into manageable pieces that can be accomplished weekly or even daily.
If I want to hit monthly sales or costs goals, those have to be met weekly. With the car, I looked at what would make the biggest difference with the least amount of money and worked from there. I also looked for the path that people had already taken and proven. Working with people like Bill Wilner of MiataRoadster.com and Bill Schenker, who’s national-winning CSP car is already proven, helped ensure progress without having to spend the time and development money.
Business owners tend to confirm being able to take time off and do whatever they want, whenever they want. At the same time, they tell me it’s as challenging as it is rewarding. 24/7/365. How do you get away to race competitively so often? What does it require of you, as a leader, to make that time available for yourself?
It takes commitment and planning – the same as racing. Most people think of business owners as jet-setting vacation home types, but most small business owners I know take a lot of risk to make a little profit. I support my employees in their endeavors so they support me in mine. For leadership, I look towards the path set by well-known UCLA coach John Wooden, building a base of work ethic, friendship, loyalty, cooperation and enthusiasm. With those anything is possible.
Thinking back on those early days in street prepared with a mostly stock Mazdaspeed Miata, running with the big dogs in their purpose-built race cars, how did you keep that initial excitement, despite knowing how much work it would take to become competitive in the class? How would you say those experiences were similar to your early days in the restaurant business?
It was very humbling those first years and I got beat by a lot. Although I was a good driver with decent car control, what was most humbling is that autox requires its own driving line and style – leaving seconds in my driving alone. That’s what I initially focused on because it was the least expensive and the most fun!
I think most people don’t stay in the sport because those initial few events are a big blow to one’s ego. I made a plan for a great daily driver that would also take seconds off my times. Those were the easy times, when changing to bigger tires and sway bars, etc. made for big drops in time.
Eventually it got me to the place where I was going to have to make a substantial investment in the car to take it to a nationally competitive level. Deciding whether or not to take that step was a tough choice. Eventually I had the funds, but to make sure they were prudent, I co-drove Schenker’s CSP Miata at last year’s National Tour in San Diego, CA. Day one I bombed; I was nearly 2 seconds off Bill, but day two was magic. I raw-timed ASP, SSP and was 2nd overall for PAX that day. Once I knew that the nut behind the wheel could do it, I committed to the car.
Opening the restaurant was similar. It’s a lot of risk to open one and it requires discipline. After working with one of the largest pizza franchisee’s in the US, I felt making the jump to owner was possible. It was quite a roller coaster ride and has been the hardest project I have worked on to-date. And, like the car, has required I push beyond what I think is 100%.
CSP, ASP, SSP? PAX? Could you explain the differences and what it means to “raw time” them?
Those are some of the classes we use in solo autocross. PAX is a handicap of sorts that is also used when multiple classes have to be combined or if you want a general idea of your overall performance. Some classes are “softer” or “harder” than others as people figure out new ways to go faster or cars get re-classed. Your raw time is your time from the starting lights to the finish lights with penalties added to the time afterward for hitting cones.
Work ethic, friendship, loyalty, cooperation, and enthusiasm. I only wish we had more time to discuss these topics as they relate to life and cars in this article. If we might go just a little deeper? How do these play into your ability to get out and race as often as you do? Specifically, how do you “let go” and walk away from the business for motorsport? Weekends have to be busy in your industry.
Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
If the store is staffed well and I can stay ahead of any issues, I have a lot of flexibility to make races. However, I’m ultimately responsible for the store, so if its needs aren’t met then I step up to meet them at any cost. As far as focusing on motorsports vs. business when at the track, it’s easier with autox. The whole day is spent focusing on making the most of 4 minutes or less of driving time. It’s like qualifying on steroids. The last course I competed on, for instance, had 30 steering inputs in less than a mile long course. There are no straights to think about life, work, or the scenery. In fact, if I’m not thinking an input or two ahead, I’m already behind. With that kind of focus needed, it’s easy to shut out the store for that 20 minute run group. I also have a supportive staff that supports me in my endeavors as I support them in theirs.
While we’re on the subject, have you ever found work-related matters creeping into your mind while racing? Intense focus on physical performance can lead to meditative states. Have you ever had a great idea for Rocco’s mid-corner? Driving back to the paddock?
I would agree that intense focus on physical performances lead to a meditative state, but more for taking in the course around me and the car’s reactions. I haven’t yet had any great ideas while driving on a competitive level.
Earlier, you mentioned coming up with big goals and breaking them down into smaller, more manageable pieces you can handle daily/weekly. What big goals do you have for this season and how have you broken them down like this?
I created a chart of all the possible things that I could do for my class and started where I thought it would make the largest improvement. First was suspension, with some very well setup Koni 2812s off a competitive CSP car. In autox, suspension is everything, and with that I have made spring changes, alignment changes, and other tweaks like minimizing tire rub to get things working well. Every event, every practice, and every weekend in between, my co-driver and I were working on the car. This culminated in the car placing 1st overall at the SCCA National Tour event in Crows Landing, CA. There is still a lot more development to go and, as budget allows, I’ll slowly refresh the rest of the car and swap out some of the heavier parts. Next are getting spring rates, camber and ride heights spot on.
Given the lens of Work ethic, friendship, loyalty, cooperation, and enthusiasm, how would you suggest gearheads think about their automotive hobbies as they might relate to other areas of their lives?
Different people enjoy motorsports for different reasons. With that in mind, I advocate knowing what you want to accomplish. There are people who are just looking to have fun and learn their cars. A good example is a few years ago my car wasn’t competitive, but I still wanted to race in a national event with a chance of winning, so I took up a co-drive with another racer for that one race. Racing is what you make out of it from hobby to career, just like life. I have met some fantastic people that have gone from autox guys and gals to real friends. All good things in life take time and hard work. I would say focus on what your goals are make friendship a fine art.
Finally, where can our readers learn more about your motorsport efforts – and get a good slice of pizza?