You can't miss the wild graphics on the the DRS & Garagistic BMWs racing in the TC America powered by Skip Barber championship. Who are these newcomers to the SRO paddock?
We caught up with TC America racers Matthew Ibrahim and Kris Valdez after the NOLA race where the team celebrated with their first podium finish.
SRO: Tell us about your journey to the SRO TC America Championship?
Matthew: As a kid, whenever someone asked me “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, I always had an answer - a racecar driver. After ten years of only casual track day experience, I decided to enter my first small racing series, the Bimmer Challenge. I ended up finishing first in my class that day. After car complications the next season, and with inspiration from Garagistic Formula Drift driver Rome Charpentier, we found a seat with DRS in a BMW M240ir that one of their customers was selling. We then jumped on the field with Kris Valdez of DRS on our side as our teammate in TC.
Kris: I first discovered Touring Car racing watching old VHS tapes of BTCC footage from the mid-90s. Later watched it on Speedvision, and thought how cool it would be to be able to do something like that one day. A few years later I ended up driving up to Laguna Seca with my younger brother and watched the World Challenge TC cars race in person and was hooked. I told myself that I wanted to be involved in this and just be around racecars in general. Only a few years after watching that race at Laguna Seca I was actually helping out a team that was racing in Touring Car. They campaigned three Volkswagen Jettas. Next thing I know things snowballed, I was working for a shop while I was finishing up my education at Cal State Fullerton and that place closed. I then started DRS so I could service customers I had built relationships with at my former employer. I went through years of ups and downs in business, personally racing on and off with SCCA and karting, and supporting other customers racing in NASA, SCCA, World Challenge, GrandAm (at that time), and even got involved in Airplane Racing and Bonneville. It’s been a crazy journey that I will always feel grateful to have had, and hopefully will continue to learn and grow for years to come. Now I’m actually racing in Touring Car and loving every moment of it.
SRO: How did you two decide to team up? What are the benefits? Any challenges with it?
Matthew: We met Kris Valdez through one of the Garagistic team members who had known of him and his shop, Dynamic Racing Solutions, in La Habra, California. After one of our race cars caught on fire during a race, we went to Kris and he happened to have a car for sale that we could race in TC America. We hopped on that opportunity and wanted to have DRS support us for the season as they had the experience. Kris had supported many other drivers in the past but was never able to be behind the driver's seat himself so we worked out a way to have him race alongside me in TC.
Kris: I met Matthew after one of his employees reached out to me for assistance with Dyno related work. From the onset I could tell that Matthew was determined. As soon as he learned that we could help him go racing there was an instant focus on that, and I am happy to have been able to help him achieve that.
I think we benefit from each other. He is in the parts business and we are in the service business. We both share similar passions. The only challenges I think can be with being able to dedicate more resources to this program. We both want to be successful, and at this level it takes a perfect combination. We both want to improve, and we’re improving very well considering all things. We are both running small businesses and that in itself is always challenging.
SRO: What was the biggest surprise when you debuted in 2021?
Matthew: No surprises yet but it’s still early in the season!
Kris: I don’t think I’ve had any real surprises, but I will say that my respect for other drivers in the series has only increased after being wheel-to-wheel with them.
SRO: How would you rate your 2022 season so far?
Matthew: Being fresh off our first podium finish in my pro racing career at NOLA, I’d have to rate the season a 10/10 so far!
Kris: So far it’s been mixed for me. I had a crash in qualifying at Sonoma in mixed conditions that set me back. I’ve had much worse crashes in the past, so it’s not a fear of getting injured, but rather a fear of not being able to race at the limit because you lose your confidence momentarily. It takes a bit of a reset to feel back to 100% again. There’s a lot of pressure to not damage equipment, accumulate points, be fast (but smart) and be there for your team so everyone is on the same page. NOLA went well for us as a team. I felt competitive in fifth place most of Race 1, but then getting tangled up with TCA traffic set me back one position. I was proud of Matthew for getting on the podium for sure, and we need that as a team to improve together.
SRO: Tell us about the businesses you run and how they connect with your racing.
Matthew: Garagistic began as a way to pay for college classes but ended up becoming much more. We are a machine shop in Westminster, California specializing in after-market performance racing parts for older BMW and Mercedes.
Kris: My business, Dynamic Racing Solutions (DRS) is directly related to our racing. We started out servicing a diverse set of racers in the beginning, and we still service a variety of racers all over the country, and some internationally. We have also built relationships with sponsors and other businesses that are currently helping us race.
SRO: You guys have the wildest graphics. What's the story behind that?
Matthew: Since we couldn’t modify the car much, we figured we had to stand out somehow! My five-year nephew is my focus group. I want the graphics to grab the attention of non-car people as well as race fans.
Kris: Matthew explained this perfectly. I think it was a brilliant strategy, and so far it’s worked to bring us attention.
SRO: Is it too early to think about your 2023 plans?
Matthew: We have been throwing around some ideas for 2023 but I’d like to see what opportunities arise as this season progresses!
Kris: We’re constantly thinking ahead. We’re both trying to drive, and I am also working on various programs for customers to drive that we can support.
SRO: We've heard your crew dictates your team dining choices. Is there a story there?
Matthew: Half of our crew practice a vegan or pescatarian diet which definitely influences our dining choices when we travel. While they each have their own reason or story behind their dietary choices, we will all make sure we pick places we can all sit down together and have a nice meal together. We are big fans of the HappyCow app to find places!
Kris: It is true that we have a couple vegans, and I am pescatarian. I usually try to eat healthy by default, and that can be challenging while on the road, but we make it work. Sometimes I will cook up a quick meal for myself and Matthew and the vegans are pretty self-sufficient when they need to be. You won’t see junk food under our awning, unless Matthew sneaks in chips or candy.
SRO: What advice would you have for a club racer thinking about SRO racing in 2023?
Kris: I would say make sure you have a solid plan, have the funds set aside that match your goals, talk to other racers and teams to learn as much as you can, and be willing to take risks.