Talking to Steve Bortolotti, General Manager at Pfaff Motorsports, you quickly understand how important racing is to him. Since joining the team in 2014, he’s had to wear several hats in the paddock, but for those thinking that racing is an inaccessible sport only for those with the deepest pockets, his story tells a different tale.
Of course, Bortolotti was obsessed with going fast, but he started on a smaller scale. He raced remote control (RC) cars from an early age, where he eventually earned the title of North American Champion.
“Karts were just too expensive,” he points out, explaining why he didn’t follow the usual path of those in motorsports. But he points out that as an RC driver, he had to do everything from driving and setup to maintenance and repairs. “What you learn there is the same as what we do in racing,” he said.
When he got his driver’s licence, he began taking the lessons he learned from his RC days and applied them to his car, modifying his Mazda RX-8 for use in time attack competitions. It was at these events he found a community of like-minded, racing-obsessed people.
After finishing school, Bortolotti found himself at Pfaff Automotive Partners as a Digital Marketing Assistant, then joined Pfaff Porsche as a Sales Inventory Coordinator, and then ended up as a Sales Consultant at Pfaff Tuning, helping customers get even more performance out of their vehicles.
When Pfaff Motorsports looked in-house for members to join its race team, Bortolotti was a natural fit as the General Manager. His business training at school meant he could understand the importance of managing that side of things, while his previous experiences racing remote control cars, modifying his time-attack car, and advising customers seeking the most performance out of their rides meant that he also understood the speedier side of the role. He was even able to bring along some of those contacts he made back in the time-attack days.
Since joining the team in 2014, Pfaff Motorsports saw a lot of success. To date, the team has racked up 35 race wins and seven championships including the 2021 IMSA WeatherTech GTD championship and a win at the 2022 Rolex 24 at Daytona. It’s important to point out that the team is essentially a private team, rather than a manufacturer-backed one like some of the competition. Sure, Porsche provides the drivers, but everything else is a Pfaff Motorsports effort.
That success brings in sponsors and more money for the team, but Bortolotti says that it’s a really strong recruitment tool for Pfaff. “If you come to work for Pfaff, you can work with the race team,” he says, adding that mechanics find motorsports to be an exciting change of pace from the typical situation found in a dealership service bay.
Mechanics and technicians aren’t the only ones finding their way onto Bortolotti’s team. He describes the kind of people he’s looking for, and the ones who will find a way into motorsports are the ones who are passionate and have a broad understanding of the sport.
“I’m not a mechanic by trade, but I can work on my cars, I can work on any of these race cars, so having some understanding of that is important,” he says, but that’s not all. There are many roles in the paddock from mechanics making the cars faster to salespeople finding sponsors that provide financial support for the team. “A business background and understanding how a business operates” are good assets, he says.
He also thinks that strong leadership skills help, too. “Being able to have that leadership mentality, and understanding a team atmosphere helps,” he says. “There are long days in racing, as well as very high highs and low lows, so a good team leader can keep everyone together and pointed in the right direction.”
Bortolotti also says that he’s always looking to grow his team, but is not content to keep the status quo. He jokes that he’s constantly searching for his replacement and looking for ways to take Pfaff Motorsports to the next level.
“There’s a saying that the best driver in the world has never been found because they didn’t come from enough money to get started,” he says, adding that what they’re doing with Pfaff is helping to break down the barriers associated with getting into motorsports. “Sometimes you realize you may not be the race car driver you wanted to be, but it’s still really fun to work with the drivers, talk to them on the radio, set up their car and be a part of all that.”
He says 22 people work on each car for each race weekend. And during the week, many of those people are back at the dealership or in the service bays.
As a result, he’s convinced that if anyone wants to get into the world of racing, the first step is to find a company that has a presence in motorsports. From there, many of the skills can be transferable, from the mechanical side to the business side and even the leadership side.
Pfaff has been seeing so much success lately, even against factory-backed racing teams, which plays a big role in inspiring fans and spectators seeking to get into the sport themselves. It’s not as hard as it sounds on Drive to Survive; all it takes is finding the right fit.