One Love. One Driver.
Jamaicans have conquered the sprint racetrack. And now, Jamaican-born Jason Bedasse hopes to conquer another kind of racetrack: IndyCar.
Bedasse (now a Toronto resident) made his first appearance at the Pro Mazda Championship season opener, in St Petersburg, Florida-part of the Mazda Road to Indy series. He becomes the first Jamaican ever to do so. And with his car draped in the Jamaican flag - his car number 62 (in honour of the year Jamaica became independent), and a helmet that features the tagline "Out of many, one driver" he hopes to become the first Jamaican to race the Indianapolis 500 race, the ultimate for any racecar driver. "My Jamaican heritage has been, and still is, the source of where I draw my confidence," Bedasse says.
This 37-year-old investment banker has always been obsessed with speed and cars, a fascination that began at the early age of eight, while watching Cannonball Run. However, it was not the charm of Burt Reynolds or Roger Moore, or even the endless list of cars that were featured in the movie (Ferrari, Trans Am, Aston Martin) that launched his love affair with cars. It was the Lamborghini Countach that appeared in the intro of the movie. "Once I saw that movie I asked my grandfather to take me to see a real one at a dealership in Miami," Bedasse says. "It was at that moment that the Lamborghini became my favourite car, and it still is." He grew up watching Mario Andretti in IndyCar racing, and Ayrton Senna in Formula 1. "Senna was my favourite driver to watch," Bedasse says, "because he drove the car with pure passion and a lot of faith -two of the things that govern my life now, and how I do things."
In 1999, he attained his dream of owning a Lamborghini Diablo SV. ("It was a deadly car!" Bedasse shares.) However, after receiving 13 speeding tickets in one year, he realised it was time to take the racing off the road and onto the track. "I started racing at 37 years old," says Bedasse. "Crazy. The opportunity was presented to me to test-drive a real open-wheel racing car. It was at the top of my dream list so I had to try it." He did, fell in love with the rush and decided to pursue it as far as he could. "Now is the time to do what is in your heart," he says. "We're not promised tomorrow." It was also the support of his family that enabled him to follow his dreams. "My family is extremely supportive of my racing career," he says. "As nerve-wracking as it is to watch a loved one drive a car at speeds of nearly 200 mph, with others fighting for the same corner, they believe in me and my abilities, and that gives me the confidence to go for it."
And so his bid to become a professional racecar driver began. "Racing is a rush for me; it's terrifying in a fun way," Bedasse says. "My first race I was petrified and excited all at the same time. Even the noise of the engines I found intimidating. But over the course of the season I became more and more comfortable with the power and speed; I became addicted to that rush." But this addiction was not a new thing.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Bedasse and his parents moved to Montreal, Canada in the late '70s but his Jamaican heritage was always important, and he travelled back with his family as often as he could to visit relatives. As a child growing up in Guelph, Ontario, Bedasse was obsessed with speed: running track, racing BMX bikes, and extreme skiing all in an effort to chase the ultimate adrenalin rush. After university, he worked in the United States and pursued a different kind of adrenalin rush, working as an investment banker, before returning to Jamaica for three years, to lead the Mergers and Acquisitions department for GraceKennedy. He returned to Canada after that, where he worked as an investment banker on Bay Street (Canada's version of Wall Street). He continues to work on Bay Street as the head of sales and trading for Jacob Securities, a leading investment banking boutique on Bay Street.
While his foray into the world of racing began much later than a number of his competitors, it is his determination, passion and competitive nature that have paved the way for his current successes. He made podium (placed third) in the Masters class at the F1600 event at the Montreal Grand Prix in June 2013, and achieved three podium finishes in all during his first season last year. "When I made podium in Montreal last year, it was one of the biggest thrills of my life."
After that accomplishment, he tested a Pro Mazda car with M1 Racing team, and they offered him a seat. He will compete in the Pro Mazda series, which includes 14 races, beginning March 29, and culminating in Sonoma, California in August. This series is a step on the way to his ultimate dream of Indianapolis 500. In fact, Bedasse will race at the Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis in May, travelling at speeds well over 122 mph.
The first race in the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires is a street race in St Petersburg, Florida. It's a 1.8-mile, 14-turn circuit, which by all accounts is not an easy course to navigate. "You are racing on the real streets of a metropolitan city as opposed to a track," Bedasse says. "Street courses can be bumpy with uneven surfaces and grip due to the everyday wear and tear of city traffic."
In response to the challenge, Bedasse knows that his success will come down to much more than just a passion for speed, and a determination to win. He trains at the gym five times per week, incorporating a combination of boxing, weights and running into his routine. "I'm 6'4" and weigh 205 lbs, so I'm already rather large for an Indy car driver." His diet of lean protein helps him to stay as lean as possible. He also studies his books, studying track maps so he can learn the gears and braking zones for every track he's about to race. "This helps me visualise what to anticipate at a corner so that I can go faster." He also adds that mental preparation is just as important as physical preparation. "It's vitally important to clear your mind and remain calm," says Bedasse. "The calmer you are, the better vision you have, and the longer you can stay focused on the track to carry speed."
Bedasse hopes this focus will carry him all the way to the top of the racecar world. "I like racing because speed is pure," he says. "There is no assistance, no traction control, no cheating. In a race car you have to earn your speed." His goal is to drive in the Indianapolis 500 in two years, and become the first Jamaican in history to do it. "After that, let's try and win the whole thing!" he says.
You can follow Jason's story through Facebook at Bedasse-Racing, and on Twitter @BedasseRacing.
-- Leisha Wong