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In the Racing Market, His Stock Keeps Rising : Broker Mark Gundy Invests Heavily in the Business of Driving Fast Cars

Times Staff Writer

Every weekday by 6 a.m., Mark Gundy is behind his desk in his downtown San Diego office. He checks the stock prices and prepares for his day as vice president of Kidder, Peabody & Co.

On Saturdays and Sundays, Gundy again is up before dawn. He walks the pavement of the race course in whatever city he is in, memorizing its condition, preparing for the business of being a race car driver.

Gundy, 35, is both a successful stockbroker and an accomplished race car driver. And he takes a similar approach to both halves of his life: pragmatic, conservative, goal-oriented.

“Racing cars is a very businesslike proposition,” Gundy said. “If done properly, it is very repetitious. You are always seeking perfection.”

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So far, Gundy’s search has been successful. He started driving in the Sports Renault Challenge last year and has won 32 of his last 38 races, quickly moving through both the amateur and professional series, and setting some track records in the process.

He has qualified for the year-end amateur race, Road Atlanta in October, and is in first place in the professional division standings of the Sports Renault Challenge series.

Although the world of pin-striped suits and mutual funds may seem far removed from that of greasy gaskets and roaring engines, Gundy views his racing and business careers as intertwined. His passion for racing came first, but it is only because of his professional success has he been able to finance his expensive hobby.

Gundy’s interest in racing began while he was a teen-ager, watching a race at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey. But he never seriously pursued racing, and in 1972, he started college at San Diego State. In 1974, his education was interrupted when his father, Phillip, slipped into a coma. Gundy moved back to his family’s home in Woodside in Northern California to help his mother care for his father. He stayed there for six years, until his mother moved his father to Pueblo, Colo. In 1982, his father passed away.

“If someone told you the coma would last eight years, you’d go on with your life,” Gundy said. “But, as it was, it was six years of hanging around, waiting for something to happen. . . . I had a lot of free time.”

Gundy filled his free time by fixing up his Chevrolet Vega and driving the winding, wooded roads south of San Francisco. Then he began entering slalom races--weekend races held in parking lots on courses marked by orange cones.

"(Racing) took his mind off things,” said his mother, Sherlene Gundy.

In 1979, Gundy returned to SDSU. He continued slalom racing, in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, and won almost every race. Although he graduated with a business degree in 1982, he decided to pursue a career in racing.

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“I set a goal of one year to try to race,” he said. “If it didn’t work out, I would grow up and go do something else.”

He entered his Vega, which had been so successful in parking lots, in a professional race at Riverside International Raceway. His engine blew up, but he finished 20th in a field of 40 cars.

“That’s when I learned that this was a big game of money,” Gundy said. “As far as money was concerned, I was hopelessly outclassed.”

After a year of little racing success, Gundy decided to get the type of job that would eventually allow him to race as a hobby. He went to work for Bill Holland, a racing acquaintance, who happened to be vice president of Kidder, Peabody.

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“A few years ago, Mark was undirected,” Holland said. “But he’s learned to focus on one thing at a time. I think that’s a reflection of his professional life.”

Gundy first focused on making money. Once he was financially secure, he was again able to entertain thoughts of racing. His decision to resume his hobby in 1986 came a year after the Sports Car Club of America’s introduction of the Sports Renault class, described as “affordable competitive racing.”

Sports Renault racing cars, which cost about $10,000, use a 90-horsepower, 1.7-liter, 4-cylinder engine with a top speed of 120 miles per hour. The SCCA prohibits the owner from doing anything more to the car than what the layperson does to a family car--changing the oil, spark plugs and tires and filling the tank with regular unleaded gas. The strict rules, backed up by elaborate seals on the engine, are to prohibit what Gundy calls “innovative rules interpretation” and virtually eliminates the car from the winning equation.

“In other classes, the guy with the most money wins,” Gundy said.

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But in the Sports Renault class, driving--not equipment--becomes the key ingredient.

“He’s an excellent driver,” Bowen said. “He has all the ability needed to succeed.”

Gundy credits slalom racing with training him to learn a race course quickly and to develop quick reactions. He also believes his ability to concentrate completely on a race helps him.

“The race is not against other people,” he said. “The race is against yourself. The challenge is to overcome any imperfection and strive for perfection.”

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If Gundy’s racing credo sounds like the motivational speech at an annual sales meeting, it is a reflection of his all-business approach to his sport. His discussion of a day at the track is peppered with phrases such as “goal-oriented” and “time management.”

“A lot of racing is time management,” Gundy said. “You have to prioritize things quickly.”

Gundy makes painstaking preparations for each race. First, he walks the track, checking for uneven pavement and noting difficult spots. Then he draws a map of the course.

Next, Gundy checks his car. He does all the mechanical work himself, as he is afraid to trust his vehicle to someone who does not have his high standards.

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Then, before the race, he drives the track in his mind over and over again, visualizing the perfect lap.

Gundy’s businesslike technique has paid off. He has never been injured, and he has never seriously damaged his car. Last year, he was named Rookie Driver of the Year by the California Sports Car Club. This year, he won the pro race in Seattle, setting a track record, and has placed third in pro races in Pueblo, Colo., and at Laguna Seca.

His success has earned him some prize money but, according to Gundy, it is not enough to break even on racing expenses. Last weekend, at Lime Rock, Conn., Gundy overcame a difficult start to place sixth. But he also had to overcome damage to the van and trailer that transports his car from race to race. He estimates he won $500 in purse money and had $1,700 in expenses.

Because of this imbalance, Gundy is seeking a sponsor for his car.

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“It would make life a lot easier,” he said. “I would be more competitive.”

Because of finances, he is reluctant to guess what his racing future holds, although his friends believe he could compete at a higher level than Sports Renaults.

“I know that if I hit a wall going 80 miles an hour, that’s it,” he said. “I don’t have the $6,000 or $7,000 it would take to fix the car.”

For now, Gundy is content to invest his clients’ money in corporate stocks. His own goes toward the business of racing.

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