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Life behind the wheel suits Johannes van Overbeek fine

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Johannes van Overbeek has spent the past 15 years earning a living racing “beautifully prepared, high-tech automobiles” manufactured by BMW and Porsche. (AP file photo) - JOHANNES VAN OVERBEEK HAS SPENT THE PAST 15 YEARS EARNING A LIVING RACING “BEAUTIFULLY PREPARED, HIGH-TECH AUTOMOBILES” MANUFACTURED BY BMW AND PORSCHE. (AP FILE PHOTO)
  • Johannes van Overbeek has spent the past 15 years earning a living racing “beautifully prepared, high-tech automobiles” manufactured by BMW and Porsche. (AP file photo)
  • Johannes van Overbeek has spent the past 15 years earning a living racing “beautifully prepared, high-tech automobiles” manufactured by BMW and Porsche. (AP file photo)

Racecar driving is an unconventional career choice, particularly so for marketing majors.

In 1996, at the age of 23, Johannes van Overbeek, having recently graduated from Cal State Chico, competed in his first professional race, driving a BMW in the Reno Hilton parking lot.

A San Francisco resident for 10 years, van Overbeek, now 38, has spent the past 15 years earning a living racing “beautifully prepared, high-tech automobiles” manufactured by BMW, Porsche and Ferrari.

“Sports car racing is really traditionally about the cars,” van Overbeek said, which explains why the drivers may not be celebrities like Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Jeff Gordon of NASCAR fame. “The cars become the stars.”

Van Overbeek and his Extreme Speed Motorsports co-driver Scott Sharp placed third in last month’s American Le Mans Series race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey.

“The exciting thing about that race was after six hours of racing, the margin of victory was less than a half-second between first and third,” van Overbeek said.

With nearly 100 career starts, van Overbeek has been a top-10 finisher in over 90 percent of the races. He has notched six victories and 38 podium appearances. As the world’s top independent Porsche driver in 2007, racing for the Flying Lizard team, van Overbeek was awarded the prestigious Porsche Cup, his career highlight to date.

Van Overbeek has traced the “gene for speed” to his paternal great grandfather, who in the 1920s would blow off steam from his job as a manager at San Francisco’s Market Street Bank of America branch by racing motorcycles on the weekends.

The younger van Overbeek lived in North Beach and Pacific Heights, close to the Golden Gate Bridge and a quick commute to his training home, Sonoma’s Infineon Raceway.

Well, not too quick.

“I drive like an old lady on the highway,” van Overbeek said, who has since moved to Oakland with wife Sarah and their two sons, Brody, 5, and Taylor, 3.

“The younger one is crazy about anything with a steering wheel. I suspect he’ll be the one to pursue a similar lifestyle,” van Overbeek said.

If so, Taylor may wish to pursue a marketing degree like his dad in order to learn the business acumen required for such an expensive occupation.

Next up for van Overbeek is 25 hours of Thunderhill, considered to be Northern California’s ultimate driving endurance test. With two fellow drivers, he will race in relay fashion from 11 a.m. on the first Saturday of December until noon on Sunday.

Need for speed

WHO: Johannes van Overbeek, endurance driver

24 HOURS OF LE MANS: Overbeek has one podium finish (2005) in four appearances at the world’s oldest and most prestigious endurance car race.

UP NEXT: 25 hours of Thunderhill, Dec. 3-4, Willows

INFO: www.nasa25hour.com