June 12, 2024

There’s a teenager walking around campus at Palos Verdes High who deserves to be a candidate for the next advertising campaign as “the most interesting man in the world.”

By day, Jacob Yesnick, 18, is an unassuming 6-foot-1, 173-pound senior with a 3.9 grade-point average. By afternoon, when his classes are done, he’s absorbed working on engines at the family auto shop. On weekends, he’ll try out his Mustang with a Ford 351 Windsor engine that accelerates to 180 mph.

Yes, Yesnick is a teenage race-car driver who will race on the national Trans Am 2 circuit this year after previously competing in the TA2 West Coast series. He started at 5 years old as a go-kart racer and has been winning championships at various levels since then. Along the way, he learned how to build, fix and master everything to do with car engines.

The word has gotten out at Palos Verdes that if anyone needs help with a car issue, Yesnick is Mr. Fix It, the ace mechanic that everyone dreams of knowing.

“I’ve fixed more dead batteries in the last two years,” he said.

He was going faster in cars as a 14-year-old without a license than most adults driving on the I-15 to Las Vegas.

“It was the fastest I’ve ever gone and it was so fun,” he said of the time he drove a Mustang Shelby GT500 around Fontana Speedway at 190 mph.

Speed, though, is not why he races cars.

“The longer you race, the less you feel the speed,” he said. “The main thrill is competing. You have all these people, putting in time and effort and money, enjoying what they’re doing. It’s so much fun. You go into a corner with somebody, playing chicken with somebody when you hit the brakes. The thrill of it is racing itself.

“Everyone drives a car. What differentiates racing is its intensity. There’s no power steering, no ABS [anti-lock braking]. It’s man and machine at its purest level and tested to the highest limits. You want to find the perfection you can never truly achieve but strive for.”

Jacob Yesnick steers his car through a downhill portion of track during a Trans Am 2 series race.

Jacob Yesnick of Palos Verdes High will run on the national Trans Am 2 series this year after previously having competed on the TA2 West Coast circuit.

(Robert W. Kranz)

His father, Charlie, has been in the racing business for years and told him he can be involved as long as he got straight-A’s in his schoolwork. Jacob has enmeshed himself in the business with the dream of competing one day in the European Le Mans series.

Once or twice a month, he’s racing cars or heading to a track near Bakersfield to perfect his specialty. He does all the mechanical work himself.

“I can do pretty much anything on a car,” he said.

He’s level-headed, mature, passionate and dedicated to what he’s doing. He’s hoping someone picks him up as a driver for a team so he can continue to gain experience and explore different aspects of the business. His plan is to attend El Camino College in the fall while continuing his pursuit of racing.

As for the dangers of the business, he said, “In the 13 years I’ve been racing, you gain experience where you can understand who you are driving against. You have to learn from watching film, just like in football. At any time, you’re stressing a car to unbelievable lengths. Things do go wrong. You’re strapped in and along for the ride. There’s still a very real possibility of crashing and hurting yourself. You cannot let the fear be in your mind. You’re so focused it’s almost meditation. You can almost feel before you crash. It’s a driver’s responsibility to feel it.”

Yesnick works out at least 12 hours a week, focusing on lifting weights and cardio activities to maintain physical capability. Then there are the mental challenges.

“You can have everything go right and on the last corner it goes wrong,” he said. “You have to have the mental capacity to persevere. You have to accept the consequences of the situation. Persevere and go to the next race. You want to win as much as you want to breathe.”

Yesnick once participated for the track team at Palos Verdes, but he’s too busy with racing these days.

“Racing is what I’ve been doing since I was 5 and can’t see me doing anything else,” he said. “I love it and it consumes my life, and you never feel you had a day that wasn’t spent well.”

Just know one thing if you happen to spot him driving in the neighborhood.

“Most of my friends tell me I drive like a grandma, really slow,” he said.

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