The Pursuit of Adrenaline and Speed
How personal injury attorney Mark Issa wound up driving for Ferrari
Published in 2022 Georgia Super Lawyers magazine on February 14, 2022
Fewer than 100 people in the world know how to drive a Ferrari 488 GT3 Challenge vehicle. Mark Issa is one of them.
In 2019, taking the wheel for Ferrari for the first time, the personal injury and criminal defense attorney handily won the Ferrari Challenge Coppa Shell series—establishing himself out of the gate as a force in the world of top-tier sportscar racing and Formula One.
“I was turning 40,” he says. “I thought it was now or never.”
Since then, racing in cities from Barcelona to Indianapolis, Issa has racked up three more wins. He says the high-octane experience has actually made him a better, more formidable attorney. Once you’ve hit 180 in a million-dollar car, he says, opposing counsel doesn’t seem so intimidating.
“Ferrari chooses their drivers by the results, and I don’t think it’s any different from how people choose their attorneys and what they expect from them,” Issa says. “They’re looking at character. Do you have endurance? Patience? Efficiency? Can you balance all the demands on you—to operate strategically while under a great deal of pressure? They want a driver who makes the team better. Someone who puts in the effort and does the work. And someone who wins.”
Issa has triumphed in both fields despite obstacles that might have sidelined others. In 2020, he was preparing for a race when there was brake failure and Issa hit a wall going more than 100 mph. Though he fractured his foot, knee, arm, and ribs, he says, “I got back in the car and was able to complete the season and win the championship in Ferrari GT3 World Challenge.”
Issa lost his first case out of law school, but took a lesson from his mentor, Tom Jones, who told him, “If you ain’t lost any, you ain’t tried many.”
“That loss gave me the fire to win,” Issa says. “Since then I’ve been in nearly every courtroom in Georgia.”
He has always run with a fast crowd. The son of Middle Eastern immigrants, Issa grew up in one of the edgier communities of Stone Mountain, where juvenile mischief easily escalates into adult problems. “It was shady,” he says. “Maybe 10 percent of my buddies ended up in jail, so I really understand what some of my clients are going through.”
Early on, his restless energy led him to boxing, playing the drums, and cars. “My love for cars started with being in the neighborhood and believing that the most successful person was driving a fast car,” he says. “I remember getting a little go-kart that had a lawn-mower motor on it. I used to run that around the neighborhood.”
Even after attending Georgia State University for undergrad and law school, he still wanted to rev an engine; so he began taking high-performance driving courses. “It’s a high-level overview of physics and how to manipulate a vehicle’s weight, and for me it influenced the pursuit of adrenaline and speed. That’s how I started getting on a racetrack.”
He and his friends started racing old BMWs. “Whether we were in a 500-hp ultimate driving machine or this 120 hp BMW with awful suspension, the competition and camaraderie began to drive me,” he says.
Continuing to “spec race,” he upgraded to the 2000 BMW before the big time called. Issa caught the eye of Speedbourne Racing Services and Ferrari of Atlanta, which invited him to drive the Ferrari 488 Challenge vehicle. He met racing coach Jeff Westphal, who immediately saw potential in him. “Mark is a natural,” Westphal says. “He brings an attention to detail and a relentless pursuit of perfection to racing. You have to be very dynamic and think on your toes for a situation that is constantly changing.”
For Issa, it’s all been a dream come true. “Ferrari is the ultimate car on so many levels,” he says. “Every little thing about that car is intentional, on purpose, and built to win. The Ferrari is built so well that the manufacturer has to tune it down to be competitive in the series—in order to have a competitive series, all the cars have to be on a similar scale. I was given a chance to race that car. … It was the ultimate experience.”