It would be easy to dismiss racing as pointless. Driving some dinosaur-burning noise-maker around a convoluted ribbon of asphalt and with a few dozen other nut-jobs hell-bent on assuring they cross whatever made up finish line in front of you… yeah, not a lot of logic there. Yet there is no way I can convey the full richness of experiences or depth of knowledge I have enjoyed over the last five years, having immersed myself in this seemingly inane addiction. And I assure you, addiction is an appropriate term.
When I started, the goal was Atlanta. But it all led to Daytona.
The beginning was in 2008. Standing at the fence at turn 3 of Road Atlanta, watching the Pro Mazda support race for Petit LeMans. The field shot into view and began literally leaping over the high curbing, launching into a controlled arc, coiling on landing like a cat, and clawing around the inside of turn 4. The front half of the field seemed to defy physics. As each car passed, the pace gradually slowed; the level of aggression gradually faded, until the back markers began coming through, one by one, seconds between each car. I remember thinking: what are these guys doing out there? So slow. And all the while I stood clutching a chain-link fence… like a chump.
And then some years later I had an opportunity: to move to the other side of the fence, and see just what it is like to be in the car, snuggled down into a coffin of carbon fiber and metal, to test skill against physics. And I took it. And it was worth it. Despite never really graduating from that unenviable spot at the back of the pack, it was all so worth it.
In the following years, I learned about physics, I learned about physiology, but most of all, I learned about psychology. Because racing is near on 100% mental. In a good way. If there is one thing I would not have guessed in any alternate reality, it is the cognitive demands that this sport requires, and the application of those learned skills in everything else that life throws at you. I am not the same person I was before.
Road Atlanta will remain one of my favorite tracks. From its history to its intimidation to its physicality to its fun, there is a reason the Petit is a driver favorite. To have gone to this event – even the support race, and even then at the back of the pack – 4 consecutive years, far exceeds my initial goal of simply showing up. At first it was terrifying. But now, I just know: where everything is, from the buildings to the paddock to the vendors to the officials to the turns and curbs and bumps and brake points. It’s old-hat, so very far from 2008.
I didn’t fully appreciate just how far, not even when I drove into Daytona at 6:45 am on a Friday morning, 28 degrees showing on the rental car dash. Because one look at that track – the banking, the grandstands, the sheer scope of the arena – I didn’t know whether to shout or shit. I think I did a little of both.
Slowest in every measure. Slowest trap speed, slowest in every sector, slowest fastest lap. On paper, it was my worst performance in years. And yet I will always be proud of that event, because I could never have even made a showing at all without all of the work in those years before. There is much much more to racing than just keeping the car as close to the limits as possible, as much as possible. I won’t make excuses, because I just don’t care. Daytona is that freaking awesome. And then some. And I did it.
And now it is time to move on.
Tomorrow, the zebra car comes home, and a new chapter begins for us both. VIPER (or ODU Motorsports, a name we forced on Victor to appease the powers that be and to try to open the eyes of the university to the potential within their grasp) is closing its doors. And like Stuart, I have little interest in racing with anyone else. And though I will miss the indescribably intense challenges, I look forward to focusing on other pursuits, and applying the skills I have learned.
And the most important of those: look where you want to go.
This blog has been cathartic for me. But it is time that it becomes constructive. I am not going to dwell on the issues of the past or even the present, but instead look down the road to the future, and do everything possible to put this car precisely where I think it should be.
What does that mean? Stay tuned and see!
Special thanks to Victor, my racing coach and life mentor; to Stuart and Ester, always examples of how to do things right. And to all the gang: Corey and Tasher, The Twins (sorry, but that one is gonna stick!), Ryan, Ty, Abby and Chris – even if he hopes to never touch a race car again. And Alastair… there can be only one, and lord knows there is! And of course to Julie and Emily and Katie who have stoically endured this debacle, I love you all beyond words.