Can there possibly be a more defining word in the English language than “anticipation” to describe a racecar driver? I don’t think so. What is anticipation to a racecar driver? Well, it all started a long time ago, but it goes something like this.
A boy starts dreaming of one day having his first go-kart, then waiting to see his first race in person, the dreams of one day actually racing on a racetrack. Those days waiting for his first NASA HPDE driving experience, the weeks spent preparing the car for the upcoming race, the night before the race, lining up on grid and finally, when your crew chief fastens your window net, gives you a fist bump and says, “Go get ‘em buddy.” Your eyes turn to the flagman as you make sure you’re in first gear, your hand grasping the wheel, your foot on the clutch, you begin to hear race engines revving up. Your heart pumps as fast as your fuel pump, your breathing stops and all those moments of anticipation are for just one thing … that awesome green flag!
The best thing about anticipation is it never stops and there’s always more. The first turn, the first lap, setting up someone for a pass, hitting your rev limit and topping out in high gear, but as soon as you reach the finish line, you’re already thinking about the next race or better yet, standing up on the podium. Is this an amazing sport or what!
In the early 80s, while on a fishing trip in Alaska, I had the pleasure of meeting famed Alaskan artist Charles Gause. Charles is an amazing artist, one who in my opinion has a gift of being able to actually paint anticipation. Charles graciously invited me to his home studio where he had just completed a painting titled “Anticipation.” Having immediately recognized the location of the amazing work, I asked Charles to tell me about it and the three signatures on it.
The painting shows an old timer working on his dog sled in front of his one-room log cabin, overlooking the Kenai River, while his team of huskies mill about. As the old timer and the huskies gaze upon the distant Kenai Mountains with a dusting of snow, they can feel the imminent heavy snowfall, which is soon to come. Preparation is indeed quickly becoming a paramount concern and has brought on anticipation in every sense of word.
The painting was signed by Doug Swingley, a four-time winner of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race across Alaska, Colonel Norman Dane Vaughan, who in 1928 dropped out of Harvard to participate in Admiral Byrd’s first expedition to the South Pole and later competed in 13 Iditarod races. Eventually a mountain was named after Vaughan in the Antarctic. Naturally, the artist Charles Gause signed as well. Charles eventually made limited-edition prints, all of which were signed by the same trio, but I’m pleased to say that I purchased that original work and still have it on my wall to this day as a testimony of my own appreciation for anticipation.
I believe Charles Gause, Doug Swingley and Colonel Norman Vaughan, each saw and felt the same appreciation for anticipation that the old timer and his dogs felt, just as NASA drivers do when they too are in a state of anticipation while waiting for the green flag. They are excited, maybe a little nervous, and filled with expectations about what the next few seconds, minutes, hours or days may hold.
Thanks for sharing yo I’mur story.
Some of us grew up with no “car stuff” in our family and my first excitement was getting my own little red wagon to coast down a hill on a nearby street.
At age 65 you can still see the scars on my knees. Wagons are highly unstable at speed!!
My older brother had a go cart but i never had anything till I was 16 and it was a mini bike that the previous kid put back together wrong so it threw a rod after only 30 min of use.
But that set my course for wanting a motorcycle when I was 17 (we were so poor I could only afford $150 for a VERY used Honda TRAIL 90… the “girls bike” with no tank between your legs)!
But i fell in love with the winding roads we have all over and within a year, with a $300 loan from BofA cosigned by my dad, I got a ’72 Honda 450 twin!!
I was VERY LUCKY, and 3 years later in 1975, i got my first car which just HAPPENED to be a Fiat 850 Spider (thats a convertible in Italian!).
And back to those winding roads I went and I have only owned Italian sports cars ever since!
All being older used Fiats for MANY years due to no money. I LOVED LOVED LOVED performance driving on twisty roads and just driving in general!!
I started autocrossing my second car (’74 Fiat 124 Spider TWIN CAM HEMI (before other sports cars had twin cams (cept the ’60’s Lotus Esprit))!! But it wasn’t until I accidently heard about an HPDE at Laguna Seca put on by the California Capri Club (later to be renamed “NASA”), that I was finally able to get on a race track (at that time with my Fiat 131 sedan automatic (yes!? Yuk! I know!!) but it was all I had running at the time. My 124 spyder was languishing with over 300,000 miles on it!
I’m a video producer and talked with Jerry and Ali and as soon as they started the Pro RX7 series I was filming it for them for a few bucks and track time!
I never had the money to build a race car and the tracks were too far to travel to all season on my limited income (still dont own a house), so I couldn’t even compete in the handicapped street car class, but I continued to go to HPDE events when I could.
Eventually, in 1995, I had the pleasure of taking my daughter who tore up the track and learned SO MUCH driving my rallye-prepped, ’79 Fiat Brava sedan. But I’m jumping ahead a bit!
Along the way, I also owned a ’76 Lancia Beta Scorpian (the car.John Delorean based HIS car on) which I used to compete in (and film) the 1986 ALCAN 5000 International Car Rally. My first ever true rallye. Over 6000 miles across Canada and Alaska on MOSTLY hard-packed DIRT roads. Talk about anticipation!!! On that first day at the starting line of a 12 day adventure mostly in the middle of nowhere!!??! I could ONLY afford to do it cus the entry fee was only $800 and I could sell videotapes of the rallye to the drivers and crews!!
We drove on mud, snow, dirt (and sometimes) pavement. There’s nothing like driving 80 to 100 mph on a DIRT or MUD road that you”ve NEVER been on before in the Alaskan wilderness! Or driving those dirt roads for over 24hours without a driver change, stopping only for gas! We finished 17th out of 32 entries AND!!!! BEAT world rallye champion John Buffum!!
My first “expensive” car was one i got in 2000 for $8300.00. it was a really cool, totally awesome,1984 Maserati Biturbo (that’s Italian for twin turbo), with ONLY 42k original miles on it, AND just completely gone through by the Biturbo specialist, Lenny Celeberti!!
But I never took either of those cars to the track cause the PRO RX7 series was no longer broadcast on TV, so I wasn’t getting to NASA events anymore. I eventually sold both those cars.
But!!!! I finally bought my FIRST brand new car at age 58 back in 2012 and it was the AWESOME, 160HP 140mph (yes really), Fiat 500 ABARTH!!!
FINALLY!!! After 38 YEARS, I had a Fiat that would go as fast as I’d always dreamed of!
I only have 77k on it now. It was the first one delivered in California out of the first 50 sold and I don’t want to wear it out! So I lucky for me, I have to drive a winding twisty, mountain road for 10 miles just to go ANYWHERE and whenever I drive the Abarth? I LOVE IT!!
Just a few years ago, I took it to an all-day
closed-track event at Thunderhill. The THIRD EVENT on the new FIVE MILE COURSE (it was SO NEW that the braking markers and pavement markings had not been installed yet!!
It was un-nerving to say the least, to now be driving a car on the track that could go WAY faster than my old Fiats and where you could NOT keep your foot to the floor for all but the tighter corners!!!
But it was challenging in that good way… and FUN (its important to note that the CAR loved it too)!!
One day, I hope to get back on the track with it again…
But in the mean time? I will continue to TEAR UP those super tight, twisty roads, whether it’s in the powerful pocket rocket Abarth or my newly acquired ’82 X1/9 with only 72k miles on it or my also newly acquired ’74 Spyder that needs a paint job but drives great (my BABY, the original ’74 Spider and my ’79 rallye-prepped Brava were both lost in the huge 2017 Napa wildfire).
So, not all of us were as lucky as you were or had as much money and many of us will probably never be able to build, maintain and compete with a real race car. We ALL have different budgets and limitations for sure!!
But thanks to Jerry and Ali who dreamed BIG and sacrificed EVERYTHING to make their dream a reality, we have N.A.S.A and we can ALL afford to get on the track in our sporty street cars!! Even those of us in the “suoer-low budget” category!!
So now, perhaps, you’ll appreciate what YOU have even MORE, and (hopefully), EVERYONE will TRULY appreciate what Jerry and Ali did for ALL OF US!! Just because they had a dream…
Oh and Gary?
YES!!! You are RIGHT!! Anticipation IS the best word to describe that nervous excitement before a race, even IF it’s just 10yr old you and your buddy on a hill with your little red wagons!!
See you at the track…
or on a tight curve on a back road!
Thank you for your enthusiasm and reply. Yes, Jerry and Ali have indeed created not only NASA but in fact opportunities many may otherwise never have never realized. By the way, I loved your memories of coasting red wagons down hills and go carts. I too share some fans list scars. But I would never call any far a turd. In fact my son Will Faules once said, “My dad would even race a turd if it had four wheels.” Being on a track at any speed is something worthy of anticipation.
PS: I assume you already knew FIAT stands for fix it again Tony! 🙂
Gary, how COULD YOU!?
One second you are saying I should not have been embarrassed that my first track experience was in an anemic (yet good handling) automatic transmission, Fiat sedan…
and the NEXT, you are dissing the Fiat brand!?
I was at first elated,
and then crushed!
Yes, of COURSE I know the phrase after 45 years (you think??)!! lol
I’ll just say these two things in response:
1. With the exception of my poor little underpowered 850 Spider… ALL my other Fiats have actually been as reliable as any other good car on the road! Indeed, if they weren’t, none of us cash-poor Fiat owners would NOT have been ABLE to own them and drive them so HARD!!
On the first day of the ALCAN 5000 Rallye two different crews who came by while they were walking the line to “size up” the competition,
said: ” First of all, that 7″ rubber air dam (which I custom built for street use), will not make it through the FIRST DAY!! And second, that “Fiat” with a Lancia badge on it, wont make it to the end of the RACE!!”
But it DID!! We finished 17th out of 32,
with air dam INTACT…
In SPITE of overheating to 400 degrees when the radiator hard line from front to back (its a mid-engined car), lost its drain plug to a rock on a forest service road ON THE FIRST NIGHT!! and the engine got SO HOT that the oil seals deformed and the oil shot out all OVER the engine compartment and we lost oil pressure and had to coast (it was downhill fortunately) through the last 4 miles of that stage!!! No repairs other than cleaning off all the oil at midnight while everyone else proceeded without us and then slipping a piece of hose over the parr of the cooling hardline to cover the lost drain plug… and driving all night with no sleep to catch up, arriving 30 min before our next stage… (Did you notice… no blown head gasket and no problem with the five oil seals?)
Later on in the rallye and AGAIN near the end,
having a small rock get under the timing belt on the crank pulley which moved the belt, advancing the valve timing about 20 degrees!!
Not many cars are built TOUGH ENOUGH to go through that and then drive 80 to 100mph (which is near top speed for that car) day after day for twelve days…
and still complete the rallye (spoiler intact)!!! lol
That twin cam 1800cc engine is built like a TANK!
And Gary! You know what the BEST PART is?
BOTH John Buffum in his brand new Audi 5000 AND Sach Carlson of Autoweek in his near new Saab 900s Turbo, FAILED TO COMPLETE THE RALLYE under their own power due to their cars breaking down!!!!!
THAT’S why we beat BOTH of them!!
So, Im sorry to tell you that “fix it again Tony” is an urban myth!! Fiats RULE!! lol
I’m glad you have a good sense of humor. The Fiats have a great history. I sure would have enjoyed running that event in Alaska and Canada and if woulda like the experience of a lifetime to me.
Gary, it was an experience of a lifetime and its all on video!
Talk about a challenge! Every time we stopped to film, we had to drive faster to catch back up!!
Nothing like driving 65mph on the wide dirt Alcan highway right behind a 39 foot Rockwood motorhome with a 454 vette engine (stock), Supertrap muffler, custom 1″ thick plexiglass windshield to protect against rocks, a 3 1/2 inch diameter front SWAY BAR and a 100gal gas tank which gave them a range of 1200 miles at 70mph… THEY?
They were just cruising along at 65mph through these slalom S turns, no problem, while WE?
We are right behind them but even loaded down with spare parts, extra gear, food and luggage in a MID ENGINED CAR, we couldn’t keep TRACTION! lol.
Our tail was gracefully hanging out through every turn while their incredible weight gave them all the traction they needed!!
You should have seen the looks on the faces of these old folks coming the other direction in their Winabagos as we went by them!! lol
Their eyes were wide as saucers and their jaws hanging down in disbelief at seeing that 39ft Rockwood whizzing by them!!! lol
And if you were wondering…
No, they don’t clear the roads. How could you!?
I’ve ALWAYS wanted to do it again!!
Uh oh! There’s that anticipation again!