Are We There Yet?

When I was a boy, my father and I took a road trip to Yellowstone National Park, and I remember asking, “Are we there yet? Daddy, why does time move so slowly?” My father laughed and replied, “Just wait. There will come a time when you will ask where all the time has gone.”

Dad was right. Now I find myself constantly wishing I could slow things down so I could get things done, and spend more time with my children or my grandson. Life seems to be at full throttle all the time and the years seem to be racing by. But today I began to realize how much getting involved with NASA is reminiscent of those same concerns with regard to time being too slow or too fast.

When a novice signs up for his or her first High Performance Driving Event, time seems to drag all week long and the wait seems to take forever. The anticipation, nervousness and excitement all have a way of culminating, and it seems like Friday night will never come, just like when I was peering over the dash of my dad’s car looking down long stretches of highway that appeared to have no end. But as the week winds down, there is a sense of urgency that overpowers us as we mark our checklist. Folding chair. Check. Comfortable shoes. Check. Sunglasses. Check. Cooler. Check. Blue painters tape. Check.

But when the alarm clock goes off, ironically the first thing they think is, “God, is it that time already?” as they find themselves rushing to get to the track. No matter how hard they try, they will find themselves rushing around all day.

Show me someone running through the paddock and I’ll show you a newbie that just realized he or she is late for the drivers meeting. As English poet Edward Fitzgerald often wrote, “This too shall pass.” By the end of the day, each newbie will have learned that NASA is more of a family than just another place to hang out. They will have learned how willing to help everyone else at the track is, and how easy it is to ask anyone for advice — and always without being made to feel belittled or unimportant.

In fact, what they will learn is that NASA newbies receive top priority simply because everyone within NASA, including instructors, novice racers and yes even licensed racers, know what it was like when they began. It’s all about respect for the new drivers who we hope someday will find themselves at speed door to door, with a grin on their face and their heart filled with adrenaline. Better yet, there will be a day down the road when they find themselves standing in front of some newbie from the next generation saying, “Drivers meeting? Yeah, just go straight down there and it’s the first door on your right.”

And just like my dad used to say, the newbie will find themselves asking, “Where has the time gone? I sure wish it would have moved slower.” The good news is the nervousness and lack of confidence will be replaced with better driving skills, better car control, a decreased sense of urgency. And it will be a lot more exciting and rewarding than they ever conceived. Before they even leave the track, the anticipation will build once again, as the minutes seem like hours while waiting for their next NASA HPDE.

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