I remember the first time I got up the nerve to make a gutsy move to overtake a competitor in my class. I was a rookie with a fast and well-built car following a driver I knew had years of experience on me. I asked myself, “Do I dare try this? What if I mess up? And if I do make the pass, will he be pissed off at me?”
At times a rookie’s mind doesn’t ask the right questions, but hey, that’s part of the learning curve — and one that can teach lessons to the rookie and the veteran. You may ask yourself, what lessons should a veteran driver need to learn? Any veteran will tell you there’s a reason they put a big orange R on a rookie’s car. Simply put, if you want to make it back to the pits in one piece, give the rookie room. Some may call this just being smart, but I prefer to think of it as showing respect or at least seeing if the rookie is deserving of such respect.
When I made that first pass, and was able to do so without taking him and me out of the race, it felt as though I had found myself, and the best feeling of all was that the other driver showed his respect. In fact, after the race when he walked by and said, “Hey Faules … nice pass in 9,” that was such an awesome feeling because it came from a veteran driver.
In the races to come, I found myself again wanting to make moves to gain a position, but something inside me remembered the respect that had been handed down, and I realized I needed to show the same in return. It’s hard to explain, but over time I found myself having a relationship of sorts with other regular competitors in which I gained enough confidence that I was absolutely comfortable racing door to door with them. I knew my limits and they knew theirs, and once again the respect earned became something all of us truly enjoyed sharing.
Eventually I learned the best racing was door to door, passing, diving, knowing when to back off and knowing when to go for it. Some of the respect we shared came at a price from getting too aggressive, which also is part of the learning curve — and in earning respect between two competitors, fenders got bent on occasion. Upon returning to the pits, a few choice words would be exchanged.
I remember one race at Sears Point in which one of the veteran racers tried a pass and I refused to lift. In doing so, he took a wild ride in the grass and I finished the race. Later, while I was waiting in impound after the win, that driver laid into me with a colorful word barrage where he asked me what the hell I was doing. I simply replied, “Winning.” He wasn’t happy at all, but an hour later he came over to my pits smiling and handed me a replacement fender and said, “After I sat down and took a deep breath, I remembered when someone else tried that same move on me and the end result was just about the same. I just happen to have an extra fender I thought you could use.”
He shook my hand and started to walk away but stopped, grinned and said, “Know I’ll be coming for you next time.” We became the best of friends that day and, if anything, the contact our cars suffered was a confirmation of the respect we both shared for each other. It’s funny, but I realize now, rookies actually make veterans better drivers.