“Roger Penske is not going to call any of you Monday morning to offer you a ride.”
This was one of the first things I heard at my rookie school many years ago on a cold February morning at The Streets of Willow Springs. The Chief Instructor obviously saw the hungry looks in our eyes and knew that he had better calibrate our brains correctly before we all went out and crashed into one another in the first turn after the green flag.
As a Race Director, I would start most of my drivers’ meetings with that line, although notably in some cases I have been proven very wrong, because many NASA drivers have gone on to achieve great things in professional ranks.
However, for most of us, Roger never calls, and we have to accept that we are simply darn fine amateur racecar drivers or top shoes in the Time Trial and HPDE ranks. Although most days I only get to demonstrate my driving aplomb behind the wheel of a 5,000-pound SUV, I still have a whole pile of medals, trophies and really expensive pieces of Lucite that proudly adorn my office bookshelves and in some cases do yeoman duty helping to level out a corner of my workbench.
Do I regret spending all those years and cubic dollars chasing the dream? Should I have invested that money into a sensible municipal bond fund kicking off fine chunks of tax-free income each year? The answer is a resounding no.
The trophies and medals are useful for impressing my kids and houseguests, but what I will always treasure far more than the on-track success is the fun I had in the paddock with my friends. In fact, it seems that while the paddock stories get more epic with each retelling, no one seems to be able to remember exactly where we all finished.
My point in this tale of nostalgia is to remind all of you that while there is top-rank racing at every NASA event around the country, you should remember to have fun along the way.
Sure, there are substantial contingency programs out there from our friends at Hawk, Toyo, Hoosier, Maxxis, Mazdaspeed, Honda Racing Development, OG Racing, and many others that can net you a whole pile of parts and cash, but if you focus too hard on being at the pointy end of the grid, you just might miss out on some great memories. Once I figured out that the invitation to a game of “Cornhole” was not something sinister, I had a grand time tossing bean bags with some of the American Iron racers at Mid-Ohio one year. I also will never forget the massive Polish buffet that one of the NASA Northeast racers laid out at the track one year — never mind the gallons of vodka that came along with the chow. You also definitely need to experience the Hyperfest automotive circus and the drama of the 25 Hours of Thunderhill. Those are both “bucket list” events for anyone with the slightest gearhead tinge to their blood.
You also should know that your Regional Directors, despite occasionally having to play “bad cop” during the race day, are some of the most fun people I have ever met. If you have an idea for a great after-checkered-flag activity, share it with your Regional Director and everyone can join the fun along with you.
So, while I do encourage all of you to go out there and drive hard every weekend, I urge you to put some effort into the fun part of the weekend. Haul out the dart board or the ping pong table and, of course, don’t forget to bring along family and friends who can make the weekend that much more special. You might just find your happy place at the track — even if Roger never ends up calling.