The opening lines of the 1970s song by The Hollies begins like this: “The road is long, with many a winding turn that leads us to who knows where, who knows where. But I’m strong, strong enough to carry him. He ain’t heavy. He’s my brother”
Each time I hear that song, I think of family, but not just any family. When I think of “brother” and “winding roads,” I am quickly whisked away to racing and those who make it just that: family. When you stop and think about it, there’s really no difference. We spend weekends together. We talk about our problems, while listening as others share theirs. We laugh, barbecue, share, and we even find time to race a little. At the end of the day, we say goodbye and we already know when we’re going to see each other again.
I was blessed with two brothers. My biological brother Bob, and my other brother I found on a racetrack somewhere in California. You might know him. His name is Jerry Kunzman. For me, Jerry is proof that while brothers are for the most part, always awesome, they’re not always biological. Jerry and I learned early on that we shared many of the same passions, racing being just one, but I am indebted to my brother Jerry for making racing available to me, thus allowing me to fulfill my own passion.
For years, we stayed up late into the wee hours sharing our deepest concerns, discussing a plethora of thoughts, be it racing, family, religion, people, and even physics. There came a time we didn’t call each other by name, simply, “Brother.” Winston Churchill once said, “Meeting Franklin Roosevelt was like opening your first bottle of champagne. Knowing him was like drinking it.” I share those same sentiments regarding Jerry.
Because of NASA, I have adopted and been adopted by racers and yes, I love the feeling that we are family. I’ve learned, laughed, raced and created lasting memories of them all. Yeah, I suppose I’ve even been pissed off a few times as well, but at the end of the day, when all is said and done and the fenders are straightened out, we’re still family.
Over my years of involvement in auto racing, I’ve noticed a pattern of sorts. Racers who include their family seem to enjoy a better quality of life than those who don’t. Is it possible those who don’t bring their family are distracted by having left their families behind? I don’t have those answers, but I can tell you, the obvious family unity is overwhelming when you witness it firsthand.
A perfect example of such an American racing family are the McGriffs. Hershel Sr. is legendary, and following in his tire tracks are none other than Hershel McGriff Jr, and equally as talented is granddaughter Mariah McGriff. Since the McGriffs are close friends, I smile seeing the unique camaraderie and support and pride the entire family gets from one another. At the end of the day, they are motivated to find a way to go faster. And take it from me, there’s nothing cooler than seeing the look of pride in a grandfather’s eyes when someone mentions his granddaughter, let alone his son.
Take a look around the world at all the awesome racing families: the McGriffs, Dallenbachs, Unsers, Elliotts, Earnhardts, and many more, all of whom thrived as racers, but more importantly because they prospered, and flourished “together” feeding from each other’s intensity. You can add your own name to this list simply by learning that not everyone has to sit behind the wheel to be in the NASA family. Make every NASA event a family event.