I Just Had To Race

While serving as Executive Director of The Unser Racing Museum, I became immersed in the lives of the Unser family, including Jerry, Bobby, Al Sr., Al Jr., and others. In the museum there were typically multiple videos playing, one of which was one with Bobby Unser saying, “I just had to race!” It didn’t take long while working there day after day to realize the passion each of the Unsers shared. Naturally, growing up in that competitive environment allowed each of them to learn from one another, clearly some of the best racecar drivers of all time, but it also caused each of them to push the limit just that much more.

But what caused you to want to drive cars, knowing it’s one of the most dangerous sports known to man? The answer — and it’s not a very popular one — is because that’s what we do. We’re racecar drivers. We race cars. Nobody gets into racing because they want to be rich or famous. We race because we love racing, and to race, especially at deadly speeds, you must be willing to take the risks and put it all on the line. A lot of people choose not to, and those are the guys who either never made it or never tried. Race car drivers are wired a bit differently than most people. You must be a little crazy to do what we do.

In every sport, there are risks. I understand the risks in racing are greater, but when you’re talking to an athlete who loves what he does, whether he plays football, a sport where brain injuries are an issue, or a racecar driver where accidents are sometimes fatal, we don’t think about that stuff. That’s just the reality of our sport. It’s dangerous, and it has been that way since the day they created the first racecar.

Like all other racing organizations, NASA strives to make racing safer. Manufacturers and safety organizations improve and test and certify helmets, drivers’ safety gear, cages, modifications to the car and even the racecourse itself. We evolve after every mishap, thus making our sport safer. To take away the risk in car racing would take away what it means to be a racecar driver. Nobody wants that. We should always be looking for new ways to evolve and minimize the risk, but no matter what we do, there will always be accidents that we can’t prevent. There will always be risk. There will always be danger.

I can get in my car and drive to work and get into an accident that I couldn’t predict, and I could get killed. Am I going to stop driving a car? Am I going to stop going to work? No. I’m going to take all the precautions I can take, and if an accident happens, so be it. The same is true on the racetrack.

Racing is about passion. It’s your team cheering at the top of their lungs for you to win. It’s the mechanic feeling his heart racing as fast as the engine he built. It’s the driver throwing his helmet after losing a race. For us, it isn’t about being the best, or the first. We’re not in it just for the win, and not many will agree with our way of doing things. We’re in it because we want to get better, lap after lap. Because our heart is in the right place. And because we’re determined to create new paths and redefine the future of racing.


  1. Because of all the safety equipment required for auto racing, there are many other forms of racing that are more dangerous. Some much more. You mentioned football and that’s a much more dangerous sport for the most part. There are many other sports more dangerous than auto racing. Golf isn’t one of them LOL
    As far as HPDE, there are arguments that it’s actually less dangerous than driving on the street, especially when trying to go fast.
    By the way……..if you’re throwing your helmet because you didn’t win, especially at the amateur level(it’s unprofessional at a minimum at the pro level), maybe it’s time to give up racing. Not only is it bad sportsmanship and can get expensive(or dangerous if you don’t replace the helmet), but it shows you’re not having fun. And if you’re not having fun, even at the pro level, it’s time to give it up.

Join the Discussion