If Only I Knew Then What I Know Now

Growing up in the early 60s, I was under the impression that only the rich could afford go marlin fishing. I read books and watched adventures on TV about the rich and elite heading around the globe in search of giant marlin. As a boy, I dreamed of battling denizens of the deep, hearing the roar of diesel engines as the captain on the flybridge laid into the throttle in pursuit of a hooked blue marlin, shouting commands to the deck hands scrambling to buckle me into the fighting chair. How I longed to be included in such an amazing adventure.

My fishing “career” didn’t begin on a marlin cruiser. It started much more affordably, along a gentle creek with a small fishing pole and a can of worms. Much like I dreamed of catching a big marlin, I began to dream of racing, but never thought of inquiring how much it would cost to get involved, let alone asking about more affordable classes. What was I thinking? Because only Formula 1 races were televised, it never dawned on me that there were less expensive classes for a beginner. Even a rich dude wouldn’t simply buy an F1 car, buckle in and hit the gas.

NASA has a racing class that’s right for everyone, and best of all, they are all a blast! The best advice any driving coach can offer is don’t get in a car that’s over your head. I can honestly say I have had a lot more fun driving cars like Miatas and RX-7s than I ever did in my Dodge Viper. I could afford to drive them for days on end. They were fast, handled great and presented lots of seat time.

Do not buy or build a car until you attend a NASA event. With pen and paper, enjoy the racing, and best of all, once you see cars that interest you, talk to those involved. You will be surprised how everyone will let you pick their brain and share what they have learned. And remember, you don’t have to decide today. After all, you don’t catch a fish big enough to mount the first time you go fishing.

Often you can find cars for sale because drivers are moving up to the next level, and there are some awesome deals. You cannot build a car for less than one already built and the more cars in a class, the easier it is to find parts.

Learn to drive before the need for speed kicks in. There is nothing more humiliating than buying a Dodge Viper and having someone pass you with a VW Passat. Trust me, I know. That reminds me that no one remembers the best looking car, but they sure do remember one that runs up front. Had I known then what I know now, I could have begun much sooner. The good news is it’s never too late.

Take my friend, legendary Hershel McGriff, age 87, for example. With a 70-year racing career, he began before NASCAR was created. McGriff landed in the Arizona and Oregon sports halls of fame, was named one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers, and this year was nominated for the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Hershel told me, “The thought of retirement has yet to cross my mind.”

Many of NASA’s gentlemen racers wear the badge of time proudly. We have so many laps under our belts that even God stopped keeping track. Remember, miracles start to happen when you give as much energy to your dreams as you do to your fears.

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