Everyone knows how much I love endurance racing. Naturally, that includes NASA’s 25 Hours of Thunderhill.
Less than 30 days before 2016 race, I was asked if I would serve as crew chief for a team in the 25 Hours of Thunderhill. With plenty of experience and an appreciation for being included, I accepted the challenge.
In past years, it typically took me about a year to get the car, team and drivers prepared for such an undertaking, but keep in mind, those teams had competed together and knew just about everything there was to know about the car they’d be racing. Imagine my surprise during that first meeting when I learned this team hadn’t raced together, some hadn’t driven in a long time and most of them had never driven the new NP01. I didn’t know which would be more challenging, the race or expecting positive results from a last-minute team.
As is always the case with the 25 Hours of Thunderhill, there is what seems like an unsurmountable list of jobs that need doing, and the more prepared one gets, the more tasks there seem to be. This is where a new element came into play, and racing as I knew it just might have changed forever.
One of the members of the team mentioned he was involved with a program that helps veterans deal with post-traumatic stress disorder and that he knew several veterans who would enjoy helping the team. I have nothing but respect and admiration for all American veterans, and I had no hesitation whatsoever accepting such an offer. That said, I couldn’t help but wonder how our team could benefit, considering none of them had any racing experience. Many in my family served in the military, but I had not, so I really didn’t know what to expect.
Preparing for the 25 Hours of Thunderhill requires the ability to juggle an insurmountable amount of chaos, but understanding those you intend to surround yourself with also is key. Fast forward to the race.
Note, I dare not mention a specific day, because when you compete in the 25 Hours of Thunderhill, the days and nights just blend into one long, drawn-out time warp filled with more and more things to do as the clock keeps ticking away.
Then it happened. The team of veterans showed up, and what a sight for sore eyes they were. Our trailer needed setting up, the paddock needed to be built, complete with a stage and lighting, computers and canopies, and the car was getting many last-minute preparations. None of these items included answers to my questions of who was going to be best suited to perform tire changes, fuel the car, etc., all of which were a major concern.
What took place from that moment on was almost magical. The veterans stood before me and asked, “What do you need done, sir?” and, as if they had been involved in racing their entire lives, everything found its place flawlessly. I recall watching from a distance when one of them might not know what to do with a project, how the others seeing this didn’t have to be asked. “Here, let us give you a hand with that.” It took teamwork to the next level.
That same teamwork took the NP01 to first in class, first under 2.0 liters and sixth overall in a race among giants. The real winners at the end of the day were those of us who had the privilege of calling these men our teammates. I can’t begin to tell you what an honor this was for me.