Let’s Go Higher

It goes without saying, as racers, we live for excitement. There comes a time that we realize the definition of excitement is broad. We find out that driving a racecar on the track is just the tip of the iceberg. It doesn’t take long to embrace the fact that those of us who have finally overcome the fear that prevents us from finding the “edge of the envelope” have experienced and rejoiced in it. It’s this moment we realize fear isn’t our weakness. In fact, it’s been our strength all along.

Covid-19 has been wonderful in that I relish being able to spend more time reading. One of my favorite books is Richard Bach’s “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” a fable about a seagull who is trying to learn about life and flight, and about self-perfection. I find Jonathan Livingston Seagull, who is bored, is a lot like us racers. Seized by a passion for flight and speed, he pushes himself and learns everything he can about flying. His increasing unwillingness to conform finally results in his expulsion from the flock. Now an outcast, he continued to learn, becoming increasingly pleased with his abilities while leading a peaceful and happy life, just as many of us did once we began spending time in our garage with a racecar.

One day Jonathan meets two gulls who take him to a “higher plane of existence,” in which there is no heaven, but a better world found through perfection of knowledge. As racers, we have all known those two guys, right? It’s the old hook, line, and sinker that we fell for and then we were hooked.

Bach’s entire book is one any racer can relate to, but here’s an excerpt I’m particularly fond of when Jonathan Livingston Seagull loses all inhibitions as to whether he should or could do things the majority believe to be the norm. Then he begins to ask, “What if,” something all racers ask ourselves over and over.

“He closed his eyes to slits against the wind and rejoiced. A hundred forty miles per hour! And under control! If I dive from five thousand feet instead of two thousand, I wonder how fast. …

His vows of a moment before were forgotten, swept away in that great swift wind. Yet he felt guiltless, breaking the promises he had made himself. Such promises are only for the gulls that accept the ordinary. One who has touched excellence in his learning has no need of that kind of promise. By sunup, Jonathan Gull was practicing again. From five thousand feet, the fishing boats were specks in the flat blue water, Breakfast Flock was a faint cloud of dust motes, circling.

He was alive, trembling ever so slightly with delight, proud that his fear was under control. Then without ceremony he hugged in his forewings, extended his short, angled wingtips, and plunged directly toward the sea. By the time he passed four thousand feet he had reached terminal velocity, the wind was a solid beating wall of sound against which he could move no faster. He was flying now straight down, at two hundred fourteen miles per hour. He swallowed, knowing that if his wings unfolded at that speed, he’d be blown into a million tiny shreds of seagull. But the speed was power, and the speed was joy, and the speed was pure beauty.”

A higher plane of existence is what NASA is all about. Taking us from the proverbial flock of boredom and teaching us how to obtain a higher plane of existence. Nothing is more exciting than pulling back into your paddock while remembering something you just accomplished on track and realizing, “Oh that’s how it’s done!”

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