One of the best things about racing are the memories that seem to last a lifetime.
The other day a friend mentioned something about working on the car at night, getting it ready for the next day’s events. His comment sparked something inside me and instantly I was whisked back in time, finding myself lying flat on my back in the paddock feverishly reinstalling my transmission and attempting to guide the input shaft into the pilot bearing while someone else held a flashlight. While all this was going on, most other racers had already retired to dinner and drinks with friends, hot showers, or resting peacefully in hotel beds while watching TV — but not me.
As soon as the transmission was installed, and while everyone else was sleeping peacefully, there was a little time for a quick stop at Taco Bell and a night spent lying in bed asking myself if the drain plug was tight, whether I poured enough gear oil in, or if it even was going to work during tomorrow’s warm-up session.
Does that sound hectic or frustrating? I admit it had its moments, but the truth is, that is what racing is all about … overcoming adversity. Overcoming adversity seemed to be important at the time, but what I have realized after all these years is there are a lot more important things to remember than reinstalling that transmission. It’s the memories, those moments that only a racer can appreciate. There’s something special about the smell at the track late at night, the welcome chill in the air after racing in 90-degree temperatures all day, and then there’s the silence as you slide out from under the car and just sit there looking around. Just a few hours ago this very spot was bustling with loud racecars, a blaring PA system and hundreds of fans and drivers. Now you look up to see stars and feel a hand on your shoulder and hear a welcome voice, “Hey buddy, take a break and share a cold one with me.”
Some of my fondest memories racing were not those spent behind the wheel. Rather, they were spent taking a break in a folding chair beside a racecar trailer, shooting the breeze with friends. It is moments like those that remain high on my list of great moments worthy of reliving. It was moments like that when everyone just relaxed, laughed, and very seldom talked of tomorrow.
Other moments that rank high on my roster of cherished memories are the feelings I felt during my rookie days, be it heading out onto the track for my competition license test or how my heart pounded while coming up to the start flag for my very first official race. I don’t remember if I even took a breath for the first 10 laps, but I do remember the exuberance after seeing my first checkered flag — and that just may be when I started breathing again. Returning to the pits and seeing my son and pit crew all smiling, well, let’s just say that’s pretty damn cool and, yes, a moment to remember.
I still laugh about the time one of my archrivals and I were starting on the front row. I had noticed earlier in the day that each time I revved up my engine he would rev his higher. I timed the start perfectly so that when the green flag dropped, I had allowed mine to drop to the perfect rpm. He had revved up his engine too high, so I took off like a bat out of hell and left him sitting there smoking his tires.
The message I would hope to send is we can’t always live in the moment until it becomes a thing of the past. It’s up to you to decide which moments mean the most.