What I consider to be one of the greatest shows of respect in racing, was a class act from an era when racers were true gentleman and great sportsmen. It happened when Juan Manuel Fangio, in gentlemanly fashion, sent a telegram from Milano to Jim Clark in London, congratulating him for winning the 1963 F1 World Championship. From one of the greatest race legends to another great legend.
Another amazing show of true sportsmanship happened recently when Daniel Ricciardo who crashed into Carlos Sainz, ending his race in front of home Italian crowd on the first lap of the Formula 1 Imola Grand Prix. Ricciardo didn’t even think about blaming anyone else. Without hesitation he went into the Ferrari hospitality tent where he found Sainz and his mechanics and apologized to them for ending their race. Total class act. What a great role model for owning up to his mistakes. This is exactly how we bring up racers in NASA, better known as owning up to your own actions.
I love hearing about these kinds of acts in motorsports, so speaking as the NASA Director of Mentoring, when I recently learned about something that happened during NASA event, I couldn’t help but be proud of who we are and what it means to be a member of NASA.
My friend and teammate, Albert Butterfield has mentored many racers over his long career as lead instructor, on and off the track. Two of those racers are Eduardo and Christian Li. The back story of how Al took these two young men under his tutelage is equally as inspirational as the story I’m about to tell, but I’m saving that for another day.
It all began one day when another good friend, NorCal Race Director, Jeff Mohler, shared something that happened recently at a NASA race weekend. The truth be known, this story has happened to many of us. After some hard qualifying laps, two drivers on Eduardo’s team forgot to weigh in, which in all honesty, is easy to do given the adrenalin and rush to get ready for the next event.
It was now Jeff’s painful responsibility to track them down in the paddock and dish out the bad news, informing them they were DQ’d. It’s only natural that they asked, “Is there anything you as a director can do?” Jeff’s response was swift. “No, I can’t. You know the rules. Man, you gotta know better.” But the good part of this story was, they didn’t ask for any favors and they didn’t fly off the handle. In fact, he accepted responsibility for their actions, and even thanked Jeff for personally coming by their pits to give them the news.
Note, they never asked for the rules to be bent in any way. They simply asked if there was any form of appeal. I loved hearing Jeff share what happened, especially when he said, “And then Eduardo pivoted to being the racer in the pits we all want to race with. If only every delivery of a penalty, even the minor ones, went so well.” These are the kind of class acts we all know too well in NASA.
At the end of the day, I admire all fellow NASA directors like Jeff Mohler and instructors like Al Butterfield who lead by example, and teach racers the fine art of motorsports. They also influence them to be the type of individuals that represent NASA on and off the track and better yet, that everyone is treated fairly, every day. I’m proud to say, over years of racing with NASA, I’ve seen amazing sportsmanship like this more times than I can count, and I credit those who deserve it, like Al Butterfield, Jeff Mohler and my great friend, Jerry Kunzman who set the bar.