That Rainy Day Feeling

This morning, while looking out my window with coffee in hand and watching the rain pouring down, I found myself reminiscing about racing on rainy days.

Being from Oregon, driving in the rain was nothing new to me, so I thought racing in the rain would be my time to show everyone what I was made of. It didn’t take long for that bubble to burst. The first time I got on the race course on a rainy day, I found myself grasping my steering wheel with white knuckles — and I was only going about 40 miles an hour.

Thankfully the track dried up later and I qualified well, and had three podium finishes, but later I found myself sitting in the paddock wondering what happened. On the way home, I realized my chances of success in the season’s championships could be ruined by a rainy day.

When I got home, the first call I made was to my future teammate, Mark Kirberg, owner of Kirberg Racing Group. “Mark, we have a real problem,” I said. Within a few minutes, I had arranged to get some one-on-one instruction.

“Let’s check the forecast,” Mark replied. “You’re in luck. The forecast is rain.”

I have to be honest. I didn’t feel very lucky at the time.

The good things about driving in the rain are many. You can’t get going fast enough to slide far enough off the track, or hit hard enough to cause any damage. The best part is you can learn more about car control in the rain than you ever will on any dry track. I can tell you driving on a rainy day with a good instructor turned out to be the best investment I ever made. I remember Mark saying, “As I worked with you, it was as if a light switch was turned on in your head when suddenly you realized ‘Oh, hell yeah, I’ve got this!’”

Good instruction transformed my need to lift off the gas pedal into one of getting back on the gas and using the steering wheel to control the car to make it go where I wanted. From that day on, I couldn’t wait for a day that included rain. Learning to drive on a wet track rolls over into no fear when feeling the car begin to break away even on a dry track. With a little input into the steering wheel, step on the gas and all is good with the world. Learning to drive in the rain led not only to winning my first season championships, but to some of the most memorable wins of my racing career, including the first three-peat of the 25 Hours of Thunderhill, a race known for its bad weather and adversity.

My advice is to get as much “wet” seat time as you can. With experienced NASA instructors, you will learn more about car control and going fast than you ever would on a dry track. Ironically enough, learning to drive in the rain is where you will learn to shine.

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