When I was a boy, I wanted to be a cowboy, and that meant I would need to learn to rope a steer. That became an obsession, and since I grew up on my folk’s ranch, it didn’t take long for opportunity to come knocking. For the sake of this story, it’s important to note I was small for my age. In fact, if I told you I weighed 95 pounds, I would be lying.
One day while the vet had all our cattle rounded up near the barn for annual checkups, I saw an old lasso hanging from the corral fence post. I asked my father if I could play with the lasso.
“Sure, knock yourself out,” he said. So I grabbed that lasso and began twirling a big loop over my head like a real pro.
About that time, the vet yelled, “How about roping one of those calves for me?” I made a dive through the corral fence, rope in hand and came up twirling away as I asked with confidence, “Any particular one you want?” Dad replied, “Well don’t take all day.” So I let it fly. This is where things took a bad turn.
It seems there was one yearling mixed in with the calves that was considerably larger, and I suppose it was because his head was sticking up so much higher than the others that my lasso ended up around his neck. As soon as I realized what had happened, I asked, “What do I do now?” Dad kicked the gate open and yelled, “Hang on tight, cowboy!”
All I heard was laughter as that yearling bolted out of the corral. I kept my feet under me for a bit just before being dragged across the pasture like a rock skipping across a pond. When I finally got back on my feet and found my new shirt hanging in shreds, it dawned on me that maybe this cowboy stuff wasn’t for me after all.
Dreaming about learning to drive a car quickly on the track has a lot in common with my childhood dream of wanting to be a cowboy, but I know that putting someone in a car and telling them to “Hang on tight!” doesn’t make a lot of sense. Like many newbies, I came to the track the first time with a very fast car that could have passed every single car at the track that weekend if I had known how to handle it. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have seen new drivers spend a small fortune building a car without even a basic understanding of what class it would fit in, what safety requirements were required and so on, only to be discouraged on many levels.
The best advice I can offer anyone who wants to drive on a racetrack is this: Before spending a dime, come to a few NASA events. You will experience all of the classes and see what they are like. You will be able to talk with other drivers and ask as many questions as you want. One thing you will quickly learn about NASA members is their willingness to offer advice and information.
As for building a car, one of the best bangs for your buck is to buy a used racecar. You will be surprised how affordable it is to pick up a car when members are building a new car or moving up into a faster class. Many of the items you’ll need are already included in a built car and these make perfect school cars for beginners, with much less worry about if you make a boo boo. And should that happen, you won’t find yourself back at the corral with a shredded shirt, so to speak.