We all pride ourselves not only on our ability to build a racecar that can go faster and handle better than other cars, but also can handle the abuse required to last the length of whatever race it’s in. But after the car is built, we find the innermost desire to see just how fast it can really go. This is where we begin to learn not about fast cars, but about ourselves — and believe me, that is far more complex than the design of any car.
I recall vividly how hard I pushed myself back in my rookie days to go faster and find the edge all racecar drivers seek. When I thought I had found that limit, I laughed with satisfaction deep inside, because I could hardly wait to take my driving coach for a ride and show him what I had learned. I could already hear him say, “Wow, Faules, you really have gotten good! You’re the man!”
But even the best-laid plans don’t always work out the way we might have hoped. Having spent the entire day testing and watching my lap times improve beyond my wildest dreams, it was now time to get my driving coach in the passenger seat and impress the hell out of him, so off we went. As we headed onto the track at speed, I could hardly contain my smile, so wide it barely fit inside my helmet. I could hardly wait to hear his reaction, knowing full well he was about to be impressed. But to my surprise, instead of the praise I was looking for, after just two fast laps he motioned for me to pull into the pits. As soon as I came to a stop, he unbuckled and said, “Switch seats.”
We headed back out on track, except this time as we came into Turn 1 at full speed, I found myself attempting to remove my fingernails from the roll cage and to keep my feet from pushing through the floorboard to slow him down. Having built this car with my own two hands and having pushed the envelope as far as I knew it could be pushed, and judging by the speed he was taking us into Turn 1, I knew that A) we were never going to make it; B) if we did, it would require a lot of body work, and; C) I was going to need a change of shorts.
As hard as I tried, I could not close my eyes. After all, if anyone wanted to see how I was going to die, it was me. An instant later I found myself asking, “How the hell did he do that?” But somehow things got worse because this guy didn’t lift and was headed for Turn 2 with the same death-wish determination as he had in Turn 1. At each bend, I found myself thinking he’d never make it, and that same sentence came to mind 12 more times. Right when I thought I could breathe again, he decided to take a few more laps.
Since that day my fingernails have never looked the same. Yes I had to buy a new supply of shorts, but what I learned that day was, no matter how far we push ourselves, there will always be new limits to be tested, which make us ask, “How much faster can I push?”
If you really want to find the answer, there is a simple way. Simply get started by signing up for the next NASA event and find one of NASA’s outstanding coaches and at some point, get in, sit down and buckle up. It will only get better from there.