A few weeks ago, my wife and I were attending a La Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs gathering. The Confrérie brings together members from around the world who share in the spirit of the society, and who appreciate and enjoy wine and fine dining. We are longtime members.
At some point the conversation at our table changed to motorsports, and then a lively conversation ensued when someone said, “Our son has been taking part in some racing school events.” When someone mentioned that I was the Executive Director at The Unser Racing Museum, I asked, who their son had been racing with. “He’s with NASA.” You can only imagine their surprise when I replied, “You won’t believe this, but not only have I raced and instructed with NASA, but I am also the National Mentoring Director.”
A couple of weeks later, I received a message from a nice young man, Ben Sharpe, the son of the couple we had dined with during the La Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs gathering. Ben was excited about learning more about racing and NASA, so I invited him over.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that not only did Ben have a lot of enthusiasm, but I realized the two of us shared similar stories as to how we found our passion for racing. Much like me when I was a teenager, Ben began working on cars after doing a little “unexpected” off-road driving.
The more I listened to him, the more I kept telling myself, “Wow, this sounds familiar.” There are lots of young drivers who say they wrench on cars, but the truth is, most of them are typically just bolting on accessories. But Ben has literally taken the engine out of his car and completely rebuilt it. Now that’s wrenching!
When Ben pulled into my driveway, I was pleasantly surprised to see his black Miata — with No. 66 on the door — and a roll cage and other cool racing gear. Inside the trunk is the signature of Tom Matano, the designer of the Miata.
I really had to laugh when he shared his story of how he ended up with a Miata. “Well, when I first wanted to get a car, I had my hopes set on a Corvette.” Hearing that really cracked me up because that was exactly what I had hoped my first set of wheels would be.
Ben continued, “Then my dad says, ‘Hey buddy, I think I found the perfect car for you. A friend of mine has it. It’s a Miata.” Ben and I looked at each other while remembering a Miata isn’t exactly as sexy as a ‘vette and burst out laughing. I must say, Ben was a lot luckier than I was because the car my father picked out for me was a white ‘59 Ford, four-door, six-cylinder with a three-speed on the column.
It wasn’t long before I managed to roll that car 375 yards down a canyon on the Rogue River, which led me to taking the engine out and installing it in to a much cooler 57 Ford two-door. Fortunately, I walked away from that wreck, and much like Ben, that was the beginning of my introduction into wrenching on cars.
Ben has completed HPDE1 and 2 on tracks with NASA Arizona. I asked what has been his biggest wow moment with NASA? He said, “Feeling the flow of the track.” Great answer! Even better was his reply when I asked what’s the most important thing you’ve learned with NASA? He said, “Staying humble.” This young man is going to go far with NASA.
There are many paths that lead us to NASA, but they are all great stories.