What makes you happy? If you’re reading this, I think the answer would be pretty simple. Fast cars, corners, friends and cold beverages. But there is so much more to what we do at NASA events than just racing or spirited driving.
There are the competitors who love to share video with each other. HPDE drivers look forward to an instructor helping them improve a line through a tough section of track. Instructors all look forward to riding in the coolest DE cars. Staff members look forward to seeing their favorite drivers and fellow staff members. Participants look forward to the Saturday night festivities. We all look forward to seeing our motorsports family. Regardless of what our day-to-day lives entail or our capacity at the track, we all seem to enjoy the fact that we can hang out with fellow petrolheads.
I was lucky to be born into racing with a father who was a big-time petrolhead. When asked why he moved to California, his reply is always “palm trees, bikinis, and Corvettes.” He enabled me to become addicted to speed in controlled environments at an early age.
I remember the first time I squeezed full throttle on a dirt bike. The day after Christmas in 1991 on my brand-new Suzuki JR50, I found myself negotiating the whoops section of a motocross track in Northern California with a stuck-wide-open throttle. I couldn’t slow at all for the upcoming 180-degree banked turn, and in full panic I jumped the berm. I swear Ricky Bobby stole the lines “I’m flying through air. This is not good” from me. I stuck the landing, sort of. I ended up on top of the rear tire with minor lacerations from the thing running full throttle on its side. It was a terrible first experience, but I hadn’t had enough.
Pops quickly decided that four wheels might be better, and shortly after that the “once ridden” JR50 was replaced with a beautiful Invader chassis kart powered by a 5-ish horsepower Briggs. Other than the occasional recreational dirt bike, all my serious competing has been on four wheels ever since.
I remember during my first lap at Kinsmen Kart Club in Dixon, Calif., telling myself, “I’m going to do this for the rest of my life.” And I have in one capacity or another. When I was 13, Jerry Kunzman decided to start the NASA Teen Driver program. With one day of dirt bike experience and seven years of karting under my belt, I was a shoo-in. I started doing HPDE and got my NASA license as the first NASA Teen Racer.
In addition to driving and racing, I’ve done every single job there is in NASA over the last 18 years. It’s a dream come true to call what I do a career. I started because of an addiction to speed that I developed long before puberty. NASA breeds racers through its different driving programs, which gives me a feeling I would compare to the happiness an AP professor must feel hearing his star pupil speak at graduation as valedictorian.
The biggest reason I’ve stayed with NASA all these years is because of the people. Getting to work for and with the best people in the industry, and hosting our amazing members at our events are what make this the best job I could dream of. The fact that I get to race is secondary. As my buddy Jeff Mosing always says, “Drive yourself happy.” Next time you see me at a track, I’d love to hear how you got started in racing.