Always Learning

Being involved in racing and the racing industry has always been a lot of fun and certainly a great privilege. More than just fun, it has presented me with a great deal of opportunities for learning. Even though I’ve been playing with cars for longer than NASA has been around, I am always amazed at how much there is still left to learn.

I was reminded of how deep the knowledge base is after returning from the Motorsports Parts Manufacturers Council conferences, a series of meetings with makers of all things speed. I’d come out of meetings blown away by what they told me about things that happen in an engine, under a car or over a car as it races around a track.

The whole point of MPMC is for automotive editors to come away with relevant story ideas for their readers and I left with a notebook brimming with new sources for stories and content that I think Speed News readers can dig into in the coming year.

Of course, we met with a few suspension manufacturers, engine parts people and electronics vendors, genuinely bright people who understand racecars and racing as well as anyone. Much of what we know about the subject is due to the research and development of the people and companies we visit with each year at MPMC.

The experience over the last couple of days has been like spending time with a driving coach. Sure, I learned a great deal about driving from my instructors in NASA HPDE, but the subject of driving well is deeper than I ever imagined. Because I read as much on the subject as possible, I’m always picking up little bits of helpful information.

For example, I just finished Mark Donohue’s book, “The Unfair Advantage.” It was informative, entertaining and a great read. When Donohue started racing, he didn’t know much about racecar dynamics, despite his mechanical engineering degree from Brown University. From what I could gather from the book, no one else seemed to understand the topic, either, and that’s what was most interesting about the book. From the first page to the last, you could see how Donohue was learning about racecar dynamics and taking the reader along with him.

By the time you get to the end of the book, Donohue takes you through developing a Porsche from a scratch-built prototype that wouldn’t behave itself on a skidpad or a racetrack into a dominant player. If he spent his entire career learning, why should we expect any different?

For good or ill, I always seem to find parallels between my travels and experiences on track with my role as editor of Speed News. For instance, we live in interesting times in the publishing industry. It’s no longer the simple matter of create, print, distribute and repeat.

Being a digital publication forces us to think in different ways, involving video and downloads and links and a much richer environment in which to involve the reader. There’s online analytics, and tools we never had before to help us measure our successes and failures, but there’s a lot of learning involved in using them.

We’re also learning to do more with less. If I told you how many staffers I used to work with to put out a similar size print magazine, you might not believe me. Then again, maybe you would, but as technology marches on, it provides the potential for increased productivity from fewer people, so we learn from that, too.

Whether it’s on track, on the road or at my desk, I’m always learning — and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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