Channeling Smokey

I just returned from a weekend of racing and, well, let’s just say the results were mixed.

In terms of racing, I’ve had better weekends. I felt like my driving was subpar. I had a poor start on Saturday and a great start on Sunday, which ended up being a poor start come Turn 1. I also was fighting an overheating car all weekend, and I’ll be darned if I can figure out why. I thought I got a handle on it Sunday morning and turned a personal best lap time – though it’s still a couple of seconds behind the front runners in the class. Arrgh. Then on Sunday afternoon during race, the engine got far too hot for comfort and I pulled off track 10 minutes into it.

As I listened to the radiator bubble into the overflow tank after I had parked the car in the trailer, my mood was foul. I packed everything up, wiped the sweat from my forehead, popped open a beer and tried to figure out what could be causing the problem. It’s especially vexing because it seems like I’ve been fighting it ever since I built the car, and I have used all the “must have” Spec Miata parts. I’ll figure it out, eventually.

One of my racing heroes, famous NASCAR crew chief Smokey Yunick, wrote in his book, “Best Damn Garage in Town,” that if it weren’t for bad days, you wouldn’t recognize the good days when they came along. Smokey did a lot of racing in his day, so I find some measure of comfort in that little nugget.

On the drive home, my mood began to improve a little. The beer I had earlier might have had some uplifting effect and listening to a live recording of David Bowie from the Tower Theater in Philadelphia in 1974 certainly helped, but I think there were other factors involved. Still, I felt like I had fun.

On this particular weekend, a few guys I haven’t seen in a while joined us in our race group, and it was genuinely good to see them again. I had planned to run the enduro on Saturday night, but my car wasn’t cooperating, so after the day’s racing and wrenching was done, I opted for beer and a steak at the local restaurant with a few buddies from the track.

We had a great time. We laughed and joked and told stories, and I got to know each of them a little bit better. I think that makes racing and race weekends even more special. When you know the guys in the other cars on a personal level, know their families and where they come from, I think it enhances people’s on-track manners because you’re no longer racing against that jerk in the white car, but racing with friends.

To foster that spirit, after the main drivers meeting is over, I have all the Spec Miata guys gather in a circle and introduce — or reintroduce — themselves to the group. Everyone tells us his or her name, car color and car number. That way, we’re racing with people we know, not that “other guy.” It’s something I started this season and I think it’s working well.

It’s also what salvaged my weekend. If I hadn’t had the feeling I was racing with friends I enjoy hanging out with, my weekend would have been a disappointment. But it wasn’t, thanks to the spirit of camaraderie among our group.

Occasionally it takes the wisdom from a hero to help you figure things out, and I’m grateful for that. I just hope I can channel Smokey when I’m trying to figure out my overheating problem.

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