One of my favorite movies from the 1980s is “Bull Durham,” the story of a minor league catcher named “Crash” Davis who takes mentors a young pitcher. In one scene on the team bus, players who’ve only played in the minor leagues are asking Crash what it’s like to be in the majors.
“Yeah, I was in the show. I was in the show for 21 days once. Twenty-one greatest days of my life,” Davis said. “You know, you’re never handed your luggage in the show? Everybody else carries your bags. You hit white balls for batting practice. The ballparks are like cathedrals. The hotels all have room service and the women all have long legs and brains.”
There are parallels between baseball and racing. Running at the front of the field in racing is difficult. Playing high-level baseball, even in the minor leagues is hard — and I remain convinced that the most difficult thing in all of sports is to hit a round ball coming at you at 90 mph with a round bat. There are differences, too.
Whereas baseball is a meritocracy, the ranks of professional racing are something altogether different. In baseball, if you have God-given talent, discipline and the drive, you can make it to the show. In professional racing, if you have talent, discipline and the drive, you still need a fat sack of money to make it in a pro series. That’s how the contemporary model works.
The paid professionals in pro racing are the engineers and mechanics, and even that’s not a lock. The guy who owns the car, is a paid professional, and it’s usually the driver who’s writing the checks to him. It takes money to go big-time car racing and without it, you’re just another kid with talent, discipline and drive.
In NASA, we race against people who aspire to race professionally, and I count myself among their biggest fans because there are, in fact, a number of drivers who have graduated from NASA to the pro ranks. The Mazda Road to the 24 Shootout is all about helping drivers make that big first step into professional racing, and it’s always cool to see a NASA driver move up to “the show.”
As exciting as all that is, I always find myself circling back to one nagging question: Are they having more fun than we are in NASA? For that matter, are they having as much fun as we are?
To my way of thinking, I feel like we’re already in the show. Yes, I do nearly all the work on my racecar. I tow it to the track, unload it and load it again, ensure that it’s race-ready all weekend long — then tow it home to start it all over again.
However, my time at the track is my own. I don’t have to make appearances, or do things to please sponsors or entertain people when I’m trying to focus on racing. The tradeoffs are debatable, but the parallels continue.
For example, we get to race at the same tracks the pros do, the same “cathedrals” Crash Davis spoke of in “Bull Durham,” and it’s a great privilege that NASA can get us dates at tracks like Sebring, Watkins Glen, Road America, Sonoma Raceway and just this past May, Circuit of the Americas.
We also have no shortage of stiff competition and quick drivers who are just as fast as the pros. We enjoy a national spotlight on the pages of Speed News and from other publications, which is great for the sponsors we do have, and we do get media coverage of many of our events in print, online and via streaming video. Best of all, we’re having a blast doing it.
Whether the hotels have room service and the women long legs and brains is up to you.