Just Like Starting Over

Everyone has a favorite Beatle, or so I’m told. Mine is George Harrison for reasons I won’t get into here, but lately I’ve been thinking of John Lennon’s 1980 song “Just Like Starting Over.” I can explain.

The last couple of years of my racing “career” have delivered what Lemony Snicket might dub “a series of unfortunate events,” one being a total write-off of a brand-new car on its first weekend of racing, the other being two contact incidents with out-of-class traffic on my first weekend back with yet another new car. One was deemed a racing incident. The other wasn’t my fault. Luckily, neither resulted in serious damage, but both were pretty disheartening. Discouraging, even.

Combined with a long time out of the car, these incidents have sapped the confidence with which I used to drive. I would add that it also likely didn’t help to start this season at Willow Springs International Raceway. The last time I was there in 2019 was when I wrote off the car.

Willow Springs is a wonderful and iconic racetrack — deferred maintenance notwithstanding — and I had come to enjoy racing there. A fast, well-driven lap at Willow Springs is simultaneously an achievement, a cheat from death and, as a result, the greatest thrill in the world. The track only has nine turns, so it doesn’t take long to learn it, but it takes a lifetime to master.

I digress a bit here, but I maintain that you couldn’t build a track like Willow Springs today. It’s far too treacherous. I’ve heard Hermann Tilke took one look at Turn 9 and wet himself (I kid). Put Willow Springs in the same category as tracks such as Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, Road America and Watkins Glen. You could probably add Road Atlanta to that list, too. These tracks simply couldn’t be built today. I might have missed one, but as the saying goes, they just don’t build them like that anymore.

So, when we opened the 2021 season at Willow Springs, as we do every year, I found it extraordinarily difficult, and my lap times reflected my apprehensiveness to the point that I was at 3 to 4 seconds off my old pace with a car I do believe is as good or better.

Truth be told, I had a decidedly conservative agenda when I showed up at the track. Don’t have any contact with anything. Put the car back in the trailer the same way it came out, race results be damned. Mission accomplished and the race results reflected it. I dropped one wheel at Turn 9 all weekend, but that was the total of my big mistakes.

Now that I have all that behind me, it still feels like I’m looking up from the bottom of the hill again, but it’s pretty exciting. It’ll be just like starting over, but thanks in part to the generosity of spirit in my competitors and the infectiousness of their passion, I can’t wait to get back to the track. I’ve started all over again at other things in life, and I’ve probably got a clearer path back to quicker lap times because at least I know what not to do.

I need to be fast in and faster out, gentler in getting off the brakes and reapply the throttle when I can begin to unwind the wheel. I’ve renewed by subscription the Racers Lounge on Racers360, and I’ll be taking them up on some video coaching. I’ll be back in fighting shape, well, sometime soon, I hope.

All of the above reminds me of a different song, this one by my favorite Beatle, George Harrison, who taught us that, “All things must pass.”


  1. So true Brett, so true. This piece is exactly what many racers experience and some will admit to. Sometimes hitting the reset button is not a bad thing, nothing to be ashamed of and can be just what the doctor ordered.

  2. Brett, have you considered croquet?

    All kidding aside, this will be one of the best lessons behind a wheel you could possibly have. Once we learn how hard a wall is, we tend not to hit them again. Humiliation is one of our best teachers. Never accepting humiliation (better known as defeat) can be one of our biggest loses.

    I wonder too if using Willow Springs as a season opener is such a great idea?

  3. This is why I wouldn’t wheel to wheel race unless I was on a well sponsored team, or at least had my own shop. TT is good enough.

  4. Brett, I saw you at the event, but since I’ve been away so long, I didn’t realize it was your first event back as well. It was great to see many of the same familiar faces, including yours, around the paddock. That kind of provided a continuity of my former comfort level that helped bridge this “new” uncomfortable situation with my old memories of racing with NASA… I’d been away for many years from racing hard in 944 Spec in the mid-2000’s…. Having serious concerns about how rusty I might be, I entered in HPDE 3 for some “starting over” track time before going wheel to wheel with the guys I care about. I also had concerns about choosing Willow Springs for my first event back. It’s not a technical track, it’s a courage tester. The speeds there are not as forgiving as other tracks. Kinda like choosing to use the diving board at the deep end or slowly wading in from the shallow end. Should I wait for the next event at Buttonwillow? Naw, I’ll just work my way back up to speed. Looking back now, the driving and event procedural mistakes that I made showed me that I made the right choice in not just jumping back into full-on racing. While I still had the cocky confidence needed to drive really fast, it was now tempered with a newbie-like caution and a healthy dose of not wanting to embarrass myself! I baby-stepped my way down to a respectable 1:38.6. Still, getting back in the saddle after so long was a lot like starting over. Interesting to note that driver data gathering systems have changed so much. In 2003-2006, I was content simply to have a stopwatch velcroed to my dashboard. Now, I look forward to using the new-fangled technology to grow even more as a driver. Strange turn that some of the younger, less experienced drivers have offered to bring the old-school guy “up to speed” on that front. I predict they’re going to wish they hadn’t…..It was a great weekend getting back that included some comical interludes such as both my primary AND back up pairs of racing shoes shedding their soles. I think they were registering their displeasure with me at letting them sit unused in my driver’s gear bag for so long…..See you at the track!

  5. From one who rolled his Spec Miata at BW a few years ago at Phil Hill, rebuilt it and had some great racing in that car, then more in FF’s w/ VARA and sub 1:30’s. Eventually, I did decide to quit for entirely different reasons. It was time for me. It isn’t time for you, Brett – until you decide to. I know you can go quick. Be patient. Best wishes.

  6. This why I come for the food, to be with fiends and maybe drive the car. My budget only allows for one all or noting season and to be honest I would rather spend my weekends cleaning and maintaining my the car and not fixing it. Hence why I also am in TT. I also need to develop my driving skills. My goal to drop 5 seconds, maybe someday I will get there. In the man time I am just the old guy having fun and enjoy watching the various classes compete in the wheel to wheel events.
    Thanks for all you do Brett

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