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.”