More Than Meets the Eye

To the uninitiated, a weekend of NASA racing seems like nothing more than a bunch of people out on track, driving fast. If those same people stick around for the camaraderie at the traditional NASA Saturday night barbecue and beer bash, they might begin to understand that there is bit more to racing than just showing up and driving.

Even I am still coming to appreciate everything about racing with NASA. At first, it was about the cars and learning to drive fast. Those elements will always be part of the allure, but even that fails to capture everything I take away from racing. There is still more to it, and the only way I can explain is to tell you a story.

Just this past weekend, I was changing the cylinder head on my engine. I was able to get it off with no trouble, but I was having trouble installing the new one. I asked my wife for help, and she’s plenty strong, but we were having issues lowering the new head into place without moving the head gasket out of position. We tried a couple of times, but my wife only has so much patience for these kinds of things, so I had to take a different tack.

It’s worth noting at this point that I don’t live in a town I grew up in, so lifelong car buddies weren’t an option. So I called a friend I met through racing with NASA. He only lives 10 blocks away, his son races a Miata and I knew he had done this kind of work before. Even though it was 5:30 Saturday afternoon, he said he’d be right over, and 10 minutes later, there he was.

We went to the garage, picked up the head, lowered it right into place on the first try. What’s more, he stuck around to help me get the timing belt installed correctly. It had been years since I had been that deep into an engine, and even though I had a factory service manual and another book with instructions on how to do the job, I had no experience with timing belts on dual overhead-cam engines. He had done that job several times, too, and he helped me figure it out, which was invaluable, because if you’re one tooth off, it’s a whole lot of work to tear the motor down again to correct the problem.

All of this, mind you, on a moment’s notice. We’ve only known each other about a year, but because of his generosity and willingness to lend a hand, I was able to finish the job the next day. His willingness to help demonstrates how much more there is to racing than just driving fast. Through racing, you will meet the nicest people and share a bond I have found to be rare outside of amateur motorsports, and it’s what makes a story like this possible.

Once we got the head torqued down and the belt installed, I wanted to thank him in some way, so I shook up a batch of my world-famous martinis. We sat on the back patio, sipping gin, doing a little bench racing and swapping stories. If not for racing, we probably never would have met. If not for his help, I don’t know how I would have finished installing the head.

In the process, I got another story to tell. And in my line of work, that’s almost as valuable as having another friend.

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