One of my favorite books, or at least one I reference often, is “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.” It contains wisdom from some of the greatest thinkers of every generation. There are a few dunderheaded remarks in there, too, but for the most part, the quotes are something we can learn from, so we can keep them in mind as we go through the tough spots in life.
In all the times I have looked at that book, I have never seen any quotes from the motorsports world. There isn’t even an entry for “racing,” and I think that’s a bit of an omission. I’ve always learned a lot from quotes by racecar drivers, so to help compensate for the void of motorsports quotes, I’ve assembled some of my favorites for you here.
“Racing makes heroin addiction look like a vague wish for something salty.” Road & Track writer Peter Egan penned that in one of his many columns, and I think it’s one of the more poignant descriptions of what it’s like to race. If I had written that, I’d have substituted the word “craving” for “wish” but that’s more the editor in me than the racer. Racing gets in your blood. It’s one of the few things I’ve ever done that makes you wish it’s all you had to do.
“It is not always possible to be the best, but it is always possible to improve your own performance.” Jackie Stewart said that and I discovered that quote at a time I really needed it. I had just come back from a subpar weekend of racing and I was feeling a little out of sorts. I didn’t finish as I would have liked, but I did manage to set a new personal best lap time, which isn’t the same as a win, but it’s a step in the right direction. I should print out that quote and tape it inside my trailer. When you’re having a low moment, Sir Jackie’s words can be uplifting.
“Low mass is its own reward.” David E. Davis Jr. had a short-lived racing career, having flipped his MG in an amateur race in 1955, nearly destroying half his face, but he was one of the most influential automotive journalists the industry ever produced. In his “American Driver” column in the magazine he founded, “Automobile,” he praised the merits of lightweight cars and that quote was the headline. When I read that column, I was into muscle cars and drag racing, so it didn’t really resonate with me. If you want to go faster, add more power, I thought. Now I understand.
“If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough.” Mario Andretti, a guy who drove the wheels off everything he sat in said that. He ought to know. I think it was about when I entered HPDE3 that I found that quote from him and it really resonated. HPDE3 is where things begin to come together for NASA drivers. You’re getting quicker, smoother and more controlled and feeling pretty good about yourself. HPDE3 is also where things begin to come apart. The quote from Andretti made me realize that all that smoothness and control meant I wasn’t going fast enough.
“Buy the ticket, take the ride.” Hunter S. Thompson wasn’t a racer, but he was a fan of the automobile, and one of my favorite writers. He’s not in my edition of Bartlett’s either, but his quote reminds us all that racing often brings with it many unforeseen circumstances. The quote continues, “If it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well .. maybe chalk it off to forced conscious expansion.”
Something to keep in mind as we go through the tough spots in life.