Over the past year, I’ve had a couple of people suggest we do something on driving etiquette in Speed News. If I remember correctly, those suggestions typically followed an incident on track in which they were an unwilling participant. It seemed like a good idea.
As with so many things, the trouble lies in the execution, and finding someone to write it with any measure of authority. I was convinced it shouldn’t be me — for reasons that become clear later — but when I thought long and hard about who it should be, I came up blank. I was reminded of the biblical verse, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
It also brought back memories of NASA COO Jeremy Croiset’s remarks to the drivers at the NASA Championships at Daytona in 2021. I was standing just a few feet away from him at the time, and though I don’t remember his exact words, I do recall that he asked everyone to race as cleanly as possible, to demonstrate good driving etiquette. He acknowledged that it might seem hypocritical coming from him, since he admitted some unintentional argy-bargy on his part in the past, and that’s another indication of how difficult it is to find the right messenger for a lesson on driving etiquette.
That brings me to the unintended lesson of this column — maybe the only lesson. None of us is without sin. No one who has raced for any length of time can deliver an immaculately conceived lesson on driving etiquette, because anyone who has raced for any length of time has gotten into the back of someone while trying to make an ill-advised move in a red-mist moment.
We all strive to race clean. We all do our best to do right by other drivers, but this is racing and split-second decisions — wise or not — can have consequences.
I have seen video from other sanctioning bodies, pro and amateur where contact appeared to be intentional, but never from within the ranks of NASA. Maybe there are videos out there like that and I just haven’t seen them, but I can’t address what I haven’t seen. More often than not, the videos I have seen go something like this: A driver typically gets in over his or her head — although it’s seldom a her — and spurs an incident.
One lesson I remember from competition school was the instructor saying something like, “You might be in the right, but if you don’t avoid the trouble caused by someone else, you’re going to get collected, and have to spend money on repairs when you could be spending it on tires.” Maybe that’s also part of driving etiquette.
I have been to events in nearly every NASA region, and met drivers from all over the country, and one thing I hear from all of them when referring to the people they race with is that they’re among friends. They race hard, then eat together and enjoy a few beers, and some camaraderie on Saturday night. Seeing what I’ve seen, I doubt NASA drivers go through all the effort and expense to buy and prep a racecar so they can show up at the track to intentionally wreck their friends. That would be so comically stupid it’s tragic.
Here in the NASA SoCal region, I’m series leader for Spec Miata, and I implore our drivers to race clean — fully aware of my own at-fault incidents — for all the reasons that should be obvious to anyone reading this, but for another reason. Wrecks foster bad blood. Bad blood turns friends into foes, and racing is too expensive and too time consuming to leave the people we love at home to go to the track to race people we don’t like. Like our race director and Spec E30 National Director Shawn Meze says to us at every drivers meeting, “Let’s take care of each other out there.”
And so, after all the above, we’re almost exactly where we started, which brings me to an adaptation of another universal truth that might prove useful: Race others as you would have them race against you. In theory, it’s really that simple. In practice, it’s up to us.