Privilege and Gratitude

Screaming down the front straight at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., I looked right and saw two cars right there, dead even. I looked left and saw another car alongside but nosing ahead. There we were, four wide, barreling down the banked front straightaway into the even-more-banked Turn 1.

This might seem like a rookie thing to say, but in that moment, I felt a tremendous sense of privilege. I was racing on the same track that NASCAR stars visit twice a year. I was doing what many people dream of doing, but either can’t afford to or don’t know how to go about doing it.

I looked at it this way. How great is it that a tall, skinny white kid from the suburbs of Philadelphia finds himself on a racetrack in California surrounded by a pack of angry Miatas?

I discovered NASA about 10 years ago reading an issue of Car and Driver. I wasn’t able to do anything about it at the time, but I stored the information in the back of my head, and when I was able to get a car on track, I signed up for HPDE1 and climbed the ladder from there.

My first HPDE was in the rain. I’ll always remember it. I still take pride in that I never went off that day, although looking back, I probably wasn’t going very fast. I called my wife after my second session on track and told her, “I’m never not doing this. I can’t believe how much fun this is.” She was pretty excited for me at the time. Now she just tolerates what she has deemed an expensive “hobby.”

But every racer knows it’s more than just a hobby. For many of us, it’s the realization of a dream. A hobby is riding a bicycle to stay in shape or participating in local politics or trying new single malts from time to time. But racing? It’s more than a hobby. When I go racing, I am living a dream.

Racing changes us as people. It makes us better street drivers, sharpens our reflexes, our thinking. It makes us more detail oriented, more focused. It gives rise to critical thinking and restless nights. How many nights have you lost sleep because you were having a problem with the racecar that you couldn’t quite figure out? I’ll bet it came to you late one night or early one morning when you were lying awake. Or maybe it came to you on your drive to work when you weren’t really thinking about it.

Even now I still feel privileged to start a race. Think about your own racing. You could race at Watkins Glen, where the likes of Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney and every Formula 1 driver from 1961 to 1980 raced. You can race at Sebring, and soak in all its history. How about Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca? Or Road America? Road Atlanta? Setting a wheel on those tracks is like a writer visiting Hemingway’s house in Key West, Fla., or a Elvis fan visiting Graceland. But it goes several notches above sightseeing when the green flag flies, doesn’t it?

For me, it’s also a privilege to work on this magazine, to visit tracks around the country, shoot photos and meet NASA racers from all over. It’s a privilege to interview industry people, to pick their brains and to be able to deliver stories that will be useful to NASA members. It’s a privilege to meet track photographers from all over, and to be able to showcase their work on the pages of Speed News.

Invariably, along with that sense of privilege comes a deep-rooted sense of gratitude. I’m thankful when the car comes home in one piece, and thankful for the time I got to spend with people I’ve met through racing. And maybe that’s a rookie thing to say, too, but I hope that never goes away.

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