Racing and Philosophy

Nineteenth century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche has been credited with the quote, “What does not kill me, makes me stronger.” Born in 1844, Nietzsche lived to witness the invention of the automobile, but probably not any interesting form of automobile racing. That’s a shame. I think Nietzsche might have made a pretty good racer.

From reading his quote, we can take away at least a couple things. One, life in 19th Century Germany sounds dangerous. Two, Nietzsche understood that adversity makes a person stronger. Judging from the people I spoke with at this year’s National Championships, there are a lot of racers settling in back home as I write this who are stronger than they were two weeks ago.

Just getting to the National Championships presents its share of adversity. To be eligible, competitors must have competed in five races in their own regions before they can register. Then there is the actual getting there.

This year, the National Championships were held at Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah, a location that isn’t quite the middle of nowhere, but it bears a striking resemblance. The track and the facility, however, are a bona fide masterpiece. It has become a bucket list track for me.

Racers from the East Coast faced a long drive over and back to participate in this year’s event, and I saw license plates from all over the eastern seaboard in the paddock. Racers from my local region, SoCal, can get there in 12 hours pulling a trailer, which is only 1.5 hours longer than it takes them to get to Thunderhill Raceway in Willows, Calif., but it’s still a steep climb to Tooele, which is 5,000 feet above sea level.

Once you get there, the real work begins. No one who goes to the trouble to travel to the National Championships is messing around, so you can count on more difficulty that lots of competition brings.

First, it’s a new track for many, and it’s a bit tricky. I heard from more than one racer that they took advantage of the Ford Racing School earlier in the week. That means greater expense and even more of a time commitment. But that made them stronger, and paid dividends later in the week when they were holding the big trophy and reeking of sprayed champagne.

There’s also the elevation. At 5,000 feet, Miller Motorsports Park demands that you make adjustments to your engine tune. The rule of thumb is 3 percent power loss per thousand feet, so right away racers were faced with a 15 percent decrease in horsepower.

Once you deal with the prospects of getting there, learning the track and tuning your engine, then there’s the racing itself. There are practices Wednesday and qualifying races on Thursday and Friday that determine where you will start for the Championship races on Saturday or Sunday.

You know everyone who is there came to win, so your driving and race craft need to be spot on, and your car needs to fall within the boundaries of the rulebook because tech inspections are more rigorous than they are at a regional event.

As I interviewed podium finishers, I heard from those who opted for slicks when the track was wet for Sunday’s race that the first few laps were some of the scariest they’d ever driven. That, of course, ties in with another lesser-known quote from Nietzsche: “For believe me! — the secret for harvesting from existence the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment is: to live dangerously!”

My guess is there are a few hundred NASA racers across the country who can identify with that.

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