Seven years ago, I was sitting on a wooden picnic table in the paddock of Lime Rock Park, taking a written licensing test for my first race license. Chief instructor, old friend, and motorsport mentor Charlie Greenhaus had authored the test himself, condensing many years of experience the professional motorsport industry into thirteen questions to determine whether we actually understood what he was teaching us. I distinctly remember that the very last question was both the shortest and the hardest. It was just two words - "Why Race?"
It's a great question. As strange as it might sound, the life of a racer isn't glamorous or all that enjoyable outside of the brief moments when you're actually driving. Racing requires a lot of preparation away from the track, so you end up spending most of your weeknights getting greasy and stressed out under your racecar in a garage. You skip nights out with friends and parties with colleagues because there's so much work that needs to be done before the next event. And when you don't have something that needs to get done, you're going to bed early. Like 9 PM early. Because racing, even at this level, is surprisingly physically involved and your mind and body need to be in the best possible condition for the next race.
When the big day finally comes around, you set your alarm clock for 2:30 AM so you can wake up in time to tow your car to the track. The tow is long, boring, and dangerous. I've probably come closer to getting killed while going to and from racetracks than while driving on the tracks themselves. When you finally get to the track, you spend your entire early morning unpacking your gear onto a damp paddock in near-total darkness while freezing your bottom off.
Daylight breaks and you quickly realize that race events themselves are loud, dirty, and Spartan. Spectators do show up to watch and I am always amazed that they do. The paddock is a generally inhospitable place characterized by scorching sunlight, swarms of mosquitos, terrible concession stand food, and a strict no alcohol policy. You have to bring your own seating and shade. World's worst sports arena as far as I'm concerned.
And to top it all off, none of this makes any money. I have been fortunate enough to have the support of some generous sponsors over the years, but a single season worth of racing costs far more than what they could offer over an entire decade. In 2017 I earned a cash prize for my modest results in the Pro-IT Series. Within two hours of getting it, every penny of that prize money was invested back into the race team. Never mind contingencies. For every contingency dollar I've ever earned, I ended up spending an additional $1.50 with the vendor that gave me that money in the first place.
So why do it at all? Why race when you could be doing something easier, cleaner, or cheaper? After thinking about it almost constantly since that fateful license test, I finally have an answer.
I race because I want to entertain.
It's a very simple answer that fits many of life's racing related questions. For example:
Q: Why do people watch car racing?
A: They find it entertaining. I want to help entertain them.
Q: Why do sponsors pay to put their logos on racecars?
A: Entertainment makes people happy, and happy people are more willing to spend money. I want to help my sponsors entertain future customers.
Q: Why do drivers and crew spend so much of their hard-earned time and money to race, when they aren't even pros?
A: Being part of the action gives them entertainment that they can't get anywhere else. Oh, and by "them" I mean "us."
More importantly, it gives me a reason to strain every element of my very being to make every race an exciting battle to the finish line.
I want to deliver an immensely entertaining experience to anyone and everyone who might be watching. That's why I'll run my race program seriously even if I'm not a pro race shop. I'll fight to put on a thrilling show regardless of whether I'm racing for 1st or 15th. I'll choose the events where my friends and business partners can hang out and enjoy themselves, even if it means I'm missing out on national championships or world famous venues. When the successes do come I'll wear a huge, idiotic grin and celebrate with the crowd like it's the biggest win of my career. And when things go wrong, I'll proudly display my battle scars alongside the trophies.
If I'm successful, I'll have put smiles on the faces the people who were at the track that day. Maybe they'll come back to watch another race. Maybe they'll want to get more involved. Maybe they'll join the team.
Every time I show up at a racetrack, I get the opportunity to entertain a huge number of people who are just like me.
That's why I race.
See you at the track.