Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a good holiday season. This time of year a lot of people are working on their resolutions, and the gyms are filling up. Most years, they empty out around the first couple of weeks in February. For most people, they give up on their resolutions and go back to the status quo. For others, the gym overwhelms them or worse yet, they’re almost literally laughed out.
I read a story about someone at their gym, watching some seasoned gym rats snickering and recording some poor woman on the verge of tears while she struggled with a machine. Thankfully the writer helped her get through the situation, back on the machine and those mocking her were banned from the gym. This got me to thinking about our world. One of the most common questions I’ve been asked with the sponsorship application is: “How can we help grow autocross/karting?”
Just like the gym in January, a person’s first experience at the autocross course, track or paddock can be overwhelming. Take autocross for example: There’s probably a line of people waiting to sign in, a line at tech, and countless people walking around the cones. Everyone is either on their own, or in their “cliques” walking and talking together. There’s a tight schedule, drivers meetings, maybe class time and a host of other things a person needs to get done before getting on track. I took a look back to when I started autcrossing, track day driving and karting. I remembered when I was the ”new kid” trying it out. I’ve had my share of different experiences with all three.
My very first experience with autocross was one I’ll never forget. I was introduced to the sport by an old high school friend and her husband while on leave from the Army. They told me everything that I needed to know before even deciding to drive my own car. When I got to the event, they were unloading their trailers. As the morning progressed, they took turns walking me through the steps I needed to take to get racing. They walked with me during the track walk. They sat right seat when I made my runs. They let me sit right seat with them on their runs. In the end, I was slow as hell, but the smile on my face took days to wear off. I couldn’t wait to get back at it!
Fast forward a few years, and I’m finally home and have a car that I can autocross again. I find my local club, and set myself up to get back into autocross. I was alone, and didn’t know anyone. Thankfully, this club was really welcoming to newbies too. Before I could park my car to sign in, someone flagged me down and parked me next to their car; the same make and model I was driving. Everyone was helpful and once again, I couldn’t get the grin off my face for days.
Several years and a couple of cars later, I learn about HPDE and track days. A co-worker and his wife were going all the time and invited me to come with and drive my brand new sports car on a track. Once I got to the track I found my friends and parked next to them. I honestly wish I could remember the class time from the event, and I think that says a lot. As I was getting ready to get on track for the first time ever in a car that I bought only months before, my instructor showed up. He introduced himself and told me a bit about his car/racing program/experience. He then asked if I knew of any parts stores/dealerships nearby to get parts for his race car. He also let me know that he didn’t instruct very often, and he was primarily doing this to get discounted track time. Once on track, he was helpful and taught me a good number of things about track driving. Come time for my final 20 minute session, the green flag dropped, and my instructor was nowhere to be found. I sat in grid for about the first 5-10 minutes of my 20 minute session. I was chomping at the bit to get on track as I watched cars fly past the start/finish line. After what seemed like ages, a volunteer at the grid comes up to my car and asks if I can handle it on my own. What else was I going to say? Of course I’d be able to handle it and I’ll be fine! He sends me out, and it took less than 4 laps for me to lose control and hit a guardrail. I had paid for two days of HPDE, and didn’t even get one full day in. I was at a loss for words. My pride and joy was damaged, and my ego had a serious black eye.
When I started karting, I started by competing in a rental kart league at a local track. I had been waiting for what seemed like decades to get into wheel to wheel racing, and in my mind this was my first chance to prove myself. Early on, I put myself towards the front and won a few races. As the season went on, the fun turned into something different. I developed a bit of a chip on my shoulder. New racers started showing up. Instead of welcoming them in and showing them the ropes, they became targets. Yeah, I became “that guy.” Of all things to get overly serious about, I got serious about points in a rental kart league. I think back and hope I didn’t push any people away from racing. If I did, and you’re reading this, I’m sorry I was an ass. I didn’t represent the sport the way I should have.
Over the years, I’ve made countless friends through racing and motorsports. I spend time and money with sanctioning bodies that have made me feel like I was truly a part of the action. I remember all the people who welcomed me in. I will always remember Brandy, Dave, Adam, “Five Car” Finch, Travis, “Motor Mike”, Scott, Rush, “Slurski”, Rich, Steve, Chad, and countless others. With the season fast approaching make sure that you’re not that person. Be the person you needed when you got your start.