Born to drive
It’s hard, even for someone who loves to talk, to put the past six months into words. But as with everything, I’ll do my best: surreal, life-changing, exhilarating, validating and transcendent all come to mind. In essence, I’ve not experienced anything like this. When I imagine Heaven and spending eternity singing praises to God, I now envision myself racing there in my inexorable spare time. (And I’m sure the Lord will enjoy watching me drive more than He’ll enjoy hearing me sing.)
On August 24th, my crazy awesome husband, Greg, along with our three kids, surprised me with my dream car, handed me the keys, and said, "And you're taking it to the track on Saturday." I indeed took it to the track, and I essentially haven't stopped. Track driving is other-worldly. When I do it, I come fully alive, from the hairs on my head to the tips of my toes. My brain feels completely consumed; almost all of my senses work in tandem to tell me what to do, and my instincts, I am learning, are not bad.
It’s like I was created to drive fast. And I discovered this in my fifth decade of life.
Throughout my years, I’ve done a lot of things I would call exciting and adventurous. We went sky diving for our fifth anniversary. I really enjoy roller coasters, scuba diving, and I generally will try just about anything (legal and within my moral limits). As a person prone to anxiety, I'm often surprised by my desire to do seemingly dangerous things. From the first moments of learning to drive as a teenager, I have always loved accelerating close to redline in manual transmission cars. Now I’m pushing an M5 to about 150 mph (so far) in fifth gear and it is intoxicating.
Aside from the sheer thrill of speed, the quest for the perfect line through a set of esses or a downhill chute on track is enthralling. One of my favorite lines in the movie “Ford V. Ferrari” is when Ken Miles is explaining his line around Le Mans to his son, who says, “But Dad, you can’t drive the perfect lap every lap.” And Ken Miles replies, “But I can try.”
In racing, as soon as you’ve hit a milestone, beaten a time you previously thought you couldn’t, or driven what you think is the ideal line around a track, you’re chasing an even bigger milestone, faster time or more perfect line. As you chase these things, you make mistakes. You are always learning and improving. And while there are great laps that aren’t perfect, there are also great laps that are great because you survived. A wheel off, or two, or four (and I’ve already done all of these) forces you to get really good at making mistakes and getting through them quickly. Tenths of seconds are all it takes to make a mistake, and once made, another few tenths of a second can mean the difference between recovering or hitting a wall.
The biggest hurdle I have to overcome is not the innate danger in driving – for I honestly don’t think about it much – but my performance anxiety. So far, I’ve mostly driven in what are called High Performance Driver Education (HPDE) events, where you have instructors and classroom time to learn. Each new instructor or new track brings a level of surprise and fear. But also, I have been blessed to have some amazing instructors and coaches so far. I feel pressure to continue to prove myself, that I'm learning and "worth" their time investment. Which is silly, but that is the plight of being who I am. I’ve only just begun doing timed events, and the performance pressure to cut my time, even by just a little, is palpable. February 28th it rained all day at the track, and the Shenandoah Circuit at Summit Point Motorsports Park is particularly slippery when wet. I had to stop looking at times in the afternoon, afraid I would push too hard in the rain and make a costly mistake. There's never an end to learning on track, which I know is another part of its allure. It would be impossible to stop growing as a driver, and my ultra competitive nature is mostly a blessing for this sport.
At the BMW CCA event in October at Summit Point, for the first time I had to pass another car in a turn. It was exhilarating and the best part of the day. I also spent open passing time at VIRginia International Raceway (VIR) in November. This leads me to believe that wheel-to-wheel (the term for racing other cars on track) is where I’m headed. But wheel-to-wheel is its own uber expensive beast, both in time commitment and money. DE (driver education) is much less of a commitment, less costly and arguably less dangerous. How much and in what capacity I will pursue this sport I still have to figure out. But this journey is unlike any I have ever taken, so with nine parts excitement and one part trepidation, I move forward, compelled to continue by centrifugal, downward, gravitational and internal forces.
Yes, indeed, I was born to drive.