The agony and ecstasy of (grassroots) racing

(credit: Alex Bellus)

Like many a holiday weekend stateside, July 4 is for racing. And although Daytona snagged the headlines, it’s far from the only motorsports showdown taking place given the many weekend warriors on the grassroots circuits. Our Jonathan Gitlin is one such driver, and we’re resurfacing his tale of getting behind the wheel this holiday. His piece originally ran on October 3, 2014.

BRAINERD, Minnesota—With 15 minutes to go, I put on my helmet and retreated inside it, focusing on what to do next. My heart rate had been steadily climbing all morning in anticipation of racing in anger for the first time in 2014. One of my team mates, Scott, has been out on the soaking wet track for the last two hours, but he’ll soon be visiting the pit lane for a fuel stop and to hand the car over to the next driver; the next driver being me. Way back in 2011, I wrote a piece asking (and answering) the question of whether it was possible to learn how to race cars just by playing video games. It was my first real foray on a track after nearly 20 years of wanting to get into motorsport, and I’ve not looked back since. No games this time. Rather, as someone who simply races for a hobby, I’d been curious about quantifying the physical workload involved.

Your author, focusing before he gets in the car.

Your author, focusing before he gets in the car. (credit: Elle Gitlin)

Even though I’ve accumulated a respectable amount of racing hours in the intervening years, I still spend the hours between waking up on race day and getting in the car questioning why I’m actually doing all this. “So what if one time I drove here and came back to the pits on three wheels? Didn’t we fix that and come in fourth the following day?” I’ve felt much better about my pre-race stage fright after hearing Felix Baumgartner discuss his own problem during the Red Bull Stratos jump, and I gave myself a similar pep talk. “The car will be good. You’ve done this before, you know what you need to do. Build up to speed. Concentrate. Focus on your driving, ignore the lap times.” As Scott brings the car into the pit lane, I wait atop the pit wall, seat insert in hand (I’m short and need a booster seat). Only four people are allowed over the wall if the car’s gas cap is open; the fueler, someone wielding a fire extinguisher, the driver, and one other person who can help, strapping in—or pulling out—the driver.

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