2010-10-14

Going round in circles

So now that we spoke about being a woman in racing, how about discussing why being a race car driver is such a huge part of my identity these days.

Don't forget, after learning how to drive in Berlin back in 2002, I never took the license test (ran out of money, and saw no need for getting a license in a country where busses and trains are all-pervasive).

I survived quite happily until moving to North Carolina in 2005, when it became apparent that driving was essential for any sort of successful living in that part of the United States.

My first car was a 1999 Mazda Miata, which came equipped with a double-diagonal roll bar, a cold air intake, and some suspension upgrades.

I named the car Bonnie, and kept it for just about two years, in which time the car transformed me from a bloody novice driver into an avid autocrosser and an incorrigible gearhead.

So five years and three cars later, I am deeper into motorsports than I would have dared to dream even a year ago. I got a dedicated race car, and am spending as much time driving it on the track as my paycheck will allow. More, even, as my long-suffering credit cards will attest.

On clearer days, I sit back and wonder, what keeps me coming back to track for more? Well, there are a few reasons. Some better than others.

First of course is the speed and the excitement of overcoming the gut feeling of impending doom when I steer the car into a turn at speeds that make me cringe. The "OMG, we're going to DIE!" followed by the adrenaline rush and euphoria when I make it safely through the corner. Lather, rinse, repeat indefinitely.

It is pretty cool that the thrill can be repeated quite reliably. One track no longer scares you? Well, there are many more to learn. The car is no longer enough for you to piss your pants? There are always faster cars. Striving for that perfect lap is no longer thrilling? Go into racing wheel-to-wheel. And on and on it goes.

And that is another good reason for me to keep coming back: The fact that you're never finished learning. There is always something you did not know, and someone will generously share their knowledge with you. It is in a way similar to martial arts, where no matter how good you are, there is always someone more advanced than you, and there is always a new challenge waiting just around the corner.

One of the biggest kicks I get out of driving is the experience of what I call "honest learning," something that cannot be faked. Let me illustrate my point. Like many of my readers, I have gone to school (for entirely too many years, but that's beside the point), and now I am a tech marketing professional. I have been in tech marketing as long as I remember making money, and though I get to pick up a new trick here and there, what I do for a living hardly ever changes. Even my biggest professional achievements are increments on years and years of doing the same thing--never an entirely new thing.

Not so with driving, where most of us arrive with merely adequate preparation, and have to master something completely new to them. Every second shaved off the lap time, every apex hit just so are objectively measurable and also something that I could not do even a year ago. Picking up a new skill and mastering it over time gives me a true sense of accomplishment. Every time I go to the track, I have new goals and new challenges and though it is very much a moving target, and I may never get perfect, seeing measurable improvement always makes my day.

Finally, there's the camaraderie, the socializing going on in the paddock, and a healthy dose of competitiveness. The social aspect is like the icing on top of an already perfect cake. Yes, I don't eat sweets, but the analogy still holds for most of my audience. I could probably go out and drive month in and month out and never talk to anyone, but finding the right group of people to run with, and meeting new friends who are just as nuts about cars and driving as I am simply makes my happiness complete.

If you still aren't getting why I like driving so much, come with me, and I'll show you :)