Thanks to Aaron Bertrand (b|t) for hosting this month’s edition of T-SQL Tuesday, the 99th in the blog party series, and for an interesting topic choice for this edition. You can find Aaron’s T-SQL Tuesday #99 introductory post here, but Aaron gave us a choice this time around: share a passion of ours with the SQL community or write about a favorite/most annoying T-SQL bad habit. While I gave some thought to the technical post, I couldn’t turn down an opportunity to talk about my love for racing and how much I enjoy getting to actually drive a race car a few times each year. Since thinking about, talking about, and planning for racing does help bring some balance to my life, #sqlibrium as Drew coined the term, let’s talk for a few minutes about how cool (and yes, relaxing) it is to drive race cars once in a while.
“There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.” – Ernest Hemingway
I was a big enough racing dork when I was a kid that I had a t-shirt with this on it when I was in elementary school. I honestly don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t want to look at, read about, or drive race cars. However, if this post turns into “Matt waxes poetically about racing”, it will be about 5,000 words long and incredibly boring to everybody but me. Put much more simply, while a lot of people look for relaxation from a good hike or a relaxing day on the beach, my beach is at a racetrack. Whether I’m watching the cars, working on them, or driving them, it has a way of clearing my head unlike anywhere else. For the sake of brevity(-ish), I’ll focus the rest of this blog on my on-track exploits, such as they are.
As you can see, we take this racing stuff quite seriously. The picture is of me waiting on the grid at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in June 2017 before taking to the track for the first of two races. The grid marshals thought it would be funny to give us silly umbrellas to block the sun while we waited – and it was.
That said, this picture does a decent job of showing what my Formula First looks like up close. For those that are interested in the technical specs (which is likely very few of you), the basics are that Formula Firsts are 1600cc air-cooled Volkswagen engines mated to purpose-built open wheel chassis riding on Hoosier R60 tires. Hoosier has been a great sponsor of our U.S. Formula First Championship, which is a 5-6 weekend series that is currently in its 12th year of competition this year. We run at great tracks all over the eastern half of the U.S., from Road America in Wisconsin, to Watkins Glen in New York, to Road Atlanta in Georgia. If you’d like to read more information on the series (and see some great videos), the link is here.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of the car and the series that I race in, you’re probably wondering “what cool stuff have you done in these cars, Matt?”. Now, some of you asking that question may think cool stuff is “what have you won?” and others may think cool stuff is “what have you crashed into?”. I’ll cover both angles before we wrap up this blog, but if you’re just here for the crashes, here’s a picture of a crash I just missed at Indy last year (thanks to Brian Schell for the image).
First, what have I won? I’ve been fortunate enough to win trophies and take podiums (finishing in the top 3) at places like Indy, Watkins Glen, and Road America. Road America (in Elkhart Lake, WI) was my favorite race track (other than Indy) growing up and it still is, which makes this next story particularly frustrating even though it happened 12 years ago. After doing a couple weekends in 2005, I committed to running a full Formula First season in 2006. I went to Road America in the top 3 in championship points and was looking to have a great weekend. I qualified 2nd for the our race on Saturday but, near the end of the first lap, the right-front suspension spectacularly came apart, ending my day quite early and giving my right hand a gnarly bruise to boot. I went into Sunday morning’s qualifying hopeful but still frustrated and qualified 5th – then a clutch problem reared its ugly head towards the end of the session. That sent the crew into a massive thrash to get the clutch replaced, an effort that was completed just minutes before we had to head to grid for the race.
Once the race started, the car was really good. I could run comfortably in the draft and started picking off cars and working my way up the order. With 3 laps to go, I passed for the lead and was leading for the first time in my career! The other driver and I traded the lead (and fast laps) back and forth over those last few laps and, on the last lap, I exited the final turn (turn 14) in the lead. I didn’t get the best launch off the corner, though, and the other driver had a run on me. I put on a within-the-rules blocking move but ended up losing the race by roughly the length of the nose of the car. I was crushed, especially as my wife and dad were there to see it. The picture below was taken just after the race while the top 3 finishers waited in line to make sure our cars met minimum weight. I’m still in the car chatting with the guy who beat me. My wife, as you can see, was not thrilled with the loss (she’s a bit competitive)!
Our series’ next race that season was at Nelson Ledges in Ohio, and after a solid finish during the Saturday race, I was involved in a nasty crash near the end of Sunday qualifying. I was hit from behind by another driver after sliding through the first turn, and that contact resulted in his left side tires bouncing off my roll bar and then my helmet and him flipping end over end numerous times. The impact cracked the shell of my helmet, so I was incredibly fortunate to only be checked out for a concussion and treated for bruises and scrapes – that could have been far, far worse and it really put the previous race’s frustration into perspective. It did not, though, knock any sense into me and I’ve continued racing through the years (except for a break when the kids were born) as time and budget allowed.
I could go on for hours, but this ~1000 words is long enough. As I said, the racetrack is my beach. I love it and it must be in my blood, because I don’t remember not loving it. Based on the picture below (taken after my 3rd place finish at Indy in 2017), one of my kids might end up writing this same blog post in several years’ time. Thanks for reading – hopefully I’ll see you at the track.