Why do we do this to ourselves? What led me to borderline financial ruin and personality disorder levels of obsession and single-mindedness? Well obviously I can’t blame myself, that’s not my style. I’m going to blame my wisdom teeth.
Let me explain. I got my wisdom teeth out on a Thursday morning a couple Novembers ago, and had the rest of the long weekend off. A friend of a friend had been racing Chumpcar for a few years, but we had never gotten around to watching him race. It was cold and rainy, but I was bored and on heavy painkillers, so I figured what the hell. My friend and I drove out to Watkins Glen to watch a race. It was amazing. The chaotic wheel to wheel racing, the full range of barely running scrap piles to beautifully prepared cars, the misery of break downs, and the joy of competition. I’m pretty sure we started searching craigslist for cars within a half hour. We had to be a part of it. Neither of us could really afford to race, and neither of us was backing down, so in lieu of any smart decisions we named our team Poor Life Choices Racing.
So now that we’ve done six races we’re hooked, but we still have a hard time explaining why. Family and friends just don’t get it. If you were to ask around at a race, you’d probably get dozens of answers as to why they do it. Competition is probably near the top of the list, along with pure and simple track time. The amount of time you get on track vs cost is pretty high compared to track days or other forms of racing. The fact that you need a few drivers for every event means that the costs all get split up. Some people even like the challenge of getting a cheap car to last through an endurance race. While those are all valid points, they don’t really cover the reason why I race Chumpcar.
Earlier this year we raced at a track called Calabogie in the middle of nowhere in Canada. We blew an engine, which caused a fire, and had to work through most of the night to get the car ready for the next day. Unfortunately, massive oil leaks from our spare engine forced us out of the race after only 45 minutes. It was a massive disappointment, but my sleep-deprived brain kept flashing back to a sort of moment of clarity I had a few years earlier.
It was gorgeous, sunny Sunday afternoon, and I had nothing important to do. So I went for an aimless drive in my MR2. To me, nothing can compare to spending time driving for the pure joy of it. Nowhere to go, nothing I’m supposed to be doing. Just me, a car, and some unexplored roads. Spend a few hours getting lost, then a few hours getting un-lost, then go home. After running the engine out to redline, it suddenly wasn’t running right. It was bogging down and would only barely idle. Long story short, part of the intake had come loose and was blocking the airflow meter. But within a few minutes I had managed to fix it on the side of some back country road using only my leatherman. When I was done, I got back into my car and started it up to find it running perfectly. I looked down at my hands and they were now greasy, and I had a small cut that was bleeding. And I smiled. In that moment, dirty hands, side of the road, car now idling smoothly, a thought popped into my head. This is me. This is who I am. This is what I do. Cars, problem solving, using my hands and available tools to fix whatever issues I run in to. You could have watched those couple minutes of my life and understood most of who I am.
Back then, I thought I was alone, just some oddball that likes cars and problem solving more than anything else. And maybe I am, but Chumpcar is definitely a group a people just like me. Sure, no one wants to work late into the night to replace an engine or fix a transmission, but nowhere else in the world will you find another group of people so willing to do so just to get more track time the next day. Everyone else there gets it. They’ve been there too. Other racers are so willing to help each other out. A team dug through their spare parts bins to find us some fuel line so we could get our car running. As we were wrapping up, a guy rolled up on a mini bike and asked to borrow a sledge hammer. I handed it to him, and he rode off to go solve whatever crisis his team was in. That unspoken bond still surprises me sometimes. No one questions these things, it’s just what we do for each other. There is no place I feel more at home.
I’ve had a lot of people ask me when I’ll stop racing, or if we would give up if we wrecked the car. Those people don’t get it, and maybe they never will. Our home is alternating between the driver seat, and wrenching under the hood. This is who we are. This is what we do.