One of the most frequent questions I get asked is \”What\’s it like to be a race car driver\”? Most people are shocked or think I\’m kidding when I start to explain what being a professional race car driver truly means.
From the outside looking in, driving race cars seems like living the high life. Money, women, parties and fast cars seem to be the name of the game when stereotyping a race car driver. But this is about as true as saying that a Canadian is someone who\’s a lumberjack, wears plaid, and can talk to beavers.
Let me briefly give you a glimpse into the reality of life as a race car driver, and let me preface the following by saying that this is not a sob story nor am I looking for pity, as I truly am living a \”dream\”, but rather these are the choices I have made and chosen to live with in order to succeed.
Racing is a business first and foremost! If you can\’t beat someone in the boardroom, you won\’t even have the chance to beat them on the track. It is unlike hockey, baseball, football, etc where if you have the talent, chances are you will at least get a shot. Racing is the only sport in the world where talent guarantees you nothing!
Unless your parents, relatives, or a great friend are billionaires, the sport is extremely difficult to break into. In order to get a spot in many of the entry level professional racing series, young drivers are expected to find upwards of $250,000 to fund their race season. This cost sky rockets as a driver advances through the ranks and can reach multiple millions of dollars for a season in a series such as IndyCar.
As a race car driver with a considerable amount of talent you have 2 options, go home to cry and complain about how unfair things are … OR go out, pull up your socks, and attack the business of racing.
I won\’t go into all of the business details here but I will clarify a negative stereotype of racing and business. Most people assume that when I talk to a potential sponsor I am looking for a boatload of money in exchange for putting their sticker on my car; this couldn\’t be farther from the truth. Being successful at the business of racing means creating \”Win-Win\” partnerships between someone and yourself which usually entails the necessity to provide a huge return on their investment in you. I have put my Bachelor of Commerce (Honours) Degree to good use and have been fortunate to place myself in a position where a company would be better off investing in what I am doing rather than putting their marketing dollars in anything else.
When I started racing karts back in 2001, I cut everything else out of my life and made racing a total commitment. I dropped my football season tickets, I stopped going out for lunch, buying CDs, video games, or whatever else I would have spent money on at the time. Everything I had went into chasing what seemed like an impossible dream.
I turned 27 this month and little has changed. I rarely go for an evening out because I can\’t afford gas, nor an activity, and one\’s social life takes a pounding because of this. I still live at home with my parents so I can avoid rent payments for now, and fortunately we all get along. I have simply put everything I have into pursuing a career as a race car driver.
Fortunately I was able to use my talent and earn a spot racing for Volkswagen this season. This has significantly reduced my expenses for the season but still leaves me with having to meet a budget greater than most people\’s annual income. By my shoestrings I am surviving.
Oh, did I mention crash damage yet? I am responsible for covering the cost of repairing any damage on Volkswagen\’s race car…no matter how it happened! I could be lapping the track doing a fine job when another car could simply run into me, through no fault of my own, and I will be the one getting an invoice for up to $7,000. Imagine you\’re parked at a red light and someone hits you from behind, or runs a stop sign and broadsides your car, now imagine getting an invoice for the full amount of damage in the mail…it\’s a tough pill to swallow.
Try driving a race car at life-risking speeds around a track and have expectations to be the fastest driver there. Then pile on the fact that you can\’t afford to race again if even a small scratch appears on your race car. Now try to race wheel to wheel against one of the lucky few that has a billionaire funding their racing and doesn\’t care if they crash into you…welcome to life as a professional race car driver!
Driving race cars, and all that it entails, is the hardest thing I have ever had to do in life…but because of this, it is also one of the most rewarding. When I have given everything, am dead tired and question whether the hardships are worth it, all I have to do is look into the grandstands and realize I am one of the lucky few as there are 40,000 spectators who would love even the smallest chance to be in my position.