Another 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring are behind us. I attended both of these events for the first time – they both exceeded expectations. 36 hours of racing is, well, a lot. I didn’t spend them in a comfy suite or air conditioned motor home. I spent most of both of these events on my feet, taking pictures, listening intently to the Radio Le Mans crew, my head spinning as the cars passed through for another go around. My ears were ringing, head throbbing, unsure of myself that I could tolerate another pass of the 911 RSR and its demonic mind-shredding engine note. My eyes sore from trying to discern the running order through the high-beams as the cars pressed on through the night. I’ve loved endurance racing since I discovered it in 2005, but this was my first chance to experience it live. My longest race prior being the Six Hours of Watkins Glen was nowhere near long enough for my appetite, so I was sure I could handle the 36 hours of Florida. I got my ass handed to me.
Let’s get one thing straight – I had a fantastic time. I thoroughly loved experiencing IMSA’s two big enduros, and I cannot wait to get back. But I have learned one important lesson – the clock always wins. As a driver or team, you can win these races. As a fan, you can have a great time, you might even make it all the way to the end (I didn’t at Daytona). But even through your victory, you are still thoroughly defeated. I have never passed out so hard or slept so soundly in my life as I did following these two events. I was physically, spiritually, and frankly emotionally defeated. My love for sportscar racing is unwavering, but I must admit there were many points throughout both of these events where I truly questioned my own sanity. I can only imagine what its like from the perspective of those with skin in the game – my respect for those drivers and crew members who participated in these races (let alone those who did the Sebring double) is well – indescribable.
Endurance racing has a funny way of breaking you, during the roar of those midnight laps, you find yourself in an immensely deep place psychologically. You think about things you’ve forgotten about, people you used to know, dreams you used to have – right down your deepest insecurities. Perhaps its the atmosphere – being at a racetrack, you are surrounded my so much raw talent, skill, and knowledge. The work ethic that radiates out from these men and women is explosive and heavy. These are not your average moms and pops either. Throughout America and the world, you can find hardworking people, special people, who made their dreams happen, and many more who simply made a modest living for themselves. Not to demean any of those people, but this is quite different entirely. Racing, from the outside, feels to me like such a desperately hopeless dream. Its a bit like what I imagine the grind of trying to make it in Hollywood is like. You can work so so hard, but there will always be a never ending supply of countless others ready to take your place. You might even have the talent, the potential, (and as a driver) the speed. But you still may never be discovered, and even if you are, you may never get an opportunity to race in events like this, let alone be competitive in them. Once you get there, your chances of remaining are still slim, even if you are successful. The tides of the industry may turn, regulations change, moneys once available shift elsewhere, and just like that you’re out of a job. To embrace a work ethic like those you can find in the IMSA paddock, in the face of such narrow odds and brutal competition – its unbelievably impressive.
Turning back inward, experiencing an atmosphere like this brings up a host of mixed and widely varying emotions. You’re often left feeling intimidated, called out if you will. Like wow – I could never, ever do this. Then you start contemplating your own life, am I really giving it my all? What races am I running in right now? Am I on the lead lap, or am I an the garage fixing damage from an electrical fire? In the end though, when the smoke clears, its difficult not to feel deeply inspired. Seeing people dig so deep in the face of such uncertain results, often in the face of near certain defeat its incredible. It shows us a human spirit we tend to forget exists in today’s world – that spirit of endurance, its a beautiful thing.