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What stopped you from becoming a race driver?

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#1 Racer.Demon

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Posted 08 November 2000 - 11:23

Has anyone of us ever seriously considered becoming a race driver themselves? And what prevented you from doing so?

My point is: Do you need a specific character strength (or flaw) to decide that you want to go racing? I say this because there are several drivers that from the outside don't appear to be of the danger-seeking Depailler kind, and neither of the eccentric Hunt species nor the maniac Senna sort but have gone on to become pretty good drivers all the same.

In another thread I mentioned Barrichello and Boutsen, who look out of place among their peers in terms of character and who you could easily envisage in another much more solid and boring profession. Although extremely talented, they certainly did not look like your typical (life-loving, speed-addicted, arrogant, overambitious etc.) racing driver when they first arrived on the scene.

What reason could they have had? Here are a few that don't apply!

a. I love the thrill and long for the buzz
b. I'm carefree (and loaded) and couldn't care less
c. I'm exceptionally good at this and want to beat them all
d. Fangio/Moss/Clark was my childhood hero and I want to be like him

I think you can all put different faces (the champions, the naturals, the pay drivers, the gentlemen drivers) with these different forms of psychological motivation.

Could there be another reason? Is it possible that you just happen to stumble into racing?

e. My dad, who owns a garage, pushed me into karts and from there it just went on

Nah, doesn't seem logical...;)


#2 Ray Bell

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Posted 08 November 2000 - 13:57

I can tell you from long experience that drivers come from all walks of life, have all sorts of reasons for doing it and have all kinds of personalities.
I raced for a few years in Clubman cars, but ultimately it's lack of money that keeps me from racing.

#3 david_martin

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Posted 08 November 2000 - 13:59

in my case Talent!

In all fairness to Theirry Boutsen (one of my 1980's favorites BTW), while there may have been an air of Bank Manager about him, even in the cockpit, it was (for the most part) very quick Bank Manager...[p][Edited by david_martin on 11-08-2000]

#4 FucF1

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Posted 08 November 2000 - 15:01

In my case lack of money.

I feel I'm quite a good driver and I've even proven it once or twice on public roads which really aren't the place for it.

But unfortunatly I don't have the money to enter motorsport and find out if I really am any good or not.

#5 Louis Mr. F1

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Posted 08 November 2000 - 15:06

of course i've plenty of talent, beating Jenson Button?? NO PROBLEM!, i just don't like being a racing driver, that's a poor man's job. no future, no status, no nothing. forget it.


#6 Don Capps

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Posted 08 November 2000 - 16:08

I have to echo David and state that I rapidly came to the conclusion after several tries at racing that I simply didn't have a lick of real talent when came it to racing. It was clear that my calling was elsewhere.

#7 Dave Ware

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Posted 08 November 2000 - 18:30

Arrggghhhhh !!!!!! Hidden wounds forced into the sunlight....how many times in the last 22 or so years have I asked myself this question, agonized over it, etc., etc???????

Certainly I didn't have, at age 20 or so, the money to do more than a racing school and a few school races. However I accepted defeat and did not try any further - that was a character flaw, a lack of strength, resolve, belief in myself, that kept me from finding a way (perhaps as did Jo Siffert) of overcoming my lack of funding and getting my sorry butt to the professional ranks of motor racing.

In Niki Lauda's "Art and Science of Grand Prix Driving" he says something to the effect that yes, there might be a half dozen people in India w/ the talent of Fittipaldi, but what separates Emmo from these guys is that he got his butt from Brazil to England and then into F1. I failed to get my butt anywhere.

Would I have succeeded if I had tried harder? Hard to say, probably not to a F1 or CART level. To get the sort of momentum going to get to that level I think you do need a lot of money to finance your early years. I might have become a racing school instructor, occassionaly bumming Porsche 911 rides in endurance races (and hey, looking back, I wouldn't have minded that life at all...) But anyway.

Character strength? Years ago Dr. Keith Johnsgard did psychological research on drivers and found that their level of agressiveness makes American football players look like sissy-girls. They are also more intelligent than 90% of the adult male population. I wonder if the same psychological makeup that gives us racing drivers today also gave us, in the past, Alexander the Great, Ghengis Khan, and such. Mr. Capps might have an opinion on that.

My own thoughts are that no one really "decides" that they like racing or want to succeed in it. They "discover" that they are magically attracted to it. The various threads I've read about how one became a fan often talk of some racing-related event that changes the person, transforms the person, unexpectedly and quickly. A moment in which one's true self is suddenly revealed, and along with it, one's only future goal.

Faults? I seem to remember something about racing drivers not doing well in human relationships. I don't know if this came from Johnsgard, or where I got the idea. But I think it is valid. Certainly, in the intro to "At Speed" one driver is quoted as saying "I love my wife and kids, but life really starts when I push that button." And I have always believed that William Neely, in his humorous novel from the 1970s "Stand On It" (not to be confused w/ the bad Burt Reynolds movie "based" on it) got it right when the main character turned down a chance at a loving relationship w/ a woman because "nobody can give you what racing gives you." Or as my driving instructor of 1978 said, "When you are racing you don't care about anything else."

The thrill-seeking type of driver is I think just a stereotype. Some quiet types: Brian Redman, Denny Hulme, Jack Brabham, Phil Hill, just to name a few.

Enough of my blathering. At least I will say that in recent years I have accepted my failure, my role in it, and it hardly ever torments me as it did during my 20s and 30s. It seems to have become a dull, familiar, unmovable sort of regret that I've more that learned to live with.


#8 FucF1

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Posted 08 November 2000 - 18:42

Motorsport requires a special sort of person, not just raw talent.

This is a treu story, a friend of my uncle used to race single seater cars, he owned a small business. He was the best bar none, *everyone* who say him drive had no doubts. He raced against Hill, Irvine and several other famous names (sorry can't remember who) before they became famous and annilated them all in sheer speed he was destined for great things.

But he was a "wild man" fond of drinking, fighting and getting into trouble, unable to hold down a steady job. He was given a chance by several small scale team owners, he was a demon on the track but hopeless off it.
Eventually he got a girlfriend pregnant and had to settle down to take care of her.

His old single seater lies in my Uncles garage testament to failed opportunites.

I saw a video of him racing in the mid 80's, you know sometimes you can just tell if a driver has it? Well he did, its just a pity he was unable to focus on his racing.

I'll try to remember his name, I've forgotten.

#9 dbw

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Posted 08 November 2000 - 18:57

skirting the question,a long time ago,when i first started vintage racing, i had the pleasure to meet and race against phil hill.i can't remember the specific race but i think he was in an alfa [2.9??] and i was in something much less exotic..perhaps my old 4.5 invicta... anyway, before the race mr hill was a perfect gentleman,polite and quiet..as the flag dropped he was totally transformed...his driving skill was suburb of course, but he treated this race as tho the world championship hinged on it....my main duty was to stay out of his was as he would always seek the perfect line even tho you might already there...he seemed to have a binary mode; on or off.. on the track he was on.. after the race[and many others to follow over the years] he would always have a good word with his fellow racers[he once complemented me on my ability to drive fast on 2"wide high pressure tires on my bug..he lapped me twice that race!!]i cannot explain the concept, only describe it....i saw a the same look in the eyes of hermann lang the time he took the auto-union for a lap at laguna seca.....it seemed dim and farther away, but it was there......

#10 Hans Etzrodt

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Posted 08 November 2000 - 20:09

What stopped you from becoming a race driver?


#11 Barry Boor

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Posted 08 November 2000 - 22:22

I was going to say that, Hans. Or rather not 'money' but the lack of it.

But that wouldn't be the whole truth. Simply, I don't like going fast! I like watching other people do it, but myself, I get very nervous above about 35 mph.

I suppose I have too much imagination. Belting down a road at 180 mph, my brain would be constantly saying to me, "what if....." For a race car driver, that's a very big no-no. Having known a few race car drivers, the one recurring character trait that they seem to share is a singular lack of imagination.

#12 mhferrari

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Posted 08 November 2000 - 22:36

I am only fifteen, so I couldn't possibly have already became a driver. But I will start my quest for driving next year.

#13 MattFoster

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Posted 09 November 2000 - 01:38

Lack of money and no support from family in my quest to be Australia's 3rd F1 WDC did it for me.


#14 Darren

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Posted 09 November 2000 - 05:22

Inability to properly operate the clutch on my father's vintage car, due to being not very strong. Lever-operated clutches are heavy, especially when you're young. Being unable to get a vintage car off the line doesn't bode well for one's future as racing driver. However, the career and I parted amicably.

#15 Jonathan

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Posted 09 November 2000 - 07:07

Fairly poor eyesite (Lousey depth perception).

#16 bobdar

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Posted 09 November 2000 - 07:13

The responses mostly explain why vintage racing is so popular. As a teenager, I raced karts very well, and should have taken the next step into Formula Ford, but other interests dragged me off. Now I'm in my 50's and racing FF very well. Oh well.

#17 KzKiwi

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Posted 09 November 2000 - 09:05

Originally posted by Jonathan
Fairly poor eyesite (Lousey depth perception).

Me too! As well as this, a dose of realism and discovering women :lol: In fact, I think I met my wife while I was kart racing. One day she just turned up (a friend of a friends)and offered to clean my kart. Of course I was so focused on my racing career that I almost missed the signs :o

I had a very successful Karting career when I was in my teens. However, the three factors noted above all came to reality at about the same time. The upside is that I am very happy with my lifestyle at present!

On the subject of the difference between the very best drivers and the average drivers, I think that exceptional reactions make the difference - things like above average hand to eye co-ordination, etc. What do other people think?



#18 Joe Fan

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Posted 09 November 2000 - 09:27

I had a golden opportunity to get into stock car racing at a local level but when it came right down to it, I felt the risks were too great. I have a daughter in grade school and a good job. My employer wouldn't be very understanding if I were laid up due to an accident for several months. Also my future career earnings in racing would probably take too long to match my present salary. Overall, I didn't see this to be worth it in the grand scheme of things. Other than that my wife thinks I would be a great driver and of course I would love to do it.

#19 Dave Ware

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Posted 09 November 2000 - 13:36

>>Simply, I don't like going fast! I like watching other people do it, but myself, I get very nervous above about 35 mph.

You should go to a racing school. If you work yourself up to speed properly, take the time to learn the course, and only exceed your comfort zone in small increments, then there is no sensation of speed. I would say it's like standing still, controlling the movement of the world beneath you. Paul Frere once said it's like sitting in a chair in your living room.

>>I felt the risks were too great.

Good call. If you're 20 and indestructable, that's one thing. Once our lives change to include home and family, then racing shouldn't be much more than a hobby, something you fit into the rest of your life without undue intrusion.

>>I think that exceptional reactions make the difference - things like above average hand to eye co-ordination, etc. What do other people think?

Check out Denis Jenkinson's book "The Racing Driver". Granted, it is written in the '50s, but I suspect that it still applies. Jenks argues that anticipation, not reactions, is what make a driver great.

>>Fairly poor eyesite (Lousey depth perception).

Get some Masten Gregory-type of glasses!!

dbw and FucF1, those are awesome posts...

Cheers, all,



#20 MoMurray

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Posted 09 November 2000 - 15:05

Dave, I undestand the Wurz reference but who did Gengis Khan drive for?

Seriously though, I am a frustrated racing driver too. I have done a little racing (shifter karts) and a lot of schools...even some motorcycle and sidecar racing. None when I was young enough (read stupid) for it to consume me. I doubt all the people who cite money as the reason. I mean no offence to anybody and when discussing participation at grassroots level, I completely accept and suffer from the same illness. However, the thread seems to be talking about the highest levels of F1.

I think it is important to remember the likes of Nigel Mansell who sold his house to buy a formula ford car. Really, deep down how many of us would take that risk. Fittipaldi was the first in a string of Brazilians who were so determined that they moved half way round the world to live in vans and eat cans of cold beans so they could follow their dream such was their belief in themselves. Tony Kanaan is successful in Cart and I know he did not come with a pocket full of cash. When DeFerran (new CART champion) arrived in the US, he didn't have a pot to piss in. The real difference between these drivers and me is they wanted it more than I did. I never gave myself the opportunity to show off my lack of talent. I think that determination and self belief will overcome lack of money but the level of sacrafice is way beyond what normal people would consider extreme.

And besides, have any of you ever been to a test day. I can't imagine a more frustrating day's work for a driver. I secretly believe that the life of an F1 racing driver is moments of huge excitement separated by weeks of tedium and inane press events. I believe that they secretly envy us who can have as much or as little involvement as we wish and can get just as big a thrill by getting a Derek Daly school car sideways as they do running through Eau Rouge flat. No I'll take my life over theirs anyday...especially as it has been hugely enhanced recently by the discovery of this BB. Now who can recommend a good therapist?


#21 Dave Ware

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Posted 09 November 2000 - 18:02

>>I think it is important to remember the likes of Nigel Mansell who sold his house to buy a formula ford car.

Exactly - he did not let obstacles stop him. He found a way to get there. That's a big part of what it takes.


#22 Barry Boor

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Posted 09 November 2000 - 20:09

Maybe I exaggerated the 'not liking going fast' thing a bit, but another reason that maybe some people might identify with is that I was afraid. Not scared-afraid, but afraid I might have a go, and find I was pretty good at it. Then the frustration would have set in as an east-end kid from a council house with absolutely no money and nothing to sell, I doubt I would have got past the first hurdle.

Better not to know! (I have never even driven a kart - not even once!)

Oh yes, and I've got bad eyesight too!

Still, I've enjoyed every minute of my life, and cannot imagine what it would have been like now that I am into my fifties if I had never got into racing in the first place.

#23 Dave Ware

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Posted 09 November 2000 - 21:51

>>Not scared-afraid, but afraid I might have a go, and find I was pretty good at it. Then the frustration would have set in as an east-end kid from a council house with absolutely no money and nothing to sell, I doubt I would have got past the first hurdle.

Yes, I understand that as well.


#24 Catch 22

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Posted 09 November 2000 - 22:32

Well, I got bitten by the road racing bug at a very young age, and I was determined to make my living at it. I got started driving my own cars (first an MGB and then a Bugeye Sprite) in solo and then club racing events as early as they'd let me. (I turned 16 in 1967.) I was pretty good at it right from the start. Anticipation, as someone else mentioned earlier, is a huge part of it, as well as excellent reaction times, an intuitive understanding of basic physics, and something nobody else has yet mentioned, great peripheral vision. I was also very fortunate that my family supported my efforts and I had enough monetary backing to pursue it fairly vigorously.

I did well enough that I was driving Other People's Cars by the time I was 18 or so, but my eyesight was rapidly deteriorating to the point where I was legally blind due to nearsightedness by the time I was 23. At the same time, I'd grown to 6'4" tall and it was clear that an open-wheel career wasn't in the cards for me. Since I had very little interest in driving anything else, I gave it up and went off to college.

My eyesight has actually improved over the years as farsightedness has compensated for myopia to the point where I'm now corrected to 20/15 in both eyes, and I still have the peripheral vision that was so instrumental to my earlier success, but my reaction times are no longer what they once were, and I'm still 6'4" (damn it). I've done a bit of casual racing during my adult years, but the chance to go the distance is long gone. "I coulda been a contendah!" (Sigh...)

Edited to include "personality" profile data: I am quite introverted by nature, and don't make friends easily (and when I do, they're usually women). To others, I often appear the typical Scandinavian "strong and silent" type, certainly not brash or cocky but quietly confident. I love public speaking (when I know what I'm talking about) but loathe small talk. I'm hopeless at parties. (That alone might have been an insurmountable obstacle to a motorsports career!)[p][Edited by Catch 22 on 11-09-2000]

#25 Darren Galpin

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Posted 10 November 2000 - 08:07

Lack of cash and drive. I can be reasonably good on a kart (I've turned up to tracks I haven't seen before and driven different types of kart and qualified near the front), but I have never had the drive to push it further, which would probably have overcome the lack of money anyway.

#26 elephino

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Posted 11 November 2000 - 13:09

Opportunity, money and possibly talent (never will know if I had it or not).

#27 Rainer Nyberg

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Posted 11 November 2000 - 16:01

The deciding factor as in most cases was of course money.
I got eventually into some club-racing with a standard roadcar.

I enjoyed the experience, but I am not sure if I had the material or talent to shine.

In the image we can Our hero exiting the Pit-curve at Anderstorp in 1984!

Posted Image


#28 david_martin

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Posted 11 November 2000 - 18:24

Rainer, perhaps some stiffer anti-roll bars might of been in order. Is that an Opel Ascona BTW?

#29 Rainer Nyberg

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Posted 12 November 2000 - 02:27

Yes you are right, it is a Opel Ascona...!
Tweaked with a Weber-carb on it´s cam-in-head 1900cc engine.
And some fat 205 tyres.
Apart from that completely showroom-stock....