Boy, you’re living the life. That’s what career racers hear all the time. And yes, there are good times to be had on the road – that’s why they chose to pursue that option instead of a job working in a factory, or maybe an office.
But, the life of a full-time racer is a complex, or maybe the word is “unusual,” existence.
While it can appear to be an almost free-wheeling existence, it’s really a life filled with pressures and uncertainty.
Jac Haudenschild, Dave Darland, Paul McMahan are examples of a few.
Ask those guys how it feels to be unemployed, with a family that depends upon your income, watching the calendar as the start of racing season draws ever closer, while praying that the phone will ring.
“I wish I could be more like Jac (Haudenschild),” Kenny Jacobs once said.
During his driving career, Jacobs would often relay how, unlike one of his closest friends, he would sweat it out when he was between rides.
“But, Jac doesn’t ever worry. He always just says, ‘Aww, something will come up.’ And it does.”
It’s a life where your job can hinge on your performance each and every night. There are not only other drivers constantly approaching your car owner to try to take your ride, but also a plethora of friends and fans of drivers approaching your car owner hoping to get you fired. Strangely enough, that even applies to family-owned cars.
In the years when I fielded my own sprint car, I was surprised how some people would casually approach me with, “You know who you need to put in that car?”
Keep in mind, I owned the team and I was the driver. Yet, in their mind it was somehow supposedly my responsibility to step out of my own car to supply a ride if their favorite driver had been fired.
And then there’s the crew chief dynamic. The crew chief is also looking to keep his job and if the car isn’t winning, he, not the driver, might be the one to go.
So, when things aren’t going well, it’s not uncommon for a crew chief to be throwing his own driver under the bus in conversations with the car owner, in order to convince the owner that if he’s considering making a change that it’s the pilot and not the mechanic that should be replaced.
It’s waking up each morning not knowing if today’s the day your car owner might decide to call it quits altogether and suddenly shut down the team. And yes, I’ve seen family-owned teams where Dad unexpectedly told his son to head home, it was over.
You have the pressure of knowing your performance each night might also determine whether all of the members of the crew continue to have jobs.
It’s a life dependent upon the whims of your marketing partners, or sponsors. And, much like a politician, you may spend a great deal of your time asking people for money.
It’s dealing with all of the realms of the internet. Keyboard warriors can be beyond brutal, even if they know little or nothing about a situation.
Most reasonable people would consider it over the top to actively lobby to get a stranger fired, and even more so when that guy has a family to support.
But, for reasons I’ve never understood, there are people who have no qualms about hoping a career racer loses his job.
Most veteran racers can relay stories of the nights spent sleeping in the rig, or the cheapest, crappiest hotels or motels. Did Steve Beitler ever sleep in a hotel with an indoor pool during the years he spent on the road?
It’s towing to tracks you enjoy, but also the tracks you despise. If it’s on the schedule and you’re running for points, you’re going there. Some of those facilities you may even consider unsafe.
It’s a life of waiting out rain delays, and then enduring muddy pits, running late into the night, and then towing to a car wash to clean the car and rig well into the morning hours, and then, perhaps starting the next long tow instead of being able to finally call it a night.
And then there’s the danger. The sad reality is that when you’re a racer, every night could be your last. In the same token, you could also have an accident that permanently changes your way of life from that moment forward.
In recent years, there have indeed been achievements in increasing safety, but the promoters of most forms of auto racing have also sugarcoated the dangers, mostly to set a more positive tone for insurance companies.
In this day and age, it’s practically a miracle that insurance companies insure auto racing.
But, by downplaying the inherent danger of the sport, the result is that an air of relative safety surrounding racing today has led many parents and young racers to falsely believe there’s no longer as much risk in climbing into a full-blown race car. This is why today so many fans are shocked when we suffer a fatality, or even a serious accident, in our sport.
Yes, it’s a life that allows you to experience the freedom of towing down the open highway on a sunny summer day. It allows you the glory of fans lining up to take pictures or ask for autographs. And, let’s be frank, it can definitely improve one’s dating life.
But, it’s a tough life, especially for a family – either trying to raise kids on the road or doing the long-distance relationship – as well as making financial plans for the future.
And yet, that is the life that full-time racers live.