Speed Secrets: Motorsport And Family
By Ross Bentley
April 04, 2016
I was the guest speaker at a karting club awards banquet years ago. Over the course of the evening, I spoke with boys and girls, mothers and fathers, and observed how they enjoyed spending time together. One thought was reinforced over and over again: motorsport is a wonderful family sport. Family members are more than just spectators - they're participants, in some way. Over the past few years, I've gotten to know Ingrid Steffensen. In addition to enjoying her writing, and respecting and appreciating her perspective on our sport, it only seemed natural to look to her to write about the best ways to share our passion with family members. -Ross
What are some of the pleasures and pitfalls of having your significant other involved in the same high-octane sport as you are?
Ross posed this question to me, and to answer it I decided to turn to the best—and closest—expert on the subject I know: my better (or at least, hairier) half.
Me: Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed and for coming all the way across the kitchen to be here.
He: (Cocks eyebrow and takes a sip of his bourbon.) No problem.
Me: OK, for starters: what did you think—or hope—would happen when you first invited me to come along to the racetrack?
He: I always knew you liked to drive, so I thought you might actually enjoy it—and I guess I was hoping I could find some way to involve you, so you wouldn’t be so mad at me anymore when I left you for track weekends.
Me: Yeah, it was especially tough for me when one of your favorite events at Watkins Glen always fell right around my birthday and Mother’s Day. That’s not a problem anymore!
He: No, now you demand to go as your Mother’s Day gift.
Me: So, a major upside is that it has smoothed over that tension, and I don’t have to be a Track Widow anymore. What other upsides do you see to having me join you?
He: I think always having someone to talk to about what you’re doing and the progress you’re making is bound to make both people better drivers. By the time you started driving, I was already an instructor, and it was really fun for me, and a great challenge, to be your mentor.
Me: The problem was, you were harder on me than you were on your other students!
He: It’s true, I was harder on you. I guess it was because I knew you could take it, and I knew you were up for the challenge. And I was right.
Me: Yeah, I’m positive I progressed faster than most students because you were there both pushing me and rooting for me. So let’s talk about the cars: I started out in my daily driver [a Mini Cooper S] but pretty quickly I wanted something sportier. A lot of couples share cars. Why didn’t you just have me drive your car?
He: There are a bunch of challenges when a couple shares one car. For us, it was the big difference in ability. A [Porsche] GT3 is not a good car for a beginner—you’d be hamstrung by the capabilities of the car…
Me: …and I was just totally intimidated by it. I didn’t want to be responsible for your car.
He: I wanted you to have something that was fun but also good for learning, so that’s where the Lotus came in.
Me: Of course not everyone has the ability to buy a second car, whether it’s a financial question or a problem with space. But ultimately it’s not much of a savings to share a single car, is it?
He: You double your wear and tear on the car, and you use exactly double the consumables—tires, brake pads, gas, beer….
Me: There are hardly any real savings to be had for the two-driver family, are there?
He: Other than the hotel room, not really.
Me: Bummer! OK, now let’s fast forward a bit to where we are now: we're both instructors, and now you participate in club racing, too. If I ever decide I want to go club racing, that’s going to be a real issue, isn’t it?
He: There’s no way to share a race car unless you do Enduros. So we’d have to get you your own race car, and that means we have to get you your own truck and trailer, or we trade in our truck for a dually and a stacker. Talk about major expense!
Me: That actually has a lot to do with why I haven’t really thought about going into racing. We still have a kid to get through college. But it’s a lot of fun to have two instructors in the family, I think.
He: When I’m racing, it’s great that I have built-in support, someone who knows what she’s talking about to call the race, and who knows what to do with the safety net or a quick tire pressure check.
Me: On the other hand, sometimes I’m running from my own session or a student’s, and I’m late. Sorry about that.
He: No problem. When we’re both instructing, we talk a lot about our students, and we share ways to tackle their problems. We think in different ways, so sometimes I come up with a new way for you to teach, or you give me the encouragement I need to keep working with a challenging student. We talk a lot about details—certain corners, or when to use a certain technique. I think that sharing that kind of discussion continues to make both of us better drivers and better instructors.
Me: I do, too. Sometimes it’s a little hard when we’re both out there and I see you’re still the better, faster driver, and it makes me feel a little competitive and jealous.
He: Hey, you gotta have something to keep you motivated, right?
Me: Damn you! Will I ever be faster than you?
He: Keep trying, babe, keep trying.
Me: Talking about the future, the one thing I am always asked when I talk about my book [Fast Girl] is: will we “let” our daughter go driving at the racetrack? I’ve always said that it would be pretty hypocritical of me not to. I’m not going to force it on her, of course, but I want to encourage her to try it out, especially when she kicked everyone’s butt go-karting at your birthday party!
He: I think she has some natural talent, and I also think it would give her a big boost in confidence, so, yeah, I think she should try it out, if she decides she wants to.
Me: She turns eighteen in June. If she decides to take us up on our offer, that’ll make us a three-driver family! And she’ll start out in the Mini, just like I did. My experience as an instructor is that there’s no quicker learner than a smart eighteen-year-old girl.
He: Well, I gotta have some motivation to keep showing up at the office.
Me: We’ve always joked that when it comes to cars, there’s no superego in the family, it’s all id, id, id. If we create yet another performance junkie, we’re going to be in trouble.
He: Hey, the family that drives together…
Me: …goes broke together. Pass me the bourbon, babe.
A few final things to think about if you’re contemplating inviting a family member to join you at the racetrack:
Are you going to share the same car? Consider carefully the skill set of the new driver. A novice in a Ferrari will actually learn very little and may not even have much fun (sound far-fetched?—I’ve actually witnessed this scenario—more than once). First-timers will have way more fun in a familiar daily driver than they will in your full-on, tricked-out race car.
What’s your at-home relationship like? Where are the power struggles? The hot-button issues? Use this as a template to guide you in setting up your on-track interactions. For example: under no circumstances should a parent instruct a child. Mom, Dad: bring ’em to the track, then butt the cuss out. Don’t tell the instructor what to do. Don’t hover. Speak only when spoken to, and even then with extreme caution. Let your darling fly!
What does the schedule look like? Where do your schedules conflict, where do they mesh? Things get a lot more complicated when juggling two drivers, even if you have two cars. If you are sharing a car, it’s that much trickier. Be sure to lay out expectations and have a plan for who’s going to ensure the car is full of gas (it runs out unbelievably fast if it’s being shared), where are you going to meet to do swaps, or when does the car get a quick once-over (remember, the wear-and-tear is double, so there’s twice as much opportunity for things to go wrong).
Above all, though: have fun! If you make it fun—not a competition, not a chore, but a chance to share and grow for everyone involved—for your husband or wife, daughter or son, the one thing I can guarantee is that it will more than double everyone’s pleasure. In the end I can honestly say that the invitation I got to join my guy at the track enriched me as a person and made our relationship stronger, deeper, and livelier. I can’t wait to introduce our daughter to it!
- Ingrid Steffensen