Saturday, May 19, 2007

One of the most dangerous races in the world

Phil Hill was the first American driver to win the 24 Hours of LeMans. He was the first to win the 12 Hours of Sebring three times. He was the first to win a modern Formula One Grand Prix race. He was the first to win a Grand Touring race in Europe in an American car. And he was the first American to win a World Championship. Needless to say Phil Hill has won a few races. Last year Phil told me that the La Carrera Panamericana was the most exciting race he ever ran, even more exciting than the Millie Miglia. Now that's a mouthful.

Recently in a interview with FORBES.COM, one of my best friends, Jerry Kunzman, executive director of the National Auto Sport Association, said that auto racing is safer than it was, particularly since the 2001 death of racing legend Dale Earnhardt resulted in more cars being fitted with improved head and neck restraints. But the sport still takes about three lives per year.

"Oval [track] racing has big groups of cars together, so a mistake by one driver could mean 20 getting into an accident," Kunzman says. He adds that open road racing, while more spread out, has more configurations and angles that could cause a crash and typically carries a higher risk of rollovers.

The Indianapolis 500 has produced 41 deaths since 1909, according to the race's Web site, while the NASCAR circuit has suffered ten fatalities since 1989, though none have occurred since Earnhardt's death.

Competitive thrill seekers aren't all 20-something Mountain Dew-chugging climbers, jumpers and extreme skateboarders. The top four finishers in the last Iditarod, the renowned 1,150-mile dog-sled race across Alaska, were all over 50 years old.

What makes them take on such risky endeavors? Dr. Samuel Putnam, an assistant professor of psychology at Bowdoin College in Maine, says thrill seeking behavior is mostly genetic, and that signs of it--from climbing the highest tree to swinging as high as possible on a swing set--can be recognized from very early ages.

"There is a gene that seems to be associated with adventure-seeking behavior," says Putnam.

One of the most exciting aspects to the La Carrera Panamericana is the simple fact there is so much adventure to be found. Unlike any racetrack while running the La Carrera Panamericana you will find no guard rails, no bails of hay and no corner workers with a flag letting you know there is trouble ahead. On the flip side of the coin you will find lots of deep canyons, cliffs, a few washed out roads and there is everything imaginable to hit that you can think of both solid and liquids.

Success or failure all boils down to the driver and the navigator becoming one with each other, the car and the road. Once you fire up that engine and the green flag is removed from your windshield there is nothing you can do regarding the countless hours of details that have gone into preparing the car to this point. Having the ability to put all that behind you has a lot to do with how well the car was set up and how well engineered the car was designed. Thanks to my crew, navigator, and the guys at IMPACT ENGINEERING Jon and I can rest assured that we are in as safe a car as can be found. From this point on it's just men and machine and the sixth sense that great drivers instinctively have from the time we are born.


George Sullivan said...

It's been a while I always look at your posts just haven't responded. There is always the unknown at the La Carrera we had road washouts, donkeys, oil slicks and a break down. And I would do it all over again. You can always expect the unexpected at the La Carrera. Nothing is on time but things somehow seem to work out. Most of the time you are so busy you don't have time to know the word fear. We found most people were willing to give some very good advice and it was apreciated. I got lost on the route book a couple times at first and always told Tom I was lost and we winged it till we got back on track. the driver and navigator have work as a team and you hve to work past the mistakes.
see you in 2008

Gary Faules said...

Hey George. I always look forward to hearing what you have to say as well as seeing new post on your blog. If you are going to be running again in 2008 that even gives me more to look forward to. As far as being busy during a race is concerned I know exactly what you mean since it seems that even the best made plans go out the window on race day. Who was it that wrote, "Everything was going great and then they dropped the green flag." As far as team work is concerned I am honored to say I couldn't have any better team mates than the I do and if anybody screws up it's one of them. (Just kidding.) Now that you bring it up, all kidding aside, there was a time when I was really down during a major race, one we had all planned for and worked hard to get ready for and I became ill the day before the race. In spite of poor timing, my teammates stepped up to the task and took over as if it were all part of the job not to mention they took care of me and showed compassion all the while. I will never forget it and it just proves that sometimes winning isn't what's best... but winning the respect of your teammates is.