Ever wondered what happens when a professional racecar driver steps out of his car during a race weekend? You might imagine a mass of flashing cameras, adoring fans, and servants delivering gallons of caviar to $2 million motorhomes. But that, unfortunately for racers, is not the case.
The glamor associated with professional racecar driving is somewhat of a myth. No doubt it has its glamorous moments, but on the whole, it's filled with dark garages, crowded trucks, and endless engagements, all designed to increase the odds of victory.
The flashbulbs, adoring fans and (in some lucky cases) fancy motorhomes are, of course, all real. The difference is they generally occur only when a driver goes to pit road prior to jumping in the car, and when he returns to the secluded garage from which he emerged.
The time in between is spent squashed into a crowded engineering room (where the air conditioning will likely have broken), discussing — to the minutest of detail — what the car needs to be quicker.
It is in these moments where the perception of a racecar driver's life is 180 degrees from reality.
A driver will always turn up to the track many hours in advance of his first session. Let me rephrase that. A committed driver will turn up hours in advance. The guys with no hope (and no desire) will arrive with just enough time to pour a cup of lukewarm coffee, check their pristine curly locks in the mirror, and buff their helmets. The good guys will have arrived, shook the hands of every single crew member, poured a few piping hot cups of coffee for the engineering team, and be fully up to speed with the day's plans, before the sun has even risen.
This includes the changes the engineers will have implemented overnight, how many tires they have for a particular session, when best to use those tires and what the potential strategies are for developing the car. The driver will also share any additional thoughts that materialized during the night (if they didn't already call at 1 am).
From there, the driver suits up and blasts to pit road aboard a custom-painted scooter. That is, unless he drives for an underfunded team, in which case he'll face the demoralizing humility of having to travel via foot. The shame this places upon the walking embodies every driver's worst nightmare.
At this point, the bulbs will flash and the drivers may feel far more important than they actually are. The uncommitted driver will, of course, flick his hair like in a Vidal Sassoon commercial, while the committed will be aboard his fancy scooter, smiling beneath his deep black sunglasses and stupid hat, mocking the noncommittal wannabe as he blasts on by.
Once they step into their cars, the brief, glorious sense of glamor is gone. It's business as usual.
Retuning from the session breeds the same behaviors as before. Some drivers will stop to sign autographs and pose for pictures, while others are simply too special to spend time with a bunch of dingy peasants. God forbid they mingle with the commoners.
Back at the truck they must pen their thoughts on how the session went, and discuss where they can improve. The glamor that was felt momentarily has been replaced by a crushing dose of reality. Coffee in a paper cup ensues, and the engineering room smells like Venice on a hot summer's day. Now is the time the real labor begins. The committed driver will spend endless hours doing this, and, without question, will revel in it. After all, it is the art of going faster.
Usually when a driver is engaged in a deep, insightful conversation with an engineer, a knock on the door occurs. It's the PR guy, calling him to greet a wealth of excited sponsors. And while this is never a problem for many drivers, some find this task a nuisance and the sponsor's money irrelevant, despite it lining their Gucci pockets.
Then, it's back to work in the sweatbox. At some point, an autograph session may occur for the fans, where the drivers spend an hour scribbling their names. This does not feel glamorous, by any stretch of the imagination, but to those drivers with a heart, it feels great to give back. Those without are too busy texting to notice the seven-year-old irritant who has been in line for five hours, holding up a specially crafted sign, desperate to meet his hero.
After the day is done, and countless interviews are complete, it'll likely be late by the time the drivers head back to the hotel. Some will be staying in a cockroach-infested hellhole, while others in a lavish, five-star resort, or a million-dollar motorhome. Prior to leaving, the crowds will have dissipated and the track becomes eerily quiet. The darkness is a reminder of the amount of work that equates to achieving success.
Evenings are spent at sponsor functions, shaking hands with a million giddy gentlemen and their bored wives. Most gatherings are far less glamorous than you might imagine. They are not private events with performances by Stevie Wonder, amidst a mountain of exquisitely crafted ice sculptures in the shape of the driver's chiseled face. They are often just a pleasant meal with a bunch of people the driver probably doesn't know.
Back at the hotel, the driver realizes his entire day has been awash with sweaty offices, hand shaking, forced smiles, and bad coffee. Sleep is difficult, despite the fatigue, as the mind races and the alarm is set for 5 am, when Groundhog Day begins again. A racecar driver's time may appear filled with glamor from the outside, but from the inside, it is just another day at the office.
About the author: @Alex_Lloyd began racing in the U.S. in 2006. He won the Indy Lights championship in 2007. He's competed in the Daytona 24-hour twice and the Indianapolis 500 four times — placing fourth in 2010. The native of MADchester, UK began racing karts at age 8, open-wheel race cars at 16 and finished second to Formula One World Champion - and close friend - Lewis Hamilton, in the 2003 British Formula Renault Championship, followed by a stint representing Great Britain in A1GP and winning races in Formula 3000. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife Samantha (also from England) and three young "Hoosier" children. He also enjoys racing in triathlons and is rather partial to a good old English cup of tea. But not crumpets.
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