Teenage me always thought the most magical place on a race track was on the other side of the fence, earning a paycheck doing what she loved. I stared at the infield during races when I was younger, wishing I had the status or credentials or teleportation ability to get myself down there from the grandstands, knowing I’d be the happiest person in the world when I did.
But just like there’s a magic to working your dream job, there’s also something magical about being on the outside. I can vividly remember the years I spent yearning for when I’d be working race weekends, not knowing that years into my career as a motorsports journalist, I would sometimes miss the casual lack of responsibility that comes with being a fan in the stands.
I hadn’t been back on the other side in a long time, because it’s easy to get caught up at work. You have stories to write and deadlines to meet, and you have to fit all of it into a tight little weekend where the main show only lasts a couple of hours.
But it’s important to schedule the fun you once had around the work, because your dream job is only that if you allow it to be. Otherwise, it’s just another job.
The first turn at Circuit of The Americas, if you haven’t seen it, crests a large hill covered with grandstands and general-admission spectators sitting on the grass. It’s a sight when it’s full, and its elevation gives anyone who isn’t unfortunate enough to be blocked by the person in front of them a view of the entire front straight of the track. Cars roar up the hill, then disappear down the other side into a realm that can only be viewed on the big screens near pit lane.
I decided during the Formula One U.S. Grand Prix weekend last November that I should take at least some time to sit on that hill and relive how I fell in love with what I do—not because I needed to be reminded why I love the sport of racing, but because it’s important to experience that love from time to time.
That’s because when it comes to being a racing journalist, the reality of your dream job is often a lot less sensory than it seemed as a spectator: Everyone signs up for a media credential, and generally, a lot of the race viewing happens in a giant room with a bunch of televisions, where we’re all seated in a near militaristic fashion with the exact same amount of space and charging outlets between us. It’s like being in a large, more professional looking classroom, with an announcer on the intercom to update journalists on the statuses of drivers and officiating calls, and race feeds shown all around. Watching races at home is similar, except with less access to team radios and without the ability to walk outside and interview relevant people if necessary.
Many of your live updates on social media during a race originate there: from someone watching on a screen, just like you, but with a bit more access.
That’s in addition to access to press conferences and other media availability, of course, thus it’s more than just watching a broadcast on television like everyone else. But the reality is that major racing events host rooms filled with countless bodies to cover those events, eyes glued to a screen while the real, live race cars scream by outside. Those rooms are where the wifi is and where the charging ports are, and, in order to type the timely write-ups people expect to see on a motorsports website, that’s where a writer often has to be. The deadlines call louder than the race cars when your paycheck depends on them.
At Circuit of The Americas, it was one of those weekends where the weather was just sunny enough to be warm with a good jacket, but just chilly enough to require it. The patchy grass had already become that sickly pale yellow of winter in most places, and the areas it didn’t cover showed the dark, uneven brown dirt that would be the seat of choice for a bunch of people come time for the big race on Sunday.
The Masters Historic cars were up for a session soon—you know, the old, loud F1 cars—and I was ready to hear them wail in person, not on some broadcast in a room nearby. I pulled an old towel out of my backpack and let it fall to the ground, stretching my combat boots out in front of me and settling in for the show I’d so often missed.
I paid near whimsical attention to that very show, because I could. I had the freedom to decide whether I wanted to follow along closely or just wear a coy smile as the cars roared by, and that was a freedom I hadn’t given myself in a long time. I let my head stupidly follow each one into the first turn, just as I used to let my head make stupid circles as it followed a chosen car around an oval track when I religiously attended NASCAR as a fan in the grandstands. I watched some people pose for photos with the track in the background, and I watched others explain what was happening to whichever poor, uninterested soul they managed to drag to the races that weekend. I looked at all of the Mercedes and Ferrari gear, reminding me of when I used to deck myself out in fan apparel instead of work clothes before races back in the day, and I hesitated to make jokes about people’s Haas F1 Rich Energy shirts because I didn’t know if they, too, were joking. I let out a small giggle each time anyway. It felt great.
And then the red flag for the session waved, and it was F1’s turn on track, thus my turn to enter the walls that too often make me forget what kind of simple joy exists just on the other side. It was time to get to work, because that’s what I was there to do.
But with the small amount of time I’d allowed myself to sit around and enjoy the weekend, I went into it much more relaxed, and more grounded, than I’d felt in a long time. Sure, I’d be watching most of the F1 race on a monitor, but at least I managed to get away from the job and be the blissful spectator for a bit.
In a lot of ways, working your dream job changes a lot of things about the very dream that got you there. It doesn’t necessarily dull the magic, but transforms your approach to it.
After all, it isn’t a dream anymore. It’s what fills your waking hours.
In the media center, the disconnect from the atmosphere that made you fall in love with the sport isn’t obvious, or at all conscious. It’s just work, and your job is often to be in the media center doing that work.
But it takes a toll, as you’re left trying to remember what it feels like to simply sit down and feel the rush of a bunch of goofy, obnoxiously loud and wastefully euphoric race cars thunder by without having to make constant notes or dissect every move. You miss that, even if you never knew you would.