Episode 13: What Lit YOUR Fire?!
This month’s column is dedicated to passion. The passion that binds us as Motorsport fans.
If you were to ask 100 race fans what they love most about the sport you’d likely get a 100 different answers, but there is one element that bind us all, regardless of what our involvement in the sport is, be it team owner, driver, fans, crew, marshal, journalist or track owner, and that common element is passion. If you are involved in the sport you understand what a lifetime commitment it requires – and lifetime commitments do not happen unless you really love something! If you are a fan of the sport…well you already get it – it’s a darn near religious experience that keeps one coming back. Try explaining the thrill of seeing a car sideways in Turn 2 at Mosport to someone who doesn’t understand passion. I rest my case.
I have understood the allure and power of this passion since I was a child and have always been fascinated by it. I have also always been fascinated by the origins of it. Where did it start? What lit the fire? I remember what lit my fire like it was yesterday. Do you remember what lit yours?
This is the story of what lit my fire and it is an invitation to you, my friends reading this column, to do the same thing. To write in and share with me, and all the readers of PRN what started it all for you. Like a family, it is important to share our stories.
I want you to write in and tell us what lit your fire. Was it a driver you met? A race your parents took you to? Something you read about? A car you saw on TV?
Recently I received some very good news relating to my racing career. It was news that made me reflect back to the very origins of my love of motorsports and the event that kicked it all off.
It is with much pride that I can announce to my friends here reading PRN that I will be driving for the K-PAX Racing World Challenge team for the 2011 season. K-PAX Racing is one of the best teams in North America and being a part of their team is hands down one of my proudest life achievements. When I got the call it was one of those moments that made me sit back and take stock of everything that has happened up till now. And believe you me – it’s been a very long road. Almost my entire life since adolescence has been dedicated to racing and joining this team ranks right up there with winning the World Scholarship, becoming a Player’s driver or winning the Canadian GP support race. Sitting there after I got the news my mind flashed back to the very, very beginning of this journey. A beginning that takes me back to being a 10 year-old kid seeing an exotic car on the cover of a magazine...
I have been obsessed with driving since birth. If you were to look at my Mother’s dresser top – to this day, you will see two framed pictures. One of my awesome sister (Jen I love you and you’re my hero!) and one of me. The one of me pretty much describes it all: I’m 2 years old, wearing diapers and hanging off the steering wheel of a Massey Ferguson Tractor – with the biggest shit-eating grin you can ever imagine.
I no longer wear diapers, but not much else has changed.
When I was about 10 I walked into the local K-MART and happened upon the magazine rack.
Little did I know my life would forever be changed.
Staring at me from up above was a copy of Road and Track’s Exotic Car magazine. On the cover was a Lamborghini Countach. With the innocence of a kid, I stared at that image until my eyes hurt. It very quickly led me to an absolute fascination of exotic cars. Within a few short months I was a super computer memorizing every spec of every exotic car ever built. Quoting power, torque, wheelbase, and weight of every exotic car under the sun is what I lived for (what a geek!) My love of tractors had finally grown into something socially acceptable – or at least understood. I remember begging my dad to take me to the Toronto International Car show and taking umpteen million pictures of the Ferrari’s Porsches and Lamborghinis on display.
Fast forward a year – and I’m at my Nonna Povoledo’s 90th birthday party. And one of our old Italian family friends hears of my exotic car passion and tells me that the Ferrari cars actually race. (To this day my poor mother still curses that man….) He proceeds to pull out of his pocket a newspaper clipping of that year’s F1 calendar.
A few weeks later I am at home watching the 1989 San Marino GP. Gerhard Berger has a massive fiery crash and Mansell has an epic fight with Alain Prost for second place. Announcer Murray Walker is falling out of his seat screaming about how Mansell is out driving Prost through the corners but Prost had a more powerful engine Honda engine.
The mold is set. Welcome the rest of my life.
In the following years, I was lucky enough to race and work with some of the most amazing machines ever made. Formula cars, Group C Le Mans racers, top GT cars, modern BMW’s, Porsches and Lamborghinis – heck, I instruct at the Ferrari North America School! Let’s just say I’ve ticked off most of the dream cars in my life.
Except for one. The very one that started it all. The Countach.
About a year ago at a Ferrari track event I became friends with a really great guy named Alan Jay Wildstein. He’s a car fanatic as well.
Months go by and one day I find myself eating lunch with Alan and talking about were it all started, our love of cars and racing. I speak about the Countach, to which he replies: “That’s so ironic, I have one – wanna drive it?”
Twenty-plus years flash in front of my eyes as I try really hard to sound cool while muttering…..”Uh yeah….that’s cool….I guess I have time.”
People say you should never meet your heroes. Well I met Nigel Mansell twice and he was incredibly nice. As I approached the Countach I was well aware of it being 30 years old and a little bit nervous that the super car of my lifetime might not be as impressive as the newer Lambo’s I’ve been privy to.
It didn’t disappoint.
For a car that is 30 years old it was surprisingly good. The seat angle/driving position was perfect. The gated gearbox was exactly as I remember when reading about it – same as Ferraris of the period that I have driven, heavy and slow, but there is no mistaking if you have it in gear or not! The dashboard lights and instrumentation have that Star Wars charm or the era – absolutely inspired by Darth Vader’s chest plate: big rectangular lights of various primary colours to signify such things as whether the lights are on or not, which is hilarious because the car has massive pop up headlights!
The engine sounds great - very deep and rich sounding at low revs, rising to an incredible scream, and loud. Always. Forget about talking on the cell phone...
Starting the car involves a unique ritual of its own. I’m not a jet-ologist, but I would guess there are fewer steps involved in firing up a 747. It is, however, an extremely rewarding ritual because it forces you to pay attention and become INVOLVED in the process:
• listen for the ticking of the fuel pumps to harmonize,
• pump the gas pedal all the way down (incredibly long travel), not too fast but not too slow, (flooding the 8 million side draft carburetors is easy to do and adds much time to the proceedings)
• Say three Hail Mary’s send a donation to the Vatican or your nearest Catholic Church and turn the key.
• It probably won’t work the first few times you try which means you probably didn’t send a large enough donation to the church. Call your mother, tell her you love her, say another three Hail Mary’s and keep trying.
I think they made it this way on purpose because when it finally does start all the frustration is swept away by the immense pride in your accomplishment - you glow in a state of pride and accomplishment: “I made that incredibly powerful and complicated 12-cylinder engine bend to my will - I GOT IT RUNNING!!”
One of the coolest things is simply sitting in the cockpit - it is not a vehicle interior - it’s a proper cockpit. The angle of the windshield, the space in the flat door sills, the rake of the side glass, the perfectly reclined seating position, the way you pull the scissor doors down to seal the hatch – it gives the impression of sitting in a fighter jet or spacecraft, or a group C prototype. The heavy weight of the steering, shifter and pedals along with the limited side and rear visibility all add to the seriousness of the moment. It is all consuming. Like a powerful Italian woman, there is no messing about here – give it you 110% or take a hike. It is not your normal car that does virtually everything for you these days. It forces you to be completely focused on the driving process – and because of that you find yourself forming a bond with the car unlike any other. I drove the Countach from Orlando to Sebring and by the time the journey ended I felt like together with the car we had achieved something.
We navigated speed bumps, put gas in after searching and finding the fuel filler cap (buried deep in the NACA duct on the side of the door), got it started again, avoided highway gawkers trying to run into us taking pictures, monitored the speedometer by using the flashlight function on my cell phone (the green “headlights are on” button is so bright it overpowers everything else to the point of not being able to read the speedo because of the glare), and enjoyed every single stop light because it gave reason to run through the gears and listen to the motor sing. Hearing the motor sing is a process in itself! I’ve never driven a car with such incredibly long throttle pedal travel. But when you think about it, it’s absolutely brilliant, those Italians were incredible marketing men – why unleash the angles of an Italian V12 with a mere flick of your foot? Why not make it a physical action of substance: to hear that engine sing you have to push the pedal down…and down some more. Further. Keep going. Further still…by the time you hit the red line, wow do you ever feel like you have put your foot into it….because you have – and most of your leg and half your back as well!
And when it’s all over and you get out of the car, its lines force you to stare at it - and you are moved by just how exotic and beautiful the body is. And when I say moved, I mean, you stop and stare. And stare some more. And then walk around it and stare at it from different angles. And then you have to take more pics with your cell phone. It takes a solid 10min to get out of a Countach and walk away….
And then it hits you, and you stop again: you just drove THAT CAR, and the fact that you just were inside it, and forced to be so very involved makes the moment mean even more.
Even though it is 30 years old, and taking into consideration all the incredible machines I have worked with – the Countach is hands down the most exotic machine I have ever driven.
The ten year old was vindicated. It was, and is, that special.
Getting back to where this column began – for two years now I have written this column telling my stories and trying to bring useful insight and generate interest to my fellow enthusiasts. Now it’s your turn. Send me your story. I want to hear about your Countach.
Your brother in racing.