At the end of the film Truth in 24, Howden Haynes (race winner Tom Kristensen's race engineer) admits that his team's victory has left him emotionally numb: he's not elated, he's not sad, he's just kind of there, hovering above his elated peers, not able to experience everything you'd expect him to be feeling after having guided his drivers to an underdog victory over the course of 24 grueling hours at Le Mans. I've seen the movie many times (it's my favorite bit of in-flight entertainment), but I could never quite understand why Haynes reacted that way to what seemed to be a peak life moment. But thanks to some friends, the last week of my life has been horizon-expanding, and to be honest, somewhat overwhelming from an emotional standpoint: which brings me to this past Thursday evening, where I found myself sitting in my Beijing hotel room thinking "how in the world did that just happen, and how come I feel this numb?". Now I have a sense of why Haynes felt the way he did, and let me tell you why.
A week ago I hopped on a plane to Beijing to be a spectator at the Race of Champions (RoC). My carry-on luggage consisted largely of one Arai helmet stuffed full of nomex balaclava, and one Amazon Kindle filled up with the latest and greatest reads in business and innovation. Truth be told, I was so excited to finally be headed to RoC that I could hardly read any of those books — so instead I spent the flight with my eyes glued to the afore-mentioned Truth in 24, watching my heroes Kristensen and Pirro (who would be racing at RoC) race their way through the French countryside. I kept thinking about my helmet up top, too, because ever since I was a boy I had wanted a racing helmet, and now I had one, and thanks to my friends it looked pretty killer, too. Wasn't sure if I was going to get to use it in Beijing, and knew that it was overkill to bring my own when there were plenty of loaner helmets waiting there for me, but I just felt like I wanted it to be this way.
Upon landing, I embarked on a three-day blitz of totally engrossing automotive experiences. I met a bunch of my racing heroes, and even got to break bread with them. I made a bunch of new friends. I got to tour the Forbidden City with the future of Western capitalism. And I got some seriously good rides.
Jean Jennings, an automotive journalist I've been reading since the days when my mode of transportation was a pimped-out Mongoose BMX bike, once wrote that she took up being a co-driver in rallies when she realized that a professional race car pilot could give her a better racing experience than she could get at the wheel herself. That was certainly my experience in Beijing, where I was fortunate enough to ride along with the following kinesthetic geniuses:
For whatever, reason, all of the planets aligned at the end of Wednesday evening's Race of Champions shoot-out, and in space of five minutes I went from being a jet-lagged spectator to sitting beside a very focused Michael Schumacher as he warmed up our orange X-Bow in anticipation of the final against the amazing Mattias Ekstrom. After a couple of warmup laps, and then three laps driven in anger, "we" came in second:
Coverage of my race with Schumacher starts at the 2:56:00 mark on the video (my race with Priaulx is at 0:55:30).
The race itself was amazing, feeling like one seamless set of control inputs on the part of Schumacher as we flowed our way around the track. We lost by just a few tenths, but man was it a great run on this part. My abiding memory will be from our cooldown lap, when Schumacher turned to me with a twinkle in his eye and we both shared a laugh at the site of Ekstrom doing a massive stalled burnout against the barrier. Upon stopping, we shook hands and that was that.
So all of this is why I found myself in my hotel room getting ready for the post-race party, and — somewhat Hayne-like — simultaneously feeling ecstatic, happy, and dumbfounded. My heart was yelling "DUDE! TOTAL UNABASHED GEARHEAD GNARLYNESS!!!!!!!!!!" and my brain was saying "wait a second, did that just happen… and with these guys??!!???…". Soul-mind dissonance. Sitting at home at my keyboard today, of course, I'm totally happy, grateful and thankful to have had this amazing life experience.
My intent in writing this post wasn't to toot my horn in public about my blessings, nor was my intention to process my emotions in public. I just needed to write all of this in order to get to a point where I could express my sincere thanks to a whole bunch of special people, and to have you understand why they mean so much to me.
So, here is a public "thank you" to all of the folks who made my time in Beijing so special and memorable, in no particular order: Paul, Martin, Andy, Michele, Travis, Fredrik, Tanner, Owen, Marie-Helene, Tess, Cris, Mattias, Brian, and… many others.
Most of all, though, I want to give a big, heartfelt thanks to Jim Hancock. Jim was the one who invited me to RoC, and he did many things big and small make my time there truly remarkable. Jim and I met several years ago via metacool, and I've learned a tremendous amount from him since then. Not only is he one of the most intuitive, natural marketers I've ever met, he's also an extremely generous and fun person to be around. Above all, he's a pure racer, and I will be forever grateful for this Race of Champions experience, which let me feel like a racer, too.
Dreams can come true — you just need a little help from your friends.
Thank you Jim, from the bottom of my heart.