Column: What You Can Find When You Leave Your Comfort Zone

For hardcore car guys, there is little in life as satisfying as a well-built racing car. The thought, experience, skill and innovation that goes into producing a winner is usually an amalgam of talents, each with their own specialty, but aligned completely in purpose.

Racing is one of the last few modern games that can be played on a personal level with the results of combined effort so immediately apparent. Build, race, win, enjoy. It’s never easy and the path is often fraught with frustration, despair and loss, but the rewards of success at any level are addictive.

Satisfaction lies in the knowledge that what has been built is better than similar projects created by others who have tried just as hard. Getting that checker is a tangible, very personal success that can be savored at the instant of victory, but that seductive momentary sensation only encourages even greater efforts to improve–and continued success becomes a way of life. 

We can all admire the tremendous planning and combined efforts of major engineering projects that can take years–like sending a rocket into space to land on some far-flung dot of light. Building a car and racing it has many of the same elements of intense effort, but they are reduced to a very personal level. 

It may take several seasons to finally achieve success, but the time spent is worth it. Few outside one’s personal circle of friends have any idea of what has transpired–and it can’t really be explained–but its value in respect and personal friendship is priceless. 

If there’s any negative to this aspect of our chosen sport, it’s that our specialties become a comfort zone. We often spend too much time in that bubble, eliminating the possibility of learning even more from similar groups of competitors in completely different automotive universes. It’s important to take the time to to observe and learn from others. The rewards can be so valuable, not just in learning how others achieve success but in applying their knowledge to our own specialties. 

Make it part of your life, at least once a year, to try some completely new facet of automotive competition. Even if it initially seems foreign and difficult to get “inside” because there’s little seeming attraction in a preconceived notion, do it anyway. 

Make a list of events you’ve read about or even heard about from those you trust. Plan well ahead to go, even if you have no connections or experience in that area. Do some research online. 

If you’ve been running on pavement, try dirt. It doesn’t matter if it’s a visit to a quarter- or half-mile oval or even a trip to the desert for a major off-road racing event. At first the effort may be a hassle, but the rewards are there. 

Some of the least publicized events are the most fascinating and exciting. Consider these: the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, Baja 1000, Chili Bowl, Silver State Classic Challenge, Le Mans, any AMA championship on a mile-long dirt oval, or King of the Hammers in the California high desert. 

More? Add any major Top Fuel drag race or the annual SCCA Runoffs, home to perhaps some of the best and closest racing you’ll ever see.

You’ll discover incredibly well-built machinery and instantly recognize the same sense of purpose that makes your own efforts so rewarding. Take the time to watch the interaction of the teams and how they operate during setup or pit stops.

Just going to one completely different venue than what you’re used to will expand your understanding of how and why different forms of competition are so similar, yet different and important.

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