New Year Reflections

2011 was one of the most influential years of my life--things happened that truly amazed me and changed my life. I am so grateful for all of the things I experienced last year that, instead of making a list of resolutions that I wish to make true for the new year, I would rather reflect back on the past year for a moment.

Before February of 2011, I had never raced a car in competition. My drag racing experience consisted only of driving the car down the track at various test and tunes across southern California. I had no idea how different actual competition would be compared to driving at a test and tune for fun. All I knew was that I was in love with the idea of racing, and I needed to do it more. So I, along with (what I now consider to be) my brilliant crew chief and business partner Richard Kratz, the editor of this magazine, decided to run the NHRA Summit series for points at Auto Club Famoso Raceway in the Maulin’ Magnum.

I had no idea how I was going to handle the pressure of driving in competition, but once it started I realized this was something I was going to love. It turned out drag racing sort of loved me too. After only two months of racing, I earned number one qualifier in my class at a Pacific Street Car Association race. A few months after that, we beat out some tough competition in a West Coast Hot Rod Race at Famoso, and I had my first win. It was like a fairy tale come true. And just this past October we made the finals at a PSCA race in Las Vegas and ended the year in the top ten in our class. My rookie year turned out to be so much more than I could have imagined.

I learned so much about the sport and I can only imagine how much more I will learn next year. I didn’t expect to accomplish as much as I did, but what I also didn’t expect was how much drag racing would teach me about myself. As in every competitive sport, the players need to learn how to successfully handle losing, and I think this is true for any driver. When you get the time slip and the win is in the other lane, it’s really hard not to dive right into beating yourself up and thinking of all the things you should have done better. But as Matt Hagan said when I interviewed him at the second to last race of the year, beating yourself up after a race doesn’t do anyone any good and it’s not productive to the team. That doesn’t mean you aren’t disappointed, but there’s always another race and there’s always something to learn each time you cross the finish line.

What I think most people outside the sport don’t realize is how many kindhearted people there are in drag racing. I have met so many insightful and helpful people at every track I go to. As I said in my previous column, driving in a series where most of the drivers have been doing this for ten or more years is intimidating and discouraging at times. I find myself just wanting to skip over the whole beginner stage. But most people at the races are more than willing to give good advice and want to see you in the Winner’s Circle (as long as they’re there with you of course). I made so many friends in 2011 that pulling in the gates at the race track sometimes feels like coming home.

To my amazement there are people at races who actually know who I am. It has been a little strange getting used to fans walking up to me in the pits and asking for my autograph, but I do enjoy it. I’m always happy to talk to you and sign a photo for you, so please don’t hesitate to say “hi” if you see me at the races.

Without sounding clichéd, I really do need to thank a few people who have helped me get to where I am. My editor and crew chief extraordinaire, Richard, can really be credited with introducing me to the wonderful and exciting world of drag racing. He gave me the opportunity to drive a fast car, write for this magazine, and is a scientist at the racetrack when it comes to figuring out those dials and setting up the car. Jeff Burk, our CEO and Publisher, has allowed me to vent my thoughts, feelings, and desires when it comes to all things cars, and I really appreciate him giving me a place for my voice to be heard.

I’m also incredibly thankful to be a part of Mopar nation, and belong to such a passionate group of car people. If Dodge had never made such an amazing car as the SRT Magnum, I might not be racing, so I have immense gratitude for them as well. I really learned a great deal about building a racecar from (almost) scratch, and starting with a Dodge is always a great platform from which to leap. From the factory, this car had an amazing amount of power and it handled like a dream even though it weighs well over 4000 pounds. And if it weren’t for the well-designed braking system and amazing towing capacity, we wouldn’t be able to tow our trailer to and from races with our racecar.

So you can see why I am so excited about 2012. With all of the amazing things that happened in the past year, it’s exhilarating to think of what will come in the next 12 months. The car is getting some serious upgrades, which means more power, more racing, and more car shows. I am extremely grateful for the past yearand I’m even more excited for the year to come. My calendar looks like I’ll be at the races, car shows and industry events for something like 35 weekends this year, and I look forward to seeing you there!