Safety and What's Important

Editor's Notebook, October 2001



T.W. Theodore

Now might be a good time to step back, take a breath, look around, and decide what is important. We’ve all had a jolt to our comfortable sense of homeland security. Whether you are American, Canadian, British, Australian, or are reading this from some other national perspective, you probably are thinking and feeling a bit differently from how you thought and felt at the beginning of September.


I’ve certainly been jolted. The jolt has caused me to consider once more some basic questions. I’m going to ramble a bit here and hope you ramble along with me. We won't reach many conclusions, but the journey may lead us to interesting new pathways.


I’ve written in these pages, over the past six years, of the ever-changing landscape of Thunder Valley, that quiet little tree shaded glen in Wisconsin, USA, with the ribbon of asphalt running through it. I’ve written, and some of you have read, of winter turning to spring, of the quiet foraging of deer being replaced by the roar of internal combustion engines, and of the return to solitude as the race cars disappear beyond the Billy Mitchell bridge or as the summer turns to fall and, inevitably, to winter once more.


that knife edge of passion...

That roar, that knife-edge of passion, is a fleeting thing. The racing season is too short. The time between races is too long. The seat time on the track is never enough and the waiting around the paddock always seems interminable.


Is racing a metaphor for life? Is life a poor substitute for racing? Am I just completely full of hot air? Perhaps, perhaps, and, perhaps.


Many years ago, the coach of the Yale University football team addressed his players before the final game of the season. "Gentlemen," he said, "you are about to play Harvard. Nothing you will ever do in life will be as important."


Of course, he was wrong. But, had he said, "Gentlemen, nothing is more important than the thing you are doing at this moment," he would have been a very wise man.


Whether we are kissing our children goodbye before heading to our offices in high-rise buildings, or bleeding the brakes before a qualifying run, or contemplating the quiet beauty of a tree shaded glen, nothing is more important than that thing we are doing.


nothing is more important...

"Ladies," to use an old-fashioned salutation, "you are about to take your race cars out on to the track. Nothing is more important, at this moment, than what you are about to do." Nothing is ever more important than what you are doing at this exact moment.


Nothing concentrates the mind like the possibility of immediate death. We’ve all heard of, seen, or been part of death on the race track. Safety and security are important issues, but the basic insecurity of racing is what makes it so much like life itself. Pushing ‘85’ on the elevator panel is no more secure than pushing 8.5 grand on the tach.


Safety is over-rated. It is valued far above its worth and its cost is, frequently, far too great. Think about when you’ve performed a job or a project you weren’t completely sure you could accomplish. Think about when you’ve loved not too wisely but too well. Think about how you've felt when you’ve taken yourself physically or mentally to the limit and beyond. It is that knife-edge, that tightrope, that precarious balance at the perimeter of control, that abandonment of safety, that gives you the feeling that you are truly alive.


Yes, we must make racing as safe as possible. Yes, we must make our cities, our airlines, our work places, our lives, as safe as possible.


Yes, this newsletter, Distant Thunder, will return to its usual format next month. Yes, Thunder Valley Racing will, in the face of the new and increased difficulty in finding sponsorship for women drivers, persist until gender issues fade away and women drivers see their careers blossom.


But for a moment, just for a moment, let’s take a step back and consider what's important. Let’s appreciate our glorious ability, that particularly human ability, to stand on the surface of the moon, to stand up to evil, and to trust our crew, our equipment, and ourselves as we brake late and hard.

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