When I was in my early 30s, I was finally able to buy my first Porsche Carrera.
Before you think I’m showing off, it was a used 911 and the culmination of a lifelong obsession I inherited from my father.
And before you think it was a mid-life crises, I was 32 for Pete’s sake. My mid-life issues were still a few years away.
Contrary to the old adage “be careful what you wish for because you might get it,” I really loved that car. I updated it with all the right performance parts and a sturdy roll bar and I studied how to autocross it at racetracks and pylon-filled parking lots all around South Florida.
One day I signed up for a “hot lap” session at Moroso Motorsports Park (now called Palm Beach International Raceway). I mounted my Yokohama racing tires, pulled on my Bell helmet, and started circling the track – slow and cautiously at first and then faster and faster as I learned the track and got more comfortable with my limitations.
I was drafting right behind a brand new black 944 Turbo S at about 45 miles per hour when we reached Turn Seven. That chicane was a reverse S-shape lined on the outside shoulder with a retaining wall built from interlaced tires. All of a sudden, a little wisp of tire smoke puffed out from the rear of the 944 as the driver lost control of his car’s rear end. The 944 slid into the stacked tires and dragged itself across the entire length of the retaining wall.
The driver guided his dented car to the shoulder but couldn’t get out because his door was crumpled shut. I coasted to a stop behind him where the corner marshal and I were able to pull the driver out through his open window. Other than his bruised ego, the shaken driver was fine.
His brand new car, on the other hand, wasn’t. Accordioned from front to back, it looked like the whole left side had been draped in crumbled black tin foil. The upset driver kept muttering something about wrecking his only car and what was he going to do now?
After confirming that the driver was fine, the corner marshal walked away shaking his head. That’s when I heard him say over his shoulder, “you shouldn’t race what you can’t replace.”
I got back in my car, pulled my helmet back on, buckled up, and completed the lap. When I got to the end of the course, I drove off the track, put my street tires back on, and drove home. It was the last time I ever drove my car on a racetrack.
A year or two later, I was taking my then three-year old son Danny for a ride when he suddenly said, “Daddy, my mouth hurts.”
I pulled off the road, turned around, and reached for his face. “Where does it hurt, sweetie?” I asked.
That’s when he vomited in my hand. And that’s also when I decided to sell the car. Not because I was grossed out by the puke (okay, I was a little). But, because just like when I was on the racetrack, I realized that my priorities had changed and I wasn’t acting in lockstep with what actually mattered to me.
Those thoughts come back to me often when I’m thinking about how much all of our lives have changed recently. Between our response to the Coronavirus crises and the horrific examples of continued racism in our country, I wonder if we’re all living our lives and running our businesses in accordance with our beliefs and values or just doing what we do without giving much thought to the consequences of our actions.
It seems to me that we often take risks where we shouldn’t while we also turn our eyes away from behaviors that we don’t agree with. But just like it took an expensive racing accident and a hot handful of puke to remember what mattered to me, perhaps the value of these times is to remind us what matters to all of us too.
More importantly, maybe it’s time for us to change the way we treat each other and do what we know is right, rather than what we think is expedient.
Because as I discovered all those years ago, we shouldn’t race what we can’t replace.