Saturday, May 19, 2007
One of the most dangerous races in the world
Phil Hill was the first American driver to win the 24 Hours of LeMans. He was the first to win the 12 Hours of Sebring three times. He was the first to win a modern Formula One Grand Prix race. He was the first to win a Grand Touring race in Europe in an American car. And he was the first American to win a World Championship. Needless to say Phil Hill has won a few races. Last year Phil told me that the La Carrera Panamericana was the most exciting race he ever ran, even more exciting than the Millie Miglia. Now that's a mouthful.
Recently in a interview with FORBES.COM, one of my best friends, Jerry Kunzman, executive director of the National Auto Sport Association, said that auto racing is safer than it was, particularly since the 2001 death of racing legend Dale Earnhardt resulted in more cars being fitted with improved head and neck restraints. But the sport still takes about three lives per year.
"Oval [track] racing has big groups of cars together, so a mistake by one driver could mean 20 getting into an accident," Kunzman says. He adds that open road racing, while more spread out, has more configurations and angles that could cause a crash and typically carries a higher risk of rollovers.
The Indianapolis 500 has produced 41 deaths since 1909, according to the race's Web site, while the NASCAR circuit has suffered ten fatalities since 1989, though none have occurred since Earnhardt's death.
Competitive thrill seekers aren't all 20-something Mountain Dew-chugging climbers, jumpers and extreme skateboarders. The top four finishers in the last Iditarod, the renowned 1,150-mile dog-sled race across Alaska, were all over 50 years old.
What makes them take on such risky endeavors? Dr. Samuel Putnam, an assistant professor of psychology at Bowdoin College in Maine, says thrill seeking behavior is mostly genetic, and that signs of it--from climbing the highest tree to swinging as high as possible on a swing set--can be recognized from very early ages.
"There is a gene that seems to be associated with adventure-seeking behavior," says Putnam.
One of the most exciting aspects to the La Carrera Panamericana is the simple fact there is so much adventure to be found. Unlike any racetrack while running the La Carrera Panamericana you will find no guard rails, no bails of hay and no corner workers with a flag letting you know there is trouble ahead. On the flip side of the coin you will find lots of deep canyons, cliffs, a few washed out roads and there is everything imaginable to hit that you can think of both solid and liquids.
Success or failure all boils down to the driver and the navigator becoming one with each other, the car and the road. Once you fire up that engine and the green flag is removed from your windshield there is nothing you can do regarding the countless hours of details that have gone into preparing the car to this point. Having the ability to put all that behind you has a lot to do with how well the car was set up and how well engineered the car was designed. Thanks to my crew, navigator, and the guys at IMPACT ENGINEERING Jon and I can rest assured that we are in as safe a car as can be found. From this point on it's just men and machine and the sixth sense that great drivers instinctively have from the time we are born.