"There's No Friends at the Race Track"
In academics, politics, religion, and more, there are theories and there are those that challenge them. Some common phrases or “theories” I hear posed in racing include:
- “There are no friends at the racetrack.”
- “You go to the track to race, not to make friends.”
- “No one can be trusted in this sport, so just stay in your trailer and don’t bother trying.”
There have been times in my career that I’ve believed these and abided by them, and other times (like 2018) where I realize that they are lies that our community often believes to be truths. Unfortunately, these are lies that have the ability to suffocate the growth of the racing world. They inhibit our ability to fulfill the areas of our souls the concept of ‘community’ in general is designed to fulfill. Therefore, I decided to untangle this web of lies and re-sew it into a piece that can be better knit together, by our community. With that being said, I’d like to flip these three statements on their heads and provide some clarity to the stereotype, as well as some recommended ways to respond.
The secret to being able to establish and maintain true, quality friendships at the track comes down to respect – respect for their space, track performance, and themselves as individuals. As with any friendship, everyone is different and must be interacted with differently. Respect people’s privacy and space. As the old saying goes, treat them the way you’d want to be treated. Find ways that you can support them, whether it be buying a t-shirt, loaning a part, or giving them a hand with their car. Make it your goal to do at least one thing to help someone else every night.
Oftentimes by the time people get to the track on the weekend, they’ve had a long, stressful week of work/school. Don’t forget to ask them about how they’re doing and give them an ear to listen if they need it. There’s not a person at the race track that doesn’t appreciate being cared about and truly being listened to. Besides, we’re all better off on Monday if the weekend was a good way to debrief.
Lastly, one of the toughest parts about having friends at the track is that these friends are often competitors. I’m a firm believer that if you truly respect each other off the track, you can race them as hard as anyone on the track and feel confident neither of you would intentionally or maliciously hurt the other in order to win. No matter what happens, having respect off the track makes it easier to forgive each other and be happy for each other’s successes.
I’m competitive and want to win. However, it’s not all about me. There are stands full of fans and hundreds of people in the pits every week that matter too. Between sponsors, competition, and personal sacrifices, we have a lot emotionally invested in what we do and want it to all payoff. It’s good to be focused and try your best. However, whether you’re at the track or in your day to day life, you can’t live solely for yourself.
We aren’t defined by what we do, we’re defined by who we are. We are all special and unique individuals brought together in the racing community and can all contribute in our own ways. While some drivers might be in victory lane, on social media, or in front of the camera more than others, I’ve never been to a racetrack that stopped me from walking over to the stands to sign autographs.
I’ve never been to a race track that stopped me from promoting it to the communities I’m involved in outside of our sport. I’ve never been to a race track that stopped me from telling them if there are any activities they need drivers to help with, I’d be happy to help if I can. You don’t have to do all of these things or even any of them. Regardless, do something. Someway, somehow, even if it’s small, invest. Invest in your track, your fans, your competitors, and the youth racers in your community. You might not always get recognition for it, but that’s OK. Do it because investing in others makes you feel good and because it’s the right thing to do.
I’m not a stranger to the lack of trust, fights, backlash, protests, sketchy business deals, theft, and a variety of other horrible activities in our community that I’d rather not even write here. However, we wake up every day and go to bed every night watching news coverage of terrorist attacks, shootings, theft, sexual harassment, natural disasters, and more. Yet, we still leave the house every day. Therefore, leave the trailer. You don’t have to go to every trailer and be everyone’s best friend. If you’re new to a track, it’s OK to go around and make connections. If you’re not, at least be cordial to everyone.
I don’t always engage in conversations at the track because I trust the people I’m talking to. I don’t always put myself in situations thinking that they’re perfect or that I’m not going to get hurt. I believe if I hold myself accountable to my values, it’s okay to sometimes walk through a line of fire in order to show others that sometimes not even the strongest bullets can kill. I’m a firm believer that good is always greater and even a little bit of light can drown out a sea of darkness. With that being said, be guarded, be yourself, and be a light.
Not everyone is going to like you, at the track or in life. Not everyone likes me, even if they’ve never met me or had a conversation with me. Unfortunately, you can’t control everyone around you, but you can control you. Remember that in life we judge others based on their actions, but we judge ourselves based on our intentions. Before you knock someone else for the way they’ve treated you, remember that may not have been their intention. Remember that you make mistakes, too. We all have. Therefore, forgive always, love better, and remember…you can have friends at the race track.