Much of my life has been driven by the ambition to one day race a professional NHRA Nitro Funny Car. It is very easy to sit at my desk while I type this out and look at pictures of the No Mercy Nitro Funny Car and not remember all of the struggle, tenacity, and persistence that it took to get to this point. Some of my friends and family will read this and assume that I just leap frogged to this particular point in my life. Little do they know that it has been an incredible journey and there were plenty of detours, pitfalls, and failures along the way. I’d like to share some of those experiences with you.
One week before my high school senior prom I implanted my dad’s 1966 Chevelle into a tree at about 80 miles per hour. At 18 years old I thought my life was over, not because I was injured, but because I thought my dad was going to kill me. I quickly came up with some story about why I couldn’t control the car, but the truth is, I was racing my friend. I went to my senior prom with stitches all over my face and swelling that made me feel like the Elephant Man. My life hadn’t even started, and I felt like it was over. I didn’t know how I would ever recover from this devastation. Looking back at it all these years later, it was simply a minor hiccup.
I failed out of most of my classes my freshman year of community college. I wasn’t focused on what I wanted in life and I wasn’t taking my education seriously. Much like most 18 year olds, I was drifting and hadn’t found that thing that really made me motivated. I thought it was more important to work my two jobs so I could fix up my project 1971 Camaro than it was to study for an upcoming Calculus or Physics test. Somewhere deep inside me was a dream and a goal, but it seemed very far away and not within reach. I knew where I wanted to end up but I had no idea what steps to take to get me there. I floundered and often fell into deep periods of despair as I realized I would never achieve my dreams.
Call it what you will, but life has a way of putting things in front of you that allow you an opportunity. A choice, a path. For me, that was my co-worker, Hal. He retired from the U.S. Air Force and took an interest in me. He recognized the spark within me and spent time mentoring me. Maybe he was guided by a force or intuition that led him to share with me his experience in the military or maybe it was just the right person at the right time. I had a choice, I could ignore this old guy or maybe his years of experience were something valuable that I should take the time to listen to. It’s easy for me to say all of these years later, Hal was a life-changing impact to my life.
I now had a plan. I was going to enlist in the U.S. Air Force as an aircraft electrical/environmental specialist, start taking college classes paid for by the military, and then I would be racing a nitro funny car within a couple years. Wrong! Life, isn’t that easy. I was driven and I had my goals and vision back. I finished top of my class in aircraft systems training. Unlike the Calculus and Physics classes, I really enjoyed learning about aircraft systems. It revitalized a childhood dream of being a pilot, and I felt at home among my fellow maintenance co-workers. I went to my first duty station at Davis-Monthan AFB and talked my first supervisor into letting me enroll in college classes. I was on my way and life had never been clearer.
If my life would have had a navigation system it would have said, “next exit in 1 mile”…”Detour Ahead”. Yes, that’s right, it didn’t work out the way I thought it would. I met a girl, and three months later, I married her. That doesn’t sound so bad, right? Well, three months later she was pregnant. I was only 19. What do I know about being a husband and a father? Nothing! We weren’t right for each other, we never were, from the day we met. She hated my goal of drag racing. How was that ever going to work? It didn’t work, and I was devastated. We had moved to England and within a short period of time we were divorced and my young daughter was headed back to the U.S. with her mom. I was only 21 and nothing in my life was working out the way I thought it might.
My young daughter is now 19 and she has recently struggled her sophomore year of college. She is balancing her life dreams, relationships, and trying to find her wings. It isn’t easy and this is an especially tough time for most people. Life is not about this particular moment, good or bad, but it is more about the summation of the decisions you make. If you keep focused on your main goal and ambition and be ready to correct back to course when needed you will find yourself standing in the winner’s circle of your life.
For those of you that have made it this far into my diatribe you might be wondering what any of this has to do with racing a nitro funny car. It has nothing to do with it and everything to do with it at the same time. I wasn’t handed the keys to a 10,000 horsepower carbon fiber monster. It took me a long time to get where I am today. I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way and my life has taken many wrong turns and detours. Numerous people have come into my life at just the right time that have helped lead, guide, and direct me on course. I still have a long ways to go, including finishing the license upgrade process so I can race at my first NHRA Mello Yello national event.
Maybe you’re pre-staged, maybe you’re staged, maybe the bulbs have flashed and you are already well on your way. It might rattle the tires, it might kick the rods out, but as long as you keep pulling to the line you are winning the race. Stab the pedal, hang on, keep it in the groove, and focus on the finish.
This is a tough time of year for a lot of people so be encouraging, loving, and supportive for someone who needs you. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!