We had a good run in 2011. I'm happy with our progress, but I am not content. There's work to do, and the SMR people are already on it for the 2012 season. It would be cliché to say “big things are coming,” but I honestly feel like they are. After Watkins Glen, we took about a week to reflect on the season, pat each other on the back and generally take a breather and just enjoy where our work brought us.
But that week is over. There is no more back-patting. We're back in the laboratory, scribbling, calculating, talking, calling, texting, and just generally scheming for next season. So far we've evaluated our program and know where the key elements were, and more importantly where they were not, especially in the area of my (lack) of experience in road racing. Not that I would say I'm giving too much up, anymore, on anyone else in the field. I think podium'ing at Limerock says that loudly enough to notice, but now it's fine tuning the small things I am missing. Tenths of a second over a lap. Hundredths. That is the difference between myself and where I need to be next season. Small changes.
So, the program is on for next season. We're putting together a title run, and it will either taste sweet like victory or be permeated with the sick copper taste of defeat. And the greatest part is that whichever meal we find ourselves presented with, we will feast and come back stronger for it. We will use it to nourish the next struggle and we will be merry. At the exit of the end of the year banquet, I walked up to Mike Rand who runs the F2000 series and told him that next year there would be no smiles. We were going to show up faces set in grim determination of the battle ahead, and he gave me a great piece of advice:
“If you're not going to have fun, don't bother showing up.” In fact, he forbid me from showing up unless I was going to be smiling and enjoying myself.c
After sitting thinking about it, I realized that that was what has already brought us this far: our pure enjoyment of the craft. Of the sport. Of the fight, the frustration, the bloodshed, the tears and the turmoil. The victories, however small validate our work, and if you can't find them (and believe me, they can be pretty damn tough to find sometimes) then you've no business strapping in and putting your foot down. The running jokes around racers tend to be on the morbid side; “How do you make a small fortune in racing?” Start with a big one. We are a conflicted species, and it seems the more water you can let your boat take on before letting it slip beneath the waves, the faster you drive, the farther your program advances, and the more bumps and bruises you take physically, emotionally and psychologically. However here's a tidbit of info: A broken bone will heal more strongly than it was before because the bone will knit itself more densely around the break than it will as your grow naturally. So for all those injuries, all those meals of crow that a racing team eats, they come back stronger and more determined, ears laid back in anticipation with eyes glinting, never wavering from the prize, the goal.
My mistake in the final race of the season at Watkins Glen (I shut the damn ignition off by accident heading down into the boot on lap 1 after having an arms-flailing sideways event, which sent me back to 38th) cost us a jump to 6th in points and placed us 8th, three points out of 6th and two points out of 7th. The lower finishing position was a direct result of my mistake, and it can not be placed, no matter how irresponsible I am in trying to place blame, on anybody else. Not since the spin on the last lap of the first race at VIR have I felt that kind of... utter frustration with myself as a driver. But, in the end it's just another feathered dinner that had to be cleansed from the palate with the pursuit of the bigger and better. Also, I'm not going to lie, I had a BLAST coming through the field, ultimately finishing 20th with maybe 6 laps of green flag racing in the race.
So there you have it, from a driver happy with his team's and his personal performance, but not content. The victory still remains elusive and I can promise you, that we have no quit in us and next year we'll be making headlines. Because we won't stop until we do.