Ever since I learned there were cheap-car endurance racing series that regular people can drive in, I knew I had to do a full 24-hour race. I don’t keep a long, corny bucket list of stuff to do before I die, but a 24-hour race would be at the top if I had one. Now that I’m finally getting to do one, I’m sort of terrified of everything that could go wrong.
I’m flying out to Buttonwillow for the Lucky Dog Racing League’s version of the day-long race. I’m beyond excited about it—it’s all I’ve been able to think about all week. It’s happening! It’s finally happening.
Lucky Dog is one of the newer series much in the same vein as ChumpCar—a place to race cheap cars without the theatrics that define the 24 Hours of LeMons. The Dirty Little Freaks team I’m joining for the weekend couldn’t be nicer, as we’ve run with a lot of the same LeMons teams in the past. They seem chill and nice and welcoming, as good teams tend to be.
But I’m nervous anyway, and it’s mostly because of this race’s timing. This is the first race I’ve entered since having to sit out half of last year with a concussion. I wanted to get back into racing earlier, but couldn’t get my own team together in time for the race I’d originally hoped to do once I finally got medically cleared to get back at it.
I’ve been on track since then, but it’s just been to mess around by myself and get used to driving on track again. When I first got back out there, I felt like I was still broken because I had to re-learn so much, and I’m sure trying to deal with that on my own didn’t help.
That’s when things started to get worse. I started to beat up myself over how nothing felt right anymore. I felt like I sucked, which is a feeling I still haven’t been able to shake.
I always worry about being the weakest member of the team for multiple-driver races like this even when everything’s just business as usual. I know I’m slower, and I don’t have a ton of experience—and I always feel the need to let teams I drive with know up-front that this is the case. I have this nagging feeling that I’m going to be really far off everyone else’s pace, especially since I’ve only driven half of Buttonwillow in a crazy downforce car.
Most of all, though, I don’t want to be the one to get hit or break the car. That’s one of the easiest ways a race like this can defeat you. I’d honestly rather be slow, but clean—just to avoid having to bring the car in for a big, long fix.
Nothing I did since the last time I tried to go racing helped to alleviate any of these worries—they just got much, much worse. I spent more time feeling depressed last winter than doing anything productive, which also kept me from picking up any race time with another team before now. I didn’t feel good enough. I felt out of place and unwelcome wherever I went, even among people who gave me no reason to think they hate me.
I ultimately withdrew from a lot of my usual activities because I didn’t feel as if I could handle other people piling on to the negative feelings going on in my head. It got so bad that I couldn’t understand why anyone would even care about me or want to bother with me being around. I stayed at home a lot so no one would have to deal with me.
While I’m still nervous about it, this 24-hour race is also exactly what I need: it’s exactly what I’d go do before I got hurt. It’s what I enjoy, and what I should be doing. Fortunately, a lot of my nerves going into this race feel familiar and almost right. I’ve said “don’t break the car” as a car owner for so long that it’s almost a calming mantra by now.
And this is it! This is finally my shot to go racing for an entire day—an idea so gloriously over the top and borderline stupid that you simultaneously think “why would anyone put themselves through that?” and “I need to do that, just to see if I can.”
When you really start to think about it, you have to wonder how many magic mushrooms the French accidentally ate for lunch when they came up with the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The idea of spending a day racing a car feels too much like a stubborn, ridiculous bet that’s been blown way out of proportion over the decades. That’s exactly why I want to do it.
I don’t know if words can express how big this is to me, either. I really started following racing through the big endurance stuff. My favorite episode of Top Gear is still the one where they do the Britcar 24-Hour race. My own budget enduro crapcan is even painted like the first Porsche 917 that won Le Mans, for Pete’s sake.
Attempting one of these myself is nerd heaven, and I’m about to be in it.
Please don’t hit our car? Yeah, that. Don’t break the car.