Tomas Scheckter Uncensored

Posted on: December 15, 2010 | Comments(34) | Drivers | By: Tomas Scheckter

Editors Note: Over the course of the off-season Tomas Scheckter will be writing from time to time updating us on his current racing pursuits, telling us his most memorable moments, and providing the fans with insight from inside the cockpit.  Tomas is one of the most exciting drivers to watch in the IZOD IndyCar Series and as you’ll soon realize he’s got a lot to say.  He’s not afraid to express his opinions so keep that in mind… these blog posts are HIS opinions.

First things first, I have to admit I have never written a blog before and, to be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever read one before.  A friend approached me and asked me to write up something after some heated exchanges between myself and Paul Tracy on Trackforum.com (more on that later).

The same friend who got me to write this blog recently brought by a recording of a TV show that aired in England not long ago and it really inspired me.  The title of the show was “When Playboys Ruled The World.” It’s a documentary that covers the lives of Barry Sheene and James Hunt.  It was during the year 1976 in which Barry Sheene won his 500cc Championship (which later became MotoGP) and James Hunt won the Formula One World Championship.  These two were no ordinary champions. They lived life to the max and on the ragged edge.  James had even been known for punching track marshals for restraining him after an accident.  James and Barry were no strangers to the party scene either, even to the point that James sported a badge on his race suit that said “Sex Breakfast of Champions.”

James Hunt and Tomas’ Father, Jody Scheckter, are interviewed after the 1976 British GP

The side of these two that most didn’t see, and the documentary brought to light, was the tangible danger they faced weekly.  They speak during the documentary how each of them lost upwards of 25 friends to the sports they loved.  I like to think of myself as quite fearless and there is really only one moment in my career where I remember feeling fear.  It was the morning Paul Dana passed away at Homestead-Miami Speedway.  I’d seen Paul that morning as he parked his rental car right next to my bus and I remember greeting him.  During the morning warm-up a yellow came out to clean up an incident and after about 15 minutes they cancelled the session, which they NEVER do.  I knew my teammate Ed Carpenter had been involved but I didn’t know how bad it was.  I went back to my motorhome after the session had been ended early to take a quick nap before the race got going.  I was sitting on my bed as it came across ESPN that Paul had passed.  I was in complete disbelief, my stomach turned, and my girlfriend at the time did her best to console me but I was feeling completely disconnected.  About 3 minutes later my team manager called and said “Tomas, the race is back on, driver intros in 30 minutes.”  I hadn’t felt confident in the setup of my car during warm-up and this tragic incident didn’t boost my confidence any.  I have no idea where I finished in that race but I knew it was the best finish Vision Racing had at that point.  After I got out of the car there were some people trying to come speak to me.  I was in no mood to speak to anyone, pit lane lost a great individual that day and my great friend and teammate was in the hospital.

The feeling of fear is what sometimes drives us to the limit.  It’s not the speed that’s exhilarating; we’re all used to the speed. It’s knowing that there’s a chance you might not come out the other side of the corner.  It gives you that feeling in the pit of your stomach, as much as you hate it, it becomes addictive and that’s why it’s so hard to walk away from this sport.

There’s no track in the world that gives that feeling more than Indianapolis and that’s exactly why I think we need to be going 230 – 240 mph.  Great ad campaigns like IZOD’s and leadership are of the upmost importance to any sport, but racing is sexy, dangerous, loud, scary, and on the edge.  It’s all about speed, going for it, and breaking records.  220 is a thing of the past, if we’re approaching 240 we’ll be on the front page of every major newspaper in the country.  Racing needs to get back to being on the edge, being on the edge is what Indy is all about.  It’s the bravest drivers at the fastest track taking it to the absolute limit.  We’re not playing ping-pong, darts, or bowling.  We’re driving IndyCars at the greatest racetrack in the world and that’s a privilege.  If you want that privilege, you have to ask yourself, “Am I willing to take that risk?”  If the answer is no then it’s time to hang it up.  There’s no greater feeling in the world than being able to say you were lucky enough to be one of the 33 drivers at Indianapolis.

Tomas putting on his helmet

Tomas Scheckter

My dad will probably hate me for saying this as he was the head of the Drivers Association when he was in Formula One.  They focused a lot on safety but back in his days they lost 2-3 drivers a year.  It’s a whole different world today.  I’m not trying to say I want to see people get hurt or anything but I do think it’s important that we get the fans respect back.  There are things we can do better to increase the safety, but still allow for higher speeds.  Tony Kanaan and Dario Franchitti have started having some meetings with drivers to get everyone’s point of view on safety, etc.  It’s my opinion we can absolutely go 230-240 mph safely.

During this same documentary, they spoke about James’ and Barry’s exploits as “ladies men” and how open they were about it.  Gerhard Berger made one comment that regardless of their extra-curricular activities they were still able to get the job done.  Being great drivers made these guys famous, but their personalities and emotions made them legends.  We need more of that.  A good example was last year. I  was sitting in my car after the Edmonton race, completely exhausted, seeing Helio Castroneves running around shouting and grabbing people (who easily could have tossed his butt all the way back to Brazil.)  I loved that.  It showed true emotion and it showed just how much emotion we all have invested in this.  My other thought was, the WWE needs to get Helio in the ring, he’s a great performer.
I fully understand that racing is expensive and sponsors want a certain image but I think for the overall popularity of the sport everyone needs to loosen up.  I would love to go back to the ‘70s or ‘80s and drive past the Snake Pit after a long day at the track.  I would love to not be afraid to tell someone to stop “crying like a baby,” even though I’ve done that anyway.  I read Graham Rahal’s tweets. He is a great kid and super talented but he is about as exciting as British politics.  He is in his 20s, he drives the fastest cars in the world and he’s speaking about holding hands and getting double frappaccino with whipped cream.  I’m not saying rob a liquor store or anything crazy like that but let loose, live a little.

I think anyone who steps into a race car has to be mentally and physically prepared.  I spend a ton of time in the gym and I sleep in an altitude tent in preparation for race weekends.  I weigh myself every single day.  It’s important to have respect in combination with fun.  As much as we all enjoy chasing girls we still control some very powerful machinery and take our own lives as well as the lives of the spectators into our hands every time we go on track.  With that type of responsibility if you don’t have respect for it you shouldn’t be involved.

I hope I didn’t make too many people angry over the course of this.  I can honestly say I love each and every single one of you fans and the amount of support you’ve shown me over the years has been incredible.  I hope to be writing more often here.  And hopefully, if everything comes together, I’ll see you all at the greatest place on earth, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Comments

There are 34 comments for this post.

  1. chunter on December 15, 2010 1:53 pm
    chunter

    Well said, refreshing to hear a driver ask for more risk in racing.

  2. Marc Bever on December 15, 2010 2:14 pm
    Marc Bever

    For those wanting to read the “heated exchanges” between Tomas and PT, here’s the thread:

    http://www.trackforum.com/forums/showthread.php?144349-Do-You-Guys-Think-Michael-Andretti-Could-Still-Win

  3. mphillips on December 15, 2010 2:39 pm
    mphillips

    Thanks for posting Tomas. I have an enormous respect for all racecar drivers, but IndyCar needs to be insanely fast. Bring back the speed!

  4. The Dude on December 15, 2010 2:46 pm
    The Dude

    Where to begin, I suppose first off Barry Sheene never battled for a 600cc championship, he did win two 500cc Championships and then that same 500GP class moved on to become MotoGP. Secondly IMS isn’t the fastest track in the world, Fontana is (241mph and change by Gil) and finally who are you to say Graham isn’t popular? You’re a no name South African without a ride and you’ll probably never sniff a full time ride again, so your comments make you sound jealous. Your time to become someone has past, their are now plenty of young American drivers to piqué our interests here in the States, don’t let the retirement home door hit you in the ass on the way out.

  5. ttomkat on December 15, 2010 2:52 pm
    ttomkat

    Great blog entry, especially for your first attempt. Looking forward to read more from you and also looking very forward to seeing you in a race Are again soon.
    Hope to watch you in person at Indy next season.
    You’ve peaked my interest about that documentry and about your dad’s racing and will be learning more about both.

  6. David on December 15, 2010 3:06 pm
    David

    Great blog! I love the spirit and Indy does need the speed and danger back. It’s part of the history and mystique of the place. We also need to allow the drivers to express their emotions.

  7. SusanRae on December 15, 2010 3:11 pm
    SusanRae

    Great blog post! I laughed out loud here in my office at the “holding hands” comment. However, while Rahal might not be the most exciting “tweeter” out there, he is worlds better than the Dixon-bot. If Scott is paying to have someone tweet for him, he ought to just stick that money in his daughter’s college fund, and save everyone the time.

    Anyway, yes, let’s hit 230 this year and go for more in 2012. Hope to read more from you soon.

  8. GoFastNow on December 15, 2010 3:39 pm
    GoFastNow

    WOw, the dude. First of all, have you heard of a little known F1 driver named Jody Scheckter? Just checking. Yeah, that’s Tomas’ dad. No name South African? :) I don’t think so. Secondly, people compare Tomas to his first few seasons when he was young and out of control. Now, he is one of the most controlled, yet still exciting racers in the series AND he is still in his prime.

    Dixon has a tweet bot for fan updates only, and says he won’t twitter because he doesn’t need to spend any more time on the interwebs, his wife may leave him. LOL

  9. Mike on December 15, 2010 4:32 pm
    Mike

    Tomas that was an exhilarating account of Indycar and racing in general. Higher speeds alone would be exciting for the fans, but the fact that it would require more skill would lead to more action on the track. Your point on driver personalities is also well taken, more strong personalities will accentuate and showcase the passion you guys seem to have, but the fans aren’t able to see it often enough. Getting to know the drivers better, and having someone to root for, and even against, is an element that has been lacking (though you have been doing a great job of it). Your passion for the sport is evidenced by your hard work on and off the track which is why you’re a fan favorite and both the fans and the sport need you in a full time ride asap!

  10. Doug on December 15, 2010 4:48 pm
    Doug

    I agree whole heartedly. I read Graham’s tweets hoping for some racing insight and he’s boring as hell. We need less Mika Duno’s and more AJ Foyt’s. That cannot be denied.

  11. Cap'n TExan on December 15, 2010 4:51 pm
    Cap

    WAY TO GO TOMAS!
    Thank you for your honesty!!!
    Go get in in 2011!
    Cap’n Texan
    Round Rock, TExas

  12. ARL on December 15, 2010 5:05 pm
    ARL

    I’m glad the acorn didn’t fall too far from the tree. Even though Tomas’s father Jody was involved in safety issues, he still was a character, mugging for the camera and delivering fine one line shots at opponents. I believe he is still like that when he attends vintage racing events.

    And that’s what racing in Indy Car needs due to the sameness of the cars, its the drivers who bring the color to the sport. A little pushing and shoving in the pits is good for the crowd, and for the drivers for venting frustrations. Better words off the track, than dangerous actions on the track.
    I wish you luck getting a ride this year Tomas, and also to other colorful drivers like Tracy and Kanaan.

  13. Andy on December 15, 2010 5:06 pm
    Andy

    We need Tomas back in IndyCar, regardless of where he is from or his pedigree. Guy runs a race car right and should be a 500 winner (sorry Tomas) by now. He has an edge, shows emotion, and has really matured over those first tough but brilliant years. Reminds me a lot of PT, which the sport could use.

  14. AndyR on December 15, 2010 9:35 pm
    AndyR

    WAY TO GO TOMAS!! Best blog I’ve read in ages and agree with you 100%!

    Hope you get a full time ride in 2010 mate!

  15. Boone on December 15, 2010 9:38 pm
    Boone

    I wish Indy Car would go back to a car and wing setup that would put the emphasis on driving ability. I think, Tomas, that drivers like you would really shine if more of the ovals were run on the ragged edge with less tire, less downforce, and more horsepower.

  16. chunter on December 15, 2010 10:13 pm
    chunter

    Now that I have a little bit more time, I can specifically comment- F1 have taken a path to deliberately reintroduce a loss of grip in their cars, invigorating their sport. There are plenty of things Indycar can do as the new spec is introduced; returning to the highest allowable speeds is just one. I was impressed by the Brazil race last season, because although the course was unforgivably unrefined, the bump introduced by the change of pavement in that final corner is a welcome test of skill and nerve that Indycar doesn’t have enough of right now.

    Think about how F1 fans describe a corner like Eau Rouge in Belgium; a single corner that can be taken with the throttle open if and only if you approach it correctly- the slightest mistake ends your day. You could say IMS has four turns just like that, but for how many other Indycar venues can you say that?

    One of the reasons I have liked this series better than stock cars is that in Indycar, a single mistake will end your day. You can’t just duct tape it back on and go back out. It’s very nice to hear a driver appear to prefer that slim margin of error as much as a spectator.

  17. Ryan Lewis on December 15, 2010 10:34 pm
    Ryan Lewis

    Great first blog mate. There are too many vanilla drivers out there.the sport can’t just be about the cars. Look forward to 240 in May, cut the men from the boys.

  18. JoshO on December 16, 2010 1:00 am
    JoshO

    ride on Tomas, hope to see you out there all season in 2011….kickin ass and takin names.

    and to “the Dude” who should change his name to “the dousche”- are you drunk dude? reread your post and if you dont think you’re an idiot, your thinker is broken man…

  19. johnny araujo on December 17, 2010 5:58 am
    johnny araujo

    well done,very intresting reading
    and how are you keeping?

  20. J on December 17, 2010 10:01 am
    J

    Wasn’t a big Sheckter fan until reading this. Love his take on modern era Indy. Also love his take on Rahal. Rahal is great for the sport and for sponsors. But, for every Rahal, we need a Sheckter. Keep em coming.

  21. Darren on December 18, 2010 10:36 am
    Darren

    A bit narcissistic, but i enjoyed reading your first blog. I will defanitely be back to read your next one.

  22. Braam Filmalter on December 18, 2010 10:33 pm
    Braam Filmalter

    Nice to read what you always wanted to say………..
    Personally i am not watching Indy racing any more, check the website once in a while, on status updates if a team have the balls to give you a full time ride for 2011
    Good luck looking forward watching IRL again.

  23. MarkR on December 19, 2010 8:06 pm
    MarkR

    Provocative 1st blog. A question for Tomas & readers: Right now, does indycar have enough drivers who can handle 230-240? Seriously, would you trust Duno around 230 mph racing?

  24. Ernie Strong on December 21, 2010 6:59 am
    Ernie Strong

    Tomas I am the track marshall James punch in Mosport. I outlived him

  25. BC on December 21, 2010 10:31 am
    BC

    @MarkR I think that’s the point!
    “racing is sexy, dangerous, loud, scary, and on the edge…it’s important that we get the fans’ respect back.” If someone w/demonstrated epic slowness [on other tracks] of Milka Duno can handle Indianapolis, how much respect can a fan really have for the challenges of the driver?

    “I’m not saying rob a liquor store or anything, but…”

    HA! Brilliant advice. I’m now envisioning the potential of a collaborative effort between you and Roy Hobbson, maybe like “Scheckter opines…Hobbson interprets”? Couldn’t fail.

  26. Daz Jack on February 8, 2011 12:28 am
    Daz Jack

    Nice one Tomas, looking forward to your next blog. Sheene and James were legends and ones we lost too soon but I feel they lived a full life why they were here.

    The sport needs more personalities and less robots but you have to be yourself and there are more robots in F1. Indycar just has nice guys and one not so nice girl.

    Don’t rip Dixon, he is who he is and at least has no BS about him.

    I want to see another good scrap with you and Tag again in Toronto this year or we need PT back in full time. Tomas v PT = ratings.

    DJ

  27. David Williams on February 26, 2011 11:17 am
    David Williams

    I agree entirely with the post. Racing has become much more sedate and boring than it used to be, for all the reasons Scheckter mentions and some he doesn’t mention, for instance the fact that so many “twisty” tracks, both in Indycar and Formula 1, are seemingly designed to make passing almost impossible, so that the races are won in the pits and announcers talk about “the parade that a Formula 1 race has become”. I’m old enough to remember the kind of racing that kept you glued to whatever device you were watching it on, or listening to it on — the first race I ever witnessed was on the radio, the early ’50s Indy 500 in which Bill Vukovich was killed in a bad crash while trying to win Indy for the third time in a row. For anyone who wants to learn what racing was like in its heyday read Stirling Moss’s ALL BUT MY LIFE, a book by Ken Purdy which talks a great deal about the great drivers of the past in ways that reveal the inner drive and need that made them great. One of the reviews said it was Formula 1’s version of DEATH IN THE AFTERNOON, Hemingway’s big book about bullfighters and bullfighting. I’d like to read more blog entries by Thomas Scheckter.

  28. Stevew on April 18, 2011 4:05 pm
    Stevew

    Good blog Tomas, look forward to your return to Indy and Indycar!

  29. Rick Borden on May 13, 2011 9:43 am
    Rick Borden

    Nice job on first blog Tomas. I am really glad you will be back at Indy this year. I feel that you are one of the most exciting drivers on the track. You always go flat out and always go for it. You took that car last year to places it should not have been and made for more excitement. We need more of this. I’ve noticed that there are some drivers with great rides who merely keep station during the race. They motor around and allow great pit work and strategy to get them a good finish (AKA Patrick). If I had a billion dollars I’d get a car with a great crew and go after Penske and Ganassi as I feel you would definitely mix it with their drivers. I feel that either you or TK have the moxy and talent to beat them.

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