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.
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.