I’m sitting in Window Seat F, with a view of a jetliner wingtip on a white cloud backdrop. A cup of weak Delta coffee, combined with my jacket, are keeping me relatively warm on my return from a 24-hour trip to Washington, DC video game industry gala. I’m lucky to still have possession of my jacket as it draws attention and questions like “Where can I get one of those?” and “Do you really work there?” It’s also indicative of a recent, major life change, what some people would call a new chapter in the book of life. Now is the time to document this story: I’ll be going on dozens of flights next year, but this may be the last “for pleasure” trip for quite a while.
A year ago at this time, I was intentionally setting sail in a sea of indecision. My side job, a hospitality brokerage for Formula 1 in Austin and Monaco, was fun but dependent on the health of the Formula 1 brand and its race circuits. I was investing more time in it than I had available, and was not making the kind of money I used to earn when the US Grand Prix had its hype pre-loaded as it did in the inaugural race. As a ticket broker, I make a very small percentage of what I sell and the competition is high - my unique selling proposition is that I can pick and choose what I sell, rather than being beholden to only one partner, so I try to only work with vendors I truly trust. Still, it was hard to get the word out to a higher-end audience while working on my day job. It was time to commit or get out. But, the thought of neglecting my hard-earned F1 connections by my own choice brought a feeling of of self-sabotage.
Rather than making a decision at that point, I put my energy in to going to as many different types of races as I could in 2015 - this motorsports world is all about connections and being in the right place at the right time. That said, the importance of showing up to a diverse set of events within “the industry” was paramount, both literally and metaphorically.
So, I did.
I volunteered to cover the inaugural Formula E race in Long Beach, California, for E-Racing Magazine in April. There, I observed the business operations of a totally new race series being hosted by the experienced Long Beach Grand Prix organizers on their historic street circuit. I made valuable connections and friends with people in media and racing who I still keep up with today, and who I expect to cross paths with in the near future. I went to a Chump Car race at a small local track, where in freezing, muddy conditions I cheered for the 1988 Coors Light Thunderbird against the “Viagara” car and a whole host of duct-taped, Frankensteined shitboxes - fun weekend racing in its truest form. Contrast that with a Circuit of the Americas track day for the Gold Rush Rally later that summer, a fascinating brand fueled by the rush of self-idolization via multi-million-dollar car exhibitionism. Imagine any combination of gold chrome wrap, Bugatti Veyrons, champagne, and the logo of whatever company you domineer laid out in a Louis Vuitton-type pattern across the hood of your V12 car - and documented via Instagram. It’s to car culture what the Kardashians are to TV. Mesmerizing and ridiculous in all of the best ways.
Then there was the 2-night trip to Monaco for the F1 Grand Prix (all business there, in truth), MotoGP VIP Village at Austin, working as grid operations at the Longhorn Racing Academy’s exotic car track days at COTA, a PCA race at Texas World Speedway covering the Austin WEC race, and preparing my own business’ sales inventory for the next US Grand Prix. I wrote a few articles about the Monaco GP and Audi. There was the red mudfest of Petit Le Mans in Atlanta, the Austin IMSA race ... but somehow it was the sparsely-attended Pirelli World Challenge (PWC) race at COTA which reconfigured my current life and put me in this jacket I’m wearing.
At every race I’d attended, I did my best to get in, meet people, get interviews, and write. I wanted to document and share what I saw, not specifically to become a full-time journalist, but because this sport is fascinating and people want all access. It’s bth dynamic and lacking consistent promotion, so producing content is nutrition for insatiable fans. At PWC, though, this wasn’t so easy. For E-Racing Magazine, my role was to cover either Electric or Endurance racing, of which PWC is neither. What it does have are some racers who compete in Endurance series, so my job was to find and interview the best of the crop for the interest of our readers.
PWC is a good quality series but not regarded as the top eagle on the motorsports totem pole - so there aren’t huge parties or many major brands launching sponsor activations as there are in other race series. One team, TRG-Aston Martin Racing, was hosting some type of cocktail party at Austin’s Petrol Lounge, and I had received an invitation from one of the lounge’s principals. I RSVPd to the team’s marketing guy and found out that one of their drivers, Christina Nielsen, in fact had quite a bit of endurance racing history - this party is looking even better, I thought. But, plans changed, I emailed them to cancel, and was invited to interview Christina at the team’s garage the next day.
March in Texas is windy and chilly, hovering between the first warm days of Spring and bitter cold winds. This day it was raining and I was trudging through the paddock at COTA to find this TRG-Aston Martin Racing tent, a team I was only vaguely familiar with but interested in showing up because of missed opportunities at the cocktail party. Passing tents for Porsche, Ferrari, and Audi, I finally found the TRG-AMR setup - impressive, with a dark black and blue motif, groups of people chatting behind an Aston Martin with a mechanic under the hood, waitresses serving hors d’oeuvres and a steaming lunch buffet. This was just about the best thing I had seen that cold day.
Impressions only improved: I had a great, long chat with Christina about her racing history and her goals for the upcoming season; and unknown to either one of us at the time, I had my first interview for TRG. I mentioned to her that I was surprised by the quality of the team’s setup and she confirmed that yes, it feels a bit like a family on this team. After the interview I was invited to stay in their tent while the rainstorm passed to join them for lunch and a Nespresso. As I ate, I met another of their drivers, Derek DeBoer, who was joined by his wife, children, and mother-in-law. I may have stayed there for an hour getting to know the family dynamics of this race team before moving on to my next interviews.
After PWC weekend, I was compelled to write a thank-you note to the people I met on the team, tell them I was impressed, and thank them for allowing me to hang out with them - purely becuase I was genuinely impressed and not because I expected anything more. I wrote my article about their team for E-Racing Magazine, and that was the last I thought about TRG for a while.
In late June, I was mindlessly scrolling through Twitter when I cam across a beautiful old photo of an Aston Martin DB5, and posted it with the caption, “Sometimes a girl needs a little Aston Martin in her life.” Three days later, I see a listing for a job position at TRG. Anyone who has ever hunted for a creative role at a race team would verify my surprise at this rare opportunity. After I applied, I had this strangely certain feeling that I would be hired for this job, move to California, and that was just going to be my new reality. I applied and got an email back an hour later to schedule a call for the next interview time slot. Many months and many interviews pass - that prcoess could be a whole story in itself - and now, I’m sitting here in Window Seat F, thinking over my Marketing plan for tomorrow’s meeting at the TRG-Aston Martin Racing office, typing this story while wearing my team jacket.
I made myself available this year and had an amazing set of experiences as a result. Life took a new turn and I left the people (and dog) I care for the most behind so I could take a chance on personal fulfillment. It’s a new route and I feel it’s along the right path, and I can still maintain my F1 business on the side.
To balance this retrospective about an incredible year of race cars, travel, fears, and success, I’d like to document a resolution for 2016 and beyond: do not get jaded. To be jaded is to become cynical and complacent, both useless expenditures of energy. It’s something I see far, far too often in the racing industry, and there’s no good reason to fall in to that state unless your list of intentions is unchecked.
What I will try to do is always move forward, stay grateful, stay amazed, stay interested. I have my own checkered flag to chase.