I love Father’s Day. It’s a day I get to spend time with my kids and I think of how fortunate I am to have such a great mentor in my own father. My father is still larger than life to me and I’m so thankful to have a best friend in life that I look up to. This year though, I’ve stopped to ask myself, “How am I doing as a father?”
And, as you’ll see, I’ve gotten a bit off track in recent years.
This story starts in my teens. I was sitting across from my father at his favorite Chinese restaurant and I had one of those paradigm moments; a moment that reveals your direction in life. My father knew I loved cars and that I wanted to race in the worst way, and instead of fighting it, he encouraged me to follow my dreams. (Of course my mother wasn’t at the table so he could say anything he wanted!) He asked me if there was a racing school I could go to and see if I liked the experience or not. In other words, “Time to get it out of your system, son.” Of course I had already answered that question in my mind and had a list of three! At the end of the dinner I opened up my fortune cookie to read, “Those with no dreams, can never have any dreams come true.” Quite frankly, that one line set my compass for life.
Attending a three-day racing school during college, turned into working for the Jim Russell School of Motor Racing after college. The deal was, you worked as a race mechanic and they paid for your racing! What could be better for a kid that didn’t have two nickels to rub together! While working there and gathering race experience on weekends, I came to the conclusion that driving a race car, as a career choice, wasn’t for me. So the dream of driving for a Formula One team in Europe wasn’t going to be realized. I was okay with that, and at least I found out early in life instead of dreaming about it the rest of my life. Don’t get me wrong, I loved racing cars, I just should have started sooner than my early twenties if I was going to make a serious run at it professionally.
When you are bit by the car bug, as you guys know, it’s crippling. And after several dream-less jobs, I finally started the business you see today, Griot’s Garage. After 26 years of having fun creating it, I really can’t see doing anything else! It really has been a dream to have a career, doing what I love most in this world… being around car people and providing products for their passion as well as mine.
As time marched on, children came… and suddenly being a father was my most important job. Even though I would still go to Monterey Historics every year and watch the Historic Racing events with envy, I waited until my four children were out of diapers before kick-starting my desire to go racing again. As I hung on to the fence at Laguna Seca, I vowed to make my teenaged dreams of driving a Formula One car come true. So I started in lesser formula and events to get back onto the track to see if I still had it.
Once in back in the cockpit, it felt like a drug… and within a few years I started looking for my first Formula One car. Attaining my dream of driving an F1 car only set the bar higher. Turns out, competing at the Monterey Historics was only a stepping stone to other opportunities which further ignited the dream I had as a teenager… To drive a Formula One through the streets of Monaco, on the same track as my childhood heroes of Lauda, Hunt, Villeneuve, Prost, and Senna…
Drive a Formula One race car… Check
Compete in a Formula One race car during the Monterey Historics… Check.
Drive a Formula One race car at the Ferrari Test Track… Check.
This last dream, the big one, was still troubling me… even though I had been invited to partake in the world’s most prestigious vintage racing event, The Historic Grand Prix of Monaco, twice, I didn’t go. My racing friends were in disbelief. “Let me get this straight Richard, you have the car to get in, you’re accepted, and you’re NOT going? Do you know how many people want to be in your shoes?”
Why? Why didn’t I want to fulfill my greatest and biggest dream when the brass ring was right there for the taking?
Life is a funny thing… When you’re young, you have no fear. You do crazy stuff like race cars and start businesses! Then these things called man boobs start to appear and you start questioning everything. Even your dreams get lost in the static… to the point you no longer recognize them as your dreams. I hadn’t really felt this slide into living a complacent life, but I was getting a little soft around the edges physically, and not racing for the past couple of years had made me lose my edge in life emotionally.
As a father figure to my children, their admiration in me had definitely started to slide as well. I believe I hit rock bottom when my son caught me with a spoonful of ice cream in my mouth… I could tell he was disappointed in his father by the frown on his face. My weight had crested 237 pounds. I was a far cry from the 180 pounds when I raced and worked on Formula Fords at the Jim Russell School of Motor Racing in the early ’80s. I was fat and out of shape and my dream of driving a Formula One through the streets of Monaco, after being accepted for the event, looked to be aligned for another refusal… Which only led to more ice cream eating…
Excuses can run rampant in life. Too much work, a challenging economy, commitments to others, being out of shape… Pick one. Build on it, and blaze a trail to being let out to the loser pasture. Being a father means being larger than life to your children. Not fulfilling my dreams wasn’t only a disappointment to myself, but was also a disappointment to my children. It was time to do something. Time to get back in the race of life and living one’s dreams.
After the third acceptance letter came in from the Monaco Historics, I told myself… it’s now or never. Do I sit here and shrivel up into a pile of man boobs, or do I show my children, and others I love, that a life worth living is a life of fulfilling your dreams. I made the commitment to go.
Then the hard work started. I had to get back in a race car and start testing. I especially had to get back into shape! I hired a personal trainer, took the ice cream spoon out of my mouth, and slowly started to see results day by day. It was challenging at first, sore knees and muscles everywhere, and I had six weeks to get ready for my first test session. Diet started to improve, pounds started to be shed, and I gradually felt like I could at least fit into the cramped cockpit of a F1 car again… or so I thought.
The first time back in an F1 car, in at least two years, was disappointing… I could hardly breathe and my lap times were way off the pace. Quite frankly I was questioning if I should even be going to Monaco. My neck was sore afterwards from the G loads, my shifts were sloppy, braking was subpar, hell, I didn’t even have it to the floor in places where the accelerator should be mashed flat. So I went home from this demoralizing test session disappointed in myself. I didn’t even recognize the man in the mirror anymore.
Experiencing the lowest point of being caught with an ice cream spoon in my mouth, was only surpassed by the way I was feeling now. It was time to hit the reset button on my life. I told myself not to give up, and that anything and I mean ANYTHING is possible when you have the will to succeed and the commitment to follow through. Hanging over my head was the commitment I made to show up in Monaco… and what sort of fatherly example, would I be if I backed away from something that meant so much to me. I told my children for years to follow their dream and live a passionate life. If you’re going to say stuff like that, you better walk the talk.
So I scheduled another test session at Sears Point. I was not going to give up and I started working out even harder… to the point of almost throwing up a few times on the rowing machine. Two weeks went by and I came back to the track 10 pounds lighter, and this time I was mentally prepared to drive… something so critical in a race car of this magnitude.
Amazing things happen when you have an attitude to kick some ass. My lap times dropped by six seconds, I felt better and better each lap. I had one of those euphoric, breakthrough moments in the car and felt I was back! Maybe not to the level of previous years, but I felt ready for Monaco! And I didn’t stop there. With three more weeks before the race, I worked out even harder. I could see the workouts were having a dramatic effect on my stamina, and ability to focus. I wanted to prove to my son, who was going with me to Monaco, that I was the father he thought I was… Unafraid of any challenge in life, and committed to follow through on my dream.
“Those with no dreams, can never have any dreams come true” never ringed so true as I scrunched down into the cockpit of the 1966 F1 Gurney Eagle. Hitting the starter button on the grid at Monaco is a story for another day, but the highlights of the experience are captured in the in-car video at the end of this post. I did, however, fulfill the dream of my youth, I did compete on the streets of Monaco, and I drove to the best of my ability.
As my son watched from the side of the track, it didn’t matter to him that I finished last, it mattered to him that I rose up and didn’t quit on my dream. We had many father/son moments the whole week we were there. To be that father for him, that father that shows his children that anything is possible is what makes this Father’s Day all the more special for me.
As I write this, my son Nick has asked if he could come to work at Griot’s Garage and follow his passion. (I guess, much like his Dad, he wasn’t cut out for the corporate world.) Nick will be out on the road this year, working the show circuit. If you see him in our service station themed booth, make sure you stop by and say “Hi”! He has a very proud father behind him, admiring what he has chosen to do with his life.
As for my father on this special day, “Thank you Dad for giving me the support and courage to follow my dreams. I can’t thank you enough.”
And for all the other fathers that have made a difference in someone’s life, I share with you, however challenging it may be to always follow your dreams. Because, “Those with no dreams, can never have any dreams come true.”
Have fun in your garage,
Have fun in your garage!