I was 16 years old, hanging on the fence at the Long Beach GP watching Niki Lauda race by at incomprehensible speeds (to a kid with a 1953 Jeep, anyway). The wail of his Ferrari 312T’s flat-twelve raised every hair. It was an unfamiliar rush. One that has never left, and is still the adrenaline chill I crave today.
By the end of that day, I could close my eyes and know which car was flying by, just by the sound and the concussion on my chest. The midrange Cosworth DFV, the flat-twelve howl of Alfa Romeo and Ferrari, the horrific wail of the V-12 Matra. It was fuel for my brain.
I walked away from that fence wanting to be a Formula One driver, the next Niki Lauda. Problem is, I had a M38A1 Jeep to learn on. No matter, as I would drive the wheels off of it figuratively and literally!
Niki Lauda was my idol, my kind of driver. Smart, patient, and in possession of a will to win that remains with him to this day. He wasn’t the playboy that rival James Hunt was. Lauda was all business. His books ignited my dreams. “The Art and Science of Grand Prix Driving” and “My Years With Ferrari” helped me understand the world I wanted to live in. Driving, as I’ve always said, is an art form. You either have it or you don’t. Come to find out, Niki Lauda seemed to think so as well.
As a young man hanging on a fence, you don’t realize that time is a precious commodity and can slip away; especially if you want to be a Formula One driver. High school led to the University of Colorado, and while there I was lucky enough to get a job working as an apprentice on some of the most exciting race cars ever made (ok, it wasn’t really luck… I went into Sports and Vintage Racing and asked for a job five times before finally offering to work for free).
At 23, I applied for the Mechanics/Racing program at the Jim Russell School of Motor Racing. It was a great program to race cars if you didn’t have two nickels to rub together. But, by the time I showed up with my helmet bag, others already had years of experience. Driving an out of control Jeep had definitely counted for an intangible “something,” but my race craft needed some work.
Even at 23, I realized I was late to the party, but it was an experience I wouldn’t trade. The problem after my days at JRSMR was, as it is today, that all I do is eat, sleep, and dream about cars! Racing was my drug, and nothing could compare. So pervasive was this passion, my father encouraged me to start Griot’s Garage so I could live my dream in some way each and every day (I have him to thank for the support, and you to thank for letting me serve you… and, quite frankly, I have nowhere else to go!).
The years passed by… Children, starting Griot’s Garage, more children, and after 17 years I thought it was time to climb into a race car again.
Back when I was 19, my father and I had discussed my racing aspirations over dinner. I saved in my wallet the advice that came in that night’s fortune cookie. It read, “Those with no dreams can never have any dreams come true.” 23 years later, as I climbed into a Formula One car to drive for the first time, I taped that fortune to the dash. It was a wonderful sight that reminded me I never gave up on my dream.
More recently, following a tip about where a Ferrari 312T might be hiding in Europe, I spent the next eight months negotiating to buy the car, then another six weeks of sleepless nights until it arrived in Seattle on a pallet. They say we buy things at my age to bring back youth. For me, the boy that was hanging on the fence that so badly wanted to be on the other side racing, had finally found his fountain of youth.
Seeing the car for the first time, my eyes started to water… the adrenaline was back. This time there was no fence separating me from the car I had admired so many years ago. I put my hand on the steering wheel that Niki Lauda held and the rush was back. Another life long dream was underway.
It’s a funny thing about dreams. They get you to do things you normally wouldn’t dare to achieve. When I started Griot’s Garage, I never could have imagined the company it has become. All of you that have supported us, and those that we’ve met along the way, have made it all worthwhile. I ask you, “What are your dreams? What keeps you up at night thinking of how to expand your universe?”
For me, it’s still pretty simple. I dream about cars. European cars, American cars, sports cars, race cars, classics, customs… anything that rolls on rubber. And I dream about striving to create the very best products to help protect and beautify these treasures. All so you…
Have fun in your garage!