Car Culture / Griot's Garage / Racing / Stories

Finding an Icon: Passion,Persistence, and the Long Road to Fulfilling a Dream

persistence-passion_thumbnailI 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.


The author in college with his second Jeep, still dreaming Ferrari (note the hat).

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!).


Richard’s 1983 Class at the Jim Russell School of Motor Racing.

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.


Some advice sticks with us, however it’s delivered.

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

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!

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  1. Congratulations! Thanks for sharing this great story. I have shared it with my 16 year old son who has similar aspirations.

  2. Kim Peterson says:

    Great story Richard. I started w/ go karts when I was 14,and advanced into hot cars @ the drag strip. Now I’m in my 6th year of road racing my 2006 Dodge Viper @ 63 years old. What a rush. “Those with no dreams can never have any dreams come true.” How true this is. In 1992 when Viper was born I never thought I would own a Dodge Viper. This is my third one, with a fourth one on order. Dreams are what make us, make things happen. Keep on dreaming. Thanks for the great products you offer to the auto world.

  3. Glad to hear you were able to have your dreams come true. Owning Lauda’s 312 F1 car is certainly the icing on the cake.

    I think you do James Hunt a disservice. He was not born wealthy; he worked hard for what he had. He was certainly a womanizer (even his own mother said so when he divorced Suzi Hunt) but he was not a playboy. He had sex with huge numbers of women, but clearly they didn’t object and most of us would have done the same thing in his shoes.

    And he was an F1 Champion- the world’s best, at least for one year. He was a dedicated competitor, a winner at the most demanding motorsport of all.

    And he isn’t around to defend himself, not that he would bother. With the release of the movie about his rivalry with Lauda (tomorrow) much attention is being paid to both of them. The difference is that Lauda (another great F1 driver) IS around to control what is said about him. James Hunt is not.

    So let’s not speak ill of the dead, shall we? “Playboy” implies a certain superficiality, shallowness perhaps. With all his faults, Hunt was not superficial, nor was he shallow. The final descriptor of James Hunt should be World Champion- he earned the title honestly.

    Jim Rosenthal
    Annapolis, MD

  4. Fred Patton says:

    Congratulations on a brilliant acquisition. I built Tamiya’s 1/12 scale model of that car when I was a teenager. Lauda was and is my ultimate racing hero, and I saved a long time to buy that model. I prized that model for many years.

    I also borrowed “The Art and Science of Gran Prix Driving” from the library many times and pored over every detail. Still haven’t been behind the wheel of an F1 car, but some day!

    Fred Patton
    San Jose, CA

  5. Manuel T. says:

    Richard: “He wasn’t the playboy that rival James Hunt was.”

    Jim Rosenthal : “He was certainly a womanizer … but he was not a playboy. He had sex with huge numbers of women…”

    Playboy: ” A wealthy man who spends his time enjoying himself, esp. one who behaves irresponsibly or is sexually promiscuous.”

    Seems to me, that Richards description was entirely accurate. At least in the womanizer sense. For if that was not the case, justification of the sort, “…most of us would have done the same thing in his shoes.”, would not be needed.

    Loved the story, articles such as this that demonstrate your love for automobiles, and the quality of your products, is what keeps me a loyal customer.

    ” “Those with no dreams can never have any dreams come true.”—-Words to live by.

  6. Jeff Roberts says:

    Thanks for a great story Richard! The closest I came to that car was building the expensive (for me) 1/8 scale model of that car….but I knew every piece and painted each correctly…taking 6 months to build it!

    Thanks again from another CU grad and longtime Griot’s Garage customer.

  7. Kevin McGrew says:

    I believe I have a picture of me beside that car at the 2009 Kohler Invitational at Road America. It was great to see that car in the flesh.

  8. Joe Kruskamp says:

    Will view the movie with the usual jaundiced skepticism. But as a person who relates to your path on automotive passion, it’s all about what keeps me sane these days. When I had the money to drive hillclimbs in the northwest, I was in that “Zone”for about 2 minutes at a time. No other experience seems to resonate, like pursuing the fastest run against the Clock.
    Your company reflects that passion you so aptly describe here..
    From the sidelines, for now..

  9. Creighton Francis Gibbons says:

    This is an amazing read. Inspirational.


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