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Road America Diary:
Day Two
Starry, Starry Night

Elkhart Lake, Wisc., August 11 ó I know youíre waiting to hear what my high flying luggage has been up to since yesterday. Our Ricardo rolling duffle was in Los Angeles, then Chicago, and finally flew to Milwaukee, where she was picked up by a deliveryman and finally escorted by a bellman to our hotel room in Kohler. After a brief inspection in which we discovered Jeffís electric shaver was no longer working (wonder what the TSA did with this, itís only about a year old), we unpacked our ďdelayed luggageĒ and it became a clothes hamper. Oh well, cíest la vie. One day a jet flyer, the next day, a clothes hamper.

I am amazed at how beautiful the stars are at night. Living for most of the year in Los Angeles, itís very easy to forget how awesome the sky can look in darkness when there are no city lights to compete. I spent about half an hour on our balconyís chaise lounge just looking at them and trying to remember the names of the brighter stars and constellations. Itís always the same for me when watching the heavens or the ocean: it gives me perspective on the relative importance of whatever is consuming my thoughts at the moment. Usually, whatever I thought was critical really is not. And, itís very easy to lose focus on what is vital in our lives if we are not very careful how we spend our time.

Jeff and I attended the 2nd Annual Tailgate party given by CARA Charities on Friday night. Whatís interesting about CARA is that it is one of the few organizations to survive, and even thrive, in the open wheel racing split. CARA Charities is a presence at every Champ Car and IRL event. How interesting it is that the women have in general, as have most drivers, remained friends and above the fray of the split which has fractured open wheel racing over the past decade.

Among other worthy causes that CARA supports is the rural fire department of Elkhart Lake. In addition to drivers, team members, and sponsors, we see fire department members as well as staff from Johnsonville Brats. After signing on for a few silent auction items, Russell, Jeff, and I made our way to the Bridgestone Hospitality tent where a plasma screen has the Grand Am race airing live from Watkins Glen. Since there are less than 10 of us in there, I figure we have to be the most hard core racing fans in the whole place. Itís great to see Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty win their race at The Glen.

Saturday starts out much better than Friday due to the Deep Throttle gang actually getting some sleep, and we arrive at the track ready for a great day. Since Jeff and I are only covering two series, this leaves us time to actually talk to one another and to Russell. But, mostly, it gives us plenty of time to focus on racing. The whole money and racing issue has been troubling me lately, and our friend Cathy, a Canadian journalist, articulates whatís been bothering me very succinctly when she says, ďIn what other form of sport does talent not matter as much as having money does Ė in what other sport do you have to have money to compete?Ē Indeed.

This reminds me of our friend, Justin Sofio, who will start 16th in the Atlantic race. It also brings to mind the very rapid rise of Graham Rahal, who qualified fourth in Champ Car. These are two very interesting racers, each with a story, and each with his hopes and dreams. What is important to these two drivers tells us nearly everything we need to know about the proverbial problem of money in professional auto racing.

We have known about Graham Rahal for nearly his entire life, but he really emerged in the public eye last year as a racer apart from being his fatherís son, when he drove his only season in the Atlantic series. Young Graham did very well, placing second in the points. I remember his saying something to the effect that he didnít need the spectacular prize money that eventually went to Simon Pagenaud. With seemingly little effort, he secured a seat at Newman Haas, and as we reported previously, he wants to go to Formula One in 2009. I have no doubt that Graham will win races, perhaps some championships, and Bobby is still connected enough to help his son get that F1 drive he wants so badly. Wow. In racing, we are supposed to pay attention to the guys in the front. They are supposed to be the guys with all the talent.

Except, the guys in the front in the Atlantic series in particular are not necessarily the guys with all the talent. One of the reasons that Rahal didnít stay in Atlantic for another year was that there is so much talent there that itís very easy for anyone, even the wealthy and talented, to get lost in the shuffle. Yet, in this very competitive field, Justin Sofio soldiers on. Money is something that Justin just doesnít have. Talent is something he has in abundance. That and tenacity, intelligence, and courage Ė these are all part of Sofio, who also has a very wonderful friend in his team owner, Ray Mathiasen.

I can still remember Justinís palpable dejection at the Atlantic car unveiling on Valentineís Day in 2006. He told us that he had come there to say goodbye to his dreams for good. It was just too sad for me. I am, of course, an incurable romantic, and so I looked into his eyes and then spun him around and said, ďDonít you dare give up, Justin. You never know whatís going to happen.Ē And what happened next stunned us both. It nearly took our breaths away, because that night, Ray told Justin he was going to put him into one of those beautiful new cars. Of course, having told this story in all itís sappy glory, Justin is going to give me a very hard time of it, you can rest assured, because heís also a pretty down to earth guy.

I donít know if Justin will ever win an Atlantic race, although it would be great if he did. Iím even less certain about a championship, and less certain still that he will ever make it into Champ Car. Now, he certainly is as talented as Graham Rahal, who has never wrenched his own race car as Sofio has. Remember, racing is not only about the talent. Itís also about having money or access to someone with money. And itís not just about talent and money, itís also about having access to people with even more money and power. And so, if Justin Sofio happens to get a top five or even a top ten, please be excited for him. If you see Ray Mathiasen, consider thanking him. There are very few among us who make other peopleís dreams come true.

Whatís important? To Van Gogh, it was art, to Sofio and Rahal, itís racing. As I look forward to another starry night on Lake Michigan, I say, why not both?

Copyright © 2007 by Lisa Davidson and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

 
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