While traveling through Africa and Europe this week on business, I had one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I got to race a BMW 5 Series GT car at the incredibly beautiful Rudskogen Race Circuit. But this goes no where near telling the whole story. Here is the whole story.
After connecting with Harald Huysman, who is arguably the greatest race car driver in Norway, I was invited to not only come to his Rudskogen Race Circuit in Oslo, Norway to take race training on Sunday, but that Harald Huysman would conduct the lesson for me himself. It was an unbelievable experience, and the Rudskogen team of professionals could not have been more helpful, supportive and accommodating.
After a few laps observing the master at work, it was time for me to take the wheel, all supervised by Mr. Huysman of course. Soon it was time for an energy refueling over lunch. And after lunch with Harald Huysman and his inspiring son Cedric Huysman, it was time of the surprise challenge of my life. I was being entered into a race later that day on the track. Harald thought, based on what he observed, that I was both ready and capable. And so, soon I found myself being prepped and suited up for my first race ever. It was called a BMW 5 Series 100 Minute Le Mans and it featured an executive leadership group that had rented the track for the day, and now me.
As a courtesy I went over to meet my fellow drivers. And while they could not have been more gracious and kind, one of the drivers had a sense of humor. He invited me to ‘take a photo of his back,’ as ‘that would be the only thing I would be seeing for the rest of the day.’ I did not say a word. I just got in my car, positioned in the last position on the grid.
Using everything Harald Huysman had taught me earlier in the day, I became one with the car and centered my energy in the race seat, communicating my intent through the wheel, brake, clutch, H-Shifter and throttle. Before I knew it, the race had begun and we were barreling down the straight away at Rudskogen in a tightly bunched group.
Intent on bringing back Mr. Huysman’s BMW the exact way he gave it to me, I stayed close to the group, but far enough away and to the side so that if anything happened I could react. But I also start seeing, almost immediately, ‘lines and opportunity’ through the pack of drivers and cars. The first two turns alluded my ability to challenge, as drivers blocked my direct advancement behind them. By turn three, commonly referred to as “the Butcher,” for its unique navigation requirements and its ability to take drivers off the field of play, I began to overtake other cars and pass them. By the time I made it to the top of Rudskogen I had passed six cars. This continued, as can be seen in the video taken by the chase car, pretty consistently throughout the remainder of the race. You will hear Harald’s son say at one point that I was ‘overtaking two cars on every corner.'
I came in for one pit stop when I saw a flag I did not understand. Better safe than sorry I thought. Well, they were just worried about me. I had completed 20 laps, which was about 10 more than they thought I would. The interior of the car was hot, as is the case in race cars, and they just needed to make sure I was hydrated and up to the task. I told them I was, and after 8-10 minutes of water and Norwegian chocolate, I was back in the seat and rolling down pit lane to rejoin the race.
Because I had no active radio communications inside the car and had never been in a race before, I had no clue what to be looking for, outside of staying clear of other cars. So i decided — as much as I felt great — to just keep driving until the end.
Somewhere around lap 30, something happened to me. I changed. I went from a little nervous and edgy and a bit to mental, to being quiet and centered, almost like a meditational space. I called it a ‘whitespace.’ Everything else in my life just fell away. It was me, the car and the road, and the feeling was nothing less than spiritual. Yes, spiritual.
The next thing I knew, I was seeing the checkered flag, so I breathed a sigh of relief, just because I knew I had achieved a lifetime dream — finishing a legitimate car race.
As I pulled into pit row, my support folks from Rudskogen had a strange look on their face. Strange, combined with a little fascination and disbelief. They needed to reconfirm what they thought they knew before telling me, but what I heard next blew me away.
I had the best overall track lap time of all drivers on the track that day. The track record for the BMW 5 Series I was driving at Rudskogen Race Circuit was 1:47 seconds. I had finished with a best lap time of 1:51 seconds.
And I had won the race. That’s right. I had placed first place amongst my driving peers in Olso, Norway. It does seem to make sense now, what that tall Norwegian gentleman had told me. I did see only the back of him — as I lapped him. It also appears that I lapped the entire field, and finished three laps ahead of the next driver, placing second.
All this said, the other teams had three-man teams and pitted to change out fresh drivers throughout the 100 minute race. I only had me. I pitted for 10 minutes, but other than that I just drove. So, while the pit times probably equaled out, I will allow for some consideration that the other drivers ‘may’ have pitted more than me. At the end of the day, in racing it’s about overall points (combined race time to finish) and I would imagine, average lap speed. I topped all of that by a mile, I am told.
I think my greatest compliment came when the Race Director came out of his tower and told me what he radioed half way through the race. He had asked about midway through, ‘is Harald (Huysman) on the track? Is he driving car #10?’ You have no idea how big a compliment this was for me to hear. I have so much respect for Mr. Huysman now; as a driver, a circuit owner, a professional, a father, and now a friend. Honored to be mentioned in the same sentence.
Several other regular drivers and professional driving instructors also came over after the race to congratulate me, and to take a picture. They said they wanted to have a photo because it was so rare that a stranger showed up and performed so smoothly, and with confidence at the top of expertise scale.
I am still on cloud 98 really. I just wanted a race training session, and got the experience of a lifetime. Let me think here — I won my first race in a race car, at a top track in Europe, trained by a top Norwegian legend. For a man in love with passion, purpose and achievement, is there anything else?
Is there more to come? You bet.