Until Dad took me to Riverside International Raceway for the 1962 LA Times Grand Prix, cars were just big, lumbering sleds grownups used to go places.
But that October Sunday changed everything for a then-kid, as Graham Hill and Jack Brabham, Ken Miles and Masten Gregory—among other racing luminaries of the day—engaged in a howling spectacle of speed, bravery and finesse, instantly and forever imprinting me with the bug. Hardly a unique scenario for young ’uns and sports, to be sure—and how I wished Dad would race his Austin-Healey!
That never happened, but decades later he did buy a Mini Cooper S. Perhaps he, like me, recalled the early Minis audaciously two-wheeling around turn 6 as they harried bigger, more powerful cars.
It’s funny how life repeats.
Because now, more years on and with that supercharged Mini now in my garage and my own kid, I couldn’t help but wonder: What kind of imprint should I create? There were two obvious choices: Hop in the Mini and treat the lad to a car race—or hop in the Mini and teach him to race. In a running relay, passing the baton lets the next runner continue the race. Since raising kids is to some degree like a relay, we go racing.
Apart from a long dirt bike apprenticeship, driving a manual-shift car is new for Derek. And his baptism is intense: a 140-mile freeway trip to Fontana the evening before the school, with plenty of lousy LA traffic and multilevel freeway interchanges to navigate.
Arriving at the speedway early on Saturday, we find an interesting mix of participants. Cars range from a restored Sunbeam Tiger to BMW M2s, from an early Tesla roadster to a Lexus sedan, and from built-to-the-hilt SCCA Solo rides to modded older Japanese coupes. A casual count suggests Mazda Miatas are most plentiful. Our stock Cooper S fits right in.
Happily for me, among the participants are several father-child teams, each with its own special reason for being there but generally paralleling our mission: for dads to share the driving passion with their kids; to nurture critical thinking and car-control skills among young drivers; to learn and grow together; and to enjoy auto racing’s excitement and competition.
We’d found a good home.