By on October 31, 2010

After this week’s article on Sergei Rachmaninoff and his connection to the world of automobiles, I thought it might make sense to look around to find other interesting music/auto combos. I ended up constructing a mental two-axis graph in my head, where X was musical ability and Y is driving talent. Some people, like Damon Hill, are close to the left side of X and pretty far up on Y; others, like noted collector and Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason, are the reverse. I think of myself as being more than halfway up Y but less than halfway along X; you can decide for yourself where the autojourno group Exhaust Tones would place.

Since this is a car blog and not MOJO magazine, however, we’ll focus on the best driver we can find with musical cred, and that is… Force India stalwart Adrian Sutil.

Sutil’s parents were professional musicians and he pursued the concert piano path until his fourteenth birthday or thereabouts. I have not been able to find any recordings of him playing “proper” music; in all the available YouTube and other vids, he’s goofing off in one manner or another. It’s clear, however, that he can operate a keyboard with reasonable facility.

As a driver, Adrian is perhaps a bit too cautious and methodical; just what you would expect from a child prodigy piano player. This season is his best yet and he’s made short work of his teammate, ol’ V. Liuzzi. Liuzzi personifies that old joke, “He’s the driver of the future… and he always will be.” He’s unlikely to ever sit atop the Formula One world, but make no mistake: just to get an F1 test drive requires talent, discipline, and development of almost unimaginable proportions, and Sutil’s well beyond test-driver status.

It’s reasonable that talented musicians would do well driving, and vice versa; they are both fine-motor activities which require a solid sense of timing and the ability to pick up subtle cues from the surrounding environment. There’s courage required for both, I suppose; I am far more nervous playing a small gig at a restaurant or bar than I am when racing. Unless you’re a recreational autocrosser or solo performer, chances are that you are part of a team in both activities, and your interactions with that team will determine how you fare. Imagine what the Beatles could have given the world if they’d been able to put up with each other for another decade; imagine what Fernando Alonso could have accomplished with McLaren had he not felt slighted in favor of the local boy.

It goes without saying that both musicians and drivers can be difficult, to put it mildly, and that both are prone to self-destructive behavior (Kurt Cobain, meet James Hunt). Still, there’s solid money to be made, and respect to be earned, if you show up every day and do your best for a long time (Pat Metheny, meet Mark Martin).

If I had the chance to have truly world-class talent in either activity, I think I’d pick driving. As wonderful as it is to stand in front of a crowd and play great music, there’s something majestic about winning a race that soars beyond any mere entertainment. Perhaps it’s competition, perhaps it’s mortality. Your mileage may vary.

The real question is this, however: What does it mean when you have three Godin Synth Access guitars (two LGX-SAs and an LGXT) but can’t afford to put new back tires on your Porsche? I’d better come up with a few more decent article ideas, pronto:

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19 Comments on “Adrian Sutil Is No Sergei Rachmaninoff… Music and Driving...”


  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    “can’t afford to put new back tires on your Porsche“

    How do you make it? It’s stories like this that just show how brutal the injustice in our society has become – how can we, as a country, sleep at night, when we let our lowliest Porsches go unshod?

  • avatar
    darian

    The late Elio de Angelis- F1 driver back in the 80s – was a world class classical pianist.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Better than Sutil on both counts, from what I’ve read… shame he is no longer around.

    • 0 avatar
      JJ

      Sutil actually has quite a reputation of not being that cautious on track. You might even argue that it denied him the chance of a better drive so far, along with the stigma of ‘being 2nd best’ after having been Hamilton’s teammate in the Formula three Euroseries and coming in in 2nd place that haunted him in the beginning of his F1 carreer.
       
      After that year they were teammates, Hamilton went on to win the GP2 series on his first try and Sutil took a lateral move to Japan to win the F3 series over there (like many European drivers have before to give their carreer a much needed boost), before entering F1 courtesy of a wide array of smaller sponsors at Spyker F1.
       
      I guess the better Hamilton does the more people start to realise there was no shame in getting beat by him, especially since the team already revolved around Lewis in F3 as well. He might still have a chance with Mercedes GP in the future but for that to happen he really needs to stop having irratic races like the last one in South Korea where he kept running off track and ultimitaly collided with Kobayashi (already the best Japanese F1 driver ever, btw), resulting in a 5 place grid penalty for the next race in Brasil.
       
      Oh…and as for Fernando, yeah he might have won in 2008, but then he wouldn’t be at Ferrari now and being at Ferrari in F1 is the highest a driver can a achieve period. It doesn’t even matter if the car is terrible and you finish the year in P15…It’s still going to be greater than winning with any other car. McLaren might be 2nd in that ranking, but a distant 2nd.
       
       

  • avatar

    It means you like ugly guitars.

  • avatar

    Mark Knopfler has a collection of some pretty rare Ferraris and a Maserati 300 that he vintage races.
     
    Also, George Harrison didn’t race but he was a huge F1 fan, he followed the circus and attended many races.

  • avatar
    Towncar

    The late Marty Robbins is a lock for this one:

    “Marty Robbins: Singer-Songwriter and NASCAR driver
    Robbins, a Country Music Hall of Famer, would often arrive late for his gig at the Grand Ole Opry , having just finished an auto race at the nearby Nashville Speedway. The two-time Grammy winner, whose country songs often became crossover pop hits, was rarely far from the charts as a musician. And as a racer, he was rarely far from the track. Having started with micro-midget cars in the late ’50s, Robbins moved on to the NASCAR circuit, where he competed in 35 races, finishing in the Top Ten on six occasions.”

    Reportedly he was sometimes so late he just took the stage in his fireproof suit.

    Got the above text here:
    http://www.spinner.com/2010/04/01/famous-musicians-athletes/

  • avatar

    I never dreamed I’d have an excuse to post about the Centers for Disease Control Fight Song, for which I wrote both the music and lyrics, and which I performed (twice) at the Ig Nobel Prize Awards Ceremony. Watch it here:         http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZhSs-CEJ_7w
    Now, you can read about my driving on TTAC here:  http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/david-holzman-goes-to-the-skip-barber-shop/

    On the maternal side, there were a number of musicians, including one or two in the Denver symphony during the latter 1800s; on the paternal side is Abraham Holzman, who wrote Smoky Mokes, among other things, in the early 1900s. The only one I know of who was a car nut was noted Denver architect, Victor Hornbein, on the maternal side. I don’t know that he played music, but he had talents in many spheres, and some sort of MG in my youth, and a Porsche later in life. In the current generation, my brother is in one of the orchestras of the National Institutes of Health, on the violin. He thinks cars are appliances, but loves his new Prius. In the next generation, my sister’s younger boy, Andy, 14, plays five different instruments well, and gave a treatise on the history of Jewish music, from the first millennium BC to Philip Glass at his Bar Mitzva, but has not taken me up on my offer to teach him to drive. Go figure.

    • 0 avatar
      Boff

      Wow…major props for posting that, man. I’ve been threatening for years to bring a guitar into a lecture…
       
      Cars and music are my twin passions, which explains why I went into science! :s The two don’t intersect much, but you should see me drum on the steering wheel! In fact, this evolved into much-needed independence exercises as I need to use my left, non-natural, foot for doing the bass drum on the dead pedal.

  • avatar

    I have my doubts that musical ability and driving ability are linked, much as I would like to think they are. Janis Joplin’s Porsche certainly was nicely decorated, but I never heard about her having any particular driving abilities. I haven’t heard that Jimi Hendrix had any particular interest in cars. The Beatles? Nope. Nor Yo Yo Ma. And to my knowledge, Jeff Gordon isn’t even a minor rock star. But it’s certainly fun to think about, and read about. And I enjoyed listening to Sutil at the Frog.

    Nonetheless, Baruth, if you dig up more on this subject I will certainly read it with great interest

    • 0 avatar

      David, as I mentioned above George Harrison was a serious F1 fan and had some cool cars himself.

      Leonard Slatkin, who recently became musical director and principal conductor of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (currently on strike because the car companies can’t afford to underwrite culture around Detroit anymore) drives a Taurus SHO and loves it.

  • avatar

    Slightly off topic, but what about music that references cars? The Drive By Truckers make tons of automotive and racing references in their songs (“She ain’t revved till the rods are thrown”) and it’s pretty clear that there are at least a couple of car guys in that band.

  • avatar

    there used to be a lot of that. The Beach Boys sang about the little deuce coupe, little GTO (unless that was Jan & Dean), the T-bird that Daddy took away, they ref’d woodies, and there must have been at least several others… 409 (unless that was Jan & Dean), and I’m sure someone can fill in dozens of others
    Jan & Dean — the superstock Dodge in Little Old Lady from Pasadena; The song about moving to NY from California where
    My woody’s outside, covered with snow-ow
    New York’s a lonely town
    when you’re the only surfer boy… around
    The Rip Cords — hey little cobra (which has a stingray and a jag that get shut down by said cobra)
    What’s interesting is that cars went out of rock probably in the early ’70s. I mean, gone. You just can’t sing about a vega or a citation, or a K car
    Or try to imagine “My Fast, Fuelish Fiero.” I don’t think so
    “FRom New York to LA in my Fuel-Efficient Chevette! [on Rt. 66]“
    “K-car Guys Get All the Girls at the Prom”
    “Going Parking With My Baby in My Dad’s Plymouth Voyager”
    The possibilities are, of course, endless. Thanks Ronnie for inspiring me here.

  • avatar

    Ronnie,
    The examples you are giving (Slatkin, George Harrison) are all anecdotal, as they say in the clinical trial biz. You would have to take a random sample of famous musicians, find out about their cars and driving habits, and compare that to an equally random, but demographically matched sample of non-musicians. One of the confounding factors that would need to be controlled for is money.
    Now, Leon Kirchner, a parental friend who was a noted composer of modern music, had a ’70s BMW 2002. But I couldn’t tell you whether he got the car because he appreciated its driving dynamics, or because he figured it was an appropriate car for someone in his class, or what. (And he checked out a year or so ago so I can’t ask him.)

  • avatar

    Forgive me Ronnie, I’m not sure what to make of Leonard Slatkin driving a SHO. You can’t even get a stick on those things anymore, can you?
    And again, as far as musicians and cars, in response, I refer to you my brother and his Prius, and my nephew the musician who just isn’t interested in cars or driving, despite the excellent example I’ve always set.

    Forgive my skepticism. I still think this is one hell of a great topic, and if you come back at me with more positive examples, I will read it with joy

  • avatar
    JJ

    If Sutil can cancel out his sometimes irratic performances like the one last time out in Korea that yielded him a 5 place grid drop for the next race in brasil he might still have a shot of ending up at Mercedes GP at some point.

    Having been Hamilton’s teammate in the Formula 3 Euroseries held him back from being taken serious by the best teams at the start of his F1 carreer but now that it’s clear Hamilton p0wns even last years champion Button (not so much in the standings this year but definitely in terms of speed on track), I guess it’s not that much of a disqualification anymore.

    On a side note; I think Fernando is pretty happy with the way things turned out in the end… 

  • avatar
    CHINO 52405

    Great post right up until the part where you mentioned Alonso. Man I hate that guy. However, Fernando driving for Ferrari does create the perfect super-villain for me to hate 19 times a year.

  • avatar
    Slow_Joe_Crow

    Two famous musician/gearhead, connections that immediately come to mind. Pink Floyd’s drummer Nick Mason, who is a well known classic race car collector and and drove the 24 hrs of LeMans and Herbert Von Karajan who was an orchestra conductor and owned all sorts of interesting stuff http://www.karajan.co.uk/cars.html plus some Ruf Porsches.


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