By on November 3, 2013

valerie

After noted Carrera Cup racer Sean Edwards was killed while instructing from the right seat, I wrote a piece on the incident for Road&Track. I also asked my friend Valerie Roedenbeck Maloof to contribute her thoughts here. Mrs. Maloof, whose work has also appeared in Porsche Panorama, is both a driver and the wife of a racer, so she has a unique and pertinent perspective on the risks of driving and instructing — JB

The sad news came on the morning after my husband and I had returned from a very enjoyable weekend at MidOhio, where we had spent three days driving with the Ohio Valley Region Porsche Club. Sean Edwards, 26, had died in a crash at Queensland Raceway in Australia. Edwards, a race car driver who was leading the Porsche Supercup and who was recognized as an all-around GT talent, perished while driver-coaching a 20-year-old aspiring race car driver.

His death stopped me in my tracks. We had just seen Sean at the Circuit of the Americas a few weeks prior, wished him good luck, and watched him drive the hell out of the MOMO Porsche, overcoming a variety of on-track challenges. He was by no means a close friend, but we respected him and admired his talent and racecraft. His friendly smile and admission that he was new to Instagram, but was enjoying it, haunted me.

Sean’s death served as a stark reminder that no matter how safe race cars and race tracks have become, the risk of terrible injury and death are still very much real. Roll cages, HANS devices and nets do wonders to help keep drivers safe, but when your car leaves the race track at 220 km/hr, strikes a concrete wall masked by a few tires, and bursts into flames, as Sean’s did, no amount of safety devices are going to keep you safe.

The problem is, those of us who have come to love motorsport in the last decade have been lulled by a false sense of security. Deaths in motorsport used to be commonplace before 1980, but these days they can be considered rare. When we witness Allan McNish’s spectacular accident at LeMans (2011) and watch him walk out of the remnants of the Audi R18 a little shaken, we believe drivers are immortal and racecars are completely safe these days. But then reality reminds us this is not the case. This has been a particularly bad year — we had already lost Allan Simonsen when his Aston Martin hit Armco in front of a tree at LeMans, and then Sean in Australia.

After Sean’s death, I found myself questioning my decision to participate in motorsports events. I am the mother of two 8-year-olds who depend on me for care. Is my decision to participate in motorsport an irresponsible and selfish one? Granted, driver’s ed events are nowhere near as dangerous as door to door racing, and a Spec Miata does not travel at the same speeds a Cup Car or DP do. But by easing myself into a race car and pushing the limits of grip, I am, arguably, taking an unnecessary risk that could leave my daughters with an injured or dead parent. These are not easy things to consider when our family considers motorsport such a large part of our lives.

My husband and I both participate in motorsports events – we met at a race track, and have always driven (I drive in D.E.s and he driver coaches and races). Friends have often asked me if I am ever uneasy about him being in a race car, and I answer that no, I am not. This is a partial lie; the truthful answer would be, “I am not, most of the time.” I am not when I consider that he is a safe driver, has excellent car control, and maintains his cars well. I am when I am reminded that no matter how talented you are, and how well prepared you are, things sometimes do go wrong and accidents happen. But just as you send your child to school each morning and suppress the thought that he or she may get hurt while you’re not there, I convince myself my husband will return home safely.

So why do we do it? Sean Edwards was the son of Guy Edwards, a Formula 1 driver who helped pull Nikki Lauda out of a flame-engulfed car in the 1976 German Grand Prix. He presumably did not grow up innocently idolizing motorsport, but was aware that things could go frighteningly wrong. Drivers know the risks, and yet choose to get behind the wheel time and time again.

I can’t speak for Sean or even my husband, but I know why I choose to drive. The race car, with its raw edges, tight spaces and tight belts is uncomfortable when one first gets in. The helmet constricts your view and the HANS limits your ability to turn your head. It’s loud and uncomfortable as you drive your way to pit lane. But then the green flag flies, and all the discomfort goes away. Your breathing slows and for the next half hour or more, you are living within each moment. The level of concentration driving requires is nothing short of absolute – you must stay in the moment, consider the car’s feedback, and prepare for the next corner, but only the next one.

For those of us who have spent a lifetime attempting to espouse the teachings of Buddhism and Yoga, which encourage practitioners to stay in the present moment and not waste time on the past or the future, a race car at speed is the perfect place to live this teaching. You simply cannot be anywhere but right there, driving. The result is nothing short of absolute calm and joy, all while traveling at high speeds. Then, you exit the car and life returns – your shoulders are sore from the HANS pushing down on them, your back and legs are tired from shifting, your arms are tired from turning the wheel without the help of power steering, and your hair smells like exhaust. But the joy stays with you. I believe we drive so we can experience that joy. It is no accident motorsport is a passion. It is no wonder we forget the danger as we pursue that perfect spiritual experience in the car. It is nothing short of prayer.

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14 Comments on “Ur-Turn: Why Drive?...”


  • avatar
    claytori

    Wow!

  • avatar
    AoLetsGo

    I know what you are saying about the appeal of doing something that requires so much from you it demands that you are only present in the here and now. For me it has been high speed mountain biking if your mind wanders you will soon be on the ground or part of a tree.
    Good luck and stay safe.

  • avatar

    There is a fear in the back of my mind that I could die in recreational flying, but I’d rather die doing something I love than in any other number of ways I could die not enjoying myself. Thing is, I wanna be killed outright and not linger like these burn victims and amputees. I have a do not resuscitate pact with my sibling who happens to be a lawyer. I’m not going out like Schiavo.

    • 0 avatar
      CougarXR7

      +1000 on your last three sentences, Bigtruck.

      Unfortunately, we’ve got too many religious nutballs in this world who believe that life is s blessing no matter what, and that you have some kind of God-ordained responsibility to keep someone alive, even against that person’s own wishes, or even when that person is, for all intents and purposes, a vegetable with no hope of recovery or ever having any semblance of a normal life again.

      I wish I knew how these people’s minds worked.

      • 0 avatar
        Drzhivago138

        So I’m a conservative Lutheran, and…

        Don’t worry, I’m not here to make you feel guilty about your opinions. I’m also from Minnesota, and we don’t get involved in other folks’es personal business, ya knoow.

        But I agree with your second-to-last statement–being “a vegetable with no hope of recovery or ever having any semblance of a normal life again” is not truly life. If I’m involved in something like my late grandfather, in which it was impossible for him to have any chance of improving his condition, I’ll have the same thing done to me as was done to him: just enough drugs to make me comfortable, and then I’ll slip off in my sleep. No artificial prolongation (I can’t believe that’s actually the word autocorrect suggested), but no plug-pulling either.

        Now, is that slightly at odds with the more-conservative Missouri Synod of Lutheranism? Maybe. But it doesn’t really matter. See, that’s the beauty of Lutheranism–you’re allowed to hold some views that may be contrary to the church’s official position, and you won’t go to hell for them. If it’s a sin to believe that way, you’re forgiven like any other sin and when you get to heaven, you’ll be corrected. You’ll think to yourself, “Boy, I sure was silly thinking that way down on earth,” etc., etc. And if it’s not a sin, what is there to worry about?

        And I would take issue (not offense–I’m too Minnesotan to take offense to anything) with your first statement. It’s not that there’s too many “religious nutballs,” it’s just that they’re so vocal. See, I have a little bit of a prejudice against Southerners, and sorry to any but mostly it’s because of the “Christian” groups like the WBC who conveniently forget the very words of the God they claim to worship: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

        But really, I think I’m getting too “into it” for a car editorial website. It’s perhaps the most personal, introspective thing I’ve ever posted on a public forum, and it’s actually taking a bit out of me. We Minnesotans aren’t used to baring our feelings.

        • 0 avatar

          +1 for you and for Minnesotans, generally.

          –from a Bay Stater (go th’ Saux!)

        • 0 avatar
          afflo

          Thumbs up…

          Growing up in the solidly Southern Baptist south gave me a very, very bad impression of Christians, and religion in general. Constant moral crusades, infighting in congregations and splitting into rival factions, rival congregations, etc., the paranoid Us vs. the World mentality. I know this is not all SBC folks, but the ones in my neck of the woods were borderline rabid. You’d never know that the Baptist tradition emphasized individualism, personal interpretation, and a general avoidance of church-state entanglement.

          Living in Omaha for a few years softened that – Lutherans and Methodists are by and large really warm hearted people. The upper midwest would be a great place to live if it weren’t for the weather*!

          * I’m sure you snowbirds would say the same about my current home of San Antonio! Cheers!

  • avatar

    Mario Andretti started racing when motorsports was a blood sport, which got worse in the 1960s as developments in layout, suspension, brakes and tires meant speeds on all parts of race tracks were significantly higher than they’d been in the 1950s.

    Someone once asked him how he could get behind the wheel of a race car after someone got killed racing and he said that seeing a fatal accident at the side of the road doesn’t stop people from commuting to work the next day.

    We’re all mortal and there are millions of people who have jobs that are statistically much more dangerous than professional or amateur car racing. Some farmer, garbageman, or fisherman gets killed on the job and it doesn’t make headlines. It also doesn’t stop people from farming, picking up garbage or catching fish.

    You try to make your job as safe as possible, but much of life is calculated risk taking.

    When my younger daughter was 10 years old, while hiking upstream from a waterfall in the Upper Peninsula, she and I fell about 30-35 feet down a steep hillside, almost a shear fall. Perhaps today some might ask if her mother and I were negligent for putting her in that situation in the first place. When I was the same age as my daughter was then, my dad taught me how to use a band saw and radial arm saw. You know, a ten year old can cut a hand off with those things. The first thing that he taught me was that I could cut my hand off.

    As I said, life is about taking calculated risks.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    God bless all of us.
    Life is full of risk, i used to bike on the road too at a time bike lanes was still on the drawing board, that was probably 100X more riskier than driving fast on a track.

  • avatar
    The Dark One

    I have always been of the opinion when it’s your time to go, you’re gonna go! You don’t choose WHEN you go, but somewhat HOW you go. I can either die in a wreck going 100 mph because I chose to go racing, or die sitting on my couch from a heart attack or something because I decided to stay home and watch a movie on tv.

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    I applaud and thank sanctioned racers for confining their suicidal behavior to a venue in which innocent people are unlikely to also get killed.

    And even when that’s not the outcome, they’re still operating in the Darwinian sandbox of a dedicated racetrack so any spectators at risk had to choose to enter that sandbox in the first place. More natural selection.

    I just wish we could similarly confine drunks and texters.

  • avatar

    A very eloquent paean to racing.

    I got some of this on my two trips to Skip Barber. I wouldn’t race, myself, because my caution genes are too strong, but if ever I were tempted, I’d check the statistics to see if it was a risk I could live with. But I certainly understand the draw

    http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/david-holzman-goes-to-the-skip-barber-shop/

  • avatar
    QikNip

    I race a Spec Miata in about fifteen races per year, drive on a pretty competitive Chumpcar team that does 4-5 events and instruct with a very good DE organization (as well as volunteering at several SCCA PDX’s per year.

    In truth the only time I’m conserned about my track safety is when I am in the right hand seat. I often jokingly tell a student (particularly novices)this: “There is absolutely nothing you can do that will impress me and nothing you that will scare me more than I am right now”. In the hundreds (thousands?)of laps I’ve instructed (in all types of cars)I’ve only been in one significant incident. In that case the student’s brakes failed at the end of the back straight at Mid Ohio.

    Those fears aside, I must admit that I truly enjoy instructing and especially when I see the “light” go on as the student finally gets that magic turn-in point that I’ve been coaching him to hit seeing them realize that they just took a second off thier former best lap time, or shortening that braking zone by a 100′ and seeing them get excited because of that breakthrough.

    That said, instructing can be occasionally perilous-but almost always enriching.

  • avatar
    niky

    Lovely piece and sentiment. RIP to Mr. Edwards.


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