Los Osos, Calif. (January 17, 2010) â€“ Snow? In England? Thatâ€™s a first for me. Apparently it was a big shock to the country too. I experienced snow for the first time this last Christmas when I was visiting Brett Smrz and his family in Idaho between school semesters, but this was an added bonus for me this winter.
I had been invited to participate in David Brabhamâ€™s Celebrity Karting Challenge which raises awareness and funds for Malaria No More UK at the Autosport International show in Birmingham, England. Jeremy Shaw, founder of the Team USA Scholarship, called me a week before the event and informed me that a spot was available as the fourth driver alongside Connor De Phillippi, Conor Daly and Josef Newgarden, who are the most recent recipients of the Team USA Scholarship from 2008-2009. Brett was originally scheduled to go, but due to a conflict with a stunt/film opportunity, I was tapped on the shoulder to take his place. The race attracted many big name drivers from Formula 1, European and American Le Mans and the World Touring Car Championship, including Allan McNish, Alex Wurz, Andy Priaulx, Franck Montagny, Emanuele Pirro, Anthony Davidson and Marino Franchitti.
It was the winter of 2007 when I was last in England representing the USA as part of Jeremyâ€™s scholarship program in the Formula Palmer Audi Autumn Trophy. Joel Miller (fellow scholarship recipient) and I spent two weeks touring the county, meeting with teams and motorsport personnel and of course, racing. This trip however, was much faster paced than before since we would be in the UK for only four days.
My arrival in England was immediately followed by panic when I found out my checked bag never made the flight. The American Airlines people said that it would either arrive on the 8:00PM flight from LA and could be delivered to Josefâ€™s apartment the next morning, or that it would show up the after the weekend. I called the airport at 8:00PM and they said my bag had arrived. I told Josef I would sleep a lot better if I had my bag with me that night, so we drove down to Heathrow International Airport from Oxford and played the most exhausting game of â€œRun-to-point-A-and-B-three-timesâ€ in the terminal before my bag finally fell into my hands. I of course slept very well that evening.
We woke up (slowly but surely, thank you jet lag), had an English breakfast and made our way to Birmingham. The driverâ€™s â€œlocker roomâ€ was a two-minute walk through a shopping mall, past a Subway sandwich shop and in a room that Iâ€™m sure was used for lost and found. Piles of race gear were everywhere. We registered ourselves and met up with our two public drivers, Nick and Charlie, who paid a donation fee to be entered in the race. Practice was 30 minutes long, so we each got five minutes of driving to feel out the track and kart. With so many red flags coming out it became quite apparent that getting a good starting position was going to be extremely important because of the K-Wall barriers â€œexplodingâ€ apart when karts would be bumped or punted out of the way. The track surface was extremely slick. It was so slippery that you could hold an accelerated drift coming out of a cornerâ€¦ in a duel 4-cycle powered kart. It was extremely fun, but with such a great difference of experience throughout the field of drivers, the race proved to be more of a test for survival than anything elseâ€¦