Los Gatos, Calif. – The whole Toyota Racing Series season went by so fast! As I’m sitting here thinking about what to write, I just realized how much I accomplished in such a short amount of time. That is one of my favorite things about writing blogs. I found that being so busy every single day for the past five weeks I hardly had enough time to think. Now that I do have that moment to sit and reflect, I really get to soak it all in and appreciate the opportunity that I have been blessed with. Writing is just another great way to share and remember good times with great friends. If I could take you with me I would, but I can’t, so I’ll write about it.
I feel so blessed to have been given this opportunity with the Team USA Scholarship to travel and compete in New Zealand against some of the best young drivers from around the world. When people talk about traveling and seeing the world, it’s not just about seeing the world with your eyes. I think it’s more about meeting people, making friends, appreciating how they live and understanding how different everything is in other parts of the world.
The past five weeks in New Zealand has easily been one of the best experiences of my life. Not just from a driving standpoint but from a personal standpoint as well. I find that a lot when I travel overseas to compete. I learn more about myself, being forced to adapt to a different culture and environment on my own, than I would at home in my own little comfort zone. I think that goes for most people really. You have to face entirely new challenges that ultimately make you better as an athlete and as a person – such as having to work with new teams, new cars, new tracks, in a new country, making new friends; everything is new. All those things combined will teach you much more than how to drive a car fast.
It is very important to gel with your engineer, and likewise, your engineer has to understand you. Sometimes that simply just takes time. As far as the car, I found that the mono-shock was the biggest learning curve for me, and again it’s just one of those things might take some getting used to. I really did enjoy all the racetracks over there and hopefully I will be able come back to get some more laps around one of my favorite islands!
I’ve made so many new friends this past month. If everyone turns up on my doorstep like they say they’re going to, I’ll have a full house in no time. The Victory Racing team is like one big family. We had guys working with us from all over the world: Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, England, America, and obviously all the Kiwis. That many different cultures all blended together made for pure comedy the whole trip!
As a team, we most certainly had our positives and negatives throughout the season. But, in racing as in life, we all go through ups and downs, and at the end of the day it’s all about how you choose to handle those situations that defines who you are. In my eyes, the Victory Racing crew did a great job busting their butts throughout this past month to get the job done. It was a real pleasure just to be a part of it all.
The Toyota Racing Series has been such a blast. Talk about perfecting your race craft. Over there you’re not just getting seat time testing, you’re getting wheel-to-wheel action nearly every day for 30 days! TRS has built a reputation around the world as THE place to prepare yourself for the regular season, and it most definitely lives up to that reputation. It will be fun to watch the TRS class of 2014 return home to their respective series to compete and hopefully succeed. All of us will have already completed 15 races when most drivers haven’t done anything competitive since October!
As for a quick overview of the trip, we started in Invercargill and saw the bottom of the South Island. We then made our way slightly farther north to the next event at Timaru, then to Moeraki to go fishing with the team. The best part of that trip was stuffing our faces full of fresh blue cod! Then we had about a five-hour road trip to Queenstown for the next race at Highlands Park where we also did some off-roading, wine tasting, and I tail-docked my first sheep! Not long after, we started our 20-plus-hour road-trip to the North Island. Along the way we got see Nelson (which is the location of the Victory Racing headquarters) and we took a trip on the “New Zealand Interislander” ferry through the Queen Charlotte Sound. From there it was on to Hampton Downs for Round 4 of TRS. Once we left Hampton Downs, we were able to spend some time at one of our teammate’s beach house in Ohope where we dug for Tuatua clams. It was almost hard not to find those clams in the sand. They were everywhere! Unfortunately, the Tuatua made for a slightly gritty clam chowder…What can I say? I’m a rookie chef. Finally, we capped it all off in Manfeild for the New Zealand Grand Prix, which was an absolute blast. It was cool that all the teams and drivers were able to get together on the last night during the Toyota Racing Banquet. It’s always refreshing getting to know everyone outside the racetrack.
Congrats to Andrew Tang from Singapore on the overall championship. He had me falling off my chair laughing at his “Asians can drive” comment during his speech! Totally appropriate message. Also, congrats to my teammates Damon Leitch and Michael Scott for taking first and third in the Trans-Tasman Championship. Of course, I can’t forget the other boys who make up the Victory Racing team, Brendon Leitch and Robin Hansson, both of whom made me laugh at absolutely everything.
I feel like I’ve seen so much of New Zealand. I think if I ever end up coming back again I’m renting a van and surfing the coast while I’m there. Maybe I’ll learn a little more of the native Maori language, and maybe learn the Haka dance that the All Blacks do before every rugby match? I would absolutely love to visit all my friends again, only just as a tourist next time. I think I’d like to spend more time in the North Island, or any place that involves camping, fishing and surfing.
As much as I loved New Zealand and all my friends there, it sure does feel good to be home. You know you’ve been overseas too long when it feels weird to drive on the left side of the car!