A completely natural and appropriate question at this point would be, “Why the hell did a neurosurgeon get behind the wheel of a racecar in the first place?” And it is, in fact, the same question I ask myself often. After all, being a racecar driver wasn’t what I originally set out to be. But it turns out that racing is yet another “test” I’ve subjected myself to—including more than a few that, in retrospect, were unnecessary. Years of high school and college football (including being on a Harvard team that never lost to Yale) resulted in numerous dislocations and breaks, but those had far less impact than the psychological challenges that I experienced in the process. As a twenty-year-old college student, I joined the Marines, escaping Officer’s Candidate School at Quantico with an honorable discharge and a great deal of respect for short but nasty drill sergeants. I survived my collegiate pre-med experience despite my chemistry professor’s distaste of all things athletic, and my med school experience was an out-of-focus blur. Internship and my subsequent neurosurgery residency training were grueling endurance runs, harsh but unforgettable; I emerged from both in one piece, and stronger for it. In fact, whether it was heliboarding in British Columbia, surfing big waves in Portugal, or lugging an M-16 through the Virginia mud, I’ve walked away mostly intact from more than a few tests over the years. But nothing, not one of those other activities and challenges consumed me with the intensity and thrill that racing would.
But that doesn’t answer the question. To do that, I need to start at the beginning: Christmas 1969.
As my racing schedule accelerated in a fairly dramatic fashion, with several races scattered over the summer and other planned events such as testing (the racers’ word for practicing), my work schedule became exceptionally pressured. With my now-mature surgical practice, the demand for both busy office hours and surgeries was fairly significant—and thankfully so. However, between work and racing, there was little time for simple relaxation, with the exception of formally planned events such as the trip to Disney World—and even that was tied into a race event. The upshot of all of this was that the majority of my available free time was in fact spoken for long in advance, and I rarely had the luxury of off days. This concept bled over into my birthday, which fell in the middle of the summer, but nonetheless required me to have a normal working surgical schedule on that day. However, the unusual events of this particular summer day would result in a longstanding policy to never again perform surgery on my birthday.