I want to talk about family. This desire was inspired by a multitude of things over the past week or so, most recently as this evening – but I don’t want to spoil a certain film that’s coming out this Friday, Sept 27th so I will choose my words wisely.
Coincidently, this Friday is not only the wide-release date for Ron Howard’s RUSH, but it is also my birthday.
(I apologize if this goes in a few directions, but that’s kind of how my mind is operating this week so I’m just going to embrace it rather than attempt to control it. Trust me, we’ll make all the connections on the way to my point.)
Back to birthdays… personally, I’ve never understood why people tend to loathe or fear birthdays after a certain age… I mean, last I checked, the more birthdays you celebrate, the longer you live. But I guess there are individuals who deem getting older a curse or an obligatory commitment, rather than a blessing. I guess maybe I can understand where they’re coming from, but… oh who am I kidding, I have never understood that mentality and I doubt I ever will. I may have a different perspective about life than a lot of 30 year olds. But that’s because mine was nearly taken from me at the age of 16 when I was diagnosed with Leukemia. I am not getting into the details of my struggle right now, nor will I spoil a pivotal sequence of scenes in RUSH for you, (which I was lucky enough to view in an advance screening this week) but I will tell you that Niki Lauda’s will to live and determination to get back in that car after a horrifying and seemingly debilitating accident was nothing short of extraordinary… mixed with a tad bit of crazy and topped off with fierce drive (pun intended). I related to that – when I was ill, I pushed myself to get better for those two and a half years of hospital stays and chemotherapy treatments. I refused to fall back in high school or put off the start to my college career. I pushed myself to fight past the anger and frustration with my own body as I literally took one step at a time in rehabilitation, attempting to regain muscle mass and learn to walk again after drugs that saved my life, also destroyed my body. I felt for Niki in those scenes and I think you will too. Even if you haven’t had the firsthand experience of consciously fighting for your life, you can absolutely find empathy for this man and what he did in order to get back to doing what he loved… if for no other reason than the exquisite direction of Ron Howard.
Going through something like Niki did… having to face your own mortality and refusing to give in without a fight… makes you stronger. It also makes those you lean on stronger, such as friends and particularly family. The idea of family has always been interesting to me as an independent adult, especially in the sense that as we age and find the things we love in life, we realize family is not simply defined by strict bloodline or a marriage that connects us to this group of people. It can be a close friendship or a shared passion that makes us feel that bond, that closeness being with another person or even a large group of people that by most accounts, would be termed strangers. One such closeness has been evident in my life as of recent… that would be the closeness of my racing family.
My racing family extends from direct blood relatives, to my best friend whom I now refer to as my sister because, well, that’s just truly what she is to me, to a great group of people that I’ve met via Twitter & at the racetracks themselves – all who share the love for IndyCar and racing in general. It’s kind of cool how #racingfam and #indyfamily have become a “thing” in social media conversation; and effortlessly at that! We all just started saying it. No one ever questioned it or thought maybe it was too qualifying (yes, another intended pun) or too imposing. Everyone just seemed to have a mutual nodding of the heads like, “Yeah… exactly!”
Just to circle back around, the idea of that racing family connection (virtual and otherwise) kept coming into my mind as I watched RUSH this week. I noticed that family aspect in the competitive and arduous relationship between James Hunt & Niki Lauda. While they argued, debated, name-called, cussed each other out & made fun of one another… there was always this underlying feeling that they not only acknowledged what the other was saying, but respected it and took it to heart – whether immediately or down the line. They got in each other’s heads and they were both intelligent enough to realize how similar and yet VASTLY different they were from one another. But, rather than ignore the other’s existence, there was never a burnt bridge… there was never a blatant disrespect. They needed one another at that time in their lives and they made each other better, whether admittedly or in spite of one another.
Is there a better definition of family? I mean honestly, people that call you on your bull… people that continually challenge you to challenge yourself… people that argue with you just to get you to see yourself the way they do, whether that reflection be good or bad… people that have your back and fight for you, even if you never end up knowing about it. Hunt & Lauda were brothers. Biology didn’t play a part in that title but racing most unequivocally did. Racing draws people together and creates bonds that do not dissipate in the off-season (or in the stalemate month between the Baltimore and Houston Grand Prix’, for that matter). Racing always has and always will mean a connection to something bigger than ourselves and something whose meaning gets lost without all those to share it with us. Just like any family, those of us in this sacred racing family will always argue about what series is best (even though the ultimate answer is obviously IndyCar), which chassis will excel, and which team & engine have the most ability to stay consistent through the season. However, one thing we DO agree on… racing is a lot like life… and life, my friends, is meant for living.