Speeding Up to Relax
(The Wall Street Journal, 18 June 2001)
There’s the man who runs Precision Fire Protection Inc., a 25-person company in Reinholds, Pa., that designs and installs automatic sprinkler systems. Then there’s the man who straps himself into his souped-up Porsche on weekends and whips around a racetrack at 120 miles an hour.
Mr. Miller races in regional events for the Porsche Club of America, a Springfield, Va., organization that isn’t affiliated with the car maker, about 12 times a year at tracks up and down the East Coast, including venues where professionals race, like Watkins Glen International in upstate New York.
The 49-year-old is one of thousands of small-business owners who aren’t content to gaze lovingly at their hard-earned sports car in the driveway. These car owners have simply got to see how fast they can make that baby go, says Billy Edwards, chief driving instructor at Track Time Inc., a Youngstown, Ohio, driving school.
On the street, “you can’t drive a Porsche or a Corvette the way it was meant to be driven,” says Mr. Edwards. “We get guys here who realize, ‘I have this $85,000 car and I’ve never gone over 100 miles per hour in it.’ ”
Mr. Edwards says enrollment in the school’s sports-car performance-driving division has grown 17% to 1,020 since 1999, which he attributes to the growing popularity of Nascar racing. And it’s not just men trying to live out their racing dreams: 30% of his school’s students are women.
As for Mr. Miller, he first put his pedal to the metal about 10 years ago at the Bertil Roos Racing School in Blakeslee, Pa. He and a group of 15 friends, most of whom also own their own businesses, signed up for a weekend course, driving cars provided by the school. “We had a blast,” he recalls. “We ran off the track. We ran into each other. Then we went to dinner with our wives and laughed about it. They thought we were just crazy.”
After that, Mr. Miller was hooked. He went on to complete an eight-session course by the Porsche Club of America designed to prepare him for racing in club competitions. The club has strict rules to keep its members safe and the competition friendly: If a driver makes contact with other cars twice in 13 months, he or she is barred from the series for more than a year. “Our series doesn’t condone running into anyone to pass,” Mr. Miller notes.
There’s no prize money, though. That’s unfortunate for Mr. Miller, who won 10 out of the 12 national races he entered in 2000.
And racing isn’t cheap. In addition to the care of their sports cars and fuel, drivers shell out a couple hundred dollars for a day’s worth of instruction to a couple thousand dollars for a weekend course. Racing in a weekend competition can cost upward of $1,000, not including travel costs and wear and tear on the car. To save money, many racers do their own maintenance, which can be time-consuming. Mr. Miller estimates he spends 40 hours in the month before a race getting his car ready.
But for work-obsessed entrepreneurs, it can be worth it. Racing “is a release,” Mr. Miller says. “When I’m racing, I don’t think about the business at all.”