The value of a Wingman
I am often faced with a huge dilemma. You see, I am secretly a major introvert. I need my quiet time, I cherish my solitude and I prefer to work things out myself. However, when it comes to Motorsport activities, I have found that it’s FAR more fun with friends.
Now, I have lots of different friends, many that I do very different activities with. Some I share a fondness of cooking or drinks with, others come over to play guitars, some I play video games with and have never seen in person in my entire life and there’s even one lucky guy that has been “stuck” with me for well over 30 years and keeps coming back for more. There are even some that know me only through the competitive BBQ circuit and know nothing about me other than I make much better ribs than they do. Sorry, not sorry.
Then there is my “track family”. A group of misfit weirdos that I met through Motorsports. Most of these clowns have never been to my home, met my wife and some don’t even know what I do for a living. But they know what tires I run on my FRS, what modifications I’ve made and that I tend to get quite giddy after track sessions. We rarely see each other outside of a track paddock or the autocross grid. These people have been a huge part of my driving hobby for years now, and I love my track rat family dearly.
Just beyond that, there is another friendship that plays a huge role in my hobby. It’s the Wingman. Just like a fighter pilot relies on his Wingman to watch their back and give support, the car guy Wingman plays many roles. I’m lucky to have two of them.
I was the first person in my track family to buy a FRS/BRZ/86. In fact I bought mine brand new the first year they were for sale, and have owned it since April of 2013. In my car group family, there are now a few of these cars. Two of them belong to my two Wingmen.
Like a Jedi, Samurai or any other type of relationship that involves skill development, the car Wingman tends to fall into one of two camps - either they are the student or the teacher. Occasionally they can be a bit of both.
One of my Wingmen is a master. He had a national Autocross title before I even knew what dodging cones was. He has done endurance racing, time attack on a frozen lake, and he can also drift a car as well as anybody I know. He gets more seat time in a single year than I have in the past four seasons combined. He is also one of the fastest people on track, having many of the FRS track records in the Midwest and that’s before we even talk about his LS-Powered 350Z.
I assure you that I am a VERY capable driver but compared to him I am but a humble novice. It is a clear example of there always being a bigger fish. In this case, my Wingman does a LOT for me. He is the first one to offer advice when i’m not sure about something. Perhaps it's a corner entry that I keep screwing up or a setup question when I can’t figure out a good setting on my suspension - he never withholds speed secrets, and being an engineer, always knows how to explain his reasoning to me. Our cars have a nearly identical build spec and he is always a great person to bounce ideas off of for future upgrades or tweaks.
He is also unbelievably supportive and motivates me. He pushes me to be better, to drive carefully but also not too cautiously. Think of him as the carrot dangling in front of me, giving me something obtainable to chase. Without this, I wouldn’t be NEARLY as good behind the wheel as I am. It’s fantastic to have somebody with a similar tool doing better than you to show you what is possible and help you do the same. It’s been the “fast track” to speed that few people with as little experience as I do drive anywhere as well as I am able to. I am very fortunate to have a great mentor and he has become a great friend of mine over the years.
This Wingman also keeps me out of trouble. He will be the first one to suggest MORE caution if he notices I’m pushing too hard. A good Wingman reminds you that getting home safely with your car in one piece is more important than lap times.
My other Wingman is totally different. He started doing track and autocross driving at the same time right alongside me - both of us learning along the way. A few years later when he bought his FRS, I had already had mine for a few years. This meant that I was able to help him get used to the car, its nuances and quirks and also the do’s and dont’s of the platform. It’s been great because as he has had things he wanted to tweak/upgrade, I had already tried a few things out and have been able to offer insight. Sometimes that insight is a suggestion to buy and sometimes it’s one to avoid a mistake I made - but either way he appreciates the advice of somebody who knows him, how he drives and what he wants. While it is a fairly easy car to drive, he has appreciated me to reinforce technique and nuances that I have learned in it with my head start.
Due to a few circumstances over the past few years I have had a few more opportunities to do performance driving events (both track and autoX) than this Wingman. As a result my increased seat time has netted me a slightly further gain in our skill progression. Which means I'm able to offer him what my other Wingman so often gives to me. I have done plenty of things the right or wrong way and reported back to help him avoid the mistakes I made in the past.
Being positioned in the middle of these two has been terrific. I can share my knowledge but I still have somebody for ME to ask questions and help. One asks me for guidance and the occasional push, and I am able to facilitate. The other is there when I draw a blank or just want to bounce ideas off of.
The greatest moments I have had in grassroots motorsports events have been with my Wingmen. Battling for hundredths of a second at autocross or chasing each other on track have put a smile on my face that doesn’t wear off for weeks. I’ve spent an impromptu evening removing a FA20 engine out of a Wingman’s car, which was as thrilling as it was nerve-wrecking. Through ups and downs in this hobby, there are very few instances where a Wingman wasn’t right there to experience it with me. I can’t imagine doing many of these things alone.
One of my absolute greatest moments I have ever had in a car was my first time lapping Barber Motorsports Park with one of my best friends - we were both new to the track and did a few laps of lead-follow as we learned the course. After a few laps of him trailing my line, I went wide coming out of a turn and gave him the point-by to get in front and lead the next few laps so I could see if he could find a better line than I was using. As he passed, I glanced over. I know my enormous smile was beaming at him, and he was doing the same inside his helmet back in my direction. It was this amazing moment that was just perfect. We were so excited to be on that amazing track, and buzzing past one another at 90mph like fighter pilots in formation was magical. I am SO fortunate to have helmet-cam footage of this magical moment in time. I took a screen cap of that moment and framed it. It is one of my all time favorite photos and 16 months later it still puts a HUGE smile on my face every time I see it. That track is sensational, and doesn’t need any added feature to make it a great time, but sharing that experience with my Wingman cemented it as one of the greatest moments I have ever had in a car.
Driving sports may seem like a solo hobby - you don’t drive the car WITH anybody after all - but as with many other areas in life, it’s SO much better with friends. Form a “track family” and find yourself a Wingman. It makes everything far more enjoyable, memorable and special. They offer a helping hand when you need one. They’re often a big motivator to get out and do better. It’s rare that anybody at an AutoX or Track Day event is driving to their potential and having as good of a time when they are there alone. A great Wingman makes everything better. If you can have TWO like I do, you are very fortunate.