Friday, February 17, 2012

Off The Beaten Track: Fast Times

Our guest today is Simon Wood, an ex-racecar driver, a licensed pilot, and an occasional private investigator. Simon has had over 150 stories and articles published. His short fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, and has garnered him an Anthony Award and a CWA Dagger Award nomination as well as several readers’ choice awards. He’s a frequent contributor to Writer’s Digest. He’s the author of WORKING STIFFS, ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN, PAYING THE PIPER, WE ALL FALL DOWN, TERMINATED, and ASKING FOR TROUBLE. His latest titles include THE FALL GUY and DID NOT FINISH. His next book will be HOT SEAT out in the summer. As Simon Janus, he’s the author of THE SCRUBS and ROAD RASH. Curious people can learn more at Simon can also be found at Two for the Road, where he and author Tammy Kaehler write about the world of motorsport.

Like most events in my life, things happen by accident and motor racing was no different. That’s not to say I wasn’t interested in motorsport. I was a fan since I was around ten. Being a typical little boy, anything that went fast fascinated me whether it was cars, planes, boats, or anything else you care to name. I don’t know if this had something to do with the fact that no one in my family possessed a driver’s license or a car.

While I loved watching Formula One, my heart belonged to rallying and off road racing. The unpredictability of a rally stage appealed to me more than circuit racing. So I was an avid fan, with never a thought of taking part myself. That changed when I was nineteen. I wasn’t content to sit on the sidelines. I wanted a racing experience. I signed up for a rally driving training course and a circuit racing one. As much as I wanted to rally cars, my skills for off road driving were okay, but my circuit racing performance was pretty good.

That track day made me wonder if I should go the extra mile and switch from avid fan to competitor. I spent a couple of months exploring the notion of buying a single seater racecar and to be honest, I didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing. Then the unpredictable element of life took over and I received a call from the owner of the racing school, who wondered if I’d be interested in a 50% share in a Formula Ford and to team up for a season. I mulled the idea over and said yes. A few weeks later, I owned a racecar.

I think the partnership with an experienced driver was a good one. An older and wiser head meant my introduction to motor racing was a smooth one. I think if I’d gone it alone, I would have made some costly mistakes. With what I learned, the following year, I went out on my own running the car myself with a small crew consisting of a couple of friends, my dad, and myself.

I can say racing changed my life. When things went well, I don’t think I experienced highs like it. Also I don’t think I’ve suffered lows like it either when things didn’t go well. But racing changed me as a person. The biggest thing racing did for me was it improved me as a person. I’m not sure it made me a grown up, but it built character. I learned how to handle pressure (self imposed or otherwise), I was more inventive, and it made me come out of my shell in some respects. My day-to-day life got easier, because the problems I’d experience during a race meeting were more intense compared to my day job. So I’ll always be thankful to motor racing for that.

I raced for three years but stopped when the money ran out. While I did have sponsors, I was still the underwriter and the only investor. I’d seen a lot of guys get themselves into serious debt and I wasn’t about to follow them down that dark hole. The ugly side of motorsport is that it’s addictive. You just don’t want to quit. So, after a crash on Brand’s Hatch’s Grand Prix circuit, when I knew all the money had run out, I called it quits. It’s a decision I’m happy I made and one I still regret. Racing decisions are like that.

At the end of the day, I can’t say I blew the motor racing world away, but I held my own. I wish I could have kept at it longer and started earlier, but it is what it is. That’s not to say that if someone offered me a drive tomorrow, I wouldn’t take it. :)


  1. Thanks for having me here today. :-)

  2. We're delighted to have you, Simon. Thanks so much for sharing your personal story with us.

    I have a couple of questions: what's the difference between a rally and an off road race? Is a rally kind of off road race or are the terms used interchangeably?

    And what is it like to be writing books set in the world of motorsport? It must be like being right in the middle of it again. How do you deal with that?

  3. rallying takes place on public roads and trails. It's not a sport too big in the US.

    i do feel I'm in the middle of it and it would be nice to be in it again, but my wife won't let me. :-)

  4. Wow, Simon, you really have had some exciting careers and hobbies! Writing must be seem so slow and staid by comparison. Clearly, you like taking risks. Any chance you'll defy your wife on this one? Cause that could be risky! ;)

    Wish you continued success on your racing novels. Can't wait to read them.

  5. To a person who does not like driving it was very interesting to read your post. What stands out for me is that at least you lived your dream,for a bit, if not for always.

  6. Supriya: Passion comes with risk. :-) I might get to defy my wife once in a while on this score, but not for always.

    Geets: Dreams aren't be ignored. :-)


  7. Why don't you like sportscars, Simon? ;-)

  8. Thanks Simon for such a great post! To me, it sounds like fate may have had a hand in your racing -- you got to feel the passion of racing so you can transfer that to your books and your readers can share that experience even if they never ever race themselves. I think that's really cool. :-)