Memories of my Competition School – Blake Tatum
February 12th, 2017 by James Chartres
Story by Blake Tatum
Some people are born to race. I know I was. Some of my earliest memories involve race cars. Growing up I can remember my dad working in the garage. But he was not working on the lawn mower (in fact I don’t think he ever mowed the lawn) he was working on race cars. He would come home from his job selling cars and go directly to the garage. There he would go on to create the first Formula Vees on the west coast (Crusaders). He was not alone. There were usually several of his friends over and they would be working on there racecars in our garage. I was probably about four years old and I would hang out and watch everything they did. When I got a chance I would sit in the cars and hold a steering wheel pretending to be a racecar driver. If I was lucky there would be two cars in the garage and a friend could come over and we could both pretend to be racecar drivers. Naturally I always jumped in the car that was parked slightly ahead of the other.
I was fascinated with the metal grinding, the acetylene torch, and the arc welder. I could not wait until the time I was old enough to start building things. I was so into racing I convinced my dad to build me my own miniature version of a Formula Vee. He made this half size go-kart that had a replica FV torsion bar front end and a swing axle read end powered by an electric start Honda 55.
By the time I was 15, I was not into the regular stick and ball sports. I wanted to race go-karts. At that time I had a paper route that netted me $50 per month and it just so happens that the Invader Kart Company was in Manteca California. After about a year of paper route money and a combination of birthdays and Christmases I had my self a full fledge racing go-kart. Unfortunately cars and girls put my racing career on hold.
In the mean time when ever I could I would go to races at Sears Point, Laguna, Long Beach, just to see real race cars and watch the people I read about in AUTOWEEK go around the race track. When I went to races I walked the entire track. Watched the cars go by from every turn. Watch all of the support races. I toured the paddock during down time. Examined the cars as closely as possible, anything I just loved being at the race track.
By the time I was 26 years old I finally had a job where I could afford to go racing. Naturally I choose Formula Vee. I bought an old Crusader that was sitting in a friend’s garage. It did not have a motor and I did not have a trailer so I hooked up a tow bar to it and towed it to my parent’s house. Once I restored the old Crusader I realized that it was too old for a log book and I had to enter Competition School as a vintage participant.
Back then driver’s school was at Sears Point (Sonoma) and it was two weekends of a combination of driving and ground school plus an all day class room session. Now it is a single weekend. I did not care I just wanted to get out and drive on the race track. The night before the school I do not think I slept one wink.
By the time I was able to drive up to pre-grid, I did not care, that half my 6’2” frame was sticking out of the pregnant roller skate of a racecar. I did not care that everyone else had a sleek modern racecar. I did not care that my work partner told me that I was too old to take up racing, I did not care that I spent ever dime I had to get to the track. I did not care that none of my friends were interested in racing. I was just hoping that racing on a real track was going to be as much fun as I dreamt it would be.
When the grid people dispatched us onto the track I remember thinking to myself that it was not real. I remember driving through turn 3 and 3a thinking it was much cooler than it looked from the sidelines (even at warm-up speeds). I remember the grin on my face when I pulled off the track, car still running, and all the pieces attached. But my fondest memory was the week following Drivers School. During that week I would find myself day dreaming a lot. I was dreaming of the time I spent on the track. Thinking to myself that it was like riding roller coaster for 30 minutes but you were in control. I remember the high I felt from that weekend. I remember I just could not get over how cool it felt and how badly I needed to get back out there. I knew I had discovered a new addiction. I knew that my life would never be the same. I knew I found my calling. I knew I was born to be a racecar driver!
I am sure most of our members feel the same way. I know I am not alone in this feeling. I know I am not the only member of this club. I also know after this latest edition of driver’s school, we will have new members to the club! Well, welcome to the club and get ready for the time of your life!