I believe a race car driver passes through three stages in his career before retirement. He starts off with basically no talent and no experience. He drives strictly on determination. After a while, he still has determination, but the experience and talent levels are increasing all the time. He still wants to go hard just like he did the first time he climbed into a race car, but now he has experience and talent to go with determination.
Then, as he gets older, his experience grows, but his desire and focus begin to deteriorate. The focus level drops because he now has family and a lot more responsibility.
Let's take my career as an example. I started at 21, and all I had was the "want to" and the determination to drive. The first race car I climbed into I just went out on the track and drove. I didn't know what I was doing, but I knew I liked what I was doing, and I knew that racing was what I wanted to do in life.
I was lucky enough to win my first race in a year, probably 18 or 20 races into my career. So, I accomplished something on pure determination, because I still didn't have the talent to win races. Every race I was learning.
I started out in the convertible division. The top drivers were Curtis Turner, Joe Weatherly and Bob Welborn. They were the leaders. When I started, these guys would lap me about every 20 laps. They would come by me and I would follow them. First time I tried this, I followed them through one corner before they pulled away. Next time, I followed them through two corners and they pulled away. Before long, it was taking them more laps to catch me, and I was following them two or three laps before they drove away. Then it wasn't long before I was running with them 10 or 15 laps, and then one day I realized that I was actually racing with them. I learned by racing with other people.
In the next stage of your career, you have learned how to race. Everything is pretty much in balance: your determination, your experience and your talent. You are probably in the best form you are ever going to be. Now you know what racing is all about, and you have the ingredients to make it work if you are ever going to make it work.
Now, let's look at it this way. When I was 21 years old, I was single and racing was the only thing on my mind. By the time I was 31 years old, I had two or three kids, a house to keep up, and a family to raise. I had a lot of obligations at 31 that I didn't have at 21. So, what I'm saying is that at 31 you still want to do it, but you are obligated with other things so that all your attention is not on racing.
As you grow a little older, the desire is still there, but the focus isn't. Your experience level increases all the time. As you get older, you are a better driver and a smarter driver. In fact, the last race a person runs, he is probably the best and smartest of his career, but he doesn't have the focus needed. Too many things in his life have chopped away at his focus.
I can remember when I was 21 I worked on the car all the time. I went everywhere with the car. The car was my life. I spent 24 hours a day wanting to race. By the time I was 30 years old, I was spending about half that amount of time on the race car, and it got less as time passed.
I tell the guys here that if we had one race car we could work on it 24 hours a day. If we get two cars we can only work 12 hours on each car, and with four cars only six hours a day. So as time passed I found myself running a business with less and less time to spend on my race car.
Even if the person is just a driver and he comes into Winston Cup with a sponsor, as he gets more involved in his career and his name gets bigger, he will get very busy with other things. Driving will soon be just one of his responsibilities, and there will be more and more distractions.
I have watched athletes in other sports, say golf and baseball. I think the same is pretty much true with these guys. When they quit they are at their best in many ways, but lack concentration. The golfer knows more about his game than he has ever known, but he is going off in all different directions.
Driving a race car is something learned by the person. You have to go out and experience it. Nobody can tell you how to do it. You have to learn by doing it. Seat time is experience, and you probably learn more by mistakes than anything else. When we go test a car, we learn as much by what doesn't work as we do by that which works.
Anyway, I hope this gives you a better understanding of racing.