From VW to Formula 1
Author: Steve Benso
I don’t remember a time that I didn’t love cars. Most boys are into cars as kids, maybe they make a few models, buy some Hot Wheels, then move on to dinosaurs, or pirates. But me? I stuck with cars. Every couple weeks I’ll be writing columns regarding what catches my eye in the auto industry, be it motorsports, be it custom built cars, anything. But today, I’m going to share with you my background, my childhood.
To truly understand the depths of my fixation of the automobile, you have to know what I was like as a little boy. I had these flash cards. On one side, there would be a picture of a car (say… a Lancia Stratos), on the other side would be all this technical information about the car and a blurb about the history of the car (The Stratos was produced from 1972-1974 and had 190hp). I memorized these. Probably 100 of them. I had my favorite though, the Rosso Corsa Ferrari F40. 3 liter twin turbo 90 degree V-8 making over 470hp. 0-60 time under 4 seconds and a top speed over 200mph. That car was my dream. I didn’t care for Lamborghinis, I didn’t care for Porsches, all I cared about was that Ferrari.
When I was 5, my dad bought a new car. A 1990 VW Jetta GLI. It had BBS RA wheels, a 16 valve 4 cylinder engine, sporty seats, a spoiler on the trunk and it could fly! I remember sitting in the passenger seat (kids could sit in front those days), and when my dad nailed the throttle, I couldn’t move my head from the G forces. Did I mention that the car was red? Bright red. Like my F40, Red. I would go into the garage and sit in front of it and just look at that red Jetta, and dream about how it was a Ferrari. It wasn’t, it was just a sporty VW, but to me, it was the closest thing to a Ferrari. Unfortunately the car was totaled in a hail storm only a couple months after my dad bought it, it broke his heart and mine. But all car guys have had their hearts broken by a car at some point or another, I think.
My dad and I used to watch racing every Sunday. Every February we started the racing season watching Davey Allison battle with Bill Elliott, Dale Earnhardt, and Rusty Wallace on the high banks of Daytona. The good ol’ boys always put on a show; from Dale Jarrett winning the Daytona 500 with his father, Ned Jarrett announcing, or Earnhardt flipping and still trying to finish the race. Mostly, it was Earnhardt, having won everything else, trying to conquer the 500, then finally doing it in 1998, after 20 attempts.
In May came the Indianapolis 500. I’d watch every practice, every time trial with great anticipation. Watching these alien looking machines inches from the wall at speeds nearly 240mph down the straightaways. Indy had family, with the Unsers and the Andrettis. Michael Andretti was the man. I related to him because he was a racecar driver, just like his father Mario; and I wanted to be like mine. Every year there was the agony of watching Andretti come so close to the win at Indy, just to fall short.
Once the summer came along I turned my attention to Formula One. I woke up early one Sunday and flipping through the channels on the TV to find cartoons, I found Nigel Mansell, screaming through the trees around Curva Grande at Monza in his Williams at 200mph. I was hooked. Formula One cars were the pinnacle, they accelerated faster, turned quicker, braked harder than anything else on the planet. The screaming V-10s and V-12s were like something I’d never heard before. Before long, I was waking up early every Sunday morning to watch the races. I became a fan of Ferrari, with Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger, then Michael Schumacher. Schumacher was a hard driver to like, when he was younger with Benetton. He had a hard-nosed style that was difficult to appreciate. His team, Benetton was known for bending the rules, and occasionally breaking them. Once he moved to Ferrari, I saw his genius, his ability to make the car better and ability to focus and go beyond the limit.
So that’s me in a nutshell, at least my childhood love of cars. I’m a petrolhead, through and through. I grew up listening to stories of Ferrari and Ford battling at Le Mans, I rode in VW Beetles and learned how to drive a stick when I was 12 in my mom’s Jetta. I’m not biased to one brand, although I do love German cars. And I’ll pick a Ferrari over just about anything, regardless of how likely it is to catch fire.
Over the next few months I will share more and more insight into the car world. I’ll be providing some reviews of cars that interest me, I’ll be doing commentary on the upcoming racing season, and I just be telling you whatever related to the auto industry catches my eye. The Detroit Auto Show is going on right now and although I’m not there, I have some thoughts! Stay Tuned.
Photo Credit: Alvaro Matas
Author: Steve Benso