Starting Line: Co-Driving Conundrum

Monday morning, just a day before we were scheduled to leave for Mid-Ohio, I got a call from J.K. Jackson. He had hurt his back and would not be able to make the trip to co-drive our Triumph TR3 in the Classic Motorsports Small Bore Cup, an endurance series sponsored by our sister magazine.
We designed this series with the help of Hagerty Insurance, Cool Shirt, Traqmate, Bob Woodman Tire and, of course, the SVRA and HSR to allow co-drivers. We wanted a way to expand the driving experience to include buddies, crewmembers and those who just didn’t own a vintage race car but wanted to try out the sport. Co-driving is also a good way to share the racing expenses.
With J.K. hurt, it looked like I would have to go it alone. Fortunately, J.K. quickly called back with a solution: “Hey,” he said, “how would you like to co-drive with Sam Halkias?”
Being asked to share your beloved race car is a little bit like being asked to share your wife. It is (at least for me) not a comfortable proposition. That said, a co-driver can offer certain benefits and does change the game of racing quite a bit. I’ve had co-drivers throughout much of my racing career. In vintage racing, I’ve worked mostly with J.K. In autocrossing, I co-drive with my son, Tommy.
I co-drive for many reasons. Some are completely practical and some are because they make racing more fun, at least for me. In the case of J.K, who happens to be a longtime Triumph racer as well as owner of English Automotive Specialists, our co-driving relationship was built on convenience and frugality. He was too cheap to run his own road race car, and I was too cheap—and at that time too poor—to pay a race shop to prep and transport my car. What started as a rocky marriage of convenience has turned into an only slightly less rocky friendship for life.
J.K. has forgotten more about racing Triumphs than most people will ever learn, and he has passed much of that knowledge on to me—that is, when I’m patient enough to listen. More importantly, that knowledge has been passed on to my crew guys, Jere Dotten and Gary Hunter—and they always have the patience to listen. More recently, J.K. has even been teaching Tommy, who sometimes has the patience to listen.
From a driving standpoint, the co-driving marriage has also been interesting. Initially, J.K pushed me to do better. He made me race in the rain when I didn’t want to. He coached me, he belittled me at times, and he taught me more than I will usually admit.
As time went on, our lap times became equal. That was perhaps the most fun stage of co-driving, as the battle royal ensued every race weekend. Both of us would go home happy after pushing each other to do our best.
Honestly, as I kept learning and practicing, my times, confidence and skills improved. My lap times are now ahead of J.K.’s. I owe him a debt of gratitude for this and for helping me have one of the best set-up vintage race TR3s in the country. But J.K. wouldn’t be able to make it to Mid-Ohio for the Small Bore Cup, and I had to decide if I wanted Sam to be my co-driver. First off, I like Sam. Plus, he had just helped us with a killer cover story for Classic Motorsports—we compared his SCCA national championship TR6 with Bill Warner’s Group 44 Inc. TR6.
Still, did I really know him enough and trust him enough to let him drive my beloved TR3 at Mid-Ohio? Another factor is that we all have egos, and I didn’t really want some hot-shot, fancy-boy SCCA national champion making me look stupid in my own car.
I quickly decided that his skills were obviously up to snuff, and it would be fun to learn from him. Mid-Ohio is his home track, and he also has mad skills when it comes to making Triumphs run well. The deal was on.
Sam was a true gentleman. He helped work on the car, made a few adjustments, and suggested a few others. He also did a masterful job of driving and, more importantly, coaching me on how to drive the car and track better. With just a few pointers he had me running 1:49s—this is without the kink after Turn 1—while he was only a few tenths faster. While I obviously still had room for improvement, he certainly did not make me feel like a fool.
Co-driving is fun, whether it’s in a vintage enduro, a LeMons race or, as we found out most recently, a rallycross. The shared expenses, shared camaraderie and shared stories can more than make up for the risks.
That said, you need to pick your co-drivers carefully. While I don’t do this myself, you should get things in writing. Figure out what is expected when sharing the work load, towing duties and, most importantly, the expenses involved should something go wrong—whether it be a mechanical problem or a crash.
It can be said that some events don’t provide enough track time to share, but naturally enduros and most vintage race weekends offer plenty—this is especially true if you’re busy being Mr. Big-Shot Magazine Publisher much of the time. Rallycrosses and autocrosses are perfect venues for co-driving as well.

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