Pursuit of Beauty on the Human Scale
There are many things that we admire in nature. Things like the Grand Tetons, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, colorful sunsets, the wing speed of a hummingbird, the sight of the Milky Way on a clear night… you get the idea. Massive displays of beauty. When we take them in, we are awestruck. Many times, while admiring the wonder of nature, I realize that I am but just a speck of flea dung in the whole big picture.
Maybe one of the things that may define us humans as different from other animals is a desire to create beauty. Be it on a much smaller scale than those grand things that Mother Nature displays, and also many times left to interpretation by others, many humans strive to create something beautiful. Something made by human hands, or by human thought, that strives to express something bigger than themselves, something that will outlast them. These people leave behind something of beauty, for us, following later, to enjoy.
Whatever discipline you follow, there are those in that particular discipline that speak to what you care about. These people invested themselves heavily into the discipline. Many times these individuals become autodidact self-made members of a sort of aristocracy of that discipline. These are people that dedicate their lives to learning about that discipline and furthering it. I find those people wonderful.
One discipline I follow is small bore formula car racing. A discipline where form must follow function. Beauty is not solely judged by a subjective set of criteria. Beauty in this discipline is judged by performance, a much harsher judge in my opinion. Perceived graceful lines, or intricate hardware count for little if the end result does not perform well against the clock, or to the drivers command during competition.
I remember Mark Donahue driving the Porsche 917/30 around Road Atlanta in August of 1973. A lap of 1:12.950. In my opinion watching that combination of machine and human drive incredible laps was a thing of awesome beauty. Many years later, with Mark gone, folks still flock to historic reunions just to view the car. Obviously, a creation of beauty for its time.
In recent years I had the same sense of awe watching Brandon Dixon in his F1000 car rush through the very same turn one at Road Atlanta. As in 1973, the car and driver seemed to defy the laws of physics, at least my perception of them. As a spectator, the car’s speed through the corner looked impossible to maintain. As a driver who has traversed that turn many times, my appreciation may have been heightened. Followers of a discipline may have more appreciation than casual observers for they know the rigors that must be overcome.
Last weekend I had the pleasure of watching Tim Minor conquer turn 1 at Road Atlanta. I had that same sense of awe. During evenings since, I have been able to study photos of Tim’s car in mid-turn. Photos that grab a moment of time smaller than one thousandth of a second. I study the sheen of the rubber on the tires, the camber of the loaded wheels, the angle Tim has to hold his head to fight the load of G forces. To me the successful high speed carving of a turn is a thing of beauty. Those that make that speed possible are artists I admire, the aristocracy of my discipline.
I never had the pleasure to meet David Bruns, nor Adrian Reynard, engineers that might be considered the aristocracy of small formula car developers. However, every weekend at a F2000 Championship Series event I feel privileged to be able to talk with the likes of Steve Lathrop, John Walko, Windell Miller, Sandy Shaliman, Don Sievenpiper, Paul Rieffle, Mike Borland, Angelo Zarro, Jim Griffith, James Lee, or Eric Langbien. These folks, and many others like them in the paddock, have dedicated their lives to one form of a pursuit of beauty on a human scale. I find them wonderful.