I'm writing, writing, writing these days (as is Simon; both of us are on deadline), so I'm pondering the whys and the how comes of racing more than I'm watching it. (Seriously, there's a moratorium on TV in my house until I finish this second manuscript.) And as I'm creating and exploring a multitude of characters in the racing world, I realized that in racing, as in life, it's not enough to only have talent.
Talent is a baseline, in racing as in any other endeavor. But you've got to have something else that gives you an edge. I heard a story about a guy who almost made it onto The Voice. He's a really good singer, but he had no story to bring tears to the masses. He had no hook. When it comes to selling a mystery, having a hook helps. I pitched myself as "The Dick Francis of auto racing, with a female racecar driver protagonist" (Simon will also claim to be the Dick Francis of auto racing, and I don't disagree. I think we can share the title).
When it comes to racing, you've got to have talent, but you've also got to have (forgive the pun) drive. Motivation, charisma. A story, connections. Something. I remember hearing a not-currently active driver who I'd seen race in years past described as "too nice to make it in racing." That's not to say you have to be a jerk to make it, but, let's be realistic. Willingness to win means a willingness to beat others. At some point, you've got to be willing to step on or bump aside the other guy to take the checkers first.
There's a business axiom that I quote often: Right, fast, or cheap. Pick two.
Applied to racing, this might turn into something like this: Talent, story, or charisma. Pick two to survive. (By "charisma" I mean both the inner drive to succeed and the ability to communicate that to others.)
And if you have all three? Golden. Think Dale Earnhardt. Think Junior, if he can just start winning again (did you see the headlines from this weekend? NASCAR.com didn't feature "Kyle Wins!" No, it featured Stepping Up His Performance because Junior finished second).
Certainly there are different levels of talent among drivers, from so-so, to good, to great, to exceptional. But I also believe that in life many of us have the same talents, but some people will be wildly successful not because of raw talent, but because of undefinable extras. Charisma, hook, lightning strikes. This is true in racing as in publishing as in life.