Originally published September 19, 2015
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, available for $9-$20
“The car goes where the eyes go.”
A friend of mine recommended this book. There are a myriad of reasons why she might have, not the least of which it’s a dang good book. The main character is a dog. It is from his viewpoint, thoughts, successes, and failures that we see the life of a man who is at heart a champion. A champion race car driver. It takes him a long time to realize his goal and the story of how he finds his path from behind the customer service desk of a high-end automobile service garage and onto the race tracks of Europe, well, that is our tale, you see.
Enzo, our beloved hero, is a mutt with maybe a bit of terrier. He’s a smart dog. Bored to distraction while his pal, Denny, is at work. He finally finds an outlet when the TV is left on one morning and Enzo takes on the job of educating himself. Denny sets limits but makes sure that Enzo is exposed to variety. Soon he spends long hours absorbing human interactions and thought process available on the channels he is permitted to watch. And there are always the videos. Videos of races from around the world that he and his pal watch, always with lessons about what went wrong, what went right and what it takes to be a champion. And how to drive in the rain.
Of all the programs that affect Enzo the most, one is a National Geographic program about the dogs of Mongolia. Here it is believed that if a dog does very well in his life, he may have the opportunity to become a human in the next life. Enzo sets this as his goal. The very thought of acquiring opposing thumbs and a tongue that actually responds to commands—well this change becomes his checkered flag.
Denny suffers a number of setbacks. Money, the loss of his beloved wife, and a long and debilitating fight for the custody of his daughter. But he is a champion, and when he wavers on his path, Enzo jumps in with his dog-like persistence and finds a way to get Denny’s eyes back on the track.
Another saying used wisely in these pages is, “No race has ever been won in the first corner; many have been lost there.” The need to keep a goal in sight, no matter what obstacles are in the way, is the only chance of reaching it. Yes, there are things in life that you cannot change, but there are those you can. And for those you must stay the course. Not squeezing the wheel in desperation until your joints ache and you no longer “feel,” but with calm awareness of everything around you so that you can avoid losing control, over correcting, and ending up in a heap at the side of the road.
One more gem from Enzo. “Racers are often called selfish and egotistical. I myself have called race car drivers selfish; I was wrong. To be a champion, you must have no ego at all. You must not exist as a separate entity. You must give yourself over to the race. You are nothing if not for your team, your car, your shoes, your tires. Do not mistake confidence and self-awareness for egotism.” To win you must be aware of everything around you, know the most effective response without really thinking, and keep your eyes where you want the car to go. It takes practice, it takes will, and it takes a sincere love of the race itself.
Ah, yes, our Enzo. You observed much and learned much. I only hope your doggie soul remains so wise when it finds its human shell