Originally published in the Spring 2014 quattro quarterly
LOOKING AT SOME OF THE BEST known auto racing dynasties where the motoring passion is passed down from one generation to the next, one can’t but ask if the talent is inherited or developed. Names like Andretti, Fittipaldi, Earnhardt, Allison, and Bell come to mind when fathers, sons, and often grandsons enter and excel in the field of motorsports. And one can’t help but wonder if Dee Ann Andretti, Mario’s wife and Marco’s mother had ever wished that her son had chosen a somewhat safer profession.
“He sure didn’t get that from my side of the family…” or “Where did he (or she) ever get that…” are probably uttered by more than one parent of a racecar driver or anyone whose offspring thrives on pushing the proverbial envelope.
Those and similar phrases are not unheard in the Tomasi household, including my mother wishing that her oldest son, grandson, and granddaughter had been addicted to a sport like golf or tennis instead of performance driving. The same applies to Linda wondering why the objective of her US Army Ranger son Giovanni Jr. is to jump out of a plane, rappel out of a helicopter, or charge out of a Stryker – in the midst of combat in a foreign land to keep the Homeland safe.
The inevitable question of nature or nurture has to be asked: are we driven to pursue our passions by what we inherit from our family or are we conditioned by our environment? Looking back at our immediate family, Alexandra and Giovanni Jr. learned from an early age that “spirited driving” was good while fast and reckless was bad, as we went for those Saturday morning bagel runs taking the winding back roads of Northeastern Connecticut. Alex telling Linda after she questioned the necessity for the rate of speed: “Mommy, don’t worry, this is much slower than the spirited drives we take with Dad…” perhaps supports the theory that nurturing created that comfort in Alex and Giovanni Jr. piloting a vehicle on the track at above average speeds. The road rally in 2003 where Alex’s navigation skills at age 11 secured first place in our class continued to feed the ingrained nature of motoring addiction while fostering the skills.
A number of other instances may also support the nurture theory. Both our son and daughter enjoy heights including jumping out of planes, rappelling from helicopters, and mountain climbing. Perhaps some of my flashes of genius to find fun activities for our children may have played a very minor role in their choices of profession and passions. Using a garage door spring, a climbing harness, and a line tied to a sturdy tree branch, Linda observed Giovanni Jr. and Alex taking turns being propelled into the air by a heavy duty version similar to what years before was their “baby bungee”. The zip line secured to the chimney on the rooftop and to a tree trunk in the backyard where Linda saw the three of us zooming down in sequence, prompting a: “What in the world are you doing?” was another such instant.
A number of milestones define the process of growing up, highlighting what is important and often forming our future interests. For Danny, a good childhood friend of Alex, that consisted of obtaining his hunting permit at the age of 12 with the birthday gift of a 16 gauge shotgun to join his father in the woods. That same year Alex’s birthday present entailed the go-karts racing school at Lime Rock. Danny is now an accomplished hunter and Alex has more track tires and rims in the attic than most women have shoes in the closet—although her shoe collection certainly rivals the rims and tires!
Other milestones certainly nurtured our shared passion for motorsports. The Street Survival safety driving school for both Alex and Giovanni Jr. marked their sweet sixteen, the Lime Rock Audi Club performance driving school was scheduled as soon each turned 18, and the Skip Barber racing school was a Christmas present to be executed shortly after Alex’s 18th birthday—and right behind her first Audi Club Lime Rock event. Other actions support Giovanni Jr. and Alex’s motoring passion as well as mine. Gifting both a full set of Craftsman tools not only equipped them with the instruments essential for proper maintenance but also ensured that my tools remained happily in their proper place.
As for my personal passion for motorsports, was it nurtured at an early age when I received my most favorite present of a red pedal car with a Prancing Horse? Or was it nature through my aunt Maria “Buccetta” who raced road rallies in the 1960’s with her Fiat Seicento and later took us around the Monza racetrack in an Alfa Romeo Giulia? Nature or nurture, it was certainly passed down to both Giovanni Jr. and to Alex, with a fair amount rubbing off to Linda who occasionally joins us in the Audi Club high performance driving events.