Stranger in a Strange Land
ATLANTA (Oct. 24, 2006) - Science fiction novelist Robert A. Heinlein penned the classic novel "Stranger in a Strange Land" in 1961, which told the story of Valentine Michael Smith, a human raised by Martians who returned to Earth in early childhood.
While he had a human body, throughout his childhood Smith was taught to think and act the Martian way. The novel explored the main character's search and eventual adjustment to Earth culture.
For Wayne Taylor, driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley in the Daytona Prototype division of the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series, his first adjustment to stock car racing culture might have been just as drastic, as it came in the opening round of the International Race of Champions (IROC) in February at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. It was Taylor's first start in a front-engine race car and his first start on an oval.
While the South African native has spent 17 years living and racing in the United States, Taylor, who now resides in Altamonte Springs, Fla., was forced to abandon almost everything he learned in more than 20 years of road racing and adapt quickly to the drastically different IROC cars.
Taylor and his co-driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley - Max Angelelli - are the first drivers from the budding Rolex Sports Car Series to participate in IROC. With their entrance into the series, the pair also became the first drivers in series history to intentionally split races, with points from both drivers combining toward the overall championship standings as a single entity.
Taylor stayed out of trouble and finished sixth in his IROC debut, while Angelelli took over for the second and third races of the season. At Texas Motor Speedway and on the Daytona road course, Angelelli finished sixth and seventh, respectively.
The duo sits ninth in the IROC point standings heading into Saturday's finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where Taylor will reassume driving duties. They are 37 markers behind series leader Tony Stewart and mathematically out of the championship.
But while the title is out of reach, winning at Atlanta is not.
The 2005 Rolex Sports Car Series champion will look to apply the lessons learned from his first and only IROC performance in Saturday's 65-lap shootout. And when the checkered flag drops on the 30th edition of IROC, Taylor hopes to end up in a place where he's never been a stranger - victory lane.
(Taylor was the 1986 South African F2 champion before coming to the United States to further his racing career. By 1990, he was racing in the International Motorsports Association (IMSA) GTP Series for the factory Chevrolet team. By 1994, Taylor was the IMSA World Sports Car champion, a feat he duplicated in 1996 thanks to wins in the 24 Hours at Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring (Fla.). Wins in the 1998 24 Hours of Le Mans in the LMP class and the Petit Le Mans in a Ferrari 333SP led Taylor to help launch General Motors' Cadillac LMP program in the American Le Mans Series from 2000 to 2002. Taylor is now a mainstay in the Daytona Prototype division of the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series, where with his SunTrust Racing Team, he earned the series championship alongside co-driver Max Angelelli in 2005 after finishing second in 2004.)
Did you feel a bit out of place during your first time in an IROC car at Daytona? What are the major differences between your No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley and an IROC car?
"Everything is different. The whole seating position and the way you drive is different, and of course you only turn left. The biggest thing was the drafting. That is just totally different than anything I've ever done. You've got to have friends in this when you try to make some passes. Sometimes when I thought I was going to do well and try to move to the front, I went immediately to the back. Daytona was the first race and there was a championship to win, but now that we are out of the championship it will be less pressure and I'll be able to enjoy myself."
What did you learn from your first ever IROC race in Daytona that you can carry over to Atlanta?
"It was the first time I've ever driven a front engine race car and my first time ever on an oval. The Signore family, along with the coaches in IROC, helped me through it. Going in, I really didn't know what to expect, but I have to say in the end I had a ball. I enjoyed the whole week driving these cars and learning a different perspective of motorsports that I've never been involved in before. I really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, I had hoped the race was going to be longer because I was just getting comfortable and the race was over. Atlanta, I believe, is a little more difficult. It's also a superspeedway, but they tell me it's not as easy as Daytona. I'm going up early, and hopefully these guys will help me through it."
What drivers helped you out the most in Daytona as you made the transition to stock cars?
"Dave Marcis and Jim Sauter were very helpful. David Donahue might have helped me the most. David and I race together currently. He was able to tell me a little bit more with regard to the transition between the two series. Marcis and all of those guys made it a lot easier than I was expecting."
While the cars were very different, what carried over the most from your sports car background to stock cars?
"Experience and driver instincts are the biggest things. It's very hard to say since it's so different. You just have to be focused and try to be smooth and try to learn as much as you can."
What are the glaring differences between your No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley and an IROC car?
"Just climbing in and out of the car is really weird with the seat next to you. The seat and steering wheel are dramatically different. An IROC car is like driving a ship at sea. It's rocking and rolling all of the time. Our cars are very harsh and severe and don't roll at all. They are much more precise. They are two entirely different race cars for two different events."
When you first learned that you had been invited to participate in IROC, what was your initial reaction?
"We were excited, especially me. I've lived in America for 17 years and won two championships prior to this one and was always hoping to be invited to IROC. Both Max (Angelelli) and I would obviously be able to do all four races. The concept was that Max and I were teammates and we could split the races, which put a different flavor into the series."
What does it mean for the Rolex Sports Car Series to have you and Max Angelelli participate in IROC with great drivers from all over North America?
"It means a lot. People are taking Grand American Road Racing seriously. If you just look at the races you'll see how competitive it is. It was natural that they would do this. Personally it's great, because this was a series I felt was growing. And after the first three years, this shows how much it really has grown."
The Daytona IROC race seemed to be pretty wild with several big accidents. Do you expect Atlanta to be a bit tamer?
"I wanted to get points for us at Daytona. This time will be different. Trying to get points won't matter. I want to go out there, race hard, and see what I can do."
Since you've never run at Atlanta before, what have you been told ahead of time to prepare you for Saturday?
"They tell me it's a lot tougher than Daytona. I'm not going to think about that until I get there. Even if it is tougher, I'm sure these guys will be able to teach me the ropes. At the end of the day, a race track is a race track. We'll make the best of it and learn throughout the week."
You have two sons, Ricky and Jordan, that are up-and-coming race car drivers. What are their aspirations? Would you like to seem them follow you into sports cars, or could you see them running NASCAR some day?
"I would like them to go with the best opportunity they can put themselves into. I know having driven sports cars my whole career, the major difference between a sports car driver and a Nextel Cup driver is that the sports car driver takes 10-15 years to make enough money, where you can do that in one year in Nextel Cup. Clearly from a financial and business perspective, the driver has a much better shot of going (Nextel) Cup racing. I was never interested in stock car racing. What I loved was sports car and single-seater racing. I came from a different country and didn't understand it. Now if I had to do everything over, I would have loved to have gone Cup racing."
Now that you've been in the United States for 17 years, do you see the appeal of Nextel Cup racing and why it's so popular with so many people?
"Clearly, it is so huge. It's very tough to make a living as a racing driver, especially in sports cars. There's only a handful that really make it, and it's not because they don't have the talent, it's because they don't have the right opportunity. Today, you need more than natural ability to succeed. Succeeding to me is making a living out of motor racing and racing competitively. Today, it's very hard for a young driver to start in karting and try to work up to Champ Car, IRL (Indy Racing League) or Formula 1. It's just as hard to try to go sports car racing. My focus is clearly on Grand Am and my kids. I'd like to have them with me at some point. Ricky clearly likes single-seater racing. Jordan is more sports car racing-orientated. However, I'm sure that's going to change over time, as it depends on what rides we can get arranged for them."