A Scholar and a Race Car Driver Braselton, Ga. - Many people know the commitment, focus, and time that it takes to be a successful college student, but a professional race car driver at the same time? That's just what University of Georgia ...
A Scholar and a Race Car Driver
Braselton, Ga. - Many people know the commitment, focus, and time that it takes to be a successful college student, but a professional race car driver at the same time?
That's just what University of Georgia student and American Le Mans Series driver James Gue is doing this year.
Gue, born in New Haven, CT, has been a part of the racing industry for all of his life. His father Michael Gue has owned racing teams for the past 25 years so it was only natural that he follow his father's footsteps and make racing his life. Gue received his first go-kart when he was just six years old. Although he would not compete in sanctioned races for another two years, Gue took to the mini race car quickly, fueling his desire to someday be a professional driver.
After two years on his small go-kart, it was time to go for the real thing and at age eight, Gue started competing for the first time. After beginning his young career locally, he moved on to the state and eventually national levels of competition. It was only until he was in high school did he decide to make his dream a reality when he made the difficult decision to relocate overseas in order to race on the European and World Championship Series.
"When you are eight years old, you dream about becoming a professional race car driver just like some people want to be doctors or lawyers," Gue said. "I have always wanted to be a professional race car driver and I think the point that I really decided that this is really what I want to do is when I moved to Italy because it was a huge commitment. It obviously took a lot of effort on my part because I had to leave high school half way through my eleventh grade year. I made a deal with my parents that if they let me go, because I had been given this opportunity, that I would eventually finish high school.
"I actually ended up moving over to Italy by myself when I was 17 for two years and did two seasons of the European and World Championship Series and then came back to the United States and went from there. I would have liked to stay over in Europe and pursue racing, but I ended up getting the Skip Barber scholarship so I came back to capitalize on that opportunity," he said.
It might have taken a little longer than a typical high school student with college aspirations, but Gue did receive his high school diploma. While in Italy, Gue stayed on top of his scholastic commitments, taking classes via the Internet and correspondence. Upon his return to the United States, Gue took his final exams and made good on the promise he had made to his parents two years before.
Gue began where he had left off in Europe and started racing at a junior level. He then received his first opportunity to race a sports car with current team owner John Macaluso, to run a six-hour endurance race at Watkins Glen with Buddy Rice. The team finished a very respectable second in class in the Riley Scott SRP1 race car. From that point on, Gue continued to chase his dream, a dream that now also included a college education.
As an unexpected turn of events, Gue encountered problems with college acceptance because universities would not recognize his high school diploma due to his home schooling in Italy. Undaunted, Gue looked to Southern Polytechnic State University to help him gain access to a college education. After taking several entrance exams other than the SAT, Gue was accepted to Southern Polytechnic State and remained there for one and a half years taking core college classes as a means of gaining acceptance to another school.
Gue eventually transferred to the University of Georgia where he began studies in economics as well as Italian. Gue admits that balancing professional sports car racing and school at the same time is challenging but worth it.
"I have been taking a full class load for the past three and a half years," Gue commented. "It's been tough juggling both school and racing. I haven't taken any summer classes because the majority of the races are during the summer so it works out quite well, but I have been a full time student since I started. Usually at the beginning of each semester I go to all of my professors and tell them that this is what I do, that this is what I am going to be doing for a living, and that I want to be a professional driver. Most of them are very understanding and actually think it's neat that they can watch one of their students on television. Obviously every now and then you get a professor that says look, school is the most important and I don't care what you are doing and you have to be here for the exam, but you try to work around it. I do all of my work before class starts or do it ahead of time rather than make it up afterwards. Most of the time it works out, but you have to forgo the other typical college lifestyle that most people live to keep up with the work. If you don't stay on top of it, it's real easy to get behind and have your grades slip and I don't need to lose my Hope scholarship."
Gue has occupied a spot on the Dean's List at the University of Georgia three out of his four semesters of attendance. He is still very passionate about the Italian language and continues his economics studies. Although Gue has chosen to be a professional race car driver, he knows the importance of a college education.
"The degree in Italian is because I really enjoy the language and its just another way of continuing to speak it and improve my language skills," Gue said. "I wouldn't say that I am fluent, but I know enough to live by myself and get by. Economics is something that interests me and helps you a lot in the aspects of general business. Obviously in the racing business it can come in quite handy. Doing the University thing is not necessarily what degree that you get, it's more of just the experience of going through those four years, or four and a half in my case. It teaches you a lot of discipline and basic skills that I think you will need out in the real world and that makes a difference."
Gue has enjoyed success in both the classroom and on the racetrack. Perhaps one of his greatest achievements to date is having the chance to help the Miracle Motorsports team win the 2004 LMP2 Championship in the American Le Mans Series. With this honor comes the invitation to one of the most prestigious and rigorous endurance races in the world, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in Le Mans, France. Winning the championship would also mean that Gue and co-driver Ian James would battle the best of the best for the Le Mans title, which has even eluded such drivers as Mario Andretti and current Formula One champion Michael Schumacher.
However, Gue recognizes the fact that he still needs to perform well in order to help seize the ALMS championship title for Miracle Motorsports. Coming off of a win at the Road America 500, Gue and co-driver James will compete again September 25 in the ten-hour or 1000-mile Petit Le Mans presented by Chevrolet at Road Atlanta. Here on his home track, Gue and James will pilot Miracle Motorsports new Courage C65, the same car that they drove to win at Road America.
Gue will continue to race as well as eventually receive a college degree from the University of Georgia. After completing his studies, Gue will have not only done something that many people would find very difficult to do by itself, but he will have done so while racing professionally full time. Gue obviously enjoys the thrill of professional sports car racing with the American Le Mans Series, enough to compete while still attending college. Maybe it's the speed, maybe it is the challenge of competing with some of the best drivers in the world, or maybe, just maybe it is the realization of a dream that began so long ago with a small go-kart and a road that would lead to greatness.