CU-Boulder student talks danger, cars and driving fast

A n average day for Travis Wolcott is driving a blue Volkswagen Jetta GLI between 80 and 90 miles per hour just inches from nearly 60 other cars on the track.

The University of Colorado creative writing major (who’s taking some time off to pursue his professional racing career) finished third at the Sonoma Grand Prix at the end of August, his second weekend as a professional racer. Wolcott races in the Pirelli World Challenge series, a type of road-course sprint series.

Wolcott sat down with the Colorado Daily earlier this fall to talk cars and his love of speed.

When did you start racing?

I actually started racing when I was about 14 in go-karts in my home town in Florida, but before that I was driving on my dad’s lap in the car when I was about 5. All my video games were racing games.

I then started training with Skip Barber Racing Schools at tracks like Sebring, Daytona, and Homestead-Miami Speedway — where I won my first formula car race from pole. I moved to Colorado and hooked up with Mike Pettiford of GO4IT Racing Schools where I got my SCCA national competition license and won my first Divisional National Championship in Showroom Stock B.

What’s your involvement with the mechanics of the car?

The running joke around is I’m not allowed to touch the car. We bring really talented mechanics along for a reason. I do the steering wheel the shifter and the pedals and bring it home without anything wrong with it, but the guys we have (at 3ZERO3 Motorsports in Denver) to work on the cars are all factory trained.

Was it hard to relate to your friends in high school who were playing football or traditional sports?

My friends thought it was cool. It varied a lot from people who just had fun riding around in cars with me, to the ones who always thought I was going to be judging them as they drove.

What do most people get wrong about auto racing?

A lot of people think about racing is that it’s just driving in a circle, and how hard can it be, it’s just sitting down. But it’s very, very physical and very mentally demanding. In just a 50-minute sprint race — even though I’m in good shape and I stay that way — it’s still exhausting even if you’re not racing wheel-to-wheel with anyone at the time. What it comes down to is we are making decisions constantly. We have to be perfect every single time, every corner, every turn. Or else really, really bad things can happen.

How dangerous is your job?

It’s an incredibly dangerous sport.

We try to minimize the accidents, but as drivers we put that aside. We don’t think about, “what if a wheel falls off now?”

While racing is something I can teach anyone to do competently, actually to be in it wheel-to-wheel as a professional takes a lot. Just the past race at Sonoma one of the drivers hit me on purpose, and spun me off the track. We came back with some suspension damage and quite a bit of body damage on the left-hand side. I was fine, it’s just that we missed out on a fourth or fifth place finish because of that.

–Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.

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