Man 67, Fulfills Car-Racing Dream!
Rick Hartbrodt believes it's never too late to try something new. An ardent car enthusiast all his life, it wasn't until recently that the 67-year-old retired dentist and businessman decided to pursue his long-held desire to race sports cars.
"Racing is something I've always wanted to do, and I thought if not now, when?" the Bay Ridge resident explained. He then laughed and said, "I'm not getting any younger so I went for it!" Hartbrodt's first foreign car was a sporty little Sunbeam Alpine, which he purchased in high school. By college he had graduated to a Porsche and over the intervening years has owned 45 Porsches. Currently the sports car aficionado owns six Porsches, an Aston Martin and his Miata race car, which are kept in a hangar at the Monterey Peninsula Airport.
"Eventually I did so many DEs that I become inured to that controlled situation," he said. "I began to think it would be much more fun and exciting to actually race against someone." To do so, though, meant Hartbrodt had to get a competition license. So at the age of 65 he took the first of a number of professional racing courses at the Skip Barber Driving School at Laguna Seca, which led to his competitive license.
At the time he used the sports cars the school provided. But eventually he purchased his own car, a 1994 Mazda Miata that he had Ryan Lesher of Salinas modify for racing.
To make the sports car race-ready, a roll cage had to be added, along with a special detachable steering wheel, new seats, a fire suppression system and new shocks. The side windows were replaced with netting.
With his own car in tow, early this year Hartbrodt traveled north to Willows, where he attended a Sports Car Club of America racing school at Thunderhill Raceway Park. Even though he already was licensed, Hartbrodt said he wanted to undergo this additional training.
"This was a very enjoyable three-day session because we did a lot of racing," he said. Now Hartbrodt felt ready to enter his car in the Spec Miata class that he had elected to compete in. Having been one of the two fastest drivers in his Thunderhill class, Hartbrodt felt pretty good about his chances of performing well on the Spec Miata circuit. He learned very quickly, though, that the more "seat time" a driver has, the faster he is, a fact that became evident when he competed in his first race. Racing against as many as 63 cars and nearly as many experienced drivers in a single event, Hartbrodt found the level of competition pretty fierce. Thus far he has finished as high as 13th, which is a solid accomplishment for a novice driver.
When he attends a race weekend, Hartbrodt said that Lesher, who now also competes in the Spec Miata class, handles any mechanical issues that may come up. Fortunately, Hartbrodt said, thus far his white Miata has not had any serious problems. Asked if he feels at a disadvantage competing against younger drivers, Hartbrodt said, "Not really!" He maintains a weekly workout schedule to stay fit and said when he's on the track the adrenaline rush he experiences probably makes up for any age-related loss in reflex time. Hartbrodt said there are probably a few other drivers who are in the over-60 age group. No one has really remarked on his age, he said, which might be attributed to the fact that he is a very competent driver.
"As far as I'm concerned, age is a non-issue," he said, adding that when he slips into car #53 he feels everyone else on the track is pretty much his equal. Hartbrodt said he planned to compete in a race at Laguna Seca on Oct. 15 and then he'd be done until the next Spec Miata season begins in March. Being able literally to see the famed Laguna Seca race course from his living room window, Hartbrodt will have the winter to savor the memories of his first racing season while planning his strategy for 2011. Next year he plans to compete at least once a month and, at some time in the future, he'd like to switch to vintage sports car racing with a Porsche.
Hartbrodt and his wife, Debbie, moved to their Bay Ridge home in 2004 from Tiburon. A graduate of the University of Southern California dental school, Hartbrodt practiced dentistry for awhile before he became involved in publishing, the coffee business and then land development. The couple said goodbye to a sweeping vista of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco skyline for the view they now enjoy of Laguna Seca. "We were looking for a quieter lifestyle with less big-city hubbub," Hartbrodt said. "This fit the bill perfectly."