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Leisure time: A drive for racing

carGary Kittell was looking for a hobby 25 years ago. “I needed something to do,” he explains, “and I had always liked cars and going fast.” So, he volunteered at Watkins Glen International speedway, “and I came to the conclusion that the people having the most fun were the drivers.”

Gary KittellSo, he became a driver.

He chose a class of car made from Volkswagen parts, known as Formula Vee, and got started with a car he bought from a man getting out of racing. He learned to race, honed his repair skills, and looked to his wife, Elisabeth to be his crew chief. They celebrated their 45th anniversary this summer.

For many years the couple spent their weekends driving to racing events year-round, towing the car and replacement parts in a covered trailer. Now they attend a handful of major racing events each year.

“The thing about racing is, you can think about it at night or before the season starts, but once you‘re at the track, it gets pretty consuming. Once you‘re in the car and the motor starts and the green flag flies, time disappears,” Kittell says. “Your entire world is the cockpit of the car, and it‘s that way until the race is over. There is absolutely no room for any extraneous thoughts, whatsoever.”

His car will go more than 120 miles per hour. Like all drivers, Kittell wears a helmet, insulated balaclava and fire suit. He is buckled in with a six-point harness. His arms have restraints to be protective in a rollover. His neck has a special brace that connects his helmet to the seat to protect his neck and head. The car is like a steel cage, complete with fire suppression.

Despite all of the precautions, he has been injured.

He suffered whiplash in one rollover, a broken collarbone in another, and he slammed into a concrete wall at New Hampshire International Speedway. “That knocked me out for a while,” he says.

Kittell recovers each time and returns to the racetrack to continue with his hobby. “It‘s good because it‘s competitive, and it‘s cars. I like working on them, I like driving fast, and it‘s technical. For me, it seems to be an ideal fit.”