Dr. Jim Lowe had better hope that no other Neurosurgeons decide to take up air racing. Barring that, his title as World's Fastest Neurosurgeon is probably pretty safe. Dr. Lowe is also a pretty serious contender for the "most interesting man in the world". In addition to racing, Dr. Lowe is a golfer, competitive surfer, and 30-year veteran of the Marine Corps. Did we mention he's also a Neurosurgeon? How one man finds time for all these pursuits simply defies belief.
Like many racers, Dr. Lowe seems to have been born competitive. One does not land on the podium at Daytona without a bit of permanent red-mist. Though by his own admission he was not the largest of his peers, he began his competitive career with football in grade school. Though he played until midway through his time at Harvard, mounting injuries drove his interests elsewhere.
While football is a team sport, perhaps the most telling thing about Dr. Lowe is how intrinsically motivated he is. At each stage he is earnest, modest, and never makes a move solely in pursuit of glory. As a neurosurgeon, Dr. Lowe is unflinchingly honest about the ups and downs of working with people in their most delicate moments.
He is equally honest about the trials and tribulations of starting out as an amateur racing driver. As highly as any of us might think of ourselves, none of us are(or were) as fast as newbies as we felt we should be. No amount of hours in Forza or Grand Turismo can prepare your body for the forces in a real racecar. The learning curve is steep, and for someone in the early stages of learning to go quickly Dr. Lowe's early difficulties give quite a bit of hope.
From the earliest stages of racing open wheel cars with Jim Russel and Skip Barber through his Grand Am entries, Dr. Lowe always seems to have his eye on the next reasonable step. Critically, this means the next reasonable step, not the next big leap. The push for big leaps seems to come from other people, with key figures like Jim Pace pushing him straight from Formula Dodges to Porsche GT cars.
I like to throw around a Norbert Singer quote when it comes to endurance racing; [at Le Mans], "first you must run 24 hours, then you can see where you are." For Dr. Lowe, that first step proved a challenge, and his road to a Daytona podium came with its own set of challenges.
That of course, is a tale best told by the man himself.
The book itself is a combination of new narrative, blog posts, email conversations, and a lot of memory. While these create a good sense of depth and perspective into his road to racing success, it did lead to some readability issues for me.
Reading a dialogue-driven autobiography is a bit unusual, and I found that the lengthy dialogue sections had a tendency to draw me out of the book. It's not that the passages of dialogue are poorly written, in fact just the opposite, I simply found them too numerous for my personal taste. For me, the pacing is odd as well, with a brief introductory section, and an oddly short denouement. Again, relatively minor quibbles all told.
It's Definitely Worth Reading
For racing fans, this is an interesting read which details a possible road into motorsports. The book's greatest strength is Dr. Lowe's honesty about his process. It's not always easy or glamorous, but it is definitely worth reading.