February 26, 2021

Linkage Mag

Geared for the Automotive Life

When a Smart Dog Finds Wisdom in Ayrton Senna

A few days ago, a good friend sent me this doggerel:

Oh, hey, two oh, two oh

What a year

Living in fear

Can’t wait to see you go

Kind of silly, right? But it hits the spot — and made me think of Enzo, the dog narrator in “The Art f Racing in the Rain,” which was a best-selling novel for years after it was released in 2008.

So, I picked up my copy — now pretty tattered from several readings — and once again fell into the world of Enzo, a mutt who amasses knowledge from watching The Discovery Channel, the Weather Channel and, most of all, the Speed Channel.

Enzo also learns tons about car racing and race drivers from his master, budding racer Denny. Enzo also believes that good dogs transform into people after death.

Enzo is one of those wise dogs who watches his people carefully. He thinks about things, and he has a lot to say. Trouble is, like all dogs, he can’t speak. Luckily, he can speak to us.

Over the years, Enzo watches Denny slowly climb in the racing world. Denny also gets married and, later, a lovely daughter arrives.

Denny can’t see the spinning wreck of pain that is about to slam into him and his family. Enzo senses it — and looks to the wisdom found on the racetrack to heal his humans.

Enzo finds solace and guidance from his race idol, Ayrton Senna, who, like Denny before his life went sideways, often won when racing in the rain. 

Everyone battles demons — even a smart dog like Enzo, who fears and mistrusts stuffed toy zebras and living crows. Pushing through fear and defeat is how to win a race — and a life, Enzo realizes.

Enzo says: “Yes, the race is long — to finish first, first you must finish.”

There is a moment where Enzo puts his paw on the scales of destiny — and tilts fate in another direction. The journey, from the start of the book — to that pivotal moment — and onward, is a saga of believing in yourself — and pressing on even when life hits you with a huge sucker punch.

Again Enzo: “I know this much about racing in the rain. I know it is about balance. It is about anticipation and patience. I know all the driving skills that are necessary for one to be successful in the rain. But racing in the rain is also about the mind…”

And later: “I myself have called race drivers selfish; I was wrong. To be a champion, you must have no ego at all. You must not exist as a separate entity. You must give yourself over to the race. You are nothing if not for your team, your car, your shoes, your tires. Do not mistake confidence and self-awareness for egotism.”

This book is excellent reading for anyone — it moves with the clearness and urgency of the final laps of a Formula One race. I suspect it speaks most strongly to people who see poetry and courage when a race driver takes a car to the limit. 

I would give this book to anyone who is in high school or older, but it will ring much louder for those who love cars and what humans can do with them.

At first, this book, with its simple, declarative sentences — what else would you expect from a dog? — seems perhaps too simple. It is not a demanding read. Then again, many of the best things are simple — a summer sunset, a loved one’s smile, the rumble of an engine spooling up. 

Now that I’ve read it four times, I wish I had been able to read it in 1977, when it would have helped me figure out how to handle a car — and those sucker punches that come from just living a life. Author Garth Stein shares real wisdom in this seemingly simple book.

And, after the year we’ve had, I suspect “The Art of Racing In The Rain” would make a great holiday present. Here’s hoping that 2021 has fewer punches for all of us.