This is our first installment in a new series of casual interviews – titled OFF CAMBER – where we get to know a bit more about some of the players in the motorsport community. Grab a coffee, sit back and relax with this one.
As many know, Patrick Long is a three-time ALMS GT driver’s champion; a class winner at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, the 12 Hours of Sebring and Petit Le Mans; and the only North American employed as a factory racing driver by Porsche. So, I guess you could say he’s a ‘pretty decent driver.’ And he’s a relatively new dad. Howie Idelson is a champion kart racer, an advertising industry creative, a father to a twin boy and girl, a kart racing coach and freelance designer for a number of household name brands. They’ve been friends since meeting at the track several decades ago and together have founded the enormously popular air-cooled Porsche gathering Luftgekuhlt, that to date, has taken place once annually over the past three years – with an imminent fourth this coming May. We had the opportunity to connect with them recently for a few minutes on the human aspect of the car culture and genesis of Luftgekuhlt.
RF – Lets just jump right in here guys and thanks in advance for taking a few minutes to chat with us. I think that it’s safe to say, especially with the formation of Luftgekuhlt, that most everyone in the Porsche – and even greater motorsports community – knows who both of you are, that is unless they’ve been pinned under a transmission somewhere for the last few decades. However, given that you are long time friends, we’d love to hear you each define the other in your own words. Howie, how would you introduce Pat at some event where no one knew him?
HI – Uh, wow, ok, well, Pat’s got red hair. <laughter> Yeah. He’s got red hair. He’s long winded, but what he says . . . usually means something and he, believe it or not, has a sense of humor and is pretty funny. But, he’s like deathly serious about anything that means anything to him and if he’s passionate about something it’s almost frightening because he’s all in. And he’s honest and . . . conscientious about what he does. And he’s a, he’s a pretty good driver too. <laughter>
RF – Nice. To throw it back your way Pat, how would you describe Howie?
PL – Ah, this is fun, this is enjoyable. I think it’s often refreshing to just stop and reflect and look around. You know, I’ve mentioned this before, but it was probably the late, well . . . I would say . . . maybe early ‘90s and I was just this go-kart grom – you know with my suit tied around my waist. And Howie was the guy we looked up to as kids – the guy we all wanted to be. Howie was kind of a pro in every meaning of the word. How I would describe Howie is, you know, he’s a leader. He’s a guy who’s always embodied art, design and forward thinking in everything he does. And just bringing new spins to things that are otherwise always done by the same people in the same way. And I think a pioneer, a visionary – those are words that I would use to describe Howie. You know from a personal, human standpoint, he’s just a guy who you want to spend time with. Someone who always makes you come away feeling better for the time that was spent together. Someone who’s extroverted and maybe over intense at times. I find that I migrate towards people like Howie who really remind you that you have to enjoy things and slow down and keep your priorities in check.
HI – Damn . . . you win. God, that’s amazing – I’m so out done! <laughter>
RF – Maybe you have a new copywriter here Howie for your next big project.
HI – I know, right? <laughter>
PL – You guys know how to pull the heartstrings . . .
HI – I’m so glad this is being transcribed Pat, because the next time we get in a fight I’m going to bring this out . . . <laughter>
RF – You both grew up in California, and I know you also began racing at a young age. I didn’t grow up in California, but I watched all the coming of age movies of what being a kid in California was like and I have this mental image of each of you as these sun drenched, Vans wearing, BMX riding, trend setting, force to be reckoned with girl magnets that the rest of the boys in the country wanted to be. You know, basically like mix of Johnny and Daniel in the Karate Kid. Am I off base here? And as an aside, did anyone else realize that was Chad McQueen cast as Dutch in the Cobra Kai in that movie?
HI – I mean, for me, my life encompassed all that stuff, but it didn’t seem like it was all that cool at the time. It was just what life was. And, you know, I was in trouble all the time. <laughter> So I was constantly looking over my shoulder to see if I was going to get punished. I think being at the kart track was a break from all of that . . . I knew I couldn’t get in trouble there. It was home where I got in trouble and so it was a nice break from all that. Growing up around the beach and skate boarding and surfing was just like if you grew up near the woods and played in the woods all day, it was just normal life. The kart track was always definitely a special place though. I always felt safe there. The rules were different and the people were different and it was sort of an ‘out of life experience’ compared to normal life. Nobody understood where I was going or what I was doing and it was just . . . that was repeatedly reinforced when I would try to tell people what I was doing. It’s so funny – I see Dane going through it all the time. He just has his friends at the track and he has his friends at home and there is no way to really join the two.
PL – Very similar to what Howie said, it’s sort of the back alley of where you hung out. That’s what life was about. I grew up with an old man who drove a pick up truck and threw the surfboard in the back and cruzed up over the canyon and hung out. And then, like Howie says, the racing was a different friend group and environment and everybody brought their own cultures from home. That was one of the greatest parts as a kid of racing karts – that you met all walks of life from all over the country and then later when it got more serious, from all over the world. I think that’s one of the greatest things about motorsport about vintage Porsches is that it’s like a common nucleus that brings people from all walks of life. That’s a great part of it.
HI – It’s one of those things where you don’t have to try to fit in, you know, you’re already fitting in. You’re already part of the crowd. You know, its not like ‘I’m going to show up here and hope I don’t get judged.’
RF – How did you each get your start in racing?
HI – For me it was, well, I was always interested in mechanical things and stuff. Kids had mini-bikes around the neighborhood. I had seen a go-kart and some kid had a skateboard thing with a little 2-stroke motor on it that was like a little luge. And that stuff just moved me. Pat’s son has this same curiosity. It captures your mind and is almost paralyzing. I had a mini-bike and it was one of those things that I would take apart and put back together every time I had a chance. If it ran again it was pure luck, but it always seemed to run. Then one day a kid up the street was moving and they had a go-kart with no motor on it and they were selling it at a garage sale. My brother and I made a deal with them that we would give them $5 each and then pay $5 a month until we got to $95. So then we had this go-kart with no motor and a big hill we lived near. We’d push it to the top of the hill and take turns riding it down. We were terrified that we had done this without telling my dad, so we hid it in the backyard under a tarp. One day my dad came home early and caught us pushing it up the hill and so we told him the story. At first he was mad, but then he felt sorry for us and the next weekend he took us to the lawn mower shop and we bought a motor for it. And so, from there, it was on. There was no turning back.
PL – For me, my grandfather owned a gas station with a little service bay after the Second WW in the Burbank/Glendale area, So we were burning up the streets, going to high school in a 1930’s Model A. He bought a bug with a Mac 10 on it and my dad and my uncle used to run that thing where the I-5 and and HWY 134 connect before the freeway was actually open. So it was in the family, at least from a hobby standpoint. I have pictures at 3 years old in the pits at a demolition derby after the race in a smoldering car and I’m standing in the seat with a death grip on the steering wheel and a shit-eating grin on my face. So naturally there was an evolution and when I sat in a go-kart for the first time at 5 years old immediately nothing else really mattered and that was the start of it.
RF – Do you remember the first time you met? How old were you both and what is your first memory of each other?
PL – Howie, do you remember? I really don’t.
HI – It must have been Oxnard, but I remember . . . just this kid who was younger and who hauled ass. I’m trying to think . . . it must have been Oxnard, but it could have been anywhere really. I was just struck by the speed of this kid who was a cool kid. His dad was cool. It’s hard to go back and actually pin point when.
PL – We were the Region 7, which was the Southern California region and, you know, everyone would just sort of have a happy hour after the races on a Saturday night between day 1 and day 2 and would just sort of socialize. Howie was this guy who . . . he had the look and his kart always looked immaculate. We were just these little groms and we wanted stickers man. If you had stickers we would kill somebody to get them. So we had a few guys we knew who we could go beg and get some bitchin’ stickers off them. Howie was the first guy who ever had a graphics package for a go-kart – sort of that ‘moto influenced’ cross over. So I’m sure there was some type of mooching of something there. It was cool. There were a few guys in the paddock who really had a following and Howie was one of them. He was one of the first guys as an American who went over and raced in Europe. And so for little go-kart kids there was only 1 or 2 guys in the whole paddock of hundreds of guys who had been over to Europe – so that’s kind of how I remember him.
HI – It was like gypsy families coming together <laughter> at the go-kart race. We were all like these misfits that went and did something that was so weird to everyone else we knew. And the stuff that Pat says about being . . . like, looked up too or something . . . I was so completely unaware of any of that. I had no clue that anyone thought of me in that way.
PL – There’s a lot of gifts that we have, whether you can create or drive or you’re good in sports . . . whatever it is, but in the end there’s a human element to all of this. And that’s ultimately why we connect and identify with people. But, you know, another spin on that I think, being the random philosopher, <laughter> is that the gypsy analogy of racers after the races are over and everybody hanging out in the pit . . . I mean, it wasn’t like after the race everyone got back in their rental car and went to the hotel, man. We were there until they were chasing us out. In some ways there’s a real parallel with Luft and with air-cooled and that we are trying to re-create that social focus. I mean I guess you can’t really create it. All you can do is give a venue and get the right people around and then you let it happen to get that ‘Saturday-night-feel.’ There’s the aspect of driving, but then there’s also the aspect of the human and social side.
HI – Maybe that’s what we’re all trying to get back to in a way. Maybe we’re just sort of discovering that here. There is an element of that for sure.
RF – You’ve each gone on from a competitive upbringing in an individual sport – sure you have a team, but when the green flag flies and the shit hits the fan it’s all you – to being so successful in your careers and beyond. What are some of the lessons karting from an early age has lended your ‘grown up’ endeavors?
PL – Well, um, that’s a loaded question <laughter>, I mean, the aspects of karting and what you learn in karting is really, yeah, that individual ‘fight within the fight.’ You understand that it’s ‘work in work out.’ You learn about preparation, focus and desire and how to execute from a young age. You have to be quick and you have to want it, but you have to understand that racing is a tough sport from a business element. And that’s probably one of the biggest gifts – learning so early on that it’s not going to come easy. And so I think that with whatever I apply myself to these days, I learned from karting that a racket and a glove and a ball – talent – wasn’t solely going to get you to where you wanted to be in racing.
HI – All of what Pat said is . . . I think for sure. For me, it was more about people and learning to just sort of accept all of the kinds of people who were there. People who weren’t the same as those in my neighborhood and that I lived with. There was just this conglomeration of so many types of people. The other thing that I struggled with is that, well, that I wanted it really badly. But, you know, it took me a long time to get there – to get to where I could win. Early on I learned how to get in other kids heads. I don’t know how I figured it out, but, well, it gave me an advantage. And I could use it to, you know, to get further up the grid. And from that I think that I have learned how to read people a bit better. It’s not always perfect, but I think in life I have taken that element to understand people a bit better.
RF – Pat, these next couple are coming at you. So really, what kid doesn’t say at some point “When I grow up I want to be a race car driver”? So theoretically then you are 1% of the 1% who actually have done it. What do you have to say now to your mom or dad who, no doubt back then, said you’d probably better have a back up plan for that?
PL – Well I think that my parents believed in me, often, more than I believed in myself. Specifically, my dad, who I was really racing with day in and day out up until the age of 14 – and Howie can speak to this – it’s really a bond where you lean on each other in moments of weakness. So from a very young age you have this working relationship. My parents were very realistic with me about how small of a chance there was going to be to do this as a pro. And so we would talk and analyze some of these people who were way too serious about it because they wanted to become pro and maybe there was some of that unassuming nature that helped. But you know, looking back it’s still sort of surreal and a journey and as time goes on you just become more aware and humble and thankful for getting to do this for a few years – let alone decades.
RF – So on top of all of that you are the only North American to be employed as a factory driver for Porsche – what’s that like? Just hearing myself say that collective group of words together in a sentence seems kind of mind blowing really.
PL – I think that I look at it a little bit more distant than that. I look at it from a standpoint of Porsche as a brand and what an amazing company and product they have. And then there are the people who have written the history of what that company has done and what they are going to do. And then the connection to the American market and how America has been attracted to Porsche and whatever meaning you want to take from that. And so that’s the coolest part – to be even slightly related to that and to even be a small page of what that book is all about. I don’t know, I guess, it has given me a backstage pass to meet the real players of racing and even non-racing history of the company. There are a so many people who are well entrenched in the spirit and even the day to day at Porsche – decades and decades of service and love to the brand. It’s about the human element of it. And then when you get back to the product and the racing and the cars – it’s pretty cool to subscribe or be an ambassador of some sort to a product that you truly believe in. That’s a pretty cool thing. When you get to go to work and sell something that you are going to be buying yourself anyway, that’s, from a professional side, that’s the best part of my job.
RF – Howie, you have come full circle from being a karting champion yourself and now are coaching your young son Dane. It sounds like a ‘made for Hollywood story’, but in reality, I’m guessing, that being both a dad and coach requires the calculated emotional finesse of landing a plane on an aircraft carrier in 40-foot-seas. How does that work for you?
HI – I really don’t calculate much. My only calculation is to make sure that I can deliver a positive experience to Dane – without sugar coating anything. I mean, I let everything happen. I let the defeats and disappointment happen. But I don’t have any expectation of him. That’s what I can really bring to the table. Even though I know what it takes to do all of this, I’ve somehow successfully taken expectation out of it. I don’t know how I’ve done that because I’m not all that disciplined of a person, but somehow I’ve been able to remove expectation out of our working, karting, father/son relationship. If you come to the track and you see the everyday, normal racing thing – that’s all you see. It’s something that I loathe. I hate to see the pressure that some of the kids are put under. I don’t know – am I answering the right question?
RF – Yeah, yeah – anytime you are fulfilling multiple duties you have to know when to push the accelerator on one and the break pedal on the other – right?
HI – I try to be aware that I have to keep myself in check at this moment. I am reminded of that a lot. Don’t react – be his dad.
RF – Howie, if your eight-year-old self lined up in the starting grid next to Dane today, who do you think would take the checkered flag?
HI – Oh, I’d crush him. <laughter> At 8, or I actually started racing at 9, I had this mental feeling that, I already knew that I could win. He has no awareness of that yet. <laughter>
RF – Pat, honestly, we can’t actually be satisfied in interviewing you without asking about racing with Patrick Dempsey. In exchange for your coaching his driving has he reciprocated with any tips on your hair styling? Any product names you’d like to drop?
PL – <laughter> Sometimes it’s just back to that So Cal ‘osmosis’ thing. Maybe it’s just hanging out near him that I can try to tame my fro’ into some sort of shape . . . when that guy doesn’t even have to try. He can have a bad morning and people are just falling all over his new due. It’s a tall order, when you are always standing next to a someone who has a lot of ‘talent’ in that book. <laughter>
HI – I think it maybe that he’s jealous of Pat’s look. The grass is always greener. <laughter>
PL – Yeah, he wants to be the ‘angry ginger.’ <laughter>
RF – Well, I hear that gingers are falling into short supply, so maybe that’s the case. <laughter> So how was Luftgekuhlt born? There are so many car events out there – how is this one different?
PL – The initial goal was to tell a story of the air-cooled culture in a very refreshing and light intensity and keep it fun. Make it a ‘late Sunday morning on any given day in Venice, California’. Get some cool examples that tell the story of air-cooled in all if it’s different quirky little subcultures.
HI – We keep throwing around this word ‘curation’ and we were careful to curate the people too and make sure this is a cross section of, you know, not just elite car owners, but creatives and people who are passionate at any level and bring them together with this common theme . . . in a social setting.
RF – It seems like the environments you have chosen have been a big part of this as well.
HI – It’s almost as much a part of it as the cars themselves. We try to frame the people and the cars within the theme of wherever we are. We weave that story into the whole mix.
PL – I agree. There has to be some takeaway. Some anticipation. Some lead up and some build up to the intensity. And then when you go away hopefully we’ve left something new – an introduction to a new brand or facility. Or back to that human connection – I mean the cars are sort of what get everybody together and then the venues are what everybody ends up celebrating and experiencing and what keeps you there longer than you expected – that is the human aspect. People were coming to us after Luft 3 and they were like “it was so intense, but I didn’t get to see half the people that I wanted to” or “I didn’t get to speak to half the people that I saw and wanted to catch up with.” So there was that real reunion aspect that overpowered the car commentary – there’s always that aspect, but that’s kind of the take away I think.
RF – Luft has seemingly grown so much and the response from the community has been so supportive in three short years – what do you have in store for us this coming May and beyond?
PL – I think it’s just keeping in touch with our roots of what this was all supposed to be about. It’s certainly, in some ways, taken a life of it’s own. We said from the first show we’d be along for the ride and let Luftgekuhlt make a lot of it’s own decisions, rather than pumping out a bunch of promise and mass-sell-hype. Why not allow the offspring of coming together to decide a lot of it for itself. That aspect is sometimes not gently received by a community who is otherwise pretty detail oriented, pretty strongly opinionated and pretty analytical. <laughter> It’s just fun. It’s a great exercise for me personally because I’m one of those from the community who likes to have everything dialed in and triple checked. I’m, like Howie said, a long-winded-over thinker, so it’s a great reminder that if you do things differently, sometimes you can get an even better outcome.
HI – I think that Pat said it perfectly. For me it’s just delivering on the experience. That’s the heart of it for me. The cars and the people are what make it happen. I think focusing in on the experience we are delivering . . . as long as we stay with that at the front of everything and we are meticulous about holding up that standard, then we’ll be able to keep going.
For more information on Luftgekuhlt go to http://luftgekuhlt.com/ and save the date for the first weekend in May 2017.