Racing Genes

Hi Topspeed,
There are so many race car drivers whose fathers also raced cars. Is the ability to drive well hereditary?

Kirk O. from Dallas, Texas

Hello Kirk,

I have often asked myself the very same question and my personal conclusion is a resounding no. While there is no doubt that certain traits are passed on from parents to their children, the ability to drive well is not one of them. Doing anything well takes learning and practice, and racing cars is no different. There has never been a driver that just hopped into a race car without previous experience or practice and went on to beat everyone else to the checkered flag. Driving well and racing well are skills that are learned; no one is born with these abilities.

I won't mention names but there are numerous racing dads who have sons with only mediocre driving ability. If a father and a son are both excellent racers, it is simply a coincidence. There are many reasons why dads who race cars end up with sons who race cars but the causes are more practical than genetic. Many sons follow in their father's footsteps when it comes to choosing a career and this holds true whether the father is a lawyer, a doctor or a race car driver.

Famous father and son race car drivers you may know are Mario and Michael Andretti, Gilles and Jacque Villeneuve, and more recently, Keke and Nico Rosberg. These days, it seems like there is a son of a famous racing driver competing in just about every racing series there is. Some of these sons are just testing the racing waters, some are legitimately passionate about pursuing a racing career, and some are just getting by on their father's names.

Truth be told, a lot of these racing sons would never get their foot in the racing door under their own power. While that may be a scathing assessment, most of them just don't have the smarts or determination to make it on their own. If it wasn't for dad helping them every step of the way, they would probably end up like most drivers who enter the sport - racing in anonymity or quitting racing for the security of a regular day job.

Now, I don't think there is anything wrong with a son accepting a helping hand from his father but there comes a time when the son will have to ask himself, "Did I make it on my own or because my dad paved the way for me?". How a racer wants to be viewed by his peers and the general public is important. How a racer feels about his accomplishments when he looks himself in the mirror is even more so. Personally, I prefer to stand on my own two feet.

In closing, although driving or racing talent cannot be inherited from a parent, there may be a genetic disposition to racing. There are certain personality traits common to race car drivers such as competitiveness and aggressiveness. These are characteristics than can be inherited from one's parents and having such personality traits may lead one down the path to a racing career.

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