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The Ritual That Makes Me a Better, More Mentally Focused Dad

It's like a game of chess. At 100 miles per hour.

fatherly logo How I Stay Sane

Welcome to “How I Stay Sane,” a weekly column where real dads talk about the things they do for themselves that help them keep grounded in all the other areas of their life — especially the parenting part. It’s easy to feel strung-out as a parent, but the dads we feature all recognize that, unless they regularly take care of themselves, the parenting part of their life will get a lot harder. The benefits of having that one “thing” are enormous. For Jacob Murphy, 31, from Franklin, Indiana, it’s drag racing. He’s been at the track every weekend for just about his entire life and for him, it’s a family affair.

My dad started street racing in the 70s, because that’s what everybody did then. And then he became a police officer and thought better of it, so he started going to the racetrack. He got pretty good, and then when I turned 8, junior dragsters came out. I was invited to drive one of the cars and within a year, we got our own. I started doing junior drag racing up up through age 18. I was doing 85 mph at 13 years old. Baseball didn’t seem as interesting anymore.

That was our family thing. That was our family vacation and our trip for the year. It was what we did every weekend growing up. That’s how we were a family. So now that I’m grown up, I still do it, and it’s still something I do with my dad. Next year, my son will be old enough to do it himself.  

I like the people. They’re all very fun. I think you can say that about any sport you get into. It’s not about going fast. What’s unique about my type of racing is that it’s a mixture. It’s called bracket racing, where different cars at different speeds get a head start and the point is to manipulate time in a way that your car runs what it needs to and your reaction time is better than the other guy’s altogether. It’s a fairer way to race.

It’s kind of like chess at 100 miles per hour. And you have one shot to do it right. And it’s a tournament style where you go around and you have to be the best that day, each round as you go. Being able to be the one to get all of that done and put it all together in the same day is very rewarding.

When you’re about to go, and you have 12 seconds to do it right, everything has to be in order every single time. And, to get yourself to that position, you’re right. It’s not just, oh, guess I’m gonna go race now. You are on edge that entire time.

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The adrenaline involved in having to step up to the plate and do it right is like no other.

Everybody wants to win, yes, everybody is competitive, yes, everybody spends a lot of money, and all that. But at the end of the day, it has a very family atmosphere. When you can bring your own family into it, it makes it that much more special. Racing by yourself is okay, but I have the most fun when I’m racing with my dad, or my son and my wife and my daughter are able to be there and watch.

Drag racing is still, for me,  that lifelong thing where I’m like, ‘okay, I’m at the track now.’ It’s early, the smell of the air, it’s all fantastic. I don’t know if it makes me feel good because of nostalgia or because of what the day might hold or because I’m actually in the moment, but something about doing -the one thing that you love, it will always be a bit of a release.

More than anything else, drag racing is a mental workout. Drag racers don’t need to be in the best shape. It’s more about reacting to the lights and reacting to the situation. When I ran this year, I ran two categories, which is putting a lot on me, I realize. But it was kind of a last-ditch effort to get as much racing in as possible while I was there before I moved on to focus on my son’s racing next year. When I run two categories, that’s at least five or six runs a day, and when I was able to do well, I made 27 passes in a weekend.

By the end of Sunday, I was mentally exhausted. I had to be at 100 percent for 30 seconds every time. It feels weird to say — you sit in a car and press a pedal, now you’re tired — but it’s not a physical tired. It’s a mental tired. You have to be as focused as possible, just on/off/on/off all day long. That’s where it wears on you. But it’s all worth it.