What exactly is a Gentleman Racer? Arguably, it could be described as one who is an active automotive enthusiast, but merely as one pillar of an entire lifestyle. The enjoyment of motoring, rivaled by the many other wonderful trappings that life offers. We may think of classics like the Bentley Boys or Paul Newman, but so has everyone else who wishes to conjure notions of a time gone by. What would a contemporary Gentleman Racer look like? We played 10 Questions with the man behind “The Gentleman’s Guide to Racing,” Michael ‘Skiny’ Power, to find out what that term means today.
BoldRide: Where did you get the idea to start “The Gentleman’s Guide to Racing?”
Skiny: The idea was originally a book idea. I’ve been working as a journalist and a screenwriter for the past ten years and I thought to myself- no one has ever done the ultimate bucket list. Bike guys ride bikes, track guys go around in circles etc. etc… I think even without the GGTR, I would still be ticking these off one by one before I suck my final breath.
What essence are you hoping to capture with GGTR? Steve McQueen? Paul Newman? Both?
Sadly, both those names are being bandied around every lifestyle brand’s creative meetings on a highly regular basis -which means that it’s already too late to reference them. I think what we are trying to do is redefine what it means to be a gentleman racer today and to inspire men from all tax brackets to find a way to go racing. Having spent half my life in Britain, I’m all too familiar with the antiquated notion of being a Gentleman. This isn’t about Blue blood, trust funds, accents or which private school you attended. This is about being a man. Our motto is, “It’s the burden of all true gentlemen to lead an exciting life.” Maybe I will just leave it at that.
What modern-day influences help mold that ideal? In other words, who or what embodies the GGTR life today?
I don’t really look to modern day racecar drivers anymore as aspirational. I grew up watching Senna and Villeneuve. These were legends on and off the track. I’m friendly with some of the guys who were around in those days. They have the most incredible stories of being out all night in Rome, only to race straight back to Monte Carlo for a Formula 1 race with what I’m sure would seem a suspicious blood alcohol level. With the exception of F1 and 24-hour endurance races, I have little patience for the track and the men that go there to measure their, ahem, manhood. The GGTR is about getting your teeth dusty, dysentery, booze and the feeling you get when you just complete a race that everyone knows has the charm of a Syrian prison.
What is your background and how did that lead you on to this venture?
Unlike most of my contemporaries, I don’t come from a wealthy family, nor did I come from a racing family. I had a German grandmother that would trade in her Porsche every few years for the newest model. She should pick me and my mates up from school and give us a little blast down the autobahn at top speed. Ever since then, I just feel kind of cozy at speed.
What adventures has GGTR been on up to this point?
We raced the BAJA 1000 and took a two-month tour around Vietnam on Russian motorcycles. We have taken a year to get the back end of what we are doing into place and have some great sponsors stepping up and also some means of getting the word out that is all so important to said sponsors. We encourage a motoring life. It doesn’t always have to be racing either. The GGTR use wants to encourage people to be more adventurous.
How did you decide on the Mint 400 as your next competition?
Being a big Hunter S. fan, I was drawn to the legend of the Mint. Damon and Craig have this 650HP beast of a car that they were looking to sell and I convinced them that the lady needed one final outing.
How does the history of the race play into that decision?
The heritage of the Mint 400 is the only reason we are doing this. I spent a month at Team O’Neils training in a Ford R2 for a rally event but we just couldn’t resist this incredible race that’s happening right on our doorstep. I’ve done some research and there are a ton of very cool documentaries about the Mint. I think the essence of the original race is still present and the race organizers have their hearts in the right place.
What steps needed to be taken in order to prep for this race?
a) Car? Desert racing is so expensive and the attrition rate is often 50%. If you are going to go to the effort of prepping, training and paying that entry fee then you need to know the car has a chance of finishing. When we raced the Baja, we striped the car down to the cage. As the Class 1 truck for the Mint has been recently refreshed, we have just done some leak down testing on the engine. The transmission and the suspension will be refreshed and every other little detail will either be tested or replaced before the race.
b) Team? All the members of our team are there on the merits of their ability or over riding charm. We have a core group of mechanics that know the car well and we will have two pit crews out on the racecourse, but there will be a large group of friends that want to be involved and a few girls just to make sure the flatulence remains a private matter.
c) Practice? We have been out to the desert a few times before the car was taken away for refresh. We will take her out one last time for a shakedown before the race, just to make sure all the bolts are tight. Of course, you want as much time behind the wheel as possible. This buggy is very, very different from anything I’ve ever driven, but I’m now feeling confident that we have a good chance at being competitive.
d) Challenges/hurdles? Stefan Johannsen, the former Ferrari F1 driver once said to me, “This should be called motor-business not motorsport”. The art of relieving a company of some of their cash is an art unto itself. People will tell you they are in but until the check arrives, you just have to keep hunting, charming, wishing and being forever creative about they ways your going to put stickers on the car.
What do you hope the viewer gets out of all this?
I hope we make you laugh. I hope, by watching us do it you think to yourself, “Well if this bunch fools lived to tell the tale, then maybe I should have a go”.
After Mint, what comes next for GGTR?
As I mentioned, I have been trained by some of the best to whip a little hatchback through the trees at 100mph+. We are looking at the possibility of WRC Argentina. Then there’s the Venture Cup- An eight-day speedboat race from London to Monaco in a 800-HP enclosed copilot cigarette boat, then Goodwood Festival of Speed, the Himalayan Raid, the Carerra Pan Americana…. the list goes on and on, but it stops a the DAKAR. The Dakar is the Holy Grail. That’s not mentioning any of the motorcycle stuff or sailboat stuff we have on the bucket list.
All photos: Zach Benge