Written by David Bocchichio

On Sunday, April 4, 2021 my 17 year old son Liam and I had a chance to attend our first Regional Solo at Devens Airfield, in Ayer, MA.  To say that we were a little nervous would be putting it mildly.  After attending several local events last year, on smaller lots in our home state of Connecticut, we at least understood the basic process. But the scale of everything up at Devens was so much bigger and I had my son in his own car to worry about.  However, after what our family has gone through over the last year, we felt ready for anything.

2020 Turns Life Upside Down

March 2020 went the same for us as it did for most people across the world. Our lives were put on hold due to Coronavirus lockdows.  Things began to spiral out of control for us soon after as weird health issues that had been plaguing me for many years suddenly worsened.  In the fall of 2020 I was finally diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease called Mixed Connective Tissue Disorder, putting an end to a lifetime of physical activity, and forcing me to retire after a 22 year career as an Health and Physical Education Teacher.  

Emotionally, it was a lot to deal with. Luckily, I’m able to retire at this point in my career with the small pension that I have earned, and with the support of my loved ones, friends, family, and educational community who raised over $50,000 to help my family make the financial transition to my retirement.  That left me with one other big challenge, how do I replace the things that I’ve been so passionate about my whole life? Flying down a mountain side on my mountain bike, cruising through corners on my snowboard, hanging off the side of a cliff thousands of feet up the side of a valley? Those are hard things to replace when you no longer have the ability to be physically active. That is, until I found autocross!  

Finding Autocross

Getting involved in something new is never easy, especially when facing so many other personal challenges. So far, the support that I have received in the Motorsports community in Connecticut, and up at NER has been amazing.  I was so worried about making a mistake, I can’t count how many times I emailed them before the event to make sure that I was prepared. They went out of their way to make sure that I felt comfortable and had what I needed. 

I was a little nervous when I discovered that they were going to separate novices from everyone else. This being my 12th event I didn’t feel like I needed to do the novice program but with this being only my son’s 3rd event, and 2nd time alone in his car, I wanted him to have that extra support. Normally, at smaller events we’re parked next to each other in between runs, and I can help him make adjustments to tire pressure and sort out his plan of attack. With him being separated I was counting on the support of the instructors and they were amazing! He felt confident about his progress, had a plan of attack, and made improvements to his time throughout the day. 

For me, this event was a huge learning opportunity. Due to my illness I wasn’t able to participate with the ski patrol up at Ski Sundown, in New Hartford, Connecticut as my wife, son and I had done the winter before. On the other hand, my wife and son were still working there and spent a good part of the week on the hill while I was stuck at home. One of the ways I coped with this over the winter was to work on my car. Given the severity of my illness, I’m not the fastest in the garage. But I’ve got plenty of time on my hands and it’s a great opportunity to take my mind off what I’ve been going through.  I enjoy the rules for Street Touring, it gives me the opportunity to do some easy bolt-on modifications, perfect for an inexperienced garage mechanic such as myself. 

With the edition of a much larger RSB, 9 chassis braces, and my first set of re71r, I knew it would take a bit to get used to. I quickly learned that my tire pressures and loose suspension settings that I ran last year were wholly inadequate with this new setup, especially on a much faster course. Everyone at the event was so helpful, I asked a lot of questions throughout the day, got a lot of great advice in return and decided to crank up the dampening on my shocks and drop my rear tire pressures.  More importantly, I got to watch so many more experienced drivers navigate the course.  By watching other drivers and talking about technique I was able to make enough adjustments in my set-up and driving and pick up quite a bit of time by the end of the day.  With my last run coming in at 59.483, I finally hit that sub 60 second goal I had set for myself! I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish that goal without the help of everyone involved in the event, including those running and participating in it.  I know I still have a lot to learn and look forward to coming out to future events in order to improve as a driver and more importantly meet more great people.

Moving Forward

For many people involved with the SCCA, motorsports have always been part of their lives.  Although I’ve always been interested in motorsports, this is something that’s brand new for me and my family.  My whole life I’ve been part of the adventure sports community in New England.  Now that I’m not able to participate in the usual adventures, I had a lot of fears about what was next.  Being able to discover an equally exciting activity that I can do, but more importantly a warm-hearted and inviting group of people to get to know, has been the best medicine. It has helped to give me the courage to face this illness.

Days later and I am still buzzing from the excitement of it all. We have already signed up for the next event!  Together, we look forward to getting out again with NER and are grateful for all the support we received to make transitioning to our first regional event such an enjoyable experience. For both my son, and myself.  

Photos by Shawn Pan