Do You Know? Jack Murray

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When Jack Murray was six years old, he began racing go-karts. Eventually, he became too tall for standard go-karts; he also wanted something more challenging to race. Today, at nineteen, Jack is an accomplished sports car driver at the club level and at some professional events. He is sponsored by Sparco, 500 Madness, Gilfus Racing Enterprises, and Motorsports Development Group. In 2013, he competed in 20 races, including the Pirelli World Challenge and 25 Hours of Thunder Hill. He spends additional weekends in training, but somehow manages to balance this endeavor with collegiate studies. A graduate of Montgomery High School, Jack is now a freshman computer science major at the University of Texas at Dallas.

When did you first become interested in racing?

We had some family friends who invited us up to a small go-kart track in Katy. I watched them race, and there was this one kid about my age. I was five then. He was just going around the track in a 50 cc—what we called a kid-kart—essentially a go-kart with a weed-whacker motor on it. I told my dad, “I want to do that.” We bought my first go-kart when I was five. After a while, we started going to organized events in Waco and Oklahoma. As I got older, I moved up into bigger go-karts and started doing bigger events. We did a couple of national events. I eventually outgrew go-karts. There were other things to race.

When did you start racing cars?

When I was 12, I started doing some oval track stuff in what could actually be considered stock cars. I did that for a year. At 13, I decided the oval racing was too aggressive for me, so I went to road racing, which is not just turning left. Each track has a different configuration.

Tell us a little bit about the kind of racing you do.

There are several different levels of racing. In club racing, grassroots people have a racecar and show up for the weekend. At the national level, the people who are the top end at the club races compete against lower level grassroots drivers in the country professional series. That’s what I did this past year. The big difference is there is usually a lot more pageantry with professional racing, and the drivers are usually more competitive than at the club level.

What type of cars do you race?

I race a 1990 Miata, mostly just for club racing, local events, and lower level national events. I do that with Motor Sports Development Group. For the Pirelli World Challenge, I was in a 2013 Fiat 500. It was a great little car. It wasn’t necessarily the fastest, but it handled very well once we got it set up properly.

Are there allowable modifications to production cars?

There are only certain things you can do to it. You can modify the intake and suspension. It’s less about the car, and more about skill of the driver. In a sense, it’s more fun. You don’t feel like you are outpowered, and it’s always fun to race with a couple of people you know and the people you race with often. There is a sense of camaraderie.

What is the usual age of racecar drivers?

If I had to take the best estimate, I would say most of the other competitors are about 30 years old. A lot of people don’t believe me when I tell them how old I am. This past year in the class that I was racing in, some were my age, but we had a guy who was 80-something. It’s a pretty wide age range. Most are older than me.

I’ll bet it seemed like it took forever to be old enough to get your driver’s license.

My parents wouldn’t let me get my driver’s license early. Honestly, I am okay with it. It’s two completely different worlds. On the racetrack, everybody knows what’s going on. They’re all going in the same direction. If someone is next to you, you know what their intentions are. When someone is sitting next to you in traffic, you don’t know if they are going to try to pass you, stay there, or if they even know you’re next to them. In general, I just feel safer on the racetrack than I do in everyday traffic. I think it drives my parents nuts. If we go anywhere as a family, I refuse to drive.

I understand you had a nice surprise for your 19th birthday.

We went to the track for a charity race; at least, that’s what I thought. I was expecting to drive the Miata and ended up with a new Mustang. I was more than a little surprised and shocked. I wasn’t expecting to have a new car. I knew we were thinking about building one, but this came as a surprise.

Do you aspire to race cars as a career?

As much as I would like to have a career in racing, the chances of that are very unlikely—mainly because it costs a lot of money to get into it and, once you are there, it’s hard to actually make a living doing that. I want to have a back-up plan, which is going to be computer science to facilitate that, so I can continue racing.

How did you get interested in computer science?

When I was a sophomore in high school, I dropped band for debate. To make my schedule work, the only class I could switch into was computer programming. It was such a great experience. It was right then I knew I wanted to pursue computer science as a potential career. If I had to think about what I would most want to do with a computer science degree, I think I would want to work for Google. If there was some way I could better the racing community through some sort of analysis, software, or something, that would always be up on my list. I would always hope for that opportunity, just because I would like to be involved in the racing community.

How do you juggle being a racecar driver and being a full-time college student?

It’s a lot of sitting in a quiet place working on homework on the weekends. I pick up all the assignments that I have, and I do them on a plane ride or car ride or while I’m sitting there on free time between sessions. When we did the 25 hours of Thunder Hills, there were four of us. We each took three-hour stints in the car and, whenever I wasn’t driving, I would have about 9 hours, give or take, before I went out again. I would either catch up on sleep or sit down and work on calculus. It’s a lot of fun just being able to show up at the racetrack and have some friends there. There are always other people who are around that you become friends with who are a little older than you. I promise not to be too rough on their cars, and they promise not to make fun of me having to do calculus all the time.

What is your favorite event?

My preference is endurance racing. Anything over an hour and a half is considered endurance racing. It’s more suited to my style, because there is more strategy instead of being aggression based. It’s more fun because there’s more to think about. Rather than just being faster than the competition, I have to make my tires last, have to make my fuel last. I have to be consistent.

What goes through your mind while you are racing?

I am not necessarily a super excitable person. When I am competing, there’s a little bit of excitement right before the flag drops and everyone takes off, but you have to maintain a level head and plan what you are going to do. You wait for somebody to make a mistake, and make as few mistakes as possible yourself. It’s easy to get frustrated, and that’s when people start making mistakes. I am not naturally a super-aggressive person. This last season, because of the format of the races, I had to be a bit more aggressive than I usually am. If I had the chance of being in second or first for the majority of the race, I would rather be in second until the very end. It’s not a perfect strategy, but it fits my driving style.

Have you ever crashed?

Luckily, I have been able to avoid big ones for the past couple of years, but I have had some fender benders. Also, knock on wood, I’ve never been seriously injured.

How successful have you been on the racetrack?

I usually finish in the top 10 out of anywhere from 25-43. In the professional level, I have awards for the best start and the best race time, but it’s so much more competitive at that level. You have to fight for that position, but I was able to maintain my top 10 average whenever we did not have mechanical difficulties.

What is next?

We are trying to find something different to do next year. I will be racing a Mustang with Motorsports Development Group in the NASA National Circuit.

How do your parents feel about your racing?

My mom allows it. She is happy that I get to do it, but she doesn’t like going to the races, because it makes her nervous. My dad is the one who supports me. He’s everything from my crew chief to sponsor. I really appreciate all the work he puts in to try to help me out. Every little kid wants to be a racecar driver when they grow up. I was lucky enough to be able to do that.

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