Imagine being able to defend Michael Jordan in a playoff game or taking a penalty shot in the NHL playoffs. In most sports, amateurs can't compete with professionals. In several endurance car racing leagues, wealthy amateurs can participate among the best in the sport. In fact, it's required!
A "gentleman driver" is an amateur driver who is part of a professional racing team. In essence, they buy their way onto a racing team and get to compete as their team travels around the world competing for the most prestigious titles in all of racing.
I learned about this interesting aspect of car racing from a movie called The Gentleman Driver, which is currently available to stream on Netflix. The documentary followed four entrepreneurs who had become gentleman drivers. They take the sport very seriously, but as you can imagine, they lack the skills of the other professional drivers, who are much more experienced and in some cases several decades younger.
The gentleman drivers are required to drive the car for a fixed amount of time. So let's say that a team of four is competing in an 8-hour race -- the gentleman driver may be required to stay in the car at least an hour and a half or even two hours. If the gentleman driver doesn't meet the minimum requirement, their team is disqualified. The biggest fear for most of the entrepreneurs turned race car drivers was letting down their team.
Due to their inexperience, gentleman drivers often cause crashes, which is dangerous for the competitors (obviously), but exciting for the fans. Gentleman drivers create an unknown -- a wild card -- into an already dangerous sport.
The movie on its own was mediocre with above average cinematography. I took it as an opportunity to be mildly entertained while learning about something I had never heard of. Being in the world of entrepreneurship (my degree is in entrepreneurship and I've spent a decade+ in the startup and small business scenes), I was really interested in the stories of the entrepreneurs who take weeks and weeks away from their business to do what they love.
Competing in 8-10 of these races a year requires them to miss around 70 days of work. Several of them expressed that this was a way to unwind and relax. “I don’t have my watch or phone with me all day…it’s really relaxing,” said one of the drivers.
If you have an hour and a half to spare and want something interesting to watch in the background, I recommend checking out The Gentleman Driver.
What do you think of the concept of a gentleman driver in sports? Comment below!
Note: All images are screenshots personally taken while watching The Gentleman Driver and then edited. Learn more about the film at thegentlemandrivermovie.com.