I've always been addicted to high-octane activities, and that includes driving automobiles. I love talking about cars and their performance, and still occasionally wander into a garage near my Florida home to chat with people who share my passion.
I have been fortunate along the way to parlay this zeal into a collection of top performance vehicles. The first one came soon after I earned my first European Tour victory in 1977 and signed my first major endorsement agreement, with Wilson. My twenty-second birthday was just four months behind me when I set out on a shopping spree in London. In addition to some necessities—a suit, pants, shirts and shoes—I bought a gleaming red used Ferrari 308 GTB.
I was as excited as I had ever been about a material purchase and wanted to drive it right out of the showroom. Waiting the requisite two days for delivery was unbearable. I had long been a fan of the sleek lines, superior craftsmanship and lineage of the Ferrari brand, but truth be told I was most attracted to the sheer power.
Unfortunately, that Ferrari and my fair hair quickly became all too visible to the authorities as I sped along the M4. I knew it wasn't wise, but I felt an insatiable need to test the power of that machine. In fact, I preferred to take the back roads of the English countryside, not just for the beauty of the scenery but to test my Ferrari on the tight winding roads that were less traveled by the local police. My journey home was never boring.
After a time, I decided that the red Ferrari was too conspicuous, so I stored it in the garage and purchased a silver one—a new and more powerful GTS model. Somehow, I was only stopped once in this car, but the policeman asked me for my autograph and let me go with a stern warning.
It was my love of speed that led to a friendship with Nigel Mansell, a former World Champion Formula One driver. We met at a pro-am in Australia in 1986 and quickly formed a bond based on our mutual love for both golf and cars. We also shared a similar chemical makeup, which included an intense desire to compete and to win.
I watched Nigel win the 1987 British Grand Prix at Silverstone, and he visited me at the European Open at Walton Heath a few months later. Nigel arrived in his helicopter, and I was driving a rented Jaguar that week.
After the final round, I bet him dinner that I could make it to my hotel, a thirty-five-minute drive from the course, faster than he could. The caveat was that he had to give me a ten-minute head start before he turned on the chopper's engines. In the end, we arrived at the hotel at exactly the same time, but he later admitted—in typical Nigel fashion—that he'd only waited five minutes before taking off.
A few years later, Nigel and his wife came to visit Laura and me in Florida. I had to drive to Fort Lauderdale to pick up a new Ferrari Testarossa I'd stumbled on at an incredible price. Nigel offered to accompany me. We drove down in a splendid Bentley.
I drove the Ferrari home and Nigel took the Bentley. While both are powerful, there's no question that the Ferrari is the superior performance machine. Yet watching Nigel's handling of the Bentley, it was clear to me that while the car makes a difference, it's the driver who makes the car.
That afternoon, Nigel took the new Ferrari for a spin in a nearby parking lot and, just to show off, he dropped the clutch and carved a figure eight with a perfectly closed loop that would have made Nancy Kerrigan proud. He made that car talk, without resorting to brute force and without once losing control. With confidence and precision—two qualities I have always admired—Nigel showed why he was the best in the world.
My travels have given me the chance to meet a number of other motor-sports celebrities, including Sir Jack Brabham, the first driver to be knighted for his services to motor sports. I've enjoyed some wonderful times with Barry Green, Danny Sullivan and Jeff Gordon, from whom I've learned a great deal about cars and the business of motor sports. In fact, at one time or another, I almost formed a partnership with each one.
While these deals never came to pass, I was always enthralled with the notion of owning my own racing team, the inner workings of which I got to see through Roger Penske. Roger helped me understand and appreciate a successful entrepreneurial model, and I have tried to implement some of his strategies at Great White Shark Enterprises, such as his steadfast commitment to excellence.