A rather unusual thank-you gift for a hip replacement surgery put Carl Becker, M.D., on the fast track to a new hobby.
About 15 years ago, a good family friend thanked Dr. Becker for a successful surgery with a gift certificate to the Skip Barber Racing School in Connecticut.
Dr. Becker, who practices at Westphal Orthopedics, has always liked cars and driving. The self-described “adrenaline junkie” was hooked on racing as soon as he stepped onto the track.
“I missed the high I got from wrestling in high school,” he said. “Racing gives me the same feeling. It takes my mind off the stress of my job. The faster I go, the slower things seem to be.”
Dr. Becker started racing whenever he could, initially driving a 1988 Porsche 944. He was soon invited to join a four-man racing team that includes Sam Keller, M.D., an anesthesiologist.
Carl Becker, M.D., (right) races with a team that includes anesthesiologist Sam Keller, M.D. (second from right). The team will prepare a newly purchased Porsche Cayman to race next season.
The team usually races in New Jersey, New York or other nearby states. Races last about nine hours, with pit stops every 60 to 90 minutes to refuel, inspect the car and change drivers. Top speeds can reach 130 to 140 mph, depending on track and weather conditions.
Dr. Becker’s team, which currently races in a Mazda RX8 and BMW 3 series, will spend the winter preparing a newly purchased Porsche Cayman for next season. The team prefers cars that are at least 10 to 25 years old. While the older cars are less expensive, they also break down frequently.
Dr. Becker said racing’s effect on the heart rate is similar to running a marathon. Drivers must be in good shape, with good stamina.
“I work out every day of the week just to feel my best and to stay in shape,” he said. “But if you’re not in really good shape, you couldn’t race.”
Dr. Becker’s wife and daughters overcame some initial nervousness and appreciate how happy racing makes him. He has seen some bad accidents, but helmets, harnesses and safety features on the cars generally prevent serious injuries. A fairly minor collision of his own didn’t even cause a sore muscle.
“I feel safer on the racetrack than driving to or from the racetrack,” he said. “No one is texting. No one has the radio on. All they’re doing is concentrating on driving.”
Dr. Becker, who also likes surfing and downhill skiing, admits that his need for speed extends to his everyday car, a Porsche GT4, which he said is basically a street-legal race car. He likes to introduce new people to racing, including other physicians who are looking for fun and stress relief.
“It’s a great release for me,” he said. “When I drive, I’m not worried about a patient having a complication. I’m worried about the next corner and where I’ll have to brake or shift. Everything else goes away.”