By JULIUS KELLINGHUSEN —
Every recent Pomona College student remembers the first day of freshman year when the dean of students presents the list of impressive accomplishments that some of the new first-years have already achieved. Three years ago, as I was re-evaluating how impactful my high school senior project had been, she proclaimed that our class included a national go-kart champion.
One year later, on Oct. 4, 2013, that go-kart driver went to his first car race and walked away with the first-place trophy, qualifying for a race known as the Lamborghini World Finals which he won as well. Thus began the professional racing career of Andrew Palmer.
As Palmer, 21, coolly cruises through the Claremont Colleges on his bicycle, one would not guess that he just returned from a race in Europe the previous day. But this is not uncommon, as he stays dedicated to both his studies and his racing career.
“I’ve developed really good relationships with my professors … to the point where they will send me an exam and have a race engineer proctor it for me,” he says. “I do my problem sets there, PDF and email them to my friend who will turn them in for me.”
Sometimes schoolwork distracts Palmer from racing, but overall his education has been a huge boon. He says he is confident that people won’t look down at him as “some guy who just turns a wheel,” but respect him for being an intellectual as well. Racing has taken no toll on his academics, as he carries a steady 3.8 GPA.
Palmer also prefers to keep racing out of his social life at college. “I don’t like to talk about it,” he explains, “because sometimes it can become dominating in a conversation, and it takes away from other people and it also takes away from other aspects of me. It’s like ‘Oh you’re just that racecar driver kid, right?’”
On the contrary, Palmer is on his college’s cross-country team, enjoys skiing, and is an avid cyclist. He has also been studying film and media and will graduate one semester early with a degree in mathematical economics.
Palmer’s social media are filled with posts about his life on the track, giving his friends, family, and fans a behind-the-scenes view of the racing scene. Yet peppered in between these are things you could see on any university student’s profile: photos of Palmer and friends at a Taylor Swift concert, a link to a funny article, a recommendation to listen to “Entropy” by Bleachers.
He explains that the people who are involved in racing form a strong community, and while he is particularly fond of this racing family, he also truly appreciates his university friends. “The friends I’ve made here have been so awesome,” he says. “It’s great to have a community away from the motorsports community because it can become so consuming and you gotta you’ve got to step back. “The cool thing here is all these people like me not because of the racing thing at all; they like me for the other person I am.”
Naturally, the “other” Andrew Palmer is still a huge car enthusiast.
“I drive a BMW 135i; I love it,” he says with affection. “I don’t believe when people say that not a single part of them likes cars. They’re so consuming.”
Humans are fascinated with experimentation, Palmer says. “It’s like pushing the boundaries and seeing how far man and machine can go … it’s like ballroom dancing in the sense that you’re doing a dance with cars, you’re just pushing each other back and forth, back and forth.”
He laments that Lamborghini will not give him a company car, as Audi, BMW and other manufacturers do for their racers.
Of course racing is a dangerous sport, and fatalities, while much less common than in the past, still occur. “One of my close friends almost died at the Indy 500 this year,” Palmer recounts. “It hits close to home, but there’s a calculated risk. For the most part we’ve made huge advances in safety … but the second you start thinking about the danger, or being nervous about what can happen to you, you should not be in a racecar, because then the instinctual things don’t become instinctual and you become a hazard to yourself and other people.
“I’ve crashed quite a few times and I think the best thing you can do is get literally get back in the race as fast as you can.”
Palmer is not planning to quit any time soon, having made racing his career for the foreseeable future. He compares it to a drug that, once tasted, cannot be let go.
“It’s just so intoxicating, I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have this passion,” he says. “I’ve been lucky enough to have an opportunity do this for a living. And it’s like when you see your dream possibly becoming a reality, you want to pursue it.”
(Written by Julius Kellinghusn, edited by Terril Y. Jones; Sept. 17, 2015)