If you’re going to look up to or aspire to be like somebody, Robb Holland is a pretty good choice for a role model. It’s a simple proposition when you think about it. Ok, let’s take a quick look at what makes Robb such a likely candidate for the oh-so-uncomfortable position of “Role Model”…or “Man Crush” (whatever…just sayin’). He’s tall, he’s in great shape and has a great work ethic; used to race road bikes with such legends as George Hincapie and Lance Armstrong, and oh yeah…he’s a bad-a$$ race car driver. Whichever angle you’re looking at it from, it’s not a bad decision.
I’ve had the good fortune to meet Robb on a few occasions, now, and each time I’m more impressed than the previous. The guy oozes cool and at the same time he somehow manages a humble, easy going disposition that just makes you want to hang around the guy. It’s just the way he is. Very cool.
Robb and I sat down for the better part of an hour last fall at the 25 hours of Thunder Hill, while Robb was between stints. He was kind enough to hang out with me even though it was after 1AM and he was just about to climb back in the car and do a double stint, that would leave him behind the wheel till near sunrise. A long night, indeed.
Here are just some of the highlights from that conversation.
ML@S: For people who don’t know, how old are you?
Robb: (hesitates and grins) 44
ML@S: You just turned 44. You decided on motor sports as a career in your mid thirties.
Robb: Yeah, early to mid thirties.
ML@S: And let’s face it, you’re not built like the typical race car driver. I mean you’re six one, six two…big guy.
Robb: 200 pounds
ML@S: When I think in terms of obstacles as it relates to being a professional driver, it seems you’ve overcome most of them. You’re not the right size, you’re too old…
Robb: I don’t see any boundaries. Boundaries are for other people. If you want to say I’m too old, well then don’t do it at my age. Don’t tell me I can’t do it. I’m not a typical 44 year old. I’m fairly fit, and I’ve had a life where I’ve gotten paid to be active. I never sat behind a desk. So I don’t come in to it with that mentality. If someone else wants to live their life by “these are the set of rules I have to live my life by”. OK, that’s fantastic. Those are your rules, not my rules. I just don’t see it, black, white, or whatever. I don’t see age. To me it doesn’t make a difference.
ML@S: Clearly you’re a talented driver, but as you said the pool is pretty big. What do you think sets you apart?
Robb: Being a minority helps. Because, you just stand out, there’s no two ways about it. People recognize that. That has definitely helped.
ML@S: I have to admit that I was curious about that. Did you face many hurdles coming into motor sports as a black athlete?
Robb: No! It’s actually really funny. Cycling was the same way. You always get people who don’t like you for whatever reason, and sometimes they’ll put something on it. But those guys are few and far between. I’d say the same thing in motorsports was true in cycling; when you’re out there in the trenches with the guys, you don’t care. 99 percent of the people I run into don’t care, either. It isn’t an issue. I don’t treat it as an issue. I didn’t come in here with a chip on my shoulder. I don’t set out to be the best black driver. I set out to be the best driver. So if someone is inspired because I’m a black guy out there doing a sport where there’s not too many faces like mine, then great, I’m more than happy to use that to help them be inspired. But personally my goals are to be the best I can be. It’s that simple.
ML@S: You have a pretty successful driving career, but you had a very long and very successful cycling career which included two Collegiate Championships with the University of Colorado and you were the first black pro mountain bike racer. Why make the transition to motor racing?
Robb: I was actually more of a road biker than a mountain biker. Mountain biking came along and there was really good money in it and at the time there were no mountain bike pros. And that’s how I got some opportunities. I started racing bikes when I was young and it opened up a lot of things for me. Lots of travel opportunities, and I got to do a lot of cool things that most kids that age didn’t get a chance to do. There were definite limits to my ability. Look at guys like Lance Armstrong, Greg LeMond and George Hincapie, who I grew up with. You look at all those guys and saw what they had, and I knew I didn’t have that. So my role in cycling was always going to be in support. I’m not going to be one of the guys over in Europe on the top step of the podium at the Tour De France. For me that was tough to swallow. I’m a competitor you know. I don’t want to go out local racing. I want to be out there with the best. I rode with some great teams, and raced against some great riders. It was an awesome experience and I think a lot of that translated to motorsports, which is why I was able to make the transition much later in life than a lot of other guys.
ML@S: Was it a transition? Or was there some down time in between?
Robb: Actually there was a separation. I had stopped cycling because I had been doing it since I was 12-13 years old. It has way more travel than motor sports. Every weekend you’re at a different race. It’s a tough life and I told myself early on that this was far too hard to be a job. This was the hardest job anyone could ever have. And when it starts to be a “job”, and I’m not having any fun anymore, it was time to stop and do something else.
ML@S: Is there a big difference between bicycle racing fit and auto racing fit?
Robb: Actually cycling fit is much tougher fit. Cycling is by far one of the toughest sports in the world. And the level of commitment to be that fit is pretty substantial. It’s not just a 2 to 4 hours a day on the bike thing. It’s a lifestyle thing. How you eat, massages, working out, and I mean, it’s literally from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep. That’s how you have to be. I don’t have that any more, but I still love doing it.
ML@S: Being competitive…that’s a big giant hole when you lose that, isn’t it?
Robb: It was massive. I didn’t realize it. At the end of the day, I tell people I race. That’s what I do. I have been doing it since I was twelve years old, and that’s what my mental acuity is…behind the wheel of something, or racing something. Being competitive.
ML@S: It’s more than just a label, isn’t it? It really defines who you are.
Robb: It’s really funny, but yeah, I would say it really does define who I am. It’s just where my focus is. It’s just were my comfort zone is. For me, getting into a race car, getting into a bike race, getting into any sort of competition, everything comes together and it feels natural. I never realized that until I got into motor sports how much that’s how I am wired. I know a lot of guys grow up wanting to race cars. I think everyone does. I want to race cars. I want to be an astronaut, be a policeman, firefighter, or whatever. But some of those are just dreams, always just dreams. And that is honestly what I thought about motorsports. It would really be great to go out and race in front of hundreds of thousands of people. At that point in time I was in my late 20’s early 30’s and I thought it wouldn’t be possible. I was going to be up against people that probably started in karts when they were eight, and they had this entire skill set that I didn’t have.
ML@S: Tell us about working with 3R.
Robb: Working with 3R Racing guys was great. Because that helped build the skill set that I didn’t have from cycling. Which was engineering, car control and car feedback that we were giving to the engineers. How do I want to set up the car to make it do what I want it to? How do I tell the engineers what I want the car to do? This was whole entire skill set that they taught me and it was just great. I was like a sponge, soaking everything up.
ML@S: It really is a different language isn’t it? It’s difficult to find two people, the driver and the engineer, who speak the same language. It makes a big difference when you find that right combination.
Robb – The great thing too was that 3R Racing was just 15 minutes from my house. Will Moody is well renowned as one of the best engineers in the business. And Dax Raub who is equally as good and, in a few years, will be seen in the same light. Dax and I had this great chemistry. He has as much passion for making cars fast. Dax and I would go in on a Friday night and I would bring over a 6 pack of beer, this is like five o’clock or five thirty, and he and I would literally sit there and drink beer and stare at the car. And just talk, literally to the point that his wife would call and Dax would wander over and pickup the phone and he would go “Yeah, yeah, I’ll be home in a bit”. And she would say “It’s MIDNIGHT”! I found that guy who thought about it the same way I did. I would much rather sit down on a Friday night, talk to Dax and figure out how to make the race car faster, than go out with all my friends to go drinking. So that was my Friday nights.
So, there you have it. A brief glimpse into what makes Robb Holland one of our favorite people. Robb will be with us at Pikes Peak this year and we certainly hope we can find the time in what is always a ridiculously busy week to sit down with him again and show you a few more examples of why he’s someone who should be on your racing radar.
If you don’t know Robb Holland, you should definitely make a point to get to know him.