“IRacing was the thing that I started doing to fill the void when I told myself I wouldn’t go racing for real.”
So begins the racing life of John Allen, who, like an addict, told himself he’d just have a little taste. And sure, it did fill the void for a couple of years. But it didn’t last.
Thankfully, Allen’s quest is motorsports and nothing more harmful to himself (that’s what we tell ourselves as racers anyway, right?). And compared to all of the issues out there in the world, the challenge to go racing is miniscule.
Still, the always-genuine, hard-working, blue-collar 37-year-old has overcome his own wave of challenges to get to the midpoint of the 2018 Spec MX-5 Challenge East Series.
But, for now, back to that little “wouldn’t go racing for real” claim.
“At about that two-year period, I had raced enough, I had gotten pretty good. That’s when iRacing and Mazda started having their avenue to the Road To 24 Shootout. A lot of it was just the luck of timing that they had created that at a time when I was getting good at iRacing, and I thought, I’ll try that.
Allen came surprisingly (to himself) close in the first year, and decided to get serious. He worked on his craft, he studied racing lines, he tried to improve. Rather than playing the simulation game, which up to that point was always in the back of his mind, he basically began to treat his iRacing sessions as if he were on track in the real world.
The next year, he was even closer, advancing to the shootout stage that allowed him to present a business plan and sell himself to the Mazda Motorsports contingent.
With no guarantee that Mazda would continue to select iRacing participants to the shootout, Allen took the next step and upgraded his equipment.
Allen saw the success that fellow iRacer-turned-Shootout Champ Glen McGee displayed in 2015, which also boosted his hopes. The challenge, of course, is that the finish line seemed to be moving, from Allen’s perspective. That wasn’t a knock on Mazda Motorsports and it’s selection process, but rather a realization of the business of professional racing – it’s up to the driver to fill a void.
“When Glen went through, he had the personality, the outright pace. If my story isn’t unique, it’s because Glen had already done it. The next year (2016), Pablo Lopez was selected by Spain. He was fast, but he also had a big social media following. It was a way to get that story out.
“But I always thought that I was on the on-deck circle. I knew I was close enough, and as long as I didn’t screw it up they would pick me. And they did.”
Finally, in 2017, Allen got his chance to match up with other road racers for the crown, earning his invite and showing up at the Shootout.
But in parallel to that, McGee’s successes had upped the ante.
“It wasn’t just, ‘oh, I get to go do this fun thing with Mazda,’” Allen said. Here was someone who went and did it, won, and is running professionally now.”
To continue the poker analogy, Allen was all in. It wasn’t going to be enough to only go iRacing, he needed to be on the track.
Naturally, that door was also opened by iRacing. He snuck into a room for Spec Miata racers, and was faster than everyone in the room. He shared his car setup with the room’s creator, and helped him improve his time. He found the guy, Randy Fusi, again a couple of weeks later, but this time they were the only two in the room.
The improvement continued for Fusi, who finally asked the question Allen had been anticipating – What do you drive in real life?
Of course, the answer to that was “nothing.”
This wouldn’t stand. Luckily, they lived nearby, and they met for lunch a couple of weeks later. Allen got the invitation to drive Fusi’s Spec Miata during the test day at NCM Motorsports Park, an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“That was the moment I decided to get my own Spec Miata,” Allen said.
The real world experience helped when the shootout rolled around. And while he didn’t win, that was another step on his racing journey.
Just as importantly, it continued his relationship building.
“Not all sponsorships are monetary, that’s for sure. There’s an emotional backing, there’s making connections – the sequence of events have at times seemed so lucky, but I’m not really a luck guy. It’s felt ‘meant to be’ at times. When I’m not going to have the money to do the next thing, or I can’t figure out how to get there from here, I still continue to push forward. Because it has continued to work out. I just feel like if I let that stop me, that’s it. If I don’t move forward with confidence, then I’m starting over.”
Shying away from luck is actually a humble view from the genuine racer.
“It would almost be insulting to the people who have played so many small but formative roles to call it luck,” Allen explains. “The other is, I always have been a man of faith. Luck is not in my dialog, as it might be for others who didn’t have that view.”
Even after starting late in life, Allen’s racing career came with some starts and stops. Besides iRacing and Mazda, he wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t for one more key player – his wife, Amy. Married since 2010, her encouragement was the final push to go racing.
That came through an especially dark time, when Amy was diagnosed with cancer for the second time – five years after an initial diagnosis and almost into what doctors call the “cure” stage.
“The fact that she is supporting me, despite everything that she’s faced personally – she said no, we’re doing this,” Allen said. “You’ve gotten the proof you were looking for, that you can. Let’s keep pushing.
“It would have ended without her emotional support. That would have been the anything that stopped it cold, and I would have said ‘never again.’”
Still, though, you see both of them at the race track every chance they get, always smiling and working to improve.
“It changed my outlook on what seizing the opportunity really means, or at least not allowing space for regret in life.”
And Allen has definitely seized the moment in 2018, despite really being just his second season of racing. Allen was the quickest qualifier for Round 1, and has consistently been near the front. Though the final results may not have lived up to his expectations, Allen is a threat to win each and every time out.
The only thing holding him back now is the never-ending search for partners, to continue to learn and climb. As Mazda and iRacing have found out, the next partner to climb on board with John Allen will receive every bit of the loyalty, effort and dedication that the previous ones have seen, at an even higher level of racing.