Like actual motorsports, those participating in the Spec MX-5 SimRacing Challenge are of all ages and from all walks of life. For our first interview with a SimRacing Challenge Driver, we approached Ted Hough; a young guy with an already impressive motorsports CV. Ted lays out his competition resume and gives us his take on sim racing’s place within motorsports. We went a bit slack-jawed when Ted told us the story of how motorsports helped him deal with autism and bipolar disorder. We often say, “racing changes your life”, but Ted’s story certainly gives new meaning to that phrase.
What’s your name and where are you from?
Ted Hough – Farmington, Minnesota
What line of work are you in?
I’m an Automotive Technician apprentice. I’m about five months away from graduating my tech school program and going on the line as a full tech.
How old are you?
I’m 21 years old!
What was your motivation for participating in the Spec MX-5 SimRacing Challenge?
It honestly seemed really fun. I wanted to race in a way that was scheduled so I could plan it around work and school and consistently have something to look forward to. I could also tell that the drivers were mostly going to be better than me, due to the nature of the series being broadcasted and having a solid prize-pool. I knew it would be a great chance to improve.
Do you have any “real” racing history?
Yes: I’ve been racing on-and-off since 2011. I started with oval racing in Bandoleros; they’re little closed-cockpit karts made by the same people who designed Legends race cars. After that, I raced Legends from 2012-2015 on asphalt and dirt oval tracks, as well as road courses. It was a ton of fun, but after I had a strong run at Legends World FInals at the South-Course of VIR in 2014, I got bit by the road racing bug.
After that, I attended a licensing school at Brainerd International Raceway and volunteered as a Flag Marshal for the 2014 Trans Am and Pirelli World Challenge races which took place there. After that, I ran some local autocross/PDX events, and the racing school got me in touch with a scout for local pro racing team JDC Miller MotorSports. They were super nice, but my family didn’t quite have the funds for it, so racing in an IMSA feeder series wasn’t really feasible. Two years later a more affordable contract came up: I did a full season in a B-Spec Mazda2 in Pirelli World Challenge for Breathless Performance. I won one race, set three lap records, and earned 3 podiums. It was an amazing experience, I miss racing at that level more than anything.
Is there anything else in your racing background that you’d like to share?
This may not be particularly interesting, but I have been dual-diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder – Bipolar and Social Anxiety Disorder. I started using racing as a form of experimental therapy since I was experiencing really horrible side-effects from being on behavior-altering medication.
Back in 2007-2009 when I was 10 or 11 years old, my life was not going well. Special education is really weak and not well-funded where I come from; they threw kids with social disorders and mental acuity problems in a sort of “catch-all” school, with kids who had convictions or were involved with gangs who didn’t necessarily have special needs. I was getting beat up regularly by other classmates. The special needs kids were often overlooked and not given the right amount, or kind, of attention.
My parents had no idea what to do, and my behavior was consistently getting worse and worse. Since I was being abused at school, I started to lash out at the people around me and more often. A textbook autistic trait is having some sort of obsession: a game, a toy, an animal or an activity of some kind. Typically, autistic kids will focus on that one thing and sort of theme their interactions with people around it. That “thing” will be all they want to talk about or do, and one of the few things that they value because they’re less socially-inclined. My obsessive object was always cars; there aren’t many 10-year-olds that can recite the order of strokes in a 4-stroke engine.
My parents were desperate for anything that could keep me out of jail or do something that might allow me to take less medication. Even on the heels of the recession, they started selling personal belongings and dipping into their retirement accounts, so I could get a kart; I don’t think I’ll ever be able to repay them. Shortly after I started racing, my behavior started to slowly get better because I finally had something to ground me that I couldn’t afford to lose. Not only that, but the sensory overload from driving and the periods of hyper-focus took such a toll on my body that I was too exhausted to misbehave. Racing had a sort of stimulant-effect that the medication I was on couldn’t replicate. The result was a more stable set of moods, and not having a large amount of harsh mood-swings in the days following a race.
To this day, my mother remembers me coming back from my first race weekend saying, “Mom the people at the race track actually listen and understand me when I talk!”. I think maybe just having somebody treat me “normal” might have been what I needed for the longest time. Even though I’m not racing at the moment, I still volunteer with local sports car clubs, as well as instruct at racing schools and HPDE events.
I owe my recovery, and probably the fact that I can live a somewhat normal life, to motorsports.
Wow, that’s amazing! Do you feel virtual motorsports is becoming a valid starting point for participation in actual motorsports?
I think for all the accuracy sims currently have, it’s still extremely difficult to replicate the sensation and physics of real life with 100% accuracy. All major sims have strengths and weaknesses, and I believe iRacing’s strength is accuracy of the circuits; I used it as a learning tool when I was pro-racing, and I strongly feel that it can be really useful for other drivers. I started with RFactor a few years before I got my Kart, and I feel like it was better than nothing, especially considering I was too young to drive at 13 years old.
Are you a “gamer” or do you mostly only sim race?
Recently, my fiancé, Sarah has gotten me into console-based games. Since I missed many of the classic video games while obsessively sim-racing over the years, she bought me a Nintendo Wii at a local thrift store. There’s also game shop 15 minutes from our house, so we’ve been playing the Zelda Series and Mario Series games for Nintendo GameCube and Wii. Super Mario Galaxy is an incredibly beautiful game, and despite its age, I’m having a ton of fun playing it and the other more “casual” games. I also enjoy flight sims such as IL:2 BOS and X-Plane. I recently bought my first ever Fallout game for PC as well, it’s been a ton of fun.
Do you consider sim racing a game?
It’s a game, but a highly realistic one. This doesn’t mean you can’t take it seriously to try and replicate real life, though. That’s the whole point of sim games.
How long have you been sim racing?
Does Gran Turismo 4 count? Probably since that was released in 2005. I started with Rfactor and iRacing in 2010 when my parents and I were discussing getting me into racing, though.
Are you very active in sim racing?
I am in a vintage racing league where we schedule pickup races once or twice a week with classic cars and tracks. I find the nostalgia amazing, especially in VR. I used to iRace with a group of 3-5 other guys around my age, too.
Do you run in any other leagues?
I don’t really at the moment, just the vintage league.
What’s your favorite car or series to compete in?
In iRacing the Global MX-5 Cup is great, and the Skippy is also tons of fun. In Assetto Corsa I prefer the GPL 67 Revival mod, AC Legends Prototypes, and the DLC Maserati 250F, Ford Escort, and Lotus 25.
How much time would you say you put into sim racing?
At my peak when I was in pro racing and didn’t have a “real” job, I would probably iRace 60-80 hours a week. Nowadays, only 5-15 hours on the weekends.
How do you rate your chances of winning the driver development test at the end of the season?
A solid 5% or less. I don’t like to lie to myself. Even in real life, I’ve always been a weak qualifier and a strong racer. I can slowly and patiently pick people off from a meager starting position, but in draft-pack racing like this, the leaders will slowly walk away. They’ll agree to take advantage of the tow and not fight each other. Because of this, I seem to never finish better than between 2nd-5th. I’ve become allergic to winning anything! “Competitive but not a champion” seems to describe my racing history quite well.
We wish you the best of luck this year, Ted! – Spec MX-5 & WRR Staff