The noise is impossible to escape. It combines a constant drone with an occasional and unexpected high-pitched scream that could rip out your insides if you weren't careful. Before long, it all becomes part of the noise in your head, an omnipresent tinnitus that, with work, can be accepted as something normal.
There are two places in my career where that description could play. In a poker room, it's the constant murmur and ruffling of chips punctuated by the occasional squeal of "One time!" At the race track, it's the nonstop engine noise and screams of a high performance engine. How have I as a poker writer ended up in both places? That's something I've been trying to figure out since 2006 when I traveled to Houston, TX to see the PokerStars Aston Martin Le Mans car in action.
For better or worse, I was raised on stock cars, dirt ovals, and Saturday night Bomber classes. The sons of old farmers would drag their stripped-down Malibus out to a country speedway and risk life and limb for a few bucks at the end. Tobacco-spitting country boys hooped and hollered in the grandstands, and in the end, somebody would end up having to rebuild whatever junker he wrecked in turn four.
The world of Le Mans was something different. In 2006, PokerStars and Aston Martin hooked up for a year of racing unlike any I'd seen. The noise was the same. The constant smell of racing fuel wasn't much different. But the money, the glamor, and the performance? That was all new.
Indeed, 2006 was the year PokerStars fitted itself with racing tires. It hasn't slowed down since. In recent years, without even trying, PokerStars has found itself with some sort of racing credentials almost every year.
Take, for instance, one of the more recent additions to Team Online. Jorge Limon is a rally car racer that takes the high-stress, high-octane world of racing to a new level. It's not so much the car. It looks like something in which you might take the kids to school. It's what Limon does with it.
If you've ever wondered what it's like to barrel down a dirt road so fast you need someone next to you calling out the turns, just have a look at Limon's video below (in which his navigator slips up for a second and forgets about an upcoming fork in the road). It was almost disastrous.
If rally car racing isn't necessarily your thing, you might be a fan for Formula One circuit and superstar Nico Rosberg. Not only is Rosberg a champion in is own sport, but he's taken time out of his life in recent years to help out PokerStars in the "Ante up for Africa" campaign.
No story about PokerStars racing, however, would be complete without a mention of Gualter Salles. Our friend, Team PokerStar Pro SportStar, and Brazilian stock car champ is now a fixture at PokerStars live events. Not only is he one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet, he has the heart of a champion. Plus, he doesn't get angry when we unashamedly post this video of him surviving what looks like an unsurvivable crash.
Salles is famous for a lot of things. His racing career is well-documented, as is the story of his literal chip-and-a-chair comeback in the World Series of Poker Main Event. This 2010 story by Stephen Bartley offers a great look inside Salles' mind. In it, he says this of poker and racing: "I think anything can be taught and you can get good. The very talented guys, they're going to get further, always, whether it's in poker or racing or tennis or soccer. You can learn but talent is something that some people have more than others. I think in poker, with a lot of dedication, you can get to be really good, even if you don't have the talent to start with. But in racing you can practice as much as you want, but if you don't have that extra special thing you're gonna be good but you'll never be one of the best."
It's difficult to put a finger on it, exactly. How exactly have auto racing and PokerStars so frequently crossed paths? How is it that over PokerStars ten-year history we have become so familiar with people who put their lives on the line to make it to the finish line? It's happened over and over again.
It could very well have to do with the very nature of the two pursuits. Anybody can play poker. Anybody can steer a car. But to do either at a professional level and for the highest of stakes, that takes something special. It takes guts, drive, and a competitive willingness to risk it all for glory. In those ways, the two lives aren't that much different.
For now, your mothers and wives will probably prefer you stick to poker. However, if you want to put the pedal down a little farther on the way to your next home game, I won't tell.
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We are publishing these daily review articles throughout November as PokerStars gears up to celebrate its 10th Anniversary.