Go 2 Guy: Life is much slower for Chip Hanauer ...
By JIM MOORE ...
P-I COLUMNIST (Aug 2, 2007) ...
You knew him as a hydro driver, maybe the best of all-time, a local kid who hit it big. From Newport High School and WSU to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.
Chip Hanauer is not that guy anymore. He will be on KIRO/7's telecast of the Seafair race, but that's it as far as connections to his past.
If you're looking for him now, he's probably at Magnuson Park with his dog, in front of his beach place near Port Townsend with his dog, or driving around town in his 1991 Buick Estate wagon with his dog.
Or he might be at a coffee place in Chimacum called On Common Grounds, playing his classical guitar.
What's Hanauer up to these days? A whole lot of nothing, to hear him talk about it, and he's trying to determine if that's OK.
"I feel like I'm supposed to do something more with my life," he said. "But when I'm true to myself, being with my dog, girlfriend and guitar is pretty much all I need.
"I'm doing what I want to do, but in some ways I feel guilty about it. I look around at how (few) people get to live life exactly the way they want. I see everyone else struggling and compromising, and I think, 'Why has it worked out for me?' I'm certainly not deserving. I'm glad, but it feels weird."
I caught up with Hanauer at the Winchell's Donut Shop in Wallingford on Thursday morning. Now 53, he's eight years removed from his last race and a career that saw him win 61 races, including 11 Gold Cups and seven Seafairs. Hanauer retired needing just two more victories to pass Bill Muncey as the sport's winningest driver.
Too bad, right? To him, it's more like, oh well.
"If I had 63, would my life be any different?" he asked. "Would I be sitting at a better seat at Winchell's? There's just nothing there."
All of a sudden, boat racing seemed shallow. He used to base his self-esteem on how Chip the driver was doing, but it was adversely affecting Chip the person.
"Being a warrior is really good for the ego, but it's really hard for the soul," Hanauer said. "(Racing) props up your ego, you get your name in the paper, they pay you a lot of money, you get a lot of adulation, but it erodes the foundation of your soul. It was always a battle inside of me. I have no regrets, but it was time to nurture the other side of my personality."
Nuture it, he has. These days, conversations start and end with his dog, Bella. He found the half-Newfoundland, half-golden retriever nine years ago at the Jefferson County animal shelter.
He and his girlfriend, Donna Mansfield, won't fly anywhere because they don't want to leave Bella behind. "Bella's what Donna and I do," Hanauer said.
He wonders if his affection for Bella has gone too far and thinks there's something wrong with that. He went to the vet's office to get Bella a routine checkup and broke down, thinking about the day he goes there and leaves without her.
"She's 10 or 11, it's not that far off," he said. "That day's inevitable."
Hanauer knows he won't die tomorrow, but lives his life as if he might. He doesn't want to be in a bed in a nursing home thinking, "Why didn't I do that?" and not being able to anymore.
He always wanted to play classical flamenco guitar but figured he was too stupid to learn the chords and too pressed for time. But six years ago, he stopped into the Trading Musician in the U-District and asked the woman behind the counter: "What are the odds of a 47-year-old guy playing classical guitar?
"Not good," she said, but she gave him a teacher to call and he's been playing ever since.
After giving a motivational talk to about 200 Washington State Ferries managers, he played three songs for them.
"You think I was real brave to (race), but this is the scariest thing I've ever done," Hanauer told them.
Financially secure, he doesn't have to work and has not had a house payment in 14 years. His station wagon has fake wood on the sides that is peeling off.
"I bought a car that suits my dog," he said.
Hanauer values everything, even traffic. He's a guy who stops and smells the thorns, too. Which means he's come a long way. Not that many years ago, Hanauer wanted to die.
A neurological condition called spasmodic dysphonia took away his ability to talk for three years. For some time, doctors failed to diagnose what was wrong, and Hanauer went into a severe depression.
"I'd rather have both legs amputated that to go through that again," he said. "It got to the point that I didn't want to live anymore. I didn't want to take my own life, but I thought, 'Boy, it would sure be nice to be hit by a bus.'
"I was pretty much alone. I came home every day and cried until I went to sleep. Then when I woke up, I'd be disappointed because I had to go through another day. I hated being awake."
Once diagnosed, Hanauer received injections of Botox, and still gets vocal-chord treatment every three months. Now he calls what he went through a positive experience.
"It was the best thing that happened to me," Hanauer said. "It changed how I looked at the world."
And if the world is looking at him, what would it see? A bum.
"Ninety-nine percent of the time when I tell someone I'm a bum, they say, 'Good for you,' " Hanauer said. "But I'm a really good bum. A good bum helps out in the community."
One day every week, Hanauer drives disabled veterans to the VA Hospital on Beacon Hill.
Sometimes, one of the vets will say: "You look like that hydroplane guy."
"I know," Hanauer says back. "I hear that a lot."
Whatever he is, bum or hydroplane guy, Hanauer will be in the broadcast booth Sunday, commenting on a sport that's gone Antarctica-south with just six races, no national sponsors and no national TV coverage.
"If you can't sell something at the beach in the summer, something's really wrong," Hanauer said. "It's in bad shape. They keep saying everything's fine, but it's not fine. The biggest disease in the world is denial. Denial's the first thing that has to be fixed. Then they need to throw the turbine engines in the trash. Motorsports require noise."
He used to race for checkered flags, and now Hanauer has different dreams.
"I want to be a good friend, a good uncle, a good boyfriend, a good neighbor, a good dog owner and a good citizen," he said. "I gave everything I had to racing. I want to feel that way about life."
P-I columnist Jim Moore can be reached at 206-448-8013 or firstname.lastname@example.org. His columns appear Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.