Right on track: a racecar driver from Ridgeland knows how to take it slow.
"I think I just always wanted to go fast," Pace says. "I have known this was what I wanted to do since I was four years old."
Though he identified his passion early, Pace didn't pursue it until he had finished a pre-med degree at Mississippi State and three years of medical school at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. "After years and years of frustration and distraction, in 1987, I decided to follow my dream, and I've never looked back," Pace says. "I thought, 'I'll never be any younger or have fewer responsibilities.'"
Today, his life is a well-maintained schedule of racing, teaching, and promoting the sport--with pit stops to his Ridgeland home about fifty days out of the year. He travels frequently, averaging two or three professional commitments (in as many different locations) each week--which is why when he's not driving a racecar, he is in the cockpit of the airplane he bought a few years ago. Flying makes a life of commuting easier. "I've been doing it so long I don't know anything different. I love what I do," he says.
The Rolex Series receives less media coverage than NASCAR, but the sports cars manage to rev up a considerable fan base. "Everyday that I am at work, I am driving 160 miles an hour. So when I get on 1-55, I don't really feel a need to go 90 miles per hour instead of 70 miles per hour," Pace admits. "There's no point."
Pace attributes his success as a racer to determination and a few lucky breaks. When he first started driving as a student at the Skip Barber Racing School, he was awarded Rookie of the Year. In 1996, he won the Rolex 24 at Daytona. He currently races in car 66 with the Jlowe Racing Team along with Jim Lowe. In 2006, they racked up three top ten finishes. So far this year, they placed third at Daytona in January.
In addition to racing, Pace also teaches for the Skip Barber Racing School, which is headquartered in Connecticut. He alternates between facilities seasonally (there are others in California, Wisconsin, and Florida). He also enjoys the business side of generating clever opportunities for sponsors to endorse his team. In May, his team had a CEO Challenge that allowed CEOs to ride as his passengers and experience the thrill of racing.
For someone who has lived in the fast lane, Pace also manages to slow down and enjoy life's gifts. He makes time to visit his brothers and sisters (he is one of seven) who live outside of Mississippi and takes great pleasure in meeting people who are passionate about life. One such person was his wife Solange. He met her in 1994 when he raced against her brother. Though she lived in Peru and spoke little English and he lived in Ridgeland and spoke little Spanish, the two fell for each other immediately. "I remember thinking, 'If the whole world is in God's hands, then Peru is right next door,'" Pace says fondly. They married after dating for a few years, but she was soon diagnosed with cancer and passed away in 2001, less than a year after their nuptials.
As a way of honoring her life and also as a chance to visit with her family, Pace began a touring program in Peru. A few times a year, whenever a substantial group of people commit to the journey, he provides five or six off-road vehicles and a camera crew and leads travelers through the wilderness. "It's a special adventure," Pace says. "I always think back to my first car (a Wilson Jeep) when I used to ride the banks of the Pearl River." They stay in nice lodges along the way, but rough it through the jungle during the day. "It's a great way to continue my relationships with the contacts I made through Solange," he says.
Between flights and turns around racetracks, Pace has managed to stay grounded. He attributes this to his upbringing in the South, particularly Mississippi. He says that when he meets Mississippians along his journeys, they share a common bond. And while he is thrilled when he receives the occasional fan letter, sometimes his biggest joys stem from simple interactions with his parents, brothers and sisters, and nieces and nephews. "I've been to Show and Tell several times," he says. "And I love it."