Rick del Monte still remembers what he was thinking one of the first times he hopped into a car and pulled onto a race track: “It’s going to seem a little scary, but nobody gets hurt at this.”
That was 15 years ago at Laguna Seca, a course just off Pebble Beach, Calif., where del Monte and a friend had arrived for a weekend of training. The cars were Indy-style, little tubes of speed that put the driver about a foot off the ground. It didn’t take long for del Monte to figure out his sense of security was misguided.
“You realize, you know, this ain’t Disney World,” he says, sitting in a conference room at The Beck Group’s downtown Dallas headquarters. “If I go off this track, there’s going to be some pain here.”
Del Monte didn’t go off the track—at least not that weekend—but he felt like he could have, and it was in that uncertainty that Beck’s now-chief design officer found a lifelong passion. After the training in California, he went all in and bought a 1987 Porsche 911. “I have to say, it was like falling off a cliff at that point,” says the 63-year-old del Monte. He was doing as many as 12 weekends a year at first—a lot of racing—and, within three or four years, worked his way up from amateur to instructor within the Porsche Club of America’s Dallas-Fort Worth-based Maverick Region.
For del Monte, getting into racing brought him closer to an interest that took root when he was a kid in Cincinnati, going to the drag strip with his father and helping him take apart cars. He’d dreamed of designing them as a career, and even went into engineering, thinking that would funnel him into the space. Two years in, he transferred to architecture, the closest design field he could find.
His wife, Betsy del Monte, who is also an architect, always knew he was a car nut, del Monte says. He also holds a theory that he figures she ended up subscribing to, as well. “I think at a certain point in your life as a guy, you need a thrill,” he says. “You can either get your thrill on a track with your buddies, or you can get your thrills in more destructive ways. In the long run, I think my wife came to the conclusion that a track car was cheaper than the alternatives.”
In 15 years, he’s only seen one real wreck—a car going into a rail. He estimates that he’s gone off the track 20 or 30 times, be it him behind the wheel or one of his students. He tries to be a calming presence for those students, but one of his jobs is to ride along to decide whether they’re ready to move up a level in the program, and that experience has bestowed upon him one of the many life lessons he’s gleaned from racing: People don’t like to be judged. “These people just immediately tense up and start driving like a maniac,” he says.
But without the real, actual fear of real, actual consequences, there would be no adrenaline. And without the adrenaline, del Monte’s hobby would be a video game: “You crash and who cares?” he says. “You just hit the reset button.” With it, racing is a release. “If I come off the track and am sitting in my car after a session and you came up and said, ‘Hey, what do you do for a living?,’ I’d have to think about it. Fear has an incredible way of focusing the mind.”
Del Monte doesn’t get out to the track 12 weekends a year anymore, but more than a decade since the obsession really took hold, his love for racing is as strong as ever. Two-and-a-half years ago, he bought a Porsche GT4, the track version of a Cayman, a sharp descent from the Mazda Miata he’d souped up after his kids, who had been driving it, went off to college. “It’s pretty damn awesome,” he says. He finds maybe five or six weekends a year to take it out.
Although those weekends are largely about getting away, del Monte, whose firm was acquired by Beck in 1999, can find similarities between his two worlds. He once heard a seasoned instructor telling a young person to go fast when they’re pointed where they want to go, not so much when they’re not. “In business, it’s kind of the same way,” he says. “If you’re pointed where you want to go, if the business is going where you want to go, then yeah, step on it, grow, do whatever you need to. If you’re not really going where you want to go, there’s no point getting there any faster.”