A storybook wedding … on a racetrack
At some point we meet that special someone who makes our lives better. Someone who enriches our time on this planet to the point we consider spending more of our life with them. For many, that means a lifetime of shared experiences together in marriage. And at some point, the only remaining question to answer is, “So which racetrack do we get married on?”
Unconventional weddings are far from unheard of in modern society. Heck, even weddings at racetracks aren’t trailblazing acts of two like-minded, convention-defying spirits. But perhaps a love story that began at a 24 Hours of Lemons race, was nurtured in a series of automobiles of questionable credentials, and was made official on a turn of a FIA Grade 2 road course is something to share with the world. Because oh, what an amazing journey it has been for Rob and Jen Simpson.
As per her wedding vows, (2:50 in the video above) Jen remains happy that Rob still has all “his fingers and toes left to acquire ownership interest,” because the last-minute addition of his toes ensured there are enough digits to count all the vehicles they shall own. And that’s not being selfish, as Jen insists that one of Rob’s digits remains reserved for a Miata, the ideal vehicle for her needs as a blossoming automotive hobbyist. Motorsport has been an integral part of their relationship, as they first met at Sebring International Raceway last year, had their second date at Gingerman Raceway, and Rob decided that Jen was “the one” at MSR Houston last November.
While Jen makes no bones about her lack of gear head credentials, her appreciation for Rob’s automotive hobby goes far beyond that of a casual interest. Rob never worked on cars until he was in his 20s, but he learned by diving head first into the deep end of the pool. Instead of using his return plane ticket for a journey over a thousand miles away from home, he instead bought a vintage Mercedes on eBay for $300. Rob says he “had it re-keyed, put a new battery in it, recharged the A/C, and drove home without incident.” Since his mechanic wanted nothing to do with this acquisition, Rob disassembled the beater Benz in order to “learn how it worked, and I’ve been fixing cars ever since.”
Rob has over 60 endurance races under his belt, while Jen crewed with Escape Velocity Racing and their vintage Dodge Dart. While the couple is a little upset that their mutual friends in motorsport didn’t introduce them years ago, it was truly only a matter of time before they met. A motorsports-themed wedding sounds logical, but it didn’t come to mind immediately. Initially, Jen merely insisted their ceremony had to be “Vegas-level fun and easy to handle logistically.”
Rob brought up the notion of a racetrack wedding, and as Jen puts it, “out came the 24 hours of Lemons schedule, and boom, NOLA Motorsports Park in March!” It may sound a bit unorthodox, but Jen set everyone’s expectations early on, saying “we told everybody that they would get three days heads up for a Vegas elopement. Neither of us ever wanted a traditional wedding; they can be fun but way too much work and way too steeped in traditions that we may or may not value as a couple.”
Upon reaching out to Lemons founder Jay Lamm with the request, the 24 Hours of Lemons staff immediately agreed to the plan and rallied around the couple’s needs.
Since the venue was already reserved by Lemons, the remainder of the necessary planning progressed quickly. “We basically called the track’s sales team to book one of their unused event spaces,” Jen says, “and coordinate a handful of other details with the 24 hours of Lemons folks.” While it’s on par with other examples of a destination wedding, this wasn’t a turn-key affair; coordination was needed for decorations and foodservice, but there were ample hotels for guests of every budget. And guests didn’t need to be entertained for long periods of time, as Jen notes, “New Orleans is a destination city with plenty to do.” Truth.
Perhaps that’s where I came into the equation, as I was a Lemons judge tasked with keeping the race cars at this particular track honest and was also a guest at the wedding. The ceremony was clearly unconventional, but beautiful in spirit. And just like any good wedding, it was an unfettered display of love between two people.
The marriage officiant was Bob Griffin of Escape Velocity Racing, and I watched both him and his teammates address every last detail with grace and determination. When the ring bearer got stuck in traffic, I was recruited as ring bearer for the rehearsal. Luckily the official ring bearer arrived for the big day, as this job included wearing bear costume for maximum wit. (But when you’re in NOLA, you shut up and wear the bear costume if you must, right?)
Indeed, there was a bear present as their ringbearer, and it wasn’t me. And instead of a flower girl, a middle-aged Neurologist in a tailored, handsome (handsome?) leopard print suit handed Hot Wheels to all guests. Rob’s mother constructed the arch with camshafts to hold it down on this windy day. Even the reception’s tables sported flower arrangements held within pistons (in lieu of the typical vase). Even the bride and groom cleaned up remarkably well, considering they just completed a gritty day of endurance racing.
There were no bride/groomzilla moments, because as Jen put it “we are both fairly laid back people.” While she doesn’t feel this was a wedding ceremony in the purist sense, “we thoroughly enjoyed being ‘Bride and Groom’ all weekend for the race.” It was a memorable weekend, as the couple raced each other when the green flag dropped on Saturday morning, and wore bridal-ish outfits for the duration of the race (except when actually racing, of course). The couple noted they “had people wishing us luck and happiness all weekend – the Lemons racing community is full of wonderful and kind people and they really made the whole experience magical.”
When asked what could have gone better, their answer had nothing to do with the ceremony, instead lamenting that the “Dart barfed transmission fluid all over the track and delayed the start, but the delay placed us perfectly into the golden hour, so perhaps all’s well that ends well.”
And then it was over, as the crowd walked to a nearby garage for the reception, and the camshaft laden arch made way for track preparation for the next day of racing. Tomorrow would be another day for NOLA Motorsports Park, as the track was red hot with intense action for the top spot. And the next day saw two beautiful people doing what they loved: they raced cars together. Together, as husband and wife. Rob and Jen insist they will continue racing “until it’s no longer fun,” and we hope they have many, many more years of marital bliss on racetracks.