The Class of 95’s John M. “J.” Salmon IV says a love of cars drive him and his dad into racing. His father, John M. Salmon III, DDS, is a 1965 graduate of the dental school.
Years ago, John M. “J.” Salmon IV, M’95, and his father John Salmon III, DDS’65, always talked about building a car together. It seemed a natural thing for a father known as “the fix everything guy” and his young son to set their sights on, but they never got around to it when J. was little.
Today, after finally building not one, but two cars with his father, J. Salmon has moved into the driver’s seat. Each year, he races sports cars at the Petit Le Mans in Braselton, Georgia, though he’s quick to point out that he’s not a professional. His job is to warm up the crowd, so to speak.
“It’s like going to see the Blue Angels at the air show in Virginia Beach,” J. Salmon says. “They’ll be lots of airplanes and activities before they appear. That’s what I do as part of the support race team at the Petit Le Mans. It gives people something to watch and serves as a stepping stone for young drivers.”
The Petit Le Mans is an annual sports car endurance race. Now in its 19th year, the event covers 1,000 miles or 10 hours of racing, whichever comes first, and features 41 entries across four classes of the International Motor Sports Association WeatherTech Championship competition.
Salmon’s event, the Mazda Prototype Lites series, gives him the opportunity to drive at speeds topping 140 mph in a world-class environment where he’s happy to finish within one second of the pack.
“I’m very happy if I’m not dead last,” he laughs. 2016 marks his third year of support driving at the Petit Le Mans.
“Racing is so fast. It’s a blend of science and art. A lot of physicians are drawn to that.”
How it all started
About an hour from the Salmons’ homes in Lynchburg, Virginia, is one of the country’s top six road courses, the Virginia International Raceway. So it’s not surprising that their love of cars drove them into racing.
“It just sort of steamrolled,” J. Salmon says. “It took Dad and me about three or four years to finish our first car and while we were doing that, we’d spend time at the track. We’d go to the track like others went golfing. Most people don’t have a facility as nice as VIR so close to them. That helped contribute to my delinquency!”
A VIR racer himself, the elder Salmon tries to keep his speed these days under 125 mph. With a recent knee replacement surgery under his belt, he’s careful not to overdo. A trip back to the track during recuperation helped him gauge his abilities.
“The knee is in good shape, but I wanted to see how it performed at the track,” he says. “The only real pressure I have to use is on the brakes, that’s why I wanted to go see how it worked.”
Working with engines, suspensions and timing belts is a lot like problem solving in the health care field, explains J. Salmon who practices as a pathologist.
“Many times Dad and I would be working on a car trying to make it faster. We’d upgrade things if necessary. And yes, we blew up an engine. But we figured it out. Problem solving stems from medicine. In school, you’d see a problem and decide how to approach it. You come up with your own solutions. Racing is really immersive. It’s complex, challenging and a blend of science and art. A lot of physicians are drawn to that.”
But as drawn as he is to racing at the Petit Le Mans, J. Salmon is equally happy racing here in Virginia.
“I enjoy it more at the local track with friends,” he says. “I get to go home at night and be with my family.”
By Nan Johnson