SPEED READ

Written By: Robert Cocuzzo

The fast and furious life of race car driver Philip Bloom.

Quarantining was hardly boring for Philip Bloom. While others on Nantucket put together puzzles and binge-watched Tiger King, Bloom spent his days behind the wheel of a state-of-the-art race car simulator in the back room of his real estate office on Centre Street. Equipped with three flat-screen monitors, hydraulic-powered pedals and a steering wheel, the simulator is connected to an online network that had Bloom racing virtually against Formula 1 professionals. While the simulator might seem like a gadget out of a little kid’s wildest dream—it’s hardly a toy. After Bloom was nearly killed on the racecourse three years ago, this simulator played a critical role in getting his life back on track—quite literally.

“I like to joke that my passion for racing all started because my parents wouldn’t allow me to get a go-kart when I was a kid,” Bloom said. In reality, racing came into Bloom’s life after he returned from three years working overseas as a government contractor in Baghdad during the throes of the Iraq War. “I hadn’t really driven a car during those years abroad, so when I got back to the states I decided to buy a used Porsche,” he recalled. The very weekend he bought his Boxster, Bloom attended a Porsche club driving event and got introduced to the amateur race circuit at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut. “Being on good ol’ Paul Newman’s home track, I just fell in love with racing,” Bloom said, “and it has been my passion ever since.”

Bloom went from racing his street-legal Porsche to buying a souped-up Porsche Boxster race car from New York Giants Super Bowl champion Amani Toomer. “He just had a baby and his wife said he had to quit racing,” Bloom said. “So I bought it in a fire sale.” Bloom spent two years racing in the Porsche Club of America, an amateur circuit where two thousand licensed racers face off in thirty-two races around the country. The club races honed Bloom’s driving ability and ultimately propelled him to the pro circuit.

For three years, Bloom traveled around the country racing a 911 in the Porsche GT3 Cup series. In May 2017, the series brought him to the Circuit of the Americas’ Formula 1 track in Austin, Texas, for the very first race of the season. In the thirty-ninth minute of the race, Bloom was screaming 160 miles per hour down one of the straightaways of the 3.4-mile track. As he approached a turn, the rear aerofoil of his Porsche 911 ripped free from the back of the car, sending Bloom spinning wildly out of control. He careened down the track into racer Will Hardeman. Both cars were obliterated and Bloom was knocked unconscious. Although he would eventually walk away from the wreck, he suffered a traumatic brain injury that ended his season and put his racing future in jeopardy.

Bloom spent the next six months at NYU’s Rusk Rehabilitation Center where he underwent an extensive brain injury rehabilitation pro- gram. “They gave me a battery of tests and worked on just getting me back to normal,” Bloom said. “They think I have CTE [chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the brain injury commonly associated with football players].” As he fought to heal his brain, the thought of racing lingered in the back of Bloom’s mind. “Everybody around me didn’t want me to go back to racing,” he said, “but I wanted to get back in the car the very next day.” However, when he did finally get back behind the wheel, Bloom found it virtually impossible to drive fast. Cars were whizzing by him left and right. He wasn’t ready—and turned to the safety of a race car simulator.

Bloom stayed off the track for two years after his crash. During that time, he spent serious sessions in the simulator. Apart from the pileups, just about every technical aspect of racing was felt through the simulator’s pedals and steering wheel. “It’s very realistic,” Bloom said. “About 75 percent of my training can happen in the simulator.” Bloom finally got an opportunity to flex all that training last spring when he was invited to compete in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb—but this was hardly the kind of race he could simulate.

Known as the “Race to the Clouds,” the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb was established in 1916. Cars and motorcycles race 12.42 miles to the summit of Colorado’s 14,115-foot Pikes Peak. With more than 156 turns, all without guard rails preventing cars from plummeting hundreds of feet into a pit of rocks below, the Hill Climb is widely regarded as one of the most dangerous races in the world. Since the course was fully paved in 2012, three drivers have been killed. “It was really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Bloom said. “I’m just glad I didn’t know anything about it before I went, because I never would have gone.”

Amid rain that turned to snow as he climbed to the clouds, Bloom raced around the hairpin turns snaking Pikes Peak. “It was all a bit of a shock,” he recalled. “I’m used to driving around in circles on a track as fast as I can—but this was mostly about endurance and trying not to go over the edge.” Despite having not competed in a race for more than two years, Bloom set a bewildering pace up Pikes Peak, reaching the summit in just eleven and a half minutes. With each car racing up the makeshift track individually, Bloom waited to see where he’d stand as more times came in. In the end, he missed coming in first place by just four seconds. “I lost to Travis Pastrana,” Bloom said. Coming in second in his class to a world-famous daredevil and race enthusiast, Philip Bloom was most definitely back on track.

Before the coronavirus pandemic halted racing, Bloom had returned to the pro circuit, driving a BMW M240i race car in a new series called TC America. He placed seventh in the first race of the season. Off the track this winter, Bloom attempted to break the fabled Cannonball Run record, driving coast to coast as fast as possible. With his dog Coda, now nicknamed “Cannonball Coda,” sleeping in the back of his newly purchased Mercedes E60, Bloom made it across the country in under twenty-five hours, averaging 101 miles per hour. “I was driving criminally fast,” Bloom said. “I actually got pulled over in Arizona, but they let me go with just a warning because it was Christmas.” Had Bloom not been stopped, or had he not driven through a snowstorm, he might have beaten the record. At press time, Bloom was planning on attempting another run at the record. “It’s no joke,” he said. “It’s honestly the craziest thing I’ve done in a car.”

When he’s not speeding across the country, Bloom can now most often be found behind the wheel of his simulator on Centre Street, waiting for the race season to recommence. Beyond the intoxicating smell of petrol and the lure of speed, it’s the race community that Bloom said he misses most. “That’s what attracts me to racing,” he said. “It’s not the speed and excitement of racing—it’s the camaraderie of the people who spend the time and money to show up to racetracks in the middle of nowhere. We’re an interesting breed.”

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