As a parent of two, Sebastien Bourdais jokes that he doesn’t have a third child.
“I’m not Santino’s dad,” he said with a smile about rookie teammate Santino Ferrucci.
Bourdais married his wife Claire Ragot, a French track and field standout, in 2006. Their daughter, Emma, was born in 2006, and their son, Alexander, arrived in 2009.
The 40-year-old French driver for Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan often brings his family to the race track, so they understand what he does and the environment of his professional life. When the Bourdais family is at home in St. Petersburg, Fla., it’s important that the children choose their interests.
“Emma, she’s supportive in everything but she’s not particularly interested,” Bourdais said of his racing career. “She’s a dance freak and all she talks about is dancing and she dances about 28 hours a week. Alex, right now, he’s still at that age where he’s a bit touch and go on everything. He’s doing soccer. He’s doing Ninja Warrior stuff. He’s a little bit all over the place. Yes, he has an interest for go-karts, to go out on weekends and just goof around, but I don’t think he’s ready to be really serious and committed with anything yet.
“I don’t want to impose on him about anything. It’s tough to go home and put (racing) away because it’s there, but I try not to make it more important to their lives than it has to be.”
He reiterates that racing is his life, but his children don’t have to be consumed by it. They have their own worlds.
“I hope so,” he said. “They’re not so demanding. I’m just one of those dads who is really against getting your kids to do something you want them to do. I want them to find their way, find what rocks their world. I’m supportive. If they want to do something, I’ll be there. Racing is my thing. It doesn’t have to be there’s.
“I’m just a normal guy outside of the race track. They’re here plenty of times during the season. They know what I do and how it works. If they’ve got questions, I’ll answer, but I don’t feel like I have to make it more important for for them for their lives than it has to be.”
His father, Patrick, raced touring and sports cars, which meant Bourdais grew up wanting to live up to his dad’s expectations. Bourdais became a four-time Indy car series champion and his 37 wins are tied with Will Power for sixth on the all-time list.
But it wasn’t always easy in the early days.
“My dad is a no-compromise guy,” he said. “He’s 100 percent happy or 100 percent sad. It was very difficult as a kid to deal with that. Plenty of times, I would feel like I was fulfilling everything he wanted me to and that he was very proud of me. But when things would go sideways, I was a little (turd). I could tell you stories. You had to have pretty good armor.”
Bourdais concedes he sometimes wishes he was closer to his kids, but again, it’s about not crowding them too much.
“Emma has always been very independent. Alex is a mommy’s kid, like a lot of little boys,” Bourdais said. “And I don’t have a lot of patience for anything really. Therefore, kids can be frustrating at times and it kind of makes it hard, but I think they know I love them and you try to be as affectionate as you can.
“But I think, yeah, it’s definitely been the biggest challenge for me that you make sure you do what you have to do as a parent to keep them on track and do the education, which everybody has to do, but also find the balance of not getting overly frustrated and just moving on with things. Everybody is doing the best they can. Nobody is perfect and I’m certainly not perfect.”
Nobody ever said parenting was easy.
“Yeah, they don’t give you a manual, that’s for sure,” he said.
So how does being a parent compare to driving a race car?
“Well, it’s obviously extremely complicated because everybody’s got a different opinion,” he said. “It’s you and the car and to a certain degree the team, the social skills you have and don’t have. For the most part, it’s a job. You’re focused and you do whatever and if you end up where you’re at, it’s because obviously people have picked you and they know you can do it. You’re the guy for the job.
“Parenting is obviously difficult. What works with one kid doesn’t necessarily work at all with the other. Yeah, it’s interactions between humans. There’s nothing harder than interacting with another human who doesn’t think like you. You try to be understanding of that. When you don’t have a lot of patience, it requires a lot of your efforts, but I’m trying to do my best.”
INDYCAR.com will spend the next several Mondays profiling the NTT IndyCar Series drivers who are fathers. Next week: Tony Kanaan of A.J. Foyt Racing.
Fast Fathers Series:
Week 1: Will Power
Week 2: Ryan Hunter-Reay