DETROIT -- Raj Nair, the head of Ford's product development, doesn't remember when he fell in love with motorsports. But he knows his parents certainly didn't have anything to do with it.
"My family wasn't into it at all," said Nair, 52. "My parents forbade me from doing any racing, at least until I could pay for it myself."
His mother and father, both college professors, stressed the importance of academics and didn't want anything interfering with Nair's pursuit of a mechanical engineering degree at Kettering University in Flint, Mich., then known as General Motors Institute. And, besides that, his mother was worried about his safety, he said.
He did manage to self-fund his hobby by the end of his college career. And, as it turns out, his mother's fears were well-founded.
One time at Grattan Raceway in western Michigan, Nair broke four ribs, bruised a kidney and suffered a concussion on a Turn 1 wreck. When he regained consciousness in the back of an ambulance and paramedics asked where he was, he replied that he was at Mid-Ohio, a track about 300 miles away.
He spent the night at the hospital, where his biggest concern was how to pay for a new fire suit after paramedics cut his old one up after the crash. But he didn't exactly rush to tell his mother about the accident, or any others that came before or after. "I didn't have to race under a fake name, but they never knew about it," he said.
Nair said he's lured to the track because of the focus it takes to operate a vehicle at high speeds.
"There's something really special about racing, where you're really taking the man and the machine to the limit," he said. "It's one of the few places I know of where your mind is not getting distracted by what's happening at home, what's happening at work or anything else."
Nair hasn't officially raced in 12 years. Still, he's out on a track every Friday testing the steering, brakes or some other handling feature on the company's latest vehicles.
"Having a racing background certainly helps in my role," he said. "Race and road car development are different, but there are some common aspects. It informs what I'm looking for and what changes I should feel."