Ian Korf at the racetrack

Photo: Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis

Speed Racing Biologist

by | Nov 30, 2016 | Fall/Winter 2016-17, Office Hours

Like a true scientist, Ian Korf enjoys figuring out how things work.

This is what he does as a professor of molecular and cellular biology and director of bioinformatics at the Genome Center at UC Davis. He also does it as an amateur race car driver.

Korf started racing about five years ago at the suggestion of his identical twin brother. Over the years, Korf has participated in almost 20 races — with six completed this year. And he just self-published a book on the subject: You Suck at Racing: A Crash Course for the Novice Driver. The book, the result of an ongoing blog he writes, covers the hows and whys of racing, from a scientist’s perspective.

“I’m self-taught,” Korf said, “so one of the ways I learn best is by trying to explain a concept or idea.”

Because racing is an expensive pastime, Korf does most of his practicing with a video game simulator. Its sophistication and authenticity — he can practice on actual tracks that he knows — means that many of the skills translate to the real world. Still, he’s aware of the perils of his risky hobby. (He noted he’s never had an accident on the track.)

“I’d be the first one to admit that this is a juvenile, stupid activity,” he said. “But danger plus skill is exciting, definitely exhilarating. It taps into some kind of primal stupidity.”