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Created Apr 27, 2017
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John Carmack and his Ferrari

John Carmack stood in the Ferrari dealership admiring a cherry-red 328 sports car and had one thought: How fast can it go? As an engineer, he considered speed an efficient way to measure his progress: How much faster could he get the computer to render graphics on screen? A car was much the same. When Carmack looked at the sexy design of the body, he saw straight through to the engine. To the dealer’s surprise, the wiry twenty-two-year-old in T-shirt and jeans wrote a check for seventy thousand dollars and took the keys.

It didn’t take long for Carmack to feel that the car wasn’t quite fast enough. His instinct was to get under the hood and start futzing around, just like he had with his MGB. But this was no ordinary car, this was a Ferrari. No one futzed with a Ferrari. The elite manufacturer had very low regard for anyone who dared mess with its pristine design. For Carmack, though, it was another machine to hack.

With Romero’s help, Carmack soon found someone who was more than up to the task: Bob Norwood. Norwood had been racing and building cars since he was a thirteen-year-old in Kansas. He held more than a hundred spots in The Guinness Book of World Records for speed records in a variety of funny cars and, above all else, Ferraris. When Romero read in an auto magazine that Norwood now ran an auto shop in Dallas, he suggested Carmack give him a call.

Carmack, as usual, was skeptical. Every other auto guy in town had shrugged off his request. “A Ferrari, eh?” they’d say. “Well, I guess we can put a new exhaust system on it.” A new exhaust, Carmack knew, was a wimpy and ineffectual answer to his problem. When he drove into Norwood’s, the crusty owner walked out with greasy hands. “I got this 328,” Carmack said cautiously, “and I want it to be a little faster.” Norwood squinted his eye and replied matter-of-factly, “We’ll put a turbo on it.” Carmack had found a new friend.

For fifteen thousand dollars, Norwood rigged the Ferrari with a turbo system that would activate when Carmack floored the gas pedal. It was a ballsy bit of hacking, and Carmack immediately felt a kinship with the veteran racing man. The day it was finished, Carmack planned to celebrate by driving to his brother’s graduation in Missouri; though his success with Keen and Wolfenstein had helped him mend bridges with his mother, pulling up in a car like this was guaranteed to close the deal.

He showed up at Norwood’s with his duffel bag, threw it in the trunk, then hit the road. Just outside Dallas, he saw an open stretch of highway. Slowly, he pushed the pedal down to the floor. As it lowered, he felt a force build until the pedal hit the metal and the car accelerated almost twice as fast, reaching nearly 140 miles per hour. Life was good. He was living his dream: working for himself, programming all night, dressing how he pleased. All those long, hard years without a computer, without a hacker community, were fading behind him. Contrary to what the other guys might have thought, he did have feelings. And at this moment, with the cows and corn blurring beside him, he felt unbelievably happy. He drove the rest of the way with a huge grin on his face.

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