“Traffic Safety is an area where this amazing country has fallen drastically and tragically behind many other countries. We are killing tens of thousands more people on US roads than should be happening; especially when we compare to other countries that we were equally safe as or better than, just 25 years ago. It’s a very sad political and economically driven mess."
As a teenager, Andy Pilgrim spent many hours digesting every letter of the motorcycle magazines he read. Dreaming that one day, he would make enough money to try to race something, preferably something with at least two wheels and an engine.
"I was hungry to get into the workforce and start earning money," he explains. "After school I got into the new but fast-growing field of Information Technology (IT), as a computer programmer. Earning money gave me the opportunity to actually race, instead of just dreaming about it.” As soon as pay checks started coming in, he converted his street motorcycle to a track bike, which pretty much meant wiring up the oil drain plug and putting some numbers on it; times were simpler then. “Of course, I loved the idea of car racing, but that was so far out of my financial universe, it was never an option.” In fact, he didn’t even own a car, using his motorcycle to go work every day, come rain or shine.
His talent on the bike scored him several Regional Championships and second-place finish in the highly competitive British 500cc Production Championship.
American companies were hiring a lot of British programmers in the 1980’s and Pilgrim knew this might be the opportunity of a lifetime. Andy was snapped up by a US contract IT Company after being in the workforce for a little over two years. His first US contract job was with General Motors, working for the Pontiac Motor Division in Pontiac, Michigan.
“Believe it or not I arrived in the US with all my savings in my pocket; that was precisely $100 and I knew nobody. I did have a job, but I thought they would pay me for my first two weeks when I got here, boy was I wrong. I needed to first work two weeks, then I would get paid a few days after that. Those first three weeks were pretty lean on food I can tell you.”
“The other eye opener was my salary, $12,000 a year, which I thought was a lot when I accepted the job back in England; so naïve" grins Pilgrim.
To his dismay, the salary was barely enough to live on and he had to live on these humble means in a very tough area of Pontiac, Michigan. “I guess I didn’t really understand living where I could afford was a big deal. I made some friends and really enjoyed my time there, it was so different than the UK, I had a blast. Looking back, it was probably a clear example of what I didn’t know not hurting me.”
After working off his first-year contract, he took another job and moved to a contract in El Paso, Texas where he worked hard to save enough money to start car racing.
"In my heart, I always wanted to race cars, but money would have always been an issue in England," explains Pilgrim.
He first began auto-crossing his street car in El Paso. It was the first new street car he ever owned. It was a 1983 VW GTi. Success in auto-crossing pushed him into trying the next step, racing.
“I knew from the get go, I couldn’t afford to race for trophies”, said Pilgrim. “If I was going to use my own money to start racing then I needed to find out as fast as possible if I had any talent at all. The entry level professional IMSA Renault Cup series was ideal, because you could win a little money with a reasonable result.”
Andy bought a second hand Renault Cup car off a retired fighter pilot and racer from Las Vegas. That car started his professional road racing career in 1984. Andy would drive the car to the race tracks, as it was street legal and because he had no other vehicle or trailer. He ended up winning rookie of the year honors in his first year, while taking a couple of podiums along the way.
His motorsports career soon took off over the next few years. Pilgrim has won 5 Championships and 69 races so far in his professional racing career. Over the last 20 years Pilgrim has been driving directly for factory or factory supported teams with Corvette, Cadillac, Pontiac, BMW and Porsche. For 2019, Andy is racing in the SRO GT World Challenge Series and selected SVRA races.
Andy is very proud of the fact that he became a US citizen in 1998. Andy states, “America truly is the land of opportunity, if you’re willing to work really hard and also make the necessary sacrifices along the way.”
Pilgrim balances his busy schedule between racing, working for Automobile magazine and his Traffic Safety Education Foundation. Most of his time these days is on foundation work; focusing on educating parents, corporate employees, driver education students/teachers and grade 4 through 8 school students about the growing dangers of distracted driving on America’s roads. The foundation also creates cutting edge educational materials, currently used by driver education teachers all over the US.
"The foundation is my way of giving back to people, and in a way, to this country, for the opportunities I have been afforded here," explains Pilgrim. I grew up in an environment where my mum and my God mum would always say, if you can lend a hand to help others, then do it. By the mid 1990’s, things were a bit more stable financially for me, so I got started.”
Andy says, “Traffic Safety is an area where this amazing country has fallen drastically and tragically behind many other countries. We are killing tens of thousands more people on US roads every year, then needs to be happening. We are now way behind many countries we were equally as safe as, or even doing better than, just 25 years ago. It’s a very tragic political and economically driven mess.”
“It starts with a ridiculously easy driving test, that takes zero structured education to pass in many cases. Plus, the written driving test pretty much only covers road rules and street signs. The small amount of practical street driving in the test, if there even is any at all, is a complete joke. It’s tragic if not borderline reckless endangerment, to so easily give a driving license to millions of young Americans. The most ridiculous part is that we have so many clueless public officials, who actually wonder out loud why we lose thousands of teenagers on our roads very year, it’s incredible to me.”
Pilgrim adds, "Knowing what I now know, things will very likely not change with the US driving test, mostly due to politics and economics. Understanding all this, I choose to work in other areas. Some of my recent research is showing parents to be the most influential driver education teacher to their children.”
Pilgrim spends a lot of time these days, talking to parent groups and corporate employees. I explain to them how distracted and reckless driving habits and behaviors are learned by most children, as they grow up watching their parents drive. Parents are many times genuinely shocked, to learn their children start paying attention to parent driving behavior as soon as their child safety seat is turned around to face front. “If we had a really difficult (as in most other countries) driving test, then much of what children see and learn from parent driving habits and behaviors as they grow up, could be unlearned, but tragically, we don’t. Parents need to know this information, so they can better prepare and protect their children for the future."
Pilgrim is currently based in Bowling Green, KY, along with his Traffic Safety Education Foundation. He continues his work in traffic safety, professional racing and consults to the National Corvette Museum and NCM Motorsports Park. He also writes vehicle test articles and creates video content for Automobile.