I'd be willing to bet if you had gotten another chance the outcome would've been much different. Knowing the ins and outs of a race car like you do gives you a huge leg up in the driving department. In fact, I almost think it should be required that a prospective driver has to spend at least one year working on a car before getting behind the wheel. The fact that I was fortunate enough to have a relatively competitive car in the family garage throughout pretty much all my formative years gave me a head start over the guys I raced with, especially the ones that were totally green.
A new driver should have to concern himself with nothing other than driving. The hood should never have to come off the car other than to warm it up...if you've got a miss or a leak or something wrong, you're concerned with fixing it instead of preparing yourself to race. A new driver with somewhat of a background in race car prep has already won half the battle. When my car hit the track the 1st time, it had 10#'s of air in the RR, 5" of stagger, 40#'s of LR weight, etc....and remember, these were the days when the majority of the car was built in your own shop, the speed shop cars were in existence but not with the info available today. I knew it would start, stop, go straight, nothing would leak or fall off (mostly). Right there is a big advantage over the guys that had no or very little background, whether they were capable drivers or not. Obviously I had some coaching from my dad and I had been very observant over the years...right there made a big difference.
When my brother Darren started his 1st race was in a 358 at Bridgeport. Finished 4th the 1st time out, I think it was the 1989 opener. Glenn Smith passed him with a couple laps to go and finished right in front of him. You probably wrenched on that car too, Charlie, lol! Anyway, Darren may have been a rookie driver, but he knew that car inside and out.
My point to all this long windedness is that experience in the garage and the pits is invaluable...the guy that knows his car will be up front 99% of the time. Don't waste your money by just buying a race car because it looks like fun. Go help someone 1st, good or bad. Get dirty. Learn what it takes to be a racer, not just someone who races. There's a difference. Spend time in the shop, ask questions no matter how silly you think they may be.