Ceegar just flies over the hump at Spokane.
That’s not a metaphor. His Mustang has all four off the ground. We’re doing 120 mph at that point, maybe a dime more. I feel the drop, and can sometimes smell burnt rubber when my suspension bottoms out.
But Ceegar pushes harder, and gets airborne. Photographers with positions on the back straight that the crowd can’t get to come up to us in the pits, astounded that he flies over that hump. Literally.
“What do you think?” Ceegar asked after a day of practice. At first I didn’t like the track and I told him so. Spokane’s really tight after that back “straight” and I never had the gears nor the tires to get through turns like that. I don’t much like threading the needle at high speed between concrete barriers, either, but that’s what we do.
George and I had left Middle of Nowhere, Oregon late the day before, got to Portland well after midnight. At 7:30 the next morning we picked up The Jakester, my 13 year-old crew chief, drove on toward Seattle to pick up the black and yellow race car at Merlin’s at 11 a.m., and then drove across Washington State to Spokane, arriving at about 5 p.m.
Whew. The week before I’d done a 1,000 mile round trip in 31 hours to San Francisco to get a daughter home from college. Averaged well over 70 mph, including stops. As much as I like to drive, that was a lot of seat time.
There was more to come. After we arrived at the track, Merlin and Ceegar’s crew chief O.C. asked if we could use my rig to get Ceegar’s TransAm Mustang down to a promotion for one of the sponsors. No problem. Even though my rig is well over 40 feet, Ceegar’s Freightliner and stacker trailer are larger still.
Merlin got some attention when he lit off that motor in downtown to get from the parking lot, where I could fit my truck and trailer, over to the dealership.
I was supposed to follow them back to the track afterwards, but traffic lights and onramps fooled me and I hadn’t followed one of my own rules about keeping Excessive, my truck, fueled for contingencies. I was out of diesel. And lost. In downtown Spokane, which has narrow-enough thoroughfares and one way streets to make a challenge out of driving a truck with trailer hauling a car worth more than my house.
And I’d had one or a half dozen too many sausages soaked in BBQ sauce at the event we’d just left. And I was keeping everyone from dinner. And it was my own fault and I knew it and I was cranky.
George spotted the gas station in the distance and we got there, just barely, took on $140 of diesel, a half-roll of Tums and found our way to the track at about 9 p.m. We left everything as it was and headed out to find something to eat. After one restaurant told us their kitchen had just closed, Ceegar treated everyone to dinner at the casino, though the waitress told us The Jakester shouldn’t really be there after 10 p.m. because even though he’s sometimes the most grown-up in our group, a 13 year-old is considered too young by the law to be around behaviors reserved for…adults.
It was time to tip over anyway.
We set up the next day and I set about learning the track. Ceegar kept saying how much fun it was, but I didn’t see it, not at first. The undulations leading to the short back straight made the car uncomfortable. The back straight itself seemed to be an optical illusion, it seemed long at the beginning but less than a breath of air later it was time to be on the brakes, hard… not hard enough! Hard! and make a sharp right turn.
“Every turn at Spokane is late apex” I’d been told, which means you don’t even look at where the turn starts but where it feels like it will end. Hard to do, at times. But I got better as the day wore on, and began to see what Ceegar enjoyed about the track in Spokane. And the next morning, I qualified on the pole.
Ceegar came up to me afterwards with his head tipped forward, looking at me over the top of his glasses.
“I guess you like the track okay now?”
But racing isn’t just about driving and I am an absolute bonehead at times. As the first race approached, Merlin and I got involved in a discussion about politics and even though I’ve got a clock the size of a dinner plate always in view, I let time get away from me. I fumbled with straps and buckles and got to the grid after the five minute countdown.
Despite my fastest qualifying time, they made me start at the back of the pack. I was able to get up to fourth, but that was that. Feeling like an idiot, to say the least, though in fact, coming up through traffic is an awful lot of fun.
“Jakester, maybe you should let me know it’s time to suit up 20 minutes before race time,” I told my crew chief later.
Yeah, I know, not really his responsibility, but even Ceegar’s crew chief O.C. was telling me how much time was left by then, though Ceegar joked that Merlin should get me “talking politics before every race.”
Though I don’t wear a watch, I usually know what time it is, but rarely know how much time is left. It’s how my brain works. Or doesn’t. And I always have a really hard time remembering what happened in races. Those who know racing, or athletics, say that’s a good thing and has to do with what my brain is doing when I’m on the track. I’ll take their word for it.
I know that at some point that weekend, I was behind Ceegar and a very, very fast and well-driven Porsche. In that race, Ceegar took him deep, deep into that turn at the end of the back straight, and the back wheels of the Porsche decided to change positions with its front wheels.
For a moment, I thought I was going to wear that Porsche like a smile, but I got by, and went after Ceegar.
I think that’s when FastCat blew up the brake rotor of his bright red V-12 Jaguar, maybe trying to avoid the Porsche sitting half on and half off the track. I don’t know. Earlier, FastCat had to put a diaper on the differential of the Jaguar that was leaking onto the rotors, which on a Jag are “inboard” near the differential and not out at the wheels. He left the track before I could find out if they were related.
I can’t tell you where I caught caught Ceegar, but I did.
“Like the track enough yet?” he said, afterwards.
George Folmer, a star of TransAm driving Mustangs and CanAm driving a Porsche, decades ago, was the featured speaker at dinner on Saturday night. We got his book, and Folmer signed it for The Jakester and his dad. Ceegar had Folmer sign a piece of art Ceegar had created out of fenders from Folmer’s TransAm Mustang, a car very much like the one Ceegar was driving this weekend.
Falcon put on a show during one race. Coming out of the slight right to the main straight, there are bumps that unsettle the car. He spun right in front of the grandstand. Falcon wondered if his shocks had been destroyed by Spokane, he and his car had dealt with far worst than that. The next day, race promoters said they hoped they had his spin on camera, it would be used to promote the excitement of Spokane races in the future.
‘Stang has all the power one can put under that hood. He had a pretty good weekend, too, but Spokane can punish as well as reward. Once at Spokane, ‘Stang tried to go around someone on the outside and caught the gravel on the edge, then the bank on the opposite side, then a large rock. He said he was glad the little building that’s there now wasn’t there then or he would have collected that, too.
Once over the weekend, Ceegar asked me about “trail braking” into a turn. I spent far too much time explaining car dynamics, feeling like I knew something, then realized he was really trying to learn whether I was brake checking him — putting my brakes on to fool him until any advantage I had could be used. Maybe he wasn’t, but he drove right up my tail pipe after that and I could never get away.
In the race Sunday morning, Porsche and I dueled. I could not escape, him, either. I tried to scrape him off on the Studebaker driven by Rex Easly (probably the fastest racing Studebaker in North America, maybe the only racing Studebaker in North America) but Porsche wasn’t fooled. He got by me once coming out of a turn but I followed him close to the next, where he bobbled. I got by him again and then shut the door and that was that. You can see that here.
In the next race, Ceegar and I freight trained nose-to-tail at the start and our combined power and draft put us both in front of the Porsche.
“No soup for you!” Ceegar kept saying every time the Porsche tried to get past him. And that’s how we finished.
“You like this track, yet?” Ceegar asked, after I posted first place and fastest lap time. I had to admit, I had grown somewhat fond of the tight, undulating track at Spokane. I can’t get my wheels off the ground in full flight like he can, but I’ll keep working at it.
Merlin was the mind behind the engines that powered the cars that finished first and second. His reputation doesn’t need any more light around it, but that didn’t hurt.
After Sunday’s races, George and I put The Jakester onto a flight from Spokane to Portland where his mom was waiting, and at 4:30 p.m. after an already long day, we headed south to Middle of Nowhere, Oregon, getting home about eight hours later.
Not much got done on Monday.
The car did not come home with me. It went back to Merlin’s in Seattle. Merlin hasn’t finished finding out why what should be available in that motor doesn’t seem to be there. I’m not going to give you any numbers, or what we’re looking at, or where we hope to find power and torque. Because other people might want to know.
But I will tell you that we’d better find it, because the biggest race in the Pacific Northwest happens in about three weeks, in Seattle. Cowboy, Canuck, and Beater will all be there, with everything they’ve got, and that’s more than anything we’ve seen so far. Who knows who else will show up, from Colorado or California or someplace else?
We have to find more. It’s never enough.