It’s Never Enough

It’s tough to see a car on its top. It’s worse when medics have a driver on the ground.

But we were told Earnest was all right. By the time I got back to the pits, he’d already been seen up and walking around his car. They probably put him on the ground as part of protocol.

There was some controversy about that when Big Mac, who was maybe the fastest of any of us until the wreck that put him out of racing, balled up his car at the end of the front straight.

Some said they allowed him to take his helmet off and shouldn’t have, that he was moved and moving way too soon. I don’t know, I’m not qualified to vote on that one. That was a car just like the one Earnest flipped yesterday. A car just like mine, now that I think about it, except I don’t have a top.

Earnest went off a few yards from where Canuck went up the hill into the blackberries in July after a piece of his suspension broke. I don’t know and don’t know if anybody will know what happened to Earnest. The day before I told him what a great job he was doing, how well he was driving. His times were getting very good. But it’s not just about going fast.

Earnest's corvette

Some say he was on old, old rubber. He had a flat in an earlier race, and someone said he patched the tire. That’s the thing. This sport takes a lot of time or a lot of money, and sometimes both. Some of us have to do what we can to make ends meet, but sometimes there aren’t any shortcuts.

There’s no shortcut to seat time, either, and Earnest doesn’t have a lot of it. He’s got  a car that can bite if you make a mistake. But stuff happens. Look at Canuck going into the blackberries in July, and he’s better than any of the rest of us.

Swede, who had built most of the car for Earnest, went over to check on him, and probably to check if anything he had built broke and caused the wreck. Earnest gave  gave him a big hug. And Earnest is a really big guy, so it was a really big hug.

“I was on my top and the cage held,” is what Earnest told him. Swede was pretty happy about that, too. The cage didn’t budge. Earnest was still really tall.

Ceegar’s mechanic, OCD, felt pretty bad when Ceegar’s mirror came off in Spokane at the beginning of the season. Merlin doesn’t just change out broken pieces, or pieces that look like they’re about to break, he changes out pieces that were installed at the same time as other pieces that look like they maybe once thought about breaking. Shade Tree’s the same way. They don’t really compromise when it counts.

They know what could happen if they miss something. Which is one reason why we look to them to do what they do. They are the kind of people who work really hard to make it right. Stayslate (Beater’s mechanic), Swede, Thrasher, OCD, Merlin, Shade Tree. These guys don’t just handle wrenches, they know what’s at stake.

Honestly? I don’t know if they would still be able to do it if something they built broke and there was a really bad outcome.

They can’t protect us drivers from ourselves, though, and if Earnest went out on bad tires, then he paid a pretty damn high price for the few hundred dollars saved.

I say this while I run tires I’ve run hard since I bought them to race at Road America last July.

All this is pretty serious stuff and I didn’t mean to get into it like that, but hey, I am who I am. I tried to explain that to a woman once, and the conversation didn’t go well. She told me, women marry men thinking they’ll change them, men marry women thinking they’ll never change. She was much wiser than me, and that’s probably why she’s not still around.

I confirmed with Ceegar that he set three personal best times this weekend in Seattle. It was perfect for racing. Air temps were cool, and cars just love that. Rains had washed the track clean, so tires stuck in every session. And though there weren’t enough cars out there, those that were ran well.

For several years I’ve wanted to get another 1:29:plus in Seattle. It happened this weekend in a race I didn’t win, but took second, again. In fact, that’s probably why it did happen. I’m always faster when I’m playing chase.

All the laps and races start to blend together now, especially since last night’s drive home was brutal, after waking up at 4 a.m. yesterday morning and not getting back to Middleofnowhere, Oregon until close to midnight. Up again this morning at 4 a.m., again. Tired and wired.

But what I do remember is that when I did wake up yesterday, I was trying to figure out how to get in front of Ceegar.

I finally distilled it down to “Shift sooner, brake later, go faster.”

Yeah, I know. Simplistic. But sometimes you need simple to break bad habits, especially if you tend to overthink things. So I was shifting sooner, and in that session, tried to shift into fourth before Turn Nine instead of after, and several times, right in front of the crowd, I either went into second, or couldn’t get it into gear at all. But not every lap, and I put down one really fast one.

But I didn’t win. Later, Ceegar asked me “what happened to you in nine? All of a sudden you disappeared?” I confessed I missed a shift. So he teased, ”Third is up and to the right.”

“I thought that’s where fifth is,” I said, looking confused, then put my hand over my mouth and acted as though I’d blown it completely. Ceegar and other drivers standing there hooted. You see, we’re only supposed to have four speeds forward. Four is all I have, too, I was trying to make a joke.

But it wasn’t a long time after that when OCD, Ceegar’s mechanic, was looking in my car and saw my four speed knob.

“How do you know where fifth gear is?” he asked, or something like that.

So after my pretend gaff, and maybe it’s entirely unrelated, Ceegar’s car went into the trailer. They changed the rear end gears, I could smell the gear lube from 20 feet away. They went a little taller, I think, maybe to match what they might of thought would be a fifth gear overdrive in my car. I don’t know. I’m just making it up at this point.

At lunch time, I got to take Thor, who works pregrid, out on the track for a ride. Came back in and took Jakester’s dad out for a couple of laps, then the Jakester. “Awesome,” they said. I used the sessions to work on my line.

Ceegar was on the pole, again, for the first race in the afternoon. I jumped him, again and went through the gears quickly. I didn’t wind the engine out but kept it right in the middle of where it loves to make power.

Shift sooner.

By the time we came to Turn 2, I had just enough on him, three-quarters of a car length he’d say later, that I slowly eased over to the left, squeezing him back as I took over the racing line.

“I thought I’d put my nose in there to see if I could intimidate you into giving it up,” he said. No, not today.

Down the hill into Turn 3A, I waited, and waited, to come off the gas, then hit the brakes hard and downshifted into first.

Brake Later.

Squirting out of Turn 3B, I hurtled down the back straight, shifted sooner and used what I’d seen Ceegar do in previous races: I didn’t slow down much through the tricky Turn 5 (where Earnest would later land on his top)  but danced through, and when I could, I put the accelerator to the floor.

Go faster.

Coming out of Turn 8, foot to the floor, I would shift into third, foot to the floor, slight lift over the bump so I wouldn’t spin the tires when she got light, let her gather up, foot to the floor, fourth gear, foot to the floor, thread the needle between the dirt and wall at Turn 10, don’t lift, over the hump at Turn 1, wait, wait wait, brake and downshift, hold smooth, foot to the floor.

Ceegar got smaller and smaller in my mirror. It was so very sweet.

After the race, Jakester put the other old Road America Tires on Yellow Jacket. We refueled. Checked the oil. We sat.

In the mean time, Ceegar’s Mustang disappeared back into his mobil shop. Again I smelled the sulfurous stench of gear lube. I figured they were going to shorter gears this time, to get a jump on me out of the hole.

Thing is, in a fight, your opponent always gets a vote. And in this case, I was on the pole. That meant I could stuff the ballot box.

When the pace car left the field and we were on our way to the green flag, Ceegar started to accelerate. He was nearly a half car length in front of me, where he should not have been, before he saw that I was going slow. Real slow. He had to slow down to match position. Real slow.

I’d figured if he went to real short gears, I wanted him to be in first gear and low rpm when we got the green flag. His car has so much juice that he can’t stab the throttle in first or he’ll just smoke the tires. He would have to ease into it, or bog it in second.

Green flag. Yellow jacket hooked up her (yes, much fatter) tires. Ceegar fishtailed trying to get that screaming orange monster to put power to the pavement. I was first to Turn 2. And I was ready to fly. But when I next look in my mirrors, it was Beater behind me. And the next lap around, Ceegar was off to the side of the track in Turn 3B, and he was standing in the turn worker station.

A half mile ahead, Earnest is upside down, hanging from the straps. They are waving Double Yellow Flags, white flags.

I slow down, way down, to bunch up the field. They next lap around, they have Earnest out on the ground, making sure he’s okay. This race is done. But Earnest is okay, and they bring his broken ride in on the trailer.

Ceegar dropped out on that first lap because the battery cable to his starter motor shorted out on a header. You could see the burnt black plastic insulation. I don’t know if it was the result of last minute work or had been trying to burn through the whole weekend and finally found ground. But he pulled over rather than lose the car.

So the last race really wasn’t. That’s okay. No one was hurt, and I can’t remember a better weekend of racing. Others have said the same thing.

I think Ceegar goes to Sears Point in a week or two. Canuck is headed to Texas to a big race down there. Cowboy is done for the season, and so am I. Jakester has football and a girlfriend and school work. His coach told guys on the team to get girlfriends who play sports so they won’t complain (or feel lonely) when they have to practice. Jakester’s girl plays soccer.

Merlin is already busy, busy. He isn’t just an artisan and a magic maker, he is a principled perfectionist. So he’s told clients and potential clients they need to take a number, and probably by next month, if they want anything done over winter. There’s only so much time, and even Merlin can’t change that.

I’m thinking of giving him some work to do. I think I’ll have Shade Tree pull my motor in a week or so, and then I’ll run it back up to Seattle, and let Merlin wave his wand.

Because next year, Canuck will have the big car out, Beater will be back with his evil looking ’69 that wrecked in Portland, Ceegar and OCD never stop improving, and who knows what Cowboy is cooking up way, way out there on the prairie.

So I have to do something over the winter, if I want to keep up. Because no matter how much there is, and how well you do, there’s always something left to be done if you want to play with these guys, the way we play. You can’t stop or you’ll get left behind.

Besides, getting better and going faster and playing harder isn’t something you do just once and go home. There’s always more, and it’s never enough.

Toe to toe

Three times today, I came in second. Didn’t win a single race. That doesn’t happen all that often.

It also may have been the best day of racing I’ve ever had.

I show up on Friday and get set up. Get signed in. First three or four people I run into ask the same question: “Where’s Jake?”

“Homecoming dance,” I say.

Knowledgable nods. “But, it’s a race weekend,” say a couple of diehards, as if there’s nothing more important, but we all know there is.

Qualifying was a bust. I had brand new brake pads. They had to be bedded in, and the tires had to get hot. And you, know, I had to get used to how it feels to be wrapped up in Yellow Jacket again. It’s been a month, my body forgets. I think of other things.

I waited for all the slower cars to get good and far ahead. To put down a good lap, I needed room.

Just as I hit the go switch, black flags came out. A Camaro  left huge skids marks just past the fastest turn on the course, and was off on the side. As they say, that was that.

So I started about tenth or twelfth in the first race of the day. It took some work, but  I moved up to third and was closing on Beater. I got him at the top of the hill going into Turn 8. I made my move, was going around him on the outside,  and … he disappeared.

Lots of switches are close together in a race car, we’re moving hands and feet. He hit the stop switch.

When the checker came down, Ceegar was in traffic up ahead, but I couldn’t get close before it was over.

I gave rides to workers at lunch. They were standing in line, and Yellow Jacket draws smiles. But I also had to change tires. And Fuel up. There was one more ride I had to give.

And let’s face it, Jakester wasn’t there to do all that, and to keep me on time.

By the time I got to pre-grid, it was past the five minute warning. So they slotted me right at the end of the pack. Which meant, again, I got to drive through the field. I caught Beater again, this time, his oil pan was leaking. I was closing on Ceegar, but ran out of race.

It was a bone-head mistake obviously, but I love driving through the pack. It’s exciting, it’s a dance, and everybody today was on their toes, everyone worked with their mirrors, no one didn’t know I was coming.

For the final, I was early on pre-grid. Everything was in it’s place, Ceegar and I were on the front row. We took off, and I jumped ahead for about 200 yards, but Ceegar braked late and shot by me going into the long sweeping left of Turn 2.

“Didn’t think I’d do that didja?” he asked with a smile when it was over.

For the next 108 corners over 22 miles, we tangled. There were times I thought I would feel the nudge of tire contact, or we’d swap paint. He’d get some distance on me, I’d close the gap. I tried to go by him on the outside, inside, upside and down side.

We came upon traffic going close to 160 mph. I followed him through, neither of us lifted. A silver BMW stayed out as Ceegar blew by him, but had no clue I was there, or he thought he’d run his line, whatever. I may have sucked the top coat of paint off his passenger door, I was told. I figured he’d hear me coming. It’s not like Yellow Jacket is subtle.

They said I had a puff of smoke coming from a tire on the the main straight. That was just my driving shoe, as I tried to pedal harder. They should see the sparks as Ceegar bottoms out coming into Turn five, or the way his left front tire hangs 8 inches above the pavement coming out, the way he spins tires going up the hill after Turn Six.

He’s so good in that set, it’s just great fun watching him. I had to finally tell myself to stop watching him drive, and start driving my own car through there, or he’d be out of sight.

I tried to take Ceegar on the outside of eight to the inside of nine, but that’s no damn place to pass. I bobbled, got sideways in a way I always worry about Falcon, too much gravel and too much wall, but somehow how I gathered it up, and went after Ceegar again.

I didn’t catch him, and I took another second.

We were surrounded by people as soon as it ended. They sputterd as they tried to say how exciting it was. Ceegar came over and told me it was the best race of his life. I think it was  the best race of mine. More than one person said it was the best race they’d ever seen.

Less than a quarter of a second separated us at the finish line after all those miles. There are very few drivers I trust enough to run with that close.

Beater was in the stands while his car was being repaired. “That was, that was an amazing exhibition,” he said.

See some of it here. I didn’t have time to edit before uploading, so there’s a lot set up and unecessary footage. I’d start at about minute 6:30.

The middle of that race can be seen here. Again, no time to edit. I haven’t even watched it, and probably used up my share of the hotel’s bandwidth trying to get it up before I had to check out. Thank you, Comfort Inn of Auburn, Washington.

In all three races, I posted a time in the 1:30s. I’ve gone faster, but never posted three in a row like that before. Ceegar turned the fastest time of his life in that Mustang. I think maybe he had his two fastest races, ever, maybe three.

Someone asked if I was disappointed, being the “first loser.”

“I don’t look at it like that,” was all I could say. Yellow Jacket was balanced and tuned. She gave me everything I asked for; her needs for what I had to do flowed back through the steering wheel and my car seat, what I wanted to do flowed to her through accelerator and brake. We were indistinguishable.

Some would say it’s silly to anthropomorphize a car like that. Yeah. Okay. Whatever. We’ll argue that point after they’ve sat in that seat and danced with my girl. No, that’s not an invitation.

I was finally “driving.” Really driving. When it feels that good, it has all the sensuality of a tango, and the thrill of a knife fight. It was good. So very good. Tomorrow, this season will be over, at least for me. What a way to close it out.



Roxy Hearts owns pregrid.

With a rhythmic back and forth with her index finger, she will point right or left as we back up and she puts us into place, clenching her fist indicating we should “hold” when we’re in position. Later, with a graceful, theatrical swing of her arms, half-bow and half offering, she ushers us out onto the track for a race.

Her son, Thor, works the line with her. He walks by the front of my car, checks to make sure I am wearing my gloves and arm restraints (if I flip over we don’t want arms flailing outside the car, right?). He looks inside the cockpit for wrenches or coffee cups he’s occasionally found there, that would become, at best, distractions at 160 miles an hour or, at worst, projectiles capable of great harm.

One time Cowboy was coming around Turn 12 in Portland. His door hadn’t been secured and flew open. Bad enough. But then, a coffee cup fell out.

Being Cowboy, he grabbed the door with one hand and slammed it shut. I don’t think he even slowed down. Being Cowboy, he could probably hold the door shut with one hand, shift with the other and steer with his knees. I don’t think he had to, but he could have.

But this isn’t about the drivers.

There are others besides Roxy Hearts and Thor on the course wearing white, they’re just the ones we can see, because we are stopped, lined up and waiting for the race to begin after Roxy gives us the five minute warning with a blast of her whistle, then two minutes, then one, and she waves us out onto the track.

She loves this stuff.

“…My first race was at Watkins Glen at the age of three. When I was seven, we moved to Niagara Falls, soon to find out we were only about a mile from the drag strip. My brothers and I would sneak over and watch the races every Saturday.

“When I moved to Washington in the late 60’s I went to work for a company that built and re-arced leaf springs. That’s where I met my husband, Bill. He came in with leaf springs off his race car to get fixed. It was a match made in heaven, since we were both motor heads. Forty three years later, we are still involved in racing.”

Sweetheart wears white. Some of the time she is working in the tower, other times in drivers services, I think, or at Turn nine in Seattle, last July. She is one of my biggest fans, I was told once, which is good, because I’m one of hers.

Others wearing white are in the corners, or in the tower, at the start/finish line. They communicate with us, using flags. Yellow flags mean “No passing, okay?” Double yellow means “No passing, really!” A black flag with our number on the board means, “Hey! Dummy! Come in and get educated about yellow flags!”

There are other flags, including one to tell us someone wants to pass, others to say there is oil or debris on the race track. A red flag means “Stop. Now. Something bad has happened.”

Workers in white also have fire extinguishers in their stations, and have been known to run onto a race course and help a driver out of a burning car. They have safety gear, but still. One time I heard Mickey, one of the safety crew, explain why he always wears a helmet.

“One of the drivers came around the truck and clipped me. Tossed me ten feet in the air. I got daughters to take care of!”

They are breakable, these people, parents, folks like us, who love cars,  self-confessed motor heads and a necessary, essential element of any auto race.

“After my really bad accident (on the street, not racing) I had to have my wrist fused and it ended my racing career. We sold my race car. My husband Bill got into road racing. (Thor) and I were named Crew of The Year by IRDC. That may have been the year Bill won the championship in GT4,” Roxy said.

Like I say, they love racing.

“One year, we (Roxy and her friend Candi) worked 17 race weekends in a row!  This lead to my job with CART. I worked race control with another super lady, Irene, who trained me and worked next to me for many years. We did a lot of traveling during our time with CART: Japan, Australia, Mexico and many, many tracks in the USA.”

Like I say…

Sweetheart travels to work races up and down the West Coast from her perch up in Canada. Sweet Adeline and Photog got married at Portland International Raceway! Between races! I think. But my memory is getting a little dim.

We’re losing some of them, of course, to time and frailty and disease. Drivers and workers both, of course. People who have made it easier than it might have been, people who made it possible, in fact.

Roxy told me not too long ago that sometimes, those in white feel a divide, I guess is a good way to put it, between drivers and workers in white. Or orange, if they work the safety vehicles. As soon as I got over my surprise, I felt like a schmuck.

How could they know how much they were appreciated if we don’t tell them? We talk about our races with other drivers, family and friends. Sure we’re hot, tired and sweaty, or working on something in a hurry because it’s broke and there’s another race pretty soon. But sometimes it’s too easy, I guess, to get a little self-absorbed.

I had the same problem once in a relationship that didn’t last, so I must be a slow learner.

The fact is, one of my absolute best moments in racing came after a bad accident where fortunately, nobody got hurt. I don’t know if it was vintage or Sports Car Club of America, but it was in Portland and I was in the lead.

Somewhere ahead was the wreck, and where I was, yellow flags came out, then double yellow, waving double yellow, and a white flag to indicate there was a safety vehicle on the course. I slowed down, way down, probably low second gear. Nobody could pass on a yellow, so within a lap, all the race cars were bunched up behind me, all of us going 20 mph. I imagine some were unhappy, but maybe not.

I don’t remember now if we went back to racing. Too many years, too many gas fumes. But I do remember a couple of workers coming up to me in the pits at the end of the day to thank me for bunching up the race cars and making it safe for them to take care of the driver and the broken car.

I don’t remember any race I’ve ever won as clearly as I remember them thanking me for that. Best trophy, ever.

In Portland a couple of weeks ago, Roxy was talking to me and another driver. I don’t remember exactly where, but she mentioned her history in racing. How she built a wedge motor, or a hemi, I think, for drag racing and pretty much all by her lonesome. Then she raced it. Did pretty good, too. The other driver was surprised, I knew some of it.

“Over the years my husband Bill and I have been involved in many types of racing. Anything from Sprint cars to Hydroplanes. Personally I have only driven drag cars and my husband’s GT4 VW Rabbit on the road course. I did get to spend the day driving a Viper at Pacific Raceways which was incredible,” she said.

“Twenty-five years later and I’m still here telling drivers where to go and loving every minute of it.”

They sit in the flag stations or stand on the asphalt when it’s raining. When it’s 105 degrees. Sometimes when they’ve lost someone. Sometimes when a doctor has delivered bad news. They’re not there so we can go racing, but because they love this sport, the cars, and sometimes, I think they love this as much or even more than we racers do. At least we get the adrenaline, the bragging rights and image. They’re just there.

And we couldn’t be there if they weren’t.

Road Trip

Three of the best days, ever, even though my daughter Sabine and I were taking her sister to catch a plane to Asia. Kacy will be gone for nine months, her entire junior year. The twins have never been separated by that kind of distance, and never for so long.

Hell, they were 18 before they’d spent five days apart.

We drove north from Oregon to Seattle, the girls jabbering at each other and at me. Kacy was especially animated. Normally she’s asleep ten minutes from the door, but on this trip she stayed awake, and every once in a while would blurt out, “Oh! Dada! Did I tell you …?” And she would launch into a story that at least a couple of times would caused Sabine to look at me, or me at her, and wonder almost aloud what tethered her sister to this earth.

We had dinner at a Szechuan restaurant where the pot stickers are hand-made fresh. We ordered favorites: General’s Tsao’s Chicken (me), avoiding the deadly long dried chili pods, and thin-sliced ginger beef with green beans (them). We  shared all of it, though, and left some behind; there was no place to keep it. We stayed near the airport that night so we could take an easy shuttle the next morning. I wanted to avoid potential parking hassle.

Sabine did her best at the huge SeaTac airport, but finally dissolved, crying onto my shoulder. It was time to leave and let Kacy bond with her study group.

Sabine has always been the one with the greatest sense of connection, the one who feels most acutely the loss of separation. This was true when they were 18 months old and we brought the twins out of the mountains of central India.

Then she cried for hours, tiny and sobbing and pasted to my chest in 105 degree heat and 99 percent humidity, probably missing her Aya, her Indian caregiver, perhaps mourning the original loss, again, of her biological mother. We’ll never know. What’s left are echoes of pain.

But she and I’ve had that bond ever since. Even at fifteen, Sabine would call me during especially scary thunder storms.

We drove north from SeaTac to Elliot Bay to look at a sailboat, then had lunch at the marina and continued the father/daughter conversation about life, love, sailboats, and sisters over a cup of chowder and a chicken Caesar (me) and fish and chips (her). She is blossoming at age 20. It’s beyond my comprehension the woman she is becoming. Their mother was a huge influence, of course, and while I did my share when not making horrendous mistakes, I can’t claim large credit.

I can only say that I am so lucky, so grateful, and so joyful at who they are and how much they love me.

During our lunch, my publisher called and said (1) the new book would NOT be out by Labor Day but (2) “I love this more each time I read it.” I let the publisher pick a new deadline without whining about it (October 15) after she explained she has some things to do in the next several weeks, but I was quietly pleased that there would be some time for my own prrofreader (; > )  to go over it, even if on my own dime.

Sabine and I took the Ferry from north of Elliott Bay to Kingston on a stunningly glorious day, 82 degrees clear. Ferry hatches and railings vibrated with the giant diesels, and I said to Sabine, “I think it’s (percussionists) Blue Man Group!” She laughed as I beat the rhythm given to us by the engines.

We listened to music played loud, Alegria and Led Zeppelin and even Pink Floyd, with the sunroof open and the windows down as we drove up to Port Townsend, warm wind blowing the music through our day. We got the last room in town I think, and walked the docks for a few hours while looking at schooner and clipper and ketch. Oh my!

I bought Tom Robbins’ new book (he’s a hero of mine) from Phoenix Rising Books, where Jill, the proprietor, told me Robbins was in his 80s! NO! Sabine got a stone of Chinese mineral and I got a piece of jade, representing prosperity, even as I worried about “no idols before me.”

After a fantastic dinner of elk! (me) and garlic olio pasta (her), she snorted a laugh when I suggested she should tell her mom she was going to drop out of college and take up a career as a tattoo artist.

“Yeah, right!”

We got back to the room and the day wound down.

We left Port Townsend at 10 a.m. or so, after a cup of strong coffee (me) and tea (her) and sharing a wedge of spinach/cheddar quiche Loraine. We stopped to look at tiny “Green Pod” dwellings for sale that are environmentally … “elegant” is the only appropriate word. Beautiful, beautifully crafted, innovative and fun.

They resonated with my girl, who hasn’t a materialistic bone in her body, for their tiny impact, the innovative technologies to save the planet, the obvious lack of compromise because compromise just wasn’t needed. They resonated with me, because excess was eliminated to reduce cost, not ineffable quality, through thoughtful design.

We agreed they would make a very cool beach house.

We meandered along Hood Canal, stopped for gas north of Olympia, and then ambled down I5. I dredged up from deep in my past a story about hunting for flounder there in the flats with a stick, stepping on a hapless fish with bare feet, holding them down with the stick and throwing them to the bank.

I’d offered Sabine the choice of going straight to Salem and home to her mother, or turning left at Portland to go through Hood River.

“I think Hood River,” she said somewhere near Chehalis.

“You aren’t ready to cut the road trip short?” I asked, clearly fishing.

“Um, I don’t THINK so!” she said, making my heart grow three times in size, redrawn each time by Dr. Seuss.

We got gas and had coffee in Hood River, then wandered down to the water park to watch sail boarders and kite surfers. One fellow had a board with a hydrofoil on the bottom, and he flew two feet above the water, with nearly zero wake. We talked about hydrodynamics.

Even when I was an utter bore, she would respond, “That makes sense!”

After a meal of fresh Columbia River salmon (her) and razor clams (me), perhaps the best of hundreds of similar meals, we talked about language. I pulled some parlor tricks out of my bag (Feel your breathing? What about how your elbow feels on the arm of the steel chair? Were you aware of it before I mentioned it? What is awareness, anyway, if we can remember something we weren’t aware of at the time?).

I really was trying to make a point, not just get her to giggle and laugh, though that was reason enough.

I told her we should probably go over Mt. Hood (lot’s of Hoods that day!) rather than up through The Dalles to get her back to her mother on time. I drove at 8 tenths, hitting some high numbers which was a blast all by itself in my rice rocket, like the time we made it from Lafayette to Sisters in a little over 7 1/4 hours. That trip she made the little Wheat Thin sandwiches, we stopped only for gas. She’s the best road trip warrior, I told her again. Ever.

I left her with her mother. It will be months before I see her again. She wept a soft good-bye in my arms. She’s a young woman finding her own place, which is not riding shotgun with her dad.  I left with a large tear rolling down my own cheek, more lonely than I’ve been in a long while.

That’s the bittersweet of connection, I would have told her, had I thought of it at the time. The stronger it is, the more painful that moment when it seems to be gone.

But that’s something she already knew.


The whole weekend felt a little like a balloon three days after the party, when rubber skin once tight and shiny deflates slightly into a flaccid duskiness. Yeah, you can squeeze it and see what was, but each time you do, it goes back to being a little less.

The Columbia River Classic used to be a big event. Not like The Pacific Northwest Historics in Seattle on July 4th, or the Portland Historics usually held the week after. But the Classic, ending the summer on Labor Day, has always been a popular race.

We remember August asphalt that someone once measured at 140 degrees with an infrared thermometer. Crowds. Friends.

There weren’t enough cars this year. It rained, a little, on Saturday. Not enough to matter, just enough to dampen things. Falcon wasn’t there, neither was Stang. There wasn’t a row of Porsches along the back rail. The list of people we remember is getting longer than this weekend’s entry sheet.

Our sport may be dying. We talk about that, trying to think if anything can be done to push back against the tide of demographics, the “aging out,” how to reach a generation that doesn’t love cars, who text rather than cruise. I think we know the outcome, though we pretend there might be solutions.

Family Guys, father and son, talked about it the way they always talk about everything, finding a way to laugh.

“Maybe we use one of the back hoes one of us has sitting around,” said Family Guy Jr. “and dig a row of giant slots. When we die, they put us in the seat of the race car, put it in the hole and fill it up with dirt.”

“Nah,” said Family Guy Sr., “in 50 years they’d come for the car and throw away our bones.”

Canuck showed up for the weekend, though. So did Cowboy. Small Block was there, supported by Kiwi, and Merlin came down with Ceegar. Family Guys, father and son, brought the Rex Easly Studebaker. Beater showed up with his new wicked roadster. Blue Cat showed up with his nice Jaguar.

Magnum, a great guy all of us like and none of us can figure out, was there from Portland with his Tiger. Nice Guy had pulled the twin carbs off his TransAm Camaro and put on a single. It was faster, I think.

Funny how that goes. In a world of “It’s never enough,” sometimes more is too much.

I got a dose of that this week. I’ve been jamming big rubber under the fenders for years, and it finally got to the point where the tire would smoke when I hit a bump. Everybody’s been going to flares since we don’t really have to be production cars anymore. So me too.

The only flares I could find after Road America were big. I put them on in a hurry for this race, didn’t have time to cut them down, and my once sleek and sensual Corvette looked like that woman in the market who wouldn’t let me past to get ice for my cooler, standing in front of the frozen dessert case, her hips four times the width of her shoulders and her basket blocking the aisle.

But I shouldn’t bring that up. It was probably a genetic condition.

It was Canuck’s last race of the season with us, but that’s not why he wanted to win. He wanted to win because he’s Canuck, and because he’s just like the rest of us.

I wanted to win because it’s Portland, and being beat at my home track has twice the sting. Cowboy never seems like he wants to win, except when he’s out on the track and anything goes.

That’s how it went, by the way. In this last race. But bad things happened before we even got to that point.

Gold Mustang wrecked

The Gold Mustang, from even further out in the Oregon weeds than Cowboy and me, showed up. It’s hard to define the difference between what they do and what we do. Some of it’s attitude, I guess. Like they have a chip on their shoulder about nearly everything, and have to make it personal.

Maybe it is personal, at this point, but the Ford vs. Chevy thing seems a little weird by now. Some of it is team judgement, since that car has been involved in most of the car-to-car contact over the last few years, it seems, even with different drivers at the wheel.

Most of us back off when paint or panels are about to be exchanged. But those guys do stuff on the track most of us won’t, which changes how it feels out there, and if they win doing it, there’s a little rooster dance. Feels like a blister you have to ignore to get the job done.

Anyway, Canuck and I were going at it in the first race. I jumped him on the start, and held him behind me until the checker.

I saw Cowboy trying to sneak by me on the inside to my right, but either because he’s done that to me a dozen times, or because I’d been burned that way at Road America, or just because, I moved over. No. Just no. It wasn’t going to happen. Not this time. I thought I’d be able to stay ahead of Canuck and got clear of the chicane with a small margin.

That’s how it happened, too, in that first race. Even though Canuck was turning a time about one-tenth of a second faster than I was over all,  I knew where he needed to be to get around me, and I was where it would take him three tenths of a second to make the pass.

Ceegar got around Gold Mustang on the very last lap of that race. I don’t know where Beater was in that group but I imagine he was right in the middle of the action.

I did the same thing to Canuck in the afternoon. I knew I had more grunt at lower speeds, so I kept the speed low on the pace lap until the green flag and then hammered it to get in front by the first turn.

It worked, and I kept him behind for the entire race. All three laps of it.

Canuck, Cowboy and I were fighting our own battle up front. Behind us, Ceegar had just come onto the back straight, barely ahead of Gold Mustang and Beater. Beater said they were all really tight together. Suddenly, Ceegar’s right rear tire went flat. He started to fish tail.

Some of us would have backed off at that point. But Gold Mustang saw an opportunity and tried to scoot by. It’s hard to time that sort of thing, a fish tailing car, and he tagged Ceegar in the right rear taillight, which put them both into a spin.

Beater had little choice but to try to get through, but Gold Mustang hit the wall and launched across, hammering Beater on the passenger side.

It was a mess. I was in front when we came around and slowed way down to bunch up the field, but they brought the pace car out anyway to keep us under control, then decided to just end the race. It took a while to clean up. They even left Beater’s car out there on the other side of the wall. He picked it up later that evening.

Beater's evil car wrecked

Some of us were hot, because of Gold Mustang’s history of contact. But Cowboy, like he usually does, brought it all into perspective. “They should write it down as ‘Flat tire causes racing incident.’ And then close the book on it.” And that’s what they did.

Yeah, maybe. Even Beater wasn’t willing to lay blame, though Ceegar said that if Gold Mustang had waited even another two seconds, he would have had his car under control and off the track.

Canuck beat me Sunday morning. About the middle of the race, he came into the chicane on the inside and got through before I did. I’d had to mostly stop using my brakes for two laps when the pedal went to the floor after I boiled the fluid front and rear. But he outdrove me the rest of that race, too, with the fastest lap time. Our lap times were within a tenth of a second all weekend. That’s a tenth of a second in a race two minutes long.

But Sunday afternoon, Merlin bled my brakes and Jakester put on what were hopefully my least worn set of tires from Road America in July. Cowboy walked up with a paper crown from Burger King, saying the winner of the afternoon race would get the crown for the weekend. It went on Canucks table just by assumption, I think.

Canuck wasn’t going to let me jump in front this time. Later he said, “I learned something from you in the morning.” He was on the pole so he got to set the speed to the green flag. He set it high, where his motor would have an advantage over mine. But either because he’d stretched out the field getting to that speed, or because Cowboy or someone else was not in line, they waved off the start and made us go around again.

The next time around, the green flag came down but I still couldn’t get in front. Canuck kept me out to the left. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I see Cowboy hurtling by even further to the right, inside of Canuck, running along the rail. I was barely going to be able to slow for the right angle turn. Cowboy didn’t have a chance.

He spun into the center of the chicane. Canuck had to blow straight through instead of turning right to avoid hammering him. I made the turn but barely, bumping over the rumble before making the sharp left to go racing. Canuck kept going, though the rule book says you have to stop and wait for a signal to go again.

I tried to catch him but I couldn’t, even though I had brakes and my tires were working better than the greasy skins I’d taken off. I was closing the gap when we hit traffic, then I ran out of race. It was over.

Back in the pits, Canuck was hot that Cowboy had crowded the start. Canuck knew he was supposed to have stopped, but kind of went back and forth about what he coulda and shoulda. He came over to give me the crown since I was second, but I told him I didn’t want it if I couldn’t beat him on the track and not with the rule book. When he insisted, I told him I would only take it if I posted the fastest lap time.

Cowboy later said his transmission locked up, which is why he spun. It can get a little busy trying to find a gear with a box that doesn’t want to cooperate and you’re in a high speed pack coming to a right angle corner.

I was packing up when Jakester brought over a time sheet. They’d given me the win because Canuck had been penalized one lap for blowing through the chicane, but that didn’t matter to me. What did was I’d posted the fastest lap time.

I asked Jakester to take Canuck the time sheet and bring back the crown.

It’ll go into the personal book as a successful weekend, but like I said at the beginning, it didn’t feel much like a celebration. More like a tired party balloon, or a pizza box half full of cold but whole slices. You’ll peel one off the cardboard, and it can be pretty good, but it’s not quite as good as it used to be, or it could have been. Hard to say why.

For a movie of the classic, click here. It’s just a series of scenes from three of the races, and not meant to do anything besides give a feel of the action.