It’s Never Enough: Part II

My season started with an email from Jakester in the middle of April, saying the first race was coming up the first weekend in May.

I wasn’t planning to go. In Middleofnowhere, Oregon, the car was in the trailer where she’d been since I’d drained water out of the block last fall. I had my racing license, but hadn’t even paid my annual dues to the club. I thought I’d be race-ready by June.

Jakester was having absolutely none of that. At age 15, he’s still crew chief and decided the season doesn’t begin when we are ready; we are ready when the season begins.

“Time to suit up,” he says. That’s not a direct quote, because Jakester is more discreet than that, but that’s what he meant and I got the message. Three days later we were signed up, fueled up, tuned up and fired up.

Good thing Jakester woke me up. Cowboy called about a day after everything was finished, asking if I was going to the Spring race, and I was able to say, “Yeah, I’m ready. You?”

“Nah, it’s supposed to rain.”

Actually, I think Cowboy doesn’t want anyone to see what he cooked up over the winter. He likes to surprise the rest of us. One thing is certain: It’s going to be fierce. It may look like an older vintage race car, but that’s because it was “built down” from a much wilder machine.

Or “restored to original,” which is how Cowboy describes it. Cowboy is the best there is at getting you to think what he wants you to think just by how he says things. “Restored to original.” No harm in that, right? I bet there are a few details swept under that rug.

Cowboy doesn’t like new rules letting much newer cars into our races, into our group.  Cars that are 15 years newer than ours. Able to run super-light frames, with bigger motors and smooth tires that will allow them to stick to the track like they were glued.

“We’ll be middle of the pack. Might as well kiss this racing good-bye,” he said, thinking our popular production Corvettes, Mustangs, Camaros would be replaced at the front by cars with less appeal. He makes a good argument, but others see it differently.

“We need more cars or it’s all going away,” says Ceegar. “The fact is, those of us who love these old cars are dying off. We need to have newer cars come out. Some guys we used to race with in the past, like Irish, might even return.”

I enjoyed racing with Irish back when he was still involved. He brought to the track the finest automobiles ever made; a TransAm car, an original Cobra. And he’s a lot of fun to be around, smart and enthusiastic.

It’s true. The grids are smaller, and we’re getting older. A lot of guys aged out, or the money ran out, or they just moved on. There aren’t as many of us as there used to be.

Our cars are getting faster, too, and that concerns me a bit. Racing at 170 mph is not just 15 mph faster than 150 mph. It’s a whole different level, with different aerodynamics, different braking forces, and far more demands on a driver to act and react faster than ever when he runs out of track or out of skill or something happens on the track just ahead that he didn’t anticipate.

We’re going as fast as pro drivers did just a few years back, but we’re in machinery that was designed 50 years ago.

I hope we’re all ready for that.

Ceegar will be there this weekend. He’s 100 percent ready, his chief mechanic, O/C, has seen to that. We may not recognize Ceegar, nor O/C. Ceegar’s lost more than 30 pounds, O/C has lost more than 40. They’re on some diet that cuts portions and uses three drops of magic oil: my guess, something between snake oil and 90 weight gear lube, but you can’t argue with those kinds of results. I wonder if I can sneak some into my crankcase.

Excalibur will be there, too.

“We had teething problems last year. I was going nowhere. The first weekend, we ran a 1:31 and it got worse from there. There was one race I brought the car in and said to Stays-Late (his mechanic) that I wasn’t sure if next time I would bring it in in one piece.  After the front straight, I could stand on the brakes with both feet and not know if I was going to make it.”

This winter, Stays-Late told him, “you will have brakes.” That means Excaliber will drive again with the confidence that made him one of the top three on most weekends, but this season in a fresh and much faster car. Whew.

“I don’t need to win. All I know is that I want to do the best I can do,” he says.

Yeah. Okay. When Excaliber starts a sentence with “All I know is…” you can bet that he knows a lot more than he wants you to know that he knows.

As to speeds as high as 170 mph, he’s cautious but confident.

“I believe that’s where we’re all going. That’s something we all have to consider, and hopefully we all have what we need to do the job… Hopefully, it’s not 1,000 percent harder to go five percent faster. But there’s a world of difference between 80 and 140, or between 100 and 160.” Yeah, things that used to go by fast are now just a blur.

Most everybody thinks the rules on car preparation will be more rigidly enforced, and everybody knows that some will take advantage.

“My guess is, that at least at the July 4 race, you will find some interesting interpretations of the rules,” said Excaliber.  “But if you are a superior driver, that can make up for a lack of horsepower. I always thought the driver was an unheralded part of the equation.”

We do talk a lot more about cars than skills, more about horsepower than technique, more about setup than braking points.

The clearly superior driver of our group, by far, won’t be there next weekend at the Spring race. Canuck’s car isn’t quite ready, he says. Lots of little things remain to be done. His mechanic, Swede, is working on it, he says, but Swede has other clients too.

One of them is Falcon, and changes have been made to Falcon’s red car that he likes a lot. ‘Stang will be there in the blue Mustang that just keeps getting better and better and faster and faster. It’s not like either of them has been sitting on their hands all winter.

There are supposed to be some great drivers up from California this year, who can give any of us a run for our money. Canuck thinks they might push us a bit in Portland, but that Seattle takes longer to learn.

It’s said that Kiwi won’t just wrench and manage cars for clients, at least at the big race in July. Kiwi may drive a big-engine Corvette, and Kiwi used to be a professional racer. He intends not just to race, according to someone who overheard, but plans to qualify first with a better time than any of the rest of us.

“There are seven or eight guys who might disagree with that, who are planning the same thing,” Excaliber says. And he’s one of them. Canuck certainly is. Cowboy, always. Captain America will have a shot. Ceegar wins races, and has gotten 105 percent out of that Mustang each year for so long, he’s got to be close to 175 percent of what that car is capable of by now. I’d like to be in the hunt, too.

Seven or eight drivers in the running for first place, and any one of them could take it. A lot will depend on who did what over the winter; what new cars were built, what big changes were made to old cars, or what small tweaks were found that add up to give one of us the edge.

We’re all looking for that edge. We all live a bit on that edge, in a way. It’s not just what we do, it’s who we are. So we’ll keep doing it until we can’t, and keep looking for more.

It’s never enough.


A beautiful turboprop sea plane comes in to pick up passengers at Blue Lagoon Resort. It’s on the beach for maybe ten minutes, loading passengers and gear, then is off to the mainland.

I’m in no hurry and prefer the giant yellow catamaran, a huge marine triple decker transit bus that makes the island circuit once a day and is the only other passage to these north islands.

But none of the hotels where I want to stay have any rooms. I didn’t think the “high season” started for another month, but it’s also Easter Break. Manta Ray Resort, just a long hop down the island chain, has one private room available when I call.

I really don’t want to stay in a dorm. I don’t need posh, but there are some things a man my age shouldn’t do. Manta Ray is also supposed to have tremendous snorkeling right off the beach.

I pick a seat in the shade on the second deck. Zoe and Alice come sit down across from me after they bake long enough in the sun on the unshielded deck above. The two blond girls have freckles. Zoe, for about the tenth time since I met her, asks why I am traveling alone.

“She emailed you from the next room?! She didn’t want anyone to know you were together? She’s just mental then,” Zoe lays out in her thick Essex English accent. “You’re a good guy!”

I start to defend you: “Two sides to every story… I’m sure she had reasons… ” and then stop. It doesn’t matter.

“Thank you. I think I’m a good guy, too,” I say.

I go down at one point to find my snorkel bag. I’d planned to carry it but the resort guys gathered it up with all the rest of the luggage and it wasn’t tagged with a destination. A crew member helped me find it, we tagged and moved it to the pile going to Manta Ray Resort.

We get to Manta Ray and I say goodbye to Zoe and Alice. There’s just four of us getting off here, Claire from Switzerland and a young Japanese couple. The resort check-in person assumes Claire and I are a couple despite the age difference, and starts to check us into the same room.

“That would work for me, but I think Claire might have another idea,” I say when I catch the error on the paperwork. We all laugh.

It’s nice not worrying how every word will be construed.

Manta Ray is not as upscale as Blue Lagoon. My room on stilts is about 10 foot square, and the bearings in the fan may not last the another month. I unpack as much as I think is prudent, then decide to write for a while.

That decision lasts less than 10 seconds. I did not come to Fiji to write when some of the best snorkeling in the world is 30 meters off the beach.

I toss my glasses on the bed and pull my fins and mask out of the green mesh bag (so glad I didn’t lose it on the ferry!) and head down to the beach. After everything is adjusted, I swim out, turn to my right against the current and do a crawl out to deeper water.

There are a zillion fish, and the corals look like they were dipped in the finger paint from third grade.  It’s magical. Eventually, clouds roll in and I don’t like snorkeling alone, so after I dive down to pick up a D cel battery lying on the ocean floor, I swim straight back to the beach while the current pushes me south and I end up right where I set off.

I put my fins on the concrete shelf and am deciding if I should get something to drink when I’m pulled into a game of volley ball by Christina, a six-foot tall German girl with a Teutonic-tinged English accent .

On about the third serve, the other side puts a ball right in a dead spot near me. I do a full stretch body slam onto the sand but reach out with one fist and get the ball up and we make the point. There are oohs. Geezer guy plays!

We play five sets, and finally I bail out.

“I’m too old, you’re too good!” I say as I head to the ocean to cool off with a swim. They’re polite about it.

After dinner, three of the guys who’d been in the game asked if I was going to play tomorrow.

“Depends on two things: The snorkeling might be really good. If it is, I’m going to be in the water. If the snorkeling isn’t so good, then I’ll play… if I’m still able to move my right arm, that is. And if my right hamstring is okay. And my left elbow. My right hip, too. And if I still have a large bottle of ibuprofen left in my bag…”

They laugh. Eric, Gustov and Magnus are from Sweden. Eric says I look Swedish. I say that’s where most of my blood comes from.

The sun is bright the next day. I write, have lunch, grab my snorkel gear and wish I’d loaded my Go-Pro to take photos underwater instead of a Sony that doesn’t work.

It’s bright all the way to the sand valleys that meander between the coral. Bright silver fish and dark blue fish and black and yellow striped fish browse the coral heads for lunch.

There’s a couple not far away and I sort of stay in an area with them, so as not to be really snorkeling alone.

It’s so incredibly beautiful that I’m not diving down to the bottom as I often do for a better look at details. I’m just taking it all in when about fifteen feet away a five-foot shark swims through my field of vision.

The animal is amazing, with movement not lazy, not by ocean fish on the reef standards, more like it’s hyper efficient. It can’t hide, nor waste a lot of energy on unsuccessful frenzy, so it moves with a rhythmic, strong but easy sweep of it’s tail. Smooth is fast, right, Racer Boy? It seems nonchalant, but I imagine the fish around me are quite aware the predator isn’t just out for a swim.

I am.

“Did you see that shark!” says the man behind me. I point to where it disappeared into the green curtain of underwater distance, and nod.

I didn’t know how I’d respond if I saw a shark out here. I’m thankful I’m cool with it, also thankful that it was swimming away from me when I see it. But for the next half hour, I’m looking backwards forwards and to each side with a little more intensity than I had been before the shark swam by.