By Erik Dolson
Cowboy was already at the garage when I got there. Mule was finishing up his car, I call her “Ruby” because of the fantastic paint job, she’s a jewel.
“Hey, do you know anybody who works on transmissions?” I asked Cowboy. The automatic in the Ford I use to tow Yellowjacket to races had been acting up, making a spinning noise with maybe a metal on metal screech.
“Call Gitterdone,” he said. “He’s having the transmission done on his Dodge. He researched all of them, and says the shop he found is the best.”
That’s the thing about gear head Big Bore Bad Boys, and probably all the others too, in different cars, Porsches and BMWs and Lotuses and such. They’ll all be in Seattle over Fourth of July weekend, running in what may be still the premier vintage road race in the Pacific Northwest. We race against each other out on the track, but help each other get there, too.
“It’s the people, as much or even more than the racing,” Cowboy said to me once. He’s right, but then, he usually is.
But it’s the racing that has had me researching brake compounds for three weeks, trying to find a brake package that will stop a 3,000 pound car doing 160 miles an hour in time to make a 90 degree right turn, followed by a 130 degree hairpin left.
Oh, you can always stop, if you put the brakes on soon enough. But a good portion of racing, or at least winning, is in putting the brakes on as late as you possibly can, just at the moment when you know it’s too late and are about to spin the car into the fence or into another car or just bust through the turn and sit there waiting for a chance to get back on the track and finish behind those you wanted to beat.
We’ve all done it. Cowboy more than most, but that’s just a matter of style. “The crowd loves it,” he says. It’s also because he has crammed more motor under the hood than the tires can stand, but that’s another story.
It’s the racing that has had many building new engines over the winter, new transmissions, finding something lighter to replace something heavier. Because we want to beat those other racers. But we want to beat them out on the track. If somebody breaks something they don’t have a spare for in the trailer, someone else is likely to give them what they need for the weekend.
It’s the racing that has me trying to find brakes that don’t fade away at the end of a race when I need them the most. I call others to see what they’re using. This time, the answers are not so easy to come by. This has to do with being out there on the track, and we all have our secrets. We all want to win.
It’s weird, in a way. The guys who are toughest to beat are the ones I trust the most. Let’s face it, it takes trust to drive through a kink in the track at 160 mph, concrete dividers on either side, with another car so close you could open his door if you dared take your hand off the wheel. I trust who they are, trust their ability.
For sure, I won’t do that with every driver out there, and not even with every front runner, because for some, how they win isn’t as important as winning. But I will with most, because I trust them.
That’s one of the things I love most about this sport. That contradiction right there. That we’ll do what we can to beat everyone out there who wants to beat us just as bad, but we’ll do what we can so that they can be out there, too.
It’s why at this time of year my heart beats a little faster, my priorities change, why I spend more time thinking about how to spend money on chunks of screaming steel than I do on how to make that money in the first place.
It’s not about prize money, there isn’t any. It’s not about bragging rights, those fade too fast. I suppose it might be about proving ourselves, but only to ourselves, because we don’t care that much about what others think.
We do it because it’s not just what we do, it’s part of who we are. It’s all of it. Finding the parts, making hard decisions, being with friends, spending the money, competing to be the best. It’s stupid fast speeds in cars 50 years old that were never designed for this level of performance, painting them glorious colors, making them more than they ever were.
And, we’ll do it long past the time when we probably should have stopped.
Because it’s never enough.