At the apex

Jakester and I flew in to Chicago on Wednesday. Ceegar and Merlin were on the same plane from Seattle. That was good news. Very good news.

It almost didn’t happen that way. Things got broke, things got fixed, but time was spent and there wasn’t enough Merlin to go around. There was disappointment.  Words were said. Feelings were hurt.

Maybe I mentioned that all the racer boys in this little group are entrepreneurs, self employed. They are risk takers, but have a pretty well honed and intuitive risk/reward brain function. They know what it takes to get it done, and are a little impatient, shall we say, when it doesn’t?

It also means they are Triple “A” Type “A” personalities. That’s one of the things I love most. There is safety in that for me. They don’t roll over me, they don’t let me roll over them, then harbor bad feelings for a life time. They’d rather punch me in the nose than stab me in the back.

And  when one of them says something someone else does’t like, it’s because they are who they are that it has the impact it does. They hold up a mirror, for me and for them, and I realize my life would be much smaller if they weren’t in it.

That’s why we were all on the same plane together on Wednesday. I wasn’t at the center of the problem, but I was “sorta kinda” involved. Things broke on my motor and others. Merlin got jammed up. He rebuilt my engine in a few days so I could get to Road America, and some other stuff didn’t get done for some other people. There were different opinions expressed about that, but not by me. Words were said. Feelings were hurt.

But it got fixed. This may not be pro ball, but it’s not Saturday night at the Dairy Queen, either. I’s hard not to respect the men at this level of the sport. Where there is respect, there can be communication. Where there’s communication, what brings us together can muscle out what pushes us apart, even our own egos. Some times.

And this was one of those times. We got in on Wednesday. By the time Thursday rolled around, most of the bad stuff was done with.

We were racing.

Heading north out of Milwaukee, we entered the essence of America, but some place vaguely alien. It was clean beyond belief. Manicured. Acres of close cropped lawn, mowed by John Deere lawn tractors with triple blade cutting decks that mowed 48 inches wide.

“A piece of trash usually won’t lie by the road for more than a day. Why would we leave trash about?” asked Heidi, hostess at the log B&B where Jakester and I were staying.

Heidi is German. About 60 percent of this area is of German heritage. That may explain it. I don’t know, I’m from MiddleofnowhereOregon. I used to think Oregon was pretty clean. Maybe, but not in comparison to Wisconsin. The roads here are even white, made crushed limestone I’d guess, maybe a white granite if limestone would be too soft.

The incredible track at Road America is made of the same stuff as it sweeps around a small set of hills in graceful arcs. Over four miles long, it climbs and drops and winds about over bridges and under bridges and wraps around a paddock where some of the most graceful and some of the most outrageous cars in the world are parked to go racing. It was humbling to be here, exciting.

Canuck said it wasn’t that big a deal, it just highlighted how lucky we were to have such great tracks in the Pacific Northwest. I disagreed.

“There’s nothing like this on the West Coast,” I said. “Laguna Seca is close, but even that track doesn’t express the complex beauty of Road America.” He just shrugged, but I think he doesn’t want to be impressed.

It isn’t just the physical beauty of the facility, though it match the rest of Wisconsin in manicured attention to detail. But the track itself has flow, pace, harmony. You could put Road America to music. Driving it is like playing music. But maybe that’s just me.

It took all three practice sessions on Thursday to get into the rhythm of it. I’d spent three days running on Road America in a video game, to at least learn the corners. Kiwi, once a professional driver and now a car manager, he hauled my car here, said driving in a video games to driving is like kissing your sister. I never had a sister.

But there is nothing quite like a smooth track pushing back against sticky tires, looping gravity, snarling of a tuned motor on the edge and the gnashing of real gears.

By the third session, “I was feeling it,” as they say. Ceegar and Cowboy seemed to be feeling it too. Falcon wore a smile, though Stang had an issue and was done before the race began. His crank shaft came apart. It was a bad day, and his keys were locked in the truck, too.

“What infuriates me is that they knew it might go, before we hauled it two-thirds across the country and spent $1,600 on airfare” said his wife. Airfare wasn’t a tenth of it, either. She was white and nearly shaking when she said this, but by dinner her steady, gracious self returned.

It’s racing.

Today, we qualify, and we race the first of a half-dozen session. For the next three days, it’s all in. Everything we’ve got. No holdbacks, the way we were holding back in Spokane and Seattle and Portland, saving something for Road America.

Because there’s nothing left to save it for. We’re going to give all we’ve got, leave it all here.

About Erik Dolson

Erik Dolson is a writer living in Oregon
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