Moving up

Out of 63 race cars in our group at Road America, Canuck qualified 11th yesterday. I was  right behind him at 12th, Ceegar was at 17. He was the second fastest Mustang on the course, and there are a lot of very fast Mustangs.

“We’re at Road America!” Merlin has said more than once. The mantra has been picked up by others. This is Road America, where big boys come to play.

I was awful in morning practice. Nothing flowed.  I spun it in Turn 13 because I forgot that when you’re nearly airborne, there isn’a a lot of traction to be had to finish the turn. And then the session was shortened. A yellow Corvette banged into another as they came through Turn 14 onto the main straight,. Yellow flew into the wall and  wiped out the back half of his car, the driver side front corner. The victim Corvette was fixed up with duct tape.

But in qualifying in the afternoon, as soon as the green flag flew I was hollering loud into my helmet to get my adrenaline up. I wasn’t dancing and I wasn’t smooth, but I closed the gap on Canuck  and a few of the locals driving monster cars.

Cowboy broke, and this time, it was bad. Mule thinks the half shaft had a fault in the casting. It could be that Cowboy puts out so much power now that he just twisted the stock U-joint in two. Doesn’t matter. The end result was that the half shaft kept spinning, and tore through the underside of the his car, and into his oil tank.

When I left last night, they were still working to fix it, and if anyone could find the parts and get her done, it’s Cowboy and his crew.

Nice Guy was discouraged. His times are getting slower. The track is working him over pretty good. And Beater, too.

Beater arrived the night before by plane from Seattle, and he drove the track the first time yesterday morning. Sometimes Beater feigns speechless, sometimes he’s just being careful. But he didn’t have much to say by the end of the day. He knew Road America wasn’t going to give anything away.

“I know I could just let somebody pass me and follow them and copy their line, but I want to figure it out myself,” he said while changing out of his driving suit.

“I disagree. Follow somebody,” I replied. “Follow somebody for as many turns as you can keep up, then follow the next one to get around you.”

“You think so?” Beater looked up at me. I shrugged. Given that his recent times in Seattle were better that mine, while driving a car he isn’t used to, I was reluctant to give him even that much. But here, we’re not competitors, we’re teammates. It’s really good to have him and his wife Lady K in the paddock.

Small Block is here with his family. He’s getting faster, but may have his hands full with distractions.

There was a horrific wreck that destroyed two Corvettes at the end of the main straight. I don’t know if neither would give ground, but the rear was nearly chopped off one, and the other was a mangled mess. I don’t think either driver was hurt, but we’re doing a buck and a half at that point, minimum.

Kiwi’s son fell out of the  golf cart last evening. Kiwi and his wife spent a good portion of the night and next day at the hospital. Jackalope had nausea, etc. Of course, he is the son of a Kiwi race car manager. He has a couple of burns, like one from an exhaust pipe. It was all enough to draw a little extra scrutiny to Kiwi from the hospital.

“I raised my son to learn and to do things, “ Kiwi said.

“Sometimes kids take a tumble,” I agreed.

Kiwi and his wife are great parents. Jackalope has red hair, Kiwi pointed out to me. A breed apart, he implied.

Sometimes I have second thoughts about where to draw the line with kids. Merlin says me having even one second thought can take half a day, considering how slow I think. We want children to be safe, but at what point do we create hothouse flowers from otherwise healthy plants?

Jakester draws attention as my crew chief. People comment on how hard he works.

He has gone from being a boy I wanted to encourage, to being indispensable. He changes tires. He torques wheels. Airs up tires to precise pressures. Reminds me when to get ready. Straps me into the car. Gets wrenches. Puts tires on the shelf, brings fuel jugs.

Yesterday, Merlin taught him how to bleed brakes. They were under my car, Jakester spotting leaks, Merlin telling him which leaks were insignificant, and why.

Have I mentioned Jakester is thirteen? He is absorbing this world and these people … he grows, nourished by their respect and admiration. I see changes in him over even these few days.

Last night we wandered through a crowd of five or ten thousand people who love these old race cars, were thankful we were there, putting on this show. It was incredible.

And while we were gawking, somehow, unbelievably, Cowboy got back in the game. He raced again on Saturday.

“Mule, how did you DO that?” I asked his mechanic. They’d welded up the oil tank, somehow. Found a new half shaft. Repaired the damage. Not like new, but race ready.

“It’s what I do, you know that,” was his reply.

Of course, near the end of today’s race, a Mustang came up behind Cowboy, gave him a tap and moved on past, leaving a scrape of white on the driver’s side rear. It seemed to be intentional.

Kind of like the Corvette that suddenly put on his brakes just as Ceegar went by him at 160 mph, and as I was closing fast. I went around him too, but I was off line and had to hit my brakes hard, nearly going off course, but then went on to chase Ceegar down the hill into Turn 3.

I would close the gap on Ceegar, he would shut the door and squirt away, then I’d run him down again. I pushed him until his brakes locked up and he spun out in Turn 12. No damage, just like this morning, when I spun it in Turn 13.

I’ve burned through nearly a full set of brake pads this weekend. We swapped the rears to the front to get a little more life out of them, because I didn’t bring spares. I never use up a set of pads on one weekend.

But this is Road America. We heard today that the locals thought the boys from the Pacific Northwest were “show poodles.”

After today’s qualifying race, Canuck moved up to fifth overall, I moved into 11th, according to Jakester, who had our time sheet. Ceegar is now the fastest Mustang. Falcon is wearing a wide smile, driving well on this beautiful track. Small Block is improving, and even Beater made it over to the first page of the time sheet, despite having one less day of track time.

We have one more race, tomorrow. We’d like to do well.

“Show Poodles?” We’ll see about that.

About Erik Dolson

Erik Dolson is a writer living in Oregon
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