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.


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About Erik Dolson

Erik Dolson is a writer living in Oregon

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