It’s Never Enough

It’s tough to see a car on its top. It’s worse when medics have a driver on the ground.

But we were told Earnest was all right. By the time I got back to the pits, he’d already been seen up and walking around his car. They probably put him on the ground as part of protocol.

There was some controversy about that when Big Mac, who was maybe the fastest of any of us until the wreck that put him out of racing, balled up his car at the end of the front straight.

Some said they allowed him to take his helmet off and shouldn’t have, that he was moved and moving way too soon. I don’t know, I’m not qualified to vote on that one. That was a car just like the one Earnest flipped yesterday. A car just like mine, now that I think about it, except I don’t have a top.

Earnest went off a few yards from where Canuck went up the hill into the blackberries in July after a piece of his suspension broke. I don’t know and don’t know if anybody will know what happened to Earnest. The day before I told him what a great job he was doing, how well he was driving. His times were getting very good. But it’s not just about going fast.

Earnest's corvette

Some say he was on old, old rubber. He had a flat in an earlier race, and someone said he patched the tire. That’s the thing. This sport takes a lot of time or a lot of money, and sometimes both. Some of us have to do what we can to make ends meet, but sometimes there aren’t any shortcuts.

There’s no shortcut to seat time, either, and Earnest doesn’t have a lot of it. He’s got  a car that can bite if you make a mistake. But stuff happens. Look at Canuck going into the blackberries in July, and he’s better than any of the rest of us.

Swede, who had built most of the car for Earnest, went over to check on him, and probably to check if anything he had built broke and caused the wreck. Earnest gave  gave him a big hug. And Earnest is a really big guy, so it was a really big hug.

“I was on my top and the cage held,” is what Earnest told him. Swede was pretty happy about that, too. The cage didn’t budge. Earnest was still really tall.

Ceegar’s mechanic, OCD, felt pretty bad when Ceegar’s mirror came off in Spokane at the beginning of the season. Merlin doesn’t just change out broken pieces, or pieces that look like they’re about to break, he changes out pieces that were installed at the same time as other pieces that look like they maybe once thought about breaking. Shade Tree’s the same way. They don’t really compromise when it counts.

They know what could happen if they miss something. Which is one reason why we look to them to do what they do. They are the kind of people who work really hard to make it right. Stayslate (Beater’s mechanic), Swede, Thrasher, OCD, Merlin, Shade Tree. These guys don’t just handle wrenches, they know what’s at stake.

Honestly? I don’t know if they would still be able to do it if something they built broke and there was a really bad outcome.

They can’t protect us drivers from ourselves, though, and if Earnest went out on bad tires, then he paid a pretty damn high price for the few hundred dollars saved.

I say this while I run tires I’ve run hard since I bought them to race at Road America last July.

All this is pretty serious stuff and I didn’t mean to get into it like that, but hey, I am who I am. I tried to explain that to a woman once, and the conversation didn’t go well. She told me, women marry men thinking they’ll change them, men marry women thinking they’ll never change. She was much wiser than me, and that’s probably why she’s not still around.

I confirmed with Ceegar that he set three personal best times this weekend in Seattle. It was perfect for racing. Air temps were cool, and cars just love that. Rains had washed the track clean, so tires stuck in every session. And though there weren’t enough cars out there, those that were ran well.

For several years I’ve wanted to get another 1:29:plus in Seattle. It happened this weekend in a race I didn’t win, but took second, again. In fact, that’s probably why it did happen. I’m always faster when I’m playing chase.

All the laps and races start to blend together now, especially since last night’s drive home was brutal, after waking up at 4 a.m. yesterday morning and not getting back to Middleofnowhere, Oregon until close to midnight. Up again this morning at 4 a.m., again. Tired and wired.

But what I do remember is that when I did wake up yesterday, I was trying to figure out how to get in front of Ceegar.

I finally distilled it down to “Shift sooner, brake later, go faster.”

Yeah, I know. Simplistic. But sometimes you need simple to break bad habits, especially if you tend to overthink things. So I was shifting sooner, and in that session, tried to shift into fourth before Turn Nine instead of after, and several times, right in front of the crowd, I either went into second, or couldn’t get it into gear at all. But not every lap, and I put down one really fast one.

But I didn’t win. Later, Ceegar asked me “what happened to you in nine? All of a sudden you disappeared?” I confessed I missed a shift. So he teased, ”Third is up and to the right.”

“I thought that’s where fifth is,” I said, looking confused, then put my hand over my mouth and acted as though I’d blown it completely. Ceegar and other drivers standing there hooted. You see, we’re only supposed to have four speeds forward. Four is all I have, too, I was trying to make a joke.

But it wasn’t a long time after that when OCD, Ceegar’s mechanic, was looking in my car and saw my four speed knob.

“How do you know where fifth gear is?” he asked, or something like that.

So after my pretend gaff, and maybe it’s entirely unrelated, Ceegar’s car went into the trailer. They changed the rear end gears, I could smell the gear lube from 20 feet away. They went a little taller, I think, maybe to match what they might of thought would be a fifth gear overdrive in my car. I don’t know. I’m just making it up at this point.

At lunch time, I got to take Thor, who works pregrid, out on the track for a ride. Came back in and took Jakester’s dad out for a couple of laps, then the Jakester. “Awesome,” they said. I used the sessions to work on my line.

Ceegar was on the pole, again, for the first race in the afternoon. I jumped him, again and went through the gears quickly. I didn’t wind the engine out but kept it right in the middle of where it loves to make power.

Shift sooner.

By the time we came to Turn 2, I had just enough on him, three-quarters of a car length he’d say later, that I slowly eased over to the left, squeezing him back as I took over the racing line.

“I thought I’d put my nose in there to see if I could intimidate you into giving it up,” he said. No, not today.

Down the hill into Turn 3A, I waited, and waited, to come off the gas, then hit the brakes hard and downshifted into first.

Brake Later.

Squirting out of Turn 3B, I hurtled down the back straight, shifted sooner and used what I’d seen Ceegar do in previous races: I didn’t slow down much through the tricky Turn 5 (where Earnest would later land on his top)  but danced through, and when I could, I put the accelerator to the floor.

Go faster.

Coming out of Turn 8, foot to the floor, I would shift into third, foot to the floor, slight lift over the bump so I wouldn’t spin the tires when she got light, let her gather up, foot to the floor, fourth gear, foot to the floor, thread the needle between the dirt and wall at Turn 10, don’t lift, over the hump at Turn 1, wait, wait wait, brake and downshift, hold smooth, foot to the floor.

Ceegar got smaller and smaller in my mirror. It was so very sweet.

After the race, Jakester put the other old Road America Tires on Yellow Jacket. We refueled. Checked the oil. We sat.

In the mean time, Ceegar’s Mustang disappeared back into his mobil shop. Again I smelled the sulfurous stench of gear lube. I figured they were going to shorter gears this time, to get a jump on me out of the hole.

Thing is, in a fight, your opponent always gets a vote. And in this case, I was on the pole. That meant I could stuff the ballot box.

When the pace car left the field and we were on our way to the green flag, Ceegar started to accelerate. He was nearly a half car length in front of me, where he should not have been, before he saw that I was going slow. Real slow. He had to slow down to match position. Real slow.

I’d figured if he went to real short gears, I wanted him to be in first gear and low rpm when we got the green flag. His car has so much juice that he can’t stab the throttle in first or he’ll just smoke the tires. He would have to ease into it, or bog it in second.

Green flag. Yellow jacket hooked up her (yes, much fatter) tires. Ceegar fishtailed trying to get that screaming orange monster to put power to the pavement. I was first to Turn 2. And I was ready to fly. But when I next look in my mirrors, it was Beater behind me. And the next lap around, Ceegar was off to the side of the track in Turn 3B, and he was standing in the turn worker station.

A half mile ahead, Earnest is upside down, hanging from the straps. They are waving Double Yellow Flags, white flags.

I slow down, way down, to bunch up the field. They next lap around, they have Earnest out on the ground, making sure he’s okay. This race is done. But Earnest is okay, and they bring his broken ride in on the trailer.

Ceegar dropped out on that first lap because the battery cable to his starter motor shorted out on a header. You could see the burnt black plastic insulation. I don’t know if it was the result of last minute work or had been trying to burn through the whole weekend and finally found ground. But he pulled over rather than lose the car.

So the last race really wasn’t. That’s okay. No one was hurt, and I can’t remember a better weekend of racing. Others have said the same thing.

I think Ceegar goes to Sears Point in a week or two. Canuck is headed to Texas to a big race down there. Cowboy is done for the season, and so am I. Jakester has football and a girlfriend and school work. His coach told guys on the team to get girlfriends who play sports so they won’t complain (or feel lonely) when they have to practice. Jakester’s girl plays soccer.

Merlin is already busy, busy. He isn’t just an artisan and a magic maker, he is a principled perfectionist. So he’s told clients and potential clients they need to take a number, and probably by next month, if they want anything done over winter. There’s only so much time, and even Merlin can’t change that.

I’m thinking of giving him some work to do. I think I’ll have Shade Tree pull my motor in a week or so, and then I’ll run it back up to Seattle, and let Merlin wave his wand.

Because next year, Canuck will have the big car out, Beater will be back with his evil looking ’69 that wrecked in Portland, Ceegar and OCD never stop improving, and who knows what Cowboy is cooking up way, way out there on the prairie.

So I have to do something over the winter, if I want to keep up. Because no matter how much there is, and how well you do, there’s always something left to be done if you want to play with these guys, the way we play. You can’t stop or you’ll get left behind.

Besides, getting better and going faster and playing harder isn’t something you do just once and go home. There’s always more, and it’s never enough.

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About Erik Dolson

Erik Dolson is a writer living in Oregon

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