Spokane is a seven-hour pull from Middleofnowhere, Oregon. My old Ford felt a lot better hauling the trailer after a $3,600 tune up, but distance is time and time is money, as they say.
Sometimes it feels like I’m running out of both.
Which is the main reason I’m not going to Indianapolis with the rest of the Big Bore Bad Boys. Cowboy made it as easy as he could, saying he had an extra room, and that Canuck could probably get my car there for hundreds instead of thousands of dollars. Cowboy said he could even get me registered, late as it was, and if anybody could do that, it would be Cowboy.
“C’mon. You need to go. There will never be another chance like this,” he said.
He’s right. A chance to race the road course at Indy against some of the best drivers in the world won’t come around again. But then, there’s that time and money thing, and a commitment I’d made to Irish to be someplace else that weekend.
So instead, I headed out across some pretty desolate country to Spokane. I was supposed to pick up my crew chief Jakester at the airport at about 11 p.m. I could have driven over and picked him up in Portland, but that would have added four hours to the trip.
He’s also 15 and had something to do for school. I try to make sure racing doesn’t interfere with school.
Merlin pulled in to the track at Spokane to help Kiwi set up his operation of four or five cars for clients. Kiwi hadn’t arrived so we were on our way to get dinner when I got a call from the Armadillo, who sells parts and fuel.
His truck blew a front tire and it took out a bundle of wires. The owner of a tire shop had gotten him off Interstate 90 and replaced the tire, but the shredded wire harness left him stranded.
Armadillo was about 130 miles west, back the way we’d all driven earlier in the day. It wasn’t really our problem, though Armadillo had fuel I needed, and some for Kiwi. Merlin likes a lot of octane for his engines, and you can’t get that many places. Just as important, Armadillo was stranded. Merlin had the knowledge maybe to fix it.
“You know we’re going, right?” Merlin said to me, before we ordered our meal. I was already on the phone to Jakester’s mom, getting it cleared for Merlin’s wife to pick up Jakester at the airport.
I didn’t have much to offer besides a couple of tools and some conversation, but after a quick dinner and a long drive, Merlin rewove the color-coded wire harness. Some of it Viking had already done when he drove by and saw Armadillo stranded. We wrapped it up sometime after midnight, and followed Armadillo to the track in case something came loose. It was about 3 a.m when we finally said good night.
After the practice on Friday, race cars were allowed to caravan into downtown Spokane, a surprisingly lovely little city. We put on our show, had a few meat balls for dinner, and headed back to the paddock for the racing the next day.
photo by Jake Bobst
The track at Spokane is a little hard on the cars. On the back stretch, there’s a series of rolling ups and downs that slower cars feel as small hills. It’s a bit different for us: there’s a picture of Ceegar’s Mustang from two years ago with his tires in the air. When I come down, there’s a shower of sparks when my headers grind against the pavement.
photo by … unknown
Ceegar wasn’t racing the Mustang this weekend. He was really there to test and tune his new project, a very rare and beautiful Ford Can-Am car with a big, 429 cubic inch motor shoe-horned into the smallest imaginable package, weighing about 1,000 pounds less than my Corvette but packing far more punch.
photo by AeroSportPhotography
It was from the era when “anything goes” lured manufacturers to create some mind-bending machines.
Ceegar owns the original, but for five years debated what to do with it. He was reluctant to risk a piece of precious Ford history in a race, so the one brought to Spokane was hand-built from scratch by Billy Rhine, using the original as a “pattern” and parts either recently found, newly made or some Ceegar had for years. Rhine was at Spokane to help Ceegar sort it out.
I won my first two races of the weekend, having to work damn hard to stay in front of a Porsche that just ate me up in two hair-pin corners. I was slowing too early, and too much, for the tight corners, tip-toeing around in stead of driving.
In the next race I spun trying to fend off Smallblock, one of Kiwi’s clients, driving his Skoal Bandit Nascar ride. Smallblock has become a really good driver with a lot of seat time and Kiwi’s support.
photo by AeroSportPhotography
Tight to the corner so he couldn’t dive inside of me, I was carrying too much speed for that sharp a turn. I felt my old tires give it away, then with my nose in the dirt I got to watch cars go by. I hate doing stupid things.
But I made it back up to fourth, so would start right behind the front row, and thought I could take them on the start if I paid attention.
“Drive your own race,” Jakester said after he yanked my harness tight.
I couldn’t believe it. I’ve been racing more years than he’s been alive, and here he was, giving me the exact same advice I’d be giving him if he was sitting in the driver’s seat. I laughed out loud inside my helmet, but he couldn’t hear that.
As I came to each turn, I shouted it out loud, “Drive your own race!” braked late, took my line and pushed my foot to the floor on exit. I was putting them away, and reeled in the Nascar.
Then, two laps before the checkered flag, my Corvette just stopped dead. It “felt” electrical, maybe as simple as a loose wire that fell off in Spokane’s bumps, or maybe I fried the coil.
That was it for me. It was Sunday, it had been a long weekend, with a long drive in front of me back home. I rebooked Jakester’s flight for early afternoon instead of the evening.
“Hey, what’s with you flying in for the race, and flying home, while I drive seven hours each way?” I asked as I drove him to the airport. He laughed.
“Next year,” he said, when he would be 16 and actually had a driver’s license.
I can’t go to Indy with the rest of the guys. That’s the way it is. There are other commitments, then a pressure tank and water heater to replace on board Foxy. The parts aren’t too expensive, and I’ll do the work myself. Time and money are a little short, but I’ll get to learn something. There’s also a book draft to get to an editor in L.A. who has probably forgotten I exist, it’s been so long since we talked.
“Drive your own race,” Jakester said. Sheesh. Where’s he get that stuff? But sometimes, even when the tires are worn and there’s a spin, or something breaks and we don’t finish, driving your own race is pretty damn good even when it seems to be never enough.