By Erik Dolson
In Portland, I moved the car forward about two inches in the trailer. That seemed to settle it down as I drove north on I5 toward the track in Seattle. Getting the weight distributed on the trailer axles, and the hitch of my 8,000 pound Excursion, was a balancing act.
I thought I had it right last year, when I moved the car back the same damn two inches.
Google Maps said it would take about two hours, forty-five minutes to get to the track. That seemed about right. I’d be there just before 1 p.m., drop the trailer, get set up for the Pacific Northwest Historic race. Practice on Thursday, race over the weekend. I’d been in the kart a few times, but not raced in almost a year.
Every year, I wonder if this one will be the last. It’s been more than 25 years since Cowboy got me into this craziness. Most years I improve, I find a tenth of a second here or there, but there comes a time …
It was weird. The farther I drove, the longer Google Maps said was going to take. At my usual fuel stop in Castle Rock, after almost 50 miles on the road north of Portland, it was estimated to take 3:06 hours, 20 minutes longer than it was going to take when I left Portland 45 minutes earlier.
I looked for some news. I5 North-bound was closed not too far ahead. A tanker had overturned and spilled 4,000 gallons of used motor oil on the freeway. Cars going through had spread that oil for half a mile.
I got off the freeway and explored new routes through parts of rural Washington State that I’d never seen, along with a freeway’s worth of other cars and trucks trying to get around the mess by driving on narrow roads that followed meandering rivers, struggling through intersections with interminable lights, being cut-off by cigarette smoking women in beater cars, angry that their throughfares had been so invaded and not caring that with fifty feet of truck and trailer at 20,000 pounds, I didn’t have many options.
I finally arrived at the track more than five hours after I left Portland. The news said that the driver of the overturned tanker had been cited for DUII. I thought he deserved capital punishment.
At the track I signed up for practice the next day. Good thing, too. Rusty isn’t the word.
The five-point seat belts didn’t fit after they’d been replaced, but we didn’t figure that out until my glasses didn’t fit well under my helmet and I had to come in after being forced to look through the bi-focal on only one side for half a lap after my helmet vibrated so badly while perched on the buckle that was in the wrong place on the shoulder harness.
It’s the little things, like moving the car two inches in the trailer, or the ten second mistake of a tanker driver on I5 North-bound that took hours away from each of thousands and thousands of people trying to get someplace important to them.
The new brake pads bed in well, though, and by the fourth session out on the track, I had recaptured some of what I hoped to remember about racing a 600 horsepower car 160 miles an hour, then around corners and up and down hills. Done for the day.
After he got off work, crew chief Jakester joined me for dinner at China House, my favorite Chinese restaurant anywhere. The pot stickers were still amazingly large, fat and tasty, the General Tsao’s chicken was crispy and lay among sauteed chili pods. We planned the weekend, talked about Jakester’s work (for Ceegar, one of my favorite competitors), calibrated our communication.
I was looking forward to a good night’s rest, not realizing that the major fireworks display of the holiday had been scheduled for that night, July 3rd, at the horse track I could see right outside my hotel window.