Drive it like you stole it.

Cowboy got me into this nearly 20 years ago and he keeps upping the ante every damn year. The last motor he built had compression like odds in Vegas. What, 30 to one?

When he started it up it sounded like somebody lit a string of very nasty, crackly rifle rounds. The gas wasn’t burning in the cylinders, it was popping and snapping and sounded like distilled anxiety.

One of these days something we build is just going to go too damn fast, or blow up at exactly the wrong moment, or we’ll nudge each other some place where the mistake has consequences. But until then, this is what we do. Every year it’s the same: It’s never enough.

Of course, it could be Ceegar. Seattle has a long line of great gentlemen racers going back a lot of generations. The Armstrongs, with the GT 40 and Corvette Gran Sport and the ZO6; Flannigan, who drove a BMW 2002 like he was in a whole different class than anyone else on the track. He was.

Waster, with the most amazing stable of exotics I’d ever seen. Some damn fine cars, too. Once he sent his jet back from Laguna Seca to Seattle to get a spare engine to replace one he blew up right in front of me in the Corkscrew. First time I’d spun in that car. When his replacement engine got there first thing the next morning, Waster had to buy a $15 head gasket from Cowboy. I thought Cowboy should have charged at least $100, then bought us all coffee.

But Ceegar just drives the wheels off that Mustang. And helps the rest of us, to boot. On more than one occasion he let me go down and pick through his pile of not-quite used-up tires. What kind of competitor does that? He does, which is another reason why I don’t mind being wheel to wheel with him at close to 160 mph with a left-right-left hairpin turn coming up fast.

I’ve followed him around enough turns to watch Ceegar handle the steering wheel. He doesn’t drive that car as much as point it and pull the trigger. His hands are constantly working, trying to keep that live axle pointing that impossibly eager motor in the intended direction. He could blow something up one of these days, but O.C., his crew chief is always, always on.

Could be Beater. One time, Beater lost his driveshaft. Tell you what about that: When the front of a drive shaft lets go, you don’t just stop. It drops, still attached to the rear end. If it doesn’t pole vault you, it is still spinning when it hits the pavement. Then it is whipping. Then it’s tearing into your car like God’s own power cutter, and most of that is happening about three inches from your lap and everything your lap currently contains.

Beater installed a shaft retainer after that. On the car. So did I. But Beater is by far the most improved driver out there. He and Ceegar go at it month after month, small block against small block, Corvette versus Mustang, driving each other to be faster, to be better, to beat the other.

Speaking of helping each other out, Beater gave me a transmission last year when I blew mine up. Then I blew his up, too. There was, as we say, a mechanical problem. An expensive one. I rebuilt both, gave his back to him. Who knows who will use it next.

Beater talked to me once about trading cars, plus a little bit of money. Not nearly enough money. I told him I’d need another 20 grand just to fix the things he’d cut out and thrown away, paint, etc. etc.

“But I like the way my car looks!” he said. Yeah, and leaving it like that hurts him less if he swaps paint with you. I know this frm personal experience. We’ve raced cheek to cheek, as it were. Boy he’s gotten good. I’m glad we didn’t trade. If I was driving his car and not winning, everyone would say my car was good, not me. If he didn’t win in my car, everyone would say he wasn’t that good. That’s a lot of downside.

There’s Falcon, too. Nobody nicer, and in my opinion, nobody with bigger — ballistics. Coming out of Turn Nine in Seattle, that damn red car has tasted the gravel more than once.

“Just got to ride it out,” Falcon says. Yeah, because even thinking about touching the brakes in that situation would put him nose-first into the wall at well over 100 mph. I don’t even like being behind him when he does that, cuz watching it scares me too bad.

The Swede, who works on Falcon’s car, said, “nobody can imagine what it takes to drive that red Ford that well.” Actually, I think we can. Respect is earned.

Captain America has a car a lot like mine. A ’69 big block Corvette. Red White and Blue. Sunuvagun looks like Howard Hughs. In the good years. He’s gotten so good as a driver, we all had to up our game. Sometimes I walk over to his crew trailer to congratulate him, sometimes just to steal grapes from what looks like a chef-prepared spread. Just the grapes. The sweet ones.

Then there’s Canuck. He whipped my butt last year. I’d beat him more often than not in year’s past, if not in Seattle then at least at my home track in Portland. Not last year. His Camaro sounds like it’s running a NASCAR motor.

He has to be revving it more than nine grand, so I think it is. It defines the term “Screamer,” at least in terms of cars. Canuck has always had an “in” with Joe Gibbs Racing. Maybe he’s downstream on some engine enhancements, too.

To top that off, Canuck is building a ’69 Vette, like mine. He might not be catchable for the rest of my racing days. He’s building the car out of the wreck of one of our favorites. Originally it was known as “The Dick Bech Car.” Black and menacing. Dick retired when he was 70 something, a promise made to his wife, I think. After a couple of owners it was raced by Big Mac, another Seattle racer. Fastest on the course, by seconds!

Until one weekend. I hated the decision the racing committee made to make the very first outing on the track a qualifying round. I said so at the time, too. We’d been working on the cars, it was the biggest race of the year. We’re always tweaking. We leave things off. Everything isn’t always tightened. And even if it is, we are not at our sharpest for at least the first couple of sessions.

There were lots of theories about what happened to Big Mac when he went through Turn One at over 160 miles an hour. There’s a hump there, cars get light. As Cowboy said once, “There’s a bit of a pucker until your tires touch the ground again.” We don’t actually get air, but it feels like it. You absolutely do not want to touch the brakes in that spot, or have anything break.

I’ve forgotten how many times they said Big Mac flipped. When I came through the turn, his car was on the berm just off the pit entry road. Was it on its top? I don’t remember. I do remember looking at the car before they covered it up after they brought it back to the pits. It was a mangled tangle of steel and fiberglass.

Big Mac suffered a lot of headaches for a long, long time, and he never raced again. Probably doctor’s orders.

Canuck is rebuilding that car, and that car means a lot to us, for a lot of different reasons. The trouble for me is, Canuck has been racing karts all over the West Coast for the last few years, and he has sharpened his skills to nearly a professional level. He is now the best driver. Plus, he can afford to put anything he wants into any of his cars. He may be unbeatable in anything he drives. I guess we’ll see.

Some of it depends on what Cowboy has come up with over the winter. The most devious, the wiliest, and smartest racer out there, he’s been racing a lot longer than the rest of us, too, and knows every trick on the track. He can give a faster car behind him exactly six-too-few inches to pass, on either side. I’ve seen him leap curbs for position.

A few years back, as soon as the green flag fell, (“You wanna watch their elbow,” he told me) he went by about 12 cars before we got to the first turn, passing on the inside next to the wall. I was going to do the same thing, but he beat me to it and was exactly where I wanted to be. I got pinned behind the slugs. I guess there was room when he went by, but a few drivers didn’t think so. There was definitely no place to go if anyone else decided to move over there.

Cowboy got a talking to for that one. They say a race isn’t won on the first lap, but but it sure can be lost there. We laughed for days.

Last year, his car was crazy fast, and this year, rumor has it that his new tires are so wide they could lie flat on their side and hold up a usable coffee table. Which means they can’t be legal because they’re the same size as mine, but never mind that.

Some people think this is a parade. Or, as officials tell us before every race, “The cars are the stars.” True enough, there’s no prize money. That doesn’t mean we don’t race.

Oh. Then there’s me. I drive a big block corvette, black and yellow. Sexiest car out there at times, in my opinion, but maybe that’s just because I designed it. It even has its own fan club. That’s right, my car has a fan club.

Well, I help out with that. I’ve won a few races over the years. To the point where everybody thought I was cheating. How would winning races prove I was cheating, unless they were all cheating too?

I even had an ex-girlfriend say once when she was mad at me that the only reason I won races was that I built a bigger motor than everyone else and just drove away. But she didn’t know racing much better than she knew me. The guys I race with know how I drive. Sometimes I wonder what she’s been up to.

I don’t have the biggest motor, certainly not the most expensive, not in that bunch, and I don’t think my 427 is even close to the most powerful. But I’m not going to say more, because those guys are really competitive, when we’re not helping each other out, and each of us has beat the other and would like to do so again.

You can call me Spider.

About Erik Dolson

Erik Dolson is a writer living in Oregon
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5 Responses to Drive it like you stole it.

  1. Erik Dolson says:

    This is the first installment of what I hope will be a little story, “Never Enough” about the 2014 racing season. Blame the Cowboy first, and then a few others second – that’s you, Dick Bech and Dick Albrecht. There have been a few others of you who’ve asked, and after Costa Rica, I finally came around. This might be fun.

    By the way, there are no guarantees that any of this is true, m’kay? I may make up shtuff just because I like it, or leave out stuff because I thought I should. HOWEVER: I welcome your comments, suggestions, attaboys or “You bonehead!” Tell me what you want to see!

    Yes, I made up names for everyone. I could say it was to protect the guilty, but everyone knows who is who. I did it because it makes my characters into caricatures, and that makes it much, much easier to write about. I don’t have to worry what about what Irish thinks, but John is a different story.

    Other characters will be introduced. You’ll know them, too. I can’t wait for you to meet Family Guys. They race a Studebaker. No, really.

    The only request I make is that you leave those comments here on the blog, and let me do what I can to make sure they are posted. IF (and only if) you don’t see them here and want to contact me through other channels, send an email.

    Please, please don’t back me into a corner of my trailer at the track. That will cause me to stop writing this, because there, I’ve got other things on my mind.

    ~Erik

  2. Karen Smith says:

    Your latest missive is funny, is there a prize for saying the real names of the people you were describing? I’ll get the gang together to back you into the corner of your trailer to convince you never to stop writing, and find out what really is on your mind!!!

  3. Dick Albrecht says:

    Made me laugh till I had tears in my eyes.
    We had 35 Corvette’s at the Diego’s cruise in yesterday.

  4. Cowboy says:

    Naming yourself Spider is very appropriate. The way you spin your web at a start or durinng a race is exactly how a real spider would capture and devour its prey. In the west, the way Cowboys deal with menacing spiders is to sneak up on them, don’t let ’em know your coming and clabber them with a big shovel. The shovel is shined, the handle’s not yellow and can’t wait to be swung. Great job.
    –Cowboy

  5. Patty says:

    There’s no race without the wrench and wench crews. I’m sure you’ll cover that in the web of your chapters.
    Canuck and Cowboy have a mouse story to be told and I think you could give it the character and life it deserves.
    Love the start of this 2014 adventure! Well done!

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