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Saturday, January 26, 2013

I love a good story

     I bet you're wondering how we fared in the “Chump Car” race...and probably wondering why I've been so lazy in continuing the telling of it's outcome. I'll spoil the ending early. We got knocked out.

     It was an innocent mistake and there were no long lasting hard feelings. But racing stuff happens...and it happened to us. While Adrienne Hughes (one of our four drivers) was pulling in to the pits for a routine tire and fuel stop, she got dinked in a crucial portion of the front suspension by another car. What followed was a lightening fast swap of front strut and spring from our donor car, and a short lived return to the action. Alas – the aluminum motor mount arms had sheared, and the engine soon leaned against it's own pulleys and hoses causing a rapid loss of power steering. Even after we decided that coming in 10th or 11th wasn't worth the headache and further risk to the car, Roy crawled under the machine and began chaining the engine down against anything he could find. Yes... even scraps of wood were used to support an engine. In the end, we thought that the altered geometry of the drivetrain would inevitably grind other expensive bits and we decided to engage in my other favorite part of racing... the comradery.

     Our neighbors in the paddock area had a full on luxury hotel on wheels, complete with TeeVees, stereo, cooking devices, showers, and refrigeration. They fixed up one hell of a lunch. It was a simple affair but so very welcomed after a morning of chill damp temperatures and grime. They fixed up a giant batch of chicken and dumplings, fresh vegetables, soup, coffee, and the requisite adult beverages. The topics of conversation that grew out of our breaking bread were the stuff of fantasy... and yet they were very real.

     In my exposure to both amateur and professional racing, I've learned that there's a particular economic level one must attain to participate in this activity. I had always hoped that somehow I'd be swept up in it and gain my wealth through some kind of osmosis. That never happened. I owned a real race car for about six months and soon realized the resources required to maintain and race a car are far from my Visa card's already stretched limits. It appears that I'm destined to live only vicariously through the people with whom I share my fascination with “behind the scenes” race track energy. It's not envy. It's an appreciation for the great experiences that their lifestyle affords them. I respect and value unique experiences and stories above all else – and it makes for some great and valued acquaintances. The stories swapped while standing next to a race car or eating in a lawn chair at the track are wonderful, colorful tales filled with heroic characters and chaotic hilarity. What I realized that weekend was that each story teller truly reveled in the experience about which they spoke. Not the objects or means by which these experiences came upon them. I'm not sure what gene separates “rich pricks” from people of means that have true and genuine CHARACTER, but I can tell you that being surrounded by the good ones can be a real intellectual exercise. Like reading a great book, it spawns wonderful dreams and creative inspiration. These folks didn't gain their lifestyle by being lazy. Maybe that's the secret DNA element.

     I have hundreds of their stories rolling around in my head, and though the particular facts of each one may get blended with the elements of another, I love them all. I'll share bits of one from the Chump Car weekend that stuck with me. Naturally it involved the glamorous elements of fast machines and international travel. It included phrases like this:

We arrived in Geneva at 10pm local time and (our host) picked us up in their minivan, which he then drove at 80 mph through dark country roads for about an hour to his house, where he prepared a gourmet meal using only the leftover ingredients found in his kitchen.”

What caught my attention was that their Swiss host was not only an avid and accomplished European race car driver – but also a well known Chocolatier. I pictured a 250 year old chalet, bathed in the warm glow of antique lighting and dark, well worn floor boards. A stone fireplace with a swinging kettle for soup, and probably a couple of wolf hounds. This imagery and a full belly of dumplings made me completely forget about my cold wet feet, or smelly fuely hands.

     I have many other race track stories that have affected me. One of my favorites involves a woman I met at a vintage race several years ago. She was about 70 and friends with the driver we were there to support. She parked her rusty 1980s pick up truck next to us and proceeded to unload the grim black trailer that followed it. On that trailer was a Porsche. I could tell this was no ordinary car. It was a 1971 911 in bright Germanic orange with the headlights taped over. On one headlight, she had drawn a well detailed eye and on the other, a closed winking one - eye lashes and all. The more I learned about this woman the more enthralled I became. She and the car ….had a story.

     She and her husband bought the car new in 1971 and it was their daily driver for many decades. Though they still kept it in street legal trim (license plate and all) they decided to race it at occasional events up and down the East Coast. At one race, her husband wrecked the car. I'm told it was a bad accident, but that he escaped unharmed, only to suffer a fatal heart attack on the way to the hospital for a “post incident check-up”. It's a sad and tragic thing, but it's not the end of the story. This woman (remember – she's about 70) had the car rebuilt, and now races it herself...and wins. She has a bazillion dollars in the bank, yet carts the car solo with an old beat up truck and a crusty trailer. Unloads it herself, and leaves the keys in it. She even told us: “If you need to run downtown this weekend, go ahead and take it. The keys are in it.”

     See? **THAT'S** what it's all about. I really don't give a shit how fast your car is... I care more about how far you'll go with it. You're the people that are my heroes.