December 07, 2011

Off to the Races, Part Two

...a continuation from Off to the Races, Part One.

And with the turn of a key, a press of a clutch, a push of a button and a pump of the gas pedal I was off...

But not for long.

I managed not to stall the racer when I was taking off, when it's most likely you'll stall, trying to get into second gear from first gear. I managed to take the first curve in second gear just fine, looping around the track with a scowl on my face, concentrating very hard. I had my right foot pressed all the way down to the floor. Isn't that what you're supposed to do?

I was focused on going fast, though the flag man told me I'd be fine if I just stayed in second gear the whole time, and if other racers needed to pass me, he'd just wave the blue and gold "Pass" flag. But I wasn't there to just drive; I was there to race.

I was the first to blast off, but by the time I made it to the final S-curve before the straightaway along the starting point, I was going too fast (even only in second gear), and with my tiny little steering wheel sized somewhere along the lines of a salad plate, I lost control of my racer and spun out, way out, off the track, into the gravel, around and around, and back on the track.

I stopped because I thought I'd be in trouble.

The BMW brought me rescue: technicians to spin me around to face the right way and get me started up again so I could return to the starting line, where they'd check my helmet and wheels. I kept apologizing. A bunch of racers were backlogged behind me, waiting for me to clear.

I was sorry, but I wasn't that sorry. After all, I'd warned them.

Back at the starting line, everything checked out OK, and to my relief, they sent me back out. Around the track another time, I returned to the scene of my first spinout, the harrowing S-curve, and did exactly the same thing as the last time, in exactly the same spot - only this time, when I stalled out, I got myself started back up again, turned around, and back on the track. I approached the straightaway trepidatiously, anticipating the red flag to bring me back in, but instead I saw the glorious green flag waving proudly through the air. In my delight, I shifted into third gear with my right hand, waved my left hand out of the open top of the racer, and tackled that first curve again.

I was out there on the track for probably about ten minutes, but it simultaneously felt like two minutes and an hour. I kept looking for the checkered flag to indicate the end of my run, but not seeing it, I just kept going, around and around those same curves, learning when to ease up on the gas, how to steer, and how to see what was going on despite being so low to the ground.

When I was finally waved in, I realized I'd been first to launch and last to land. The flag man returned, this time congratulating me: "Well! You spun out, you stalled, you off-roaded, but you got yourself going again! A+!"

"I didn't break anything!"

"No, you didn't. Anybody else would have taken you off that track, saying you couldn't do it, but I knew you could do it. And I let you stay out there because I wanted to see what you were going to do next."

He then pointed at my driving suit, covered in dirt, and picked a sizable rock off of it. "You roughed up our equipment a little bit and got it a bit dirtier than we expected-"


"-But for doing bad, you did a great job."

Uh, thanks. I think.

This is a sport that really seems built for men, tall men with long legs and big heads, not short girls with sparkly sneakers and heads requiring small helmets. But I did not approach the sport with timidity, despite my trepidation: I shifted into full gear (though I never actually made it into fourth), put the pedal to the metal, and treated the impossible as though it were possible. I was tired of saying "I can't drive stick shift." It's such a minor thing, but common enough to have come up several times over the last several years.

I mean, I can't drive stick? Or I just hadn't yet? And hadn't been taught yet.

Getting back into my little tin can of a car, my left foot felt antsy, reaching for an invisible clutch pedal. My steering hands wanted to veer the vehicle to the far side of every curve and turn (a condition from which I still suffer several days later). I longed to feel the transmission settle into gear, the RPMs increasing with the roar of the engine.

Safely out of harm's way (and I don't think I was ever in any real danger that day at the raceway), I told my boss what I'd done, the reason I'd taken the day off from work. "Good," she said, "I'm glad you got that out of your system."

"Out of it?" I asked, knowing I'd received a fuel injection directly into my bloodstream that day.

Related posts:
Elegy for the Flightless Bird
Adventure at Full Throttle
Dangling from a Wire
For those about to trapeze, I salute you

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