A Lost Letter From 2016, Found in 2018.

I wrote this and then couldn’t find it. This afternoon, almost two years later, I spotted it tucked away in the drafts folder.

Much has changed since then, yet these moments remain freshly captured.

Dear Larry, Don, and Roz,

It’s been a while since I wrote a blog post of any substance. That’s not such a big deal for me, but it IS a big deal that I have not updated you on my track events since August. The only possible rationale I can use to explain it is: Perfection is the Enemy of the Good. My friends D-Loren and V8 helped me to see: I can do a perfunctory snapshot if I don’t have the energy/time/wherewithal to compose a richly detailed narrative.

L : How was your Switzerland trip? Did you go anywhere else? Thank you very much for sending photos…you had QUITE the room with a view.

SCDon: how is The Boss Car coming along? I will be going to Daytona after all. Sorry I’ll miss you  (AGAIN!)

Roz: I still feel bad we didn’t get to chat last time I was at Roebling. My tires and rear brake pads demanded my energy–which was limited to begin with. I didn’t even get a chance to tell you: I was running a fever and was ill to my stomach all weekend. Maybe we can catch up in December…SO exciting that you will be driving then!

Updates since August 2105:

In September, instead of Road Atlanta, I decided to try Roebling Road Raceway in Savannah, GA. Swami had plugged it, Vader too: “Great track for your Miata.” I met some SpecMiata racers, a father-son team of Miata trackers, and most especially a  delightful couple. Both are instructors, and very kindly took me under their wing.  Mr. & Mrs. Houseboat also happened to drive…guess what? Miatas!

Next, with ChinMotorsports in October I experienced a profoundly memorable moment at Road Atlanta. My dear, dear pal, Kivvi flew down to RDU, to spend her birthday weekend with me at track. We drove down to Braselton together, and met up with Vader and Swami. Beautiful driving weather, and I stumbled through my check ride to get that yellow wristband. ‘Twas great to be at RA again! But, honestly? Even better was that sweet moment on Friday evening when these three were all together under the evening sky with me.

Later that month, I got to enjoy dinner with Larry andMary at The Oak Tree Tavern. Especially, thanks Mary, for driving down: I know it’s a long slog and your words of wisdom helped: Lord knows, I need the fashion consultation.

In November I drove three days with the Carolinas PCA: it was my first trip there in my Moxie and I was able to get faster with each day.  My most challenging experience at track in 2014  was with this group (poor instructor match,) and this time tech and registration proved the same. But I DROVE WELL!

December wrapped up my last driving event of 2014: Roebling Road Raceway. It was good weather driving both days, and the Coastal Empire PCA region people were incredibly nice! My biggest accomplishment that weekend was to be able to stay off the brakes at all turns, except 1 and 4. This was a big deal for me. Oh, also, I had my first spin in Moxie. WITH the National Porsche Club Drivers Ed chairman, Alex B, sitting right seat. Absolutely mortifying for me, but he was incredibly calm and reassuring.

In January, we moved our home. Unfortunately, much of that month was taken up with unexpected health problems for Big T and me. Consequently, we still have cardboard boxes that remain unpacked.

Of course, in February, I had to great pleasure of seeing you Mr. LeMans and SCDon at the 48 hrs of Sebring. I don’t know if you recall, but Swami had a new car by then and was returning to racing for the first time in 30 years! The premise of that trip had been to support my friends. Instead, I showed up bedraggled, bruised, and burned finding solace in the comforting  warm embraces of my track family.

The giddy happy smiles of Swami, the giggling conversations with Lady Lambo, the endless rain all afternoon as I worked the flags at Turn 17a, the down to earth racer-mind of SCDon and those parade laps on following Mr. LeM Saturday that took an eternity to begin (remember the delay?) …You all gave me hope to go on with the commitments I’d made to my family.  Much to my delight, I finally got to meet Mr. Lambo, and was introduced to Swami’s new track toy, the sparkling gem of a Boxster: BabyBlue. And seeing my mentor re-ignite his racing career was priceless. I owe a debt of gratitude to my sweet Big T for holding down the fort that weekend.

Later in February, I did manage to sneak in my first event after a two month hiatus. It was Chin at Road Atlanta. Something is SO magical about that place, that even now, seven months later I have these long, complex, vividly detailed dreams about driving that track. I wake up with heart pounding and my fingers gently cradling Moxie’s Momo steering wheel.

March was busy and exciting! Early in the month, I drove VIR north with Chin. The next day was planned to be full course, but before then my clutch expired. Instead, I spent Sunday hauling the race car to a shop in Charlotte. Don’t even ask : “why Charlotte?” The answer is so stupidly complicated that even I don’t understand it. Ugh.  Ten days later, my buddies Vader and Tex competed in their first race together with SCCA, it was the SAARC event, taking turns driving another beloved Boxster, named by me: BeachBoy. A big group of friends spent all Saturday providing track support and crew services. I was SO proud of my brothers Tex and Vader.

Toward the end of March I was at VIR again, this time with Z 2 PCA. The weather stank, the paddock pests were in full cry, and my Piggy was ailing. Yet it was delightful to see my friends: Greenfrog returned to track (after a bad incident at South Bend last fall), Tex brought BeachBoy (now driving with a full competition license), and best of all, Swami brought his BabyBlue boxster for her first dance on these hallowed grounds.

A great deal more in my track life, has happened since then. Here’s a hint: NCCAR, MidOhio, and Sebring. I promise to pick up where I left off next time. Please give my love to S, and take care. Much love to you both.

Yours sincerely,

FDM

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From Riyadh to Racecars.

This is for you, Jill.

Once upon a time, there was an energetic, little, Pakistani girl who loved cars.

Four years old, she just adooooooored the throaty roar of her Abbooji’s powder blue, air-cooled, rear-engined Volkswagen 411. Remembers him cursing every time he worked on it. After that car was sold, there was the navy blue, chrome tipped family Volkswagen Type 3 Squareback…the original “station wagon”.  Because of its sound, she lovingly named it “The VolksDragon.”  On those long botanical field trips to mountains where Abboo would collect plant specimens, she lounged in the spacious trunk chewing Zebra stripe gum or Chiclets and reading Archie comics. Who could blame her for doting on the adorable white VW Bugs? Her mother’s cousin’s wife’s white Herbie the Love Bug look-alike, and the coveted the glossy black VeeDub Bug belonging to her brother-in-law. Not to mention…ALL the taxi-cabs in Lebanon, where she lived, were Mercedes E Class sedans. Giant Teutonic behemoths growling, with intrusively loud honking horns and the delicious interior scent of tanned thick leather upholstery…simply irresistible.

Would you believe me if I said she’d awaken before dawn to watch the daily garbage truck put on his mesmerizing show? That she hung around her older brother and his friends at the workshop where they wrenched on motorcycles and vintage cars? That she and her little brother played “race-cars” on their skateboards?  Or set up elaborate Matchbox Cars racing tracks?

All through elementary school she drew sketches of a woman, wearing a helmet, driving a race car. Most often the helmet was pink, the car was a convertible, and the woman’s long  black hair flew out from under helmet at the nape of her neck.

When she grew old enough to realize she was a “car-guy”, her family moved to the Royal Kingdom of Saudi Arabia where, for women, driving was illegal. At first, she didn’t care and continued to obsessively watch the Dukes of Hazzard, all the Smokey and The Bandit movies, and Knight Rider…continued nursing the dream.

Unbeknownst to anyone, when her daddy drove the family in the 1982 Chevy Impala or, even better, the “Gymsee” (nickname for the handsome red 1983 GMC Suburban –truly one of the most delightful vehicles known to man, and her primary object of desire) she made it a point to sit behind her Abbooji, so she could see the road from the driver’s perspective. Secretly, carefully, she watched what he did.

 

On night drives, safely shadowed from the streetlights, she’d sit behind Abboo, pretending she could drive. In cars with automatic transmissions, listening carefully to the RPMs and at the right transition times she’d mimic the motions that were needed to create a manual gear shift. Clutch included.

Once time Abbooji peeked over his shoulder and said: “What are you doing Betta? Are you pretending to drive the car?” He chortled delightedly at this unexpected find! Mortified, she bit her lip hard, unbuckled her seatbelt, and soundlessly slipped to the floor behind his seat, trying to disappear. Her face burned hot as she buried into the Chevy’s scratchy, but clean, red synthetic rug.

Growing into a teenager, she left home for a Catholic all-girls boarding school in London, England. Still, there was no way for her to drive; although women drivers certainly weren’t banned, the legal driving age was eighteen and there was no car for her to learn on. 

WHEN oh when oh when oh when would she ever ever EVER get to drive???

Then……at last……the summer before she began medical school, just before turning eighteen, she finally got behind the wheel. He was a red 1986 Isuzu trooper with a 5 speed manual gearbox and a 4WD. Although things did not turn out as planned, she was finally able to put her theoretical knowledge into action. Brave man Abboo sat in the right seat.  He’s not the calmest person, so the instruction was emotional to put it mildly. But none of that stopped her grinning like a lunatic with paper bag toy.

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In the fall of my first year in medical school, just after my 18th birthday, I got my “official” driving lessons.

My instructor was a woman who chewed rose-scented tobacco beetle leaf rolls, smelled pungently of sweat mixed with talcum powder, and labored to eject her massive frame out of the car which she grabbed with her thick stubby henna-tinted fingers, wearing three rings on each hand. With her silver nose piercing ring, large black mole atop right eyebrow, floral print black hijab and those full tobacco orange-stained lips she carried an air of casual aggression. Her persistent, irritated frown broke into a weary gap-toothed sneer as jet black eyes lined with kohl looked over me: a petite, young, slender, well dressed girl reeking of privilege.

In a gravelly voice she spoke these words: “Protect yourself from the bigger cars, protect the smaller cars from yourself.” It was an oft-repeated axiom which was the philosophical core of her curriculum.

The lessons were arranged by distant relatives who lived in the city. My instructor came highly recommended.

The plan had been hatched months before: I would complete driving school, and then over winter break I’d sweet-talk my parents into buying me a car.

Learning to drive in the city of 19 million people, where no lines were painted on the roads, the sheer variety of vehicular traffic was mind-boggling. It was an English colony, so driving was on the left side. Most roads were paved, and divided informally into three lanes. The inside lane was reserved for bicycles, often who were “car-pooling.” Most often, passenger on the bicycle perched on the bar between the bicycle seat and the handle bar. However, if it was a lady passenger, she’d ride side-saddle on the rear bicycle storage rack. Often the swarm of bicycles would be livened up by alternative vehicles:  hyper-energetic donkey carts, slow moving ox-carts, and sometimes even a high strung camel  bewildered buy fate and commotion, frantically towing some type of cart.
The middle lane was most often occupied by large trucks, passenger buses, and horse carts. The horse carts were functioned as taxi cabs. And then, in the outside lane were the cars. Let’s not forget the chaos caused by the motorized Vespa rickshaw cabs.

“Protect yourself from the bigger cars, protect the smaller cars from yourself.”

I don’t remember the car. All I remember is the steering wheel vinyl peeling off, and the stick shifter knob caked in layers of greasy grey gunk. And that my instructor had a passenger-side brake pedal. Upon completion, I was given an international driving license. There was no test involved.

The future FDM moved to the US for residency training. Her parents — as always, indulgent and generous — bought her a Mazda MX 6 with a V6 twin rotary motor. It was white, of course. (White is the best color to show off the curves of any car, in case you were unaware of that fact.) She took some drives through West Virginia to test the car’s feels, but mostly she divided her time between the hospital or sleeping to recover from those brutal 36 hour shifts which came every third night.

Although she was young and and all about the rules…she knew some rules were to made to be broken. She broke them when she had to save her patients’ lives. And, she broke them again when it came to building her own life. Against all odds, she married her sweetheart. The young couple lived a fairy-tale life, with three beautiful babies, wonderful friends, jobs, and community. It was all a dream come true. Who could possibly ask for more?

And then…

In the early summer of 2009 the girl, now a mom of three tots under the age of five, received a phone call from a cherished mentor and long-time family friend. He was an ER doc and a car enthusiast who had encouraged her to pursue medicine as a career when she was a little girl in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Back then, he drove a maroon Pontiac Bonneville Sedan with steel-belted tires. Classic 1980’s vibe. After a long catching up, he asked her:

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Maroon Bonneville Sedan, circa 1985

“Betta, what car are you driving nowadays?”

“A 2000 Honda Odyssey.”

“Why the HELL are you doing that? You must buy a Mercedes immediately!”

She mumbled some reply, quickly hung up, and went to assist her toddler son in the bathroom. But that night in bed, she smiled as she closed her eyes. A rekindling of her dream. She remembered the taxi-cabs of Beirut, how they felt like absolute tanks. Why not a Mercedes?

Quite miraculously, the following week the Odyssey’s transmission locked up. It had to be flat-bedded to the shop. The prognosis was grim. The hideous uterine symbol of indentured servitude was totaled.

Leaving the minivan as a charitable contribution to NPR, the woman packed up her babies, and flew Down Under to visit their grandparents and uncles. It was a solid month of driving European cars: Abbooji had a 1999 Mercedes E Class sedan, her little bro’s navy blue Saab 90, silver grey 1987 Saab 900 Turbo. She once again loved the taste of the tough steel feel of these lo-tech older cars.

One evening, her little brother uttered those fateful, magic words: “Have you seen the Mercedes R Class?”   …And that was it. She was smitten.

Upon returning stateside she immediately logged on to Autotrader.com and began researching the MB R-Class cars for sale. After some digging, she found her answer: A V6 twin turbo-diesel R320 CDI with 4Matic transmission and three rows of seats would fit the bill. Ahhh how she longed for a diesel engine!

For the first time in her entire life she applied for an auto-loan independently. Then, bargained the price down with the dealer of used MBs in suburban Atlanta, printed the loan approval, and bought a one way airfare.

Flew down. Clinched the deal. Drove back the R. Named it The Pig.

Thus began a love story.

Piggy’s chronicle is long, and will be told one day. But suffice it to say here that my sweet, beloved Pig has served me with over 180,000 miles of dutiful service, has safely transported my most beloved cargo of Big T and the Little T’s, and….most unexpectedly of all… opened the door to my driving on track.

Then, a few weeks ago I got word. Saudi Arabia has, finally,  made it legal for women to drive.

 

 

 

 

When Someone Special Asks Sweetly…

“What’s wrong?” he asked me.

I didn’t know how to reply.

So, I answered honestly: “It feels like I lost something.”

“What did you lose?”

“I don’t know”

Some friends know you better than you know yourself. I am fortunate to have one of those. He looked me in the eye and said:

“If you write your blog, you’ll find it.”

He’s right. I need to write.

There is a story I promised Jill.

 

Going Underground–No, no, it’s not what you think!

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An AWESOME collage I made to give to sponsors as a gift. Too bad I didn’t keep one for myself. European Performance in Raleigh has it on display at their body shop.

Dear Friends,

Although one might, quite understandably, suppose that disaster has struck or that the apocalypse is nigh, allow me to reassure you that your favorite sure-fire insomnia cure won’t be gone forever.

Woman loves to write.
I don’t have much discretionary time, but I still take time to write. Much of it’s not good, so I don’t post the bulk of it. I just like to play with words.

It is merely a breath of air. A hiatus. A sigh.

There remain many adventures yet to write:  winter shenanigans at Sebring International Raceway, escape-by-the-skin-of-my-teeth from the jaws of Roebling Road, adventures and gray hairs after 16 months of instructing, how and where to get a good night’s sleep at the Columbus, OH airport should the need arise, quick tips on avoiding getting mauled by a snoring cell-mate, managing bomb squads……and all these really cool, fascinating people I’ve met along the way. And, no, I’m not making any of this up.

Perhaps the most challenging task has been the intentional integration of compromise into my track plans. It’s painful. Almost tragic. (Insert snorting laughter to add some perspective here #firstworldproblems).

And yet…I’m enjoying the delicious fruits of time dedicated to the beloveds, restoring peace and health, my sweet puppy Roscoe, and my flower garden.

Small adjustments came from a profound personal loss. A reminder to never take loved ones for granted, always to show love. Life is short. Death can sometimes be a healer, but is almost always a teacher.

If all goes according to plan, the blog will return in the fall, and I’ll have more soporific stories to share. Thank you for taking the time to read this–your kindness is not lost on me.

Au revoir!

FDM

 

PS: Just in case you’re mildly interested in some recent track photos, check out the updated gallery.

The Mother’s Day Present

Returning from MidOhio was an epic journey. Oh, wait….last time it was also an epic journey thanks to The Pig right? Hum….well, this epicness was different.

So, anyhoooo…

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Goofy but sincere and (truly!) faster than you might expect in a Miata. Part of the drama was that I lost my iPhone, so I have to conjure up old pics. I hope to find it soon, becoz I’ve some great pics of my MORPCA friends.

In May of 2016, as a decadent Mother’s Day gift to myself, I’d scheduled SEVEN days on track at the MidOhio Sports Car Course. This track is like a very strict professor, one who knows it and carries some conceit about that. It’s quite brutal when the wet stuff starts falling from the sky. They say “it’s like ice!” but that’s not true. It is far more treacherous, and even in broad daylight a sprinkling of rain will morph MidO into the evil nocturnal twin of your average icy road… the dreaded Black Ice. This is because of a special “glazing” that has been applied over the racing line which improves the grip when it’s dry.

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The apex at Turn 6, aka Madness. Photo credit: Car and Driver Magazine

Nevertheless, I adore MidOhio for so so so many reasons. Some I cannot share, but I can say it has five blind turns, tons of elevation change, and is truly a “drivers track” due to the high level of technical driving skills required to drive it fast. MidOhio does not suffer fools gladly. It’s intimidating, and the locals who drive it several times a year speak of it with affection and familiarity. They know its secrets.

And I? All I had a was a cheat sheet from Lady Lambo, this link to Car and Driver Magazine, and the bitter memory of last year’s humiliation. http://www.caranddriver.com/features/everything-you-need-to-know-to-master-mid-ohio-sports-car-course-feature

I’d left heartbroken last year and hadn’t learned the track well enough. I’d make up for that this time around for sure, I’d thought. Did I?

The answer was a big fat smelly greasy NO.download-2

Rained on Friday, hailed on Saturday, and subfreezing but sunny start for Sunday.

Friday, after surviving two VERY wet sessions, on the 2nd lap of my third session I skidded at turn 1 going 25mph. I was off the glazing, but I hit a puddle right at the spot where the track has a negative camber. According to one observer I “very gracefully drifted off” right into the red metal armco on the outside wall just beyond the bridge. That night I awoke at 2 am, mentally replaying the incident: I realized my error was not just going too wide, but I’d also pushed in my left foot and in so doing had disengaged the rear wheels’ traction making the off essentially inevitable. Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb. Ugh.

Indignity taunted me as the black flag waved. The tow-truck to pulled me out of the mud pit.  The fender shredded the tire as I drove around the course into the pits, I could smell it. I spent the rest of the day and much of Saturday morning learning how to remove a fender and pounding it out. The tire was shot, but a friendly Spec Miata SCCA racer offered a loaner for the right rear. By midday Saturday, the car was ready to go on rain tires, and I logged 2 full sessions.

Sunday morning arose bright and sunny! But was freezing, and didn’t warm up much–highs were around 40. Eagerly, I swapped out the rains for the slicks. I worked efficiently, but on the first lug nut of the last wheel I made a silly mistake, and stripped it. It HAD to be rethreaded, and cost me one session. Second session on Sunday my engine temperature gauge was running above 210 degrees F even while I was at speed on track. Normally, it sits at around 160 on a warm summer day, and this was alarming to see on a cold day. I pitted in early and waited for it to cool. When I finally opened it, the radiator was bone dry with the coils visible. So much for the tech inspection performed just 4 days earlier back in Raleigh.

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Moxie doing her thing heading out of Thunder Valley, past Turn 13 just before the downhill entry into The Carousel.

Eventually, I drove one last session before the grunt-work of loading and storing my trailer. I had no tow vehicle with me, but a lovely woman who is an accomplished sailboat racer was kind enough to offer me a tow. Her skill in backing up the trailer was formidable, and I watched agog in admiration! Her kindness after such a weekend filled with challenges warmed my soul, and allowed me to leave track with a big grin.

I’d survived, I’d learned a lot, and my green student (a young man driving a 944 Cup Car!) had done very well. I’d enjoyed some good food and some outstanding company with GermanHat (my garage-mate who drove an electric blue stock GT4) and the usual MORPCA gang (undoubtedly one of the friendliest PCA regions around: Thank you Mike S, Kevin, Chip, Bob, Lorraine, Jeff, Dave, Betsey, Patrice, Lisa, Michael, Steph and the steadfast volunteer crew.)

When I returned home, after obligatory dramatic complications which I’ll spare you, I immediately set to work washing pots and pans to make amends for my absence.

I’ll be home this next weekend and then back to MidO for more. Of course, Mother’s Day being a holiday of sorts, I despise it. Nevertheless, it’s a good enough reason for a second helping.

But MOST of all, I fully intend to deliciously enjoy the sweet moments with my family this weekend. As the poet says of the present:

“Take a luxurious bite
out of the present,
and whistle along the road
of your destiny.”
THIS is what it’s all about.  My family, my moments. And, for you: yours!

This time I will care less, and not go gunning for an A. My focus will be on each moment and improving my technique. I’ll reach for the apples, not for the clouds. I invite you to do the same.

At the risk of a yawn at your end, I’ll go ahead and share a much-loved poem.Mid-Ohio63.00fabf263d1d5221c203022d60b289b8

 

ODE TO THE PRESENT
by Pablo Neruda

This
present moment,
smooth
as a wooden slab,
this
immaculate hour,
this day
pure
as a new cup
from the past–
no spider web
exists–
with our fingers,
we caress
the present;we cut it
according to our magnitude
we guide
the unfolding of its blossoms.
It is living,
alive–
it contains
nothing
from the unrepairable past,
from the lost past,
it is our
infant,
growing at
this very moment, adorned with
sand, eating from
our hands.
Grab it.
Don’t let it slip away.
Don’t lose it in dreams
or words.
Clutch it.
Tie it,
and order it
to obey you.
Make it a road,
a bell,
a machine,
a kiss, a book,
a caress.
Take a saw to its delicious
wooden
perfume.
And make a chair;
braid its
back;
test it.
Or then, build
a staircase! Yes, a
staircase.
Climb
into
the present,
step
by step,
press your feet
onto the resinous wood
of this moment,
going up,
going up,
not very high,
just so
you repair
the leaky roof.
Don’t go all the way to heaven.
Reach
for apples,
not the clouds.
Let them
fluff through the sky,
skimming passage,
into the past.You
are
your present,
your own apple.
Pick it from
your tree.
Raise it
in your hand.
It’s gleaming,
rich with stars.
Claim it.
Take a luxurious bite
out of the present,
and whistle along the road
of your destiny.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) was the pen name of the Chilean poet, diplomat and politician Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto. He chose his pseudonym after Czech poet Jan Neruda. In 1971, Pablo Neruda won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Neruda often wrote in green ink because it was his personal symbol of desire and hope. Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez called him “the greatest poet of the 20th century in any language.” (Source: Wikipedia)

Acid Burns and Crewing at Sebring, A Year Later.

You know the feeling when, you read an old letter you wrote, and you get nostalgic for the hope you felt back then?

For example, how about that time when you started to recover your strength a week after surgery, and tried to prepare your house to sell? Only this crazy, crazy thing happened next where you accidentally dipped both hands in concentrated Sulfuric Acid? And you thought you’d recover in a week….

Here is a note I wrote to my Mother-in-Law and my Dad.

February 1, 2016:

Saturday evening I was alone at the old house getting it ready for the
painters who are coming today.

While cleaning the boys’ bathroom, I found what appeared to be a
container of liquid drain opener recumbent in a cabinet. I couldn’t
see the label, but it was in a Ziploc bag, half-full. Using a paper
towel to protect my hand, I gingerly lifted it by the tip of the bag’s
corner, placed it into old bucket for hazmat disposal, and went back
to removing junk and wiping the cabinets down with a wet scrubbing
sponge.

I was trying to clean out this white powder that was all over the
shelves. I felt my fingerpads begin to feel very slippery. Assuming
it was powdered soap, I found a nail-brush and tried using hot water
to scrub off the “soap”.

But that just made it worse and my hands got VERY red and swollen,
looking like bulgy red rubber oven mitts. Burning was
crazy-bad and was moving up my wrists.
Figuring I had somehow touched the drain liquid (but not knowing HOW)
I called poison control while I flushed my hands with cold water.

I watched my hands fumble, slipping on the phone screen which felt squishy and cloud-like. Weird that I could not control my fingers, but the pain screeched for my attention.

As the water ran over my skin, I could see red meaty blossoms blistering:
SECOND DEGREE BURNS. I still had no clue what this liquid
was, or how it had “invisibly leaked” from the container.

Anyway, Poison Control told me to take Ibuprofen and keep flushing with water
until the burning sensation got better which I did for over 30
minutes.

Of course, I had no Motrin in the empty house. Called Big T, who
very sweetly brought me some. When he arrived on the scene, he remembered using concentrated sulfuric acid to de-clog a drain several years ago. It’d sat there
(right next to the children’s first aid kit and hot water bottles) in case it was needed again.

It dawned on me then: that white powder I had
been cleaning with my bare hands and sponge was anhydrous acid. The bottle tipped over, began a slow leak, resulting in flaked crystal.

I can function okay, since only a couple tiny blisters popped. Still
hurts though. And I drop things sometimes.
Chaos.

This was just five days before I’d planned to fly down to Sebring for the 48 Hours Club Race. I’d planned to crew for a friend who was resuming racing after a 30+ year hiatus. There were no hotel vacancies in town, so I’d booked a campsite at Highlands Hammocks State Park. There was no way that’d work now. He suggested I called a small family-owned inn (“she’s an Indian Beauty”) and book a room, which I did. Surely by then my hands would feel better and I could travel and wrench and be THE best crew chief ever!

When I called the ER (Ha! For what? I don’t know…just in case there was something ANYONE could do to help me?) they suggested I calm down, stop exaggerating, and take more Motrin.

The first day after the burns, when I wrote the above paragraphs, I had some hope. The next day, I looked up the sulfuric acid entry on poison control websites. Here is what I discovered:

Health Hazard

2016-02-01 20.58.35
Stay away from Sulfuric Acid if at all possible

Carcinogen, Corrosive, Reactive – 2nd degree
from NJDOH RTK Hazardous Substance List
Corrosive to all body tissues. Inhalation of vapor may cause serious lung damage. Contact with eyes may result in total loss of vision. Skin contact may produce severe necrosis.

Fatal amount for adult: between 1 teaspoonful and one-half ounce of the concentrated chemical. Even a few drops may be fatal if the acid gains access to the trachea.

Chronic exposure may cause tracheo-bronchitis, stomatitis, conjunctivitis, and gastritis. Gastric perforation and peritonitis may occur and may be followed by circulatory collapse. Circulatory shock is often the immediate cause of death.  

My hands continued to swell and burn over the next five days. Typing patient notes was impossible, wearing gloves was torture, turning a key in a lock was excruciating. I spent all my days carrying a frozen plastic water bottle despite the February cold. No amount of tears or Ibuprofen stopped the pain.

Sympathetic friends tried humor: on the bright side, wasn’t it good that I’d not licked the cabinets clean? Kind and concerned family members suggested: could my post-op state be worsening the pain? I personally scolded myself: Don’t be a baby. Smile. Suck it up. Move on.

So I did.

Except at night. I couldn’t sleep because the hands would swell up into these giant spongy lobster claw-like thingys. Blinding pain. I bit back the urge to scream uncontrollably.  I had to protect my family from that. Each night, after finishing clinic, I’d pick up the kids, figure out dinner, do laundry or whatever and then, after the kids went to bed, I’d return to the empty house trying to sleep on the wooden floor. I felt used, hurt, enraged. And, I did scream uncontrollably one night.

But there was one person I knew I could always call. I dialed the number with oafish finger

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Chris S, Vader, racing again after a 12 year hiatus. SCCA SAARC at Virginia International in March 2016.

pats on my phone.

Vader answered, only to hear me sobbing.

Vader listened. Vader spoke sense. In retrospect, Vader probably saved my marriage.

I tried to keep my chin up.  This would not rob me of Sebring. Sebring was supposed to be my reward for “abstaining” from track for two months. I missed my friends! Lady Lambo, Mr. LeMans, SCDon, and Swami.

Swami had crashed his race car 6 months before, and suffered some serious injuries. I worried terribly, constantly, about his health and his spirits. From October through January I had tried every day to hold space for my friend. To hold peace, or hope, or whatever. I tried joshing him and goading him to keep his eye on the prize. Through these months, I pored over car ads to find his next steed, and shared any good ones to keep his spirits going. During those pre-dawn paroxysms when injury took over, I thought it was my job to dream his dream for him.

Eventually, he did fall in love with a little car that I’d found online. This would be his return to racing. I absolutely had to be there, cheering his return to health and to track for his sake. Plus, I hadn’t seen him since before the crash. I needed to know he was OK.

SCDon would be there….racing his lovely Isabella, the 944 for the first time at Sebring. And the one and only lovely LadyLambo and her husband Mr. LL would be there: I’d never met him! And I hadn’t seen her since back in August at Indy. And, of course, the always pragmatic, ridiculously funny, and completely wonderful down-to-earth Monsieur LeMans would be there too!

Nothing could keep me away.

I arrived at the airport Friday at 5:15am for my Orlando flight. The temperature was 18 degrees F at the parking deck.  My nail-beds turned white as the cold numbed the pain. Wearing gloves was impossible. I’d packed my helmet, but there was no room for my gigantic hairbrush, so I pulled it out to repack it. Shards of stinging pain electrocuted my raw skin as the sharp bristles scraped my blistered hands. I gritted my teeth, gave the hairbrush a final shove, and carried my bags in.

At the desk I discovered my flight was rerouted to Tampa. I texted Swami and LadyLambo the updated news. I was at the end of my rope. I had nothing left to give. “I slept on the floor in a sleeping bag for 4 nights. Be nice to me.”

Changing terminals in Atlanta, I ham-fisted the luggage clumsily, as both hands spitted thick globs of pain like fat from steaks sizzling on a hot summer grill. By the time I reached the gate, I was hiccup-ping. To avoid curious glances before boarding began, I stood facing a wall.

In Tampa I picked up the rental car and unsuccessfully tried using my fingernails to drive the remaining 103 miles. I found some ice at a gas station and took turns to cool one hand while the other hand steered.

Arriving at Sebring was chaotic. I drove around aimlessly after entering the main gate, and needed to ask directions for how to get to the bridge. Driving over the iconic arc with palm trees flanking both sides I giggled with giddy anticipation.

I was at track. I could forget my surgery, my mitts of torture, my stifled scream.

The paddock sizzled with a carnival of color and noise and people and thrumming unmuffled engines. I’d never seen SO many Porsches all at once. The air was guzzled in high octane gas fumes. Excitement and frustration smashed together in a palpable haze of Nomex clad racers amid corner workers furiously flagging.

Giant 54 foot stacker car-haulers festooned with flags, canopies, tire-stacks, tech crews. Volunteer retirees ogled the girls with windswept hair and skimpy shorts as their fluffy-haired wives adjusted their elastic waistbands and charm bracelets.

Kaleidoscope colors crowded around: people drinking water, people rolling tires, people taking photos, people barking orders and pointing, people adjusting radio headsets, people going in and out of the shabby looking restroom buildings. I remember smells of cooking–it wasn’t just the Snack Shack. People in the paddock had grills going even in the middle of the afternoon.

My rental hatchback and I trundled around slowly gazing at the scene slack-jawed. HOW on Earth would I find LL and SCD? No need to bother phoning Swami since he refused to speak (with me) by phone. I called LL and Mr. LM but no calls went through. The track has lousy signal.

Finally, from the wrong end of the paddock, I was able to spot the TuneRS banners and drove toward them slowly. The throngs were disorienting and I saw nobody I knew.

“HEY!!” A white haired dude popped his face into my car window. It took a moment for me to realize it was Swami. His boyish grin and crinkly eyed smile were the same as ever, and so good see after months of worrying about him. Hugging him, I happily parked the Kia and hopped out. I pulled on my rainboots and the only coat I’d brought (an outrageously pink rain parka) to guard against the sharp breeze.

I looked up to see LadyLambo deep in conversation with Miguel aka Mike from Tune RS! It had been too long since I saw her, and it felt refreshing to see her there. Her kind eyes, warm smile, sincere hug made my trip worthwhile.

And….OOOOOOHHHH! I admired the new race car! What a little beauty–an eye popping Riviera Blue Boxster! She was SO cute!

With all my flight changes, I ended up missing Swami’s last run that day. The next day was race day. And I had brought all my notes for how to be a good crew chief. He’d bought these expensive racing radios and I felt obliged to do my part. Wasn’t quite sure if my hands would cooperate, as by then it hurt to even open the truck’s door. “What’s wrong granny?” I was chided.

Swami took LL and I for a perimeter tour in his truck. What a sight it was to see the GT cars racing at the infamous HairPin (Turn 7) at Sebring. I tried to pull myself up on the fence for a better view, but the wire cut into my blistered hams and I gave up. Luckily, Swami had a step-stool in his truck for me to use so I could see the action on track.

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Lady Lambo who is an amazing, fast, accurate driver. A woman who serves as a role model.

While we were there, Mr. LL drove up and I finally got to meet him!  AND the magnificent panther-like black Panamera! She and I finally got to have a mini-girls’ chat up in the club-house and just catching up on news and track stuff. Back in the paddock I almost literally bumped into SCDon. What a great treat–it’d been over a year since I’d seen his cheeky dimples and merry-with-evil-humor eyes. Making introductions was immediately followed by having to say goodbye to LadyLambo: they’d had a long day at track and had a long drive home.  I was sorry we could not have dinner together, but I understood. SCDon had said he’d be at Chicanes later with Mrs. SCD  so we agreed to be on the lookout for each other.

The breezy sunny afternoon drifted into cold windy darkness, and I made my way to the little motel to shower. Afterwards, pulling on my shirtdress and fumbling with the tiny gold buttons, I sank into a nap on the threadbare coverlet. I awoke, startled, at a knock. SwamiMike had arrived to drive me to dinner at the Inn on the Lakes. My hands sat in limp relief.

In the parking lot, I spied a track modified 356: a TOTAL DREAM BOAT. Out of common decency, I controlled my urge to caress it’s chrome bumpers. Swami could not resist grabbing it’s headlights with both hands. He took a photo of me standing next to it grinning like a happy, well dressed, but slightly deranged woman.

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Possibly the hottest car I’ve ever met in person.

 

Once inside, I got a tour of the vintage photo display showing the winners of each 12 Hours of Sebring race since it’s inception 50 years ago. We managed to squeeze two seats at the bar. My resurrected-racer friend was especially nice to me, bought me dinner, and didn’t make any snarky comments when I kept dropping my fork. I tried to explain why I needed to stay away from home to protect my sweet Big T from my tidal fury. I’m not sure he understood.

After a happy evening of delicious food, drinks, chatting, and catching up, SwamiMike very sweetly drove me back to my ornithological motel room and said goodnight. I’m not squeamish about six legged creatures, which helped. My short pj’s were freezing, so I covered up with my raincoat as I brushed my teeth and got into bed. My eyes closed with a smile: How wonderful to be with dear friends! It was good to see SwamiM was OK. Best of all: race day!

The next morning, the paddock was crackling with electricity and promise! Monsieur LeMans and I met up during Swami’s warmups and took some photos (Mr. LeMans looks handsome and distinguished and I look like Jimi Hendrix, thanks to the Florida humidity).

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Warm-ups on Saturday, 48 hours of Sebring 2016

Needless to say, I was a failure as a crew chief. But I made up for it by being a good photojournalist and attended the drivers meeting, shooting Swami receiving his rookie racing license, despite the unwelcome glances from Swami’s mentor.

We had lunch together, by which I mean Swami ate my lunch (but that was OK because it was too big for me and it was free.) Later on, Swami came to find me in the paddock.

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Bunny ears while Swami ate my free lunch.

He was carrying a gift bag: Inside it, a gorgeous dress shirt for Big T with a Sebring 48 logo (I’d wanted to buy it but thought it was too expensive) and Porsche Club Racing decals for my beloved 911. I hugged him.

Afterward the plan was for Swami and I to go out on parade laps together in the Kia, following Mr. LeMans.  But instead of 15 minutes of parade laps, Mr. LeMans and I endured a 45 minute ordeal waiting at the grid. There was no way SwamiMike could be on time to grid for his next race so he had to opt out. On track, my Kia following Mr. LeM’s rental Camry, I felt intimidated and terrified.

When it was all over, I was perspiring buckets of upset that I wasn’t by Swami’s side to help him buckle in for his next race. He was gridded up and I only saw him once again for that day. Mr. LeM had to leave to catch his flight out of Orlando, we hugged and said goodbye.  I said goodbye to SCDon who was already packing up his trailer: car trouble had forced an early departure.

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Mr. LeMans looking dapper in the wind. Notice how tightly I’m grabbing the ice water bottle? Oh, and I DID get to use the radio headset after all…as earmuffs!

I had to rush over to my volunteer position, the flag station at Turn 17a. Forecasted rain came in right on time. From 1pm to 5pm I stood semi-soaked under the flimsy plywood canopy. My only joy was seeing the adorable little Riviera Blue SpecBoxster go mere inches past my knees. She was the ONLY car whose brake lights stayed off even deep into turn 17b. My Swami wasn’t making it up: he didn’t brake at 17, even when all the others did. This happy thought kept me warm, even as my parka succumbed to the rainy onslaught soaking my jeans all the way through my panties and dripping down into my galoshes.

Around 4pm I needed a ladies room break. I rushed over to the grungy outhouse and in my hurry almost missed Swami heading toward me. He told me he’d loaded up and was heading home. He seemed annoyed  but that was nothing new. Returning to my post, I continued getting soaked for another 90 minutes until track went cold.

There was a banquet that night. They let me in when I promised to pay the next morning. I sat with the TuneRS guys and a lovely couple who had manned the corner station at Turn 17b for the 4 hours with a golf umbrella as their only shelter. United in rain-drenched misery, we chatted excitedly about vintage racing.  I happened to be wearing a unique Tshirt from a Roebling Road event, and as I stood in line to get my drink a tall man came over. He looked like the cartoon on my Tshirt. He explained that it was, in fact, a caricature of him. The conversation started out friendly, but ended abruptly after he said “I think my face looks good on your right boob.”

Sunday, it had stopped raining. I paid my banquet fee, painfully loaded my bags into the Kia, and made it back to Tampa in time for my flight home. Big T and the puppies were home when I arrived. He kissed me and offered me dinner.

Why bring this all up now? Over a year later?

I was reminded of this all last month when I attended part of the Sebring 48 hours. I arrived late Friday night, and ended up missing dinner with the AtlantaSpeedwerks crew even though CrazyTodd had saved me a margarita.C5jGBDyWYAAMuo0Pulling into the paddock late at night, I met two very very special people: M & M of Chin Track Days. We hugged and cried over our loves and losses: skin contact with track asphalt and Daisy. As a newly minted Chin VIP I joyfully received a Chin Goody Bag. The perfectly sized track gear bag containing a perfectly sized T-shirt, a coozie, and a Chin decal.

I walked around the dark paddock and noticed that SwamiM’s car was pitted with Zotz Racing. He’d made the right choice of friends at Daytona last October, and was now part of a larger operation.

The next morning, track visibility was poor. The races were delayed. I didn’t see the tall guy who had commented on my chestlast year. LadyLambo and Mr. LeMans were each at their homes in the snowy north.  SCDon had survived Isabella ripping up her body panels at the Summit races, and was nursing her back to health in Virginia.

Swami and his beautiful Riviera Blue Boxster were there with a far superior crew chief than I’d been. Good for them! They deserved it. Meanwhile, I photographed a nearby gaggle of air-cooled spec racers, and a Canadian racing team welcomed me into their tent to give me an “engine tour” of their Porsche 991 GT3 Cup cars. It was a foggy morning.

So what, you ask? What’s the problem?

My hands.

They hurt.

Every single day.

Still, I remain mostly happy. I have the best prize: My  handsome sweet T and my lovely babies.

And, after an entire winter season from 2016 to 2017 driving there, Sebring is no longer a mystery. He is now a cherished friend. I miss him dearly and will be back again to revel in his bumpiness, his entry speed at turn 1, his hard braking zone at turn 7, and his concrete-walled Fresh From Florida tough love.

Turn 17, I’m coming for you.

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Under the 1st bridge at the front straight.

 

Shoes

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Ms. Moxie getting her kicks at turn 7, Sebring International Raceway. The lovely Chateau Elan pictured in the background.  My favorite room there is on the second row, 6th window from the right. Room 111 is an inexpensive standard room, with the best view one could ask for.

Honestly? I like shoes. There. I said it. It’s not vanity, it’s practicality. Shoes are the simplest way to elevate, eclipse, or execute the sartorial.

I remember buying my first racing shoes. Online, sight unseen, never tried on. One thing I knew for sure: they had to be Pilotis.

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Can you imagine wearing this garbage?
As with many things anymore, it began with an inane Facebook post: the photo of a pair of Maserati-logo stiletto heels that a friend had “shared.” How many “likes?” And how enormously degrading to women? So gratuitously objectifying of shoes, cars, women: three things dear to me. Grunting with revulsion, I shot back “For riders only. Women who drive have no use for those. WE go fast and use Heel-Toe shifts.”

SCDon’s reply was closer to the truth than I’d like to admit: “Those are perfect for when you kick off your Pilotis and come down to supper.”

Fact is, he was right. I do shower off a grimy track day, squirt on perfume, and slip into a dress and pretty sandals for dinner. Yeah, yeah, yeah…don’t laugh.

 

Let’s just say that, on principle, I refuse to let down my team by showing up in guy-mode all stinky, with chipped fingernails. It’s part of the Mom Job.

To wit: After a blunt haircut 14 years ago, I awoke the next morning to find my sweet little son next to my pillow, softly, mournfully touching my shorn locks.
In a small, cherubic voice, 3-year old HairGel implored: “Mommy, can you look pretty like a lady again?”

 

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My baby Hair-Gel nearly 3 years old asked me: “Mommy, can you look pretty like a lady again?”

But I digress…back to those shoes:

I was SO curious…what on God’s earth is a Piloti? Whatever it was, I wanted it badly! Because SCDon said it. Yeah, really, that’s the only reason. I was a tad impressionable back then. So what?

I discovered that Piloti had ceased production of Nomex-lined racing shoes; none were available from the factory. But E-Bay showed a small inventory of deeply discounted shoes. Only three pairs, only in a multicolor version: black, yellow and red. CLOWN shoes. But they fit my size, and budget, and I wanted ’em.

Until then, I’d been wearing a pair of ridiculous high-heeled sneakers that were cheaters. I’d been un-proficient at Heel-Toe downshifts, and found it actually easier to Heel-Toe when wearing a chunky heel. Made out of stretchy black fabric, hideously uncomfortable to walk in, they were eminently flammable. Another plus: my handsome Big T liked a certain je-ne-sais-quois they added to my look in the cheap yellow racing suit.

Ten days later, the box arrived. The Pilotis were soft, with yellow and black suede accents and uncannily coordinated with my equally hideous racing suit. The rubber treaded sole and leather vamps were embossed with the logo: a distinctive letter P.

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A photo of my ugly, but lovely shoes. That red spot is the thick side of the sole designed for Heel-Toe and throttle blipping. Looks like something from Jupiter, no?
They came with a suede key-fob with the Piloti logo embroidered on it. The fit? So secure. So snug. So very perfectly thin-soled.  I adored the thick red lateral  lip on the right sole which provided the just-right sensation as I throttle-blipped each downshift. I was smitten!

I wore them. And wore them. And wore them. And wore them.

Virginia International Raceway on the Full Course, North Course and Karting track. Road Atlanta, the place where my dreams unfolded. Roebling Road Raceway in Savannah, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, North Carolina CAR, Atlanta Motorsports Park, Sebring International Raceway. And, the most dreamy circuit of them all…MidOhio Sports Car Course.

I remember when they first fell apart: In September 2016 at VIR. I was driving off the back straight uphill toward the series of turns known as Roller Coaster. I went up the hill, brushed the brake pedal gently and dipped Moxie’s clutch to downshift into third gear. I felt something catch..it felt rubbery and dead and wouldn’t get un-stuck.

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The Shoe Goo did a surprisingly good job which lasted another 8 track days.
Going at speed, you do NOT want to feel anything between you and the pedals. When I got home, I used Shoe-Goo to hold them together.

I tried to find the same style of Pilotis: online, in stores, at track vendors and more. No dice! They were no longer available. For the rest of that autumn, I gutted it out through another 4 track events — September at Atlanta Motorsports Park and Roebling, October at Road Atlanta, and November (an unexpectedly unpleasant event, thanks to a narcissistic, highly vocal, and politically opinionated Chief Instructor, with the local PCA) at Sebring.

After trying on several brands and styles, I surrendered to market forces and ordered a new pair for delivery to the Chin Track Days event at Sebring. Thanks to Linda at Apex Performance, in December, when I arrived at the Chateau Elan, the lovely front desk clerk handed me the package as I checked in. Notably, an inflatable Santa was wobbling jauntily outside the entrance.

Excitedly, I tried the OMPs on in the lobby immediately! They didn’t feel right, so I returned them to their box, and in the morning I took my Pilotis to track.

On track, my left foot caught on the clutch once: it was the sole flapping open. I recovered from it, and went on. Then, next session, it happened again.

During lunch-break, I brought the new shoes to track. I laced-up the pristine red suede over my fireproof socks. I realized why they felt “funny.”  They were so very comfortable, so forgiving. They didn’t squish my ridiculously large right big toe. I guess I’d not realized how uncomfortable the Pilotis were, after all.

 

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I did not realize how uncomfortable my old shoes were, until I got used to wearing the new ones that did not cause me pain. It didn’t stop me loving my old shoes, though.

So many memories. Over 5,000 track miles logged together. My Pilotis stayed with me as I developed from a greenie of the most embarrassing caliber into the  instructor level advanced driver that I had grown into. My beautifully ugly crazy clown-shoes had witnessed it all. They’d heard me weeping quietly over cars that I loved and lost, they served as projectiles thrown across the paddock in frustration, and with their thin front-soles and thick heel-pads helped achieve hard won triumphs.

Picking them up, I looked closely at the garish yellow stitching running over the black suede. The shiny smoothness inside the tongue from hours upon hours of cradling my ankle and foot. The flappy, worn and faded red and black rubber on the sole. The still-fresh looking letter P logo on the pinky toe of each shoe. I held them lightly, close against my breastbone. They had been very dear friends to me.

Wearing my new flashy red OMPs, I carried the clown-shoe Pilotis toward the rusty steel drum. I couldn’t bring my self to toss them. So, instead, I gently set them down nearby.

My Pilotis sat there all day.

Each time I glanced over, I felt a tightness in my throat. Just before the third session, I felt a huge wave. It was unstoppable–these unladylike, irrational, infuriating tears streaming over my wind-chapped skin. Drowned out by the sounds of unmuffled engines on the front straight, I heaved out loud sobs of gratitude and sorrow. Remembering myself as a clueless track newbie, I missed that innocent and giddy-with-track fever self. I missed my track friends, who had dropped off along the way onto other paths. I missed being home.

Kalpana (my garage neighbor) and Clarisse (Kalpana’s Chin instructor) observed some of this, and very kindly came over to offer words of comfort. Clarisse hugged me and said she had also cried when her first track shoes wore out. I didn’t mention to them that a friend and I had made plans to meet at Sebring for the year’s finale event, but had hardly exchanged a dozen words.

After the track went cold, while packing my stuff I noticed a half-dented plastic cup rattling around the concrete of the next bay. Just another trashed up disposable picnic utensil, a reminder of happy times carelessly strewn aside.

While loading up my race car onto the trailer, I discovered a dead gold-finch stuck partially inside Moxie’s driver’s side headlight. I tried to take an artistic photo to honor it’s life. But I think the light was wrong.

I was a different driver now. Before I left track, I softly placed my Pilotis in the drum bin.

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Sometimes objects hold our memories. It takes effort to demote them back to being utilitarian tools.
“Why can’t you just keep them?” Big T asked me that night. So, on Monday morning before heading home, I drove the rig back over the bridge to the dumpster to collect them. But it had rained heavily overnight and my old shoes were soggy, and mixed in with the trash. The decision had been made.

I took a final look, and climbed into my rig to  drive home

 

 

 

 

 

A Whisper, A Deafening Roar, A Reply.

Do you know what it’s like to want something so intensely, and with such passion that you…perhaps, made a mistake?  Or forgot what matters? Or forgot who you love?Or forgot who you are?

It goes like this….

Before you can even remember yourself, or the sky, or the mountains,  you remember waking up every day of your life fantasizing on it. A mysterious sequence of notes embedded into the song of your existence.  Oh, truly! The sweetest four string sonata becomes a soundtrack for your thoughts.

Over the years you cherish the blessing of this sublime piece playing a narration to your timeline. Growing from a young tot into the real you, the dreamy notes serenade quiet moments and beguile summer evenings.

Your little budding dendrites signal the neuro-humoral dopaminergic striations as you unconsciously nurture it. You crayon color in pre-school, pencil little doodles in study hall, and in meetings, even now, there you sit scratching ball-point notes into your  portfolio margins.

Over time, your ear strains to listen for those faint notes engulfed by the insistent rhythms of professional, financial, social, familial songs. Those competing popular tunes, although brash and loud, are important, catchy, and impossible to avoid. Amidst these raucous yet enjoyable top 40 hits, your exhausted ears from time-to-time seek out low soothing cello notes from way back when.

Inevitably, with time, those competing pop-tunes diminish in intensity, frequency, and duration. You are sometimes surprised by new moments of silence. By some miracle, the original mellifluous melody does not abandon you. You listen for those notes as they synergistically flow, clear and true. Dare your ears follow it? Gingerly you dip in, just to test it.

It feels perfect. In fact, more than perfect.

Incredibly generous, loving, kind souls as they are, your loved ones and well-wishers support you.

Ahhhhhhhhh — at long last!  Decadently, you disrobe and swan-dive deliciously and deeply into those treble and bass clefs, finally parching a thirst that feels SO impossible to quench. You forget you’d staved it off for a lifetime.

Luxuriating in the immersion feels SO right, SO real, SO natural. You forget it was a fantasy. You lovingly embrace soul-brothers and soul-sisters who delight in the richness of these aural acoustic currents, just as you do, and delightedly pass around the cup of your shared song. Intoxicated by the joyful surprise of possibility, terrified that you will lose your only chance ever, your greedily drink it in with boorishly huge choking breathless gulps. You forget they equally deserve the cup.

You grab that goblet tightly in both fists! You cheer yourself! You pour it over your head! You swish it around in your mouth and spit it out! You hold your breath and dip your head under ! And keep repeating it all! What revelry!

And: What of your loved ones? Do they share this dream-filled acoustic nectar? You offer, but they shake their heads. Because they love you, they smile to see you happily sated.

So surprised, delighted, smitten – nay! – passionately overwhelmed in love are you that something gets lost. A once unassuming innocent string aria has now swollen into full concert-hall orchestral presentation. Crumpling under its own weight, it clumisly, uproariously, cacophonously lunges into crescendo. Your ears muffle.

A childhood promise once softly longed for, is now belligerently demanded as a right. Fear drives it. What if you lose it? Forever? Will you, once again, be reduced to starving after those faint notes for the remainder of your existence?

Threatened by impending scarcity, you grab the melody harshly brandishing it around. You stridently bellow the notes, banishing all other songs. With single-minded focus, furiously keeping the song alive, you grab it by the neck. You don’t hear it rasping.

Survival depends on this.

Your vision extends only to end of your nose.

You stop measuring your words.

You forget where your grace lies.

Do you not miss the quiet sweetness? Do you not sense the obvious stench of a sweet ballad grotesquely metastasizing into a club-swinging behemoth wreaking havoc? Bulldozing tender seedlings and feelings, is that the plan? Becoming selfish, spoiled, or both…that’s your dream?

And…what else did you miss?

A crestfallen droop on the daughter’s lip? A disguised sadness of voice as the sweetheart turns away? A furrowed sorrow in the kindest, wisest friend’s deep brown eyes? A dwindling of replies to trans-Pacific long distance voice messages? A rapid collapsing of the happy-go-lucky cousin’s brilliant-white smile?

You see don’t those. You don’t even glance at the price tag.

But now, you ask yourself:

What if it’s too late?

What if it’s not?

What next?

Keep reading below…

In 2016, I spent 41 days on track. If you add in the travel dates, that’s just shy of 60 days away from home. I drove 4 new tracks: Mid Ohio Sports Car Complex, North Carolina CAR, Atlanta Motorsports Park and Sebring International Raceway, and I became appointed as an instructor by Performance Driving Group and The Mercedes Benz Club. I vomited at track more than I’d care to admit. I was scheduled to do 10 events originally, but ended up doing 16. Or maybe 19. I lost count.

My closest track family (SwamiMike, Vader, and Tex) all offered judicious, kind, wise words of caution. Stupidly, I ignored them. My home family including our kids, my siblings, our parents, and my spouse also sweetly offered gentle caution. Stupidly, I ignored them.

I was wrong.

Many casualties were sustained. Some survived, others did not. All were, to a greater or lesser extent, the result of my poor choices.

What I gained in driving skills in 2016 was paid for by my dearest people, in precious currencies of smiles, kindness, good-will, health, and love. The price in 2016 was too high. The urgent noise of my dream drowned out the whispered sweetness of the gifts I’d received by the people who matter the most.

Family, friends, health, and laughter are shelter, food, and water. Essential. Music, track, hair styling products are important, but not necessary.

Weeks ago, I wrote out my track calendar for 2017. Twenty-two events planned, meaning almost fifty days on track,  meaning over 65 days away from home. 

This morning, the answer I gave my calendar was: “No. Not worth it. I won’t be doing 21 events in 2017.” 

For all you who are generous enough to encourage me in person, in writing, offer advice or mentoring or covering for me at home or work or the millions of things that have gone into making me the driver I am today, please accept my humblest gratitude.

I don’t make promises lightly, and those I do make, I try my hardest to keep. My promise is to work harder to keep perspective on track-life balance. I look ahead with hope, in spite of the losses sustained. Some lessons must be learned the hard way.

May your New Year, 2017 be filled with family, friends, health, and laughter.

A Poem to Share

This year of track driving has ended. Losses and gains. The new season will bring inevitable change. On this insistently cold afternoon there sits an aching in my soul.

Imagining days with air drenched heavy in the smell of rubber and brake pads ahead, I try shoo-ing the unpleasantness away. But, like a cocktail party blowhard, it doesn’t know when to quit and just follows me around the room.  It’s a hollowness that echoes into itself, then magnifies, and is different from the usual soul-sapping holiday dread.

Fortunately, as it so often does, my brain trips upon a thought or a drop of rain or perhaps just a thin wafer of memory about something already forgotten and gently slips into remembering a poem once read.

The gift of re-reading it does partially cushion the echo, ushering the blowhard outside temporarily. With your permission, I share it below.

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Turn 1 at Sebring International Raceway: the apex is marked by the cone atop a fence-post. Photo copied from Rennlist thread on Turn 1 and 7. The PCA SunCoast Region hosted a DE with track walk at Sebring in November 2016.

THE CATS WILL KNOW
by Cesare Pavese*
Translated by Geoffrey Brock

Rain will fall again
on your smooth pavement,
a light rain like
a breath or a step.
The breeze and the dawn
will flourish again
when you return,
as if beneath your step.
Between flowers and sills
the cats will know.
 
There will be other days,
there will be other voices.
You will smile alone.
The cats will know.
You will hear words
old and spent and useless
like costumes left over
from yesterday’s parties.
 
You too will make gestures.
You’ll answer with words—
face of springtime,
you too will make gestures.
 
The cats will know,
face of springtime;
and the light rain
and the hyacinth dawn
that wrench the heart of him
who hopes no more for you—
they are the sad smile
you smile by yourself.
 
There will be other days,
other voices and renewals.
Face of springtime,
we will suffer at daybreak.

I do wish I owned a cat or two. And I so detest the stainless-steel canopied winter sky today. But I do feel the poem in my body, along with the scratchiness of my wool skirt, and the warming knee boots under my desk where the space-heater cozily emits a constant toasty purr. A lifetime of learning that through suffering comes compassion and growth. So, today in my heart I can almost believe that better track days lie ahead.

*“The Cats Will Know” appears in Cesare Pavese’s collection Disaffections: Complete Poems 1930-1950 (Copper Canyon Press, 2002). Cesare Pavese (1908 –1950) was an Italian poet, novelist, literary critic and translator. In his home country, he is widely considered among the major authors of the 20th century. (Source: wikipedia.org.)