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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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