‘Rac­ing has never not hinged on money, and the only con­stant with rac­ing money is a fuzzi­ness of fate’


AU­TUMN IS WIND­ING down. And so most rac­ing peo­ple have ar­rived at the point in the year where they stop trav­el­ling to cir­cuits at the week­end and in­stead put­ter around in­doors, drink­ing from a fire hose of cof­fee and rais­ing an eye­brow at cal­en­dars. (‘Novem­ber, eh? Isn’t Aus­tralia warm now?

Should I move to Aus­tralia?’) Think­ing sea­son. Some­thing in the tran­si­tion, win­ter’s com­ing dark.

Time to sum up the year out­doors.

The last lap of my sum­mer oc­curred at La­guna Seca. A sprint race, Cal­i­for­nia on a Sun­day in Au­gust. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the last lap I’d take this year. There were sup­posed to have been two more. A nine-hour en­durance event at Mid-Ohio, in Oc­to­ber, in a bor­rowed MX-5 Cup. Then a his­toric sprint race at Cir­cuit of the Amer­i­cas in Novem­ber, in a friend’s BMW 2002. They were on the cal­en­dar for months, and then they evap­o­rated, in the way that only rac­ing com­mit­ments can, quickly. Fam­ily con­flicts, bud­get changes, a per­fect storm of events that just wiped them off the cal­en­dar.

Plans are funny. The Amer­i­can base­ball player and malapropist Yogi Berra once noted that, if you don’t know where you’re go­ing, you’ll end up some­where else. He might as well have been talk­ing about ev­ery sea­son I’ve spent set­ting money on fire in am­a­teur mo­tor­sport. Rac­ing has never not hinged on money, and the only con­stant with rac­ing money is a fuzzi­ness of fate. You can plan where cash is go­ing (tyres, brakes, en­try fees) but that doesn’t mean the funds won’t wan­der off and get lost in some­thing else en­tirely. (Tyres, brakes, en­try fees, that time the diff blew up at Road At­lanta but not be­fore your co-driver bounced the car off the wall and yadda yadda just an­other Satur­day this sort of thing hap­pens, you know, or at least that’s what ev­ery­one says at the time, be­fore you start drink­ing.)

The Mon­terey fin­ish was noth­ing like event­ful. I wasn’t in con­tention for the win or buried in an epic bat­tle. A month ago, be­fore my Mid-O and COTA plans fell apart, I doubt I would have re­mem­bered much of the La­guna week­end. And then things got to can­celling, flights re­funded and cal­en­dar a mess, and it be­came the last race un­til next year. De­tails flooded back.

The front tyres were go­ing off. The rears were in that end-oflife light-switch mode, one too many heat cy­cles, snatchy lit­tle slides at odd mo­ments. There were small patches of oil in Turns 2 and 12. The sand just in­side the apex of 5 had a healthy divot where some­one had thrown a car off back­ward in some ab­surd col­lapsed over­take. It was oval-shaped. I dis­tinctly re­mem­ber see­ing an oval divot.

It’s silly, right? An emo­tional dis­sec­tion of a dull drive in a cir­cle? Imag­ine meet­ing some­one who has never even seen a car, then try­ing to ex­plain why a solo too­tle around a cir­cuit could stick in your head for months.

I spent the long trek up La­guna’s back-straight hill think­ing about what you’d have to do to spin a car in 5. Then the trudge through Turn 12, a slow left-han­der onto the front straight. The car flung past the flag. A lift of the throt­tle, coast­ing. The cock­pit held the un­fo­cused racket of a cool­ing race car, not quiet but nowhere near as loud as it had been. The mo­ment seemed to pull it­self out, stretch­ing across the clock like taffy.

I re­mem­ber notic­ing how the straight’s flag stand nes­tled un­der the pedes­trian bridge. How Mon­terey, skies of­ten hazy in sum­mer, was clear that day, ver­dant hills, sun­light sharp and crackly. Or maybe I don’t re­mem­ber. I typed those words and then doubted my rec­ol­lec­tion, so I pulled up the in-car video on my lap­top. I was right to ques­tion; the weather was ap­par­ently a lit­tle mopey. Brown hills, hazy air.

It’s funny, how the brain can melt and shift to recre­ate the feel­ing of a mo­ment, even if the de­tails don’t agree with re­al­ity. But that’s love, I guess. I’ve had some ter­ri­ble sea­son-en­ders over the years, week­ends where al­most ev­ery­thing imag­in­able went wrong. But in am­a­teur rac­ing, the fog of mis­ery never seems to sur­vive the long roll back to the pad­dock. There are no bad last laps. None you don’t want to re­mem­ber. Only good ones, and bet­ter ones, and even bet­ter ones than that.

US jour­nal­ist Sam is equal parts helms­man, car geek and speed freak. He’s ed­i­tor at large at Road & Track mag­a­zine

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