‘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.