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The occasion was a birthday. A friend was turning 70.
His wife was staging his party at an indoor race track. Place where you put on a race driver’s suit and helmet and zoom around a curvy course, trying not to slam into one of the big, rubber protective barriers or somebody else’s car.
When they responded to their invitations, the wisest guests said they’d not be driving.
I was not among the wisest guests. So there I was, jammed into a noisy little machine, my backside inches from the surface of the track.
We roared off in heats. Each competitor’s best time would flash in red bulbs on a big, electronic scoreboard. The top six finishers, identified by their initials, would qualify for the final heat. The bottom six finishers would watch.
Some of the racers were the birthday boy’s nephews and nieces. Their knees didn’t hurt, and they knew they would never die.
From among their number there would emerge a champion.
But if I could beat some of the other old fools, I might qualify for that championship lap.
What a stupid thing to worry about, I thought to myself.
But I only thought it for a moment, because the guy with the green flag was waving it…and checking his phone. We were off…some of us with glory on our minds.
I wanted to get a feel for the twisting course, so I drove cautiously…for a few seconds. Then I saw an opening between two cars and jammed the pedal to the floor. Behind me the engine roared like an angry lawnmower.
I passed some more people. Some people passed me. Around and up and then down and around we sped. One or two drivers got stuck against one of the barriers.
“Amateurs,” I thought.
When the heats had been completed, the drivers who’d only dawdled around the course for a lark knew their work was done. They took off their helmets and stepped aside.
I looked at the scoreboard. I tried to pretend I didn’t care whether or not I’d race again.
Then my initials appeared, glowing, on the column of lights. I felt a witless jolt of satisfaction.
“Aw, man,” I said to somebody, “my back is not going to like getting into that car again one bit.”
But that was rubbish.
The excellent birthday cake and ice cream wouldn’t have tasted nearly as good as they did if I hadn’t qualified.
This segment aired on April 29, 2017.
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