My love of auto racing began when I was three or four, my brother a toddler in Mom's arms . Dad took us to see dragsters at Dragway 42, slingshots, burning rubber most the way down the track, a rooster tail of blue smoke.
And then there was the sound of the engines, the roar of a V-8 revs climbing higher, sweet yet edgy, as if you could distill the good parts of testosterone into a sound. A race engine idles rough, the rhythm broken, syncopated, the sound of waking up grumpy, but then the song comes on. For a racing engine does not want to idle, it wants to sing, to climb higher, to be free.
Drag racing was my fascination until 1989 when my father took me to Mid Ohio to see the Can Am. That was a great racing series, revered today, and at that time the fastest road racing cars on earth. Suddenly I had the sound of a motor, the speed combined with corners. And hills. At turn Eleven you turn hard without being able to see your apex, for it lies just after a hill crest, then the road drops away, full power you race down hill, tires drifting left, then you climb again, up, for another corner, fast but you cannot see your target when you must turn in.
There is something special when you are in a car at speed. You turn in, and if you do it just right the car will sort of stand up, you pass beyond the grip available from your tires, pushing to the outsde of the corner, yet the car pointed correctly, everything light, nothing but the track ahead. As the car approaches the edge of the track the steering comes back, you have grip again, and you're ready to look for that next apex.
A car is something you feel, the gee's building against you, the feel of the suspension beneath you, the pitch if your tires are gripping the lightness if they are not, and you can think of nothing else, hear nothing else, feel nothing else but that corner ahead, the car you want to pass. Feel tells you what the car is doing, if the body is tight and loaded, the tires gripping, you know there is more because you can feel it. You feel the nose pitch up under power, the body lean into the turn, then dive as you brake hard.
Things happen quickly, but your mind speeds up. They talk of football being a game of inches, but really they have nothing on us. Try the kink at Nelson at around 140 mph. A one inch error can send you tumbling or pitch you into a tire wall.. But you go for it, because the speed is what you need, what you crave, what will get you past the car ahead.
Danger is a part of racing. Perhaps that is part of racing's appeal. There is a moment of fear when you put your foot down that first time through a fast corner. And then you're through and the body relaxes, adrenaline mixed with success because you made it. Only you can't celebrate because another corner is ahead and you need to brake now, stand the car on its nose to get by. Besides, you'll have to do it again next lap.
It's comradery preparing the car, and the time you saved putting in fuel at that last pit stop. It's going out trying your best to win, and having a beer with the other guy at the end of the day.
Some people may never understand. The car is a temperamental mistress, but graceful as ballerina. A good drive is a picture of smoothness, as if nothing where abnormal, only the driver is walking a tight rope the edge of adhesion at stupendous speed, The least race car is a violent, recalcitrant beast, only to be tamed by skilled hands. The engine is loud, but the sound a symphony that tells of a tale of power, control and response. The car is a dancer lithe under your hand, ready follow your lead down The Last Open Road.
I hope that helps you understand why I love racing.