Yesterday, the cherubim’s human coil turned seven. For his birthday, we did something very different from our normal wont. A friend of ours from college drives a race car and had been inviting John to come up to the track to see him. One of the days available happened to be Ro’s birthday, and since Ro is the only person in our family who is aware of vehicles (usually trains rather than cars, but…) we thought that sounded like a good day.
So, we took the boys out of school – something we’ve never done before – and drove an hour into the wilds of West Virginia to a place called Summit Point Raceway, where our friend James met us with his shiny bronze race car. We unloaded the boys, covered them with sun block, and set off with these little mist spritzers in hand that the boys LOVED. (You pump them up and then they spray a mist to keep you cool.)
James took us on a tour of the place. We went to a tower overlooking the track where you could here the race cars zoom by. At that close distance, they sounded nearly as loud as the Navy’s precision flying jets. (John and I both went to college at St. John’s in Annapolis – as did our friend James the Race Car Driver – Every spring, the Blue Angels, the Navy precision flying team, would fly over the graduation. John grew up on air bases, so this was nothing new to him. But I knew nothing about this. So, one morning in May, my freshman year, I woke up to a roar the likes of which I had never heard before, certain that Annapolis was being bombed!) James then took us on a tour of the place where the vehicles parked, so we could see the cars up close.
Then came the moment of truth. It was James’s groups turn to go out on the track, and one of us parents could go with him.
So, I climbed onto my first roller coaster and sat down next to my tall and manly husband – as dark and masterful as Davy Jones himself, except with beard hair instead of tentacles. I strapped into the deliberate-induction-of-terror device and waited, heart pounding, for the ride to begin. And off we went! Up and down and over and under, me praying fiercely all the way. At one point, feeling a momentary feminine quail, I glanced at my brawny husband for support and received a great disappointment –he was white as a sheet with his eyes closed, far more terrified than me.
Remembering this less than sterling moment, I knew that there was no chance my husband would step into the speed-trap of doom. For myself, I could not think of anything I less wanted to do. But the idea of disappointing our wonderful friend after we came all the way up there was worse than any fear, so I decided to take the plunge.
My resolve was encouraged by the fact that no one had crashed while I was watching. In fact, the cars seemed quite far apart from each other with a lot of room around them. I thought I might actually survive.
I was encouraged again by the strapping in process. The seatbelt – if you can call it that – in a race car is even more fancy that the five-point car seats you have to strap children into nowadays. By the time I was helmeted and strapped in, I felt so snug that it was almost hard to be frightened. As we pulled up to the track, I prayed fervently and resolved that I would be brave for the sake of my friend.
And then we were off! Only this was no oval like you see in the movies, this track snaked! You turned and then turned back and then turned again. By the time, we’d been on the track for two minutes, I was sure I would not last more than two rounds (we were supposed to go a whole mind-numbing ten!) Surely, I would be overcome by the nausea that James warned sometimes overtakes people. He told me to let him know if this happened…and by gosh, I was ready to do that!
Only…then James started talking. We had these little mike things that sat by our ears and mouths and were connected by a wire, so we could hear each other. In a calm voice, James began to explain what was going o: how he took the curves in such a way as to maximize the time he spent going straight. How cars could brake, turn, or drive, and you wanted – when possible – to do only one of the three, so you tried to do your braking on the straight, before you began your turn, how you pass other drivers, how we were going 130 on the straightway!
I began to see quite clearly that racing was not a matter of who had the fastest car, like a Cub Scout derby race, but an art. A driver who understood how to take the curves could gain dramatically on one who did not. Slight nuances of style could make a bid difference in the speed at which one took the track. Also, I came to completely agree with James’s observation that drivers were athletes. You really got thrown around in that thing! It was not for sissies.
The first two rounds were pure terror. Then, I began to realize that if I looked where we were going, rather like spotting in waltzing (an art I learned at college waltz parties organized by my same friend James) one did not feel dizzy at all.
By round three, still praying like a madman, I decided to relax and enjoy the ride, feeling that my life was in God’s hands either way, I might as well try to not be frightened.
By round five, it had worked. I wasn’t frightened any more. After that, the ride was just fun and interesting. (I never really stopped praying…but, nothing wrong with that. ;-) I had fun listening to James and waving to John and the boys (well, Orville, anyway. The other two were looking the other way) who were watching me from the tower.
By round ten, when we left the track, I was exalted. The whole thing had been great fun.
What I knew about racing when we arrived at the Summit Point could be summed up in two lines:
1) Keep your eyes focused where you want to go, not where you seem to be going. In this way, you can avoid many accidents.
2) The movie CARS.
After this ride, I knew so much more: that there was an art to driving, what the different colored flags meant, that this track was used to train drivers who were going to Iraq, (one can even take a course in advanced drivers ed there,) that race car drivers were the highest paid athletes in the world.
We regrouped and had lunch. After that, one of the gentlemen who ran the place took John, Orville, and Ro around the track in a car. (Juss decided to stay with Mommy. Sometimes, he’s amused by the idea that he’s scared of something.) The gentleman took the boys around at about 60, then spun the car in a circle, sending up a huge cloud of dirt, at the end.
As we left to go home, the boys were deciding what color their race car would be when they became race car drivers.
The rest of the day was pleasant. For the first time in a while, we made good choices about what to give the Cherubim, who seemed interested in his presents. There was ice cream cake with my family, and a pleasant evening was had by all. We ended it with one of my favorite birthday traditions, the reading of Dr. Seuss’s HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU!
This morning, I woke up at some early hour to hear Juss shouting at the top of his voice: “Wake up! It’s not your birthday any more!”
James’s Race Car