Feeling Fast

Being a young Gearhead with a fleet of vintage cars (I did not mean for that to sound like I was showing-off) means that I sometimes get lectured by gearheads of an older generation on the dangers of driving fast or car control. All I can do is sit there and nod in agreement, because I am still at an age where if I respond with, “yes, I know already”, I will sound like a cocky young punk who will eventually learn the hard way. But, I’ve collected my fair share of city miles as gearhead when it comes to driving. I’ve totaled a car, crashed a car, been wrecked into, experienced a car that is out of control, break downs, left stranded on a dark highway, pushed a car home, dealt with police on multiple occasions, and even partaken in a casual streetlight drag race. So I’ve been around the block, and left the tire marks to prove it.

About a week ago, my uncle Mike got to test drive my 1969 Camaro. Unlike myself, he is from a generation when my Camaro was just another everyday daily driver, so I had no problem tossing him the keys to my time machine. The test drive was like a flashback to the 1970’s for him, back to his youth, and he drove my poor Camaro as such. Afterwards, he mentioned to me that I should probably sell my Camaro and invest in a muscle car I really wanted. Reading in between the lines made me realize what he was actually telling me. What he was really telling me was that this hot Camaro was too much car for me and that I should get rid of it before they use it as my coffin. I know he wasn’t saying I didn’t know how to drive, or insulting my ability, he is just looking out for my own safety. That being said, I was still a little annoyed, because I am not a teenager anymore. If I was 16 years old and had this Camaro I would completely understand, but I’m a month away from being a college graduate! That experience got my thinking of physical and emotional feeling of going fast. People that have only one class of vehicle, only trucks or only new cars, all their lives won’t understand when I say that 100 mph can feel a lot faster or a lot slower depending on what you are driving.

For example, when I am driving my mom’s brand new 2015 luxury sedan or my slightly used 2013 econobox down an interstate and I decide to push the needle past 100mph, I feel totally relaxed. Why? Because thanks to modern technology most new cars feel like their only doing 70mph when they are in fact traveling well over 100. Not to mention all the latest death-proof safety devices such as traction control and stability control that are designed to keep us between the ditches. So at 120mph, my little econobox has reached its limited top speed and I could drive it with one hand knowing that if the car were to suddenly get loose there is a good chance I’ll get up in a field, but with all four wheels still on the ground. Don’t get me wrong, I know this is not a safe speed, and I do not condone speeding on public roads, but I’m saying that modern cars can feel safe even at high speeds. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is a different story.

If I switch keys and get behind the wheel of my truck, which is limited to 101mph, the speed feels utterly different. Now I have no choice but to keep both hands on the wheel and become aware of any extra play in the steering wheel as the truck hops along the interstate, swaying over every imperfection on the tarmac. Eventually you get used to the sensation that the truck is floating, but not before you tighten your seatbelt and hope the suspension doesn’t travel so far up that the rushing air lifts the rear tires up. Because if they do lift, and lose traction, then you’re going to need a faster set of hangs, and a new pair of shorts, to counter steer your way to safety.

Finally, we get inside the Camaro, and to be completely honest I do not know what the top speed of that car is because I have never pushed it beyond 90mph. Reasons being because well… it scares the living crap out of me. As the Camaro angrily fights the law of physics to reach 90mph, the cold sweat on my palms weld my hands to the steering wheel as I basically hang on for dear life. At that point I am not driving, I am just aiming the car in the direction I wish to go and praying it wants to go that way too. All while knowing that if this car decides to misbehave, as old cars often do, that I will be crashing through the gates of heaven, upside down, in a 360 spin before I even have a chance to downshift. Feeling the vibrations at the wheel as the car brawls it way through the air, all the 1960’s technology shaking and rattling inside the interior makes the car feel like it’s about to break the sound barrier. Exciting, yes, but the sense of the grim reaper riding shotgun is right behind it.

I know most of you who will read this will know exactly what I am talking about and think that I am just a broken record, but not everyone has the luxury, or desire, to max out every car they come across. Regardless of what your views on speed are, whether you think it kills, is a drug, a cure for a bad day, or you just do because you enjoy it, speed feels different. Three different cars speeding at the same rate of time and distance will have totally different sensations and emotions. It’s one of the many occasions where a car can have a direct impact on your emotional state.

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The Final FInish Line

           Motorsport can be a deadly sport, as any fan or driver will tell you. The following is a tribute to those Drivers who went beyond the limits of man and machine in the name of victory.

 I wake up feeling like I had just experienced a nightmare, panting and sweaty, and then I notice that I am laying on asphalt with my race suit and helmet still on. I try standing up but I feel very weak and stumble to get on my feet. It dawns on me that I don’t know where I am or how I ended up standing in the middle of a road. A two-lane blacktop in the middle of some kind of desert, least that’s what it looks like, only the temperature isn’t warm and the sky is an orgy of purples, pinks, and orange coloring. I feel my helmet and can feel that my visor has been broken off on half of its face and scratches riddled the rest of it. My race suit is scorched like it had been in a fire. I look around for signs of life, but all I see is dark sand and a string of telephone poles that seems to go on forever along the left side of the road. A burning sensation travels through my body when I turn to the right to see my Formula 1 car laying in the sand, upside down and completely engulfed in flames. I fall to my knees in shock as I see the car explode. A human like figure in the cockpit burns in the inferno motionless – I was dead.

Faint memories of what had happened begin to imagine themselves in my head. I remember the car getting loose on the straight away, something in the suspension had collapsed. I remember counter steering as the car turned violently to the left, straight into the barrier separating the pits from the track. The sound of metal and carbon fiber crumbling was the last thing I remembered before waking up here. This feeling is strange, knowing you are no longer alive yet not feeling any since of depression or sadness. Instead, it has been replaced with a relaxing sense of numbness. I don’t know what is going to happen next.

A familiar sound causes me to turn around to see what I hope it will be. The sound of a push-rod V8 rumbling through the still air approaches me. It’s a white 1970 Dodge Challenger cruising towards me and stops just inches away from of my feet. The white paint seems to glow instead of shine and the interior is solid white as well, even the instrument panels and pistol-grip shifter. It sings to me at it pours more gasoline into its six pack intake and opens its driver side door for me to get in. I can feel music waves flowing though my head as I step into the white vinyl interior, pretty sure it’s an instrumental of Don’t Fear the Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult. Closing the door sets the car off in motion as it  travels down the two-lane blacktop on to what feels like nowhere. Confusion, paranoia, and anxiety crowd for my attention as they fight it out in the pit of my stomach. The car is taking me somewhere, I don’t know where, as the pistol-grip shifter moves on its own when it shifts from second into third gear with smoothness of a bolt-action rifle.

Time seems to have no relevance here because I sense that we have been traveling for a while but I have forgotten how to estimate time, just feels like I’m a treadmill. Time takes a backseat as I see figures in the rear-view mirror. They get closer as the Challenger speeds up with an effortless grunt from its 440 engine. Echoes of man made machines begin to fill the desert air as I see a light in the horizon begin to shine which illuminates the approaching shadows in the rearview mirror.

The first shadow came to light as the Challenger sped up to 100 miles an hour, staying as steady as a locomotive, and takes form in the shape of a 1955 Mercedes 300 SLR wearing the number #20 with the driver name of P. Levegh. I tried to see into the car to get a look at the driver as it got along side of me on the left, but the windows are completely blacked out like a pair of aviator sunglasses. Dressed on the front fender were the words, 24 of LeMans 1955. The Mercedes drives off, crossing over to the right lane and vanishes before the Challenger catches up to it. I grab the steering wheel tightly as I see a second shadow speeding up towards me in the side view mirror.

1970 Can-Am race car took the shape of this shadow, showcasing the driver name B. McLaren on its side and Goodwood Circuit 1970 just beneath it. Sporting a bright yellow paint job and a #5, it brought me memories of racer X from the cartoon series Speed Racer as it races off into the distance before also vanishing into thin air – the Challenger soldiers on mile after mile. The yellow lines on the road begin to glow as the Challenger positions itself in the middle of the road. The light on the horizon keeps getting brighter as the purples, pinks, and orange colors in the sky slowly begin to transform into greens and blues, and I start to notice stars in the sky.

My astronomical observations are interrupted by two more shadows coming behind the Challenger. I glance in the rear-view mirror just in time to catch the sight of a rear wing from a Formula 1 race car, branded in Marlboro red sponsorship and a bright yellow helmet in the cockpit. Before I can get a closer look I am greeted by an ear full of American V8 noise coming from a NASCAR stock car pulling up next to me on the right. Painted black with a big #3 on its door and the driver name Dale Earnhardt written on its roof line and the words Daytona 500 2001 on its front fender. I knew who this was but it too had blacked out windows and all I could do was watch as it downshifted and roared away into the air. Almost at the same time, the F1 car crept up on my left side. I could see the driver, but his visor was blacked out, so I couldn’t see his face, but I didn’t have to read the driver name A. Senna to know it was him. Imola 1994 was dressed across the nose of his car. The driver looked like a statue until his head turned and I could see myself in the dark reflection, he motioned with his hand and pointed to the light at the end of the horizon. As I turned to see what he was pointing at, the race car drove away, shooting flames out the back as it shifted gears. The echo of its engine ran with the wind long after the car vanished.

The scenery turns pitch black as the Challenger drives up the light which is at the edge of a cliff. The Challenger stops just before entering the light and opens the door, I think it’s asking me to get out. As I stepped out of the car I notice that on either side of the light, which looks like someone cut a garage door sized hole in space, are the cosmos of the universe. Stars and colors fill the background as I watch in amazement. Behind me is absolute darkness, only things I have in front of me is the light and the galaxy behind it. The light hums like a transformer gathering electricity. The Challenger’s paint begins to glow the same level as the light as it bellows one last torque symphony before driving into the light.

I have reached the ultimate dead end, the last finish line. As I walk up closer to the light, nervous butterflies feel like they have steel tipped wings as they bump the lining of my stomach and my hands begin to sweat inside my racing gloves. Before I enter the light I hear the sound of engines running, running at their limit. Revving, redlining, full throttle, and within a split second everything feels okay. I feel at ease as I step into the light, to join my brothers.

              “It takes a special kind of person to want to put their life at risk in the name of a sport. This short story is a tribute to those who are no longer with us, but went out chasing their never ending need for speed. I pray they have all reached the light at the end of the road and found peace. The urge to race is not a skill, it is a destine rite of passage that only few are gifted with the burden of. All I can say is RIP, Race In Peace.”

  • -Jesus R. Garcia