Thursday, July 29, 2010

Oil & Hay - 6

There's hay strewn about the track on the descent to Portier, the tight right-hander before the tunnel. Debris, too, but not much: Bits of suspension. The solitary silver cone of a rear-view mirror. Marshals scramble for their flags. I step on the brakes, skid into the corner and take it wide, gingerly. To my left there's a hideous gap in the guardrail where the third of four Total banners used to be. Total, Total, nothing, Total. Nothing but the deep blue sea.

As I pick up speed into the tunnel I wonder what happened, who that was. A backmarker? Lorenzo? I don't see him up ahead at the chicane but he did have quite a lead. Maybe he's alright.

When I come round again my pit board says P1. Maldarelli must have flown into the void.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Chase Freedom

I received a credit card solicitation yesterday with the words "Chase Freedom" printed on the front. It's a funny phrase when you think about it.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Oil & Hay - 5

I grow more comfortable now, sinking into the peculiar rhythm of the course. There is no respite. There cannot be a breach in concentration, yet there is no time to think. You're always braking, shifting, turning, shifting, turning, braking. The only way to do it is to give yourself completely. To just let go. At other races it's useful to conceive of the car as an extension of your body; here you must think of the entire track that way. Be a blood cell coursing through your veins.

I feel the unexpected cool of a drip of drool emerge out the corner of my mouth.

I remain fixated on the back of Zo's car but find that I can observe certain incidental environmental details with naive fascination – amusement, even – like a child. There's the big Marlboro sign on the footbridge past start/finish. The Campari sign on the bridge after Casino. The banners that festoon the barriers and walls: Martini, Elf, BP, Esso, Total. Cigarettes, booze and petrol. What men buy.

I also discern the spectral figures of photographers, walking blithely along the narrow sidewalks, sometimes turning into a crouch to face us.

Zo's pulling away. Each time I see him in the tighter corners I'm tempted to believe the narrowing gap is meaningful but again he speeds off – down into the tunnel, out of the chicane, out of the Gasworks hairpin and up the front straight. I wish he'd make a mistake. Anything. Anything is possible. I look for his tail to fly out of his perfect drift. It never does.

My pit board says:


Eighty-two laps to go.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Oil & Hay - 4

I make the rear of my car wide in my imagination. That way none shall pass. I follow Zo up the squiggle of Beau Rivage and left around Massenet. We emerge into Casino Square, the grandstand a jubilant burst of orange, white and red. Over the bump we go, airily down the hill, past the manhole cover, toe the brake, declutch, neutral, clutch, heel the throttle, declutch, second gear, clutch, throttle, right around Mirabeau, close up to the curb but not too close, and down again to the Station Hairpin, slow, slow, slow, turning the wheel all the way, my God it takes forever and there goes Maldarelli.

I can't stand to be left behind.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Oil & Hay - 3

I sat in my Star-Apogee and twice pumped the throttle, the motor roaring venomously at my back. I looked to my left and saw Santiago Bragato, the Argentine, adjusting his goggles in his hunter green Hewitt-Clark. Ahead of us in the first row were reigning world champion José das Chagas in his Cavallo Nero, offset to my left, and Zo at the far left in his. Zo and Zé. Teammates and tempestuous rivals. Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

Beyond them Louis Chiron held his hand up: five.

I tried to contemplate the calm between my heart's concussive beats.


I stepped on the clutch and engaged first gear.

Three. Two.

I pressed the throttle to the floor. The motor noise rose to a continuous shriek of extreme urgency, all its energy lusting keenly for release.


Louis steps aside and waves the Monégasque red-and-white with an extravagant flourish. I release the clutch and my rear wheels spin madly for the merest moment; soon they find purchase and I shoot forward, ducking under Zé. Up to second gear. To third.

How to overtake a car? Pretend it isn't there. View its claim to existence with scorn. Occupy the space that it would occupy. Ignore the laws of nature and they'll concede something to you. Not much. An inch or two. Enough to get by.

Ignore the laws of man as well. You've got to be ruthless in racing. Criminal-minded, really. Every time I overtake someone I feel as though I've picked his pocket. Though he must howl with indignation, I don't care. So what's in my spirit? An airy elation where shame's supposed to be. To race and to win is to be rewarded for sin.

As we approach St. Devote I push Zé out, brazenly insisting on my line. There's Zo ahead of me on the outside. He started like a rocket. I'll slip in behind him like that's the way it's meant to be.

I hold my breath and make it stick. That's one thing I do whilst overtaking: I hold my breath.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Oil & Hay - 2

I was nervous as well. Not in the particularly expressive way Lorenzo Maldarelli was. But I must admit. I was acting calm but I was nervous.

I sat on a folding chair in the pits and gazed at the grid, aswarm with actors and mechanics, reporters, portly officials and women on the make. Lurking among them were the motor cars, arrayed in staggered pairs, a patchwork of reds, blues and greens, sun-dappled by a canopy of maritime pines.

The prince and princess peered down upon the scene from across the boulevard.

I closed my eyes and beheld my apprehension like a wearyingly familiar object. Like a pocket watch. A shoe. What did it look like today? The same.

I placed a cold-sweaty hand to my chest and felt my heart.

Melanie tried to teach me a mantra once. Om et cetera. I didn't take to it, I must confess. Fine, she said. (Just like an American girl.) Make up your own. Really? I asked. Can it be anything? It can be anything you like, she said. So I chose a verse from a popular song:

He's a real nowhere man,
Sitting in his nowhere land,
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody

I thought my mantra three times through and felt a little better.

I'd soon be serene. This I knew. Once we snaked past St. Devote and were heading hopefully up the hill to Massenet I'd become exquisitely calm. Fall into that trance. Easy as pie. Hard to imagine it now, though.

In ordinary waking life my mind was perpetually cluttered by a thousand and one thoughts both frivolous and profound. I was distracted, fickle and forgetful. Inattentive. I'd read half a paragraph of an article in the morning paper only to be charmed by the next sensory event, regardless of importance: A birdsong. Burning toast. The untied laces of my shoes.

But when I raced my consciousness contracted. The world fell off the edges of the track. What remained? The tailpipes of the car ahead of me. And if by luck or merit none were present: the maddening unseen, ever vanishing around the bend or over the horizon. This is what I chased. Was it what I wanted?

Why were this and that so far apart?

Zo told me once, late one night, after we had copiously toasted one of his dominating performances in '63 - was it Monza? - that the entire race, every race in fact, was for him an occasion for hysterical, shrieking panic. He was terrified to the core that he'd die and he grew more certain that he would with each passing lap. He told me he often screamed out loud into the wind whilst downshifting into a particularly devious corner. Out loud? I asked. Si, Malcolm, he replied. Come una ragazza. He was desperately eager for the race to end. Always. How many more laps? Twelve? God forbid. Five? Two? When it was over and he'd bring his machine to a stop – in the winner's circle, often – he'd experience such an elation, such a burst of pure pleasure, that in his efforts to describe it he broke into sobs. I put my hand on his shoulder.

One thing was for certain: he was quick.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

In the News Today

I flipped through a discarded daily on the train.

A fifteen-foot drill for digging the Second Avenue line had erupted from below, breaching the border between the underground and street.

No one was hurt, the article said. And the hole was repaired.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Oil & Hay - 1

Lorenzo was yawning as usual. And when he wasn't he excused himself to vomit into a white bucket that his pit crew had stuck behind the wall.

I yawned too, helplessly. Not wanting to. Not needing to.

"See? You yawna too," he said.

"It's because you make me tired, Zo."

Lorenzo smiled meekly. His damp and pallid face gave him the odious air of a stage villain.

"How many times have you done this, Zo?"

"Twenty-nine. After today, thirty. Se Dio vuole," Lorenzo said, crossing himself. Rocking foot-to-foot.

"Twenty-nine. You'd be used to it by now I should think."

"Never, Malcolm," he replied somberly, shaking his head. "Never, never, never, never get used to it."

His strangled syntax made confession sound like admonition. Or is that what he meant? I didn't get a chance to ask.

"Excuse-a me, Malcolm," he said with a yawn. "Good race for you, OK? I go now. Che Dio ti protegga."

I waved as he went off to vomit once again.