Tuesday, May 17, 2011

We awoke a bit too late after a bad night, Sophia having cried and moaned senselessly, to an oppressively dreary morning, so dark it didn't seem the sun could be done rising. I stood in the kitchen and watched as the rain pounded the streets and sidewalks in ropy jets.

Oil & Hay - 22

About twenty laps into the race the fine mist that has lingered over the track all day grows heavy. It soon begins to rain at one extremity, the elevated, wooded section around Burnenville and Malm├ędy, whilst elsewhere it's dry. This phenonemon, unique to Spa, intensifies the impression one has of occupying the whimsical space of a dream.

You can't quite see where it's wet; you feel it under the car. You have to hold on tight, ride across until you hit a patch of dry on the other side. And then you're on the throttle, at the limit, angrily making up for lost time.

I come out of the sweeping right hander at Stavelot and perceive a spectral figure in my path, black robe-clad, gesticulating madly. Have we aroused some mythical being from his slumber? He bears a sign. He's not getting out of my way. I swerve a bit and he leans over; in a flash I see his contorted face leering at me as I pass. I check the rearview and see him shaking his fist at Checho.

On the following lap, though I'm petrified I'll see him again, I try hard not to lift. I come around the corner. There he is. Waving his sign. He encroaches upon my line just enough that I have to swerve again. My mouth is dry, my heart throbbing. What is that he's wearing? I know what it is. It's what a priest wears. It's a cassock. He's a priest. And his sign? I can read the first word only:


Lap after lap I brace myself for this close encounter, always missing the madman by a foot or two as he glares down at me, mouth agape. Each time I manage to read another word:






And the lap after I've read the last word, he is gone.

It's raining harder now. I chase the foggy haze around each corner, down each straight. It appears as though I soon will catch it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Oil & Hay - 21

I'm not losing ground. In fact I'm close enough to pressure Checho at the slower corners; not to pass–yet–but to harass, to worry him a bit.

It's a pleasure to be in this position. When cars are racing close the trailing driver has a certain power–an authority, even–over the leader, by virtue of what he might accomplish should his rival make the slightest error. The leader's naked, exposed, vulnerable. Blind. His pursuer is relaxed, happy. Hungry. What bliss it is to see up close the dark maw of the engine and the pair of pipes that frame the herky-jerky helmet of the laboring pilot. All of it inflames desire.

After a few laps I'm in his draft on the straights and I know it won't be long. I nose to either side of him going into corners, sniffing opportunity. He closes the door adroitly. Here the balance of power becomes more complex. If a quicker driver can't pass, he's a fool. I try not to become impatient, unnerved.

Then I come out of Blanchimont, a fast leftward bend, with exceptional pace. I must take advantage of it. I draw up on Checho to the left, up to his rear wheels, letting him believe I have the hubris to pass on the outside of the La Source hairpin. I wait for him to defend. I wait, and wait. And wait. Finally he drifts over a little and I duck back to the other side. As we approach the corner I have to believe the line belongs to me. I have to believe he won't turn in. I know I'll have to brake late, late, late. Keep it in shape. Most of all I must fill the track with my imagination. It's mine.

I'm a little more than halfway past the Hewitt-Clark when I get on the brakes. I feel the front end go loose right away–I'm skidding, swerving in this space I've arrogantly claimed. The wall of adverts at the end of the straight is fast approaching: Esso, Esso, Esso, Esso. Photographers. Gendarmes, staring dully at us as they do. I pump the pedal to avoid losing control completely. Little gasps of traction let me keep the line. I know I've got Checho beat as long as I can make this corner. I commit to it, a little bit too fast–too late to brake again; I'd skid into the hay. The back end loses traction now and I drift around the hairpin, giving quick bursts of throttle so I don't spin around. I don't care where Checho is; I can't care. On the other side now, I've got the front wheels in the right direction. I get back on the throttle all the way and the car shakes into shape. I fly down past the pits again, elated. P1.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Oil & Hay - 20

The Belgian tricolor falls. I get a jump on Checho. All I see is the bottom of the straight, Eau Rouge, the little twist lined with barriers, roiling crowds amassed against them; on the hill beyond it, a sign like a giant, squinting eye beholds the scene: Gulf.

I know Checho's there but I choose not to believe it. I sense there's nothing to my right. Zé has slotted in behind me, not taking any risks. Third gear now, the flags atop the pits now gone, and now's the dip, the nadir; I decide to get there first, to make it mine. I edge slightly to the left, almost ashamed of my audacity. And at once I perceive an awful presence: a wheel, racing madly; its trembling suspension; a green fuselage; a man inside–the entire entity consisting of an angry and indignant rebuke: Get back!

I cede the way to Checho at the corner and climb back up the hill behind him, both of us fishtailing as we hit the throttle.