By on May 23, 2017

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I don’t Netflix and I don’t chill. I live my life in the first person and I take my stories through my own eyeballs so I can turn around and tell them to you. So here is a little story for you, about a girl I happen to know. You can call her a woman, if you like and if it suits your politics. She calls herself a girl.

Once upon a time, this girl was a pilot. She was still a teenager when she soared off into the New Mexico sky on her own for the first time. When she landed, her instructor cut off the tail of her dress shirt. This is a thing, if you did not know. She was tall and blonde and very serious. She grew up to own a few businesses and she became very much her own girl. She was independent. And if she did not always have things her own way, at least she always had the sky waiting for her.

This girl met a very bad man. He was bad in the way that men in the movies are bad, that violent, intemperate, dramatic way. And he was also bad in the tiresome little ways that men in real life are bad, the forgetting and the wandering and the way he was too slippery to pin down, like oyster meat under your fork or tongue. And one day she woke up to find herself fuzzy-headed in the hospital, bolted together inside and out, very far from home, stuck with this bad man like Belle in the castle of the Beast.

She wanted to fly home, but there was no way to fly home. There was no more way to fly at all. She was broken in ways that might always keep her from flying. I am sure she thought about giving up. But she put her head down and she worked on unbreaking herself. They say you cannot unbreak yourself, the same way you cannot un-ring a bell. But she unbroke herself.

“If I cannot fly,” she said, “I will race.”


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She went racing with the same bad man who had broken her, which is the kind of unfortunate accommodation that happens when your story is dictated by fate and not by a friendly author. She went to racing schools and although it was painful for her sometimes, to have her crinkled bones strapped down in the cramped and unfriendly confines of rental racers and casual cars, she did not complain. They gave her a license and said she was ready to race. You could say that they cut off the tail of her shirt again. Once a pilot, now a racer.

This is the part of the story where our heroine should face adversity, and indeed she did. Her race team fell apart. First, the fellow who owned their race car decided to quit. It happened suddenly, though he did not tell anybody until later. He’d been standing at the pitlane wall at Watkins Glen when it occurred to him that he could die doing this. So he quit at the worst possible time, after all the entry fees had been paid and all the flights booked.

She was not easily discouraged. She got another car. It kept breaking. Her team members started to wander off. One of them told her, on the way out the door, that she should spend a lot of money on a new race car. He told her what car to get. But the decision would be hers alone and the cost would be hers alone.

It did not scare her. You can’t be the kind of girl who flies a plane alone at seventeen if you are scared of things. She bought the car. It was a horrible amount of money and there was more money to spend right away. Then more, and more. Until she thought that perhaps it had been a mistake.

In her first race with the new car, she spun on some oil and hit the tire wall at high speed. It was not fatal for her little convertible and her friends fixed it up for her, even as the bruises blossomed on the pale skin beneath her drivers suit. But some of them took it as a bad omen and they did not come back to the next race.

There were a few people who did not give up. Two men, Slavic like her, quiet and determined the way she was quiet and determined. A friendly-faced young giant of a fellow, a deeply committed Christian who would not swear when the car burned or cut him. They fixed the car. But the next race was even worse. The car did not finish either day. Everybody put on a brave face but most of them started to remember other obligations they had, ones that might be more pressing than joining her for the rest of the season.

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Alone together in the castle of the beast, she and the bad man had a long talk. She explained they had asked too much of their friends. She would take the car back and race it by herself, paying all the bills and bearing the burden alone. But they would do one more race before that happened. She asked everybody to come back, to put in the effort one last time. Most of them said “no.” They said it in kind ways, they had reasons and schedules and excuses. But they still said “no.”

Eight people said yes: the Slavs and the big man from Michigan, who felt like family to her. A young man from Philadelphia volunteered to come at his own expense and work any job that was available for the whole weekend, even though he had never met her. He wanted to be part of something and this seemed like it was something. A friend she had made — a famous face who lived on the ocean but who was private and quiet like her when he wasn’t on camera — agreed to show up and help pay the bills. A professional race team sent their star driver, someone who had won the Daytona watch before turning twenty. He had never raced a car with a clutch pedal. A handsome, wealthy writer from Michigan arrived in an aircooled 911 he had rebuilt by hand, wearing a madras shirt with grease stains on the tails.

Everything went wrong before the race and the car only completed three laps in qualifying before overheating and quitting. The crew worked all night. The girl could not sleep. Her body hurt from lifting and carrying all the things required to get through a nine-hour endurance race. She was worried this would be the last time. That everybody would be let down and that they would go home. She thought that she could live her whole life without a trophy but she did not want to give up on her team.

When the race started they worked up to the lead. But they had led three races in the previous year, failing to finish every time, so the girl tempered her excitement. Sure enough, her car started to overheat. The left front tire rumbled in the corners. Under braking the back end would swerve in threatening fashion. Finally, they were knocked off course by a fellow who couldn’t control his own car or his own temper. I can tell you, dear reader, that things looked very dire.

It did not stay that way. The young pro driver was magic, slicing through the traffic and setting a lap time so low that the other teams complained that they must be cheating some how. The handsome writer was fast and composed. Her famous friend was steady and disciplined, avoiding the spinning cars and extending the lead. Even the bad man managed to put on a smile and hand in a solid stint.

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It was time for her to drive. There was an hour left. Their lead was sufficient to guarantee her the win. She had her drivers suit ready and she knew the track and she believed in herself. But as she walked back to the garage to get ready, she decided the best way to thank her friends for believing in her was to put one of them back behind the wheel. So that is what she did. And when the checkered flag waved, her car was in front.

In club racing, the podium is really for the drivers only, but she brought everybody up to get her trophy — drivers and crew. In the crush and the crowd afterwards, the girl went back to the garage, opened the door and sat in her very own race-winning car. It had taken more than a year, there had been both expense and sorrow, but she had been prepared for that. And though everybody knows a car cannot fly, maybe if you closed your eyes for a moment you could imagine the tired little convertible taking her back up into the clear blue of the New Mexico sky. To fly free and happy, like on that long-ago day when she sat alone in the seat of her plane and saw the whole world below her for the very first time.

I was there, dear reader, and I saw it all happen, from beginning to end, but this is her story, not mine. And it is all true.

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58 Comments on “Trackday Diaries: Veni, Vidi, Vici, Amavi...”


  • avatar
    e30gator

    Struck by lightning 66 times in the head.

    • 0 avatar
      Frank Galvin

      “He’s been struck by lightning… how many times has it been now, Reg?”

      God I love that movie, one of the best. I’ve even considered placing a hold for the Roman1 vanity plate, and was again scouring CL’s for a 560 SEL last night.

  • avatar
    kvndoom

    Damn Jack, I think this is the greatest thing you’ve ever written.

    And your wife is downright beautiful. That’s actually the first time I’ve seen a picture of her.

  • avatar
    brenschluss

    Well doesn’t that put it all into context. Loved reading this.

    Enormous congrats to C and the rest of the team, well deserved.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    Is that a skunk stripe?

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Hey, I’m 45. Better to have grey hair than none at all!

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Women will think you look distinguished. Say NO to Just for Men.

        (I’ll be 40 in June and I’ve got the salt and pepper look going on in my facial hair.)

      • 0 avatar
        S2k Chris

        I’ve already gotten the salt-and-pepper thing going at 35 (I blame 2 daughters and nighttime grad school) but I’ve never seen such a defined streak in the roots before.

        • 0 avatar
          Jack Baruth

          Not that I expect everybody to know every little thing about me, but I have been 100% grey since I was twenty-seven years old. I was “salt-and-pepper” when I was a junior at university.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            my wisdom teeth were fully in by the time I was 14, and I had ear hair in my early 20s. So I figure by the time I’m 60 I’ll be 90.

            though I don’t have any gray hair on my head yet…

      • 0 avatar

        I take exception to that hair comment.

    • 0 avatar
      jkross22

      Timely topic. My kids have been ribbing me to get rid of my gray. My wife keeps dropping suggestions. I’m the least vain person I know, and for the first time, I’m considering succumbing to familial pressure.

      I don’t really want to do it. I’m lazy. I’m cheap. But I’m also looking old.

      Sad trombone sound.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        jkross22 – My dad went facial hair gray before anything on his head changed. He started using Just for Men but after 17 years it gave him a rash under his facial hair and he had to stop.

        Just know that you can’t do it indefinitely.

  • avatar
    omer333

    /slow clap

    Damn sir, that was some fine damn writing.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Excellent writing ,Jack.

  • avatar
    jlbg

    The hardest part of racing is sticking with it when shit breaks. And shit always breaks. For me, racing all weekend without issues is a win.
    Congrats, glad to see the Miata is coming together. See you at AER Summit Point

  • avatar
    Whittaker

    My favorite moment, after a superior display, is when the performer turns his eyes and a finger skyward. Because no matter how hard one prepares and practices, there comes a time when the credit for a brilliant accomplishment can’t be contained in one soul.
    The wretched state of man, when truly seen, makes one wonder not on the receiver of the gift, but the giver.

  • avatar
    Troggie42

    I’ve heard bits and pieces of this story from the Ocean-dweller’s podcast, but the presentation here is just fantastic. Well typed, Mr. B.

  • avatar
    tonycd

    Excellent. I salute her, you and the whole team.

    Also good to see TTAC lifted to this level. It’s a more and more rare occurrence these days.

  • avatar
    Moparmann

    Simply OUTSTANDING!! :-)

  • avatar
    raisingAnarchy

    Beautiful writing, Jack. I thought this girl sounded familiar!

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    *slow clap*

  • avatar
    bikegoesbaa

    “He’d been standing at the pitlane wall at Watkins Glen when it occurred to him that he could die doing this.”

    This is possible but statistically pretty unlikely, right?

    Unless I’m misreading the statistics on-track auto racing appears to be one of the safest “sporting” things a person can do.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      The first year I went wheel-to-wheel racing, I was present at the racetrack for three deaths. One of them was a fellow who had gotten his comp license with me at the Mid-Ohio School just three months before.

      The last statistic I heard was 20-25 people per year. Statistically speaking, you’re at more risk from the fat in your arteries. But racing is a small community so you tend to see this stuff up close. It focuses the mind.

      • 0 avatar
        USAFMech

        Sounds like motorcycling. There are two types of riders….

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          @USAFMech – It isn’t a matter of if, it is a matter of when!

          • 0 avatar
            -Nate

            Yes Lou but don’t make it sound like it’s any reason not to ride…..
            .
            I’m crippled for life but I still ride .
            .
            My Daughter In Law who’s a competitive Supermoto and Off Road Rider was nearly killed three weeks ago (broken neck now fused, shattered left arm) is recovering from Cervical Fusion surgery and she’s already counting the time until she can ride again……
            .
            -Nate

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            @Nate – I’ve ridden most of my life. Dirt bikes primarily. There are days where it hurts to get up and days where it hurts to lay down. Sh!t, sometimes it hurts when laying down.

            You ride hard, you hit the ground hard. Car racing is no different.

            Would I change anything I’ve done?

            Probably not.

      • 0 avatar
        bikegoesbaa

        Not denying that bad things can and do happen, but I suspect there’s a tendency among racers to overstate the danger inherent in the activity; and thereby make themselves seem more daring and impressive to non-racers.

        Driving on a closed course with a cage, helmet, firesuit, and EMTs on-site always struck me as appreciably safer than the drive to the track on public roads. My safety concerns have primarily been along the lines of “I don’t want to wreck this pricey car” rather than “I might die”. Am I underestimating the actual danger of racing?

        The few on-track deaths I know the real details of have been an apparent result of somebody, typically an older fatso, having a heart attack under the heat/exertion/stress of operating a racecar. If you remove them what happens to the statistics?

        • 0 avatar
          Nick 2012

          I agree. While I don’t have solid evidence to back up my feelz, I think I’m much safer going 90 on a track with alert drivers in inspected machinery with full cages, belts, HANS devices, helmets, and fire suppression systems than driving on the interstate with drowsy truckers and cars on space-saver wheels.

          I’ve got a decent chance of surviving a rear-end collision on a track. I’ve got no chance of surviving a rear-end collision from a semi.

          This happened where I used to be an EMT. http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2017/05/west_michigan_man_among_4_kill.html

          • 0 avatar
            -Nate

            O.K. Lou ;
            .
            I have to sleep in a recliner or pain chair as often as not these days .
            .
            Ride hard, far and wide but always : SAFELY !
            .
            -Nate

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve read that cycling is the most dangerous sporting activity in terms of the number of injuries.

      Motorcycle champion Nicky Hayden just died from getting hit by a car while training on his bicycle.

      My then 10 year old daughter and I fell about 30 feet into a river bed while hiking, looking at waterfalls.

      Life itself carries with it some danger.

  • avatar
    pbx

    Reads like a parable. Interesting.

  • avatar
    Monty

    The story telling, the story, and the subject of the story are nothing short of phenomenal. Thank you for this, and kudos to the shirttail-less driver.

  • avatar
    Driver8

    In conclusion, great story. Would read again. 4 stars.

  • avatar
    TCowner

    Damn Jack – you took me away from my miserable desk to a much better place.

    If we all think of some of our best memories and times, it will likely involve taking some amount of risk and pushing the limits. Sitting on the couch safely at home isn’t very memorable.

    Fantastic writing!

  • avatar
    Syke

    Considering that Nicky Hayden (one of my absolute all-time heroes for the last twenty years) died two days ago . . . . . I needed this story to pick my mood back up a bit.

    Thank you, Jack.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Sweet ! .
    .
    Nice to read this up lifting story .
    .
    -Nate

  • avatar
    dont.fit.in.cars

    Back in the day I flew, saw death with wings and almost died a few times failing to understand the situation presented.

    Always hat tip ones commited to stepping in the Arena.

  • avatar

    Great story, Jack. 10 out of 10.

    Also nice to finally put a face with Danger Girl. And gain some understanding of how she earned her name.

  • avatar
    ZCD2.7T

    Best story and best writing I’ve seen here in a long, long time.

    Thanks and congrats to all involved!

  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    Great piece, and congratulations to DG and team. I’ve asked my wife to read it so she can begin to understand what success on the track feels like. I was stalking the team on the instant photo grams – Bozi and crew worked a miracle Friday night.

    We had one race where we started with a manual transmission, led our class, only to blow it up and swap an entire driveline back to the original automatic and finish the race. What a hot, disgusting, frustrating, and exhilarating day.

    I always figured that Bark guy who used to be on the team possessed the internal fortitude of an early 2000s W220 and would split the minute the going got tough. I say she’s better off without him (or anyone else in any way affiliated with The Ohio State University for that matter).

    • 0 avatar

      Ahem. That Bark guy had a plane ticket and a hotel reservation, but his daughter had her kindergarten graduation the same weekend. Some things are more important than racing, methinks.

      • 0 avatar
        Nick 2012

        Are you some sort of fundamentalist and pulling her out of school for good?!?! If not, then there will be plenty more graduations!

        My son graduates from kindergarten Friday. Obviously, you made the right call. I did miss our anniversary weekend to race once, but that was a little easier to re-schedule and could be planned around.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        Mark “Bark M.” Baruth – kudos. Yes. Some things are much more important. There will always be another race. You miss a child’s important milestones, they are lost forever.

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          Whoever came up with Kindergarten Graduation should have been tarred and feathered. A friend of mine just posted photos of her daughter at her Pre-K graduation. I get it that you have to be there for your kids, but some theres shouldn’t exist. My first graduation was from high school, and it meant something probably only because I hadn’t had a ceremony to mark finishing eighth grade, fifth grade, kindergarten or preschool. One might think that the worthless young adults we have today and their helicopter parents didn’t happen by accident.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    This is why I can’t quit Jack.

    This is not just not mere prose, but it’s transcendental conveyance.

  • avatar
    Eddie_B

    Wonderful, and congratulations the the team. Only you (in the plural) can know the real value of that trophy, but we’ll enjoy the story all the same.

  • avatar
    AoLetsGo

    Well done!
    Quitters never win and winners never quit.

  • avatar
    Whittaker

    Its so good.
    Just so damned good.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Congrats! You’ve got a keeper there. Don’t screw it up.

  • avatar

    For someone who has broken a lot of bones, you’re a very lucky man.

  • avatar

    The end pic with the last few paragraphs brought a rise of emotion and a few tears. Thanks for the article, Jack.

  • avatar
    Brett Woods

    She looks nice

  • avatar
    baconator

    Nice to finally see a picture of Danger Girl, and also fun to know that Matt Farah is quiet when not in front of a camera or a microphone. Congrats to the whole team.


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