by Ian Cooper
Racing has always fascinated me. I was going around all the used car lots, pressing my nose to a lot of glass and checking out a lot of sheet metal, and I was barely fourteen or fifteen. Back then there were some cool cars in town. One of the local shop teachers used to park a silver Jaguar XKE, the V-12 coupe version, right beside the school and I always took a good look at it going by.
There were a few cars hidden away in barns and garages that I never knew about, but I knew where every cool car in town sort of lived or parked. My first car cost $50.00, a 1969 Austin Mini that I yanked out of a back lot on the end of a rope, my old man towing it home in his old Volvo. By the time we were done, I’d gone through three Minis. My old man drove about four Volvos over thirty years, ending a couple of years before he passed on. We had to take his driver’s license away from him because he just wasn’t safe any more.
Racing is serious business, where high technology and research drives names and brands into the winner’s circle. Driving is one of the few things I ever thought I did well. In this Toyota Le Mans video, there are no straw-chewing cowboys. These are scientists and yes, they hope to sell cars based on their racing success.
But even just being there brings its own prestige.
There is a moment when the car becomes a part of you and you a part of it, and you are no longer man and machine, but one with the machine. It becomes an extension of your body. By having hands on the wheel, feet on the pedals, your ass strapped in tight, you have extended your perceptions.
You hardly need to look at the instruments. You don’t really need to look at the speedometer at the end of the straight because you can feel it and hear it and see it and even taste and smell it. It's scary as shit if you do look at the speedometer. Death is inches away and you know that very well. It rumbles through your guts and tugs on your inner ears when you pull gee forces in a banked turn, go over the top of a sharp rise or slam down into a valley and then begin pulling out, like an airplane in a swoop and dive attack. The only thing that matters is the road ahead and what lies beyond.
You know exactly how fast you can accelerate, because you are doing it. There is a kind of intensity in that moment that other athletes will recognize by the description.
It is a kind of focus, a Zen-like moment when nothing else matters.
It is doing your own thing in the ultimate sense of the word. Hell, I know it’s an old piss-pot, and I know some half-decent guy in a car that is only slightly better could and should be able to go through the turn or corner faster than I just did. That’s not the point. Maybe the point is that it’s the only such exercise that I get, the only real physical adventure that I can sort of afford or allow myself.
It is the pursuit of something intangible. The adrenalin probably doesn’t hurt either. It is the feeling of having risked something, and getting away with it. Maybe that’s it, but I think it is addictive too.
It’s strange, I even feel the same way when I’m riding my bicycle and thing are going well—not too much pain and the breathing is good and I feel good and it is a machine after all. I’m just the one making the power, another level of management I suppose. You have to manage your mind and your body or it isn’t going to work. There are parallels with other aspects of life.
In every act there is meaning. I really believe that.
I don’t even know where the dream started, possibly because of my buddy Bob with his motocross racing magazines—he was into motocross pretty strong there for a while. He, at least, actually went out and did something about it, but then he got married and the kids started popping out. I guess he did the right thing.
He was no longer a spoiled young guy with a bit too much money but a father now, and so he had to quit.
That is the way of all dreams, isn’t it? Reality sets in at some point. Even I had to grow up at some point.
No, it’s true. I settled for something less—people often do.
When I was a young lad I wanted so badly to go to this Jim Russell racing school. Back then it was only $1,400.00, but now it’s more like $4,300.00 for the introductory three-day course. The cars have a six-foot four height limit, so that kind of lets me off the hook! But honestly, I’d have to be nuts to even dream of it. At my age, maybe someday…I might do it as some kind of a bucket list thing. The trouble is that I would probably still want to go fast and win. Everyone has an ego, don’t they? And it would probably just cause friction with the younger and more professional aspirants. The real winners usually started pretty young.
Those opportunities come to so few...
Man, would them young people ever like to beat me! (‘Cause if you can’t, you’re pretty lame, right?)
Enough said, ladies and gentlemen.
What I would like is a free photo from inside the car, (almost any car) doing about a hundred and eighty miles an hour, Mulsanne Straight, Le Mans, with a couple of cars ahead in the picture. Road and Track used to have some good pictures and articles and I subscribed to the magazine for a few years there.
All I could find is the night lap in the Audi with telemetry on Youtube.
Here’s an extensive article on Le Mans from Speedhunters.