Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Panic of The Privateer

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(don't laugh, I raced this thing!)

Thus commenced the up and down odyssey that is life as a vintage racing privateer. It was a homespun, blue collar effort to say the least. Along with dinner chair rear stands, rattle can paintjobs and lawnmower fuel valves there were many illegal back road test runs to sort carburetion, because who the hell can afford a dyno? News of Phil's "secret" tests soon spread to the local riff raff who began showing up on their ATV goon buggies wanting to race us. I acquiesced on a couple of occasions to silence the hoodlums and after getting solidly trounced by an old piece of shit motorcycle, the cast from The Hills Have Eyes took their Banshees and Blasters home. It wasn't that my T500 was a particularly fast motorcycle, it was just a lot faster than a silly 4 wheeler with knobby tires on the pavement.

Proper race gear was purchased on close-out at various websites, resulting in some hideous color combinations in the name of frugal safety. I went through about a thousand 1/16" drill bits safety-wiring every nut and bolt on the T500, and had Band-Aids on damn near every finger from safety wire punctures. This thing had already drawn blood, and it hadn't even seen the track yet. When the bike was ready and with me requiring a transfusion, I signed up for the Penguin Motorcycle Road Race School at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon NH, a mere 9 hour drive. It makes a lot of sense to require new racers to take a school prior to being let loose on the race track. The classroom portion was an eye-opener and nearly ended my career before it began.

The instructor spoke of lines, apexes, brake markers and turn in points, body position. Despite trying my best to keep up I was soon utterly lost in the language of riding motorcycles at speed. What a revelation that there is actually a science to going fast. Up until this point I had always believed you just went as fast as you could until you bounced off something. Really. Yet here it was being dissected and discussed for all to see, laid out bare, but like some learning disabled monkey that can't figure out how to peel a banana, it was going right over my muddled head. For the first time I began to realize how completely out of my depth I really was. My level of enthusiasm dropped significantly.

It dried completely up as the classroom session was ending and the instructor and his assistant opened the floor to questions. Some smartass brought up crashing. Lighthearted back and forth banter transformed to sickeningly serious for me as the talk turned to brain injuries that left racing stars as drooling vegetables, paralyzed former world champions, stitches, pins, screws and plates. It went on and on. Ad infinitum. Ad nauseam. Eventually the instructor turned to his assistant and said, "Joe, show 'em your leg."

Joe hoisted his leg on the table for all to see, I hadn't noticed his cane until now. He had a long, vivid scar that ran from his ankle to nearly his knee. With a Cheshire grin he said, "Plates, screws and pins, I've got enough metal in my leg to build you a swingarm".

I have only passed out twice in my life, undoubtedly this was going to be the third. My gut churned with acid as the world grew dim whirling before my eyes. There was no air to breathe even if my heart hadn't been lodged in my throat choking the life out of me. This was a mistake, I had no desire to ride a motorcycle on a racetrack, I was fairly certain I never wanted to swing either one of my good legs over a bike ever again. I did not belong here, I had to get out. These motherfuckers were crazy and trying to chain me up in the asylum. I turned and looked for an exit only to be assaulted by the eager insane faces of the adrenaline addled students twitching and hopping behind me. If I were to make a break for it they would reach out like the tangled branches of some fleshy forest of madness to restrain me. I was trapped, I could not get out.

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