father has arrived with a set of racing rain tires. As the rain keeps falling,
horsepower goes down to defeat and Tidwell's chances rise—his little Formula B
won't just be spinning its wheels. In the morning run King of the Mountain
Scott in his 400-hp Cobra was outrun by an able young man from Charlotte, John
Phelps, in a tiny Sprite; Phelps will earn himself the "most with what you
shakes his head in disappointment. No hope of turning an all-time record today.
John Scott sees that his year-old record is safe; he rules the Cobra
uncontrollable in the wet and loads it back on the trailer. "I'll be back
next year," he snorts. His record is safe but he has to leave his kingdom
up for grabs.
With the return
of the doctors and ambulances, the cars roar off on the first of the two
The rain keeps
coming, the ground gets softer, the wheel-less Porsche falls off the jack
stands. Jack Baumgardner's little giant killer goes fast in the wet, but not
fast enough. Finally, two are left to make the first run; Feistmann, a
five-year veteran, and Tidwell, 10.
up, looks good. Near perfect, the corner workers say. The car is a little
twitchy, like it's riding on water in the turns. "You never look at the
gauges," he has said. "I can't explain the concentration, it's
fantastic. In the rain, it's everything. You have to use all the road and brake
deep." He crosses the finish line and stops for a minute, breathing hard.
He gets out of the car and says, "That was a damn good run."
Tidwell goes up,
tires visibly sticking better in the rear as he leaves the line, spray coming
off the front wheels straight up, slapping him in the face in the turns. His
left hand wipes the water from under his visor. Two years ago Tidwell took the
nose off the car on the wall, spinning in a wet spot. This time he brakes too
soon at the wall, gets back on the power, almost loses it. "I crowded the
tires," he revealed later, "washed out the front end. Forgot they were
meant for a 2,000-pound automobile." He crosses the line, catches his
breath and climbs out. To Feistmann he says, "That was a damn good
The drivers wait
and the times are announced: Feistmann—2:23.594, Tidwell—2:23.546. Forty-eight
one-thousandths of a second. Two years ago, before the club bought the new
timer, the race would have been a tie. Tidwell grins and says, "If I hadn't
lost that weight Feistmann would have beat me."
The racers have
one more try. Feistmann holds off, elects to wait at the back of the line to
sec if the rain will let up for two minutes, that's all he needs; just two
minutes and some nice warm cars in front of him to burn off the water. Two cars
leave the line dumping oil; the crew is sent to find sand to cover the slick on
the pavement. Feistmann frowns. Three out of seven cars have gone off course,
conditions are getting worse. Word comes down that oil and mud are everywhere;
the workers are tired and wet and want to go home. Feistmann makes his last
run. A good start. But the car starts to float on the straights, the corners
are gutted with mud, people huddle under plastic in the trees, the water has
washed away all the skidding tire marks. He lets off halfway up, "You know
when you've done your best. I won't put the car in a tree kidding
Tidwell hears the
time, slower than the first. He can pack up his title but he elects to take his
last run anyway, a slow scenic tour by his standards, just to see the mountain
one more time this year. Next year it might be dry; next winter he's going to
have to find time away from the business to build that Porsche engine, get him
some bigger tires to beat Feistmann again. He did it with the Volkswagen this
time, but they won't let him do it next year. And don't think Scott won't be
back trying to whip some more seconds out of his big animal.
Could say that
old mountain is snobbish, never letting an outsider take home the bacon, making
a man come back year after year before it allows him to the top in record time.
Could say it thought those men were getting dangerously close to the two-minute
mark so it doused the road with water just to make sure. And to spite them all,
The Rock is going to rise out of the clouds tomorrow, sunny, the stream
gushing, the tourists creeping to the top to ride the elevator up The Rock,
getting the view the cheap way, the locals would say, taking the turns at five
mph or so, making 30-minute runs to the summit. The burned oil and rubber smell
will be washed out of the air; just a few tire marks are left at the start
line. By noon the flag will be dried out and flapping again, pointing down the
valley. In the woods the trees have a stripe of race-car paint here and there;
a few broken metal parts glisten in the wet leaves. And stenciled carefully on
the rocks below in white paint: REPENT YOU SINNERS.