SI Vault
April 11, 2005
The first time I drive the car it feels like rage, apocalypse in every cylinder, pistons hammering hot and remorseless as hell's forge, the manifold ravenous, roaring for air and explosives, belts shrieking, crankshaft screaming threats, spinning off metal shavings like a lathe, the oil tortured, a black ruin of subatomic corruption boiling in the spattered bowel, rods, valves, lifters and springs flying apart, colliding and crashing back, the relentless cycling a hundred times a second, sickle on scythe, shrapnel clattering in the dark, anxious to fail, to escape, blazing, on razor wings, and the exhaust thundering fire and stench and the mourning blast of Armageddon--
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April 11, 2005

Bad, Brutal Fun

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And while it's certainly true that we might all invigorate ourselves through the rare scrape with death ("I've never felt more alive!" is the line they teach at Hollywood Boulevard Screenwriters Polytechnic to delineate such moments), history more often teaches that prolonged exposure to mortal risk does one of two things. It either desensitizes you to the experience or it drives you insane.

In other words, transcendence out here on the track is possible, perhaps even inevitable, but it is fleeting. And maybe that's enough here in our Sensation Nation.

IT IS PLEASANT to get out of my head, though, however briefly, as you might imagine, and drive a hired car much too fast. As proof of same, I spend laps seven and eight with the nose of my car tucked pretty much under the rear roll pan of Chad's car. I'm hoping he'll pick up the pace a little, because, desensitized to the life-threatening nature of what I'm doing as per the above, I believe we should be going a whole lot faster. They warned us about this, of course, and insisted that closing in on the instructor would not result in higher speeds. "DO NOT run down the instructor," I believe the emphatic phrase was. "He's going to go as fast as HE thinks you can go, not as fast as YOU think you can go." Still, I'm hoping Chad will make an exception for me, having seen in his rearview mirror my manifest talent for all this.

Sadly, he does not. No matter how far up under him I drive, no matter how elegant a line I follow around the track, no matter how nonchalant I now seem as I wrench the big wheel to and fro, Chad does not quicken our pace. In fact, he spends our final two laps waving me off with all the indifferent languor of an embarking French sailor leaving his wife and children behind on a Marseilles dock. His wave says, "I see you, b�b�, but I do not care."

After the eighth lap I follow Chad onto pit road, coasting, as instructed, in neutral, using only the car's brakes to slow down. Overweight as the car and I are, the brakes do nothing. The car doesn't really decelerate, it just loses interest. Brake pedal to the floor, I nearly tap Chad on the turn back into the pits, then come close to mowing down the tricky blond as he waves me into my parking spot. Eventually the car succumbs to its own weight and rolls to a stop.

Blondie shoots me another vampire smile and takes down the window net. "How was it?" he shouts.

"INCREDIBLE!" I hear myself screaming. "UNBELIEVABLE!"

Unhitched from the harnesses I struggle out of the car so the next guy can take my place. I resist the impulse to throw him a high five as he jogs past.

Back in the tent I give my wife the mandatory post-Experience hug, which, adrenaline-assisted, comes off more like a chiropractic adjustment.

Another few students make their laps as the morning winds down. Having stripped off my jumpsuit and yarmulke, I wander off to make some notes.

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