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After eight laps run at increasing speeds, the cars roll back onto the pit road. The drivers are helped out of their harnesses and hauled out through the small windows and walked back to the tent while the next pair of students jogs to the cars. Flushed with what they've just done, the returning heroes are red-faced and engine-deaf and loud with excitement.
"Man, that was just unbelievable!"
"Incredible! Just incredible!"
"I said it was UNBELIEVABLE!"
"OH, YEAH! INCREDIBLE!"
Then, invariably, overwrought with recreational adrenaline and caught up in the moment, Maximum Dad hugs the wife and tries to high-five one of his kids. And while the wives are tolerant enough ("I'm just happy to see him happy," I heard one say, "especially for three hundred and seventy-nine G.D. dollars"), the kids want very little to do with that big sweaty palm. The younger ones suffer Daddy's new enthusiasm with a flaccid, noncommittal hand, but the adolescents, knowing the rudiments of public cool, blush with shame. One, a girl about 13, refuses entirely. Her father comes at her with that high five raised like he's won the Super Bowl, and she just stares at him like he's exposing himself at the junior high sock hop. I have never seen a man look sadder than he did in that instant, high five hanging there unreturned and the future all at once upon him.
This is the moment when the instructors announce that another eight laps can be had for only $249 American, and lots of the dads start digging for their wallets, anxious to get back in the car, where there is only speed and freedom, and where time, paradoxically, stands still.
I am beckoned to the pit wall by an instructor. With my helmet on, all I can hear is the rumble and buzz of the cars and the quickening pulse of the blood pumping in my ears. Lubdub. Lubdub. He points me to a car.
It is small. On television the cars seem huge, monstrous, in part, I think, because of all those low-slung onboard camera shots, the wide-angle lens in the rear end of one car looking back at 200 miles an hour to another car nosing up behind it so that it fills the entire frame and blocks out the very sky. But everything you've ever seen on television looks bigger and grander than it really is--let's face it, that's what television's for. Any video engineer will tell you that it's a function of the aspect ratio of the screen, that things appear proportionately wider than they really are, and farther apart (Matt and Katie and Al are practically sitting on top of each other every morning!), but that misses the point. Mythology, not technology, is what makes these cars big.