His first lap takes 6:33 minutes, second lap, 6:45—"Doggone circuit is so long that by the time you come around once you plumb forgot where to go next time." But now, flashing past the pits on the uphill main straight, Cale hunches up his shoulders and gets on it. The speed climbs dramatically and his next laps are 4:51, then 4:21. That means he's averaging better than 115 mph and hitting 200 or so down the 3¾-mile Mulsanne Straight. Next time around, the car comes burbling up the pit road at about the required 50 and slams to a stop.
Now this looks like old-time racing: The inside of the cockpit is coated with spattered hot oil, and Cale's face and goggles shine with it. When he grins, his teeth look whiter against the grime. "I swear," he says. "You know that long, long straightaway—the part that's actually the state highway goin' into the town of Mulsanne? Well, there's a hotel down there with a patio right next to the guardrail. People sitting at little round tables under big umbrellas and all. And you go past there at 200-and-something miles an hour, just inches from their noses, and they raise a toast to you. It's really something to see. It sure must make some whitecaps in their wineglasses."
FRIDAY MORNING, June 12
Something strange has happened to Madame Launay.
She is sitting in the sun on the chateau terrace, impeccably groomed, as ever, mais alors!, she is smiling hugely. She is surrounded by the Yarborough girls and Southern gentility has struck again. Julie, Kelley (the family pronounces it Cale-ee) and B.J. are gracious-mannered and extremely soft-spoken; each one of them can murmur a phrase like "yes, ma'am," and get about six syllables out of it. They have now seized control of the chateau. And B.J. is full of historic news.
"The madame tole me that a knot once owned this castle and that they fought real wars over it and all," she says.
"Oh, really? A...a knot?"
She nods brightly. "Uh-huh. You know, knots in shining armor and all like that."
"Oh. A knight."
"That's what ah said," she says—and Madame Launay nods approvingly. That's what the little girl said, mats out. You do not understand ze English?
SATURDAY, June 13
It's Race Day, and the Camaro will start in 39th spot on the grid. Fifty-five cars will race—from 3 o'clock this afternoon until 3 o'clock tomorrow—and now they're all parked in a long, long row in front of the main grandstands. A crowd estimated at around 200,000 is on hand, and the air is rich with the smells of gasoline and exhaust fumes, mingled with the odors of heavy red wines and overripe cheeses and Grand Marnier crepes sizzling in the infield concession stands. The noise level is rising, and by now the Americans are excited. They shouldn't be—they're all pros—but they are. A few moments ago, the loudspeaker played The Star-Spangled Banner in honor of this one little old Camaro—nobody paid any attention but the raggedy U.S. pit crew, of course—and now the band is playing La Marseillaise. The crew gathers around the car, grinning into the stands. An American flag had been flying from a standard taped to the side of the Camaro, but now it is down and draped across the hood.