"From Springtime in Arizona, to the Fall in Monterey, the raceways were the battlefields and we fought them all the way." (Speedway at Nazareth, Mark Knopfler)
So about 4 years ago, when the Enigma sold his company, he bought the one car he'd always wanted A Lotus. The car that goes zoom is a lot of fun. (So long as I'm not trying to climb out of it in a skirt!) Since he purchased it I have been encouraging him to do a racetrack weekend so he can learn the safe way to drive REALLY fast. Like me, he's more than a bit of a speed freak. So, why not take it out where you can indulge that and NOT be worried about getting a ticket?
Four years later and finally he did. We got home last night from the Corkscrew Invitational at Laguna Seca Raceway. He spent two days with a driving coach, three heats on Saturday and again on Sunday for about 40 laps. I spent both days up in the suite with the SF British Motor Car club taking photos, cheering, squeeing, watching his group plus several other groups (Porsche club, BMW group, Shelby club, HOD (Hooked on Driving) Advanced Drivers club, and a supercarts group) run as well. The 2.25 mile track is car racing as I remember from my childhood, watching TV with my dad and in the early 80s when my first brother-in-law was a race car driver. Laguna Seca is a historic track. The hairpin turn is named after Mario Andretti. The straightaway after Bobby Rahal. Another curve after Wayne Rainey.
Saturday morning dawned very wet. The fog was so thick it was actually raining and the track was both cold and wet. This made the Enigma VERY nervous. The car doesn't handle well cold and wet. His coach was a nice guy, Kiyoshi. Kiy is also a Lotus driver. The two of them got on very well, and the first few laps round were to familiarize the driver with the track. I really like Kiy and he was very good at explaining the science of why the driver follows the line, what the apex is for, traction circles and the like. He spent as much time looking at me, making sure "I" got it, as he did the Enigma. He didn't have to do that, but he also recognized that I was familiar with all of this and very very interested. Basically, as long as Kiy was in the passenger seat with the Enigma, I was not worried about him or the car.
Fortunately my club wrist band gave me access to the suite and to the cold pit, the garages and the paddock. I had as much fun wandering the paddock looking at cars and listening to the drivers and mechanics as I did watching the track. The food was from Bernardes Lodge in Carmel Valley and delicious. This is a luxury car club, I realize, but man they treated us well! The BMC group was racing Aston Martins, Lotus, Lambos, Bentleys and a few stray Porsches; an Ariel Atom and one Audi GTR.
Mid day the track dried out a bit. 2nd heat The Enigma did better, looked more solid coming through the back straight, more confident, but still a bit 'slow'. He was pointing by everyone who came up behind him. The Lotus is the perfect car for hugging a curve, but it doesn't have enough power to keep up with a Murcielargo in the straightaway. Still he was pointing faster drivers by because he wasn't laying down his own power soon enough.
By 3pm, and the final heat of Saturday, the sun was brilliant. The track was dry and hot. The BMW group had a qualifying heat with full on pace car lead in etc. You could smell rubber, oil, and transmission fluid waft up from the tarmac. The phrase "running on fumes" really has very little to do with how much gas is in your tank. It's more the wild eyed look you get as the track and that paddock is overrun with the various fumes of hot racing. I stood on the outer deck of the suite with a few of the wives who varied from bored to envious. Me, I was almost envious--I would have been out there on that track in a heartbeat, but this was HIS weekend-not mine. Lap 5 of that final session, I saw him round turn 10 and lay it down, full out, and blow past a Porsche and the Audi. I started screaming!!! I was so excited for my tentative, diffident Englishman I could have cried. Two laps later the checkered flag was out to signal last lap. I flew down the Paddock as they all rolled in. To see the joy in his face and the animation to his body and gestures after that heat was one of the most thrilling things I've seen after nine years with this man.
We had a lovely dinner and a relaxing evening in the hot tub at the hotel that night. It was so nice to have time away, with each other, not on a clock, no other real demands on us. It's been almost two years since we've taken this sort of opportunity, for a variety of reasons.
Sunday dawned clear, so while the track was cold on the first heat, it was dry at least. The confidence of Saturday's last race meant he had a very very good first heat. The 2nd heat was just before lunch. I was standing outside on the suite deck again watching the laps and shaking my head. He wasn't driving as well, he wasn't coming out of the turn smoothly, he wasn't laying it down. On lap five the knot of cars he'd been in came round again and he wasn't in it. I frowned and waited, a few more cars came round and then I saw him coming into the hot pit. Mechanical problem? Flagged? What?! I muttered "oh gods don't let us drive home in a rented Ford!..." He rolled to the end of the lane. The pit boss leaned in to talk to him through the window for a few moments and then waved him back up into the track for the final laps. He came through for the final lap and once I saw him go through, I hit the door and headed straight for the Paddock. I wanted to know what happened. I was standing at the corner of the garage, out of the way. When the car drove up Kiy looked over at me and gave the thumbs up! (We're OK!) then he twirled his fingers. "Really?!" I mouthed. He nodded, his helmet wobbling and repeated the thumbs up. AHHH! He'd spun out.
His confidence and ego took a huge punch with that spin out in turn 6. Kiyoshi was good at talking him down out of his tree, welcoming him to the 'club', talking about his own spin outs, what there is to learn from the experience, reiterating that the car and the driver were unscathed, which is a WIN...etc. I stayed quiet. If the Enigma decided not to do that 3rd heat, I wasn't going to say a word, but since we were standing in the 'paddock' the phrase that kept running through my head was 'when you fall off the horse you get right back on.'
We went up to the suite and had lunch. Many of the drivers came to talk to him, all clapping him on the back, laughing, telling their own spin out stories. I couldn't quite tell if that was helping or not. He asked to go for a walk afterward, expel the last of that pent up adrenaline. We strolled through the rows of cars, trailers and RVs in the paddock as he talked about his uncertainties and waring with himself. He had mixed feelings about the experience and understandably so. I finally said "get back on the horse." He agreed, saying he was so glad they waved him back on the track from the pit. He didn't want to be pulled in, he wanted back out there to prove to himself he could do it. I was so proud of him.
Jokingly I suggested we go to the GotBueMilk trailer to see if they had pictures from that heat. "Maybe they caught your spin out. (They were the official racecourse photographers for the invitational.) I was KIDDING, but when we go there, we found they had indeed captured the whole thing, about 20 frames worth from the nosing into the corner wrong, to the braking when he shouldn't have, to the lift, the spin, the HUGE cloud of sand and dust which enveloped the car, to the dust settling and him driving back onto the track to the black flag pointing at him to pull him into the pit for a chat. I flinched at first, but he sat down with the mouse, staring at the screen, talking through the points with himself, repeating what Kiyoshi had explained to him. He wanted to see, understand and learn.
"They say Ann has trained a few Lotus drivers...I'm going to ask her to go with me on that last heat."
I wanted to burst into tears. Early in the morning, before the first heat even, he'd thanked me for coming with him, saying he knew himself well and if I had not been there to share the weekend, he would have talked himself out of day two and simply come home early. Now here he was determined to finish the invitational.
We went back to the suite and watched the BMW qualifier round and the HOD advanced driver group. He paired up with Ann and went back out for his final heat. Before he left I kissed him and said "I love you, have fun, be confident." I stood watching. He was slower but his line was good, his confidence came back after a few tentative laps, his turns were great and by the final two laps he was back to unwinding properly in the turn and laying it down in the back straight. I smiled and again met him in the paddock as he parked. Before I could say a word, he and Ann were pulling off the helmets, shaking hands and I heard him say "I'll see you in ThunderHill in a few months!"
I think I just became a raceway widow.
I couldn't be more proud.