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Monday, March 18, 2013


bristol 17march2012
picture thanks to nascar website
I drove to Glade Creek today to see the Bristol race at Justin and Crystal's. I stopped at the grocery store and bought three pizzas and some potato chips. Vada and Melvin would be there too. Just before I arrived, maybe three miles before I reached the house, fog had set in. It wasn't bad. I thought nothing of it. Later, however, driving home at 9:30 in the dark, the fog was still around. I decided to take Hwy 18 because it has yellow reflectors in the centerline that help on a foggy night. And I didn't know if the fog might be localized or general over the whole county. It was everywhere. A year or so ago I was given a GPS device for the dashboard of the car, which I took for a novelty at the time, given that I seldom go anywhere that I don't know where it is. I found on the drive home tonight the GPS helped tremendously in fog so thick I could only see two car-lengths ahead. I drove between 25 and 35, only a few other cars on the road, none behind me. I could see on the GPS the curves ahead. This is the greatest advantage I've found for it. Sometimes I just use it for the fun of it. Times like tonight I rely on it like it is a device that really does make driving better. I can tell when the road will go straight for awhile and it will tell me where to turn when I can't see the stop sign or the intersection.
All the way home, 19 miles, I was a little disconcerted, driving quite a lot slower than usual, so distances between points I recognized seemed quite a lot farther than usual. That was the most disconcerting aspect of the drive. Anticipating the next curve to the right or left, it taking longer than usual, made me sometimes wonder if this was the right road. In the fog, only the curves are recognizable, because there is no landmark to go by. Driving up the mountain, the last 3 miles of the trip, the fog thickened, and keeping all four tires in the road became the primary concern. At one point after driving upward the road leveled out just before an upward curve to the right. The headlights could not see the level part until the car leveled. I had to stop, because the road vanished. Even though I knew exactly where I was in my mind, I couldn't see anything but white. I found the edge of the road and set in motion again, staying between the two ditches, thinking if somebody were riding with me they'd be shitting pellets. It was another test of what I've learned after living half my life, most of my driving life, in the mountains. I'm checked out on driving on ice and in fog. I've passed the mud test many times. The mud test is when driving up the mountain is a mudsling on the road that is gravel in the summer and mud in winter.
I take driving on ice, snow and mud in fog and rain a challenge, a tournament of one scored by you make it or you don't. I think of it as a Zen archery experience where you have one arrow, one chance to hit the flying bird. I do not want to walk home in drizzling mist and fog in 40 degree night because the car left the road and I can't get it back on the road, like a wheel in a culvert or just leave the road. Sometimes I'll keep a chant going, keep it in the road, keep it in the road. There are times that I don't want to let my attention waver for half a second, so I remind myself over and over in my mind to keep my mind on what I'm doing. All the way home, I was praising the GPS on the dashboard for being my seeing-eye. I thanked my friends Lucas and Judy Carpenter several times in spirit for the gift of this incomprehensible gadget that really does make a difference. And it comes from a satellite, even through the clouds and fog. A GPS is the deal for driving in fog. I've driven the Parkway in peasoup fog with and without the GPS. It makes a great difference in that I can see when the road will be straight for awhile and the curves as I'm approaching them. It relieves the stress of staying in the road when I can barely see the road. Tonight in Whitehead I was driving along around 20mph and saw a deer standing in the road looking at me. I was easily able to stop. She looked at me awhile. The young one was standing beside the road this side of the fence. It looked at me like a deer in the headlights and followed mama to the other side of the road, nothing urgent.
It was a good race at Bristol. Kasey Kahne won. Something has changed this year. The cars ran the track at over 100 mph through the curves. Bristol being a short, half-mile, track, they don't get going at 200 like at Talladega or Daytona. Bristol used to be fender banging, bumping side to side and front to back, but this year they were going faster than usual and it seemed more like at least a mile track. The bumping and banging at Bristol did not used to cause the cars to lose traction and spin out, but this year it seemed like a lot of times when cars touched, somebody would lose traction. Right away Tony Stewart blew his right rear tire that slammed him into the wall. It happened to a few others. They'd be driving through a curve, then pop, into the wall they'd go, outta control. All the driver can do is hit the brakes and hope he doesn't get hit but a few times. At Bristol I feel like I can see the cars outrunning one another. On the long tracks they get going at top end and often get in a long line where nobody can pass anybody because they're all going as fast as they can go. At Bristol there is room for maneuvering that I don't see so much at the longer tracks. Bristol feels more like a race where I can see strategies better, and it generally feels more like a race, a real run to be the first to the finish line when all the cars are equals and the drivers are equals too. Winning is a matter of strategies and entire team efforts. The driver is just one aspect of it. Every part is equally important; the driver, the car, the mechanics individually, the pit crew individually, the spotters individually, the strategists individually, too. Every individual involved, including several I wouldn't know about operating the communication technology between driver and staff.
At the end, Kahne drifted his car in circles sending up a cloud of white smoke that is moving on wind currents over the state of Virginia about now on its way to the sea. He made it to the "winner's circle" where the first thing he did was go around to everyone on the team and shake their hands in appreciation. He knew that he would not be the star of the day without every single one of them. I was glad to see there were no big wrecks. Several small fender benders occurred, mostly due to blown tires sending the car into the wall. I like to see the winner win and everybody else have their places on account of a race well run instead of several eliminated by chance pile-ups that end the race for the ones caught up in it. Somebody goes sideways in front of you at 150 mph, tires smoking, there you are. Shit happens. Fortunately, the cars now amount to a cage of bars around the driver, so no matter what happens the driver comes out of it all right. Sometimes one gets hurt. Nobody is happy when it happens. That's part of it, too; the dangerous edge makes it exciting for all concerned. Racing motor vehicles is the only sport I know of where occasionally somebody is killed. Once or twice a year a basketball player will die of a heart attack. A football player sometimes gets shot. In nascar races and in all other car races, death is a possible outcome. All the participants came to terms with it when they started racing. I saw Jeff Gordon have an experience last year that I project made him question getting in a car again. If his knees were not wobbling after that crash, he would have had to have been in a coma. He walked away from the wreckage. All that was left of the car was the cage he was strapped into. It will be a good one for him to write about in his memoir.  

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