There’s a point around seven thousand RPMs where everything fades. The machine goes weightless. It just disappears. All that’s left: a body flyin’ through space and time... and it’s the greatest feeling in the world.
That is, up until the time it isn’t anymore. Not after you’ve felt what it’s like to do that, flyin’ along at two hundred some-odd miles an hour, with somebody’s hand on your shoulder. With a copilot shoutin’ in your ear, tellin’ you to bank that curve harder; to stomp on that pedal harder; that you just missed your chance to pull out of that turn and that you bloody well better keep your eyes on the forkin’ road!
And then your copilot notices the reason you missed your perfect exit. Why you let off the gas and drifted out instead. Notices the way your hand is shaking on the wheel... before he reaches over and covers it with his own. Steadying you along with the car.
So, with a warm, grease stained, half gloved mitt helping with the next curve, you put your foot back down and just breathe while the angina hits for real. Sharing the wheel with somebody who knows the car every inch as well as you as you straighten out for that open stretch and let her loose again.
Free as ever, even fighting for your next heartbeat, because somebody you trust is sitting right up against you, shoulder to shoulder in that tiny cab, one hand over yours on the wheel, keeping you on the straight and narrow. While you take a moment to fish that spare nitroglycerin pill from your shirt pocket.
“Attaboy, Shelb, you’ve got this,” says your copilot. Right in your ear. Waiting for the right moment to take his hand off yours. Keeping it there until you flash him a smile. And then one more, for good measure.
Naw, once you’ve felt that? There’s no going back.
And tell the truth? That’s the real reason I didn’t.
The docs told me I had five years to live. Ken’s double-crossed almost-victory at Le Mans was pushing the six year mark. Maybe seven. I was living on borrowed time. That’s why he took me out for a spin in whatever speed demon we happened to be workin’ on, anytime he could possibly justify it. Sayin’ things like, “Two heads are better’n one,” or, “It’d be a shame to waste such a lovely day.”
I always thought that, out of the two of us, me and my clunker of a heart’d be first to punch our one way ticket to that big old racetrack in the sky.
Never guessed I’d outlive him. And definitely not by no forty whole years. Longer almost than he lived altogether.
Longer than I think God meant for me to. If God actually cares about folks like me and him, anyhow. Folks who lay their lives down on a track; a stretch of road a quarter mile- maybe eight and a half miles long. For what? For the thrill of it? For the glory? For the high of flyin’ along, weightless and free?
But naw. Ken went first and I never really got over it. I don’t think anyone who really knew him did.
I lost my friend that day, his family lost a father and a husband, and the racing world lost a true legend. But he went out doing exactly what he was meant to do. Exactly what folks like he and I had been doing our whole lives: