COLUMN SIX: A need for speed(ish)

As the event may have happened. BIGSTOCK PHOTO

Special to the VOICE

We’ve all dreamed of doing it and on that afternoon I was given the chance.

The gate was open.

I almost couldn’t believe it. Since getting my driver’s license I’d been monitoring that gate religiously. For three years I drove down that road whenever I was in the area, hoping someone had finally slipped up, and for three years, the rush of hope inevitably turned to disappointment. These days, when I passed by, I only gave the gate a half-hearted glance. 

But today was special. My younger brother was with me, and I was taking the long way home to extend our time together. I thought he’d get a kick out of my weird fantasy, and so I turned down that road which had crushed my dreams so many times before. As we passed the gate, I slowed the car considerably to explain my obsession.

“I always look to see if the gates here are open,” I told him. “They never are, but one day they’ll forget to lock them and I’m going to—”

For a moment, I was speechless. Was this really happening?

“The gates are open!” I shouted.

I pulled into the parking lot slowly, not really believing my luck would continue. After all, my destination was not really the parking lot, but rather what lay one additional gate beyond: the Speedway.

My brother laughed aloud as he realized my plan. I wanted to complete a lap.

I drove towards the racing area, and inhaled sharply. Was it fate? The gate to the track was thrown wide, welcoming me in with open arms.

I was seized by panic.

“I can’t do it!” I yelled, and turned the car back towards the safety of the road.

After all, this wasn’t like me. I’d had a few minor rebellious moments in the past, but in my heart I was always a rule-follower.

“A pleasure to have in class,” my report cards would read. “An excellent listener.”

While my brothers were inciting mild-mannered teachers to fling chalk across the classroom, I was at my desk, head down, quietly getting my work done. An unsanctioned lap at the Speedway was way out of my league. 

As we neared the road again, I felt a deep sadness and frustration. I’d dreamed so often of this moment, and here I was, unable to act upon it.

My brother sensed my hesitation and immediately took up the cause of my repressed wild side. He begged and pleaded and reasoned and cajoled to the very best of his abilities. Finally he loudly proclaimed, “You’ll never get this opportunity again! You will regret this forever!”

That did it.

I turned the car around again and drove directly toward the still-opened gate.

Entering the track area, I felt a tremendous rush of adrenaline, and a new awareness of my surroundings came over me. The June air carried the smell of newly-turned dirt, which mingled nicely with the green freshness that would soon be stifled by the summer heat.

The track was not deserted as we had thought. At that moment it was being groomed by some sort of contraption pulled behind a tractor driven by a middle-aged man. Busy with his work, he did not notice as my 1989 Plymouth Caravelle drew closer to the track. 

I ambled the car onto the long straightaway, furthest from the bleachers.

Though in my daydreams I’d always travelled counter-clockwise just like the cars on race night, I found myself now travelling clockwise, as the tractor was, to put off our meeting as long as possible. He was rounding a corner and would soon be facing our direction. 

Right away I noticed that the dirt, which I’d imagined would be packed down hard and smooth, was actually more like a freshly plowed field.

My car was decidedly not a race car and did not take well to this new terrain. I felt us fishtailing as I struggled to navigate through the dirt. 

My future, only moments ago bright and full of promise, was already being rewritten in my mind. I could see my car, stuck on the track, as I sheepishly asked the angry tractor driver for a tow. I saw myself in handcuffs, being deposited into the back of a police car, while my brother vehemently denied any willful participation, insisting that he had tried to stop me.

“She just wouldn’t listen to me,” he’d tell anyone who asked. “She had this gleam in her eyes.”

I was moments away from being locked in my new cell when back in reality my car found some traction and started moving more easily.

I imagine every car has its own optimum speed for navigating a dirt racetrack. For a 1989 Plymouth Caravelle, that speed was no more than 30 kilometres an hour.

We sped along at this breakneck pace until about the three quarter mark, when we heard a shout. It was the man on the tractor, standing up and wildly waving his arms in the air. 

“Does he look…proud of me?” I asked my brother in a hopeful tone.

“Just keep driving,” was his telling reply.

We made our way back through the parking lot and onto the road. As I came down from my racer’s high I couldn’t believe what I’d just done. I’d taken a chance, I’d seized the moment, I’d…probably added an extra 20 minutes to that poor guy’s day.

It isn’t exactly my proudest moment, though I don’t regret it. The whole incident took less than five minutes, but still, 10 years later, the recollection remains as fresh as a newly groomed race track.


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The Voice of Pelham
Pelham's independent news source from the heart of Niagara.