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A Rat Tale, Chapter Three

Green Flag

Cowboy couldn’t remember ever being this excited. The cars and their drivers were heading out onto the track for the single-file rolling start. The teams and spectators were lining pit wall and   Chapter 3 quotecheering. No one knew exactly which car was going to get the green flag, but when the green flag flew, it would be time for everyone to GO! Thunderhill Raceway was three miles long and fifteen turns. Cowboy, tires barely warm, was entering turn two when “Go, Go, GO!” came over the driver’s radio. Just like that, the race was on!

Being able to communicate with the crew over the radio was a great advantage at the start. Cowboy passed five cars before others ahead of them could react. The turbo helped a bit, too. It became clear rather quickly that some teams had more experience than others. Cowboy’s team was one of the less experienced, but this didn’t worry Cowboy.  With this many cars on the course, every turn was a battle. Every straight was a drag race, and it didn’t take long until driversgreen flag started making race-shortening mistakes–hard hits into tire walls, black-flag penalties, fourth-gear to first-gear down shifts, blown head gaskets, and deep-fried clutches. Cowboy’s driver’s lack of experience led to a very conservative driving style. He didn’t battle it out in the corners. Instead, he used the turbo’s extra boost to pass safely on the open parts of the track. This seemed like a good idea to Cowboy. This was a long race–about 15 hours over two days. The winning car would be the one that finished the most laps, not the fastest laps.

The first pit stop and driver change came about an hour into the race. Cowboy got a full tank of fuel, a little more oil, a window wash, and a new driver in less than five minutes! Then out onto the course he went again. Racing went smoothly for two more driver changes–about an hour on course,  then, fuel, oil, window, and driver. With the fourth driver in the car, about 20 minutes into his stint, Cowboy was in a line of cars slowing down for a yellow flag when his luck ended. Another driver didn’t notice the yellow flag, everyone slowing, or that he was suddenly able to pass six cars at a time– that is, until he did. Then he locked up his brakes and slid nose first into Cowboy’s driver-side door. Bang! That hurt. That hurt a lot. Cowboy’s frame flexed enough that the through-wall heater lines broke and hot water spilled into the drivers’ compartment and onto the track. Cowboy’s driver quickly shut down the engine as he rolled to a stop in the grass before turn three. For just a moment Cowboy thought this must be the end of the race for him. The last time he was broken, it took many years before he was well again. That episode of Cowboy’s life was over, however. He was an endurance race car now, and endurance race teams don’t give up that easily. As Cowboy waited for a tow, his driver was on the radio with the rest of the team. They were already planning his repair. When Cowboy returned to his pit space, he was quickly placed on jack stands and swarmed over by the team. Even the two newest team members, Scott and Brent, pitched in and helped. Cowboy’s team had offered them a chance to drive Cowboy in the race after hearing that their  racecar was wrecked on the way to the track and couldn’t make the race.

The simplest solution to Cowboy’s broken heater lines was to splice the two hoses together and hope they held for the rest of the race.  Cowboy, now repaired and still  quite dented, was more determined to finish the race than ever before. Cowboy had a new dream–the dream a racecar dreams–to be one with his driver, on the perfect line, and first to pass under the checkered flag.

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