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Chasing in the dark

Doubt, the cold Halloween night air, and my balaclava diffusing every exhalation were resulting in the persistent fogging of my glasses (why hadn’t I thought of this?). I’m the second driver of the Autosport Lab Rats Team that’s about to be sacrificed to the night during the inaugural Chumpcar race at Portland International Raceway. The first night-driver, in an attempt to avoid zombies, discovered a slippery slope that led him past the undead toward a brief encounter with an energy-absorbent tire wall. This chance meeting demanded the replacement of the entire left-front suspension. Post repairs, Harry, our Chief Engineer, told me to take it easy until I got a feel for the new alignment, and to let the crew know how the car was handling.

Our car, a lightly breathed on, 1990 Miata, was looking more like a $200, rather than the $500, crap-can racer that it was, sporting a coating of mud and splitter-clipped grass. The missing fender, hood, and supplemental driving light completed the picture.

Seated, plugged and belted, I’m ready to go. It’s about 9 hours into this 24-hour race and having driven a daylight session, I feel I should know where the journey will take me. My task is to burn off 9.5 gallons of fuel, make up a couple of positions, and bring the car back with all its pieces for the next driver.

With the blessing of the team, I’m off. The light of the front straight ends abruptly at about turn three and is inadequately replaced by the Miata’s remaining 165 watts and (now, without my glasses) my focus-challenged view. It quickly becomes apparent that staying on track while avoiding obstacles both real and imagined is going to be more of a challenge than I wish for–which is, I imagine, why one should be careful in that regard. Looking ahead reveals curtains of black velvet instead of apexes. Checking mirrors causes temporary blindness, and other drivers seem to believe the track is about three feet wider than reality is providing. On the bright side the Miata’s new alignment is brilliant (nice work Team!), and the turbo 1.6 is devouring the heavy All-Hallows’ Eve air.

A rhythm sets in and my memory of the track re-appears. Following a corner-eight pass I have some room. I short-shift and listen, and in the moment before the turbo spools–my hands light on the wheel–the Lab Rat’s whiskers brush the plastic shell of the temporary chicane.

Scott “Leadfoot” Miller

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