Monday, June 24, 2013

Stories I Probably Shouldn't Tell My Scouts: Vol. 2

My father has always had a gift for making a point.  He chose a Sunday afternoon to make a point to me about driving.  I had had my learner's permit for a couple of weeks and was resigned to driving the Ford Ranger throughout my driving education.

We were coming home from church--my dad driving his 1986 bright red Camaro, and me in the passenger seat--when my Dad pulled off to a parking lot.

"Switch seats with me," he said.


"Yes."  He got out of the car and I wasn't going to argue.  What 17 year old gives up the chance to drive a Camaro!?

I sat in the driver's seat and was about to turn the key when Dad stopped me.

"First, the rules."  Oh great!  What kind of ridiculous rules is he going to try to make me follow.

"You're seventeen," he reminded me.  "You're friends are seventeen, and I know what you're going to be doing with this car.  So first: you drive safe.  Second: you drive to win."

It turns out Dad understood reality a lot better than my seventeen-year-old self thought I did.  And thus began my driving education.

I got a great education, too.  He drilled me on how to look for peripheral cues of upcoming danger.  Drive on the yellow line at night, he said, so that I have a little bit longer to react if an animal jumps out of the woods.  Watch for mailboxes; they mark the places that cars come out of driveways.  In the dark, keep an eye on power lines; if they light up, there's a car around the bend.  Accelerate into the hill; it's easier to maintain speed up a hill than it is to gain it up the hill.

I took my new education to heart, and when I got my license, I put it to use.

I didn't always get to race in the Camaro, however.  I still drove the Ranger more than anything else.  But really, how different is a 4 cylinder Ranger from a V6 Camaro?  Well, they're a lot different.

I raced a friend home from seminary once.  I was in the Ranger, and he in - oh, I can't remember what he had.  But it had a much bigger engine, which was why he was ahead of me turning onto my street.  I couldn't just give up, so instead, I tried to take the sharper-than-90-degree turn at about 45 miles per hours.

In case you're wondering, that's a bad idea.  I managed to make it through the turn (mostly thanks to the liberal amounts of dirt left on the road by the snow plows from earlier storms), and then I immediately decided I was never, ever going to try that again.

A little over a year later, I got into a race with one of my friends going from his house to another friend's house for a party.  Again, I was driving the Ranger.  He was driving his father's BMW.  I really had no business racing him, but I was too reckless to care.

By some miracle, I got ahead of him through the use of a clever short cut.  But he was coming up on me and had better acceleration than I did.  I figured my only hope was to control the road.  I tried moving into the center of the road so that he couldn't get around me.  He got onto my side anyway.  I tried to startle him by pushing him closer to the dirt shoulder.  He didn't flinch.  He passed me, with his tires on the edge of the pavement, and I watched the passenger side mirror of his BMW pass under the driver's side mirror of my Ranger.  There couldn't have been more than 4 inches between us.  I gave up and moved over so that I wouldn't kill him.  I figured I would lose this race.

But wait!  He missed a turn!  I had a second chance.  I pushed my little Ranger as fast as it would go.  He was catching up.  I knew there was only one way to win this race.  I had to take the sharp turn ahead faster than he did.  I kept up my speed.  The turn was approaching.  Andrew's headlights started to fall farther behind me.  He was honking at me.  He recognized the danger I was in and flashed his high beams.  I was almost on the turn!

I swung to the outside of the turn.  I dropped the engine from fifth gear to third gear.  The truck lurched.  I cut the wheel to the inside of the turn.  The tires screeched; inertia was trying to push me back to the outside of the turn.  I made it out of the turn, with a foot of pavement to spare before the shoulder.  At last, I pulled into the driveway, claiming victory over Andrew and his BMW.

Andrew was furious.  He came into the party ranting, "No one should ever race Nutter again!  That guy is crazy!  I thought he was going to die!"  I didn't admit it then, but I had scared myself again.

That pretty well ended my racing days.  One, everyone seemed more than willing to admit that I was psychotic about trying to win a race.  Two, I was afraid I'd used up my luck.  How many more times could I attempt something like that before I made a mistake?  How much would such a mistake cost me?  No, I had enough stories to tell.  It was time I decided that I wanted to live to tell them.

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