Karting in Indiana

September 2011  Indianapolis,Indiana

Sunday morning sunrise in Indiana.  As we zip along the interstate highway Cabot and his tuner/coach, NASCAR racer Brian Keck are chatting about strategy for today’s racing.  It is our fourth day here in Newcastle and our second day of the Manufacturers Cup.  I glance out the window to the left and watch the red sky.  The sun is on its way.  To the right I look out over the endless stretch of corn and soy fields and my eyes fall on a large red barn with a tall silver silo next to it.   Stretching from one end of my vision in an arch up over the barn and down to the periphery of the other end of my vision is an enormous double rainbow.  It is an achingly beautiful view.  Is this a harbinger of a good day today?  For the fourth time in 24 hours my heart catches in my throat.

Yesterday was not a good kart racing day for the CRG America group that we have here at Newcastle.  My two-weeks-shy-of-15 year old son is the relative rookie of the three racers and the competition here is stiff.  Arie Ouimet is a National Champion in several categories of karting and now races for Volkswagen professionally.   He taught Cabot much of what he knows about karting and has been a great mentor for him.  He also happens to look like an exact copy of Cabot only 6 years his senior which is both curious and amusing—particularly when they stand side by side in their matching embroidered CRG race suits (note to parents:  do NOT call it a onesie).  Thomas Appleton is an up and comer and a solid racer in his own right.  Both Arie and Thomas are racing TaG 1 and Leopard Classes.  Cabot is racing Komet Jr Heavy and Yamaha Jr Lite Classes.  Another CRG America driver, Robert Young is here to look at colleges and came along for esprit de corps.  Robert is being a good sport, I know he is sorry he did not race this series.  It is great to see them all supporting each other in their racing.  They walk the track together, share strategies, fist pump each other before each race and critique each other’s driving.  All of this is done with the delicate balance of tact, sarcasm, wit and general testosterone fueled parlance.   This is not a sport exclusively for men though so do not get me wrong when I use the expression “testosterone fueled”.  There are many excellent female racers and I am sorry that this event is without our stellar female drivers from CRG.  They hold their own on the course and off and I also really enjoy that there is no battle of the sexes in this sport.  Once they are suited up and in their karts one cannot tell male from female.  The driving is all that matters on the track.   The humor here is ribald and off-color and noone is safe from abuse including tuners, parents and vendors.   When we are on the road noone is safe.  Well, actually the fans are treated with grace and charm.  Yes, there are fans.  Arie has a whole coterie of fans that follow him around the track and we need to keep him armed with a sharpie for autographs.   The same is true for Cabot’s tuner, Brian who races NASCAR in California.  Cabot, Thomas and Robert stand and watch these other veteran superstars with their fans and I can see them taking notes on how to carry themselves and how to present their best self at these events (and hopefully always).   Fortunately Arie and Brian set a good example.   RJ Valentine, owner and Founder of F1 Boston, has made it clear that these drivers need to put their best foot forward always.  He cultivates that in his drivers and it shows.

So on the road after a few hours everyone is just one of the gang.  This gives me a great opportunity to be Cabot’s friend and to get a glimpse of him as he is with his peers .  It allows him to see me in a different light as well.  .  His homework, nutrition, language, schedule, etc are not my concern on the road.  So long as he keeps it respectful and kind, enjoys himself and is learning then I am ok with it.  Monday morning I’ll go back to MicroManagingMonster Mum.

The last few days we have spent setting up the  CRG America tent, walking the course, getting “coached up” and talking fossil fuels.  I have done my part by zipping back and forth to Walmart for cans of brake cleaner and WD-40 and an endless array of bad quality snack food (the apples and trail mix I tried to slide on to the snack table on Thursday are still languishing there but we are on our fourth bag of Snickers “party size” bars and probably the 10th tube of Pringles.)  Lunch was brought in by a caterer and our chicken and green bean meal turned out to be FRIED.  Welcome to Indiana.  This is starting to feel like “Taladega Nights”.

While I am complaining I should also mention our hotel.  No, I did not expect a Four Seasons here in Newcastle but when Trip Advisor reviews of the Garden Inn adjacent to the track stated, and I quote “our room was so infested with pests that it was inhabitable” and another good one “we would have been better off camping out in the back parking lot of the Walmart across the street” I decided that perhaps the next town over might offer a better hotel option.  It did but the next town over in Indiana is 35 minutes away even when you are being chauffered by a NASCAR driver.  It looked so close on the map…..  Ah well, at least it’s a scenic drive.

The time at the track during the day is serious stuff.  I have laughed many a time with my gal friends about what it is like to be one of the only women at the track surrounded by men.   One would think that there would be an endless amount of attention sent their way due to the scarcity of females at the track (there are many excellent women who race but it is still a largely male dominated sport).  Au contraire.  These boys, men, and manchilds are nothing if not perfect gentlemen during the day—despite their equal opportunity verbal sparring– and off the course (you want to hear foul language?  Go stand in the line at the scales at the end of the race… even I learned a few new ways to use certain expletives).   They are so unbelievably focused on their jets, sprockets, chassis and spit shining their karts that frankly it might be that even if I was to do my dying swan routine right in front of them that they might not respond.  However, if I show up with food, gas or race stats THEN I get attention.  Now these boys, men, manchilds are all lovely.  Truly they are some of the finest people I have encountered.  This sport requires intense focus, good manners on and off the course, mathematical thinking,  physical and mental stamina, knowledge of physics, ability to get along with people of all ages and walks of life, etc.  It requires a level of sophistication that I had not thought of prior to being dragged into it by my son.  It is impressive to me the way this adrenaline fueled sport requires all of these things and yet the most successful have to move into a zone of patience and relaxation all the while fighting for their lives as they careen around in an open kart on a 1.3 mile track at close to 80 mpg with their butt 4 inches off the ground and passing other cars with barely inches to spare.   Even with a lap leader at 1.04 for a lap that is a long time for me to hold my breath when it is a 12 lap race!

This is Cabot’s first National Series and it is a BIG step up.  There are many more racers and the caliber of competitor is also higher.  As they did their prequalifying round yesterday I heard the announcer reading out the racers and their kart numbers.  Two time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Weldon was on the course (did you catch his spectacular 2011 Indianpolis 500 win in 2011?) along with many others of his ilk.  Intimidating and exhilarating all in one.

Cabot raced yesterday in  one of his races with 41 other racers.  41 racers.  Imagine 41 racers at the start all in a tight formation of practically kissing bumper to bumper careening toward the first turn while accelerating from about 50mph to get to full speed.  The carnage is frightening and many karts spin out and go off the course.  I stood and watched this first corner behind the lego-looking barrier and the tall chain link fence.  I wove my fingers through the openings in the fence with both hands and clutched my fingers so tightly that it took hours for the impressions of the fence to come out of my hands.  My heart was in my throat the entire time.  6 cars spun out on the first turn and Cabot deftly swerved around them but on the second turn there was another large pile up.  The front 2 wheels of Cabot’s kart came off the ground and when he came back down I saw sparks fly off from beneath his kart.   Miraculously he regained control of his kart but at turn 10 he went right off the track and into the grass.  He disappeared from sight as he was behind a grassy knoll but stood up quickly so we could at least see that he was alright.  Very frustrating though for Cabot to be knocked out on the first lap of that race.  Several laps later there was a terrible crash right in front of us and one driver had to be taken off on a back board in an ambulance.  This is a dangerous sport, no doubt about it and I alternate between being comforted and disconcerted by the ambulance and paramedics who wait trackside.  While none of us has spare children I do think that I even less so can afford to lose a child and it would be my strong preference that Cabot had found his passion in Chess or perhaps Pottery.  That was not to be and given his gene pool I cannot blame him.  While kart racing never registered on my screen I am an adrenaline junky and Michael is a gifted athlete.  Both of us are naturally competitive so how could we not expect that to express itself in our children.

My heart caught in my throat during Cabot’s race when he went airborne then later drove off the track.  My heart again caught in my throat last night as I watched Cabot collapse into his bed at just before midnight.  This is such an exhausting sport even as a spectator.  He went through the ringer yesterday on so many levels.  I was just bursting with admiration and pride in the way that he took his setbacks yesterday like such a gentleman.  I am a lucky mother to be able to support him in this sport and it is with enormous pride that I share this story of yesterday with you.

He is standing taller today because he took the events of yesterday, wrapped them around inside of himself as he slept and today he wears them as yet more experience.

I am confident that whatever happens this afternoon when he gets out on that track that he will learn from that as well.  It is frightening to watch these events.  I understand why people pray trackside.  I am comforted knowing that Charlotte is travelling around that track with Cabot likely with her arms around his neck and her blond mane blowing in the breeze at the corners.  She will keep him safe and she will keep him having fun.

As for me?  I will be the crazy lady clinging to the fence at the second turn pretending that a large piece of her heart and soul isn’t hurtling along at close to 80mph in little more than a few bent steel pipes with wheels.