Bent Words

Bent Words

September 15, 2009

Sitting in a circle, on the grounds of Road Africa, with a beer in each his own hand, we praised the weather but cursed the sun for its untimely withdrawal. We still had gas to drain, mysterious oil leaks to contemplate, catch cans to look over and none of us could find the LED flashlights we had been boasting about only a few hours earlier. But no one was in a hurry to make matters right. The races for the day were won and done. The forget-about-it chicken was well on its way. The booze and the boys, who were strangers before, were making the rounds from campsite to campsite. The youngsters were learning what pit bikes at night could do to an unbreakable frame. And the 'morrow had an eight hour gap between fix it and ride it...

So we were gathered. The bonding had begun. The old school Superbikers2 gang minus a good few. With experience in our pockets and the adrenaline not to care. We picked on those who weren't present and then nestled them fondly in our thoughts. "Those were the days..."

After the silence of necks bending back to seek out the stars in the non-city lights, someone motioned a small light toward a motor.

"Dude, you're pissing oil."

"From the motor?"

"I know... Tomorrow. Who needs a beer?"

"Ya know what this reminds me of?"

And we never mentioned his name -- not once -- but we were, most of us, on the same page.

"Head gasket night. In the men's bathroom. Tear down a motor the night before a race! Balls..."

Tools laid out on the concrete, next to the porcelain. Beers tabled on the sink. The echo of men's opinions and the laughter of one female, shooting photos without apologies. We stood about like doctors in the ER, watching and waiting for the verdict -- will it live or will it die?

"I've got a good shot, somewhere, of Laura 'using' the urinal."

"Yeah, well, I've got a few good 'head shots' of you, so let's not get nasty."

We recalled the battle, back and forth, just like the banter, between 204 and 617. The race day when 72 got the wheels and made the whole game unfair. 417 checking his leathers with strands of safety wire. The Kilkenny's increasing in number as another brother took to the track. There was the exchange of cables and insight, the discussion of tire pressures and rotors, the necessity of new spark plugs and grooves for a tire not ready for rain. We helped each other without want for a thanks.

We could pinpoint a moment in a race run eight years ago -- who was deft enough to eat a spot in the chicane, who it was running wide and pulling a spot in the grass, who made smoother transitions into the infield (like a slingshot) and who couldn't hack the dirt when it arrived. We remembered who did but it hardly mattered who won. The battle was between good friends. Each of them sought to take the upper hand but had a reason for when they did not. Really, it didn't matter.

"Before Benny and Schnabel got fast."

"Yeah, pre-factory bike days."

"No slipper clutches or massaged top ends."

"Skill before big bucks."

I looked into each of their faces and recalled, vividly, his smiling face reflected in their eyes. I could hear the crunch, crunch, crunch of my worn out shoes on the gravel as I made my way round the track, hopping and straining and hoping to gain a better vantage point for my inexperienced lens. I could see all the spots where his game had failed -- the blown plugs on the start, the missed corners, the kick after kick on the grass -- and I could taste the air that met us when we first arrived to this placed with the sun. I could see the lines that made him win and the way his eyes, through Scott goggles, would lock on mine as I charged my voice with shrieks of victory. I could not, however, count the endless moments of my breath which he had stolen or the number of times I cheered him on in my own little world, wishing upon all I knew that I could relate to him the way another seasoned racer would.

Take this line; here's a better exit; lead into the corner this way...

"Whatever happened to that guy, anyway?"

"Yeah, why isn't he here tooling it around the track with us? Isn't he better by now?"

"No one's fast anymore -- he could probably smoke us all."

"Dude's fast enough for Super Sport but must also be up in years enough for the Vet class..."

"And you wouldn't mind, right, Laura?"

The more the merrier, I say.

"Nothin' would be better than to have that boy back in the game."

"Like old times."

Like old times.

Written at 10:18 p.m.