Another car was up ahead, and I could see just how we looked by watching them leap around as if they were out of control. It looked like they were hanging on for the ride, not actually driving their car, like Tara was. I could see where talent comes in handy in this race. I would have never guessed it was such a factor though. I always thought races were won because the cars were superior, not a combination of a great car, and a great driver to control it. The gap between us and the car ahead grew smaller by the millisecond, and before I knew it, Tara was telling me to honk and let them know we’re here. I heard my nervous “beep beep beep” as we zoomed past, and I decided that would be the only way someone like me could help Tara, just to be ready to honk when she told me to. After all, I was beginning to feel like this was our course, and everyone would eventually come to a point where they’d need to get out of our way. When they did, I’d be ready for them with a beep.
A few miles into the course was a pretty good-sized hill. Since it was still pretty early in the morning, the sun was low in the sky, and as we started to climb, our lack of a windshield was filled with sunshine. We were pointing up, and we were increasing in speed again. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say this rocket we were strapped to was about to take off for the sun. I wasn’t used to accelerating while going up hills, so this was very extraordinary for me. The ground felt like it was crumbling beneath us as we seemed to move closer to the light. We must have been pretty high up when suddenly, we didn’t feel the ground beneath us anymore. The sun that had just seconds ago dominated our view, stayed with us just a moment longer, and then began to rise as the nose of our car started its descent back down to Earth. We were flying, all four tires off the ground, and all we could see was sky. What in the world happens next? What’s underneath us? Everything went silent for just a moment, and I heard myself take a deep breath. This was going to be bad.
The next thing I saw were hilltops in the horizon, the roofs of trucks parked on the side of the track, dust clouds growing closer, and then we saw the track itself as we hit the ground with a deafening clap. “Sorry!” Tara shouted as her arms spun with the wheel, doing everything she could not to let the car take control away from her. Everything in my body continued to fly although I was strapped in the car, and I felt everything compress. I couldn’t help it, but I let out a scream. The car revived itself from its landing and planted firmly back into its track, and Tara came on the radio to make sure I was ok. I thought that could have been the end back there, what if there was a cliff or a broken down car on the other side of that hill? But no, it was all part of the course, and I had survived it. Quite a few cars had to pull over for flats, but not us – it seemed the harder we pushed the purple beast, the better it performed. Tara pointed out that this was where everyone would be getting flat tires; it was obviously the roughest segment of the course. I felt empowered as spectators and chase cars cheered us as we sped past, making hand signals to inform us of our position in the race. Everyone was helping.
Later, while reliving the death-defying moment to my husband, he reminded me of our chase car, and I realized they would have warned us about any problems with the jump, had any existed. Not to mention the radio would have been spitting out calls from other racers for everyone to watch out and be careful. There’s a huge sense of community in the off-road racing sport, and later I witnessed many chase cars and pits helping out their competition when they were in distress. It made me feel like I wasn’t an outsider here, everyone seemed to be there to survive, not to come out on top. Maybe it was even more so with the race being a charity benefit, and also with new racers in almost every car. This was more of a celebration than a competition. After all, we all would come out winners if we reach our $150,000 goal.
Rock and Roll on the Road
I unfroze a little after the jump, “You’ve got a gradual right up ahead,” I said to Tara as we passed that same gradual right. I was just off my game. Tara began to worry we had a flat because of the torture we were putting this animal through. She asked me if I could see one, but I had no idea, I couldn’t turn enough to see her, let alone the outside of the car. The radio went silent and I could tell she was calling home base to alert them of our potential crisis. Nick told her our chase car was waiting for us at the 16-mile marker, so we should pull over for them to check everything out. We pulled up and I recognized the Wide Open guys immediately. They ran over to us “Are you ok? Are you ok?” They ran around the car and checked everything, but we were still in perfect shape. No flats. “Go! Go! Go!” We catapulted out of there as everyone else at the checkpoint cheered for us. We had no idea where we stood in ranking, but this quick pit stop couldn’t have helped. We were really flying now, soaring off a mini-jump after the checkpoint that left us with an extremely sharp left turn, followed by a substantial dip in the track. I bet if I had been watching my screen, I would have seen a skull and crossbones symbol, indicating we needed to proceed with caution. Unfortunately, I was still trying to accept everything that was happening around me. Combined with our acceleration, the jump landed us right in the dip in the track, and the sharp left must have pushed us up on the front and rear passenger tires. I heard Tara curse in anticipation of the roll, arm-wresting the steering wheel to gain back control, and I held on so tight I forgot to brace my right leg, which flailed into the dashboard just enough to remind me to pay attention; as if the car was giving me a slap on the wrist not to underestimate its power. I closed my eyes while waiting for the worst to happen. We waited in suspense for gravity and velocity to determine which force would win this round, and with a light plop we landed on all four tires, already revving to open up that engine again.
That’s when I heard Nick over the radio “Car 1344, you’re in third place right now, let us know when you get to the 26 mile marker and we’ll get Quin ready.” I didn’t recognize the trembled voice that replied, “Got it, Nick.” It was mine. We did a few more sharp turns, and passed three more broken down cars. As we approached a fourth car, it lost control after misjudging an appropriate speed for this set of bumps, and its front began narrowing in on ours. It was going to hit us! I nervously honked our horn again, and the car continued to head towards ours, bouncing around like it was jumping hurdles. Tara shouted “HONK!” as she pulled the car harshly to the left, a tree flattening in front of us as bush after bush collided with our car. Branches flew into our cab and got caught up in the netting and roll cage. Tara kept control of the car, but we were off course, running over anything that stood in our way. Tara increased speed, and pulled in front of the wild racecar we narrowly missed a collision with, and again told me to honk. With little visibility, I walked my fingers to the horn and found what I was looking for, just as we settled back into the carved out dirt track. “Beep beep beep beep,” I apprehensively sounded. Again we pulled sharply to the left and actually slowed down, just as Nick and the other crew came running out to the track. We were back? Voices shouted at me to jump out, but I didn’t know where we were, and in my confusion I started removing my helmet instead of the window nets and harness. I felt hands pulling at my air tubes and grabbing my arms for support as I fell out the window, one wobbly leg at a time. My first instinct was to walk away from the car, heading straight for the course itself where other cars were ripping by. I felt someone grab me by the waist and turn me around, leading me back to the pit, “You’re done, you did it!” It was my husband, but I didn’t recognize him at first. I still had my helmet on, drenched in sweat, and I only had one thing on my mind: Did I do everything I could? What about the car? I looked over my shoulder and with the reason still unbeknownst to me, tears welled up in my eyes as I was escorted further away from it. That had been my only chance. The crew was rapidly crawling all over the car like bees on honeycomb, checking for damage, assessing the tires, helping Tara drink from her water bottle and hooking Quin up to her tubing. The engine idled impatiently. “We’ve gotta roll!” I heard echo through pit row, and sure enough, across the track where we had earlier leveled all of those bushes was a car on its side, wheels spinning frantically as it positioned itself on its final resting place, the roof. Men poured out of their pits, dodged oncoming cars and crossed the track. About 10 spectators and crew members worked together to get this unknown car back on its tires, using just their hands. They didn’t know whose car this was either. Tara and Quin peeled out just as the rolled car settled back on its feet, but sadly this one was down for the count. It had put in a great race if it had kept up with our car, but the damage was too severe to continue. As Wide Open’s sturdy warrior disappeared into the dust storm, I watched to see what kind of injuries I had escaped by being in a better car, and having a better (luckier) driver and trainer. No injuries to report, both racers in the bedridden car walked away, only their hopes of winning were scratched. Reality struck and I remembered that I was standing, and grabbed a nearby table for support, my shaky legs becoming more apparent as the adrenaline started to wear off.
As I downed the contents of a fresh water bottle, Tara and Quin continued their combat out of sight, and my husband told me I had actually done two laps instead of one. My sound would turn off when Tara communicated with home base, so I was unaware they had worked out a new plan for the final three laps, in light of our excellent position in the race. We were in third place overall as Tara and I pulled up to swap co-drivers, and we had yet to be passed by a single car. This meant that I had been in the car fighting for an hour and a half. I could tell the Wide Open guys were proud of us, maybe even a little surprise mixed in with their smiles. Before she left, Quin must have been listening in on the radio, too, and heard how well we were doing. She then selflessly made the decision to forfeit her laps as driver, to instead co-drive for the team’s win. Wide Open had a new agenda, its new team wasn’t just going to finish in one piece; it was going to try to place!