In Pit Row
St. Petersburg, Florida
April 3, 2005
Honda Grand Prix of Saint Petersburg
What follows are the half-hearted remarks and thoughts of a racing neophyte, an automobile bum who would not distinguish a spark plug from a flux capacitor.
Our hero is PJ Chesson, the 26-year-old racing driver from New Jersey’s gentrified horse country. This is his second year competing in the Menards Infiniti PRO Series, which is like minor league IndyCar. He racked up 3 consecutive victories and several top-fives in his first year running on pavement. PJ is driving for a new team this year and things are tense, he crashed during qualifying in the first two races this season. (Drivers are responsible for damages if incurred outside of the race). The team is well below its rookie season and the car reflects that. His girlfriend is Echo Johnson, he’s a bit older than PJ (though I lack the conviction to ask how much) he’s a former Playboy model from Austin, Texas.
PJ seemed unaffected by the same thoughts I had when I entered the ‘hot well’. My first thought when approaching these tiny fighter jets, with an extra wheel, is something like ‘you’d have to be a jockey to fit in one of these little f * ckers’ … The national anthem is over, it ran over with a clever butcher for some American Idol stunt. The honorary incumbent is Andrew Firestone, sorry to report that the Queer Eye Guys appear to have gotten another one. The engines roar and tell Echo and I to get off the track, an order we ignore only because it was said with such little authority … The second warm-up lap is over and the green flag is supposedly raised. Although who the hell knows, it’s too loud and the Florida sun is too bright to notice the little things. I will say, dear reader, with complete honesty and complete revelation that I am fully recovered from the debauchery of Friday nights in New York, even though I had the low flight to think about it.
As PJ predicted, there was a disaster on the first lap, apparently the first lap is at the end of the straight and it’s quite tricky when the field is full. A young Brazilian named Jamie Camara was eliminated within 3 seconds of this race, although I couldn’t see much from here in the pit row. We can’t feel too bad for him as he is apparently the son of Brazilian Ted Turner, but certainly a wonderful Portuguese flair that Ted’s mustache could never match. But you can hear the slippery little missiles going over 150 mph right away, you can feel the power of the engines, you can smell the rocket fuel exhaust.
Another twist at the 21-lap mark, gives us a chance to evaluate PJ’s career. He’s 5 mph off the leaders’ pace, it seems his car not only looks slightly inferior, with its faded blue and white paint, but it runs that way too. The good news comes in the form of a lanky, somewhat slippery Australian, no doubt descended from a long list of pocket pickers, assuring Echo that PJ is getting faster with every lap, 2 seconds faster before the last flag. precautionary. The flag gives him the opportunity, and the rest of the laggards, to catch the leaders and condense the race. A much needed mulligan, which cost someone a lot of money and a possible trip to the school nurse. I haven’t thought about it much before, but I guess it’s designed to make the race more exciting, tighter for the fans, as there’s no speed limit for anyone as long as you don’t pass the guy in front of you.
Eventually, you can catch up with the leader who is being held back by an extremely ugly passing car (actually a truck). A boost for the little one. Support for democracy in an America where evil empires and dynasties reign.
Anyway, I forgot to inform him that the slick looking ‘guy’ also told Echo that PJ was saying his brakes were getting softer, even to me this didn’t sound promising. Apparently all the drivers reported the same thing, they are not used to braking a lot on an oval track, where most of these guys have cut their teeth. PJ doesn’t strike me as someone who has ever considered using his breaks for some reason.
Echo appears to be a real distraction to the SPFR firefighter next to us, standing behind a 40-gallon open water barrel. The good thing it will do is totally suspect. 10 laps to go, let’s pray that there are no bonfires near me that need the attention of this brave lewd … The sparse crowd has risen in a round of applause, I can tell by the subdued nature of the joy that it is not a roar of fire that these vultures applaud, but a skilled pass by. Marco Andretti is beating other drivers with names like Unser and Drake, most with JR, III or IV. PJ has moved to seventh place with another pilot spinning.
I want to get a bottle of water out of the cooler next to me, but I dare not offend the natives, with their colorful clothing and funny hats. I am clearly an outsider invading a world of insiders. It is fortunate that he meets one of the bosses and is with his beautiful concubine.
5 laps to go, surely only a disastrous miracle will propel our man to victory lane, or anywhere near him. But no one expected a win more than me, who knows less than any of the morbidly obese kids who start to fill the stands behind me in anticipation of the big car races later today. The drivers and their girlfriends, however, are descended from a different lineage than their fans. Brides can be easily identified from all the other women next to the runway by their bleached and surgically enhanced good looks. Is it my imagination or are they all taller than your men? More research is needed, I’ll have to examine you on this in the next race and answer you … Race car drivers may be the only short men with fast cars capable of successfully making up for their lack of stature.
It looks like Marco Andretti, the 18-year-old phenom, will steer himself into victory lane. Another victory for heritage, empires and dynasties everywhere, yet a well-deserved victory for the boy. The media crowds the champion, many Japanese media come running down the pit row, with their wonderful straight black hair. But wait, here come the blondes, very impressive. Clearly he should have been behind a wheel, not a golf ball, from a very young age.
They help PJ out of his car and he looks very pleased. Get a big hug and kiss from Echo and congratulations from several official looking guys. We are standing watching the circus that unfolds around the winner’s car. I feel like he’s happy to finish seventh and I ask him both, “I finished a fucking race in ’05 baby” clearly a weight off … PJ talks to some of the other riders and his team for a while. We all get on the scooter PJ, Echo and then me, when I realize this is the closest thing to a playmate.
As I’m standing under the car lift platform, attached to the rear of the custom 18-wheeler, in an attempt to find some relief from the relentless Florida sun, I hear a soft moan. The sun / shadow line moves slowly across the asphalt, as I come to the conclusion that the mischievous natives are letting me know my place in the strict social hierarchy of their highly evolved culture. I try to appear calm and collected, calm in the face of his passive aggressive behavior. Barely avoiding being slowly crushed by the mighty hydrolytic monster, I can hear some deep growls.
Perhaps now that I sit here at the Tampa airport, alongside a family from one of the outer districts, all of us on our way back to JFK and God only knows where, as they verbally abuse two generations of the family, one in a wheelchair and another in a pram, and my head is totally clear of the Marquee cobwebs I can tell the pit crew didn’t see me standing under the car lift and they weren’t in it to spill a bit blood, that warm and clear Sunday afternoon in St. Petes, but if I don’t think so, neither should you.
April 4, 2005
These drivers, and PJ more than anyone I’ve ever met, are afflicted by an atavistic need to compete for resources, to participate in the hunt, with death not in the shadows but right in front of them, all around them. This Infinity Pro Series looks even more dangerous than its older IndyCar siblings who race the same courses, just seconds faster per 1.8-mile lap. Why is it, or does it seem, more dangerous if the cars are smaller and a little slower? The danger lies with the drivers themselves, as I look up from my scratchy handwriting and realize that my Arab friend, whose name would undoubtedly need George Tenet to speak, hurls us closer and closer to a certain fear and possible destruction. while playing with his cell phone in one hand and hitting his nose with the other. I have a distinct feeling that we are walking a tightrope at this point and his girlfriend Israelie is yelling at us not to look at her … The point I deviated from so cruelly was that these drivers are more dangerous because they are less experienced and are driving for their lives (no endorsements here in minors). However, I will say that his girlfriends seem to be almost as pretty as the IndyCar drivers, with Ashley Judd being a more refined exception.
This drive home is getting really messy right now. We barely made it across the Williamsburg Bridge with our lives and now my driver is getting nervous, he can smell the finish line, victory lane is within reach and no one is going to shut him out. There may not be a ton of media and groupies, and the bag is barely enough to cover the gas, but these guys run for reasons you and I can’t begin to understand.