Now, I generally don’t go to many races, for both geographical and financial reasons. However, back in June I wound up being adopted by the IDB Racing team when they went to tackle the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Over the course of that weekend, I apparently managed to not totally embarrass myself. So much so that when Wil Kitchens, the driver and team owner, headed back to Colorado as part of the NAI Racing team for the World Racing League’s 24@5280 endurance race at High Plains Raceway, he decided to bring me with him. I can only assume this was due to my scathing wit and roguish good looks.
This would be a high speed, low drag type of operation, as the tactical Airsoft bros like to say. I’d work a full day at my day job in Kansas City, catch a late night flight to Denver, grab a rental car, drive an hour into the desolate wasteland of eastern Colorado, sleep for a few hours in the rental, stay up for approximately 24 hours watching the race, then head back to Denver, kill a few hours, then fly home. That was the plan.
Things took a downward turn before I’d even left my home state. Storms delayed my flight by two hours. So now instead of arriving at the racetrack at 11:00pm, I’d be arriving at after 1:00am. This was rapidly becoming the type of bad idea that my life has been built on. Flying through thunderstorms, to drive an unknown car down back roads in the middle of the night, to sleep in a parking lot for a couple hours, only to then be awake for a full 24 hours. I figured I might get four hours of sleep out of the next 48 or so. Occasionally something just sounds so idiotic that you have to do it, just for the story.
Or maybe that’s just me.
By the time I landed in Colorado, I had a message telling me where the race trailer was at the track and what it looked like. Perfect. After the maelstrom of ineptitude that is the Hertz office, where they attempted to tack on an extra two hundred dollars worth of fees onto my Altima, I was finally on the road. Priority one was sustenance. Actually, scratch that, priority one was caffeine, priority two was sustenance.
Instead of scouring southern California for narcotics, like the good doctor, I scoured the nearest gas station for protein. A suitable stockpile of beef jerky and various types of peanut infused mystery bars was procured, and Waze was programmed with the location of the track. The fact that the last direction GPS listed was “drive for 15 miles, then turn left” should have been another sign as to how the weekend was going to pan out. Just “left”. No street name. No identifier. Just “left”. When the roads don’t have names, you know you’re off the beaten path.
The combination of delayed flights, food runs, and rental car debacle now meant that I was not arriving at 11:00pm like initially expected. I was not arriving at 1:00am like expected. It was now after 2:00am by the time I rolled through the gate. No need to wake the security guard, we’ll just let ourselves in. Now to just find the Ferrari race trailer, and the truckloads of Texans parked behind the pavilion. Only upon reaching the track did I realize that I had no idea where the pavilion was. Or really what a pavilion looked like. Is it kind of like a gazebo? Also, I don’t know how many of you have ever driven around out in the middle of nowhere in Colorado, but it gets really dark. Like pillowcase over the head dark.
I did attempt one lap of the paddock in the mighty Altima, but couldn’t tell the color of any trailer, let alone what license plates they had. The prospect of wandering through the labyrinth on foot in the wee hours was less than enticing, so I decided to just park on the side of the road near the gate, and sleep until sunrise. Once I could actually see, I’d try again to track down my team. To further complicate things, the track was so far out of town that I had zero data service on my phone. Normally, that would be mildly annoying, but I did not have a phone number for anyone I was supposed to be meeting, just Facebook or email contacts. Also, of course this wound up being the weekend that my girlfriend’s phone broke, so email was my only option there as well. Email I could only sporadically access by periodically piggybacking on some rogue WiFi signal that drifted past.
For those of you who are better at geography than me, you will recall that most of Colorado is effectively a desert. This means that late summers there can get blisteringly hot during the day, but the temperature falls off a cliff as soon as the sun dips behind the horizon. That whole “no water or vegetation to retain heat” thing. Obviously, this means that if you’re going to be living outside for a day and a half, you will have brought plenty of jackets, hoodies, and hats. I am not that bright. I brought two t-shirts. This carried on my proud tradition of being woefully ill-equipped for any race trip.
Sleeping in cars was basically my hobby through my entire childhood, so catching a few hours sleep in a rented Nissan should be no trouble. Except there is a difference between dozing off in the passenger seat for a few minutes, and getting actual restful sleep. Either that, or I’m old and can’t sleep without a Postur-Pedic. Whatever. So after much trial and error, I finally settled on a sleeping arrangement that I’m relatively proud of still. I reclined the passenger seat all the way back, until it was as horizontal as it would go. Then I could lie on my side on the rear seat, and stretch my legs down the passenger seat. That was surprisingly comfortable, at least it was when I was exhausted. As for a pillow, my two t-shirts wadded into a ball was shockingly inadequate. Pulling the passenger seat headrest off and using that instead solved the problem. There, a perfectly adequate, if improvised, bed.
Up until when I woke up an hour later thinking I was freezing to death. When the temperature drops to the low 50s, it will leech the heat right out of your car. I tried a t-shirt blanket, with mixed success, until finally giving up and just letting the car run with the heat turned on low. Whatever, it’s got a full tank of gas. I’m sure it will be fine. Plus, I wasn’t parked near enough to any trailer that the noise should be an issue over the dozens of generators thrumming away. Luckily, an Altima has a nice, quiet idle.
A brief three hour nap later, I was up again. When sleeping without the aid of black-out curtains, I tend to wake up as soon as the sun hits. Which is problematic. But, spirits were high.