Dueling Deadlines

At this moment, I am reminded of a scene from the movie “Deliverance.” No, not that scene with Ned Beatty.

The scene I’m talking about is the one in which the guys are filling up at the gas station and there is one man playing a guitar and a backwoods Appalachian kid playing a banjo. That’s the song banging around in my head, “Dueling Banjoes,” the perfect soundtrack for my dueling deadlines.

On one hand, I have this issue of Speed News to finish and this column is part of that punch list. The banjo represents Speed News. One the other hand, I have a car on jack stands that I need to get running and prepped for the Western States Championships at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The car is a proxy for the guitar.

If you recall the scene — it’s on YouTube — you remember that the kid playing the banjo begins to outplay the man with the guitar, played by actor Ronnie Cox. As the song progresses, Cox’s character admits he’s lost his rhythm while the kid lays down one hot riff after another on the banjo.

In terms of my duties with this magazine, I feel like the banjo player — minus the intrafamilial genealogy, of course. Magazines are what I do, and what I have done for nearly 20 years. I have well over the 10,000 hours of experience people say you need to become genuinely accomplished at something. When it comes to putting each issue together, I always feel like, “I’ve got this.”

As for getting the car ready, well, I feel like I’ve lost my rhythm — and I’ve been messing with cars as a hobby for longer than I’ve worked in publishing. I’ve been chasing an overheating problem that seems to have no cause. I’ve been throwing money and wrenches and labor at it all season and that temperature needle still won’t behave. It’s disheartening to have to drop out of races when your car won’t cooperate, and since the racetrack is the only place I can drive it, it’s that much worse.

Dropping out of races hasn’t been good for my driving either. At this point, it has been months since I’ve genuinely driven in anger, so I feel a bit rusty and out of practice. Once we ship this issue, I’ll have some time to get the car squared away, so here’s the plan.

Improving my driving starts with as much karting as I can squeeze in before the Championships. We have a nice kart track where I live, and I find that karting is a great way to sharpen my skills and quicken my reflexes before an event.

I’ll also be reviewing lots of video from Mazda Raceway, rereading the great tutorial Gary Sheehan wrote for the July issue of Speed News and driving the track on iRacing.

Next comes the car, and I have a series of repairs and improvements planned. At the very least, the climate at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is moderated by the chilly Pacific Ocean just a few miles away, so I’m hoping the lower ambient temperatures will help keep coolant temperatures in check. I have a week left to get everything done, and I’ll have to hustle and focus to do it.

When I think about what it’s going to take, I kind of shake my head because I know hundreds of NASA racers are battling dueling deadlines at work and in the garage to get ready for the Western States Championships at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Racers in the eastern regions of the country will go through the same process again for the Eastern States Championships at Virginia International Raceway the first weekend of September.

May we all find our rhythm in the shop, and lay down one hot lap after another on the track.

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