First the wreck and then the lesson....
This whole year has been one mess after the next. A lot of really great things have happened, but for the most part I have been sort of drifting from one disaster to the next. The year started with a huge list of ambitions. I was winding down the 'Ask A Mistress LIVE!' show. I gave my last lecture in January. I loved doing the show, and I still adore the fans and enjoy answering questions, but doing a completely original stage show twice a month was extremely difficult. I put my heart and soul into AAML!, and while it made for a great product, it left me with little room for much else. I created a monster with that show, and it ate all of my free time and every inch of space in my head. This meant I was constantly preoccupied with building content, writing lectures and finding guests. No matter how much love I had for the project, it was killing me. I have so many more interests, I am more than just 'The Mistress', and I was searching for something new. I badly needed some new thing in my life that I could really sink my teeth into.
I had known Rob for a few years, but we had only really been friends for four months or so at the start of this year. Rob is sort of the ultimate "car guy". He seems to know everything about cars and motors. We would be hanging out, driving around in his truck, and some car would catch his eye and he would be able to tell me everything about it. Not just the year and make and model of the car, but also specific design details, what made it rare or unique, who invented the various gadgets on it... all sorts of things. I had never really given cars or motors much thought before Rob. Before I knew him, cars were a thing that guys discussed among themselves in order to exclude the women-folk. Car talk had always sounded like a foreign language filled with impossible details and tiny specifics, and men always seem to discuss cars in some sort of guarded way. Rob was never like that. When he would say something I didn't understand, he would answer all of my questions until I got it. As it turned out, I was interested. I became fascinated with cars and motors of all sorts, and it just so happened that my best friend was an expert and an excellent teacher. So it began.
I closed AAML! at the end of January. It was an evening full of mixed feelings. I loved my show, I was and still am very proud of what we accomplished with the idea of it and all of the people we helped. Walking away from it was one of the scariest things I have ever done. I was very in control as 'The Mistress', and every topic we covered I was well studied on and comfortable discussing. It was a monster of a decision to actively choose to leave that safety and comfort behind for a world of things I didn't know or understand, but in my gut I knew it was the right thing to do.
After the show closed I was eager to get my hands dirty, eager to learn and start turning wrenches with the big boys. As it turned out, my first experience working on a motor was a boat motor. I thought with all those little parts and all the complicated machinery, the guys would have me mostly watching. I was mistaken. My first day in, I was nearly upside down in a greasy, hot engine compartment, trying to figure out how to get the exhaust headers off. In case you are unfamiliar, the bolts that attach the headers are usually located somewhere between go fuck yourself and Satan's asshole. They are in impossibly tight spaces, spaces where there is plenty of room for a bolt, but no room at all for a wrench, and if you drop a bolt or a tool, it falls into the bottom of the engine compartment where all the spilled oil and fuel gather, and the only way to retrieve it is to invert yourself and go fishing with a flashlight and a magnet. Somehow I eventually got them all off.
My finger tips were bleeding from scraping along all sorts of parts, I tore half of one finger nail off catching it on the threads of a bolt, my knuckles were bruised from my unskilled hands banging around the engine trying to find what it was I was supposed to be loosening, my stomach ached from leaning painfully over the edge of the back seat of the boat into the engine compartment, my back was tense, my neck ached and I was DIRTY. Not just messy, but dirty. A whole new kind of dirty. Before this day I was The Mistress, and occasionally a model, and The Mistress NEVER got dirty. I was covered in exhaust soot, burnt engine oil, various greases and sweat. It was also a breezy day in the desert, so whatever dust was in the air clung to all the grease and sweat. I was a tired, sore, achy, greasy mess. And then the scary part. The boys were finishing their cigarettes and dick jokes and were walking toward the boat to inspect my work. I think I actually held my breath while Rob and Glenn checked to make sure I had done what was asked of me, and that I had done it correctly. Rob's big hand clapped me on the back and I heard Glenn say "good job, Pinky" and that was it. I was in love with it all. I was hooked, there was no going back.
Working very hard, getting very dirty, and finding myself VERY happy.
So my Spring and summer was spent working on boats. There were a few pleasure craft with normal motors, but my favorite were the race engines. There is something I found very special and incredible about being allowed to work on those engines, about seeing them taken entirely apart down to the bare block, and then cleaned and reassembled. With my apprentice status there was only so much help I could be, but I did my best to make myself useful. There was always a task the guys could set me to work on. I remember taking a part and cleaning an oil pan one afternoon. If you've never done it, it's a shitty job. The pan was filled with old grease that had gone sticky. I had a few rags, a jug of degreaser and a hose. I was sitting on a rock carefully scrubbing, rinsing, degreasing, scrubbing, rinsing... etc. I wasn't wearing any makeup. My day hadn't started with lip stick and expensive pumps. I had thrown on my oldest, most comfortable clothes, and gotten right to work on something tedious and gross. It was honestly pure joy. I began to fear that my love of it all was just in the newness of the thing, the change of pace, and that once I got used to it, I would lose interest, but it never happened. It was that day, sitting with the oil pan, trying vary hard not to dump another batch of dirty degreaser on my shoes, that I realized this was real for me.
I finished the oil pan and got another "good job, Pinky", and went back to cleaning and organizing tools. Happily.
The summer marched on and as we worked on motors I began learning about what these motors were for. Crackerbox Race Boats. I was acquainted with Crackerbox, I had seen photos of Rob and Glenn racing in the P-42, 'Left Hooked!'. They had told me so many stories about boat racing. When a person tells me something is scary, I proceed with caution. When Big Rob Nelson says something is scary it has my fucking attention. If you don't know Rob, he races EVERYTHING. On top of being a race car driver, he is also a drift driver, which consists of racing a car sideways mere inches from a concrete wall, these things don't phase him. Crackerbox out right frightens him, so naturally I had to know more.
Weeks passed and every day I must have had a dozen new questions about these wacky little boats. They are 14' long, flat bottom boats. The motors are limited to 314 cubic inches. Each boat has a pilot and a rider or riding mechanic. Left Hooked! was piloted by Glenn, and Rob was his rider last season. The boats weigh very little, and that combined with the flat bottom and the big horse power makes for one hell of a ride. When everything works the way it is supposed to, the only thing in the water is the prop. Sound scary yet? Here's the spooky part: THEY TURN! All of that horse power riding on just the prop and the pilot turns that weird machine on a pin. So yeah, they're scary.
Early this fall, Rob and I were in Venice California. We got a call from Glenn explaining that one of the Crackerbox teams had hit a snag. The Games brothers boat had a broken back, and she wasn't able to be put back in the water. They had a spare motor, complete and ready to go, but no hull. Glenn had a hull, but no motor. Since we were already in the neighborhood, we agreed to pick up the motor from Games Racing, and bring it back to Vegas. The Games shop was amazing. It was so cool to see some one else's work in progress. Their boat, the P-550, was gorgeous, but looked so sad sitting there with her broken supports. I met Andrew Games very quickly, then we loaded the motor and headed back to Vegas. Glenn installed it in his hull and presto, we had a substitute P-550. Glenn would take it to the last race of the season in AZ, and Andrew would meet him there and be able to stay in the points race. I really enjoyed being able to be part of that kind of sportsmanship, and I am grateful to have been along for the ride.
On Halloween, Rob and I were over at Glenn's helping him get his trailer ready and loaded for the race. It was that day, just hours before he was supposed to leave that Rob and I were invited to the races. I was so excited! I had been working really hard to learn about these boats and these motors, I had watched every crackerbox race there was online, but it just wasn't the same as seeing the real thing. So we got the boat and all the tools in the trailer and headed off to Firebird International Raceway.
This was my first race weekend. Race people are not like non-race people. I have been to sporting events before, to football games and pool leagues. I have participated in many martial arts and sword fighting competitions so I was familiar with a competitive atmosphere, but this was nothing like that. The energy in the pits was high , but not that aggravated nervous tension that other sports seem to generate. These were professionals whose job it was to build large and dangerous machines that push every limit possible, and every single person was in competition with every one else. You'd think that would make things tense, but it had a very different, almost magical effect.
We arrived on Thursday and found our parking with a few other Crackerbox teams and we set up camp. The rest of the teams arrived and we all collected together in the fringe of the pits, away from the drag boat teams, sot of off in our own little crackerbox town. Boats came out on their dollies, sun shade went up over them, and tinkering began. Every one was making their adjustments and getting ready for test and tune time out on the water. This was my first time seeing one of these things run. Glenn piloted and Rob rode in the first run. It was incredible! All of that work and sweat and nerves all finally coming together in a massive display of horsepower and speed. I was enthralled, and this was just testing! Watching these things maneuver on the water, it just doesn't look right, it looks like they are trying to take off. It takes a ton of skill on the part of the pilot to keep the boat in the water, and it takes a good rider to watch the traffic in the other lanes and report to the pilot on when it is OK to pass, and when the oil pressure drops. It's unlike anything I have every seen, and they have to do it all while rattling along at over 100 mph! It's utter madness.
Every one finished their testing and met back at the pits to make the adjustments they needed, and this is where the excellence of these people came out. Team affiliation ceased to matter as soon as they were out of the water. We were team P-550, but drivers and crew and riders from all of the other teams made their way over to us to help us fix what was wrong and to help us make the adjustments needed to stay competitive. In turn, Glenn and Rob also checked out every one else's boats. Even though these people were all going to race against each other, they all helped each other stay in the race. Winning mattered, but no one wanted to win by forfeit. It was awesome, and exactly the sort of thing I had been searching for.
Racing began and it was on. There was a flurry of movement as pilots and riders got into their fire proof gear and helmets, and support crew hooked them up to trucks and got them all down to the ramps to get into the water on time. It was a hell of thing. We would rush to get every one where they needed to be, and then race officials would have us parked on the ramp for over an hour. Over an hour for race teams to stand in the Arizona heat and sweat in layers and layers of fireproof safety gear and helmets. Awful. Eventually they would get into the water and then have to wait on the line, in the sun, again, I felt so bad for them! But they toughed it out and raced their asses off when the time came and the crowd loved them for it!
In all of the hustle and bustle, I served very little purpose so I stayed out of the way in the trailer. I was reading a book when Rob came in, looked at me and said "you ready to race?". My heart stopped. I had no idea I was going to get a chance to get in a boat at all, let alone ride in a real deal points race. I said "Fuck Yes!" and changed as quickly as I could while people from other teams scrambled to find me gear. I was handed a collar and helmet last, and climbed into the boat and off we went.
Geared up and ready to race!
I suddenly really sympathized with the guys who had to wait on the ramp in gear before me. The sun is unrelenting, and my fire jacket was thick and heavy and black. I was baking in the heat and sweating inside my sunglasses. I was also nervous. Every one from the other teams came by and gave me their own bits of advice since it was my first race. Brandon explained how to watch the gauges and the lane traffic, and what hand signals I was supposed to use to signal Glenn, my pilot. I had two handles inside the cockpit, one on the dash for my left hand, and one on the floor for my right hand. Jim, another rider, explained to me that in the turns I should switch my hands on the handles and then back again on the straight away. He also explained about keeping my head down so the flow of air would get under my helmet and try to rip it off of my head, choking me with the strap. Good thing that wasn't scary as hell. Every one had a helpful tidbit, and my mind was flying trying to remember it all. the only person who didn't have anything to say was Glenn. I finally asked him what he needed me to do, how I could be a good rider, what I should look out for and he just laughed and said, "hang on, and no matter how scared you get, don't hit the kill switch, got that?" I nodded, and I figured I could handle that.
They finally got us into the water. Where we sat in the sun. Again. The heat was some how worse on the water than it had been on the ramp, and the only relief I could get was to open the visor on my helmet and turn my head to they left and pray for a slight breeze while we waited for the drag boats to finish up.
Finally it was our turn. the first lap of a crackerbox race is a parade lap. We make one lap around the track waving at the grandstands and getting our lane positions all lined up, and then, sort of like a rolling start, the green flag drops and all hell breaks loose. I tried like hell to watch the gauges, but the vibration of the boat was so extreme that I couldn't see a damn thing. I did mange to turn my head enough to see the other boats, but there was nothing to report to my pilot because we were winning! And by a good stretch! We skipped along the top of the water and made our first turn. I remembered what Jim said about switching my hands in the turns, and he was right, it helped keep my in seat, but letting go even for a fraction of a second was scary as hell, and Glenn didn't just turn that boat, he pivoted it right on the pin, I could have touched the buoy if I had wanted to! We flew down the next stretch and I looked behind us and saw that no one could catch us. I couldn't believe it! It was my first race and we were going to win! I was so excited that in the next turn I forgot to switch my grip and found myself leaning uncontrollably to the left.
Glenn, the pilot, and me, Super Ro, trying like hell to read the gauges.
We came out of the turn even faster and skipped our way into the third turn, and I had half a second to realize that this was the most fun I had ever had, the most alive I had ever felt, and then I was under water.
The boat flipped. My world flipped. I don't remember the wreck. I remember being in the boat, and then being underwater, my life vest dragging me quickly and painfully to the surface. When I broke the surface I was still drowning some how. I realized my helmet was full of water so I opened my visor and turned my head until I could breath. I couldn't see anything, I couldn't see my boat, or Glenn or any of the other boats, or the grandstands. I began hearing a high pitched very loud noise. It sounded like a weird siren, and I thought it was the safety crew on their way. I was later informed the sound I heard was my own voice screaming. The safety crew got to me impossibly fast. There was suddenly an EMT in the water with me asking me questions, asking me if I was hurt, I told him my leg might be injured, and then I asked where Glenn was. I asked if the boat was ok, they put me in a basket and lifted my out of the water, holding me still, taking off my fire gear and asking me all sort of questions. How many fingers and did I know my name and did I have a husband or boyfriend here and all I wanted to know was if Glenn was OK. I think I remember some one telling me he was fine, but I didn't believe him. It wasn't until they let me sit up and Glenn was standing right there that I finally exhaled.
I am the helmet floating in the water all the way on the left. Glenn is next to me on the right, and as you can see, our boat landed right side up.
The safety crew looked me over and tried like hell to get me to agree to a trip to the hospital but I refused. They took me to the shore and there was Rob, looking more worried than I had ever seen him, and for some reason that made me feel very sad. I felt guilty that I had gotten hurt and scared every one, guilty that I had screamed with out knowing it. I wanted to play it tough. I thought if I could just get back to the trailer I would be fine. I thought I was mostly unhurt. Rob knew better. Rob knew I was badly banged up and that I was in shock. Tom Patterson, the inventor of the sport, rushed to the wreck site to give me a ride back to the pits and Rob helped me strip all my clothes off and get cleaned up. I changed my clothes and sat on the bed with Rob looking me over and I noticed I was shaking. I realized I was scared. Not just shaken, but scared, as scared as I had ever been. I cried. Rob stayed with me, and he didn't look even a little surprised by my outburst. It only lasted a minute or two, and no one else saw it, thankfully. I tried to stand up and my left leg collapsed. Sharp pain shot all through my thigh and knee and I screamed. They were all right and I was wrong. I was hurt.
We later found out that I was ejected from the boat and as it flipped it struck me in my left leg, cartwheeling me away from the wreck. I spent the rest of the weekend arguing with every one in the pits who wanted to take me to the hospital. I HATE hospitals. I kept waiting for the swelling to go down and to regain use of my leg, but it just kept hurting. The pain was incredible. More incredible than that was that the P-550 landed right side down. Even more incredible was than 30 minutes after the wreck, Glenn was back in the boat with a new rider and they went out and WON!!! That's a real deal racing story if I have ever heard one.
The day wound down and my leg got worse, but I still refused to go to the hospital. Rob was wonderful. I couldn't go any where on my own, so he carried me every where. Sunday morning the swelling had doubled and it wasn't just my leg that hurt. My whole body ached badly with the pain of impact. We were going 100 mph when we wrecked, and that is no small thing. I couldn't move much, I just sat on the sofa and tried to wait it out. Over the course of that day, there wasn't a single person who didn't come in to check on me. Just two days before I was a stranger, and these people all treated me like family. I was blown away.
The races ended, and Rob took me to the hospital where we learned my knee was dearranged, and that I was going to be out of commission for quite some time. Basically, its all fucked up. But I am healing. Rob is still looking after me, carrying me when I need him to. That big bastard is really very sweet.
The bruises two days after the wreck.
This wreck has not scared me off. The Cracker Box Racing Association now has a new member and I am anxious to run a full season as a real rider. I have seen within the CBRA all of the things I have been looking for for years, and a few things I didn't even know I was missing. These are the best people I have ever met, and this sport brings out the best in every one. The brush with death has woken me up considerably. It has reminded me to not waste any more days. It has shaken me out of my complacency. The down time needed to heal has given me time to think about what I really want from life and what I should be pursuing.
Thank you so much to every one who was a part of the race weekend, and to every one who helped look after me after I got hurt. Thank you to every one who welcomed me and let me be a part of something so awesome! And extra thanks to Rob and Glenn for teaching me all year long and finally getting me to a race. I am very grateful to you both for that.
I have started working on a degree in business, and while I am presently unsure of the details, I plan on being a good mechanic and one hell of a rider in the CBRA.