Over the Wall
By Artemis J Jones
Work on yourself first, take responsibility for your own progress. I Ching
I am standing here twenty years later, staring through a chain link fence. Looking up, I notice the fence is about eight feet high, and no barbed wire at the top. My hands are gripping the links of the fence and I am filled with a sense of déjà vu. Pressed by youthful exuberance, I feel a need to climb and go in. No guards around, so up and over I go.
When I started working in the race shop, my goal was to become a genuine member of the team. Being hired by the team, does not make you a true member; you need to prove yourself. Once you go on the road and show that you can do, what the team needs, and discover for yourself if the team can work with you; that is the moment you become an integral part of the team. To prove yourself, you need to go over the wall.
From the very first day, I had some baggage, a bit of an ego, and the false pretense that I actually had laurels to rest on. The Team Manager, Craig, saw this and immediately began putting me in check. My first assignment … sweep the floor! After a few months of this mentally tasking duty, I was given a serious assignment; to Dyno test all the engines.
Every engine needed to be tested before it was placed in a race car. While I was doing this, Craig watched me, looking for flaws like impatience, bad judgment, and a negative attitude. Craig toned me down once when a tedious task revealed a little impatience in me, but, other than that, I was doing well. He gave me other assignments and, together with Bob, our metal fabricator, we began working on the American built Porsche 962, next season’s car.
After the current IMSA (International Motor Sports Association) season was half way over, I decided to take my harbored impatience with menial tasks in the shop, and put it to good use. I built a practice wall outside the race shop. It was two and a half feet high and ten inches wide, the same size as most safety walls around the country. I made it with concrete, cinder blocks and reinforced with rebar. After that, I built a stationary, practice, fuel storage tank and assembled a fuel hose exactly like the type of hose used at the track to fuel the cars during a pit stop. I filled the tank with water, and then I put on a fire suit and began testing my skills. The hose, by itself, weighed thirty pounds and could hold eight gallons of fuel, which weighed seven pounds per gallon. So the combined weight on race day would be eighty-six pounds resting on my shoulder.
Practice, consumed my time every afternoon, when my other assignments were completed. When the rest of the team was in the shop, they would watch me and, many times ask me, “Why do you want to go on the road?” Call it harmless bi-polar curiosity, because they all knew the answer and, at the same time, slighted life on the road. Yet, they would never give up the bond of the team.
During one practice session, I brought the house down with laughter. I knew sometimes it rained and the cars continued to race, so I decided to practice in the rain. I had the fire suit on and sat on the bench, just as you would while you were waiting for a car to come in the pits. I made a dash for the wall, put my left foot up on it, stood on the top and pulled on the hose, but it did not move and I fell backwards, landing hard on my butt. When I hit the ground, I bumped the valve open on my end and dumped eight gallons of water on myself. Everyone got a good laugh from that! In such a fast paced business calm and focus were the prized attributes so I continued to practice and improved my focus on every task at hand.
As time figuratively chewed itself up and the season neared its end, I knew I would not be going over the wall, but there was hope. Craig had been watching me for months, and he commented on how he really liked the improvements in my performance, and he saw my attention to details on everything I did. He was very happy with the engine program that I was in charge of and made note of the ones I rejected.
Porsche Racing Millstones. Great book for the racing buff.
“Those bad engines could cost us a race,” he said. “Great work.” He then asked me, “Do you still want to go on the road?” “Yes,” I replied. He nodded and walked away.
By now it was December and we only worked for two weeks. Before we closed for the holidays, Craig told me he wanted to use me during the nightshift, for the 24 Hours of Daytona race, at the beginning of the next season. I was ecstatic, but did not show it. Craig also mentioned “Adjust your sleep patterns.”
Race day came; I watched the beginning of the race and headed for the trailer to rest. I fell asleep and began having a dream: I was climbing over a fence.
As my feet hit the ground, I am filled with total recall of that moment in my life. Craig was up on his platform, he told us our car would be coming in. The time was three a.m. As I sat waiting, the glare from the lights of the track and from the cars blinded my eyes. While the sounds of engines screaming in a torrent, penetrated my ear plugs. From that moment on it was a visual world of knowing what to look for and look out for.
No speed limits on pit road in those days, so the cars frequently came in at over 150 mph. Derek was driving and he was known to slam on the brakes and slide the Porsche 956 into the pits. Several other cars were coming in at the same time and Derek raced everyone down pit row. With the fuel line on my left shoulder, I closed my mask. As Derek hit the brakes, the car swerved into our pit, and I moved towards the wall. I put my right foot up on the wall and I looked down at the car, too close for the other team members to change left side tires, I landed in a small crevice of space, latched the hose to the car, signaled the tank operator and opened the valve, dumped fifty gallons of methanol in a few seconds. Signaled to close the tank, closed the valve on my end and leaped up horizontally with my back to the wall and, in one movement, cleared it. The other team members finished replacing right side tires, and Derek took off. It was seven point nine seconds of my life I will never forget. Craig gave me a thumbs up!
At that moment, my first time over the wall, I became a team member.
© Copyright 2014 Artemis J Jones
(c) Copyright & Revised 1/2015