We try again. This time, when I get the hand signal, I am careful, but I see the pro guy in his pace car already out on the track, and I am not yet in third. I gun it, squealing the tires, chasing him as hard as I can up to the top of the first turn.
I am slammed against the harness, struggling to spin the wheel and get up closer to the back of the pace car, which is chewing up the track on straightaways and cutting in at carnival-like slants at every turn.
I get a flag. It's blue.
What does it mean? I can't remember and I am dumped into another turn, and there is no time to think. The pace car is down in the curve, way down, and I am up near the wall.
That's it! Blue flag: Get back in the tracks of the pace car. I try and try and give my engine some more gas. I get a hood-length closer and I am tucked in tightly, not so far out of line.
No flag for me on the second or third laps and I am feeling confident on four and five and six, reminding myself the pace car has a timer ticking away. The engine of my Pennzoil sounds like singing, low and strong. It is humming 100, 100, 100.
I have got to break 100 on the time sheet I'll be given. 100 to show Renata. 100 to say "a piece of cake" to Al.
I am hungry for 100.
On my last lap, I give the Pennzoil everything I can. This is the Air Force. I am jetting into clouds of exhaust that puff from the tail of the pace car. I am flying so loud and low and hot that I forget to get off the gas before the final turn.
Something is off. I feel like the Pennzoil is angry. It is handling like my Nova, starting to slip, and I am looking up at ads for Winston and Mr. Goodwrench instead of at the gray of the track.
"Trust your car," I say out loud. And just as I'm talking I hit the turn.
There is a second when the speedway is black. No one is smoking Winston. And Mr. Goodwrench is gone.
I brace for something. An explosion? But there is nothing. Only the 100 hum of the engine droning on and on.
The Pennzoil has taken the turn all by itself. And we are safely in the stretch and getting waved at by the checkered flag.
I keep staring at the printout of my lap times. Clutching it hard. Al has gone faster. From what I can find out, I'm in the slowest third of the class. But there it is in print: