Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Racing Lessons: # 3 "Eyes Front"

Heading toward 100 mph in a turn is no time to gawk or sight-see. I learned that quickly -- emphasis on the quickly -- the other day whilst tooling around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Okay, I was doing a bit more than tooling around -- zipping around, zooming around, rocketing around. At least that's how it felt to me.

The first time through the short chute between turns 1 and 2 though, I thought, "Hey, wait a sec, I'm coming up on the stands where I've sat for the races I've attended." Stand G. So, as I drew closer to it, I looked up to see what it looked like from the vantage of a car on the track.

Not a good idea. For one, I was strapped in securely enough, that it was hard to turn my body and/or head to get a good look at something zipping by at 90-100 mph. For two, I was zipping by at 90-100 mph and had no business trying to see that which was falling rapidly behind me. I whipped my head back to the center line of the car and noticed it was continuing to go straight and I was into the curve. So I had to turn and get the car back on line.

I did have a lead car in front of me, leading the way, showing the line through the curves. If I wanted to get the full experience of the drive, I had to forget sight-seeing, focus on the back end of the lead car, and step on the gas. Which I did. As I closed in on the lead car, he sped up and led me though the turns quickly and safely. And I got to speed up as I looked toward and trusted my guide.

How like life that is for me. I often meander at high speed through life, gawking at the sights around me and taking my eyes off of my Guide. And coming dangerously close to the wall! So long as I keep my eye on my Guide, I am shown the way and vouchsafed, ultimately, to the end. And provided with a trip that is, at times, fun, scary, exciting, and filled with learning. So long, that is, as I keep my eyes front and centered on Christ.

"Jesus, Savior, pilot me..." around all the tracks of my life. And keep my eyes front!

-- Brent

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Racing Lessons: #2 Hold Firmly but Loosely

120 mph seems pretty fast when you're sitting a few inches of the ground. I've never driven 120 mph before (I don't care what that Ohio State Patrolman said!).

And everything happens really quickly,too. That's how I learned lesson number 2. "Hold firmly but loosely."

I will say that instruction was not given in the "pre-race" (not that I was really racing!) instructions, but I remembered it from the few times I've ever driven a car "at speed" (including my old MG). Everything at speed is accelerated -- and not just the mph.

I relearned that when I was whipping through turn 2 the first time at maybe 80 or 90 mph. I realized, as I exited turn 1 and was accelerating to catch up to my lead car, that I was passing the G Stands, where I've sat at every race I've attended. I looked up to see if I could catch a glimpse of my "usual" seat and by the time I turned my head back around to look at the track in front of me, I was closing in quickly on the turn 2 wall. So I gave the steering wheel my usual Interstate 70 lane change effort and found myself changing the equivalent to 3 lanes!


The steering was ... um... sensitive. So I gripped the wheel tightly as I sped up to catch up to my leader and find the line through the turns. Every time I breathed or thought about sneezing, I moved up or down the track. As I crossed the yard of bricks for the first time, I realized I had a death grip on the steering wheel. So I took a deep breath, relaxed my grip a bit, and hit the accelerator as we moved through turn two.

As I remembered to hold the steering wheel firmly, but loosely, I found that the car was less "twitchy" and easier to steer -- and faster through the turns. And, at least to me, my track times picked up as I relaxed my grip on the wheel and guided the car along the line I wanted it to take.

Firm but loosely is another life lesson I've had a long time learning. I tend to hold on too tight to that which I love or am afraid of losing. And, in the process, I spin out of control and am in danger of crashing into a wall. That is true whether it is people in my life or the ineffable presence of the Divine. The tighter I hold, the more the smooth line of speed around the track eludes me. But when I relax my grip, holding the wheel firmly enough -- but just, then good things happen. The tires grip as they should because I'm not jerking the car all over the place with every breath. My relationships are not jerked all over the place. The presence of the Divine is not forced by my illusion of control.

The car rides the track smoothly as I allow the physics at work to ... um... work. And that includes my holding both firmly, but loosely.

-- Brent

Monday, May 16, 2011

Racing Lessons: #1 -- Trust

Screaming into turn 3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at 180 mph gave me a new understanding of the word trust. Just a few seconds, literally, earlier, we had rocketed out of the pits, down the pit road, up onto the track, and were hurtling toward turn 3. I was snugged into the back seat of a two-seater Indy car, strapped in behind a driver who I had never before met and had not spoken to. He was already in the car when I got there, suited up, strapped down, helmeted, radiophones in his ears, and ready to go. After I climbed in, he fired the engine and we sat there with him blipping the throttle.

Then the pit crew attendant tapped him on the head, stepped back, and he hit the accelerator. The back tires smoked (at least that's what I heard from those on site), squealed, and I was slammed back into the seat as we went from 0 to 60 in a little over two seconds. He ran up through the gears along pit road, gaining speed with each second. But the time we shot off pit road and up to the outside wall down the back straightaway, I realized that my vision was dimming. I'd be holding my breath ever since he'd taken off!

I took a deep breath, reminded myself that was riding with a professional race car driver who planned on living as long as I did, started to relax a bit when he pulled a left turn and we sped, without him lifting off the accelerator, into turn 3. I forgot to breathe again.

It was then I thought that I could do one of two things. I could either fret myself into a heart attack and die in the back of the car -- thereby earning myself spot on the evening news and infamy at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- or I could trust that the guy in front of me was really skilled, the car was really good, and this was going to be among the most exciting minutes in my life.

I decided, against my lifetime of distrust of those who hold my life in their hands at various times (other drivers, pilots, dentists), as we flew across the yard of bricks, to trust. To relax. I even remembered how my friend Buck, a Quaker pastor, says that he thinks learning to trust is the great lesson of the Christian life. So I prayed (quickly), "Buck, I hope you're right," took a breath and relaxed my tense muscles and watch the track surface, walls, trees, golf course, and viewing stands come and go in less than the blink of an eye. Zip through turn two. Zoom into turn 3 and up to the top of the short chute, then jetting down into turn four, up and out. As we hit the main straight, the driver lifted off the accelerator and we turned onto pit lane.

Thirty seconds later, I was up and out of the car, and walking a little shakily toward the safety behind pit wall where people I loved where there to greet me. And I hummed, to myself, a bit of an old gospel hymn that I'd grown up with:
"’Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus..."

And Indy car drivers, too...

-- Brent

Monday, May 09, 2011

At Speed: Me and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

It's the month of May and that means one thing in Indianapolis -- the 500 mile race. Festivities kicked off last Saturday with the mini-marathon and next Saturday the track officially opens, with practice soon to follow.

In between those two dates, I'll be taking my fifth trip around the track. Okay, I admit that the trips so far have bordered on the sedate. The first trip was almost twenty years ago and in one of the tour buses of the IMS Hall of Fame Museum. I think we got up to 30 mph.

But I've also driven around the track in my old MG. Once was for a lap around during the 500 festivities when our granddaughter Ashley was a 500 princess. Top speed on that lap was 45. Two times were with the Indiana British Car Union's fall gathering -- once around the old Grand Prix circuit and once around the oval. I think we got over 60 at one point -- though the speedometer conked out as we passed 55 so I'm really not sure.

This time, though, will be completely different. For my 60th birthday, my step-kids (Michele and Jeff, Laura and Mike, Lisa and Laura, and Chris) and Nancy got me an Indy Racing Experience package. The first part is as a passenger in a two seater Indy car. Other than the extra seat, in every other way, this is a true IZOD IndyCar® Series car. I'll be sitting be hind the driver (one of the current Indy car drivers -- or a past winner such as Mario Andretti or Dario Franchitti (maybe he'll bring along Ashley Judd??)). The car is built on a Dallara chassis and equipped with an authentic racing power plant that can reach up to 180 miles per hour. I'll be experiencing speeds and g-forces similar to those in a real racing situation.

Then, if I survive that part, I'll be driving three laps in a real IZOD IndyCar® Series car that has competed in the famed Indianapolis 500. Yes, I'll be DRIVING. They say that "Speeds are dependent upon each customer's comfort level in the car." How fast can an old man drive if he's trying not to throw-up?

Yes, this time will be completely different than the previous times. The picture above is of my buddy Aaron and I tooling across the yard of bricks at about 30 mph. Later we got about twice that speed through the curves (on 30 year old tyres) and Aaron was holding onto the crash bar and taking someone's Lord's name in vain.

In this case, if Jesus' name escapes my lips on Wednesday when we push through a turn at more than 150 mph, it will not be in vain -- it will be a sincere prayer. I may sound like a line out of an old Harry Chapin song --"It was funny how he had named the only man who could save him now."

It's a great gift for a "kid" who always wanted to be a race car driver. Now at (almost -- not til Wednesday!) 60 I'll be going from 0-60 in around two seconds and being propelled around the track in an automobile that exerts so much downforce that it could be driven upside down. Let's hope I don't experience that!

-- Brent

PS Pictures and commentary (from the spectators such as Nancy, Lisa, my Dad, Aaron and others on hand) will be posted after I quit shaking on Wednesday. I expect, "Screaming like a little girl!" will be among them.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

"Like Lightnings..."

"Spring "
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Nothing is so beautiful as spring—
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush's eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth's sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. — Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid's child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

"and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing" -- what amazing lines.

Gerard Manley Hopkins was an English poet and a convert to Roman Catholicism. He eventually became a Jesuit priest. His poems were thought to be not quite up to snuff during his lifetime. He may have used to daring imagery for the time. But, today he is recognized as one of the leading religious poets of all time. He's a favorite of mine.

-- Brent

Monday, May 02, 2011

Stories of Faith

I've had two amazing worship experiences in the past few weeks. Both were with my friends Katie and Jack Patterson.

Katie and Jack, members of St. Christopher Catholic Church in Speedway, Indiana, invited Nancy and me to visit for a Palm Sunday service which featured the proclamation of Jesus' passion. In this case, it was delivered by Bill Fikes. He presented the Holy Week story as presented in the Gospel of Matthew -- and it was absolutely moving and mesmerizing. Bill told the story of Palm Sunday through the burial of Christ completely from memory, moving arouss the front of the sanctuary at St. Christopher's, pausing, pointing, exclaiming, musing as the various characters moved through the story. It was powerful and moving -- all the more so as the result of his humble, understated, yet confident telling of this most important story of faith. I was tremendously blessed by hearing the story afresh -- and musing on which character most represented me. Peter the denier? Judas the betrayer? Pilate the accommodater?

Then, this past Sunday, Katie and Jack joined Nancy at me at our little Friends meeting. Worship opened with dear Friend Florence Emma Peery reading Job 38 -- "Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind: "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me."

After some spontaneous singing of hymns, a prayer for the concerns of our hearts, we settled into silence. For a change I was moved to speak -- about how that "Gird up your loins like a man" phrase struck me as God telling Job to "put on your big boy pants" and a few other things that were meant to remind us that we were called to rely not on our own understanding, but upon the greatness and graciousness of God. Nothing too profound, just the musings of a fellow pilgrim in the midst of pilgrims.

Then, after awhile Steve Mills spoke, followed later by Dan Burger. All the messages were very practical -- God at work in our daily lives. Reflecting on them (even my own), I was struck afresh by the thought that the power of Quaker worship and life was its very practicality. No high-falutin' thoughts about the nature or theories of atonement (ransom, substitutionary, satisfaction, etc), as worthy of theological discourse and thought though they may be. Rather, just simple thoughts on how to live our faith in a world that pulls us in many different directions. Which, I thought, is exactly why Quakerism appeals to me -- help for the living of these days.

So, from the elevation of the power of the Gospel story, as told by a lay person who took countless hours memorizing it, to the simple truths of Friends shared out of silence, I have been blessed by encounters with vital, living faith. And I thank God.

-- Brent