Fawn pushed the foot of the monopod into the soft turf and, gripping the slender pole tightly, bent to squint through the viewfinder. Standing on the outside of the bend, just back from the protective straw bales, she had the crest of the hill about a third down from the top of the frame. It wasn't the safest place to stand: if something went wrong the car would be coming straight at her, but she'd been doing this a while. She figured she could tell if a car was too fast or the driver struggling for grip, and she trusted her ability to leap out of the way if necessary.
Her plan was to experiment with different zooms and timing. In one scenario, as the cars came towards her she'd zoom in on each driver, hoping for that action shot. On other laps she'd go for a wider angle, capturing each car as it moved over to the left before clipping the apex just to her right.
Prepared now, she leaned the camera back against the dark green padded vest she’d worn for warmth and waited. A folding chair waited for her behind the barrier but it was early and she wasn’t ready to sit. The sun was burning the morning mist off the fields and shadows were getting shorter.
If Dad had been there he'd have muttered about track temperatures, humidity cold tires and lack of grip. Running her fingers through her spiky black hair, she looked up at the sky. It was going to be a beautiful June day, just as it had been at the funeral a year before.
Thinking of that still gave her a griping pain in her gut. He'd been too young. She thought he'd be there forever. And then suddenly he wasn't. The inheritance meant the freedom to follow her dream, and in a way she felt she was honoring him too. Racing. The track. Noise and fury. He'd lived for these things, and they'd become her life too.
In the quiet she listened, ears attuned to the rasp of unmuffled exhaust. At first nothing, then faintly, revs rising, a gear shift, revs rising again. She pictured the driver moving over to the outside for Turn 1, a tight lefthander where there were always accidents. Then the sound of full throttle acceleration, shifts coming hard and fast. A few more seconds and he'd be coming up the hill, about to crest the rise in front of her.
Fawn bent down, aiming the big telephoto lens up the track. There was a second engine now, another car some seconds behind. Morning practice always started out this way, and Dad had always wanted to be here for every second. Whether there was one car on the track or twenty, he wanted to take in how the driver handled his car, imagining perhaps how he'd behave in that seat.
Watching through the viewfinder, finger on the shutter release, she waited, listening as the car drew closer.
There it was! A flash of red, over the rise, down towards her. Her finger pressed down on the button, the camera snapped and whirred. The car moved to one side, then a roar as it blasted past. A Viper she noted, panning around to follow, obscenely long hood, tiny cockpit, guttural growl from the V10.
Hearing the second car drawing closer, Fawn pivoted back to aim her lens up at the crest. There was the car! Finger on the release, snap snap snap. A Corvette this time, moving really quickly. It edged over to the side of the track, this time a little too far. As the tires caught the grass Fawn realized what was happening. She turned and sprinted sideways, diving for the safety of the hard barrier as the car turned sideways. Tires shrieked as it slid towards the straw bales. Fawn screwed her eyes shut, waiting.
The thump was hard and heavy, and then nothing. Silence.
Opening her eyes, Fawn saw the back of the car, a silver Corvette, in the grass about ten yards on from where she'd been sat. Through the rear glass she watched the driver's helmet for signs of movement. Nothing.
Grasping the monopod tube in her left hand, she ran forward to the driver’s door. There was no obvious damage but still the driver wasn't moving. She pulled the door open and leaned in, her face inches from his.
Eyes blinked at her, then opened wide. Chestnut brown eyes topped with long lashes.
“Are you okay?” Fawn shouted at him.
He nodded, then started to struggle with the buckle on his harness.
“I'll get it,” she said, “Let me.”
Pushing the button released the straps and the young man started to pull himself out of the seat.
Fawn took a step and straightened, held out a hand to help. The driver, clad in white racing overalls, swung his feet out of the car, ducked his head and stood up. Then his legs started to crumple. As he threw a hand out to grab the door Fawn slid up beside him so he could place his other arm around her shoulders. He was just a couple of inches taller than her 5’4” and they fitted together easily.
“Easy,” she told him, “Easy. Let’s go and sit down.”
She guided him to her spot behind the barrier and cleared her chair with one hand so he could sit down. He struggled with his helmet before lifting it off.
Long golden brown locks tumbled down around his shoulders. He looked about 30, maybe a couple of years less, slender and lean in his tight overalls. An easy confident grin showed off his perfect white teeth.
“Wow! That was something.”
Fawn was about to answer when he got to his feet. “How's the car? I need to check on it.”
He started moving, but unsteadily. His knees seem to cross and Fawn reached him just in time to grab his arm and stop him from falling.
With his arm around her shoulders again, she led him back to her spot behind the barrier.
“You're pretty shaken up. You need to rest.”
He shook his head. “No, I've got to get the car back. Dad'll be worried.”
She looked at him again. “I don't think you're in any state...”
“I've got to get it back. He'll be out of his mind.”
“No,” she said, “I won't let you. You're not fit to drive at the moment.”
He frowned and was about to speak when she cut him off. “How about I drive you back?”
Mouth slightly open, he looked Fawn up and down, apparently taking in her gender for the first time.
“I don’t think you could drive my car. It’s a stick-shift, a seven-speed.”
Momentarily shocked, Fawn goldfished before biting back, “I’m a woman so I can’t drive a stick?”
It was one of the skills her father had insisted she learn: “I can drive a stick. Probably better than you, judging by the evidence.” A glance towards his car reinforced the point.
Now it was his turn to stand open-mouthed and Fawn wondered if she’d been too harsh.
“I’m sorry. Well if you could, yes please.” Then, somewhat unnecessarily it seemed to Fawn, “I'll be with you. But can we go now? I really need to get back to the pits.”
Her eyes went from his face to the car and back to him again. He looked so anxious.
“Okay,” she said, “Let's do it.”
With camera gear stowed behind the seats and driver strapped into the passenger seat, Fawn slid behind the wheel. She pulled the harness straps over her shoulders and pushed the clips into the big button that held them together. The straps were too loose but she figured she'd take it easy and wouldn't need them.
Tilting her head, she looked for the ignition key she expected to find behind the wheel. No key.
The driver laughed softly. “Push-button start.” He pointed to it, “Foot on the brake and push the button.”
She followed his instructions and the engine roared into life. The car went from a static enclosure to something living and breathing. Turning her head to grin at him, she saw he was grinning back.
“I'm Cliff by the way,” holding out his hand. She took it, awkwardly in the cramped confines.
He frowned. “Like the deer,” she continued, “You know? Bambi?”
Cliff grinned. “Got it. And Fawn, I appreciate you doing this, but we need to go. Dad must be frantic.”
Fawn steered the car off the grass and onto the track. The lightest touch of the throttle had the car surging forwards. They got onto the straight and she took second, then third.
“Give it some gas,” Cliff urged, and she pushed the pedal down.
The engine bellowed, the car shot forward, pushing her back in the seat. The grass alongside the track blurred as Turn 3 hurtled towards them.
“Brake!” Cliff shouted beside her.
Lifting off, she stabbed at the brake pedal. Now the car threw her forwards, her face almost hitting the steering wheel. The car stuttered and she pushed down on the clutch, disengaging the engine. They rolled slowly forwards.
“Sorry,” said Cliff, “Should have warned you. Ceramic brakes. Way sharper than street brakes.”
Fawn said nothing, just slipped the car into first and pushed down on the gas. With the right turn approaching she glanced in the mirror before moving over to the left side of the track. Inches from the grass, she took second and aimed at the apex. Through the curve, as the track straightened Fawn snatched third and pushed the pedal into the floor.
Engine bellowing again, the car leaped forward. Cliff grabbed the handle above his door. “Hard ninety left coming up,” he shouted.
“I know,” Fawn shouted back, “Turn 4.”
They almost flew through it, Fawn using all the width of the track to straighten it out. A short straight this time, followed by a chicane into a sweeping left-hander. Then the pit lane signs in the grass.
Fawn turned in and hit the brakes again, slowing the car to walking pace.
“Where's your Dad?”
Cliff gestured to the far end, “Wow! You can really drive!”
Before Fawn could answer Cliff had seen his Father. Putting the window down, he reached out and started to wave.
She saw a man waving back, silver hair slicked back over his head, and brought the car to a stop with the hood just a few inches from him.
Cliff's father looked through the windshield at Fawn in the driver's seat, then at his son beside her. As he frowned Cliff opened the door before turning to look at Fawn. “Come on,” he said, “I want you to meet my Father.”
She pulled on the parking brake, then stabbed the engine button and the car fell still and silent. Through the windshield she saw Cliff and his father, face to face, both speaking at once, arms waving. Cliff was trying to explain something, then he turned and beckoned to Fawn, still sat in the car.
After a moment’s hesitation she opened the door, climbed out and walked around to the front of the car where the two men stood. Cliff introduced her to his father, then followed up with, “You should see her drive Dad! She really knows how to pick her line!”
The older man raised an eyebrow as he appraised Fawn. “So you race young lady?” he asked.
Fawn raised a hand to her mouth in surprise. “Oh God no! I'm a total rookie!”
Now it was Cliff's turn to frown, “So where did you learn to handle a car like that?”
Fawn grinned, “My Dad I guess. He loved racing and taught me to drive.”
“Your father races?” It was Cliff's father who spoke.
“No, no, not at all, but he loved racing.”
The older man nodded sagely before turning to face his son. “Well I'm glad you're okay, and the car seems okay too. I need to talk to Ron over there while you figure out if you're going back out.”
And without a glance at Fawn, he turned and walked off up the pit lane.
They both watched him go, before their eyes met again.
“Could you take...” Fawn started.
“Could I...” Cliff began at the same instant.
Mutual laughter, then Cliff told Fawn to finish her sentence.
“Well I was going to ask if you could run me back to Turn 2. I'd like to get some more pictures from there.”
Cliff nodded and stroked his chin between finger and thumb. “I'd be happy to, but maybe we could have lunch first?”