Heart beat steady as he screams down the track. The air feels thick like water buffeting his helmet. His body thrums with strength and spirit but no panic. Panic can’t help here. His instincts must be free to act. His eyes focus on a single point at the outside of turn three, a smudge on the white concrete wall rocketing towards him. The Indiana sky is blue and indifferent to the scene below it. Corner entry.
A howling crescendo of angry gods rages just inches behind his head as the engine blasts out seven hundred horsepower. He keeps his foot hard on the accelerator – 205 miles per hour. There can be no hesitation.
Strapped to his seat – fastened tight by belts at his shoulders, his waist, between his legs – car and body move as one creature, controlled by some instinct of mind and metal. A slight pressure on the wheel, more willing the car to turn than forcing it. The car swoops to the left. Turn in.
It happens in an instant.
The car pitches slightly, a fraction more than the previous lap. He feels it in his seat, along the backs of his legs, up his spine, before his conscious mind can register it. Instinct pounces, reactions quickening beneath his mind – honed by sweat and fear. A flick of the wheel to catch the slide and a sudden lurch as the car spears right, full throttle into the concrete.
In slow motion the car melts into the wall then is vomited back onto the track in an orange-black ball of exploding fuel and flesh and metal. A ragdoll, still strapped to its seat, ricochets off the catch fence and tumbles and slides down the track.
The howling gods are silenced. The sound of brittle glass scraping slate rings in the air as hundreds of fragments slide to a smoldering stop.
He sees his ragdoll self one-hundred yards down the track lolling over one last time, the top of its head sheared open. His eyes follow the trail of broken body and machine to the black scar on the concrete wall. Wreckage burns below him like an offering. Flesh, blood, and brain poured out like wine.
He hangs on the breeze, struggling to keep his eyes on the scene below him. Spectators cry out and point, their horror piercing him as the breeze shifts and time dissolves. He sees a driver hoisting the trophy, a silver curiosity. He wonders who won. The question expands and dissolves like a soap bubble around him. The horizon folds in on itself. He sees a sloping field, a small bronze marker, faded by many Nebraska winters bearing a name that no longer has meaning to him – Gordon.
He turns again and the blue of sky rolls back revealing the perfect black of nothingness. He smiles as it absorbs him.
© 2008 James H. Noonan. First published in Static Movement, June 2008
This story was inspired by actual events.
*warning the following video is graphic*
Gordon Smiley, Indy 500 Qualifying 1982