Go! By Kirsten Schuder

Heat sizzles throngs of sweaty, impatient, lobster-red drag race fans looking for cheap paraphernalia, t-shirts, overpriced rubber hamburgers, soggy french-fries, half-warm sodas, and respite from the sun before their blood boils and their brains fry. Funny-cars, an assault on the senses, rumble on the other side of the stands, shaking the inside of chest walls, jump-starting slow hearts into animation, quickening pulses, and annihilating sensitive ears. Burnouts produce smoke and the smell of burning rubber. 

Atlanta June temperature, 95 degrees. Track temperature, 120 degrees.

My turn. I rev the engine and take it down the eighth-mile track until she runs nice and hot and then circle back to my spot where my trailer and tools lie in wait. I park the car and jump out to get the reading. Let it sit for too long, the engine cools. Even the slightest bit will not give a true temperature reading. I spit on the engine heat-sink head. The spit bubbles and evaporates the moment it hits the head. Too lean. Adjust the high-speed needle again. Bring it out to the track for another run. Next spit test. The saliva bubbles for three seconds and then evaporates. Perfect. Now the low-speed needle. Now the idle.

“Hey, Jennie. I hear it’s you and me first round. Good luck out there today.”

Got to be fake. Okay, maybe just professional. Smile. “Yeah, thanks.”

Last week, that same well-wisher complained to the officials, so I heard through the grapevine, that I cheated. The officials had no choice but to disassemble my car. They found nothing, naturally, which left me, the lone warrior, an hour to put my car back together before race time. 

Good luck indeed. Sore loser is what he is. There are more women in racing. The league loves us because that opens up another demographic of race fans, but that doesn’t mean we’re accepted. 

Don’t worry about them. Worry about your car. Worry about your daughter who worries about you. Worry about all the people who told you you’d fail.

Quit, Dad said. Don’t get into racing. You’ll just fail. Sage advice given during our last supper together.

Yeah, thanks a lot. 

The rest of dinner’s silence stretched into years. 

My little girl Analei and I got into our car packed with our dogs and cat sandwiched in between luggage and bags and pillows. We drove south in our mobile sardine can, away from the judgment burning holes in my back.

The memory rattles my insides like the thunder of the funny cars every time I tune my engine—my racing fuel. You will fail. I built my motor from the ground up. You will fail. I worked an extra job for all the parts to increase my Camaro’s horsepower. You will fail. I got my racing license. You will fail. I ran the money-race circuit to buy better parts. You will fail. I worked my way into the minor league. You will fail. I got the sponsors. You will fail. I made it to the national pro league.

The announcers call Prostock to the staging lanes. I’m sweating rivers inside my fireproof suit and helmet. I hope Analei is watching the race on TV with Tamara, her favorite babysitter, who makes a thousand little braids in her hair with sparkle beads and bakes her crinkle cookies. 

The travel and heat are too much for her. The long stretches of road that gobble up time and money contain boredom instead of adventure for six-year olds with an intolerance for sitting still for longer than two minutes. Better to let her stay home and do headstands on the couch and cartwheels in the living room.

I arrive to the staging area. My turn to burn out. Phase out the fans in the stand. Find that calm.

I do my burnout. Get the temperature high enough, and the tires will grab onto the track.

Pre-stage at the Christmas tree. I inch forward. My half of the blue circle lights up. The other half lights up to make a fully lit blue circle. My opponent has pre-staged.

The engine rumbles in the pit of my stomach. 

Inch forward. I am staged. I set the line lock, which enables me to rev my car to 5,000 RPMs. Without the line lock, my brakes would not be able to handle the high RPMs, and the car would launch.

My opponent stages.                  

The lights on the tree go amber, amber.

My pulse quickens. My heart beats in my throat.

The third amber light, I press the line lock, gas pedal to the floor.

A fraction of a second later, green light.

Go.

My Camaro launches like a rocket. The front end lifts slightly. I focus on keeping the car straight down the track. 

I leave the past behind me in waves of heat and clouds of smoke. A rush of adrenaline. I speed into stillness. Peace. Freedom. 

My precious little Analei soars past me with golden curly cues and sprouted wings, the crystalline future in her sky-blue eyes.

Floating, powerful, my steel horse hurtles toward the finish line.

Kirsten Schuder has written hundreds of parenting and mental health articles and has edited thousands as an expert mental health professional. She fetched an international award with her first co-authored book, Farming Industrial Hemp: Not Your Daddy’s Tobacco, and is the author of Schooling Your Kids Through a Pandemic: Your Step-by-step, Guilt-free Guide to Remote Learning, Homeschooling, or Somewhere in Betweenand of the fiction series Inside Dweller. She serves as the Vice President of Apex Literary Management, a growing boutique literary agency, and loves long subtitles.