American ingenuity has never operated as a free agent; it has
always required subsidies, coordination, and, yes, regulation.
But given our national reluctance to pay even marginal lip
service to collectivity, are we even still capable of such a thing?
ON WEDNESDAY, under the Tech canopy, an orange-capped inspector and a boy of about eight lean in side-by-side to examine
an engine. “Mom, I really like race cars,” the boy declares. Bob
and I know how he feels. We have Salt Fever. I’m on the Salt early
every morning, obsessed with seeing the Saline Burner make its
run. Bob has discovered that the record for electric cars under
fifteen hundred pounds is open, and he’s been eyeing the carts at
the West Wendover golf course. Forget it, I tell him; you’d never
get your HANS device installed in time.
The Triplets are pushing the Saline Burner into one of Tech’s
three lanes. Indefatigable, they are snapping photos like parents
at a school play. I ask Gilles whether they will pass Tech today.
backbend and exits the car feet first. The Frenchmen break into a
Gallic round of applause. The inspectors look dubious.
Tech director Lee Kennedy, a strapping man with a toy sheri=’s
star pinned to his orange hat, borrows one of the Frenchmen’s
cell phones and calls the manufacturer of the compressed-air cylinders. He describes how the Triplets have them mounted and
has a long conversation about how they might behave in possible
crash scenarios. At the end, he issues a verdict. The air cylinders
are fine. But the Triplets have failed Tech again. The harness is
not tight enough, and Lee wants a piece of metal installed in the
area between the driver’s head and the top air tank.
“Because,” he says, gesturing at the tank in an attempt to
make himself clear through the language barrier, “it’s three
thousand pounds and, in a crash . . .”
Frank is nodding.
It’s not really the american auto
industry being celebrated at
Speed Week; it’s a countertradition of automotive ingenuity, the
do-it-yourself spirit that underlies every american mythology.
“Gonna get frozen, yeah,” he says cheerfully.
Gilles materializes next to me.
“We built this car in six months,” he says, apropos of nothing,
THURSDAY DAWNS METALLIC GRAY. Curtains of rain hang
on the horizon, sparking with lightning. Only a light spittle
has landed on the Salt, but racing is delayed an hour; water
can turn the raceway to mush. At the Triplets’ pit, a representative from Deist, the safety harness company, has his top half
buried deep in the cockpit of the Saline Burner, tightening the
seatbelt. Two crew members with mallets are pounding on the
car’s frame, and Gilles is sawing a large piece of foam with a
kitchen knife. We go to the food tent for breakfast. When we
come back, Gilles seems crabby for the first time all week. A
slew of inspectors have arrived at the pit, and now there’s an
issue with the arm restraints.
“Yesterday, they were okay. Today they are not,” Gilles says.