Morning Coffee at the track.

As we approach another year of racing, talk always comes to days gone by. This year is no exception and everyone has their own hopes for a season and their own memories of the last and a checklist of things they want to do this year. A friend told me they simply want to join me for coffee at a race… It is one of my favorite times of the weekend.

My father and I camp at Road America, you’ll always find us in the same campsite. Every year we have the screen tent set up and the Coleman stove fires that which gives us life, coffee. Coffee fresh from the percolator. If you’ve ever had to do this process, you might understand what I am about to get into.

I camp in a tent, I like to rough it a little and regardless, I couldn’t sleep at the track. I am like a seven year old the night before Christmas, I am live with energy, plug me in and I could power a city. So I don’t sleep so much as rest. Inevitably I make it through the night and I see those dark skies turn to grey and I unzip my sleeping bag and roll out of the tent.

Standing in that Road America grass, dew wet on my toes and soaking my sandals I take the first stretch of the day and look to that early sunrise. I always stop a moment and enjoy the peace at the track, the time when nobody is up, maybe a generator running in the background but otherwise still and silent. A sunrise offers promise of a new day, the excitement which it holds…. Will my team win or lose, will someone crash or will every pit stop be flawless? Are the crews up, are they worried, has last night’s rain hurt the car or is there still rubber on the track?

I open the screen tent and roll the door back and tie it wide. Opening the Coleman stove I have to wonder if there’s enough fluid in the tank or if I should add some. I could check, but I pump it first because coffee sounds more important than that whole deal of smelling Coleman fluid on my hands. I pump the tank and open it wide…. I never have a lighter or match or burning piece of paper ready, so I shut it off and spend 5 minutes looking for dry paper. Then I pump the tank pressure up some more…

After  the stove is lit and warming up I open my small plastic container of coffee beans. Before I leave home I grind up a half pound of fresh coffee beans. My dad says no coffee is as good as mine. I always buy the best for race weekend. $13/pound Cameron’s Coffee, fair trade organic Birdwatcher’s Blend. I fish the plastic spoon out of the grounds and spoon some into the perc filter. Filled with fresh “potable” water I lower the filter and stem, the “Guts”, into the pot and hope like hell it perks instead of boiling over.

Sitting down on the picnic table I just stare at the new day. Seriously thinking of the coming events. I’ll look at the cribbage board that we play at. Some years ahead, some years behind, we play games until we can’t anymore. Is the pot boiling over? Crap! Gotta lower the heat, damnit.

As the coffee comes up and I use my shirt to pull it off the stove by the metal handle, I plan breakfast. Usually eggs and bacon, bacon first, then eggs with onions and green peppers and mushrooms and I’ve made too much…

I wake my dad and pour my coffee, 2 cubes of sugar and milk or creamer. He always takes his black. These opening moments together are a blessed experience. We can talk work and fishing and hunting and racing. My father enjoys racing about half as much as I do which probably equals roughly more than the average fan because I am a certifiable nut.

We watch as people get up and we enjoy the morning, the coffee, the food. This is when I do my best writing and thinking, this is when I start feeling the crews in the garage.

I feel them in the garage, I don’t see them there… I just know they are there. At Road America we camp in turn 8 which is about a mile from the garage, but I have this sense that cars are being worked on and under.

Its those moments I live for. The coffee and the talk. The hope of a win and the questions of what is to come. This year more than any, small teams will have a chance at a big day. This year, strategy will come in to play. It’s these moments over coffee when I think of the strategies, when I think of the guys celebrating a win, when I think of the small teams celebrating their first top 10 of the year. How awesome that feeling?

So this year, enjoy the coffee. Enjoy the days. Enjoy the race. Just never take it for granted, because one day…. one day…. there may not be another chance to do that very thing. When your team closes their doors or your track shuts down or you no longer have that person to go to the races with…. The dew on your toes, that fresh shower on a beautiful summer morning, that too big breakfast, that talk, those hopes, those dreams….. Morning coffee… will be what you treasure and miss the most.

I’ll see you from the box.

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P.S. Coffee will be ready by 6 am and I think I am getting a French press this year. Bring your own cup.

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