Start Your Engines!

Lewis Hamilton, winner of the USA Formula One Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas, Austin, Texas, October 2016
Larry W. Smith/EPA/Redux
Lewis Hamilton, winner of the USA Formula One Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas, Austin, Texas, October 2016

The crowd jumps to its feet, whooping and clapping. Finally! The cars are coming onto the track. The bright blue guileless Texas sky looks down on a festive gaiety of matching baseball caps on girlfriends and boyfriends, wives and husbands, plump kids and lean kids, white and whiter—almost no African-Americans—friendly good spirits effervescing in the American air! The baseball caps are festooned with the names of factory teams: Red Bull! Ferrari! Toro Rosso! McLaren! We are in Texas and Texas is everywhere and everywhere does not stop!

This is the Circuit of the Americas, known as COTA, a half-hour outside Austin and very near the airport, and this is a Formula One auto race, one of the last in the season of F1 races around the world, the previous one having taken place in Japan, and before that Malaysia, and before that Singapore, and before that Italy—and the next, a week from now at the end of October, taking place in Mexico—a competition starting at the end of March in Australia and ending at the end of November in Abu Dhabi. The world!

Across the way, on the far side of the track, in the garages, surgical severity and concentration surround the race cars as they are fussed over and pushed out into the pit lane like patients in wheelchairs being wheeled out of their rooms by hospital staff. Crowd noise, shouts of happiness, vendors’ shouts of “Beer here!”—while the cars glide in silence, two mechanics at each end pushing them to their assigned spots on the track, the precise location determined by how quickly the car got around the track in time trials that took place yesterday, the fastest car occupying the front row “pole position,” which gives the driver an advantage at the start of the race, the other cars, two by two, lined up in the order of their time-trial times.

There is the sudden explosive shriek of a power gun securing lug nuts to wheels on a car still in the garage. The external starter motor is attached to another car and its engine coughs and then screams and then roars. These are brightly colored centipedes on four wheels, low to the ground and long, long in relation to their height, slender katydids, the driver enveloped, hidden almost entirely, helmeted head, hands on the small steering wheel. You watch from your seat in the stadium, but you see better by looking at one of the big TV screens embedded in the wall opposite on the other side of the track.

The cars are in position now. The race is about to…

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