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Neither Here Nor There ...


We were sitting at the lights awaiting the five-second countdown to the green. It would signal the instant to engage the clutch, spin our wheels and be off at top speed on the first prologue stage of the Targa Newfoundland. We would race through the trees, turning hard left and right, passing by some small farms and dropping down over the cliff edge into the town of Flatrock.

We were sitting at the lights awaiting the five-second countdown to the green. It would signal the instant to engage the clutch, spin our wheels and be off at top speed on the first prologue stage of the Targa Newfoundland.

We would race through the trees, turning hard left and right, passing by some small farms and dropping down over the cliff edge into the town of Flatrock.

We were ready. My pulse rate was up, my mouth dry.

My navigator Dan Chesney from Fort Erie, Ontario was all set to push zero on the computer as we left the line. From his position in the right hand seat, he would call out instructions from the race stage booklet, coinciding with the metre-by-metre distances displayed on the dashboard-mounted computer screen.

His instructions spoken into the microphone inside his helmet, "hard left 100 metres after crest ... in 500 metres ... in 300 ... 100 ... Crest left NOW!" would reach the earphones inside my helmet.

Dan was the white cane that would enable me to approach the blind crest at full speed, confident on the other side I had time to see the hard left hand turn, brake and downshift for it at the last possible instant, in order to keep our average speed as high as
possible.

That was the theory. We were about to see, for the first time, how well it worked.

The red light went out. The five segments of the yellow light started to disappear, one each second, ... 5 ... 4 ... 3 ...

Suddenly, a course marshal in an orange vest jumped in front of the car. He waved his arms for me to stay still, to abandon the start.

The race was stopped. There had been an accident somewhere out on the stage. The ambulance parked next to us at the start pulled out, its light flashing. It wailed off into the distance, followed a few minutes later by a fire truck and then a police cruiser.

Out on the course were the other two Honda Civic Sis, our teammates from Dow Honda in Ottawa. We hoped they were okay. There was nothing we could do but wait for news.

This was going to take some time. We loosened our seat belt harnesses and took off our helmets.

My thoughts returned to 1961. I was riding the streetcar home from high school in Ottawa. In my hands was a copy of Road and Track magazine.

In it was a photo of two scarlet Formula 1 Ferraris racing up the hill from the harbour at Monaco and turning into the Casino Square. They were beautiful cars, rear-engined according to the latest trend, with wide-flared nostrils each side the nose like an animal ready to attack.

I was hooked.

In a few months I would be 16, I would get my driver's licence and be able to start my racing career leading ever upward to a seat in Formula 1.

Like the dreams of many 16-year-olds, it didn't turn out just that way.

I did have three seasons of racing in the late 60s and 1970. I lived in Quebec at the time and raced at the beautiful Mont Tremblant circuit in the Laurentians, north of Montreal.

What I had left was a vast collection of vivid memories that crowded my dreams for years, 37 years to be exact.


During a trip to Ottawa to visit my mother, I was having lunch with a dear friend of many years, Jeff Mierins. He is the owner of Ottawa's Dow Honda and Kanata Honda, and sponsors a two car team of cars in the Ontario touring car series.

His manager and driver of one of the two racing cars, Andrew Bearss, turned up for lunch too. He explained he and the driver of the other car, Brad Young were keen to compete in Targa Newfoundland 2009.

I lived in Newfoundland and used to race. Jeff wanted to know if a third car was added to the team, would I be interested in driving in Targa too?

Would I!

My dream had come to pass. My past was connected to the present.

On the 13th of September 2009, two weeks after friends joined Ringo Starr in serenading me at my birthday party with the lyrics 'Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm 64?" I sat at the start line above Flatrock awaiting the re-start.

The debris of the crashed Subaru factory car had been cleared away and the dazed driver and navigator had been checked out in hospital.

The light turned green. I dropped the clutch and we were off through Flatrock into six days, more than 40 flat out stages and 2,200 kilometres of adrenaline-drenched competition.

When we finished at the Keg on Harbour Drive in St. John's the evening of Friday, Sept. 18, we had been as far northwest as Leading Tickles, as far south as Fortune and as far east as Torbay. We saw speeds as high as 200 kilometres per hour, flew our car in the air half a dozen times, and negotiated more than 5,000 corners and bends.

We were helped to do this by the organizers of Targa Newfoundland and its hundreds of volunteers.

We watched in quiet pleasure as competitors from across Canada and many places elsewhere in the world discovered all the topographical delights of this province.

We were overjoyed by the crowds of enthusiastic children we saw and met at service stops and by the roadside. My personal favourite was the 30 or so Grade One students arranged in two neat rows on a grassy slope in front of their school in Wesleyville, all of them waving as we passed.

In the Keg, as I was taking the first sip of my first glass of wine in 10 days, I spotted Lisa making her way toward me through the throng that clogged the bar. After 37 years of not having to feel scared I would come to harm, that racing was behind her, she nonetheless enthusiastically welcomed my chance to compete again, because she knew how much it would mean to me.

All she ever said to me was, "Bring the car to the finish."

Thank you Lisa. Between us, Dan and I did just that. And while doing it collected memories enough to last the rest of our lives.

pickersgill@mac.com

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