May 28, 2017

The Need for Speed

• By John F. Chisholm •

I guard against the Daimler’s effect on me.

It’s much harder guarding against its effects on others.

While behind the wheel, I strive for conscious awareness of my driving.  All of it.  Sure, I don’t want to hit that pothole but more to the point, I don’t want to become a speed-crazed maniac either.  That’s harder than you might think.  Especially with so much performance right there under the toe of your shoe, just begging for a little more down pressure.

I won’t say that I’ve been an angel.  In truth, surrendered temptation and I are old acquaintances.  But neither have I run amok.  Keeping myself under control is part of the education this car provides.  Sure, I’ve got a lot to learn.  But so far, so good.

At least until last Friday ruined my record.

It started so innocently.  I left early for a drive, taking advantage of the cool morning temperatures.  The top was down.  Sun and shadow painted the road in sharp chiaroscuro.  The car ran beautifully.  A triumph of sound, its exhaust notes ran smooth scales of acceleration behind me.

Motoring north to Sebec Lake, I admired the view of the western mountains in the morning sunshine.  Traffic was light, the air, bracing.  The world was a beautiful place.

On the trip back everything continued equally sublime until the car in front of me suddenly braked.

Of course I braked, too.  Sitting up, I thought of passing.  I might have made it but a truck was coming.  I slowed further and eventually the gray, Honda Accord leading the way sped up again.

We continued on at normal speeds until the next straight-away.  There, the same brake lights reappeared just as suddenly.  Once more passing was blocked by on-coming traffic.  Again, I might have made it.  But ahead of us loomed the stark, steep slopes of Charleston Hill.  It’s nearly a mile long.  The lower reaches are a 14-percent grade.  More to the point, there’s a climbing lane.  I idled back, waiting for the hill and that third lane.

We slowed still more significantly.  I downshifted to third.  The dark blue center stripe on the Accord lined up in front of me.  Extra wide tires kicked back stray pebbles.  Chrome reflected from the rear spoiler.  A badge indicated the car was a 5-speed.

Mentally, I was still clueless.  Don’t be surprised.  If temptation and I are old acquaintances, Clueless and I were litter mates.

The climbing lane arrived at last.  I pulled left to pass, surprising the Daimler with more throttle than the Department of Public Safety would have deemed appropriate.

Once adjacent to the Honda, I glanced over.  The driver turned my way, leaned out his window and grinned.  He lifted his mirror shades long enough for us to see eye-to-eye.  Then he refocused on the road and floored it.

Understanding arrived at last.  Don’t be hard on me.  Better late than never.
I’m sure that a responsible individual would have simply slowed further.  I didn’t.  I trounced the throttle instead.  The Daimler roared, surging forward.  Revs climbed to 5,000 before I reached for fourth gear.  It was an odd moment of clarity.  I even thought about it as I did it.

I guessed that Accord was less than 10 years old but the exact year of manufacture didn’t matter.  However you cut it, the Daimler was still more than 40 years older.  Certainly that Honda had better suspension, fuel injection, electronic ignition and superior handling as well.

To my aid, any handling advantages were largely negated with Charleston Hill being a straight-away climb. The Honda was also heavier, doubtless carrying around power windows and door locks, pollution-control plumbing, cruise control and a stereo system.  Likely it had air conditioning, too.  But most importantly, the car hauled all that around with only a four cylinder power plant.

I heard its engine scream.  I’m guessing that its driver, starting in fourth, downshifted to third.

Too late.  I was already there when I pulled alongside him.  Further, it’s doubtful he guessed at the Daimler’s V-8 until its twin exhaust pipes stared him down.

He was a quarter mile behind at the halfway mark and nowhere in sight from the top of the hill.  I backed off the gas and took a deep breath.  Then I patted the dashboard.  “Thanks, Daimler.”  Thinking back, I should have apologized, too.  Luck was with me.  By being safe and saving passing until the climbing lane, I hit conditions ideal for the Daimler.  It performed beautifully.  But in a very real way, it was Charleston Hill that beat that Honda.

But what about next time?  Next time ― even on the same course ― the competition could be a Porsche.  The time after that, maybe a Corvette.  Perhaps it’ll be a V-12 Jaguar.  They’re out there.  That’s just reality.

The result?

I resolve that the Daimler will respond more responsibly from here, forward.  I want to make that clear to everyone.

So sure, I have a hot car.  But please remember one thing:

The driver isn’t.