A Racer’s Trip To Daytona

Moto-poetry of racing’s challenges

Daytona 200
In memory of our friend and world champion, Nicky Hayden...and in celebration of all racers, especially those headed for the Daytona 200 this week.Courtesy of Honda Racing

The rig knifed through the Texas gloom just before 1 a.m.
A truck and trailer stuffed with bikes and a kid with a plan.
The kid held the wheel easily, his brain fastened on Daytona's track,
With some thoughts for Road Atlanta and then Elkhart Lake after that.

As his eyes scanned the road and checked the left mirror
His heart leapt to his throat: The trailer axle was on fire!
Panicked eyes wide he swerved onto the shoulder
Leapt out of the cab while the axle continued to smolder.

The kid slumped against the trailer because he was still 14 hours out;
Louisiana and Florida weren't happening tonight and the whole weekend was in doubt.
He fished out his phone but cell service was gone;
Interstate 10 was practically empty and he stood there alone.

His dad and uncle were flying into Daytona today,
Planning to prep and get the kid underway.
He'd been to the high banks and had amateur success,
But this was the first year he'd compete against the nation's best.

As he squatted by the smoking axle he saw the bearing still red;
He'd experienced trailer issues and knew that axle was dead.
The kid knew what to do: Get his pit scooter and helmet
And ride as fast as possible to the nearest settlement.

But at that moment he heard a huge roar
And from the west came a semi-truck running full bore.
The huge Peterbilt started braking and downshifting,
Veering onto the shoulder, illuminating the kid's arms uplifting.

With a whoosh of air the big Pete's brakes were set
And down from the tow-truck cab jumped a man quick and adept.
As the kid shook his hand he eyed the driver's huge black machine,
It was the nicest rig on the road…low, mean, and clean.

"Saw your campfire from the other lane," this driver drawled with an easy smile,
"Trailers only break in the middle of the night with no help for miles."
The tow-truck driver was only a few years older than the kid
But brought confidence and composure to the younger man's recent skid.

"I've got a trailer full of bikes, I'm headed to the Daytona 200 race,
Tomorrow is sign-up and setup and I'm stuck in this place."
The kid's eyes narrowed in frustration and lost chances
As he spoke of his plans to his recent acquaintance.

The driver nodded and his easy smile reappeared,
"I'm a dealer for these axles… Let me see what you've got here."
The kid had a flicker of hope but then slumped to his knees
"I can't miss practice, my bikes are all new to me.

"I'm up against the factories," the kid's words tumbled out.
"We're strong privateers but I need laps, no doubt.
We repacked the bearings of this trailer last week
We've never been more prepared, but now things look bleak."

The tow-truck driver glanced up to the skies
Thinking of time and distance and the challenge of lapping Daytona with the front guys.
"I hear what you're sayin'," he said with a sigh,
"My family's done a little racin'…I know the lows and the highs."

The driver snapped his fingers and pointed at the kid.
"Hey, climb up in my truck and take the left bed,
I'll look over this sitch and you can get rested
Maybe we can get this axle fixed and tested."

The kid had never imagined a truck like this one tonight;
He climbed in and found the bed and was soon out like a light.
As he fell asleep, he heard the sound of a pneumatic jack and gun,
The previous panic and dashed dreams… Could this fix be done?

The kid woke to the rumble and roar of the Pete,
Peering into the cab to see the driver at speed.
The needle said 105 mph as they flashed through the dark
Halfway through Louisiana already, like a 30-ton dart.

"Welcome back to the world," the driver drawled over the growl of the stacks,
"I'm testing your rig, it's hooked onto the back."
The sound and the speed and the flair of the driver
Gave the kid hope, even though it was just a sliver.

He'd put it all on the line for this year's racing
A life of sacrifice, aimed at a year-end top placing.
It was do or die because this year was the decider,
He needed a year of success to become a factory rider.

He dozed back to sleep as the rig shredded the dawn
Greeting the sun with the Cat engine at full song.
He dreamed of championships in his near future
As the driver guided the kid's mind and the Pete with the touch of a master.

The kid popped awake to a complete lack of sound,
Stumbling out of the cab to see his own rig off the hook and on the ground.
The tow-truck driver was checking his work,
Looking up from the trailer after affirming the torque.

"You are all set, get your ass in the truck;
The high banks are waiting and I'm wishing you luck."
The kid, not yet fully awake, blustered into the morning air,
"Where are we and what do I owe you for the night of repair?"

The driver reached in and started the kid's truck.
"We're in Tallahassee and you're only four hours from the track.
I'm turning north to Kentucky so I'll drop you right here,
The axles were under warranty so our ledger is clear."

The kid was speechless as he stared at his savior.
"But you've saved my Daytona… I'd never have made it without your work on my trailer.
And then you towed me through Louisiana, driving all night.
I don't know what I'd have done without you." Tears made the kid's eyes bright.

The driver stepped closer and clasped the kid's hand,
"You have a chance to live a life few others can.
Not many have the talent, the chance, the money, and inner resolve
To race at the front in a sport so involved."

The driver stared into the distance and then back to the kid,
He stepped in close and the young man's focus was riveted.
"I don't care what brand of bike is in the trailer, they can all be the best;
It's what's in here that makes all the difference," tapping the kid's chest.

"I've seen great bikes ridden slowly and bad bikes dominate,
I've seen passion and desire overcome money and names supposedly great.
It's when you're all-in that racing become magic
When you put it all on the line, overcoming obstacles that for some are tragic."

"Can you run it in deep to gain that position,
Can you look at the weather and make the right decision?
Are you able to take big chances on that first lap
Or push shagged tires all the way to the checkered flag?
Is your warrior spirit alive and strong
Are you confident enough to prove your critics wrong?
Do you hate to lose and almost die when you do,
Is winning what makes up the man that is you?"

The driver spun on his heel and headed for his Pete
His words hanging in the air, hitting the kid way down deep.
"I can't thank you enough, sir!" the kid cried out quickly.
"You don't have to call me sir, kid, the whole world calls me Nicky."