The week before we raced in New Hampshire, we were back at Daytona for another race there. I qualified the car second. Buzz was starting right beside me and during the National Anthem he whispered and we drown into my ear9.
By the fourth lap, the two of us were into the wall again, his fault this time. He’d rammed into the back of my car going down the front stretch and I’d spun right in front of him. Fifteen cars wrecked. They put me and Buzz in the same ambulance to take us to the care center.
“The fuck was that,” I said.
“Do you wear the bottoms of your trousers rolled,” Buzz said.
“You’re still mad about last time.”
“At the track, the women come and go.”
The ambulance pulled up to the care center. I got off of it as soon as I could, headed inside. They ran their tests— tapping my knee, making me read the eye chart— and then released me. Wendy was waiting outside.
“He just kept saying things about T.S. Eliot,” I said
“Maybe you need to stop obsessing over that shit,” she said.
“I’m going to meet with that professor next week.”
“I’m going to leave your ass, then.”
“In the room the women come and go/ Talking of Michelangelo,” I said.
Wendy’s stuff was gone from the house by Tuesday10. I called VanDorfenstein’s office that night, made an appointment to fly to Cambridge after qualifying on Saturday. I reread Eliot’s Selected Poems and tried to thinking of smart things to say about them, things like “the theoretical implications of Prufrock’s actions in the fifth stanza demonstrates the philosophical idea that the body does not belong to the self,” even though I didn’t know what it meant or if it was true.
I received a picture message from Wendy that night, her naked in a bed with Buzz holding beer bottles. The text read xoxo.
VanDorfenstein’s office was filled with books, with the walls covered in cut-out poems. A Dale Earnhardt poster rested in the middle, with the black number three car in the background and Dale’s smiling, mustached face in front.
“It was so sad when he died,” VanDorfenstein said.
“I cried,” I said11.
“I was happy to hear you quote Eliot in that interview.”
“I’m a big fan of his work. I read Prufrock when I was in high school and it just stuck with me. He’s the only poet that I’ve ever really felt connected to.”
VanDorfenstein smiled. “I’ve always thought Dale Earnhardt’s tragic demise,” he said, “was so much like the postmodern identity crisis of David Foster Wallace, but I can see how Eliot’s work could resonate with you as well.”
“He was a damn fine writer12.”
At the end of our meeting, VanDorfenstein extended a hand toward me, told me he’d love to speak again sometime. I headed back to New Hampshire for qualifying, ended up running the third fastest time.
Wendy and Buzz were waiting for me on pit road afterward, both drinking that “stuff.”
“How’d your meeting with that professor go,” Wendy said.
“Don’t fucking care,” she said.
“Gonna beat you tomorrow,” Buzz said.
I headed back to the hauler. Frank was waiting for me with a tube of Go-Gurt13 and a Yuengling.
“I think we have a shot at winning this race,” he said.
I took the Go-Gurt and Yuengling from him.”
November. We were in Miami for the final race of the season. Buzz and I were somehow tied for the points lead. Whoever finished higher would win the championship.
Buzz had a new associate sponsor on the back of his car. T.S. Eliot Dish Detergent14. Before the race, he spit at me, said I spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways.
After the race15, my phone rang. It was VanDorfenstein.
“Lefty,” he said. “Saw the race. Wanted to ask you something. I’m working on this book16.”
10 In her defense, I told her that T.S. Eliot meant more to me than she did.
11 Again, a lie. I was fifteen and playing lots of basketball. I didn’t start taking racing seriously for another year.
12 I’ve decided not to include the rest of this conversation. It was a back and forth chat in which VanDorfenstein kept saying things I didn’t understand and I kept talking about gear ratios and how much I liked T.S. Eliot.
13 My other primary sponsor.
14 Obviously, this is not a real product.
15 I finish third. Buz finishes second and wins the title. I skip this in the story because no one wants to hear about my failure.
16 VanDorfenstein asks me to help him co-write a book about Eliot and NASCAR, a full time job researching. I’m only racing during the Summer now, dirt tracks up in New England. Yuengling tried to sue me over breaching my contract. Go-Gurt took away my lifetime supply of Go-Gurt. They’ve purchased naming rights for our book, though. It is tentatively titled J. Alfred Prufrock, NASCAR, and the American Capitalist System: How Eliot and the Petty Family Saved the American Worker: Presented by Yuengling and Go-Gurt.