The heat slaps my cheek like a jilted lover, and I gasp in the stale, dry northern California air. The smell of exhaust, grease and oil hangs thick and heavy and the ground shakes beneath me. With over 250 vintage racing cars lining the tarmac, gunning their engines, there are more "horses" here today than there in all of the nearby stables.
Thanks to earplugs nestled deeply in to my ears, I'm in a heaven I didn't know existed.
While exploring northern California in mid August, I literally ran in to the Laguna Seca Speedway near Carmel. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Shelby cobra, this year's event honors Carroll Shelby, an automotive icon who transformed sports car racing by bringing American pride to the international motorsports stage.
This reunion provides the opportunity for vintage cars to race compete, and had a waiting list of over 200 car owners eager to participate. More than 500 vintage cars line the pavement, along with motorhomes, cars, trucks, trailers, golf carts and motorbikes, temporary homes to the racers, owners, cooks, mechanics, machinists spouses and other team members.
Until this morning, I didn't know a thing about race cars, vintage or otherwise, except for the name of driver Mario Andretti, and I don't know how I know that!
Mel, a camper at the same campsite, shares the story of his annual trip here with buddies to take in the races, a trip they plan a year out in advance.
He encourages me to stay and I smile, knowing that cars are not my thing and that the cool waters of a nearby beach are calling to me.
I take a wrong turn out of the campground and am stopped in the middle of the large parking area on a grassy hill overlooking the Laguna Seca racetrack. Digging in the back of the car for more water, a track employee in a golfcart stops and asks if I need a ride on to the grounds. Suddenly and impulsively, I'm in the cart and on the grounds.
The drivers have just arrived at Laguna Seca and are working on and polishing their cars for the races that will take place later this week.
I'm reluctant and shy at first to make contact. I'm out of my element and assume they are too busy to talk with some hick girl from Alaska. Boy, am I wrong.
Driver after owner after machinist after spouse after chef after kids shared their stories. For nearly nine hours I explored the rows of cars, sat in a few of them, even rode in one, and chatted with race participants, their families and crews.
Leaving Laguna Seca that evening is bittersweet. As the large ball of sun set lower on the horizon, my desire for quiet and woods and sand and the open road beckons. And so I say goodbye to new friends and make my way back down the highway.