Quiet backroads took me to Grattan Raceway this morning, past lakes and green fields, past corn growing and sleeping houses. When I arrived the 3Balls Racing guys were gathered around the two Kens, listening intently, eager to get on the track.

These guys love speed. They love the turns. They love the buzzing whirr of going fast. They love being in the moment. Today is just another opportunity to experience what they love among the crowd where they belong and do it for a good cause: melanoma research, all proceeds to Karmanos.

Ever since I met Kenny Walters, I’ve been trying to understand this love of racing. I get Kenny’s passion for cars. That’s easy. But the thrill of trucking across the Midwest to race tracks and spending the day amid the smell of rubber burning and exhaust, well, I didn’t quite get that, until now.

We all choose the things we fill our time with. Hobbies, sports, passions, addictions. There is time and we fill it and in making a life out of minutes, we have to make it mean something.

These guys, they like speed. But it’s not the speed, per se. It’s what it gives them: Focus. The ability to BE in the moment. Camaraderie. Friendship. A sense of belonging.

You find friends around the things that interest you, and this racetrack is no different than a sorority house or a group of writers meeting at Starbucks. We connect over common passions and shared causes. And that connection makes a life worth living.

Kenny spent last night at the track with a bunch of the guys, in tents and mattresses, and I am imagining a star-studded sky and absolute quiet. Sounds a hell of a lot better than the traffic that never stops near my suburban home or the canned silence of the very nice hotel where I spent the night.

You find the ability to think in the silence. How many of us ever get there? You find the ability to be real, too. 

In our society, it’s not cool to show emotion, but these guys, well, they’ll scoff if they read this, but I’m going to say that they wear their hearts on their sleeves for one another. All day long at this track, you see the eyes of concern and the sound of true listening among them.

I couldn’t help but hug Kenny and Ken when I saw them – they’re teddy bears with whom I feel safe. And that’s why I got in Kenny’s Panoz and let him drive me around the track.

Did I want to go? Nope. But I did it because that’s how you learn to be a little more alive – try something that scares you, and do it next to someone you trust.

So here’s my description of a day at the track:

The sheer freedom of going so unbelievable fast that you’re almost standing still. The challenge of navigating curves tight and loud. The squeal-sound of rubber burning against asphalt. The still blue of the lake beyond the trees, reflecting the wide open sky.

The acrid smell of exhaust fumes. The pop of the gear hitting its max. The surrender to the moment, leaning into and out of each curve. 

Yes, I’m a little nauseous and it surprised me how shaky I was when I climbed out of the car. But I’m fine. And I’m a little bit stronger than I was when the day began.

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