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16 February 2015

Robbo’s Rant Slow Motion

Sometimes you see it coming and sometimes you don’t. Whether you see it coming or not, when it arrives, it’s as if a switch is flicked and the world starts turning in slow motion. With an involuntary wince you think “Shite! This is gonna be ugly.” You heave on the wheel or try to push the brake pedal through the floor. Sometimes you sink in a bit more shoe in the vain hope that you might be able to avoid it. Nup. In front of you, or to the side of you or, if you really got it wrong, from behind you, looms the embankment, or the tree, or the Armco, or the ditch. Or the other car. Brace yourself. Here it comes. The prang, the bingle, the shunt, the accident.

As unlikely as it may appear, there have been rare occasions in my racing, rallying and road driving past when I have found myself involved in just such an event. I admit that, once or twice, or more, it’s been a case of running out of talent, of ambition being greater than ability. Not often, but on occasion. I’m not saying that I have been reckless. Rather that, in the heat of competition, I have over extended myself, desperately trying to make up time on a special stage or trying to catch the guy in front who really has no right to be turning in such rapid lap times in such a dreary little piece of crap or who I should have let go anyway coz his driving and his car were both better ‘n me and mine!

With 20/20 hindsight, some of the panel re-arrangement has verged on the comical. Very, very early on in the life and times of Robbo the Wheelman, racing and rally driver extraordinaire, it happened in the shadow of a military installation, no less, HMAS Cerberus. It was there, you see, that we used to Auto Cross. For those of you unfamiliar with the sport, Auto Cross was where a collection of like-minded, wide-eyed, wannabes gathered with their odd assortment of competition cars, most often past or present rally cars of some description, to speed, one at a time, racing the clock and therefore their rivals, around a gravel or unmade circuit. Not particularly fast, but lots of fun. During the course of the day, my major competition was none other than my very own, co-driver, Jim. To this day Jim remains a handy pedaller (in a very quick Faststuff chipped VW R36 Wagon) and often times, over a VB or two or a meaty Shiraz, will recall the day he made me prprang. How? Well, in an effort to better his best time, I tried just a little too hard, dug in the rear wheel and over we went. In slow motion. So slow in fact, that, as the ground approached the driver’s side window, I thought to myself “Idiot. We’re going to dent it. Here it comes. What should I do?” And Idiot answered, “Trust your survival instincts. Go on. stick your arm out the window, you fool. Soften the blow.” So I did, all so slowly. Watched it bend and disappear between soft, brown earth and roof. Grazed, not broken. Idiot.

Armco hurts too, no matter how slowly you seem to approach it. I never did quite catch that very well driven Alfa Romeo GTV, inside front wheel wagging like the paw of a faithful Labrador. I tried, God knows I tried. At one stage I thought I had him, but it was not to be. Wide on the entry, hard on the brakes, sweep across to the apex get by on the inside. It started slowly, the spin, and became slower and slower, or so it seemed. Lots of lock, plenty of time. More lock, plenty of time. Well, Bugger me, lookie here, we’re going backwards. Verge, grass, Armco, dull, slow thud. It took seconds, felt like minutes.

Another occasion came about not long after we had installed a hydraulic handbrake in the Targa car. Off we raced to our next event, eager to give it a tug wherever and whenever required. Instead, the brakes just went away altogether. Jim and I found ourselves heading for the edge of the road, over which was A Big Drop. Again, in slow motion. Will we go over or won’t we? Will we? Yup. Very slowly. Will we roll? Yup. Very slowly. Just the once? Nup, again, very slowly. Great. We’re hanging upside down by our harnesses. Suddenly, quite quickly given the context and the surreal situation, someone (Jim as it turned out) yelled, “Hands on the roof! Hands on the roof!” Wise boy, Jim, clear thinker, even in times of slo-mo crisis. Why was he yelling?. It’s not difficult to whip off your harnesses in the disorientation of hanging suspended from your Recaro only to crash, head first, onto the roof of the inverted, dented, smoking, smouldering, now-dormant wreck, thereby injuring more than just panels and pride. Slowly we lowered ourselves into a sitting position on the inside of the roof and normality started to return. Before we knew it everything was in Real Time again.

But it happens, too, when you’re not expecting it, most often in one of those bloody inconvenient and always unsavoury Road Accidents. Such as when a silly little man in a soft drink delivery truck (Things Go Better/Real Thing – Get it?) decided he should enter the flow of traffic, in front of me, through a stop sign, without looking. Despite my enormous skill and dexterity (!) there was no time to react, other than to swerve. Nevertheless, as I careered onward it happened again. Slow motion. The initial reaction of “Oh &#%*!” was followed by he same Will we? Won’t we? Will we? Won’t we. Crunch. Bugger. We did.

I recall thinking, in slo-mo: “Wow! Floating glass; looks really cool, pretty the way the sun catches it like that? Ooooh! Look! In slo-mo the passenger door’s getting closer and closer. Look at the way the door trim stretches around the contorting metal. I wonder if it’s going to stop by the time it gets to me. Just. Road sign. Median strip. Coming up on the driver’s side now. Coming up. Coming up. Oof! That hurt. We’ve stopped. Jeez, it’s quiet. Just the faint and somehow distant tinkle of falling glass, the hiss from a pierced radiator or split hose or something. Mine? His? Can’t tell. Doesn’t matter. Strangely quiet, now. Take stock. Check limbs. Ouch, right arm’s tender. Check for vital bodily fluids where vital bodily fluids ought not to be. A little, that’s OK, a scratch.”

Suddenly someone flicks off the slo-mo button and turns up the volume. “Hey Mate, you okay?”

What? Oh yeah! G’day! I’m back with you now.

It doesn’t always happen in cars, you know. I first sat astride a motorbike when I was barely out of swaddling clothes, back in the days when Yamaha was as well known for building pianos as it was for lashing together motor cycles. I fancied myself as something of a fledgling Motor Cross star. Raced a bit, did all right. After an event where I had vanquished the competition, lacklustre as it was, I lairised on my return to the pits. Up in the air hung the front wheel, bopping along on the rear nobbly, cocky as can be. Figjam! “Ooh Dear! The front seems to be getting a bit high, doesn’t it?” Back off. Too late. Slowly, slowly the handle bars swap places with where my head had been. And there I was, flat on my back, feeling somewhat tender in the tender bits, bruised of back and of pride. It all happened in the blink of an eye, but in slow motion.

But there’s something that’s got me stumped, Dear Reader, and it is this. Some say that when you experience a whopper, you know, the monumental pile up, The Big One, the Mother of all shunts, well, they say that your life flashes before your eyes. Your Dear Old Ma and Pa, your first day at school, the day you got caught flicking spit balls at the kid behind you, your first kiss, your first wedding (damn, didn’t want to remember that), your second wedding, kids, family and friends, all this and more. Now that would need to be really, really fast wouldn’t it, your whole life screaming past in a second or two? Not slow at all, right?

Never happened to me. So what does it all mean? Hang on, I’ve got it! Of course. Idiot me. Obviously I haven’t been trying hard enough!