The Training Race
Toby had almost decided to give up waiting, and to drive around the training ground by himself, when an old brown car purred up beside him. He glanced through the window, and realised that Percy, his mentor, was driving. Percy raised a hand, pointed forwards, and began to drive away. Toby started the engine, and followed.
Percy drove very slowly, and Toby was able to follow him and look around at the same time. They left the refreshment tent, with people coming and going, and drove along a narrow track that was empty of other cars. Every time they reached a corner, Toby clutched the wheel and held his breath, and concentrated hard on staying on the road, but when they drove along straight sections, it was easier to stare at his surroundings.
As they drove, Toby became aware that there were, as Percy had said, groups that were very different to each other. Along the first straight, near to the racing circuit, was a group of very smart cars. They were rainbow-coloured, and shiny, with fat black wheels and bright lights. The drivers stood next to the cars, chatting and laughing, and music floated through the window. Some were adding accessories to their cars; Toby glimpsed a golden chimney being attached to a roof, an animal cage being fitted to a boot, then he had driven past and needed to concentrate on the route Percy was taking.
There was a steep corner to negotiate, and then they passed a group of drivers, all in brown overalls, bending over manuals and looking serious. Their cars were parked, all in a line, looking as austere as the drivers. Toby saw bent bumpers, and rusty wings, and wheels where the tread had worn away to almost nothing. The drivers looked up as Toby passed, and stared for a moment before frowning and looking back at their manuals.
“Not so friendly then. . .” murmured Toby as he drove on.
The next group of drivers all seemed to be very busy. Toby watched someone struggle with a bucket of soapy water that was slopping over the edge as it was carried, and a mechanic with a large spanner, and another driver bending over his open bonnet, checking the oil level. One of them glanced up as Toby passed, and raised a hand, and the driver carrying the water nodded at Toby in a friendly way, before frowning back at the water which had whooshed out of the bucket and wet his shoe. Toby grinned.
Percy was now driving fairly fast, and Toby concentrated on keeping up. They wound their way past a garage, where several cars were being mended, and down to a refuelling station, where a row of cars was waiting in line. They doubled back, behind the refreshment tent, and up to start of the racing circuit. Percy parked his car and came up to speak to Toby.
“You park over there, in the spectator’s car park,” Percy said, pointing to a sign. “I need to get ready for the race now, so I’ll meet you afterwards. Go into the stadium, and someone will show you where to sit.
“It will be good for you to watch the race,” he added, nodding to himself. “Sometimes you can learn more by watching than by actually driving.”
Percy waved his hand, and his car glided away.
Toby lurched forwards, held the steering wheel tightly in his hands, and drove towards the car park sign. There were several spaces, and after a few shuffles, and one very near-miss, Toby managed to shunt his car almost into a space. He got out and stared at his parked car. Two wheels were over the thick white line, and there was enough room at the front to park another car. But Toby decided it was in the space enough, nothing was likely to hit it, and he walked away quickly, hoping that no one had watched him park.
He made his way to the stadium, and another man with a clipboard and long grey hair pointed to a seat, fairly near the back. Toby climbed the steps, edged into the narrow seat, and looked down. He was sitting on a raised seat, high above the race track, and the cars below looked like miniature toy cars. The sounds of revving engines drifted up. Toby stared down at the heads of the other spectators. Far below, near the front, he could see the large hat of Percy’s companion. Toby wondered how Percy would do in the race, he moved so incredibly slowly when he wasn’t in his car, it was difficult to imagine him racing.
Toby crinkled his eyes, and stared very hard at the cars near the start line. There, towards the back, he could see Percy’s brown car, waiting for the starter’s flag. There was some music playing, but it could barely be heard above the din of engines and the tangle of voices and the loud speaker, which was announcing the race, reminding everyone that this was the second training race of the season, and only experienced drivers were taking part. Toby saw the starter take his place, the large flag tucked under one arm, there was a flare, a blast of a siren, the flag waved, and they were off.
A shiny green car shot forwards, closely followed by a blue car with stars painted on the roof. Toby could see Percy’s car, it was passing several slower cars, advancing towards the leaders. A green and yellow spotted car zoomed away from the start line, Toby barely had time to enjoy its colours and the shine of the chrome, when it spun out of control and hit the barrier at the side.
Most of the cars were racing forwards, engines roaring, wheels spinning over the tarmac as the drivers fought to balance speed with control. There were a few near-misses as cars drifted too near to each other. The crowd in the spectator’s stand were shouting, some waving flags, everyone sitting forwards, straining to see.
Suddenly, a red car lurched across the track, almost hitting several other cars, spinning round in circles, crossing the lanes. It was heading towards Percy, and Toby held his breath, sure they would collide. Percy’s car braked hard, losing ground but avoiding the red car which crashed into the barrier and stopped. Percy was immediately back in the race, weaving between cars, making up for the ground he had lost. He had almost reached the blue car, when another car lurched into his pathway, crashing into his side and denting his wing. The lurching car spun three times, skidded on the black tarmac, righted itself and continued. Percy had been shoved into the barrier, but he was facing the right way; with a puff of smoke from the exhaust, he was back in the race. Toby was holding his breath, and he exhaled with a sigh, leaning forwards on his seat, his hands screwed into fists on his lap.
“Come on Percy, come on,” he shouted, bouncing on his seat.
Percy had sped forwards. He was passing the blue car, but a purple car was keeping up, overtaking on the inside. The red car had a clear lead, Percy and the purple were level as they raced after it. A brown car appeared on their tail, drew level with Percy, then dropped back as the back bumper detached from the boot and was dragged along the track, sparks trailing from it, the screech of metal reaching Toby. The brown car limped away to be repaired, the purple car and Percy were level, the red car kept its lead, the flag was lowered, the race was over.
Toby slumped back in his seat. He felt exhausted!
“Wow! That was sooo exciting!” said someone.
Toby turned to look.
The ‘someone’ was sitting next to him. She was leaning forwards in her seat, and all Toby noticed at first was a blur of pink. Then she turned to him, and he noticed eyes that danced and very white straight teeth when she smiled, and brown hair that curled to her shoulders.
“Hello,” said the pink someone. “I’m Clarissa. Are you new?”
“Yes,” said Toby, grinning back. “I’m Toby, and I just arrived this morning.”
“I thought so,” said Clarissa, nodding her head so that all her curls danced and tumbled on her shoulders. “You almost looked like you were taking notes!”
“It was thrilling,” said Toby, thinking about the race. “Who will get promoted to the real track now? Do you know? Is it just the winner or will all the leaders be allowed to go?”
“Real track?” repeated Clarissa, sounding vague. “I don’t know. I don’t know anything about that. . .” her voice faded. Then she said, her smile growing, “Is your car good? Mine is fabulous! I’m still not that good at corners, but I can start and stop just fine, and it’s pink. Pink! Oh, it’s sooo pretty. Is your car nice? Is it shiny? I heard that some people are given old cars, right from the start, I’m sooo glad I didn’t get one of those. I like new and shiny. Don’t you? What’s your fun feature?”
“Fun Feature?” said Toby, “what fun feature? I don’t know what you mean.”
Clarissa looked at him and frowned. “You are funny,” she said, “it’s the best bit about the cars. Each one has a fun feature included – you know, something that serves no real purpose when it comes to the boring driving stuff, but which looks pretty, or is fun to use.”
She leant closer and said in a breathless whisper: “Mine has music.”
“Oh,” said Toby, thinking about his car, and how it had a tendency to lurch when starting. “I hadn’t really thought about it.” He frowned, thinking hard. Then his brow cleared, and he smiled back at Clarissa.
“Bubbles!” he said. “My car has a bubbles button. I wondered how that would be useful.”
“It’s not meant to be useful,” said Clarissa, shaking her head again and giggling. “It’s meant to be fun!”
Toby smiled. “Well, I guess it will be,” he agreed.
“I ought to go and find my mentor now, Percy said he’d meet me after the race, and talk about my training, you know, to help me prepare for the real track. How do you plan to train?”
Clarissa was looking confused again. “Train? Real Track?” she murmured.
“Nope, I intend to enjoy the car I’ve been given and have loads of fun. I don’t have a mentor,” she added, shaking her head. “Perhaps not everyone needs one.”
Toby felt himself blush. He wasn’t sure that he liked the idea of needing a mentor if others didn’t. Then he remembered his rather crooked parking, and the way his car lurched, and how he nearly missed the road every time he turned a corner, and he grinned.
“Well,” he conceded, I do have a bit of technique to learn.”
Clarissa was standing up, and Toby noticed a very slim waist, and a waft of flowery perfume.
“Maybe catch you later,” she called over her shoulder. “It was very nice to meet you, Mr. Toby with the bubbles button and the mentor.”
Toby watched Clarissa as she skipped down the steps. He liked the way her hair bounced, and he thought that perhaps her idea of enjoying her car and having lots of fun was not such a bad one. Then he stood, and stretched his back, and followed the line of people descending towards the track. It was time to try and find Percy.
Thank you for reading. I will post the next chapter tomorrow.