During one of those bathroom moments of mirrored self-assessment, I would have described myself as a non-competitive person. I was always that way.
At high school for instance, when shanghaied into playing footy on sports day: if the ball was kicked my way and the kid on me burst into a run to mark it, I figured if he wanted it that bad then he could have it – to me it really didn’t matter. The fact was that eventually, one way or another, one team would be the winner, meaning I could go home and watch The Bugs Bunny Show on the couch.
And cricket, what was the point? Playing competitive sport just didn’t interest me, I much preferred the peace and quiet of tinkering in the backyard shed or taking photographs with my Kodak Brownie.
I grew into adulthood that way. It was parenthood that challenged my basic take on life, and in particular, the day I took my thirteen year old son William to an outside go kart racing track for his classmate’s 13th birthday party.
The party was for Liam Carollan, whose father Rob ran Carollans Auto Repairs in Doncaster. He was heading up the barbecue when we arrived at the outer suburban raceway, cooking sausages and onions for the teenage boys. He introduced me to the other dads, most of who were also involved in the motor trade.
Being an Australian born male with absolutely no interest or knowledge of sport, I found standing in such a circle of men somewhat uncomfortable, as I was simply unable to contribute to the very masculine conversation.
So, as on other similar occasions of making an effort to fit in, I nodded my well-practiced YESes and NOs in appropriate places, laughed, and scoffed when they did. All was going well until Rob announced that while the boys took a break to hoe into their sausage and onion sandwiches, there was to be a dads race of 8 laps.
Bloody hell! A DADS RACE! Me compete against these blokey-blokes in a go kart race around an actual racing track! This was definitely not me! As I searched my mind to find a way out, I realised that I no choice – I would have to become a competitor for my son’s sake – as his fearless dad honouring the family name.
So I put my mind to it, and watched as the boys tore around in their go karts. I checked out the lay of the track, the corners in particular, and carefully scrutinized all the go karts in order to find the fastest one. I reckoned this to be number 14, the green one that Liam was driving. It seemed to accelerate quicker than the others, and was wearing newer tyres. Perhaps the birthday boy received the best machine?
Torn between eating and doing, eating won, and the boys soon came in. The trackside gate was opened, and making sure that I was the first to step onto the track, I nonchalantly headed for number 14 in a determined manner.
Climbing into 14 Green’s seat, I familiarised myself with the steering wheel, accelerator and brake pedals. After a quick safety talk we were sent out to do a practice lap, to then regroup at the start position for the dads race. As I lined up at the start position, I looked across to where the boys had gathered to watch the race. Will had his back to me, but I knew that he had to look cool and not appear to care, but I knew that he did.
Above the track, the bright starting lights flashed from red to orange to green and with a 2-stroke engine scream the dads race was on.
I was running seventh in a ten kart pack, and like everyone else I held my position for the first five corners before entering the back straight. At 120 metres, this was the longest section, the place to put on some speed before entering the tightest corner of the circuit.
Having all sped up down the straight, we then had to hit the brakes to negotiate the hairpin bend. After gathering speed again, we raced along a shorter straight before rounding a gentler corner back to the start position to finish the first lap, with seven more to go.
The first five corners were easier the second time around, and by keeping my braking to a minimum, I managed to pass another dad, putting me in sixth place.
I gathered that Rob was no stranger to this track, and was leading the race.
Lap three. I thrashed through the first five corners again, and by not applying the brakes at all, I passed another dad just before I hit the back straight, putting me in fifth place.
G14 thundered down the straight, the hairpin bend quickly upon me. I slowed down less than I had previously, and with some nifty steering I passed another dad to emerge out of the corner in fourth place.
Hey, this was good – this was really fun. Suddenly, I was no longer the dad honouring the family name, I was competing in a go kart race, I was hunting down the dad hogging third place.
The fourth lap saw no change in my fourth position, and I realised that if I was going to pass dad #3, I needed to do something. I figured the only way that I would pass him would be on the hairpin corner. I would hold off braking until the very last moment, and once again with some nifty steering, I just might take him.
I was right behind him when we reached the corner on lap five, and as he braked before entering the safer outside corner, I went for the inside, but going too fast I shit bricks and jabbed on the brakes, and to my surprise my back wheels skidded around behind me, and suddenly I was correctly aligned to continue on.
Bugger me! I was now in third place. YEEHAA!!
As we passed over the start line again, I stole a quick glance at William – he was watching.
I now set my sights on the dude coming second. I super glued the accelerator pedal to the floor, and within two more laps I was burning down the straight again right up my enemy’s clacker. Just before he reached the corner, I moved up beside him, and while he slowed down, I sped on, jabbing the brake again as I steered into the corner.
The back of my kart skidded around behind me again, this time knocking into his front wheel, spinning him off the track and bouncing him into the safety wall of tyres.
I ha ha ha’d you loser! as I came out of the hairpin in second place.
With my sights now set on Rob, I whizzed past the final lap flag. If I could catch him before he reached the hairpin, I stood an even chance of winning. But as we were both going full-throttle, it was really down to the efficiency of the engines that beavered away behind us.
But I was steadily gaining ground, and I figured that if 14 Green was the better kart, then I could take him. We both hammered through the corners and reached the long straight, giving me 120 metres to catch him for my devilish inside corner manoeuvring.
I was flying high, the chequered flag readying to flap my glorious win; I could hear the cheering, and my son screaming “GO DAD! GOOO DADDD!”
When just a short stone’s throw from taking Rob on – my engine ceased pistoning, karked it, died. I steered towards the wall of safety tyres to clear the track, where a quick look at the engine showed my sudden demise from certain victory had been denied me by a frickin’ snapped accelerator cable.
As unfair as the world had deemed it to be, it set me thinking as I walked back up the straight to the party. This had been one of those times when I had felt truly alive, it gave me a new understanding of competing, that desire to be the best at something, and the trophied achievement of that.
It had been a truly rewarding insight into another world; but my world would remain my creative tinkering, the parenting of my wonderful children, and the peaceful ways of my homebody life.
But overall, the most rewarding part of my day was the different perspective offered by my son as we drove home, “I’m glad you didn’t win dad”, he said.
“Why is that Will, I thought you would’ve been proud of me”.
“Oh yeah for sure, I would’ve been proud, but it was Liam’s birthday, and he was wrapped when his dad won”.