Short story 985 words
Brands Hatch has a light-controlled grid where engines are kept running and riders sit astride. Doing away with push-starts which eight-stone Beryl found wearisome; struggling to fire up the Suzuki as male racers roared by on either side. Here she would pick up places before even changing gear.
Beryl fanned the throttle, eyeing the official at the trackside, waiting to cross over, to alert the starter. Familiar in his blazer, shooting his cuffs, nodding, calm amid the noise. Off he strode.
Down came Beryl’s visor, up went the revs. First gear selected, feet on tip-toe. Sensing not seeing the rev-counter, two kay short of red-line. On the pylon – the first of five lights.
Now! The clutch lever sprung, the bike jagging forward. From behind something hard and massy punched her shoulder but quickly she was away, among the faster starters. Eeee-uh, second gear. Eeee-uh, third. The front wheel felt light from too much power. Roll back? A joke! She braked and heeled right for Paddock.
Beryl hung precisely off the bike, the world aslant, following a file of six, drifting – like her – to the left, into the dip and up towards Druids. Nearing the hairpin a blur of orange, behind on the inside, coming up fast. Fast, past her and… too fast. A last-year Repsol hard ridden which would – there it went! – run wide at Druids. As she, hugging the line, slipped inside and hurried down to the left-hander.
Graham Hill’s Bend. Quite different now, the marshalls’ station in revetted turf dismantled and cleared away. Protection for track officials but at a price. Gone now.
▌▌Her race was minutes away but she left the Suzuki and watched over the fence. Dennis was worth it. She saw him glide through the others at Paddock, a crowded and scary sight. At the apex he edged forward, testing another rider, making him bottle, drop back. Second now, Dennis had only the Swede to beat. Nip and tuck, the racing he relished. Chances were he’d win.
Eric in filthy overalls stood beside Beryl, smoking, shaking his head. “Not this time,” Eric said.
She was outraged. “Dennis’ll play with him. Show him a wheel most corners. Take him at Stirling with five laps left.”
“Not this time.”
“Thorsson’s grown wings?”
“See his front wheel.”
It took her a couple of laps.
“The brake disc,” she said. “It’s huge.”
“Composites too. The disc costs a grand. But worth it.”
Two more laps and Beryl understood. Normally Dennis would have outbraked Thorsson, moving up, teasing. Today he wasn’t close. Paddock was the key. Beryl saw Dennis’s right hand squeeze the brake lever fifty yards before Thorsson did. Saw the gap widen.
“What can Dennis do?”
Eric shrugged. “Start saving.”
“Dennis won’t give up.”
“That’s what frightens me.”
Dennis, a distant, blurred figure in dark green leathers, seemed to radiate frustration. The smoothness had gone, his helmet rose jerkily, the bike wriggled out of corners. Beryl tested herself: said, risk it through Clearways, carry speed into the main straight, take advantage of her lightweight body.
But Dennis was three stones heavier.
Druids did for Dennis. Raggedly he made up five yards on the approach, kept it tight with his boot scraping the tarmac, then redlined the engine into Thorsson’s slipstream. Beryl knew immediately – he’d stay off the brake on the descent.
But physics is physics. Tyres squealed, the bike jacknifed left and right tossing Dennis aside. Arms and legs outstretched, turning like a propeller, he hit the marshalls’ station and slid down to bury his helmeted head in the long grass.
Eric said to Beryl, “I’ll start your engine. You’ll have to hurry.”
On the formation lap it had started to rain. During the race the usual leaders diced too hard and slid off. Others too. Beryl finished fourth, her best ever at that time. Riding cautiously.
They had Dennis strapped to a stretcher, waiting for the helicopter, his head between two orange cubes of styrofoam. His eyes were open, his mouth angry. As Beryl bent over he mouthed two words. Soundlessly, but Beryl read his lips: “Fuck off.”
When Thorsson came calling three weeks later at Snetterton it was a natural succession. Dennis, facing a year of physiotherapy, had refused to see Beryl. Poor English had rendered Thorsson socially timid and he was considerate in bed. They shared his motor-home until he returned to trial a rally car in Sweden and kill himself against an obdurate pine tree. In Britain sponsors trucked away the racing bike with its composites disc but nobody claimed the motor-home and Beryl took it over by default. Eric hovered but it was a class thing; Eric was only a mechanic.
▌▌On the fourth lap, now in fifth place, Beryl approached Druids, aware that her hair had loosened and was flapping in the wind. In close racing the sight encouraged some men to try intimidation.
Certain she would catch the fourth place Yamaha she had time to identify the point where Dennis had been forced to brake - vainly - for the left-hander. A good racer, Dennis. But too impatient. A month or two of overtime and he could well have saved up the thousand pounds. Beaten Thorsson the logical way.
Beryl had a composites disc of her own and knew the Yamaha rider didn’t. Overtaking, perhaps at Clearways, would feel like good sex, not least because he was a bloke. Lollopy, too tall for bike racing. Out of the corner she tucked behind the fairing, her shoulder throbbing from the blow at the start, but tasting what lay ahead.
Bike racing was worth risking her life. She’d known that from the start, the hell with what they said about women. But you had to think things out. Dennis didn’t understand. Would he ever race again? He’d been faster than her but would he still be? She rather thought not. It would be good to beat him.