Tim Whyte | No Passing on the COVID Course

Tim Whyte

I got my first COVID-19 shot the other day, and it brought back childhood memories. 

Nope, not painful memories of getting my shots. I’m not a wimp, for cryin’ out loud. If you’ve ever broken your femur — and I have — getting a needle in the arm is a walk in the park. 

No, my COVID-19 shot reminded me of stock car racing. 

Odd mix, right?

I’ve written about it before, but my fondness for motorsports dates back to the mid-1970s, when my family moved to the Santa Clarita Valley from the San Fernando Valley. It didn’t take long for us to become regulars at Saugus Speedway. 

Man, how I miss that place. It was part of our valley’s soul, and they killed that part of our soul when they closed the track down in the 1990s. 

I’ve always enjoyed going to the races — the sights, the sounds, the smell of burnt rubber and racing fuel. But one thing I never had the opportunity to do was participate in actual racing. It’s the kind of thing where we all can imagine we’d be good at it, you know?

I mean, almost anyone can drive a car. What’s so hard about driving one really really fast?

It turns out, it takes skill, talent and, yes, a certain level of fitness to be a real race car driver. 

So, the closest I ever really got was the go-cart course at MB2, at the south end of the Newhall Pass. It’s good fun — the carts at MB2 can really haul the mail, and it’s no little putt-putt course. They even make you wear a helmet, and the liability waiver is enough to make you seriously consider your mortality. 

We went there once with my son’s hockey team, when he was about 12 or 13 years old, for the postseason pizza party. We signed up all of the kids to race the go-carts, and some of us dads signed up to race, too. 

In my mind, I was going to show these numskull kids a thing or two about wheeling a racer. I had visions of leaving every last one of them — including my own kid — eating my dust as I zipped past them lap after lap. 

Back then I used to pal around with a couple of other hockey dads, Roland Leclair and Kevin Eld. It’s been a few minutes since I’ve seen those guys and I miss them. Gotta fix that. Truly good dudes, salt of the Earth, both of them. 

But anyway, before I took to the track, Kevin was offering me a few tips. He’s a car guy, and a Formula 1 fan, plus he’s British, so when he offers advice, it sounds smarter than the rest of us. 

“Slow in, fast out,” he said of the turns, in his distinguished English accent. 

In other words, you want to hit your brakes right before corner entry, let off the brakes and roll through the apex, then get back on the gas as soon as possible after the apex so you gain as much speed as you can while still exiting the turn. That way you carry more speed into the straightaway. Nice and smooth. If your wheels hop, you’ve done something wrong and you’re losing speed. 

The advice worked. 

I was running through that course with my hair on fire. In my mind, I was far and away the fastest creature on the track — until I realized these 13-year-old kids were whipping past me, like a hot knife through butter. 

“Maybe they gave me the slow cart,” I lamented upon leaving the track. 

Kevin shook his head slowly, and there was a little bit of a pause, as if he was thinking of the kindest possible way to say what he was about to say. These may not be his exact words, but it went something like this, in impeccable, unmistakable English:

“I don’t think it was the cart. I think it had something to do with horsepower-to-weight ratio.”


Thus, my racing career came to an ignominious end, defeated by a bunch of 13-year-old hockey players. And, apparently, pizza.

But this past week, when I ventured over to Magic Mountain to get my first COVID-19 shot, it took me back. Not because of the needle — it was all those cones. 

For every one of us who gets our vaccination in the parking lot of Magic Mountain, they’ve set up this delightful course of cones. Straightaways, then hairpins, as far as the eye can see, snaking through the parking lot as they approach the distant EZ-Ups where you get that coveted shot in the arm. 

I let the cars in front of me build up a good lead as I approached the first turn, so there would be distance between me and them when I decided to cut loose. 

And, I remembered Kevin’s advice: 

“Slow in, fast out.”

I eased into that first turn, cranked the wheel, rounded the apex…

And I mashed the gas. 

Oh, that was good fun. I was WHEELIN’ it through those cones, hairpin after hairpin, cutting the corners close. And I didn’t knock over a single cone. 

Soon, I caught up to the cars in front of me. 

Natch. They don’t allow passing in the Magic Mountain COVID Cone Course — and I know I could have given that guy in front of me a first-class NASCAR-style slide job.

But, I didn’t want to get banned for life before I got my second dose of the vaccine, so I fell in line behind the slow-moving octogenarian in front of me. 

There’s always next time. And be forewarned: If you have an appointment for your COVID-19 shot at Magic Mountain on April 12, as you wind your way through the cones, watch out. 

I’m coming for you. With my hair on fire. 

Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal.

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