500 Miles to Go—J. Conrad Guest

500 Miles to Go is soon to launch. The  story was born from a part of my youth that I shared with my dad, who took me to see the Indianapolis 500 in 1966. I still have my ticket, which bears the image of the winning car from the previous year—Jimmy Clark’s Lotus. Clark would die a few years later while compet­ing in a Formula 2 event at Hockenheim, in Germany. Motorsports during that era was very hard on mortality.

J. Conrad Guest (photo courtesy of Sommerville Photographie)

J. Conrad Guest
(photo courtesy of Sommerville Photographie)

A retired marine, Dad was more drill instructor to me than a dad. But I recall with much fondness the entire trip: leaving our home in Garden City, Michigan (a suburb of Detroit) at two in the morning, along with my maternal grandfather and one of my dad’s brothers. We drove five hours and arrived in Indianapolis at a little after six local time. We had breakfast at the International House of Pancakes at the corner of Meridian and 16th Street. I had banana waffles. Sadly, a couple years ago I drove to Indy for the track’s 100th anniversary with a childhood buddy who’d never been to the 500, and a couple of his buddies, to find that the IHOP had been razed to make room for a Walgreens.

After that banana waffle breakfast, Dad parked the car on a side street and we caught a shuttle to take us the eight or so miles to the track. The pageantry of the 500 was amazing for a nine-year-old boy.

For 500 Miles to Go, I wanted to capture the allure of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, along with its long history and rivalries. Initially, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to carry off writing from the perspective of a teenage boy in the early chapters; but I stayed the course, drawing on my own memory of asking a girl out for the first time, and the dance that comes with teen dating during the decade of free love. The relationship Alex has with his father is the first in any of my novels to depict a healthy, nurturing relationship—what took me nearly forty years to achieve with my own father.

A theme of 500 Miles to Go is the importance of, and the risks associated with, the pursuit of dreams. Or as Alex discovers, achieving our dreams, when they cause pain to those you love, become nightmares. Below appears a short but poignant excerpt.

“I looked at the phone, silent on the nightstand, and for the first time since she walked out of my life, I thought about calling Gail. Never had I longed so much to hear her voice. ‘Alex Król,’ she’d say into the phone, the way she used to when we were young. I imagined her telling me how glad she was that I’d called, that she’d listened to the race on the radio, had watched it later that night on tape delay, and had celebrated with me. She’d go on to say that she’d followed my entire career, was proud of all that I’d accomplished, maybe even adding that she’d been foolish to worry about my getting hurt. I’d tell her it was okay, that I understood. Then I’d ask her to join me for dinner when I got back to town, and she’d sigh in that way she had, and tell me that she’d love to…”

Alex paused, and Alicia waited patiently for him to continue:

“But so much in life never plays out the way we envision it. My marriage was proof of that.

“I re-imagined the phone call: Gail’s father would answer. He’d congratulate me on winning the 500—assuming he was aware of it. He’d ask how I was doing, and I’d tell him, ‘Great, I’m doing great.’ Then I’d ask about Gail. He’d tell me that she’d met a young man a year or so after we’d broken up, married him, and that she was now mother to two healthy toddlers, a boy and a girl. Then it would be my turn to congratulate him, for becoming a granddaddy. Maybe, to save face, I’d nonchalantly ask him to say hello to Gail for me, give her my best, hoping he wouldn’t, not wanting her to know that I’d asked about her. More than likely, I’d leave it at ‘Congratulations’ and simply say ‘Goodbye.’

“I rolled over, turning my back on the phone, and prayed for sleep’s escape.”

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00021]

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