At high noon, the green flag drops over 19 karts to race until the stroke of midnight. Through heat haze to the south, the skyline of Sin City glints in the unrelenting sun. The pool and card table-side hedonism is surely getting into full swing, while others are likely still sleeping off the previous night. For Tallichet, Myers and Lewis kart racing is their preferred hedonistic activity. With the helmet on and the visor down, everything else gets shut out, and as the demands of driving a kart for more than 30 straight minutes at a time strains their neck, shoulders and arms, their souls are rejuvenated.
Myers sits pensively beneath his team, dubbed “Nightshift Racing,” tent.
“Getting a little antsy now,” he admits. “One of the guys I've done this race with before couldn't make it this year. But, I'm texting him updates and he's watching the live timing from his location. He ran our strategy before, so he's asking for all kinds of details and sending me back strategy tips.”
By now the race has settled into a rhythm and most teams have completed an entire rotation through their driver lineup. Tallichet is relaxing in the shade, eyes closed and legs stretched out before him. In the next tent over, Myers is also sitting in a camping chair, but his focus is intent on the radio communications from his teammate behind the wheel while he keeps on eye on the timing app of his smart phone. His team runs an “open mic” system meaning that all the chatter between the driver and team's strategist flows freely over the radio.
In the pit lane, Lewis leans on the concrete barrier also studying the timing app on his smart phone, tracking his team T4 Autosport. He's watching as karts negotiate the two hairpin turns in succession before accelerating into the “the Bullring.”
“We have over nine hours to go, but it's still an emotional roller coaster,” says Lewis, implying that there isn't a moment to let your guard down.
He goes on to explain, “We're playing the strategy with the kart changes. So we're watching our fuel levels, but also tracking which kart is next in the rotation. When a kart that we prefer comes up, we hope that it coincides with our present kart being low on fuel. If we are in a good window, we can sacrifice an early fuel stop, for a preferred kart.”
He hardly takes his eyes off the track while talking. The strategy sounds very smart. The only problem is that everyone is playing the same game.
Tallichet is leaning against the open back bumper of his mini van. His fair skin has a dull, red glow and his eye cast a hollow, far off expression. He's just finished a long stint, and shortly a teammate comes by to discuss when his next stint will be. They are saving their faster driver for the end of the race, so Tallichet will be back in the kart in about an hour. He quickly perks up as they discuss race strategy.
The Machismo reaches the halfway mark. Myers team, “Nightshift Racing” lies in second place. Lewis' T4 Autosport occupies fourth place, while Tallichet's team, “Over the Hill” lies sixth. The top six teams are separated by 6 laps, but many teams are off cycle on the required number of pit stops. Some squads have been stopping early to get them out of the way, while others are more evenly spaced. The gaps are not a surprise.
“This is my fifth Machismo and every year, I've been in a position to win only to have bad luck put an end to the dream,” says Myers who grins while noting the team's position, but tries not to be over confident. He knows better than most that there is quite a bit of racing still left to do.
By this time in the day, the sun and the heat have been beating down drivers and supporters who have all been at the track since before 7:30 AM. In the western sky, the sun edges closer to the tops of the mountains, casting long shadows as twilight begins to take over. The arrival of darkness seems to spark new life into everyone present.
Tallichet struts jubilantly away from the driver change over area holding his helmet in his right hand while he uses his left hand to undo the top half of his driving suit. He's just completed his final stint, exceedingly pleased with his performance. Seconds later high fives and hugs are exchanged with a couple of fellow competitors. They were all dicing for position together.
“I just spent the last 10 laps dicing it up with Jon Kimbrell. He's an indoor (karting) National Champion. I mean, how cool is that?” exclaims Tallichet. “He's much younger than me, and we would probably never have the chance to meet away from a race to have a beer, but to be able to share a laugh and high five is a great part of this experience, and that's really special.”
Despite just having completed a 93-minute stint, Lewis looks remarkably fresh. Adrenalin and tension have a powerful effect. It was his last stint of the night and may have been the most crucial of the race for T4 Autosport who are flirting with the lead, and even held it for a time.
“There's just a lot of mood swings running through me now and the tension is just getting worse as we get down to the wire,” says Lewis. He let's a sideward grin escape for a split second as he speaks. Tension or not, he's relishing every minute of this.
“We know the karts only have 90 minutes of fuel as a standard rule. There's a little you can do with driving style to make that last longer or use up more, but generally, no one is running it that close to the edge. My team had its eye on kart we really wanted in the queue. Three teams were vying for it, so it came down to who had the balls to stretch their fuel. We flinched last and got it. I'm not sure how much fuel was left in my kart, but it had to be on vapors,” added Lewis.
With 45 minutes to go, everyone was on their final stint in the run to the finish. Incredibly after 11 hours of racing, the top-6 karts were within two laps of each other. Team members and supporters were walking anxiously back and forth between the pit lane and the timing and scoring table tracking the number of stops. Each team is required to have at least 26 stints and all drivers must be within one hour of each other in total driving time.
Those in contention were all assiduously pouring over their charts used to track their own time, and in some cases, that of their competitors. Some questioned discrepancies in the accounting, but official timing and scoring proved to be spot on.
In the waning minutes, the whole of the paddock was in the pit lane exhorting the karts on track to push harder.
Lewis and Tallichet are transfixed on action. Tallichet's team trails Lewis' by three seconds for the second and third steps on the podium. Eight minutes never seemed to last so long.
The checkered flag waves over the eighth edition of The Machismo and within minutes everyone has converged on the finish line in the Bullring for the podium ceremony. Ice chests filled with chilled beer are brought out and opened to toast the winners and indeed everyone who was a part of the event.
Lewis and Tallichet collect their podium hardware and pose for pictures. Off to the side, Myers watches bittersweetly. Once again he came to Machismo only to leave empty handed of a trophy that he came so close to.
Tallichet, silver cup in hand, walks over toward Myers.
“Congratulations Billy, you son of a bitch,” says Myers with a laugh and hardy handshake. He takes a long swig of beer then reflects, “I had a great time. I drove for two hours and forty-five minutes and I still feel great. Most importantly, I'm proud of my own performance.”
For his part Tallichet, stares at his trophy with a wide-eyed grin. As if he was holding a jackpot-winning lottery ticket, he just laughs and shakes his head in disbelief.
“Wow, I'm just very happy. To have a chance to do something you're passionate about and be successful at, even if it doesn't mean a lot beyond the people in this group, is really a gift and everyone should have the chance to feel this,” says Tallichet.
Over near the finish line, Lewis looks pleased. Having just finished his second Machismo, he went one better than last year with his second place.
“I'm pretty happy right now. I knew in the last hour that the win was out of reach, but second place was never assured until the very end. I've been here twice and been on the podium both times. May be next week I'll replay the whole thing in my head and be disappointed that we didn't win. It'll just be motivation for next year,” says Lewis.
“The whole drive home, that trophy sat in the passenger seat,” recalls Tallichet. “I just kept glancing over at to make sure it was still there.
“But as soon as I got home, it was back to work, back to reality. I've had one or two friends ask about the event, but most people don't really care. And that's okay because in the same way, I'm not that interested in their golf trophies or fishing trips,” Tallichet goes on to say. “What's really cool for me personally is that through all the hectic work days, dealing with problems, focusing on the business, when I least expect it, I catch a glimpse of that trophy and it I just can't help but crack a smile.”
Therein lies the rub. A racer is not defined by the machine or the circuit so much as by the sheer determination to find an outlet in which to race something at any speed. For in the end, a racer doesn't need to be fast; a racer needs only to be faster. Racers need to scratch the itch, and that is the beauty of The Machismo – an event that satisfies a most basic instinct in the simplest, most accessible way possible.