By Joel Warner
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Of all the screaming, revving multitudes at the Malibu Grand Prix Race Track, only thirteen have made it into the Elite 49, a club that celebrates the 49 seconds (or less) it takes them to drive one lap of the half-mile Malibu track. Members of the Elite 49 get their pictures posted on the wall next to the snack bar and across the carpet from a half-acre of clanging video games and pinball machines. Vince Stevens's photo is there, but you will not catch him standing next to it. Of the thirteen drivers qualifying for the Elite 49, only one is faster than Stevens--and all are at least thirty years younger. Stevens is 73.
"Well, I started driving on March 22, 1991," he says, "and right away, I set my goal. Join the 49 club. On July Fourth this year, which is my birthday, I ran 36 laps, my kids were buying me laps like crazy, and I finally did it. Now it's all over. I have nothing left to prove."
But this does not prevent Stevens from hanging out at Malibu. He arrives early, before the heat can cause the tires of his race car to slide all over the track and before the place fills up with pre-teenaged boys. Everyone at the track knows him--gives him the senior rate of $1.85 per lap without even asking. Sometimes Stevens will buy a hundred laps at a time and hand them out to his friends.
Stevens practices harder than any other member of the Senior Metro League, a group of racing teams sponsored by Malibu and the Denver Department of Parks and Recreation. Naturally, he's the fastest, too. "He's a better driver than me, we know that," says 64-year-old Marilyn Miciek, the fastest woman in the league. She and Stevens drive for different rec-center teams--he for Westminster, she for Aurora--but they are very aware of each other's performance.
"For instance, today," Miciek says. "He has the hottest car. A much hotter car than I got. That's not really fair. That's why he's making such good time. I've had a high 53 a couple times, you know."
But you need a high 52 to drive the car Stevens is running right now--the dark-blue one with the souped-up engine and the words "Pepsi Ultimate Challenge #11" written on it in wavy script. Around here, it's known as the "club car."
"I've never had a high 52," Miciek says, frowning. "But I practice. I come down here and try to run eight laps at a time whenever I can." She's already done that today; according to her training schedule, it is now time to have a seat inside, drink some water and cool out. But you can tell it galls her to have such a perfect view of Vince Stevens, still out there driving in the hundred-degree heat, consistently breaking 52 seconds. "Is he obsessed or what?"
Finally, Stevens allows the hot car to be stabled and comes inside to join Miciek. "My back won't take it anymore," he complains. "Besides, the car don't run good in this weather. We have to cool down the carbs with rags, and like that. I don't know, I just couldn't get a good time out of her. How'd you do?" he asks Miciek.
"Two seconds better," she answers.
"Ah, 51 was all I could get out of the club car."
"I slid a lot," Miciek says.
"I tell you, you have to let off on the gas pedal and then go full out. You gotta start doing that."
"Yes, but how many times do you feather the accelerator? Two? Three?"
"Three," Stevens confirms. "Go out and get brave and lay it on. That's what I say."
"I've already spun out, so I'm not afraid. I'm not afraid of going too fast or anything like that," Miciek responds. "The thing is, it's safe. You basically can't hurt yourself."
"Wanna bet?" Stevens counters. "I don't even want to talk about what happened between me and that bent pole out there. See it?"
"I spun out once," Miciek repeats.
"My marks are all over that track out there."
"So are mine," Miciek decides.
"I'll be seeing the doctor Wednesday," Stevens says, upping the ante. "My foot was underneath the gas pedal and--I don't even want to talk about what happened."
There is a pause, during which Stevens and Miciek allow a certain amount of mutual respect to fill the gap between them. They do have some things in common, not the least of which is race-car driving. And then there is the contempt they share for those other seniors, the ones who come out, drive a few times, get all enthusiastic but have no discipline and just fade away.
"It's a hard thing to keep seniors interested," Miciek says.
"True! We had 'em coming up from Colorado Springs at one point. But they're lazy! They lose interest! They should just get out there and run! I don't understand it," Stevens says.
"I don't understand it, either," Miciek agrees.
"I been sports-minded all my life."
"Me, too. Me, too," Miciek says. "In fact, I'm going hiking Thursday."
Stevens gives Miciek a withering look. Thursday, he reminds her, is orientation day here at Malibu for seniors who've never tried racing--and many of the city's fastest drivers will come to kibbitz.