When The Words Don’t Come
To every exhausted rally driver who’s sat at a stop line and had a microphone shoved into their face, I think I’m beginning to understand, and I’m sorry. I’ll be honest that often, I’ve thought to myself, “Come on, it’s only 30 seconds… surely you can find something original to say.” After listening to countless tense, curt one word answers from frustrated rally drivers over the years, I’ve wondered aloud at times, “How hard can it be to just give us a few real words to tell us what it’s like?” I’ve become aware that these feelings carry a certain amount of entitlement on my part. When I think or say these things, I’m assuming that I deserve a unique, thoughtful, and articulate answer from every driver at stage end. After all, if I’m spending my hard earned money on WRC+ and choosing to give up some of my precious time off over the weekend to watch these drivers, certainly I deserve something in return… right? Well, I used to feel that way, but not anymore.
For those of you who don’t know, in my real life, I’m an emergency/trauma nurse. It hasn’t been the easiest job lately as Covid-19 has ravaged its path across the world. Most mornings, I walk out of the hospital after a long night shift with a tired body and an empty mind. When I glance at my phone, I’m often greeted with well-meaning questions from friends and family that piled up from the day before: “How are you doing? How bad are things there? What’s it like?” I understand where these questions are coming from. They are sincere, stemming from genuine concern for my well-being and honest anxiety about what’s happening behind the hospital’s walls.
In my best moments, I can recognize that sincerity enough to craft an honest, articulate answer. However, even then, after having to answer the same questions multiple times a day, the answers become scripted and rehearsed. I’ve come to rely on a generic reply that sounds genuine enough, but in reality requires little conscious thought due to the amount of times I’ve repeated it. Those are at the best of times. After a particularly difficult night, mustering the energy to reply with a just a simple, “I’m fine” or something similar feels like an impossible task. Even if I had the energy to describe what I’ve just experienced, I don’t know if any words would really do it justice. So sometimes, those texts go unanswered.
I’ll never know what it feels like to complete a WRC stage and experience the physical and mental exhaustion that sets in on that cruise from the finish boards to the stop line. But as I live through this experience, I think I’ve begun to understand a little bit of what these drivers might feel at the end of a stage when that microphone appears. It makes me appreciate all the more, Mads Ostberg who always finds a way to come up with a cheeky response and a twinkle in his eye. Or Craig Breen, who’s not afraid to show his true, raw emotions after every single stage he completes. But it’s also given me a newfound respect for Ott Tanak who just doesn’t want to answer the same question 15 to 20 times a weekend, so he doesn’t. Whenever the stop lines around the world come alive again with the throaty growl of idling rally cars, I’m going to try to have a little more patience when the words just don’t come easily for these drivers. I’ve received a little taste of just how difficult it can be to find any words, let alone the right ones in a moment of pure exhaustion. The next time a rally driver hurriedly says, “We have to go now” and speeds away, I’m going to do my very best to remember the way I feel peering at my cellphone after a long shift. Sometimes, the words just don’t come, and that’s OK.