The Written Image: Race Car Poetry

Ten years ago, race car driver Alex Grabau came across a poem that began, “Machine, I come to you 800 times a day / like a crazy monkey lover.” Grabau, a lifelong hobbyist who has competed in amateur motor sports since around the time he first read those lines, from “Factory Love” by Jim Daniels, decided earlier this year to have a decal of the poem placed on the roof of his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution II. Rather than customize his car with sponsors’ stickers, Grabau chose media that he hopes will convey an empathetic message to his fellow drivers. “Racers understand exactly what it’s saying—they spend so much time working on their cars, planning, driving to events, and obsessing about this single racing machine,” he says.

The car featuring Daniels’s poem, first collected in Places/Everyone (University of Wisconsin Press, 1985), will appear at events through the summer. From July 9 to 11, Grabau will compete in Giants Despair, an uphill race in Laurel Run, Pennsylvania. He will race again at the Duryea Hillclimb in Reading, Pennsylvania, from August 20 to 22. Spectators will have the opportunity at designated viewing points to see the text of the poem—or at least get a glimpse of it. “They might not have time to read the whole thing,” Grabau says. “At least I hope they won’t.” Read the poem here.