A Story About the Red Race Car, Scene 1: A Day at the Races | TIME: Sunday the 3rd September 1939 | LOCATION: Pariska street, Belgrade
A Day at the Races
It was such a beautiful day in Belgrade. Aleksandar was excited-– today was the day Belgrade hosted the Grand Prix at the circuit around Kalemegdan Park! The park engulfed the centuries old fortress, nestled on the hill that overlooked the place where the Sava and Danube Rivers met, guarding Belgrade. Already for weeks he was talking about this race with Bogdan, his best friend and classmate. Aleksandar’s father kept his promise to take the boys to the races. They arrived very early in the morning to the stands opposite of the French Embassy. Prepared to spend a whole day at the races, they brought along a basket of food. Tens of thousands of Belgraders took to the green fields of Kalemegdan park, where people’s excitement collided with the shouts of peddlers selling sunflower seeds, hot pereci (pretzels), bagels, boza, klaker and kabeza (sugared soda).
Cousin Pavle was also at the race with them. Aleksandar was very fond of him. Pavle was about ten years older and Aleksandar looked up to him. Secretly, Aleksandar would try to part his hair so that there was a lock hanging a little over his forehead, the same way Pavle did. Since Aleksandar’s mother always combed his hair back meticulously, in order for him to look neat and tidy, Aleksandar thought of Pavle’ s stray lock as very significant proof of maturity and independence. When I grow up, I will wear my hair the way I want! he thought to himself.
But that day was all about the races. Aleksandar and Bogdan had already investigated everything they could find about the race cars and the drivers of the Belgrade Grand Prix.
“There are no less than four world champions in Belgrade right now!” Bogdan kept repeating excitedly. People were talking about famous race car drivers like the Yugoslavs Boško Milenković and Pavle Melamed, matching against Nuvolari–the flying Italian, and German champions Manfred von Brauchitsch, Lang and Müller. Disappointment over news that French and British stars such as Jean-Pierre Wimille, René Le Bègue, and Cuth Harrison canceled their participation permeated through the crowd. The newspaper salesmen shouted in the distance “Fighting in Poland, Mr. Mussolini proposes an end to hostilities and an emergency conference for England, France, Germany, Italy and Poland”.
The boys had a long discussion about which race car was the best–the Bugatti or Mercedes? Eventually they asked Pavle, whose opinion was most appreciated and revered by the boys. The technicians and mechanics ran nervously around the shiny cars that were ready to start their engines.
“Mercedes because it is a German car.” Pavle said.
But he didn’t have time to explain why because his voice was drowned out by the noise of the crowd-– the race was on.
When a beautiful red Mercedes Benz dashed out of a curve, they both agreed that it was by far the best car in the world.
“Mercedes Benz W-154 M163” Bogdan could barely utter the words.
“Father, can I move closer to take a better look at the Mercedes?” asked Aleksandar.
Engulfed in a pungent smell of gasoline and scorched tires, the shouting of the excited crowd and through the noise of engines and squeaky wheels–his father’s voice assured Aleksandar that they would definitely visit the car show to see the new Mercedes models at the Belgrade Fair later in April.
When the races were over and the crowd had long dispersed, Aleksandar and Bogdan stayed. They were somewhat solemnly aware that they would remember that day for the rest of their lives. They lingered for a long time, staring at the golden September sky, looking beyond the Sava river. Their gazes reached even further, where only children’s eyes could reach.