Ari Vatanen mainostoimisto Avalon
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“Moi, nyt kun Mikko Hirvonen ajoi Dakarissa etappivoittoon eilen niin sinulla taitaa olla nimissä sitä ennen viimeinen Dakarin etappivoitto. Mutta en mistään...”
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Written by: myllis
16.01.2016 klo 15:09

Ari Vatasen mietteet


Starry Stage

The Ravolainen Boys

27 July 2003

Article published in Esa Saarinen’s 50th Birthday Jubilee Book

Thinking back to the special stage at Myhinpää, Finland, still quickens my mind and gives me goose bumps. It’s like listening to Sibelius’ Finlandia Hymn. In the Rautalammi hinterlands, the wilds of Savo, the most awesome of special stages, the speed captivated me like a pianist playing with his eyes closed. I exceeded myself there. But it was the village folk that left the deepest impression in my heart. I felt welcome as I got to share in the lives of these people. I have witnessed the cheerful Koponen brothers grow up from little blond toddlers to adults. Nine sons who look alike, and Jarmo, their foster brother. Liisa, the boys’ only sister, passed away unexpectedly when her life was just about to blossom.

I have had the opportunity to follow the Ravolainen family intimately. The meek of our land. Far from boulevards. Among the toughest folk of our tenacious people. They keep our country afloat. Their simple house stood near the road, one kilometre before the special stage start line. The family consisted of Väinö, the father, who drove lorries all his life, to add to the small farmer’s bread and butter, the mother, Raili, the sons, Juha-Pekka, Kimmo, and Pasi, and the mother-in-law, Katri. I saw the three little boys frolic in play as I was practising for the first time for the 1000 Lakes Rally in 1974. I soon became better acquainted with the lads, who were flourishing their cross-ruled copybooks with blue covers by the roadside. Even when I was in a hurry, I did not have the heart to drive pass them without stopping. After all, it was only a while ago that I myself had dreamt of catching just a glimpse of rally drivers in Tuupovaara. I now had to pinch myself to really believe that I was actually driving in the 1000 Lakes Rally!

Summer by summer, I watched the boys grow, until at the turn of the 1980’s, I was astonished to see them in wheelchairs. First Kimmo, and one summer later, Pasi. Both at the age of eight. I wasn’t even aware that the boys suffered from muscular dystrophy. The illness did not slow their pace. Pasi, the younger and livelier of the boys, always drove his motorized wheelchair to the start of the special stage to collect any autographs that he lacked. ”I’ve got a book from my big brother, too. He remained hiding behind the cow-house.”

At one time, I was catching up with Väinö, the father, and Pasi, next to their mailbox by the road. In a quiet voice, Pasi told me that the rally cars do not pull up by him. ”Lift your book way up in the air, so that the competitors will spot it,” I encouraged him. ”Pasi’s hand does not rise any longer,” said the father standing beside me. It strained my heart. In the evening, at the hotel, I told this to Kankkunen and the others. The next day, all of the drivers, who were practising that special stage, pulled up by the boys.

In the summer of 1988, the rally did not pass by Myhinpää. One year later, I only practised that stage a couple of times. After all, as with dozens of other legs all over the world, I knew how to drive this stage, even with my eyes closed! My old teachers would have something to wonder about... It was drizzling in the race proper. I drove a Mitsubishi that was not yet ripe and could not catch up to the speed of the best cars. The village people were waiting for us at the Säkinmäki schoolyard service point before Myhinpää, standing in a ring around the service cars. It was the same place where the now late Henri Toivonen sank down years ago and covered his face in his hands after hearing our time. Six seconds can feel like a light year. On the other special stages, he put me in a tight spot. Now, I was thinking about the weather that had changed. What tyres shall we take and should the dampers be slackened as the roads were becoming slick? In the middle of this pondering, I ask some villagers, how the Ravolainen family was doing. I hadn’t had time to say hello to them while practising. ”The boys died,” was the answer. “Last year. Kimmo in the early summer, and Pasi on the threshold of autumn.” My heart sank. I felt as if it was only my body that stayed at the service point. My mind was now somewhere else. ”Get the car some tyres, please,” I ask the mechanics and start driving. I begin to drive. The call of the Koponen boys and the other villagers remains echoing in my ears, “Ari, set the fastest time, to commemorate the boys!”

Speechless, I drive towards the special stage. The clouds hang down. I reflect on the short-lived lives of the boys. I feel unreal. Rally driving seems so futile. Approaching the Ravolainen’s house, from afar, I see a dark figure in the middle of the road. As if guessing my reflections, Väinö, the father, is waiting for me. I stop beside him. He encloses my hand in his labour-hardened hands. We do not utter a word. I see tears on his weathered face. I continue my ride. I see the road dimly, but inside, I feel I am being cleansed. It is as if ice has melted in my chest. I realize that the boys are in Heaven. At the starting moment of the special stage, I feel extraordinarily light. ”Three, two, one – go!” My driving flows by itself, subconsciously. Like a harmonious melody. It felt as if I had been looking at my own driving from aside. ”You set the fastest time,” they said at the finish. My only one at that 1000 Lakes Rally.

In the autumn of 1999, I was invited to a great many party gatherings. I declined to go. Instead, it was a great honour for Rita and I to attend Väinö’s 60th birthday party before Christmas. Time seems to come to a standstill in the quiet of the snowy farmyard. The odour emanating from the cow-house into the yard carries a strong flavour of life. Raili, the mother, still looks after her five cows with pioneer-like dedication. ”Why, they can’t be ousted from their home.” The statistics of Brussels do not recognize an economy such as this. Väinö had returned home late in the evening after having hauled a load of reinforcing steel bars to Ostrobothnia. Juha-Pekka, who drove the Rally in a Lada, continues his father’s work as a lorry driver. ”Roll on down the highway.” The family’s assiduousness and sense of responsibility are a breath stretching back to post-war Finland. Does that Finland still exist?

We are met inside with the warmth of a baking oven and the scent of coffee. The aging village folk are seated in the cottage, wearing their Sunday best. In the dusky winter afternoon, the atmosphere is devout and respectful. We receive provisions for the journey of life. Väinö looks back at the boys’ final summer. After Kimmo’s death, Pasi asked his mother, Raili, ”Did Kimmo cry?” to which his mother answered, ”We need not cry. Angels will meet us at the Gate of Life.” Pasi calmed down. Confidence in tomorrow endured. ”Dad, we’ll go to follow the 1000 Lakes Rally this summer, too, won’t we.”

Pasi’s flame of life was extinguished during the competition. During the funeral service, the vicar wondered, “How will you keep going from now on?” Always positive, Väinö responded, “There seems to be a wall confronting us.” But a ray of light comes through it. We walk towards that.”

Our friend, Esa, likes to hear about the Ravolainen family again and again. Esa’s greatness lies in his sensitivity to see the breathtaking beauty of life’s mosaic in every human being.

Ari Vatanen