Iím old enough to remember Pearl Harbor, although we didnít hear a whole hell of a lot about it out on our farm in Nebraska until it was long over with. Iím not trying to tell you that the bomb that dropped on the Junior Stock division at the old Bradford Speedway the following Saturday evening was anything like as bad, but Iím sure there were people there who thought it was. I can tell you that as far as Glenn Mansfield was concerned that it was the night that would live in infamy.
One of the things that was pretty clear to me was that the first night of the new reign was going to be a dilly. Having to run a halfway decent tech inspection on twenty or more cars was going to eat up a lot of time, more than I was going to have to spare, so I decided that this once it would be a good idea to call in reinforcements.
I said twenty or more cars, didnít I? Well, there were close to thirty. One of the things I did after I got home Tuesday was to call up Don Boies and tell him to come on out with his car on Saturday night, that things were going to change and that he might like to enjoy the fireworks. Then, just to make good on my promise, I told him to drag his car out to the farm and Iíd see what I could do to help him make it a little better for racing. We couldnít do a whole lot to it in a couple of afternoon sessions, but we had it running a lot better and I had a few suggestions for him on how to make it better yet.
Since the speedway was only a couple miles away and Don still had a bench seat in the car, on Thursday evening we decided to take a little risk of the cops being around and drove the car over to the track. I took a few hot laps in it, and figured that there were a couple things we could do easily to adjust it a little better to run on the track, some of which we couldnít do there without tools, of course. But after Iíd had a chance to get the feel of it, I moved over into the right seat, got Don behind the wheel, and we went about thirty laps at speed. I talked him through a few things, like how to set up an effective power slide, how to use your throttle to get through a corner, the best way to run a line, and things like that. A couple of times we had to switch places so I could demonstrate what I was talking about, but after that thirty laps or so he was running the car a whole lot better. I hadnít taken a stop watch with me so couldnít tell for sure, but Iíll bet we knocked five seconds off his lap time and he was driving a whole lot smoother.
Of course I explained to Don a little of what was going to happen and what I was going to try to change, and Iíll be damned if word didnít get around. On Saturday we had a number of kids show up who had been driven off earlier in the season, I think mostly hoping I was going to keep my word. Well, I had every intention of doing just that, which was why I told Don to spread the news to be there early for tech inspection.
It was a hot afternoon Ė it was the height of August and it had every right to be hot. There wasnít a breath of air stirring, but at least Iíd thought ahead enough to rig a canopy out of a brown tarp and a bunch of two by fours to keep the sun off. For a while there was quite a lineup for the inspection. The line was starting to dwindle down a little, but with several cars still waiting, when Glenn and Bert Mansfield showed up. "Whatís this tech inspection shit?" Glenn snarled.
"Glenn, you can read the rule sheet just as well as I can," I told him. "It says that all cars will go through a tech inspection before being allowed on the track."
"What a bunch of horseshit," he said. "We ainít never had to do that shit before."
"Well, youíre going to have to do it tonight, or your kid isnít going to be out there racing. Itís as simple as that. Get the car in line and we probably ought to get to it before time trials get under way."
"This is a crock of shit," Glenn snarled. "Weíll fucking see about this." He turned and stomped off in the direction of the back office, where Smoky was signing in drivers and that sort of thing.
"Well," I smiled to Arlene, "Now we find out how good Smokyís word is. Actually, I sort of hope Smoky backs down. Hanging around in all this heat and dust isnít exactly fun."
Of course Smoky had all the windows in the office open, what with no air conditioning, so even at fifty yards or so off it was pretty easy to hear Glenn yelling at him. I couldnít hear Smokyís side of the conversation but Glennís was more than loud enough to figure out what was going on. Now usually in a tech inspection deal like that people would be standing around shooting the shit, people would be tuning on cars and running them, and things like that. This time, there was a dead silence as people listened to the show across the way. A lot of people there knew Glenn and knew what he and his kid had gotten away with, so there was a lot of amusement when Glenn came out of the office. You could see that he was just boiling.
He stormed right back over to me and said, "Just who the hell do you think you are to think you can get away with this shit?"
"Iím the guy Smoky brought on board to straighten out the mess this class is in," I told him. "If you donít like it, you can hook that thing back on your tow bar and get out of here. Everybody else is going through tech, and youíre no different."
I honestly thought he was going to slug me right on the spot. Iím pretty sure the only reason he didnít was that there were two tech inspectors, as well as several drivers and parents standing around me, some of them holding wrenches and tire irons and stuff like that.
"This is a crock of shit," he repeated, "We ainít never had to do this shit before."
"That may be," I told him. "But youíre doing it tonight or youíre not going to race."
We had a little stare down for a while before he backed down, at least from a fist fight. He turned and stalked away, and I figured that there would be a í52 Chevy on a tow bar heading out the gate in a few minutes. But, no. I happened to look up a few minutes later and there was Bertís car sitting at the end of the tech line.
Letís face it. Glenn knew he had a blatant cheater there, of course, and whatís more he suspected I knew it, too. I still canít for the life of me figure out what he was thinking unless maybe he thought he could bluster his way past the tech inspectors. He didnít know that was one thing he wasnít going to be able to do.
I donít know what hole he crawled into, but I didnít see him for a while as the tech inspections got back under way. The guys Iíd brought in concentrated on the engines, while I tried to look at the rest of the cars from a safety viewpoint as well as from a legal standpoint. I downchecked some cars for excessively worn tires, for example Ė when youíre racing using junkyard parts you donít always have top of the line tires, but tires that came from the scrap pile and might go a few more miles. Those were just a little too far gone, but Iíd thought ahead and brought a few usable junkyard tires of my own and gave them out while they held out, along with a tire tree from my barn. I told several kids to get real helmets, not just football helmets, or I wasnít going to let them run another week. Some of the seat belts were pretty crappy, and I didnít think much of some of what passed for roll bars, but told several people they would be all right for this week but not for the next one.
A good tech inspector can teach a novice quite a bit about how to set up a car and an engine, and Iíd brought in a couple of good ones. I had several kids thanking me or the other inspectors for showing them something theyíd never known before.
The time trials were getting under way before Bert Mansfieldís car got shoved under the canopy. Bert was standing beside it, obviously not real happy, and Glenn had come out of the woodwork and was fuming. The shit was about to hit the fan and all of us knew it. One of the tech inspectors got under the hood, used a plug wrench to pop out a plug, and screwed a P&G meter into the hole. "OK, kid," he said. "Crank it over." This was going to be interesting Ė I knew he had almost as bad a temper as Glenn.
Bert didnít know what exactly was coming, but he got a frown on his face, reached in and hit the starter.
"OK," the tech inspector said. "Downcheck on the engine. What the hell did you do, bore it out to the water?"
"What the fuck are you saying!" Glenn exploded. "Thatís a legal engine!"
"The hell it is," the tech inspector said. "There ainít never been a Stovebolt six built with 308 cubic inches."
"Itís not even a car engine, Dad," the other tech inspector said. "Thatís a truck engine, you can tell by the exhaust ports."
"Who the hell do you think you are to tell me that shit?" Glenn shouted. "I tell you, thatís a legal engine."
"Glenn," I broke in. "I think Iíd better introduce you to these people. This is Tom Pewabic, who happens to spend his Sundays as the chief tech inspector at State Line Dragway over by Chicago. Our other guest tech inspector tonight is his son Willy, whoís been turning eight-second 180s in his rail over there. I think youíd better know that these guys know what theyíre talking about."
Yes, I had stacked the deck on Glenn, all right. My father-in-law and brother-in-law had seen some pretty creative ways to cheat over the years. Glenn wasnít anywhere close to that league.
"Look," Tom said. "A stock Stovebolt for a car is 235 cubic inches. I donít know how the hell you could turn it into a 308. Itís even pushing it with a 261 truck engine. Now, a P&G meter can make small errors, two or three cubic inches maybe, but thereís no way in hell that itís going to be off by any damn seventy inches or whatever the hell it is. I donít even need to check anything else. This car is downchecked."
"Well, weíll by God see about this!" Glenn yelled, stomping off to see Smoky again.
"Bert, shove it to the side," I told him. "Thereís other people waiting to be teched."
Bert wasnít very damn happy about that, either, and really wanted to mouth off about it Ė you could just tell. But then, a couple dozen kids surrounding the tech inspection canopy could tell it, too. Heíd been caught red-handed and knew it; most of the kids watching were so happy to see him caught cheating that they were having trouble keeping from shitting their britches. Bert had pretty much ruled the roost around the Bradford Speedway all that summer, and now he was being shown up for what he really was. He pretty much looked like he wanted to melt into a puddle and flow away, which was not the kind of thing anybody had been used to seeing out of him.
Glenn was back a couple minutes later, literally dragging Smoky by the arm. "Smoky, this is a crock of shit," he said. "Thatís a legal fucking engine under that hood and these jokers are trying to tell me itís a cheater."
"Well, Glenn," I said casually, "If youíre so sure that my father-in-law doesnít know how to read a P&G meter you can just start yanking the head off that car so we can measure it with mikes."
"What is this horseshit?" Glenn exploded. "We ainít never had to do anything like that before. I mean, not ever. Smoky, I want that car in the race tonight and no more of this horseshit."
"Smoky," I smiled. "You know what we agreed on."
"Well, Glenn," Smoky said, noticing that he had some fire support surrounding him, "I guess itís like this. You have three choices. You can put a legal engine in that car and run it through tech again, or you can load it up and take it home."
"Thatís horseshit," Glenn fumed. "You said three choices, whatís the third?"
"You can come over to the office and we can change the entry to Sportsman. Bert is supposed to be sixteen to drive a Sportsman, but Iíll bend the rule for tonight only."
"Why the hell canít we just race like we always do?" Glenn shouted. "I ainít never had anyone drop shit like this on me before."
"Youíre not going to race this car with this engine in Junior Stock," I told him. "This isnít the first cheater weíve thrown out tonight, and a couple cars left even before they went through inspection."
"Youíre calling me a cheater?" Glenn replied, very angry now. I thought he might burst a blood vessel.
"Call it what you will," I said. "Iím not calling you a cheater, the P&G meter is."
"Weíll just fucking see about this," Glenn said. "You donít fucking play these games with me."
"Out of here, Glenn," I said, having had about enough of this stuff. "Bert can race tonight if he wants to enter in the Sportsmen. You, on the other hand, arenít welcome here at all."
"Smoky," Glenn yelled. "Are you going to let him get away with that shit?"
I glanced at Smoky, who had an interesting grin on his face. "You remember what I said, donít you?" I said quietly.
"Yeah, Glenn," Smoky said quietly. "It might be better all around if you werenít here tonight. If you hurry, you might be able to make it to Manchester."
"If theyíll let you through tech," I laughed.
"Well, weíll just fucking see about this," Glenn fumed. I couldnít help but wonder who he thought he could appeal to over Smokyís head. God, maybe, and I really didnít expect lightning to be striking me dead on the spot since the skies were clear.
Glenn wasnít the only one that Tom, Willy, Smoky, and I had a set to with that evening, but it was the worst. Apparently the word got around that we werenít going to be pushovers. The cheaters and bullies who had all but ruined the Junior Stock race the week before were conspicuously absent this week, but Smoky still had a bigger car count of Junior Stocks than heíd had the weekend before.
We probably could have gotten away without having Arlene flagging the race with all of the young punks out of it. It was actually some pretty good novice racing. Oh, there were a couple wrecks, but when youíve got novice drivers, thatís to be expected. But, it was good, close racing, and none of the wrecking was intentional. I was especially pleased to see Don Boies come from the middle of the pack in the second heat to edge out another guy for the win in his battered old Plymouth. It honestly wasnít the best car in the field since there were still some minor cheaters in the bunch, but nothing as blatant as there had been the week before. I also donít want to say that Don was the best driver out there, either, but he got a couple good breaks, and heíd obviously learned something from those thirty laps or so weíd run the afternoon before.
I think the thing that surprised me more than anything else was the fact that when the Sportsman heats started there were three former Junior Stock cars out there with them. Well, it wasnít that so much as it was the fact that in the third heat Bert Mansfield was one of them. I figured that heíd get the message and get the hell out of there with his father, but Iíll give the kid credit Ė he came there to race and that was what he was going to do. Now, while he may have had a car that was hotter than snot as a Junior Stock, it was strictly a back-of-the-pack car among the Sportsmen. As big as that engine was, it wasnít a V8 hopped way the hell up. Worse for him, he was playing with the big boys now, and some of them had seen the kind of stuff heíd been pulling during the Junior Stock races in weeks past. He got good and punted by cars lapping him, not once but twice, getting the sheet metal banged up pretty good the second time, but managing to finish above last place of the cars running.
I couldnít help but imagine how loud Glenn would have been swearing at the flagman to black flag either of the guys that punted him. What goes around, comes around.
Considering that the cars really werenít anything much and the drivers were all pretty much novices, the Junior Stock feature that evening was one of the best short track races I ever saw. Don Boies started on the outside of the front row on the strength of his heat win. I had a chance to talk to him for a moment before the cars got on the track, and I just told him to maintain his cool, donít get excited and do what he knew how to do.
Well, damned if he didnít do just that. It was a twenty-lap feature, the same as last week, but in that twenty laps there were something like six different leaders, and I donít think the same car led two laps back to back. In other words, it was just a real exciting race. I was watching it from the pit gate, but I could see that the thin crowd in the grandstand was on their feet and yelling from about the second lap on. Yeah, there were a couple spins, nothing real bad, just youthful exuberance and inexperience, but it was the kind of race that we always liked to see in the MMSA, the kind of show we liked to put on Ė give the crowd their moneyís worth. In the old days we couldnít always do that, but we always tried.
As luck would have it, Don was running second going into the final corner. The kid leading had the inside, of course, and wasnít going to let Don have any of that, so Don took the high road with a picture-perfect power slide, had about a nose on the other kid coming out of the corner, but with the higher speed of the high line had a half a car length on him at the checkers. I remember thinking, "By God, I thought that kid had a little racer in him." He did, indeed.
Needless to say, there were a lot of good feelings among the Junior Stock gang after that feature. There was still a Sportsman and a Modified feature to go, but I donít think any of the Junior Stock kids knew about it or cared. There was some serious celebrating going on in the pits and I donít blame the kids one bit. Whatever happened, theyíd shown that they were racers, not targets for bullies.
I didnít mind hanging around after the last engine shut down so I could talk to Smoky this time. As far as I was concerned, everything had gone just about as well as I could have asked, and then some. "Well, Iíd say that went about as well as Iíve ever seen," he said when I finally got a chance to talk to him. "That feature was one hell of a race. I hope that takes care of that problem."
"It probably wonít," I told him. "Oh, it did tonight but that was because we surprised them. The problem is that while I could get Tom and Willy over here for one evening, thereís no way I can get them here every week. It was just a family favor, after all."
"Well, they sure didnít take any shit from Glenn," he nodded. "Too damn bad we canít have them here every week. At least with that P&G meter."
"Yeah, those things arenít cheap," I agreed. "From what I heard, they sort of borrowed it from the drag strip without asking. I donít suppose thereís room in your budget for one of them?"
"Dream on," he said. "If we have a few more races like that one we might get a few more butts in the stands, then there might be a chance of such a thing."
"Well, I kind of told a few people that they werenít going to be here every week, but theyíll be here every now and then without warning. Maybe that will help."
"We can hope," he shrugged. "What are you going to do next week without it?"
"Iíll just have to do the best I can," I told him. "If anything looks too damn suspicious Iím going to have to have a head or two yanked so I can mike it. There arenít a lot of people who are going to want to mess with that. What would you think of a policy that we pull the head on the feature winner and second place before we do the payout?"
Smoky shook his head. "It might work, and it might not," he said finally. "Problem is that itíd mean a rule change, and I donít want to make a rule change in the middle of the season. Enforcing the existing rules are one thing, changing them is a totally ínother thing."
"Iíd kind of like to have a finger in the rule book before another season," I told him. "Partly for that, but Iíve got a couple other tweaks in mind."
"Yeah, well, five more weeks and the season is over with," he said. "Then weíve got all winter to tweak things. Weíll get there when we get there. I just wonder what kind of shit Glenn is going to pull next week."
"Damn good question," I told him. "I know damn well heís going to try to cause me some trouble, but I donít think he can cause me much. Thanks for backing me up tonight, by the way."
"I knew damn well that it was going to be one or the other of you two out of here," he shook his head. "There wasnít no middle ground. It wouldnít break my heart none if he and his kid were to take their balls and go home. I mean, I sort of invited him to take his act to Manchester, although I donít think theyíd put up with his shenanigans the way I have, and he might think that, too."
"Well, next week is another week," I told him. "Weíre just going to have to see what falls out. Iíve got a couple other surprises up my sleeve, although nothing like my in-laws with the drag stripís P&G meter. You just back me up next week the way you did this week, and weíll keep life interesting."
I felt pretty good as Arlene and I headed out on Taney for the couple of miles drive home. All in all, it had been a pretty good race and a couple of people had gotten the message that there was a new cop on the beat. But like I told Smoky, we had the element of surprise on our side today, and that counted for a lot. Next week was going to be a whole different battle.