My driver training schedule sometimes bounced around from week to week, and as luck would have it, the next week my last session of the day ended at three PM, with no evening students. It couldnít have picked a better week to happen.
It had been no secret that Iíd helped Don Boies work on his car. I honestly didnít do that much to it, although Iíll admit to showing him how to do some things and telling him how to do others Ė just like a good auto shop teacher, which I really was. However, I had tools available in my barn that he didnít have at home, and that helped out a lot. What helped out even more was that he was ready and eager to learn some of the really basic things I had to show him.
The other thing that had helped him out was that I had taken the time to go down to the track and drive a few laps with him. For some people driving a race car on dirt isnít the easiest thing in the world, and some of the things you have to do are things that you donít realize since theyíre not obvious. Controlling a car in a power slide heads that list Ė there just isnít much on the street that calls for that kind of knowledge. What little I had managed to teach Don in a few laps on Friday night had made the difference between an exciting win and a finish in maybe eighth or tenth place.
While I hadnít told Smoky about it, over the course of the fun in the pits after the end of the Junior Stock feature, I had every last Bradford kid and some other kids come to me and ask if I could show them a few things like Iíd done for Don. While I liked Don and heíd been the first, it wouldnít be fair if I didnít help the others out a little Ė Don and I had agreed to that even before Iíd taken him down to the track on Friday.
To be honest, this was part of my plan. I figured that with luck and a little cooperation from Smoky, I could keep the most blatant cheating under control. The other half of my plan was to bring the competence of the rest of the field up a notch or two, so if the cheaters were forced into cars that were more or less legal, there might be talent enough in the rest of the field to keep things under control. I guess that was the teacher in me being turned loose. It was pretty much down my alley, although not exactly the kind of thing Iíd done before.
The fun started on Sunday afternoon, when I had no less than nine kids show up at the house, bringing their race cars. Iíll tell you what, it looked like a mini-pit out there that afternoon. Once again, I wasnít doing much work on the cars myself except where I had to show a kid how to do something, but I had the knowledge and most of the tools available to make the most of it. We couldnít get everything done in one afternoon, of course, but I left each of the kids with some homework to do on their cars.
The rest of the week alternated between the ongoing backyard speed shop and the track. Iíd already told Smoky I was going to be taking some of the kids out there to give them a few pointers, and he hadnít had any problems with it. "Youíre right, some of those kids need to learn how to do this shit," he agreed. "I wouldnít mind doing it myself, but what with the store and everything else I just donít have the time."
Well, I sure had the time, and I had something more Ė a second teacher. Arlene was right in the middle of running the kids around the track in the late afternoons with me, and having two cars on the track at the same time made it possible to cover a lot of things that itís hard to do with just one. Needless to say, some of the kids were a little leery of a woman teaching them how to drive a race car, but the kids who listened to her got a lot that was useful out of it.
Of course I was curious at what Glenn and Bert were going to try and pull this week, or whether theyíd even show up at all. There was a lot of talk about it among the kids, but none of them seemed to know anything more than I did.
What with everything, the week went by quickly, and I really was looking forward to Saturday night, if for no more reason than to see if Glenn and Bert were going to show up at all. I mean, I didnít think theyíd be any less assholes if they did, but I hoped that setting them down when they deserved it sent the message to a lot of people that things had changed.
We had an even better turnout of Junior Stocks the next Saturday. Smoky even said that it was the best that it had been all season, so I guess the word was getting out that the bullshit days were over with.
It was a hot sunny day again, and again I set up the tarp as a canopy to keep the sun off of the tech area. This time I pretty much had to do the tech work by myself, but that wasnít totally bad since I made a point of not checking everything the same way, just to keep people on their toes. A little to my surprise, Bert and Glenn showed up a little early and pulled their car into the tech line without any comment. If nothing else, that made me just a little suspicious, since I didnít know what their game must be. Well, Iíd find out soon enough.
The cars came through steadily, and I didnít have as much time as I wanted for each one. Pretty soon Glenn came up to look over my shoulder to see what I was doing Ė I guess to see if I was being as hard on everyone else as he suspected I was going to be on him. "Glenn," I said. "If you want to speed things up, you can go back and yank the head off that thing while youíre waiting."
"Yank the head?" he yelled. "What the hell do you mean yank the head?"
"I mean, take a socket wrench, take out the head bolts and loosen the gasket," I told him. "Every car that got downchecked for engine last week is having the head off so I can make sure theyíre legal or at least close to it. My father-in-law couldnít come and bring the P&G meter with him this week, so we have to do it the hard way."
"Weíll see about this," he muttered and stomped off. I figured he was going to be heading for Smokyís office again, which would at least keep him out of my hair for a while. I glanced up as I turned back to the car I was working on, and saw him heading up the line to Bertís car, rather than over to the office, so I figured that the two of them would be headed for Manchester.
But, no. Half an hour later Bertís car was pushed under the canopy, with the hood off and the head off the engine. Of course, the first thing I did was take the micrometer to a cylinder; not terribly surprising, it was within limits for the normal bore and stroke of the Chevy Stovebolt six of that era.
"I damn well told you last week that it was stock," Bert snorted.
"Donít bullshit me," I shot right back at him. "Thatís not the same mill you had last week and we both know it. This started life as a 235, not the 261 block you had last week. The ports are different, itís as plain as the nose on your face. But all right. Thoseíre the right carbs and header. You could have ported it out a little bit, maybe put a truck camshaft in it or something hotter, but Iím not going to call you on it this week. Also, from the serial number on the engine I think itís a í53, but thereís no real difference between the years, and Iím not going to call you on it just on general principles. But, if thatís not a stock cam in there, you might want to think about putting one in before you show up next week."
By now, Iíd figured out what the two were up to. Yeah, there might be a hot cam or something in the car, but I doubted it. My guess was that theyíd gone to some junkyard and hauled back an engine out of a wreck, and used it to replace the cheater engine that had been in the car last week. Once theyíd proved to have a perfectly legal car they wouldnít have people pointing fingers at them quite as badly, and by being a little careful they could soup the engine back up again.
"Thatís a stock cam in there," he protested.
"Oh, no doubt it is," I told him, and then let him know that I was seeing right through him by saying. "But I might decide to check cams next week anyway." While I was at it, I gave the rest of the car a once-over.
"I donít really see anything I can gripe about," I said finally. "So you can put the head back on. You pass. Just as a word to the wise, while the roll bar meets rules, if you value your kid you might want to think about beefing it up. Thatís a little flimsy to my taste, and Iíve already talked to Smoky about beefing up the roll bar rules for next season."
"Yeah," he said, a little subdued. "I thought it was a little light myself, but thatís all the rules call for."
"Thatís my point," I told him. "Iím giving you a head start on a rule change for next year. This isnít anything that I havenít told a lot of people already."
To be honest, I was a little surprised that Iíd managed to get past Glenn in this round as easily as I did, not that I thought that the leopard had changed its spots any. Iíd had a rougher time with some of the other cheater crowd, and I still downchecked four cars for oversized engines after everyone should have gotten the message the week before. Eventually I got everyone through tech inspection, swearing to myself that I was going to find an extra set of hands somewhere to help me out with it. I thought maybe I might be able to get either Tom or Willy over from Schererville next weekend, just on general principles. I wanted to have Tom over at least once more with the P&G meter, but one of the beauties with that deal was that no one would know when he was coming. Give it two or three weeks, I thought, and thereís going to be some oversized engines showing up in these cars again.
I had a little while before the races actually started, so I took the opportunity to go over to the concession stand and get a chili dog, and yak with some people I knew. The crowd seemed to be a little better than it had been the week before, so I figured that word must have gotten out, too. It made me wonder just how much some of those people who hadnít run the week before realized that things had changed a little.
I finished the chili dog and Coke, then walked back over to the pit gate to help with the lineup of the race. Smoky had given me the list of the qualifying times, and I was not terribly surprised to find that Bert Mansfield was going to be starting right at the absolute back of the first heat. I figured that his dad had told him to take it easy and stay out of trouble, and for once to act like he was a good little boy so heíd have something to fight with when the post-race politics got started. I doubt he had thought that all the way through, because running at the back of the field would just show to everyone who knew anything about what was going on just how big a cheater heíd been. I doubted anyone else in the field would forget that, or how much of an asshole the Mansfield kid had been up until that point in the season.
Once I got the first heat on the track, I leaned back to watch how things progressed. I knew that once again Arlene was in the flagstand, and I wondered how that was going to play out, too. This, I thought, could be interesting.
It was. For whatever reason, Don Boies hadnít qualified as well as he might have, and he was starting from the inside of the second row, which wasnít bad with only eight cars in the heat. The flow of the race went his way, and by the time he was on his third lap he was leading, not by much but out in front and hard to challenge. Once again, he was putting his lessons from the Mel and Arlene Austin Racing School to good use, and it looked like he was going to have a good race.
He did Ė except for one thing I had forgotten: kids will be kids. I remembered in the bitch sessions Iíd heard over the last couple weeks that Bert Mansfield had the nasty little habit of flipping the bird to anyone he lapped, whether he tried to spin them or not. He wasnít going to lap anyone this time; he was loafing along at the back of the pack, and Iíve heard racing engines that ran a lot better. The car was leaving a lot of smoke behind it and I figured the engine needed a ring job at the very least, which would give him and his father the excuse for the car being better in the future, after more engine work. However, for whatever reason I donít think he realized just how far off the pace he was until Don came roaring by in his Number 64 Plymouth. Since Bert had flipped Don off on the track any number of times, I donít really blame Don taking the opportunity to return the favor.
In all the years I spent as a teacher, I saw a lot of bullies Ė and one of the things that I learned about them is that bullies donít respond very well when they receive the same shit that theyíre used to handing others. To say that Bert was pissed at having Don flip a finger at him pretty well covers it. However, he didnít just sit there and take it like Don had done so many times. While Don was still passing him, Bert cut down on him to try to spin him, just on general principles or to pay him back or something.
Two weeks earlier Don would probably have spun as a result of that love tap, but in that two weeks heíd learned something from Arlene and me. He managed to gather the car back up, and just as he did he cranked the wheel over to power slide into the corner a little early, and gave Bert a pretty darn good love tap back. To be honest, I hadnít seen anyone since Squirt Chenowith do something like that as smoothly, and that was saying something. That little love tap was enough to spin Bert right around, which was not a real good place to be with about three more cars coming at him in the thick dust. Nobody was hurt, but after the tow truck dragged Bertís Chevy back in I could take one look at it and realize that it probably had seen its last race. Cursing up a storm about that fucking Boies kid and his dirty driving, Bert and Glenn loaded the wreck onto a trailer and were gone even before the third heat started.
Bert wasnít the only kid to get his comeuppance that evening, although he got the worst of it. A couple of the other former bullies wound up in the fence or the infield before the evening was over with, and another one was black flagged by Arlene twice for rough driving. The first time he wound up in at the back of the field, a lap down; the next time, he wound up in the pits, hooking up a tow bar to head for home. His dad was there and gave Smoky a yelling at worthy of Glenn Mansfield over that dumbass bitch making those dumbass calls against his kid. The joker was lucky that I wasnít around to hear that, or I think I might have decked him myself. Iíll give Smoky credit Ė he told the joker not to come back because he was going to tell me what the guy had called Arlene.
While there was some darn good racing in the Junior Stock class the rest of the season, things just werenít quite as exciting as those two weekends had been.
After the way Bert Mansfield had dominated the Junior Stock class with his cheater Chevy most of the season until I came along, there was no question that he was going to be the season champion. It was just mathematically impossible to catch up with him as long as he put in a showing, and that was that. Even so, that didnít mean I couldnít do something to keep life worthwhile for the rest of the racers.
There was a trophy shop in Hawthorne, and I went over there and got a special one made Ė "Bradford Speedway 1962 Second Season Champion" was what was lettered on it. I announced it the week after Bert had his car piled up and it sure kept life interesting among the Junior Stocks for the rest of the season. Much to my surprise, Bert was still there, every race, in a battered old í51 Chevy with a straight stock engine, not doing anything much but not finishing last, either. I made it pretty clear in the pre-race meeting that this stuff of flipping off the other drivers had better stop or there were going to be some cars parked, and that pretty well meant the end of it since people now knew that I meant what I said. While Bert hung in there, some of the other troublemakers decided to make trouble somewhere else.
The weekend after Labor Day was the season finale Ė the season championships they were called, although the season champions were determined by points standings over the whole season. To no oneís surprise, Bert ran somewhere in the teens in the feature race, but it was enough to give him the season championship. At the end of the Junior Stock feature we had a trophy presentation, before the Sportsman feature got under way in front of what was probably the biggest crowd Iíd seen there all season. Bert received his trophy and got a polite round of applause, but when it was announced that Don Boies had just barely managed to beat out Bob Totten for the "second season championship" there was a cheer that just about knocked down the bleachers, not that it would have taken much to accomplish that. Don and Bob were the center of a pretty good celebration in the pits afterward, while Bert and his father only got to put the trophy in their truck and head for home.
That turned into a pretty good party. I guess I sort of overlooked that there were a few cans of Ohio 3.2 beer floating around rather illegally Ė you couldnít buy beer in Michigan till you were twenty-one back then, but if you were eighteen you could buy 3.2 in Ohio and hope you didnít get caught bringing it back. Needless to say, a good many Bradford kids knew the back roads leading to places like Pioneer and Montpelier, Ohio.
To make a long story short, in just two weekends Arlene and I had turned what had been a pretty lousy situation back into a fun, fair class that was doing what it was expected to do: give kids a chance to learn what they were doing, promote a new generation of racers, and in general be a success. The crowds at the front gate were picking up a little, and the car count was back to what it had been at the beginning of the season Ė even as late in the year as it was there was a new car or two every week, with more seeming likely to come in the future. To say that Smoky was pretty satisfied would have been an understatement.
Really all we did was enforce the existing rules that that were in the books all along. Things donít happen on their own without some supervision and guidance, and thatís about all that I provided. You canít really ask for much more than that. Of course, there were some people who werenít happy about what Smoky, Arlene, and I had done, but they were for the most part the people who had been causing the trouble in the first place Ė they didnít like their little apple carts being upset. If I did this chore another year, I figured I hadnít heard the last of them.
The next Saturday morning after the season finale seemed quiet by comparison to the previous month and a half. I didnít have to be at the track, and I didnít even have to go out riding with driverís ed kids. So, while the kids were getting Arlene wound up, I hopped in the car and slid down to Kayís Restaurant for a long cup of coffee. Not too surprisingly, I discovered Smoky there. "Worked out pretty good, didnít it?" he said as I sat down.
"Better than it had any right to," I agreed. "That doesnít mean that youíre not going to have to fight the same battle every season, though."
"Yeah, I know it," he nodded ruefully. "If it can be kept policed a little bit, maybe things wonít get quite as bad. You want to do it for me again next year?"
"Not really," I told him. "But then, I didnít want to do it this year, either. The big thing that youíre going to have to do is to come down hard the first time someone pulls something, and thatíll keep their heads pulled in a little."
"Yeah, I knew that this year," he said. "You see how close to the wire Iím running the track. Lord, I canít do it all, and I need some extra hands. Iíd really appreciate it if you could help out next year."
"Iíll think about it," I told him. "No promises right now, since itís a long way until next spring. I will tell you that if I do it again, there are going to have to be a few rule changes made. I told you about that roll bar thing, but I have a couple other minor things in mind like that, nothing very major. I just havenít figured out how I want to word them yet."
"Well, we got three or four months before we have to run off a rule sheet for next year," he shrugged. "Write up what you want and Iíll make the changes."