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Bullring Days 3:
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Wes Boyd
©2009, ©2014

Chapter 12

With the pretty good discussion going on around the kitchen table, Ray headed on into the living room to take the call, wondering what this was all about, although he had a pretty good guess. He sat down in what he thought of as his dad’s chair and picked up the phone. “Hi, this is Ray,” he said. “What can I do for you?”

“You were Paul Pieplow’s chief mechanic at Indy last year, right?” a guy said.

“Well, pretty much only mechanic,” Ray admitted.

“Ray, my name is Ted Hilyard,” the voice on the other end of the line said. “I bought Paul’s car last fall with the idea of running it this spring, or at least trying to qualify. I rolled it out of the hauler this afternoon and tried to fire it up, but I can’t get it to do much more than cough and fart. I called Paul about it and he told me to call you.”

“I hate to tell you this, but you don’t just go out, throw the switch and expect to get that thing running,” Ray told him. “It’s a long process that takes two or three hours of getting ready to do it right. Just be glad you didn’t get it started; you could have broken something without knowing any better. And you could have hurt yourself pretty bad in the process.”

“Never even thought about that,” Hilyard admitted. “I don’t know much about that thing. Would you be available to work with it for me?”

“I’d have to think about it,” Ray told him. “I’m not doing much that can’t be put down, but you do realize that you don’t exactly have a front runner there, don’t you?”

“Well, Paul finished the race with it last year, so it can’t be that bad, can it?”

“Paul got lucky as hell,” Ray replied. “He wouldn’t have made it into the race at all if a couple guys hadn’t spun right at the end of qualifying. I dialed the boost way back so he’d have a chance of finishing. That car is somewhere like five or six years out of date, so getting it into the race another year is a real, real long shot.”

“I think I understand that,” Hilyard replied. “I know it’s not a good car, but I was able to get it cheap. I’m not a bad driver. I’ve driven pavement Super Lates for years, even won a couple championships. But I’m no mechanic, and I know it. Dad mostly wrenched for me, but he had a stroke and can’t do it any longer. All I’m really looking to do is take some hot laps at Indy, get through the driver’s test and maybe have a shot at qualifying. It’d mean a lot to Dad, and it’d mean a lot to me. I don’t have lots of money, but it’s something that I’ve dreamed of trying at least once.”

“Believe it or not, I understand,” Ray said. “Paul had pretty much the same idea, and I was able to keep the car alive enough to do it.”

“That’s about what he told me,” Hilyard sighed. “I was hoping you could do the same thing again for me.”

“Maybe,” Ray said. “The other thing you have to understand is that if you got the spare parts with the car from Paul, then that’s all there is. There are just not any spare turbo Offy parts around anymore. There’s any number of things that could break, and if any one of the wrong ones breaks you’re done for good.”

“That’s pretty much what Paul told me, too,” Hilyard admitted, “but this car was about the only thing I could find to try it this year and keep it in what I could afford. It’d mean a lot to me to be able to do it while Dad is still aware of it.”

Oh, hell, Ray thought. He could feel himself weakening. His big hope the year before was that if he was involved at Indy he might be able to make a connection for a real job with some Indy car team. That still was a possibility; he’d come close last year and gotten a reputation for being able to nurse a shaky car.

On top of that, this whole situation with the track and with Ginger was starting to bug him. He could feel that he was being sucked right into the role his parents wanted him to play of being their track manager. No matter what his mother said, having Ginger around all the time and having his mother pushing the two of them together could lead places he wasn’t sure he wanted to go just yet and maybe never. This might, just might, offer an alternative that would get him out of that whole issue. Messing with that Indy car another year wasn’t the most appealing thing he could think of, but it offered a chance.

“Look,” he said after only a moment’s hesitation, “I appreciate your situation, but I’m in a position where I can’t do it for free. If I do this there’s other things that need doing that I won’t be able to do. I’m right in the midst of getting our short track ready for the season, and if I’m not here I don’t get paid for stuff that needs to get done. The car really needs to be torn down for a thorough inspection. I could well discover something that would make it pointless to even take it down to Indy. How about a thousand plus living expenses for the teardown and inspection, and another thousand plus living expenses for getting up through qualification. If you qualify, you’re assured of some cash, so three thousand more if you make the race?”

“It’ll be tight, but I ought to be able to manage that,” Hilyard replied. “There’s one other problem. I don’t have a shop available anymore. It, uh, it had to be sold to cover some of Dad’s hospital expenses.”

“Why don’t you bring it here?” Ray offered. “There’s a pretty good shop here, and that’d save you on my travel and living expenses. We’ve even got a three-eighths mile paved oval out back we could use for testing. It’s only a couple hours down I-67 to Indy from here.”

“That would solve a lot of problems,” Hilyard replied. “It’d take me a day or so to get packed and loaded, and then two, maybe three days to get there.”

“Jeez,” Ray said. “The last I knew that car was at Pieplow’s over in South Bend. Where are you at, anyway?”

“Puyallup, Washington,” Hilyard told him.

Ray let out a low whistle. “That’s quite a haul,” he commented.

“I towed it out here, I knew I’d have to tow it back,” Hilyard replied. “I’ll have to tow it with my camper, but that’ll give me a place to stay. Now, where are you?”

“Bradford, Michigan,” Ray replied. “It’s on I-67, the first exit across the Indiana line. When you get off at the exit, go west a couple miles till you see the sign for Bradford Speedway. The shop is at the house in front of the Speedway.”

“I’ll be there as soon as I can. It’s not going to be less than three days and could be a little longer. Thanks, Ray. This is going to be worth a lot to me, even if it leaves me broke.”

*   *   *

After a few more brief exchanges, Ray hung up the phone and headed back to the kitchen. The discussion about the concession stand was still going on – except that now it was about details of the design of the new building, which pretty well told Ray what the decision to build had been. “So what was that all about?” Mel asked.

“Looks like I’m going to be dealing with the arthritic Eagle again,” Ray said. “Except that this time it’s even a longer shot and lower budget operation than I had with Paul. The guy doesn’t even have a shop, so I told him to bring it here. He ought to be here Sunday, or maybe the first of the week.”

“I hope you’re charging him for it, rather than just hoping to get paid,” Arlene commented.

“Yeah, a couple grand,” Ray replied. “Three more if he makes the race, which almost certainly won’t happen. I guess you realize that means that I’m not going to be all that available for chores around the track for the next month or so. I can maybe supervise things a little for the next couple weeks, but I’ll have to be concentrating on the car. Then I’ll be down at the Brickyard most of the time for two or three weeks.”

“That makes things look a little different,” Mel said. “Not impossible, but different. I guess that means we have to move a few things from the pre-season list to the summer, and get more hours out of Ginger and the kids.”

“We’ll just have to see how it works out,” Ray shrugged. “I take it you guys decided to go ahead on the new concession stand at the little track?”

“Pretty much,” Mel replied. “I’ll see who we can get in here to build it and how long it’s going to take. Why don’t we plan on getting the old stand painted so we don’t have to do it when we move it?”

“I guess maybe we’d better have Bob and Lonnie concentrate on that, so we can get it done and get them on to something useful,” Ray agreed. “We have to get some mowing done pretty soon, though.”

“Yeah, that’s soon going to be more important than paint scraping,” Mel sighed. “You know, I happened to think of something earlier but the subject got away from me. Ginger, you’ve never actually seen a short track race, have you?”

“No, just NASCAR on TV,” she replied.

“You know, it might be a little helpful if you had some idea what was going on,” Mel commented. “What I’m thinking is that Potterville, down south of Indy, is supposed to open this Saturday. They don’t have lights, so since they don’t race after dark they can crowd the season a little. Maybe you and Ray ought to head down there just so you can sit in the stands and get a feel for it a little.”

“I don’t know, Dad,” Ray protested mildly. Now his father was pushing the two of them together, too. “That’s pretty much going to cost us both a full day of chores we could be doing here if we go.”

“I think it would be worth the effort,” Mel said. “I mean, just sit up in the stands, so Ginger can learn a little bit about what’s going on. Better that way than have to do it under the gun here, and if you don’t do it now you’re not going to have another chance before the opener, what with you being up to your butt in Indy car.”

*   *   *

“It’s not like it’s a real date,” Ginger commented the next morning as she got the percolator going out in the shop, where Ray was starting in on Mike’s engine again. They’d decided it was a little too damp and dewy to get started on the painting for a while. “I know you’re getting a little sensitive about them pushing us together, and I guess I am, too. But your dad was right; it would be useful for me to have some idea of what’s going on.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Ray grumped. “I mean, I can see the logic of it and I suppose he’s right, but well, hell. At least having this Hilyard guy and the Eagle here are going to keep us from being pushed together all the time.”

“I suppose,” she sighed. “I got the impression last night that you’re not all that enthusiastic about the idea of working on that car.”

“I’m not,” Ray said. “Really, it’s a fool’s errand. It was only sheer damn luck that got it into the race last year, much less finished, and it’s an even longer shot this year. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll do my best for this guy, but it’s mostly a hopeless cause and a waste of money all around. But I got soft headed or soft hearted or something, so I’ll give it a shot. Maybe some good will come out of it.” He shook his head and continued, “I’ve got to get this mill done for Mike this morning so I can work on the mower this afternoon. After all the rain the last few days the grass is going to get away from us if we don’t get on it.”

“You’re pretty close to done, aren’t you?”

“Pretty close,” Ray said. “I’m hoping I can call Mike this afternoon and tell him to bring up his Late Model so we can hang it in the car. I’d like to get a few laps of test and tune on it before I turn him loose with it.”

“I don’t suppose there’s anything I can do to help?”

“Not really,” he replied as the phone rang. “Of course, it would help if that damn thing didn’t ring all the time,” he added as he headed over to the phone on the wall and picked it up. “Hello,” he said neutrally.

“Hi,” he heard Dennis Hopkins say. “Is Ginger there?”

“Yeah, she is, just a second,” Ray said, and held the phone out to her.

She looked at the phone with an expression that seemed to say, “Now what?” then took it from him. “Hi, this is Ginger,” she said.

“Miss Marston, this is Dennis Hopkins,” he replied. “First, I want to thank you for bringing this whole situation with Terry Phipps to my attention. I don’t know what he was trying to do with forcing employees to work off clock, but whatever it was, it didn’t work.”

“Mostly, I think he was trying to show who the boss was,” Ginger replied levelly, but suspecting from his words that there was more to it than that.

“You may be right,” Hopkins said. “Unfortunately, he needed to learn that himself. Miss Marston, if you’d like to drop by our office on North Main, you can pick up your paycheck this morning, along with a check for five hundred dollars that I hope will make up for the hours you were forced to work off clock.”

Suppressing the urge to scream and jump up and down with joy, she replied brightly, “I think I can break away from my new job this morning long enough to do that.”

“That’s something else I needed to talk to you about,” Hopkins replied. “I find that as of a few minutes ago we need a new shift manager at the south-side store, and I wondered if you’d be interested in the position.”

Ginger’s eyes grew wide. This was better and better! That was Phipps’ job that Hopkins was talking about – it had to be! He must have gotten canned over the deal! She all but fell over herself to agree, but second thoughts caught up with her in time to make her say, “I’d have to think about it, Mr. Hopkins,” she replied. “There are pluses and minuses to the offer.”

“Well, let me know as soon as you can,” he replied. “When you come in to pick up your check, perhaps?”

“I’ll give it some thought and talk it over with the people I’m working for now,” she said. “Whatever I decide, thanks for the offer.”

As she hung up the phone, Ray grinned. “That sounded like good news.”

“It was,” she laughed, allowing herself to show her happiness a little. “He didn’t come out and say it, but it sounds like Phipps got skid marks on his butt from when he hit the street. I not only will get my check, but an extra five hundred for putting up with him.”

“Well, that is good news,” Ray smiled, glad of something to brighten up the morning.

“There’s more,” she replied, feeling a little more somber. “He offered me the shift manager position that wouldn’t be open if he hadn’t canned the little shit.”

“More money?”

“It would have to be,” she said. “Ray, what would you say if I said I don’t want to take it?”

“You don’t?”

“Not really,” she sighed. “The money would be nice, but it’s at McDonald’s again, it’s wearing that goddamn uniform again, and let’s face it, I’d be a college graduate taking over a position that was filled by a high school dropout.”

“Yeah, I can see that,” he replied, “but don’t forget, it’s a better job than running a paint sprayer and mowing grass and things out here.”

“That’s just the point. I knew the job I had there was going to be just till I could find something better. That’s the same thing as doing odd jobs around here. But a shift manager, well, I might be tempted to stay there, and God, I don’t want to think about spending the rest of my life shuffling burgers.”

“Uh, yeah,” Ray nodded with understanding. “I sure as hell didn’t like the idea of being a line mechanic at Fryes for the rest of my life, either.”

“That’s just it,” she replied. “Let’s face it, the money probably wouldn’t be half bad, but it’s not what I want to do.” She took a deep breath and continued, “Ray, if I take the job it pretty well takes the heat off of you, of your parents pushing us together. I mean, we could be a normal boyfriend and girlfriend if we wanted to give that a try, but I could get an apartment or something and not be living in your pocket all the time. With this Indy car thing you’ve got a little room to breathe, and this could take more heat off you.”

“Ginger, you’re kicking this decision over to me, and I shouldn’t be the one to make it for you. What do you want to do?”

“I don’t want to work at McDonald’s again,” she sighed. “I feel like I’ve finally made my break out of there, and I’d be a damn fool to go back. I hated the job even without Terry making an asshole of himself. Damn it, I know that what you’ve got here is a bunch of crap work that has to get done, but somebody has to do it. I like hanging around here, I like your family, and I like you. Ray, I wouldn’t mind it a bit if we were to get closer together, but I don’t feel like it’s right to put pressure on you about it, or at least open you up to more pressure from your folks.”

“You know,” he smiled, “it’d be nice to see what Mom said if you were to run it by her, but I don’t think you should.”

“Me either,” she sighed. “I agree. She’s got her own idea of where we should be going. I wouldn’t mind her advice, but I really doubt that she wouldn’t have her own axe to grind. God, I wish I had a few days before I had to make up my mind, but I guess I don’t.”

“This Hopkins guy is in a hurry, huh?”

“Yeah, he’ll need someone in that spot, and if it isn’t me it’s going to be someone else. Which is fine in one way, it’s not like I’m the only person there who could do the job. Hell, Phipps had the job, which proves that even an idiot can handle it. But I spent a lot of time learning bookkeeping and getting my degree, I hate to throw it away working at a McDonald’s.”

“You know,” he said thoughtfully, “there’s one angle that hasn’t been considered. If it were to work out that you and I get together, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if you wound up doing most of the bookkeeping for this place. I know I’ve heard Mom hint about it a couple times, even if she hasn’t come out and said it.”

“Bookkeeping?” Ginger frowned. “Yeah, I guess there has been a hint or two about it. I didn’t think there was that much to do.”

“I don’t know for sure,” Ray told her. “I do know there’s quite a bit, and I’m guessing it isn’t being done as well as it could be. Mom does some of it, and there’s a firm in town that does the rest. From what I’ve picked up, Mom and Dad aren’t real happy about how that other part is getting done. I’m no bookkeeper, Ginger, but among other things here, one is a raft of part time employees, mostly for just a few hours a week, and handling that payroll is an enormous pain in the ass.”

“You mean like the concession workers? I thought that was all volunteer stuff through the band boosters, like you were telling me yesterday.”

“There’s a hell of a lot more than that,” Ray said. “Maybe Dad was right when he thought that I ought to take you down to Potterville. It takes a bunch of people to run a race, Ginger. We’ve got a track safety crew; we’ve got timers and scorers, tech inspectors, stewards, ticket sales, and ticket takers. There are some people who help out because they like to help out and be a part of the show, but a lot of people get paid, so that means that there’s a ton of record keeping. This place really needs a business manager. Mom tries to be that, while Dad tries to keep up with operations, but there’s a lot going on and I don’t doubt that there’s stuff slipping through the cracks.”

“You think your mother is setting me up for that?”

“I wouldn’t want to say setting you up for it, but keeping her options open, for sure,” Ray said. “Remember, their long-term goal is to slow down so they can retire. Oh, they’ll want to stay involved to some degree, but I think they’d like to dump most of the load.”

“And if you and I were to get married, and agree to stay here . . .”

“Yeah,” he said. “I think I told you staying here doesn’t seem like all that bad an idea sometimes, but there are still a couple pieces of the puzzle missing. It’s still only an income for part of the year, after all.”

“God, it’s not very simple, is it?” she sighed. “Ray, I think we agree that we both like each other a lot, but we’re not ready to go that far, at least not yet, right?”

“That’s about how I look at it,” he nodded. “That’s not saying that it couldn’t be a good idea, and it might even be a good idea sooner rather than later. But like I said yesterday, I don’t want to be stampeded into it, either.”

“Me either,” she replied. “I want it to at least be you and me making the decision, not them. Look, how about if we try to just do boyfriend- and girlfriend-type stuff for a while, and if they get to pushing too hard we just tell them to back off, they’re not helping?”

“Sounds good,” he shrugged. “Some boyfriend and girlfriend stuff would be fun. I haven’t had a girlfriend for years, not since Connie, for that matter. I’m not sure how our telling Mom to back the hell off is going to go over with her.”

“It’ll be easier for me to tell her than it would be for you. I mean, I’m not actually tied to them that closely. If nothing else, having that five hundred in my pocket from McDonald’s would give me the means to move out if it got that bad.”

“Yeah, true,” he said thoughtfully. “We just need to let them know that the option is there for you to move out. If it got that bad we might have to have a fight with each other or something to make it stick, though. You’ve given up on the idea of the Army, right?”

“Not entirely, but it’s not as strong a possibility after what you said last night.”

“Well, they don’t have to know that,” he said. “That might keep things a little looser for a while.”

“I take it that means that you’re willing to give it a try?” she smiled.

“Yeah, I guess I am,” he nodded. “Don’t get me wrong. I like you, Ginger. I like you a lot, and I can see how I could come to like you a lot more.”

“Good,” she smiled. “Now, do I get a kiss?”

“A kiss?”

“Yes, you haven’t kissed your girlfriend since I woke up in your arms the other day. I think I deserve a little goodbye kiss before I head for town to go pick up my paycheck and tell Mr. Hopkins that he can give the shift supervisor job to someone else. By the time I get back, it should be dry enough for me to go work on painting the wall some more.”

“All right, you win,” he grinned. “Come here and give me a kiss before I get my hands all messy working on this engine.”

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