Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
The racing got under way shortly afterward, with an eight-lap heat race of eight Bombers, which made a couple warm-up laps around the track behind a battered pickup that was used as a pace car. “Kinda nice to be able to just sit back and watch, and not have to do anything,” Ray commented.
“You don’t get to do that very often, do you?” Ginger asked.
“Not really. I’m always doing something at the track, not always the same thing, but it’s not often that I can just sit back and enjoy the racing. This ought to be fun. Bomber races on dirt are usually pretty good.”
“Usually some of the drivers aren’t all that experienced, so things get wild sometime.”
“How do they decided who runs where or in what heat? Qualifying speeds?”
“Mostly,” Ray told her. “Different places do it different ways sometimes. We usually break the heats out by the order people register, divided by however many heats we have, then use qualifying times to set the starting order. Sometimes we do it other ways, though. I have no idea how they do it here.”
The field picked up speed as the pace truck brought them around the last corner and dived into the infield. Along with the rest of the crowd, Ray and Ginger watched a black Chevy Malibu with a considerable number of dents dive well inside the corner and hit the gas even harder than everyone else. “Here we go with the opening Bomber heat of the season at Potterville Speedway,” the announcer said, “And we’re racing!” The noise was loud but not incredible as the field flew past them while the green flag flew.
“Bad start, wave it off,” Ray snorted. “The guy in that that number 86 Chevy blew past half the field before the flag.”
For whatever reason, the green flag stayed out as the field dived into the first turn, briefly four wide. Everybody was sideways, of course, but someone in the field managed to slide into someone else; all of a sudden there was a spin, and cars sliding around everywhere, several bouncing off of each other. As the confusion cleared, the 86 car was at the head of the pack, but the yellow flag came out. “Looks like we’re going to have to do a complete restart,” the announcer said. “At Potterville Speedway, we operate under the rule that if we can’t get the first lap in under green we do a complete restart.”
“We do that at Bradford,” Ray told Ginger. “It’s a good rule. Keeps people from getting too crazy in the first turn.”
“Like they did here?”
“Yeah, just like that,” Ray smiled. “Of course, that gives them the chance to get crazy like that all over again. Hell, I suspect that’s why a lot of people come to dirt tracks anyway, to see messes like that.”
It turned out that five of the eight cars in the heat race were involved in the fracas. Three of them were able to just pick up and drive around the track to pick up their places in the starting lineup, but two were tangled a little too much for that. A couple of the trucks in the infield and a wrecker headed over to the mess, and in a couple minutes one of the two remaining cars, which had a loose and flapping fender was catching up with the lineup of cars slowly circling the field. The last remaining car was hauled off to the pits on the rear of the wrecker. “Hell of a way to start a season,” Ray shook his head. “But six will get you two he’s back on the track for one of the mains.”
“I’m surprised it didn’t get rolled into a ball,” Ginger commented.
“Naw, they weren’t going as fast as it looked,” Ray told her. “I seem to recall the qualifying times for the Bombers were down around twenty seconds. If this is a true quarter mile, that means an average only around forty-five miles an hour, and they were going slower in the corner. Then, everybody was pretty much going the same speed. That’s why you see those cars with all those dings and dents but still out there in the thick of things. Now, if they were to hit a solid object things would be a little different, though. That’s why you see the tire walls all around this place. I really wish we had a soft wall like that at the big track. We have it at the little track, though.”
While they were talking the field got lined up again, now with one car less in the right hand lane, and the black 86 car out at the tail of the field again. “One lap to go,” the announcer called.
“Keep your eye on the 86 car,” Ray snickered to Ginger. “Six will get you two that he tries something again.”
Once again the pace truck brought the field down the back stretch, with the 86 lagging back a little in the back. “Gonna try a slingshot,” Ray explained. “Open up before anyone else does.”
Ray called it about right. The black 86 car opened the throttle about three seconds before anyone else, and was going like a house afire heading for the inside of the field, like he had the time before. However, this time the car in front of him wasn’t having any of that nonsense, so pulled down very low in the corner to block the charging Chevy. Either the driver of the Chevy was expecting it or had something else up his sleeve. He seamlessly moved up to the outside of the track, higher than the car in the outside lane, and was three wide crossing the start-finish line, just as the announcer called, “And we’re racing!”
The 86 car kept it high into the first turn, where most of the field was now three wide. Somehow, he came out of the corner in second place, not far behind the leading car. “All right, down the back stretch we have the 17 of Pete Palmer leading, with the 86 of Bubba Winslow trying to reel him in,” the announcer said, excitement high in his voice. He reeled off the drivers’ names and car numbers of the third and fourth place cars, which were in a close duel for third place.
In fact, all of the cars in the first four places were pretty close together, with the car in third being the one with the flapping fender from the earlier incident. The 17 and the 86 cars were side by side going into the corner, the other two cars right behind them. Winslow had a significant lead going into the corner on the outside, but the shorter route through the corner meant that Palmer was leading slightly as they completed the first lap.
Palmer and Winslow managed to pull away a little from the second pair of cars over the next three laps, although both sets of cars were still running side by side. Each time the 86 car would come out of the corner in the lead, only to have it disappear by the time they reached the start-finish line. “This ain’t over with yet,” Ray commented over the sound of the engines.
Sure enough, it wasn’t. Somehow, the 17 car managed to be a little wide in the next corner, and the driver of the 86 car noticed the mistake, dove down, and managed to nudge his way past the 17 car. This time, he made it to the start-finish line first, and after that there was no holding him. He stretched out his lead over the remaining laps to the point where it wasn’t worth watching anymore – both Ray and Ginger spent the rest of the heat watching the loose-fendered Chevy working his way past the 17 car, which finally finished third. “And the winner of the opening Bomber heat of the season at Potterville Speedway is Caneyville, Kentucky’s Bubba Winslow,” the announcer said. “Second is Fred, uh, Jerasek, I think it is, out of Elyria, Ohio. Third is Pete Palmer from Horton, Indiana.”
“Not a bad race, once they figured out what they were doing,” Ray opined as the cars filed off the track, and another heat began to come onto it. “That kid in the 86 car knows something about what he’s doing. A little wild, but he’s got some talent.”
“God, that was exciting there for a while,” Ginger agreed. “Will they all be like that?”
“You never know, which is part of what makes it fun,” Ray told her. “We’ll soon find out. There’s going to be a lot of racing this afternoon, judging by how crowded the pits are.”
In fact, there was a lot of racing over the next few hours. There were five more heats of Bombers, three heats of Sportsmen, four of Modifieds, and five of Late Models, which were really noisy and kicked up a lot of dirt, as did five sprint cars in their single heat. In almost every heat of every class there was a mad fracas in the first corner, and in about one heat out of three there was some kind of accident that called for a restart. In most of the heats there were yellow flags for spins or accidents, and the wrecker and push trucks were often kept busy clearing away the wreckage.
After every three or four heats the racing would be halted for a few minutes so the water truck could make several passes around the track to keep the dust down. While it sprayed water on the track, the push trucks and wreckers made several low-speed trips around the track to help pack it in. “Keeping a track just damp enough to keep the dust down on a sunny, windy afternoon is a real art,” Ray told Ginger. “If it gets too dusty it can be hard to drive on and isn’t as much fun for the spectators. If it gets too wet, it gets slick and hard to race on. When Dad and Mom raced with the MMSA, they took a water truck with them since a lot of places they raced weren’t regular race tracks.”
“You know,” she said, “there’s a lot more to this than it looks like on the surface. I guess I hadn’t realized that.”
Finally, the heats wound down. “Is that all?” Ginger asked.
“Oh, no, we’re just getting to the good part,” Ray smiled. “Now we get to the mains. The fields will be bigger, maybe sixteen to twenty cars. Most places those are lined up in the order of finishing the heats, although different places do it different ways. My guess is that they’ll run three mains and award a trophy for each one. Most places like to see that every driver gets to run in a main, no matter how they finish in the heats, but sometimes only the top two or three or four cars from a heat make it into the main. Like I keep saying, different places do it differently.”
“Wow,” she replied. “Some of those races got pretty wild with only eight cars in the heat; I can’t imagine what it’ll be like with twenty cars.”
“Wilder,” he grinned. “There’ll probably be a line for the concession stands, although this would be a good place for us to have another cup of coffee, and maybe something else to eat.”
“I could stand a cup of coffee to warm me up,” she shook her head. “That hot dog wasn’t too bad and I could stand for something to eat, but I don’t think I want to press my luck with those concession stands again. Can we maybe stop for dinner when we head back?”
“Works for me,” he said, getting up and stretching his legs. “It’s going to be a long haul back, and I’d sort of figured on stopping.”
Ray was back with a couple cups of coffee a while later; he also carried a candy bar and a bag of chips. “Here, I got these for you,” he said. “I don’t think they could screw these up too bad.”
“Thanks,” she said, reaching out for them. “I guess I was hungrier than I thought. This breeze is starting to get to me, and this coat isn’t enough.”
“The temperature is dropping as the sun goes down,” he said, sitting down next to her. “I’m starting to get a little chilly, too. I’ve got another Army blanket in the backpack. We can wrap it around us.”
“That sounds like a good idea,” she smiled. “You’ve done this before.”
“Well, yeah,” he replied. “Actually, not just sitting in the stands very much although I’ve done it now and then. Usually I’m busy doing stuff to keep the racing going, so it’s a little strange to just sit up here and watch.”
It took them a couple minutes to get out the blanket and wrap it around them so they could snuggle together for warmth. They sat there huddled together for a few minutes while the announcer tried to keep the crowd’s interest.
Soon it was time for the main events to get under way. The first of them was the Bomber C-Main, made up of the slowest cars from the earlier heats. It turned out to be more interesting than would have been expected, since several of the cars in the feature were dropouts from the heats, the result of accidents or breakdowns, and hurriedly fixed up in the pits. Some of them were cars that were better than average, but they were scattered throughout the field, rather than just being concentrated at the front. Amazingly enough, the field of twenty cars got through the first turn without a wreck or a spin, but the first few laps had several cars that were charging past the slower competitors. It took the first ten laps of the twenty-lap feature to get those cars sorted out from the back runners, and it was fun to watch the faster cars work their way past the slower ones. By the time the race was in the second half, the leaders were lapping the back markers, and a couple of them were two laps down by the time the race was over with.
Interestingly enough, the C-Main winner was the car that had had to be towed off of the track in the first bomber heat. He was stopped at the start-finish line to pick up a small trophy, and the announcer called for a round of applause from the crowd when he did. “It’s basically a consolation prize,” Ray told Ginger. “He really was fast enough to be in the A-Main if he hadn’t gotten punted in the heat. Oh, well, he’ll get a payout of twenty bucks or so; that’ll sweeten the pot for him a little.”
“They race for money?”
“Well, yeah, not a lot of money, but racing is expensive and everything helps,” Ray told her. “I’m just guessing at the size of the payout but that would be about typical for a place like this, I would think. The A-Main winner might take home fifty, and the Late Model A-Main winner might get to keep a hundred. Let’s face it, these people aren’t racing for money, they’re racing for the hell of it and a little money helps.”
“How much do you pay at Bradford?” she smiled. “No, let me guess. It depends on whatever.”
“Hey, you really are learning something about this,” he laughed. “Last year on a normal race night we paid fifty bucks for a Street Stock feature winner. We had a special Street Stock open show one night where we loosened up the rules and invited everyone for miles around. That was the only time we had a B-Main and a C-Main for them all year. We paid two hundred for the A-Main winner, but part of the size of that was to help pull in racers.”
“How do you decide to do something like that, to have a special show like that?”
“It’s not simple, it involves quite bit of messing around. You remember I told you that we only have Late Models one week out of three? Well, that’s usually the draw those weeks, but the other two weeks we have to have some other kind of draw to help with the gate. Dad starts fiddling with that part of the schedule a good year ahead of time, sometimes maybe even longer. We have another special show, winged 400 Sprints, three times a year; that helps out. The Street Stock night was one of them. Toward the end of the summer we had an Economy Stock night. For a number of reasons Dad likes to make a big deal out of Economy Stocks – that’s the six-cylinder class – so he pulled out all the stops and offered $500 to win, and money clear down to tenth place. We had almost a hundred cars show up from all over the place. The Economy Stocks always put on a good show if not real fast, kind of like the Bombers here. Most of our fans know it so we had a good crowd, and it was a really fun evening. We had the ASA cars in one time, that’s a touring series that’s pretty much Late Models with their own rules. Except maybe for the sprint cars it was the fastest show we had in all year, and I have to admit, one of the dullest. I’ll bet there weren’t five passes for position in the whole race. The main thing is that we try to have something special every week.”
While Ray had been explaining all that, the Bomber B-Main pulled onto the track. It was a good race, fairly free of accidents and yellow flags, but overall it was a dull race, without much passing for position. “In general, I’d have to say that whole race was made up of people who weren’t quite willing to take a chance for a position,” Ray opined. “People trying to take care of their equipment. I can’t say as I blame them, there’s no point in getting your car all torn up in the first race of the season.”
Again there was the wait for the trophy to be handed out, and then the A-Main Bomber heat pulled onto the track. “Well, how about that,” Ray smiled. “That kid in the 86 car is on the pole. Somehow that doesn’t surprise me. Something tells me this is going to be a pretty good race.”
As the cars made a couple warm-up laps around the track the announcer read off the starting positions of the cars and the names of their drivers, managing to finish just about the time the pace truck was pulling into the infield. The cars came hard out of the corner, and somehow or another the 86 car was a little behind the 33 car on the outside when they passed the start-finish line as the green flag flew. The two cars were side by side most of the way through the first turn, with cars crowding up behind, but all of a sudden the 86 and 33 cars tangled and spun, causing chaos behind them. Several cars bounced off each other; some dove into the infield to miss the wreck, and a few managed to stop before getting involved.
“Good God, what a mess,” Ray snorted.
Of course, the yellow flag came out. Neither of the two cars in front were damaged beyond the light touch of the initial contact, and both were able to extricate themselves without further trouble and began to drive slowly around the track. Several cars managed to untangle themselves from the mess in the turn and join up behind the lead two cars. As the 86 car drove past the start-finish line, they watched as the driver reached up on top of the car and patted the roof. “Bubba Winslow, the driver of the 86 car, is taking the blame for the accident,” the announcer said. “That’ll put him in the back of the pack when we have a complete restart.”
“Boy, I sure don’t see it like that,” Ray muttered. “He wasn’t at any more fault than the guy in the 33.”
“Maybe he saw something you didn’t,” Ginger offered.
“Could be,” Ray said.
It was several minutes before the wreck was cleared up enough to try to restart the race, and at that three cars weren’t in the field when it did. When the race got under way again, the 86 was at the back, the 33 was at the outside of the front row, and the car that had been second in the inside row was on the pole. Once again the starter showed the yellow and white flags, indicating one lap before going racing again.
As the cars drifted around the back stretch behind the pace truck they could see the black 86 car was hanging back from the pack, like he had done on the restart of the first heat. “Oh, come on,” Ray snorted. “I’ll bet he doesn’t plan on being at the back of the pack for long.”
He wasn’t. The driver of the 86 car was on the gas very early, heading for the outside of the track. By the time the announcer called, “And we’re racing,” the 86 car, well short of the start-finish line, had passed perhaps five cars and was once more going like a house afire. He was way up against the outside of the track as the field dove into the first turn, and while there were some cars that banged together in the fracas there were none that spun or wrecked enough to cause a yellow. Halfway around the track, the 86 car was in about eighth place and pressing hard. He made it around two more cars on the outside in the last corner, and was effectively in sixth when the first lap was completed.
The 86 car managed to pick up one more position on the next lap, but now the going was tougher and he didn’t gain any ground for the next two laps. Then a couple cars managed to get together behind him in the last corner, and both spun, bringing out the yellow flag, causing the field to line up in single file behind the pace truck. Both of the cars managed to get under way again without the help of the wrecker or the push trucks, and then they lined up at the back of the field.
The cars made another couple laps under yellow to get things settled down, and once again they got the “one to go” flags. Once again, the black car held back a bit in the back stretch, but was on the gas early, trying to slingshot himself another couple positions. He didn’t actually pass the fourth and third place cars before the start-finish line, but by virtue of having more speed to pass he was around them like a shot, in second place and on the heels of the leader by the middle of the first turn. “Sneaky little bastard,” Ray smiled. “You want to bet he wins this thing?”
“There’s no way I’m going to bet against a sure thing,” Ginger laughed.
It actually took Winslow three laps to get tentatively around the leader and another couple to make it a sure thing, but shortly he had several lengths on the second car, was pulling away from the field and starting to lap cars. His big lead didn’t last for long, since there was another pileup in the first corner shortly after that, but when the 86 car lined up in front of the 33 car it was clear to everyone watching that there was going to be no catching him.
Once the race got going again the 33 car made a valiant attempt to keep the 86 in sight, but it was a lost cause. There were no more incidents in the final laps of the race, and the 86 was first by a couple hundred yards.
“Wow,” Ginger said as the 86 car came around the track and stopped in front of the grandstand to pick up his trophy. “He must have wanted that fifty bucks real bad.”
“Maybe not,” Ray smiled. “It could well be that there’s someone watching who has a Late Model and is looking for a driver. If that was the game he was playing, I can see why he wanted to start at the back of the field and pass everybody.”
There were other races that afternoon, with faster, noisier cars. There were some more wrecks, some more spins, and some more thrilling finishes as Ray and Ginger sat in the stands, huddled together against the chill April breeze while the sun sank lower in the sky. Finally, as the sun grew low, the Late Model A-Main wrapped up the afternoon’s activities with considerable noise and flying dirt. After the last winner received his trophy, a rather chilled Ray and Ginger stood up and stretched to remove the kinks from sitting on the bleachers all afternoon, folded the blankets, stuffed them in the backpack, and headed for Ray’s pickup.
“You know Ray,” Ginger said as they trudged across the parking lot toward the waiting pickup and its heater, “I’m surprised, but in spite of everything I really enjoyed that. And your dad and mom were right, I really learned a lot, both good and bad.”