Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
It seemed to Ginger like it had taken half of the trip back from Potterville for the truck’s heater to warm her up to where it didn’t feel like her toes were going to fall off, but Sunday was a much nicer day than the afternoon on Saturday.
The warmth of the sun and being out of the light breeze made it feel almost like summer to her out on the back stretch of the big track. She was down to her T-shirt and jeans as she worked with a brush and roller filling in the “F” of the large black lettering of the BRADFORD SPEEDWAY on the wall that had been painted over earlier in the week. A few years before on this kind of a day in April, she might have pushed the season a little bit and lay out in the back yard getting some sun in her bikini.
In fact, it almost seemed like a decent idea today, at least if she’d thought of it before she left the house. It was warm and dead quiet outside; no one else was around. Even Lonnie and Bob were taking the day off, but the work had to be done, and with Ray having to mess with the Indy car the next few weeks it seemed as if she ought to be doing what she could of it. Maybe she could put the bikini on when she went up for lunch, and if things seemed as peaceful in the afternoon maybe she could catch some rays while she worked.
She hadn’t actually worn the bikini in a couple of years – she’d been too busy with work and college. Besides, it seemed like every time she had time to lie out and catch a few rays Nick had been home and there was no point in letting him leer at her and make awkward remarks. There was no question that it would fit; even though she’d bought it in high school, she still had clothes she’d bought at that time that she could wear, so apparently her size hadn’t changed much.
Even though she was alone out there, she suppressed a snicker. It would be fun to let Ray get a look at her in the bikini, after all, at least if he came around when she had it on. Ray wasn’t around right now: she knew that he and Mike Rowe were down in the shop, putting the engine in Mike’s Late Model.
When she stopped and thought about it, it seemed strange that she’d been hanging around the Austins and working at the speedway for well under a week. The way things had changed it seemed like it must have been months! The horrors of her family picking at her and second guessing every move, the drudgery of McDonald’s, and the hassles with Phipps now seemed like a bad dream that was fading in the light of day. Even her thoughts of joining the Army of a few days ago were fading. Working at the speedway and living with the Austins wasn’t a perfect solution to her problems, but they were sure getting put in perspective. She was getting breathing space to back up and take a new run at things, and that felt good.
And there was Ray. Although getting together with him was by no means a foregone conclusion, she’d already come to realize that if it worked out she wasn’t going to mind. He was a nice guy, not bad looking if not movie star handsome, soft-spoken, intelligent, skilled, and gentlemanly, not an obnoxious loudmouth like Phipps, or like the guy who had asked her out only because he wanted a picture of her in her bikini with his car.
She finished filling in the “F” and moved on to the “O”. Doing the outlines of the letters neatly with a two-inch brush took a little care, but once the edges were outlined, a paint roller could fill in the rest of the letter. She wasn’t going to get done with the project this morning, but ought to be able to wrap it up later today.
While she was concentrating on getting the edges of the letter sharp and straight, she almost didn’t hear a vehicle approaching until it got close. Taking the brush away from her work, she looked up to see the ambulance stopping behind her. “You seem to be coming along with that pretty good,” Arlene said from behind the wheel.
“Maybe so, but it sure takes some time,” Ginger sighed.
“I know,” the older woman smiled. “I’ve done it, too. I’m afraid you’re going to have to take a break, though. Ray and Mike are about ready to take the Late Model out for a quick test. I need to have you head down into the infield and take the pickup with you.”
“Wow,” Ginger said wide-eyed. “Why the ambulance? Is there going to be trouble?”
“Shouldn’t be,” Arlene smiled. “Our insurance says we have to have the ambulance and an EMT present when someone does hot laps here. It’s a pain in the neck, but since we have our own ambulance it’s not as big a hassle as it could be.”
“Well, yeah,” Ginger said, using up the paint on the brush on the interior of the letter. “That makes sense. And you’re an EMT, I’d guess.”
“Of course,” Arlene laughed. “It does simplify things. Ray is close to being one, too. He’s still got some classes to take and a test to pass.”
“Wow, I didn’t know that,” Ginger shook her head. “It’s going to take me a couple minutes to get everything picked up here.”
“Take your time. They said they were going to be right out, so that might mean five minutes or it might mean a half hour. I’ll meet you down by the infield concession stand, and buy you a Coke or something.”
“Sure, I’d like that,” Ginger replied, picking up the tray for the roller and dumping the black paint back into the gallon can. “Be along in a minute.”
It took longer than a minute, of course, more like two or three, before Ginger had things loaded into the old pickup she’d driven out to the big track, but it was only a few seconds of driving before she was parking in the infield next to the ambulance. Arlene was nowhere to be seen, but the open back door to the concession stand pretty well told where she was. Ginger turned off the pickup, left the keys in the ignition, and headed inside, where she discovered Arlene looking around.
“This place needs a good cleaning,” Arlene shook her head. “We try to clean it up pretty well after the season ends in the fall, but come spring it always needs it again, so I sometimes wonder why we bother.”
“Because it’s habit, I guess,” Ginger replied. “If it’s dirty, clean it.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right,” Arlene shrugged, going to the refrigerator where there was a twelve-pack of Cokes and nothing else, just something handy for a refreshment if it would be needed. “But that doesn’t matter, cleaning it up is one of those things that have to be done before the test-and-tune session next Sunday. It doesn’t seem like it’s only a week away. We lost a little time to the chilly, rainy weather; now we’ve got to play catch up.”
“I could probably get started on it when I get done with the sign. I hate to waste the nice weather for working outside on an inside job, though.”
“Yeah, Ray could have done it a week or two ago,” Arlene smiled, “but you know how it is. Never send a man to clean something, unless it’s a car or can be done with heavy equipment.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Ginger laughed.
“It’s one of those things I’ve learned the hard way,” Arlene snickered. “Ginger, don’t get me wrong, you’re doing a fine job for the little time you’ve been here, but at the rate we’re going we’re not going to have everything ready for opening day, even with Bob and Lonnie helping out when they can. With Ray working on that Indy car he won’t be able to help much, and there’s a limit to what Mel and I can do. Mel and I were just talking about it, and we’re going to get some more help in here for a week or two. He’s got some high school kids he can ask, so hopefully we’ll have someone here after school tomorrow. They’ll know even less about what has to be done than you do, and they’re kids, so we’re going to ask you to more or less supervise them.”
“Good,” Ginger nodded. “I was wondering how I was going to get everything done in such a short time.”
“We stood a chance with Bob and Lonnie helping, so long as Ray could put more time to it, but with this Indy car he’ll have other things to do. Feel free to ask him about something you’re not sure about, but we don’t want to take him away from it more than we have to. I talked to Diane this morning, and she’s going to try to find a couple of band mothers to come and help with the cleaning during the day, and that means the track office, along with the concession stands and a few other things. You’ll have to sort of oversee that when I’m not around, too. Is it going to be any problem for you to supervise women older than you?”
“Shouldn’t be, as long as they’re decent workers,” Ginger told her.
“Good,” Arlene smiled. “Look, there are other things for you to be doing, too. While Mel and I were talking it over this morning, we pretty much decided that we at least want to expose you to a lot of other things rather than just this maintenance work. We realize that you aren’t committed to staying with us for a long time, but it would be nice if you did, even if you were just working here part time while you’re off at another job during the day. It takes a lot of hands to make this place work on a race day. You never know who’s going to show up, or who isn’t going to be there, so we need someone who can step in and do almost anything. So you may be taking tickets part of one evening, scoring later in the evening, working the track office and back gate and so forth. In time you may be doing other things, I don’t even know what to tell you. Does that sound reasonable to you?”
“Sure, it sounds like a good idea,” Ginger replied. “I didn’t think that my job here on race night was going to consist of sitting up in the stands and watching the races like I did yesterday.”
“Trust me, there may be nights that you don’t even see a race,” Arlene smiled. “I know I don’t see as many as I’d like to. But Mel and I also agreed that we’d be fools to not take advantage of your bookkeeping knowledge while you’re here, too. So what we’re going to do is to have you fill the role of assistant office manager and try to learn as much as you can about all the paperwork that goes on around this place. I’ve mostly handled it over the years, and I’ve learned that as a bookkeeper I make a good nurse.”
“Somehow I’ve been suspecting that was going to happen,” Ginger laughed. “Ray has sort of been hinting at it.”
“It doesn’t take any real gift at prophecy,” Arlene grinned. “Seriously, we want you to understand all that has to get done with the books. There are some areas where I know we haven’t done the greatest job of dealing with them, and there have been errors and stuff that slipped through the cracks. I’ll probably have to take you by the hand and lead you through most of it, but if you should happen to notice anything where you think there could be an improvement or simplification, make sure to let me know. It’ll probably take you a while to learn everything, but we might as well get started.”
“Sure, I’d like to do that,” Ginger replied. It would look good on her résumé, no matter what happened. Even if things didn’t work out with Ray, it could be something that she could do part time for a long time, and that could be a big help in a lot of ways.
She was still standing there thinking about it when there was the distant roar of a race car. “Sounds like they finally got it running,” Arlene said. “I suppose we’d better head outside so we can keep an eye on things.”
They headed out the door, just in time to see Rowe’s luridly-painted Late Model pull through the entrance gate and out onto the track, trailed by Ray’s pickup, which pulled into the infield while Rowe slowly circled the track, obviously warming things up. Ray pulled to a stop near the other two vehicles and got out.
“Took you long enough,” Arlene commented lightly.
“Lucky at that,” Ray smiled. “There were issues. There are always issues on a new mill. You want issues, wait till later in the week. A Chevy 360 doesn’t even start to have issues compared to a turbo Offy, which is part of why there aren’t a lot of turbo Offies left anymore. At least you can put a Chevy engine together and be pretty sure it’s going to run when you try to start it.”
“Sounds pretty decent,” Ginger observed.
“It ought to be,” Ray told her. “We’ll know more when he opens it up. There’s always tuning problems with a new engine. I told him that we’re going to pretty much try to concentrate on the engine and not worry too much about the chassis issues, at least for now.”
“Good enough,” Arlene replied. “Believe it or not, I have other things to do today than just be an ambulance attendant, and so does Ginger.”
“We’re not going to get it perfect today,” Ray protested. “I just want to make sure it’s put together right, that there’s nothing gross and disgusting the matter. He’s going to be here next week for test and tune; I can tweak on it then if I need to.” He glanced up at the work that Ginger had been doing on the wall. “Hey, that looks a lot better,” he said, nodding at the partially painted sign. “Now maybe, if we’re lucky, on opening night someone won’t stuff themselves into it, making you have to do it all over again.”
“Does that happen often?” Ginger asked.
“Now and then,” Arlene said. “We usually have to touch it up once or twice a season, but at least a full repainting lasts a few years. That sign gets into a lot of photos, we consider it good advertising.”
They stood and watched as Rowe took the Late Model around the track several times at a relaxed pace. “Ray, would you like a Coke?” Ginger asked after a moment.
“Yeah, I’d love one,” he replied. “I’m sort of thirsty.”
Ginger headed to the refrigerator, grabbed a can, and brought it back out to Ray, just as Rowe wound up the Late Model for a moderately hot lap around the track. Ray popped open the can, took a sip, then reached in his pocket and brought out a stop watch, punching it as Rowe passed the start-finish line. She watched as Rowe ran the Late Model around the track, marveling at how smooth it seemed to be after her experience of watching the all-out power slides on the dirt track the day before. It was just as loud as the dirt track Late Models, but seemed faster and more impressive on the paved oval.
It didn’t take long for Rowe to get around the track. Ray punched the stop watch again, and shrugged. “17.62,” he commented. “Not real fast. Still feeling it out, I guess.”
“That’s not fast?” Ginger asked.
“Naw, he ought to at least be able to get it down into the fifteens, maybe the high fourteens. Maybe better with some chassis tuning and practice. The track record is 13.83. That was an outlaw Late Model with more wings than the Air Force.”
“Some Late Models have wings or billboards to help them in the corners,” Ray told her. “A lot of sprints have them. They help the car stick better in the corners. We’ll have winged sprints in here in a couple of weeks; you’ll see what I mean.”
Rowe made several more laps. Ray didn’t time all of them, but they could see that the driver was getting the feel of the car as the times dropped. After a few laps, he was turning a lap in just over sixteen seconds. Finally, they could hear him back off the car as it crossed the start-finish line, brake hard through turns one and two, and then turn into the backstretch pit road to pull to a stop near the parked vehicles. He gunned the engine, and shut it off.
“How’s it running?” Ray asked.
“Not bad, it’s got some guts,” Rowe told them. “It responds to getting on the throttle real slow, it’s like you step on it and it takes a few seconds for the engine to respond.”
“Didn’t really hear that,” Ray shook his head, “but that’s a carburetor issue, and no big deal. Let me tweak it a bit for you.” He went to a tool box in the back of his pickup, then removed some pins to take the hood off, a fairly simple matter. Ginger watched as he did something incomprehensible under the hood.
“OK, start it up,” Ray said after a minute or two. The engine came to life with all the noise they’d come to expect of it. Ray grabbed the throttle linkage, gunned it a couple times, and made another adjustment or two while the engine was running, then turned to put the hood back on the car. “That ought to help,” he said. “Give it a try now.”
Rowe gave him a thumbs up, gunned the engine, and took off across the infield for the track entrance at the start-finish line. He pulled out onto the track, took half a lap at a moderate speed, then got down hard on the engine in turns three and four, with Ray having the stop watch on him again.
After half a dozen laps Rowe brought the Late Model in again. “That’s a lot better,” he said after he shut it off. “It probably could stand a little more fiddling, but let’s do that next weekend. It’s still pushing in the corner a little, but I can fiddle with that then.”
“Don’t know how much time I’ll be able to give you next weekend, not with that guy with the Indy car here,” Ray told him, “but I’ll try to fit you in some. That do you for today? I’d like to let Ginger get back to work on that sign.”
“Yeah, that should be enough for today,” Rowe agreed. “My wife wouldn’t mind having me home for dinner, either. Guess I might as well head back up, write you a check and get this thing on the trailer. You done good, Ray. That’s a strong engine and I’ll be sure to tell people it’s your work.”
“You get near a sign shop, I wouldn’t mind if that was on the fender somewhere,” Ray told him. “I’ll run back up there with you and help you get loaded.”
“Fine, I’d appreciate it,” Rowe said. “See you back at the shop.” He fired up the engine again and drove off at a moderate speed.
Once the noise died down, Arlene said. “I take it that’s all you’re going to need me for right now, right?”
“Yeah, you can put the meat wagon away,” Ray nodded.
“Good,” Arlene said. “I have a roast in the crock pot, and we might as well have some semblance of a Sunday dinner. In about an hour, say around two?”
“Yeah, I should easily have him on the road by then, unless we stand around and bullshit more than we need to.”
“I can get a few more letters done in an hour,” Ginger said. “If that’s all the track action we’re going to have I might as well get back at it.”
In a few minutes Ginger was alone again on the quiet and empty track, getting back to work on the “O”. Every day it seemed more and more like she was becoming part of the operation, and was coming to understand it more. That made her feel good, feel like she was appreciated. If Ray was right that Arlene was pushing the two of them together, right at the moment she didn’t mind.
The next hour passed quickly. She was working on the “S” when she heard a vehicle approaching again. It proved to be Ray, who called to her from the open window, “Hey, you coming to dinner, or what?”
“Oh, shit,” she said. “I haven’t been looking at my watch. Let me get the lid on this paint can and I’ll ride with you.”
“No, drive yourself,” he said. “I need to get cleaned up some, and that way you can drive back out here by yourself if you need to.”
“All right, I’ll be along as quick as I can,” she promised.
A few minutes later she was in the shop herself – it proved that she’d accumulated more black paint on her hands and arms than she had been expecting, and the shop sink was a better place to get cleaned up than messing up one of the bathrooms in the house. Still, Arlene must have known that it was going to take her a while to clean up, since she was just getting dinner on the table when Ginger walked into the dining room.
Arlene was a good cook, and the dinner was wonderful. The topic of discussion, of course, was shop talk – how the project had gone with Rowe’s engine, how things were coming at the track, what needed to be done before the test-and-tune day next Saturday. It seemed just a little surreal to Ginger, how much she felt at home here after only a few days.
They’d pretty well destroyed a rump roast with all the fixings and were working on apple pie when there came a knocking at the door. “I’ll get it,” Ray offered.
He went to the door, to find a guy a little taller than he was, perhaps ten years older, clean-shaven but with the kind of skin that made him look like he always needed a shave. Sitting in the driveway behind him, was a pickup truck with a camper on the back, towing a large undecorated enclosed trailer. “Hi, are you Ray Austin?” the guy said. “I’m Ted Hilyard.”
“Wow, I didn’t expect you this soon,” Ray replied. “I figured tomorrow at the earliest.”
“Once I got going I didn’t want to stop,” Hilyard explained. “I’m just happy to find someone who knows what he’s doing.”
“Well, I know a little about those things, but I’m no big expert,” Ray told him modestly. “We’re just finishing dinner, but there are plenty of leftovers if you’d like to have something to eat.”
“I’d love to,” Hilyard said. “I thought about stopping at that truck stop back up the road, but as I was this close, I wanted to make sure I’d found the right place.”
“If that’s an Eagle with a turbo Offy sitting in that trailer, you found the right place,” Ray grinned. “I just finished getting the shop cleared out for you in the last hour. Come on in, we’ll find you a chair.”