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Bullring Days 3:
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Wes Boyd
©2009, ©2014

Chapter 16

In the discussion around the dinner table, it proved that Hilyard hadn’t wasted any time. When he’d first called, the car and the spare parts and support stuff were already loaded in the trailer, which also had come from Pieplow, and the camper was already mounted on the pickup, everything pretty much ready to go. About all Ted had to do was to throw some spare clothes in the back of the camper along with a few other odds and ends, hook up the trailer, and start driving. He drove it hard, most of the time well over the limit in the western states where cops were few, far between, and understood driving faster than the jerks in Washington thought safe. He made only brief drive-through stops for food, and crashed for a few hours now and then in truck stops and rest areas.

“I have to say that sounds just a little desperate to me,” Mel grinned. He’d long since finished his pie, but Ted was making an all-out assault on the leftovers, as it appeared he hadn’t bothered to eat very much on his frantic trip eastward.

“If you think that it sounds desperate, you have to think about how I felt until Paul put me onto Ray,” Ted shook his head and went on to explain. “I don’t want to say there isn’t anyone else out there who knows anything about turbo Offys, but everybody I could find was already busy with something else. To get someone who already knows that car and that engine seems like a miracle to me.”

“Well, I don’t want to bust your balloon,” Ray said in warning. “I think it’d only be fair if I told you I’m no big expert on those things, because I’m not. I know how to start one and how to maintain it, but I don’t know all that much about tweaking it much beyond what it already is. I could probably tear one down and put it back together if I had the time and the parts. Beyond that, well, last year when I ran into something I didn’t know about, and there was a lot of that, I could hunt around Gasoline Alley and find someone or other that used to work on those things. That was mostly T.J. Wireman, but a few others, too. If those guys hadn’t been there and willing to help, we would have been screwed.”

“Paul said you were pretty good with it,” Ted replied. “After all you were good enough to not only get it into the race last year, but also keep it going long enough to finish.”

Ray leaned back in his chair and threw a serious look at Ted. “I was an assistant on a couple cars back a few years ago before I went into the Army, and then I worked for Paul last year. He was just about as desperate as you said you are. With a little bit of luck and maybe scrounging some help I ought to be able to get you up to qualification, but like I told you on the phone, making the race is going to be a real long shot.”

“I think I understand that,” the driver nodded. “To tell you the truth, I can’t really imagine actually making it into the race, but I at least want to give it a try for Dad and the sake of doing it. It’s as much for the experience of trying as for anything. I mean, if I do make it into the race, I haven’t got a clue what I’d do about a pit crew. I haven’t even allowed myself to think that far ahead.”

“Neither did Paul,” Ray smiled. “But if we should get real lucky, and you do make it through qualifications without getting bumped, we’ll do what we did last year. That is, get hold of Dad, there,” – he nodded at Mel – “and have him round up a scratch crew out of some of the regulars who race here. That’s what we did last year, and they actually did pretty well, considering that we only practiced pit stops for a couple hours.”

“I kept stats and kept things organized,” Mel added. “It wasn’t the first time.”

“You’ve been there before, I take it?”

“Off and on over the years, more off than on,” Mel smiled. “The first time I was there was on Runt Chenowith’s crew, back in 1952.” He turned to Ginger and explained, “By the way, that was in the Old Soldier, but we didn’t call it that back then.” He turned back to their visitor and added, “Ted, let me tell you, things are a lot different now. An Offy was a bear to get started back then but nothing like as bad as it was last year.”

“I get the feeling I’ve come to the right place,” Ted sighed. “I don’t know why it took me all winter to get around to asking Paul for help.”

“Like I’ve been trying to tell you, this is going to be a real, real long shot and don’t get your hopes up,” Ray told him. “That motor isn’t new to begin with, it’s five or six years old, I’m not sure,” he went on to explain. “It’s got a year’s testing, qualifications and a race on it since the last rebuild. It really should be gone through and rebuilt from front to back, rings, bearings, clearances, a lot of different stuff. But we don’t have the time left to do it, you don’t have the money for parts, and that assumes we could find the parts anyway. An amazing number of the parts for that engine are off-the-shelf, but there’s a lot of it that was built specifically for that particular engine by a machine shop that knew just exactly what they were doing and why they were doing it. To top it off, the turbo Offy isn’t a front-line engine anymore; that’s why it wouldn’t surprise me that this almost certainly will be the only one in the field. You’re going to be lucky to keep the Cosworth engines in sight.”

“Yeah, I guess I knew that,” Ted nodded. “You’re saying it’s on its last legs.”

“I won’t say last legs,” Ray said, “but it isn’t as healthy as it would be after a major rebuild. Because of the time factor if nothing else, all we’ll be able to do is routine maintenance, maybe a few minor things, keep the miles down, try not to overstress it, and hope for the best. I’m sorry if I made you think I’m some kind of miracle worker, but that’s where we’re at.”

“No, that’s about what I expected,” the driver replied. “I guess I hoped for more than that, but let’s face it, I had to give it a try and this was my only shot. I looked into getting a rental Cosworth engine for a month, but that’s $32,000 I don’t have, and have no way of getting.”

“I’ll do the best I can for you,” Ray promised, “but a lot is out of my control, so I can’t make many promises.”

Ted shook his head and let out a sigh. “You still offer me more hope than anything else I’ve heard about,” he said finally, “and I know it’s not a lot. Changing topics on you, are we in about the same boat on the chassis?”

“Yes and no,” Ray told him. “The Eagle is a pretty solid chassis, even if it’s a ways out of date now. As far as I know that one has never been close to being wrecked, although it’d been spun a couple times before I laid eyes on it. About the best we can do is inspect it and give it routine maintenance. If we run into problems with it, there is at least some hope of being able to do something about it, so long as we’re not dealing with a major wreck.”

“You ought to have Spud and Peewee look at it,” Mel suggested.

“Spud went over it some last year,” Ray said. “He was a big help. I’d figured that when we got down to Indy I’d have him look at it again, just on general principles.”

“Spud? Peewee?” Ted asked.

“Spud McElroy and Peewee Svoboda,” Ray explained. “They have a race fab shop down around Indy. They’re pretty good.”

“You mean the Spud McElroy who raced back in the fifties, and then was a car owner for several years back in the roadster days?”

“Yep, that Spud McElroy,” Mel smiled. “I’ve been friends with him for, oh Christ, around forty years now. In fact, the car he drove back in ’56 is sitting out back right now, fully restored except for the fact that it’s a roller. He and Peewee are as good with a chassis as anyone there ever was.”

“He knows a lot of the Indy people,” Ray explained. “He was able to grease the skids on a lot of stuff for us.”

*   *   *

They sat around the dining room table swapping racing and Indy stories for longer than they probably should have. Ted had never been to Indianapolis and had only read about it and seen it on TV, so it was almost a legend to him. Now, he was almost in touch with the dream, and in spite of being tired from all the driving, the excitement showed through.

Finally, Ray stretched, yawned, and said, “I suppose I’d better get up and do something useful or nothing else much is going to get done today.”

“You want to go out and get started on the car?” Ted asked.

“No, let’s not bother with it right now,” Ray shook his head. “I still need to get some stuff out of the shop so we’ll have room to work. I hung a motor in a guy’s Late Model this morning, and we were tripping all over everything. I need some elbow room. Let’s get started on the Eagle in the morning when we’re fresh.”

“You want the F-100 out of there, I bet,” Mel sighed. “I’ve got to get to work on that sometime. I guess we’ll have to push it out to the barn and put it behind some of the track vehicles.”

“Yeah, that’s about the first thing to go,” Ray agreed.

“Why don’t you leave the Mod in there for now?” Mel said. “It’d be a pain in the butt to pick up all the loose pieces, and maybe I can work on it some while you guys are down at the Brickyard. With you working on this Indy car, you’re not going to get much done on it, and there’s going to be a lot to do to get ready for opening day.”

“Suit yourself,” Ray said. “Getting the F-100 out of there ought to give me enough extra room to work.” He turned to Ted and explained, “Dad likes to restore cars, mostly race cars, but sometimes stuff that he just likes. He’s pretty much a Ford guy. He drove that old pickup for years before he retired it to being a track work truck. Now it’s all beat to hell so he decided he wanted to restore it.”

“When I get the time,” Mel protested. “You have to remember this place is a race track first and foremost, and we’re less than two weeks from opening day. There’s a lot to do and Ray isn’t going to be able to help us much.”

“Yeah,” Ray nodded. “I’ll probably have to spend most of the next two Saturdays on track stuff, but it’s got to be done. As far as working on the Eagle, it shouldn’t get in the way too bad, but as I said, it might be best if we put off starting on it till the morning.”

“I’ll help you where I can,” Ted replied. “I just need to tell you that I’m not much of a mechanic. Maybe if you get in a pinch around here I can help out a bit. Anyway, starting in the morning sounds fine to me. To tell the truth, I’m exhausted from all the driving anyway. Is there any place I can park my pickup and get some sleep?”

“Right out behind the shop,” Mel told him. “We can run an extension cord to it. Just unhook your trailer near the shop, and you guys can move it with one of the track vehicles in the morning. Ted, there’s a john in the shop, and you’re welcome to come over to the house for showers and that kind of thing.”

“God, I appreciate that,” Ted nodded. “You guys are too nice for words.”

“Oh, we try to be helpful,” Mel smiled. “Of course, if you have the Eagle put together well enough the weekend after next it’d be nice if you could park it up behind the grandstands on static display for the race fans to gape at.”

“We better have it that far along,” Ray sighed, “or else we’re going to be way behind the eight ball.”

*   *   *

After a while Ray, Mel, and Ted managed to make it up from the dinner table and head outside. They pulled the trailer with the Eagle around to the side of the shop and unhitched it from Ted’s pickup truck. Ted took the truck around back, to a gravely patch under a shade tree, a pretty good place for him to camp out for a while. “If you two don’t mind,” he told them, “I think I’d better climb inside and cork off for a while. I really am tired.”

“We’ll try not to bother you,” Mel replied. “It should be pretty quiet back here.”

“We’ll finish getting the shop cleaned out,” Ray added, “and if we have any time left over we should be able to work on some track stuff. That won’t be around here, so it shouldn’t hurt your sleeping.”

“Thanks, guys,” he said.

Mel and Ray headed back around to the far side of the shop. “Seems to be a nice enough guy,” Mel opined.

“Yeah, seems like it to me, too,” Ray told his father. “I just wish I could have been more optimistic, but it really is a big long shot.”

I think he knows it,” Mel nodded as they walked in the open garage door of the shop, “but at least you didn’t promise him more than you could deliver.”

“I was trying to be careful,” Ray told his father, then changed the subject. “I’m sorry that we’re going to have to move the F-100, but I really need the space.”

“Yeah, it’s the obvious thing to go,” Mel agreed. “I don’t think it’s even worth the trouble of trying to start it, but at least the tires have air so we can tow it.”

“We could move the Mod,” Ray offered.

“That’d be more work and it’s really the higher priority,” Mel told him. “The F-100 can wait for another winter if need be. Maybe I can work on the Mod sometime if I find myself with nothing else to do, which won’t be soon with you concentrating on the Indy car.”

“Yeah, I hate to dump all the extra track work on you.”

“Can’t be helped,” Mel told him. “In case you’re wondering, I think you’re doing the right thing by offering to work on this guy’s car, in spite of the fact that I’m going to have to bust my butt for a month or two on getting the track going.”

“Yeah, the money isn’t bad, if he proves to be good for it,” Ray told his father.

“Well, yeah,” Mel said, “but the more important thing is that it gets you down with the Indy-car crowd again. What I hear through the grapevine is that you got a pretty good reputation among those people for nursing that thing along. Damn it, Ray, you know as well as I do that I really want to have you here and more or less managing the track, but this at least maybe gives you an option of doing something else if you’d really rather. It’ll look good to some people, and it might even turn into something decent for you.”

“I can hope,” Ray said. “Yeah, I know you want me here, and most of the time the idea sits pretty well with me, but there is that issue of making a full-year income out of it.”

“It’s not a bridge that you have to cross right away,” Mel pointed out. “Look, you’re not the only guy in racing who has to face the issue of a job that only lasts part of the year, and you’ve got the chance to make something out of it. You made, what, five bills for putting Mike’s engine together, right? That was only a three-day job. Even if this Hilyard guy doesn’t make the show, you’re still going to be making four or five hundred a week, and that ain’t nothing to sneeze at. There’s always going to be people who need engine work done or cars rebuilt or something. Maybe that’ll prove to be what you need.”

“Well, it’s something to think about,” Ray admitted. “It’d be nice to be able to plan on a regular paycheck every week, but if I wound up doing what you want with the track, that’s not likely to happen.”

“True,” Mel agreed, “but nothing is certain in this life, that’s for sure.”

*   *   *

It was getting along in the afternoon, but it was even warmer than it had been in the morning – a really nice day for the middle of April. Before Ginger headed back out to the big track to work on the sign again, she remembered her thoughts from earlier about getting a little sun, so headed upstairs to her room. It took a little looking to find her bikini, but she soon turned it up and put it on, then put her work clothes back on over it and headed back to the truck.

A few minutes later she was back at work on the sign, wearing just the rather scanty string bikini and glorying in the warm day. There wouldn’t be many like this for a month or two, so it was just as well that she could grab this one outside.

She was working on the second “E” in the sign, as usual paying attention to what she was doing, when she heard Ray’s voice close by: “Getting some sun, huh?”

She gave a start, fortunately not messing up any paint work, and then with a little blush turned to him and said, “Well, it is a nice day.”

“Can’t blame you,” he smiled. “Of course, you wearing that makes it just that much nicer.”

“Oh, you tease,” she grinned, turning her attention back to the sign to try and cover up the fact that she was a little embarrassed at being caught in her bikini by Ray. “What brings you out here?”

“You mean, besides checking you out in that bikini?” he grinned. “I had to get a couple things from the track office and thought I’d come by and see how you were doing. I’m glad I did. It makes it worth the trip.”

“So what do you think of that Hilyard guy?” she said, as much to change the subject as anything else.

“Oh, he’s all right,” Ray shrugged. “He’s not going to do anything much down at Indy and I think he knows it. He’s going more for the experience of being part of the action than anything else. I have no idea how fast he’s going to be, but likely not fast enough. That’s enough car to get him through his driver’s test if he’s pretty good. Maybe he’ll try to qualify it, maybe not.”

“Seems like a lot of money to spend just for a kick,” Ginger shook her head.

“Well, yeah,” Ray agreed. “I don’t know how much he paid Paul for that car, but I’ll bet it wasn’t much. It’s a real shoestring deal, no doubt about it. Back in the old roadster days, say back when the Old Soldier was running, there used to be guys who would put together a marginal ride like that, and it would be the only race they’d run all year. The money was good enough that they could come out ahead a little if they made the race at all. In fact, a lot of the Old Soldier’s history was doing owner-driver things like that, even when Spud ran it.”

“I didn’t know you’d been there before.”

“Yeah, four times, clear back to just helping out when I was in high school. Like I told him, I don’t really know all that much about those things, just enough to be dangerous, but that might be about all he needs. Have you ever been there?”

“No, never,” she shrugged, keeping her attention on the painting. “Yesterday was the first time I’ve ever been to a car race of any kind.”

“Yeah, I keep forgetting how new all this is to you,” he smiled. “You’re taking to it pretty well, though. I’ll have to get you down there a little so you can at least say you’ve been to Indy. May first, the day the track opens, is a little exciting. Qualification days are pretty good too, if we get that far. I should be able to get you all the passes you’ll need.”

“It sounds like fun,” she smiled. “About as far away from what the Potterville Speedway was as you can get.”

“Well, yeah, in some ways,” he smiled. “If you wind up hanging around racing people for a while, it’ll give you a little something to brag about.”

“It’s been fun so far,” she admitted. “I’m really looking forward to seeing what this place is like with a race going on.”

“It is pretty fun,” he smiled. “I sure hope you’re around that long.”

“I think I will be,” she said. “Your mother seems to be planning on it, anyway. She told me this morning that she wants me to get started working on the track books and letting me learn some of the various jobs so I can fill in as needed, even if I can only work here part time. So I guess I plan on being here a while, at least some of the time.”

“Well, that’s good to know,” he smiled. “Look, I thought that I might as well warn you that I may be a little busy with Ted and his car for the next couple weeks, then down to the Brickyard for two or three weeks after that. So maybe that’ll give us a little bit of a breather from Mom trying to set us up, some time to get our feet under ourselves.”

“She keeps telling me she’s not trying to set us up,” Ginger protested.

“She’s telling me that, too,” Ray shook his head. “Maybe I’m just a little bit suspicious, but what she says and what seems to happen are often two different things.”

“I have to admit I’m feeling some of that, too,” she sighed. “Ray, the heck of it is that I don’t think I’d mind if it worked out that we got a little closer, maybe even the way your mother seems to be hoping. It’s just that I’d prefer to do it at my own speed, rather than being pushed.”

“Well, yeah,” he said slowly. “Me, too. Ginger, I have to say that I’m getting to the point where I don’t think I’d mind if it happened to work out that way, but I agree, we need to do it at our own speed.”

“Then maybe our getting a chance to be out of each other’s pockets for a few weeks will be good for us,” she smiled.

“I think so too.” He hunted around for words for a few moments, then said, “Aw, hell. If we keep talking in this direction we’re going to be saying something we really ought not to just yet. Maybe I’d better go back down and get to work on cleaning out the shop.”

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