Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Monday just wasn’t as nice. There was a cold wind blowing, and high thin clouds foretold of worse weather to come.
As always, Ray and Ginger got up a little later than Mel and Arlene so they could stay out of their way while the older couple got ready for work. “Should I make us some breakfast?” Ginger asked Ray, as he was pulling his work boots on.
“Why don’t we see if Ted has rejoined the world?” Ray asked. “Maybe he’d like to head down to the Chicago for breakfast before we look at his car.”
“Why don’t you go find out?” she suggested. “He’s probably all anxious for you to get started on it.”
“Probably,” Ray shrugged. “In a way I almost wish I wasn’t going to have him looking over my shoulder all the time for the next few weeks, but I guess there’s no way around it. I’ll go out and see as soon as I get these boots on. If he doesn’t want to go down to the Chicago, maybe you’d better plan on throwing something together here.”
A few minutes later Ray headed out to the pickup camper behind the shop. He knocked on the door and found Ted up and moving, not quite dressed yet, and invited him to breakfast. “Sure,” Ted told him. “Give me a few minutes to pull myself together.”
It wasn’t long before they were down at the Chicago Inn, getting themselves around some fresh, warm coffee. Ted reported having a good, refreshing night’s sleep and being ready to face the day. Mostly, they discussed pleasantries, getting to know each other a little, but after the waitress served breakfast Ted soon got down to business. “I hadn’t realized starting a turbo Offy was a real big deal,” he said. “You make it sound like something just a little less complicated than starting a space shuttle.”
“Well, a little less complicated,” Ray smiled, “but not a hell of a lot. In fact, one of the things I did yesterday afternoon was head up to the track office, where I had my cheat sheet from last year stashed. I decided I needed to study and review it a little. It’s about twenty pages long, typewritten, and looks like it’s been copied a few times.”
“Yeah, that much,” Ray told him. “It’s a long, involved process, because the engine is a thoroughbred. It’s only meant for one thing, to go about as fast as it can. Among other things, it doesn’t have a choke, thermostat, vibration dampers, or a lot of things like you’d find on a regular engine, even a race engine like you’d find on a Late Model. That’s all just stuff that adds weight. Worse, they can go bad and lose a race for you. Hell, the typical Late Model, you make sure the oil is up, that it’s got gas, then pump the gas a few times, turn on the ignition and hit the starter, right?”
“Well, yeah. That’s about all I ever did.”
“Doesn’t work here,” Ray told him. “Realistically, it takes about four hours’ preparation on a cold start. Most of that time is to get the oil and water temperatures up to a reasonable level, because the thing just isn’t going to start cold, period. You have to initiate preparations for starting about an hour ahead of time, and the actual starting and warm-up can take twenty minutes to twice that long, depending on how much help you have. We’d better figure on being on the long side of that figure, and we’re not even going to try to start it without some other people around.”
“Why not?” Ginger asked out of curiosity as she sipped a cup of coffee.
“The biggest thing is that there’s a huge fire danger,” Ray told her. “You’re probably going to be one of the people around when we try to start it, so I’ll need to give you a training session on using a fire extinguisher. When you do get a fire the damn thing doesn’t even burn like a regular fire. It’s methanol, which burns clear. You don’t get any smoke or visible flame, and it’s not easy to tell if the thing is on fire at all, so I’m going to have to teach you about that, too. The first few times we try it we may even have Mom and the ambulance around, too.”
“Wow,” Ted shook his head. “It sounds like a bomb waiting to go off.”
“No fooling,” Ray smiled. “It’s also a backfiring son of a bitch, so you’re going to hear a lot of explosions that’ll just about knock you out of the seat. This car has a nasty little habit that’ll scare the hell out of you. When you shut it off, everything seems OK for three or four seconds, until the excess fuel in the plenum chamber makes it out the exhaust pipe, then you get a backfire that’ll singe someone six or eight feet away. There’s not much you can do about it but stay the hell back. It’s a nasty, tricky son of a bitch, but then, all turbo Offys are about as bad.”
“I didn’t know any of that,” Ted sighed. “The more I hear you talk about it the more I realize just how far in over my head I am. I’m glad you know this stuff, because I sure don’t.”
“I don’t know it all that well,” Ray told him. “Let’s face it, I’m no T.J. Wireman or anyone like him. I know enough to get myself in trouble, and that’s about it. We’re going to take it easy and try to get things done without damaging the engine or ourselves, so to do that is going to take a lot of preparation. In fact, we won’t even try to start it today, maybe not even all this week. We probably ought to make sure it runs before we head down to Indy, just on general principles, but for now I’m more concerned about just going through the car carefully and making sure everything is up to snuff. I didn’t do much more than oil the cylinders down and a few other things when we put it away after the race last year. I doubt Paul did anything more to it than that, so we’re going to need to make sure everything else is ready.”
“What if you can’t get it running up here?”
“Then we’re probably screwed, except that we might as well trailer it down to Indy anyway. I can hunt around and see if I can find anyone who knows more about one of these things than I do, and maybe they can set us on the right track. That makes it more important that we have everything else done here while we still can.”
They headed back up to the shop after they finished breakfast. “Guess we can’t put it off any longer,” Ray said as he backed the pickup up to the Eagle’s transporter trailer.
“Guess not,” Ted agreed as he piled out the right side door, Ginger following him. “I take it you want to move the trailer.”
“Yeah, might as well swing it around so we don’t have to jockey the car around too much to get it in the garage,” Ray said. “Then I’ll park the trailer right outside the garage so we can get stuff out of it easily when we need to. Ginger, why don’t you stick around for a few minutes? We may need the extra set of hands.”
It was only the work of a couple minutes to get the trailer swung around. Ray shut off the truck and got out to help with the process. He and Ted opened the back ramp of the trailer, got the car’s tie downs loose, and the three of them rolled it out onto the driveway.
Even looking at the car sitting there in the shade of the house and the garage was impressive to Ginger. The car was orange and off-white, with a black number “17” lettered on the side. There were some small sponsor logos pasted to the car, but for the most part it was free of them. This was unlike a lot of the pictures of other race cars she’d seen around the Austin household the last few days, most of them covered with lettering of one sort or another. This car looked lean, mean, and fast, like its only purpose was speed, and it looked like it was going fast standing still.
Ginger had thought that Mike Rowe’s Late Model had looked lean and fast the day before, but it seemed like an awkward clunker compared to this beast. She had seen the Old Soldier a few days before, had seen pictures of other, modern Indy cars, but the reality was that this was an even smaller car with wings front and aft, and a long chrome peashooter exhaust behind it. “You know,” she said, standing back to take a look at it, “This thing looks like it means business.”
“That’s all it was ever meant to look like,” Ray smiled at her. “Let’s roll it into the shop and get started.”
It was an easy job for the three of them to roll the car into the shop nose first. “Guess the first thing we need to do is get this thing up on stands so we can get the wheels off,” Ray said. “Ted, it looks like we’ve got a lot of work in front of us.”
“Looks like it more and more,” the car owner replied. “OK, you’re running things.”
“Are you going to need me any more?” Ginger asked.
“No, not really,” Ray told her. “I know you’ve got things to do.”
“Yeah,” Ginger told him. “I want to get some paint on the concession stand at the little track before the weather goes to hell on us again. If those women coming to clean the concession stands show up, I’ll be over there.”
“Probably a good place to start on that, anyway,” Ray agreed. “Shouldn’t take them all that long. I’ll point them that way when they get here.”
“Good enough,” Ginger said. “Let’s figure on getting together for some lunch around noon.”
“Fine by me, we ought to have plenty of busted knuckles from working on this thing by then,” Ray laughed. “See you later.”
A couple minutes later, Ginger drove off in the track push truck she’d appropriated as her temporary work truck, while Ray got the wheels off of the Eagle. “You know,” Ted commented, “I really haven’t had the chance to look around, but you have quite a place here.”
“We like it,” Ray said, and went on to explain a little about the history of the track. “We get a few minutes sometime, someone will have to show you around. There’s some interesting cars in the chicken coop across the way; that’s sort of the temporary museum until we get around to building the real thing. That car Spud drove at Indy in ’56, the one we call the Old Soldier, is one of them, but there are also a couple others that are a bit out of the ordinary.”
“How’d you wind up with them?”
Ray went on to tell a couple of the stories about his father rebuilding some cars, especially the MMSA Midgets and the Old Soldier. “If you ever happen to hear of someone who has a 251 or 255 unblown Offy of any vintage for sale at a reasonable price, we need to know about it,” Ray said. “We’d really like to get the Old Soldier at least looking right, even if it’s not a runner.”
“I need to go over and get a look at that car sometime,” Ted replied. “I guess that’s about as far from this thing as you can get and still be an Indy car.”
“Yeah, no fooling,” Ray replied. “Except according to Spud an Indy car with an Offy vibrates so bad you can just barely stand it, and it doesn’t matter if it’s an old one or a newer one.”
“Would you believe me if I told you I’m looking forward to seeing just how bad that is?” Ted laughed.
“Would you believe me when I tell you I think you’re crazy as hell?” Ray laughed. “I don’t mind doing a little casual racing, that’s what the Mod over in the other end of the shop is going to be for, but damn, when it comes to these things I think I’d just about as soon stand in the pits and watch.”
“You know, I’m starting to understand that more and more,” Ted grinned. “If you think you’re scaring me about this thing, you’re succeeding.”
“It is a temperamental beast and it will go like hell,” Ray told him. “Maybe not as fast as you want, but fast enough to make you wonder about it.”
Bob and Lonnie had done an adequate job of scraping the little track’s concession stand exterior, but just barely so. Still, since the old wooden building was slated to be moved out to the back pits of the big track in the foreseeable future, it would be good enough. In the course of the discussion of the last several days, it had been decided that it would only be out there for two or three years, until the back pit restroom/concession building was built. No one was very clear about what would happen to the building after that; several ideas had been thrown around the dinner table but nothing had seemed to stick very hard.
In any case it didn’t seem to be a Bradford Speedway policy to let dumpy buildings sit around. After her experience in Potterville on the previous Saturday Ginger didn’t want the concession stand to give a bad impression, even if it was at a dirt track, so she took her time with painting, trying to do a good job with it.
She was just getting going good on the project when the promised women showed up to clean the inside. In the course of a few minutes discussion, Ginger learned that both the women were members of the band boosters and had worked in the concession buildings around both tracks on several occasions before, so they had a pretty good idea of what needed to be done. She had to spend a few minutes finding some cleaning supplies, some of which involved a trip over to the track office behind the grandstand at the big track, and one even down to the house. With that done, though, the project was well under way and Ginger could turn her attention back to painting.
What with everything the morning moved along quickly; by noon she had the outside painting of the little building pretty well wrapped up, so she cleaned the paint sprayer and the brushes she’d been using, and asked the women if they’d like to come to lunch. It proved that they’d brought their own, so Ginger loaded up the last of her stuff in the back of the pickup and headed for the house.
The guys were deep at work on the Eagle, which seemed to have shed a number of its parts. Ginger didn’t really have any idea what was going on, but just asked if they were in a place where they could break for lunch pretty soon. They said they were, so she headed inside, deciding to just do an easy one – hot dogs and chips, which seemed pretty appropriate considering this was a speedway, after all.
After lunch, Ginger headed out to the big track and got back to work on the list of things that needed to be done, keeping an eye on the weather – what had been a pretty good looking day in the morning had been steadily deteriorating. By the time Bob and Lonnie were there after school with a couple of their friends a cold breeze had kicked up, the sky was dark and threatening, and more rain didn’t seem far off. It was spitting rain by six, and heavier rain seemed imminent, so Ginger told the guys to start for home, then headed down to the house for dinner herself. She took a peek in the shop, but about all she could tell was that the Eagle seemed to be in more pieces than it had been at noon.
Over dinner it seemed that Ray and Ted felt they had made some progress, but not as much as they’d hoped. They planned on working in the evening to catch up, and Ginger thought she might spend a little time with them to at least get a feeling for what was going on. That didn’t happen; Arlene said that there was some work needed on the books, and that Ginger might as well start learning them.
It turned out to be a bigger project than Ginger had expected. Although she could see there was a pretty good system for keeping things going during the season, the off-season bookkeeping apparently consisted of throwing receipts, bills, and whatnot into a shoe box on the kitchen counter and sorting it all out when someone got around to it. To be charitable, even with Ginger’s limited experience, she could see that Arlene had been right – as a bookkeeper, she made a pretty good nurse. “This is silly,” Ginger told Arlene finally. “There’s no reason that you couldn’t set things up so you could take a session of ten minutes once a week during the off season and keep things up to date.”
“I know,” Arlene sighed. “I used to do it that way, but it always seemed like too much trouble when I could just sort the winter activity out in one fell swoop.”
“Yeah, and what happens if an off-season bill gets lost in the shuffle and doesn’t get paid?” Ginger replied in exasperation. “Then you’ve got a supplier mad at you, and maybe not willing to cut you some slack when you really need it.”
“It could happen, I suppose,” Arlene admitted. “It never has, but maybe I’ve been lucky. Like I said, it just seems like too much of a pain in the neck to have to sit down every week and do it.”
“I hate to tell you this,” Ginger told her, “but that’s part of the price of staying in business, keeping up with the numbers. The system doesn’t have to be complicated, but it needs to be a little better organized than this old shoebox.”
“You’re right,” Arlene sighed. “Go ahead, set it up and make some sense out of it. I suspect that you’re going to find out that the regular track business could be handled better, too. Do you think a computer would help?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Ginger told her. “I spent some time in my last semester at college working with computerized bookkeeping systems on the new IBM PCs. Lotus 1-2-3 is pretty good, and I hear there’s some new software called Quicken that’s a little better for regular bookkeeping, although I’ve never worked with it. I need to have a little better idea of what needs to be done on a regular basis, but maybe it would be worthwhile for you to think about adding a computer sometime in the future.”
So, rather than spending time hanging out in the shop and getting some idea of what Ray and Ted were up to with the Eagle, Ginger spent the evening at the kitchen table, trying to make sense out of the contents of the shoe box. When Ray finally made it in late in the evening, Ginger was near a stopping point. They got to spend a few minutes together and she got the impression he thought they were making progress on Ted’s car, but still had a lot to do.
The next morning it was again raining steadily – not hard, but coming down like it didn’t plan on quitting for a while. On top of that, it was so humid that there wasn’t even the thought of painting, but there were plenty of inside chores that needed to be done at various places around the track. Ginger busied herself with them, while the two women from the band boosters worked on the infield concession stand, which would be needed the coming weekend. The one chance that Ginger had to peek in the shop at the Eagle, it still seemed like a lot of pieces scattered all over the place, but from the tone of the discussion over lunch and dinner it sounded like the guys thought they were back on schedule. That evening Ginger pretty well got the winter bookkeeping caught up, but Arlene found some more for her to do with the books. That meant Ginger was getting a much better understanding of the old system, deficiencies and all, and she made some suggestions to streamline things once the season got under way – which wasn’t far off, now.
At least the rain quit the next day. The ground was too soft after the rain to think about mowing grass, but at least it was dry enough to do some more painting projects, so Ginger spent most of the day at them. From the talk the guys were having it sounded like the Eagle was going back together even if it didn’t look like it in the shop. That was still the case on Friday morning, but when Ginger came down from the office at the big track to make lunch for the guys, the car was definitely going back together. “We’re probably pushing it a little,” Ray explained, “but we got to thinking about it. We’ll have extra hands and the safety crew around for the test and tune tomorrow, so it would be a good time to see if we can get the thing to fire and see how much work we’ll have to throw at the engine next week. If it runs pretty good maybe we can just sort of let it go and see what happens.”
“I didn’t think you were going to try it this weekend,” Ginger said, a little surprised.
“It’s too good an opportunity to pass up,” Ted explained. “At least it’ll give us some direction on what we have to do next week.”
“I hate to take you away from what you’d really rather be doing,” Ginger said, “but if we’re going to have test and tune tomorrow I think I’d better get started on the grass this afternoon, at least in the back pits and up close to the big track. Can you take enough time away from that thing to show me how to run the big gang mower?”
“Yeah,” Ray admitted. “It only takes ten minutes or so to show you how to use it, but if anything goes wrong you’re just going to have to park it and come find me to get it fixed.”
“Good,” she replied. “If I can get a good start, and if the whole crew shows up after school, I figure we can still have the whole area of the big track mowed so it won’t get in the way of things tomorrow. Then, tomorrow we can finish cleaning up the little track area so we’ll be ready for those ATVs on Sunday.”
“Sounds like a plan to me,” Ray said. He was silent for a moment as if considering what to say before continuing. “Ginger, I know I haven’t been a lot of help to you this week, but you’ve really done well getting a handle on things. I just want you to know I really appreciate it. You’ve managed to get a lot more done than I figured you’d even get started on.”
“There’s still a lot to do before the opener,” she shrugged, “but with a little bit of luck, and if the rain holds off, we ought to be pretty close to ready when it happens.”
“Yeah, we should,” he told her. “There’s always more that can be done, but after tomorrow you’ll have a little bit better idea of what’s going to be involved.”