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Bullring Days 3 book cover

Bullring Days 3:
Banners Flying
Wes Boyd
©2009, ©2014

Chapter 21

“Well, all right,” Georgia Lippits said to Ginger. “It’s still a couple minutes, but we might as well get at it.”

“Might as well,” Ginger agreed, taking a sip of her Coke. “Should we go ahead and open the window?”

Georgia had handled the grandstand ticket booth at Bradford Speedway for years, and she knew what she was doing. Arlene had told Ginger to work as an assistant to Georgia, at least today, so she’d have some idea of what goes on there. The plan was for Ginger to only stay at the booth until about the time racing got under way, when she’d go up to the scoring tower and help with that job. “Yeah, let’s do it,” Georgia said.

It had already been a long day for Ginger and it was going to be even longer. It had started with a big breakfast at the Austin dining table, followed by what seemed like a full day’s work ending just a little bit ago. However, the workday wasn’t half over with at four in the afternoon when the grandstands opened so people could watch qualifying before the racing.

Part of what had made it a long day was the fact that not only had it rained all day Tuesday, but the rain had extended on through Wednesday and into Thursday. That meant that it was too soft and wet to mow all the grass around the track on Thursday, putting everything severely behind schedule. Ginger was finally able to start mowing when things dried out on Friday morning, but there was an awful lot of grass to mow. She finally had to knock it off as it got dark in the evening, but there was still plenty left.

She hadn’t been the only one working on the grass. Bob and Lonnie had been out there after school let out on Friday doing trimming with hand mowers, but that wasn’t all – Mel was out with the mower he used around the house. Ray and even Ted worked on some of the other last-minute chores, like raising the banners around the track that gave the place a festive appearance, just one on a long list of jobs, which Ginger had got right back onto as soon as breakfast was over with on Saturday. As soon as things dried out enough she was back on the gang mower, finishing the back part of the parking lot. What with several people pitching in, the mowing was wrapped up just about the time the back gate opened for the racers showing up for practice and more test and tune.

Ginger had taken a few minutes to head down to the house, take a quick shower, and change into clean clothes. After making a quick stop by the infield concession stand for a hot dog and a Coke, she drove out to the back gate to help the woman at the ticket booth there for a couple hours. After that there was some work in the track office.

When Ginger left the office on her way over to the grandstand ticket booth, she was surprised to see the Eagle sitting out there behind the grandstand, marked off by ropes and sawhorses, with Ted greeting the arriving race fans. Actually, people started arriving slowly, but the pace picked up as race time approached – both Ginger and Georgia were selling tickets like crazy. Ginger at least had some idea of what was happening from her visit to Potterville two weeks before, but this was a lot more civilized, a lot more organized – and a lot busier. This, she thought, was how it ought to be.

*   *   *

Emily Jones was excited. But then, she had every right to be as she and Kevin Holst waited in line so he could buy tickets to the race.

Tonight was special. Emily’s mother and Kevin’s mother had been friends in high school, and they had stayed friends ever since. Emily had known Kevin virtually all her life. He was four years older than she, and in his last year at Amherst High School, the next school district over. Earlier in the week Kevin’s mother happened to mention to Emily’s mother that Kevin planned on going to the race if he could find someone to go with – it wasn’t as much fun to go by himself. Emily had always liked Kevin; she wasn’t sure how much she was interested in the race, but the chance to go with Kevin . . . well, it wasn’t to be turned down.

Kevin may have thought it was some type of quasi-family thing, family friends going to the race together, but Emily had her own ideas. As far as she was concerned, this was a date! Vicky, her best friend, was going to be so jealous!

Emily was an eighth grader, so she thought she ought to be big enough to go out on a solo date, no matter what her mother had said, but Kevin, well, Kevin was a nice guy anyway, and it seemed like a pretty cool way around her mother’s restrictions. She was planning on wringing every bit of experience she could out of this, her first real date.

It had been real special to have Kevin come by on his Kawasaki and to bring a spare helmet so she could ride on the back. She’d ridden around the block sitting behind Kevin a couple times, and that had been fun, but to actually go somewhere, even if it was just to the track out west of town, was something special. She was so excited she could hardly speak as he wrapped the bike up hard along the Interstate to the next exit and back, just so she got the thrill of the speed, then rode at a more sedate pace out to the track. It turned out there was a special place to park bikes not far from the ticket office, so when he pulled in there, winged the bike up and shut it down, she felt extra special. “You like the ride?” he asked as he helped her off the bike and took her helmet to fasten down on the back.

“Oh yes, Kevin,” she smiled almost ecstatically. “That was a ball! I really liked that. Can we do it again sometime?”

“Might be,” Kevin grinned, obviously thrilled to see Emily so excited. She really was a cute kid, he thought, even though she was just a kid. He’d originally approached Melanie Rickner about going to the race with him tonight, but Melanie said she didn’t like racing, didn’t like motorcycles, and didn’t particularly like him, so why was he bugging her anyway?

He didn’t really want to go to the race by himself, even though he liked the races. He’d come out here with his folks several times each summer as long as he could remember, but they had something else going on tonight. He’d about given up on the idea when his mother suggested that it would be nice to take Emily Jones to the race. In the beginning, it didn’t strike him as such a great idea, coming right back down to the fact that Emily was a kid, but he figured he could gain some points with his mother from doing it. It wasn’t that Emily was a dog or anything; in fact, she was kind of a cute kid for an eighth grader, but, well, she was an eighth grader, after all and he was in the twelfth grade, a senior. On balance, this evening might not be that bad, and it would be better than having to go to the race by himself.

As Emily watched, he undid the bungees that held his barrel bag on the bike’s sissy bar. Over the course of the evening the bleachers got a little hard, and he’d thought that Emily might appreciate having something softer to sit on. He knew he would. “All right,” he smiled, “let’s go get some tickets.”

“Sure, let’s go,” Emily smiled. They started toward the ticket office, and he was a little surprised when Emily took his hand, just like they were boyfriend and girlfriend or something. She was not about to let go while they waited in line for the ticket booth. Well, let her have her fun, he thought.

Although the line at the ticket booth was long, it moved along pretty quickly. It only took a couple minutes before they were up to the ticket window. He didn’t recognize the young woman selling tickets; she must be new, he thought. He was a little surprised to see that the student rate was the same as last year. “Two, student rate,” he said.

“That’ll be six dollars,” the woman said. Kevin finally managed to let go of Emily’s hand long enough to get his wallet out, and pull out a five and a one. The woman handed him a couple red tickets, and said, “Welcome to Bradford Speedway. Have fun this evening, and check out the Indy car on static display.”

“Thanks,” he replied. “We’ll take a look at it.”

As soon as Kevin got his wallet back in his pocket Emily took his hand again. This all seemed so new to her! She’d wanted to come out here before, and had wondered what it would be like, but for whatever reason her folks never came to the races. An opportunity to come with Kevin’s family had just never come up, but to be able to come out here for the first time with just Kevin on her first date made her feel all grown up. She wasn’t a little kid anymore, at least not tonight!

Hand in hand they walked the short distance to the ticket taker, by an opening in the low fence between the ticket booth and some other building. He handed the tickets to an elderly woman sitting on a bar stool by the gate, who stamped their hands with an ink stamp. Emily was hardly aware of it, because she was looking around, trying to take in everything at once. From where they stood, she could see the grandstands looming high above, with some kind of building at the top of them. They seemed awful high! She’d seen the top of the stands from the road, many times, but now it was fun to actually be here, standing on the asphalt walkway going up to them.

Up in front of them they could see an orange and off-white open-wheel race car, surrounded by sawhorses and yellow caution tape. It looked like the kind of car they raced down at Indianapolis. She’d never seen a real one, but she’d seen them in the papers and on TV. “Is that the kind of car they’re going to be racing here tonight?” She asked Kevin.

“No, we’re mostly going to be seeing more or less stock cars,” he replied. “They must just have this here on display.”

Still hand in hand, they walked right up to the tape surrounding the car. Somehow, the car seemed smaller to Emily than she had imagined, but it really looked fast! An old guy, maybe her mom and dad’s age, was standing behind the tape, talking to the people who had gathered around. “Wow!” she said to Kevin. “That really looks like a race car.”

Kevin looked at the car. There was something strange about it, he couldn’t put a finger on it until he realized that there was only one exhaust pipe, chromed and pointing backward. That could only mean one thing. “Is that an Offenhauser in that thing?” he asked the tall, dark-haired guy behind the tape.

“Right the first time,” the guy replied. “Turbocharged DRG model, in an Eagle chassis.”

“I didn’t think they raced them anymore,” Kevin said. “This is just a display car, right?”

“No, we’re taking it down to the Brickyard early Tuesday morning,” the guy smiled. “But you’re almost right. It wouldn’t surprise me if this is the only Offy powered car that shows up down there this year, but I think I’ve got a chance to get it in the show.”

“You’re the driver?” Emily piped up. “Wow, that’s cool!”

“Ted Hilyard, and yes, this is my car,” the man said. “I own it, too.”

“What’s it like to drive?” Kevin asked.

“Actually, a little scary,” Hilyard replied, “but it’s very, very fast. I set the all-time track record with it while we were testing it here last weekend. Everything vibrates loud, and sounds like the proverbial bucket of bolts. Very loud bolts, but it’s the fastest and coolest thing I’ve ever driven.”

Kevin shook his head. He thought he could imagine what it would be like to drive something like that sometime, but maybe he didn’t want to find out that bad. “Well, best of luck to you down there,” he told the driver.

“Thanks,” Hilyard smiled. “I need all of that I can get.”

The car was pretty interesting, but something else caught Emily’s eye. Back in the far corner behind the tape she saw a familiar person – her backside – but that was enough to identify her. A six-foot four-inch blonde eighth grade girl doesn’t blend into the crowd very well, especially wearing heels. As soon as Kevin was done talking to the driver, Emily held onto his hand and all but dragged him down to the far end of the enclosure. “Hi, Shae,” she said to the blonde. “What are you doing here?”

“Selling 50-50 tickets,” Shae replied. “You like one? They’re a buck, or six for five.”

A dollar seemed a little steep, but it was worth the price to Emily for Shae to see her there with Kevin! Shae wasn’t as much a gossip as some in the class, but it seemed likely that she’d spread the word that Emily had been there with a guy! “Yeah, sure,” Emily replied brightly, a huge smile on her face. “I didn’t know you worked here,” she added as she dug in a pocket of her jeans for her wallet.

“Dad said I ought to do something this summer other than just sit around the house and shoot hoops,” Shae explained. “They’re looking for someone down at the Spee-D-Mart, but I didn’t want to work that many days. One night a week is fine.”

“Dad kind of hinted at the same thing to me,” Emily admitted as she handed Shae a dollar. “Maybe I ought to go down there and check it out.”

“The job is still open, as far as I know,” Shae told her as she ripped a purple drawing ticket off the roll. “Have a good time tonight.”

Emily would have liked to stand and talk with Shae a little more, just to drive home the point that she was there with a date, but some man was waving a five-dollar bill around and her tall friend had to deal with that.

Emily and Kevin walked away from the car, still hand in hand, with Emily hoping that Shae noticed. “You know her?” he asked.

“Oh yeah, she’s in my class,” Emily giggled, thinking of the gossip that she hoped would get around the school on Monday.

“Wow,” he shook his head. “Big girl. You want to hit the concessions for something before we go find seats in the stands?”

A few minutes later Emily couldn’t hold hands with Kevin as they climbed a long way to the top of the grandstand, because she needed both of them to juggle a box of popcorn, a hot dog, and a can of Coke. She stood and waited as Kevin set down his food, dug in his barrel bag for a blanket, and spread it out for the two of them to sit on. Her attention was pretty much on that till she got seated, but she took a moment to look around.

They were a long way up. If she twisted to the left and a little behind her, she could see Bradford off in the distance, about three miles away. She could see well off into the distance on this beautiful, clear April night, farms and fields and trees rolling away into the indistinct horizon. The track actually seemed a little small – larger than the track that ran around the football field at the high school, but not a whole lot larger. It was a lot wider, though, and the pavement was surrounded with a high fence, studded here and there by flagpoles with colorful banners flapping weakly in the light breeze. The infield was filled with colorful race cars with numbers on the side, along with open and closed trailers and people running around doing this and that. There were a lot of people in the grandstands that ran part way around the track, and even a few sitting in the grandstands on the far side of the track. There were more cars and stuff sitting in the field beyond the track, too.

“Wow, Kevin,” she smiled as she unwrapped her hot dog, which she’d loaded with everything but mustard down at the concession stand, “I never knew it was like this!”

*   *   *

Damn, the track announcer thought as he climbed up the stairs to the scoring booth. This grandstand gets higher every year, but every year on opening night it was good to look around and see what had been accomplished here. He thought back to the first time he’d announced a race at Bradford, somewhere on the far side of thirty years before; Mel has sure brought this place a long way, when you consider the dump that it was long ago. I’m just glad I could help Mel build this. Hell, compared with when we were running every damn dusty bullring you could think of, places that had never seen a race car before and probably have never seen one since, we’ve come a long way.

He paused at the door to the scoring tower and took a good look around. Good crowd tonight, he thought. Hope we can give ’em a good show. And, after that talk he’d had with Mel earlier, there was something else he needed to do.

*   *   *

“We haven’t even gotten to the good part yet,” Kevin smiled, looking at the excitement on Emily’s face. She sure seemed to be enjoying this! Eighth grader or not, she was a cute kid and she was already having a good time. That was worth something all by itself! Maybe this wasn’t going to be such a bad deal after all. He really doubted that Melanie would seem so excited, so exuberant, even if he had been able to talk her into come along. Well, it was her loss, wasn’t it? He was at the track and he had a cute girl along who seemed to like being there with him. That was going to make it fun all by itself. “But it probably shouldn’t be long now.”

As if to not make a liar out of him, the loudspeakers around the track began to blare out, “Good evening, race fans! I’m Frank Blixter, your track announcer, welcoming you to the opening night of the 1984 racing season here at Bradford Speedway. We’ll be getting racing started in just a few minutes, so now might be a good time to head down to the concession stand to get some of our famous Bradford Speedway hot dogs, one of our great quarter-pound all-beef hamburgers, a slice of pizza, a box of popcorn, a can of your favorite beverage, or one of the many other items on our menu.”

While the announcer took a breath, Kevin told Emily, “Guess we got there at the right time.”

She said something in reply, but it was lost as Blixter continued, “While you’re down by the concession stand, you might want to check out the collection of Bradford Speedway souvenirs on sale at our gift shop. While you’re there, take a minute to look over the Indy car on static display down there. Say hello to the driver, Ted Hilyard of Puyallup, Washington, who set the all-time track record here at Bradford with it last weekend, a 13:23, which works out to a one hundred two miles-an-hour average speed. I’m sorry to say that I wasn’t here to see it, but 102 on a track this size has to be really flying. That record could stand for a long time.”

Again Blixter paused for breath; Kevin could see him in the scoring booth over to their right as he continued. “The chief mechanic on Ted’s Offenhauser-powered Eagle is Bradford Speedway’s Ray Austin, your chief tech inspector here tonight. They figured this was a good place to get the car ready before they head down to Indianapolis next week to practice for the 500! Needless to say, we all wish Ted and Ray the best of luck down at the Brickyard.”

Blixter paused for another breath, then continued. “Now I’m going to say something that Ted probably wouldn’t tell you, and I didn’t find it out from him. Ted’s father was his chief mechanic on his Late Model for years, but had a stroke recently. His fondest dream was to see his son at least attempt the Brickyard, so Ted is giving it the old college try on a real shoestring. You’ll notice there’s no sponsor name on that car. Ted is paying for it out of his pocket, and his sponsorship involves selling his championship Late Model and a second mortgage on his house. That’s a pretty good car he’s got there, folks. It finished well at Indy last year, so there’s a chance it could do it again. But everything in racing costs money, and without asking Ted, your track owner, Mel Austin and I decided that we’re going to help things out. The proceeds from our 50-50 drawing tonight will be given to Ted for his Indy attempt, and to sweeten things up, I’ll match out of my own pocket whatever the fifty-fifty ticket sales are tonight. So dig into my pocket, folks, and maybe the announcer down in Indy can refer to that car as ‘The Bradford Speedway Fans Special!’ There’s several people around selling tickets tonight, so help out with the cause.”

The announcer paused again, and Kevin whispered to Emily, “It’s still going to take some money. One of those tires costs like four hundred bucks.”

“Wow! That much! And the announcer is going to match it?”

“He can afford it,” Kevin said loudly as the loudspeaker continued with the announcer’s voice, this time telling fans that the center section of the grandstands was considered the family section, and if race fans were drinking beer to move to one of the end sections. “You see the biggest billboard on the back stretch?”

“The one that says, ‘Frank Blixter Ford, Livonia, Michigan?’”

“Yeah, that one,” Kevin laughed. “Remember who the announcer is? He doesn’t even get paid for announcing, he just likes doing it. I’ve talked to him a couple times; he’s a real neat guy.”

*   *   *

Down behind the grandstands, Ted was just a little red-faced to hear Blixter’s appeal. This was a total surprise! That tall kid had been there next to the car selling 50-50 tickets for a couple hours, and hadn’t said anything about that! He’d thought she must have figured it was a good place to sell them, but hadn’t realized that he was going to be the beneficiary. It was a little embarrassing and he would have liked to have said something, but he was talking to people and it wouldn’t have been right to break away.

“That true, son?” Ted looked up to see a grizzled gray old farmer-looking guy needing a shave, wearing tattered and dirty bib overalls.

“Yeah,” he admitted shyly. “It’s been a struggle, but I’ve made it this far.”

The old coot dug in his pocket and came out with a roll of bills big enough to choke a horse, held together with a rubber band. He peeled off several and handed them over – Ted was surprised to see that they were hundreds. “Here,” the old guy said. “Do your old man proud.”

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To be continued . . .

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