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Bullring Days 3 book cover

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

Chapter 22

It wasn’t the first time that Ginger had climbed to the scoring booth at the top of the grandstand, but she’d never done it when the place was full of people. Here and there she could see blank spots in the stands, but there weren’t very many of them. She and Georgia had been run about half ragged selling tickets for the last two hours, but the flow was dying down now. “They’re going to want you up in the scoring booth pretty quick,” Georgia told her a couple minutes before. “I can take it from here. The rush is dying out now.”

The scoring was handled by a group of women sitting in chairs in front of the open window. “OK, I’m here,” she said to Arlene, who was standing there looking on. “What now?”

“Take it easy for a few minutes,” she replied. “When the racing gets under way, just watch and see how it’s done. You’ll be the one to pass the work sheets to Frank about as quick as you can get them. It’s an easy job. These people can get along without you, but you should know how it’s done. When the features get under way, you’ll get put to work.”

“I can handle that,” Ginger replied. “You need me to get you anything?”

“Other than out of here, no,” Arlene told her. “I’ve got to get down to the infield, and right now.”

As Arlene headed down the stairs, Ginger watched her go, then stepped outside on the balcony to enjoy the crowd a little more. Maybe it was just being here, but the crowd seemed more excited, more involved than the crowd down at Potterville two weeks ago. Maybe it was because it was a bigger crowd, or maybe because in a way this was her home track. Her attention was drawn to a couple kids sitting in the top row a few feet away – a guy about high school age, with a girl who looked like she might be a little younger, it was hard to tell. She could tell from the body language that the two weren’t brother and sister, but they both had broad smiles and seemed to be excited and having fun. Lucky girl, she thought, remembering how much she would have liked to have gone out on a date back when she was that age, but how the boys had never seemed interested in her.

Have fun, kids, she thought, then headed back inside to get a better idea of what she would be doing.

*   *   *

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Frank Blixter’s voice boomed over the loudspeakers, “as we get the racing season under way here at Bradford Speedway, it’s time for a special tradition. Our track owners, Mel and Arlene Austin, spent years back in the early fifties racing Midgets for the old Midwest Midget Sportsman Association, doing it in tracks all over the Midwest before they settled here in Bradford. After the demise of the MMSA in 1955, most of those cars were scrapped, but twenty years ago this coming summer, Mel Austin got into a barn that held what little was left of those cars that hadn’t been melted down. With the help of the advanced auto shop classes at Bradford High School, Mel restored two of those cars. When this track first opened a few years later, Mel and Arlene christened it with a ten-lap dash around this oval using those two surviving cars. Ever since, it’s been tradition here to open the racing season with the parade laps of those two cars, driven by Mel and Arlene. Those cars are the good luck charms of this place, and it wouldn’t be a racing season at Bradford without them.”

“That’s a long time ago,” Kevin said to Emily as the two little cars pulled out of the infield pit lane in the rich, low light of the setting sun and began to run around the track at considerably less than racing speed. They could see the drivers waving at the crowd, and at friends who saw them from the pits. “Dad worked on the 2 car in Mr. Austin’s auto shop class. He said it was nothing but a total wreck when they started in on it.”

“Cute little things,” Emily said. “They really do look like race cars, though.”

“Dad said the 66 car is mostly a replica with a lot of original parts,” Kevin told her. “But the 2 car is mostly original, and it’s been in literally hundreds of heats or mains, well over a thousand. There probably aren’t ten cars down in the infield combined that have been on a track that much.”

“And Mrs. Austin drove it?” Emily said, amazed. “I know her from my doctor’s office, but I never knew that. That’s a story I’d really like to hear sometime.”

The two little open-wheel race cars drove side by side around the track for two or three laps, before pulling back into the pits. Emily thought that maybe she’d have to ask Mrs. Austin about it when she went to the doctor sometime. She mostly thought of racing as being a guy thing, but apparently it wasn’t. She didn’t think that she’d be all that interested in driving a race car herself, but then she’d have to learn how to drive first. Driver’s education was a year off, probably, and her license even longer than that. It’d be neat to have her own car, to be able to go places without having to ask someone to take her. Of course, she thought, that cost money. Maybe she ought to go down to the Spee-D-Mart and ask about that job. That would allow her to stick some money back for a car.

“Kevin,” she asked, “have you ever thought about driving a race car?”

“Oh, yeah, a little,” he shrugged. “It’d be fun to try sometime, just for the heck of it. But it costs money, and most of the spare money I’ve been able to come up with has had to go toward the bike. I know a couple guys who do it, though. They say it’s fun, but it costs a lot.”

“Maybe you can afford it after you get out of high school and get a job.”

Yeah, Kevin thought. There was that issue again. Jobs were hard to come by around this neck of the woods, especially right out of high school. He’d been looking into it and most of the jobs out there didn’t seem like they’d be worth the effort. They were low paid, grubby, and without any future. But there was an option, and he’d been thinking about it a lot. “It’d be nice,” he said, “but I don’t see getting a job that would give me enough money to do any racing, not for a while. Maybe someday.”

“Do you have any idea what you’re going to do when you get out of school?”

“I’m not sure,” he sighed. He flipped it over in his mind a little; he hadn’t told his folks what he’d been thinking about, and maybe he shouldn’t tell Emily since it might get back to them. But he felt like he wanted to tell somebody. “Emily,” he said slowly. “Can I tell you something and have you keep it a secret?”

“Yeah, sure, Kevin.”

“I don’t want my folks to know I’m thinking about it just yet,” he cautioned, “especially not Mom. But I keep thinking I might just join the military, maybe the Air Force.”

“You mean, flying planes and like that?”

“More likely washing them, or working on them,” he said. “Flying, almost certainly not; they don’t let junior enlisted people do that. Emily, I haven’t made my mind up yet, but I’m thinking about it.”

“Oh,” she said, a little deflated. She’d been envisioning other things involving Kevin. Yeah, he was a little older, but he was a really nice guy. It was probably a little too much to be thinking about at this point, but at least she’d enjoyed a little fantasy there for a while. “Well, I guess you have to do what you think is best.”

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” the announcer’s voice boomed out. “Please rise, and gentlemen, remove your hats, for our national anthem, sung tonight by Bradford High School senior Miriam Woodford.”

That snot, Emily thought as she stood up dutifully. I’m sure glad I’m not going to be in high school when she’s around! She thinks she’s better than everyone else and makes sure you know it. The school will be a better place without her around!

*   *   *

Although usually kept under tarps in the chicken coop behind the house, opening night was a time that the two MMSA Midgets got to shine. In fact, Mel and Arlene had spent quite a bit of time in the evenings over the past week washing the cars, cleaning them up, and polishing them. While the cars may have been the good luck charms for the track, they were also a token of their youth, and the two did everything they could to keep them in great condition.

Mel followed Arlene’s 2 car in his own 66 car into the roped-off enclosure in the pits near the concession stand, pulled to a stop beside her, and shut the engine down. Neither of the engines was original – in fact, both were Brazilian-made light truck engines, but the same basic engine as the V8-60s the cars had mounted thirty years ago.

Though there was little actual danger, Mel always wore a helmet when driving the cars, and wore his seat belt. When he’d first driven in a race seat belts had been the next thing to unheard of, and now they were mandatory in just about every form of car racing he could think of. How times had changed!

With things put away he got out of the car, as Arlene was getting out of the other midget. “Well, that’s it,” he said. “Another season gets under way.”

“Time passes,” she agreed. “I get out on the track in the 2 and it seems like those days were yesterday. I have trouble believing that in a couple months it’ll be thirty years since I drove that car for the first time.” She let out a sigh. “Guess I’d better get back across the track now, while I still can.”

“Oh, don’t rush off,” he said. “They’ll be able to get along without you for a heat or two. Let’s just enjoy the moment together.”

“I’d like that,” she smiled. “Ginger will just have to wait. You know, it sure seems a shame to just drive these cars back down to the chicken coop and cover them with a tarp again until we either get them out for a parade, or even for the opener next year. We really need to get that museum building done.”

“Yeah, we do,” he agreed. “There are other things we need to think about first, though.”

“We could put the backfield concession stand off another year or two if we had to,” she shrugged. “It’s going to be a long time paying for itself.”

“We may have to put it off, anyway,” he said. “I’ve been kicking around another idea. It’s not fully formed yet, but it would solve a lot of problems. I want to think about it some the next two or three weeks.”

“Something for the track?” she frowned.

“Not quite,” he said. “Look, now’s not the time to start talking about it. Let’s just enjoy the racing.”

*   *   *

“We’re going to open the racing tonight with the first heat of our Economy Stock division,” the announcer said, and started to read off a list of names and car numbers.

“Kevin,” Emily said after taking a sip of her coke, looking down at the cars circling the track behind a pace car, “those don’t really look a lot like race cars. I mean, not like that car down behind the stands, or those two little ones.”

“There are lots of different kinds of race cars,” Kevin explained.

“Yeah, but those look pretty much like regular cars,” she protested.

“Well, they are pretty much regular cars,” he told her. “ Six-cylinder engines, at least ten years old, with parts and stuff mostly stock. There’s some other restrictions on what kind of cars they can be, they have to have a roll cage, and stuff like that. It’s supposed to be a car you can run on the cheap.”

“ . . . and bringing up the rear, Gary Apling in the Number 55,” the announcer said.

“Gary Apling?” she said in surprise. “Could that be the Gary Apling in my class?”

“Dunno,” Kevin said. “I don’t know too many of the kids in your class. Just you and that friend of yours, Vicky.”

“But he’s my age! I wouldn’t think he could drive a race car! I didn’t know he could drive yet, period!”

“Don’t have to have a driver’s license to drive here,” Kevin explained. “I think you can drive in this class as young as twelve.”


“Yeah, twelve,” Kevin smiled. “There’s a kid in my class, Roger Hamilton, who’s been driving here since that age. He’s pretty good, too.”

“Well, if it’s the Gary Apling I know, I’m not exactly wishing him good luck,” Emily snorted. “He’s a jerk.”

“Well, if he’s starting at the tail end of the field, he’s not exactly the fastest car out there,” Kevin told her. “Let’s watch the race. Economy Stocks aren’t real fast but they’re usually pretty wild.”

The pace car brought the field around one more time, then slowed and dove into the infield entrance on the back stretch, while the cars speeded up behind the first car in line. They were going at full tilt when they came past the start-finish line. As the field raced into the first corner, several cars got out of line and tried to work their way past the leaders, four wide in one spot. It looked so wild that Emily couldn’t believe the whole field wasn’t going to wreck right there, but somehow they didn’t. “Wow!” she squealed to her date. “Did you see that?”

“I told you they were pretty fun,” he grinned.

They were still two and three wide going down the back stretch, with the black Chevy with the crude number 55 painted on the side trailing the field and falling back quickly. It was hard to follow what was going on around the track after that, and Emily told Kevin that. “Best thing to do is to watch two or more cars battling it out,” he told her. “That’s where the action is going to be.”

The words were barely out of his mouth when one of the three cars battling for third touched another one pretty hard. The car that had been hit slid sideways down the track, drawing a gasp from the crowd, but somehow the driver managed to straighten it back out without spinning. “Tom Masisk in the 83 almost lost it there,” Blixter said over the loudspeaker, “but he managed to gather it up, and we’re still green.”

“Keep an eye on him,” Kevin suggested. “Let’s see if he pays back the guy who nudged him.”

It turned out that the guy in the 83 car didn’t nudge back the car that had bumped him, but he wasn’t about to give up either. Within a lap he was back up with the other guy, and all of a sudden he managed to dive under him going into turns three and four, come out of the corner almost even and managed to finally get ahead of him in turns one and two. “That was a nice clean pass that put Masisk in the 83 back into fourth,” the announcer said, “and you can see he’s starting to chase down third place.”

With the heat only lasting eight laps there wasn’t time for much recovery, but they could see the 83 was on it, chasing down the third-place car, and battling with him for position for the last three laps of the race. He just managed to get about a quarter car length ahead at the finish line. “Wow, he did it!” Emily said excitedly as the cars headed for the back pits, and another group of cars began to come onto the race track. “And Apling was way behind! I hope someone reminds him of that at school Monday.”

“You like that?” Kevin asked, a smile on his face.

“Yeah, wow!” she replied. “Kevin, that was fun! Are there going to be more like that?”

“Lots more,” he told her. “The evening is just getting started, and we haven’t got to the fast stuff yet.”

They sat there and watched heat after heat, three heats of Economy Stocks in all before they went to the Street Stocks, which Kevin told Emily had V-8s and were a lot more powerful. Some of the races were pretty straightforward, but others weren’t; there were several spins and a couple wrecks, one of which was bad enough that the whole race was stopped while track workers came out to clean up afterwards. Fortunately no one was hurt, and when the drivers got out of their cars there was a big cheer for them from the grandstands.

After the Street Stocks came the Sportsmen, and then the Modifieds, which were funny-looking cars with their fenders removed and only vaguely resembling street cars. Finally, there came the Late Models, low, sleek, and loud. They didn’t wreck anything like as much as the other classes, but they seemed awful fast, although not nearly as fast as the Indy car down behind the stands, or at least that was what the announcer said.

Each race was fun. Somewhere along in there Kevin and Emily weren’t holding hands anymore; he’d slipped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her a little closer to him. She liked the feeling, and she liked it even more when Shae came through the stands with her roll of tickets, selling them to those who wanted to buy them. “You look like you’re having fun,” Shae said to Emily when she was close by.

“Oh yeah, lots of fun,” Emily bubbled. “I had no idea it would be this much fun.”

There were three heats of the Late Models, and they were fun to watch, too. Finally, Blixter said, “All right, with Mike Rowe’s winning the final heat of the Late Model division, that brings heat racing to a close here at Bradford Speedway tonight, but don’t go away. Things are just getting started! We’ll have a brief intermission, which will be a good time for you to visit the concession stand for some of our great track food, or to buy some 50-50 tickets to help support Ted Hilyard’s Indianapolis 500 qualifying attempt. There are several people around selling 50-50 tickets, so stop and buy one or half a dozen. Remember, every time you buy a ticket you’re digging into my pocket, so let’s send Ted off to the Brickyard knowing that Bradford fans are supporting him all the way!”

“You want something from the concessions?” Kevin asked. “I could go down and get something while you hold our place.”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t mind something,” she said, “but why don’t you go get what you want, then come back. I kinda need to go visit the little girl’s room, if you know what I mean.”

“Go ahead and do it now, but come right back here,” he suggested. “Then I’ll go wait out the line and get stuff for both of us. That way we won’t have to wait it out separately.”

“OK, I’ll go,” she told him. “I sort of need to stretch my legs, anyway.”

“OK,” he told her. “I’ll wait for you.” Kevin leaned back and watched her go down the stairs. Those jeans she had on were pretty tight, and he liked the way her butt bounced when she walked, the way her pony tail bounced behind her. She might have been an eighth grader, but she really was kind of cute and she seemed to be having a lot of fun. It had seemed kind of like a duty thing to bring her, but that was gone, now – she really was a lot of fun to be with!

“Hey, Holst!” he heard. He glanced up to see Rory Hollinger, a guy from his class at Amherst – and a guy he didn’t particularly like, since he tended to be loud and obnoxious. “How’d you wind up going out with a cute girl like that?”

“Oh, she’s just a friend of the family,” Kevin admitted, “but she is kind of cute, isn’t she?”

“Too cute for the likes of you,” the guy sneered back. “Shit, some guys get all the luck.”

Kevin didn’t feel like bantering with Hollinger – it was a waste of perfectly good breath – so just leaned back against the fence at the back of the bleachers and took in the scene. It was after dark now, the track lights had been on for a long time, casting a pool of light on the infield and the people working on cars and just hanging out down there. Yeah, he thought, it would be fun to be part of that show, and it would be fun to drive a race car a little sometime, but it probably wouldn’t be soon.

The more he thought about it, the more the Air Force seemed like a good idea. He had a cousin, Darryl, who’d been in the Marines and came back with stories that they lived like dogs and worked their asses off. Somehow, living that grubby didn’t seem all that appealing to him, even if there was a war on. But another cousin had told him that if you had to be in the military, then the Air Force was the place to be. Even if you got sent to some weird, off-the-wall place, you usually were living pretty good, not down in the mud like the Army or Marines, and not all crowded together like people were in the Navy. It would be possible to learn something useful there, maybe, something that would help him get a decent job when he got out. He’d hate having to leave home and do that stuff, but then maybe it would be a way to see a different part of the world, too.

It was something to think about. It wasn’t like he had to make a decision on it tonight, but he should be giving it some serious thought.

*   *   *

There was a line for the rest rooms, which was to be expected, but it wasn’t real bad, which was surprising. “Wow, I guess we got lucky,” Emily commented to an older woman, probably in her thirties, who was standing there waiting. “Usually every place I go the line for the restrooms for the women is twice as long as it is for the men.”

“Not here,” the woman smiled. “The women’s rooms are twice as large as the men’s, because they know that women take longer and they want to be considerate. I think Arlene Austin had something to do with that.”

“You don’t see that everywhere,” Emily said.

“It’s something you hardly see anywhere,” the woman agreed, “especially around race tracks. This is about the nicest track I’ve ever been to, and they really try to take care of their customers.”

The line moved along quickly, and Emily soon felt better. As she headed back to the stands, she saw that the lines for the concession booth weren’t very long and decided to get in line, no matter what Kevin had said. She liked her hot dogs without mustard – she really didn’t like mustard – and there was no point in expecting him to remember that. It only took a couple minutes to get to the front of the line, where she ordered a hot dog and hot chocolate. She’d barely got the order placed when she saw that the woman serving her was Mrs. Tyler, the mother of one of the kids in her class. “Wow,” she said when she was digging her wallet out to pay. “I didn’t know you worked here.”

“Not really,” Mrs. Tyler told her. “The Band Boosters work here as part of a fundraiser. I thought you knew that.”

“I guess not,” Emily replied. “I’m not in band, so I wouldn’t know.”

“I saw you were here earlier with a date,” Mrs. Tyler said. “I hope you’re having a good time.”

“I’m really enjoying it,” Emily smiled. “The racing is a lot of fun. Have you been watching?”

“Oh, heavens no,” Mrs. Tyler said. “I’m not a race fan. I just work the booth here. I’ve never watched a race.”

“You ought to sometime, it’s exciting,” Emily replied.

“Maybe I will,” Mrs. Tyler smiled.

Emily would have liked to talk for a minute more, if for no more reason than the fact that if there was one guy in her class she’d like to have ask her out, it would be Mrs. Tyler’s son Scott. He was a real nice guy, good-looking and polite, which wasn’t always the case for the athletes. The heck of it was that most of the girls in her class felt the same way, so there was a real line there and Emily knew she didn’t have much chance of success in it, not that he dated anyway, as far as she knew.

But why even worry about it tonight? After all, she had a date tonight, for the very first time, and Kevin was a really nice guy, too. And at least Kevin had a car and his motorcycle, which was more than could be said of Scott. When you looked at it that way, she was doing pretty well.

She headed back to the front of the grandstand and looked across the track at the activity in the pits for a moment before beginning the climb back up to where Kevin waited for her. When she got there she told him, “There wasn’t much of a line, so I decided to get my hot dog the way I wanted it and not have to expect to remember to do it special for me.”

“I would have done it for you the way you wanted it,” Kevin replied courteously. “It wouldn’t have been any problem.”

“I just didn’t want to make any extra trouble for you,” she smiled. “You better go now, so you can get back before the racing starts again.”

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