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Bullring Days 3 book cover

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

Chapter 26

Fortunately for Ginger, her funk over the meeting with her mother mostly got overshadowed by the memories of the scene with Phipps. He’d really gotten his!

Work went all right, but she still felt lonely when evening came down without having Ray around, or anything in particular to do, and she mentioned it to Mel. “Well,” he replied. “I’ve sort of come to the conclusion that the only way I’m ever going to get the space back in my shop that Ray’s Mod takes up is to work on it myself. You’re welcome to come keep me company, and maybe I can even find a few things for you to help me on it.”

“I don’t know anything about working on cars,” she protested.

“Then there’s no time like the present to learn,” Mel told her. “One of the bitches I have about schools today is that, with no auto shop and limited driver’s ed, kids don’t know enough about cars. I’ll be glad to lecture and answer questions as we go along, although I’ll admit that it’s partly because I like the sound of my own voice.”

Ray’s Modified had been shoved to the side and was gathering dust while the work on Hilyard’s Indy car had been going on, but after supper that evening they dug it out. “Other than the motor, there’s really not a lot to do to it,” Mel announced. “It looks a lot worse than it is, and it’ll look better when it’s in one piece and there’s some paint on it. I think it’d do Ray some good to take it out and run it somewhere.”

“I think so too,” Ginger agreed. “He’s talked about doing it, but it’s always been one of those get-around-to-it-sometime things.”

“Yeah, he doesn’t have any great drive as a racer, but at least he used to enjoy getting out and racing some,” Mel agreed. “And it wouldn’t hurt you to be there with him, either.”

The bare block for the motor had arrived days before, but was still sitting in the crate along with the other lower-end parts. With Hilyard’s Indy car the priority, there just had been no time to deal with them. Mel and Ginger got it out of the crate and onto the engine stand, and it was only then that Ginger began to learn what makes an internal combustion engine tick – as far as she had known the ultimate power could have been chipmunks running around in a cage.

Work on the motor went slowly over the next few evenings, but it was a pleasant time, with Mel full of stories of the old days and racing here at Bradford. He managed to weasel the story of her revenge on Phipps out of her that first night, and got about as big a laugh out of it as if he had been there.

“I wish I’d seen that,” he laughed. “But, you know, there ought to be some way we could get some mileage out of that. A few laughs, or something.”

“No, that’s far enough with it,” Ginger protested. “I wouldn’t pull that on Phipps again, if for no more reason than he’d be expecting it. If I could get him another way sometime I wouldn’t pass it up, but what I did today is something that wouldn’t be funny the second time.”

“I didn’t mean that,” Mel smiled. “I mean the mousy little sexpot bookkeeper routine. Think back to the other night when you and Frank did the drawing. Frank is a great guy but when it comes to putting on a show he can be as full of shit as anyone I know. Now, give you two a little time to work out a routine, especially if he’s the butt of the joke, I know the two of you could get some laughs.”

“I don’t know,” she shook her head. “I’m not a person who shows off like that.”

“Ginger, there’s one thing you always want to remember around this place. What we are doing is putting on a show. Yeah, the racing is important, but people come out here to have some fun and excitement, and it’s our job to provide it. Yeah, we do some racing and we can be pretty serious about it, but we always try to have some fun for its own sake.”

“I can see that, but, well, Mel . . .”

“Tell you what. I don’t even know what we’d use for jokes, but I’ll bet Frank would have some ideas. Let’s kick it around with him when he comes down Saturday.”

“All right,” Ginger surrendered. “Just one thing. There’s no way I’m going to walk down a twelve-degree banking in three-inch heels.”

“Oh, why not? It’s not like you can’t practice. Hell, that tall kid last week did it without any practice at all. Besides, think of the hip action you’d get. That’d be worth a laugh in itself. We don’t have to do it this weekend if we can’t work anything out.”

Thus it was that Ginger took her high heels with her when she went out to work at the track the next day, which was at least dry, with sun and a strong breeze drying out the damp from the day before. Among her chores that morning was spending some time with a broom cleaning up the remnants of the mess Phipps had made when he spilled the trash cans. After a while Ginger decided she couldn’t put it off any longer, so changed her shoes, took a deep breath and practiced walking across the track in front of the grandstands in her heels. The first trip across the track was an adventure, thinking she was going to fall with every step, but she made it, and after repeated trips she got confident enough with it to introduce an exaggerated hip action. Anything for the sake of the show, she thought.

Frank thought the idea was hilarious! The two of them quickly worked out a routine where he set up the jokes and she delivered the punch line in a very stuffy, straight manner. This week she worked in the gift store in her normal casual clothes up until after intermission, when she headed off to the office, put her hair up, quickly loaded up some heavy makeup and pulled on the outfit.

There was no particular special cause for the drawing this week, and raffle ticket sales were way down from the week before. However, there was a lot more interest up in the stands when she carefully swivel-hipped her way across the track behind Frank, to the point where she drew some yells and wolf whistles. Though it was also a smaller crowd than the previous week, the two of them got some laughs with their repartee, some of it with the winner of the preceding Street Stock event, who drew the winning ticket.

Once off the track, she headed back to the office, changed clothes again quickly, then went up to the scoring booth where Frank was busy calling the race. On the way into the booth she noticed with amusement the two teenagers who had drawn her attention the week before were again wrapped in a blanket making out passionately. Lucky kids, she thought again.

Just about that time there had been a wreck in the Sportsman class. It wasn’t serious but there was oil on the track. The crews were busy cleaning it up and looked like they’d be a while, and Frank wasn’t saying much of anything at the moment. “Hey, that was fun,” he said when he saw her. “We’ll have to do that again.”

“The crowd sure got a laugh,” she agreed.

“They could use one right now,” he said. “Sit down in that chair right there, take a mike, put on your Miss Marston persona, and complain to me that you found one ticket that didn’t get counted and you want to know what to do with it.”

“OK,” Ginger said dubiously. She sat down at the microphone, gathered her wits, and said, “Mr. Blixter, we had a little problem with the 50-50 drawing.”

“What’s the problem?”

“Well, there was one more ticket sold than we had money for. The books have to balance, Mr. Blixter, you know that.”

“One ticket, big deal. What’s one ticket?”

They wound up winging it back and forth for about five minutes, mostly at Frank’s expense, and got a lot of laughter from the crowd, some of it in places where Ginger didn’t even see a punch line. Finally the crew got done sweeping up the kitty litter used to soak up the oil, the yellow flag came out to replace the red that had stopped the race, and the cars began to circulate around the track again. They quickly brought the routine to a close, and Frank turned back to the microphone, with one parting comment off mike: “You realize we’re going to have to do that some more, don’t you?”

“I suppose,” she sighed. “It was sort of fun.”

“Keeps the crowd entertained, that’s what it’s all about,” he said.

Ginger knew she wasn’t really needed back in the gift shop, so decided to just hang around the scoring booth, which had the best view of the race of all, anyway. Mel had been off somewhere, but he soon showed up. “I told you it was a good idea,” he beamed.

“Yeah,” she admitted shyly. “It went better than I expected.”

“You and Frank better figure on doing it again next week,” he went on. “People are going to start to look forward to it. I think you had every man in the stands watching your butt as you crossed the track.”

“Mel,” she sighed, “sometimes it’s hard to believe that I turned down an honest job as a shift supervisor at McDonald’s to be in show business.”

“Let’s not mention it to Ray until he sees it,” Mel snickered with anticipation. “I think he’ll get a bang out of it. Look, Ginger, I know you want to take off early to go down to the Brickyard and see him. Why don’t you just go ahead and get out of here?”

“I really want to stay till the end of the racing,” she protested. “Then there’s closing up the books, and picking the place up for the road race tomorrow. I wouldn’t feel right about leaving while there’s still all that work to do.”

“Arlene can close the books; she knows how. Hell, she’s done it since about the time you were in kindergarten.” Mel replied. “And I’ve got some extra high school kids to help with the pickup, so we’ll be in good shape there even if Arlene and I don’t get to bed for a while. You need to be at least halfway awake when you drive down. Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to help with closing things down in the future.”

Ginger did stay through the end of the racing, and even helped with the books a little bit till Arlene ran her off. The lights were still on up at the track when she got down to the house and went to bed, and she felt a little guilty about leaving everyone else behind, however much she wanted to see Ray the next day.

*   *   *

The sun wasn’t up yet and the dew was still heavy when Ginger walked around behind the shop and got in her Gremlin, which hadn’t been started since the day she’d walked out of her job at McDonald’s for the last time. For the last several weeks, when she’d needed to go somewhere she’d taken one of the track pickups, or Arlene’s car that one time. It seemed strange and foreign to be driving it, almost distasteful; it was something out of another life that she no longer wanted to admit to. Maybe, she thought, when Ray gets back we could go see about trading it in for something a little nicer – her paychecks, after all were a bit larger than she’d been making at McDonald’s, and she was putting money in the bank since she really wasn’t spending much.

Maybe, she thought, rather than trading it in I could get Ray to help me gut it out and turn it into an Economy Stock. It’d be fun to be out on the track racing a little, to find out what that part of it was all about. She knew she wouldn’t normally be racing at Bradford – there was too much to do on race nights – but Ray had talked about taking the Modified to some track that raced on Friday night, just to keep his hand in driving a race. Well, maybe not now, she decided as she got out on I-67 and headed south. There’s just too much new, too much going on. Maybe someday.

Even batting along over the speed limit, it was a couple hours down I-67 to Indianapolis, and the route over to the Speedway was strange once she got off the familiar Interstate. However, Mel had drawn her a detailed map, and she didn’t have any trouble following it. Ray had already mailed her all the passes she would need to get into the grounds and the garage. Still, there was a sense of wonder and awe as she turned off 16th Street and drove through the four-lane tunnel into the infield of the famous grounds between turns one and two. Even at this distance, the sight of the huge, empty grandstands sent a little shiver of anticipation down her spine, and she couldn’t help but imagine them filled with people like they would be in a couple of weeks.

This was the first time Ginger had ever been there, but she’d seen some of the race on TV once or twice, and had some idea of what was going on, although she’d learned a lot more about it from Hilyard and the Austins over the past few weeks. She drove around the parking area till she saw Ray’s truck and the travel trailer, so parked next to it, locked the car and headed for Gasoline Alley.

She was a little surprised to walk into that double row of garages – they were tiny! They were all wood construction with simple swing doors that opened outward. A high set of windows ran across each door, which was white, painted with green trim. As small as the cars were – and they were much smaller than a regular car – there barely seemed to be enough room to walk around them. Some of the doors were closed, as if there were secrets contained inside, but many were open, with a rope or something strung across the doors to keep the curious at a reasonable distance.

Ginger knew that Hilyard’s car was down toward the infield end of the garages, and she soon found the familiar orange and white Eagle, parked with its nose pointed inward, the single tail pipe of its Offenhauser engine pointed out at the crowd. The engine cowling was off, heaters were working on the engine and Ray was bent over it, fiddling with something. She ducked under the rope, walked up to Ray, and said, “So how’s it going?”

“Ginger!” he said, turning around to take her in his arms. “God, I’ve missed you.” There may have been some people looking on, but that didn’t stop the two of them from having a serious kiss.

When the two of them came up for air, they found Ted looking on, an amused smile on his face. “So Ginger,” he said, “how are things in Bradford?”

“About the same,” she reported. “The crowd and the car count were down a little from last week, but Mel and Arlene said that was to be expected since some other tracks had their opener last night. How’s it going down here? We haven’t heard much.”

“The car is running fine,” Ted told her. “The one time Ray let me wind it out I managed to cut a lap at 193. To tell you the truth, it doesn’t seem as fast as taking it around Bradford at a hundred. This place is that big.”

“The car is still running all right?” she asked.

“So far, so good,” Ray told her. “I was right, this is the only Offy here, so we’re kind of an attention getter.”

“How’s it looking?”

“Hard to tell,” Ted shrugged. “There hasn’t been a lot of testing, but some people have been ripping some awful fast times. I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes a 200-mile-an-hour qualifying time to make the field. But you never know. A guy made the race last year with a 184, so there’s a chance.”

“Can you get it going that fast?”

“Maybe,” he said. “It’s just going to depend on how things go. We haven’t really let it all hang out yet, trying to save the engine.”

“Paul cut a couple laps over 200 last year,” Ray continued, “and I think Ted is doing better than Paul did, so we’re just going to have to see. A lot is going to depend on how the driver’s test goes today.”

“What does that involve?”

“They just want to see if you’re a competent driver,” Ted explained, knowing that Ginger really knew little about the race. “Four consistent clean laps at 170, and then if you’re OK, 180, then 190.”

From all the dinner table discussion, Ginger knew how worn and iffy the old engine was. “Are you going to be able to make that?”

“Should be able to,” Ray told her. “I’m a little worried about how high he’s going to have to run the boost for 190 for that long, but we don’t have any choice.”

“We’ll do what we have to do,” Ted shrugged. “If the engine holds out, fine. That’ll at least give me the chance to attempt qualifying. If it doesn’t, well, I guess it doesn’t. There’s not much we can do besides hope it holds together.”

“How long before you have to do this test?”

“A couple hours,” Ray said. “We’re preheating the engine now, we’ll warm it up in a bit. I’m glad you’re here, Ginger. We could use the extra hands.”

“Sure, I’ll help where I can.”

“Morning, Ted, Ray,” an older gentleman called from the other side of the rope. “How’s it going down here in nostalgia land today?”

“About as well as can be expected, Mr. Wireman,” Ray replied. “Come on in, make yourself comfortable.”

Wireman raised the rope and walked under it. “See you got yourself a new crew member. She’s better looking than you are, anyway.”

“That doesn’t take much,” Ray grinned. “Mr. Wireman, this is my girlfriend, Ginger Marston. She came down today to see what we’re doing. This is her first time here.”

“Well, welcome to Gasoline Alley,” Mr. Wireman said with a smile on his face. He was a tall, gray-haired man, looking to perhaps be in his sixties. “You know, it wasn’t all that long ago when they didn’t allow pretty girls to hang around in the garage area or the pits. I always thought that was a mistake, and you prove it, young lady.”

“Hey, quit trying to put the make on my girl,” Ray grinned. “I found her first. Ginger, this is T.J. Wireman, I think you’ve heard Ted and me talk about him. He’s got three cars running here this year, but he’s been my primary teacher on the care and feeding of the Offenhauser engines. I’d literally be up the creek without his help.”

“Wouldn’t normally do that with a competitor,” Wireman said, “but I’ve had my fingers in Offys for years until the last few, and I’m sorry to see them going away, but I guess that time has come. Hell of a note.”

“Mr. Wireman, I’ve heard things like that before,” she replied. “What I don’t understand is why they’re going away.”

“I hate to say it, but they’re technologically obsolete,” he shrugged. “It was a simple victory of big money over small money. Big money usually wins after a while. Miss, did you ever hear the poem that goes, ‘Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light?’”

“I’ve heard it,” Ginger smiled.

“These two young men here are the only ones left brave enough or dumb enough to rage against the dying of a light that burned around this place for nearly sixty years,” Wireman smiled with a wry, crooked grin and a twinkle in his eye. “I gotta give ’em credit for that, so I try to give them a little help and advice when I can. I’ll tell you this, miss. While they know they’re pulling a long shot, there’s a lot of people back here who are wishing them well.”

“Thank you, sir,” Ginger told him. “I know they appreciate it, and I know they appreciate the good thoughts. There are a lot of other people wishing them well, too.”

“Glad to know it, miss,” he said, then turned to Ray. “You’re going to be cranking it in about an hour and a half, aren’t you?”

“Something like that,” Ray told him.

“Good enough, I’ll come over and lend a hand if I can.”

“Thank you sir,” Ted replied. “We really appreciate it. With Ginger here, that gets Ray’s crew up to two.”

Wireman went on about his business, and the three were soon left alone, except for the occasional casual onlooker who peeked from beyond the rope. “The heck with it,” Ray said. “There’s not much we can do while the heaters do their work. Let’s go warm up our coffee.”

They headed back to a small, cluttered workbench, where there was a familiar coffee percolator sitting – one that had been lifted from the shop back in Bradford. “That Mr. Wireman sure seems like a nice guy,” Ginger commented absently.

“He surprises me,” Ray said. “He’s known as one of the fiercest competitors around, with a really bad temper. I suspect that if he thought we were any real threat he wouldn’t have a good word for us. As it is, he’s been a huge help to me, both last year and this year, and I’m not complaining one bit. I think we represent the good old days to him.”

“I think you’re right,” Ted agreed around a sip of his coffee, “and I’m not sorry to have his help, not one bit.”

For the next hour or so the heaters were on the car, while Ray piddled with this and that; Ginger mostly helped out with some rags and polish, while Ted stood at the rope near the door, talking with the onlookers a bit, and occasionally signing an autograph or two. As near as she could tell Ted was being mostly honest with the people he was talking with, telling them of what the car was like to drive and other such things. Ginger figured that they would have not had anything like that level of attention if they had been almost any other back-runner in the field, but that single tailpipe denoting “Offenhauser” brought a lot of people who appreciated their futile hope to keep the legend alive one last time.

Finally, Ray said, “Well, I guess it’s about time to get it warmed up for real. Ginger, there are some fireproof coveralls over on the spike in the corner. Go get them on, along with some ear protectors, and I’ll let you handle the exhaust deflector. I’ll take the starter, and Ted, you work the switches and throttle linkage. Let’s roll this thing out into the sunshine and crank it up.”

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To be continued . . .

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