Monday, November 17, 2014

A Southern auto racing novel

Today we return to part three of the racing novel provided to us by a racer who wishes to remain anonymous. You can find the first two chapters in the Archive section to familiarize yourself with the characters and locations.  

I spent a quiet Sunday around my house, doing chores in the morning and washing my Olds in the afternoon under the tree in the front yard. I was anxious to get to work Monday morning and talk to my boss Mr. Johnson about what I’d seen Saturday night at his race track. Based on what I considered my years of experience from attending “real” races back home in Indiana, I’d thought some ideas to improve things at Union Speedway.

Monday morning, after work got started and I was sure that things were running smoothly down on the shop floor, I knocked on Mr. Johnson’s door about 9 o’clock and he invited me into his office. As I took a seat, Mr. Johnson asked with a grin “How are you adjusting to living down South, Yank? You’re doin’ a fine job but after just a couple of months it’s a mite early to ask for a raise.” I told him that I enjoyed my new life and that assured him that I wasn’t angling for a raise. “What I wanted to talk about was that I went out to Union Speedway Saturday night.” “Yeah? What’d you think?”

I told him honestly that the facility was too primitive and that the racing action was too rough for my taste, and that one particular ruffian ought to be asked by track officials to tone it down or find a new hobby. Mr. Johnson laughed “you mean Sims, I take it.” I nodded. “Well, even though you’re new in town, I feel like I can trust you can keep quiet about information offered in confidence.” I nodded agreement.

“The truth of the matter is…..” said Mr. Johnson “we pay Sims 100 bucks a month to be our bad guy. You see the first couple of years after my brother and I inherited the Union Speedway from our father, attendance was sorry. Since we started paying Sims, more fans come and the stands are close to full.” “Wait a minute,” I said, “you’re saying you pay him to act like that? I don’t get that.” Mr. Johnson chuckled “It’s called promotion my boy. We have a different fellow to play a role at our other track, but that’s a whole different deal with the crowd at Standard Speedway.”

Now I was really confused “you mean your family owns both tracks? How come two tracks so close? Doesn’t attendance suffer?” Mr. Johnson explained, “Our father loved dirt racing and blacktop racing equally, so he built one of each. We divide the responsibilities, I handle the dirt track, and my brother John watches over the blacktop track. The tracks run on alternate weeks, but draw different crowds. If you want, I’ll have him leave you a pass at the back gate at Standard for Saturday night.” I thanked him several times, and as I left his office, he called out to me “Remember our little secret.” I felt like my feet weren’t touching the floor as I walked back to my desk. Maybe life in this little Southern town wouldn’t be so bad after all with racing every Saturday night.  

Tuesday night after work, on my way to Piggly-Wiggly for groceries, I swung into the Pure Oil station for a buck’s worth of ethyl. Sims came out of the tiny office and growled, “I bet you want me to check the oil too, huh college boy?” As I matter of fact, I did, and said so. After he popped the hood, I head a low whistle, “you got a pair of Winfield carbs on this thing, and that ain’t the factory exhaust. Pretty hot for a six banger.” Thanks” I said, “you did some nifty driving Saturday at Union, little rough on some of the boys, though.” Sims slammed the hood in reply. “I give ‘em all a chance to get out of the way when they see her coming. If they ain’t gone when I get there, they get the horn.”

“That’s quite a machine,” I said as I gestured towards the red and white #5 1940 Ford coupe parked alongside the grease rack “she’s a beauty.” “She’s fast too,” Sims said” got a flathead with all the Clay Smith goodies, lotsa horsepower and I know how to get it to hook. That’s why she’s never been beat this season. They put a bounty on me last year that got high enough for a fellow to tow in from Memphis to beat me one time last year. Just one time!” I asked Sims if he would be at Standard on Saturday night, Sims shook his head and the scowl returned to his face. ”Heck no, that’s too high class for the likes of me. Your oil’s fine, you owe me a buck.” As I drove away, he mumbled “Nice car – come again.”

The rest of the workweek flew by as my anticipation built for Saturday night. When Eddie brought my mail Saturday morning, he was sheepish. “My wife’s been mad at me all week for drinking too much and yelling at you last week, she says I was rude,” he said. I waved it off, and asked if he was headed to Standard that evening. “No way, that highfalutin pavement racing got nothing for me, and I’m lucky my wife goes to races every other week. You’re on your own there Yank.”

“What do you mean?” I replied "that’s the second time I’ve heard that - what do they race out there anyway - Packards and Caddys?” “No" Eddie said, “they race late model stock cars and high dollar modifieds, but they run careful not to rub each other and scratch up their shiny paint jobs.”  

Before he left, I asked Eddie about his brother’s car. “Oh yeah, that’s a good car alright. He bought it late last year from a fella in Northern Ohio - it was “B” track champion at a track called  Landeck Speedway up there. Good running stock six cylinder Chevy with a hot cam, but it ain’t a match for that beast that Sims got though.”      

I was so anxious to check out Standard Speedway that I didn’t even look through the latest issue of National Speed Sport News that afternoon before I cleaned up, put on my fresh Champion t-shirt and left early to make the 15-mile drive to Standard Speedway.  

Check back next week for the next exciting chapter!