Race Weekend Central

Blue Smoke and Burnt Rubber: Chapter 3

Reno Raceway
Third Race of the Season

Chris sighed. The med-evac chopper rose in a cloud of sand, bearing a disgruntled Preston Colton off to the local trauma center. Most likely, the rookie had just a mild concussion, but nobody fooled with these things anymore. His car, on the other hand, that had been put under wraps and was already loaded on the GSCA hauler ready to be taken back to the R&D center for inspection.

He turned away from the heli-pad, rubbing the desert from his face. The jet-dryers still filled the air with their roar, blowing the last of the debris field from the frontstretch. Chris ignored the chatter between Danny and his crew chief on the headset. It didn’t matter much. The No. 74 sat eight laps down with an engine running on seven cylinders. Harry Garrison had already left the track as well. His No. 47 blew a tire in the fourth lap.

Scuffing his feet on the uneven asphalt, Chris headed back to pit lane. He had left the golf cart on the access road behind their pit box, choosing to run to the medical center instead of ride when Preston’s car disintegrated upon impact with the unsecured crossover gate. His heart still beat a bit too hard. That was a wreck nobody in the Van Lytton stable would forget anytime soon.

Even now, the giant screen sitting in Turn One replayed the disaster over and over. Chris flinched for the ninth time as he watched the white unsponsored car fly up into the catch fence, its sheet metal shredding in multiple direction.

Much like the Van Lytton year… bits and pieces coming apart.

The atmosphere this morning in the garage area hummed with the determination of three irritated teams. Last week’s engine failures left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. And now this…

Chris didn’t believe in curses, but the past month made him wonder what Van Lytton might have done to piss the gods off.

Cutting down the garage area, he paused when raised voices broke into the subdued murmur of the infield during a red flag. He slowed down, realizing the two angry men stood just inside the open garage bay previously assigned to the No. 47.

“Are you sayin’ something, Brad?”

Chris peeked around the doorway. Chuck Farley stood chest to chest with Brad Van Lytton. The aging mechanic’s gray hair twisted in awkward snarls, clearly the result of frustrated fingers and another bad day at the track.

“I don’t know, Chuck. How do you explain this tire?” The boss man pointed a manicured nail at the shredded remains of Harry’s front right.

“Why are you asking me?”

Brad’s florid features tightened with anger. “Because I sign the checks around here.”

Chuck’s hesitation stretched. The older man shifted his weight from foot to foot. “He must’ve run over something.”

“Harry said he didn’t. And that doesn’t look like a cut.”

Chris considered the carcass…he didn’t know how anybody could determine what had caused the catastrophic failure. There wasn’t enough of a tire left.

Apparently Chuck shared that opinion. “Oh, so now the pretty boy suddenly knows what made it blow? Are you psychic?”

“I know that the kid you trained on tire set-up told me he saw you doing something before the race to that set of tires.”

The echo of a wrench hitting cement split the silence stretching between Chuck and Brad. Chris held his breath.

Chuck pulled a much used rag from his back pocket, wiped his brow and then spit. “You know something, Van Lytton? I’ve worked in these garages for 28 years. And never…” He speared Brad with a look full of venom. “Never has anybody ever had the balls to even hint that I might’ve tampered with equipment. I think you need to say you’re sorry.”

The two men continued to take each other’s measure.

“I’ll tell you what, Chuck. I’ll apologize when you can tell me what caused this tire to fail.”

A dry wind stirred the stink of unburned fuel. A car missing its front fenders being pushed from a garage bay across the lane to its waiting hauler drew Chris’ attention away for a moment. When he turned back to the drama unfolding in the garage, he frowned.

Chuck’s normally red cheeks were pale. He looked stunned. Brad kicked at the floor.

“You’re holding me responsible for this?”

Brad’s eyebrows rose in question. “Do you want me to have that tire tested?”

For a moment, the mechanic’s eyes shadowed with something that looked like fear. “I have never left a team mid-season in my career. I really wish you would think twice about this, Mr. Van Lytton.”

“I can’t risk my drivers, my cars or my reputation on second chances, Chuck. I don’t know, yet, what you did. But I am going to find out and I’d prefer you were not on my payroll when I do.”

Chris could see the promise of retribution in his boss’ face.

Chuck nodded. “Well, Boss, you know where you can find me when that tire tests clean. And then I’ll think about accepting your bullshit apology.”

Chris shrank into the shadows of the neighboring garage bay and waited for Chuck to storm past. When he deemed it clear, he looked around the corner for Brad. “Uh, sir? What was all that about?”

Van Lytton rubbed his face before sharing a tired grimace. “God, I hope it’s nothing… Weaver, I need you on top of the hauler. Danny’s still in the race. Let’s bring him home in one piece, today.”

“Yes, Boss.”

Chris followed Brad back into the afternoon sun, just as the engines restarted. Already, the apprehension of a bad wreck and Chuck’s odd dismissal diminished in the anticipation of the green flag. Still…did Brad really mean it? Would their own crew member try to sabotage his cars?

The biggest question would be why.

He reached the top of the hauler and pulled the headset over his ears. Looking to the flag stand, his heart skipped a beat as the green flag fluttered over the passing field.

The question would have to be answered later.

About the author

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