Race Weekend Central

Blue Smoke and Burnt Rubber: Chapter Two Part One

With the thunder of the cars spinning around the high, hungry banks of East Brainerd Speedway, Chris closed his eyes and tried to remember what he was being sent off to find in Brad Van Lytton’s RV, parked in the lot outside of Turn 1. Hesitating at the bottom of the steps to Preston Colton’s pit box, he smiled at Scratch, the front tire changer for the team.

What was it Brad had forgotten? There was little point in asking the boss, even with the headsets tied into microphones, it was still nearly impossible to hear anybody speak while the cars were running at full-tilt in this 6/10th miler mixing bowl.

Oh yeah, that’s what it was—the notes from last week’s race, in the blue notebook located in the table next to the sofa. Got it.

In his head, Chris tuned out the constant chatter of the spotter. “Outside, outside, outside… outside…” What else was the man to say for the next three hours? Just as he went to step over the fourth set of tires, he noticed something odd.

Behind three pit crew members, huddled together and trying to talk over the cacophony of the race, Chris spotted the three filled gas cans sitting in the white team cart, waiting for the first round of stops. And somebody he didn’t recognize fiddling with the top to one of them.

“Hey!” The sound died an inch from his lips. His stomach began to knot.

The man, keeping a wary eye for people passing by, pulled back the bellow and tipped something from a small vial down the neck of the can, pocketed the vial, and turned to leave.

Chris jumped over the next two tires, pushing one crewman over and yelled a second time, “Stop!”

Dressed in a plain blue button-up workshirt and a pair of Dickies, the man took a last look around, his face freezing when he spotted Chris’ angry advance.

Recognition flashed between them. And then the man bolted.

Focused on stopping the villain, Chris stumbled on another tire, knocked over the poles and chains that kept fans out of the pit box area and promptly flattened a fireman whose attention was glued to the cars on the track. Already he could see the dwindling flash of the guy’s white sneakers dodging through the milling crewmembers.

“Hey Chris! What’s your hurry?” The gas man from the No. 78 team asked.

Shooting the man something between a harried grin and snarl, he pushed on. Walking right into the back of the cameraman shooting a snippet outside the No. 53 pit.

“Watch it, shithead!”

He ducked that insult and tried to recapture sight of his quarry. He thought he could still spot the spiked, black hair on the familiar head bobbing along on the other side of the break in pitwall. Fighting his way past media, lucky fans with hot passes and the entirety of every team at the track, Chris made little headway. His progress impeded by smiling friends, angry security and finally a downright pissed off official, he came to a panting stop at the entrance to the pedestrian tunnel.

Switching on the mic to his headset and setting the channel to the garage area, Chris delivered the bad news. “Hey boss! You gotta get new fuel. Somebody just spiked Colton’s cans.”

Wiping sweat from his brow he then turned to the official he knocked over and asked for some help. “He dumped something in our cans!”

The official leaned in, pulling his headset away from his ear. “What?”

Dancing from foot to foot, Chris repeated the information.

Sound erupted throughout the stadium. 130,000 fans rose to their feet and engine noise rose as a car roared to a stop feet from where Chris was trying to explain what had just happened in his pit.

Frustration rising, and knowing any chance of stopping the man on track property was dwindling, he gave up and pushed through the fans blocking the tunnel entrance.

In the semi-darkness, he slowed his pace, hoping the idiot would maybe think to hide in here. Two girls, balancing beers in one hand and 8×10 glossies of Danny O’Flynn in the other, laughed their way by.

Chris took a deep breath. Down here, the smell of rubber and gasoline never quite evaporated. Trapped by decades of racing, the fumes added to the beginnings of a headache. Just where the tunnel began its curve back up the hill to daylight, something moved in the shadows.

One of the overhead fluorescent lights flickered for a moment, illuminating the silhouette for a moment.

Beneath the track, the tunnel muffled the shattering rumble. Still, Chris felt it shake the earth as the pack passed overhead.

Hiding behind another group of tourists wandering by, he turned back toward the infield and switched on his mic again. “Boss? I’ve got him in the tunnel… Boss?”

Nothing but static filled the air.

Realizing help was not on the way; Chris took a deep breath and measured his adversary. Years ago, back at the Racing Technical Institute, he could outrun and outplay Randy Ellis. Could he still?

Sauntering closer, Chris looked the other way when Randy swiveled his head, in search of pursuit. Immediately, he looked back.

Randy’s jaw dropped.

Taking advantage of the moment, Chris launched himself at Randy, pushing the other man into the concrete wall of the tunnel.

He ducked the swinging left punch and landed one of his own in Randy’s stomach. But this was no school ground battle. The knee caught Chris in the groin and left his poor unsuspecting self rolling on the tunnel floor.

Angry and in agony, Chris rolled to the side, trying to breathe through the pain and tripped Randy.

A red-faced passer-by tried to lend Chris a hand up.

“Don’t help me. Get the cops!”

Randy scrambled up, but only gained his knees when Chris tackled him from the rear, taking them both back down. Grappling for a hold, Chris twisted, planting an elbow in Randy’s ear. Something hard poked him in the eye.

Holding the other man down took every tooth, nail and fist. When the cops finally arrived screaming, “Break it up, you idiots!” Chris could do little else but hold his right eye.

Just as the cuffs were clamped on his sore wrists, he caught Randy’s irate attention. “I got you.”

Randy’s lips rolled back in a snarl. “Maybe you did. But that don’t change anything. You just stopped one man, and there will be another next week.”

As they were led to the nearest car for transport, Chris thought hard about what Randy said. Yeah, Brad had fired Chuck Farley two weeks ago, but that didn’t stop anything. The bad luck had chased them from Reno to Georgia and tonight they would’ve thought something just went sour in another engine. If it wasn’t the two culprits they caught behind the problems… then who was?

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Share via