Thank you to everyone who has given me feedback on chapter one of this story. I hope you enjoy the second installment as well. Feel free to e-mail your comments to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I appreciate the Knoxville Raceway for giving me this platform to experiment a bit. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!
Chapter 2: Winning Streak
After winning two races in a row at Knoxville car owner Steve Bennett and driver Andy Zook were riding high. Since Bennett’s old friend Marion Graham came along with some sponsorship money, Steve had been able to get some new equipment. He was also taking advantage of the opportunity to tinker around with some things at Marion’s steel fabrication factory to make some specialized parts, specifically new shocks he designed. Steve’s sons Tony and Todd had picked up a new chassis the day before, and a new engine had arrived a few days prior to that.
On a cool and foggy morning in Lovilia, Steve was up at 5:00am in his two car garage of a race shop and was starting to put the new car together. Parts were scattered all over the shop and as he drank his first cup of coffee and read the comics in the newspaper, he glanced across his shop as it was quiet and he was forming a plan of where to start and how this new car was going to come together. He loved moments like this and was thankful for the opportunity. Before he started turning a wrench he called up his friend Marion and thanked him for his support and told him to stop by the shop to see the car anytime.
Steve was optimistic about the coming weeks with Nationals coming up, and with a new car he felt they might perform well. Steve’s son Tony came through the door and sat down on a rickety old stool in the shop and grabbed a donut and a cup of coffee. “Kinda nice to have a new car, I haven’t seen you up this early in the shop for a long time Dad.”
“Yeah, I’m like a kid in a candy store right now. I think with a few tweaks we can get it to race up front,” replied Steve.
As Steve and Tony worked all morning on assembling the car the third member of their pit crew walked into the garage, Steve’s other son Todd. Todd had his buddies Matt and Shane with him, a couple of wild kids that were typically a bad influence on Todd. “You boys look terrible,” said Steve. “And you smell… where have you been?”
“We stayed out all night fishing over at Shane’s pond,” said Todd. “The fish were biting all night so it was worth it.”
“Hey Steve, you guys have been fast the last few weeks,” said Matt. Todd’s friend Matt was an avid race fan, but notorious for his know-it-all attitude and second guessing Steve’s choices with the car and how their driver ran his race. Steve was often annoyed by Matt, but sometimes the guy was right he hated to admit.
“Yeah, that ol’ car has been rolling well considering how many nights we have on it,” said Steve as he braced himself for the next question. Matt didn’t disappoint. “What’s up with this new car? Why change anything if you’re winning? Who is Graham Inc. lettered on the wing here, is that a new sponsor?”
If Steve didn’t know better, you would think Matt was a reporter from the local newspaper. “Yes it’s a new sponsor helping us out. The old car has a lot of nights on it and it was time. The big money races are coming and if we want to have a shot at the Nationals we need to show up with the best equipment we can,” Steve replied.
Matt was still full of questions, “You guys will be tough at the 360 Nationals if you still have that engine from last year that Scotty Williams ran for you? Fourth place was a good run for ya.”
“We still have that engine,” said Steve, “but I wasn’t just talking about the 360 Nationals.”
Matt and the rest of the boys in the shop started to chuckle, “You think you have a chance to win the big show?!?! The 410 Nationals? C’mon Steve! You have a rookie driver!”
“You boys laugh it up, but I think we got a chance if things go our way that we could get on the podium.” A big burst of laughter came from the peanut gallery. Steve thought to himself, “let em laugh. Let em laugh.”
By race day, the new Bennett 42 was painted and ready to go with its black paint and white #42. Driver Andy Zook made his way to the pit area with his helmet bag in hand and a new driver’s suit with Graham, Inc. embroidered across the front.
“Marion didn’t waste any time getting you one of those,” said Tony. “Nice duds.”
“Yeah, Kate talked him into splurging for one of these,” Andy said.
“You and Kate been seeing each other some more huh, kind of awkward with her Daddy coming on board sponsoring the car isn’t it?” Tony asked.
“Awkward? Oh yeah, I guess,” said Andy embarrassed a bit. “I had no idea Mr. Graham and Steve were old pals. I see the new car looks ready to go,” as he quickly changed the subject. “Only five days until the 360 Nationals, I would love to win that race!”
“Let’s just focus on tonight boys,” said Steve as he tried to keep the team focused on the task at hand.
“Dad is talking about winning the big show more so than the 360 Nationals,” said Tony.
Andy’s eyebrows perked up. “Win THE Nationals? Are you serious?”
“Yes I’m serious,” Tony confirmed. “He thinks this new hot rod is the car to win with, and he’s been working on some secret shocks over at Marion’s shop.”
Andy was sounding more like Matt and Shane back at the shop. “Well, I was thinking it would be good just to get in the A-Main since I’m a rookie and all, then maybe get a chance to race our way up to the top ten if we’re really lucky.”
Steve came out of the trailer to see Tony and Andy talking and quickly pulled them into the trailer to talk. “Andy, drive this new car like you stole it tonight, no laying back. It’s a new car, with a new engine, and some new shocks I have built. I want to see what we have to work with before the Nationals. Next week we are only going to run the 360 so this is the only chance we’re going to have to tweak this 410 before the Nationals, understand?
“Sounds good!” said Andy with a big smile.
Andy went out twentieth for time trials and set quick time, turning some heads going late in the order and beating the second quick time by two tenths. He started sixth in his heat and raced up to second with his rival Kenny Martin winning from the front row. The invert for the feature was six and Andy was feeling confident with the new car so far. Todd was pouring in fuel, Tony just finished putting on a left rear tire, while Steve mounted the right rear. As Andy started climbing in the car Steve leaned in to talk as Andy was getting ready to strap in. “Andy, the track has slicked off and it looks like it might take rubber to me. What do you think kid?”
Andy spoke up with what he was seeing, “I agree. I will try to keep my eyes on the middle to the bottom of the track and be looking for it. I remember Steve Kinser saying in an interview one time to not show your line too early in a race, so if I see it early I won’t dip in there right away and show the line. But if the guys in front of me go down there on the start, how about I put it on top and try to drive around a few of them?”
Steve was impressed with Andy’s thought process. “Alright kid, but I have a hunch by halfway those guys will get the rubber locked down and you’ll have to go down and follow the parade. Once that happens just take it easy and stay out of trouble. No sense in using up the car ya know.” Andy nodded in agreement.
The green flag of the A-Main waved and Andy saw the field of cars in front of him go high and low, leaving the middle wide open, so he split them through the middle and went from sixth to third coming off of turn two on lap one. Andy was worried that he showed his line too early making a big move like that. After a few laps Andy was sure that the rubber was there in the middle, but he stayed up on the cushion as a driver behind him had been trying to pass him with a slide job entering turn one on two consecutive laps, so he figured the drivers behind him were too busy racing each other to notice the rubber being down. On lap nine Andy decided it was time to make his move and went to the middle groove. He quickly found himself behind the leader, Robby Blackett, who had also been driving on the cushion. Blackett was the current point leader but had only won one race this season at Knoxville. Andy decided to go to the very bottom entering turn one on lap ten, but Blackett went low as well to block him and they were both stuck in the rubber groove. It seemed that Blackett had also been waiting for the right time to move down low. From there it was a parade around the bottom but Andy could feel his car was fast. Since it was a new car and all, Andy didn’t feel like pressing too hard and decided to stay in the groove behind Blackett and wait for him to make a mistake. A caution came with three laps to go for someone blowing a tire. That bunched the field back together, but that was to Blackett’s advantage as he now had clean air in front of him on a one lane track. On the restart everyone finally realized from their pit signalers that the rubber was locked down. Blackett didn’t make a mistake on the restart and led the distance to win as Andy stayed in his shadow for a good second place run.
After the race the top three cars were greeted by the competition director, Jack Reed holding a sign that said the top three cars were to go through tech, which was unusual, typically it was just the winner.
Andy was back at the trailer after the race and was telling Steve how well the new car worked. “I had a hunch those new shocks would work well,” Steve said proudly with his chest out. “I had that idea in my head for a couple of months and I worked with some of the fellas at Marion’s shop to get them made this week. Now this is our secret, don’t tell anyone about the shocks you got that kid?”
“Yeah no problem Steve, but those look like the same shocks we’ve been using all year.”
“Visually yes, same color, and I even used the old manufacturer’s logo,” Steve gloated. “This is a monkey see, monkey do sport so you have to protect certain things to keep an advantage.”
“They don’t look like anything special Steve, I don’t think anyone will notice, I think they’re all going to be looking under the hood over in tech more than anything,” said Andy.
“Let em’ look. Nothing trick about that engine. Ordered it from that long time engine builder down in Kansas, so it’s a good engine,” said Steve.
As the crowds started to gather around their pit Andy’s friend Kate found her way into the trailer to greet Steve and Andy. “Girl don’t you know better than to date race car drivers? They are nothing but trouble,” said Steve as he loved to tease Kate.
“Oh Steve, my Dad has told me that a million times growing up, you can’t bother me with all your razzing anymore,” said Kate.
Tony and Todd came back with the car from tech and they passed inspection with no problems. After the crowd in the pit area thinned out Steve told his crew, “You boys get the car loaded and I’ll head to the paymaster. Let’s go to Dingus for a beer boys!”
Not too long after arriving at the “fun park” Andy, Kate, Tony, and Todd heard some rumblings that the winner Robby Blackett had been disqualified after going through tech. Matt and Shane were there and they had heard that same news from their sources. Steve headed back over to the track to investigate.
Sure enough once Steve got back to the pit area and talked to the track officials he learned that Blackett was disqualified for a foreign substance found on his tires. “Well this is an interesting turn of events,” thought Steve as he was handed the first place trophy and issued a new pay check.
As Steve walked back to Dingus he explained what happened to his driver and crew, “Reed came up to me and all he said was that Blackett was disqualified for using something on his tires, then he handed me the trophy!”
The team was excited and erupted in cheers! “Well, that’s no way to win a race,” said Andy, “but we’ll take it! That’s three in a row boys!”
One victory beer turned into three or four. Steve was gleaming with pride and he was soaking in the moment. He had worked hard and felt so appreciative as moments like this don’t happen often in this sport. But like any racer, he wanted more and was hoping for some more good moments in the coming weeks. He knew he had found a lethal combination of car, engine, and driver at the right time.
It was last call and Steve was ready to get the trailer home to his shop. But then Steve heard someone from behind him raising their voice. It was Robby Blackett and he was with his own crew guys after their win was taken away.
“Hey Bennett, your car might have passed tech, but we all know you got something in that car of yours that’s illegal, because your rookie driver couldn’t drive a shopping cart if his life depended on it,” said Robby.
Steve wasn’t about to get sucked into this conversation, so he was ready to call it a night and get home. But then Andy spoke up to defend his team. “Blackett, you have no room to talk about cheating tonight after what happened. You’re just jealous that you didn’t get picked to drive the 42 and I did. If you want to cry about it I’ll get the barmaid to bring you a towel!”
Robby made his way over closer and the tension was building. Todd stepped in trying to tell everyone to calm down.
“You just wait Zook,” as Blackett was gritting his teeth. “I’ll beat you next week and I’ll show you and your boys how it’s done.”
Andy fired back, “How are you going to do that without cheating?”
Steve had heard enough told his guys to start walking away before things escalated any further. And then… BAMMM!!! Someone threw a ball from the pool table right into the back of Blackett!
Steve looked and it was the know-it-all shop rat, Matt who had thrown the ball. A mob of people started going every which way and Matt was ready to take them all on! Tony and Todd tried to step in to back up their friend but it was too late, he was pinned up against the wall by one of Blackett’s crew members.
After a lot of pushing and shoving the bouncers stepped in and took control of the situation. Steve rounded up his boys, Andy, Kate, and pointed to the door, “I think we’ve seen enough here, time to go home!”