The Brotherhood #40
By Mark W. Meier
Windowed The Soul
A post with lights to let racers know when they’re staged and when to start.
You found the noise of the Atlanta venue distasteful. For some reason it never occurred to you that race cars – and fans – would be that loud. Only an idiot would think otherwise, but more than likely you never thought about it at all. Sailing, for all its uncertainty, was far quieter.
You entered the pit area where your car, #88, was being looked over by your team manager and crew. Adjustments and tinkering seemed to go on and on.
Engines roared nearby as two racers blasted away from the starting line. Your hands flew to your ears, and you wished for the earplugs the beagle had offered on your trip to Atlanta.
You turned to him as he grinned and held out the yellow foam inserts. Seconds later there was a deafening cheer. Then the beagle offered over-the-ears protection, which you also accepted.
Too late for that race, though. A typical funny car drag race lasted about eight or ten seconds. Stock car races went a bit longer, but top of the line dragsters could finish their quarter-mile in less than four seconds.
“Mr. Grambic.” Your team manager stepped away from your car and offered his grimy hand. “I’m Harley Wilson.”
“Harley.” You looked at Wilson’s filthy appendage but took it despite the grease and grit. “Is it always like this?” Your eyes darted around, nervously looking for where the next explosion of sound would come from.
The beagle pulled a shop towel from the nearby stack. He handed it to you so you could wipe transferred slime off your hand.
Wilson grinned. “Yes, sir. A moment of mind-numbing sound, then the background roar of the crowd.” He pointed out a half-full bin of dirty cloth.
After disposing of the messy material you asked, “Why don’t they run another one right away?”
The breeze shifted a bit and the smell of hot rubber and the acrid stench of burned nitromethane blew into your pit area. Only concrete columns showed where one pit ended and another began. Though a long roof covered pit row, the sides were open to the odors of racing. That explained your burning eyes and throat – the byproducts of volatile fuel could easily enter. At least the roof protected the concrete ramp from the scorching noon-day sun.
“Staging takes time, Mr. Grambic.” Wilson’s grin never wavered, almost like it was a permanent feature added by some inept plastic surgeon. “Some facilities have multiple tracks. They can stagger-start and run more races. But interest in drag racing has been,” he paused to think of the right word, “lax for a few years, so it’s not busy enough for every track to expand that way.”
Mr. Grin went back to prepping his – your – car. You tried watching both your pit and the two cars staging near the starting line. Numbers 19 and 16 would race in a few minutes.
On the track, the pit side driver, #19, spun his tires and lurched forward a few yards, then reversed. He wanted his rubber tires to warm up, giving him better traction. A worker went out in front of the car and sprayed something on the track while technicians lifted the body and tinkered with the engine.
“It’s an adhesive.”
You turned to see Judge Boynton step up beside you. “Judge.”
“Mis-ter Gram-bic.” He looked askance at your right hand. “I didn’t think you’d actually be in the pits. Most multimillionaires don’t like to get . . . dirty.”
Self-conscious of the residue of filth still on your palm, you tried to ignore the imagined feeling of grease clawing its way up your arm. “Do I detect a tone of respect, Boynton?”
That would be uncharacteristic. Nothing about him suggested he’d find anything about you worthy of more than derision.
The judge looked at you and sniffed. “Do I detect fear, Grambic?”
There was the attitude you knew and hated. “I only fear one thing, and it isn’t you, Boynton.”
The staging cars spun out again to keep their tires soft. Mr. Grin came up to where the two of you talked. “Mr. Grambic, we’ll be up after the next race.”
Boynton sneered at Wilson. “As if he didn’t know.” He glanced at you. “Wait. You didn’t know, did you?” The judge shook his head in disgust. “Some owners shouldn’t be allowed to have a team.”
You rolled your eyes. “Thank you, Harley. I’m not here to interfere.”
The judge smiled with contempt. “Your presence on the planet is an interference, Grambic.” More truth to that than you knew.
Mr. Grin’s smile wavered, but managed to stay in place. “Your car is up against a David Boynton.”
Boynton gasped in mock surprise. “Oh! That’s me. I’d better get to my car and change into my protective gear.”
Mr. Grin’s eyes widened. “You’re David Boynton?”
“He is.” You scowled at the justice. “You’d better get ready or you’ll forfeit.”
“Twenty years racing, never missed one yet.” Boynton ambled toward the next pit.
“Mr. Grambic?” Mr. Grin’s smile turned puzzled. “Isn’t he a bit old to be a driver?”
“You’ve never seen him drive?”
“Today’s a first, as far as I can remember.”
You watched as Boynton shed his clothing down to his underwear and pulled on a fire suit. No shame in the old man, who kept his eyes turned in your direction.
“Today’s my first race, too,” you reminded Mr. Grin.
“You aren’t driving.” His expression turned apologetic. “Sir,” he added.
The two cars which had shot down the lanes a few minutes before arrived back at their respective pits. Technicians swarmed over them, but you lost interest. You wanted to concentrate on the processes playing out at the starting line.
Engines revved with occasional sharp cracking as raw fuel exploded in the exhaust pipes. The drivers spun out again, and the roar of the crowd increased in anticipation of the race.
While #19 and #16 moved into the starting area, your driver, a man about your own age, climbed into your #88 to get ready for the following heat. His helmet went on, and he started the engine. He’d be leaving the pit as soon as the other cars left the starting line.
The Christmas Tree a few yards away showed both the “pre-stage” and “stage” lights on. A few seconds later the top amber light illuminated, followed by the middle and bottom a half-second apart, then the green.
The cars blasted away from the starting line. The crowd roared, and a few seconds later chutes deployed to slow the racers before they got to the sand at the end of the track.
“Only thirty-three thousandths of a second.” Mr. Grin pointed at the trackside digital display which read “RT - 0.033.” He looked your direction. “That’s a really good reaction time.”
Mr. Grin rubbed his chin and waited for the crowd roar to pass as the racers decelerated. “To be honest, a racer’s RT doesn’t mean much in a race. The elapsed time determines the winner, and an RT of a half-second doesn’t add to the ET.”
You nodded, though no doubt you didn’t really understand what he was talking about. When you glanced at Judge Boynton in the next pit you noticed he still watched you. Intently. That seemed creepy to you.
But not as disturbing as his smile.
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