BACKIN’ IT IN
A Novel By Wags
When the end of a season happens in dirt track racing, at least for serious racers and super fans, it’s really just the start of the next season. It seems like it’s an endless loop as racers press on, season after season, and fans get their plans together for the new schedule at the same time. Nothing can stop it as the wheel just keeps rolling over, year after year as they keep on “Backin’ it in”! Of course, that is only if your committed to the greatest form of auto racing still going, Sprint Car Racing, as a lot of us still are! Dirt track racing is the best and you will see soon enough. This story starts when two people in love embrace Christmas before the new season loop starts over.
When Max and Maggie Miller sat down in front of the tree on Christmas Eve with the bright lights flashing in their living room, they looked at each other and started kissing to get in the mood. They spoke of their love for each other and looked into each other’s eyes and professed that bond. Their love was very special and they treated it that way, always. Soon they interrupted that fun and games and started opening up their Christmas presents. There were many colorful box’s under the white flocked tree and they couldn’t wait another minute. It was going to be another wonderful Christmas with joy and some very creative presents from each other like always. Maggie opened one small box to start it off and inside there was a beautiful new gold sprint car ring. “Wow” she said, “I’ve been wanting one of these for a long time.” Then Max opened his first box and he got a bigger version and a man’s sprint car ring from Maggie as well! Both rings had diamonds for hubcaps on the wheels and were sparkling. Max said “I guess we are on the same wavelength darlin!” She then opened a bigger box and there was a special red leather jacket and the good stuff just kept on coming. Her next present was her favorite perfume Estee Lauder Youth Dew, which was the first present he ever got her after they met. There was other neat stuff, including a coupon for some new chrome wheels for her Corvette that she wanted all ready to pick up and get mounted. They were 5 spoke chrome designed beauties to replace the stock Corvette wheels and had mentioned it to Max. Max’s other gifts were clothes, some new boots and a particular cologne called Lagerfeld. She loved that on him and made sure he always had plenty on hand. Turns out, it was a marvelous Christmas and they gave each other a warm, long breathtaking kiss and wandered off to their bedroom for a while so she could show him his surprise that she found at Victoria Secret, and it was holiday red for sure! Boy what a night they both enjoyed passionately together. Lefty and Lottie Harper were doing their own Christmas Eve in the house that was next door to Max and Maggie. Lottie had cooked a turkey and they were enjoying the big spread when she said “what do you want for Xmas Lefty?” He responded “Just you dear, I’ve got all I need”. They laughed and she said “we need to go visit your mom soon, but we can talk about it later”. They started opening their presents and she got a new watch which had bell tones to notify the time at the hour. A little ring with emeralds along the top and some small diamonds as well. He got a coupon from the local car wash for a year of free washes and two wax and detail visits. It was getting late and they were tired so they moved to the master bedroom and enjoyed themselves very warmly and then holding each other before falling asleep by midnight. Xmas morning was bright and cheery as music was playing as they had pancakes and eggs for breakfast before Lottie jumped in her little red jaguar and went off to find Maggie who was probably at her cleaners that she owned. That didn’t happen, but she had a pleasant day shopping for dinner that night. Steak and baked potato was always on the menu for Lefty and herself.
Next door on Christmas morning at the Miller house, after a nice brunch of ham and cheese sandwiches, Max and Maggie looked under the Xmas tree again. But alas, they didn’t see any race parts or anything else that was going to get the racing season started today. So off they went to see a movie and spent the rest of the day relaxing and enjoying each other. The next day, Maggie had some things to do, so she got in her little 1960 red and white Vette and took off. Max called his crew chief, who was his next-door neighbor, lifetime friend and longtime partner on his sprinter, Lefty Harper, for some sage advice. When Lefty picked up the phone and said hello, Max said “Lefty, what’s up”? They grew up together so were in tune to each other very well. “I think we need to go to the speed shop, like right now”! A few minutes later, they jumped in the shop truck and headed over to the local speed shop to see what was going on.
The reigning, and now 3-time South Coast Racing Club Champion, “Mad” Max was a 30-year-old sprint car driver that had come up thru go carts, TQ’s, Midgets and traditional sprint cars and won over 150 races along the way already. This would be his 8th year of driving sprints and he was thinking about traveling back East a little this year if they could work in some Indiana races and maybe even a few Pennsylvania races. Lefty was the mastermind on all his race cars since they were 15-year-old wanna be racers running a beat-up old stock car on Friday nights at the local track. They were chomping’ at the bit to get this year started.
When Max and Lefty arrived at Bill’s Speed Emporium in Tustin, Ca on that day, they were not surprised to see a bunch of his race friends sitting around discussing rule changes, girls, new rules, girls and new cars. The proprietor, Billy Bob Bradshaw, was a 5-time SCRC Champion himself, so he knew a few things about racing. His shop had all things open wheel from TQ’s up to and including sprint cars, so his place was a huge super store that did a big business with the racers. He had a comfy meeting room called The”BB” Fun Zone, and many of his customers would use it to research products and generally hang out to visit and often have lunch in. The SCRC had been around a while along with NCRC from Northern California and MWRC from Indiana where many racers went ever year to race a bit when they had a break in the schedule. The clubs had all got together with the same rules and similar purses for the betterment of sprint car racing a few years ago and the racing was getting better and better.
They talked with a few racers as they walked around including Kenny Grayson, Lester Haines, Harlan Billings, Benny Rocker, “Big” Jon Brown and Lonnie Grant. Big Jon nodded a greeting at them, but both knew he wasn’t one of their favorites. “Big” Jon said quietly to the group as the approached, “here come your hero’s boys”. Kenny’s eyebrows went up as he and Max were good friends, but he said nothing. Everyone knew there was bad blood between Max and “Big” Jon, but that’s life. As Max and Lefty stopped to talk, “Big” Jon and Lonnie took off mumbling to themselves. They were birds of a feather and Max had to keep and eye on them. Now Kenny was a different story as the one-time mud scrapper for Max hung out at their race shop they called “the Ranch” a lot when he was younger. Max and Lefty’s race shop was behind their two homes which were side by side. Now Kenny had grown up and was an accomplished driver himself and his friendship with Max was important. Max asked what they were talking about and Kenny said “nothing to worry about” and then Max responded “what’s new”. Lefty observed everything around him and knew what “Big” Jon was up to and was always very aware of that car on the track. Lefty said “our new chassis was delivered here for us, so let’s take a look at it”. Billy Bob had the brand new bare Stingem’ chassis powder coated in black sitting on the floor of the lobby and several were gathered around admiring it as they looked it over. It actually was Max’s new car having just arrived from the Stingem’ Chassis Company in Bumluck, California and was ready to be picked up. Some added bars had been mandated in the cage that was new for this season to keep the top of the cage from squishing down on a hard impact, or so they planned. Everyone was well aware that the “old” Gambler chassis of the 80’s was the pattern that most of today’s cars were fashioned after, and most teams had their own little subtle changes they requested when ordering new cars.
Max’s new sponsor, Maid-Rite Burgers, was footing the bill for the new season, one of the perks for the defending Champion who won the SCRC championship for the 3nd year in a row last season. Somebody, namely Billy Bob, had sprung for pizza and the dozen or so racer types had settled in The “BB” Fun Zone to eat and bench race (i.e. telling lies) when the pizza arrived. Billy Bob was a great host and he often would feed em’ so he could tell stories to entertain as the hours stacked up in the shop. Like the time he crashed at Terre Haute while leading the National Open race when his wheel flew off, sending him on a wild flippin’ ride down the long backstretch. When he finally came to a stop that day, he was wide awake and climbed out of the car and said, “for my next trick, I’m going to build me a brand-new car!” He was out of it because he never built anything, let alone a race car. That mangled car is now mounted on the roof of the shop for all to see and remember the time he crashed on TV. Billy Bob was one tough hombre and had some interesting stories of his old times. He talked about the new chassis and said he had several more on order that were due next week if anyone wanted the latest and greatest.
“Big” Jon and Lonnie were at the end of the table eating some pizza with the crowd, but you could tell they were not happy. Lonnie asked “what are we going to do this year “Big” Jon”? Meaning about Max and his little buddy Kenny. “Big” Jon had harbored hard feelings about Max since the Champ came on the scene. Three years ago, “Big” Jon was leading the points late in the season after years of toiling mid pack. He had a new motor in his car and had been running great when one night he was protested by Lefty and Max after he won his 10th race of the year. On the engine check, after Max put up the $100 protest money, the motor turned out to be 480 cubic inches instead of the 410 it should be. The SCRC motor checker Tom Flanders tried a different side of the motor than usual and discovered it was illegal. “Big” Jon lost the points, the victory and the money. Max finished second in the race, so he inherited the whole shebang and took over the point lead that he would not surrender that season. “Big” Jon was plenty mad and wanted to fight, but he knew Lefty was a golden gloves boxer when they were young and had a gold medal from the Olympics to prove it, so he backed off. “Big” Jon had nothing but problems from then on and, on top of everything, had to get a new motor and it wasn’t as good, so his year went downhill. In the last few years, “Big” Jon never missed a chance to run into Max on the track and kept running his mouth about him every time he got a chance. Kenny, Harlan, Lester and Benny all chatted at the other end of the table, but it was about the new chassis not “Big” Jon and Lonnie.
As they all continued to down the pizza, Billy Bob went over to the two grumblers and asked “what is your problem, you were very rude to Max and Lefty”? “Big” Jon said “it is none of your business”. Billy Bob replied “it most definitely was my business in this shop and you need to learn some manners”. “Big” Jon started in on his problem with Max saying “Max ruined him”! Billy Bob responded “no, you did that to yourself using an illegal motor and got caught”! “Big” Jon said “Max owes me and I’ll get even”. Billy Bob said “watch what you say, you might get yourself in trouble”. Lonnie replied, “no problem, we’ll get him one of these nights”! After that Billy Bob went back to his office and “Big” Jon and Lonnie left. When they were thru lollygagging around, Max and Lefty loaded up the new chassis and one more just like it in their shop truck, and said “see Ya’ll” and headed to their race shop at the Ranch. Two more cars for the team were on the jig at the chassis factory and would be delivered in June.
A few years ago, they had both built large rambling ranch style homes next to each other in a new area near the 91 Freeway in Orange County. They both had large 10 acre lots that were sprawled out next to each other with the race shop behind them on a little knoll overlooking a scenic little stream of water and a small lake behind the backside of the shop. Their homes were attached with an enclosed walkway that made it easy to go next door without being bothered by inclement weather. Each had a 4-car garage at the other end of their house where they could enter into the kitchen from. In the garage, Max had a 2015 Yellow Z06 Corvette, a yellow Hummer, Maggie’s 1960 red and white Vette and her sporty little red Honda Civic that she used to zip around town in, and all 4 cars were nestled inside with plenty of room. Max also had a few hot rods in a section of the racing shop that was closed off, including a wild 34 Ford built by Boyd Coddington a long time ago. Boyd also built him a yellow 23 T Roadster, but it didn’t get out much! Maggie had a red 32 two door Ford hot rod with an 800-horsepower Chevy motor just like both of her hubby’s hot rods and his Vette.
The 20 acres for the houses and the shop was all fenced in with card key access and a security system that worked. When you came to visit, there was a large sign high over the entrance driveway that said “Welcome, and below it was another sign that read “Triple M Ranch” and you passed under that to drive to the house or to the shop in the back. It was a big, long and tall building that had room inside for the at least 4 haulers and work area for more than 8 cars, plus a large parts storage room, where there were six bullets on racks, with front ends, rear ends, shocks, wheels, tires and much more organized neatly. There was one more bullet already stowed in the hauler, so horsepower was in the house with those nearly 900 HP monsters. There was a TV room with an industrial sized fridge, stove, oven, two sinks and a microwave, plus a machine room with various types of equipment to use when needed to improvise and create parts. There were also several bedrooms with nice showers upstairs for race visitors who sometimes stayed at their place when they were in town for a race. The two of them and their crew spent a lot of hours in this shop working on their equipment, fabricating and setting up their sprint cars and generally doing what they loved. The crew often stayed overnight upstairs during heavy racing times, too!
When Max and lefty arrived back at their shop, the crew was already there waiting. Dean Landers, the motor man and rig driver, Jim Wilkes, an all-around mechanic and tire set-up guy and Eric Karter, the one who kept the cars cleaned and polished and organized the shop and often got a hand in working on the cars as well. They all were ready to get at it. These boys had been with the team for a long time and had homes nearby about a mile down the same road, but practically lived in the shop during racing season. In fact, after long hours it was not unusual for their wives to come sneak in late to spend the night with them! They unloaded both chassis’ and started the long process to assemble them. They worked together like clockwork, and didn’t have to communicate much because, well they all had the same goals in the shop and knew the routine. After a few hours, Lefty was hungry as usual, as the big guy never got filled up, so they called their wives and invited them on a little trip for dinner. After the guys cleaned up, the two couples jumped in the Miller’s yellow Hummer to go eat. The crew jumped in the shop truck also and called their wives to meet them on the way over to the restaurant. Lucky’s wife Lottie wanted steak and Max’s wife Maggie wanted chicken, so the Claim Jumper was their destination of choice and it was nearby.
It was a short ride and the girls were chatting about the annual SCRC banquet and what to wear. Max and Lefty said in unison, “the same old thing like normal and you’ll be beautiful as usual”! California was a showplace for dressed up revelers, and their ladies never disappointed. Once seated, Max ordered a New York strip and Lefty got the big Porterhouse with Maggie going with a roasted half chicken and Lottie a nice fat Filet. The crew guys were no stranger to a big steak and that’s what they ordered and their wives had the Salmon. Their cute blond server brought some Lemon Pepper Zucchini strips to share. Everybody had a glass of wine with their meal.
Dean wanted to know what happened with “Big” Jon and Max downplayed it. Dean said ”we need to keep our eyes open because “Big” Jon was a mean guy”! Jim noted “remember that protest? It was the belly of all the hard feelings “Big” Jon had, but it was his own fault”. They remembered one incident last year when Max had to almost stop to avoid a spinning car, but recovered quickly enough and moved over before “Big” John hit the wall trying to catch Max on the side and missed. Max had no idea what was behind him, but the race tape showed it clearly and Lefty sent it to the SCRC officials for them to see. Nothing came of it, but that was a close call as “Big” Jon was coming fast with no intention of slowing down. It was obvious that as long as “Big” Jon was around, Max would have to keep one eye on him. Lefty added “we need to watch out for Kenny, too, because they were targeting him sometimes as well”.
A quiet pleasant evening was had as the ten of them reveled in the peaceful night and the good food. They all knew this relaxing thing would be a rare occasion, as racing always took precedence and there would be many nights where pizza, or a roast beef sandwich or whatever was handy and quick at the time, would be the best they would get. That was especially true on the road where late nights at Steak N Shake would see their tired faces after many races in Indiana. Coffee was ordered and all shared one huge piece of Chocolate cake that was the bomb. After that sumptuous feast, they all headed back to the ranch ready to get busy in the morning. The crew went to their own homes and the two couples got busy late that night in their own abodes back at the Ranch before dropping off to sleep. Max and Lefty began planning their week getting ready for the opener in Florida in early February. The cars body parts were already in the shop with their signature bold yellow color with blue, red and silver highlights. The # 1 was on the fuel cell in gold with pride as they kept that number last year after beating Clyde Dawkins by 5 points at the season ending So Cal Nationals with a monster pass on the last corner getting by Clyde and Jack Van Natta. Jack had led most of the race from the pole when Clyde rolled by him with the white flag flying and Max coming fast right behind him. The thrilling ending made people shake their heads in excitement as it was too close to call with the naked eye. Yes, it was a good year ending! The banquet was coming up the next week in Las Vegas, so they had to make time for that.
Meanwhile at the Harlan Billings large home in Ventura, Kenny Grayson was in the house to visit with his girlfriend Dotty, Harlan’s daughter. They were sitting around in the living room with a few others including driver Benny Rocker who lived nearby. Kenny was still bothered by what he saw and heard between his friend Max and “Big” Jon and Lonnie at the speed shop, so he asked Harlan “what was up with those two”? Kenny was still running midgets at the time of the incident and really wasn’t exposed to any of it. Harlan explained in detail, because he was there to observe as a driver rep at the time. “Oh”, said Kenny,” so bad blood only runs one way, right”? “Yes”, Harlan said “Big” Jon was a suspected cheater and it was the first time he was caught”. He did his own motors, so no one had ever been in one of his before. Harlan added “Big” Jon had managed to run into Max several times since the incident, innocently of course, not doing much damage, but pissing off “Mad” Max. He could have avoided most of them, yet the watch was on because they all knew “Big” Jon was going to do it again”. Kenny hadn’t encountered anyone like “Big” Jon before, but he did remember that Jon’s buddy Lonnie Grant seemed to rub wheels with him more often than he should, and maybe that was overflow to his friendship with Max. Harlan said “you better watch him, too, because he looks like you are in his sights also”. They all agreed that most of the racers were good and not so dastardly, but one bad apple or two can really cause some bad things to happen. Kenny was going over to the Ranch tomorrow to visit and watch the team work and would talk to Max about what he learned.
The next day, back at the Ranch, the crew came over early and the five of them got to work. Max, Lefty, Dean, Jim and Eric all knew their jobs, so for an observer it was a lot like watching a huge 3 D puzzle going together, piece by piece. Both chassis were up on jack stands and the fivesome begin putting in the rear end and then hanging the front end on both cars before taking a break for lunch. The girls had made tasty roast beef sandwiches which was washed down with lemonade. Kenny Grayson showed up to visit and quickly sat down to eat with them. He and Max had a little conversation going as they all went back to work. Kenny asked “what is the real scoop on the” Big” Jon thing” and Max gave him his abbreviated version before going back to work. Kenny pitched in and helped for a while before he headed back to his own shop at his house to work on his race car.
After that small pause for food, the motors were lifted in and the plumbing hooked up. They had also picked up some new Durango Shocks from a little place in Huntington Beach that just came out, but weren’t for sale yet. The owner Zac Johns, who went to school with Max, said “try them and then let us know how they work”? They were freebies, so after looking at the instructions, they were mounted with a wait and see attitude. Jim put wheels on both cars and both were now sitting on the floor. All the body parts were already lettered and the special decals added by Jerry Madson, a local famous guy who use to do it all by hand. These days he did it on a computer and printed it out to be wrapped on the cars. He also wrapped the hauler with their car on the rear door and Triple M Motorsports above it and along the side of the trailer. The hauler and toter were bright yellow and it was very striking traveling down the road.
By day three, both cars were looking ready and at last the seats and seat belts were installed, so after everybody gave both cars a once over, they fired them up and checked for leaks and abnormalities. None found, so they loaded them into the hauler with the backup car loaded up above where the primary car would be tied down. Then the yellow Kawasaki Mule was rolled in with the pit cart next and the primary car right behind them. Everything was all belted down and the doors closed signifying they were ready to go practice a little before the banquet. The team uniforms were already in the closet ready to wear along with the new t-shirts that Maggie was in charge of with Mad Max Miller blazed across the front. There would be a play day at So Cal Raceway the next day where they had a chance to get in some laps and make final adjustments for the first race.
When they arrived at the track the next day, several other cars were there for some shakedown laps as well. Kenny had his car and Dick Grandy and Brad Gardner were firing up also with a few more scattered around the pits to see if they were ready to race yet! That all went well as they got in about 50 laps on each car with some adjustments made along the way. Kenny put about 40 laps in his car when smoke appeared and the just refreshed motor might have a problem. Lefty ran over and before Kenny climbed out, and discovered a head gasket was bad. Kenny immediately went to work and fixed the problem and re-fired with another 25 laps or so and pronounced it good to go! They left with cars still on the track and it was almost dark. When they got back to the shop, the cars were cleaned up and a little maintenance ensued to fix anything that needed it. Luckily nothing major happened at the track to their cars, so all was good to go and they were loaded up.
Around the West Coast there were lots of racers getting ready for the new season, too! All around California there were many teams wanting to go south for the season opener at So Cal Raceway in Costa Mesa by the ocean on March 1st. Many were getting their stuff together to make that trip. Up North the NCRC (North Coast Racing Club) that was once a wing group, but now was all 410 non-wing with their home track, Big Sir Raceway in Fremont, CA. Big Sir’s opener would be March 8th. There was new sponsorship money revealed over the winter with a co-op deal formulated especially for the three clubs NCRC, SCRC and MWRC (the Indiana based 410 group). Many teams would benefit from the new sponsorship that included, 25% extra money in the weekly purses, some free racing parts, some motor refresh deals and discounts on fuel, motels, plus some tow money and other perks. This new money encouraged some of the old car owners to come back to racing. It would be a very interesting year ahead. The 3 clubs instituted a new deal for this season. The top 10 in points, after the first 3 races, would get free pit passes for the car owner, the driver and 4 crew members. In other words, the tracks were actually paying them to come race!
In Arizona, Clyde “the Glide” Dawkins was ready to get on the road as he was too busy to stay home on the weekends, and he had his pick of great rides to jump into. His many race nights at Choctaw Raceway out in Chandler, AZ became legendary as he would stay home to race SCRC when they were in town and would follow them around California and run NCRC and MWRC in Indiana the rest of the time. He wasn’t interested in Championships, but would win a few along the way in his career in spite of himself. Next week he was preparing to take the family to the SCRC banquet as he won the most races last year with them. He is a family man and “gun for hire” type of a driver, so he didn’t have to stay home and work on the car like a lot of racers. When off racing, things were different as he knew what he wanted in a race car and never failed to give his mechanics exactly his preferred set-up instructions, that is if he didn’t do it himself. He would be driving for the Braxton Brothers again this year. There were several other notable racers from Arizona and they were working on their mounts as well.
Many of the California and Arizona 360 Racers had moved up to 410’s several years ago as a concentrated effort to consolidate the two groups made sense to unite them. A plan to help the 360 cars that didn’t step up motor wise to be more competitive against their bigger brothers, was always on the table as many theories were bandied about including a little nitro, but nothing got settled! Nobody with a 410 wanted to put something in their motor to slow it down, so the problem was on the 360’s to step up. The downturn in the economy back in the day and with less car owners and even fewer new drivers was a big problem for the club and all of sprint car racing actually because it is never cheap to keep up with the big boys and the ever-changing technology. The newly rumored track being built in Long Beach by Karl Wallace plus many new sponsors coming onboard should be a big help with more money for the teams and more race nights. Most of the 360 motors were sold off to the wing drivers up North so they could step up to the big boy 410’s. That alone doubled the car counts as racing seemed to be gathering a little momentum for a change.
MWRC was going to be a big help as they had a new sponsor in Indiana that would pay the Indiana drivers, who came to California to race, some significant tow, food and motel money as well as add $1000 to the purse for every car that towed west from Indiana MWRC land. A driver that flew out to drive a West coast car wasn’t eligible. The plan was to have 3 of these weekend events called the California Challenge starting the first weekend in June, then on the Labor Day weekend and finishing up the last week of the season. There would be 13 total races in this series ending with the season closer at So Cal Raceway in Costa Mesa, CA. There will be a points system for this series where the top ten at the end of the season will get their share of $200,000 bonus money put up by Wallace Oil who will be the title sponsor with SCRC, NCRC and MWRC co-sanctioning the series. In addition, each club had a scheduled $250,000 payout for their top 10 drivers at the end of the season, and that included $100,000 to the three club Championship teams each. This year would have the highest paid purses and year end championship bonus money for the racers since back in the Frank Lewis CRA days of the 80’s and 90’s.
Friday happened and everyone that would attend the SCRC banquet headed to Las Vegas. Max, Maggie, Lefty and Lottie would travel together in Max’s Hummer so the trip would be quick and painless on the 4-hour drive. The racers were mostly staying at The Orleans, where they often did when in town to race. There was a bowling gathering scheduled for late Friday afternoon and it always drew racers and fans to have fun together. The Orleans had a 64-lane bowling alley and the SCRC would utilize half of it. The winter weather was a cool 50 degrees as the travelers hit town and checked into the casino hotel. It was always fun to see all the different race t-shirts on people walking around the casino as they gambled and wandered around town as well. That might make one feel at home on the road. In the future, starting this season, the 3 associations would hold their banquet together in Las Vegas and it was expected have over 1000 attendees. This event will be held after the last race of the year at So Cal Raceway two days later on Monday night.
Max and Lefty were itchin’ to get started on the lanes, so after having a quick lunch with the girls in Big Al’s oyster bar, they headed into the bowling alley and got shoed up to roll some big numbers. The girls were watching this year as they had their fancy nails just done the day before for the banquet and were not interested in ruining them. They had black and white checkers and some yellow stripping for their team race colors on those pretty fingernails. It was always a fun time bowling as there were plenty of prizes for the more successful or, as some might call it, the lucky scorers. The clubs own race scorer, Freddie Boomer, usually cleaned their clock as he was not an amateur. There were over 300 bowlers ready to go at it, and for spectators it would be fun to watch.
As Max got up to bowl someone asked if he knew how to do this bowling thing. They had all been bowling with him before and knew if they didn’t get in his head, he would probably beat them. His first roll was a strike and that shut up the peanut gallery. There was a singles, doubles and team competitions so everybody could get lucky somewhere. As usual it came to pass that Freddie won the individual singles title having a 745 series and took home a nice 64” TV and some bowling accessories. Max and Lefty won the doubles trophy and dinner for 4 at the Prime Rip Loft which worked out fine for later. Other prizes included Buffet passes, free rooms for future stays and several $100 gambling passes, so a fun night for all was had. Many hung around to visit for a while before most noticed the dinner bell was ringing. The Triple M Racing team of 4 went up to the Prime Rip Loft for their freebie and the crew and their beauties tagged along. it was a delicious meal ending the night very well.
Saturday morning dawned bright with blue skies and Max and his gang went off to spend the day wandering thru casino’s, doing a little “slot machine inspections” and just relaxing along the path they took. There were plenty of other racer types along the way and sometimes the group following along with them was large. About 25 of them were just aimlessly walking along at one point when they found Nathan’s Hot Dogs in the New York, New York Casino. The hot dogs were tasty, and everybody liked them, but different than the Der Wienerschnitzel drive through’s Max used to go to. More wandering and the thought occurred to Max that one of those rental scooters would be nice on the long Las Vegas strip, but they were young, right! After a few hours, they were all done with the touring, so everyone headed back to their hotel and crashed. It would get really busy when they got back home, so they took advantage of the down time. The afternoon required a nap and then dressing up for the night’s festivities. They watched some ball games on TV, but mostly just laid around enjoying themselves with a little private quiet time and a nap.
When the four of them plus the crew and their wives arrived at the banquet room in the Orleans, they hit the bar for a drink and stood around in groups to visit with many of the racing club members and fans who made the trip for the awards. Their three tables were near the front and included their crew, Clyde Dawkins, Harlan Billings, Kenny Grayson and a couple of other drivers and a few fans. After the usual banquet feed which was pretty good ribs and chicken, the Master of Ceremonies, Windy Barker his self, began roasting a few dignitaries. All in good fun as the night was to celebrate the previous year of racing. Windy told the story about B B Yanko when he crashed over the wall at Choctaw Raceway and landed in the junkyard where he was greeted by the junkyard dog, grrrr! Windy said B B was in a daze when the safety crew found him still strapped in his car, but OK. His driving suit didn’t have any teeth marks, so it’s safe to say he survived the crash, one that if you saw, you were amazed he cleared the wall and lived to tell about it!
SCRC President Jerry Jones had a lot to say about the banquet and who organized it and the work the club put in to make it a nice event. There were over 500 in attendance as most of the racers and crews and family had come out to celebrate as did a lot of fans that were in the house. The music and video presentation were done by the brothers Birch, Jack and Sammy, who added track photographer “Big Steve” Larson’s stills to the neat visual show. It featured a lot of action from last year and had special highlights for each team’s trophy presentations. It was a great presentation and a copy would be given to each racing team with more on sale for anyone else wanting their own CD.
Next, there was a bunch of drawing items up for grabs that was organized by Billy Bob that included a motor, a couple of rear-ends, shocks, wheels, one chassis and a bunch of other parts and even racing oil. Each team had one ticket and they were drawn out of a hat and the winner each time got to pick what he wanted from what was left. The motor was the first thing picked as low buck racer Tipper Landon got the first winning ticket and he grabbed that bad boy. The drawing was very popular as every team got something they would need and since nothing is cheap in racing, all teams were thrilled. It could all be picked up at Bills Speed Emporium on their next trip there, or could be shipped if needed.
The banquet then got into the awards as the crowd gave enthusiastic applause as each team came up to get their trophies and the video highlighted them for a few minutes as they arrived up on the stage. The most improved driver was Parker Burke and he scored two victories during the year. Rookie of the year was Colton Nelson who made the most features for rookies as he came from nowhere to be fun to watch all season. After Max and Lefty got their gigantic trophies and Max made some enthusiastic comments and thanked the crowd, there was one more announcement before time to go home.
The longtime friend of racing, Karl Wallace, a promoter and sponsor of sorts, plus he owned Wallace Oil Company, had an announcement. He said “as most of you are aware, we are almost done building the new dirt track in the So Cal area of the LA basin where Big Willy use to have a drag strip. We own the land and the permits are all done and work was underway in July and it will be called Wallace Oil Raceway”. His sketch of the facility was amazing as some key items he covered were unique as the track would be built below ground level with a cover that would only close with inclement weather, it had nice sized luxury suites, a number of family boxes with parking right behind them outside, a special seating area for the pit people and the entrance for the racers would be thru a tunnel to the infield with an underground parking area for the haulers to get them out of the way after they unloaded. There was also a tunnel from under the grandstands to get to the infield for fans to go out there to be close to the racers. “We are proud of the new venture and I know you will be, too”!
Karl went on to talk about the track which would feature a “Chili Bowl” type signature event in December every year going forward for sprint cars, when every other track was closed for the winter. The large 3-day purse will be limited to 100 cars, all by points earned in the three racing associations (SCRC, NCRC and MWRC) over the year. Only 48 cars will race on the last night with $5000 to start the main event. It would be all inverted on the last night, like the Trophy Cup was for many years. It sounded unbelievable, but time will tell. The regular opener was set for the 4th of July with one race a month the rest of the year. The 3rd of July was to be the SCRC annual picnic with prizes and games and a lot of fun. There will be Chili and hot dogs provided by Karl and will be served to all. The race track facility would be rented out for car shows and other racing related dates as something would be going on weekly. Oh, Karl added, “some luxury suites were still available for a moderate price”. Max’s sponsor, Maid-Rite Burgers, already had their suite, so that would be a benefit for his team and family for other events than sprint car racing. Karl said “Thank you and I can’t wait until opening night”!!
Once the banquet was over, and with a lot of visiting and merrymaking until after midnight, everyone went off to their rooms to sleep. The subject on most minds was the new track and what it would bring to racing. In the morning, after everyone had packed up, checked out and met at the car, breakfast would be at the Original Pancake House in West Las Vegas on the way out of town where the omelets are amazing and the pancakes great. The trip home was done in short order as they got home by 6 PM. It was time to get focused on racing. Since the cars were all ready with the hauler loaded up with parts ready for Florida, the final loads were done. The food was added with normal ice box stuff and drinks including water and pop. There were a few bottles of the grape for celebrations and of course some beer hidden in the storage compartments outside the hauler. It would be a new year with Max, Lefty, Dean, Jim and Eric all scurrying around getting everything stowed away. It was all finally done and now a nice dinner with the crew and their ladies having a brisket feed with Lucky’s skill on his Traeger cooker showing off. The smoked meat was awesome and the evening went by pretty fast. The crew spent the night in the rooms above the shop, so it was “go time” when they woke up the next morning. It wasn’t long before the night light was off and everyone was fast asleep.
Monday morning came early and as everyone scurried around to finish get loaded up for the trip to Florida. They were greeted by Kenny Grayson as he showed up at the crack of dawn, getting out of an Uber and ringing the bell at the gate. He begged to go with them because, he said “our rig had a major problem after we started out about midnight last night and broke down 5 miles into the trip when the transmission on the big Kenworth gave up”. Kenny ‘s crew chief went with the tow truck to the shop to await the morning and see how fast it could be fixed, but his dad already called a friend at Kenworth and they said the transmission was on its way and they could leave Tuesday morning. Since Kenny didn’t want to wait and go thru the hurry up trip, he chose to come begging. “Not a problem” said Max and they all said goodbye to the girls, saying they would pick them up in Orlando at the airport on Wednesday. Then the big yellow rig, plus one now, rolled out of the driveway headed South towards San Diego where they would catch Interstate 8 going towards Phoenix. Triple M Racing was on the road again!
Dean wasn’t the only licensed driver of the big rig, but he preferred to do most of the driving. His first stop was halfway between San Diego and Phoenix where they pulled into a truck stop after about 6 hours of driving. Everybody got out to stretch and eat some sandwiches and then got back on the road with Kenny at the wheel. He topped off the gas tank during the stop, so they were good to go there. Kenny was licensed and easily took on some of the duty. They drove nonstop to El Paso and got fuel and ate a fast food dinner before changing back to Dean driving as they left there. On Tuesday they managed to get to New Orleans for a stop for dinner where shrimp and jambalaya were a staple, and then moved on with a big bag of shrimp to snack on. They pulled into Ocala, Fl on Wednesday morning after the long drive and needed a nap. They immediately checked into their motel and snoozed a bit.
They had already picked up the girls in Orlando earlier in the day and so after they woke up, they grabbed a quick snack at a MacDonalds on the way over to Don Garlits Drag Racing Museum for a tour there in the late afternoon. Don was expecting them and greeted them with open arms at the door. Inside they saw the history of drag racing thru Don’s eyes. His many Swamp Rat dragsters from the original up thru the end of front motored cars and his starting the rear engine craze. Before Don, there were a lot of rear engine builds, including one by Don that was not very stable, but most either crashed or didn’t work that well and were parked. Some famous racers tried but never made it happen until Don’s front motor car blew up at Lions Drag strip in Long Beach, CA and cut part of his foot off. After that scare, and while he was recovering in the hospital, he began designing the first successful rear engine car that was the forerunner of todays 330 plus MPH cars that run with NHRA. His first rear engine car was so quick out of the box, all the top teams ordered cars or built their own right away to keep up with him.
The famous cars in his museum included Top fuel Dragsters from Art Malone, “The Greek” Chris Karamesines, Bob Sullivan’s Pandemonium, Bob Langley’s Scorpion dragster, Shirley Muldowney’s pink fueler, Jungle Jim’s Funny Car, a Don Prudhomme Funny car and Top Fueler, one of Tom McEwen’s fuelers, plus a lot of famous other cars of the 60, 70’s and 80’, plus all of the famous Swamp Rats. His Swamp Rat 37 is an electric dragster that has been tested with a 187-mph run, but not raced as yet with a goal of 200 MPH. Garlits set a ton of records in his top fuel cars. Don gave them too much data as they visited on the personal tour by Big Daddy so both Max and Lefty wanted to go try one of the rear engine dragsters at the local dragstrip, but NO, it was time to go get ready to race the dirt track of Gator Raceway. They left the museum and had dinner before going to the motel and getting some more rest after the long trip across country.
Thursday morning came quick and after a nice lunch they were in the pits by 1:30 unloading their racecar at Gator Raceway! It is a 3/8-mile dirt track that runs sprints every spring, and although the weather isn’t exactly warm yet, it would work. Signing in was fun as many other notables were in line. Each year since forever, many top drivers showed up to run in Florida where many visitors thought it would be warm, but no, it could get really chili in February! It was Kenny’s first trip and he was shocked he was under jacketed, but Max had him covered with an old Hoosier jacket he found in the closet until his rig arrived an hour later, so then Kenny was off to catch up with his car and crew.
Max and Lefty went to look at the track and plan their strategy, but with the muddy wet surface, they could only walk around it and get a feel for it. It looked pretty much the same as last time they were there, so back to the trailer. Most of the cars were already unloaded around the pits and now the real work began. Dean said the motor was ready but they checked the shocks and tires and put in the right gear for this track. Hot laps would tell them if a change was needed as Lefty’s “book of memories”, or as everyone knew, his trusted lap top, held all the notes for the times they were here before. Lefty kept good notes and when he was done each race, would load the stats into his computer for easy access later, usually on the ride home. They would be running with the MWRC, NCRC and SCRC, and not the wing cars this trip. In the past sometimes Max ran the All Stars week, but not this year as he was done with the wings.
After the pill draw by Dean, where he drew the # 23 qualifying spot out of 50 some cars, they were in good shape. With wheel packing about to start, they had the drivers meeting to showcase the news. There were a few rule changes over the winter that got approved. Tony Marks, the race director from SCRC spelled it out for everybody as he passed out the new rule book. These new rules are effective with all three racing clubs this season, so this was a test run as officials from all 3 associations were in attendance. The rules committee decided that the Outlaw format with the quick guys always getting the front spots would not be featured in non-wing racing any more. So, the top 10 who made it through the heats would be inverted for the feature by qualifying time thus giving the fans more racing. Quick time would start in the fifth row of the feature making racing important again. Then rows 6 thru 10 would start straight up by qualifying time if you transferred from the heats. Before that everybody who missed transferring would be in a 10-lap last chance race with the top 4 tagging the rear of the Semi by order of finish. There would be no adding cars that missed the show by their point standings anymore. All California Challenge races and California Sprint week events would invert 12.
They were bringing back the trophy dash of the top 4 qualifiers inverted by time with the winner getting $600 then $300, $200 and $100 cash. It was to be sponsored by Bill’s Speed Emporium, even on this trip. There would be no planned fuel stops in the main events with each team responsible for filling their fuel cells properly. On the longer races a bigger fuel cell was advised. During point races throughout the year, visitors with little or no points the previous year running their first race of the season, in all 3 associations, wouldn’t be allowed into the top 5 rows regardless of their time. After that they would get their qualifying spot when they showed up a second time and so on. Still 10 lap heats, 12 lap semi’s, 10 lap last chance race and 35 lap features would be the norm. In the big money races, they would run 40 and sometimes 50 laps. Thursday and Friday’s races here at Gator Raceway would be 35 laps paying $3000 to win. Then it would be 40 laps on Saturday paying out a $25,000 purse with $10,000 to win. After a few more questions, they all dispersed to go get ready to race.
Dean got in the Mule and pushed the car in line for track packing and Max suited up. Lefty made a few adjustments on the car and Max was the first car pushed by the famous Working Woody push-truck of Art and Carol Malies who came out occasionally, even though they retired a few years back, they like the Florida trip and would stay down here for a few weeks. When the car fired, it was a familiar blast and Max Idled around with the rest of the field warming up and packing the track. Max always got in a zone when his big Chevy burped to life and that amazing feeling that encompassed him would be with him until the checkered flag flew in the feature. After about 10 laps or so, he pulled off the track and headed to their pit, parked and shut off the motor and a lot of work was next. They cleaned the mud off the car and changed the right rear and got the car ready for hot laps. Max fired up with the first group of 15 cars and hit the gas when the green flew. The car was a little squirrelly as he went into the first turn. He felt the left front come up and backed it in as the car roared around the oval, but he was not alone, so he was watchful as he gathered in the top groove and made it his own.
You don’t get a lot of laps during hot laps, so you make it work as best as you can as you try high and low to get a feel for the track. Back in the pits, the crew swarmed the car as Lefty and Max made a plan. Max talked about the race cars reaction on the track and Lefty made some adjustments to the front end while Jim mounted the qualifying tire and they were ready to blast one off. Lefty said “why don’t you try the bottom the first lap, then go up top on the second”. Max mulled it over as he got back in the car and buckled in to get pushed to the fire up lane. Max could see the scoreboard and watched the times appear as he readied himself.
The first car out was “Big” Jon Brown who rolled off a 14.35, about a second over the track record as he had some handling problems. Harold Dodson went 13.95, “Kowboy” Kenny Grayson a respectful 13.57, Clyde Dawkins 13.29 (a new track record), Bobby Hawkins 13.45, Blake Kelly a quick 13.33 and it was time for Mad Max. Max’s motor chirped after getting a push and he roared off and stepped it up going down the back stretch. Coming for the green he was sideways and hard on the gas taking his best shot down low. The first lap was 13.48 and he quickly jumped up to the cushion going even quicker with a 13.34 which was 3rd quick time after the dust settled. Back in his pit, Max climbed out of his car and Lefty was doing his thing and listening to Max’s impression of the two laps. The crew finished up cleaning and adjusting and soon the car was ready to go again. They would start last in the 3rd heat as there were 10 cars to a heat. They had a little time so the girls fixed some sandwiches and most had a bite or two. Max took a couple of bites and pounded a bottle of water and nodded he was ready!
The crowd was packed in and ready for some action when the Billy Bob Trophy Dash for Cash pushed off. Max would start outside row one with “Hurricane” Bobby Hawkins on the pole followed by Blake “The Snake” Kelly and Clyde “The Glide” Dawkins. Hawkins took the lead on the green cutting low going into turn one while Max hit the cushion with Dawkins on his nerf bar. As Max inched up even with Bobby, Clyde cut under Blake and they were into lap two. On the third lap Max took the lead and Clyde powered around Bobby for 2nd. Max was still running up top when Clyde slid up under him and they finished that way under the checkers waiting for the call from the press box, it was that close. What a way to start the year as the crowd roared when Mad Max was announced the winner, but not by much! Max and Clyde stopped on the front stretch in front of the crowd and the noise was outrageous. The two cars were striking setting next to each other as the brilliant Yellow of Max’s # 1 car and the sharp # 2 black car of Clyde’s were sparkling under the lights. Max got a little trophy and $600 cash and the night was just getting started.
There were 50 cars in the house so there would be 10 cars in each of the 5 heats with the fastest qualifier outside row 5 each time. Any rookies, their cars had a yellow ribbon on the cage, would be in the back forcing up the car in front of them one row. There was only one rookie tonight, Wilson Jackson, and he was in the last heat. His background included TQ’s and some midgets before stepping up to the 410’s this season. He was 3rd in the Midget standings last year after 3 years running in California and the Chili Bowl. Wilson is just 21 years old and had lots of potential as he made the podium on his qualifier night in Tulsa a few short weeks ago. The first four of each heat would transfer directly to the main with the next 4 running the semi with the remaining 10 cars running the Consi with the top 4 tagging the Semi like Tony had already explained.
The first heat started with a shunt on the opening lap that left fast qualifier Clyde “The Glide” Dawkins parked trying to avoid a spinning car. Several cars were involved, but they all made the restart with Clyde tagging the field again. It didn’t make much difference as he passed the race long leader, “Bunny” Pam Branson who started on the pole, after 5 laps of the heat. Bunny, a former Playgirl of the month and a very sexy lady with obvious attributes in her tight driving suit, was making her first trip to Florida after running 360’s for 4 years and stepping up this season to the topless 410’s after winning the 360 championship. She is a good shoe and has dreams of going up to NASCAR or Indy in the future. She looked good running 2nd to the winner. Clyde was pretty dynamic moving thru traffic and would go directly to the 5th row in the feature with this win.
The second heat was a barnburner as “Double B” Brent Baker mixed it up with “Kowboy” Kenny Grayson from the get go. Kenny started 7th with Brent right next to him on the fourth row as they muscled thru traffic until they caught early leader “Hurricane” Bobby Hawkins with 2 laps to go. Kenny went high and Brent low for a lap until they both overwhelmed Bobby and Kenny was in the lead when they got around him and the white flag flew with Brent right beside him. Coming around the last corner it was anybody’s race but the high groove worked the best and Kenny did the deed holding off Brent and getting the win.
“Mad” Max would start on the tail of the third heat next to B B Yanko. He was pondering strategy as he fired up and rolled into his starting position. His mind was clicked on just fine when on the start he and Yanko banged together hard enough that both spun to a stop, but they were both able to restart at the back with no damage. Max would be more aware against this youngster on the restart. That start saw “Captain” Mike Midnight take the lead from the pole with “Bad” Brad Gardner on him right away. After a few laps The Captain took control and stretched his lead out to two car lengths as the field strung out. Max and B B hustled thru the pack to end up with B B finishing 3rd and Max 4th when the checkers fell. The four transferred on. Max used a lot of patience to keep focused and an eye on BB, but knew the feature would require more of his mind and he was getting more into “his” zone now after that heat. The 4th and fifth heats were strung out nicely as they both had little passing with pole sitters Bill “The Thrill” Hill and “Darlin” Harlan Billings taking the wins from the front row. There were no yellows and just fast lines streaming around until the Checkers flew. Five heats provided the fans with a lot of action and at the end, they all rushed out to do their business and relax.
After the third heat ended Max had pulled into his pit and the crew began to work the car over. Lefty and Max chatted about the car overheating a little so Lefty found a leaky hose and fixed that. Then Jim mounted a new right rear tire as they also changed the rear-end gear and checked the shocks. The mud was wiped off and the tires given the baby oil treatment to show the car off for the fans. Back in California, there was usually $ 100 shiny tire money up for the fan favorite cheering that would take place on the line-up for the main. Then the crew settled back to relax and have a cool soda and some chips while they reviewed the changes done. Lefty decided to make a few more adjustments to the front end as the car was launching hard coming out of the turns and he wanted to keep the front end down! They talked about the new shocks, but it was too soon to say anything other than they seem to work.
Windy Barker interviewed Max in front of the grandstands and asked him how his winter break went. Max said “me and Maggie went on a cruise with Lefty and Lottie to Mexico and enjoyed the lobster and fresh fish for a week. After that, we went to Indiana to visit with friends and play in the snow for a few days before Christmas. Since then we’ve been building a new car, and so far, the results were looking good”. After some applause Max went to where the car was already lined up in the 4th row on the front stretch for introductions.
The crowd had taken another break to visit, get drinks and some food, but all returned when the cars were lined up on the front stretch. Windy announced the line-up from the rear and after each driver waived to the fans, they climbed in their cars and buckled in. The feature would line up like this with Brent Baker on the pole followed by Bunny Branson, Kenny Grayson, Captain Midnight, Brad Gardner, Harold Dodson, Harlan Billings, Bobby Hawkins, Max Miller, Blake Kelly and Clyde Dawkins in the first five rows. Push trucks got behind the cars and began to move them forward to light em’ up! The roar of the motors was awesome as usual and the cars got in to the 4 wide formation salute to the fans and rolled around the dirt track.
Now it was time for the big show as the long line of 24 cars tightened up and were ready to go. As they came around turn four to take the green flag, keeping in mind it was the first race of the year, silly crap happened! The front two rows took off good, but Captain Midnight got out of shape after a joust in his rear by Harold Dodson and all hell broke loose. Before you could say no kidding, the pile up began with 7 cars bunched up and stopped in front of the flagman. Several others played avoidance and were also parked a little behind them, and 15 cars were eventually stopped on the track. As soon as the red flew, 4 wheelers sprang into action and went to their own cars.
It took 20 minutes for all the “stopped under duress “cars to get to the work area where the crews checked em’ over, making repairs and adjustments. When the restart was ready to go, only 2 cars couldn’t make it, Harold Dodson and BB Yanko, who had climbed someone’s right rear, and the rest restarted in their original spots except for 3 cars that had to change tires and went to the back. With the 22 cars that were left ready to roar, the green flag flew and they were off.
“Busty” Bunny Branson took the lead on a great move over Baker on the restart and it began again. Hawkins and Max were sizing up each other as Dawkins had already passed two cars and the tail setter, Blake Kelly, passed 7 cars by lap 3. Bunny ran the low groove in turns 3 and 4 and the high groove at the other end as she tried to keep Baker behind her. On lap 11, Jerry Powell hit the cushion hard and flipped it up into the turn one wall and crashed back on the track looking like a jumbled heap of broken parts. He was running a strong 7th at the time and would be hauled off before the next restart.
That restart saw Bunny take off still in the lead again and now Max was on her tail followed by Hawkins, Baker, Dawkins and Midnight. Blake Kelly was now in 10th surging forward. Bunny was fast and kept the lead until lap 23 where “Mad” Max made a move under her and headed for the checkers. Dawkins got by Bunny on the last lap as Max, Dawkins and Bunny were on the podium for the first race of the year. Hawkins, Kelly, Grayson, Midnight, Baker and Gardner followed along. Kelly missed the hard Charger award with his 24th to 5th finish, but had to go to the back after crashing and changing a tire on the first start, so he put on a strong charge. And it was a wrap.
The top three cars pulled into victory circle and climbed out where Windy was waiting to talk to them. Bunny was thrilled with her finish and was all flustered when she got on the mike. Bunny was trying to cool off as she unzipped her driving suit a little bit, enough to spill out her stunning cleavage and that made everyone take notice and the boys were getting a little hot, too, just watching her! The pretty blond said “I’m so excited about my finish and I love Florida” as the crowd roared their approval! Windy said hi to Clyde who was smiling after watching Bunny and he said ”I did everything I could but just couldn’t catch Max”. With a smile he also added “wait till tomorrow night and the finale, we will be ready”! Windy asked Max how his new car performed and it gave Max a chance to thank his sponsors, crew and his wife Maggie for their support. After the three got on the podium for pictures that seemed to draw more photographers than normal, Max got his trophy, his kiss from the trophy girl not named Bunny, and the big check, so it was time to go celebrate.
The crowd came by the pit and visited with the winner for more than 30 minutes until the crew started loading up. When the big rear door of the trailer was closed up, it was time to go to the motel and get some rest. It was a short ride back and after getting the rig parked, they all sat in the toter and ate some sandwiches and talked about the night before heading off to their rooms and to bed.
Friday morning came and everyone was up early and had breakfast at Dolly’s, a restaurant across the street from the motel that featured pancakes, chicken fried chicken and any kind of eggs you wanted. They gave a 20% discount if you were racers staying across the street. The food was good and only one mishap happened when Lottie tipped over her water and everyone scattered to avoid the stream coming at them. “Clean up on isle two” yelled Max, Ha Ha. After eating their fill, they headed back to the trailer where they unloaded the car and began cleaning and checking it over. They knew they had a few changes to make on the set-up for the night, but would wait until after hot laps before changing anything.
Heading to the track around noon, everyone remembered the track had a barbeque smoker on duty and the brisket was the best. After getting parked, Maggie and Lottie headed over to get some BBQ! The whole crew was waiting when they got back and had a table all set and ready to go. Some Dr Pepper went really good with the sandwiches and a little of the potato salad they picked up at Sam’s the day before. Everybody ate and talked about night two coming up. Max loved good barbeque and was really ready to have some, as were the crew. It would be a few hours before qualifying so everybody kind of hung out and visited with those who came by, because they were ready.
“Big” Jon Brown wandered by and told Max “you are going down tonight”, but the big smile Max had on his face as he replied “good luck” was a strong stand and made “Big” Jon go off on him spewing useless comments and direct threats. It looked like Big Jon’s red face was going to explode, but his partner in crime Lonnie Grant put his arm around him and drug him off. Kenny Grayson was nearby and told his dad to watch in case they needed to go step in and stop anything from happening. Kenny watched “Big” Jon and Lonnie walk off and added “there could be a problem tonight”. Tony Marks, the race director, happened to be standing nearby and was paying attention to “Big” Jon’s obvious goading of Max. Tony and his crew of officials were meeting next week about “Big” Jon as they had some unsigned notes coming into the SCRC club office threatening Max and saying he was a cheater and they should keep an eye on the Champion. Nobody but the officials had seen the notes and they had no proof of who sent them, but the post mark was from Riverside where “Big” Jon lived? They would address it at the next club meeting when they all got back home.
Unknown to Kenny or Max, Tony walked over to “Big” Jon’s trailer and headed inside. “Big” Jon was sitting in a chair with a dark look and something on his mind. Behind him came Jerry Jones, the president of SCRS and Brian Fleming the flagman. They ran Lonnie off and settled down to talk to the unhappy driver. Tony asked “what was the problem when you went to Max’s pit and got upset”? “Big” Jon said “you guys know all about Max, he’s a cheater and I want him caught”. Tony said “where is the proof?” and got no answer, so Tony said ”I remember 3 years back when Max protested you and you were caught with an illegal motor causing you to lose the race you had just won along with no money or points. Did you remember that? “Big” Jon said “that was a misunderstanding and those days are gone”. “That’s right” Tony said “I’m warning you to keep your temper under control” and fined him $ 500 for going into a competitor’s pit and trying to get him to fight. Tony added “If there is anything happening in the race tonight, that you cause, you will be fined again and suspended. Do you understand”? “Yeah” was the answer as the three officials walked out of the trailer and headed to the pit meeting.
Windy announced tonight would be a full show with everyone qualifying just like last night. Saturday’s big feature would be lined up with the first 5 rows inverted by points earned from both nights and the rest following in their point total order. Points were earned by passing points and qualifying with quick time getting 25, 2nd getting 24, third getting 23 and so on to the back”. Lefty walked over to draw the qualifying pill this time and got 17 which meant the lower number was better as the track would go away faster than last night. When hot laps were over, it was time to plan the qualifying set-up. Local driver Jimmy Powell ran a 13.77 as the first car to qualify. Little did we know that would be fast time. Willy Wilkes from Tampa was 2nd quick with a 13.88 followed by Clyde Dawkins, Harlan Billings, Bobby Hawkins, Blake Kelly, Mad Max, Kenny Grayson, Brent Baker and B B Yanko. Only 45 cars qualified so the 5 heats would have 9 cars each. Max would be in heat 3.
After Max and Lefty discussed the track conditions, they decided on changing the rear end gear and putting on a softer tire for the heat races. They watched the trophy dash where Clyde Dawkins won from the pole rather easily. In the heats, the racing was much better on this night as Dawkins, B B Yanko, Kenny Grayson, Blake Kelly and Max won their heats. Max had his hands full making a last lap pass over “Busty” Bunny when she scooted too far up on the track and he took advantage of the sexy blond lady.
Back in the pits, Max said the left front was going down and so Jim changed that and noticed the shock by it was leaking. Lefty then put a new one on, and checked the others and they were good to go. In went the fuel and they all waited. Meanwhile the semi race happened and the feature was set. The feature line-up was B B Yanko on the pole next to Brent Baker followed by Kenny Grayson, Blake Kelly, Mad Max, Bobby Hawkins, Harlan Billings, Clyde Dawkins, Willie Wilkes and Jimmy Powell.
Triple M Crewman Jim got in the bright yellow team Mule and pushed the car with Eric in it to their starting spot on the grid. The rest of the crew gave the car a once over as Max wandered up and sat on the right rear with a smile on his face. After Windy introduced the drivers, they all climbed in the cars. Max settled in and began to buckle up while Lefty watched closely. Lefty pulled hard on the belts to tighten them and Eric handed Max his helmet. Pretty soon all was ready and the push trucks pulled behind the cars and started getting them fired up. The roar was like always, an amazing sound all fans loved as the cars roared by!
When the green flew, B B Yanko looked like he was shot out of a cannon as he flew past Baker to take the lead and head to the top of the turn one cushion. Baker ran up behind him, hit the cushion too hard and got it up on two wheels before gathering it back in. His momentary problem gave “Kowboy” Kenny Grayson an opening as he surged into 2nd with Blake Kelly hot on his heals. Clyde Dawkins got aggressive and ran up under Max, who was in 5th, and the two touched wheels. Before long Max was dropping back and stopped on the track with a flat tire. Baker also had a problem, that turned out to be a broken shock, and he was going to come from the back with Max. The yellow came out as Max was pushed to the work area and Lefty and Jim quickly pulled off the left rear and replaced it with a new one. Max got pushed off and lined up in the back of the pack.
The line-up on the restart saw B B still leading with Kenny, Kelly, Dawkins, Hawkins and Billings following as they raced up to the green flag and roared on. By lap 10 Kelly took over second with Dawkins in third, Max 12th and Baker 15th. Yanko stretched out his lead on Kelly as those two pulled away for a nice lead on the pack behind them. On lap 20, Max was on Clyde’s tail and looking for a little revenge, when the yellow flew for Blake Sims who had a flat after nailing the wall after some incidental contact with another car. The crew couldn’t get the tire off, so after three laps of waiting, the green flew again. Blake was the only car that had any real damage to his car this night.
Once again B B Yanko was fast and uncatchable as Kelly tried to keep up with him while Dawkins and Max were now pressing him hard. On lap 33 Clyde tried going up high past Kelly, but got blocked by a lap car and Max took that opportunity to dive low under all three for third with a lap to go. Coming to the checkers, B B had them covered and won by a car length as Kelly and Max would be on the podium with him followed by Dawkins, Grayson, Hawkins, Baker and Billings. The usual chatting by Windy with the drivers happened next as the crowd began going out to the parking lot or heading to the pits. BB Yanko was ecstatic as he said “my ride was awesome and I have to give credit to the crew and our sponsors” before heading off to shake the bubbly. Blake Kelly was low key as he said ”thanks to the fans for coming out and I am proud of my finish”. Windy asked Max if he was mad at Clyde for his flat tire and the response was an emphatic “NO”! He said “Clyde always raced him fair and sometimes things just happen”. Max’s finish would put him starting 10th next to Clyde in the Saturday feature, so there was more to come from those two, Max added “ya’ll come back tomorrow night”!
Back in the pits the crew opened the cooler and they all shared a Shock Top Raspberry beer, Max’s favorite. Clyde came over and had one with them. Clyde was looking forward to the next night as they shared a few stories for a while. Those two had raced each other since Max was a rookie and they raced for a lot of wins against each other. Clyde asked Max “did you know “Big” Jon was talking behind your back and had some plan to “get even” with you”? Max nodded “yes, I am aware and wonder how long ”Big” Jon could keep his mouth shut and avoid the Club sanctioning him, and it wasn’t the first time another driver had it out for him”. Clyde said “OK, be cool and I’ll let you know if I hear anything coming from that guy”.
After it quieted down and the fans had gone home, they loaded up and headed back towards the motel. There were still some BBQ left from the afternoon feed, so they made fresh sandwiches and knocked them back and then headed to their rooms to get some rest. Max was still wired from the nights racing so he and Maggie huddled together on the couch and soon he was hugging tight and kissing her softly and they got lost in each other until the lights went out and sleep took over later. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, ain’t life great!
Saturday morning Max was up early because he wanted to win the big race tonight and he had some things to talk over with his crew chief Lefty. He and Maggie went across the street for breakfast where they were greeted by some racers and fans who were also hungry. Max signed a few autographs and got into a couple of selfies as he enjoyed the morning. As soon as they returned to the motel, the trailer was open and the crew were fast at work. Max wandered into the trailer and looked at some of the shocks mounted on the wall. He had a feeling that there was something there that could make his car go faster.
Max was reading something about the new shocks on the PC when Lefty walked in. Lefty asked what he was up to and Max said “lookie here”! as he pointed out a setting on their new shocks that they hadn’t noticed. When the track went dry slick like they expected tonight, you could adjust for it with the new adjustment screw on the side. Lefty said “that looks like something to test tonight”, so that info went in his head and he walked out to sit down in a chair and have a cup of hot tea. Everyone was relaxing and the subject of food came up. They decided to stop at a Steak N Shake for a burger and a milk shake on the way to the track.
Tonight, they would break out their new race wear that included nice new snappy blue jeans with the just created bright yellow shirts complete with names and sponsors with a few red and blue swashes of color. On the back was the Triple M logo with the car, nice! The old shirts were red white and blue and would still be used on prelim feature nights! The crew looked sharp in their new duds!
When everyone was done fussing with the car, they loaded it back in the trailer and headed out to the track. The lunch destination was a few miles down the road and they had plenty of room to park. Both Lefty and Max got out to get lunch. Burgers, fries and milk shakes filled two containers as they got back in the toter and settled down to eat. Max had one triple burger, as did all the men, while the girls just ate double burgers and all had fries. After a bit, they were all satisfied and relaxed so the discussion began on the track conditions they expected. On the third day of any race you can’t expect the track to be as wet and cushy as on the opening night, but you could try to outguess the glazing over of the groove and be ready. Eric complained “this track had a very sticky gumbo that was hard to scrape off the car”, but he was always up to the task as he had his secrets on how to keep the car shining. Dean noted the motor was singing loud last night and had already changed the plugs and checked the wiring. Jim had the new right rear mounted on a new wheel, grooved and ready for the feature and they would use last night’s tires for the preliminary racing laps. Pulling into the track, they all had that “feeling” everybody gets when they went racing. It just put them all on a sharp and focused edge and it prepared each for the competitive zone they got into as a group. Max’s zone was his own as always, and he would be settling more into that later. To a man, the crew all felt like they were in the car when it was on the track and racing under Max’s guidance, so the day begins the minute they unload the car in their pit. There would be no pill draw tonight for Max as the first 5 rows were already set from the points earned the first two nights and would be inverted by the totals. Max had 48, Clyde 46, Blake Kelly 45, Kenny Grayson 39, Bunny Branson 37, Jack Van Natta 36, Brent Baker 36, Bobby Hawkins 35, Mike Midnight 34 and Harlan Billings getting the pole with 29. The remaining cars, only 35 left now that a few more went home, would requalify and run 4 heats and a semi with the top finishing 14 cars tagging behind the set ten in order of finish. The main event would start 24 cars in an epic 40 lap main event with $10,000 to the winner and $5000 for the runner-up!
After everyone got on the track to pack it, Max pulled back in the pits and the crew got the car ready for the “main Scramble” which was where the top 10 cars would run 10 laps with no particular starting order before the nights semi, thus getting their first shot at the track for the night in order to set up for the main. Qualifying was next for the rest of the field with “Black“ Bart Wagner from Longhorn, PA getting the quick time of the night, but it was a half second slower than last night at 14.33.
Max relaxed as the quest to tag the main with 14 cars went on and on until the main event field was set. B B Yanko won the Semi with Jerry Powell, Ronnie Rose, Big John Brown, Brad Gardner, Hot Rod Haines, Wilson Jackson, Seth Howard, Blake Sims, Rod Taylor, Tommy Tucker, Anthony Jones, Sammy Stockdale and Jimmy Winters all made it with poor Red Sanders crashing on the last lap trying to pass for 14th and the last transfer. He wasn’t hurt, but his car sure was and he had wadded it up for a dumpster toss.
Lefty and Max looked at the shock instruction book again and decided they would make one more adjustment to the shocks after the 10-lap scramble warm up run. They had never done this adjustment before, just noticing it was available, so were a little conservative on the new setting. They would adjust it either way if there was a red flag along the way and it needed a change.
Intermission was going on so all the cars were pushed out and placed in their starting spot on the grid. The drivers all lined up side by side in front of the crowd with their event hats on that were black cowboy hats with Gator logo’s on for this annual event. One by one they were interviewed, from the back, and announcer Windy Barker got a few quips from each. Then the drivers walked to their cars and got buckled in. Max was still getting buckled in when Windy asked Harlan Billings where he was from. He barked “Ventura, Ca where I grew up running the best little track by the sea and I’m ready to get back home as soon as I win tonight”!
The cars were finally getting pushed off and the 24 motors barked loudly as they lined up and looked ready to rock and roll. Lining up in the traditional 4 wide pattern that sprint cars had been doing forever, it was a lap of that before they dropped back into the 12 rows of two and were set for the green flag. That had the crowd standing and cheering their favorites like mad. After that ceremony, they got pulled in tight ready for the green.
On the green flag start, Harlan Billings and Captain Midnight shot off like two big Panthers coming around turn four with the top groove showing strength as the Captain was in the lead coming out of turn two with Harlan tucked right in behind him. It was on, as the angry sounding sprinters were dipping high and low trying to find their groove. Clyde used his high groove position to get up around Blake Kelly and drop below Bunny gaining two spots with Max following right behind him. By lap 10 it was The Captain followed by Harlan, Kenny Grayson, Bobby Hawkins, Clyde, Max, Bunny, B B Yanko and Brent Baker leading the way. Behind them Wilson Jackson had breached the top ten from his 17th starting spot. Max was struggling when he went to pass Clyde and the car didn’t stick and he almost went around. Bunny and Brent went by him as he gathered it back in.
On lap 19 Harlan took the lead when the Captain got caught behind a lap car and couldn’t recover quick enough. Mike darted high, slammed the cushion and hit the wall hard enough to tip over, and the red flag flew. Several other cars had stopped on the track, including Bobby Hawkins, Brent Baker and Brad Gardner, sending them to the back on the restart. Max’s crew arrived at the work area and Lefty asked Max, “up or down on the shock”? Max signaled more and Lefty did his thing as the car was checked over and found ready to go.
The restart had Harlan in the lead followed by Kenny, Clyde, Yanko, Bunny and Max still in the mix. They were getting strung out on the top going nose to tail when Max made a quick move to the bottom and went under Bunny, Yanko and Clyde for 3rd as he put on a classic pass that would be remembered by all in attendance as the move of the weekend. The shock adjustment gave him an edge suddenly and he was stoked! Yanko took the opportunity to slide above Clyde as he was distracted. They ran that way for about 10 laps and everybody looking for some bite to make their move. Harlan was still leading with ten laps to go when he had a tire going down and started to fall back. Kenny rolled by him with Max, Yanko and Clyde following along. Max was taking aim at Kenny with the top 4 all on the top and the cushion was their saving grace as the bottom was gone. Each banged the top in the corners and held on to keep moving forward.
When the white flag flew Kenny had a two-car lead on Max, after a lap car got into trouble, but recovered and continued on, keeping Max at bay. Suddenly, Clyde surged past Yanko to make one more run at Max and hopefully a big win. He and Max were practically side by side now as they pulled up on Kenny. Kenny wasn’t to be denied tonight as he kept his cool, stayed in the groove and got his first ever win in Florida by a wheel as Max and Clyde made their last gasp charge at him almost work. The crowd stood and roared as the three cars stopped on the front stretch and the motors went silent! It was only 11 PM, and the annual Gator Classic was in the books with a new winner, “Kowboy” Kenny Grayson who was suddenly $10,000 richer.
Windy Barker was crossing the track as the drivers climbed out of their cars with their crews surrounding them in joy! Clyde told Windy “I needed a few more laps, but I’m happy to be on the podium”. He then thanked a bunch of people. Low key Mad Max had a few things to say about his crew, his wife and Maid-Rite Burgers, his sponsor. He said “I got hit by a rock in the arm right after taking second and was hanging on at the end” but added “young Kenny’s win was a great job. Max got a $5000 bonus for earning the most points on the weekend and that was cool. It turns out Kenny had bought last years Championship car from Max and got a lot of help from the team, so it was kind of a family thing as Kenny had been tutored by Max for several years. In fact, Kenny was a crewman on the Triple M team several years ago wiping down tires, scraping mud, chasing after things as a gofer. He wasn’t a gofer tonight!
When Windy went up to Kenny, who was sitting on the right rear looking stunned with a big grin on his face as he took in the scene around him. Kenny had won a bunch of 360 races in the past and a few 410 SCRC races along the way, but this was the biggest win yet for him. Windy asked how he felt and it poured out of him as he was overcome with emotion. He said “thanks to the crew, my sponsors, my mom and dad and a bunch of other people”, until he teared up and said “none of this would be possible without Max”! He was Max’s shadow for a lot of years as he grew up and hung around the shop and he was so thankful and happy to be here on the podium with the Gator trophy in his hands. The trophy girl was a doll named Sally and she came up to hand him the 1st place Gator trophy and grab a kiss from the young man as the photographers flashed away. He wasn’t bashful as he kissed her back and whispered in her ear something prompting her to shake her head yes. Later they would celebrate together as she was from Arizona and this might go somewhere, unless his girlfriend Dotty found out? Windy remarked local driver Jackson Johnson had destroyed his car on a “tommy tip over” and it was a big night for collections from the fans and they really dug in a gave up some cash to their own rollover fund.
When Max was back at his trailer, the fans were waiting for him as his popularity was something special in racing because he gave each and everyone of them something in his smile, his handshake, often a big hug and many selfies as the night went on. Max wasn’t happy about not winning, but he thought NEXT TIME! He shared a brew with his crew as they all realized it was a great start of the new year and they would head home in the morning after dropping off the girls at the airport so they wouldn’t have to ride back to California in the hauler. There was a lot more visiting and merrymaking, until it was time to load up and head back to the motel.
Max and Maggie and the crew sat around their room for a bit and rehashed the night and talked about the positives. The new shock ability had worked because before Lefty made the change at lap 19, Max wasn’t moving forward at all and had his hands full with the car. Afterwards the car was more manageable and he immediately felt racier and made the move of the night to get from 6th to second in one great pass. The car stuck like glue and it was a big advantage. Nobody would hear about the new shock ability as any racing secret is held close to the vest to keep an advantage. Lefty would do a little more research on the shock and see where they could benefit on nights when the dry slick happened back home. They had grabbed a few burgers on the way to the hotel and finished them off before it was time to hit the sack. Max and Maggie were pretty excited with their weekend and the resulting glow made their night even better.
Morning happened as they loaded up the hauler and headed to the airport in Orlando to drop off the girls and Jim, who had an early Monday appointment with his doc back home and didn’t want to miss it. It is always difficult to maneuver into an airport with a tall trailer, so Max stopped a block away and put the three air travelers in a cab to get to the check-in at the airport. Big hugs and goodbyes were done and Dean got the rig moving and on down the road.
The long trip towards home was pleasant as they got into Amarillo the next day and wanted to try the big 72 oz steak challenge at the Big Texan Steakhouse. All of them had passed it by many times after always checking out the Cadillacs planted in the ground alongside of the highway nearby. Today would be a challenge as each wanted to see if they could eat the monster and get it free. They parked and went inside the barnlike structure. After entering the restaurant, the meat display at the entrance was very interesting. You could tell the big steak from the rest as it looked like the shape of the United States in meat form next to a bunch of smaller looking cuts like a New York that was like Indiana, a filet like Ohio and a porterhouse like Texas. They settled in at their table and learned the rules from a pretty waitress in overalls and red accessories. She explained you had to eat every bite of the big one plus the salad and potato in order to get it free!
Their order was placed so they sat back and looked around and found the place relaxing, but didn’t see anyone with too much meat in front of them, so it didn’t look like there were any others stupid enough to try the challenge. Max already said no way as he ordered a nice New York steak. Lefty, Eric and Dean said why not as they ordered the big one? As the time passed and steaks appeared, Max was done way before the rest and he just settled back to watch the idiots. Lefty came the closest as he only had a few bites left but was struggling. He managed to finish his quest for the freebie as the others wrapped up their unfinished meat in a to go box and they were outa there. What an experience they all agreed, but it wasn’t likely they would do that again! Before they left the restaurant, Lefty visited the bathroom and then took a nap in the rig to recover on the road. As they stopped much later to gas up before moving on, they all shared what was left of the steaks and on they went. They arrived back at the ranch about 2 am Tuesday morning and parked the rig inside the big shop before heading off to bed. Dean and Eric went home and left Max and Lefty to visit with their wives in their own homes before finally falling asleep in dreamland.
Until next time and we see what the Triple M boys are up to next!