Checkered Flag Cheater: A Motor Novelby Will Weaver
Trace Bonham is living large as the teen driver for a pro Super Stock racing team. He's on billboards and on the road instead of stuck in school. And he's blowing away the competition wherever he races. But Trace is worried that those who think his crew is illegally "juicing" his engine may be right. It's up to him to discover what is going on--and what he's going
Trace Bonham is living large as the teen driver for a pro Super Stock racing team. He's on billboards and on the road instead of stuck in school. And he's blowing away the competition wherever he races. But Trace is worried that those who think his crew is illegally "juicing" his engine may be right. It's up to him to discover what is going on--and what he's going to do about it.
Read an Excerpt
Checkered Flag Cheater
By Will Weaver
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2010 Will Weaver
All rights reserved.
Trace Bonham poked the Seek button. Radio stations were hard to find late at night in the eastern tip of Iowa — or maybe it was the car radio. This vehicle, bought for cash in Indiana, was an American tin can. The right front tire had a high-speed shimmy that vibrated his teeth, and the yellow headlight beams were like two flashlights with old batteries. However, all it had to do was get him home to Minnesota, then down to South Dakota to catch up with Team Blu. Driving this car at night was like driving his Team Blu Super Stock — keep the pedal down and hope that nothing happened just ahead ...
* * *
"Don't be afraid of big dust or smoke in front of you," Harlan said. Harlan was Team Blu's crew chief. "In fact, it's best to drive straight into it, because whatever happened — whoever spun out or wrecked — ain't there anymore."
"Yeah, yeah," Trace muttered as he pulled on his helmet. Team Blu was ready for the twenty-lap feature — another high-banked short track where the circling stock cars spun up dust like a tornado stuck in neutral. Another state, another speedway, another exhibition race for Team Blu.
"Find yourself a middle line and stay in it," Harlan continued. "There's gonna be a lot of spinouts, and spinouts don't stay in the middle of the track, either — they end up over the fence or into the infield."
"You want to drive this thing?" Trace shot back.
"Are you kidding?" Harlan said. "It's way too dangerous — especially in a dust bowl like this track." His son, Jimmy Joe, the setup man on Team Blu, cackled with laughter. Even Smoky, their engine builder, croaked out a laugh.
Trace flipped down his visor and fired the engine. He spun the tires — and left a gift of fresh dust for Team Blu — as he headed down pit row. The pits were choked with haze, a combination of dust and poor lighting, and he made sure not to run into anybody. Then it was up the ramp and down onto the track.
Whether the track surface was dry, slick dust or tacky gumbo, there was nothing quite like merging with the rumbling parade of twenty other brightly lettered stock cars. He drew near his starting slot — last row, inside — but didn't take it immediately. Falling into line right away meant looking overeager. Like a rookie. Technically, Trace was a Super Stock rookie this year, but he had raced enough to know the mental game.
He scrubbed the tires — a back-and-forth, controlled-swerving technique that warmed and softened their rubber.
"Close up for green!" said a woman's voice in Trace's helmet radio receiver. At her command, the parade of Super Stocks sucked together like magnets. Trace wedged in bumper to bumper, wheel to wheel with the Super Stocks around him. Then the cars paired off, two-wide. To keep his hands loose, Trace waggled his gloved fingers on the small hoop of the quick-lock steering wheel.
Nudge and tap — bump and rock — the Super Stocks pushed one another like train cars rounding a tight curve.
"Lookin' good for green," the woman's voice said.
At the sudden roar of the front cars, Trace slammed the hammer down and powered up into the explosion of dust. The biggest part of any race was getting through the first turn after the green flag; he dove in hard, and pitched his Super Stock to the left —
"Whoa!" Trace yelled, and yanked the steering wheel of his car lot beater to the right. He was way over the centerline — and headed to the ditch. This was two-lane blacktop, Highway 61 north; the only left turn was into some farmer's field.
He shook his head to clear it, rolled down the window, and spit out a stale piece of gum. He let his head hang out, gulped in mouthfuls of chilly April air, then leaned back inside and took a long slug of cola.
When he focused down the highway again, Trace's own face got larger and larger in the windshield: it was not a hallucination but a Blu energy drink billboard. Trace, ten feet tall, leaned against his blue Super Stock. BLU BY YOU. FEEL YOUR POWER! the big letters read.
The billboards were all over the Midwest. He mostly had gotten past the weirdness of seeing himself on signs, but sometimes — like tonight — he got caught off guard. The whole story looped through his head: driving the snot out of his Street Stock one night at Headwaters Speedway; catching the eye of the special guest driver, Cal Hopkins; winning the Super Stock tryout; signing with Team Blu for a fully sponsored ride. Sometimes, like now, it felt too good to be true — which was the exact moment when red and blue lights lit up beneath the billboard.
"Damn!" He braked, but too late. The strobes of a cop's light bar flared across the empty highway as the cruiser pulled out behind Trace — who slowed, signaled his car onto the shoulder, then skidded to a stop.
The cop car was local, which was probably better than being stopped by a state highway patrol officer. Trace rolled down his window, then kept his hands on the steering wheel.
"License and registration?" a woman's voice asked. Her shoulder patch read DEPUTY SHERIFF.
"Sure," Trace said. "Just bought this car off a lot in Indiana. I don't have the title yet, but the papers are in the backseat."
She shone her flashlight beam into his face, then to the backseat. "Okay," she said. "Reach back and get them for me."
Trace moved deliberately as he retrieved the papers. Same with his wallet and driver's license.
She focused her light first on the purchase agreement, which seemed to pass inspection, then on his license. "Trace Bonham," she said.
"That's me." He looked fully at her, trying not to squint or scowl into her light.
"So where you going in such a hurry, Trace?"
"Just trying to get home."
"Where's home?" She looked again at his license.
Trace told her his home address — his dad's farm, in north-central Minnesota. She nodded, then glanced over the car again. "Would you mind stepping out and popping the trunk?"
The officer stood back as Trace got out and opened the trunk. She came alongside and skittered her beam in all corners. Except for the skinny spare tire, the trunk was empty.
"Thanks," she said. She held up his license and peered over it at his face, tilting her head left, then right, as if to see him from different angles.
"Everything okay?" Trace asked.
"Yes. Except for your speed, of course," she answered.
Trace kept silent.
She squinted at him. "I feel like I've seen you before," she said.
"That's me on the billboard back there." He gave her his winner's circle smile.
The deputy didn't blink or turn. "Say again?"
Trace repeated himself and kept smiling; this time she turned to look. Then she glanced back at him. "Stick by your car," she said. "I'm going to run your license."
He leaned against his car and waited while she sat in her squad car and looked at her computer. The night air was heavy with a chilly dampness; he shivered in his T-shirt. Inside her squad car, the deputy held a cell phone to her face as she talked. After a couple of minutes the officer came back. "You are the guy on the billboard back there."
"That's me," Trace repeated, mustering another winning smile.
"I called my dispatcher. Your name popped up with Team Blu racing," she said. "No wonder your face seemed familiar. I spend a lot of time parked beneath that billboard."
As Trace tried to think of something clever to say, she moved her flashlight beam up and down him. "So, are you a model or something?"
"Nope. I'm a race-car driver."
"Well, considering your speed, that makes sense," she replied.
"Sorry," Trace said. "As I said, I'm just going home."
"What's the rush?"
"Be honest," the deputy said. "I can be a sucker for a really good reason, but I've also got great radar for liars."
"Tomorrow night is my senior prom," Trace said. "I'm trying to make it back for prom."
"Your prom," she repeated, and narrowed her eyes. She looked again at his license.
"That's right. I drive for Team Blu, and I've been on the road, doing exhibition races — Texas, Kansas, Arkansas, last night in Bloomington, Indiana — all over," Trace explained.
"Whoa there," the patrolwoman said. "How is it you're in high school but on the road all the time, racing?"
"I do my classes online," Trace said. "It's the only way I could race full- time and still graduate."
"Okay," the officer said. "Go on."
"There's this girl back home — I need to see her," Trace continued. "Find out where we stand." Trace heard himself blurt the last part; he was way short on sleep.
"A girl. Well, Mr. Bonham, why didn't you say so?" the officer said. She handed him his license. There was a faint smile around her eyes.
Trace blinked. "I can go?"
"Just two more things. My dispatcher, Mary Jo, is a real stock car racing nut. She's not going to believe me — that you're really the billboard guy. Do you mind?" she asked. The deputy produced a silvery, pocket-size camera.
"No problem," Trace said. He leaned close to the officer, who stretched out her arm, turned her wrist — and with her thumb fired off a flash photo.
"Thanks," she said, slipping the camera back into a breast pocket. Then she pulled out her booklet and began to write.
"I'm getting a ticket?" Trace exclaimed.
"You may be on billboards, but you can't drive seventy-five in a sixty — not on my highway, okay?"
"Okay," Trace said flatly.
"I am reducing it to seventy in a sixty," she said, "but it still goes into the big computer in the sky. If you get caught speeding again this trip, the next cop is going to be very unhappy."
"Got it," Trace said. He glanced at his watch.
"Another thing: you look way better on your billboard than you do right now. I suggest you stop and take a nap — or get some coffee — or both," she said as she finished scribbling on her pad. "There's an all-night truck stop, the Highway 61, about five miles ahead."
"I'll look for it," Trace muttered.
"I might even call up there and make sure you stopped," she said, tearing off the warning ticket — zzrrppp! — and handing it to Trace.
"Don't worry, I'll stop."
"And one last thing," she said.
"I thought we were done," Trace said.
"Good luck with that girl when you get home."
Trace made sure to signal as he pulled back onto the highway. In his rearview mirror, the officer made a U-turn and headed back to her billboard. His billboard. Whatever. As soon as the deputy was out sight, Trace pinned the gas pedal to the carpet.
At the Highway 61 Gas-n-Go, he filled up with gas, then parked his car. Inside the restaurant, a long counter with red stools was empty. A couple of booths were occupied by late-night losers, some gothy-looking teenagers in one, and a burned-out, long-haired guy nursing a cup of coffee in another. He had used about a dozen creamers; the torn-open white plastic containers were arranged in a star shape.
Trace took a counter stool. He set his cell phone within reach.
"Hey, sailor," the waitress said as she came his way. She had pale blond hair pulled back, and a blouse with food spots on the front. "Coffee?"
She handed him a menu. She was thirty-something, tired around the eyes, but had been pretty once, probably in high school. As Trace scanned the smudged list, looking for the least greasy choice, his cell phone buzzed and started to table-walk. He turned it over, checked the incoming number, then let it lie. Soon the waitress returned.
"Three eggs over hard, extra toast," he said.
She turned away and shouted to the cook.
Eating on the road was mainly a process of choosing foods that could not be totally screwed up, such as eggs and toast. Beyond those, everything was fair game for bad cooks. Racetrack food was worse than truck-stop fare; right now he missed his little refrigerator in the cabin of the Freightliner hauler — that and his comfy single bed. He let out a long breath as exhaustion hit him. He had a strong desire to lean over the counter and put down his head, but then he'd look like the rest of the late-night losers.
He went to the bathroom, took off his cap, and splashed water on his face. For a moment he didn't recognize himself in the mirror: tired brown eyes, heavy beard shadow that felt like sandpaper, cap hair that stuck out every which way. He slicked back his brown curls, which he had let grow longer lately. He wasn't superstitious, but he had won three features in the last five shows. Why change anything?
Back in the restaurant, he sat down just as the waitress brought his plate.
"Your phone was ringing," she said.
"It's always ringing," he said. He checked the number, then slipped the phone into his shirt pocket. As he bent down to eat — some protein would wake him up — the waitress remained in front of him.
"My deputy friend, Sally, tells me you were speeding tonight."
He looked up at her over a forkful of eggs. "She said she might call up here. I thought she was kidding."
"She's not a kidder," said the waitress, who was missing a tooth, upper left. "And she don't cut people much slack."
"That's for sure," Trace mumbled through a mouthful of food.
"Maybe she thought you were lucky enough already," the waitress said. She bent over and put her elbows on the counter and her face in her hands and watched him eat.
Trace took another forkful of eggs.
"You're only eighteen and you drive a race car and you're on billboards," she continued. "What's that like?"
Trace shrugged slightly. "Different," he said. He swallowed, then reached for his toast.
He glanced around the diner. With any luck, some more customers would come in and the nosy waitress would leave him alone. "I'm on the road most of the time. Haven't been home for months," Trace said. "I get to eat at truck stops like this one."
"But you wouldn't trade it for anything," she said.
"That's right," Trace said.
"A lot of local dirt track drivers come in here," she said, straightening up, and wiping briefly at the counter. "They're all broke, and they all got some excuse why they didn't win their last race, but they all still believe they're gonna make it to the big time," she said. "Get a NASCAR ride and be on television."
"What's wrong with thinking that?" Trace asked.
"Nothing," the waitress said with a shrug. "Except that they put every dime into their race car, which means the family is living in some dump of a trailer — freezing in the winter, burning up in the summer — and the wife is working a second crap job and wants a divorce, and their kids are never going to college, all because their old man is chasing a dream that's never ever gonna come true." By the time she finished, her mouth was tight and hard.
Trace glanced at her wedding ring finger, which was bare.
"But hey," she said, turning away, "maybe it will be different for you."CHAPTER 2
He finally stopped for a nap at a Casey's Quick Stop in Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin. After a short hour slumped in the driver's seat, he got back on Highway 61 and headed north in the early morning blackness. Watchful for cops, he eased through the little towns of Viroqua, Westby, and Sparta. His route would take him north to Eau Claire, and a brief pit stop to see his mother, Sharon Bonham.
He slid open his phone and brought up MOM. She was an early bird, but it was still only 4:30 a.m. He tossed the phone onto the empty rider's seat, and kept driving. He didn't want to frighten her, but he also didn't want to surprise her by showing up at her door unannounced.
In another hour the darkness faded to predawn blue, and in Brackett, a tiny town only twenty minutes from Eau Claire, he opened his phone and pressed her number. The phone rang and rang.
"Trace!" his mother answered. Her voice was half asleep but fearful. "Are you all right?"
"Sorry," Trace said. "I'm fine. Just wanted to let you know that I'll be stopping in Eau Claire to see you."
"Where ... when ... where are you?"
"Just south of town. About twenty minutes out."
"So you're stopping in Eau Claire. Just you? Your team? What's going on?" she asked. She was waking up fast.
"Just me," Trace said. "It's complicated. We raced in Bloomington, Indiana, last night, and I'm taking a little break. I'll see you soon, okay?"
"Uh, okay, sure, honey."
Excerpted from Checkered Flag Cheater by Will Weaver. Copyright © 2010 Will Weaver. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
WILL WEAVER is the author of many books including the two previous Motor Novels, Saturday Night Dirt and Super Stock Rookie. He lives in Bemidji, Minnesota, and races Modified cars in the Upper Midwest.
Author of Red Earth, White Earth and A Gravestone Made of Wheat, Will Weaver grew up in northern Minnesota on a dairy farm. The sometimes harsh and beautiful landscape of farm and small town life figures strongly in his writing. Sweet Land, an independent feature film adaptation of his story “Gravestone Made of Wheat”, and starring Ned Beatty, premiered in October of 2006.
Weaver is also known for his young adult fiction. His character Billy Baggs, a teenage farm boy baseball phenom, earned his way into the hearts of teen readers in the series Striking Out, Farm Team, and Hard Ball. Each novel has won numerous awards, including being named an ALA Best Book for Young Adults. Memory Boy, a post-apocalyptic novel based on environmental collapse, is used across the curriculum in many junior and senior high schools.
Claws, a novel set in northeastern Minnesota (Duluth and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness) features outdoor survival with a strong family back story. Weaver’s Full Service won starred reviews (Kirkus Reviews and The Horn Book) for its focus on a young man struggling with matters of religious faith and doubt, all complicated by his first “real” summer job, at a gas station, where he “meets the public” in all its variety. Defect, a novel about a teenager born with a miraculous birth abnormality, highlights what one reviewer from The St. Paul Pioneer Press called “the humanity and decency that runs through all of Weaver’s work.”.
As an author, Mr. Weaver is particularly concerned with youth literacy and keeping kids reading. His new MOTOR series addresses a group of underserved young adult readers: kids who love cars. His new novel Saturday Night Dirt and its sequel, Super Stock Rookie, focus on dirt track stock car racing. The series starts with a close focus on a small town speedway and the cast of colorful characters who come there to race on Saturday nights. One of the characters, sixteen-year-old Trace Bonham, is a natural driver with dreams of racing professionally. The MOTOR series follows Trace’s on his path toward getting a “ride” (a sponsored race car) and competing at the highest level he can. While these auto racing novels will certainly appeal to boys, Weaver’s novels always contain a diverse cast of characters. Auto racing is one of the few sports that gives no gender advantage, and the MOTOR series also includes a positive and realistic portrayal of young women involved in racing.
Along with the MOTOR series of novels, Weaver has formed a stock car racing team with a teenaged driver. His black No. 16 Modified race car, co-sponsored by Farrar, Straus&Giroux publishers, is driven by Skyler Smith of Bemidji. Team Weaver races in the WISSOTA circuit in the upper Midwest.
An avid outdoorsman, Will Weaver lives with his wife on the Mississippi River in northern Minnesota.
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yes this is a relly good book i dont know why but i read th whole thing have you guys done that read the whole book i did i didnt know it was gonna end like that i was surprised i was like what what oh yeah then what then ohhhh i actually understood it from bill ;)
Great book, only 123 pages
It was a great ending to a great series. Wirh out a dout this is the best story if you love racing and i do so i know what gos on at races and evry thing is acurate to the racing llife i just wish there would be a fourth book to tell what happens after trace gos back home
Great for any race fan.