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After a couple of seasons of small-town racing, things are shifting into high gear for a young dirt-track driver with the skills to make it big. Trace Bonham has landed a corporate sponsor and a custom-built dream ride. But this means Trace can no longer pilot his dad’s Street Stock Chevy, and must let a new kid get behind the wheel. It also means having to turn his back on his hometown speedway, which his team leaders think is a hayseed operation not worth their time, even ...
After a couple of seasons of small-town racing, things are shifting into high gear for a young dirt-track driver with the skills to make it big. Trace Bonham has landed a corporate sponsor and a custom-built dream ride. But this means Trace can no longer pilot his dad’s Street Stock Chevy, and must let a new kid get behind the wheel. It also means having to turn his back on his hometown speedway, which his team leaders think is a hayseed operation not worth their time, even though it’s run by a girl who matters to Trace in a big way.
Filled with authentic race-car action and detail, Will Weaver’s fast-paced novel is the story of a boy struggling with the speed and demands of his own success.
Gr 8 Up
Teenage stock-car racer Trace Bonham is chosen to receive a corporate sponsorship, with a lucrative contract, a custom-built Super Stock vehicle, and his own racing team. He has suspicions about his Team Blu sponsor almost from the beginning, especially since their representatives seem more interested in his looks than in his driving ability. He overcomes his reservations and signs on, only to be accused of having an illegal vehicle in his first race at his home track. His car passes the technical inspection, but his crew discourages him from asking too many questions about the engine. Trace has other problems as well, including the breakup of his parents' marriage and his mixed feelings about moving away from his friends and the girl he likes. With references to digital tachs, kill switches, drop-in valve springs, Street and Pure Stocks, Mini-Stocks, and Mod Fours, the novel is likely to appeal to youngsters who normally shy away from fiction. It seems probable, however, that these readers will be frustrated by having to wait for the next installment to see how the issues raised in this novel are resolved.-Richard Luzer, Fair Haven Union High School, VT
“Weaver draws from his auto-racing experience to continue Trace’s story from Saturday Night Dirt (2008) and to bring to life the small-town, dirt-track racing world. Racing action, sharp dialogue and solid characterization make this a good bet for young sports fans.”—Kirkus Reviews
“There is no doubt that Weaver knows his way around stock cars, and he puts the reader in the middle of the action.”—VOYA
“Weaver offers outstanding descriptions of the races, putting readers in the center of the action.”—Booklist
Trace Bonham’s phone beeped in his hand. NERVOUS YET? The text message was from Patrick, who was riding with Mel in her car.
NOT YET, Trace keyed back.
Trace and his dad, Don Bonham, rolled west on U.S. Highway 2 at seventy-plus. Right behind were Mel and friends in her white Toyota. Following Mel was Tyler, Trace’s pit man, alone in his Chevy pickup. Their destination: Trace’s Super Stock tryout at Rivers Speedway in Grand Forks, North Dakota. On both sides of the highway, flat fields shimmered in the July heat.
His phone beeped again. HOW ABOUT NOW?
“I wish you’d put that damn phone away and get your mind right for racing!” Trace’s dad said sharply. His dark brown eyes threw a glare in his son’s direction.
“It’s not like you don’t get a few calls from Linda,” Trace shot back. Linda was his father’s girlfriend; Trace’s mother lived in Wisconsin.
“True,” his dad said. “But I also take care of business. I’m just saying that you don’t get a chance like this every day. You have to be ready.”
“Like I don’t know that?” Trace answered. This Super Stock tryout was a huge deal to his dad. He had been obsessing on it ever since Cal Hopkins, the Late Model points leader and former sprint car driver, had seen Trace win at Headwaters Speedway earlier in the month and invited him to the tryout. Obsessing on that and Linda, a nurse in Detroit Lakes whom Trace had never met.
“For a young driver like you, this is a potentially career-making opportunity—but you have to want it,” his dad said.
“I want it, all right?” Trace said, sudden anger in his voice.
His father fell silent.
HOW ABOUT NOW? read the text message, this time from Mel’s phone.
Trace glanced over his shoulder. Mel—Melody Walters—seventeen, who managed Headwaters Speedway for her dad, was behind the wheel; she smiled and waved with both hands. She wore sunglasses and her usual World of Outlaws cap. Her car appeared to be empty. Mel put her hands behind her head like she was bored with driving, and looked off across the fields. As if on automatic pilot, her Toyota continued straight down the highway.
CUTE, Trace keyed.
A few seconds later, Patrick Fletcher and the other kids in Mel’s car popped up and Mel grabbed back the steering wheel. They all laughed like fools, waving and making faces and obscene gestures at Trace like a carload of patients escaped from the nuthouse. Cute, but annoying. Patrick—whose “gofer” duties at Headwaters included singing the national anthem—got to ride with Mel, while Trace was stuck for two hours with his dad in their big Chevy Tahoe.
“I wish we could have kept this whole thing more under wraps,” his father said, glancing into the rearview mirror.
Trace faked a yawn, certain to annoy his dad, and tipped back his seat. Pulling his cap brim down over his face, Trace closed his eyes. Instead of sleeping, he concentrated on the Super Stock practice laps he had done at Headwaters Speedway . . .
“Start out slow. No rush. First you need to get the feel of the car,” John Sitz shouted above the engine noise of his own yellow No. 29 Super Stock. From the cockpit, Trace nodded. He was strapped in, buckled down, ready to roll. Johnny Walters had opened the Headwaters Speedway track on a Monday morning just for Trace—so he could get ready for his Wednesday tryout in Grand Forks. Local racing people were like that, like family. If you needed something at the track—a tire, an air compressor, a socket wrench, a coil spring—or if you needed help off the track in order to be ready for race night, all you had to do was ask. Or not. As with a family, everybody who raced at Headwaters knew everything about everyone, and when word got around about Trace’s tryout, John Sitz had stepped up to volunteer his Super Stock (he also raced Late Models) without being asked.
Trace feathered the accelerator and checked the gauges: red, blue, and green for oil pressure, water temperature, and fuel pressure.
“All good?” John called, leaning into the cockpit to look at the flat dashboard.
Trace nodded again, impatient to get going.
“Remember, you’ve got a lot more horsepower than that Street Stock of yours,” Sitz shouted, “but don’t be afraid of it. Make it work for you. Trust the car.”
Trace nodded, half listening. He wondered at what rpm his heart was beating.
“Take a few slow laps to get the feel of the steering and the setup, all right?”
Trace looked down pit row. He flexed his left leg. Sitz’s clutch was strung way softer than he was used to. He brought up the rpm for a smooth start—then lurched forward and killed the engine.
John’s laughter filled the suddenly quiet cockpit. “Don’t worry about it. This beast has a hair trigger for a clutch.”
Trace quickly restarted the engine and, with more rpm and a slower pedal release, eased forward down pit row. Idling along at a throaty rumble, Trace felt strange being the only driver, the only car in the pits; everything seemed larger, and farther away. Then again, Trace was glad there weren’t any other spectators. He blipped the throttle—and the Chevy V-8 engine barked like a big dog on a short chain. Steering No. 29 to the entrance at turn 4, he rolled up over the embankment and down onto the track. In this car the dirt was way closer—as if he could reach down and touch it.
Crawling around the track at yellow-flag speed, No. 29 was a Thoroughbred racehorse itching to run. By contrast, Trace’s Street Stock was an old workhorse. He damn well better make the new Super Stock team; it would be tough going back to his old car.
Johnny Walters, Mel’s father and the track owner, sat on his ATV by the exit at turn 3. Trace’s father and John Sitz stood next to him, leaning against the big bumper tires, with their arms crossed. As Trace came by on his first lap, his father did not, he was glad to see, give a thumbs-up or wave.
On the straightaway and then on the banked turn, Trace swerved the car left, right, left, as he tried to get a feel for the steering quickener, for the shock absorbers, for the tires. After Trace’s fifth slow lap, John stepped forward and waggled his right pointer finger: a little faster.
Trace brought the speed up slightly, intermittently punching the accelerator, breaking loose the rear tires. The engine’s throaty grunts echoed in the empty grandstand. The Super Stock wanted to run; it hated being held down. After a couple of laps at this pace, Trace’s back muscles relaxed; his spine began to conform to the seat. He loosened his ten o’clock–two o’clock death grip on the steering wheel.
As Trace approached turn 3, John stepped forward and spun his pointer finger in a quick, tight circle: hot laps!
Trace cranked up the thunder. He took the car into the turn at what he guessed was three-quarters speed. No. 29 hugged the inside bank, then pitched itself out of the apex like a baseball curling out of a pitcher’s hand. His old Street Stock leaned, tipped, and tilted through the turns. Most full-framed race cars were happy to be done with a turn and headed down the straightaway; this Super Stock loved the turns—couldn’t get to them quick enough.
Trace pressed faster around the track. The more he trusted the car and the setup, the smoother—and faster—he felt. After several hot laps, John abruptly waved him into the pits. Trace turned off the track and killed the rumbling engine. He coasted to a stop.
“Okay,” John said. “Looks like you’re getting a feel for the car.”
“Yeah. I love it,” Trace said with a grin.
“Good,” John said. “Ready to do some hot laps?”
“What?” John asked.
“I thought those were hot laps.”
“You were getting up to speed, kid,” John said with a smile. “But you’re gonna have to be a little quicker to be competitive. The important thing is to find a line that works for you. High, low, medium—you be the judge. Take only what the track conditions give you. One night a track will be a dry slick, and the next night it will be rubbered up from lots of water. You’ve got to feel what’s underneath your tires, feel where the best bite is.”
“Got it,” Trace said.
“But the key thing to driving a Super Stock or a Late Model is this: Never drive too deep into a turn. Then you’ll have to use the brakes, because that’s how we all drive normally off the track. On the track, in each corner you’ve got to find your lift point—when you lift off the gas. Then your goal is to accelerate through the turn. You’ll have way more control that way.”
“Now get back out there,” John said, slapping Trace upside the helmet, “and drive this sucker like it was stolen.”
Trace fired the engine, spun the tires, and surged back onto the track.
Coming out of turn 4, he threw the hammer down. The empty grandstand flashed by on his right—and turn 1 came up fast. Trace resisted the instinct to tap the brake. Rather, he let off the gas sooner than with his Street Stock—then pitched hard into the turn and cranked the steering wheel to the left. The Super Stock swung its rear end wide right. Trace got back on the throttle in a thundering, tire-spinning drift. G-forces pinned him to the right side of his shoulder harness as the car surged left—and out through the turn into the straightaway. “Sweet!” he shouted. But there was no time to celebrate; turn 2 loomed in his visor. Again he threw the car sideways into the high bank, and again No. 29 slung itself through the corner. It was like the tires had claws, and the car had wings . . .
“Trace. Trace—wake up! We’re almost there.”
Trace lurched upright in his seat. He couldn’t believe it: he had actually fallen asleep for a few minutes. His heartbeat punched up a new rhythm. A bunch of tall grain elevators marked the east side of the city—that and the sudden, rank smell of a sugar beet plant.
“Gross,” Trace said, wrinkling his nose.
“That’s the smell of money,” replied Trace’s dad, a businessman farmer who knew about such things.
As they crossed the Red River bridge and entered North Dakota, Trace glanced behind. Their little Headwaters Speedway convoy was intact. They passed a few stoplights, crossed the railroad tracks, then made a right turn toward Rivers Speedway. When he wasn’t racing, Trace came here once or twice each summer to watch sprint car races. On those occasions he passed through the old stone archway with the other race fans. Today his father headed around the back side, to the pit area. Grasshoppers began to hop and flutter inside Trace’s stomach. The empty parking lot, the silent grandstand—it was like nobody was here. Even the trailer park just across the fence was quiet.
“It was Wednesday, right?” his father asked.
“Yes. The last day of July,” Trace said immediately. Then he pointed. Ahead near the pit gate was a youngish black woman talking on a cell phone; she held a clipboard. They drove forward. TEAM BLU SUPER STOCK TRYOUTS read a small sign taped to the chain-link gate behind her. In the background, at slow speed, a Super Stock crawled around the track.
Trace’s father stopped at the pit gate and powered down the window.
“Hold on,” the woman said into her phone. She looked at Trace’s father, then at Trace. “Name?”
“Trace Bonham,” Don said.
She glanced at her list, then checked off Trace’s name. “Gotcha. Straight on through to the pit,” she said with a nice smile. Then she looked at the other cars close behind. “This your entourage?”
“I’m afraid so,” Don said.
“Okay, but they can’t be in the tryout area. They’ll have to sit in the stands,” she said, “and no photos of any kind.”
“No problem,” Don said. Trace was already texting Mel.
“Go on in, then,” the girl said, waving them forward. “And good luck.”
If little old Headwaters Speedway felt empty during Trace’s practice laps, the big Rivers Speedway pit area was a ghost town. No large car haulers. No motor coaches. No long, parallel rows of tractor-trailer rigs squeezed in an arm’s length apart. No humming choir of generators. No smells of freshly ground tire rubber, racing fuel, popcorn, and barbecued ribs. No speeding ATVs with stressed-out track officials talking into headsets.
“Up there,” Trace said, and pointed. A small cluster of vehicles and people had gathered at the far end, near turn 3. A big motor home with darkly tinted windows sat nearby, along with Cal Hopkins’s long No. 42 trailer.
As they approached, faces turned to look. Several sets of fathers and sons, and at least one teenage girl and her dad, stared at the shiny Bonham Chevy. The kids all wore racing suits, tops down and sleeves tied at waist in hot weather, pre-race style.
“I told you, you should have worn your suit,” his dad said.
“Don’t worry, I’ll put it on!” Trace replied.
His dad parked. They got out and walked forward, Trace leading the way. Walk too slow and he’d look timid. Walk too fast and he’d look anxious. Above all, don’t look at the competition. But in the end, tryouts were the same everywhere: a bunch of kids standing around, sizing one another up while trying not to be obvious. Here, some yawned and pretended to be bored. Others talked and laughed too loudly. A couple of fathers murmured instructions into their kids’ ears, a useless task because each kid was thinking the same thing: Who looks quickest? Oldest? Strongest? Who has just the right gear?
This group of teenagers all wore multilayer fireretardant racing suits. Simpson. ProTech. The suits were well-worn, their colors faded and oil-spotted—which didn’t necessarily mean that the kids had been racing for years. Young drivers often wore their dads’ old racing suits, altered to fit. The used suits made them look fast just standing still. Nobody would be caught dead wearing brand-new gear.
Posted April 11, 2011
SUPER STOCK ROOKIE is another fast-paced racing story by Will Weaver. This is the second in his MOTOR NOVEL series and is sure to grab the attention of reluctant teen readers - even if they aren't particularly racing fans. Trace Bonham has been racing Street Stock for years on small town tracks throughout the northern Midwest. Now, it's possible that he might get a chance to race a new, top-of-the-line Super Stock car. All he has to do is attend a tryout sponsored by a group called Team Blu and hope for the best. Joining Trace are some of his friends from his hometown track at Headwaters Speedway. Mel runs the track with her dad. Patrick sings the national anthem before races, does grunt work around the track, and wishes he could be a driver someday. There are also other racing teams that have watched Trace grow into the racer he is today. All of them wish him the best at the tryout, but if he makes it, will his success change these longtime relationships? Team Blu offers Trace the best of everything - a great new car, topnotch mechanics and pit crew, and a super trailer complete with his own quality sleeping quarters. He just has to drive fast, look great, and promote their product. Seems pretty simple, but ... I'm not a racing fan at all, but I found myself caught up in the action from the very first page. Weaver's first MOTOR NOVEL, titled SATURDAY NIGHT DIRT, was also a page-turner, so I'm definitely looking forward to whatever follows next.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.