Checkered Flag Cheater: A Motor Novel

Checkered Flag Cheater: A Motor Novel

by Will Weaver

Hardcover(First Edition)

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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374350628
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 04/27/2010
Series: Motor Novels Series , #3
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 1,248,376
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)
Lexile: HL740L (what's this?)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About 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.

Read an Excerpt

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?”

“No problem.”

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?”

Trace paused.

“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?”

“No thanks.”

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.”

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