Rolling Thunder Stock Car Racing: On The Throttle: A Novel

Rolling Thunder Stock Car Racing: On The Throttle: A Novel

by Kent Wright, Don Keith

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466874268
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 06/24/2014
Series: Rolling Thunder , #8
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 780,145
File size: 395 KB

About the Author

Don Keith is an Alabama native and attended the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa where he received his degree in broadcast and film. He has won numerous awards from the Associated Press and United Press International for news writing and reporting, as well as Billboard Magazine's "Radio Personality of the Year" during his more than twenty years in broadcasting. His first novel, "The Forever Season," won the Alabama Library Association's "Fiction of the Year" award.

Keith lives in Indian Springs Village, Alabama, with his wife, Charlene, and a black cat named Hershey.

Don Keith is an Alabama native and attended the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa where he received his degree in broadcast and film. He has won numerous awards from the Associated Press and United Press International for news writing and reporting, as well as Billboard Magazine's "Radio Personality of the Year" during his more than twenty years in broadcasting. His first novel, The Forever Season, won the Alabama Library Association's "Fiction of the Year" award.

Keith lives in Indian Springs Village, Alabama, with his wife, Charlene, and a black cat named Hershey.

Don Keith is an Alabama native and attended the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa where he received his degree in broadcast and film. He has won numerous awards from the Associated Press and United Press International for news writing and reporting, as well as Billboard Magazine's "Radio Personality of the Year" during his more than twenty years in broadcasting. His first novel, The Forever Season, won the Alabama Library Association's "Fiction of the Year" award.

Keith lives in Indian Springs Village, Alabama, with his wife, Charlene, and a black cat named Hershey.

Read an Excerpt


Swirls of tiny insects danced in the breeze, shoved along by a steady, insistent southwesterly wind. The gentle rushes of air provided little relief, though, in what was already becoming a hot, hazy Midwestern morning. Thunderclouds were already lining up impatiently in formation out across the distant prairie, not even waiting for the heat of the afternoon to give them impetus to begin marching in.

But this particular early August weekend was promising to be a hot one in other ways.

Cars and trucks were already lined up, streaming in from all directions as if answering some kind of homing call only they could hear. The small neighborhood of modest homes seemed almost to be shielding the giant speedway from those who would seek it. But the fans found it all right, tucked there in the middle of the neatly cut lawns, trimmed shrubbery, and towering water oaks. Hundreds of thousands of racing enthusiasts were converging on the facility and its rectangular ribbon of asphalt. Most of them looked on respectfully as they approached its magnificence, gazing in quiet awe at the massive shrine, at its hallowed ground, sacred for anyone who worshiped speed.

What had not actually been visible before suddenly appeared above the roofs of the houses and the mature trees like one of those thunderstorms building out on the horizon. Many of those who were heading her way would unconsciously pause and stare at the massive facility. Others scrambled for cameras. They would literally turn the corner and, suddenly, there it would be, hulking proudly before them. How could anything so huge have been hidden from them until they had gotten so close?

The intricate ironwork of her long, low structure formed an almost natural beauty, as if the speedway had been created by something volcanic, geological, not by the hands of men. The place had a profound gracefulness that seemed lacking in most of the newer, more modern racing facilities. And that's why even those who had visited often would usually pause reverently for a moment and stare at her, as if in worship, before heading on for her gates and turnstiles.

It was, after all, Indianapolis, a place whose name was synonymous with speed the world over, regardless of the language that might be spoken there.

Inside the place there was already a festive atmosphere, as joyous and high-spirited as could be found at any major sporting event. There were brilliant colors, fluttering flags, all kinds of music, exotic, enticing smells, and, of course, a patiently waiting but clearly excited throng of loud fans. And down there before them, the focal point of all that excitement, were two long lines of multicolored racing machines, stretched along the pit lane like a pair of rainbow-hued snakes sunning themselves while they awaited the command to roar to life and race away.

Soon, the men who drove those machines would duel with each other to determine who among them had what it would take at the end of the day to bring home the victory. Who would head the field for that last time as the cars eventually crossed the narrow strip of bricks that marked the finish line for any event that might be run here? Who would make the strongest case for bringing the trophy home from Indy? The verdict was still several hours from being rendered, and the jury of several hundred thousand people was prepared to witness the testimony.

The race crews were mostly oblivious to the crowd and the prerace ceremonies as they made a series of last-minute checks on their machines. One of the crews scrambled around a sparkling, bright red Ford that rested in fifteenth position, on the inside of the eighth row. The sky-blue highlights of the car's trim and numbers blended well with the dark blue logo of the machine's primary sponsor. The scripted letters spelled out "Ensoft," the name of one of the hotter companies in the computer software business, and the benefactor who paid good money to support this particular racecar and its team.

The vehicle's improbably young driver wore a bright red driving suit that matched his car perfectly. Despite the nervous anticipation that seemed to permeate the atmosphere of the pit road, the handsome, blond-haired youngster lounged nonchalantly against the side of the car, idly playing with his shoestrings. It seemed he might be about to take a leisurely drive to the corner market instead of climb into the car and race a flock of speed demons for four hundred miles at a breathtaking pace. But anyone who might glance his way knew exactly what this young man was about to do, despite the fact he was hardly halfway through his rookie season at this heady level of stock car racing. He had built a name for himself already. The media had quickly named him "Rocket Rob" Wilder, partly for how quickly he navigated racetracks, partly because he grew up near the "Rocket City" of Huntsville, Alabama.

The kid had quickly burst onto the scene the year before, almost winning his first big-time race at Daytona, all the time charming fans with his easygoing style, his quiet determination to win, and his Hollywood good looks. Now, midway through his rookie Cup season, the twenty-year-old had impressed even the toughest-to-impress observers of the sport. Although he'd not yet claimed his first win at this level, most of those in the garage and the media fully expected it to come any week and no fan complained if he pulled Rob Wilder's name in the office pool.

It wasn't just the car's talented, good-looking kid driver that indicated imminent success. The owner of his team, Billy Winton, had put together a fleet of racecars and a crew that seemed to get better each week, even as his driver gained valuable experience while racing against the sport's best.

The critics noticed immediately that Wilder relied more on finesse and a smart, heads-up driving style than he did on the push and shove that made many of his peers famous. Or infamous, as the case may be. Rob Wilder was already developing an impressive following among race fans, attracted by his magnetic personality, his youthful, self-effacing manner, and his skill at handling a machine traveling nearly two hundred miles per hour. And along the way he'd won the respect of those he competed against, too.

But if pressed, Rob would admit that it was all hard for him to fathom. After all, he was still a few months shy of being legal in most states. He found it difficult to understand why people would show up at a computer store or shopping center or at a race event and wait patiently in line for hours to meet him, to have him sign a photo or slip of paper. He had often dreamed of such a thing when he was growing up in Hazel Green, just up the road from Huntsville. But now that it was actually happening, he couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. He was only a young kid, a racecar driver who had never won a Cup race. A raw rookie who had been running potholed local tracks in a wired-together junker only a short two years before.

Sure, he had done a couple of national television commercials for Ensoft and people were always asking him to deliver his tag lines from the spots for them. Or they would recite back to him something he had said in a radio or television or newspaper interview, or describe in amazing detail some on-track incident he had already filed away in his memory banks.

Yes, it was heady stuff. Someone with a less even keel might have let it turn him. But Rob Wilder had two big advantages.

One was the coaching of his mentor, Jodell Bob Lee. Jodell had been a legendary driver and was now a successful team owner. Along the way he practically adopted the hard-driving, quiet-spoken youngster. It had been Jodell Lee who looked on one night as Rob won a feature race at a dusty little bullring of a track where the old driver was making an appearance. Jodell immediately recognized the kid's talent. He recommended Rob to his friend and former crewmember Billy Winton, who was, at the time, toying with putting together a full-time Grand National team. Along with his invaluable tips on racecar piloting, Lee also helped the kid deal with the pressures of off-track commitments and the adoration of fans, as well.

Rob's other big advantage strolled right up to him at that very moment and slid down to sit next to him on the pavement.

"I don't think I've seen this many people in one place since the last time I sat in a traffic jam for two hours on the Hollywood Freeway," she said, surveying the huge, colorful crowd that encircled them.

Michelle Fagan. She was a high-level executive, the vice-president of marketing for Ensoft, the Winton team sponsor, but she was also much, much more. Nowadays, Michelle spent far more time following Billy Winton's race team from track to track, overseeing the sponsorship tie-ins, than she did running the marketing department of the software giant. She could have hired someone to do these chores for the race team but she readily admitted she didn't want to do that. She had immediately come to love this rapid, loud sport once she had gotten a taste of it, as incongruous as that might sound for a California girl with a master's in business administration from U.C.L.A. A lady who, up until the car sponsorship deal, had only caught brief glimpses of stock-car racing while flipping between the business channels on her local cable television system. And a sharply focused executive who also just happened to have a high-tech bucking bronco of a company to try to tame.

"You know, Chelle, there's more people here to watch us run than there are living in Hazel Green and Huntsville put together?"

"You're nervous, then."

He snorted.

"Naw! All these parades and singing and stuff is just postponing my winning this race, is all."

"No. I think you're nervous. I believe I see your little hands shaking and you've got dry mouth and I believe you're on the verge of breaking out in hives. Yeah, Mr. Stock Car Boy, I think you're as nervous as —"

Before she could stop him, he dropped a handful of gravel down the back of her Ensoft-team racing shirt.

"Look out! Spiders! Bugs! Big old bugs!" he whooped and Michelle jumped to her feet and began a dance around the car, ripping out the tail of her shirt, trying to rid herself of whatever vermin Rob Wilder had dumped down her shirt.

And that little exchange symbolized Michelle's other primary task and maybe her greatest value to this team. Sure, she kept her hands full, arranging a staggering array of sponsorship activities for the car, the team, and the driver, scheduling interviews, overseeing tie-ins to advertising, setting him up to visit with customers, distributors, journalists, and Ensoft employees. She had to make certain her company maximized its multimillion-dollar investment in that bright red car and its attractive young driver. And all the while, she still tried her best, mostly by cell phone and fax machine and usually at a time offset by two or three hours, to keep up with her other duties back on the West Coast where Ensoft's corporate headquarters were located.

But by default, and at her own choosing, Michelle had assumed a far subtler role: that of confidant, coconspirator, soul mate, baby- sitter, and best friend of one "Rocket Rob" Wilder.

Her relationship with the young man had evolved into more than a strictly business, sponsor-rep-and-racecar-driver association. It was a business relationship for sure, but it went far beyond that. Many in the garage and even on the team itself had trouble figuring out what the exact nature of their alliance might be. But they all knew too that it worked.

Michelle seemed to know exactly what to do or say to bring the young man back down to earth on those rare occasions when he got too full of himself. Or how to pull him back up when things didn't meet his own lofty expectations and he would inevitably get down on himself. It had not taken her long to realize that Rob Wilder expected to win every race he entered and that he would be severely disappointed when he didn't. But she seemed to have the knack to know what to do to get him over those small setbacks and back into a frame of mind to take on the racing world with his usual vigor and confidence.

"What in the world is going on here?" a tall, dark-haired man asked gruffly as he stepped from the other side of the racecar.

"Michelle's just having a conniption fit, Will," Rob answered, as straight-faced and innocently as he could manage.

Will Hughes was the crew chief on the Billy Winton car and a man not given to much foolishness. Especially minutes before the green flag was to drop. But at the same time, he, as well as Billy Winton, the car's owner, recognized Michelle Fagan's value in keeping their high- strung driver in a condition to race most effectively.

"Well, see that she doesn't do any damage to the car and try to steer her over behind the pit wall before she passes out," Will said, as calmly as if he were ordering a crewman to stack up a set of tires.

Hughes had first noticed Michelle's expanded value to the team the previous season when they were running the Grand National circuit. Rob had made the slightest of bobbles one day while qualifying. It was enough of a mistake that they had to start back in the pack even though they all knew they had the fastest car there. His goof-up was enough to send Rob into a blue funk, but Michelle seemed to know exactly what to say and do to get him over it. Sure enough, they notched their very first win there at the historic Nashville track. Now, with the more intensified pressure at the Cup level, Michelle's influence over Rob was even more valuable.

She was anxiously awaiting the start of the race now. Finally, she would be able to sit back and watch Rob circle the track and, for the first time since before six o'clock that morning, relax. She had spent a frantic morning shepherding a flock of guests that Ensoft brought in for the race, Part of that job had involved getting a semireluctant driver to the hospitality tent on time even though he would have preferred staying with the crew and the racecar and concentrating on the task at hand. But she managed to keep him smiling as he met and greeted the guests and posed for countless pictures and signed autographs for everyone there.

And there was another complication that cropped up that morning and threatened to throw the driver off kilter. Rob learned that his girlfriend, Christy, would not be able to make the race. She had planned to fly out from California for the race, the first time they would be able to be with each other in over a month. She was interning in the Ensoft legal department for the summer, taking a break, preparing for her first year of law school at Stanford after completing her prelaw studies at U.C.L.A. But the weather had conspired against them and the Ensoft corporate jet was going to have to stay in the hanger in San Jose until well after sunup. That meant Christy and the group of company executives wouldn't have time to make the race's early start.

That also meant more work for Michelle, entertaining the dignitaries all by herself. Besides, she had been looking forward to visiting with Christy, too. In addition to being Rob Wilder's girlfriend, Christy was Christy Fagan, Michelle's baby sister. Michelle had introduced Rob to her sister early in Ensoft's sponsorship of the red racecar and the two of them had hit it off immediately. They did make a striking couple, as the television camera crews had discovered immediately. They usually sought out the photogenic couple before a race and often trained the cameras on them, or fought to focus on Christy late in any race in which Rob was a contender.

Michelle had finally shaken the gravel from her shirt and was throwing Rob a mean look.

"If my sister was here, we'd gang up on you and whip your tail."

"Ooh, I'm so scared."

"You better be thinking about that car and how you're going to drive it."

"Shoot fire! The way this thing was running yesterday evening, the rest of them might as well head on home. Unless they want to race for second, that is."

Rob slapped the roof of his racecar for emphasis. He was about to say more when Will Hughes stepped around again from the other side of the car.

"Well, Cowboy, it's time to go racing."

Will had always called the kid "Cowboy," though he really wouldn't say why. The couple of times Rob asked him Will only shrugged his shoulders and changed the subject.

"It's about time!" With that, Rob stuck out his tongue in Michelle's direction, zipped up his driving suit, and slid one leg through the open window of the stock car. Michelle suddenly leaned over and gave him a quick peck on the cheek, then squeezed his hand. Rob felt the softness of her hand in his and he squeezed back. He allowed the grasp to linger before he finally let her go.


Excerpted from "Rolling Thunder Stock Car Racing: On The Throttle"
by .
Copyright © 2000 Kent Wright & Don Keith.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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.

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