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Trace Bonham has just scored an amazing ride—a brand-new, corporate-sponsored Super Stock. The sleek, custom-built machine runs like a dream. He’s set up with a professional crew, a top-of-the-line car hauler, and a great big paycheck; it all feels too good to be true. Of course, there’s a price for everything. Trace has to turn over the car he started in, his dad’s Street Stock Chevy, to another driver. He’s also no longer welcome at his hometown speedway—or by the girl he adores who runs it—since his new team made it all too clear they think it’s a hayseed operation. So what? There are bigger and better speedways, and more girls, in Trace’s future. But can he handle the speed of success?
About the Author
WILL WEAVER has written numerous novels, including Defect, winner of the Minnesota Book Award for Young Adult Literature, Full Service, a YALSA Best Book for Young Adults, and two other Motor Novels, Saturday Night Dirt and Checkered Flag Cheater. Mr. Weaver lives in Bemidji, Minnesota, and is the owner of black No. 16, a Modified race car co-sponsored by Farrar, Straus and Giroux that races in the WISSOTA circuit in the Upper Midwest.
Read an Excerpt
Super Stock Rookie
By Will Weaver
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2009 Will Weaver
All rights reserved.
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.
"Name?" a woman in sunglasses said to Trace.
Trace opened his mouth. His voice croaked and cracked. Quickly he cleared his throat. "Trace Bonham." No one laughed, though from the side he saw a couple of kids look at their shoes.
"You race at Headwaters Speedway over in Minnesota, right?" the woman asked, looking at her clipboard. She wore red lipstick and had zero tan.
One of the loud-talking kids whispered something to another driver.
"Do they wear racing suits over there?" the woman asked.
"Yes, ma'am." There were a couple of chuckles this time, including a smile from the lone girl driver.
"Well, get yours on," the woman said. "We're almost ready to start."
Trace went back to the Tahoe and quickly changed. His father stayed with the group, where the pale-faced woman with the clipboard flipped open her phone. Her lips moved really fast. Trace zipped his suit and grabbed his helmet. As he exited the Tahoe, three more black-dressed people came out of the big motor home. They all carried cameras.
"All right," the lead woman said, "we're pretty much ready. My name is Laura Williams. I represent Team Blu, and I'm in charge here." Her voice, her accent, was not Minnesota or even midwestern — more like East Coast.
"Let's be totally clear on what we're doing today," she continued. "Because of your racing success and your age, you have been invited to try out for Team Blu, which is looking for a young driver — the right young driver."
Her camera-carrying assistants did not look from the Midwest, either. Who wore dark clothes in the middle of the day in July in North Dakota? Plus, they had odd haircuts — the style chopped or else spiky — and their sunglasses had frames unlike anything Trace had ever seen. The girl at the pit gate seemed like the most normal one on the team.
"My goal today is to get a good idea of who in this group is competitive in our driver search," Laura said. "But nothing will be decided today. The first order of business is to see you drive." She turned to the track, where an unmarked Super Stock powered up for a thundering hot lap. As the car surged close past the fence, the woman and her assistants flinched and covered their ears. Trace and the other young drivers watched without moving or changing expressions.
As the Super Stock slowed toward the pits, Laura looked back to her notes. "Each of you will get four warmup laps, then two hot laps. And while your lap times are important, they are not necessarily the determining factor in who wins this 'ride,' as you call it."
Several of the young drivers glanced sideways at one another.
Excerpted from Super Stock Rookie by Will Weaver. Copyright © 2009 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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.