is, they inspected that sixty-nine car before and never found anything.”
The drill was that Spanky would do a burnout for the fans and then drive the 69 into Victory Lane for pictures. When the photo op was over, NASCAR would commandeer the car for inspection and testing, along with the other top five cars and a couple more chosen at random. By the time the 69 got to the garage, NASCAR would already have rolled it through the scales and measured its height and weight. Once it was in the garage, fuel would be drawn, ignition boxes taken out and cut apart, the engine heads removed, gears checked, cylinders measured, and shocks examined.
When you watch a car get stripped down and tested, it’s hard to believe anyone would try to cheat. And even harder to believe they’d get away with it. And yet almost everyone tries at one time or another.
If you’ve got an experienced crew, the entire exercise takes about ninety minutes. The carcass of the car after it’s been picked clean is then loaded into the hauler, along with the backup car, and brought back to the shop in North Carolina where it’ll get rebuilt for another race.
Gobbles stayed glued to my side while I stood at a distance and watched the 69 get taken apart.
“I never watched this whole inspection thing,” Gobbles said. “The team’s always in a hurry to leave. I never got a chance to do this.”
I looked back at the line of haulers. The YumYum car hauler was ready to go, motor running. I didn’t see any of Gobbles’s team.
“You’re looking like a man without a country,” I said to him.
“Yeah, I should have met up with everybody at the van a while ago, but I got business to do. Not that I really want to do it. Anyways, I was hoping to take care of it here, only it don’t seem to be happening. I guess I need to take off.” Gobbles gave me a hug. “I appreciate your being a friend and all.”
“I’m trying,” Gobbles said, walking off toward media parking.
Fifteen minutes later, when it was obvious nothing illegal was going to turn up on the 69, I headed for the drivers’ lot.
I found Hooker’s motor coach, opened the door, and yelled to Hooker, “Are you decent?”
“Guess that’s a matter of opinion,” Hooker said.
Hooker was showered and dressed in jeans and a ratty T-shirt and was watching cartoons with Beans, his newly adopted Saint Bernard. Beans gave an excited
when he saw me, launched himself off the couch, and caught me midchest with his two massive front paws. I went flat on my back with Beans on top, giving me lots of slurpy Saint Bernard kisses.
Hooker pulled Beans off and looked down at me. “Wish I’d had the guts to do that.”
“Don’t start. I’m not in a good mood.”
Hooker yanked me to my feet, I went straight to the refrigerator, and I got a Bud. I put it to my forehead and then I took a long pull. Every driver’s fridge is filled with Bud because first thing in the morning, the Bud beer fairy arrives and leaves a fresh delivery on the motor-coach doorstep. I stayed in an economy hotel six miles away with the rest of the crew and the Bud beer fairy didn’t go there.
“So,” Hooker said. “What’s up?”
“As far as I could see, they didn’t find anything illegal on the sixty-nine car.”
“I don’t believe it. You can drive rings around Spanky, and you had a great car, and he got time on you in every corner.”
“Which would mean?”
In street cars, traction control is done by a computer that detects slip and then directs power to the appropriate wheel. In a race car, traction control really means speed control. A race-car driver learns to sense his wheels slipping and then gets off the gas to control engine power, which in turn slows the wheels and controls the slip. Computer-based electronic traction control duplicates this throttle management but much more efficiently and effectively. NASCAR thinks it takes some of the fun out of racing and has ruled it illegal. Still, if you want to take the risk, an average driver can pick up to a fifth of a second per lap using electronic traction control. And that could be enough to win a race.
Beans was sprawled in the middle of the floor, his head next to Hooker’s sneakered foot. Beans was white with a black face mask, floppy black ears, and a brown patch on his back that was shaped like a saddle. At 140 pounds, he sort of looked like a small hairy cow. He was a sweetie
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