High, Wild, and Handsome, Part One

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The boy showed up at the third-turn crossover gate in the coveralls he wore while racing his go-kart. The security guard recognized him and waved him across the track in the yellow ‘55 Chevy his dad had given him for his birthday.

Beau Farnsworth was feeling his oats, having won his 35-lap feature earlier in the afternoon. Now he had managed to get into the big track safely, timing his arrival to the break between Late Model Sportsman qualifying and the 200-lap feature. Felton was starting on the third row in a black Chevelle, but it wasn’t his daddy Beau had come to see.

The infield of Greenville-Pickens Speedway was where Sonny Gilliam had his camper parked. If you’ve seen one NASCAR dirt-track race, you’ve seen ‘em all and, besides, Beau already knew how to drive a race car; he just didn’t have a ride yet. He’d come to the track because he knew that, once the race started, he might could “get him some.” Gilliam had a damn good-looking daughter, one that was bad to fuck, and when the owner of your daddy’s car was sure to be in the pits, and his daughter was bound to be in that camper, waiting to spread her legs wide open, well, that made Greenville-Pickens Speedway the place to be.

So Beau walked through the pits, waved at everybody and made out like he was going to stay there all night long. He shook his daddy’s hand while Felton was climbing into Sonny’s No. 39. For about 25 laps, he watched the race, and with the dust flying and the noise of 30 race cars obliterating the senses of everybody, folks didn’t hardly know where they were, much less where Beau was. He just slipped out of the pits, walked through the gate next to the concession stand, made his way across the little creek that ran through the infield, and found Sonny’s camper. It was a brand-new, heavy-duty Chevy pickup with a camper shell that extended all the way over the roof of the cab. Beau walked right in without a knock. He knew Amy would be waiting for him. It wasn’t their first rodeo.

It didn’t get much better for a 16-year-old future stock-car racing legend than to have a good-looking 20-year-old who loved his young ass. The fact that Amy was slumming didn’t bother Beau, who had recently stopped going to school, one bit. Amy had lost interest in her schooling, as well. She’d flunked out of Carolina, which had pissed off her daddy for about five minutes. Sonny was more in love with Amy than Beau was; she was spoiled rotten. When Amy came to the track, it wasn’t in a ‘55 Chevy. She had a brand-new Chevelle, right off her daddy’s lot.

She thought Beau Farnsworth, the scrawny kid with a stock-car racing daddy, was cute. She was high when he got there.

If this had been anywhere but a race track, and if anything had been going on other than a bunch of wide-open stock cars going ‘round and ‘round, Amy would have been listening to the Doors. She’d gone off to college and majored in being a hippie for two years. Expecting Beau, she had smoked a joint and popped the album of the same name (“The Doors”) into the eight-track player her daddy had installed in the camper, but once the racing started, she couldn’t hear a damned thing, so finally she’d just given up and started reading Kerouac. She was anti-war and pro-love and looked good with a pair of blue jeans painted on. She had flowers in her hair and was radical in a non-political sort of way. She figured her little contribution to the revolution would be either screwing a Negro or a poor white kid. Her daddy probably wouldn’t like it, but Beau Farnsworth sure beat Stokely Carmichael.

“Come let me blow you a gun, sugar,” she said when Beau walked in the door.

The only time the boy had ever gotten high was with Amy. All he knew about it for sure was it made him want to make love. Not that he ever spent much time outside a race car when sex wasn’t on his mind. But that grass — that’s what Amy called it, grass — just made his loins want to rustle.

So they fucked. And they fucked. And they fucked some more, and time flew in the way it always did when drugs were involved. The truck was bouncing on its rear tires, but it was doubtful anyone even noticed with those cars flying around and all that dust flying. They were all deaf and dumb from the sound of the race cars. That camper was the only vehicle in the infield that didn’t have a passel of people on top of it, drinking their Pabst Blue Ribbons and smoking their Winstons.

Beau and Amy would have probably fallen asleep in each other’s arms had it not been so damned loud. But Beau just hugged Amy, and they french-kissed, and Amy reached down and primed his pump, and it was so spent he could hardly squeeze anymore out. It didn’t seem to bother Amy. She told him he was doing just fine.

Beau popped a top on a Blue Ribbon, took a big swallow and sloshed it around the inside of his mouth. It was hell loving one of them liberated women, which was what Amy insisted on calling herself.

Amy had turned on a little portable fan to get rid of the smell of all that fuckin’ and druggin.’ Beau pulled his coveralls back on and leaned over so Amy could stick the Winston she had lit for him between his lips. He slinked out of the back of the camper and walked slowly over against the fence.

Asheville-Weaverville_Speedway__1961            There weren’t but twenty laps to go, and Felton was running second and gaining on the leader. Beau took a big draw on the cigarette and blew smoke out his nose. The nicotine brought back a little of the marijuana buzz. He was right pleased with the whole situation. He lit another cigarette from the butt of the old one and kept on waiting, lap after lap, to see his daddy’s Chevelle come wailing out of turn two and down the back straight.

Beau could hear bits and snatches of the public-address announcer, the tinny baritone belting right out of the speakers on the light poles, enough to tell when there were five laps to go. The telltale sign was when he first picked up the sound of that small-block V-8 Chevy engine in Felton’s car, and he knew Daddy wasn’t lifting when he came sliding through the first and second turns.

A man couldn’t run them turns wide open, not unless he got some extra traction, and Felton Farnsworth got all he needed from the side of the lead car, Billy Lee Powers’ gold-and-white Fairlane. When they hauled ass out of the turn, the black Chevy nailed the Ford square in the side. Two wheels rode the guardrail clear over the top, and when the right side landed on the bank behind it, the force rolled that Ford right over on its roof. Felton kept on getting it.

Beau dashed back to the camper, opened the back door and yelled, “Daddy’s done did it again!”

Amy exhaled a big stream of marijuana smoke. “Whatever,” she said. She was going to have to crank up that fan again.

The boy ran like the wind clear across the infield, dug one tennis shoe into the side of the chain-link fence and bounded over, landing right in Victory Lane. The old man was climbing out of the car at the finish line, and the reaction of the fans was almost evenly divided between boos and cheers. Felton stood up on top of the car, kissed the speedway queen and waved the checkered flag at the grandstands. A beer can exploded on the side of the car, causing Felton to flinch for a moment. Then he squinted back up toward the lights and smiled again. Seeing Beau, he motioned the boy to come up there with him.

Beau’s balls hurt.

Felton put his arm around the boy and what he said was lost in the din. Beau heard it, though.

“Goddamn, son, you smell just like pussy,” said the old man, who didn’t mind a bit. He squeezed the boy’s shoulders, and both of them laughed like a couple of hyenas.

After all the interviews and the pictures, the whole gang — Felton, Beau, Sonny Gilliam, the pit crew — started drifting back through the garage area.

Billy Lee Powers was waiting at the truck. He had a bandage over his left eye and a tire iron in his right hand. He raised the tire iron.

“Don’t you take one more step, mister,” said Felton. “You hear me?”

“Fuck you!” screamed his opponent. Then he took that one step.

Felton reached in his pocket. Back in them days, a heap of race-car drivers kept a pistol handy, but Felton Farnsworth was the only one who ever shot anybody dead.

Billy Lee’s last words were the same as his next-to-last.

“Fuck you.”

His old man had rotted away in prison, where cancer got him before he ever came up for parole.

Sonny Gilliam had shut down the race team that very night. Beau had seen Amy once in all the years since. She’d been walking out of a beauty shop. He thought she mouthed the words “I love you” to him, but he reckoned that was wrong since she zoomed away in her Chevelle before he could get across the street.

With his daddy in prison, Beau had lost every single advantage he had in making a name for himself. All the open doors slammed shut, save for a few buddies of his daddy’s who could help him build a car or show him what to do with it. They damn sure didn’t have any money to toss his way, though.

The next few years had hardened Beau and made him a man. He’d straightened up his act. He quit drinkin’ and druggin’ and smokin’ almost overnight. Didn’t quit fucking, but he quit fucking women just because they thought he was cute.

No one could say he hadn’t made it his own way. Beau Farnsworth grew up in a great hurry, beholden to no one, and his father’s death had lent some direction to his meanness. Many disliked him, but everyone feared and respected him. He had become a thoroughly dangerous man in a thoroughly dangerous sport, and the unfortunate circumstances of his upbringing had played a role in him being, quite possibly, the best there ever was.

TO BE CONTINUED

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