High, Wild, and Handsome

Rockingham009

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 sixteenth 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 the Sonny Gilliam Chevrolet-Cadillac No. 39 Chevelle. 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 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.

64hillsboroughIf 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 times 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 did when “grass” was involved. The truck was bouncing on its rear tires, but it was doubtful anyone even noticed with those cars and all that dust flying around. 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 any more out. It didn’t seem to bother Amy. She told him he was doing 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.

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 under Felton’s hood, 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, 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. There were too many of them.

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.

 

PolarBearTwo7As Beau Farnsworth reached middle age, he grew discontented and felt buried by the trappings of fame. An argument might be made that the prices were a mite high, but when a fan bought a tee shirt, he didn’t actually buy a piece of Beau. He just bought a shirt. Too many of them acted like they owned him. It had been the first and best lesson his daddy taught him: “Don’t never let nobody run over you.”

Nobody. Not a fan. Not a crew chief. Not Chevrolet. Not the damned President of the United States, for that matter. Nor did Beau try to run over them. He just minded his own business, but his business was damn big. He had his turf, and he was going to protect it. His fans loved him for what he was, and if, occasionally, he whirled around in the garage area and screamed, “Look, Goddamn it, I love every one of you, and, right now, I’d love for you to get out of my fucking way!” well, as they often said, “That’s part of it.”

He was tired, though. He remembered, like every jaded and successful man, how much more he’d seemed to enjoy life when he’d had so little money. It wasn’t like he could just quit. Oh, no. The more money a man made, the more commitments came with it. Beau, currently “unaccompanied,” was keeping up three wives, six children of his, and one stepdaughter. He recalled the old times, screwing around in the infield with Amy Gilliam, smoking weed, and watching his old man kick some short-track ass. Damn, them days were fun. Now he had to cut a commercial in Victory Lane that was seriously going to piss off the writers, but they’d get over it. It needed some authentic-looking props, so Beau’s PR gal, Alene Marr, had announced a “media availability.” The availability was being in a commercial for Parsons’ Perfect Corn Flakes.

Beau pulled the Famed Number 38 into the Charlotte Motor Speedway lane, climbed out of his car, kissed a beauty queen, put on Milky Delight Milk cap – marketing tie-in! – and did what all NASCAR racers allegedly did, which was have a bowl of corn flakes as soon as a race was over. He hoisted a trophy, and some guy who sounded like Don Pardo said, “Congratulations, Beau Farnsworth, on winning another NASCAR championship!”

He hoisted the trophy. Confetti streamed. Bowls of cereal showed up all around him. It was an out-of-control corn flakes party. Some of them might even have been sugar-frosted.

“Anyone have any questions for the Champ?” asked would-be Pardo. A multitude of bona fide journalists raised their hands and even shouted in vain. “Go ahead, Fred.”

“Fred” was a professional actor who looked more like a writer in a 1940s movie than the contemporary model. “Yeah, Beau, which ya like bettuh? Da regluh Pahsons or da indescribable pleashuh uh Pahsons’ suguh-frosted flakes?”

“Fred” was apparently from Southie.

Close-up on Beau. “Well, you know what I always say, Fred. Sometimes you feel like a nut. Sometimes you don’t.” (Note: He already had the express written permission of the candy-bar company that sponsored him in a few Busch Series races.)

Several versions of the commercial were needed. Canned questions continued. The writers tried to leave. So sorry. The gates had been locked. The only gate that was unlocked was the one that enabled Beau to escape the writers before any legitimate questions were asked.

“See you later, boys,” the Champ yelled. “I’ll make it up to you.”

 

NASCAR 054On the Monday after he won the all-star race, The Winston, Beau was tied up and ornery. He taped a commercial that would be adapted to sell Chevrolets for dozens of dealerships, and the worst part was customizing a few words for every damned one of them.

“So stop on by Jimmy Dabney Chevrolet on the Motor Mile, and tell ‘em ol’ Beau sent you.”

Beau also took part in a call-in press conference, taped two radio shows, and flew down to Spartanburg to sign autographs at a barbecue joint. In Spartanburg, one fan brought an ugly, shellacked plaque, and Beau said he couldn’t sign it.

“Huh?”

“That’s one of them cheap, bootleg knockoffs,” Beau said. “It ruins the value of your legitimate, licensed collectibles.”

“But my wife made this here plaque herself,” the man said, wearing a look of disbelief.

Beau fixed an icy stare on the man for five full seconds. “Ah’ight,” he finally said, and signed it. He hated those instructions from his business manager, but he hated not getting a piece of every damned tee shirt sold, too.

It was dark when he got back to the dark, lonely mansion, inhabited only by himself and several of his wayward children who informally rotated in and out from time to time. Beau wanted to get away from all the rich assholes, overlooking the fact that he was one of them. He decided he was going to take off, not to some high-dollar retreat where he could hunt mountain goats or caribou accompanied by a team of guides, but the type of place he used to go, back when he didn’t have his far-flung empire. Occasionally, Beau just liked to go somewhere and not tell anybody. All the suits were used to it. It happened once or twice year. None of his wives had liked it. It was part of the reason none of them were still around. Beau wanted to find a place where a man could catch a few bass, then go get them fried up in a place where they watched black-and-white TV and drank beer out of dirty glasses. He could leave at the crack of dawn Tuesday and get to the Speedway in time for qualifying Thursday. They’d known he was gone when somebody tried to find him.

One summer when his daddy had been running the National Sportsman circuit, Beau and he had been fighting, so Felton had shipped him off to a little crossroads in South Carolina, near Sumter National Forest. Cross Anchor was the home of a legendary old dirt tracker, Wendell Adkinson, who was half Cherokee, half crazy and half literate. He’d made some money, though, slinging that red clay around, and Wendell Jr., “Waddy,” had become Beau’s friend. They’d lost touch over the years. Beau had lost touch with most people who didn’t make him money, but they talked on the phone a few times a year, and when they saw each other once in a blue moon, it was always just like old times, and right now, that was exactly what Beau needed.

Old times. All that money and fame were dragging him down.

Waddy Adkinson was a little bit farther down the road now. He had a bait-and-tackle shop on one side of Greenwood Lake, not too far from the dam at Buzzard’s Roost. Naturally, Beau walked in unannounced. That was his way. Naturally, Waddy left a kid behind the counter so he and Beau could go fishing before word got around that a three-time Winston Cup champion was running loose in the area of Chappells and Silverstreet. The best thing to do in those parts was hunt deer, but it was the wrong time of year, so Waddy and Beau bided their time mainly catching bream too small to keep and drinking Budweiser at a rapid pace.

Beau kept wishing he could just shoot a gun. Then he had a rueful thought.

No, no, no, Lord, no. Not like Daddy.

 

I need some scenery.
I need some scenery.

The Tuesday-night attendance at the Moose Lodge was nine. Five were sitting around in folding chairs, playing music. The weekly jam sessions were on Tuesdays. The music stopped when Beau Farnsworth and Waddy Adkinson walked in. Beau ordered Budweisers for him and Waddy. He curled a hundred into the bartender’s palm.

“How about keeping a lid on me being here?”

“Why, yes, sir, Mr. Farnsworth, I’m a big fan of your’n.”

“I’ll be a big fan of your’n if you’ll keep people off my ass,” Beau said. “I just don’t want to turn this into no autograph session, know what I mean?”

“Gotcha.”

“Other’n’at, everything’s on me. Anybody who’s a member happens in, they on my tab, too, ah’ight? I just don’t want no mob showing up.”

He picked up the two bottles. “Call me Beau.”

“Yeah. ‘Preciate it, Beau.” The bartender couldn’t wait to tell everybody about how him and Beau Farnsworth were on a first-name basis. Of course, Beau didn’t actually know his name.

“Beau?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m T.J.”

“Great.”

Mainly, Beau just listened to the old country music being played by old men who had little else to do now that the cotton mill was cutting back. There were two exceptions. One was a wild child: unruly blond hair, probably hadn’t seen a schoolhouse door past the age of fourteen, and now Beau reckoned the boy was nineteen or twenty. He was playing a righthanded guitar lefthanded, which meant the chords were all upside down and so was the way he strummed the strings on those rare occasions when he wasn’t picking them. It was fascinating to watch for everyone other than the other pickers trying to follow all those upside-down chords, but he didn’t require accompaniment. On the guitar, he was bad-ass, and he’d been stoned when he got there and wouldn’t have had to pay for a beer even if Farnsworth hadn’t shown up. As a matter of fact, when he finished moaning the blues, the boy pulled a joint out of his shirt pocket and lit it. Nobody said a word. They’d have beaten the hell out of any other kid who smoked weed in the parking lot, much less the lodge, but there was a general, drunken consensus that the kid was so damned good, he could do what he wanted. Give me some of what he’s smoking. The kid passed it around. All the old bastards took a hit. So did Beau. Several, actually. They’d all talk about the night NASCAR’s greatest driver dropped by the Moose Lodge, bought their beer, even smoked a doobie with them, but no one would believe it. They’d nod halfheartedly — otherwise it might be a fight — but they’d just think it was one of those quaint rumors that spread in small towns.

Oh, yeah, Beau Farnsworth hangs out at the Moose Lodge all the time. I done seen him. He bought me beer.

Shee-it.

The other exception was just as wild on the womanly side as the wild child. Her name, she said, was Darla, and like most dirt-poor country girls, she was inclined to fall in love with a rich and powerful automobile racer, particularly one who was inclined, by reason of beer and smoke, to fall right back in love with her for a night or so.

It was just one more thing nobody would believe about Beau Farnsworth.

Beau awakened Thursday morning in Darla’s trailer, where he’d spent two strenuous and enjoyable nights of sexual recreation. He’d closed his eyes and imagined Amy Gilliam while he was screwing Darla. That was unusual. What wasn’t was dreaming about Amy afterwards. That had happened a hundred times. Darla was pretty in a trailer-trash kind of way. She had a beautiful voice. Beau thought of a young Loretta Lynn. Beau thought of the words to a song his daddy used to play in the shop. Loretta and somebody. Might’ve been Ernest Tubb. Baby, who’s gonna take your garbage out when I packed my bags and gone? Whoever it was had a job on his hands. Darla had cans of beanie-weenies piled up in the kitchen sink. Roach bugs grossed Beau out, though they hadn’t been strangers when he was a young’un. He didn’t have to be back at the Speedway till middle of the afternoon. If he didn’t get there sooner, it wasn’t a big deal. Billy Hargitson would be there to shake the car down. Beau didn’t have to prove to nobody he was ready. He figured it would be good for his soul to spend all day getting laid. Darla fit him about as good as the seat in his Monte Carlo. Good and snug. Thank God he’d brought some rubbers. He was a whole lot more likely to leave his toothbrush home. Nail her about three more times, and then, oh, about the middle of next week, she’d wake up with a Camaro sitting in her front yard to remember him by, and the word would spread and so would the legend.

Most of the people in these parts wouldn’t believe a word of it. They’d just figure little Darla had done started dealing dope. Bless her heart.

 

Word spread quickly that the great, mysterious Beau Farnsworth had deigned to grace Charlotte Motor Speedway with his presence. It was approximately a quarter to five, and he hadn’t turned a lap since winning The Winston four days earlier. The veteran Billy Hargitson, winner of exactly one race in the previous decade, had dialed in the car. If anyone knew where Farnsworth had been, they weren’t talking. Little of the speculation in the media center dealt with anything fit to print, but suffice it to say that the ink-stained wretches had little faith in Farnsworth’s nobility. They figured he’d wandered off into one den of iniquity or another. Besides, if he’d been off fishing, it would’ve been with Hargitson.

Beau strode forcefully to the team’s hauler, brushing aside the snowball of humanity building around it. He ignored fans no less than media. He kept walking and said “none of your damn business” several times. Chevy’s PR man, Bright Malloy, was waiting for him. On the way up through the hauler, Malloy asked him to hold a press conference. Beau said, “Hell, no.” Malloy asked him for a few quotes he could disseminate. Beau said no again.

“Shit, Bright, make something up,” Beau said. “Don’t make up nothing too good, though.” He went into the lounge and shut the door behind him. Malloy started thinking of innocuous phrases. It took Beau thirty minutes to absorb what Hargitson and the crew chief, Wendell “Windy” Capps, had to tell him about the 3,500-pound beast into which he would shortly climb. When they broke up, the NASCAR flack, i.e., vice president for communications C.D. Baird, was waiting.

“Where you been, champ?”

“None of your goddamned business, C.D. Where you been?”

“Jacking off.”

“That’s what I figured.”

“Look,” Baird said. “Don’t be so damned pissed off all the time.”

“Why the fuck not? It don’t seem to do nothing but sell tickets,” Beau said.

“Just go easy, Beau. Act like you care about something now and then.”

“But I don’t, C.D. I don’t give a fuck about nothing except that checkered flag and that big-ass paycheck. That’s the main reason I get so damn many of ‘em.”

Beau made a big mistake, though. He went out early, and much to his surprise, the lap he ran held up, and he won the pole for the World 600, NASCAR’s longest race. Starting first in a 600-mile race was about as useless as beginning a football game with an onsides kick: it might help but it wasn’t really worth a risk. The mistake was that he couldn’t get out of talking to the media.

After the usual stupid photos of Farnsworth pointing at his time on a board where it had been etched in magic marker, he told Bright Malloy, “Well, shit, might as well get it over with.

“They want a piece of my ass? By God, I’ll give ‘em something to write about.”

 

Tour007The champ appeared exceedingly impatient. C.D. Baird asked several of the usual questions – “Talk about your lap” – that weren’t really questions. It all meandered uneventfully along until the very first sportswriter chosen asked him what he’d been doing since The Winston.

“None of your damn business,” Beau growled. “What you been doing? I won the fucking pole. It must not’ve been nothing what hurt me.”

After two more questions that didn’t please him, and two more terse replies, Farnsworth went off on what would be referred to in dozens of accounts as “a profanity-laced tirade.” It happened when a writer asked him about rumors that he was looking elsewhere and might even be entertaining the notion of starting his own team.

“What the fuck does it take to be a goddamned sportswriter?” Beau asked. “Ain’t you supposed to pay some fucking attention to the truth?”

He referred to one writer by name. “Garfield, who told you that shit?”

Ed Garfield, representing Roanoke, said, “Your business manager.”

Andy Eddings was, unfortunately, standing in the back of the room.

“You tell him I was starting up my own team?” Beau yelled.

Eddings gulped. “N-n-n-no.”

“See there, Garfield. He didn’t tell you shit.

“Maybe I oughtta be a goddamned sportswriter.” Beau left and started walking out. He passed by Garfield and another writer, Frank Follmer of Spartanburg.

“Sorry, Beau,” Follmer said under his breath. “Gotta have a degree.”

Asheville’s Lee Weddington started laughing. Farnsworth whirled around. “What the fuck you laughing at?”

“Ah, nothing, Champ.”

When Farnsworth got a safe distance away, Follmer said, “Hey, Beau, how’s that GED coming along?”

The room, relieved of Farnsworth’s nerve-wracking presence, chuckled appreciatively in unison.

 

On race mornings, Beau Farnsworth always walked pit road, long before gates swung open and fans, armed with their “hot passes,” streamed into the garage. The sun hadn’t long been up. A cool breeze fought in futility against the gathering heat. Down near turn one, Beau sat on the whitewashed pit wall. He knew but didn’t care that some of it would rub off on his jeans.

“What? You done forgot the little people?”

“Fuck the little people.” Beau didn’t have to look. He knew who it was. “What, Bobo? You ain’t got no funnel cakes to whip up?”

Bobo Findley was the son of the man who’d owned Greenville-Pickens Speedway, and the Upper State Fairgrounds, back in the sixties, when Felton Farnsworth was winning three track championships. Beau had been in more of a hurry when he breezed through. He just won one. Bobo ran the track now. It was a money maker. He didn’t make money like Beau Farnsworth, but who did? Bobo was comfortable. He and Beau had gotten in a lot of mischief while their families were running the races and winning them. Fifteen, sixteen years old, and both of them were screwing the daughters of car dealers. The Findleys always preferred Fords. The chief difference now was that Beau didn’t know what had become of Amy Burgess, and Bobo was married to the former Alberta Blair. Beau would’ve asked how she was doing, but he didn’t care.

Beau patted the wall next to him. “Sit down, you old fuckhead,” he said.

“Missed seeing you when Hargitson tested the car a month or so back,” Bobo said.

“Yeah, I’ll be down there next time. I ain’t been doing much testing here lately. Billy knows what I want in the car better than I do.”

“Works cheap?”

“He’s doing ah’ight,” Beau said.

“What’s the deal at G-P?”

“Kid from Lavonia, Georgia, been winning about every week,” Bobo said. “Travis Gutfeld. Rich kid. Hard to tell yet whether he’s good ‘cause he’s good or good ‘cause he’s rich. He ain’t had his ass whipped and ain’t hit a wall too hard. We’ll know a lot more when he does.”

They just sat a while.

“One thing I don’t think I ever asked you …”

“Shoot,” Beau said.

“At this level, how is it, you know, getting along with the other drivers? Who are the real sons of bitches?”

“At this level, everybody’s a son of a bitch,” Beau replied, “myself included.”

 

Rockingham004At about ten o’clock, rain started falling, not the kind of thunderstorm that might delay the one o’clock start but the kind of steady precipitation that made people depressed. The parade slowed down the invasion of the garage by all the autograph seekers, picture takers and gawkers, but Beau couldn’t bear much interaction with anybody on a race morning. Most drivers found themselves with no place to hide. Beau had one. He helped push the car out on the grid, which was actually pit road because it was more convenient than the front straight. No one approached him because, well, he was pushing the car, and when it reached its destination, the inside of the front row, crewmen placed a canvas cover over it. Beau climbed in the car right before the cover went on, meaning that no one other than the two who applied it knew where he was. He leaned back in the seat, waited for darkness to enclose him, and went to sleep.

 

The rain stopped around eleven. The sun peeked out at noon, and it got hot in a hurry. The cover came off the car. The heat radiating through the windshield awakened Beau, who squinted, noticed he had a headache, and staggered back to the truck, looking for a Goody’s powder. A NASCAR official stopped by to say the race would start fifteen minutes late. When Beau walked across the stage of a decorated flatbed trailer for introductions, the noise was three times louder than what greeted any other driver. It was all lusty, cheers and boos alike. Opinions of Beau Farnsworth were sharply divided, just like they had been for his daddy.

            If Daddy hadn’t fought it, if he hadn’t taken it to trial, he’d have gotten off with six months. But he didn’t. Hefought it, and he rotted in that jail. It wasn’t cancer that killed him. It was jail rot. I seen it.

Beau tightened his belts and sat in the car, getting ready. He loved it so. If he didn’t have racing, he’d have probably had to grow up. It had been a good week. He’d spent little time doing anything anyone else wanted him to. He’d gone fishing, gotten wasted and laid, and then he’d climbed in his race car and won the pole. He’d let the damn press know he wasn’t about to take any of them questioning just what he did or did not do with his life. Now, by God, he was as sure he was going to win the World 600 as he’d been that he was going to screw little Darla’s brains out. He smiled, realizing that he didn’t know the girl’s last name, so how in the hell was he going to have that Camaro delivered?

He owned a mansion in Florida that had a landing strip so that he could fly in and out. One house in Albemarle was basically just for tours and a museum. Beau hadn’t spent the night there in three years. The other one, on the farm, the fans couldn’t have gotten into with a Sherman tank. Every year he made five figures apiece in royalties for his endorsements of a soft drink, a chain of barbecue joints, a line of beef jerky, a candy bar, and a brand of sunglasses. All the money came with commitments.

One of the greats from Felton’s era had asked him one time: “Beau, how much goddamned money you need?

“You’d better get out of that car, son.” Forty-seven years old, and, still, he was “son.” “You done won as much as anybody. Won Daytona, Charlotte, Atlanta, hell, you own Darlington, you keep driving that race car long enough, it’s gonna kill you one day.”

“I can’t,” he’d said, and he’d been pissed off to be having the conversation.

Beau liked racing cars. He liked getting laid. He liked hunting and fishing. He didn’t like a damned thing else about his life. He was hard to please.

He put his finger on the dashboard switch and waited for “the command.”

“Gentlemen, start your engines!”

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