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 did prefer 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.”
“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.”
At 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 hadn’t spent one bit of time doing anything anyone else wanted him to do. He’d gone fishing, gotten wasted and laid, 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.”