My Car Quest

December 11, 2023

The Racer

It is rare for us to offer fiction, at least not on purpose, but Wallace Wyss, a frequent correspondent on events and car history, reports that he has had this idea in his head for years so he had to get it down on paper (or on the internet) to get reactions. Enjoy!

Mike Gulett

by Wallace Wyss –

They bought two of them, near identical, both Porsche Speedsters, both with knock offs, and both with pushrod engines. Neither car had been a racer back in its time in the Fifties so Mike figured he had maybe ten grand in each in race prep alone.

But it was all to make Little Mike happy, because, as many flaws as the boy had growing up, the one thing ,as a father, that he took real pride in was that the little guy was proving to be a gearhead like his old man.

Porsche 356 Speedster – art by Wallace Wyss

He had worried there for a while, the kid spouting poetry and talking about art films, and majoring in English Lit (for Chrissake!) that he wasn’t going to match up to his own legend, that of “Mad Mike, King of the Dirt Track” at least in Nazareth, PA.

Well, of course the kid didn’t like dirt track or NASCAR but sports cars but when he started to go to vintage races, and came back giving glowing reports, Mike figured, hey, here was the way to get the kid into racing, maybe getting some vintage cars, doing some racing together.

Money was no problem. He had followed his racing career with founding a contracting business and done good, building whole suburbs. The money was there, and damn it, now that he’d found a sport that they could do together, he was willing to spend some.

Mike didn’t like the sports car crowd at first; not many of them, he found, had ever done any racing in their youth, no they were doctors, lawyers, administrators, glorified pencil pushers. But they had enough extra cash to buy their dream car–the one they wanted in the Fifties and Sixties–and doll it up and wanted to go out and see what the car had, or what they had, which was more like it.

Not too many were aware of his hard won rep as a no-holds-barred racer. He doubted if any of them had been to a dirt track or figure-8 race, or even a jalopy derby. You had to admit, compared to the races they talked about—Sebring, Le Mans,this dirt track stuff was bush League, low class.

But, each event he went to, he was warming to the crowd, the way some would dress British, with their driving uniforms, and stringback driving gloves and “pudding bowl” helmets and stopping racing for a bit so they could have a spot of tea.

Little Mike did good in his first race, finishing third. He himself finished second, oh, hell, he could have grabbed first any time he wanted but he was wary of that rule, that rule that would have had him laughed off the track at Altoona or some of the other dirt tracks i.e. the one saying “no contact.” I mean that’s why his midgets had nerf bars, for Chrissake, a guy cut you off, you nerfed the sonovabitch out of the way.

Their second vintage race came in late September. Though the track was in California, this track was situated at a high enough altitude where the leaves were turning orange and the flavor was a little bit like the tracks he raced in PA, back in the day.

Both of the Speedsters were painted red, and he had matching headlamp grilles, the kind you ran in rallying, to prevent stone damage. He had two sets of rollover bars made, which he would affix before the race. For tires, he was running racing slicks, on wheels an inch wider than the Speedsters originally came with but, hey, this was vintage racing and everybody was cheating a little, especially on horsepower. He wouldn’t doubt some of the cars were putting out twice the horsepower as they did back in the day.

It was a short event, ten laps, and this time, after showing what he felt was too much restraint the first race, he thought he’d show Little Mike the right line through all the corners. If Mike was charging hard, he’d be able to see that line and emulate him, and then as he neared the end of the ten laps, he’d slow his pace enough to give Little Mike a shooting chance at moving into the lead. He figured the Kid needed the charge you get from winning, though he doubted you even got a trophy, maybe a ribbon and a photo, that was it.

Seven laps in, he was holding the lead and holding strong, the nearest car about one length back, that annoying Alfa that the guy had the custom engine built for in Italy. The Alfa kept trying to pass him on the inside but he was having none of it, shutting the door each time.

Then out of the corner of his left eye, he saw a red blur. Some sonovabitch was trying to pass him on the high side! This track was a little like a miniature Daytona with a high wall on one side, for about 1000 ft. Well, he could tell ya from his pro racing days, it took a guy with balls of steel to pass on the high side, because if you went off, you were subject to whatever was off on the high side of the track. Go off on the inside and you just spun toward the track center, the haybales and what not.

So he did what he had always done in his track career, feinting a jog to the left so the racer, if he had any sense, would back off on any attempt to pass. You made a mistake passing on the high side left a racer no place to go. He heard a screech and a crump and didn’t look back. You didn’t get to be a winner by lollygagging and watching your competitors’ fates in the rear view mirrors. You kept the pedal to the metal and headed for the checker.

He noticed a little confusion as he crossed the finish line. He knew it was ten laps but the flagman only gave him a cursory glance and dropped the flag on the ground and ran toward the high wall. Others were running and he saw an ambulance and a wrecker both fly by on the track the opposite way of the racers, who were all now sheepishly down on the inside in single file.

When he got to the pits, he saw people looking away from him, not congratulating him on his win. He heard the ambulance take off toward the highway, siren and lights full on.

And then he heard people talking about it, about how a red Porsche had been nerfed into the wall. They were saying the Armco barrier had broken and gone through the racing windscreen.

He loaded up his Porsche. And stood there and waited. The track doctor arrived wtih some somber faced track officials and told him the bad news. He didn’t want to go see the wreck, not with his son on the way to the hospital and he knew he’d have to call his wife before going to the hospital.

He took out his cellphone, set it on the passenger side seat and drove toward the hospital, all the time trying to figure out what he’d say if anyone asked him what the hell had come into him high on the banking with that nerfing manuever.

“It was the way I learned to race,” he thought of saying, but knew that answer wouldn’t fly. He couldn’t blame Little Mike, hell, he’d taught the boy to always go for openings, no matter how small.

He knew now what he’d always suspected– that Little Mike never would have made it in real racing, he was too soft…too soft…..

He drove on, to the reckoning.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

Wallace Wyss

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is the author of 18 non-fiction car histories and one novel, Ferrari Hunters, a book he is presently marketing to producers.




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The Racer
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The Racer
A rare short story here on My Car Quest.

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