My Car Quest

June 6, 2020

Fiction: Poster Star

by Wallace Wyss –

Tad discovered racing posters once he started reading histories of car racing events. Although he didn’t become a car fan until the ’90s, he found he loved the early posters–say ’20s and ’30s–most because they had an air of excitement; of danger.

After all that was before seat belts, proper racing helmets, fireproof driving suits, the whole nine yards. Back then you raced with nothing but determination and true grit. You survived or you didn’t. End of story.

So here Tad was selling artwork. He knew his way round a brush. And when he got tired of doing endless scenes of rolling breakers in Malibu or waterfalls in Yosemite he started doing race cars and that was where he made it, his color depictions of legendary cars at speed were growing in demand.

He became a obsessive collector of memorabilia–posters, T-shirts, old trophies,model race cars. It was after he reproduced a series of racing posters and put them on the wall in his studio he got the idea. He would make posters for events that has already happened–LeMans ’55, the Cuban Grand Prix of ’57, you name it.

He figured the customer for this kind of poster would be the newer enthusiast who had never seen the poster for that event so they might figure it was vintage. Nobody was checking. He didn’t have to worry about the original artist (most of whom had long gone to that racetrack in the sky) threatening lawsuits.

At first, for the first year anyhow, he used real driver’s names, like Fangio, Moss, Shelby or Norinder. Then he thought, hell, why not go balls to the wall and conjure up car events that never existed. In places where there was no racetrack. Ever. But then, after a girl he met on a blind date and took to a gallery showing his work asked him if he ever raced, he said “Yeah” but then he felt bad he didn’t have anything to prove it–no picture of himself grinning with a wreath round his neck, or slapping backs on the victory stand, getting kissed by the race queen.

He’ have to do something ’bout that. It was a little late in life for him to jump into racing now. His rent in Malibu was so high and his income so variable that, like millions of other car race fans, his races, his victories were all in his dreams. Where he always won.

So the inevitable happened (If you are intuitive, you can stop here). He created a poster honoring a famous racer–himself. Wisely, he decide he wouldn’t offer it at a car event like Monterey Car Week–there was too many guys there that would spot it as a ringer—him claiming a victory he never, in point of fact, won. Or a victory where there was never a race.

He showed the new posters–he called them his winning series– at regular art shows, like the one held in Malibu once a month. Rich swells bought them unaware that Tad Ledbetter never raced, that in fact Tad Ledbetter had never won and the kicker was that they were buying a poster for a race that never happened: such as his biggest seller The Race Thru the Redwoods 1989, Mendocino. In that one, he piloted a Ferrari lightweight Comp coupe.

But the first time he dated a girl and showed her the poster, she was thrilled. He knew she could hardly wait to tell her girlfriends that she was dating a racer! From that moment on, he walked a little taller. He swaggered. He wasn’t nobody anymore. He was Tad Ledbetter, The Racer. The one who won that race up North! So exciting!

After a couple years of doing race posters announcing his victories, and raking in some heavy bread for the first time, he could no longer resist the siren call. He bought an old race car. A Porsche Speedster, once a race car but now (barely) street legal. He entered a hlllclimb in Elko Nevada. He was surprised nobody asked him for his racing license. But why should they? He was Ledbetter the racer, right? Won more races than God, for chrissake.

He was 24th off the chocks. He had some real competition–some Swedish racer in a four wheel drive homebuilt was leading so far with a total of four minutes, 18.5 seconds. Tad knew he’d have to give it his all. He redlined it in first, and then second but had to cut it short for third and downshift back to second. It was a low gear course. But then the road got a little twisty with big drop-offs both sides. He was looking down at clouds!. And sweating profusely. Weary with the steering effort. Curve after curve came at him. He felt disconnected. Would it never end?

He went off at mile marker 5, two thirds of the way to the top. Observers argued later whether it was deliberate or an overcooked drift. There were no brake marks, no skid-flattened tires. It was a long way down, 2000 ft. end over end.

He didn’t have time to think about it, he thought as he flipped out of the car, his racing harness pulling the securing bolts right out of the floor. If he had had a moment to think, it would have been of what he had on the easel back home. The ultimate Ledbetter racing poster.

He had captured it all — the blood red Porsche, the mountain, the curve, the blue sky, the white puffy clouds…and of course him taking the checker.

Porsche 356 - art by Wallace Wyss

They didn’t even ask to see his racing license–he was famous, right?
(print available from mendoart7@gmail.com)

 
 
THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss has written 18 books on classic cars. He is co-host of Autotalk, a radio show broadcast once a week from KUCR-FM Riverside.

 
 
 
 

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Fiction: Poster Star
Article Name
Fiction: Poster Star
Description
He had captured it all -- the blood red Porsche, the mountain, the curve, the blue sky, the white puffy clouds...and of course him taking the checker.
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