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185 pagine
2 ore
Aug 1, 2018


Ray Denton has "a reputation,” as some Indy car owners like to express it. Observers both inside and outside the racing fraternity see his personality as volatile, and he seldom tries to mitigate that. His on-again-off-again fiancé, Sharon Firestone (no, not that Firestone), hates racing and would like nothing better than to see his career come to a close. In trying to achieve balance in their lives, they face challenges that cannot be resolved with air pressure changes or wing adjustments.
A new opportunity seems to be the answer. A former employer needs Denton back in the driver’s seat, but it’s not what he expects. Neither will it overcome Sharon’s dread of the dangers imposed by insane speeds on race tracks.
How they deal with the ups and downs of life together is as intriguing as the suspense and uncertainties of racing itself.

Aug 1, 2018

Informazioni sull'autore

Native Texan and Vietnam veteran Hal Williams is the author of twenty four novels including foureen books of the "Persephone of the ATF" series. His writing style reflects his wealth of experiences ranging from rock-n-roll musician and racecar driver to working journalist and book manuscript editor. In addition to writing and still working around racecars, Hal enjoys playing bridge, target shooting, and collecting vintage revolvers. He lives in the Dallas area.

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Wheel - Hal Williams




That’s about all you can utter in six tenths of a second.

With sixty-five percent of its weight behind the driver’s seat, the Python-Mitsubishi did not quiver or teeter on the brink of recovery. When the car succumbed to the peculiar laws of Python physics and snapped around backwards, it did so in the blink of an eye. It charged the Michigan International Speedway wall ass end first at way over one hundred miles per hour.

This is going to hurt a lot. I let go of the steering wheel, planted my foot hard on the brake pedal, and watched blue smoke billow from the racing tires while I waited to be squashed like a bug on a windshield.

Impact with the retaining wall broke the left rear suspension and slammed the tire and wheel into the side pod containing one of the radiators. Streams of sparks and steam followed the wounded car as it scraped along the barrier. The rear wing, deprived of one support post, gyrated like a kite without a tail, then broke off and sailed across the race track. Brad Carpenter was fortunate to avoid hitting it.

Speed decreased rapidly, but I felt hot coolant from the mangled radiator entering the cockpit and soaking into my three-layer driver’s suit. I’m going to be boiled like a lobster before this damned thing stops moving.

At least the Python did not catch fire. The silver lining.

I popped the release on the safety harness and prepared to bail out. Six safety and rescue workers surrounded me by the time my feet hit the ground, and I was thankful to see every one of them even after a couple of them forced me onto the pavement face down. Another one dumped a twenty-gallon jug of ice and water on my backside like I was the winning coach at the Super Bowl. An EMT at the infield hospital later told me that ice is the preferred first aid treatment for any type of burn injury.


Reynard doesn’t have this problem. Neither does Swift. Lola is a little shaky, but we should be as good as the Cannons and Penskes. So, Ray Denton, you tell me. Is this a driver problem?

I’ve got blisters on my butt. That’s a driver problem.

Bruce Beaumont ground his cigarette into the ashtray as though trying to push both right through the tabletop to the floor. I didn’t spend a quarter-million bucks on you to have you sass me. If you can’t tell Richardson what’s wrong with the car, you’re only doing half your job.

I have told Gavin, I said. The car’s a piece of crap. He may be a great engineer, and if he is, he’ll figure out a way to transfer some of the weight forward. The aero isn’t getting the job done. Your Python is the most tail-happy hunk of junk I’ve driven since I ran a Porsche 935 in the rain at Daytona. You can put all the wing you want in the thing, and it still swaps ends without giving any warning at all. It’ll never match Penske or Cannon.

Bullshit! Beaumont raged. The Python is better than a Reynard, better than a Panoz or G Force or whatever. But a state of the art car needs a state of the art driver, Denton, and I don’t think you’re it.

Fine. Believe that if you want. Pay out my contract and kiss my ass goodbye.

No, I’m not letting you out that easy, Beaumont said. You are going to do all the testing on the backup car. Five days a week, and you’ll do exactly what Gavin Richardson tells you to do. Otherwise, if the car doesn’t kill you, I might.


Beaumont hired Carlo Minicci, a previous European Formula 3000 champion to take my place in the Python. In his first qualifying session at Cleveland, the young Brazilian backed into the wall at the final turn onto the front straightaway.

Gavin Richardson’s crew fixed the car and had it ready to race on Sunday. At the green flag, Minicci, starting from sixteenth place, made a suicide dive into turn one and stabbed the brakes. He got hit twice while still backwards, then twice more before the car’s carcass quit spinning. Everybody knows you can’t do that at Burke, but there’s always one asshole willing to try.

Minicci was that asshole. He had all the best attributes of a Kamikazi pilot.

The Burke Lakefront Airport track is eighty feet wide at turn one, but so many large and small bits of five different racecars littered the pavement that officials had to red flag the race while track crews cleaned up the mess. I watched it all on television and hoped nobody got hurt.

Python’s fortunes did not improve following my departure. They exploded two Mitsubishi engines on ovals, failed to qualify for the Indy 500, and Minicci crashed again at Belle Isle.

My finding another seat in open-wheel cars would be damned near impossible seven races into the season and I knew it. Somebody would have to be injured, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. I still had red splotches on my backside and ribs from the scalding water that got me at Michigan. Besides, I’d quit Rod Cannon’s Ohio-based team at the end of the previous year to go with Beaumont and the untried Python. It had seemed like the thing to do at the time, but it made me a pariah of sorts. Brad Carpenter took over my old seat at Cannon and shot to the series points lead in the first three events.

LeMans was coming up in a few weeks, and I made a lot of telephone calls, searching for an open spot. I received more rejections than a wannabe Hollywood scriptwriter. Finally I called Cannon and asked him about fielding a third car for the remainder of the schedule.

Sure, he said. You bring me a sponsor with half a million bucks, and I’ll put you in last year’s car for the rest of the season.

It all came down to money.

Sponsors were checking out of racing faster than housewives at Grand Union. Several consumer products manufacturers had tightened their belts. Bans on tobacco advertising on cars had knocked both Players and Marlboro out of racing sponsorship after what seemed like forever. Likewise, Winston’s affiliation with NASCAR had ended, marking the death of an American institution. NASCAR would survive, but it would never be quite the same. Winston Cup had been part of the racing lexicon for a quarter-century.

Sprint Cup? Sounded like an athletic supporter.

Stock cars attracted big crowds and the big money. Aside from cigarettes, you could sell almost anything from laundry detergent and bourbon whiskey to sex enhancements on the side of a Detroit look-alike. Except for World of Outlaws cars and the Indy 500, the upper echelons of open-wheel racing did not attract apple-pie-eating American fans the way they once had.

Part of it was that fifty percent of the IndyCar drivers came from Europe or South America. Not that they were not good behind the wheel, but after the World Trade Center disaster, selling America on anything foreign required more than clever catch phrases and splashy ad campaigns. Too many people looked askance at those oddballs who professed admiration for drivers with names like Velasco and Philippe and Minicci.

A half-million dollars? Nobody would throw that kind of cash at a half-season effort with no chance to win a championship and garner the acclaim that attended it, even with the best top-tier driver. And then there was, Your driver’s Ray Denton? A sure conversation killer.

So, I kept doing the test driving for Python. Testing meant learning what did not work, and I found a lot of that. Gavin Richardson moved oil coolers, tried a dozen different spring rates, and bought shock absorbers by the crate. Nothing seemed to help.

If we can’t change the balance, we have to change the geometry, I told the engineer after a backwards trip into the gravel outside turn five at Barber. This thing goes from Snow White to Mata Hari under braking. The front’s too stiff and the rear is too soft.

Are you telling me that as an engineer or as a washed up racing driver?

Screw you, Richardson. If you’re going to ignore my feedback, you drive the damn thing.

Richardson had an exalted degree from MIT, but so far as I could tell, he knew nothing at all about racecars. Things that looked great on paper turned to crap on asphalt.

The laws of inertia are immutable, Gavin said in a huff. You have to learn to live with them.

Screw inertia, I countered. If you can’t get three G’s of lateral stick without the car going nuts, nobody will ever get this wheeled turd around a corner at competitive speed.

That what you want me to tell Beaumont?

No. You can tell Beaumont I quit.

You can’t quit, Denton. You have a contract.

Fuck the contract.

Beaumont will have his lawyers all over you.

Fuck his lawyers, too.

I didn’t just burn the bridge, I napalmed the thing out of existence and went back to my condo in Atlanta. That’s where Sharon found me the next afternoon well into a third whiskey sour and watching a Gilligan’s Island rerun.

Sharon Firestone is an exquisite creature with pixie-cut blonde hair, arresting blue eyes, a svelte figure, and lousy taste in men. We’d been living together for two and a half years. She is not related to Dennis Firestone, the former IndyCar driver; probably a good thing. Neither does she have Harvey Firestone, founder of the tire company that bears his name, on her family tree.


You look like somebody kicked your dog, she said.

I kicked the dog, and the mutt deserved it, but then he pissed all over my shoe.

Which I suppose means that you are now an unemployed racecar driver.

That’s what it means.

I wish I could say I’m sorry.

I had met Sharon at a Fall gathering of drivers and crews at an Atlanta bistro. We were celebrating Sam Hornish Jr.’s IndyCar season championship. She just happened to be there with a date for the evening. Neither of them knew about our fete. I never knew why the fellow suddenly turned around and walked out on her. He had to be insane or gay, maybe both.

You look lost, I said to her. I’m Ray Denton.

I’m not lost. I’ve been abandoned.

That’s hard to imagine. I had never seen another woman so enchantingly gorgeous.

Not if you... Well, just never mind.

You aren’t here for the Sam Hornish party, I take it.

She frowned. Who’s Sam Hornish?

He’s, well, uh... It’s not important.

Who are you?

Ray Denton, I repeated.

What do you want?

I just thought I’d see if I could help you. Do you have a way home?

I’ll call a cab.

If you change your mind, I’m completely sober.

Why are you here, anyway?

This is a celebration for Sam Hornish, I said, thinking I’d repeated myself again. He won this year’s season championship. You see, most of us here drive Indy racecars.

She frowned again. Why would I even think about getting into a car with a race driver?

Because we’re the best drivers on the planet.


Word is you’ve been looking for a ride.

At first, I didn’t recognize the voice on the telephone.

Hey, are you there, or is ‘Hello’ the best you can do for an answering machine greeting?

I’m here, I mumbled in a state of mild shock. I surely hadn’t expected to hear from Carl Anderson.

You drunk?

No. I had intended to be, but it was early yet.

Okay. Here’s the deal. I just bought the complete Python package from Beaumont, lock, stock, and rain barrel. I think that fiasco at Cleveland started to sour him on racing, and it just got worse from there. He was quite reasonable.

So what does all this mean to me?

I want you back in the car, Anderson said.

I damn near fainted. What about Minicci?

What about him? I own his contract now. If I tell him to drive the transporter, that’s what he’s gonna drive. Or he can go back to Italy. Makes me no nevermind.

Brazil, I corrected.


Minicci is from Brazil, not Italy.

Don’t burden me with trivia, Denton. Do you want the job or not?

Richardson will never go for this.

Gavin Richardson doesn’t work for Python any longer. What else do you want?

An engineer from any place but MIT.

How does Colin Lange suit you?

"I’ll let you know after I see what

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