FICTION

A Welding Job

The kid had courage but had he brains?— A thrilling story of dirt-track auto racing

RICHARD HOWELLS WATKINS July 1 1937
FICTION

A Welding Job

The kid had courage but had he brains?— A thrilling story of dirt-track auto racing

RICHARD HOWELLS WATKINS July 1 1937

A Welding Job

The kid had courage but had he brains?— A thrilling story of dirt-track auto racing

RICHARD HOWELLS WATKINS

ONE MINUTE Dan Ridge had $528, and young Nix Hearn had $354. Next minute Sam Ambrose, wishing them both a casual “Good luck,” thrust into the pocket of his cream-colored windbreaker $875.

Ambrose strolled away, leaving Dan and young Nix to stare uncertainly at each other across the hood of the red racing car that had become their joint property. The veteran Dan saw a brisk, lanky young fellow with a newish crash helmet tucked in the crook of an overlong arm, an overwide grin on an overwide mouth, straight hair the color of Manila rope, and a bony, outthrusting nose. And Dan knew that Nix’s sharp blue eyes were taking in a mere stub of a man in mechanic’s dungarees, oldish in that company, a bit bent and a bit out of plumb where bones had knitted awkwardly, with a greyish-black mustache and a scar on his forehead.

Abruptly both men dropped their eyes to number eight, the job that linked them and their fortunes. A four-cylinder, sixteen-valve motor, with chain-driven double overhead camshafts. A hot iron, but Dan reckoned that young Nix, like himself, was feeling oversold. Partners! It is a word used with caution in the dirt-track racing business.

The magic of Sam Ambrose’s smoothly flowing language and the strong call of the game had joined them. Sam had had powerful selling points right at hand. The blare of high-speed motors on Bradbury track, the spurting dirt flung by whirring wheels, the tang of hot castor oil, the cheery confusion of the pits, the challenging sweep of the brown, banked curves, the undercurrent of tense life— all these had swept them together into ownership of the car that Sam Ambrose had replaced with a newer machine.

Nix Hearn glanced at the departing Ambrose, kicked the right front tire, and broke a silence that was rapidly getting strained.

“For a driver, and champion of the circuit at that, that guy can talk plenty of language,” he blurted out.

"He can.” agreed Dan Ridge slowly. He started to light his underslung pipe, decided that this would give him too much strategic advantage over his newly found partner, and put away his matches. The silence was resumed.

The car could travel. They were sure of that. Sam Ambrose had ridden to the championship of the circuit in it. But any victory on the dirt is a triple play. Car, driver, mechanic, all must be hitting right. And—partners! Dan Ridge knew that his neglect of a cotter pin some weary dawn in a cold garage, might cost Nix Hearn his life. Nix knew it, too. And Dan reflected also that some sudden, half-baked play by this kid could make him a busted spectator in the game that he couldn’t get out of his blood. Either way, driver or mechanic, you ought to know a lot about a man before you teamed up with him in the speed business. Not the kind of a word you want to boot around —partner.

Dan’s eyes strayed to the small pile of spares, cans and three extra wheels that Sam Ambrose had included in the deal. He coughed unnecessarily and finally scraped up a few words:

“It’s your neck, Nix. Do you roll today, or do I tear down the job and check it over first?”

“We roll!” Nix forced a grin. “Maybe we don’t cop any prize money today—but we roll. An’ she was hot enough just now when Ambrose let me turn the track in her.”

“I’ll take a look,” Dan Ridge said, unstrapping the hood which Sam Ambrose had closed for histrionic reasons as he approached his final selling climax.

“Okay,” muttered Nix. As Dan touched the car he felt the younger man’s eyes suddenly drill the back of his neck.

Nix jerked a hand toward a group by the judges’ stand— promoter, pit manager, starter and racing association representative. “I’ll fix it with ’em.” He looked uneasily at Dan’s right hand and went along.

Out of the corner ol his eye, Dan Ridge watched Nix swing his long body confidently through the busy pits.

“Well, a driver’s got to believe in himself or he’s through before the start,’’ Dan muttered. He put his cold pipe in the corner of his mouth. “And he’s young, too, n o t m u c h more’n twenty-one. If he can just learn ...”

Out of the comer of the other eye, Dan made out Sam Ambrose strolling toward him. Ambrose had a confident look about him, too. He didn’t swagger, but he moved his plump, well-set-up person with a serene certainty that the drivers, mechs and hangers-on scrambling about the cars would give him plenty of room.

Ambrose halted beside his former mount and laid a caressing hand on the radiator cap.

“She’ll ape, Dan,” he said. “But how in the world did a mech-

anic who can hot ’em up like you can, happen to get together with that crazy kid?”

“How did I . . . ” Dan Ridge stopped. He was under the impression that Sam Ambrose had got him together with Nix Hearn.

“I’m not saying he can’t wheel.” the champion went on hastily. “But he’s sort of wild. Apt to crack up a few irons before he settles down to riding—or quits.”

He tapped the mechanic on the shoulder. “Mind you, I like the kid,” he asserted. “Where’s he gone?”

“Judges’ stand—to straighten out the entry.”

“I’ll give him a hand.”

Unhurriedly the champion headed for the stand beyond the pit enclosure.

Thoughtfully Dan Ridge brought his tool kit from his weathered grey sedan. He began to check over the steering.

T5EFORE HE had done much, Nix Hearn came back from the judges’ stand and reported the paper stuff all set. He hung about, watching intently while Dan went over shock absorbers, front axle and springs. It didn’t bother Dan much to have him there; Dan had done a lot of work in his time with drivers breathing down his neck. But Nix’s attitude did bother him; the young driver’s watchfulness was apologetic but dogged.

Nix lent a hand at changing a shoe for one with more rubber on it. They conferred on the spark-plug points, which looked neither too white nor too dark, and decided therefrom that the gas mixture was right.

When they listened to the motor revving up after Dan had finished tuning it, Dan put a match to his unlit pipe.

“Right now’s the time to beat Sam Ambrose, before he gets onto the handling of his new bus and before his two gilt-edged mechs smooth it out,” Nix said hopefully.

“Know this track?” Dan asked the question in a noncommittal voice.

“I’ve been over the bumps,” the driver replied. He looked at the gaunt, paintless grandstand. It was filling up steadily, as was the infield. “They tell me the crowd is plenty tough, too, Dan. These fellows work hard for their money and they like to see action for it.”

“Crowds don’t count in the races; they count in the box office,” Dan said wisely. “What’s it matter if you don’t cop today? Let’s just shake down. Sam Ambrose left us seven bucks, and I’ve got a job that we can eat on till next Saturday’s race.”

“There’s a service station just waitin’ for me to fill gas tanks,” Nix declared. He looked again at the grandstand. “But I’d sort of like to take a little change out o’ here, just to show these customers I’m no featherfoot.”

“Forget ’em,” Dan counselled. His voice was a little anxious.

“You haven’t no objection to me grabbing, say, forty bucks for fifth place in the main event, have you?” Nix demanded sharply. “Maybe I’m not such a mutt as you figure me.”

Dan did not answer. But his eyes were worried and his pipe was out as they pushed the car onto the track for the time trial that would determine its starting position.

The announcer on the upper deck of the judges’ stand gave Nix a little build-up. “Here’s a good old car and a good young driver.” he concluded. “Watch ’em throw dirt. You’ll be surprised, folks!”

The people in the stands clapped only listlessly, but Nix. red as a stop flag, waved his hand at them.

Dan felt better after Nix had made his trial lap. The young pilot covered the curving half-mile saucer in three fifths of a second over thirty seconds flat. This was good but not startling for that track. “You’ve got the car handling,” Dan told him

when he came in. Nix

wiped the dust off his hot face and grunted. Sam

Ambrose wheeled his lap in twenty-nine and four-

fifths. This was the fastest lap made that day. Nix’s time put their red numbereight in seventh, or last, starting position in the first of three heats. In

each of these races the

three winning cars qualified to start in the main event.

As Dan Ridge unstrapped the hood after the time trial, Nix came hurrying up to him.

“Leave it lay,” he said.

“She’s clicking over right.”

“I don’t tinker with

’em. but timing’s just a hair” Dan began.

“As you said, it's my

neck.” Ñix cut in brusque-

ly. “The mill's right.

Let’s let it stay right.”

Dan Ridge fastened down the hood at once.

“It's turning up,” he conceded amiably. After all, the boy had done well; if

he was satisfied with the

motor, there was no reason

to get him stirred up.

Jeff Hill, the starter, waved off the track a

couple of homemade jobs

that refused to perk, and

beckoned out the contest-

ants in the first heat, a

five-mile sprint. One on

each side, the two men

rolled the red car into the

third row1, outside. The

impatient crowd w'as roar-

ing and stamping for

action. Nix Hearn looked at the grandstand, jammed on

his crash helmet and tightened his lips. Five minutes later

the thunderous machines pulled away,

TNAN STOOD stiffly by the rail while the starter sent them around on a couple of warm-up laps. His finger-

nails made half moons in the white paint as the seven cars came belting down the straightaway and Jeff Hill gave them the green starting flag, Sam Ambrose, in the first rank, hammered out a twolength lead on the charge to the first corner. Roaring and spitting fire, the other cars pursued him into the dust. Nix

Hearn, back in the ruck, managed to squeeze number eight

past a blue car whose motor, with plugs fouled, was popping erratically. But he did not try anything sjwctacular Dan Ridge sighed in relief.

The goddess of chance was in a petulant mood that heat, Hardly had the dust-shrouded vicissitudes of that first curve split up the vividly colored machines, when Jim Quirk’s green Rance, a tough contestant in any race,

slowed. One of his tires was flattening out with a slow

puncture. That put Nix Hearn in filth place. He need

pass only two more cars to qualify for the main event.

Instantly Nix opened up on the yellow speedster that was bouncing over the brown track close ahead. That car

wasn't handling just right; the driver was wrestling with

his wheel to maintain even (he average gait he was setting,

For two laps he stood off Nix Hearn's red threat. Then, on

the grandstand stretch, Nix surged past him.

“That’s doing it,” Dan Ridge muttered. “Not bad, kid! Keep your head !”

But fourth place didn’t suit Nix. He aired out after two cars that were mixing it in a battle for second. Ahead, Sam Ambrose in his cream-colored new job, with the track to

himself, did not hit the curves too hard. Dan Ridge saw as

the laps reeled by that Ambrose kept a wary eye behind,

opening up his motor only on the straightaways.

Nix pulled up at long last on the second and third cars, He was stepping on it. He joined the jam, with grit from

spurting wheels rattling on goggles and helmet. It was at

that moment that the man in second place let his blue air

get away from him on the start of the south curve. He slid

away from the infield fence, up the slant of the brown bank,

Instantly the man behind him, with his chromium car

under iron control, started to knife past inside. But the

pilot of the blue car had slid only momentarily. Man-

handling his mount into submission, he edged back toward

the fence. The slide had cost him speed, more speed than

he realized, and which w'ould take time to recover.

Unless the driver of the chromium job, w'edged in a tight pocket, lifted his throttle foot, he must hit either the blue car or the fence. He slowed.

All this Dan Ridge made out in the pits as a puff of wind thinned the dust. And then he saw with tense, narrowing eyes that Nix Hearn had grabbed his chance. Boldly Nix flung the red job up the track and bored past the slowed cars. Rear end wavering on the edge of a slide, he took them both. And still, with wheels churning power, he shot on around the bank.

Into the clear he raced. Holding momentum, with perfect feel of his skittering car, he devoured the gap that separated him from the leader. As Ambrose’s creamcolored speedster drifted out onto the backstretch. Nix was only a couple of lengths behind.

But w'ily Sam Ambrose knew that he was coming. In that short stretch Nix went shooting along at full throttle. But that wasn’t enough. Plainly Sam Ambrose had more gun. He pulled farther ahead.

Dan Ridge, gripping that fence rail, knew that within short seconds he’d get a true slant on what kind of partner he’d picked up that day.

Neatly the champion cut over into the next curve. He steadied his car with a touch of the brakes and hit the bank just within the limit of speed.

Nix didn’t grab his brake lever. He sent number eight barrelling into the corner like a red bullet and surged on, almost on Sam Ambrose’s tail. For a moment he hung there. Then, inexorably, his mount slid. It looked bad, but on the bank Nix kicked the car out of the start of a spin with merciless, powerful arms.

DAN RIDGE’S teeth tested his pipestem then. He couldn’t see much in that swirling cloud of dust and grit, but he sensed that Nix’s bus was wrong. Though he hammered on around the curve, something had happened. As the two cars slid out onto the grandstand stretch. Dan made out what it was. Nix’s'right front tire was showing streaky white instead of the black of honest rubber. That slide had ripped the tread off the casing of the old tire. He was riding on the fabric plies.

Dan Ridge emitted something between a grunt and a groan. Then he glanced around the track. The battle between the leaders had opened a 400-yard gap behind them. If Nix played it right, he could still hold second place.

The crowd in the grandstand had leaped to its feet at the start of the jam, roaring and stamping in thunderous approval when Nix Hearn bored through. They were still yelling now, swinging their arms, imploring this new driver to come on and beat the champion. A champion exists only to be beaten. And to have a kid do it in the champ’s own discarded car they shredded their throats.

“Slow down but keep going!” muttered Dan Ridge softly, leaning hard on the fence. “Those plies will take it if .

Jeff Hill was out on the track by the finish line. Crouching, he snapped a blue flag in front of Sam Ambrose’s face as the cream car swept by. Last lap. that Hag warned them. Dan Ridge hadn t realized that the two leaders were shooting into the last circuit. Nix had an easy chance for a safe second place.

Smoothly, after a single glance behind at Nix, Sam Ambrose eased up on his motor. He didn’t slow down much not enough for the bellowing crowd to realize it but enough to assure that his thrumming car wouldn’t slide. His vigilant eyes hadn’t missed the trouble Nix Hearn was in. Expertly lie surged on around the next curve.

Dan Ridge was frowning, eyes upon his partner’s red car. Nix Hearn was hitting that curve a lot too fast, with only a few plies between him and a blown shoe. He came out onto the backstretch a scant hundred feet behind Sam Ambrose. But that, in part, was because Ambrose had deliberately cut his speed; quite definitely Ambrose was loafing along, teasing the kid.

On the backstretch, with only half a lap and one long curve to go to the checkered flag. Nix Hearn suddenly opened up. He called on his motor for all it had, and in the first burst of speed cut in half the gap that separated him from the champion’s car.

The roar of the grandstand rose to a shriek of entreaty to Nix Hearn. It seemed almost as if he heard and obeyed it. His car hurtled on.

White-faced, with a glance at the ambulance and the tow car alongside the pits, Dan Ridge broke away from the rail. He plunged through the throng of watching mechanics, squeezed between a couple of parked cars, and started out at a dead run across the infield toward the last curve. That was how certain he was about what would happen.

Casually Sam Ambrose had stepped on his car. Nix Hearn, riding that curve as if he had good rubber under him, roared more than halfway around. Then his damaged right front shoe, slamming into a rut, let

go.

THE RED car leaped into the air, paused on the brink of a roll up the bank and flung its rear end around in a terrific whip. Flying wheels crashed down onto the dirt with thunderous force. The car bounced and spun into the infield fence. The bare rim of a crumpled wire wheel hooked into a post. The car jolted almost to a stop; then rolled through the fence onto the edge of a shallow ditch beyond the rail. Poised uncertainly on its side, it hung there.

Before Dan Ridge got there, Nix was slowly wriggling out of the bucket seat. From the overturned machine came a puff of smoke, and then, from under the hood, a sudden, wavering column of smoky red fire.

Dan grabbed his partner and pulled him away from the machine. Though dazed, Nix didn’t seem to be hurt.

“Scared o’ the crowd, hero?” Dan Ridge said through his teeth. His agonized eyes

were on the blazing car. Suddenly he turned away from Nix, ducked his head and ran toward number eight. His fingers thrust into his overall pocket and jerked out a pair of pliers.

Gasoline from the broken fuel line, trickling out onto the hot motor, must be feeding that fire. The gas tank in the rear deck had not yet let go. The flames were spreading toward it rapidly.

Dan Hung himself down on his face on the grass and wormed up to the blazing car. The gasoline made a hot fire, blisteringly hot, seeringly hot. Dan gripped his pliers. He knew what he must do with them if—

Keeping his face close to the damp earth, he wriggled in half under the motor hood. If it finished its roll now—

For agonizing moments he groped about for that three-eighth-inch tubing that he must locate. Even though the gas tank hadn’t blown, things under there were bad. They got worse before he touched the tubing. With the pliers he pinched off the flow of gasoline. Gasping, with lungs parched, feeling that he was burning up, he tried to crawl away.

His oily overalls were smoldering into flame as he floundered clear of the overturned car. Nix was jumping toward him. The boy’s face was no longer dazed; his ears were as red as Dan’s scorched cheeks. Without a word he ripped off Dan’s burning overalls. The fire under the motor hood flickered, leaped higher and then, writhing in a gust of wind, puffed out.

They still had an automobile. Nix peered anxiously into Dan’s creased, smudgy face.

“Okay,” Dan muttered.

“Where’s the tow car?” Nix croaked. “What’s the matter with these guys? She ain’t shot, is she? She took the most of the rough stuff on her wheels, an’ that roll through the fence wasn’t so bad. Maybe”

Dan got down on his knees on the high side of the hot motor. How could he tell? Nix Hearn climbed on the fence beyond the gap, and signalled frantically for the tow car. The muttering grandstand caught sight of him and the muttering rose to a roar.

“Why don’t you take a bow?” Dan Ridge growled savagely.

rT"'HE FRAME checked okay. Dan Ridge did things in the next fifty-two minutes. He borrowed a transverse spring for the front end, three decent tires and a shock absorber. A couple of mechs to whom a crack-up was better than a crap game, helped him.

Sam Ambrose was sympathetic. “You wouldn’t think even a kid would ruin a car just for a grandstand play,” he said in Dan Ridge’s ear. Dan didn’t answer.

The car didn’t look the same, but Dan and Nix rolled it out for the consolation race. Only one man in the consolation, the winner, would qualify for the main event, but Nix had to beat only seven other crates that hadn’t taken any prize money that day. Considering he had had a bad jolt, Nix handled the fire-scarred, battered car quite well. And he came through. The crowd liked Nix’s victory a lot louder than Dan Ridge did.

Nix drove back into the pits.

“She has the hop,” he reported succinctly to Dan Ridge.

The veteran mech nodded. The pipe in his mouth was cold. “I worked on the timing,” he said. His voice was without emphasis, but his partner, remembering his objection to Dan’s tinkering, turned red about the ears again.

“Anyhow, that’s forty bucks to eat on.” Nix glanced at the blackened body of the red car. “An’ buy some paint,” he added.

“It seems to me.” Dan Ridge said quietly, “that this outfit needs something more than paint to stick together.”

Nix didn’t say anything for a long minute. “Yeah,” he replied at last. “I think so, too.”

Continued on page 22

Continued from page 18—Starts on page 16

“Maybe I’m too old and you’re too young.” Dan said in slow calculation. “We don’t click. This racing-fool stuff is good in the movies, but it takes cool brains to get places in the speed business. I don’t like to see a man ask for it, and boot a car into the ditch just because a crowd wants some excitement.”

“That’s tough,” Nix retorted. “We don’t click, all right.”

“Well, if Sam Ambrose should blow up and you happened to cop first in this final you draw down $300,” Dan Ridge said. “Your cut of that would be plenty to buy out my share in this job if you think she’s still worth that much and want to do it.”

Nix nodded. “Right !” he said.

From the edge of the track came a bellow from Jeff Hill:

“Roll out those jalopies or junk ’em! Roll ’em! All out for main event!”

Though Nix’s standing put him in last place, the red car was the first one out. The perspiring, vociferous starter nodded approvingly at the two, and then paused at the sight of their glum faces.

“So Sam Ambrose has got you pulling sideways, hey?” he said. “That bird can raise more ructions than a busted connecting rod. He ought to be a lawyer.”

Startled, the partners glanced at each other.

Jeff Hill poked Nix in the ribs. “You want to listen to this old guy. Nix,” he said, pointing to Dan Ridge. “Back when you were saving nickels to buy wheels for a soapbox, it was only a busted galloping iron in the last mile that done Dan Ridge out of a win on the Indianapolis bricks. He knows—”

“I’m riding my own race,” Nix Hearn said dourly.

“I’ll have my yellow flag handy,” Jeff retorted. He charged away.

In silence the partners awaited the start of the fifteen-mile race. In thunderous sound the grandstand demanded the start. It came soon, after a single warm-up lap.

Dan, back at his place by the fence,

watched with his blistered face set in grim lines. “The kid’s got everything but cold brains,” he told himself.

Blaring all out, ten cars shot across the starting line in a bunched, blurred patchwork of vivid color. The creamy lustre of Ambrose’s new job led the jam toward the first curve; the red of Nix Hearn’s mount, half obscured by the black car inside it, brought up in the rear. So far Nix was playing it right; he wasn’t trying blindly to ride through to the front in the tightest jam of the race—the narrow corner which the ten racers hit in one compact, skittering crush of hurtling steel.

It was well that he did not try to push through. A solid wall of dirt, like that flung by a bursting shell, went spurting up into the air ahead of the red car as the rear end of a brown machine hugging the infield fence suddenly whipped out of the driver’s control. Broadside, teetering on two wheels, the car went sliding up the track.

“Ride it out!” muttered Dan Ridge, eyes straining.

NIX SENT his mount driving inside the plowing car, fighting the clutch of centrifugal force on his own rear wheels. He made it, though his whirring right front shoe slashed perilously close to the brown bus’s front end. He shot past before the uncontrolled car smacked the crash rail and bounced back onto the track. The car plunged through its own cloud of dust, parted the infield fence as if it were a paper barrier, and thudded to a standstill in the safety area.

Jeff Hill, jumping for his flag rack on the side of the track, had his hand on his yellow caution flag. He shoved it back again as he saw the brown car crash the fence and go through. The track was clear. Nine cars, spreading out now as Sam Ambrose kept lifting his pace, surged on around into the backstretch.

Nix Hearn buckled down like a veteran to overhauling the cars in the ruck. His red machine had been a champion’s mount, and Dan Ridge’s patient fingers hadn’t hurt it. On curve and on straightaway, his heavy right foot demanded power. He took the cars one by one, fighting through to faster company as the laps whirled by.

Continued on page 24

Continued from page 22

In the fifteenth lap, with half the race gone under his blurred wheels, he passed a black car as he drifted into the stretch and straightened out. Fourth place!

But Qan Ridge saw that the shining chromium job ahead in third place had gun and a driver willing to use it. And beyond this gleaming car, Jim Quirk in his green hand-made Ranee was driving like a flaming comet, to press Sam Ambrose, his ancient enemy. The pace they were hitting now made it look as if Nix could pass no more.

Nix had other ideas. That was plain in the next four laps. He aired out. The red job stayed with him, motor delivering a smooth blare of power. He could drive. With his radiator jammed close to the spurting rear wheels of the chromium speedster, he forced its driver into the curves at a pace that kept Dan Ridge digging scratches in the fence. But the kid had control; his rear wheels were throwing dirt hard but not in thick bunches. He was handling the job as if he had been born in that particular bucket seat. Sam Ambrose, holding off Jim Quirk, was not slamming into the corners at as hot a speed as was Nix Hearn back in fourth place. Ambrose’s new machine had pick-up; always he accelerated faster as he entered the short straightaways, so that he would not need to do any fancy bending of his new mount around the corners.

Jim Quirk, riding hard, jerked his head around, to discover the chromium job boring along two lengths behind him.

Taut of face, Dan Ridge stared at the track. This was a moment. Quirk knew a spot when he saw one. In about four fifths of a second he was going to be third—unless he was first. At the start of a curve he planted his throttle foot and clamped himself around his wheel. Unchallenged, he shot past Ambrose’s glossy cream-colored mount, and then, weaving on the edge of a bad spin, fought to keep his mount under him in the middle of the track.

Chromium plate, watching Jim Quirk vanish into thick dust ahead, got the idea that Ambrose must have slowed down. He, too, barrelled into the bend. But the curve would not hold the speed with which he hit it. He went up the bank with snarling tires. The brown cloud thrown up by Quirk opened, to show him Quirk’s green car. Quirk was dead ahead, momentum

lost by both his long slide and the thick dirt near the crash rail.

Chromium’s right front shoe bored into Quirk’s tail, mussing up the metal deck and crumpling the gas tank. The tire smoked and blew. The chromium car leaped sideways and ground against the crash rail.

Down by that infield fence, Nix Hearn skittered around. He hugged that tight as \ Quirk’s car was flung down the bank by the impact of the chromium job. Quirk was ¡ still handling it gamely, but his motor had .Astalled.

Dan Ridge saw that Sam Ambrose had sensed trouble behind. Trouble behind meant a break for.the leader. Promptly the champion eased up to give his motor a breather, and then jerked his head back. Next instant his foot stabbed the throttle again. There was a car rolling on four wheels between him and the trouble. And he had lost momentum.

Swaying and bouncing, with long arms wrapped around his wheel, Nix Hearn hurtled past Ambrose into the lead. Quick as a snapped whip, he had seized his chance.

Luck—but what happened now wouldnot be luck. **

Sam Ambrose did not surrender the lead / gracefully. With his foot flattening the throttle and his tires skimming the infield fence, he blared around the corner. A man doesn’t become champion of the dirt on his powers of conversation. Ambrose buckled down to his job.

TDUT, AS OLD Dan Ridge reckoned, {■ •J-'while Sam Ambrose had been taking it ' ; easy in the lead, Nix Hearn had been fighting that track all the long afternoon behind other cars. Driving half blind through a blast of grit and dirt hurled into his face by snarling wheels, Nix knew his surest way around that rutted, rough and curving surface. He knew with his straining, wary muscles as well as with his eyes. Always he had been behind, in the hole, coming up to the front. He had had to learn that half-mile stretch bitterly well, to keep his wheels pounding dirt instead of bouncing uselessly over the high spots and spinning helplessly where the soft dust was piled in ruts and holes. He had fitted the track to his car, and the car to the track.

In the racing phrase, he had found the groove.

And now, with the fast cars no longer blocking him behind a roaring curtain of dust and steel, he showed them what number eight could do in the clear. Though Ambrose’s cream-colored mount had the edge on the short straightaways, Nix

surged away from him on the curves. Lap after lap Nix held him off, and the bellowing tail-enders that he lapped as he met, never held him up.

Dan Ridge, red, burning face always turning, followed him with glowing eyes. The grandstand now was shriekingly, hysterically 'wild, but Dan Ridge shifted his pipestem only once, to let a few whispered, regretful words come out of his mouth:

“He’s got what it takes—if he just had some cold sense with it !”

Jeff Hill came out onto the track. He had a blue flag in his hand—the blue flag that meant last lap. When he snapped it in front of Nix Hearn’s snarling number eight, Sam Ambrose was a good 200 feet behind him. Unless something mighty bad happened, this was Nix Hearn’s race. And number eight would become Nix Hearn’s car, alone.

“He’s earned it—plenty,” Dan Ridge conceded to himself.

The two leaders were sweeping around the south curve now, and before they hit the backstretch Nix Hearn had widened the gap by another length. Driving like a man possessed, Sam Ambrose managed to win back that space on the back straight, but he won no more.

Then, on the last curve, the curve on which Nix Hearn had gone through the fence, something did happen. With eyes straining, wondering, Dan Ridge saw it happen. The checkered flag was only 300 yards ahead when Nix eased up his blistering pace. It was perceptible not alone to him but to the roaring grandstand. Nix Hearn was slowing. Ambrose was shooting up. The triumphant note of the crowd faltered, died out, was replaced by a broken, questioning, jeering medley of voices.

Right where number eight had rolled through the fence, Sam Ambrose’s car, bouncing and weaving on the bank, skittered past the red car into the lead. And at once the red car picked up speed and, in the dust of the champion, followed him around.

Sam Ambrose tore past the checkered flag, by two lengths a winner.

VJLTHILE THE slowing cars circled the * * track to get back to the pits, Dan Ridge stood still by the rail. An answer emerged slowly out of the reeling, jumbled mass of questions in his mind.

Sam Ambrose, rolling around to the starting line, got hardly a hand from the grandstand. The crowd was waiting. To most of them the answer was plain. And as Nix Hearn came coasting in, they cut loose. With a storm of boos and jeers, they

assailed him as a yellow quitter. Insults and epithets were drowned out in the roar of condemnation.

Nix turned his head toward the stand, latched up his hand brake with a jerk and brought his shuddering car to a stop in front of the pits. He leaped onto his seat.

Dan Ridge ran toward the car. The clustered pilots and mechanics in the pits stared curiously, in no way censorious.

Nix’s long, wiry body was full of life as he stood up, in spite of his hard ride. There was a wide grin on his dusty, greasespotted face as he pulled off helmet and goggles.

Elaborately he bowed to the grandstand, amidst a renewed burst of catcalls and booing. He clasped his hands together, prizefighter style, and shook them in burlesque acknowledgment. He waved his arms and bowed again as the angry shouting rose higher. Through it all he kept grinning broadly, facing the blast of abuse.

Suddenly he looked down at Dan Ridge, standing close to the car.

“Yes,” he called, answering at last a question that Dan Ridge had put to him some time previously beside their overturned and smoldering machine. “Maybe I was scared o’ the crowd—then.”

“There’s at least one other man that don’t think you turned featherfoot on that last bend,” Dan said slowly. He nodded toward Sam Ambrose, who was staring hard at the young pilot and the old mechanic. Sam Ambrose was not amused.

Nix laughed. “I got Ambrose all thought out during the race,” he said. “Told me you were no mech! The mill told me different.”

The noise in the grandstand was dying out. Even the people who had screamed most loudly were becoming perplexed by that undaunted, happy young man.

Jeff Hill came running over. “Hey, lay off the cash customers,” he said plaintively, and darted away to flag another car.

Nix jumped down. He looked fleetingly at Dan Ridge’s blistered face.

“You went to bat so fast with those pliers when number eight was burning up that we still got a car,” he said in a quiet voice. “And I didn’t win the race, so I can’t buy you out. Which adds up to what?”

“Ambrose wouldn’t want to split us up if he wasn’t afraid we could click on this circuit,” Dan reasoned. “Would you say we’re stuck with each other a while longer —champ?”

Nix nodded. “A long while longer, I’m hoping—partner,” he said.