Alt. Queen of the Left-hand Turnsbymaxdname©
See that beautiful girl in the poster? When I first met her she was a simple hillbilly girl from Appalachia sleeping with stock car drivers in order to get a pit pass. Look at her now: she's a blond and a model with her own TV show that earns her more in a year than most stock car drivers will earn in a lifetime on the circuit.
A national racing magazine is doing a nude layout of her as Miss Oval, "the Queen of Left-hand Turns." But I can remember when her name was Susan Margaret Coleman, or most often, Sissy.
I was racing the Fall-line circuit. Every self-respecting southern city on the Piedmont Fall-line had at least one banked oval track and some had two. The big cities, like Charlotte, had Super Speedways. These were the venues that all banked-track drivers worked towards: the big leagues. But most of us spent countless week nights entertaining a couple thousand locals in some small southern town while we battled for second place behind one of the pro drivers, who would stop by to show us how quickly someone could cover a one-mile oval given enough money and equipment.
A slim pretty girl wandered over to my car: number 36. I was called "The Professor" because I had a BS degree from an accredited university, a rare commodity amongst the circuit racers.
The bottom of the food chain in racing, where I was, usually had a race team of one: driver/mechanic/fan club. The lucky ones had a pretty girl who could take over the fan club duties. The luckiest drivers had a fan club who would marry them and maybe help them create an entire pit crew with the same last name and the additional tax exemptions. I was tinkering on my old tattered carburetor when an unruly mop of brunette hair fell into the engine compartment of my Ford.
"Hey," she said in her Southern drawl that made it sound like "hah-yee."
"Martin's gonna be hard to beat, ta-night."
I turned my head to look at the girl but didn't stand up. Every race night girls like her showed up in the pits hoping to find someone--anyone--who could spirit them away from Hairlip, South Carolina and their alcoholic mother and an over-affectionate step-father. I'd seen the same thing in Shreveport, Clovis, Kingman, Barstow, and half-a-dozen other little cities across the country.
"Who are you, his agent?"
"Nah. But I watched you qualifyin'. You was scrubbin' too hard in turn four. It's greasy down low. If you shoot hah, you can pull it fa-yest."
I blinked but didn't answer. She pushed herself out of the engine compartment.
She was cute but wore too much makeup and her white shorts and pink tank-top screamed "for sale by owner" but I'd take help wherever proffered. I needed a win and could use any inside information.
"You know this track?" I asked as she strolled away.
With her hands in the back pockets of her shorts she glanced at me over her shoulder and then shrugged.
"Is that a 'yes' shrug or a 'no' shrug?" The girl shrugged again. I stood up and wiped my hands on my red rag. "I'm Elliot," I said offering up my hand while I covered the short distance between us.
Her eyebrows raised. "Elliot? Yer not from around're, are ya?"
I pulled my hand back. "I can't tell if you're speaking like that because you think it's cute or if you were an extra for 'Deliverance.'" Without a change of expression or taking her hands from her pockets she raised herself up on tiptoes, cocked her head, turned, and walked away slowly.
I wanted to say "I'm sorry," but instead I shook my head and went back to my carburetor.
I needed to work on my skills with fans. But first a driver needed fans, and the way I had finished in the last couple of races I would be lucky to find a stray puppy that would hang around me. I slammed the hood down and prepared for the first heat of the night. The roar of the engine put my worries and doubts a million miles behind me: I was born to race.
The flagman waved twenty cars onto the track and we started our first lap slowly until we came around the last turn and saw that flash of the green cloth in the distance. Driving on the short-track stock car circuit was more like rush hour traffic than a race, too many cars in too small an area and all going too fast for the conditions. Hanging back, I waited to make a good move on the leaders. I put turn four in my cross hairs and goosed the accelerator as I rode through the high side. No slip. Next time around I pushed it harder. By the end of the race all the other cars were following my line hoping to catch my draft. I won pulling away.
A first-place finish allowed me to skip the next heat and go straight to the winner's bracket and race for money in the main event. In the pits I fell back into my engine compartment to ready my car for the main event.
"Told ya so." The girl with the unruly hair leaned into the engine compartment across from me, her elbows on the fender and her chin in her palms.
"Yes, you did. Thanks." She smiled at me. "I'm sorry I was snotty earlier." She shrugged.
She watched my actions for several minutes without speaking. Finally, she offered, "Martin's gonna try to spin the second-place car coming out of turn three right before the finish."
"Did he tell you that?"
"Hang ba-yeck. He figures a spin'll get ever'body off his tail so he can take it easy." She stood and began to wander away
"Thanks," I said with a nod. "What's your name?" I shouted from under the hood.
"Sissy. Good luck." Sissy disappeared into the crowd.
When the main event started I thought about Sissy's advice and let several cars get in between Martin and myself. Martin had jumped into the lead off the green flag. We were running fast and there wouldn't be much chance to push and shove like the heat races. With two laps to go the car in second place spun taking out the number three car with it. Sissy had called it. I had nothing but open track in front of me now and I opened up my machine. I glanced in my rearview to see the two cars involved in the spin slide into the infield. There would be no stopping the race. I made up distance quickly against the higher-powered car by taking a lower line and going high in turn four.
Last lap. I came up behind the lead car fast and rode high at the approach of four. Predictably, Martin cut off the faster high line. So I pulled in low and let my car drift into his pushing him against the wall. This little bump slowed him down just enough to allow me to jerk the wheel and launch back into the center of the track in first place. My first win of the season.
After a victory lap I pulled into the pits. Rolling by Martin I could see he was fuming at my move. He had pulled the maneuver a dozen times but he didn't like somebody doing it to him. I wheeled my car into the trailer and had shaken everybody's hand at least twice when I heard a commotion. Martin was standing, or more correctly being held aloft by several men, with his legs pumping in the air like he was astride a bicycle. Sissy lay on the ground in front of him.
"Get outta here, you little slut!" Martin shouted as he kicked at the prostrate girl. She clamored to her feet, grabbed a small backpack from the ground and trotted several yards before she shouted back at him.
"That'll be the last time ya'll ever hit me, ya bastard!"
Sissy staggered in my direction, now sniffling as she reeled across the pit row.
"Hey, Elliot. Can ah git a ride?" I answered with a jerk of my head towards my truck.
"She's all yours local boy! She'll fuck you over, too!" Martin shouted at me as he wrestled himself out of the grasp of the men.
I yanked the door of my old truck open and climbed in. Sissy was seated in the passenger side already.
"Let me guess. Martin did tell you what he was gonna do." With tears in her eyes Sissy nodded. "All right, where can I take you?"
Sissy started out the window for a moment before she answered. She turned to face me.
"Where ya'll goin'?"
"Greensboro. The County Fair Race."
Sissy sniffled, "Sounds good."
"Whoa, wait a minute. You two had a little lover's spat. I'll take you home or to your motel but that's it."
"Uh uh," she said shaking her head. "Ah'm never goin' back. We weren't all that close, anyhow."
"Ah only met him a week ago." I stared out the windshield, with my forearms resting on the wheel, listening to her. "Greensboro is f-eye-n."
I sat back in the seat and looked at her. "Sissy," I paused. "Where do you live?"
"Greensboro," she deadpanned.
I started the truck and pulled out of pit row. The first order of business was to fill up my truck with gas. It had two, 50 gallon, tanks and when I collected prize money the first thing I always did was fill them. I never knew how long I would have to go between fill ups.
The bells announced my arrival. I got out, plugged the nozzle into the fill tube and walked inside to pay. Inside was a rack that held sunglasses of all description, including a set of pink plastic heart-shaped glasses like Sue Lyon wore in the movie "Lolita." I was reading the book, again and it struck me to add them to my total along with my bottled water, food, and newspaper.
Filling my truck I peered inside the cab through the side-view mirror. Sissy's head bobbed to a tune while she occasionally sang a couple of the words before falling back into a head bob. Sometimes fate can deal you a funny hand to play and Sissy was that. I would give her a ride and then lose her at Greensboro, but in the meantime I thought it best to keep my cash in my shoe, just in case she wanted more than a ride.
When I was done I climbed in the truck and set the bag with the goodies between us. Sissy was still bouncing in time to the radio as she peeked into the bag. She looked back up at me and then into the bag a second time.
"What?" I asked in a slightly annoyed tone.
She pulled out the glasses and held them up. "Ah thought you were straight, Elliot."
"Stop it." I smirked at her joke in spite of myself. "I'm reading 'Lolita' and the star wore those in the movie version."
"Was he straight?"
For the next hour I explained the story as we rolled along the Interstate.
"Hm, in mah hometown nobody'd pay much attention to a story like that. Ya know how ya could tell if a twelve-year-old girl in mah school was a virgin?"
"How?" I asked.
With an impish grin she replied, "Check her times in the 100 yard dash."
"You should work for the Chamber of Commerce." I caught her staring at me out of the corner of my eye in the dim cab of the truck.
"Wh-ah're you here? Ya'll don't seem like the rest."
"I'll take that as a compliment. Um, my father was a professional baseball player, nobody you've probably ever heard of but he did all right for himself. He was disappointed that I didn't play ball: I was always working on cars. After high school he sent me to college, said I 'might find myself.' There was a track nearby and I started working the pits and used that for credits in my engineering degree.
"When I graduated my father gave me some money to take a trip. 'See the world,' he said. I bought a car and this rig instead. He wasn't angry. He just doesn't understand it. He says, 'You could have been anything.' I say 'I am something: a stock car driver.'"
Sissy smiled. "That's kinda nice."
"So, why are you here?"
"What? In this truck or hangin' 'round the circuit?"
"Take your pick."
"A'ight," she scanned the dark floorboards of the truck before she continued. "Ah'm in this truck 'cause ah saw you racin' and ah thought you had po-TENtial. Ya'll ran pretty good out there ... and ah thought'd be a shame if Martin pulled a trick on ya. So ah tol't ya what he was up to."
"What about turn four?"
"Ya'll were settin' up too low."
I turned to look at her. "How long have you been coming to the track?"
With a slight chuckle she answered quietly, "All mah life." Then she turned away and stared out the window for a long time.
I was flush with cash so I stopped a motel along the route. When times were hard I'd sleep on a cot in the trailer in some truck stop. When I could afford it I'd find a cheap motel--though not too cheap--where I could get some rest and a hot shower. Tonight was one of the those special nights.
As I walked away from the office I deliberately avoided eye contact with my new ward. I climbed back in the truck, threw it in gear and rolled to a stop in front of the room without saying a word. Sissy followed me through the doorway with her backpack in her hand. She stopped and looked at the double beds.
I pointed at the bed closest to the bathroom and announced, "That one's yours."
She smiled and jumped on it, bouncing several times before she nestled her cheek into the pillow. I walked into the bathroom and took a well-deserved shower. When I came out Sissy was curled up on her bed snoring softly. I turned out the lights, fell onto my own bed and went into a dreamless sleep.
The splash of the shower roused me the next morning. When my eyes opened past full and shrank to adjust to the real world I threw the covers aside and moved towards the door. I sat on the edge of mattress staring at that cheap wooden door trying to decide if this was, in fact, the moment to leave: I could ditch her now and move on. I sat for a long time staring at that door. Too long. The bathroom door opened with a flood of white vapor that flowed towards out and enveloped the bed.
"Mornin' Elliot. Didn't wake ya, did ah?"
Turning halfway to her voice I distractedly shook my head. "Nah, I was thinking about ... " I could hear the rustle of her wet hair behind me as she dried herself. "... Greensboro." I finished.
"Can ah he'p?"
I turned my upper body to look at her. She stood with a towel around her waist and her large well-set breasts free in the morning air. Her large "virtues" caught my gaze. She watched my eyes for a moment and then covered her exposed breasts with the hand towel that she had used on her brunette mop seconds earlier.
"Sorry. I wasn't thankin'." Her comment was made completely without regret or pretense. She sounded like she honestly hadn't thought how I'd react. I couldn't ditch her.
Later, I sat behind the wheel of the truck waiting for her and as she leaned inside the open door she smiled and held up her index finger.
"Wait. I want my 'free breakfast.'"
"Sissy, that's just shitty coffee and a bagel."
She moved her hand, with finger still extended, closer to me to punctuate her request without speaking before she sprinted away.
The door of the office flew open as she jogged back to the truck with a bear claw between her teeth and a paper cup full of coffee in her hand. The door slammed and coffee slopped onto the floorboard.
"Done," she mumbled through her pastry. I put the truck in gear and we rolled towards our next stop. The morning light was her best friend. She positively glowed when the sun hung low in the sky. Her smiles looked larger, eyes glowed brighter and her oval face shown brighter with the sun on her face or resting on her shoulder.
The highway opened up before us while she sang lines of songs, pointed to odd sights along the fences, and entertained me, in general, as we headed towards our destination. By the time we turned off the main road I had heard her life story up through high school.
"Sissy, if your daddy was a mechanic on the super speedway circuit why are you riding in my truck to yet another crappy one-mile oval track?"
Staring out the window at the LED billboards advertising the lowest prices of diesel she mumbled, "He died... Hey," her arm stayed fixed on a roadside sign as I pulled onto the off ramp. "That sign said 'Fairgrounds.'"
"The sign didn't say anything," I corrected. "It 'read,' Fairgrounds."
"Yeah, well it 'read' that ya'll should be takin' a right and you ain't in the right lane." She chirped in a sarcastic tone.
I shot a steely stare at her as I glanced over my shoulder and pulled quickly to the right.
"Where'd y'all learn that, 'Dukes o' Hazzard?'" she asked as I darted into the turn lane. I had to chuckle. She was funny kid and I found myself honestly enjoying her company.
We wandered the midway together before I had to register for that night's race. A booth, at the far end of the sawdust and flashing lights, had movie posters: two darts in the bullseye wins a prize, a dollar a chance. A win took three dollars but as I pointed to a poster in the grimy corner, out of the glare of the first run hits featuring explosions and fast cars, I considered it a worthwhile investment. Sissy couldn't see which poster I had picked for her and I made her wait until we were away from the noise of the midway and seated back inside my truck before I let her see it. She pulled the tightly rolled paper from the clear plastic tube and examined it at arm's length.
"Sissy," I said. "That's Sue Lyon as 'Lolita.'"
Sissy smirked at the picture of a 12 year-old peeking over her heart-shaped glasses while she french-kissed a giant lollipop. Then Sissy giggled out loud.
"Ah like it," she said with a nod of her head for punctuation. She bounced across the bench seat and kissed my cheek and then held the poster at arm's length once more.
Back out on the midway she put her arm in the crook of my elbow as we walked to the registration booth. A hand-painted sign nearby announced a contest for a "Ms. New Guilford County Raceway" with a first prize of 150 dollars. Duties included: handing out the trophy after tonight's race and posing for a photo session. I pointed and suggested Sissy could give it a try.
"Are you cr-ay-zy? Those girls're beautiful."
She was unconvinced but shrugged and wandered to the booth to sign up while I paid my race fees. As we walked back to the truck I explained to Sissy that all she needed was to do something that would be noticeably different from the rest of the girls and she could win easily.
Then, the two of us sat at the edge of midway making up stories about the people who passed by us while I ate popcorn and she munched on an "elephant ear" confection.
I shook my head. "Don't you know that thing is nothing but fried oil, air, and dough?"
"Don't fergit sugar," she added as she made a "yummy" noise. With a giggle she punched my arm playfully. "Ya'll gonna be my doctor, now?"
"Pass," I said as I shook my head. The time had come for me to prepare for the race and she needed to get ready for her competition. Together, we strolled back to the truck. I rolled my car off the trailer and popped open the hood. Sissy came back from the cab of the truck clutching her backpack.
"I gotta go put on mah bay-thin' suit."
I looked up at her backpack. "You carry a bathing suit?"
She screwed up her face briefly. "Shut up and work on yer car, Elliot." Her expression softened. "Ya'll gonna wish me luck?"
Preoccupied, I turned my face towards hers, winked and replied, "Make it look easy, kid." She gushed out a giggle before she strolled off. Several yards away she turned to see if I was still watching her. I was. Then she waved and hurried away. I returned to my engine.
When I finished I looked for the chunk of Styrofoam I used while doing engine work. I placed it over the intake to make certain nothing could fall inside. It was gone, along with a screwdriver. I looked around quickly. Sissy's big event was coming up so I had to postpone my search. I wiped my hands and hurried to the stage where the girls would be lining up.
One by one the girls sauntered onto the stage to the sounds of a throbbing heavy metal tune played too loud for the cheap sound system. Each girl, in turn, was announced as she sashayed down the runway, turned once, waved and walked back to form a line next to the announcer. The judging was based on audience applause and so far nobody was running away with the prize. When Susan Margaret Coleman was announced it caught me off guard: I had never heard Sissy's whole name before. The curtain flew open and Sissy paraded forward wearing a bathing suit, the "Lolita" glasses and licking a lollipop. It wasn't really a lollipop: she had stuck my wayward screwdriver into my Styrofoam so it appeared to be a six-inch diameter sugar confectionery. The crowd hooted, screamed, blew kisses at her, and sprayed the stage with beer aimed from their well-shaken bottles. Sissy won by a landslide.