The scenery of the Genesee region of New York was lush and beautiful as the small pickup rolled along, the summer sunshine bright and warm. The three men chattered the miles away, gossiping and trading barbs and generally passing the time.
It seemed an odd proposition, towing a sprint car to a Champ Dirt race. But the Ellison Special gleamed on the small trailer attached behind them, oblivious to their destination.
Jimmy Wilson had done some slick maneuvering to make this scenario possible, and at the moment he was damned proud of himself. He had managed to talk his mechanic, Jack Harvey, into taking a role as an “advisor” with the Premier Tires of Allentown Champ Dirt car, the car Jimmy would be driving tomorrow at the Empire State Fairgrounds.
Harvey was the best sprint car mechanic in the country, and Jimmy was certain he would be a great asset with the Dirt car as well. Almost by default, their helper, Slim MacDonald, tagged along.
After tomorrow’s race the trio would make their way south to Florence, Pa., where a USAC sprint car event awaited in two days.
Of course, Harvey didn’t come along easily. When Jimmy first brought up the idea a couple of months ago (after clearing it with their sprint car owner, Sonny Ellison), Harvey just about ran him out of the shop.
It was the usual array of excuses: “I don’t have time for nothin’ else but our car!” or “I ain’t interested in takin’ on any more work!” or even “There is no way I’m goin’ clear up to New York to play nursemaid to somebody else’s race car!”
So, Jimmy put on his thinking cap. First, he talked the car owner, Gregg Richards, into dangling a couple hundred bucks in front of Harvey. As a car owner Gregg was green as a gourd, but he had some money and he was eager to win.
But Harvey just wrinkled up his nose, still insisting he had no time.
That’s when Jimmy played dirty. First, he enlisted Bobby Mancini as an ally. Bobby sauntered over to their pit a couple of weeks ago at Shoes, and Jimmy strategically mentioned the upcoming Champ Dirt race at Empire.
When Harvey said something about his experiences racing up there years ago, Bobby came in right on cue.
“Aw, Harvey, I doubt you could figure the Dirt cars out nowadays,” he said casually. “I’ll bet you couldn’t hit your ass with both hands.” Well, that certainly lit Harvey’s fuse, although it didn’t tip him over quite far enough to agree to help on Jimmy’s car.
So Plan B was enacted. Jimmy long ago knew of Harvey’s fascination with trains, especially steam locomotives. Jimmy had heard of a really cool old railroad that still operated in upstate New York, so he did some homework.
In a bit of sheer good luck, he learned that Gregg Richards had a cousin who knew a guy who knew a guy, and the next thing you know Jimmy had the man who ran the old train on the phone.
“Yeah, bring your buddy on up here,” the guy said. “We’ll let him take a turn at the throttle.”
And that was all it took. Jimmy laid his cards on the table: you come help on Gregg’s car and make us go faster, and I’ll arrange to have you drive an old steam locomotive.
Of course, bringing Harvey on board was a mixed bag. Sure, Jimmy had no doubt that Harvey could make their car better. But he also knew the bull in the china shop would probably piss everybody off in the process.
“Harvey, remember what we talked about,” Jimmy said for the umpteenth time as they rolled along. “Don’t insult Gregg and say bad stuff about his race car. Don’t say that his helper, Mike, is an idiot. Try to get along with everybody.”