Thursday, August 12, 2010


Category: Issue 19

    There was no way a broken down piece of junk like his could even qualify for the Madison 500 let alone win it. In a classy race like this, only the best and the fastest had the right to compete The car ran like a dream but it looked like hell. It was held together with duct tape and spit. Its mismatched panels and patched up body looked like something abandoned on the roadside. That look might be okay for the county dirt tracks, but in the Madison he’d be the ugly duckling among the swans. That’s if he even made it through inspection. And that was just the car.

    Elko himself was the bigger problem. He might be the best and, if he could ever get this piece of shit engine to run, he might be the fastest as well. But an off worlder like him had a lot of prejudice to overcome. There’s nothing new about that. There isn’t a more bigoted, inhospitable, unfriendly arena on our planet than a back country, red clay race track. Elko never expected to be loved or even tolerated all he wanted was a chance to compete. You can count on the racing world to throw up one stupid obstacle after another, with great pluck and resourcefulness he had overcome them all. He was Elko, the first and only race qualified alien in history. Aliens didn’t get anything handed to them on Terra and that went double in racing. For Elko life was a struggle every inch of the way.

    Elko’s immediate problem wasn’t his low social standing, it was getting the old ruined engine out of the classic Chevy and fitting a new one in. He still had what, six hours before race time.
    It was a beautiful piece of work the old engine but it was ruined, wrecked, never to run again. Was it sabotage? Probably, but how could he prove it and who’d listen to an alien accusing a Terran anyway? Hell he’d lovingly re-built every piece of that engine himself. Life was just throwing him one more challenge.

    Elko himself was a whole ‘nother set of problems. The ultra conservative Terran Racing Federation liked things the way they were when gasoline engines weren’t the antique curiosities they are today. To say the Federation was biased against off world drivers was putting it mildly. They were biased against every new idea and progressive change that came down the pike. They were against jews, blacks, women and aliens. Anything that smacked of threatening their good old boy, beer drinking fraternity. Racing was an Earth sport for Earthlings, damn it, no others need apply.

    Elko was a true curiosity, an alien from an Earth-like world without a history of automobile racing or internal combustion engines for that matter. He saw his first car race only by accident having been a high school exchange student in rural Virginia. He fell in with a bunch of “hot rodders” and in spite of heaps of ridicule and resistance managed to master the intricacies of auto repair and the fine points of auto racing. And even though internal combustion engines had long ago been replaced in the popular culture by newer and cleaner technology, the conservative Racing Federation clung to its petroleum fueled roots. Alton Turnbuckle, the despotic head of the Terran Racing had said on numerous occasions that, “there’d be no battery operated toys racing on his tracks.”

    In those early days Elko was befriended by Billy “Big Bob” Holtz a good old boy who bucked the anti-alien feelings of his peers and gave Elko his first driving lessons. He saw something in the gawky kid with the funny name and extra limbs that he would later describe as, “some kind of goofy talent.” Years later after Elko had returned to his world, Big Bob Holtz would give a toothless smile when he recalled how Elko drove the family VW “directly into a telephone pole and came out smiling.”

    Under Holtz’s guidance and later as partners, Elko learned how to customize a relatively tame street machines into a fire breathing, roaring demons. Maybe it was Elko’s alien brain that made it possible to innovate so well or maybe it was Holtz’s idiosyncratic belief that there wasn’t anything he couldn’t fix, but it didn’t take long before their inspired re-built engines were winning street races and impressing girls. The challenges and the resentment followed soon after. There were fist fights which the scrappy alien usually won. It’s hard to box or wrestle a seven foot, multi armed opponent.

    The two friends didn’t care about their peers. They scraped together enough money to buy their first stock car and with Big Bob filling out the application Elko slipped into the driver’s seat and won his first officially sanctioned race. After his victory lap, when he climbed out of his car to accept the trophy and kiss the beauty queen, the crowd almost rioted. The two friends just narrowly got away with their lives. But they were hooked on the racing life. It was just the beginning of a career filled with heartbreaking disappointment, hate filled sabotage and the stubborn persistence of two beings a world apart.

    The two friends had to travel out of state in order to fool the officials a second time. Already the Virginia chapter of the Racing Federation had modified its by-laws to prohibit non-Terran drivers. But Big Bob had a friend in North Carolina named Arden Samson. Arden was no alien lover and made Elko sleep in the barn but he agreed to get their car, a souped up Carmen Ghia with a Elko re-invented Chevy 357 engine, registered and entered in the Gopher Classic. The field was filled with tobacco chewing, alien hating good old boys from all over the South. More than one of them actually growled their displeasure when they saw Elko suiting up and one Neanderthal walked up to Elko and spit tobacco juice on his windshield, a humiliating insult.

    Insults and tobacco spit weren’t enough to put Elko off his game. Starting from the worst pole position on the track, Elko drove old number 17 faster and better than he’d ever driven before. He fought his way through the pack, through coordinated traps, debris strewn lanes and a spit covered windshield to win the Gopher Classic. Not only did he win but he broke the track record by a stunning twelve minutes. It was so fast a time it caused the judges to disqualify the car claiming they miscounted the number of laps. It wasn’t the last time Elko was to be robbed of a victory.

    But success was not to be denied this gawky kid from a planet no one ever heard of. The press started taking notice of the gritty alien with the blue skin and several three fingered hands. There was no doubt that Elko deserved to race and he certainly earned his victories, but he couldn’t have done it alone. There would have been no victories at all if he couldn’t race and he couldn’t race if the Federation hadn’t smelled money. It was the realization by Alton Turnbuckle that, “that funny looking kid could draw a crowd.” And with a wink and a nod, Elko was allowed to race. Elko was good box office. People loved to see him loose and when he won they loved to shout their insults from the stands.

    Eventually Elko attracted fans of his own. And while the crowd nearly rioted whenever Elko kissed the pretty blond at the finish line, he’d earned something that Turnbuckle could use to his advantage— the grudging respect of the die hard Federation fan. Elko was permitted to race but he was forbidden to touch the pretty blond. An alien kissing an Earth girl was still too much to take.
    “Jest keep that thing away from my daughter,” was the prevailing sentiment.

    But that was then. This was now. This was the big race, how he fought his way here was as gritty a tale of hard work, persistence and good luck as you’re ever likely to hear, it was also besides the point. He had his biggest race, the Madison 500, in a few hours and his best engine was filled with crap— bee bees, sand and steel bolts. It would need a total rebuild and there just wasn’t time for that.

    Big Bob emptied the crap out of the oil pan and shook his head. “It’s ruin’t, Elk, she ain’t never gonna fly. We should jes go home.” Elko had never seen his friend and chief mechanic so defeated. They were about to push the race car onto the trailer for the long ride home when inspiration struck. “Hold on a sec,” said Big Bob, “I jes got me an ideer.”

    The next few hours were a blur of improvisation and inspiration. Elko employed all his arms and talents to adapt the old pick up truck’s engine to work in 17’s beat up body. There were a thousand problems. The truck motor was a Ford, the stock car’s was a Chevy. At one point Big Bob used his snuff can to fabricate a missing part. With only minutes to spare, they rolled old 17 out of the garage and into the light. The din from twenty powerful engines was deafening and the smell of exhaust smoke was thick in the air. Elko slipped his lanky frame behind the wheel and Big Bob gave him the thumbs up as the hastily modified truck engine caught.

    Elko drove the car to his place in the rear of the pack. He could see the looks of shock and surprise on the high priced drivers at the head of the line. Those were the same smug bastards with all the endorsements, the best cars and mechanics money could buy who still found it necessary to sabotage a poor boy’s chances in order to bolster their own. The crowd booed loudly when they saw car number 17 take its place at the end of the line. Elko waved a blue arm out the window while keeping his others busy at the controls. Then there was the starting flag, the noise and smoke and the 500 had begun.

    The madison 500 is a grueling race. It’s hard on drivers and harder on their machines. The old Ford engine started off well enough and Elko fought his way from twentieth place to sixth before the oil pressure failed. He pulled into the pit before he did any permanent damage. He told Big Bob the problem as they gassed up and changed tires. There was nothing Big Bob could do about the low pressure except bang on the oil pump with his wrench and threaten to damn the part to hell if it failed. Then he spat on the windshield for luck and sent Elko back on the track. The pit stop cost them ten places and Elko resumed the race in sixteenth. Again he drove brilliantly and fought his way into second. The crowd by this time was solidly behind him. Forgetting that Elko was not even human. His driving was flawless. He was the plucky underdog who triumphed against all odds to challenge the well financed leader. It was a classic David vrs Goliath story, an American story, one that all ten thousand fans could understand. When the crowd learned of the sabotage and the last minute engine transplant, they cheered for Elko even more.

    For a minute it looked like the goofy kid from another world might just pull it off. Ten thousand racing fans were on their feet screaming their lungs out. But, alas, it was not to be. On the 487th lap with Elko challenging the leader, the old Ford engine finally died. The crowd heaved a massive sigh of deflated hopes. The yellow flag slowed the race and old 17 was ignominiously pushed off the track.

    The crowd gave Elko a standing ovation as he unfolded his lanky frame from his car. He in turn raised some of his arms in salute while simultaneously blowing kisses to the crowd. They were still cheering him twenty minutes later when the well heeled favorite crossed the finish line as expected. There was no drama in the anti-climatic ending of the Madison 500. The drama of that race belonged to Elko even though he didn’t even finish. There was no trophy and no prize money that day and Big Bob was wondering how they were going to get home; but after the winner received his trophy and his check, the pretty blond beauty queen walked over to a bewildered Elko and planted a big kiss on his alien mouth. The crowd went wild.

Posted by tobiash on 08/12 at 12:23 PM | Permalink
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