My good friend and racing teammate, W. Christian “Mental” Ward, sent this to me back when we were running “Sunday Stories” for a bit at the beginning of the year at TTAC. Sadly, the plug was pulled on fiction before I got a chance to run this. So, here it is at Riverside Green. Enjoy!
Billy was a lot to take. Borderline ADHD, beyond hi-strung and often considered simple. Over the years he had earned the nickname “11,” A reference to the Spinal Tap movie. Billy never underdid anything.
It’s not that he was rude, or mean or even unpleasant. It’s just that he was loud, fast and always in motion.
Steve met Billy a number of years back through the 24 Hours of Lemons. He was looking to dip his toe to crapcan racing. He posted on the “Human Resources” section of the message board and received this email reply;
“Hey saw u wer in OK that’s cool im in texas near amirillo I have an 84 camaro its reelly fast but I cant when with it yet haha i am always looking for drivers its 500 per plus your part of th gas which can be a lot it’s a 350 with a holly so it drinks what do you do i run parts for an oil rig company so I see these cars everywhere and bring them home fo cheep then have enough parts to get them running if you have never run lemon before it is awsum I love it been ding it for years great group of peple anyway of yu wan 2 run lemme know”
It took him almost 20 minutes to decipher the text, especially without punctuation. When he met Billy at Eagle’s Canyon a month later, it all made sense. Billy typed like he spoke, which was also how he lived, enthusiastic, disjointed and constantly in motion.
The weekend was a blur, the Camaro was a beast and hard to drive. By the time he left on Sunday Steve was exhausted, and hooked.
Not just on crapcan racing, but on Billy. He was amazing to watch, Steve was absolutely Billy did not sleep all weekend. He always had a Redbull or wrench in his hand, until the track went cold. Then came beer. Usually a lot of beer, Steve was never sure how much because he passed out or headed to the hotel long before Billy was done and the next morning, Billy would be at it again.
And so it went, for the next three years. Steve and Billy. It even been one of their themes, playing on the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream image.
Teammates came and went, as did the cars. Billy always had another.
It was usually something large and always American. They were horribly loud, frightfully fast, and handled terribly. It was a unique and visceral experience that Steve simply did not get in his daily life. They never won, either betrayed by some mechanical failure but more often than not too many black flags at the hands of Billy. But it was always fun and Steve loved every minute of a LeMons weekend.
While they were friends, but not exactly close. The relationship was mostly online save for a handful of race weekends somewhere in the Midwest. The truth was Billy wasn’t really close to anyone, but Steve was probably his closest friend.
Billy never spoke of family, and was unmarried. Steve heard tales from other racers. He lived in mobile home on an acreage in the Texas Panhandle; surrounded by hulks of unfinished cars, as well as junk he pulled from the roadside while working his job for a drilling company. The few who had seen it described it as quite a spectacle.
Something was wrong this weekend. The Firebird was a new build and it wasn’t cooperating, even by the team standards. Billy had accumulated two black flags on the track and was kindly asked not to drive the rest of the day. The other two arrive and drive teammates had left in frustration with an ill-handling and barely-running car.
It was an ugly departure. Coworkers at their first LeMons race, they were not kind to Billy. Two sentences into their tag team berating, Billy wordlessly reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of crumpled $100 bills, counting out 10 of them while they continued their insults. Billy grabbed one of their right hands and slapped thousand dollars into his palm. Then he extended his right arm between the two and pointed at their rental car. As he turned and walked away, the second called him “a fucking retard.”
40 minutes later, when Steve was towed in with a blown engine black cloud descended. A few nearby teams had to push it into his space as Billy stood there with his arms crossed. Billy, uncharacteristically, did not thank them, so Steve corrected the oversight.
“Go to the hotel.” He deadpanned. Steve was genuinely concerned, but with the nature of their relationship, unsure of how to proceed. He wanted to help, but Steve walked to the far end of the pit, immediately on his phone. 30 minutes later, his piloted his battered F250 pulled out of the track. Steve’s “Everything OK?” text was answered with “fine.”
Unable to sleep well, Steve arrived at the track early the next morning. He found the Firebird humming smoothly, with a sullen Billy standing in front of an open hood. He had no idea what had transpired and he was certain that Billy had spent more than the allowed budget to make the car run. He spotted a discarded block among the staggering chaos of their pit area and realized Billy had somehow procured and installed an entirely new engine.
Engine aside, seeing Billy sullen and quiet was unsettling. He stepped next to him staring at the engine, utterly at a loss of what to say.
Billy spoke first;
“You ever hear of cutters?”
“What?” Steve was genuinely confused.
“Cutters. People who cut themselves…on purpose. With scissors and razor blades an shit.”
“Yeah, I think I went to school with a kid who did that.”
“They say the reason they do it is because they are numb. Like they can’t feel anything, kinda like their whole world is Charlie’s Brown’s teacher…whah whah whah, you know. Like the volume on their world is turned down. So they don’t do good with people, or themselves…or really anything. So they stick blades and crap in their arms because the pain is better than numb, or maybe they just want to make sure they can still feel anything…”
It was strangely focused, very dark, and a bit scary. They stared in silence again at the idling engine.
Finally, Steve looked up and said “Billy; “I’m glad we’re friends.”
It was the only time in his entire life that Steve was sure he had said the exactly the right thing. For the first time in days, Billy visibly perked up, turned, and smiled.
“Suit up man, I’m exhausted. I’m gonna sleep.”