He finally had the Camaro. It seemed like only yesterday Kenneth had helped his brother Bobby put in the new engine. They had gotten so greasy when they put the motor back together and shoved it underneath the hood of the `69. Afterwards, the chrome glistened from the valve covers and the motor rumbled with the smell of fresh 91 octane as it ran through the Edlebrock carburetor. Since the motor had been covered in oil from years of leaking, they smelled like oil for a week. With sparkling blue paint and black racing stripes the car looked like a beautiful spider, crouched and ready for the kill.
One thing bothered him though; this wasn’t how he wanted to get it. It had been two weeks since the accident and 12 days since Bobby had been laid to rest. Kenneth started up the Chevy. Today was the day. He was going do what they talked about so many times; he was going to the dragstrip. It had been too cold in the weeks before Bobby died, but now spring was starting and the slight chill in the air was just enough to add a few horses to the 302 cubic inch beast beneath the hood. Perhaps it would take his mind off the pain, anything but reliving the horror of when he got the news. This was his pilgrimage.
The trip was slow and the road winding as Ken headed towards the track. Smelling the leather on the interior brought back memories. There was the time they went cruising to pick up chicks and Bobby foolishly pulled over for the first girls they met. And the time the cop chased him for more than three miles on some back roads for speeding. It was almost too much to handle. More than once he had to pull over until he could compose himself and continue. After what seemed like hours, he finally arrived at the track.
Bobby and Kenneth had been going to the strip since they were young. Their dad had always raced there on the weekends and one fateful weekend when Bobby was sixteen they both spotted a car for sale. It was parked next to the grandstands with a big orange and black sign. It just so happened that together they had barely enough money to buy that heap. People said they’d spent too much since the interior was almost worn out and the blue paint was all but gone. But it ran and that was enough for the two of them. Ken was only fifteen when Bobby bought the car but soon after he went out and got a job. It was the perfect project for both of them at the time.
Now, four years and almost ten thousand dollars later, the car was ready. Finally, the car could do what it was built to do. All the squeaks, the rattles, and the shimmies were gone. They had worked overtime just trying to get things ready for this spring. Sure they had done small improvements over the years, but it needed new brakes and tires almost as soon as they got it. The car barely could run down the road but run it did — after installing a new carburetor.
The Camaro rumbled up the drive and through the parking lot of the track. Heads turned as Ken went by. Twenty bucks was the fee to run at the track and as he paid it whispers were heard over the rumble of the motor. Ken thought he heard one person ask if it was Bobby’s car and another appeared stunned just to see him driving it. Next, came the waiting in a short line for the track itself. The Tall Oaks Raceway was much like any other drag strip. It had the standard drag tree in the middle of the track and long black strips in the two lanes where more than one car had left its mark in rubber.
Ken knew a practice run was in order as the car tires needed to be broken in and warmed up a little. The motor was still on the cold side, but to make the most of it, it needed to be warmed up a bit. Rumbling the car came up to the line. The yellow staging lights on the tree lit up warning Ken of the coming green signal to go. He slammed the car into gear, revved up the motor, and he was off. Leaving the line in a short puff of burnt fuel and exhaust, the car shot down the track. Halfway down, he missed a shift. Although it was only a split second, it slowed the car before he could finally engage in the correct gear. This was Ken’s style. He was always cautious and often bobbled things up when he wasn’t focusing on the task at hand. Bobby, on the other hand, had a sort of reckless, unconscious talent around a car. He just somehow knew what to do and when to do it. On more than one occasion he had pushed a car too much and gotten a police escort back to the house for one reason or another.
Thirteen point seven six is what the time slip read. It wasn’t bad, but Ken knew his brother could do better had he been there. He wouldn’t have babied it like Ken had. Setting out to do a better run he got back in line and waited. Ken checked the fluids making sure they were warmed up to an acceptable level and made sure all the gauges were functioning one last time. He set the tire pressure down a bit in the rear to increase traction off the line; anything to get an advantage.
Now for the second run. Hopefully this was better. Summoning up all his memories of Bobby driving, Ken positioned himself again at the starting line. The tree lit up and he revved the motor. The burble turned to a growl and in a split second he was gone. With a chirp, the tires the rear tires rotated and caught traction with the asphalt shooting the car forward. First gear droned out and quickly Ken shoved it into second. This was the run. Kenneth could feel it. He was going to give it everything it had and damn anything that kept it from happening. Third gear and the finish line was approaching just as the motor was spooling up. The growl had turned into a howl as cars next to the track whisked by. He felt a small vibration and, as he approached the finish line, the unthinkable happened. Flames erupted from beneath the hood and shrapnel exploded from underneath the car. A pool of hot oil spread out under the Camaro’s tires as Ken finally stopped at the end of the track.
It was there that Chevy died as the wail of sirens from the approaching emergency vehicles approached the car. Flames licked the sparkling paint off the hood and the oil beneath leaked out like blood in a powerful stream. Ken walked away and began to cry. He had driven it just like Bobby except he was too careless near the end. Had he done it? Did he get the good time? Through the tears he walked up to the slip booth. He’d finished with a time of thirteen point one nine.
A smile broke across his face and for a split second it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that the car was damaged and would have to be repaired or that he wasn’t exactly like his brother. What mattered was he did the one thing Bobby had wanted to do. He ran the track fast, just as Bobby would have done. And with that Ken walked back to the car. It could be salvaged. What remained was enough. And he knew in his heart, even without the car, Bobby’s memory would remain.