The coupe that pulled up in front of
the Model Garage was a beatup, prewar model painted a lemon yellow. Two
T-shirt clad youngsters unstrapped the doors, swung them open on loudly
protesting hinges, and climbed out.
"Junk yard's out on the edge of town,
boys," Gus Wilson greeted them.
"Man, he doesn't know," said Cliff
Johnston, his face one big smile.
"That's right," agreed his lanky
partner, Jim Gerber. "This mechanical marvel, Mr. Wilson, has a
The two youngsters looked lovingly at
their pride and joy. Cliff sighed. "Isn't she a beaut, Gus?"
The Model Garage proprietor circled
the vintage vehicle. The fenders had been trimmed off, the headlight
removed, and a strongly bracketed steel-tube arch extended up under the
"What is it?" he asked.
"Quit kidding," said the lanky one.
"That's about the keenest stock car you've ever laid eyes on."
"Only one thing missing," put in
Cliff. "We need a sponsor. Can't you just see it, Gus?- 'The
Model Garage Special' painted in big black letters."
"Now, wait, fellows..."
"Yes, sir," broke in Jim, not giving
Gus a chance. "And in exchange for this fabulous advertising all
we want is your technical assistance a week from Saturday at the County Fair
Gus held up one hand like a traffic
cop. "What you two fast-talkers don't know," he said, "is that this year I'm
heading up the technical-inspection committee for the race."
"What's this technical committee?"
Gus explained that the Fair Board was
increasing the purses. With bigger prizes, unscrupulous entrants might be
tempted to sneak extra, illegal horsepower into their engines.
"And," he concluded, "as a race official, I can't sponsor any entry."
They nodded, Cliff spoke: "Well Jim,
guess we'll have to take up that offer of the Jones Fruit Market to sponsor
Gus saw how disappointed his visitors
were. "Tell you what," he said. "Drive around a couple of nights
before the race and I'll tune up that heap for you."
On the day of the race, Gus watched
the trials from the timer's stand, checking now and then on the time being
turned in by the stock cars as they roared around the dirt oval.
With him were Stan Hicks, his assistant, and portly Joe Green, the Fair
Board representative on the technical committee.
"Looks like Johnston and his yellow
menace may barely qualify," Gus said. "But watch Car 14. Bet he'll
turn in a time 10 seconds faster than the others."
"Been keeping my eye on him,
Stan." Gus turned to Joe Green. "Is 14 local?"
Green checked a list. "Nope," he
said. "Fellow named Hawkins, from upstate."
"He's pretty hot," Stan prodded.
"That's what I'm thinking," Gus
agreed. "That car 14 is due for some special attention during pit
In the pits, Gus went over the cars.
Peering intently at one engine, he wiped a finger across the carburetor
body. Then he moved back, and removed the gas cap, and bent
"What's he looking for, Stan?" asked a
puzzled Joe Green.
"Souped-up fuel - alcohol, ether.
Usually you can smell it."
Gus gave an okay sign with his thumb
and forefinger and headed down the line. Most of the drivers he knew.
At car 14 Gus introduced himself to the driver.
"Name's Wilson," he said.
"Technical committee. Congratulations on turning in the fastest trial
time on our track, Mr. Hawkins."
"Duck soup," said the driver, chewing
on the stub of a dead cigar. "Tooling against these local plow jockeys
is like taking candy from kids."
Gus ignored the crack. "You
understand we're strictly stock here?"
Hawkins nodded. "Strictly stock. Look
her over, Mr. Wilson."
"Let me hear what she sounds like."
Hawkins shrugged, slid behind the
wheel. The engine roared to life.
"Now lets drain the water and pull one
of the heads," Gus said.
Hawkins jumped out of the car,
fighting mad. "Look Mister, I got an honest mill here."
Gus felt a tug on his sleeve.
"Better be sure, Gus," Joe Green said timidly. "The Board doesn't want
"Yeah!" Hawkins glowered.
"You ready to post the $50 challenge money?"
"That's the rule here," Gus said
"Tear it down."
"When Hawkins and his mechanic had
drained the radiator and removed the head bolts, Gus went to work. He
looked into the valve ports for sign of enlargement or polishing. A
measurement of valve lift ruled out the high lift of a special camshaft.
There was no indication of excessively milled heads.
Gus straightened up and turned to
Stan. "How about getting my inside micrometers?? I want to check for a
"Here, use mine," said Hawkins, taking
a set of mikes from his toolbox.
As Gus slipped the proper mike stem
and slipped it into the thimble, Joe Green edged near Stan. "What's he
"A special crankshaft," Stan told him,
"that lets the pistons make a longer stroke. Increases displacement –
"Looks okay," Gus said.
There was a look of smug satisfaction
on the driver's face. "Just be sure you have the $50 challenge money
ready for me when I've won the race."
Down the line Cliff Johnston and Jim
Gerber were working frantically, tools spread around their yellow jalopy.
They looked up hopefully.
"Stan, check the fuel tank," Gus said,
"while I take a look at the engine."
"Gee thanks," Cliff said. "Maybe
you can find out why it almost dies when I tromp it hard coming out of the
"Aren't you two forgetting that I'm an
inspector today, not a mechanic?" Gus said as he went over the engine.
He paused, took a close look. "Sorry, boys you'll have to remove this fuel
filter. It's not stock for this engine.
"Oh no," protested Gerber.
Oh yes," Gus said. "Either put
on a stock filter or pipe it up without a filter.
Gus was relaxed in a chair in the
timer's stand, puffing on his pipe, when Stan climbed up, balancing
two cardboard trays. "Here boss," he said. "Thought you'd like a snack
before the feature starts – soda pop and 'foot-long' hot dogs."
"If that thing is a foot long,
I'll..." Gus jumped up. "That's it, why didn't I..." The rest of
the words were drowned out by the crescendo roar of engines as the pack
accelerated to the sweep of the starter's flag.
When the noise had subsided, Gus waved
the frankfurter in his assistant's face. "That Hawkins engine is no
more stock than this weiner is a foot long."
Stan's face was a blank.
"Think, Stan," Gus went on. "I
used his mikes to measure the engine bore. How big a sucker can you
be?" He headed for the announcer, whose voice was blaring from the
"It's Hawkins in car 14, way out in
front...Looks like he may add this feature to his string of victories here
today...Wait, here's a word from our technical committee. . .Car 14 will be
impounded at the completion of the race."
Seconds after the race had ended, a
furious Hawkins appeared at the timer's stand. "Now what's the beef,
Wilson?" he stormed, yanking off helmet and goggles. "I won that race
fair and square."
"Not for my money," Gus said calmly.
"Well, I'm not tearing my engine down
for you or anyone else."
"You won't have to, Hawkins.
Just let me see that micrometer stem of yours. The one that reads maybe
– an eighth-inch under actual size."
"So you finally caught on to that
Joe Green gave the driver a reproving
look. "You admit cheating?"
Hawkins gave a laugh. "Sure. And
I almost got away with an oversize bore."
"As the disqualified winner drove
away, Cliff and Jim stepped up.
"And that put us third," Cliff said,
"and in the prize money. But we're still sore at the way you treated
us at pit inspection."
"Yeah," Gerber chimed in. "We had some
time cobbling up the fuel line."
Gus chuckled. "I figured that
might bring you boys into the money."
The two looked at him dumbly.
Then Cliff gulped, "how's that?"
Gus explained that paper element fuel
filters should be changed often, or they might let small amounts of
water seep through, swell, and restrict gas flow.
"And that," he said, "seemed to be the
only thing that could be causing the trouble you described. Remember,
I overhauled your car only a few nights ago?"
"And just because you billed that
yellow monstrosity as 'Jones Fruit Salad', I couldn't let you drive a