Broken Wagon 3
Being away from the track and from racing itself had been the worst punishment that he'd ever had. Forget being grounded, having your "toys" being taken away was definitely worse. He didn't know if they knew just how much it would kill him to be restricted like that, but when they'd thought about punishment they sure had pegged him right when they knew what would really make him pay attention to what he was doing.
Due to the suspension he'd been given, he couldn't race any type of vehicles until the suspension was over. He'd heard that some drivers on their suspensions would go race local races or other types of cars while they waited out their time, but for him, he'd been deemed a dangerous driver and NASCAR wanted him to take some time out from the sport. They'd even suggested that he get counseling for what they called an uncontrollable anger problem, but after much discussion, had taken that from the list of things that he needed to do to get back into the sport.
If not being able to race wasn't bad enough, Dusty knew that he couldn't even show up to races as a spectator. Normally that instruction wouldn't have been given to a driver, but it was for his own safety as well as others. Even though NASCAR understood that the accident hadn't been completely intentional in its nature, everyone blamed him for all that had gone wrong with Quincy Herron. His explanation to NASCAR that he truly hadn't meant to pull anyone into the stunt had been noted, but Dusty felt like it had been ignored.
"Lap one thirty five."
A little less than two hundred laps to go and he was starting to find himself comfortable with the whole idea of being back in the race. It should have happened right away, but it wasn't until the first hundred miles that he'd gotten to really test out his crew with their first green flag pit stop and was rewarded with a smooth transition.
He nodded his head even though there wasn't anyone there to see it. "10-4."
So far the race was going as expected. He wasn't going to win this one and no one expected him to. For the most part, his sponsors and the team just wanted him to get through the race without getting in another accident. Money was riding on this race of course, but more importantly was that his reputation and his future was in jepordy. The sponsors, the team and especially his career were under a microscope right now and they all needed to be clean as a whistle for anyone to take them seriously. If he could get through the race clean, it would prove to everyone that he was a good driver and could handle being out on the track with other racers.
His qualifying position had gotten him into a top fifteen placing and he'd been able to stick with them without falling too much out of order. It wasn't a surprise to him. He'd been practicing for this race for months now and he didn't want to tell anyone, but his suspension was probably going to be a good thing for his career in the long run. Having that many months off in a row gave him a chance to rest his body in ways that his competitors didn't have and it had given him a chance to watch every race from another angle and notice things that other racers probably didn't get to see much since they were so involved in their own races.
On his off time, when he wasn't paying attention to the one thing that he couldn't participate in, he'd gotten slightly obsessive compulsive about things. He'd been threatening for years to start on a list of restoration projects around the house he'd bought near Martinsville and when faced with an extended period of time with nothing to do, he temporarily became a contractor and construction worker in between race weekends.
He'd spent sometimes up to six days a week working on projects. From sun-up to sun-down, he'd worked on redoing the hardwood floors on the bottom floor of the house then had restored the wood of the sleigh bed his mother had gotten for him from one of the antique shops that she always seemed to be falling into.
While most people tried to distract him on race weekends, taking him to the movies or out camping or somewhere that they knew he didn't have television access, he'd found himself watching every race, even when it tortured him to tears. The first few ones he'd gotten through only after a shot of Jack Daniels or two to ease the tension. He'd decided that if he was going to get back in the game and beat the racers that would have a year's worth more experience then he needed to drive every race along with them. It wasn't the best set up, because nothing could beat actually being in the car every weekend, but with the aid of some of the online racing games, he'd mentally raced each track and worked on his strategy for the races.
"Crashcrashcrash," he heard over the line.
Instantly every hair on his body stood on end. The last crash scene he'd been even remotely close to had been the one that had taken Quincy out and as he heard the alert his stomach turned over and he instantly started to slow down, downshifting quickly so that he could avoid whatever was coming. Two cars passed him in the process and a mass of words came over the line towards him screaming at him to keep on the gas until he got around to the accident site.
"SHUT UP!" he finally screamed at the mix of voices.
When they calmed down enough for him to hear, he took a deep breath and tried to see where he was on the track. "Where? Where is it?"
"Just out of turn three." A pause went over the line only for a few seconds. "Go high, go high."
Dusty didn't like the way that Greg's voice sounded so stressed. He hadn't worked with the guy for very long, just a few short practice runs in the last three weeks, but he knew that this race was going to prove whether or not they could work together. If Greg didn't trust that he could follow directions then the duo would have no chance of winning races. Fighting definitely wasn't going to be something that would be tolerated during the season.
Downshifting into a lower gear before moving to get better track position, he shifted to a higher gear. His hands found an automatic position that would allow him to turn and if needed, brace him against anything that got in his way, and let his arms relax a bit even with the impending stressful situation that was coming his way at lightening speed. He made sure that his thumbs were away from the spokes of the wheel, knowing from experience that a person's thumbs could be snapped off if the wheel turned too fast and caught him off guard.
As he came out of turn three, a huge cloud of smoke covered the lower lane of the track, just as everyone had explained. He knew from experience that everything would fall to the lower left side of the track eventually so he made a slight turn of the wheel to get to the top of the track with the two cars closest to him. Gritting his teeth he pressed on the gas, so that he could clear through the smoke. He didn't want to slam on his brakes and get someone thrown into the back of him.
The trick worked.
Getting through the smoke gave him a false sense of security. He thought that he was in the clear having gotten through the first part without hitting into anything, but soon he realized that he'd just run into the stream of oil that was now dripping out of one of the slightly injured cars heading towards the pits. He couldn't tell who it was through the dirty windshield, but as he tried to maneuver to clean pavement, he felt a wind catch the tail of the car and soon he saw himself twisting and turning and finally spinning a three sixty turn in the middle of the track.
The scream of the tires on the pavement was deafening inside the car. With adrenaline coursing through his veins, his arms instinctively began to move. Without hesitation he found himself slamming into reverse to straighten out then moments later throwing it into gear so that he ended up facing the same direction traffic was heading in. Once facing the right direction he took a mental inventory of himself as well as the car. He could feel that he had all four tires on the ground and that nothing seemed to be out of place on the side panels so he pressed off from his starting position towards the next turn.
"WHHOOO!" he heard more than a few people on the line as he straightened himself out on the track even more, merging back into the line up.
"That's great driving son." He recognized the voice as Jack Roush's and found himself not knowing what to say. He'd always relied on Jack's opinion to tell him how he was racing and this time he was pleased to find that he'd actually done something right instead of disappointing him.
Taking a deep breath he seemed to click back to a year before as the adrenaline pulled him through the next half mile. "LET'S GO RACING BOYS!"
"Now this is a race!" Bubba's voice came on the line. "That was some great driving. How's the car feeling?"
"It feels ok. You got me boys?" he asked over the line.
"Yeahyeahyeah." Greg, his spotter seemed to instantly ignore the fact that they didn't get along that well off the track and started to cheer along with the other people on the team.
The excitement level of everyone on the radio skyrocketed over the next half lap as the yellow flag was held over. At first he didn't want to pit. With the maneuvering he'd done, he'd managed not to wreak, and improved his positioning. Bubba and a few others knew the car better than he did and advised to come in and check the tires to make sure that the spin hadn't done any damage, so as soon as he got around to the entrance he took the side road that led to where his crew would take over, letting him rest for a few moments before they sent him out again.
As he pulled into his pit, he noticed that one of the officials that was assigned to him was standing near the front of the car instead of paying attention to the movement around the car. Dusty might have been paranoid, but the guy stared through the windshield at him. He expected to be given the cold shoulder, but he soon found himself being given a thumbs up sign, not only that he was ready to go back out, but also, he guessed at the idea that he'd gotten through the turn without causing any more trouble that already had been out there.
A four tire change and refueling only took moments and soon he was on his way back out onto the track.
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Last updated: 09/19/04.