The Snow Boll
The Snow Boll is held mid-January each year near Enterprise, Alabama. The title comes from a statue in the middle of the town --- a white-gowned lady holds a black bug over her head, and a fountain around her sprays water. The bug is a boll weevil, and the town pays tribute to the pesky critter that destroyed cotton crops in the early 1900s. The boll weevil forced farmers to turn to other crops, like peanuts. At the bottom of the statue is a plaque that reads, “In profound appreciation of the Boll Weevil and what it has done as the Herald of Prosperity.”
Every year an ice sculpture of a boll weevil is made, and a snow machine sprays slush on the grandstands at the “Coffee County Speedway,” a three-quarter-mile racetrack. Young and old travel to the race on foot and tractors, and there’s even a school bus competition. But the premier event is the Saturday night Legends race called the Snow Boll. Cars from 25 states qualify in the afternoon, and the excitement builds to a crescendo as the sun goes down.
Everyone’s favorite driver is a local 63-year-old furniture salesman who does TV commercials in his racing suit and helmet, sitting on one of his patented “comfortable recliners.” However most of the entrants are younger.
This year the pole-position and second-place drivers were kids of current NASCAR drivers Butch Devalon and Dale Maxwell, and it was clear that the rivalry of the fathers had been visited on their offspring.
After the National Anthem, sung by the First Baptist Church choir, the cars revved their engines and the race began. Some of the drivers, like the furniture salesman, were content to stay in the back of the pack, but it was obvious from the moment the green flag waved that there were two who were serious about winning the Boll.
Car #13, Chad Devalon, zoomed around the track, a good four car lengths ahead of #76, Jamie Maxwell. The two had led every lap of the race.
A man in black jeans with a black jacket and #13 on both shoulders hooted, “You got it, Chad! Pour it on, buddy!”
A female fan approached with a folded T-shirt and a Sharpie.
“Not now, darlin’; I’m watchin’ my son,” the man said. Then he yelled, “Take it to ’em, Chad!”
Each time he yelled, the people around him inched away. The tension seemed to float through this roped-off section like bad exhaust through a garage. He pumped a fist in the air and rattled the chain-link fence with the other hand.
Several rows away, studying the race like a hawk watches a field for movement, a woman with long red hair focused on #76. Anyone who knew racing could tell she was studying the line of the car as it settled into the black groove of the track --- the best path for the fastest speed. As the car rounded the far turn, the woman’s body swayed, as if a part of her were in the car. “Come on, Jamie,” she whispered through clenched teeth.
Beside the woman was a small boy with darker skin than hers, brown eyes as big as saucers, and a NASCAR hat pulled low. He rolled his eyes and frowned as Butch Devalon yelled again. The boy looked up at the man next to him, who was scrolling through messages on a cell phone. “Which is worse, Dad? Driving against him or sitting near him during a race?”
The man smiled. He had an understated MM on his hat and a tanned, weathered face. “Not sure. Both are pretty frustrating.”
“Punch it, Chad!” Butch Devalon hollered. “Take it!”
The nearest car to the two leaders was #88, driven by a local kid who barely fit into the car. His helmet looked tight, pushing his cheeks out like a chipmunk’s with a full winter’s worth of stored nuts.
The announcer’s voice blared over the loudspeaker. “Ten laps to go and Chad Devalon has a slim lead over Jamie Maxwell.”
Cheers went up around the stands as the names were called. These two were only in high school, and they already had a following.
The announcer ran through the rest of the field, with the furniture salesman getting the biggest applause.
“Here comes Jamie,” Kellen said to his dad.
Jamie’s dad looked up from his phone to the first turn, where #76 moved to the inside and shot past #13. He smiled and whistled as the crowd responded.
“Come on, Chad!” Butch Devalon shouted. “Show us what you can do!”
The smells of engine oil, gasoline, and exhaust hung in the air, mixed with corn dog batter and chicken. The moon rose over the horizon like a white face, looking down on the race from the best seat in the sky.
The #76 driver wore a yellow fire suit a couple of sizes too big and an orange helmet marked and scarred from use, as if both were hand-me-downs. In car #13, the driver wore a black helmet that reflected the track lights like a shiny mirror.
With six laps to go, the #13 car bumped the leader in turn two, but #76 gained control and, it seemed, more speed and shot into the straightaway confident.
Butch Devalon cursed and didn’t seem to notice the angry stares around him.
“Jamie’s gonna do it, Dad!” Kellen said.
Jamie’s mom bounced on her seat, balling her fists and smacking the fence just in front of her. “Come on, Jamie!”
The two cars ran inches apart, screaming around the turns, and the crowd roared. The white flag came out as they approached the start/finish line.
People stood and moved closer to the fence, grabbing on, straining to see, whooping and yelling and pumping their fists.
“Looks like he’s gaining ground,” Jamie’s dad muttered to Kellen.
Butch Devalon shook the fence and yelled, “You got it! Now take it, Chad!”
The cars ran like mirror images around the first two turns. In the backstretch, #13 went low and tried to pull even, but #76 followed down, blocking the move. Into turn three, #76 followed the groove perfectly, accelerating into turn four and shooting out like a bullet.
It looked like #76 had a lock on the finish line until #13 also shot forward and low, barely pulling up enough to reach the back end of #76, then swerving right, clipping the back of #76 and sending the car into a slow spin. White smoke rose from the tires, and #13 swerved left and crossed the finish line as the checkered flag flew.
The #76 car spun completely around and veered onto the infield, creating brown marks in the grass. When it came to a stop, the driver slammed the steering wheel with both fists and spun the tires.
The crowd groaned, stunned by the move, but Butch Devalon pumped his fist in the air and cheered. He looked down at Jamie’s family and flashed his patented smirk as #13 took a victory lap, then spun in the infield grass near where #76 had stopped.
“That’s dirty racing,” someone said behind Jamie’s mom.
“Just like his daddy,” another said.
“Uh-oh,” a man said, pointing. “Looks like there’s gonna be a fight!”
The #76 driver had almost climbed out of the car and was pointing at the #13 driver. Chad Devalon just waved at the crowd, half of them booing him, and took off his black helmet. When he saw the other driver coming, he put the helmet under his arm and gave a smirk frighteningly similar to the one his dad had given the family.
“What’d you say?” Chad said, one arm out, as innocent as a baby. He was taller than the approaching driver but not by much.
The orange helmet came off and a ponytail fell. “You did that on purpose and you know it!” Jamie Maxwell yelled.
“Hey, it’s just one of those racing things,” Chad said, moving back toward his car. “If you can’t take the heat, don’t get on the track.”
“I can stand the heat. I can’t stand a cheat.”
Chad shook his head. “Face it, Maxwell. You’re just like your old man. You don’t have what it takes to be out here.”
By now the section for fans had opened, and people poured onto the track, led by Butch Devalon. “Better get her away from my son, Maxwell. Hate to see that pretty little girl of yours get a black eye.”
“You should teach your son not to drive dirty!” the boy yelled back.
“Kellen, that’s enough,” Jamie’s mother said. She called her daughter over to them.
Jamie was near tears, but she steeled her face and fought them back. “I can’t believe he did that.”
Jamie’s dad patted her shoulder and walked with her, inspecting the damage to the car. “You gotta learn to just walk away. You can’t waste your rep on a guy like that.”
“Hey, Maxwell,” Butch Devalon called. He was signing T-shirts and leaning against his son’s car. “You should have her stop driving and start babysitting. You could use the sponsorship.”
“See what I mean?” Jamie said. “It’s hard not responding to that.”
Jamie’s father wiped his forehead and knelt on the ground by the car’s mangled rear end. He nodded to the fans streaming onto the infield. “You see all those people? You never know when one of them will turn out to be a scout. And one slipup, one time that you let your emotions get the best of you, and you can bet somebody’ll get it on video, and then it’s all over.”
“His reputation doesn’t seem to be bothering him,” Jamie said, nodding toward Butch Devalon.
“It’s gonna catch up with him one of these days,” Jamie’s dad said. Several girls were running toward Jamie’s car. “Now shake it off and go say hi to your fans.”
Jamie took a deep breath and blew it out.
The girls held out scraps of paper, and one of them said, “I just know we’re gonna see you racing someday in NASCAR.”
“I hope so,” Jamie said.
Butch Devalon walked by and the girls swooned, pushing their paper in his direction. He ignored them and looked right at Jamie. “Not half bad for a girl,” he said. “Now you gotta learn how to finish.” He faced Jamie’s dad. “But you’ll have to get a new teacher if you want to do that.”
Jamie wanted to turn back and tell him off, but she couldn’t think of anything to say. Tomorrow she would. Some snappy comeback that would put the guy in his place. But nothing came now. She was too mad about what had been taken away.
Excerpted from BLIND SPOT: RPM #1 © Copyright 2012 by Chris Fabry. Reprinted with permission by Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.
Blind Spot: RPM #1