Jerry looks at the lights again. Patience, he thinks, as he adds more weight on the loud pedal and more revs on the V-8 engine. Not yet. We’re barely heating up.
He knows he needs to be careful. Even after breaking in the setup for three weeks, he’s still worried—rightfully so—that the motor might blow up the moment he thinks about 4th. “That’s the point of no return”, he remembers Bill say. “You either commit or no one’s building that engine ever again.”
Of course, anyone in Radwood can build a good gasser dragster motor for some schlub’s old Chevy, Studebaker, Ford or Plymouth. Some can even come up with a great one to race in the pro-am brackets running every other Friday and Saturday in Force Field Raceway, or outside Highway 55 whenever someone wagers their reputation in pinks and cold hard Benjamins. But Jerry wanted it all: the Herculean shove of power, the thoroughbred pull of torque, and the “bank-vault durability,” he once told Milton, “to win a thousand races before rebuilding it.” Yes, it was reliability he wanted most of all.
Especially after that night.
It has happened. Within milliseconds, the memory comes back. He can’t help it, even if he can’t afford to do it just as the second yellow light is about to turn on. Same seat, same wheel, same chassis, same Nova Wagon.
Only he wasn’t facing a mere Lumina here.
As he turned his head left, he saw the jet-black shape of fearsome royalty.
Fifty nights ago, he was side-by-side with the King. His Barracuda bristled, then roared as the 427ci twin-supercharged V8 came to life. But he was unfazed then. The Ol’ Foot-Long Rig had proven itself to be just as formidable as the all-conquering King Kuda, and Jerry to be as ruthless as the mysterious man driving the Plymouth. Now, in the final heat of the semifinal, Jerry has a shot at becoming the ruler of the nightly dragster wars. All he needed to do was outrun the Kuda one more time, and he’s in the Last Dance.
“But look at this part right here. See that there? No wonder your engine went up in flames,” Bill chided Jerry as he examined the engine block the day after. “You weren’t watching yourself.”
“Fuck if I knew. I thought it was still good.”
“It’s the sound. You were so caught up in the moment that you didn’t hear what the engine was trying to say.” Bill clicked in the no. 12 socket. “You don’t just shatter a forged block like this without pushing the thing past what it’s rated to run.”
“And what?!”, Jerry snapped. “Lose the race? Huh? I was right there, Billy! I already had him!”
“But you didn’t and you almost lost your head! You’re lucky that piston missed your eyeball, you idiot.”
“That’s Lambert’s job!”
“A job YOU wanted to be done! Where the hell did he get the idea from, anyway? Besides, you were the one driving, not him.”
Bill downed a gulp of his favourite IPA. “And don’t get me started on the fucking transmission, egghead. Lambert told me everything. It’s all on you.” He pointed at the telemetry. “Your decision to run that low a rear end on 800 pound-feet of torque meant that you missed shifts at the wrong time. Even your supercharger was a problem...”
By that point, Jerry had tuned his brother out. The younger Tollman didn’t need to hear any more words from Bill. Everything was obvious: the whole powertrain was as old as Jerry is, and no matter how many times he replaced parts, the fundamental problems of the engine and transmission still lie on the fact that he was adamant about never using an LS motor and Corvette gearbox.
Suddenly, he felt a tap on his shoulder. Bill. He still cared at least, cared enough to snap him out of his musing as he stared at the damned drivetrain, bleeding grease, oil, and sludge as he tried to turn the bolts loose.
“If you still want the old motor, fine. But you need a forged block.”
It’s that forged block that now bears the brunt of the load for Jerry. For the most part, the 327ci V-8 looks the same as it had been in the ‘60s, but per Bill’s orders, the motor has been blueprinted and remade from the ground up to make it far tougher than before, while still accepting another 100 horsepower. They have also replaced the supercharger, carburettors, forged a new carbon-brass composite intake plenum and printed a new titanium exhaust manifold. That means Jerry’s new motor is a unit that sends 810 horsepower and 866 lb.-ft. of torque to the rear wheels, thanks to a rebuilt 6-speed gearbox.
And now, with the third yellow light lit, he braces himself.
He’s done this so many times, against so many drivers, that it has become routine at this point. But this instance is different. Jerry, more than ever, has to be conscious about everything he does. Dump too soon and he’d risk coming off slow. Let off the throttle and he’d lose power. Miss one gear and the other car will pull away.
No mistakes. No reason to underestimate the faux-COPO Monte Carlo next to him. This run can either undo all the work he and his crew did to get here at all, or it can give them a win.
Finally, Jerry loses sight of the King. He will come for him again. But he’d have to wait.
The light turns green.