Usual disclaimers here. This is a work of fiction by a fan of Gatch/
BotP and NASCAR. I don’t own Gatchaman or Battle of the Planets, I just
borrow the characters for fun. Several of the race car drivers listed
in the story are real, but the race is not.
Oct. 06, 4:00 in the afternoon.
Around him motors rumbled to life as the announcer called to start the
engines. A flip of the switch and the blue and white Galactic
Federation Navy Dodge joined the din. As the dash panel came to life,
Jason scanned the dials. Once he was satisfied that everything was in
order, he looked towards the wall of pit road. A flash of brilliant red
hair framing a heart shaped face told him where his wife was. Dark sun
glasses hid the eyes that he knew would be narrowed in concentration.
She would be helping out on the pit-box, keeping track of the team stats.
T.C. was a racer in her own right, holding several victories in
motorcycle racing. She was familiar with the risk and thrills of racing
and knew what information he would need as the race progressed. Their
five year old adopted son was staying with his Uncle Mark and Aunt Jun
for the night. Maybe next year they would start bringing him to the
races. For now Jason and TC thought he wasn’t ready. Standing up on
top of the grandstands, serving as car #02’s spotter was their team-mate
Key. On the far side of the wall Tiny was checking tires, making sure
they were properly inflated and balanced. The big man sometimes helped
out serving as a back-up tire carrier for Jason’s team.
Pulling his attention back to the track, Jason looked at the cars around
him. The drivers were a mixture of old and young, some semi-retired big
league drivers and quite a few up-and-coming drivers. The up-and-comer
who jumped to his attention was Juan Montoya, the open-wheel driver who
had just moved over to stock. On his first attempts at stocks, Montoya
had qualified second, which definitely made him someone to watch. Six
rows behind him on the inside was another driver Jason would be watching.
It wasn’t often that both Medina Racing drivers could be in the same
race. Usually one of them was On-Call, which typically meant they were
required to stay somewhere in the area of a certain base in Colorado.
With this being the second to the last race of the season, both drivers
had requested, and been given, a three day leave. Paul Kimpel may only
have been a month short of his twenty-second birthday but he was
talented. Given a few more years to hone his skill, and time to
dedicate to racing, he could become a threat.
The cars slowly started moving as the pace car pulled on to the track.
The late afternoon autumn sun slanted across the track casting part of
the course into shadow. Overhead the Alabama sky was clear promising
good weather for racing.
Jason dropped back from the #99 car as the field of forty one cars made
their way around the two and two-thirds mile track and started the
gentle back and forth motion that would warm his tires up and give the
car better grip on the track.
Three laps around the track behind the pace car, forty one drivers made
last minute checks before the flag dropped on ninety-four laps of door
to door driving, three lanes wide on the back stretch, at nearly 100
miles an hour. Quiet prayers whispered by those who prayed for a safe
race. While there were no recorded deaths at Talladega, there was
always the chance and there was almost always a multi-car wreck at this
track. It wasn’t a matter of “if”; it was more a matter of “when”.
Many of the drivers still remembered the death of a racing legend at the
end NASCAR’s big ticket race, The Daytona 500, just a few years ago.
The pace car dropped to the track apron and pulled into pit road,
leaving the cars to reach the start/finish line unescorted. As each
pair of cars crossed the black and white line, they accelerated to race
In his ears, Jason heard the even voice of his wife telling him where
the leader was, the car behind him and his team-mate.
Thirteen laps later, thirty-nine cars jockeyed in to their pit stalls
after race officials called a caution for oil on the track after car
#50’s engine blew up. Two cars had already dropped out, #59 didn’t even
make a full lap before their cam shaft went and #10 went to the garage,
after a long stop in their pit box so the crew could chase down the
source of a vibration.
Jason pulled into his pit stall and grabbed the water bottle passed
through the window net. Thirteen seconds later he felt the thump on his
rear quarter panel from his gas man warning him they were done. Thirteen
seconds to swallow a few mouthfuls of water and take in the comments
from his crew chief about the strengths and weaknesses of the other
teams. The water bottle flew out the window as the jack was released
and his left side tires hit the ground. Up ahead he watched Montoya and
the series leader, Frank Kimmel, jockeyed for lead before they left pit
Twenty-nine laps into the race drivers were settling in. They had
gotten the feel of their cars; the ones that were having problems were
falling back leaving the others to swap places in the three lines racing
around the track. Jason was holding around twentieth. The car was a
tick loose and it kept trying to run high on the track but he knew as
the sun lowered the temperature would drop. Once that happened the car
would tighten up. In the meantime Jason gritted his teeth and dealt
with it as best he could. As they came into Turn 3 the car behind him
got a bit close and took the air flow off his rear spoiler causing him
to drift a little higher than he wanted. He felt the car shimmy as it
brushed up against #16. He muttered a few choice words in Sicilian as
the #16 brushed him back and tried to pull away. The driver behind him
wisely dropped back, giving him a little room to get everything back in
line. In the mirror he saw that car, #62, jump out to the outside line.
Part of him was glad, #62 had gotten him loose, but on the other hand a
lone car at this track lost position quickly and right now he was an
island on the inside lane being passed by a stream of cars. Several
agonizing seconds later Key told him a car was moving up behind him. In
his rear-view mirror he saw the red and gold hood of his team-mate’s
Federation Marines car slide to within inches of his rear bumper. A
slight nod of the head from Paul and Jason smiled. The two cars
together might not be fast enough to run down the leaders but they could
cut down the lead time. By lap thirty-five, the Medina cars had added a
few cars to their train and had pulled to within five seconds of the
leaders. Two cars were between Jason and a clean shot at Frank Kimmel’s
#46 when the sound of shearing and crumpling metal could be heard over
the roar of the engines.
Car #78 cut a tire on some debris and slammed into the wall as he exited
Turn 4. He ricocheted off the wall and slid into the path of car #11.
Bryan Silas had nowhere to go. He slammed into the rear quarter panel
of Doug Reid’s car, spinning the #78 car before careening across the
grass towards the inside wall himself.
Justin Diercks, in #70, following the voice of his spotter, dove towards
the bottom of the track trying to avoid the out of control cars. As he
reached the track apron the smoke from the wreck parted enough for
Diercks to see the #8 car in front of him. He spun the steering wheel
in an effort to evade Marc Mitchell’s car. The two cars shuddered as
they side-swiped each other. Diercks’ car bounced towards the in-field
and finally came to rest nose into the wall. Mitchell’s rebounded back
up the track and was hit again on the other side by the #90 car, pushing
him back down the track to rest yards from the entrance to pit road.
Four other cars were collected in the wreck as their drivers tried
unsuccessfully to find their way through the smoke and debris. Car #4
smacked up against the outside wall and crumpled his right front fender
when Brent Sherman tried to squeeze between the wall and a spinning car.
#25 and #87 slid through the grass as their drivers dove to the bottom
of track. Both came to rest alongside the inside fence. Car #32 locked
up his brakes and tried to swerve before side-swiping the #11 car. He
ended up a few yards farther down the inside wall.
The yellow caution flag was out and waving before the wrecked cars had
stopped moving. The field slowed to pace speed while those who had been
on the far side of the track at the time of the wreck carefully picked
their way through the debris. Since there was a car stopped near the
entrance, pit road was kept closed while track officials scrambled to
assess the wreck. The field circled the track three times while wrecker
crews worked frantically to clear cars too damaged to drive. Car #16’s
right front tire got cut on debris from the #78 car that was still lying
on the track and also ended up against the outside wall. Track
officials waved the red flag, bringing the field to a halt in Turns 1
and 2. They wanted to give the track crew time to replace a section of
the SAFER barrier that had been damaged and clean up the smaller bits of
metal from the crash. It would be easier, and safer, if they didn’t
have to worry about the other cars moving behind them. Most of the
drivers swung high on the track bringing the car around so the nose
pointed down the track as they stopped, shut off their engines and tried
to relax during the unscheduled break.
Jason glanced towards the sky as he listened to his crew chief and
spotter talking on the radio. In cross radio traffic he could hear
Paul’s team also chatting. From what he could hear, most of the teams
were hoping they wouldn’t be stopped for long. Talladega still did not
have lights on the actual track. If they stayed under the red for too
long the officials would have to make a decision whether to let the race
continue in the near darkness or cut the race short.
Fifteen long minutes later officials gave the signal to restart the cars.
Slowly twenty-six engines came back to life and cars gently rolled down
the track towards the in-field grass before swinging back into position.
One full lap around the track and the officials opened the pits. Lead
lap cars pulled down on to pit road. With only sixteen cars still on the
lead lap the stretch was less congested but no less harried as crews
tried not only to change tires but to repair any damage their car may
have sustained in the wreck.
Just as he was coming towards his pit stall, Jason felt his left front
tire go flat. Apparently he had cut it or rubbed it against something
and it had finally given out. Dropping his speed he coaxed the car into
the box. Another water bottle was thrust through the window as his crew
changed the right side tires. Nodding his head, he listened to his crew
chief discuss strategy while he watched the tire changers come around.
With the left side flat the car was too close to the ground and they
could not get the jack into position. Several precious seconds were lost
as Tiny and the tire changers leaned into the car and raised it up enough
for the jack-man to slide the jack under. Seconds later, he felt the
familiar slap and the water bottle flew out the window. Out of the corner
of his eye he saw a flash of red and gold as Paul pulled out of his stall
and ran down pit road. He followed his team-mate by several car lengths
back onto the track.
Several laps later word was given that the green flag would be waved the
next time by. Jason glanced towards the darkening sky. It had been late
when the race has started. Normally a 250 mile race would only take
about two and a half hours on this track. The wreck and resulting red-
flag, had cost them time. There were still about one hundred and thirty
six miles to go. Now it would not only be a race against each other but
also against the setting sun.
There were fifty-one laps left in the race when the pace car pulled off
and the green flag was waved. The field accelerated as they came around
the tri-oval and headed towards Turn 1. The drivers were now keeping one
eye on the track and the other on the sky while they let their spotters
guide them around the pack, adjusting their position as they were told to
go up or down the track or if there was a car near them.
Jason hunkered down and listened as Key told him where the leader was and
where he was in relation to the leader. He didn’t need to be told where
his team-mate was, he could see the red and gold bumper a couple of cars
ahead of him. He straightened up in surprise when he saw Paul’s #73 drop
below the yellow line, then onto the grass in the tri-oval, as the car
next to him suddenly shifted down the track. Seconds later he pulled
back onto the track, still parallel to the #62 car, apparently oblivious
to the shouts over the loud speaker at the display of driving skill.
Since Paul had not advanced his position, only maintained it, he would
not penalized for going below the yellow line. Instead he would likely
get hearty slaps on the back from his crew for good driving. Jason
quickly brought his attention back to his own car as #31 rubbed against
his right rear panel almost knocking him below the yellow line.
Ten more laps passed and Jason noticed that several of the drivers were
starting to get a little more aggressive, there was more fender rubbing
and the taps on the bumpers were become more frequent. Many of the
drivers were driving as if there were only ten laps left instead of
Jason glanced at his gauges while on the back stretch: oil and engine
temp looked fine, fuel was ok, but he didn’t think he had enough to last
the rest of the race, so unless there was another caution, they were
looking at green-flag pits somewhere around lap eighty-five. Up ahead,
exiting Turn 3, Juan Montoya slid down and tried to pass Frank Kimmel
for the lead. Kimmel dropped down to block as they entered Turn 4,
leaving an opening for Steve Wallace to slip his #61 through. Jason saw
an opening in the outside and jumped over, going around the #5 car.
Paul’s spotter must have told him that Jason was coming, he slid over as
they exited Turn 4 and let Jason draft off him. The Medina cars took
the high groove, near the wall, and made a charge, closing in the gap
between the leader and the second pack. Brian Kaltreider, who was a lap
down but fighting his way back towards the lead cars in hopes of
regaining that lap, hooked his #62 car up with them as did couple of
other cars as they worked their way through, past lapped cars at the
rear of the lead pack. Five more laps and Paul and Jason had made their
way to seventh and ninth respectively. Two more laps and they had
wormed their way back to the inside when #39 had to let off the throttle
when he came into the turn.
With thirty laps to go, the sun was disappearing behind the grandstand.
The back stretch still had decent light but the drivers were getting
blinded by the setting sun as they rounded Turn 3, making Turn 4 even
more dangerous. Passing through the tri-oval the drivers and some of
the fans could see sparks coming up as the car skirts brushed against
the pavement. Those used to night racing paid this no attention since
it wasn’t an indication of a problem. There was chatter on the radios
as crews speculated on the likelihood of a short race. A probability
that was increasing with every passing minute as the sun dipped lower.
A brief caution was called for debris on the track with twenty-seven
laps left. One of the cars damaged in the wreck that had returned to
the race trying the dreaded DNF had lost a piece of a bumper. A few of
the cars on the lead-lap pulled onto pit road, others decided to trade
position for fresh tires. The Medina cars both opted for right side
tires and gas, gambling on the race ending early and the old left side
tires holding out for a dozen or so more laps. The race leaders all
opted for four fresh tires.
The green flag waved on lap seventy. According to the schedule there
was two-dozen laps left, but everyone on the track believed the race
would be called at any minute. All the drivers went to “last-laps” mode;
temporary partnerships were dissolved as it became every-man-for-himself.
Paul and Jason quickly found their way to the front of the line as one
by one the cars that had stayed out and had worn tires quickly fell to
the cars that had stopped. As they crossed the start/finish line for
lap seventy-one Paul slid up the track to block the charge of Kimmel and
Wallace. Jason slid alongside his team-mate, blocking Montoya on the
inside line. For the next two laps the Medina cars led the field as the
shadows deepened across the front stretch. The light no longer blinded
the drivers as they came around Turn 3 into 4. Paul apparently
misgauged his position coming off of Turn 4 and left a slight opening.
Frank Kimmel jumped up, taking the field three wide in the tri-oval, and
forced his way through the gap with Steve Wallace right on his bumper.
With four fresh tires they had the advantage. By the time Jason knew
what was happening he was sitting alone on the inside watching as his
team-mate managed to work his way back into the line while he was
shuffled to the back of the pack. A few laps later he had managed to
gain some ground as some of the lapped cars came up behind him. Jason
could hear the frustration in Key’s voice as he struggled to make out
details in the deepening twilight, especially on the cars with darker
paint schemes. By lap seventy-nine he noticed that even the back
stretch was becoming enshrouded in shadows. T.C. told him the word was
out, the race was going to be called, and on lap eighty the white flag
would be displayed. Jason spotted a small opening between the #26 car
and a lapped car and nudged the nose of his car though it. With half a
lap remaining, he forced his way through the gap and held on to the
small lead to cross the finish line in 14th place.
As soon as the nose of his car crossed the line, Jason let off on the
accelerator, allowing the car to gradually slow down. Rounding off Turn
2 he spotted a familiar paint scheme and pulled up alongside the 73 car.
Paul waved to him, grinning, and dropped down to follow him around Turns
3 and 4 and down into pit road. Neither had done as well as they would
have like; Paul had managed a 10th place finish and Jason was content
with a top 20 finish, but all things considered, it had been a good race.
This story is loosely based on an actual race – the Arca/ReMax Food City
250 that took place at Talladega Speedway in Alabama on Friday October
6th, 2006. The race was indeed called at the 81st lap due to darkness.
Regrettably I did not actually see the race, so I do not know why the
race ran long, nor do I know the sequence of events that lead to the
wreck(s). I have only a couple of written records from the internet to
work from. However, all the drivers listed, except for Jason and Paul,
are actual ARCA drivers. Any mistakes in the representation of the race
and/or drivers are mine.
Frank Kimmel won the race with Steve Wallace coming in second. Juan
Montoya, on his first start in stock cars, placed third. Frank Kimmel
went on the win the ARCA/ReMax series for 2006. Juan Montoya moved to
NASCAR’s “big leagues” in 2007 and is now a respected Sprint Cup driver.
ARCA, for those that do not know, might be considered the “minor league”
of NASCAR. Several drivers that are now seen in the Nationwide Series
and the Sprint Cup Series made their start, or are still running, in the
ARCA ReMax series.
Thanks for reading. Comments and critiques (but not flames) are welcome.