ONE MILE IN

Even before the sun had tickled the clouds pink, he stood there. The campfire had been waning since about four, but Jack had risen, stoked it with some dead wood and had a pot of coffee percolating before any of his buddies had even split an eye. Around him more fires were stoked.  Be it the same campfire he had woken or what waited between the frame rails of the hop up the crew had brought.

Since being discharged and relocating to his new home, Jack had embraced the culture that his armed forces buddies had spoke of.
California. It never rains!  It was May of 1947. Two months in but still, in the early morning in the high desert, Winter still breathed a chill across the dry lake. Minutes and the sunrise chased each other the sunrise gave light to El Mirage. Jack sipped from his tin cup, his team was soon awake and Cappy had a skillet over the coals, frying up some bacon and eggs for the team. As enticing as the pork belly smelled, Jack fired up the roadster then sat down on a stoop. He leaned in and with a flat blade screw driver set about his work on the trio of 97’s.

There were 9 members of the team. All were survivors from the B-17 bomber West Coast Doll.

As Jack sipped his coffee and listened as the heavily modified ’42 Merc mill sing her song, he thought of his lost tail gunner, Daryl. “We should have 10 of us here.” He whispered out loud. As much as he tried to bury the memory, to this day he can still feel the shudder as their plane took the hit at the tail section erasing Daryl’s life.

They were 1 mile out and headed in, but a renegade Focke-Wulf FW-190 came out of nowhere and riddled the tail section. Daryl never had a chance. If it were not for a pair of P-51’s that had been in the area, the loss of crew would have been deadlier. West Coast Doll came in and landed. Out of 39 missions she had survived and had returned home safely. The surviving crew decided then they would remember their fallen crew member by living out his dream of a hot rod racing wide open on the dry lakes. A pact was made. When the war was over, the remaining crew would converge on Daryl’s garage and finish his roadster and compete in his memory.

The team of 9 worked hard on the Model A Roadster. Daryl had her about 70% done, but not enough to be race ready. With all hands on deck, the car was race ready and ready for her debut in a month’s time. From faded black to bright red, Chipper even painted a near perfect match to the nose art on their bomber on the cowl sides. West Coast Doll was ready for her debut. Jack would drive her. From Golden, Co he had experience. Be it racing on dirt tracks, sprint cars, jalopies or hill climbs. Jack could drive anything, especially fast. Cappy was an engine savant. He and Jack took their time and made the Merc engine singing like the Andrews sisters. As the deadline drew nearer, the former bomber crew worked day and night on the roadster. Drong and Jose’ along with Von and Crow made it their job to weld and fab the frame and other chassis details. Gilbert was the extra hand and filled in to help bleed brakes, grab some grub or be an extra set of eyes and volunteered his ’40 Ford pick up to be the tow vehicle and push truck.

“Time is interesting isn’t it?” Jack mused to his buddies one evening. The sun had started to drop beneath the horizon and the finishing touches were being dealt with on the roadster. “As a kid, you lay around on, say, a June afternoon, bored, completely out of your mind. Nothing to do as the sun just strolls across the sky. As the grandfather clock in the foyer marks off seconds of the day, of your life.” Jack paused and took a pull off of the ice cold Acme beer in his calloused hands. “Summer break drives into school days then into winter break. Then school, then spring break. We do not notice Mom and her hair as it greys. Or Pop as his hair falls out and he starts to get weaker.” About this time his buddies had paused and turned their undivided attention to Jack. They noticed he had wet eyes and wiped an arm across his face. “Time is a gift and it is also a curse. I look back and wonder when it became so damned fast. How memories became a blur. My friends, all we have is now. Let’s make this trip one for the books and also, I have an idea.”

Jack climbed into The West Coast Doll. He hunkered down into the bomber seat. Von and Crow made sure his belts were tight as Drong checked the fluids. Cappy stood by and signaled Jack to fire the roadster up. Jose’ made one last walk around and checked tire pressures. Gilbert, Drong and Chipper climbed into the ’40 and eased up to the back of the roadster. The crew climbed into the bed of the pickup pushed Jack toward the starting line. The starter nodded and jack hit the go pedal. Gilbert nailed the throttle and gave The West Coast Doll a helluva a push. And just like time, Jack watched as the landscape raced by. He poured coals to the fire, feathering the throttle and kept steady on the wheel. A marker was set to locate 1 mile in and when Jack roared past he floored it. But, as he did so, he pulled a hidden lever inside the roadster and a secret valve opened up and at 130 MPH, the ashes of Daryl were released upon the race course.

The West Coast Doll did not set any records that day, but she did well in her class. And for the crew of that wounded B-17 bomber, they lay their friend to rest the best way they thought possible.

by Mark “Spooky” Karol-Chik

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