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High-Speed Stakes

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A bolt snapped twice in practices leading up to the accident in the qualifying heat. "I've never heard of that happening, a bumper breaking three times in one week," Diane rants.

It takes a certain kind of kid to get in a cart where he has to drape his legs over a fire extinguisher, so it goes without saying that it takes a certain kind of parent to be a "racing mom." Diane once got out of her car at a red light and kicked a dent in another driver's door. She didn't think he'd been driving safely, and no one was going to endanger her kids, who watched from the back-seat window.

Tristan returns with Matt Long, a curly haired mechanic Diane hired for the week. Tristan wasn't disqualified after all, but he was penalized — heavily, Matt explains. Tristan finished sixth in the first qualifying heat, so he'll start in the back of the pack in Saturday's final race. Essentially, he has already lost.

"Three times in one week," Diane repeats. Of the bolt, she says, "Obviously, they're doing it too tight."

The bumper is missing a chunk where it swung down in the back right corner. The mechanic twists off the remaining bolt to remove the whole thing. They'll replace it with another bumper, off another of Tristan's cars. Matt works quietly, not acknowledging the comments Diane makes about the bolt. But privately, he says the incident wasn't surprising. "These bolts are only good for three races. They break every fourth. They're cheap bolts, and Jay and I are always telling her that," the mechanic says. He claims Diane buys "home-remodeling grade" instead of the industrial-grade bolts needed for racing.

Tristan heads into the aluminum trailer without saying much. Jay opens the trailer door and sticks one foot inside. "Shit happens, mate," he tells Tristan, almost tenderly. "Don't worry about it."

For the championship, Jay takes his regular spot on the grassy hill. Tristan's starting so far back that, Jay remarked earlier, it'd take a miracle for him to end up at the championship in Italy.

But Tristan starts out strong in the 18-lap race. By the second lap, Tristan pushes his way up to the 16th spot. By the seventh lap, he's in tenth. Through the track's loping hills, the paper-clip turns, and the straightaways, Tristan is passing at least one racer per lap.

The week has been an exercise in watching 8, 9, 10-year-old boys crash their cars. There are the pileups, of course, and the bumper taps that send kids colliding into one another. In a qualifying heat on Friday, one cart flipped upside down. An ambulance, a broken rib. "You never have it x-rayed," a racing father from Orlando muses. His kid's been posting some of the fastest cars in the junior division. "Because you can race with a broken rib, so long as you don't give them the chance to tell you not to."

But the New Castle crash that stands out the most happened almost seamlessly. A driver in the youngest division, apparently losing control of the steering, sailed off the track in the stretch just in front of the bleachers, barely bumping the blockades. The kid, no more than four feet tall, got out of his car and slowly pushed the cart through the thick, wet grass, back toward the track. It took several minutes, as everyone else whizzed by, and he knew he'd be lucky to get last place. But there is nothing worse than not finishing.

Jay knows this. All three races he's run with Sarah Fisher so far have been marked with mishaps. On the May 1 IndyCar race in Kansas, he crashed into a wall on the 180th of 200 laps. He did not finish.

Fisher can't say if she would hire Jay again next year. "He's got to finish every single lap. As far as performance goes, we're going to do the best we can to give him an opportunity to show sponsors what he's got."

In Tristan's race, two kids have already spun off the track. But not Tristan, who by the 11th lap is in eighth, and Jay is gripping the stopwatch with both hands. "He's almost half a second faster than the guys in front of him," he says, smiling.

By the 12th lap, Tristan is holding eighth place, but his pace is faster than the kid in first.

"Why couldn't he do that in the fucking prefinals?" Jay remarks to no one in particular. "Gotta wait until now to do it, huh?"

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Lisa Gartner
Contact: Lisa Gartner

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