A Quarter Mile (Final Part)

“All right Jez, don’t give it everything at first, save it until you absolutely need it, then show ‘em what you got!” I gripped the go-cart frame, leaning forward so Jez could hear me.

“There are a lot bigger carts than ours here,” Lucas pointed out.

“Don’t think like that, then we for sure wont win.” Wyatt folded his arms across his chest and gave Jez a thumbs up.

“You’re right, Wyatt.” Johnny glanced at Jez as she slid on her helmet. “Jez can win.”

“That’s right she can, because I want my . . . I haven’t decided what I want yet, but I want something with the prize money.” Wyatt smiled, nodding.

“I want a bike so I can ride on Stephan’s bike track,” Johnny said.

“I want a video game.”

“We know you do, you already told us.” Wyatt stared at Lucas.

“Oh.” Lucas turned his head toward the track. “Hey, Jez is entering the track. The race is about to start.”

I walked toward the boys and watched Jez pull in line with the rest of the racers. I scanned the area, wanting to see my dad’s car pull up. But no more vehicles drove in, the people at the gate were walking toward the race track. I turned my head toward Mom and returned her smile. My mom sat with the other parents, watching the racers line up. I turned my attention to the racers and nodded. We’re going to win.

The horn blew and the racers pressed the peddle. Jez took sixth place at the start. At the first turn she passed a cart, but waited until her third turn to pass the second cart. The racers finished the first lap; four more laps to go. Jez still had time to climb up the ladder. She could pass the third cart on her third lap and be in second place by the fourth lap. Jez held her speed until the third lap, just like I told her to.

At the third lap, second corner, she pressed the peddle down and turned to the inside of the track. When our cart wouldn’t pass the other cart, Jez pressed the peddle down further. I stood on my toes, moving my head with the carts. Jez had one more lap to go, but she still hadn’t passed the third cart. The third cart’s motor puffed several times, causing it to slow down, giving Jez a chance to pass. Jez now rested in third place. She had one more corner to turn until the reached the finish line. I lowered my head and gently kicked the ground. It was over now.

The crowds cheered as the carts drove by in front of me. I looked up to my mom. She sat in her lawn chair, smiling. Then I looked at the track, as Jez drove by me in third place. We lost the race. My mom and everyone’s parents smiled, but why? We lost the race. I looked at the boys; their eyes followed the carts around the track, and watched as Jez pulled to the side and parked beside us.

“I’m sorry I lost,” Jez said, taking her helmet off.

“Oh, it was just a race. I can get a bike another time.” Johnny walked up to Jez; Lucas and Wyatt followed.

“Yeah and I don’t need a new video game. I probably have to many already.”

“And Wyatt didn’t even know what he wanted.” Johnny lifted his hand toward Wyatt.

Jez smiled, lifting her head toward me. “Stephan?” I stood behind the boys, with my head lowered. “We had fun; we should enter again next year.”

“No, I don’t want to.” I shook my head. “Let’s load the go-cart; everything else and go home.”

“But I think we get a third-place prize,” Wyatt said.

“Who cares about third place,” I said.

“You can go home with your mom and cry about it, but we’re going to stay here and wait for our prize.” Wyatt folded his arms across his chest, nodding his head.

Mom heard our conversation; she walked over, put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Stephan, let’s stay until the whole thing is over, then we’ll go home.” Mom smiled and patted my shoulder, meaning, “Act like a man.”

I nodded. The group stared at me, until I looked away. I stepped back and sat down on the cooler, waiting for them to announce the prizes. I listened to the group talk about the race and what they might win.

Later, after the prizes were handed out and everyone started to leave, Mom and I pushed the go-cart onto the trailer and loaded the cooler and chairs. I wished we would have left sooner, staring at everyone talking, while I refused to say a word, was very difficult. A few times I thought about giving in, but I had to stick to my point.

I hopped in the pickup and waited for Mom. At least my dad wasn’t there to see us lose. Where was he anyways? Maybe if he would have been there, like every other dad, he could have given us some pointers. Then again, he didn’t know anything about racing. I should’ve talked to Bobble-head Beamer some more; he could have given us some pointers.

At home, I helped Mom push the go-cart off the trailer and unload the cooler and chairs. Dad’s vehicle stood in the driveway; behind the house swirls of smoke rose to the sky. I walked to the backyard, where Dad stood grilling pork chops.

“Hey Stephan! I thought I’d grill on account of your big day.”

“Now you want to be nice, why not this morning? You could have gone to the race with us.” I lowered my head and sat down beside the patio table, mumbling to myself, “We might have won then.”

Dad set down his spatula and walked to the table. “I told you son, I had to go to work.”

Dad leaned back in his chair. “Besides, winning’s not everything.”

“You don’t understand,” I whined. I placed my hands on the arm rests and sat up straight. “I thought if I won, maybe you’d notice me, or be proud of me, or something! You’re never around.”

Dad nodded, studying my face. “I know, son. My job keeps me very busy, but I am proud of you.”

“Of what? I can’t even win a race.”

“The way you treat others, it’s admirable.”

I looked at Dad, my hands folded in my lap. I didn’t do a very good job today: the way I treated the group. But Dad didn’t need to know that.

“It’s not about winning the race; it’s about how you act while you’re racing.” Dad leaned forward. “Ten years from now people aren’t going to remember if you won a go-cart race. They’re going to remember how considerate you were, or how you made them feel better when they were feeling down. Things like that is what people are going to remember.”

I stared at Dad. “I don’t think people who don’t take their own advice should give advice to others.”

“I know I haven’t been the best example. But you know what’s right, even when people around you don’t do it, you still do. And that’s why I’m proud of you.”

I leaned forward and said, “Thank you, Dad. Sorry I told you what to do—just now.”

“Oh, just don’t do it again. Remember older people are wiser 99.3% of the time.”

I nodded and stood up. “I have phone calls to make. I have people I need to apologize to.” I stood underneath the porch screen doorway and faced Dad. “Dad, you’re wise and I’m glad you’re my dad.” I smiled and walked into the house. On my way to the phone I repeated Dad’s words in my head: “It’s not about winning the race; it’s about how you act while you’re racing.”

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