It's 7 a.m. here in the food court at the Greenbriar Mall in Atlanta, too early for shoppers. The concourses, except for store employees arriving for work, are mostly empty. There's no coffee. Having arrived in town less than eight hours ago, Jim Logan should be exhausted, but he doesn't look it. He's here for an interview with V103, a local radio station that's doing a live broadcast from the mall. New to this kind of thing, he smiles big and shakes hands firmly.
Also here is Eddie Cheever Jr., the season points leader in the Indy Racing League. Cheever makes his living driving in circles at 200-plus mph, and he does it very well. He won the Indianapolis 500 in 1998 and clocked the fastest lap in Indy history when he did 236.1 mph in 1996. Before taking up Indy cars 10 years ago, Cheever raced Formula One, the world's most exclusive level of auto racing, where names like Ferrari and Lamborghini dominate the field.
Cheever and Logan are in foreign territory. This is NASCAR country, where good ol' boys in stock cars draw more than 100,000 paying customers per race to Atlanta Motor Speedway and other tracks throughout the South. Race fans here appreciate cars built in America and drivers with drawls. Outsiders are viewed with suspicion or downright derision. Take Jeff Gordon, a Californian who is the winningest, and most loudly booed, driver in NASCAR. "What do you call 43 rednecks chasing a faggot?" goes one local joke. "NASCAR with Jeff Gordon in the lead."
Open-wheel racing -- that is, racing in cars without fenders or windshields -- has never been big in the South. So Cheever and Logan are here this Wednesday to win friends and influence morning-commute listeners to the point where they'll buy tickets for Saturday's Midas 500, the third Indy Racing League event at Atlanta Motor Speedway in as many years. Whether the IRL will be back next year depends on turnout this weekend.
As a star of the IRL, Cheever is an obvious choice to promote the sport, a proven winner who's handsome and willing to chat with anyone who walks up for as long as they want. Logan is here because he's black, a natural attraction for a radio station whose listeners are primarily African-American. As the first black owner of an Indy-style racing team, Logan is living a dream and bucking huge odds. His competitors are either wealthy or have sponsorships worth upwards of $1 million. They can afford state-of-the-art cars that cost nearly $300,000, fancy uniforms for their crews, every tool imaginable and 18-wheel customized trucks to haul it all around the country. A.J. Foyt, four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, is on the circuit as the owner of two cars. Other team owners include CEOs of businesses with annual sales exceeding $2 billion. Some are bankers; some own chains of gas stations, fast-food restaurants and hotels with names like Holiday Inn and Burger King. Some made fortunes in real estate.
James "Doc" Logan, a chiropractor from St. Louis, is no tycoon. The Logan Racing Team is far from polished -- this is only the second IRL race for half of the guys who'll be changing tires trackside. Short on experience and money, they make do as best they can. Logan got the Logan Racing Special -- car No. 19 -- here in a U-Haul. His team, a patchwork crew drawn from several cities, primarily in the Midwest, is staying at a Super 8 a dozen miles from the track. Some are paid; some are volunteering their time.
Logan got a late start on the season, obtaining his car secondhand three races into the 10-race season that began in January. The team made its first appearance at the Indianapolis 500, billed as the world's biggest auto race and a spectacle that commands five hours of live network coverage every Memorial Day weekend. Race officials put them in garage No. 13, which didn't prove a good omen. The team was late getting the car ready, and their driver missed a required refresher course for racers with limited experience at Indy. Race officials didn't allow them to take the track, even for qualifying time trials, but Logan smiles at the memory of mingling with names like Foyt and Unser. For a shoestring guy like Logan, making Indy your very first race is a bit like child declaring himself ready for the Tour de France as soon as he graduates from tricycles. "I was there with the big boys," he says. "Some were maybe chuckling inside: 'Is this guy for real? Does he think he can do this?'" The team finally got on the track at Texas Motor Speedway in June but suffered engine trouble and completed just 60 laps of the 208-lap race. Finishing a race would be a success.
As Logan waits for his turn at the microphone, Stevie Reeves, his driver, arrives. Reeves learned he'd be behind the wheel three days ago when he got a call from Logan while caught in traffic after a stock-car race in New Hampshire. Reeves worked as a spotter there, sitting atop the grandstand and telling his team's driver by radio where other cars were on the track and when it was safe to pass. Reeves has raced midget cars powered by motorcycle engines and more powerful sprint cars that can run on dirt or asphalt. He's raced stock cars and pickups on asphalt ovals.
He's raced an Indy car just once, finishing 10th in Charlotte, N.C., two years ago. If all goes well, he'll be rocketing around a 1.5-mile oval at slightly more than 200 mph sometime tomorrow afternoon in a car that weighs less than a Chevy Metro.
Reeves seems far from crazy, though he has a lot of gray hair for a guy who's 33 years old. When the radio host says he's gone 130 mph on a motorcycle, Reeves says that's too fast for him -- "There's no way I'd go 100 on a motorcycle," he says. "I'd have to be strapped in." But speed is in Reeves' blood. He grew up a few blocks from Turn 3 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, this sport's mecca. He got started in go-karts when he was 7. Until recently, a driver in the Busch series, a stock-car circuit one step below NASCAR's top Winston Cup series, Reeves now lives in North Carolina. He knows the Atlanta track from racing other kinds of cars here, so he's not starting totally from scratch. What does he think of Logan's car? Reeves, whose last race was in a pickup, smiles.
"I haven't even seen the car yet, to be honest," he says.
Sitting in his office on Natural Bridge Road near the University of Missouri, Logan doesn't look like the kind of guy who can run with the likes of Foyt and Unser. He answers the phone himself and doesn't have a receptionist. The carpet is ivory shag, his '80s-era computer uses 5.25-inch floppy disks and a Band of Gypsies LP leans against the combination tape-player/record player. There's an unframed poster of a 1985 Cadillac Allante, the same model Logan drives every day, usually 8-10 mph over the speed limit. There are also framed photographs of race cars he's owned. His desk is a mess, a morass of papers relating to racing and his chiropractic practice with a few Hot Wheels and Matchbox toy cars threatening to fall off the edges. He has diplomas from Columbia College, where he studied nutrition, and Logan College of Chiropractic (the name is coincidental).
The late football great Walter Payton was once part-owner of an Indy car, but Logan is the first African-American to lead a team by himself. "I like to call my own shots," he explains. "This is my dream. It's my personal thing."
Now 55, Logan grew up in North St. Louis. He commuted across the city to attend O'Fallon High School, which had a vocational program where he learned to work on engines. As a young man, he served in the naval reserves as an airplane mechanic assigned to Glenview Naval Air Station in Illinois and built planes at McDonnell Douglas. He ended up a chiropractor almost by chance. "I used to go by Logan College all the time," he says. "It had my name spelled out in big concrete letters on the grass there. And I just said, 'One day I'm going to see what that is.' And one day I did." He has two grown sons and a wife who, he says, supports his racing endeavors but prefers to stay in the background. "She thinks it's fine," he says. "She likes the idea that I'm doing it. She used to love it when the kids raced, but now that they're not racing, she doesn't really like to be in the activity, because she thinks she gets in my way. I move pretty fast."
Logan bought his first race car in 1978, when his two sons began racing open-wheel midget cars on dirt tracks. They've since lost interest, but Logan's appetite has only gotten bigger. He was soon racing more powerful sprint cars and in 1992 graduated to Silver Crown cars, an open-wheel class that runs on dirt or pavement and is considered a stepping-stone to Indy. Logan is strictly an owner -- he has never driven most of the cars he's owned, not even for fun. The fastest he's been clocked is 148 mph at a closed-track driving school in Las Vegas.
His love of racing and lack of money prompted a foray into car design about 10 years ago. Logan is the inventor of Formula 350, a car for Indy dreamers on budgets. Named for the General Motors engine that keeps costs down, the car has never caught on -- the only model ever produced is sitting in the Granite City garage where Logan keeps his sprint cars, which are now for sale. The world's only Formula 350 sits on a General Motors chassis, once used on regular old Buicks and Chevys and widely available in junkyards for $200, as is the GM automatic transmission. The rear end is out of a Jaguar; the tube frame is standard-issue racing stuff; the engine is modified to produce 450 horsepower; the aluminum skin costs $50 a sheet and comes already painted, with three sheets enough to finish the job. All told, such a car can be cobbled together for around $10,000. "Auto racing is so darn expensive that I was trying to think of a way where the average guy could go to the track, if you're not serious about becoming the next Mario Andretti but just want to have some fun," he says. "You're not going to go 200 mph. At most, you're going to go 120 mph. Instead of the car weighing 1,400 pounds, the car's going to weigh 2,000 pounds. So what? Who cares? You're going to be safer."
Logan attended his first Indy race in 1991 and has been a regular in IRL garages for the past four years. Reeves says the racing world needs folks like Logan: "His heart's in it. He's doing it for the right reasons. He's a racer. Lots of people come in trying to make money. If you're racing for money, you're doing it for the wrong reason. Doc's been around racing. He knows he's not going to get rich doing it. Doc wants to do this, and he's not giving up on it."
Growing up, Logan raced cars and motorcycles on the street but never on the track. "I wouldn't even attempt to drive when I was young enough to do it because racing was not exactly something socially acceptable to African-Americans at that time," he explains. "Not being one to want to force my way into an environment where I'm not welcome, I stayed away from racing and watched it on TV. I feel very, very deeply within my being that had certain things been more like they are now when I was a teenager, I probably would have been a race driver. Some of the stunts we pulled on parking lots and in the streets, we probably would be arrested for today."
Blacks haven't always been welcome on the American motorsports scene. Consider the career of Wendell Oliver Scott. Scott got his start in stock-car racing in the early '50s at the behest of a promoter who wanted a black driver to lure fans to a racetrack at a Virginia fairgrounds. The promoter got Scott's name from the police -- like so many early stock-car racers, Scott hauled moonshine, and the cops who chased him knew he was an expert driver. After winning more than 100 races on the state and local levels, Scott moved to the top echelon of stock-car racing in 1961, where he started 465 NASCAR races, until a crash ended his career in 1973. He finished in the top five 21 times and the top 10 in 155 races, a remarkable record for a driver who never had a major sponsor. He earned $226,563 in his racing career, enough prize money to put his seven children through college.
Scott won his only NASCAR race in 1963, but it was a hushed-up victory. Race officials refused to recognize him as the winner and handed the trophy to a driver Scott had lapped twice. Scott demanded that race scorers recheck their notes. "Everyone in the place knew I had won the race, but the promoters and NASCAR officials didn't want me out there kissing any beauty queens or accepting any awards," he recalled years later. Four hours after the checkered flag came down and the stands emptied, race officials finally agreed Scott had won and gave him the winner's purse. He never got to kiss a white woman on the winner's podium, but several months later, he finally got a trophy. Instead of a race car, the trophy was topped by a man holding a welding torch. Scott, who died of cancer in 1990, was given the recognition he deserved last year, when he was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Alabama.
Logan isn't facing the kind of racism that Scott battled -- indeed, other teams are more than willing to lend advice and equipment when the Logan Racing Team is short. But blacks remain rare in the top levels of racing. Willy T. Ribbs, who's now racing sports cars on road courses, is the only African-American who's driven in the Indianapolis 500, and he remains the only black driver at the elite level of auto racing. In Atlanta, Logan's team, with four African-Americans in the crew, has by far the most blacks of any IRL team. Most have none.
But race isn't the biggest issue for Logan. The chassis on his secondhand car is three years old and won't be allowed on the track after this season, which has just two races remaining after Atlanta. And so Logan, who won't say how much he's sunk into this enterprise, must find another car. New ones cost nearly $300,000. He talks about racing next season and wants to enlarge his racing stable. But he's also realistic about his chances of surviving in this six-figure sport without a sponsor. Even the old stuff is expensive: A three-year-old IRL car that's not as fancy as Logan's was recently advertised in On Track magazine for $36,000, and that was without an engine. Brand-new racing engines cost $86,000. A set of tires costs $1,500, and cars typically go through four sets in the course of a race. "This is not something that you want to attempt to do on a regular basis out of your own resources," he says. "It becomes prohibitive after a while."
Like Logan, the Indy Racing League is just starting out. The four-year-old league has opened the door to elite racing for guys like Logan by imposing strict equipment specifications designed to keep costs down. Tony George, owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, created the IRL because he didn't like the direction open-wheel racing had taken. There were too many races on road courses instead of ovals, not enough American drivers and too many teams spending $10 million or more each season.
So George set limits, and in so doing, he created a war with Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART), the sanctioning body that has dominated Indy-style racing in America. The split between IRL and CART, some say, has opened the door for NASCAR to become the most popular form of racing in America. IRL cars are a third less expensive than their CART counterparts. The league brags that 1999 engines can be modified to conform to 2000 specifications for $15,000. Unlike CART, the IRL doesn't allow turbochargers, which increase horsepower. Rules governing equipment are different enough that IRL and CART maintain separate racing circuits.
IRL survives because George has a lot of clout -- the Indy 500 brings in enough money to keep some teams afloat for an entire year. Even drivers who don't finish the race collect six figures in prize money. George outraged CART in 1996 when he set aside 25 of 33 spots at Indy for IRL drivers. CART boycotted Indy and didn't come back until this year, when a single CART team entered the race and blew away the rest of the field. Accustomed to faster cars, winning driver Juan Montoya led for 167 of 200 laps and joked with his pit crew over the radio while he cruised to victory.
Cars from Thursday's first practice session head back to the garage after an hour on the track. The Logan Racing Team is still trying to get its car started. After six hours of tinkering with the car in 98-degree heat, they've discovered a last-minute glitch. The starter Logan ordered before the race hasn't arrived, and the loaner they brought to the track isn't compatible with the car's electrical system. And so they end up borrowing a starter from another team.
They catch a break when race officials allow them to enter the second practice session. Even then, they are 20 minutes late to the pits and not much faster when they finally hit the track. Reeves is black-flagged after five laps, meaning he must come into the pits on the next lap. Former Indy winners Johnny Rutherford and Al Unser Sr. consult with Reeves. He tells them the car loses power when he turns the wheel and, perhaps worse, his rearview mirrors are vibrating so badly he can't see what's coming up behind him. The digital instrument panel isn't displaying speed or rpms, just the number 113, and no one seems to know what that means. Reeves is having trouble reaching the pedals, and his head is being thrown around by the wind because his helmet doesn't fit snugly in the cockpit. "I'm used to windshields lately," he apologizes.
No apologies are necessary. Rutherford, who serves as a driving coach for the IRL, is sympathetic. He says Reeves is doing fine. The black flag came out simply because the car was going too slow, Rutherford explains. "Stevie's a good race driver," Rutherford says. "He's proven that. He's the kind of guy we like to have in the IRL."
Eating sunflower seeds, Logan sits impassively in the pits on an elevated stand that lets him see the whole track. A video monitor at his elbow displays the speed of every car. He appears deep in thought as the crew checks the engine and sends Reeves back out. The car reaches 195 mph, but the motor starts missing after a few laps. Reeves shuts it down and coasts in. The crew puzzles. Suspicion focuses on the electrical system. Maybe it's a bad battery. Whatever the problem is, they're not going to fix it here in the pits. The team wheels the car back to the garage and shuts down for the night. They have a lot of work to do. Qualifying time trials are tomorrow, sandwiched between two practice sessions.
The next morning, crew chief Jeff Collins announces that a loose electrical connector could explain the loss of power. Collins, who's been an Indy mechanic for Rutherford and Tom Sneva, suspects a connector vibrated off and shut off all power to one side of the engine, reducing the V8 to a four-banger. From the edge of the garage, Joe Alexander looks disgusted. Properly installed, there's no way one of those connectors could come loose, he says.
Alexander, 86, is an honorary member of the Logan Racing Team. He knows racing, speaks his mind and comes to every IRL race. A former nuclear-power-plant superintendent, Alexander was making $775 a week back in the '50s, enough to pay for a string of race cars. He got behind the wheel only once. He was running a stock car on the West Coast and wasn't satisfied with his driver. "I said, 'You son of a bitch, give me that helmet,'" Alexander recalls. "'If I can run faster than you, you're fired.'" Alexander turned a lap a second-and-a-half faster than the driver, who kept his job after snatching the helmet back and turning in respectable times. "It made a race driver out of him," Alexander says. Did his trip around the track scare Alexander? "Shit yes," he answers.
Alexander owned the pole-sitter at the Indy 500 back in 1958, when speeds topped out at 145 mph and cars ran on a brick straightaway. That race is known for a tragic pileup on the first lap -- a driver trapped in his car burned to death. Alexander's driver wasn't hurt, but his car was sliced in half. "He was sitting in the car dumbfounded when I got to him," Alexander recalls. "I started to talking to him, and he wouldn't answer. He couldn't talk."
Alexander has kept a close eye on Logan's team since their debut. He pooh-poohed their original explanation for the breakdown that forced them out of the Texas race. The car was smoking when it hit the pits. "They tried to tell me it was a fuel problem," Alexander sniffs. "Fuel don't smoke." Alexander guessed burned rings, and he was at least partially right. A cracked engine part allowed water into a cylinder, which resulted in a burned ring and much, much more. All told, Logan paid for a new piston, valve and cylinder, in addition to rings, after the race in Fort Worth. And the work never stops. For most of the team's three days in Atlanta, Matt Bradford, whose Chicago company built this engine, has a laptop computer hooked up to sensors within the motor, trying to figure out how to make the car run faster. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew fidgets with suspension springs and tire alignments.
"Look at all these people around this car," Alexander marvels as Logan's team prepares the car for the afternoon practice session. "There's enough here to eat it." When they do pause to eat, it's make-your-own sandwiches from cold cuts, bread and individually wrapped cheese slices laid out on the workbench. Meanwhile, the top teams enjoy hot meals laid out buffet-style on portable tables.
This is the first Indy race for some of Logan's crew. Stephen Scisney, a friend of Reeves' who lives in Atlanta, shows up on Thursday in polished loafers, slacks, vest and black dress shirt buttoned to the neck. Before long, he is helping with tire changes. Within a few hours, he will be wearing jeans and an official Logan Racing Team polo shirt. Weekdays, Scisney works for AT&T; weekends, he works as a timekeeper at stock-car races. "Anything I can do to help," he says as the crew gets ready to start the car. "I've loved racing since I was knee-high to a Hot Wheel."
The team leaves Logan with little to do except pick up cigarette butts outside the garage. Racing etiquette decrees that the crew is responsible for a car's mechanical condition and owners aren't supposed to meddle. When the car is on the track, Logan studies lap times and eavesdrops on radio transmissions between Reeves and the crew. When he isn't trackside, he's in the garage, unlike many of his fellow car owners. "A lot of them sit on their ass in their air-conditioned trailers," says Alexander. "A lot of them aren't here."
By midday, Logan has plenty to do. The media has discovered the first African-American owner of an Indy car. Logan loses count after the third interview. Reporters from CNN, local news stations, auto-racing television shows and racing magazines line up outside his garage. Logan is getting as much attention as the top team owners. By cell phone, he declines an interview request from a radio station that wants him to stop by the studio. Apparently they don't understand that he can't get away from the track.
Reeves gets the car up to 198 mph during the first practice session, 16 mph slower than the fastest driver's car. The situation is improving -- the crew has adjusted the pedals and Reeves's head is stable, thanks to foam filler added to the car's headrest and secured with duct tape. The crew has also softened the suspension to improve the car's feel. But something still isn't right: The car continues to lose power, especially on the turns. The crew heads back to the garage. They have less than two hours to solve the problem before qualifying starts.
Despite the difficulties, Logan is smiling. "You go around the garage this weekend, there's nobody happier than Doc," Reeves says. "He's walking on cloud nine. Every dime he gets is going back into this car. I know how he is. He'll be here for a while."
About an hour before they're scheduled to qualify, Logan and crew chief Collins decide to check the fuel filter. Voilà. Tiny paint chips and hairlike tufts of fiber are clogging the filter's stainless-steel mesh. Logan had the car painted before he bought it, and the paint flakes match the old paint scheme -- someone apparently left the fuel tank open when the car was painted and buffed. The filter is quickly cleaned and installed. Then it's off to the races.
This time, the car performs well. Reeves gets it up to 201.98 mph in qualifying, with no loss of power. It's the second-slowest time -- the pole-winner sets the pace at 216 mph. But Logan is satisfied. "You got any thoughts?" asks Collins as Logan climbs off his stand and looks over the car. The owner shakes his head: "You're doing fine."
The team now has a shot. It's not unusual for a third of the entrants in Indy races to drop out because of crashes or mechanical failures. If the team can keep the car going and Reeves can maintain enough speed to hold off the dreaded black flag, they might just put on a show. The crew wheels the car back to the garage to prepare for the evening practice session, scheduled to begin in two hours. Logan grants a few more interviews. When the practice session nears, he wanders toward the track as if in a trance, oblivious to all the work going on around him as teams scurry to get their cars ready. Smiling, he's like a kid on Christmas morning who discovers Santa has granted his every wish. "Let me introduce you to A.J. Foyt," he says. He taps Foyt on the shoulder as the Indy legend supervises his crew, rolling out one of his two cars. Clearly this isn't the time for interviews or autographs, but Foyt couldn't be more gracious as he shakes hands. "I'm a little busy now, but if you could come back tomorrow, I'll have plenty of time," he says. "We're getting ready for practice."
Foyt allows that Logan may have a chance of besting him tomorrow. "Doc's all right," he smiles. "The way I've been going lately, anyone can beat my ass."
Walking away, Logan admits he'd lost track of time, forgetting that the last practice session before tomorrow's race will begin in less than 10 minutes. He makes his way to the pits and leans against the wall, gazing at the start-finish line a football field away. The moon, huge and yellow, is rising above the final turn. "I'm happy now," he declares. "Two-oh-two. We're going to get faster, though." The car will speed up if Reeves finds room in the slipstream of other cars, Logan says. The temperature and humidity have dropped since sunset, and that should also help. "The air is good," Logan says. "It has a bite to it."
Logan's predictions of higher speeds don't come true. Reeves gets it up to 199.9 mph, but no one is disappointed. The outing lasts more than a dozen laps, and the car runs consistently. Rutherford, a three-time Indy 500 winner, praises Logan for his determination and the progress the team has made. "That's one of the greatest challenges, coming into the pro ranks like this and starting from scratch," he says. "I think it's commendable for them to come in here and do that." Given the team's lack of money and experience, Rutherford says he would be surprised if they finish in the top 10. "That's the beautiful part about racing, though," he says. "If he runs all day and stays out of trouble and has good pit stops, he could finish in the top 10."
Race day begins with tragedy narrowly averted.
The team is installing a lower top gear in the transmission when they find a broken spacer between gear cogs. The broken part, called a dog ring, hasn't fallen off its spindle, which is extraordinarily fortunate. Normally, a broken dog ring, which keeps gears aligned, will fall off and get caught up in the gears, causing the driver to lose control and go into a wall, Collins explains. If the team hadn't changed gears in an effort to coax a little more speed out of the car, they never would have found the broken part. "I'm just writing it off that our luck has changed a little bit," Collins says.
The team has spent an hour practicing pit stops. Collins is cautiously optimistic there'll be no problems at trackside. The standard for excellence is getting the tires changed before the fuel tank is topped off. The team has time to repair a minor crack in the composite fiber body and install a decal on the side of the car that says "Thanks Everyone for Your Help." The decal faces the infield so the teams that have loaned equipment and given advice.
Suddenly there's another problem. As other cars are starting to leave the garage for the starting grid, the Logan crew finds a crack in a water-line fitting as they fill the radiator with coolant. Collins looks worried as he removes the broken fitting. "We've got to find a welder," he says. "We need someone who knows how to weld aluminum. Where's Doc? Doc! I need someone who knows how to weld aluminum." Logan is chatting with fans a few feet away -- having one of the last cars left in the garage, his team has drawn a crowd of about 50 race fans. He tells someone to fetch Reeves' father, who's flown in from Indianapolis and donned a team shirt. A former high-school shop teacher and longtime race mechanic, the elder Reeves is a skilled welder. Trouble is, he doesn't have his glasses with him. He and another team member take the broken fitting from Collins and sprint off in search of help. "I've seen you happier," an IRL official tells Collins. "You've seen me a lot madder, too," Collins replies. He's sweating heavily as he kneels beside the car, waiting for the part to come back. "I'm getting too old for this shit," he sighs.
Exactly one hour before the race is set to start, the fitting comes back, repaired courtesy of another team. A crew member warns Collins to be careful as he hands over the welded part, wrapped in a rag. "This is hotter than shit," he says. Holding the fitting in a gloved hand, Collins wipes it down with wet rags, bolts it to the car and smears it with a sealing epoxy that's supposed to set in 15 minutes. He's done in less than five minutes. He orders his pit crew to fill the radiator and get into their fireproof suits. The Logan Racing Special is the last car out of the garage. They make it to the starting line 40 minutes late but 20 minutes before the green flag drops, marking the start of the 320-mile race.
Bunched together when the pace car gets out of the way, the cars soon string out as drivers vie to get into slipstreams and seek out the best lines through the 24-degree banked turns, where dust and other tiny debris blown high by traffic accumulate on the outside of the track and make for slippery riding. As expected, Logan's car stays to the back of the pack, losing a few seconds on the leaders with each passing lap.
On lap 13, the race leader is just pulling even with Reeves when another car spins out of control and ends up in the infield. Out comes the yellow caution flag, signaling the drivers to slow down. Yellow flags are a chance for the field to regroup and make pit stops. Everyone holds his race position when the yellow is out, so Reeves escapes being lapped by a matter of seconds. "We know we aren't going to set the world on fire, but at least we're staying on the planet," says Scisney as the first car to drop out is removed from the infield.
On lap 31, the Logan team gets an upfront reminder on the dangers of racing when a neighboring car comes in for a pit stop. Its crew seems to be having trouble with the fueling line when one of their members starts flailing. He's on fire, but most folks don't know it because methanol flames aren't visible in the daylight. All you can see are shimmering heat waves rising from the lower half of the man's body as Collins and a few others reach for nearby buckets of water. The man jumps into a trackside 55-gallon barrel of water before they can reach him. He strips down to his underwear and is promptly hauled away in an ambulance. The drama merits few details in the trackside media report, which contains notes on every lead change and pit stop. Race officials initially record the event in six words: "Harrington to pits. Lengthy pit stop." A few laps later, officials report that the crew member suffered minor burns and was taken to the hospital as a precaution.
The yellow caution flag comes out again on lap 41 when a car suffers electrical problems and stops on the track. Reeves, now in 20th place, is one of three drivers who doesn't take advantage of the break to make a pit stop. He comes in on the next lap. This first pit stop goes well. The tires are on just as the fuel tank fills up. The only snag comes when Reeves stalls the car as he drives off, but the crew responds immediately and gets it started within a few seconds. A few feet away, Alexander is outraged because Reeves didn't pit on the previous lap, resulting in lost time to cars that came in under the yellow flag. "While all those guys were in here, he was still out there running around the fucking track," Alexander fumes.
What Alexander doesn't know is the Logan Racing Team's radios are broken. The team can hear Reeves, but he can't hear them. As a result, Reeves must rely on a reader board to signal a pit stop, which can be difficult to decipher at racing speed. He's also driving somewhat blind. Racing drivers rely on spotters to tell them when it's safe to pass and when other cars are approaching, but the broken radio makes Reeves's spotter useless.
Other than that, things appear to be going just fine until lap 97, almost halfway through the race. Reeves, now in 19th place, comes in for a pit stop. Again, the crew's performance is flawless -- the tires are changed and the tank is filled in about 10 seconds. But Reeves has shut down the engine. The crew races to restart the car but is stopped cold by Bradford, who leans over the wall and yells "No! No! No!" The man who built this motor has no trouble making himself heard above roaring race cars. The team pulls off the engine cowling and sees smoke.
The race is over for the Logan Racing Team.
Back in the garage, Bradford and Reeves explain that the car started losing power about 10 laps before the final pit stop. A few laps before the end, vibrations grew so intense that Reeves couldn't see other cars in his rearview mirrors. The problem is the water fitting: It cracked again. By the time they shut down, the radiator was bone-dry, a big problem when each of eight pistons travels nearly a mile a minute within its cylinder.
Bradford is especially worried about the vibrations, which could signal severe engine damage. "We're really lucky we didn't have a major engine explosion," he says. He'll know more in about a week, when he has a chance to completely disassemble the motor and check for melted pistons and other internal disasters. The problem could have been prevented with equipment that electronically relays such information as water temperature and pressure while the car is on the track, but that's out of reach for a shoestring team like Logan's. Bradford doesn't know how much monitoring equipment costs, but he knows one thing: "I know it isn't as costly as an engine."
While the Logan Racing Team gathers its tools and wheels No. 19 away, Scisney strips off his fireproof suit and sprints to the parking lot -- he's due in Pennsylvania tomorrow for a stock-car race. Reeves has earned a $17,300 purse for his 22nd-place finish. He wears a smile more philosophical than celebratory. "I'm not going to Disney World, that's for sure," he says. It's not clear whether the IRL, which has scheduled its first-ever race in St. Louis next year, will be back in Atlanta. Track officials don't release attendance figures, saying only that there were more fans this year than last.
Logan appears unconcerned by the prospect of rebuilding or replacing the motor. He wipes his finger inside the tailpipes and notes there's no oil residue. That's a good sign, he proclaims. If the engine had major damage, there'd be black deposits from oil that leaked into combustion chambers. "We may at worst have to put in rings and gaskets and maybe a piston," he says. "And a valve."
"Of course, it could all be junk inside," he admits, then excuses himself to return some parts he's borrowed. His engine could be a wreck, and he's still racing on a shoestring, but he's content.
Jim Logan is living his dream. And that's good enough.
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