Authors: Franklin W. Dixon
An Explosive Finish
Joe gunned the throttle and zipped over the hill, catching a bit of air as he did so. He didn't try anything fancy, wanting to get a feel for the course first. His steady progress put him in third place, behind the two leaders. He spotted Frank, watching from beyond the next rise, then lost sight of him as he hit the ground again.
Hawk topped the next hill before Henderson. She did a barhop over her handlebars as she went, then disappeared behind the hill.
Henderson topped the next rise, gunning his throttle all the way as he went up. He hit the top of the whoopdedoo in a nearly vertical climb and twisted his bike into the first somersault in a combination.
Man and machine hung gracefully in the air for a momentâthen Henderson's black and gold motorcycle exploded.
“Yeah! Way to go, Jamal!” Joe called.
Jamal Hawkins skidded his dirt bike to a halt at the corner of the track, kicking up a huge cloud of tawny dust. Several other racers, clad in colorful motocross “armor,” zoomed by as Jamal pulled up next to his friends, Joe and Frank Hardy.
Joe, a muscular, blond seventeen-year-old, clapped Jamal on the shoulder. “Nice bit of riding,” he said.
Joe's older brother, Frank, checked his stopwatch and nodded in agreement. “Good run.”
“How good?” Jamal asked. He flipped up the faceplate of his motorcycle helmet and mopped his brow. His brown face glistened in the afternoon
sunlight. It was sweaty work keeping a motocross bike under control over the rough course at the Fernandez Cycle Track. The raceway, located near the western outskirts of Bayport, was a long, unpaved series of hills, twists, and cutbacks.
Frank showed Jamal his lap time. “A few seconds under your previous track record,” the elder Hardy said. “Not bad for the first run of the day.”
Jamal pulled off his red and black helmet and smiled. “You guys ain't seen nothing yet,” he said. “I'm saving my best stuff for the Rehab Race this weekend. You guys should take a shot at it too. It's open to everyone.”
“We've done our share of rough riding over the years,” Frank said, “but I doubt our bikes are up to that kind of competition. They're really just recreation bikes, not racing models.”
“Hey, I've heard that it's the
that wins the day, not the machine,” Joe said playfully.
“That might be true if all the competitors were running 125 cc engines,” Frank said. “But facing our little off-roaders against one of those big 250s or 500sÂ .Â .Â . well, let's just say that I don't like eating that much dust.” He brushed the grit that Jamal's bike had kicked up out of his dark hair.
“But I'm riding my 125 too,” Jamal said. He patted the gas tank of his red and black machine. “All the competitors are doing the same. The Fernandez family has limited the entries to small
bikes so that more people will join the fund-raiser.”
“That's right,” a pleasant female voice interjected. “Weâor at least
âneed as many competitors in this race series as I can get.”
The Hardys and their friend turned and saw a teenager with wavy blond hair coming toward them. She smiled and looked very upbeat, even though she was seated in a wheelchair. She rolled skillfully over the packed earth at the edge of the motocross track.
“Hi, Corri,” Jamal said. “Guys, this is Corrine Fernandez. Corrine, these are my friends, Frank and Joe Hardy.”
Joe and Frank shook hands with the girl. “Isn't this benefit race being held in your honor?” Frank asked.
Corrine nodded. “I don't know if I'd call it an âhonor,' butÂ .Â .Â . my dad and the rest of the family put this together to help cover my rehab bills. I wanted to call it the âRace to Avoid Bankruptcy,' but they decided to go with the âCorrine Fernandez Benefit Challenge' instead.” She chuckled.
Frank smiled. “That's probably easier to sell to the media than your other option.”
“Well,” Corri said, “with the popularity of reality TV right now, we might do better if we called it âDeath Race 3000.'Â s”
Jamal and the Hardys all laughed.
“How are you feeling?” Joe asked Corrine. “We read about your accident in the papers.”
“That was six months ago now,” she said, “and I'm still in this darn chair.” She sighed. “I can't wait to get back on a bike again.” She looked wistfully at the colorful riders practicing on the track nearby.
“So you're planning to race again?” Frank asked.
“You bet,” Corrine replied. “When you fall off the bike, you've gotta get right back on.”
“Not when you fall off, break both legs, and fracture your spine in three places,” Jamal said.
Corri shrugged. “Hey, we're a motocross family. Racing's in our blood.”
“Just so long as that blood doesn't end up on the track,” Joe said.
“Don't worry,” Corrine replied. “I just caught a bad break. Motocross isn't that dangerous if you know what you're doing.”
“She's right,” Jamal said cheerily. “I doubt I've broken more than a couple bones in all the time I've been doing it.”
“If you've only broken two bones, maybe you're not doing it right,” Joe quipped.
“If fractures are your idea of âright,' maybe it's a good thing that you don't race as much as I do, Joe,” Jamal replied.
Corrine laughed. “Boy, do I miss the repartee of the track!” she said. “I'm getting stronger every day, though. I'm sure I'll be zooming over whoopdedoos in no time.”
“Your family owns this track, don't they?” Frank asked.
“Yes,” Corrine said. “For now, anyway. Dad had to sell the mortgage to cover my medical bills. He's wishing now that we had better health insurance, butÂ .Â .Â .” She shrugged again, then asked the Hardys, “So, are you two going to join the field, or what?”
“We were just telling Jamal that our bikes might not be up to the challenge,” Frank said.
“You can do it,” Corri said. “This series of races will give everyone a chance to winâeven talented amateurs. The bike engine size is limited to 125 cc, though you're allowed minor modifications after every phase of the race. The winner will be the rider who does best in all three parts of the event.”
“What are the three phases?” Frank asked.
“I can answer that,” Jamal said. “There's the acrobatic/aerobatic Mixed Freestyle, the motocross Speed Test, and finally, the cross-country Enduro.”
“The winner of the series will get a rebuilt classic O'Sullivan SD5âan offshoot of the old BSA line of British machines,” Corrine said.
“Is it worth much?” Joe asked.
“It's not as rare as an Indian bike,” Jamal said, “but it's still a nice piece of iron. And some of the parts came from the garage of motocross legend Garth Metzger.”
“I've heard of him,” Frank said. “That's quite a prize.”
“I'm surprised you can't sell it to cover the bills,” Joe said.
“It'd be worth a lot more if the
bike came from Metzger's garage,” Corrine admitted. “But it's still a nice collector's item. It's one of a kind. Plus, owning it will mean you're the winner of the most unique motocross race series, ever.”
Frank nodded appreciatively. “So, a unique set of races with a unique prizeÂ .Â .Â . that's one way to get more publicityâand ridersâfor the race! I hope it works for you.”
“So far, so good,” Corrine said. “We've got a good mix of amateurs and big-name talent.”
“I've heard that Ed Henderson and Amber Hawk will be competing,” Joe said. “Even with the unusual format, do you really think local riders have any chance against those two?”
“They're only experts in one type of motocross racing,” Jamal said. “Henderson is the king of acrobatics, and Hawk rules on the dirt track. Here, they'll have to compete in specialties they're not used to.”
“And on bikes a lot smaller than the ones they normally ride,” Corri added. “It wouldn't surprise me if a complete unknown wins the top prize this weekend.”
“I guess we'd fit into the âcomplete unknown' category,” Frank noted.
Corrine smiled up at him and Joe. “So, what do you say, guys? Will you help out and join the race? You could be pledge racersâjust like most of the competitors.”
“What's a pledge racer?” Joe asked.
“It's like working on a school fund-raiser,” Corri explained. “You promise to race, and then collect money by getting people to sponsor you. They pledge either a set amount, or an amount based on where you finish in the standings, or both.”
“That's what I'm doing,” Jamal added. “There are a lot of people who'll be paying off big-time when I collect that O'Sullivan SD5.” He grinned from ear to ear.
“You don't have to ask for huge amounts of money, though,” Corrine continued. “Every little bit will help pay for my rehab. The doctors don't care if they're paid in pennies or hundred-dollar bills.”
“Well, when you put it that way,” Joe said, “how can we refuse?”
“Count us in,” Frank agreed.
“Great,” Corri said, smiling. She opened a metal clipboard on her lap. “It just so happens that I have a couple of registration forms with me. If you're quick, you might even get in some practice runs today.”
“Speaking of practice,” Jamal said, “I'd better get back on the course. I hear I've got two more tough competitors entering the race.”
Jamal pulled his helmet back on, started the
cycle's engine, and pulled out onto the track once more. “See you after the next run,” he called.
Frank started the lap counter on his stopwatch. Then both he and Joe took the registration forms from Corri Fernandez and began filling them out.
While the brothers wrote, they kept an eye on the other racers flying around the track. Clouds of dust whipped up as the dirt bikes crested the hillsâknown as “whoopdedoos”âand then skidded into the turns between. The sounds of racing engines and the smell of motor fuel mixed with the rich scent of freshly turned earth.
“Those are pretty large whoopdedoos, aren't they?” Frank asked.
“Yeah,” Corri said, gazing longingly at the racers. “We've built them up so people can practice for tomorrow's acrobatic event,” she said. “We're going to make them even higher overnight, then take them back down for the regular motocross.”
A rider in blue racing armor crested the nearest hill. A golden dragon motif covered the painted portion of his bike. As he topped the rise, he flew into the air. He and the bike executed a double somersault, then landed lightly on the track below. The rider kept going, full speed.
Joe and Frank both stopped filling out their forms long enough to watch. “Impressive,” Joe finally said.
“That's Ed Henderson,” Corri explained. “He's definitely one of the best in the business.”
“Don't be looking for jumps like that from us,” Frank said, smiling. “Not unless you're providing stunt doubles.”
Corrine smiled back. “I think you Hardys protest too much,” she said. “Jamal's told me you're pretty fancy riders yourselves.”
“Maybe we just want the competition to
we're inexperienced,” Joe suggested with a laugh.
“It wouldn't be the first time someone's tried that tactic,” Corri said. She watched as Henderson zoomed over another rise, then disappeared behind a bank as he continued running the course.
The roar of another engine made all three teens look back the other way.
A pink and purple bike sailed over the crest of the nearby hill. But the rider hit the jump wrong and veered sharply off the track.
“Look out!” Frank shouted as the motorcycle soared right toward them.
The world seemed to move in slow motion as the cycle flew through the air at the startled teens.
Instinctively, Joe and Frank both grabbed Corrine's wheelchair. They pushed her aside and dove out of the way as the machine zoomed at them. The pink and purple bike rocketed past, missing the brothers by inches.