Shop Talk; By KurahieiritrJio
Cody Mackenzie sat at a table beside his new tutor, Takahashi Ryosuke, in order to correct his flawed kanji, katakana, and hirigana writing forms. After a month in Japan, the seventeen-year-old had discovered, that although he read the lettering forms well enough from his language classes in America, he was worse than terrible at writing out the classic Japanese language.
Kobayashi Shuusuke was part of the exchange program with which he was involved. Cody wondered for a moment how his mother fared with her teenaged guest. He also wondered whether his older sister was making the Japanese exchange student miserable in the same way she made him wish he had never been born with some frequency.
"Cody-san, that line is off right here." The college student pointed out his flaw, and drug Cody from his reverie. The dark-haired man was pointing to the right side line of the three that Cody had connected to form the symbol.
"Gomen. I wish I could stick with romanji, Ryosuke-san. I can do that right."
"True, but only because it uses a familiar alphabet to your own. Since you are here to study, it makes sense to master our educational requirements."
"I know, but I feel like this is artwork, instead of word work. I'm not an artist by any stretch of the imagination" The teenager shrugged as he erased the botched line and tried to make the symbol the right way.
"Artwork?" The older man at his side quirked an eyebrow as he watched his progress. "I realize the system's symbols represent specific things, but I would hardly call it artwork."
"But, it's pretty to look at so seeing it as plain words can be hard for me. Guess Joanie rubbed off on me. She knows Japanese a lot better than I do. She used to talk to me in it when we were at runs."
Ryosuke allowed the side conversation as Cody sought to get the lines correct this time. "Were you involved in a track team club?"
"Nope. Mix track is a type of car racing. Joanie is one of the best in our area. Not many can keep up with her."
"Mix track? I've never heard of it."
Cody rewrote the symbol a second time as he spoke. "It's an American thing. We do it in the desert regions. You gotta have canyons and stuff to make it a mixed track."
"Why is that?" Ryosuke put a hand over the paper to stop him from writing for a moment.
Cody shrugged with an open-handed gesture as he shook his head at a loss for words. "It's . . . mixed up tracks. There's a point system to determine winners. The number of obstacles, and stunts determines the maximum points you can get. The more difficult the run, and the nicer you run it, the better your score."
"Stunts?" His dark-haired tutor raised an eyebrow at him.
"Well, yeah. Let's take the God's Eye for example. It's the hardest of all runs to do in my area. Only five people can control their cars well enough to make it without hanging up on the slip and slide bottle neck, so they can get to the God's Eye jump that follows the bottleneck funnel in that particular canyon. Of course if it rains there could be the no go. We have to ride horses down that section to clear debris because part of the cliff face caves due to rain water. If it's still passable, the debris adds extra obstacles to the bottle neck. The drivers that can get through get bonus points."
"Is this off road driving?"
"A lot of it is, although some runs have old paved areas that get very little traffic so can be added without too much worry over accidents. We don't go out of our way to pave canyons just so we can race through them." Cody gave his tutor the family's patented 'what kind of dummy would do that' look, shook his head, and grabbed the paper to set in front of him. The topic of racing made him homesick, so he preferred to avoid reminders of his Boss 302 sitting back home. Here, he could not drive legally, and it was a big loss to him.
"Is the only racing in your area off-road?" Keisuke Takahashi asked from the front room doorway. A smaller man stood slightly behind him, and at an angle Cody noticed as he looked up to see who had spoken. He had met Keisuke on one other occasion. He had not thought to see him while he was doing his tutoring after that first meeting because the younger Takahashi brother was never home. He looked at the spiky haired medium hued blond who was leaning on the door jamb.
"Let's see. We have four distinct off-road types of racing plus two real race tracks within a couple hours of each other where a lot of people go to do pavement racing."
Keisuke walked into the room and dropped onto a chair opposite the couch. "This is Fujiwara Takumi." He introduced the smaller man with him. "Do you mean tracks as in what professional racers use, or something else?"
"I mean professional certified tracks. They're open to the public on Friday, or Saturday nights for an entry fee most of the year. One track hosts the street legals drag strip racing, and the other hosts street legals lap racing. They're within one-hundred and fifty miles of each other. It's about an hour long drive to the NASCAR certified track from where I live. The fairground's track gets more of the funny cars, and other types of strip racing. That one is about thirty-five minutes from my home. People race on an elimination system on both race tracks."
"Do all Americans have nights where street racers can go to real race tracks?" The shorter man, Fujiwara, asked from inside the door with an odd expression on his face.
"In some parts of the country. My state allows street racing on professional tracks. Not all states with professional tracks cater to non professional racers like mine does. Those that do usually have horrific amounts of paper work you have to fill out, and sign because of the insurance companies that race tracks have to keep policies with. The fees can be steep to use the tracks too. It makes it easier if you join the car club lists, and get the specific club card which you renew once every year to ease the paper pushing."
"I always wondered what American racing was like on a non professional level." Ryosuke smiled as he spoke to the other two men in the room.
Cody smirked at his tutor, trying to decipher why the sudden interest in American racing. "When it comes to the American automotive sports, there are tons to pick from."
The spiky haired blond asked with a touch of sarcasm, "Tons? How do you figure that?"
"The assembly line production car was first invented in my country. If anyone says something can't be done with a car, I guarantee that someone will find a way to make the person who said it can't be done, into an ignorant idiot by finding a way of doing it." Cody frowned as he answered the younger Takahashi brother. He was a bit put off by the arrogance in the other man's attitude.
"So, how many types of automotive sports are there, as in some specific names?" The smaller man, Fujiwara asked with genuine interest.
Cody took an immediate liking to the softer spoken man who walked over and sat on the floor across from him. Cody began to tick off each sport as he lifted a finger with each sport he named. "I can name a few. There's rally sport, NASCAR, rodeo, mix track, endurance off road, Trans Am, demolition derby, straight derby, mud bogging, straight drag strip, fuel funny, and of course the street illegal scene off the top of my head. There are others racing formats but their names are coming up blank at the moment.
"You named a dozen on a single breath. Why so many kinds, Cody-kun?" Ryosuke asked with a hand on his shoulder.
Cody tilted his head as he considered the question. He had never thought about why people liked different forms of racing. "Hm, I guess because Americans are obsessed car fanatics who like to try new things with cars. Take mix track for example. It evolved out of a desire to create the ultimate in indestructible cars. Most runs are designed to either train a person for movie based stunt driving, or at least to become a good enough mechanical whiz to get into the industry as a mechanic. Mechanical inventions to improve safety for the drivers is another theme found in Mix Track. The ultimate goal is to make cars that can take tons of abuse without dropping their drive trains, transmissions, sheering restraining bolts, or breaking their axles because of hard impacts. Half story to full story free falls are built into a couple of the advanced runs. Of course in mix track cars, there has to be lots of chassis upgrade work, and suspensions, and undercarriages are always under reconstruction. The mechanical innovations are actually a huge chunk of the sport. It's a sport that focuses on the kinds of ways the racers can modify a car to do things cars aren't supposed to be able to do."
"So, your saying that the mix track sport is actually a specialized training tool for stunt persons, and used to improve known stunt car durability." Ryosuke pointed out as if he wished to verify his conclusion.
"Pretty much. Not everyone who likes the sport is interested in being involved with movies or automotive engineering. Some just enjoy the unusually dangerous racing format. Those that drive for the thrill of taking their lives into their own hands are a big chunk of the drivers we get."
Keisuke had a frown on his face as he spoke. "What is a rodeo, then?"
"Rodeo is a precision dominated automotive competition, where the cars make tight turning, and tricks into a specialty. They use big barrels like what horse-based barrel racing uses in rodeos, hence the nickname. The barrels are modified to take all kinds of measurements. Drivers also pole-bend, but I'm not sure how to explain that part of the trick sets. There are specific handling codes built into their sport that are a lot different from mix track. In rodeo, you have to maintain a minimal speed limit, staying withing a close precise angle to each obstacle, and make a set pattern as you weave through the obstacles with only a foot or two of wiggle room between several obstacles at the same time. I've heard that there are other types of rodeo style driving sports, but I don't know much about the specific setup and regulations imposed in other regions. I do know that in my area it's normal to do music theme driving also. Kind of like making the car dance to the beat of the song."
"Where do Rodeo racers normally race, Cody-san?" the smaller man sitting across from him asked.
"Some rodeoers make deals with the real large strip malls, and places that have big parking lots. Those drivers have to wait until after the shops close. That way the lots are empty, and you have space to bring in the big pickups that haul all those barrels, poles and other obstacles they use. A couple of the real small airports get paid to let Rodeoers drive on certain sections of their air strips every so often. I know the glider port hosts one of the real big competitions they do every year. The barrels and such can be moved around to vary the runs. I know a couple of mini-malls that are private owned that made written contract agreements with a couple of rodeo groups who wanted to use their parking lots. They get paid a fee for the use of the area."
Ryosuke sounded uncertain as he spoke again. "I thought you came from a very mountainous region, Cody."
"Yeah, we have mountains. America has several really huge mountain chains like the Rockies. We also have the Smoky Mountains chain too. Both plow through several states. My area is on the Arizona and New Mexico state line, so we drive on both sides of the state line on a couple of the major runs."
"Then doesn't your area have downhill, and uphill street racing?"
"The only people who race on paved streets are the idiots that crash into the main electrical poles, and black out a couple thousand houses with a single wreck. The black outs can last for a couple days. Thanks to that, our police get real nasty with the street illegal racers whenever they catch them. The fines are stiff to help recoup the losses the city swallows every time there's a power line disruption caused by those wrecks. People go to jail on the third offence. It's also a guarantee that you'll lose your drivers licence for seven years in my area. We can't even have cruise nights anymore. Because of the jerks, and egomaniacs who don't understand that there is a time, and place for racing a car, everyone got cut off from showing off their cars anywhere but the professional tracks now."
"I guess it would make sense that the police would put real harsh bans on street racing if such serious accidents are normal." Fujiwara said with a thoughtful tone.
"Most of the people who get into illegal street racing are either new drivers, or posers in my area. They drive crap cars that are lowered too far to get over speed bumps. A body kit, extreme lowering, and a big noise producing muffler with a pricy stereo do not equal performance. Some of the cars are so low that they can't really turn very well. Ninety percent of the accidents we see in my area are caused by that mechanical failure. If you can't turn the car, then you need to stick to straight streets. There aren't that many long straight lines in my town. That causes bad problems. It's fashionable to have a crappy crop job low rider, but it isn't very smart if you plan on driving fast on a curvy road. Core racers know you need to balance out modifications and going about it cheap is always a bad idea."
Fujiwara tilted his head and scratched his chin. "What do you mean by a core racer?"
"Core racers are mechanic savvy people with concrete skills to back their dedication to their car sports. They're always serious about their particular genre of racing, and usually dominate their racing scenes. They hate mechanical ignorance, and insist on turning idiots into knowledgeable people even if they have to resort to violence to get the point across. Cores will always maintain that in some auto-based sports, you can lower the car to decrease drag, but you have to keep enough clearance for your wheels to turn without damaging the tires or fenders on sharp angle corners. Every engine upgrade also requires a suspension upgrade because balancing the undercarriage, suspension, drive train, and other parts to work with an upgraded engine factor heavily in getting good performance with the least amount of wear and tear to the car."
"Those are all common sense ideas, Cody." Ryosuke pointed out with a thoughtful expression on his face. "What did you mean by posers?"
"Posers are people who are into getting cars that look cool. Right now chop framed low riders are the height of fashion, but, like I said, they have a very limited turning ability due to being so low to the ground. There's no fender clearance at all in some car models that are popular. They also use really tiny tires that can't handle the required traction to make a hard turn. The tires are so thin that they are prone to pop if they catch on even smaller pot holes at a higher speed. They are the ones that cause accidents because their axles break loose and a lot of other big problems from real cheap custom work."
Keisuke nodded. "I I can see from your description that's why there are so many accidents. Bad tires combined with dangerous mechanical alterations would make for dangerous cars. It sounds like the biggest problem is that these modifications make it so cars can't turn. A blown tire makes the vehicle impossible to control if it's moving at high speed. On a cracked, or pitted road, those two factors would be a fatal combination."
"You got it. The number one type of accident is a crop job that's moving too fast and can't turn. The driver wraps around a phone pole because their dinky tires can't grip the road, or they explode. The number of axles that bust free and hang up the other car involved makes the wrecks worse. It's all because of ignorance, poor, cheaply priced crop job workmanship, and lack of upkeep on the undercarriages that are lowered that far. Core drivers know that our police have a real good reason for being so nasty to the street racers in the area. The saddest thing about the modern street racing scene is the number of innocent people who get their cars messed up because they were sitting in the wrong lane when hotshot illegal drivers do something stupid and lose control. There have been too many fatalities like that the last few years."
Ryosuke steered the conversation once more. "How old do you have to be to get a license in your country? Here the age is eighteen."
"Most people get a driver's permit at fifteen and seven months I think it is. They can get their full licence at sixteen if they can afford the insurance premiums. I'm seventeen, so I've had my licence for a while. I have a Boss 302 that's sitting under a shade tree back home waiting for me to get back."
"Boss 302?" Fujiwara looked confused as he spoke mostly to himself, or so it sounded to Cody.
"My Boss 302 is an old car that was made by Ford in the late sixties. If I ever decide to fix it up it's worth money because it's a collectible classic back on the East Coast, or so I've been told."
Keisuke probed with another question. "I wonder what my cousin thinks about being in America? Your family hosted him, the same as our aunt is hosting you, right?"
"Yes. He probably hates it. I bet he has to roll out of bed before sun up, and bust his butt hauling feed and such to get the critters fed before breakfast. After the morning chores are done he gets to eat his own breakfast, get cleaned up and then go to school. I don't see my ma letting your cousin stay in bed when there are hungry horses, chickens, goats, and milk cows to be fed. Once he gets out of school, it's back to work. After the same evening chores are done, he gets cleaned up, eats supper, and does his homework. Then, if he gets unlucky, he'll get to see and hear my big sister's mean streak in action. Trust me, you don't even want to know how hard it is to live with the likes of her."
Keisuke frowned and gave his older brother an odd look. "I had no idea Shuusuke was in that kind of situation. I wonder if he's doing all right."
"Cody-san's description reminds me of Oyaji's schedule for me every morning." Fujiwara smirked. It was obvious the other teenager was thinking about something Cody had said, but the American teenager wasn't certain about which part he meant.
"Now, it isn't too bad. By now he's got his driver's permit, if not a full-blown driver's license since he's my age. Our schools don't give near the same amount homework I've been getting over here. He has free time, even with getting roped into doing some chores. Besides, it'll put some meat on his bones. I've seen a couple of photographs and he looks pretty wimpy to me. I haven't seen that many guys in my highschool over here that have all that much muscle tone. If nothing else, your cousin should gain some muscle working at the ranch every day."
"They don't have much homework?" Keisuke looked shocked, as he leaned forward as if he could not believe what he was hearing.
"We go to school five days a week, instead of six. Most of our school work is done in class and turned in the same day. You might have to read something for research to finish the twice a year essay projects we get in one, or two of our classes, but not every one of the classes have that much homework. Summer vacation also starts at the end of May and ends the first week in August in my area."
Cody was beginning to feel the pressure of so much attention by three sets of eyes. Ryosuke asked him another question. "Why did you get into the exchange program, Cody?"
"I did really well on a required essay about Japan for my Japanese language class. Mine covered parts of Japanese history and its impact on the culture. My essay was picked out. So, I'm here."
Ryosuke looked at him with an undefinable expression. "It almost sounds like you didn't know that you had applied to come here?"
"My Japanese teacher added my essay to some national contest. I won the contest and the prize is a cultural exchange. This is a really pretty country, so I don't mind the fact that I was clueless at the beginning."
"Hm, Shuusuke did a paper on the American Southwest. That's part of the reason he was chosen." Ryosuke sounded as if he spoke to himself. "Do you miss your home?"
"I don't miss having ma after me to get busy every minute of the day. Mr. Howard isn't giving me lectures about cows all the time since he had a stroke and can't do a lot of hard work anymore. And, I really don't miss my big sister brow beating me on all sorts of things like taking too danged long in the bathroom when she's got to get ready for some stupid date. She even yells at me about the way I drive. But, I miss driving myself where I want to go, and working on my Boss whenever I feel like it and can buy the parts."
"Who's Mr. Howard? Was he one of your teachers?" Ryosuke was quick to sift out another topic to ask about.
"My family works for him. He owns the cattle ranch."
Keisuke looked at him with a thoughtful expression. "So your family works for the man who owns the ranch?"
"You got it. We have our own house on the ranch property. Ma takes care of stuff for the menfolk who don't have enough time to get to some things. Mr. Howard's wife died, so mom makes sure the cooking, cleaning, laundry, and most household repairs are done for both houses. Us men do the rest of the work around the place."
Keisuke added another comment to the conversation. "It sounds like a hard lifestyle to adjust to."
"It's pretty boring, but not that hard once you get used to it. Like I said, your cousin will come back packing some real muscle on his frame."
"I wonder how Shuusuke feels about that?" Keisuke rolled his eyes as he spoke. Since Cody did not know the teenager who was in his place, he had few ideas about what to answer. He shrugged instead.
"You said your sister yells at you about how you drive. How come?" Keisuke asked, as if looking for a reason to pick him apart, Cody thought with a touch of resentment.
The teenaged American snapped at the blond, "She's a core racer. They're a pain in the neck. They make you do stupid stuff for hours on end in order for you to become what they consider to be a decent driver."
"Why would she do that?" Takumi Fujiwara had a furrowed brow, but his tone lacked Keisuke's irritating quality.
Cody had no problems with answering as he did not feel like this man was dissecting him. He showed only a strong sense of curiosity in his tone of voice. "My big sister's an obsessed perfectionist behind the wheel. She can even whiplash, and make it look like it's easy." Cody snorted. "In short she makes a car dance across any surface and look like a waltz if she decides that's what she wants her car to do. I can't do that because I've only been driving for a real short amount of time compared to her."
"Waltz? You've got to be joking. A car can't waltz. And what exactly is a whiplash?" Cody glared at the blond who sounded as if he wanted to laugh.
Cody grabbed an imaginary steering wheel and tried to explain the technique feeling a little foolish. "A whiplash is where you force the bulk of your car's weight onto the front wheels so the rear end slides to the side and levels out in a tight area to put you onto the next straight section. You turn the wheel into the angle you want to straighten out into so you can control the vehicle as the rear realigns. The cars we all drive are heavy, usually weighing around three tons on average. So, you use the same kind of tactics to control a car in an ice slide. It's a great trick to use in a bottle neck canyon that has a tight wall face. It can keep your car from slamming into the rock once you master it. It can also get you through real tight corner angles if you can control the timing right."
"It sounds almost like he's trying to describe a drift, Ryosuke-san." Fujiwara said as he looked up at the college student. Cody snorted at the gape jawed look on Keisuke's face.
"It does, if not as precise in explanation as we would use. Cody-san's description does have a strong sounding resemblance to our drift technique. There are terms that are off, or missing, like under and over steering. But his gestures make me think that is what he's trying to convey."
"Are you saying that you know how to drift?" Keisuke leaned forward in his seat with disbelief mirrored on his face.
"Never heard of that term. Rodeo, and mix track use the whiplash for certain types of obstacle evasion. It isn't the fastest way to go when on dirt because it does slow the car's momentum as the wheels side dig in the sand, but it can prevent cosmetic damage once you learn to do it right."
Ryosuke began to speak, forcing Cody to turn back to his tutor and ignore the blond. "Cody, a drift is where you slide the rear wheels of the car to the side and use inertia to take a corner at an angle in order to straighten out faster on the next straight away. I think the major differences seem to revolve around the steering angles you described. We use the drift technique on pavement, instead of in sand which may be why the angles are so different. The confusion we have is over how you describe the wheel turning aspect."
"Well, whiplashing is mostly done on dirt, so you have to change the wheel angles from what you would use on pavement. A car's weight affects butt swing too. Heavy cars swing out hard, fast and far. Your cars weigh about half of what my country's cars do a lot of the time, Ryosuke-san. So that would also affect things. I don't see why pavement would need the same steep angles to keep a car under control because you have better traction to help you maintain direction. On dirt, and gravel there's very little traction, so you have to compensate through adjusting to real deep angles or the car will over balance and donut instead of move forward. Even the best all terrain tires have limits to what they can hold onto until they dig beneath the top layer to reach hard pack."
"Shit. Aniki he is talking about drifting, isn't he? He's using weird names, but it is the same thing." Keisuke looked at him as if he had developed three heads.
"I agree that Cody is talking about drifting too. He also makes several great points. Dirt and gravel are different mediums. Due to that his theories about wheel angles have a strong probability of being correct. The need to use extreme under, or over steer would be a logical forced evolution in drifting to compensate for low grip surfaces like dirt or gravel impose. His mentioning of the additional weight should also be considered. Drifting in heavy cars depresses the tread faster. It might be that over and under steering is used to compensate for the loss in traction. I think we should consider what he's talking about seriously, little brother."
Cody looked up at his tutor feeling confused by the older man's words.
Keisuke spoke up. "Cody, I doubt you know about it, but Aniki, Fujiwara, and I are all street racers here in Gunma. We have a team called Project D, which is rewriting most of the Kanto region's mountain pass records right now. Fujiwara is our downhill specialist, and I do the uphill specialist racing."
Cody scratched his head and nodded after a few moments. "Well, I guess that explains a lot. So, the Japanese have forms of specialized racing too. I was kind of wondering why you had such a big interest in my country's racing scene for a minute."