I'd learned much about the history of the Indy 500, since becoming involved in the sport just over a year ago. The heyday of auto racing began at the end of World War II when Tony Hulman, a businessman from Terre Haute, Indiana, bought the racetrack and rescued it from the threat of redevelopment. The ‘greatest spectacle in racing’ reigned supreme until the mid-1960s, when a driver named Parnelli Jones stuck a gas turbine engine from an airplane into an Indy car and blew everyone else out of the water. Unfortunately for him, the gear box of a race car couldn’t handle the torque of the turbine and died just a few laps short of his winning the race.
The thing was, a gas turbine engine cost several times as much as the best piston engines of the era, putting it out of reach of all but the richest of race car owners. Owner-drivers couldn't hope to compete. Auto racing was supposed to be about skill and not wealth, and so began an era of regulation and standardization that cost the sport dearly. Indy racing, just as with Formula 1, was supposed to be at the forefront of technical innovation. Regulation put an end to that, resulting in a bitter split of race car drivers into warring factions, the original United States Auto Club and the upstart Championship Auto Racing Teams.
The two organizations vied for dominance of the sport up until Mario Andretti and Paul Newman worked out a deal to bring them back together in 2008, only to have Tony George, the grandson of Tony Hulman, walk away from the deal just three years later. The situation wasn’t resolved until 2020, when in the midst of the pandemic and with the track facing bankruptcy, Roger Penske, himself a legendary race car driver and the owner of Team Penske, bought the track and assumed control of the entire Indy Car circuit.
For better or worse, the feud paved the way for NASCAR to become the dominant auto sport in America. Regulation and standardization might have made it easier for owner-drivers to compete but even so, it cost over a million dollars to field an Indy car with a stock engine and over two million to build a competitive car. By contrast a championship NASCAR race car could be built from a modified stock car at a cost of around $150,000. In my opinion, the Indy car circuit could never compete with stock cars for affordability, nor should it even try.
Jeff made a significant investment in developing winning Indy cars, mostly because of his ego and the desire to beat Elon Musk at his own game. Henry and I ended up investing nearly a billion of our own money in the project, literally to get the cars across the finish line. The next step was to make the technology affordable in time for next year’s race, so that all race car drivers could benefit, while at the same time pushing the technology still further. Innovation was truly the key to returning the Indy 500 to the pinnacle of auto racing.
There was much to celebrate, yet there was still the pall of the sniper attack on Henry that hung over the entire event. Everyone knew about it now, including the press. The furor that initially developed had passed because we’d kept it from the public until after the race. It was apparent that the attack was very specific and aimed at preventing our participation in the race, so the public never was in danger. A police investigation was in progress, and even the FBI had become involved. Ms. Shapiro had covered her tracks well, and it was doubtful she would ever be connected to the attempt on Henry’s life. However, with Jeff on the board of Culver, it was likely she would lose her position as chair and, with it, much of her influence. She might have gotten away with murder in the past, quite literally, but this time she’d gone too far and put the entire organization at risk.
Ironically, I wouldn’t be on the board or we could have staged a coup. Both our drivers won, but the winning speed was 1.7 seconds shy of 200 mph. I learned the hard way that speed matters little if you can’t get around a pair of drivers who are constantly trying to pass each other to avoid being in the last finishing place. That fucking pair brought everyone’s speeds down. Our pit crews were off the mark, and that didn’t help our times, either. Although experienced in refueling conventional cars, expecting the crew to replace all four of the wheel assemblies rapidly during a pit stop had been naïve. I would’ve thought doing so was similar to replacing tires, but the added complexity of the motor assemblies added crucial seconds to the procedure. I was going to have to come up with a simpler design before next year’s race – with input from the crew themselves; at least, we were going to need to spend more time on practice.
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The awarding of prizes at Indy was done at an elaborate black tie affair, several days following the race. Although Roger Penske was in attendance, he was well into his 80s and hence it was another member of the Penkse family that served as the emcee. After introducing one V.I.P. after another and the keynote speech, the victory banquet would enter the phase where the awards were given out. The Rogers team, although far from the largest, had three tables at the banquet owing to the large number of people that had worked on the project, and Jeff had been generous in paying their way so that as many people could attend as the track would allow. The banquet was held at the convention center, to which our hotel was attached, and attendees included all of the race-car drivers and the primary support personnel who’d made their participation in the race possible. In a handful of cases, the drivers were the car owners, attending only with a skeletal crew and, when applicable, family members because they could barely afford one table, let alone more. Most drivers were part of a team involving at least one other driver and hundreds of support people. A few teams, such as the Penske team, had a long and storied history of auto racing and often had several drivers in the race. The Penske team had close to a dozen tables at the banquet this year.
The Rogers team was one of the newest and smallest teams, yet with the first- and second- place winners in this year’s race and with the introduction of the first competitive electric race cars, none generated more buzz than we did. Of course, the press was there in abundance, and they all seemed to be most interested in interviewing the members of our team. Poor Martin Frasier was nearly ignored even though he came in second, but there was little doubt that his teammate, Angie Brae, had made history as the first woman to win the Indy 500, and everyone wanted to interview her. Jeff Barlow attracted his share of media attention, too, but that was true wherever he went. What I wasn’t prepared for was the amount of attention Henry and I generated as the ‘brilliant boy billionaires’ who’d invented the engines that powered our cars to their first- and second-place wins. It was a good thing the media weren’t allowed to conduct interviews during the meal itself or we’d have starved.
Finally, the V.I.P. speeches were over, and the keynote began. The keynote speaker was none other than Elon Musk, pioneer in the electric-automobile industry and space entrepreneur. He was chosen for the keynote long before anyone knew there’d be a competitive electric car entry into the Indy 500. This was supposed to be the beginning of the use of hybrid-electric vehicles, much less the year a pair of all-electric cars would come in first and second. The difference was the use of superconducting ceramics, a technology that I perfected with my boyfriend’s help.
When I accepted this invitation, I expected to be addressing a skeptical crowd. Formula E racing has been making slow but steady headway, but it was still at least a decade away from being able to catch up with race cars with internal-combustion engines. I’d planned this talk to map out a future for electric-vehicle technology at Indy, starting with advanced hybrid designs, moving to fuel-cell-powered electrics and then true battery-powered electrics with flash charging.
When I heard that Jeff Barlow was planning to enter a pair of electric vehicles, I thought he was grandstanding. After all, he’s known for his ego as much as I’m known for mine, and anyone could qualify an electric, but finishing a 500-mile race was another matter. Little did I know that he had a secret weapon – two of them, actually – J.J. Jeffries and Enrique Gonzalez. As Charlie Brown would have said, ‘Good Grief.’
Mr. Musk went on to talk about the critical need for renewable energy and a ‘Moon Shot’ philosophy for building the infrastructure of a renewable future while there was still time. I couldn’t have agreed more with that philosophy, but I knew something he didn’t: that the economics of using superconducting ceramics was so attractive that they would be deployed with or without public assistance. Where investment was critical was in rolling it out to the Third World, where coal-fired power plants were still common and slash-and-burn agriculture still prevalent.
Musk then went on to talk about space exploration and the future of humans in space. Jeff, who was sitting next to me, on the other side from Henry, whispered to me, “We’re going to beat him to Mars.” What idiocy! I wanted to explore space, too, and I was convinced that we had a destiny in space, but it would likely be a century, at least, before the massive human colonization of space would be feasible. We needed to fix the planet we already had before we went looking for the next planet to wreck. Perhaps I’d say something about that in my comments to the press during the interviews that would undoubtedly follow. At long last, Musk brought his remarks to a close, and the actual giving out of awards began.
The ceremony was very much about the drivers, and although the money awarded was always shared with the entire team, it was the driver who was in the spotlight. One by one, each of the 33 drivers accepted their award checks, thanked all their sponsors, thanked parents, spouses and children for putting up with them and thanked the people on their team. Aa few of the drivers even thanked Jesus. For the three drivers that placed, as well as the three behind them, the acceptance speeches were longer and more elaborate and often included short speeches by owners, chief mechanics and the like.
Everyone waited with bated breath to find out how much money each driver was awarded. It wasn’t quite like the Oscars, where everyone waited for ‘the envelope, please’, but this year’s purse was reported to be the largest ever and the first over $25 million. Although the finishing place was the main factor in the amount awarded, there were bonuses for starting position, laps led, number of laps completed for those who didn’t finish the race, and a variety of other factors. There were also a number of third-party awards from the likes of Firestone Tires that were given for specific categories, some quite obscure, and those also factored into the final check amount.
The awards started out at around $350 grand for last place, and it was rumored that this year, for the first time, the second-place winner would get over a million. Angie would almost certainly get on the order of $2.5 million to $3 million. Not that it was ever enough to pay the full cost of participation except perhaps for the winner. Drivers weren’t in it for the money, and owners recouped their investment from the sponsors. That was why all the cars were plastered with logos of everything from hardware stores to toothpaste. Our two cars had only one sponsor, so Martin’s car was a solid light blue with a long yellow Applazon logo on each side and nothing else. Angie’s car was bright yellow with a black Applazon logo on each side. There wasn’t a need for anything more, as those colors and logos were known in every household in the U.S. and in many throughout the rest of the world.
The awards stretched on and on as driver after driver and team after team gave their acceptance speeches. It didn’t take long to get through the first eight of them, as those were drivers who’d experienced difficulties and were unable to finish the race. The next eight drivers were also fairly quick with their acceptances as they finished in the back half of the pack and didn’t want to belabor the point. As we got closer and closer to the front of the pack, the acceptances grew longer and longer until they were making full use of their allotted time and often had to be escorted off the podium. Sixty seconds might not sound like much, but it was an eternity when someone was babbling with nothing to say. The third- through sixth-place finishers all went over the time limit, making sure to thank every goddam sponsor, family member, teacher and preacher who they perceived had led them to victory. One of them even thanked Jesus. Jeez. Then it was our turn.
The plan was for Martin to use his time to introduce the pit crew and explain the significance of testing, maintaining and refurbishing a completely new kind of race car on the fly. Then Angie would be introduced with much fanfare as the first woman to win the Indy 500. She’d speak about her struggles to gain acceptance among her peers as a woman and of how much further women had yet to go. She’d thank all the people that had made her journey possible and then introduce Jeff, who’d close out by talking about the future of electric cars and sustainable energy in saving the planet. That, at least, was the plan, but few things go as planned.
The first deviation came when Martin used his allotted time to come out. He began his remarks with, “As a closeted gay man, it’s time to step out of the closet and to proudly accept this award as a gay race-car driver.” He spoke of his lifelong fear of being outed, of his family’s acceptance and of how it took his son’s coming out to make him realize what he could do for the gay youth of today as a shining example that they could accomplish anything. That didn’t leave much time for the chief mechanic to speak about the crew’s role, but then it seemed the timekeeper had been sidetracked by Martin’s remarks and forgot to enforce the time limit.
After Martin had been sitting for several seconds, the emcee finally realized it was his turn to speak, so he returned to the lectern and announced a jaw-dropping prize of close to four million that Angie had won. She then made her way to the podium and gave a rousing speech about her experiences as a woman in the male-dominated field of auto racing. At the end, she spoke directly to the girls watching who might have an interest and pointed out that auto racing was truly a sport where gender didn’t matter at all. There was absolutely no reason a woman couldn’t do everything a man did when it came to driving a race car.
After concluding her remarks, Angie thanked everyone that needed to be thanked and then introduced Jeff Barlow, who spoke for close to five minutes about the importance of switching to renewable sources of energy and the new technology that Applazon had developed that would help the world to break its reliance on fossil fuels. He then concluded by saying, “I’d now like to introduce you to our newest chief executive, J.J. Jeffries, the CEO of superconducting ceramics.” What the fuck? “Don’t let his age fool you. J.J. is not only the smartest person I’ve ever known, but one of the most trustworthy, a rarity in the business world. J.J. didn’t know I was going to ask him to speak and for that I apologize, but I trust his remarks will be insightful as always.” The daggers I shot at Jeff with my eyes weren’t lost on him as I took my place behind the lectern on the podium.
“Thank you, Jeff,” I began with exaggerated sarcasm before beginning my remarks:
I’ve been getting a fair bit of press lately as the so-called brilliant boy billionaire.
Actually, I grew up under circumstances quite different from those I live in now. When I was two, I was kidnapped and raised by a pedophile until the age of twelve, when I escaped by bicycle. I’d have never survived had it not been for the generosity of others. The Hofstadters in Springfield, Illinois, fixed my bike for free. The Rodriguez family in Kansas City, took me in and helped a poor, hungry preteen boy, who was trying to pass for sixteen, to get back on his feet. They helped me get a replacement birth certificate and my GED. I cannot express enough gratitude for what the Gonzalez family in Omaha has given me.
Unfortunately, Geraldo, the patriarch, is no longer with us. He died last year from a brain aneurysm. He was strict, but he was generous to a fault. To all my brothers and sisters: Roberto, you got me my job with Applazon. Sammy, you comforted me when I had night terrors. Lindsey, Hillary, Camilla, Celia – you were the best sisters a boy could have. And then there’s Enrique, my Henry, the love of my life and my partner in invention. I may have conceived of the technology behind our winning entries, but it was Henry’s genius that actually made them work. And then there's my biologic parents, James and Mora Walters, and my brother, Franklin. You can’t imagine the surprise I felt when I was reunited with the family that gave me life, and found that they were still there for me.
Today is about racing and the technology that made history on this Memorial Day. A flawless race completed in record time. Martin Frasier’s second-place finish would be notable in and of itself at 199.8 miles per hour. Angie Brae, the first woman to win the Indy 500, did so at a speed of 199.96 miles per hour, just a whisker shy of 200. Oh, we came so close to the first two-and-a-half-hour race! Two hours, thirty minutes, 1.7 seconds! I was so certain we’d break 200 that I had a bet on it, and I lost! I learned that you can have the fastest car on the planet, but it doesn’t matter if you’re stuck behind the slowest cars on the track. I promise you, next year we’ll beat 200, comfortably.
It’s amazing how little Indy cars have changed over the last forty or fifty years, but I think everyone here knows why. Not since the advent of wings and ground effects, have we seen any technological breakthroughs. Before that, it was the turbocharger, which is now standard equipment on any decent sports car. The feud between USAC and CART sucked so much life out of Indy, but it was the misguided attempt to regulate the industry that stifled innovation.
Auto racing is supposed to be about skill, not how much money you have, but it is technology that is the lifeblood of the sport. So when did it become acceptable to cede innovation to the Formula 1 circuit, or even to Detroit? Applazon has gotten a lot of criticism for using its deep pockets to build a superior race car, but isn’t Indy supposed to be about the marriage of superior skill with superior technology? Jeff Barlow invested more than a billion dollars of his own money. So’d Henry and I. For the most part, racing’s still a rich man’s sport. How sweet it is, then, that we shattered barriers, not just with technology, but with the first woman to win the race. Indy car racing will never be the same again.
Electric cars are the future. No one doubts that, regardless of what they may think about climate change. But let me tell you as someone who has traveled the world over: earth’s climate is indeed changing drastically, and the warming is accelerating. There’s a term for what’s happening. It’s called global ecosystem collapse, and the outcome is mass extinction. The last time the planet experienced something similar was when a comet smashed into the Yucatan and wiped out the dinosaurs. The term ‘climate emergency’ is apt.
We have a stark choice. We either use technology to save the planet, we abandon technology for the sake of survival, or we do nothing and face the end of civilization. Jeff, Henry and I feel strongly that civilization is worth saving and that it’s up to those of us with the resources to build the technology to do so. Electric cars are a start, but they’re only part of the solution. The money we invested to win the race will help to turbocharge our efforts, pardon the pun. It’s one thing to build an electric car, but winning the Indy 500 shows the world what can be done. And it will take the full efforts of the world to save the planet.
The superconducting-ceramics group at Applazon, which I lead, has a bold plan to tackle climate change head on. Working closely with governments, communities, industrial corporations and other entities, we intend to implement the plan as quickly as possible. During the next thirty years, we will build and install 80,000 wind turbines across the planet and develop and install solar arrays where feasible. We’ll replace refrigeration systems, furnaces, air conditioners and other HVAC units around the globe with efficient, silent Peltier heat pumps. Our ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ initiative will completely replace the engines that move our transportation industry with non-polluting, silent, efficient electric versions that can be powered using renewable resources.
In many if not most cases, the increased efficiency of power from superconducting ceramics will pay for the replacement of old technology in five years or less. Even when it can’t, we will ease the burden and the cost of converting to the new technologies, including the purchase, removal and recycling of equipment that can’t be upgraded. However, even with all of that, it won’t be enough. Using wind and solar energy, we’ll capture carbon from the atmosphere, stabilize it in solid form and sequester it in vast quantities underground. Only then will we avoid some of the most dire consequences of climate change.
Our investment in auto racing was intended to demonstrate to the world that superconducting, self-powered motors are ready for prime time, and I think we did that. However, we’re hardly done with the Indy 500. Auto racing does tend to get under your skin, after all. We’ll be back next year, and we anticipate that by then the technology introduced here will have made it into commercial production. Regardless, I am prepared to offer it at cost to anyone that wants it for next year’s race, providing that the use of electric vehicles at the Indy 500 remains unrestricted. In the meantime, I will be working on an active successor to wings and ground effects to virtually eliminate drag while increasing traction. Using the same Peltier technology that will propel supersonic trains and planes, it will be yet another game changer, so be prepared for faster speeds.
In the meantime, my congratulations to all the teams who have made this journey worthwhile and provided us with the incentive to do better. Thank you.
I didn’t even get a chance to return to my seat after I’d made my remarks. I couldn’t get over the way Jeff had thrown me to the wolves like that, forcing me to make off-the-cuff remarks for which I’d had no preparation. He knew I was good at speaking extemporaneously, and I guess he thought I’d do a better job focusing on what was important if I didn’t have time to think about it in advance. Perhaps he was right as I did tend to overthink things. The moment of panic I felt when he called me up to speak, however, was not something I’d want to put my enemies through, let alone my friends. That was nothing compared to what happened after the awards ceremony was over. As the last one from our group to speak, there was barely enough time to get off the podium by the time the concluding remarks were finished. Then freed to do as they pleased, the media wasted no time in descending on me, picking my bones clean like the vultures they were.
When the press realized there were so many of them waiting to talk to me, they descended on Henry, too, and there were always press waiting to talk to Jeff. I lost track of how many times I was asked the same questions. At one point, I became aware of Elon Musk’s towering figure as he deftly parted the sea of reporters, extracted me and led me to his table. How’d he do that?
“Dr. Jeffries, it’s so nice to finally meet you,” he began as he motioned for me to sit next to him. I started to open my mouth, but he added, “In answer to your first question, Jeff knows I’m meeting with you. He tells me you’re one of the few executives who doesn’t hesitate to stand up to him, who tells him what he needs to hear and not what they think he wants to hear.”
“He’s told me much the same thing,” I responded.
“You can’t imagine what a rare ability that is and how desperately people like Jeff and I need to hear the unvarnished truth,” he went on. “I might have chalked it up to naivety and teenage bravado had I not heard you speak tonight. You do have a lot to learn, but your raw intelligence, your grasp of the situation and your willingness to stand up to those more powerful than you is exceptional. Some people, however, don’t have a clue when to back down, yet I understand you survived several months in captivity in Cuba and actually talked your captors into providing an Applazon TV which you then programmed to clue your colleagues into where you were. If you could survive that, you can survive anything.”
“You’ve done your homework,” I replied. “You probably also know the Cuban data center and wind farm were the price for getting me back, and those pose a risk to our control of the technology.”
“Yes, but I hear you put safeguards in place and that you leveraged the deal to get concessions from China that most of us have been trying to get for years,” he responded.
Nodding my head, I replied, “I did, but of course the devil is in the details, and there is much that still needs to be worked out.”
“And I have every confidence you will,” he responded. “By the way, how do you like your Tesla?”
“I love it, but I can’t drive it anymore,” I replied. “Ever since the kidnapping and then the sniper attack, our security folks won’t let me drive anywhere on my own. I have to tell you, though, my brother Roberto has a Mustang Mach-E First Edition, and I had a chance to drive it a few times before life got crazy. It’s not billed as a luxury car, but it’s pretty damn nice, and it handles as well as anything I’ve ever driven.”
“Ouch!” Mr. Musk responded. “You certainly don’t mince words. That’s a sixty-thousand-dollar car, you know, it’s only because it still qualifies for federal subsidies that it’s competitive with our Model Y. You might want to give the Audi e-Tron a try,” he suggested. “That’s a much fairer comparison, I would think.”
“I almost test drove one when I bought my Model 3, but the dealer wouldn’t let me drive it with a learner’s permit, so my foster dad had to drive,” I replied. “Now that I can afford it, it would probably be my first choice were it not for the attitude of the dealerships that sell them. Snobby salespeople make for snobby buyers and a reputation as a snobby car. That’s not me. However, I’ll probably drive my Model 3 into the ground. I’m an environmentalist, and I believe in building technology to be upgradable and to last. Planned obsolescence smacks of consumerism, and we just can’t afford to consume the planet anymore.”
“That’s good and well,” Mr. Musk countered, “but the average consumer can’t afford to pay for it. Most consumers want the latest and greatest thing, and they don’t want to have to bother with upgrades and old styling.”
“On the contrary,” I objected. “The average car on the American road is twelve years old. That’s the average. Factoring in attrition, that means there are a hell of a lot of twenty- and even thirty-year-old vehicles out there. What people don’t want, when it comes to expensive technology is planned obsolescence. If you’re going to spend fifty or sixty grand on a car, you want it to last more than a few years. I think that’s one of the reasons luxury models are doing so well. People are willing to pay a premium price for luxury cars that will last from when their kids are born until they graduate from college. Ford and GM seem to understand that. The Mach-E is one of the best-built cars I’ve seen. It balances luxury with affordability in a package that should last for decades. Taking it a step further, auto makers should make it easier to upgrade the technology in older cars without upgrading the whole car.”
“But people want style,” Mr. Musk pointed out.
“Of course, they do,” I replied, “and they take pride in driving cars and using devices that look as stylish after years of use as when they first bought them. Longevity has become cool, even if it’s not yet vintage. It used to be that you could identify the model year of a phone from across the room in dim light. Now, you sometimes can’t tell without opening the phone and looking at the settings. People like form that serves function – not the reverse. Steve Jobs and Tim Cooper got that. They designed computers, phones and tablets with styling that enhanced function, that made their devices more intuitive to use. Your Cybertruck is almost seen as a publicity stunt. It looks sleek and cool, but form gets in the way of function. Try loading the thing without injuring yourself. The Ford F-150 Lightning, in contrast, is a pickup truck for people who actually buy pickup trucks.”
“But unlike with Ford, our drag coefficient’s negligible,” he countered.
“And I can give you a negative drag coefficient,” I responded.
“How is that even possible?” Musk asked.
“Proprietary active thermodynamics,” I answered. “We pump heat around the vehicle so as to induce laminar flow and to provide a bit of thrust. That’s what I was talking about in my speech. It’s the same technology we’ll be using on our supersonic aircraft, and it’s a true game-changer.”
“What do you think of my ideas for space?” he asked.
“As I’ve told Jeff, I think colonization’s premature,” I replied. “Don’t get me wrong; we have a future in space, but as we found with the Biosphere project, closed habitats lack the self-regulation we take for granted on earth. It’ll be a long time before we’re ready for that. In the meantime, I’m all for building efficient lift vehicles, space elevators, space stations, moon bases and space factories. I’m all for mining the asteroid belt and missions to Mars —”
The sickening sound of a gunshot, followed by screams, cut the conversation short. There was a scuffle near the exit, and I saw a crowd gathering in a circle near the Rogers team tables. Not seeing Henry, I forced my way into the crowd until I saw my love on the floor – he was still breathing, but he was lying in an expanding pool of bright red blood.
I realized in horror that, believing we were out of danger, we’d decided not to bother with wearing our bulletproof vests.
Disclaimer: This story is purely fictional and any resemblance of characters to real individuals is unintentional. Although it takes place in actual locations, in no way are any official policies, opinions or events inferred. Some characters may be underage and at times engage in homosexual acts. Anyone uncomfortable with this should not be reading the story, and the reader assumes responsibility for the legality of reading this type of material where they live. The author retains full copyright and permission must be obtained prior to duplication in any form.