Tristan heads into the aluminum trailer without saying much. Jay opens the trailer door and sticks one foot inside. "Shit happens, mate," he tells Tristan, almost tenderly. "Don't worry about it."

For the championship, Jay takes his regular spot on the grassy hill. Tristan is starting so far back that, Jay remarked earlier, it'd take a miracle for him to end up at the championship in Italy.

Jay Howard (left) and Tristan Nuñez
C. Stiles
Jay Howard (left) and Tristan Nuñez
Tristan, in car, gets some pointers from Jay, his coach. Many drivers don't have the benefit of professional coaching.
Photo courtesy of Diane Nuñez
Tristan, in car, gets some pointers from Jay, his coach. Many drivers don't have the benefit of professional coaching.

But Tristan starts out strong in the 18-lap race. By the second lap, he pushes his way up to the 16th spot. By the seventh lap, he's in tenth. Through the track's loping hills, paper-clip turns, and straightaways, Tristan is passing at least one racer per lap.

The week has been an exercise in watching 8, 9, and 10-year-old boys crash their cars. There are the pileups, of course, and the bumper taps that send kids colliding into one another. In a qualifying heat Friday, one cart flipped upside down. An ambulance, a broken rib. "You never have it x-rayed," a racing father from Orlando muses. His kid has been posting some of the fastest cars in the junior division. "Because you can race with a broken rib, so long as you don't give them the chance to tell you not to."

But the New Castle crash that stands out the most happened almost seamlessly. A driver in the youngest division, apparently losing control of the steering, sailed off the track in the stretch just in front of the bleachers, barely bumping the blockades. The kid, no more than four feet tall, got out of his car and slowly pushed the cart through the thick, wet grass, back toward the track. It took several minutes, as everyone else whizzed by, and he knew he'd be lucky to get last place. But there is nothing worse than not finishing.

Jay knows this. All three races he has run with Sarah Fisher so far have been marked with mishaps. On the May 1 IndyCar race in Kansas, he crashed into a wall on the 180th of 200 laps. He did not finish.

Fisher can't say if she would hire Jay again next year. "He's got to finish every single lap. As far as performance goes, we're going to do the best we can to give him an opportunity to show sponsors what he's got."

In Tristan's race, two kids have already spun off the track. But not Tristan, who by the 11th lap is in eighth, and Jay is gripping the stopwatch with both hands. "He's almost half a second faster than the guys in front of him," he says, smiling.

By the 12th lap, Tristan is holding eighth place, but his pace is faster than the kid in first.

"Why couldn't he do that in the fucking prefinals?" Jay remarks to no one in particular. "Gotta wait until now to do it, huh?"

In the 14th lap, Tristan is in seventh. By the 17th, he's in sixth.

"He can taste it," Jay says. He laughs.

As the final lap begins, Tristan is in sixth. "Good boy, good boy," Jay mutters. "Stay tight. Good boy."

Tristan passes a cart. He's in fifth. He buzzes around the driver in fourth. If there had been 30 seconds more, he'd move up, maybe to third. But the race ends.

Tristan has secured fifth.

Still laughing and shaking his head in disbelief, Jay walks down from the hill to find Tristan. He won't be going to Italy, but he raced like hell. There are congratulations to be had.

Jay walks back on the long, hot concrete stretch of sidewalk to the tent. He says, "Now he's got to learn to do that every time."

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