“Man, I never get tired of that sound,” seventeen-year-old Joe Hardy said as a race car roared around the first turn and into the short chute of the Indy 500 track of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The car disappeared into the back straightaway at 231 miles per hour, and Joe jumped up to watch it, aching to be inside the car.
“As far as locations go, this is going to be one of the best cases we’ve been on,” Frank Hardy said with a grin. Frank was a year older than his brother and an inch taller, with dark brown hair and eyes. He shared blond-haired Joe’s love of automobile racing.
“Undercover on Robbie MacDonnell’s crew.
A-ma-zing,” Joe said, shaking his head. “Speaking of the case, has Mr. Brandon called yet?”
“Nope,” Frank said. “He must still be in Scotland. He sure is a low-profile client — I’ve only seen him once. But he’s supposed to be back here for qualifications this Saturday.”
Joe thought for a moment. He knew that qualifications were the official lead-up to the Indianapolis 500. The thirty-three drivers with the fastest times would be eligible for the big race. “Mr. Brandon wants to make sure the car he spent a million dollars on qualifies for the race,” Joe pointed out. “Think this team will be ready?”
“We’d better be,” Frank said.
The Hardys were standing in the Team Brandon pit, taking a break from working on Robbie’s backup car. Robbie MacDonnell, the hotshot Scottish race driver, was only twenty-two, but he had burned up the European circuit and was ready for the Indianapolis 500. Unfortunately, his car and team had been plagued by mechanical glitches and strange occurrences since they had arrived in Indianapolis.
The team owner, Duncan Brandon, another Scotsman, had hired the Hardys to investigate the occurrences to rule out sabotage. Now the boys were working undercover as part of the mechanics’ crew.
Joe had some experience racing a stock car, and both Hardys knew enough about cars to pass as mechanics without arousing the suspicions of the rest of the crew.
“It’s Thursday, and quals are day after to morrow,” Frank said. “I’d like to have some answers for Mr. Brandon when he gets here.”
“In the meantime,” Joe said, “let’s enjoy every moment we’ve got.” He glanced around, taking in the scene. Above him, two team members stood in the team timer box, a small platform perched a few yards above the ground with a good view of the track. With computerized timers, they clocked the speeds of Robbie’s competitors doing practice runs.
A high chain-link fence separated the rear of the pit from the spectators’ seats. At the front, a low structure, called the pit wall, ran along the edge of the two-and-a-half-mile oval track. On race day, drivers would streak around the track two hundred times to the finish. Along the straightaway, the long side of the oval, they’d often go over 240 miles per hour.
“Okay, here’s what we know so far,” Joe said, leaning against the pit wall. Both Hardys were dressed in the yellow jumpsuits and caps of Robbie’s team, mechanics’ badges clipped to their waists. “The burned piston was legitimate — nothing sneaky, right?”
“Right. But the damaged undertray and turbocharger were probably sabotage. I don’t know how we could ever prove it, though.”
“And our chief suspect is Giovanni Randisi,” Joe said.
“He’s got the best motive,” Frank said, nodding. “He was fired from Robbie’s crew because he was suspected of stealing parts. Maybe he’s looking for a little revenge.
“Plus, he’s working for Jean-Claude Rochefort now,” Joe pointed out.
“Who happens to be Robbie’s chief rival for Rookie of the Year,” Frank added.
“Right, and Randisi still has access to the garage area.”
“But the biggest problem they’ve had so far is Sandy MacDonnell’s absence,” Frank said. “You don’t suppose something’s happened to him, do you?”
“Maybe,” Joe replied. “He’s Robbie’s brother and chief mechanic, and he’s not here the week before qualifications. Something’s definitely wrong.”
“Did you get a chance to talk to Robbie about him this morning?”
“Yep,” Frank said. “He mentioned that Sandy had left a note saying he had a personal emergency in Chicago and he’d be here today — but there’s no sign of him yet. I asked Robbie if he’d talked to Sandy at all. He said no, but he didn’t seem to be too upset about it. He said that his brother will show up and that Jay’s our chief until then.”
“I talked to the crew members I was working with this morning,” Joe reported. “None of them has a clue where Sandy is. One guy tried to locate him but came up empty.”
“Well, maybe Mr. Brandon will have some ideas.”
Joe hoisted himself onto the pit wall and peered up the track. It was a clear sunny day, so the stands were half full of spectators. The stands held more than 300,000 people, and on race day another 100,000 to 150,000 would jam the infield.
Joe heard a piercing squeal as a car pushed out of the groove in the fourth turn. It spun a couple of times as it passed the Hardys, then headed for the first turn.
“Sandy’s crazy,” Joe said, his heart pounding. “Why would he want to be in Chicago when he could be here?”
“I wish we could stay in Indianapolis for more than ten days,” Nancy Drew said to her friend George Fayne. Eighteen-year-old Nancy pushed her reddish blond hair back from her face as she read. “This brochure is packed with things to do.”
It was the end of May — Indy 500 Festival month in Indianapolis — and Nancy and George were in town for the celebration.
“We missed the queen’s ball and the drivers softball game,” Nancy said as she read, “but we can take in the sports art exhibition, the mini-marathon, the parade, and tons of concerts and parties.”
“First on my list is Indy 500 qualifications this weekend,” George said. “Second is the Indy 500 itself, a week from Sunday.” Dark-haired George was an avid sports participant and fan, with the lean body of an athlete. “What’s scheduled for today?” she added.
Nancy scanned the pull-out calendar from the brochure. “Thursday, one o’clock,” she read. “Kate Cordova is previewing a fashion show. The public is invited.”
“Oh, you know, that young designer. She’s only twenty-four. They’re going to do a runway show and some magazine layouts featuring Miranda Marott.”
“The teen supermodel?” George said with a barely stifled yawn. “A fashion show, hmm?”
“Actually, the show’s the night before the race. They’re doing a shoot today for a magazine layout.” She grinned at George. “It’s at Gasoline Alley at the track.”
George’s expression brightened. “The track?
What are we waiting for? Let’s go.” She grabbed her bag and headed for the door.
Nancy tucked in her blue T-shirt, tied a white sweater around her waist, and grabbed her keys.
Downstairs at the Barbary Inn Bed and Breakfast, Alice Froman, the innkeeper, waved goodbye as they climbed into Nancy’s blue Mustang.
Nancy drove down the hill that led into the tunnel under the Indy 500 track. A race car streaked over their heads, and Nancy felt the roar rumble through her stomach.
Her face flushed with excitement as they came out of the tunnel and into the infield, a lush green golf course during the rest of the year. Race cars zoomed 360 degrees around them.
Spectators and tourists wandered through the infield and in and out of the sparkling white limestone Hall of Fame museum and other attractions. Nancy parked the car in a lot before she and George walked over to a large fenced area at one end of the track. A sign above the entrance proclaimed it to be Gasoline Alley, which led from the garages out to the track. A guard in a bright yellow shirt stood at the entrance next to the open gate.
Next to him, a tour guide announced, “Although special passes are usually needed to get into the garage area, we are going to let a limited number of you through the gate this afternoon. Miss Cordova wants tourists in the background of the fashion photos that are being taken before the show. Those of you in the front, follow me, please.”
Nancy and George stepped quickly through the gate. They were led over to a small area enclosed by a thick red rope. The tour guide sat in a chair off to one side as the onlookers crowded together.
Nancy and George stood in the front of the group. Six attractive teen models, dressed in outdoor activewear, were having their hair and makeup done.
“Which one’s Miranda Marott?” George asked.
“I don’t see her yet,” Nancy said. “Besides, I’m busy watching them.” She nodded to a half-dozen young men standing nearby. A couple were dressed in drivers’ jumpsuits, the others in jeans and shirts. They were all good-looking and in their twenties.
“Now you’re talking,” George said. “Drivers! Look — there’s Bobby Purdy from California and Jean-Claude Rochefort from Monaco. I think that’s Italy’s John Macri in the purple jumpsuit.”
A pink-and orange-striped trailer, with Be a Sport! — Kate Cordova Designs painted on the side, anchored the scene on the right. Ahead, a black curtain was strung between two towering lightposts, making a thirty-foot-by-thirty-foot backdrop.
A tall stepladder stood in front of the curtain next to a ten-foot pedestal. A crane truck drove into view with a huge silver urn hanging from its hook. “That looks like the 500 trophy,” Nancy said.
“It is,” the tour guide said. “Sterling silver, four feet, four inches tall, ninety-two pounds. There’s a three-dimensional sculpted bust of each of the Indy 500 winners around the sides of the trophy. It stands in Victory Lane during May. The rest of the year, it’s in the museum.”
“Big mistake, hauling that trophy here,” a guard muttered. “I’d feel a lot better if they’d left it on the pedestal that was made for it, not that tall thing they rigged up here. I just hope they made the pedestal sturdy enough. If the trophy fell, it could kill someone.”
“Call Miranda!” A woman’s voice thundered through a megaphone as the crane hoisted the huge trophy up onto the ten-foot pedestal. Two men scrambled up the stepladder to help position it.
“There she is,” Nancy said. The crowd buzzed with recognition as the world’s leading teen supermodel, Miranda Marott, approached them. She wore sleek black bicycle shorts and a red-striped tank top. Her long pale blond hair was pulled high in a shiny ponytail. She cautiously climbed each rung of the ladder until she sat on top next to the trophy.
When Miranda was seated, the photographer called to her. “Okay, Miranda, now I want you to kiss the trophy.”
A man carrying a large spotlight crouched at the foot of the pedestal and aimed a pink light up at Miranda. The model pursed her lips and leaned toward the trophy.
As Nancy watched, a ripple in the backdrop curtain caught her eye. Something’s not right, she told herself.
Nancy looked up, straining to see against the pink light. A sudden streak of horror shot down her spine as she saw the huge trophy tremble, then begin to topple. The man with the spot light was directly under it, and it was headed straight toward him like a huge silver bomb.