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As the McCaslins' first automobile, a new 1905 yellow Winton Flyer, arrives in Jefferson, Mississippi, 11-year-old Lucius McCaslin is the most excited of all the family. Boon Hogganbeck, a loyal but irrepressible hired hand, is given the position of "official driver." The elder McCaslins--Maury, the father, and Boss, the grandfather--are called away to a funeral in St. Louis. They leave Lucius in the care of old Aunt Callie, but Boon's influence takes over. He persuades Lucius to lie so that both of them can take the car for a pleasure trip to Memphis. As they reach the countryside, Ned, a Negro who as a baby was found in the McCaslin backyard, pops up from his hiding place in the back seat. The three travel to Memphis, 80 miles and nearly 24 hours away. At their destination, Ned goes his own way while Boon takes Lucius to Miss Reba's "boardinghouse for women." Boon finds his favorite of Miss Reba's women, Corrie, and discovers that she wants to change her ways and get married. Corrie's nephew, Otis, sleeps with Lucius that night, and when Otis calls his aunt a whore, Lucius defends her honor and receives a knife wound for his effort. Ned arrives the next morning and boasts of a trade he has made--the car for a racehorse named Lightning. To soothe Boon's temper, Ned explains that the car is the prize in a race between Lightning and another horse, Coppermine. At a makeshift track, Lightning proves to be anything but swift until Ned unwittingly opens a sardine sandwich in the horse's presence. Lightning demolishes his stall and later breaks the track's speed record. Sheriff Butch Lovemaiden's racial slurs against Ned lead Boon to defend his friend violently. The group is jailed, but Corrie comes to the rescue, returning to her old profession for the sheriff. Boon, incensed, blackens her eye and cuts her mouth. Disappointed by Boon, Lucius threatens to go home instead of riding Lightning, but after he sees the prized car arrive at the track, he changes his mind. The race is close, but at the last moment, Coppermine jumps the rail and crosses the finish line ahead of Lightning. Because of the infraction, the race is rerun and Lightning easily wins. After the race, Boss arrives to escort the trio, the horse, and the car back to Jefferson. At home, Maury is stern with Lucius. As he prepares the razor strap for punishment, Boss intervenes, prevents the whipping, and tells Lucius that he must accept the consequences of his wrongdoing. Somewhat heartened by his grandfather's advice, Lucius is made even happier when he hears that Boon and Corrie will marry--and will name their first child after him.