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As Chester Jump drives home to his rural family, he recalls his mother Ernestine, a deeply religious woman, and father Lester urging him to earn money and contribute to the household rather than work on his beloved Chevy. Despite Chet's attempt to help support his family and pay rent on the barn he uses as a makeshift garage, they consider him selfish. At the local drive-in restaurant, Chet flirts with waitress Enid, but when two couples drive up in a hotrod, he abandons her to goad them into racing him on a road by the airport. Betting all of his money, $170, he explains the dangerous crossover course, then reveals he has tricked them by switching his engine into its hidden overdrive capacity. Chet easily wins the race, and when the car owner has only a personal check to pay him, Chet takes car parts as collateral, promising to return them if the check does not bounce. Back home, Lester, who drinks too much, criticizes his son for using expensive electricity in the barn at night and racing his car, but afterward the two retire to the porch together to drink beer and listen to the radio. There, Lester worries about Chet's sister Mercy, who has dropped out of high school to sit around all day reading the Bible. Finally, Lester asks Chet with pride about his racing, but when he asserts that Chet will never be able to soup up the old Chevy enough to win, Chet says he is willing to bet on himself. In town, Chet visits his girl friend, Beulah, for dinner, but when he reveals he plans to quit his packing plant job to race full-time, she realizes he will leave her, and throws him out spitefully. At home, Lester, who still recalls the deprivations of the Depression and his years of working twelve hours per day in the mines, is furious at the news that Chet is quitting, while Ernestine urges him to give her his cash and quotes the Bible to him. Chet then pleads with Mercy to return to school, counseling her that there is a whole world outside the house, but she preaches to him from her beloved Bible, causing him to leave in dismay. That night, he returns to Enid, who agrees to go to a bar with him later. There, they meet and drink with Charlie and his three upper-class friends, but when Charlie snootily declares that American racing requires no skill, Chet challenges them to an all-night race to Tampa, Florida for $300. As the race begins, Enid finds herself thrilled by the danger. After Charlie is stopped for speeding, Chet effortlessly bests the others, after which they all go to breakfast together. Soon after, Chet enters a local dirt race, his first professional attempt, and although his car falters, his performance attracts the attention of Babe Duggers, the owner of a chain of car dealers and garages. Babe, along with wife April Mae, offers Chet a sponsorship and the use of his garage in exchange for Chet working as his mechanic. When Chet agrees, Babe gives him $1,000 in credit, "for a small monthly interest." Chet begins working closely with a German mechanic named Dutchman, who teaches the young upstart about the sophisticated instruments. Impressed with Chet's work and his Chevy, Dutchman grows close to Chet and supervises the work on his car. With Babe's loan, Chet is able to buy a quick change rear end, and with the additional power, wins his next race. April Mae calls him into the office to present his trophy, and there asks him to drive her around on Sunday. Although Chet is uncomfortable with the plans, he feels compelled to say yes. Later, after Babe delivers a fiery rant to his mechanics, berating them about their poor service and threatening to fire them, another employee reveals to Chet that every man in the shop, including Dutchman, is in debt to Babe and forced to stay on. That weekend, April Mae invites Chet to watch Babe filming a commercial in which he entices viewers to buy his expensive remade cars. Although April Mae scorns and ridicules Babe, Chet is saddened by his boss's duplicitousness. Soon after, he enters his first significant race, and is pulling ahead when his brashness results in him being shut out by the more experienced drivers. Babe immediately reassigns him to a dangerous, small-time rally in which the last car standing is the one that wins. Chet manages to hold on and win the violent competition, but upon finishing, climbs out of his battered Chevy and walks off the track in disgust.