The Sonoma Bar and Grill was quiet for a Saturday night, especially a Saturday night on a race weekend, out at Sears Point or Infineon Raceway, as they now called it. The bartender thought this as he wiped down the bar, approaching the two men who stopped their whispering as he neared them.
“You fellas need anything else?”
The gray haired, older gentleman replied quickly, “No,” definitely agitated about something and nervous.
I guess they just want to be alone, setting at the end of the bar that way was a clue. The bartender fixed another Daiquiri and carried it around the bar behind the two men into the shadows along the wall to the woman sitting alone, still nursing her first drink.
“Here’s a fresh one, on the house,” he answers her puzzled look, as she glances to the two men who have turned to look at her, startled to find she had been there. They both got up and left.
“Who were those men?” She asked, watching their departure.
“The gray haired guy is a racer of some sort, as I’ve seen him in here several times with the Target Racing Group…you can tell by their colors.”
“Thanks,” she smiles a warm smile and adds, “and thanks for this drink.”
The bartender goes back to take care of some chore.
Sandy stirs her drink, as she digests what she had just overheard. They had been talking about Steele’s attack. The gray haired man was angry with the other man, saying something that she believed to be complicity in at least the knowledge of the attack.
What should she do now? Call the police? She really had no proof. Tell Jake? Jake had enough on his plate with Steele being injured now. Jake was stretched too thin. No, she would follow up on this herself, find out who these men are and what they were up to, then and only then, with something tangible, she would go to the authorities.
Yes, she would be the one and help their team. She would make Jake proud of her. Respect her even more and what Jake thought of her was very important now for some reason.
Jake sat in the team track support cart watching to his right, as the racing cars streamed out of turn twelve onto the short front straight away. The cars were battered and dirty, brake dust obscuring the graphics on the side of the bodywork. The engines sounded harsh and several were smoking profusely. Many of the racecars had significant damage, a sign of the tremendous battle that had taken place in the last five hours and fifty-five minutes.
The Rhoad/Steele car came by holding onto its fourth position following the two Target cars and the leader number thirty-six Chevrolet driven by Reggie Gunther Jr., a second generation driver whose skill at this grueling sport was being proven again with his incredible drive today.
The fourth place position did not really tell the story of Rhoad/Steele’s efforts for the day, everything had went poorly leaving the number 09 in the wake of a train of fast cars on a mission. The mission was to take Rhoad/Steele down a peg and place their respective teams on the victory podium.
Only a bold decision on Jake’s part had moved their car from eighteenth to sixth position by not making a green flag pit stop, which for some reason nearly every team had made even though it was not in the planned timing sequence. Fuel was an issue for some, but Steele had worked especially hard on the mileage issue and Jake had an all-new fuel pickup system design that would use virtually all the fuel. So fuel, Jake was sure, was not a problem. Tires were an area that may hurt them. The front suspension on the Rhoad/Steele chassis was not conventional; it looked the same, but featured a zero castor radius, that is a zero castor offset and this coupled with a zero scrub radius gave exceptional front tire wear. This could be used on shorter events allowing them to run a softer tire compound, but here today Jake had made the decision to stay on the hard compound and coupled with the fuel range benefits Jake was gambling on not making the last stop that everyone else had made, that had propelled the 09 forward twelve positions. Reese, who now seemed to be working hard to just hang onto the three cars leading, earned the next two spots.
“I bet you wished you had Joe in there.” A big guy festooned with racing paraphernalia was standing at the end of the cart leering at Jake.
Jake turned his gaze onto the man for a long fifteen seconds…the man moved away. Jake watched out the camera lens mounted in his car, as Reese was now working his way through turn six holding the inside line tight…turning to his left. The two best places, the only places really, to pass on this circuit were turns seven and eleven. Jake wanted to tell that to Reese, he wanted to win that bad, but he would never do that. He could see that Reese was pushing hard, the two Target cars were side by side as they entered turn seven, the third place car had moved inside of his teammate who had positioned his car for a run at the outside of number thirty-six, not liking that he moved down just as his team mate accelerated into the low line. They touched…they spun outward and Reese went by now! The PA blares that there has been contact in turn seven.
Reese now in second position is wringing everything out of the Rhoad/Steele special as number thirty-six and number nine distance themselves from the rest of the field caught up on the Target team generated melee. Into turn eleven Reese moves low, but Gunther shuts that door, taking a protective line around to his right at the bottom of the track.
Jake looks to the flag stand fearing a yellow and a white, but only the white is displayed. The race is still under green and this is the last lap.
The cars flash past the pits, car number nine glued to the leader, the pressure is on. Now they disappear around to the left through turn one, the crew is now lining the wall looking to the left for the cars they can no longer see. The rest of the field comes by…the two Target cars have entered the pits with bodywork flailing, tires smoking, their crews working furiously.
Jake looks up and across in the direction of turn nine staring at the blue, blue sky, what does the future hold? He feels a presence near him and looks to his right to find Sandy had climbed up beside him. Sandy grabs his right hand and holds it hard, “Tell him Jake, tell him how to do it, he wants you to, I can feel it.”
Jake stared into Sandy’s dark eyes; he had never noticed how beautiful they were until that moment. Who was this woman? How did she know what he had been thinking?
Jake keyed his mic, “In turn eleven…pull up on his outside…he’ll protect inside down low…pull up to his door on the outside on entry…when he moves left on exit to block at apex—drop inside—crossing his butt…passing inside on exit…it’s a way that works…Reese, you can win!”
The radio was silent, Jake was happy of the money spent for radios that the typical scanner doesn’t monitor the frequencies. Now came the wait. The PA system was blaring, working the spectators to a frenzy. The Target cars sans body parts exit the pits no longer a factor in this event.
Sandy is still holding his hand and Jake is holding back. Out the car camera Jake can see the rear of Gunther’s car filling the screen as they traverse the final half lap of the race and race it is as neither driver is giving an inch.
The crews, unable to see the cars, now are looking to the right anxiously awaiting the cars exit of turn twelve.
Through turn ten they go, both cars going low and right on entry crossing the track to the far left on exit. Reese looks to the inside but Gunther closes that line off as they approach turn eleven.
Jake sees the crowd on their feet, shouting, arms in the air. The dividing chain link retaining walls are filled with people wanting a closer look.
In the monitor Jake sees Reese move violently toward the left as both cars corner right in the 180-degree turn eleven. The thirty-six car is now lost from view as Reese makes his outside run, now suddenly the thirty-six fills the monitor as Reese moves back right as Gunther has blocked an outside run by moving left on corner exit. Reese is moving fast, the thirty-six is now a blur on Reese’s left as Reese passes on the right.
Jake turns from the screen looking to his right watching for the emergence of his car from the left hand turn twelve. Can he move to the inside for twelve? Can Reese hold the outside line and still win? These thoughts run through his mind as milliseconds pass before they see both cars exit twelve, side by side Reese on the far side of the track, slightly ahead, Gunther pulling up fast. The sight was incredible, inches apart, both drivers giving it their all, racing clean, but racing for the win and not giving up. Both engines are screeching a mighty roar, as the two cars approach the furiously waving checkered flag.
The cars are past…Jake turns to Sandy…tears in both their eyes…Sandy blurts out. “I’m glad I’m here…with you…too!”
Jake smiles and throws his head back in a shout of joy…joy for living…then he realizes he had never spoken the words.
The old man opens his eye…to a semi dark room…he hurts like hell all over…he’s disoriented…nothings familiar. He looks about and sees a man setting by the window staring at him; it’s Jake, his old adversary who was now his closest friend in the world.
Steele touches his eye and finds a patch and gauze where his eye should be, “That, old boy is going to be tough.” He thinks about that, and then accepts it and just moves on. That’s how Steele has always dealt with loss and pain. This acceptance of what he can’t change is how Steele survives. His tenacity, a word seldom used in his vocabulary, described Steele’s greatest asset and he has many assets.
Jake takes in this man’s assessment of his condition and decides not to mention it. “What kind of partner lays around in bed patting nurses on the ass when they could be out racing?”
Steele grins at the harassment, “What in the hell happened to me?” He asks still confused and hurting at the effort to grin and talk.
Jake describes what the police think had occurred, then stands up pointing to all the floral arrangement placed on the dresser. Jake walks over to them…picking up a very large cup holding it in the light, up close for Steele to see. “This one here didn’t come with any flowers, but it’s from your guys and they did it for you.”
Steele reads the golden cup’s plaque. “First place, yeah that’s mine alright.” Steele looks away hiding the emotion, choking it back. “You tell them the next one we do together!”Jake sets the trophy on the dresser. “Steele you can tell them yourself, because they are all waiting just down the hall.”