Reese was practicing with half the fuel load, as would be the condition on the drop of the green flag. Practice went fast without incident, the car was smooth and powerful, and it was easy to precisely place it anywhere on the track he wanted. The other drivers, Reese had noticed, were practicing with each other, drafting, setting up passes, but not with Rhoad/Steele. There was no interaction with their group; obviously they had collectively determined three wins were enough, now Rhoad/Steele was going down. Reese felt it was up to him to put them into a position that they could win.
As Joe had never run this track either, they both had a lot to learn. Jake had gone over what was considered the perfect line at this place. Just where the car should be positioned for each turn’s entry and exit—under perfect conditions—and that was what Reese was practicing.
Exiting west bend cornering—right—heading downhill the car felt on rails, under Bailey bridge into the fast turn seven known as downhill, Reese felt he was ready, so he moved right and entered the pit road and pulled to their spot, the crew swarming over the wall to check tire temperatures. Jake opened the cockpit and plugged in his laptop downloading the data acquisition. Grand-Am had disallowed on board telementry as a cost saving measure, so all that equipment was now setting, gathering dust and they had bought new stuff that stored it on the car, stepping back in technology a decade.
Jake didn’t say much that was his way, he preferred the driver to talk about his run after he downloaded and digested his data.
Reese headed over to the hauler that was their headquarters at an event. The New England sky was clear and crisp with little white clouds being blown across the blueness at a very rapid pace.
All the talk about this track, which no one seemed too fond of, had put Reese ill at ease, but now, after driving it, Reese actually liked the track and was feeling confident about qualifying well.
Joe was out there now. He could hear their car accelerating; it’s funny how their car sounded so much different. Steele had told him that was because of the six into one-sequenced headers sounding like a flat crank firing two cylinders at once, a kind of a whopping sound, something Jake and Steele had been working on for a while now.
Reese went to the rear lounge and showered, then put on a tee shirt and jeans, the girls from Madison Avenue wouldn’t be happy, they wanted the team to be roving billboards for their products. Reese thought about the ride he had been on since high school and how lucky he was to be given this opportunity. He wasn’t going to let Jake down—now if he could just make the right moves.
After the post practice meeting, everyone was piling out, headed for the hotel; Reese just sat there in the lounge. Jake was the only one still there, he was jotting down things in a book. He was always writing in that book.
Jake looked up and did a double take looking over his glasses that were slid down the bridge of his nose, “I thought everybody had left, you’re gonna miss the party.” Jake smiled then went back to his writing.
“Jake, I was thinking of just staying in the bus tonight, if that’s ok?” Reese didn’t really know why, but it was what he felt like.
Jake set his book and pen down on the table and removed his glasses, looking at Reese for a moment, and then answered, “You know it and I’ll tell you as much as I like the Interlaken, I was planning the same thing.” Jake got up straightening his things in a pile, “I tell you Reese, I’ve got some steaks in here,” gesturing toward the refrigerator, “and they have our names on them, so I’ll fire up the grill and fix you the steak that made the ‘Corkscrew’ famous!”
Reese answered, “I’ll take you up on that, and then you can tell me how I’m going to put your baby on the front row of this race.”
As the sunset over the forest covered hills, Reese was eating, what he thought, was the best chunk of beef he had ever tasted.
The two laughed and talked the evening away, no pressure, no demand, really no expectations, other than a commitment from each to always do their best and regardless of the outcome to be the others friend.
In the peace of that quiet night Reese’s eyes suddenly opened in the dark lying in his bunk. Someone had whispered to him, they had asked him, “Was he good enough?” Reese stared into the darkness seeking an answer and wondering what would tomorrow bring. Then he answered the voice, “Well, Jake thinks I am and he should know.” Then he fell back into a deep sleep, one mans confidence giving him strength. How many failures could have seen success if only someone had shown support and belief in anothers abilities?
The morning was shattered by the vicious malevolent sound of forty-six revving race engines. The birds were taking wing for parts of the woods where man was nowhere around. The steward motioned the drivers off of pre-grid onto the track, two at a time they passed him.
The belts were cutting into Reese’s shoulders, the steering wheel felt heavy to turn, as Reese worked it back and forth, flexing the rubber of the tires, building heat, the sawing action tiring his arm rapidly. The straight cut gears in the transaxle were noisy and they sounded out of sync. The suspension felt harsh, stiff, feeling every ripple in the rough pavement.
Reese blipped the throttle spewing gravel embedded in the soft rubber of his tires into the windshield of the car behind his. What had happened to his smooth car, this thing now felt like a shimmering, staggering, vibrating bucket of bolts.
The oils heated up, as did the tires, the speeds crept up and things began to smooth down through the esses into no name straight going uphill taking the left hand option, now on the back straight, this was the second lap behind the pace car. Into West Bend, the car liked this turn downhill right again onto the front straight away. The pace car entered the pit road and the green flag flies qualifying has begun.
Reese accelerates smoothly into Big Bend, Joe and Jake had both told Reese that most would want to drop back to get away from the other cars and they had recommended going at it, right off, passing the others and moving ahead, then trying to get a fast lap early in the session.
By the start of the second lap, Reese was out of West Bend, Jake had reminded him to ‘flip the switch’ activating their qualifying mode.
As Reese nailed the throttle exiting the downhill, the car settled lower onto the track and Reese was in high gear by the time he passed the pit entrance.
At the end of the front straight Reese was on the left hand side of the track, turning right he aimed for the apex and to the inside of Big Bend, keeping inside through the decreasing radius of turn two, the last part of Big Bend’s 180 degree right hander. This allowed Reese to set up a straighter line crossing the track for entry of the esses, then left hand again, crossing the track to the right for the right hand turn four onto no name straight, which isn’t straight at all, but actually two bends that Jake referred to as zig and zag and that’s what Reese did through there, never lifting the throttle, blasting at incredible speed into the uphill.
This lap was feeling good, however Reese could see some slower traffic just ahead, which he passed on their right, flying down the back straight into West Bend, around to the right carrying outside to the left hand side of the track, then back across the track, exiting the downhill, turn seven, on the right hand side hugging the inside of the apron, carrying tremendous speed onto the front straight, maintaining an extremely straight run until passing the flag man, then moving left for the entry to Big Bend again.
Reese was now encountering much more traffic and was now compromising his line, more of a race situation. Jake came on and told him to, “Pit next,” so Reese exited the track to find a jubilant crew.
Irving opened his cockpit door and reached in shaking his hand, “What happened?” Reese asked.
“You set a new track record, that’s what happened!” Irving responded helping him to extract and Reese felt everything slowing down.
The qualifying session was still in full bore. Eddie got in to take the car around into the paddock, but Jake stopped him with a held up hand, “Reese follow that official to tech.” Jake pointed at a Grand-Am official sitting on a golf cart. “Don’t worry, Reese this baby’s legal, it’s just a procedure for any record run.” Jake smiled a warm look; a look like a father has when especially proud of his son. “Remember this moment…for they are fleeting.” Tears were in Jake’s eyes now, “Remember this moment…remember that right now, you, Reese you are the best!” Jake hugged his driver, his friend, “Now get on down to tech, I’ll see you there!”
The scrutineers examined every aspect of Rhoad/Steele’s chariot and pronounced it legal, by then qualifying had ended and Rhoad/Steele had a pole position award and a new track record for Daytona prototypes.
Reese had called his Grandma and she told him, “That’s nice dear, now you be careful.”
Joe had coached Reese since he had joined the team and Joe was every bit as excited as Reese was.
Madison Avenue had photographers everywhere, capturing the award presentation and the jubilation of the crew.
The Stoudenmires were very excited and extremely pleased when they saw that Steele had added their graphics onto the quarter panels prior to qualifications, so they had a presence prior even to the official starting date. Dallas armed with photos of the record car driver and the Stoudenmires had his company public relations department put out press releases to all areas their investments worked in.
The wind picked up that afternoon, blowing the tall trees to and fro, still carrying a stinging quality on its frosty air. Jake and Steele turned up the collars on their team jackets and stood silently in their corner of the paddock, absorbing the moment, the setting sun soon turned the sky crimson. They spoke not a word, neither wanting to break the spell. This was their time, their fast days, a time reserved for only the best and right now Rhoad/Steele was the best…tomorrow the slate would be wiped clean…they would have to rise to the occasion and try to prove it all once again.