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Chapter 25

Bayfront Park had been the scene of auto racing drama since promoter Ralph Sanchez first had an event here in 1983. Off and on professional road racing had returned to this beautiful location to do battle in one configuration or another. Absent since 2003 due to the creation of the Homestead Racing course, the Grand American Road Racing Association had now resurrected this event in the 1.387 mile 13 turn configuration that the American Lemans series had ran in 2002.

Team Rhoad/Steele’s public relations man Pete Miles had a press conference introducing the team’s new sponsors, Stoudenmire Investments and their two new drivers, Sandy Jones and Jessica Strangeways. This announcement created quite a bit of interest from the auto racing writers.

Jake had stayed away from that preferring to concentrate on the racecars. Irving and the crew were working on the brakes increasing the cooling in every way possible.

Practice saw the brakes on both cars overheat quickly especially when Sandy was in the car.

Neither car had done particularly well, Sandy, she just was bad. Jake thought she was still shaken from the accident and possibly she would come around and for now they would just see what happened.

Jessica had actually edged out Joe and Reese in practice lap times, but the new car was considerably quicker. Her performance only had her in twelfth position against the rest of the field. Jessica hadn’t said anything about it and appeared to get along with the crew and other drivers exceedingly well. Obviously she was an experienced team player.

Qualifying went different; Joe put Destiny into sixth place with Jessica putting the new car into eighteenth position.

Describing her run to Jake she admitted to over shooting turn six, a ninety degree left hander, and almost ramming the barrier.

Jake listened then said, “This is the worst place to start out. However what you do here will have no bearing on your job with team Rhoad/Steele. This job is yours, do your best and have fun. If you can’t enjoy it, then I think a career change is in order. I can tell that you love it and that’s why you’re here. The technical aspects of a street course I hate, but the fans, the glamour of it, that’s what makes these events special and that’s what draws us back.”

Jessica absorbed it all in, then looked around, “Yeah, you know I can feel it and I just wanted to do better.”

“Don’t we all,” Jake responded and patted her shoulder, “just nurse those brakes at this place and the race will come to us, you watch.”

Jake looked at Jessica in the bright sunlight. The light rays glistening off of her golden hair. Sweat beads were gathering on her upper lip, no make up and she didn’t need it.

Jessica was one of those people that had an inner peace and she exuded confidence. Jake found her very attractive and thought was he really ready to commit to Sandy, if he found Jessica so appealing?

The answer was easy, yes. Sandy needed him and something about her, something intangible to Jake’s consciousness made Sandy his perfect companion. Jake liked Jessica…a lot, but she would never need anyone. Sandy made Jake feel a way that he had never felt, a feeling that was good.

Jake looked off down the track; the heat waves were shimmering across that black hot surface. The air was oppressive.

Looking back into the paddock, into the sea of humanity, Jake enjoyed the stifling heat, the crowds, the pressure, just being a part of it all. He did love it so.

Jake looked back at Jessica who had just stood there in silence also absorbing the moment.

“You love this don’t you, Jake?” Jessica reached to place her hand on Jake’s crossed elbow.

“It’s that obvious?”

“To me, it is.” Jessica looked towards the track, “Because I feel the same and I’m going to try my best to make this happen.”

Jake smiled that wry grin of his that so many never understood as an immense sign of affection…that grin that some recognized immediately, “Jessica, I believe you already have.”

Jessica threw her head back in exciting laughter, Jake embraced his new driver; his new friend and they turned and walked off into the crowd of people together.

Sandy watched from her hidden vantage point. That son of a bitch! Men! They just cannot be trusted. Sandy’s eyes were glowing with anger and hurt. Sandy turned and headed to her motor coach. Sandy’s past had just about ruined her for any relationship. She was her own worst enemy and she didn’t even realize it…and she probably never would.

The night didn’t bring with it any relief from the heat. The afternoon shower had just increased the oppressive humidity.

Jake was driving a rented mini-van through the night, headed to another pre-race party. The parking lot of this hotel’s club and restaurant was overflowing, so he had to circle around to finally find a parking spot out in the dark. Jake had passed it when he saw it, so he backed into it leaving the van faced towards a lighted side entrance.

Reese was in the passenger seat and had asked Jake a question about the racecar, so they sat for a moment in the dark while Jake answered the question.

In the middle of his rather lengthy answer, Jake felt a hard grip on his right shoulder; Joe had leaned forward from the back seat and now was staring intensely out the windshield towards the lighted entrance.

Jake turned to look and stopped talking. Standing at the edge of the light were three men, one was Rhoad/Steele’s latest employee, Dale the transaxle specialist, the other two big guys, Jake didn’t recognize at first.

Joe said, “Recognize those fellas, Reese?” His tone brought Jake and Reese’s attention to bear on the two big guys.

“I sure do,” Reese had an east Texas vernacular. He would slip into at times where sure would be pronounced; ‘shore’ and he did that now.

“Those guys are Johanson’s boys, that Lil’ Joe here beat the shit out of that day.” Now they had Jake’s full attention.

Dale looked around, all around, even staring right at them, but must have been blinded by the light, as he never realized he was being watched.

One of the guys handed him a thick white envelope and was doing all the talking, accenting his verbalization with hand gestures and an extended index finger, as though he were laying down the law.

Reese began taking photos with his cell phone.

“I’d like to know what they are talking about,” Jake spoke out loud, more to himself than anyone.

“Oh, I think I could answer that Jake,” Joe replied, “I just wonder how much is in that envelope.”

Johanson’s henchmen had turned and faded off into the darkness. Dale looked around, guiltily and then reentered the club.

Jake just sat in the darkness for a while, and then they all went in the front door. Team Rhoad/Steele had quite a presence there already.

Steele, Sandy, Dallas, Amelia, Jessica, and Suzanne were all at a huge table. Steele motioned them over.

A waiter was already putting more tables together. Irving was at the bar with Bob, Eddie, and Dale.

Good times were in the air. Jake went to give Sandy a kiss, only to get a cool reception. The seats on either side of Sandy were taken, so Jake moved around and sat between Steele and Jessica.

The place was full of race teams. A band was playing old rock and roll music. Soon Amelia had Jake out dancing, Dallas preferring to listen to the music and talk.

Joe was watching Dale closely, his face’s countenance was menacing.

Amelia went to set with her husband, so Jake asked Sandy to dance. Sandy looked up at him with a cold look and said, “No, thanks.”

Jessica said, “I’ll dance with you, handsome!” So they did and they danced beautifully together.

After a while Dale left the bar to go to the men’s room. Joe was right behind him.

Two other men were in the restroom besides Dale and Joe. Dale went over to the urinal. Joe washed his hands until the other two left, then turned and knocked the trashcan between the door and the wall, preventing the door from being opened.

Dale had walked over to wash his hands when he saw this. “What’s happening, Joe?”

“What’s in the envelope, Dale?” Joe’s low tone had something in it that commanded Dale’s attention.

“What are you talking about?”

“Wrong answer, Dale,” Joe’s hands flashed and Dale was slammed back into the counter with blood spewing from busted lips.

“See, if you had said, oh they were paying me money they owed me, then I would have to give you the benefit of the doubt, but instead you lied. That just looks bad, now what’s in the envelope?”

Dale wiped the back of his hand across his pulverized lips seeing the dark red blood, “Why you little son of a…”

Joe kicked out sideways, hard, striking Dale right in the solar plexus. Dale wretched violently, falling face first into the floor. Joe reached and pulled the thick, white envelope from Dale’s side pocket where it was doubled over.

Inside was a thick bundle of one hundred dollar bills, wrapped in bundles of ten, twenty bundles…twenty thousand dollars.

Joe looked down at Dale, “Is that what loyalty goes for these days?” No answer, no movement. Joe thought, well, I just might have killed the son of a bitch.

Joe put the envelope into his own pocket, then turned to the mirror and washed his hands again. Then, combing his hair he grins at his reflection, “Well Joe, thanks to Uncle Sam it wouldn’t be the first now would it…and for a lot less reasons than this…so fuck him.” Joe kicked the garbage can out of the way and exited the men’s room.

Over at the bar Joe tells Irving that the crew needs to go back to the track and check out the cars, in particularly any part Dale’s handled. The crew gave a few whines and groans, then left.

Joe leaned over to Steele and handed him the white envelope, “Boss, I took the liberty of asking the crew to go check over the cars.”

Steele looked sternly at Joe, waiting for the rest.

“Oh, and this is some money to help pay for any overtime I’ve created.” Joe smiled, clasping Steele and Jake’s shoulders, “Just call it a bonus…oh and I just let Dale go, I hope it’s ok.” Joe smiled and winked at Jake.

Steele took it all in and shrugged, nothing about Joe would surprise him, ever. He looked in the envelope, then closed it, folded it and put it in his pants pocket, “That…is a hell of a bonus.”

A waiter came up, “There’s a guy in a shirt like yours,” he nodded to Steele’s shirt, “passed out in the men’s room…is he maybe with your group?”

Steele looked up at him, “Nope,” was all he said and then went back to enjoying himself.

Jake, tired of the party. Sandy never acted cordial to Jake the entire evening. Jake said his goodbyes with most asking him to stick around; he waved them off and left.

Sandy’s hurt, jealous eyes watched his departure.

Joe caught up to Jake in the parking lot and rode with him back to the track. Joe liked Jake; in fact Jake was one of the people that Joe most respected.

The crew had already found loose constant velocity joint bolts on the half shafts. These six bolts on each c/v joint were torqued, and then safety wired in place. There is no way that they can work loose with that system.

“That sorry son of a bitch tried to make me look…incompetent!” Eddie shouted out obviously very upset.

“I do like to make sure my racecar is in competent hands, Eddie,” Jake feigned seriousness, as though he was truly concerned with Eddie’s abilities.

“Don’t worry Jake.” Joe interjects also in a serious tone, “we’re all incompetent.”

They each looked at Eddie for a long moment, and then burst out laughing. Eddie began laughing a tad bit later and soon all the anger and hostility had passed.

The transaxles appeared to be prepared extraordinarily well; obviously Dale didn’t want any failures to reflect on his reputation.

Jake spent the night in his Eagle coach and kept waking up all night, finally rising with the sun around six-thirty, a bad taste in his mouth, a feeling like a hangover, and a sour disposition. After a hot shower, Jake headed out to find some of the awful track-side coffee.

The paddock area was still empty with just a few crews wandering around…looking more like they hadn’t been to bed rather than early risers.

The sun began to elevate its hot rays, burning the flesh, creating sharp shadows between the haulers and motor homes.

As Jake walked through the rows of race teams, now and then he would see a face he recognized, and would exchange greetings.

Soon the crowds began arriving. Masses of people packing in through the control points established by chain link fences.

Jake usually enjoyed this time at a race, but not today…no, right now he was getting angry.

Angry at the attempted sabotage…angry at Sandy…angry at the fat guy walking too slow in front of him…angry at the fans festooned in all their ugly tee shirts…Jake stepped out of the crowd into a little cove created by two temporary buildings.

This wasn’t enjoying life. Jake looked off towards the track. The maintenance people hadn’t dumped the garbage cans and trash was spewing out of the tops of every can Jake could see. The heat was already oppressive; Jake could feel his body sweating.

Two women walked by still wearing their mini tees and short shorts that probably looked great, twenty years ago. Now they just looked like they had stayed at the party too long.

“Is that what I look like?” Jake thought these angry thoughts, disgust plain on his face as he watched those two women walk by. Ones flabby, lumpy butt cheeks hanging out of her shorts. Another pair walked by smiling at Jake. He didn’t even acknowledge the smile, just stared at the sweat pouring off their too made up faces, mascara streaming from their eyes.

The stench from the port-a-johns was permeating the air, the growling of countless generators filled his mind to the point that he was having a pounding headache.

The heat waves, the people, the sounds, the stench, the trash all looked, sounded, and smelled dirty. Jake was sickened by it. Why had the same experience so excited him just such a short while ago?

“Why?” Jake asked himself this question out loud. “I’m angry that’s why and I want Johanson’s ass!” Jake knew his emotions could get the best of him at times like these, so he became suddenly very cautious, very quiet and headed back to his bus.

Steele was there with Joe, Reese, Jessica, and Sandy.

“We were about to start without you,” Steele said in a very friendly tone.

“Start what?” Jake’s tone was sharper than he intended.

“Uh…well, Jake our strategy meeting,” replied Steele with raised eyebrows at Jake’s tone.

“Oh, yes our strategy meeting…” Jake seemed a bit disoriented, but really he was trying to contain his anger. He wasn’t able to, “Actually the strategy I want…all I can think…after all that’s happened…is I want to beat …no, beat isn’t a strong enough word…I want to destroy Johanson…I want to drive him down…I want him crushed.” Jake’s tone, although very quiet and mirthless, was extremely menacing.

No one said a word and no one doubted his sincerity. This man was angry and his anger had gotten control of him. His reason, that they all had grown to depend upon, was gone.

Jake looked upon their sad, serious faces and realized that he had let them down. Jake turned and walked out of the coach.

Sandy watched…her hand went unconsciously to her mouth…she knew that she had played her part in this…that she, in her ridiculous jealous behavior had done this to him. Along with the betrayal of a team member, Jake had to deal with the betrayal of the one he loved. Sandy rose to follow, but just as she did, Jessica went out after Jake. Sandy sat back down.

Jake was standing beside his hauler, on the backside, between his hauler and another team’s; staring down this empty alley, Jake was ashamed of himself. He was better than this. He was stronger than this and he knew how to bring Johanson down…win!

Jessica stepped into the alley and saw Jake. Jake was everything she had ever dreamed of in a man. She went to him.

Jake turned to Jessica and she hugged tightly against him, her head turned to the side and laying on his chest. Jake could feel her firm breasts held tightly against him. He looked into her eyes, as Jessica turned her face towards Jake’s. They kissed for a long passionate moment.

“I wasn’t sure,” Jessica’s tone is relieved. “I felt this way from the moment I met you, but…”

Jake held her closer and said, “That’s the way I feel too.”

Jake knew that he cared for both Sandy and Jessica, but Sandy wasn’t sure… Jake suspected that Sandy had been wronged and now even loyal Jake had been through enough, but this was a dangerous game. Jake needed a clean break with Sandy.

Jessica needed him and Jake realized that he, the strong man who had stood alone through so many battles, needed someone too.

After a while Jake said, “I need sometime…time to break off…” What did he and Sandy really have? They hadn’t even slept together.

“What Jake?” Jessica was concerned.

“Nothing really it’s just I have feelings for Sandy and I don’t want to hurt her. We never really got started…I think she was hurt bad by someone in her past and well, she has problems trusting people.”

“I don’t really understand, but Jake I want you and we can take this at any pace you want.”

Jake kissed her again, and then said, “Hey, you have your racing debut to get ready for!”

On the opening lap Johanson’s cars, which had qualified on the second row, were both destroyed. A traffic pile up was created when the pole setter collided with the second place car on the entrance to turn one.

Johanson’s third place car came to a screeching halt, while his fourth place car just drove right over the third place car!

The bodywork was removed from stem to stern.

The offender’s car was wrecked on the right side, ripping both right side tires and wheels, and everything that holds them on off!

Debris was violently flying every which way.

Steele looked on with mirth in his eye. Never turning back to Jake, Steele’s growling voice commented, “Well, Jake, ask and ye shall receive!”

Jake leaned over and couldn’t believe his eyes, both of Johanson’s cars obliterated in one fell swoop…no one else even involved. “Well, Steele, it’s like you’ve always said, you can’t win a race on the first lap, but you can lose it!”

“Jake, you see, things just seem to work themselves out naturally. Now don’t they?” Steele, the philosopher seemed as though he had expected this strange turn of events.

Jake stared at the accident scene, his first thought was concern for the drivers, then a strange feeling that perhaps more was at play here than divine intervention making everything right in the world.

The really odd thing was that the Johanson driver obviously had never even checked his speed with the brakes. All the racecars had managed to stop, but his, which struck Jake as odd for some reason. Jake had seen many incidents of driver mistakes, so why was this one striking him as odd?

Wreckers were already streaming out there; pulling the tattered remains onto their aluminum flat beds. Crews were gathering the vast field of mechanical debris and shards of carbon fiber.

The drivers were being taken off to the hospital. Johanson’s crew was packing away their pit carts and tools. Their months of toil and struggle wiped out in seconds without negotiating even one turn.

Over one million dollars in exotic racing machines…vaporized.

A team with fewer resources could be wiped out financially as well, but Jake knew Johanson would be back, probably at the very next event. Hell, he was probably trying to bribe the sanctioning group to allow him to run his spare cars in this race! Jake actually chuckled at the thought; well you have to admire the son of a bitch’s perseverance.

The track finally cleared of Johanson’s high priced garbage; the race was ready for a new start. Jake found he was now in focus on the object of this exercise. The Miami streets, with their Palm trees and glass buildings reflecting the sun even seemed cleaner, as though the devastation of the Johanson team had somehow washed everything clean.

Joe now was starting on the second row in fourth and Jessica was moved up to sixteenth.

The field came around the right hand jog known as turn thirteen, fast! The leader preferring to just get it on with no games.

As the brightly coated racecars flashed past, headed at incredibly high speeds to the zero banked slow ninety degree left hand turn one, Jake felt a pang of jealousy, a longing to be in that car that was soon to be coaxed into negotiating that horrible turn one, where once at the apex, Joe would mash the accelerator and the power applied to the tires would just about rip chunks of asphalt out of the street.

The crew cheered as Jessica made a three wide pass that resulted in her entering turn number one in twelfth position.

Soon cars were overheating and the track was very greasy. Full course yellows were happening every other lap, it seemed. The paddock area was littered with broken and smashed racecars.

At two hours and forty-five minutes into the race, Joe was still in fourth position. Jessica was now leading the race! She had steadily moved forward until she was right behind Joe, who, at the time was running in third, they were in the turns three, four, and five sections around ‘The Club’ when on the exit Joe moved to the right and told Jessica, “Take it on the left,” and added, “give ‘em hell, Jess,” and she did pouring it on.

Jake eyed the leader, his new racecar design, his new driver, and his new girl. He felt a tremendous sense of pride that this team could take and do this. Lead an event with such a high level of competition with an un-proven car driven by an un-proven driver…well, they were proven now.

Steele signaled for Sandy and Reese to get ready, soon they were there suited up and ready for war.

Destiny looked just as it did at the start, but Jessica’s ride was filthy. Judging from the brake dust, which had obscured the graphics and the tire swirlies down both sides, this car was about ready for a rebuild.

Commenting on this, Steele told Irving to prepare to put some fresh pre-bedded brake pads into Jessica’s ride.

“What about Destiny?” Irving asked, the emotion filled voice of a concerned crew chief.

“Check the pads on the front with the half pad go-no go gage…if we have more than half then, don’t change. I think Reese would rather have track position.”

The afternoon was even hotter now, the caution flag came out and the pace car zoomed out in front of Jessica. The rear of a back racer had ended his day with a valiant charge into the retaining wall at turn ten. Turn ten sets at the base of a very large set of bleachers. The young driver had gotten out of his shattered dream and had to now suffer the further humiliation of being jeered by a group of mean, drunken spectators. One even hurled a beer through the chain link fence, drenching his fire suit with sour beer.

The Grand-Am officials said the pits were closed, so the field must make another lap before refueling.

The field came by, and the cars were covered in filth and grime. Heat waves were cooking up off the cars and the track. No breeze came off the bay. The afternoon sun reflected off the windshields, flashing messages with each twitch of the cars. The once howling screaming hell bitches now thumped along at idle speeds.

Following the parade of racers now came the wreckers, hauling the devastation, which once had been a beautiful svelte masterpiece, on two wrecker’s flat beds.

The pits were now open and the crews gathered at the pit wall…watching. Looking towards their left, anxiously awaiting their cars, holding their impact guns, air jack hoses, and the refueling nozzles. They waited, knowing that they…each one of them…could be the difference between winning or losing…between victory or defeat and despair.

Compensation for all this pressure, for all this responsibility was more spiritual in nature than any material gain, adding the hours required, the sacrifice, and then mathematically working out their hourly pay, they would be below minimum wage.

Now the pace car was visible. The racecars peeling off as the pace car passed the pit road entrance. Driving down pit road each driver would dive into their respective spots, guided by various signs on long poles with their car numbers emblazoned upon them. As the cars entered their spot, the crew swarmed over the pit wall, flying into action.

The new drivers, each carried their little foam inserts that made the driver seat, their own. Air hoses were connected so the air jacks lifted the cars; fuel hoses were connected spewing forth that volatile liquid at incredible flow rates.

The driver climbing out helps the new driver adjust their safety belts.

The old tires are taken off in an instant, the centerlock hubs make this quick, new tires are on now and cars are already dropping down to the track surface.

Reese’s car is down and he gets the signal to go! Reese hits the pit speed button and lets it take him out at maximum speed without a penalty. Joe entered the pits in fourth place and Reese exits onto the track in first place.

The brake pads were just about gone on Jessica’s car. The quick change pads made it fast work to change, as did the pneumatic piston re-tractors Jake had engineered specifically for these urgent brake pad changes, still Jessica had brought her car into the pits in the lead and Sandy left the pits in twelfth position.

Looking at the brake pads removed from her car, Jake could see that they had very few laps left on them.

“They would never have made it,” Steele comments looking over Jake’s shoulder.

“Maybe we should have changed them on Destiny.”

“Irving said they still had about three fourths of the pad left,” Steele observed, “That Joe, he can drive, and he saves the car too.”

Jessica had immediately headed to the bus; Joe was hanging around behind their pit spot talking to the guys, keeping his helmet handy. Jake noted that and was feeling that not too many had much faith in Sandy.

Soon the green flag waved and the race was on. Reese was caught sleeping on the restart and was passed by two cars on the entrance to turn one.

Sandy came by already in eighth. Jake expected a black flag, but nothing happened.

When the field came by next, Reese was in third place still and Sandy had fallen to fourteenth, with some damage to the body side skirts, obviously a slight off track skirmish. Steele watched her go by, but she had never signaled, so he assumed that nothing was wrong. Off track incidents can create havoc on these cars with the aero package, suspension, cooling, and of course, the tires.

Now Sandy began a drive that impressed Steele and Jake immensely. Each lap she would pass one or two competitors. On a street course, such as this, that was incredible. Jake’s new design was superior to anything on the track and Sandy displayed talent and aggressiveness normally expect only from an experienced champion driver.

In the waning moments of the race, Sandy was running in fourth, Reese was still in third when coming out of the ninety degree slow left turn six, Reese made his move with Sandy glued to his tail. As they exited the left hander, Reese stayed tight up against the left hand side of the track, moving past the second place car and up beside the first place machine under the two pedestrian bridges and through the slight left hander called turn seven.

As they entered the right hand sweeper of turn eight, Reese was at wide-open throttle passing the leader on the outside. The leader’s car broke loose trying to stay up with Reese, his momentum hurling his car to the outside of the turn, narrowly missing the right rear of Destiny, slamming his car’s left rear into Sandy’s cars right front.

Sandy downshifted, steered right carrying the now second place machine with her until that car folded along side Sandy as she steered back to the left grazing the right hand side of her car against the inside wall. The fourth place car collided with the former leader, as Sandy collected herself up in time to negotiate the next turn in winning form, following Reese, four car lengths behind as they crossed the finish line to a furiously waving checkered flag. A one-two finish for team Rhoad/Steele!

The crew was jubilant, many standing on the pit wall, arms extended into the air screaming at the top of their lungs. The fifth place Gunther had driven through the melee to a podium finish third place.

The cars were directed to the tech area for post race inspection where they were weighed.

Everyone descended upon victory lane where Destiny was placed just in front of the podium.

As the spectators and crews arrived, ‘Dinky’ Arnbouster, the driver that had led until the last lap made a tremendously embarrassing scene, his owner with him, he began shouting right into Sandy’s face, spit flying from his enraged mouth, his head the color of a ripe tomato.

“Hold it! Hold it! You didn’t win shit you, you, cheating…bitch!” The man obviously had lost all reason.

Eddie was the nearest to the encounter of Rhoad/Steele team members, other than Sandy and he jumped right in ‘Dinky’s’ face.

“Hey! Watch your mouth…” but before Eddie could finish his stern chastisement of ‘Dinky’. ‘Dinky’ shoved Eddie with a violent push right in Eddie’s face, knocking him backwards with tremendous force, flat on his ass.

Jake taking this in as he approached, leaped forward to grab ‘Dinky’, but before Jake could grab him, Sandy had leaped up and kicked ‘Dinky’ right in his Adam’s apple with the side of her right foot, that kick came out of nowhere in a flash, fast and violent.

‘Dinky’ fell to the ground retching hideously, holding his throat. His head now looking more plum like.

Sandy, looking composed and lady like, calmly stated, “Nobody, I mean nobody hits my crewmen.”

Security was coming from all over and Grand-Am officials were swarming into victory lane also.

Team Rhoad/Steele moved to one side, everyone talking at once. Jake found himself with Jessica on one side and Sandy on the other. “How does this situation happen to a nice guy that minds his own business?” Jake thought to himself, his mind the only one presently not thinking of the race controversy.

Jake folded his arms as he realized both women were reaching to hold his hand, and then he pretended not to notice, suddenly deeply engrossed in the problem of the moment.

Steele watched this with amusement, his old eye shining.

Soon the Grand-Am officials had gone onto the podium to make an announcement. “Ladies and gentleman we apologize for the delay…we had some unusual matters to discuss…uh…work out details.”

“A protest was filed against team Rhoad/Steele, claiming that Rhoad/Steele’s drivers, Reese and Jones had purposely wrecked the leader of the race…uh…’Dinky’ Arnbouster. After review of the incident, recorded by Speedvision, Grand-Am saw no evidence of team Rhoad/Steele purposely wrecking ‘Dinky’ and in fact, determined that ‘Dinky’, that is, Mr. Arnbouster did in fact cause the incident when his car moved to the left, leaving…uh, Ms. Jones nowhere to go, so the protest has been disallowed.”

“Also, as a result of ‘Dink’…uh…Mr. Arnbouster’s assault of the Rhoad/Steele crew-member, Grand-Am has fined Mr. Arnbouster ten thousand dollars, disqualified him from this event and have issued him a two race suspension. Grand-Am will not tolerate this type of unprofessional behavior. As for Ms. Jones reaction to Mr. Arnbouster’s assault, we find that was justifiable defensive strategy and will take no further action on this matter.”

“As it stands team Rhoad/Steele’s car number 09 is the official winner of this Miami Grand Prix!”

The team went nuts! Irving was carrying Sandy around on his shoulders. Joe, Reese, and Jessica were already spewing the Corbel on everyone.

Even with all the excitement, Jake could sense a lack of sincerity on many of the other team’s part, as though they were just going through the well wishing motions, but that in reality they had tired of what they perceived as an advantage that Rhoad/Steele somehow had wrested away from the rest of the competitors. While Jake felt that, the true advantage here was the team itself, he did want respect from his peers, respect and good will. Jake wanted a perfect world…that was the source of his aggravation…his disappointment in his fellow man.

The trophy presentation was actually sedate when compared to the pre-presentation frenzy that had just happened.

Photos were taken with Madison Avenue hats and banners, and then these were changed to Stoudenmire Investments. Suzanne, Dallas, and Amelia were everywhere sharing in the glory of victory. Sheila and Wanda were displaying Joe affection in an almost X-rated show of affection.

Pete Miles had photographers capturing it all, for this was Rhoad/Steele’s statement to the world…a one-two knock out punch!

Jake set alone on his flight home to Texas. Steele had stayed over to have a victory party and would fly home on Monday with Dallas and Amelia.

The crew was leaving, so Jake went with them, scheduling a victory party for them on Friday night at the ‘Corkscrew’. Jake had successfully avoided contact with either Sandy or Jessica, not knowing what to say to either or really how he felt. All Jake wanted now was the comfort of home and the warmth of friendship given without any strings attached.

Jake opened up his farmhouse and went around turning on his lights. Charlie was giving him the cold shoulder for leaving him at the pet hotel; it always took him a day to return to his normal lovable self.

After he fixed himself something to eat, Jake sat in his den with a glass of iced tea, surrounded by his books and his trophies.

Jake looked at a photo of a skinny little kid holding a big trophy in front of an old beat up looking racecar.

There was a glint in that kid’s eyes…Jake shifted his focus to his reflection in the glass door to his bookcase. Dull, tired eyes glared back at him…Was it gone? Would it ever come back? Did he want it back?

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Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.