SPEEDLUST

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Chapter 28

Jake stood on the mezzanine watching the race haulers stream in. It was hot here in Texas, only one race all year in Texas for Grand-Am and they picked the hottest month for it. Jake turned to continue his trek to the fitness center. This Texas Motor Speedway had everything and the place was considered the Taj Mahal of auto racing.

Jake, constantly battling his weight had begun a rigid exercise program and felt much better for it. As Jake worked out, he reflected on the problems of team Rhoad/Steele.

Suzanne had been released from the hospital and from all reports was recovering just fine. Steele had told him that she was planning to be at this event. Jake did not know the circumstances of her assault that was fine with him. No one had been implicated that he knew of. Jake had just simply withdrawn from any involvement with that aspect of his team. Jake felt that he was chassis and speed, if anyone needed more, then let them ask and he would see what he could do.

Quite frankly, Sandy’s behavior at the hospital was a bit too crazy for him.

Dale was back with the team, but trust would be a long road back as not everyone was as forgiving as Jake and Steele.

The new car, now rebuilt, had been named, Havoc, as a result of the name contest with the runner up name Victory going to its back up car. The car the girls had driven to second place in Miami. The fourth car had no name and as a result, the guys had been referring to it as the car with No Name, hence giving it one.

Havoc had been rebuilt and was now the girl’s weapon of choice with Victory setting in the hauler along with No Name.

All the Rhoad/Steele drivers were much in demand and Pete Miles was having a hard time scheduling interviews and doing his press work. Madison Avenue had their own public relations helping out, especially with Sandy’s affairs.

Joe and Jessica were just naturally good at these interviews where Sandy and Reese seemed much more nervous and unsure of themselves.

Steele and Jake hadn’t decided who had loosened the constant velocity joints at Miami, but both were convinced that it wasn’t Dale. Dale was working very hard and was staying away from Joe, who, Jake had noticed, kept an eye on Dale.

Jake finished his workout and after a shower headed back to his paddock area. By the time he got there he was already drenched in sweat.

Joe and Sandy were suited up in their driving gear to go take some practice laps in the first session due to start in twenty minutes. Joe climbed into his car early just so he could plug into his cool suit. This suit has little capillary tubes sewn throughout his Nomex underwear and a pump circulates ice water continuously through it. “After this ride I’m going to need something warm to snuggle next to.” Sheila looked up at Jake with what looked like embarrassment.

Jake thought, “I didn’t think that girl could be embarrassed about anything; maybe she’s tired of that three-way relationship.”

Jake could see everything was ready for the practice, so he decided to head over to his spot on the pit road. As he walked through the paddock, through the rows of motor coaches, and million dollar haulers, Jake thought about how much this sport, that he loved so much, had changed since he had started racing, so many years ago. Yet, it was almost unrecognizable by comparison, but the essential things, the aspects that he loved, were still identical, the camaraderie, the challenge, the feeling of belonging, and the sense of accomplishment, these meant most to Jake. Walking on, Jake’s attention is drawn to a GT team working on their Mustang. Their hauler was a Ford pickup truck and an open trailer. They had an EZ-UP, 10’ x10’ awning to battle the stifling heat. The driver had his driver suit rolled down to his waist, the sleeves tied around his waist, and was changing the brake pads. His crew was two very young men…they looked like teenagers. These two were working furiously on the engine, doing what appeared to be a plug check.

Jake stopped in the shade of a motor home and watched this team for a while, remembering his journey in auto racing. Memories came flooding back of the fast days when it seemed that nothing felt as it did now. The world was alive with the excitement of the moment…Jake wanted that feeling back.

“Seems like yesterday to me.” Jake slowly turned his head to that growling voice he recognized and had come to respect so much.

Steele was watching the team with the same intensity that Jake imagined he must have.

“Yes, it does, I was just recalling those times, but you know they say the past is always glorious.”

Steele continued to watch the young team for a long moment…looking so much apart of this racetrack atmosphere, looking cool and comfortable in this oppressive heat.

“Yeah, but it’s not…not always, but you and I Jake, we created that time, that glory, those fast days. We created them, we earned those moments with our youth and while yes, they were glorious, they’re nothing compared to the legacy we’re building now…no, our best days aren’t gone Jake…they’re right here, right now and we’re living them with open eyes, seeing them for what they are, while they are happening.”

Steele turned to Jake to see the effect of his reflections on Jake. The stress and the nonsense parts of the team all seemed small now, as Jake thought of Steele’s words. Words are indeed powerful, meaningful things and his friend had the right words, at the right time.

Jake smiled and reached over and clasped Steele’s shoulder in a powerful grip, looking into his eye. “Well, partner, let’s go build some more glory days!”

As they walked off, the driver’s head emerged from the fender well, watching the two motor sports legends walk away, thinking, “One day, one day!”

The teenager under the hood looked up and asked, “Who were those old guys?”

The other kid burned his hand against the header, “Shit! I don’t know…hand me those tie wraps.”

Practice was cut short for both cars, as the engines were running hot and the Stoich meter was showing very lean running engines, so Irving had called them both in.

Back in the paddock, the crew pulled the spark plugs and there were indicators of detonation, black specs on the spark plugs, which led the team to change the fuel curve of the engine to enrichen it. This had already been brought to the driver’s attention by the Stoich gauge. The fuel injection will only adjust itself in a certain, actually very narrow window, so a driver and the crew must be alert as engine damage can occur if an engine is too lean, usually manifested in melted holes in the pistons.

The crew tuned the engine, but the short practice for their class had ended.

Sandy’s cool suit wasn’t working right, so Eddie was sorting that out, along with other annoyances.

Suzanne had arrived and was walking about as though nothing had happened, the incident just became more mysterious, and a mystery that Jake was fine not getting involved in, unless he was needed.

Watching the practice, it was obvious that everyone had been working, raising the level of performance, determined to match Rhoad/Steele. They were all fast!

That’s auto racing, you can’t rest on your laurels, as the rest of the racers will chew you up. No, a winning team constantly strives to do better than they did the last time.

Sandy approached Jake with an almost apprehensive expression on her face.

“Jake, what I said at the hospital…well, what I meant…”

Jake first stared emotionless for a moment, and then interrupted, “Look, Sandy, that is all just more complication, more…oh, I don’t know what it’s more of. It’s just something I know I don’t want…not now or ever.”

“This!” Jake motioned around him, “This is my world and maybe it’s not true life, but it is our true life, if that’s what we make it to be.”

Sandy’s look was one of bewilderment.

“Sandy it can be your true world too, you see this race, to most people, doesn’t mean anything. The winners, the losers most don’t even know…much less care, but to us, the people in our world, it’s really all that matters. We can shut out all the rest and live our life, our entire lives in this world with very few forays into the dreary existence that most people consider…life.”

“Things happen, Jake…sometimes bad things and what do you do then?”

“Yes, sometimes bad things happen, even here…we deal with those and when something from outside the existence requires it, we may have to step out and handle problems then also, but we don’t make it our lives.”

Sandy was looking off, deep in thought.

“Let’s say you have a job you do, that you hate. Then once a year you take a vacation and live the life you really want. Well, we have just reversed that. We live the life we want and sure, sometimes a waiter spills the drinks, but that doesn’t ruin the vacation now does it?”

“Spills the drinks?” Sandy looked back at Jake.

“Step into this life, Sandy. Embrace it, love it, live it, and put all the hurt behind you. Think about that, would you?”

Jake patted Sandy’s shoulder, then turned and walked away, leaving Sandy in deep thought.

In the GT practice, the Mustang Jake and Steele had been watching, was moving up fast, the driver on a mission.

It looked to be a formidable threat that the GT field would have to face, when it all fell apart in one blinding flash, one serious miscalculation.

The driver had placed his car on the path to destruction in his effort to show the world that he was the fastest…the best, at least for this moment. Now his dreams of glory were over.

Losing control on the entrance to the high speed tri oval section, which was incorporated into this road course configuration, the Mustang sped violently backwards into the outside retaining wall, then ricocheted back across the track into two other GT competitor’s cars, destroying all three. Composite body debris was all over the place. The space frame chassis were twisted and deformed into almost unrecognizable pieces of flattened, smashed tubing.

The driver Jake had watched, just a short while ago change his own brake pads, now crawled from his shattered steed and obviously shaken, he went to check on the other drivers, that now were faced with destroyed cars also.

As he approached, one of the drivers ran up at him pummeling the Mustang driver with his crash helmet, which he was swinging by its strap.

After the initial smashing impact, the driver tried to protect his head with crossed arms held over his head. This only served to further infuriate the angry competitor, who was now joined by the other hapless victim, equally as angry, demonstrated by his assault, raining punches left and right into the Mustang driver’s mid-section.

Soon the onslaught had its effect as the driver was beaten down into the infield grass where his assailants now began kicking him viciously and repeatedly. Only stopped by a swarm of track workers that had finally arrived at the scene.

Jake witnessed this disgusting spectacle that he had seen enacted many times and at many different races.

Turning away, the other times flashed through his mind…inhumane acts perpetrated by people that seemed in control of their faculties, most of the time. Driven to this disgusting violence by some maddening desire to win…win what? A race, an event that in a year no one will even care about, much less remember the winner. Was this the special world he had just spoken to Sandy of?

Jake’s mind had a way of clearing these gruesome sights that he had witnessed from its forefront. The wrecks, the burned wretched bones of mere mortals attempting to become Gods of Speed, and achieving it sometimes, only to be struck down either by the track or by their machines or as now, by their fellow competitors. These events, Jake would classify unconsciously and put them in a file that would only rear its ugly head in a dream or perhaps briefly in a conversation. These were aspects of this sport that are better off sealed away from the light.

Jake was walking through the paddock when Dallas and Amelia materialized from somewhere and fell in along side him.

“This winning streak we have going is really something,” Dallas commented.

Jake can feel this is leading somewhere and he thinks he doesn’t want to go there. “Yeah, we’ve won every race.”

“It would sure be nice to keep it up,” Dallas looks towards Jake’s face, but sees no change in his expression. “I mean being here in Texas, with all our investors…I want a win!”

Jake never missed a step and looked over at Amelia, the fabric of her blouse was overstretched barely containing that ample bosom of hers, “Yeah, that’s what we want…we being every single racer here. That’s what makes it so special to do, Dallas…it’s not easy…in fact, it is damn hard and can be elusive, sometimes destiny deals out a hand and all you can do is try to hold on, but I can tell you the amount of wins we have has nothing to do with any outcome. All that says is that we have done it before, but every race is a new opportunity to either win or lose, so we can’t say we are going to win. We might just get our butts kicked.”

Jake stopped suddenly and motioned out towards the paddock where rows of cars were gathering on pre-grid for the second practice, “You see those cars over there…well they are all damn fast cars and the drivers, many of them are former champions, winners of events, such as, the twenty-four hours of Lemans and the Indy Five Hundred. We’ve bested those drivers…and they don’t like it. Now they think it’s their turn. They want to grind us down…and they just might do it, see you, and Amelia and Madison Avenue, you’ve all had it easy…to you it all looked so easy…that’s what Steele and I have done. However, it’s not easy at all, and we too, we have had our asses kicked. We have had the gearbox puke it’s gears out with the checkered flag waving in sight. We’ve had drivers quit, engines blown, disastrous wrecks destroy our cars, tires blown, wheels come off, you name it, I’ve experienced it five, maybe ten times.”

“So what are you saying, Jake?” Amelia asked, looking bewildered from Jake’s rant.

Jake took a breath, looked off to that beautiful blue sky and felt suddenly so in tune with his environment, so much a part of this human struggle, this drama that meant so much to its participants, but really didn’t mean a thing.

“What I’m saying is…we are going to kick ass!”

Stunned silence followed for a few moments, then, “Man you had me worried for a minute there, Jake, I’ll tell you.” Dallas sounded relieved and began laughing with a big toothy grin, looking back and forth between Jake and Amelia, who still seemed somewhat confused.

“Ok folks, now I’d better try to live up to that brag…if you will excuse me?” Jake tried a confident smile and walked on.

Jake walked down the side of a large hauler and as he reached the end he just caught the end of a conversation between two of Johanson’s crewmen and his driver, Jessica.

The Johanson men walked away as Jake rounded the corner. Jessica looked after them, no expression on her face. Jake approached her from her left side.

“What did those lovely gentlemen have on their minds?” Jake tried to see some effect on Jessica’s face, there was none.

Jessica continued watching after the two Johanson men and said, “They just wanted to wish me luck.”

They fell in stride with one another and headed for their paddock space.

Qualifying went poorly for team Rhoad/Steele. Joe qualified Destiny in fourteenth position. While his car ran fine, Joe felt a distinct lack of power. Upon investigation, Jake found that the engine was not getting wide-open throttle, due to the throttle stop being adjusted wrong. This could not happen by accident!

Jessica qualified Havoc in the fifth place, so this was a saving grace for the team that was expecting a pole position. This placed Jessica right next to one of the Johanson cars, with the other Johanson entry just behind her.

Jake was very impressed with Jessica’s speed, but was concerned with the Johanson group’s underhanded tricks. Watching her prepare for her run, Jake realized just how lucky Rhoad/Steele was to have such a woman for their driver. Jessica was the consummate professional. The concentration and confidence that she exuded were usually trademarks of a much more experienced veteran driver.

Sunday afternoon, the crowd was counted at over ninety thousand paid admissions and the weather was glorious. Cool breezes coming all the way from the Gulf of Mexico over two hundred miles to the south had cooled off the place. Flags and pendants were blowing straight out, displaying the vivid contrast of bright colors against the blue Texas sky.

The racecars were lined up along pit road two by two according to their qualifying positions.

The crews adorned in their uniforms festooned with patches and embroidery work displaying the logos and names of their teams and sponsors, stood in long straight lines while the commencement activities took place.

A Baptist preacher said the Lord’s Prayer and an additional special prayer for the racers asking the Lord for protection and guidance. A gospel-singing quartet sang the United States National Anthem without too many sour notes, and then Lisa France Kennedy said into the microphone, “Lady and Gentlemen,” the emphasis clearly placed on the word ‘Lady’, “Start Your Engines!”

The place filled up immediately with that snarling ripping malevolent sound that Jake loved so much, that brought to him the feeling of challenge and excitement that made him feel more alive.

Jake gave Jessica a thumb up, and then as he closed the door to her racecar, he caught a glimpse of Jessica’s eyes, a steely-eyed gaze of shear determination and something else, vicious raw anger!

Jake looked after the cars as they followed the pace car out into the arena, yes it was there in her eyes, Jessica was mad. Jessica was clearly on a mission today, but Jake wasn’t worried anymore, that woman could take anything these boys could throw at her!

Soon the pace car came back around leading the field down the front straight away/tri-oval section. The racecars were weaving back and forth violently flexing their tires, building heat into them so they would have traction when the green flag was waved.

Ninety thousand fans took to their feet, cheering with a thunderous roar, many waving with thumbs up in the air.

The next lap, the pace car entered the pits, fast, and the field came around tightly packed up.

The flagman seeing all was in order furiously waved the green flag, as the drivers stood on the gas, accelerating to breath taking speed, past the start/finish line.

No sooner than they were out of sight in the middle of turns one and two the third place car in front of Jessica slowed slightly. The fourth place car moved ahead opening room for the sixth place Johanson entry to follow.

As this was happening the seventh place Johanson entry slammed hard into the rear of Jessica’s car. Jessica was low on the track and felt loose, on the verge of spinning, the rear of her car going towards the outside of the turn.

Jessica steered right, contacting the left rear of the sixth place Johanson entry on her right, hard!

The Johanson car spun instantaneously veering down violently towards the inside of turn two, right into the path of the seventh place qualifier, his teammate, who smashed into his left side without ever checking his speed.

Jessica, after careening into that car, had collected her car up, no small thanks to the car she had hit, somewhat diminishing her momentum and had just driven away from the whole mess.

The Johanson entries demolished each other on contact with racecar pieces exploding in all directions.

The sixth place entry’s journey had just begun, however as it continued and even seemed to accelerate faster, smashing head on into the retaining fence, which caused the car to flip end over end, over the crumpled fence, flying, still at high speed, upside down backwards into the side of a parked race hauler, Johanson’s hauler! Poetic Justice!

The racecar smashed into the hauler about ten feet in the air, ripping a gash in the side of the trailer’s box from the rear forward, about thirty feet. Finally falling into the paddock space, almost at the exact spot it had set, while the crew prepared it for the race.

Along the way the car wreaked havoc, knocking off the awning and smashing the toolboxes. Narrowly missing many of Johanson’s crew that was straightening items up before they headed over to their pit spot.

The other Johanson car or what was left of it skated along the skirt at the bottom of the track and was hit by, no less than four other racecars.

Joe had moved higher on the track from his outside position and missed all the carnage.

Safety crews scrambled to save the drivers and it turned out that other than cuts and abrasions, all the drivers were ok.

Several of the cars were unable to continue the event and team Johanson’s cars were both obviously totally ruined.

The red flag was displayed and all the racecars lined up again along the pit road.

Jake and Steele went out to speak with Jessica. The racecar looked pristine. Steele opened the cockpit door and Jessica remained strapped in, the cool breeze was still blowing, keeping Jake and Steele comfortable in the hot Texas sunshine. Jessica had her cool suit keeping her frosty.

“What the hell happened out there?” Steele asked in an unexcited conversational tone.

“The forty-six pounded my butt, I almost spun and hit the forty-five on his left rear and drove past his rear as he spun,” Jessica paused to sip a drink from her on board system.

Bob came up all excited, “Both Johanson’s cars are all fucked up!” Bob’s leering grin at some other team’s hardship usually chafed Jake, but not this time.

“One of ‘em even smashed through the fence and destroyed his hauler!”

“Do you mean that his racecar hit his tow truck?” Steele was having trouble with this seemingly incredible tale.

“That’s right and Ol’ Johanson is fit to be tied.” Bob’s eyes were gleaming with joy as he spit out his story. “He’s throwing shit all around and even knocked one of his crew members down!”

“Looks like Johanson has messed with the wrong girl this time, now don’t it?” Steele looked very satisfied with Bob’s report.

Jake looked over at Jessica as she pulled her helmet off, her beautiful hair spilling out onto her shoulders.

“I just reacted to the forty-six pounding my ass…they did the rest.”

Just then a flat bed wrecker drove by with what was left of the Johanson number forty-six piled up on its aluminum bed.

“Tell me Jess…do you do that to every guy that tries to pound your ass?” Jake’s eyes were twinkling, working with his flirting mannerism towards his driver.

Steele and Bob exploded in laughter. Jessica smiled a taunting sexy smile, showing her perfect white teeth against her red lips.

“Why? Does that scare you Jake?”

Jake was taken off the spot as Johanson suddenly ran up. “Bitch! You sorry bitch!” Johanson grabs Bob’s shoulder, spinning him around violently.

Bob responded with a fluent movement kneeing Johanson hard, right in the crotch, his momentum from Johanson’s violent spin made the blow much harder than Bob had even intended. Down went Johanson writhing on the ground.

Race officials had been running up and saw the entire incident. Johanson was spitting up and moaning loudly as security personnel drove up on a golf cart.

“Have this man escorted off the premises, he attacked this gentleman,” the race official gestured first to Johanson and then towards Bob. The guards dragged Johanson onto their cart and drove off.

“I wish all my conversations with him went so pleasantly,” Steele commented. Everyone laughed, including the official.

Jake saw Jessica still waiting on her answer, he suddenly needed to check the rear of the car and do a visual for damage. No work could be done under a red flag. Although there were some cracks in the composite skirts, it had really held up extremely well. Officials were whistling and waving for a line up for the restart.

Jake went around the car’s rear and up the right side, everything looked perfect there. Jake approached as Jessica was putting her long hair up into her helmet.

“Well, your rear is just fine,” Jake, sounded all business now.

“Why, Jake, I thought you would never notice…” Jessica smiled at her own teasing. All the danger, all the anger that Jake had seen earlier was now gone from Jessica’s eyes, replaced now with excitement, humor, and yes, Jake could see it …desire.

“Fellas don’t go anywhere…I’ll be right back…fast!”

They closed the cockpit and moved away after Jessica fired Havoc up, ready now to wreak some more havoc.

Steele, looking at Bob with new respect now, “Well, Bob all this time I thought you were a little bit of a pushover…I can see now I was mistaken in that determination. Why you’re really quite a violent bastard, now aren’t you?”

Bob grinned and looked back and forth between Steele and Jake, sweat pouring off his rounded, stretched face, making his face even greasier, “Well, Steele, I wouldn’t say I’m some bad ass, but I can be riled!”

Jake hugged him with one arm around Bob’s shoulders…these guys…this team was so special, “I’ll tell you Bob…win or lose, tonight the drinks for the whole team are on me…courtesy of Bob Brezynski!”

“Now Jake, don’t overload your ass…I’ll pay for at least one round just for the satisfaction of seeing that son of a bitch writhing around on the pavement!” Steele sounded as though he was making a supreme sacrifice.

“One round, huh?” Jake’s head was bent slightly downward and he looked up with his eyes towards Bob, winking, “My Steele, you are in rare form…next you’ll be buying us supper!”

“Now there you go, damn it…I try to display my generosity and right away someone wants to take advantage of me…I swear.”

They all walked off towards their pit spot with this bantering continuing all the way.

Team Johanson had loaded their pit equipment up and carried it over to their destroyed hauler and was now standing around with confused expressions on their faces.

Jake, having lived through those times facing tremendous disappointments himself, many times, actually felt sympathy for Johanson’s crew.

“Serves those bastards right,” Steele broke in on Jake’s sympathy session.

Jake looked at his old adversary with a somewhat stern look, then smiled, “Yeah, you’re right…those bastards!”

On the restart, Joe had moved up to eighth place, Jessica was now in fifth. The pace was blinding fast and pretty much uneventful with Gunther dropping out with engine problems about one third into the event.

At near the half way point Steele called them in and first came Jessica still holding her own in fifth position. Sandy slipped in quickly changing the seat insert to the custom one to fit her more curvaceous form, adjusted her belts, and took on four tires and fuel. The crew cleaned the cooling ducts and peeled the windshield tear away, and then Sandy was off.

Sandy was now a lap down to the leaders, but they had not pitted yet. About thirty seconds before Joe was going to come in, one of the leaders, whose tires were worn, slid gently into the wall just kissing it barely, but bringing out a caution flag nonetheless. This allowed Joe to pit under yellow flag conditions meaning that when Reese entered the track he did so ahead of Sandy and most of the field by a lap.

Sandy was furious at the turn of events and determined to un-lap Havoc at any cost. Driving as though her life depended on it Sandy began working Havoc through the traffic and earning Madison Avenue and Stoudenmire Investments a great deal of television time as Sandy’s display was exciting to watch.

The miles fell away and awhile-later Sandy found herself behind the leader, Reese, driving Destiny and in control of the event.

As Sandy approached, Reese moved to his left and allowed Sandy by on his outside. Sandy was now on the lead lap again and running in twelfth position.

Reese, the race leader, had a commanding six-second lead over the second place car.

With five laps left in the race the second place car’s teammate, currently four laps down suddenly veered into the wall, spewing composite shards and sparks everywhere.

The yellow flag came out and the pace car came out gathering the field up.

Sandy was in tenth position when Steele’s voice commanded her to “Pit next lap!”

Sandy responded with, “Why? I’ll lose my position!”

A brief moment passed then Steele’s voice came on rather sternly, “Sandy, just do it!”

Sandy entered pit road alone and flipped her pit speed switch as she entered Rhoad/Steele’s pit, the air jacks lifted as the crew furiously changed her worn out tires.

Steele’s voice came into Sandy’s ears, “GO, GO, GO!” And go she did, lining back up behind the eleven other cars still on the lead lap, but they all were on worn tires.

“Now Sandy dear, I want you to drive on up to the front on those brand new tires…and win this thing!”

Sandy could feel the grip had slowly diminished. Now she flexed her tires by zig zagging back and forth, awaiting that green flag…dreaming of the checkered.

Now the pace car pulled off into pit road and looking way ahead Sandy could anticipate the green being waved and jumped it just enough to get away with it, quickly passing several cars in front of her by the time she reached the green, no black flag, so she had done everything right.

The tires let Havoc go anywhere Sandy wanted with great precision, placing her tires precisely where she desired, these speeds gave Sandy a feeling of invincibility that she had never experienced before.

The laps wound down quickly, three, two, the white flag was displayed and Sandy was in third position watching Reese maneuver to block the second place driver’s attempt to pass low on the entry to turn one.

Down the back straight Sandy drove Havoc to almost touching the second place car’s rear. Entering the final turn, the second place car moved low and Reese held tight to the bottom as they exited, the flagman coming in sight.

Sandy held her position in the middle of the track feeling a surge in speed as the leaders dropped low slingshotting Havoc around on the outside passing the second place car as the track straightened out.

Sandy mashed the accelerator, the tires holding her as if she were on rails! Sandy made very little movements on the steering and at these speeds approaching two hundred miles per hour, it seemed progress had slowed to a crawl, as inch-by-inch Havoc moved further and further forward.

Now abreast of Reese, Sandy held her line as Reese moved up towards the center, his worn tires losing grip!

Engines in both cars were screaming at their limits, now side-by-side Havoc and Destiny crossed the finish line, the checkered flag waving. Fast and furious, one writer later described that moment, the one-two finish, as the closest in Grand-Am history the fantastic Rhoad/Steele victory.

Team Rhoad Steele’s pit crew went absolutely nuts, screeching and jumping, then suddenly Steele asked the question, “Does anyone know who won?”

This created a brief moment of contemplation until Jake said, “Well, we did you idiot!” Then the party resumed.

At the winner’s circle celebration, both first and second place cars were directed into the winner’s circle. Placed facing each other gave prominent display for each of the team’s major sponsors, due to the unique aspects of their paint jobs.

The loud speaker announced the winner of the race, “Team Rhoad/Steele!”

Once again the team and their fans came unraveled. The drivers were all assembled on the victory podium. Joe, the veteran with the demeanor of trying to absorb it all in never again taking it for granted. Reese, Jessica, and Sandy all looking very pleased and somewhat stunned to be living the life that others only dreamed of.

The announcer called for Jake Rhoad and Steele to come to the podium.

“The winner’s cup normally is presented last, but due to this very special and unusual finish…the closest finish in Grand-Am history,” huge applause here, “we are proud to present this first place cup to the only all women driving team to ever win a Grand American event.” Jessica and Sandy were screaming and hugging, “To Sandy Jones and Jessica Strangeways of Madison Avenue and Stoudenmire Investments, team Rhoad/Steele, we award you first place for the Texas Motor Speedway Grand Prix!”

After the cheers and applause died down, Sandy took the microphone, “Suzanne, Suzanne Clark, Amelia Stoudenmire…then adding Wanda and Sheila, all of you girls come up here…now!”

Soon the women of Rhoad/Steele were gathered on the stage. “This victory is for all you women out there who may be considering something, who may be worried…worried you’ll be called something…well, ladies you can do anything a man can do and I think…we…the girls here on this stage…we’ve proven that today!”

The applause was thunderous. Across the nation young women were watching, hope was gleaming in their eyes and they went forth knowing they could do, they could win, this moment had changed their very lives.

Sandy handed Jessica the microphone. Jessica’s voice sounded calm, “In the short while I’ve been with Rhoad/Steele, I’ve learned a lot…I’ve learned auto racing is the ultimate team sport…I’ve learned about reliance…girls we should be proud of our accomplishments, but we didn’t do this alone…there is strength in unity, our crew, the fabricators, the engineers, the mechanics, they, those men made this victory possible. Going to drive for this team was a dream come true for Sandy and me, but it was only a part of the dream. One of the men, Steele, that made this dream of mine a reality, told me early when I joined the team that it was all about speed and lust. I’m afraid I didn’t understand just then, but I get it now and I’ve got that lust for living that Steele spoke of and nothings going to stop me…us now!”

The fans were going nuts now as the champagne was passed out and was soon spewing forth in all directions.

The excitement was at a crescendo and through it all Jake was watching his two women drivers, two of the sexiest, smartest, and most stimulating, attractive women he had ever known.

“Well, Jake,” Jake turned to find Joe Savage smiling a sympathetic smile at him, “Maybe, just maybe you understand my dilemma a little bit better, maybe?”

Jake pretended a puzzled look, but Joe moved back to the celebration quickly taking Jake off the spot.

Jake was not Joe. No, he was a one-woman man and it wasn’t really his position to choose. Life has a way of working things out, Jake had found. Which of these women, if either, Jake was supposed to wind up with, would one day be revealed.

Now, yes right now, was a time for just living and enjoying these good times, this one more day in the sun.


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