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Chapter 3

“Quite a place you’ve got here,” Steele began a conversation with his fierce rival of twenty years ago as though they were best of friends. Jake just stared, still stunned that Steele was there. “I had heard about this place of yours, but the description just didn’t do it justice,” Steele smiled and waved his arm in a sweep about him.

Jake sat down across from Steele staring intently at his old adversary. Steele didn’t look any different. The ambiance lighting of the restaurant made the creases in his leathery face stand out starkly, those green eyes that could be so cold… seemed almost warm with genuine greetings from an old acquaintance. “What brings you here, Steele?” Jake’s voice was not the voice he reserved for friends, nor was it angry, it was flat and void of emotion. “Why here and why now?”

Steele looked at this man, the only man that had ever bested Steele at the sport that he had earned his living at for over thirty years. Oh, sure Steele had lost races, but never had he been beaten, out smarted, by anyone other than Jake Rhoad. Auto racing deals out hardships that make stick and ball games look like a cakewalk. Blown engines, transmissions puking their gears out onto the pavement and crashed cars when, as his latest driver put it, the driver ‘runs out of talent’ had all cost Steele, but only Jake had taken him down with his intelligence using strategy, and earning Steele’s respect along the way.

“Well, Jake you get right to it don’t you? No small talk for an old friend?”

“I can’t say there was ever any love lost between us, Steele.” Jake asked himself, what was Steele’s first name? He couldn’t recall ever hearing him called anything but Steele. A name that sounded as hard and strong as the man that wore it. This was undoubtedly the meanest, cleverest, son of a bitch in auto racing, and he had kicked Jake’s ass so many times that Jake had grown to loathe him and now Steele wanted something or he wouldn’t be here.

Now Jake and Steele stared at one another, tuning out the band and everyone else, both reliving the same moment, a turning point in their lives. A moment twenty years ago when they took each other out, out of a race, out of a championship. A point where if either Jake or Steele’s team had simply finished, then they would have won the I.M.S.A. Championship. The biggest championship there is in auto racing. Only one other team had a mathematical chance of winning that day, and it required that both Jake and Steele’s teams not finish.

Jake, consumed with beating Steele, ordered his driver to take Steele’s car out by whatever means necessary. Crash it, stuff it into the wall or another car, but under no circumstance was he to allow Steele’s car to pass or he could forget driving for Jake’s team ever again.

Steele had recruited the most aggressive and cheatingest driver in road racing. Steele’s instructions were simple, win the race if possible, but certainly be sure that Jake’s car could never make it to the finish line. Steele’s driver needed no extra encouragement, crashing competitors without appearing to, was his specialty. The stage was set for the final scene and what a spectacle it had been with the only miracle being that no one was killed.

The crash culminated in a brutal physical assault, by Steele’s driver, ‘Snake’ Santorin on Jake’s driver, Melvin Murphy. ‘Snake’ was a swarthy complexioned Greek, with a muscular body, more suited to a wrestler, than a sports car racing driver. His driving prowess on a road course was only surpassed by his ability and willingness to beat the shit out of anyone that, in his mind, had transgressed against him.

‘Snake’ had exploded out of his wrecked racecar, ran across the track, hurling his helmet at Melvin Murphy, who was struggling to climb out the window of his burning, crumpled automobile. The helmet struck Murphy in the head, ricocheting off Murphy’s helmet into the S.C.C.A. corner worker’s face, that had arrived at the scene of the crash to try and extricate the drivers, knocking him out cold and flat into the pavement. Murphy fell half out of the racecar window as ‘Snake’ arrived and began pummeling Murphy with a barrage of blows to Murphy’s back and rib cage.

The seemingly helpless skinny little Murphy managed to somehow drag his lower body out of his racecar, all the while being kicked and beaten by the powerful ‘Snake’. Then Murphy gathered his legs under him, grabbed ‘Snake’s’ shoulders on either side and violently slammed his helmeted head straight up into ‘Snake’s’ chin, hard!

This one move by Murphy ended the fight immediately as ‘Snake’ melted unconscious into the pavement spewing blood profusely from a split and broken jaw. Melvin Murphy then grabbed both the S.C.C.A. corner worker and ‘Snake’, each by one leg and dragged their limp bodies off the course, away from the fire and the stream of racecars that had been barely missing them, as they went by all the while.

This all happened in just a brief moment, then Murphy dusted off his hands to each other, retrieved the corner worker’s fire extinguisher, and put out his burning racecar.

The sanctioning body, the I.M.S.A. were furious at this spectacle that, as they put it, made a mockery of our sport, issuing fines and suspensions, including a lifetime ban against ‘Snake’ Santorin.

The sponsors revolted against both teams revoking lucrative multi year contracts, leaving both teams in financial dire straits.

The energy drink company sponsoring Steele’s team had a press conference announcing their disassociation with Steele, his team, and his driver.

“We were horrified at the blatant display of outright barbarism!” Stated James Campbell, spokesperson for ‘Vital Nectar’. “We must show our youth that this type of behavior will not be accepted and cannot be condoned, therefore we are withdrawing from any association with Speed Steele and Mister Steele’s other enterprises.”

‘Snake’ Santorin later sued Vital Nectar claiming the ingredients in their juice were what turned him into a raging madman. Vital Nectar quickly settled out of court for an undisclosed amount and ‘Snake’ moved back to Greece, buying a villa on the island of his namesake.

Melvin Murphy, just after the race, was interviewed by the most popular motorsports show in history ‘Speedstars’. The host, Rick Jones, outlined the events and drama leading up to the crash, the film clip of the fight, and the rescue. Replaying it again and again, the head butt by skinny little Murphy on the powerful, out of control, raging ‘Snake’, then asked Murphy for his analysis of it all.

Melvin wrinkled his brow and shifted his mouth back and forth several times, while pondering this question, and then he responded in his distinctly Irish brogue, “Well you know, as I see it Rick,” Murphy turned and looked directly at the camera, “This clearly shows, that you just don’t fuck-with-the-Irish!”

This one interview propelled Melvin Murphy into Irish folklore hero status, along with several multi million-dollar contracts representing everything Irish from beer to bath soap. Mr. Murphy now with his fortune made returned to the Emerald Isle… bought a very old castle, and married a very young lass… never to return to the sport of auto racing.

So, the drivers came away from it all unscathed (other than ‘Snake’s’ chin!) and the story in public, at least, was closed. However, the team owners and personnel all faced financial turmoil. The engineers, mechanics and fabricators are resilient. They simply found employment elsewhere, having their lives suddenly churned into upheaval by forces they had no control over, was a minor irritant compared to the frantic existence they had chosen for their careers.

This left only the owners, themselves, to suffer, as rightly they deserved, for creating the problem to begin with. Both Steele and Jake secured employment with other efforts, lending their expertise to winning races, and championships for others, Jake, for only as long as it took to put together the funds to create the ‘Corkscrew’. Steele had been living one day at a time all the while rebuilding his reputation, building competition automobiles, and trying not to focus on anything but the job at hand. In the back of each of their minds they thought, if I only had another chance….

Jake came back to real time first and broke the spell of regret, “So, let’s have it Steele, what do you want?”

Steele’s green eyes changed suddenly, with a look Jake could not quite discern, an almost pleading look, “I’m back in it, Jake. I’m building my own team again.”

“What’s all that have to do with me?” asked Jake.

“Well, I’ll tell you, Jake. I believe you are the best there ever was. You’re the only one who has ever beaten me. I respect you and my actions that day were wrong! I told, ‘Snake’ to take your car out. I fucked up everything for both of us.”

“You sorry son of a bitch!” Jake responds, pretending outrage.

“So now Jake,” Steele continues, ignoring Jake’s outburst, clasping his hands together, stretched out across the table top, “I’m here to ask you to be my partner.” Steele stares intensely at Jake and neither say a word for a long moment. The band was playing an old Bob Seeger song called ‘The Fire Inside’, about some biker. Jake motions for the waitress and says, “Anne, bring Mr. Steele and me a bottle of Martini & Rossi Champagne, and some glasses, thank you.”

“You mean, you’ll do it?” Steele asked, his excitement altering his voice.

“Yes, Steele I’ll be your partner, and I want to name the team, Rhoad/Steele, that ok with you? Partner?”

“Why, uh, yes,” Steele now seemed puzzled.

Knowing what was on Steele’s mind, and anticipating his next question, Jake arched an eyebrow and said, “Steele, you just talked me into it.” Then added, “I’ve been wanting to do this very thing for years, but one question… what is your fucking first name?”

The two old men laughed then, a laugh they had both needed for years. Their mutual respect brought forth a bond of friendship, fast. Just like everything they did. Their partnership was sealed with a toast and the evening turned into one of the most enjoyable times either had experienced in a long time.

As Jake drove his old Jeep home, chuckling to himself, pleased with the evening’s events, he thought how he had not been totally honest with Steele. Jake had not confessed his role in the wreck, and he had not told him of his dream, the recurring dream of a hot wind blowing on his face, of looking down a long straight away, seeing shimmering heat waves stretched across the track, and the appearance of a fast prototype automobile emerging from the shimmering heat waves, approaching, fast! With the name Rhoad/Steele emblazoned across the top of the windshield!
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