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Chapter 30

The rain had left just in time to get the race off. As the sun came out, the steam lifted up and the hot sticky vapor was so intense it made your eyes hurt.

This was Barber Park and it was July. The weather machine told us that it was 99 degrees, but our bodies felt like it was 108 degrees. The forest all around us blocked off the 11 mph southerly breezes. All we felt was air like a hot wet blanket, which was trying to stifle our every breath.

Joe had qualified with a 1:09.455 second lap. That time a year ago would have set a new track record; we started ninth and twenty-fourth.

Jessica passed sixteen cars on the opening lap, and then careened into the turn two wall, so hard she diamonded the chassis. The impact was so violent it shifted the left side of the car rearward two inches. All the suspension on the left side was ripped out of the chassis. Even the foot pedal controls were smashed along with impacting her feet which the doctors reported were only minor injuries and she had been released.

Now the grueling race was winding down. Reese was in a heated battle for eighth and he came on the radio, “She’s vibrating even worse now!”

Irving responded, “Only four laps to go…just nurse her in.” No tension in his voice, no indecision…just steady, good directions.

“I don’t know it’s shaking really bad!”

Steele’s voice came on, “For God sakes its only four more laps!” The stress of a day like this was taking its toll and Reese had to bear the brunt of it all.

Jake looked over at his partner. Steele didn’t like to lose, no winner does. He looked pissed off. Suffering a defeat was not easy for Jake either; it is a bitter pill to swallow.

Jake could feel the sweat chafing on his sunburned neck. The colorful red bandanna he liked to wear around his neck was drenched and salty. Jake untied it and threw it down in disgust.

“I really think I should come in…I’m approaching the pit entrance now,” Reese’s voice sounded pleading.

“NO! Three laps left…finish them!” Steele had taken over.

Irving turned from his position on the pit road wall to glance up at Steele and Jake setting in their scoring tower cart, wearing a look of amusement on his wedge shaped, diabolical face.

Reese passed their pit spot, the car still looked smooth and fast. The grime and brake dust had all but obscured the bright graphics and numbering.

As it entered the left hand turn, one flame shot out of the exhaust pipe due to the valve timing overlap on deceleration.

There was no sign of any problems, but Reese wasn’t a whiner; in fact he was the least vocal of all the drivers about problems. He just adapted and drove on. Perhaps we should have had a look see, Jake’s doubt surfaced and ran through his mind.

“Steele let’s bring him in and change the,” Jake never had a chance to complete his sentence.

“Jesus, we’ve only got two more fucking laps here!” Steele was definitely not his usual cooperative self.

Jake stared at his partner and decided to act civil about this difference in opinion. One lesson Jake had learned the hard way in auto racing…you can’t will a victory. If a part is going to break all the wishing in the world won’t make it better. Jake would have stopped and checked the car.

The next lap the leader was displayed the white flag. Team Rhoad/Steele’s car was valiantly hanging onto eighth as Reese passed the pits. Suddenly his right rear tire tread began unraveling violently. The rear canopy exploded sending shards of composite material everywhere as Reese fought for control.

The car spiraled down the straight away collecting two competitor’s cars along with it, slamming into the retaining wall that separated pit road from the track, then back across the track into the right side wall at the entrance to turn one. The car stuck there within sight of Jake and company, steam and flames belching from somewhere inside.

The Grand-Am safety crew was there almost before Reese came to a halt spewing forth flame retardant chemicals and working furiously to extract Reese from that pile of wreckage that a few moments before had been a svelte beautiful scientific work of art.

Reese was ok; all the safety features had saved him. The car looked like a total write off.

Over in the paddock, the wreckers had deposited, what was left of Rhoad/Steele’s two magnificent machines, now reduced to two piles of junk that wouldn’t even roll, much less drive.

The crew was busy putting away the tools and equipment while over the loudspeaker “Dinky” Arnbouster was crowing about how he knew Rhoad/Steele would falter…he knew they couldn’t last. Jake listened, but pretended not to hear.

Bob suddenly started singing, quietly at first, an old cowboy tune called ‘The Old Chisholm Trail’. This rousing song was an old Texas tradition. The original composer of this song is unknown, but it has had numerous additions written by many different people, verses written about the old cowboy life. Bob had now adapted it to auto racing and specifically team Rhoad/Steele’s latest experiences.

“A stunt woman driver—to wreck was her fate, she steered for turn two—but just a mite late!”

“Singing ti yi yippy, yippy yea, yippy yea.”

“Singing ti yi yippy, yippy yea.”

Jake glanced hard at Bob who continued singing and putting tools in a toolbox.

“A million dollar car, a ten dollar crew, they had a flat tire and didn’t know what to do.”

“Singing ti yi yippy, yippy yea, yippy yea.”

“Singing ti yi yippy, yippy yea.”

Steele was suddenly at Jake’s side, “Jake I’m sorry I don’t know what the hell came over me…I just wanted…”

Bob was getting louder over there.

Steele was mad, Jake was mad too, Steele said to Jake, “Let’s fire the whole crew.”

“Singing ti yi yippy, yippy yea, yippy yea.”

“Singing ti yi yippy, yippy yea.”

Then from behind Jake came Eddie’s growling voice…

“Last time we saw Reese he was flying straight and level, then he crashed into the wall a going like the devil.”

“Singing ti yi yippy, yippy yea, yippy yea.”

“Singing ti yi yippy, yippy yea.”

“What the hell’s going on here, we just got our butts…” Steele tapered off, as the guys now had taken to whooping and hollering as they kicked up their heels, dancing about in what appeared to be merriment.

Steele’s eye was watering trying to hold back his own laughter…and he looked at Jake, “Forgive me Jake?”

“Nothing to forgive partner…I wanted to stay out…hell I wanted to win…we’ve both had days like this…just not lately…and I’ve never had a team with me like this…just look at these guys!”

At the team meeting, Steele apologized to the entire team and especially to Reese and Jake.

They wrestled the wrecks onto the elevator and then winched them into the hauler. They took their old bus and the hauler and headed home, to Texas.

As they left that day, Jake turned to look back at that track, that place that had treated them so cruelly. It had taken all they had to give, chewed them up and spit them out. Rhoad/Steele had been beaten, this they must endure, but their spirit had not been crushed by this defeat, this would never happen, and this place would one day see them again.

Yes, Jake thought I’ll be back and then we’ll see…
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