SPEEDLUST

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Chapter 37

The morning sky was gray, with little hope of seeing the sun anytime soon. The wet, salty air coming in off the Pacific felt clammy. Jake pulled his racing jacket up close to his neck as he stood in the paddock surveying Havoc’s repair job. No evidence of yesterday’s practice crash was visible. Jake sipped on his coffee, still too hot.

Practice had gone extremely smooth for Joe and Reese, smooth and fast.

Sandy and Jessica however had been slow in every session. There was more than just the speed problem; there was very little communication from Sandy to anybody. Perhaps both problems were one in the same.

Jake had acted as driver coach all season, but now there was no interaction with either girl. This all ended with Sandy plowing into the wall on the exit of turn eleven.

Now Sandy wanted to talk! As soon as she was released from the infirmary she stormed over to Jake and began a tirade about the quality of the car. Red faced and shouting, the lines from the corner of her mouth deeply etched, Sandy at that moment was not very attractive. Jake decided that she had gotten a little big for her britches.

Jake just turned and walked off, while Sandy was still shouting.

When several of the crew began to softly chuckle at Jake’s dismissal, Sandy looked like she was about to explode. Then the idea began to penetrate Sandy’s head, “These men were loyal to Jake, not her!”

Looking about at these men she knew now she was losing more than just Jake and Steele, her entire team would go with them. Sandy’s brow was knitted up in deep thought when Joe walked up, not being aware of the situation, but always quick to perceive, Joe sensed something, “What’s up?”

“Oh, hi, Joe I was just talking to Jake about my car, it was just so darn slow and then I crashed it, so I was wanting Jake to give me one of the spare cars.” Sandy had switched to her baby doll voice.

Bob looked up from his job; with disgust in his eyes, having witnessed this change, even her face looked different now.

Joe caught the expression on Bob’s face, and then commented, “I just drove Havoc a few weeks ago…she was fast.” Joe watched Sandy’s face as if a brief shadow had crossed it.

“Well, there is certainly something wrong,” Sandy persisted that the car has inherent flaws.

“Yeah, well there’s definitely something wrong now, you ran it into the wall,” Joe repressed a grin as he watched the effect his words were having.

Sandy’s face contorted into a vision of vehemence as if a veil had been lifted. Those eyes of hers manifested what Joe perceived as hatred.

“Sandy, we all crash now and then…if we didn’t we wouldn’t be pushing hard enough,” Joe was trying to reassure his teammate.

“The only reason I crashed Joe is that car…it’s a piece of shit!” Sandy’s voice had increased in volume to a yell.

The guys all stopped and turned their heads looking at Sandy. Sandy saw this, turned and walked off towards her bus.

Irving watched her go, and then said, “C’mon guys, let’s get this ‘piece of shit’, repaired.”

Irving oversaw the removal and installation of new control arms, new upright assemblies, and replacement front bodywork. Everything was inspected, and then aligned to the set up that it had been prior to the crash.

Just before the next practice session, Jake came out and got into the car. Eddie came up and began adjusting the seat, pedals, and steering to fit Jake. Jessica walked up and asked Irving what was going on.

“Jake’s going to drive this ‘piece of shit’ we built.” Irving put heavy emphasis on the ‘piece of shit’ comment.

Jessica didn’t say another word.

Joe and Reese were ready to run Destiny. Seeing Jake, they just stared with admiration at this man, now putting his reputation on the line, standing by his crew, his design, and not for a second doubting his ability.

Steele was standing on the pit wall as Jake eased down pit road, heading for the track. Steele gave him the symbolic ‘thumbs up’, and said into the radio, “Stand on it partner.”

Sandy had arrived at her conclusions that the car was inferior after conversations with several people, none of which were on team Rhoad/Steele and her personal lackluster performance. Now she showed up, suited up to drive to find her car already on the track. Jessica was standing by herself, by the pit wall. The field came around with Jake running slow at the rear of the group.

Sandy looked over at Steele with somewhat of a smirk on her face. Steele’s expression didn’t change.

Soon the group was at least half a lap ahead of Jake. As Jake exited turn eleven, he spoke into the radio, “Ok, Steele let’s see what I can do.”

Steele began timing as Jake crossed the start/finish line.

Jake meanwhile was traveling about one hundred twenty miles per hour, going uphill, and approaching turn one. The rear of the car felt very light, cresting the hill that is turn one, Jake stayed at full throttle, aiming for the number two brake marker at the entry of the ‘Andretti Hairpin’.

Turn two; the ‘Andretti Hairpin’ is a one hundred ninety degree left hand turn. Jake had developed two methods for driving this corner, the single apex method or the double apex method. The latter was quicker, Jake took the single apex line, aiming for the number two-brake marker, and then getting hard on the brakes at the number four-brake marker.

At this point Jake also downshifted into fourth gear, holding the car to the outside of the turn until he was halfway through the turn, then sweeping across the track to his left. The engine was screaming, the tires clawing for grip. Jake was looking at turn three, a right-hander that Jake entered on the right and exited on the left. On the far left of the track, going under the giant tire, Jake had tremendous momentum carrying Havoc to turn four.

No finesse applied here, not if you want a fast lap. Standing on the gas, the car felt to be on rails, slamming the brakes, setting the car, turning in just past marker one, back on the gas, an early apex line left side tires are on the rumble strips, the scenery is just a blur as Havoc moves very fast, set up perfectly for ‘No Name Kink’, and then fast into turn five.

Turn five is a left-hander and a challenge for many. Jake had mastered this track years ago and his speed through this turn was described as phenomenal. Smoothness here is essential, braking early, downshifting without upsetting the car, a late apex, and then hard on the throttle moving to the outside of the track with turn number six in mind.

Turn six was deceptive, its very fast with a little gutter along side the track right where Jake would clip the inside of the track. This uphill left-hander can be taken way faster than your mind thinks is possible. Jake entered this turn without even braking. Usually this lap needed a brief punch at the number two marker hitting a medium apex, dropping left side tires onto that gutter’s edge, and then tracking out wide to the right set up perfectly for the uphill climb, straightening out the ‘Little Kink’ in the ‘Rahal Straight’. Jake was smiling now, the car was handling and that corner was negotiated better than he had ever accomplished in the past.

Havoc was a rocket ship! Blasting uphill the track gets steeper here. Jake kept well to the right through the jog called turn seven. Driving blind again, due to elevation changes, leading up to the ‘Corkscrew’, a spun competitor would have been the end of Jake’s run, but the track was clear.

The rubber laid down through the ‘Corkscrew’ makes an ‘S’ shape, but that’s not the fast way through these left and right, infamous turns. The trick is to straighten them out with your car placement. Jake was really moving and hit a late apex at the bottom of the ‘Corkscrew’, perfectly.

Jake felt the rear wheels spin on some gravel as Jake poured on the power, catapulting under the footbridge into the ‘Rainey Curve’.

Braking hard, Jake waited until the last possible moment before turning left, moving at 146 feet per second on the outside edge of this left hand sweeper. Jake watched for the dangerous gutter that he used to dodge lap after lap, removed years ago Jake’s mind still remembered and watched for it. Things had slowed down for Jake; he had settled in and was having a good time. Standing on the gas, Jake aimed Havoc for marker number one, braking hard at marker number two, turning in at marker number one, and then back on the accelerator, letting the car drift all the way across to the outside of this right hand turn.

Jake accelerated hard down the straightaway, leading to the final turn. Aiming Havoc at the big ‘Z’ in the ‘Mazda’ sign, braking at marker two, downshifting and then taking a very late apex was the key to avoid what Sandy had put Havoc through here, just yesterday. Havoc’s right rear quarter almost kissed the wall as Jake flashed back onto the front straight away passing the pits and under the footbridge again, aiming for the ‘Z’ in another ‘Mazda’ sign.

Traffic was ahead of him now, which told Jake that he must have turned a fast one. A moment later Steele confirmed it with a, “You beautiful son of a bitch!” A term sometimes used by racers to show admiration.

Jake had flashed past the pits moving very fast. Bob and Eddie were discussing what was on the menu for lunch; barely a minute had gone by when Jake flashed past again. Nothing had been decided about lunch, things happen at a little different rate in the pits.

“That was a track record,” Steele showed Joe the watch. One minute four seconds flat. Joe whistled, his respect for his boss continued to grow each race, each day, and he thanked the Lord each morning for this opportunity. An opportunity to live life to its fullest. Joe thanked the Lord for sending him Jake’s way.

As Jake pulled in, Steele directed him into the paddock, so Jake drove Havoc over to their area. Reese was right behind Jake driving Destiny.

The crews were gathering around Havoc before Jake could even get out of the cockpit, cheering and laughing. Jake had taken the matter into his own hands, showing his crew what he and Steele already knew. They were the best.

Through the crowd of well wishers, Jake saw Sandy standing off against one of the buses looking down, Suzanne’s arm around her, supporting her crazy friend.

“Ok, ok, guys let’s get ready for the next practice,” Jake didn’t really like all this attention.

Jake walked over to Sandy and Suzanne. “You…” Jake pointed at Sandy, “Let’s go, we’re having a meeting.”

“Jake we’re out and I don’t see any reason to have anymore meetings…what you did to Johanson…” Suzanne never finished as Jake’s look silenced her.

“Sandy is still my driver…aren’t you?” Jake spoke to Sandy while still giving Suzanne a look of scorn.

“I thought you…uh, yes Jake I’m still your driver,” Sandy sounded confused and contrite.

“Good…in our bus, five minutes,” Jake walked away towards his old Eagle.

Sandy, Jessica, Joe, Reese, Steele, and Jake were gathered in the lounge of their old bus. Photographs of other drivers, other places, surrounded them, Joe looked into their faces, many of them boyhood hero’s of his, standing with a young Jake Rhoad. He had seen them all many times, but now for some reason, they had more meaning, more presence, as though they were sitting here with them.

“I took Havoc out for one reason. My crew had been hurt, their abilities questioned. That’s been answered now; they’re the best there is.”

“Now in the quest to win this race, this championship, I think we can use my run to help you on this very difficult course. Eddie has downloaded the data from my run and superimposed it over our previous clean practices.”

“Looking at this,” Jake pointed to the laptop, “we can see really just two main areas where we can improve, turn one and the entry to ‘Andretti’, this turn is treacherous and the instinct is to ‘Chicken Lift’ at the crest. Resist that impulse and you can pick up half a second minimum.”

All the drivers were very attentive to Jake’s suggestions.

“Now, turn five…all of you are turning in too soon, take a very late apex here, and then get hard on the gas. Smoothness is very important, move to the outside to set up for six and you’ll be in good shape…and that’s all I’ve got for you. All of your lines look great, especially in the ‘corkscrew’, which is unusual, most people float with the ‘S’, but all four of you have it right…straight.”

“Jake I want to apologize, I’ve said some things…and behaved terribly…”

“Save it for the crew,” Jake cut her off, his voice not too forgiving. “I also made some gear ratio adjustments, which Dale is handling right now, which I believe, will help us in a lot of spots…so unless there are any questions. Then let’s get ready for practice and qualifying.”

“Jake what about turn eleven?” Sandy sounded sincere about doing better.

“Sandy your line into eleven, your braking point, your speed, everything was perfect,” Jake’s voice warmed a little. “I think you just hit some oil…that’s just the chances we take. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad driver or that the car is a bad car…it just means that little patch of asphalt was slick and we are traveling fast!”

“I wanted to say something,” Steele began. “This man we are all so lucky to be associated with, just ran a one minute four second lap,” Steele looked about to see the affect of his words, “That’s an unofficial track record…on a track he hasn’t raced in years. Well, this man told me the other day that our top secret weapons…the reason we are so successful this year are you four.” All the driver’s looked over to Jake, and then back to Steele. “That’s right and I might add that we both feel that way, so when you go out there remember, we are pulling for you, your success is our success, our goal and when you break Jake’s record, and you will…that too will be our new record!”

It was a different team that took to the track in the next practice, based on the track times it was decided to have Jessica and Joe qualify the cars.

Steele was walking through the paddock between the food court and the souvenir store, when he saw Dallas engaged in a discussion with several team principles for ‘Snake’ Santorin’s team.

Dallas had not even been over to the Rhoad/Steele’s pits. “There must be more to this falling out than meets the eye,” Steele thought, and then he reached up and touched his eye patch, a reflex action when he thought the word ‘eye’. The pain that he had endured would make someone sympathetic to their cause, even if Jake were the killer, which Steele knew he wasn’t. One thing motivated Dallas and probably Amelia also, that one thing was money. Dallas thought this business was like any other. Man was he in for a ride! Let’s just hope he’s strapped in. Steele laughed a devilish laugh at that thought and just kept on walking.

Jake was in his scoring cart, the field was coming around for qualifying. Steele was missing, which was unusual, but he had been acting mysterious for weeks now.

Joe had really picked up the pace in practice, running consistently high one-minute fours. When the green flag was displayed, a three wheeled car came sliding down the straight away, hooking a barrel rolling into the pit road retaining wall, parts spewing in all directions, finally ending up in front of the media center. Safety workers were at the smoldering scene in seconds.

One worker reached in to extricate the driver only to reel away, looking towards a fellow responder and shaking his head back and forth…another racer had died.

“How many?” Jake thought, “How many must die in this useless sport?”

How many racers has he seen leave this world in a similar manner, no sickness, no disease, just here one minute, gone the next.

Jake sat there watching the safety crew the course was red flagged. Was it better to die an old man? A lonely old man waiting for death or to go out in a swift, violent flash, living life at the pace you want until snap! That quick and you’re gone in an instance?

Jake decided that he didn’t know, but he hadn’t met too many people ready to go just yet, regardless of their age.

The ambulance hauled off what Jake knew was a corpse, a young man that Jake didn’t know, but had seen around. What happened? Did a wheel come off? Did he hit another car? Did it even matter?

Jake decided it didn’t, an old cowboy had told him once, “There’s one thing to do with death, Jake, that’s to ride off from it.” Jake had adapted that to auto racing, changing ride to drive; now he was ready to drive off from this one. Death just doesn’t make a good companion.

No mention over the P.A. that would come later, no need to sadden the crowd. A happy crowd buys more beer, T-shirts, and hot dogs.

The track was clear, so they decided to let those maniacs loose again and the break had done them good. They screamed into turn one like this was race day and it was the last lap.

Joe was right out front, leading the pack, Joe liked pressure, he ate it like candy, those guys breathing down his neck looked close, but it was nothing compared to the close racing Joe had experienced on his way up. So rather than dropping back to get a clean track, as Jake had done, Joe preferred another way, just drive off from them and that’s just what he did.

After just one lap, Joe keyed his mic, “Let’s do it!” Was all he said.

Jake informed the official and Joe went on the clock. Steele walked up with his friend, John Stewart, another man that Jake had never seen and Rhoad/Steele’s attorney, Joe Bunton. Jake was watching the stopwatch and listening.

Joe came through turn eleven almost on that wall, a late apex is the key to that kind of speed through that turn, and Joe had perfected it. Now he was past Jake’s unofficial watch that had Joe with a new track record of one minute three point nine two seconds! Jake smiled and gave the crew a thumbs up.

The announcer came on the track public address system. “Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention…we’ve got a little lost boy, he’s wearing…oh, they’ve found him!”

Jake was stirred to laughter at his expectations and just started laughing out loud…so loud, in fact, that several people were looking up at him.

“Ladies and gentlemen, history has just been made today…team Rhoad/Steele, our series point leaders, has just broken the all time track record with a one minute three point nine four second time. Driver Joe Savage representing team Rhoad/Steele, Madison Avenue Clothing and Stoudenmire Investments has just broken a long-standing track record set by a championship winning Indy car driven by Sebastien Bourdais. The new record now held by Joe Savage is almost two seconds faster!”

Steele was shrieking and jumping up and down, as were all the crew and even the visitors.

Jake just sat there looking at his hands, remembering when he first laid out the lines for Destiny. He thought it would be good, but he just never suspected…never dreamed just how good.

Jake saw suddenly, in his mind, those shimmering heat waves with Destiny driving through them, Rhoad/Steele emblazoned across the windshield.

“Joe, you just set a new track record,” that was all Jake said on the radio.

Joe’s eyes told the story of a beaten, but not defeated racer given another chance. The gratitude in his eyes was not a fleeting thing; Joe would take that with him wherever he went. Joe had an ‘Attitude of Gratitude’; he liked to call it, a thankfulness for his life that permeated his very existence.

As Joe idled into the paddock, the crew enthusiastically giving him signs of congratulations, Jake turned his thoughts to Jessica, whose practice laps this session had been getting faster with each lap, to a point where she also had broken the previous track record. Now with a gap in the traffic, Jessica called Jake and said, “Let’s let her eat boss!” Jake heard an enthusiasm that refreshed him, Jake had designed Havoc and he liked to hear Jessica referring to it as a she.

Jessica was cookin’ when she passed the pits. Steele reached up to shake Jake’s hand, “We did it, partner!”

Jake was stunned into silence.

Sandy suddenly materialized by Steele, looking at them both, “Did what?” She questioned.

Jake turned his gaze onto her.

Steele answered before he said a word, “Why a track record! Didn’t you hear?”

“Oh…sure I heard,” Sandy had an odd look, and then turned back to them and watched for Jessica.

Steele winked and walked off.

This exchange barely ended when Jessica screamed out of turn eleven, dust flying in her wake as Havoc strained to accelerate to the start/finish line.

Jake clicked his watch and just couldn’t believe his eyes, one minute three point six seconds was Jake’s measurement of Jessica’s lap. Jake clinched his fist, waiting, hoping, and anticipating an announcement. Glancing over to Steele and company, Jake saw Steele looking up at him… “Could it be?” Steele was thinking.

“Ladies and gentlemen! Especially the ladies, we have just seen another record breaking run! Jessica Strangeways has just set an all-new track record! Breaking the record just set by her very own teammate! Jessica Strangeways just ran a time of one minute three point eight seconds! Team Rhoad/Steele has eclipsed the previous record by just over two seconds!”

The crew were screaming and jumping, slapping each other on the back and hugging. Jake saw Joe, still in his driving suit, run down to the pit wall, both fists high in the air shaking them in excitement.

“Jessica you’ve just broken the track record…by two seconds!” Jake spoke calmly into his mic.

A long moment past, and then Jessica spoke, “Driving this hell bitch that you and the guys built for me…anything less would be…” Jessica paused. “I am truly honored to be a part of this team, Jake,” Jessica sounded choked up…she was crying like a baby. Jessica drove around and entered the pit road just past turn ten, remembering her childhood, all the girls calling her a tomboy. They were having tea parties, she was racing bicycles, and they were getting ready for the homecoming dance, while she was race prepping her go-cart. Jessica was as feminine as any of them, but she didn’t turn her interest to what was expected. She couldn’t…you see, Jessica had a speedlust from the first time she road a tricycle and this team, this car was the culmination of her dream. Well, so she thought at this time.

Driving down pit road all the teams were out clapping, giving her a thumbs up. The crowd was so thick that they blocked pit road right at the Rhoad/Steele pit, so she pulled to the left of her pit spot.

Joe opened the cockpit door, screaming “Unbelievable!” Joe looked just as excited as she was for him, “You are terrific!”

Jessica was undoing her attachments and climbed out shouting, “Ya Hoo!” The crowd shouted back, the crew was all hugging her and passing her around, there was Steele shouting and Jessica thought, “Are those tears in Steele’s good eye?” Jake was there, “We are so proud of you,” and then he kissed her…right on the mouth.

Jake turned to Joe, “We’ve got ten minutes left in qualifying.”

Joe loved this man, who had given him so much, yet still was thinking of him, “No, Boss I’m satisfied with starting alongside this lady.” Joe’s eyes were warm, sincere, and his words conveyed the respect he had for Jessica.

The paddock was empty now. Jake was grilling some fish for supper. Fish tacos had been a favorite of his since having them at the Long Beach Grand Prix many years ago, now he prepared some for himself and Reese.

Reese had become one of Jake’s best friends. They would talk of many things and Jake had found Reese to be somewhat of a philosopher on life.

It wasn’t really an exclusive club, often others would join, but usually others preferred the excitement going on at race central, the hotels, restaurants, and events that accompanied every major auto racing happening, where as Reese and Jake liked the calm before the storm.

Jake gazed up at the stars in the Indigo sky, watching for a shooting star, sipping on a glass of wine, he looked off into the dark and thought about her. The hold he had felt so strongly, he realized now was gone. Thank goodness he hadn’t made any mistakes that he would regret.

Setting quiet, Jake’s thoughts changed to his practice run. Man that car was glued down! Closing his eyes, he could feel and see that speed again; he hadn’t driven that fast in years. This sport had a way of getting a grasp on a man and once it had you, it never let go, ever. Why he would be an old man with graying hair and still want to drive. Jake chuckled to himself, “What do you think you are?”

“What’s so funny?” Reese had been absorbing the night.

“Oh, I was just thinking about my practice lap…I enjoyed it so.”

“I know you did and you sure showed Sandy a thing or two.” Reese was just thinking out loud.

“Well, I didn’t do it to show up anybody, Reese,” Jake seldom explained himself and only then to trusted companions.

“No, I don’t like my crew being told their work, their car, is a piece of shit, but that could easily have backfired on me. Auto racing is a very fragile existence and I’ll tell you, for good, people have very short memories, but for bad, they seem to never forget. I hit a spot of gravel and it was that close.” Jake held up his index finger to his thumb in close proximity. “I mean it was almost a breakaway. Ask yourself, then where would I be? I’ll tell you where, I’d be the old fool that wrecked his ‘piece of shit’, that’s where.”

“I just wanted to show the guys that I have faith in the team, the car, but I risked a lot.”

“That’s what we do, Jake. We risk a lot each time we endeavor to succeed in our chosen profession, you’ve taught me that, but what if we had regular jobs?” Reese sat forward in the night staring into the darkness at the dim outline where Jake sat. “Then years from now we will sit, old, dying and we think about what could have been, if…if we had only taken that chance!”

This is why Jake loved these talks with his protégé. “Yeah, I know what some would say, I never would have reached thirty, that’s what!”

Jake and Reese both began laughing and drank some more wine. Jake dished up their fish taco’s with lots of ‘Pico de Gallo’.

“Dang, Jake these are the best fish taco’s I’ve ever tasted.” The firelight from the grill played on their faces.

Across the paddock a late working GT team shattered the nights silence with a rasping, snarling, race engine.
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