SPEEDLUST

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Chapter 38

Race Day! Sixty-three men and women walking out into the sunshine, clad in their colorful driving uniforms, carrying their helmets, gloves, and any of the vast array of racing paraphernalia they feel necessary to be safe and competitive. As far as the safety aspect, it’s nothing but an illusion that in some cases has actually created the injury or death one was trying to prevent. To put it bluntly auto racing is and always will be a very dangerous activity that is hazardous to your health.

Winning! That’s what everyone’s here for; each has the desire, and the dream of taking the checkered flag first! The level of that desire plays an immensely important role in the outcome of this contest. The driver, the team that wants it the most can and very often does determine who finishes first, but of course, as the pioneers of auto racing maxim puts it, “Before you can finish first; first you have to finish!”

As you can see, a strong will can’t finish a race when your engine’s crankshaft is broken in half, at that point your dream, for now, is over. These poor wretches, you see at each event, with a haunted look burning in their eyes, their guts twisted into actual physical pain, the severity of this is directly related to the intensity of their desire to win. This touches base on the limitations of desire, passion for the sport or what many refer to as a speedlust.

However, for the majority of auto racers at this professional level, another aspect of performance must be addressed, this is where the driver’s desire to win becomes a determining factor.

A driver, with an equal or many times inferior car that refuses to be beaten can drive his car past superior machines and snatch that victory away!

While skill and experience cannot be discounted, the lack of superior amounts of either of these can and has been overcome with desire to win. That’s right, an inferior driver with an inferior car can and have won many a professional auto race!

Which, of course, then brings up the inevitable question; if the inferior driver in an inferior car won the event, what makes them inferior? Well, obviously then they aren’t, so as you can see the point of my demonstration is that the desire to win is an all-important factor in the success of auto racing.

This desire to win is important, a necessity, but it also can contribute to a disgraceful, perverse, perspective. A perspective that begins to mentally right what otherwise would be thought of as wrong.

This warped outlook may manifest itself as a spontaneous decision to do something, not necessarily against the rules of conduct, but unethical nonetheless. An example of this would be a racer purposefully drifting into the gravel in a turn to spew low traction dirt and gravel on the track behind him, a dirty trick used constantly to prevent a faster competitor from overtaking. Once confronted with almost crashing from this, some drivers could mentally be handicapped with too much caution.

Another example, and there are many, would be a team that puts a manually activated brake light switch on the driver’s control panel that the driver can press, giving the overtaking driver the illusion that he is on the brakes, this has been used successfully by some drivers throughout their careers in road racing, where brake lights are required, again, nothing illegal here, just another dirty trick to get an advantage. There are hundreds, if not thousands of these little dirty tricks that can pay big dividends, but are not in the spirit of fair play.

Some people in auto racing just flat don’t care about being fair. They want the win and how they get it doesn’t come into play.

This group will cheat any and every way. They’re easy to find, just look at any auto racing event and you will find them, many times in the winner’s circle. This group can come up with ingenious ways to cheat. An engine cubic inch limit, pack the combustion chamber with wax, that will change the volume, and then it will melt out after inspection.

A fuel rule, glue an oxygen-bearing additive into the intake manifold, it will slowly dissolve into your fuel as you race.

Engine must be naturally aspirated, turn your bell housing and flywheel into a very powerful supercharger.

Weight rule, place mercury into your chassis and pump it around to change weight distribution or have a dummy radio, helmet, whatever made out of lead, and then placed in the car at opportune moments.

Are you getting the idea? All of those examples have been used with success and that short list isn’t even scratching the surface that otherwise moral, ethical people will do in their quest for the win.

These racers will cheat, lie, wreck you, there is nothing that they will stop at to get the win.

The sun flashed over the Coast Ranges, its rays chasing the darkness across the Monterrey Peninsula, off into the dark waters of the Pacific Ocean.

The rocky coast looked just as it did thousands of years ago, when man first gazed upon it.

The gulls glided, hovering in formation, watching for their breakfast, and then diving into the dark waters, coming up with a fish. A simple life, as God intended, taking only what they need to exist.

Seals swam playfully, darting in and out of the rocks and the waves, sometimes playing, sometimes fishing, sometimes just lying on top of the rocks and basking in the sun’s rays contemplating their lives.

Just a short distance away man leads another existence, the racer, vying for supremacy, wielding a single purpose machine. This man tries to annihilate his brethren, using every bit of skill, every dirty trick he has at his disposal to crush his fellow man.

There are those that will point out that not all mankind is like that, certainly not, I agree. A few among us, God has blessed with serenity, a feeling of well-being and a desire to help his fellow man. These rare individuals, I greatly envy, I even know a few and I wish them Godspeed on their journey.

The rest of us, the majority, will do whatever it takes to come out on top, regardless of the personal cost and suffering of our families or ourselves. Many of us don’t race cars, but this thought process is permeated into our souls and what doesn’t come to us naturally, a survival of the fittest mentality, is soon taught to us by our experiences.

If you disagree then tell me when was the last time that you personally witnessed reward for failure? When was a letterman jacket presented to a young man with asthma that while not athletic, still received straight ‘A’s’ on his report card? I can tell you, no it just doesn’t happen, why is the question?

Parnelli Jones put it best when he said, “Second place, that’s just the first loser!”

I’ve won many a race, but I’ve lost my share also and not once has anyone come to me, after a run, when I came up short of my goal and said, “Jake, you were slow and pitiful, here’s a trophy and a check.”

No one embraces a loser, so we learn to win or we give up. Most of us, that is, there are always those few pitiful bastards that hang in there through years of getting stomped. An old stock car racer’s story comes to mind. One win, the first year of his career, sealed his fate. Over six hundred starts later he finally gave up, too old and too broke to continue. He sat at home looking at his trophy, that memento of the day that he was the best. That one win had sustained him through all the years of pain and sacrifice, dreaming all the while of regaining that feeling of seeing the throngs of well-wishers wanting to be near the winner.

I call him tenacious, others called him a loser, but don’t pity him. Never pity a man that chased a dream and caught it, even if only for a moment, because that moment made it all worthwhile.

No, save your pity for those poor souls so beat down by their own, or their parents’ failures, that they were too afraid to try and follow their dreams.

Jake dwelled on these thoughts as he sipped on his java, that beverage that jump starts the racing community, after a tumultuous season of testing one’s self against the best there is, without coffee there would be no Daytona, no Indy, and no Grand American at Laguna SECA. We would never be able to get up in the mornings.

Joe walked up, not saying a word, just joining Jake. Joe’s face had a calm look, his features, bronze and smooth as though they were made from polished metal, held no expression.

The team began to rally, uncharacteristically quiet. No horseplay this morning, no talk of the exciting night before, everyone just taking care of business.

Steele arrived with girls and sponsors in tow. Speaking quietly to each team member, Steele reassured each to his need. This old man was a mountain of strength that they all relied upon.

Fully recovered from his physical injuries, other than his lost eye, Steele had put on weight. This along with his outdoor lifestyle had him in top condition, his massive hairy forearms now bulging with muscle.

Jake watched his former adversary with respect and admiration. Steele was born for moments such as these.

Jessica was there, across the circle of teammates. She stood silently, staring at him, looking back directly into her eyes, Jake felt a longing for something that should have been. Jessica’s mouth parted slightly and her gaze brought to Jake warmth; a reassurance of it would never be too late. Jake almost crossed that circle and took her in his arms.

Feeling a presence near him, Jake looked to his right to find Sandy standing right next to him looking up into his eyes. Her blouse unbuttoned; quite low, displaying a substantial portion of cleavage.

“Jake, I just wanted to tell you that after this is over we should get together.”

There she was, saying just what he had been hoping for and she sounded so sincere, but she no longer stirred him as she once had.

“I mean…whatever happens today, I don’t want it to change your feelings.”

“Don’t worry your pretty little head about that Sandy…it won’t change a thing.”

Jake then walked over and put his arm around Jessica.

“Have you had your coffee? I’ve got this great new coffee machine in my bus.” They walked off, arms around each other.

Steele watched with approval, and then looked over at Reese and Joe, all three smiling.

“When did that get started?” Sandy sounded bitter and was angrily watching as Jake and Jessica strolled off together.

“Sandy, you don’t want Jake…you never did. You don’t want anybody, you just don’t want anyone else to have him,” Steele’s voice was confident, “you’ve hurt him enough.”

Sandy’s face looked hurt, and then it changed to a malicious expression and she walked off.

One hundred and thirty seven thousand, four hundred and twenty-two auto-racing fans paid to witness the final Grand-Am race of the season. They gathered around what has been termed the ‘Alter of Speed’ to witness magnificent displays of skill, a dynamic display of technological wonders called competition automobiles and some came just to see a possible sacrifice of another soul for daring to imitate the actions of a God.

The beautiful people were swarming into the track. These were the upper class of auto racing fans. Road racing is known as the wine and cheese circuit and no event exemplifies this more than a race at Laguna Seca. The fans here serve as a perfect backdrop too and greatly appreciate the blatant display of materialism put on by the team’s themselves.

The crew’s work on the racecars, torquing bolts, safety-wiring items as prevention against vibration loosening, tie wrapping, duct taping, last minute surveying for potential problem areas. Each crew-member knowing their reputation is on the line with every run. Wanting desperately to win, but knowing that they are seldom singled out in glorious victory, only in disaster and defeat are they recognized.

They watch as they are watched, sunglasses hiding the tension in their eyes. With hope in their hearts, they work their lives away, pining for the magic race or championship that will secure their future, a future many will never find. Ending up in some mundane job where years later a sound, a phone call, or something will trigger a memory of those days, their glory days and then these old men will still have that same glint in their eyes, recalling the great enthusiasms, the great emotions. They may think of what could have been, but they’ll do so with no regrets. For whether they had success or failure, they know in their hearts they gave it their all, their best.

Jessica readied herself and her hardware for action. Moving, staying busy…this was the moment she had been waiting her whole life for!

Joe talked quietly with his crew, glanced up at Jessica, seeing her actions, knowing what she was feeling, remembering a thousand such moments in his action packed career. Joe smiles an affectionate grin and goes on with his conversation about anything but the moment at hand.

“Jake,” Jake looks up to his partner’s words, “it’s moments like this…God I wish I could bottle this.”

“Just take a swig to get this feeling?” Jake’s smiling at the thought, “No scars or bruises that way, but that’s what makes this special. Besides we’re just getting started. We’ve got nothing but Fast Days in store for us!”

“Well, Jake,” Steele’s eye was shining as he stared directly at Jake, “you told me that before…this time I really believe it.” “This,” Steele motions with a sweep of his arm, “all this…it’s the only place I’ve ever fit, it is my life.”

Jake’s face took on a calm, peaceful look, he turned his head staring across the paddock to the row of racing pendants, flapping hard in the ocean breeze. The roar of an engine, the speed of a car, the camaraderie of a crew, these meant something. Jake felt that with man, no task really, is more important than another. All are of equal importance in our quest to emulate our creator; yes this life did have meaning.

The time had come for lining up on the grid. Jake looked at Steele and nodded with a grin. Steele turned to the crew and voiced his favorite saying, “Fire it up!”

The crews, with their pit tuggers, were streaming through the paddock paths. Towing toolboxes and spare components over to the pit spaces.

The racecars were assembling in their places on the pre-grid row. The crew’s faces had excitement, anticipation, calm, and some had dread. All these different emotions brought on by the same event.

Jake looked at his crew. Irving looked like he was at a laundry mat waiting on a wash cycle. Eddie was looking all around and seemed to be trying to absorb every moment. Most of the guys looked happy, excited, as though living their lives with struggle, gave special meaning to their existence. Bob and Pete both looked almost sad, knowing a chapter of their lives was about to end and fearing the change, fearing the future…wanting to freeze the now. Jake watched, analyzed and understood each of their emotions, as he perceived them. Jake understood because he felt all those emotions.

The Grand-Am officials were gathered at the end opening of the grid area. The word to start came over their headsets as the invocation ended, a very moving invocation that spoke of life, commitment, sacrifice, and loyalty. All the qualities, Jake reflected, that you learned in auto racing. Well, the good ones did anyway. The prayer had gone on and asked God for help and guidance. Jake thought about that for a moment, he had often asked God for both, but that couldn’t be the deciding factor. That would be like a parent choosing a favorite child. Jake remembered the scripture that said the Lord helps those that help themselves.

The racecars began firing up their engines, again Jake looked to his left as the official walked down the rows of racecars, lined up two by two, pointing to each driver, getting an affirmative sign, a thumbs up that everything was ready.

The engines were revving, shaking the ground with their rasping. The crews, with their starter carts, were moving away.

The pace cars began easing away as did the rows of prototype racecars. Jake looked at Destiny. Joe’s full coverage chrome lens helmet hid whatever message his eyes held, as he stared out at this man that had given him his life, the place where he belonged, back to him. Through a clatter of gears, a mechanical whine, and a growl of the engine, Joe pulled away. There goes their Destiny.

The racecars rumbled onto the track, many drivers burning out in the turn onto the track, spewing rubber smoke with violence, the malevolent sound emanating from their engines, attracting all eyes, and building excitement. Joe and Jessica leading the pack had just eased around the turn, their engines sounding to be at idle.

The field came around turn eleven, the sunlight flashing off the shiny, brightly painted racecars. The two team Rhoad/Steele cars leading the pack, Rhoad/Steele emblazoned across the top of both windshields.

The fans in the grandstands all stood in salutation to the racers, welcoming the warriors to the much-anticipated battle.

Jake felt the firm grip of Steele’s hand as he grasped Jake’s shoulder, both watching the final start of this turbulent season that had brought to each of them pain and suffering, along with exuberance and friendship. This racing year was ending, but the bond created by this team would be with them the rest of their lives.

The racecars motored sedately past, under the footbridge and into the kink they called turn one. All the crews were tightly packed up against the pit wall, looking now towards their right, back towards turn eleven.

The pace cars came around the pit road turn, their lights flashing, as the rumble of racecars, packed up behind Joe and Jessica, could be heard between turns ten and eleven.

Now the racecars reappeared exiting eleven, quite slow, the field almost touching each other as they drove onto the front straight away.

The throttles all picked up simultaneously with the starter’s furious waving of the green flag.

The engines were shrieking now with shrill high piercing sounds, except for one that had a very distinctive miss, creating a staccato effect on the tone of the engine. This malfunctioning racecar was easily identified as a mid-pack red and black machine, was rapidly being eaten alive by all the racers behind it.

This greatly anticipated moment was over in such a flash that one almost felt it hadn’t happened, with the only physical proof being floating debris and dust stirred up by their passing and the sounds of the racers working their throttles in this unfolding drama on parts of the course not easily visible from Jake’s vantage point. So Jake and many others turned their eyes to the empty turn eleven…and waited.

These were their glory days, Jake thought, “Live this moment old boy ‘cause one never knows when it may be your last time!”

Jessica came around with Joe right behind her!

“Yes!” Steele shouted, fist in the air.

Jessica and Joe had left the field behind. The two were almost to the footbridge before competitors began emerging turn eleven.

A blue, black and silver number seventy eight was driving down pit road, a shredded tire destroying the remnants of its shattered bodywork with each revolution, this had been the number four qualifier and from the looks of things, it wasn’t going anywhere, at least not anytime soon.

An orange and gold machine was also on pit road…also with damaged bodywork.

The red and black racecar, that had been missing so badly, was pulling into its pit spot, the driver hoping to fix its engine problem, no doubt.

One lap down and the racecars were already dispersed all around the track.

Reese sat beside Jake and Steele with a headset on, listening to the communication. Reese loved this life and continued to learn at each event. He watched and listened to everything.

Jake surveyed the immediate pit area, no Madison Avenue, no Stoudenmire Personnel, and no sign of Sandy.

Bob was placing tires in their tire oven.

Eddie was standing off by himself, arms folded, sunglasses in place, contemplating his future with great seriousness.

“Probably another offer from Dallas,” Jake mentally speculated.

Steele was calculating their mileage based on the flow meter telemetry and laying out an approximation of desired pit stops.

Another racecar was in the pits, its engine smoking badly. The racecar was black and lime green, its driver, in a green driver’s uniform, exited the cockpit in an obvious rage, hurling his helmet at a crewman, clamoring over the pit wall. Now a fight ensued with much sissy looking slapping and shoving until officials broke them up.

“Emotions run high,” Jake nodded towards the scuffle, a twinkle in his eyes, seeing some humor in the situation as now more crew-members of the team joined in the me-lee.

“Jessica’s into the wall on the outside of turn nine,” Joe’s voice broke up their fun.

“Number twelve rammed into her as she was passing…he didn’t see her,” Joe’s voice was a little tense; Jake could hear the disgust in it.

“I’m still moving,” Jessica spoke, “some body damage on the right side…front and rear…I’ve got a flat right rear.”

The yellow flag was out, the pace cars were streaming out as Joe came down the front straight away, the new race leader.

The crew was placing bodywork pieces and tires near the pit wall. Bob was looking into the sky, both hands reaching up in frustration.

Now came Havoc. Flapping rubber strips and tire smoke marked her path down pit road.

“Watch your air hose around that body,” Irving instructed as the crew scrambled over the wall, plugging in the air jack hose.

The old nose and tail sections were quickly removed, what was left of them, that is. New tires were put on all around as the fueler topped her off.

“The greenhouse attachments are gone on the right rear mating surfaces.” Dale spoke of the cam-lock pockets that fastened the two sections together.

“Rivet on a pocket repair kit,” Irving was the coolest guy under pressure, Jake had seen.

“We need the cordless drill, rivet gun, repair pocket, and some rivets,” Irving was working as he spoke aligning the two sections.

Buck leaned back watching as the pace cars came around turn eleven.

“Forget that,” Irving sensed his teams urgency, “We’ll lose a lap, but let’s get it secured right.”

“Put some washers behind there.”

“Straighten that alignment pin bracket…we need duck bill pliers,” Irving called the shots as the crew worked like furies.

“That’s it…now tighten that latch…we’ve got plenty of time…good job. Let’s tape this crack and seam…good job.” Irving stood back looking carefully that his crew was clear. “That’s it…drop her, go, go, go!”

Jessica lit up the tires as she drove away.

“I’ll be…look over there boys,” Irving pointed to the next pit over at a man standing, watching, “Parnelli Jones has been watching you fellas work. How about that? Did you ever think Parnelli would come to watch you race? What a day!”

Jake looked over at his old acquaintance that stood in the corner of the next pit. P.J. grimaced and walked away, “By God boys, I think P.J. actually smiled at you!” Jake spoke with affection to his crew with admiration for Parnelli, one of the greatest drivers in auto racing history.

When the green flag dropped again, Joe was leading; Jessica was at the rear of the pack, one lap down, but with fresh tires and a full fuel tank.

The flagman waved the green flag with a flurry of energy. The racecars were blasting past, the displaced air causing minor concussions of wind to hit those in the pit road area.

Jessica passed a competitor before turn one and another on the entry to the ‘Andretti Hairpin’.

Joe took command of the race and never looked back, this was his day.

Two thousand miles away, the great racer, Joe’s old mentor, his career behind him now, watched Joe Savage as he drove this track, as it had never been driven, setting two track records only to break them each time, never missing placing his tires exactly where he wanted them.

He listened as the commentators spoke in reverence of Joe’s abilities, being carried away as commentators are prone to do, they spoke of Joe’s competitors being ‘Savaged’.

The great one turned to his companions and spoke warmly of Joe, a man he had wronged, so terribly, so many years ago, and fondly remembered how he had given Joe his first real ride and he always knew that, one day, he would be a great one too.

The halfway point was near, Reese was suited up and ready.

Sandy hadn’t shown up.

“Someone go get her!” Steele spoke; everyone knew just whom he spoke of.

Pete said, “I called her on the phone, she’s on her way!”

With all the early carnage now everyone had settled down. Lap after lap they waited…waiting for someone to wreck.

Steele kept calculating Joe’s fuel, displaying his findings on Jake’s screen.

Jake spoke into Joe’s radio, “Pit now!”

Joe was approaching turn ten; he made a slight adjustment and scrubbed off some speed as he entered the pit road to his left, just at the exit of turn ten.

“I’m a comin’, boys.”

Destiny’s gleaming surface was now covered in filth and grime. The wheels were choked with brake dust build up.

As the crew impacted off the centerlock hubs, the impact exhaust blew brake dust up into their faces. The heat from the brakes, wheels, and tires was blistering, intense.

Reese was in quickly. Joe helped him strap in, as the fueler was finishing up. Dale pulled the clear film off the windshield, leaving a pristine clear surface.

The sun was an orange red-hot orb moving far off over the ocean. It’s searing rays casting long shadows over this small segment of the human race engaged in this brutal struggle.

The drivers of each machine desperately trying to unseat the nearest competitor with a strong sense of entitlement, brought on from a necessary telling one’s self that you and no one else belongs in that winner’s circle. These drivers drive deep into each corner, pushing their machines to the limit of traction and beyond.

Into this drama comes the second shift, fresh drivers into machines that have been used up. Engines have been over revved, transaxles have been twisted, torqued and ground upon, brake pads are beginning to disintegrate, and heat, due to friction, is taking its toll on everything.

Reese slams his foot hard on the throttle, lighting up Destiny’s tires, this is done to keep from stalling the engine, which is just not intended for low speed creeping.

Shifting up through the gears, merging with traffic, narrowly avoiding a collision. Now Reese is thundering around turn three, passing two cars in the process.

Inside the souvenir store, a couple tries to decide which tee shirts they want.

Reese is back on the throttle, hard, shifting with his thumb at full throttle. This is called ‘standing on it’ and is a recipe for annihilation of your competition or your racecar, depending on your luck and skill. All the masters of auto racing used it with great effectiveness.

Sandy Jones arrived with her entourage, Suzanne Clark, Amelia and Dallas Stoudenmire, and Jeffery Thomas. They stood at the rear area of the pit, all acting as though they were angry about something.

Jake looked towards them, and then at Joe and Steele, making a face of pretend bewilderment.

The truth was that group was scheming and Jake hated intrigue. Hated yes, good at it, you bet, no one was better unless it was Steele, but they didn’t realize that, not yet. They were of the opinion that Jake and Steele were unsophisticated gear heads, maybe they were at one time, but years of surviving in a volatile environment had sharpened their business savvy and now they were a formidable force to deal with, on the track and off.

“Yellow flag,” Steele announced suddenly.

“Jessica bring that Havoc to us,” Steele spoke into his mic.

Irving and company moved into position. Sandy was still engaged in conversation when Pete went up to her.

“If you plan on catching this taxi you better get up there,” Pete spoke matter of factly.

“Huh? Oh!” Sandy moved forward donning her helmet and Hans device as she walked, Jeffery handing her items, as she needed them.

Suddenly Jake was there. Sandy looked surprised, Jeffery looked wary.

“Sandy, can I help you with that?” Jake’s voice was warm and friendly.

“I can manage just fine wi…” Jeffery was cut off.

“Yes…please Jake, if you don’t mind,” Sandy had her little girl voice.

Jake looked down track…Havoc was coming.

“There, all fixed up,” Jake smiled with his eyes that always melted Sandy’s cold heart.

“Sandy, forget all this,” Jake swept his arm towards Suzanne and the Stoudenmires, “you know you’re not like them, Sandy…you are a driver…so forget next year, forget them, just drive like that’s what you’re meant to do.”

Sandy’s eyes held love for this man, if only for this moment.

“Take that ‘Hell Bitch’ I built and show the world what we are all about!” Jake grinned that look he would get as he remembered his countless battles and how they made him feel.

“Stand on it, Sandy!” Bob yelled out.

Jessica screamed into pit road, flipped her pit road speed switch that insures perfect pit road speed and drove right to her mark. A flip of her old style safety harness that Jake insisted on and unplugging radio and cool-suit quick disconnects, and then she clamored out, passing Sandy on the way in.

“Here…take this!” Sandy handed Jessica her seat insert.

A few moments later and Sandy was entering the track with the intention of driving to the front.

The track was dirty looking now. Tire skid marks everywhere, the track-side littered with shards of composite bodywork. The engine didn’t feel the same, not as quick off the corners, kind of lazy.

Sandy hit the brakes hard, narrowly avoiding a tire bounding across the track from a car that was now spinning out of control into the outside of turn five, splattering hard into the rail fence, sending shards of fencing and bodywork everywhere.

Sandy stood on it to gain what she could before the yellow went out. The competitor had hit the fence hard!

“Better him than me,” Sandy thought then dismissing any thought of that guy.

“What I want to know is what kept that tire on all the way to turn five?” Joe looked over at Steele, and then back to Jake discussing the car whose crew had not tightened the centerlock, resulting in a wreck.

“Bad luck,” Jake answered, “better to have lost it here.”

“Yeah, I guess so…if he had been lucky,” Joe looks haunted by some memory.

“If he had been lucky…that idiot would have put the wheel nut on,” Steele voiced his philosophy on luck, “and tightened the son of a bitch,” he adds.

Jake looks at these two, reflects on their conversation and grimaces. Racecars are steadily streaming by now. After the pit stops had been made, the race leader, it was determined, was Reese, driving team Rhoad/Steele’s number nine.

They watched as Reese drove hard into the deep shadows created by the setting sun.

“Remember that little guy you used to have driving for you, that scrapper?” Steele was leaned over, looking to his left, up the track towards turn one.

“You mean the Irishman?” Jake’s looking at turn one also.

“Yeah, that’s him,” Steele looks back to turn eleven, “What was his name?”

“Oh, that’s Melvin Murphy…he was a good one,” Jake speaks of a live person in the past tense, referring to his now defunct driving career, as Jake cast his eyes down track to turn eleven.

“I remember him at Sear’s Point, man he was something.”

“Good driver was he?” Joe joins in the conversation.

“Oh, yeah, I suppose he was at that,” Steele was looking back in his mind, “but where he really caught my attention was when he whipped ‘Snake’s’ ass on National TV!”

“Snake? Not that ‘Snake’ Santorin?” Joe’s interest is peaked.

“The very same…used to drive for me and that’s one mean son of a bitch!”

“This Murphy whipped him?”

“Yep, that’s putting it mildly.”

“Seems like everybody wants a piece of ‘Snake’,” Jake added.

“Who else?” Joe asked.

“Well, Irving, there for one,” Steele nods at Irving.

“Yellow…let’s bring Destiny in for fuel and tires,” Jake keys Reese’s mic, “pit next.”

“Yeah, oh Irving was just getting to know ‘Snake’,” Steele’s snickering had all three laughing at ‘Snake’s’ misfortune.

The pit stop went flawless, as Reese pulled out Bob suddenly appeared before the scoring cart.

“Hey, you know I think we’re gonna win this one!” Bob’s enthusiasm sounded bubbly stating what no one in the cart wanted to hear. The three of them turned their sunglass-covered eyes directly onto Bob, no one spoke a word…no one smiled. This look could only be called icy.

Bob smiling at first soon began to turn red, and then Bob began to fidget. Bob looked left and right, and then turned and walked off, looking back only once to find those icy stares still on him.

“When are you two gonna’ give Bob a break?” Jake asked in an innocent voice.

“We two? Why Jake I declare ain’t you the innocent one. Why Jake you were staring holes in that poor man,” Steele was mocking a defensive voice.

“I had nothin’ but good thoughts for that man,” Joe exclaimed as they all laughed.

Reese was at the bottom of turn eight thinking, “Why did Jake name his restaurant after this turn? I’m starting to hate this course.”

Sandy was moving up steadily, the race was quickly coming to a conclusion and she needed to win!

The California sky was a myriad of color in the west with blackness chasing the sun from over the Coast Ranges. Team Rhoad/Steele looked to be one-two on the track, when the white flag was displayed to Reese. The championship was theirs, as of twenty laps ago, when the only contender remaining had blown his engine.

Now with Sandy’s position, the team had a photo finish to the turbulent season. Sandy was pushing hard on her worn tires, determined to overtake Reese, and this was the last lap!

“Sandy move up on the outside of turn eleven. Reese is going to let you come alongside for a photo finish,” Jake’s voice was so matter of factly.

“Let me?” Sandy was suddenly angry. “I’ll show him! Let me!” Sandy spoke aloud, alone in the cockpit. There was Destiny all right, Sandy moved to the outside of the entrance to turn eleven.

Around they came, the crowd was on their feet. The pit crews lined the wall between pit road and the track, giving thumbs up and applauding as the two team Rhoad/Steele cars drove side by side out of turn eleven and into auto racing history.

Jake was out there with Steele and his team, cheering for their drivers. Just as they reached the start/finish line, Sandy punched the throttle, catapulting Havoc to the finish line, crossing just before Reese crossed the line. Steele looked over at Jake, who was shaking his head back and forth.

“Dirty Bitch!” Was Steele’s only comment, and then he turned and headed to victory circle.

When Jake and the team arrived, Havoc was just pulling in and Steele was blocking Sandy by standing in her path. Officials were motioning her out.

Jake walked up and opened the cockpit door.

“Tell him to move, Jake!” Sandy had a leering grin like a cheater that had just passed tech.

“No, Sandy, I won’t, you didn’t win this one,” Jake’s voice was soft, he felt embarrassed for her.

“Maybe you don’t like the way I got the win, but this race is mine!” Sandy’s face had deep etches at the corners of her mouth.

Suddenly Jeffery and Dallas appeared, trying to shove Steele out of the way. Steele knocked both backwards on their butts. Officials leaned over into the cockpit.

“Move this car now or we will disqualify it. The Winner is coming!”

“But I’m the winner!” Sandy retorted.

“No, Sandy you’re not, you were a lap down.” Jake spoke again with a quiet voice, feeling the pain caused by her treachery.

“Sandy, you will race again, but for now you must move the car.”

Sandy turned and looked up at this man that had done so much for her. Tears came to her eyes as she realized what she had done. What she must look like to the rest of the world.

“I just wanted to win…”

“I know Sandy,” Jake stepped back, his crew had gathered around. “Roll Havoc back boys.”

Reese was coming down the track with his checkered flag, flying out his slide window.

Jake looked at the car and the waving flag. Turning his gaze onto the grandstands, he saw the fluttering pendants of racing and nations, the cheering crowd, and then he looked towards the western sky, absorbing the moment. Jake remembered a skinny kid with fire in his eyes and a dream in his heart, a dream that had come true.

Reese came around to victory circle and emerged to a cheering team and fans.

Joe clasped his hand, tears of joy in this strong man’s eyes.

The team gathered all around them, except for four.

Jake grabbed the microphone, “Suzanne, Dallas, Sandy, and Amelia, please come to victory circle.”

The evening’s celebration is a blur of well wishes and spewing champagne. Soon all had left for the big party and Jake found himself alone in the dark, quietly reliving the journey.

Looking up at the star filled Indigo sky, he wondered how, with all that had happened in his life, the night sky looked ever the same, perhaps only a second had passed.

Too much excitement for one life, he was tired, happy, but something was missing…someone to share it with. It was time to head home to Texas.
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