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Chapter 39

Jake Rhoad walked through his dark shop. The autoclave was running, the timer said four more hours. Jake looked around at what all had been accomplished, it was a lot, but a lot was left to do, as it would be always for guys like me, Jake reflected.

“I thought I would find you here,” Steele said as he entered the new addition to their racing facility.

“Don’t you ever take a day off?” Steele heads straight over to the autoclave.

“Look who’s talking, Steele I think you’re a workaholic,” Jake smiles at his friend.

“Jake you’ve outdone yourself this time. I swear these are the most beautiful race cars ever designed.”

Jake walked up to one of the three chassis setting on stands and ran his hand along its clean, svelte lines, “But…are they fast?”

“C’mon let’s head over to that greasy spoon you call a restaurant. I’ll buy you some supper,” Steele leads the way and waits for Jake to pass, as he reaches to turn out the light, he glances at the row of new chassis and pauses for a second, anxious, as always about the future, eager to get back to the track. They were fast, one look at Jake’s design and he knew that. He switched off the light.

“Jake, I swear you worry so, it’s going to ruin your youth, of course, they’re fast. That’s the only kind we race,” they were walking out the front door and Jake turned to set the alarm.

“Plato said, nothing in the affairs of men is worth worrying about,” Jake commented to his partner who, he knew, was the real worrier of the pair.

“Plato, huh? He used to run stocks didn’t he?” Steele sounded sincere. Jake grinned and just shook his head.

It was a quiet night at the ‘Corkscrew’. Just the Jukebox, the song ‘Gypsy’ was playing as the pair walked in.

Eddie, Bob, Joe, Reese and Reese’s grandma were setting at a table, so Jake and Steele joined them.

“Where are Sheila and Wanda?” Steele asked with a twinkle in his eye at this anticipated harassment of Joe for his unusual lifestyle.

“Those two are down in Key West, they’ve opened a clothing shop down there and are doing really well with it. They call it ‘Floozies’.”

Eddie spit his beer that he had been in the middle of a big draught on.

“I know, I know…the names kind of…oh, well, I kind of like its lack of pretension. I think they were inspired by Suzanne and Sandy’s business. They’ll do good,” Joe smiled, his eyes showing warmth and sincerity.

“Here’s to ‘Floozies’ may it be a success!” Steele raised a mug of beer in a toast.

“Mrs. Reese, are you excited about going up to New York and see this young man accept his trophy?” Steele looked across the table at this lovely sweet old woman.

“Well…I hadn’t really planned on going. I’ve got my farm to watch after and…”

“Grandma I’ve already planned everything and we have good people that are going to watch over things while you’re gone.” Reese was smiling and looked over at Jake, “We want to get there a day or two early to do some shopping and see the sights.”

“Why don’t we all do that?” Jake answered quickly, “And we’ll get down to Florida to pick up the girls. They are part of the team and we’re all going to be there.”

“Here’s to being together,” Steele toasted again, holding forth his mug in the air.

“Yes, let’s keep this team together…if we can,” Jake now raised his glass, his shining eyes capturing each of their hearts with admiration for this man of few words, “But if somehow that doesn’t work out and one day we find ourselves going separate ways,” Jake looked around the table, “may there always be a road!”

Bob’s limousine drove up in front of the Studio 54 Nightclub in New York City, a doorman in a black tuxedo, with long tails and a black silk top hat opened the limousine door and Bob stepped out onto the red carpet.

People were lined up on each side, held back by thick golden ropes, suspended by golden stanchions along each side of the rich, thick, red-carpeted path that led to the club entrance. The people were shouting Bob’s name and many were taking photographs of Bob.

Bob’s face had an expression of startled surprise, which rapidly changed to a smile of pleasure as he waved to his adoring fans.

As Bob walked towards the entrance, his eyes caught a glimpse of himself in a reflection. Bob looked down and saw that he was dressed in an all red silk outfit even his shoes were red.

The rows of fans gave way inside the club to a gigantic crowd of beautiful people, all turning from their drinking, socializing, and dancing to acknowledge Bob’s arrival with well wishes and hellos, many pointing and shouting, “Bob’s here!” Or, “Look, there’s Bob!”

Bob walked through the parting crowd, strutted is a more accurate description, waving, smiling, acknowledging their comments with, “Thank You,” “Good to see you,” or “Hey!”

Bob walked straight to the dance floor, where dazzling globes were flashing brilliant light throughout this area of the nightclub.

The dance floor was gleaming black and smooth as glass, its perimeter defined by multi-colored lights embedded in a raised curb like section. Across the dance floor, a dark haired, dark eyed woman appeared.

Bob stopped in his tracks mesmerized by her piercing eyes. This woman was Bob’s height and was wearing a black silken, one piece pant/blouse outfit that accentuated her voluptuous body by clinging tight all over, her hair, which cascaded over her shoulders, was wavy, thick, and flowing.

Bob stared ensnared by her animal magnetism. She parted her full red lips, showing gleaming white teeth, and then she ran her tongue across her upper lip from left to right.

Bob was frozen; the crowd noise fell to silence, as the band played ‘Show Me Heaven’.

No one in the room moved. The lights flashed, reflecting off the polished black floor. The music played, other than that, it was as though time had stopped.

The music faded. No one moved. The band launched into ‘What is Love’ and this woman, a woman Bob knew only in his dreams, suddenly began whirling around, and then took off in a pirouetting step, speeding across the dance floor straight into Bob’s arms!

Bob embraced her close, one arm around her waist, the other arm holding her hand extended. Just for a moment Bob stared into those dark, mysterious eyes, and then Bob spun her violently across the dance floor, as they both began to dance to the music. Their fans began to shout and whoop, screaming words of enthusiasm for these two magnificent dancers.

Apart, moving fast down the edge of the dance floor, spinning, shuffling, blinding fast in beat to the music. Now in perfect synchronization, they move together as the band switches to ‘Disco Inferno’. Spinning close together now their legs, arms, and bodies became a blur in their speed, Bob spinning her like a top, while he dances a fast step around her, still holding her hand.

Up and down, back and forth, they dance, using all the dance space. The band changes again with no space between songs to ‘Do You Think I’m Sexy’.

The crowd is clapping and moving in unison, while Bob is spinning with unbelievable speed and precision, carrying with him his dream girl, staring into her eyes, those dark, shining, black pools where Bob sees their images reflecting back at him, dancing like Gods.

Now they move to the center of the dance floor, the band is playing ‘What is Love’ again as they spin round and round. The crowd begins to move in around them, closer and closer.

Bob and his gorgeous partner lean their heads back, staring up at the flashing silver disco globe, they begin to laugh, their heads still looking up, laughing uncontrollably, spinning.

Bob awakens to the flashing of the wing lights on Rhoad/Steele’s jet through his window.

“Man, that was some dream you were having!” Eddie was sitting next to him now. “Yeah, you were laughing like you were having fun.”

Bob looks at Eddie, and then looks back out the window, rubbing his eyes, trying to adjust to reality, a bad taste in his mouth and Eddie.

They walked off the plane to Bob’s limousine.

“What’s this?” Eddie asks Steele.

“Why, that’s a big car, Eddie and guess what, you get to ride in it!” Steele’s answer was humorous, to Steele.

Riding through the city, Steele announces, “Jake and I are buying you boys all tuxes! We want y’all looking sharp!”

Buck says, “I’ve never owned a tuxedo before!”

Eddie responds, “Hell, they know that…it was just a short while ago they got you to wearing shirts and shoes!”

The tailors were busy measuring all the Rhoad/Steele personnel for this big rush job.

Steele and Eddie were near Bob, when they heard Bob ask the tailor, “Do these things come in Red?”

The banquet hall of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel was dark, except for the stage where the speaker was describing his season of highs and lows.

The crowd applauded as he finished, and then the master of ceremony came back to the microphone.

“Ladies and Gentlemen now we would like to present our most prestigious award. This award goes to the hardest working, most dedicated members of our sport, the mechanics. This year’s recipient of the ‘TRW Mechanic of the Year Award’ has never had it easy. Growing up in the Houston, Texas area, he dreamed of one day building machines to race at exotic places like LeMans or Indy. He, through perseverance and hard work, turned those dreams into reality and eventually moved into a team competing at the top level of road racing In America, the Grand American Series.”

“As a chief mechanic, Irving Diess has led his team to eight victories and the series coveted constructor’s championship. Without further adieu, I would ask that Irving Diess from team Rhoad/Steele to come to the podium. Let’s give Irving a well deserved hand!”

The unshakable, iceman was caught completely unaware and unprepared. Irving uncomfortable enough in his Armani tuxedo, now looked on the verge of running from the room. Only the support of his friends gave him the courage to rise and go up to the steps onto the stage.

The master of ceremonies then said, “Wayne Knudsen of the TRW Corporation will present the ‘TRW Mechanic of the Year’ with his award, Wayne.”

Irving appeared to have recovered and was looking out trying to see his team.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I have been given the great honor of presenting the ‘TRW Mechanic of the Year’ award for now the tenth year, since its inception thirty-five years ago. This award is given to the mechanic who best exemplifies the characteristics that TRW incorporates into our own company, loyalty, perseverance, dedication to quality and performance. The panel of judges that select the recipient is made up of experts who have distinguished themselves in their own auto racing careers.”

“This award is always a difficult decision due to the close competition of this level of auto racing. Our panel unanimously agreed that this year was one of the easiest selections they had ever made due to the recipient, Irving Diess’s, ability to overcome all obstacles, and there were many, keeping his eye on the path that led him and his team to the ultimate prize, the Grand American Championship.”

“I present the ‘TRW Mechanic of the Year’ to Irving Diess…let’s give Irving a big hand.”

Irving stepped forward as Mr. Knudsen unveiled a beautiful oil painting of Irving with the Rhoad/Steele cars racing past beneath his likeness.

Irving was suddenly speechless as he looked at his trophy and received his thunderous applause from a standing audience. After a few moments Irving approached the podium, “Thank You! Thank You! Thank you very much!” The applause continued for some time until finally it fell off, then stopped as people sat back down at their tables.

“I never expected this…” Irving was obviously very moved emotionally, “My Gramps, who died when I was very young, I wish he was here tonight, told me one time that if you find a turtle sitting on top of a fence, well he just didn’t get there without some help.”

The crowd began a thunderous applause again.

“Many years ago a troubled young man was given a chance…” Irving now wiped his eyes, “A chance to experience a totally different side of life, a life I never even knew existed. That man has been like the father I never knew, that man is Steele and I want to thank him for seeing in me, something, and then working with me to help me, show it to the world.”

The crowd, many moved to tears, was applauding again.

“Then when I thought that run was over and I was ready to quit, a strong steady voice came to me saying, nothing is over until we let it. That man is Jake Rhoad. Jake taught me that we are never defeated until we concede that defeat!”

Again, the crowd came to their feet, clapping, and many looking towards Rhoad/Steele’s table.

“Rhoad and Steele have both done so much for me…for all of us, and for that I want to thank them. Working with this group has been the only thing special in my life.” The words faded away for Jake as he saw Irving in his mind’s eye, working silently in a cold shop, fitting parts, measuring, checking, assembling, and taking it back apart. The mundane task facing an auto racing professional that has no glitter or glory; just back breaking repetitive work that is seldom even recognized, other than with a paycheck, much less appreciated.

Jake could see them all now, a studious group of dedicated young men and women welding, machining, cutting composite cloth, fitting and many, many more seemingly endless tasks. Creating the competition automobiles and equipment necessary for them to challenge all comers. All so they could have another day in the sun.

“I never dreamed that one day I would be here…Thank You!”

The crowd gave a thunderous applause as Irving walked off the stage.

The Stoudenmires and Madison Avenue had their own tables and had been avoiding Steele and Jake since their arrival in New York three days ago.

The team all looked stunning in their tuxedos and evening gowns. After the awards presentation, a formal dinner and dancing event was scheduled.

Soon all the awards, except driver of the year and the constructor’s championship for the Daytona prototype category had been awarded. The master of ceremonies was at the podium, “We’re just a few minutes from presenting our driver of the year award, but first after looking back over this fantastic season of road racing, we wanted to take a moment to look ahead to next year and to what we hope will be another great year for Grand American road racing. We have many, many teams with announcements concerning their return for next year and these are all outlined in great detail on Grand American’s official website. However, we have confirmation of an all-new team for Daytona prototype competition. Without any personnel or cars at this point the principals of Stoudenmire Investments and that of Madison Avenue Clothiers have announced they will be joining forces to field their very own team and will challenge for the Daytona Prototype Championship next year.”

“Dallas and Amelia Stoudenmire, along with Suzanne Clark and Sandy Jones are not strangers to the Grand-Am circuit. They are the sponsors of team Rhoad/Steele in the Daytona Prototype category, so let’s all wish them a lot of luck with their new team next year by giving them a big Grand-Am welcome.”

Everyone clapped for them. Jake saw that Steele was smiling, that smile that he always had when things had worked out just as he expected, just as he wanted.

“Dallas Stoudenmire and Suzanne Clark would like to say a few words about their new racing team, so give them another big hand.”

Applause was a bit more subdued, by this rather unusual promotion, for an all-new team, at an awards banquet. Jake grimaced at the thought of Dallas working behind the scenes to pressure Grand-am to allow this advertisement. Suzanne and Dallas took to the stage.

“Thank you, thank you,” Dallas unnecessarily repeated the thanks after everyone had already stopped clapping.

“While our team is an all new effort, we are not strangers to Grand-Am competition,” Dallas paused waiting for some reaction that never occurred.

“Stoudenmire Investments and Madison Avenue are, of course, the driving force behind the cusses of team Rhoad/Steele this year,” another pause without applause and this one actually created some murmuring from the audience.

“Yes, but unfortunately, due to circumstances of the Johanson death and the investigation, we, that is Stoudenmire Investments an Madison Avenue had no choice, but to withdraw from our support of Rhoad/Steele and after tonight we are no longer associated with that group.”

Now there was really a clamor coming from the audience.

Jake looked about to many angry faces and not just from his own team.

“So, we’re not strangers,” Dallas paused as he looked to his far right responding to some shouted comment from the audience that Jake hadn’t heard.

“Uh…so, thank you again,” Dallas bid a hasty retreat with Suzanne in tow.

No applause was forthcoming. The hall became almost deathly silent, except for Steele who was chuckling quietly.

The master of ceremonies returned to the podium.

“This next award is unique to the Grand American Road Racing series. It is known as the ‘Speed Star’ and is presented to the driver that, in their first year of professional competition distinguishes themselves from all others.”

“To present this award and the fifty thousand dollar prize is the celebrity host of the hit television show ‘Speedstars’, Rick Jones.”

“Thank you, this award is never easy to decide on just who should receive it, however this year it was impossible, so those of us at ‘Speedstars’ decided that we wouldn’t narrow it down. We would instead present two of these ‘Speed Star’ trophies and the checks that go with them!”

The crowd was clapping and shouting words of praise that Rick was greatly enjoying.

“Our two recipients come from totally different backgrounds, although they both have had to deal with adversity and they have both had to overcome hardship, so they do have a lot in common, including the team they race for! Let’s meet the two incredible ‘Speed Stars’!”

There was more applause and shouting, obviously responding to Rick Jones’s enthusiasm.

“She…that’s right a sheeling!”

“She…growing up in California always wanted one thing…to go fast!”

Jake looked casually over towards Sandy’s table and through the murky space could make out the anticipation on Sandy’s face. Looking back around to Jessica, he caught her eyes and she flashed a bright smile of friendship and seemed relaxed as though she didn’t even consider that Rick was speaking of her.

“Her career as a stunt woman in the motion picture industry gave her a taste of the kind of speed she craved, but…” Rick continued to speak as Jake watched Jessica’s reaction, as she realized that Rick was describing her life!

Jessica moved her hand to cover her mouth, which had just fell open! Jessica’s eyes were lit up with excitement as those around her responded with claps of good will and outstretched hands of well wishers.

Jake looked back towards Sandy and saw her glaring at Jessica. It was not a pretty face that was watching Jessica.

“Our second selection, also from team Rhoad/Steele…Jake, Steele what do you guys put in your driver’s water bottles?”

Jake heard this as he watched Sandy’s head snap back to stare at Rick. The crowd laughed at Rick’s joke.

“This man started out as an athlete in stick and ball sports, and then became a bartender. From there he decided to take on the best drivers in the world in the most competitive form of auto racing on the planet!”

Jake looked toward Reese who had a stunned look on his face as he was being smothered with well wishes and hugs from his Grandma and Joe.

“So you two, ‘Speed Stars’ come on up here! Ladies and Gentlemen, I present part of the true driving force behind Rhoad/Steele!” Reese stood up and walked around the table with Jessica, each hugging and thanking every team member.

As Jessica hugged Jake her eyes caught a glimpse of Sandy. The look on Sandy’s face was ugly and displayed all the malice that had built up in Sandy with every perceived wrong that had been perpetrated against her. This malice was focused, now, on Jessica, an innocent person, who had been a true friend to Sandy.

Jake seeing Jessica’s startled expression looked around in the direction Jessica was staring, only to meet Sandy’s malicious gaze.

“I’ll just ignore her,” Jessica dismissed the stare and turned to go up on the stage with Reese.

“No, I wouldn’t do that…” Jake said to himself, beginning to comprehend the level of emotional disturbance that Sandy was dealing with. “That woman needs some help,” Jake, thought this to himself wondering if he should try to help or keep as far from Sandy as possible.

The awards! How many had he been to? Jake pondered this question that crossed his mind, not too many that’s for certain, you never have too much success. Steele was enjoying this much more than he was. It wasn’t that he didn’t like the attention or banquets for that matter, he did. It’s just that once the race was over, Jake’s mind had moved on, ‘the mill doesn’t run on water that has passed’ someone once said.

In the big board game that was his life, Jake embraced the new challenge; it’s what sustained him.

Even now watching this season draw to a close, Jake’s mind was working on his new cars. Everyone knew he wanted to be his best. As his success grew that goal became harder to achieve, but this hurling of himself into each challenge was essential to him as air or food. Without it, he felt a little of himself die each day. This is what brought him back and this is why now he would never leave this world, his world again.

Grown men crying like babies, incoherent statements, repetitive lists, thanks, and emotional shouts of joy were all a part of any auto racing awards ceremony.

We all remember the politician who asked, “Who am I? Why am I here?” Or the actress who stated, “You love me! You really, really love me!” Remember these were trained public speakers! So just imagine the things one sees and hears when a person that’s worked their entire career dealing with brake pads or transaxle gears, in a lonely garage or at some God forsaken windswept, obscure racetrack is suddenly thrust into an auditorium full of people and tries to condense a lifetime of effort into a few moments of speaking time, all the while dealing with the surprise of ever being recognized for their efforts in the first place. Yes, this is a setting for some unusual behavior and statements.

Jake watched with amusement and genuine love of these people, his contemporaries in this age where people of innovation, craftsmanship, and skill are much less understood and seldom recognized as successful. This being a reflection of a society that puts more emphasis on having money and things, than on earning success in any form.

Reese was presented with his ‘Speed Star’, a trophy about two feet tall with a silver sculpture of a roadster racecar from a bygone era that appeared to be driving right out of a star.

Reese stood holding the beautiful trophy staring down at it for a long moment, obviously collecting himself from a wave of emotion. Then he finally spoke, “Jake Rhoad…this man…if everyone saw life as he does…this old world would be a much better place.”

Jake felt his own wave of emotion now as he listened.

“With no motivation, but the desire to help, this man goes through his life enriching so many others lives, never seeking thanks or praise or in anyway asking for repayment.”

“Jake’s partner Steele told us early on in the season that we were going to, all of us, always do our best because Jake made us feel capable of doing anything,” Reese paused and looked up towards the audience.

“I want to thank Steele, Jake Rhoad, Joe Savage, Jessica Strangeways, Sandy Jones, The Stoudenmires, Suzanne Clark, and Madison Avenue for this season and the opportunity to compete in the greatest racing series in North America, the Grand American Road Racing Series. I also want to thank my Grandma for telling me to always follow my heart and to follow my dreams, and then giving me the support to do just that!”

The audience gave a thunderous ovation to Reese’s emotional acceptance speech. Reese stood back and observed as Rick Jones now presented Jessica with her ‘Speed Star’.

“Wow! How can you follow that?” The crowd gave an ovation again.

“Well, that’s the story of driving on a team this good, I’m used to following a stunning performance!” Jessica spoke with confidence and enthusiasm. “Everyone on team Rhoad/Steele has worked all year to make us drivers look good! Eddie, Bob, Irving, Buck, Dale, Pete, Billy, and all the guys have busted their…knuckles giving it their all and then we get all the glory…well, in my book you guys are the best!”

“Jake and Steele gave this girl a try out and starting right there I felt they were wanting me to succeed. I mean it wasn’t show me. It was right at the beginning an atmosphere of let’s you and me show the world…I hope I’ve worded that so that you understand, because that, more than any skill or talent is the reason that I’m up here.”

The crowd clapped briefly, and then Jessica began to speak again, “When I was a kid back home in Lancaster, California, I was never exactly like the other girls. They all wanted to be cheerleaders or marry well. All I wanted was to go fast. Sometimes for that, I was called a tomboy or even uglier names just for daring to be different. Well, to all those girls back there in Lancaster…HOW DO YOU LIKE ME NOW! YAHOO!”

The crowd really responded now, giving Jessica and Reese a standing ovation. Jessica’s shout would have made Howard Dean proud.

Jake was filled with pride that his two young drivers had so distinguished themselves that they received this prestigious award. The first time that the ‘Speed Star’ panel was unable to single out one outstanding driver.

As Reese and Jessica moved off the stage, Dallas stood and walked towards them intercepting them both right by Steele’s seat.

“Congratulations you two!” Dallas shook their hands with both of his. Dallas’s smiling face was warm and sincere. They both thanked him and started to move off.

“Hey, now maybe you’ll consider that offer to drive for me!” Dallas mentioned this as they turned, obviously caught up in the excitement and not considering the impact of his words.

“No thanks,” was Jessica’s curt answer.

“Not now…not ever,” Reese stopped and looked directly at Dallas.

“Well, you may not know it, but this team Rhoad/Steele’s over…I pulled the plug.” Dallas really sounded pompous. Dallas had a smirk that actually dominated his face.

“I think you’re the one that needs informing, Dallas, first off, you never controlled Rhoad/Steele, and you just paid money to be associated with it. Secondly, these guys would still be a force to reckon with even if they were broke, that’s a proven fact!” Reese smiled and turned away leaving a red faced, angry Dallas who upon turning realized this exchange had been witnessed by many of the Grand-Am community.

Reese looked towards Jake and Steele as he took his seat. Jake smiled and gave him a thumbs up. Steele was looking across to Joe Bunton who was smiling as Steele winked his one eye. Reese was reminded of a painting of some famous buccaneer that had that same look, somewhat diabolical.

The champagne was flowing and many were getting a little rowdy. Eddie toasted, “Raise your glasses to Jessica and Reese…the best rookies I’ve ever seen!”

“That’s right,” Bob stands up knocking his chair over backwards, “To the fuckin’ best!” He blurted out loudly.

Steele looked over at Jake with raised eyebrows.

“The ‘Timekeeper’ driver of the year award is simple to decide upon, it goes to the driver who has performed the best. This driver has won the most races, led the most laps, won the most poles, and in this case set the most records. This year the tabulation was easy, no one has ever even come close to achieving what Joe Savage of team Rhoad/Steele has achieved. Let’s give a big hand for Joe Savage, the ‘Timekeeper’ driver of the year!”

Through the standing ovation, Joe just remained seated, looking about him. Seeing the INDY 500 champions, the winners of the twenty-four hours of Lemans and many, many other famous auto racing champions all clapping for him.

Finally Joe arose and then bent down kissing his girls on the cheeks, they were both crying.

The entire Rhoad/Steele team was on their feet, shouting and clapping as Joe took to the stage.

The trophy, a golden sculpture of a timepiece face with a racecar coming at you below it, was presented along with a giant check for two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.

Joe looked to be in a daze, and then he wiped his eyes with his sleeve. The crowd quietened down as Joe moved to the microphone.

“I’m just a guy that likes to go fast.”

The crowd really liked that and began whistling and shouting. When they died down Joe continued.

“I thought that was all it took and then one day it was all taken away. Why, doesn’t matter…not anymore, but it was all taken away, you see, I had taken it all for granted.” Joe looked at his trophy, “Not anymore. Now I know these things, these moments are fleeting. They can leave you as fast as a victory in hand can dissolve with a blown tire or a spinning car,” Joe snapped his fingers, “that quick and you’re asking what happened?”

“So I just gave up…can you believe that? Well, I did and then Jake Rhoad walked into my life and said two words, ‘I Believe’. Those words were like a drink of cold water on a parched throat, ‘I Believe’, that’s what he told me. Then Jake and Steele backed those words with action.”

“These two men put together a team and some cars that gave their drivers an unfair advantage.”

“Stoudenmire Investments and Madison Avenue brought the necessary funding and for that very smart decision, I feel they should have credit and I thank them. The driving force behind team Rhoad/Steele can be summed up in two words, ‘WE BELIEVE’. This philosophy comes from Jake Rhoad and Steele and through their actions it spread to the rest of us.”

“Now, because of these two men, we rise to the task at hand with confidence. Faith goes a long way in this sport and when coupled with a natural speedlust it can be a very formidable combination.”

“I thank you for this moment that I will always treasure. With this team anybody, that just likes to go fast, can win.”

The crowd gave Joe another standing ovation as he started away, and then came back suddenly, “I can’t leave without thanking my friends, Sheila and Wanda for always supporting me…without my friends and teammates, I would be nothing.”

“THE TIMEKEEPER DRIVER OF THE YEAR! Ladies and Gentlemen give him a big hand!”

Joe Savage walked off the stage the same man that went up there, he had reached a state where he knew who he was and was comfortable with that, and no award would ever change that.

“Now we have our biggest prize to be awarded, the ‘Grand American Constructor’s Championship’.”

“However, before we present this award, we must first visit a somber subject, the death of Chad Johanson.”

At this, Jake’s attention sharpened. Looking over to their table, he found Suzanne, Sandy, Dallas, and Amelia all staring at him with cool expressions on their faces as though they knew what was about to unfold.

“Johanson Motorsports was in contention for this championship when a cruel blow of fate struck down their chances. Chad Johanson was murdered in his New York City office.”

“Well, that shadow has hung over the rest of this season. Many cruel accusations have been levied with provocation. So I take this opportunity to share the latest news on this mystery that our organization has been very interested in,” the master of ceremonies held up a paper. “This news was just sent to us, not five minutes ago.”

“Three people have been arrested and charged with the homicide of Chad Johanson, they are George Ashcraft, Kenneth Wilson, and John Whitney. George Ashcraft is a federal judge that has confessed to hiring two killers to assassinate Chad Johanson. He claims Johanson was blackmailing him, so the Grand-Am community can put to rest all the nasty rumors an accusations. No one associated with auto racing, in anyway, has been implicated in this crime.”

Steele leaned over and grabbed Jake’s arm in a firm grasp smiling ear to ear.

Jake felt relieved and then looked back to Sandy. Suzanne’s mouth was going non-stop, as was Dallas and Amelia’s. Sandy was holding her head with both hands, her mouth wide open, her eyes staring down into their table.

“Let’s go get our trophy!” Steele was standing up.

“Steele, they haven’t called us yet!” Jake responded.

“Aw, Hell, we know we won!”

“Sit down, please!” Jake was laughing now.

“The racing car begins with an idea and some technical specifications. Mix in innovation, hard work, and ABRA CADABRA, a racing automobile is born, but is it fast? Does it handle?”

“This is the quandary the constructors are faced with. The winners of this year’s championship have made answering those questions on the track a lifelong quest and they do so in a very convincing manner with searing speed. Their competition automobiles, as they refer to them, have become the yardstick that all others are measured by and this year they all came up a bit short, but that’s more a reflection on these two men than on their fierce competition.”

“Each of these men, Rhoad and Steele, were formidable in their own right, but when they joined together they moved to a new plateau. They set a standard that shows the rest of us just what is possible and these fellows have raised the level not by hurling money at racing or by lobbying the association as you see in some other venues. No, they did it by taking another path, through innovation, hard work, dedication, and team fellowship.”

“Team Rhoad/Steele and the Rhoad/Steele automobile represent all the positive things that the Grand American Road Racing Series wants to be associated with and therefore they are the unanimous selection by our competition panel for our series ‘Constructor of the Year Award’.”

“I ask now for team Rhoad/Steele’s principles to come to the stage for the award presentation.”

Jake and Steele stood looking at each other, the bond of fellowship ever stronger as these two men, each immensely successful in their own right, had grown to depend upon each other. That skill of trust and reliance having a positive effect on their entire team, empowering each part of this group to work towards their full potential and resulting in an organization so capable, so full of confidence and talent that it had reached a level that few could comprehend much less imitate.

“Everybody goes!” Steele shouted.

“Yes, c’mon everybody,” Jake agreed. Then looking over at the Stoudenmires table, “Sandy!” Jake extended his hand out towards her, “You’re a big part of this, please come with us!”

Sandy’s anger and jealousy suddenly melted away as she looked into the warm, brilliant, green eyes of this rugged, handsome man…the man of her dreams that she had let slip away. Sandy arose and moved around the table and took Jake’s hand.

Jessica moved up beside Jake, looking up into his eyes, smiling, hugged Jake and took his other hand.

Sheila took one of Steele’s arms while Wanda took his other. The entire team took the stage completely filling the area. The trophy and checks were awarded to Rhoad/Steele with much pomp and circumstance.

Steele then approached the podium, Jake beside him, and then he said, “Wow…what a year this has been. A while back I decided that I was going to give auto racing one final parting shot. Contemplating that I recalled a lot of great moments and to be honest a tremendous amount of work, stress, and pain. The more I thought about it, the more it looked as though this would be a bad decision. Thinking of some of my most painful defeats, one face kept coming to mind, Jake Rhoad.” The audience had subdued laughter at this.

“This man had dealt me so many shellackings that Jake’s team had become the focal point of my auto racing. A successful effort was finishing ahead of Jake’s team.”

“We fought like the cats of Kilkenny. Out of this fight, this rivalry came respect. So considering a return to the racing war, I decided to seek an ally, the best racer I had ever known, Jake Rhoad.”

“The reasons he decided to form this partnership are his, but for my part, I know, I received much more than I contributed. I started out to have an advantage and anyone who’s ever worked alongside this man knows what an advantage having him in your pit is, but along the way I learned. Not just about the sport I had been in most of my life, but I also learned about true friendship.”

“I’m a better person for knowing you, Jake and that’s the best award I could ever have. These drivers, this crew, their the best and this year has been a privilege. Our sponsors, Madison Avenue – Suzanne Clark and Sandy Jones along with Stoudenmire Investments – Dallas and Amelia Stoudenmire, these sponsors have been the best. They have fulfilled every expectation…well, that is, except our five year contract of which four are still remaining, but I’ll let Joe talk to them about that.”

“To succeed in professional road racing is the ultimate auto racing prize…to do it with a first year team is unheard of, impossible most insiders will tell you, but this group did it and I just want you to know,” Steele turned to look at his team, “I’m proud of you!”

The audience clapped and Steele stepped back motioning for Jake. Jake had one hand in his pants pocket smiling and looking at his teammates.

“This guy doesn’t know it, but we met the first time many years before he had his own team.” Steele tells his anecdote about the first time he met Jake, a story he had never relayed. “I was working for a Trans-Am racing team as an engine builder, sub-contracted, and they had this driver that they said was absolutely hell on equipment, so they hired me to build them an engine that would last.”

“Well, a reputation for failed engines has ruined lot’s of careers, so I poured every ounce of knowledge, sweat, and all the best components into that engine. I was so proud and then we installed it in this Mustang, just in time for qualifying.”

“I was finished, just polishing things up with a shop towel, when this young hot shoe comes up, just a skinny little kid with these shining eyes. Well, he walks up, looks in at it for a moment, and then gave me one of those serious cold gazes that many of you have encountered.” The audience captivated now by the story murmurs a little in agreement, and says, “It had better be an anvil, or I’ll break the son of a bitch!” The audience all begin to laugh, many remembering their own Jake Rhoad story.

“Well, Jake drove into history that day and he still can drive with the best of them, but he never asks for more than he’s willing to give. Ladies and gentlemen, my partner, my friend, Jake Rhoad!”

As the audience applauded, Jake stepped to the podium, staring off into the dark, as if looking to a far distant point and he was looking back to that kid so many miles ago.

“As I travel about this country, pursuing the checkered flag, the experience has changed for me. When I was younger everything was new, fresh, exciting, but over the years each track, each corner soon represented some memory, many I didn’t want to relive, a site where a competitor had crashed, losing his life or ending his career. We never speak of this; it’s just something that we live with. Living with it, I began to turn away from the very thing that I was best at. Then one day I stepped away from this world and I pretended that it wasn’t important, but an inner voice kept calling to me, saying to me that yes they are gone, but they left this world living life to the fullest. Doing what they loved. Others were injured and unable to continue. Well, when I would go to visit them, soon the conversation would turn to the most significant moments of their lives, these moments always included their racing days. That’s because these precious days, doing what we love, mean so much to each of us. I then realized the cost is worth it.”

“Steele approached me with this idea and I grabbed hold with both hands. Together we hurled ourselves into the most competitive form of auto racing in North America. We’ve had our tests, we’ve suffered, but we’ve never turned from our pact, our code of ethics, that we both feel, is so essential to the total experience.”

“Our desire to win, speedlust we call it, has never led us to commit any of the ruthless acts many of us have experienced first hand as victims or at least witnessed. The level our team has risen to was an inspiration to many, for others it was a bitter pill to swallow.”

“As the year progressed, our team has been threatened, physically assaulted, several times, intentionally wrecked, and dealt with cheaters. We’ve been accused of cheating and even murder. We’ve actually had our team infiltrated and our cars sabotaged.”

“Yes, this season has taken its toll and our team has suffered, but most of us,” Jake glances to the Stoudenmires table, “have endured and we’ve become stronger, faster, and a closer team than ever before.”

“The avarice displayed in this series, this season is due to the Grand-Am’s efforts,” Jake paused and looked about the murmuring crowd. “Its true, you see Grand-Am has created such a special series that the championship is the most coveted in auto racing. In the quest to win it people have lost touch with the principles that one must maintain or the win, even if achieved, is nothing…just a façade of victory, a trophy in a case, money in the bank, but all with the knowledge that the very essence of the sport was violated.”

“Those that are passionate enough to make the sacrifices necessary to have achieved this level of competition would never be able to live with that facade of excellence. Those that can, we should all work hard to eliminate from our sport.”

The crowd gave a lengthy loud applause at that statement.

“This sport isn’t easy at any level and money, while having its advantages, cannot buy a victory.” Jake looked again to the Stoudenmires table and smiled. “That’s a hard learned, expensive lesson, but that’s why we love it! These teammates of mine,” turning Jake motioned with a sweeping gesture to all of team Rhoad/Steele. “You truly are an inspiring bunch. Never once were you beaten, there’s not a bit of quit in any of you…you’re the best!”

“There was a skinny kid down in Texas, some years ago. This kid went through school practically anonymous and he wasn’t talented in any particular way, but he had a lust for speed, a dream in his heart and a glint in his eyes.”

“The auto racing community embraced this kid and taught him the lessons of life. Today he stands before you, the humble recipient of auto racing’s most prestigious award and he…I, thank you for giving me an exciting, special way of life.”

Jake stood through a thunderous applause, absorbing the moment and remembering many of the moments along the path to this point.

Steele wrapped his partner in a big bear hug, and then said into the microphone, “I’ll add that our best days are ahead of us! That’s right! We’re just getting started!”

The awards banquet ended with a party where the teams mingled, drank, ate more, and danced. Some fellow, doing a Dean Martin impression, provided the entertainment. Most everyone was having an enjoyable evening, however the Stoudenmires had an axe to grind.

Jake was talking to Pete and his wife when Dallas approached him and said, “I hope you will excuse me, but I just had to have a few words with Jake.”

“What is it, Dallas?” Jake was suddenly all business; his features normally warm and friendly, now had turned cold.

“It’s just that I hope that you understand my position…” Dallas trailed off, never ending his sentence, intentionally leaving off his conclusion.

“Your position on what?” Jake’s voice was quiet and distinctly unfriendly.

“Why…on Johanson’s death and your connection with it.”

“Dallas, I have no connection with Johanson’s death and you know it. You were only seeking to use circumstantial facts to try and accomplish your own personal agenda. That, I’m not sorry to say, has backfired on you.”

Dallas looked down, and then shifted his eyes sideways, seeing who was listening.

“The fact is Dallas your greed has led you to this point, a point that you’re not even aware of…yet. The connection with a championship winning team that you have is only because of your financial commitment to that team. Now you’re thinking you can save that money while still reaping the benefits. Well, that’s where you have seriously miscalculated,” Jake emphasized.

“This championship that we have just won is one of the crown jewels of auto racing, perhaps even the hardest to accomplish.” Jake’s eyes changed and his voice softened.

“However, the reasons that you have defaulted on your end of our business agreement are your own. We have now completed our requirements and I believe that you are contractually already in default for our next season’s start up and development funding. So, I would pay up.”

“Well, I was hoping that you would be more reasonable than that partner of yours,” Dallas voice had a disdainful tone.

“If by more reasonable you meant easier to manipulate, no I’m not any easier than he is. I am, however, a bit more disgusted with people who always seem to find a way to justify their own poor behavior. It’s gotten to be a way of life for many and I find it sickening. Sure you’ll hire your lawyer and probably find someway out of your contract obligations, but that won’t change the fact that you are a liar and you can’t be trusted.” Jake’s remarks were cutting as Dallas’s face clearly showed.

“Now, please skulk back to whatever corner you’ve slinked from and leave the celebrations to those that have actually earned them,” Jake turned his back on Dallas.

“That’s ok…have your moment Jake, but you should have thought, what are you and that old man going to do without our sponsorship? No money, no Rhoad/Steele!” Dallas was almost spitting he was so angry.

Jake turned back to see a red-faced egomaniac, fuming so that his features were actually distorted. How could this guy ever have built a business, let alone sought to run an auto racing team? Before Jake could respond, Steele’s voice came across the speaker system.

“Fellow racers, I wanted to take a few moments here to announce some changes at team Rhoad/Steele for next season and Grand-Am has been kind enough to allow me a few moments to do so now. I’m sure you all heard our sponsor, Dallas Stoudenmire say they weren’t with us any longer. Well, that saddens me. This sport takes money and I guess sudden denial of funds has been the cause of the ruination of many a good team…hasn’t it?” Steele looked and sounded forlorn.

“Well, I guess this season just wasn’t convincing to Ol’ Dallas or else he just doesn’t understand what we all know…racing is damn hard!” The audience gave a rising approval of that statement.

“We aren’t going anywhere, when they drop the green flag at Daytona next year. Jake and I are going to be right there, battling all of you, trying to beat you by two tenths into turn one!” Steele’s voice had changed to one of excited anticipation. Everyone looked on with increased interest.

“Next week we will be having a press conference down in Austin, Texas at the site of the new United States Grand Prix, but tonight is just a glimpse of what’s in store for our team and an answer to some of the rumors created by statements made earlier by my sponsors.”

“First, I want to assure all of you Rhoad/Steele is here to stay…with Grand-Am, I mean. Regardless of what our sponsors mentioned, they will be with Rhoad/Steele next season, but if somehow they are not, we as a team will still be here with provisions already made for that eventuality with our new associates.”

“Our Grand-Am Daytona prototype racing efforts will still be campaigned right out of East Texas with the day to day operations being taken over by our new managing partner, our very own, Joe Savage!”

There was silence for just a moment, and then a surprised audience began to clap for Joe.

“The reason Joe is running things on a day to day basis for us is that Jake and myself are going to be pretty busy between our existing Grand-Am effort and our all new TRW/Vital Nectar sponsored Formula One team!”

Again, the crowd had a moment of stunned silence.

“This new American Formula One auto racing team differs from other American Formula One efforts in one very important way. This one will be done by Americans!”

“Yes, we’re building our own chassis, engines, transaxles, all American and our two drivers…Americans also. Yes, these two young champions, Dave Reese and Jessica Strangeways, are leading the American charge back into International racing.”

“A challenge? Oh, definitely, but we’re encouraged by our performance in what we feel is most competitive series in North America and the last effort in International auto racing that was led by an East Texas chicken farmer didn’t turn out too bad when Shelby American won the twenty-four hours of Lemans, so maybe some of that East Texas know how will do good in Formula One.”

“We are aiming high, but racing and winning in a series as competitive as the Grand-Am has emboldened us, this room is filled with the best racers in the world. One thing’s for certain, with the group Jake and I’ve associated ourselves with, if we fail it won’t be through lack of effort or heart and in the words of President Roosevelt, “At least if we fail, we fail while daring greatly!”

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