The sky was ablaze with a myriad of color, the setting sun changing the sky to yellows, oranges, reds, and blues. The view over the western hills covered with thick pine forest was magnificent from the top floor of the Hilton hotel on Peach Tree Boulevard. The party was in full swing behind him, as Jake admired the view. Everything had gone perfect this day, actually the entire week had been flawless, but something was wrong.
The race had all the elements and was shaping up to be a great one. After winning the pole and setting an absolute track record, the new team was shown respect, generally reserved for multiple championship-established teams. Everyone was treating them different.
The car had been scrutinized by the Grand Am tech group for two hours and pronounced legal.
Everywhere Joe went he was approached for autographs. Joe was also in demand by the press, doing a great many interviews, which he seemed to handle with ease and was a natural at it, soaking all this new attention up, like a sponge. There was also quite a bit of attention from the young lady fans, adorned in a wide variety of colorful, skimpy, revealing attire. Everything from bikini bottoms and halter tops, to tight silk britches clinging in all the right spots. These young women, pit lizards, we call them, now had a great deal of interest in our team.
The racecar preparation for the race went smooth and the team was reinvigorated knowing they were tuning the record holder.
Madison Avenue had flown in with all new crew uniforms and they were beautiful, even on Bob and Eddie.
Press releases were immediately forth coming from team Rhoad/Steele’s public relations person, Pete Miles, one read:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Team Rhoad/Steele annihilates the competition and sets track record in the process. The stalwart driver of record for Team Rhoad/Steele, Joe Savage, in his first effort in professional road racing easily bested the field of fifty-two competitors from around the globe, including several multiple winners of the 24 hours of LeMans and the 24 hours of Daytona. The son of an illiterate Irish immigrant, Joe Savage had worked as a construction worker, competing, in Sprint cars, at local dirt tracks, until spotted by Jake Rhoad and plucked from obscurity and a life of certain poverty, to compete against this group of highly educated, cultural elitist
The Twice decorated former army ranger, when asked what special preparations he had made for his qualifying effort said, “It twasn’t hard at all you see, I just follow the path of least resistance and a heavy right foot doesn’t hurt either.”
Madison Avenue is a clothing design company and is the principal backer of the Rhoad/Steele Road Racing Team.
Jake wasn’t too pleased with Mr. Miles’s efforts and proceeded to work through his criticism with the PR man who went on the defensive immediately. Pete was a short, slim gentleman that was described by many as amiable, personable and was said to have a magnificent smile. Steele had hired him, as Steele had worked with him on many previous racing efforts and was always delighted.
Jake pointed out a few items that he didn’t like, but could see no effect forth coming, so he dropped it. Not at all in his character, but the reality, that is, Jake’s reality was that if they won, the PR wasn’t needed and if they couldn’t win, the PR wasn’t going to matter, not to Jake.
Jake was supposed to meet Pete and Steele at the track media room at noon. He was late and hustling through the paddock, experiencing the sights, sounds, and smells that had been so much a part of his life for so long. The experiences that he knew now he had missed so much.
Groups of people bound together to achieve a common goal. Rich and poor, all out to make a statement. Road racing, for a long time considered a bastion for the extremely wealthy, now had felt the encroachment of the middle class people, who replaced wealth with innovation, desire, and heart.
Jake could see them gathered around the ramps of their haulers; yeah no elevators for these groups, but that didn’t deter them, eating their cold sandwiches or hot dogs, laughing while discussing strategy or set up, parked right next to a millionaires golf game alternative with custom painted eighteen wheeler environmentally controlled circus tent. Bus motor homes with gourmet chefs serving exotic cuisine to their massive crews seated at umbrella bedecked round tables, right out of a sidewalk café in Paris.
Jake loved this montage of society, which co-existed with few problems. All in a quest for speed.
Across the paddock Jake could hear the live band cranking out an old Bob Seger tune that was sure to stir emotions. More than any other sport auto racing was an emotional sport and music, like this, helped the spectator into the right frame of mind to see it as it should be seen in its purest form, a contest of skill and intellect. Ernest Hemingway said it best when he wrote that there were only three true sports, mountain climbing, bull fighting and auto racing, the rest are merely games.
Jake continued onward across the paddock through the maze of competition automobiles, haulers, and recreational vehicles, seeing familiar faces, nodding, exchanging greetings with most and an occasional glance of something akin to malevolence brought forth, no doubt, from some act in Jake’s past that had somehow affected these gentlemen. Jake responded with his textbook cold stare that always provoked the same reaction, an immediate dropping of the eyes and a turn away from Jake’s view.
No one was there yet, when Jake made it to the media room. The noonday sun was hot Jake could feel the sweat trickling down his back, itching where the patches of his team uniform were sewed and embroidered on. Jake stepped around the corner where the edge of the roof provided some shade to wait in.
Standing in the shadows, Jake recognizes a voice from around the corner, an old acquaintance that Jake had worked with years ago, talking about his favorite subject, Jake!
“That qualifying time is bullshit!” said Neil Hardeman, Jake’s former teammate and self styled expert on all things in auto racing. “I’m telling you, Charlie, Rhoad/Steele is cheating!”
Moving out from the wall a little, Jake spied just whom Hardeman was talking to, it was Charlie Cook, technical director for Grand Am.
“Is this official Neil? I mean are you filing a protest? If you are, then I will present it to the competition committee, but we went over that car for hours and it is legal.” Charlie’s tone was flat and he sounded tired already and this was only the first race. “Personally, I think, you are carrying some old baggage around and I don’t want to hear it, so either file an official protest or drop it.” Neil was about to say something when Charlie abruptly turned and walked away.
A car pulled up and stopped to let someone out, positioned as it was the passenger door glass gave Jake a view of Hardeman, an average height, slim man, with a brown, bushy moustache, and a red face that was staring right at Jake through that reflection.
Jake was smiling; no he was more aptly described as leering at Hardeman. The door opened and Pete Miles emerged shutting the door. Hardeman? Well, he was gone.
The race? A lot of fanfare, the announcers building excitement for a contest that never happened, not for first place, that is, as team Rhoad/Steele, with Joe Savage on a mission, just drove away from everyone! A storybook beginning for this all new team with an all new driver and a clean sheet of paper automobile. Team Rhoad/Steele was stunned as they had expected a battle and had prepared for war. Now, without a single problem, they had devastated the best teams in professional road racing. That was Jake’s problem, that’s what was wrong, it had all been too easy and the team had nowhere to go but down. How to keep a team at this level? How do you stay grounded when you just did this? This was a new challenge for Jake and he could see this effort was going to be different.
The party was getting really loud now, Jake could hear Joe Savage shouting, “We came, we saw, we kicked their asses!” Everyone cheered.Jake stared off into the fast sweeping up indigo night sky, as the setting sun flashed a last violet burst of light. Then Jake smiled to himself as he caught a glimpse of his intense green eyes in the window glass, “Here’s to you Jake and another day in the sun.” Jake toasted himself and turned to join the conquering heroes.