SPEEDLUST

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Chapter 9

Reese looked with pride at his national competition license from the Sports Car Club of America. This license represented a lot of time and effort and money. Reese had rented Spec Racer Fords to use for his driver school training and for use in his regional events with the S.C.C.A. that are a requirement to earn your national license. Now that all was behind him, now he was going to drive for team Rhoad/Steele, if they would have him. These thoughts on his mind, Reese wiped down his bar. Jake wasn’t at all like any boss he had ever worked for. Jake made him feel that he was important and needed. He didn’t want to jeopardize that, but Reese wanted to race. He had been, since he was little, always competitive and he had focused on what was possible and available for him, which was football until his injury. Now he wanted to compete in auto racing, in a way he wanted to be like Jake, a man he looked up to. He wanted to be a winner.

The band was playing ‘Middle of the Night’, when Jake walked up to the bar. “I’ll have a beer, Reese.” Reese looked nervous as he filled the mug, “I’ve heard you been racing.” Reese looked shocked, then Jake gave a wry grin, “The auto racing world is a small group and they love to gossip.”

Reese should have known that Butch, the guy he rented his racecar from would tell, “Yeah, Jake, I just received my national competition license.”

Jake turned away looking down into the restaurant glancing hard at Reese as he did, a young woman with almost platinum hair was walking up the ‘Corkscrew’. She walked directly toward Jake and set down on the bar stool next to Jake.

Jake turned back to Reese and said, “Reese, this is Sheila, Sheila, Reese.” They shook hands, “Reese, I want you to show Shelia the ropes around here, you see she’s taking over this bar.”

Reese’s hopes were dashed, then he was angry, “What do you mean?”

Jake grinned and looked from Sheila to Reese, with his little inside joke about to burst out, then he said, “Just temporary, I bet, as soon as you find out that race car driving for a living isn’t everything you read about in the magazines…” Reese was stunned, he hadn’t even asked yet, “That’s right Reese, you’re our new second driver, but if you can’t cut it, then you’ll be welcome right back here, ‘cause friends or not… anyway Steele and I are giving you… your chance.”

Reese’s eyes watered up, no one had ever given him anything and now this man… “I, I don’t know what to say…thanks Jake, I won’t let you down.”

“Reese,” Jake’s smile is gone with a very serious look and a steely stare from those intense burning green eyes, “One thing I do know and this is that you will always give it your best. Now if your best is good enough, that’s the question.” Then the tension left his face and that old grin swept across his mouth and eyes. “I’ve got a feeling about you Reese, I think it’s going to be plenty good enough, now let’s have a drink to celebrate!”

The race team employees and the ‘Corkscrew’ employees had all gathered around Reese’s bar. Jake raised his mug in salutation to Reese, “To the newest member of Team Rhoad/Steele, may God grant him the composure and presence of mind to control our speed!”

“Hear, Hear!” Everyone cheered.

Then Eddie added, “Let’s just hope he can kick ass!”

Jake winced, then laughed uncontrollably with the rest of the group. These are the days, Jake thought, yes, these are the days never forget them, never.

Daytona prototype number 09 flashed passed the pits, zooming down the 3,000 foot straight away beginning his qualifying lap, God he was hauling ass, Steele thought as he clicked his stopwatch. This race was different as it could be from Road Atlanta. Nothing, absolutely nothing, had gone right. Team Rhoad/Steele was on edge. To begin with the hauler arrived way late on Thursday and instead of our reserved best paddock space for previous winners, we were stuck in a dirty spot that acted as a drain for the track. A drain you say? Yes, it was raining. No, raining doesn’t describe what the weather was doing; it was coming across in sheets of water. The crew, the cars, the hauler, the bus, all was covered in mud and slime everyone was drenched. The only good thing is the rain had kept the police at bay. Police? Yeah, they had come by once with a warrant for crew chief, Irving’s arrest. The cops in Texas had come to Irving’s to serve him with papers from a lawsuit brought on by Irving’s ex-wife and they had found Irving at home… in a bad mood and drinking, so when the big massive cop, with shaved sides of his head and dark sunglasses started acting a little surly, Irving responded, mean! Irving had not had an easy life, abandoned by his alcoholic parents; his elderly Grandmother had raised him. Irving at the age of twelve was confronted with no money and no food for his Grandmother, so he had robbed a grocery store. He was caught and sent to a reform school, which was run by a group of perverted homosexual guards, pedophiles running a children’s prison. By the time Irving was released on his eighteenth birthday, Irving was tough and Irving was mean, and became a member of the notorious ‘Hell’s Angels’ equivalent the ‘Banditos’ and was engaged in various illegal activities until one day he was motoring past a race track that was filling up with racecars. Irving rode in and immediately felt like he had come home. Wandering around the paddock area, Irving looked out of place. His muscular bare arms covered in tattoos. His long black hair and full beard went with wild eyes to create a piratical look, wearing a sleeveless ‘Bandito’ colors jacket. He stood out and got lots of looks from the wine and cheese crowd at this a sports car racing event.

The exotic racing machinery caught his attention and Irving was looking over the suspension, when a voice said, “Hey, you!” Irving looked around to find a tall gentleman standing in the doorway to an enclosed trailer. The stranger was very tan with skin that looked like fine tan leather and a pair of piercing green eyes that looked luminescent. “Not him, me!” Irving turned further to his right and there was a man standing by the hauler truck, glaring at him. His driver uniform was off of him to his waist, arms tied around his mid section. He had an angry face and the body of a weight lifter. “Don’t touch my car!”

Irving smiled a devilish smile and turned his back on the man who moved suddenly toward Irving and grabbed Irving’s shoulder, spinning Irving around. Irving spun around fast slamming the edge of his wrist hard into the big man’s Adam’s apple. The man went down on his back violently, wrenching, hacking, turning blood red in his face, spitting, and coughing uncontrollably.

The man in the trailer was laughing, “Serves that bastard right!” he said. Irving thought he had better move on and turned to go, when the man stepped out of the trailer, looking down at his driver, who was still hacking, but now much less violently.

“Hold on there.” A request, not a command, the tone sounded friendly, “See you have an interest in my racing car.” He was looking Irving over, taking interest in this fellow who had so easily communicated with ‘Snake’ the message that Steele had been trying to get across for months, and he did it all without one word. “Do you like to work on racecars? I mean, are you a racer?” Steele smiles at Irving, seeing something there that he never could have put into words.

“No sir, I’m not a racer or anything,” Irving looks off to his right, thinking of his meaningless lifestyle, “Oh, I’ve always liked fast things, I built that bike over there.” He motions with his head toward his beautiful black chopper. “I built that with my own two hands, all by myself,” the pride coming through in Irving’s voice.

Steele walks over and squats down, looking at Irving’s black bike. It was a work of art and clean. “Whose chassis is this?” Steele’s voice shows his appreciation for this piece of craftsmanship.

“It’s mine, like I said, I did it all myself, I even built that engine.”

“That’s fine, you know anything about racing cars?”

‘Snake’ now has stood up and was leaning against the trailer, looking mad and manages to speak, “Who gives a shit! That guy almost killed me!”

Steele, smiling says, “Yeah, he did,” then turns his gaze back on Irving and with a questioning glance, he asks, “Well?”

Irving is starting to feel this was leading somewhere, “Just what I’ve read in books and magazines since I was a kid.”

Steele thinks, “Since I was a kid?” How old could he be, he looks about twenty. “Look, I like you and I need some help. Do you want a job working on a racecar?”

Irving is stunned; he was even more shocked than ‘Snake’ was when Irving smacked him. Irving then says, “That sounds great, about the roll center heights on this car, looking at the angle of the control arms at static ride height, they appear to have the roll centers set kind of high. Wouldn’t that create a condition where the tire contact patch at the pavement would tend to shear?”

Steele’s surprise was obvious and he responded with, “You’re hired!” Then added, “wait a minute don’t you want to know how much money you will be making?”

Irving looked straight at Steele and gave him a serious expression, “I’ve got a lot to learn and I’ve got a feeling that you will treat me fair, so if you want me, I can start now.” Then turning toward ‘Snake’, who is having trouble comprehending this latest development, “Well, handsome, looks like you’re driving for me now.” Then Irving and Steele throw back their heads in laughter.

This began a relationship that had lasted for many years; a relationship of mutual respect that had become a bond of loyalty and friendship and along the way Irving had become one of the best mechanics in auto racing. That first day after showing Steele that he knew his way around a wrench and was a fast learner, Irving had turned to Steele and said, with hesitation in his voice, “Mr. Steele, I’ve got to tell you, I’ve done some time, I mean, I’ve been to prison back when I was a kid, I….”

Steele held up a hand stopping Irving and looked him straight in the eye, a warmth coming from Steele’s eyes and said, “Irving what’s past is done, what matters to me is who you are now and let’s just start fresh, together.”

That was the way it began and the years had gone by so quickly, but Irving never liked being pushed and when the over inflated cop tried, Irving responded mean and forced the cop to eat that lawsuit, every shred, then he took his pants, tied his hands to his feet and made him waddle home. Now the police in Virginia were searching for Irving.

Steele called Jake on his cell phone, but it was busy. Jake had taken off right after talking to those cops, lying, saying he didn’t know where Irving was, then he left in a hurry. “I guess Jake doesn’t like confrontation with authorities,” Steele thought to himself, still learning about his partner. This man that he had grown to respect more each day. There was 09 again, coming out of the twenty second turn of this most technical Shenandoah Circuit. Steele had raced many times at this Summit Point, West Virginia track, but never on the Shenandoah Circuit. Steele clicked his stopwatch. He liked to time each run himself, even though he had a professional score keeper on staff, habit he supposed. Joe had turned a very respectable lap, not a pole position, but fast.

Steele keyed his mike, “Great job, Joe, pit next lap.” Steele headed over to his place in the paddock that the team had begun referring to as the mud hole. His new driver Reese was working straightening up the hauler. What a guy, didn’t he know that drivers were supposed to be Prima Donnas? “Hey, Reese, you should be getting some rest.” Steele watched Reese’s response.

Reese smiled and looked around then responded with, “I didn’t want the crew to think I don’t pull my load.”

Steele liked this guy a lot, “Well you’ve got the car all to yourself for the final practice today, that’s at 3 o’clock and lasts thirty minutes.”

The crew began arriving back from the pit road, positioning the pit cart and tools in their respective places, then Joe motors up with the racecar under the awning. Joe shuts it down and the crew goes into action, removing body pieces in preparation for between run inspection and maintenance.

Joe gets out of the car and is drenched in sweat, “That damn cool suit quit on me,” he says to no one in particular.

Eddie says, “I’ll fix it.”

Everyone was consumed in his work, talking very little, giving help where help was needed. This is the best crew I’ve ever had, thinks Steele.

Jake walks up and taps Irving on the shoulder, then when Irving turns around, he hands him his cell phone.

Jake walks over to Steele. Steele asks, “What’s up?” Looking very concerned at Jake.

“Oh, just a few details that my attorney needs.” Steele couldn’t hide his surprise, Jake, looking very satisfied, continues, “It seems this cop, Irving’s cop, is related to some guard at the reform school in Irving’s past, a guard that had it in for Irving. It also seems that he, the cop, was on probation for tasering a seventy-two year old woman and while the cops were, oh so upset about Irving making him eat those papers, now with the help of my attorney, they are willing to let bygones be bygones.”

“You have got to be shitting me!” Steele cannot believe what he is hearing. “You did all that during qualifying?”

Jake nods his head yes, then smiles and says, “This attorney represents the Governor of Texas, among others and he is very sympathetic to Irving’s dilemma…for a nominal fee, of course.”

Irving walks up and hands Jake his phone. Irving has an expression of embarrassment, “This guy asked a few questions, then said that it was all handled.” He looked down to his feet, briefly, then back up at Jake. “How did you do that?”

Jake feels bad for Irving…for all the victims of a system that is unfair, unjust. How many like Irving had fallen into the cracks, whose lives were ruined by this corrupt system? Now due to Jake learning how to work the system, Irving was going to be alright and for that Jake felt good.

“Look, Irving, we’re like a family, we take care of each other.” Irving just stood there staring his eyes were watering up.

Steele reached his arm around Irving’s shoulder, smiling a big toothy smile, then looking back over to Jake, his smile even bigger, he said, “Don’t you just love this guy, Irving!” Irving was speechless. Then Steele said, “Now let’s get this car of ours ready for Reese’s practice.”

The crew sensing that a hurdle had been conquered shifted into high gear. Happy to be alive and doing what they loved best. The sun had come out, drying the place off. Reese went into the bus to get ready. Joe was talking to two girls at the end of the trailer.

Bob shouts out of the car, “I think I want to become the driver, maybe the girls will talk to me.” Everyone laughs, as Bob gets a hurt look, like what’s so funny.

“Just take it easy,” Jake instructs, his nervous new driver, “and you will probably wreck.” Reese looks alarmed as Jake coaches him. “I mean you need to go out and stand on it! Hustle it through those turns, you know the line, now show us what you can do and don’t worry about anything else.”

Jake closes the door. All the cars on pre-grid are revving their engines; the Stewart is motioning the field of brightly painted snarling racecars away. The sun flashing off the shiny wings…paper debris flies up behind the cars as they accelerate away. Well, its in Reese’s hands now…and God’s.

The sky is clear and blue, now Jake can hear the roar of the engines reverberating off of the hills. They are coming around for the green flag. Now the pace car is into the pits, the engines all rev up simultaneously…that sound is one Jake loves and had missed. Jake follows the progress around the track by listening to the sound of those engines; it’s going to be a fast race. The plan for team Rhoad/Steele is for Reese to drive to the halfway point, then refuels, changes tires, and put Joe in for the finish. Any plan in auto racing must be flexible to accommodate for the constantly changing picture.

Reese started in their qualifying position of tenth and immediately started making his way to the front. On the sixth lap, Reese took the lead and just kept pouring it on, setting a new track record on his tenth circuit, in his first race. With this announcement, Joe was suddenly much less interested in the two pit lizards draped on his shoulders and began checking the timer’s computer screen on the back of their portable timer cart.

With a look of concern on his face Joe said to Steele, “That is one fast bartender…I suppose you wish he had qualified.”

Steele looked at Joe with a wry look upon his leathered face, “Joe, it was wet when you qualified and you have nothing to prove to me…don’t let your ego ruin a good thing here. At every race one of you will be fastest…what our goal is, what we want is…for both of you, all of us, to be winners…together.”

Joe could feel the sincerity in Steele’s words…he let out a sigh of relief, he went back to his two pit lizards, putting an arm around each one, hugging them tightly, their breasts pressing tight against him, as one kisses his salty cheek. “I can’t believe I’m getting paid for this,” Joe thinks as he slides back into his carefree mental state, living for the now.

At two hours forty-three minutes into the race the leader car number 09 slams his right front into the left rear of car 01 on the entry to corner thirteen, carbon fiber exploded all over the track from both cars. Reese limped around the track on full course yellow, entering the pits. Calling in to Steele on the radio, Reese said, “The brakes just weren’t there and I smashed the nose piece! I ruined it!”

Steele pointed to the spare nose and Bob and Eddie began removing its protective cover. Steele looked at Irving and said, “Tires and brake pads.”

When the ragged looking car entered their pit space, the crew swarmed over the protecting wall and went into action. Irving plugged in the hose and the air jacks lifted the car, Bob and Eddie already unlatching the cam-locks that secured what was left of the composite nose-piece. The tires were already removed, as the crew worked furiously to change all four brake pad sets, the quick release calipers made fast work of that, the rotors glowing red in broad daylight.

Joe had opened the door and changed places with Reese, putting in his foam formed seat liner, Reese helping to connect the radio, belts, cool suit and steering wheel, closing the door as the tires go on. Down goes the car with its new nose cam-locked on, the car looks perfect again with the ‘Madison Avenue’ graphics back perfect. Eddie pulls a tear away off the windshield as refueling has finished and Joe gets the go ahead to accelerate out and away, all this in less than thirty seconds.

Joe comes on, “The brakes feel fine, now.” The chaos in the pit is calming now as positions on the track are determined, lining up behind the pace car, the 09 still in the lead.

Reese is stunned at the crew’s ability to transform, what he thought, was a wrecked car and a lost race, into a car that looked perfect and was still in the lead.

Steele looked around at Reese and gave him a grin, “Congratulations, Reese, that’s the best performance I’ve ever seen for a rookie driver.”

Reese had thought he had done poorly, wrecking into that other car, “I wrecked!” He blurted out.

“You did what I told you,” Reese turns to see Jake standing beside him, smiling. “You drove it just the way I wanted and I tell you something else Reese, you are a race driver!”

“This place is killing everyone’s brakes,” Steele adds, “now let’s set back and see if Joe can bring us in.”

The race pace has slackened, the heat waves rolling up off the cars, their sides now black with brake dust. Now the rear of the 09 is cracked and flopping where another car has smashed it, but no yellow is displayed. Joe is struggling with a car that’s handling is rapidly degrading. The race is winding down as the second and third place cars are pushing ever harder, the smell of blood from the sight of Rhoad/Steele’s wounded car gives them revived hope and the dream of victory, turn after turn, they press Joe, making advances to first the inside, then the outside. Down the short front straight away, the second place machine is caught off guard by the third place 01 of Scott Bennet, who tries to pass Joe on the right side giving him the inside line for turn one. Joe holds steady and gives him space on corner entry, holding his outside line, accelerating hard on corner exit, giving Joe the inside line on turn two, Bennet skating sideways into the gravel, showering the track with gravel, bringing out a yellow for that corner alone. Joe cruises around to his second victory in two events. Taking his victory lap, Joe looks over at Bennet, who is viewing his own car with disgust and turns, then clasps both his hands together over his head to Joe, showing congratulations and respect for the clean driving Joe had just shown the world. Joe, feeling very satisfied with himself, waves with one hand to the man he had just beaten, this former champion, this winner of the INDY 500, this person who had been described as the best in the business and Joe had bested him in a fair fight.

Reese took his place on the victory podium along side of Joe. The announcements were made, the trophies presented, and now the champagne was spewing in a tradition started by Dan Gurney, of spraying the precious nectar over everybody.

Joe’s trophy girls were giving him lots of love and Joe yelled through all the excitement, “Reese, it seems no matter what you do, you’re surrounded with booze!”

Reese was glad of the champagne running down his face, as it covered up his tears of joy. Joy of a dream realized, he just wished that his grandfather were still alive to share this moment with him.

Jake and Steele now motioned the crew over, as they all surrounded Reese and Joe. Their arms interlocked in celebration of life, a photographer snaps many shots that will make the cover of the newspaper that evening and will be in many auto racing journals, world wide along with the question on many competitors minds. After only two events, are these guys beatable?

Jake knew the answer, as did Steele. It made them savor their good fortune all the more, for they knew how fragile a winning effort could be, “What does the future hold?” One asked to no one in particular. A moment of reflection, then Jake, with a profound look on his face, as he stared off to the horizon and said, “We’ll just have to let destiny play out its hand.”

The next week, as Jake walked through the race shop, he looked over at the freshly prepared racecar about to be loaded into the hauler. There, on the side near the rear, in small letters, with quotation marks, he read the word aloud, ‘DESTINY’.

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