He wasn’t supposed to be there, this wasn’t supposed to happen. Miller wasn’t exactly his home track, hell; it wasn’t even his home state. Crafton and Buscher took each other out, Paludo hit the wall, Blaney didn’t qualify and Wallace Jr. was breathing down his neck for the last 3 laps, but couldn’t get past. The others just weren’t up to the road course. Burton may have taken the win by a half lap, but everyone else followed him past the checker.
He was 2nd. It was big news because he was just a hired gun. A club level road-racer brought in for a back-marker team when their primary driver broke his leg. They needed to finish the race for the contingencies. It was the first time the Camping World Truck Series had run the course, they needed someone and fast. A friend of a friend knew him; skilled and calculating, calm and experienced, he had run over a dozen club events at Miller Motorsports Park, instructed there and even done a motorcycle track day. Naturally there were doubts, but when he qualified 8th, they were silenced. He could drive the truck.
And boy did he ever. Now he sat in the hotel bar in a garish “Ford Racing” jacket an ecstatic team manager gave him after the race. It wasn’t his style, but it made him feel…well it made him feel cool. The pocket was filled with business cards. Mostly offers that he knew would involve him writing a check to race, but he was enjoying the attention regardless, even signing autographs. Now, in the quiet, he was still smiling. The fact was he had driven a good race. Luck is when preparation meets opportunity, and dammit he was the guy who was ready for it. He got lucky, was smart enough to see it and put his foot to the floorboard. It was a fairy tale and everybody loved it. Now it was late, but throughout the night drivers, mechanics and fans had slapped his shoulders, shook his hand and congratulated him. It may have been false, fleeting and flattery; but the whole surreal experience was new and it was fun.
So she didn’t surprise him when she took the next stool at the bar. “You drove a great race today. Why haven’t I heard of you?” He turned and actually looked at her. The phrase “striking” clearly applied. The sleeveless white silk blouse was complimentary without being form fitting. She had sculpted arms, a slender waist and smooth tan legs protruded from the business skirt that now just rose slightly above the knee. She clearly knew where the gym was; almost a runner’s build, but her body was still curves, not angles. Conservative jewelry, luxurious dark hair just past her shoulders and a smile like any of Hollywood’s best.
He stumbled at first, but went into his club racing background. He thought she was a reporter, but realized she was dressed too well. They began to chat about various tracks and the merits of the associated cities. His home was in Denver and despite all his travels, Pueblo was still his favorite. It felt like a family business, but the new High Plains raceway was a blast to drive. He had run Buttonwillow as well as VIR, but always loved Road Atlanta, even after they “fixed” turn 12.
She was from Miami, more of a NASCAR scholar and had not missed a Rolex 24 at Daytona since 2005. Talladega was surprisingly charming, and he really needed to see Barber in Birmingham, he would love it. She also loved VIR but The Glen was her favorite road course. Smart, witty and oh my god she smelled amazing. He had never been so affected by scent; it hit him harder than the Knob’s Creek in front of him.
She may have failed to surprise him at first, but he didn’t this coming. 30 minutes into the conversation; she leaned in, hung her left wrist loosely on his shoulder, locked her emerald eyes on his and half whispered; “Obviously you’re not picking up on this, so I’m going to make it easy…”
She glided her hand across his chest, and pulled the sharpie from his inside pocket. She wrote 638 on her plastic room key, and then slid both in front of him.
“I’m going to jump in the shower, why don’t you give me little time and come meet me.” She then gave the softest but lingering peck on his cheek, slipped off the stool and positively sashayed out of the bar.
This never happened, ever. He was fit but not “buff.” He had a full head of hair, but it was salt and pepper and usually cut at a discount salon. It might be the brash jacket, but he knew it was destined for the back of the closet when he got home. This girl wasn’t just attractive, she was visually stunning and intellectually stimulating. She was as out of his league, just like earlier in the day when he fired the pushrod V-8 in the truck and eased down pitlane surrounded by drivers who would never remember his name.
Neither would she.
No, this was because he had stood on the podium. He was flirting with fame, and now fame was flirting back.
He left his drink unfinished, pocketed the key and exited the bar.
He opened the door as silently as he could. The room was dark, she was in the bed;
“Mmmmmmm, you got here sooner than I expected.” She purred.
“Couldn’t wait to be here.” He replied while slipping out of his pants and tossing the jacket into the corner. The shirt followed and he slipped next to her, spooned against her side, his hand falling to her full hip before wrapping around her waist. He nuzzled into the back of her neck. She giggled sleepily.
“How was the race? How’d you do?” She mumbled.
“I came in second.”
Immediately she spun around; “Second!”
Then she pressed his shoulders flat, and straddled him. Her tangled hair was static’d to one side;
“Second!! That’s amazing! You are the best racer ever!”
“Second best.” He corrected.
She smiled like a sunrise. Then she leaned into his torso, her chest against his through the well- worn Nebraska sweatshirt she always wore to bed.
She placed her lips to his ear and whispered; “I’m going to jump in the shower, why don’t you give me a little time and come meet me.” She closed by kissing him passionately, pecking his chest, and playfully biting his nipple. Giggling again, she jumped from the bed and sprinted to the master bath.
As soon as she was gone, Fangio, the border collie jumped into his wife’s vacated warm spot on the bed, tail wagging. The cold nose pressed to his face as it was licked twice. Fangio then wrapped into a ball, and settled into slumber. He couldn’t help but chuckle while using his forearm to wipe the slobber away.
It had been a brutal drive, it was normally around 8 hours from Tooele, but he had made it in just over 6. I-80 across Wyoming was high flat country and for the second time in 24 hours, he had buried his foot deep into a floorboard, again on I-25 until he hit the outskirts of Loveland, but even then he pushed it. Not his smartest move; and he knew the he would regret the Red Bulls later. But as he watched the well-formed pencil skirt leave the hotel bar, he remembered Damon Hill.
Damon Hill said “The only ones that remember you when you come in second are your wife and your dog.” He was missing the point and he knew it, but the reason people remember a quote is their universal application on a personal level. He knew what that phrase meant to him. The change of perspective didn’t change the truth, and the truth of it had put him on the road and brought him home.
He listened to the noises in the shower, and knew when he was expected. He scratched Fangio on the ears, and hopped out of the bed.
W. Christian Mental Ward has owned over 70 cars and destroyed most of them. This is his first piece of fiction in 13 years, if you don’t include his resume.