Something About This Night
#6 of Thin Paper Walls
04 - Something About This Night
We arrived again in the middle of the action, but this time the cream of the crop took to the track and stole the spotlight, overshadowing us Countrywide Series drivers. How I've always longed to be out there with them.
The thick smell of burnt rubber, gasoline, and acetylene torches filled the air in the pit box of the 25. Not wanting to play the part of a chicane, I kept myself out of the way and sat behind the pit tower, watching the race on and off on the flatscreen suspended on the back of it. Countless crew members and NAFSCAR officials surrounded me, and I could feel their excitement. The lights of the track glistened off the smooth asphalt and the sheet metal of the cars, and as the evening went on and the sun set, it became the track's primary source of illumination. Night racing could market as one of the most beautiful spectacles in all professional sports. The cars just pop underneath the fluorescence.
The crew chief for the team, a white wolf named Zavis Mohr, sat atop the tower engaged in the race, his eyes like darts fixed on the bullseye of his driver, Izra Lofton, in the 25. Behind his focus, I sensed a hint of unrest. I don't know if I could read people that well, but my gut told me this. I didn't bother to interrupt him with a rhetoric, especially during a race.
"It's his last race with the team". I heard a deep, heavy smoker's voice from behind me. Abruptly turning myself, I got a glimpse of a tall, bulky billy goat, gray fur and white underbelly covered by a black shirt with a red italicized "Pierce Racing Enterprises" written on it in an energetic, fast-looking font. His face resembled that of an old Wall Street executive, only more relaxed and less money-hungry. His slightly buck teeth were the highlight of him, though, which gave him a load of personality upon first glance. He stuck out a large paw to shake, and with a confident smirk opened his thin lips to speak, "My name's Jarrod Pierce. Pleased ta meetcha, Jasper." He had a thick twang to his accent.
Did he just say Jarrod Pierce?! As in the owner of Pierce Enterprises? As in... "Mr. Pierce! It's an honour!" I shook his paw firmly. If I was shy by nature, I sure as hell did not want it to show now, but I fell awkward as I once again became aware of my wardrobe. I found it a little difficult to hear him with the screaming of the engines, fans, and crew officials from around, but I managed.
"Sonny, you can call m'Jerrod." His obviously-Texan accent became more prominent as we went on.
I didn't catch on too quickly with that and took the overly-cautious route, "Alright, sir."
He didn't seem to care though, and met me with a game face, "Jasper, I'm sure you've been informed that we're pretty much a done deal if you choose ta drive with m'next year. If you're game and we're set, I'll have some papers for you ta sign and some interviews you'll have ta deal with in the media center after the race... I know, we all hate em, don't we?" He shrugged with a sorry expression, "We'll go out for a drink after, but we'll play it by ear, kay?"
He placed a paw on my back and had me turn to face turn 1, and then he leaned down close to my ear, pointing onto the track at the black and orange 35 car as it flew smoothly through the corner, "I'm sure y'already know that we still have a shot at the championship tonight. That girl there will determine the evening."
His guiding hoofed digit followed the 35 Beast Energy-sponsored Chevy of Christine Boyd, one of the most prominent female drivers in the league, as well as reigning two-time winner of the Ursa Award; an award given to the highest ranked of each animal family - Christine being the highest ranked bear, "Good driver there."
I nodded, "She's made a few chases now."
"Yep. 'n she c'n still win this title tonight. Very high caliber gal to mentor ya."
"We got the 5 of Dak Rosco up behind the 33 there!" Fort began.
"The man behind the wheel of that 5 knows how to get it done! He's about to secure his fourth championship, second consecutive, and 45 laps into tonight's race, we know he's gonna be a factor." Libson added.
"He's a very quiet driver. You never see him coming, but suddenly he's there! 45 laps in, he's moved from 25th to the top 5!"
"He currently runs 3rd, behind Cyril Alvondarak and the 77 of polesitter Liza Stuart. And behind him is Christine Boyd."
"Lee, get us an update on that 35!" Fort called in pit road correspondent Lee DeLaney.
"Christine Boyd has one thing to say about her car tonight... fast! Now, we know Christine is an aggressive driver and will fight hard to get to the front, but her crew chief Aaron Portnoy came on the radio about six laps ago and told Boyd to, quote, stay calm, cool, and collected tonight and just hope for fortune to go our way, end quote. Christine is the only one with a shot to catch Dak Rosco for the title, an outside one at that, but a shot nonetheless, and the only way she can have a shot at it is to keep the fenders on the car."
"What of Mr. Mohr?" I asked politely, my eyes subtly searching his hazel orbs.
"Mr. Mohr?" He looked at me comically, "Y'mean Zavey?" He smiled toothily.
I let out a short breath which I believed concealed a slight chuckle, "Zavey?" My ears perked sideways in question.
He didn't lose track of his subject, "He's leaving with Izra by choice next year to start his own team."
It didn't at all surprise me to find out Zavis... er... Zavey... refused to give up on such a talented driver, just as it didn't surprise me when Louis met my news with shock, "Ahh." I humoured him with the confirmation, "I've only been following the grapevine for hopes I might find a ride. I didn't know you guys had one freed up till Mike told me the news." I hoped that the comment didn't come off as selfish, and I affirmed to myself that it didn't to erase the worry.
"An opportunist! I like that. Will help ya on the track for sure." He winked at me. "So, as you probably assumed, we need a new crew chief." He once again avoided dwelling off topic, "So I've had my eye on a few different guys, but after last night's race, I think I've made my decision. Hearing the communication between you'n Tesla was enough to convince me that you two got a good bond. I feel it's time to bring the both of ya up to the top tier."
I placed my paws over my face, and now I blushed. I'd tried not to, but this time I failed. I bowed my head for a moment and let out a few breaths of excitement, inhaling and smiling from ear to ear as I faced him again, "You... you sure?"
He waved a paw at me, "Bud, on that final pit stop, you guys had Swift Cup level communication. Tesla's a great up-and-coming chief, especially for one that's never been in a stock car before."
I looked up at him like he'd just granted all my wishes. Well, in all fairness, he kinda did.
"Dreams gotta come true sometimes, kid." He patted my shoulder.
I quietly looked up at him and cleared my throat, "Th..thank you." I stated as flatly as I could.
A strange, strong scent overcame me and I scanned my area to locate it, but the question answered itself when a ferret jumped atop me and slapped me on the back a few times, "Hey hey, teammate! Welcome aboard, man!"
My tail fluffed out in surprise, and being my scrawny self, I lurched forward from each of his slaps. I had to catch myself with my footpaw on the fourth and final one. I almost recoiled from him before I saw a wide toothy grin on a long, slender gray muzzle shining underneath the pit road lights, two happy blue eyes beneath black brows and a thick pelt of black fluff on his headfur which stood up in solemn spikes.
"Damn..." I coughed as a result of his smacking, "Quite the enthusiastic one, ain't we?" I cocked my head to the left a little, my tailfur retracting back to its original softness.
He flicked out his arm for a thumbs up quick enough to impale someone, "You betcha!" He dooked.
My head told me "Lay off the drugs, bud" while my body told me "He needs to lay off the drugs, bud," so I laughed a little, "Caffeine, I hope."
"Yessir! Gotta be fueled for a race, man!" Now his legs moved like the wheel of a car as he ran in place, "Name's Riley S. Teague. I'm your jackman."
I wondered what the S stood for, but didn't ask. I was almost afraid to. I assumed it would be something hyper... like Skeeter.
"S is for Skeeter." He added.
1 point to Jasper.
"Jasper I. Erickson." I smiled politely and held out my paw to shake, but he suddenly froze, and then almost pushed me out of the way, "We got this, guys!" He jumped in the air, fists pumped, and then grabbed his small-eared helmet then his head shot to the scoring pylon as he put it on. The 35 passed the 5 for second, but the 5 still dropped, and the yellow flag waved. Riley darted to the pitbox and stood on the pit wall, staring giddily at the backstretch.
Jerrod's reaction wasn't much different. He put his Swift headset on and muttered something into the mic, then immediately climbed the pit tower's ladder behind him. Likewise, I turned to face the backstretch.
"Whoop! Car around, turn 2!" Fort exclaimed, interrupting Libson's commentary on Rhys Carter's good rookie year.
The duo waited with bated breath as a still-speeding car approached the pirouetting vehicle concealed by the smoke.
"Ohhh!" They cried in unison as the innocent victim failed to check up and slow down for the accident and slammed square into the side of who they could now determine as rookie Eddie Turner.
"Hard hit on the 71 of Eddie Turner... delivered by..."
The commentators could not believe their eyes when the dust cleared to reveal a beaten and battered Speedscape Racing #5, driven by the championship leader.
"That's Rosco!" Libson jumped the gun a little, but wound up accurate.
"Big trouble for Dak Rosco! He..." Fort could not find the words for a moment, a rarity, "his championship on the line! Not only is he your points leader, but he was running third! Oh my goodness... and now the front end of that car is totally smashed!"
"Oh man, what a tangled web we have now. He can't even fire it; that's behind-the-wall damage, perhaps even out-of-the-race damage."
The whole world watched as the television cameras switched from the destroyed front end of the ZenergE Batteries #5 and then to the Beast Energy #35 of Boyd.
Though a jolt of excitement crowded me in every which direction, time itself seemed to slow. The lights on the edge of the track turned yellow. Then there were lights on the backstretch from oncoming safety cars. The hushed engines of the cars on the frontstretch taking the caution flag gave way to the screaming on pit road, and the air thickened with the smell of hot tires rubbing against asphalt and burnt oil. A large pillar of white smoke ascended to the heavens above the track and dissipated, and I remained still, focusing on the lights. It was now that my head was saying 'Lay off the drugs, Jasper', because I felt something in the air. Maybe because I simply felt at home with my new team? Complete? The pylon continued to move Dak Rosco's 5 down the leaderboard, past the 1 and the 7 and the 24, and into the hopeless abyss of the few lap-down cars. Maybe being part of a championship winning team speaks volumes? Maybe this will be indicative of my own career? Among the unrest, I stood still and stared as if watching Jesus Christ descend to Earth.
"LOFTON?!" A soft, slightly deep voice cried out, "They're firing Lofton?!"
Not to promote eavesdropping at all, but what did I say?! I smiled, knowing my opinion was obviously not in a minority. I paid attention to the voice, but kept my focus on the backstretch deep in thought. I stared at the safety car lights as they flashed on the catchfence. Blue. Yellow. Red. Blue. Yellow... the lights you don't want to see in your rear view mirror.
"Lofton is such a great driver! Shame to see him lose that ride."
I smiled proudly and basked in my own little victory. Officially, I had not gone crazy, and only a minority would see Lofton as someone worth getting rid of with the rest of the stuck up kids making their foray into the sport. Not to downplay my own opportunity in the series, but I did have an issue with who I killed off to get there.
"Who's replacing him?" The same voice asked.
"I heard maybe Jasper Erickson, but I am not entirely sure." A female voice answered.
I smiled and stood proudly as my glare focused off the backstretch as I shifted my focal point to my own mind. "That's right..." I turned to face him, "Jasper Erickson."
"He's climbing out of that car... dejected." Libson announced with a hint of dramatic effect.
"That is not a happy rabbit right there."
Fort took a breath and finally stated, "That might just be all that Christine Boyd needed. As of this moment, with 35 cars on the lead lap, Boyd is second. She needed to close a 141-point gap coming into this race, and with Rosco listed 40th, 1 lap down, Boyd has a one-point lead."
A moment of silence overcame the commentators before Fort chimed back in, "Unbelievable."
"You really have to feel for Dak Rosco. He had it made, his chase was flawless and this may be his first DNF since the Daytona 500 last February."
"And 29 year-old Christine Boyd from Poplar Bluff, Missouri... all she has to do now is finish top two to claim her and Jerrod Pierce's first championship, as, provided some miracle doesn't occur, Dak Rosco will not finish any better than 40th in tonight's event."
Short, blunt muzzle, modestly toned arms, towering stature (a good 6'1" to my 5'4"), pointed, fuzzy ears, and a face that said "I don't care, I just wanna have some fun!" But what species was he? I drew a blank somewhere between dog, raccoon, ferret, fox, and clusterfuck.
It took me until he descended the ladder from the pit tower he'd been standing on that I noticed the raccoon tail patterns and could put two and two together, "Tanuki?" I breathed to myself, my eyes squinted slightly in confusion as I held my muzzle open a little. His fur had the familiar raccoon pattern, different saturations of grayish-brown striping along his slender body. As I continued to study the curious anatomy of the unfamiliar creature, his voice started again. I heard the tone, but could not make out a word. His tone came off to me as young, determined, and mellow... almost like fire on water.
Still awry from the recent crash on the backstretch, I didn't think pit road could be a more chaotic place... but that was before the cars pulled in for service.
Thunders, roars, squeals, the whirring and clanking of pit road equipment, the clanging of tools hitting the ground, the screams of strategy calls and motivational battlecries from the crewmembers as I just sat there and watched them all unfold; the art of motorsports at its finest. Amidst the action, I somehow felt that the unique little husky-lynx I was belonged.
In the middle of the rush, I found myself gazing over to the critter again. He just sat there in the middle of the action, between two pitboxes, directly behind the pit wall, cheering on the 10 team, throwing his paws in the air with his fists clenched. His black and orange band T-shirt reading "Get Foxed!" running up his torso, revealing his lower back and sides. He had a slight tummy, but not very noticeable with a shirt over it.
While everyone else got themselves in a tizzy, I just watched the 10 team's pitbox, still observing the critter's expressive behaviour and striking colours. Something about him told me that maybe he and I had something in common; An ally on enemy grounds. Maybe there were furs like me in NAFSCAR somewhere. Or maybe I, again, just read into it too much.
As if my mind had been read, "That's Brandon Reese. He's the one I was telling ya about. Strange looking fella, huh?"
A little alarmed by Michael's sudden arrival, my ears dropped and my tail fluffed out again. It took me a moment, but I regained my ability to brush it off pretty fast; Michael did this a lot. I found it more startling that I'd been staring at another driver, "He's... my competition?!"
"Competition's an understatement. Let's pretend for a moment you're Luke Skywalker... this guy is your Darth Vader; your biggest threat. Keep your balls with you or he'll chew you up and spit you out... rectally."
I tried not to laugh at his analogical failure, let alone his backfiring figure of speech.
I knew somewhere in his brain he already knew his sentence came out a mess, but he didn't seem fazed, "I've seen him in ASCA man... he wins damn near every race. Keeps it off the wall pretty well, too."
"ASCA? They're moving him straight up from ASCA?"
"Well, he had a truck race last week and finished fourth in his first start, but otherwise yes. Kid's 23 today and they expect him to turn rust into diamonds. I asked for proof, I got it, and now I'm buying into it."
I couldn't tell if Michael was infatuated or intimidated, but I spoke for my own opinions, "I'm not scared of Reese Cup." I sneered.
"Great! Awesome! After the race I'll meet ya in the media center. We'll have your contract ready to sign. Might be a long wait, though... you see what happened just now?"
"Yep. Boyd may actually win it." I spat out the words like a habanero pepper.
He placed a paw on my shoulder and gave me a serious look, "Don't get on her bad side."
I cleared my throat, "I ain't worried." My voice was dry. I turned my head back left and noticed that Brandon had left the pit box. I wondered if he had dismissed himself to look for some answers to the Izra Lofton issue, so likewise I dismissed myself with a hitchhiker's thumb and a wave goodbye with my other paw.
As I left Michael behind, he called out to me before I was out of earshot, "Be back soon!" I knew his reasoning; I had a long schedule ahead of me tonight before I could be called a driver of the Swift Cup Series. Now, I didn't concern myself at all about who won the Cup Series title or who won tonight's race. Surely I'd pull for Christine to humor my team, but amidst the excitement of driving in Swift Cup, an underlying discomfort about driving with Rhys, Basil, and Zedley every week without Louis's help was constantly sneaking up on me. I knew I had to try and beat them clean every week - Any of those guys would let their bragging rights go to their head, and any of those guys would not tolerate being pushed around, accident or not. This goes for any of those that hate me simply for me, making them to me simply those who must never know my secret.