Chapter 6: The Camaro Race
Once again lined up at the line, I try to keep my focus on those arms that are held by the starter. I got to get that girl off of my mind. I got to stop thinking that she is driving that beautiful silver car beside me. I need to focus this race. No more thinking about her beautiful blond hair, her luscious lips – Jimmie, snap out of this!
Noticing the sign from Malcolm indicating that I’m ready, I try to clear my mind as quickly as I can. no more blond hair…no more lips….no…more…stunning….aqua tint…..Why is this happening to me? I never do this! Normally, I’m focused and set on what I have to do. Why is this happening?
Focus my gaze forward, directly forward, locked on the eyes and arms of the starter, waiting for that flinch of movement that I waited for only moments earlier. See the flinch of elbows that I look for, the pedal goes down to the floor and I’m off without hesistaiton once again.
The speed taking over me, the feeling of being pushed back against the seat as the car speeds. Shift up through the gears, feeling the ease that this car has given me from day one. Since putting in this transmission, she’s been a beauty as shifting comes with ease and without hesitation, knowing all the right spots to automatically follow through with.
Reaching the end of the strip of pavement, seeing the checkered flag before, the end has reached as my mind and body calm down. Repeating the familiar glance to the right that I had taken many times before, I get that familiar sight that I crave – the sight of winning. Her bumper was at my front fender well, meaning yet another win added to the list.
I park the car back in its spot, still satisfied. Not bad – 2 for 2 on the night. So much for thinking that I’d be watching her tail the whole way down.
Of course, as she climbs from the car, I am watching her tail as she bends back in to grab the money that she owes for the race. She turns back around, allowing me to get lost in her eyes once again, as she walks over and hands over the cash to Malcolm.
“Good race and well played,” she states. “It seems that your driver has mastered how to start a race to a key. Something for me to practice before I take him on again.”
“Who says he’ll allow you challenge him again?” Malcolm questions as I shake my head. I’d challenge her anyday because I would do anything to keep staring at her beauty.
“Because if he truly believes he’s unbeatable, he won’t back down from any challenge – including me. Oh, and tell him that I like a guy with mystery as it makes me stalk more. I’ll see you around, Malcolm. Tell your stud that he doesn’t have to be shy.” She then turns and leaves the area, heading back over to her car.
I am once again lost at looking at her beauty, and in the sweet voice that escapes her lips. She could challenge me anyday and I’ll enjoy the chase as she tries to discover the identity behind who I am.
Nobody has challenged to find the identity – well, okay, they have a little. They’ve asked a couple questions to no answers. But beyond that, there has been no challenge towards figuring out. Once they got no answer, they walked away with their own thoughts – turning into rumors.
I enjoyed that as it allowed me to keep this going without a single care in the world. Most times if somebody said that they’d want to figure out, I’d be on the worry side. However, with Candiss, I felt a weird sort of comfort. Was my attraction for her blurring the lines that I should leave alone?
It wasn’t like it was worth feeling any attraction to her. It wouldn’t be worth it in the long run, if you think about it. It’s not like we’d ever truly meet face to face because I couldn’t reveal my identity to her.
“I’m surprised you stayed focused enough throughout that race to beat her,” Malcolm comments later on that night as we head back to his shop once the night is done. “I was worried that you’d get distracted and lose.” I notice Malcolm glance over at me as we continue the short drive back, taking the back roads to avoid the traffic that may be out there. “So how bad are you crushing on her? I could tell that you were checking her out, man.”
“It’s not like it’s wort-” I start as I pull the camaro into the back of the shop.
“Dude, even if you know it can’t happen, you can’t control that thing in your pants for wanting it. I bet you were picturing you up in her.” I turn the car off and look towards him, shocked and disgusted. “Admit it Johnson. You wanted her really bad. You wanted to feel those sweet pink lips against yours.”
“And you’re afraid to admit the truth.” We both then climb from the car, covering it up with the cover before I head back towards the front of the shop.
“Don’t worry about any work on it this week as it was perfect.” I then climb into my daily driver, taking one more glance back at Malcolm. “And well I was admiring her beauty, I wasn’t being a dirty ass like you are being. I was thinking of being a sweet gentleman and taking her out for a date, and ending it with a sweet kiss.”
“Just because you pay for her dinner doesn’t mean it isn’t using her. See you next week?” I shake my head yes as I had made sure that no sponsorship appearances were scheduled for Wednesday.
“I’ll be here – normal time. Thanks for the fun night, and keep your comments to yourself. You have no idea how I feel about that girl.” I then head off into the darkness, ready to return home and go back to my daily life tomorrow, leaving this life where it was – hidden from plain sight without a clue.
Chapter 7: Candice
Back in the shop the next morning, it was back to business as usual. Meet up Chad and Ron to go over some final notes before the weekend, followed by a couple interview phone calls and a work-out.
Normally, I can turn off nights like last night and focus on the meeting without a reflection back in the rearview. However, this was different. There was something different about last night.
The mystery girl had remained on my mind since I left Malcolm’s. I laid in bed last night, unable to sleep as I thought about her. I thought about her over breakfast and on the drive over to the shop. I couldn’t get my mind off of her.
Maybe it was her beauty. Let’s admit – she’s a beautiful women and it doesn’t hurt that she can drive, either. That’s an added perk as she wasn’t just a pretty face. Perhaps that’s why I was intrigued.
Maybe it was the mystery. I wanted to know about her. I wanted to know her background. I wanted to know why that was her first night there and who had brought her there. I wanted to know whether she was around town and what she liked to do – not that I wanted to cross paths with her or anything.
My mind was typically going 200 mph, focused on racing – whether back roads or NASCAR. However, for once, it wasn’t focused on either but yet a blond girl. Why?
Unable to get her off my mind and knowing the troublesome duo wouldn’t surface in my office for another good five, 10 minutes, I dialed Malcolm’s number. Perhaps he could help me answer my problem.
“Magic Fix, this is Malcolm speaking,” he answered the phone as I smiled, sitting back.
“Hey Malcolm,” I start. “It’s Jimmie.”
“Well well, this is a surprise. Normally I don’t hear from you till a Wednesday or during a weekend because we’re talking racing. What’s up?” I let out a sigh. That definitely didn’t sound like the sweetest deal, especially since the guy was helping me keep things on the down low. I knew that I had to make it up to him, somehow, and be a better friend. Darn schedule interfering with that.
“Dude, I honestly feel bad that we don’t talk more often. Blame my busy schedule.”
“Yeah yeah, I get it. You’re a superstar. Don’t forget about the small people when you’re out there. So why the change? Need something done on Midnight?” There is nothing that I could think of the Camaro as she ran perfect, shifted beautifully, went up to speed accordingly and the tires were brand new.
“Nah, she’s good. What do you know about Candiss?” I swear I heard him spit out his coffee, or whatever beverage, at the mention of her name.
“Are you still seriously thinking about that girl? Seriously? I knew it! I knew that you had a crush on her. Why couldn’t you admit it?” All I can do is roll my eyes as I hope to get the answers that I want.
“Just answer my question, please.”
“I know that she’s friend Tyler – you remember Tyler, right? That beautiful ’65 Challenger. She doesn’t bring her car in here and….she’s good friends with Tyler.” I put my head back as I think that over. Tyler owned a local diner in town and also ran the streets with us. I had raced him a couple of times – easily winning. Perhaps she had moved to town and started working at his diner. Perhaps they had been friends for a long time and it was why he had given her the coordinates.
“That’s all I need to know. Thanks man. I guess I have a spot to head for lunch today….and you better not show up. I don’t need you embarrassing me.”
“Suddenly, I’m craving some of Tyler’s sweet pasta.”
“And suddenly, I’m craving an ass kicking.”
“You couldn’t kick my ass if you tried….oh wait, you could. I forgot that your superman. But – you wouldn’t kick my ass for one reason.” This is typically how these discussions would go. He always has one up on me.
“That’s right. But you could be a good buddy and listen to what I’m saying. Plus, don’t you customers that need attention?”
“Oh yeah – customers. I’ve had a couple people come in that were at the strip last night. Let’s just say that they’re still looking for something to try and beat you. Suddenly, you’re good for business. On that thought, I need to let you go. Someone is here for a pick-up. Call me later and tell me about how she is under the sheets?” I roll my eyes. That was typical Malcolm – find the hot girl, sleep with her and move forward. That was something that never appealed to me as I had mostly avoided girls – busy – but when I did have a girl, I was the respectful type.
“If you’re demanding, I guess I’ll give you a call. Don’t expect any dirty details. Bye Malcolm.”
“Bye Jimmie.” I then hang up the phone as I watch Ron enter the office. Perfect timing.
While Ron totally wanted to avoid the thought of my street racing, it seemed odd that he always came in five minutes before Chad was expected to show and asked about it.
“So did you win last night?” He asks as he flops down in one of the chairs and I shake my head yes.
“Beat this rowdy ass guy who thought he was cool with a ’67 Mustang and then beat a chick in a Camaro,” I answer with the short summery, keeping the details short on Candiss. I didn’t need Ron on my ass about her, as well.
“A chick?” Too late.
“Yeah. She showed up and said that she could race with the best of them so I accepted it. She wasn’t that bad actually as it was a close race.”
“Impressive. Normally, Malcolm avoids the chicks. Why was this one different?” Because I begged him to accept. “Something to do with the car?” Good excuse, right?
“He did it because he figured that we’d shut up her quickly, and her car was very impressive looking – a beautiful shiny silver. Dude, you need to come with Malcolm and I one night. You got to stop asking and actually come see for yourself. It’s better to be there live.” I always did with Ron. He’d ask, I beg him to come, he’d deny and then complain that I was doing the wrong thing till Chad showed up.
“I’ve told you that I’m not inter-”
“Bullshit. Why do you ask me each week about it?”
“Because I want to make sure you’re kee-”
“Cut the excuses, Malec. Please just agree to come with us one week.” Ron shakes his head no as Chad enters the office. We give each other one more look, before pretending to have been talking about something different.
Hopefully this meeting goes quickly because I have some lunch to go get.
Chapter 8: Lunch
I was determined to find this girl. I didn’t know why, or how she’d cast this spell over me, but here I was determined to find her. That search led to the diner, which could only bring a smile to my face as I parked in the parking lot. Glancing down the row of cars, I saw her familiar ’71 Camaro ad all I could do was smile. She was here.
I head inside and take my common seat that Tyler was used to me taking, hoping that she’d be down my way. A glance at the menu – not needed – as I knew what I was ordering. I could also see her down the row of people, serving someone else while I sat there thinking.
“Why didn’t you warn me you were coming over?” I hear, snapping me out of my daze as I glance over at Tyler. Ugh. So much for getting her to come over. “Normally you warn me. Let me guess – you want your usual Pepsi and chicken Caesar salad? Or are you going to screw with me today?” I then snicker at him as I look over.
“You know the order,” I tell him as he gives me a quick pat on the shoulder.
“It’s nice to see you. I’ll be sure to send the blond over with your drink and salad when it’s ready.” I then look up at him, surprised by those words, as he just snickers. Darn you Malcolm!
“Malcolm told you?” Tyler shakes his head yes. So much for doing this quietly. I wonder what Malcolm truly said as to the reason. Couldn’t tell him the truth about crossing paths with her the previous night at the drag strip. “Dang it.”
“Relax – I won’t bust your chops. It’s good to see you that you’re getting out there, though.” Tyler then heads off as I sit back and let out a sigh. That wasn’t the first time that I had heard those words.
Everybody – well, okay not everybody – but a lot of those close to me had told me that I should get out more and find a woman. I heard it from Jeff – he tried to set me up with someone. Malcolm told me that I was getting myself too wrapped up with competition on both sides and not enough fun, not realizing that driving whether streets or NASCAR was my version of fun. Ron told me that it’d be a great idea, but we all know that he wanted me to distract myself away from hanging out with Malcolm.
Maybe they were all right. Maybe a change in pace and a girl would be a good idea. Perhaps Candiss was the right girl for that, or perhaps I was just chasing based on looks and doing what I had hated to watch fellow drivers do over the years.
I then shake my head of my thoughts, noticing that she is coming my way with my drink in my hand. What am I supposed to say? Can’t tell her the truth, or these feelings. Just got to pretend this is the first time crossing paths, but how can I bite my tongue?
“Thank you,” I say as she sits the drink on the table. You’d probably be surprised to hear that she wasn’t acting star struck or anything, but to be honest, nobody around town did. They were used to drivers coming into these places all the time because, well, this is home. “New here?” She then stops and shakes her head yes.
“Just moved down from New York actually.” Interesting. A New York chick who knew a thing about cars and could honestly drive. Perhaps she was one of the back loggers in New York. Perhaps she moved down here to escape her past in New York.
“Well, welcome to Charlotte. I hope you enjoy the town.” I was about to spit out an offer to show her the town, but yeah, that wouldn’t sound too right. “You’re really pretty, by the way. Natural hair color?” Okay, that sounded dumber than the first idea.
“Yes, and you can believe that if you want since I don’t act like your typical blonds.” There’s the personality that I saw last night.
“I believe you. Why would you lie?”
“Because some girls hate to let guys know that they’ve changed the color of their hair.”
“Or they want to be a faux blond to seem cool.”
“You’re catching on, Mr…..”
“Jimmie, Jimmie Johnson.” I hold my hand out and shake hers.
“Candiss Vanders. So, I noticed Tyler came over to you and had the order set to go. Are you a regular here?” She seems to be kicking up more of a conversation and more casually than other girls that I’ve met. Perhaps she was involved in show biz in New York and things went south. Maybe she was a stunt driver.
“I’ve known Tyler for a long time. He’s a great guy. You’ve landed yourself in a great place to work.” Okay, enough conversation, Jimmie. It’s time to cut to the Chase. “Say, are you busy this weekend? How’d you like to join me in Chicago?”
“I’d love to.” Yes! “Wait, you’re asking me to join you at a race? Seriously?” I shake my head yes. I was serious. I’d get her the VIP access and get to spend more time with her. “Well, as I said, I would love to. There’s a small snag though – I have other plans for this weekend.”
“Are you serious? Or are you just saying that because you’re afraid of something happening this weekend?”
“I’m serious, Johnson.” Dang it. I wondered if she was lying, but maybe she did really have plans.
“Well, how about this? The invitation is open for any weekend that you’re available.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. Now excuse me, but I have a job to do.” She then walks away from the table and heads to grab some dishes that are ready to serve.
A New York, model looking yet sweet driving babe with a sexy car. Also, could talk up a conversation and have some fun while in process, but perhaps afraid to hang out with me over a weekend. It all sounded fine to me. Candiss Vanders – a sweet mystery to unravel.
Suddenly, I have a new spot to have lunch everyday that I can within my schedule.
*buzz* I grab my phone out of my pocket, knowing that tone is set for only certain people that I know – Rick, my PR rep, Chad, Ron and Malcolm. I look at the phone and automatically roll my eyes. Figures he wouldn’t leave me alone.
“Malcolm, I told you that I wouldn’t giv-” I start.
“Who cares about the girl, Jimmie,” he starts, catching me off guard. “We got a bigger problem. Come by the shop tonight, please.”
Chapter 9: Trouble is Brewing
“So what is so damn important that it demanded my immediate attention?” I ask as I enter the back part of the shop. I had shown up 15 minutes earlier, letting Malcolm finish what he was doing before interrupting. He had then instructed that we go to the back part of the shop – the private part where he kept Midnight.
The whole walk back I felt my heart in my throat as if something was wrong with my baby car. I know it’s just car, but the camaro means a lot to me. We’re a package deal that has won races together and I’ve grown close to that car. It’s a car that I hope to keep forever as….oh, there’s no true words to describe a man’s connection to a car. Those who get just get it and those who don’t, they’re missing on something special.
Though thankfully the car is fine as I see her sitting in her tucked away spot that she is kept without a change at all. Breathe Jimmie, the car is fine.
So what’s the problem?
“A guy walks into my shop – one of our local street guys – and says this is swirling around,” Malcolm starts as he reaches for a piece of paper that he had obviously put up for certain reasons. “He said that it’d probably be of interest to me since, well, I’m the Stig’s Master.”
Stig’s Master? Woah, am I a dog or something? Who says I need a master? Letting out a chuckle, I guess it fits because he helps run the show and controls the behavior that happens around myself. I guess it fits, sort of. Still sounds weird as I’m not a dog.
I take the piece of paper, curious as to how a piece of paper could be a lot of trouble. Though reading the details on the paper, it quickly becomes clear why Malcolm is concerned. A certain person – take your guesses now – printed up a poster that is to be distributed amongst eth street racers. Supposedly, I am being issued a challenge for everybody far and wide to come challenge me on the streets. The person that beats me receives a sweet bonus. Oh, and there’s sweet icing on the cake – the person that finds out my identity gets a bigger bonus. Just great, right?
“Looks like a bounty has been placed on your head, Johnson,” Malcolm states as he leans back against the tool chest, obviously waiting for my reaction. All I can do is shrug my shoulders as I hand it back to him.
This was something that I could see coming as when you beat people over and over, you make them mad and eventually someone wants to get even. Let’s face it – we’re dealing with a bunch of ego-invested people who like to brag about doing illegal things and winning races. Some people do it for pure joy, but then there’s the ego-invested that ruin the fun. It’s those type of people that bring forth the most problems. They either attack your car, pick a fight or do something like this. It seemed like ordinary business as finally I had pissed someone off that was beyond that level. Have you figured out who that is? Keep guessing because I can give you an answer easily.
“It just means that we’re doing our job of dominating the streets – as was planned when we started this deal,” I tell Malcolm as I lean against the car. What else was there to say?
I wasn’t one of those ego-invested people, but I know how they work. For me, it was pure about the pure joy. It was about getting away from reality and having some pure racing fun for a couple of hours. It was about getting away from the pressures of racing to have some fun that was out of the realm. This was my way to get away from it all. It sucked that involved people like this, but you can’t help others.
“You do realize that there’s a bounty on your head, right?” Malcolm questions and I shake my head yes as I can read. “You do realize that people from across the freaking state and perhaps outside of state will be there on Wednesdays trying to fulfill the bounty?” I shake my head yes, thinking of the interesting challenges that could come about as a result. “That’s good. Do you realize that could bring a lot of trouble with stalking and people trying whatever it takes to get this dollar?” I shake my head yes as it was to be expected. Not everybody in this world was sane and certainly the insane would be out in full force. It was no doubt why we’d have to be extra careful throughout our future endeavors. “But yet, you’re standing there like this isn’t a big deal. Don’t you want to get to the bottom of this?”
“I don’t have a bottom to get to because I know what it says, what it implies, how to handle it and who to go to for starting it,” I tell him because that’s the honest truth. The moment I saw the piece of paper, the moment it clicked as to who. Have you figured it out? Here’s a clue – this person was there last Wednesday and we didn’t seem to mesh well. He also took offence to the fact that I stunk his beautiful ‘movie’ car so well. Gosh, why do I drool everytime I think about Eleanor? “Find out who owns the 1967 Fastback Mustang and you have your instigator. Till you can defuse it, we’ll keep doing what we’re doing and keep my identity under the wraps. This just means that we’ll have more challengers. In other words, it could make our Wednesdays more fun.”
“Suddenly, I’m realizing why Ron thought this was a bad idea. I don’t like the way you think.” Suddenly, he’s ruining my vibe. I don’t need another person on my back about doing this. Can you just imagine what will happen if Ron sees this? “I’ll do my best to get more information on that mustang. I just hope you know what you’re doing. You do realize what will happen if they find out who you are?”
“I know, Mr. Malec.”
“That’s not fair.”
“You’re acting like him.”
“Only because I care about you, Jimmie. You don’t need to throw your career away for this street business. Perhaps we should shut things down.” My jaw drops as soon as those words slip from his mouth. Am I talking to the same Malcolm that I had been talking to for the past five months?
“And let them win? Kiss my ass. Things will be fine so stop worrying and do your job, Stig Master. If anybody can find out information on that mustang, it’s you.”
“Yeah yeah, make me do your dirty work.” I then watch Malcolm head back out to the other part of the shop, knowing that we’re done.
He’ll do the dirty work. He’ll get on that computer, cross check all references and check with everybody he knows till he finds out the owner of that car. Once that is known, the guy’s history will be in the open. At that point, a way to defuse the situation should arise and we should be good to go.
Chapter 10: The Note
First round of the Chase in the books. 12th place finish. Not the best finish as we could do a lot better, but we’ll take it and move on to the next race. As long as we do decent these first three races, we’ll make it to round two.
Of course, a finish of 12th makes for ‘interesting’ meetings on Monday morning with Ron and Chad, and then with the teammates. It’s not what we want, not what we expect and not what we strive for. So for that reason, things are a little intense in trying to figure out what went wrong and how to make sure it doesn’t happen for the next nine weeks. Intense, plus Chad Knaus, and yes, I have the Tylenol all ready to go in the desk drawer.
It’s no wonder that I look for a way to escape this once a week when you think about it in that respect. I mean, look at the stress to perform that I am under. Six-time Sprint Cup Series Champion and so many wins. I’ve proven myself. But rather than lessen the pressure, it only increases but they want to know if I can win seven and tie the greats. Do I have what it takes? If I run a bit off course, they are on me like hounds wondering why. Can’t a guy just have an ‘off’ day? Like I said, escape is very worthy, especially this time of year. Wednesday can hurry up and be today, even with that stupid bounty over my head.
Since speaking to Malcolm last week, he hasn’t called me with any updates about the identity of the driver of the mustang. No clue as to possible location, possible hang-out group – nothing. It’s weird because normally that man can track a car like no tomorrow and give me a whole biography on the owner. This car – despite being the most obvious movie car around – has produced nothing.
While this guy may be worried about me, I am beginning to wonder if he has something big and huge to hide himself. Is he perhaps wrapped up in something that is illegal? Is he perhaps in the street racing world to find people for other alternatives? There are people like that – haven’t you seen Fast and Furious?
Though enough about that. Need to get back on track and focus on the issue at hand. Hearing the door slam open is my cue for that as I know without even looking up that the great and wonderful Chad Knaus has graced me with his morning presence. Where’s my Tylenol?
“What the hell is this?” I hear and instead look up surprised as Ron Malec stands there with a piece of paper in hand, holding it in front of my face. Well, shit. That didn’t go according to plan. He wasn’t supposed to find the notice that is going around with the bounty over my head.
“It’s a piece of pap-” I start, obviously playing dumb.
“I know what the hell it is!” Okay, time to try and defuse the situation. Ron tends to yell when he’s angry and well, this isn’t something that we need the whole shop knowing. Could you imagine how this would go down with the boss?
“So?” Yes, go ahead experts and tell me that I chose the wrong measure. I dare you. I don’t care. “It’s a bounty over my head. Obviously, I’ve won a bunch of races and supposedly beat the wrong guy who is really mad so here we go. Really, it just proves that I am accomplishing my goals. Nothing has changed.”
“Nothing has changed?” He then sits down before me and just wait….lecture time! Where’s the Tylenol? “Do you realize that there’s a price on your head? Do you realize what some people would do to fulfill this? Do you realize what people will do for money? They’ll hunt your ass down at gun point if they must. Seriously Johnson, are you nuts?” Haven’t we discovered that already? Okay, okay, don’t even go there.
“Malcolm already gave me the same lecture so you’re just wasting your breath. Let me handle this as I have always handled it, Ron. I’ve got things under control right now. If they get more hairy and into that type of craziness as you described, I’ll put an end to it.”
“And what if you pull the cord when it’s too late?”
“That’s the risk that I take.”
“You’re crazy for taking that ris-”
“My life, my decision. Deal with it.” By now, I want the bottle of Tylenol and perhaps a bottle of whiskey. As always, another person trying to run my life. See why I need escape? Some people escape to the bottle and drugs, I escape to hitting the strip and going fast. In my opinion, my choice of escape is much better and healthier. Feel free to judge because well, it doesn’t matter.
“Right because you also have contractual obligations to Lowe’s, Kobalt, Hendrick Motorsports and this team – but hey, who gives a flying toot? Remember – you’re the driver, but you’re one piece of a team and the team needs their driver. Without a driver, we’re all screwed.” I then roll my eyes. He gave me that same lecture a good couple of years ago.
“I’m sure you can get another driver if need be, and I told you that I have this under control and that won’t happen. Are we done?”
“How can I convince you to listen?!?”
“You can’t.” I then hear the door open, silently saying thank you over my breath as many times as possible as Chad enters the office. At least Ron won’t mention a word now for at least the next hour. Thank you.
As I say, though, welcome to my life. This is what I deal with all the time, and yet they wonder why I do what I do. They call me vanilla but hang with me. You’re learning something new every day.