Chase Elliott takes a deep breath, before he walks down the long familiar walkway that he’d grown used to in the big complex. Each area was sectioned off in a certain way with executives one way, accounting another, marketing in their corner, followed by drivers and crew chiefs with their own office area.
While normally a Monday morning consisted of heading to his own office, followed by meeting up with Alan somewhere, he instead had another spot to head to.
Since the discussion with Regan and Tony over the weekend, he had been doing some thinking as to what he wanted to do in the following days. He had sent a text message to Jeff with his initial thoughts on Sunday while they were fresh on his mind, with the promise to stop-in Monday to discuss further as needed.
The decision he came to wasn’t easy, as he fought the back and forth argument Tony had discussed. When do the needs for yourself and your brain outweigh your heart and desires to be behind the wheel? How do you balance that all together, knowing everything else filling your thoughts?
It was worth noting as he walked down the hall the last time he stepped in these halls was when he followed Jeff to the conference room, the note he found secured firmly in his fingers. That was not a thought lost on him, either.
Stopping as he reached the end of the hall, he knocks on the door, taking another deep breath. This didn’t seem so difficult last night when he sent the message, but he couldn’t help but be nervous. What if everybody wasn’t as accepting as he hoped?
“Come on in,” he hears, opening the door and walking inside. It was still surreal to think one of the drivers that he looked up to, and a partial initial coach for his move up to Cup, was now his day-to-day boss. “Hey Chase.”
“Hey,” was all Chase could muster with the nerves flowing through his mind as he walked up to the desk. He slowly sits down in the chair, not sure what he was preparing himself for. “Did you get my text last night?”
“Yeah, I read it this morning.” Chase shakes his head, knowing that by the quick response Jeff sent in when he’d be available to talk within his schedule.
“I didn’t mean to send it so late last night, or tell you that way. It’s just everything was on my mind, and I figured I’d get it out while I could.” Jeff shakes his head, understanding.
“Chase, you don’t need to explain things to me. I was there when Tony, Regan and your dad discussed things. I heard what was going on. I was also at the hospital for that week, too. I’ve known about the whole situation since the beginning. Do you remember what I told you at the very beginning in the conference room?” Chase shakes his head yes, remembering those words.
“Focus on yourself and Alyssa, and don’t worry about anything else right now as that’s priority.” Jeff knew the reaction from Marshall wasn’t pleasant – the guy thought of the business side too much, but it didn’t matter to him. He knew he was doing the right thing for his friend, and knew Rick would easily side with him.
“That’s still priority. You’ve won us championships and races. You’ll always damn well have a ride with this team no matter what, whether it takes a couple months or the rest of the year. I don’t care. I will work it out some way or another, whether it’s Jimmie in the car or Leo filling in. You don’t need to come and explain yourself to me, Chase. I get it.” Chase felt all the nerves escape him in a minute, glad that he wasn’t getting the lecture he had originally anticipated.
“Are you sure?” Jeff shakes his head yes, knowing he couldn’t convince himself otherwise. “Like I said, I think it’ll be a couple months based on everything I’m thinking and feeling. However, it may be the rest of the year. I’ll probably give you a better update in October.” Jeff didn’t care about the exact deadlines.
“You don’t have to feel the need to update me and inform me. Just do what you need to do for yourself and when you’re ready, even if it’s just a week before, let me know. We will make it work regardless.” Chase smiled as it helped to have understanding amongst the mess. “I’ll handle talking to Marshall and working things out; you just focus on yourself. However, since you’re here, someone stopped in for the day and requested that you go see him.”
“Rick?” Jeff shakes his head yes. With Jeff on his side, he wasn’t too worried about that discussion. “That’s fine. I can deal.”
“Good. Now, if you have nothing else to say, I better go see Marshall before he goes insane.” Chase chuckles a little as he stands up.
“I’ll go see Rick, and then check in with the guys.”
“Sounds good.” Jeff then walks around, giving Chase a hug. “I meant what I said and Chase, it’ll be okay – just like I told you.”
“I’ve got my girl, that’s all that matters.” Chase then turns around and heads out. Jeff walks back behind his desk, dialing Marshall’s number to get him to come down.
Jeff glanced at the files on the desk, wishing Marshall would’ve kept them in his office as they didn’t matter to him. He knew how NAPA and the other sponsors worked –they’d be fine with Jimmie driving, and have Chase’s back till he was ready.
“I just saw Chase go walking down the hall,” Marshall says as he enters the office, before glancing back outside. “Isn’t he supposed to be her-”
“He doesn’t need to be,” Jeff cuts off Marshall, catching the fellow gentleman’s attention. “That boy has enough on his plate right now with everything that he’s going through. I told him I have it handled.” Marshall then walks up to the desk, a look of surprise on his face.
“So in other words, everything that I’ve flown here on your desk isn’t supposed to matter?” Jeff then sits back and crosses his arms.
“Precisely, yes. I care about hi-”
“Perhaps letting that affect your judgem-”
“And what would your father-in-law say to this, Marshall?” Marshall then lets out a sigh, already knowing Rick’s answer. “That’s what I thought.” Jeff then takes a deep breath, not exactly liking that he had to pull that card. He knew that Marshall was about the business side – and that was a good perspective to always have, but sometimes he crossed the line. “Listen, Chase has just gotten done healing from the physical injuries; however, he’s got a lot of other stuff going on. He’s dealing with nightmares, panic attacks, moments he can’t remember what he did – I could say more but I don’t think I need to, right?”
“No, I supposed not. I get what you’re coming from. So, what’s your plan with this?” Jeff looks at the files, immediately closing them as he hands them back over. “Really?”
“Each of the sponsors has been called personally by me. I called them before Chase got here this morning. They assured me that they are willing to back him and the team through this, no matter what, and be patient with his recovery. Besides, they’re pleased with how Jimmie has been running so there are no complaints. You had nothing to worry about on that side, Marshall.” Marshall then takes a deep breath, knowing that’d calm the marketing and accounting departments in hearing that news. He had them working on extra plans, just in case.
“So how much longer is Chase going to be out?” Jeff shrugged his shoulders, remembering Chase’s answer. “Okay, that’s fair. How much longer does Jimmie want to fill in, and how much longer do we hold the seat open?”
“Jimmie has said that he’s willing to do the rest of this year, except maybe a couple events. I’ve already looked at other options, whether fellow drivers not racing right now or XFINITY, to take over the seat if need be. As far as holding his seat open, I told him that it’ll be there no matter how long it tak-”
“Your caring side is getting in the wa-”
“The sponsors are fine with that, too, if it makes you happy. I told them that Chase may be out a couple months, maybe the rest of the year. They easily accepted. If we get to next year and he’s still not ready, I’ll revisit with him and then touch base with the sponsors. I have this under control, Marshall.” Marshall shakes his head as he picks up the files.
“Glad to see that you’re handling it. But Jeff, just keep in mind to not mix too much personal and business.” Jeff knew where Marshall was coming from, but he also knew the philosophy they’d followed for years.
“This isn’t a business. This isn’t just a race team. This is a family, everybody here in this complex, and a family looks after each other. Remember that when you’re thinking about things. I know Rick put you in charge because you do a helluva job with the business end, but sometimes you need to relax a little.” Marshall knew that Jeff was right, but was too proud to admit it as he turned and left the office with another word.
Down the hall, Chase found Rick busy at first so he went to see the guys, before returning to the boss’ office.
“You wanted to see me, sir?” Chase asks as he walks in the office, feeling the nerves that were there earlier with Jeff.
“I wanted to see how you were doing,” Rick answers as he takes in the young man’s appearance before him.
“I’m doing better, sir. Everything is healing accordingly for the doctors that they feel the stitches should be nothing to worry about soon. As far as everything else, that’s another story.” Rick motions for Chase to sit beside him on the couch, which Chase easily does.
“A little bit of the same before?” Chase didn’t want to divulge into details, but he felt he owed Rick the honesty.
“Nightmares and flashbacks are there once again. I’m also having panic attacks, and they’re worse than what we dealt with before. I completely panic, go about a series of actions without a single thought, and then snap out of it wondering why I did it. It was how I ended up in Canada with $2 million trying to save Alyssa myself, and how I ran into Tony this past weekend.” Rick had seen the series of events with Chase, previously. He was surprised to see how far they’d gotten this time.
“Have you spoken to anybody about this?” Chase wished he had a better answer at this time.
“Regan and Tony, a little – and Alyssa about some of her concerns. I haven’t divulged to anybody totally.” Chase then takes a deep breath. “It’s hard. I know I got to deal with it, but I don’t want to. I don’t want to remember or relive that. I don’t want to believe it happened. That’s been how I’ve dealt with things, you know? That’s why I ran before and why I got myself so sick that weekend. I know it’s wrong, but it’s what my subconscious keeps telling me.” Rick wraps an arm around Chase’s shoulders.
“Listen, I think you’re just being too hard on yourself right now. You’re right that you’re not taking the right steps initially, but anybody would understand why you haven’t followed through with the according steps. Look at everything you’ve been through. You don’t need to sit here and eat at yourself for not doing the right thing.” Chase knew Rick was probably right in those words, but it still didn’t seem to change his ways.
“I’ve always been the one to say that you take experiences, look back on them, find what you did wrong, and damn well do it right the next time. I’ve told myself that numerous times. Here I am knowing what I’m doing wrong, and I can’t follow throu-”
“Chase, it’s okay, though. Everybody understands, and you should yourself too, that it’s difficult because it’s tough right now on you to do so. It’s tough to face those moments and go through that. At least you’re realizing what you’re doing and in the right time, you’re going to do the right thing and handle it. The first step is recognition. The second step is determining your strategy – which I can see you’re doing now. You’re feeling out who you can talk to, whether that’s Regan, Tony or someone else. Once you’re certain, you’ll go through with it and do the right thing. I know that.” Chase hoped that Rick was right in those words, but the uncertainty he told Regan about still remained at times.
“Everything is going to be okay, no matter what. I can promise you that.” Once again, Chase hoped those words were true as he heard everybody saying them around him. Perhaps he just needed to push himself to believe more like everyone else. “And remember – like I told you previously, my door is always open. We’re all here for you.”
“Thank you, sir.” Rick then shook his head as he glanced around the room.
“It’s crazy that you’ve been driving for me for like 14 years now and you still haven’t dropped the sir.” Chase chuckles a little.
“I was brought up to give respect, and sir, you still deserve that respect.” Rick just smiles as he looks over at him.
“I remember I met you as a little rascal teenager, and signed you to a development deal. I knew you’d turn into a great racecar driver by what I’d seen, and had faith that you’d turn out alright. I can tell you now that you’ve turned into quite the young man and done your fair share of things right – even with everything against you. Don’t ever change.”
“I don’t plan on it. It’s worked for me so far.”