Back to Square One – Chapter 29: “Is Chad available?”

Thursday – Hendrick Motorsports

The girl in the gift shop looks up and immediately smiles as she sees the familiar face.

“Hello Mr. Toretto,” she greets him. “I will page through to Mr. Johnson and see if he is availa-” Dom immediately shakes his head no as he wasn’t there to see Jimmie today.

“I’m not here to see Jimmie today, actually,” he states, causing a bit of surprise in return. That didn’t faze him one bit, as he was always there to see Jimmie. There was only one other occurrence that he had gone to see Chad. “Is Chad available?”

“I know that Mr. Knaus is in today, but I am unsure of his schedule. let me check and see if he is in his office.” Dom nods his head, accepting. He watches as she dials the extension number, and stands there nervously as the pair talk on the phone for what seemed like forever. She then put the receiver down, eyes focused forward. “I’m sorry, but Mr. Knaus is not availa-”

“Can you call Chad back and tell him it is about Greenlee Smythe, and I have some important information?” He hated to mention Greenlee’s name so casually to the receptionist, as he knew how easily that could get back to her. However, that didn’t matter to him, considering what he had found out in the span of 24 hours. He knew once word began through the pipeline, there was no stopping the disaster to follow anyway. But, he actually welcomed it, as he didn’t want to see any of these people back in those curves again.

“I’m sorry sir, but I have strict instructions to leave Mr. Knaus alone for the rest of the day, and those must be followed. I can pass along to him later on that you had a message regarding her, but other than that, I cannot help you any further. Now, is there anything else that I can do for you, sir?”

“Not at all. Have a nice day.” Dom turns on his heels and walks out, letting out a sigh.

He got into the car, kicking back as he glanced at his watch. It was only a matter of time before he got a call back from Chad, and the conversation he wanted to have commenced.

Five minutes passed, followed by 10, followed by another 10, and slowly he began to lose hope. But at this point, he didn’t care because his eyes had caught the attention of someone else.

He watched the person’s movements, knowing that they had to not be from around her or know anything about the Hendrick Motorsports complex based on upon their actions. If it was in Dom’s mind, they were here to see someone, rather than care about the racecars.

He almost set to ignore the person and focus back on his own duties, when he caught a glimpse of the face. Shaking his head in disbelief, he quickly grabbed a file that he had stashed in the car, flipping through in a fury. He landed on the page in question, before glancing back at the person. He must’ve took five glances back and forth, with disbelief and confusion growing bigger by the second.

“It can’t be,” he says to himself as he throws the file aside. He then climbs out of the car, making his way over slowly, believing that it would solve his questions. Maybe this person just looked the same from a distance, but had different features that would say otherwise up close. However, that wasn’t the case, because the closer he got, the more definite he became on his viewpoint. “Shouldn’t you be dead?”

“I’m sorry, but did you say something?” The man asks as he looks in Dom’s direction. Total confusion was met back in return to Dom as it was certain this guy had no idea who Dom was. However, Dom was beginning to see who exactly this is.

“Shouldn’t you be dead? I thought your wif-”

“Ex-psychopath wife, you mean. I would never stay married to her, no matter what. But wait – how do you know?” Dom knew at this point, it would be best to simply come clean on everything because it was clear why the man was here. But, he wasn’t about to do that as it didn’t seem like a benefit of doubt was warranted.

“Your name is Ryan Lavery, and you’re here from a town known as Pine Valley. You’re thought of to be dead, courtesy of your ex-wife Anne, and mother of your child. You married her after a series of events that involved two other ladies in the town – Greenlee Smythe being one of those. I can only assume that you’re here because you’re looking for Greenlee, and have heard that she works for Hendrick Motorsports.” Ryan slowly nods his head, as the biography was on point. That didn’t mean he was comfortable by any stretch.

“How do you know all this?” Dom crosses his arms, ready to set the floor known. He could easily reveal his police involvement, or Greenlee’s street racing background. However, he wasn’t one to reveal other people’s secrets and he didn’t know what Ryan knew of that time for her. Furthermore, there was certainly more to explored there and Greenlee didn’t deserve the benefit at this point. He actually wondered if his phone had gone off in his car from Chad, yet.

“I work security detail for Mr. Johnson and Mr. Knaus. They had me run her background before being hired.” It wasn’t that far of a stretch, considering all the favors that he continued to pull for them both. But of course, that was all thanks to Candiss.

“So you recognized my face and came over to see me because you couldn’t believe that I was alive based on some story in a fil-”

“I’ve been in your shoes before, actually. Anybody else would’ve brushed it off to de ja vu and not done a single thing about it. However, being there before, I decided to double check things. My wife Letty was believed to have been killed in a car crash. Instead, she had survived – but suffered memory loss, and another group took advantage of that to use her for their evil ways. It took some time, but we were able to find our way back to each other and be together. So finding a random file isn’t new to me.” Ryan was surprised by the story – in some ways. Perhaps Pine Valley wasn’t the only home to craziness in the world. But it also gave him another idea.

“So you understand why I have followed the trail down here, right? I thought I saw her face on television, and talking with Kendal, she confirmed where I could find Greenlee. I came down here in a whim, hoping to find her and see her. She means the world to me, just like I can see Letty means to you. Maybe you can help me out.” Dom immediately felt all of his defenses shatter, knowing exactly how it felt to be standing in those shoes. It was the same feeling in hearing that Letty was gone, then finding out she was alive by a photograph, and ready to do anything to get her back. He remembered the questions and backlash felt from friends in his decisions, but he couldn’t let himself listen to them because of that love.

“I cannot get you access to Greenlee inside of the Hendrick Motorsports headquar-”

“I thought you ran secur-”

“Not for the shop, but rather private work for Mr. Johnson and Mr. Knuas. It doesn’t give me access to pull strings there. I could easily message Mr. Johnson or Mr. Knaus that you are here, but they are busy today and want to be left alone to focus on their job at hand. However, like you said, I can sympathize so I do want to help you.” Dom takes a deep breath, feeling his guard returning as his eyes lock on those of Ryan. “Give me your number and contact information. I will pass it along to the necessary parties and we can go from there. I cannot promise immediate access or meeting, as it may take a couple days. It may even have to wait until next week when we get back from Pennsylvania. But I will do what I can.”

“I appreciate your generosity, and please, the sooner the better.” Dom nods his head in return as he watches Ryan hand over a card, containing his phone number.

“Now I must ask you to leave the property as being found here by one of their guys may not be a welcome sight.” Ryan easily accepts, walking away. Dom glances back at the number again, before climbing back in his car. He grabs his phone, dialing a familiar number as he stares at the digits before him. “Hey Brian. I need you to look up something for me. It appears that Ryan Lavery is alive. Can you find some information before we move forward?” the request was easily accepted without any hesitation. He then hangs up, seeing a notification from Chad. Dom could only s mile in response as he read the message. “I knew you’d want to talk…”

————————————–

With the sunset in the background, Dom watched as a familiar Chevy Tahoe pulled up alongside his Dodge Charger. He watches in curiosity as the person emerges, not moving a single inch from his place against his car.

“It took you long enou-” Dom starts as Chad shuts the door aggressively.

“I thought I told you that we couldn’t be doing business at work,” he cuts Dom off, as Dom looks at him with surprise. There was no point in time that he had heard those words spoken, and immediately recalled their initial meeting about Greenlee.

“We talked about Greenlee before in your office, Chad.” Chad recalled those initial phone calls, and immediately regretted those. But that’s obviously what fear and panic had done to him.

“We never should’ve done that. I don’t think you, Jimmie, and Ron realize just how much shit we got in because of the street racing before. You have a reputation, and we cannot have any ties back to that again. I cannot be taking chances, and I’m sorry but that includes visits from you.” Dom smiles as he crosses his arms. He knew that it would become all the more interesting when the news was dropped. “Now, you said you had information about Greenlee.”

“It seems we may have a problem on our hands. One of my contacts alerted me that she stopped by Mitchell’s to pick up some parts for a car – performance at that rate. She didn’t say much on the street racing front, but attitude and order seemed right along what Mitchell defines in that category. The parts will be in on Monday most likely.” Chad lets out a sigh, almost wanting to scream in frustration. He immediately wished he never would’ve hired her, and wanted to go strangle everyone involved.

“How certain are you that she is street racin-”

“Everything fits the bill, Chad. That’s all I can say. I can’t tell you 100% because I haven’t seen her or the car there myself, but I can tell you that everything about how that order was placed fits. It also matches the other concerns….” Chad was now a little confused as he crosses his arms.

“What do you mean?” Dom immediately regretted the words, now wondering if Chad had been alerted about Ron’s thoughts. “Are you talking about Ron?” Dom now froze as it was like Chad could read his mind. “Ron told me that he made a trip up to the mountain in the shop last night. He told me he stopped by last week to see if it would help with what he’s feeling from what happened. He said it didn’t pan out as he wanted, though, but also empathized not being involved with anything. I hope that’s the truth, and we aren’t playing cover up for Chad agai-”

“Absolutely not. So far, you know everything that I know – actually more. Jimmie heard from a friend that they spotted Ron there, and was concerned, so Candiss asked me if I knew more. I’m glad that Ron told you about what happened. I know he’s been through a lot, and is still trying to move forward.” Chad glances down, nodding his head, only to come to his own realization.

“Ron mentioned to me in that discussion that Greenlee went out to go somewhere. It just came out randomly because they had a fight due to him not wanting to do the right thing and admit that things aren’t perfect despite her pleas, and then went out. He said he asked her where, but she wouldn’t tell him. Do you really believe she went out that night?” It was as if they had put the biggest jig-saw puzzle together in seconds, as everything was written on the wall with answers filled in. Of course, there was still one twist remaining.

“You asked me to keep an eye out, and I did. It’s up to you who you go see with this information next, and how things shake out. I’m not going to touch it – unless I see reason for danger, and then Greenlee won’t know what hit her.” Chad was accepting of Dom’s rules, but he also knew he wasn’t going to let it get that point again. There was no way they were going to go through that.

“Thank you for coming and telling me.” Dom gives a little smile as it was nice to hear appreciation eventually.

“You should’ve accepted my offer earli-”

“I told you why I didn’t, Dom. You don’t realize the heat that Rick and Marshall put on our asses when everything was revealed.” Dom chuckles as he recalled a couple similar scenarios himself.

“You’ve never dealt with detectives determined to bring down criminals, but hating every aspect of working with one to do so.” Chad wasn’t even going to touch the topic because it was a can of worms he’d rather avoid. “I do have one more thing that I should tell you, before I move forward and tell Jimmie, Ron, and Greenlee. Ryan Lavery is alive and he is in North Carolina looking for her. I saw him at the shop and talked with him for a bit. I took his number so we can get a hold of him when ready.”

“And the hits just keep on coming….” Chad wasn’t sure about this Ryan person, because frankly, he wasn’t even sure about Greenlee anymore. If it was up to him, Greenlee would be out of HMS in a matter of seconds for lying, and she could have her happily ever after with Ryan if she so pleased. “I don’t get involved with personal business because it gets messy, so that will be up to them to deal with.”

Dom was easily willing to accept that, and hoped it went smoother than everything else seemed to be going. He knew another rock in the ocean wasn’t necessary, as Chad was about to drop a boulder for what he could tell.

********************

Greenlee grabs her glass of wine and walks out onto the patio, looking up at the sky with a sigh. Right now, she stood there with as many questions in her life as answers.

She kept glancing back inside wondering if Ron was truly going to be okay. She wondered if he’d find the answers and grace he needed to actually move forward from everything. She wondered what their future held together, and whether they were meant to be – or just forever roommates, or if they could go their separate paths one day.

She also brought herself back to earlier in the week, when her hand was clutching the shifter knob, letting the gears cause a rush through every inch of her skin. She could see why the thrill was worth the reward, but questioned every single minute. What if she got caught? What if things went wrong? What if she ruined everything she built for four seconds of freedom? Should she just go ahead and cancel the order to Mitchell? Or better yet, keep the order but cancel other things that she knew couldn’t be had with it?

There also many questions beyond those, and a glance at her finger, she closed her eyes and thought of one person.

“I wish you were here, Ryan,” she says quietly out loud. “I wish you were here to hold me. I wish you were here to comfort me. I wish you could just cuddle me right now. I wish you could answer every question that I have about life, and help me find my direction. You always knew what to do when we were lost, and always helped me see the light. I don’t know what to do now, but I know you would. I need you, Ryan…”

She reaches up, wiping a stray tear from her eyes, as she takes a deep breath.

“Are you ready to go?” She hears, interrupting her thoughts as she looks back towards the house. For a split second, she wanted to believe it was Ryan and life was in order. However, a glance at the little blond tips and she knew that wasn’t the case. Instead, she was stuck with her questions and a lovely man before her. “Well, a wine glass in hand doesn’t signify ready to get on a plane.”

“Everything is packed and ready to go by the door,” she reminds Ron, who then looks back to the front door to see that she is speaking the truth. “I came out here to clear my head since we aren’t leaving for another half hour anyway. I figured I’d have a little drink. Is that a crime?”

“Absolutely not.” He then slips the door closed, walking over to where she stood by the ledge. “But why would you need to clear your head? I thought everything was talked ove-”

“It is, and trust me, we’re fine as ever. That whole discussion is forgotten about as I know you’ll do the right thing for you as you feel comfortable and able to do so.” She at least hoped that was the case, but had her doubts some days. “Actually, my mind was thinking about Ryan and how much I miss him. I was even picturing what my life would like if he was here today with me.”

“I imagine you wouldn’t be working for a race team right now.” She chuckles, shaking her head no, as she looks at her fingernails. It was odd seeing grease beneath them after years of having them perfect for all the meetings.

“I’d probably still be in Pine Valley, running the cosmetic company side-by-side with Kendall. We’d probably still be getting into some usual chaos as that town is never without drama, but answers were always easily found – yes, even for Erica despite her lacking of better terms at times. Ryan and I would be enjoying whatever time we could get alone together, and I may even have a kid by now – which is even more strange to say out loud.” Ron closed his eyes, picturing it together, before looking at her directly. It was almost like her vision was a 180 degree version of what was happening.

“Do you regret anything? I mean, I know you wish more than anything Ryan was here, but do you regret everything else being different?” Swirling the liquid in the glass, she downs it in a mouthful as she tries to wash away the sadness that had formed in the air.

“Absolutely not. It allowed me to see you and Mitchell again. It allowed me to reconnect with that lost side of myself. It allowed me to find ways to move forward from the pain, and regain my life and control. It allowed me to put drama in the rearview and actually start fresh for once. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now than standing right here with you.” Ron smiles as those words were just steps short of where he always wondered if they could reach, rather than just that being part of his dreams. Though focused on each other now, he couldn’t find the words to take the next step. maybe it was because of her history and this discussion, or maybe it was because of himself – but those words never came.

“I’m glad that you’re here with me. We may fight and argue, but your support and understanding for what I’m dealing with is second to none, and I appreciate it. I know some days if I didn’t have you here, I wouldn’t be able to take the steps I’m trying to take.” He then glances out over the railing, with a sigh of his own. “I just wish I could forget the fear. I wish I could stop having the nightmares. I wish I could stop feeling as though I’m not in control. I wish I could stop worrying that time would run out.” He then looks back towards her. “I also wish I could stop wondering if another chapter is just over the horizon.”

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The Tale of Love & Racing: Sarina’s Story – Chapter 27: Chilly Willy 150

January 27, 2018 – Chilly Willy 150 – Tucson Speedway

“Are you feeling good?” Chase questions as Sarina glances up at him.

“For the millionth time today, Chase, I am fine and ready to go,” she answers. “If you want to drive, just damn well say it.” He chuckles, shaking his head no.

“I just want to make sure you’re good to go.” He leans in, giving her a kiss, before tightening the belts one last time and putting up the window net. “Do your thing.”

While he was thinking of retreating back to his usual spot in the middle of the corner, he instead climbed the pit box to join Ricky on top.

“One to go at the line,” Ricky tells her after a series of pace laps. “Focus, focus, focus. Remember – we got a long way to go here.”

“We can do this,” Sarina assures him.

“One lap to go at the line,” the spotter says and force of habit, Sarina gives the belts one more tug to make sure they’re tight. “Nevermind. Brandon Schilling stopped on the exit of turn two. Looks like he made contact with the wall.” Chase and Ricky then glance at each other confused.

“How do you hit the wall under pace laps?” Chase questions as Ricky shakes his head in disbelief.

“Strange things always happen at these late model events,” Ricky answers and Chase couldn’t help but agree, having tuned into highlights from Speedfest.

After Brandon’s car was towed off the track, the field was doubled back up and the green flag came out. It didn’t take long for business to pick up, as Sarina found herself in the midst of a three-way battle for fifth on Lap 4, but the caution flew for an incident further back in the pack.

“Patience, patience, patience,” Ricky reminded under the yellow flag. “This is a long race. We don’t need to be making a mistake in the early stages.” Ricky then looks over at Chase. “Besides, someone may wear his tapping foot out at this rate.” Chase immediately stops tapping his foot as Ricky just chuckles. “Are you nervous there?”

“Nah, I’m good,” Chase brushes it off as Ricky just rolls his eyes, focusing back on the race.

When the green flag came back out, it didn’t take long for action to pick right back up, enough for an ‘oh crap’ to escape Chase’s lips when she went four-wide for position. It didn’t take long for another caution, either, as a car went around in turn one on Lap 19.

“They’re racing like it’s the last 19 laps,” Chase comments as Ricky nods his head in agreement.

“Your races were the same way, bud,” Ricky says. “Why do you think I was glad when I could keep you up front in the top-three out of that mess?” Chase just shakes his head in disbelief as he gets comfortable, knowing they were in for a long night. It certainly was different than the calmness of how the Cup races began.

Sarina was initially get a good restart, set to continue charging forward in the top-10, but then it seemed like complete opposite. The car twitched sideways off of the corner, causing her to lose her momentum.

“Talk to me,” Ricky requests, as both he and Chase could tell something wasn’t right. It almost reminded Chase of a tire beginning to go down, or possible rear suspension issue with how quickly the car stepped out.

“Tire losing air possibly,” Sarina answers as she fights the handling, now back to 28th by Lap 23.

“Hold on to it. There’s going to be a fuel stop coming soon.” Everybody was told in the driver’s meeting there would be a chance to put fuel in between Lap 25 and 50, and that was all you were supposed to do at that time and you wouldn’t lose position. Chase knew that as soon as the yellow flag came out, it’d be the opportunity they needed – even if they had to restart from the tail. He just hoped that she could hold on to until then as the car looked evil, almost dead sideways off the corner that past lap.

“Caution!” The spotter lets out as the yellow flag is dropped from the flag stand as a result of fluid being dropped all the way down the backstretch. Chase and Ricky just glance at each other with a quick high-five, knowing it was the break they needed.

“Which tire is it?” Ricky requests as he focuses on the team, knowing the next task at hand.

“Left rear, I believe,” she reports and Ricky makes a motion to the pit crew below.

While the rest of the teams came in and simply put fuel in, the team went ahead and took the left rear tire off, replacing it with another. A quick glance over the tire and Ricky found a small hole, giving a nod to Chase, before reporting the finding to Sarina over the radio.

“Tires are not supposed to be chan-” An official begins as he walks over.

“Slow leak in the left rear,” Chase cuts him off, rolling the tire over. “We’ll take the penalty.”

Ricky and Chase then climb back on top of the pit box, set for the restart. Now back to last for the green flag, Chase could only take a deep breath and hope for the best. There was still over 100 laps to go. This wasn’t over just yet.

A couple pace laps in the books, and the field was back under green. The tire change was certainly the necessary fix as Sarina began to make up ground immediately, moving from the back of the field to run 13th as of Lap 31. She would fall back a couple spots, though, before the caution flew at Lap 45.

“Where am I?” She questions on the radio, immediately.

“16th,” Ricky answers, feeling pretty satisfied. If they could drive through half of the field in just 20 laps, then certainly another 100 was enough to get back to the front. “You’re doing a great job.”

“I’m trying to push to get up there, but not too hard. We need tires at the end of this thing.” Ricky smiles as he glances over at Chase with a bit of surprise. He could certainly see how much she had grown since their last time working together. it was obvious that both Marcus and Kyle had a hand in teaching patience.

“Do you see why I had no problem with her driving for Kyle?” Chase smiles, nodding his head, as he had seen the change too. Rather than always charging and being determined, she had taken a step back to make sure calculated moves were made, to therefore make sure to complete all the laps.

After a short clean-up, the green flag was back out – but not for long. As Sarina looked to make a move to continue gaining ground, a fellow competitor came down on her, causing her to spin and back it in the wall.

“Shit!” Ricky and Chase both let out together, knowing by the damage that they were done for the night.

“Son of a bitch!” She yells on the radio as she takes the steering wheel off, tossing it on the dashboard. She then climbed from the car, walking over to where the other car had come to rest. “Can’t you see when someone has a nose inside of you? Ridiculous! It’s Lap 46. There are still like 104 laps to go. You don’t need to be driving like an asshole this early!”

She then makes her way into the infield, heading directly to the trailer and inside.

“Welp, that sucks,” Ricky comments as he packs up everything on the pit box.

“We had a good car,” Chase adds as he follows Ricky. “She could’ve gotten back up to Preston easily.” Ricky nods his head in agreement as they reach the hauler. They go to enter, but Chase puts a hand on Ricky’s shoulder.

“I know what she’s like when she’s ma-”

“Just give her some space for a minute, please. Besides, I have a question for you.” Ricky turns around, facing him, as he crosses his arms. “You have an offer from a top-notch driver to work with them on a full-time basis at all the big events and such across the United States. Why haven’t you accepted that?”

“Because I wanted to work with you and Sarina. I told you that, Chase.” Chase nods his head, remembering the discussion.

“What if I told you that you had my blessing? What if I told you that it was fine to separate and you go do your own thing? This Late Model deal that we have was only going to happen, say three or four more times this year. Someone of your talent deserves to be working with a driver every single week, winning races. I can’t hold you back from an opportunity like that. They deserve the same chance that I got, Sarina got.” Ricky smiles a little as he thinks it over.

“I appreciate that, because to be honest, it was the hardest thing to walk awa-”

“Then why did you in the first place?” Ricky’s smile widens as he places a hand on Chase’s shoulder.

“My commitment, my friendship, my loyalty to you. The fact that you’ll always be the little rug rat to me, and I’ll always have a soft spot for you. Maybe I also didn’t want to let go of what we had, either.” Chase smiles, knowing it was pretty special, based on the success both he and Sarina had gotten to enjoy. “Are you absolutely certain about this?”

“Yeah, I am. You’ve earned this, Ricky, and I hope you win a ton of races this year – as long as you don’t beat Sarina too much when she runs a couple for Kyle.” Ricky chuckles as he thinks it over.

“I’ll try not to blow your doors off, how’s that?” Chase laughs. “Promise you’ll always come say hi, though?” Chase nods his head. “Alright, it’s settled.” They then watch the tow truck bring the car back in, setting it down before the hauler, as the pair look it over, before eyes glance at each other. “What are you going to do about that thing?”

“Sarina and I know our way around a racecar. I’m sure we can find something to do in our spare time now, and when it’s ready, we’ll figure out a way to bring it out.” Ricky shakes his head, almost wanting to take a seat in the shop to see the show.

“I don’t know if I could see either of you as a crew chief.” Chase raises his eyebrows, actually intrigued by the idea. It’d certainly be different calling the shots for Sarina.

“We could definitely not see Sarina in tha-”

“Hey now, you don’t give that girl enough credit. You got to remember that she worked on her own stuff for years, and she beat you sometimes.” Chase thinks back, knowing that Ricky was actually right.

They then watch as the trailer doors open and Sarina steps out, changed into a pair of jeans and a t-shirt.

“I’m okay before you ask,” she states, knowing that Chase was probably going to ask that next. “I’m just surprised neither of you came in to say something to me.”

“We got talking,” Chase offers and she nods her head, having seen them together outside the window the whole time.

“Well, I took some time, deep breathes, and realized that not everybody is a smart racecar driver. What else can I say about tonight? We had a good car, and we did everything that we could right. It wasn’t our fault that we had the tire leak, and it wasn’t our fault that he wrecked us. I’m happy with what we did, and ready to move forward.” Chase and Ricky both smile, as neither felt like entering a calm-down session with her.

“There is something we need to tell-” Ricky starts, knowing she had a right to know what he had discussed with Chase.

“I overheard the conversation and my feelings match Chase’s,” she cuts him off, to his surprise a little. “You should’ve taken that opportunity and ran with it. I wish you the best of luck, and I look forward to competing against you at times this year.”

“Promise you’ll take it easy on my driver?” Sarina smiles, knowing already who he was going to be working with anyway.

“Are you kidding me? I know crazy talented Chandler is!” Chase nods his head in agreement. “Besides, when have I ever taken it easy on someone?”

—————————-

Sunday, January 28, 2018 – No Name, Colorado

Chase and Sarina walk over to where they were supposed to meet up with Dale, as he glances between the pair in a bit of surprise.

“I was beginning to think you weren’t coming,” he comments, as the pair glance at each other, before turning back to him.

“It was a bit of a late night at the Chilly Willy,” Chase offers and Dale nods his head, having been following the updates.

“I heard about that, and hated to see that. I was cheering you on for the greatest comeback ever.” Sarina smiles, as she had already envisioned the headlines after the initial charge halfway up through.

“We had the car,” Sarina comments. “We just failed to teach our competitors how to drive.” Dale chuckles, knowing how that felt at times.

“I see that you’re ready to go,” Dale starts as he notices the skis and poles in Chase’s hands, before his eyes go to Sarina. “Where are yours? I thought you were excited.” Sarina smiles, as she remembered the initial discussions on Friday.

“Trust me – I was all set to hit the slopes with you guys. But, I hate to admit it, I’m a little sore today. So while you guys have some fun, I’m going to go get a nice relaxing massage, manicure, pedicure, and then go soak in the hot tub for awhile.” Dale admittedly was surprised by some of the items on her list, given what he knew about her, but couldn’t argue with her reasoning.

“Well make sure to take it easy, and hope you’re feeling better.”

“Text me if you need me,” Chase adds, giving her a kiss on the cheek.

“Be careful and have fun,” she replies back, giving him a kiss on the lips before walking away. the entire time, Chase’s eyes didn’t leave her as Dale just crossed his arms.

“You know, we can postpone this if you want to go spend tim-” Dale starts.

“Nah, I’m good,” Chase immediately cuts him off as he looks back over at his friend. “Let’s go have some fun.” The pair then make their way out of the lodge, heading towards the lifts to go up the hill.

“It’s okay to admit that you’re deeply in love, can’t take your eyes off of her, want to spend every minute with her, ador-”

“I get it, Dale.” He then glances over as they wait for their lift. “Yeah, I am in love and I would do anything for her. She absolutely is amazing and perfect, and I can’t stop those feelings. I’m not afraid to admit it, okay?” Dale nods his head, accepting, as they get on the lift.

“But you haven’t asked her the important question yet, have you?” Chase lets out a sigh, shaking his head no.

“What does it matter, anyway? As long as two people are happy together in love, isn’t that all that matters? I’m happy, she’s happy – there doesn’t need to anything else said.” Dale keeps his eyes locked on Chase, intrigued by the comments. He always thought Chase would be up for asking the question. Given that he and Sarina had hit two years together, everything they’d been through, and the adoring love – where was the next step? Just like he bugged Martin each time he saw him, Dale wasn’t afraid to bug Chase now. But, he was also able to sympathize if any apprehension, due to his own experience.

“You’re right, as no matter what you choose, as long as you’re both okay with it, then it’s fine. I just don’t want her to begin to wonder whether you’re going to ask or not, and whether you’re committed to her.” Chase was surprised by the comments, given everything that happened, almost letting out a chuckle. “What?”

“I can assure you that there is no way she questions my commitment to her. I have showed that time and time again I am always going to be there by her side. No matter what happened, Dale, I was always committed to her and willing to do what it took for her and I together. Even when I kicked her out, I was longing and ready to work at building that road back together, again. I’ve told her time and time again how much I love her and car-”

“Relax, it’s okay. I understand. You don’t need to be offended.” Chase glances over at Dale, intrigued by the comment.

“It just bothers me that people question that – whether you, Ricky, Ryan, Jimmie – because I haven’t asked her to marry me. What happened to good old fashioned belief in people?” Dale lets out a sigh as he glances around the hill.

“We’ve seen your relationship go through a yo-yo experience. We’re just looking out for you, Chase.” Chase wanted to argue back in response, but he couldn’t. It was the same way that he was always looking out for Sarina.

“Because of everything we’ve gone through and the fact that we’re still together, I don’t question it anymore. I actually think it helped us both because it made us realize how much we love each other, and need each other. We’ve talked about our future together. We’ve talked about being parents one day down the road. I know that she’s in it with me, and that’s what matters to me.” Dale smiles, glad to hear about the commitment, and even discussions of a future together. But it almost left him caught off guard a little bit more.

“Then what’s stopping you from asking her?” Chase glances down at the hills, taking a deep breath. It wasn’t just a simple answer in return as his mind had a series of questions to ask. “You don’t have to tell me, but make sure you think about it for awhile. Sure, people can live together and be in love forever without marriage. But, to be married together, to say your vows and express that before a room full of people, it gives a whole new meaning that I can’t even describe. I was worried, and I was scared because of my parents, and how love wasn’t the easiest at times. Part of me wondered if I should ask Amy, scared to mess it up. But now that we’ve been married for a year, I don’t regret it.” They then hop off the lift together having reached the top of the hill as Dale looks over at Chase. “Are you ready to go down?”

“Yeah.” Chase fixes his goggles and gloves, as he takes a deep breath, clearing his mind. But he knew later on, he would probably be brought back right to this discussion, with a flurry of thoughts and theories to think about.

The Tale of Love & Racing: Sarina’s Story – Chapter 26: Qualifying Day

Friday, January 26, 2018 – Tuczon Speedway

Sarina walks out of the hauler, stretching a little along the way, as she lets out a sigh. The nap had actually been better than she could’ve imagined at first, as she actually refreshed. Thankfully, the pain pills were working, too, and the cramps had eased off.

“Are you feeling better?” Ricky asks as he glances back at his driver. He was just about to head inside to go grab her, knowing qualifying was coming up real shortly.

“Yeah, I’m good to go for tonight,” she answers with a smile.

“What’s wrong?” She then hears, letting out a sigh as Chase makes her way over.

“Mother nature’s monthly gift,” Sarina offers as Chase glances over at Ricky, before turning his eyes back to Sarina. “I went in the trailer to take a couple pain pills and catch a snooze, and Ricky noticed – well, that and the tampon out of the pocket.” Even though he had insisted it was nothing, her cheeks burned up simply recalling the meeting in the trailer.

“Oh,” was all Chase could manage as Ricky just shrugged his shoulders.

“It’s part of mother nature – why make a big deal?” He questions. “Like I said, our secret. I won’t say a word.” He then walks away, set to focus on his to-dos, but knowing the pair needed some time to talk. Although Ricky cared deeply about them both, he was all fine with giving them their space.

“Why didn’t you tell Ricky to come to get me?” Chase wonders as he would’ve skipped watching the modifieds practice and qualify for her.

“You were enjoying watc-” She starts and he shakes his head.

“You matter to me more than tha-”

“I was fine, Chase. it was simple cramps. Besides, I ended up going to sleep anyway. I just need to go be quiet, and chill, and that’s what I did. I don’t need a babysitter. How many times do I need to tell Kyle, Marcus, Rudy and now you?” Chase closes his eyes, taking a deep breath, trying not to let it fully feel personal that she was putting him on blast. He knew the known fact – girls were sometimes more cranky than usual at this time.

“I know you can take care of yourself, but I care about you, and knowing you’re in pain, knowing what those are like for you, I would like to be there to take care of you. even if you were sleeping the whole time, I would’ve been fine sitting there, rubbing your forehead, or your hand, and offering comfort.” She knew she should immediately feel the ‘awww’ reaction in response, but that wasn’t the first thought on her mind.

“Offer appreciated, but not necessary. Like I said, I don’t need a bab-”

“I know. But sometimes, it’s okay to accept a helping hand to feel better. You don’t need to be superwoman.” She smiles a little as she lets out a sigh.

“I’m not winning this argument anytime soon, am I?” He smiles, shaking his head no. “So, did you learn anything from the modif-”

“Not willing to admit defeat?” She then sticks her tongue out as he simply laughs. “Actually, not really. They should put on a good show tomorrow, though.” He then fixes the collar of her suit, before putting a loose strand of her hair that had fallen from her pony tail behind her ear. “Ready to go?”

“Absolutely. Like I said, I’m f-”

“You don’t need to repeat yourself, because we get it. Come on…” They then walk out to pit road together, watching a couple of the cars that were lined up ahead of them go first.

Like he had yesterday, Chase helps her get all buckled in nice and tight, before making his way over to the pit wall with Ricky.

“Don’t ask me why girls are extra cranky, and don’t ask me if there’s a magic solution,” Ricky starts immediately as Chase looks at him confused. “I saw the discussion. I offered to go find you for her, too, but she didn’t accept. I didn’t want to against her word, either.”

“I just wish sometimes she would just agree with me about that,” Chase comments as Ricky crosses his arms.

“Before you met her, she had spent four years of her life solely independent, doing everything for herself, focused on her needs and everything alone. She grew strong during those years, knowing that to her, she had to depend on herself for everything. So now being with someone else, it can be hard to open up and realize that the person beside her is just trying to offer comfort and support. It’s probably difficult for her to realize that you just want to help because you care, not because you don’t believe in her. At the same time, it’s the only thing she’s known so maybe it just comes with ease – unlike what we believe.” Chase nods his head, accepting.

“So what do I do?” Ricky glances at him with a sigh.

“There’s not much you can do, really. When she wants to have that distance, accept it, but also assure her that you’re there if she needs you and all she has to do is ask. If she ever asks, be there fully so she knows you’re there. Listen, you’ve brought her out of her shell more than anybody ever has because you had patience to wait until she was ready to talk to you about her emotions. This goes the same way, bud, and I know how difficult that is because of that kind heart of yours. But hey, it could be wor-”

“Don’t say that, Ricky. We’ve been there and I don’t need any reminders.” Ricky couldn’t agree more, as even just the thought of Kern County next weekend brought a shiver.

“You don’t need to tell me twice.”

Both of their eyes focus on the track as it was Sarina’s turn to go out and lay down her pair of laps for night. Their eyes didn’t leave focus at all during the two circuits, fingers crossed that they were able to back up their performance from Thursday. Ultimately, it didn’t play out as warranted, as she qualified eighth, setting her up to start second in the second 50-lap qualifying feature that night.

“How did it handle?” Ricky asks after she had climbed out of the car and put the helmet on the roof.

“It was pretty tight actually,” Sarina answers and Ricky simply glances at the notepad, making a note in return.

“I may have gone too far in my adjustments, overcompensating because I was thinking the track would’ve been loose given later in the day.” He then looks over the tire temperatures, and various notes that were handed to him by the crew. “I could loosen it a bit before the 50-lap feature tonight, unless you feel the track will continue getting looser as it cools off.” She glances out to the track, thinking it over. She had raced there plenty of times before, including this event with a previous runner-up, so it wasn’t like it was a new place for her. But trying to predict the weather and track conditions wasn’t ever an easy task.

“It’s not the worst thing ever to drive, so I say we should leave it and see where it goes. I don’t want to adjust, and then be wrecking loose all night.” Ricky nods his head in agreement as Chase crosses his arms.

“We still have the first 50 lapper before us, so we could always see how that goes and then adjust accordingly,” Chase interrupts them, eyes focused on the pair throughout their discussion. He was used to how things would go with Ricky. He would always analyze the situation, and explain his theories, before allowing you to offer your input on what to do moving forward.

“I’m not the one driving the car so it’s up to yo-” Ricky says as he looks back at Sarina.

“Isn’t your job as crew chief to set it up and I’m just supposed to drive it?” Sarina interrupts as Ricky gives her an intrigued glance. Chase could only cross his arms, surprised by the response.

“Absolutely, but I do my job based on feedback from my driver, which is you. I could easily make the decision if you want me to, but I would rather you have a say since you know what that car is doing more than we do.” She nods her head accepting, as she runs her hands through her hair.

“Alright, that’s fair.” She then lets out a sigh. Re-running the words through her mind, she actually wished she never would’ve said them in the first place. But, there was no rewind button on life. “I’m sorry if that came off stronger than I  inten-

“You don’t need to apologize, as I understand being a little frustrated. We’ll just focus on tonight and go from there. I’ll let you know if I think of something, and you do the same.” She simply nods her head as he walks away from them.

“I never should’ve opened my big mouth…” Chase wraps his arms around her, pulling her back in his arms. He couldn’t help but agree, but he wasn’t about to lecture her right now either.

“Like Ricky said, it came out of frustration and there was no meaning behind it,” Chase begins. “Ricky knows that, and he didn’t take it personally. Just take a deep breath, relax, and stay calm. Like he said, we have 50 laps tonight, and then there’s another 150 tomorrow. We have a lot of time to make this work.”

“I know,” Sarina replies as she turns around to face him. “I just don’t want to come out and flop tonight and tomorrow after winning the opener.” Chase could sympathize, seeing how the pressure was mounting.

“That’s not going to happen. You and Ricky have always figured things out and made magic, and this weekend will be no different. Sure, we’re not starting as strong as we wanted, but there’s still a lot of laps.” Sarina lays her head against him, as she felt a number of thoughts swirling through her mind. The biggest of those was surrounding the secret of the day.

“If I don’t perform tonight or tomorrow, Ricky is going to assume it’s because I’m sick and not as focused as I need to be. He’ll simply blame it on my monthly gift, same as the attitude.” Once again, Chase understood where she was coming from, as perhaps he was giving her more breathing room than normal about comments due to that. But, he also knew Ricky well enough to know that wouldn’t be the case.

“I disagree with you, actually. Ricky knows and trusts you. If you tell him that you’re totally focused, totally up for driving, and feeling fine, he’ll fully believe you and not wonder if you’re lying. Ricky knows what you’re like, and Ricky knows that a loss here would not be because of that. We all know that, Sarina. Just because you’re a girl and having your time of the month, we don’t look at you differen-”

“Oh really?” Chase nods his head as he glances down into her blue eyes.

“This is a brand new car. We’re going to have some slip-ups before we figure out every single little secret to making it work. It’s also been a bit since you, Ricky and I have worked together so we need to re-work our chemistry. The lack of testing before coming also plays a factor. You may want to focus on one thing, but we all know how racing works. The struggles were facing today are due to new car, chemistry, and sometimes in general, being stum-”

“Ricky doesn’t get stum-”

“Do I need to remind you of that Easter Bunny 150?” She shakes her head no immediately as that weekend had actually turned out to be a nightmare. “It doesn’t always work out, perfectly. Ricky may be a genius, but this isn’t just show up and win everything every time.”

“Yeah, I guess so. But don’t tell me that about this weekend because we are going to win tomorrow.” Chase smiles back in response.

“Absolutely.”

After sitting together and watching the first 50-lap event, it was agreed to make a slight change to make it a little looser, but not much as the track was beginning to enter the transition period that Ricky originally predicted.

With a quick kiss and another hand buckling in, she was all set to go as Chase made his way back to pit road, joining Ricky on top of the pit box.

“10th or better, right?” Ricky questions and Chase nods his head in agreement as each feature allowed 10 cars to transfer to the main event, for a total of 20 before tomorrow b-mains. They certainly didn’t want to be in the b-main tomorrow.

On the drop of the green flag, Sarina kept herself right up there with the leaders, showing the speed they expected before the first yellow flag at Lap 4. She would get a good restart, allowing her to jump up to the second position early. She was able to stay right on the tail of the leader, until the red flag was displayed at Lap 15 for a big wreck mid-pack.

“Keep doing what you’re doing,” Ricky encourages her. “That’s what we need to do. You’re putting down lap times right up there with the front runners.”

“Car is driving better than it was earlier,” she offers, causing smiles all the way around.

“I’m going to go to my usual spot,” Chase comments as he climbs down the steps, earning a simple nod in response from Ricky.

Chase makes his way through the infield, setting up camp in the middle of turn one and two. They were doing good, but he knew that close eyes and improvement were needed still yet.

Sarina would get a good restart, staying right on the tail of the leader initially, before he began to pull away slightly. She would then find herself in the midst of a battle for the runner-up spot, ultimately dropping back to third by the halfway point. Everything seemed to even out smoothly, as Sarina wasn’t gaining on the top-two, but she wasn’t losing much to those behind her, when another caution came out on Lap 42.

Chase tapped his foot nervously, taking a deep breath, just hoping the final eight laps went smoothly – but knew it was going to be a wild shootout from here on out. he had also noticed some things about the line she was taking, as well as the leaders’ line, making mental notes for both Ricky and Sarina after as there was no point telling them now.

The restart went smoothly up front to Chase’s surprise, but was shortly lived with another caution coming out at Lap 45. Now with five laps to go, and restarting single-file rather than double, the pacing intensified.

Sarina was able to get a good solid restart, but ultimately dropped back another spot, crossing the finish line in fourth. Admittedly, both Chase and Ricky were pleased, knowing they would start Saturday’s 150 lap main event in ninth.

After giving her some time to relax and have a nice cold drink, the three of them retreated to the lounge in the trailer.

“What do we need to do before tomorrow’s practice?” Ricky questions as he looks over at Sarina. She lets out a sigh as she thinks it over, trying to recall every bit of the race.

“I really don’t know,” she answers. “The car wasn’t too bad. I mean, I was a little tight at the start, but I was able to drive it and stay up there. But then at the end, it just seemed to fade a bit – but not really change in handling. I don’t want to go too far one way or too far another way because we’re not off by much, but it’s just enough. But what if we mess with it and screw it up worse?” Ricky couldn’t help but agree as he looked over his notes regarding her lap times during the race, as well as others.

“We got to try something as we’re not going to learn anything this way.” She knew that, but what do you do when the car wants to do two different things at either end of a run?

“I think we need to change your line up a little,” Chase offers, catching her attention. “I know you’ve ran well here before, and I know you’ve finished well and know this play like the back of your ha-”

“Just get to your suggestion, please,” she requests, knowing exactly what Chase was doing in trying to butter her up first.

“It seems as though both Preston and Chris are getting in a little deeper than you are on entry, but it gives you a better run off from the center. So maybe try backing up the corner a little tomorrow, and seeing what it does for you.” She nods her head, accepting.

“What about this handling issue?” Ricky wonders, catching Chase’s attention. “I think we may gain time doing that, but we can’t fall off a whole bunch like we are because it’ll just continue to get worse.” Chase couldn’t help but agree, even if Sarina was scared to make an adjustment right now.

“We have two hours of practice tomorrow, so why not try going both ways at least once and then she can pick what she prefers?” Chase suggests and Ricky nods his head in approval. “She says it didn’t change in handling but faded, so that could be a product of fighting the tires being tight. So we make the handling neutral, does that fix the tires?”

“It’s worth a shot, right? I mean, let’s try that, and then we’ll also try going back to the other set-up we played around with on Thursday.” All of them could agree on that as Ricky finalized it in the notes, so he would make sure to implement accordingly tomorrow. “With that said, I will see you both tomorrow bright and early. Make sure you get a good rest tonight, and Sarina, let him take care of you.”

“Thanks Ricky, and see you tomorrow.” Sarina just shakes her head as she glances between them.

“I’ll try to follow your advice, sir majesty,” she comments as Ricky just gives her a wink back in return. She then slips out of her firesuit, hanging it in the closet, before changing into her jeans and a t-shirt. “Are you ready to go?”

“Absolutely,” Chase tells her as they walk out of the trailer together. “We’re going straight to the hotel, where I think there’s a nice massage waiting for your arrival.” She then smiles as she looks over at him.

“Oh really?” He nods his head as she just smiles more. “How do I know that the massage is going to be good?”

“When have I ever let you down before?” Her cheeks blush a little as he wraps an arm around her shoulders and pulls her close. “They say relaxation is the best medicine for cramps, as there’s not much else you can do – well, and that the pills. So once we get back, I am going to give you a nice massage, before we cuddle up together, watch a movie, and get a good night sleep.”

“I have no objections at all.” They then reach the parking lot, climbing into the rental car and taking the quick drive back to the hotel. “Dale wants to go skiing, huh?” Chase smiles as he thinks back to the random twitter conversation from yesterday.

“I was thinking maybe we could go Sunday as a way to get a quick break in before we go back to the daily grind.” She nods her head, accepting. She actually was trying to find a spot to fit in some slope time, as she wanted to see if she could master her snowboarding skills just a little more, too. “Unless you had a different plan in mind.”

“Absolutely not. You gave up three da-”

“I wouldn’t call this giving up three days, as I’m having just as much fun as you are.” She then rolls her eyes, but she knew that was probably true anyway.

“Regardless, I decided what we were doing here without saying too much – actually, okay wait a minute. You actually had a decision in this before I did. But who cares. The point is I have no issue going up to Colorado on Sunday.” Chase smiles back in return.

“I’ll send Dale a text after and we’ll make sure that the plan is ready to go.”

The Tale of Love & Racing: Sarina’s Story – Chapter 25: Surprise Success

Thursday January 25, 2018 – Tucson Speedway

Chase Elliott walks out to pit road, giving a couple nods and waves to various people who were shouting hellos, before making his way over to where he was headed. Running a hand from the tail of the car to the roof, he stops as he reaches his destination.

“Are you nervous?” He questions, catching Sarina’s attention as she glances over his way. She had been leaning against the car, watching everyone else take to the track for qualifying.

“I wouldn’t say nervous,” she answers as she wasn’t ever the type to be nervous. Being behind the wheel of a racecar was always where she felt most comfortable. It was why it became the driving success when she wanted to get away. “We just didn’t get as much practice as I would’ve hoped.” Chase nods his head, accepting.

With her morning photo shoot and the late notice, they had arrived after everybody was done the first practice session of the day. While they were set to have ample time in the second, a variety of problems with the new car ultimately saw them only make a handful laps.

Knowing it was now or never to put down the best lap of their lives, it’d be understandable if confidence was lacking.

“Ricky knows what he is doing, though,” Chase offers, catching her attention once again. “He always could set up a car without much offering in retur-”

“He can still do that, Chase,” Sarina cuts him off, offering a smile as they look over to where Ricky was standing talking to some crew members. “That’s why I’m not nervous, but rather confident because of who were surrounded with.” She then places her hand on top of his, both of them looking into each other’s eyes. “Tonight is just a trial run. The 50 laps for tonight are meant to set us up for the next two nights. We’re just seeing where we stand tonight so we know what to work on tomorrow, and Saturday. Remember, all that matters is Saturday and those 150 laps. That’s where the Chilly Willy is won.”

“I have every bit of confidence in the world in you, and Ricky, and this team.” He leans in, kissing her lips. “You’re almost up. Time to get set to go.” She nods her head, accepting, taking a deep breath as she pulls the zipper on her firesuit all the way up.

Taking one final glance at the latest lap being laid down, she climbs in the car, pulling the belts over her shoulders. Chase reaches in, doing the belts up, making they were tight and snug. With a nod of the head, he puts the window net up, followed by a pat on the roof before walking away.

“Going to your usual spot?” Ricky questions and Chase simply nods in return. “Watch Pres-”

“Already on my radar,” he answers. Ricky could only smile back in return. It was just like the old days together again.

Eyes focused on the speedway, he watches as Preston Pelltier comes out with a finger locked on the stop watch. Pressing the button in hand, his eyes were drawn to the full length of the corner, watching as he came through and gripped the center like nothing. Both laps in the books and a glance at the time, he knew that was the mark to beat.

His eyes didn’t have time to be taken off the speedway as Sarina was the next car out, and he once again followed the same procedure. The lack of practice time didn’t show at all, as she rotated through the middle of corner like it was nothing. A glance at the stop watch, a smile could easily be seen.

With qualifying in the books, they had qualified third overall – placing them second in the first of the two 50-lappers that night. It wasn’t a move that bothered Chase, either, as they would able to keep eyes on Preston for the second.

“Who said practice was important?” He questions as he walks over, giving Sarina a high-five as she climbs out. “That was a good clean lap.”

“There’s more speed in this car,” she offers, not set to settle on where they had ended up. “I admit I took it a little easy there going into on-”

“Who can you blame you?” She shrugs her shoulders as she fixes her hair.

“I think a couple tweaks, and we’ll be right where we want to be.” Chase smiles as he leans back against the car.

“I say we’re already where we want to be, if not further along.” He watches as Ricky comes over, joining them. “This actually wasn’t as bad an idea as I thought.”

“Don’t tell me you want to drive now…” Chase chuckles, shaking his head. Knowing the busy year ahead of them, he was fine with a couple more weekends to relax. However, understanding that drive for success that Sarina had, he had no issues coming out for her.

“Chase is just worried that you’re going to show him up,” Ricky teases, causing a surprised glance immediately on Chase’s face as Sarina chuckles.

“I thought you were my friend man,” Chase offers as Ricky just shrugs his shoulders.

“She’s prettier bud.” Chase looks over at her and smiles.

“Yeah, I can’t argue with that.” She just looks over, blushing a little bit.

Choosing to relax until race time, they spent the time sharing jokes and stories while the local divisions were on-track. Sarina was always open to hearing what Ricky had to share, as there were certainly some memorable times from when Ricky and Chase worked together. She also found herself offering her own stories from her late model days, which always caught the intrigue of both.

“The strange thing here is that we have two people who have been disqualified from the Snowball Derby in love,” Ricky chimes in after a bit, causing a shocked glance from them both. “Too soon?”

“I told you that a man doesn’t forgive someone for costing them a snowball,” Chase comments, as his eyes catch the snowball hanging from around Sarina’s neck. “But, in a way, I can’t be mad about your disqualification. I got the win that day, but I also got to get to know a beautiful young lady.”

“That doesn’t excuse what happened,” Sarina replies, remembering the frustrations. It was that day that she fired her crew chief, ultimately partnering up with Chase and Ricky. “But it certainly swayed my vote to accept your offer.”

“I can’t believe you almost drove for Bubba Pollard…” Ricky glances between them. “He offered her a ride about a week and a half before we did. Then he joked that I only offered a ride because of the crush I had on her.”

“Typical Bubba,” Ricky comments as Chase nods his head in agreement.

“Okay, but let’s admit – Bubba is not that bad of a guy,” Sarina offers, causing a couple questionable glances. “His heart in a good place at least, and he’s pretty friendly if you get to know to him.”

“Just watch your step, though, because that can change quickly in this game.” Sarina nods her head, having seen that all too often herself. “I remember there was people who wanted me to leave Chase, or Chase to go somewhere else. We heard offers a couple different ways, actually. But no matter who walked up to me, no matter what they offered, I couldn’t say yes.” Chase smiles, remembering those times together and the bond that was shared.

“If Dad would’ve told me that he was getting someone else or doing something else, I would’ve objected,” Chase tells him. “You’re one of the best in the business, and we wouldn’t had won some of those races without you at the helm and the decisions you made. But beyond that, you helped shape the driver that I am today. Look at all the lessons you taught me.” Ricky smiles, remembering the countless lectures at the tracks and in the shop.

“I should’ve taught you to be a little more aggressi-”

“I got Denny back, fair and square; that’s what matters. I’d rather race people clean, and with respect, then be known as a dirty driver. Like you’ve always said – race people how they race you, but be willing to stand up for yourself so it doesn’t happen again. Denny knows I won’t play games this year.” Ricky smiles, nodding his head with a bit of pride. He wasn’t about to deny the cheers he had at Phoenix.

“I told Josh that I wanted a copy of the video so I could run it on replay,” Sarina jokes as Ricky laughs.

“I think that’s the biggest cheer that I let out – other than when you were leading the Daytona 500,” Ricky offers as Chase lets out a sigh.

“I’d rather not talk about that one,” Chase suggests as he glances away. “Who runs out of gas with a couple laps to go while leading the Great American race?”

“Who gets wrecked battling for the lead with their teammate with eight laps to go?” Sarina reminded, remembering her battle at Phoenix with Christopher.

“I thought Kyle was going to kill one of you that night.” Sarina nods her head, remembering the anger that Kyle had expressed. “I was sitting on the pit box and his reaction was just over the top.”

“Isn’t that the way it always is with Kyle, though?” Ricky comments and Chase nods his head in agreement as Sarina lets out a sigh. “Hey now, I’m not saying that in a bad way. Actually, I admire the heck out of him for what he’s done in the late model scene, and the truck series with his team. I like his ability to bring up new talent, and he can certainly get the job done on track. But I’m sorry, there are sometimes where he needs to just shut up.”

“Like on media day?” Sarina questions and Ricky nods his head, having read the comments expressed.  “I admit that it sounded like jealousy when he said that NASCAR is over-promoting the young stars. But, he does have a point. You can’t let the known stars, the characters, the personalities, get lost in the shuffle.” She then wraps an arm around Chase. “And that includes, too. We can’t let your quietness, your down to earth persona, your sweetness, get lost amongst that. But we also don’t need to change that because a lot of people like you for who you are.” Chase smiles, as she kisses his lips.

“Can I get a warning before the next PDA?”

“Warning!” Sarina and Chase both say together, before sharing another kiss as Ricky lets out a sigh.

********************

Thursday January 25, 2018 – Tucson Speedway

The evening went by quickly and before they knew it, night time had arrived and it was time for the event of the night.

Settled in on pit road, Chase and Ricky were ready for an entertaining night of action, hopeful that things would simply go smoothly. If they could come out tonight with all four fenders on the car, it’d mean no extra work before tomorrow and that was necessary.

Starting second, Sarina’s eyes were locked on the flagstand as they came to the start-finish line to start the event. As soon as the green flag dropped, her foot mashed the pedal and she drove it as hard as she could into the first corner. With the car rolling the center as she wanted, she rolled off the corner smoothly, taking over the top spot ahead of the field.

From there on, it was a simple casual night as the lead just continued to extend with each passing lap.

“Should I get the ice cream out?” Ricky offers about halfway through, seeing the lead up to a couple car lengths.

“Don’t count your chickens before they hatch,” Chase comments as his eyes were locked on her late model the entire time. He could see the chaos happening behind them, and he knew a bit of contact, followed by a spin or wreck, and they would have a late race restart on their hands. He believed in her ability, but knew how much that could change the game.

However, that yellow flag never came, and with ease, she crossed the finish line ahead of the field, scoring the victory.

The winner’s circle was filled with pride shortly after, with high-fives being shared amongst everybody. Ricky took a turn with each of the crew members, before giving a hug to Chase, followed by a hug for Sarina. Chase was next to find Sarina, giving her a kiss and a hug right away.

“Not bad for a trial run,” he comments, remembering her words from earlier in the day.

“If this is a sign of things to come, we’re going to have a great weekend,” she replies, before giving him another kiss. “I love you, and thank you.”

“I love you, too. Oh, and it was Ricky’s ide-”

“I know who paid the bills, Chase.” Chase gives her a wink before backing away to let reporters and photographers do their job.

“And you were nervous,” Chase hears, followed by an arm being wrapped around his shoulders. He just looks over at Ricky with a smile of his own.

“I never doubted her ability,” Chase replies as Ricky nods his head.

“I’m glad to be back. Thank you for giving me the green light on this project. I’m just surprised that you managed to keep it a secret while I put the pieces together.” Chase was surprised at himself, too, as he had known for a couple weeks before Sarina had gotten the call that Ricky was putting together a late model, set to begin fulfilling the plan. He had almost put the brakes on everything with the chaos they went through, but seeing her smiling now, he was glad that he had kept his faith.

“All that matters is her happiness, Ricky. Look at how happy she is. I could do anything for her.” Ricky smiled as he kept his arm firmly wrapped around Chase’s shoulders.

“I know, but promise me that you’re also taking care of yourself. Don’t ever reduce your happiness to make her happ-”

“Trust me when I say this, Ricky. Everything is fine right now.” Ricky was glad as he gave Chase’s shoulder another squeeze.

“I know. I just worry about you – like always.” Chase looks over at him.

“Some things will never change…” Ricky then heads off to go celebrate with the crew, and make sure that tech inspection went smoothly that night.

“Are you going to come celebrate, or just stand on the sides and beam with pride?” He hears and looks over immediately, smiling as his eyes catch Sarina’s. “Come on!” He then comes right in the midst of everyone, wrapping an arm around her as they pose for a couple photos together.

********************

Friday January 26, 2018 – Tucson Speedway

Sarina walks over, looking at the speed charts, seeing that after three practice sessions, with all the speeds culminated together, she had ended up ninth.

“What did I tell you about looking at that?” Ricky questions, placing his hand over top of the screen.

“I couldn’t help but be curious,” she answers as he lets out a sigh.

“Remember, we didn’t do a qualifying run as we learned last night how strong the car is there. We just focused solely on long distance, and handling, so we’ll be fine come Lap 110, 120 on Saturday. Don’t let that get in your head.” She nods her head, accepting, as she moves his hand off of the screen.

“I never lose my trust in you, Ricky. I know that you know what you’re doing, and we’ll be fine.” Ricky smiles as he gives her a pat on the shoulder.

“That’s my princess. But one has to ask – why are you still staring?” She then glances over at him.

“Because I’m curious as to where everybody else stacked up. Is that a crime?” He shakes his head no.

“Remember what I said. We qualify at 5:30, okay?” She nods her head, accepting, as he walks away.

She then turns around, leaning back against the pit box as she smiles at the crew guys working feverishly before her. It was certainly nice to be back at the race track, surrounded by the best guys ever, with eyes focused on one goal.

Taking a deep breath, her hand finds its way to her stomach, rubbing it. She then walks back into the trailer, popping the bottle open as she puts two pills in her mouth, followed by a bottle of water. She then makes her way through, leaning back on the couch as she tries to relax. If she was lucky, it would be gone by race time.

“Hey, are you okay?” She hears, catching by her surprise as she looks to see Ricky standing there.

“I’m fine,” she answers, but he wasn’t totally sold on her answer.

“I can go get Chase if you want.” She shakes her head no, knowing that he was out watching the modifieds practice, and she wasn’t set to disturb him. Besides, some rest and time was all she needed.

“I’m fine Ricky.” Ricky wanted to believe her, but still wasn’t sure. Setting down his notebook, he makes his way over, sitting on the edge of the couch.

“Chase told me about the miscarriage at the New Year’s Party, because he needed someone to talk to. I don’t know if you know that he tol-”

“It’s fine. I figured he would tell you and Alan, and that’s fine. I know those emotions, so I know how you need to be able to talk it out with someone.” Ricky was glad that went over smoothly, but still felt his concern.

“If something is going on, or there are any lagging effects, you can tell me. I won’t judge you differently. I won’t baby you, or over care for you – even though I do care a lot about you. I’m just worried because I can tell that you’re in pain.” She takes a deep breath as she rubs her stomach once again.

“It’s not related to the miscarriage. That’s all dealt with, and in the past. Trust me, I’ve gotten all the clears on that you can get. This is something different.” She then shifts a little on the couch, causing a tampon to roll out of her firesuit pocket.

“Oh…” Ricky easily put the pieces together as he picked up the tampon, handing it back over to her as she quickly stuffed in her pocket. Her face immediately went beet red. “Hey, hey, it’s okay. It’s a natural woman thing. Every woman gets her menstrual cycle once a month, and every guy knows that. So these are simply cramps, and once those pills settle in, you’ll be fine for tonight. Am I right?”

“Yeah…” Ricky stands up, giving her a pat on the shoulder.

“Don’t be embarrassed. I won’t tell anybody. It’s our secret. But if it gets to be too much, let me know and we can convince Chase to drive.” She looks over at him.

“You would actually like tha-”

“Oh hell no. Listen, you’re much easier to work with than he is any day of the week.” She then laughs as he stands up, grabbing a blanket out of the cupboard.

“Can I get that in writing?” He chuckles, shaking his head no as he lays the blanket on her.

“That’ll be our secret, too. Get some rest and I’ll see you in a couple hours.” Ricky then walks away, grabbing the notebook before heading back out.

The Tale of Love & Racing: Sarina’s Story – Chapter 24: Chilly Willy

January 25, 2018 – North Carolina

Sarina glances over her bags once again, double checking everything was in there accordingly. Helmet was already downstairs by the door in its bag, along with her gloves and racing shoes. She had just packed her new firesuit in the suitcase, along with some pajamas, undergarments, couple t-shirts, socks, and jeans. Double checking that the clothes were all in there – throwing a sweater in for good measure, she makes her down the stairs with the bag in hand. There was no need to stop by the bathroom, because she had already packed the essentials already.

Reaching the bottom of the stairs, she sets the bag down, before making a quick trip to the kitchen to grab a drink and snack to take with her. Cursing late notice, combined with having to fulfill morning photo shoot details at KBM, she hadn’t had a chance to grab herself anything to eat – besides a bagel and coffee before the photos.

She returns back to the door, double checking everything was ready to go, set to head on out when the door opens before her. Chase glances over all the bags, almost taking count as to make sure she had everything with her.

“And where do you think you’re going?” He questions, as she looks at him. She knew she never had to ask permission, or get his approval on something. However, they always had a good deal of keeping track of each other.

“Chilly Willy bound,” she answers with a smile on her face. He almost met her back with a smile, but stayed serious instead.

“Really? Without telling me?” She felt bad as that hadn’t occurred to her to do so in the midst of all the craziness since finding out the details in the morning hours.

“Listen, I just found out about it and I’ve been going non-stop. I was going to text you after, I promise.” He crosses his arms, even more caught off-guard. Where was his invite?

“So you were just going to run off to the Chilly Willy by yourself…” She nods her head, immediately feeling absolutely terrible and stunned. She should’ve known that Chase would want to go with her.

“Bad timing on finding out, crazy mind – sorry for no thought in the process.” He almost let his guard down with a smile, but figured that wasn’t set to happen.

“So why are we running off to the Chilly Willy? Kyle decide to gift you a ride?” She shakes her head no, almost glad that he hadn’t anyway because this was a unique, special opportunity. Actually, it was odd to see that Chase had no idea about it in her mind.

“No, my deal with Kyle still stan-”

“So I thought we were both going to make the best of the weekend in our own special way.” Her cheeks go red in remembering the discussion, and knowing that being able to touch him, feel him head to toe, and feel him inside of her was the greatest feeling of all. But, getting a chance to do this was also pretty special.

“Can I take a rain check, please? I mean, you know what the Chilly Willy is and you know the bragging rights associated. I mean, did you see who is going to run that event this weekend? Basically a lot of whose who that are not at Speedfest, including myself.” Chase understood her want and belief to run the event, and couldn’t blame her. Besides, it had a cool name to it.

“You can have your rain check – as long as I get some details.” She lets out a sigh, wishing that she was heading out the door already. One glance at the time and she was running late.

“Can I also get a rain check on that? I’m running late and I need to go. I am supposed to meet up with my flight at the airport in 20 minutes.” Chase nods his head, accepting, visualizing the flight plan in his mind already.

“You’re going to get stuck in secur-”

“Ricky assured me that my ride would be waiting…for….me…and there’d be no issues.” A big smile forms on her face, matching the one that was slowly creeping onto Chase’s face. “You’re my flight, aren’t you?” The smile comes out fully as she lets out a sigh. “You’ve been standing here playing me, wasting valuable precious time, when meanwhile I bet Ricky called you first.” Chase just laughs as she crosses her arms. “But yet, I got the ride?”

“Ricky offered me the ride, actually. I turned him down, but suggested that he give it to yo-”

“Chase, you didn’t have to do tha-”

“I know how bad you felt about not being able to do Speedfest, so I figured you’d be fully willing to do this event.” She shakes her head in disbelief as she walks over, wrapping her arms around him.

“Do you know how much I love and adore you?” He just laughs.

“That goes both ways…” She then glances around, now feeling a little confused.

“If you know about this so-called planned, why aren’t you packed?” Chase looks outside, before turning back to her.

“My stuff is in the truck already. I just need yours, and we’re ready to go.” She could only smile back in return as she kissed his lips.

“There’s one thing that Ricky didn’t tell me. Why are we doing Chilly Willy instead of Speedfest?” Chase remembered asking the exact question, as it felt weird to not be going to Speedfest.

“Brand new car without a lot of testing being done. Speedfest just gives you a couple rounds of practice, before throwing you into the deepest pool imaginable. Chilly Willy, meanwhile, has practice and the opening 50-lapper on Thursday – which is used as a test session by many teams, including Ricky’s plan. There’s also another practice session on Friday, before qualifying and Saturday’s race. He figured everything together would be enough ample time – and he’s not throwing you right to the wolves but instead a pack of dogs.” He then picks up her bag as she double checks once again, before grabbing her purse and helmet bag to follow him out of the house.

“Ricky is a smart guy…” Chase nods his head in agreement as he throws the bag in the truck.

“Consider this ride one that we can play around with in the midst of other commitments, and just have some crazy no pressure fun. While, until we get to December that is.” Chase just smiles as he gets in the truck. Sarina can only roll her eyes, smiling as she climbed in the passenger seat.

“This is your ride to the Snowball Derby. Ricky kept his promise that you two would not return unless you had a car together.”  Chase glances over at her, continuing to smile.

“Ricky doesn’t break promises to me, ever.”

****************************

January 25, 2018 – Tucson Speedway – Arizona

Ricky stands at the back of the trailer, arms crossed, checking his watch for the time, before glancing up at the pair of drivers walking towards him.

“I was beginning to think that you’d never show up,” he offers, causing a glance of surprise between them.

“What else do you expect when you call us in the morning?” Sarina questions in response as she sets her bag down. “I had a photoshoot this morning.”

“I feel bad for that poor soul that had to deal with you.” She then sticks her tongue out as he just laughs. “Actually, you didn’t make bad time.”

“We would’ve been here sooner, if not for someone else…” Sarina glances over at Chase, who simply shrugs his shoulders in return.

“Do you realize this is the first year that we’re skipping Speedfest – whether car or just attending?” Chase smiles, nodding his head. He had thought about that during the flight. It was strange to be in Arizona for a Late Model event when one was happening in his home state that very same weekend, and a big one at that.

“It feels a little strange, but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I have to support my girl.” Ricky just rolls his eyes as Sarina’s cheek go a darker shade of red.

“I’m going to go get ready,” Sarina announces, heading into the trailer.

“You know, you could race against your girl next weekend…” Ricky’s voice trails off as Chase knows immediately what he was referring to. Everybody knew the next big event to talk about would be the Winter Showdown, especially due to the purse that Kern County was putting up.

“You have my answer already,” Chase tells him, referring to their phone conversation. Chase had turned down running any pre-season Late Model events, wanting to stay solely focused on his Cup racing. with all the canges at Hendrick Motorsports, combined with a new car and last year not going as totally planned, he wanted to make sure all focus was there so they came out of the box swinging. Besides, it was now or never for him to get a win.

“It doesn’t hurt a guy to try and try and try some more once again. I mean, you’re part of the reason I did this.” Chase sighs, nodding his head, as he knew it referred to their deal made at the Snowball Derby.

“This is why I also hadn’t given you the green light or discussed it further.” Ricky understood, and was willing to accept – no matter how it made him feel. “You can put someone else in the car, if you wan-”

“I’m only working on this deal for either you, or Sarina. You know how I feel about strange people.” Chase smiles, remembering the discussion. When Chase had suggested a development team, Ricky had been reserved about it was he was picky in whom he’d closely work with. Luckily, Sarina had won him over in the first couple events together.

“I just don’t want to see your good talents go to waste – despite my reservations.” Ricky then walks over, wrapping an arm around Chase.

“My good talents never go to waste when I look over and see the success that you’re having, and the man that you’ve become. Now, bare with me, we’re not perfect – nobody is, though – but you’re pretty darn close. There’s just that one thing that still bugs us both.” Chase knew what he meant immediately.

“Frustration over what we knew we could’ve done different, and better, to get the job done. The fact that we push ourselves so hard to be as perfect as we can and do as well as we can. The fact that we won’t settle for second.” Ricky nods his head, as the pair had the discussion on multiple times, prior.

“I watched your media day frenzy, and I saw your comments. I know you’re feeling that win pressure, and I know how that can be. But trust me when I say this, you’re going to win this year, and once you do win, they’re going to come like wild fire. Don’t let everybody’s words and discussion about it bug you. Oh, and don’t change who you are either. Everybody that says you should be different is full of crap. For me, and I know a lot of your true supporters, they love the quietness, the sweetness, the down-to-earth persona; I know they love you for who you are. The main thing is inner happiness. If you’re happy with yourself, don’t change.” Chase smiles, as he looks over at Ricky.

“I’ll keep your advice in mind as you’re right. Thank you.” Ricky then walks away, grabbing his notes off of the pit box.

“You know the drill…” Chase nods his head. it was always known no matter what the problem he could always go to Ricky and Ricky would offer advice. In Ricky’s eyes, Chase was still the little kid that he had started working with originally. “Oh, do I have to worry about any of Sarina’s family?” Chase then looks over, now caught off-guard and confused. “Lindsay mentioned how you were going to see Shelley, and I haven’t heard much sin-”

“Don’t even go there, please.” Ricky then crosses his arms, walking back over to Chase, now concerned. “That meeting didn’t go well at all. Shelley believes that Sarina handled everything wrong, and that we should’ve done more for Chris. They had a pair of fights, and it actually tore Sarina apart pretty good.” In Chase’s mind, all he could see was the image of her sitting at the kitchen table crying with a hole in the wall in the background. Taking a deep breath, he couldn’t let Shelley control his thoughts – just like he had told Sarina. “We’re cutting all ties so that way Shelley can’t continue to cause anymore pain, so just please drop and let it go.”

“Done. I have no problem with that – as long as I know that you’re safe, and she’s safe.” Chase nods his head. As of right now, that fact was true, and Chase believed that it would stay that way – despite Sarina’s initial concerns. “Lindsay warned that some family members may not be so comforting and there may be more issues than we realize with the family. I told her then and there that I wanted to know anything that went on because I would do anything to protect you guys. I meant those words, Chase.”

“I know, and I appreciate that. But really, everything is fine right now. There’s nothing going on – except Sarina and I enjoying our time together before life gets crazy.” Ricky glances up as he watches Sarina walk out of the trailer, dressed in her firesuit, ready to rock and roll.

“I understand, but don’t ever forget those words. I was there with you both through that, and I don’t want to see it happen again.” Chase nods his head accepting as Ricky walks away.

Sarina glances between the pair slightly confused, intrigued by what they were talking about, before making her way over to Chase. She knew asking Ricky would get her nowhere, but Chase couldn’t lie to her by default.

“Everything okay?” She questions and Chase simply nods his head, again.

“Ricky was just concerned about family relations and possible trouble,” Chase offers as Sarina lets out a sigh. she knew it was no surprise to hear people talk about her family that way, but she wasn’t going to lie that it did bother her sometimes, still. “I explained part of the Shelley situation – very briefly with a little detail as possible, since Lindsay had mentioned us connecting with her. I then assured him that there’s nothing to worry about, but he wanted to make sure I knew he was there if needed.” Sarina smiles as she looks towards Ricky.

“You know, we’re pretty damn lucky Chase. Not a lot of people can say that they have someone in their lives who would do anything for them. But here we stand, and we’ve got Ricky, Alan, Marcus, Kyle, Samantha, your parents, Christopher, and both our crews telling us they have our backs no matter what.” Chase wraps his arms around her, holding her close.

“That’s because you’re an amazing person who deserves every bit of happiness that you get. All these people see what I’ve always seen – how special you are, how charming you are, inspiring, determined, beautiful – and want you to be happy.” He then kisses her lips.

“You’re not so bad yourself, Prince Charming…” He then chuckles as he gives her a glance over.

“Yeah, but not everybody can make a firesuit look as amazing as you do. God damn, I was skeptical on you switching from white to black, but I can damn well say now that I am in total love.” She rolls her eyes in response.

“Save the compliments for later. I know what you’re getting to…” He just grins as she walks away, set to focus on the day at hand.

The Tale of Love & Racing: Sarina’s Story – Chapter 23: Running Late

January 24, 2018 – Charlotte Motor Speedway

Sarina runs into the infield, opening the trailer door and rushing inside, stopping as she attempts to catch her breath. She looks up, seeing Rudy standing there, arms crossed, eyes locked on her.

“I’m sorry I am late,” she offers as she makes her way into the trailer. “I had an appointment run late.” Rudy keeps his arms crossed as he watches her pull her firesuit out of the closet.

“You could’ve texted me,” he comments as she nods her head. She knew she should’ve sent that message as she left the office, but she thought she had enough time.

“I thought I would be here on time given when I lef-”

“And when you realized that you wouldn’t be here? I mean, I texted you asking where you wer-”

“I was driving, Rudy. I don’t text and drive! Do you not care enough about my safety to understand that my eyes should be focused on the road, and not my phone?” He pauses, taking a deep breath. This was certainly not how either of them wanted to start their relationship together.

“Certainly I do, and appreciate your concern for safety. But still, some notification would’ve been nice. I mean, who schedules an appointment on the day that they have a test anyway?” She rolls her eyes as she closes the door, changing out of her jeans and t-shirt into the firesuit.

“As I said, I thought I had enough time – and I only got here because the appointment ran late. Besides, it was important.” She then opens the door, coming out fully dressed as Rudy leans against the cabinets, eyes locked on his driver. Each of the drivers that Kyle seemed to partner him with had their challenges, and he knew the fun was just beginning.

“I know you had a health scare at the year-end party, and I know Marcus and Kyle have both been concerned about your well-being, going as far to cancel the race this weekend. By the way, just so you know, I have a heart and I care just as much as anybody else despite this anger at you today. it’s just we need to have communication if we’re going to make this work.” Sarina stops, nodding her head in agreement, as she takes a deep breath. She might as well come clean with where she was, because it was just the first appointment in a series to come.

“My appointment this morning didn’t have anything to do with my sickness in the off-season. Actually, for your information, I am as healthy as anybody and ready to get back to my usual self, so please don’t baby me.” Rudy puts his arms up in his defense.

“I wasn’t going to do that. I just didn’t want to come across in our first session together as an ass.” She then chuckles as she leans back against the counter across from him.

“Well, congratulations on doing such a great job – but I probably also came across as someone who doesn’t know how to keep a schedule, and lacks in the communication department. So really, we’re both doing a great job looking like asses.” Rudy nods his head in agreement. “I’m sure you’re aware of  how I can lack in anger management someti-”

“You were going to kick Christopher’s ass at Phoenix when you were both evenly at fault. I’m well aware and that doesn’t scare me, Sarina. I know how talented of a driver you are. I know you can get the job done. I also know that there’s been some other issues, but I look at how you’ve grown and improved from then. I mean, look at who you are today compared to even just a year ago. We can work through anything, and we’ll work at improving your attit-”

“My appointment this morning was with an anger management councilor. I made the choice to go see him because it’s clear, in a bunch of different ways, that I need to do something. Today was our initial meeting to discuss how I feel about where I stand, where I need to improve, and why I did this. Over the next several weeks, once a week, we’re going to discuss reasons for the anger being what it is, and strategies so I can cope with it better. So, just so you know, I will probably be a little late getting to the shop once a week.”  Rudy was actually caught off-guard by her revelation, but was glad to see that she was taking the steps necessary. It was nice to see her respect for herself, but also realizing things that she needed to do if they were truly going to make some magic happen.

“I’m proud of you for doing this for yourself. I know that it can be daunting and scary to admit something and talk to a total stranger, so I applaud your efforts. I hope it works out the best for you.” He then takes a deep breath. “And, even though we may have started everything wrong, you can always come talk to me if you need to. I’m your sounding board and confident friend, as much as I am your crew chief and mentor.” She smiles back in response.

“I appreciate that, really. Thank you for understanding.” He then glances outside, seeing the guys working around on final preparation for the truck, before turning his eyes back to her.

“Why don’t we talk out there, together, confident for what’s to come today and this year, and forget about how we started off?” She nods her head, accepting. “By the way, the set-up were starting off with is what you finished the race with in May. I figured it was a good place to build from.”

“I was quick that night, but I do remember Christopher being a lot quicker…” Rudy smiles as he wraps an arm around her shoulders.

“By the end of the year, you’ll know all the secrets that we shared to be that quick.”

**********

After finishing up his final photo shoot of the day, Chase made his way to the track, sitting up in the stands as his eyes followed the No. 18 Toyota Tundra around the track lap after lap, smiling as it seemed she was finding her groove with ease.

When the test session was deemed complete, he makes his way across the track and into the infield, finding where they were parked. He stands back, watching as she breaks down the session with Rudy, going over everything that she liked. Given the smile on her face, their chemistry was starting off strong and things had gone well.

Once they finished talking and Rudy walked away, Chase makes his way over, catching an immediate smile in return from Sarina.

“You looked good out there,” he offers as she just shrugs his shoulders.

“That’s coming from the guy that says testing is not really relative to the real thing, and you don’t ever know until you get to the track for the race,” she replies, almost direct quoting his comments yesterday in regards to the Las Vegas test. He just rolls his eyes in response.

“And yet you still can’t take a simple compliment. But really, you did look a lot better than some of these guys out here today, and you looked happy with Rudy.” She glances over at Rudy, who was talking with some of the crew members, before looking back to Chase with a smile.

“He’s not a bad guy, actually. I admit that I was skeptical about this crew chief change, but I think it’s going to work out well – as long as we forget about this morning.” Chase looks at her a little intrigued. “My appointment went lon-”

“I totally forgot about that, by the way. I apologize. I am so sorry. I promised you that I would go if you wan-”

“Chase, it’s fine, really. It’s not your fault that the production shoots got scheduled the same day because we never could’ve known. Besides, it went smoothly. Marshall seems like a nice dude, someone that I can actually talk with easily as I had no issues explaining what he wanted today. I’m actually looking  forward to seeing him next week, too.” Chase couldn’t help but smile as he knew how nervous she was about talking to a stranger, given her bouts with her emotions in the past.

“So Rudy was mad because you were late?” She nods her head.

“We both yelled a little back and forth in the trailer, before coming to an understanding and agreeing to just forget about it. Other than that, it’s been smooth sailing today and I expect greatness this season.” Chase then wraps his arms around her.

“So in other words, my prediction about a championship will come true?” A smile forms on her face as she could only dream about that happening in this moment. She couldn’t even imagine the joy if that happened.

“Just like my prediction for a win for you will come true, too.” He had his reservations, but he believed in his heart that she was telling the truth and it would happen.

“Ah yes, I have to get used to seeing you around and a little public PDA happening,” a voice interrupts the pair as Rudy makes his way back over to where they were standing. Chase immediately lets her go, looking over at the crew chief almost with a bit of a guarded glance.

“I’m sorry,” he immediately states. “If you want me to go, I can lea-”

“Chase, I have no problem with it. I totally understand how much you both love each other – as I saw last year even not working with her. Besides, you offer a calming presence and sometimes that is needed.” Sarina rolls her eyes, knowing what Rudy was referring to immediately.

“Rudy, we’re not going to be kicking any drivers in the ass this year – at least not off the track,” she comments with a wink as he just smiles in response.

“I like your thinking,” he replies, before looking back towards Chase. “Seriously, I have no problem with it. You’re welcome to come hang around, and you’re welcome on the pit box. Just like I said, though, it’s going to be a little different than what I am used to, and I will have to get used to that.”

“You know, you could make it so much easier if you were driving a Toyota. Say, do you want to be Martin Truex Jr.’s teammate?” Chase gives an intriguing glance back in response, almost looking as if he was seriously contemplating it.

“Now that you mention it, I wouldn’t mind that and his trophy….” Chase’s voice trails off as Sarina looks back almost surprised by his reaction. “Are you kidding me? Do you seriously think that I’d give up driving for Rick Hendrick, and working with my guys? That’s never happening, ever, in a million years. I’m sorry, but I like where I am at. But, you could always go drive for GMS-”

“And poor Johnny would go insane in the process,” Sarina cuts him off as Chase just laughs. He knew adding a mix tempered female to the mix there wouldn’t go with Johnny’s style, hence the free flowing young guys that normally ruled their roost. “Actually, I couldn’t imagine driving for anybody else, either. Kyle and Samantha are truly special and I know that there are not a lot of owners that would do what they’ve done for me.” Chase stops, taking a deep breath, nodding his head in response.

“Sam is pretty amazing,” he admits. “I don’t know what I would’ve done without her sometimes.” Rudy glances between the pair a little confused as Sarina simply pulls Chase close, laying her head against his chest.

“I know if it wasn’t for her, we probably would’ve been lost and confused, and still a mess over what happened.” Rudy was now really confused as he watched the pair together. Sarina noticed the glance on his face, looking into Chase’s eyes, which got her a simple nod from him in response. “Kyle, Samantha, Marcus, my cousin Lindsay, Rick, Alan and his parents are the only ones that know this – and now you. Everybody wanted to know what happened at the New Year’s Party. It wasn’t some mysterious illness or the flu or whatever, but rather I had a miscarriage. I didn’t even realize that I was pregnant.”

“Oh,” was all Rudy could manage as he took a step back, thinking it over multiple times before even figuring what to say in response.

“So you can understand why I was emotional and a mess those couple weeks after, plus the pains,” she adds, and he simply nods his head in agreement. “It happened by accident, probably through a night of using no protection when we should’ve. But I just didn’t know I was, and that night at the party, I just felt pains and then there was blood.” Sarina pauses, taking a deep breath, as Chase rubs her back. “I was a mess afterwards – sadness, anger, confusion, just lost in some ways; we both were really a mes-”

“That’s understandable….”

“Samantha knows what it’s like to go through infidelity, with everything that she and Kyle went through. She was right there by our sides through the whole process. She made sure to ask the right questions to get the answers that we needed. She offered the right words of comfort that we needed.” Sarina then glances back at Chase, with a small smile. “I know that I am okay now. I know that we’re both okay, actually. We found our way through our emotions and everything – with Sam’s help, and together.” She then turns back to Rudy. “Please don’t say a single word to anyon-”

“You have my word, I promise. I won’t say a single thing about this discussion.” Sarina nods her head, accepting.

“I just felt that you should know for the sake of clearing the air and knowing everything – just in case.” She then looks back to Chase. “But like I said, I couldn’t imagine driving for anybody else. Sam and Kyle are the best owners that I could’ve ever asked for when looking for this opportunity. Well, there was this one cute owner who had a great late model and he wasn’t too bad to drive for, either.” Chase just smiles back in response, as he leans in for a kiss.

“And on that note, I’m going to go finish what I need to do. I’ll see you later, and Sarina, like I said – I have your back.” She smiles as she watches Rudy walk away, before focusing her full attention back on Chase.

“Now, what else can you tell me about this car owner?” Chase questions as he wraps an arm around her as they head up into the trailer together.

“He’s kind, sweet, quiet – maybe even the most amazing guy I’ve ever known….”

The Tale of Love & Racing: Sarina’s Story – Chapter 22: Media Day

“A lot of people don’t understand – my frustration is the worst when I know I could have done something different to change the result.” Chase Elliott

January 23, 2018 – Charlotte Motor Speedway

Chase and Sarina walk through the main doors, glancing around, before their eyes land on each other.

“Are you ready?” He questions as she takes a deep breath, nodding her head.

“Absolutely as it means we’re one step closer to Daytona,” she answers, causing a smile to form on his face. “Are you ready?”

“I guess so.” He leans in, kissing her lips lightly. “Good luck. Have fun, and try not to bite any heads off.” She then chuckles as she glances over at the journalists assembled, already typing notes on the day.

“Tell the vultures to behave and I will have no reason to, right?” He nods his head. “Don’t get annoyed of the same question over and over, either.”

“When are you going to win a race? Why haven’t you won yet?” She then rolls her eyes.

“Everybody expects you to win the championship this year. Do you think you can do that? What’s it like being partnered with Rudy? What is it like driving for Kyle?”

“Can we just do their job for them?” She chuckles, shaking her head.

“I think driving is much more fun than that…” He smiles back in agreement as the pair slowly separate, heading their own ways to start off what promised to be the longest day ever.

As the day’s activities began, Sarina found herself glancing over in Chase’s direction, even giving her lips a small lick as she watched him do different poses for FOX Sports, followed by NBC Sports. There was certainly nothing wrong about him being dressed in a mostly white firesuit this year – even if she still wasn’t sold on the design.

She couldn’t stare much longer, though, as it was her turn to sit down and answer the assortment of questions. There was no surprises to start off, as she talked about what she learned from last year, followed by the obvious crew chief swap question.

“It’s kind of bittersweet,” she admits as she takes a deep breath. “I’m very thankful to have had the chance to work with Marcus. He’s a great guy, and certainly knows how to do his job well. I’m also thankful to call him a close friend, as he helped me in ways last year that don’t even relate to racing on a personal note. I’m glad that we’re going to be able to continue that friendship, too.”

She smiles as she thinks back to a couple days ago in the shop, when Marcus reminded her that she could still come to him if she ever needed to. It shouldn’t surprise her, because that’s how everybody seemed to be. For once, friendships were really true and meant to be, and bonds could be formed. For once, she was able to put her trust in others – not only Marcus and Chase, but the likes of Kyle and Christopher, too.

Taking a deep breath, she knew she couldn’t dwell on that fact all day, or else they’d never get anywhere else with these questions and she’d be stuck sitting there. Besides, it wasn’t like she wanted to get emotional here, either.

“That said, I am looking forward to working with Rudy this year,” she continues. “Rudy is very talented, and he knows how to get the job done. I mean, you don’t lead Erik and Christopher to the success they had by accident. I can’t wait to begin working with him, building our chemistry together, and learning from him. I know that I still have to improve as a driver, and I look forward to seeing what happens.”

She wasn’t surprised that a reporter brought up her late model schedule, which immediately saw excitement come out in speaking about the plans to head to Kern County. With $30,000 on the line, bragging rights, and a chance for redemption, it was time to shine. But first, the focus was on tomorrow as she would get to be back behind the wheel, testing a truck at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Certainly it wasn’t anything like racing in competition, and it wouldn’t replace disappointment in missing out on Speedfest, but it was something.

The discussion then wavered to the victory at Martinsville, what that meant, and perhaps bringing some relief. Admittedly, she knew that she had been trying too hard the first half of the schedule, so focused on succeeding, wanting to impress, not wanting to fail at this opportunity. But now having the win under her belt, comfort was easy to find now and something she wanted to stick with heading into the new campaign.

Another glance over at Chase, and she hoped he found that same comfort with a win early in the year, too. Whether he would openly admit it or not to her, it was certainly eating him that he hadn’t been able to win a Cup race. She couldn’t blame him, though, being the perfectionist that he was, and the fact that he was driving for Hendrick Motorsports. But with a smile, she knew that he would get the job done sooner than later. It was only a matter of time, right?

Her interest was caught back on the reporters when one of them mentioned the youth seminar held for the young drivers to give them tips on how to build their brands. She had attended, as required, and was actually surprised by some of the points discussed. However, she wasn’t about to change who she was simply to fit some window.

“Were there any tips given on how to handle those poor days?” One of the reporters questions, catching her attention. It was like almost too good of a timing with the question based on the past couple of weeks, and the fact her first anger management appointment was tomorrow. But taking a deep breath, no assumptions were made of them having any knowledge. Besides, they had seen her outbursts last year at times.

“There were a couple,” she began. “I just have to remember to take a deep breath, relax, calm down, and realize that every weekend isn’t going to be your day. If it’s meant to be, it’ll work out right. if it’s not, then all you can do is take what you learned and move forward. I mean, what else am I supposed to do? But certainly, getting a better handle on those is one of those things that I talked about learning to do better moving forward.”

Finished off with her questions for the day, she thanks the media for their time before stepping away as she moves forward to the next stage of the day – radio interviews for Sirius XM. As she made her way over, she glances at Chase, who simply throws a simple smile her way.

“Easy as ever?” He questions as they walk by each other.

“They actually didn’t go too far in their questions for once,” she answers, causing a glance of surprise from him. “Hey, it’s pre-season. Everybody is full excitement right now. I bet by the time we get to Daytona, it won’t be this smooth sailing.” He nods his head with a chuckle in response. “By the way, you look very hot today.”

“While I miss the white, I have to say that the new black firesuit brings out every single curve – including that very stunning bum.” Her cheeks go a shade of red as she purposely gives a waddle as she walks away from him.

“If I didn’t know you better, I would seriously start to agree with the crew guys that something is up and strange with you,” Morgan comments, catching Chase’s attention.

“We’re just trying to have some fun today,” Chase replies as he takes a deep breath, set for his round of question and answer.

************************

Sarina gets done her final round of photos for the day, releasing her from the grasp that was media day. She immediately sets sights on finding Chase, knowing that he had been done before she was with how the schedules laid out.

“He’s up on the spotter’s stand actually,” Jimmie Johnson tells her after she had gone around asking a couple different people already.

“Really?” She questions and he nods his head in agreement. “That’s strange…” Jimmie crosses his arms as he takes a deep breath.

“He needed some space to think.” She then looked over puzzled. “You may want to read his quotes first before you go see him.” She was a little confused, but simply nodded her head in response.

She didn’t take the advice because to her, it didn’t matter what he said on paper to a bunch of reporters. She knew him well, and knew where he stood. But hearing that it hadn’t gone smoothly was not the news she was wanting to hear.

After hiking up the stairs, waving to some of the staff on the way up, she makes her way onto the roof, slowly walking over. She didn’t know whether to say something, or to just wait until he was ready, or to simply walk away and give him his space. But now having hiked up there, she couldn’t go down the stairs without doing anything as she slowly made her way over to the edge. Standing a good distance down the row from him, she looks over the track, before glancing over at him, trying to study every motion.

“You didn’t need to come up here,” he starts, catching her attention.

“I care about you, Chase,” she offers. “I had to make sure you were okay.” He glances over at her, nodding his head, understanding, before glancing back over the track.

“I’m fine. I just needed some space.” She could sympathize, having been in those situations herself as she moves a little closer.

“It’s easier to take time to yourself and think, rather than face those emotions and drop them onto somebody else. By speaking about how you’re feeling, it makes them more real than you want to realize. I guess I hid them away for all those years because I didn’t want it to be real. It was almost like I wanted to pretend to be okay, while knowing if that came out, I wasn’t okay about everything that happened.” He takes a deep breath, having seen that in every discussion they had about how she was feeling and her past. He had seen more sides of her break apart and just fall down.

“They talked about Casey, and they talked about the fact that I’m back in the No. 9 – someone even called it a marketing stunt, beli-”

“Do they not understand their NASCAR, or more importantly, the value of family history? I know for both you and Rick it’s nothing like that.” A small smile forms on his face. Like he had expected, the true fans would understand – including Sarina. He just needed to dodge the first initial set of bullets from everybody else.

“None of that bothered me, to be honest. I mean, I love talking about Casey and everything that I missed, and the No. 9 is just home to me.” He then lets out a sigh as he glances over at her. “But you know what bothered me? Winning. The fact that I have not won a race yet. It seemed to be harped over and over and over – like nobody wanted to let it go.” She then walks over, rubbing his shoulders, as she takes a deep breath.

“You’re going to get that win this year….” He looks over at her, nodding his head in agreement.

“I have to. I can’t keep doing what I’m doing.” She then looks at him confused.

“In case you have forgotten Mr. Elliott, you’re one helluva racecar driver. I would not choose anyone over you – and I’m not just saying that because I’m with you. You’re the most talented guy that I know. Look back at last year. You almost put yourself in the Championship 4. You led laps, finished well, and put yourself in position to win. Not many people can say that so do not stand here and question anything differently about you, yourself, and your talent.” He closes his eyes, letting those words sink in, fighting against every other feeling that he had.

“I know I can do it, and trust me, I believe in myself when I strap in the car and get ready to go. But I just keep thinking about what if? What if I had done one thing differently? What if I had been able to figure out how to hold off Matt at Phoenix, or Kyle at Dover? What if I could’ve played my cards differently with Denn-”

“He lifted your tires off the grou-”

“I let him get ther-”

“Stop discrediting yourself! You were doing the best you could with how the car was handling, and it’s not your fault that he drove like an asshole.” Chase then glances over, surprised. “What? I’m not going to mince words with him, ever.”

“Why am I not surprised?” She just chuckles back in response with a wink. “You know I’m my worst critic. My frustration is the worst when I know I could’ve done something different to change things. While I say that you need to work on your anger skills, I can stand here and say that I’m not perfe-”

“Did I just hear that, for real?” Another surprised glance emerged from Chase. “What? You’re a perfectionist. So to hear you admit that you’re not perfect is a little strange, actually.” He rolls his eyes as he lets out a sigh. “I’m sorry….”

“Like I was saying, I need to work on not being so critical and seeing those positives – like the close calls, the talent, the success we did have, everything you’ve mentioned, and everything that Alan says we need to build upon. But that’s not easy. There’s days where it eats me because I haven’t done the job that I need to do to this point.” She nods her head, accepting, glad to hear him admit it, as she rubs his shoulders.

“I know you’ve maybe fallen short on your goals, and I know you should’ve won a couple races by now. But Chase, it’s not all bad. Not everybody can say that they can drive and be competitive at this level. Not everybody can say that they can race side-by-side with the likes of Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Larson – and be right even with them. Some drivers would dream to have a season that you had.” He nods his head, knowing that fact, as he tried to use that as motivation to eat the frustration.

“I’ve been trying to simply just put last year in the rearview mirror. My focus has been solely on take what you learned, and put all your energy into being as prepared as you can so you can do the job you need to do come Daytona and beyond. I was doing a good job at that, too. but hearing the comments, it just flew it back in my face today.” She almost wanted to remind him of the past couple weeks, with everybody reminding her over and over about how they wanted to take care of her.

“It’s not easy to simply pick up those pieces, and make the changes in your life. Look at me. It took you months, baring even some frustration and pain along the way in watching me run, to get through to me. it took me months to finally just bear every emotion that I was feeling. It’s still hard at times for me to say everything out loud and handle. It’s not just flick a switch and noting to worry about, Chase. You’ll learn that balance that you need over time. Certainly, you’re doing better than I was as I don’t see any holes in any walls.” He then chuckles as he glances back at her.

“Could you imagine the photos and articles if I would’ve punched a wall downstairs?” She shakes her head, not even wanting to imagine. It was already craziness as everybody looked to him to be the new face of the sport it seemed. “Starting to feel that frustration, I came up here so I could just get everything in order. I need a clear mind, clear focus. It’s time to win. I need to focus solely on that because I oughta know how to do that and I just need to make it happen. That’s the bottom line. I can’t sit and dwell about it – I just need to do it.”

“And trust me, you are going to win a race. I believe it in my heart, my soul, but also everywhere else possible because of what we’ve seen the past two years. You’re talented, and you know how to wheel a racecar. We’re going to be celebrating a win together in victory lane this season – probably more than one.” He smiles, nodding his head in agreement and hopefulness. “But if for some reason you do-”

“Please don’t say tha-”

“It’s possible, so bear with me now, please.” He rolls his eyes as he glances away. “If for some reason you don’t, it’s not due to lack of talent. You’ve proven already in late models, trucks, XFINITY – heck, you’re an XFINITY Champion for pete sates.  I just want you to know it doesn’t change a single thing about how I view you. I’ll always view you as an amazing, stellar, spectacular racecar driver, with the best heart hidden underneath that quiet exterior. You’ll always be my number one.” He smiles as he looks back at her.

“Thank you, I appreciate that.” They then lightly share a kiss. “So now you feel flirting will solve all problems, huh?”

“It’s working because you’re smiling.” He then turns around to face her, wrapping both arms around her waist.

“Maybe it’s because of this stellar view that I am looking at right now…” She smiles back in return.

“The sunset is beautiful tonight.” He looks at her intrigued, before locking his brown eyes onto her blue ones.

“What sunset?” She then rolls her eyes as she leans in for another kiss. “Thank you.”

“You don’t need to thank me. I’m here for you, always and forever.”