Friday, November 30 – Pennsacola, Florida – 5 Flags Speedway
Sarina stood on pit road, taking a deep breath as her fingers found their way back up to the necklace. She didn’t know whether it was her pregnancy, knowing Chase was in unfamiliar territory, or the prestige of the Snowball Derby, but something had her more nervous than normal and the only comfort was clutching the necklace.
Perhaps it was the fact that they were going out later in qualifying than they wanted. Marcus had drawn then 37th at the qualifying party draw, which certainly wasn’t what they wanted as it was best to be earlier in the order. Now with the supposed dew of Florida around, it made putting down the lap they wanted harder.
Sarina kept her eyes focused on the No. 18, rather than even glancing towards the stop watch that Marcus clutched in his hand. However, a simple nod afterwards and she knew the lap he had put down was good enough to set them up right.
Once all the cars had gone, they were officially in the show, set to start eighth on Sunday afternoon. More importantly, there was no b-main in their future.
With qualifying in the books, the No. 18 Late Model was loaded back in the KBM hauler, with the team gathered around in the lounge to discuss.
“To be honest, I think the set-up was closer than our lap showed,” Chase comments, earning a nod from Marcus.
“We already knew we’d be off due to where we drew anyway,” Marcus replies, remembering their discussion on Wednesday night. Chase still shook his head at getting caught red-handed with his phone texting Marcus at the birthday party.
“But I also feel the car was closer, too. I could’ve probably gotten you a little more, maybe enough for top-five, if I drove it in a little harder. I was worried it wasn’t going to rotate the middle, though.” Marcus understood that, based upon their discussions after practice. “That said, we had nothing for Harrison. He’s fast as hell right off the drop of the run.”
“But can he sustain for the full length?” Chase shrugs his shoulders as he hadn’t gotten a chance to watch Harrison in practice or know the game plan they were following.
“Chris Wimmer isn’t stupid.” Marcus knew that, as he had lost his share of races to that team in the past.
“Oh I know that obviously they’d be focusing on both, but the set-up at the end of the day determines the answer.” Chase’s phone then goes off as he pulls it out of his pocket.
“I told Kyle not to worry….” He then easily answers the phone call, knowing he couldn’t ignore the boss – not like he’d ignore Kyle anyway. “We’ve got it under contro-”
“Alison was by the house earlier today,” Kyle interrupts, causing Chase to freeze immediately. “She was here between 10 and 12 as she wanted to see me. She had a simple message – don’t be messing with my boy’s schedule or you’re going to receive consequences. She then left before I could even do anything.”
“The main thing is you’re okay….right?” Chase had to wonder about that given the delay in Kyle making this phone call.
“Absolutely. She threatened and had the weapon of choice, but didn’t use it. Essentially, it was all about delivering the message.” Chase takes a deep breath, knowing that had been Alison’s mark. She was the queen of delivering you messages and proving she could do what she wanted whenever. Then when she chose, she would strike and you wouldn’t be able to prevent it.
“She was here this afternoon and left a baby rattle by the trailer during the second practice. Since everybody was focused on the car and on-track action, she wasn’t spotted. I’m glad you’re okay, and I’m sorry I brought yo-”
“I accept this chaos when I kept Sarina as my driver despite every warning dished out to me from her when everything began. I won’t break that promise even to you – I am willing to do whatever it takes. I just wanted to let you know so you’re aware, but didn’t call earlier as I know you were focused on the Derby.” Chase lets out a sigh, understanding the delay, but still not totally satisfied.
“Can you please forget about focus precaution next time and give me a damn call? I’d rather know then not know and something happen. I hope you understand that.”
“Perfectly clear. I’ll let you go but just remember that I believe in each of you guys, and you better get the job done.”
“That’s the goal. Thanks for calling, boss.”
“No problem. Talk to you later. Bye Chase.”
“Bye Kyle.” Chase hangs up as he lets out a sigh, only to be met by shaking heads courtesy of others in the room.
“I want to act surprised, but I can’t honestly say that I am after what she did to me,” Marcus comments, remembering that experience after the late model race.
“The only problem is she’s gotten worse since then which makes me more relieved that Kyle is okay,” Chase adds. “She killed a doctor, and I’m pretty sure she was behind Brittney Teals’ death.” Marcus’ jaw slowly drops. “Evidence is there to prove both.”
“You’re both being as careful as you can be, right?” Chase and Sarina nod their heads. “Well, I hope they find her soon and I hope you both stay safe – especially you, sweetheart.” Sarina could only think back to the note that she was left shortly after revealing her pregnancy.
“I don’t think you need to worry about this little one as babies are a touchy subject for her,” Sarina offers, rubbing her stomach as she does so. “But don’t worry, I am being careful and I will do whatever I need to so I can protect this baby. That’s not a threat; that’s a promise.”
Saturday, December 1 – Pennsacola, Florida
Sarina looks out the window, watching the rain drops continue to fall down. She takes a small glance back at her bag, knowing what laid inside, before looking back out the window.
“What has you feeling down?” Marcus questions as he walks over, sitting beside her.
With the rain continuing to fall and hold water everywhere, Marcus and the guys had met up with Chase and Sarina at the hotel before going out to breakfast. Now, everybody was back in their room, with some of the guys enjoying a couple games together.
“Did you seriously lose already?” She asks, knowing that he had been playing Monopoly with everyone else.
“Everybody bought all the properties before I did, and bankrupt me,” Marcus answers with a sigh. “Now, can we get back to my question?” She then lets out a sigh as she looks out the window.
“If it was going to rain all day, I could’ve given Chase his birth-”
“We can leave if you want some time alon-”
“It’s not what you’re thinking!” She then takes a deep breath. “I bought him tickets to the SEC Championship game with Alabama and Georgia.” Marcus froze immediately upon hearing the words.
“Does he know?” Sarina shakes her head no.
“Kyle came over on Tuesday and started talking about the Snowball Derby. I could see his eyes light up immediately and I didn’t want to diminish any thoughts that he had about running this event. I mean, you can already tell how he like being back in a late model, and personally, I wanted to really see him do it so I wasn’t going to spoil that. So instead, I kept the tickets a secret. I thought I could get someone else to go, but I never got a chance. So now, they’re sitting in my bag unused and he has no clue.” Marcus then looks out the same window that had her attention.
“And now with the rain, your spirit is spoiled because you could’ve still gone….” Sarina shrugs her shoulders.
“Is that too much to ask?” Marcus shakes his head no as he puts an arm on her shoulder.
“I think you should tell him about the tickets.” She was now confused as she looks over. “It’s going to rain all day and even if it stops raining, there’s standing water. I got a photo from Harrison and the track is flooded; there’s no way we’re getting anything done today. Instead of sitting around watching a bunch of grown men whine about fake money, I think you should go enjoy the game.” She then looks over to where Chase sat with the crew members. “You still have plenty of time to get to Georgia for the game.”
“Are you sure this is what I should do?” Marcus nods his head as he follows her lead to look at the table.
“They can play games anytime together. A birthday surprise only comes once a year, and I know how much he loves his dawgs and he’d enjoy it. Besides, you both need some time of your own before that little one turns your life upside down.” She then chuckles a little as she looks back at Marcus.
“Alright, fine….” She then stands up and walks over to the group, placing her hands on Chase’s shoulders. “I got something that I want to talk to you about.”
“If Marcus paid you to distract me so I’d lose because I bankrupted him, it’s not goin-” Chase starts, though stops as she drops the two tickets on the table.
“Before everything started about the Derby, I bought these for us to go together – so I could take you,” she starts. “It was supposed to be your big birthday present. I know how much you love your dawgs, and how you wanted to go to a couple games during the off-season. I also know how much you’ve been bragging in how important this game is. It’s raining, nothing is getting done today. How much more fun does a football game sound compared to this?”
“I was just starting to get somewhere, too…..” He then places the deeds and money in the middle of the table. “But you guys can divide this up as I can never pass up a chance to go watch my dawgs win.”
“Good luck with that one,” Brandon Setzer comments with a chuckle as Chase stands up. “Roll tide young man.”
“My dawgs are going to roll the tide all the way to the championship this year,” Chase replies with a grin.
Saturday, December 1 – Georgia
Chase and Sarina walk out of the stadium, holding hands, both adorning Georgia Bulldog jerseys.
“I can’t believe that….” Chase lets out as she looks over at him. “They were doing what they do perfectly, and had everything going their way. And yet there they go throwing it away in the second half.” After leading through the first half, the Bulldogs ultimately lost the game 35 to 28.
“You can’t blame it fully on them,” Sarina offers, earning a confused glance. “The referees made some questionable calls in the second half.” Chase nodded his head in agreement.
“I can’t say that I would’ve called those plays like they did, to be honest, but our game wasn’t where it needed to be. The defense needs to get stronger to match the offense. It sucks that they didn’t get the job done today, but I know they’ll get there. The potential and the players are there.”
“Do you think they’ll make the playoffs?” Chase nodded his head, despite hearing skeptical comments as they left.
“They’ve had a good year and they’ve played well enough that they should be ranked in the top-four. We’ll just have to see.” He then glances over at her. “Regardless, though, I had a great time today.”
“I’m glad that I could give you the birthday present that I intended to.” She then lays her head on his shoulder as he wraps an arm around. “I just hate the game didn’t go like we wanted.”
“Win or lose, it doesn’t matter. I got to spend a day with my sweetheart, and that beats staring at rain or playing monopoly with those guys any day. I love you.”
“I love you, too.” They then share a quick kiss, before climbing in the Tahoe, ready for the drive back to the airport. “Hopefully tomorrow we’re winning.”
“That’s the plan.”
Sunday, December 2 – 5 Flags Speedway – Pennsacola, Florida
Chase leans back against the car, glancing up the grid with a smile. It was going to be a fun afternoon – as long as the car kept co-operating like it was.
“You made it!” He hears Sarina let out, glancing over to see Erik and Christopher walking over. Admittedly, he was confused in seeing both.
“I always come check out this race,” Erik comments as Christopher and Sarina share a quick hug.
“A promise is a promise – even if you’re not driving anymore,” Christopher offers, bringing forth a little more confusion from Chase. “I really don’t get why I came.”
“You wanted to see your bestie,” Sarina says as she leans back against the car with Chase. “I told him that he needed to take a break from all his dirt racing and come check out some late model action again. I was hoping to show him how to get it done. Now, that’ll be your job.”
“We’ve got a good car so we’ll see,” Chase comments as he wraps an arm around her shoulder.
“You should know how good those KBM cars having finished behind them before,” Erik adds as Chase had to chuckle, remembering the several late model races across the province where he raced against Erik. “I just hope there’s no tungsten this time.”
“Actually, I just hope the weight is right in general.” Erik had to let out a sigh, knowing that they’d all ran into issues with technical inspection at one time or another.
“The driver who crosses the finish line first is the winner as you’ve all gone through enough technical inspection before the race to know whose legal,” Christopher starts. “I mean, why would things be different afterwards? I’ve always thought some of Ricky’s DQs are a little crazy.”
“He has a rule book and you have to follow it to the letter – simple as that,” Chase states, remembering the words that Ricky Brooks offered many times in the tech shed.
“I still don’t agree with everything…”
Starting off from the eighth spot, Chase was able to make his way forward in the beginning stages to run third by the first caution at Lap 50. The pit crew then delivered on pit road, getting him out in the lead. He led the first couple laps off the restart, before falling in line in second behind Raphael Lessard.
“Keep bidding your time,” Marcus says over the radio. “Lots of racing left to go here….”
Sarina could only smile in knowing Chase didn’t need the bonus tips like her, as he had been here and done this before. it was about keeping yourself in position through the first 200 laps, before making your charge in the last 100.
By the halfway mark, he was back to fourth as he had also been passed by Jeff Choquette and Harrison Burton. With no caution laps over a span of 75 laps, the officials would throw a competition yellow at Lap 165. The race off pit road would be won by Choquette ahead of Lessard, then Chase, Bubba Pollard, and Harrison.
“Bubba still hasn’t won this race, right?” Erik double checks and Sarina shakes her head no.
“0 wins in 12 chances,” Sarina replies. “It’s like his Daytona curse.” Erik had to nod his head in agreement as he knew Bubba had pretty much won every single other race across the United States.
“Do you guys still talk regularly?” Sarina nods her head, having texted him just a couple weeks ago. He was one of the late model drivers that she had gotten to know and kept in contact with.
“I can understand why Kyle said he wanted to be like him one day…”
Shortly after the restart, Chase dropped back a couple spots to fifth, complaining the car was not completely to his liking, fighting the same tight condition they fought in practice. Despite not being totally happy, he was able to maintain the position until the caution came out at Lap 225 for Stephen Nasse having a wheel come off.
“Did he just go after his pit crew?” Christopher asks, confused as he looks down towards where Nasse was pitted.
“When you’re paying like 5k to have a NASCAR pit crew come out for your late model operation for one race and they leave a wheel loose, I’d be mad too,” Sarina comments. “I’d be sharing my opinion with them so they clearly knew how I felt about it.”
“That may be crossing the line a little,” Erik offers and Sarina just shakes her head no.
Under the caution, Marcus made the decision to leave Chase on the track with most of the leaders.
“Harrison is the only one ahead of you to pit,” Marcus informs him after the round of stops. “The 12 has no more fresh tires on pit road. I still think there’s going to be more cautions and I’d rather you have fresh tires late.”
“10-4 I agree as the speed difference is noticeable,” Chase replies, having dealt with his fair share of the rough Florida pavement in the past. “I’ve been just riding here lately. I can handle the handling issue no problem, but keep in mind for final round of adjustments.”
“10-4. Keep doing what you’re doing. You’re doing a great job.”