The Tale of Love & Racing: Sarina’s Story – Chapter 21: “I wouldn’t want to work with anyone else.”

Monday, January 22 – North Carolina

Chase sits at the kitchen table, eyes focused on the eggs, as Sarina walks over, wrapping her arms around him from behind.

“Are you sure you can’t just come back to bed?” She questions and he looks up at her with a smile.

“If I missed today’s meeting, Rick may have my head,” Chase offers as he focuses back on his breakfast. She then lets out a sigh as she places her head on top of his.

“But you have to admit that our activities together are more fun.” Chase chuckles as he pauses in his eating. Despite avoiding intercourse with the waiting period, it hadn’t stopped them from laying kisses from head to toe the past couple of nights.

“Trust me – they’re a lot more fun than listening to speeches.” She then rubs his shoulders.

“When you get bored today, just think of me and our fun together.” She then kisses his cheek lightly, before heading off to get a shower.

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

“It’s like he has a certain glow to him,” Chad Avrit offers as Chase walks by the crew members, taking his place at the front with his fellow teammates.

It was time for the annual Hendrick Motorsports kick-off meeting together, where Rick got every employee together in the big conference room and a series of pep talks were offered in hopes of success for the season ahead.

“He’s not wearing any new rings,” John Gianninoto comments, glancing over Chase’s shoulder at his hands.

“Not every guy wears an engagement ring, though. He just seems a little more happier in his step today.” Each of the crew guys watch their young driver pull out his phone, sending a quick message, before placing it back in his pocket. When they were at the track, it was easy to read his reactions and figure out everything. But at the shop, it was a bit of a mystery and brought conversation. At least it’d keep them entertained while everyone filed in.

“Haven’t you guys been told to mind your own business?” Alan interrupts the crew members, who all look up innocently as if they weren’t discussing anything. “If he’s happy, then that’s great. We don’t need to dissect the very reason why.”

“Where’s the fun in not doing that?” Jared Seate questions as Alan looks over at him, surprised. He thought entering a third year together, they would be done with the childish games.

“Didn’t you learn your lesson the last time?” Jared just shrugs his shoulder as a smile forms on his face.

“If it wasn’t my phone call, they would’ve been apart longer. I was the right encouragement for Sarina to go see him that night. You would’ve had to deal with a grumpy driver a lot longer.” Alan rolls his eyes as he sits back in his seat.

“Are you ever going to stop reminding us about that?” Chad wonders and Jared just shrugs his shoulders. “Alan, please let me tape his mouth shut this season.” The other crew members nod in agreement as Alan can only chuckle in response.

Though his eyes then rested on his young driver, seeing exactly what the crew members were talking about as he smiled himself.

“What’s got you in a good mood?” Alan questions, certainly against his own advice for the crew guys.

“I’m just ready to get the year started,” Chase answers and Alan just rolls his eyes in response.

“No no, you’re smiling for another reason all together…..” Chase glances over, surprised that Alan had caught on so quickly. Was it that obvious?

“Everything is going better than I could’ve dreamed at times, Alan. We’re growing closer and closer with each passing day. We also finally had a discussion about our future together, in relation to children, and it went so much smoother than I could’ve imagined. Every worry that I discussed with you – it’s almost like it doesn’t exist anymore.” Alan could only smile back in response, glad to see that Chase was happy. A happy driver meant that he would be more focused, and easier to get along with, meaning that success should be inevitable this year. Plus, he couldn’t help but be happy on a personal level, too.

“See, that wasn’t that hard after all. It’s amazing what happens when you put faith into it.” Chase nods his head in agreement. “So if you talked about a future, is there a ring missing here?”

“Oh no, not at all. That didn’t come up at all…” Chase then glances back forward at the mention as Alan watches him closely. He was intrigued in how Chase automatically closed that door without a thought.  It was weird to see him set on planning a future, but not opening the engagement or marriage door.

“Is that going to be a future topic of discussion in the near future?” Chase looks back over at Alan, and shrugs his shoulders. “I mean, it doesn’t matter to me. You can just ask Sherry or Martin about that, or even Jordan and Danny if you really want to. But normally when you see someone mention a future, the next topic is marriage. Given your happiness, the guys were even suspecting it.” Chase lets out a sigh, knowing that it was only a matter of time before more people asked the same questions. But just like the children discussion, he hadn’t given it much thought. Besides, he was still a young lad. Was it fair to be faced with all these grown up questions just like that?

“I haven’t thought about it, okay?” Alan nods his head, accepting.

“If you want to talk, you know where to find me. I’ll always be there for you.” Chase nods his head, accepting. “Just as long as you don’t scare the wits out of me this year.”

“I don’t plan on crossing paths with any evil people once again. I don’t want to repeat that experience.” Chase then closes his eyes as he rests his head back against the seat. “When I do think back to either Daytona, or especially Indy,  I can only shake my head. it continues to set in just how much I put myself through, and how close we came to that being worse. What was I thinking at Indy?”

“I asked you that very question, remember. When you and Josh came up with the plan, I kept asking you what you were thinking because I couldn’t believe you would subject yourself to that. The same way that my stomach still flip flops in seeing how white you looked, and just how bad things spiraled so fast.” Chase glances down at the ground as he takes a deep breath.

“I’m sorry I put you through tha-”

“Hey, it’s okay. I would do it again in a heartbeat for you – as long as you’re okay, and we have a future working together.” Chase looks back over at Alan, giving him a smile.

“I wouldn’t want to work with anyone else.” Alan then looks at him a little surprised.

“Not even Greg or Ricky?” Chase shakes his head no.

“Greg was great for XFINITY and sure we won a championship together, but it’s not the same. And yes, Ricky is amazing and I still look up to him a ton. But at this level, seeing what we’re going through, you’re the man.” Alan smiles back in return as Rick takes to the stage, set to get everything started.

——————————–

“Excuse me miss, but what are you doing here?” Sarina hears, instantly spinning around immediately. She had been focused on the late model, checking out the interior, making sure everything was place – from mirrors to the shifter handle – for the Winter Showdown.

“Why don’t you go see Kyle and ask him what I said?” She questions, before turning her focus back on the car. He was caught off-guard by her attitude as he places a hand on her shoulder lightly.

“I know you’re pissed that you’re missing this weekend, and I know you’re angry for how he handled things. But please, I didn’t have a say in the matter. Give me a bit of benefit here.” She then stops, closing her eyes, and taking a deep breath as she slowly turns around to face Marcus.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have flipped on you. You’re right as it was rude and unfair. And to be honest, I’ve come to grips with Kyle’s decision after talking to him.” She then leans back against the car, glancing down at the floor. “I just am getting annoyed of everyone babying me, trying to protect me and take care of me. That’s never been my style. I’ve always been right out there, focused on my dreams, independent, able to take care of myself, determined, and not needing to be taken care of delicately. But since everything happened, that’s all that everyone – Kyle, Sam, you, and Chase sometimes – want to do.”

“It’s because we care about you, and that comes out by us trying to do what we feel right in helping you. It’s because we know there’s pain involved, and we want to make everything as easy as possible to handle for you.” She nods her head, accepting, as she looks up at him.

“I know there was pain – I felt that pain everyda-”

“So you understand where we’re coming fro-”

“But I dealt with. I healed physically and got through the days of pain as the doctor described. I healed mentally, coming to grips with what happened and everything that I was feeling with. I fought through the confusion. I made my way through the sadness, and anger, in my own way, over those couple of weeks, with Chase by my side. We talked for long nights about how I felt emotionally – to the point that he hid his emotions from me because he didn’t want to hurt me more.” She then takes a deep breath. “But it’s done with. That was the past. We’re both – Chase and I – are moving forward. Now it’s time for everybody else to do the same.”

“Is it really dealt with? You mentioned Chase hiding his emot-”

“He talked to me about why he did it, and how he felt on a couple different occasions. I made him assure me that he wouldn’t ever do that again for my sake if something happened. We talked about it, Marc-”

“Including your future together, and whether you want kids?” She nods her head, remembering the conversation with a small smile on her face. She found herself imaging the day dream that he had told her about. “Okay, that’s great to hear and see. But you do see where we’re coming from and can give us a small break, right?”

“Absolutely – hence why I am not mad at Kyle for what he did. But on that same note, I’m here because I’m ready to move forward. I’m ready to have this car ready for Kern County.” He then looks at her, surprised. “Kyle didn’t tell you yet? He has put Kern County back on my schedule.”

“That’s great. I know how much you wanted to race there last year….” Marcus’ voice trails off, knowing that it was a sore subject with everything that happened, as it marked the beginning to the turmoil with her brother all year long.

“I can’t wait to see if what we tried in practice actually pays off to being strong enough to win the thing.” She then reaches out, grabbing Marcus’ hand. “You can bring up last year all you want – its okay; it doesn’t hurt me anymore. I’ve come to grips with everything that happened with Chris. I’m ready to head there without a single thought back in reverse.”

“What about Chase? I know he’ll want to be there to support you.” She takes a deep breath as she glances back to the car.

“I have a feeling that he’ll be fine, too. He didn’t hesitate or freeze up in the mention of what happened. We’re going to be fine, Marcus.” Marcus smiles, giving her shoulder a pat.

“I know. I always knew it’d work out between you both eventually. Now, why don’t you climb in there and we can make any adjustments needed?” She nods her head, accepting, as she climbs in the car as instructed. He then kneels down, looking through the window at her. “I have one question. If you talked about your future together, did you mention your hesitation about marriage?”

“Nope. We didn’t discuss that – just whether we wanted kids together, and when. We both agreed on waiting for three, five years – whatever it took for me to do my thing.” A smile immediately comes to her face. “Marcus, I got lucky in him. I keep saying it over and over, but I mean it. He’s so patient with me, and he helps me on so many emotional levels like nobody could have before. But here’s a guy whose willing to wait to have a family so I can have a chance to chase my dreams. Can you believe that?”

“He’s one of a kind. Don’t lose him because of the smallest thing…” He then stands up, and walks away to get the clipboard as she lays her head back against the seat. What if she was making a bigger deal about a future engagement, marriage than she needed to be?

“Hey, what are you doing?” Marcus then glances over the clip board, curious. “Were you not present at the competition meeting?” Marcus nods his head. “Then you know that we’re not working togeth-”

“I’m not crazy, Sarina. I know that Kyle wants you to work with Rudy (Fugle) this year, and I’m fine with that. Why do you think I’ve left your truck stuff alone, handed all notes over to Rudy, and am focused on what I am doing?” She then points to the clipboard. “I figured I’d give you a hand. What’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing, nothing at all. You know, I am going to miss you this year.” Marcus smiles as he nods his head in agreement.

“I’ll miss our fun times, too, but there’s a lot that you can learn from Rudy that I can’t teach you. That’s why he has helped Erik (Jones), and Christopher (Bell) become the drivers they are today.” He then places a hand on the window ledge as she glances out at him. “But know that you can always come to me if you want to talk. I’ll understand.”

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The Tale of Love & Racing: Sarina’s Story – Chapter 20: “I don’t need babying!”

Sunday, January 20 – North Carolina

After the busy day spent at the NASCAR Hall of Fame for the past two nights, it was actually nice to be able to put her feet up and relax once again on a Sunday afternoon. She wasn’t about to take these afternoons for granted, given that race season was set to kick off shortly.

Glancing at the calendar, she knew everything began next weekend with a trip to Cordele, Georgia for Speedfest. After the frustrations of the Snowball Derby, she couldn’t wait for a chance to redeem herself in the late model.

She pulled out her phone, texting Marcus a note of interest, knowing that they’d want to have things finalized before the car got loaded. She was actually surprised last week’s seat fitting hadn’t included some time sitting in the late model, too.

Her brows fused together at the text in response, though, as she sat up.

“You’re kidding me, right?” She questions out loud, catching Chase’s attention away from the game he was playing. He paused it, confused.

“Do I want to know?” He wonders, immediately thinking to Chris based on the past couple of days.

“Kyle is only fielding a late model for Raphael (Lassard) for Speedfest,” she informs him. “My effort was shelfed. Marcus thought he told me already, hence a lack of questions.” Chase knew the lack of questions wasn’t totally for no fault, given the plenty of other things occupying her mind lately. However, it did feel weird to not hear much discussion just a week away.

“I thought you and Kyle were cool….” She immediately begins to dial Kyle’s number as Chase places a hand on top of hers. “Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and calm down before you hit dial. Remember he gave you a chance and he has done a lot for you.” She follows the instructions, reluctantly, before dialing Kyle’s number.

“Hello?” She hears immediately as her eyes remained locked on Chase, who is full on giving her reminders to stay calm.

“Hey Kyle,” she says as calmly as she can manage. “It’s Sarina. I have a question for you.” Chase nods his head in approval, seeing that his suggestions were being taken to heart – so far.

“What’s up?” She could almost cross her arms, and go into furious mode at what she was feeling. Why wasn’t she notified? Why was she just finding out now? And why was this happening as a whole?

“I thought I was running Speedfest next weekend – until I talked to Marcus today, and found out that you cancelled the effort.” Chase nods his head once again, glad that she hadn’t flipped on him – yet.

“Oh crap, I meant to call you before I left to go away, but was caught up in making sure we had everything. With what happened at the end of the year, I cancelled all of the pre-season late model events so you could have as much time as you needed to relax, take care of yourself, and handle what’s going on.” The concern was appreciated. It was nice to know that Kyle cared about her enough to do that. However, it still didn’t erase her frustration.

“Well, I can let you know that I am fully healed physically and have been for awhile now. Like I said to Marcus at the shop and I will say to you, I don’t need babying. I am perfectly fine and can take care of myself. Everything healed accordingly, per the doctor, and I am set to return to life as normal. Can I please get that respect from you?” In her eyes, she didn’t want to be treated differently. It was the same as having a simple surgery, or coming down with a disease. Why did everyone have to make a big deal about it? Besides, she didn’t need Kyle becoming overbearing and others catching signs, and then getting curious about what happened.

“I understand your perspective fully. I was just looking out for you, and didn’t know whether you’d be good to go in time. I didn’t want to have to shift plans at the last minute and mess up the guys. I was looking at it from an overall perspective.” She takes a deep breath, once again appreciating the concern, but certainly not removing her anger. She was set to get back to the grind, enjoy some late model racing before getting in the truck, having some fun. Now what was she going to do?

“So is Kern County off the table, too?” Chase knew he could deal without the trip out to California, having strong memories of last year’s incident before the race even happened. But taking a deep breath, he knew he couldn’t play the guilty association game.

“I had cancelled that event, but we’re far enough out that it is back on the card for you. I will let the guys know on Monday.” She smiles, glad that everything wasn’t thrown away.

“Thank you, Kyle. I’m sorry if I came on a little strong. It’s just I was frustrated and caught off-guard when Marcus told me.”

“I understand. I should’ve told you like I had planned, and I apologize. It’s great to see you both doing so well.” Sarina glances over at Chase, flashing a smile.

“Yeah, it is a nice change of pace actually.” She just hoped it stayed that way with the Shelley situation in the back of her mind.

“Well, don’t mess it up. Go enjoy these couple of weeks with Chase before your schedule gets busy. I’ll talk to you later. Goodbye Sarina.”

“Bye Kyle.” She hangs up, setting the phone on the table as she lets out a long sigh. “I didn’t kill him, yell at him, or threaten him. I listened.”

“I know, and I’m proud of you,” Chase comments, leaning over and stealing a kiss. “But just because I made the comment about the ang-”

“Don’t sugarcoa-”

“I’m not!” He sets the controller down, scooting closer to her on the couch. “I was just going to say that we don’t need to make a big deal over every situation that happens. We don’t need to focus on your behavior and reactions. Feelings and emotions, yeah I want to know those so I can help you feel better. But other than that, we don’t need to go crazy. We just need to quietly handle.” She then reaches into her jean pocket, pulling out a card and placing it in his hand.

“I was talking with a fellow crew member and he mentioned something about how he was going to be late on Monday due to having a psychologist appointment. I didn’t mean to intrude, but I asked him what about and he mentioned some emotional stability issues. I then asked if I could have the psychologist’s card so I could schedule an appointment as I was looking into possible anger management. After joking about my anger handling abilities, he handed it over.” Chase picks it up, reading over the name and number, before handing it back to her.

“That’s good. I’m glad that you’re being proactive. Just keep at it and everything will come together.” He then reaches to grab the controller to unpause the game, but she places her hand on top of his.

“You know, they said that we had to wait four to six weeks before we could have sex again. I’m not racing next weekend, so I’d be open for a special night for two together.” Chase then looks over at her intrigued.

“That just came out of nowhere…” She chuckles as she lays back on the couch.

“I’ve been thinking about it for awhile actually. I miss those special, close moments. I miss showing you how much I love you, care about you, and want to be with you. I miss touching every inch of you – even if you may taste a little digus-”

“Hey!” She then laughs as he throws a pillow at her. “You’re no better sometimes.”

“We need to agree to not do anything while we’re super sweaty after races – no matter how excited.” He chuckles in agreement. “But really, I’m serious about this. There’s sometimes I just want to reach for you, pull you close, and strip everything down. I have no shame in saying that I have a good thirst for a Georgia peach.” Chase rolls his eyes.

“What about your fears of repeating what happened?” She then pauses, taking a deep breath, having thought about that, as well.

“I will admit that I was originally scared – but you can’t let fear drive your life, and like the doctor and Samantha both said, it was a small chance of probability and we hit the lottery. If we take the right steps, from changing condom brands to the new birth control pills that I am supposed to be taking, I have every faith in what we’re going to do.” He nods his head, accepting, as he keeps his eyes locked on her. He knew that the questions wouldn’t end there, though, as he didn’t want any regrets down the road.

“What if you get pregnant again, by chance?” She glances down, knowing that he was definitely covering all his bases and she respected that.

“What do you thin-”

“I’m not the one who would have to give up racing mid-season if that happens. But I will say if it did, I would support you completely and fully, and be right by your side for whatever happened.” She smiles, glad that they could equally state the fact that they’d never leave each other again.

“It’s the chance that I am willing to take to be with you, because I can’t do this for an entire year. I know they say absence makes the heart fonder, but damn my heart can’t take that.” He smiles as he lays on top of her, kissing her lips.

“I’m glad, because I don’t think I could stand to keep my paws to myself, either.” She smiles back in return as she runs her fingers up underneath the edges of his shirt.

“Can I ask you a question now?” He nods his head, accepting, before laying his head on her chest. “Did you ever think about being a father?”

“I can’t say that I did, honestly. I was focused on so many other things that I never paused to think about being a dad.” He then glances up at her as she thinks it over.

“What about now? Do you want kids, someday?” He thinks it over, as he lets out a sigh. He didn’t realize they were going to lead right into this discussion that night.

“I still haven’t given it a lot of thought. If you wanted to have kids of our own, I would fully be there ready to be a father – but it’s not a deal breaker for me.” He then looks back at her. “As long as I’m with you and you’re happy, then I’m fin-”

“What did I say about sugarcoating shit?” He gives an instant look of shock. “Stop trying to solely make me happy, and tell me what you want for once.”

“I am telling you what I want, completely and honestly. I’m fine either way.” She nods her head, accepting, as he lays his head back against her. “I can’t deny that I was torn apart and broken in hearing that you had suffered a miscarriage. Whether we knew or not, that’s a life, a piece of us just gone like that. I admit that I had more emotions than I even let on for you, because my focus towards you was taking care of yo-”

“And I told you what I thought about that, right?” He nods his head, accepting.

“I know, but at the time, that’s what I thought was the right thing to do. That’s why Samantha really became my person to vent to because I needed to get it out, but I didn’t want to blow your world further apart. No doubt it was tough, it was emotional, and even discussing it now it still stings. But whatever happens moving forward, whether we have kids or not, it doesn’t matter to me.” She then runs her hands through his hair.

“I never thought about being a mother before. I never imagined my life in that way before. I guess you could say that I was focused solely on survival, everything I was going through, moving forward. Besides, who would want to be a mother when you’ve seen what I’ve seen? I didn’t want to be my parents, either.” She then takes a deep breath as she continues making swirls in his hair with her fingers. “But, I can admit that’s changed. Going through this whole experience, pondering different topics, I can say that I would like to be a mother one day. I would like to have a little daughter or son of my own. I want that little piece of me and you to take care of. Now, I don’t want that today or maybe in the next month – really, maybe not even the next couple of years. Right now, my focus is solely on my career. I want to make the most of this opportunity with KBM and establish myself as someone who can win races, and championships. Maybe I even want to move up to that next level and see what I can do there. I keep pondering this, and sometimes I keep saying to myself in three, five, or maybe even eight years, I will take a year off and have a baby of my own. Then after that, I’ll find my way back and show that I can raise a child while kicking some ass at the same time.”

“If anybody can do that, it’s certainly you because you’re absolutely amazing. I think you’d make a great mother, too, after what you did yesterday. I actually found myself daydreaming about you and I having a family together, and how you’d be settling the sibling diff-”

“Sibling? You day-dreamed two children?” He nods his head. “What were they?”

“A boy and girl, two years apart.” She smiles to herself as she closes her eyes, seeing the image in her own mind. “Sarina, no matter how long you want to wait, whether three or eight years, I’ll be willing to do that for you. You deserve a chance at this first, and I know you’re going to make it – beginning with a championship this year.” She then lets out a laugh.

“No pressure, huh? You sound like everybody else out there.” He had seen the pre-season predictions. Everybody had Sarina near the top of the heap simply based on her limited success last year, and the way Kyle Busch Motorsports typically grew drivers.

“But unlike them, I believe it more than just on paper. I’ve seen your talent behind the wheel. Heck, I hired you to drive my late model. I know you can do it so that’s why I’m saying it. But win or lose, I’ll be here, too.” She smiles as she glances down at him.

“Just like I’ll be here no matter what, but I know you’ll get that first career win this year, and I’ll be right there ready to celebrate in victory lane. It’s time to #di9 boy.” He then smiles, seeing how she had gotten back to the perfect use of the hashtag already.

Short Track Lovin’ – Chapter 183: Their Special Night

Saturday, December 2 – 5 Flags Speedway – Pennsacola, Florida

“So you asked Lindsay…” Chase starts, as he wraps his arms around Sarina.

“I’m driving – as long as you trust me,” Sarina states as they reach the rental car. Chase pulls out the keys, placing them in her hand as she looks back with a big smile.

“I’ll always trust you. I know that you won’t let me down…” He then walks around the car, climbing into the passenger seat, while Sarina flicks the keys around on her finger before getting in.

It was a good 20 minute drive, but there were no regrets once they reached their destination. Chase looked over at her, smile firmly planted, before climbing out of the car. He watched as she grabbed a picnic basket, along with a small box, before leading him down to the beach.

Pulling out a blanket, she lays it out underneath the moonlight, with them both taking a seat.

“This is nice,” Chase offers as she reaches back into the box.

“Burgers and fries, okay?” She questions and he nods his head. She pulls out a pair of burgers, along with a fry, handing him his burger. “When I went to the bathroom, I actually went to get food.”

“Sneaky…” She just smiles as they both dig in.

“Anybody can go to a fancy restaurant for their anniversary. But, let’s face it – that’s not us. We’re just two simple, laidback, feisty at times, fierce racecar drivers who can get the job done. With a little country, and a back road to escape on, our lives are complete…” Chase smiles, nodding his head. She obviously read him to a perfect t.

“But let’s face it, we have the most chaotic lives, ever. Our schedules almost consume us sometimes – but because of our love, we can handle it and know the other person is always there. Speaking of which, what is your schedule for December?” She looks at him, confused.

“I have a banque-”

“…which I am coming to, no ifs ands or buts. I can’t let you down after you attended my banquet.” She laughs, nodding her head accepting. She just hoped she had picked out the right dress for the occasion. “Before that, I have production shoots for the week that we get back, and Dale’s retirement party. By the way, you’re invited..”

“I got a text message already from Dale.” He wasn’t surprised by that, to be honest. “Don’t your parents have an anniversary?”

“December 12. Oh, the Hendrick Motorsports Christmas Afternoon Get Together is the Friday before the banquet. It goes from like noon to 6. Rick told me that you’re invited whether you like it or not, and the crew guys have begged me to make sure you come.” She laughs, not believing his team at times.

“For their pleasure, I will attend – as long as you promise to attend the Kyle Busch Motorsports Christmas Party that night. Oh, and you have to wear an ugly sweater – as picked out by Kyle.” Chase gives her a concerned look as she breaks out laughing. “Yeah, I’m not looking forward to what he picks for me and Christopher, either.”

“Oh come on. You have to know that Sam is the one behind it…” Sarina shakes her head no. “Seriously?”

“Christopher told me about last year’s deal. It was ridiculous. Needless to say, be prepared to be embarrassed…” Chase rolls his eyes, knowing this was going to be interesting.

“So after that, your schedule is clear?” She nods her head as a big smile forms on her face. “Great. We’re spending Christmas at my parents house – purely by tradition. But before then, we’re going to Colorado for some skiing and snowboarding.” It didn’t surprise her, as that played into a gift for later. But, she did have a couple concerns.

“You’re serious?” Chase nods his head, yes. “I haven’t ever done either of those.” A big smile forms on his face.

“Looks like I get to teach you how to snowboard this winter…” She was still a little concerned, fearing that this would go affray. She also still had one big other concerning question.

“I also wanted to put up a tree this year, and decorate for the holidays.” Chase was caught off-guard as he had never seen that from her before. But, he could see that more of her fun side was coming out.

“Well, you can decorated the cabin as it could use some Christmas cheer. We’ll go cut down a tree, and get some ornaments, and make it look amazing. Then you can get some decorations for the outside and make it look good.” She smiles, glad that he was on-board. She just hoped she didn’t scare him off with all of her crazy plans for decorating the small space. “Now, about my surprise….”

“I suppose you can finally have it…” She then reaches into the small box, wrapping her hands around it, taking a deep breath. “I love you with every part of me. Sometimes, it’s even hard to find the words to say to you to describe that love. I don’t know what I’d do without you, and I can’t even begin to describe how you complete me. I never thought I could love like this – until I met you. Love wasn’t something I believed in, but you obviously changed that.” He smiles as he watches her.

“You taught me a lot of things, too. I thought love and relationships were supposed to be perfect without a single hurdle. I guess that’s because I grew up with that image due to my parents, making sure everything was just perfect for me. But, you showed me that flaws are okay. You don’t need to be perfect because those flaws can teach you the most valuable lessons about yourself. So thank you…” She was surprised by his confession, but had noticed it with how he wasn’t always critiquing over the top about every little thing he did now.

“I fought with myself for days, a couple months really, debating what to get you for your birthday. I wanted that perfect gift that meant something special to you. I wanted that special gift that showed how much I love you. Then I remembered something my dad told me – anybody can go to the store and buy a gift, but something that comes from the heart can mean so much more.” He watches her closely, waiting for her hands to begin to lift whatever was in the box.

“The guitar meant the world to me. it’s perfect, actually. My favorite artist, but also a reminder of how we met to always hold onto.” She smiles, glad that he had seen it like she wanted him, too. She just hoped the same happened here.

“Well, this is a little closer to the heart, actually…” She then lifts the book out of the box, placing it down in front of him. “You told me that I should do a scrapbook of my family memories – whatever photos and stories – so that way I could hold onto everything, and not be afraid of losing it anymore. The book that I have of my father, now complete with the images from Lindsay, it helped me so much.” She then takes a deep breath, releasing the book into his hands. “I wanted to give you something so no matter what happe-”

“You’re scaring me…” She then looks at him confused. “Is there something wrong?” She shakes her head no, even more confused. “Your words, they make me think that something is wrong. Like, there’s some danger, or we’re going to get pulled apart, or you’re dying…”

“I can promise you that’s not why I am doing this, Chase. Trust me, we’re going to get to spend a lot of time together – enough that I may finally drive you crazy.” He laughs, smile coming back. “But I wanted to give you something so you could always hold onto our relationship. I wanted to give you a reminder of the special memories, moments, and what we mean to each other. Then at times when you’re feeling a little lost, lonely, or skeptical – like say last week, you can look through.”  His smile simply grew as he looked it over, before opening to the first page.

“That’s the sweetest gesture, ever. I mean, I was so confused and worried, and curious, and now I’m just….” He flips the page again, laughing at the memory, before meeting her eyes with his own. “Thank you. I don’t even know how to describe my feelings. This is just perfect.”

“See why I wanted to wait till we had some time?” He nods his head, accepting.

“Now, I want to look through this, and trust me – I want to do that with you by my side. But, I have something for you for our anniversary.” She then looks at him surprised as he reaches in his pocket, pulling out a small box.

“Chase, you didn’t have to….” He looks back up at her, eyes focused on hers.

“No, I didn’t have to, but I wanted to. You deserve something special for our anniversary.” He then hands the box over, as she looks at it intently. “Go ahead…” She slowly opens the box, smiling immediately as the white ball comes into view. It was a necklace with a snowball at the end of it. “We officially got together after the Snowball. I figured you could use a reminder of that with you, always, close to your heart.”

“It’s adorable. I don’t wear much jewelry – never wore an-”

“You don’t have to wear it if you don’t want to just to make me happ-”

“No Chase, I want to wear it. I want to be able to hold that moment close to me, and have you always with me right there by my heart.” He smiles, slowly moving over to her, taking it out of the box. He undoes it, placing it around her neck, doing it up, before kissing her cheek. “Thank you…”

“I’ll always love you, no matter what. You’re always going to be my girl.” He then sits down right beside her, arm wrapped around her as he pulls the scrapbook close to them. “So, what all did you put in here?”

“Everything that I could think of. Every single special moment that is engraved in my mind. Every single sweet reason why I love you so much. I wanted you to know it all, and have it all.” He smiles as he flips it open, gazing over the photos from Hickory. “I remember when I got you to admit that you were crushing on me. You looked to be caught between frustrated at Ryan and Darrell, but you also seemed relieved to get it off your chest…” Chase reads over the note that she had included with some photos from the weekend.

“You have never written a love letter to me before – well, except for a certain text message, but this is just beyond adorable…” He smiles as he glances back over the note. Taking a deep breath, he begins to read it out loud. “I loved you as well, but I was afraid to admit it. I was told then to guard my feelings because you never know what could strike. I didn’t want to suggest the feelings strongly in return, so that’s why I didn’t tell you back, instead assuring that you were a cool guy. I thought maybe it was enough to keep the door open.”

“I thought if I ever got through my crazy emotions and finally open up, I would be able to tell you back in return what you wanted to hear, what we both knew in that moment. Truthfully, I often wonder if I would’ve done that without you pushing me in the days that followed because if I am being honest, I didn’t open up until you peeled back the layers..”

“I’m glad that I did because I don’t regret a single mome-”

“Oh come on, Chase. Admit that you regret crashing the plane, or falling down the grandstands, or being poisoned. You, Mr. Perfectionist, always pulling every situation apart, can’t have no regrets.” Chase takes a deep breath, knowing that she was right. it was no lie that situations had fluttered through his mind multiple times.

“My regret is that I didn’t protect you more. My regret is that I didn’t stop Chris sooner and trust my gut instincts. My regret, and don’t take this the wrong way because I don’t hold it against you for the reasons that you told me then, is that I didn’t learn who was behind this sooner so we could’ve maybe stopped the forthcoming chapters. So yes, I do have regrets.” She glances down, as he wraps an arm around her shoulders. “But I don’t regret a moment that I’ve spent with you, helping you handle your emotions, working through your problems, earning your trust, and especially don’t regret kissing those soft lips of yours.” She then laughs.

“Yours are just as wonderful, for the record.” She then leans in and steals a kiss as they stay close together.

“Now, what else is in here?” He then flips the page as curiosity blossoms, while she keeps her eyes focused between his, and those darling lips. One more lick across those and it may be game over. “Waterbowl, of course. I promised myself that I was running it because I wanted to have some fun and get away from the pressure, but I was also set on seeing you again.” She nods her head, remembering how he walked over immediately.

“Your cheeks that day gave you away.” He looks over surprised that she remembered that small detail. “Like I said in the previous note, I always had that crush on you, too.” The cheeks then go that shade of red they did that day as she opens the envelope on the page, pulling out the small piece of paper. “I remember you walking over to me, and how I picked on you immediately. I remember how you asked about a lack of phone call, and I blamed it on racing. But truthfully, I was doing everything that I could to avoid you; I didn’t want to be faced with showing my true colors or emotions. I also didn’t want you to find me out either, so hence the well-time excuse about the car. If I’m being honest, I maybe did work a little too har-”

“I told you! Gosh, doesn’t it feel great to admit it finally?” She smiles, nodding her head. “And doesn’t it feel great to spend a night away from the track rather than so focused on the set-up it’s driving you insane?” She nods her head, once again.

“You learned that the hard way, per Ricky…” Chase lets out a sigh, knowing that he used to have his own flaws, too. “See, I think that’s what bounds us together. We both have that same drive and determination. We’ll do whatever it takes to win.” She then looks back to the book, turning the page once again, as Chase focuses his eyes back on the pages, watching her open another envelope that rested beneath the photo of them standing together pre-race. “I remember this conversation so clearly for two reasons. The offer to drive a car prepared by a guy like Ricky was a dream come true, and I realized that my career was coming together before my eyes. I realized all of my hard work was paying off beyond anything. There was also the offer to join you at Michigan. I remember accepting, because once again, I was drawn to you, wanting to spend time, despite knowing that I could never tell you how I fel-”

“See, I knew that. I knew you were afraid to admit it to me by those beautiful blue eyes, and how they’d turn a shade darker when I glanced into them then.” She looks over, surprised. “That’s why I offered you the way I did – like an opportunity to talk to people, and see an event behind the scenes. If I had came out and said it otherwise, you probably would’ve ran for the hills before I could finish even speaking.” She knew that he was right – like always, as she focused her eyes back on his, again. She wanted to see if she could read those baby browns like he read hers.

“What do my eyes do now?” He meets her gaze, smile appearing immediately as he brings himself right close to her, noses brushing against each other.

“Sparkle, dance with excitement, and come out to be the purest blue that I could’ve imagined. I could possibly call it a royal blue, full of happiness, knowing that you’re the Queen of my world now.” She didn’t know what happened, but she brought her lips to his once again, going for one of their longest kisses she could ever remember, while their eyes locked on each other. She slowly pulls back, fighting for her breath as Chase takes a deep breath of her own. “Sarina…”

“Can we forget about the book for tonight? I mean, I want to go through it, I want to break down all of these emotions together, bu-”

“You don’t need to say another thing. I’ll grab the blanket and garbage, if you could grab the jewelry box and book.” She nods her head, accepting, as they both stand up. Grabbing what they needed to as instructed, she failed to find any words as she followed him back to the rental car. She stands back, resisting the urge to grab him right there as he opens the trunk, and they place everything in. He closes it, before looking back to her.

“I don’t know what has come over me….” She was caught off-guard by the emotions, and he knew that as he pulled her close to him in a quick sweep, arms wrapped around her hips.

“You don’t need to describe these feelings because trust me, I’m drawn as close to you as you are to me right now. this is just made me realize how much more I love you, and how grateful I am for you, and how much I want you to see that, tonight.” She smiles, glad the message was loud and clear.

“Then why are we still standing here?” His smile matches her as they both climb in the car, and make the quick drive back to the hotel.

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

Sunday, December 3 – Snowball Derby – 5 Flags Speedway

Sarina leans back against the car, shaking her head. They had been so strong in practice, and had a decent car through the first half. But as the race got into the second part, she began to lose the handle, slipping back and ending up 12th at the checkered.

“I’m sorry,” Marcus offers as he pats her shoulder. “I should’ve went further with that adjustment.” She nods her head, accepting.

“We’re a team – we win and lose together,” she tells him. “I’m pissed, I’m frustrated, and I damn well want to win this damn race. But I can’t be mad at you for your effort. Thank you.”

She then glances towards victory lane, smiling as she watches Kyle celebrate with the team. If she couldn’t win, it was nice to see the boss notch down another victory. However, it wasn’t lost on her that once again, the opportunity had slipped right out from under her grasp.

“You’re going to get yourself a snowball eventually,” Chase states as he hands her a bottle of water.

“I know that, but it will mean as much as this snowball right here,” she offers, hand reaching up to clasp the necklace in her hand as he smiles.

Short Track Lovin’ – Chapter 181: “Did you guys have fun last night?”

Friday, December 1 – Wynn Las Vegas

Chase opens his eyes, smiling as he feels the warmth of Sarina’s body next to his, as he keeps his arms around her closely. He takes a deep breath, kissing her bare shoulder, not wanting to move though he needed they had to do so, soon.

A grin forms on his face as he sees her dress carefully laid on the back of the chair, with his dress shirt and jacket on the desk. He almost laughed noticing that his pants got thrown on the floor, desperation coming to Sarina by that time to not even care about discarding properly.

For every bit of emotion that he had experienced just one night ago, the reminder of the heartbreak he had felt, fear of a repeat, this was the assurance that he needed so it certainly didn’t happen once again.

He glanced over at the other bed, seeing Lindsay buried in the blankets, wondering when she got back as she obviously didn’t interrupt them. He reminded himself to say thanks to Ryan for showing her a good time, hoping it panned out well for both of them.

Another glance at the time, he knew that he couldn’t put off getting up any longer as he carefully unwraps his arms from her, slipping out of the bed.

“Chase?” She questions, obviously his movement not going unnoticed. “Where are you going?”

“It’s 8,” he answers, catching a glance from her blue eyes. “I’m going to get a shower. Coming?” She smiles, nodding her head as she gets up, keeping the one sheet wrapped around her as they head to the bathroom.

Once the water was warmed up, the pair climbed in together, getting all cleaned up, with Chase even helping her with her hair and back. Once they were both clean, they emerge, towels wrapped around them, looking for their clothes.

“Lindsay!” Sarina calls, knowing that she needed to get ready too.

“Did you guys have fun last night?” Lindsay questions, peeking out from underneath her blankets. “The evidence says so…” Sarina knew the clothes were enough of a clue, but the carefully discarded item in the trash certainly convinced, too.

“It was special. Did you have fun?” Lindsay smiles, nodding her head.

“Ryan is a great guy. We had a good night together.” She glances out the window, smile widening on her face. “I needed that, you know? I’ve been so caught up with work, trying to bury my emotions and everything that has gone on. Last night, I got a chance to just release, and have fun. Are we going to see Ryan before we go? I want to thank him.” Sarina glanced over towards Chase, and Chase immediately pulls out his phone.

“I just sent you his number,” Chase declares. “He won’t mind. You can text him as I have no clue where he is this morning.” Lindsay accepts, as she climbs out of the bed, heading to the bathroom for her shower. “What if your cousin starts dating my best friend?”

“I think they’d be great together,” Sarina offers as she gets dressed. “I just don’t know how they can handle each other’s schedules. She’s not about to give up her dancing for any guy, and that takes a lot of time.” Chase nods his head, accepting. He wanted to see his best friend happy, having seen that his luck with girls hadn’t played out well so far – despite being charming.

“Well, they can play it by ear, but for the record, I wouldn’t mind it. Lindsay seems like a great girl from what I’ve seen this week.” Sarina smiles, glad that it had gone smoothly as Chase probably would’ve hoped – if not even better than that. “By the way, Tom got back to me. He knows exactly where Samantha and Shelly are – both moved to Indianapolis, actually. So that could be an off-season starter activity.”

“That sounds great, Chase. I can’t say enough for what you’re doing, by the way. It means more than words could even describe, or relate to. Heck, it means more than the simple gifts that I got you.” He glances over with a smile as he fixes his jeans.

“So, do I get to see my surprise now? I mean, I worked for it…” She laughs, but shakes her head no.

“I told you – I want to be able to talk about it.” He nods his head, accepting.

It didn’t take long for everyone to get ready, and get everything packed up for the trip to Florida. They had everything that they’d need for the next couple of days, with the various birthday gifts and other stuff all set together to be returned back to North Carolina – another favor Ryan had arranged prior.

Thankfully, the traffic was much calmer that morning and they reached airport with ease, climbing on the board the airplane.

“Everybody buckled in?” Chase questions, and both girls nod their heads yes. He then reaches over, squeezing Sarina’s hand as they eye each other. “Deep breaths, stay calm – it’ll be over before you know it.”

“Never soon enough,” she answers as she takes a deep breath, trying to relax as they head towards the runaway.

Things continue to go smoothly, with the flight from Las Vegas to Florida going accordingly, landing in timely matter so they arrived at the track with still an hour before the first practice hit the track.

“So how close did you cut it?” Marcus wonders as Sarina rolls her eyes, still frustrated about that last night.

“I got there at like 6:30, and ended up meeting  halfway down the carpet while he was doing an interview with NBC,” Sarina answers. “Traffic was just a nightmare once we got to Las Vegas.”

“Do you believe that she changed in the limo?” Chase questions, catching Marcus off-guard.

“That takes talent as I saw the photos and you looked good,” Marcus comments, causing a smile to form on her face. “Thankfully, after you left last night, I was able to find some things in the notes that just seemed a little off. I think I have a solution for your corner entry problem. Oh, and Kyle has got us all new tires to run the first session.”

“Four Hoosiers is better than diamonds any day,” she offers as Marcus laughs. “That’s truly a girl’s best friend, am I right?” Marcus nods his head.

“Are you the usual faces quick?” Chase asks, having missed checking the time sheet.

“What else would you expect?” Marcus questions. “Bubba Pollard is quickest. Are you surprised?” Chase shakes his head no. Bubba was always an interesting talking point, considering he almost signed Sarina to a contract before Chase signed her. Sometimes, he wonders how that would’ve changed things.

“It’s just a matter of whether he finally breaks through this year…” Marcus nods his head, in agreement, knowing how Bubba’s luck worked down there. “Lindsay, I am going to go stand in my usual spot. You can either hang here, or come along with me.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be my tour guide?” Lindsay questions, catching Chase off-guard as he smiles. She wasn’t forgetful at all as he remembered her words to her.

“That was about Sunday’s race, but I can do the same today, too,” he answers. He then walks over to Sarina, seeing her emerged dressed in her suit and gloves. “Good luck. Stay safe, stay focused, and work at making sure it handles for when it counts.  You know your way around here…” He then gives her a kiss, before walking away so she could focus.

As the first practice of day started, Chase made his way down to the middle of turns one and two, stopwatch in hand, eyes focused on the middle of the corner.

“Do you always watch practice down here?” Lindsay wonders and Chase nods his head.

“The way the car handles in the corner is what matters at the end of the day,” Chase offers. “Anybody can make it work on the straightaways and have speed. But what happens when you have to turn left? You need to have a good corner entry, being able to roll the center if you want to keep that momentum. The quick cars down here – the 26 of Bubba Pollard, the 15 of Christian Eckes, Sarina, Kyle, Cole, 12 of Harrison Burton, and Raphael Lessard – watch their corner say versus someone else.” She watches the first couple cars go through, noticing his finger hitting the stopwatch on a couple, one eye on the number, another on the track.

“So this is your normal spot, no matter what?” He glances over, nodding his head.

“If I was racing, I would come down here and do this for the Snowflake practice to see where the line was really working so I could try for myself. When I owned Sarina’s car, I would come down here and then pass a long a couple notes to her and Ricky Turner.” Lindsay crosses her arms, watching the series of cars go by.

“Why don’t you own her car this weekend if you guys were masters down here?” He lets out a sigh, knowing like everybody else, she just didn’t get it.

“You can’t just throw a one-race deal together and come down here and kick ass. You need to have a team that has chemistry and experience, and having worked on your set-up. There’s been no time for me to do a late model program this year properly, so therefore it’s folded right now. If I had a program, you would have no teacher right now because skipping this race isn’t easy.” She was a little confused as she continued to watch the session.

“So why not ask Kyle to drive one of his?” He laughs, shaking his head. “What?”

“It’s not that easy. They’re heavily supported by Toyota and I’m heavily backed by Chevrolet. Besides, I haven’t worked with his guys at all. I wouldn’t feel comfortable.” She nods her head, accepting.

After all the struggles yesterday, it was pleasant surprise to see Kyle, Cole and Sarina in the top-10 at the end of the session, sitting second, seventh and 10th respectively. It was no surprise that once again Bubba Pollard topped the charts.

“Did Chase Elliott get a new girlfriend?” Chase hears as he and Lindsay make their way through the pits. He glances towards the direction, rolling his eyes immediately.

“For your information, Sarina and I are still happily together,” he offers. “This is Sarina’s cousin Lindsay. I’m giving her an introduction to short track racing.” Bubba glances her over, before looking towards Chase. “Don’t even think it.”

“Relax, I’ve always respected boundaries. You do realize that I still care about her, right?” Chase pauses, nodding his head. “Alright, that’s all.”

“Let’s go…” Lindsay simply follows Chase without another word, glancing back one quick time, before focusing forward. “Bubba Pollard flirted with Sarina quite a bit, and even talked a little smack on the idea of her driving for me. He has good intentions as I can believe that he cares, but sometimes I wonder…”

“I think that’s a bit of jealousy and over-protectedness speaking, which is no problem at all,” Lindsay comments as Chase looks over at her.

“Do you realize that I have a damn good reason to watch and wonder?” Chase questions and Lindsay nods her head. She had heard the back story about Chase and Sarina’s relationship. “I trust her and I love her. But damn, I don’t take chances with people. Look at where that got us.”

“You don’t need to justify yourself for me, Chase. Actually, it’s comforting to hear that someone has her back no matter what. She hasn’t always had that, and sometimes I wondered about whether she felt truly loved. So, thank you.”

They joked about it on pit road together, while quickly debriefing the session and watching some of the Snowflake practice. Though before they knew it, it was time for the second and final practice session of the day.

Once again, Chase retreated back to his familiar corner, eyes focused on the middle of the corner.

“Cut deeper….” He says to himself, arms crossed as he watches her. He shakes his head as he glances at the speed chart. “She needs to be cutting it like Kyle is…”

“Sounds like you guys need to tighten it a little for her to do so,” Chase hears, smiling, as he looks over and sees Ricky Turner, same posture as he is. “I’m surprised you’re not down here driving something.”

“I’m surprised you’re not down here with someone.” Ricky looks over at Chase with a grin.

“I told you – I only come down here with my buddy, or I guess his girlfriend.” Chase laughs as it was nice to see Ricky for a change. “That’s the same thing we fought at Cordele that time. She pinches it, making it seem that it may be loose, when really if you tighten it and tell her to not pinch as much, you’ll be golden.”

“I’ll throw a suggestion Marcus’ way.” Ricky nods his head, accepting. “It feels weird being down here together without the car.” He then notices Lindsay watching them a little confused. “Lindsay, this is Ricky Turner. You can thank this man for all of my short track success, followed by your cousin’s. Ricky, this is Lindsay – Sarina’s cousin. Don’t worry, she checks out..”

“Oh, so now there’s a disclaimer?” Lindsay questions, caught off-guard by Chase’s comment.

“He was heavily involved and saw how things can go from one feeling to another like that,” Chase answers. “I figured it was only fair to give him assurance. He trusts my judgment and if I say that you’re cool, then he won’t bother you.” Ricky glances down, remembering the instance at Cordele, and the fear that ran through him when he was made aware that Chris had snuck onto the grounds, pushing Chase. He immediately worried that he would have to tell Cindy and Bill the worst news.

“I’ve known Chase for a long time now,” Ricky adds with a smile. “I treat him like my own kid at times. I will lecture him, offer advice, and protect him.” Lindsay slowly nodded her head as she glanced out at the track.

“I understand,” she offers. “I should expect it with a family as mes-”

“Lindsa-” Chase starts, not wanting to get into this discussion.

“No, Chase, let me just say it. It should be expected. I mean, of course there’s nerves because you’ve got a brother that’s gone completely off his axis, with a cousin that will back up every single move. You have a mother that couldn’t give a damn about her children, just getting that fix – which obviously passed along to one of her children. Then you have a father trying to do his job as an officer, but not wanting to prosecute his own family and actually protects them because he loves them. Am I right?” Chase takes a deep breath, nodding his head.

“That sounds right, but listen – it doesn’t define what I think of you or Sari-”

“You don’t need to explain that, Chase. But I understand when it comes to family or someone new – there’s that fear of a repeat. What if this person you welcome is one of those? I get it, and I understand. Your fear is easily understandable. It’s just never been forced in my face before.” He could understand that, as Lindsay hadn’t heard about anything until he showed up at her door that day.

“Thank you for understa-”

“Don’t ever forget that fear. I know you want to put this family back together, but I’m damn well glad that you’re doing your homework. We may have six uncles along with Aunt Shelly, but you don’t want to meet them all. There’s a lot of stories that should remain buried.” Chase slowly nods his head, accepting, almost biting his tongue in the process. Taking a deep breath, he wondered if after Shelly he should close the project and not even worry about anymore family.

“I will remember that. Thank you…”

The group watches the final practice together, decently satisfied as Bubba topped the charts again with Kyle sitting third, Sarina 20th, and Cole back in 21st. Chase passed along the suggestion from Ricky afterwards to Marcus, which was accepted for ‘consideration’.

Chase then took a step back, watching Sarina interact with her teammates and team members, running his hands through his hair. In an instant, a simple conversation with Lindsay, he understood the fear that Sarina held now. That’s why she wondered whether the time they had put Chris and Bethany away was enough, and whether Allison would truly stay away. She was probably also wondering who else would surface, too.

Catching a glimpse of her eyes, he silently promised himself that no matter what happened moving forward, he would always protect her and make sure her happiness was at the forefront.

Through the rest of the night, Chase remained quiet, allowing the group to focus. His happiness didn’t increase or decrease with qualifying, though, as Sarina ended up 20th with Kyle in 15th.

“300 laps is lots of time to work your way to the front,” he offers, as he rubs her shoulders, following qualifying, kissing her cheek. “You’ll be fine.” She nods her head, focusing on his eyes.

“I’m not worried,” she tells him. “I have a good car underneath him, great crew around me, and I know I can get the job done. Like you said, Sunday is going to be a long day…..”

Short Track Lovin’ – Chapter 180: “There’s so many people here….”

Thursday, November 30 – 5 Flags Speedway – Pennsacola, Florida

Lindsay looked around in awe as she followed Sarina into the infield, glancing at the sea of people that seemed to consume the infield. No matter where she looked, whether left or right, there seemed to be people beyond people, beyond people. How did they pack this many people into a short track? Was this really as big as she was told?

She continues appearing in shock as they make their way down pit road, watching the seas of crews that seemed to engulf their racecars, focused on the smallest details. She even swore that she recognized some of the faces, too, from the time that she watched NASCAR.

She realizes that they had reached their stop, going over to where a couple crew members stood together by the No. 18. It seemed weird that Kyle was running the event, but Sarina was behind the wheel of the 18.

“Any questions so far?” Sarina questions as she puts her hair up in a pony tail.

“You’re running the 18?” Lindsay wonders and Sarina nods her head. “What about Kyle?”

“51. Ever seen Days of Thunder?” Lindsay laughs, having watched that movie numerous times, and knowing that Sarina knew that very well. They had watched it quite a bit together.

“Rowdy Busch. So let me guess, the new kid on the block, Cole whoever, is running the 46 just like Cole Trickle?” Sarina then freezes, having not realized how Kyle did the numbers prior to that comment. That was actually impressive. “There’s so many people here….”

“Chase wasn’t kidding, and it’s only going to get bigger from here on out.” Sarina then double checks her shoes are done up accordingly, before taking her helmet out of the bag. “I’ve got two practices today – with the Snowflake practice session in between. You can either hang here, watch from the trailer, or watch from the stands. Fingers crossed that we got a good car under our belt.”  Lindsay crosses her fingers as she watches Sarina climb the wall, climbing in the car, getting set for the first session.

Needless to say, it did not go anywhere near where they wanted as the frustration showed on her face following the first hour and a half. She just leaned back against the wall, shaking her head as she watched the fury of activity from the crew members. They had ran well here before, coming close to winning. They had won at Winchester just a month ago. How were they so far off, today?

“Well, I guess I should turn around…” She hears, glancing over and seeing Kyle Benjamin standing there. With Kyle Busch busy in Vegas with banquet preparation, he had gotten him to fill-in.

“Unhappy with the car, too?” Kyle Benjamin nods his head as he leans against the same wall.

“I tried to diamond the corner, I tried to roll the corner, and I tried the second groove. Nothing worked at all. I mean, I’ve never been here before, so I thought it was my problem.” She shakes her head no as she keeps her eyes locked on the car.

“I practically won this damn thing, and I’m fighting the same issues. It just seems no matter what Marcus tried, nothing worked. I’m actually glad they gave us the second session today, and another tomorrow because as of right now, we’re out to lunch.” Kyle couldn’t help but agree.

“So, you’re going to the banquet once we’re done practice?” She nods her head as she glances over. “That’s got to be mission impossible…”

“Oh trust me, it’s not going to be easy to make it work, but I plan on getting there on time.” He looks over surprised as she takes a deep breath. “Lindsay has our bags back there – dresses, hair accessories, make-up – everything that we need. The second practice ends at 4:30 – which is technically 1:30 if you’re in Las Vegas. It takes four and a half hours to fly to Las Vega-”

“The banquet red carpet is at 7pm, followed by the banquet. You’ll get there at 6. That gives you an hour.” She smiles, having worked out the calculations a couple times herself.

“I’ve got an hour to get my hair right, get in my dress, and get down to the red – uh, black carpet actually – at 7 with Chase. I am going to make it happen.” He shakes his head in disbelief.

“That’s love right there. I’m impressed…” She could only glance back with a smile of her own. “Say, does your friend there have a banquet date?” She looks back towards Lindsay, giving her a nod, before looking back at Kyle.

“Oh Mr. Benjamin, you know that you cannot come. Tickets have to be arranged in advance and I have no room on the helicopter.” He gives her a grin back in return.

“I could always get Lindsay to sit on my lap for the flight….” She looks at him shocked as he laughs, walking away. She then looks over at Lindsay, rolling her eyes, before focusing on the Snowflake practice session happening.

While the first session was a disaster, the second didn’t go much better as the speed or handling wasn’t found that they wanted. She ended up 43rd quickest out of 56 cars, struggling with corner entry throughout the entire hour and a half.

“I don’t get it….” She comments, shaking her head as she places the helmet securely in it’s bag.

“We didn’t mock up (on new tires), nor were we focused on lap time,” Marcus offers as he watches her closely. “That’s got to make a difference tomorrow.” She knew that would help, but still wasn’t having much faith in laying down a  good lap tomorrow. What if she wasn’t in the top 30 tomorrow locked in?

“Do you seriously think we’re going to pick up that much time? And what happens when those tires fall off 50 laps into the run? We’re going to get lapped by Bubba before we can even think of kissing the snowball.” She then glances down, looking back towards the car. “I hate leaving on this note. We need to figure out something…”

“That’s why Kyle has guys like me and the others in place – this is what we do for a living, right? There’s not much else you can do as you’ve told me what the car is doing. Go and enjoy yourself. You deserve it – as crazy as you are.” She gives him a slightly smile, instantly remembering the conversation with Chase last night.

“If you need anything at all, text me.” Marcus nods as he takes the bag, complete with her helmet, gloves and racing shoes packed away.

“Don’t forget your firesuit in the hotel room…” She nods accepting, before heading off with Lindsay in toe.

As they had hoped, they were able to get out of the track in a timely matter and make it to Pensacola International Airport within a half hour, as Sarina realizes it is 5pm (2pm Las Vegas time). She begins to tap her leg nervously as they sit on the airplane that was already waiting for them.

“Thank you for doing this again,” she comments as Bill glances back at the girls with a smile.

“I’d do anything for him,” Bill adds, before focusing on getting them up and in the air accordingly.

As originally calculated, the flight time was four and a half hours – which equaled four and a half hours of nerves for Sarina as she still hated the thought of flying entirely. As they touch down on the ground, she glanced at the watch – 9:30 (6:30 Las Vegas time).

“The limo is waiting right there for you,” Bill states as he stops the plane, looking back at them.

“Are you coming?” Sarina wonders, having not figured out all the details. Bill nods his head yes, as he climbs out of the plane, grabbing the bag.

“You girls take the back seat of the limo, and I’ll sit up front. You may want to think about changing on the way…” Sarina and Lindsay glance at each other in horror, before looking back towards him.

“There’s no way in hell that I can change into my dress in a limo, Bill!” He understood that as they climbed in the limo, but knew their options were running out.

“It’s going to take at least 11 minutes, probably more with traffic, to get there. Think about it…” He then pushes a button, putting the divider between the seats up, as the girls glance back at each other in horror.

“We’re going to get there for 6:41 at the earli-”

“You know how traffic works, though,” Lindsay ponders as she begins to unzip the bag. “I’d prepare for the worst….”

Sure enough, their original 11 minute timing was met with frustration, followed by wanting to punch a hole in the seat, as they found themselves sitting parked on the road, bumper-to-bumper traffic, not moving.

*********

Thursday, November 30 – Wynn Las Vegas

Chase glanced at his watch once again, shaking his head, before returning his eyes to the mirror before him. He once again fixed the tie, making sure it was straight, before adjusting the jacket slightly.

“Nervous?” He hears as he glances over his shoulder, watching Morgan walk over.

“No, just impatient,” he replies as she nods her head. They were supposed to be heading out to the carpet in five minutes and Morgan wanted them to begin to make their way there. However, each previous time she asked, it was meant with a protest from Chase.

“We need to get goin-”

“I told you that I am waiting for Sarina…” Morgan rolls her eyes, having heard that now four times.

“Chase, are you sure that she’s coming?” He holds up the phone, showing her the text message from his dad that they had landed in Las Vegas. “There’s a ton of traffic out there, and she’s probably stuck in it. They’re probably going to run late. Let’s head down and then she can join you once she shows up, please…” Another glance at the time, and he knew that he couldn’t put this off any longer.

One more glance at the shoes to make sure they looked alright, and another glance at the tie, he reluctantly made his way to the carpet.

He smiles as he begins the walk down, posing for a photo with the Monster Energy girls as instructed. He then stands there, smiling as cameras go off to take photos of himself. The smile faded for a quick second as he wished Sarina was there at that moment, but immediately came back as he made sure to look the part.

He continues to walk down, talking to the various radio outlets, almost feeling a bit of jealousy as he watched other drivers and their wives and girlfriends joke around together. Where was she?

He then went through the TV interviews, answering their questions with a smile firmly on his face. A glance at his watch between them, it was 7:30. They had landed an hour ago. Where was she?

“No date tonight?” Matt Yocum asks as part of his bit with NBC. The comment only made his heart break more, as he shook his head no.

“I guess I got to get better at my game,” he offers.

“Our understanding is Sarina is down at the Snowball Derby….” Chase nods his head, knowing that was partially true. She was somewhere in Las Vegas, but where?

“I can’t say I blame her for choosing to go race there. Hopefully she can pull out a win on Sunday.” Matt then went to say something, a small smile beginning to form, but hid it immediately after being motioned to do so.

“So you’d prefer your girl to choose a race over being your date tonight?” Chase nods his head.

“Thankfully, he doesn’t have to choose between both,” Chase hears as a pair of arms wrap around him from behind. A smile immediately forms on his face as he looks over his shoulder at her. His jaw almost dropped as he took in full view. From head to toe, she was just absolutely looking amazing. From her hair being perfectly in place, to the shine of the blue gown from head to just above the heels. He was then surprised by the heels, too, seeing they had a couple inches on them as the navy blue complimented her dress perfectly. “It was a tough trip, but I’m here – barely, and ready for a night with my man. I’m proud of him for his year, and I wouldn’t miss celebrating it.”

“Now that’s true love,” Matt comments. “Krista, ever had someone do that for you?” He then gives them a quick nod before walking away, set to catch another driver.

Their eyes immediately lock together as Chase stands there, still frozen, caught off-guard more than he could’ve even realized – as he takes another glance at her.

“Did you think I wasn’t coming?” She breaks the silence and he slowly shakes his head no.

“I didn’t lose my faith for a single minute,” he answers, before pulling her back close to him. “And might I add that you look absolutely amazing? I don’t even know what to say, except you’re beautiful. You look dashing…” She smiles back in response.

“Not bad for getting dressed in a limo, huh?” He looks on surprised as she nods her head. “I would’ve been here earlier, but traffic was a nightmare. You look very handsome.”

“The main thing is you made it here in time, and stole the show looking absolutely amazing. I love you.” He kisses her lips, before taking her hand and heading into the ballroom together.

“Damn….” The various crew members let out as the pair sit down together.

“Not bad for someone that just got done practice, huh?” He offers, snagging another quick kiss.

Following the banquet, the pair joined the rest of the Hendrick Motorsports team at the after-party, sharing in a couple dances together as everybody shared compliments for Sarina on how she looked. Throughout their time together, even as he twirled her around a couple times, Chase was just in awe at how amazing she looked. How was he spoiled to have an amazing girl like her in his life?

After a couple hours, he whispered in her ear that it was time for turn in for the night. Knowing that she had a long day tomorrow with flying back to Florida and Snowball Derby practice, followed by qualifying – all beginning with their flight at 7am (10am Las Vegas time), he knew a good night sleep was in order.

“Can I say that I am still in awe at how amazing you looked tonight?” He offers as she slips her shoes off.

“I could say the same about how handsome and charming you are,” she replies as he pulls her back close, again.

“I’m so glad that you came. I didn’t realize how badly I wanted you here until I was standing there alone.” She grabs his hand with hers, rubbing it.

“Chase, like I told you last night, it’s okay to admit your emotions to me. I’m here for you as much as you’re here for me. I knew it wouldn’t feel right not being here – same as last night felt odd being apart from each other, too. You know, when I’m missing you, I play that song over and over.” He smiles as he keeps his brown eyes locked on her blue ones.

“You have a beautiful voice yourself. That message this morning was perfect. I don’t even know what to say in response to that, or you being her-”

“Same thing that I say to you in how you’ve helped me, how you haven’t given up on me, and how you’ve been for me – absolutely nothing because of total shock. I love you so much.”

“I love you, too.” He then kisses her lips. “By the way, where did you leave with Lindsay?” Sarina could only smile in return.

“Her and Ryan were sharing a drink and a dance together…” Chase looks on impressed, but couldn’t help but smile. He’d have no issue with setting his best friend up with her cousin. “Can you help me, please?” He turns her around, undoing the zipper on the back of dress slowly, pulling it down, hand running across her shoulder. “Chase….”

“Have I told you lately how much I love you?” She nods her head, as he had told her a couple times already that night. Regardless, she didn’t mind as she could listen to those words as many times as he wanted. “Have I told you lately how much I love rubbing my hands across your skin?”

“I believe you’ve shown me that nicely before…” He nods his head as he spins her around.

“So, what’s the surprise?” She smiles, knowing how badly he wanted to know the birthday secret. However, again, she knew they needed more time. Besides, weren’t they supposed to be sleeping? They had to be up in six hours for a busy day.

“You’ll find out tomorrow night, I promise. I want to show you when we have time…” He nods, accepting, filled with intrigue, as he pulled her close to him.

“Can I get a clue?” She shakes her head no. “Could I earn that clue?” She was intrigued by the request, wanting to feel his skin against hers, but she still didn’t want to offer anything, yet.

“I thought we were supposed to come up here, relax, and catch up on sleep…” He smiles, remembering the original intention. But a glance in her eyes, the softness of her skin meeting her fingers, he had other plans now.

“I realized how badly I need you…” She smiles, kissing his lips lightly, as she slips the coat off of his shoulders. She then begins tracing the finger tips of his dress shirt with her fingers.

“I need you too, baby…” The grin on his face widened as he backed towards the bed.

“Then help me out of these clothes…” She immediately begins undoing the buttons, slipping the dress shirt off carefully and setting it alongside with the coat.

Short Track Lovin’ – Chapter 178: “Just hope you don’t vomit after going around in circles.”

Wednesday, November 29 – Wynn Las Vegas

After returning to the lobby dressed in his firesuit, Chase rejoined his fellow drivers, climbing inside a limo van. According to NASCAR, this was their ride to where the NASCAR Victory Lap would begin.

“I saw you saying goodbye to the girls,” Ryan comments, catching Chase’s attention as he glances over.

“Yeah, they’re off to Florida,” Chase replies. “I told her that she didn’t need to come back tomorrow night, but she kept insisting.” Ryan could only smile in response.

“She cares about you, man. She wants to be here to support you and celebrate the season. Take it as a compliment.” Chase knew that Ryan was right in his words, and he was glad. It was amazing to see how much things had grown since they met.

“Remember when I dragged your ass out to the track because I was afraid to talk to her?” Ryan laughs, remembering that.

“Aren’t you glad that I went down and sparked that conversation for you?” Chase nods his head, remembering how angry he was at first. But strangely, it worked out better than he could’ve expected. “Look, I’m glad that it worked out for you. I mean, you deserve it and she does too. I really can’t wait to see where you guys go from here.”

“I see the sky as the limit, to be honest. I mean, we both love each other so much, will do anything for each other, and truly trust each other.” He then glances out the window, taking a deep breath. He knew there was still one hitch in all of this, though. “I just hope that we don’t repeat the past events.”

“Chase, that’s not going to happen. Bethany and Chris are locked away for years, and out of your lives. Allison – she’s dealt with via a single piece of paper. You don’t have to worr-”

“What if something else pops up? I don’t think I can take her running away again, Ryan. I can’t describe how heartbroken and upset I was. it hurt me more than I realize to stand in front of her, cut her out of my life once, and then watch her run and turn her back on me. I can’t do that.” Ryan understood as he remembered the emotions, having helped them reconnect the second time.

“You guys were both young and there was so much going on. We’re not going to repeat those events, and Chase, even if you do, you both have learned. Like you said, you guys would do anything for each other and trust each other. If something happens, she knows that she can come to you this time.” Chase nods his head, accepting, believing Ryan’s words.

“Thank you.” They then stop as they pull up to where they’re getting out as a yawn escapes his lips.

“You can’t be tired…” Chase looks over at Ryan with a ‘really’ glance, which was met with a chuckle. “I thought you would’ve gotten enough sleep up on the rooftop.”

“You’d think, but I’m still feeling it.” Ryan wraps an arm around Chase’s shoulders with a sly smile.

“Chase, let’s face it – you’re hungover. Just hope you don’t vomit after going around in circles.” Chase made a face as Ryan got out with a laugh, waving to the crowd as he headed to the tent where they were directed too.

Thankfully, things went smoothly as Chase went through the introductions with ease, and was able to do his donuts without anything escaping. Actually, it was better than smooth as the donuts were some of the best he had ever done, put together in perfect circles in the intersection. He also was able to avoid the motor issues and blown tires that seemed to plague his fellow competitors, shaking his head at some of the ridiculousness that ensued.

Once reaching the ‘official finish line,’ he took his walk up the make shift red carpet, taking his seat on the stage beside Ryan. Silently thinking to himself, he just hoped that the tell-all didn’t involve secrets that needed to remain hidden.

“Want a glass?” Ryan questions as Brad Keselowski was going around getting drinks for everyone. Chase shakes his head no, and Ryan could only chuckle back quietly in response. “Please tell me that you’re not done drinking over one night….”

“Probably not,” Chase confesses, before all focus turns forward with the questions starting to fly from Kim Coon and Rutledge Wood.

He had to chuckle at the thought of all the drivers being fine with Ryan babysitting their kids. Yes, Ryan was a great guy, but it was clear that they didn’t know some of his secrets. But still reaping for a nap, he kept himself quiet as he waited for the next shoe to drop.

He was then caught off-guard when Kyle confessed that he sucked at gift giving. How could he not even buy a gift for his own brother? That didn’t seem right based on things that he had learned through Sarina in how kind hearted the guy could be, combined with surprises for fans. Least he had Sam to keep him out of trouble.

He laughed as they teased Ryan about his hair – which he had to admit fit Ryan perfectly. He actually couldn’t imagine his friend without the long hair now as it just seemed to suit his style perfectly.

“You had some long hair for awhile there Chase,” Rutledge comments, catching his attention. “Any thought of bringing it back?”

“Maybe; we’ll have to see,” Chase replies with a smile. While it had grown a little frustrating to handle in the summer, from being out of control to sweaty, looking back he actually enjoyed it being a little longer than it was now. it looked pretty good, and how could he argue with Sarina loved to run her hands through the curls? Maybe that would be a good plan for 2018.

Obviously with attention paid on him, it was no surprise when Kim brought up things at Martinsville with him and Denny. He didn’t even bother to glance down towards Denny as Denny rambled on about how things weren’t his fault. He bit his tongue a little, remembering his own words – let the talking on track do the work, and just race him like he needs to be raced.

He felt caught off-guard when Denny mentioned how Phoenix would change the game moving forward – clearly, he hadn’t learned a single thing. letting out a sigh, next year was going to be interesting.

But he couldn’t consume his mind with Denny. If he did that, he wouldn’t focus on making the most of the time off, or making sure his own ducks were in a row for success next year. It was time to just focus on his team, and make sure they would come out of the gate swinging.

“Here’s one that the fans want to know,” he continued to listen to the hosts ramble off questions from the fans. “Who do you guys think will be the next Most Popular Driver?” Chase then froze a little as a series of fingers pointed towards him. it was one thing for the fans to say so on twitter, another for the media to imply that, but now his fellow peers?

“I think he could possibly beat his dad’s record,” Kyle comments out loud, catching Chase off-guard even more. Was this really happening? “How many does he got, anyway?”

“16.” It was easy to know the mark as his dad took pride in those awards, and everybody also seemed to remind him when they got a chance.

“How old are you?” Was this question really being asked? Kyle should know his age and what he was allowed, as he had heard the stories of last night.

“Legal….” Kyle chuckles a little in response. He should’ve expected a response like that in return.

“No, I need to know how old…” Chase was slightly confused, but figured he’d go along with it. Given Kyle’s behavior so far that day, sometimes playing nice and sometimes picking on them, he could only wonder where he was going with this.

“22.” He watches as Kyle quickly appears to be adding some numbers together, sitting there curiously.

“You got enough time.” Chase knew that he was probably right, putting the math together himself to equal being 38 if he won 16 straight awards. Maybe there was something to be said here.

“Really? That means a lot man coming from you…” Kyle glances back with a smile and a nod, and Chase could only smile back in response. It was clear that a good level of respect had grown amongst the pair over the year, with balancing the relationship.

“Man, if I was Dale, I would’ve ran at least one more year – if not two – to beat the record.” Chase could only chuckle as Kyle went back to his ways.

*********

Wednesday, November 29 – Pennscola, Florida

Sarina walks out to the infield of the track, joining the circle of drivers that had formed, with both crew chief Marcus Richmond and Lindsay standing over her shoulder.

“So how does this work?” Lindsay wonders as Sarina glances back.

“They call us up by the ordered we registered and we pull a number,” Sarina begins. “Whatever we pull is where we go out Friday night. Hopefully we draw a low number.” Lindsay looked at her a little confused. Normally, going out later in the session would be the key to setting the quick time – or at least that’s what she remembered from her days interested in racing. “Down here, you wanna go out early versus late because of the humidity in the air. It gets like dewy the later you go, making for a slick surface. Oh, and by the way, you’re drawing Kyle’s number.”

“What?” Lindsay thought she was just there to support her friend. Now she had to pull the qualifying draw number for one of the top contenders?

“No pressure,” Marcus comments, patting her shoulder with a smile. “Relax. Even if you pull some high number – like 50, he won’t be mad. It’s luck of the draw, right?” Lindsay nods her head, accepting, but couldn’t help but begin to feel the nerves.

“I can’t believe how many people are here,” Lindsay says as she watches the crowd gather. “This is just a qualifying draw, but yet there’s like 100s of people here.”

“That’s how big this event is,” Sarina explains. “People are invested in every single little thing about it. There’s 54 drivers here alone. This is the Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500 of short track racing. I want this as bad as I wanted to win a truck race this year.” Lindsay looks over surprised but is simply met back with a smile.

“So everybody here is like a top dog short track late model racer?” Both Sarina and Marcus nod their heads yes in return.

“I can point out 20 people quickly that have won either a big event or championship without thinking hard,” Sarina offers. “Take Bubba Pollard. He’s won every since big event around the country. But yet, in 14 tries, he has yet to win this race. He’s a favourite based on testing. You’ve also got the likes of Augie Grill, Jeff Choquette – both drivers have been racing for years. Fellow NASCAR up and coming drivers Chase Purdy, Brandon McReynolds, Harrison Burton – they’re all here, too. Chase wasn’t joking when he said this is the biggest race and it’s a who’s who field.” Lindsay shakes her head in disbelief as drivers begin to pull their numbers.

“I can’t believe you forgot your own teammate Cole Rouse,” Marcus muses as Sarina gives him a glance. “What? He has won some big events this year.”

“I’m pretty sure she’ll get to hear enough about Cole hanging with us.”

“Sarina Ott!” The announcer states, breaking up their conversation. Sarina walks over, taking a deep breath as she reaches her hand deep in the bag. She swirls her hand around, feeling the balls, finally pulling one out. She hands it over to the announcer, scared to look at it. “14.”

“Beautiful,” she comments as she walks back over, giving Marcus a high-five.

“Kyle Busch!” Sarina then spins around, facing the announcer.

“Kyle isn’t here due to his NASCAR commitments. My cousin Lindsay is going to pick on his behalf.” The announcer nods his head accepting as Lindsay walks up. She reaches her hand in the bag, picking the top ball, handing it over. “10 for Busch!”

“Hell yeah!” Sarina gives Lindsay a big hug, as they trade a round of high-fives with Marcus. “So far, so good. Now let’s just keep this rolling….”

*********

Wednesday, November 29 – The Chelsea

Dressed casual in a pair of jeans and t-shirt, Chase was ready to get in, follow his responsibilities, and get out of there. another yawn escaped his lips, and he knew that he was ready for bed. Besides, he wanted to spend some time talking to Sarina on the phone and didn’t want to go too late. He’d feel guilty if he kept her up with practice on the horizon.

He made his way to the Chevrolet VIP fan section, sharing hellos with the fans. He had to admit – some of them had some good stories to share, and the conversation wasn’t that bad after all. He went through a series of autographs and photos, before heading out, getting set for the next stop of the night.

He could only chuckle at the hilarity ensuing already on stage with Kyle sharing stories alongside Erik Jones. Strangely, as weird as some of those got, he could actually see them happening.

“Least we’re not the only ones that get people drunk off their ass,” Ricky comments as he walks over to Chase. Chase chuckles as he listens to Kyle recall a story from the last time he was in Vegas with Erik, having to save his ass after Erik was stumbling over, really drunk in a club. “Dude, you better be coming out tonight…..”

“Man, I don’t know,” Chase states as he lets out a sigh. He knew as soon as he said the words that he wasn’t going, he’d get a series of protesting from Ricky, and Ricky would probably get others on his case, too. But, he promised himself he’d stick to his guns. “You look like you’ve already been in the drinks.”

“I could go get you one…” Chase shakes his head no. “So you’re seriously not coming to party with us? Man, I thought you said you had a ball last night. You need to join us…”

“I’m still tired, and I want to call Sarina before it’s too la-”

“You could come see us afterwards, Chasey. You know your girl would want you to have fun.” He rolls his eyes, having expected this.

“Ricky, I’m fine. I’d rather have a quiet night..” Ricky then went to say something, but was pulled away as it was his turn to be on Ryan’s show. “Thank you…”

Chase relaxed back, listening to the fun ensuing on stage, almost bursting out laughing a couple times. Poor Ryan and Kim having to deal with drunken Ricky and drunken Brad at the same time. He had to wonder how Ryan was showing so much patience, and what was in Ryan’s glass based on that factor.

Taking a deep breath, it was finally his turn to make his way out to the stage, and have his turn on the show with Kyle Larson joining him. Hopefully it went smoothly as envisioned.

“Did you get your nap in?” Ryan asks as they sit down and Chase shakes his head no.

“No, I need one badly…” Chase answers and Ryan nods, knowing what that meant already for later. Letting out a sigh, he had hoped to have the whole gang united again.

Chase sat and listened as Kyle Larson talked about Owen and Santa, followed by a couple questions thrown his way from Kim. Thankfully, she kept it quick and simple without divulging too much.

“Alright, next round of guests…” Ryan states after 10 minutes of conversation, causing a shocked expression to form immediately on Chase’s face. He was called out here for just 10 minutes? He could’ve really caught up on sleep and relaxation otherwise.

“That’s it?” He questions, still surprised and Ryan nods his head. Ryan had wished to keep him longer, knowing the fun that could be had, but knew the regulations set in by both Kim and Chuck with everybody on tap to be on it.

“That’s it. Are you mad?” Chase shakes his head no, actually partly thankful. Maybe he could have that peaceful long night he desired.

“I’m not mad; I’m just disappointed.” Ryan gives him a ‘really’ glance, remembering the conversation from last night.

“That’s the worst thing you could say to me.” Chase knew that Ryan had caught the reference right away, and was playing right into his hand. But, he also knew that things were cool and it was just purely joking here.

“I’m sorry, man….” Chase could tell that Ryan was holding in a laugh as he sat there.

“Get off my show man!” Chase smiles back in response as he stands up, set to head off stage.

“I mean, I will. I was leaving anyway….” Ryan was about to say something in relation to the night, but instead simply let him walk off. While he wished he could have the full party group again for another night, he respected his friend’s decision to call it early.

Besides, he knew a good phone conversation with Sarina tonight would be the right ticket after their discussion earlier.

Short Track Lovin’ – Chapter 172: Are you going to join me in the grandstands tonight?”

Homestead-Miami Speedway – Friday, November 17

Following the national anthem, Chase gives her a quick kiss on the lips.

“Good luck,” he tells her as she just smiles back in return.

“Thank you,” she replies, kissing his lips once again. “I love you.”

“I love you, too. Be safe. Last one for the yea-”

“Woah woah, easy now buddy. I still got one more to go.” He smiles, knowing exactly what she meant. It was always nice to go down to Florida in December.

“Regardless, make this one matter…” She nods her head as he walks away, headed for the pit box. After taking a deep breath, one last check on the shoes, she climbs in the truck, ready for a fun night.

The race did not start off as she wanted, though, fading from fifth to 13th in the first stage as she battled a very loose truck. It didn’t improve much in the second stage, only advancing up to ninth.

“It’s still a little free, but not as bad,” she tells Marcus, who works out the next sea of adjustments.

Starting off the final stage, she began to make up some ground when she felt a tire going soft. Heading down pit road, the unscheduled pit stop set her down a lap, causing her to finish 18th.

Climbing out of the truck post-race, clearly dejected, as she just leans back against it shaking her head. All she had wanted to do was finish the year off on a high note. But watching her guys come towards her, she couldn’t help but smile.

She had finished top-10 in points. She had won a race. She had come close many other times. She proved to the world that she could race right alongside the best of the series. She proved if consistency came, she could be standing on the frontstretch where Christopher was right now next year, celebrating a championship.

Rather than focus on the negative, she immediately shared high fives with each of the crew members, followed by some hugs, thanking them for their hard work all year.

“We’re going to come back stronger next year,” one of them assured her and she simply nodded back in return.

“We’re going to come out guns a blazing, focused on one goal,” she replies with a smile of her own.

“I’m proud of you,” Marcus shares as he is the last to hug her. “You’ve grown a lot since I met you back in February. I’ve watched you mature, overcome difficulties, and grow. You’re not as frustrated as you were sometimes, you’re more focused on the end game, and you’re even easier to get along with. Great job.”

“Thank you for everything. You are more amazing than Kyle could even describe to me.” Marcus glances over his shoulder at Chase.

“So I’m more amazing than this guy?” She laughs, shaking her head no.

“Nobody could be more amazing than him.” She then pulls him close, wrapping an arm around his waist. “Sometimes I wonder how I got so lucky to get someone like him in my life.”

“Because Sarina, just like him, you’re absolutely amazing and a great person.” She smiles. “See you Monday for Snowball preparations?” She nods her head, accepting.

“Can you believe it will be two complete years together when we go down to Florida?” Chase shakes his head no.

“It’s just flown by,” he comments as she just rolls her eyes. “Oh haha, I wasn’t meaning a joke…”

“I like our second year a lot better than our first,” she replies and he nods his head in agreement.

“It’s only going to get better from here, too.”

Homestead-Miami Speedway – Saturday, November 18

After getting done an appearance for Toyota, Sarina made her way to the Cup garage to check on how things had been going for Chase during practice. She makes her way into the stall, glancing at the car, eyes opening wide as she glances over to where he was standing.

“What did you do?” She questions as he glances up from the data that he was looking over.

“Got a little loose up high and rubbed the wall a little,” he answers as she just shakes her head. “Relax, typical stripe here. Just go ask your great championship leader Martin Truex Jr. as he did the same thing, too. The guys are going to fix it.” She walks over as he looks back towards the data.

“You just wanted to give your guys more work….” Chase shakes his head no as he continues to flip through a couple different pages. From throttle traces, to various lap times, to notes on what lines his teammates were running, some of this had to help someway.

“We already got enough work to do. Did you see where I was on the practice chart?” She shakes her head no, but glanced up at the chart on the pit box, seeing he was 27th.

“Ouch. I can see why there’s work to do….”

“Car is loose as ever, and I can’t seem to roll that top line as smooth as either Kyles. Want to go ask your boss for some tips for me?” She laughs, and shakes her head no.

“He wouldn’t offer them anyway.” She then places a hand on his shoulder. “You’ll figure it out. You guys always do. I bet you’ll have a great run Sunday.”

“I hope you’re right.” He then snags a quick kiss. “Are you going to join me in the grandstands tonight?”

“Absolutely. I wouldn’t want to miss Justin’s celebrati-”

“Excuse me?” She then laughs in response as he just smirks back at her. It was clear he wanted William Byron to win the title, while she had settled on Justin Allgaier. “We’ll see who is laughing when the checkered flag flies.”

“Deal, but don’t make me wipe your tears.” He just rolls his eyes as she heads out of the stall, knowing he needed to focus ahead of the second session.

“So was the car better that run?” Josh Kirk asks as he walks over to where Chase was standing following the second practice session.

“Absolutely,” he answers. “It felt way more secure, like I could work with it now versus almost out of control the first one.” Josh nods his head.

“That’s good. We’re making progress.” Chase couldn’t argue with that, but he still wasn’t quite satisfied.

“I just wish we had more time. I mean, we’re still 27th quickest.” Josh knew that was concerning, but he still felt confident ahead of tomorrow.

“Once you had 10, 20, 30 laps on the tires, you were solid and matching lap times to some of the quickest guys in the same situation. As long as you don’t lose a lot on the start of a run, we’ll be fine.” Chase nodded his head, feeling a little bit better based on Josh’s observation. “So I hear you’re going on an adventure Tuesday….” Chase glances over, intrigued.

“Oh really? Where’d you learn that from?” Josh just smiles back at his driver in return.

“A little birdie.” Chase rolls his eyes, knowing that was a big fat lie.

“Are you eve-dropping on my phone conversations?” Josh felt guilty, but these things happen in close quarters.

“I didn’t mean to, okay? We were just really close and I caught a glimpse.” Chase lets out a sigh, knowing that it’d come out eventually.

“You can’t tell Sarina, okay?” Josh then looks at him surprised. He never would’ve seen Chase as someone to go behind someone else’s back. “It’s for a surprise.” Josh immediately felt relieved with that confession.

“The family search thing, right?” Chase nods his head as he had talked about with a couple crew guys before. He just hoped they, along with Ryan, Dale and Ricky, kept their mouths shut.

“She made mention of an Uncle Mike and Cousin Lindsay that were important to her in a couple different ways. I found where they live in Michigan so while she’s busy testing in Florida, I’m going to meet them and see where things go.” Josh knew the intentions were right here, but still felt nervous about Chase’s adventure.

“Are you sure about this? I mean, you’re a celebrity and well, so is she now – but you’re the people’s champi-”

“Let it go…” Josh shakes his head no with a smirk. He knew it got under Chase’s skin a little as he hated the new found tagline courtesy of Eddie Gosage, but it was true.

“You are Mr. Popular, though, as you’ve built quite the following. I’m just worried about your safety.” Chase was caught off-guard to hear Josh saying this.

“Aw, it’s nice that you care-”

“I’m serious, Chase!”

“That’s why Tom is coming with me and that’s why he ran a complete background check on them. I’m taking the right steps, Josh.”  Josh still wasn’t quite convinced.

“I still say that either Morgan or a couple of us guys should go, too – just be safe.” Chase rolls his eyes, knowing that Josh was now starting to become overbearing. How could someone on the crew be worse than Jared?

“I’ll think about it, okay?”

*********

After William Byron took the checkered flag in third-place ahead of his fellow three championship competitors, Chase couldn’t help but glance over at Sarina with a smile of his own. He knew for certain the little superstar would get the job done.

“What did I tell you?” He asks as they make their way down the stairs behind the grandstands so they can head out. Surprisingly, the crowds hadn’t recognized Chase too much and it was smooth moving. For the few fans that had recognized him, he was able to get an autograph or photo done before catching a big crowd.

“You are correct and you’re pick was perfectly amazing tonight,” she answers as he couldn’t help but glance back with a smile.

“I did feel bad for Justin, though. It had to be hard not having Jason here because of the suspension. But, I still say William would’ve beat him anyway. Willie has been the quickest of the group for the past several weeks.” She nodded her head, having watched that herself. Truthfully, there was pride in watching William do it. In the past two nights, a pair of KBM graduates had become champions. Hopefully she was the next one in the pecking order.

“Why do you call him Willie?” Chase smiles, remembering exactly where that came from.

“When you drive for Dale, everybody gets a nickname as he can’t just call you by your first name. For William, it became Willie B because it just rolls off the tongue. Josh Berry is known as Huckleberry, but keep that on the hush hush down low.” She smiles, nodding her head. It wasn’t like she would cross paths with Josh anytime soon, anyway.

“So what did he call you?” Chase remembered his clearly, knowing why it started, too. He had to laugh at how he brought it on himself.

“Clyde, because I reminded him of the 50s era with my Elvis-style sunglasses at Daytona in my rookie year.” Sarina smiles, remembering the photos that surfaced that season.

“Those were certainly some stylish shades…” Chase nods his head, still proud of how they looked too.

“If we really wanted to get under his skin, we’d call him Ralphie. Amy does that quite a bit just for the effect.” She then wraps her arm around Chase from behind as they walk through the tunnel together.

“So can I call you Clyde?” He then glances over his shoulder at her.

“Can I call you Chel-”

“That’s different.” He was a little confused, but didn’t say much as they kept walking. He knew the comment hadn’t set well with her and didn’t quite know how to respond. “Chelsy was my name for the first 15 years of my life, yes, but it means something different now. To me, it’s a reminder of the pain and suffering and everything that I went through. I don’t want to be reminded of that, but rather focus on the future and what I’ve accomplished. Sarina was my second chance to reset the stage, and live the life that I wanted. I want to focus on that and not remind myself of what was.”

“I understand perfectly. I’m sorry that I’ve used that to call you out sometimes and taken it the wrong way.” She nods her head, accepting, as they catch each others’ eyes at the end of the tunnel.

“My full name was Chelsy Samantha Dryer. I was named after a previous friend of my mother’s and my aunt Shelly. I almost changed my name to Samantha Ott instead of Sarina.” Chase was surprised by the instant confession, but could see the direction she was going immediately.

“I like Sarina for you better. It’s unique – just like you are in every way for what you’ve been through, who you are, and the future that you continue to go for. But, if you become annoying, I may just have to call you Sammy.” She then laughs, well appreciating the compliment in the same breath.

“Sounds like a perfect plan, Clyde…”  He just rolls his eyes as they head off together, set to go congratulate William on a job well done.

Homestead-Miami Speedway – Sunday, November 19

“Stay focused, believe in yourself, believe in this team,” she tells him. “You guys can do get up there and fight for the win. Be safe, and see you later. I love you.” She then gives him a kiss.

“I love you, too,” he replies with a smile. It was nice to get a little pep talk before the event.

Taking her usual seat on the pit box, she hoped she was in for a decent day.

She watched as he began to make up ground immediately, making his way into the top-10 during the first half of the first stage, placing sixth. He then kept up there throughout the second, scoring a solid ninth. The final stage would go steadily, as he kept himself solidly in 11th, before making a late charge on a restart with 40 laps to go to place fifth.

A series of smiles beamed off pit road in how far they had come over the weekend, really proud of their performance. More importantly, it gave me a good boost of momentum entering the winter ahead of next season.

As everybody finished up celebrating, Sarina snapped a selfie of her and Chase on pit road together, with the championship party going on in the background.

@Sarina18: Absolutely amazing season this year. I couldn’t be more proud of myself and @KBMteam for a great year. First career win, many top-10s, growth as a driver, and a solid top-10 in points. What more could you ask for a rookie season? This guy, though, is beyond amazing. It was so great watching him run well and get right up there. I guarantee next year that he will win a race – there’s no questioning that as I know he’s going to #DI9 hard. Next year, ladies and gents, one – if not both of us actually, will be celebrating right there. But for tonight, it belongs all to Martin and Sherry. Sherry, you’re absolutely amazing. For everything that you’ve been through, everything that you’ve battled, and the smile that always seem to grace your face. Thank you for being an inspiration to so many people, including myself. Make sure to enjoy tonight.