"Alright now ya got the routine down, give me fifty five, or thirty two hundred RPMs down pit road." Tommy could be heard drawling.
"We got the good air guns this time?" Rob joked.
"If not, I know at least one person that will be on lug nut detail for the next few weeks." Stan joked back.
The tire changers both quickly double checked their guns to make sure that they were functioning correctly. Gluing those lug nuts to the rims of the tires could be a pain in the back side.
"Biffle's in his stall, Tony's in his now. Biffle's in the air." Tommy was giving a great play by play of what the other two teams were doing in their own areas.
"Biffle's right side is done, they are pulling on Tony's quarter panel out some more, but his left side is in the air now." Tommy continued his play by play.
As Greg's and Tony's tires started smoking, Rob's rear tires smoldered to life, he swung his car wide to miss the number forty five car of Kyle Petty, and emerged a hair's breadth in front of his new buddies. High fives were exchanged amongst his crew members. They had made the best pit stop of their lives. Their car had come into the pits in third place and was leaving in first. Every detailed had been taken care of and each had done their job to perfection.
[static] "Ell yeah, buddy! Whooooo hooooo!" Rob could be heard on the team radio congratulating his team mates on a job well done.
"You guys now have a standard that I plan on holding you to each week from here on out." It was Stan. Doing his job of bringing everyone back to earth. He knew that it was all in the hands of the rookie. The kid had already proved himself to be talented beyond measure so far today. It was unheard of for a rookie to be in the position that he was in, this early in his career.
"OK, they are saying that they will give the one to go next time by. That means it will be a ten lapper shoot out." Tommy was trying to keep the nervousness out of his voice. He knew that it was up to him to keep the kid posted on the people around him. It was his job to keep the kid safe, and he hoped that the kid listened to him the rest of the way, just like he had all day long.
"OK, you aren't gonna have to worry about any lapped cars this time . as soon as you see that green flag git on that yeller line and don't git off of it for anyone or anything." Stan spoke the words that Tommy had been thinking, and trying to verbalize.
"What about Tony and Greg?" Rob asked.
"Son, friends are friends, and family is family. But this is the Daytona 500. You owe it to the guys here on pit road and back at the shop to do everything you can to bring them that trophy. These guys have done everything in their power to give you the very best today. Don't come to the hauler tonight if you aren't able to do the same for them." Again Stan was taking on his fatherly role. It was a talk that he had been meaning to have with Rob long before now. They just didn't have the time it seemed.
That statement caused Rob to pause for just a second and realize the magnitude of the situation. That he was a rookie leading the Daytona 500 with just ten laps to go and that it was in huge part to the efforts of every man on the team. The long hours and late nights of testing and re-testing parts and equipment and practicing until they couldn't hardly stand it any longer. He then realized that was the case in all the other forty two teams up and down pit road. That in some cases this made or broke a teams hopes for an entire season. He knew that he didn't want to have to go back to racing on the weekends as a hobby. That he didn't want to have to go back and answering calls from classless people that couldn't operate a simple computer. He reached between his legs and cinched up the lap restraints a bit tighter to help him sit up higher in the cabin. He then alternated tightening the chest belts with his hands.
"Pace car is off." Tommy broke into his determination for a moment.
He lightly placed his hand on the gear shift. Grabbed a handful of steering wheel in his left hand and gritted his teeth. His eyes narrowed as he peered through the visor for the draft. This was going to be the longest ten laps of his life and he knew it. He emotionally prepared himself for the final ten laps. He began peering into the draft, drifting slightly mentally back to his castle. He was invulnerable, impregnable, a sanctuary of calm in the midst of a raging war.
The green flag fluttered in the wind, and Rob slammed his right foot to the floor of the car. The RPMs climbed, and he swung the car to the yellow line getting is low as possible. He placed the car in third gear, and again tried to put his foot through the floorboard. He saw in his mirrors that Biffle and Stewart had stayed high going into turn one. He knew that the deals had all cancelled themselves out. That it was everyone for themselves. As he exited turn two, he felt the car begin to slide forward a bit. The draft lines shifted slightly. He looked up to see the scarlet number eight car behind him. Dale was nudging him forward lightly. He saw the draft begin to wrap around Tony's car and he could see the air flowing off of the side of the car as well as flowing over the top of the car. He allowed his car to slide into the vacuum next to Tony's car. Dale slide with him, Mikey following suite without any of them communicating at all.
"I will have to ask him if he can see it too someday." Rob thought to himself.
"Tony is outside you. Looks like the twenty four car is going to try and go low on you guys going into three there be careful and give him lots of room." Tommy's voice seemed to be in the great distance. Rob nodded his head as if Tommy were in the car with him. They rolled into turn three. Three wide and about ten rows deep running right at one hundred and ninety miles an hour. They looked like a moving panorama of color as they all moved as one, attempting to gain the one goal.
They transversed the huge track like this eight more times with out incident. The ninth time by the start finish line, the white flag fluttered in the breeze as the flagman lifted and lowered it in a grand fashion. It was the driver's cue that this was their final time to navigate this track today. That they were almost at the end of their five hundred mile journey. It was as if someone had come over the intercom at the local mall and said, "Krispy Kreme Donuts will be closing their doors for a year and there is only one doughnut left. The first person here gets it."
The stampede began subtly at first. A car bumped another going into the turn. Another slide a little wider trying to gain a little extra momentum. Doors were bent in and bumpers were used in place of horns. The time was drawing neigh that the event would be over and each and every team felt that they deserved the victory more than the other guy and his band of team mates.
The eight car was pushed forward by his team mate. The eight car then nudged softly into the number thirteen car, pushing him into the lead coming out of turn two. The twenty car looked over his left shoulder as Rob eased passed him. He nodded ever so slightly, basically giving his consent and thanking Rob for the day all at once. The driver of the twenty-four car looked over his right shoulder. There wasn't any non-verbal communication between them. Rob knew that Tony would race him cleanly to the end. He wasn't so sure about Jeff. The driver of the number twenty four cars was well known to pull the ole 'bump 'n' run,' on someone if given the chance. That was all well and good on the short tracks. But doing so on this super speedway could potentially mean someone's death. Rob wanted to make sure that it wasn't his.
Rob edged in front of the twenty four car, all was fair in love and war he thought, as he purposely allowed the rear bumper to scrap across the nose of the Dupont Chevrolet car. It caused him to bobble a bit more than he had expected, and quickly his smug grin became a grimace as he began fighting to retain control of the car along the back stretch. The car all but slide sideways, forcing others behind him to check up and lift off of the gas. This coupled with the fact that drivers in the rear of the party were trying to get to the front as quickly as possible.
Sitting in the huge skyboxes it looked like a huge aluminum can accordion. The plethora of colors suddenly clashing into one another, the bang of which could scarcely be held back by the sound proof windows. The richest of the rich sat here. The spectacle before them merely an afterthought to the partying that took place. This was the place to see and be seen. But even the hardcore reveler could keep their attention from the commotion outside now. Cars were vaulted into the air, at times two or three in an instance. When they became airborne pieces began to rain down like shotgun pellets fired directly into the air.
The thirteen car rolled onto his side. Sparks flew in past the window netting. The car began to spin as it slide down the back stretch of the race track. Rob yanked on the steering wheel hard trying to use the front tires to kick the car upright again. The car seemed to levitate in the air for a brief moment. The forty five car suddenly emerged from the pack of smoke and collided harshly with the thirteen car, sending it almost full throttle towards the outside barrier wall.
As all this transpired a hush fell over the magnitude in attendance. All at once everyone seemed to stand. None believing what they were seeing, all thinking that their favorite racer might make it through the melee some how. All knowing that they were watching history in the making.
As the thirteen car neared the inevitable doom of full force collision with the wall the sixteen car suddenly appeared and plowed into the right front of the car sending him on a tilt-a-whirl ride back down the track. The car spun several times, threatening to again roll. Rob gritted his teeth after the impact attempting to save the car, now moving at a snails pace of around one hundred miles an hour. Luckily he had been able to keep the car from stalling out as he battled to maintain control.
Greg Biffles car slide to a sudden stop on the infield on the backstretch, Rob was suddenly very concerned about the extremely hard hit that must have ruined more than simply the sixteen car. It more than likely had severely injured the driver.
The thirteen car looked like it had been caught in the middle of a meat grinder. One tire was completely shredded, and he had difficulty in getting the car to turn at all. He slowly clung to the low end of the race track trying to salvage the best finish possible. Not knowing where everyone else was at on the race track. His communications had been lost shortly after the second impact that had saved him from the wall.
As he entered turn three he saw the crowd standing on their feet cheering. Figuring that the race had already won by someone else he struggled to keep the car from driving up the high banking into the wall again, his maximum speed was a mere one hundred sixty-five miles an hour.
He glanced into his rear view mirror for the first time since the wreck had started and was startled to see the survivors of the wreck trying to bare down on him. He began to scan the start finish line area to see any sign of someone doing a victory burn out. He saw the checkered flag still fluttering up and down in the breeze and realized that the race was not over, that he needed to race back to the line and that he still clung to a chance to win the great American race.
The chariots looked as if they had been through a thousand year siege. Beaten and battered. Some hardly able to move under their own strength; others being helped by fellow warriors as they pushed them to the end of their journey. Others were still giving no quarter as they sought to be the first to claim the victory of reaching the end of the journey first.
Their beasts snorted angrily as they saw their only true opposition in front of them. The black and red chariot was hobbled greatly, its driver dazed and confused from the battle. They rounded the final curve on the long road home. Their once beautiful and shiny vessels, now dimmed by the war that had raged for so long. Slowly they were gaining on their prey. A mere hundred yards from the line that marked their home the prey puffed white smoke from the left front of the chariot. It swayed from one side to the other. Almost as if the driver had lost the reigns on one of the horses and was in mortal fear of losing the whole of the beast. He managed to rein them back under control in short order. Then they were upon him.
Going five wide as they attempted to pass the thirteen car Rob saw his chance to win slip away as the pack had been able to gain on him after he lost the left front tire. They passed the start finish line no one knowing for certain to whom the victory went. They finished just as they had run all day. Within a hairs breadth of each other and destruction.