Roy Jackson, a fly 12 year old boy growing up in Texas, looked away from other homies likes of roping horses, basketball, and even roller-blade hockey - and gave a high-five to stock-car racing. Everyday after school, he ran to the television, munching on his favorite gummies, got the cable remote, switched to a NASCAR channel, and marveled at the fast-paced atmospheres of races. He reveled in the skills of each driver, finding likes and dislikes in each of his heroes. His dream in life was to someday be part of that mad masquerade of colors flashing by him on the screen, charge into a pack of growling machines in a flashy vehicle, and bump sides against the greatest of contenders.
On a warm Friday evening, Roy waited for his Pops, an auto mechanic, to come home. This was their night together on the road, a chance for him to test his driving mettle.
The front door burst open. A burly black man in a checkered shirt ran into the kitchen, bolting for a woman who leaned over a sink washing dishes. Roy got nervous. He watched him caress Ma's shoulders and slowly pull out a soda from a sandwich bag. Roy's glance, following Ma's heat-blistered brown hands as they dunked glasses into soap suds, shot to the car keys now hanging on the kitchen wall, back to the television screen with its cars racing circles around a track, and then returned to the keys. He felt an urge to take the keys, but the race car engines blaring from the television speakers quelled this forbidden notion.
"It was a busy day today," Pops said. "But thank Gawd it's Friday! Hopefully the weekend will be better. I'll not be back home until late tonight. Gotta get rid of this headache. It's been eating at me the entire day."
"You be home before 11:00, or I'll whoop your ass," Ma said, swinging a spoon in the air at him.
"What? This what I get for days slamming at that wrench, nothin' but hating?" Then as quick as his voice had risen in anger, Pops escaped the argument with a call for his son. "Roy!"
"Yeah Pops!" Roy ran into the kitchen.
"It that time!"
In excitement, Roy snatched the keys from the rack, and darted out of the house for the beaten up white Pontiac in the driveway. Joy and anticipation made him fumble with the door lock, but after a brief pause to catch his breath, he turned the key and swung open the door. He then leaped into the driver's seat, leaned over the steering wheel, and imagined himself in a race car helmet, looking out of its visor to scope out the track ahead of him. His hand dove for the ignition box, slammed the key inside, and then started the car, looking up again for another imaginary moment of NASCAR bliss.
"Son, you're too eager!" Pops leaped over a bush and waved his son over to the passenger seat. "Wait!"
Roy slid over, shaking with nervous desire for a try at the wheel. Pops got into the car, reversed it quick, and sped down the street.
"Hey, so how's school going for you?" Pops said, swinging the wheel quick into a turn, then speeding up into another street. "Ma said you got a A on one of your quizzes?"
"Yeah, school is school. So when do I get to drive the track? We haven't done it for so long?"
"Son, I asked you a question, did you get a A or no?"
"Yes I did," Roy said, feeling uncertainty, for he thought the conversation spelled doom for his expectations.
"Good, I'm proud of you! I'm gonna make a quick stop at The Tap. You making me feel so good right now, I need to celebrate." Pops yanked the steering wheel left and shot into a parking lot full of cars. He sped quickly down each aisle, found an open slot, cut into it, and came to a stop.
"Get the car ready for me," Pops said, before he left the vehicle to enter the bar, a place he said fueled a ready mindset for race car driving, but where Ma had said people went to get drunk. He popped open the hood and gave Roy the toolbox in the backseat for completion of the prep work.
"I be back soon, you hear!" Pops briskly walked for the sign-lit entrance of the bar and vanished behind its oaken door.
Now came the prep work. Roy took out a gauge from the tool box, checked each tire for good air pressure, and with satisfied readings for all four, he grabbed a rag, ran to the front of the car, and pulled out the oil stick. He swiped the stick, stuck it back in, then yanked it back out to discover the oil at a good level, although a little dirty.
Happy over his findings, he stabbed the rod back into its sheath, and completed a quick check of the engine, cables, and fluid containers. Everything appeared to be okay.
The preliminary inspection done, he dropped the hood down, locked it, and got prone like a snake, wiggling underneath the car, until he felt coiled enough below the center to shine his flashlight up into the bottom chassis of the car. A click of the flashlight's button shot a bright beam above him, showing a collection of greasy shafts and metal pipes. His eyes raced over the jungle of innards above him, alert to any irregularities amongst his environment, but everything, like the goods beneath the hood, appeared safe and in working order. He slithered out from underneath the car.
After the inspection came the wait for action. Visions of stock cars screaming down a track to reach the finish line, raided Roy's thoughts. He sat on the curb, uttering noises to mimic their engines. His imagination carried him to a straightaway, his hum changing to match the roar of a fast-paced vehicle. Every minute he repeated the hums, until he noticed someone staggering towards him from the bar. Pops, lit by the neon lights of The Tap, and visibly drunk, held tight against a light pole to keep balance. He struggled for the Pontiac, almost falling on his way, catching himself with a press against the knees. On reaching the car, he gave his son a pat of assurance. Roy could smell the whiskey on his breath.
"I've done told you, boy, get it started!" shouted Pops. His son obeyed, starting the car, a surge of excitement pulsating through him when he heard the hum of the engine. Pops got into the driver seat, propping Roy in his lap. They felt comfortable in their sit behind the wheel, but Pops wanted to be careful, and managed to buckle both of them into a seat-belt. "You ready?"
"Yeah," Roy exclaimed.
"We'll give it to them, boy! I gotta make a stop at Lucky's before I get back. You ready for the long drive? Of course you are."
Roy put the clutch into reverse. Pops did all the foot-pedal work. When Roy shoved the gear into drive, he felt the car gain speed fast. He kept silent and watchful of cars in the dimly lit parking lot. They reached an exit lane turning out of the bar, came to a stop, and Pops slammed on the gas again into empty streets.
"We taking the freeway, keep those hands steady on the wheel, you hear?"
"Yeah Pops." Roy felt they were going too fast. He hoped Pops would step on the brakes before reaching the intersection, but as they got to the freeway turnoff with its yellow traffic light flashing to a red bulb, the car kept its momentum. Roy yanked the steering wheel right and cut a turn onto a feeder road. The car got through with ease. Pops slammed the gas harder.
Now racing at full throttle between concrete walls down an on-ramp, they shot onto the freeway. Hands steady on the wheel, Roy noticed a car on their left driving a little too close into their access lane. He corrected his steering just enough to avoid a sideswipe. They cleared the danger and cut quick in front of it.
Roy looked at the speedometer, just over 80 miles per hour, and squirmed in Pop's lap.
"Son, keep your eyes on the road."
The car, bypassing traffic moving at a slower-rate of speed, approached a crowd of vehicles. "We getting into the pack, get ready!"
Ahead, an overpass with a centered massive digital sign warned in glowing letters, "GET A DESIGNATED DRIVER." Pops smirked at the sign. They went under it in a speedy blur.
They found themselves amidst the pack. Taillights became important beacons. Roy played a dodging game against each vehicle, turning away from dangers with precision. Every transition of the slalom-like course, with its four lanes of traffic, brought greater challenges, like having to bypass a semi and its lead cars, and they completed each task by successful drafting off vehicles, and hurtling themselves through the small spaces ahead of cars, for access into free lanes. Their zigzagging battle got them into the lead position.
"Look it, son, they can't touch us, we're champions! We beat them all! Tonight it will be checkered flag for you, driver!" Pop's utterance came with the appearance of flashing red and blue neon outside their driver door. A squad car raced next to them.
"Ah hell naw! A new challenger? I guess the race has just begun. A cop's on us. We can't stop. Keep the wheel straight! We gotta show them who wins this track." Pops kept his foot on the gas pedal.
The squad car sped up.
"A'ight, he wants to fight for the lead, but we ain't givin'!" Pops screamed out profanities at the driver window, even slamming his hand against the glass.
The freeway ahead, void of cars, banked into a left turn. Pops, alert to the change, found opportunity. "We gotta slow down here, boy. Gotta s-l-o-o-w down. A turn a comin' up! Gotta get behind. His engine too strong against ours. We pass and get in the lead from the inside." Pops tapped the brake.
With the loss of speed, the squad car shot in front of them. Roy, eager for a win, steered the Pontiac behind its new leader. The lower wind-resistance allowed them to match speed with the squad car. "Keep it straight," laughed Pops. "You doing good, just keep your eyes on the road." They rode at a perfect follow behind their siren-blaring nemesis, feeling the pull on the Pontiac. The freeway banked steeper. Roy made corrections with the steering, then, seeing two vacant lanes at his left, a perfect area for a pass, he turned the wheel into them, and Pops gave more gas. "Go son, go son! We almost there!" An inside pass got them side by side with the squad car.
"Woohoo!" Pops screamed in elation over their successful tactic. They got in front of the squad car again. "There's a car coming up! You see it?" Pops saw another opportunity. "You know what I'm thinking, boy? I think tha popo need a new hat." Roy, noticing the new taillights in the distance, understood Pop's suggestion, and thought him crazy. The last time he had done a similar trick in a go-kart, he had spun out of control, but he turned for the vehicle anyway, hopeful for a new success.
The Pontiac got behind the compact sedan riding close to the wall. Pops put on the brake to match speed with their leader. All of a sudden they got bumped in the rear by the squad car, pushing them into the sedan, but Pops excellent speed control prevented a wreck. Now all three vehicles followed in line.
"Pops, I'm gonna do it!"
Roy, looking in his rearview mirror, noticed the jar-headed white cop frown over his steering wheel as his squad car engine revved up for another charge. He swung the Pontiac to the left, broke the line, and formed the hat of a wing-nut formation. He remained in this driving position, allowing time for the squad car to close the gap, then he sideswiped the trapped vehicle, causing it to crash into the wall. Only one bump and the hat fit too tight, squeezing its wearer out. The squad car spun out.
"He can't catch us now, tha' sucka got mad hatted, he only fits government issue!" Pops trumpeted out a victory hymn from his lips. The two racers had accomplished an impossible feat, triumph over a squad car, yet their short-lived celebration ended with the appearance of not just one, but two sets of red and blue flashing lights closing in on them from behind, and these vehicles got side by side with the Pontiac.
"We back in the pack. Don't worry son, we got this! We won't back down. We draft them and get the lead."
An endless stretch of four-lane freeway spread in front of them. Roy, having driven this straightaway many times with Pops, but never chased by police, thought they would have to take an exit ramp or get in a crash to escape. The squad cars, flanking him from both sides, had all the advantages. With a glance at the fuel gauge, he noticed an empty tank. It would only be a minute or so, before the loss of throttle.
"Pops, we almost out of gas."
"Outta gas?" Pops leaned his head over the dashboard to verify and saw the red caution light. "Naw, don't worry, we got them beat! Just keep it steady driver."
"No, they got us, Pops."
A chugging burp erupted from the motor followed by engine death. The Pontiac, losing ground every second, slipped out of the pack. Fighting the loss of propulsion, Roy struggled at the wheel to keep the car straight.
"We got hung out to dry," Roy said in shame.
The squad cars closed in on the stricken vehicle. Pops continued pumping the gas pedal, but to no avail.
"Yes you're right, son. We're in trouble!"
A myriad of new squad cars surrounded them. When the Pontiac came to a stop, officers leaped out of their cars, guns drawn. A cop commanded in a harsh voice, "Step out of the vehicle with your hands up!"
"We got beat!" Pops cussed in defeat, unbuckling his seat-belt. "We gotta show them our losing faces." He opened the driver door. A spotlight blinded them. The light, shining on them from a nearby vehicle, scared Roy by its brilliance. He shivered with fright and did not want to leave. Only Pops nudge, a reassuring touch, coaxed him to leap out onto the asphalt, and into the hands of awaiting police.
White angry faces in black uniforms surrounded the boy, their guns trained on him. Roy felt intimidated by so many cops and wanted to run away, but an officer grabbed his arm, and yanked him towards a squad car.
"Who was in the car with you?" The jar-headed cop spoke with authority. He subjected Roy to a body search, thrusting muscular hands into the boy's pant pockets, and then ended the inspection with a patting down of his shorts and t-shirt.
"Pops," Roy said.
"Pops who? Why did you exit the driver side rather than passenger?"
"Pops made me do it."
"Were you driving the car?"
"It was Pops," the boy kept blaming his father. "He made me do it. He needed a driver, so I drove him. Honest."
"You drove the vehicle?" The officer looked at the boy in amazement. "Where did you learn your driving skills, Daytona 500?" The officer's smirk alleviated Roy's uneasiness.
Pops fell out of the Pontiac and lay prone. Police, shouting out commands at the fallen suspect, got tense with their trained weapons. Three officers, running out from behind Roy, swarmed Pops and cuffed him. They got their suspect between them, one yelling out his Miranda rights, and escorted him away.
Before cops could shove Pops into the backseat of a squad car, he hollered out at Roy, getting his attention. "Son, tell your Ma, I be home soon. Tell her I love her. I'm gonna be in the slammer for this one. Gawd it could be for a long time. But don't you forget what I've always told you, boy. Keep ahead of tha' suckas! Never give up the lead. You're the black fox. The black fox is always champion. He always swift!"
Roy wanted to be with Pops right now, instead of with the cop, who irritated him. He answered with true emotion, "Pops, I'm gonna miss you."
Eight years later, Roy Jackson got his chance. First Baptist Church, serving the community in and around Roy's suburb, hosted many faithful supporters for his passion in stockcar racing. They raised enough money to buy him a 900-horse power winged sprint car: an open frame off-road racer, with roll-cage, exposed tires, and no fenders. The purchase, a shoddy chassis, worn-out from abuse, had been revamped by mechanics from Pop's automotive shop to racing standards, and the sides repainted with the company logo, a car sporting a cowboy hat.
After every Sunday worship, for two years, crowds attended a local race track to watch and applaud for Roy as he raced without defeat against Texas bad boys. His dreams to be a racer had come true with support from his religion and he did not disappoint fans. Attendance tripled at church services. Followers would many times show up just to watch Roy speed out a win at the tracks, and donations kept pouring in to support the costs.
Word spread quickly around Texas that Roy was the best driver of the Midwest, that no one could outrace him in a duel on the tracks, that NASCAR or Formula One would soon be his future. On one summer afternoon, a few days after Roy's 22nd birthday, it seemed his big break had finally come in the arrival of a potential Fortune 500 sponsor, a leading fast-food chain, CJ's, whose scouts had arrived at his church to watch him race. When Reverend Greene had spoken of CJ's coming to dine with a true champion at Sunday worship, Roy kept his respectable shirt and tie in the closet, and arrived for worship in his racing jumpsuit.
It was a clear Sunday afternoon. Two black men in blue shirts, representatives of CJ's, took quick notice of a steeple topped church, before making their way for it through a lawn. They were greeted above a set of stairs at the double door entrance by Roy in his race suit. He shook hands with the new arrivals. They were amazed by his physical strength. Roy, brawny in a white jumpsuit, a cowboy hatted car emblem embroidered on his chest, looked like a superhero who had shot back from the moon. He didn't have to unzip his race suit to make the two scouts realize, he stood in good enough health to conquer any rigors of the racing world. Roy's heat-shield of flame retardant race-wear covered a powerhouse of muscle, sinews born from years wrestling livestock on farms and handling cars as a mechanic, and it added masculinity to a hard-boned face, with its big dreamy eyes and a pudgy nose. 'I hear you're the scouts for CJ's?" Roy spoke with vitality and a bit of a Texan accent. He scratched his shaven head in nervousness.
"You're here to watch a show? I will try my best sir to give you a good one."
"We've heard a lot about you," said the older scout, a man of middle-age, with a fringe of gray hair above his brow. "Mostly good stories. So when's the race?"
"Well there's worship first. You can't start a race without God's big kiss!" Roy puckered his lips.
The scouts laughed at his jest. Not only did their potential have strength for racing, he also had a winning personality, two of three requirements already met in their book for consideration.
Worship began twenty minutes later. Within a lair of high ceilings, rows of crowded pews and dark wooden walls, Reverend Greene, a pastor in his fifties, awed attendants with a sermon on God's love. He associated the struggles in finding a relationship with God to that of winning a sprint car race.
"God's love will hit you at blinding speeds," Reverend Greene said with an exclamatory voice, his black face sweaty below a whiff of wavy hair. "Steer for His love! Let Him envelop you with His glory! You as believers can sympathize with my everyday struggle...I drive for the finish line! I keep my vehicle true towards God's love. We all must keep our car true in its course. We all must make the bad turns and take each obstacle knowing, if we keep the faith, it only makes our friendship with God, all the more stronger! Don't let the devil at your back get the lead over you. Oh don't let that devil get the upper hand."
"Oh mercy!" A few in the crowd uttered gasps and lamentations.
"He always following you," the preacher continued, lowering his voice. 'He'll tempt you. He'll make you take a wrong turn, hoping he'll get the upper hand over you, but don't let him take your soul. Understand me when I tell you, Christ sits with you the whole way. Christ is our copilot, loving us all the way as we race to know Him! Better steer for God when He's calling you for He is the true way to salvation! God do you hear me? Hear me Lord?"
"Oh Lord hear us!" A man screamed to the rafters, his hands raised in the air.
"The devil's at my back," continued Reverend Greene. "But I've crossed the finish line!"
"Amen!" An acclamation of praises rang out from faithful in the pews.
"Today, brothers and sisters. We have two guests." Reverend Greene pointed at the scouts. They stood up, wove at church attendants, and then sat back down. "These two men are from one of the greatest fast-food chains in America, CJ's. I personally am a great fan and customer of CJ's! Who don't like their fried chicken and wings? Mmm...scrumptious. Please welcome them with open embraces, you all know this could be the greatest chance in a lifetime for our faithful driver, Roy Jackson, to race for NASCAR. They have also provided free lunch for all, boxes, all you can eat, there will be wings and biscuits to the rooftops in the assembly hall. Amen! After worship just take a seat and help yourself." Reverend Greene paused to recollect his thoughts. He remembered his purpose in promoting Roy. "I wanted to take a moment to speak with you all about our champion racer, Roy Jackson, a young man who came to us not too many years ago in search of Christ. Christ tells us as believers, I am the good shepherd, I watch over my flock, and Roy, a troubled youth, came to us as a stray. I too was a bad boy at his age! I always got my nose into the wrong business and Ma was always behind me with the switch. Boy, she would scream at me, you're nothing but a squirrel let loose! I was bad, but I also had teachers...good teachers. They helped me in their little ways, making me realize I had run amuck. I changed myself not only so others would accept me, but so I could grow closer to God. Roy, this race car driver sitting with us today, also needed a new mentor. Thankfully he found us. This boy came to us, hoping for a new start in life. Roy wanted to become this race car driver of his dreams! He wanted to show the world he was good for something, and boy did we see him shine in his passion for speed! He brought a goal to God's heavenly house. A goal to become a winning driver! And look at him now, the undefeated champion of the sprint car races." Roy stood up in gratitude for the Reverends praising speech. Everyone gave him an ovation.
In the left corner of the church, a choir of vocalists sang a chorus to music piping out from an organ. They got the chapel rocking. Hands wove in the air in praise and feet stomped against the floor in rhythm.
Worship concluded with a rush into the assembly hall to partake in the good-luck feast. Reverend Greene did not lie: food boxes flooded the long tables of the spacious room, hot and ready to eat. When church attendants had their fill, there still remained plenty, and Roy got the gracious idea of bringing leftovers to the track to share with others. Crowds scrambled for unused boxes, some even balancing stacks in one grip, and rushed for the bus.
Roy, carrying his box, stopped to open it, took out only one hot wing, ate it, and then shut the box-lid before leaving to join churchgoers outside. He couldn't drive on a full stomach...he had a race to win.
Lone Star Speedway, a paved oval tucked between stands, had hosted racing events for ages, becoming the proving grounds for Roy's talents. Here he had made the leap from go-karts into the much quicker sprint cars. In the stands nearer the finish line, a chocolate dressing blotted out some of the dominant cream of fans.
"Hey, Roy!" A harsh voice shouted from the track. "You might think you'll be winning this race, but I'll beat you. You'll be eating my exhaust before I see you cross that finish line!"
These hollered threats, like many Roy had heard from Jason Fenway, his fiercest redneck competitor, made him laugh. Roy swung his sprint car next to his rival's machine, leaned out of his roll cage and grimaced before he put his helmet on and drove to his place behind the start line. Harsh putdowns never hurt Roy, they only gave him fuel to prove his worthiness. He had won fistfights against the cowboy jerk. The fool always had it coming to him.
Jason, 20, and his brother, Scott, 17, both Texans with a fierce pride in their sport, held champion status, until Roy launched into the scene, dashing their hopes for NASCAR stardom.
The Fenways, a wealthy cattle ranching family raised on NASCAR culture, hated Roy for competing in a southern sport. Their domineering father drilled into them the task in preventing Roy's progression into professional racing, and the boys tried their best to do so, teaming up against the driver on the tracks, many times getting him in sticky situations, but he always got out and won.
Jason stood next to his open-frame sprint car, flaunting a flashy race suit, his sun-burnt face shadowed by a cowboy hat. Obviously he felt slighted by the possibility he might lose another race to Roy, but in his anger, he felt a rush of determination. He gave his hat to his father, who stood frowning in the pit stop, then put on a helmet and buckled himself into the cockpit of his sprint car.
Idle engines hummed over the tracks. Above the start line, a steel overhang of traffic lights flashed green, breaking the cacophony with a roaring go. Motors screamed into action. Cars raced down pavement toward lead positions.
Roy shot into second place, right behind Jason, following him in hot pursuit. The vibrating frame of his sprint car, the intense speeds, and the static nature of not only the road ahead of him, but the dials on his dashboard, made for a tense experience . Sweat dripped down his back, wetting his race suit. He sensed the drive of his opponents and hoped the unbending will of his competitors would not result in a situation where he could lose control.
Weightlessness hit Roy's gut in the first banked turn, the back tires wanting to slide, reminding him how easy things could crash into oblivion. Not this race, he thought, but in the next turn, his back tires broke into a skid, almost smacking him into the wall.
"One mistake too many!" Roy cussed. He had lost his place. Jason shot far into the lead, with newer rivals speeding behind him.
Roy played the mishap with skill, weaving in and out of cars ahead of him, using turns in the course to make successful cuts for the lead. It took only a few laps to make phenomenal gains, his car bypassing much of the pack.
A high-speed turn came with another close call, a brush with an adjacent vehicle. Roy's car sprang from the near miss. Now there could be no mistakes! He drove too late in the race.
In amazement, only laps away from the finish, he found his car back behind Jason. He had done it! He felt he had played the track with mastery, and now, his senses burning in the race zone, blazing an imaginary fireball around the forward sprint-car, he sought to win. Should I pass from the left or the right? Will he block me? One split-second move could mean a horrific flip or success.He made a choice. A quick inside pass.
His car broke away from Jason's, shot across the finish line, and took victory in the race.
The crowd broke into a frenzy, hooting and screaming in triumph.
"Damn right, he does it again!" A fan stood up, glancing next to him at a middle-aged Chinese man in a blue CJ's uniform. "I tell you, no one can touch him. He's the black fox!"
"That man is a good racer," replied the Chinese man, an energetic spectator, who had concentrated more on the race than the others, showing his reactions with tense facial expressions and flowery hand gestures. The flood of sweat shining from his black shock of hair, a cap to a short and muscular torso, came not from a hot day, but excitement. "And it will be great honor for me to be his crew chief."
Roy got out of his cockpit, hands waving in the air, threw his helmet away, and put on a stetson given to him by someone from the stands. Amongst an uproar of applause, he strode with a cowboy's pride for the mechanical bull, a traditional contraption installed near the finish line for a winner, and rode it for a jaunt. He struggled to keep saddle, his efforts encouraged by cries from the audience, until the ride got too tough, and he got kicked off.
"Hey," Roy said, waving his cowboy hat to curb the sweat from his fall. "I'm ready for Kenny's!"
"I buy you a prime-rib steak," said Roy's cousin, Tom.
"Naw, I don't need such a dish!"
A team of CJ representatives, led by the short Asian, invaded the track, rushing for the winning driver. Roy's attention, distracted by its leader, wondered about his purpose.
"Good race! And you good racecar driver! I am Wan Li."
"Whattup Wan," said Roy, throwing on his stetson, and giving the Asian a down glance. "And what you do for CJ's?"
"What I do?" Wan shook hands with Roy. "I hope in future to be your crew chief in NASCAR. Number one allstar coach! I too was racer like yourself. In 1985 I first Formula One driver to win for China. I always won by a dragon's beak!"
Roy laughed at the comment, wondering if this guy was serious.
"Crew chief? Damn, I like you already. I'd drive for you! If you got the car, we go to NASCAR. Let's go to Kenny's and have the talk."
"I ready when you are."
"Aight," Roy said. "Where's your car?"
"In the drive," Wan answered. He directed Roy's attention to his lifted 70's pickup truck with high tires behind the fence outside the arena.
"Wait, I ain't leaving yet. Gotta tell my fans we're pushing off." Roy leaned over the railing of the first row of stands, grabbing a few congratulatory hands stretched out towards him. "See you at Kenny's!"
Roy returned from goodbyes and a bathroom break, changing out of his racesuit into a pair of blue jeans and shirt, and left with Wan into the parking lot, leaping into the cab of his gigantic 70's pickup.
"Awe, this is a sweet ride!" After a tug at his cowboy hat for a snugger fit, Roy caressed the smooth wool of his seat. "Good upholstery too, did you get it redone?"
"Yes a few months ago. All of it redone. I like to drive big trucks. Where is this place? The bar called Kennys?"
Roy, comforted by Wan's friendliness, answered without hesitation. "Just take the drive out, go down the main street, and Kenny's will be on your left."
With a swift turn of the key into the ignition, a roar broke out from the engine, sounding like a furious lion awakened from its den, and the truck darted out of the parking lot to claw at the main road, a rural stretch of highway cut through pastures.As they escaped the arena into the wilderness, Roy glanced at Wan, smiling. He felt happy being with him, although they had only met, and sat ready to unleash questions.
"So you drove for China in Formula One," Roy said, to break the silence.
"Yes," Wan said, his attention ahead of him. It seemed odd for Roy to see such a small man behind the wheel of a monster, yet when he imagined Wan astride dragons in Formula One, he found the similarity, and felt lucky to be seated next to a pro.
"Amazing! Formula One. I ain't ever met a F1 racer before. I know right now we straight. I'll drive for you!"
"Good to hear! So this place, Kenny's, is it a sports bar?"
"Yah!" Roy got excited about the bar. He had many good memories of the dive and hoped for more experiences with his new friend and coach. "And there will be gals there too. You single, Wan?"
"Single without wife?"
"Well then, there will be gals at this bar, if you want a fling, maybe even many."
"Many? I must ask this question, you to me, I see you as a man who can get many women in a night, but you Baptist! It is not allowed for you to fornicate!" "Fornicate?" Roy distorted his voice into a high pitched squeal, "Fornicate!" He leveled off with a sigh."Wan. I all about pole position. Who needs tha' fap, when everyday I'm racing for pole!"
Wan's laughter shook the cab. He liked the jack Baptist, even relating to his personality in many ways. Yet Roy's charm, a sunrise of promise, could not lift a fog of uncertainty over his shoulders, an uneasiness that he felt could only be blown away by time.
"On the track, I hear a fan call you by the name, black fox. Is this nickname?"
"Pops!" Roy rolled down his window, staring out at the passing countryside. "My Pops called me by that name. When I was twelve, we would go racing, and he would call me by that name. I was racing outta my league in those days, but I always got Pop's home, that's what counted, except for that one time!"
"You got Pop's home?"
"He was a drunk! I drove him home from draft houses."
"Ah, I see." Wan swallowed a laugh, feeling it inappropriate. "And you wish to be called by name?"
"I know what ya thinking. He's a thug. He uses a boy for drink. But the name, the name holds power! It screams, stay ahead, don't be a sucka! It goes beyond Pop's drink, it goes beyond thug, it is truth. Truth in why I want to race. It is a call for me."
"I see. Well, black fox, I hope name will be forever spoken at places we go, remembered for the champion driver who won all, and who won with spirit."
"Where's pops now?"
"Oh, sorry to hear."
In the distance, a man in a bulky jacket, a white blur amongst pastures, walked roadside along the shoulder. The stranger piqued Roy's interest, causing him to stick his head out the window to get a closer look. "Slow the car, Wan. We gonna pick someone up! This guy looks like he needs a ride."
"What? A hitchhiker?" Wan felt uneasy pulling over.
"Yah, slow down. We gonna give him a ride."
When they got nearer, Wan noticed the filthiness of the wanderer's clothes. The stranger's head, hidden within a jacket hood, shook at times, as if caught in a self-directed shouting bout. Wan got very suspicious, but Roy cooled his doubt with a reassuring nod. They came to a stop right beside the man's walking path.
"Hey," Roy yelled out. "You need a ride? We going your ways."
The wanderer came to a halt, staring at the truck from out of his hood, his face a beet red with bloodshot eyes. When Roy opened his door, the stranger approached the vehicle, and got in.
A pungent stench of body odor and urine overwhelmed the cab. Roy sat monkey, squished between the two men, sliding closer to his left, to savor the cleanliness of the driver's space. A shut of the passenger door, followed by a step on the gas, allowed venting of the stink, but the smell still prevailed in their nostrils. It got bad enough, Wan kept the truck rolling over the speed limit, in hopes breezes would overwhelm it.
"Hey, where you headed?" Roy looked into the passenger's lap.
The stranger hocked out a loogie. His hands, hidden in pant pockets, emerged wielding knives."Mutha' Fucka!," but the cuss, cut short by a black fist slammed into his chest, came out in a gurgle. The steely weapons clattered to the floor.
"Knives!" In a flurry of adrenaline, Roy acted quick with another punch into the attacker's groin. "Floor it!" A tap against Wan's knee came with a stomp on the gas.
"I call the cops!" Wan screamed out looking at the crippled foe slouching over the dash with arms crossed over his belly.
"No police! I got this! Just keep your foot on the gas!"
Roy, embracing the thug, began shoving him out the window, and when he stuck the body halfway out with arms dangling, he held tight onto the legs, preventing a fall.
"Whoa! Ahh!" The bum cried in anguish, his body slamming against the outside truck.
Roy turned his head away to avoid a funk, and with his left hand, yanked the thug's pants down to his ankles.
"Wan, I need you to slow down!"
"Slow down? Okay. How slow?"
'Hell! Down to 15."
The truck, a clamor box of screams echoing off the flailing thug, fell in speed.
"Okay 15 miles per hour!" Wan glanced at the speedometer twice to make sure.
Roy let go of his carried weight, and like a kite caught in winds, the body fell out quick. He also threw out the knives, watching behind him as the thug flipped backward into somersaults on the pavement.
"Let's get tha' hell outta here!" With a quick fix of his collar, Roy let out a nervous laugh. "Haters gonna hate!"
They roared into Kenny's. The bar sprang from pastures, like a newly grown crop, a house-size box of boards strung together by a drunken man's swing against nails. The lit sign above an entrance of shutter swing doors, a neon stetson hatted guitar, and the flood lamps shining on it from gravel-walkways, hollered out: wild west saloon.
Roy, standing in the bed of Wan's truck, leaned over the top cab, hoping for a grandiose arrival. He found only Jason and other thugs in the parking lot loafing around their nice cars.
"Cheat!" Jason shouted out.
Roy snarled with anger, wanting to fight but knowing the dangers of being jumped by a gang. "Cheat?" Roy gave his stetson an admonishing tug. "I cheat with your ma everyday, bro, for reals! She tells me, there's somethin' about you! Something about your seed, it jus' gives me the tingles, the seed of a champion."
"I want a rematch."
"Naw, what you want is a fight, but you know you'll just get another ass-whopping. I already going to NASCAR. You lost. Best you find another line of work!"
Reverend Greene burst out the swing doors of Keeny's, watching the spectacle between the two sportsmen. He wanted nothing to do with it, but just his presence, made the fight cease.
"Hey, Roy!" Reverend Greene rose his hands and gave a thumbs up in congratulatory praise. "Good race today! You really showed it to them. Now is your chance to take on the world."
"Thanks, Reverend! They all here?"
"Yeah! You're whole crew. Your ma had to go home."
It was usual for the Reverend to show for a moment, give a victory pat, and then leave, due to his abhorrence of the bar scene. Yet the brief visits always made Roy happy and content over his wins. Roy, ignoring Jason's aggression, leaped out of the bed, stood over Wan, who had left the truck, and led him into the bar.
They escaped outside altercations for the smoky, lamp lit cave of Kenny's, with its neon beer signs on oaken panels shining bright above a floor of tables surrounding a stage area where dancers in cowboy boots and hats danced to country music streaming from speakers of a discjockey box.
Roy's crowd sat at tables nestled in the left corner of the bar nearby a set of hidden restrooms, both wall corners painted with a checkered flag.
Roy tugged at his hat brim, then with a smile, directed Wan towards a lanky black man huddled over a dish of meatloaf. "Wan, I'd like to introduce you to someone in my family. This is my cuz, Tom. With my help, I'm hoping he'll get lucky tonight. He hasn't been with a gal for ages due to a stint in rehab, but I'm gonna fix him right."
Tom, hunched over his slabs of meatloaf, honey dripping in a mess off his plate onto the table, sat bolt upright in his chair. He peered at Wan from tired eyes half-hidden behind dreads.
"When he was in," mentioned Roy. "All he ate was meatloaf in honey. That's all he eats here. Honey meatloaf for lunch. Honey meatloaf for dinner! That's all he will ever eat! The man is bound to just flip over and turn into meatloaf."
Tom leaned over his meal to shake Wan's hand, but as he did so, Roy pushed them away while pointing at a honey soaked patty.
"Hey, if I'll be damned!" Burn marks on the patty formed a womanly face of familiarity. "That patty looks a lot like Oprah!" Honey dripping off meaty edges showcased a laughing face, which did in all appearances reveal an uncanny resemblance to the talkshow star. Tom stabbed it with a fork, ready for a chomp, but Roy batted his hand away, taking the fork out and tossing it across the room. "Hey, don't eat Oprah! You eating the grandma's joot. Why you gotta eat Oprah, when..." At this point, Roy recognized a blonde-haired gal, passing by their table. He stopped her. "Wendy! You up to helping a man tonight?"
The waitress, a young twenty something in blonde ponytail, blue jean shorts and a sleeveless white tanktop without bra, smiled at the three with nervous acceptance. "Yeah?" She replied with a cute voice, her lovely appearance bringing excitement for the three men.
"Tom's out to eat the grandma joot!"
"Yeah look at him readying to eat Oprah! I've been saying to him, why he gotta eat that joot, when..." Roy swiped a honey bottle from the table, squirting it at Wendy's breasts. He smeared the honey so it soaked through her clothing. "When he can have the better show. Help a man tonight." Wendy's breasts, wet and visible through the honey soaked shirt, made Tom shoot to a stand in lust.
"He's one lucky man, tonight," Wendy smiled back, taking Tom's hand, and vanishing with him into the men's room.
Wan, taking Tom's seat, gestured Roy to sit across from him. Roy flipped his chair around, sat astride it, and while embracing the back with his biceps, looked giddily at his new crew chief. "So why you leave China? It's strange to see a man from such a far away place, arrive here to be a crew chief for NASCAR. You didn't like it?"
"Why I left? They try to kill me. I had to flee the country."
"They not like a gran' ol china man like you? Why's they not like you? You didn't dookie in a homies milkshake, did you?"
"You feel me on that though, right? Plop, plop, this place stinks, I out! Jus' couldn't drop my drawers into the paddies, busy throwing up tha clouds for you peoples, cause there's so many haters back at the crib. Ha! You gots to watch out for them haters bro, they can come in a crowd to beat yo ass."
"They gave me wrong VHS."
"What? They gave you the tape? Was it plans for the new A-bomb?"
Wan did not answer, flashing a nervous smile. He remembered back to 1986, burning rubber in his formula car on the Beijing track, while racing by one of his greatest fans, the Paramount Leader of the communist party. One day after a race, the leader invited him to a ballroom function, and his underacting president gave Wan a VHS.
"The Paramount Leader admires your racing so much, he has recorded many of your races, and would like to give this video to you as a present. He hopes you enjoy watching it."
"I give the Paramount Leader my highest regards, thank you," Wan had answered, leaving in exhilaration with the gift. When he returned to his suite, he took a shower and a nap, then put the VHS into the player, and began watching it.
A seedy reception on the television screen fizzed into a clear recording of a red lit room, with the Paramount Leader of China sitting naked in a chair.
"Oh my! Is this the right tape?" Wan took up the VHS case, the chinese characters on the cover read, "Race Day." All of a sudden three other naked men, communist higher ups, shown on the screen and they began to pleasure the leader sitting in the chair. "Oh my! The Paramount Leader, gay? This is all wrong! I got the wrong tape. I got the wrong tape."
A red dot sped across the wall, Wan noticing it as it came nearer to the television. He ducked and a shot rang out.
"I got to get out of here!"