This one’s a racing driver boy meets girl story…

 

Another day, another signing queue.

A restless gaggle of boys with autograph books. Teenage girls poised for selfies.

Every frickin’ time. The pits were empty. Trent stepped out, and they appeared. Like they beamed down from Starship Enterprise.

Fair enough on a race weekend, but where did they spring from on a private track day?

He signed a cap for a wide-eyed kid.

“There you go, mate.”

“Are you going to win next Saturday, Trent?”

“You bet, mate.”

Trent used the kid’s sharpie to sign a program shoved under his nose by a guy with a biker beard.

Rude bastard.

Trent forced a smile

There’d be no races without them.

And the team marketing insisted he loved the attention.

A curvy teenage girl shimmied past the kid. Two more, in equally tight Trackways Autosport Deacon 14 tee-shirts, stood back, giggling with their hands over their mouths.

Trent raised the pen, eyebrows arched.

The curvy one tossed her hair and cupped a breast. “Sign here, Trent.”

He sighed inside. 

Overexcited on hormones, imagination and celebrity hype. Determined to convince her friends she was racy and wild.

He should knock her back. A nice guy would.

Humiliate the girl in front of her friends. 

Give the photographers pretending they weren’t watching everything their favourite story—rich sports star’s contempt for fans.

He’d live up to the manufactured image then—demon bad boy of motor racing.

He winked. “If that’s all you’ve got.”

“I’ve got tonnes more where that comes from.”

Oh, love.

She probably thought she wanted to be whisked to his trailer for wild sex. If it happened, she’d be scared out of her wits and hate herself for the rest of her life. She giggled as he dashed off a signature with as little contact as possible.

“Trent?” the publicity guy called. “The reporter’s ready.”

He handed the pen back to the kid, deliberately breaking eye contact with the girl—nothing but trouble there. “Thanks, mate.” 

Trent waved to the growing pack. “Sorry, guys. Duty calls.”

An interview and a fast lap. Promotion for a new sponsor.

Time wasting froth and bubble.

The glamorous life of a touring car champion.

“Who’d they send?”

He groaned.

A would-be model, cute as a button in racing overalls four sizes too big, tarting her hair in a mirror.

It was bad enough with testosterone-fuelled sports guys. The last thing he needed was a gushing weather girl. 

But the team bills must be paid.

She handed the mirror to an assistant as he swaggered to the camera crew.

“G’day, I’m Trent.”

She inspected his hand. Probably checking for grease under the nails.

“Sara Toombs. Interview first, then the lap.” She flicked a thumb at the lady with the mirror. “Jeanie will mike you up for the in-car footage. Might as well do it now, before the interview.”

“Whatever floats your boat.”

Her brow furrowed. “Look. Your team agreed to this.”

Trent recoiled. What did I do? 

She pursed her lips.If you’d rather we interviewed someone else—Greg Allison, maybe?” She studied pit lane as if Greg might be hiding behind some tyres.

The reporter had done some research, at least. Give her credit for that, and she was damned attractive in a little girl lost, girl next-door sort of way.

He threw his arms wide. “Go for your life. You’ve got number one right here. If you’d rather number two…”

“Maybe I would,” she snapped. “Does he molest underage girls with felt-tip pens?”

So that was it. Or at least part of it.

Let her think what she liked. Sara Toombs would be out of his life before lunch.

“I can sign yours if you like.” Now he looked, Sara had a quite promising swell under the suit they’d loaned her for the day. 

The promotions guy pushed in. “Ha, ha. He’s only joking, Sara. We’ve got the track for another twenty minutes. Perhaps we’d better…” He waved to the camera.

The two-faced bitch switched on a blazing smile when the camera rolled.

“We’re at Bathurst a week ahead of the great race with last year’s second-place finisher, Trent Deacon. Can you go one better this year, Trent?”

He clenched his teeth. “Sure.”

“You’re the current Australian Supercar Champion—a three-time title holder—but you’ve never won the year’s biggest race. How hard was it to see Greg Allison go past on the final lap last year?”

Trent’s heart clenched at the memory. The way it did every time they played TV footage of the most dramatic finish in the history of Australia’s premier motor race. “Thanks for reminding me, Sara. It’s a huge motivation.” And I wish everyone would shut up about it. Dad never did: ‘Don’t matter how much else you win, Son. You won’t be a legend unless…’

Hold your temper, Trent. 

Sara’s eyes were sparkling, loving his discomfort.

Well, sod her. Trent Deacon could play the good sport when he tried.

“Greg drove an incredible race.” And got a safety car just when he needed it. “He’s certainly knows how to win around Mount Panorama.” Having done it twice, once as a co-driver before he got his own ride. Greg always had the luck. 

“You’re going to take me for a lap around the circuit. I went around yesterday,” she told the viewers. “If you didn’t know, this is a public road when it’s not being used for racing. It’s quite an experience driving over the top of the mountain at the speed limit. Trent, what’s the difference between one of us, and a supercar driver?”

“About eighty Ks an hour through The Dipper.”

Her eyes shot wide for a moment, quickly controlled.

The fast lap might be fun after all.

Trent smothered his grin as best he could.

But she saw it. The glint in her eye turned to ice.

“Your father, Jim Deacon, was a legendary touring car racer. How’s that contributed to your success?”

Good question. The genes versus the weight of expectation.

“I learned a lot at the dinner table and Peter Brock being my godfather opened a few doors.”

Thought you’d get me with the silver spoon thing, didn’t you, Sara? No-one drives the car for me, love.

“Do you think the other drivers resent your advantages? You’ve been described as the most hated man in motorsport.”

Ouch. Bitch. “Have I? I must have missed that.”

Like hell he did. The Melbourne Truth. After he clipped Greg Allison at Phillip Island. A racing accident, cleared by the stewards, but the papers lapped it up. Mum gave him a hug. Dad laughed his head off. ‘Any publicity’s good publicity, son.’

“Rivalry’s great for the sport, Sara. It gives you guys something to talk about.”

“But does it make motor racing more dangerous? It is a dangerous sport, isn’t it?”

You reckon? Why do you think they’ve dressed you up in fireproof underdaks? To keep you warm down the back straight?

He clenched a fist behind his back. Trent understood the hypocrisy that made the media preach safety and outrage while it foamed at the mouth for crash vision—the more gory the better—but it made his blood boil. Those were his friends spiralling into the armco at two hundred and fifty kilometres per hour. 

But sod the press, including Sara where’s-my-mirror? Toombs. “Driving fast is foolish if you don’t know what you’re doing. We build safety into the cars and the tracks and you have to earn a racing licence.”

“Does the way you drive make it more dangerous?”

Another crack about Philip island? “I would think it makes it safer.”

She smirked.

Probably because she’d made him sound so pompous when his image demanded brainless larrikin. How did she get him riled so quickly?

“The Mount Panorama lap record is two minutes four seconds, Trent.”

Pay one more for the internet.

“How’s it possible to go that fast? What do you have that the regular motorist on the freeway doesn’t?”

“Instinct.”

She poked the microphone closer, demanding more.

Stuff her.

“It’s all thanks to my dad, don’t you think?”

She turned to the camera.

“Okay, let’s see how a supercar champion deals with Mount Panorama, Bathurst.”

A second’s pause.

Trent frowning.

Sara offering a toothy grin to the lens.

“Clear,” the cameraman said. “Nice one, Sara.”

“No problem, Doug. Trent made it easy.”

“Mr Deacon,” Doug pointed to the fast lap Chevrolet. “If you come this way, we’ll connect you.”

Trent clenched his teeth while the cameramen shot cutaways and two-shots for editing, then stormed to the fast lap Chevrolet freshly painted with the new sponsor’s logo. Someone had stencilled Deacon-Toombs where the co-driver names went on the race car—very funny. 

As he hauled on the driver’s door, Trent’s boss, the Trackways Autosport Team Manager, Nev Pinnock, touched his elbow. “Easy tiger. It’s just an interview. Remember, this is a road car, not your race car.”

A fair point. This one had a passenger seat for a start. Nothing else recognisable from the showroom model, barring the dash. The interior had been stripped and re-fitted for the ‘authentic Supercar experience’.

Sara climbed in through the roll cage, clipped the five-point harness, and fiddled with her full-face helmet.

The TV guy attached the microphone to a trailing wire, while Trent searched for something to complain about. He found nothing. The extra wires were taped down. The miniature camera on the dash looked secure.

He gave it a shake.

“We used the standard bracket for race day in-car coverage,” the cameraman said. “You’ll hear Sara in your helmet. That second camera’s pointed at her.”

Excellent. Payback time?

She looked up at the mention of her name. “Do you really go eighty kilometres an hour faster than regular drivers?” Her grin had become a little stretched.

“No,” he said. “Much quicker. That lap record is an average a hundred-and-eighty kilometres per hour.”

She blanched.

Oh, yes. 

Trent leaned across and pulled Sara’s harness so tight she gasped.

“Can’t have you bumping around at nine G through The Chase.”

He had no real idea what G-force the bend at the end of Conrod Straight generated, but it was a lot. 

The reporter had her moment in her own domain. Now she was in his.

They put on their helmets.

“Ready?” he asked. 

Wide eyes said anything but, so he gunned the modified V8.  With a throaty rumble amplified by performance mufflers attached to impress the punters, Trent dropped the clutch and spun the rear wheels out of the pits onto Mountain Straight.

Sara’s heart hammered.

She clung onto the flimsy fibreglass under her butt with both hands, holding her breath. 

Acceleration slammed her. Crushed her ribs. Overwhelmed her senses. A metallic taste. Petrol, dust, rubber and, weirdly, leather in her nostrils. Alien, raw male odours drowned by an ear-splitting thunder of tyres and thumping pistons. Barely muffled by the helmet padding squeezing her cheeks. Barbaric in a shuddering aluminium shell devoid of upholstery.

The Chevrolet quivered like an unleashed stallion as it roared up the steep incline.

“Have you tried that winery?” Trent asked.

“What?” 

A vineyard whipped by.

Christ. Deacon had one hand on the wheel, waving the other vaguely, and the trees behind whatever they called the damned corner were hurtling at the windscreen.

Sara raised her knees and hands to ward off the blow.

Tyre treads wailed in protest as the Chevrolet slid for the wall.

“Their reds are nice,” Trent said.

Sara got a little breath back on the next stretch—cursing herself for grabbing at the helmet to protect her head as they went through the corner. They’d love that in the edit suite.

Stone walls flashed by her shoulder and they burst through the cutting that gave access to the top of Mount Panorama.

A sweeping left hander. Another steep stretch with the engine grinding, and they launched into sunshine a hundred-and-seventy-four metres above the city of Bathurst.

The Chevrolet howled delight, released from its fight against gravity.

“Whoopee.” 

Sara heard herself say it clearly and was proud, although her voice shook a little.

Car parks, barbecues and playground equipment among the trees of McPhillamy Park blurred either side. Sara struggled to remember a clever line she’d memorised for the moment. Relieved she could think at all, because they were descending now, a slight gradient, but the car had come loose. Flying, detached from the tarmac, careening into another corner. 

“Whoops,” Trent said.

Sara slammed left and right, descending rapidly through The Esses where so many racers hit the concrete walls protecting a sheer drop. 

The harness straps bit into her shoulders. The bastard had been right about getting them tight.

A wide, glorious vista of New South Wales farmland flashed before Sara’s eyes and disappeared as her stomach left her body. 

The Dipper.

The Chevrolet plunged like an otter, to certain death and destruction.

Deacon had blown it.

Killed them both with his egomaniac urge to prove his masculinity.

But the rubber screeched again, and they were alive.

Sara would have screamed louder than the tyres, but terror paralysed her vocal chords.

Trent chuckled. “I love that bit.”

A gut-wrenching drop from a right-hand curve into a left. So steep it would be a black diamond ski run. Doug had edged through in second gear the day before, standing on the van’s brakes.

But they were through, and slowing rapidly. The forces required to stop her catapulting through the windscreen squashed Sara’s breasts and chest. The engine protested, choking down through the gears for Forrest’s Elbow hairpin onto iconic Conrod Straight.

Two more corners and the lap would be done.

You can do it. Keep your eyes open for the camera.

Supercars reached three hundred kilometres an hour lunging downhill to The Chase, a kink in the track added to force drivers to slow for the final turn onto Pit Straight.

Doug, the cameraman, had barely kept the van on the road at thirty kilometres an hour.

Deacon was doing his darnedest to get to three hundred. If the engine went any harder, it would climb out the bonnet.

The roll cage shook like they’d hit an earthquake.

And Deacon hadn’t touched the brakes.

Sara flailed for his thigh, fighting the acceleration surge. “Brake,” she said. “Brake!

She screamed that time.

Trent cruised under the pedestrian bridge, job done.

The reporter gasped for breath in the passenger seat.

He waved to fans pressed to the wall by the National Motor Racing Museum and drove back to the Trackways pit at a leisurely sixty.

Sara threw open the passenger door and wobbled out, white-faced through the visor, tripping on the roll cage pipes. A curse, a grab at the door. Then she straightened and shook herself back into reporter mode.

“Fanks, Trenth.” The helmet muffled her words comically with the microphone disengaged. “I fink we got good pictures.”

He leaned into the angle between his door and the windscreen, took off his headgear and winked. “Any time.”

She struggled with her helmet strap.

Fingers a little shaky there?

Tossed her hair, wiped her face with her palm and fronted the camera for post lap reactions.

He’d done what he wanted. Put the woman in her place. Retaliated for the probing questions he hadn’t expected or wanted in a promotional puff piece, and now he felt like a childish dick.

No wonder they hate you.

Where did that thought come from?

The swirling in his gut. Self-disgust, and damn it, despite all his best efforts, admiration. 

Some gloried in the thrill of excessive speed—girls and guys—hooted all the way around like a fairground ride.

Others fell apart, begging him to stop in the first corner. Even folk who’d saved for months for a bucket list fast lap.

Trent had never seen anyone more thoroughly spooked than Sara Toombs.

As she should have been with his clowning, edging the street-legal Chevy beyond its envelope through The Esses and The Dipper. Nev would kill him. The tyres would be shredded.

But Trent had to take The Chase at near-race speed to break Sara Toombs’ professional cool.

Warmth swelled in his chest.

‘Any time,’ he said, and Trent meant it. Sara Toombs was a woman worth getting to know, not that she’d have a bar of him after that.

Dad hurried over, his pit pass bouncing on the lanyard.

Not now!

“What did you do to that girl? Bloody hell, son. We watched a live feed. You can’t—”

“Well, I did, Dad. It’s done.” He looked for an escape route. Hard to get away gracefully with pit garages on one side and a waist high concrete barrier on the other. “I should hit the gym.” Dad would like that. He was always banging on about fitness.

“Never mind weights. There’s Allison.”

Jim Deacon tipped his cap to the Queensland Ford Dealers garage.

The autograph hunters had caught Greg.

“Go get him, son.”

Trent knew what his dad meant, and hesitated. Cruel, but to beat Greg Allison at Bathurst, he needed every possible advantage. And Trent wanted that monkey off his back so badly it hurt.

He strode down pit lane, calling to the fans. “Got anything for me?”

A short, tubby kid broke away first. A couple of older boys pushed past him and more girls until Greg Allison was all on his own, scowling with a fist clenched around a biro.

Got him!

The older lads bumped the little one out of the way. “Sign my program, Trent.”

“Course, mate.” 

Trent winked at the lad hopping to get a view around the autograph hunters crowding him out. “Nice hat.”

The boy grabbed at his Trackways Autosport replica driver’s cap.

“Want me to sign it?” 

The kid nodded, jaw dropping.

“Give it here then, mate.” Trent eased a teenage girl one way and a middle-aged guy the other. “Make a bit of space for him, eh? What’s your name?”

The boy gawked.

A lady in the background called out, “Andy. His name’s Andy.” 

His mum? Trent gave her a smile and took Andy’s cap.

“Here you go.” Trent paused with his borrowed felt tip hovering over the peak. “Hang on. These replicas are good, but the real thing’s better, don’t you think?”

Andy was too stunned to answer. Trent took his wide-eyed astonishment for agreement and whipped off his own cap. He scrawled ‘to my good mate, Andy, Trent Deacon,’ popped it on Andy’s head and handed back the replica. “There you go.”

While Trent frantically signed everything shoved under his nose, Andy raced to his mum and Greg Allison stalked into his pit.

A flash of honey-coloured hair caught his eye. Sara, emerging from the Trackways garage, glancing after Allison then searing Trent with a glare.

She’d regained her poise… and her temper. Had she fixed her makeup?

An evil urge gripped Trent.

“Sorry, guys. Thanks everyone. I’ve got to go.” He waved the fans away and strode to Sara. He flipped a thumb over his shoulder. “There you are! Everyone’s looking for you. They need us to do it again.”

She slumped against the wall, colour draining from her face. “You’re kidding.”

Trent wrung his hands. “No. The tapes buggered. But it’s okay. They’ll open another slot for us.”

“Shit.” She closed her eyes and clenched both fists.

“Are you good?” Trent asked. “The boys are just filling the car. We’ll need to get moving.”

She looked away, drew in a long shuddering breath. “I can do this,” she told the horizon, then turned to Trent, squaring her shoulders. “Okay.”

The boofhead in him yearned to keep it going, but he couldn’t. Her hands were shaking. Her eyes were haunted. 

And a belly laugh was brewing in his chest. 

He let his best cheeky monkey grin break out. “Got ya!”

“What?” she spat it out.

“Got ya. The tapes fine. As far as I know. Want me to check?”

“No.” She hissed. “Bastard.”

The laughter spluttered out.

She raised a hand.

Trent danced out of range.

“Asshole. You know I was terrified, don’t you?”

“Yep. You’re gorgeous when you’re angry.” He reached for her cheek.

Trent wouldn’t have touched her, but she jumped back anyway, and thudded against the garage wall with an, ‘oomph’.

“When your colours up, and you should see your eyes.”

Her mouth set in a thin line. “You’re a pig. I saw what you did to Greg Allison.”

“Aaah.” Trent let his chin drop. He’d rather she hadn’t.

“Why would you do that?”

Trent’s turn to study the horizon. Because Dad told me to. Some truth in that, but a feeble excuse. Which made it worse. He let out a breath. “Because I can. Because I have to.”

“What? Crap!”

“No.” He swung back. This had to be said eye-to-eye, but her intensity startled him, opened something raw in his belly and the whole truth slipped out. “He’s faster than me.”

“But—”

Her brow furrowed. She shook her head, rustling skinny, silver earrings, and his throat went dry.

Icily attractive as the hard-nosed reporter staring him down. Hopelessly endearing in a mess after the lap, but devastating up close, demanding his attention.

What happened? He felt like he’d seen her in all her modes, and wanted to know every one a whole lot better. 

She was staring at him. Squeezing his damned heart.

That’s right. He had to answer. What was it? Yeah, Greg Allison.

“He’s a better driver than me. Always has been. We’ve raced since karts. He’s quicker, smoother.” Trent shrugged. “Better. I beat him because he thinks I’m better.”

“So, you bully him.” She gestured to the spot where Trent had pinched his fans. One-upped the poor bugger.

Trent hadn’t thought of it that way, but she had a point.

“You must really hate him.”

The contempt soaked Trent like a bucket of cold water. He deserved it, but he couldn’t let this beautiful woman despise him. 

“No. I like him. I’m pretty sure he hates me.”

Sara nodded slowly.

So she’d seen the look Greg gave him; bitter, defeated.

“He’s a great guy. But I have to take any edge I’ve got. I told you, he’s faster than me and I want to win.”

“At any cost?”

“It’s a short career. We get paid on results.”

She stepped away from the wall, studying him like a museum exhibit—something from another planet. 

Trent felt the distance between them close—warmth.

He tried the lopsided grin that made girls swoon. “Winning is.” He threw his arms wide. “Sublime.”

“You haven’t won Bathurst.”

“Ouch. Hence…” he waved at the spot where Allison had been.

Sara rolled her eyes. “For God’s sake.”

She walked away, huffing…

Stopping Trent’s heart. He couldn’t let her go…

But she spun on her heel. “But you’re not a shit, are you, Trent?”

“I’m not?” Of course I’m not. What the hell?

Sara pointed. “I saw you with that boy. You saw him being left out, and you made his day… His year! It was.” She tossed her head. “Sweet, goddammit. Nice.”

Trent rolled his shoulders. Glanced over this shoulder to make sure none of his pit team heard. She’d seen him doing something decent. He’d retrieved himself, maybe, but he wasn’t at all sure tough, alpha, touring car studs were supposed to be sweet.

“Okay.” He had to say something. That demanding, ‘I need to know’ look made him warm all over.

“I don’t get it,” she said.

“Me neither.”

“All right. It was nice to meet you, Trent.” Sara shoved fingers into her hair, mussed it. “No, it wasn’t. It was…” She threw her hands up. “Uggh. Thanks for the interview.” She swung away.

Trent grabbed her shoulder, pulled away when she spun back. “Sorry. I… Come to dinner with me, Sara. Tonight.”

“No.” She looked at her shoes. “I—”

“Please. I’ll be stuck in my room alone…” Yes, he was prepared to lie to play on a girl’s sympathy. “I’ll get you home early, I promise. I owe you after…” He bit his lip, sensing a reminder of the lap and the joke would end all his chances.

“You do,” she said. 

“Hi, Trent!” The schoolgirls walked past at just the wrong moment, giggling and waving.

“I’m sure they’ll keep you company, if you ask.”

“I reckon they would. But they should be home with their mums, and I like a girl I can talk to. I think that’s you, Sara.”

She touched her ear, breaking eye contact. “I don’t know much about motor sports.”

He chuckled. “I got that, but I don’t want to talk about work.”

“What then?” She screwed up her nose, doubtful.

“Books, movies?” He grimaced. “Politics and religion, if you like.”

She crossed her arms. “Ayrton Senna’s biography? Ford vs Ferrari?” 

Trent touched his fingertips to his forehead, saluting the motor racing references. “Excellent. Both. I can loan you a brilliant Stirling Moss book, but right now I’m reading Chris Hammer—outback noir—and the last movie I saw was.” He winced. “Dungeons and Dragons?”

“Oh, dear…”

“My nephew wanted to see it. It was way better than I expected. What about you? Spotlight?” He wracked his brains for a reporter novel. “My Brother Jack?”

She returned the salute.

“So, what are you reading? You do read?”

“I’ll tell you tonight. I’m at the MotorLodge. Pick me up at seven-thirty.”

At seven, a sharp knock on the door brought Sara out of the bathroom, fiddling with earrings.

Half an hour early? A bloody cheek, and where did the hotel get off giving out her room number?

She checked she was decent and hauled open the door. “You’re— Oh.”

Doug’s eyebrows hiked.

As if he’d never seen her in a dress and high heels.

“Err, we’re heading down the pub.” He hooked a thumb over his shoulder.

“Oh. Thanks. I’ve got plans.”

He stood back and admired. “So I can see. Anyone we know?”

“Err, yeah. Trent Deacon.”

“No way! When did that happen? I didn’t even know you were talking. I thought all racing drivers were bogan dickheads?”

“They are.” Heat rose in Sara’s neck. “Never turn up a contact.”

“Yeah. Sure. Oh, crap, do you need the car keys?”

“No. I’m good. See you tomorrow. Eight o’clock in the restaurant for breakfast.”

“Sure thing, boss.” He waggled his eyebrows. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

“Huh, that doesn’t leave much.” 

She shut the door and leaned her forehead on the fire evacuation map pasted to the inside. What was she doing? Who’d turn up tonight? The dickhead showing off in the fast lap, humiliating Greg Allison, or the guy who gave his cap to a little boy and took his nephew to the movies?

She coughed out a laugh.

He’d probably turn up in a Trackways Autosport hoodie and take her for pizza.

Should she change into jeans?

What possessed her to spend an hour ironing a skirt and fiddling at makeup.

Sara walked into the motel reception at half past seven on the dot, and Trent flicked off his phone and jumped up, rattling car keys. “Wow,” he said.

Trent didn’t scrub up too bad himself in cargo pants, a collared shirt and a light, tailored jacket. Phew. Not pizza.

Sara clutched her bag to her stomach.

Would he take her hand and kiss her cheek?

Did she want him to?

Bloody hell. You’re a hard-hitting journo, not a teenager with her prom date. 

He steered her out the hotel with a light touch on the elbow that lingered. Trent had used aftershave. A woodsy musk that made her think of wolves in the forest.

Sara scanned the cars in the visitors’ bays and hesitated.

“Mine’s the Volvo.” He pointed out a mid-sized hybrid SUV.

“Oh. I think I expected a Lamborghini.”

“Sorry to disappoint. Do you know how much those cost?”

“No. That’s a nice car, too. Does it go as fast as the Chevrolet?” She bit her lip against the shudder of memories from the day.

He held up the keys. “You tell me. You’re driving.”

“Oh.”

“If you want.” He opened the driver’s door and ushered Sara in. “Please.”

“Okay.”

“I don’t like driving with the public much.”

“They all want to drag? Too slow?” She adjusted the seat and mirrors and backed out carefully.

He chuckled. “No. Too fast. No skills. Motorists scare the life out of me.”

She patted the steering wheel. “So, you bought a big safe family car.”

“Something like that. Go left and head out on the Sydney Road.”

“I’m sorry about this morning,” Trent said. “I shouldn’t have driven like that.”

Sara over-steered and bumped over the kerb, self conscious in an unfamiliar car with a famous racing driver in the passenger seat. Nothing to do with a lean male presence oozing woodsy fragrances. “Oops. Don’t you always drive that way?”

“Maybe.” He shifted in his seat. “But I frightened you. I didn’t mean… Well, I don’t know what I meant, but it wasn’t fair, with the cameras and all.”

“Don’t apologise. You did me a favour.”

“How? Cured you of fast cars?”

“No. They’ve canned the piece for Australian Breakfast.”

“How’s that a favour?”

“They loved the footage so much they’re cutting it into a ten-minute segment to promote for Sunday Edition. It’s my breakthrough, my first piece on prime time current affairs.”

“Good on ya, Sara. Glad I could help.” Trent laughed. “You can pay for dinner.”

He directed them off the highway onto a back road where a cottage restaurant squeezed between a market garden and a farmer’s paddock.

A couple of dozen tables, about half taken, a few groups of friends. A family with small children. A warm hum of friendly conversation and pleasant kitchen smells. A stout lady with olive-skinned, raven-haired Mediterranean heritage hurried to greet them. “Ah, Trent, mio ragazzo.” She eyed Sara with her head tilted, appraising, nodded and threw her arms wide. “Now I see why my favourite boy comes so late today.”

“This is Sara, Tia,” Trent said.

The owner held a palm to her mouth and whispered to Sara, “He normally comes with his papa.”

She took them to a table in a corner, tracked by goggling eyes. Sara was recognised from the TV occasionally, but this must be what followed Trent everywhere. 

The lady tucked them in and gave them menus.

“Do you like Chianti? Tia and Hugo get it shipped direct from Tuscany.”

“That would be lovely,” Sara said.

When the owner bustled off for a bottle, Sara whispered, “I feel like I’ve been introduced to your parents.”

He snorted. “Tia’d love that. She’s my Bathurst Mum, I guess. Dad used to come here when he raced. I first came when I was about six.”

“Your dad’s important to you.”

“Yeah. Mentor, manager, best pal.” Trent’s teeth clenched for a moment.

Something he wasn’t saying? “Your mum doesn’t come?”

“No. She went to all Dad’s races, but she says she can’t watch me drive.”

Sara wanted to make a quip about how bad his driving must be, but couldn’t. She might not be a mother, but she could imagine watching a son or daughter risk their life. “Not even on telly?”

“Nope. Mums, eh?”

“Tia said you’re late?”

“Yeah, we usually eat about six. Like pensioners. Early nights.”

“Oh. I’m sorry, I didn’t think.”

“Fine by me.”

Tia showed Sara the label and poured a splash for her to taste, ignoring Trent.

“You’re not drinking?” Sara asked.

“Not in race week. We suffer for our art.”

“Oh.”

Sara sipped, mmm’d. 

Tia filled the glass and left them to choose their meals.

Sara savoured a mouthful of fine Italian wine while she contemplated Trent Deacon, motor racing superstar, over the rim of her glass.

He winced. “That’s a scary look. What are you thinking?”

“Driving here, I felt like a klutz trying to signal and brake. How do you get a race car around those bends so quickly?”

He picked up a fork and bounced it on the tablecloth. “I told you, didn’t I?”

“No. You flipped off the question. Thanks by the way, the producers loved the snark in the interview.”

He pulled at his shirt. “I thought you didn’t want to talk about motor racing?”

“I don’t, but… Come on, Trent. Please. After this, we’ll talk about My Brother Jack.”

“Bugger. I only skimmed it for English at school.” He raised a larrikin smile that belonged to the six-year-old dining with his mum and dad. “I liked the war bits.”

“Why won’t you tell me?”

“Shit.” He studied a spot on the ceiling.

“Are you blushing?” He wasn’t, but he looked like he should be.

He sighed. “We don’t talk about that stuff. It just is.”

“Talk to me about it. It’s something special. It’s part of you.”

“Oh, well, if you put it that way.” He pulled at his collar and searched the room, worried that his racing mates might be gathered around him ready to laugh. “It’s balance.” He held his palms over the table rocking gently side to side. “For me, anyway. Keep the car level. Brake in a straight line. Hit your marks, the braking point, the apex of the corner. Get the power on just right.” The palms shifted, rotating his shoulders. “Too soon you lose the rear, too late.” He shrugged. “Too slow.”

“Okay. That’s the mechanics of it. It’s interesting, but how do you do it better than everyone?” She raised her glass. “Except Greg Allison.”

Trent put his hand to his heart. “Ouch.” He held her gaze for a second, calculating, then his eyes clouded and he slumped into his chair, hands sliding across the table. “I dunno. I really don’t. I ride a bike around the track, every time, even if I’ve raced there a hundred times. I stop by the braking markers and I feel the car around me, where the others are going to hit the anchors.” He glanced up, smiling. “Greg mostly.” His eyelids drooped again. “Until I know I’m going to brake later. I absorb the apex and.” He paused and clenched a fist. “On the day, when it flows, I don’t think. It just happens. It’s… it’s spiritual.” He nodded. “Almost.” Trent’s eyes snapped open. He sat up. “Let the force be with you, Luke. Eh? Stupid.” He blew out a breath. “Christ. I’ve never told anyone that. Crap, isn’t it? What’s wrong?”

What was wrong? Sara couldn’t speak.

Trent Deacon who gave away his hat was real. The arrogant asshole who bullied his rivals was the act. 

She drank more wine.

“I wish you’d said that on camera.”

“No way.”

“I made Sunday Edition with what you gave me today. That would get me a Walkley.” She dreamed of coaxing secrets from the celebrated and powerful, but not this. Trent Deacon had shared something deeply intimate. She wanted it only for herself, to keep.

 

 

Tia dropped a handful of cutlery and swore in Italian.

The restaurant was empty, the tables set for the next day.

“Oh, goodness.” Sara snapped out of the private world she’d been in for—she glanced at her watch. “It’s ten-thirty! Oh, Tia, I’m sorry. You want to lock up.”

“S’all right,” she said. “We live in the back. Mio Trent’s having a nice time. You come here any time, Sara. Stay as long as you like.”

Trent picked up his car keys. “You’ve been drinking, Miss Toombs.”  

She was drunk, but not from Chianti. “Oh, Trent. I’ve kept you up late before practice.”

He took her hand. “Thank you.”

They drove back in companionable silence. Talked out.

He parked in the visitors’ bays and walked her to her room.

Trent took both Sara’s hands. “I’m not going to make love to you tonight,” he said.

“I don’t remember inviting you!” But if he’d asked…

His hands slipped around her waist. “You’re far too important for a first date fling, Sara Toombs. I’ve gotta work the next few days—”

“Yes. Quite an important race, I hear.” Sara’s heart hammered her ribs, red-lining the tachometer.

“And I’m going to win, but first I’m going to kiss you.”

Trent’s lips tasted of Tuscan nights, sun-drenched tropical beaches and a lifetime of possibilities. 

 

 

Twelve months later

Trent hid out the back of the pit among the tyres. Stuff practice.

The bathroom door slapped shut.

Sara emerged, shoving something into her bag.

The all-important implement, no doubt. Trent’s stomach clenched.

She smoothed her hair, pecked him on the cheek and started for the camera van.

He grabbed her.

“Hey!” Sara pulled free. “I’ve got to be in Orange at ten.”

“What was it? I’m dying here.”

She sank against his chest and whispered, “Bingo! We’re going to have a baby.”

“Yess!”

Two minutes later, a horn blared.

She broke their kiss. “Coming, Doug!” She pecked Trent’s lips one last time. “Let me go. You’ve got practice, Champ.”

Sara turned before she reached the car. “Love you.”

“Love you more.” I’m going to be a daddy!

Better than winning Bathurst.

Almost.

He had a stupid, nerdy grin on his face and didn’t care.

“There you are.” Trent’s Dad burst from the pit waving a clipboard. “We’re all waiting. Greg Allison’s done eight laps, already. Can’t you put her down for five bloody minutes? You’re an effing race driver not a—”

“Not a what, Dad?” Trent crossed his arms. 

Jim Deacon blustered, thumb and finger held together in front of his nose. “Christ, Trent. We’re on the brink. This close. You gotta focus. She’s slowing you down. This bloody bird’s—”

“The mother of my child.” Even with steam venting his dad’s ears, Trent couldn’t stop the corners of his lips twisting up. “The mother of your first grandchild.”

“Shit. What have you done?”

“The usual thing that produces children.” Trent straightened, towering over his Dad. Had he shrunk?

The old man took a step back, half tripping.

He’s your father. He’s got Parkinson’s, you jerk.

But the old man had to understand. “I’ll tell you why I won last year. Why I’m touring car champion again—”

“I know.” Dad waved the clipboard. “The car. Training.”

The brilliance of Jim Deacon, you’re thinking.

“No, Dad. Sara. That’s why I get up in the morning. Why I hit the gym and drive the bloody car. Sara Toombs. She makes me happy. She motivates me. And we’re getting married.” Must mention that to Sara. “Get over it.”

Trent pushed around his dad and met Nev hustling from the garage

“Everything okay?” The team manager asked with a sideways glance at Dad.

“Fine.” 

I’m going to be a daddy. I’m getting married.

Nev frowned. “Look, mate. If Jim’s—”

“He’s my Dad.”

“Sure, but if—”

“He owns ten percent of the team.” Dad would shrivel up and die if we cut him out. “How’s the car?”

“We tweaked the brake bias again. Hopefully…” Nev grimaced.

“She’ll be right. We’ve got this.” Trent slapped Nev’s back. The boys had burned midnight oil since the upgrade at Sandown, trying to fix traction problems, but nothing could get rubber on the road the way they wanted. “I’ll give it a try, eh?”

“That’s the plan.”

As Trent pulled on his gloves and helmet, his dad sidled up, pushing the clipboard under his nose.

“Look, Son. The section times. Allison’s—”

“A full tenth slower last time I looked.”

“Yeah. Yeah, but through The Dipper he’s quicker. If you—”

“I know how to drive the car, Dad. I’ve been doing it a while.”

One lap to warm the tyres. Fiddling with the throttle, trying to throw the back end out. Trent clicked the radio. “Feels good, Nev. Good job, lads.”

What to do about Dad?

A bear with a sore head for twelve solid months. Since Bathurst last time. You’d think the win would be enough. But Dad wanted more. Always more. It was Sara, of course. Dad felt threatened. Dumb. Trent wouldn’t forget what his parents did for him. Ever. He loved them. Both. But he couldn’t have dinner with his dad every night for the rest of his life, and if the boofhead couldn’t accept that Sara came first…

We’re having a baby!

He’d sit Dad down. Have a talk.

Trent groaned inside.

A bloke’s worst nightmare. 

Okay. Switch on. Money time.

The Chevy launched down pit straight. The upgrade did wonders for their straight line speed.

Brakes.

Downshift.

In the zone, darlin’.

Squealing around Hell Corner.

Nice. It’s happening.

Bang on the apex through Griffin’s Bend. Woo hoo.

A shudder as he got the power on.

Bugger. Not totally fixed.

Up through the shadows of The Cutting to the blazing light at the top of the mountain.

I’m going to be a dad!

The patchwork of GM red and Ford blue made Macphillamy Park a dappled, impressionist blur with the throttle down. 

Quicker through The Dipper? I’ll show you, Dad.

Brake a smidge later in the Esses. I know, Dad.

A tad risky with the back end, but that’s why they paid him the big bucks.

Sara slowing me down? Bullcrap.

There. Perfect. 

Smoothly on the gas.

The rear twitched. Flicked, as he instinctively corrected the slide.

In agonising ultra slow motion, Trent’s mind’s eye saw the back left tyre spin off the tarmac, the mis-balanced forces tear the rubber free. Pistons screaming. The mighty, turbo-charged V8 released from resistance as Trent’s beloved race car kissed the wall.

A blizzard of dust, aluminium and perspex needles. Blood in his mouth. The wheel tore from Trent’s fingers. Green Central Tablelands paddocks opened below in sun-drenched glory for a heart-stopping, free flight moment until gravity won. 

Trackways Autosport 14—the reigning Bathurst and Australian Touring Car Champion—slammed nose first into The Dipper safety barriers and flipped end over end. 

 

Three Years Later

Harrison in his number 14 shirt melted Sara’s heart. So like his dad. The exact same smile and that way his eyebrows arched with excitement.

It wouldn’t put tears in her eyes if they weren’t in Bathurst again.

The first time since Trent’s catastrophic smash.

Haunting memories everywhere she turned.

Breathe girl.

Harrison wriggled as she mussed his hair into a semblance of presentable.

“Mum!”

Such a boy.

“You be good for Grandad.”

“Mum!”

“And you, Grandad.”

Jim chuckled. He put his hand on his heart. “Scout’s honour.”

“No roller coasters. No motorbikes.”

“I swear.” He winked at Harrison. “Not even a moped? A golf cart?”

“No.” The dirt bike had been the last straw. No helmets, what the hell was he thinking.

She narrowed her eyes and stared at Jim.

He held her gaze. A flicker of an eyelash acknowledged his promise—that Harrison would be nowhere near the National Motor Racing Museum.

The grand opening of the Trent Deacon exhibit on the anniversary of the accident. 

Sara busied herself collecting her bag and keys to smother tingling nerves. She understood the marketing sense of a launch on a logical level, but her gut revulsion didn’t. Did the assholes have any taste at all?

Motorsport people. Ugh.

They’d be queued up ten deep to gawk at the wreckage and watch Trent’s car go in again and again on a big screen.

“I need to be off.” She caught Harrison before he could escape for a hard kiss on the cheek.

Such a good idea to take the job and throw the invitation into the bin with a clear conscience. ‘So sorry. I’m already committed that day.’ While Trent’s mum was around to babysit. Until she came down with the flu so Jim had to stand in.

Harrison ran out ahead of Jim. “Can we go fast, Grandad!”

“No. No. You heard your mum.”

Sara clenched her fists in frustration. Jim tried. He really did. But he couldn’t help himself. You heard your mum. She’s the one spoiling our fun. Because his determination to pass the need for speed to a third generation would not be thwarted.

“Why did it come unstuck in The Esses?”

Trent fixed his smile. 

He’d shared a commentary panel with Pete for two years. A good bloke, but about as sensitive as a wire brush.

“No-one knows, mate.”

“Yeah, but what do you think? The brakes? Steering failure? A tyre?”

Pete mugged for the guests. “Driver error?”

A hundred invited dignitaries and competition winners laughed dutifully.

“Dunno.” They’d gone over the debris with microscopes and ultrasound, but it was too mangled for a definitive answer. “It doesn’t matter. What happened, happened. You accept the risk when you start the motor.” 

The punters would like that. His fearless flying ace, schtick.

“Back at last, Trent. Can you beat Greg Allison this week? He’s won four Bathurst now. They’re calling him the new King of the Mountain.”

“Come on. Greg’s a great driver, but Peter Brock will always be the King. And don’t forget I’ve beaten Greg twice already this season. Let’s see what happens on the track.”

“What’ll be going through your mind when you take this year’s Number 14 through The Dipper for the first time?” 

“Nothing. Actually. I remember putting my helmet on.” Dad giving me shit. “Then I woke up in Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.” Seven days later. Sara a blubbering mess. Thanks for reminding me, Mate. Trent nodded to the audience hanging on every word. “All the proceeds from today are going to the hospital.” Trent’s non-negotiable condition for attendance. “I hope you’ve bought all the raffle tickets.”

A flutter of tickets waved. 

“Your Dad, Jim Deacon, helped smooth the way for the museum to acquire the key elements of the exhibit.”

Trent glanced at the crumpled carcass of his car in the museum’s prime spot. Replacing Chaz Mostert’s mashed 2015 Ford. ‘An upgrade’, Dad said. More recent? More damaged? 

Chaz got out of his bender with a broken leg. 

Asphalt burns, and bare, scarred aluminium patched the paintwork left on Trent’s Chevy. A livid, razor edged crocodile mouth yawned where they peeled back the roof to cut Trent out. A massive projection screen on the wall had been paused where they’d play crash vision courtesy of the host broadcaster. A glass case housed his helmet, and torn, stained overalls. 

I wonder what Chaz thinks? 

It’s Trent’s legacy,’ Dad said, bulldozing Sara. Didn’t even ask his son. Now Pete made it sound like an iron age brooch.

“Sadly, your family couldn’t be here today, Trent.”

Don’t go there, Pete.

“Daddy!”

The fans parted to Harrison, with Dad crouched behind him, pointing at the screen, where the video bumped into play.

Trent pushed Pete out of the way. “Jesus Christ, Dad.”

Jim glanced up, startled. The bloody idiot thought he was being clever.

Harrison jumped from foot to foot, delighted by the attention of dozens of adoring adults. You’ll learn, son.

“That’s your Daddy going really fast,” Jim said.

“Car fa’teen,” Harrison said.

Flying through the cutting.

“Jeezus Christ, Dad. You promised! Harrison!”

“Look, Daddy.”

Half a dozen women cooed as 14 fishtailed, kissed the wall. Shit. Is that all it was? And…

Trent dragged his son out of his father’s grasp. A moment too late.

Harrison went rigid against his chest. “Daddy!” 

A wail. 

A shriek.

Dead silence around them.

Trent glared at Jim over.

Now do you get it, Dad?

Harrison buried his head in Trent’s shoulder. Tears flowing. He whispered through sobs. “Did you, die, Daddy?”

Some idiot laughed.

Trent scoured the crowd with a glare. They took a collective step back. Stuff ’em.

Nooo, Hazza-man.” Jim touched Harrison’s shoulder.

Trent pulled his son clear. “It’s okay, Mate. I’m here. It hurt lots.” Still aches like hell on cold mornings. “Like when you fell off the swing.” Another Grandad special. “But I’m all right. I’m here.”

Jim had claimed the lap timer’s stool by the tool bench. Legs and arms crossed in his ‘what did I do?’ Sulk.

Sara hugged Harrison on the battered sofa by the coffee maker.

Not fair to keep him away.

Trent missed his lucky charm.

Here husband made it worth her effort with his smile when he shoved his push bike past the race car, bumping over rubber tubes.

He dropped onto the sofa—setting the springs wallowing—and kissed her cheek. “You brought him.”

“Couldn’t keep him away. Could I, Harrison?” 

Their son loved it in the pit. The mechanics sending him for spanners they didn’t need, mussing his hair, sitting him in the car and calling him Junior. The latent masculinity of pervasive grease odours and testosterone. A boy thing on steroids.

He climbed over his mum to get at his dad, sharp heels gouging Sara’s thighs. “Look, Daddy. Big Dan gave me a Freddo Frog.”

Sara tutted. “That was supposed to be a secret, Mate.”

“Oh. Yeah.”

Trent yelled at the race engineer. “Oi! Dan, I’ve told you about strange old men giving kids sweets.”

Dan gave Trent the middle finger to general amusement.

“Sure it’s okay being here?” Trent whispered to Sara.

“No.” She whispered back as a new wave of anxiety gripped her chest. “But I couldn’t keep him in the room any longer. He’d have wrecked the place. How was it?”

Trent knew what she meant. He spread himself, knees apart, chin raised in his reflecting pose. Such a man. 

“It was good. Hell getting up the cutting.” He patted her thigh, or rather Harrison’s foot on Sara’s thigh. “I’m getting old, Love.”

That and the kilos of metal rods holding his thigh together.

“But the Esses and the Dipper. It’s close. Really close.” He nodded, convincing himself.

Sara squeezed his hand. The feeling. He meant the feeling. The intrinsic sense of the corner. The Zen calm that made driving at the absolute limit of the physical envelope an instinctive flow.

She understood the forces that drove Trent from his easy, lucrative spot in the commentary box. Back to the touring car cockpit as soon as the medics cleared him. A broadcasting natural, but two years of questions wore him down: ‘You coming back, Trent?’ ‘Still got it, Deacon?’ ‘Greg Allison’s winning everything, bro.’ Nev Pinnock had been a saint. ‘If you want it, Mate. The seat’s yours when you’re ready.’ His Dad was the worst. ‘You’ve got to do it, Son.’ ‘There’ll be an asterisks on everything you did.’ But the jibes only fuelled what already smouldered in Trent’s gut.

“I have to, Love.”

The same conversation every time he woke up sweating from another bad dream. “The brake marker, the apex… I can do it. I know. It’s like I’ve lost a part of me. I need to get it back. Do you understand?”

She did.

Sara hated it with every bone in her body. 

She loved this Trent as much as the adrenaline-junky tearaway she fell for. The guy who took his son for long talks in the woods. Tried to hide the constant pain. Supported her career unflinchingly and charmed Australian TV audiences. The mature Trent Deacon. But he would not be whole, would carry gnawing regret for the rest of his days, if he didn’t make it back to the top of the touring car tree. 

He’d been different since he clipped the four point harness back on. Like a Trent Deacon animatronic. He sketched all the same gestures and quips, except for bullying Greg Allison, thank goodness. He’d even stopped driving on public roads, but Sara could tell the difference. The hesitation, the uncertainty.

The results were there. Times within hundredths of his best. Fourth at Sandown. Victories at Symmons Plains, where Greg had a DNF, and fair and square at Phillip Island.

Only Sara heard Trent’s doubt.

“I don’t feel it, yet. It’s not there. I’m looking for the brake markers. I can’t stop myself. But I’ll get it, Sara. I promise.”

Don’t promise me. I don’t care. “You’ve got it. We love you, Trent. You know that, don’t you?”

A desperate nod.

“Whether you’re a car racer or not.”

“I have to—”

“It’s okay.”

She shook like a sapling in a storm through every race. Teeth clenched. Eyes open but seeing nothing as the cars streamed by and the team roared. Praying silently until the chequered flag fell and she could breathe again, shut off slo-mo mental replays of Trent’s crash for another week. The pictures she’d seen only once and could never watch again. 

That Harrison had seen three days before.

She let go his hip for fear she’d crush it accidentally. 

Her son had brushed off the incident at the museum with a little boy’s goldfish attention span. Back to toy cars and his balance bike as if nothing happened.

Forgotten. Dismissed as a video like the scary bits in Frozen. 

Sara hoped.

Trent swooped above the track like Superman. A human drone, feet above the surface. Clicking his fingers where he’d change gears. Leaning left and right through the curves.

Dad broke the reverie. “Trent. Hey Trent. Mate.”

“Sorry, what?”

“You were away with the fairies. Nervous?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “Good. Nerves are good. No-one’s beaten McKinnon. You always beat him. It’s set up for you. One good lap and you’re on pole tomorrow. Kearns won’t beat you. You’ll be top when Allison goes out and he’ll bottle it.”

Brilliant insight. The top ten shoot out for pole. Trent third fastest in practice, so third last for his single flying lap. If he beat the other times, Greg would be under pressure when he went out last. No shit, Sherlock.

But Greg wouldn’t flinch. A different driver these days. Assured as well as lightning quick.

I’m a different driver, too. 

Slower. Less natural.

Bugger it. Typical Dad to crush the vibe at the vital moment.

The other drivers’ times were irrelevant to how fast Trent and 14 made it over the mountain.

But he’s your dad, and he hasn’t got many more years.

“Okay. Thanks, Dad.”

“Go get ‘em!”

“Yeah.” He rose from the sofa. His fingers tangled in Sara’s.

She’d held his hand while he zoned out through the first seven runs. Was that what calmed him? He should add holding his wife’s hand to his pre-race routine.

He pecked her cheek. “Thanks, Love.”

“What for?”

“Everything.”

“Break a leg, Champ.” The smile was there, wide and bright.

But her eyes told the truth. How they’d looked in the mirror when he went over the top of the mountain like a maniac in that stupid fast lap. He’d never forgotten. Never forgiven himself.

Not now. Gotta drive.

He turned away. “Where’s my number one man?”

Trent had sprouted superstitions since his comeback. The most important: Harrison slapped his hand as he got into the car. “What am I gonna do, Son?”

“Drive fast, Daddy.”

“Harrison!” Sara called as she sat up. “He went to watch the other laps with Jim.”

“Yeah.” Dad whirled looking for his grandson, who stepped out beside the race car, brows furrowed.

“What’s up, Hazza?” Trent swept him in a hug, sat crossways half in the driver’s seat and deposited Harrison into the required position. 

Trent raised his palm for five at his son’s head height. “What am I gonna do, Son?”

But Harrison left him hanging.

“Don’t die, Daddy.”

“Jeezus.” Dad hauled Harrison clear.

Sara came running.

Car 14 drove itself onto the back straight.

What the hell?

Did they show the bloody accident on TV? Christ! He’d crucify them. No, the boys in the studio wouldn’t do that in the middle of the top ten shoot out. Would they? No, but Harrison watched the other fast laps with Dad no doubt bullshitting on the way he always did when he got his grandson to himself.

Harrison’s takeaway? Don’t die, Daddy. 

And the terror in Sara’s eyes.

What was he putting them through?

Selfish bastard.

But Dad. And the team.

And your ego, bugger it. Admit you, you jerk.

Need slithered in his gut. 

You’ve still got it.

It didn’t die in the crash barriers at The Dipper. In the wreck. In the intensive care unit. You’re no chicken. You didn’t lose your nerve.

He sighed.

And all that macho bullshit.

“The screen’s looking pretty here, Trent, mate. All systems go!”

Another part of the superstitious routine, Big Dan reporting everything green on the monitors.

Shit.

Trent was on Conrod. He’d done three-quarters of the warm up lap in a funk.

The Dipper.

Not a thought for brake markers or apexes.

Autopilot.

As if he needed cues on a warm-up lap… in the old days. He hadn’t done a lap at any speed since the smash without every marker registering.

Trent’s fingertips tingled. The harness straps bit as his chest swelled.

It’s back.

He thumbed the radio switch. “Thanks, boys. You’ve given me a rocket ship today. I can feel it in my bones.”

Trent put the accelerator to the floor.

Watch this, Dad.

Flying around Hell Corner

Booming up Mountain Straight.

Nailed it through The Cutting.

Exploding onto Skyline.

Daddy’s driving fast, Hazza.

And loving it!

Dancing through The Esses with a shimmy and a shake.

So good.

The Dipper next.

Nothing.

Not a twitch.

Just the karmic alignment of asphalt and rubber at the precise point as Trent’s left foot brushed brake pedal and clutch without conscious effort for the stomach dropping swoop hard left past the barriers replaced since his crash.

“Whoo hooo!”

Trent howled his delight through Forrest Elbow and cackled onto Conrod.

I’m taking pole, Greg

Just The Chase and home.

I’m gonna win Bathurst tomorrow!

But Mum wouldn’t watch.

Sara would smile through her agony to let him fight his demons the only way he knew how.

It’s okay, Trent

Don’t die, Daddy.

Trent eased into the Trackways Autosport pit with the V8 turbo gurgling on idle revs.

He patted the steering wheel as he punched the straps free. “Thanks, Babe. It’s been a thrill.”

Nev hauled him out of the cockpit.

“Trent? Mate? You, okay?”

Ahhh. Yeah.

Hadn’t thought of that. Explanations, and no-one deserved one more than his incredibly loyal friend.

“Sorry. My foot.”

Nev’s eyes shot to Trent’s shoes. “The accident?”

“Yeah.” That would do. And true enough in its way.

“You’re good for tomorrow?” Desperate hope.

“No.”

Nev’s jaw dropped.

“Put Scott in. I’m done, Nev.”

Trent’s co-driver hovered on the far side of the bonnet. 

“Sorry, Scott, you’ll start tenth tomorrow, I guess.”

“Sixth, actually.”

Wow.

Nev stared into Trent’s eyes, disbelieving. “You were on lap record pace until The Chase.”

Trent nodded. He knew.

“What? Trent?” Scott threw up a hand. “You can’t drive?”

“No, Scott.” Trent thumped the 14 on the door. “She’s yours now.” They’d promote lead driver from the second car to co-drive with Scott.

“Mate?” Scott shook his head, a public picture of concern. But his tongue flicked his lips.

He couldn’t wait. And good on him.

Dad muscled in. “Trent? Son? What the—

“I’m done, Dad. Retired. It’s been—”

“Crap! Your foot?” Dad’s fingertips dug painfully into Trent’s arm. “We’ll get physio. X-rays. You can’t let a bloody—”

Trent swung hard but caught his slap in time to take his father’s arm and drag him clear of the mechanics swarming over the car with sympathetic frowns. His father was another who deserved an explanation. After all these years. “It’s my foot, Dad.”

“Which one?”

“Both of them. They won’t go down hard enough. Never again.”

“You can’t! What about the team?”

What about Jim Deacon, you mean?

“You’ll be fine. I’m not doing it any more. Not for you. Not for the team. Not for Trent Deacon.” The myth. The marketable entity. “It’s Sara, now. And Harrison. They’re all that matters.”

 

 

 

 

For an idea what it’s really like driving around Mount Panorama Bathurst, here’s a YouTube video. For the record, it doesn’t do justice to The Dipper and The Chase.

 

2 thoughts to “The Dipper

  • Jackie

    As a huge NASCAR fan, who really loves road courses, I loved this story and the awesome video of this magnificent venue. Please finish the story next month!

    • T.J.

      I’ll do my best. Glad you’re enjoying the story.

Comments are closed.