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Fuel Season 1: Episode 14: The Next Claimant

With the next PPV just around the corner, 2 top contenders bid their claim on the F-X Throne

The F-X Series was designed from the get-go to blend motorsports and melodrama together in an effort to not only attract racing enthusiasts, but lovers of weekly dramas as well.

2nd of December - Season 1

Solo Magubane sighed as he looked at his watch, the minutes ticking away as he waited outside the clothing shop. Thinking now, in hindsight, he realized that it might have been a bad idea to agree to give this guy a ride to the Fuel Speedway. After all, weren’t all the other F-X racers supposed to be the enemy? But he couldn’t help it. He’d been raised to give aid to his fellow man when they needed it.

However, when Styles Sithole walked out of the clothing store with three bags full of clothes, Solo wondered if he’d needed it at all. “So, we’re going to be late to Fuel because you went shopping?”

“I can’t help it, mfwethu. When I see a competitor with new designs out, I have to get it. It helps with my own inspiration.”

Solo remembered the first time he heard that Styles was a fashion designer. While he was proud to say that he didn’t think him any less of a man for being one, right now, he almost regretted being supportive of the man’s passion… especially if it was going to interfere with his own passion for racing. Solo shrugged at the excuse and took one of the packets as they made their way out of the mall and towards the parking lot.

While walking through the mall, Solo had noticed that many people had been looking at them funny. He knew why. With Monday Night Fuel being the hit that it was, both him and Styles had become local celebrities. It also helped that the results from Fuel were now coming out in the Ngelosi Metropolitan Journal every week. Solo had decided to pass the time waiting for Styles by reading this week’s page and one article from the newsletter got Solo’s attention.

It was the one about the return race between Penny Potgieter and Brenda Koek to determine who would challenge the new Duke of Drag at the upcoming pay-per-view, the Year-End Bash. While Solo always made a point to memorize the racecard of the upcoming episode - when he could with it changing all the time - he admittedly didn’t pay much attention when it came to any race he wasn’t involved in. Which was too bad because that was a race he would have loved to have seen live.

When they got to the parking lot, Solo and Styles got into Solo’s pride and joy: his Shelby Mustang GT500. Aside from The Abominable Seduction, the Mustang was his favourite thing in the world. He had wanted one since he was a kid and had worked hard to finally get his hands on one. In fact, the only vehicle that could make him happier was the 1967 version rather than the modern version. Looking at Styles smiling at just being next to the car, Solo wondered if riding in the Mustang was the real reason he asked for a ride to the Fuel Speedway.

As Solo sped through the city, making quick work of the journey, Styles asked him what he thought of King Thawn’s speech last week. Solo wondered why he called him King outside of Fuel. “I think the Impaler was being a dick as usual. But what’s new. I mean, the guy even got the name of the next pay-per-view wrong.” It was true. Thawn had called it the Year-End Celebration instead of the Year-End Bash.

“Speaking of the P.P.V., he said he wasn’t going to show up on Fuel until then? What’s that about?” 

“Again, him being a dick. But I’m not complaining. Fuel is better off without him.” All they needed to do now was get that precious Crown off of him. But for the past 8 days, that task looked to prove harder than ever before. And that was because of one man, the new guy: Mandla Xulu. 

Solo didn’t know if his attitude about the Deputy Mayor’s son was that old-fashioned notion of ‘hating on the new guy’ but there was just something about him that he didn’t like. And he knew that it wasn’t personal. Everything being equal, Solo thought Mandla was a stand-up guy. He had good principles and his political agenda was admirable. In another life, he would have been friends with the man. But… Solo just didn’t believe that Mandla belonged here.

When he and Styles finally arrived at the Fuel Speedway, Styles rushed to the paddock as his race was first while Solo made his way to Catering to finally get something to eat while he waited for his own race. When he got there, he found that there were at least two other racers who agreed that Mandla shouldn’t be here.

“The man is a politician, not a racer,” said Brenda Koek. “He shouldn’t be here.”

“So, you don’t think he earned his stripes last week,” said Touch Mkhize, who was already half done with his burger meal.

“What stripes? All he did was beat a racer who had just raced the best racer in the series for the Crown one night earlier. Solo scoffed at the comment which earned a curious look from Brenda. “Oh what, you still think Thawn is not the best? How many pay-per-view feature-races does he have to win for you to admit that he’s the best.” When Solo didn’t answer, Brenda persisted. “Well say something. What, are you dumb all of a sudden?”

Solo finally gave her the time of day. “The last time we spoke, Brenda, you recorded our conversation and tried to make a name for yourself off of me.”

When Touch made a face, Brenda shushed him and defended herself. “First of all, that was three months ago. You have to let that go. Second of all, it’s Touch over here who’s doing all the recording.” Brenda continued when Solo gave Touch a curious look. “He’s preparing for the premiere of his talk show tonight. His first guest is Mandla.”

Solo rolled his eyes noticeably. “Of course it is.”

“Problem?” asked Touch. When Solo shook his head, Touch continued. “So, what do you think of the new guy?”

Something quickly dawned on Solo as he realized his opportunity here. “I think that Mandla isn’t here because of motorsport. Neither is he here because of all the soap opera drama. The only reason that Mandla is here is to garner more political support for the C.M.A.” The Congressional Metropolitan Alliance was the biggest political party on the island province of Azania and the governing party in Ngelosi and it was led by Mandla’s father, the Deputy Mayor.

Touch was highly intrigued by Solo’s comment, so much so that he wrote it down as a question he would ask the man later on. Unbeknown to all of them, Solo’s comment had also been caught on camera except this time, it wasn’t Brenda’s phone. It was Glenwood Jacob’s.

“Sorry guys,” he said, barely looking sorry at all. “You know how it is. Sports entertainment: we find the story where we find it.”

Solo tried his hardest not to look shocked. “I would have expected this from Moodswing,” he said.

“Mhmm. He and I are in the same line of work, if you’ll recall,” said the Club Vice President, ordering his own meal. “And, quite honestly, you shouldn’t be complaining. The juicier the things we capture, candid-camera style, the higher the pay-off for you guys.” At that moment, Jim Kieck walked in, clearly not his usual smiling self. “Take Jim here as an example. While he might not look like it, his paycheck for Show-Down in Down Town was considerable even though he lost.”

Jim somehow managed to crack a smile before commenting. “Thanks, Glen. I was just trying to forget about that, but I guess that’s not happening anytime soon. Appreciate that.”

As Solo wondered how Glen and Moodswing were going to use that video and what the fallout would be, Solo stole a glance at Brenda and noticed her shifty behaviour. She was clearly thinking about what Glen said but also looking at Jim as if contemplating something. It didn’t escape Solo that she clearly wanted to incite something herself to get that bump in paycheck. Having felt the effects of Brenda’s efforts firsthand in the first episode, Solo was only glad that she wasn’t aiming for him.

“Hey Playboy,” said Brenda, finally. “you know its funny that the Derby you lost is linked to horse racing.”

Jim had finally gotten his drink when Brenda spoke and gave her a bemused look. “Are we telling jokes now?”

Brenda continued but not before noting that Glen’s phone was out again. “Yeah, because you and horses have something in common now. You’re both going to have to wait a third of the year to mate again.”

While Solo usually refrained from crowd reactions such as “uhs”, “ohs” and “ahs”, he couldn’t resist joining Brenda, Touch and the cook in this one as they all laughed. It was a good burn. Looking at Jim, Solo was certain that he was about to dump his drink over Brenda’s head but instead he turned to Glen.

“I hope you got that. Because when I kick her ass in a race tonight, you and everyone else will know exactly why.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” said Glen. “I got it. And you’ll be happy to know that your race is next. So, hop to it.”

While Jim immediately started back to the paddock, almost running, Brenda lost her smile as she looked at Glen. “Right now? But I haven’t finished my—”

Glen had to shove her out of her seat to get her going. He then turned to Touch. “And you,” he said pointing to him, “I believe you and Penny have a race tonight as well. Enemies Unite. I speak for all the fans when I say: this should be fun.” Touch also finished up his meal to leave.

Enemies Unite. Solo remembered the expression from when it was last used: when he and his sworn enemy, King Thawn had teamed up just 2 short weeks before their second face-off at Hallow's Eve. While that had been a while ago, not much had changed as they were still enemies. Except that a lot had changed as he was now further away from the Crown than he wanted to be. And he had to correct that.

Now that he and Glen were the only ones in Catering, Solo spoke his mind. “And me,” he said as if the previous conversation hadn’t ended. “What about my race? Are you going to give me what I want?”

“Well, that depends. If you want a race with King Thawn for the Crown again, then I can’t help you. Not unless you earn it all over again.”

“Then what about Mandla?” Solo realized that the question was ambiguous, but he meant it both ways anyway. What about Mandla earning a title race and what about Mandla facing him in a race tonight.

Glen clearly understood the ambiguity and took pains to answer both. “I’ll tell you what: you face Mandla tonight. If he wins, he gets himself a title shot. But if you win, then all three of you top contenders – you, Stevie and Mandla – will have to wait for Moodswing and I to decide who the next claimant is.”

Solo had to admit that he liked this idea. This made things fair. While he was a bit frustrated with the idea that Mandla was already considered a top contender, he loved the fact that Mandla would have to go through him in order to get to the Crown. Now it was just a matter of proving that they didn’t call him “The Franchise of Formula-X” for nothing. Tonight… Mandla was going down.



Solo swore. He was 10 laps deep into the 15 Lap Feature Race of the night and he was trailing behind the newcomer. While he knew that he still had 5 laps left to beat Mandla, he didn’t want to do it by the skin of his teeth. He wanted it to be in dominant fashion. But judging from the race so far, that would not be the way the F-X reporters explained it in the newsletter this week.

The race so far had been surprisingly on the equal footing with Mandla not only managing to keep close to Solo when Solo was ahead but also managing to inch ahead himself in a few of the laps. Although, Solo shouldn’t have been surprised. He’d watched the tapes from Mandla’s race with Stevie last week. He should have known that Mandla was this good.

As the two of them zipped around the bends of the track, Solo tried to accelerate, topping over 220 km/h in an effort to pass his newest enemy. Eventually, he did in the 12th lap and managed to inch ahead so that a small gap formed in the dying moments of the race. Unfortunately, Solo failed to sustain that gap as Mandla had closed it by Lap 14 putting them neck and neck going into the final lap.

It was in this lap that the unthinkable happened and Solo realized that he had underestimated Mandla… or at the very least, his spanking new engine, as Mandla overtook him and managed to win the race in a photo finish.

Solo wanted nothing more than to be angry, but he knew that would be unacceptable, not with the way people were cheering Mandla the way they cheered him once before. If Solo didn’t do the right thing – at least in this one instance – he would forever be labelled jealous and a sore loser. So, he knew what he had to do. After taking off his helmet, he went over and shook the hand of the new guy. No, he shook the hand of the new number one claimant. 

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

Copyright © Copyright © 2020 by Sphu "Beesting" Kubheka
All rights reserved. This story or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

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