9th of November – Season 2
When Solo Magubane arrived at the Fuel Speedway it was chaos – albeit, an organized chaos. It started outside with the very loud and vocal protesters singing their praise songs and continued right into the paddock with multiple arguments going on between half of the racers. Solo wondered if there was something in the air.
When Solo had made his grand return last week, he'd made it directly into feature race then immediately went onto Touch Mkhize's talk show for his first interview. It had been a favor to the man so that he could capitalize on the big moment. And because of that, he hadn't gotten a chance to be in the paddock last week. So this was a surprise to him. Fortunately, he had something of a friend in the paddock who could catch him up to speed. He approached Styles who was keeping to himself in his designated area.
"Jose," said Solo, greeting Styles with his clan name.
Styles Sithole smiled when he saw his old carpool buddy. "Nkomose," said Styles using Solo's own clan name. "If it isn't 'The Franchise'. It's good to see you man," he said giving him a manly hug. "I missed you last week. How was your trip back."
"The trip was good. I tried to find you last week but I heard you'd already left. What, just because you don't have a carpool buddy, you leave straight after the show?"
"No, I've still been carpooling."
"Really? With whom?" Styles pointed across the room at Mandla Xulu who was currently arguing with Jim Kieck. "Really? You replaced me with Mandla?" he said feigning anger.
"No, brother. It's not like that," started Styles.
However Solo let him off the hook quickly. "I'm just messing with you, bra." Solo had something else on his mind. "So what's going on here. What's everyone fighting about?"
"Various things." Instead of starting with Mandla and Jim, Styles pointed across to Brenda and Doris. "They are arguing with Glen over why a rookie gets to face me for a slot in the Gauntlet Race." Solo remembered Moodswing announcing that he would be running the Gauntlet last week and that this week would be about determining his three opponents. Styles continued. "Stevie and Blackcat are arguing over... well, him being an untrustworthy basket case basically. While Penny and Dime are having their usual argument over him getting another shot at her title."
Solo took this all in. While he'd made a point to stream every episode of Fuel to keep up to date, he hadn't gotten a chance to get up to date with the 'backstage' goings on of the racers so this was interesting to hear. He was curious about the argument he left out. "And what about Mandla and Jim? What are they arguing about?"
"Me." It was John Kloof that spoke the words having walked up behind them. Formula-X King, John Kloof.
"Your Highness," said Solo, greeting him with a smile. Unlike with Styles, Solo had managed to see King Kloof last week.
"Solo," said King Kloof simply. "Assuming that you'll be wanting to challenge me for the title soon, you'll be interested to know who the current top claimants are." He pointed at Mandla and Jim. "You're looking at them. The reason that they're arguing is because Mandla is unhappy that Jim is involved in this race at all."
"Well he should get over it," said Solo.
"Does that mean you'll be putting your name in the hat as my next challenger?" asked the King.
Solo shook his head. "Maybe. But that's if I survive Styles over here and whoever the other two gauntleteers are." Solo was amused by the word that Moodswing had created to refer to the racers that would be across from him at Show-Down. "I can't imagine Moodswing or Glen naming me the Number One Claimant if I lose this Gauntlet Race."
"Ah yes, that Gauntlet Race," said King Kloof. "What the hell is a gauntlet again?"
However, before Solo could recap what he remembered of the rules of the new race type to the King, the three of them were distracted by Glen raising his voice. "You know what, I've had enough of all this arguing," he said to no one in general. He then turned his attention to the Koeks. "You two, my decision on the racecard is final." He then raised his voice so everyone else could hear. "As for everyone else who's not happy enough to shut up, keep your eyes peeled to that screen," he said pointing to the paddock's big screen before disappearing.
A few moments later, following Fuel's intro, Glen walked onto the middle-stage and made a monumental announcement. He started off by confirming that Show-Down would indeed be going to the mainland as announced on Feeder before saying that this year more than last year, the event would be living up to its title as this season, there really would be a showdown: a 4-Way Relay showdown. He then announced that Brenda and Doris Koeks would be defending their titles against former titleholders, Longitude and Latitude along with the two other teams comprised of racers would currently can't seem to get along: Penny & Dime and Stevie & Blackcat Mathunzi.
Solo, Styles, and King Kloof were taken aback by the exasperated sounds of all four of them complaining in the paddock. They turned back to Glen who finished off his announcement.
"This will serve as a reminder to those who prefer to argue with me and each other rather than leaving it all on the racetrack. Now, ladies and gentlemen, enjoy your evening because we have one hell of a night of racing action for you on Monday Night Fuel."
Solo, barely remembering what King Kloof had asked about gauntlets, responded. "That, Your Highness, is a gauntlet."
LATER THAT NIGHT
In truth, a gauntlet had nothing to do with racing. After Moodswing's announcement last week, Solo had done a little research and discovered that a gauntlet (not to be confused with the kind that was worn on the wrist) was a kind of medieval punishment where the punished person was forced to run between two rows of soldiers and endure strikes from them. In fact, the exercise was called 'running the gauntlet'. In modern times, of course, the expression was less a fatal punishment and more of a metaphor for a grueling series of tasks.
As Solo remembered them, the rules of a Gauntlet Race were that one racer named the gauntlet runner (him) would start off the race against the first gauntleteer and if he managed to defeat the gauntleteer, he would immediately take on the next gauntleteer without a break. If the gauntlet runner managed to defeat that gauntleteer, then they would face the final one and be considered to have survived the gauntlet if he defeats all three.
Currently, JVZ had already qualified by defeating Dime while Styles was currently facing off against Caliber Kid. While Solo had hoped to enjoy watching his friend beat the rookie, Solo was instead joined by one of his greatest rivals of last season: Thawn Oberhauser. "Well, well, well. The prodigal son returns."
"Thawn Oberhauser. What an unpleasant surprise. What do you want, Impaler?"
"What do I want? Nothing. Nothing except to tell you that you better watch your back."
"Oh, and why's that?"
"Because I'm about to go out there and qualify for this gauntlet. And then at Show-Down in Durban, I'm going to beat you and begin my re-ascent to my throne."
"You don't have a throne anymore Impaler. And you're not winning that gauntlet," said Solo meeting his eye for the first time, "because I am. But good luck in your race tonight. Sincerely. I want you in that gauntlet so you know beyond a shadow of a doubt when I beat you that I am better than you."
Thawn had not liked Solo's confidence, leaving in a huff. In fact, he still looked upset when he walked onto the racetrack to take on Blackcat while Styles joined him following his victory. After congratulating him on qualifying for the gauntlet, Solo decided to tease him a bit.
"So why Mandla, huh? Why not carpool with, literally, anybody else?"
"Well, besides him being the only one who goes in the direction of my side of town, I liked the idea of traveling with someone who I could learn a thing or two from."
"Like what? How to argue with someone just because they're standing in your way of getting what you want?"
"I didn't say I condone everything he does but yes, as a matter of fact. The man was F-X King. And there's a reason so many people want him back on the throne." As they'd been speaking, Thawn prepared to win his race, having acquired an impressive lead. "In fact, I'm about to let you in on one of the things I learnt from him." Styles then started making a beeline for the racetrack.
"Ey, Jose, where you going?"
"I'll be right back, bra."
Solo's question was answered when the camera caught sight of Styles just outside the Winner's Circle. Solo recognized the move as Mandla's signature. He'd done it upon just being hired at Show-Down in Downtown and again on Fuel a few weeks before Sunday Night Easter, both times with the intention of having an intimidating staredown with his rival. True to Mandla's formula, when Thawn showed up by the Winner's Circle for his interview, he was confronted by Thawn. However, before the stare down could get intense, none other than Dime – the third gauntleteer – showed up, ruining Styles' moment.
Fortunately for the fandom and F-X, the three-way face-off looked great in its own right although Solo couldn't help but wonder if there really was something in the air. Why were the only three people with the same mission at Show-Down arguing with each other? Surely he was the only they should all be worried about? But it also occurred to Solo that they each wanted to be the one to beat Solo. But it wasn't just them.
Mandla and Jim were still arguing as they made their way down for the feature race of the night. It was clear that the tension in the air was palpable as if everyone was on the verge of running a gauntlet. And as much as Solo was weirded out by it, he couldn't help but enjoy it. This was what sports entertainment was about. And it definitely felt good to be home.