24th of January – Season 3
Mandla Xulu felt strange sitting in the lobby outside Moodswing’s office. Even though the Club President was nothing like the Deputy Mayor, Mandla felt exactly how he usually felt sitting outside his father's office, listening to his PA, Sindiwe typing away on her desktop as the dread of the conversation set in. Mandla realized that what he was dreading wasn’t the conversation with Moodswing but rather the setting. It was Monday morning and not another soul was at the Fuel Speedway. What did Moodswing want to say to him that he wanted absolutely no one else to hear?
A few minutes later, Mandla was sitting in front of Moodswing who was trying hard to hide the seriousness on his face. “Mandla. Thank you for coming. Can I offer you a drink?” The Club President gestured to a side table with two glasses and a bottle of whiskey on it.
“No thank you. It’s a bit early for me.”
“Well, they say the sun is down somewhere in the world. Are you sure?” Moodswing didn’t get an answer this time which coincidently served as his answer. “Right. Well, down to business then. You’re probably wondering why I asked you down here so early in the morning and it’s because I need your help. There’s a war going on right now, and I mean to get ahead of it.”
Mandla wanted to ask what war but there was no point in asking. He knew what he was referring to, the cold war between him and his Club Vice President Glenwood Jacobs. Just this past week, they’d been involved in the biggest social media war of words in the franchise’s history after Moodswing had declared both Thawn Oberhauser and Solo Magubane the Number One Claimants following their draw last week. This had set the dominoes falling.
It hadn’t been long before Glen accused Moodswing of stacking the deck against Queen Stevie and Moodswing countered by accusing Glen of wanting Stevie to remain on the throne. It had been shocking to witness. But since Mandla wasn’t to be involved in the three-way title race at The Scramble, he wondered where he fit in.
“What do you need from me?”
“That political mind of yours,” said Moodswing. He got up and walked to the window as he spoke. “As I’m sure you know, towards the end of the season, the Formula-X Club Committee conducts elections where the committee gets to vote for the different positions in the club. Now, while I’ve won the President role for the past two years and Glen the Vee-Pee role, I’m worried that things might be different this year.
“You see, my popularity has wavered in the past few months. Ever since my wife exposed my past to the world, the fans haven’t been in my corner. And now I’m worried that this will affect the vote.”
Mandla recognised this as a classic political move: shaping the narrative. Moodswing had lost favour with the fandom because he’d been acting like a tyrant all season. But, being in politics himself, Mandla allowed Moodswing to believe he was fooling him. Mandla also suspected that there was something else going on, something bigger.
“Unfortunately, I cannot allow that to happen. It is imperative that I remain in power.”
Mandla decided to test the politician in Moodswing and play devil’s advocate. “Why?”
“Because I’m the only one who knows how to run this ship. Glen may be the popular one, but I’m the one who’s taken this franchise from strength to strength, not him. And if they vote him in as Club President, I’m afraid it will be downhill from there.”
“Okay, so I ask again: what do you need from me? I’m not an image consultant.”
“I don’t need my image repaired. No, trying to win over the people would be futile because they’re not the ones with veto power over the committee. The shareholders are our silent partners. They are the ones I need to impress."
Mandla could feel it. This wasn't the whole truth. But he didn't call the Club President out because this was leading somewhere; somewhere that would end with him owing Mandla a favor. "And that’s where I come in?"
"Yes. I need your help in getting exposure for the series. And the best way I can think to do that is with Top Sports.”
Mandla smiled. This was what he wanted to hear. Mandla had a unique accolade in Formula-X as the only F-X racer to go to TopTV’s sports channel to talk about the series. And now, here was Moodswing asking him to do it again. “You want me to be your ambassador again.”
Moodswing nodded. “But there’s a problem. We weren’t invited this time. And when I called them about a spot on this week’s motorsports program, the producer said he’d think about it. They never got back to me. I think they consider Formula-X too niche for their lineup. I need you to go over there and convince them otherwise and get yourself featured on their channel tonight! That’s the only way I will win over the silent partners.”
Mandla thought about it. It was a tall task. But if his father had taught him anything, it was that whenever someone said something couldn’t be done, there was always a way to get it down as long as one kept themselves open to all ideas. A thought came to Mandla just then. “I have an idea of how to get on air tonight. But it will involve the former F-X Queen.”
“It’s simple. Sex sells.”
LATER THAT NIGHT
Mandla was now sitting outside the Top Sports’ producer’s office with Devì next to him. Mandla had opted not to tell her why she was really here, opting instead to make it seem like it was because of her status as the first-ever F-X Queen. It had not been hard to convince her. Due to the Top Sports program running at the same time as Monday Night Fuel meaning they would miss tonight’s Scramble Qualifiers, Moodswing had decided to do something quite unique and have the duo do their qualifying sessions hours earlier, have them taped, and then play those tapes in their slots in the Qualifiers. It was quite ingenious.
Devì had done her session first – which would be aired seventh as per her Q-Number – where she’d managed an impressive time of 54 seconds and 71 split seconds. That was better than Mandla’s own time last year by a single split second. Fortunately, Mandla had improved his game since then and when it was his turn, he clocked in 54 seconds flat, beating her time. And because his Q-Number was 9, his session would air two racers behind Devì meaning it would look like he beat her.
Of course, they’d have to wait until later on in the night to see if that meant he’d get pole position. When the producer finally took their meeting, he took one look at Devì and became smitten. Mandla knew right then that they’d be getting a slot on that motorsport show.
AN HOUR LATER
The producer explained that they’d be going for a unique experience for this episode and going for an almost real-time highlight reel feel with Mandla and Devì commenting on the show as it took place. But before that, they’d be interviewed about the terminology used on the show. As they waited for the show to begin, now hooked up to microphones, Devì opted to speak her mind.
“You do know that I know why you brought me here. And I mean, the real reason you brought me here.”
“Oh. And what reason would that be?” said Mandla, playing the politician and keeping things close to the vest.
Devì then showed a surprising knowledge of the game by simply smiling instead of answering. “Just know that two can play this game.”
This statement worried Mandla. What did she intend to do? “What’s that supposed to mean?” But once again, Devì simply smiled. It would not take long for Mandla to see what Devì meant when the interview started and most of the questions were posed to her. She was successfully using her sex appeal to usurp his spot as the ambassador of this exercise.
When it came to the watching and commenting on Fuel, Mandla decided to take back his position as the ambassador. Monday Night Fuel opened up with the press conference between Queen Stevie, Solo, and Thawn. The presenter asked them how they feel about Stevie defending her title in yet another three-way race. “Well, as you know, I once was involved in a three-way title race at Show-Down in Durban last season and I can say that no matter who wins, the Crown will become more prestigious for it.”
Unfortunately for Mandla, Devì had her own impression. “And in my experience, I feel that the Crown is better suited to one-on-one races as they come off more professional and legitimate.”
While Mandla was on the verge of being upset with Devì adding her two-cents, it dawned on him that what she was saying had put Moodswing down. A plan started formulating in his mind. If she was going to play to the audience, he would play to Moodswing and do his job to make the Club President look strong. “Well, as you can see, we all have our own ideas as to how that Crown should be defended.”
The show then went on to show recaps of previous weeks in the build-up to the Qualifiers which also included Plain Jane Deyi laying a kiss on Touch Mkhize on Touching Base. “Speaking of titles, here’s one woman who’s said that she’s disappointed by the lack of drama,” said the show host. “What do you say to that? I mean, do all of you yearn for drama on the Speedway like this?”
Mandla allowed Devì to plant her feet first. “Well, we can only say that we have become assimilated to the ways of sports opera. A little drama is expected now. I mean, I can’t say that I didn’t know what the outcome would be when I slapped Jim Kieck back in the fourth episode of the season.” They laughed.
“It’s all part of the show,” added Mandla, when the host turned to him. “When Moodswing created this series, he knew that the drama would be what kept people coming back. And now that desire for drama has seeped through to the new guys, such as Devì and the Duchess of Drag.”
“And unfortunately,” said the host as the live images moved to John Kloof talking about The Big Boot, “sometimes the drama comes whether you want it to or not. John Kloof, for example, had his vehicle destroyed by a fellow racer who would go on to be suspended while he would struggle to return to his prior form. Now we see that he’s gearing up to not only participate in the Scramble Race but win it all in the hopes of earning enough money to pay for his repair debts. I mean wow, what a story. That’s one that even Moodswing couldn’t have planned.”
“Yes well, that’s sports entertainment for you,” said Devì poorly.
Mandla did better. “You say Moodswing couldn’t have planned this but I don’t know. I think he knew what he was doing by letting a hot-head into the series. The same way he knew what he was doing by hiring the son of the Deputy Mayor or an ex-model,” he said gesturing to himself and Devì respectively. “All of us are storylines waiting to happen. All it takes is time. But rest assured, Moodswing is in firm control of everything behind that curtain.”
While the host swiftly moved on to the Qualifiers that were about to begin, Devì gave Mandla a dirty look having now figured out what he was doing. The Qualifiers themselves didn’t just live up to the previous two but exceeded all expectations. Penny Potgieter set the time to beat at 58 seconds, (putting a smile on Devì and Mandla’s faces) before Brenda Koek beat it as the third racer at 58 seconds. In came Touch, followed by Doris, Dime, and Plain Jane, all of whom couldn’t beat Brenda’s time. Devì’s recorded session played next where she was named provisional pole-sitter and was followed by the eighth qualifier, Jim Kieck, who failed to beat her. Mandla’s recorded session followed making his provisional pole.
All smiles were lost just two qualifiers later when Thawn took provisional pole with a time of 53 seconds and 90 split seconds. He would immediately be beat by the man that had taken pole the previous two years: Solo Magubane at 52 seconds and 37 split seconds. It wouldn’t be for another eight sessions before another racer gave Solo’s time a run for its money and it would be none other than Formula-X Queen, Darcy Stevens with the final Q-Number. Unfortunately, the Queen herself fell short of the record time by 13 split seconds meaning Solo had officially taken pole position for the third consecutive year!
AFTER THE SHOW
After the excitement of the Qualifiers, the show winded down with the host thanking them both for coming. The producer made a point of asking them to come back again soon. Mandla noted that he’d been looking at Devì when he’d said that and had not said any such thing the last time he’d been there. It was only on the way home that they could speak freely.
“So, what the hell was all that?” asked Devì. “Why were you shilling Moodswing so much?”
This time it was Mandla doing all the smiling. “People like yourself who only care about themselves and what others think of them couldn’t possibly understand.”
“Try me,” said Devì, insulted.
“We were sent there for a reason. Or, I should say, I was sent there for a reason. There’s a war going on, Devì and we’re all going to need to pick sides. I’ve chosen my side and what I was doing back there, was ensuring that my side wins.”
Devì didn’t understand but Mandla wasn’t sure anyone who didn’t have a political mind like could. After all, this wasn’t a physical war but a cerebral one. It was for the fate of the franchise and Mandla truly believed that Formula-X needed Moodswing in charge in order to grow and continue succeeding.