28th of January– Season 3
When Leonardo Mustafa arrived at the Fuel Speedway, he'd made a point to wear a disguise. He'd heard the stories of what happened when Bru Constantin had arrived here a year ago and Tendai Mathemba a year before him. Leo was not interested in interacting with any F-X racers including fellow Auto 1 racer, Solo Magubane.
Leo was a member of Team Caltex and a former Auto 1 champion hailing from Egypt. He was one of Egypt's heroes when it came to motorsport but not as big a hero as Solo was here in South Africa. Leo was sure his cover had been blown when someone called out to him.
"Nice disguise." Leo turned to find a beautiful young woman smiling at him. Leo recognised her.
"Thando James." Her name was barely out of his mouth when she wrapped her arms around him and laid a mouthy kiss on him. "Whoa. Easy now, girl."
"Easy?" Thando's smiling face changed to one of embarrassment. "Oh, sorry. I assumed when you called me and told me that you're in town..."
...that we'd pick up where we left off, thought Leo, finishing her thought. "Sorry if I misled you. It's just, other than Solo, you're the only other South African I know."
"I see." The disappointment in her voice said everything: the fling was over. Of course, it had been over years ago which was the last time Leo had been in South Africa. Fortunately, Thando recomposed herself, accepting that things had changed. "So, care for a tour guide?"
"I'd love that. But first, tell me about you. When I called, you mentioned something about part-time racing?" Thando joyfully explained that she was indeed a part-time racer for Formula-X (essentially meaning she raced when they needed to fill the racecard and didn't have a contract) and went by the name 'Two-Bar' while racing. She then went on to explain that she also served on the Formula-X Club Committee. "Interesting, tell me more about that."
"There's nothing to tell. I'm not one of the main members. Actually, scratch that, there's plenty to tell. Apparently, we're in the middle of a civil war."
"What? Wow." Leo had been here all of five minutes and already, this series was far more exciting than anything that was going on in Auto One. What on earth was Mathemba talking about? Constantin had barely mentioned anything spectacular either. "Well, don't stop there. Tell me everything." And indeed, Thando told her everything.
She explained how Angela, Moodswing's wife, had called Moodswing out as a criminal, revealing a secret from his past which seemingly started the ball rolling. Thando noted that after this, Moodswing seemed hellbent on asserting his authority and proving that he was the man in charge. While there were good ramifications such as the Formula-X Cup race and the epic build-up, there were also negative ramifications like him pitting his own committee against each other.
"Yeah. Because of Moodswing, Ellie – the Events Organizer – and I butted heads at Show-Down. It was bad, Leo. It took us all a while to figure out what Moodswing was doing."
"And what's that?"
"He's trying to figure out who's loyal to him and he's trying to weed out the weakest links. Basically, he's a mad man. And at the moment, I have no idea whether I'll still have a spot on the Committee let alone be able to race in the series part-time for that matter. And I was hoping to earn a proper contract. It's a mess, Leo."
"Well, we can't have that." Leo made up his mind. "Come on."
"Where are we going?"
"We're going to get you some leverage so you can at least keep your job. That means we may have to do some eavesdropping. Are you up for that?" Her smile said it all. She was moved that he was willing to do this for her.
THE OPENING RACE
Leo and Thando had made their way into the production booth with Thando using her position on the committee to bluff their way in. This allowed them to listen in on conversations by the crew. One conversation got Leo's attention.
"Word is that Moodswing is eyeing this race quite closely." Thando let Leo know that it was Ellie speaking. "I guess he's finally making his move."
"Like I told you, Ellie. It's a game of human chess." Thando labelled this person as Zandile. However, that was the bulk of the conversation leaving the two of them with too little to decipher.
"Human chess. What does that mean?" asked Thando.
"I don't know. What I do know is that your boss will be watching the opening race. That means we should watch it as well."
Leo read the names on the ticket which also doubled as the racecard: DEVÌ vs. TOUCH MKHIZE. Thando had explained that this was a Number One Claimant race and the winner would go on to challenge the Queen (or King) at the next pay-per-view. This made Leo wonder So does that mean Moodswing has some kind of plan for the main event racers? Either way, Leo watched the race.
Leo found himself thrilled by the race from the word go. He didn't know whether it was because he'd deliberately put his expectations low or because this was just so different from his experience in Auto One but damn, watching two racers go at it mano-e-mano had something special about it. It was just so pure. Touch led the first few laps only for Devì to recover halfway through. it was a neck-and-neck affair.
Thando had explained the story between these two. Devì was the former Queen who wanted another crack at the woman who took her title while Touch was a man on the cusp of becoming a main attraction and capturing the Crown for the first time. The end of the race was thrilling with Touch looking like he would upset the former Queen only for 'The Asian Aphrodite' to pass him and take the victory. There was now a new Number One Claimant.
Having watched the race, Leo thought about what this result meant and how it could benefit Moodswing. He looked to Thando. "You mentioned that Moodswing's war is to maintain control. Who did you say his rival was; the Vice President?"
"Yeah. Glenwood Jacobs. We say that he's the glue that holds this place together."
"Okay. Take me to him."
THE SPEEDWAY DERBY
Leo and Thando were just outside the paddock when they came to a stop. They could hear Glen talking and he appeared to be around the corner and speaking on the phone. This was their lucky day. If this phone call was relevant, they may get information that they would otherwise not be privy to.
"Okay, so what does that mean? Does that mean, he's going to get away with it? No, you know what, I'm tired of that word. I'm tired of you telling me about loopholes. What loophole? He specifically said that it can only take place on Monday Night Fuel, never on pay-per-view. Next thing, he puts it on pay-per-view and he gets away with it? I know what the contract states. I want to know whether his words can be used against him?" Glen let out a frustrated grunt and ended the call.
Thando was about to explain but there was no need. Leo had done his homework before arriving so knew all about the Speedway Derby including that this was the third type of race to be called a Derby. He also understood that the race was so named because it was exclusive to the Fuel Speedway. But since the Scramble PPV took place at the Fuel Speedway, Moodswing was able to use a loophole to sanction the event on PPV. But judging from the phone call, Glen was hoping to catch Moodswing out for breaking his word.
"Who was he speaking to, I wonder?" asked Thando.
"I don't know. But I'm more concerned with how he wanted to use that information. Sounds like he's also trying to fight Moodswing. You may have an ally."
"I don't know. Whatever he was trying to do, it's clear that he failed." Thando was suddenly interrupted by a gunshot going off. It marked the start of the Speedway Derby. Leo was curious about this race and wondered if Moodswing would be keeping his eye on this race.
The race was thrilling. Leo couldn't believe how Mathemba or Constantin could frown on this. Brenda Koek and Jim Kieck were giving it their all. From the little he knew about this kind of Derby, it didn't matter who crossed the finish line first, only who closed the race with the highest accumulated speed. Ironically, it almost appeared like the two racers didn't know that as they were racing like it was a sprint. If it was a sprint, Jim was having a better go at it and managed to cross the finish line first. However, Brenda was the one who proved faster as her time clocked in higher than the playboy's thus affording her the illustrious 'speeding ticket' meaning that she could challenge for the Crown at her discretion.
Leo thought about Brenda's powerful position in the series and a thought occurred to him. "Hey Thando, I think I know what Ellie and Zandi were talking about with human chess." Leo explained his theory except Leo suggested that Moodswing and Glen were kings on the board rather than opponents playing the game."
Thando was now vibrating on Leo's frequency. "That would make Stevie, Glen's queen: the most powerful piece on the board."
"That's right. And Brenda is Moodswing's counterpart." Leo explained. "That speeding ticket means she can challenge the queen at any time, right? Well in the same way, a queen can move anywhere on the board. I wonder if maybe that's why Glen was on the phone? He wanted to take away Moodswing's most powerful piece." Leo thought quickly. "That means, what we have to do is gain control of that powerful piece."
"And how do you hope to do that?" asked Thando. "She is, after all, a human being, not a chess piece." But Leo was already smiling. "What?"
"We don't need to control her. We just need to get her to work against Moodswing. And I have an idea."
THE FORMULA-X TITLE RACE
Leo found himself amused thinking about the title race for the Formula-X Crown. This would be the second time that Solo Magubane would be in a race for the F-X Crown at this event. Leo wondered if Moodswing had done this on purpose. Was it really a coincidence that a racer from Auto One would be invited to this event on the same night that Solo was in a title race? Nonetheless, here he was, watching Solo and Thawn Oberhauser challenge Queen Stevie for her title in a 30 Lap Race.
Leo was happy to have been afforded the chance to watch the title race as Thando went to speak to Brenda. It made sense since Brenda knew her and was likely to listen to what she said as opposed to Leo. He hoped the plan worked but there was no point worrying about it until Thando came back so instead Leo opted to enjoy the race instead.
The race was thrilling and not just because of the so-called storylines going into the race which spoke of a Queen making her second three-way title defence and two challengers hungry to ascend the throne again after coming to a draw in a race a few weeks ago. It was also thrilling for the past two seasons, the title had changed hands at this pay-per-view so everyone wanted to know if Stevie would be the first to keep her title.
The race saw Thawn assume the role of the desperate man who absconded with the lead while Solo showed he meant business by fighting hard for the number two position. Meanwhile, Queen Stevie was at the rear, looking for a gap anywhere she could find it. These positions remained the same until the fourteenth lap when Solo made a move for first position. While Thawn defended, it was Stevie who slipped through the gap, finally taking first position. While Thawn and Solo battled each other for second position, Stevie took the opportunity to extend her lead.
However, Stevie made a seemingly costly mistake which forced her to slow down around the last bend in the twenty-first lap which allowed Solo and Thawn to catch up. As the final Third of the race continued, it was a complete showdown with Solo finally capturing the lead in the twenty-fifth lap. However this was not to be his day as Stevie took it back in the penultimate lap and held it through Lap 30 successfully becoming the first King (or Queen in her case) to retain the title at The Scramble.
"Good race, huh?" said Thando.
Leo looked at her and realized she'd been there a while. "How long have you been standing there?"
She shrugged. "I figured I'd let you enjoy the race."
"Thanks. I did. But back to business. Brenda, how did it go?"
"The seed is planted. Now she wants to know why she can't get a title shot on pay-per-view. If this works, she should go to Moodswing tomorrow night and bug him."
"I guess. I just want to know why we're playing against him here. Surely, if I want to keep my job and get a contract, I should be on his side?"
Leo shook his head. "Trust me, when it comes to politics, especially sports politics, you'll want to side with the popular one. The fans are the hard currency in this game." Leo knew that in actuality, the odds were quite even with Moodswing's power moves in getting the series onto Top Sports a few days ago putting him in a very good position. But that also proved that he didn't need Thando which was why she had no choice. She had to back Glen in this so-called war. But now, the time for political games was over. Now it was time for the feature race...
THE SCRAMBLE RACE
Leo had heard about the Scramble Race from both Mathemba and Constantin who both commended it as the hallmark of everything this series should be aspiring to be. But, being genuinely entertained by the previous races, Leo wondered if this race would be as thrilling for him. Leo watched as Solo took his place at pole position, with the F-X Queen herself next to him in second position and Thawn in third. Leo was interested in seeing these three top star's performance after just going through a gruelling title race. It was known that despite winning the pole position twice before, Solo had failed to win the Scramble Race. So when the lights went on, it was on!
In an interesting twist of fate, the MVPs of the race weren't the top three stars but rather the racers who started in positions 7 through 9: Brenda, Savana, and Penny. It was clear that Penny was the favorite as the fans were on their feet every time she took a new position and made her way up the pack. But Brenda and Savana were close behind. It was a 60 Lap Race and the first half was already epic. The racers were forced to make pitstops every twenty laps for a change of tyres and, rather old-fashionedly, fuel. Seeing who took advantage coming out of the pit stop was a thriller!
By the time the second mandatory pit stop came about, Penny and Savana were fighting for the lead. Every fan was on their feet to see who would have the quickest pit stop but, tragically, it would be all for moot. Absolutely no one had seen what was about to happen coming. It occurred when Penny and Savana came around the last bend when Penny lost control of her vehicle. To her credit, she realized that she was heading right for the pitlane, right for the fuel, and heroically steered the race car in the opposite direction.
Unfortunately, she couldn't regain control of the vehicle and slammed into the wall opposite the pitlane. While the vehicle had hit hard and was damaged beyond repair, there was hope that Penny was going to be okay. Then the situation took a turn for the worse when the vehicle caught on fire. Fortunately, crew members were with her in seconds and managed to pull her out with her fireproof race suit protecting her. However, Penny was screaming as she was dragged away and from what Leo could see, it was because her visor had cracked and there were actual flames protruding from her inside her helmet.
The crew managed to put those flames out but there was a hush over the crowd as they feared that the damage had been done. One could hear a pin drop as everyone waited. Leo was convinced that the event would end right there until the unthinkable happened. Having found some kind of heroic resolve, Penny had opted to walk on her own two feet towards the ambulance and even waved to the crowd (after asking where they were, seemingly blinded by the fire) and the crowd cheered. When some damned reporter stuck a microphone under her nose, Penny said only one thing "Finish the race."
The pop from the crowd had been deafening as the ambulance darted off and the racers retook the starting grid. From this point on, everyone was standing on eggshells, worried that another crash might occur but alas, it didn't. The race was a shocker as Savana won the whole thing with Brenda coming second and Thawn being the only one from the top stars making it onto the podium. Leo went home not knowing what to think. Either this was the greatest race he'd ever seen or the scariest. Either way, he was now a fan of Formula-X for life.