The Unexpected Rookie
Rated PG (K+) for violence
NOTE: All characters, locations, situations, and anything else associated with Cars belongs to Pixar, with the possible exceptions of Dirk Weathers, Vince DeLorean (kudos to anyone who guesses the movie his last name comes from), and Misty Firestone. All characters, locations, situations, and anything else associated with the Transformers belongs to Hasbro/Takara. This fic is set in the Generation 1 universe before the events of the 1986 movie.
I'm aware that Cars/Transformers crossovers have been done before (if in slightly different ways), but this idea grabbed ahold of me during my fourth or fifth viewing of Cars (one of the best Pixar films yet, in my opinion) and wouldn't let go, so I've decided to share it with the world at the expense of revealing the depths of my insanity. This is a totally non-serious, non-canon, completely-for-fun short fic written for the sole purpose of throwing two similar yet very different worlds together, mixing well, and seeing what comes out.
Also, it's been years since I've seen Transformers, so I am relying on Wikipedia, YouTube, various books and websites, and the writings and expertise of my friend and fellow fanfic writer Roseprincess1 to write this. I apologize in advance for inaccuracies.
It was impossible to guess how many cars were following tonight's race -- both the tens of thousands jamming the stands of the Motor Speedway of the South and the millions more listening and watching on televisions and radios all over the country, if not the world. The Dinoco 400 always commanded a huge audience, seeing as it was the final race of the Piston Cup, so the numbers shouldn't have come as a big surprise. But tonight even vehicles that normally didn't follow racing or were only very casual fans were tuning in or struggling to secure tickets to the event, and forged tickets were commanding insane prices on the sly and on the Internet. No one wanted to miss this year's Dinoco 400, for it promised to be an unforgettable one.
"I don't believe I've seen this many headlights in the stands in years, Darrel!" announced Bob Cutlass from the commentator's booth, letting his gaze sweep the audience.
"You'd better believe it," retorted Darrel Cartrip, practically shaking in his tires with excitement. "If this race gets any hotter, my radiator's gonna blow its cap!"
"This year's seeing an incredible lineup, including the return of a controversial champion, a second shot at glory by a familiar face, and not one but four hot rookies!" Bob continued. "You all remember Chick Hicks, last year's Piston Cup winner who was booed off the awards stage by irate racing fans -- though I notice the loss of his fan base hasn't seemed to slow him down on the track, Darrel."
"Chick's bound to keep his title by hook or by crook, Bob," Darrel replied. "But can he take on the Lightning again without getting hit? Lightning McQueen's back on the track after giving up the Piston Cup last year, and I don't think anything's going to stop him from getting that cup this year!"
"McQueen's a racing legend now, Darrel, for his actions at the Piston Cup tiebreaker last year. But I don't think racing's golden boy is hanging up his racing tires just yet. Can he finally score that Piston Cup this year, Darrel?"
"I dunno, Bob. He's going against his own rookies this year!"
"Absolutely right, Darrel. Out of the four rookies that have taken the track by storm this year, three of them are alumni of McQueen's own racing school based in Radiator Springs! There's Dirk Weathers, son of the legendary Strip Weathers, and it looks like he's got everything that made his father The King!"
"Can he fill his father's tires, Bob, that's the question everyone's asking!"
"There's Vince DeLorean, who got his start as an inner-city street racer but is now going legal and going strong! And there's Misty Firestone, the first woman racer in a Dinoco 400 since 1985! McQueen's trained them well -- the question is, has he taught them TOO well?"
"They don't got the Hudson Hornet as crew chief though, Bob!"
"True enough. But that doesn't seem to have hurt the fourth rookie at all!"
"Yeah, Bob, I don't think any rookie's ever caused this big a splash in the racing world, except maybe McQueen! I tell you, if this kid went any faster, he'd break the sound barrier!"
"That'd be Rod Witwicky, folks, the newest racing sensation! This kid seems to have come straight out of the blue to knock the hubcaps off the entire racing world. But does Witwicky have what it takes to win that cup?"
"We'll just have to wait and see, won't we, Bob?"
"And I know how hard that'll be on you, Darrel," laughed Bob, watching his fellow commentator vibrate with barely contained glee. "The Dinoco 400 begins momentarily, after a message from our sponsors."
In a private meeting room in the lower levels of the speedway, a motley collection of vehicles was gathering together for a pre-race discussion. This wasn't unusual -- often crew chiefs would herd their racers and pit crews into one of these rooms in order to give them sound advice where the competition couldn't overhear. What made this gathering different, however, was that these vehicles weren't here to discuss racing tactics.
"Everyone here?" asked the largest vehicle present, a red and blue Freightliner semi truck. "All right Jazz, shut the door."
The Porsche complied, then reclaimed his place in the crowd. The vehicles present included the aforementioned semi and Porsche, an ambulance, a police car, two Lamborghinis, a Jeep, a Nissan van, a Lancia, and a Firebird. Like the other vehicles present, each gleamed with a high polish to look their best for race day. Unlike other vehicles present at the Dinoco 400, their eyes and mouths weren't visible, though this oddity didn't seem to hamper their sight or speech at all. Any other car poking his hood in for a peek would have assumed he was in a room full of mutants.
"Prowl, do we have a report from the Aerialbots yet?" asked the semi.
"Affirmative, Prime" the police car replied. "Silverbolt has confirmed that at least three of the five jets involved in the flyover are known Decepticons. Megatron is definitely here."
"And have Mirage, Bluestreak, and Bumblebee reported from the audience?"
"No sign of Decepticons in the crowd," Prowl replied.
"That doesn't mean they aren't there, though," the Lancia said gravely. "They're not called Decepticons for nothing."
"Right, Wheeljack," Prowl agreed.
"Hot Rod, have you noticed anything trackside?" asked Prime.
"No, sir," the red Firebird replied. "Nothing to indicate any of the racers is on the Decepticons' side. Except maybe Chick Hicks, but that could just be because I don't like him."
"Does anyone like that stuck-up piece of slag?" muttered the ambulance.
"Ratchet," Prime chastised, a scowl in his voice.
"I still don't see why Hot Rod's the one that gets to race," muttered the yellow Lamborghini. "His alt mode isn't even a race car..."
"Because he's young enough to make a believable rookie, he's got a sharp eye for detail, and we can trust him to fulfill his primary duty on the track without losing his head during the race," Prime informed him. "May I remind you, Sunstreaker, that the last time we sent you on a reconnaissance mission here..."
"Yeah, yeah, I ended up in an impound yard," grumbled Sunstreaker. "Rub it in, won't you..."
"Hey, don't act like you're the only one who suffers," snapped the red Lamborghini. "I was locked up with you and I didn't even do anything..."
"Sunstreaker, Sideswipe, stow it," grumbled the van. "We dun need yer lip this mission, 'kay?"
"Well said, Ironhide," said Wheeljack.
"Remind me again what exactly the Decepticons hope to gain from infiltrating the Dinoco 400," the jeep requested.
"Intelligence is sketchy, but we believe the Decepticons hope to gain control of the Dinoco oil company," Prowl informed Hound. "It's possible to process oil into energon, I'm sure you're aware, and if they directly control the company that drills and refines the oil, they could guarantee an almost unlimited source of energon for their own uses. It's unclear just how this involves the race, but our guess is that they hope to enter their own racer to win the Piston Cup and secure the Dinoco sponsorship, which would be a step in acquiring the company for themselves."
Prime was silent a moment; were he in robot form, he would have worn a frown. "Something about this doesn't seem right," he noted. "I've never known Megatron to be this cunning." He considered a moment, then resumed speaking to his troops. "Everyone keep an eye out. Jazz, as crew chief, you have the best view of the track. Use it to your advantage. The rest of you have double duty as pit crew and as the Autobots' eyes and ears in the pits. Report anything suspicious the instant it comes to your attention. Hot Rod, you have the trickiest job -- looking for possible Decepticon activity on the track. Keep an eye out, keep Jazz informed, and above all be careful. The last thing we need is for you to wreck out there."
"Yes, sir," Hot Rod acknowledged.
Prime turned to Hound. "Activate the holograms."
Hound complied, and within moments every Autobot's windshield and front bumper was graced with a holographic image, giving them the appearance of having eyes and mouths like the natives.
"Autobots, roll out!"
Hot Rod's pit crew left the room, leaving only Prime and the racer behind. Prime turned slightly to address the smaller vehicle.
"One more thing, Hot Rod," he advised, a kindly note in his voice. "Enjoy the race. Yes, we have a mission to complete here, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't do your best out there."
Hot Rod's holographic face beamed in a smile. "I plan to. I'm hoping to finally beat Lightning McQueen this time."
Prime's own holographic features looked thoughtful. "You mentioned that McQueen has students of his own out on the track."
"Yes, sir. He has a racing school."
"So there are other racers affiliated with McQueen..."
"Prime, you're not suggesting..."
"Hot Rod, I know you respect McQueen. But we cannot eliminate the possibility that he could be working for the Decepticons. The fact that there are three other vehicles on the track that are at least somewhat loyal to him increases that possibility."
"You're saying he formed the racing school to put more Decepticon cars on the track?"
"It's only a theory, Hot Rod, and nothing more. The only reason I'm pointing it out to you is so you don't automatically exclude McQueen from your observations. We can't afford to overlook anything."
Hot Rod was obviously unhappy with this order. "He's a nice guy, Prime. I can't see him working for the Decepticons in any way. If I had to pick a Decepticon on the track..."
"It would be Chick, I know," Prime replied, familiar with this spiel. "But don't let your dislike for Chick keep you from doing your job. Likewise, don't let your friendship with Lightning keep you from doing your job as well."
Hot Rod sighed. "Yes, Prime."
Prime turned and opened his trailer. "Get in. You have a race to run."
The Firebird pulled inside the trailer, and Prime closed it up and carried the young vehicle outside.
"Nice job out there!" Lightning McQueen shouted as his students pulled back into the pits from their warm-up lap. "Dirk, doing much better on the passing. Misty, great work on your turns. Vince, great job, but hey, save some of those sweet moves for the race, why don't you?" He said that last with a laugh.
Dirk Weathers, a sleek Plymouth Sunbird just a shade darker than his father's Dinoco blue, grinned brightly before heading off toward his pit crew for the pre-race prep. Lightning smiled himself. He'd never thought that he would be playing mentor to the son of Strip "The King" Weathers, one of racing's legends. So of course he had been totally unprepared when, shortly after his racing school had opened, Weathers himself had shown up, practically dragging the younger car after him by his fender.
"I can't teach the boy a blasted thing," the King had complained. "Won't listen to his old man, thinks I'm an idiot. Maybe you and Doc Hudson can teach him a thing or two." And he had unceremoniously dumped his son at Lightning and Doc's wheels.
The King's request had completely floored Lightning, but fortunately Doc was more sensible and immediately threw himself into the younger Weathers' training. It had become quite clear that, while Dirk had all his father's speed and skill, he had an ego that Doc said more than once "reminds me of you when you first came here, McQueen." A little of Doc's dirt-racing treatment – and more than one spill in the cacti – had served to deflate that ego a little, but Dirk was still pretty cocky and prone to taking unnecessary risks on the track. Doc told Lightning not to worry, that sometimes it took a few years for rookies to completely lose their sense of superiority.
Misty Firestone went straight to her pit crew and waited patiently while they changed out her tires and topped off her tank. Lightning had to admire the royal purple Buick Regal's guts. Unlike most girls her age, she wasn't content to watch racing from the sidelines; she wanted to participate. She had shown up at Radiator Springs nine months ago with a set of racing tires in her back seat and a determined set to her bumper that brooked no argument.
Doc had protested that racing was a man's sport, and that she was liable to scratch her paint or scuff her hubcaps out there. She replied that she was going to race in the Piston Cup, she'd come so far already, and she wasn't about to give up now just because some know-it-all Hudson thought girls couldn't race! And quite to Doc's indignant surprise, every resident of Radiator Springs, especially Sally and Flo, had taken Misty's side against him.
Lightning admired her determination, for it had not only gotten her past the skeptical officials of a male-dominated sport, it had taken her clear to the Dinoco 400. She possessed a remarkable drive to see a goal through to completion, be it to secure a spot in Lightning's racing school, track down a rare piece of racing memorabilia… or score that coveted gold cup. But such drive had a negative side, for she was so obsessed with racing that things like a social life tended to get left on the sidelines. If it weren't for the curious bond all three rookies had formed with their mentor and each other, she would be totally friendless.
Vince DeLorean paid a brief, brusque visit to his own pit crew before slinking off to a corner, nursing a can of Fillmore's prickly-pear-flavored organic fuel. The dark silver Ferrari F430 had come to Radiator Springs in much the same way Lightning had – lost, speeding, and desperate to find the interstate and get back to "civilization." Rather than sentence him to community service, however, Doc had decided all Vince needed was a little guidance… and had handed him over to Lightning to "rehabilitate."
Unlike most of Lightning's students, who showed up with little more than a dream to race, Vince had several years of experience under his hood. Granted, most of that experience was illegal street racing, but that unorthodox knowledge gave him a great deal of advantage over other students. Having dealt with unpredictable traffic, unfamiliar streets, and police vehicles for years, his greatest strength was in negotiating the unexpected obstacles the track had to offer, such as major wrecks and aggressive opponents.
Vince had been a reluctant, even hostile student at first, wanting only to complete his "sentence" and leave. But thanks to Doc and Lightning's patience (and a few tractor-tipping excursions with Mater), he gradually began to warm to the idea of racing professionally. And when Lightning had taken his students through Doc Hudson's racing museum, Vince had become hooked on the prospect of winning a Piston Cup for himself.
Once the three rookies had parted ways, he headed over to his own pit crew. Doc Hudson was in place on his platform, studying the competition with a critical eye. Beneath the former champion gathered the residents of Radiator Springs, here to aid and support their hero – Sarge, Fillmore, Ramone, Flo, Luigi, Guido, Mack, and of course his girlfriend, Sally, and best friend, Mater. Only the Sheriff, Red, and Lizzie were absent, looking after the town for the rest of the residents.
"Fill 'er up, Fillmore," he told the VW van. "Luigi, did the racing officials ever approve my racing whitewalls?"
Luigi snorted. "Officials. They know nothing. Blackwall tires have no class. No pizzazz. I guarantee you that more cars would watch racing if the racecars wore whitewall tires…"
Guido rolled his eyes, then picked up a blackwall tire and began fitting it to Lightning's wheels.
"Oh well, maybe next year," Lightning said in an attempt to console the Fiat.
"Be safe, Stickers," Sally told him, kissing him softly on the fender.
"I will, don't worry," he replied easily, flashing a confident grin. "I have the best pit crew in the world to keep me going, don't I?"
Mater rolled up alongside Lightning and gave him a friendly bump, one that knocked him about a foot to the side. "Hey Lightning, whaddaya say when this is all done with, we go celebrate? Y'know, enjoy the night air, stretch our tires, tip a tractor or two…"
Mack gave a weary sigh. "Oh, come on! Don't you do anything else for fun besides tractor tipping? You tractor tip on birthdays, on Founding Father's day, on Saturday nights…"
"C'mon, it's FUUUUUN!" gushed Mater. "Betcha we could tip ol' Frank himself if you'd come with us an' honk your big ol' horn, Mack…"
"Mater, we don't even know I'm going to win this race," Lightning told him.
"So? We'll celebrate if Dirk or Misty or Vince wins. Heck, even if NONE of you wins, we can celebrate anyway! Hey, why dun you invite that Roddy feller over an' he can join us? Betcha that boy's never been tractor tippin'…"
"Speaking of him, here he comes," Sally observed, watching the great red-and-blue truck that always carried Rod Witwicky onto the racetrack roll into view. The crowd erupted into applause as the truck positioned itself and opened, revealing the red and yellow Pontiac Firebird that had arrived on the racing scene seemingly out of nowhere to become one of this year's hottest rookies.
Lightning found himself transfixed by the scene – Rod standing at the top of the loading ramp looking down at the gathered reporters and cameramen, camera flashes bursting in his face, the crowd roaring from the stands and chanting for the "Hot Rod" to make his appearance. That had been him last year… that had been Lightning McQueen, the incredible rookie, the fan favorite, the car who had commanded huge audiences and fanbases wherever he had gone…
Doc's chuckle broke him out of his reverie. "No matter how good you are, kid, they always move on to the next rookie in line sooner or later."
"I'm not jealous," Lightning protested.
"Sure," Doc said with an ironic shrug of his front fenders. "What is there to envy, anyhow?"
Most rookies would have stood in the limelight for as long as possible, grinning and posing for the cameras and hamming it up for reporters and fans. But Rod simply greeted the paparazzi politely and maneuvered past them to get to his own pit crew, a hodgepodge of vehicles with a white Porsche serving as crew chief. Even Tex, the owner of Dinoco, got little more than a friendly "Hi" when he approached the young rookie. It often seemed to Lightning that Rod had no use for popularity, something that had confused Lightning's rookies but earned the young car points in Doc's book.
Lightning actually liked the kid, despite the fact that many considered him to be his biggest rival for the Piston Cup. They had raced together every race of the season, of course, but their first actual face-to-face meeting had been at the Lightyear 300, when Rod had come in second to Lightning. He hadn't seemed upset at all at the placing – on the contrary, he had heartily congratulated him and introduced him to a few members of his pit crew. Since then they'd had friendly chats at just about every race, though so far Rod had politely turned down Lightning's offers for a visit to Radiator Springs.
"Hey Rod!" Lightning called out.
The Firebird turned at the sound of his name. Upon spotting Lightning he smiled and rolled toward him. "Hi, Lightning."
"Dinoco 400 all you thought it would be?" Lightning asked.
"Well, I wasn't sure what to expect, so I guess I would've been surprised no matter what," laughed Rod. His gaze moved to the stands, where many cars were still chanting "Hot Rod! Hot Rod! Hot Rod!" "Though I sure wasn't expecting the big welcome."
"You're the rookie of the year, kid," Lightning told him. "Of course they love you." He noted the car's shifting tires and tight lips, something he'd often seen in his own students before a big race. "Nervous?"
"Yeah, I am."
"Well, don't be. You'll do just fine out there."
At that moment two convertibles pushed through the crowd to stand before Rod, eager expressions on their hoods. Bright red with yellow flames to mimic Rod, they practically trembled with excitement as they addressed him.
"Hi, I'm Mia!" one exclaimed.
"And I'm Tia! We're twins!"
"I noticed," Rod said a little hesitantly. "What's with the paint job?"
"We're your biggest fans!" Mia replied. "Look, I have your number on my rear fender!" She twisted to reveal a bright yellow 42 over her right rear tire.
"So do I!" Tia gushed, and turned to prove her point.
"Um… wow, nice," Rod replied half-heartedly.
"Hey girls, don't you think you'd better get up in the stands?" asked Lightning, coming to the younger car's rescue. "The race'll be starting soon."
"Lightning!" squealed Mia. "Oh, will you sign my bumper?"
Despite his earlier insistence that he wasn't jealous of the attention Rod received, he couldn't help but feel a thrill of pride that, for all their devotion to the rookie, the girls still held him in esteem as well. Briefly he wondered if he could get away with autographing the young convertible… if Sally was looking the other way…
"Well, if it ain't the rookies," came a gruff sneer.
The twins offered Chick Hicks a disgusted look and veered off as the green car shoved past a hapless forklift to encroach on the conversation. Chick had lost many of his sponsors over the past season and so sported far fewer sponsor stickers, but his ego seemed pretty much intact. He had managed to shove and bump his way back to the top of another season, much to the dismay of every other racecar and most of the fans. Lightning had so hoped that his actions at last year's Dinoco tie-breaker would get him barred from the Piston Cup this year, but there hadn't been any way to prove the King's crash was anything but an unfortunate accident.
Rod narrowed his eyes, and his engine lowered to a threatening growl. That startled Lightning. Chick was the racer everyone loved to hate, but Rod's anger toward the green racer seemed deeper…
"So what should we start calling the two of you now?" laughed Chick. "The Lightning Rod?" He howled at his own lame joke. "Hey McQueen, since your little stunt last year was so popular, maybe you can push one of these amateurs here the entire race, huh? Get some sympathy publicity for your racing school. Just make sure to keep 'em out of my way when I blow past you, all right?"
"Whatever, Thunder," Lightning retorted.
"Oh come on, McQueen, that gag is so last year…" Chick sneered.
"Hey Hicks, what's up with your pit crew?" asked Rod in a completely casual voice.
"Huh?" Chick whirled – and gave an outraged scream.
Lightning craned to look around the green car and see what was going on for himself. He saw the pit crew, all right. Unlike Lightning and Rod, most other racers opted for pit crews composed entirely of electrically powered forklifts. The forklifts that made up Chick's crew were currently on the turf that covered part of the infield – in fact, it didn't look like they'd be leaving that turf anytime soon. Someone had felt compelled to plant them there by jamming their forks into the ground like so many lawn ornaments.
"Some new kind of pit crew yoga, Chick?" asked Lightning, then he clamped his teeth together to choke down a laugh.
Chick shot him a dirty look, then tore off.
Once he was out of earshot, he and Rod let their pent-up laughter spill out. By the time he got himself back under control, Lightning's undercarriage hurt, but he felt a lot better.
"I wonder who did that," he mused. He hoped it wasn't Vince. The last thing the Ferrari needed was a bad reputation, especially with his street-racing background…
"I'm pretty sure I know who did it." Rod cast a meaningful glance at his own pit crew. Underneath the crew chief's platform were two Lamborghinis, one red and one yellow, who were practically rolling on the asphalt laughing as they watched the racing officials attempt to rescue Chick's pit crew. A police car was giving the two of them a rather disgusted look, but the crew chief looked positively tickled.
"Sunny and Siders," Rod explained. "They're the biggest pranksters in the Auto… in the pit crew. They mean well, but they can be a handful."
A truck's horn blared, and the Lamborghinis immediately shut up and got back to work under the Freightliner's baleful glare.
"At least your driver keeps them in line," said Lightning.
Rod smiled. "Prime does his best. He's been my mentor for a long time now. I respect him."
Lightning gave him a quizzical look. "A semi truck is your racing mentor?"
"Not my racing mentor, no. But I've looked up to him for years. I think you'd like him; maybe I should introduce you to him after the race."
"I'd like that."
Rod sighed. "Well, better go get prepped. Good luck."
"Same to you." Feeling a little obligated to give the younger vehicle some advice, he added: "And remember – there's a lot more to racing than winning. When it's all said and done… it's just an empty cup."
"Okay," Rod replied. He considered a moment, then blurted, "Oh, and McQueen? Be careful out there, okay?"
And with that, he turned back to his pit crew. A jeep began fueling him while a Lancia and a van took care of his tires, using some kind of hardware mounted onto their bumpers to do the job.
"What do you think of the kid?"
"What?" Lightning jumped and turned to see Doc looking meaningfully at him. "Doc, don't scare me like that."
Doc lifted his eyebrows expectantly. "Well?"
"He's a good kid. Hasn't let all this go to his head…"
"He's jumpy," Doc noted. "Not the pre-race jitters, either. He knows something we don't."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Doc nodded at Rod's crew chief. "Jazz came up to me before the race trying to get friendly. He specifically warned me to be careful."
That made Lightning think. "Rod told me the same thing. But still, they're probably just being courteous…"
"Sarge says their jeep fellow, Hound, told him the same thing. Same with Prime to Mack, and those Lamborghinis to Luigi and Guido, and that Lancia to Ramone, and… well, you get the drift. You get what I'm driving at, kid? They know something we don't."
"Like what?" demanded Lightning.
"I dunno, kid, but I don't like it. Keep an eye on that boy during the race. Make sure he doesn't try anything fishy."
Lightning couldn't see Rod doing anything remotely questionable on or off the track – except enjoying a laugh at the antics of his pit crew, of course. But then, he didn't know the young car well, he supposed. Rod was pretty tight-lipped regarding his past, never naming a hometown or a family of any sort. His racing records stated that he hailed from Oregon, but that was all anyone seemed to know. But simply because he didn't like to talk about his origins didn't mean he had terrible secrets to hide. Maybe he was just shy in that respect, or he didn't consider that information important. At any rate, it made little difference to Lightning.
"Rod's a good kid," he replied. "He's not going to try anything."
Doc gave him a hard stare. "Just stay alert. Better safe than sorry." And he headed back for his platform.
"Geez, he's starting to sound like Fillmore," Lightning muttered. "Why does everything have to be a big conspiracy anyway?"
"We just don't want to see you hurt," Sally replied, pulling up beside him. "Racing's dangerous enough as it is. If something really is going on… we want you to come out of it in one piece."
He gave her a confident smile. "I'll be fine, Sally. You'll see. Nothing's going to happen to me out there… except maybe me coming home with a nice centerpiece."
She smiled. "Good luck out there, Stickers."