Chapter 1 : Drag Strip's Challenge

Drag Strip had raced against – and soundly beaten – humans in illegal rallies where people looked the other way when shots were fired. He had played games with humans in law enforcement vehicles, pretending injury to let them think they had a chance in hell of catching up to him, before accelerating away with a laugh. He had easily outdistanced Autobots, had once kept pace with an Aerialbot on the wing and was always the first Stunticon to leap into any situation, which was his way of racing his teammates (and winning).

He remembered every race he had ever run, the time it had taken him to do so and who he had defeated. The outcomes of all (well, nearly all) of those races were predictable and expected – he won.

The outcome of the worst race of his life, like the race itself, was not at all predictable. Drag Strip didn't see it coming.

It started when Wildrider and Breakdown returned from a raid. Soundwave had learned about an energon shipment en route to the Autobots, a gift from some groveling human settlement, and for some reason known only to Primus the two worst Stunticons had been sent to provide ground backup for the Seekers ordered to steal the energon. Drag Strip felt sure that Breakdown would return in a fit of shivering terrors and Wildrider would return in stasis lock due to extensive damage. That had happened before.

To his surprise, the raid actually succeeded. Breakdown came up with the halfway sensible plan of driving in a huge circle around the warehouse where the energon was stored, and using his engine's destructive vibrations to knock out traffic lights, train crossings and a moveable bridge. That distracted the Protectobots who had been sent to obtain the shipment. When there were human casualties all over the place, the five of them could save more people than a single too-big gestalt could.

Still, they would have combined when the Seekers hit the warehouse. Except Wildrider plowed through the upper floor of a building, spraying laser fire and chunks of concrete in all directions, and slammed head-on into Streetwise. That knocked out his forcefield, blew two of his tires and crumpled his hood, but took Defensor right off the table as an option.

Not that the Autobots didn't have plenty of other troops headed their way, but by then the Seekers had grabbed all the energon they could safely carry and were off. Wildrider couldn't fly in his condition, but he made it to Breakdown, who relayed him to Motormaster's waiting trailer.

Megatron was pleased – for once, his pet project had performed to the expected standard – and both Wildrider and Breakdown received extra energon rations when they were out of the medical bay. Drag Strip didn't mind that, but it was galling to hear Breakdown repeat the story to Dead End when he came into their common room. Wildrider lived in the present and didn't seem to remember anything he had done in the past, but Breakdown was embellishing the tale for all he was worth.

"Then Wildrider radioed to me that he was going to hit one of the 'bots, make sure they couldn't merge, but the copter was taking pot shots at him and the police car was on the other side of the…"

It doesn't matter. I'm Menasor's right arm – Wildrider's only a leg – and I'm faster too. Next time it'll be me kicking the Autobots' afterburners, wait and see.

"…revved up and hit two-fifty, so whatever Hot Spot sprayed at him just missed. Then he went straight for the building. I don't think any of the bots could've moved fast enough to stop him--"

"I could have," Drag Strip said.

That got everyone's attention, even Wildrider's, but it didn't last long. Dead End looked away and said, "Go on."

"I could have." Drag Strip sat up a little straighter and glared at Dead End.

"Sure, Dragster," Wildrider said in an indulgent, on-the-verge-of-over-energizing way. He was slouched against one arm of their battered couch, trying to balance an empty energon cube on one finger.

"Of course I could," Drag Strip said, trying and failing to keep the irritation out of his voice. He was the Formula One racer, streamlined and aerodynamic, built for speed and tight turns. More importantly, though, he had a drive to win. Wildrider might be fast and reckless, but he was far too easily distracted.

Dead End sighed. "Get back to the story, Breakdown."

Except Breakdown was looking at Drag Strip in a half-curious and half-evaluating way, his head tilted a little to one side. He's over-energized too, Drag Strip thought, but before he could say that, Breakdown shook his head.

"I'm not so sure you would," he said. "You're faster, sure, but Wildrider does crazy things no one would expect, not even us. That'd give him an edge over--"

"Why don't you two settle it later?" Dead End said. "Have a race or something." Abruptly his tone turned sarcastically cheery. "No, I have a better idea, let's settle it right now. First one to the hangar wins. Go on."

"Ha slagging ha," Drag Strip snapped. He would dearly have liked to hit Dead End, but that could backfire. If Dead End's forcefield was up, he wouldn't be hurt at all. If it wasn't, he might be annoyed enough to hit back, and then Breakdown or Wildrider would probably join in too. A three-on-one fight wasn't Drag Strip's kind of thing, not unless he was on the majority side. "A real race would be on an open road. And I'd win."

Wildrider laughed. "Well, if you want to race that bad, I guess I can make room in my schedule. Okay if I fit you in after Prowl?"

"Fine." None of them seemed to take it seriously, and that irritated him even more.

Dead End sat up in the languid way that always made Drag Strip feel he was watching something played in slow-motion. "So you're actually going to race against each other?" he said, looking from Drag Strip to Wildrider. "Well, that should be… interesting."

I'm so glad I managed to stop boring you, Drag Strip thought. "Where?" he said to Wildrider, pointedly ignoring his other two teammates.

"It would have to be an interstate highway," Breakdown said. "You'd attract too much attention in a city."

"I was talking to Wildrider." Drag Strip got up.

The grey Stunticon dropped the cube and brought his feet down hard against the floor, the motion flipping his upper body straight. "Okay, Dragster. I'm fine with a highway chase." There was a dark crazy gleam in his optics, but he was still grinning. "A week from now?"

"Sure," Drag Strip said curtly and stalked out.