Chapter 1: - License to thrill

""You still want to ride tonight?"" The husky voice called over the other end of the line. "You know, the stakes on this one are at the max after all."

"I'm cool to race, I issued the challenge. Finish line is Bard road in Lakewood. You get pick of the starting point and the route," the young challenger replied swiftly.

"Turnberry County Club. Meet me there; I'll have further directions then." With a loud click the line disconnected and calmly he slipped the receiver on the hook at his end.

"Cooper, you don't even have a ride!" His portly mechanic protested anxiously. "How can you challenge Ramirez for his?"

"I don't have a ride, but there is one I can use," Cooper announced with what could amount to a verbal shrug. "Come out to the garage with me, Falcon."

And saying nothing else, Cooper turned tail and headed for the door that led from his kitchen out into the garden.

As he stepped over the threshold, Cooper felt the light breeze ruffle his short, but well spiked hair. To the eye, Cooper was not that impressive a figure; he only stood at a height of five feet eight inches his eyes were a bland, yet common, brown colour and his build was average. To any onlooker he'd be the type of person who could have been some random extra in a TV movie. Even his black leather jacket and jeans clobber failed to make him stand out.

Falcon was different; he was short – a good six inches below Cooper – and sported a portly frame. The glasses on his face seemed to amplify his geeky and concerned nature. Unlike his friend, Falcon was dressed smartly in a checked shirt and well ironed trousers. The pair could not have looked any more incongruous if they tried.

With the ten yard walk to the garage completed, Falcon looked on as the doors were pulled open. Ahead of him, Cooper flicked the switch that operated the garage lights. For a second he had to cover his eyes as the lenses of his glasses bounced the rays repeatedly about his face. When he felt the pupils had adjusted he lowered his hands, only to be greeted by the sight of a silver executive car.

The front of the vehicle had a low sweeping nose that was, bizarrely, punctuated by two flaring nostrils in the middle to suck air into the engine. The headlights were styled in a narrow but wide fashion to avoid concentrated beams being emitted. It had a very small grille at the front though directly below it and, instead of a solid bumper, there was an air intake outlet.

"Are you fucking crazy!?" Falcon exclaimed as he realised what he was looking at. "You can't stake your Dad's car on a race!"

"You have strong eyes for a good ride Falcon," Cooper cut in. "Come on, reel the specs off for me."

"Cooper, specs don't mean shit if it isn't your car! It doesn't matter if Ramirez is packing a Pagani Zonda; you can't stake something that isn't yours for it!"

"Falcon, this isn't a Pontiac GTO," Cooper said as he gestured towards the vehicle, "this is an import from Europe; the Vauxhall VXR Monaro. 500 brake horse power, 500 pounds feet of torque. It has an engine from a Corvette under the hood, turbo-charged thanks to a super charger from some British specialists."

"Cooper, it's like I said, this isn't your car! Pull out man, you'll lose face but who cares about that? You can't risk it man, it's not worth it!" Falcon protested furiously, pleading with his friend to see the madness in what he was doing.

"'Course it is Falcon. Trust me on this one; of all the one hundred races I've thrown down before I totalled that old Celica. This," he gestured at the car once again, "is more vital than anything. It's not just beating Ramirez; it's that ride, I need something adaptive. You're my number one mechanic; you'll see why next week, but right now we have to do this!"

Cooper hit the button on the key to unlock the car and, five seconds later, the suburb shuddered to the sound of the engine flaring into life. Falcon watched as the monster was released from its hole before Falcon locked the garage and leapt into the passenger seat.

**

The club looked beautiful as the night had fallen. The cruise up Fairway drive had taken them past a stunning lake, and then into a green grassland paradise. The club itself was situated at the very end of the road, with a small D-shaped service lane that served as a parking spot for the users of the club, and a way to get back for anyone who didn't realise they were going towards it.

Cooper drank in the vista as the engine snarled furiously when his foot kissed the pedal. He had seen the car online in the hands of a Japanese drifting legend; hell, the guy had kept it sideways for at least fifteen seconds. If any car had a chance tonight, it was the one he was behind the wheel of.

Ahead of him, Cooper saw Ramirez standing by his own car, the neon under-lights glowing mockingly at his stock machine. Ramirez had done a good job on the lights and everything, but Cooper hated the paint-job. The first thing he planned to do when he got back to the repair shop would be to attack the bodywork with some real art.

Coolly he parked the vehicle softly at the kerb, and together the pair got out onto the smooth tarmac. Cooper saw Ramirez click his fingers and, two hundred yards down the road, three cars sped off into the distance.

"I saw Michelle heading for the junction I told you about on the phone earlier," Cooper began, un-fazed by the sudden departure of cars. "Good choice; she'll ensure the right car collects the chequered flag."

"What she'll do is wave that flag at me, homes." Ramirez bit back venomously. "You turn up here in your Padre's company car? You think I'm a joke or something?"

"How many horses under your hood?" Cooper countered.

"400, and it's got a lower body, homes. Hope your Daddy doesn't miss his car in the morning, hombre, 'cuz after tonight, it will be mine." Ramirez sniped in response.

Cooper smirked, knowing the confidence behind those words were about to slap the other man back in the face. "Only 400? That's too bad; I've got 500, so we'll just have to see about that won't we? But enough bickering, we're here to race. We have a start and a finish, so what's the route?"

"Down fairway drive, then it's a big drift down Turnberry trail. Only way this won't get boring," Ramirez replied, apparently uninterested in the horsepower advantage that Cooper held.

"Those three cars on cop duty?" Falcon interjected swiftly.

"They's gonna be watching for the feds, homes. I want the car, not a night in jail. First to the bottom takes it all; hope you don't choke on my dust and try not to disturb my siesta when you finally make your way there."

As Ramirez stalked back to his car, Cooper's eyes drank in the machine. His opponent had made it clear that this was a drift battle, and he had chosen one of the best poisons for it; a Nissan 240SX. The 400 brake sounded shallow to him, the videos and DVD's he'd watched of the legends drifting had at least 500. It meant that Ramirez might not be so fast out of the slide.

But Cooper knew he'd be dynamite in it; the rear-wheel drive agility of the car was legendary. The Nissan was lower to the ground than the Monaro and that meant more downforce. Not only that, but the nose was superbly angled, the gradient to the windscreen being lower than his car's. The pop-up head-lamps did, however, mean that some extra drag would be created there. The race sounded too close to call, and Cooper loved it!

"Falcon, you ride with me on this one," he called to his shocked friend. "I need you to drive this back when I take my new ride for a test drive!"

The pair buckled in and Cooper nursed the car around the feature in the middle of the D-shaped road. Once the vehicles noses were level, both drivers began to gun their engines, the tires squealing at the road and sticking down rubber, for greater traction off the line. Between the two cars stood a young woman, dressed in a provocative and sexy manner. At another time, Cooper would have given her a long look, but at this moment he was focused solely on her hands.

Suddenly they swooped down and Cooper released the brake, slamming the car into first gear. Instantly his nose swooped into the air and snorted, allowing Ramirez to fly one car length ahead. Carefully he fed in the power and the car levelled out. For less than a hundred yards the road went on before it hit a ninety-degree bend.

Cooper watched his opponent turn into the slide, his keen ears spotted the missed shift and the vehicle's tail went further than the driver had anticipated. Seeing an opening, Cooper turned early before the bend and let the natural high torque kick the tail wide, dragging the vehicle sideways into the bend.

At his side Falcon clung tightly to the handrail above the door, his knuckles already white. Halfway through the turn, Cooper shifted down and then turned the wheel in the opposite direction. The vehicle's turn instantly corrected and the shift created a natural slingshot that threw the car forwards.

With five hundred yards of straight road ahead, the extra horsepower pushed the Monaro into the lead. Though behind him, Ramirez had cleverly got into the slipstream, giving him quicker speed due to the reduced drag. Cooper weaved into the opposite lane and as Ramirez followed him, he switched back, eliminating the slipstream and giving him an extra couple of yards lead.

Ahead was a sharp turn to the left, the bend curling back on itself at an angle of one hundred and ten degrees. Stomping on the power, Cooper alarmed his passenger by turning sharply to the right, as if he was about to mount the kerb, before he executed a swift turn to the left. The back end of the car swung violently around as the power was delivered to the wheels. Behind them, Ramirez fell even further back, as the unexpected move proved at least half a second quicker through the turn.

A trucks horn blasted into the ears of Cooper and at his side Falcon screamed as he felt the impending mortality come to him. The driver was focused so intently that he completely ignored the horn, the slide dragged him into a straight light with the left side of the road and he gunned the engine one last time, propelling the car past the side of the truck.

"Scandinavian flick! You've gotta love the mad moves those rally drivers came up with!" Cooper shouted in exhilaration as the car pounded on. In his mirrors he saw Ramirez slide through the bend and underneath the truck, before emerging out the other side.

With the lead more than three car lengths, Cooper looked into the wrong lane to see the traffic. As nothing was coming towards him, he executed a drift to the right and held it in a long slide, through the fifty yard straight road between the first and second corners, joining them into one smooth turn.

Ramirez had expected this and done the same, only his 240SX was more controlled and caught up valuable yards in the process. Ahead of them the road turned slightly to the left and Cooper simply flicked the wheel again, his rear wheel drive import doing all the hard work for him.

Suddenly he heard a whooshing sound from behind. As he gazed into his mirrors the 240SX was suddenly closing at rapid speed, the exhausts emitting a blue flame from within.

"Shit! He's used NOS!" Falcon shouted.

Cooper responded by flooring the right pedal, the nitrous power eradicated his lead, but he was still ahead by a nose. Distracted by the action behind and to the side of him, he failed to see the hanging traffic light turn red. Holding his nerve he kept his foot in the gas pedal as the duelling drivers flashed through the intersection of Bonnie ridge road. An elderly driver proved more alert than her years by slamming on the brakes and being hit in the rear by a younger driver close behind her.

That was the last of the intersection Ramirez and Cooper saw; ignoring the chaos behind them the drivers flew on towards a hard right. Cooper noticed Ramirez edging closer to him. Coolly he watched the driver and as the opponent began to shift, Cooper slammed on the brakes.

Ramirez's car flailed wide, almost to an angle of ninety-degrees. Desperately the driver sought to recover control and Cooper cut underneath the helpless driver with a slight slide due to the lack of speed. Slamming hard on the accelerator he thrashed towards the light left bend ahead of him. Rather than drift through it, Cooper kept the car planted straight and took a more conventional racing line, cutting across the wrong side of the road twice in the process.

As he looked into the rear-view mirror, he could not see Ramirez behind him. Sensing victory close at hand, he darted across an empty intersection and drifted through a long right turning bend. Ahead, the dark-haired Michelle watched him drift onto Bard road and park, before waving the flag to signal the victor.

"Oh yeah!" Cooper screamed in delight as he climbed out of the car and onto the road. Falcon jumped out of the other side and the pair gave each other a high five, clamping their palms together as a firm shake in the process.

Suddenly the 240SX gave a snarling engine roar around the corner and parked alongside the Monaro. Angrily Ramirez threw the seatbelts off his shoulders and stormed from the vehicle. Cooper watched as the guy pulled the pink slip from his pocket and threw it onto the bonnet of the Monaro, along with the keys.

"Fuck you, Cooper!" Ramirez roared in rage. "Va a la mierda, homes! You only won because you forced me wide!"

"It's not my fault you wanted to drift into my rear end and spin me out. It is my fault that I saw it coming though. You knew the rules; winner takes all."

"Yeah well fuck you homes! I see you again, you going in the ground motherfucker!" With that Ramirez stalked along the highway; Cooper assumed that he had thought ahead to get a ride back. It was something that didn't bother him; he'd won the car, and that was the only thing that mattered.

"Hey Falcon, catch!" He tossed the Monaro's keys to his friend who was barely able to catch them with both hands cupped to keep them from clattering to the ground. "Do me a favour and take this back to my Dad's garage. I'll be along later to help clean it up, but first I need to give this a run."

Falcon nodded. "Sure thing man; I'll get the wrench out early and start fixing this baby up. I just hope you haven't ruined the differential on this thing!"

"Haha! Not my style man, you know me. See you soon." Cooper jumped into the 240SX and drove forwards slightly, before signalling at Michelle.

Falcon watched as she got inside and he drove off at speed. He admired Cooper's style; it was obvious it would be more than a test drive. But he'd find all that out later. Calmly he got behind the wheel of the Monaro and drove off towards the centre of Crystal Lake. He felt a thrill that only came from the exhilaration from being inside of a speeding car as he took to the streets, headed in the opposite direction that his friend had taken.

Cooper was right, he thought as the engine snarled at him, this car is a monster. Swiftly he drove off Bard road and back to town.

**

Falcon finished applying the wheel nut for the third of the tyres when he heard the gunning engine along the road. Thirty seconds later and his friend rocked the 240SX onto the drive and killed the lights. Wiping the sweat from his brow, Falcon looked at the clock to see it was just past midnight.

"The car's almost done, Ryan," he began as his friend walked into the garage. "That drifting shot the tyres to pieces, almost no tread on them. Lucky no cops saw me on the way back."

Cooper walked to the right side of the car and nodded. "My old Celica tyres; they fit ok?"

"Yeah, the standard ones wouldn't, but fortunately you had the road legals for getting to races and they're just big enough for the callipers on the brakes."

"You're a really good friend; I don't know anyone who'd be under the hood for me at this time of the night. My Dad's back in two weeks from Florida, plenty of time to touch it up."

"Fair point Ryan, but if we get this done now, then I can spend more time for the 240SX," Falcon replied with a wide smile. "How is it?"

"It's a good machine, but I really have to get that horrendous white paint with blue and red striped decals off it. The thing must be embarrassed to be on the street looking like that!"

"It's good that it has promise, but Ryan, level with me. Why did we have to go all the trouble to get it?"

After the question was asked, he saw his friend go quietly to the laptop in the garage. A flush of anger filled him at first; they'd put their necks on the line after being promised to know why, and now he felt like Cooper was shutting him out.

But then, to his surprise, Cooper loaded up a ton of sites and searched for his name. Instantly there was fan footage, blogs and even huge detailed reviews comparing him to racing legends. Falcon was staggered; Cooper only raced on the streets of Chicago. He was never at a place for all this, but it was all there before his eyes, no matter how impossible it all seemed, people were genuinely into Cooper's stuff.

"It's because of this," Cooper answered softly. "Street racing is big Falcon; everyone loves the spoilers, the NOS shoots, the screeching rubber. All the organised motorsports like formula 1 and world rally have become stale; they keep on tightening the rules to make the speeds lower. Fans come to us because it's raw and unchecked."

"So you need a machine to keep up? Is that it?"

"Sort of, but not quite right," Cooper said as he shook his head. "Downside to street racing, as well all know, is that it's illegal. People aren't interested in risking a six month jail term and their license terminated for $200, so pink races are all people have left on the streets. I have a record, a major record. Cops know I've had over one hundred races, the videos show who I am, they know who to look for. I thought about retiring after the accident with the Celica, but then I got this."

Falcon watched as his friend logged into an e-mail account and opened one that sent off warning bells in his head about phishing and spam. Yet, to his amazement, it opened into a really formal looking e-mail. Carefully he scanned his eyes over it and read six words that startled and delighted him.

"Formal invite to Battle Machine qualifier!? Battle Machine is a form of event held in the Pro Street league!"

Cooper smiled. "Exactly; it's time to call it a day on the streets. I'm going legal. Drivers in there can net $2000 a race, over a weekend it's possible to net $10,000, not including sponsorship, prizes for winning so many races and a fully secure area that is legal to race in. It's heaven Falcon. To get in you need a car that can drift, drag or grip. Have one that can do two and you're there. This is my chance to make something of myself; it's a chance to have a clean slate. And it's a chance for you to earn credibility as a mechanic."

"What?" Falcon asked in astonishment. "You want to go into a pro league but not use a pro mechanic?"

"You are a pro Falcon, just not employed by them! We can use the repair shop where the Celica was modded. The event happens at Chicago airfield in six days. I want a proper car for when I'm there!" Together the pair worked long into the midnight hours and slowly finished off the Monaro's restoration.

**

The sun beat down hard against the numerous tarmac runways of the airfield, it had taken them four days to fully convert the area to the raceway that would pave the path to a dream for an upcoming racer. A huge open area that normally served as a way to taxi aircraft to the runway had been hastily converted into a colossal open area for all the competitors to display their machines.

While at the back of this area, an open air stage had been formed. A huge DJ deck was in place for the midnight rave in celebration of the cars, while a gigantic PA would power sound not only of the break-beats, but also the words of the MC. It felt like the league had not been away, despite it being over six months since Chicago saw some action.

"Hey all you racing fans!" The MC called as he picked up his wireless microphone and walked onto the stage. "Welcome to the first race of the Pro Street league season. As you all know this is the warm up for Battle Machine in Nevada that happens in three weeks time!" The figure ranted suddenly. His sporty green t-shirt and trouser combo looking more in place at a friday night drinking session on some street corner. "Now as you all know this one day event is the ticket to Battle Machine for one lucky qualifier..."

**

In the narrow pit garage space in front of the stage, Copper struggled to concentrate as he worked on his machine one last time. The 240SX was now stripped of its appalling mess of a paint job, Cooper had gone over it with a cream coloured base layer, and then fitted a black two tone that created a mohawk like black stripe down the centre of the car. On the side he'd slapped a few different decals of manufacturers who provided bits under the hood. While the headlights had an unusual style, one being a red bulb and one green.

With the races never going down at night, Cooper liked the look, it had reminded him of disco when first applied. Shaking his mind from the art, he twisted the tyre wrench once again. The bolt securing the wheel to the rear axel. In the two weeks since he'd owned it, Falcon had done a magnificent job.

Ramirez, despite being the proud owner of this car, had never truly kitted it out for racing. The stock interior, from the seats to the rollcage, had been retained. Sure it had cut costs, but it added a hell of a lot of weight, Cooper had wondered how the race would have ended up had Ramirez been more serious. In his head he saw an image of himself being sent to military school as punishment, and that was far from cool.

The announcer continued to rave on about the legendary teams and racers, it bored Cooper, but he shrugged it off. He was not a street racer now and he had to learn to put up with the new atmosphere he found himself part of. Standing up from the car, he took in the other drivers, all of which shared his dream of qualifying for the season ahead.

To his right was a guy from San Francisco that drove a Mitsubishi Eclipse. While Cooper knew that could be tuned into something special, the kid had not had the cash and it looked almost stock. In the next pit was a Volkswagen Golf that belonged to someone who looked European. The driver had a colossal jaw and Cooper pictured someone breaking their wrist as they tried to punch it.

As he had expected, the driver was of plain taste. His car had been painted matte black and bore no decals, Cooper half expected him to belong to some black ops unit in the FBI. Except for the two NOS tanks that occupied the space where rear seats once lived, the car was still the functional family town car.

"Interesting opposition." Cooper announced to Falcon, who was invisible save for the two feet that hung from underneath the bumper of his car. "Though I'm not sure if any of these guys have got the same 400 brake under their hood." Cooper listened as three more turns of the wrench sounded, before Falcon slowly wheeled himself from below the machine.

"Maybe not, but I doubt they have such a rubbish ECU either." Falcon spat as he pulled himself to his feet. "No wonder the guy only got 400 horses, Ramirez is an idiot, for a car like this, you need a Jackson ECU. They might cost forty grand, but by god do they work!"

Cooper shook his head. "In case you hadn't noticed, Ramirez wasn't in the Pro League or descended from a corporate banker. He might have been an idiot, but he did the best he could under the hood, it should be enough. You got the diff ready?"

Falcon nodded. "Big pity that there's no drift races on the calendar, kinda surprised really. I'd have thought they'd want to test all potential league drivers in each event."

Cooper shrugged. "Yeah it's annoying as we know how good a drift car this is. Having said that it has a really low profile so in a drag race it'll be good. As for grip? Up in the air really, I am the only driver using an RWD, so I might have better traction and less understeer."

"But you'll go sideways more Cooper. It's swings and roundabouts, also you've got to remember. This isn't the street, if you fishtail or ram anyone, instant disqualification."

"Yeah, just hope this lot remember. When's the shakedown test?" Cooper asked swiftly.

Falcon checked his watch. "Two hours, they are going to have it near sundown so that the rave happens afterwards. Then tomorrow it gets serious."

Cooper nodded. "Well I'll be serious, no mistake about that."

**

Unlike a few of the other contenders lined up against him, Cooper had abstained from the rave. Even though it featured some local hardcore bands encouraging all the revellers to tear it up; something he was hot into, he knew full well that being at maximum alert would be priceless.

The shakedown test had gone well, Falcon had done wonders to make the car adjustable between drag and grip setup. Cooper had faith that once he was through smashing the quarter mile, a few minor adjustments under the hood would have him sailing through the bends of the feature race.

Drag races had a format of three runs, each being a head to head event between two drivers. So far the lead was being held by Cooper who had set a benchmark of 13.09 seconds. It was an impressive achievement without having fine tuned NOS tanks or a totally dominant ECU setup. Despite this, he was being matched quite well, hanging on close behind with a time of 13.14 seconds was the Eclipse. Despite its basic look, the kid obviously understood enough to get something from it.

With the clouds gathered overhead, Cooper felt the track temperature climbing slightly, everyone would have to go faster on this do or die final run. In his head, he knew that all he had to do was finish second here; then set a race time three seconds faster than the field in the feature race. Mathematically, that would get him entry to Battle Machine and more importantly, a slot on every grid of Pro Street events for the season.

But, Cooper was not interested in the numbers, for him, being second was first of the losers. Cooper was a natural racer who only believed in winning, sneaking a second place and number crunching is what had turned Formula 1 into the sport it was. Cooper would be damned if he was going to be remembered as that sort of driver!

A deafening klaxon sounded out and instantly Cooper applied the revs, clutching into first. But, before the car could shoot from the line, he began tapping the brakes. The effect meant the rear wheels continued to spin, but each tap of the brake meant the car went nowhere. From the rear view mirror, Cooper saw the tyre smoke begin to cloud the rear vision.

A thin layer of sound crept through the glass window of his car, the crowd outside clearly loving the wheel shredding display from the pilots on the strip. A second klaxon sounded and both drivers immediately killed their engines and stopped the wheel-spinning.

Within a second the first of the traffic lights ignited amber and Cooper fired up his engine, coolly he planted a hand on the gear lever to his right and focused his eyes on the horizon. Stomping on the pedal he revved the engine, his left foot hovering a fraction of an inch above the clutch pedal.

He knew his timing had to be perfect, if the clutch engaged and slung him forward a heartbeat before green, his run would be declared void. If a fraction too slow, the opponent had a vital head start and he himself lost time.

Forcing his eyes to not blink, Cooper watched the lights. To his right, the opponent suddenly engaged his clutch. Failing to be distracted by the movement, Cooper watched the green light beam out, before he stomped on the clutch and felt the car jerk forward.

His opponent followed suit, not realising that his run might have been voided by the early move. As the needle got closer to the red-zone Cooper refused to shift, only as the engine began to whine did he clutch and shift into the next gear.

Forcing himself to ignore the crowd, Cooper focused solely on the machine, his speed now up to 80 MPH. Clutching a third time he heard the noise of the seemless shift, but refused to be distracted by his good work so far, one miss-timed pull and vital seconds would be gone.

Suddenly he heard a deafening booming sound, glancing into his rear view mirror; Cooper looked on as the other driver's front left tyre exploded under the pressure. As the unbalanced body hit a dip in the runway, the vehicle jolted sharply to the left and into a barrel roll.

Cooper flicked his gaze back to the rev counter and calmly counted his breaths until he shifted, desperate to not let the run falter because of the accident behind him. As the speedometer hit 110MPH he saw the green parachute posts up ahead, signalling the finish line. As soon as the nose flashed over the line, Cooper slammed on the brakes and four seconds later was at a standstill.

**

"Now race fans, first the big news, clocking a quarter mile in 12.89 seconds, Ryan Cooper is the man! His nearest rival, Kyo Tamizawa, who clocked a 13.14 earlier on, has had to withdraw from the meeting due to the crash suffered. Early signs from the medics say that he has a broken leg, get well soon Kyo and we hope to see you run the qualifiers next year..."

Cooper listened to the MC's words as Falcon and himself finished adjusting the differential and NOS as best possible for the feature race. His return to the pit area had been mixed, two of the drivers already a part of the Pro Street line-up had given him huge support for the focus he had on the race. While the newer drivers and audience members had snubbed his result.

"Falcon, I can understand if people have suddenly started to dislike me, but the win is what matters right?" Cooper asked as he tightened the wheel nut of the soft compound tyres he'd chosen for the main event.

"You're a racer Cooper," Falcon responded, his voice muffled due to being under the car itself, adjusting the differential. "What the people here don't realise is that each event has medics, marshals and safety cars. The drivers are here to drive, any accidents that happen are dealt with by the other lot." His friend slid out from underneath the machine suddenly. "You remember the 2004 American Formula 1 race?"

Cooper nodded. "Ralf Schumacher, went back end first into the concrete wall of the banked oval at Indianapolis, wrote off the chassis."

"Exactly, his own brother was racing in that race, did he stop? No, he kept his car in front, trusting the marshals and medics to save his brother. Same applies here, don't worry about what they are saying, it is just that the accident is recent in their minds."

"You're a diamond dude, thanks man, I really appreciate that."

"Yeah you do, but you'll appreciate me finishing this diff before the race, so if you'll excuse me." Silently his friend slid back under the vehicle once again.

Despite not being anywhere near the accident, Cooper still felt it in his mind, the car must have rolled three times or more. Instantly the recovery team had put it on a truck, and had probably been inputting the zip code of the scrap yard on their sat nav whilst still on the runway.

He wondered what Kyo had thought as that had all happened. All drivers talk about crashes as being natural and that if you die, that's how it is. But Cooper wondered if the actual situation had made Kyo still think that was true. When he'd totalled the Celica, he had thoughts of death in his mind, but that was on a mountain road after hitting a four tonne dumper truck. Would Kyo have been thinking differently due to the crash happening in the confines of a secure race area?

Shaking his head of the question, Cooper instead thought about the race at hand. It was to be a temporary track built around the out hangars, most of the route being marked by cones and temporary walls. This was going to be no Road America or Sears Point, this was as basic as it comes. It was almost like being on the streets. Almost. He reminded himself silently, before tossing the wrench into the toolbox and climbing inside his own machine.

**

The inside of the hangar felt hot, even with the colossal doors open to allow air inside. Cooper sat on the middle chair of the seven erected for the drivers. Calmly he had decided not to engage them in any way, shape or form. They had already made him aware of their stance when they were dismissive of his last drag run.

"Welcome all of you to the final event of this qualifier." The shadowy figure announced suddenly. Unlike any of the announcers or marshals, this man was dressed in a sharp suit, like he had just walked out of an accounting meeting. "I am the head steward and event organiser for this week. My name is Andrew Simmons." All the drivers gave their own polite welcome as the man bowed lightly. "This briefing is to outline the last race for battle machine."

"Have the tyres been checked?" The eastern driver suddenly cut in. "I do not want my family in Russia to be paying thousands of dollars to fly their son home."

"I deeply respect your stance. As for your question, the head representatives and engineers of Firestone performed a full inspection of the tyre in question. It was damaged when the suspension of Tamizawa's sheered. The tyre did not fail by itself; no other tyres used have been in danger."

"I won't say I am convinced," a British sounding racer piped in suddenly. "High loadings will always put the tyre at risk, but at the end of the day that's why we're here right?"

The Pro Street steward nodded swiftly. "Exactly! Now as for the race itself," he called as a projector displayed a map of the track on the wall of the hangar. "The event is five laps in total. Like in any form of motor sport, we do not allow any deliberate tampering with a rival's race. Any collisions that occur are reviewed by the panel of stewards. Any driver here today that is found to have deliberately attempted to force a competitor out or into a compromised strategy will be disqualified from this and all qualifiers of battle machine for this year. Are we clear on that?" All drivers nodded in unison. "Good, now then, the grid is decided by each competitor drawing a ball from the helmet my colleague is holding. Ryan Cooper, as current weekend leader, you get first pick."

Cooper instantly got up from his seat and walked to the aide. Coolly he placed his hand inside the helmet and had a good rummage through, before pulling one of the balls free. To his dismay it had the number five on, meaning he would start from the third row of the grid. Behind him the other driver's were called in rank order of the weekend and they each drew their choice before the driver's were ordered to their vehicles and the grid.

**

As he looked around from the view of his car, Cooper saw that he was alongside the Russian in his VW Golf, while directly in front his own vehicle, was a modified Peugeot 307. The hatchback vehicles appeared to pack little grunt. But they had good balance, he knew that they would under steer wide due to the wheels having to drive and steer together. But a few modifications could vastly reduce that.

The track itself didn't help; with it being temporary, Cooper found that it was very narrow. He could imagine there being no overtaking moves at all in any of the more streamlined and aero-foiled prototype cars. Should either of the drivers around him start badly and weave, he could find himself dead last.

Calming his nerves, he kept his eyes on the lights, waiting for the signal for the race to start. He blocked out the noise of the crowd and the fellow engines; this was a time for control and calm. Rhythmically his right foot stroked the accelerator, gunning the engine and warming the rear tyres.

Suddenly the lights flashed green and he instantly shifted into gear. His rear wheels spun up briefly, before the rubber planted the power of the engine into the road. Ahead, the Peugeot struggled for grip and Cooper coolly ducked into the slipstream of the fast-starting Russian driver at his side.

As they flashed past the helpless driver, Cooper slipped back free and onto the power. His 400 brake horsepower gave him an advantage towards the right-hander that waited ahead. As they hit the fifty yard boards, Cooper got onto the brakes and shifted up three times, before threading his car into the ninety-degree bend that led the lap to the left.

Using the narrow nature of the track to his advantage, Cooper angled the vehicle towards the outside of the road once the car had hugged the apex of the bend. Threading the power in gently, he felt the back-end twitch and threaten to throw him off the road. Correcting the steering, he saw the Russian driver edge closer.

As the turn ended, Cooper instantly put his foot all the way down on the pedal, his car kicking forwards angrily as the extra power was thrown down by the drive-train. For one hundred yards, the speed continued before another ninety-degree corner was there, taking them to the left again.

Repeating the style from the last corner, Cooper found he could frustrate those behind him, but that the Honda Civic Type R, which occupied second place, was edging further into the lead. Ahead was the chicane corner and Cooper smiled; this is where he had a huge advantage. Unlike the last two corners, the chicane bends were a lot more open, going to an angle no greater than thirty degrees.

With his power advantage, the Civic was reeled in quickly and just before the chicane, Cooper found himself to be almost alongside. The Civic driver saw the danger and tried to cut tight into the chicane. But, thrown by the sudden appearance of his rival, he was on the outside line and the little grip there caused his tyres to squeal horrendously as they tried to plant the power and steer simultaneously.

Cooper seized the initiative and cut to the left through the first part of the chicane, before he calmly shifted his steering to the right, taking the car through and onto the straight. The Civic had fallen at least three car lengths behind, but Cooper did not allow himself to think that he was free of the threat just yet. Ahead he saw the long hairpin bend.

Immediately he aimed for the outside of the road, before he angled the car along the conventional racing line towards the apex. For the first half of the corner all was well, but towards the exit, he felt the rear-end step out. Cursing loudly, he applied opposite lock and fed the power in more gently. Before gunning it as the car straightened up. Five seconds later he had crossed the line and completed lap one.

"The Focus is four seconds up the road. Don't know how he's managing it but the car is steering sharply." Falcon's voice spat into his ear suddenly. "Remember you have only one NOS shot and that it all gets used at once."

As the radio spat back into silence, Cooper resumed his pursuit of the lead driver. Free of the other cars ahead and behind him, he began to find the line a lot better. His second lap easily two seconds quicker than his first, the leader had found betterment as well but only by around seven-tenths of a second.

As he passed the long hairpin again, Cooper felt the urge to pump the NOS but he resisted, knowing that he needed to save that as a push to pass when the time came. At the end of the third lap, he could see the Focus narrowly in the distance and knew that the time to act was now.

Throwing a little caution to the wind, he got on the power earlier through the first ninety-degree corner. The back end stepped out, but he calmly turned the wheel full lock in the opposite direction, stopping the car from spinning and performing a light high-speed drift around the bend.

Ahead the Focus driver had obviously seen the fast charging Cooper and began to get more erratic in his lines. As they cleared the chicane, Cooper saw that there must have been no more than two car-lengths between them. He was definitely the faster man, but in his head, he did not know if he had the laps to make the move.

"You're best of nossing out of the hairpin, use to slingshot alongside him. Remember, you've only one shot."

Cooper silently cursed in his head; Falcon was a good mechanic, but a racer knew exactly when to use the power under the hood. The Focus driver was clearly troubled by the threat Cooper posed and was badly losing his composure in the corners, only the narrow confines of the track saved him from an absolute pass.

In the 240SX, Cooper focused, thinking only of the move he had planned; it was risky and could easily result in a spin-out. A thrill of adrenaline filled him; this really was do or die. As they went into the first part of the chicane, the Focus was ahead only by the passenger-side wing. As the switch to the right happened, Cooper applied a hard turn and suddenly activated the NOS.

Instantly the engine gave a loud whooshing sound as the nitrous oxide was forced into it. The power punched the car forward, as blue flame was thrown from the exhaust. The power, as he had feared pulled him wide and Cooper maintained hard opposite-lock. As the turn ended though, the wheels screeched underneath and he flew by the helpless rival.

As the gas stopped being pumped through, Cooper went hard on the brakes and turned into the hairpin, constantly shouting at himself to ensure that he did not out-brake himself and allow the Focus driver back through. As the car straightened, Cooper pumped his foot onto the gas pedal, catapulting his ride forward and through the parachute finish posts. Four car lengths behind him, the Focus crept home second.

**

"Well race fans! What an epic finale; who says racing is dead eh? You can take the driver out of the street, but try taking the street out of the driver! Ryan Cooper today totally owned the other drivers, carving through the field and winning well. It's not often a rookie turns up and locks down a qualifier like this. But it's happened today folks; give it up everyone, Ryan Cooper!"

Putting down the helmet, Cooper walked up onto the stage beside the announcer and took hold of the license for Pro-street racing and also the $5000 prize money that he had unlocked. The sum was equal to an entire year's salary he had earned at a 7/11 to supplement college. The announcer and he did a couple of poses for the local press before he walked back to Falcon and the winning ride.

"Ryan Cooper; he's going to battle machine, and you're all welcome to join us as well! It all goes down in Nevada, three weekends time. Now joining me up here is the Showdown King himself, Ryo Watanabe. Now Ryo, check it out, never raced here before and totally owned the track, what do you make of that?"

"It's good for the kid, though the other driver's should be ashamed; if he's the best of the new crop then none of the established racers will be having trouble. This is a pathetic result for the series, and it will show in Nevada." After putting down the microphone, Ryo stormed off the stage, leaving the announcer to cover up the outburst.

Back at the Nissan, Falcon carefully replaced the tyres with road legals and ensured the vehicle would pass any spot check by the police, before he climbed in alongside Cooper. To the delight of the crowd, Cooper spun up the wheels and performed a single rotation donut, before aiming for the wide open gates of the airfield, and the way home.