Jack was poised at the wall to the pit box ready for Jackman to yank him over in an attempt to change Joey Logano’s tires in another record breaking pit stop.
Logano needed to beat certain people in order to advance into the Chase, the championship. Jack knew his role in lifting the car up so the crew could change the tires was essential. Every checkered flag belonged to the whole Penske team – from the driver to the pit crew to the tools.
Jack was proud of the words “Team Penske” emblazoned across the front of his mustard colored, strong metal body.
“Mustard is the color of the track today, Jack,” Jackman had said earlier while rolling him to pit road.
Hellmans, the race sponsor, was a mustard manufacturer, and apparently, fans squirted this yellow condiment on their hotdogs, hamburgers, and pretzels all over NASCAR speedways. Jack didn’t know much about mustard, except that it was a color, since he didn’t get out much. But this made him expect great things on this sunny October Sunday.
Jack couldn’t hear Joey’s fans cheering over the roar of Joey’s competitors zooming around the Talladega Superspeedway, but he knew fans decked in yellow and red were rooting for number twenty-two with all of their hearts and voices. He also now imagined that they were chowing down on food smothered in mustard. Hmmm. That sounds really messy, he thought to himself. Okay, better get focused.
The so-familiar rumble of number 22 grew louder as it drew near to the pit box. This is what home sounds like, thought Jack as Jackman gracefully lifted him over the wall towards the yellow and red car with the Pennzoil logo.
Jack could smell the burnt rubber and strong smell of gasoline. There was a burst of mustard yellow around the car as the pit crew got into position. Jackman slid Jack under the car. The crew always tried to get the tires changed in under 12 seconds. They had practiced this maneuver like professional linemen more times than the 500 laps Joey was going to drive today.
Jackman rolled Jack under the car, lining him up, “Okay, ready.”
Jack felt unusually precautious as he lifted up because he was imbalanced under the car, teetering as he raised number 22 off the ground. Jack felt that the car peg was too far back. This wasn’t supposed to be like this. Even though the bolt gun went “NEW, NEW, NEW, NEW,” making the perfect sound for Joey’s new tires, the action under the car in the pit stop was far from perfect. Jackman began to drop the car down. Jack felt his back plate slip. The car fell down wedging Jack underneath. Jack gasped audibly, adrenaline racing through his metal body. Unfortunately, Joey took the jolt as the signal to accelerate back onto the track. Team Penske had made a pit road mistake. Jack was caught under number 22 and accelerating as an “unwanted stowaway” under the car headed right into a storm.
There is no turning around once the car leaves the pit box and it was a long way back around. Joey’s car, Moby didn’t talk much and rarely acknowledged the other team members because his mind was so occupied with being a car. Lots of complex movements needed to happen inside Moby every moment in order for Logano to complete each lap around Talladega, soaring next to 40 cars, reaching up to speeds of 200mph. Moby’s thoughts were consumed with his engine and the airflow both on and off the track. Right now, though, Moby needed to verbally express himself. “Jack! What the mustard are you doing!?” Moby raged, his voice raspy from not talking in several months.
“Mustard has nothing to do with it!” wailed Jack, his voice nearly lost in the updraft air. “Ahhhh!!” Jack had never been going so fast. Moby was going slower than usual due to his unsuspecting passenger, but was still traveling near to 150 miles per hour. The reduced speed could cost Joey places, but worse, Jack could screw up Moby’s precious underside, ruining the air flow and possibly damaging critical working parts.
“Let go of me!” shouted Moby as he wiggled back and forth, trying to dislodge Jack.
Jack could hear the other cars coming up behind them. All he wanted was to be safe back in the pit box. “Ahh!!!” Suddenly, though, he could feel himself breaking free from all the wiggling, updraft, and acceleration. A terrible realization came to him. “Safety first, Moby! We’re going to cause a ‘big one’ if you send me flying. I’m holding on tight!”
Sobered, Moby was grateful that Jack had considered the other drivers and cars. He stopped wiggling. Joey gripped the steering wheel with determination. Jack held on tight. They needed to get back to pit road.
There has never been a longer three miles than the lap Moby, Jack, and Joey traveled that day in Talladega. The team was silent on the track and over the radio as they all focused and willed the trio back to the pit box.
Number 22 came up to turn 3 and evenly sped down the straightaway. Fans everywhere held their mustard covered snacks in midair and held their breath. Even Twitter was silent as the trio pulled around turn 4. The pit stop was in sight.
Jack was feverish and on the edge of delirium. What was left of his body had reached an incredible temperature causing him to lose consciousness on the last leg of the lap.
“That’s a brave little Jack,” Moby whispered gently as he pulled into the pit box with a delicateness Team Penske hadn’t seen before. He could hardly fathom all that had happened in the last 30 seconds and the flowchart of terrible but not occurring outcomes that could have caused even more destruction.
From a fog Jack could hear mustard yellow voices faraway and close at the same time. They were talking about him. “It’s a wonder we survived.”
“Looks like Jack was holding on to keep everyone safe.”
Jack was lifted back over the pit wall as Moby’s engine revved away. Suddenly, flashes of light from the smothering photographers exploded around the tragic scene. Jack turned his eyes away, wincing in more pain.
“Let’s name him ‘Dega Jack,” a reporter in hipster plaid chortled.
The Sprint girl exclaimed, “Yeah, it will make a great story!”
Jack heard Jackman sigh in anguish, “Looks like his body is totally wrangled and severed. This jack served us well.”
“Oh my gosh! Maybe you can put him in the Joey Logano museum for his bravery,” the Sprint girl squealed.
Hipster Plaid replied, “Yeah, ha-ha, Logano will have to rebound in this race or that will be humiliating.”
Jack had enough of the chit-chat. His last thought was about Joey and Moby before drifting off to a fitful sleep. Had all hope for the mustard yellow #22 car been lost?
Jack could hear the distant, victorious sounds of a burn out. Oh, how he loved hearing that sound out on the track! He groggily opened his eyes and the pain from his experience on the track came back to him as a dull throbbing ache. Coming to his senses he wondered what had happened to Joey and Moby. The pit area was empty.
Jack strained to hear the announcer on the loudspeaker. “Joey Logano…#22…a win! What a rebound for Team Penske at the Hellman’s 500!”
***With help from nascar.com, joeylogano.com, and my fiance