As his crewmates pushed their winning car to victory lane, the front tire changer hung back, his silent, trudging gait a stark contrast to the frenzied whooping erupting around him.
Yet among all the din, one voice calling out from back down the pit lane made him turn around.
It was unmistakable. He pushed through the current of people, searching; finally spotting those strawberry blond curls.
“Laurie!” he reached out and clasped her arm. “You came!”
The woman met Mark’s eyes, gave a squeal of joy and swung into a full embrace of his Team Moon Pie No. 27 Ford firesuit.
“Oh, Mark. I’m so sorry. I didn’t understand why you left then. But I do now. I see what this meant to you now.”
“Not just me,” Mark said, holding his reclaimed love tightly. “Us. I’ve become better, Laurie. So much better.”
Laurie’s breath radiated warmth across his chest. “Mark, please. Let’s not talk about that. It’s behind us; you never have to–”
“No, Laurie. I’ve waited so long…” A hand slid down the back of her shirt, edging toward the bottom. A small squeak escaped her lips.
“Mark, you can’t. Not here…”
The hand slipped in, brushing against the small of her back before sliding up to her brassiere. “Don’t worry. I brought it.” His other hand reached into his pocket.
“No, really,” Laurie breathed. “Please…”
But Mark had already pulled out his stopwatch.
“Go,” he whispered into her ear, hitting the start button.
Laurie clenched her shoulders as the hand on her back suddenly sprang into motion, the three clasps on her bra almost clicking at once as they were detached in blinding succession. She opened her mouth to scream as he withdrew the hand, but could only manage a short yelp as he withdrew, caught the watch and thrust his other hand back up her shirt. She could only stare at him, stiffened like a board, as she heard the “click-click-click” of the clasps relocking.
“Time!” Mark exclaimed, hitting the watch. “Ha! Look at that, sweetie! 5.72! That’s a full nine-tenths of a second faster than when you left me! I told you I got better!”
“Mark…” Laurie sighed, controlling her heaving breaths following the rush of activity. “Mark, you JERK!” She shoved him back, his hands scrabbling behind her to make sure her shirt was fully down.
“I… I don’t understand, sweetie…” Mark said, showing her the watch to back his claim. “You said you didn’t like my Three Clasp Pop’n’lock. That’s why I left. That’s why I became a tire changer. I honed my reaction time just for you!”
“I could see you mouthing that air wrench noise!” Laurie fumed, her face more closely resembling her hair color. “I didn’t want you to do it faster, you idiot; I wanted you to stop doing it at all! How could you not get that!? And now, in front of all these–” she whipped her head around at the throngs still moving around them, her tear-filled eyes briefly meeting the crewman’s for one last moment before she turned and fled, disappearing into the crowd.
“Laurie! Laurie!!” Mark quickly lost sight of the woman whom he had devoted to bucking her brassiere, but now in vain. And for once, in the middle of the racetrack, speed turned out not to be the only thing that mattered.