THE EPIC CARS FANFICTION
(EXPLICITLY NOT ‘OF DOOM’)
“So how do you feel now, kid?”
“Like I need a trip through the pressure washers,” Lightning said with amused resignation, as a side-mirror sized clump of red dirt dislodged from his wheel well and exploded into pieces on impact with the gravel road. A few of the smaller pieces rebounded upwards again, bouncing off the the coating of dirt that was almost totally obscuring the distinctive red and white paint beneath it.
With surprising fastidiousness, given that he was caked nearly to his roof in an identical coating of the red dirt, Doc ducked from behind Lightning to avoid having any of it bounce onto him, and pulled up next to his protegee.
“I meant about the race.”
“I know what you meant, Doc - eugh,” Lightning muttered, slowing to shake another clod of dirt loose from his undercarriage. “Why did we think running the Butte track this soon after our one major rainstorm of the year was a good idea again?”
Doc snorted softly, drifting a few inches to the right to bump gently against Lightning’s side. Numerous scrapes on both sides of his body, sporting either red paint transfer or bare metal, suggested it was far from the first time that particular action had been performed, just the gentlest - and shot a wry glance at him from the corner of his eye. “Because slick dirt is a lot more complicated than slick asphalt, and Daytona is supposed to be hot this year. The more practice you have running under adverse conditions -”
“ - the better of a racer I become, I know,” Lightning chuckled, giving himself another, all-over shake and dislodging a cloud of red dust that left them both hastily accelerating and trying to cough their intakes clear.
As he rolled easily over the slight bump in the road that marked the transition from roughly-maintained gravel to smooth asphalt, Lightning’s eyes lifted automatically to glance at the booms of the cranes visible over the rooflines of the shops lining Main Street.
The expansion of the Radiator Springs Racing Museum was something that the town had been debating almost since the Museum’s creation; the majority of the building had served as Lightning’s headquarters, with small area dedicated to Radiator Springs and the Willy’s Butte track, as well as a separate wing to commemorate Doc’s career.
It hadn’t taken very long, however, before Lightning’s own career started breaking records - Doc’s season-wins record included - and he’d eventually bowed to the inevitable, broken ground on a separate Headquarters, and let the Museum overrun the entire original building.
The Museum had been a labor of love for the entire town, and when Lightning’s budget had fallen short of his goal for refitting the old hotel, he hadn’t even had time to adjust his plans before the other residents had come forward.
Everyone had contributed what they could, and far more than Lightning would have dared ask, or dream. Much of it had been in cash - half of Sarge’s Army pension, a year of profits from both the Taste-In and the Casa Della Tires, and a hefty portion of Red and the Sheriff’s county salaries; but the other help had been just as valuable. Flo and Ramone had to be argued out of taking out a loan on their house, and had only agreed in exchange for helping with all of the repainting and decorating of the Museum. Lizzie and Mater had contacts with what seemed like every discount materials supplier in the surrounding counties, and had called almost all of them to get the materials needed to transform the old building. Sally had handled the entire legal end, from purchasing and incorporating through insuring, saving Lightning what would probably have been months of frustration and legal costs.
Doc’s contribution, though, had probably been the most valuable of all; he had finally cleaned out his garage.
The three Piston Cups, restored to their former brilliance under Ramone’s care, took the pride of the wing, but the newspapers that Doc had saved were the true treasures. They were a wide and clear window into the history of racing, from a time before most of the current racetracks even existed.
Despite that, nobody, least of all Lightning himself, had been expecting Tex Dinoco to roll into town just after the season ended the previous year and ask if they would be interested in expanding the Museum far beyond the history of just the Hudson Hornet-Radiator Springs Racing team, to encompass pretty much the entire history of the Dinoco Racing League.
“Like the Hall of Fame?” Lightning had asked, making the question come out in calm, almost-level tones. He’d toured the facility in Charlotte a dozen times before his tires had ever touched a track, dreaming of his own likeness on the walls next to the likes of The King and The Intimidator.
The fact that his likeness was on those walls now did nothing to squash his excitement.
“Well, at least like the Hall’s li’l brother,” Tex had answered comfortably. “Ya’ll have proven you’ve got the market here, and there’s not too many places out this way that can offer racers from both your generations.”
Which was the truth; although racers and their fans came from all corners of the country, the bright core of racing itself was the Southeast, rooted between mountain distilleries and Florida beaches. It had edged its way westward - the Piston Cup ran on tracks in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Texas - but the home state of racing would likely forever be North Carolina.
To have a Hall of Fame here, in Radiator Springs, Arizona, would mean so much, not just in tourism for the town, but to fans who couldn’t travel across the country to see the original Hall.
They’d barely been able to raise the question to the rest of the town’s residents before it had been heartily and unanimously approved. They had signed the papers, Tex had signed the checks, and there hadn’t been a moment’s peace in town since.
Lightning smiled as he picked up speed, speaking over the clamor of arc welders and rivet guns and the busy hum of the town center. “You think it’ll be done by midseason?”
“I’ll be surprised if it’s not,” Doc replied. “And you never answered my question.”
“Which question was that?” Lighting half-joked, accelerating a little more, but Doc pulled up beside him once again and bumped him halfway onto the dusty shoulder, leaving another streak of bare steel shining amongst the dirt.
“Don’t play games, kid, not with me. I’m not senile yet, I can see the racing getting harder on everybody. Too hard for some folks, ones I never thought would leave the track.”
Lightning winced a little at that. Jeff’s announcement of his intention to retire at the end of the season had been a bit of a shock for everyone, and there were rumors going around the pit crews that Tony was thinking of hanging up his stripes after next year.
“I feel in better shape this year than I have for any so far, Doc,” Lightning offered, more quietly, as they made the turn towards Main Street. “All credit to my Chief.”
Doc snorted. “Don’t kiss my bumper, rookie,” he rumbled as he dropped back to fall in the lane behind Lightning again, although he didn’t bother trying to hide the smile on his face when he said it.
Eight years into Lighting’s racing career, he was already a three-time champion - or perhaps four, depending on how you viewed his first Piston Cup - and Doc was perhaps the only vehicle in the world who could pretend the younger racecar was still sporting a yellow bumper-stripe.
“More than I did during training, you mean? I almost knocked out a tooth when you checked up on that turn!”
The grunt that Doc offered in response could, perhaps, have been interpreted as apologetic. “Miscalculated. Anything I need to take a look at?”
“Nah, I’ve gotten worse goofing around with Mater.”
“I know you have, I was the one who rebuilt your back end when Frank got you back before Chrystmas.”
Lightning winced at the memory. The lectures he’d gotten - from Doc, for getting himself injured; Ramone, for ruining his brand-new paint job; Sally, for getting himself injured; Filmore, for tormenting the combine; and Sarge, for getting himself injured - had hurt worse than the combine’s blades. “Yeah, were the three weeks of agility training on the monster truck course really necessary after that? That track makes me motion sick.”
“You’re a sorry excuse for a racecar, kid,” Doc snorted. “Has Frank gotten you since?”
He hadn’t been tractor-tipping since that incident, mostly because he was staying too busy to be pursing nighttime trouble with Mater. Which Doc knew full well. “Well, no, but -”
“Then it worked, didn’t it?” Doc shot back, his voice several levels drier than the surrounding desert.
“Yeah, I’ve stopped getting motion sick,” Lightning grinned, accelerating just enough that Doc’s attempt to knock into his bumper fell a few inches short. “You’re getting predictable, old man,” he teased, slowing to smirk back at the Hornet.
Only to grunt sharply as Doc’s heavy front bumper connected successfully with his own, significantly less substantial, rear bumper, knocking him forward several inches.
“Who’s getting predictable, again?”
“That would be both of you,” interrupted a third voice, and Lighting glanced up to see Sally rolling towards them, trailed by a champagne-colored Chevy Blazer toting an amused smile and a smartphone. “Your RSN interview was scheduled at Flo’s in an hour -”
Lightning’s welcoming smile vanished under an expression of alarm.
“ - which we knew you would completely forget about, so it’s been moved back to three o’clock so that you have time to wash up, have your paint fixed, and get something for lunch,” finished Anne, the Blazer, lifting the phone. The sound of a camera shutter bounced cheerfully off the gleaming shop windows surrounding them, and Lighting snuck a peek at himself in the nearest one and grimaced at his reflection.
If anything, he looked worse than he thought; his red and white paint was nearly invisible under the thick coating of dirt and a more-than-generous application of Doc’s deep blue, and he had more scrapes and dents on his frame than he’d managed to collect after the last Martinsville race. It was barely noon, but getting him camera-ready by three was still going to be an accomplishment. It was a good thing Ramone had that quick-dry paint to use for fast touch-ups - even if the stuff did itch miserably.
“I really should talk to Rust-eez about switching to a blue-based color scheme, I’ve got more of your paint on me than my own!” Lightning chuckled, casting a wry glance at Doc, who surveyed him with critical, narrowed eyes.
“You carry it pretty well, although I’m not sure it’s quite... bright enough to suit your personality,” the old Hudson rumbled, earning quiet snickers from their audience.
“Gee, thanks,” Lightning shot back, his grin widening until a clump of dirt dislodged from his hood tethers and bounced into his mouth. “Ugh! Ew!”
“Boys, interview?” Sally chided gently, as Lightning spat the last grains of mud out, then glanced back at Anne when he realized she’d been fiddling with her phone.
Hiring a PR assistant had become necessary after the tiebreaker race at the end of his first year, when the requests for interviews had come to thick and fast for Harv to manage. Anne, whose degree in Public Relations had been secondary to her love of racing, had been part of the media frenzy that originally tracked Lightning to Radiator Springs, and she’d been one of the first to return to the town when Lighting declared his intention to open his headquarters there. When the rest of the media had followed, she had quietly offered her help to the overwhelmed citizens in hopes of meeting Lightning or Doc in exchange.
She’d been stunned speechless when Lightning himself had knocked on the door of her Cozy Cone eleven hours after her arrival and personally requested her help, but risen admirably to the challenges. Now, years later, Lightning considered her an indispensable part of his team.
“You’re putting that picture on Twitter, aren’t you?” he grinned ruefully, already knowing the answer. While he did, occasionally, post to the account himself, it was far more frequently Anne behind the posts, usually with the most embarrassing photos of him she could manage. He couldn’t argue with the results, though; he’d been voted Most Popular Racer for the last four years running, to Junior’s amused gratitude.
“Already have done,” she corrected, passing the phone over for him to see. The picture, he and Doc in all of their filthy, battered glory and regarding the camera with resigned amusement, was captioned ‘Great morning of training with #DocHudson - but just remembered I have an RSN interview to film! Better get cleaned up!’
“No joke,” Doc chuffed, backing up and beginning to turn away, undoubtedly heading for the pressure washers and a quiet afternoon back at the clinic, but Sally quickly darted around behind Anne to block his route.
“And just where do you think you’re going?” she asked, and Lightning backed up an inch or two, laughing, at the sight of the smile on her face. It was the same one she’d worn all those years ago in the midst of that sunny courtroom - the smile that had heralded the biggest shake-up of Lightning’s life.
Doc knew that smile almost as well as Lighting did, and Lighting snickered when the older car’s back bumper dipped as his tires tightened instinctively, gripping the road in preparation for a hasty retreat. “Uh -”
“We thought it would be nice,” Sally began, gesturing between herself and Anne with a tire - Anne was studiously fiddling with the phone, which didn’t quite hide her smirk - “if you would appear with Lighting during the interview. It’s been almost a year since your last one, and the publicity’s always better when the pair of you appear together versus Lighting alone.”
“Thirty-seven percent higher share rates on social media, nineteen percent more likely to be shown on television news, and the Piston Cup site is guaranteed to post clips, still images, and the transcript of any interview you appear in,” Anne piped up, turning the phone around again to show a particular tweet.
‘@AKAMrsCrophopper: OMG can’t wait! Is #DocHudson going 2 be on interview?!’
The little retweet symbol was green, and below that was Anne’s response: ‘@Lightning_McQueen .@AKAMrsCrophopper - Maybe! See if you can get #DocHudsonInterview trending to convince him!’
It had already been retweeted three hundred and twelve times and had only been posted for two minutes.
The look that Doc sent the two women could have stripped paint, but he scowled in resignation anyway. “All right, all right, I’ll do it. Just tell Ramone he’d better have my decals ready. If I’m going to be making an idiot of myself on national television, I’d better look the part.”