Happy Father’s Day
Standing 20 feet from a race track while dozens of the most expensive and powerful cars in the world screamed past you at almost 200 mph might be the best seat in the house except that you can’t sit down. Corner marshals or flaggers are the people stationed on the track and tasked with waving flags, removing debris and helping drivers whose cars have crashed. Formula One cars are at the pinnacle of auto racing. These are technically the most advanced automobiles ever created. They are constructed of space age materials, super lightweight, insanely powerful and require a special set of skills to drive. These land rockets on wheels are also hybrids, using (KERS) Kinetic Energy Recovery System that adds electric motors for an additional boost in power. Formula One racing is the largest spectator sport in the world and races are held around the world; China, Singapore, Abu Dhabi, England, Belgium, Spain, Germany and now Oceanside, California has been added to that global list. The race was expected to bring 100 million dollars to the local economy.
June 17, 2018 would be the date of the inaugural US Formula One Grand Prix in Oceanside, California. In the late 1940’s, an oval racetrack was located in the northern part of the city and a series of races were held every weekend, drivers and cars would come from all over the Southwest to participate. In a way, this would be the return of racing to this Southern California city and the excitement was electrifying. It took years of lobbying from city officials and famous driver, Dante ‘The Blade’ Ferraro, former six time world Formula One champion and hometown hero to bring the road race to Oceanside. Dante was also instrumental in the design of the course which would start at the Oceanside Pier, circle the harbor then come up to South Coast Highway. It would be 60 laps of a 3.2 mile course loop for a total of 192 miles.
Dante was born on Camp Pendleton, the son of a career Marine and began racing in his early teens. It didn’t matter whether it was motorcycles, stock cars or drag racing; he built an impressive resume of wins before enlisting in the Army in 1968. He became a Green Beret during the Vietnam War, and surprisingly his racing experience translated well in combat situations. Dante was extremely cool under pressure, could make split second decisions and was a natural born leader. He rose in rank from private to staff sergeant in less than 18 months.
While assigned to his elite unit, Dante and his men were often tasked with going into Cambodia and Laos on covert missions and since these were ‘black ops’ and often in violation of treaty agreements, records of their actions were classified and sealed. On one particular mission to identify communist sanctuaries near Phnom Penh, Dante and his team which included three CIA operatives were captured by a group of vicious Khmer Rouge rebels. These men were part of a group who were responsible for the death of millions of Cambodians during their reign of terror. They had an intense hatred of Americans and every insertion team knew that it was a death sentence if they were caught.
The CIA operatives were tortured to death in a variety of unspeakable ways and Dante knew that his men were next in line. He looked at the situation objectively, which in itself was a considerable challenge and calculated the odds against them and came to the inevitable conclusion that the chances of a successful escape were infinitesimal.
Like any other man, actually more like any other warrior who has accepted the fact that he’s already a dead man, Dante decided to go out on his terms and take as many of the enemy with him.
Eight rebels dragged him from his bamboo cage to an area that was used for their torture games. The ground was stained red and felt sticky under his boots and Dante saw chains dangling from a thick tree branch. He knew that once they had him restrained, whatever slim chance he had would be gone so he looked around the area and made his plan in a split second.
Dante went limp as the rebels tried to lift his hands up to the chains, then broke free, snapped one man’s neck and used him as a shield when a rebel fired two rounds at him. Dante pushed the dead rebel at the group and grabbed an AK-47 and emptied the magazine as he spun around in a 360. In the close quarters, it was hard for the rebels to get a clear shot at Dante and ended up shooting each other. On the other hand, all that Dante had to do was open fire in any direction and every time he shot a rebel, he’d pick up another weapon and empty that magazine. How he didn’t get hit was one of those unexplainable incidents that happen every so often in a combat situation. Dante didn’t have time to dwell on his good luck and grabbed an AK-47 and put the sling over his shoulder then grabbed another weapon, three bandoliers of ammunitions and a machete and went to rescue his men, firing as he went.
There was pandemonium around the camp and Dante knew that as long as there was confusion, it worked in his favor so he did his best to keep it going. When he got to the cages, he shot the guards then cut the ropes off the bamboo bars with the machete. He tossed one AK-47 to Sergeant Gary Ashby just as a rebel rounded the corner and Dante instinctively swung the machete and separated the man’s head from his body.
“That looks like it could hurt,” Sergeant Ashby commented.
The Green Berets escaped into the jungle with Dante cutting through the thick foliage with the machete like a turbo powered lawnmower. For three days, the Kymer Rouge rebels pursued them and were only delayed momentarily when Dante and his men built punji traps to slow them down. They were able to signal a surveillance helicopter as they approached the village of Moc Bai and crossed back into South Vietnam. The Kymer Rouge rebels were enraged that the Americans had escaped and vented their rage on the innocent villagers. As the helicopter lifted off, Dante got a clear view of the carnage and vowed revenge, “I’ll be back.”
Anybody else would have been happy to take some time off to recuperate and decompress, but not Dante. Once he debriefed his superiors on what happened, he took a hot shower then headed to Tan Son Nhut Air Force base which was located outside Saigon. Permission was given for another mission and Dante would be flying as an aerial observer.
The United States Air Force C-47 was the military version of the DC-3 that had been modified by mounting three 7.62 mm General Electric miniguns to fire through two rear window openings and the side cargo door. The guns could be controlled either individually or together by the pilot while placing a round every 2.4 yards during a three-second burst. Dante gave the pilot, the coordinates of the Kymer Rouge camp and when they were overhead, he looked out the window with binoculars and saw the rebels running for cover, “I told you I’d be back,” then turned to the pilot, “Let it rip.”
The pilot responded, “You do the honors.”
Dante took control of the guns and unleashed a torrent of hot lead retribution from the skies as the C-47 circled the area for ten minutes then returned to base, “Nothing like firing ten thousand bullets into your enemy to turn around a bad day.”
If this had been a sanctioned operation, Dante would have probably received a medal for his heroic actions in rescuing his men and eliminating the enemy stronghold, but nobody was allowed to speak of the incident again. This was just fine with the man from Oceanside who was content to do his job and be left alone. When his time in Nam’ was over, Dante returned to California and resumed his racing career.
The Veterans Center was located on Mission Avenue in Oceanside and Dante scheduled a meeting with some of the groups that routinely met there to make an offer to his fellow veterans. There were seventy five men and women in attendance. “I would like to thank you for coming to this meeting. In ten days there will be a Formula One race here in Oceanside and we’re going to need between two and three hundred volunteers. The Sports Club of America will supply men and women who are more experienced for Corner Captains and radio operators, but we’ll still need others to be flaggers. This is pretty simple and after a few training sessions, you will be qualified to handle it. When I say volunteers, which means you won’t get paid, which is standard operating procedure for race events. Since I am part of the group who helped put this event together, we are willing to donate up to one million dollars to the Veterans Center in gratitude for helping us out. I have some brochures that detail the specific duties of the volunteers and a phone number to call if you want to sign up. It is Wednesday and you’ll need to let us know by Friday because the first training session is Saturday. Just so there is no misunderstanding; the more volunteers the bigger our donation. We have plenty of people who are willing to do this, but we are giving veterans first opportunity.”
Gary Ashby passed out brochures to everyone in attendance and many of the veterans began reading it immediately. The introduction read like this;
The Art of Flagging
There are two flag people, who have slightly different tasks. The yellow flagger looks down the track. His or her job is to watch for accidents or problems and is responsible for everything from his station to the next one. If there is a problem, he comes out and waves the yellow flag.
The blue flagger looks up the track and his job is to warn a slower driver that a faster car is about to pass them and is mostly used for cars being lapped by the lead cars in the race. In F1 racing, failure to slow for a blue flag can result in a penalty, so the blue flag must be taken seriously. In practice it is quite difficult for the flagger to judge the relative speeds of the cars, so throwing the blue flag is an art. There are other flags as well. The dreaded red flag means that the race has been suspended, and all cars must return to the pits. A flag that has red and yellow stripes means that the track ahead is contaminated – usually by oil or debris. When the safety car is on the track, flaggers wave a special card with the words “SAFETY CAR” written on it, or just “SC”. A white flag means emergency vehicles are on the track.
In Formula One, all flags are waved, which is different from other racing series, where a stationary flag has a different meaning from a waving flag. The “Meatball” flag (black with a red circle) is waved at a car with a mechanical problem. A green flag indicates that the problem has passed and is waved to alert drivers that the track is clear ahead. Green flags are also waved for the entire first lap and Corner Marshals wave all their flags at once to salute the drivers at the completion of the race.
Dante Ferraro was approached by CIA leadership once he became an established driver on the F1 circuit. The fact that he could travel around the world without suspicion combined with his prior set of specialized skills made him a valuable asset. Gary Ashby, a fellow Green Beret was also recruited and took on the cover of Dante’s personal fitness trainer. Even when there wasn’t a race, their CIA handlers found plausible reasons for the two highly trained operatives to be in the foreign countries for publicity tours, testing new equipment or meeting sponsors. Dante soon became America’s most proficient covert operative and even after he retired from active racing, he still maintained his connections with Formula One.
Five years earlier, at an exclusive party on a mega yacht in the Mediterranean Sea before the Monte Carlo Grand Prix. Dante was tasked with capturing Farad Morad Mashouf, an Iranian multi-billionaire, arms dealer, human trafficker, drug smuggler and sponsor of terrorism. He was also a fanatical sports enthusiast who owned a stable of race horses, soccer team and an F1 racing team and never went anywhere without his army of bodyguards. Dante managed to slip a special narcotic into Farad’s drink that made him nauseous, requiring the Iranian to excuse himself and go below deck to lie down. Dante waited a few minutes then inconspicuously followed, but was stopped by a burly bodyguard in the hallway as he approached Farhad’s private suite, “I came down to see how your boss was feeling.”
“He’s resting, sir.”
Dante dropped his cellphone and bent down to pick it up as he held a syringe in his right hand with a lethal dose of Fentanyl. He stood up and stuck the needle into the bodyguard’s neck and in a few seconds he was dead. Dante took a mask out of his pocket, slipped it over his face and entered the room. Farad was asleep in his bed, Dante quickly injected him with a synthetic anesthesia that immediately put him in a drug induced coma, and then secured his ankles and wrists with plastic zip ties.
He picked up the Iranian and lowered him overboard where a team of Navy Seals were waiting beneath the surface. They slipped an oxygen mask over the Iranian’s face and submerged as Dante returned to the festivities on deck as if nothing had ever happened. He was that cool under pressure.
Present Day, A CIA black site is located in the dense Ardennes Forest of Luxembourg. Three times a day, morning, afternoon and evening, Farad Morad Mashouf is taken to a laboratory where a special virtual reality helmet is placed over his head. It is part of an elaborate mind altering program that extracts current memories and substitutes an alternate set of experiences into the person.
A strike force of 15 men breeched the wall, shot the guards and helped the prisoners escape. When they were out of sight, one of the guards stood up and called his superiors on his cellphone, “It’s done.”
Back in Oceanside, California, Dante Ferraro and Gary Ashby were walking the course of the race with a group of volunteers as Dante pointed out where the Flaggers would be positioned, “Any questions?”
“Will we get any practice before the big race?” Don Pickett asked.
“Absolutely, we’ll set up all different types of scenarios that you might encounter during an actual race. We don’t want you getting caught off guard. The Corner Captain will also be there if you have any questions.”
Gary’s cell phone rang and he called out to Dante, “We have to go.”
Dante turned to the volunteers, “I’ll see you later.”
Dante and Gary drove to San Luis Mexican Food in Temple Heights and were met by two attractive women in their mid-thirties, “Why is it that I have a feeling that you’re not here for the race?” Dante said.”
“We need to talk,” Nora Kemper stated.
“Let’s have lunch, I like this place.”
They walked inside, “What do you recommend?” Gail Ingram asked.
“Can’t go wrong with the surf and turf burrito, I’ll order for us, find us a table,” Gary suggested.
The two women and Dante found a table in back and waited for Gary to return with four burritos, carne asada fries and four bottles of Corona beers.
As the men began eating, Nora commented, “This is really good.”
“You said that you needed to talk to me,” Dante reminded his dinner companions.
Gail took a bite of her burrito and a long swallow of the cold beer, “We had a security breech,” then continued eating.
“I’d prefer to hear what you have to say in one installment instead of in-between bites and swallows,” Dante suggested.
“Point taken,” Nora set her beer down, “You know that Mashouf’s family had put out a five million dollar reward for information about his kidnapping.”
“We know,” Gary answered, “That’s old news.”
“One of our security analysts ran into some financial problems and decided that five million would solve them so he gave up your name,” Gail added, “We caught him and now he has a whole new set of problems to deal with.”
“So where does that leave me?” Dante guessed.
We set up an elaborate ruse to let Farad escape with a new set of implanted memories for that night,” Nora continued.
“There was an Albanian gangster at the party,” Gail said, “Farad now firmly believes that he was the one behind his abduction.”
“If you corrected the breech and caught the leaker, then why are you here?” Gary asked.
“Because they haven’t completely solved the problem,” Dante surmised.
“There is a minor glitch, once your name was given to the family, they immediately put out a contract on you, and as of right now it hasn’t been rescinded,” Gail said.
“Do you know who’s got it?” Gary asked.
“From monitoring the dark web, it looks like Lobo took it,” Nora sighed.
‘Lobo’ was the name given to an unidentified Basque National Liberation Movement terrorist responsible for numerous bombings, kidnappings and terrorist acts in Spain and Europe. He was also an elite assassin that Dante had crossed paths with over the years. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to terminate the cold blooded killer and his list of victims continued to increase.
“Once he takes a contract, there is no rescinding it,” Dante stated.
“How do you want to handle this?” You could go into hiding, but that’s not your style,” Gary smiled.
“If he’s coming to Oceanside, let’s be ready for him,” Dante responded, “We’ve got the home field advantage, let’s use it.”
“I’m on it,” Gail agreed and finished her burrito and washed it down with the remainder of her beer.
Over the three days, every available CIA agent was called to Oceanside. Dante already knew Lobo’s methods of operation and while he couldn’t be exactly sure how the assassin would go about his plan this time, he knew one important fact or flaw about the man; Lobo preferred killing his targets up close whenever possible. Dante would give his adversary that opportunity, one that hopefully would be too good for him to pass up.
After the assassination Lobo would want to get out of the area as quickly as possible so Dante decided to man the hairpin corner at the far end of the course with military veterans Glenn Foss and Richard Myers. Everything would be in Lobo’s favor; the security gate would be unlocked and there would be a gap between the concrete barriers that would be large enough for a man to slip through. It would also be close enough to West Vista Way, allowing him a direct route to Interstate Five in a matter of minutes. The trap would be set, but would Lobo take the bait?
June, 17, 2018, 9AM. The countdown began and the drivers watched the lights intently, making sure they didn’t false start. When all lights turned green, the racers were off. Dante alternated his attention between the track and his surroundings. Gary was on a nearby rooftop with a set of binoculars and a sniper rifle and kept in communication with Dante. CIA operatives disguised as race fans moved inconspicuously among the massive crowd looking for suspicious activity.
59 laps went by without incident before Gary saw something, “I’ve got someone coming through the gate.”
Dante glanced over his shoulder, “I see him.”
The cars went around one more time and Sebastian Vettel in a Ferrari passed Lewis Hamilton from the Mercedes Team on the last turn and won by two lengths. The drivers then started another lap to salute the flaggers and volunteers.
Lobo moved slowly between the concrete race barriers while Dante bided his time and prepared to make his move when all of a sudden a CIA agent made an error in judgement and intervened, “Stop right there!”
Lobo ducked behind the concrete barrier, pulled out his pistol and shot the agent then fired two rounds at Dante and escaped back through the gate. Dante ran on to the track, while waving a red flag at Sebastian Vittel, the winner who immediately stopped on the track, “I need your car.”
Sebastian didn’t know what else to do except to comply. Dante contacted Gary, “I need to get off the track,” and climbed into the cockpit.
Gary jumped on a forklift and lifted the concrete barriers out of the way, but it still wasn’t wide enough to drive through. Dante spun around and came over the top of another race car, which put him on two wheels which allowed him to clear the opening by inches and smash through the fence. He accelerated down South Coast Highway, turned left on Vista Way, pulled into the Hunter Steakhouse parking lot and waited.
If Dante was right, Lobo would enter the freeway at this ramp. He didn’t have long to wait for less than a minute passed before a 911GT2RS jet black turbocharged Porsche came down a side street and turned on to Vista Way, then down the ramp. Dante was right behind it.
It was surreal to see a Formula 1 racer chasing the Turbo Porsche south on the freeway at speeds approaching 200 miles an hour while weaving in and out of much, much slower traffic and going from the shoulder to the fast lane in less than a spilt second. The two vehicles were only inches apart when they passed Tamarack Avenue, while each driver was shooting at each other.
A bullet hit Lobo in the chest, who grimaced and slumped over the steering wheel as Dante turned sharply to the right, slammed into the Porsche and launched it into the Carlsbad lagoon. It traveled 100 feet over two paddle boarders before it hit the water. Dante slammed on the brakes, skidded to a stop and watched the vehicle sink beneath the surface. Moments later, California Highway Patrol cruisers surrounded him with lights flashing and sirens blaring, when he suddenly remembered something that took priority over his current situation. Dante pulled out his cellphone, dialed a number, slipped the phone back into his pocket then stepped out of the race car with his hands held high and flashed a friendly smile.
A dozen officers kept their distance with their guns drawn until the senior man yelled, “That’s the craziest driving that I’ve ever seen! Just what in the hell do you have to say for yourself?”
Dante’s Bluetooth earpiece rang and he responded to the Officer,” Hold on a second,” then calmly answered the call, “Hi mom, I just called to wish dad a Happy Father’s Day.”