Ever since seeing Cars 3 for the first time a few weeks ago (finally) and they revealed that during the whole time Doc was mentoring Lightning, he'd broken that 50-year silence with Smokey, that got me thinking like, what could writing that first letter have been like? What was he thinking and what could he have written after fifty years?
So, in my head, Doc left Thomasville in '55 (wrecked in '54 and took all that time to heal and recover and then it was '55 by the time he left) so when he wrote the first letter shortly after that first race in California in the first movie it was 2006. (51 years)
I'm also in love with the idea that Smokey is actually Doc's older brother...
He sat in the corner at the desk, the room dark except for the warm yellow glow from the lamp next to him, illuminating the blindingly blank paper in front of him. Why did he want to do this again? Well, for one, he owed him an explanation of some kind. He had hoped a letter might test the waters, be good enough for now, even. It wasn't entirely what he deserved after all these years of silence, but it was the best he had right now and it was a good a start as any. A cross-country trip was out of the question and a phone call…well, that was always an option, but he didn't know if he even wanted to talk to him, to listen to what he had to say after disappearing for over five decades. A letter gave him the option of how to respond, whether or not to bridge that gap after everything he had put him through. It put the ball in his court so to speak.
It gave him an option that Doc had otherwise stripped from him the day he left without a word.
He ran both his hands through his hair and let out a breath, elbows on the desk on either side of the paper. Where did he even begin? It'd been four days since the race in California and he was sure he'd at least heard about his surprise return. It was all the racing networks on TV and the internet were talking about, but he hadn't been interested in reliving that particular section of his past just yet. And he hadn't even touched that section of the paper just yet.
That night after the race, Lightning had insisted everyone stay at the hotel with him and the two had a long, hard talk in the hotel bar about the future. Initially, Doc had felt he owed Lightning both an explanation—only as much as he was willing to offer, anyways—and his help for that one race after having called the press to run him out of town. The next thing he knew, he'd agreed to be his crew chief without much of a thought to it.
Lightning hadn't even had to formally ask. He just assumed Doc would be there for the first race of the next season and he hadn't felt the need to correct the kid. Everything he'd missed about racing had hit him full force the moment he climbed into the Rust-eze pit box and accepted the headset from Mack. And he craved more of it. There was so much this kid could do already, so much he could still learn…
It was during that talk, though, that Doc decided he needed to write a letter. He was telling Lightning about the importance of a good team, of his old team. But as he was lecturing the kid on their importance, he was realizing some things he hadn't thought about in decades. And because he knew he was involved now, and would continue to be involved, he felt he owed an explanation.
But again, where to begin? It had been so long…
And that's where he decided to start. He forwent addressing him at the beginning of the letter—he would know who it was to.
It's been so long, that maybe this is inappropriate and unfair, but I felt like you deserved something. Particularly because of the way things have ended up going recently, I feel like it would be worse to let the silence continue now. It's been 51 years. A little ironic, that number. I'm sure you've heard about the kid by now, and I'm not even sure how to begin to explain.
I didn't intend for anyone to ever find me, let alone that world. The smallest town in the state and that kid had to find it and pull me back into everything. Or maybe I'm still not being completely honest and I never really left. I'd be lying if I said I didn't know who he was when he rolled in. But I had no intentions on rejoining the racing world like this anymore. Not after the way they abandoned me.
He scratched that out quickly, cringing as his train of thought twisted.
Not after the way they abandoned us, he amended.
Fifty years has given me a lot of time to think, a lot of time to mull over my regrets and my choices, but it wasn't until the kid got to town and found me out that really drove the point home. I had pushed that whole life aside and left it there to die. This kid—not even old enough to drink—comes and changes all of that. He was right, though. I'm selfish. I didn't think about how everything had affected you, too. You were also kicked out, you were also abandoned. But I had only considered myself, my failures.
Took the kid telling me so to admit it, I guess. But I was wrong.
I never intended to stay on as the kid's crew chief. I thought it was going to be a one-time sort of deal. But he's grown on me I guess. He reminded me so much of how I was my rookie year, how naïve I was, how excited I was. How talented I was. All that potential. I wanted nothing to do with him. Maybe it was because he reminds me of myself that I agreed to stay on. He's got a lot of stuff. He's going to go far if the sport lets him. Might even break my record one day…
Doc pursed his lips and dropped his pen, leaning back in his chair with his hands behind his head. He didn't know what else needed to be said. There was so much, fifty years' worth, but some things he didn't feel right writing down. Some things needed to be said in person. And if he was honest, some things he wasn't ready to admit just yet. The rookie had kicked up a lot of dust in his life and he was really just waiting for it to settle to really see where he stood with it all.
He didn't sign the letter. What name would he put down? His real one? Any of the numerous nicknames he'd carried over the years? He didn't know him as Doc, but he really didn't feel like he deserved any of his other nicknames at the moment.
Before he could crumple the letter like a growing part of him wanted to, he folded it and slipped it into an envelope. He wrote the address on the front, still remembering it after so many years. As much as he'd tried to, he could never forget where he'd come from.
His eyes drifted over his shoulder towards the Hornet sitting behind him, the new decals vibrant against the blue color. He'd forgotten what it had looked like with all the racing paraphernalia adorning the paint. It felt right, whole again.
There was a knock at the door before one slid open, letting the neon lights pour in from outside.
"Who taught you to knock? I think that's the first time."
Lightning rolled his eyes and jammed his hands in the pockets of his jeans. "Mater is setting up a bonfire and Red is kind of panicking. They're trying to celebrate."
Doc sighed and rubbed the tiredness from his eyes. The kid had dragged him out to the Butte earlier that day to practice, and of course he had his clinic duties for the later part of the afternoon. That much excitement over the last week and a half had left him exhausted, but it seemed like he wasn't going to get to bed early like he'd wanted to. Had it really only been less than two weeks?
Lightning hesitated. "You don't have to, I just figured—"
Doc stood and wiped his hands on his jeans before reaching across his desk for a stamp to press onto the corner of the envelope.
"Ha ha, that's not funny," Lightning said dryly.
Doc smirked and led the way out the door. "Then mind your business, Kiddo."
He'd dropped off the letter before he could change his mind, and it took three letters over the course of the next three months before he ever got a reply…