Long ago in the early days of F-Zero racing, the Night Thunder was a fixture on the race track, on this occasion leading the pack and looking like it was set for victory...
... only to be passed by a mysterious race pilot whose face was hidden beneath a helmet. "Don't start celebrating just yet," the adversary snarks, and snatches victory away from the Night Thunder.
In present day, the Night Thunder and its pilot Silver Neelsen are still racing... and his run of bad luck hasn't ended. Neelsen's machine drives straight into the back of the Astro Robin during a close race, wiping them both out...
... and leaving Ryu to win the grand prix. Jack is furious, kicking his machine and cursing this turn of events. However, a crowd of screaming fangirls storm onto the track - surely they'll help cheer him up!
Sadly, not even his "respectful loser" facade attracts their attention - they're all after Ryu. He returns to kicking his machine, only to hear another voice calling him name, praising his skills. Surely this is a babe worth his time!
It's Silver Neelsen, and he here's to chew out Jack Levin on his foolishness: this whippersnapper didn't just wreck his Night Thunder, he ruined his 7776th race as well! After giving him a few cracks of his cane, Neelsen claims to know the reasons behind Jack's failure, but won't tell him until he meets him at the practise course.
Popping by Falcon House for a brewski, Jack listens in to Lucy and Clank's research on the old geezer: he's 97 years old and has the record for most F-Zero races attended, though no word on what his win ratio is. The others believe he can learn a thing or two from this F-Zero veteran, but Jack leaves, hesitant to the idea.
At police headquarters, Jody and Dr. Stewart are researching a racer who has won every race the Galaxy Mobile Platoon have been absent from: Anthony Ropkin. However, there's absolutely no information on this helmeted character, and whether or not he's a member of Dark Million is unknown.
Jack shows up at the practise course to find Neelsen waiting for him. Glad he came, the old one quickly puts him on a strict training regime... of jogging, push-ups, weight-lifting, boxing, cold showers, and being tickled. This is Iron Man Neelsen's ultimate training regime; many pilots have soared to greatness following it! Jack reminds him he's here to win races, not get a sweet bod. Neelsen apologises - he thought he was looking to impress girls.
Lucy tells Ryu and Jody that Jack is busy training, and Ryu's keen to pull him out so he can participate in the next race; he's been upset over his previous losses, and they're concerned their friend is wallowing in misery. Jody tells him not to, and they should stay out of it. This is a good opportunity for Jack, and the best they can do is hope he finds the answers he's after.
While running practise laps with Neelsen, Jack fears the old man is just stringing him along on a wild goose chase; he was to be told why he lost his last few races, and he's learnt nothing. He overtakes the Night Thunder on the outside, but Neelsen accelerates, cutting him off. Jack can't lose this race...!
Jack lost that race. Silver tells him he made all the same mistakes he did last time, but Jack doesn't care, he just wants to win. There's no such thing as a racer who doesn't want to win, and Jack especially wants to win, to beat that jackass Ryu! Neelsen tells him he'll never defeat Ryu with that attitude, he's a far superior racer. Besides, the old man lost his hunger for victory long ago.
Long ago, Silver Neelsen actually won an occasional race. He once had a rival, a most talented racer whom he could never defeat, no matter how many times they dueled. One day, Neelsen was injured during training and carted away in an ambulance, despite his pleas: he has a race to attend! The race started without him, but on the second lap, his rival's machine had become a burning wreck. He never saw him again.
That's when Neelsen lost his racing spirit, and the lesson to be taken from it is: pay attention to the race. The two catch the tailend of a race on television, and the old man has a strange reaction to seeing the victor, but passes it off as nothing.
Iron Man Neelsen
Silver Neelsen visits a park to watch the sunset, reflecting on what he say, when a voice calls out that he hasn't heard in years...
It's Anthony Ropkin! The old man is brought to tears by the return of his old friend and rival; it's been seventy years! The two watch the sunset, commenting it hasn't changed in all that time, but Neelsen has to ask his friend a question? Why did he lose that fateful race long ago? Was it because he wasn't there?
Anthony recollects: he was concerned that Silver hadn't made it to the race... though he skidded on an oil slick from a downed racer, setting it alight and turning his machine into a fireball. Neelsen insists he should have still won after that, but to Ropkin, it was of no consequence.
Anthony is here today because he had been put in cold sleep, and was dead-set on fulfilling his promise with Neelsen, but he wanted to lie low until he had improved his skills. Pleased to hear the old man hasn't stopped racing in seventy years, the two vow to complete what they started all those years ago.
Jack Levin and Silver Neelsen spend many days and many nights putting in practise for the next race, giving it their all.
The old man has sombre news for his young trainee: the next race will be his last. He wishes to end his career on a high note, and would be honoured if Jack were to attend. He's gotten back his racing spirit, and with it, he has a vital tip for Jack: don't think of anyone if you want to win.
This sticks with Jack as he lines up on the starting grid; Ryu offers friendly banter, but Levin's mind is focused on the race ahead. Meanwhile, Neelsen and Anthony are glad to be reunited on the race track, and no matter the result, they'll enjoy it together.
The race begins, and Jack performs excellently, racing ruthlessly but without malice. If a racer is in his way, he passes it. If a crowd is trundling ahead, he weaves between them. He catches up to the Dragon Bird, and Silver Neelsen is there to offer him support over the communicator.
Anthony, Silver, Ryu and Jack are leading this race, driving almost in unison across the finish line, though the Astro Robin snatches first place by the tip of its nose. Jack has won, and he's beyond chuffed; this is the thrill of victory again!
Jack and Neelsen meet up after the race, the old man offering his sincere congratulations. Ryu runs up to offer the same, but Jack thanks him instead; it was his superior skills that drove him to be this passionate. He wouldn't be here without him. Silver and Anthony had a lot of fun in their final race together...
... and are swarmed in a crowd of adoring fangirls. Jack is jealous; why aren't they celebrating his victory? And isn't this geezer supposed to be retired already?! Silver's changed his mind; Anthony's looking for a rematch, and besides, he can hardly disappoint these lovely ladies!
Burt's F-Zero Classroom: Burt recaps what we know of Jack Levin, but also offers a little trivia: he was once part of a flamboyant boy band before he joined the F-Zero circuit, and Burt even has one of their albums, Cheery Blue Machine (幸せの青いマシン).
4Kids broadcast: The episode is retitled Old Rivals.
The joke about Neelson thinking Jack was trying to impress girls is cut, and his cold shower is instead a lesson to "become one with the race track", to follow what the unconscious mind tells him. "It's sayin' this guy's crazy!" answers Jack.
Either Dreadopp and Zedopp's subtitles are really vague, or the dub ties Neelson and Ropkin's story together a bit better: The two were childhood friends before they became pilots, but Ropkin's victories angered Silver into them making a deal: they'll have a race where whoever wins is the better man, and whoever loses is forcibly retired. Come the race, Silver crashes while in the lead, and seeing his wreck is what distracts Anthony long enough for his fateful crash to occur; as such, they've gone seventy years without a true victor. The wreck in Anthony's race is recoloured blue to suggest it's Silver's vehicle.
Anthony Ropkin's machine is a red recolour of Dr. Stewart's Golden Fox.