So long, SeattleWednesday, August 06, 2014

I'm not sure exactly when it became my "home race" but Seattle has absolutely taken on that character for me, and I really enjoy that. It all has to do with this exact blog you're reading right now, because up until this thing was launched in 2005 I was just another nameless and faceless guy on a team, who wasn't actually getting his hands very dirty unless I was cleaning the body. I had met a few very friendly people over the years, but once the blog was started it seemed like Seattle became the world headquarters for new friendships. Apparently, my personality and the corresponding personalities of a large number of people from the Pacific Northwest seem to mesh.

It's almost impossible to mention everyone here, because there are so many people at the Seattle event that I now consider friends of the highest order, but let's start with Kim Campbell (aka Kim the Lawyer) and his son Andrew, who make the annual trek down from Vancouver. Kim is a brilliant guy and a terrific writer who spins elaborate yarns and tells fanciful tales in his emails. Let's just say that we don't often fire back and forth notes that simply say "How ya doin'?" Andrew is a fine lad I'd be proud to call my own son. His folks clearly had a good idea about how to raise their kids.

There's Chris and Jane Gorny, she of the now-popular nickname Crazy Jane, also from Vancouver. I remember the first time I had a real interaction with Jane. It was an email wager on an upcoming Canucks vs Wild hockey game, and if the Wild fell to her beloved Canucks I had to write an entire paragraph in the blog that was completely complimentary in terms of her favorite hockey team. The rivalry was intense, the good guys lost, and that was a hard paragraph to write.

There's Tom Miller and his son Doug, from West Linn, Oregon. Tom simply signs his emails TFWL, and I know exactly who it's from (Tom From West Linn). There's Terry Mattis who takes fabulous photographs and follows us avidly on social media. Scott Burris, also simply known as Scott The Pilot, who signs his emails STP while addressing me as BTPRG (Bob The PR Guy). Tristan Slezak, who I met 18 years ago when he was just a boy, but who stays so loyal to Del Worsham and now Tim Wilkerson. What a good kid. There's Jeff Eason, who is a real honest-to-goodness rock star. This weekend, we had a great conversation about the band Sevendust and his side of it was first-person, considering he was in a band that opened for them on tour. Great guy, and very talented. And Ryan Deccio, who is a huge fan of the Washington State Cougars. We see a lot of "Go Cougs!" license plate frames and window decals around Spokane, because WSU is located just about 75 miles south, in Pullman.

It's a group of folks who are all different in so many ways, but all very much alike in others. They all love NHRA and the Northwest Nationals, and they all enjoy this blog. Weird how they're all from the same part of the continent. And many in the group are now friends themselves, brought together by this blog adventure over the years. There are more, as well, and Seattle seems to be one of those races where I'm almost constantly being greeted by people I've rarely met (or often never met at all) just to have a word or two and make a connection with a handshake. I love it.

Bottom line: Seattle has become a very special race for me, and I enjoy every minute of every day. Okay, not the one full hour it took to get in my car and out the gate, trying to leave on Saturday even though I stayed in the pit for nearly two hours after the racing was over. Pacific Raceways is scenic and rustic, but it also has a real hard time emptying its parking lots because they all converge onto the only access road. There's a double-secret way out, just for the pro racers and officials, but even though I got there "early" in terms of when I typically arrive at the track on a Saturday, the little "lot" (it's really just a grove of trees people park between) inside the pits was already full and I had to backtrack to the huge Gold Key lot outside the gate. I therefore couldn't swim back upstream to use the secret racers' exit and had to wait it out. The troopers and parking attendants do the best they can, but it's tough. I actually thanked the two volunteers working the Gold Key gate, where it joins the main road, after it took me 30 full minutes just to go 30 feet. Why? Because without them stopping cars and making everyone alternate to allow people out of the lot, I might still be sitting there.

And one of the reasons it was so tedious upon exit was because there were a LOT of people there. Considering the annual SeaFair was going on the same weekend, where many thousands of people descend upon Lake Washington in Seattle, to see the hydroplane races in the water and the Blue Angels in the sky, the attendance at Pacific Raceways was almost stunning. A good crowd on Friday was followed by fantastic attendance on Saturday and Sunday. The big group filled most of the seats while many more were standing at the fences, and the pits were so wall-to-wall it was hard to get through. Bravo to the NHRA fans in the Pacific Northwest, and that makes it official that all three legs of the Western Swing were incredibly well-attended.

For us, it was a fun weekend with Rottler Manufacturing on the car and a lot of new partners and guests to get to know. We had a full house on Saturday, in our hospitality area, and not only did they all have a great time, it was even better because this was so new to almost all of them. Wide eyes and big smiles, all around.

I've been working with Anthony Usher at Rottler nearly constantly for the last few months, often trading dozens of emails and phone calls a day as we worked out all the details for the weekend. In just the last week before the race, Jeff Butcher came aboard at Rottler as their new Sales & Marketing rep, and it was great to finally meet both of those guys at the race. Very smart people, at a very good company, making and selling incredibly good machines. To cap it off, Andy Rottler was in attendance on Saturday, at his first drag race ever, and to see him so excited and engaged was a real highlight. Hosting that many important people is real work, but of the most enjoyable type. Great stuff, and great guests.

As you know, we won our lap in round one against my former boss (almost my entire drag racing career summed up in one round, right there) but we lost a heartbreaker to Gary Densham in round two. Yes, we lost by about an inch, but Tim's philosophy was "If we would've run what we were trying to run, it wouldn't have been close. We would've won going away, but the clutch didn't cooperate and we allowed ourselves to get beat." So, we go into Brainerd with a 30-point lead on our buddy Fast Jack Beckman, and we're also only 33 points behind Del. It's going down to the wire for sure, but doesn't it always?

I got my PR work done and saved it all on my computer until the race was over. That's a lesson I learned a long time ago, when email was first becoming essential and if I'd write my Post-Event Report and send it right out, after we lost early, some fans would get mad because once it popped up in their in-box at midday, they knew we hadn't won the race. In my career, that was the first example of a "spoiler".

Once all the writing was done, I headed back to the pit from the media trailer (yes, Pacific Raceways is the venue where the PR reps are in a trailer only a few yards behind the starting line, but we can't see the track. We watch the racing on a TV monitor while the real stuff is happening so nearby the trailer shakes every time two fuel cars launch) and I helped the team with the full tear-down. We were about done when the final round went off, so I traipsed back to the media trailer to send out my stuff, then packed up the laptop, said my goodbyes to my colleagues and friends in the PR world, and helped with the final tear-down. An hour after the final, when the Pros are allowed to finally move trailers, Tim brought the support rig into the pit and all of our hospitality stuff (flooring, tables, chairs, banners, walls, fans, lights, coolers, awnings, side skirts, and poles) was put away, followed by the golf cart. The whole circus goes into one 45-foot trailer, and there's still room for extra parts and the Ford Flex tow vehicle.

With everything done, I made my way back out to the dusty parking lot and battled the final vestiges of the traffic to head north, up to the Seattle-Tacoma airport, where I had a room waiting for me at the Radisson, right across the road from the main terminal. I didn't think I was that hungry, because I had been grazing all day, but I decided to order a Caesar Salad from room service just because I could. When I looked down at the plate about 15 minutes later, and saw that it was completely free of any remaining salad, I figured I'd actually been starving. Tasted good, too!

I got a good night's sleep, but woke up at around 4:30 a.m. for no good reason. I looked out my window in the darkness and saw traffic and headlights on International Drive, the road leading to the airport, for as far as the eye could see. Clearly there must be a lot of 6:00 a.m. flights out of SEA and there were a lot of people trying to make those departures. Just another reason I do all I can to not be one of those sleepy-eyed folks on those early-morning flights. Mine was at 11:30, and that was early enough for me. I went back to bed and got up at 8:00…

I was in seat 2A on the flight, which was the first 767 aircraft I've been on this year. It's been a while since I was on a jet with two aisles, but I was at a window anyway so there wasn't really any difference from my perspective. I picked that seat on purpose because I was hoping we'd take the same flight path we were on when I arrived in Seattle. Sure enough we did, and about 30 minutes after departure both Spokane and Liberty Lake were directly below my window. I posted the shots on Facebook with a remark about how totally weird it was to look down and see our Liberty Lake house, and Barb's office at Itron, from 38,000 feet. I waved. Barb said she waved back and could see me in the window seat. Still weird though, to look down there and know your wife is hard at work in her office in that big square building you're looking at, on the north side of town. Strange life we lead…

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They love their NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing in Seattle!
The final leg of my journey consisted of finding my car at MSP and driving home to two boyz. When we both are gone for more than a day or two, we hire a local cat-sitter to come over and spend the nights here, just to keep Boofus and Buster company, but as great as that is it's still stressful for them and they are sure to let us know when we return. It goes something like this…

They know the sound of the garage door opener, so they are usually both standing by the door that leads into the laundry room when I come in. I come through the door and there they sit, two brothers with wide eyes. Buster makes an "Erf" sound and Boofie turns and walks away, uttering one meek meow on the way. For the next 20 minutes or so, we play the game and they either ignore me or literally scream at me, just to make me understand that my being gone for nearly five days is simply unacceptable. They've been well fed, and Buster actually sleeps very near the sitter at night, but it's still totally unacceptable. About an hour into this, they realize there are treats to be had and the mood shifts. After some delectable goodies, everything transforms from being angry to being very (VERY) cuddly and needy. For the next few hours, as I watch TV, I'm covered in cats. It's a dance, and it plays out the same way every time I come home from a race. Buster is standing on my desk right now, staring at me as I type this.

So there you have it. We get a weekend off now, and then it's on up to Brainerd. You betcha!

It’s tight…Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Well here we go again. First of all, it’s July 30 and that means Friday, when we start qualifying for the Northwest Nationals in Seattle, it will be August. This is the point when, as a kid, I’d start to wake up with a stomach ache every day, knowing that the inevitable return to Mary Queen of Peace grade school was inching ever closer. Now I wake up knowing that another summer and another year and another birthday are all flying by at a ridiculous pace. I need to find the brake pedal.

Anyway, I’ll be flying out to Sea-Tac tomorrow and on Friday we’ll hit the track with our special-edition Rottler car. As I type this, the guys are actually at the Rottler headquarters displaying the car during a cool Demo Days promotion the company is doing, where they invite racers and engine builders to stop in and see the big machines in action. So yes, for the record, the Demo Days refer to demonstrations, not demolitions. We certainly hope.

We’re going to have quite a few Rottler employees and guests with us this weekend, with the biggest group coming on Saturday, so I’ll need to have my emcee skills sharpened and honed, as I’m sure many of these folks will be first-timers, especially in terms of actually being in the pitside hospitality area, getting such an up-close look at everything. I’m looking forward to it!

The headline on today’s blog installment has to do with the points situation and the Countdown playoffs. Once again, we’re locked in a tense battle to earn a spot in the post-season, and with three races left in the regular season I can state with great confidence that this is going to go down to the wire.

After the runner-up in Bristol, we were “movin’ on up” and in ninth place, obviously trending in the right direction as well. Then the three straight first-round losses during the rest of that four-in-a-row knocked us back to 11th. That would be what we officially refer to as “trending in the wrong direction”. Our buddy Fast Jack Beckman is the guy we’re currently locking horns with, and he went into Denver ahead of us by a round. We faced him in the second round and won, which put us back in 10th but only by a smidge (technical term).

The smidge was so small that Jack actually went back around us by a point based on qualifying position in Sonoma, but our final qualifying lap moved us into 13th and that meant that we raced him again, but in the first round this time. This is what we call a 40-point round, when you’re racing head-to-head against the person you’re battling with for a playoff position. In hockey it’s a 4-point game, and in drag racing it’s a 40-point round, because that’s the complete difference in positioning when comparing winning to losing.

Let’s face it, we didn’t exactly run very well in qualifying at Sonoma. Tim blamed his own greediness for smoking the tires on both Friday runs, trying to go a little too fast, but he felt good going into Q3. Instead, the beast did it again and we went into the final session 15th, but only because some other teams had messed up even worse. It was hot in Sonoma, as in frying pan hot, and even on Friday night when everyone was making their best laps, the marine layer never showed up and it didn’t massively cool off like it normally does. We went into Q4 knowing we at least had to go down the track just to have any sort of baseline for Sunday, and that’s what Tim skillfully did. It moved us up to 13th, and with Jack in the No. 4 spot we were paired up. I’d like to say we planned it that way, but it wouldn’t be true.

As reported earlier, I was not in attendance at Sonoma, but I did the PR work from home and the beauty of ESPN3 had me feeling like I was there. I was at our Liberty Lake home, out in Spokane, in the climate-controlled comfort of my office, but my palms were as sweaty as they would’ve been had I been there in person. I don’t get that nervous all that often, but I guess it was the combination of it being a head-to-head race against the guy we were then technically chasing again (since he moved back up on us by one point with those qualifying digits) and we were racing a car that had run way better than we had.

The whole reason I flew across the country to do the PR work from home was the fact Barbara was slammed and buried with work, so there was no way she could come back to Minnesota and this summer we’ve been in opposite places too much. She was working at the dining room table, and I was one room away in my office. I told her “We’re up next” as ESPN3 played on my laptop screen, and she came in to watch with me. If you saw the race, you know how we did. That lap was a thing of extraordinary beauty, and Barb and I were cheering along and high-fiving when the LRS car crossed the stripe first. We were back in 10th.

We lost to Matt Hagan in round two and our day was over, but some work had been done. The only hitch is that we’re 19 points up on Jack now, and that means we’re back in the territory where one round, up or down, can shuffle us again. We hadn’t raced Jack all year until Denver, when it was all on the line, and now we’ve raced him twice in two races. What are the odds for Seattle?

We’ve actually had a decent year, in terms of winning rounds. We’re 13-15 overall, and 9-6 in the first round, so we’re getting out of the first one enough to be in contention. The problem is we’ve only been to three semifinals, and we haven’t won a race. We haven’t won a race in three years! And where did we win that last one? Yep, Seattle.

To secure this playoff spot we can’t rely on anyone to help us, and we can’t hope for someone else to simply lose. We need to do what we’ve done every year since I joined this team, and that’s get hot when it matters. Right now, it matters. And you know what? I have more confidence in Tim Wilkerson and these guys than I ever have.

Three races left in the regular season. That means there are 12 rounds left, as well as qualifying points and bonus points. Bottom line, if we win one more round that Jack over these next three, we’re in. Or, we could both win three more rounds than Del and we’d both be in. The stark truth is that either Jack, or Tim, or Del, or possibly Cruz (but that’s a long shot) will not make the playoffs. There aren’t enough spots for everyone. Time to get busy, I think.

Other ramblings…

I sure picked the right weekend to go back out to Liberty Lake. The massive wildfires in central Washington had not only been blazing unchecked, but the winds out of the west were blowing all the smoke right over Spokane. The weekend before, Barbara said the sky was basically brown, and you could smell the smoke as if someone was burning brush right across the street. The National Weather Service didn’t just put out an advisory that the air was unhealthy for those with respiratory problems, they put out the most severe advisory they have, stating that air was unhealthy for everyone. Barb agreed with that assessment.

During the week, some much-needed rain helped the fire-fighting effort, and a switch in the wind allowed the crews to fight the fires better, while it also spared Spokane, and when I got there on Friday it was simply sublime. Upper 70s with a sky so blue you’d think it was fake. There’s a photo of our backyard in the gallery today, and it is completely as the camera saw it. Amazing.

Being in the same time zone as the race helped a lot too, and it allowed us to enjoy a nice dinner each day I was there. I broiled some chicken after I arrived on Friday, and we had that with Caesar Salad once qualifying was over. On Saturday we went to a new restaurant that has just opened in Liberty Lake, and it was fantastic. And on Sunday we enjoyed a dinner on the deck at Palenque, our local Mexican place, overlooking the ninth hole at Trailhead golf course. Yes, Margaritas were consumed. It’s a rule. You have to sign a contract when you walk in. Seriously. Okay, maybe not, but it’s still a rule.

I flew back to MSP on Monday, and as we took off from GEG we flew right over Liberty Lake and the view was right outside my window. It was another crystal-clear day, so I flipped my iPad over and took a photo. It’s in the gallery as well, and it’s the best shot I’ve ever been able to get of Liberty Lake from the air. The photo pretty much illustrates what the entire town is about. There are patches of subdivision streets, but only enough houses to give the town a population of about 6,600. There’s one little business district. There are a couple of parks. There’s Liberty Lake itself, from which the town gets its name. And there are three golf courses. From the air, the entire town looks like golf, golf, golf. And you can drive your golf cart anywhere you want. Kids can even drive them, if they stay on the sidewalks.

The seasonal differences in air travel between GEG and MSP are startling. In the winter, the aircraft is either a CRJ-900 regional jet, or an Airbus A-320 at the most. During the summer, it’s a Boeing 757-200. I wondered about that for the longest time, because it’s not exactly like Spokane is on everyone’s Top 10 List of Summer Destinations, so I asked the gate agent about it and her reply was so simple I couldn’t believe I hadn’t added that up. Yes, some people are flying in just to get to Spokane, but most are coming out for visits to Coeur d’Alene, and not just on vacations. Coeur d’Alene Resort is a top spot for corporate getaways, conferences, and other functions, so the inbound flights are often full of a lot of people who know each other and are excited to get to CdA. Makes perfect sense.

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I'm pretty sure Pacific Raceways in our only track from which you can see a volcano...
And now it’s time to get ramped up Seattle and Pacific Raceways. It’s a unique place, as you well know.

As often as I’ve been there, this time will be different. We’re staying in a hotel we’ve never been to before, right off I-5, so we’re going to have to be early each day to beat the traffic on Rte. 18. For the last few years we’d been staying up north of the track, which allowed us the pleasure of coming into the track from across Rte. 18, instead of on it. The traffic on 18 can get backed up for miles.

And, with the special Rottler car and all of their guests, it’s going to be a unique experience in that regard as well. All new faces, all new people to meet.

And then there are those pesky points. We need to keep earning them. That would be a very good idea.

I’ll take photos…

Wilber, out!

Mountain memories…Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Denver is in the books, and it was a good story. As I'm sure you know, we had a great qualifying run on Friday night, which temporarily had us on top with a new track record, and then we capped that off with a semifinal finish, making our best lap of the day in that semi but coming up just short to Robert Hight. All in all, it was good and everyone was smiling and proud of a job well done. Plus, the win over Fast Jack in round two moved us back into tenth place in the points, albeit by a margin so small it could be easily overcome by the little bonus points. There's lots of work to do to secure a playoff spot, but we're back to trending in the right direction, and that's a good thing.

Rather than tell a story most of you already know (especially with the "live" TV on ESPN) I'll just launch straight into Denver ramblings…

The Friday night run was a thing of beauty, and it was one of those moments where we did something grand at the time you're supposed to do that. We're not often known for being a big home-run team, although we certainly do have our moments. People tend to think of Wilk as a "hot weather expert" and I'm happy to say that such a designation is also true, but from time to time we can swing the big bat, make solid contact, and hit one out of the park. Q2 was one of those bombs, with a 4.071 that earned us the No. 3 spot on the ladder. Way to go boys!

We added a new staff member to the team this past weekend, and she'll be with us at a lot of races going forward. Leah Hook has worked for a few teams in the past, and she'll be helping us with hospitality and pitching in on the car at times when we're not flooded with corporate guests. She's a very nice and very focused young lady, and she's an asset for sure.

We didn't let her dip a toe in the waters gingerly, either. The Denver weekend features our single biggest day in terms of hospitality all year, when Dick Levi and about a million handpicked friends descend on our pit for a long day of enormous fun. Leah did great. And Jim and Nancy Butler were there as well, helping out and working so hard in the heat and mile-high air. The Butlers have really become a valued part of our Team Wilk family.

Sunday was not only a good day to win a couple of rounds against tough competition, it was also my day for camera calamities. Our old video camera was really struggling earlier in the year, and only the MacGyver magic performed on it by Rich Schendel kept it going. It was finally so beat up and on its last legs Rich found another one just like it online and we brought it out as a replacement. But, that new one had some sort of flaw in the way it "unlocked" the tapes and they'd constantly get jammed. so Rich performed some extra magic on the old one and it's been chugging through the races okay.

On Sunday, as I got ready to shoot round one, it wouldn't go into "Record" mode. I tried a dozen times, even as the car was backing up from the burnout, but it wouldn't work. So, no video of that run. I gave it a few more tries back in the pit, but with no luck, so I grabbed the newer camera and hoped for the best in round two. The car did its burnout, and I turned it on… Just to see a flashing red cassette icon on the screen. I figured it was jammed again, so I opened the tape slot only to see something far worse. I motioned to Krista and showed her the open slot, where there was NO TAPE at all. I had turned that camera on to make sure it would work, but it didn't occur to me that I should confirm there was actually a tape in it. Ugh.

After that round I gave it one more shot with the old camera, figuring I'd just manhandle the on/off switch to try to get it into "Record" mode. After all, if I broke the thing it wasn't like we were at a net loss. It was already not functioning. It turned out to be the right thing to do. I pushed it in the other direction, to the "Play" mode and felt the switch give just a little. I guess the MacGyver switch Richie had created was out of alignment a little, and the hard push got it back where it was supposed to be, and it would then have room to move forward to record. Whew… I'll never forget standing there before round two and opening that thing up to see it was empty. Won't make that mistake again!

It was great to see one of my nephews and one of my nieces at the track. James Doyle was there on Friday and Saturday, and Erin Doyle came on Sunday. Both brought newbies too, so that adds to the fun.

As we were servicing the car and beginning the tear-down process after the semifinal loss on Sunday, Tim got a text from Graham Light at NHRA, and it was a warning that some strong winds and heavy rain were on their way. We started strapping things down and moving some chairs when a huge gust of wind hit the front of our pit, knocking over our complete solvent cleaning station and about tearing the whole transporter awning off. We're very lucky nobody got hurt in that deal, and with all the heavy metal stuff crashing around it missed the nose of our Ford Flex by a mere inch. Everyone ran over there and a few of us grabbed awning poles to keep it from flying away, while others picked up all the overturned stuff. There's an awning panel on the end there, and it was catching the gusty wind like a sail, so it needed to come off, but with all the debris on the ground there was no way to set up a ladder. Big Tom Leskovan, from the Tasca team, had heard the noise and he'd run around to help out, so he just had Nick Casertano get up on his shoulders, so that Nicky could unsnap the panel and take it off. Sometimes you have to be creative, and Big Tom came to the rescue.

Just as the final round was going off, after that weather delay, I rounded up Leah and we headed out toward the Denver airport. Her original itinerary had her leaving on a 4:00 flight on Sunday afternoon. I have no idea why, and the only way anyone would've been able to get her there was if we'd had a horrible race day. So, we got her flight changed to Monday morning but she then needed a room for that night. As I often do, I had already planned to check out of our race hotel on Sunday morning, and had reserved a room at the Embassy Suites right by the airport for Sunday night.

When I do that, I pay whatever I feel like paying for a nice room, because by Sunday night the things I crave the most are a good bed, a quiet room, and a place that has room service. For Leah, since Tim would be paying for her room, I checked all the budget chains out by the airport and they were all higher than the $139 rate I had secured at the Embassy Suites, so I called the hotel to ask about availability. The nice guy at the desk said it was no problem, and he had a "best rate" of $119. Perfect! So he transferred me to the reservations center, which is located somewhere else and not at the hotel itself.

I told the reservations agent that Reggie at the desk had quoted me $119, and that I'd like to reserve a room for someone at that rate. Her reply was "We do have a $119 rate but it's for specific handicapped-access rooms, which we can't reserve in advance." Huh? I told her that the nice gentleman at the actual hotel had told me he had a room with a king-sized bed available for $119, so how about we just do that. She said "That rate is not available." So, Reggie had a room at $119, but it's not available. I believe we call this the old "bait and switch" and I told her that. I did get a room for Leah at the same $139, but I was none too pleased by the whole "disappearing rate trick" pulled on me. Still, the $139 was cheaper than even the discount chains, and it's a terrific hotel. My Caesar Salad from room service was nice, as well, and the pillows were outstanding.

I called Barb at around 7:00 on Sunday evening, because I was so tired I didn't know if I'd even be able to stay up until 10:00. Sure enough, by 9:00 or so I was zonked out and probably snoring. When I woke up (very early) on Monday, I was recharged and ready to fight through the mayhem of Denver International. That place can be a total zoo, and sure enough the TSA lines were snaked all the way back through the massive mazes on both sides of the main terminal. Even with TSA pre-check it can be a hassle, but I gave myself plenty of time and got through it with only a modicum of stress.

Barb and I had to do the old "car swap" at MSP, which is always not fun because it means we've missed each other as we travel. I left Thursday and she picked the car up when she flew into MSP on Friday. She flew back to Spokane on Sunday night, and I picked the car up on Monday. We each have a set of keys for that car, and we text each other with its location after we park. It's the part of the "life we lead" that makes this tough.

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Massive crowds at Bandimere, for all three days.
This weekend is Sonoma, but I won't be there because we don't do hospitality. Barb has to stay in Spokane for work, so I'm going to fly out there and do the PR work from my home office in Mayberry (aka Liberty Lake). Again, the life we lead…

So… Denver was hot, the sun was bright, and we did some good. We also almost got totally blown off the hill at the top of the lanes when those gusts of wind about tore us apart, but we survived. And now onto Sonoma, where Tim has won twice and been runner-up once. Let's add to at least one of those columns, eh!

On a totally different note, I was contacted yesterday by a gentleman named Patrick Despain, who is a baseball writer for WFAA TV in Dallas, which is the station where my old friend and roomie, Pete Delkus, is the head meteorologist. Patrick had discovered one of my old "Bob On Baseball" blogs about Pete, and his amazing career as first a pitcher in the Twins' organization and then as a weatherman of enormous repute, and he wanted to blog about it on the WFAA website. He asked me for some additional background on Pete, to add some flavor to his story by having an old friend, roommate, and teammate relate those memories, and I was happy to trade emails with him yesterday. It turned out to be a fantastic story, and it's here:


Good stuff, about a really good guy. And, if you missed that original Bob On Baseball and want to learn more about Pete, you can find that here:


I've been incredibly fortunate to know and be friends with a lot of amazing people in my 58 years on this planet. It's been a life so rich in that regard that I'd be classified as a Billionaire in the friends department. Pete Delkus is one of those people. One of the best guys I've ever known…

So, with all that said how 'bout we just go out there and win Sonoma? I'd be good with that.

Wilber, out!

Let the swing begin…Monday, July 14, 2014

Denver. Thunder Mountain.  Bandimere Speedway.  Spin those blowers and try to make some power, but take your time walking back up the staging lanes to the pit.

And here we go, it's Week 1 of the Western Swing after a weekend off to recover from the four-in-a-row swing that doesn't have a name. The Western Swing has taken all sorts of liberties with its own schedule, even having Denver come in last as the third of the three races once, but I always feel like the current incarnation is the "correct" one, for no good reason. It just somehow feels right to go from Denver to Sonoma and then up to Seattle.

I'll sadly be missing the middle leg of the trio, since we don't do hospitality in Sonoma. If I lived in Sonoma I'd be first in line at the track each day, but it's an expensive proposition for me and the team if I just feel like going for the fun of it. I know you'll find this hard to believe, but the hotel owners in places like San Rafael and Novato know there's a race that weekend, and the rates reflect that knowledge.

Had it not been for the fact we're running a special-edtion Rottler - LRS car in Seattle, that race wouldn't have been on my schedule either, but now I get to go and I'm looking forward to that because I love the Seattle area and the fact I'll get to see some of the longest-running blog reader friends out there, including Kim the Lawyer, Crazy Jane and her hubby Chris, and Terry the poster man. Hopefully I'll even see a few other long timers there, as well.

But first, let's not jump ahead. Denver is on the docket and I'll be headed that way on Thursday.  Saturday is the big day for us on the mountain, as it's the annual "packed house" full of special guests all personally invited by Dick Levi. We've always called it "Dick's Family Reunion" and he does have some family there, but that's really a misnomer. Still, it's a great group and they have a great time at the drags with us. I always look forward to that one!

I was looking back through my photos from last year, and that's one of the many wonderful things about the technology we have today. When I first got started in this profession, I shot photos at the track with my 35mm camera and then had to take the film to the mall to get it developed. At least they had progressed all the way to being able to do that in an hour at the time, instead of the week it used to take. From there, the envelope full of prints would join a million others just like it, clogging up a complete drawer in my office and mostly just being a nuisance. Once we got into the world of websites, I had to actually mail the photos to our original webmaster guy, because he had the space-age ability to scan and upload.  We've come a long way.

Anyway, now I can just go back through my iPhoto library and look at all the pics I've taken since I got my latest digital camera and Apple provided the application for looking at, storing, and organizing pics. That first race with this technology would be Norwalk in 2009, and I know this because the folders of photos are stored chronologically and Norwalk '09 is always staring at me as the top folder in the the stack.

Looking through last year's pic, I noticed that I didn't take as many photos in Denver as I do at some other races, although it's certainly one of the most photogenic venues on the tour. I think the reason is that I'm so busy with hospitality that I don't have as much time to cruise around as an ersatz Ansel Adams (although in color).  I did see the pics I took of the massive, huge, ginormous thunderstorm that mercifully formed to the east of us as it moved away. We're all fully accustomed to the afternoon thunder boomers that come over the mountain around 5:00 out there, but luckily the big one in 2013 only gave us a photo op, not a reason to run for cover.

I'll put a few from last year in the photo gallery below, just so we all have something to look forward to this weekend.

Things about Denver…

People who don't live at altitude (me) really do feel it in Denver. It's not like you feel it when you step off the plane, but the first time you walk up the ramps and then up the staging lanes from the parking area you sure do. Every year I figure that I start to get accustomed to it by Sunday, and then I wonder if when I fly home I will feel the reverse, like I'm in super shape. Doesn't seem to work that way.

The Denver crowds are always great, and they come early, stay late, and have a great time. They also seem oblivious to the fact they're mostly broiling in the sun, which also seems as if it's only about 15 feet above our heads. Sunscreen is an essential part of the Denver experience.

Our standard pit spot at Bandimere affords us a "back patio" where Dick Levi likes to hang out. The patio, which is really just an empty space forward of our hospitality area (but patio sounds way better) gives us a fantastic view to the east and on Saturday and Sunday we can see the traffic start to back up on the highway down below. Fortunately, the Troopers who work the traffic flow into and out of Bandimere do a great job, or it would be way worse. We get to the track early enough each day to miss out on the inbound backups.

Denver was the second national event I ever attended.  Back when I was GM at Heartland Park, my whole staff and I went to the Gatornationals to see our first race, and then in midsummer I decided to jump in the HPT Corvette pace car and make the trek to Denver. There are probably more boring drives than the one from Topeka to Denver, but it's gotta be on the short list. Did have fun though, and got my first taste of how the Bandimere family runs the track. Those were useful lessons to take back to Topeka with me for our race, which was in the fall back then.

I've only made the trip "over the hill" to Red Rocks Amphitheater once, just to go over there and check that box off the list of concert venues I've always wanted to visit. The place is wide open when it's not in use, so there are always people working out by running the stairs, or just looking around wide-eyed like me.

I used to watch my VHS tape of U2 "Live At Red Rocks - Under A Blood Red Sky" all the time, back in the early 80s, and to me the venue was a mystical looking place. It didn't hurt that U2 was playing some mystical music on a blustery night when low clouds and fog blanketed Red Rocks. They couldn't have ordered up any better atmosphere for songs like "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "New Year's Day".  It was fun to finally make the quick trip around to the other side of the same mountain Bandimere inhabits and just walk around the place, but the first thing that seemed impossible is that the stage is so tiny. It's looks like it's about the size of a large living room, when you're standing on it. Doesn't seem possible that bands like U2 and Rush could play there. I also parked behind the stage on the day I went, which presented me with a stairway of at least 100 steps just to get up to the place. I earned the visit.

And I'm sure I've written about this before, but it's a segue I can use. My first visits to Denver were in the summers of 1971 and 1972, when my dad was the manager of the Denver Bears, who were then the Triple-A affiliate of the Washington Senators (who then became the Texas Rangers). I was the bat boy, and I got to run around and shag fly balls all summer at the old Mile-High Stadium during afternoon batting practice, before I had to do my "job" picking up bats or taking balls out to the umpire. We lived at the old Continental Denver Motel, just a few blocks away.

Back then, Mile-High was only half as big as it ended up being. The Broncos were in town but the stadium hadn't been finished to completely encircle the football field. The giant stadium grandstands just ran from the right field corner to just a little bit beyond home plate. The football field ran from the third-base line out to right field, where another grandstand stood (the one that had the huge white Bucking Bronco atop it) beyond what would be the end zone for football but right field for baseball. The Bears used the Broncos locker room as their clubhouse, so every player got two lockers (even me) and the place was huge.  Needless to say, those were a couple of fun summers. Players like Jeff Burroughs, Pete Mackanin, Lenny Randle, Dave Nelson, and a whole slew of other guys who were either on their way to the big leagues or had already been there. Great memories.

I have to run now (taking my car into the shop), but I know there are a few of you who also follow along with my other blog, "Bob On Baseball" so here's your tip that a new one has been posted (see, there's the segue I was talking about). 


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Last year, getting ready to rock on Thunder Mountain
It's about my college years, and how richly rewarding they were, in terms of baseball yes, but mostly in terms of some of the best friendships ever and a fantastic education. I grew up more in those four years than in any others in my life.

Southern Illinois University - Edwardsville wasn't Harvard, by any stretch, but it was fantastic place to mature and become an adult.

I just posted it over the weekend, but so far people seem to like this one and I'm getting a lot of nice emails, so I'm happy for that. As opposed to this blog, where I try to write more often and usually am just flying by the seat of my pants in a sort of stream of consciousness way, my other blog is one I write far more infrequently, but I always have a plan and an actual outline when I dive in. I see those installments as practically mini-books, and maybe someday I'll find a way to combine them into an actual book. Throw in my sports marketing days, my soccer experience, and then my "second career" in drag racing, and you'd have a publication that might break a coffee table, much less sit on one.

Okay, I'm off to take my car in then I'll be back at it behind my desk this afternoon. While I'm waiting on my car, maybe I'll figure out the theme for my Denver preview story…  To avoid cliche, the word "mountain" should not be in the headline.

See you soon. Wish us luck.

Wilber, out!

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