Another season complete…Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Man oh man, time doesn't just fly it soars at the upper reaches of the atmosphere and it streaks by at supersonic velocity. How can another season be completely over? Sheesh.

I guess, considering I have yet to master any sort of time travel or time manipulation, I'll just have to replay the Pomona weekend here and look ahead to an "off-season" that is anything but "off". Especially considering there's much to do in terms of wrapping up the PR work and getting going on 2015. And, utilizing my limited math skills, it looks like we'll be back in Pomona is something like 85 days, which is about 12 weeks.

Speaking of limited math skills, though, maybe that's the ticket for slowing down the passage of time. If I took eight hours of high school algebra each day, time would seem like it's standing still. Worth thinking about. Not worth doing, but worth thinking about.

Okay, so Pomona. I knew, going in, that I wasn't going to get there in time for the Summit Bracket Championships dinner, but I didn't know that my connecting flight in Salt Lake would be 90 minutes late, which got me into John Wayne Airport at around 6:30 p.m. on Thursday. Factor in waiting for my bag, getting my rental car, and pulling out of the airport and it was about 7:00ish. If you've ever been to Orange County and driven from John Wayne up to Pomona, you might be able to imagine the scene as I crawled through traffic to take the 55 to the 5 to the 57. That was So Cal speak right there. "The 55". You have to speak that way in So Cal, or you can be pulled over on "The 5" and given a citation. It's true. Don't risk it.

Anyway, the trip from the airport to about Angels' Stadium was 45 minutes in a sea of bright red tail lights. That's to go maybe what, ten miles? The rest of the ride up to Pomona was free and clear, except at the constant bottle neck where the 57 merges for a bit with the 60.

I am now officially ending my SoCal freeway speak. Here in Spokane we call it I-90.

I was ravenously hungry by the time I got to my room, so the first thing I did was hit up room service for a chicken Caesar, my current go-to salad at home or on the road. Made myself one last night, actually, and blackened the chicken to take it to the next level. Like many hotels, the Sheraton adds an 18% tip to the bill for you, because they're really nice like that. The 18 percent tip on a Caesar salad was $2.33, and as I always tell the person delivering my tray "No one should ever bring me food for $2.33" and then I handed him a five. I mean really… It's just not that hard to tip well, especially when you're dining alone and the tab is so small.

The weather was terrific all weekend, and the racing was as well. As the days went by, and the championships either got decided (yes, Tony Schumacher showed up, which clinched it for him) it really got more and more thrilling and interesting. I know there are still some people who don't like the Countdown, but I guess there are also people who don't like the playoffs in other sports, or kittens, or apple pie, or even 78-degree sunny days in Pomona when the thrill of "final day" championships made the air electric.

It really was just that. Each one of those laps just ramped up the pressure, and I think the Pro Stock battle was epic. I like Jason Line a lot, and that team is incredible, but the story was clearly Erica Enders-Stevens and what drama it was. I was in the Media Center for each round, watching with my PR colleagues even though Team Wilk had been eliminated in round two and my work was done. It was absolutely a thrill to watch, and a thrill to be there with all those talented PR people, many of whom absolutely still had horses in various races right to the end. I had goosebumps when that Pro Stock final was happening.

Everyone had simply thought that if John Force didn't pick up two rounds on Matt Hagan he would not earn his 17th championship. But then we started seeing all those low 4.0s, even on race day, and as the rounds ticked by I watched the JFR and DSR folks huddling in the front row of the Media Center (because where else would they sit?) when it became apparent that John could still win the big trophy if he beat Matt in the final and also set a new national record. To do that, he'd have to "back it up" with another run within one percent of the record, so the PR people were calculating that as John ran his semifinal round. He needed something along the lines of a 4.004 to have the back-up in hand prior to the final. He did win that round, but he ran 4.044, which meant the magic was over for the year.

To have it all come down to the final weekend, and in one case the final round, was pretty special.

And, I'm about to sound like a broken record again (someone somewhere just wondered what a broken record is) but once again the Friday crowd was really good, the Saturday crowd was really big, and the Sunday crowd was truly packed and enormous. I know a lot of longtime Pomona experts who specifically stated that we raced on Sunday in front of one the largest crowds ever for this race. When I started in this business, Pomona was always packed but the old temporary grandstands were quite a bit smaller than the permanent ones we have now. This was a great weekend, with great crowds. And man oh man, they stayed right to the end. Drama like what we had will help you keep butts in seats all day.

And did you know… The old temporary grandstands that had to be completely erected for each Pomona race, were also the grandstands used to line the streets in Pasadena for the Rose Parade. True fact, as far as I know, and corroborated by various NHRA types who told me that fact. They wouldn't lie to me, would they?

I waited until the final run was made and the fireworks were blowing up the darkened sky, and then I fired off my Post-Event Report to my email distribution list. I circulated through the Media Center and said as many goodbyes as possible, then headed back to the pit to hang with my team for a while, chatting with our guys, many of our friends, and a bunch of people from other teams. There were post-race parties set for a number of pit areas, but after a decade of throwing and participating in the most epic post-Pomona parties ever, in the Worsham pit, I figure I've not only been there and done that, but I'll never be able to replicate it. So, there's that, plus the fact I'm old, and I headed back to the hotel. And Mega-Rita no longer makes appearances at Pomona. Those were the craziest of the crazy parties.

Monday morning at the hotel, when you're staying in a place that's packed with racers, is really surreal. For four days, it's felt like home and you're surrounded by people you know. Then you get up on Monday morning and head to the lobby, only to find it full of business people who are not even vaguely familiar. Like, who ARE these people in OUR hotel? It's weird.

And on Monday after Pomona, it's a slightly different feeling of tiredness. I'm tired after every race, but it's a little different feeling after the last race. And it was as if my mind and body weren't ready to shut it off yet. I woke up at 5:30, just like I do every day during each race, because my brain features a built-in internal alarm clock that will start waking me up at 30-minute intervals starting about 90 minutes before I plan to get up. Even if I have my iPhone alarm set for a stupidly early morning, like in Gainesville, I will always wake up about an hour early, doze back off, and then wake up two minutes before it goes off. I'm odd like that.

What that means is that I had planned to recharge by sleeping in, but by 8:00 I was going nuts so I finished packing, spent about an hour online doing follow-ups and replying to a million emails, and then by 10:00 I was checked out of the hotel and in my rental car. At that precise moment, I knew I had to hurry because I only had six and a half hours left until my flight left! I tried to remember why on Earth I booked a 4:30 flight out of John Wayne, but then I remembered that the other option that was open was something around 7:00 a.m. Easy decision to make, at the time. Why I chose to fly into John Wayne instead of Ontario is a question I can't answer. I have no idea. It was the end of another season and my brain wasn't functioning at 100 percent.

Maybe it was the subconscious realization that I would have a lot of time to kill, and therefore with John Wayne being near that big body of water we lovingly refer to as the "Pacific Ocean" I could go there for a bit. So I did.

I drove down to San Clemente, then up through Dana Point (where I lived for a year back in 1990) and then on up the beautiful Pacific Coast Highway, which even non-Californians call "The PCH" to Laguna Beach, where I parked for a bit to take some photos and smell the sea breeze. I also had lunch. It was, believe it or not, something other than a chicken Caesar. Wacky, I know.

After that I drove on up to Newport Beach, cruised around Orange County in general, and finally turned the car in at 2:00 for my 4:30 flight. I had run out of things to do. There's no Sky Club at SNA, but there were plenty of empty gates so I just went to one of those and fired up the laptop for 90 minutes, then went to my gate so I could elbow all the other passengers out of the way like an NBA power-forward, just to be the first person to board. That little old lady with the walker had no chance… I'm kidding, she got to pre-board.

Then, to add to my lengthy day, I had a two and a half hour layover in Salt Lake. A) Thank goodness for the Sky Club there. B) Thank even more goodness for the upgrades Delta has been making in terms of food in the club. For the last 20 years, whether it was the Northwest World Club or the Delta Sky Club, your food options generally consisted of individually wrapped cheese squares, nuts, celery, and Greek olives (which are really hard to spear with those little toothpicks). Bagels too, but only in the morning.

Now, we have mixed green salads with three choices of dressing, two soups, various crackers and chips to dip in various cheeses or, and wait for this…. Tapenade! I love olives, and tapenade is my absolute favorite side-dish or appetizer. Bam! The Greek olives are still hard to spear with those funky toothpicks, but the new-look version of Sky Club grub is a huge step up. Plus, I didn't have to go sit at an SLC restaurant and pay $15 for dinner. All good.

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My view from "the office," otherwise known as the Media Center.
Oh, I posted this on Facebook but it's worth repeating here. At the SLC Sky Club, we were graced by the presence of the single most important man in the world. He certainly felt that way about himself. He was wearing an enormous suit, reminiscent of the one David Byrne of The Talking Heads wore in that one video, although Mr. Important's suit was grey, not white. He was on his phone, with his earbud plugged in while he held the cord up to his mouth, and he graciously made it a point to walk around every room and corner of the Sky Club, so we could all hear the marvelous and important things he was saying, in a voice the peeled paint. Round and round he went, adding joy and comfort to hundreds of weary travelers, with pleasant comments like "You have to show this to our European customers. Trust me, I know this. Do I lie? No, I don't lie. I know this. They will love it." All of this at a volume that might very well have been loud enough to reach the person on the other end without the use of a phone at all. I felt honored to be in his regal presence. So much so, I was humbled by him and didn't feel worthy to be in the same room, so I went to the gate an hour before my flight to sit there with the rest of the common people. It was better there. Some people...

All added up, I left the Sheraton in Pomona at 10 a.m. and walked in the door here in Liberty Lake at 11:15 p.m. Long day…

Barbara had just completed another crazy business trip to Europe last week, which included stops in London, Amsterdam, and other places I can't remember, so when her flight from Amsterdam to Minneapolis landed on Friday, she used the weekend as a decompression stop in Woodbury. She and neighbor Nichol even went to the Minnesota Wild hockey game. Then, when she flew back to Spokane on Monday, she got in a couple of hours before I did, but I told her not to waste time just sitting there to meet up with me, although even that advice wasn't necessary. By then, the grind of her travel had run her batteries down, and she knew she was getting a cold. And it's a doozy. Basically, she didn't get out of bed yesterday. She's better today, and even went to a meeting at her office, but she's still a few days away from being back to 100 percent. And next week we have visitors from Orlando coming for Thanksgiving, so I hope she's fully better for that! I'm using a combination of Zicam and quarantine to limit my chances of getting what she has.

Boofus and Buster clearly know when one of us is not feeling well, because they focus all their attention on the sick person. I've barely seen those two guys since I've been home. They've been with her the whole time…

Now, time to start putting my "Year In Review" publicity summary together for Dick Levi, Shannon Heisler, and Tim. Even though we only got to one final round and we're still in our incredible streak of three-plus years since our last Wally, I'm proud to say that this year's binder will be bigger than ever. All year, I keep three files for the binder. File No. 1 is "Feature Stories" which is a term that loosely refers to any publicity we get that is not a preview press release, a daily update, or a post-event report that I wrote. This is the first time I've ever had to start a second "Feature Stories" file folder, because the first one was about to burst. The other two files, the pre & post-event releases, and my daily updates from the track, are always the same size. It should take me about a week to design a new look, put it all together, come up with 10-12 pages of fun photos, and then get all the copies made the binders put together. After that, it's time to enjoy Thanksgiving (if I can get it done by then), and then we'll start to work on things for next season. We're going to need new starting line shirts, that's for sure, and I want to make sure we're ahead of the game in terms of souvenir t-shirts for the track (we'll be back at the PiranaZ trailer) so that we're not scrambling to have anything for the Winternationals. There's plenty to do… Plus, I have to get to work on the 2015 PR effort, to make sure next year's binder is even bigger than this year's.

And now I have a guy named Boofus on my lap. I think that's a hint that it's time to wrap this up. If I don't blog at ya before Thanksgiving, please enjoy and cherish your time with family. That's about as important as anything you can be thankful for.

Wilber, out!

A trip down Memory Lane…Thursday, November 13, 2014

I've noticed that I've established a bit of a new trend as of late, and that in itself is kind of remarkable considering I've been writing this blog for nine years. My blog writing day tends to be a Tuesday or Wednesday each week, because that's just how it works out when coordinating PR stuff and other writing, and when writing on those days I can either look back at the race we just had, or ahead at the one coming up.

Well, for the last time in 2014, I'll be writing about the next race coming up, because here we are heading to Pomona for the final outing of the season.  Hence, I'll be looking ahead to the race, and since part of this new trend I've established involves looking ahead by looking back, we'll do just that. There's plenty to look back upon when you're talking about Pomona.

Did you know that my first trip to Pomona was for the Winternationals in 1992? I'd wrapped up my 13 months at Heartland Park in January, and the Media Relations Department at NHRA invited me out for an interview, which mainly consisted of me joining in doing the PR work for them throughout the weekend. This was back way before the tower was built behind the starting line, and the "press room" (in some stretch of the definition) was in the old stucco building on the right side of the track. I don't remember much about the race, to be honest, but I remember toiling away on some truly archaic little computer that only showed about four lines of copy on a small dot-matrix looking screen.

I didn't get the job, and it's probably a really good thing I didn't. I'd only spent one year in the sport, and was a total newbie in that regard, plus I'd never actually done PR or media relations at all.  At Heartland Park, I had the esteemed Jade Gurss as my PR guy, and he then went on to a stellar career with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Since then, he's written a couple of books and is something of a celebrity in his own right.

Had they offered me that job, I'm afraid I would've failed at it or become disillusioned with things, and I probably would've headed back to the comfort of my stick-and-ball sports, which are in my DNA. Things happen for a reason, and sometimes they don't happen for a reason.

Not long after that, I interviewed with a guy named Bill Griffith, who owned Motorsports Marketing Inc. in New Jersey. He hired me to be his Vice President, and I helped him as we did the PR and marketing work for Chuck Etchells and Mike Dunn. That's where I really began to learn this gig, and what it takes to be a good PR rep and a good communicator. In many ways, it was like a boot camp for me, and it even included a move to New Jersey for about a year and a half.

And that leads to the second time I was ever at the track in Pomona. At the Winston Finals that same year, Chuck Etchells won the race, and I actually got to go to the Winner's Circle and get a hat. Do you remember who sponsored Chuck then? It was Nobody Beats The Wiz, an electronics chain on the east coast.

To be honest, as such a rookie in the sport I didn't even understand the gravity and importance of winning a race. I just went with the flow and I suspect I just figured that this sort of thing happened all the time, so no big deal. Looking back on it, it's almost surreal that I had that brief little experience way before I really knew what I was doing or how to do it. When people ask me about my first win, I almost always say Seattle in 1999, when Del drove the CSK car to four round wins and we all went absolutely nuts. By then, I'd come to learn how hard this is, and how precious a race victory is. Back in '92, it wasn't like that but it was, technically, my first win with a team. Weird to be involved, and yet really an outsider and a spectator.

I'm also breaking into a new style here today, because I'm at GEG about to fly down to Salt Lake and then from there to SNA, John Wayne Airport in Orange County.  So, I'm going to take a break right now, to get my stuff together and board the flight, and then I'll head straight to the SLC Sky Club to write some more when we land. If I run out of time, I'll keep my laptop out on the SLC-SNA flight to get this finished.


Sky Club at Salt Lake

Well, it turns out that I only have about 30 minutes here, and I spent the first 15 of those editing and cleaning up all the stuff that's above this. No way I'm going to finish this before we board the flight to SNA.  Do you know why John Wayne Airport in Orange County has the designation SNA? It's because the largest city close to the airfield when it first opened was Santa Ana. One more tidbit of trivia to impress your friends with at a cocktail party.

So, I did get through my first two visits to Pomona in the first part of this blog.  My next one was 1994 for the Winternationals, but I was there without a team!  I was on my own for the first time, as RJW Marketing, and I was doing PR for two teams, but neither one of them went to the Winternationals. Pro Stock driver Lewis Worden, one of the all-time great guys ever in this sport and still a valued friend to this day, was my "headliner" that year, so I figured it was best to go out there and represent the team, and maybe represent myself as well. I also represented British Funny Car driver Norman Wilding, but his budget was so tight I often had to kick in cash just to haul the race car to an event, so driving it to Pomona was out of the question, back then. All I remember about that race was hanging out with my PR colleagues in the newly christened tower.

After that, it was back to indoor soccer for a couple of years (the Kansas City Attack) and my next trip to Pomona was for the Winternationals in 1996, after I left the soccer team to go to work for Whit Bazemore. Times were changing fast back then. The sponsorships were ramping up, John Force was establishing himself as a legend to be, and everyone was going faster. For me, going to work for Whit, while working with our sponsor RJ Reynolds, was a huge step up in terms of responsibilities and the need to do the job the right way. Whit is a great guy, and really a smart and intellectual type who can be fascinating to spend time with, and away from the track we got along famously. Unfortunately, I think I was a bit too inexperienced to be able to work well with a driven and laser-focused guy like him at the track, where he had a different personality and winning was all that mattered. I lasted about half a season before I had to think things over in this business, deciding if it was really for me.

When Del Worsham and I spoke in December, my life changed. So, my next Winternationals was my first race with Del, with our funky blue and white CSK Oldsmobile (we only raced that body once, before moving over to new Dodge bodies, but Del's car stayed blue and white all year.)

We qualified No. 3, and raced Ray Bolger in round one, driving the Creasy family car. We lost, but a friendship and a wonderful business relationship was formed. All of the good things that have happened for me are a culmination of all the moments in my life, starting out as a child, but the key moment, as far as I'm concerned, was when I went to work for Del and Chuck and they gave me free rein to do the PR and sponsor relations any way I wanted. A pretty big moment, if you ask me. I'll always look back on it with both happiness and pride.

1997 doesn't seem that long ago to me, at least until I researched the Funny Car field for that race. On the ladder were the following drivers: Wyatt Radke, Chuck Etchells, Randy Anderson, Kenji Okazaki, Whit Bazemore, Al Hofmann, Ray Higley, Tom Hoover, and Richard Hartmann. Not one of them is still driving. The drivers in that field that are still active?  Del Worsham, Tim Wilkerson, Tony Pedregon, Cruz Pedregon, Gary Densham (although he's not very active), and John Force. Sounds like ancient history when you see it that way.

Hey - Just got a text alert from Delta that my flight is delayed about 45 minutes. My goal is now to get this done...

Over the CSK years, we had some other key moments…

In 2001, Del smoked the tires at the hit of the throttle in the final round, but Whit fouled and we got the win. Much fun was had by all.

In 2003, Del fouled at the start, and the big ugly red light was shining at us like a laser beam. Our teammate, Cory Lee who was driving the Terminator 2 car in relief of Arnie Karp (who was injured) was on his way to his first (and only) career win. For about 660 feet. At that point, as the red CSK guys were walking over to congratulate the other guys, our buddy Cory crossed the center line.

Two wins in three years, and both included red lights and weird circumstances.

One really bad memory was from 2006. We were in the right lane during qualifying and the red CSK car blew up big-time in the lights. We couldn't see much, until we looked up at the big screen and we could tell the body was buckled and Del couldn't get to the parachutes. He was screaming down the track, and all this only took a few seconds, but it seemed like an eternity before he hit the sand trap at high speed and did a complete somersault.

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Nobody Beats the Wiz! My first Winner's Circle.
I remember running to the left, for no good reason, and then someone from another team, who was on a golf cart, said "Come with me" and a couple of us got on. Even with the pedal mashed, we were going so slow it was agonizing. Finally, Robert Hight came by from the other direction and he said "He's okay" as we went by. The rest of the slow ride was more easily undertaken, but I still couldn't wait to get down there. Del and a broken tailbone, and we spent quite a few hours over at the Pomona Valley Hospital about two miles away, but he even managed to race on Sunday.

2008 was my last year with Del, and we were all pulling for one particular guy to win the championship. It seemed like hundreds of other team crew guys from all over the pits were up there to watch Wilk race Force , and almost universally our shoulders slumped when yet another red light came on. What's the deal with all the red lights in Pomona?

2009 was my first year with Team Wilk, and it got off to a rough start. Bad weather plagued us all weekend, and we only got one qualifying run in, on Saturday. We didn't make a good lap, and earned a DNQ to kick of our new relationship and our new season.

Since then, there's been beautiful weather and lousy weather, including hail. There's been snow in the mountains, and heat on the track. There have been friendships made and new numbers earned for the side of our Levi, Ray & Shoup car.

I haven't been to the Winner's Circle since 2003, and I'd like to get back there again. I wouldn't bet against us…

And there will be In-N-Out this weekend. That's a guarantee.

Now, I gotta get to my gate.

Wilber, out!

A Vegas for the ages…Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Okay, that headline might represent a bit of hyperbole, but it was a pretty spectacular weekend all around, if you ask me. Great racing, great crowds, great weather, great accomplishments, and great fun. Rather than replay it all in pure chronological order, I'll just ramble. Because, you know me, I'm a ramblin' guy.

Though we did have a wide range of temps, and some clouds, and even a little drizzle overnight, the race came off under generally beautiful skies. The only thing that slowed down the schedule was a huge field of Pro cars and motorcycles. I think there were 350,000 Pro Mod cars on-site. Actually, there were 28 (I think) but that's a healthy field with way more cars than can fit in a 16-car field. There were also 21 Top Fuel cars, 22 Pro Stock Motorcycles, 18 Pro Stock cars, and there were 20 Funny Car teams on the property, but only 19 raced. The story we heard was that Jim Head hurt his foot or ankle down in the Caribbean and he was unable to fly back to the States, so the team just did service work in the pits but never fired the car.

So, there were a lot of racers there, but there were also a lot of fans. Friday was what I consider a "good Friday crowd" especially for Vegas. It's hard to get a handle on how many people are in attendance when there are clearly visible areas of empty seats, because the grandstand at The Strip is officially referred to as "ginormous" by attendance experts, but it was a healthy Friday gathering. Saturday was really good, with the main grandstand and the smaller seating on the other side both basically filled. At a lot of our races, Saturday is the biggest day now and there's a bit of drop-off in attendance on Sunday, but Vegas is not one of those races. I'd say the Sunday crowd was as good as any we've raced in front of all year, if not the biggest. Great stuff by some truly avid fans who were all clearly (and loudly) having a great time.

And before I go any further, I want to get to the truly important part of this blog. During the last two installments I've been mentioning my friend and colleague, Elon Werner, a lot. He's worthy of such mention. In Vegas, on Friday, someone in the media center told me to make sure I was present at 9:45 on Sunday morning, because Elon was going to be presented a very prestigious award. I was there, with bells on.

The Jim Chapman Award for PR Excellence in Motorsports is not an NHRA award. It's an independently selected award for the best job done by a PR rep in all of motorsports, whether the competitors go in circles, in a straight line, or all over the place. This year's recipient could not have been any more deserving. Elon Werner, from John Force Racing, was presented the plaque on Sunday. The JFR team was there in numbers, all of Elon's colleagues were there, his wife Jenn was present, and even Ron Capps and T.J. Zizzo were in attendance, to honor Elon. And when Papa Force spoke, he thanked everyone and mentioned that he thought it was great to see Capps come to show appreciation. Then he said "And Rizzo is here too." You don't need to make up anything funny when Force is speaking. He brings his own material.

The simplest thing I can say to Elon, though, is: "Well played, sir. You earned it."

Okay, back to the fun and games…

My actor buddy Buck was there on Friday and Sunday. Both days he brought his lovely and wonderful wife Mary along, as well as both boys, Gibson and Hudson. What a hoot. All sorts of fun with the Hujabre family. And on Friday, he brought along Aaron DeJesus, who is also in "Jersey Boys" and who has become a big fan of our sport.

As I mentioned in the last blog, Buck was supposed to complete the Doug Foley racing school on Monday, but it got pushed back to Tuesday. Therefore, I couldn't be there but between Mary and (apparently Aaron, who was there to see Buck drive, as well) I grabbed a couple of cool shots off Facebook. It's okay. I just "borrowed" the pics. I'll put them back when I'm done.

And, as I mentioned earlier, Gerald was there all weekend and we ate like kings, thanks to him. Good thing I averaged about 16,000 steps per day during the race, because I sure ate too much…

Fan Fest, on Thursday night, was as packed as ever. Each time we do that deal I wonder if this will be the year it's finally not wall-to-wall with fans, but every year it just gets bigger.

As for the slots, The Cannery was not kind to me. I took a set amount of money with me to blow on the machines, and I had pretty much lost half of it the first night. I got a little of that back on Friday, but I was basically down to $100 by Sunday night, when I relocated to New York - New York to be down by the airport. After dinner, I contemplated just taking a knee and accepting defeat by taking the $100 bill back home with me, but I figured I'd brought a certain amount of cash that wasn't going to make us bankrupt if I lost it, so I headed to the casino (which I really like, by the way). Most casinos in Vegas just look like casinos, but the one at NY-NY makes you feel like you're actually in New York. It's cool.

It also was very kind to me. I hit a couple of big winners within about 10 minutes of each other, on two different machines, and I deposited $900 back into our bank account when I got home. I basically came back with more than double what I went there with, and if that was easy to do on slots in Vegas those casinos wouldn't be as fabulous and opulent as they are. So, I left on a good note and didn't spend another dime after I hit that second winner.

We also won another round during the race, giving us five round-wins in five Countdown races, and we'll head into Pomona with a 53-point lead on Cruz Pedregon, as we aim to keep a single digit on the car for next year. If we want it to be the number 8, we'd have to pick up 41 points on Alexis DeJoria to make that happen, but the key thing for us is just staying consistent and getting at least one more round in Pomona, if not four of them.

The key thing about qualifying with a 4.079 and then winning a round on Sunday, was that we did it with a six-disc clutch in the car. As you know, our testing budget is thin, as in it really doesn't exist at all, so we have to find days or sessions where we can test new stuff, whenever and wherever we can. After we ran a 4.122 on Friday, Tim and I both took a look at the field (we both did that independently, without talking about it) and we simultaneously came to the conclusion that a 4.122 wouldn't be stellar, but that it would make the field. Looking at the teams behind us, and considering their career-best numbers, we figured it would probably end up 14th or 15th, but it was safe to make the show. And, as long as we were going to be in the show, we might as well test the new clutch and get some data from it.

As it turned out, the 4.122 would've actually made the field in the No. 13 slot, but on our first pass with the six-disc (Q3) we ran the 4.079 to hold onto the 10th spot. That was also encouraging enough for Wilk to decide to leave it in the car for Sunday. We smoked the tires way down track in round one, but he analyzed the data and made an adjustment for round two, where we faced John Force. Rather than be "a bunch of dummies" and try to step way up to run with Force, and likely smoke the tires and not have a chance, we aimed to make him beat us by getting to the other end under power, and the changes Wilk made allowed us to do that. As he said "I like it, because it actually reacts to the input the way I want it to. I'm pretty happy with the whole deal." So there's that. Which is good.

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Sunday. Wall-to-wall packed.
I did not eat at In-N-Out all weekend. Perhaps I won't be so calorie-conscious in Pomona. We'll see.

As I mentioned last time, my flight itinerary heading home was Las Vegas to Seattle, and then Seattle to Spokane. I'd never done that, but I liked it. Sea-Tac Airport reminds me of MSP a little, because the main terminal building has a lot of really good restaurants and shops, so the options are way better than all the look-alike and taste-alike places out on any typical airport concourse, and I had a Mahi Mahi taco that was outstanding. Salt Lake is a nice airport, but the food choices are pretty standard fare there. Seattle was a nice change of pace, also, and the flight from SEA to GEG was 45 minutes.

When we deplaned at GEG, I came out of the jet bridge into the gate and I felt like I'd walked into a surprise party. Delta had a balloon archway set up for us to walk through, and had set up a big buffet of food and drinks. At least six Delta reps were there to greet us, cheering and clapping and offering a little party for a reason I was unable to understand. I said to one of the Delta agents "Well, you don't see this every day" and he said "Well, we don't greet our first-ever flight from Seattle to Spokane every day either!" Ha! I had no idea I was on the first plane to launch their new nonstop service between Seattle and Spokane. Surprise!!!! And that was really nice of them.

So now we have a weekend off and then we wrap up another season in Pomona. The drama in Top Fuel is basically over unless Tony Schumacher gets kidnapped or lost on his way to the track, but the other Pro classes are going to be fun to watch next weekend. Those "little points" we earn in qualifying won't be little at all.

So I guess that's about it. We won a round, I won some money, Buck went fast on Tuesday (10.25 seconds at 125 mph), and Delta threw a surprise party at the airport. All good, I'd say.

I'll try to check in next week before I head south, back through the familiar confines of SLC for my connection. Looking ahead, though, I'm going to check on that Seattle connection any time I go south. Heck, it might even be a better way to go east, since it's only a 45-minute hop over there. I have so much more seafood to sample in the terminal at SEA… It's going to take a while for me figure out all of my new favorite stops.

Wilber, out!


Looking for a howling good time in VegasTuesday, October 28, 2014

Point A: I can't believe it will be Halloween in three days.  Point B: I can't believe we're already at the second Las Vegas race and only Pomona follows it.  Point C: I like making points.

But seriously, I'll be heading south to Vegas on Thursday, and then it will be a whirlwind and a blur of activity until I come back up here to Spokane on Monday. Tim and Krista fly into McCarran around the same time I land from Salt Lake, somewhere in the 3:30 range, and then we independently need to hope for on-time arrivals, quick exits from the airport, easy pick-up of rental cars, and traffic cooperation (good luck with that!) in order to get up to Fremont Street for the huge Fan Fest. They want the drivers there by 5:00 but the really important part of it is the autograph session that runs from 5:30 to 6:30. Fingers crossed we can all get there by then. You wouldn't think it would be that hard, but we're talking about Las Vegas here…

If you've never been to the Fremont Street NHRA Fan Fest, and you're going to be in Vegas this weekend, you really need to get there to experience it. All other Fan Fests on the planet bow down to its enormity and organization. In other words, be there.

Since we haven't raced in three years (actually it's three weeks, but it seems like eons) I don't have much in the way of any new racing photos, so instead I went back through the files and picked out a few of my favorite Las Vegas shots, just to get us all in the mood.  Also a pair of "before and after" shots of the landscape work that is completely changing the view from my office window here in Liberty Lake. Basically, as you'll see, it's finally creating a view for me.

This house was built around 2009 I believe, and when it was landscaped I think the original owners figured the more plants they could string together the better, and back then I'm sure it looked like there was plenty of room for growth. The problem now, in 2014, is that the Burning Bush plants are out of control, the Day Lillies are gigantic, and what was surely a cute little Japanese Maple in front, surrounded by two Rhododendron plants and another Maple, now completely blocks my view. If I open my shutters all I can see is plants. It's like being stuck inside a plant fortress. It's a veritable wall of flora!

Barbara and I took a look at everything about a week ago, then we brought in an arborist expert, and now the plan is coming together. These guys are good, trimming and pruning everything by hand. No power tools at work here!  Plus, I bet our AC unit will appreciate not having one of those Burning Bush monstrosities basically engulfing it. When these guys are done, I bet the house is going to look like it went from having wild long hair to a buzz cut.

Things to look forward to, in Vegas:

We're staying at The Cannery again, which I like. Some of the huge Las Vegas resorts down on The Strip are amazing, but been there and done that for many years. The best part of staying at The Cannery is leaving the track and being in your room in about 15 minutes.

There's also an In-N-Out right next to the hotel. Thank you.

Our buddy Gerald Meux will be there for all three days, and when Gerald is in the house we eat very well. Gerald and his wife Kari lived in Vegas for a while, but he was promoted and relocated to Southern California recently. He hasn't been to a race all year, so he's making the trip over to Vegas to see us. Unfortunately, Kari has to work so we won't get to see her, but maybe they can make it out to Pomona in a couple of weeks.

My good friend Buck Hujabre will be bringing the whole clan out to the track on Friday, and then he's going to try to make it back out on Sunday. It will be outstanding to see little Gibson and Hudson (who are growing faster than this Japanese Maple tree) and it's always a sincere treat to see the lovely Mary. It'll be okay to see Buck, too, I guess. Ha!

I had originally planned to not fly home until late on Monday night, because Mary surprised Buck a while ago with a great gift, and I wanted to see it. He's enrolled in the Doug Foley's Drag Racing Experience, and was schedule to make some laps down the track at The Strip on Monday. At the last minute, though, it turned out that so many Pro teams are testing on Monday, they had to push the Foley school back to Tuesday. No big deal for Buck, but unfortunate timing for me…  So now I'm leaving at noon on Monday. And, instead of making the ubiquitous connection in Salt Lake, I have a creative itinerary that has me flying from Vegas to Seattle, then a quick jump over to GEG from there. Never done that before…

This weekend, the racing competition should be pretty incredible and the drama associated with whittling down the contenders for the various Pro championships ought to be pretty compelling. Add in the crew chief changes over at John Force Racing, and John's history of rising up and being at his best when he's challenged, and this should all add up to fun. What would make it even more fun would be for a certain team sponsored by an I.T. Solutions company based in Springfield, Illinois, to make some noise and win some more rounds. And if we have to knock off Force to do that, well so be it.

We still have a real chance to keep moving up in the standings, and the way we see it is that our challenge is to have the lowest possible number on the car next year. If the season was over now, we'd have a 9 on the LRS Mustang. With two races left, if we really got hot and if we got some help by having some other teams go out early, we could turn that 9 into an 8 or even a 7. If we don't get hot, we would likely end up with a 9 or a 10. If there's one detail I've learned over the last 18 years, it's that it's really hard to move up in the standings if you don't win some rounds. Funny how that works.

Speaking of John Force and JFR, their world-famous PR guy, Elon Werner (whom you learned all about in the previous blog) will be accompanied by his wife Jenn this weekend, and the way we connect those dots is to mention that Jenn is going to see the Saturday late matinee of "Jersey Boys" featuring the aforementioned Mr. Hujabre. Buck is going to meet up with her after the show and introduce her to some of the other cast members. Should be fun!

Other ramblings...

Barb and I have been in the process of making vacation plans for December, and it's all coming together. Let's just say my sister Mary and her husband Lonnie live on Kauai, and we'll be seeing them for a few days. Can't wait! 

I was just looking in our "Boofus and Buster" file, and saw their veterinarian records which indicate they were born in 2007. How in the world can these guys be seven years old? Didn't they just adopt us as their humans yesterday?

Barb and I have been dialed into "Dancing With the Stars" again this year. I'd like to say it's a miracle that Michael Waltrip is still on the show, but some of that has to do with him totally buying in, and a lot of it has to do with race fans voting like crazy. He's such a good guy, and he's trying really hard, but… He's not going to win the Mirror Ball trophy. We're pulling for Alfonso Ribeiro, I think.

When we were watching last night, I was telling Barb about the NHRA vs NASCAR softball game we did, and how it was neat to be in the clubhouse with both teams, but when Michael and Darrel Waltrip walked in the room, it was like racing royalty had showed up. And Michael really is a hoot.

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It's going to be great to have our buddy Gerald in the house!
Well, I guess that's about all I have for today.

I did get to the organic market down in Spokane yesterday, to stock up on all our favorite ingredients for the juicer, and in a minute here I'm going to be operating that bad boy. Barb's at work, but I'm going to drive up the road to Itron and personally deliver a masterpiece made up of kale, spinach, carrots, cucumber, pears, apples, strawberries, blueberries, grapefruit, and lemons.

Last night, Chef Bob (or Chef Robert' with a French accent) whipped up some blackened pork chops and steamed carrots, with some green beans as well. It all hit the mark and I was a star for the night. Barbara asked if I could make the blackening spices from memory and I said "No way. Too many different ingredients and too many different teaspoons or tablespoons of each. This is why I'm a short-order cook, not a Chef. I need the instructions…"

So have a great weekend, everyone. Let's go win some rounds, and maybe some slots.

Wilber, out!

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