I’m “penning” this entry on the 3rd and it should be posted on the Fourth., the Fourth being the most important day in American history. In fact, my title is a reminder of several birthdays.
The biggest number belongs to our country, which was just a collection of British citizens occupying 13 separate colonies back when 56 brave men did (and signed) the unthinkable. I can’t imagine what chutzpah it took to risk everything they had -and to commit to an idea that had never been tried- and know that they could be killed for treason.
Courage today seems to be defined as not accepting food stamps (oops, I mean “EBT cards” for the “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program”). You’ll never convince me that 47.7 million Americans NEED to be on this program, and I think we as a nation owe those 56 men way more than what we’re currently delivering!
Sorry about the soliloquy on the Founding Fathers, and I do believe that we have a responsibility to help our brothers and sisters in times of need, but too many have abused a system that’s encouraged fraud and laziness. Okay, I’m off my soapbox.
The second most important birthday in the nation would obviously be the “71” in my title, and that belongs to Mr. Rodger Comstock, who also was born on the Fourth of July (not to be confused with the Tom Cruise movie). Ironically, “71” is also my Top Fuel permanent number, and I believe it’s pretty close to my IQ as well.
The 47 was what happened to me on June 28th, and I just flat have no idea what happened to the last 21 years! Some great fans at Chicago wished me a great Friday, and I very much appreciate those that sent e-mails, texts, and messages. I’m not sure why none of you realized that I was “registered” at Home Depot, and gift cards are always welcome!
I will be spending my Fourth of July mainly in airports, airplanes, shuttle buses, and a rental car, so I was really looking forward to some relaxation during the three days I was home between the Chicago and Norwalk events. I knew the lawn needed to be mowed, the kids needed to head over to Grandma’s for some pool time, and a few chores were waiting.
I didn’t know the fridge was going to “lock up” (we think a damper just stuck in the wrong position), making the freezer a Super Freezer and the fridge a lukewarm food- spoiler. When we bought this house it was five years old, and already we’ve stuck a computer board, two water reservoirs, a drip tray assembly (that was $400), and disassembled the ‘cold drawer’ damper unit and the ice maker solenoid to repair them. Other than that, everything’s been perfect with our GE Monogram…what a turd!
Normally it wouldn’t be too much of a hardship to empty the entire unit into three coolers, plus take all the freezer food over to Cindy’s house, in order to shut the P.O.S. down long enough to thaw the damper, but doing it with two small kids in the house sucks.
Oh, did I mention that today the tile cleaners were at the house ALL DAY LONG?! Yep, after stuffing all our edibles into ice boxes (like camping without having to go outside!), it was time to empty three rooms of furniture into other areas of the house. Fun! Then we had to vacate for most of the day whilst the cleaners did their job.
Tonight, after restarting the fridge, it was time to hit the supermarket to restock on the stuff that spoiled, hit the El Pollo Loco drive-thru for dinner, then eat standing up while digging through the coolers for drinks and salad dressing. Ah…the life of a Funny Car champ is pure pleasure!
Barry makes the coolest T-Shirts. Ironically, last year we took a photo for the blog of another shirt, and I was talking on the phone at the time. Either Barry was getting some “pay-back”, or John Force won’t stop calling him, either!
Brian totally surprised me with this bitchin’ trophy he made for us winning the championship. I just love our sport. Not only do the fans get up close, but they get personal! What a cool memento (don’t tell Jenna I’m bringing more stuff home!)
Ross and his father, Eric. Though we smoked the tires on the qualifying run on which they were with us, how could one not learn a lesson on perspective and humility with this young man and his brave father “along for the ride?"
After dinner, it was time to put all the furniture back, get packed for tomorrow’s flight, and then get cracking on the keyboard to get this blog out.
As if it wasn’t expensive enough getting the travertine cleaned, Jenna decided to hire a professional exterminator (for ants, not for me!). Clearly our ideas of “infestation” are significantly different. I’m thinking that as long as the ants can’t carry away my championship trophy, there’s not a problem. Jenna thinks if she sees more than 2 ants within a calendar year inside the house, it’s “game on”. I wasn’t going to win that battle, and now clearly the ants aren’t either.
The race at Chicago was a mixed bag. With only one run on Friday, we looked very stout with a 4.04 off the trailer. Saturday’s first run we smoked the tires, but the conditions Saturday night were simply too good to not be aggressive…and we were. Our 3.993 was the third quickest of four 3-second runs in that single session. It was a great time to be a fan, and to be strapped into the Valvoline Max Life Funny Car. Chicago was the debut of our new red paint scheme, which we will sport for the remainder of the races this year when Valvoline is the primary sponsor
Losing on a holeshot by .007 in the second round really stung. Matt Hagan was quicker than me by .012 in reaction time, and our car outran theirs by .005, which means the math really made me look bad. Though frustrated by that loss, I’m totally encouraged with the way we are running, and I’m just going to have to step it up to get us back in the winner’s circle…soon.
A couple of months ago I received an e-mail from Eric G., telling me about his son, Ross. Ross is 13 and had bone cancer, and a very tough (though not difficult if you consider the alternative) decision had to be made. Basically the doctors removed a section of his leg, above and below the knee. They kept all the nerves and blood vessels connected, reattached his leg, and rotated the bottom portion 180 degrees. Ross now has a very short left leg with a foot that points the wrong way. However, this will enable him to perform much better (versus a straight amputation) once he is fitted with his prosthetic device. The foot still works just fine, will bear weight, and will give him better mobility. It just looks odd.
Anyway, Eric and Ross were planning on making the race if all went well with the surgery (one month before the event!), and they did. Talking to Ross was extra special, and his dad Eric is clearly an amazing father and man. They rode with us in the tow vehicle during a qualifying run, and John Force spent several minutes in the staging lanes giving Ross some great advice on recuperation. John signed the hat off his head and gave it to Ross, and I know that made that young man feel important. I can’t tell you how many times Force does things like that for people in tough times. John never pats his back or talks about it, but he’s such a compassionate guy. I was thinking about asking Ross for the hat, putting it on E-bay, and using the proceeds to pay for our exterminator.
It’s past midnight, I fly out in the am, and I’m out of energy. Until next time…
Stay tuned, be a productive citizen, keep your refrigerator closed, your tile clean, and your bugs outside.
It’s hard to believe that, after more than six years of doing this blog, I still am clever enough to think up titles like this one. Yes, in just 46 years, I’ve cultivated my talents and humor to the point of…well…maybe I just should stick to the writing part…
After great outings in Topeka and Englishtown, we really had high expectations entering Bristol. When qualifying ended, I’d say we were more confident than ever that Sunday was going to be “our” day. Our four complete (under power to the finish line) runs in qualifying, combined with making it down the track all four runs Sunday in E-town, meant (for the first time this year) eight straight for team Green. That, plus the fact that we had blistered the clocks Friday night with the second quickest run of the year at 4.012 and 317.05 mph (a new track speed record), made us all feel our first trophy of the year was closer than ever.
And then we hit the iceberg. In round one we dropped a cylinder before the car even got to the Christmas Tree. As a result of that, we smoked the tires further down track. Sometimes dropping a cylinder can actually HELP a car make it to the finish line, as losing that much power can minimize the chances of overpowering the track. Other times (like in this instance), losing that much “motor” means that the clutch can now “win the battle”, and lock up earlier in the run (as opposed to continuing to slip until further down track). So much for optimism!
The guys stayed and serviced Monday, and we believe we found the culprit for the lost horsepower. I really want that inaugural New England Nationals trophy from Epping this weekend, so I suppose we’ll just start our winning ways there!
Bristol was the first of four weekends in a row, and seven out of eight once we complete the Western Swing. This definitely is NOT the time to struggle, as there will only be two more races left until the Countdown begins, once this two month marathon is complete.
The one on the left is handsome, well-educated, and acts professional at all times. Oops…I meant the one on MY left! Dr. Cobb was lots of fun to be around, and a heck of a guy. He’s a former Major in the Army, and my new bestest buddy.
My schedule actually began the Tuesday prior to Bristol, when I flew into New York City for media events surrounding the “Chemotherapy: Myths or Facts” campaign. Many of you know that I became involved in this last year, and I felt like we did some great things and accomplished so much to benefit folks facing some tough times. Last year my part of the campaign featured a video booth that travelled to several of the NHRA races to get personal testimonials from people affected by chemotherapy.
This year the thrust will include many media interviews (TV, print, and radio) in an effort to increase awareness of the website (chemomythsorfacts.com) so people faced with this diagnosis can educate themselves with current, relevant information. It’s quite an honor to be part of this, and on this trip I had the privilege of meeting Patrick Cobb, an oncologist who also is involved with the campaign.
Dr. Cobb and I did quite a few interviews during our Satellite Media Tour (we gave all our interviews from the same studio, while television and radio shows patched in to ask their questions). It’s the first time I had done this, as typically I travel from location to location to do media appearances in support of the NHRA. What typically would have taken 14-plus hours to do was accomplished by 1pm!
My unofficial, self-guided tour of NYC began at Grand Central Station. Iconic, 100 years old, and always full of energy (3 things I am not!)
That’s when the fun started: Here I was, all alone in NYC with half a day to kill. The previous times I had been here I was driving (or at least I was sitting behind a steering wheel), I was stuck in traffic, and I was pissed. It was impossible to see or do anything, and I intended to rectify that on this trip.
I walked the five blocks back to the hotel, dropped off my extra stuff, and let my Oakley’s carry me the rest of the trip. Now is a good time to mention that perhaps I made a mistake by unpacking my brand new high-tops for this excursion. I strongly recommend AGAINST new shoes if you do the kind of walking I did!
Since my hotel was located adjacent to Grand Central Station, that seemed like the perfect place to begin my self-guided tour. From there, I hoofed it down to 34th street for a look inside the Empire State Building. I really thought it would be bitchin’ if I could hook up with the elevator maintenance staff there and see some behind-the-scenes stuff (I was a repairman for nearly 11 years before going to teach at the Hawley Drag Racing School). The guy at the concierge desk didn’t seem to agree…or care. Going to “plan B”, I paid the $25 to go up to the 86th floor observation deck, plus the ten bucks for the audio tour headset to augment and improve my experience. Once I completed that, it was a mere formality to fork over an additional $17 and head up to the 102nd floor observation room. If you’re asking my opinion, I’d say, “yes, yes, and no”, in that order, to the cost versus value of each.
Once down on sidewalk level, I pointed my 10 ½’s towards Broadway and started walking. Passing a kosher pizza shop, I figured it would be a sin (and THAT ain’t kosher!) to be this close and not enjoy a slice of NY pizza. Well worth it, but I passed on paying extra to see their observation deck!
Next stop was Times Square. Actually, I never technically did stop. I did shoot some pics on my phone, continually check my back pocket to make sure my wallet was still there, and marvel at all the sights. This place just went on forever, and I must admit that I was more than impressed and am looking forward to spending more time there, hopefully with Jenna one day.
After a right on 51st, followed by a left on 5th and a few more blocks of hiking, I finally came to Central Park. Wow, was it far more than I expected! I probably saw less than 10% of what it had to offer, and it was beautiful. I really wanted to walk around some more, but my feet were definitely feeling the effects of breaking in new shoes, and I was still more than a mile away from my hotel.
I’m glad I had the chance to see the city from a view other than a car seat, and now I’m starting to understand why so many people brag about that place. It’s pretty cool…even without surf!
I also was fortunate to benefit from nearly perfect weather on that Wednesday, which didn’t carry over to Thursday…
Once I arrived at LaGuardia and went to the kiosk to print my boarding pass, I began to realize there could be some issues. When, instead of printing my two passes, the kiosk display read, “Please see a ticketing agent”, I knew that translated into, “let’s see how flexible you really are”!
Van and Brian Greer presented me with a cool trophy and an even cooler recognition in honor of their late father, Shirl. Driver of the Tension and Chained Lightning Funny Cars, he also was the first points Champion in Funny Car, bagging the #1 in 1974.
Tell me our fans aren’t the best, Volume I: I took this from my pit in Englishtown, and I had to share it. These guys have creativity and great senses of humor. They also must have a big trunk in their car, too much free time on their hands, and sore arms!
Tell me our fans aren’t the best, Volume II: How awesome is getting a T-Shirt like this? And, they didn’t charge me! Damn, I look good in airbrush!
Tell me our fans aren’t the best, Volume III: My original “Big Fan”, Jeff (featured last year in one of my blogs), brought along his son Jimmy. Apparently Jimmy ate all his veggies growing up, and listened in school. Now a Combat Medic with the 1st Special Forces Airborne Group, I wouldn’t mess with him…or his dad!
Seems the weather had significantly delayed many flights, not just in New York, but also in Charlotte, which was my connection point to head to Bristol. Long story short, I finally wound up renting a car in Charlotte and driving the 3 ½ hours to Bristol. That little segue cost me an additional $350…plus fuel!
Though we lost early in Bristol, there were some positives at the race. My dad was able to come out, so even though I was not with my children on Father’s Day, I did get to spend it with my pops. My cousin Mike (who also is my Godfather) came down, as did Debbie, Jim, Kenny and Kevin from the Cumberland, Maryland area (my dad’s hometown). My dad rode up with Bo, who he met in an airport several years ago and we have become good friends with. Bo lives near Birmingham, AL., so apparently I’ve got a place to stay if I ever am passing through. I just wonder if I’ll need a banjo on my knee?
Maybe the coolest thing that happened to me on Father’s Day was during pre-race driver announcements up on stage near the starting line. Van and Brian Greer, sons of the late, great Shirl, NHRA’s first modern-era Funny Car Champion, bestowed upon yours truly the annual Shirl Greer award, which was very unexpected, and pretty damn awesome. Back in 2009, when the track honored Shirl by placing his name on the grandstands, I just had to introduce myself to the man. I had never had an opportunity to meet him, and I didn’t want to pass it up. Now I realize how important that handshake was, as it was the last time I ever saw one of the toughest hombres to ever don a firesuit. Great dude, great sons, and great honor!
I really was looking forward to some rest and relaxation when I got home, but that never happens. Seems that while I was gone, Jenna and Cindy must have gotten ahold of a 12-pack of Full Throttle and decided to redo a couple of our planters. Not wanting to leave me out of the fun, they saved eight plants and a shovel for me. Yep, I got to dig up and throw away all those plants that I bought and planted a couple of years ago. Seems that the research that went into picking them has now yielded some potentially (and I emphasis the ‘potential’ part) improved organic, chlorophyll-containing, and carbon-dioxide (and cash) absorbing specimens. I can’t tell you how fun it was pushing that wheelbarrow full of dirt up the ramp to dump in the backyard…twice. Moving dirt just seems to be a way of life for me lately!
Today I practiced racing, or at least that’s what I tell myself to make mowing the yard more palatable. I threw the towel in on trying to repair whatever is going on with our grass, so Jenna brought in an expert. Mike truly seems to be the Lord of the Grass, and he thinks I’ve got a fungus problem…at least on the lawn. So…we’ll see what the treatments yield for what once was a beautiful, lush green yard. I’m tired of the raking, seeding, top-soiling, fertilizing, and cussing over the grass. Wizard Mike can have a crack at it now…but I still get to do the mowing. After all, it’s the only cardio workout I seem to get any more!
We're off to Boston, and THIS would be the perfect time to bring home our first trophy of the year. I have the 2008 Charlotte Wally sitting about two feet from my right shoulder as I type this, and I certainly can make room for another inaugural memento if we are that fortunate!
Stay tuned, keep off the grass, Shirl Greer was the man, losing first round sucks, and NY City definitely doesn’t!
Since I started the title with “horsepower,” perhaps I should start with a racing update on our Valvoline/Wounded Warriors Dodge, which happens to sport roughly 10,000 ponies (thank you very much)! We had another good weekend in E-Town, making it to our first final of the year. That’s five round wins in the past two races, a feat that took us the first six races of the year to accomplish. It’s great for morale, it’s great for the sponsors, and it’s great for Todd and Terry’s confidence. We’re getting real close…
Did someone mention tonnage? (Actually, Jack…I think you did). I can’t help but think that the neighborhood is sitting slightly higher since Saturday, when we hauled out over 80 yards of dirt. That means we lightened Norco hills by a staggering 160-200,000 pounds…carramba! Brandon Sullivan made over 80 trips in the dozer from the top of the backyard to the street, loading Bob Nica’s truck seven times. Fortunately, my buddy Randy (Brandon’s dad, and the owner of the wheel loader) found our local golf course needed fill dirt, so a round trip to dump cost us nothing and took less than 20 minutes. Otherwise, our Saturday would have taken well into Sunday to finish.
An all-too-familiar sight at my house! It was tempting to have Brandon dump a bucket-full into the old Nissan. It was also tempting to dig a hole in the back and try to bury it! Seven loads in Bob's dump seems like it should have removed enough dirt to lower our house down about five feet!
Can you tell from this photo the path we took from the back to get to the dump truck? Also, used Super Comp dragster, anyone? Complete with trailer, hardly any runs in past 5 years!
Layla didn’t get to go with Jason and me to look at the jumbo jet, but she sure liked clinching her sippy cup while daddy grunted, groaned, and added a few more scratches to my show truck!
The directions seemed simple enough: “While in reverse, ease off clutch while increasing throttle opening. At desired velocity, release throttle while simultaneously depressing clutch and brake pedals…hard. Repeat as needed.” This was after two attempts. The third time was definitely the charm for this load.
Colonel, Jason, and engine tech Ron seeing if Jason can remain stationary while they start this 67,500 pound of thrust behemoth. The 777 engines are several feet taller, and make 115,000 pounds!! Colonel gets and “A” for the Sean Connery look, but a D- for fashion coordination.
The upper deck on this intercontinental version is breathtakingly large; the guy cleaning the windshield on that manlift better keep a tight grip on his squeegee!
Sure, they may not have the speed rating to bolt on our Funny Car, but a pair with that load rating would suffice for more than 50 of our hotrods!
Not sure how much longer I’ll be able to do this. Jenna was also onboard for a time, but we couldn’t find anyone to take the picture (joking, honey!). Jason’s wearing a partial Star Wars outfit, and apparently is about to give Layla a double-wet willy…yikes!
Dirt is an interesting thing. Dig a hole, put the dirt next to it, and then refill the hole and marvel at how much dirt is “left over”. Yep, it tends to “fluff up” quite a bit when disturbed (don’t we all?). I was pretty blown away at how many loads it took to haul out Mount Beckman from the back yard. We still probably have at least ½ an end-dump (think, “big-ass” dump truck) left, but I want to make sure I have enough to backfill and grade the yard when my garage- building project is complete. I estimate that to be sometime in 2016 at the rate I’m progressing!
Brandon sure made driving that tractor look easy. Had I not had some seat time in those things, I might have been tempted to give it a go. That would have resulted in tons of dirt on the driveway, several holes knocked in walls, and possibly a broken bone or two. I let him do the moving, and was very impressed with his skills. Not to be humble, I did spend six hours expertly manning the aquatic dust-control device. Some call it a hose, but that sounds too generic.
The day before the boys arrived to turn a mountain into a molehill, I needed to clear a path for the equipment. When Jerry and I finished the concrete work for the garage, all the formboards and trash ended up in one big, nail-impregnated, nasty looking pile. Sully told me to haul all the wood down to his storage yard so his guys could burn it, and my trusty Nissan once again proved up to the task. Brandon, along with Derek Sullivan, helped me load the first trip Friday afternoon. I enjoyed it so much I decided to attempt a second run on my own. It’s amazing what one can co with a crappy old pickup truck, a pair of tie-downs, and a set of Mechanix Wear gloves! Unloading was the best part. It consisted of backing up as fast as I could get going in a 30-foot span, then slamming on the brakes as hard as I could in an attempt to get all the lumber to slide off the back. Tough to do in dirt, but it worked!
My gift in life has definitely been my ability to meet quality folks. I have been very fortunate to become friends with some fascinating people. I have met hundreds of people who have influenced me and have helped shape my life, and I’m grateful for that.
Speaking of great people, I’m not sure if I’ve spoken about the “Colonel” in a past blog, though I think I have. No, I’m not talking about the fried-chicken Colonel, or the guy who used to own Brainerd Raceway (he wasn’t really a Colonel). I’m referring to one Jim Mills, a true class act and the type of guy that anyone would want to spend a day with. Jim and I met at the Hawley Drag Racing School years ago, when he came out with his step brother Howard to do our Dragster Adventure Program, which basically gave the students ½ throttle, a low 11-second timeslip at around 120 mph, and often sets the hook for them to come back for more.
Jim did…oh boy did he! He not only came back to experience an eight second, 157 mph run, but he earned his NHRA license in both our Super Comp and Super Gas cars. He participated in many of the School’s race-series events, and he even made a couple of runs in my Blackbird at LACR. However, that’s not what’s interesting about Jim. In fact, everything about him is, well, interesting.
Jim was a Sergeant in the Air Force for several years before deciding to get a degree and become an officer. He worked his way up to the rank of Captain before leaving the military to go run a flight school in Indianapolis. Three years later he decided to reenlist (I still think there was some booze, or a bet involved!), and eventually achieved the rank of Lt. Col. (now you know where the nickname came in). The guy served 27 years, has three Masters degrees, flew air refueling missions in a tanker (as a navigator) PLUS hundreds of target-spotting and reconnaissance missions as a fighter pilot in an RF-4C Phantom in Vietnam. Yes, he’s THAT cool!
Back in civilian life, Jim served as a mission director for Boeing on their Sea Launch program, which put satellites in space from a mobile launch platform that sailed from its Long Beach, CA port clear down to the equator to take advantage of the earth’s rotational speed differential. Jim took several of us on a tour of the SoCal facility, and we even watched a launch from their closed circuit TV system. Yes, he’s that cool!
The reason I’m writing about Jim is that I hadn’t seen him for some time. He’s been a busy boy lately, even though Sea Launch was eventually “sold” to the Russians (it was always run as a multi-national conglomerate). He still works for Boeing, but now as a Flight Test manager on their 747-8 program. Though the only thing he has piloted in the last decade was propeller driven and under 300 hp, it would be hard to not be impressed with Jim’s new project.
The 747-8 is a stretched version of the big jumbo jet. In fact, this newest version is 250 feet long, has a 225 foot wingspan, and is capable of taking off in excess of one million pounds…and that’s no typo! Now based up in Seattle (which is why we don’t see each other), Jim, his crew, and his big ole airplane are spending some time in Riverside, at the former Norton Air Force Base. Jason and I went over and got a great tour of the bird, the new GE engines, and the guys that make them fly. It was awesome. This plane is fitted with water tanks throughout in order to ballast for tests and change the center of gravity for different configurations. There are miles of wire hooked to dozens of test stands with observer seats in front of each. They’re logging hundreds of flight hours, gathering terabytes of information, and using that to continually improve the product.
Jim was able to head over to the Chateau du Beckman the following night for dinner, and we talked about temperature coefficients, thermal expansion, turbine cooling ducts, boundary layer and wake turbulence issues, and much more. Actually, Jim talked about all that. I ate Jenna’s drumsticks and green beans, and occasionally nodded “yes” so that he would think I had a grasp on what he was explaining. The last thing I really understood that he said was, “Please pass the potatoes”!
I’m doing my best to enjoy each moment with my children, whether it’s playing Transformers with Jason, or letting Layla ride me around like a horse. These are great times!
We took Cindy and the kids to Universal Studios yesterday. We had gone about seven months ago, and our tickets include a no-charge second visit within a year. I believe it is called their “cheap-bastard promotion”, and I was all over that!
Jason is totally on an “Iron Man” kick at the moment, and he loved the newest movie when I took him last month. Jenna got him the first two episodes for his Kindergarten graduation, so we’re going to have “family movie night” right now and watch #2 (The movie, that is).
My plane departs at 6:25 a.m. tomorrow. I head into NYC to do some work on the Chemo: “Myths or Facts” campaign, then I’ll fly straight to Bristol for the race. Hopefully I’ll be heading home with a trophy by this time next week!
Stay tuned, the Colonel rules, dirt isn’t cheap (especially if you have to move it), and fly Boeing!
I’m getting tired of making $100 donations to the Red Cross.
Please don’t get me wrong; it’s a great organization that can truly help those in need in times of disaster. My opening line wasn’t insinuating that I don’t support the Red Cross. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Though I’m certainly not a philanthropist (I think you technically have to be “rich” to be considered one of those), each time a large disaster strikes somewhere in the world I’ve done my best to contribute a decent chunk of change towards relief. Lately, though, it seems we’ve had more than our share of nature’s worst. The East Coast had ‘Sandy’ last year, and now Texas and Oklahoma get hammered by tornadoes. Both of the latter hit close to home.
That last sentence was not meant in the literal or geographical sense, of course (I DO understand that Los Angeles is quite a bit left of OK and TX on the map), but certainly in a personal way. My dad and Teri were actually staying in Granbury, TX on the night the tornado struck. Fortunately for them their place was a few miles from the area of devastation, but many families were not so lucky.
Todd Smith, the crew chief on the Valvoline/MTS Dodge that I drive, hails from Oklahoma City. His mother and his son still live in the area. We stayed in Topeka that Monday to test, and it wasn’t until later that afternoon, while in the airport, that we realized the significance of the damage. Todd had heard from his mom, and though he hadn’t reached his son yet, there didn’t seem to be a cause for concern. By the way, his son resides (resided) in Moore, which appeared to have been hit the hardest.
His story sounds straight out of a Hollywood movie, with him braced, chin deep in water, in the outside storm cellar. When he finally felt safe to come back to the surface, nothing remained of the neighborhood he once called home. Fortunately he only received minor injuries, which was a huge relief once Todd finally heard from him.
This is how we partiers spent the exciting part of Memorial Day. Friends Kevin and Jill McKenna (He of National Dragster fame, her of NHRA) brought out his sweet ’69 Road Runner for the Bob’s Big Boy car show. The organizers saw us eating inside and drafted me to judge one of the awards. Nice!
I can’t even imagine the loss for those in the area. The parents that dropped off their children that morning for what should have been a normal day of school will never be the same.
Yeah, I’m hoping my next donation isn’t for a LONG time.
Jenna’s Grandma, Inez, passed away the Saturday of Topeka. Her cancer had come back, and it took her quickly. She died at the age of 86 years and one day. I was able to speak with her from the airport two days before she passed, and she was just unbelievably strong and accepting of her mortality. Cindy flew back to be with her parents, who had been married for 66 years (!). To Grandpa Bill (who actually reads this blog): we all love you, and we cherish our memories with Inez…she will be missed.
Being that Memorial Day was just the beginning of this week, I’d be remiss to not honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country. My deepest respects to the families of our injured and fallen heroes.
Okay, that’s all the “heavy stuff” for this blog.
Here’s half of the Diamondbacks ball club, after filling up with hamburgers and beer to celebrate a great season. Nobody kept score, all the kids improved, Coach Bob was wonderful, and hopefully we’ll do it again next season.
Our little man, Jason, will officially end Kindergarten about the time this blog makes it on NHRA.com. I’ll be taking a later flight out to Englishtown so that I can attend his graduation. I know it’s not a black-tie affair to observe a bunch of five and six year olds celebrate their last day of class, but I don’t ever want to miss a thing with my children if I can help it, and the nature of my job takes me away so often anyway.
Jason also wrapped up his second season of baseball. He’ll forever have the distinction of being the last “Diamondback” team batter up for the 2013 season, as apparently he forgot how to swing the bat in the final inning. When I asked him why he looked so lazy at bat (he actually is a pretty darn good hitter, with great form in the batter’s box), he told me that he just wanted the game to be over.
There’s times as a parent when time or circumstances really hamper one’s ability to do the “right thing” when those all-too-frequent “teaching moments” come about. Then there’s those times where you just hope and pray that the way you handle a situation, how and what you say to your child, and the lesson that you impart is correct, good, and beneficial. Jason and I spoke at length about the importance of doing one’s best, no matter what the outcome, and always supporting the team. We’ll see if that speech sticks.
Speaking of which, my team has been putting in so many extra hours on what has proved to be a less than cooperative racecar this season. I’m a bit disappointed with our results thus far, but I feel far worse for the boys, who have had to shed more sweat for less pay (the crew gets bonuses based on our race day finishes) so far. Perhaps we can look back at the end of this year and realize that Topeka may have once again been our turning point.
Last year we earned our first trophy of the year (and first as a team) in Kansas, and the rest is…well…history. Though we didn’t win this year, we made seven consecutive runs and it appears we have our hotrod back. Johnny Gray and team flat outran us in the semis, but we sure looked stout on race day once again. I can’t wait to get back in the car this weekend in Jersey!
My chores around the house during our week off have included some minor work in the yard getting my future shed/garage ready to start building walls, installing a couple hundred dollars’ worth of LED retrofit recessed lights (I think we’ve changed out/installed about 20 of those beauties, and at $34.97 each at Home Depot, I’m in no hurry to finish the project!)
Though it certainly isn’t life-altering (especially considering the other events I’ve talked about), I was seriously bummed when I surfaced to see my favorite board now in bite-size chunks floating next to me!
Tell me this isn’t nice! My friend Rob surprised us with the coolest license plates a guy could ever want. DMV finally got around to making them, and Jason helped me mount them. I was tempted to christen it by breaking a wine bottle, but Jenna wouldn’t let me!
I didn’t have access to these photos when I sent my last blog in. This is CMSgt Fred Graves after we mounted my picture on the USAF Enlisted Wall of Achievers. I see Robert Mitchum, Jimmy Stewart, Chuck Yeager, Carroll Shelby and Peter Graves (no relation to the Chief…I think)
My friend, MSgt Bruce Stansel, very generously sponsored a brick in my name outside of the Enlisted Heritage Hall. It was an awesome surprise, but they got upset when I tried to pry it up to take home!
I can say with a strong amount of conviction that life is good. I have my health, a wonderful wife, two healthy and gorgeous children, and the greatest job on the planet. About the only thing I don’t have is “free time”. About the time I’m ready to roll my sleeves up and dive into a project, Layla wants to roam around in the dirt in the upper part of the yard, pick up rocks (we have lots of those), and pet the doggie next door (ironically, his name is ‘Jax’…but I’m guessing that’s coincidental). Jason wants to play tetherball, put together his Legos sets, or ride his bike. I’ve given up on trying to schedule anything (like I EVER did that!), but it’s all wonderful. Jason and I will load our bikes into the PT Cruiser, head over to the park, and ride a couple of laps until he gets bored and wants to play on the jungle gym (no relation to Jungle Jim). My goal is to have zero regrets about not spending enough time with Jason and Layla…plus that should save us money on therapy sessions when they get older!
Poor Jenna has less free time than me, no hobbies to distract her, and no escape when I’m on the road. Lately all she’s wanted to do is settle down after Layla is asleep upstairs, and watch a movie that we’ve got on our DVR. About eight months ago our satellite company gave us one month free premium channels as a promotion, so we recorded as many movies as we could, thinking we could watch all of them in about a month. Yeah, right! Last week we decided to watch ‘the Help’, which probably is a wonderful movie. The problem was having to watch it over a four night period, while keeping an eye on Layla’s baby monitor, then listening to her wake up and start fussing for her mother (which officially ended “movie night” for the evening),which really kind of killed the drama of the movie. Ah…parenting bliss!
Our daughter doesn’t seem to be “advanced” in any particular category, but I think she’s going to be smart as a whip once things click for her. Take teeth, for instance: at nearly 23 months old, she probably should have 14-plus ivory chompers, but our little lady has been stuck at eight for the longest time. We’re pretty sure she’s gonna sprout several more simultaneously, and soon. Therefore, we may have to put our TV viewing plans on hiatus for a while.
Surfing tends to be my time to get away from it all, have some fun, and keep in shape. Problem is, I don’t get to do it very much anymore. In fact, it had been over a month since I last was able to take my bitchin’ new Valvoline board (see prior blogs for photo) out with friend Rich Camou. One of the tough things about surfing is its unpredictable nature. There is no way to schedule when waves will be rideable, and you just have to be flexible with you time if you want to participate. Last Saturday Rich told me to be prepared for an early call Sunday, which came at 5:45 am.
Let me cut to the chase: After a 70 minute drive to Rich’s house, a six minute walk to the beach, a 3 minute paddle out, and 9 minutes and two waves later, disaster struck. If a picture is worth a thousand words, I’m attaching one that should be worth double that. Now, if you’re thinking what an idiot I am for taking such a beautiful work of art out into the surf and risking what obviously happened (that would be my wife’s opinion), I’d be hard-pressed to disagree. My only defense would be that it’s a surfboard, not a trophy, and I loved it deeply while it was here.
I’m now going to ‘call it a blog’, mow the lawn, lift some weights, pack some clothes, hug some kids, and watch some History Channel.
Stay tuned, hit “pause”, “the Bachelor” sucks! (so does a two-piece surfboard), tornadoes blow, family is important, and so is helping others.