I’ve always been a used-car sort of guy (that’s a euphemism for, “cheap bastard”!). I just couldn’t see plunking down all that money (or worse yet, a long-term loan with high monthly payments) for an object that would depreciate the instant you signed the title. I bought my Yamaha brand new in 1985, my 23’ motorhome in 2000, and my wife’s Flex in 2012. Other than that, I’m a high-mileage dude, with a “used” attitude!
I have, however, began to question whether or not it’s time to bite the bullet on some fresh wheels (I want a quad-cab truck) for myself. Spoiler alert: none of this applies to motorhomes… they’re all money pits, whether you pay five grand or five hundred grand (it’s just more technical headaches on the expensive units).
Why my poor vehicular outlook, you ask? Well, let’s just start with the RV. A couple of weeks ago Jenna phoned me to inform me that our Monaco was making weird noises, the driver’s side slide out had come out all by itself (not the first time for either), and apparently our decorative, wall-mounted light was struck and killed by the wayward pop-out. Nice! I suppose it could have been worse, as the light is under a hundred bucks, and the RV didn’t suffer any damage.
Then, while parked in the pits during the race at Phoenix, we experienced some odd ghostly noises starting around 2 a.m. both Friday and Saturday night. Firing up the generator and leaving it run all night seemed to fix that issue, and at $4.09 a gallon for diesel fuel, who’s to complain? Once back home, it seems the spirits got restless again, powering out 3 of the 4 awnings. Again… not the first time. What was special about this time is that they would not retract… period. Nope, not with the generator on, not with shore power hooked up, not with the inverter on, and definitely NOT with green eggs and ham! Even a call to tech support at Monaco didn’t get me any closer. Finally, I conducted an amateur exorcism, sacrificed a chicken (I’m joking… no accusations of heresy, please!), clapped three times, and finally got the remotes to retract all units. One small step for man, but a big sigh of relief for me.
My car adventures continued with the old, trusty, rusty and dusty Nissan, and my plugged catalytic converter. Not even Preparation H could fix it, so I had to make the painful decision to perform surgery on a dying patient. Yep, I elected to pony-up $198 to rearrange the Titanic’s deck chairs. Call it honor for a long time friend, but I think I still can milk a few more miracles out of “the Red Dragon” (that’s a reference from “Old School”).
Now THIS is living! Yes, 7:30 on a Friday morning, broke down in the middle of the high desert. Hey, the paint’s not much to look at, but those tires have plenty of good miles left on them!
I don’t recall any tattoos, facial hair, or grey last time I saw Harry, but February of 1988 was quite some time ago… and I was a baby back then!
At the steel yard. It’s hard to tell where the scrap metal ends and the pickup begins. The paint’s not much to look at, but those tires are plenty fresh!
Welding around wood, with tons of sawdust and other flammable things in proximity is always fun! As you can see, Jack doesn’t weld without a fire extinguisher handy. The way I weld, I probably should also have ‘911’ on hold!
Thank God Jason was able to hold the cap down with his foot, or I may never have finished this wall! He has a knack for showing up for the picture, and disappearing once the work starts. Hey, he must be a driver!
So, that leaves my PT Cruiser to be the last thorn in my side. Funny, I just had checked it over the night before to make sure all fluids looked good, as Brent Cannon and I were heading up to Bakersfield for the March Meet. Friday was the only day that I could go (Jason’s seventh birthday was Saturday), so I headed out at 6:15 to pick Brent up. Seventy miles into my trip, and about 15 since picking up Brent, things got awfully quiet. Yep, the car just shut off. Now, this had happened to me a couple months prior, on my way to surf. That time it was the positive battery cable corroding to the point that it had broken, and I “MacGyvered” it by removing the air box and jury-rigging it with the jumper cables.
This time the prognosis was not so good. Apparently on the PT’s, one is supposed to replace the timing belt at 100,000 miles. Well, I went the, “just say no” route on that. I’m here to tell you, 157K may be the magic number, as mine broke… bad. Anyhoo, after the Auto Club loaded us on a flatbed, took us to Cal Auto in Phelan (owned by bracket racer Chris Lee, who works on Brent’s stuff), Staci Cannon and son Brad brought Brent’s car up, and we were back on the road and heading to the track, albeit an hour and a half later than expected.
Man, do I think we dodged a bullet (as opposed to biting it, which I alluded to earlier in the blog) on that. First, if it would have happened anywhere later in our drive we would have been marooned. Secondly, having a reputable auto shop within 15 minutes was fantastic. Thirdly, it didn’t tag any valves when the belt let loose.
About the time Brent and I were pulling into Famoso, Chris let me know the news: Timing belt and pulleys, water pump, motor mount, fan and a/c belts, coolant and labor came to a cool $695. Yes, again I felt as though I had just given a Rolex watch to a homeless man (perhaps I should have stuck to my “…deckchairs on the Titanic” metaphor?). However, Brent and I had a great day, the car was ready when we got back into town, and it got me to the beach and home the following day. Maybe that new truck can wait a few more months!
Okay, I’m coming off my soapbox regarding vehicles, and let’s catch up since last blog:
On our way to Phoenix, about 90 miles into the trip, Layla started getting a fever. If you read the last blog, the doctor had put her on antibiotics but cautioned us if she began to get a high temperature. It was very stressful for over an hour, as Jenna continued monitoring Layla. I couldn’t turn the rig around, as I had to be at the starting line at 7:15 the following morning to do media ride-alongs in the Frank Hawley school two-seat dragster. Phoenix has no Kaiser health care facilities, and we didn’t want to be out of pocket and away from home if Layla needed care, so the only alternative was to unhook the PT off the back of the RV and send Jenna and the kids back home. Fortunately, about that time Layla’s temp came down, and we soldiered on.
Phoenix, in my eyes, will be the race where Rob Flynn began to show his muscle. We ran quick, consistent, and fairly predictably, getting our first round win of the year with the best ET of round one. Unfortunately, we were in the lane adjacent to Robert Hight when HE layed down low ET of round two, and that was that.
In Phoenix I ran into Harry Weber, who occupied the room right next door to me for the last couple of years I was in the Air Force. I hadn’t seen him since early in 1988, and he was only there doing some vendor work for the track when he noticed my name on the pit layout paperwork. Small world!
I’m very much looking forward to Gainesville, as not only do I think we have a car capable of winning, but I’m going to have a Thursday to remember. Frank Hawley is being inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame, and I get to do the honors! I’ve known Frank for 17 years, worked for and with him since 1998, and think the world of the guy. I’m humbled and excited that he asked me to do this.
If you’re wondering what else I’ve been up to, I’ve spent quite a bit of time on the toilet. Hmmm, maybe that didn’t come out right… allow me to clarify: Our area apparently has pretty hard water (we recently had a softener and reverse osmosis filter system installed… and it wasn’t free!), which apparently is eating up the rubber gaskets inside the toilet tanks. I’ve slowly been changing everything out in each unit, and I’ve completed 3 out of 4. My other time on the toilet is not for public knowledge!
The garage is still taking shape. I drove out to Anaheim to pick up a 15’4” I-beam to use as an engine puller. There’s actually a steel supplier much closer to me, but I hate giving my business to people whose customer service skills, well, SUCK! So, I made the longer trip, took plenty of tie-downs, and sweated all the way back home that this 225-pound monster would stay on top of the Nissan. After unloading it, cleaning, priming, and painting it, I convinced neighbors Matt and Curtis that I’d be far less likely to incur a hernia if they would do the heavy lifting. I had built a life-size mockup out of wood to be certain how long a beam would swing into that size pocket (I had 15’8” of span for the top plates, but only 15’1” between walls). Rather than learn advanced Calculus, I just screwed a bunch of pieces of wood together, tried three attempts to insert it, and ended up with a magic number of 184”. And…. it cleared the wall by less than ¼” when we swung it up there. Otherwise, Curtis and Matt would not have been happy hanging out while I burned up Saw-zall blades! Once I welded the support plates to the beam, I can now drywall around the top of the beam and complete the sheetrock. Then it’s time to have someone come tape and mud, because I’m OVER that part of it!
I just completed (stop me if you’ve heard this before) a couple of walls. Yes, I believe the Beckman-era wall building has now officially come to an end. Oh, there may be some cosmetic stuff still in the works, but I think my structural masonry is complete. I installed walls on either end of the garage to encase the dirt slope and act as retention. They actually came out damn nice (though it took me about 4 times longer than a professional would), so I can retire on a positive note. The thing that wasn’t fun (mind you that I was building one on a slope, having to climb up and down a short retaining wall every time I needed anything) was humping the 94 pound bags of concrete, 90 pound bags of mortar, 30 pound bricks that slowly grind off your fingertip skin, mixing concrete to the point that my hands looked like a desert landscape, and frying the back of my neck in 85-degree weather. All that being said… I loved the satisfaction!
I’ve got the garage door on order and probably will start loading the attic by the end of this month. I’ll just have to find another project to keep pushing myself after this one’s done (like I’ll ever be done!).
That’s about 615 years worth of experience in this photo, and let’s just say that Brent and I shifted the “curve” down slightly! Hot-rodders from back in the time before the phrase was even a phrase!
You may have wondered, when reading about my PT Cruiser episode, why I just didn’t cancel the rest of the 160-mile trip to Bakersfield last Friday. Well, not only do I love the nostalgia stuff, but I was the featured speaker for the Smokers car club annual dinner Friday night. The Smokers, founded in 1951, were responsible for the Famoso track coming into existence. They promoted the original March Meets, starting in 1959. In fact, they are the reason that Don Garlits originally came out west, as they paid him appearance money to come out and prove he was competition for the California cars. At that race in 1959, he wasn’t. However, the next week he had a supercharger mounted on top of Swamp Rat 1 (just like the West Coast hitters), and the rest really is history. The gentleman who won that race, Art Chrisman, was in attendance at the dinner. In fact, six of the original (as in, from 1951!!!!) Smokers showed up. It was just awesome to be in the same room, and surreal to be the guest of honor.
We had Jason’s official party the day after his birthday, the 9th. He got some cool gifts, but I think this year I hit the home run. Jenna has incredible taste for picking the perfect presents, and I have zero creativity or insight, so I typically just rely on her. However, I remember when I was Jason’s age how cool model rockets were, so I got him a kit. Don’t tell Jenna, but he informed me that was the best gift he got this year, so I know he’s excited to go and press the launch button for the first time. We built the smaller of the two rockets today, and tomorrow we’ll see if we can go catch some stuff on fire, melt the launch pad, break the rocket, and get him over this phase quickly. Seriously, I sure hope he loves watching this thing streak towards the heavens.
My dad celebrated (maybe that’s not the right word… I doubt he was jumping up and down, especially with his new knee) his 77th today, and that should pretty much wrap this entire blog up. We’ve talked about birthdays, seeing old friends, and what money-pits cars can be. I can’t think of anything else!
Stay tuned, keep your rocket pointed straight, don’t let your mortar get wet, your beam rust, or your belt break. And keep your toilet time to a minimum!
When Layla found out Matt and Dave were filming, she cancelled all her plans in order to steal my limelight. This is the first time I’ve seen the pool table in about a year, and I just remembered where I put the lights that need to be mounted on the back wall!
Tell me this doesn’t look like a MAN’s yard!! Plus, we found another use for the forklift, and that always makes me smile. Two hours from the time they showed up, all this was done…amazing!
While William sweats to support nearly the entire weight of the drywall, you can see I am barely straining. Sure, he has muscular calves, but I was pacing myself, taking frequent breaks, and complaining about how heavy the drill was!
The gap in the ceiling drywall is where I will install a beam/trolley in case I want to do any engine pulling. I’ve got most of the rear wall insulated and ready for sheetrock, and you can see I won’t have any shortage of electrical outlets…no extension cord needed!
While William calculates and cuts drywall, I’m screwing around…again. See how I have a nice Werner attic ladder, my cool Little Giant work ladder, and yet I am standing on two cheap milk crates…go figure!
While I kept her dad busy with heavy projects in the garage, Kristen handled the more “delicate” issues in the house! And Layla prefers her animal cookies straight from the cup!
This may be Jason’s favorite thing to do at the Discovery Science Center. He sure does make a cute outline! I’d have to say my favorite spot there is the Taco Bell located in the back corner!
Honest, officer, I was just cleaning the exhaust system to get my truck ready for the local car show! This photo is the answer to the question; “What kind of idiot would attempt to cut off their exhaust while sitting in the road?” And…we have a winner!
Big Ben Wilkinson. If you like surf, or if you have a curiosity for what it’s like to paddle into a five-story tall monster wave, just Google this cat. He’s craaazy!
Yes, I am clever with my titles. And yes, I crack myself up often…even if no one else appreciates the humor. Lately my life has oscillated between swinging my 19 ounce Estwing framing hammer, and slamming my right foot to put the hammer to 10,000 horsepower…and I love them both.
Pomona was a bit of a struggle for our new team, but I am very encouraged by the way Sterling, Chris, Ryan, Marla, Bill, Chase, and Nate performed. Our mechanics, though new together, really did their thing and were flawless on their opening competitive outing. Rob and Terry are in the process of collecting and analyzing data to try and get a quick handle on our Valvoline Dodge.
I suppose you may be wondering why a DSR team car could possibly be short of data to make quality runs. Well, not only does each driver have their own idiosyncrasies, but each car behaves slightly different, wanting subtly different input than our team cars. Also, last year at Indy we made a move in the tune-up department, basically rendering all data collected before September of 2013 irrelevant. Combine that with the fact that the weather conditions at the Winternationals weren’t like any we had in those last seven races of 2013, and you can see why Rob and Terry had their work cut out for them. My hope is that the next 2-3 races yield enough quality runs for us that the guys will have plenty of useable data to fall back on throughout the year.
When I referenced that we struggled in Pomona, we didn’t even qualify until the fourth and last session, and that is more stress than any driver, crewchief, or mechanic wants. We were on a nice pass in the second session (Q2) when a broken antenna connection caused our emergency shutoff device to activate, deploying the chutes and shutting the car off. That may actually have been a blessing in disguise, as my teammate Ron Capps disintegrated his NAPA Charger at the top end, scattering pieces all over the track. I avoided the biggest chunks of Mopar (or so I thought) by pulling over next to the wall, but the entire rear section of his Dodge came bouncing right in front of me, slamming into the front of the Valvoline MaxLife car, knocking some large holes through the body and even caving in the fuel tank. Our guys changed bodies (I changed undies), fixed and inspected the chassis, and we came back strong on Saturday with a 4.04 that not only got us in, but moved us right into the top half of the field.
First round we were up against new teammate Tommy Johnson, Jr., driving the Make A Wish car for Terry Chandler (Johnny Gray’s sister). We laid down a nice lap, but our car wore much more clutch than it should have, which slowed us quite a bit in the middle of the run. Still, we’re all feeling positive, optimistic, and ready to start winning.
The Wednesday before Pomona Frank Hawley and I were at the track bright and early for a live shot on KTLA 5, a local news station. Gayle Anderson not only is a heck of a reporter, but she’s also apparently a G-Force addict (and if she wasn’t, she is now!). I took Gayle on an eight-second, 152-mph blast in the Hawley School two-seat dragster, and she loved it so much we did an encore for the next hour’s news coverage. Frank and I also took many media folks and celebs in an effort to spread the word about how awesome our sport is. The timing couldn’t be better, as the school will be coming back to the west coast starting in April! I’ll touch on that more later.
Thursday before Pomona ESPN showed up at our house. No, they weren’t doing an episode of “Cribs”, or even “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” (I’m zero-for-two on that one), but rather filming a couple segments to use later in the year. First, we set up in the house and shot a piece about the big turnover with my team, working with the new crew, and my feelings about our chances for success. Second, we spent a good deal of time with me showing Matt and Dave all my pretty tools, my awesome tool belt, and my wicked cordless “stuff”. We talked about all the projects around Beckman Manor, what I had got accomplished in the off season, and I even cut some wood and drove some nails for the camera. I just hope they didn’t get me on film when I cut the cheese and bit my nails!
When I say “ESPN”, Dave Dobson is the segment producer, and Matt Ilas is the cameraman. Truthfully, these two are so important to the show and wear so many hats throughout the year. I’m also grateful to call both of them friends, and we really had a great time hanging out, bouncing ideas off each other, and trying to come up with the best product for you guys.
Speaking of the garage…it’s really taking shape! The roof is completely done, and all but the final color coat for the stucco is on. I had nothing to do with either of them (unless you count writing the check). When I got the first quote for having the roof done, I decided that, for $2250 (the difference between the cost of materials and the quote), I’d quickly learn how to roof. I got a complete supply list, spent some time on the internet researching, and prepared myself for 2 weeks of hard labor. Then Jim Costanza saved me. Jim, who with partner Andy Montgomery runs Twin Palms RV Storage (and sponsors the car), suggested I have Mike Tocco do the job. If that name sounds familiar to any of you longtime fans, Mike co-owned the War Horse FC back in the day (he also co-owns the new nostalgia version with Roger Garten). In fact, the two of them raced a fuel altered together in the 60’s! Anyway, Mike lives in Henderson, NV, but comes out every weekend to work on the racecar. With the quote he gave me, I’d have been a fool (no comments, please) to attempt it on my own. His guys unloaded all the materials, papered the roof, installed the battens, and stacked all the tiles in two hours. The next day, it took them 3 more hours and they were GONE…and DONE! Wow, was that impressive. I think I could have got about ¼ of the tar paper up in the time they completed the entire job. Plus, I didn’t have to transport over three tons of tiles up a ladder. Best of all, avoiding falls from high places always makes me feel like I got my money’s worth!
As far as the stucco goes, I knew from the outset that I wasn’t going to attempt to tackle that. I love taking on challenges, but I also wanted my walls straight and crack-free. Jerry (my bud that’s guided me through basically this whole project) found us a good stuccoer (is that a word?). Hmmm…people who apply paint are called painters, people who install lath are called lathers (though I always chuckle at that), but who came up with “fletcher”, or “ferrier” for job titles? I’ll just stick with… “driver”.
I guess I got on a bit of a tangent…again! I was talking about cool stuff around the Pomona event. Friday night was another special moment for me, as the NHRA Museum asked me to emcee (that’s when you speak at a function, so we’ll just say my job was, “talker”) their bi-annual Night of Champions. I had often been one of the racers on the panel, but had never hosted. It was quite enjoyable, and I got some nice feedback from many of those in attendance. The panel consisted of Tommy Ivo, Jeg Coughlin, Erica Enders, and Matt Hagan. I liked it so much that maybe I’ll do it again!
With plenty of off time between Pomona and Phoenix, it was time to get cracking on the garage again. Poor Jerry hurt himself and is lying low until he’s back to 100%, and I felt a bit overwhelmed flying solo with all the stuff left to do. Then I found help.
Our friends the Zahorsky’s, who run the RFC Kid’s program at the races, are staying at our house between races. Otherwise, they’d either need to circle back to Oklahoma, or stay in a hotel for a week and a half. Jason loves Kristen, their 13 year old, and Stacy and William are about the easiest houseguests you could ever have. Last time they stayed William helped me with RV stuff, mowing the lawn, and various small projects. This time, I really got my money’s worth from him! William’s background is in construction, so he’s no dummy when it comes to projects like this. The “dummy” part comes in with him volunteering to help me! We got so much done in the past 8 days that it’s really shortened the time needed to be totally done with the new garage. He and I completely drywalled the entire garage (try doing ceiling sheetrock by yourself!!!). We insulated all the exterior walls, nearly got the attic completely insulated, and knocked out a boatload of things that just eat up time. It’s really coming down the final stretch, and with two weeks off between Phoenix and Gainesville I’m hoping to be close to done by the time I return from Florida. Then I will have the world’s most expensive storage unit!
Last time the Zahorsky’s stayed here (after the Finals), we made lots of sightseeing and fun trips with them. This time, I confined William’s activities to my backyard. However, the gals took the kids to the Discovery Science Center for a nice reprieve from the sound of hammering, sawing, and cursing.
William and I, in all candor, have made several exciting trips…all to Home Depot. During one of these, after loading the little Nissan with hundreds of pounds of wood, drywall, insulation, and various screws, fasteners, and tools, my little red pony didn’t want to make it home. Seems that rattle I’ve been hearing lately (right before I turn the radio up) is probably the aftermarket catalytic converter coming apart. Not just that, but I think it’s plugged itself up. How do I know, you ask? Well, when the throttle is floored, I’m pretty sure 4 mph is not what the automaker had envisioned…and it made for a really long trip home. You’d have thought I’d get it fixed right away, but William and I had stuff to do. So, when it came time for the next trip, I hammered briskly on the exhaust to try and dislodge anything…and it worked…for about quarter-mile. Yep, well before arriving at our destination, we found ourselves on the side of the road. However, this time I had a secret weapon. We had packed my cordless jigsaw, complete with metal cutting blade. It worked great, easily cutting through half of the exhaust pipe before snapping said blade into two. The police woman who had pulled over was really quite amused with us grownups looking like we were stealing some poor guys expensive catalytic converter, but I explained to her that I was simply trying to boost the performance of my mini-pickup. After all was said and done, we were up and running again. I’m stunned how a 2 inch long, .062 wide cut could make such a dramatic difference in the truck. Yes, soon William and I were speeding (figuratively, not literally) along, windows down, wind in our hair, with a truck that really wasn’t much louder than before my minor “surgery”. Heck, I think I just bought several more weeks before I REALLY need to address the problem!
Earlier I mentioned that the Frank Hawley School will be returning to Southern California, and that’s very exciting. It’s been nearly six years since we stopped running the school at Pomona, and now the school will operate on a rotating basis in Fontana, which is reopening. In fact, last Saturday I went to the Auto Club Dragway media event/open house. That’s VERY exciting news for everyone in the area, as we have not had a quarter-mile facility for regular competition since they shut down over noise abatement issues nearly two years ago. Southern California has lost so many dragstrips over the past 50 years, and we can ill afford to not have a quarter-mile venue for all the hardcore, bracket, and street legal racers that need a safe, sanctioned facility.
By the time you read this, we should be on the way to Phoenix in the RV. Or, perhaps I’ll be cruising solo in the PT down I-10. That all depends on how things go for the first part of the day. Jenna had to take Layla to the docs today, as our little girl just wasn’t feeling well. Turns out she had an ear infection and strep butt. No, that’s not a typo. No, I’ve never heard of it before, either. And no, I’m not going to use my sophomoric humor right now. Anyway, I hope everyone is healthy so we can go as a family. We only get to do that six times a year, and I’d hate to lose one opportunity.
Frank and I will do more 2-seater ride-alongs in the dragster during the “new” Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park media event, and hopefully hook several more influential folks on our pastime. I just have to remember: quarter- mile for the dragster, 1000 feet for the Funny Car, and I’ll be just fine!
Stay tuned, reroof, scratch-brown-color (that’s stucco talk), drywall is heavy, and cordless tools rule!
Though it may look like I’m holding on for dear life, I’m just loading trusses on the roof. I just KNEW someday I’d discover a REAL use for the forklift. After the garage is done I’m thinking of donating the old Clark to the NHRA Museum.
Now there’s a catchy title if ever I read one. And yes, it’s all true. Tune in this week (or “month,” with the frequency of my latest blogs) for all this and more. In fact, since I can’t think of anything else to procrastinate about, let’s just jump right in:
I’ve been juicing. No, that is not to say that I’ve been hitting the steroids or any other form of growth hormone (Mint and Chip ice cream notwithstanding), but rather that Jenna and I are making a better effort to get more fresh fruit and veggies in our diets. It tastes pretty good (even without the Jack Daniels), and I’m sure it’ll be beneficial in the long run. Not that I am equating the two, but our house got leveled with the flu a week ago. When Jason started feeling bad after school on Wednesday, I knew it wouldn’t be long until I caught whatever he had. Fortunately for our little man, his symptoms and pain were rather brief. Friday I didn’t move, and Jenna was only a notch above me. I don’t think I’ve hurt that bad in 10 years, and even by Sunday I could only spend about 2 hours working out back. Being sick sucks! I’m probably down 6-7 pounds right now, but with trying to stay gluten free I’m not so sure the “all-you-can-eat” pancakes at IHOP are such a good idea.
I got a good surf session in before the flu hit, and even fired up the GoPro camera and got a few decent pics. Unfortunately I won’t be heading out into the waves again for at least another week, as things are getting plenty hectic around here. I get on a plane Monday at 6am to head for St. Louis, where I’ll be making a late-night appearance for Valvoline. Tuesday bright and early I’ll be heading back home at 500mph. Wednesday I’ll be driving the Frank Hawley School 2-seat dragster for some promo stuff for the Winternationals with a local news station, and two days later we’ll officially kick off the season. Remember, this is the first time in as long as I can remember that we’re NOT running on Thursday…and I’m glad. One run per day is just too slow a pace, so getting two in on Friday (like every other national event…Indy is a different story) should be much nicer.
In between I’ll also have one inspection on my construction project, and I’ll have to figure out how to get the RV out to Pomona and parked.
Whilst on the subject of hammers and nails, I’m totally satisfied with the progress I’ve made on the backyard garage. As I look back over the 2 ½ years of this project (I believe you can verify that right here in the blog archives!), I wouldn’t even be near this far along if it weren’t for neighbor Curtis (who not only engineered the building, but has been my “phone a friend” for all questions related to his expertise), my buddy Sully (who jackhammered out tons of granite and moved 9 truckloads of dirt to make room for my playhouse), and naïve Jerry, who unassumingly promised to help me frame the building for free when the time came. And you know what…the time came! Poor Jerry sees me more than his wife and two boys, but without him I’d just have a pile of wood and nails…and tears. With his lead, I’ve been able to learn a few things about carpentry. For instance; it really hurts EVERY time I slam my forehead into a beam, truss, edge, sheathing, molding, and/or scaffold. I may be healed by Pomona, but it looks like I got my butt kicked a couple of times.
Between Jerry and I (and yes, there have been several others who have lent a hand) we’ve basically taken the dirt that Sully groomed for me, the plans that Curtis drafted, and are turning out a garage that is going to look beautiful in the not-too-distant future.
At the Discovery Science Center, a likeness of Robert Wadlow, the World’s Tallest Man. Is it me, or does Jenna have her nose in his business?
Lest you think all Jack is good for is driving 16 penny nails into studs, let me reassure you: we’ve done plenty with the kids, and I’m throwing pictures in for proof this time. Jason just lost his first upper tooth, and I think he looks pretty cute with it missing. I’m afraid he’s going to get a big, ungainly adult tooth pretty soon, and lose his little boy charm. Though he really needs to work on focusing and listening better (it’s clearly hereditary!), he is just my pride and joy. He’s such a good, sensitive child with an inquisitive mind and sharp wit (not sure where he got any of that from?). Then there’s his sister. Layla is going to be very high maintenance. She has this defiant streak a mile wide (Jenna swears Jason was like that when he was younger, but I think our little Princess has taken it to a new level). She’s also showing some smarts in many areas, and has a very strong personality. No question who’s going to be running the roost pretty soon.
Rich, my friend that I surf with, went and got married. Though I tried and tried to talk him out of it (Just kidding, Nicci!), they tied the knot right on the beach in Redondo last weekend. Though Jenna and I were still feeling ill (I didn’t even want to chance driving, so Jenna took over. We also skipped the reception so we didn’t spread germs), we didn’t want to miss what should be rarer than Haley’s comet. Yep, Rich Camou is married. (You folks down in hell, that cold stuff you’re feeling is called, “snow”!).
Another cool thing I did was go to lunch in Orange County with Brent Cannon, and a few dozen legends. Apparently the group tries to get together several times a year, and I couldn’t believe the firepower in that room. I’m actually going to attach a list at the bottom of this blog of who was there, but it was just an All-Star gathering. As if that wasn’t enough, “Spider” Razon presented me with a jacket that his company made. He knows what a fan of the sport I am, and I was really moved by his gift. Never mind that it was 80 degrees outside that day…I had to wear it home!
Curtis and I took the boys to a local track to use their Traxxas trucks. We’ve had ours for probably two years, and we did more damage to it in two laps on that track! Those things take an unbelievable amount of abuse, and the triplets have even managed to break several parts on theirs. No worries: Curtis sets up his pit spot, changes out a couple of components, and they’re back on their way. Fun stuff!
We did our yearly Anaheim Monster Jam trip, and my friend Brandon (who seems like he knows everybody everywhere) introduced us to Tom Meents (owner/driver of the Maximum Destruction line of trucks). Turns out that Tom is a hardcore drag race fan, and I’m going to try and get him to come watch us race Sunday in Pomona. He’ll already be in town, as Saturday he’s doing another Anaheim show. How cool would it be to use his truck as our tow vehicle? Hey, we could “accidently” run over our competition in the staging lanes…each round!
And then there was testing! Yes, we ran for five days in south Florida, and we tested…our patience! That’s not to say that the Valvoline team didn’t run okay. In fact, we probably made as many “good” runs as any funny car team. It just was one of the most difficult, frustrating test sessions I can ever recall. The staff at Palm Beach Raceway bent over backwards (figuratively…of course) to try and give us a great racetrack. I think the biggest issue was that there had been so much rain in the past month that the rubber bonded to the track really suffered. I’ve never heard so many cars smoke the tires before they even got to the Christmas Tree, but that is what we all were dealing with. Still, I’m glad we went. In fact, it was essential for us, as a team that has never worked together before, to have a chance to simulate national event work conditions and get comfortable around each other. I’d say we gelled, coagulated, melted, bonded, and overall adhered well with the new group. Terry Snyder and I are the only familiar faces from last year (and I’m not even sure I’d recognize either of us in a dark alley!). Rob Flynn is at the helm, and Chris, Bill, Chase, Marla, Nate, Ryan, and Sterling will be spinning the wrenches to get us into the winner’s circle. The cool thing is that four of our folks have never won a race, so hopefully we can get them conditioned early…and often! When we do win, you’d better bring a camera to the winner’s circle…it’s going to be special (I’d also bring mouthwash, some gum, and maybe a taser).
Man do I hope next blog has got some great (and long awaited) news!
Stay tuned, keep your teeth, pass your inspections, drink your juice, and (ladies) take Rich’s number out of your phone!
Luncheon with Legends list: "Watchdog" Tommy Allen and son Randy; Gary Beck; "Fast" Jack Beckman; Larry Bowers; Jim Brissette; Danny "Buzz" Broussard; Brent Cannon; Jay Carpenter; Pam Conrad; Sam Davis; Joel Embick; John Ewald; Leon Fitzgerald; Roger Garten; Bill Genco; Frank Genco; Steve Gibbs; Gerry "The Hunter" Glenn; Marvin "Who" Graham; Noel Grise; Joel Gruzen; Bob Higginson; Donnie Irvin; Tom Jobe; Roland Kleinsorge; Roland Leong; Rod McCarrell; Manny Maldanado; Jerry Mallicoat; Terry Maestrejuan; Drew Mraz; Carl Olson; John Phillips; Bill Pitts; Dennis Prater; Don Prieto; Bud Rasner; Spider Razon; Gary Read; Lee Schelin; Bill Schultz; Jimmy Scott; Jess "The Flea" Sturgeon; Frank Vanderbruck; Henry Walther; Tom West.
My last picture of Todd. Though it may look like he and Terry are working on some trick new part, it’s a REAL long story. That’s the shower valve from my motorhome, and we were not able to save it without performing a “spool-valve replacement surgery.” Yep, another $65 towards the RV fund. At least no one gets scalded anymore.
Joe and Anna Woyjeck, with a tribute to son Kevin and his fallen comrades.
Halloween, 2013. By the look on Layla’s face, you’d think she overheard her daddy badmouthing Disneyland. Oops! She’s the cutest mini-Minnie Mouse I’ve ever seen.
Hmmm… trying to condense what has happened into a semi-coherent blog (which might be a first for me!) is going to be a bit tough, so strap on your reading caps, and here we go…
When I last left you guys, we had just gone through a disappointing Maple Grove adventure, again leaving without a trophy. That trend unfortunately continued for the remainder of the season, though we still claimed a “win,” albeit in the Traxxas Shootout, which didn’t give us a Wally. Pomona was also incredibly disappointing, losing first round (though we did clinch third place in the standings). However, Vegas to me was the toughest race of the year, but not due to results (we made it to the semifinals). Without going into a lengthy diatribe, Todd Smith was let go Sunday afternoon. It was tough for me, tough for the team, and I will miss him very much. I wish Todd the best in tuning Brittany Force’s Top Fueler for 2014, as I know he is a dragster guy at heart.
For Pomona Todd Okuhara stepped in, but our car just refused to be consistent after running the quickest FC lap of Thursday. Speaking of that day, that was it as far as scheduled runs at NHRA national meets for Thursdays. Finally NHRA has made the move to bring the Pomona races into line with the rest of the schedule, with two runs on Friday. I like that much more… less standing around, more parachute packing!
The Pomona memory that will stay with me regarding the 2013 Finals had nothing to do with our performance. I don’t know if you will recall back in June when 19 firefighters lost their lives in Arizona, and we ran a tribute decal for the group, and for Kevin Woyjeck, a Southern Californian who had toured our pits the year before. Joe and Anna, Kevin’s parents, both came out to the race with our mutual friend, Tim Takeshita. We presented a photo of the entire crew taken with the car back in Norwalk, with the tribute sticker. It seemed like such a small gesture for two great folks who lost so much, but they were so grateful to us. Also, thanks to Rob Clendening of Valvoline, who also is an EMT and is good friends of the family, we ran another tribute sticker for Kevin and all the Granite Mountain Hotshot men.
During the off-season I kept getting phone calls from assistant crew chief Terry Snyder, letting me know as one-by-one our crew guys took positions on other teams. I don’t blame the guys at all, as they needed to look out for their livelihoods. Because the crew chief is in charge of hiring the crew, and we had yet to bring in a chief, it put the guys in a difficult position wondering if the “new guy” would bring his own team in and lay them off. In fact, Terry and I are all that is left of last year’s team… everyone else is new to the Valvoline/MTS Dodge!
Don hired veteran tuner Rob Flynn to head the team, and he and Terry slowly assembled the other seven components of what I think is going to be a great team. I’ll bring you up to speed on the guys (and one gal) in a future blog. I am excited that we will be basically starting from scratch and can hopefully pull together as a group and do some amazing things.
Lest you think I’ve been avoiding the computer due to a keyboard allergy, or “sensitive fingertip sensation” (okay, I made that up), I have been keeping busy. The kids are doing great, and we’ve done our best to keep them entertained. We’ve taken them to Knott’s Berry Farm several times, which I prefer wholeheartedly over Disneyland. Before you “mouse-fans” start blasting me about the advantages of “the happiest place on earth”, allow me to defend myself: Disney will set you back $92 for ONE park ($137 if you want to wait in line at California Adventure as well), or $669 for a season pass (a mere $499 if you’re willing to have a bunch of black-out dates). For $84, Knott’s will let you in all year long! I rest my case, your honor. Knott’s also was cool enough to give free admission to veteran’s the entire month of December (you knew my cheap butt must have had an angle!). Anyway, they’ve got enough stuff there to keep the kids and us adults entertained, and we’ll be back.
They rolled out the red carpet for us, and I made sure not to make fun of hockey players whilst within earshot of these two giants.
We’ve been to two hockey games at the local Ontario Reign facility. The first one was the game that I blogged about just before the Finals, and Jason got to drop the opening puck. It was really cool seeing him getting to try new things and enjoying it so much. He and I also rode the Zamboni machines during intermission, which was pretty cool for the first two laps. The next eight or so circuits around the ice were a bit awkward, as my parade-wave technique was starting to feel a bit silly… or perhaps it was the low temperature?
I took Jason out to a local radio-controlled airplane field to check out the action. Stan Wagner, whom I met when he used to be with NHRA parking control, apparently is the god (lower case ‘G’) of all things with propellers and remotes, and he let Jason do some flying. Very cool stuff, and I can see doing more of that in the future. The costs are surprisingly low, and the battery powered engines eliminate the noisy gas and nitro (listen to me complaining about noise!) issues.
We’ve also taken in the Science Center twice, went to Disney on Ice, toured the Nixon Museum and Library, took a Christmas light tour with Jon Ewald, and watched the Rose Parade floats being assembled. If asked my honest opinion on enjoyment, I’d have to answer: yes (twice), no, yes, yes, and yes. Sorry, honey… I know it’s very important for the kids, but can’t I stay home next time Mickey straps on ice skates?
While Layla sleeps, the rest of us (including Grandpa Bill) were given a guided tour of the Rose Parade float assembly area in Irwindale. This place was impressive, and huge! I think they did 13 of the 40-something total floats in the parade. Buster, who works tech for NHRA, gave us the gold-star, behind-the-scenes, top-secret, “for-your-eyes-only” experience (maybe I overinflated just a bit for effect).
Jenna’s grandpa Bill came out for Christmas, so much of what we did was during his action-packed 10 day stay. Bill’s wife of 67 (!) years, Inez, passed away last year, so I know the holidays were bittersweet for him, but we sure loved having him come out from Delaware.
If all this wasn’t enough, I’ve also done two NHRA Museum functions, spoken at four classes for the Doug Herbert BRAKES program, participated in a career day at a local Middle School, and hit the surf several times.
However, my off-season objective has centered around home improvement projects, and I’ve been plenty busy on that end. First, it was time to finish the multi-tiered, multi-yeared, “Great Wall of Norco” build. For the latest edition of this, I hired semi-retired mason Marvin, heretofore known as “Marvin the Mason.” Marvin and I knocked out the last section (okay, I still will have a couple very small segments to do once my new garage is stuccoed, but this was the last of the “biggies”), all 46 feet worth, in half a day. I’m glad I had his expertise; otherwise my wall would be curved, out of plumb, and dangerous to sit on! I will say that my forearms and back were ten kinds of hurting the next day
Titled, “The Many uses for the Nissan, Chapter 176”, I believe 14 was the number of 94 pound bags of mortar and concrete. Funny, they felt more like 194 when I had to unload them!
Before I started building the walls of my garage, it was time to backfill the side wall. I was going to tackle it by hand, but heavy-equipment buddy Randy Sullivan talked some sense into me. For $85, I got a Bobcat rental for half the day, which was a salvation. Not only did I save my back and shoulders, but Jason and Layla got some quality tractor time with dad. The only downside is that those little dozers have zero suspension, and my kidneys got a real workout with the 80 or so trips I made across the yard. Still, WAY better than using the shovel and wheelbarrow!
Speaking of which, yesterday I got done digging the trench for the electrical service to the garage… all 108 feet! Yep, this one had to be done “old school,” plus I had to push about 13 loads in the wheelbarrow UP the steep ramp in the backyard and dump it on the top level. To say that I’m sore today would definitely be an understatement. My calves were so sore I was thinking about sleeping on the couch, just to avoid walking up the stairs! I’m actually not too upset that Rich didn’t call with a surf update this morning, though I should be good to paddle tomorrow if there are any waves.
Certainly the biggest project I’ve got going is the backyard garage, and it’s finally shaping up in a great way. Saint Sanchez, my buddy Jerry, has been The Man on this one. Without him I’d probably have something that resembled the old Little Rascals club house. Jerry, who spent years as a framer (houses, not pictures), knows all the codes, tips and tricks to do it in the proper order, and do it right. I barely know which end of the nail to hit with the hammer, but that hasn’t stopped me. Just to be cool, I had us do all of the wall framing by hand, but the novelty quickly wore off, and the pneumatic nail gun became my best friend for all subsequent steps. Jerry comes out each Saturday, and I spend the remainder of the week chasing lumber, brackets and hardware, and priming and prepping stuff for his next visit. Occasionally I’ll finish whatever we didn’t get done by sunset, but I’d be lost without his guidance.
Well, that’s obviously not everything I’ve been doing for the past 10 weeks, but it’s enough to let you know that I haven’t been completely lazy. I hope that all of you have a great 2014, and I very much am looking forward to getting back into the winner’s circle soon. Our team will have new faces, our car will have a new look, but we’re planning on going “old school” and taking home some trophies!
Valvoline again will be primary on 10 races, and we probably have another 3-4 committed as of now, so I have also spent a portion of the off season speaking with companies and trying to shore up the other 10 races. I’d love to hear from anyone who thinks they know a company that could benefit from the exposure our team and NHRA racing can provide… I’d even thank you personally on my blog!
Stay tuned, use a nail gun, wear gloves, digging trenches sucks, (but not nearly as much as having a ladder collapse underneath you!), and Disney is still overpriced.