Wow. The fact this playoff crunch starts with a four-in-a-row makes it a bit crazy for racers and PR people, as we scramble around the country to get to races, get the work done, and move right on to the next one. I apologize for being AWOL, but the last couple of weeks have been a blur.
Dallas in a nutshell: Very few crickets, a semifinal finish, a hot track, a good-running race car, and a move up one notch in the points. And the only reason we didn't run in the final round was the fact my buddy Del and his DHL guys made the absolute run of the weekend in the semifinal. We ran great, he ran off-the-charts fantastic.
Our new girl Leah was with us in Dallas, and she got help in the hospitality area from a local young man by the name of Kevin, who we hired for the day on Saturday. Leah had a somewhat implausible departure time for her flight home, at something like 5:45 on Sunday, and even on Sunday morning before we warmed the car up we were discussing the possibilities there. With the Texas Motorplex being so far from DFW, it's about an hour even with no traffic and despite race day being Sunday you should never assume you'll run into no traffic in a town like Dallas, we were doing the math backward from when we felt she needed to be at her terminal. Our first thought was "If we make it to the semifinal you'll have to change your flight" but after we won in the second round I told her "Just hold on. If we win and go to the final, change your flight. But, if we don't win and we can still get out of here by 3:30, we'll give it a shot."
We didn't win (see the aforementioned reference to Del's fantastic lap) and it was 3:25 when we got back to the pit. Nick had a flight home to New Jersey at a more reasonable hour, and I was spending the night at the DFW Hyatt so I could catch my flight in the morning, but I was the taxi driver for both of them so what resulted was basically a fire drill. Within mere minutes we were in my rental car and headed north. I don't recall what time we dropped Leah at the curb, but she took off running and this weekend recounted how it all went well until she was stuck in the TSA line behind a guy who apparently had every banned item in his carry-on, and they were being taken out and looked at one at a time. Finally, even the TSA agents lost all patience with the guy and they let her swoop around him. She made her flight, Nick made his, and I got a good night's sleep before making mine.
Speaking of good nights' sleep, I failed to stay awake past 9:00 on all three nights at the Dallas race. It was hot, humid, and the racing days were lengthy, so each night I'd head back to our hotel in Waxahachie and struggle to keep my eyes open at all.
There's a more direct connection between the Dallas and St. Louis races other than simply the fact they are back-to-back on the schedule. As it turned out, we broke a key clutch component in the semifinal, but didn't discover that until the guys put the motor together for Q1 in St. Louis, on Friday. We put a brand new piece on, and as clutch parts so often do it acted a little different than the old familiar piece. It took Tim three runs just to figure out what it wanted in order to get the car down the track. For Sunday, he had another older piece brought down from the shop in Springfield, just to minimize the chance we'd smoke the tires at the hit or something goofy like that.
Clutch parts (other than the discs and floaters themselves) are truly rare beasts in a Funny Car. They can not only last for years, they can last for many years. They're sort of the big loping elephants in this circus, and they're very durable. Because of that, they tend to take on a personality and the tuners can adapt the rest of the set-up to how they know the clutch will work. When a critical piece breaks, it throws everything for a loop. We're all good now, though. Smart guy at the controls.
The brief time between the STL and DFW was filled with column writing, press releases, and coordination of our big surprise for Dick Levi at Gateway Motorsports Park. Then, in the blink of an eye, I was on my way to MSP to fly down to Lambert Airport in my old home town. First thing on the agenda was to meet my niece Kim and her boyfriend Chris at Farotto's for, as Kimbo put it, "A Farotto's marathon festival of pizza and toasted ravioli." We did just that, and I had enough of my large deluxe pizza left to take half of it back to the hotel in Clayton. Successful outing on all counts, I'd say.
Plus, the fun news was that as Chris and Kim got up to leave he said "We need to get home, because we're leaving early in the morning and she doesn't know where we're going." Kim rolled her eyes, as if she figured it was something corny, but the text photo I got two days later explained it better. He flew her to Sarasota and proposed on the beach! So he's not Kim's boyfriend anymore. He's her fiancé. Congrats to both of them, and it was all made even better by the chance to get together at Farotto's.
Once the racing started on Friday, there was little else we could do other than man all battle stations and keep going. At "normal" races with LRS, we have a big crowd of guests on Saturday and very few on Friday or Sunday, but with LRS being located just an hour and a half north in Springfield, we were at capacity for all three days at Gateway and that didn't even factor in the auxiliary tent they rented trackside, where a few hundred more folks were having fun.
On Friday evening, I did something I've never done before and likely will never do again, but I had the blessing of the boss so it was all approved. I left not long after Q1 and headed back to my hotel in Clayton, over on the Missouri side of the river. There, I got cleaned up, put on fresh clothes, and listened to the audio-cast until Wilk made his run on Friday night, under the lights. Still dealing with the clutch issues, we smoked the tires, but after I fired off a tweet or two I went back to my car and drove east just a couple of miles, to St. Louis University High, for my 40th class reunion.
So much has changed, grown, and improved at SLUH over the years, and I've only been available to attend two other reunions with the last one being 20 years ago, so I actually had to email the reunion administrator to find out where we were supposed to park, because our old parking lot has long since been replaced by new facilities as the school has bought up the entire neighborhood that used to surround it, in order to expand and improve. It was a marvel to walk in through an entire sports complex that didn't exist the last time I was there, and they had all the lights on so we could see the football, baseball, soccer, and track venues. Amazing. There's a new gym as well, and our old gym has been coverted to meeting space, but the core classroom building isn't much different than it was when the class of '74 graduated. It's a little old and historic, if by that you mean it was built in 1924.
I was thrilled to see everyone, and recognized a bunch of guys on sight, but even more thrilled to see that Bob Mitchell, Marc Hollabaugh, and Bill Signaigo were there. The four of us were a tight bunch in our SLUH days and I've only seen Mitch and Marc a couple of times over the last four decades. I hadn't seen Sig since graduation.
Mitch and I were partners in crime the summer after our graduation, when we took off in my Volkswagen Beetle, with it stuffed to the roof with everything we could cram inside. We drove out west to meet up with my dad's Spokane Indians team in Sacramento, then went to Honolulu with the club on a road trip, before coming back and driving up to Tacoma, then over to Spokane. It was the summer of Expo '74, so we timed it just right. You can read about that entire adventure (and much more) here:
A lot of the guys I went to school with (and I only went to school with guys, since it's an all-boys school) were from The Hill in South St. Louis, and you therefore might understand why the names Michael Castellano, Ricky Randazzo, Derio Gambaro, and Johnny Iovaldi were relevant. Lots of Italian history on The Hill, and lots of Italian food as well. It was also great to see Bob Macauley, the son of "Easy Ed" Macauley a former NBA great and longtime friend of the Wilber family. Bob was actually the first face I saw when I walked in the room and he came right over to shake my hand.
I was back in my hotel room by about 9:30 but I was quite a bit wound up from the experience so it was closer to 1:00 or 2:00 a.m. when I finally fell asleep. Up at 6:30 and out the door for the single biggest day of racing we get to experience all year.
Our pitside hospitality was jammed to the rafters with special guests and just as I was wondering what time the LRS jet might land at nearby Parks Airport, I called Dick Levi's number and he answered saying "Hi Bob. We just landed. I guess we'll be there in about 20 minutes."
My job, then, was to head out to the main entrance on Route 203 and inform the guards that my sponsor was on his way in a big black limo and that I'd escort them in. When limos are involved, even State Troopers understand the importance, and everyone was great. They even stopped traffic to let Dick and his entourage into the facility.
Once everyone was on the golf cart with me, I simply told Dick "Hey look, we have a big surprise for you today so just tell me you'll go along with it and not ask questions. I also need you to come to the starting line with us for the first run today." Dick is always in "have fun mode" when he's at the races, so he just laughed and said "okay" but the bottom line was he had no idea at all what we had planned for him.
If you saw the race coverage on ESPN you know what we did. 2014 is the 35th anniversary year since the founding of LRS, by Dick Levi, Roger Ray, and Bob Shoup. Dick took over sole ownership of the company after a few years and he is still the owner and President, but LRS now has more than 600 employees and they do business around the world. They are true industry leaders in many facets of today's modern Information Technology arena. It's quite a success story, and we're a big part of their marketing efforts, so that makes us all proud.
It's also the 15th anniversary for the LRS sponsorship of Team Wilkerson, so those two things combined gave Tim the idea to have Greg Ozubko design a special commemorative paint scheme, and we managed to get that done, get the car painted, have some vinyl and decals added, and kept it a total secret. When Dick arrived in the pit, the body was on the stand but with a cover over it. He never even blinked.
We took four of his guests up to the Sponsor Viewing area at the front base of the tower, so that gave me the excuse to make sure I had Dick in view at all times so that he couldn't wander off and get away from me. Then, as our car came out from under the tower I grabbed him and said "Let's go to the line with the team" and that's the first time he had a bit of a quizzical look. "You mean go up to the line?" he said, as he looked at the car being pushed up with the cover still on it. "Something funny is going on here" he said, and I just replied "You're going to love this."
Tom Compton, Graham Light, and track owner Curtis Francois then appeared, and they all shook Dick's hand and thanked him for everything he's done for us and the sport, then Alan Reinhart announced that something special was about to happen and he sent it down to Nathan Hirsche who had a microphone pointed at me with a camera man next to him. I gave a quick little speech about LRS and the amazing I.T. work they do and how much they do for us and what valued partners they are, and then I said "So Dick, we've got a little surprise for you. Go ahead guys" and the boys pulled the cover off. Dick had a priceless look on his face, and he muttered "Oh my goodness, this is fantastic" as he stared wide-eyed at the incredible paint job and fantastic design. It was all pretty priceless, really.
We ended up having to make a good lap in Q4 just to get in, but we did that and we felt pretty good about how things were going. We felt even better when Matt Ilas brought his ESPN camera to our pit so that Tim could surprise Dick a second time, telling him that this body wasn't a one-race body, it was a one-day body and now it belonged to Dick, to add to his collection of classic cars. I think this one was, indeed, fairly classic.
Making all things LRS proud for St. Louis
Sunday was another huge day, and I thought we had a decent chance of taking out Tommy Johnson in round one, but just like the semifinal in Dallas we ran great but Tommy ran even better. His 4.12 beat our 4.14 and our day was over.
I flew home last night, after trying to get on an earlier flight via standby but failing, and to get to the airport I crossed over the gorgeous new Mississippi River bridge, just north of downtown and the Arch, and it truly is a marvelous piece of engineering. What's better is that it's called the Stan Musial Memorial Bridge. A legend already, Stan now lives on once again "connecting St. Louisans" like he always did. And yes, locasl are already calling it "the Stan Span".
So now it's Monday and this blog was the first thing on my list, just because I've been so remiss in my duties as of late.
Next on the list is to finalize all my stats and print all of my clippings from the St. Louis race, then write my Reading preview story and format all my pages for that event. I head out on Thursday and Leah will meet me at the Detroit airport, where we'll both be connecting for our flight to Harrisburg. From there, it's a quick one-hour hop over to Reading.
Once I get back from that race, on Monday (fingers crossed, with a nod to decades of dealing with the weather at Maple Grove) I'll be home on Monday night and we'll be loading up the boyz in my car early on Thursday morning, to make the long trip back to Liberty Lake for the winter. I'm going bold this time, and not just chopping a few hours off the front end with a short day followed by two long ones. Instead, it will be two very long days, as we'll leave before dawn to make the trip all the way from Woodbury to Billings, Montana. On Friday we'll just about match that distance, going from Billings to Liberty Lake. Let the adventure begin again!
First things first, though. Next stop Maple Grove!
I live such a different life when I’m on the road versus when I’m at home. Out there on the tour it’s early mornings and late nights and short amounts of time to sleep, so when I’m home I’m usually all about recharging the batteries and getting some rest while I also do all the “office work” that needs to happen. Except here I am this week, for the second day in a row watching the sun come up behind me in my office, cranking stuff out before it’s time to leave for Dallas on Thursday. Mix in a session in the hot tub each night around 10:30 or 11:00, and it’s easy to sleep deeply until the alarm goes off again.
This time, after a long Monday of writing it’ll be an even longer Tuesday of doing just the same, so I figured I need to prioritize and get this blog done first before I dive into bigger projects. I didn’t get one written last week, mostly because there was a lot of other writing to do before the Charlotte race, and then there was the Charlotte race, and there wasn’t the Charlotte race and that had to be written about, so this one (with as little real content as it has) moves up to the top of the Tuesday “To Do” list.
One of the big writing projects I’ve been tackling is a new “Bob On Baseball” blog, but I’m still only about halfway through it. I’ll keep you posted as to when it’s done and online, but I’ll tip you off about the subject matter. One day, a week or so ago, I was thinking back about a certain ballpark I once played in (in Eugene, Oregon) and the fact that it was the only ballpark I played in as a professional and also was in (in uniform) with one of my dad’s teams when he was a Triple-A manager for the Rangers. The Eugene Emeralds had been in the Pacific Coast League when I was in high school, so I went there a few times with Dad’s Spokane Indians club, and by the time I was playing minor league ball in the Class-A Northwest League, the Ems were in the that league, so I got to go back again. I even pitched a couple of scoreless innings there one night (further proof that there’s just no explaining things sometimes). And then I learned that the Emerald’s old ballpark (one of my favorites) is now gone, according to longtime blog reader and friend Tom Miller, aka Tom From West Linn (as in West Linn, Ore., not too far from Eugene). It hit me that I better start writing down my memories of these classic old ballparks before they’re all gone… And with four of them within a few miles of Bristol Dragway, and others located in Kentucky, West Virginia, Florida, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, many of you might have been to one or two. Anyway, I’ll get that done hopefully today, and it should be up soon.
But back to this blog… With us not having any LRS hospitality in Charlotte, it was not on my travel list so I gathered my notepads, laptop, and other tools of the trade and got ready to do the PR remote-control from Minnesota. I’d also seen the various weather forecasts and knew that the guys (and the fans) would probably have their hands full in terms of getting the race in. Little did I know…
Despite the fact Charlotte is the first playoff race of the season, I wasn’t all that nervous going into Friday and that kind of surprised me in a way. I think it’s because we got into the postseason in the 10th and final spot, so there was really nowhere to go but up. I mean, we were already in the lowest possible points position we could possibly end up in, after having gotten into the Countdown on the final day at Indy, so what was there to worry about? Tim and I had talked a couple of times about it during the week, and he agreed with me that we might as well just go out there swinging, because there was nothing to lose.
The problem about going out there swinging during qualifying was that the conditions were a little brutal and it was hard to go fast. It was the “hot and muggy” version of Charlotte we all know, and since a hot track slows the cars down and muggy air slows the cars down (it’s hard to burn water) qualifying was a far different animal than the beast we had known in Indy. Whereas 13 Funny Cars had qualified in Indy with runs in the 4.0s or better (one of them was a 3.99) in Charlotte only Alexis DeJoria ran in the 4.0s (with a 4.09) and the bump spot ended up being a pedestrian 5.16. Tim even decided to skip the final qualifying spot because he didn’t think we could do any better and all it would accomplish was the expenditure of money and parts.
All along, the forecast had been correct with a lot of late-day showers and overnight rains, and a front was actually predicted to go through on Saturday night, creating totally different conditions for race day. For the first time in the history of modern meteorology, the experts got that one right. Sunday was totally different and the cars could be set free to fly once again.
We had Fast Jack in round one, and in so many ways that was just as it should be. We’d been tussling with him and his outstanding team for most of the summer, trying to secure the final playoff spot. We’d faced off head-to-head a few times along the way, and after Indy it just seemed inevitable that we’d face off again. You know those guys wanted to deliver the blow that would keep us from earning any playoff points and, frankly, I figured we’d have our hands more than full. But Wilk delivered the knock-out punch instead, and I about leaped off my office chair while watching ESPN3, seeing the LRS car scream down the track to a huge 4.06 at 311 mph. We’d qualified with a 4.16, so that was a big step up at the right time.
And then things went into a holding pattern and it rained and eventually the race was called. So now we get to go to Dallas for a good old-fashioned doubleheader. A twin-bill! Two races in one. Should be fun, and I know it’s going to be thrilling. It wasn’t until yesterday that we finally got official word as to the format, and it’s the one I was hoping to hear because it’s one we’re familiar with thanks to the Traxxas Shootout. While the Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle classes will have to start their Charlotte eliminations during Q2 on Friday, we’ll overlap our Q3 and Q4 qualifying sessions with the rescheduled Charlotte second round and semi’s, and then the two teams who make it to the final will just make a third pass late on Saturday afternoon.
If anyone can double-up and win both the Charlotte trophy and the Dallas one, they will have won seven rounds of racing in just two days. When’s the last time that happened? I have no idea. Maybe never?
We have a big group of LRS guests coming on Saturday, and now they’ve got quite a bit more drama to watch than just the last two qualifying sessions on what will surely be a warm September day down at the Texas Motorplex.
And speaking of the Motorplex, one of the first things I thought about after hearing of the reschedule was the fact my longtime friend and former colleague, Gabrielle Stevenson, is the general manager there, and if anyone can handle this late change in plans and even maximize it for the loyal Texas fans, Gabrielle is that person. She’s as good as they get, and I’m looking forward to a fantastic and hectic weekend in Ennis.
I would normally not have any photos to share, from Charlotte, because I wasn’t there, but blog reader Andy Hauser was there and he snapped off a number of great shots, so I get to share those. Former “Fan of the Month” Jim Butler was also there, and he was able to get me a shot of B2’s birthday cake, delivered by B2’s mom at the track. Hence, we have a few good photos to share.
Wilk signs a dirty old clutch floater... The first of the shots from Andy Hauser
So now we look forward to Dallas…
Crickets. There will be crickets. Many crickets. Crickets galore.
Racing. There will be racing. Eliminations and qualifying all lumped together to make a perfect casserole of racing fun. Seriously, it’s going to be epic, and if you’re anywhere near Dallas and hadn’t thought about attending, I suggest you get online right now to buy tickets.
Heat. There will be Texas heat. Forecasts vary (duh) but the consensus is highs of 87 to 90 each day.
Other odds and ends… As fate would have it, Barbara is off on a business trip this morning and she’s headed where? Dallas! But she gets back Wednesday night and I leave Thursday morning. So close but yet so far.
Once this series of back-to-back races is over, it will be time to pack up the car, load up the boyz, and head back to Spokane for the winter. I always look forward to the drive, and frankly I’m looking forward to getting back out there to our wonderful home in Liberty Lake. We love Woodbury, but it’s a bit hard to feel “at home” here when all of our stuff is out there. It’s good to get back to the fun little house on the golf course and be able to look around and see the right photos on the walls and the right furniture in the rooms.
St. Louis is next, after Dallas, and that’s going to be a big weekend. My niece Kim is my only relative who still lives in my old hometown, so she and I are planning to meet up at Farotto’s on Thursday night for an epic pizza and toasted ravioli marathon. Then, on Friday night I’m actually going to duck out of the track early to head over to my high school for a big reunion. Big as in 40 years! Wow… It will be great to see a lot of those guys again and it will be fun to poke around the hallowed halls of St. Louis U. High.
So that’s about it for now. Time to tackle other projects and keep my typing fingers going. I think this keyboard might just burst into flames if I keep up this pace.
See you back here after Big D. Let’s go win seven rounds in two days!!!
Thursday, September 04, 2014
Whew. What a month we just spent in Indy. Wait. What? We were only there for five days? Impossible! Everything about Indy is so big, so grand, so high-powered and tense, it's unlike any other drag race in the world. It's just incredible.
I, personally, actually made this year's Indy experience as efficient as it could be, by not flying down until Friday morning and then flying back on Monday night. That's about as good as you can do it if you're still going to be there for all the sessions and eliminations, but I'll probably never do it again. Why? Because the whole Friday deal worked perfectly and everything was on-time. I even had time to go out to hotel first and change into my track clothes, before driving back down to Lucas Oil Raceway for the Friday night session. I guess the pessimistic worry-wart in me figures I dodged the odds with that, and the next time I try it my flight will be cancelled.
I've been writing so much lately my right wrist is actually a little sore. I have a new "Behind The Ropes" column due for National Dragster, on Monday, so I've been writing and editing that the last couple of days. It actually started out as a completely different topic, and I wrote the whole thing on Tuesday. But then I began the editing process and I just didn't like how it read and was formulated, so I basically wadded it up and threw it away. Yesterday I wrote a completely new one, and it's about the epic scale of Indy and what it means. Much better.
I won't even attempt to chronologically replay the U.S. Nationals here, so let's just ramble…
The most important thing comes first. That had to be one of the best attended U.S. Nationals I've ever seen. Crowds ranged from big to gigantic, and Saturday and Sunday were both pretty epic. The threat of bad weather was hanging over us each day, and on Monday it looked so bad I think it kept some people away, but we got every session and every round in and the fans were truly out in force.
Indy is one of those places where memories get a little foggy about "the good old days" and people tend to remember the races from the 70s or 80s as having 100,000 people there. In reality, that never happened. Actually, once they built the new super-sized permanent grandstand on the pro pit side of the venue, capacity had to increase by at least 20 percent, so the place has more seats than it ever did back then and this year we filled that big new seating area. No tarps covering sections, no gaping holes of empty bleachers, just people. Lots and lots of them. And the big grandstand on the other side also held a healthy amount of human beings as well. On top of that, the Top Eliminator Club seats were sold-out. Amazing.
The Traxxas Shootout stuff was fun, although we lost a tough one to some guy named Force in round one on Sunday. At the press conference, in the Top Eliminator tent, each driver was interviewed by Alan Reinhart and Ron Capps talked about how "It's not about the money, it's about the honor and accomplishment of winning such a tough race against seven other drivers who are among the best in the world." Wilk got interviewed next and his first line was "First off, I just want to disagree with everything Ron Capps just said. To me, it's absolutely about the money." That got big laughs, from the fans and other racers.
This year's trophy for the eight Traxxas drivers was actually a Traxxas truck on a beautiful pedestal, and on the base of Tim's trophy it said "Winner. Fan Vote". I had to take a photo of that, because I'm still stunned by the outpouring of support we got in that Facebook vote. Wilk's Warriors are the best. Period.
I've said before that one of the things I love the most about Indy is the fact our legends walk among us there. Turn a corner, and there's Don "The Snake" Prudhomme and Tom "The Mongoose" McEwen. Turn another corner and bump into Big Daddy Don Garlits, or Shirly Muldowney. For a baseball guy like me, that's like going to the All-Star game and seeing Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and and Mickey Mantle stroll by. We lose more legends every year, but we're still very lucky to have so many NHRA legends and pioneers still with us.
Indy is a marathon for sure, but not just because there's an added fifth qualifying session, or because the Traxxas Shootout makes it two races in one, or because it stretches into Monday. It's all of those things, but I think it's just the pressure and the very long days that take it out of us so much. Four days, a couple of which stretch into the 12-13 hour range, and a lot of tension. By Monday night, you're truly drained, but it's a good version of being tired.
Blogger's Note: I'm sitting here in Woodbury typing this, and a Bald Eagle just flew by the window. That never fails to get my attention.
Okay, back to Indy. We ran well, pretty much all through qualifying. We really only made one bad run, and we gave Force everything he could handle in the Traxxas opening round. Our 4.02 was stout enough to put us in the top half of one of the toughest fields ever. Matt Hagan made the first three-second Funny Car run in the history of Indy, and 12 other drivers ran in the 4.0s.
Of course, what everyone was focused on the most in round one was our ongoing battle with Fast Jack for the 10th spot in the Countdown. Jack earned some bonus points, and he out-qualified us, so by the time the first round happened he'd shaved the deficit to 10 points. We faced Tommy Johnson and he faced Blake Alexander. It wasn't difficult to envision that going the wrong way for us.
We were the sixth pair, and Jack was part of the second, so we had the opportunity to watch Jack and Blake run before we did. While I actually was pretty confident that Paul Smith, and his sons John and Mike, would tune Blake's car well enough to make Jack earn it, I really don't think anyone expected Jack's car to lose traction almost at the hit. Blake made a great run, and we were in the playoffs.
I watched that from right behind the line, so I headed back to our car further back in the lanes, and it was neat to get so many winks and nods from guys on other teams. Our guys were pretty pumped up, and at that point I was thinking "Okay, pressure's off. Let's just go have some fun now." And then we smoked the tires. That was not in the script.
Tim and Jack met up a little later, and both were so gracious, just like you'd expect. I figure there had to be dozens of individual moments throughout the season where both of us would like to go back and get a do-over, and neither team ever really took charge and put some distance on the other. We're fortunate to be in the playoffs, and now it's time to get hot and reward all of our fans who so loyally stand behind us. If you're in it, you can win it.
People. Lots and lots of people. What a GREAT Indy it was.
We began the very sweaty job of tearing things down on Monday afternoon, and after I finished my PR work I took a look at Delta's website and saw there were a couple of earlier flights, before my scheduled 7:30 departure. I got on the phone and landed a standby seat on the 6:00 flight, and headed for the airport as the semifinals were happening.
Once inside the concourse, I headed to the Sky Club and was finishing up some other work when I heard a familiar Aussie-accented voice say "Is this the media room?" It was great to see David Grubnic again. He'd been helping out the Rapisarda team all weekend, and I'd go so far as to say his tuning input was immediately effective. Dom Lagana was driving the car, and Aussie Dave was able to help get him all the way up into the No. 8 spot, running a stout 3.78 in the process. After that run, word shot back through the staging lanes like a wild fire, as teams relayed along the info that Lagana had run so quick and that Grubby was helping with the tune-up.
We chatted for a while and he asked me what flight I was on. I told him I had been on the last flight out but was standby on the earlier one, and he went to the desk and did the same thing. We both got on, both were in the front cabin, and we were joined there by Les Williams, from Greg Anderson and Jason Line's team. You know Les, he's the guy with the cowboy hat who always clears the smoke from Jason and Greg's cars after the burnout. Great guy, really friendly, and he lives in Duluth. When Grubby and I got to the gate, Les walked up and said "So this must be the losers' standby flight, huh." Yep. I never wanted to be on that flight, but it was good to get home about 90 minutes earlier. Sure hope to see Grubby some more. Any team would be wise to bring him in as a tuner, I'll say that.
Now, we have a week off before beginning the playoffs in Charlotte. We don't have hospitality there, so I'l be doing the PR work remote-control, but after that I'll be going to all the other races, even though we don't have hospitality in Vegas or Pomona. I just want to be at both of those races, so I'll foot the bill to be there. Hard to believe we're wrapping up another year. Man oh man, did that ever go by in a flash. Next stop for me will be Dallas.
And tonight, just to reinforce the whole "How did it get to be September already?" theme, the NFL season starts. Geez… In a blink it will be Super Bowl Sunday. Well, a blink and quite a few trips to scrape snow off our Spokane driveway…
Take care everyone. And once again, THANK YOU for all the support and all the Traxxas votes. Wilk's Warriors are the best!
This will be a short little blog today. Call it concise. Or efficient. It's simply here to give an enormous shout-out to the best fans in the sport of drag racing.
The back of our 2014 souvenir t-shirt has a tag line at the bottom, and it reads "Wilk's Warriors. We. Are. Everywhere." It could also read "We. Are. Amazing." and it would be just as accurate. Truly amazing.
In my last blog I mentioned the online fan voting for the eighth spot in the Traxxas Funny Car shootout, and how Wilk was in that vote because we did not win a race this year, or last year. In 2013, we had Robert Hight in the vote with us, but we managed to fend him off and win the fan vote. I don't recall the exact percentage of the vote we earned, but it was somewhere in the 38 percent range, I think. Maybe 40.
My friend Elon Werner, pound for pound as good as any PR person in the biz, even called as soon as the vote ended to congratulate me, Wilk, and the team on what I think everyone considered a fairly amazing upset win. We then took our advantage in terms of ping-pong balls in the hopper to get the wild-card spot in the field.
This year, we were up against another tough group, which included Fast Jack Beckman, Matt Hagan, Del Worsham, Bob Tasca and Tony Pedregon. I took the same campaign approach as I did last year, by focusing on three efficient means of getting the word out, and hopefully getting the vote out. I appealed to Wilk's Warriors directly, via Facebook, Twitter, and this blog. Once again they delivered.
I also reprised my method of getting attention by creating a new series of "Vote For Wilk" campaign posters, and used those on the Facebook and Twitter posts to draw attention.
Now keep this in mind: An online vote like this is about more than just quantity. It's about fervent loyalty, not just the act of following. It's about being Wilk's Warriors. Matt Hagan has about 24,000 followers on Twitter. Fast Jack has about 13,000. All absolutely fantastic, terrific, and engaged fans, and there are lots of them. Team Wilk has roughly 4,350 followers on Twitter and another 1,300 or so members in our Facebook Fan Group, although even those numbers are deceptive because most of those individuals follow us both ways. We were clearly outnumbered, by a lot in some cases, but we couldn't be outworked.
From the first moments of the vote, the Warriors sprang into action and grabbed the lead. And we held it nonstop until the voting ended on Tuesday. As Bob Frey loved to say "Tim Wilkerson never trailed in this drag race." In the end, Wilk earned 38 ping-pong balls with his 38 percent of the vote. Fast Jack was a strong second, with 29 percent, then Del at 13 percent, Matt at 10, and Bob and Tony with five percent each.
The reason? Wilk's Warriors did exactly what they did last year. They bought in, they invested in their hero, and they didn't just vote, they campaigned. All I had to do was mobilize this amazing group, and they did the rest.
Today, at midday in downtown Indianapolis, the drivers gathered to put their color-coded ping-pong balls in the lottery hopper, and just like last year Wilk's vote advantage gave him the edge and we are once again headed to the Traxxas Nitro Shootout.
Here's the NHRA YouTube video of the actual selection: bit.ly/WilkTNS
Yep, winning three rounds in this deal would mean an awful lot to this team. $100,000 is a lot of money.
I'm all for that, but what I'm already to the finish line about is the effort so many people put into this. Voting on all their devices, spreading the word to family, friends, and coworkers. As far as I know, no dogs or cats voted and nobody found a secret way to vote twice from the same iPad, but it was clear from Day One that Wilk's fan base was engaged and energized. They were all-in. In political terms, the other teams might have had more registered voters in the polls, but we had the better ground game. I am so proud to be associated with these fans.
Campaign posters, 2014-style...
Amazing. Fantastic. Tireless.
But you know what? I kind of expected it. I did have my doubts, and mostly I doubted whether I had the creativity and energy to get the ball rolling and keep the votes coming, but once it started and we grabbed the early lead, I never felt like we were in danger of losing it. There was just too much energy out there.
Of course, having 38 ping-pong balls was great, but we still needed the luck of the lottery to get us in. Krista Wilkerson was there with Tim for the lottery, and she was my eyes, ears, and texting thumbs on-site. She's also convinced she gives off bad luck waves, so she basically stood all the way across Monument Circle from the stage, where she continuously fired off a series of texts that were nothing short of hilarious.
So, in summary… THANK YOU! Wilk fans are simply the best.
Now, let's go win the Traxxas Shootout and the U.S. Nationals. Are ya in?