Where to start? At the beginning? Oh how cliché' that would be. What the heck, I'll start at the beginning but I'll give you a taste of what's to come. Sort of a preamble to the following nonsense.
Charlotte was equal parts incredible and disappointing, but I guess in the world in which we make our living that's not necessarily a good thing, unless the equal parts were qualifying poorly but then winning a bunch of rounds. Unfortunately, we did it the other way.
Dallas is on the horizon (the guys are already there) and we aim to do big things in Big D. Why not? We have a fast car, a solid team, and a great driver. The crew chief and the team owner are pretty good guys too. And there will be crickets, so we got that going for us! My colleague Lachelle Seymour, who does PR for Bob Tasca and Ford, is not a fan of crickets. Also not a fan of clowns. If she sees a cricket dressed up like a clown, she's apt to have a nervous breakdown.
And then I'll wrap up this blog installment by addressing the huge elephant in the room, the giant pachyderm everyone has been talking about for the last 48 hours, if by "talking" you mean ranting, screaming, complaining, threatening, and just otherwise going nuts. That would be the "situation" ESPN put us all in when, during a commercial break, they switched from our race on Sunday night to the rain-delayed NASCAR race, while moving our show over to ESPN News. You'll read more about that below.
Anyway, back to Charlotte. I was there in spirit, of course, and I was there via cyberspace, but I was not there in human form. We didn't do hospitality at zMAX, so by general rule during these tough budget times I was not required to be there. I had originally planned on going anyway, because it's the first race of the Countdown and we are in said playoffs, but once I looked at flights from Spokane (GEG) to CLT, the sticker shock was, well, shocking. I either hit Delta at the wrong time, or they're trying to make it impossible to get from this upper lefthand corner of the country to the lower righthand area, but for whatever reason it was ugly. Best I could find was two connections at something close to $800, and for that price you got to leave your house at 4:00 a.m. and arrive at the Charlotte hotel around midnight. What a deal!
Once you add in a rental car and a hotel room, you're way up over $1,000 for the weekend. Sorry, but with all these instantaneous internet tools in my possession, it wasn't worth it.
I was watching ESPN3 on Friday night, during Q2, when Wilk came up to the line (I waved at all the guys, but apparently they didn't see me inside the robot cameras) and all I was thinking was "Just make it to the end, just make it to the end…" I didn't really care what the specific number was, because I figured if we went from starting line to finish line under power, in those conditions, it would have to be pretty good. I'll tell you this, I was nervous!
These four-second laps seem to take forever when you're chanting "Just make it to the end" over and over…. It did, and it took a half-second for me to digest the stats that popped up on the screen. 4.020 at 318.99 mph. I knew both were career bests, but I still had to quickly do the research just to confirm. The 4.020 was indeed, and it was our third time to reset the new number within the range of the 4.02s (next stop, 4.01 and then we'll just go ahead and dip into the 3s because that's the hip and cool thing to do). The 318 mph number was also a new best, and for a second there I didn't even focus on the .99 part of it. 318 blew me away, and we were only a hundredth of a mile per hour away from 319! Well, that 318.99 didn't just set a new career best (at 1,000 feet) for Wilk, it shattered, blasted, and demolished his previous 315 mph number.
So… That was a good night and I was pumped up until I finally calmed down enough around midnight (20 minutes in the steam room helped). Saturday, with both runs being in the afternoon, was going to be all about set-up runs, but we smoked the tires on the first one and broke the camshaft on the second. Breaking the cam is usually not pretty, and it did cause the motor to pop, and that gave us our first look at the practical application of our new side-window vents. In this case, they worked as advertised. Here's the short version of how they came to be.
When the dual-latch and tether system was mandated, there were some teams who didn't necessarily think it was the right way to go. I'd list Team Wilk as one of those. When Johnny Gray had his big bang in Sonoma, there were a lot more teams who were against the tethers and everyone got more vocal.
From the beginning, on this issue, Wilk wanted to go in a different direction, to find a way to quickly release the energy of an explosion without trying to contain it, which as we saw in Johnny's explosion was not a good thing. Wilk comes from the Top Alcohol ranks, and those cars have addressed this problem in a different way for a long time. They bang their blowers a lot, and they quickly adapted by making the firewall (dashboard) area more V-shaped, to allow some pressure to get out that way, but they also had a number of variations on what they call the "stove pipe" which, as should be obvious, was a large-diameter tube that ran from the back of the manifold, through the firewall, and then to a side window. The pressure from an explosion had a place to go, and the TAFC guys rarely broke their bodies.
Now granted, nitro Funny Cars produce a lot more power and the bangs are much bigger, but Wilk was fairly certain the theory would work here as well. He got with famed chassis expert Murf McKinney, and they talked their way through it. The typical TAFC stove pipe wasn't going to work, because the pressure releases out of the front of our manifolds, but they put their heads together and came up with a pretty good idea. Murf built it, Tim got it approved by NHRA, and he ran it in Charlotte.
The first thing you'd notice is the oddball side windows in the car. There is an opening now, which runs horizontally for the entire length of window, along the bottom edge. Murf even scalloped the shape of it, to give it more integrity in all directions. That opening is not connected to the cockpit of the car at all, because there is a "box" behind it that connects to the engine compartment, and part of the way to do that was to make the firewall more of a "V" like the alcohol guys have them. If the engine were to bang, there's plenty of room for all that pressure to travel up the sides of the body, up into the box, and out the side windows. It was a heck of a theory.
The broken cam gave us a good bang, and everything worked exactly as planned. We hope we don't have to find out how it works when a valve breaks or gets hung open (that's when the really BIG bangs happen) but so far it really looks like a heck a great idea. Kudos to Wilk and Murf for thinking in an area beyond the borders of the square enclosure (outside the box).
We qualified third, which is very good. Did you know that Wilk has qualified in the top half at 14 of the 19 races we've run so far? I think that's pretty incredible for a team our size, and when I say size I mean both in terms of people and dollars. That's a stat of which we can be very proud.
When I heard who we were matched up with, I was a little nervous but, let's face it, I'm always nervous about who we run in the opening round. If Alan Reinhart said "And Tim Wilkerson will face the winner of the Akron Soap Box Derby in round one" I'd be nervous. It was Tony Pedregon, who hadn't won a round all year but who, quite obviously, has been running very well as of late. Being a superstitious ex-baseball player, who was known to put his uniform on in the exact same order for about 20 years, I don't like omens or streaks that seem like they have to soon be broken. Superstitious ex-baseball player? That would be redundant.
Sure enough, the first thing out of the announcers' mouths on Sunday morning, after we sat through a 5-hour clean up when the final pair of Top Fuel cars covered the track with synthetic 70wt lubricant (okay, it only felt that long, but it was a lengthy clean-up) was "Tony Pedregon has not won a round this year." Thanks guys.
Well, I'll say this. We would've had a heck of a time beating Tony even if we didn't smoke the tires. He ran great, we coasted across the line, his streak was over, and we were first-round losers. Thank you Charlotte…
Now, we move on to Dallas and the NHRA Cricket Nationals. It's going to be warm, but the track there is awesome. There are going to be millions of crickets, but we'll adopt a few as good-luck charms. Let's go win this race!!!
And why not? We have the car, we have the crew, and we have the driver. We just need it to be "our day" for once. Did you know that Wilk has now gone 50 races without a win? That's another streak that's got to end. We're way too good of a team to not win for 50 races.
I'm flying to MSP tomorrow, and will spend a short night in Woodbury (I don't land until 6:30) before hopping on a 1:00 flight on Thursday down to DFW, then into my rental car for the 45-minute ride down to Waxahachie. It could also be a two-hour ride to Waxahachie, depending on traffic. I'm looking forward to getting out to the historic and famous Texas Motorplex on Friday. Ya'll…
The newly designed (and apparently effective) side windows.
Meanwhile, I dropped my lovely bride off at GEG yesterday, and by this morning she was in Dublin, I think. It's yet another international trip on business, in the U.K. this time, and I think Dublin was the first stop, but it's hard to keep it all straight. When I park at GEG tomorrow, I'll text her the location of the car and she'll be able to pick it up when she returns. The life we lead...
And now, to the big elephant in the room. His name is Snafu, and that's pretty much what Sunday night was. I had already watched the whole race "live" on ESPN3.com, and when Barb was flipping channels and came across the opening of the show on ESPN2 she said "Do you want to watch this?" By that time, on Sunday night, I was just finally getting over the disappointment of our loss, and I said "No, I don't want to watch it. I know how it ends…" So, we watched other stuff.
I was unaware, therefore, until Monday morning when I found my in-box jammed and my Facebook page lit up. Apparently, the NASCAR race had been rain-delayed, and when it resumed someone at ESPN either thought it was a good idea, or more likely they were contractually obligated, to put that race back on ESPN2, where our race was in progress. They moved NHRA over to ESPN News, a channel a lot of people either don't get or have no idea how to find on their 800-channel cable connections. From what I've heard (and, oh boy, I've heard…) the NHRA race went to commercial, and when the ads were over the NASCAR race had taken its place.
I'm guessing there must have been at least some mention of what they were doing, but not everyone hears all that, not everyone gets ESPN News, and a lot (a LOT) of people DVR the race anyway, so they were completely out of luck. This move, for whatever reason or motivation, was not received well by NHRA fans around the country. And when I say "not received well" I mean people were irate, incensed, and very very angry. Also exasperated, frustrated, and a little mad.
I've never seen such an outpouring of rage over drag racing. Like I said, a lot of people only have limited options for voicing their displeasure and a lot of them know how to reach me and how to post on our Team Wilk Facebook page, so those were the options many of them chose. They, of course, weren't blaming me or our team. They were happy to blame everyone else however, and I was simply a readily available outlet for them. At first, since I hadn't actually seen it happen, my gut instinct was to think they were overreacting, as avid fans tend to do when something goes haywire. But then I started looking around the inter webs, and man oh man the uproar was everywhere.
Believe me, I understand the anger. NHRA understands it too, and they even posted on Facebook, letting fans know that they also share the frustration. They urged everyone to contact ESPN directly, and I'll pass that along here as well.
You can call ESPN at 888-549-3776 or you can go to this web page and send them an email: https://r.espn.go.com/members/contact/tvindex
I'd ask you to be polite, because notes that dip into bad language or hateful rhetoric don't have as great of an impact. But, if you're upset about how it all happened on Sunday night, you should let them hear your voice. Maybe, just maybe, ESPN doesn't quite get how loyal and avid NHRA fans are. If that's the case, you have your chance to show them… I did, and I even started my email by telling them who I am and what I do for a living.
Be polite, but be firm. And yes, you'll probably get an automated "canned" response, but don't be disappointed. The volume of emails or calls they get, about any specific situation, is documented and the decision makers at the network will clearly get the message.
BREAKING NEWS: Well, we just heard that ESPN2 is at least going to re-air the entire Charlotte race show, albeit in the middle of the night, but at least those of you who were so sorely disappointed to find the NASCAR race on your DVR can set that box again, and have a chance to see the show. It will be on TONIGHT from 3:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m Eastern Time. That's 12:00 midnight to 3:00 a.m. Pacific Time, and you know how to do that math for Central and Mountain. Set those DVRs is you want a chance to watch the full race.
But, really, I urge you to show ESPN how passionate you are about NHRA Drag Races. If they don't hear from you, they won't know...
So… Here's hoping we aren't mysteriously preempted again. Here's hoping we run well in Dallas and win rounds, hopefully four of them. Here's hoping there are no crickets dressed as clowns (just for Lachelle). Here's hoping we don't find out how well the window vents work after a major boomer. Let's just go get a Wally. I'm for that.
Be honest, did you hear Willie Nelson when you read the headline today? I was going to go more Grateful Dead with something like "What a long strange trip it's been…" but while it was long it wasn't that strange. It was quite fun, actually. I've enjoyed "road trips" my whole life, whether I was in the back seat and my dad was driving or I was doing the driving myself. For the record, my first major excursion as a driver was a huge trip after my senior year in high school, in my 1972 VW Beetle, with my buddy Bob Mitchell. We drove from St. Louis to Sacramento (overnight stops in Denver, Salt Lake, and Reno) where we met up with my dad's baseball team, the Spokane Indians (then the Triple-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers). We then went on a road trip to Honolulu with the team (the Pacific Coast League had the Hawaii Islanders back then, Triple-A team of the San Diego Padres) and after seven wonderful days there and an overnight flight back to the mainland, we drove from Sacramento up to Tacoma to spend a series of games there, then over to Spokane for a two-week home stand. We shared a room with my dad at the Davenport Hotel, and enjoyed the 1974 World's Fair in downtown Spokane (many facets of which are still visible and in use down by the river and Spokane Falls), before finally making the drive from Spokane back to St. Louis. What an adventure that was, for two young guys who had never gone on such a long journey.
Anyway, another point to be made here is that this blog will be about this latest road trip. No race cars were seen or touched, and no nitro was burned. It's just going to be about being "On the road again…"
The trip I'm referring to is the subject of today's Willie inspiration, and I recall giving you all a tip about it in the last blog installment. Yes sir (or madam) we loaded up my car on Thursday, and were pulling out of Woodbury around 3:00 in the afternoon, hoping to make a graceful departure out of the Twin Cities before rush hour hit, and we did about as well as you can do in that regard. There are always some tie-ups in downtown Minneapolis, where I-94 and I-35W tangle in a "mixmaster" intersection that involves a large number of drivers wanting to be at least three lanes over, in both directions, all at once, but the construction backups on I-694 around the north side of the Twin Cities are a sure thing, with it being down to one lane in places, so we slogged through downtown Minny and were on our way.
The last two things we loaded into my car were Buster and Boofus. It had been three months since the long drive eastward, to start the summer, and it took them a good two or three hours to settle down back then. Those were two or three hours of great stress, as we didn't know for a fact if they'd ever cry themselves out or relax, but they finally did, much to our relief (and theirs as well, I'd imagine). Neither one of them had even been back in the car since that trip in early June, so it kind of felt like starting all over, but instead they howled, meowed, and cried for only about 20 minutes, and then they calmed down. From that point on, they weren't just great travelers and sweet boys, they were truly outstanding passengers who were terrific company.
My original plan for the return trip to the beautiful greater Spokane metropolitan area (nearly 40 years after Bob Mitchell and I made the epic trip to this part of the world in my VeeDub) was to carve the 1,400-mile trip into two equal halves. 700 miles a day is a bunch, especially two days in a row and especially when one person (me) does all the driving. I don't have to do all the driving, but well… I'm a guy. I have to do all the driving. I'm a terrible copilot and I don't relax much when I'm not at the controls, so it's just better for everyone if I do all the driving. With all that in mind, I eventually decided that the best thing to do was to pretty much replicate the original trip by just lopping about four hours off on Day 1, which explains the late start out of Woodbury. Fargo was the target.
We had hotel reservations in place, which I discovered to be pretty critical on the way out after looking at a long string of decent hotels in our target cities only to see that most of them had a "No Pets" policy. When we drove this route in June, the short first day got us to Missoula, and I found a Staybridge Suites there that accepted pets (for a hefty fee). Then, I found another Staybridge in Bismarck for the second night and those two hotels were great for us and the boyz. They had room to snoop around and roam, and we had room to stretch out, make our own meals, and relax.
This time, though, the itinerary didn't match up with any Staybridge Suites, so I had to do some more digging and I found a pair of Residence Inn hotels in the right towns (Fargo and Billings). Again, a little pricy and a pet fee on top of the rate, but very nice places which shared the same benefits of having plenty of room for all four of us without being crammed into a single room with nowhere to relax.
I'd like to report all the beautiful scenery on the first day, but I've made that drive up I-94 many times and there's really not much to dazzle a person between the Twin Cities and Fargo. The object was just to get there. We did that expeditiously, and checked into our room right around 7:00, only to discover it was not just a little warm in there, but actually blazing hot. We had the maintenance guy come up before we even took the boyz out of their carriers, and his effort at fixing the balky thermostat ended badly, with sparks flying and black char marks appearing on the white plastic casing. I guess we should just consider ourselves lucky that he didn't burn the whole hotel down, and they were happy enough to move us into an even slightly larger room for the trouble.
Buster and Boofus were great, snooping around and sitting on the window sill, checking out the Fargo scenery, and we all had a great night with the boyz effectively doing their nighttime jobs, which can be described as being persistent sleepers in the area between our legs and feet. As we toss and turn, they tend to get "spun out" and jostled a lot, but they rarely accept that as a reason to move elsewhere and we settle into a detente wherein we try not to bother them and they oblige by purring. It works.
The second day was going to be a long one, covering all 352 miles of North Dakota, most of which is basically barren and featureless, and then a solid 260 more miles through eastern Montana, which unfortunately is the less scenic part of that huge state. It was an effort for the driver to stay focused, I'll admit that, but with 75 mph speed limits the whole way, we at least clicked off all 612 miles in good time. I think it was around 6:00 p.m. when we pulled up to the Residence Inn in Billings, but we'd picked up an hour by entering the Mountain time zone.
The boyz were really spectacular all day, basically happy to be traveling from the moment we loaded the car and got going. My only issue was dealing with the great desire they both had to be on my lap, even at the same time. I felt safe having one of them there at any given moment, but two cats and a steering wheel felt like a bad combination so it was a long day of having them trade places, walk around, put their noses right on the air-conditioning vents (they loved that), and then eventually have one of them plop down for an hour or so while the other one hung out in the back or on Barb's lap.
Barb was in the copilot seat, but actually had a lot of work to do every day, and it was surprising how seamless the cell signals were out there in the middle of nowhere. She had enough "bars" of signal to keep her laptop going just about the whole way, on her air card, and was able to be on a series of conference calls during all parts of the trip. Seems like only yesterday when we'd get new phones and actually compare the "coverage maps" of AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and the others to see where they had signals and where their dead spots were. On this trip, we didn't really run into any dead spots, despite the fact we could drive for 45 minutes or an hour without seeing anything but grassy plains and cows.
We hit the road after a tasty hot breakfast on Saturday, and the good news about the final day was that it was "only" about 550 miles, and we picked up another time zone for the effort, but the best part was the scenery and the technical driving. I'm all about winding mountain roads, and love trying to handle all of those curves smoothly enough for my passengers to hardly notice the change of direction. After two days of long straight stretches, which required artificial mental stimulation (music!) the drive from Billings to Spokane provided all the input a driver would need. Way fun.
By the end of the day, we got a huge kick out of watching Buster in the back, as he adapted and actually developed the ability to lean into the turns. It was hilarious. I'd make a sweeping right-hander, and we'd look back and see him sitting up but leaning to the right. Genius cat.
It also took him until the final day to discover the "viewing platform" I'd made for him all the way in the back. We had the rear seats folded down, and both boyz liked sitting in the carrier just behind our front seats, but I stacked both suitcases right up against the tailgate and then put Buster's favorite Minnesota Twins blanket over them, to create a perch. Once he discovered this, on Saturday, he stayed back there for hours, watching all the cars, trucks, and motorcycles go by.
As we ticked off the miles, Barbara and I were getting more and more excited to get back here and the thing that had us most intrigued was how the boyz would react to being back in our Liberty Lake house. Would it seem like a totally new place to them, or would they hit the ground running like they'd never left? Three months is a long time, and I wasn't sure their little cat brains had that kind of memory capacity.
On any long trip, those last 100 miles can seem to last forever, but at least on this adventure the fun driving continues right up until you make the Liberty Lake exit, just inside the Washington border. We kept a close eye on the boyz as we drove through Liberty Lake, and sure enough Buster seemed to get a little excited as we drove down the road next to the golf course we live on. Boofus hasn't really been in the car much since we moved here, but Buster had made more than a few trips to the local vet so he has, over the last couple of years, seen that view, and something deep within his little brain was recognizing it.
We pulled into the driveway, happy to see that the house was still standing and the yard looked good, and by then Buster was getting wound up and very vocal. It was all we could do to hold them tightly enough to actually walk to the laundry room door without both of them darting off, and once the door was open there was no way to contain Buster. He literally flew out of Barb's arms and jumped inside. Boofie followed, and I've never seen two cats show such emotion. They were visibly "happy" to be home, and they charged around the house at full speed, checking out all their "stuff" and making sure it was just as they remembered it.
Boofus spends some quality time on my lap.
That moment, when we all went inside, was really fascinating. I was nearly convinced that the return to our home here would entail a bit of transition, or maybe even a total reset as if they'd never been here, but they clearly knew where they were and they were obviously ecstatic to be back in their home. They've been the two happiest cats in the world since we got back.
And we're happy too! We love Minnesota, it will always be home to us and it's where we'll live after our time in Liberty Lake is done, but during the drive we talked about how lucky we are to have another home we love so much, in a part of the country that is so gorgeously beautiful. What are the odds? What if Barbara had gotten a job offer that was too good to pass up, but it was in some gray-scape place, with lousy weather and no redeeming qualities beyond a job that paid well? That would be hard to deal with, and it would make the magnetic pull of Minnesota even stronger. Instead, we have the enormous good fortune to have Spokane/Liberty Lake as our second home, and we were both really happy to be back here.
I'm looking forward to autumn, and then to another Spokane winter when our golf course turns into a huge open park, with paved trails that make perfect walking routes in the snow. It's all good.
I'm also happy to report that all four of us slept nearly 12 hours Saturday night, and the boyz capped that off by sleeping all day on Sunday as well. Big epic trips will take their toll on you.
I took some time on Sunday to get my car cleaned, inside and out. There as was just a little bit of cat hair, basically everywhere, and the front grill looked like an grade-school Science Fair project, wherein all various forms of winged insects are pinned to a board. Yuck. The windshield wasn't pretty either… Barb did some grocery shopping, to restock the fridge, and she spent the afternoon creating a huge dish of baked ziti, which was (officially) to die for. Amazing.
And now… Time to file this blog, get to work on my pre-Charlotte feature story, and begin the process of getting back into racing mode. I won't be traveling to Charlotte, but I'll be totally dialed in and connected, doing my PR work remote control. I think it's time Team Wilk breaks this winless streak, which now stretches more than two years. Let's go get us a win in Charlotte!
First of all, sincere apologies for being absent without leave for so long, but Indy has a way of dominating the landscape, eating up all your time, and wearing you out. The longer I do this, the more I notice my colleagues all making comments (either verbally or via social media) about just how Indy can flatten you, drain you, and leave you gasping for sleep. 12-hour days, short nights, incredible heat, stifling humidity, and torrential downpours can do that to you.
But, I'm back now and this is my one good shot to get this done because tomorrow, sometime in the early afternoon, we put Boofus and Buster in the car with us and head west. We're only going as far as Fargo tomorrow, just to knock the great state of Minnesota off the travel itinerary and take a bite out of what will still be a long Friday, when we're headed for Billings, Mont., but both of the next two days will be long ones and I don't expect us to roll into the driveway in Liberty Lake until late on Saturday. Here's hoping the boyz are as good about going back as they were when we came this way in June.
And, before I go any further, I need to state for the record just how overwhelmed we all were regarding the Traxxas Shootout fan vote. We were humbled, amazed, surprised, stunned, flabbergasted, appreciative, awe-struck, and pretty darn happy that so many people not only voted, but so many clearly went out of their way to get others to vote and to spread the word.
I can't even count how many people came up to me early in the Indy weekend just to congratulate me (and all of us) on the vote, and many of them went out of their way to express those feelings. When other racers spot you, change direction, come over, shake hands, and say things like "That was as impressive a deal as I've ever seen, and you guys really need to be proud of what you did" you don't take it lightly.
Thing is, though, it's YOU GUYS who need to be proud of what you did. You mobilized, spread the word, and got us 40 percent of the vote when there was a John Force Racing representative in the same election, and that's not easy to do (just look at the Top Fuel voting, for a comparison). So here's the biggest THANK YOU I can send, and it comes from Tim, his wife Krista, and every member of our team.
You know, it would've been a shame had one of our 40 Ping-Pong balls not popped out of the machine, but fortunately one of our lucky green ones did and who knows, if any one of you hadn't voted or hadn't spread the word, that ball that popped out might never have been in the hopper to begin with. Every vote counted, and we got in. Amazing.
We really thought we had a chance to turn your votes into $100,000 and frankly we almost did. We beat Matt Hagan with a huge run in the first round, and in terms of e.t. we actually outran Cruz Pedregon in the second, but he crossed the stripe first. With that in mind, I feel I need to at least try to explain how all "holeshots" are not created equally, and some of them are actually a mirage. The loss to Cruz kinda fit that bill.
Tim wasn't late, he cut his standard everyday light. Cruz didn't guess, and he really wasn't that much quicker at the tree. Instead, a lot of it came down to staging. The deeper you go in, the better your reaction time looks but you give it back in elapsed time (it all washes out, if you steal from the left hand to pay the right). Because we'd messed up during the absolute hero session on Saturday night, and we weren't totally safely in the field much less in the top half, Wilk wanted to use the Traxxas deal as a way to maybe move up the qualifying list a little.
To do that, he went in very shallow (if you watch qualifying and race day either on TV or at an event, you'll see how the drivers stage differently in qualifying versus racing). When you go in shallow, your reaction time looks slower but you maximize the e.t. because the roll-out is a little longer and the beams don't connect as quickly. In qualifying, you want all the e.t. you can get, so you go in as shallow as possible. Cruz was solidly in the show, so his only concern was more of a typical race day outlook. He rolled in pretty deep just to get a little closer to the finish line, unconcerned about his e.t. It all added up to us losing with a quicker time, but this wasn't one of those cases where one driver was clairvoyant at the tree or the other was really asleep. It was really just about staging.
Anyway, it would've been cool as heck to win the deal, and the money would've come in handy, but we were very proud of how well we did and we hope you were proud to have voted for us.
We went into race day trying to be optimistic, because it really was a pretty complicated and difficult scenario to unseat us from the Countdown playoff field, but it was possible and if that's the case you have to worry about it. When we saw that all four of us who had been fighting for the last three spots in the playoffs were scattered around the ladder (except for the fact we faced Bob Tasca in round one) it all became a little more possible that something bad could ruin our day and our season.
It was like this: If lost to Tasca in round one and he then went to the semis, and if Robert Hight went to the semis, and if Del Worsham won the race, those three guys would be in the playoffs and we'd be out. Stranger things have happened.
The clear option was for us to simply win in round one, and if we did that we'd cement a playoff berth. No pressure.
All we did was slap another huge lap on the board, running a 4.02 that just missed being Tim's career best lap, and that cliche' about feeling the weight of the world lift off your shoulders was very real. That, as we say in technical terms, was huge! I couldn't have been any more proud of Tim, for how he tuned the car, how he drove the car, and how he managed it all in such a calm and focused way. He was pretty pumped up after that run.
We then got by Ron Capps, and we had our buddy Fast Jack in the semifinals. I had a feeling we were going to win, and then we were going to win the U.S. Nationals to boot, but our solid 4.12 wasn't quite enough for Jack's 4.10 and it didn't happen. It's funny, though, because all year long we've been pretty down after losing in all these semifinals (that was our eighth one and we've now lost seven of them) and we've been frustrated too. This time was different, and even on the way back to the pit the guys were pumping each other up and saying things like "Don't get down. We did what we came here to do and we all did the work the right way. Now we can start winning races and maybe win a championship."
When Tim got back to the pit, the same guy who was so disappointed to lose in the semifinals in Brainerd was replaced by a guy who hopped out of the Explorer and gathered his troops, telling them "Fellas, you did you great job. We all did a great job. Don't hang your heads one bit. We got in the playoffs, and we have something for the rest of these teams from here on out. I'm proud of each and every one of you."
Good stuff, and it was a good weekend.
Some Indy ramblings…
The Media Center at Indy is in the tower behind the starting line, but to call it outdated and cramped would be doing a disservice to both of those descriptions. It's so small, hot, and jammed that there's really no space for any team PR reps, so the Media Center at the oval track becomes our spot.
The oval track Media Center is pretty nice, and it has a great view of the oval track itself, which is fantastic if you enjoy watching the track and infield fill up with parked cars. If you walk out the door, which is in the back of the room, you're on the walkway at the top of the oval track grandstands, and you're just about at the drag strip finish line. It's a pretty cool place to watch the racing, but it's an awfully long way from the media and the NHRA staff, not to mention our pit areas and drivers. If you don't have a golf cart or scooter, it's a million miles away. Luckily, I had a golf cart and I was willing and able to give rides to anyone who needed one.
At first, we called it "PR Island" and a few other things. Then Leah Vaughn, who does great work for DSR, got tired of the remote location, the fact we had very little in terms of snacks or drinks during the first couple of days, and the overwhelming feeling of being trapped out there, and she determined that "PR Island" sounded too exotic, tropical, and nice. It's really "PR Alcatraz.." We were out there on "The Rock" for four days.
Jon and Susan Cagle were with us again, and that directly translates into calories. Jon is the manager at Wilkerson Service Center and Tim often makes it clear that he's not sure he could be a professional racer without Jon, because he's so good at what he does it allows Tim to head off to 24 races a year. When Jon and Susan come to the races, their goal is to feed us like kings with a wide variety of incredible food off the grill.
B2 gave the stir-fry a thumbs up.
By Monday, when I was taking a big bite of my second cheeseburger after having wolfed down two bacon, egg and cheese biscuits for breakfast, not to mention the few spare strips of bacon that also were in the warmer, I had to say "You two really need to stop forcing us to eat all this fabulous food, through sheer intimidation and peer pressure." I mean, they practically make me eat all that stuff. Really!
Dan Wilkerson and his lovely bride Brianna were also there, and it's always great to see them both. Plus, Rachel Wilkerson made the trip up from her college in Louisville, and it was my privilege to be her chauffeur every day, from the hotel to the race track and then back again each night. We had a great time, and I treated her to quick stops at the McDonald's drive-thru every morning. So there was that food too…
I didn't get to Indy in time to attend the premiere of the "Snake and Mongoose" movie, but our entire team went to it and they all loved it. Tim was really impressed by the movie, and everyone said the whole "red carpet" atmosphere was fantastic. I'll see it soon, and now that I've heard so many good things I'm looking forward to it even more.
Paul Page was there, which you certainly know if you watched much of the enormous amount of TV coverage we had at Indy. It was really great to see Paul, and for the record I'll tell you that Paul is a real professional and a very good man.
I had a 7:30 flight on Monday night, so after our semifinal loss I headed out to PR Alcatraz and got cranking on a Post-Event Report that had a lot of fun stuff included in it (see above). The finals were being run as I finished it up, so I hit "Send" and off it went to the world. By then, it was getting close to the time when I needed to get out of there, but the big Indy crowd was also all leaving at the same time, so I gave it 30 minutes and then made my way to the airport.
I stopped in the Sky Club for a bit, and saw my buddy David Grubnic sitting the back, working on his laptop. I headed back there and we chatted about everything and anything for a bit, but he was actually working on a new "On The Run" column so I let him write. Not too much later, were were taking off from IND and by 8:30 we were off the plane at MSP, headed in different directions. I was headed for baggage claim, and then the curb so that Barb could pick me up, and he was headed for his next flight to Bozeman. This time, since I'll be headed right through there on our big return trip to Spokane, we were smart enough to "swap digits" and get each other's phone numbers. If we have any problems in Montana, at least I know one guy I can call…
Now, I have to wrap this up and finish some other work-related stuff, and then it's time to start focusing on the big road trip…
Next time I'm here, we'll be back in Washington, looking at the hills, mountains, and golf course and enjoying Liberty Lake again. I'm looking forward to it!
See you soon…
Yep, can't get around it. Can't deny the calendar and can't make it slow down. It's almost Labor Day, which is one week from today to be more precise than "almost" and that means summer is wrapping up, Target and Office Depot are packed with kids buying school supplies, here in the Minnesota the state fair is in full swing, and the U.S. Nationals are right around the corner. I leave for Indy on Thursday.
Today is Monday, however, and if you still haven't voted for Wilk to make the Traxxas Shootout, you have a few hours left to do so. Voting ends at noon (EDT) on Tuesday (I think) but just to be safe, if you haven't voted and you want to, or if you have voted and you know someone else who has a Facebook page and who would like to vote, now's the time to do it. You just have to be on Facebook to cast your ballot.
Just go here: https://www.facebook.com/NHRA
Right below the big picture of the Traxxas car you'll see a small box that says "VOTE TRAXXAS" and you click on that to get to the voting page. Then, you vote for Tim Wilkerson. That's the deal, right?
There are a number of valid and legit reasons to vote for Wilk, but the best combination of two good reasons is the fact he's a great racer and a great guy. In other words, he sincerely deserves it. Period.
The first of many campaign posters during the last week. I'll let them all speak for themselves.
But, since I'm the PR guy and the "Idea Man" around here, it's been my pleasure to mount a bit of a campaign for Wilk over the last week, pulling out the creative stops to provide some incentive and maybe make a few people smile when they vote for my boss. And, you can't have a campaign without campaign posters, right? Here are a few of the posters I've made up over the last few days, and it's been a lot of fun doing it.
When the voting started, it was clear from the get-go that it was going to be a three person race for the highest percentage, as Robert Hight, Alexis DeJoria, and Wilk all started out right around 25-30 percent of the vote. Wilk then went on a little surge for a few days, thanks to the awe-inspiring power and dedication of his fans, Wilk's Warriors. All NHRA fans are amazing, and very loyal, but Wilk's backers are just one notch more fervent in a lot of ways, and at one point we had 41 percent of the vote, although it's tightened back up again in the last 24 hours.
Robert and Alexis are clearly very popular and deservedly so, and they both have a lot of resources behind them to get out the vote. We have you. And me, of course, but mostly you because we can all only vote once and I cast my ballot last Monday morning. It's been amazing to see the percentage grow and the votes come in, as Wilk fans from around the world show their support for my boss. Great stuff, and thank you!
If you haven't voted yet, now's the time. If you have a spouse, a sibling, a child, a cousin, a guy who changes your oil, or if you sit next to a perfect stranger on a bus and see he's on Facebook, ask for their vote too. I don't feel in any way bad about asking for extra votes, because I know in my heart you'd be asking for people to vote for the right guy. He owns it, he tunes it, he drives it, he runs the organization, and he's as genuine and real as they come. He deserves a shot at the $100,000.
And just to be clear, the percentage of the vote will equal the number of ping-pong balls each driver gets in the lottery machine, so every percent is worth one more shot at having one of Wilk's ping-pong balls pop out like a PowerBall winner. Let's go Wilk!
Shifting gears to other things related to the end of summer...
With Indy coming up within days, there's a ton of focus on the Countdown and who is going to be in it within the Funny Car class. We went into Brainerd in such a tight fight for the last three spots in the top 10, it was crazy. It was truly one of those moments where anything could happen, and any little glitch or mistake could've been enormously costly. We were eighth, going into Brainerd, but one sneeze could've knocked us right to 11th.
Instead, we won two rounds in our Circle K car, and gave ourselves a little breathing room. We still haven't clinched, and as long as the math tells you that you can still be knocked out, well... You better be ready.
The realistic side of it, though, got a lot better for us in Brainerd. Now, we have multiple round leads on all three of the other drivers behind us who are in contention. We even have an 81 point lead on Del, who is in 11th and is the guy trying to knock someone out in order to get in. Here's the key, though: We have to qualify for the race. If we do that, it becomes a very convoluted scenario for us to get knocked out. It's not just the number of points we're ahead, it's also the fact that three other drivers would have to get around us through a combination of bonus points, qualifying points, and round points, and for that to happen they'd all have to somehow avoid running each other until the semifinals. The math still works, though, so we have to get in the show, and if we do that we'll be almost impossible to knock out.
So, I say let's just qualify high and win the U.S. Nationals. That will work just fine. Oh, and if we get some more ping-pong balls, and one of them pops out of the machine, and we get in the Traxxas Shootout, and we win it... Well, that $100,000 check will go a long way around here. The way our budget has been this season, that big super-sized check would give us a lot better shot at winning races and maybe even pulling off the miracle of a championship. Just sayin'...
The end of the summer also coincides with the end of our wonderful few months here in Minnesota. When I get back from Indy I'll have a couple of days to get organized and then we'll load up the car, grab the boyz, and hit the highway for the 1,400-mile drive back out to Liberty Lake. We've had a wonderful time here this summer (as evidenced by how fast time has flown) but I'm also looking forward to getting back to our home near Spokane, to enjoy that beautiful place and our wonderful house there. Okay, for the record it will also be nice to be back where we have two TVs instead of one. I'm sure a lot of you can relate to that...
As I told Barb, the best part about this is that we love both places, so even though you're a little sad to leave one you're still excited to get back to the other. Can't wait, and I'm looking forward to the drive as well. Buster and Boofus were such good boys on the way out here, and we're both hoping they'll be just as much fun on the way back.
This past weekend, we finally did something most Minnesotans do regularly, as part of a normal life in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. We went out on one of those lakes, and it was a GREAT day. Heather Pribyl is one of Barbara's former colleagues from when she worked in St. Paul who will always be a dear friend, and Heather and her husband Jamie wanted to get together for a day before the summer was over. At first, we were just going to rent a boat, but then we decided to go out on one of the prettiest lakes in the state, Lake Minnetonka, and if we did that we might as well rent a larger pontoon, and if we did that we ought to invite some more friends along, and if we did that we might as well hire a skipper to do the driving. Minnetonka is a huge lake on the west side of the Twin Cities, and it would just be better to have fun and not worry about getting lost.
So, our friends Terry and Lynn Blake jumped at the chance (Barbara, Heather, and Terry are all former colleagues at Lawson Software), and Neighbor Dave and Nichol were also up for it, but Dave got totally buried by work so only Nichol could make it. We brought tons of appetizers ranging from sushi (thanks Jamie!), to veggies, cheese & crackers, shrimp, and assorted other goodies, and even kicked off our cruise with a toast of champagne in plastic cups.
For the next three hours we had a wonderful time (yes, it was a "three hour tour" but we never did get shipwrecked on a desert isle, and now you can thank me for having the "Gilligan's Island" theme in your head for the rest of the day). We got swamped a few times, thanks to the big power-boaters out on the lake who have no care in the world what their wake will do to a pontoon, but all was good and the company was brilliant. Some of the best friends anyone can have...
We also even made a pitstop at a place called Lord Fletcher's, which is a Minnetonka landmark you can either drive to or pull right up in front of with your boat. We docked for a bit, enjoyed the ambience, and felt like sailing marauders as we boarded our merry ship once again and set sail (okay, it didn't have sails, it was a pontoon!) for our home port. A great night!
Sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip...
We originally moved to Minnesota in 2002, so it only took us 13 years to finally go out on a boat trip. Better late than never!
We still don't own a cabin, and I've never ice-fished, so there's plenty left to do in order to become full 5-Star members of the Minnesota way of life. And now, after we head back to Spokane it'll be time to root for the Gonzaga Bulldogs and the Spokane Chiefs again, while we get back into the flow of frequenting Hay J's Bistro and Palenque, our two favorite Liberty Lake restaurants. Just getting familiar again with the clerks at the grocery stores and the ladies at the dry cleaners will be a quick adjustment, as well.
And before you know it, they'll close the golf course we live on, the snow will fly, and I'll have a massive 18-hole park in my back yard, perfect for long walks in the powder and quiet nights under the full moon, while the snow glistens in the distance. It's a good life.
But... Let's get that one last major push going for a few more votes for Wilk. Call your kids, ask your neighbor, beg our girlfriend for a vote. It's all for a good man, who deserves a shot at the big prize....
And on to Indy...