I was going to write this on Monday, but that turned into Tuesday, and now here it is being all Wednesday (picture the camel in the office… HUMP DAY!!!) The reason for the blogging delay has to do with the fact I brought something home from St. Louis and it wasn't anything good. For the first time in forever, I have a cold. Yuck. Also argh, ugh, and harumph.
Late in the day on Sunday, I started to feel a scratchy throat but I attributed it to the fact I'd been talking a lot all weekend, with big crowds in our hospitality area all three days. By the time I got off the plane in Minneapolis on Sunday night, I officially felt like I'd been hit by a truck. But, the show must go on and I've been getting my work done in preparation for Reading, so like it or not I'll be on a plane tomorrow morning.
With that in mind, this may be a little short but I wanted to wrap up the St. Louis weekend and hopefully give you a flavor of what it was like there. It was GREAT!
My trip from GEG to STL went through SLC. Got that? The fact I arrived in St. Louis on time was a slight miracle because of a departure delay in Spokane that was unlike any I've experienced. We were about 35 minutes late, pushing off the gate, but not because of weather, mechanical issues, or anything "normal" like that. We were late because a crew was painting new stripes on the tarmac at the gate from which the SLC flights normally depart. That meant we had to leave out of a gate across the concourse, and it was a gate I'd never seen in use before. It's basically a "spare gate" on the concourse, with no airline affiliation and that meant it didn't have a boarding pass scanner or a Delta computer at the counter. When I asked the gate people how they planned to actually board the plane and account for people, they didn't really seem to have an answer.
Eventually, when it was time to go they decided that everyone would get their boarding passes scanned at the Delta gate and then walk across the concourse to the spare gate, but that got out of control in a hurry and the whole thing was pretty much a mess. How we got out of there at all is something I don't understand, and it's possible some people got on without ever having their boarding passes scanned, but as long as we were airborne I was cool with that. My layover in SLC was tight to begin with, but I made it with about two minutes to spare.
On the flight from SLC to STL, I spotted a familiar face across the aisle and a row ahead of me, but it wasn't a guy I'd ever met. I'm not sure why I know what Sal Butera looks like, but I recognized him immediately. Do you know who Sal Butera is? He's a former big league catcher who is now a scout for the Blue Jays, and he's also the father of Drew Butera who used to be the Twins backup catcher but is now filling that role for the Dodgers. There are a lot of connections here… Let's see, Sal played about 10 years in the big leagues, all as a backup catcher and mostly with the Twins. He's now a scout for the Blue Jays. My dad played about 10 years in the big leagues, all as a backup catcher, and he spent about 10 years working for the Twins. Also, I used to be a scout for the Blue Jays. It goes deeper than that, too.
I couldn't talk to him during the flight, but when we stood up to get off the plane I stuck out my hand and introduced myself, saying "Sal, you might remember my father. His name was Del Wilber…" His face absolutely lit up and he said "Remember him? I played for him! He was one of the all-time great baseball guys, and a bunch of us from those days still talk about your dad. He was a great man."
We talked for about 25 minutes, waiting for our bags, and it turned out that Sal also watches our races on ESPN2. He knew quite a bit about NHRA, who our big stars are, and how fast the cars go. Cool stuff, and we exchanged info so that he could make plans to come to Gainesville next year. Just another "small world" moment that made me smile. When I meet people who knew my dad, especially guys who used to play for him during his managing days, I feel a brief bit of contact that's kind of surreal.
Anyway, once I got my rental car in St. Louis I was on a mission. I stopped at my hotel in Clayton, put my bag in my room, and dialed 314-962-0048 on my iPhone. That's a number forever etched into my brain, dating back to my youngest years. It's the number for Farotto's, and it used to be written on the kitchen wall right above the phone (you know the phone, the yellow one mounted on the wall with the extra-long cord that would always get tangled). I have never forgotten that phone number, and if I close my eyes I can still see it written right on the wall. 20 minutes later I was picking up my large "Deluxe" pizza and an order of toasted ravioli, and 10 minutes after that I was back in my room, in culinary heaven. It was perfection. And I actually had enough strength of will to only eat half, so that I could enjoy it again on Friday night. With the first bite of a Farotto's pizza, I'm transported to 513 Woodleaf Court in Kirkwood, sitting around the dining room table with my family. It's like a time machine. From Sal Butera to Farotto's, all in a one-hour time span, I felt like my dad was in the room with me. The hair on my arms stood up as I sat in my hotel room thinking about all of that.
At the track, I knew things were going to be wild and wooly all weekend. We had three straight days of hospitality, with big numbers of people, we had Daniel driving his Summit Racing Equipment car, pitted next to us, and on top of all that we had legions of Wilk's Warriors in attendance, all surrounding us and cheering for us non-stop.
Overall, the attendance at the race was spectacular, and I always notice the slight difference in the crowd demographics when we race in St. Louis. There are plenty of hardcore gear-heads at every race, people who are massively into racing, engines, and car stuff. But, in St. Louis you also see a large percentage of fans who I'd classify as simply sports fans. The NHRA race is well promoted in St. Louis, and it's clearly a big event on the sports scene, and you can tell that a lot of the fans at the track are as much baseball, football, or hockey fans as they are racing junkies. You couldn't talk a step in the pits without bumping into someone wearing Cardinals gear, or a St. Louis Blues hat, or a Rams jersey. It's a great sports town. Always has been.
Saturday was the most massive of the big days for us, with our hospitality area filled to capacity while LRS also had a trackside chalet tent set up for more guests. Also, Dick Levi flew down from Springfield with a small group, on the LRS jet, and that meant I was on alert to meet the limo they'd rented, when it arrived at the front gate. I've been doing that for years, and have the process pretty much down pat, with the help of the NHRA Pit Control guys, but this time something happened that I'd never experienced before. Within the span of about two minutes, three different stretch limos pulled in, one right after the other. Fortunately, I had Dick on the phone so I didn't escort the wrong limo to our pit, but that was a first. Big day for stretch limos at Gateway Motorsports Park, I guess.
We had a great time with all our guests, we got both cars qualified, and everyone was smiling. It was all good.
As I'm sure you know, Tim did manage to win a round on Sunday, but we lost in the second round and that was that. Just as the final round was going off, I had Nick and Joe (from Daniel's team) in my rental with me and we were off for Lambert Airport. At 10:00 p.m., I arrived in Woodbury, where I'm spending this week rather than fly all the way back out to Spokane. I went straight to bed...
And now I'm trying to get as much rest as I can, to help me fight off this cold. I'm pretty good at resting. It's like a natural talent for me.
Barbara is out in Spokane now, but she'll be flying to Pennsylvania later in the week, and then coming over to Reading by Saturday, so that's awesome. What's more awesome is the fact the Pittsburgh Pirates won their Wild Card playoff game last night, and they are therefore in the post-season and will now play the Cardinals in the first round. Barb's home town is officially bonkers over the Pirates, and as a baseball person myself I find it almost impossible not to feel great about what that team has done. That storied historic franchise, which gave us Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, and all those fantastic Pirates teams, has been so downtrodden for so long, so absolutely hapless (and talentless) for 21 years, but now the Buccos have risen from their own ashes. It's a great story, and I was rooting for them last night.
Coincidentally, Barbara and I had already made plans to head to Pittsburgh on Sunday night, to spend Monday with her brother Tim and his family. Guess what… Game 4 in the series is set for Monday night, in Pittsburgh! It's a five-game series, so Game 4 won't be played if either team sweeps, but I don't see that happening, so you can probably guess where I'm going with this. We're already making plans to find tickets and get to the game on Monday, and it should be incredibly exciting to be there!
Couldn't resist using this shot as the first pic. It's an instant classic
Now, I'm sure there's a whole long list of stuff I'm forgetting to write about, but my brain is only working at about 50 percent capacity right now, with this cement block of a head I currently own.
Well, as much as I'd like to head straight back to bed for the rest of the day, there is still more work to do and I need to be ready for tomorrow's trip, so I guess there's no rest for the weary (or the wicked). And, all things considered, I'd rather have a cold than any sort of stomach flu, so it's easy enough to suck it up, keep taking the Zicam, and just roll through it.
All in all it's been a crazy week, starting with airplanes being late because stripes were being painted, to meeting Sal Butera, devouring a perfectly incredible Farotto's Pizza, Dan Wilk's gorgeous Summit car, wall-to-wall LRS guests, stretch limos, Wilk's Warriors, and so much other stuff, including my new favorite cold I've ever had. I'm naming him Waldo. Where's Waldo? Mostly in my sinuses and lungs. Sniffle sniffle, hack hack hack.
Let's go to Maple Grove…