It is one of a gazillion recent phenomena that did not exist just a few years ago, thanks to the veritable explosion of social media in our lives. First there was email, then instant messaging, texting, and a few random websites devoted to information sharing (remember MySpace?). There was the birth of the blog (this one started in August of 2005, which in social media terms is the Dark Ages). Facebook took off and became the king, while Twitter and other "one shot" apps joined in and changed the cyber landscape.
This thing we all call Throwback Thursday was born on Facebook. I'd sure like to know who was the first FB member to post an old photo on a Thursday and coin the term. I wonder if anyone knows who did it… It wasn't me.
Well, here we are on a Thursday, during the second of two off-weeks between Phoenix and Gainesville, so why not bring Throwback Thursday to the blog? Of course, I have to write this blog on my laptop and email it to NHRA.com, so we're stepping way back in that regard. Talk about prehistoric technology! Geez, maybe I should hand-write this and mail it to Glendora, with some printed snapshots to go along with it. That would be throwin' back big time, old-school style!
So we'll throw it back in rambling style, kind of bouncing all over as I look back on my days in NHRA Drag Racing.
Throw it back to Winston! I found an old Winner's Circle shot of Del Worsham and me, from the Winston days, and it reminded me that we used to get a bottle of champagne for winning the race. Ah, the Renaissance…
Throw it all the way back to the first drag race I ever saw, and I was the GM at Heartland Park when it happened. It was a harsh introduction to a form of sport I'd only seen on TV, and we all know TV doesn't do it justice in terms of sound, smell, and fury. It scared me a little, impressed me a lot, and embedded itself into my life. Nothing has been the same since.
Throw it back to a guy from that era, who had traveled to the U.S. from Essex, England with an outdated Funny Car, about 12-cents in change to rub together, some "roll your own" cigarettes to smoke, and a dream. His name was Norm Wilding and I admired the hell out of him. We became friends in '92 and colleagues by later that year, as I launched my first real effort to do this on my own, for a living. Norm was something else, with that heavy accent and a fearless determination to make it happen, combined with a flair for showmanship that featured some of the longest burnouts you'd ever imagine, much less see, but unfortunately we both ended up broke for the effort. Those were great days for me to learn these ropes, the hard way, and I think the failure of our joint effort only made me better and stronger. It took me a while to pay off all my debts, and that included a two-year trip back into professional indoor soccer to get turned around again, but the Norm Wilding adventure was the foundation for all of this.
Throw it back to a string of Winner's Circles with the CSK team, working alongside some of the greatest guys I've ever known, many of whom are still in the sport today. On those various CSK teams, we had Rob Flynn, Chris Cunningham, Marc Denner, John Fink, Frank Gilchrist,Terry Snyder, Jason Davis, Matt Madden, Nick Casertano, Grant Downing, Tom Abbett, Wayne Smothers, Todd Blakley, Ed Boytim, David Fletcher, Steve "Fuel Boy" Brown, Isaac Bese, Kevin Douglas, Rick Ducusin, Nick Puglisi, Larry Lush, Tom Leskovan, Warren Bryning, Seth Randall, Carl Boyd , Kevin Maddux, and so many more classic personalities if I listed everyone this blog would stretch into next week. And, of course, there were Frankie Pedregon, Johnny Gray, Phil Burkart, and Jeff Arend, along with Chuck and Del Worsham and the whole wide Worsham family. Throwback memories I will never, ever, forget and will always cherish. And, of course, "Neighbor Dave" Dave Jacobsen (my friend, neighbor, and running mate).
Throw it back to all the Winner's Circles with Team Wilk, and all the great guys who helped make that happen, starting at the top with the owner, crew chief, and driver. Some guy named Tim, but some call him Wilk, apparently. Gimmy, Jeff, Brandon, Sam, Kevin, Chase, Cole, B2, Travis, Ryan, Nick, Rich, Dave, Nicky (aka "Junior"), and Annette, along with guys like Joe (aka Hollywood), Rick, Muzzy, Tom, Eric, Jim, Jody, and many more who have stepped in at one time or another to help us bridge the gap between our limited squad and the "big boys" we race against. Too many names to mention, and I know I've accidentally forgotten someone. Who? Well, maybe a kid named Daniel. Yeah, him too. Probably some others, too. There's a lot of junk in my mental hard drive that needs to be deleted so I can remember all this stuff better.
Of course, The Finkster, Neighbor Dave, Eric, Nicky (Junior), Rick, Muzzy, and Chase hold a special place in all this. They all span the two organizations I've been associated with, both CSK and LRS.
Throwin' it back on a Thursday. Winner!
That's a lot of "Throwback Thursday" memories… All good.
And let's not forget blasts from the past like Pond Cam (boy I miss that) and a couple of characters named Boofus and Buster, who have been a part of this as much as anyone. For those of you who go all the way back, there was even Shasta. Great stuff...
So… What do you do on an off-weekend when the weather is frigid in most of the country? You take a trip to one of the most frigid places you can find, with wonderful friends. Barbara and I met in Woodbury on Thursday, and then on Friday we drove NORTH (always a good direction when it's already 5-below zero with two feet of snow on the ground) to meet up with Mary Beth and Joe Gillis, at a condo they own on the North Shore of Lake Superior. Yep, drive two hours north to Duluth, and then turn right and keep going.
It. Was. Fabulous! The snow is deep in Woodbury and it was deeper by twice as much up there, but the roads were all clear and it was gorgeous all the way up. We found the condo, walked inside, and saw the expansive views of Lake Superior, and our jaws dropped. Just spectacular. I think I want one…
We were there for three days, and although it was a little too brisk to do much more than brief outdoor excursions, we managed to cram in so much fun it's hard to remember it all. Split Rock Lighthouse was way cool, Two Harbors is quaint, Duluth itself was surprisingly fantastic, and we even made a long trip all the way up to Grand Marais, which is not too far from Thunder Bay, Ontario. All along the way, we either raved about cuisine Mary Beth and Joe had already discovered, or we discovered new places none of us had ever been. As we've said on previous trips, Barbara and I stated that we were "eating our way through the North Shore." And we ate well!
It was frigid, frozen, and stark. It was also the most beautiful place in the world. It was truly a bit like being on the North Pole but with great amazing restaurants and wonderful friends.
It was cold enough to require at least 10 minutes worth of getting dressed before heading outside for anything more than a minute, and we actually had to alter our plans and cancel a snow-shoe trip because we really didn't have the kind of face protection we needed to avoid frostbite. It was "only" about 7-below at the time, but the 20 mph winds made it dangerous to have any skin exposed for more than just a few minutes.
The North Shore! Split Rock Lighthouse will definitely get you singing some Gordon Lightfoot...
It's a trip that we now need to make in the summer, and we will. But, for our first visit to the North Shore I'm really glad we did it in the winter because it was, honestly and sincerely, one of the most memorable trips I've ever taken, to places I'd never seen. And to have such wonderful friends hosting us was extra-special. And did I mention that we ate well?
Maybe 10 years from now we'll do a Throwback Thursday on our living room hologram, in 3-D, looking back to a trip we took so many years ago to the frozen landscape of the North Shore.
And now, we look forward.
I'll leave next Wednesday and fly to Minnesota, spending the night in Woodbury before leaving the next morning for Jacksonville. Once I get my rental car, I'll need to decide if I want to take the interstate route (I-10 to I-75) which is the long way to Gainesville, or make the run down through Lawtey, Starke, and Waldo on Route 301, keeping an eagle eye on the speedometer to avoid becoming one of thousands who end up spending precious funds on speeding tickets there.
Annette is going to be there, for her first appearance on the year, so it will be wonderful to see her and catch up on things. After that, we'll qualify well, we'll have a great time with our LRS and Diversified Yacht Services guests, a list which may include Dick Levi himself, and then we'll win the race on Sunday. Easy as that. Gotta create new stuff to fill the pipeline for future Throwback Thursdays, right?
See you soon. Hope you enjoyed the memories in the first part of this one, and the scenery in the second set of photos. If you ever get the chance, go to the North Shore.
As I wrote before Pomona, right up until you get to the track for the "first day of school" the whole season seems far off and enormously long. Every year, no matter how long I've been doing this, it feels the same and it's almost daunting to look at the schedule and think of all the distant travel, cramped seats, bad food, loud hotel rooms, and stinky rental cars are going to be involved in the whole thing.
And then you get to Auto Club Raceway and say hi to the first familiar face and it's total immersion. It's crazy how that works.
In the past, we've had Pomona and Phoenix back-to-back a few times (I couldn't tell you when, I just remember it happening at least once) but it feels a lot better to have them separated by one open weekend. I mean, jumping into the season is a lot like jumping into the deep end of the pool, but there's no need for it to be totally freezing cold. Just jumping in is hard enough. One weekend off seems to be just right, and once you're in Phoenix and immersed into that deep end, the season feels totally "up and running" and off on its way.
And then you get two weekends off before Gainesville. It's like you've just caught up to the fastball and are starting to hit line drives, and then they throw you a change-up. It seems to have always been this way, and for good reason, so at least we are accustomed to it. To get the full season in by early November, we have to start in early February. The Gatornationals are typically right around St. Patrick's Day, for both historical and meteorological reasons (it can still be chilly in north Florida until the middle of March) and that leaves six weekends in which to run the first three races, so there has to be an extra open-weekend in there somewhere and it typically comes between Phoenix and Gainesville.
So, you deal with it. Personally, I'm leaving the snow of Spokane to fly back to the massive snow and subzero deepfreeze of Minnesota, and I'm departing tomorrow for a fun long weekend with some dear friends. Barb is on a business trip to Kansas City and Chicago, so we'll meet in Woodbury tomorrow evening. Then, on Friday we'll join our friends Joe and Mary Beth Gillis and head up into the truly frozen tundra of the north shore of Lake Superior, up above and east of Duluth. They have a condo there and frankly there's no reason not to enjoy it in the middle of the winter as well as during the deliciously wonderful summer months, so off we go!
Looking back at Phoenix, I can say with no doubt that a lot of good things happened, and I mean that in a variety of ways. Let's start off with the track itself, Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.
We'd heard of the new management changes, and we'd gotten word from a few people who had checked the place out, so the new surface, the new scoreboards, the new sound system, and the new lights were all something we were expecting to see but all exceeded our best hopes. There's a lot still to be done at the track, but the new management people know this fully well and they attacked some of the most pressing issues first (issues that weren't cheap, by any means). After seeing what's been done, and hearing what the Gila River Indian Community representatives had to say, I can assert that I've never been more optimistic about a track or a market in which we race.
They also did a great job publicizing all of the good things that are going on, and will continue to happen, and the fan base in Arizona resoundingly voiced their approval. Saturday was one of the most impressive days I've seen in a long time, in terms of attendance, excitement, and vibe. The place was packed, and the fans were still arriving in a steady stream of cars, parking in the distance and then being transported to the gate in Disney-style trams. The pits were wall-to-wall, and even though that can be a real hassle for the teams, the fans were alert and we were able to get in and out with few problems despite the sea of humanity. The future is clearly bright for Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, and we all owe the Gila River Indian Community a huge round of applause for their commitment to this facility. The GRIC board was introduced during pre-race ceremonies, and they not only got that round of applause from the fans and racers, it was clear just how heartfelt and sincere the clapping was. Great stuff.
On the track, the team that fumbled and stumbled in Pomona had a major turn-around in Phoenix. With that "testing" race behind us, Team Wilk came out firing and we were hitting the targets. During our first three runs, we ran 4.143, 4.066, and 4.151 and after all three of those runs we were in the No. 5 spot on the ladder. Wilk, like more than a few crew chiefs, took a shot at a home run in Q4 and we overshot the mark a little, smoking the tires. Still, we went into the race in the No. 7 spot, which is a far cry better than the 15th position we slid into at Pomona.
On Sunday, we lined up as the seventh pair and faced Chad Head, who has a really good hot rod these days. A lot of nitro teams were having trouble keeping traction between the 60 and 330-foot timers, but Wilk's LRS Ford got right through there and looked to be on a very nice full pull. Suddenly, and surprisingly, tire smoke appeared after half-track, but Wilk managed to get it to the other end with a 4.263 and we had officially removed the "Winless" tag from our description. As a bunch of us said "You can't win the second round, you can't win the race, and you absolutely can't win a championship until you win that first round." It was very nice to get that done.
It as also nice, and a bit stressful, to get back into the between-rounds thrash, and ours was a short one. Having qualified near the middle of the pack we were saddled with being the seventh pair in round one, and shortly after getting back to the pit and getting started on the service we learned that Tommy Johnson's team had selected first pair for round two, meaning our guys had very close to the minimum amount of time to turn the car around. It was tight, and NHRA Pit Control was hovering outside our pit to keep on eye on our progress, but we got up there in time to take a deep breath and get focused before we ran. We lost, although we did make a decent full pass, and in the end I can say that everyone wanted more, but we got that first one out of the way and that was important.
As a former baseball player, I can tell you that every season began with an undue amount of stress regarding just one simple thing: Getting that first hit. I didn't care if it was a broken-bat bloop or a checked-swing roller, if I got that first hit out of the way in the first game, everything would get going from there. It's the same way in this gig. You have to get the first one out of the way.
A bunch of us were on Sunday night flights, so we all pitched in to tear everything down, and just as the final round was going off I was pulling out of the parking area headed for Sky Harbor Airport. When I left, I was hoping for some significant history to be made, and it almost came to fruition. With both Alexis DeJoria and Brittany Force in their respective final rounds, we had a chance for two females to be on the Mello Yello pro podium together, and that would've been incredible. The first thing I did once I got the rental car returned, got through security, and had a seat at the gate was turn on my computer to see how it ended. Antron had something to say about the Top Fuel result, but Alexis did her part by picking up her first pro win. You go girl! And Brittany will get hers soon. Wouldn't surprise me in the least to see her win Gainesville.
Other Phoenix rambles…
Our friend Bill Spresser hosted us again at his hotel in Tempe, which is now a Red Lion. Another great stay with great people, and another phenomenal fruit basket waiting for me in my room. Thanks Bill, you're the best!
The fruit basket represented the healthiest part of my weekend cuisine, and I pretty much ate everything there, but of course there needs to be balance in the universe (right?) and there is an In-N-Out just down the road, so… I made a trip there on Thursday night. Hey, you only have so many chances when you don't live in the land of In-N-Out, so you have to take your shots when they come to you. And I'm good about putting a lid on my calorie intake by only partaking once per weekend, no matter how strong the gravitational pull is.
In that regard, I impressed even myself when I returned to the In-N-Out drive-thru on Saturday night, but only because Shelley Williams had never eaten there and I was her driver. She let me have a few of her fries (ordered "well done" upon my recommendation) but I only ordered a burger for her. In-N-Out now has another Illinois-based devotee.
We had a great group of LRS guests with us on Saturday, and that all went wonderfully. They were a good crowd, and it's always fun to do my standup bit when I have a good audience. Every now and then I throw a few more sarcastic or off-the-wall lines at 'em, just to see who's listening and who gets it, and this was a great group. Remember to tip your waitresses and bartenders folks. I'll be here all week.
I got home at midnight on Sunday night, after flying up to Salt Lake and spending my layover in the Sky Club with David Grubnic. We enjoyed a glass of wine and had a fine time talking about all things drag racing, and it was a fun conversation. Clearly the two of us ought to be the ones in charge, because in one hour we discussed all the great ideas in the history of the world. Every one of them. We're pretty spectacular, if you ask us.
It took me a while to wind down after I drove home to Liberty Lake on some seriously icy roads. White-knuckle driving at its best, but the best thing to do on roads like that is to have the lightest possible grip on the wheel and the softest touch on the pedals. Grip too hard or stomp on a pedal too hard, and you're the next guy in the ditch. I had a few dicey moments, but I got my car back into our garage with no mishaps.
Barb then had to get up at 6:00 on Monday morning, to fly out to KC, so I got up early and scraped the inch of blowing snow we had off the driveway. After she left, we had a little more snow if by "a little more" you really mean a blizzard. It snowed all day, and the winds picked up to the point where the howling sounds coming through the front door scared the cats. Buster and Boofus do not like sounds such as that, and off they went to points unknown until late in the evening.
I stayed in for the night, being healthy as possible by using our juicer (kale, cucumbers, carrots, apples, blueberries, pears, and strawberries make a delectable concoction) and then a Caesar Salad with chicken I blackened myself. Just call me Chef Robert.
Tuesday morning, though, it was clear that the drifts were not something I could just ignore and plow through, so out came the snowblower and an hour later I had our drive, most of the cul de sac, and a path to the mailbox cleared. At its deepest, my little entry-level snowblower was taking on drifts up to two-feet deep. It was an inch-by-inch proposition to get it all done, and despite the fact it was 25 degrees out there I came back into the house soaked in sweat, but done it is. It's a good thing I don't have to clear the front yard, because we have some drifts that are easily three-feet deep on the grass. And in the back yard? An inch in spots and clear grass in many others. It's all just about how the wind blows between the houses, and out front we got the brunt of it.
Yesterday afternoon, I had a follow-up doctor's appointment with the specialist I see for all my ankle and knee problems, and I scored straight A's and got a gold star. He called me, and I quote, a "rock star" for the healthy eating, better exercise, and my commitment to make things better. As he said "I see patients all day long, and they know what they need to do and promise to do it. You've actually done it, and that's spectacular. Keep it up. You make me look good." I told him "You're the man" and he hilariously grabbed his phone and said "If I call my wife, will you repeat that?" He's a good man.
Packed. Wall-to-Wall. What a great turnout!
In today's photo gallery, I include a bunch of backstage shots during the pre-race stuff, figuring those kinds of "behind the scenes" stuff should be interesting.
On a completely different note, speaking of a completely different sport to which I am attached, I am making some changes to the big frame that holds my father's old Minnesota Twins jersey, hanging on the wall right behind my desk. In the past couple of weeks I've found on eBay a cool headshot of Big Del Wilber, wearing a very similar jersey but not the exact one I have framed (the shot and the jersey are a couple of years apart, but visually they look identical) and when I got back from Phoenix I had another eBay purchase waiting for me.
I told Barbara that I wanted to put the 8x10 photo inside the frame too, to sort of bring the jersey to life, but she made a really good point about needing the frame to be visually balanced, so I needed a like-sized "something" in the other lower corner. I was stumped, but decided to just look for a 1968 Twins Yearbook online, and I quickly bought one. I liked the cover, and thought it would look great as the counterbalance to the black & white photo. I was thrilled to seeing it waiting for me when I got home, and started flipping through the pages just to see who I might remember or still know, when I got a great surprise.
They had devoted an entire page to the 1967 Florida Instructional League team, which my dad managed. There was a team photo there, and in it you can see Dad and a bevy of young rookie players, a large number of which made it all the way from this lowest rung up to the major leagues. One of those players left quite a legacy. Yep, in the photo is a very young Rod Carew, sitting there like all the other young players. The Hall of Fame awaited him. Cool stuff, and now I'm thinking that the page with the team photo is actually the one I should display in the frame, instead of the cover. Can't wait to get this done…
So I'm off to the frozen north shore of Superior tomorrow. I'll check back in with photos and stories when I return next week. Two weekends off now, so we have to adjust to that. Once we get to Gainesville, it's going to go a bit nuts. If my elementary-school math is correct, it will be 11 races in the next 19 weeks once we get to the Gatornationals. Strap in!
I stole that headline. It was brilliantly used a few years back, as a sub-headline on the cover of the National Dragster magazine, put there by my esteemed mentor and editor Phil Burgess as one of those hidden gems that only a few people "got". I got it, and it cracked me up. Of course, the whole "Hooked On Phonics" ad campaign is no longer ubiquitous on television anymore, so maybe not as many people would "get" it today. I just checked (thank you again, Google) and the company that produces the Hooked On Phonics learning tools is still in business, so it's still a wonderfully creative headline to use. Wish I had thought of it my own bad self.
The issue of the ND upon which that funny tag line appeared was the one which celebrated a big Phoenix win, at the then-named Checker, Schuck's Kragen Nationals back in 2002. A certain guy named Del Worsham won that race in the Funny Car class, driving the Checker, Schuck's, Kragen car in front of a massive crowd of Checker, Schuck's, Kragen executives and staffers. It was a big deal in its own right, but it was even bigger because another certain guy named John Force was going for his 100th career win in that same final round, and Del didn't let him have it. Sorry John, but we felt the need to put Checker, Schuck's, Kragen all over that! I just needed to feel what it's like to type those three words again, over and over. Lots of muscle memory there…
The main headline on that issue of the Dragster was "Not In Our House!" and that was an instant classic, too. I had the cover and the full-page ad that CSK (Checker, Schuck's, Kragen, one more time) took out and got them mounted on a wooden plaque, side by side. As you'll see in todays' photo gallery, I still have that. Great memories. Del then went on to win Phoenix again, in 2004 (the ND cover headline said "Home Run") so I'd like to put in my request to get a certain guy named Tim Wilkerson another National Dragster cover this weekend. Seems fair to me. Just to add to the memories...
And, basically, this whole blog installment will be about Phoenix memories (not phonics memories). With the Phoenix race just days away, I can look forward and I am ready to get there and hopefully have a great weekend, but mostly it's a chance to look back over the last 18 Phoenix races and savor some good and not-so-good memories. Mostly all good, though…
Every year with Del, Phoenix was our "home race" and with that came a slew of promotional and PR things we had to do. We'd drive around the city and hit two or three TV stations for interviews, we'd do a VIP race with all of our sponsor people on Thursday night, on the track driving courtesy cars, and that was always fun. I think I made it as far as the semifinals one year, which is not that easy to do when 60 people are in the race. We'd also usually do a display at the Checker store that was just a few blocks from the company headquarters, which gave almost everyone in the office a chance to take a long lunch and come see us. And most years, we'd do at least two early (and I mean really early) morning TV talk shows, where we'd need to be at the track well before sunrise to get ready, get set up, and then "go live" four or five times throughout the morning show. A couple of years we did that three mornings in a row.
All those early mornings can make your memory pretty foggy, but I'm pretty sure (somewhat sure, kinda sure) it was 2007, which means it would've been Jeff Arend and I who needed to be back out there in the dark for the third straight day, and considering I'm such a stellar "morning person" it was a legitimate challenge to be up around 4:00 a.m. and then meet in the lobby at around 4:30. Who knew the lobby was even open at that hour?
On that Friday, Jeff and I beat the odds one more time and we met downstairs right at 4:30, just as my phone rang. It was Joe Spica, my daily contact at CSK (Checker, Schuck's, Kragen) for all 12 years, who said "Good news, they just cancelled the shoot. You don't have to go out there." Good news? We were already up and dressed and about to get in the car! We laughed out loud at that one, then we went back to our rooms, but it was impossible to go back to sleep. I laid on the bed still dressed in my starting line shirt and black slacks, and did nothing. I just laid there and stared at the ceiling. There was nothing I could do to take advantage of this "free time" so I just waited four more hours and then went out to the track. For legal reasons I have to state that I'm actually not 100 percent sure it was '07, and if it wasn't that means it was Phil Burkart and not Jeff who was meeting me in the predawn hours. It was a long time ago and it was very dark. It was also very early. And I'm old.
There were also a couple of years when the staff photographer at CSK would request a sunrise photo shoot, with all of us in our uniforms standing behind the cars out in an open spot, waiting patiently for the sun to peek over the horizon so that they could get photos of us in that perfect light. Such a thing would entail having the entire team up at 4:00 so that we could get the cars out and get set up in the dark, waiting for that magical light right at dawn.
After doing this three or four times over the years, they requested that we do it again around 2005 or 2006, and a thought struck me. I asked "Hey, if the light is so great right at sunrise, why don't we just shoot these photos at sunset?" Seemed like an obvious question, but I was expecting the photographer to say "No, it's really a different light in the morning because of…" and then he'd rattle off some jargon I could only assume to understand. Instead, he said "Hmmm. That would work fine. Great idea!" For eight years or we simply followed orders and got out there in the middle of the night.
Ah yes, the track itself. From my first day in this sport until this year, it's always been Firebird Raceway. But, as you most likely know, the old management group at Firebird did not have their lease renewed, and at the time (a year ago) we were all pretty concerned that the Gila River Indian Community might just close the place, but instead they hired new management and are spending a lot of money to fix the place up. As great as the Phoenix area is for all sports, and as ultra-fantastic as the NHRA fans in the region have been flocking to the races at what can only be called a sub-par facility (and in some ways that's being nice), it's sensational to hear about what they're doing at what is now Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. If they keep up the renovations and spruce the place up a little, we're going to see some new record crowds there. The Phoenix fans deserve nothing less.
There's a story about all this on the main page here, at NHRA.com, so I really don't need to post a link. Just go back to the main page and you'll see it in the rotating box of headline stories. The new scoreboards look stellar!
For all these years in Phoenix, the track there also held one unique distinction. It was the only track at which we raced where the best grandstand in the place not only faced away from our drag strip but it also faced toward another drag racing area. You've seen the photos, it's the grandstand that faces the lake right behind the pro pits, where the drag boats compete. It's a beautiful grandstand, with all the seats covered for shade, but it never did us any good at all. Until now, possibly. In the story, you can see how they've they built a mini drag strip in front of the lakeside grandstand, and the folks from Traxxas are going to put on drag racing demonstrations there. Cool!
Phoenix is a good hospitality market for Levi, Ray & Shoup, so we've always done a lot of that during the race weekends. That will happen once again, and Shelley Williams from LRS is again coming out to coordinate and host. Yay for that!
I was flipping through my iPhoto library before I started writing this, looking back at old Phoenix photos, and I saw the car we did a couple of years ago, in support of the LRS "Big Website Makeover" program. That was cool, and it was fun to get so many fans involved in the interactive campaign to pick a deserving charity, so that the LRS Web Solutions team could swoop in and give them a complete web makeover. Sounds familiar doesn't it?! Those same fine folks are the team that just finished our TimWilkerson.com makeover. Kind of a "full circle" thing to be headed to Phoenix this week.
Weather forecast for this weekend: Friday: 79 and mostly sunny. Saturday: 80 and mostly sunny. Sunday: 81 and mostly sunny. I graciously accept that forecast. One of the best parts of this job is the fact we "follow the sun" in the early part of the season, sticking to the southern tier to stay warm while winter continues to beat on everyone else in the country.
To that end, I've decided to stop shaving until winter ends. It's my form of protest against what has been a truly miserable season for most of the country. I'm not going all Grizzly Adams, I'll keep it trimmed to the same level of stubble I went with a few years ago, but it stays until spring.
So let's get on down there to Phoenix and have us a big old hoedown of a drag race!
Did I mention here that Barb's sister Kitty bought us a juicer for Christmas? It sat in the box for quite a while, but then we dove in headfirst and started juicing everything in sight. This past weekend, we created a delicious concoction containing spinach, kale, cucumber, mango, lemon, red apples, green apples, blueberries, and pears. That's so good for you it's silly, and so tasty it's not even fair.
To be honest, the amount of prep work and the amount of post-juicing clean-up, compared to the 15 seconds of pleasure you get when drinking what you've made, is a little overwhelming but we're making an effort to use it twice during every weekend I'm home. I think it would taste even better (and be better for us) if our servants would do all the work and clean everything up, but we don't have servants so we actually have to do it ourselves. I need a butler.
We had a full moon a few nights ago, and last night I was sitting at my desk as the nearly full moon rose above the mini-mountains that tower over Liberty Lake to our east. Last winter, probably around this time, Barb and I were coming home from dinner one night when we saw the moon come up in exactly the same place, and just as it popped over the top of the mini-mountain, it perfectly framed a couple of tall pine trees up on the crest. It was spectacular, and I remember thinking "I hope that happens again someday, and I hope I'm ready with my camera." So shall it be! Last night, I looked out the window just as the moon came up, and the same trees were perfectly framed. I dug out the Nikon and ran out onto the front porch, with no tripod and no idea how to shoot such a scene, so I just fired off a series of shots using a variety of different settings on the camera. I got lucky with one of them…
Not in our house! Also "Hooked on Phoenix". Hilarious.
I was up "in town" here in Liberty Lake over the lunch hour, and when I drove past Great Clips I saw something that really needed to be photographed and documented, but I was by it and didn't have my iPhone in my hand as I drove by. It must be my day, because when I drove past on my way back home the same truck I'd seen was still there. It's pretty classic, and it's the last shot in today's gallery. I already put it on Facebook, with the caption "Well played, sir. Well played, indeed." Possibly the greatest parking job I've ever seen.
So, I'm off to the Valley of the Sun on Thursday and we're all looking forward to the racing, the weather, and the fans. I'm confident Tim and the guys will have a quick handle on our LRS Funny Car, and I have a very optimistic feeling about how we're going to do at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, even if I do have to stop and think about that new name and type it very carefully.
We'll have some fresh starting line shirts to wear this weekend, too, so that's a good thing. The very fine and very supportive folks at LAT Racing Oils were the people who provided our "alternate" shirts last year, the all-black pullovers we have. Our original "swoops" shirts are gorgeous, but with the front being mostly white they're very hard (impossible) to keep clean and basically we don't have enough clean ones right now anyway, so LAT made up a whole new run of the black shirts and we'll get them this weekend. We'll all smell like kids on the first day of school, at least for one session. Thanks Danny, and everyone at LAT!
Now, say Checker, Schuck's, Kragen three times really fast, and when you're done with that say "Levi, Ray & Shoup" three times, even faster!
See you in Phoenix.
Despite the fact a person such as me (or any of my colleagues) is fully aware of how the Pomona race draws the line firmly between off-season and the real season, all in just a day or two of getting back to the track and smelling the nitro, it's still a bit of a shock to once again see and feel how it all happens. You travel to Pomona trying to shake off the cobwebs of nearly three months away from the track, and you spend much of the first day saying hello to old friends and catching up. By the second day, it's almost normal. By the third day, it might as well be June. By the time the race ends on Sunday, spots in the Traxxas Shootout have been earned, I'm already looking at the points, and the Countdown seems right around the corner.
And I was tired. I wore my FitBit all weekend, and in terms of a general fitness regimen it's considered important to take close to 10,000 steps per day, as often as possible. That's a lot, unless you're off on regular five-mile walks. On days when I simply work at my desk, run some errands, and go for a short walk around Liberty Lake, I'm lucky to clear 4,000 steps. In Pomona, on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, I easily cleared 15,000 steps each day, burning something close to 2,500 calories. A number of us commented on how tired we were, because we weren't in "game shape" yet but the hiking back and forth from the pit to the starting line, or from the pit to the tower, has to get done. Who would've thought that being a drag racing PR guy would entail such effort?
It was a tough race for us, although the entire Team Wilk crew knew what we were in for and we weren't making any excuses. We had a new chassis, and we had some shiny new parts, and although that's all good, it's also a challenge. Everyone knows that each chassis has a bit of a personality that you have to get to know, but I think it's hard for anyone to believe that simply trading out one injector for another can change everything, or that new heads might act very differently than older ones that have been serviced with fresh parts. When you add all that in together, it takes a while to figure out exactly what the car wants.
As has been widely noted, we didn't do any preseason testing, and for a good reason. Our annual budget is a set figure, and compared to some other championship-caliber teams it's a fraction of what those groups are running on. Testing costs money, and sometimes a lot of it. We made the decision to use Pomona as a kind of test session, and keep our entire budget reserved for running the race car to the best of our abilities at 24 national events.
That being said, I can't tell you how impressed I was to see Tim and the guys react to and adapt to every challenge thrown at them. We went from tire spin to tire shake to being too soft to being just good enough, in four qualifying laps. We thought we had a pretty good handle on it for round one on Sunday, but having gotten into the field in 15th we were up against some guy name Robert Hight. Word on the street is that he's pretty good and his car is pretty fast. We didn't make a clean lap, but we weren't going to beat Robert's incredible 3.986 in the opener anyway, so our race ended right then. We learned a lot, we covered some ground, and the expert driving of one Tim Wilkerson allowed us to be in the show, so every one of us gave him a sincere "Attaboy" for the pedaling job he did in Q4. He single-handedly got us in the field with that driving job.
It was a new and different weekend in some other ways, as well, and I think we adapted and figured that out okay. Annette has decided to spend more time with her mom and cut back on her travel this year, and Pomona was the first one of those races. Shelley Williams, from LRS, will be coming in to help out, which is a good thing, and between the two of us and Krista we managed to get through Saturday with smiles all around and a number of pats on the back from our important hospitality guests, most of whom were from Capella Technologies.
Thankfully, Annette will be coming to our "Big Three" races in terms of hospitality, which means Gainesville, Denver, and St. Louis. That's a very good thing. I suspect she'll also be coming to a few others, when she and Rich normally take their camper and drive to the races, but that remains to be seen. I was just happy that Shelly, Krista, and I got through it okay and everyone was happy. You don't really know just how much Annette does until you try to do it without her!
It was also my first weekend doing "live" updates on our newly relaunched website, and thanks to the brilliant "cheat sheet" Andy Krug gave me, I was able to get it all done. Along the way, as I noticed things that didn't work quite right or need some tweaks, I made notes and the pros at LRS Web Solutions are already making adjustments. One thing was impossible to miss, and that was a default "Won" or "Lost" setting for the updates I do after every lap. We don't win or lose, obviously, during qualifying so I need a way to override that feature, and they're working on it. We're going to differentiate qualifying from eliminations in a better way, I think. Still, a pretty seamless weekend in that regard, thanks to the help from Andy and Jamie at LRS.
Yes, I had In-N-Out on Thursday evening.
It was also great to see so many familiar faces at the track. I've been writing this nonsense for a long time (it will be nine years in August and that seems impossible) so you can imagine how many hello's and handshakes were shared over the course of the three days, at the season opener. Great to see everyone!
And then, when I had a free half-hour on Saturday, I got on the golf cart to take some photos of what surrounds Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. It's another world you very well might know nothing of…
You're probably aware that the track sits on the property of the L.A. Country Fairplex, right? I would warrant a guess that at least 90 percent of the folks who have come to the races in Pomona don't know what cool stuff is on the rest of the property. It's pretty neat.
I had to run over to the NHRA Museum on Thursday, to drop off some tickets at the VIP Credentials desk, and if you have a golf cart or a scooter, and you know where you're going, you don't have to drive over there on city streets. You can get your hand stamped, and find a few hidden pathways that will take you all the way to the museum by going right through the area where the County Fair is held, and many of the buildings are wonderfully cool in an old-school Southern California architecture way. It's like a trip back in time, and even though it's mostly empty except for horse trainers (and their horses) and maintenance or security people, you can almost smell and taste what the fair must be like.
So, I went over there and took some photos of it all. There are a large number of stables for the horse racing track, and there were indeed a number of horses and their trainers there, but that area is right along an actual entry point for VIP parking at Auto Club Raceway and the traffic flow was so constant I couldn't stop to take any photos. I would've been backing up traffic, and that wouldn't have gone over very well.
Did you know that the original Race Control tower from the drag strip wasn't just taken down and dismantled when the new suite tower was built? It wasn't. It was just "repurposed" into being a security post for the massive Fairplex parking lots. Kind of neat to go out there and see it overlooking the lots. And before it was ever in Pomona, it was the Race Control and announcing position over at the old Ontario Motor Speedway, which hosted stock cars, open wheel cars, and had a drag strip on the pit lane. Of course, even drag racers had to know how to turn left there, because the run off after the finish line soon joined the main track. Ontario Motor Speedway hosted the Supernationals from 1970 to 1973 and the World Finals from 1974 to 1980.
As seen at a stoplight in Southern California. Gotta love it!
And finally, I apologize for not getting this blog out yesterday. I was indisposed in a way none of us enjoy, but we've all been there and have experienced. Seems like I might have gotten a little food poisoning on either the trip home on Monday or from the pizza I had for dinner after I got back to our home in Liberty Lake on Monday night. Ugh. I went to bed feeling fine on Monday but around 5:00 a.m. it was obvious that not all was good.
Tuesday was basically a delusional painful and uncomfortable blur, although by 6:00 p.m. I felt like I'd turned a corner and was getting better, after I took a sip of water and it didn't come right back up. Now, a day later, I feel pretty much great but I'm still tired and sore, like I've been hit by a truck. I had a little cereal for breakfast, and it's all good so I know I need some protein and some nutrition and it's safe to eat something "real". Not eating a single thing for 36 hours can't be too good for you.
Feeling way better, and obviously good enough to sit here and write this blog, so I'm claiming that it's over and life is back to normal. Not much fun, though, as you all surely know.
So, Pomona is in the rearview. Thanks Shelley, we couldn't have done it without you. And thanks to everyone who crowded around our pit area, shouting out words of encouragement, and yelling to us from the massive grandstands. We aim to take what we learned in Pomona and turn it into something big in Phoenix.