Indy, Indy, Indy…Wednesday, September 04, 2013

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.

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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…

Wilber, out!