From Big D to St. LooWednesday, September 25, 2013

Dallas is behind us. St. Louis is staring us right in the face. Depending on your feelings about those two metro areas and the races held there, you could feel any number of ways about that.

You all know me well enough to understand why I'm always excited to go "home" to St. Louis, so that doesn't really need a lot of explanation, but for the record I also enjoy the Dallas race immensely. There are a ton of great people down there in DFW land, and in Texas in general, and the fans who flock to the Motorplex are among the best on the tour. Dallas traffic can be a little tough (as can the traffic in St. Louis) but other than that it's a fun race.

As you probably know, unless you've taken the whole "don't give me spoilers because I don't want to know…" deal to a whole new level, by waiting to hear how a race ended up not just by seeing Sunday night on TV but by waiting until I blog about it, we qualified okay but lost in the first round. That was one epic run-on sentence right there!

Looking back, my recollection is that Dallas was the fourth race this year where we've lost one full day of qualifying and therefore set the field on just two runs. There was Charlotte 1, Houston, and Atlanta, all back in the spring. With Friday being cancelled in Dallas, that makes four (unless I'm forgetting another one) and I also have no memory of any season in which we lost four complete days of qualifying. To be frank, I also have no memory of most of my internet passwords, so there is that, but seriously I don't remember that happening before. We've had lots of full races washed out (Atlanta even did double-duty in that regard this year, since we lost all of Friday then had the whole race set back a week on Saturday, but only had one day of qualifying the next weekend) and lots of individual sessions, but four full days in one season seems notable to me.

With 19 Funny Cars in Dallas, you couldn't just waltz into the show and we put ourselves in a bit of tough spot by smoking the tires on the first run. It's funny how our brains work in a situation like that. I'm not much of a puzzle solver, but when you're in the lanes and you're not solidly in going into that last run, you can work out a million scenarios on how it can all sort out, and you can do it in a split second. If that guy runs fast, and those two cars go around us, while that guy stays where he is, we'll end up (insert ladder position here). There were plenty of ways we could DNQ if we didn't make a good lap, trust me. We did make a good lap, but not a great one, and in the end we slid down to the ninth spot and had to run Johnny Gray in round one. That didn't help our cause much…

We lost in round one. Johnny's car ran strong, so we needed a very solid effort to beat him, but the bottom line was not a good one and we trudged back to the pit with "that look" on our faces.

This is a funny sport. There's so much waiting, so much build-up, and so much work that goes into every lap down the track, and yet it's over so fast. It's a tough shift from anticipation to result, and when it's a bad result it's a kick in the gut. That's also why winning is so incredible, because you are literally standing there not knowing how it's going to turn out, and then in just seconds your whole world goes bonkers when you win. The highs and lows are pretty stark…

When we got back to the pit, we all went through that transition period of "getting over it" and moving on as quickly as possible. We don't have any screamers on this team, and no one carries the weight around for long, especially Tim. Once it's over, it's over and you're wasting time and energy doing any sulking. No sulkers allowed! Up in the lounge, though, I was even a bit surprised at how upbeat the mood was, as Tim and a few of the guys discussed what they saw on the computer and on the car. I only got a bit of it when I got there, but it was clear they understood why the car has been bratty again lately, and Tim seemed pretty confident that they knew how to address it and fix it. For the record, that's way better than walking into the lounge and seeing everyone looking totally confused. Been there, done that, and it's a disheartening feeling.

We got to work tearing down the circus, and just before the final round went off it was time for me to put on my taxi driver hat (not literally, because I don't have one) and get Nick to DFW for his flight back to Newark. We made good time, and I got him to the curb with no incident. Then, I turned in my rental car and headed over to the Hyatt right there at DFW. I slept like a brick.

Dallas ramblings...

The cricket population was at a record low. The word from locals was that it's been so hot and so dry there, the little baby crickets never hatched. Of course, what did we get on Friday? Oh yeah, rain. Water from the sky. The fountain of life… Sure enough, lots more crickets by Saturday, but it never got overwhelming.

Saturday in Dallas is a pretty big day for LRS, and our hospitality center was absolutely full all day. Annette had the weekend off, so Neighbor Dave was our hospitality pinch hitter, and we were lucky enough to have Shelley Williams (from LRS) with us again. She's absolutely the best, and with Shelley in the house it all went smoothly.

Days like that are why LRS does this, or at least one of the main reasons. Being a business-to-business company, they don't have products to sell at retail. You don't watch our car and think "Man, I'm hungry for an LRS hamburger" or "I think I'll buy a six-pack of LRS tomorrow" so the focus has to be on entertaining current clients and prospective clients, giving them an extraordinarily good time and making sure they have a day they'll never forget.

I get a little extra pumped up on a day like Saturday, when key LRS people in the house with more than a hundred important guests. As the emcee, it's my job to make sure they smile, laugh a little, and feel welcomed. With Dave and Shelley at the door and working the catering, we make sure they have everything they want, when they want it, all day long. When the day finally ends and the LRS staffers take the time to thank us, that makes us feel like a million bucks.

Dan Wilkerson flew down for part of the weekend, and it was great to have him there with us. It started out a little sketchy, because his original flight was supposed to get in at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday and taxi-driver Bob was set to dash up to DFW to get him. At 5:23 a.m. (oh yes, I remember) my phone rang and it was Dan, telling me his flight had been cancelled. Now what?

He ended up getting on another flight, which landed just after 12:00 noon. The first pro session was at 1:00. This was going to be tight…

I left the track around 11:00, got to DFW a little early, and tracked his flight on my phone. As soon as he was off the plane, I was at the curb and he came straight out the door and into my car. We took off for the Motorplex watching the clock.

I was also worried about finding a place to park at 1:00… Getting there at 8:00 a.m. is one thing, but the whole place was packed by 1:00 and we were talking about it on the way down. My parking pass got us right into the pits, but every second was going to count if we wanted to see our car run.

When I left, I saw that no one had parked nose-to-nose with our duallie in the pits, which was parked over along the side of the pro pits with our support trailer behind it. There was really only room for a compact car to pull in there, and I had a crossover SUV, but once we pulled in I had Dan hop out and pull me forward as tight as possible. It was close enough. The rear end of the SUV only stuck out onto the road by 10 or 12 inches.

When I told him what I wanted to do, Dan said "That's easy. Just pull in until you hit the duallie, and then back up a quarter-inch." After some deliberation we went with my plan instead…

How did it turn out? We got parked, headed straight for the lanes, and found the LRS car in line, just two pairs away from running. Perfect timing!

Krista had a dear friend come to the race, and that was fun on a few fronts. Whitney was her name, and she and Krista have been friends for a long time, but Whitney now lives in Austin and they hadn't seen each other in quite a while. More noteworthy is the fact that Whitney is Daniel's godmother! Pretty cool, and it sure is easy to sense when two great friends are seeing each other after a long time apart. Krista and Whitney never stopped smiling the whole time…

Tim ran the car with the window vents during the first qualifying run, but then made the call to put the other standard body on for the final qualifying run and for Sunday. The reason? With no wind tunnel to work in, there's been quite a bit of guesswork involved in trying to figure out if the holes in the windows create a little drag or possibly even some lift, and that body had been showing a real propensity to smoke the tires. With just one session left to set the field, Tim wanted to go with something he knew for sure, and not risk it. Call it a work in progress…

Neighbor Dave came bearing gifts for the guys, and that was fun. He's in the optical business, and he's been selling SPY sunglasses all over the upper midwest so, when we were all at his house prior to Brainerd, Dave brought out all his SPY samples and the guys each picked out a style they wanted. Dave brought them all with him to Dallas, and boy did our guys look stylish! We even mocked up a little photo in the staging lanes, putting a SPY sticker on the car and having a few of the guys stand there with their cool new shades on.

And so now here I am on Wednesday with a ton of additional work to do and an errand I need to run here in just a few minutes. Our local Liberty Lake dry cleaners can't do overnight work, so if you need your stuff done overnight you have to drive to downtown Spokane and take your clothes to the main headquarters where all the work actually gets done. I took a huge stack of stuff there yesterday, and I need to get back down there pretty soon to pick it up. These are the challenges of running all these races in a row.

As you probably also know, Dan Wilk is going to race in St. Louis, running an absolutely gorgeous Summit Racing Equipment car. Let me state for the record that this is one stunning paint job. You're going to be impressed, trust me.

The reasons for running Daniel at Gateway are multiple. For one, we want to keep his license current and give him a shot at the track this year. Secondly, the folks at Summit are so good to us it's a way for Tim and our team to show our appreciation and give them some added exposure. Thirdly, it's the closest race to Springfield so it's the easiest one to get him to. And fourthly (is that a word?), if Dan can get in the show there's a pretty good chance he'll pair up against someone in the Countdown and maybe do us some good by taking them out. Go D. Wilk!!!

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So much work and effort for each trip down the track...
I'm flying out of here at 10:20 tomorrow morning, changing planes in Salt Lake, and then I'll arrive in St. Louis around 5:00. Our team is staying over on the Illinois side, in Collinsville, but once again I have chosen to get my own hotel room in Clayton, which is about 15 minutes west of the Gateway Arch, and that puts me within quick striking distance of Farotto's, my favorite St. Louis pizza place. I grew up on Farotto's and I think of my dad every time I take a bite. It's not just great St. Louis-style pizza, it's part of the family…

The San Francisco 49ers will be playing the St. Louis Rams on Thursday night, which won't impact me at all because I won't be anywhere in downtown St. Louis, but it does mean that my buddy Mike Hohler, who produces the 49ers radio play-by-play broadcasts, will be there. Unfortunately, the only time Mike is free for dinner is tonight. And I'm in Liberty Lake… As the inimitable Charlie Brown used to say: Rats!

And, if Saturday in Dallas was big then Saturday in St. Louis will be gigantic. Also epic. And huge. It's the single biggest day of the year for us, in terms of LRS hospitality, and Dick Levi will be in the house as well. I'm getting amped up already!

Okay, gotta go get my laundry… I'm making pasta for dinner tonight, and then at 8:20 tomorrow morning Barb will be driving me to GEG. I'm going to stay in Minnesota between St. Louis and Reading, so I'll be gone nearly two weeks, which means I'm going to have to pack creatively and I'm really going to miss my boyz…

Let's go win some rounds… And eat some Farotto's pizza!

Wilber, out!

P.S.: Thanks to your pal and mine, Alan Reinhart, I have been reminded that we also lost all of Friday qualifying in Seattle. I wasn't in Seattle, so my foggy memory might be excusable, but I should've remembered that and it only makes it more remarkable that we've had five (count 'em, five) fully cancelled qualifying days this season. Also, I will not fail to mention that Alan was already in St. Louis enjoying Central Time while I was still sneaking in my last hour of sleep in Liberty Lake, so his text message at 6:20 a.m. Pacific Time was quite the effective wake-up call.  Buster actually made a "harumph" sound, stood up, spun around, and laid down again to go back to sleep. Thanks Alan, on all accounts!