Aliens…Tuesday, April 15, 2014

It's not my fault that I've been away from here for so long. I was on sabbatical. No, I was on hiatus. Actually, I was abducted by aliens! Little gray guys with big heads and gigantic eyes. Also long pointy fingers. They beamed me up to their spaceship and I have to say it was fairly cool, although I'm still not sure why all the instruments looked like they were lifted from a 1963 Impala. I mean, why would an intergalactic space ship need an AM radio?

I'm back now, after a whirlwind tour of the solar system, so it's time to get back to work… Good thing they got me back here, because I'm not even sure how you file an income tax extension from the rings of Saturn.

One place I definitely wasn't during the last week was Charlotte. No hospitality and a very long and expensive trip from Spokane to CLT made the decision easy, so I covered the race from home, in terms of the PR work. Point No. 1 about that: I get far more nervous at home, staring at the computer screen or listening to Alan and Joe on the audio-cast, than I do when I'm there. I think it's just the fact that at the track it all happens in a standard progression and after so many thousands of trips to the starting line the nerves only escalate with the additional rounds. At home, where I have no contact, I start getting nervous by the first qualifying run.

As you know, we had a good weekend at the 4-Wides. The car is really consistent right now, and the only reason we didn't put four "bracket car" qualifying laps together is because Tim knew there was no way to improve on our Friday 4.08 on a warmer Saturday afternoon, so for Q3 he took the opportunity to do something we just don't get a chance to do very often. He tested!  As he put it, it was time to "try some stuff" when the moment presented itself.

I knew we were in a good position pick up some points, but being in a "good position" and having a one-dollar bill will add up to having the chance to buy something off the "Dollar Menu" at McDonald's (plus applicable sales tax). We all know you still have to make it work on the track, and frankly the position you're in means nothing when it's time to fire the cars and make the run. Having to deal with three other good cars, instead of just one, only makes it more stressful.

Of course, I was just as stunned as anyone when our quad lined up for round one and it turned out to instead be a trio. The news that Cruz Pedregon's guys were making a pulley change and couldn't get the blower belt back on in time seemed impossible, but in retrospect I can see how tension makes things more difficult, and as the minutes ticked by and it was obvious they were in dire shape to make the run, the tension must have been almost paralyzing. Strange deal, and I feel badly for those guys. Tim was willing to stall, but with a tight window and two other teams involved in the round, all the teams were told to fire up. Just weird all the way around.

We ran great in the that round though, and ended up winning our way outright to the second round. Once we got there, we ran great again and advanced by coming in second, although we did that literally by inches. Even the stop-action replay made it look like a dead heat between Wilk and Del, but the timing system said the LRS car beat the DHL car by a thousandth of a second or so, with both cars running 308 mph. Del left 3-thousandths quicker, Tim ran 3-thousandths quicker, and it was "that close" at the stripe.

In the third round, which is of course the final round at the 4-Wides, the difference in strategy at this race came clearly into play. Tim absolutely hates making the mistake of trying to do too much in the final. I've been a part of too many final rounds to count where Tim (or Del, in the earlier years) would totally focus on making sure we raced the track and the lane, aiming to be certain that we gave ourselves a chance to win. I would go so far as to guess that a majority of the wins I've been a part of have come in final rounds where our car made a clean lap and the other guys messed up.

Well, at the 4-Wides that literally seems three times as unlikely to happen. You just can't expect three other great teams to all screw up at once, so you have to go for it. We'd run a 4.08 on Friday and Tim thought it was going to take that kind of run to win the final, but in that lane, on that day, with that tune-up, it didn't hold and we spun the tires. But, you just had to go for it. That was exactly the right strategy, but we weren't in the right place to make it happen.  Still a great day, though.

And now we're in a tie for eighth place with Courtney, after having gone into Charlotte in 12th, so that's what going some rounds will do for you. The trick now is to keep it going.

My best friend Rachel Wilkerson was there, but I didn't know that until she texted me on Friday. Turns out, Krista didn't tell her I wasn't going to be there because she was afraid Rachel wouldn't go. LOL.

It was thrilling and excruciating to watch eliminations on ESPN3, but it was also another example of how I'm a far more productive PR person when I'm not at the track. I probably tweeted and posted on Facebook more in three days than I normally am able to do at three races, when I'm there.

Here's some fun stuff.  Kari Meux (Gerald Meux newly minted wife) who used to be Kari Kieger, is a fantastic video artist, and she's done a few videos for us. She finally had some time to edit some new stuff, and it's all fun, but the most popular one so far is a 2.5-minute video of the first five minutes in the pit after a round. Right after it starts, it basically goes into 2x speed, but it's still amazing to watch our crew guys get after it servicing the car. Love these guys, and they've really become a tight unit.

You can see all the new videos here:

Last night, Barbara and I went for a 45-minute walk around Liberty Lake, and both hit 10,000 steps on our Fit Bits, so after that kind of exertion we felt we'd earned the right to have any kind of meal we wanted for dinner. We made the decision to go to Barlow's, where I was going to have the salmon, but my car mysteriously drove us straight to Palenque's instead, where we had margaritas and carne asada (plus a basket full of chips and a bowl of salsa, not to mention the rice and frijoles and that shredded-beef enchilada that magically appeared on my plate…)  Hmmmm.  Maybe the aliens made that happen. Not as healthy as what we were planning on, but it was good. Thanks aliens!

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My best friend, pinch-hitting for me with the body cleaning
The NHL playoffs are about to get underway, so there's that.

What that means is that grown men will stop shaving, fans will go to work wearing hockey sweaters (jerseys) and the NHRA hockey pool is now complete, since it only operates during the regular season.  Your 2013-2014 NHRA hockey pool winner is….  Greg Griffin from the Texas Motorplex.  Congrats buddy!

I passed Rob Flynn and moved into fourth place on the last day of the season, by picking up five more points than him. The final standings are in the photo gallery, and you can see that my early prediction that Mike Guger had last place sewn up (I made that call just weeks into the season last fall) was absolutely accurate. Congrats buddy!  LOL

As you know, we have this weekend off and then we go to Houston, where we went to the more conventional version of a final round last year, and Travis Wirth is still getting name-checked for "Best Performance By An Exhausted Crew Member on Cable TV" on all the awards shows.  I'm going to do my standard overnight stops in Woodbury both going and coming back, and as soon as I am back here from Houston we'll be turning right around to head back to Minnesota, except this time we'll be driving and Boofus and Buster will be coming along again.

Barbara will have to be commuting almost weekly, back and forth to Liberty Lake (she'll be here as much as she's there, I bet) but I'll be doing almost all of my work and travel from Minnesota instead of Washington, and the boyz will be there with me for another wonderful Minnesota summer. What's too bad is that Spokane summers might be even nicer than Woodbury summers, but it's good to get back there and frankly the long drive is actually kind of a fun adventure, if by "fun adventure" you mean flying cat hair and peanut butter sandwiches at 75 mph.  Actually, I'm looking forward to the drive. It's a beautiful part of the country we get to travel through, and with all the curves and mountain passes it's a very "attentive" drive, as opposed to long monotonous slogs through the plains. We'll retrace our steps from last year's trip by leaving late in the afternoon and just making the jaunt over to Missoula, and then the next day it's the long trip all the way to Bismarck, before making the half-day drive to the Twin Cities on Day 3.

Right now I have this strange compulsion to sculpt a pile of mashed potatoes into something that looks like Devil's Tower…  The aliens must be around again…

Wilber, out!