More than just a triple-header…Monday, May 12, 2014

The NHRA "Western Swing" is the stuff of legend. It must be, because it actually has a name and everyone who is a fan of the sport is aware not only of that name, but also of the races which make up the designated three-race trifecta. The odd thing is, it's not only not the sole three-race swing we do, it's not even tied for first place in terms of how many consecutive race weekends are on the schedule. Did that make any sense? My allergies are in full swing and my head currently resembles a cinder block, at least from the inside, so I'm not sure I'm typing in real sentences…

Anyway, this week marks the beginning of the single most insane part of the schedule. We start with a triple-header, going to Atlanta this weekend, then on to Topeka, and then we finish that up with our annual trip to Englishtown ("You lookin' at me?"). This trio of races is just as daunting as the Western Swing, when it comes to distance and disparity of locations, but it sadly has no name.

After Englishtown, we have a weekend off. Then we set the gold standard by going for four in a row, also hitting some very disparate locations by visiting Bristol, Epping, Joliet, and Norwalk back-to-back-to-back-to-back, or something like that. This quartet also has no name. Then, we get all lazy and have another weekend off before we hit the trio that does indeed have a name, with Denver, Sonoma, and Seattle.

That would be 10 races in 12 weekends. Top that!

But, first things first. Last year, we all traveled down to the lovely little burgh of Commerce, sitting out there on the interstate about halfway between Atlanta and Greenville, just a bit north of Athens (which gave us REM and the Georgia Bulldogs), and right next to a significant landmark, if by "landmark" you mean "outlet mall", and all we did was get wet and cold. It was not a fun weekend, and it finally ended mercifully with a postponement. It's a good thing last year's schedule had a pause between Atlanta Dragway and Heartland Park, or that postponement might have been indefinite. Here's hoping for good weather this weekend!

I also recall vividly the fact that we were all going to Georgia in mid-May, which generally means we were all planning on being hot and sweaty, so most of us didn't bring anything approaching jackets or sweatshirts in our suitcases. Instead, it was basically miserable. I would've liked to have controlled the concessions for hoodies that weekend… I also recall vividly the fact that I flew in and out of Greenville-Spartanburg, but our hotel was in Braselton, about 25 miles the other direction on the Atlanta side of Commerce, so when the plug was officially pulled we were all in scramble mode to get out of our hotel rooms, onto different flights, and also get everything rebooked for the next weekend. I somehow managed to get back to the hotel and get packed before turning around and driving right back past the track to get to GSP and catch a flight that night. To add to the utter hilarity of it all, I had booked an itinerary last year that had me connecting in Atlanta in both directions, so I could look out the window and see the track as I flew over it. If I only had a parachute…

This year, I'll be getting on a Thursday flight out of MSP with Rich Schendel, and we'll connect in Detroit to fly down to GSP, before we get in my rental car and make the 90-mile drive. Yes, it seems odd to go to the Atlanta race and never actually go to Atlanta, but GSP is such an easy and painless airport, which is a good thing, and as an added bonus it's also not on the southwestern side of a huge city like Atlanta, with all its built-in traffic problems. So, if the drive is going to be a lengthy one, it just seems better to use the simpler airport with less traffic.

And, looking ahead at this 10-race marathon, it's also a bit startling to realize that when this deal is over the summer will be coming to a close, the Countdown will be looming, and we'll all be three months older. So there.

On a personal front, I'm sitting in Woodbury, Minnesota as I type this. That's because this past weekend was "the big trip" for our little family, made up of me, a certain wife of mine, and two fuzzy boyz. Just like last year, we're utilizing the Twin Cities as our summer base of operations, and to do that we once again made the drive over the course of three days. Had I been doing it solo, without said bride and felines, I'd have done it in two 13-hour days with one stop somewhere around Billings, but with us traveling as a group it's just easier to knock four hours off on the first day, spending the night in Missoula, and then making the long trek to Bismarck on Day 2. The final day is still a solid seven hours, and once you arrive you certainly feel it. I slept 11 hours on Saturday night, after we got here.

The drive can be gorgeous, especially the part from Spokane to Bismarck, but we got ripped off this time with lousy rainy weather and low clouds. If you're going to drive through scenery that looks pretty much like a spectacular national park, you ought to be able to actually see it, but mostly I could just see my windshield wipers going back-and-forth in front of my eyes. Finally, as we approached downtown Minneapolis on Saturday evening, a royal blue sky emerged from the overcast, as if to welcome us back to the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Ta Da!

The boyz were amazing. Last year, it was pretty traumatic for the first few hours on the initial day, and they were very unexcited about getting in their carriers to go in and out of the hotel rooms, but they clearly remember it now and were almost perfect. They'd even get right in their carriers without any trouble at all, without much squawking in any way, and they seemed pretty much "at home" in the two hotel rooms. In the car, they mostly just slept and Boofus spent most of the trip on my lap. Good boyz.

So that's how we spent the second of these two off weekends. The first one started with Barb's birthday present, which was the overnight stay we enjoyed at the Coeur d'Alene Resort, topped off by our dinner at Beverly's. It was all we had hoped for and more. The lake is spectacular in every respect, and I'd reserved a suite near the top of the hotel with wall-to-wall lake views and a balcony overlooking the marina. The incomprehensible part of the deal is that it's about a 15-minute drive from our house in Liberty Lake, but it feels like another world. A very luxurious and well-appointed other world. A 5-star other world. With champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries. Oh yeah.

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Not a bad view! Coeur d'Alene Resort, as seen from our room.
So, the Coeur d'Alene weekend is behind us, and the 1,400-mile drive to Minnesota is behind us, and now Atlanta, Topeka, Englishtown, Bristol, Epping, Joliet, Norwalk, Denver, Sonoma, and Seattle are staring us in the face.

And with our new partnership with Rottler, who will have a special wrap on our car at the Seattle race, as well as hospitality there, I'll be going to the great state of Washington for that event but it will be "just another race" in the old sense, because I'll just fly from MSP to Sea-Tac without stopping in Liberty Lake. It will be pretty cool if we fly over Spokane, though… I'll be looking.

Last night at dinner, Barbara and I were talking about how much we're going to miss Hay J's and Palenque, our two favorite Liberty Lake restaurants, this summer. Right now, Woodbury is in a bit of a flux in terms of upper-end dining experiences after one steakhouse closed and another fine establishment went into full-on renovations and a name change, and I'm not even sure when it's going to reopen. Last night, we headed up to Lakes Grill (another favored spot) for a fine Walleye dinner, but they were slammed with a late Mother's Day crowd and we couldn't get a table. We almost made a smart decision to head over to Acapulco, a good Mexican place, but instead we were lazy and went to another little Mexican joint that was much closer, and basically it was underwhelming, if by that you mean terrible. Ugh… Lesson learned.

And now that we're here, Barb has to head out tonight for the week. And she'll be back in Liberty Lake pretty consistently all summer long, when she's not traveling to other far-flung places. I'll be going to most of the races, but skipping a few as is now the norm when we don't do hospitality. Such is the life we lead… One of these years we'll try to find a way to settle down and be a bit more normal, if that's possible for two people like us. I'm not sure we'll ever be normal in any sense but hey, you gotta have goals!

See you in Commerce!

Wilber, out!