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The fourth race is four-wideWednesday, March 25, 2015

It's now officially Spring, and it's late March, so we're getting to that point where the NHRA Mello Yello season gets up on its feet and begins to run. It starts out walking, taking little baby steps, then it breaks into a jog, and right about now it starts to run. Really fast. The first three races seemed to happen at something only slightly faster than a glacial pace, but now that we're headed to the fourth race of the year, things are going to kick into gear and start to accelerate. It always works this way. And did you see what I did there, with the drag racing references? I'm a trained professional, so don't try that at home.

So far, we've had three races in the last seven weeks. Starting with the 4-Wide Nationals this weekend, we'll race on 13 of the next 20 weekends. But, before we blink twice and find ourselves almost heading to Indy, let's put all of our chairs in a circle and have a group discussion about Charlotte, the 4-Wides, and zMAX Dragway, otherwise known as the Caesar's Palace of Drag Strips. I'm sorry, what? Oh. I meant the MGM Grand of Drag Strips. No? The Mandalay Bay of Drag Strips? The Venetian of Drag Strips? The Treasure Island of Drag Strips? Hmmm. This discussion is off to a rocky start. Oh yeah, the Bellagio of Drag Strips! Remembering stuff is hard work. What's my password, again?

I see lately that I've developed a routine of blogging before an event by blogging about past years at the same event, and then I follow that up with a blog about the event after it's over. Reminds me of college. "How does that remind you of college, Wilber, when you hadn't even seen a drag race back then? And did you have pencils and paper when you went to college, or did you carve your assignments in stone?"

That was a pretty snarky response from you. Straighten up and fly right or you're going to get a demerit. And yes, as a matter of fact, we did carve our assignments in stone, and we did our math on an abacus (the school could only afford one) and we rode our dinosaurs to campus. So there.

"What's a demerit?" you ask, as your next pithy question. It's a little black mark on the "demerit card" you had to carry with you every single day you attended school at St. Louis U. High. The Jesuit teachers would mark off a demerit for basically any transgression they thought deserved one, and after five such demerits you went to detention, except at SLUH (for some unknown reason) it wasn't called "detention". It was called "Jug." That was a noun and a verb. If you "got jugged" you went to "Jug.".I went to Jug twice in my four years, but now your pesky questions are steering this blog completely off the rails. Let's get back on track, to something totally relevant and very important: Why does my current blog routine remind me of college?

I went to Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville on a baseball scholarship, and when I signed my scholarship paperwork on campus, during my senior year at SLUH, I met with advisors to plot out my educational goals. When I heard that it was possible to major in Television/Radio Broadcasting, I jumped all over that. Frankly, I couldn't believe they offered something that would be that much fun.

And then I discovered that majoring in TV/R at a real university wasn't about learning how to be a DJ. We studied everything from Broadcast History, to Film Criticism, and lots of other background stuff, as they attempted to mold us into producers, directors, station managers, network executives, grips, caterers, stunt doubles, and even on-air news talent. I was the anchor for our pretend TV newscast on our pretend TV news channel, which got amazing ratings considering it was only viewable in the control room. 100 percent of the potential viewers of our newscast were watching. And I was every bit of Ron Burgundy. Stay classy, SIUE.

Anyway (off the rails again, aren't we?) one of the things we learned by osmosis was that it was hard to fill a 30-minute news show, so the technique was to announce what you were going to say, then say it, then talk about what you just said. Many news shows still do this, sadly. And lately, in this blog, I've been writing about what I'm going to write about, then I write about it, then I write about what I just wrote about. This is, basically, what I do for a living. My professors at SIUE would be very proud.

So… The 4-Wide Nationals are upon us. Also, we're not doing hospitality in Charlotte so I'm camping out here in Liberty Lake for the race, and by camping out I don't mean camping out at all. I'll be sleeping in my regular bed with my wife and two little black fuzzy heating devices, who cram themselves between our legs or under our arms to keep us warm, even when we're already hot. (Off the rails again!)

I won't be flying clear across the country, though, but being out here in the Pacific Time Zone does have its advantages when it comes to doing the PR from my office, in our house, on our street, in our little town. For the most part, weather permitting, my "work day" (I have the temerity to call this "work") is over by early afternoon. It's a little odd to be sitting down at my desk for Round One so early in the PDT morning on Sunday, with my first (third) cup of coffee, but I'm up for the task.

How intense is four-wide racing? Very. Next question, please. No, seriously, it's incredibly intense. It's not very confusing anymore, like it was the first time we did this and basically nobody knew what to do or how to do it. Now, the drivers (most of them) have it down and the crew chiefs all figured out how to get their cars in position while waiting for three other crew chiefs to do the same thing. That part of it is pretty much second nature now, even though we only do this once a year. What's not second nature is the concussion. For some reason only auditory scientists can understand, it doesn't sound or feel "twice" as loud with four cars launching. It feels about 10-times as loud. It's this particular event that caused me to start wearing ear plugs under my ear muffs. And now I do that at every race.

We used to go from Charlotte to Houston, and the most startling thing about that transition wasn't the noise and the bone-rattling concussion at zMAX. Instead, the most startling thing was going to the starting line in Houston and realizing it felt "tame" to be up there with only two cars running. Weird.

zMAX itself is an attraction, and like the noise it doesn't seem twice as nice as almost all of our other venues. It feels about 10-times as nice. We have some first-class "stadium" facilities on the tour, but zMAX is at an entirely different level, in terms of basically everything. It's an incredible place, and I'll miss it this weekend, but I'll be listening to Alan and trading notes with my PR colleagues to be there in some sort of cyber way.

And if you want to follow along on Twitter, remember to follow us. We are @TeamWilkerson in the Twittersphere.

Other Charlotte musings…

One year, early on at the 4-Wides (I'm pretty sure it was 2010) we basically got to know Jim and Nancy Butler for real, instead of just recognizing them as loyal Wilk Warriors. Back then, we still had the ESPN2 "Race Day" program on Sunday morning, and on that particular Sunday it was unseasonably cold for Charlotte in the spring. Like shivering teeth-rattling cold.

Wilk was on the show that day, and out in the audience I could see a woman holding up a "Got Wilk?" sign she had made. After the show, I stopped to chat with her and husband, and that began a friendship that lasts to this day. Great people, and proud alumni of the Team Wilk "Fan of the Month" club, on our website.

My actor buddy Buck Hujabre came to the Charlotte race in 2009, when we raced two-wide but put on an exhibition to test out the four-wide concept. He had a blast (imagine that!) and I even handed him my Nikon for one lap, so that he could take pics of our team and of me. A shot he took of me standing by the car before we started it up is still my profile pic on a few social media sites.

Speaking of Buck (or writing of Buck) he's doing great these days. Still in "Jersey Boys" in Las Vegas but also landing more and more parts in movies, while he also works on sitcom concepts. Meanwhile, he may be ridiculously talented but he's also very smart, so he's gotten into commercial real estate as well. And they said actors were doofuses. Well, they are, but that's not the point. He's also a drummer, and you know what they say about drummers… You don't? You're better off keeping it that way.

At that same race in 2009, Charlotte must've been the first playoff race of the season, because they introduced all the Countdown drivers right before a session of Funny Car qualifying. It all went totally smoothly, if by that you mean that they marched most of the playoff drivers out onto the race track, so that they could be applauded by the massive crowd and wave in response, but no one seemed to tell the guys in charge to not actually, technically, fire the first pair while all that playoff talent was STANDING IN THE LEFT LANE!!! You never saw guys in fire suits move so fast on their own two legs. Oops. Brings a whole new meaning to the term "over the wall gang."

And how about that Levi, Ray & Shoup Mustang Funny Car? If we stay as consistent and our performance stays as solid as it was in Gainesville, we'll be breaking a lot of hearts from here on out. The weather forecast for Charlotte, however, is very reminiscent of that day we met Jim and Nancy Butler, with mid 50s or low 60s for high temps dotting every forecast I've seen. If you're going to the race, dress appropriately.

But with that weather in mind, I'll only say that I hope we stay running consistently well because at zMAX on a cool day, a string of 4.08s (see "Gainesville 2015") isn't going to get you very far. I'll go way out on a shaky limb and say that there will be plenty of 3-second runs this weekend. Will Wilk make one of them? If I knew that, I'd tell you. We've been close before. Wilk ran 4.013 at Bristol last year, so we've knocked on the 3-second door but we haven't barged our way in yet. Stay tuned…


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It's a big place
 
I guess I should wrap this up, because… Because I'm out of words.

Not totally out of words forever, just today. And not totally out of words for today, either, but more just almost totally out of words for this blog. You can put your chairs back the way they were, and get your demerit cards out. Someone here is going to get jugged.

And did you know that you could go to a real university on a baseball scholarship and major in TV/Radio Broadcasting? It's true. And, as it turned out, it was a lot of fun. No wonder I graduated on the Dean's List. All I had to do was write scripts, make movies, direct shows, learn how to run one of those big SONY cameras, and read the news. I never took a single class that had anything to do with Public Relations, and only took a couple of entry-level journalism classes, but the TV/R stuff was right up my alley. Due to the fact I am the proud owner of a Bachelor of Science degree, I usually tell people that I "went to college and got my BS in BS." See what I did there? I'm a highly trained professional.

Wilber, out!
 

That was amazing …Tuesday, March 17, 2015
I'm back in Minnesota for a couple of days, on my way home to Spokane from Gainesville, and all the way up here on my flights from Jacksonville, the word "amazing" was the most common thing to consistently pop into my head. There were so many things about this past weekend that were perfectly described by that overused word, and possibly the most amazing thing about it all is that there were so many amazing things. Among those amazing things were the following:

1. Our team (especially the boss)

2. Our car

3. Our consistency

4. Our 4.08s (five of them!)

5. What happened in one 10-thousandth of a second

6. The crowd

7. Our LRS/Diversified Yacht Services group

8. Our new hospitality setup

9. Our new paint scheme

10. All of the above, plus more

11. Did I mention the 4.08s?

I've been in this sport for about 20 years, and I've never seen anything like it. Keep in mind that Funny Cars aren't Pro Stock cars or bracket cars. They are such temperamental beasts it's really hard to get them down the track at all, much less doing it consistently, and by "consistently" I'd go so far as to say that just being within a couple hundredths of a second time after time would possibly qualify as a miracle. It just doesn't happen. And despite the fact we did push it a bit too hard in Q3 and smoke the tires, our runs throughout the other qualifying sessions were as follows: 4.080, 4.086, and 4.082. That's three 4.08s in four runs. In different conditions. And we were even trying a few new things along the way.

Tim was quoted as saying, "That's like a baseball player going to the plate three times, using three different bats, standing in three different stances, facing three different pitchers, and not only does he hit three home runs, he hits them all to the exact same guy seated in the third row of the bleachers." It just doesn't happen.

And then we went into Sunday, which was considerably hotter than the other two days, just hoping to win that first precious round of the year. Tony Pedregon made a great lap in the other lane, running 4.094, but you know what we ran, right? We got the win-light with another 4.08, this time a 4.088. We were thrilled to win that round, and very excited, but when we saw the 4.08 on the scoreboard I'll admit to the fact we laughed a little. It was all impossible, but we were doing it.

In round two we had to face our buddy "Fast Jack" Beckman (no easy rounds for us!). Jack ran great, with a 4.096, but we beat him by a few feet, running … wait for it … 4.082. It was insane.

In the semifinal we faced Ron Capps. The track was by then up somewhere north of 120 degrees in terms of temp, so the 4.08 parade probably had no chance of continuing, but I think we all felt that if we could somehow beat Ron, we'd be destined to win the race. Both cars flew down the track, and Tim actually outran Ron by a little tiny bit, but at the stripe it was visually impossible to tell who won. I know this because I've watched the replay of it a dozen times. It truly looked like a complete tie, and we all know the tiebreaker in such a deal would go to the guy who lives closest to the center of the country, right? Everyone knows that. Illinois trumps California in the case of a tie. Except it wasn't a tie. Ron won by .0001 and that's the narrowest possible win with the NHRA timing system. Now we know what you do in one 10,000th of a second. You can't blink that fast. You can't really do anything that fast. But you can lose a drag race by that much. Stunning …

Our magical march was over, but instead of being angry or sad most of us were simply numb. How can you lose by one 10,000th of a second? Why did that happen? That was hard to digest, but I cannot possibly be any prouder of our guys. They were flawless. And in case you wondered about Tim's reaction time in the semi, it was (by far) his best light of the day. It might have been his best light of the last year, for that matter. Depending on how he stages, he's simply a consistent .087 to .095 guy, and he's comfortable with that. As he says, "That's what I am. If I try to push it, I screw up."

His light against Ron was .074, and he wasn't "pushing it." I think, like the rest of us on the LRS team, he was just that much more focused and at a different level that you can't force or fabricate. Apparently Ron was too, and his stellar .066 was exactly good enough to win by an inch. Two 10,000-horsepower Funny Cars plowing down the track side-by-side, each running 308 mph at the finish line, and he won by an inch. At the most. Might've been a quarter-inch. That's just impossible, but so is running five 4.08s in seven runs. I've never seen anything like it.

Our guys were really on it all weekend, and Richard Hartman was a big part of that. He and Tim are finding their rhythm and they're getting to be totally on the same wavelength when it comes to lane selection, last minute changes, and even the approach regarding where to be positioned in the lane as the car goes down the track. Richard is such an asset, and I think we all knew he would be.

Here's one thing we tried, on purpose, during qualifying. After the first run, we came back to the pit and serviced the car but then we didn't warm it up. Why? Was there a problem? Were we too late and running behind? Nope to all of those. We did it just to see what would happen, as we look ahead to Charlotte, which will be our first "live" TV show of the season. If you make it to the final round there, your turnaround is going to be tight, so Tim and Richard wanted to see how much time we would save and how the car would run if we didn't warm it up. It ran 4.08, of course.

We had a brand-new body on the car, with a new paint scheme, and it was pretty stellar as well. Two-dimensional renderings are one thing, but until you see the car in person, under the sun, you never really know how it's going to look, and you never really know how well it's going to photograph. It's gorgeous, and a number of the pro photographers said the same thing.

The crowds … There were more people at the track on Friday (FRIDAY!) than we draw on Sunday at some other tracks. It was really impossible to miss. Saturday and Sunday were even better. There were a few swatches of empty seats way down by the end of the massive Gainesville grandstand, but the number of people standing at the fence, in front of the pitside stands, was crazy. It's hard to quantify or estimate a crowd that's standing up, but my long career in sports helps me a little in that regard, and my guess would be in the neighborhood of 4,000 people standing down there. Maybe more. They were packed in there tight, from the fence back to the front row, all the way down. Amazing.

This was also the debut weekend for our new hospitality setup, and it's also fantastic. It's really hard to visualize how different it is, but it's eye-opening when you walk in. Because it's based and built upon our 45-foot service trailer, we end up with a lot more room for guests, including square "notches" at the front and back, since the trailer isn't as long as the pit footprint. That works out great, and we ran the buffet line around the one in the front, which opened up more space inside the main area. It's also way lighter in there, because we got a bright white awning and some real high-power lights, which hang from the rafters. All in all, an A+.

On Saturday, the new area got its first real workout, as we hosted about 150 people, most of them associated with Diversified Yacht Services, down in Fort Myers. Dick Levi owns DYS, and his son Ryan runs the business, so they make the trip to the Gatornationals to be with us just about every year. Once they landed at the Gainesville Airport, I went out to the main entry gate, on our golf cart, to meet them. On the phone, Dick said, "We're in a big white stretch limo; you won't be able to miss us."

He was correct. It was a stretch Escalade and it was mammoth. So huge, actually, that had a State Trooper not intervened and stopped the driver as he came through the gate, that driver would've pretty much ruined the whole right side of the limo. He didn't swing wide enough and he was within a couple of inches of scraping all that pretty white paint off by running it right up against the gate post. Thank you Florida Troopers, for not letting that happen. Whew.

As for our travel exploits, Rich Schendel had a 7 p.m. flight out of JAX on Sunday night. Had we not come up one 10,000th of a second short in the semis, he would've changed that. But, that .0001 margin happened and we were done. At that point, it was closing in on 4:00 and despite the fact it's only about a 90-minute drive up to JAX we knew that if we stayed past the final round we'd get stuck in a massive traffic jam and possibly make ourselves late. My flight was at 10:00 in the morning on Monday, so no sweat for me, but I wanted to make sure I got Richie up there. We dashed out of there as the finalists were warming up and I got him to the airport in good shape.

I then went and checked into a hotel by the airport and I got there just in time to order room service (chicken fettuccine alfredo) and then turn on ESPN2. I saw a very pretty LRS Shelby run 4.08, 4.08, and 4.11, all in a row. And I saw what .0001 looks like. I saw a car that simply was dominant. I have no reluctance at all to say we were the best team with the best car. Period.


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A sea of humanity, for three great days
 
My hope is that we break this winless streak soon, and I think we will. Our fans, the Wilk's Warriors from all around the globe, have done the improbable for two consecutive years, giving us the nod in the Traxxas Shootout fan vote, and I know they can do it again, but this time I'd like to just go ahead and win a race to earn the berth and not have to worry about the fan vote. We do love the drama, but I'll take the win. And I know we're going to get it.

The final photo in today's gallery is from last Wednesday night. Barbara flew into MSP from Boston, arriving in mid-afternoon, and I landed right at 6:30 p.m., right on time to make our 7:00 reservations at Angelina's Bistro in Woodbury. I walked in at 7:01 and there were some of the best friends you can ever have. Dave and Nichol Jacobsen, Terry and Lynn Blake, Scott and Barb Meehan, and Joe and Mary Beth Gillis, all seated around a long table waiting for me. I was one minute late, which isn't too bad considering I came to dinner from Liberty Lake.

Our meals were astonishingly good, but the company was the best part. Barbara and I have lived a lot of places, and between the two of us we've pretty much covered the continental USA, but when you sit at a table with people like that, laughing and loving every minute of it, there's no denying the true definition of "home." It's where the heart is. What a wonderful evening, but far too short.

Now I have errands to run, so I gotta get going. See you again soon, and for all of you (too many to mention) who were in Gainesville, it was GREAT to see you all. What a fun event. Did I mention the 4.08s?

Wilber, out!
Gallopin' on down to GainesvilleTuesday, March 10, 2015
Today's headline is, to put it lightly with a slight grin, not true. I am not going to be galloping (or gallopin' either) down to Gainesville, Florida on a horse, an emu, or a bison. I shall be flying, and then driving rental cars. But for some reason the alliterative use of gallopin' and Gainesville appealed to me.

This line is true: Tomorrow is Wednesday, and I'll be flying out of Spokane International Airport at 1:30, but when I land at MSP I will be spending the night in the Twin Cities. It's a long grind to get from GEG to JAX (Jacksonville) all in one day, as any perfunctory view of a map of the United States would illustrate, since you go from the upper lefthand corner to the lower right. It's a long way, and the only way to make it happen with a nonstop to MSP and then another nonstop to JAX is to spend the night in Minnesota.

I won't get there until around 6:30 tomorrow, but Barbara will have arrived from Boston a few hours ahead of me and when I land I'll get straight in my rental car and head to Angelina's Kitchen and Italian Bistro, to meet not just my lovely wife but also six additional wonderful Woodbury friends. Perfect timing!  Then I have to get up and catch an 11:20 flight the next morning, which will get me to JAX around 3:00. Rich Schendel is flying in for the race as well, and we land about the same time. Leah Hook is also coming in, but I think she gets in a couple of hours after us, so maybe we'll go find a bite to eat and then swing back by the airport to pick her up.

At that point, the decision would be "Do we take the interstate or take the backroad?" but I've already made that call. The good news is, the corrupt police force that used to prey on anyone doing even a half step over the speed limit in the little town of Waldo, has been disbanded (after a couple of officers spilled the beans about the ticket quotas they had to hit).  The bad news is the fact our hotel will be right on I-75, which is on the west side of Gainesville. Trying to stop-and-go your way through town, stoplight by frustrating stoplight, would actually make it quicker (and easier) to just take I-10 over to I-75 and head down that way.

However, on Sunday night when the three of us will be heading back up to Jacksonville, we'll be leaving from the track, on the northeast side of Gainesville, so the back way will be much better (although I still plan to keep a strict eye on the speed). It's all very complicated…

What's also complicated is the fact we have a lot going on this weekend, starting with a new Mustang body with our new paint scheme on it. And yes, it's a new PAINT scheme. Real actual paint. With some real actual decals on top of the real actual paint, but the key thing is the design itself is paint. It's not a wrap.

We also will be hosting a capacity crowd in our hospitality center on Saturday, including Dick Levi and a bevy of others from LRS and Diversified Yacht Services. Always a big day, and I always look forward to it, including the part where I take the golf cart out to the road to meet all the Florida State Troopers who direct traffic. I have to let them know I have an important group coming in, via limo, and make sure I can get Dick and his guests right down close to the pit entrance.

What I also look forward to are my annual visits from a large number of fans I've been saying hello to for many years. A bunch of them had small children when we first met, and those "little kids" are young adults now. I guess that makes me an old adult.

And I look forward to us kicking some butt on the race track. We've been qualifying pretty well, but have stumbled in the first round at the first two races, if by stumbled you mean we smoked the tires. We have some good history in Gainesville, including 2010 when we won the race (insert loud cheer here) by beating Bob Tasca in a tense final. Yes, it would be okay to win four rounds again, but winning the first one is the main goal right now. As far as I can tell (and I have only been in this sport for about 20 years) it's apparently really difficult to win a race if you lose in round one. Like I said, it's complicated.

Today's photo gallery has six photos in it, and five of them are Gainesville related, but because we haven't yet arrived or raced there in 2015, they're all retrospective. That means they're all photos from Gatornationals gone by. But hey, they're still relevant!

The sixth photo is an illustration of the fact that if it's not really spring in Spokane, it's sure acting like it. The golf course has been open since the weekend, and so far only two balls that I've noticed have come into our backyard. I will admit, though, that I haven't exactly been standing guard back there, so there have probably been more. The golfers at MeadowWood Golf Club seem a little rusty.  FORE!!!


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2010. We refer to these as "good memories"
 
Other pre-Gainesville ramblings…

I see that there are 17 Funny Cars entered, and one of them is Blake Alexander. Blake's a good guy, and he's going to be a fine driver for a lot of years, but getting that first real sponsor deal is tough in any form of motorsports, so he's having to battle each year to get a few races in. Good to have him back competing with us, and I expect him to jump right into the fray.

Back in 2010, when we won the race, we all went out to eat afterward and we got done around 9:00 that night. My problem was that I had a hotel reservation in Sarasota, about 185 miles away to the south, where I was meeting up with my sister Mary and her family on Monday morning. I sure wasn't going to miss any of the team dinner, but I'd lost track of time and I wasn't really dialed into just how far it was. Then I got on the interstate and saw the first mileage sign, and it hit me how tired I was and how far I had to go. That was a rough trip, followed by a short night's sleep. But we won, and it was worth it!

Gainesville is a race well known for traffic, because of the single county road that accesses the track, and because of that traffic we all get up really early on Sunday morning to make sure we get in on time. In many years, the race was also on the first weekend of Daylight Saving Time, and that of course happens on Saturday night. Bam, double-whammy. Lose an hour's sleep and get up at 5:00 when it's still dark. We used to love that.

This year, thankfully, we've already "sprung forward" an hour this past weekend, so that extra hour of snooze time on Saturday night will be awesome.

I guess that's about all I can make up without any real material to work with. Boofus and Buster say hello. Okay, they really didn't but I'm sure if they could talk they would. Heck, if they could talk I'd probably go nuts. I can only imagine what all these different versions of meow really mean. They're a bit vocal. Like all the time. Meow.

See you after the Gators! And don't be afraid to follow us on Twitter for race updates throughout each day. Just follow @TeamWilkerson.

Wilber, out!
Monday musings and memories…Monday, March 02, 2015

Most of you are probably well familiar with the popular Facebook and Twitter trend called "Throwback Thursday" wherein folks find old photos of themselves or their loved ones and post them on that particular day of the week. I've done it quite a bit, but since I skipped last week here in Blogville, and I have some fun old photos in my possession today, I figured I'd come up with a new reason to share. So, instead of #TBT for Throwback Thursday, we'll call it #MMM for Monday Musings and Memories.

And what's noteworthy about why I have some photos to share is that my search was actually a failure, considering what I was looking for. I mentioned a few blogs ago that when I was working at Heartland Park in 1991, I took a lot of photos throughout the event and, coincidentally, Richard Hartman's Raybestos Funny Car was in a large number of them.  I know those old pics still survive somewhere, but I was unable to round them up this morning. I'll succeed at a later date.

In the course of that failure, though, I came upon a bunch of other good shots from "back in the day" and I'll share them at the bottom, in the photo gallery.

There's an overhead view from the early days of the CSK program, of what we called "Camp Snoopy". Once we went to two cars, we needed a way to host hospitality for the CSK folks but we didn't have a third transporter or any other dedicated hospitality set up, so we improvised. Our first version of Camp Snoopy was one 20x20 white tent, and we could host about 50 people in there, if you crammed them in pretty tightly.

It was an interesting contraption, because it held itself up via tension. No nuts or bolts involved. It simply had two wires than ran from the corners and crossed in the middle, and once you hooked those up and stood the legs upright, it all just sort of held itself together.

I don't have photos of Camp Snoopy versions two and three. Actually, I'm sure I do but I didn't come upon any today. They must be with the photos of Richard's car.  Version two was simply twice as big, because we bought another tent and set them up side-by-side with the middle wall taken out. Version three was the final and ultimate CSK hospitality area, because it was hung off a full-size transporter and it could seat well over 120 guests. That transporter, if you recall, also had a lounge and that became my office. My very own office. All mine. Except it had killer good A/C so I had a constant stream of visitors whenever it was hot outside.

I flipped through dozens of photos from the very early CSK days, and just shook my head at how young we all looked. And I shook my head again (to mean "no way") when I thought about sharing some of them. If I looked that young then, that only means I look a lot older now. Yikes.

I did find a shot from driver introductions, and that shot includes three famous guys (none of them named Worsham). The three guys were killing time and chatting (which is exactly what you do at driver introductions) and they formed the esteemed law firm Dunn, Wilkerson, & Force.  You'll enjoy that one.

The last #MMM theme in the gallery is centered around the brief but notably legendary career of Norm Wilding. Who remembers Norm?

Norm (also Norman, depending on his mood at any given moment) was from Essex, England and he was the most successful Funny Car racer in Europe for a few years, in the late 1980s. He risked it all to play in the big leagues, and with what few dollars he could scrape together he loaded everything up in a shipping container and headed for the land of NHRA. At his first race, running an antiquated Funny Car with a two-speed transmission, he didn't do very well but he impressed a lot of people.

Soon thereafter, word shot around the pits at another race that the affable and enjoyable chap from England was broke, and the other drivers all pitched in to keep him going and on the road. It was a heck of a story.

The next year, with a more up-to-date car, Norm discovered his niche. He realized he didn't have the parts or the funding to really get after the big guys, so he took it upon himself to be a showman, doing ultra-long burnouts on Sunday. The goal, which others have emulated, was to get qualified with as few laps as possible and then put on a great show, but most likely lose in round one. Back then, if you were really careful and didn't hurt much, your qualifying money could usually keep you on the road. Norm quickly became a popular guy on the tour.

I was working in New Jersey at the time, with the guy who represented Chuck Etchells and Mike Dunn, but I'd taken quite a liking to Norm and I really thought he was marketable. Just like he'd risked it all to come to America, I decided to risk it all to help him out. I moved back to St. Louis and "set up shop" as RJW Marketing.

We worked at it pretty hard, and we had some sponsors very much interested in his story and his popularity, but by then he was still running the same parts he had been using for two years, and things started to break. Regularly. Our business plan did not include throwing the rods out of it 90 percent of the time when he hit the loud pedal. It didn't take long for him to need to stop for a while, and for me to go broke.  Had I not had Pro Stock driver (and still great friend) Lewis Worden and his business partner Steve Ash (they of the Ash & Worden Oldsmobile) paying me a small retainer, I would've gone broke even sooner.

In the gallery, you'll see a blue car with "Double A Racing" on the side, and that's the paint scheme he made his mark with. If your eyes are good and you can enlarge it, you might be able to see my name on the rear quarter panel. You'll also see a photo of a white car with Norm's name on the side, and him "photo bombing" the image from the side. That one was taken in the back parking lot behind my apartment in suburban St. Louis.

Keeping in mind that my apartment was in a building in which all the other residents were senior-citizen women, and all of them kept an eye on everything and all the comings and goings, I guess it shouldn't have surprised me that a police squad car pulled in within minutes of us unloading the car. My neighbors figured it was all stolen, apparently. It didn't take Norm and I too long to convince the officer we were on the up and up, but that was fun for a few minutes.

Non-racing related, but still fun, is another musing and memory that has to do with some plans that are seriously afoot, involving me and three of my college baseball teammates, who all also happened to be my roommates.

We hadn't all been together for nearly 20 years after graduation, when Lance McCord and I put together a reunion of our 1977 and 1978 teams, back in Edwardsville, Ill.  We all attended Southern Illinois University - Edwardsville so that seemed like a logical place to make that happen. What started out as Lance and I simply deciding to "get a few guys together" took on a life of its own and before we knew it the two of us were in charge of a real honest-to-goodness reunion, with an official hotel, dinner plans, a golf outing, and much more. It was basically awesome.

That was in the spring of 1997, and it was the first time we'd all been together in two decades, but now it's been about 20 more years since then. Lance and I were emailing each other about getting together, and we hatched a masterful plan, which now includes Bob "Radar" Ricker and James "Oscar" Noffke.

In July, this summer, we are going to meet up and spend four days together, with the first two being in Cooperstown, N.Y. at the Baseball Hall of Fame. It will be epic. Epic. And by that I mean EPIC.

We'll spend two nights in a fabulous Bed & Breakfast and one full day at The Hall, then the plan is to take a train down to Manhattan, where we'll switch to the Acela high-speed express train down to Washington D.C., and we'll spend a couple of days there looking at monuments and attending a Washington Nationals game (versus the Dodgers).  We've got our rooms and flights booked, and all of us are counting the days. Epic, I tell ya.


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The original Camp Snoopy. Version 1.0
 
I'm not 100 percent sure, but I'm leaning heavily toward believing that an enormous amount of laughter will be logged and recorded over those four days. You couldn't ask for three better or more hilarious roommates.

And speaking of laughter…  Last night Barbara and I went to downtown Spokane, and the absolutely gorgeous INB Performing Arts Center, to see celebrity TV chef Alton Brown. We weren't sure what to expect, although we knew he was funny so we suspected there'd be some comedy involved. Well…  It was a riot.

Alton Brown is top-notch when it comes to comedy, and he had us doubled over in laughter for nearly three hours. He's also a culinary science geek, and two of the things he showed off were a CO2 driven ice cream maker, which created five gallons of delicious chocolate ice cream in exactly 10 seconds, as well as a lamp-powered Mega Oven that baked pizzas in three minutes, all by the power (and heat) generated by banks of concert lights. The rest of the show was simply hilarious.

So, there you have it. I had to skip last week because, honestly, I've been doing so much writing as of late that my wrists and shoulders were killing me. Now, we're back in the saddle and enjoying some Monday Musings and Memories.

Still another weekend off before we gather in Gainesville. After that, the season will kick into gear and it will pretty much just rock nonstop until we're back in Pomona to wrap it up. Perhaps, by then, I will have found those photos of Richard Hartman's old Funny Car.

See you all soon.

Wilber, out!

 

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