Catching up...Monday, May 13, 2013

To quote the inimitable Grateful Dead "What a long strange trip it's been..." and those sentiments have been floating around in my head for quite some time. I consider it to have been a long strange trip from the time I was born to this very second, as I sit here in my office out in Liberty Lake, Wa. writing another installment for a blog I've been writing since August of 2005, when Phil Burgess challenged a few of us to pen these missives for a whole entire month and my instant reaction to that was "How in the world can anyone come up with enough material to write one of these blog things for a whole month?"  It will be eight years this August.

And, as I also handle my duties as columnist for the National Dragster magazine and blog writer for my "Bob On Baseball" stories, I marvel at the pure happenstance that has somehow brought me to all of these adventures. Who'da thunk?  You throw in my PR duties and all the social media we rely on (and lean on) these days, and I'm doing far more writing than I've ever done. That's saying something, considering I've been writing a lot since I learned to type. What a long strange trip it's been, indeed!

And then, finally, there's just this last week. We got washed out, rained on, wind blown, and tossed out of Atlanta last Saturday. I was able to get back to Minnesota that night, and spent a couple more days there, takin' care of business (that's a shout-out to my buddy Fred Turner, who is a road warrior these days as he tours with Randy Bachman). I got back here on Tuesday night and everything has seemed a couple of days off since then. I'm admittedly a creature of habit and routine, and when you throw a wrench into the machine that is the Mello Yello tour, it throws everything off. Flying out on Saturday night? Crazy. I'm still not sure what day it is, but with this being the next race week, it does feel like Monday. Can't trust that day...  Monday Monday.

By the time I got back out here to Liberty Lake, it was about to be Wednesday and most of the rest of the NHRA world was already beginning the process of returning to Atlanta Dragway, to try it all again. Not me, though, as the return trip was just going to be too expensive for something I could do remote-control from home. Had we continued with hospitality for our LRS guests, I would've spent the necessary small fortune to be there, but with only PR and video duties on my plate I stayed behind, and Krista Wilkerson was kind enough to pinch hit for me with the video camera.

By Friday morning, it was time to assume my position behind my desk, bright and early, and utilize the magic of the interwebs to virtually connect myself to the event. I could almost smell the nitro...

On Friday, I had the "Live Timing" app at up on the screen the whole time, while I eavesdropped on Alan Reinhart doing the PA work, via the audiocast. Alan obviously (and hilariously) knew I wasn't at the track, and that became evident after Tim's first run when he said "And Wilkerson runs a 4.123 at 301.87 mph. Get that Wilber?"  I, quite literally, laughed out loud.

Earlier in the day, first thing in the morning actually, my phone chimed and I had a text from Wilk, with a photo attached. That photo leads off today's gallery, and it's a carefully staged shot of the whole team surrounding Tim in our pit area, as Wilk watches something very important on a laptop. The caption was "Bottom of the ninth, two runners on, two outs.  Here's the pitch... Over the centerfield fence and the crowd goes wild!!!"  I loved it.

I followed all the action and, once again, came to the realization that I can not only do the PR stuff pretty much just as well from my office, in many regards I can do it better, if doing more is a better thing (and I think it is). When I'm at the track, there is so much going on all the time, from hospitality to warm-ups, to conversations, and even just the time consuming walking around to get from the pit to the track and back. After we make a lap, I get back to the pit as quickly as I can, whether I'm walking or on a golf cart, and then I dash to my laptop to fire off a tweet or two, and hit Facebook with an update, and that might be 15-20 minutes after we ran. On Friday, I was tweeting and posting in real time, as the stuff happened. After the lap, a quick call to Tim and I was up to speed on everything that happened, and then instead of moving on to something else I could stay right there on social media, getting more in-depth and interacting with fans from around the globe. Pretty cool, actually.

On the first run Friday, Tim felt a slight "funny" vibration near the finish line and clicked it off a little early. I might never have even realized that if I was at the track, and once I did it might be a few hours after the fact. Tim mentioned it to Krista, though, who called me at once to tell me about it. A few minutes later, I called him and he said "Yeah, it started vibrating out there so I shut it off. Once we got back here, B2 came up to the lounge and said 'Well, I know what it made that funny vibration' and when I asked him why he said that all the wheel weights were gone from one of the rear wheels. I guess they flew off."

We made two great qualifying laps, once again, and my first thought on that was that this whole deal where we've only made two qualifying passes at the last three races has really played right into our hands, but only because it was in Charlotte where we finally and firmly got ahold of our clutch wear. Earlier in the year, when we seemed utterly incapable of putting two decent runs back-to-back, trying to get in the show on two laps might've been a nightmare, but once we got to Charlotte it was a beautiful thing. When Wilk gets a handle on the race car, it might not be the fastest car there but it will almost certainly be the most consistent, and at the last three races we've qualified 4th, 2nd, and 4th all while only making two laps. And every one of those laps was good. We got 'em right where we want 'em...

Sunday morning started so early for me I had to set my iPhone alarm to make sure I wasn't late to work. With the race starting at 11:00 ET, that meant the first pair would be launching at 8:00 for me, so I felt the need to be behind my desk with all systems fired up by 7:30.

This time, I could really be dialed into the action because was on "live" and with that, the live timing, and the audiocast I felt like I was sitting in Mission Control.  This whole internet thing...  I think it might catch on.

As you know, we put two more great laps on the board, beat two more really good teams, and got another semifinal finish. It was all good, and there it was another Saturday night, one week later than the rain-out, and I was home.  (See reference above regarding long strange trips).

All that being said, I'm really looking forward to getting to Topeka this week. I'm leaving Wednesday because I do have a couple of meetings in Minnesota on Thursday, and then I'll make the quick flight down to Kansas City on Thursday evening. I don't land until 9:30, so I'm guessing it might be close to 11:00 that night before I roll into Topeka.

It's always one of my favorite stops, every year. The first drag race I ever saw was at Heartland Park, the year I was the general manager there, and I'll always carry those memories and connections with me. Without Heartland Park in general, and Bill Kentling in specific, it's likely that none of you would know me today and I have no clue what I might instead be doing. That job was one of those pivotal moments when everything changes. I was still young and an idiot, and hadn't learned anything at all about how to succeed and do it the right way when I got there, but it was the first step that put me on the path that brought me here today. That's why I love going back there.

The weather has been spectacular out here in the Inland Northwest for a whole week, and that means the boyz have had the chance to be outside in their pop-up tent, Barb and I have been on a number of fun bike rides, and the sun has been shining, which brightens everyone's mood. Today is Monday, though. Can't trust that day.  It's been raining steadily for hours, but it's a nice consistent spring rain and it sounds good hitting the roof and rattling the gutters.

Unfortunately, there was a big high school or college golf tournament set for today, on the course where we live. The first foursome hit the 2nd green, right outside our bedroom window, at around 8:00 and at that time it was fine. Then, by 11:00 or so the rain started coming down and it was doing so in copious quantities, but the golf went on.  Those poor kids were soaked...

My day started really early today, because Barb was flying to New York (LGA) on a 7:20 flight this morning. We were rolling out of the driveway at about 6:30 to get her there in time. I drove her there because we're going to be doing our standard "ships passing in the night" routine for a while, leaving cars at airports for each other. She gets back here a day or so after I leave for Topeka, so I'll park at the airport and let her know where the car is. This is why we each carry a set of each other's keys...

A few minutes ago, I got an email from her with her version of "The View From My Window" and I have to share that with you in the gallery.  She's staying at the Waldorf Astoria, with a spectacular view out of her window, of Park Avenue in Manhattan.  Sweet!

Oh, and if you were watching the race either on ESPN3 or later on TV, on ESPN2, you saw the segment where they showed some of the fun and games we had with Cruz Pedregon's guys, after they beat us in Houston, and the bit about Bob Tasca's guys rescuing us when our big rig broke down in Alabama. They also showed the mock (hilarious) invoice Bob Tasca delivered to us after we finally got parked at Atlanta Dragway. I've included it in the gallery too, in the hope that the enlarged version will be big enough to read. Pretty funny stuff...  Here's hoping you can enlarge it enough to read it. The last line is "15% surcharge just because"

Oh...  And I just had to take a blurry phone pic as I was getting ready to dive in to do all my PR work during the race. As you'll see, I had an assistant working with me. His name was Buster. The pic also shows my laptop and my cup of McDonald's coffee, so I had all the essentials at the ready. I put that photo on Facebook and my nephew Del III (who wrote the Ronald Reagan book) posted "A cat, a cup of coffee, and a $2000 MacBook pro. What could possibly go wrong?"  LOL...

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"And the crowd goes wild!" Cracked me up.
Well, I'm about out of material.  Just for today, though.

I figured I'd never have enough good material for a month when we started this, so now I figure if I can make it eight years the supply must somehow be endless. Here's hoping.

I also need to get a new Bob On Baseball written soon, and I'll probably focus on the crazy year of 1981, when the Blue Jays moved me out to Fresno for one year, to scout the central part of California. It was a bizarre year, in a lot of ways, and it was full of crazy characters. The major leagues had a strike in midsummer, and after a while the Blue Jays took all of their scouts off the road, to cut costs. I had to try to scout all the teams in the Class-A California League as they came through Fresno to play the Fresno Giants, plus most of that team lived around the same pool at the same apartment complex where I lived. We probably broke a thousand tampering rules, because many of us became great friends and one of the pitchers actually moved into my spare bedroom for the summer. And then there was the World Series, Dodgers vs Yankees, and I was invited to go along for the L.A. games with our team President (Peter Bavasi), our general manager (Pat Gillick), and our manager (Bobby Cox).  I could write a book about the craziness that ensued and the surreal experience of hanging with those guys at the rooftop bar at the Hilton in Hollywood, sitting around chatting with Reggie Jackson, Tommy John, and Yogi Berra as if I was hanging out with my college buddies.  Can't give away too many details here. I need to flesh it out and write it for Bob On Baseball!!!

Take care, all.  Back at ya soon.

Wilber, out!