Jack is backTuesday, February 02, 2016
Posted by: Jack Beckman, Infinite Hero Dodge

I know it’s a bit out of season for a Christmas photo, but it’s the only one I had showing Apollo and the family he adopted. I just found out Jenna will NEVER let him outside unattended for fear of coyotes. Had I known that, I’d have bought a wolf pup!

I’ve always been a numbers guy, and stats also interest me. This sport has let me utilize my love of both of these, and they also figured heavily into this blog. In fact, the title and text you are reading represent (by my unofficial count) my 239th NHRA blog entry.

I had done several prior blogs for various organizations, but January 15, 2007 (there’s a stat for you guys) was my first for NHRA.com. Back then I was only five races into my funny car career, married for only two months, and yet to have any children. Wow, have things changed for me!

This has also been the longest stretch between blogs since I began my entries more than nine years ago, and I truly apologize to the many long-term readers that I left hanging (all six of you!). If you’re a first timer, I shall endeavor NOT to take five months before my next entry (plus, I don’t want my buddy Phil Burgess to cut me off as a phone-a-friend on historical questions!).

I promise you folks that I have not been idle (no pun intended), and I’ll give you a brief recap of what has transpired since that August 6, 2015 entry:

On the racing side, our Infinite Hero team had really started to show some consistent and incredible performance. We had just taken the trophy and National ET record at Sonoma, and would continue those kinds of performances for the rest of the season. We set multiple track records, reset the ET record three more times (!), and took home the Wally’s from Maple Grove and Indy (a weekend where we swept the race; qualifying No. 1, setting a new track record, plus the Traxxas Shootout win and the double-up on Monday).

We basically did all a team could dream of in 2015. All, except for the ultimate goal: taking the Championship. We lost a thrilling fight with the Kalitta Motorsports team and Del Worsham, and it definitely stings. We aren’t looking back, however, but we do feel there is unfinished business for 2016.

We decided to head down to Gainesville in December and put eight runs on a litany of different components to give us a head start on 2016. With a best lap of 3.903, plus how much we learned about the various parts we tried, we all felt vindicated spending the time and money to make that trek.

Earlier in January I flew out to our shop to be fitted in a brand new chassis, plus do the photo shoot for our new handout cards (Mark Rebilas and the DSR shop did an amazing job on them and I know you guys will dig the finished product). By the time you read this I will be on my way to Phoenix for a four-day test session, which supplants our former pre-season testing in Palm Beach, Fla. As much as I love South Florida and hanging out with my friends down there, the data we got didn’t seem to carry over once we got on an NHRA national event track. So…we’ll try Phoenix.

As a related issue (while still on the racing topic), back in August I got a chance to “drive the finish line” in a sportsman car for the first time since 2009. The whole family flew up to Idaho and we stayed with our good friends, the VanderMeers. Dick, Kathi and Hannah were not only perfect hosts at their residence, but Dick was kind (dumb?) enough to let me drive his Top Dragster for all four days of the NightFire Nationals. To be honest, after going five rounds on the opening day, I was starting to think I was back in championship form in the sportsman ranks. And then reality set it, and I proceeded to lose five times (they have buybacks if you lose early) in every possible way a sportsman can: red-light, late light, taking too much stripe and braking out, giving back the stripe, and running too far off the dial-in. Actually, the car never broke, I didn’t hit the wall, and the parachute never came out at half-track, so I guess I’ll have to go back next year!

I believe my last blog ended with another blowout on the RV, and the ensuing debacle that it caused. Well, after a trip to the Allison transmission shop, another to the body shop (two, actually, and thankfully that was covered by insurance), it was time to break open my piggy bank and make sure we had fresh rubber all around (that wasn’t cheap!). I also recently replaced all ten (yep, that is not a typo!) batteries with some Odyssey units that I hope will exorcise all the electronic demons that seem to possess this Monaco.

The good news is, we hopefully should have at least two weeks of trouble-free operation out of the unit (if you own an RV, you totally understand what I mean. Also, the word “boat” can be freely substituted and carry the exact same meaning). The bad news is, I still have a boat, err…RV. What I REALLY want to buy for it is a big sign with the words, “FOR SALE,” but Jenna won’t let me!

Now, as far as the VERY important stuff goes, the family is doing great. Our calendar is overflowing, and Jenna still finds things to enroll the kids in and squeeze into our itinerary. Layla is doing nature camp, gymnastics, and swimming along with preschool. She also goes twice a week for speech therapy. Poor thing, she struggles to pronounce her “L’s,” so she introduces herself as “Yay-ya” to all of her new friends. C’s, K’s, Th’s, and G’s also are an issue for her, but she’s improved dramatically. Funny enough, her crying doesn’t seem to need any help at all!

Jason, though technically now fully homeschooled, is attending an amazing school called “Arbor” that is about 40 minutes away. I think the word “arbor” must be Latin for, “we accept all major credit cards,” as we have to pay for this out of pocket. Thankfully our great friends, the Prutzman family, allow us to carpool with them and save some gas and aggravation. In addition to the three days a week Jason attends that campus, he’s also in swimming, and takes piano and baseball lessons. Knowing we had no more spare time at all, we enrolled him in hockey. Now, I’m a baseball guy and know nothing about ice hockey, but it turns out Jason took to it like an Anaheim Duck to water. Get it? So…cross two more days a week off of my “free time” list, plus it’s likely he’ll be back in baseball next month, though we are debating that.

Realizing that we now clearly have no extra time, Jenna made a command decision that a puppy would be a wonderful creature to throw into our mix. Yes, the Beckman household added another family member, a little hairy white dude that goes by the name of “Apollo,” late last year. Jason has an allergy to many pets, causing him to sneeze and get stuffy (kind of like the way I get around motorhomes!), so we had to get a hypo-allergenic variety, which apparently is French for “three times the price.” I wanted to name the dog “Silver,” because that’s about what he cost if calculated by the pound.

We’ve spent lots of quality time together during my off season, taking the kids many places, including the Discovery Science Center, Monster Jam, Super cross, up in mountains when So Cal finally got some snow, the Queen Mary, the Norco City Fair, a Ducks hockey game, Frozen on Ice (I got out of that one), Medieval Times, the Bodies Exhibit (the science- related one, for those whose minds were in the gutter), several movies, etc. Layla even got to accompany her brother on a rocket launch mission, which she actually quite enjoyed.

Model rocketry is totally bitchin’…there’s just no other way to phrase it. It has all the components of entertainment wrapped into one launch: excitement, fire, noise, high probability of disaster, small likelihood of total success, and isn’t very expensive. Heck, except for that last one, I could have been describing Funny Car racing! Anyway, on our latest launch, Jason and Layla shared “launch controller” duties, while dad chased the rockets on descent and continually relocated the launch platform to compensate for wind drift. Knowing that we had already lost two rockets (on three previous days of rocketeering), we were extra diligent about picking a huge open area on a day with relatively low winds.(Perhaps I should mention that we also purchased several more rockets, which really is the only way to ensure continued viability in this hobby.) Anyway, after three successful launches AND recoveries (and only having to climb one fence), the inevitable happened. Not that I am trying to shirk responsibility, but I must say that our launch was perfect, wind compensation looked fantastic, parachute deployment was right on target (I even cut a hole in the middle of the chute to minimize wind loft carrying the rocket too far off course), and…hold on…”Houston, we have a problem!”

I’ll cut to the chase…literally. After running across the soccer field, jumping the fence in the baseball outfield, barreling through the infield, past the dugout, through the parking lot, and stopping at the barbed wire fence, it became quite clear that this rocket was a goner. Did I mention the barbed wire fence? Um, seems our little Atlas Mark IV ended up several hundred feet inside the perimeter of this fenced off area. A quick check of your Google Earth app. will display the exact coordinates of Norco Prison, and I’d say we managed a “splashdown” nearly dead-center of the facility. Perhaps now is a good time to mention what Jason and I now do to each of our rockets since we lost the first two. In an effort to increase the chances of recovery should they “go askew”, I’ve taken to using a Sharpie to clearly write our home phone number on the fins. Yeah, I kind of think you know what I’m talking about! Fortunately, “that” call from the warden hasn’t happened, and I’m thinking it wouldn’t be too funny to try another launch attempt with hacksaw blades inside the rocket.


It was very odd how the memories started flooding back once I got the El Camino back home. My father bought it from the original owner in 1978, and I’ve owned it since I was 15. June 28, 1982 I celebrated my 16th birthday at DMV getting my driver’s license in this car. Since then, it’s taken a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Wait ‘til Jenna sees how much of the kid’s college fund it’s going to take to put it back on the street!

When Wayne Phillips from the NHRA Museum showed up to load up, it was a bit surreal letting go of a car I first took possession of on December 18, 1994. It’s now on loan to the Museum, but they said I can come by and feed it anytime!

Under the “me time,” which we can alternatively refer to as “Jack time,” it’s been wonderful to get to surf as much as I have in the past two months. I probably get to go on average once a week, which is a lot for me. Stat Guy Lewis Bloom (who just moved to California after a lifetime in Jersey) has gone out with Rich Camou and me a couple of times, and he’s really starting to dig the California life. Once the season starts I often go a couple of months without getting wet, so this has been a real treat.

Saving the best for last, I did something that I haven’t been able to do since we moved into this house back in August of 2009: I saw the garage floor! Yes, it may seem like a small accomplishment to many of you, but to me it’s opened up new borders. When the Chinese invented gun powder, who knew it would eventually lead to putting a human on the moon? Who knew that the discovery of microorganisms would lead to the creation of antibiotics and inoculations, saving millions of lives? Okay, maybe I’m suffering from delusions of grandeur, but to me this is a big deal. Once I got the “house” garage cleaned and organized I can now easily tackle more projects, which allowed me to focus on the “backyard” garage and its clutter…

And now on top of the priority list was “the Blackbird,” my Super Comp dragster that, since November of 2009, had officially become a 21-foot dust collector, and tripping hazard. I got it all polished, waxed, and spiffed up last week for a trip that I never thought I would see; one to the NHRA Museum!

Yes, my car currently resides underneath Swamp Rat 32 (it sort of looks like Big Daddy’s car gave birth to a baby dragster), and that is mind-blowing to me.

So…you probably want to know what is going to fill that narrow, twenty-one foot void in the garage where the Blackbird formally resided? Glad you asked! I had asked Rodger and Karen Comstock if they could store my ’68 El Camino for about six months while I completed the backyard garage. That was 3 years ago, which is about right for “driver math”. So, now I have an entirely new project which, ironically enough, is the same project that occupied so much of my time between the ages of 15 and 30.

Stay tuned! And remember: Museums are cool, El Caminos rule, and RV owners are fools.

The Purple and Black AttackThursday, August 06, 2015
Posted by: Jack Beckman, Infinite Hero Dodge
The view from the RV at Sonoma is spectacular. Here 4 of my friends take it all in. Their brother, ZMax, went home earlier this year with Terry Chandler. This is the first time I’ve been able to take them home, as they’re difficult to get through the airport metal detector!

There’s really no way to sugar-coat it: Jimmy Prock is from another planet. Yes, I do believe that he, John Medlen, and Chris Cunningham must’ve escaped Vulcan before the place exploded, and they’re just taking a siesta here on the “blue planet”. How else can you explain the way our Infinite Hero/Sandvik Dodge Charger has been running? THIS is what happens when you put three guys with an average IQ of about 180 inside the same trailer: magic!

After just winning Sonoma and resetting the ET record with a staggering 3.92 (it still doesn’t look right when I write it down…it’s just TOO quick!), and doing that a week after taking the trophy off the mountain at the Mopar Parts Mile High Nats, and doing THAT two races after posing with the Wally in Norwalk, I’m simply in awe of those guys, as well as Sam, Ryan, Joe, Matt, Al, Nate, and Chris. Everyone is doing their job perfectly, and the results show it. Heck, for three races we have a Western Tech intern, Gus, who has NEVER lost a round of racing. I just want to keep his record perfect through Seattle this weekend.

At Bristol the crew got a chance for a photo with our inspiration, Officer Gary Linfoot. Whether in his wheelchair or standing with the exoskeleton, I think Gary is 8 feet tall!

I’d like to recap some of the recent events, as I haven’t been good about keeping up with the blog. Bristol was not the kindest to us on raceday, but it did have its highlights: having my dad there on Father’s Day and doing the track walk with him for the second consecutive year was fulfilling. Having Mari and Gary Linfoot (Gary is the soldier pictured on the back of our semi wearing the bionic exoskeleton) on hand felt good. Gary, who was paralyzed when his helicopter suffered catastrophic mechanical failure on a mission during his 19th combat tour, had NEVER stood for the National Anthem since his crash on May 31, 2008. Sunday at Bristol he did, with his wife Mari by his side. Terry Chandler, who’s heart and funding have made such a difference for so many injured veterans (and sick children) stood a couple of feet away. I stood in reverence about 20 feet away, soaking up the moment and reinforcing in my mind and heart what great things we can do this year in support of the IHF.

Chris Demke and I proudly displaying our Southwest Airlines “trophies. He wears his pretzels well, but my nuts don’t seem to fit!

Norwalk was special because we got to put our Infinite Hero Charger in the winner’s circle on Independence Day weekend, a very poignant date for our cause. I want to congratulate my buddy Todd Veney on his first ever national event win. I know how special it was for him, especially with his parents (Ken Veney was so good as a driver and tuner in the day) in attendance. On the flight home, Chris Demke, who won TAD, and I were treated like kings by the Southwest Airlines attendants. He was presented with a crown of pretzels, and I with nuts. Wonder if there was some hidden message in that?

Even though we didn’t win in Chicago (congrats to John Collins, Rip Reynolds and the entire Make-A-Wish team for TJ’s first win of the year!), I had a good weekend. We again had a Sandvik appearance with Spencer’s dragster and team in attendance, I attended a Matco function with Antron where IHF was presented with a nice check that the distributors were able to raise, and I got to attend a game at Wrigley Field, which was very cool!

Denver was great because we maintained Mopar’s streak of Professional wins at their signature race, plus my dad was there. He stayed with my good friend and former Top Fuel racer, Ray Stutz, and the celebration was fantastic. It also was the first race win we’ve had where Laurie Baker, the Executive Director of IHF was able to attend. She was beyond happy for our (her) team!

Sportscaster Chris McGee and Medal of Honor Recipient Sal Guinta flanked yours truly, and Oakley’s Erick Poston (who also sits on the IHF board) showed me the difference between a putter and a driver. I always thought the driver was the one wearing the firesuit!
You can always tell the driver: He’s the one facing away from the work!

I stayed Monday for a charity golf tournament for the IHF, and I certainly deserve charity if you watch me (attempt) to play. “Goose” Gossage, former Yankee (and Padre, and Cub) pitcher was there, and very approachable. Medal of Honor recipient Sal Guinta really provided the inspiration and the correct “feel” for the entire event. I was honored to meet him and really hope he can come out to a race and hang out with the team someday.

Sonoma marked the first time my family has been to a winning race since St. Louis of ’12. I was thinking “1912”, but I think it actually was 2012. We all five (Grandma Cindy was on board) piled into the RV and had a nice, uneventful 450 mile trip there. Once we parked late Wednesday night, I had a full Thursday. Starting with a media event way out in Sacramento, and ending with emceeing the Eric Medlen Nitro Night for the third straight year, it was a good day. The rest of the weekend went just as well, culminating with Jason winning an impromptu ESPN dance contest that apparently made the event coverage (I haven’t gotten that far into my DVR yet). And, in between, our car quite simply may have put down the most dominating funny car performance in recent memory. Beating teammate Tommy Johnson Jr. in the final meant that Terry Chandler was guaranteed her sixth victory of the year (Terry completely funds both teams), and I couldn’t be happier for her, IHF, Sandvik, MTS (now back on board!), and all of our folks. It was a magical weekend and I feel so fortunate to be a part of it.

And then came the trip home! If you are able, go back to July 31, 2014 blog. Talk about déjà vu. This time blowout number one came 100 miles from the track, about 11:30 pm Sunday night. After limping to the nearest town at 12 mph, we considered our options.

I’m going to digress here and reference some folk’s comments on social media. While many of them were helpful, even supportive, it amazes me how often mean and/or ill-informed people feel obligated to share their out-of-touch, skewed and flawed opinions with the world. It’s the reason I refuse to read any social media, and it taints it for those of you who are normal.

Don’t forget to set your DVRs. Dave is doing a stellar job of giving drag racing due recognition amongst other motorsports.

Anyway, unless we wanted to wait until late in the day Sunday, perhaps into Monday, the only option was a mobile tire service with a used tire. RV tires are not really a “standard” size relative to the multitude of 22 ½ inch tires sold on the market, so we did what we had to. I purchased the gold-plated, infinite warranty tire that senses road conditions, makes coffee for you, and gives good back rubs. For $515 for a used tire, that’s what I SHOULD have got. What we got was 300 miles further down the road. Then, a mere 46 miles from home, that tire decided its warranty was done. So, another two hours, another $300 (this next tire was just silver plated) and we arrived at home.

Oh, maybe I should’ve mentioned the big rig tow that had to get us “unstuck” at midnight Sunday night when we tried to pull into a parking lot for sleep. Yes, one of those small towns with radically sloping streets, and the hitch dug in deep. I tried raising and lowering the airbags, putting boards under the tires, dancing an Irish Jig while screaming in Ukrainian, all to no avail.

Oh, maybe I also should mention that the RV no longer goes into reverse, and that the last few miles coming home it wouldn’t shift properly, and that as I type it’s being hooked up to be towed to a repair facility. Yes, folks, family motorhome vacations are only really good for a couple types of people: therapists, and people who own stock in anti-depressants!

Still, dealing with all of this in 2015, after the fantastic few weeks that we’ve enjoyed, certainly was MUCH easier than in 2014. By the Vegas race, the RV will have visited the trans shop, the body shop, the tire shop, the rim polishing and re-plating shop, and hopefully the chop shop!


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Mickey Ganitz served aboard the USS Pennsylvania. The story of this ship is one of legend, and Mickey and his wife Barbara were just beyond cool. I will cherish this photo of my son with him forever.
 
Don on Richie Crampton’s Lucas Oil team has gone out of his way during the races when their team is hosting WWII vets. I’ve already met a half dozen of the coolest men of all time, and at Sonoma I got to spend a half hour with Mickey Ganitz, who served aboard the USS Pennsylvania. He was onboard when it was bombed in Pearl Harbor, and he was onboard when it was torpedoed the day before the Japanese surrendered. At 96, he is sharp as a tack, and having my son Jason there to experience our discussion (Jason even got to ask several questions) was a lifetime experience for me. I don’t know how old Jason will be when he realizes just how special that encounter was. I’ve met veterans of Iwo Jima, Pearl Harbor, the Army Air Corps, and the 82nd Airborne thanks to Don. How amazing!

Way back when the RV was performing flawlessly (three weeks ago), we spent several days down in San Diego for our second annual “Layla’s birthday bash”. Yes, the only thing better than owning a motorhome that costs far more money, time, and effort than I have, is paying $90 a day to park it next to 500 other RV’s in a congested park, just so we can pack everything into our passenger car each day to drive around! Did I mention that it rained for two of the days we were there? In July!

Besides the racing, we’ve kept plenty busy with Layla’s gymnastics class, Jason’s piano and skateboard lessons, and Jenna’s use of the American Express at fine establishments such as Nordstrom’s, Bed, Bath & Beyond, as well as many others (kidding, honey!). I’ve also got to repair some broken irrigation line (that made a nice mess out back), and keep my skills sharp with the mower and edger.

I better wrap for now. In a couple of hours it’s off to Seattle for what I hope will be an epic weekend for the Infinite Hero/ Sandvik car. After that we’re packing for a trip to visit our good friends, the Vandermeer’s, up in Idaho. I never thought Jenna would go for this, but I’m actually going to be racing three days at the Firebird Nightfire Nationals in Dick’s Top Dragster! I can’t tell you how excited I am to be back in a car where I can actually SEE my opponent! It should be a hoot, and hopefully I’ll have some good stories to share about that.

And yes, we’re flying up to Boise! You think I’m crazy?

Stay tuned; celebrate our older veterans, the devil created RVs, and Wally’s rule!
 

C’mon…that’s all?Thursday, July 02, 2015
Posted by: Jack Beckman, Infinite Hero Dodge


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Taken by my buddy Rich Shute, this pic of the Bristol track walk on Father’s Day was very special. Someone else took a photo nearly identical, except it was blurry, out of focus, and not well framed. Thanks, Rich!
 
No, my title this entry does not refer to my son Jason’s comments when I get done doling out his portion of the French fries at In-N-Out, but rather to my pitiful blog this time.

I have my notes, I have many photos picked out, and I have the computer up and ready. What I don’t have right now is any ambition, motivation, or time before the dinner bell rings.

Typically I don’t have an issue with completing my blog somewhere around midnight the night before I depart on an early morning flight (out at 5:55am tomorrow). However, I’m flirting with a cold right now, I feel like I weigh about 400 pounds, and the lethargy monster has ahold of me.

Why then, you may ask, am I even bothering right now? Good question. With so much going on in our schedule during this period, I’m just not sure when my next opportunity to chat with all of you is going to happen.

Layla will be turning 4 on July 12, and I will be on the road for her big day. That’s the toughest part about racing, but we’ve got a family RV trip (those can be even tougher than being away!) planned for the weekend after, right before I leave for the Western Swing.

Once I leave tomorrow for Norwalk (by the way, I hope everyone enjoys their Independence Day holiday…and I hope I get to celebrate mine with my favorite midget: that little gold dude named ‘Wally’!), I will only return home for ONE day before heading right back out for an early appearance and some events that lead into the Chicago race.

Why then, you may ask (boy, are you guys inquisitive today!), even bother coming home? Well, if any of you are married with two small children, I think the question answers itself. I’m sure there’ll be days when both kids are teenagers, Jenna is mad about something, and staying on the road seems like a wonderful idea, but I try to spend as much time with the family as possible. No regrets… and I never want my kids to feel like that song by Harry Chapin, “Cats in the Cradle”, has any semblance to their formative years.

So, instead of me writing a weekly blog, lately I’ve been writing my blog weakly. Get it? That was kind of clever. Okay, time to wrap things up. Next entry I’ll fill you guys in on a decent outing at Bristol with some powerful back-story events, why I shouldn’t be an irrigation specialist, and anything else cool that transpires…like winning a race!

Stay tuned, keep your frequent flyer card handy, preschool is just around the corner, and the US is still the greatest country in the land.

Here I go again …Thursday, June 18, 2015
Posted by: Jack Beckman, Infinite Hero Dodge
I have no idea why I titled this blog that way, other than my free 1 year subscription to Sirius Radio is about to run out, I’m an avid listener of the “Hair Nation” channel, and the Whitesnake song of the same title was playing today while I drove Jason and Layla home from my son’s “video game programming” class (yeah, that’s what most 8-year-olds are taking during summer vacation!).

Perhaps the words are relevant to me procrastinating on another blog, or, more optimistically, you may think they relate to our Infinite Hero team taking our second win of the year in Topeka. Still, I can’t put my finger on where the inspiration came from.

Tomorrow it’s time to head to Bristol for race number 11 of the year (wow, THAT went by fast!). Yes, we’re in that “summer crunch” where the venues, races, trophies and points just fly by.

I’m looking forward to again being able to spend Father’s Day with my dad, Bob. It’s tough to not be around my wife and kids, but getting my dad in the winner’s circle certainly would ease some of that pain!

Before I go too far, I suppose I should come clean about my tree trimming expedition. For those that tuned in to the Atlanta coverage, you may have seen Terry Snyder taping up my right ear before I donned my helmet. So much for keeping that a secret! Anyway, here’s my recollection of what went “down”:

Having two large palm trees in the backyard, I typically trim off the dead branches about once a year, and Jenna was letting me know it was time. Sure, it was Mother’s Day, but what better present to give my lovely wife than neatly trimmed trees? (Yes, I AM a cheap bastard, but that’s another story entirely!). So, I set up my trusty Little Giant ladder and extended it up, deciding to start with the shorter of the two trees. Everything went just swimmingly well, and all the dead branches soon were scattered about the base of the ladder. Wanting to be perfect, I needed to take a peek behind the trunk to check for any other offending protrusions. THAT’S precisely when Sir Isaac Newton’s voice appeared in my head, offering some perfunctory advice on the gravitational pull on a human being suspended roughly twelve feet in the air.

Try as I might to listen, I found it extremely difficult. Part of that could have been due to the fact that my right ear was now dragging down the trunk of the palm, the result of the bottom of the ladder sliding straight out from the tree. Technically I NEVER fell from the tree, nor did I fall off the ladder. Rather, the ladder AND I accompanied each other on a direct assessment of the current force of gravity at my particular longitudinal coordinates on the planet.

Normally they say the fall doesn’t hurt, but I’m here to dispute that hypothesis. In my case, the combination of friction between the trunk of the tree and the back of my ear, not to mention my right shoulder area, was extremely painful. However, that was nothing compared to the sudden stop at the end of my brief journey, one that had me landing squarely on the ladder, bending it in several places. One need not know the physical dimensions of the Little Giant XL 22; you could simply observe the bruises on my ankle, knees, and torso to know EXACTLY how far each rung is spaced apart! The magenta, yellow, blue and black on my right “front pocket” area bore testimony to how much energy a 184-pound object can generate over a short distance. I thought it miraculous that the left thigh area was almost completely free of any such damage … until I found the “salvation”: Seems my Samsung Galaxy, which was now bent like a banana, took the brunt of the trauma for me. Not to seem ungrateful, but I never really did care for that phone.
Perhaps it’s slightly ironic, but I now, for the first time, am an Apple user. It took an apple for Newton to figure out gravity, and it took gravity to get me to switch to Apple! Okay … maybe I’m the only one who thinks that’s clever!

Anyway, the ribs and the ear were a huge source of discomfort in Atlanta … but not nearly as much as Tim Wilkerson. After qualifying, I really thought that the ONLY car on the grounds that could hang with us was Wilky … and I was proven prophetic on that one. After running the second quickest run of the first round, we were matched up with Tim in round two … and he had lane choice! Typically that’s not a big deal, but for whatever reason nobody made it down the left lane respectably from the second round all the way to the final, and our day was done. I will say that I am a huge fan of Tim’s, and very happy to see him get his first win in a LONG time. He’s probably the nicest guy in all of funny car, and no one is more deserving than he. Nice job, Timmah!


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Gary Linfoot is the man, pure and simple. So, by the commutative property of addition, I am the man next to THE MAN!
 
Despite losing early, there were plenty of positives for me in Georgia. Gary and Mari Linfoot were on hand (Gary is the Special Operations helicopter pilot pictured on the back of our trailer, and they are both amazing humans).

Also, I reconnected with a friend I hadn’t seen in over 27 years, and one who I had taken to his first drag race (technically we drove HIS Chevette, which pitched the harmonic balancer and led to a whole other story, to the inaugural Texas Nationals in Dallas 1986!). I think I may have even mentioned Lee West at some point on this blog, but he was one of my Air Force buddies that I could never track down. I was ecstatic to get an e-mail from him a couple of months back (thanks ESPN!), and we got to hang out quite a bit and catch up on nearly three decades of life. If you’ve ever been in the military, you get how special the attachment is to the guys you served with, whether you talk once a month or once a decade … it’s just unique. Hopefully Lee will make Charlotte 2 later this year, where another of our Air Force companions, Bruce Stansel, nearly always attends.

Not only did seeing Lee bring back so many memories from my younger days, but so has another activity: Earlier this year I filmed an episode of the Dave Despain Show, and recently they requested a plethora of photos to use as B-roll (that’s industry terminology for “background” stuff). So, I had to do some digging in the closet and came across photos I hadn’t seen for decades, photos I forgot existed, and photos I never even remember seeing. Wow, does life just FLY by …

This brings me to Topeka, which REALLY flew by! If you didn’t see the race, we won. If you saw it, it was probably one of the ten best Funny Car races (based on performance) in the sport’s history. Jimmy, John, Chris, Ryan, Sam, Nate, Al, Matt, Joe and Terry had our car absolutely flying, running in the 3-second range FIVE TIMES! Beating John Force in the final round just made a perfect weekend even better, and that wasn’t all!


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Austin really wanted to go see Tim Wilkerson during the Topeka race, and we were able to get a photo with Terry Chandler, Valerie Harrell (daughter of Dickie, the funny car pioneer), THE Dale Pulde, and Wilky. Austin just kept grinning!
 
Joining us in the winner’s circle (held inside the tech shed due to the ongoing rain delays that plagued the race from Saturday afternoon on) was Austin Zimmerline, a Make-A-Wish young man of 17, who was granted his wish at the Vegas race last year. Austin got to ride shotgun with Tommy Johnson, and defeat the twin-cockpitted dragster of Antron and me in a winner-takes-all race for a Wally, fulfilling Austin’s dream of becoming a race-winning driver.

Austin, who suffers from a degenerative brain disease, is now officially addicted to drag racing, and his family brought him out to Topeka. During one of the rain delays, the Infinite Hero crew took off the steering assembly so Austin’s dad could lift him into the driver’s seat of our Dodge Charger. Once we bolted all the steering back on, it was apparent that Austin wanted more. The guys unselfishly put the body back on the car, giving this young man such a thrill, and a photo opportunity of a lifetime!

When we won the race, it was so cool to have Austin in the winner’s circle with us, and we had one more surprise in store for him: Each race win the driver receives the Wally trophy, a jacket, and a medallion. We put the medallion around Austin’s neck, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s still wearing it today! He may have been a little miffed when I told him he couldn’t keep the trophy!

Though we lost first round in Englishtown and Epping, I have every reason to be optimistic going into Tennessee this weekend. I know our car is capable of amazing things, and I am so honored to be able to represent this group of mechanics and crew chiefs! There’s still going to be plenty to celebrate this year with the Infinite Hero squad.

A couple of plusses on the E-town trip included our visit to Sandvik headquarters once again. This time we had Spencer’s Top Fueler on display, and DSR’s Mike Lewis emceed the portion that had me, Spencer, and the incredible John Medlen speaking to the customers, and later to all the employees. This relationship with Sandvik had been very special to us. They make all the cutting tools that we use in our CNC machines to manufacture well over 100 different parts for our race teams (and we now sell parts to other teams); they’re continually helping us to be more efficient in our machining processes, and they’re darn nice people, too.

 
 

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What a special group of folks, and what a unique perspective they gave ME on our sport. Also, apparently even these folks think I talk too much!
 
Also, on Friday of the race a group from the New Jersey School for the Deaf (yes, that’s exactly right!) came out and spent a considerable amount of time in our pits. I spoke (through a sign-language interpreter) to the group before we ever made a run, then they all came back after our second pass. We put each of them in the car, and I really took away a lot from the interaction. Our sport is so powerful that “hearing” in the traditional way really isn’t necessary. The reaction from every one of the students was that they “heard” these machines in their bones, and I was proud to have been a part of such a neat experience for all of us.

Jason’s baseball team was able to capture the championship this year, and, though Jenna kept me updated on the phone (often giving me live play-by-play), it was difficult not being there for the team during their last couple of games. I enjoy helping coach when I am home, and I am very proud of the Norco Angels AA ball club for a nearly flawless year.

During my very limited time at home, I was able to slip up to Fontana for a few hours and watch some of the Lucas Oil divisional race, catching up with Rodger and Karen Comstock, Thomas Bayer, and about a dozen other close friends that I just don’t see very much anymore.

 
I took Jason down to Lake Elsinore for the Lucas Oil (boy, it sounds like I’m doing a commercial for them, perhaps I should take a second to mention that all our DSR cars are utilizing Pennzoil lubricants on and off the track!) off-road truck races. Though I’d been to several stadium events, and one desert version, this was the first of this type that I had seen. Pretty cool stuff, but their pits were dustier than my Super Comp area during my years of racing at Palmdale (LACR) and Inyokern!

 
All right, time to find the correct photos for this entry, proofread and edit for bad grammar, spelling errors and syntax (that usually takes about 13 man-hours!), and caption the photos before sending everything in four attachments to my buddies at NHRA.com.

I really wanted to tell you guys all about some sightseeing me and buddy Joe Morrison got to do on Thursday before the Englishtown race, but by the time I send those photos from my camera to the computer, download, etc., etc., etc., … we’d all be asleep!



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