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When does this ride slow down?Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Posted by: Jack Beckman, Valvoline MaxLife Dodge
I suppose you could say that I took a “Themmie” photo at the Brownsburg Block Party, a first-ever event held at the town hall. Look, I see Eddie, and Richie, and Courtney, and Larry, and Leah-ie!

I’m not referring to my 320 mph car in the title, but rather to trying to squeeze a “life” into the moments in between runs down the track! The schedule this year has been maddening, with (counting the next four-in-a-row series to start the Countdown) 16 races in 21 weeks! Wait, it gets even better: if you’re part of one of the teams that tests the week before Indy (we did, but far fewer than years past were in attendance), then we are on the track 17 times. Basically, that’s five months of work with only four weekends off for the crew…can you imagine!

And, though I don’t work nearly as hard as Chris, Marla, Nate, Sterling, Bill, Jeff, or Richard, it’s hard spending that much time on the road. I’m fortunate that I have an understanding wife (I sure hope she reads this blog…love you, honey!) and an outstanding mother-in-law (she always reads it…hi, Cindy!) to keep the kids entertained, educated, and content.

The difficult part is prioritizing my time at home. There is a never-ending list of things that need to get done, a bigger list of things that SHOULD be done, but these are all trumped by the “kid stuff”: school, sports, and dad-time are a “must-do” for me, so lots of stuff can get pushed to the back burner. Having a wife with OCD (you still reading, dear?) doesn’t allow me to slack off as frequently as I’d like, so my “lazy gene” doesn’t get exercised as often as it used to.

Just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about, I flew home from the Brainerd race and got to spend roughly 13 hours with the family before heading back to the airport to go test in Indy. I took off at zero-dark-thirty (good lord, am I overusing the hyphen in this blog, or what?), as Tuesday in Brownsburg I was attending the inaugural block-party for the city. It far exceeded my expectations, as several hundred folks showed up to get autographs, listen to the band, and enjoy a car show and cool event.

Wednesday and Thursday we tested between rain showers, making a total of seven runs. We hurt a couple of parts, shook and smoked a couple of times, and still I think this is the best test session I’ve had in years. Todd Okuhara, Chris Cunningham, and Terry Snyder put their heads together and really dialed in our Dodge Charger, and I truly am optimistic that we can put this Valvoline SynPower car in the Indy winner’s circle…I feel THAT good!

(Above) The PR guys at DSR thought we’d go a bit “over the top” with my ice bucket challenge, and they brought out the remnants of our Seattle body. Boy, if the combo of that explosion AND getting pelted by ice from 10 feet high doesn’t put me in therapy. (Below) Jamie, who does all of our clutch disk work at DSR, asked if I’d help his wife with her ice bucket challenge. Um….YES!

After carefully dodging several requests for the ALS “ice bucket challenge” (I do many things for charities, and “jumping on the band wagon” never has been my thing), Laurie Baker of Infinite Hero finally got me to succumb to the pressure, and I did my thing to raise money for a worthy cause. I also got to be on the “other” side (perhaps now I have also overused my allotment of quotation marks for this blog!) of the bucket, becoming the dumper (which is WAY better than the dumpee, if you ask me!). By the way, the meter just went to critical mass regarding parenthesis and exclamation point usage, so I better tone it down…

You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dkkCel_E-Ks&feature=youtu.be

While at Indy, I stayed with Terry and used his trusty ’88 Nissan Pathfinder (heck, with no power, no radio, and no a/c, I felt right at home!). At 4:15 Friday morning I headed back to the Indy airport, found a spot in long term parking (can’t wait to pay that bill when I get back!), and hopped on the 6am back home. Spending 3 ½ days at home doesn’t seem like much, but we managed to condense quite a bit into 84 hours. 

I just took a break to have dinner. Poor Jenna; she took a comprehensive food allergy test and found out she’s allergic to just about everything. She is on a 4-day rotating diet that requires frequent trips to the grocery store for fresh food, and multiple dirty dishes each meal as a result of preparing what basically would be food for a sick, diet-restricted orangutan. Now, before you think that I just referred to my wife as a wide-faced simian, that’s not the case. I have the utmost respect for her iron willpower and motivation to stick to a regimen in the hopes of feeling “good” on a consistent basis.

My (not as comprehensive) allergen panel showed that I’m only allergic to work, and good advice (which Jenna’s nagging could be…at times). Man, am I glad she only reads the first few paragraphs of my blogs! So, I just got done eating cabbage, lentils, mushrooms, and fish. Those are quite possibly the four food groups I like the least. Thank goodness my rotating diet (I wrote it myself) includes Mint and Chip ice cream later!

Anyway, I was telling you what we’ve done the past few days:

The day after returning home, I took Jason to get his soccer pictures taken with his team, the Thunderbolts. Next, we headed over to Lowe’s so Jason could participate in their “Junior Builder” event, where the little ones get to hammer a pre-made project together and take it with them.


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It’s not that she has a big noggin’…just a tiny body. Our little princess showed off her one-piece at the beach.
 

Once he and I returned home, we packed up the family, including Cindy (hi, Cindy…don’t tell Jenna I made fun of her food, please!) and headed to Huntington Beach. I hate the beach! Now, I know that sounds really counterintuitive from a guy who loves to surf, but I think I can clarify: My Irish, Norwegian, Welch and German ancestors must have included some albinos, because me and the sun don’t seem to get along too well. I’m the guy that everyone “ooh’s and aah’s” about, because I can turn some intense shades of red, pink and purple from sunburn…and I have had dozens of “doozy’s” over the years. Yeah, I’ve gotten blisters as big as your fist from a “casual day at the beach”…so my memories of all things coastline are riddled with pain…literally. Also, that damn sand is hard to walk on, makes a mess, and gets in everything you eat. Nope, I just like to put on my wetsuit, paddle out for two hours, then pack up and head home. But, we live in So Cal, and the kiddos don’t get to go to the ocean very often, so we needed to do this for them. I had fun, bought Jason a boogie-board and pushed him into several waves to let him get a feel for it, and enjoyed the family time. I was pretty smart with the sunblock on the back, shoulders, neck, face, legs and feet…and figured we wouldn’t be there long enough to necessitate hitting the chest and stomach. Jenna had other plans (I think she wanted to spend the night on the sand!), and I once again look like lobster-man (from the chin to the belt).

The next day I was up early, hitting the surf at Manhattan Beach with my friend Rich. Sure, my stomach hurt while lying on the board, but at least the wetsuit gave me an SPF of about 3000! We were nearly done for the day when a fire department helicopter buzzed overhead and made some announcement over their PA system while about 1000 feet south of our spot. Seems four great whites were spotted (Google it: Great Whites at Manhattan, Aug 24) around some of the long distance swimmers. Enough fun for me for one day…I had chores to do!

Back home, it was time to put on my Lawn Care Professional hat and chase the mower around the yard for 45 minutes. Jason even managed to complete two laps around the back lawn before giving in, though he did use the self-propelled mode. Since I’m not big into cardio, my guilty conscience dictates that I use manual power…unless I’m low on cabbage and lentils!

It wasn’t quite a 14- second pit stop, but I’m trying to show Jason how to use tools correctly. Ironically, everyone on the crew is STILL trying to teach me the same!
At the Discovery Science Center, the kids wanted to try on some props from the Mythbusters exhibit. I think they look a bit like Police attack dog…err, maybe, “puppy” trainers!
Next it was time to rotate the tires on Jenna’s Flex. I showed Jason proper jacking points, how to use a breaker bar, torque wrench, and air impact, as well as proper tire inflation techniques. He just wanted to know why my arms and belly were so red!

With evening upon us, I was running out of time and needed to make a command decision: wash…or oil? Jenna really wanted me to wash and detail the Flex, but Cindy’s Honda Fit was due for an oil change, and I’m going to be out of town for a while. I decided, “oil”, and broke out the NextGen Valvoline and all the requisite tools. Now, even though Jenna’s got a dirty car, I can go win Indy with a clear mind, knowing that Cindy is riding on 34 psi in the tires, full fluids, fresh oil, and a clean engine compartment.

Having a couple minutes left before dinner, I was able to finish off my tow dolly project. My parts had come in, so I installed the pan pivot bolt (I just wanted to use that term to sound intelligent), the new chassis pivot pin, and one axle bearing cover/cap.

Today was Discovery Science Center day for the kids, as we wanted to see the Myth buster’s display before it closed, and our season passes were itching to be used. After we returned home I took Jason to his soccer practice, and I managed to squeeze a workout in (and another of Jenna’s famous home-haircuts) before starting on this blog.

Though this may not seem overwhelming to most of you, keep in mind that I’m still trying to help out with all the incidentals around here, get to my e-mails, and interact with Jason and Layla as often as I possibly can.

Tomorrow it’s off to Indy, but perhaps (and I hope Jenna’s back to reading this part of the blog) I can wash my baby’s car and score some husband points!

Stay tuned, use sunscreen, use a torque wrench, rotate, inflate, and don’t agitate (eat your cabbage and lentils)!

Also, I want to thank all of you who voted for me in the Traxxas Shootout. I really appreciate your support, and I think we could give all of you something to smile about if we are fortunate enough to make it in!

Vote early…and vote often!Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Posted by: Jack Beckman, Valvoline MaxLife Dodge
Just for old-time’s sake, I pulled last year’s trophy off the shelf…and darn near dropped the thing on the floor. I forgot how heavy it is, and I’ve forgotten how great it felt to hold a trophy over my head. I think we’re gonna fix that…soon!

Yes, that sarcastic phrase (which probably originated around the corruption of Tammany Hall, NY, in the 1800’s) was meant to peak your interest in what will be one of the shorter blog entries of my long and somewhat illustrious career.

In case you don’t know, voting for the eighth spot in the Traxxas Shootout began Sunday, and goes on for about a week. Though voting certainly does NOT guarantee admission into the exclusive race, it absolutely helps.

The way the last spot is chosen is basically done like a lotto, with Ping-Pong balls tumbling around in a pressurized clear container. Eventually one will be pulled, and the driver belonging to that ball (apparently my title wasn’t the only tongue-in-cheek phrase) is in. It’s that simple.

So…the balls will be doled out based on the percentage of fan votes that each driver receives. If Tim Wilkerson gets 50 percent of the vote, he will have 50 balls in the container. If he gets 10 percent, he will have ten…and so on with each driver eligible.

I believe there are 6 of us: Wilky, Matt Hagan, Del Worsham, Tony Pedregon, Bob Tasca, and me. The rules state that all of us must be present to have our…err…spheres dumped into the hopper before the drawing, and that will take place in downtown Indy the Wednesday before the race, August 27th.

Though we lost in round two in Brainerd, it sure looks like I’ve got my old hot rod back. With Todd Okuhara leading the charge and Terry Snyder back on board, Chris Cunningham and the crew really stood tall in making several changes and getting our setup back in the groove. We gained one round on Timmy and now are 16 points (less than one round) behind him in the battle for the final Countdown position. In case you haven’t been keeping up, it’s nail biting time!

Now that I feel we have a great chance of winning races (I’m leaving at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday to head back to Indy for two days of testing, which should further help our cause), I’d really like to be seeded into the Traxxas Shootout. Heck, the last winner’s circle I was in was nearly one year ago, when our Valvoline team won the Shootout in the most dramatic fashion ever: on a holeshot, and blowing the body off our Dodge Charger in the lights!

With that in mind, I’d really appreciate your vote for me. I’m attaching the link, and apparently it can only be done on Facebook. Heck, I don’t even know how to get on Facebook without Jenna at the keyboard, but I trust that all of you are far smarter than me. If you’ve already voted for one of the other drivers, that’s fine. If you haven’t, and you like what you’ve read here, that would be cool.

http://bit.ly/Traxxas14

All right, I’ve been home for 6 hours, replaced the battery in Jenna’s Flex (man, did that car know exactly when the 3 year warranty was up!), took my waste oil to the recyclers, stopped in Home Depot to tell all the employees I’m still alive and well (I even let them scan my credit card for old time’s sake!), got in a workout, tucked Jason in, and now it’s time to get 4 ½ hours of sleep and start all over again!

Stay tuned, Jaxxas for Traxxas, be green with your oil (and your old batteries), Back Jack, and c’mon Top Ten!

“Guy stuff” for $400, Alex!Thursday, August 14, 2014
Posted by: Jack Beckman, Valvoline MaxLife Dodge

If you didn’t get it, the title is an ode to Jeopardy. If you still aren’t getting it, Vanna will be over tomorrow to explain. The point is, I’ve got some “man” stories to impart this blog, so pull up your Barcalounger, light up a stogie, pour that Jack and Coke just right, and settle in for some good reading (the prior sentence was in no way meant to construe that women, children, aliens [legal and otherwise], left-handed people, liberals, or lawn bowlers are excluded from reading my diatribes. Conversely…I can use the support!).

Seattle…Seattle…Seattle, what else can I say? We did so-so in qualifying, and again ended up with a first round matchup against Tommy Johnson in his John Collins-tuned Make-A-Wish Charger. I certainly picked a fortuitous time to have my best light of the season, as we barely got that one by one thousandth of a second! By “best” light, keep in mind that if we drivers just roll the car a few inches past the point where we lit the stage bulb, basically we’re just manipulating the numbers on the timeslip, trading ET for reaction time. That is because we have lessened the “rollout” distance, which is the amount of inches the car has to travel (after we’ve launched) to activate the ET clock and stop the reaction timer. On paper, my .071 isn’t the lowest reaction that I’ve had all year, but I’m telling you that my eyes, brain, and right foot worked better than any other time lately, as that light came from a shallow-staged (barely lit the stage bulb and didn’t creep in any further) position.

And then came round two, which didn’t exactly go as well. If you saw the coverage, obviously you know what I’m talking about. Against Alexis DeJoria, I again gained an advantage on the starting line, and it looked like we were driving to victory when my Dodge Charger turned into a convertible, then into 674 souvenir pieces. It was frustrating to lose, it was frustrating to blow up, and it was frustrating to cost DSR so much money for one run. However, blowing up a nitro funny car, then jumping out with your arms in the air…THAT’s Manly!

The toughest part of that run was that it was the last run for Rob Flynn and me as DSR teammates. Don wants every one of his seven drivers in the Countdown, and we’re sitting in 11th place and down to two races. Rob was let go, and Todd Okuhara will again call the shots for me. I’m excited to be able to work with Todd, who was my first crewchief when I came to DSR in 2006, but I also will miss Rob and hope that he’s back out as a tuner, soon.

I have three highlights from Seattle: Number one has to be Rodger Comstock making the final round in Super Comp. He drove great and came within .02 of bagging a Wally, something that Karen was able to do in class eliminations earlier this year. Number two is making about 20 runs in the Frank Hawley School 2-seat dragster again at Seattle. The past couple years we had done this on Wednesday, but this year we ran after all Saturday action was completed. It was lots of sweat, but lots of fun!

I saved number three for last, as it truly is the most poignant. Hopefully you all know about the Infinite Hero military challenge coins that I take with me every run. In the beginning of this program, I conservatively figured we could raise 10 grand just with those… and I wasn’t even close. Most races average about 27-28 hundred dollars, and in Denver we had our best race ever. That was expected because we not only ran the Infinite Hero body that race, but we also had a huge push on the program, including a hospitality event. I was very pleased when we tallied $5300 for the race…I felt Manly!

So, when Sonoma rolled around, back to our Valvoline colors, I was blown away when we were able to hit $4800 from that race. I had no idea why we had sold so many more coins, unless my facial hair and muscular physique served as an inspiration to all you fans!

Seattle…$7000 plus! There must’ve been something in the air in the Pacific Northwest, as we just blew all past records away. But really, the “number 3” I was referring to earlier didn’t have as much to do with the amount of coins we sold as much as how some of them were taken. Friday I was approached by a couple celebrating their 33rd anniversary, and the husband is a Vietnam Vet. They handed me a stack of new $100 bills, still in the bank wrapper, totaling one thousand dollars. Owen and Belinda asked that one coin be signed for them, and that I was to distribute the remaining nine to other veterans of the Vietnam War. I thought my weekend couldn’t get any better, but let me tell you, of those nine other coins I “gave away”, the reactions from those former soldiers was beyond words.

 Imagine being in a group that went to combat for your country, in an unpopular war, and came home to protesters who were unable to separate the cause from the character, basically alienating our heroes who performed selflessly. Well, to see a couple of them moved to tears, and the appreciation not only from them, but also their families. In fact, I don’t think I had a single vet come over when Alan Reinhart and I made the PA announcement. The family members brought them over, as the vets seemed reluctant to ask for anything free. I just wish I could adequately and eloquently describe how special an experience that was for me. Thank you, Owen and Belinda!

Three tie-downs, two moving blankets, a jack and two jackstands, one 2014 Dodge Ram, one 1948 piano, and an 8x5 trailer. THAT’s what a man’s made of!

Before I tear up, let’s get back to some machismo stuff! Ellen Tobler, a dear friend and also Rahn’s wife, was getting rid of the piano at her house. Jenna wanted it, so I went and rented a trailer and hitched on to the new Ram. Seems all my friends were sick, out of the country, down with bad backs, or didn’t answer their phones when I called around for some help, so we just headed out to Huntington Beach anyway. I figured I could always go rent a day laborer once I blew out my back, knees, and testicles trying to load this, and Jenna thought she’d be calling 9-1-1 at least once that day.

This piano is real special to Ellen, and even more so to her 90 year old father, Norman. Seems the grandparents had presented it to Ellen’s folks for their one-year anniversary, back in 1948! Knowing it had a lot of sentimental value to Norm, I was very respectful of handling it. Actually, I told him that he and I should be able to load it by ourselves…and the women could sip lemonade on the porch. Either his hearing aid wasn’t turned up enough, or he’s just a smart cat, ‘cause he just ignored me and coached from the sidelines. Long story short, Ellen, Jenna and I got it loaded without much difficulty. I don’t think my wife has much faith in me, but Ellen now thinks that I have chimpanzee strength…so that’s pretty manly in my eyes!

Unloading was a different story. Buddy Jim was the only one dumb enough to answer his phone, and he said he’d head over after work to help unload. Knowing he was probably stuck in traffic, I killed as much time as I possibly could; undoing all the tie-downs, folding up the moving blankets, blowing the dust out of the keyboard area, etc. The biggest issue was that, unlike at Ellen’s house, I couldn’t settle the trailer wheels into the bottom of the driveway apron and reduce the ramp angle significantly. I wound up jacking up the front of the trailer, setting the rear on jackstands, and saying five Hail Mary’s. Old Skeptical Jenna couldn’t believe we were going to attempt to unload (or, “dismount”) by ourselves, but by this point I could smell the testosterone seeping through my pores (or, maybe it was just B.O.?). We DID get it unloaded (and nearly into the house), but I was glad when Jimbo showed up. I’ve never raised my voice so much to Jenna without getting slapped…but I kinda liked it. Made me feel like Bogart. 

Needing to further my manhood still, I hit the waves with Rich down at Sunset Beach. Once done with that, I was all set to wrestle some alligators, but apparently there aren’t any in Southern California. Lucky reptiles!

I was wondering why my arms looked sunburned…now I think I’ve figured it out!
I know the axles look backwards, but the experts say this is the way for proper weight distribution. I suppose we’ll know pretty soon whether all of Jason’s 15 minutes of hard labor were worth it!

So, I did the next best thing (no, not cage fighting) and started cutting, banging, welding and grinding on the tow dolly. You know, the word “dolly” is totally screwing up my man-blog, but I’ll have to roll with it. If you recall, I noticed the passenger side wheel canted quite noticeably just before we were due to pull out of the driveway for our trip to Sonoma, and this is the first chance I’ve had to get to it. I cut off the spindle mount brace, lined everything up (that’s a much longer story than the three words I’ve allocated to it here!), welded like I was getting paid by the pound of wire I burned through, and ground down my abhorrent beads until I thought no one would laugh at me. I then threw some Rustoleum (that just sounds macho!) on the mess and called it a day. Okay, actually I had to spend an hour just grinding the pan pivot bolt off (it was not budging…not even with my ape-like attempts and neighbor Matt’s breaker bar). Once the replacement bolt arrives, that project is off the books! If anyone sees us on I-15 the weekend of the Vegas race, and our tow dolly is missing the right side wheel, you’ll know just how good my welding skills really are!

I’ve been trying to workout as regularly as the race schedule will allow, and let’s be honest; sore muscles and the sound of metal plates clanking together is about as masculine as it gets. Plus, I need the increased strength that resistance training provides.

Case in point: Tonight Jenna had me hang her new mirror in the stairwell. I know what you’re saying…”How tough can it be to mount some polished glass on the wall?” Well, my naysaying reader, apparently my wife buys things at Pottery Barn by the pound. This expensive (did I mention I picked it up yesterday and loaded it into the bed of my Ram pickup…the one with the Hemi?  Yep, the ‘V’ in this guy’s V-8 stands for “Virile”!). Anyway, this thing was “two-people heavy”, as in, “Holy Sh@$%! Heavy”.  Based on the price and the weight, I’m figuring there’s quite a bit of gold inside this thing. Seriously, though, at 75 pounds, it took a “real man” (plus his wife and mother-in-law, a 16 foot plank across the stairwell banisters, AND the Little Giant ladder) to get this mounted. Done!

Last blog you saw the beginnings of the pinewood derby car Jason and I were building. We got that finished (and when I say “we”, you dads of seven-year-old boys know what that means!), I made a transport cart for it, and it’s getting packed for Brainerd. Apparently DRAW is having several drivers build these, the fans will pay to “rent” each car for heat races, and the proceeds go to help racers. Neat deal, but I’ll be devastated if our car doesn’t set low ET. I hadn’t built one of these since I was 8 or 9, so I educated myself online quite a bit, but Jason and I still wanted to build something with a bit of character, so we certainly didn’t go with a guaranteed design. That being said, I got my lead wheel balance weights and postage scale out to get this thing as close to the 5 ounce max limit as possible, put my center of gravity right where the internet gurus say to, got the graphite powder packed to install just before handing the car over in Minnesota, and am hopeful that we at least win “Most Manly Father and Son creation” (if there is such an award). If not, I just hope we don’t finish last!


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Exhibit “A”, your honor. To have Jenna accompany Layla, this “awesome” (yes, I am being highly sarcastic) ride set us back $6.00. Those genius carnies!
 

Though not listed as “mannish” on my list, the family headed to the Orange County Fair for the final day last Sunday. These “carnies” have things figured out; they make you buy a card with “credits” instead of paying cash for a ride, and they’ve lowered the height limit for many rides, PROVIDING that an adult accompanies the child. And, OF COURSE, they charge for the child AND adult! Yes, my friends, it’s a carnival of cash, a highway robbery on the Ferris Wheel…and yet we all still take the kiddies there! I’m just hopeful that I’m out of town the entire time the LA County Fair is in Pomona. If I have to see one more clown, smell one more bushel of corn-on-the-cob being barbequed, or stand in one more line to plunk down 20 bucks for credits to get on two lousy rides, I’m going to show them who the real man is!

Okay, I’ve calmed somewhat. By the time you read this I’ve caught the 6am flight to head to Brainerd. I have an autograph signing at the Wal-Mart in Baxter from 5-6:30, and that’s a good 2 ½ hour drive from the airport. After that, I’m all about getting our Valvoline SynPower car into its first winner’s circle of the year. The crew just front- halved the car, so we’re solid to finish the year with that chassis.

I’m ready to show the rest of the funny car field the taillights of this dude’s Charger. I’m ready to be, “the Man”!

Stay tuned, stay manly (only if you check “male” on your forms, otherwise stay girly, but still giggle at my blog), “fair” is the LAST word they should use to describe those events, Pinewood Derby cars rock, but Dodge RAM’s with Valvoline in the crankcase rock harder!

The Wheels on the Bus go…Thursday, July 31, 2014
Posted by: Jack Beckman, Valvoline MaxLife Dodge

Whoever makes the commercials to show the wonderment, solace, fulfillment and satisfaction of a motorhome vacation should hang out with me more often…I certainly could “pop their bubble”! And speaking of popping things, I got not one, but TWO big pops on our trip home from Sonoma. More on that later….

When last I left you fearless readers, I was just getting ready to wash the rig before we pulled out to head up north. Well, once the RV was clean and I directed the hose at the PT, something looked slightly out of kilter on the tow dolly. Seems the driver’s side spindle has cocked itself, resulting in enough negative camber to allow the backing plate to hit the frame of the dolly. I suppose the silver lining is that, had I not noticed it, we probably wouldn’t have made it more than a few miles before disaster inevitably would have set in. I find it ironic that I had JUST replaced both tires after noticing the one on that side had started to separate, yet the spindle orientation looked just fine until the car was loaded on it. The other spindle had done nearly the exact same thing several years ago whilst in Delaware, but I attributed the cause to a nasty pothole I ran through after leaving the Richmond track, and it took quite some time to manifest itself, plus it wasn’t cocked nearly as bad as this one.

For about 10 minutes, I contemplated breaking out the welder and attempting to repair things, but then reality set in. Back in Delaware, it had taken three of us (in a trailer repair shop with all the right equipment!) nearly three hours to cut, align, weld, fabricate, and gusset everything, which means that, in Jack Beckman time, it should take me about 10-12 (20!) hours. So, we bid a fond adieu to the Cruiser and set sail for Wine Country, without backup transportation.

Except for a couple of hours in stop and go traffic (a result of I-5 lane closures just to keep us California drivers from getting used to actually averaging anything above 45 miles an hour), the trip there was uneventful. Boy, would I love “uneventful” to describe more of my RV experiences!

Jim Barner and his wife Angela etch a custom, HUGE, wine bottle every year to raise funds for the Eric Medlen night. This year’s entry went for $5000. Those two are great folks. By the look on Jim’s face, he’s either surprised or that’s a screwdriver in his hand. By the look of his arm, he’s either a hard-core fan, or just plain smart!
There were plenty of nostalgia cars on display, and Jason even found his nostalgic pals, Ronnie and Jeep Hampshire. Ronnie piloted this, the Waterman & Hampshire entry, back in the day, and in this photo, “Jeepy looks sleepy”
Not to be left out, Layla too wanted to experience this whole “front-engine” thing…and she dug it!

Seeing as I had no personal transportation once parked in the RV area of Sonoma Raceway, I bummed a ride with Rodger and Karen Comstock to the Eric Medlen Nitro night. We have never missed any (this was the eighth annual!), and I have had the pleasure of emceeing the past two. I felt a little bit like whoever had to follow Joe DiMaggio in the batting lineup, as Bob Frey had been the only other host, and there just is no way to fill his shoes (I think he’s a size 18). Still, it was an enjoyable, tearful, purposeful and productive night, raising lots of money in Eric’s name for Speedway Children’s Charities, something that was near and dear to his heart.

I suppose I should mention that I didn’t sleep much Wednesday night, once we cleared the traffic stops and regained momentum up Interstate 5. I pulled over for rest about 3a.m., slept on the couch for a few hours, and we soldiered our way on. A half hour nap before the Medlen event only made it worse, and two cups of coffee did nothing for my level of alertness before hosting the show. I’m just glad that I didn’t fall asleep or completely embarrass myself, and I couldn’t wait to get back to the RV and get some rest.

Oh, that that could have been the plan! Cindy was flying into Oakland Airport late Thursday night, and we had no PT Cruiser so that Jenna could pick her up. I borrowed the Comstock’s 5-ton truck and “hit” every construction zone and traffic accident on the way to get her. Poor Cindy had a 1 ½ hour delay before departing Ontario, and she waited another 1 ½ hours for me to arrive. That was Thursday…and now you see why sometimes driving the race car is the most relaxation I get once at the races!

We did a good job in qualifying, ending up in the #4 spot, which always means a date with #13 in the first round. In the “old” days, before NHRA changed the qualifying format to only allow the top 12 spots a provisional spot in the field on Friday night, this would usually be a huge advantage. However, what often happens is a “hitter” car misses the setup on the Friday night session, which is the run that nearly always sets the top 12 spots. Then, this team will come out and run good on Saturday, in the heat, and have a great race day setup, but not be able to bump into the top 12. That’s exactly what this scenario was, with Tim Wilkerson getting that 13th spot.

After having lost to Tim in the second round of Denver the week before, and relinquishing the 10th spot in the Countdown to him, we really were in a position to decide our own fate. With each round worth 20 points, facing someone you are directly competing with for a position in the top 10 basically makes it a 40-point swing…and we really needed this one!

Wilky laid one on us, put us out, and gained more points on us in what is becoming a real nail-biter for the final position in the Countdown. We have three races to get our act together and get this Valvoline/Infinite Hero car in the winner’s circle and guaranteed a spot to run for the championship.

And then came the trip home…

Being as that I still am a great fan of the sport, and also because I like to stay and cheer on my teammates and spend time with the fans, I never leave the track until the finals. However, with 5 of us in the RV, Jason having soccer camp starting at 9a.m. Monday, and a 450-mile trek back to Norco, we decided to head out during the semi’s. Silly me thought we’d actually get home at a decent hour Sunday night!

Blowout # 1 was so violent it shook Jason’s hairdo into this! Yes, we Beckmans, much like politicians, never let a good crisis or disaster limit our photo album.
Blowout #2 resulted in tire #3, and another bill had me feeling like #2!

About 130 miles from the track, the Titanic struck the iceberg. The passenger side tag axle (the rearmost wheel) lost its tire…big time. The vibration and noise was tremendous, but at least no one was hurt, we didn’t run into anyone, and we got to the side of the road relatively quickly. The tire had torn a good chunk out of the fender, ripped into the battery compartment, and dented some bracing under the RV. Other than that, it looked like new!

We limped into the rest area by driving on the shoulder at 6-10 mph, and called Auto Club. Unfortunately, with our location (10 miles from the middle of nowhere), there wasn’t many options. Also, RV tires are an oddball size, so big truck tires aren’t an option. I wound up finding a mobile tire repair service who said he had a used tire the exact size, and he’d be willing to trade it for my daughter. Yes, I’m being facetious, but at $300, plus another $95 for the service call, I wasn’t exaggerating too much! Did I also mention that we waited for 1 ½ hours for him to show up (he told me he was about 25 minutes away when I first called, which already was over ½ hour after the blowout)?

My gold-plated used tire (at 300 bucks, I was sure there must be SOME precious metal in it!) lasted just about 90 miles, when it also disintegrated at 65 mph. I’m convinced there was a slow leak at the bead, which eventually caused the demise of tire number two. Shame on me, as when I noticed the tire guys never sprayed soapy water around the wheel after mounting the tire, I just assumed they were the experts and had checked everything thoroughly. Did I use the word “assume” in that sentence? ‘Nuff said.

Now we were in real trouble, as it was dark out, the shoulder was littered with debris and narrow, and we were several miles from the next off ramp. I limped us there at 40 mph, as slow as I dared go to avoid an accident, and as fast as I dared with one tire down. We spent the night in a truck stop, and I was up the next morning trying to purchase a tire. Long story short, after 25 minutes of talking to their tire store guy, he informed me that they don’t work on RV’s. Now, this was after telling him my RV had a blowout, having him look at the RV, and having him check on prices for tires. When I seemed a bit peeved that he had wasted so much of my time (I got to listen to him chat on the phone for 8 minutes to someone after I first told him what I needed), he said he assumed that I had talked to someone the night before and had been informed they don’t work on RV’s! What? There’s just no accounting for some people.

Next I called two Goodyear truck tire centers in Bakersfield, thinking I could have the rim removed, limp it the 45 miles into B’field, and have a new tire put on. I’m still waiting to hear back from the first guy I talked to… great customer service! The second guy, George, was very professional, but had no new tires. He’d get me a used unit for $100, which at least seemed like a reasonable price.

I wound up walking across the road to a truck wash/tire center and getting them to put on a used unit for the same $100. This time I was emphatic about checking the bead, and they found two small leaks. Yep, blowout #3 would’ve been imminent had they not taken care of those!

Former NHRA Competition Director Steve Gibbs (the driving force behind the nostalgia revival), Road King Joel Embick, Tommy Ivo, me (if you hadn’t figured that one out, you need a cup of coffee!), Art Chrisman, and Larry Fischer in front of a small portion of the new exhibition at the Museum.
I don’t really have much in the way of woodworking tools, but that sure isn’t going to slow down Jason and me from carving out a masterpiece.

So, that’s my road story, version #426. I know most racers have their share, but it’s just no fun with your family there, no tools or spares, and folks that just don’t take their jobs seriously. We made it home, spoke with the insurance company, and I can’t wait to tell you all about my adventures getting everything repaired! Oh, did I mention that suddenly our RV washer (which we haven’t even used in well over a year) is leaking all over the floor? Yep, add that project to my list!

I was up early the next morning to head over to the NHRA Museum in Pomona. Director Larry Fischer has created a new exhibit, Gallery of Speed, which is fantastic. I had been there a couple of weeks prior to record some audio and video as part of an interactive display, and this visit was to help promote the venue, live, on the KTLA morning news. It’s great when a station with that kind of viewership gives racing a priority, and I also got to hang out with Tommy Ivo, Art Chrisman, and Steve Gibbs, three icons and buddies.

Jason and I are working on a Pinewood Derby car (I don’t know all the details, but Karen Comstock gave it to Jenna to give to me to build for DRAW fundraising in Brainerd…there: that’s all I know!) and having some fun making sawdust, so I’ll keep you posted on that project. I got the lawn mowed, Jason to soccer practice the past three days, and a couple of workouts in. Once I button this up, it’s time for some more weights, some more Pinewood Derby painting, and then I’ll head to the airport and make my way to Seattle….without the RV! Yes, sometimes “uneventful” isn’t bad at all!

On a closing note, my buddy Greg Stanley won the poker tournament at the Medlen Night, and Tom Bayer won Super Gas at Sonoma. The reason I congratulate them here is also to make note that NEITHER of them stood a chance without my help: I was the first player eliminated from the tournament, clearly paving the way for Greg’s victory, and it was I who installed the starter in Tom’s Super Gas Corvette Friday. Yes, Jack still knows how to turn wrenches (though the crew looked puzzled seeing me with dirty hands and sweat on my face!)…just glad my handiwork didn’t fall off the car in the finals! Congrats, guys.

Stay tuned; be wary of mobile tire changers, Tim Wilkerson, and motorhomes…especially motorhomes!

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