Greetings (initially) from Gate 6 on the B concourse at Spokane International Airport (GEG). I figured I'd write this blog as I traveled today, so the first installment comes from right here in my typically uncomfortable black "pleather" seat at the gate, waiting for my plane to arrive from points unknown.
I'm traveling on Wednesday, for the Norwalk race, because I'm actually traveling for much of the month of July. And how about that? It's July already! Sheesh. It feels like July out here in Spokane because Mother Nature has turned up the thermostat and it's been brutally hot for the last week. We're talking temps in the 100s, and one day I do believe it got up to 109 but thankfully that was when Barbara and I were down in Oakland over the weekend.
Anyway, the next three weeks consist of Norwalk, Joliet, and Cooperstown, so I've chosen to do the back-and-forth segments of those trips from Minnesota, to cut down on costs and time in the air. I simply booked one long round-trip between GEG and MSP, with the return segment being on July 20, and then booked flights to Detroit (for Norwalk), O'Hare (for Joliet, duh) and Newburgh, N.Y. (for our "guys trip" to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown). I labeled this trip my "Bracket Trip" for my records, because it's a set of brackets around the other three trips, and all in all it's going to save me a lot of travel time and some real money.
As for our excursion down to the East Bay area over the past weekend, we had a great time and saw a lot of fabulous stuff. We also ate well, but we're pretty good at that no matter where we are. The highlight, for sure, was Friday night in Sonoma, where we met up with Vince and Mary Bienek to have dinner at the El Dorado Kitchen restaurant, right on the square in quaint/wonderful Sonoma. As detailed in my previous blog here, Vince and I were teammates on the Paintsville Hilanders way back in 1978 and we had not seen each other since that season ended.
All I can say is this. We laughed out loud for two straight hours over dinner, we told stories, we remembered tiny little details and spent a lengthy amount of time recalling the names and personalities of our fantastic teammates on that club, then we went for a stroll and saw their fantastic house just a few blocks away. Barbara and I both had a wonderful time, and it truly felt like I'd just seen Vince (The Bronze Fox) a year or two ago, not 37 years ago. I brought along the photo I posted last week, of the two of us in the Paintsville clubhouse prior to a game, and after dinner we had Barb and Mary pose us to match it as much as possible. Much fun.
Baseball and racing aren't that different, once you get away from the actual sports themselves. When you're involved as a participant, you meet people who may just become friends for a season or two, but they often remain friends for life. Even if you don't see them for 37 years. What a great night, with great people!
Back here in the world of NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing, we're on to the summer crunch now, with a hectic schedule as we close in on getting the Countdown playoff groups set. Right now we're 10th in the standings, with Courtney Force right behind us, 41 points in arrears. Just ahead of us, Alexis DeJoria is only four points up on Wilk, Robert Hight is just six points ahead, and Cruz Pedregon is only 22 points up, so it's jam-packed here in the bottom half of the Top 10 in the standings, and something is going to have to give. Here's hoping we can get on our typical summer roll and start adding to the points total. I have a suspicion we're about to do just that.
We've had some success in Norwalk, including a victory there (over John Force) in 2010 and a runner-up (to Mike Neff) in 2012, but we've been knocked out in the first round the last couple of years. That tells me that the cycle has been completed and we're due for a big weekend at Summit Motorsports Park this weekend.
Okay, they just called us to board. I gotta go. Back later!
An hour later…
We actually were a little late off the gate at GEG because the gate agents were losing their minds. It's a full flight (when are they not anymore?) so they wanted to check a lot of bags at the gate. That kept the two guys busy, strapping tags on the bags and then hauling them down the jet bridge, and they left the woman (Oksana, who is clearly from the part of world previously known as the Soviet Union) to fend for herself in terms of getting the boarding process started. When she saw five (count 'em five) wheelchairs, six unaccompanied minors, and a slew of families with strollers and car seats, I thought she was going to implode. She did okay, though, and here we are at 33,000 feet jetting eastward toward MSP.
Anyway, back to Norwalk memories. I wrote about the 2010 victory in my pre-race feature story, because it was one of the more unique finishes to any race I've been a part of. It had been cloudy with threatening weather all day on Sunday, but the threats didn't come to fruition for most of the afternoon. Then we saw a thick band of heavy thunderstorms approaching on radar after we won the semifinal, and there was no logical way that bright red and yellow band of storms was going to miss us. It was just a matter of when, not if.
NHRA reacted to the weather, and they let all the finalists in all the classes know that they were going to take the very rare step of simply running whoever got up to the lanes first, no matter what order that happened to be in. If my memory is correct (this was a long time ago and we were thrashing) I believe Top Fuel might have run before us. Maybe not, but it seems that way through the fog of time. We got up there to run Force and it was doing everything but raining. You could smell it coming, you could hear the thunder, and yet it held off.
Somehow we managed to get the round done, and we won. At the top end, as the interviews were finishing up, it started to rain. Then it absolutely poured. Instead of towing back up to the Winner's Circle in the lanes, the guys simply went back to the pit and then Tim and I took an umbrella and went up to the Media Center. I had my hands full with my camera and something else, so Tim held the umbrella while we dashed from under the grandstand around to the tower, and boy did we hear about that when we finally got up to the Media Center, with the comments mostly coming from Elon Werner, who said to Tim (loudly) "Wait. You and your PR guy are coming over here in the rain and YOU hold the umbrella for HIM?"
After the interviews, the rain had stopped and we walked back down to the starting line to cross over and head back to the pits, but before we got in view of the Media Center windows (you might remember this story, because it was hilarious and I wrote about it back then) Wilk said "Hop up on my back." I weigh 205, so I was hesitant to do it, but he insisted and I jumped up piggyback style. We casually strolled across the track that way with me waving like royalty, waiting for Elon or anyone else in the Media Center to spot us, and when they did you could just about see the whole tower shaking with laughter. That was one of the funniest stunts Wilk has ever pulled.
So now we head to Norwalk again, and if history wants to repeat itself I'll make the call that we'll have a good weekend. We're due. In the last five seasons we've won seven rounds at the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals, but the hitch is that we've won them all at just those two final rounds I mentioned above. Since we've gone out in round one at the last two Norwalk races, it's clearly time to get on a roll again. You heard it here first.
Oops. I'm in the front cabin and lunch is on the way. Need to put the laptop back under the seat. Salad with a chicken breast, I'm told… Back soon.
An hour later (again)
You know that time when I foolishly thought the wit and wisdom of this particular blog installment was going to be the biggest news today, on the NHRA landscape. I guess not. Just as the flight attendant was passing out the meals (it was a salad with chicken, but bonus points for it being a nice Caesar) I checked Twitter just in time to see it blowing up.
While I was writing that last section just above, Peter Clifford was announced as the new President of the National Hot Rod Association, replacing Tom Compton who is retiring. It's kind of staggering to realize that in the lengthy history of this fine organization Peter will still only be the fourth President ever. On behalf of everyone at Team Wilkerson Racing, I congratulate Peter and wish him all the best as we move forward. We all collectively have a lot of ongoing work to do, and as an overall team our series and our events will successfully entertain our avid fans. Of that, I am sure. Onward!
So now what? I'm not really sure, but I guess I'll plow forward with thoughts of Norwalk.
Talk about events that entertain our fans. The Norwalk experience and the superb management of Summit Motorsports Park have been well known since the track got its initial national event. The fans come out in droves, the facility is immaculate, and the racing is usually fantastic, no matter what the weather. We've practically broiled there a few times, running during this July 4th weekend, but the forecast for this weekend is pretty stunning. The forecast highs are 76, 78, and 82 for the three days, with plenty of abundant sunshine. Bring it on!
We're staying down in Willard, Ohio again, at a little country-style motel that is home base for many railroad workers. The best thing about Willard is, as I've outlined in the past, it's an easy commute to the track, coming up from the south. You can honestly see as few as four or five cars from when you leave the motel until the moment you arrive at the stop sign behind the starting line. Easiest traffic flow on the whole tour, because everyone else is arriving from the north.
Both days of qualifying are also unique, in that Friday and Saturday are basically twin nighttime affairs. We run at 5:45 and 8:30 on Friday and Saturday, and then the track's epic 4th of July fireworks show will light up the sky after we're done on Saturday night. It's one of the rare times we actually have 4th of July fall on the Saturday of this race, so the stars are clearly aligned.
Speaking of stars being aligned, how about planets being aligned? Have you seen Venus and Jupiter right next to each other in the western sky this week? It's pretty amazing. Venus is the brighter of the two in the sky, and because it's way closer to Earth it actually looks bigger than Jupiter, but we know that's not the case. Jupiter is enormous, but it's really far away.
I know one thing. I won't be actually submitting this blog from the plane. We have the GoGo Wi-Fi going, but I think a lot of people on this jet are sucking up all the bandwidth. It's as slow as maple syrup dripping down a tree trunk on a chilly day. How was that for being descriptive?
And the trip begins on the little concourse, at GEG in Spokane.
I could probably get the blog email to go, but there's not a chance I could submit the photos. I mailed just one photo to myself, from my iPad to my laptop, and it took 15 minutes for it to download.
And there we go. Just felt the engines get throttled back and the descent began. Next stop, MSP. After I get to Woodbury I'll fire this off, but I bet the gang at NHRA.com is a little busy right now, with today's announcement. We'll see if they have time for the likes of me…
A couple of hours later
So I'm here, and it's a nice day in the Twin Cities. A little hazy, but not too hot and that feels great after what we've been dealing with out in the Inland Northwest.
Now, my next order of business will be to get all my pre-Norwalk stuff up to date, have some dinner, and then sleep fast because I have a morning flight to Detroit tomorrow. A lot of people fly into Cleveland, but I think it's just as simple to fly into Detroit and when you're leaving DTW airport heading south, you really never drive through any urban traffic jams. You're pretty much out in the country by the time you get going. And then there's Toledo, the home of the Mud Hens, but it's usually not too bad. On down to Willard, and badda-boom, badda-bing you're there. That's kind of a mixed message, using New Jersey to talk about Ohio… I don't know any Ohio-speak. Go Browns? Go Buckeyes? Go Blue Jackets?
Guess I'll fire this off and we'll see if my editor pals at NHRA.com have the time to post it. If this shows up 24 hours from now, we'll all know they didn't.
Writing a lot can really be a pain in the neck. No, I'm not casting aspersions on this blog or on any of my PR work, because I mean that literally. As you may recall, I have a couple of vertebrae in my lower neck that are narrowed, and from time to time they can pinch the nerve. I've gone through two full rounds of steroid injections, and it's been pretty good for a while, but for some reason here lately the pinched nerve has been buzzing a bit and making a general nuisance of itself. On the bright side, all of those injections upped my home-run total by 24. And none of my hats fit anymore. (See: "Bonds, Barry" for the hat reference).
Writing, while seated at my desk, is a real contributor to the neck issue. Like most writers with lousy posture, I sit here all day looking down at my computer, kind of hunched over, and I can feel the muscles in my neck and shoulders tightening up as the day goes by. I'm the perfect poster-child for all those times your mom or your teacher told you to sit up straight.
So, with this trio of consecutive races there's been a lot of typing. Heck, I'm typing right now. And I'm trying to sit up straight. With my pre-race feature stories, my post-race reports, my daily updates, all the social media, and this blog, I suspect I've written somewhere around 25,000 words in the last three weeks. Maybe more. You wouldn't think typing is the sort of thing that "wears you out" but it does take its toll, especially over long spans of time. Like, say, oh the last 20 years. I'm a brave soul, though, so I'm willing to take one for the team. I'll gut it out.
Today's installment is one of those "Q & A" types, because I've been keeping tabs on some of the more relevant questions I've been asked in the last couple of weeks, and I figured I might as well just go ahead and share those with all of you. And away we go…
Q. On a three-race swing like the one you were just on, do the crew guys get to go home or are they on the road for the whole thing?
A. Not all consecutive race swings are total "stay on the road" deals, but this one we just finished and the upcoming Western Swing certainly are. The races on both swings are just too far from Springfield, Ill. to make going back there worthwhile, or even possible. So, the guys stay out there and stay in a lot of different hotels. I'm sure they eat healthy, too. (Sarcasm alert!)
Q. Why did Tim sit out the final qualifying session in Bristol, when he was number one qualifier going into it?
A. Part of the answer to this question is in the answer to the question above. Basically, we sat out because it was more important to have enough parts to get through Sunday than it was to run in Q4 and potentially hurt anything, large or small. Being a one-car team with a single transporter, and being on a swing where we didn't get back to the shop for three weeks, we needed to bring as much stuff (in the form of parts) to get us through the whole thing with only basic service being done on set-up days or between runs. Unlike the multi-car teams (who also tend to be multi-transporter teams, with lots of spare parts) we can't ask teammates to loan us stuff, nor can we run out to the other rig and get a few more motors or cylinder heads.
Tim was getting concerned that we might not have enough good stuff to get through Sunday, after all those runs we'd made in E-Town, Epping, and Bristol, so he elected to sit it out. Losing the top spot was not nearly as damaging as possibly being a no-show been in the semifinals or finals. There was a very good chance no one would've knocked us off anyway if the day wouldn't have had so many rain delays, but that wasn't a factor in the decision. The fact we only slipped to sixth once the rain quit on what turned out to be an unplanned second lap under the lights, means we were probably a little lucky to stay that high. Some teams that could easily run quicker than 4.02 didn't in Q4. Five did. So, it was really a decision that was easy to make.
Q. Are all the Funny Cars wrapped in vinyl now? I liked the good old days when they were all painted.
A. No, they're not all wrapped. There are a few still using good old-fashioned paint. Our Levi, Ray & Shoup Mustang is one of them. That new paint job you see is truly a new paint job. Yes, there are some decals on the car, but there have almost always been decals on race cars.
Q. Why do the teams not whack the throttle during a warm-up anymore?
A. Consistency. With the level of competition being so unbelievably strong right now, especially in the Funny Car class, you have to find ways to be as consistent as possible, or you're going to be left behind. During the warm-up, the most inconsistent thing was that throttle whack, which we did to seat the clutch. With a human being in charge, you could almost never do it exactly the same way twice, and that brought a lot of inconsistency into your tune-up, especially with the clutch. It was fun, and the fans loved it, but I have to admit that we all love winning, too. We still make tons of delicious fumes and plenty of noise, but we strive to keep up with the competition and that's all about being consistent.
Q. Who was the craziest driver you've ever known?
A. There really aren't too many that are anything close to crazy. I surprise people when I tell them most of the Funny Car drivers I've known are very methodical, down-to-Earth, and safety conscious. They are not really daredevils at all. They just like going really fast, but they also like being as safe as possible. But that being said, Dean Skuza was pretty crazy. And very funny.
Q. Are you relieved to be in the Traxxas Shootout, so you don't need to win the fan vote again?
A. That's an understatement. Our little band of Wilk's Warriors are amazing, and I'm proud of the job all of us did to get Wilk into the thing the last two years, when we were up against some very popular drivers in the vote (and yes, I'm proud of the job I did, promoting it). As the slots started to fill up this year, I'll admit I was feeling a little dread that I wouldn't be able to pull that miracle off again. It was a week of nonstop social media, each time, and awesomely rewarding to win it, but I'll take it this way every time. Nicky Boninfante came over to me in the staging lanes at Indy last year and he said "If I ever run for office, I'm going to hire you as my campaign manager." Keep me posted on that, Nicky.
Q. What do you guys do during those long rain delays, like Saturday in Bristol?
A. Not enough to keep it interesting. I wasn't even in Bristol, and it was still an incredibly exhausting day because the rain was so intermittent that there was almost always a chance we'd be running in 45 minutes, but it ended up stretching into about a 10-hour marathon. At the track, there's a lot of waiting. In the media center, there are a lot of stories being told, lies being imagined, and many laptops with MLB.com on the screen, as PR people follow their favorite baseball teams.
Q. With the new evidence released this week, should Pete Rose ever be allowed in the Hall of Fame?
A. No. And, I was in the "maybe" camp for a long time, when all we thought was that he bet on baseball when he was managing. Pete's not very good at "contrite" but I felt like if he really came clean and begged for forgiveness, maybe he should be allowed in. After all, betting didn't have anything to do with him being the all-time hit leader (once again, see Bonds, Barry). But now that we know he bet on the game when he was still playing? No way.
Q. What's your favorite track?
A. I have many, and can't really narrow it to one favorite. But, the leaders are Charlotte, Bristol, Sonoma, Las Vegas, Chicago, St. Louis, Gainesville, and Pomona, in no particular order.
Q. Will you be in Sonoma this year?
A. Sadly, no. It's one of my favorites (see prior question) and I absolutely love the area. Much fun has been had in Sonoma over the years, especially back in the CSK years. Many dinners in Sausalito and San Francisco, limo trips with teammates to go wine-tasting on Monday. Just a wonderful place. Sorry I won't be there.
But guess what? I'm going to be there this weekend! With no racing to cover, Barbara and I are headed to the Bay Area for a couple of days. She's in Seattle right now, so I'm leaving tomorrow and we'll come back to Spokane together on Saturday. Friday night, when we'll head up to the actual town of Sonoma, is something I'm really looking forward to.
Thanks to Facebook (and this is really what Facebook does right) I've reconnected with a large number of former classmates and baseball teammates, all over the country. I even reconnected with the first player I signed when I was a scout for the Blue Jays, a pitcher named Keith Gilliam. But, the connection to Sonoma is that I also reconnected with Vince Bienek, who played Class-A minor league ball with me in 1978, on the Paintsville Hilanders. Vince was a really good player, but we never saw each other again after that season ended, nor did we ever connect again in any way. Until Facebook.
Vince actually married a girl from the tiny town of Paintsville, in rural eastern Kentucky, and I remember Mary very well from that summer. Now, as it turns out, they are both in real estate and living in Sonoma. The plan is for Barbara and I to drive up there on Friday (about an hour's drive from where we're staying) to meet Vince and Mary for dinner. I have an old faded photo of the two of us, taken way back then in the Paintsville clubhouse before a game, and I think we should re-do the same pose, 37 years later. I'm really looking forward to it.
One of the coolest race tracks in the world. Good work, Jon!
I honestly don't recall if I ever wrote about Vince here on this blog, but I know I have over on my Bob On Baseball blog. Paintsville was a co-op team in the Appalachian League, so our roster was made up of a bunch of guys from different organizations and some guys who were free agents and didn't belong to any Major League club. I was the property of the Detroit Tigers and Vince belonged to the White Sox. When we all reported to Paintsville, the P.A. announcer asked all of us if we had any nicknames. I told him my college teammates had dubbed me "The Hawk" and Vince then took it to a whole new level by insisting his nickname was "The Bronze Fox". Imagine our surprise when, during our home opener, the announcer introduced him like this: "Now batting, the bronze fox, right-fielder Vince Bienek." I got the same treatment. And, for the record, neither one of us asked him to stop announcing that way. It was too funny, and too classically minor league. The Hawk and The Bronze Fox will be back together this weekend.
Since I wasn't in Bristol, I really had no photos for today, but then I remembered a solution!
One of our part-time volunteer guys, who comes to a bunch of races to help with washing parts and other jobs, is Jon David Culver, and he takes a lot of photos throughout each race, then posts a bunch of them on our Team Wilk Facebook Fan Page. So, I poached a bunch of his great shots for the gallery today. All of the Bristol photos are credited to Jon David Culver. I simply liberated them. Or stole them. It's all just semantics, right?
Well okay then… It's off to the Bay Area tomorrow for some fun, food, and I'm sure a glass or two of Sonoma's finest. Then, next week I get back into travel mode. Norwalk and Chicago are next, followed by my much-anticipated trip to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown with my college teammates, and then the Western Swing. I'm not going to be here in Liberty Lake too much for the next month and a half. I'll rack up a bunch of Delta miles, though…
See you again soon.
This three-race swing the NHRA Mello Yello tour is wrapping up doesn't have a name, and frankly maybe it doesn't need one. This part of the season is a pretty flexible time, when you compare year to year, and things like the day in May upon which Memorial Day falls, as well as other big sports events in local markets (not to mention weather) are all influences on the order in which the races will be scheduled, and on what days of each month they will inhabit on the NHRA Mello Yello tour. The Western Swing, as you may remember, has changed its order many times too, once even going in complete opposite order by starting in Seattle, then going south to Sonoma, and then east to Denver (2010 was the year) but it's scheduled during a time of year that allows it to have a firm grip on the end of July and early part of August. It, therefore, has a name.
In my pre-Bristol preview story I used the term "Trifecta" simply as a reference to something composed of three things (triad and trio also work) and I got seven emails and about 25 Facebook messages imploring me to campaign heavily in support of "Eastern Trifecta" as the unofficial name of this swing, but I think I'll just let it be whatever it is. Plus, what if my campaign was a roaring success and then next year these three didn't fall all in a row, or worse yet they became part of a four-race swing. Been there, done that.
For me, personally, this weekend's Bristol event is simply the third of three, and it'll be the third of three races in a row at which I will not be in attendance. I love Bristol Dragway, I love the area (let us not forget that on the very day I arrived to be a professional baseball player, I was a Bristol Tiger) and I love the fans there. I don't much care for the difficulty involved in getting there, especially from Spokane (the cross-country trip includes numerous airplanes and airports as well as a covered wagon, bicycle, and possibly a yak) but I'll miss the actual "being there" part of it quite a bit.
I'll miss my colleagues again, too, and that's the part of this "doing your homework at home" thing that bugs me the most. Our young team is a lot of fun to watch and be around, and I enjoy watching them work and grow as a unit. That's why winning Atlanta was very special. Watching those guys get to win one was off the charts, as a "feel good moment."
We also have such a talented, dedicated, and enjoyable group of PR people in the sport right now, at both the team and NHRA levels, and this non-travel stuff is reminiscent of having the chicken pox in grade school and being confined to the house while all the other kids are having fun. But, the good news is that most of my stay-at-home work will be over after this weekend. The only other two "regular season" races I am not scheduled to attend are Sonoma and Brainerd, and we'll see about Brainerd.
I actually went ahead and reserved a room at Madden's Resort for the Brainerd race, only because I can't imagine not going to it, especially if we're going to be in Minnesota anyway. I don't know if we will be there or not, but I thought I better reserve a room while there was still a room left to reserve. In other words, I didn't have any reservations about making a reservation. See what I did there?
As for races after Indy, I'm going to wait and see how the Countdown shakes out for us. As long as we're in it and in contention, I'll go to every playoff race. If not, there are a few at which we won't have hospitality, so we'll see. I'll definitely be in Pomona, no matter what. That's a rule.
Other midweek ramblings on the third of three weeks…
We were really on a roll there at Atlanta and Topeka, and then I didn't travel to Englishtown or Epping and we lost in the first round at both. I'm just sayin'… The guys need to break that trend this weekend at Thunder Valley.
Point of fact in the Wilber family: Birthdays need to be flexible. When you grow up with a dad like mine, who was constantly traveling as a baseball man, you pick a date as close to your birthday as possible and you go with the flow. Because of that, June 19 has always been my birthday but it never felt like all that special of a day. Certainly not in the league with Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Halloween, when I was growing up.
Barbara's family was much more rigid about birthdays being on birth dates, and she originally couldn't understand the Wilber family "moving birthdays" concept, but she's come around. My actual birthday is Friday, and I'll be 38 (if you start counting over again from when I turned 21) but Barb has some important stuff to do back in Minnesota and she won't be here. So, we're going out to dinner at Anthony's overlooking Spokane Falls on Sunday night. Easy as that.
Barb also took the whole thing a step further, when she created the concept of Birthday Week. You get to enjoy the moment for the whole week instead of just one day. And think about it. Your mom may have been in labor for many hours, and you might have been born either late at night or just after midnight. To a great degree, the specific date on your birth certificate is almost arbitrary. So I'm all-in on the Birthday Week concept. Major props to my wonderful wife for having come up with the theory.
As part of that, I bought a new car this week. My previous machine, a beautiful crossover SUV (rhymes with Schmaudi) was at "peak value" it turned out, at 40-months old but with only 32,000 miles on it, and when I started nosing around at a few local dealerships to see what was out there, the sales managers were frothing at the mouth to get my car. I'd never seen anything quite like it, and I've bought, sold, and traded something just short of a million cars in my life. Within a day they were in what I can only describe as a bidding war, driving the offers up, up, and up.
I had done the research on the Kelley Blue Book site, and I always hesitate to click on the "Perfect" button when they ask for condition. Heck, some brand new cars aren't perfect. By the time the best offer came, from the dealer who had the top car on my list to replace my old car, the trade-in offer was just about retail instead of wholesale, and it was well over Kelley Blue Book for "Perfect" condition. It was simply too good to pass up. In the end, it only took a few thousand dollars to make the deal and trade keys. It's another crossover SUV, but it's on a sport platform and it's a terrific vehicle (rhymes with Schmlexus). Happy birthday to me!
Cats. Namely, Boofus and Buster. We had a new family move in next-door (actually a single mom and her kids moving in with her parents temporarily, while she looks for a home) and they brought Emma with them. Emma is an adorable, fluffy, black & white girl who is an indoor/outdoor cat, and she roams our part of the neighborhood in the afternoons. We happened to have the boyz outside in their hut on the day we met Emma, and although Buster was only slightly bemused by a strange feline in his yard, Boofie was apoplectic. His tail went huge, the hair on his back stood up, and he was howling at this dangerous intruder.
We got over and beyond that introduction, but then Emma decided it would be fun to regularly hang out in the backyard and even stare through the sliding doors to see if she could spot the boyz. Whenever that happened, Boofie would get so worked up he couldn't even be spoken to, and then he'd hiss at Buster and try to fight him. Hmmm… It was ugly there for a while, but I did some research and this is pretty common for indoor cats who don't get much contact with other kitties. Boofus was being just territorial and he considered Emma to be a threat (she's not, she's very sweet, but to Boof she was a vicious psychopath).
Once that feeling locks in, everyone and everything that might keep Boofie from protecting his territory becomes another enemy, so you can't jump in and forcefully separate them or pick Boofie up (Buster only gets worked up in his own defense when Boof goes after him). Instead, you have to verbally walk him back from the edge with pleasant sounds and words he knows, letting him know he's a good boy, it's all okay, and you're here to protect him. It takes a minute, but pretty soon you see the hair on his back lay back down and he snaps out of it. Poor little guy (and I haven't used the PLG appellation since the days of Shasta, the original PLG).
Emma's humans have found their new home and will be moving about a mile away soon, and that's kind of sad because we really like them a lot and we've simply removed most of the contact with Emma by keeping curtains closed when it's "Emma Time" out there. We haven't had a big blow-up in over a week. They're not moving far, so hopefully we can still see them all on a regular basis.
I'll wrap up this edition with the mention of a fun book. I was on Twitter a few months ago, and I saw a teaser about a new book coming out, and it's a biography about Tony Oliva, one of the greatest Minnesota Twins ever. Tony is a wonderful guy, who still speaks with 99 percent of that thick Cuban accent he had when he came to the U.S. to play baseball, and when he was a raw rookie it was my dad who worked with him endlessly to turn him into a player.
When I saw the teaser about the upcoming book, I found a way to reach out to the author and introduce myself. Thom Henninger wrote back immediately to let me know that many of the Twins greats from that era in the early 60s spoke glowingly about the work my father did with Tony on a daily basis, to mold him into an All Star, and that Del Wilber would certainly be in the book.
This is how I watched the Epping and E-Town races. On ESPN3
It finally arrived in my mailbox just a couple of days ago (rhymes with Schmamazon) and I tore it open fast, then flipped directly to the index in the back. Sure enough, there was the listing: Wilber, Del. 34, 58, 60. The numbers, of course, are the pages on which he's mentioned. All three pages were really complimentary and I felt a wave of warm emotion wash over me, remembering those days when "Skip" was with the Twins, molding people like Tony O, Rod Carew, Pat Kelley, and Graig Nettles into great big leaguers when he was manager of the Twins' Fall Instructional League team (where prized prospects go after the regular season, to learn more and play more).
I'd usually get to skip out of school for a week to go down there to sunny Florida, during my grade school days, where I'd get to run around the outfield catching fly balls during morning batting practice and then be the team's batboy during the games in the afternoon. Pure joy, and my big loving father in charge of the whole scene. Some of my best memories…
I also recall, during one of those magical trips to Bradenton, seeing large aluminum cans around the clubhouse (the size of the popular Hi-C or Hawaiian Punch cans we'd have in the house regularly) and hearing how the liquid inside the cans had been developed by scientists at the University of Florida, who had sent cases of it to the Fall Instructional League for the players to try. Each can had a simple green wrapper around it with one word stenciled on the wrapper. It said "Gatorade". Fun to think about on all that stuff. Good times, indeed!
So let's get this show on the road to Bristol. We're still qualifying well, but for the last two races the opening round hasn't been very kind to us. Bristol is a track Wilk, the team, and I all collectively love and it's treated us well over the years.
Remember 2010? We went to Bristol outside the top 10 in points and went all the way to the final, where we raced John Force. We lost, when the safety system on the car malfunctioned, shutting the motor off at 330 feet while also throwing the 'chutes out, but we got on a roll and went on to win the next two races, in Norwalk and Seattle. Last year, we went into Bristol doing okay, but not great, and again Wilk went to the final. We lost there, too, but it got us into Countdown contention and we never left the top 10 again.
This year, let's just win the thing. Would that be okay? I think so…
Behold the internet. It's a marvelous thing that has completely changed the world, from the way we shop to the way doctors diagnose and share opinions. From the way we spread information, to the way we "read the paper" without getting ink on our hands. And most importantly, it gives us a chance to browse funny pictures of adorable cats and share the most critical information, that being important facts like where we are right now and what we're about to do, or are doing, or just did, with a million friends on Facebook. That last one is really critical and I'm as guilty as anyone.
One of the more popular trends on Facebook is that marvelous thing called Throwback Thursday, or TBT for short, in which you and your friends wait until Thursday to dig out old photos of yourself or family members and post them for the enjoyment of everyone else. In the "olden days" all you could do was haul out the old photo albums and sit right down next to whatever friend happened to be in your living room that day, and flip through the pages, giving a play-by-play as you went. "And here's Johnny when we brought him home after he was born. Here he is when he was one. Here he is when he was two.." You know you've done it. We all have.
And yes, I regularly partake in Throwback Thursday because for most of my life I've been a pack-rat. I've not only kept many of the photos, I've almost always kept objects that represent momentous times in my life or any of my various careers. It was chronic problem, really, until I finally looked around our prior (very large) home in Woodbury and all I could see was a mountain of "stuff" I refused to let go of. Baseball uniforms, soccer shoes, soccer balls, baseball equipment, 27+ Wally trophies (I've kinda lost count), 27+ NHRA winner's jackets, every Winner's Circle hat I'd ever collected, and on and on.
So, I finally started cleaning up and parting with stuff a few years ago. I've given away a number of winner's jackets (despite the fact they all have my name embroidered on them) and decided to only keep one event-winner's hat from each series title-sponsor era. I've parted with many of the Wally trophies, but still have enough to fill any bookcase. For the record, after Atlanta I made the tough choice to not buy a Wally, but I made up for it by ordering a jacket. Hey, jackets are functional! Wally trophies are just symbolic(and expensive). And, of course, I kept the Mello Yello hat. That's a sponsor era I hadn't collected yet.
In today's epic (gigantic) photo gallery, I shall tell a tale in reverse order, starting with the present and working backwards, using only objects as my TBT memories. No, I do not go back to childhood. I don't even go back to high school, although I could because I still have my St. Louis U. High letter jacket, class of 1974. But hey, you gotta draw the line somewhere, so I only go back as far as college. Call it revisionist history. And the college object is the cover of the program for the 1977 NCAA Division II National Championship (aka the Div. II World Series). It's autographed by all of my SIUE teammates, but oddly my autograph is not on there. Why? Because it was my program and I guess I just wanted all the other guys to sign it for me. Seems inappropriate to go back now and retro-sign it as if I had back then.
And, you're actually quite fortunate because not all of my keepsakes (stuff I've hoarded) made the trip out to Spokane when we moved here. I have a ton of baseball and soccer stuff still in storage back in Minnesota, including my Detroit Tigers, Toronto Blue Jays, and Paintsville Hilanders duffel bags, still full of dirt, equipment, shoes, and empty bags of Red Man tobacco. Thank goodness I broke that nasty habit. If I had all that stuff in one place, this might have to be an ongoing series of blogs about Throwback Thursdays. Consider yourselves extremely fortunate that it's not all here.
There will be a lot of stuff to look at in the photo gallery, including hats, a trophy, a series of jackets, and a few other things. The last game-used Rawlings glove I ever used is in there, and one of the last two remaining Bob Wilber autographed Louisville Slugger bats (model U-1, 31.5 ounces, cupped end) is in there too, but like I said, there's a ton of stuff saved for the next rainy day (if said rainy day happens when all of my stuff is in one place).
Among the AWOL items sitting in the dark elsewhere is a side window out of Del Worsham's CSK Funny Car from the day the team won in Denver without me. A decal that says "In Memory of Del Wilber" is still on it, from that weekend after my father passed away. Del presented it to me at the next event.
I've worked in three different indoor soccer leagues for three different franchises, but you'll only be confronted with one game ball. The third team, for the record, was the Indianapolis Twisters in 1996, when I was their GM for only a matter of weeks before the owner surprised us all (and the league, and our players) by shutting down the franchise. I never had time to "liberate" a game ball. I think they were all confiscated. I do have plenty of memorabilia from the St. Louis Storm and Kansas City Attack.
The game ball I picked is from the Major Indoor Soccer League, and I chose it for a reason. The autograph of the MISL commissioner is visible, and it's Bill Kentling's signature. Just a few years later, Bill brought me over to help him in his new venture, at Heartland Park. That's the one degree of separation between soccer and racing. Kind of a neat (practically precious) collectible, I think. Dots connected.
The only three baseball hats I could find are my Bristol Tigers hat, my Detroit spring-training hat, and my Oakland A's hat. I know for a fact that Mr. Keep It All (me) would never have let go of my Paintsville Hilanders hat or my Toronto Blue Jays lid (or any of my college hats from SIUE) so they must be safely tucked away in storage.
In lieu of my Paintsville hat (or my actual game-used Paintsville jersey complete with pine-tar stains on the shoulder, which is also somewhere but not here) I've utilized the Paintsville pocket schedule I bought on eBay recently. The internet. It's a marvelous thing.
My first NHRA Winner's Circle hat (not shown because it's in storage too) was a Winston one, and it predated my time with the Worshams and CSK. My first job doing PR was with the guy in New Jersey who represented Chuck Etchells, and when we won the World Finals in Pomona that fall (1992) I got to go have team photos taken and was given a hat. Since Chuck had won previously that year (at races I didn't attend) my short history as a PR guy was already full of victories. I figured this stuff was easy! It's going to happen all the time, right?
I just remember standing in front of the old stucco building on the right side of the Pomona track, in the full darkness of the evening, slightly bemused by how important this all seemed to be in the eyes of the crew guys. Little did I know… The word is spelled "naive".
Once I joined the Worshams and I realized just how difficult and valuable these wins are, I started collecting everything and paying great attention to all the hoopla after the race. I celebrated as heartily as anyone, and for good reason. By that time, I was a key piece of the team and those wins were all incredibly special, to all of us. Our Team Wilk win a few weeks ago, in Atlanta, was among the best of the best, especially in terms of that emotional celebration of pure joy.
There were not just the jackets and trophies kept from every victory. If we landed on the cover of National Dragster I'd order a copy of it laminated onto a wooden board. I have a stack of those in storage still.
Photos of us in various Winner's Circles, whether it be the CSK or LRS teams, were routinely ordered and framed. Custom framing is not cheap, as you may know, so I'm guessing if you added up all the team photos, the "reaction" photos of us leaping in the air at the starting line, other shots related to wins, and the ND covers laminated and mounted on wood, I must have spent a grand total of well over $1,500 on framing and mounting during the last two decades. Heck, probably double that. Crazy, I know, but at the time they were all important enough to be treated with such care.
I also have all of my Bud Shootout plaques, which featured a full-size replica six-shooter. You didn't try to take those through TSA when you went home.
I've sold most of my die-cast cars, but still have a few important ones, including two renditions of the Levi, Ray & Shoup Mustang. At one time, I'm sure I had at least 20 different Del Worsham or CSK blue-team cars, because we did a lot of special-edition bodies back then, and each one of them got produced in 24th scale. I had an entire four-shelf bookcase completely loaded with those at one time. Most hit the auction block at a garage sale.
Collectibles. And plenty of them…
So here it is. Throwback Thursday in the form of a scant few of all my collected symbolic objects. And you don't even have to be stuck on the living room sofa to be shown all these (and the many others).
Okay, back to the present day. It's time to move on to Epping, the second in this three-race series of races in which I'll be working from home for the entire trifecta. Our goal in Epping is to put the first-round loss in Englishtown behind us, and the best way to do that will be to qualify well once again and win some more rounds.
Did you know… Wilk's qualifying positions this year, so far, have been 10th, 9th, 4th, 12th, 6th, 5th, 6th, 2nd, and 8th. That's pretty good, right? And our round record is 8-8, but idiot me had a hard time figuring out how we could be 8-8 when we've already run nine races. I went back and re-counted, round by round, while scratching my dumbfounded head (emphasis on dumb). And then the lightbulb went on. You don't earn a loss at a race you win. Duh. That moment when you look around the room and think "Boy I'm glad nobody by Boofus and Buster witnessed this idiocy."
When I was doing some research for my pre-race feature story, I looked back at last year's Epping race and remembered that we lost by inches to Ron Capps in the opening round, despite the fact Wilk ran low e.t. of the entire day on that run. And, of course, we lost by an inch to Ron in Gainesville this year, we beat him for the win in Atlanta, and we lost last weekend in E-Town to him in the first round. As Tim is quoted in the story "No offense to Ron, but I think it's time we start racing other people."
So let's focus on New England (including, perhaps, the "Lobstah" and the "Chowdah") and go win us some more rounds. After all, there's more stuff to collect!!!