This weekend, the NHRA contingent will descend upon Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Ariz. (Chandler, to be specific) as the second of 24 Mello Yello series races will be contested. I shan't be there. What a way to start the season, huh?
Under our current plan to lend an assist to both the racing team's bottom line and my own personal bank statement, my presence will not be necessary at any event at which we do not host hospitality. We've always had hospitality in Phoenix, and in some years we've had so many guests that they've spilled out of our pit and LRS has had to rent space in the area we call "the grassy knoll" next to the top of the pro pits. This year, however, the regional folks in charge decided to change it up and do something different with their key clients, so we won't be setting up The Big Top.
I had already booked my Phoenix ticket by the time this news got to me, but it was easy enough to go online and adjust that ticket to make it work for my Houston flights, and I even got a little refund after all the fees. I can go to any race I want, obviously, as I haven't been banned from the tracks on our tour (at least not yet!) but if we're not doing hospitality I'd just be spending a lot of money to be at a race track instead of in my office. And, in my office I'm actually a more efficient (and probably a "better") PR rep.
So, I'll be sitting right here behind my desk on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. And when I do that, I'm basically on our social-media platforms constantly. Also, I keep an ear on the audio-cast just to hear my buddy Alan Reinhart say hello to me. I always get a kick out of that. When I'm at the track, I go to the starting line with the team, so after each run I need to get Krista back to the pit and then I have to go to wherever my computer is set up, in order to send out updates, tweet on Twitter, or post on our Facebook page. I'm a useless "typist" on my phone, so if I'm doing anything more than just a word or two I need to be on a real keyboard. All that makes me very inefficient, when it comes to timely postings.
Also, at the track there's lots going on, at all times, so the distractions are plenty. Here at home, it's just me and my computer, along with two security guards named Buster and Boofus, who keep an eye on things going on out there in the front yard in order to protect me. So far, they've done amazing work. Not one single bird, squirrel, or UPS man has busted into my office while they've been on the job. I have to be honest, though, by telling you that they often swap positions throughout the long work day, so when Buster is being vigilant, Boofus is being a sleepy cat. Whatever works…
With all of that in mind, if you're into social media but aren't following us, you should do just that. On Twitter, we are @TeamWilkerson although you can also find us and follow us by searching Twitter for my name. Our Facebook fan group is very active with a lot of fantastic loyal Wilk's Warriors on there all day, every day, of every race. Heck, basically every day no matter if we're racing or not. You can find us listed as Team Wilkerson Fan Group.
That group is currently capped for enrollment, and to become a member so that you can post (and "meet" everyone) you have to have at least one Facebook friend already in the group. That's not because we're anti-social, it's just a way to verify that you're "real" and not a scammer or hacker. It doesn't take much effort for those jerks to set up fake Facebook accounts and cause all sorts of trouble. As the administrator for the group, I learned that lesson early on, back when I was approving just about everyone. When a "person" who applies shows up on my screen as having been on Facebook for less than a month, and they're already a member of 1,225 groups, the red flag is enormous and it waves right in front of my eyes. Also pretty common for those same people to have odd names, like two first names or complete nonsense in various languages.
I don't really have the time it takes to do "due diligence" on all the people who submit membership requests, so I had to make the decision to cap the group, unless you already have friends that are in it. Plus, the scammers are getting way better at making their fake pages look real, so the process of weeding them out and blocking them gets more difficult. We also have some rules for the group, including "No bashing" and "No whining" and "No hating, of anyone or anything." The internet is a wonderful thing, but boy oh boy has it brought out a new level of "attitude" in a lot of people. I avoid that stuff at all costs. It makes my brain hurt, and it lowers my hope for humanity.
One thing that's really too bad about not going to Phoenix is that I love going to Phoenix. I still have a lot of friends there, from the CSK days, and it's just a beautiful place to be in February. You'll notice that we don't race in Phoenix between, say, May and November. There's a reason for that.
And that reminds me of when we broke the news to our friends in Austin, back in 2001 or so, that we were moving to Minnesota. The look on their faces was pretty priceless, as if they'd just heard us say "Well, we're moving to the North Pole" but then their first comment would almost invariably be "How can you live there? You can't even go outside for five months during the winter." and I'd have to state the obvious in reply. "Well, we can't really go outside here for five months during the summer. The good news is, you can dress for winter and pretty much make it a non-issue, but when it's 110 in the shade, there's not much you can do."
Phoenix in February? I'll miss being there for that, and many other reasons.
Speaking (writing) of Phoenix, I was just thinking about my old buddy Rob Deer. Anyone recognize that name? Rob was a professional baseball player, who signed originally with the San Francisco Giants, and he was playing Class-A ball with the Fresno Giants the year the Toronto Blue Jays had me stationed out there as their Central California scout. I watched Rob play about 50 games that summer, and he was truly a man among boys. When he hit them, they usually didn't come back. Some are still being tracked, by NASA, as they orbit the Earth.
Anyway, Rob went on to a very unique Major League career. He played about 10 years in the big leagues, for the Giants, Brewers, Tigers, Red Sox, and a little bit with the Padres, and over the span of that career he hit 20 or more home runs in eight of those seasons. In total, he hit 230 round-trippers, and drove in 600 runs. He also had a career batting average of .220, and he struck out 1,409 times. From his first day in the minors, to his last day in "the show" he went "all or nothing" more than any other player I had watched. In 1987, for the Brewers, he had 474 official at-bats, and struck out a league-leading 186 times. He also had 113 total hits and 28 of them were homers. That makes my head spin.
One year, early in the CSK days, I passed a Super Gas car in the lanes and the name on the window said "Rob Deer" but I figured it had to be a coincidence. Then he got out of the car and, sure enough, it was him. It had been a long time since Fresno in 1981, so I introduced myself and we chatted for quite a while, reciting names of all the guys on that team. For years, he'd make a point of coming by the Worsham pit at least once every race weekend to say hi.
At some point during those years, he came by our pit with a friend and former teammate in tow. I immediately knew who it was, and was thrilled to shake a Hall of Fame inductee's hand. Not one member of the CSK team knew they were looking at a member of the Hall of Fame. And no one knew who Robin Yount was. But I did.
Now, I've lost track of Rob Deer and he's not racing anymore, at least that I can tell. It would be great to catch up again, some day.
I was cruising around eBay a week or so ago, and when I do that I'll do searches for the teams I played for in baseball, or worked for in soccer, just to see if there's anything for sale that I might want to add to my closet-busting collection of old memorabilia. This time, I looked for anything related to the Paintsville Hilanders.
As I wrote about a few blogs ago, when I discovered some long-lost proof sheets with photos of me playing for the Hilanders, I signed my first pro contract with the Detroit Tigers and I was originally assigned to the Bristol Tigers, in the Class-A Appalachian League. Even though Bristol was the lowest rung on the Tigers' minor-league ladder, two of my teammates and I found a way to get "sent down" from there before the season even started. Paintsville was a co-op team in the league, and the Tigers, Twins, Orioles, Braves, and White Sox each sent anywhere from two to five players there. We became truly an oddball group, but we had a wonderful summer in that tiny little town, buried in the coal-mining hills of eastern Kentucky.
Anyway, I searched for "Paintsville Hilanders" and one item popped up. It was a mint-condition pocket-schedule, identical to the one I had taped to my locker in the Painstville clubhouse. I bought it immediately, even though at the time I could of no other good reason to do so other than "because I want it." Isn't that why eBay works? Because you see something and think "I want that." The envelope arrived a few days ago, and lo-and-behold the seller didn't send me one mint-condition Paintsville pocket schedule, he sent me three! Woo Hoo!!! Pretty cool to look at those home-stands and road trips and actually remember them.
This will be my work station for the Phoenix race.
On a different subject, there's Spokane. Like most of the country, we've been having bizarre weather all winter, although we're on the other side of the "stuck" jet stream that just keeps pounding the eastern U.S. with horrible winter weather. While Boston gets six feet of snow and subzero temps, we've had almost no real winter at all, and here we are in February with buds on the trees and no snow whatsoever.
Because of that, the snow pack high in the mountains of Northern Idaho is already melting, and the huge volume of water that rockets down the Spokane River to Spokane Falls (located right in the middle of downtown Spokane) is already underway. This "normally" doesn't happen until late March or early April, but the new normal now seems to be that there is no normal.
I took a quick drive down to the Falls the other day, and there were tons of other people down there just to see it, as well. It was amazing. Also a little scary, to be honest. When that much water is making that much of a spectacle, it's dramatic just to sense how powerful it is. You hold that hand railing on the suspension bridge just a little tighter than you typically would. Glad I went down there, though. It was a truly awesome sight.
Well, son of a gun. I need to get this sent in ASAP, so I guess I'll sign off. Barbara is attending her company's annual Board of Directors Dinner tonight, so I'm on my own for a meal. Hmmm… Pizza?
Enjoy the weekend, and root for Wilk! And don't be afraid to follow us on Twitter. See you next week!
And there you have it. In a blink the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing season went from expectation to fact, with big runs made, trophies handed out, and celebrity sightings galore. In just mere hours, we all went from feeling like "Here we go again" to the odd sensation of "It's the middle of the season." Crazy how that works.
The first day of the new season is one of the more remarkable periods of time you can possibly spend. On Friday morning, it's all uniquely different and routines have to be force-fed to get them established again. Having done this for nearly two decades, I'm fully aware of how important routines are, especially if you're interested in not losing your hard card, or wearing the correct shirt, or having the right color socks to wear. Was I out of practice on Friday in Pomona? I guess so. I walked out of the hotel room without my Nikon and had no camera with me all day. Sheesh.
Once at the track, there were greetings and salutations for most of the day, as we all reconnected and got to work. Within hours, though, all of that was behind us and it was just like any day at any track during any month. Except without a camera.
On the track, we made two really nice qualifying passes, but still ended up in the 10th spot and that paired us up with Robert Hight in round one on Sunday. It really didn't matter if it paired us up with "Big Daddy" Don Garlits, because Wilk will always just race the lane and not the opponent, but we went up there thinking we could run something in the 4.04 to 4.06 range, and if Robert and his guys could beat that then that's how it was going to be.
Here's one of the most oddball (and often frustrating) things about drag racing. These 10,000-horsepower cars are such beasts, it's not only hard to be consistent out there, it's hard to even get the same results from a consistent application of the same power. The Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford launched fine, got past the "trouble zone" that usually bedevils everyone just off the line, and was starting to cruise, on its way to a 4.04, when it surprisingly drove right into tire spin just short of the 660 mark. On the computer, this run laid directly over one of our 4.04 runs from Phoenix, nearly identically. The only difference was, this time it didn't make it.
Coming from the baseball world, I'm used to the concept of hard-and-fast results. If it's 330 feet to the left field wall, and you hit four balls 350 feet, all four of them will be home runs. Always. In drag racing, one of them would incredibly just stop flying and drop straight down onto the warning track, for what seems to be no good reason. It just happens, and it happens to everyone at some point.
So, with all that in mind, I'll just embark on Pomona ramblings…
I said hello to and chatted with dozens of familiar faces in the pit area, but two familiar faces were afforded lengthy conversations that provided many laughs. Scott Burris (aka Scott The Pilot, or STP for short) is now based out of L.A. for United Airlines, and he had Friday free so he made the trip out to the track. We always have tons of stuff to catch up on, and I usually save up a few "airplane questions" for him. It was great to see him, and I'm glad his schedule worked out that way. On Saturday he "went to work" and flew a 767 to Hawaii.
24 hours later, my phone buzzed with a text message and it was from my longtime friend Cristen Powell, whom I don't get to see enough of these days. Cristen spent almost all day on Saturday at the track and most of it with us, and it was fabulous to see her smiling face and hear all of her crazy stories, especially all about the nutty mountain biking she does these days. That brace from the broken bone in her hand will be coming off soon. Cristen is one of the truly best people I've ever had the pleasure to know in this sport.
And what's the connection between STP and Cristen? After he became a commercial pilot, Scott got furloughed for the first time (it happens in aviation) and he then landed a gig as a pilot on a private Lear jet owned by one Casey Powell, who needed to be flown to the races with his daughter. As in Cristen. Too bad the pilot and former race car driver missed each other by a day.
I also had the chance, on Sunday, to spend some time catching up with Whit Bazemore. Whit, Dave Densmore, and I sat huddled in the Media Center for 20 minutes, chatting, laughing, and reminiscing about our lengthy careers. I'm guess there was about 80 years of drag racing experience sitting in those three chairs.
And speaking of Whit, while I was at the race I got a voice message from my local framing shop, letting me know that my new Whit Bazemore print, of the LRS Funny Car racing at night, was ready to be picked up. First thing I did on Tuesday was run over there to get it. It's now proudly displayed in my office, and a photo of the framed photo is in the gallery. It's awesome.
Our new young crew did a great job throughout the weekend, and that was outstanding to see. Richard Hartman is everything Wilk was hoping he'd be, if not more. He's a leader, he's focused, he's smart, and he's massively experienced. He's a huge addition to this team, and everyone respects him so much. In addition to the new guys, Mark, Joe, and Daniel, we also had Dave Shaff, B2, and Rich Schendel in attendance, overseeing and helping any way they could. Wilk didn't want them to do the work, because the only way the new guys will develop is to do it themselves, but it was great to have those three with us lending a hand and keeping an eye on things.
We had hospitality on Saturday, hosting the fine folks from Capella Technologies again, along with a large group of their clients. LRS purchased Capella a couple of years ago, and they are really some terrific people, who totally love coming out to be with us. Plus, their clients were almost all newbies, and those are my favorite groups to entertain. They definitely got their "Baptism By Nitro" which is the new social media hashtag promotion NHRA is using right now, with a focus on first-time fans who are getting that initial dose of the power and the sensory overload of fuel racing.
Our new 2015 t-shirts arrived just in time for the race, and if you're coming out to a track near you they'll be in the Pirana-Z trailer. If not, we'll have them for sale on our TimWilkerson.com website within a matter of days. People seemed to dig it, so that's good.
I was walking up the staging lanes one day when I happened upon Del, Connie, Kate, and Maddy Worsham. Or at least I think it was Kate and Maddy. It's possible two other young ladies of great maturity were impersonating them. I mean, seriously. Weren't they born just a couple of years ago? They're grown-up young ladies now, and no longer the shy little girls they once were. For all these years, when I'd want to take their photos, they'd both turn away or duck behind Connie. This time, I saw all four and said "Family photo!" and they simply posed and smiled. Wait until you see the pic in the gallery. Wow.
If you're a fan of reality TV, you would've had a field day at the track on Sunday. From "Storage Wars" we had Barry Weiss, as well as Brandi and Jarrod. Chip Foose was around, and Guy Fieri (from "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives") was the star of the weekend. He stepped up to sponsor Alan Johnson and Shawn Langdon, and man was he into it. He opens and closes each episode of his show at the wheel of his classic Camaro, so you know he's a car guy, but this was big weekend for him and they won the race to cap it off. In the Winner's Circle, Shawn brought Guy up onto the stage and handed him the Wally. Cool stuff.
Once we were eliminated, I went to the Media Center and wrote my Post-Event Report, but as you know I don't send those out until the race ends. I learned that lesson within the first month after I began to send these mass emails out after each event (back in the Dark Ages) and when we lost early once, and I simply wrote it and hit "Send" I got a couple of quick replies from readers who said "If you do that, it doesn't matter what the report says because I know you've lost by simply seeing it in my In-Box." I hadn't thought of that. I've never forgotten it, though. So, after I wrote the piece I headed back to the pit to help tear everything down, and we all pitched in to get that totally done by the time the semifinals ran. Then, when the final round was happening, I went back to my computer in the tower and waited for the pairings to face off, then I hit "Send" and got to work packing up. Race number one of the 2015 schedule was officially in the books.
I headed down to Irvine for Sunday night, just so I wouldn't have to stress about Monday morning Orange County traffic prior to my 10:00 a.m. flight, and I stayed at the Hilton directly across the street from the airport. I had a lengthy 90-second commute to get to SNA in the morning, and that was sweet. It would've been possible to actually turn my car in on Sunday night and then walk to the airport. Possible, but not really very smart, so I made the drive through exactly one stop light and, badda boom, badda bing, I was checked in and through security. Easy as that.
And speaking of L.A. and Orange County traffic…. Yikes. I lived in SoCal once, when I was a Regional Promotions Director for Converse Shoes back around 1990. I covered eight states, signing pro baseball, football, and basketball players to endorsement deals and making sure they all got whatever they needed to promote our brand, but I also called on all the major colleges in the L.A. region, and among many others I had UCLA men's basketball signed to a deal. I lived in Dana Point, down south of Laguna Beach, and the drive up to UCLA was an absolute killer in terms of traffic. If I wanted to go see the coaches and watch the team practice, it ate up my entire day. It was roughly 60 miles from start to finish, but it could easily take more than three hours in the nonstop gridlock of the L.A. freeways.
A nice gathering of humans at Auto Club Raceway
The traffic there was one of the reasons I left screaming like my hair was on fire when Bill Kentling offered me the GM job at Heartland Park a year later.
Then, when I joined the Worsham team in 1997, I was surprised to see that the freeway traffic didn't seem to be as bad, and Del showed me all the new lanes they had added, the new freeways they'd built, and all the work they'd done to get ahead of the traffic problems. It had worked, and it was remarkable how easy it was to get around then. Now? I think the traffic has caught up to the infrastructure again. I left John Wayne Airport at 4:30 when I arrived on Thursday night, and got to the Holiday Inn at Ontario at around 7:00, and that's only about 30 miles. I was blinded by brake lights the whole way. That could be a name for a new band, right? Blinded By Brake Lights. New album coming soon!
We did have a little momentary drama on the flight from SNA to SLC. We were approaching Salt Lake from the south, and the Seat Belt light was on, so everyone was strapped in, and then we started to bounce around a little in the clouds. Without any warning, though, the little CRJ aircraft shot up rapidly, then nosed over and dove straight down while also turning completely on its side. The pilots got it back under control in just mere seconds, but that was one of those moments when you actually have time to wonder how badly it's going to end. Nobody screamed, and everyone was apparently fine, but for about two seconds that was way more thrilling than anything you want to experience on an airplane. Whew… We were all gripping those arm rests for the remainder of the descent, and more than a few exhales could be heard when we touched down.
So there you go. My Pomona experience recapped in about 25 paragraphs. Yesterday was "wrap up day" in terms of the PR, and today is blog day. And this weekend is Valentine's Day, guys! Don't forget that. (I'm here to help). Take care, everyone.
It's hard to believe, but here we go again, kicking off another season. It's a bit mind boggling really, to look back over the decades and realize two things: 1) I've been doing this a long time. 2) I must be getting really old by now, because I had a lengthy "other career" for many years before I ever got to NHRA Drag Racing, bouncing around doing international marketing, being in baseball, giving away Converse shoes, and running soccer teams. Where in the world did all the time go?
With all that in mind, and adding in the fact I got my 2015 "hard card" credential the other day, I remembered a cool frame that was buried in a closet downstairs. After the 2009 season, I gathered all of my hard cards and other credentials, which had been hanging by their lanyards in my office, creating basically just a mess, and I framed them all. I just ran downstairs and dug that bad boy out, and I think that's the photo I'll lead off the gallery with today.
The first credential, up in the top lefthand corner, is actually from when I worked for my brother Del and his sports marketing agency, and one of my clients was the International Baseball Federation. The World Championships that year (I guess this had to be around 1988 or so) were held in Italy, and I went over there twice on business trips. The first time, it was my job to be driven around to the dozen or so cities that would be hosting games, to check on the stadiums and fields in order to make sure they were up to par. Did you know that baseball is actually pretty popular in Italy? The locals watched the US soldiers playing at the end of World War II, and they've been playing it ever since.
My second trip over to Italy was for the tournament itself, and that's when the credential was made. My job there was to act as the liaison between Chinese television and the French and Italian production teams, which was great because I was officially 0-for-3 in terms of any of the languages being spoken. I have no memory of how it all got done, but I didn't get fired or deported so I apparently did okay. I spent the tournament in a quaint hotel in Florence, and that was awesome. I even learned how to order lunch in Italian.
The second credential in the chronological order, is from 1993, when I went to work for a guy in New Jersey, and we represented Chuck Etchells and Mike Dunn. That's really where this part of my sports career transitioned, although my first job in racing was at Heartland Park in 1991. Doing PR and marketing for drivers began in 1993. And I was already so well known, NHRA spelled my name wrong on the credential. Not the first time, and probably not the last. Whew. That was a long time ago, but the time sure has flown.
I created that frame at the end of the '09 season, so I have more of those hard cards in my historical collection now, but they wouldn't fit in the frame. They're under the clear pad I have on my desk, but for some startling reason I seem to have lost the 2010 version. Where could that possibly be?
So here we go again. I fly down tomorrow (Thursday) on a 10:20 flight through Salt Lake which puts me into John Wayne Airport, down in Orange County, right at rush hour. Fun! We're staying at a hotel right by the Ontario Airport, but the flight selection in and out of there wasn't very good, and the fares were about $200 higher than John Wayne, so SNA it was. LAX was actually the cheapest, but then you have to deal with LAX, which I try not to do anymore. John Wayne got the nod, so I'll just have to slog through the traffic again to get to my room.
The team is there now, and for some of them it's the day before the day before their first day as professional drag racing crew guys. For me, it's not so much. Wilk got there today, as well, for a big Media Day hullabaloo at the track. Krista is out shopping, and I just heard from her as she was at the grocery store. Our great friends Gerald and Kari Meux are coming out Saturday and Sunday, and that means we get to eat really well all weekend long, including whatever Krista whips up for us on Friday.
Speaking of Friday, I'm glad they finally changed the Pomona schedule last year, and got us on a standard 2-2 qualifying deal for Friday and Saturday. I can only conjecture that the old 1-1-2 deal, where we made one lap on Thursday and one on Friday, had something to do with the noise abatement issues in the city of LaVerne, but it was always a long drawn-out affair and it seemed like we never got into a groove like we do when we go twice each day. Much better this way.
I was also looking back over some photos on my laptop, of Pomona races in the past, and I came across the shots I took of the Summit Racing Equipment car we had, and the transformation John Fink and I put it through on a Friday night and Saturday morning. We'd run that car at the Vegas race, with Summit signage all over it, and it was therefore our back-up body at the Auto Club Finals that year. It was 2010, if I recall correctly.
Ah yes... Hard cards through the years
On our Friday qualifying pass, we had a little mishap and a bit of a fire. It wasn't cataclysmic, but it was toasty enough to force us to switch bodies, so as darkness fell on that Friday night, Fink and I got to work. The first thing we did was get online and find a vinyl company out by the track. What were the odds these guys were going to be open on a Friday night? Well, we reached them right before they shut the doors, we told them who we were and what we had on our hands, and those guys were cool enough to stay open and create some Levi, Ray & Shoup decals for us. They saved the day.
We had our printer back in Springfield email the logos to them, and while the Ontario vinyl guys got to work, Fink and I stripped off the Summit stuff and then hopped in my rental car to go find the vinyl shop. Badda boom, badda bing they handed us the vinyl sheets and off we went. We got out there bright and early on Saturday and turned that Summit car into an LRS car, and it really ended up looking sharp. Unfortunately, the fire set us back and we never really regrouped at that race. We didn't qualify. That's a double-ouch.
Krista also said the weather is gorgeous there today, and that will be a welcome change for me. Here in Liberty Lake we're stuck in our winter "inversion" mess, and that means dirty foggy air that's hard to breathe, low clouds, and no fun whatsoever. It's really quite depressing, actually. I'll take subzero temps with sunny skies over this crud. You don't even bother getting your car washed when this stuff sets in, because even if it's not actually raining the roads always seem to stay wet and therefore, so does your car.
These inversions are weird things, meteorologically. Warm Pacific air rides up the west coast but when it gets to eastern Washington it traps the colder air below it, up against the mountains. That creates all the fog and gloom, and it's so weird they even sent up a weather balloon from the Air Force Base on the west side of Spokane, and it registered 34-degrees on the ground. When it hit 2,500 feet of altitude, it was 51 degrees up there. Weather is goofy.
So, I know this was a short one, but I wanted to document the start of another season. If you go back to 1993 and my first hard card, this could've been season number 22, but in mid-1994 I joined the Kansas City Attack indoor soccer team as their GM, so there were two seasons there where I was out of the sport. To make up for that, I had the Attack sponsor Pro Stock driver Lewis Worden at the Heartland Park races. That was a lot of fun, and we got some good press for it, which helped us sell some tickets (marketing!). The only tough part was the fact it was broiling hot out there at HPT, and that about killed our mascot, Fuzzy The Attack Cat. It's great to walk around on hot asphalt in a big furry cat suit, when it's about 100 degrees out.
Once 1996 rolled around, I got back into with Whit Bazemore and then the Worsham/CSK years started in '97. Now, here in 2015, I'm actually starting my seventh season with Wilk and LRS. How is that even possible? Like weather, the passage of time is goofy too.
See you all at the races!
So I went on a trip and I met the new guys. End of story.
Okay, the trip was to Phoenix, via the Twin Cities (because who doesn't like to make a huge loop around 2/3 of the USA?) and the reason for the journey was twofold. We were testing, and not just "going through the motions to learn the plays" testing, but really making hard laps to see where we are in the process, and we had our four new guys with us to get the season started. It was a great trip.
I headed to Minnesota earlier in the week, to take care of a few things there, and while I was there I got together with Neighbor Dave and Neighbor Nichol for dinner one night, which was great. We didn't go too high-brow or uber-expensive, but we went to a place all three of us like: Olive Garden! The food was typically great, but our young waiter (who couldn't tell us if the wine we ordered was good or not, because he wasn't yet 21) accidentally dropped his tray, which contained three fragile wine glasses and three full glasses of ice water. Bam!
Our table took the brunt of the broken glasses, and we pretty much had a mess on our hands, but the poor people at the table next to us got the deluge of ice water. I felt bad for everyone, including the kid who was serving us. He was really feeling bad about it, and it was one of those moments where I was afraid he was just going to crumble and make a run for it. The manager came out and comped our full dinner, as well as the meal for the folks sitting next to us, and all was well with the world. We tipped the young man as if the service had been stellar and we'd paid full price. He mentioned that a couple of other servers had comforted him and told him that it happens to everyone, so I think that pulled him back from the edge.
Then, on Friday I took an evening flight from MSP down to Sky Harbor, where I was greeted by an airport terminal absolutely covered in Super Bowl banners and merchandise. Is there a big game, or something, going on down there in Phoenix?
While I was flying, the guys bolted the car together and made a lap. Just a 330-foot launch? Only to half-track? Nope. A 4.04 at 313 mph, although Wilk lifted just a little early. That's a heck of a way to start the year. I didn't get there in time to see that, but Dave Shaff was my interim PR guy there, and he posted some great shots of Facebook so I was dialed in at 33,000 feet.
I was up and at 'em early on Saturday, and off to the track. It was a "closed" test session, so fans weren't allowed, but they had a large staff on-site and the facility was actually hosting three different events at the same time, with one on the road course, our drag racing test session, and the Bondurant School, so the place was hopping. A number of NHRA Mello Yello series teams had gone the other direction, to south Florida, to do their testing, but we had a sizable contingent out in Phoenix, along with some sportsman teams and a few Nostalgia teams. Still, you can spread out and take all the room you want when the pits are that empty, and you can park your personal vehicles right there in the pit, as well. No trudging in from some distant lot on a day like this.
My first order of business was to meet the new guys, although I started with Richard Hartman and that wasn't technically "meeting" him, since I've known him forever. Quickly enough, though, I shook hands with Joe Serena, Mark Dritt, and Daniel Grinnell. We had a big crew out there, because Dave Shaff, Brandon (B2) Burgess, and Rich Schendel were also along, to help everyone acclimate and learn their roles.
As for those last three, it looks like they'll be coming to the first stretch of races, to assist and tutor the new guys. That will be a big help. Nitro Nick Shaff and Ryan Wirth round out the squad, as holdovers.
Richard's value was immediately obvious, as he moved around the car and helped all the guys, whether it was the clutch, the blower, or anything else. Nitro Nick will be doing the clutch this year, so although he's a longtime veteran on the team, he was acclimating to something completely different. Ryan will stick with the left side of the motor.
Joe Serena will work on the top of the motor as well. He's a longtime friend of our organization, and he lives just outside Springfield, so he's a local boy. He's been out to a few races in the past, so we know him and he has a pretty good handle on what's involved. Although Joe and I have just been acquaintances, it's still great to see another familiar and friendly face in the pit area.
Mark Dritt, who is from Cincinnati, will become our cylinder head specialist. He's a focused young man, and I suspect he'll do very well. And because this was a closed test, we weren't under any time pressure or schedule, so everyone had a chance to take their time and do things methodically, which meant Nitro Nick could take a look at the heads with Mark. That's what you call learning from the best.
Daniel Grinnell is from Plano, Texas and he has worked for Terry McMillen in the past. This year, he had made the switch to another Top Fuel team and had only been there a matter of days when their funding vaporized (it was a big story and I'm sure you heard about it). We still had a spot to fill, though, so he'll be our new bottom-end guy.
All of the guys seem to already have good chemistry, and they all seem like great guys, so I'm looking forward to working with them throughout the year. Let's go racing!
Around noon, on Saturday, they bolted the LRS Ford together again, and we dragged it up there to make another pass. Tim explained that we had run some different clutch levers on Friday, and the car ran well. This time, he changed to some other levers, and he expected them to act quite a bit differently, so he had to come at the tune-up from a different angle.
What did we run, with different stuff in the clutch? Another 4.04 at 313 mph. Now that impressed me! Tim was really happy with both runs, and he stepped up our incremental numbers a bit, kind of improving the overall "flow" of the lap so that the car was not too passive or too aggressive at any point on the track.
All of that is good, and what's better was that Tim and the guys put two such amazingly consistent laps together, despite changing things up. And it was great that we had the chance to be out there at Wild Horse Pass to make those two competitive runs. With our budget, we haven't been able to do much more than make a few practice half-laps before Pomona for a number of years, so it was really good to see those 4.04s and run the car hard. That will help us a lot, I think.
With those two solid laps in the book, Tim figured the guys had done what he had set out to do, so they serviced the car and packed it up. Mission accomplished.
Earlier in the week, when I was posting my travel plans on Facebook, Jim Schoenberger made a comment about giving him a call when I was in town. If you've been with my blog from the start, and you have a very good memory, the name Jim Schoenberger might ring a bell. He was one of the ranking executives in charge of the CSK sponsorship of the Worsham team, for about the last half of our time with them, and we always got along great. We quickly made dinner plans for Saturday night, and I was really looking forward to it.
Jim took me to Fleming's, so I shouldn't even have to write about how incredible the meal was, and all I can say is that it would've been a total shame had we not gotten together. We caught up on what's been going on in our lives, we shared stories about many of the other true characters who worked at CSK in those days, and we laughed a lot. I consider Jim a true "Renaissance Man" and he's a fascinating joy to be with. He's incredibly smart, he's traveled the world, is hilariously funny, and he has that sharp insightful wit that allows you to start a sentence and have him finish it with you, because he can almost always see where you're going with it. I told Barbara, after I got back to the hotel, that the food was incredible and the company was impeccable.
Sunday morning came early, and back to the airport I went, to make the short hop up to Salt Lake City, and then the next short hop up to Spokane. It's great to be home. It's also 12:45 and Boofus and Buster haven't made a move to get out of bed yet. It's a good gig, if you can get it.
This week, we've finalized our uniform design and gotten those into production. Once we have them, I'll take new head-shots of all the guys. In Phoenix, I just took some informal pics of the four new guys, and have gotten them added to our website. I also finalized our first 2015 souvenir t-shirt with Greg Ozubko, and I think you'll all love it. As soon as we get them in our hands, they'll be for sale in the Pirana-Z trailer at the races, and on our website.
Greg and I were struggling to come up with something new, and I was pretty much stuck trying to come up with any new concept other than your standard run-of-the-mill race car image with lots of flames, but then I remembered the best selling shirt we ever did back in the Worsham days. It was such a simple shirt, but people loved it. It was the "Top 10 Reasons Why I'm A Del Worsham Fan" and I wrote the whole lot of it in about five minutes in a burst of creativity. People loved it, and we sold out of it a number of times…
Lots of room to spread out!
So, I started to think about that and I came up with what I thought might be a good concept. The shirt will have a cool standard image on the front, of the race car and Wilk's name, but the fun stuff is on the back. It's the "Team Wilkerson Organizational Chart".
Like any business flow-chart, it starts with a box at the top that says "Owner" and Wilk's name is under that title. Then there's a box for "Tuner" and his name is under that title. Then there's a box for "Driver" and you know where I'm going with this… Below those three boxes are a series of boxes marked "Crew" and below that, as the foundation for the entire organization, are a billion little boxes all denoted as "Wilk's Warriors".
Wilk's Warriors are the bedrock for all the boxes at the top. I can say that with certainty. As soon as I have one of the shirts in my hand, and we have them up for sale, you'll hear about it here.
There's been quite a bit of other stuff cooking, in terms of how our pit is going to look and how the car is going to look, but for Pomona and Phoenix we'll still be in the same mode as last year, so I'll wait to spring those new things on you when they materialize. Oh, and LRS decided not to do a customer event in Phoenix this year, so you know what that means for me…
I had already bought my Delta ticket for Phoenix, but when I heard that we weren't doing hospitality I was able to change that ticket and turn it into my Houston flight. I even got about $200 refunded when I did that. I like Phoenix, and love the fans there, so I'll be disappointed to do that race from home, but at least I got to spend a fun day at the track on Saturday.
And I met the new guys. End of story.