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Everything but a win light!Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Posted by: Jack Beckman, Valvoline MaxLife Dodge

Though I was highly disappointed that our Valvoline NextGen Dodge wasn’t able to get out of the first round at the season opener in Pomona, it’s tough to feel “down” right now. The weekend (at least up until 5.34 seconds into the fourth pair of Funny Car in round one) really went wonderful. It was hectic, to be sure, but very rewarding. Before officially kicking off our 2013 racing season in this blog, let’s take a step back…

Our test in Vegas three days before the start of the season didn’t go too well. It was cold, and we only made it down track one time in four attempts. I know how frustrating that is on the crew, as they always give their best effort, whether we set the national record or smoke the tires. Personally, I prefer the record runs! Perhaps the highlight of the Vegas excursion was my trip home. Good friend and National Dragster writer Kevin McKenna was at the track shooting some photos (I think that was just to cover his butt for all the gambling he did), so I withdrew my plane ticket and hopped in the car with him. We got to shoot the, uh…whatever it is that guys shoot… during a three and a half hour car trip.

By the time that Kevin dropped me at my car (which I had left at Ontario airport the day before), I was so tired that it was tough driving home. Besides trying (and I emphasize, “trying”) to nap during my flights, I had gotten four hours of sleep each of the last two nights. That may work if you’re an artist, but it isn’t fun when you have to give four separate seminars for your sponsor and need to deliver an effective and concise speech each time (that would be my Sunday night in Nashville), or when you’re accelerating from zero to 300 in four seconds (that SHOULD have been my Monday in Vegas, but it turned out to be some serious tire shake a couple of times, which is always good for a sleep substitute!).

Ozzie, Christian, and Bo. Not only am I the youngest guy in this photo, but also the shortest, palest, and least muscular. I need to get some new friends!
From left to right, Don Long, Bob Beckman, Bill Schultz, Walt Rhoades, Dennis Murphy, Brent Cannon, Billy Scott, Spider Razon, Donny Hampton (sitting), me, Larry Bowers, John Rasmussen, Phil Burkart Jr., Joel Embick, Frank Genco, Rod McCarrell, Carl Olson, and John Hansen. How many laps do you think this group has made down the quarter-mile?
Valvoline’s Rob Clendening actually looks right at home with the surfboard, and that signature on it looks familiar to me. Now that it’s passed the peer-review and engineering evaluations, we’ll move into sea trials when time (and the wife) permit. I can’t wait!
Dick made me this awesome necklace, but we were unable to find a chain that would support it (plus it made my neck hurt). We’ve decided to make a keychain out of it, which begats the question: “Is that a #1 in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?”
This is one of those “special moments” that you always dream of, but are never sure it will happen. Not only are the rings cool, but those presentation boxes rock!
Tell me the artist who engraved this had to lay off the caffeine for a few hours! (So his hands didn’t shake…that was a joke).
If you ever see this ring on an episode of “Pawn Stars”, call the cops, then call me immediately. Either it was stolen, or Jenna needed money for new carpet!

While in Nashville, I got to take a picture with Ozzie Smith (the baseball player, not the rock singer), Christian Okoye (the NFL Running Back, not the religion), and Bo Jackson (definitely NOT Bo Diddely). All three of them were extraordinarily receptive and easy to talk to. By the way, all of us were guests of Valvoline at the O’Reilly Auto Parts manager’s conference. I also got my photo taken with Mario Andretti, but at 11:20 pm he looked like he’d had quite enough chatting for the evening, so I don’t think I made his Christmas card list.

Once home, it was back to projects as usual. Jerry came by, we finished wall forms for the last concrete pour for the garage, and easily passed inspection. Hopefully I’ll be done cementing things shortly after the Phoenix race.

The Thursday of Pomona I was invited to a really cool event put on by Brent Cannon. It was a “reunion” (though much less formal), open to all former Top Gas racers. There were some heavy hitters in attendance, and each person spoke for several minutes about their experiences “back in the day”. I love being a fly on the wall during get-togethers like this, as the bench racing stories are irreplaceable.

Friday, after qualifying low for the day (and #1 overall), I headed over to the Wally Parks NHRA Museum to be part of the Night of Champions panel, something I have been honored to do several times.

Saturday, though we were again the quickest in the final session, we were bumped down to #2 by Courtney Force, who went on to win the race. Still, it was a great day with some special surprises. Valvoline supplied perhaps the biggest. I have become so close to many special people there, and our relationship extends far beyond our common interest in increasing their market share. They really do go above and beyond to take care of people, and I realize how lucky I am to be affiliated with them. Well, seems that Shelley Austin and Rob Clendening somehow got ahold of my wife (I don’t mean like they kidnapped her…I mean that they contacted her on the phone), who then got ahold of my friend Rich (that BETTER have been on the phone, dear!), and the end result was that I was presented with a one-off surfboard in our pits. It’s one of the coolest gifts I’ve ever got, and I can’t wait to get it wet. I’ve been told I’m crazy if I take it out in the surf, but I don’t believe surfboards are made to hang on the wall…at least not until they’ve propelled you through the surf several times. I stayed up late last night selecting and ordering the fins for it, and I’m anxious to get out there and show it off.

Good friend Dick Vandermeer made me a present that is totally cool. He used his fancy new plasma cutter to duplicate the #1 on our car, complete with the names of all the Funny Car champions within it (my number doesn’t have my name in it, but Dick added it in his creation). It was thoughtful, it was meticulous, and it IS totally bitchin’!).

Sunday morning all four of us Full Throttle champions were given our rings and jackets during pre-race festivities. It really sank in when Tom Compton helped me put on the greatest piece of clothing that a Funny Car driver could ever want. And I got a ring, to boot! There’s no question that the ring is special, but it’s over-the-top huge (like in, “Mr. T-huge”), and my piano-player’s fingers aren’t really fond of jewelry. I think I’ve worn my Super Comp championship ring twice, and the newest one is way too loose on me. I’m not sure what they were thinking when they sized me for it. Either that, or my fingers have lost a lot of weight since November. Don’t look for me to be sporting that big, fat ring out in public anytime soon, unless I get a huge gold chain and wear it as a pendant around my neck.

That was pretty much the highlight of my Pomona, as things went to hell shortly thereafter. Our car dropped the number seven cylinder less than two-tenths into the run, and that was all she wrote (by the way, who exactly is “she”, and what did she write?).

Watching Antron crash from my vantage point on the starting line was frightening, and there were some tense moments before he got himself out of his car. He’s a wonderful man, a great driver, and the perfect teammate. I just hope he doesn’t become addicted to Ben Gay.

Phoenix has been great to me many times, and I’d love to knock out our first win early in the season. Our MTS/ Wounded Warrior paint scheme will debut there, and I hope tons of fans come by our pit and fill out a postcard to a wounded hero. It will make such a positive impact to so many deserving people, and I’m proud of Rodger and Karen Comstock for caring so much.

Perhaps the best part of my Pomona weekend was that THIS time the motorhome started up Sunday night, and I was able to drive it home! Sure, we had a leaking faucet, but these sorts of things are to be expected in expensive RVs…aren’t they?

Monday my dad (he and Teri weren’t smart enough to book an early flight back to Dallas, so he was stuck helping me) and I went to work servicing my land yacht. I’d feared making the attempt on the oil change, as the 40 quart capacity seemed daunting. Fortunately, thanks to a previous blog, reader Bob Rock dropped me off a behemoth of an oil drain pan. Not big enough to capture everything in one load, mind you, but I’ve gotten pretty good at screwing a drain plug back in, even amid a torrent of continually draining oil. Turns out all my paranoia was for naught, as the oil pan only held 32 quarts, without the filters. Piece of cake!

The filters, however, were another story. My jumbo diesel oil filter wrench was no match for the pro wrestler who must have tightened these monsters at the last oil change. No worries, I reasoned, and grabbed a strap wrench to use in conjunction with the filter wrench. Though I did turn an interesting shade of purple while straining against both implements, the filter refused to yield. Since more nearly always is better, I tried two strap wrenches in tandem with my filter wrench, and if I screamed at the top of my lungs and pushed until I felt dizzy, I’m fairly certain I saw the filter move about .050, only to settle back the instant my muscles fatigued. Before I brought out the hammer and drove a screwdriver through the filter, I enlisted the aid of a pry bar, against my filter wrench, in tandem with both strap wrenches. Though it took at least four attempts per filter to get them moving in the right direction, I finally won that battle. By this point my dad had about half of the nine total gallons of fresh Valvoline poured into the crankcase. I also think he may have been concerned that I would have an aneurism (or crap myself) after all the straining. Fortunately, I went zero-for-two on those.

The coolant and fuel filters were nearly uneventful, except for the fact that one of the fuel units was most definitely NOT the correct replacement. Seems that more than one company makes a model S-3230P fuel filter, and they look nothing alike. The old one went back on, and I’ll attempt to do a better job of ordering a replacement next time.

The euphoria I was now feeling (or was I just still lightheaded?) dictated more work, so I got the generator serviced as well. About this time, my dad must have had his fill, and he and Teri headed for the airport. Fortunately, the Zahorskys showed up minutes later, and I had another work partner. William, who clearly didn’t learn his lesson back in November (he, Staci, and daughter Kristen stayed with us for several days, and he helped me with several projects), found himself back in the motorhome, this time rebuilding the kitchen faucet. Between the two of us, a trip to Home Depot, some steel wool, Vaseline (hmmm…odd visual) and elbow grease, the unit is now working like a champ.

Today I waited until it started raining pretty hard before washing the PT. Sure, it may seem counterintuitive, but it REALLY needed to be cleaned before we hook it to the back of the RV and drag it 400 miles down rainy, dirty highways to Phoenix.

When home, we like to partake in family-style events, such as this OSHA-approved obstacle course, complete with garbage cans, tables suspended in midair, and pallets balanced precariously on uneven surfaces. Apparently the kids forgot to wear their helmets and pads, but we did have an operable fire extinguisher within easy reach!

This blog took about two hours longer to write than most, but not because I was out of ideas or that I was typing slower. Nope, seems Jason really hadn’t paid much attention to my two prior lectures regarding excess use of toilet paper, and failed to mention to anyone that the toilet wouldn’t flush. I was alerted when Jenna was shot gunning towels at Staci to throw on the floor, and all the while the water kept on running! Yep, it was loads (bad pun) of fun, two rolls of paper towels full of bliss, one package of disinfecting wipes of fulfillment, and 75 plunges worth of joy. However, the greatest moment came when Jenna was able to call the plumber back and cancel the $95 service call…life just doesn’t get much better. And there’s another great reason NOT to wear the championship ring around the house!

We’ll pick Jason (the professional wiper) up from school tomorrow before hitching up and heading out, and we should pull into the track parking lot sometime about 1 am. I need to be in my pit by 8 am to film a segment for a local news station, then on the track at noon to help with the media-race coaching. After all this, sometimes it’s actually less stressful when I’m strapped into the race car…and I can’t wait!

Stay tuned, don’t waste toilet paper, my ring size is 10 ¼, and I don’t envy plumbers. But most of all…Antron is okay!

 
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