Features

Not meant to be…Wednesday, April 29, 2015

As a former baseball player I have, over these many years, looked for direct comparisons between my original sport of choice and the one in which I've spent the last 20 years, that being drag racing (of course). There usually aren't that many, as I find our straight-line acceleration contests to be much more like golf or bowling than baseball, or any other sport. All you can do is put your best score on the board and see how it stacks up. You can't play defense, you can't come up with confusing plays or schemes, and you can't really even razz your opponent or try to get under their skin with jabs and late hits. But baseball? Not too many direct correlations. Except for one.

In baseball, you definitely need the breaks to go your way. As a hitter, it used to drive me insane when I'd finally snap out of a slump and hit four screaming line drives the next game. Four balls hit right on the button, as hard as you can hit them. And all four would be caught. You did everything right, as well as it could be done, but you hung another big fat 0-for-4 on the board. Meanwhile, some guy on the other team would go 4-for-4, and his four hits would consist of two broken bats, a fisted bloop over the second-baseman's head, and a 45-foot dribbler up the line that the third-baseman couldn't get to in time. Breaks. Sometimes they're really hard to come by.

Like in Houston. Wilk and our team would be hard-pressed to do any better than we did, on the track. Our four qualifying runs were 4.219, 4.041, 4.076, and 4.087. And the 4.21 we led off with was on pace to be about a 4.10 but Wilk lifted early when it put a hole out down-track. That's a 4-for-4 absolutely, and all drives into the gaps. Maybe we didn't hit a bomb of a home-run like Fast Jack did, with his 3.988 to take the pole, but we hit it right on the button all four runs.

We ended up fifth on the board, but only because of speed. Alexis DeJoria also ran a 4.041 but she ran 310.77 mph on her 4.04 and we ran 308.78 mph on ours. Yes, we ran 312.57 mph during Q3, but your qualifying speed is the number you ran on the lap when you set your low e.t., so Alexis got the fourth spot and we were fifth. For quite a while, that had us paired up with Bob Bode, and for just about all of qualifying Courtney Force and her team were really struggling to find the right combination. When Q4 rolled around on Saturday afternoon, we all figured there was still some shuffling to do, and with both Courtney and her dad down at the bottom of the sheet we were pretty sure they'd both provide the patented "Force Magic" and go from barely being in the field to being right at or near the top.

Courtney ran a few pairs ahead of us, and instead of jumping way up with a stellar run, she only improved a little with a 4.137, which moved her up just a couple of slots. Wilk, who must have numbers constantly spinning around in his head, immediately heard her time and said "That moved her up to 12th, didn't it?" It did. So on the basis of speed we were fifth. And then Courtney moved up, but only to 12th, setting up our first-round pairing. Remember that part about not being able to play defense? We could've used an all-out blitz right about then.

And yes, we still approached the first-round lap as we always do, just running the fastest we could in the lane we wanted to be in. And we did just that. Wilk hit another screaming line drive, with a huge 4.046 at 314.46 mph, and he did that after leaving the starting line with a slightly better than average reaction time. He's a very consistent .085 guy all day and all night, week in and week out, and his average going into Houston for this year was actually .088, but he got off the line with a .081 this time. Courtney was in a little deep, which makes all the times look a little different than they actually were, and her .066 got her off the line first, but despite the fact her 4.056 was technically slower, we lost by a foot.

Five great runs. Five line drives. And in the end, they all might as well have been caught because we went hitless on Sunday. I'm incredibly proud of the guys and the boss for putting those laps together, but I sure wish it would've worked out a little better for us. Just like losing by an inch during the semifinals in Gainesville, huh? Sometimes you just can't buy a break. Meanwhile, it's hard to go through eliminations at any given race without seeing at least one driver win a round or two with the drag racing equivalent of a bloop and a broken bat, smoking the tires one lap and being on the receiving end of his opponent's red-light foul on the other. Breaks are weird creatures and they capriciously go whichever way they want to go. When they're not on your side it gets a little frustrating, but all we plan to do is keep making good laps. At some point, we'll get on the right side of this deal. And if it takes a bloop to win a round, I'm okay with that too.

And did you hear about the Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher (Archie Bradley) who was hit in the face by a batted ball last night? I think he's okay, but it was a really scary scene that had both teams in shock until he got to his feet. The odd thing about that is the headline and story I saw, in an online newspaper story, in which the batted ball was called a "lined drive". So I've been involved in baseball since the day I was born, and I've never seen it referred to as a "lined drive" before. I've never seen such a hit called anything but a "line drive". Just when you think you've seen it all… I saw it in print and on the internet, so it must be true and it must be right! Huh?

And now I'm home in Spokane where spring has really sprung. Just a matter of days ago we went down to Walla Walla and marveled at how much further along their spring season was there, and on Monday I came back home from Houston to find all the trees blooming and the grass greening up fast. Bam! It's that point in the show where spring says "Pow" then drops the microphone as the confetti drops.

Golf Ball Alert! I should invent an "invisible dog fence" that sends an electrical signal to golf clubs. The strikers of errant approach shots might think twice about hitting their pitch shots off my yard if we did that! She hit a pretty nice recovery shot there, so I'll give her credit for that although she's going to have a long putt for par. And hey! Please replace your divots.

Yesterday was Barbara's birthday! I had a big bouquet of flowers (with two balloons, of course) delivered to her office, and the news of that delivery spread through Itron at the speed of light. Good husbands always embarrass their wives in their work place, right? And then last night we went to Cedars Floating Restaurant on Lake Coeur d'Alene, which was spectacular. So often, restaurants that are in unique locations rely on the view or the gimmick to get you in the door, and then they forget about the food. When I was younger, revolving rooftop restaurants were all the rage in big cities, and the rule of thumb quickly became "If it revolves, don't get involved". With Cedars being actually out on the water I was afraid of that, but the preparation and the flavors were incredible. What a fun night. And then we came back home and turned on the DVR to watch the latest episode of "Mad Men" on the big screen downstairs. Pretty close to a perfect night. Happy Birthday to my sweetie!

And, at some point yesterday I was researching something (I don't even remember what) on Google and one of the images that popped up was a set of photos of Boofus and Buster from when they were kittens and we'd just brought them home from the shelter. They both arrived with "kitty colds" we had to nurse them through, but it was such a delight to have them in our house when they were such goofy little guys. Now they're just goofy big guys, but seeing that photo (which was from this blog in October of 2007) brought back some great memories. Considering they're both here with me in my office right now, with Buster dutifully assuming his position as bodyguard, atop my printer, while Boofie sits on the window sill inside the blinds, watching birds, I figured I'd share the old "kitten pics" today, as well. Just to embarrass them. They're eight years old now, but still kittens at heart.


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It. Was. Packed.
 
Oh yeah, a couple of other things about Houston. It. Was. Packed.

Friday's crowd was one of those where you looked up in the grandstands and thought "Well, that's pretty good for a Friday" and it was. Saturday dawned really dreary and wet, and for a while I thought we might actually not get to run and we might do that with very few fans in the facility. But then, the front moved through and the sky turned blue (parts of it, anyway) and the people arrived. In droves. Wall-to-wall humanity, filling the stands and standing at the fences.

I got up early on Sunday morning and had the thought "I wonder if this is going to be one of those races where Saturday is our biggest day, because it's going to be hard to beat the crowd we had yesterday". And then I got to the track and saw the traffic, already backing up at 7:30 a.m.

And it backed up, and backed up, and basically became gridlock. I haven't seen anything like that in a long time, and frankly I hope the track does some research to see how they can improve that incoming traffic flow, because there were still cars stacked up trying to get in when round two (yes, round TWO) was getting ready to go.

My buddy Dennis and his wife Keena came over from their home in New Braunfels (between Austin and San Antonio) and he was texting me as they moved, inch by inch, into the parking area. They barely made it inside the gate before round one.

Well done Houston NHRA fans. Well done. And thank you all for your patience.

And now it's time for lunch… A guy needs priorities.

Wilber, out!

From Double-W to H-TownWednesday, April 22, 2015

Houston. I think it's kind of remarkable that when people think of NASA, whether it be the Space Shuttle era for younger Americans or the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions for an old guy like me, they typically think of the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. After all, those images of the Space Coast are welded into our memories and are as central to our national history as the words "We have liftoff". Yet, once those spacecraft left the pad at the Cape, the rest of every mission was directly connected to Houston, and the city's name was included in virtually every bit of radio communication between space and the ground. We all know what the inside of Mission Control looked like, whether it was the all-male, all-smoking, all short-sleeve white shirts with pocket protectors in the 60s, or the diverse and slightly more relaxed group in more recent times, but when you see the Houston skyline you probably don't think of outer space. You might think of great Tex-Mex or the Houston Astros, but you probably don't think of outer space.

That's what having only interior television shots will do for your PR effort.

There was no real reason for that opening bit, other than it was on my mind when I thought of Houston. Cape Canaveral got all the "beauty shots" of the beach, seagulls, and blue Florida skies. Houston got shots of nerdy looking guys in white shirts, staring at computer monitors.

And, once I get down there tomorrow, I'll only be a few scant miles from Mission Control. If you're a few miles from Cape Canaveral, you can see the launch pads. If you're across the street from Mission Control, you see what could be any high-tech campus of look-alike buildings and parking lots. Maybe they should've moved Mission Control to the floor of the Astrodome. People would remember that!

So, we're headed to Houston. Roger that. The weather forecasts are basically all over the map but if there's one particular place where you should actually avoid even looking at the forecasts, it's beautiful Baytown. With the Gulf of Mexico in nearby proximity, your shot of getting the weather outlook correct in a place that is consistently struck by the whims and vagaries of Gulf breezes and the enormous humidity inherent in such a place, is near nil. We've gone to bed looking at a 100-percent chance of rain for the next 24 hours, and then seen nary a cloud. We've also gone to bed looking at a 100-percent chance of sunny skies and been deluged. Or worse yet, instead of a deluge we've seen those 100 percent sunshine chances turn into swirling low clouds coming in off the Gulf, bringing only drizzle and mist. For days. The Gulf rarely cooperates with the meteorologists, so just ignore the forecast and get ready to race.

I remember, just a couple of years ago, getting up in the morning on Sunday and looking outside the hotel at gloom and wet stuff. I went down to the lobby to get a cup of coffee, and my mood matched the weather I'd seen, but then I saw Jon Dunn and he was all smiles. He said "It's gonna be a great day" and I was perplexed, but then he pointed out the windows facing the other direction from what I'd seen, and the sky was blue. You see, just like in life, your mood simply reflects which way you choose to look. Or something like that.

And who can forget just a couple of years ago, when we made our first foray into "Live" television, and prior to the race (when they told us about the turn-around time) Wilk said "Well, that guarantees we're going to be in the final. No way my guys can do that yet" as he referred to that generation of the various young crews we've had around here. Sure enough, we made it and we actually got to the starting line before Cruz Pedregon and his team, but we waited for them and then they beat us. If we repeat this weekend, we'll still wait for them but we'll win the race. You heard it here first.

No stop in Minnesota for this travel week. I leave GEG at 10:15 tomorrow morning and make a quick connection at SLC before heading down to IAH. Same thing in reverse on Monday morning. And I'm in the front cabin going both ways, so that's all good.

For the record, I need a haircut. That will happen when I'm done with this.

So now, looking backward to the past weekend, how about a little Walla Walla adventure? It was great fun and we really enjoyed ourselves for a couple of days. The weather was perfect, and it surprised us that even though Walla Walla is only about 200 miles south of us, it was at least three weeks ahead of Spokane in terms of spring, blooming plants, and green grass. It almost felt like summer, except it cooled way down at night to make things basically spectacular.

I also had no idea that Walla Walla was that cool of a town. The historic old downtown district is hopping with stores, restaurants, and a ton of winery tasting rooms, and the neighborhoods just south of downtown (where our Bed & Breakfast was) are full of incredible old homes. We actually walked to dinner (about a mile and a half) on Saturday night, and we took with us a guide to the registered historic homes along the way, most of which were built in the late 1890s or early 1900s. Amazing places.

As for our wine tour, it was also nothing short of spectacular. We had a driver for the whole day on Saturday, and we jumped around from winery to winery, often being able to spend some quality time with the official wine maker at each place, learning how they create their own little masterpieces. We got to taste straight from the barrels and vats (and bottles, as well, of course) and we spent just a little bit of money along the way. Good thing we took my car, so we had room in the back.

The highlight was our "Mixing Experience" at Northstar Winery on Saturday afternoon. Along with eight or so other nice people, we learned about Northstar's wines, tasted a few, and then were taken to a blending room where we could make our own judgements about the six different wines they had for us (yep, in the barrels) and then we jotted down our notes and decided how we'd like to blend any of those options into our own bottle of wine. Very fun, and coincidentally (without discussing it) Barbara and I weren't that far off in how we chose to blend. A little different, and I suspect different enough to be able to taste the subtleties of the different grapes, but very similar. We'll need to do a "blind taste test" with friends to see who did a better job.


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A couple of years back, in Houston. Be very careful once the National Dragster guys spot you!
 
The B&B (which is called "Vine & Roses") was amazing. It was my first time ever staying in a Bed & Breakfast, so it was all a new experience and it was one I hope to repeat. The place was incredible, our suite was fantastic, the staff were world-class, the breakfast each morning was terrific, and the other eight or so guests were all fun people. If you're ever in Walla Walla, I'd strongly endorse a stay at Vine & Roses. Heck, I'd strongly endorse a trip to Walla Walla!

And now it's time to begin the process. Hair cut, laundry, pick up the dry cleaning, and start packing. Tonight, I'll be grilling chicken and asparagus for dinner, and there will no doubt be a hockey game on the TV. Tomorrow morning we'll have the countdown and then we'll blast off for Houston. We are go for liftoff.

Roger, Houston. Go for liftoff.

See you in Baytown!

Wilber, out!
 

Well, well. Walla Walla!Thursday, April 16, 2015

Las Vegas is over, at least for the spring. Wilk picked up a round win with a spectacular 4.08 (yep, another one of those) but then lost in the second round thanks to a mistake with the counterweight on the clutch. Straight up into tire smoke. Still, a round win is better than poke in the eye with a sharp stick, and it's better than chipping your tooth on the curb, and it's better than no round wins, so we gracefully will accept it.

And now, it's time to take a weekend off before we head to Houston (Baytown) and in doing so Barbara and I are going to celebrate her birthday a little early, and then we'll celebrate it again when I get back from Houston on the day before her actual "special day". You can't celebrate birthdays too much, can you?

What are we going to do? Just look at the headline and you'll hopefully figure it out. We're leaving tomorrow for Walla Walla, down in the southeastern part of the state where the good grapes grow and the talented vintners turn them into spectacular wines. We'll have a couple of nights in a classic Bed & Breakfast, a couple of specially reserved winery tours, and two great dinners, before we head back up here on Sunday. Plus breakfast!  Because it's a Bed & Breakfast. They don't call them Bed & Brunch, or Bed & Snacks. Just sayin'...

But that's this weekend and I can still ramble a little about Vegas.  The key thing was the fact I wasn't there, but I sure heard from a lot of people who were, and heard from a lot of people who said other people asked about me, so that's very nice. I think sometimes people are afraid you're sick or injured when you miss a race, but my only malady is a tight budget, which in some ways is still better than a tight hamstring. I don't like not being at the track, but I try to stay in touch with my colleagues and stay in tune with the race car, whether it's running another 4.08 or smoking the tires right there on my computer screen on ESPN3. Plus I get to hear Alan Reinhart talk to me on the P.A. audio-cast, which is always great.

When we smoked the hoops right at the step of the throttle in round two, my first instinct was that we must've broken a clutch lever or had some other mechanical problem, because we rarely spin the tires that early and when we do it's almost never a tune-up related deal. Well, nothing mechanical broke, but a simple little mistake was all it took and the boss took responsibility for it, because he's like that. As he said "the crew did everything right, but I'm a knucklehead." I disagree with his personal assessment, but I always respect what a stand-up guy he is. He's really like that.

And then the guys packed up and took off for home. But I still had reps and peeps at the track, and that ended up turning out really well for a truly great friend.

The guy always I always refer to as "my actor buddy Buck" brought not only his lovely wife Mary to the track, but also their two boys Gibson and Hudson, and a few other friends as well. Two of the guys who came along are renowned sound engineers in the music business, working the sound for the likes of The Beach Boys, Bonnie Raitt, and Steely Dan, and they were both already NASCAR fans but total newbies at an NHRA race. Buck reports they were blown away. They basically couldn't believe the work going on in the pits, the incredible access and being so close, and the thunder of the Nitro motors. And that was BEFORE Buck actually took them behind the ropes.

I've known Buck for many years, and over that span we've not only become very good friends but I've also managed to introduce him to a wide variety of people at our races, and now he counts folks like Dave Rieff, Alan Reinhart, Ron Capps, Del Worsham, and many more to be part of his racing circle. That's one of the wonderful things about our sport, frankly.

So, even though I wasn't there Buck and the gang saw it all, did it all, and had a blast. Last year, I introduced Buck to Elon Werner (pound for pound the best PR person in the business, working for some guy named Force) and now they're friends as well, so Elon took them into the JFR hospitality area, arranged to have Brittany and Courtney come out to have their photos taken with Gibson and Hudson, and basically he just showed them a great time because he's like that.  Plus, let's face it, people really like Buck and Mary instantly, and everyone who goes to "Jersey Boys" loves the show, so they enjoy having the guy around. I'm not sure why, but that's the way it is. I've seen photos of Buck when he was in the marching band in high school (yep, everything you'd hope for and more!) so none of this "Jersey Boys" celebrity nonsense gets past that blockade in my brain. Mary, on the other hand? That I totally get. What a sweetheart, and that Blackpool accent (that would be in England) melts people. Myself included.

Anyway, by the time the first round was over Buck had promises from Elon and from Suzie Oberhofer (yes, THAT Oberhofer family) that if any of their cars won the race they'd take him to the Winner's Circle. When the FC semifinals were over, and John Force and Robert Hight became the two FC finalists, Buck called me and asked what it was going to be like and should he really stick around and actually miss the show that night. I was adamant. I also insisted. I said "Yes, you have to stay. This is a bucket-list item."


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The Hujabre family hangs with Mr. and Mrs. Wilkerson
 
Afterward, he called me and said "You were so right. That was awesome. What an experience, but I wish it had been with you and Tim."  I couldn't disagree with any of that. And I'm glad they all got to live in that moment. There's really nothing like it.

What's also fun is that Buck and I have been collaborating on some stuff lately, all in the comedy vein of course. We've been writing together, riffing on concepts and jokes, even brainstorming things like sitcom characters and story lines, and it's been a riot for me to do that. I've always been a writer, and I think I'm kinda funny (at times) but I've never worked at actually (seriously) writing this stuff and I've certainly never worked with a guy as uber-talented as Buck. It's been a ton of fun and I think we'll both enjoy doing this sort of creative stuff together for a long time. We have many ideas going, and people in high places who are interested in making sure those ideas see the light of day in front of real people, so we'll keep at it in our spare time and see where it goes. I see it as being a lot like the pursuit of sponsors in my gig, in that you never speak of it publicly until after it's completed, so all I can say is stay tuned, and boy has it been fun. Kind of like learning a new position on the playing field, having to stretch my skills in a new way.  Maybe that's why my "comedy writing muscles" are so sore.

Next week, Houston. And, I'm actually going to do a strict down-and-back this time, instead of spending a night in Minnesota on either leg. I'll be changing planes in Salt Lake City in both directions and should be home on Monday night. But first, let's go to Walla Walla!

Barb and I went there on one of our first free weekends after we moved here, because that region has become an absolute superstar in the wine world as of late. Then, she went back with her friends from Minnesota, and that's when they stayed in a B&B and had a ton of fun, so now I get to experience that as well. The time I went, we really didn't know which wineries to visit, other than L'Ecole because we already knew and loved their Cabs and Merlots, plus we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express. This trip ought to be a little more rewarding. And hopefully not too expensive…  It's really easy to take one sip of a great wine and somehow logically make the leap to "We need to buy a case of this right now".  And that's just at the first of 12 stops you're going to make.

This was a bit of a short one, but I've got some stuff I need to get cracking on (including the fact my "Behind The Ropes" column for National Dragster is due on Monday) so it's time to shape up and fly right, or something like that. And then, tomorrow, it's off to Walla Walla.

Wilber, out!

 

 

Steel City? Yes. Lost Wages? No.Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Greetings from Liberty Lake in the Inland Northwest, in my office in our house by the golf course. Another Titleist plunked the roof today, but this time the wayward golfer scampered into our yard (Get off my yard!!!!) and picked it up before I could stake a claim. A couple of weeks ago, I liberated two new golf balls when the errant strikers of such spheres saw the "Out of Bounds - Private Property" signs the neighborhood puts in place, and both deemed it unworthy of the transgression to tip-toe over here and grab them. I'll give them plenty of credit for that. Must be tough to walk away from a fine new golf ball when you can see it just sitting there in my yard. I do, thanks to all of this, have quite the collection out in the garage. I won't need to buy any golf balls for years. Of course, I've only played once in the last couple of years, so that's kind of beside the point.

On to different subjects… The first trip of the year to Las Vegas - Lost Wages - Sin City is this weekend, but I shall not be making the trip again. There are a few races on the tour where LRS doesn't do hospitality (and I, therefore, do not travel) where I can honestly admit that I'm not completely saddened by the No-Fly rule (which is far different than the Infield Fly Rule that is understood by almost no one, including most umpires). Whether it be the propensity for rain in certain markets, or the difficulty of traveling in and out of said markets, or any other reason including but not limited to parking, traffic, food, and/or the overbearing exuberance of State Troopers on steroids, there are some I can skip without too may tears. A few, but not too many.

Las Vegas is not one of those places. At least half the time since we've gone to the "No Hospitality - No Bob" program, I've gone to Vegas anyway totally on my own dime. I love the track, I love the area, I love killing it on slot machines, and I have many great friends who either live there (you know I'm talking about you Buck Hujabre) or make a point to attend the race from other parts of the world. Vegas is, by far I think, the most travel-tourist race on the Mello Yello tour. People love Vegas, and they love their NHRA Drag Racing, so the percentage of those in attendance who do not carry Nevada driver's licenses is huge. And I won't be there with my Washington license. Oh, but I will be there for the fall race. You can count on that.

Despite the fact I won't be getting on a plane tomorrow, I have been traveling during the off-week. As I mentioned in the previous blog installment, Barbara and I spent the weekend in Pittsburgh (yes, that Pittsburgh) celebrating her brother Tim's 50th birthday. When I say much fun was had by all, I mean it was a riot and we loved every second of it. I'll get to more Vegas and racing ramblings soon, but please allow me to digress and talk about my weekend and the unique place we visited. There's no NHRA tie-in here, I just want to take you to The Steel City.

Pittsburgh is a really unique place, and it's a city I really only got to know once I met Barbara, since she's originally from there. Like a lot of people, I had visions of the stereotyped Pittsburgh in my mind (thank you, Hollywood) before we started visiting regularly, and I learned quickly that many of those images were outdated and wrong. But, even though the steel industry has moved on, the factories and mills have been torn down, and the city has been reborn as a cosmopolitan business center with a vibrant downtown (or, as they would say in Pittsburgh-ese "Don-Ton") the heart and soul of the city remains as it's always been.

For those many decades when steel ran the town, Pittsburgh earned a legit reputation for being a tough and hardened place. The mills belched smoke and smog into the often cloudy skies, the work was hard, the weather was often rough, and the western Pennsylvania landscape can be challenging. This wasn't Boston, New York, Miami, L.A., San Francisco, Dallas, or even Minneapolis. It was "The 'Burgh" and it was unique. They worked hard, they played hard, and they had each other's backs.

What the hard-working residents also had were their sports teams. I can't think of another town in America that loves its sports franchises any more than Pittsburgh and for a small market with many challenges, they've sure had some successful ones. The Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins have brightened many a day over the years, and they've inspired millions of locals to believe in miracles, the Steel Curtain, the "Immaculate Reception," Mario and Sid the Kid, and that "We Are Family" whether Clemente, Stargell, or McCutchen is wearing the Pirate "P" on his hat. It was once a steel town. It's ALWAYS been a sports town.

While the look and feel of the city has changed dramatically, that sports devotion remains the same. Tim's basement is a first-class rec-room, with a dandy pool table, but what makes it special is that it's completely decorated with Pittsburgh sports memorabilia. It's fantastic, and I love visiting. I walk around the room and look at all of it, and it strikes me as almost unbelievable that one little city, once surrounded by steel mills, could produce so many great teams, so many great moments, and so much sports history. St. Louis is a baseball town. Green Bay is a football town. Detroit is a hockey town. Pittsburgh is all of them put together.

That Pittsburgh accent I mentioned above is one I've had trouble emulating over the years, because it's completely unique to the city and I don't visit for long enough stretches to immerse myself in it. Then, along came a local guy who made a name for himself on YouTube with a series of videos called "Pittsburgh Dad" and they're hilariously self-deprecating (check 'em out for a bunch of good laughs). Watching those videos, and laughing out loud at them, I realized it wasn't just the quirky pronunciations that made the Pittsburgh accent what it is, but also the cadence and the emphasis on certain words. Also the propensity to add the contraction for "and that" to the end of random sentences, pronouncing it as "n'at". Kind of like a Canadian adding "eh" at the end of any phrase, eh.

Tim and I went shopping for party supplies one afternoon, and it all started to come together for me, in terms of understanding the ins and outs of the accent. At Sam's Club, a guy behind us told his wife "It's too crodded here. I don't like crods. Let's go back to da hoss." Of course, there's also the collective term "Yinz" which I guess is a contraction of "You-ins" which is kind of like "you guys". Any sentence can start with "Yinz" if you're addressing a group. "Yinz wouldn't understand how crodded it was at the Stillers game. It was so crodded I just wanted to get back to the hoss, n'at."

There was also bowling. A group of us headed over to an old bowling alley that is, in itself, a museum of 1960s interior design. Barb and Tim have been playing there since they were kids, and they swear nothing has changed, and I totally believe them. It was classic, and much fun. I actually did okay, which made it even more fun. Had one little string of strike/spare/spare/strike/spare that got me up around 150, which I think isn't bad for a guy who has bowled only one other time in the last 20 years, with that being at the legendary Worsham Lanes at the old So Cal shop during the CSK days.

In case you've forgotten about Worsham Lanes, Del and Chuck decided to add a full sports bar to the upper level of the shop in Orange County, and that turned into a full-on bowling center, with pinball, pool, shuffleboard, and a full-service bar. Incredible. And they built it all themselves. Chuck, by now, has thrown many (I don't know how many, but many) 300 games in his career, and having his own private set of lanes must be the reason. The Chuckster loves to bowl, so it must be heaven for him. Like if I had my own pitching machine and batting cage in the backyard.

Back to Pittsburgh. After the riotous and hilarious party on Saturday night, we all dragged our sleepy selves out of bed and headed out to the country for an Easter feast at Tim's in-laws house (hoss). Oh my, the food was great, and Barb's nephew Sean brought along this 3-year-old boy Jordan, who was the hit and center-of-attention the whole weekend. What a cool little guy! Just as fun and as sweet as he can be, and he even bowled with us! He also found all the eggs out in the yard. Next year, all of us bunnies are going to have to hide them better.

Once the afternoon rolled around, Barb and I had to hit the road to make the long drive all the way through downtown (don-ton) and out to the airport, where we caught our flight up to MSP then changed planes and continued on to GEG, back here in Spokaneville, Spokanetown, Spokaneburgh… Spokane. It was a long day of Easter egg hiding, ham and turkey feasting, and flying, and we finally walked in from the garage near midnight, to find two fuzzy boyz waiting for us. After the necessary squawking and ignoring us to make sure we knew they'd missed us, they spent the night purring and snuggling with us in bed.

A great trip, with great people, in a great place. Yinz wouldn't believe how crodded it was.

Okay, looking forward to Vegas this weekend I predict a major bounce-back effort from Wilk. We're just running too well to not do that. Are we the sleeper pick for the win? I wouldn't bet against us. And that's the sum total of my Vegas wagering analogies for this blog.

Looking back on Vegas races in the past, I have many great memories. They seem endless, but I'll try to recall a few here.

It was 2004 when the CSK team started the season absolutely on fire (and I thankfully don't mean that literally). Del lost in the semifinal at Pomona, then he won in Phoenix and won again in Gainesville. Vegas came next, and despite the fact Del and the red team lost in the first round, Phil Burkart and the blue team took out some guy named Wilkerson in that opener. And then went on to beat Gary Scelzi, John Force, and finally Whit Bazemore in the final. I hopped on the scooter and raced down the return road to meet Phil as he got out of the car, and boy that was a fun one.

We all went to dinner at the steakhouse inside the Monte Carlo (where we stayed) and the highlight of that meal was the practical joke someone (and I don't have to claim amnesia because I really don't remember who did it) put their leftovers inside another crew member's roll-aboard bag that was tucked in the corner of the private room we were in. Said greasy leftovers were not discovered by the owner until he returned home and unpacked. Apparently, TSA didn't have a problem with food scraps in carry-ons.

I've written about his one before as well, but it really was a highlight. In Pittsburgh this past weekend, someone mentioned the band Saliva and their big hit "Ladies and Gentleman" which also used to be major piece of the theme music at our NHRA races. I felt the need to mention that the band was at a Vegas preseason testing session to shoot a racing-related video one year, and after they shot the lip-sync stuff with all of their instruments, right behind the starting line, they then came to our pit and shot some more scenes there. No amps, no drums (the drummer "played" on some tires and fuel containers), and the singer stood on our rear lift-gate, about 10 feet off the ground as they shot the scenes.

It was VERY cold out there that weekend, as in can be in Vegas that time of year, and the band would hustle back to their tour bus between takes, to warm up. The director would then yell for them and they'd come back out, rubbing their arms and blowing on their hands, before taking their positions. When he'd yell "Action!" they went from being freezing guys who looked like they were going to a costume party as overdressed rock stars, to being actual real-life rock stars, with an actual hit record or four to their credit. I found it fascinating how they could just spring into action and totally overact it, all while doing it so seriously. Fun stuff. And it's still a great song.


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Hangin' out near The 'Burgh on a beautiful Easter Sunday
 
There was the time we stayed at The Cannery for testing one year, and I ventured away from the group for all of two minutes, during which I won about $3,000 on two side-by-side slot machines. My most efficient triumph ever. And it paid for a big diamond for Barb.

The many (too many to count) Fan Fests in Vegas that always packed them in, whether on Fremont Street or on the Brooklyn Bridge at New York-New York. One time there, at NY-NY, Del was sitting next to Ron Capps, signing autographs for the line of fans that stretched out of sight, and I said "I'm going to go play some slots. I'll be back." Del nodded, and when I came back just a few minutes later he said "Well that must've gone badly". I showed him the pay slip for $1,200 I had knocked out in mere minutes on a "Wheel Of Fortune" machine. Oh but don't worry, there are plenty of other times it didn't go as well. They didn't build all of those incredible casinos and resorts because they lose all the time.

These days, Vegas always means seeing Buck and his amazing wife Mary, along with their boys Gibson and Hudson. Buck is rocking it these days, doing commercials, getting some movie parts, and all the while still killing it nightly in "Jersey Boys". So proud of him and happy for him. Today, he posted a shot on Facebook of him shooting a commercial for TaylorMade golf clubs and Dick's Sporting Goods. He'll be at the track with the whole family on Sunday, and he's under strict orders to stop by the pit for a while, despite our cramped single-space set-up and despite the fact I won't be there. If you're there, and you see the Hujabre family in the pits or in the stands, feel free to say hello.

So let's go win ourselves a drag race, eh? With that in mind, if you're not going to Vegas and plan to watch on TV, we have a very unique schedule this weekend. Qualifying and Eliminations will both be on ESPN2, as per usual, but it's the Saturday qualifying show that will be on "Live," at 6:00 p.m. Eastern, which is 3:00 p.m. out here in Pacific time. The Sunday show will be tape-delayed and it will go on the air at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Enjoy!

May your slot machine roll over to 7-7-7, may your Blackjack hand be an ace and a king, may your roulette wheel land right on your number, and my your Double-Double at In-N-Out be everything you ever dreamed of.

And Yinz better get out to the track early. It's gonna be crodded out there.

Wilber, out!

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