Today's blog installment was going to be about Thanksgiving, Coeur d'Alene, wonderful food, great company, the joy of family, the NHRA hockey pool, and a few work related things like my Publicity Review binders (done, and out the door) but then the subject matter changed when we all learned the stunning news that Gordie Bonin had passed away. It was one of those "shake your head and rub your eyes" moments, when I saw the first posts on Twitter and Facebook, and it took a few minutes for it to really sink in. It hasn't totally sunk in yet.
But here's the deal… I'm going to write about "240 Gordie" from the heart in today's blog, but knowing Gordie as I did I can guarantee he'd be smiling and laughing and otherwise demanding that the rest of that stuff must go on, as well. He was like that. So we'll wrap up today's installment with my thoughts on Gordie. That's the way it should be.
I hope everyone had a fantastic and warm Thanksgiving (and for those of you who are not in the United States, I hope you had a fantastic and warm last week, with or without a holiday.) It was a little extra special for us, having Barb's sister Kitty with us out here in Spokane. It wasn't easy for her to get here, having to fly from her home in Orlando all the way out to the upper lefthand corner of the country, but she dove into the trip full of excitement and just having her here for a few days was priceless.
Barbara and I can cook. Kitty can create masterpieces, and she absolutely loves the process of making magic in the kitchen. When I cook, I absolutely love the process of eating what I've created after all that hard work. To have Kitty here for Thanksgiving, therefore, was a multifaceted benefit for all of us. Let's just say that all three of us enjoyed plenty of amazing (sublime) food over the course of her four-day visit.
Kitty is also big into healthy eating and an organic lifestyle, which is something Barbara and I wish we could be more consistent about. Having her here, we ate about as smartly as possible for four straight days and it gave us some inertia and momentum to keep up the good work. The biggest problem with that, living here in Liberty Lake, is that our grocery options consist of Albertson's and Safeway, and in a town of this size even those two mega-chain stores have limited inventory. There are a few organic options, but they are just that and they are limited options. You want boxes of macaroni and cheese, with the bright orange goo? They have shelf upon shelf of stuff like that.
Down in Spokane, however, there are a few stores that specialize in organic and natural foods, and Huckleberry's is one of the more renowned in that regard. We made two trips to Huckleberry's last week, up on the South Hill in Spokane, and it was like Disneyland for good food. Even our turkey was raised by local farmers and completely organic, with no hormones or chemicals. All of our veggies were fresh, we used whole wheat bread to make our stuffing, and good golly it was all spectacular.
Barb and Kitty made pasta one night as well, and when I say "made pasta" I mean from scratch. Out came the pasta machine and off they went, starting with flour and eggs and some tomatoes for the marinara. Two hours later, after I was questioning the validity of this lengthy exercise when boxes of pasta and jars of Newman's Own are so readily available just up the road (and so tasty) we had a meal that simply stunned my tastebuds. It was incredible. I'll never do it on my own, but it was incredible.
On Friday, we headed east a few miles and experienced the Coeur d'Alene "Holiday Lighting Festival" for the first time, so that box is ticked off the list of Inland Northwest things to do. It was fun, though, so I'm glad we went, and downtown CdA (that's how the cool people abbreviate Coeur d'Alene) is a happening place on any given night, but when roughly 30,000 extra people descend on it for a parade, fireworks, and the lighting of about 1.5 million Christmas lights, it's a real adventure. The fact we found a fabulous little wine bar (with great tapas to go with the Cabernet) made it even better.
As for work, my publicity binders were finally and completely done yesterday (with a few added bells and whistles at the last minute) so I pulled the trigger and fired copies off to both Dick Levi and Shannon Heisler at LRS, each accompanied by a personal note expressing my gratitude for all they (and everyone at LRS) has done for us. The binders had a good amount of "heft" to them, and I hope Dick and Shannon are happy with the amount of "ink" we produced this year, even if very little actual ink was involved. Next year, when we win four or five races on our way to a deep run in the playoffs, I might need a pair of binders just to hold all the clippings.
I mentioned the hockey pool at the top, and I might not have done that if my team was getting trounced. With that sentence having been written, you can probably surmise that I'm perched fairly high up in the standings. Oh yeah… I actually worked at it pretty hard this year when the entry forms came out, because the trick is to get outside the "multiple choice" options for players and find a few gems who can be added to the roster in the write-in section, and those players are the guys who are carrying me. Right now, I'm in a tie for second place (Greg Ozubko is atop the standings), with some other notables in hot pursuit. Rob Flynn (who just landed a plum gig as Fast Jack's new crew chief) is in fifth, Chris Cunningham is in 13th, Susie Worsham is 14th, Jeff Arend (who REALLY should be better at this, eh) is 21st, Brandon Bernstein is 26th, and Mike Guger claims the raspberry award for being in dead last. The season is young, however, so I'm guessing the standings are apt to change before we're done. Not for Guger, mind you, but for everyone else.
And now for Gordie Bonin…
Three legends: Steve Evans, Gordie Bonin, and Roland Leong.
It seems like I've known Gordie forever, but in the big scheme of things I was a latecomer to his life. We met back around 2000 or 2001 (I'm guessing) when I was working for the Worshams and he was, at that time, a manufacturer's rep. He was always a go-getter, so it didn't take him long to snoop around the CSK pit area and ask a few people to point him in the direction of someone who could help him get his products into CSK stores. Whoever he asked pointed him toward me. He was energetic and outgoing, and very respectful and friendly, but the cynic in me figured he was just putting on the charm in order to network and sell some products. The cynic in me couldn't have been more wrong.
From that point forward, we were friends. And like I said, this all adds up to me being a latecomer in Gordie's life. So many people in our sport go back many decades further with "240 Gordie" including a bunch of people I know who came from the same neck of the Alberta woods as he did, up by Red Deer. He never stopped hustling, he never stopped living the dream, and as far as I could tell all he ever did was collect friends at an astonishing rate.
From the day we met, we were buddies. And I don't mean buddies in the sense that he might nod or wave if he saw me at a race. For the last 12 or 13 years, if I were to ever cross paths with Gordie at a race track, the genuine shout I'd hear sounded like one I'd expect from an old college roommate, or a lifelong friend. Initially, I was surprised and confused by this instant admission into the "Gordie Bonin Friends Community" and I couldn't figure out how I rated such inclusion, but that was Gordie.
When I joined Team Wilk, after the 2008 season, Gordie was one of the first to email me and his message was something along the lines of "You can now consider me a card-carrying Wilk Warrior. Go get 'em, BW. I'm here rooting for you all the way!" That was Gordie.
He asked to be a part of my PR email distribution list, and I was happy to add him to it. That was thrill enough, but I wasn't prepared for how he then made it a completely interactive process. Every race weekend, no matter how exciting or mundane my email updates might be, Gordie took the time to reply to my PR blasts with personal notes that illustrated that he not only got the email and opened it, but that he digested every word.
As I told Phil Burgess the other day, I cannot count how many times I'd send out my nightly update from a hotel room, and within minutes I'd see a reply from Gordie in my In-Box. Every time that happened, I'd have the conscious thought "I can't believe Gordie Bonin actually reads my stuff and replies to it, almost every day. That's amazing." It was amazing. That was Gordie.
He had a lust for life, he didn't just live it. He risked it all too many times to count, driving cars that could harm you far more easily than they'd let you off the hook, and he always came back for more. When he saw me or spoke to me, his eyes lit up like candles, and his grin was as genuine as any you'd ever see. That was Gordie.
I think Gordie could've counted every person he ever met as a friend. He genuinely cared, he loved friendships, and he always seemed to be thrilled to see you, even if you were a latecomer like me, who had only known him for 12 or 13 years. That was Gordie.
I'm still coming to grips with the fact he's gone. When we get to the Seattle race, where he had a presence not unlike that of an unofficial King of the Court, it will fully sink in. Amid those pine trees in the Pacific Raceways pit area, I could always expect to hear that voice, shouting at me like a friend on the grade-school playground. "Hey BW!!!" That was Gordie.
Rest in peace, my friend. Rest in peace, 240 Gordie. And Godspeed.
So it's the off-season. Quick, name the first big project I have to get done once the season is over. I'll wait… (tick, tock, tick, tock).
That's right, as mentioned on this blog numerous times over the days, weeks, months, and years we've all been here, it's my "Season In Review and Publicity Summary" binder. I have all the pieces in place, now I just have to get the copies made, slam all the pages into the binders, and call it done.
As a PR guy, it's always interesting to compare the sheer volume of "clippings" you can generate in a year, and then factor in how much of that was directly created by the team and the car doing good things. If you win races, you get a lot of "ink" without really trying. And yes, the terms "ink" and "clippings" are now about completely as out of date as saying something sounds "like a broken record" or that you "dialed" somebody on the phone. Most of our "ink" these days is actually pixels on a computer screen, and most of the clippings in my binder are not clipped out of anything at all. They are, instead, created by taking screen grabs of websites and pasting the images onto documents. Clippings? I think that's what's left on the floor at Super Cuts…
Anyway, there are many ways for a PR person to measure themselves against their peers. The first would be by height. Or by age. Possibly by weight, but that gets a little touchy. Then there's those mysterious clippings and other publicity that gets generated, but that total number has to be weighted and factored by round-wins and Wally trophies, I think. And frankly, I've learned over my many years that even the best PR people (I've worked with plenty of good ones) will see a decline in the thickness of that clippings binders if things go haywire, or even just go a little underwhelming, on the track.
So, it is with some pride that I noticed the fact this year's binder is thicker than last year's, despite the fact we ended up 10th instead of 8th, and we didn't win any races. I point the finger at myself for this. I must've had a bad 2012 in terms of publicity. But seriously (when am I ever not serious?), it was a challenge from time to time this season, but I work for a great driver who is enormously popular, with both the fans and the media, and he really makes the job pretty easy. Wilk is the man.
These binders should all be done in a few days, and then it's a matter of making sure Dick Levi and Shannon Heisler each get one. After I present them, at LRS World Headquarters in beautiful Springfield, Illinois, I insist that both Dick and Shannon sit down right in front of me and peruse each and every page, making comments as they go. That reading assignment is followed by a test, both written and oral, and spelling counts. All of what I just wrote is true, except for everything I wrote after the world "Illinois"… But I do hope they both enjoy flipping through the books to see how hard we all worked to make our sponsorship valuable for them. That really is the key.
And now, with all that racing PR stuff written, I'm out of material. See ya later, everyone! What? I should write more? Even though I'm out of material? Boy you guys are demanding…
Okay, here goes… Now that the season is over, the first thing I did on the weekend after Pomona was get on a plane and fly back to the Twin Cities. It ended up being an enormously fun trip, and it featured a near overdose of sports, sports, sports, and more sports because my whole life is predicated on sports. Or something like that.
Barb had spent the week in New York and then Toronto, where much of the non-business talk surely had to do with their spectacular mayor who continues to make amazing headlines on a daily basis. And as sad as it's always been that we lost Chris Farley at way too young an age, right now it's sadder still by multiple factors of sorrow. Chris Farley was born to play the role of the mayor of Toronto. But, Chris Farley and Rob Ford aside, Barb's trip put her on that end of the continent so it was easy for her to fly into MSP later in the week, and I got there on Friday night.
The first thing we did once we were both present and accounted for was to drive over to Hudson, Wisconsin to meet our friends Jerry and Janice Walsh for dinner, and I'm thrilled we did that for these reasons: 1. Jerry and Janice are great and a lot of fun. 2. Hudson is a quick 10-minute drive from Woodbury, and as much as I've heard people talk positively about it I'd never gone there for dinner. 3. The place Jerry and Janice chose, the San Pedro Cafe, was amazing. Kind of a Cuban / Caribbean style place, with terrific food and a great atmosphere. I give it rave reviews, and a fun night was had by all.
Saturday night was basketball night, as we took our newly-married friends Mary Beth and Joe Gillis to the Timberwolves game. We met Joe right after Mary Beth had her first date with him, and all of our Woodbury friends immediately knew that they were meant for each other. They were, and now they are. We got to the arena a little early, and after we walked around during pre game warmups, we headed up to our fantastic seats right at mid-court in the lower level. As we walked up the stairs to our row, I heard a female voice say "Barbara" and looked up to see Brenda, one of Barb's former colleagues from the Lawson Software days, along with her husband and their two daughters. We haven't seen Brenda for at least six years, so it was incredibly coincidental that she'd somehow spot Barb walking up the stairs in an 18,000-seat arena, but what was more coincidental was the fact our four seats were directly behind their four seats. What are the odds of that???
The Wolves beat the Celtics, we had a lot of fun, and it was a great night. And Kevin Love is a pretty good basketball player.
Sunday night was hockey night, as we joined Neighbor Dave and Neighbor Nichol at Xcel Arena to watch the Wild play the Winnipeg Jets. As always, it's great to spend an evening with the Jacobsens, and hockey is the best place to do that, but it was made even more fun by a tightly contested game that ended 2-1 in favor of the home team.
For the record, we'd heard that Winnipeg fans travel to the games in St. Paul in large numbers, and it's really the first time the Wild have ever had a rival team show up with so many fans coming along with them. Mostly that's because no other NHL cities are really that close to St. Paul, but with Winnipeg being a manageable drive they really did pack the place. I've never been to a hockey game where so many fans were rooting for the visiting team, and when I say "rooting" I mean that in the loudest most avid way. Whew, those Jets fans are FANATICS! That was quite an experience, and I'm glad the Wild pulled out the win.
Monday was my day for my annual physical, so you can imagine how wonderful that was. Oh yeah, it's great being a male in his 50s… Everything checked out A-okay, in terms of all the stuff you have checked at a physical exam, so at least I've got that going for me. My blood pressure has never been better, my weight is about where it should be, and I haven't shrunk yet in my old age. I clocked in at 6-foot 1.5-inches, which is pretty much exactly how tall I was when I played baseball.
On Monday night, we took the 7:30 flight out of MSP but stopped at Ike's inside the main terminal, for yet another incredible meal. I've written about Ike's on here before, but it bears repeating that it seems unreal that there's a steakhouse that good inside an airport. If you're a carnivore, and you have a long enough layover someday at MSP, you simply have to eat there. It's that good.
So now we're back in Liberty Lake, as winter approaches. The sure signs of impending winter weather include large flocks of Canada Geese heading south in a perfect formation, as well as the appearance of snow or frost on the large hills (mini-mountains) that surround Liberty Lake. There's also a shift in the typical weather patterns, as the sublime summer/fall weather is replaced by rapidly shifting conditions, where it can be sunny and pleasant one minute and then totally overcast and drizzly the next, with the hilltops hidden from view by the low leaden clouds.
The surest sign of oncoming winter, however, takes place in our backyard. That yard, of course, is MeadowWood Golf Course, and it was just last week, right after I got back from Pomona, when I noticed the first sign of winter: The flag sticks were gone. Yep, the course was open on Monday and then at around 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday I heard the groundskeeper's golf cart go by our bedroom window. When I looked outside, it took a few minutes but then I realized the course was closed for the season. Bam! You can't play golf without holes and flag sticks.
The funny part of this whole last week, though, has been how methodical the groundskeepers are at shutting down the course. They only took the flag sticks on the first day. The next day, they came around and picked up all the rakes from the sand traps. Each day, it was a new item, and today they came by with a cart full of ball-washers, taking those in for the winter.
What this also means is that we have our private park back! When the course is open, it's almost dangerous to be out on our patio, since we live right on the second green and although most of the golfers here are really good, we did collect about a dozen stray golf balls this season, after they landed "out of bounds" ranging from the backyard all the way to the front yard (meaning someone hooked one badly enough to not just hit it out of bounds but also clear our house entirely). Once the course is closed, all of us who live on it now have the chance to enjoy the scenery without needing clubs, balls, and tees. I'm looking forward to that first real snowfall so that we can go for a walk on the cart paths and enjoy our 18-hole championship park…
It's a Saturday night in the Twin Cities. Let's go Timberwolves!
Let's see, what else…??? Well, a new DVD landed here at the house yesterday. It's the new concert video from the Rush "Clockwork Angels" tour (shot in Dallas, for the record) and yes, I did indeed watch the whole thing last night. 5-stars and two thumbs-up from me. Great stuff from these ageless musicians who just seem to play better and better with each passing year.
A couple of weeks ago, I got connected again (via social media) with another old baseball teammate, Pete Slattery. Pete and I both played in Medford for the A's back in 1979, and it was great to hear from him after all these years. We weren't just teammates, we were also roomies and good friends that summer, so it was great to find each other again. Pete asked about Mike Altobelli, another of our roommates from Medford, and I sent him Alto's email, so now they're connected too. Today, we were all three trading notes and I hope we can "get the band back together" (Pete's funny terminology) at some point. Alto and I saw each other in Joliet a couple of years ago, so it would be neat to see Pete as well and maybe all three of us can make that happen.
Pete is a Massachusetts boy, and his thick Boston accent kept us in stitches that whole summer. He had a girlfriend named "Barb" and just to drive him nuts I'd say "So Pete, what's your girlfriend's name?" and he'd say "Bahb". So I'd say "And what's my name?" and he'd say "Bahb". We were easily amused…
Well, I think I've stretched this out about as far as it can go. PR binders, basketball, hockey, physicals, Ike's Steakhouse, golf courses shutting down for the winter, and old baseball buddies. And I didn't think I had anything to write about…
I'll be back as soon as I can come up with some more nonsense….
The end of a racing season is one of the strangest, and sometimes most surreal, transitions you can go through, especially if your neck of the racing woods happens to be NHRA Drag Racing. Quite literally, you are standing there in the midst of the mayhem, mere feet away from a 10,000-hp Funny Car, excited and pumped to hopefully win a round and have a big day, and then in a single blink your day is over, your weekend is over, and your season is over. It's jarring, to say the least.
The sport, as a whole, is that way and I had a great time telling stories about that part of this gig on Saturday, when we hosted a fantastic group of people from Capella Technologies, in our pitside hospitality center. Capella was recently acquired by LRS, and since they are based in Anaheim, the LRS folks in Springfield thought it would be a neat deal for us to host them at the Auto Club Finals, as a way to welcome them all to the Levi, Ray & Shoup family, as well as the Team Wilkerson family. Not a single one of them had ever been to a race before, and I'm not sure I've ever had as much fun being the "host" and emcee in our pit area. I always do a bit of a "stand up" routine as part of my hosting duties, and it doesn't take long to get a sense as to whether you've got a "good crowd" or a "not so good crowd" on your hands, in terms of how engaged and attentive the people are and how much they're "into it" and want to be entertained.
You hear stand-up comedians talk about "good crowds" all the time, and I always thought that was just their way of deflecting the blame if they simply had a bad show and weren't funny one night. "Hey, I was hilarious but it was a bad crowd." Well, considering I'm uproariously hilarious in a knee-buckling, howling, fall-on-the-floor-laughing way each and every time I host guests in our pit (I am, right?) I can attest to the fact that each group is really slightly different and those differences change the dynamic of what I say and how I say it (not to mention the sheer amount of laughter I can create). Within seconds, after I pick up the microphone and say "Good afternoon, everybody" I can generally get a sense for how it's going to go.
To sum it up, the people from Capella were simply a great crowd. They were thrilled to be there, sorta stunned to be so close to the action, a little overwhelmed by everything going on around them, and practically giddy to see their logo on our quarter-panel. We had a GREAT time together, and I made a point of circulating afterward to talk to as many folks as I could, telling them how much we appreciated them being there and welcoming them to the family.
Anyway, the point of that was the part about how I was talking on the mic and I told them how drag racing is so starkly and radically different than other sports, in terms of how it goes and how abrupt it all is. I've won baseball championships and gotten to do the whole celebration in the middle of the infield after the final out, and that's unquestionably a very cool thing. However, it doesn't come close to what it feels like to win a Wally. In drag racing, you're never going to have a 10-run lead in the 9th, or two touchdown lead with 10 seconds to play. You don't have 150 more laps to make up for the mistake you just made. You can't just dial up your defense and clamp down on the other team. Instead, if you're good enough to win three rounds you go to the final and you have this thought… I have it every time. The car begins to stage and I think "Well, in about four seconds we're either going to be going nuts or we're going to be very disappointed. I wonder how this is going to turn out…" Four seconds later you know, and if it's the better option the release of emotion and excitement is at an absolute maximum. It's a thrill unlike any I've ever experienced in other sports.
The flip side, especially in the first round, is just as stark. There I was, standing behind the car with a huge (HUGE) Pomona crowd watching us, not knowing if we were going to sprint back to the pit to get ready for another round or if it would be over. When we smoked the tires, everything was over. The day was over, the race was over, and the season was over. It will give you whiplash…
I was on a very strange sleep cycle all weekend, falling asleep as early as 9:00 each night and waking up around 5:00, and I guess it was just because I've been "off my feet" and recovering for a while and I was really tired at the end of each day. Sunday night was similar, but there was a real empty feeling that came along with it. I was in my room, trying to wind down and relax, and it seemed like the clock was in slow motion. All I really wanted to do was go to bed and then wake up to discover it was Monday, but it took forever for 9:00 to get there.
When it did, I slept fitfully after four straight nights of sleeping like a brick. I woke up too early again, this time on the first day of the off-season, and was again faced with the similar challenge of just making the time go by so I could get on my 12:30 flight and head home. At that point, you just want to snap your fingers to make that happen, but travel isn't that easy. It was a long day before I walked in from the garage to find two fuzzy boyz waiting for me, at around 6:45 on Monday night. Thankfully, I was on the same ONT to SLC flight with Rich and Annette, so we could entertain ourselves in the gate area while we waited for that first leg (once we got to Salt Lake they went on to MSP to get home to Minnesota, while I got on the GEG flight to come back here to Spokane) and I had time in Salt Lake to have a pretty wonderful Cobb salad at one of the restaurants there, but it was still a long day of doing nothing. Sometimes, those are the worst kind of long days (see "rainy days" at the race track for a prime example of the agony induced by doing nothing for hours on end…)
And now it's officially the off-season. Tim and Krista went to the banquet last night, so they were still officially "on the clock" until that was over, but for me the 2013 season officially moved into the history books when I got home and unpacked last night. And I already have a ton of things to get right after this week, in terms of marketing and PR, so there's no rest for the weary, but there's also no race next weekend, or the weekend after that. There's no race until February.
Of course, because I don't get to travel enough I'm getting right back on a plane this Friday, to head back to Woodbury for the weekend. Barb was in New York the last two days, and is on her way to Toronto right now (and yes, she did text me "Shouldn't they be playing a Rush song on the plane, when we're headed for YYZ?") so we'll meet up in Woodbury at the end of the week for a massive dose of Minnesota pro sports. We're taking our friends Mary Beth and Joe to the Timberwolves game, against the Celtics, on Saturday night and then Neighbor Dave and Neighbor Nichol are joining us for the Minnesota Wild hockey game, against the Winnipeg Jets, on Sunday night. When I fly home Monday, I hope to have two wins under my belt, but neither one will be easy. Aw heck, it will be fun to be at the games with our best friends no matter what the final scores are, but winning is always a little better.
I guess I should shift into "rambling" mode here, for the final time this year. Right? Right!
The qualifying format in Pomona is unique, with the 1-1-2 set up on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and frankly I don't know any racer who likes that "one lap per day" deal for the first two days. Long days, without enough continuity or payback. So, we're all happy to see that Pomona will shift to a standard 2-2 format starting next year.
On Thursday night, Tim and I attended the Summit Racing Equipment ET Bracket Finals dinner at the NHRA Museum, and that event never fails to be a great time. The bracket racers who earn their way to Pomona, from all over the country, have overcome enormous odds and huge competition to do so, and it's really cool to let them have the spotlight for the night while the pro racers applaud them for the effort. There are also a lot of laughs, and some good food, so it's always a memorable affair.
Friday night was our annual dinner for our motley crew of team and sponsor PR reps, at Buca di Beppo not too far from the track. Anthony Vestal and the talented folks in the NHRA Media Relations Department host us for a big old hoedown of an Italian dinner (calories too enormous to track) and then they finish it off with giant platters of chocolate cake. For the record, my esteemed Ford PR colleague Lachelle Seymour (who has zero percent body fat) is a bit of a huge cake fan. Like, all throughout our wonderful dinner she just kept saying "Do I have to mention, again, that there's cake? Where's the cake?" When it arrived, we presented her with something close to 20 thick slices of decadent chocolate cake. Because there was cake. Cake. Did I mention there was cake?
We had our great friends Gerald Meux and his newly minted fiancé (no more calling her his "girlfriend") Kari Kieger with us, which means we ate very well all weekend. Those two are really fantastic, and they are a lot of fun to have with us. Kari is very big into shooting video with a couple of GoPro cameras, and she brought along the standard suction cup and extension pole accessories, to shoot various GoPro shots in different ways. On Sunday, Gerald and I kind of lost track of her when we went up for driver introductions, and I never did see Kari in the crowd gathered around the stage, but then Tim came through the sliding doors and I began to click off photos of him as he waved to the crowd. At that exact second, a GoPro camera on an extension pole rose up out of the crowd like a submarine periscope, right in my line of sight toward Tim. Found her! LOL. That was actually pretty funny. We looked all around for her and never saw Kari or her pink headphones, but then Tim came out on stage and the GoPro rose up out of the masses right in front of me. What are the odds?
Jim and Nancy Butler were there, as they were at so many races this year. We got to know Jim and Nancy a few years back when we simply noticed them being outside the ropes at more than a few races, and they sure seemed like friendly Illinois folks. They are friendly, and they are from Illinois, so over time we got to know them and now they're just about part of the family. You won't meet two nicer people…
My longtime blog reader turned longtime buddy, Scott Burris was there. That would be Scott The Pilot for those of you keeping score, also known as STP for short. He's back to flying the friendly skies for a commercial carrier (you can figure that one out) and is currently based out of LAX, so he came out for the day on Sunday and after our early exit we had lots of time to chat and catch up on everything. Considering STP has flown all the big jets, all around the world, he's always the target for a million questions when other people find out what he does, and his answers from "inside the cockpit" are always fascinating. Did you know that he used to fly Casey Powell's private jet, back when Casey's daughter drove in Top Fuel and Funny Car? That would be my dear friend Cristen Powell, one of the nicest people I know. STP also flew the big Kalitta Air 747s for a couple of years, circling the globe flying freight around for Connie…
The final warm-up of 2013. Harrumph...
All in all, it was a great weekend. Except for the part about smoking the tires in round one. And we'd had such a good and consistent qualifying effort, too… Hey, if it was easy everybody would be tuning a Funny Car.
My biggest thrill of the weekend? It was huge. On Sunday evening, as the race was winding down and we were all just standing around socializing, I was talking to Tim out by the ropes when I saw Roland Leong come over to say hi to my driver. They shook hands, and I had the quick thought "Should I stick my hand out and introduce myself? Maybe that would be silly. Why would Roland Leong care who I am?" At that point, Roland extended his hand toward me and said "Bob, I've never had the pleasure to meet you, but I want you to know I love your blog and read every one." A chill, almost a shiver, ran right through me. I was stunned. And, for a split second, I was almost at a loss for words (but I got over it and thanked him profusely for saying that.) Wow. Seriously, that was pretty amazingly cool.
Now, I've got to get cracking on putting together my "Year In Review" binder for Dick Levi and Shannon Heisler, at LRS. The goal every year, of course, is to have so many clippings contained in the binder that it makes a significant THUD when it lands on the desk at LRS headquarters in Springfield. We're coordinating that trip now, and since I'm not sure when we'll be having our annual meeting I need to get to work on this. Looks like I have enough material to make a pretty good sound when it hits the conference room table…
Oh… Almost forgot the biggest news! Under the heading of "Better Late Than Never" our beautiful 2013 die-cast cars are finally in, and yes YOU can buy one if you'd be so inclined. Just to go here: http://www.timwilkerson.com and click on the photo. You know you want one...
That's it for now. In case you hadn't noticed, the 2013 Mello Yello season is over. Hard to believe, isn't it?
It's one of the most overworked and overused subject matters in the history of both conversation and writing, but it's impossible to avoid at a time like this. Where in the world does the time go?
There is one race left in the 2013 season. That, by all practical matters, is impossible. Yet, here we are with reality staring us in the face and the truth of the inevitable matter is that we've completed 23 races and Pomona is all that is left. Yes, the older you get the faster it all moves, and that's really just a matter of perspective because each passing year is a smaller percentage of all the time you've spent on this planet compared to those before, but it's still startling (and sometimes horrifying) to watch another year, another race campaign, and another set of seasons go by as if no one was really watching.
To segue into both looking forward to Pomona and looking back over this year and those that preceded it, I guess it's appropriate to give you an update on little old me, since I skipped Las Vegas in the interest of better healing. As much as I hated to miss that race (and all the accompanying hoopla that is Las Vegas) it was clearly the best thing for me to do and the rewards have been substantial. The knee is back to about 90 percent and although I'm not running around limp-free (let's face it, I'm neither running around nor completely limp-free) I'm lightyears ahead of where I was just a week ago, and that's a very good thing. I plan on enjoying every single minute of Pomona.
So how far back should we look here, as I start out another nostalgic blog entry based on the passage of time? Well, let's start out by briefly going all the way back, in terms of my career in racing. We don't have to go "all the way back" in terms of other things (I started out as a little baby, but I don't remember much of that) so we'll turn the clock back to 1997 and amaze ourselves with the dichotomy of just how long ago that was, and just how "yesterday" it feels.
17 years is how long I've been doing this PR/Management gig. That's a long time. When I was 17-years old, I was absolutely certain I knew it all, had it all handled, and had not a single care in the world (other than playing baseball and getting my own car). 17 years… And let's face it, I wasn't a young whippersnapper when I started in this sport! I'd already spent about six years in baseball after I got out of college, then I moved on to the sports marketing universe where I initially gave Converse shoes away for a living, then worked for my brother's agency for three years, followed by a stint as the top guy in the front office for the St. Louis Storm indoor soccer team, and then another brief return to the world of Converse, before I became GM at Heartland Park and saw my first drag race. That would be 1991.
When I joined Del Worsham right before the 1997 season, I was already 40 years old. So, basically, this entire drag racing thing has been like a total reset and an entire new career for me, after I careened around having other types of fun for the first four decades of my haphazard life. Hard to believe.
That first year with Del, I was still a real newbie out here in the PR and management trenches, despite the fact I'd already spent many years running franchises and dealing with major professional athletes in other sports. I was unknown, mostly untested, and made up of a lot more potential that talent. Hey, you gotta fake it 'til you make it, and I was all about making sure I at least looked like I knew what I was doing, even when I didn't have a clue.
A few minutes ago, I dug through the drawer behind my desk and found an old photo from '97, with the old original blue Checker, Schuck's, Kragen car behind me. It was taken in the staging lanes in Seattle, and it's pretty noteworthy and hilarious on various fronts. I was clueless, but I had a knack for standing there looking like I was smart. There we were in the lanes, mere minutes away from making a lap, and importantly I had my all-important file folder with me. Hey, never know when you're going to need to access some key paperwork or have to take some copious notes! Plus, file folders clearly mean you're a serious guy who must be important. I also had on a nice white Schuck's Racing hat, which was almost as tall as something a train engineer would wear. Fashion is important!
The other detail I always spot in this photo is what's on my feet. Yet another pair of adidas "Samba" indoor soccer shoes. Having just come from my second stint running a team (this time the Kansas City Attack) where we'd had a wonderful sponsor relationship with the fine folks at adidas (that's not a typo, the name adidas is not capitalized), I probably had as many as 12-14 pairs of the iconic Samba model shoes in my closet at any time. I'm actually surprised I don't have any left, even as keepsakes, but I apparently finally gave in to the need to de-clutter and I'm sure a Goodwill store somewhere saw a windfall of practically new soccer shoes land in their bin one day, back around 2000 or so. But there I am, looking all serious and professional in the staging lanes at Seattle, still sporting the Sambas favored by soccer players from coast to coast. Those were cool shoes!
In the intervening years, I got a handle on how to actually do this job and do it fairly well. We started winning races, we added a second car, we grew and developed the program, and I enjoyed the wealth of good feelings and satisfaction that come from being a valued member of a team, who pulled his weight and helped get us where we finally were meant to be. Those were amazing years, and they passed by so fast…
All good things must come to an end though, as we all know, and in the business world you can't control what you can't control, so you have to adapt to change and we all faced that after 12 great years with Checker, Schuck's, Kragen. 2008 came along so quickly it was all a blur, and then the CSK days were over. Bam. Thanks for playing. By then, it seemed as if I'd worked for Del and Chuck forever, and my working relationship with the people at CSK was so deep and so involved I could barely imagine what it would be like to spend a week, much less forever, not talking to them and strategizing our program's success on a daily basis. Joe Spica, Jim Schoenberger, Ron Chisler, and all the rest of you wonderful people at CSK… I miss you still.
I got lucky again, though, and the only other guy I really wanted to work for offered me a job. Imagine that… I still marvel at my good fortune in that regard, because this is a small corner of the universe and for things to work out as I wanted I needed to have the unmitigated good fortune to go 2-for-2 in terms of being employed by the best possible people. From Team CSK to Team Wilk, you just can't do any better than that. When I started working for Tim, it seemed like I'd spent my whole life with the Worshams and it was all a little odd, but within days I felt right at home and it's felt that way ever since. Hard to believe I've been here two whole years. Wait… What? It's been more than two years? It's been FIVE YEARS???? Are you kidding me? This is crazy…
So not only did 2013 fly by like it was in warp drive, the last five seasons have also been a blur. And the 12 before them. And the years in other sports. And when exactly did I leave college? That was a lot of fun. I could've stayed there longer if they'd let me…
Man… So, we'll head to Pomona and we'll wrap this up and then let's get started on another one. We still have some loose ends to tie up in terms of budget and other pesky business items, but I'm looking forward to 2014 as much as I've ever anticipated any other season. I'm going to be recharged, full of new energy, and I'm going to put these stupid knee and ankle problems behind me and get back to "running around" like I should be. That's a promise…
And that brings us to wrapping up Las Vegas and the great feelings I had all weekend, as so many people sent me good wishes, photos, videos, and even a few cards (in actual envelopes, with stamps on them and everything. Wow).
With Vegas being such a "destination event" on our schedule, you know you're going to see a ton of old friends and familiar faces there, so in that regard it was really tough to not be in attendance. Crazy Jane and her hubby Chris, from Vancouver, never seem to miss that race and they were there this time as well. So were Tom and Doug Miller, from West Linn, Oregon. For the record, all four of them got together with that Wilkerson guy and took a couple of pictures for me. One was a standard group shot, entitled "We Miss You Bob" but the second was a more candid photo which represented how they really felt. Cracked me up.
My actor buddy Buck lives in Vegas, of course, and this marked the first time the full four-person Hujabre family has ever made a trip to the races as a group. It seems like yesterday when Buck and Mary spent three weeks living with us back in Minnesota, while the "Jersey Boys" traveling show was in Minneapolis, and it was then that little Gibson took his first steps, while they were in our house. Now, little Gibson is big brother Gibson, and little Hudson is older than Gibson was back in the Woodbury days. Gibson is a veteran of quite a few trips to the track now, and he watches avidly on ESPN2 every week, rooting for Wilk (seriously, like out loud and actually yelling "Go Tim!" whenever we're on the track) but this was Hudson's first foray into the noisy world of racing. By all accounts, he has the some genetic make-up as his crazy father and hot-rod brother. His wonderful mother simply understands her men and loves to see them happy at the drag races.
Buck and Mary also brought Aaron DeJesus with them, another actor from the Vegas company of "Jersey Boys" and since I wasn't there they had to find a stand-in for a group photo. They found some guy named Capps. Apparently, he did okay as my pinch-hitter. Must be a nice enough guy, I guess…
Our longtime friend Gerald Meux was also there, with his wonderful lady Kari Kieger. Gerald is a rising star with Hormel, and he's also a huge NHRA fan who has almost become part of our team whenever he can attend a race. Does it help that he feeds us like celebrities? It doesn't hurt, but the truth is he's such a great guy and Kari is so much fun as well, they've become part of the family.
Kari is a talented videographer (you might recall that she and Gerald won the NHRA video contest about having the "Nitro Gene") and she shot some great stuff all weekend. She then grabbed a few video stills for me, which both illustrate some really cool perspectives, and I've included them in the gallery today. You just don't often get to see in-car camera shots of us towing the race car to the lanes or of Tim driving the tow vehicle back to the pit after a lap. Cool stuff.
Looking all professional and serious back in '97, while sporting my cool Samba indoor-soccer shoes
Erica Moon was there, and she's one of our biggest and most favorite fans. You might remember Erica from when we did those displays with the Circle K car before Brainerd. She came to the Elk River display and had her photo taken with Tim, standing next to her car and its "WILKFAN" license plates.
So, lots of friends and lots of support, and that's a big part of what makes doing this job an absolute treat. It's a privilege to do this, and that is not lost on me. It's also an honor. And I can't believe I've been doing it for 17 years. I still have nightmares about being late for a college class I thought I had dropped, only to discover the final exam is in minutes and I haven't studied at all… It's always a relief to wake up from that one and slowly come to the realization that I have my diploma, and at this point I'm pretty sure they can't take it away from me.
Here in Liberty Lake, we've gone from the most beautiful autumn to a startling change toward winter in just the last couple of days, even though the sky is a royal blue today. For the last few weeks, we've been lucky enough to have daily highs in the upper 50s or low 60s, clear skies, and a town full of trees so vibrantly colorful it almost looked like Hollywood special effects. And then a front moved through on Sunday… Strong and cold winds from the north, whistling through this little town at 50 to 60 mph, and in the morning on Monday there was a dusting of snow on the ground, while so many of the trees were now bare, with their leaves blown away by the first winter cold front. It happens. Winter happens. And so does spring and the next summer, so we keep moving forward.
On another subject, no less important than any others I've just written about, there's this guy name John Force and in Vegas he clinched his 16th World Championship in the Funny Car class. This, as we say in technical terms, is big stuff.
Last night, on the NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams reported on this Force guy, and his amazing accomplishment at the age of 64. As outlined above in sparse detail, I've been in this gig for a long time and I think that's a first. And for those of you who think the mega-machine that is JFR just gets this sort of stuff handed to them, I offer this: The reasons you see so much publicity for John Force and the JFR organization are many, and none of them have been handed to them. 1) John Force has now won 16 championships and that's kinda sorta newsworthy. 2) He's bigger than life and you can't fabricate a personality like that. 3) Dave Densmore and Elon Werner are the two best PR and Media Relations representatives in our sport. Ever. Period.
It's a treat to work with Dens and Elon, and it has been for many years. They are tireless in their pursuit of a job well done, and they are both enormously talented. We have a large group of amazingly dedicated and talented people working in this PR part of the drag racing world, and as a group I think we've all helped elevate the sport to new levels. But, if there's ever a Hall of Fame sort of thing for any of us, Elon Werner and Dave Densmore should be the initial inductees. Great work, my friends…
And so we head to Pomona. Let's go out with a bang and hit the ground running for 2014. Are ya in?