Just for old-time’s sake, I pulled last year’s trophy off the shelf…and darn near dropped the thing on the floor. I forgot how heavy it is, and I’ve forgotten how great it felt to hold a trophy over my head. I think we’re gonna fix that…soon!
Yes, that sarcastic phrase (which probably originated around the corruption of Tammany Hall, NY, in the 1800’s) was meant to peak your interest in what will be one of the shorter blog entries of my long and somewhat illustrious career.
In case you don’t know, voting for the eighth spot in the Traxxas Shootout began Sunday, and goes on for about a week. Though voting certainly does NOT guarantee admission into the exclusive race, it absolutely helps.
The way the last spot is chosen is basically done like a lotto, with Ping-Pong balls tumbling around in a pressurized clear container. Eventually one will be pulled, and the driver belonging to that ball (apparently my title wasn’t the only tongue-in-cheek phrase) is in. It’s that simple.
So…the balls will be doled out based on the percentage of fan votes that each driver receives. If Tim Wilkerson gets 50 percent of the vote, he will have 50 balls in the container. If he gets 10 percent, he will have ten…and so on with each driver eligible.
I believe there are 6 of us: Wilky, Matt Hagan, Del Worsham, Tony Pedregon, Bob Tasca, and me. The rules state that all of us must be present to have our…err…spheres dumped into the hopper before the drawing, and that will take place in downtown Indy the Wednesday before the race, August 27th.
Though we lost in round two in Brainerd, it sure looks like I’ve got my old hot rod back. With Todd Okuhara leading the charge and Terry Snyder back on board, Chris Cunningham and the crew really stood tall in making several changes and getting our setup back in the groove. We gained one round on Timmy and now are 16 points (less than one round) behind him in the battle for the final Countdown position. In case you haven’t been keeping up, it’s nail biting time!
Now that I feel we have a great chance of winning races (I’m leaving at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday to head back to Indy for two days of testing, which should further help our cause), I’d really like to be seeded into the Traxxas Shootout. Heck, the last winner’s circle I was in was nearly one year ago, when our Valvoline team won the Shootout in the most dramatic fashion ever: on a holeshot, and blowing the body off our Dodge Charger in the lights!
With that in mind, I’d really appreciate your vote for me. I’m attaching the link, and apparently it can only be done on Facebook. Heck, I don’t even know how to get on Facebook without Jenna at the keyboard, but I trust that all of you are far smarter than me. If you’ve already voted for one of the other drivers, that’s fine. If you haven’t, and you like what you’ve read here, that would be cool.
All right, I’ve been home for 6 hours, replaced the battery in Jenna’s Flex (man, did that car know exactly when the 3 year warranty was up!), took my waste oil to the recyclers, stopped in Home Depot to tell all the employees I’m still alive and well (I even let them scan my credit card for old time’s sake!), got in a workout, tucked Jason in, and now it’s time to get 4 ½ hours of sleep and start all over again!
Stay tuned, Jaxxas for Traxxas, be green with your oil (and your old batteries), Back Jack, and c’mon Top Ten!
If you didn’t get it, the title is an ode to Jeopardy. If you still aren’t getting it, Vanna will be over tomorrow to explain. The point is, I’ve got some “man” stories to impart this blog, so pull up your Barcalounger, light up a stogie, pour that Jack and Coke just right, and settle in for some good reading (the prior sentence was in no way meant to construe that women, children, aliens [legal and otherwise], left-handed people, liberals, or lawn bowlers are excluded from reading my diatribes. Conversely…I can use the support!).
Seattle…Seattle…Seattle, what else can I say? We did so-so in qualifying, and again ended up with a first round matchup against Tommy Johnson in his John Collins-tuned Make-A-Wish Charger. I certainly picked a fortuitous time to have my best light of the season, as we barely got that one by one thousandth of a second! By “best” light, keep in mind that if we drivers just roll the car a few inches past the point where we lit the stage bulb, basically we’re just manipulating the numbers on the timeslip, trading ET for reaction time. That is because we have lessened the “rollout” distance, which is the amount of inches the car has to travel (after we’ve launched) to activate the ET clock and stop the reaction timer. On paper, my .071 isn’t the lowest reaction that I’ve had all year, but I’m telling you that my eyes, brain, and right foot worked better than any other time lately, as that light came from a shallow-staged (barely lit the stage bulb and didn’t creep in any further) position.
And then came round two, which didn’t exactly go as well. If you saw the coverage, obviously you know what I’m talking about. Against Alexis DeJoria, I again gained an advantage on the starting line, and it looked like we were driving to victory when my Dodge Charger turned into a convertible, then into 674 souvenir pieces. It was frustrating to lose, it was frustrating to blow up, and it was frustrating to cost DSR so much money for one run. However, blowing up a nitro funny car, then jumping out with your arms in the air…THAT’s Manly!
The toughest part of that run was that it was the last run for Rob Flynn and me as DSR teammates. Don wants every one of his seven drivers in the Countdown, and we’re sitting in 11th place and down to two races. Rob was let go, and Todd Okuhara will again call the shots for me. I’m excited to be able to work with Todd, who was my first crewchief when I came to DSR in 2006, but I also will miss Rob and hope that he’s back out as a tuner, soon.
I have three highlights from Seattle: Number one has to be Rodger Comstock making the final round in Super Comp. He drove great and came within .02 of bagging a Wally, something that Karen was able to do in class eliminations earlier this year. Number two is making about 20 runs in the Frank Hawley School 2-seat dragster again at Seattle. The past couple years we had done this on Wednesday, but this year we ran after all Saturday action was completed. It was lots of sweat, but lots of fun!
I saved number three for last, as it truly is the most poignant. Hopefully you all know about the Infinite Hero military challenge coins that I take with me every run. In the beginning of this program, I conservatively figured we could raise 10 grand just with those… and I wasn’t even close. Most races average about 27-28 hundred dollars, and in Denver we had our best race ever. That was expected because we not only ran the Infinite Hero body that race, but we also had a huge push on the program, including a hospitality event. I was very pleased when we tallied $5300 for the race…I felt Manly!
So, when Sonoma rolled around, back to our Valvoline colors, I was blown away when we were able to hit $4800 from that race. I had no idea why we had sold so many more coins, unless my facial hair and muscular physique served as an inspiration to all you fans!
Seattle…$7000 plus! There must’ve been something in the air in the Pacific Northwest, as we just blew all past records away. But really, the “number 3” I was referring to earlier didn’t have as much to do with the amount of coins we sold as much as how some of them were taken. Friday I was approached by a couple celebrating their 33rd anniversary, and the husband is a Vietnam Vet. They handed me a stack of new $100 bills, still in the bank wrapper, totaling one thousand dollars. Owen and Belinda asked that one coin be signed for them, and that I was to distribute the remaining nine to other veterans of the Vietnam War. I thought my weekend couldn’t get any better, but let me tell you, of those nine other coins I “gave away”, the reactions from those former soldiers was beyond words.
Imagine being in a group that went to combat for your country, in an unpopular war, and came home to protesters who were unable to separate the cause from the character, basically alienating our heroes who performed selflessly. Well, to see a couple of them moved to tears, and the appreciation not only from them, but also their families. In fact, I don’t think I had a single vet come over when Alan Reinhart and I made the PA announcement. The family members brought them over, as the vets seemed reluctant to ask for anything free. I just wish I could adequately and eloquently describe how special an experience that was for me. Thank you, Owen and Belinda!
Three tie-downs, two moving blankets, a jack and two jackstands, one 2014 Dodge Ram, one 1948 piano, and an 8x5 trailer. THAT’s what a man’s made of!
Before I tear up, let’s get back to some machismo stuff! Ellen Tobler, a dear friend and also Rahn’s wife, was getting rid of the piano at her house. Jenna wanted it, so I went and rented a trailer and hitched on to the new Ram. Seems all my friends were sick, out of the country, down with bad backs, or didn’t answer their phones when I called around for some help, so we just headed out to Huntington Beach anyway. I figured I could always go rent a day laborer once I blew out my back, knees, and testicles trying to load this, and Jenna thought she’d be calling 9-1-1 at least once that day.
This piano is real special to Ellen, and even more so to her 90 year old father, Norman. Seems the grandparents had presented it to Ellen’s folks for their one-year anniversary, back in 1948! Knowing it had a lot of sentimental value to Norm, I was very respectful of handling it. Actually, I told him that he and I should be able to load it by ourselves…and the women could sip lemonade on the porch. Either his hearing aid wasn’t turned up enough, or he’s just a smart cat, ‘cause he just ignored me and coached from the sidelines. Long story short, Ellen, Jenna and I got it loaded without much difficulty. I don’t think my wife has much faith in me, but Ellen now thinks that I have chimpanzee strength…so that’s pretty manly in my eyes!
Unloading was a different story. Buddy Jim was the only one dumb enough to answer his phone, and he said he’d head over after work to help unload. Knowing he was probably stuck in traffic, I killed as much time as I possibly could; undoing all the tie-downs, folding up the moving blankets, blowing the dust out of the keyboard area, etc. The biggest issue was that, unlike at Ellen’s house, I couldn’t settle the trailer wheels into the bottom of the driveway apron and reduce the ramp angle significantly. I wound up jacking up the front of the trailer, setting the rear on jackstands, and saying five Hail Mary’s. Old Skeptical Jenna couldn’t believe we were going to attempt to unload (or, “dismount”) by ourselves, but by this point I could smell the testosterone seeping through my pores (or, maybe it was just B.O.?). We DID get it unloaded (and nearly into the house), but I was glad when Jimbo showed up. I’ve never raised my voice so much to Jenna without getting slapped…but I kinda liked it. Made me feel like Bogart.
Needing to further my manhood still, I hit the waves with Rich down at Sunset Beach. Once done with that, I was all set to wrestle some alligators, but apparently there aren’t any in Southern California. Lucky reptiles!
I was wondering why my arms looked sunburned…now I think I’ve figured it out!
I know the axles look backwards, but the experts say this is the way for proper weight distribution. I suppose we’ll know pretty soon whether all of Jason’s 15 minutes of hard labor were worth it!
So, I did the next best thing (no, not cage fighting) and started cutting, banging, welding and grinding on the tow dolly. You know, the word “dolly” is totally screwing up my man-blog, but I’ll have to roll with it. If you recall, I noticed the passenger side wheel canted quite noticeably just before we were due to pull out of the driveway for our trip to Sonoma, and this is the first chance I’ve had to get to it. I cut off the spindle mount brace, lined everything up (that’s a much longer story than the three words I’ve allocated to it here!), welded like I was getting paid by the pound of wire I burned through, and ground down my abhorrent beads until I thought no one would laugh at me. I then threw some Rustoleum (that just sounds macho!) on the mess and called it a day. Okay, actually I had to spend an hour just grinding the pan pivot bolt off (it was not budging…not even with my ape-like attempts and neighbor Matt’s breaker bar). Once the replacement bolt arrives, that project is off the books! If anyone sees us on I-15 the weekend of the Vegas race, and our tow dolly is missing the right side wheel, you’ll know just how good my welding skills really are!
I’ve been trying to workout as regularly as the race schedule will allow, and let’s be honest; sore muscles and the sound of metal plates clanking together is about as masculine as it gets. Plus, I need the increased strength that resistance training provides.
Case in point: Tonight Jenna had me hang her new mirror in the stairwell. I know what you’re saying…”How tough can it be to mount some polished glass on the wall?” Well, my naysaying reader, apparently my wife buys things at Pottery Barn by the pound. This expensive (did I mention I picked it up yesterday and loaded it into the bed of my Ram pickup…the one with the Hemi? Yep, the ‘V’ in this guy’s V-8 stands for “Virile”!). Anyway, this thing was “two-people heavy”, as in, “Holy Sh@$%! Heavy”. Based on the price and the weight, I’m figuring there’s quite a bit of gold inside this thing. Seriously, though, at 75 pounds, it took a “real man” (plus his wife and mother-in-law, a 16 foot plank across the stairwell banisters, AND the Little Giant ladder) to get this mounted. Done!
Last blog you saw the beginnings of the pinewood derby car Jason and I were building. We got that finished (and when I say “we”, you dads of seven-year-old boys know what that means!), I made a transport cart for it, and it’s getting packed for Brainerd. Apparently DRAW is having several drivers build these, the fans will pay to “rent” each car for heat races, and the proceeds go to help racers. Neat deal, but I’ll be devastated if our car doesn’t set low ET. I hadn’t built one of these since I was 8 or 9, so I educated myself online quite a bit, but Jason and I still wanted to build something with a bit of character, so we certainly didn’t go with a guaranteed design. That being said, I got my lead wheel balance weights and postage scale out to get this thing as close to the 5 ounce max limit as possible, put my center of gravity right where the internet gurus say to, got the graphite powder packed to install just before handing the car over in Minnesota, and am hopeful that we at least win “Most Manly Father and Son creation” (if there is such an award). If not, I just hope we don’t finish last!
Exhibit “A”, your honor. To have Jenna accompany Layla, this “awesome” (yes, I am being highly sarcastic) ride set us back $6.00. Those genius carnies!
Though not listed as “mannish” on my list, the family headed to the Orange County Fair for the final day last Sunday. These “carnies” have things figured out; they make you buy a card with “credits” instead of paying cash for a ride, and they’ve lowered the height limit for many rides, PROVIDING that an adult accompanies the child. And, OF COURSE, they charge for the child AND adult! Yes, my friends, it’s a carnival of cash, a highway robbery on the Ferris Wheel…and yet we all still take the kiddies there! I’m just hopeful that I’m out of town the entire time the LA County Fair is in Pomona. If I have to see one more clown, smell one more bushel of corn-on-the-cob being barbequed, or stand in one more line to plunk down 20 bucks for credits to get on two lousy rides, I’m going to show them who the real man is!
Okay, I’ve calmed somewhat. By the time you read this I’ve caught the 6am flight to head to Brainerd. I have an autograph signing at the Wal-Mart in Baxter from 5-6:30, and that’s a good 2 ½ hour drive from the airport. After that, I’m all about getting our Valvoline SynPower car into its first winner’s circle of the year. The crew just front- halved the car, so we’re solid to finish the year with that chassis.
I’m ready to show the rest of the funny car field the taillights of this dude’s Charger. I’m ready to be, “the Man”!
Stay tuned, stay manly (only if you check “male” on your forms, otherwise stay girly, but still giggle at my blog), “fair” is the LAST word they should use to describe those events, Pinewood Derby cars rock, but Dodge RAM’s with Valvoline in the crankcase rock harder!
Whoever makes the commercials to show the wonderment, solace, fulfillment and satisfaction of a motorhome vacation should hang out with me more often…I certainly could “pop their bubble”! And speaking of popping things, I got not one, but TWO big pops on our trip home from Sonoma. More on that later….
When last I left you fearless readers, I was just getting ready to wash the rig before we pulled out to head up north. Well, once the RV was clean and I directed the hose at the PT, something looked slightly out of kilter on the tow dolly. Seems the driver’s side spindle has cocked itself, resulting in enough negative camber to allow the backing plate to hit the frame of the dolly. I suppose the silver lining is that, had I not noticed it, we probably wouldn’t have made it more than a few miles before disaster inevitably would have set in. I find it ironic that I had JUST replaced both tires after noticing the one on that side had started to separate, yet the spindle orientation looked just fine until the car was loaded on it. The other spindle had done nearly the exact same thing several years ago whilst in Delaware, but I attributed the cause to a nasty pothole I ran through after leaving the Richmond track, and it took quite some time to manifest itself, plus it wasn’t cocked nearly as bad as this one.
For about 10 minutes, I contemplated breaking out the welder and attempting to repair things, but then reality set in. Back in Delaware, it had taken three of us (in a trailer repair shop with all the right equipment!) nearly three hours to cut, align, weld, fabricate, and gusset everything, which means that, in Jack Beckman time, it should take me about 10-12 (20!) hours. So, we bid a fond adieu to the Cruiser and set sail for Wine Country, without backup transportation.
Except for a couple of hours in stop and go traffic (a result of I-5 lane closures just to keep us California drivers from getting used to actually averaging anything above 45 miles an hour), the trip there was uneventful. Boy, would I love “uneventful” to describe more of my RV experiences!
Jim Barner and his wife Angela etch a custom, HUGE, wine bottle every year to raise funds for the Eric Medlen night. This year’s entry went for $5000. Those two are great folks. By the look on Jim’s face, he’s either surprised or that’s a screwdriver in his hand. By the look of his arm, he’s either a hard-core fan, or just plain smart!
There were plenty of nostalgia cars on display, and Jason even found his nostalgic pals, Ronnie and Jeep Hampshire. Ronnie piloted this, the Waterman & Hampshire entry, back in the day, and in this photo, “Jeepy looks sleepy”
Not to be left out, Layla too wanted to experience this whole “front-engine” thing…and she dug it!
Seeing as I had no personal transportation once parked in the RV area of Sonoma Raceway, I bummed a ride with Rodger and Karen Comstock to the Eric Medlen Nitro night. We have never missed any (this was the eighth annual!), and I have had the pleasure of emceeing the past two. I felt a little bit like whoever had to follow Joe DiMaggio in the batting lineup, as Bob Frey had been the only other host, and there just is no way to fill his shoes (I think he’s a size 18). Still, it was an enjoyable, tearful, purposeful and productive night, raising lots of money in Eric’s name for Speedway Children’s Charities, something that was near and dear to his heart.
I suppose I should mention that I didn’t sleep much Wednesday night, once we cleared the traffic stops and regained momentum up Interstate 5. I pulled over for rest about 3a.m., slept on the couch for a few hours, and we soldiered our way on. A half hour nap before the Medlen event only made it worse, and two cups of coffee did nothing for my level of alertness before hosting the show. I’m just glad that I didn’t fall asleep or completely embarrass myself, and I couldn’t wait to get back to the RV and get some rest.
Oh, that that could have been the plan! Cindy was flying into Oakland Airport late Thursday night, and we had no PT Cruiser so that Jenna could pick her up. I borrowed the Comstock’s 5-ton truck and “hit” every construction zone and traffic accident on the way to get her. Poor Cindy had a 1 ½ hour delay before departing Ontario, and she waited another 1 ½ hours for me to arrive. That was Thursday…and now you see why sometimes driving the race car is the most relaxation I get once at the races!
We did a good job in qualifying, ending up in the #4 spot, which always means a date with #13 in the first round. In the “old” days, before NHRA changed the qualifying format to only allow the top 12 spots a provisional spot in the field on Friday night, this would usually be a huge advantage. However, what often happens is a “hitter” car misses the setup on the Friday night session, which is the run that nearly always sets the top 12 spots. Then, this team will come out and run good on Saturday, in the heat, and have a great race day setup, but not be able to bump into the top 12. That’s exactly what this scenario was, with Tim Wilkerson getting that 13th spot.
After having lost to Tim in the second round of Denver the week before, and relinquishing the 10th spot in the Countdown to him, we really were in a position to decide our own fate. With each round worth 20 points, facing someone you are directly competing with for a position in the top 10 basically makes it a 40-point swing…and we really needed this one!
Wilky laid one on us, put us out, and gained more points on us in what is becoming a real nail-biter for the final position in the Countdown. We have three races to get our act together and get this Valvoline/Infinite Hero car in the winner’s circle and guaranteed a spot to run for the championship.
And then came the trip home…
Being as that I still am a great fan of the sport, and also because I like to stay and cheer on my teammates and spend time with the fans, I never leave the track until the finals. However, with 5 of us in the RV, Jason having soccer camp starting at 9a.m. Monday, and a 450-mile trek back to Norco, we decided to head out during the semi’s. Silly me thought we’d actually get home at a decent hour Sunday night!
Blowout # 1 was so violent it shook Jason’s hairdo into this! Yes, we Beckmans, much like politicians, never let a good crisis or disaster limit our photo album.
Blowout #2 resulted in tire #3, and another bill had me feeling like #2!
About 130 miles from the track, the Titanic struck the iceberg. The passenger side tag axle (the rearmost wheel) lost its tire…big time. The vibration and noise was tremendous, but at least no one was hurt, we didn’t run into anyone, and we got to the side of the road relatively quickly. The tire had torn a good chunk out of the fender, ripped into the battery compartment, and dented some bracing under the RV. Other than that, it looked like new!
We limped into the rest area by driving on the shoulder at 6-10 mph, and called Auto Club. Unfortunately, with our location (10 miles from the middle of nowhere), there wasn’t many options. Also, RV tires are an oddball size, so big truck tires aren’t an option. I wound up finding a mobile tire repair service who said he had a used tire the exact size, and he’d be willing to trade it for my daughter. Yes, I’m being facetious, but at $300, plus another $95 for the service call, I wasn’t exaggerating too much! Did I also mention that we waited for 1 ½ hours for him to show up (he told me he was about 25 minutes away when I first called, which already was over ½ hour after the blowout)?
My gold-plated used tire (at 300 bucks, I was sure there must be SOME precious metal in it!) lasted just about 90 miles, when it also disintegrated at 65 mph. I’m convinced there was a slow leak at the bead, which eventually caused the demise of tire number two. Shame on me, as when I noticed the tire guys never sprayed soapy water around the wheel after mounting the tire, I just assumed they were the experts and had checked everything thoroughly. Did I use the word “assume” in that sentence? ‘Nuff said.
Now we were in real trouble, as it was dark out, the shoulder was littered with debris and narrow, and we were several miles from the next off ramp. I limped us there at 40 mph, as slow as I dared go to avoid an accident, and as fast as I dared with one tire down. We spent the night in a truck stop, and I was up the next morning trying to purchase a tire. Long story short, after 25 minutes of talking to their tire store guy, he informed me that they don’t work on RV’s. Now, this was after telling him my RV had a blowout, having him look at the RV, and having him check on prices for tires. When I seemed a bit peeved that he had wasted so much of my time (I got to listen to him chat on the phone for 8 minutes to someone after I first told him what I needed), he said he assumed that I had talked to someone the night before and had been informed they don’t work on RV’s! What? There’s just no accounting for some people.
Next I called two Goodyear truck tire centers in Bakersfield, thinking I could have the rim removed, limp it the 45 miles into B’field, and have a new tire put on. I’m still waiting to hear back from the first guy I talked to… great customer service! The second guy, George, was very professional, but had no new tires. He’d get me a used unit for $100, which at least seemed like a reasonable price.
I wound up walking across the road to a truck wash/tire center and getting them to put on a used unit for the same $100. This time I was emphatic about checking the bead, and they found two small leaks. Yep, blowout #3 would’ve been imminent had they not taken care of those!
Former NHRA Competition Director Steve Gibbs (the driving force behind the nostalgia revival), Road King Joel Embick, Tommy Ivo, me (if you hadn’t figured that one out, you need a cup of coffee!), Art Chrisman, and Larry Fischer in front of a small portion of the new exhibition at the Museum.
I don’t really have much in the way of woodworking tools, but that sure isn’t going to slow down Jason and me from carving out a masterpiece.
So, that’s my road story, version #426. I know most racers have their share, but it’s just no fun with your family there, no tools or spares, and folks that just don’t take their jobs seriously. We made it home, spoke with the insurance company, and I can’t wait to tell you all about my adventures getting everything repaired! Oh, did I mention that suddenly our RV washer (which we haven’t even used in well over a year) is leaking all over the floor? Yep, add that project to my list!
I was up early the next morning to head over to the NHRA Museum in Pomona. Director Larry Fischer has created a new exhibit, Gallery of Speed, which is fantastic. I had been there a couple of weeks prior to record some audio and video as part of an interactive display, and this visit was to help promote the venue, live, on the KTLA morning news. It’s great when a station with that kind of viewership gives racing a priority, and I also got to hang out with Tommy Ivo, Art Chrisman, and Steve Gibbs, three icons and buddies.
Jason and I are working on a Pinewood Derby car (I don’t know all the details, but Karen Comstock gave it to Jenna to give to me to build for DRAW fundraising in Brainerd…there: that’s all I know!) and having some fun making sawdust, so I’ll keep you posted on that project. I got the lawn mowed, Jason to soccer practice the past three days, and a couple of workouts in. Once I button this up, it’s time for some more weights, some more Pinewood Derby painting, and then I’ll head to the airport and make my way to Seattle….without the RV! Yes, sometimes “uneventful” isn’t bad at all!
On a closing note, my buddy Greg Stanley won the poker tournament at the Medlen Night, and Tom Bayer won Super Gas at Sonoma. The reason I congratulate them here is also to make note that NEITHER of them stood a chance without my help: I was the first player eliminated from the tournament, clearly paving the way for Greg’s victory, and it was I who installed the starter in Tom’s Super Gas Corvette Friday. Yes, Jack still knows how to turn wrenches (though the crew looked puzzled seeing me with dirty hands and sweat on my face!)…just glad my handiwork didn’t fall off the car in the finals! Congrats, guys.
Stay tuned; be wary of mobile tire changers, Tim Wilkerson, and motorhomes…especially motorhomes!
As clever as all of my readers are (both of you!), I’m sure you guys knew that I was referring to the altitude at our latest race, just outside of Denver. The hero part, however, was very much the best part of my weekend. Denver marked the third time this season that our Valvoline team changed colors to purple and black (tough combo to beat…same as my Super Comp car!), running the Infinite Hero flagship. This race was extra special, though, as we hosted a big push for additional fundraising to benefit those who earned it, and wholeheartedly deserve it.
So big was our desire to have the entire NHRA community embrace and support our efforts, that Oakley CEO Colin Baden lead off the presentation, communicating why Oakley started this effort, provided the initial funding, and doesn’t push the brand in a way to “benefit” from positive publicity surrounding the foundation. Cool stuff, and a great guy. Also present from Oakley were Sheldon O’Connell and Paul “Torch” LeSage (he was the track welder when I first met him back in ’88…hence the nickname), who may have been most responsible for bringing the program to DSR. Infinite Hero leader Laurie Baker also gave a wonderful speech to the other racers and team owners about why it’s so important to fund this program. She again stressed that NOT ONE PENNY of funding goes towards our race car, as Don Schumacher and Terry Chandler split the financial burden to help make this happen for the soldiers.
Speaking of soldiers, the absolute stars of the presentation (and the weekend, if you ask me) were two heroes who continue to behave with dignity and courage, and set the bar very high for the rest of us.
Gary Linfoot was part of the unveiling of the Infinite Hero Dodge Charger back in Charlotte, as was his wife, Mary. Paralyzed from the waist down after his helicopter went down, Gary actually finished his Army career as an instructor in their water training facility. He’s just a cool dude, and the Exoskeleton that Infinite Hero provided to him has enabled him to walk for the first time in years. We will raise additional funds for more of these units, but Gary is the only individual possessing one. The rest will be in rehab units at various hospitals as part of their therapy programs. Gary and Mary are actually providing valuable feedback to accelerate the development and refinement of these devices, with the hope that they soon will be lighter, less cumbersome and slow, more agile, and cheaper. Perhaps one day many paralyzed people will have access, thanks in small part to what we are doing.
Because of Terry Chandler, lots of kids from Make A Wish will fulfill a dream, plus we get to help injured soldiers like Neil Duncan. On one climbing expedition, Neil had to crawl three miles, in 80-mph wind, over snow and rocks, with two prosthetic legs! I’m telling you, this guy is special!
Paratrooper Neil Duncan lost both his legs in an IED explosion, one above and one below the knee. His other injuries were grave and numerous, but he pulled through. He went and got a degree in finance, serves on the grant board of the Infinite Hero Foundation, and may be the biggest overachiever I’ve ever met. Determined to not only regain as much of his freedom back after his tragedy, but also to serve as an inspiration to other amputees (I think he’s an inspiration to all!), Sgt. Duncan set out to climb the tallest peaks on all seven continents. He’s been to the summit of Kilimanjaro, and the tales of his other exploits are the stuff of legend. This guy is just plain bad-ass, and listening to the speeches that he and Officer Linfoot gave was reinforcement for all of us.
Keeping in mind that our cause isn’t just to help those wounded in action, we hosted two family members of servicemen killed in the line of duty. In addition to Gary and Mary Linfoot and their son Hayden, as well as Sgt. Duncan, we also presented shirts to and made honorary crewmembers of Tristen, who lost his father, and Mark, whose brother was killed in action. It was heart wrenching, heartwarming, and humbling to be a part of all this.
If you plan on attending a race this year, please keep in mind that, for a $100 donation to Infinite Hero, I will personally sign a commemorative military-style “challenge” coin that I guarantee has been down the race track in my car. Or, you can make the donation online and I’ll still sign one for you. So far I have sold more than $20,000 dollars’ worth! Great cause … climb on board!
My dad attended the race, and stayed with the Stutz family once again. Ray, Darlene, Nicole, Derek, and Cassie have all been great friends since we formally met while Ray and I were both licensing in Top Fuel. Technically Ray was re-licensing, as he has driven since the 70’s. A former SoCal firefighter, Ray and family moved to Denver 10 years ago to be close to his true love…the Broncos.
Too bad Ray spent all his money on Bronco souvenirs, instead of a phone that took decent pictures! Here I’m chatting up our sport to some hardcore athletes!
Listen, I’ve seen some hardcore sports fans in my day, but Ray may take the cake. No, he does not have his butt cheeks colored blue and orange (come to think of it, I never did look. Tell me it ain’t so, Ray!), but he is as devoted as any fan I’ve ever seen. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day Peyton Manning goes out to his front porch to get the mail, and there’s Ray camped out in a sleeping bag!
Ray let me trim his hair in the 2012 Denver winner’s circle, and lately he’s been growing it out again in anticipation of a reprisal of that event. We let him down in the second round against Tim Wilkerson, as our car basically had a clutch disc come apart; slowing us down dramatically from a run that I believe was going to be low ET of the round. Bummer. Maybe I can take a shot at Ray’s head in Indy!
Ray actually got a bunch of the Broncos to come out and hang in our pit for a while. Man, do those guys look like they’re built out of kryptonite! I think Ray promised to stop stalking them for a week if they’d come watch us race!
Follow me on this one, as I encourage fans to do this each year that I see them at a race: This is a picture, of a picture, of a pic of a pic of a pic of a pic, OF A PICTURE! Yep, this dude and I have some serious history in front of the camera…and we both need another hobby! Maybe the FBI can enlarge this and count back to 2008 to authenticate our feat.
Before I go spending my hard earned cash on lowering springs, I just wanted to make sure I got it right. So, with a little help from family and friends, I closely approximated what a 2-inch drop should look like. Heck, maybe they just can stay in the bed when I drive around, though I think the mileage might suffer somewhat!
I also wanted to mention how totally cool the Thursday Mopar Block Party was in Golden, which is about 15 minutes from Bandimere. If you ever are thinking about experiencing a race outside your home area, I’d highly consider the Mile Highs. The block party is amazing, with a bitchin’ car show, and autograph session, and some great entertainment. The race is spectacular, and the facility is the most breathtaking (literally and figuratively with the thin air) on tour. I love it!
Once back home, I’ve had two days to get my workouts in, get the lawn mowed, catch up on lost time with Jason and Layla (and Jenna), wash and watch Jenna pack the RV (I wish I could watch HER wash it!), hook up the PT, and start heading up to Sonoma.
As it turned out, I had so much free time that I decided to add a couple of extra projects. First, I found a pinhole leak in the air mattress of the RV. So…I got to completely disassemble the bed, order a new mattress (thank God for lifetime warranties, but the labor part sucks!), then patch and reinstall the old one for this weekend. If it looks like I have a sore back in Sonoma, it means my patch didn’t hold.
Second, whilst I was “manhandling” the tow dolly around in the dirt and rock of the upper yard, sweating and huffing to drag it down the ramp and hook to the RV, I noticed an odd pattern in the tread. Seems the steel belts decided to separate, which would have provided some great roadside labor stories about 200 miles up the highway…and deep into the night. A call to good friend Paul Mitsos of Mountain View Tire, a trip to the local Norco location, and a mere $141 later, and I’m good to go! Ah, yes… the joy of RV’ing: the gift that keeps on giving!
I gotta wrap up for now. We’ll be on the road just as soon as our little Liberace gets done with his piano lesson tonight. In the meantime, someone needs to shave…and it ain’t Jenna! And that same someone needs to wash the RV, the PT, and little old me!
Hey, spoiler alert! This race at Sonoma will be the debut of our wicked-looking SynPower paint scheme…you’ll love it!
Stay tuned, keep your tires and your air mattress inflated to the manufacturer’s recommendation, no stalking the Broncos, and support those that gave for us!