I have no idea why I titled this blog that way, other than my free 1 year subscription to Sirius Radio is about to run out, I’m an avid listener of the “Hair Nation” channel, and the Whitesnake song of the same title was playing today while I drove Jason and Layla home from my son’s “video game programming” class (yeah, that’s what most 8-year-olds are taking during summer vacation!).
Perhaps the words are relevant to me procrastinating on another blog, or, more optimistically, you may think they relate to our Infinite Hero team taking our second win of the year in Topeka. Still, I can’t put my finger on where the inspiration came from.
Tomorrow it’s time to head to Bristol for race number 11 of the year (wow, THAT went by fast!). Yes, we’re in that “summer crunch” where the venues, races, trophies and points just fly by.
I’m looking forward to again being able to spend Father’s Day with my dad, Bob. It’s tough to not be around my wife and kids, but getting my dad in the winner’s circle certainly would ease some of that pain!
Before I go too far, I suppose I should come clean about my tree trimming expedition. For those that tuned in to the Atlanta coverage, you may have seen Terry Snyder taping up my right ear before I donned my helmet. So much for keeping that a secret! Anyway, here’s my recollection of what went “down”:
Having two large palm trees in the backyard, I typically trim off the dead branches about once a year, and Jenna was letting me know it was time. Sure, it was Mother’s Day, but what better present to give my lovely wife than neatly trimmed trees? (Yes, I AM a cheap bastard, but that’s another story entirely!). So, I set up my trusty Little Giant ladder and extended it up, deciding to start with the shorter of the two trees. Everything went just swimmingly well, and all the dead branches soon were scattered about the base of the ladder. Wanting to be perfect, I needed to take a peek behind the trunk to check for any other offending protrusions. THAT’S precisely when Sir Isaac Newton’s voice appeared in my head, offering some perfunctory advice on the gravitational pull on a human being suspended roughly twelve feet in the air.
Try as I might to listen, I found it extremely difficult. Part of that could have been due to the fact that my right ear was now dragging down the trunk of the palm, the result of the bottom of the ladder sliding straight out from the tree. Technically I NEVER fell from the tree, nor did I fall off the ladder. Rather, the ladder AND I accompanied each other on a direct assessment of the current force of gravity at my particular longitudinal coordinates on the planet.
Normally they say the fall doesn’t hurt, but I’m here to dispute that hypothesis. In my case, the combination of friction between the trunk of the tree and the back of my ear, not to mention my right shoulder area, was extremely painful. However, that was nothing compared to the sudden stop at the end of my brief journey, one that had me landing squarely on the ladder, bending it in several places. One need not know the physical dimensions of the Little Giant XL 22; you could simply observe the bruises on my ankle, knees, and torso to know EXACTLY how far each rung is spaced apart! The magenta, yellow, blue and black on my right “front pocket” area bore testimony to how much energy a 184-pound object can generate over a short distance. I thought it miraculous that the left thigh area was almost completely free of any such damage … until I found the “salvation”: Seems my Samsung Galaxy, which was now bent like a banana, took the brunt of the trauma for me. Not to seem ungrateful, but I never really did care for that phone.
Perhaps it’s slightly ironic, but I now, for the first time, am an Apple user. It took an apple for Newton to figure out gravity, and it took gravity to get me to switch to Apple! Okay … maybe I’m the only one who thinks that’s clever!
Anyway, the ribs and the ear were a huge source of discomfort in Atlanta … but not nearly as much as Tim Wilkerson. After qualifying, I really thought that the ONLY car on the grounds that could hang with us was Wilky … and I was proven prophetic on that one. After running the second quickest run of the first round, we were matched up with Tim in round two … and he had lane choice! Typically that’s not a big deal, but for whatever reason nobody made it down the left lane respectably from the second round all the way to the final, and our day was done. I will say that I am a huge fan of Tim’s, and very happy to see him get his first win in a LONG time. He’s probably the nicest guy in all of funny car, and no one is more deserving than he. Nice job, Timmah!
Gary Linfoot is the man, pure and simple. So, by the commutative property of addition, I am the man next to THE MAN!
Despite losing early, there were plenty of positives for me in Georgia. Gary and Mari Linfoot were on hand (Gary is the Special Operations helicopter pilot pictured on the back of our trailer, and they are both amazing humans).
Also, I reconnected with a friend I hadn’t seen in over 27 years, and one who I had taken to his first drag race (technically we drove HIS Chevette, which pitched the harmonic balancer and led to a whole other story, to the inaugural Texas Nationals in Dallas 1986!). I think I may have even mentioned Lee West at some point on this blog, but he was one of my Air Force buddies that I could never track down. I was ecstatic to get an e-mail from him a couple of months back (thanks ESPN!), and we got to hang out quite a bit and catch up on nearly three decades of life. If you’ve ever been in the military, you get how special the attachment is to the guys you served with, whether you talk once a month or once a decade … it’s just unique. Hopefully Lee will make Charlotte 2 later this year, where another of our Air Force companions, Bruce Stansel, nearly always attends.
Not only did seeing Lee bring back so many memories from my younger days, but so has another activity: Earlier this year I filmed an episode of the Dave Despain Show, and recently they requested a plethora of photos to use as B-roll (that’s industry terminology for “background” stuff). So, I had to do some digging in the closet and came across photos I hadn’t seen for decades, photos I forgot existed, and photos I never even remember seeing. Wow, does life just FLY by …
This brings me to Topeka, which REALLY flew by! If you didn’t see the race, we won. If you saw it, it was probably one of the ten best Funny Car races (based on performance) in the sport’s history. Jimmy, John, Chris, Ryan, Sam, Nate, Al, Matt, Joe and Terry had our car absolutely flying, running in the 3-second range FIVE TIMES! Beating John Force in the final round just made a perfect weekend even better, and that wasn’t all!
Austin really wanted to go see Tim Wilkerson during the Topeka race, and we were able to get a photo with Terry Chandler, Valerie Harrell (daughter of Dickie, the funny car pioneer), THE Dale Pulde, and Wilky. Austin just kept grinning!
Joining us in the winner’s circle (held inside the tech shed due to the ongoing rain delays that plagued the race from Saturday afternoon on) was Austin Zimmerline, a Make-A-Wish young man of 17, who was granted his wish at the Vegas race last year. Austin got to ride shotgun with Tommy Johnson, and defeat the twin-cockpitted dragster of Antron and me in a winner-takes-all race for a Wally, fulfilling Austin’s dream of becoming a race-winning driver.
Austin, who suffers from a degenerative brain disease, is now officially addicted to drag racing, and his family brought him out to Topeka. During one of the rain delays, the Infinite Hero crew took off the steering assembly so Austin’s dad could lift him into the driver’s seat of our Dodge Charger. Once we bolted all the steering back on, it was apparent that Austin wanted more. The guys unselfishly put the body back on the car, giving this young man such a thrill, and a photo opportunity of a lifetime!
When we won the race, it was so cool to have Austin in the winner’s circle with us, and we had one more surprise in store for him: Each race win the driver receives the Wally trophy, a jacket, and a medallion. We put the medallion around Austin’s neck, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s still wearing it today! He may have been a little miffed when I told him he couldn’t keep the trophy!
Though we lost first round in Englishtown and Epping, I have every reason to be optimistic going into Tennessee this weekend. I know our car is capable of amazing things, and I am so honored to be able to represent this group of mechanics and crew chiefs! There’s still going to be plenty to celebrate this year with the Infinite Hero squad.
A couple of plusses on the E-town trip included our visit to Sandvik headquarters once again. This time we had Spencer’s Top Fueler on display, and DSR’s Mike Lewis emceed the portion that had me, Spencer, and the incredible John Medlen speaking to the customers, and later to all the employees. This relationship with Sandvik had been very special to us. They make all the cutting tools that we use in our CNC machines to manufacture well over 100 different parts for our race teams (and we now sell parts to other teams); they’re continually helping us to be more efficient in our machining processes, and they’re darn nice people, too.
What a special group of folks, and what a unique perspective they gave ME on our sport. Also, apparently even these folks think I talk too much!
Also, on Friday of the race a group from the New Jersey School for the Deaf (yes, that’s exactly right!) came out and spent a considerable amount of time in our pits. I spoke (through a sign-language interpreter) to the group before we ever made a run, then they all came back after our second pass. We put each of them in the car, and I really took away a lot from the interaction. Our sport is so powerful that “hearing” in the traditional way really isn’t necessary. The reaction from every one of the students was that they “heard” these machines in their bones, and I was proud to have been a part of such a neat experience for all of us.
Jason’s baseball team was able to capture the championship this year, and, though Jenna kept me updated on the phone (often giving me live play-by-play), it was difficult not being there for the team during their last couple of games. I enjoy helping coach when I am home, and I am very proud of the Norco Angels AA ball club for a nearly flawless year.
During my very limited time at home, I was able to slip up to Fontana for a few hours and watch some of the Lucas Oil divisional race, catching up with Rodger and Karen Comstock, Thomas Bayer, and about a dozen other close friends that I just don’t see very much anymore.
I took Jason down to Lake Elsinore for the Lucas Oil (boy, it sounds like I’m doing a commercial for them, perhaps I should take a second to mention that all our DSR cars are utilizing Pennzoil lubricants on and off the track!) off-road truck races. Though I’d been to several stadium events, and one desert version, this was the first of this type that I had seen. Pretty cool stuff, but their pits were dustier than my Super Comp area during my years of racing at Palmdale (LACR) and Inyokern!
All right, time to find the correct photos for this entry, proofread and edit for bad grammar, spelling errors and syntax (that usually takes about 13 man-hours!), and caption the photos before sending everything in four attachments to my buddies at NHRA.com.
I really wanted to tell you guys all about some sightseeing me and buddy Joe Morrison got to do on Thursday before the Englishtown race, but by the time I send those photos from my camera to the computer, download, etc., etc., etc., … we’d all be asleep!
After winning Charlotte, we had the fangs out once our Infinite Hero team arrived in Vegas (for you overly-literal types, I’m not saying that we had our incisors removed…I was using an idiom about the fact that we were ready to win again!). Jimmy and the boys have really settled into this new tune-up combination, and the results are showing! In Vegas, we garnered qualifying bonus points in two of the four sessions, and ended up seeded #2. We had every reason to expect another strong finish on Sunday….
Until about 419 feet into our round one matchup with Cruz! That’s when the “fire windows” (our firewalls have two round see-through lenses mounted in them so we can tell if the engine “isn’t happy” — how’s that for a euphemism!). Well, it was race day, the car was still trucking, and I didn’t see Cruz. Turns out that we shot a spark plug out of the cylinder head (the steel casing remains threaded into the head, but the porcelain center basically gets shot out like a bullet), and the resulting fuel is what lit up the engine bay. Not to be outdone, yet another plug decided on a sabbatical about 720 feet into the run. Despite all these issues, our car still ran respectably, and we barely lost…by two thousandths of a second! Wow, I’d love to have a redo on that!
Had I known the reception the #1 qualifier gets, I would have done this more often!
While at the VA, I participated in a wheelchair obstacle course to bring attention to the Paralyzed Veterans of America campaign. I did not tip over…but I think the wheelie bar may have saved me a couple of times!
Jeff Wolf and I with our dates for the Texas Children’s Hospital tour. These ladies really care (about the kids…but I think maybe one of them has a crush on Jeff!).
Speaking of redos…how about Houston! After “laying the smacketh down” (as Dewayne “the Rock” Johnson likes to say) by qualifying number 1 with the only 3-second Funny Car run ever at Houston, we were feeling pretty good about race day. Truth be told, we dodged a bullet in round one against Terry Haddock, when our Dodge Charger overpowered the track and we smoked the tires. Fortunately we were way out in front and able to get the win light. Rounds two and three we were the quickest Funny Car again, and I was liking our chances in the final against the NAPA boys….
Until about 200 feet into the run, when a failed o-ring in our fuel slide valve sent too much fuel to the engine, pushing out two more spark plugs and dooming our chances to hold the Texas trophy. It was a bitter pill to swallow and certainly one of the downsides to reduced turnaround times in an effort to accommodate the live TV schedule. I’m not saying we would have won the race, nor am I making any excuses, but we simply did not have time to do our post-warm-up pressure check on that valve, and this time it bit us.
The silver lining is that we have a predictable, fast hotrod right now, and I have every reason to think that Jimmy, John, Chris, Sam, Matt, Ryan, Al, Joe, Nate and Terry can get us right back into the winner’s circle this weekend in Atlanta.
Off the track, I’ve had plenty to keep me busy. I did my 17th military hospital visit the day before the Vegas race, spending a couple of hours at their newer VA facility. My last few visits I have tried to dedicate more time to spend in the mental health ward with those who suffer from “unseen” injuries. These heroes are having a tough time in so many aspects of their lives, and I feel that it’s important to let them know that they’re respected, appreciated, cared for, and in our thoughts. It’s one of the things that motivates me with the Infinite Hero Challenge Coin program, knowing that the money we raise from you NHRA fans goes directly to aid our veterans.
The Friday of Houston our PR ace Jeff Wolf and I drove over to the Texas Children’s Hospital to spend time in the pediatric cancer ward. Jean, one of my fan friends, is a volunteer at the TCH and was the one who facilitated our visit. It was well worth the time spent, and certainly makes me realize how lucky Jenna and I are to have two healthy children…some parents aren’t so fortunate.
Our social calendar has been extremely full, made possible by a rare two-week hiatus (that’s French for, “no NHRA races”) from travel. With events 14 of the next 18 weekends (that includes testing the week between Brainerd and Indy), I’m afraid that Layla and Jason may not recognize me by the middle of summer!
Derek and Jason before the COLD, HARD reality of the ice set in. Memo to all parents who sign their kids up for ice hockey: Bring a jacket (believe it or not, it’s pretty cold in there)!
Jason really needs his own “handler” lately, as his schedule is the most hectic of all. Right now we’ve got him in baseball, ice hockey (a free four-week, once-a-week class that I thoroughly recommend if you enjoy seeing children laid out prone on the ice…it’s extremely difficult not to laugh out loud), piano lessons (plus he “nailed” his performance in the school talent show), and a plethora (Spanish for, “too many things to remember”) of other courses outside of school.
We’ve gone blueberry picking, aquarium viewing, air show watching, and rocket launching. We’ve drag raced slot cars, built Lego’s, played with Barbies, and played in sprinklers. By the way, the Barbie part would be with Layla…but I did get drafted into helping!
Jason’s baseball team is a complete turnaround from last year’s: they’ve compiled a record of (don’t quote me) 13-1-1 so far, and have been something to watch. Man, if we could only get them to “care” (if you’ve ever coached 8 year olds, you’ll know what I mean). Some days these kids seem pretty focused, and other days they take “apathy” to a whole new level. Still, I have enjoyed being an assistant coach, and Jason even got to pitch an inning in one game. I have to be careful to try and keep baseball “fun” for him, as it’s hard not to live vicariously through his participation. I absolutely loved the game when I was playing, and I wish Jason had more passion for it. Then again, there was no internet or glutton of video games when I was his age…we actually had to go outside occasionally to entertain ourselves!
I’m afraid the PT Cruiser has expired! (pause for a moment of silence). Yep, about half way home from my last surfing trip it appears that the head gasket went away. I looked at the ESPN replay footage, and the telltale green flames spitting out, just before the burst panel opened and the parachutes deployed, pretty well convinced me. (Joking, you literal ones!). Thank goodness for AAA, otherwise the flatbed tow 30 miles home would have cost more than the car is worth!
So…do I spend several days and at least $500 to resurrect a vehicle with 168,000 miles and a nasty axle noise, or perhaps it’s just time to call Make-A-Wish and let them raise some funds from my loss…
Speaking of loss, my good friend John Ewald lost his battle with cancer and succumbed. Jason and I cut short our airshow spectating to pay our respects to a great man who always treated us special. His memorial was at the NHRA Museum, and it was heartwarming to see such a huge crowd of folks show up to celebrate a life that made a difference. RIP my friend.
I know this is brief for me, but I’ve spent the last two days as a taxi for the kiddos, and this chauffeur needs to get ready for Atlanta…and hopefully another trophy!
Stay tuned, keep your piano and PT tuned, make sure your berries are ripe and your skates are tight, and be good to others!
How ‘bout it for Don? Here’s a guy who keeps well over 100 people employed doing what we love, is healing from his radiation and surgery for cancer, and still can’t get enough of this!
Man, a guy could sure get used to this! A bad hot-rod, a happy crew, and a nice trophy in hand (I was referring to the Wally…not Christina). Oh, and I just noticed there’s a female in the photo also…hope Jenna doesn’t find out!
We carried the celebration back to the pits, and the guys even set the body outside so more fans could take their pictures with us. Here’s a group of friends after a pretty-damned fine Sunday!
All you naysayers, “Debbie Downers”, and pessimists…it’s time to repent! For several races, I’ve been telling you I was heading to the races to pick up my trophy…and some of you balked!
Boy, do I hate to say, “I told you so!”, but I told you so! Sure, you can argue that I’d been wrong the last 54 times, but that’s just semantics. The point is, I just knew we were going to win one of these races anytime (I just didn’t think that meant waiting two and a half years).
The good news is: The drought is over. It’s hard to explain how nice it feels to once again realize our potential, and I sure hope I don’t need to wait 55 more races to taste victory again, but for now I’m just going to enjoy what Jimmy, John, Chris, Matt, Nate, Ryan, Sam, Al, Chris, Joe and I achieved in Charlotte.
There wasn’t much to indicate our impending success based on qualifying. We unloaded with a nice lap on Saturday (after both runs Friday were rained out), a 4.05 that was #2 and got us some bonus points, then we smoked on the second run, eventually ending up #6.
It’s hard to appreciate how chilly it was Friday and Saturday…days where putting on the firesuit actually made me feel MORE comfortable! Also, keep in mind that Charlotte had just been entirely repaved, so none of us had any data on the racetrack, and we all only got to make runs in two of the four lanes. And, the track no longer is all concrete, with asphalt being laid from about 700 feet on. With the “green” racing surface, we all spun the tires after the transition from concrete to asphalt, which would make the engine rev higher, which in turn spun the fuel pump faster, which led to dropped cylinders and reduced top end speeds. One of the Band-Aids for this was pulling timing out of the engine around the transition, reducing the horsepower and the chance of spin.
In typical Jimmy fashion, we made a fairly big change to the car for Sunday morning, something that the guys felt would improve the way our car “planted” the tires for the first five feet of the run. When we saw how well that improved our car, Jimmy was able to lean on it for the second (semifinal) round, resulting in what was then low e.t. of the event, a 4.000.
I try to check my ego and race smart, staging shallow each round to increase our chances of getting lane choice for the subsequent round, which goes to the car that ran the better e.t. in the previous round (rolling further into the stage beam on the starting line reduces the amount of “roll-out” (running head start) that the car has before activating the timing system. It artificially makes the drivers reaction time look better, but it takes that “improvement” from the elapsed-time, making the car appear slower. Apparently Funny Car pilots have the most fragile egos, as we tend to roll “deep” far more often than our Top Fuel counterparts.
Wow, look at all the “bling” on this kid: He’s got flashy shades, flamed shoes, killer protective gear, an Evel Knievel helmet, perhaps the coolest T-shirt I’ve ever seen in my life, and a new skateboard from Teri and Grandpa … lucky boy!
Before the final, I asked Chris Cunningham if he minded how I staged (since there is no round after the final, rolling in further doesn’t harm anything but the e.t on the scoreboard. Though he told me to do whatever I was comfortable with, we discussed the fact that they thought the car could run even better in the final than our 4.000. I’m no math genius, but it sure seemed like they felt we had a 3-second car.
When Jimmy came back into the crew chief lounge, we all agreed that we thought we had the car to beat, whether or not I rolled in. With that being the case, I really didn’t want to screw up what could be (and indeed, turned out to be) a great final round run. Had I taken the typical Funny Car roll, we still would have won, my reaction time would have looked fantastic, but the scoreboard would have read “4.01”…and I’d still be feeling a bit guilty about robbing the crew of that great timeslip.
Well…I didn’t, we did, and it showed! To put an exclamation point on an event with a final round 3.983 (my quickest official run ever), leave with the trophy and low et of the event, and put Infinite Hero into its first winner’s circle -while ending all of our droughts- was fantastic. The fact that DSR also got the double, that ours was the 100th FC win for the group, and that Don was healthy and back out at the track made it even sweeter.
As good as all of us were, NONE of this would have transpired without one key person. Without Terry Chandler taking the reins and supporting the Infinite Hero Foundation by entirely funding our team for 2015, many of us likely wouldn’t even have jobs today. She is changing people’s lives for the better by putting her funding where her heart is, and she has changed mine.
I actually feel a bit out of sorts right now. Any of you that follow me probably have figured out several things about me by now (no, I’m not talking about the “incredibly handsome” part, the “Greek god-like physique”, or the “shy, but brilliant” side), like the fact that I’m a world-class procrastinator. I feel a bit strange because, as I write this, I’m NOT up past midnight, NOT packing to catch a 6am flight in the morning, and NOT sweating because I just got done washing the RV and mowing the lawn. Weird though it may seem, I got the RV done early yesterday, the lawn today (plus fertilizer), and even helped coach Jason’s baseball practice. Tomorrow I’ll take the little man to school, get a workout, hook the PT Cruiser up and finish loading, then maybe try out the couch with some History Channel before picking Jason up and taking him to his game.
We’ll hit the road after we all return from baseball and eat, and probably pull into Vegas around the crack of 1am…how fun!
Thursday I’ll pull into the track, get the RV leveled and set up, then do my twice-a-year military hospital visit. It’s nice to give something back to the veteran’s and the folks that take care of them, and I make a special effort to spend time with the ones in the mental health area…their wounds aren’t visible, but they’re hurting.
Thursday night it’s time for the NY, NY autograph, autograph session (did you see what I did there…that was very clever!) for DSR and NHRA, and then head back to the motorhome and question why we thought sleeping with a 3 year old in the same bed was a good idea!
If you look closely in this photo you’ll see: One schoolteacher, two firefighters, one racecar driver, and I think Waldo is in there somewhere!
Once you take away the go-karts we just look like a poorly dressed group of folks next to a small sign on a chain link fence. Suddenly I’m not all that impressed!
Since I was solo on this day, I tried my best to compose a selfie (I believe this is my first). If you look closely, you can see the trusty forklift in the background, as well as the rental dump truck.
Surprised”, “Focused”, “Inquisitive”, and “Fan-boy” all had a good time. Apparently Jason got his artistic flair from his maternal Grandma, Cindy. Don’t ask why, but he’s all about Dale Jr.
Just so you know my life hasn’t been all about collecting Wally’s lately, I’ve had plenty of other stuff on my plate:
I made another appearance at a local middle school for their career day, speaking at length to the students about important things, such as: good choices in life; finding a direction; and asking their parents if they’d like to sponsor a fuel funny car!
I made my yearly trek up to Sears Point for the Speedway Children’s Charities Go-Karting. This year they had replaced the Rotax-powered two-strokes that we had run in the past with 4-cycle units that were still plenty of fun, not nearly as “peaky”, and about 2-3 seconds slower per lap. Scotty Pollacheck and Ron Capps also were there, and Ron (stop me if you’ve heard this PLENTY of times before) again won the “Pro” portion of the event. I think I finished second to him, and sixth overall. Young Milas (stop me if you’ve heard this from last year) again showed us all the way around the track, but young Maggie came in a close second. Another super-fun day, and another way to raise money to improve lives.
And then there was “the Backyard Project, part XLVII”: I wound up renting another Bobcat with a 750-pound jackhammer attachment to go at the last bit of protruding rock in the upper part of the yard. I’m pretty sure I would have finished it in about 2 ½-3 hours had things gone smoothly. I suppose by now you’ve guessed that “things didn’t go smoothly,” and you’d be correct. About 5 minutes into the chipping process, suddenly the entire hammer comes off the front of the tractor. At first I felt like I should wipe off my fingerprints, light the thing on fire, and call the cops to say someone had stolen it, but then the panic subsided and I assessed the situation. Once I extricated myself through the small opening between the tractor boom and the radically-tilted hammer assembly, I disconnected the two hydraulic fittings, crawled back through the opening (did I mention it was tight?), restarted the tractor, idled backwards, and let the hammer slowly slide off the tractor tire onto the ground. I then crawled back out, flipped the unit over onto some wood (I used a floor jack to assist), got back in, lined up the brackets, and clamped the hammer back in place with the quick-change levers. I then wiped off and re-connected the hydraulic lines, and went back to work, this time trying to be keenly observant of the angle and force I was using in hammering away at the granite.
Anyway, after the ninth time the hammer fell off (the bracket on the Bobcat was just plain worn out!), I called the rental yard and told them I’d be a bit longer than expected. The guy was very apologetic, and I was very sore…and tired.
With probably about 15-25 minutes worth of hammering left to do, one of the hydraulic lines gave up the ghost, and I was done for the day. I needed to knock the rock down about 10 inches to be at the right level (I think we’re going to cover everything with 3” of pea-gravel), and I made it most of the way. In fact, I’m officially over it; There’ll be 1 ½” of whatever covering we use in a very small portion of the yard. Even while using the tractor, I spent quite some time with a pickaxe, steel rake, and shovel (did I mention the wrecking bar and the drill with a 1” masonry bit?).
On the upside, the rental place voided out the charge, so what I did get done didn’t cost me anything (unless you can expense Ben-Gay, heating pads, and aspirin!).
Once that part was completed, I got Sully’s tractor back up in the yard, rented a dump truck for the day, and took six loads out by myself. Sounds easy…it wasn’t!
In non-dirt related activities, Jason and I went to the Fontana NASCAR race with the Coombs boys from up the street, and it was fun…for the first 12 laps (and the last 5 laps were very exciting). Man, I thought the PA systems at drag races were borderline inaudible a large portion of the time, but nothing compared to this. I love stock car racing, and spent many a Saturday night out at Saugus Speedway near the San Fernando Valley. Except for a Riverside road racing event back in the late 70’s, the only Cup race I attended was a few years ago in Fontana (I went to one in Charlotte as a guest of Coke, but it was rained out), and I spent the race on pit road. Next time I go sit in the stands, I definitely will need some headsets to keep track of who’s doing what, to whom, and when.
Brent Cannon, Art Chrisman, Danny Thompson, Gary Southern, Greg Sharp and Larry Fullerton, Jr. Larry’s dad was the FC World Champion in 1972, and Danny’s dad was…well…Mickey Thompson!
This past Saturday I emceed the Irwindale Reunion at the NHRA Museum. Being asked to do this was quite an honor, as it also was a celebration for the 75th birthday of Steve Gibbs. For those not familiar, Steve was the NHRA Competition Director for years, the VP of the Museum when it opened in 1998, and the driving force behind the success of the entire nostalgia drag racing movement...not to mention one helluva man!
I had done some preliminary research for the event (which consisted of begging my friend Bob Frey to give me some good stats and history on the Southern California track), including calling all 11 panelists to figure out how to make their presentations go well. With Jeb Allen, Tommy Allen (no relation), Jerry Darien, Larry Sutton, Skip Hess, Rich Guasco, Ed McCulloch, Gary Densham, Steve Gibbs, Carl Olson and Butch Leal as the guests, there was SO much potential for discussion. The problem was trying to figure out how to do it in about 5-7 minutes per speaker…and that was tough.
Not only did Frey give me some great things to bring up, but Phil Burgess had written a fantastic and comprehensive article about Irwindale a few years back that filled in several blanks in my history. I have some fond memories from “the Dale” when I was a kid, and though it’s been closed for nearly 28 years, this event and these panelists really did a nice job of bringing back the memories. It also was pleasing that the event was a complete sell-out, with 450 folks!
I’d like to try and put this in perspective for you guys: From the first race I ever attended (I think it was late ’73 at OCIR), I have thought that this was the greatest sport in the world. The fact that I now am writing a full-time blog on NHRA.com, which is read by “fans” of mine, and I’m talking about the fact that I just won my 18th national event (16 in FC), is so far beyond anything I could ever have dreamed of.
But wait…there’s more: Larry Fisher, Greg Sharp and the other fine folks at the Wally Parks Motorsports Museum put their trust in me to host two huge events so far, speaking to and in front of some of the biggest names in the sport. I’ve got to interview all these legends that I just mentioned-folks that I have admired for decades-plus Garlits, Muldowney, Mongoose, Ivo, Dave McClelland and others.
I’m not being one bit glib or sarcastic here; I’m so completely blown away with the opportunities I’ve been given and the fortune that I’ve enjoyed, and I want all of you to understand how much this all means to me.
Okay, I think I can get this one wrapped up, proofread, spell checked, photos attached, captions written, and off to Phil and Candida at NHRA by 11:30 tonight…and that’s GREAT for me!
Stay tuned, stay positive, stay away from jackhammers, stay away from Ron Capps in a go-kart, and stay determined to help others…my team is!
Let’s see: Lawn’s mowed, workouts done, suitcase is packed, kids are clean and in bed, and I thought I was all set to head to Florida to pick up my trophy, then … oops! -- looks like I forgot that little something called “my blog.” Okay, I’ll attempt to meander through this without the aid of coffee, mint and chip ice cream, or red wine. Damn, this may be tough!
After our test session following Pomona (which we did in Phoenix), we had every reason to be optimistic about winning the second race on the 2015 NHRA schedule. Then fate once again reared its ugly head, and our Infinite Hero hot rod didn’t look so hot in Arizona. After making only one full run in our five attempts (including a first round loss to teammate TJ in the Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger), we knew we needed more laps to figure things out. We already intended to stay the Monday after the race and test the six-disk clutch configuration (we run a 5-disk right now, but feel that the extra disk will ultimately give us more control on hotter racetracks), but we decided to use the day to just flog our current combo and zero in on what the car needs. We ran 4.003, 4.008, 4.29 after dropping a cylinder and shutting off early, and a monster 3.957 at 323.97 mph, both by far my absolute bests. I think it’s fair to say we feel very strongly about making a positive statement in Gainesville!
Perhaps I should digress and mention that, after testing ended, I still had a 360-mile trip in the RV to get the family back home (we arrived at 2 a.m.), THEN I had to drive to LAX (add 65 more miles) the next morning to catch my flight to El Paso.
After arriving Tuesday afternoon (quite tired I may add), it was straight to the campus to film a commercial for WT. The students who participated in the filming were lots of fun, and we were highlighting their motorsports high-performance program, which features a Funny Car and Top Fuel dragster assembled at DSR by Terry Snyder.
After Antron and I got done speaking Wednesday, I still had several hours before my flight home. I got a great tour at MSD and was blown away at how big, state-of-the-art, and comprehensive their product line is. They have engine and chassis dynos, a hot-rod shop, and engineers and R&D folks everywhere!
With still half an hour to kill before needing to be at the airport, I headed over to the El Paso Motorplex, the local quarter mile. Always a sucker for tracks that I’ve never been to, especially the “smaller” kind, this was cool to see. No one was running, so Silver (my buddy from MSD) and I cruised down at a leisurely 25mph just to check out the sights.
I’m very excited to be able to emcee another event at the NHRA Museum, this one being a tribute to Irwindale Raceway, which will be April 4. There’s a Facebook page, and tickets are selling fast. Check it out; you’ll be amazed at the list of attendees. Go on the Museum’s home page for all the info.
Back on the home front, I sure thought I was close to finished with the backyard. That’s before Jenna actually communicated to me her “vision” for our estate. Originally I believe she wanted to line the 1,600-square-foot upper area with gold, platinum, and Brazilian spruce trim, whereas I had something more along the “dirt” look in mind. We both really like the fake grass ... until you price that stuff! So we’re gonna go with pea gravel, which necessitated bringing the dirt level down significantly.
2015 Phoenix: One nice thing about having the RV is getting to occasionally hang out with some cool folks. Phil Lloyd was a student at the Hawley School, and he brought Joyce and Chris over to help babysit while Jenna cleaned and vacuumed!
I originally figured I’d just spread the pile that was remaining around until things looked reasonably close to level, and then call it done. Her plans require laser-precise grades, which uncovered LOTS more granite (which I knew, hence my “close enough” vision for the finished product). After spending several hours with my buddy Dennis’ Bobcat (ASAP rentals), I had unearthed more rock than I could deal with. Sully (my buddy, the “deacon of dirt”) sent in his big guns: the John Deere and Ryan, who makes moving dirt look like, well ... spreading butter (couldn’t think of a more clever analogy, so we’ll go with that). Despite Ryan’s best effort with the rippers, the gannon, and the four-in-one bucket (these are industry terms I’m throwing in to try and make myself look smart), which did grind down, rip out, and fracture nearly all of the granite, I’m still stuck with about 10 square feet of, um ... ”rock solid” (another bad metaphor) stuff that won’t budge. So next week should see the return of the enormous jackhammer, feature a rental dump truck, and star Sully, Ryan and Jack in what I hope is one of the last acts of, “My backyard is killing me!”
I’ve also been out to two days of the BRAKES driving school in Pomona, which was sponsored by Mopar and really looked professional with the big display trailer out there for all the students to ogle over.
I got to attend one day of the March Meet, which unfortunately always falls right near Jason’s birthday. Friday was my only opportunity to go, and Brent Cannon and I typically ride up together. Having to run the SCEDA race the following two days (Brent and Staci manage the bracket racing association), he wasn’t able to attend. My Uncle John decided to accompany me, and we had a great time. He’s the one who took me to my first drag race ever, and we haven’t got to spend this much time together in probably 20 years. When I tell you he’s got a photographic memory and is a walking encyclopedia on the sport, I’m not exaggerating. You can’t believe his recall when it comes to driver’s competition numbers, hometowns, records, and races attended. Anyway, it was a perfect day up in B’Field, and we closed it by attending the Smokers Car Club annual dinner, with some genuine hot-rod legends.
I mentioned Jason’s birthday, as he turned 8 on March 8. He really wanted to not only go to Legoland in San Diego, but to spend the night in their hotel adjacent to the park. We brought along his BFF from school, Derek, to increase Jason’s enjoyment. Yeah, three kids in the same hotel room with us -- LOTS of enjoyment! We headed down Sunday with Cindy following behind (she had to work Monday) and spent the day at the park. We would have gone Saturday, but the hotel was completely booked. Since both Jason and Derek are home-schooled Monday and Tuesday, it wasn’t a big deal staying over to Monday, and we got to do several more rides and attractions (If I sound like an ad for Legoland, I’m NOT. I think we could have bought my fake grass for the backyard with the money we spent on our package “deal”!).
Ah, the gift shop at an amusement park. Lots of quality, reasonably priced items that are not only durable, but also educational. Arrrrr!
We had to hustle back Monday afternoon, as Jason’s baseball season officially started (for some reason they decided to move the first game up one week, AFTER we had scheduled the whole birthday deal). I didn’t want Jason to miss the first game, plus I’m one of the coaches, and I know I’ll be missing plenty of games due to the racing schedule. We made it back in time for the game, my little man got a base hit and eventually scored, and our Angels (the team’s name, not a description of the participants) won their opener ... wow!
I also managed to squeeze in a trip to a local middle school for their career day (just in case any of them want to be Funny Car drivers!) and got to hang out with one of my rock heroes.
Allow me to clarify: Joe Benson (“Uncle Joe” is his handle), is one of the most influential DJ’s in the last 30 years, with access to interview EVERY top rocker in the U.S. and abroad. He’s the go-to guy for many folks to get the straight scoop on all things rock, and he’s my buddy.
The station he’s at (100.3 The Sound in downtown LA) just constructed “Uncle Joe’s Garage” in one of their office spaces, an area that will allow Joe to do video interviews with all sorts of guests and post them online. Joe is also quite a car nut and has been wonderful to the motorsports community on his radio broadcasts. The guy can drive, too!
Anyway, I was guest #0002 (I threw in the zeroes to make myself seem more important), and I think this deal is gonna be a hit. I don’t even know how to get to my own Facebook, but do yourself a favor and find (and Like) “Uncle Joe’s Garage” -- you’ll get access to some cool stuff.
While at the station they also let me do the “My Turn” portion of their program, which features a guest DJ playing a dozen songs of their own choosing. Slave as I am to the “hair band” era, I also am a devout classic rocker, so I’ll try and keep you guys advised on when my rotation comes up.
All right, that’s it for me. It’s approaching midnight, and I have to be on the road to the airport at 5:30 in the morning.
I’m hopeful that Don Schumacher will be able to attend his first race of the year. His radiation treatments ended the Friday of Phoenix, but I’m not even sure he’s yet been able to eat solid foods. I know all of us look forward to his full recovery, and being out at the track certainly should help his spirits.
Stay tuned, keep your dirt clean, graded, and rock-free, keep your Lego’s away from your Eggo’s, Like Uncle Joe, and “I love Rock and Roll.”