So I've fallen into a pretty good routine of writing these on Wednesdays, except today is Tuesday and I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today. Wait… I fell into channeling Wimpy there for a second and Popeye is not happy with me. Spinach!
So that's how my brain is working today. Kind of all over the place. It all started when Barbara got up before me (gosh, that NEVER happens!) and after she took her shower she peeked outside and that caused her to then open the blinds and say (succinctly) "Look!" Considering I was still snoozing and was covered in cats at that early hour just after sunrise, it took all my energy to half-open one eye. But upon gazing at the backyard and the golf course beyond it, I replied (succinctly) "Oh my." Snow! First snow of the season, actually, and totally unexpected because yesterday was sorta warmish and I never looked at the forecast. But there it is… Good thing I got my snow sticks in the ground a few days ago.
The snow sticks aren't really going to come into play with this one, because it's supposed to be near 40 by this afternoon and this is a lot more slush than snow anyway, but it's good to have them in the ground. Just ask Neighbor Dave, who usually leads the old Woodbury neighborhood in the category of "Snow Stick Installation Promptness" but who posted on Facebook today that he "Got smoked" by about 15 other neighbors who pounded their sticks into the ground before he did. C'mon neighbor. You can't let these young whippersnappers beat you with the snow sticks!
And speaking of said neighbor (as well as his lovely bride) it was great to get together with them for dinner last week, when I was in Minnesota for a couple of days. It was Nichol's birthday, and I got to tag along as we tried out another new restaurant in Woodbury (they're popping up like crazy) and we had a great time. Also, the food was spectacular. You know how good your friendship is when you have a leisurely dinner and there's never a moment when the thought "What do we talk about next?" flashes through your brain. It's that way with Dave and Nichol, and with all of our Woodbury friends. That's why it remains "home" until we finally actually get back there permanently. Home is where the heart is, and where your friends are.
So today's headline… I really don't have a final answer as to how many more of these blogs I'll write here at NHRA.com, but I guess I need to figure that out at some juncture. It's about to be December and I'm about to be done with my PR wrap-up work, which means at some point in the near future this adventure needs to transition into the next adventure. The new blog is up and ready to go, despite the fact it still needs a bit of a cosmetic redesign, so at some point here shortly I'll sign off from this warm and friendly place and head off into the great unknown. Okay, it's not totally unknown. I've been writing in other places for decades, but signing off from this great experience will truly be turning a page. A big gigantic page.
And despite the fact I sometimes have doubts that I'll be able to pull off a continuation of this blog in the new place, since I'm no longer "somebody" in this great sport, I have to remind myself that for the last 10 years I've somehow been able to keep this going and keep a few people entertained during the off-season, when there was no racing to write about. It's just going to be a bigger and longer off-season for me (and you) this time.
So… If you haven't bookmarked it yet, the new blog (with the totally inspired and exciting title of "Bob's Blog") is here:
So far, all I've posted is a sort of place-holder "Welcome!" installment, but before the next Wednesday rolls around I plan to do something more in-depth over there. And then we'll be off to the races, but I mean that in the totally cliché way, not in the literal terms of being off to actual races. There are no races to go to until February, and if my plans hold up my first race next year (as a visitor!) will be in March, at Gainesville.
Anyway, if you want to follow along as tales of book writing, cat herding, dinner enjoying, and possibly even Minnesota moving (I hold out hope that such a thing will happen in the not-too-distant future) please drop by the new site and join in.
And here's another thing to ponder. Are you on Twitter? Do you follow numerous racers and NHRA personalities there? Have you been a loyal follower of the Team Wilkerson Twitter feed? If you answered "Why yes, I am" to any of those, maybe you'd like to follow my brand-spanking-new Twitter account, which will be full of updates as the book writing campaign begins and develops, as well as other nonsense.
You can find me here, on Twitter: @BobWilber5
And the number five has a reason. Whenever it was available during my baseball career, I chose to wear number five. Once (Medford A's) it wasn't available because I was the last guy added to the roster, and once (Lakeland Tigers) it wasn't available because a super-prospect who was destined to play quite a bit in the big leagues wanted it (Howard Johnson), and once (Sauget Wizards) it wasn't available because our best player, by a lot, wanted it (Neil Fiala, who played in the big leagues for the Cardinals and Reds) but other than that I was always No. 5. As far as I recall.
So, there is still one final project to complete as a PR person, but I made a great deal of headway on that yesterday and this morning. Yes, it's that always popular set of "Year In Review" binders I put together for Wilk and for Dick Levi, which provide a good sampling of the publicity we generated over the course of the season. It's a personal thing for me, because a PR rep is supposed to generate publicity, so I'm always proud (and happy) when I set a new standard for pages and clippings. Mission accomplished. Now all I have left to do is to get all the copies made and create the Photo Gallery section, which I always fill with pics that range from the guys warming up the car, the car at the starting line, and other "car stuff" to more portrait type photos of the crew, fans, sponsors, and guests. That section is usually the most enjoyable one to flip through.
With Thanksgiving coming up, I suspect it will be the end of next week before I put the binders in boxes and ship them off to some very important people. And that will really feel like the end of this part of my life. And a big part it's been.
I'm getting more and more excited by the day, regarding the next big "chapter" in my life (and I love using that cliché because it's actually accurate, and did you also notice that I love parentheses?). All I have to do is write it. But, to help in that regard it is important to have another set of talented eyes involved, as an editor, and I'm very pleased and very proud to announce that I have that box checked.
Greg Halling has been a journalist and an editor since I got into this sport, and we met when he was the motorsports writer for the Wichita newspaper. I think, although I can't be sure, that we met when I was at Heartland Park, because geographically that would make sense but it was a long time ago and I've ingested a great deal of Nitro since then, so I can't be 100 percent certain. I know I've known Greg for many years, and he's always been a very passionate fan of our sport.
When these are done, and out the door, I guess my work is finally done as well. Time to write a book!
Currently he's the Executive Editor at the Ogden Standard Examiner, and now he's also going to be moonlighting as the person who looks over my output and then tries to find ways to make it coherent. And in English. And grammatically correct. Because dangling participles are things you shouldn't have to deal with. (See what I did there?)
I'm thrilled to have Greg onboard, because as long as we've had a professional relationship we've also had a very fine personal one, and we share not just a sense for how to write but also a sense of humor. If my book isn't funny, it won't be right. And then I'd have to throw it away and start all over again. (Must be sure not to do that!!!)
And now it's time for me to dash out of here to take my car in for its free 5,000-mile service and oil change. When we got up this morning I was sure my appointment was at 10:00, but I'm glad I checked the calendar on my laptop at 9:30 before I walked out of the door. It's at 1:00 instead. Which means I need to get rolling.
In summation, if you're so inclined please check out my new Twitter account at @BobWilber5 and by next week we should have a real blog installment over at the new site, as well. And then we'll be rolling. And which focus group came up with "Bob's Blog" for the title over there? Sheesh. Oh yeah, it was me.
This blog installment might have been short, but at least it's a day early! Tomorrow, off to Denver to spend Thanksgiving with Barb's brother Jim and his family. I heard turkey is on the menu… Much will be consumed, many thanks will be given, and photos will be taken.
And I can't express in words how thankful I am to have been handed the challenge of this blog for the last 10 years. And on we go...
So Pomona is over, and the banquet is over, and So Cal is over, and my career is almost over. No more lugging my heavy suitcase to the airport on Thursday to hit the road for another distant track in another far-off town. But wait… It's Thursday and guess where I am. Yep, Gate B-8 at GEG in Spokane getting ready to get on another airplane. I'm heading back to Minnesota for just a couple of days, so at least no heavy suitcase. Or perhaps I'm just sadly addicted to travel. Gosh, I hope not.
This trip wasn't on my calendar as recently as yesterday afternoon. But then, something came up that one of us needed to attend to and Barb had no chance to get on a plane today, so off I go. And there are some other business and banking things that I was going to do when I go back in December, so I might as well take care of those tomorrow, as well. Because life happens.
With such short notice (I decided to do this at dinner last night) it would've cost a small island-nation's Gross Domestic Product to buy a ticket, so I did the unthinkable. I used miles. ACK! If you know me you know I hoard miles like any Diamond Elite passenger, because to be a Diamond you need to earn 125,000 qualifying miles every year and if you use miles to fly you're just strapping yourself into an uncomfortable seat for multiple hours, all for no good reason. I have boatloads of miles in my account, so I cashed in enough to ensure a seat in the front cabin and off I go. I might break out in hives knowing I'm flying 1,100 miles each way and I'm not getting any credit for it. Getting a little itchy right now…
So, let's go back to Pomona and relive an amazing weekend. Truly one for the ages, and other than the fact we lost in the first round the rest of it was off-the-charts awesome.
The first thing on the agenda was optional for me, but I wanted to go. NHRA President Peter Clifford hosted a meeting with drivers, owners, and PR reps on Friday morning, first thing. Since I won't be back next year, I didn't have to go but I wanted to, so Tim and I headed over there at 8:00 a.m. to the Finish Line Grill just outside the back gate and took our seats.
They'd prefer we not necessarily spell out all the details and initiatives they're going to implement over the off-season and into next season, but I feel safe in stating that it was the most coherent, well-planned, thought out, and strategic presentation I've seen in my 20-year NHRA career. Point after point with all of them being "on point" and it really gave me confidence and a lot of excitement going forward. For years, whenever we did have these sorts of meetings, we'd typically hear stuff like "We've hired an agency to help us do X better" or "We've hired a consultant to help us make Y better" or the all-time fave "We going to make a real effort to sell more tickets" (or improve our ratings, or improve our facilities) without ever really saying how that magic was going to technically happen.
This presentation had real guts to it, and real plans, and real people. I saw Peter in the pits later that day and shook his hand while I told him how impressed I was with the ideas, the plans, the preparation, and the material. It's going to be a challenge (success usually is) but there are real plans in place with real talented people on-board to implement them. And not one word about agencies or consultants. We're in for a treat going forward, and the sport is going to explode, in my opinion. Not explode like a Top Fuel motor, but more in the vein of a TV series finally finding its stride and getting some momentum going and then it rockets to the top of the ratings for many years. You know, the Simpsons started out pretty slow. That show turned out okay, and it's still on and still rocking. We might just be the Simpsons. D'Oh!
Once the meeting was over it was back to the pit to get a flavor for how that was going to go, with the NHRA Membership Hospitality Center set up right next to us. I met Paula Gewertz and Robyn Morton, who were basically there to run the place and make sure everything went smoothly, and was impressed to see many other NHRA staffers in attendance, as they all made sure their guests had a great time. Even Vice President-Publications Adriane Ridder and Director of Ad Sales Jeff Morton spent most of every day in there. Well done!
Each day, I got on the P.A. and welcomed everyone on behalf of Team Wilk, and we had a great time all three days. Really terrific, actually. And, on Sunday we gave away a whole bunch of stuff, and Jeff Morton was a fantastic host. He could have a future on a TV game show. C'mon down!!!
The whole weekend, for me, was really obviously the culmination of my career, and what had been a lot of comments and a bunch of questions ever since I announced my departure post-Indy, became a series of much more heartfelt (and in many cases more emotional) handshakes, hugs, and conversations. The number of blog readers who I had never before met skyrocketed in Pomona. I don't think I ever went 10 minutes out in the open with a stream of people approaching me, and a few times they actually formed a line! That might be as embarrassed as I've ever been at a track, but I also couldn't have been more appreciative.
Longtime reader and now very good pal Kim Campbell (Kim The Lawyer) from Vancouver flew down for his first-ever trip to Pomona, and it was an honor to have him there for my final weekend. Once Barbara arrived, we managed to have a couple of adult beverages and a fine dinner over at the Sheraton, on Saturday night. And after dinner, he presented me with some Canadian coins that honored Remembrance Day (the Canadian version of Veterans Day) as well as a beautiful pewter quaich. Kim is a good Scotsman, and a quaich is a small bowl with handles on two sides. When sharing your porridge, or perhaps some fine Scottish libation, with a friend you can each sip out of your side. What a thoughtful gift, but coming from a man like Kim Campbell I wasn't surprised. Pleased and honored, but not surprised.
Okay, I'm now out of order here (which is funny because Kim's a lawyer and I'm out of order!) Before we got to Saturday I had one other very important appointment, at our annual PR appreciation dinner in La Verne. Barb got in with enough time to spare for me to actually swing by the Sheraton and pick her up instead of her having to meet me at the restaurant. Timing is everything, and that timing was wonderful.
Dinner was great (truly GREAT food) but the company was nothing short of exceptional. All of us are very good friends, and we see ourselves as brothers and sisters in arms, and this annual dinner is always a fantastic culmination of another year in the books, so it's always special. For me, obviously, it was extra special.
Kelly Topolinski and Joanne Knapp were also there to celebrate the end of their illustrious and much-admired careers, so there was plenty of sentimentality to go around. And many hugs. And a few tears, but not that many. We could all use the fortification of knowing we still had two more days of racing and a banquet ahead of us, so the emotions were kept a bit at bay. But man, it was a wonderful evening.
Elon Werner secretly plotted a couple of cool presentations for us, and I was totally 100 percent clueless that he'd arranged anything for me. Over the course of the last couple of races, Elon got all of the PR reps and a lot of NHRA and TV folks to autograph a baseball for me. I was blown away. And I heard from a couple of folks that "You almost busted us a dozen times, but somehow we kept it a secret." I have a lot of autographed baseballs, but this one will earn a spot of ultimate honor in my office. Stunned. And so overwhelmed. A huge thanks to everyone.
Terry Blount, the new and terrifically talented VP of Media Relations for NHRA, then stunned me some more when he stood before the room to wish me a fond farewell and then mentioned that, as a kid, his father would take him to Houston Buffaloes minor league baseball games, when they were an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals. He then presented me with a ball autographed by Cardinal great Bob Gibson, which he'd had since childhood. Amazing. I'm literally shaking my head as I type this.
Earlier on Friday, the all-time great PR guy Dave Densmore handed me a gift bag, and he let me know it was from Susie Arnold. Susie Arnold is a legend in NHRA public relations circles, and she was married to the late Dale Armstrong, who holds a strong place in the great history of NHRA. Susie was Kenny Bernstein's PR person for many years, and is simply one of the first names mentioned when you talk about all the greats who have worked in this private little corner of the racing world, rarely getting our hands dirty but often wearing out keyboards on an annual basis, writing the words that tell our teams' stories.
After losing Dale, Susie has been dealing with the grief and she wasn't going to come to the race, so she had Densy bring me something special. It was a baseball autographed by the 1988 New York Yankees. Dale became friends with former big leaguer and NHRA team owner Jack Clark, and Jack gave him the ball back in those days. Susie included a wonderful note with the ball, and after congratulating me she added that she felt strongly that the ball should go to baseball home where it would be appreciated to the max. Susie has no idea how much that meant to me.
It all meant so much to me. Every hour of every day. Whew. What a weekend.
The highlight moment goes to Alan Reinhart, however. No doubt about it. The single most humbling and touching thing I may have ever experienced.
As we pulled forward for our final run, in Q4 on Saturday evening, under the lights in front of a ton of people, Alan said (I'm paraphrasing here) "Before we fire the next pair, I want to tell you all something about Bob Wilber…" He then went on to say some things that brought me to the edge, but I held it together. I blame the nitro.
A serious note to Alan: That was crazy and insane and I'm not worthy, but I also can't thank you enough. And I know you hate for people to know what a nice guy you are, but tough. That was one of the nicest things I've ever experienced. Wow.
On Sunday, we lost in the first round. In a pedaling duel. Against Robert Hight. We smoked the tires at the hit and Robert did the same just a milli-second later, but he had a huge lead on us while Wilk worked so hard to get the LRS car to hook up again. He must've hit or feathered the throttle five or six times, and then he finally eased into it enough to get it to go, and was reeling Robert in like a big ocean fish. All of that, and we lost by inches. I turned to Krista, shaking my head and said "Somehow that seems fitting…"
It was just the most irrational way to lose a close race, and my whole career seems irrational and haphazard. A win would've been a lot better, but somehow the irony and appropriateness of losing by inches in a pedaling duel kind of made me smile in a "Well, there you have it" way. It was better than getting our butts kicked, or a red light, or a hole shot. I'm a pretty ridiculous guy, and that was a ridiculous race, so I could only smile and laugh. And then all attention turned to Del Worsham.
I had to go back to the Media Center to write about our weekend (one last time) but I was planning on staying to the end anyway. I had someone to root for.
And now we're about to board the plane. I'm in seat 1-A so I won't have a chair in front of me to stow my bag. Therefore, I plan to apologize to the person in 1-B as soon as we're seated, because I'm going to need to get up as soon as we are up in the air to get my laptop back out. Can't write this sort of stuff on an iPad!
Back in a few…
(Theme music plays…)
Welcome back! And welcome to seat 1-A on Delta 1488, the daily 1:40 departure from GEG to MSP. We take this flight a lot. It doesn't get in until 6:30 pm Central, but it beats the hassle of an early morning flight and all of the stuff I have to do is set for tomorrow. Then, I get my time zones back when I take the 11:00 a.m. return flight on Saturday, which gets in at 12:00 noon. The boyz will hardly know I was gone.
Back to Del Worsham…
What a thrilling day that was. I'm sure Del and his extended family (along with his team) would've been happy to win the championship early, even in the first round, but somehow it seemed absolutely destined that it would come down to him versus Fast Jack in the semifinal, and with the added intrigue of Jack setting a new national record to bring him within a round of Del, that made it a winner-take-all battle. Two great drivers. Two great teams. For the whole enchilada. Amazing.
I went up there to watch, as did about 50 Worsham backers with Restricted Area Passes. It was electric, and one of those enormous moments that would decide something so gigantically important in just a few seconds. Drag Racing is so unique in that regard. No late inning rallies, no fourth-quarter comebacks, no late-season winning streaks to clinch the division. Just two great teams, two great drivers, lined up side-by-side with 20,000 hp between them. It's truly hard to breathe, and Barbara and I were almost afraid to watch. And then Del won. Bedlam ensued.
That could not have been a more fitting way for my career to end. What a moment. And yes, I did run out there to the starting line to share it with Chuck and some of the other guys who were part of my CSK-Worsham career. This time, I can promise you there wasn't a dry eye in the house.
Chuck and his wife Lou asked me to come by the pit with them, to greet the champion upon his return, and Barbara and I went straight over there. When he was brought back on the Mello Yello vehicle, with his trophy, we found the time to share hug. There was more time later, when he won the race, and then Barb and I made one more quick swoop through the pits to say some more goodbyes.
Barbara was phenomenal all weekend, giving me the support I loved but also giving me the space to do what I needed to do at the pace I wanted to do it. Finally, while Del was in the Winner's Circle and the pit area parties were cranking up, I said "I think I just want to go back to the hotel now. It doesn't get any better than this and no drink in the pits, in a red Solo cup, would taste as fine as a glass of wine with you, by ourselves…" So that's what we did, and we just sort of basked in the intensity of the weekend. And we slept like bricks.
And now lunch is served, so I have to clear my laptop off my tray table. I'll get this done, I promise.
(Theme music plays again…)
I usually get the standard southwest chicken salad, but today I went off the charts and had the hot turkey sandwich. I cut it in half, though, and put all the turkey on one side. I'm devious that way.
Monday morning in Pomona, especially at the Sheraton, where so many racers stay, is totally unique. We have to be in Hollywood by early afternoon, and many of the women have hair and nails appointments, so the morning is relaxed and you pass everyone in the lobby feeling a whole different vibe than what we were feeling just 24 hours earlier, when the season was still very much in session.
Barbara and I actually made a stop to ship a bunch of stuff home, because with my tuxedo and a whole bunch of other clothes my bag was stuffed. Then we headed for Hollywood with a plan. If the traffic was okay, and we were really early, we'd just keep driving to Santa Monica and have lunch there. That's how it surprisingly worked out, and we found an incredible burger place just a block off the beach. Possibly one of the best gourmet burgers I've ever consumed.
Then, we battled the traffic back to Hollywood until we were basically a little late. Remind me never to live anywhere near Hollywood or Sunset Boulevard. Seriously.
Barbara and Sheila Cunningham headed off to the Westin to get their hair done (you two were both stunning!) and by then it was really time to get our dressy stuff on and head down to the ballroom, straight from our room at the Loews Hollywood Resort. I love the "living large" aspect of the banquet. For one night we all get to be movie stars.
We sat with Tim and Krista, of course, and had a wonderful time. The food was great (Wolfgang Puck!) and the ceremony moved along nicely. Del's speech was really great, and very genuine. All the speeches were good, actually, and it was an enjoyable show, but the highlight was the presentation of the Blaine Johnson Award to Terry Chandler, the wonderful woman who funds both the Make-A-Wish team and the Infinite Hero team at DSR. Terry had no idea.
If you've ever had the pleasure of meeting this wonderful woman, you know how great she is, whether she funds two great teams or not. When she finally couldn't come up with any more words to thank everyone, the standing ovation was as heartfelt as anything you'll ever be a part of. Another "wow moment" for sure.
After that, there was the after-party at the Ohm club right there in the complex. The last couple of banquets I've attended I didn't bother to go, because I was by myself and I was tired. It's a special kind of tired after the banquet. It's not just a day that's over, and it's not just a race. It's a whole year, and your body says "Okay, that's enough" but this time there was no question. Barb and I were absolutely going.
Really cool to have the NHRA Members tent in our pit
We saw Lewis Worden and his wife Donna at the banquet, and talked them into going with us. This was a true "full circle" way to end the evening, the weekend, the season, and the career. Way back in the dark ages, around 1994 or so, Lewie and his business partner Steve Ash campaigned the Ash & Worden Pro Stock car. They were my first paying client when I initially decided to be a PR and marketing guy in the NHRA arena. We've been friends ever since, and since Lewie and Donna also live in the St. Louis area, we have plenty of connections.
To spend some quality time with Lewie and Donna on the final night of a career was special. And get this… It was my last banquet, and it was Lewie's first! There are just too many connections here to fathom.
I also caught up with most of my PR colleagues, and we took some selfie shots and some group photos there at the club. This group represents some of the brightest, best, and most professional PR folks I've ever known, but more importantly they are as fun and as smart as almost anyone I've ever known. What a great way to wrap up the year and the last 20 years.
Barb and I met her second-cousin Bonnie for a late lunch on Tuesday, then headed for LAX in a painful slog of traffic (ugh) before we flew home. And now I'm on a plane again. Go figure.
And yes, Spokane did have a horrible wind storm on Tuesday, with much damage all over town, but we seem to have been spared at our house. We're just lucky to have gotten home that night, and despite the fact the winds had subsided all the way down to 30 mph with gusts to 45, that landing in a regional jet was a lot of fun, if by "fun" you mean "not really fun".
So there you have it. My web guru Laura and I are deep into the planning and transition of my old "Bob On Baseball" blog into the new "Bob's Blog" which will replace this one, but we're not quite there yet. I still have a few weeks of work to do for LRS and Wilk, so there will be more here. But, if you want to follow along as I migrate over to the other place, just be ready to do so in the coming weeks.
Also, there's more to tell you about the book and how that's progressing, but I'll save that for another day.
Pomona was simply great.
One last race to go, for the season, for the series, for all the racers and all the fans, and for me, and I'm really excited to get down to Pomona tomorrow and get after it on Friday. It's going to be a fun weekend in so many ways, and I'm sure it's going to be bittersweet and sad in many others, but I'm 100 percent stoked to see if my buddy Del Worsham can win the Funny Car championship.
I like Fast Jack a lot, but I think he'd understand where my allegiances lie, and I'm not hiding the fact that I'm pulling for Del, and for his extended family, and all the other people I've known along the way after working for the Worshams for 12 great years.
With this being my last race, one of the first things I did this morning was dig deep into drawers full of old 35mm prints, to find a shot from not just my first year with Del, and not just my first race, but my first day! I arrived at Pomona on the day before the 1997 Winternationals and said hello to my new boss, my new teammates, and my new team. And I remember taking a photo of the temporary CSK body we were going to be running there. I still have that photo and it's in the gallery down below.
Del had been running an Oldsmobile FC body the year before, so one of those was repainted and covered in stickers for Pomona, while the Dodge bodies we'd be running for the rest of the year were mounted and painted. This first one was a real rush job, so the blue was too light and really flat, plus the Checker, Schuck's, Kragen logo wasn't totally up to date. We'd get all that fixed when the first Dodge hit the track after Pomona, but for that weekend at the '97 Winternationals we had a real beauty on our hands.
It was the dawn of a totally new era for me. That first day at the track might have to rank as one of the most pivotal moments in my life and my career, because it was the first day of the first year and there would be 12 amazing and rewarding years with that group and with CSK. Without that first day, none of this would've happened and I have no Earthly idea what I would be doing today. I can say with some certainty that the odds are heavily stacked that this blog would not exist and you probably would never have heard of me. Or Boofus and Buster! So there's that.
Between going to work for Del and being introduced to Barbara Doyle just a few months later, there's no getting around the fact that 1997 was, beyond any doubt, the most important year of my life. No doubt whatsoever. I started that year taking a photo of a blue and white car that said Checker, Schuck's, Kragen on the side and I ended the year on a beach in Maui, saying "I do" to a woman I hadn't even met when I arrived in Pomona. Absolutely no doubt that's the most important year of my life.
I guess it's pretty clear why I'm hoping Del gets that Funny Car championship he very much deserves. I don't know where I'd be without his belief in me, his trust in my skills, and his friendship. And I don't even want to think about where I'd be had Lance McCord not told me about an IBM colleague of his named Barbara, and then given each of us the other's email address. What a year.
And here we are wrapping up 2015… I'm going to soak in all of it this weekend, including three days of racing, our annual PR reps dinner on Friday, and the Awards Ceremony (aka "the banquet") on Monday night, in Hollywood. All of it.
As a bonus, we're kinda sorta actually doing some hospitality this weekend, but it's of a very different sort. NHRA is always looking for ways to show their appreciation to the great fans who not only attend the races but who are also actual members of NHRA, and they often have a tent set up where members can show their NHRA membership card and have a snack or get out of the sun for a while.
This year, they've set up the tent right next to our pit, where our normal hospitality center would be if we did LRS hospitality in Pomona. This way, members not only have an exclusive tent they get to go to, but they also get to experience what it's like to be a real VIP with one of the teams. I'm glad they chose us to be that team, and I'll make sure I get on the P.A. and welcome everyone on behalf of Team Wilkerson. This should really be a lot of fun. Sort of a way for me to go out with a little bigger bang.
As for blogging in the future, I'm a little behind getting my "Bob On Baseball" blog transitioned over to the new "Bob's Blog" at our family website, but out web developer for that site has been swamped with work as of late. We plan to get the new header on there and give it a fresh look as soon as possible. In the meantime, even though it still says "Bob On Baseball" I'm going to get over there later today and post my first new blog installment, which will just be a "Welcome, we're under construction but this is where we'll be once we're done" sort of thing. That will at least give you all a chance to go over there and bookmark it for the future.
When it's fully up and running, in the coming weeks, I'll make sure I post that here and off we'll go.
Remember, the new blog will be here: http://www.perfectgamefound.org/category/bob-on-baseball/
Hopefully we can get all the work done in the next two weeks. It should be a fun new adventure, and it will continue to include racing news (even if I'm not working for a team, I'm now a lifelong fan and will follow all of my friends and colleagues), the boyz, walks in the park, travel, and other familiar nonsense, plus I'll use it to post updates on the progress I'm making with the book. Which still doesn't have a title, but I'm working on it and I'm 99 percent sure of which option I'm going to go with. Thank you, Elon Werner, for your brilliant suggestion. It's the early leader.
I'm heading to So Cal tomorrow, on a bit of a unique itinerary. I leave GEG at 1:00 tomorrow, but I don't fly to Salt Lake. I'm taking the short hop over to Seattle and then flying nonstop from there down to LAX. Then, on Tuesday after the banquet Barb and I will see some friends and relatives before we take the nonstop flight from LAX directly back to Spokane. There's only one a day, at 6:40 pm, so we'll have a lot of time to be L.A. tourists.
After that, I'll work with Tim to help him make the transition to my replacement (I don't know who that is, yet) no matter when that happens. Mailing lists, passwords, and other helpful things will be passed on. Our Facebook fan page will need a new administrator, our Twitter account will need to be updated, and many other things, I'm sure.
And speaking of Twitter, I'll be needing to launch my own Twitter account, I guess. Just one more thing to do.
Here in Liberty Lake, there were some low hanging clouds up in the hills this morning, and when I went outside to get the paper I couldn't see the peaks but I could smell something very specific. No, thankfully we seem to be done with the wildfires so it wasn't the ubiquitous smoke we smelled all summer. It was snow. Yes, snow has a smell. Especially if you haven't been around it in many months. Sorta smells like the inside of your freezer.
A couple of hours later, the clouds lifted and there it was, but it is such a dusting it looks like it could possibly just be frost. Still, the first "white stuff" of the year. I better get my snow marker sticks in the ground!
Taken on the first day of the most important year of my life. What a beauty!
And when Barb and I were in Woodbury last weekend, I mentioned to her that I was going to bet that once the weekend was over they would be closing the golf course that is our back yard here in Liberty Lake. We got home late Sunday night and then on Monday morning I heard a golf cart go by bright and early, so I figured I had been wrong. But it was actually one of the greenskeepers driving around to pick up the flag sticks, the rakes, and the ball washers. The course officially closed that morning.
And the best part of that was the fact that, effective immediately, what had been a golf course with a nonstop stream of golfers driving or walking by our back door, was now once again our gigantic private park complete with paved walking trails. I took Boofus and Buster for a long walk in their cat stroller last night, all the way back to the second tee and around the neighborhood. Barbara and I go for a lot of walks, but until the course closes it's pretty much just the same sidewalks on the same busy streets. Now we have our park back. Life is good.
So… This is not yet goodbye on this blog. The new "Welcome, we're under construction" installment over at what will be renamed "Bob's Blog" will go up tonight, but I'll still be here until my work is fully and truly finished. The compilation of my "Year In Review" publicity binders takes a few weeks, and I haven't even designed the cover yet, so I'll still be working with Tim and with LRS for a few more weeks.
But this is the last race. The last PR dinner. The last banquet. And my last weekend in uniform. I'm absolutely going to soak it all in. All of it.
If you're coming to Pomona, stop by and say hi. And heck, if you have an NHRA membership card, come on in!!!
And best of luck to all the competitors this weekend. Especially that Worsham dude.
When I finally made the decision that 2015 would be my last season as a full-time PR rep in this sport, it only seemed real in a surreal sort of way. I had mentally crossed the bridge and made my own personal commitment to write a book, but there were still a few months to go in the season and it seemed a long way off.
Then I told Tim and Krista about it at Indy. To me, that's the race where these sorts of decisions should be shared, so I did it there to uphold that tradition. Letting your team know at Indy gives them a lot of time to figure out what they're going to do. Once that was done, it got a little more real.
Then I sent personal emails to Dick Levi, Shannon Heisler, and Shelley Williams at LRS and got some heartfelt replies from them, which made it even a little more real. And, when St. Louis rolled around and I had a chance to chat with Dick about it, and he had so many nice things to tell me, it took another step toward being absolutely real.
Dallas was the next step, since that was our last race with hospitality and hosting the group in there is a big part of my job. Las Vegas followed, and it really started to crystalize both in terms of the reality of it and the way so many people were engaging me in conversation about it. Now, there's just one race left.
Originally, Barbara was going to fly into Ontario on Saturday night and just spend Sunday at the track before accompanying me to the Award Ceremony in Hollywood on Monday night. Yesterday, as she prepared to fly to Chicago and I drove her to the airport, she let me know that she had changed her mind. She's going to fly down on Friday and spend the whole race with me and my colleagues. I think that's wonderful.
We have our annual "PR Dinner" at a great little restaurant in La Verne on Friday night, and one of the first things I did after Barb told me of her altered travel plans was to reach out to Anthony Vestal in the NHRA Media Relations department to see if it would be okay for Barb to be my date for the dinner. He quickly replied that it would be no problem whatsoever. That's another thing that's wonderful.
That dinner will be interesting. It always is, as our tight-knit group celebrates another season of doing our work, but this time it's a farewell for not just me but also Kelly Topolinski, one of the most talented and popular people to EVER do PR in this sport. Absolutely everybody loves Kelly, and she's also hanging up her PR spurs to stay at home with her husband Pat and write a book of her own. Pat used to be a Pro Stock crew guy on the tour, so they both got to be on the road together, but now he works a more "normal" job and doesn't travel. Kelly didn't want to rigors of this job to dictate how her life should go, so she made the decision to walk away, as well. Like everyone else in the PR arena, I'm really going to miss her. Her smile can (and often does) light up the room. And she types faster than anyone I know! In a room full of PR professionals, that's quite an accomplishment itself.
So there's a lot on our of our collective plates for Pomona next week, and that's understating it to a very large degree. I'm going to try to soak it all in one more time and just appreciate what the last 20 years have meant to me and how much I've learned and grown in that span. Of course, my work won't end after the banquet on Monday night, because I still have my Publicity Summary binders to put together and finish for LRS, but the races are the reason this job exists, so it will be a huge turning point. It'll be REALLY real then.
For now, a few rambling thoughts about Vegas…
The Cannery treated me pretty well. I came home with twice the money I went down there with. Cha-Ching! I hit a couple of big winners on the slots, but really I was just way more prudent with the smaller jackpots. As is almost always the case in Vegas, the key is to walk away when you're ahead and just let those little increases compile into a bigger payoff. For the most part I did that, other than the one time I was up a hundred and then didn't walk away. Yep, lesson learned. I gave it all back and at the end I was kind of like a Funny Car driver whacking the throttle out of anger when the car smokes the tires. I was just banging away on the slot machine "Bet Max" button trying to get it over with. Still, coming home with more than I left with is a good thing.
It was great to have John Fink with us all weekend too! That's a highlight I rarely get to enjoy anymore and we slid back into all of our routines and humor as if we'd just been together the week before. Little things like driving to the track with John and laughing with him in the pit area are really the sort of precious things that have made this job so memorable.
On Thursday, Finkster joined Tim, Krista, Richard Hartman, and me at Jersey Boys. We left the hotel quite early, because traffic around 5:00 in Vegas can be horrendous, but of course that only guaranteed that we'd sail right down there to Paris and get there an hour and 45 minutes before the show. None of us had eaten dinner, so that gave us a chance to get a table at the cafe inside the resort, and I texted my buddy Buck that we were there.
Coincidentally, Thursday night was the evening when the show hosts the cast and their families for a backstage Halloween adventure, so Buck, Mary, Gibson and Hudson were all there, at the resort. They came straight over to our table and spent some time with us before Buck had to head backstage to get ready for the show. Before he did that, though, he had a remarkable announcement.
On a normal night Buck plays the part of Hank Majewski and a bunch of other background roles, but he's the understudy for the role of Bob Gaudio, which is the second-most important role in the show. On Thursday night, when we were there, he went on as Gaudio. He was also absolutely amazingly fabulous.
Everyone in our group had a blast and we were all overwhelmed by the job Buck did in the Gaudio role. The whole show is incredible, but when a very good friend of yours is playing that starring role as Frankie Valli's collaborator, well it just takes the enjoyment level to an all-new high.
We then waited for Buck to come out after the show was over, and I could tell that everyone in our group, especially Tim, had a whole new appreciation for this funny guy who has loved drag racing since he was a kid in Baton Rouge. Just watching the show that night brought it all into focus. Everyone in the show is so outrageously talented it's mind-blowing, and like I said it's even more amazing when such a good friend is right there, center stage, singing and acting like the Broadway pro he is.
Buck and the family then came out to the race on Sunday, so we all had a lot of time together and that was about as good as it gets. When it was time for them to leave I gave them a ride to their car on our golf cart, and Gibson and Hudson surprised the heck out of me by running to my side and giving me two of the best hugs I've ever received. What a family…
On Friday, the plan was for Mark Rebilas to shoot some shots of me with the race car in the lanes, as potential photos for the cover of my book. The sun was really harsh during Q1, though, so we shifted our plan and aimed to get it done before Q2. Before I write another word, I have to publicly thank Tim, Richard, and our entire crew. They worked around what I needed, got the car to the lanes early, and put the body down for me so I could pose for shots with Mark and his assistant. Thanks guys!
We got some really amazing shots in just a few minutes, and the whole thing did attract some attention from the other teams in the lanes. They saw us put the body down, saw Mark and his cameras, and then they saw me grab my props (a baseball bat and a soccer ball) from the tow vehicle, and lots of crew guys started milling around, watching what we were doing. It was really cool to work with Mark on this shoot, seeing how he staged the whole thing and made it all happen. I can't wait to see the cover now, because he knocked these photos right out of the park. Just wait…
Mark's also been shooting some other stuff with me, at the starting line and in the lanes, and I will share one of those in today's photo gallery. I mean, geez, you can't have photos of me at the track without one of them being a fist-bump, right?
The whole race was really pretty overwhelming for me, in terms of how many people stopped to shake my hand and thank me for doing this. Over the course of the three days I must've spent time with at least a hundred people who told me they'd been reading for many years (in many cases they said they'd been reading since Day 1) and yet I'd never met them before. I sure hope most of you come with me to the new blog after the season ends. And I think the best name for it is probably the most simple one: Bob's Blog. Why over-think it?
Among the many readers who were there we good friends Tom and Doug Miller (Tom From West Linn, or TomFWL when he signs his emails), and Chris and Jane Gorny from Vancouver. The five of us went out to dinner on Sunday night down on The Strip (Cabo Wabo Cantina, to be specific, but no Sammy Hagar in attendance) since there were staying down there and I had just moved to Paris on Sunday night to be closer to the airport. A truly great time was had by all. Good food, good Margaritas, and great company.
My longtime buddies Rick Strang and Jerry Muzzillo, who live near Finkster and have been volunteering and helping out since I joined the Worshams, were there for our last hurrah together. Great guys, and I'm sure I'll see them again when I visit a few races next year.
And as for the event itself, I think we set a whole new standard for attendance. The Vegas track is enormous to begin with, so it's not that easy to fill the place, but fill it we did. Saturday and Sunday were so jam-packed that all of us were talking about it. Big kudos to the track and to NHRA for a massively successful race.
It hit me in Vegas that one of the benefits I'll enjoy next year is the option to visit races without having to be there for work, and I can pick the races I want to attend. I want to go to Sonoma, for sure, and probably Gainesville and the second Vegas race. It would be great to go to St. Louis and get to spend one day at the track and a couple around my hometown, actually seeing friends instead of spending 99 percent of my time working. Plus, I can swoop in and see Dick Levi and our team knowing that I don't have to be the host and emcee all day. This whole civilian thing will take some getting used to. And, of course, if we finally get moved back to Minnesota I'll have to visit Brainerd. And if I'm going to Sonoma maybe I'll just rent a car and drive up the coast for Seattle, as well. There's just too many people I know at that race to not go there at least one more time. Sounds like a plan.
One of the many great shots taken by Mark Rebilas. This will definitely make the book.
On Sunday, in Vegas, I not only had the Hujabre family with us but also had one of my favorite neighbors from the old Woodbury neighborhood. Terry Blake, who used to work with Barb at Lawson Software, was in town with his son Dylan for a baseball tournament, and when they got eliminated they had the day free, so I left them some tickets and boy did they have a great time. Terry is a fantastic friend, and Dylan has gone from a little kid to a young man right before my eyes. The next time I see those two might be New Year's Eve, when the Blakes host our annual neighborhood party.
So all in all, Vegas was a lot of fun. I was more nervous about the photo shoot than anything else, but Mark made it all so easy and it was over quickly. We even got lucky with a few delays that pushed Q2 back a little more than an hour, and that put us right in the best possible sunset light for the shots. Like I said above… Just wait!
And now, time to focus on Pomona but not before I jet back to Woodbury on Friday. I need to get some important stuff done there and Barb will be there too, after she's done in Chicago, so we'll spend the weekend there together. Hope we can have at least one dinner with friends.
And that word… Friends. My gosh I never anticipated getting to know so many incredible people through this blog, and through the sport, and in our neighborhood. We are so enormously fortunate to have so many great friends. The absolute best. I'm quite literally shaking my head right now, just thinking about how many fantastic people we have in our lives. In the currency of friendships, we're billionaires.
Back next week, before Pomona. Then we'll take that weekend one day at a time. Probably hour by hour actually… It's going to be interesting.