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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Wilber, out!

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Wilber, out!

April is hereWednesday, April 01, 2015

 

 

 

Today is April 1st. I was going to write this entire blog as an April Fools gag, but right now I'm on my way to Minnesota aboard yet another Delta flight, cruising at 33,000 over the great and vast expanse that is Montana and North Dakota (both states, oddly, share the same motto: "We Have A Lot Of Nothing Here")

Why am I going to Minnesota? Well, I won the PowerBall lotto so I have to go get my big oversized check for $120 million. Plus, the Twins are struggling to find the right mix in their bullpen and they've asked me to come throw off the mound at Target Field to see if I have "anything left in the tank". When the Minnesota Wild heard about that, they asked me to attend practice tomorrow at the Xcel Energy Center to see if I have "anything left in the tank" which is an odd request because I don't really skate all that well. No word yet from the Timberwolves. I'm still waiting.

April Fools! The only true part of all of that is the line about the Twins. They need a middle reliever in his 50s who throws sidearm sinkers. I'm the guy! It's possible I made that part up too.

Anyway, I'm headed to Minny for one night, then Barbara will be on this same flight tomorrow, following behind by 24 hours, and we'll meet at MSP to get on a flight together, headed for Pittsburgh. Her brother Tim will be celebrating his 50th birthday this weekend, and much fun (not to mention mirth) will be had. Photos will be taken. And probably heavily edited.

With the fact I'm flying in mind, this will be short, but I'll make it up to you by also having it be quick. Wait, that didn't make much sense.

So, let's address the elephant in the room and get it out of the way. Dear Elephant, what are you doing in my room? Oh, what I meant was, let's briefly discuss the 4-Wide Nationals, and by "discuss" I really mean "let me write a paragraph about it and then move on."

As you probably all know, we lost in the first round when everything shy of a UFO descending on the track conspired to make a mess of our quad. Bottom line, it happened and it was over. As I told Tim afterward "Hey, if it hadn't all gone haywire and we just smoked the tires and lost, you would've been over it before you got back to the pit" and that's the truth. The root of it was Matt Hagan looking at the wrong staging bulbs and being unaware he was timing out, but there are a lot of things the drivers have to cope with at the 4-Wide that are different and out of their routine, and in this sport everything is about routines and comfort zones. Basically, three out of the four drivers were not sure what was going on, despite the fact they've raced at this event for years. It happens, and it snowballed, but it's history and we move on to Las Vegas next week with the intent to win the race.

What I find kind of ironic (or just plain interesting) is that the one driver in our quad who actually pretty much did everything right was the rookie, John Hale. He staged perfectly, and went when it was time to go. Well played, sir.

Great grab of our car on ESPN3. I thought the TV show was terrific.
Just a pic of Buster sleeping on my desk. Because he was...

The reason I don't feel like talking about it anymore is that the 4-Wide Nationals have become yet another polarizing deal, like much of everything these days. Everybody's meters are pegged in one direction or the other, and I think what makes it worse is what also makes this time in our lives the best, and that's the internet. I stopped counting how many emails I got either extolling the 4-Wides are despising them, and frankly not too many of them made complete sense in either direction. I'm also not sure why those notes were sent to me, because I didn't come up with the concept and I have nothing to do with it. I just go along with the flow. If they tell me we're going 8-wide next, I'll roll with it. If we run two cars, but in opposite directions and have them change lanes at the 660 block, I'll roll with that. In the big scheme of things, sports are simply entertainment and I try to not let them become such a big deal that they're worth getting angry over. Okay, maybe that awful play call at the end of the Super Bowl, but that's it. And I've been in sports, in one official way or another, from the time I was in the womb.

One thing that can be stated without much debate is that the event was enormously successful at the gate. When you fill every seat at zMAX you've done something impressive. Put it this way, the Saturday crowd would fill a "typical" venue on our tour, for about four consecutive days. The job they did selling tickets was impressive, in my mind, and that gives us four races in a row to start off the season with very healthy attendance. Well done, by the tracks and NHRA.

So, now that they've fed us hot turkey sandwiches with an Oreo brownie, I need to wrap this up and get it sent in. And you ask, how does that actually happen? Well, I write this blog as an email, and when I'm done I send it to NHRA.com (Phil and Candida) for posting, since they actually do that techie stuff. If they're busy (when are they NOT busy?) it can take a while, but they always manage to get it posted for you to read. If you ever see them at a race, you might thank them for the fact they've been doing the heavy lifting on this blog for nearly 10 years. Amazing.

Back in the olden days here on the blog, I used to do a "What's on my iPod" theme regularly, but that's ancient history. Except for the fact I am actually listening to music as I type this. I have a playlist on my iPad called "Random Cool Stuff" and that's what's been serenading me as I put words on the screen. Among the random artists in this list are the following: Jethro Tull, Procol Harum, Scandal, Mountain, Yes, Kansas, Rush, Level 42, Billy Joel, Primus, Ambrosia, Humble Pie, Jackson Browne, Marillion, The Offspring, Screaming Trees, Strawbs, The Police, and… Wait for it… Eurogliders! You might have to look that last one up. They were flash-in-the-pan band at the dawn of the MTV era, and I actually saw them play in a small club in St. Louis, at the height of their "fame". Aussie band, as well.

Hey, we're starting our descent. I gotta go… See you back here soon!

Wilber, out!

The fourth race is four-wideWednesday, March 25, 2015

It's now officially Spring, and it's late March, so we're getting to that point where the NHRA Mello Yello season gets up on its feet and begins to run. It starts out walking, taking little baby steps, then it breaks into a jog, and right about now it starts to run. Really fast. The first three races seemed to happen at something only slightly faster than a glacial pace, but now that we're headed to the fourth race of the year, things are going to kick into gear and start to accelerate. It always works this way. And did you see what I did there, with the drag racing references? I'm a trained professional, so don't try that at home.

So far, we've had three races in the last seven weeks. Starting with the 4-Wide Nationals this weekend, we'll race on 13 of the next 20 weekends. But, before we blink twice and find ourselves almost heading to Indy, let's put all of our chairs in a circle and have a group discussion about Charlotte, the 4-Wides, and zMAX Dragway, otherwise known as the Caesar's Palace of Drag Strips. I'm sorry, what? Oh. I meant the MGM Grand of Drag Strips. No? The Mandalay Bay of Drag Strips? The Venetian of Drag Strips? The Treasure Island of Drag Strips? Hmmm. This discussion is off to a rocky start. Oh yeah, the Bellagio of Drag Strips! Remembering stuff is hard work. What's my password, again?

I see lately that I've developed a routine of blogging before an event by blogging about past years at the same event, and then I follow that up with a blog about the event after it's over. Reminds me of college. "How does that remind you of college, Wilber, when you hadn't even seen a drag race back then? And did you have pencils and paper when you went to college, or did you carve your assignments in stone?"

That was a pretty snarky response from you. Straighten up and fly right or you're going to get a demerit. And yes, as a matter of fact, we did carve our assignments in stone, and we did our math on an abacus (the school could only afford one) and we rode our dinosaurs to campus. So there.

"What's a demerit?" you ask, as your next pithy question. It's a little black mark on the "demerit card" you had to carry with you every single day you attended school at St. Louis U. High. The Jesuit teachers would mark off a demerit for basically any transgression they thought deserved one, and after five such demerits you went to detention, except at SLUH (for some unknown reason) it wasn't called "detention". It was called "Jug." That was a noun and a verb. If you "got jugged" you went to "Jug.".I went to Jug twice in my four years, but now your pesky questions are steering this blog completely off the rails. Let's get back on track, to something totally relevant and very important: Why does my current blog routine remind me of college?

I went to Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville on a baseball scholarship, and when I signed my scholarship paperwork on campus, during my senior year at SLUH, I met with advisors to plot out my educational goals. When I heard that it was possible to major in Television/Radio Broadcasting, I jumped all over that. Frankly, I couldn't believe they offered something that would be that much fun.

And then I discovered that majoring in TV/R at a real university wasn't about learning how to be a DJ. We studied everything from Broadcast History, to Film Criticism, and lots of other background stuff, as they attempted to mold us into producers, directors, station managers, network executives, grips, caterers, stunt doubles, and even on-air news talent. I was the anchor for our pretend TV newscast on our pretend TV news channel, which got amazing ratings considering it was only viewable in the control room. 100 percent of the potential viewers of our newscast were watching. And I was every bit of Ron Burgundy. Stay classy, SIUE.

Anyway (off the rails again, aren't we?) one of the things we learned by osmosis was that it was hard to fill a 30-minute news show, so the technique was to announce what you were going to say, then say it, then talk about what you just said. Many news shows still do this, sadly. And lately, in this blog, I've been writing about what I'm going to write about, then I write about it, then I write about what I just wrote about. This is, basically, what I do for a living. My professors at SIUE would be very proud.

So… The 4-Wide Nationals are upon us. Also, we're not doing hospitality in Charlotte so I'm camping out here in Liberty Lake for the race, and by camping out I don't mean camping out at all. I'll be sleeping in my regular bed with my wife and two little black fuzzy heating devices, who cram themselves between our legs or under our arms to keep us warm, even when we're already hot. (Off the rails again!)

I won't be flying clear across the country, though, but being out here in the Pacific Time Zone does have its advantages when it comes to doing the PR from my office, in our house, on our street, in our little town. For the most part, weather permitting, my "work day" (I have the temerity to call this "work") is over by early afternoon. It's a little odd to be sitting down at my desk for Round One so early in the PDT morning on Sunday, with my first (third) cup of coffee, but I'm up for the task.

How intense is four-wide racing? Very. Next question, please. No, seriously, it's incredibly intense. It's not very confusing anymore, like it was the first time we did this and basically nobody knew what to do or how to do it. Now, the drivers (most of them) have it down and the crew chiefs all figured out how to get their cars in position while waiting for three other crew chiefs to do the same thing. That part of it is pretty much second nature now, even though we only do this once a year. What's not second nature is the concussion. For some reason only auditory scientists can understand, it doesn't sound or feel "twice" as loud with four cars launching. It feels about 10-times as loud. It's this particular event that caused me to start wearing ear plugs under my ear muffs. And now I do that at every race.

We used to go from Charlotte to Houston, and the most startling thing about that transition wasn't the noise and the bone-rattling concussion at zMAX. Instead, the most startling thing was going to the starting line in Houston and realizing it felt "tame" to be up there with only two cars running. Weird.

zMAX itself is an attraction, and like the noise it doesn't seem twice as nice as almost all of our other venues. It feels about 10-times as nice. We have some first-class "stadium" facilities on the tour, but zMAX is at an entirely different level, in terms of basically everything. It's an incredible place, and I'll miss it this weekend, but I'll be listening to Alan and trading notes with my PR colleagues to be there in some sort of cyber way.

And if you want to follow along on Twitter, remember to follow us. We are @TeamWilkerson in the Twittersphere.

Other Charlotte musings…

One year, early on at the 4-Wides (I'm pretty sure it was 2010) we basically got to know Jim and Nancy Butler for real, instead of just recognizing them as loyal Wilk Warriors. Back then, we still had the ESPN2 "Race Day" program on Sunday morning, and on that particular Sunday it was unseasonably cold for Charlotte in the spring. Like shivering teeth-rattling cold.

Wilk was on the show that day, and out in the audience I could see a woman holding up a "Got Wilk?" sign she had made. After the show, I stopped to chat with her and husband, and that began a friendship that lasts to this day. Great people, and proud alumni of the Team Wilk "Fan of the Month" club, on our website.

My actor buddy Buck Hujabre came to the Charlotte race in 2009, when we raced two-wide but put on an exhibition to test out the four-wide concept. He had a blast (imagine that!) and I even handed him my Nikon for one lap, so that he could take pics of our team and of me. A shot he took of me standing by the car before we started it up is still my profile pic on a few social media sites.

Speaking of Buck (or writing of Buck) he's doing great these days. Still in "Jersey Boys" in Las Vegas but also landing more and more parts in movies, while he also works on sitcom concepts. Meanwhile, he may be ridiculously talented but he's also very smart, so he's gotten into commercial real estate as well. And they said actors were doofuses. Well, they are, but that's not the point. He's also a drummer, and you know what they say about drummers… You don't? You're better off keeping it that way.

At that same race in 2009, Charlotte must've been the first playoff race of the season, because they introduced all the Countdown drivers right before a session of Funny Car qualifying. It all went totally smoothly, if by that you mean that they marched most of the playoff drivers out onto the race track, so that they could be applauded by the massive crowd and wave in response, but no one seemed to tell the guys in charge to not actually, technically, fire the first pair while all that playoff talent was STANDING IN THE LEFT LANE!!! You never saw guys in fire suits move so fast on their own two legs. Oops. Brings a whole new meaning to the term "over the wall gang."

And how about that Levi, Ray & Shoup Mustang Funny Car? If we stay as consistent and our performance stays as solid as it was in Gainesville, we'll be breaking a lot of hearts from here on out. The weather forecast for Charlotte, however, is very reminiscent of that day we met Jim and Nancy Butler, with mid 50s or low 60s for high temps dotting every forecast I've seen. If you're going to the race, dress appropriately.

But with that weather in mind, I'll only say that I hope we stay running consistently well because at zMAX on a cool day, a string of 4.08s (see "Gainesville 2015") isn't going to get you very far. I'll go way out on a shaky limb and say that there will be plenty of 3-second runs this weekend. Will Wilk make one of them? If I knew that, I'd tell you. We've been close before. Wilk ran 4.013 at Bristol last year, so we've knocked on the 3-second door but we haven't barged our way in yet. Stay tuned…


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It's a big place
 
I guess I should wrap this up, because… Because I'm out of words.

Not totally out of words forever, just today. And not totally out of words for today, either, but more just almost totally out of words for this blog. You can put your chairs back the way they were, and get your demerit cards out. Someone here is going to get jugged.

And did you know that you could go to a real university on a baseball scholarship and major in TV/Radio Broadcasting? It's true. And, as it turned out, it was a lot of fun. No wonder I graduated on the Dean's List. All I had to do was write scripts, make movies, direct shows, learn how to run one of those big SONY cameras, and read the news. I never took a single class that had anything to do with Public Relations, and only took a couple of entry-level journalism classes, but the TV/R stuff was right up my alley. Due to the fact I am the proud owner of a Bachelor of Science degree, I usually tell people that I "went to college and got my BS in BS." See what I did there? I'm a highly trained professional.

Wilber, out!
 

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