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Mountain memories…Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Denver is in the books, and it was a good story. As I'm sure you know, we had a great qualifying run on Friday night, which temporarily had us on top with a new track record, and then we capped that off with a semifinal finish, making our best lap of the day in that semi but coming up just short to Robert Hight. All in all, it was good and everyone was smiling and proud of a job well done. Plus, the win over Fast Jack in round two moved us back into tenth place in the points, albeit by a margin so small it could be easily overcome by the little bonus points. There's lots of work to do to secure a playoff spot, but we're back to trending in the right direction, and that's a good thing.

Rather than tell a story most of you already know (especially with the "live" TV on ESPN) I'll just launch straight into Denver ramblings…

The Friday night run was a thing of beauty, and it was one of those moments where we did something grand at the time you're supposed to do that. We're not often known for being a big home-run team, although we certainly do have our moments. People tend to think of Wilk as a "hot weather expert" and I'm happy to say that such a designation is also true, but from time to time we can swing the big bat, make solid contact, and hit one out of the park. Q2 was one of those bombs, with a 4.071 that earned us the No. 3 spot on the ladder. Way to go boys!

We added a new staff member to the team this past weekend, and she'll be with us at a lot of races going forward. Leah Hook has worked for a few teams in the past, and she'll be helping us with hospitality and pitching in on the car at times when we're not flooded with corporate guests. She's a very nice and very focused young lady, and she's an asset for sure.

We didn't let her dip a toe in the waters gingerly, either. The Denver weekend features our single biggest day in terms of hospitality all year, when Dick Levi and about a million handpicked friends descend on our pit for a long day of enormous fun. Leah did great. And Jim and Nancy Butler were there as well, helping out and working so hard in the heat and mile-high air. The Butlers have really become a valued part of our Team Wilk family.

Sunday was not only a good day to win a couple of rounds against tough competition, it was also my day for camera calamities. Our old video camera was really struggling earlier in the year, and only the MacGyver magic performed on it by Rich Schendel kept it going. It was finally so beat up and on its last legs Rich found another one just like it online and we brought it out as a replacement. But, that new one had some sort of flaw in the way it "unlocked" the tapes and they'd constantly get jammed. so Rich performed some extra magic on the old one and it's been chugging through the races okay.

On Sunday, as I got ready to shoot round one, it wouldn't go into "Record" mode. I tried a dozen times, even as the car was backing up from the burnout, but it wouldn't work. So, no video of that run. I gave it a few more tries back in the pit, but with no luck, so I grabbed the newer camera and hoped for the best in round two. The car did its burnout, and I turned it on… Just to see a flashing red cassette icon on the screen. I figured it was jammed again, so I opened the tape slot only to see something far worse. I motioned to Krista and showed her the open slot, where there was NO TAPE at all. I had turned that camera on to make sure it would work, but it didn't occur to me that I should confirm there was actually a tape in it. Ugh.

After that round I gave it one more shot with the old camera, figuring I'd just manhandle the on/off switch to try to get it into "Record" mode. After all, if I broke the thing it wasn't like we were at a net loss. It was already not functioning. It turned out to be the right thing to do. I pushed it in the other direction, to the "Play" mode and felt the switch give just a little. I guess the MacGyver switch Richie had created was out of alignment a little, and the hard push got it back where it was supposed to be, and it would then have room to move forward to record. Whew… I'll never forget standing there before round two and opening that thing up to see it was empty. Won't make that mistake again!

It was great to see one of my nephews and one of my nieces at the track. James Doyle was there on Friday and Saturday, and Erin Doyle came on Sunday. Both brought newbies too, so that adds to the fun.

As we were servicing the car and beginning the tear-down process after the semifinal loss on Sunday, Tim got a text from Graham Light at NHRA, and it was a warning that some strong winds and heavy rain were on their way. We started strapping things down and moving some chairs when a huge gust of wind hit the front of our pit, knocking over our complete solvent cleaning station and about tearing the whole transporter awning off. We're very lucky nobody got hurt in that deal, and with all the heavy metal stuff crashing around it missed the nose of our Ford Flex by a mere inch. Everyone ran over there and a few of us grabbed awning poles to keep it from flying away, while others picked up all the overturned stuff. There's an awning panel on the end there, and it was catching the gusty wind like a sail, so it needed to come off, but with all the debris on the ground there was no way to set up a ladder. Big Tom Leskovan, from the Tasca team, had heard the noise and he'd run around to help out, so he just had Nick Casertano get up on his shoulders, so that Nicky could unsnap the panel and take it off. Sometimes you have to be creative, and Big Tom came to the rescue.

Just as the final round was going off, after that weather delay, I rounded up Leah and we headed out toward the Denver airport. Her original itinerary had her leaving on a 4:00 flight on Sunday afternoon. I have no idea why, and the only way anyone would've been able to get her there was if we'd had a horrible race day. So, we got her flight changed to Monday morning but she then needed a room for that night. As I often do, I had already planned to check out of our race hotel on Sunday morning, and had reserved a room at the Embassy Suites right by the airport for Sunday night.

When I do that, I pay whatever I feel like paying for a nice room, because by Sunday night the things I crave the most are a good bed, a quiet room, and a place that has room service. For Leah, since Tim would be paying for her room, I checked all the budget chains out by the airport and they were all higher than the $139 rate I had secured at the Embassy Suites, so I called the hotel to ask about availability. The nice guy at the desk said it was no problem, and he had a "best rate" of $119. Perfect! So he transferred me to the reservations center, which is located somewhere else and not at the hotel itself.

I told the reservations agent that Reggie at the desk had quoted me $119, and that I'd like to reserve a room for someone at that rate. Her reply was "We do have a $119 rate but it's for specific handicapped-access rooms, which we can't reserve in advance." Huh? I told her that the nice gentleman at the actual hotel had told me he had a room with a king-sized bed available for $119, so how about we just do that. She said "That rate is not available." So, Reggie had a room at $119, but it's not available. I believe we call this the old "bait and switch" and I told her that. I did get a room for Leah at the same $139, but I was none too pleased by the whole "disappearing rate trick" pulled on me. Still, the $139 was cheaper than even the discount chains, and it's a terrific hotel. My Caesar Salad from room service was nice, as well, and the pillows were outstanding.

I called Barb at around 7:00 on Sunday evening, because I was so tired I didn't know if I'd even be able to stay up until 10:00. Sure enough, by 9:00 or so I was zonked out and probably snoring. When I woke up (very early) on Monday, I was recharged and ready to fight through the mayhem of Denver International. That place can be a total zoo, and sure enough the TSA lines were snaked all the way back through the massive mazes on both sides of the main terminal. Even with TSA pre-check it can be a hassle, but I gave myself plenty of time and got through it with only a modicum of stress.

Barb and I had to do the old "car swap" at MSP, which is always not fun because it means we've missed each other as we travel. I left Thursday and she picked the car up when she flew into MSP on Friday. She flew back to Spokane on Sunday night, and I picked the car up on Monday. We each have a set of keys for that car, and we text each other with its location after we park. It's the part of the "life we lead" that makes this tough.


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Massive crowds at Bandimere, for all three days.
 
This weekend is Sonoma, but I won't be there because we don't do hospitality. Barb has to stay in Spokane for work, so I'm going to fly out there and do the PR work from my home office in Mayberry (aka Liberty Lake). Again, the life we lead…

So… Denver was hot, the sun was bright, and we did some good. We also almost got totally blown off the hill at the top of the lanes when those gusts of wind about tore us apart, but we survived. And now onto Sonoma, where Tim has won twice and been runner-up once. Let's add to at least one of those columns, eh!

On a totally different note, I was contacted yesterday by a gentleman named Patrick Despain, who is a baseball writer for WFAA TV in Dallas, which is the station where my old friend and roomie, Pete Delkus, is the head meteorologist. Patrick had discovered one of my old "Bob On Baseball" blogs about Pete, and his amazing career as first a pitcher in the Twins' organization and then as a weatherman of enormous repute, and he wanted to blog about it on the WFAA website. He asked me for some additional background on Pete, to add some flavor to his story by having an old friend, roommate, and teammate relate those memories, and I was happy to trade emails with him yesterday. It turned out to be a fantastic story, and it's here:

http://www.wfaa.com/sports/headlines/Pete-Delkus-a-story-of-perseverance-268181542.html

Good stuff, about a really good guy. And, if you missed that original Bob On Baseball and want to learn more about Pete, you can find that here:

http://www.perfectgamefound.org/the-incredible-story-of-pete-delkus/

I've been incredibly fortunate to know and be friends with a lot of amazing people in my 58 years on this planet. It's been a life so rich in that regard that I'd be classified as a Billionaire in the friends department. Pete Delkus is one of those people. One of the best guys I've ever known…

So, with all that said how 'bout we just go out there and win Sonoma? I'd be good with that.

Wilber, out!

Let the swing begin…Monday, July 14, 2014

Denver. Thunder Mountain.  Bandimere Speedway.  Spin those blowers and try to make some power, but take your time walking back up the staging lanes to the pit.

And here we go, it's Week 1 of the Western Swing after a weekend off to recover from the four-in-a-row swing that doesn't have a name. The Western Swing has taken all sorts of liberties with its own schedule, even having Denver come in last as the third of the three races once, but I always feel like the current incarnation is the "correct" one, for no good reason. It just somehow feels right to go from Denver to Sonoma and then up to Seattle.

I'll sadly be missing the middle leg of the trio, since we don't do hospitality in Sonoma. If I lived in Sonoma I'd be first in line at the track each day, but it's an expensive proposition for me and the team if I just feel like going for the fun of it. I know you'll find this hard to believe, but the hotel owners in places like San Rafael and Novato know there's a race that weekend, and the rates reflect that knowledge.

Had it not been for the fact we're running a special-edtion Rottler - LRS car in Seattle, that race wouldn't have been on my schedule either, but now I get to go and I'm looking forward to that because I love the Seattle area and the fact I'll get to see some of the longest-running blog reader friends out there, including Kim the Lawyer, Crazy Jane and her hubby Chris, and Terry the poster man. Hopefully I'll even see a few other long timers there, as well.

But first, let's not jump ahead. Denver is on the docket and I'll be headed that way on Thursday.  Saturday is the big day for us on the mountain, as it's the annual "packed house" full of special guests all personally invited by Dick Levi. We've always called it "Dick's Family Reunion" and he does have some family there, but that's really a misnomer. Still, it's a great group and they have a great time at the drags with us. I always look forward to that one!

I was looking back through my photos from last year, and that's one of the many wonderful things about the technology we have today. When I first got started in this profession, I shot photos at the track with my 35mm camera and then had to take the film to the mall to get it developed. At least they had progressed all the way to being able to do that in an hour at the time, instead of the week it used to take. From there, the envelope full of prints would join a million others just like it, clogging up a complete drawer in my office and mostly just being a nuisance. Once we got into the world of websites, I had to actually mail the photos to our original webmaster guy, because he had the space-age ability to scan and upload.  We've come a long way.

Anyway, now I can just go back through my iPhoto library and look at all the pics I've taken since I got my latest digital camera and Apple provided the application for looking at, storing, and organizing pics. That first race with this technology would be Norwalk in 2009, and I know this because the folders of photos are stored chronologically and Norwalk '09 is always staring at me as the top folder in the the stack.

Looking through last year's pic, I noticed that I didn't take as many photos in Denver as I do at some other races, although it's certainly one of the most photogenic venues on the tour. I think the reason is that I'm so busy with hospitality that I don't have as much time to cruise around as an ersatz Ansel Adams (although in color).  I did see the pics I took of the massive, huge, ginormous thunderstorm that mercifully formed to the east of us as it moved away. We're all fully accustomed to the afternoon thunder boomers that come over the mountain around 5:00 out there, but luckily the big one in 2013 only gave us a photo op, not a reason to run for cover.

I'll put a few from last year in the photo gallery below, just so we all have something to look forward to this weekend.

Things about Denver…

People who don't live at altitude (me) really do feel it in Denver. It's not like you feel it when you step off the plane, but the first time you walk up the ramps and then up the staging lanes from the parking area you sure do. Every year I figure that I start to get accustomed to it by Sunday, and then I wonder if when I fly home I will feel the reverse, like I'm in super shape. Doesn't seem to work that way.

The Denver crowds are always great, and they come early, stay late, and have a great time. They also seem oblivious to the fact they're mostly broiling in the sun, which also seems as if it's only about 15 feet above our heads. Sunscreen is an essential part of the Denver experience.

Our standard pit spot at Bandimere affords us a "back patio" where Dick Levi likes to hang out. The patio, which is really just an empty space forward of our hospitality area (but patio sounds way better) gives us a fantastic view to the east and on Saturday and Sunday we can see the traffic start to back up on the highway down below. Fortunately, the Troopers who work the traffic flow into and out of Bandimere do a great job, or it would be way worse. We get to the track early enough each day to miss out on the inbound backups.

Denver was the second national event I ever attended.  Back when I was GM at Heartland Park, my whole staff and I went to the Gatornationals to see our first race, and then in midsummer I decided to jump in the HPT Corvette pace car and make the trek to Denver. There are probably more boring drives than the one from Topeka to Denver, but it's gotta be on the short list. Did have fun though, and got my first taste of how the Bandimere family runs the track. Those were useful lessons to take back to Topeka with me for our race, which was in the fall back then.

I've only made the trip "over the hill" to Red Rocks Amphitheater once, just to go over there and check that box off the list of concert venues I've always wanted to visit. The place is wide open when it's not in use, so there are always people working out by running the stairs, or just looking around wide-eyed like me.

I used to watch my VHS tape of U2 "Live At Red Rocks - Under A Blood Red Sky" all the time, back in the early 80s, and to me the venue was a mystical looking place. It didn't hurt that U2 was playing some mystical music on a blustery night when low clouds and fog blanketed Red Rocks. They couldn't have ordered up any better atmosphere for songs like "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "New Year's Day".  It was fun to finally make the quick trip around to the other side of the same mountain Bandimere inhabits and just walk around the place, but the first thing that seemed impossible is that the stage is so tiny. It's looks like it's about the size of a large living room, when you're standing on it. Doesn't seem possible that bands like U2 and Rush could play there. I also parked behind the stage on the day I went, which presented me with a stairway of at least 100 steps just to get up to the place. I earned the visit.

And I'm sure I've written about this before, but it's a segue I can use. My first visits to Denver were in the summers of 1971 and 1972, when my dad was the manager of the Denver Bears, who were then the Triple-A affiliate of the Washington Senators (who then became the Texas Rangers). I was the bat boy, and I got to run around and shag fly balls all summer at the old Mile-High Stadium during afternoon batting practice, before I had to do my "job" picking up bats or taking balls out to the umpire. We lived at the old Continental Denver Motel, just a few blocks away.

Back then, Mile-High was only half as big as it ended up being. The Broncos were in town but the stadium hadn't been finished to completely encircle the football field. The giant stadium grandstands just ran from the right field corner to just a little bit beyond home plate. The football field ran from the third-base line out to right field, where another grandstand stood (the one that had the huge white Bucking Bronco atop it) beyond what would be the end zone for football but right field for baseball. The Bears used the Broncos locker room as their clubhouse, so every player got two lockers (even me) and the place was huge.  Needless to say, those were a couple of fun summers. Players like Jeff Burroughs, Pete Mackanin, Lenny Randle, Dave Nelson, and a whole slew of other guys who were either on their way to the big leagues or had already been there. Great memories.

I have to run now (taking my car into the shop), but I know there are a few of you who also follow along with my other blog, "Bob On Baseball" so here's your tip that a new one has been posted (see, there's the segue I was talking about). 

http://www.perfectgamefound.org/the-life-altering-college-years/


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Last year, getting ready to rock on Thunder Mountain
 
It's about my college years, and how richly rewarding they were, in terms of baseball yes, but mostly in terms of some of the best friendships ever and a fantastic education. I grew up more in those four years than in any others in my life.

Southern Illinois University - Edwardsville wasn't Harvard, by any stretch, but it was fantastic place to mature and become an adult.

I just posted it over the weekend, but so far people seem to like this one and I'm getting a lot of nice emails, so I'm happy for that. As opposed to this blog, where I try to write more often and usually am just flying by the seat of my pants in a sort of stream of consciousness way, my other blog is one I write far more infrequently, but I always have a plan and an actual outline when I dive in. I see those installments as practically mini-books, and maybe someday I'll find a way to combine them into an actual book. Throw in my sports marketing days, my soccer experience, and then my "second career" in drag racing, and you'd have a publication that might break a coffee table, much less sit on one.

Okay, I'm off to take my car in then I'll be back at it behind my desk this afternoon. While I'm waiting on my car, maybe I'll figure out the theme for my Denver preview story…  To avoid cliche, the word "mountain" should not be in the headline.

See you soon. Wish us luck.

Wilber, out!
 

I got nuthin'…Thursday, July 10, 2014

I know it's time to write a blog installment.  I know how to write blog installments.  I've pulled them out of thin air before when I had nary a clue as to what I was going to write about. But this time, despite it being the time and me being the guy who can do it, I don't have much. I guess that means today's headline is misleading. I got somethin', but I ain't got much.

First of all, Norwalk was not all that good for us. I'm sure you know that. We're resilient though, so I'm sure Tim and the guys are ready for a big rebound and we're approaching some races where we've traditionally done very well (rhymes with Seattle) so I'm optimistic.

The best thing about Norwalk, for our team, was pretty much a spectacular photo, taken during the fireworks on Friday night. The uber-talented Marc Gewertz, who shoots for National Dragster and NHRA.com, captured a seriously brilliant image of our transporter and the legendary Bader family fireworks all in one very tricky shot. I don't get the impression this was a "point and shoot" sort of photo, because the level of lighting in it and the composition of it are truly art. Would it surprise me if Marc won some sort of award for that shot? No it would not.

When I saw the shot online, I actually immediately assumed Marc had taken it. He's a flexible guy, and he loves to get down low for interesting perspectives when he shoots the race cars. Call it his "signature look" and it's very interesting. Bravo my friend, great stuff!

Speaking of the fireworks, I worked the Norwalk race from my desk in Woodbury, and the gang in the old neighborhood put together another spectacular outing which started in Neighbor Dave's garage as a rollicking party, and then transferred to Terry and Lynn Blake's house, before finally moving to a little park in the neighborhood that's right behind the Blakes' place.  Buck Hujabre and his wife Mary Luty will know the park, because it's where little Gibson showed his fearless side and went down a slide by himself when they were staying at our house, during the "Jersey Boys" tour.

This year, the city of Woodbury moved the fireworks show from Ojibway Park to the expansive new sports center on the south side of town, so for the first time ever we couldn't sit in our driveways, on lawn chairs next to coolers, to watch the show. We went to the park instead, and had much fun. No sign of Gibson Hujabre, however.

But (and here's the hitch) the party had to start without me. I was tied to the race, and since it was a night session on Friday and the schedule was for qualifying to end just in time for the epic Bader pyrotechnic show, I couldn't get my PR work done until all of that happened. I had the benefit of one timezone's worth of daylight, but it was still a scramble to get my work done and get over to Neighbor Dave's to join in the festivities.  Got there just in time, and it turned out they had an iPad set up with ESPN3 on it, watching along to figure out when I'd be screeching to a halt in front of their place.

A couple of other ramblings…

I saw the new issue of National Dragster online today, and in it was my fourth 2014 installment of my "Behind The Ropes" column. This one is entitled "The Evolving World of PR" and it was an exercise in rediscovering how old I really am. My first job in drag racing was 23 years ago, and yet drag racing is my "second career" after baseball, soccer, and other sports-marketing pursuits.  It's good to have a whole second career, but man the years add up.  Still hard to believe we used to write press releases on typewriters and then send them out taped to the legs of carrier pigeons. Those were the days…

Just today we unveiled our latest "Fan Of The Month" over at TimWilkerson.com, and it's our loyal follower Erica Moon from Becker, Minn.  Erica is such a great person, and her parents are as well. She's the girl with the license plates that say WILKFAN on them, and ergo she's fully deserving of the honor.

Denver is up next. How is that possible?  Saturday will be our single biggest pitside hospitality day of the year, as it's reserved for Dick Levi and a lengthy list of special invitees, including family members and good friends. It's always a big day, and I'm looking forward to it. But really, how in the world are we already on the cusp of another Western Swing?  Mind boggling...

I'll be skipping Sonoma again, which is sad because I love the area and love that race, but we don't do hospitality there so Bob doesn't go. Oooh, that was me typing in the third person. I need to stop that. Bob Wilber does not need to type in the third person, so Bob Wilber will stop that right now.

Under this plan, I would normally not go to Seattle either, but we have a really cool special-edition car for that race, and we'll be doing hospitality because of it, so off I go. I'm not stopping off in Spokane on the way, though, because Barb will be so busy we'd hardly see each other out there anyway.

Rottler will be on our car in Seattle, and they've been a lot of fun to work with. They're even opening their doors for all the racers who are coming into Seattle on the Western Swing, to show off some of the big machines they make and putting on demonstrations for racers and engine builders. Want to make your own blocks and heads? You'll probably want to buy a Rottler machine for that.


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The amazing work of Marc Gewertz
 
And then it will be Brainerd. And then Indy. And then, in a blink, the season will end. And then I will have done this for 19 consecutive years and I'll be 143 years old. Or something like that.

Hey, I get emails all the time asking me to show Boofus and Buster more. Seriously, that is actually the No. 1 request I get. I think I show them too much, but people keep asking, so…  A couple of shots of two content and happy boyz, hanging out on the porch here, on a magnificent Minnesota afternoon.  In a month or two, we'll be headed back to Liberty Lake for the winter and they'll lose their porch privileges, and that will make them sad.  Me too, because I enjoy watching how much they love it out there.

So that's about it. It had nuthin', but I made it into somethin', or is that sumthin'?  Either way…  See you in Denver!!!  Let's go to Thunder Mountain.

Wilber, out!


 

July?Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Seriously.  How on Earth can it already be July?  I write every year about how short the off-season is, but how long the season then looks when you're arriving in Pomona for the Winternationals, and yet I also have to always then relate how fast it all screams by once the season gets going. It's July!  That's crazy.

And this weekend is Norwalk, the fourth race in my own personal "Guilt Trip Tour" since we don't do hospitality at three of these four consecutive races, and therefore my teammates are all out there busting it on the road and for three-fourths of this span I'm at home.  Hey, at least I got to go to Chicago!

And speaking of Chicago, we got out of there just in time. For the past few years, and really for most of the time we've been racing at Route 66, we seem to have been a magnet for really bad midwestern weather, including rotating clouds, torrential downpours, awning-ripping winds, and just about any other summer catastrophe you could dream up. This time, lucky for us, all the potential scattered storms completely missed us. Unluckily for the Chicago area, all of that truly bad stuff arrived on Monday, when they had some wicked and powerful storms, including some wind gusts in the 80 mph range. Had that happened a day earlier, I can't imagine how many transporter awnings would've been ripped, torn, or tossed completely off their rigs.

It was, however, our first real taste of serious summertime heat and humidity. Like cold, heat is a relative thing. In the middle of a dark cold winter, when it's been below zero for a week, a day in the 20s seems like t-shirt weather. A month from now, if we're at a race and it's in the 90s, we'll be scorching but it won't feel unusual. Our weekend at Route 66 featured temps in the mid to upper 80s, but since it was really our first oppressive weekend, I think it felt worse than usual. "Soaking wet" would be a way to pretty much describe how we all were, most of the time.

On the track, I'm sure all of you know the results (No. 11 qualifying position and then smoked the tires at the step in round one) but there was a silver lining.  While everyone else was putting up hero numbers in the two late sessions (the Chicago race has late-afternoon and night runs on both qualifying days) we managed to mess up a little on those runs. In Q1 and Q3, however, when conditions weren't as good, we were fourth-best and second-best of those sessions.  When Sunday rolled around and it was warming up fast, I'm sure we all felt like we were in a good spot, in terms of being able to outrun just about anyone on a hot track. Well, as I've said a million times (and I've told myself a million times that I shouldn't exaggerate) if tuning one of these beasts was easy, we'd all be tied for first place. We smoked the tires, and that was that.

Other Chicago ramblings…

On our Facebook page, I posted a series of shots I called "Scenes From A Drag Race" and they were really popular.  I've done that a few times this year, but Route 66 is such a picturesque place, and I just happened to get some really good candid shots to go with the shots of scenery, so I'm glad it worked out that way. I'm not a great photographer, but I think I get better with age and I do seem to have an eye for composition and subject matter. Maybe I'll just be a photographer when I grow up!

Saturday was a big day for us, in terms of LRS hospitality. We had well over 100 guests in the pit, and we were all pumped up and having fun with them. Everyone seemed to have a great time, so that's all good. When those days are over, you're both physically and mentally tired, but I think the hardest part was the racing schedule and the weather. It's a bit of a double-whammy to have back-to-back late qualifying sessions, because it's not like we sleep in until noon and show up at 1:00. We still go out to the track in the morning  and then spend about 12 to 14 hours there, and in this case we were doing it in a sauna.  By the time I got back to our Joliet hotel at about 10:30 on Saturday, I was beat. And then we had to get up at dawn to get out there for race day on Sunday.  Everyone in the pits, from the crew guys to the drivers to the PR people were pretty much whipped on Sunday morning. Most commonly heard phrase:  "I'm getting too old for this…"  Probably said it myself a few times.

Route 66 is one of the more difficult venues when it comes to accurately assessing things in terms of attendance, but I thought it the three days could be ranked like this: Darn good Friday crowd, fantastic Saturday crowd, decent Sunday.  On Friday, Travis Wirth and I were at the starting line and I said "Do you think this crowd would even fit in the stands at Epping?" and he looked around, thought about it for a minute, and said "You know, I don't think so."  Basically, if Route 66 is half full, that's more people than a lot of other tracks can hold.

From a different perspective, I can say with certainty that the fans in Chicago always have a good time. They're avid fans, they run from pit to pit during warm-ups, and they whoop and holler as well as any spectators on the tour. Chicago is a great sports city, and it's pretty obvious that even the drag racing fans there are all-around sports fans who root passionately for their favorite teams and sports.  Good stuff, Chicago!  Always a pleasure to be there.

The only negative thing about my trip was the travel getting there, but I survived it without any scars.  My flight from MSP to ORD was just about to board on Thursday, when I heard one of the gate agent's radio come to life. The voice on the other end said "Close the ramp. No more activity until advised."  About a minute later, I looked out the window and saw one of the more magnificent and majestic things you'll see at an airfield, when Air Force One came in for a landing. Just before that, a fleet of black SUVs were driving up and down the runways. It was all pretty cool to see, but it did delay us about an hour.

When we landed, I was joined by two other passengers who had originated their travel at MSP (as opposed to having made a connection there) as we stood at the Delta baggage counter to inquire as to why our bags did not show up at ORD, despite the fact all three of us had gotten to the airport quite early and checked our bags with hours to spare. Turned out, when they shut the airport for Air Force One, they stopped loading bags too.  The agent got on her computer and saw that my bag was already on the next flight, which landed an hour later. She offered to have it delivered to me down in Joliet, but I know how that works. They don't drive those bags all over town as they come in!  They wait until all the last of the lost bags are in and load them all in a van to take them out to the hotels, and I didn't want to contemplate having my bag get to the hotel at 3:00 a.m.  So, being the industrious and intelligent sort of guy I am, I simply went and got my rental car, drove it back to O'Hare, parked it in the garage, and went back in to wait for that next flight. Worked like a charm.

What didn't work like a charm was the fact my delayed flight and my missed bag put me right at 5:00 when I started the drive to Joliet. I do not believe I ever got over 20 mph the whole way. Most of the time I was completely stopped.  And I don't cast any aspersions on Chicago traffic, because it's no worse than most cities that size, but that was no fun.  For the record, when I drove back up to ORD on Sunday night, after the race (I stayed at an airport hotel that night, for my Monday morning flight) I probably never did less than 55.  Smooth as silk.  On the way down though…  It's a one-hour flight from MSP to ORD. I left my house at 10:30 a.m. and got to the hotel at 6:30 p.m.  The joys of travel.

And now the guys are in Norwalk. What a great place Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park is, and I have so many great memories from there, starting way back in the early CSK days when Norwalk wasn't even on the tour but the big July 4th match race always packed them in. Lots of fun then, too, except for the night Del crashed. That was a bad deal, and it really bothered me for a long time. For months after that night I'd hold that camera to my eye and worry about seeing that happen again.


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Working the room and getting laughs
 
Norwalk means great fans, a great venue, a terrific staff, and ice cream. Not necessarily in that order.

I also vividly remember winning there in 2010, when bad weather was on the horizon and it was highly doubtful that we'd be able to run the final round before the downpour hit. NHRA made the smart move to alter the Pro final rounds to a sort of "whatever classes get up here first, will run" instead of just sticking to the schedule no matter what, and as it turned out we got up there before the rain, and the beat John Force to win the race. Towing the car back toward the Winner's Circle, the skies opened up and everyone got drenched.  Did it matter? Nope.

This year, the calendar has finally conspired to make Friday night qualifying actually land right on the 4th of July. That's a cool thing for the fans, who get to enjoy a great holiday at the one track that is known for blowing people's minds with their fireworks shows.  For unfortunate souls like me, who will be doing the PR work from home, that just means I can't join in all the reindeer games until qualifying is over. I might have to sprint to join Barbara and all of our friends at the park, to watch the local Woodbury fireworks show. Duty come first, though, so I'll be strapped into my office chair until the work is done.  And I hope to have all sorts of great news to distribute to the media and our Wilk's Warriors everywhere. I have a good feeling about that.

Well, it may be hard to believe, but I've been basically swamped lately and it's been hard to carve out time to write one of these blogzilla things. Sorry for the wait, and hopefully I'll be able to get back into a more normal routine here soon. A lot of what I've been doing is related to the Seattle race, when Rottler Manufacturing will be featured on our car with a special-edition body. We've got lots of details to take care of, and since this is their first time being involved in a deal like this, all those details have to be addressed one-by-one.

I'll get back here soon. In the meantime, let's just go win Norwalk. The ice cream would taste a lot better if that were to happen…

Wilber, out!

 

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