Writing a lot can really be a pain in the neck. No, I'm not casting aspersions on this blog or on any of my PR work, because I mean that literally. As you may recall, I have a couple of vertebrae in my lower neck that are narrowed, and from time to time they can pinch the nerve. I've gone through two full rounds of steroid injections, and it's been pretty good for a while, but for some reason here lately the pinched nerve has been buzzing a bit and making a general nuisance of itself. On the bright side, all of those injections upped my home-run total by 24. And none of my hats fit anymore. (See: "Bonds, Barry" for the hat reference).
Writing, while seated at my desk, is a real contributor to the neck issue. Like most writers with lousy posture, I sit here all day looking down at my computer, kind of hunched over, and I can feel the muscles in my neck and shoulders tightening up as the day goes by. I'm the perfect poster-child for all those times your mom or your teacher told you to sit up straight.
So, with this trio of consecutive races there's been a lot of typing. Heck, I'm typing right now. And I'm trying to sit up straight. With my pre-race feature stories, my post-race reports, my daily updates, all the social media, and this blog, I suspect I've written somewhere around 25,000 words in the last three weeks. Maybe more. You wouldn't think typing is the sort of thing that "wears you out" but it does take its toll, especially over long spans of time. Like, say, oh the last 20 years. I'm a brave soul, though, so I'm willing to take one for the team. I'll gut it out.
Today's installment is one of those "Q & A" types, because I've been keeping tabs on some of the more relevant questions I've been asked in the last couple of weeks, and I figured I might as well just go ahead and share those with all of you. And away we go…
Q. On a three-race swing like the one you were just on, do the crew guys get to go home or are they on the road for the whole thing?
A. Not all consecutive race swings are total "stay on the road" deals, but this one we just finished and the upcoming Western Swing certainly are. The races on both swings are just too far from Springfield, Ill. to make going back there worthwhile, or even possible. So, the guys stay out there and stay in a lot of different hotels. I'm sure they eat healthy, too. (Sarcasm alert!)
Q. Why did Tim sit out the final qualifying session in Bristol, when he was number one qualifier going into it?
A. Part of the answer to this question is in the answer to the question above. Basically, we sat out because it was more important to have enough parts to get through Sunday than it was to run in Q4 and potentially hurt anything, large or small. Being a one-car team with a single transporter, and being on a swing where we didn't get back to the shop for three weeks, we needed to bring as much stuff (in the form of parts) to get us through the whole thing with only basic service being done on set-up days or between runs. Unlike the multi-car teams (who also tend to be multi-transporter teams, with lots of spare parts) we can't ask teammates to loan us stuff, nor can we run out to the other rig and get a few more motors or cylinder heads.
Tim was getting concerned that we might not have enough good stuff to get through Sunday, after all those runs we'd made in E-Town, Epping, and Bristol, so he elected to sit it out. Losing the top spot was not nearly as damaging as possibly being a no-show been in the semifinals or finals. There was a very good chance no one would've knocked us off anyway if the day wouldn't have had so many rain delays, but that wasn't a factor in the decision. The fact we only slipped to sixth once the rain quit on what turned out to be an unplanned second lap under the lights, means we were probably a little lucky to stay that high. Some teams that could easily run quicker than 4.02 didn't in Q4. Five did. So, it was really a decision that was easy to make.
Q. Are all the Funny Cars wrapped in vinyl now? I liked the good old days when they were all painted.
A. No, they're not all wrapped. There are a few still using good old-fashioned paint. Our Levi, Ray & Shoup Mustang is one of them. That new paint job you see is truly a new paint job. Yes, there are some decals on the car, but there have almost always been decals on race cars.
Q. Why do the teams not whack the throttle during a warm-up anymore?
A. Consistency. With the level of competition being so unbelievably strong right now, especially in the Funny Car class, you have to find ways to be as consistent as possible, or you're going to be left behind. During the warm-up, the most inconsistent thing was that throttle whack, which we did to seat the clutch. With a human being in charge, you could almost never do it exactly the same way twice, and that brought a lot of inconsistency into your tune-up, especially with the clutch. It was fun, and the fans loved it, but I have to admit that we all love winning, too. We still make tons of delicious fumes and plenty of noise, but we strive to keep up with the competition and that's all about being consistent.
Q. Who was the craziest driver you've ever known?
A. There really aren't too many that are anything close to crazy. I surprise people when I tell them most of the Funny Car drivers I've known are very methodical, down-to-Earth, and safety conscious. They are not really daredevils at all. They just like going really fast, but they also like being as safe as possible. But that being said, Dean Skuza was pretty crazy. And very funny.
Q. Are you relieved to be in the Traxxas Shootout, so you don't need to win the fan vote again?
A. That's an understatement. Our little band of Wilk's Warriors are amazing, and I'm proud of the job all of us did to get Wilk into the thing the last two years, when we were up against some very popular drivers in the vote (and yes, I'm proud of the job I did, promoting it). As the slots started to fill up this year, I'll admit I was feeling a little dread that I wouldn't be able to pull that miracle off again. It was a week of nonstop social media, each time, and awesomely rewarding to win it, but I'll take it this way every time. Nicky Boninfante came over to me in the staging lanes at Indy last year and he said "If I ever run for office, I'm going to hire you as my campaign manager." Keep me posted on that, Nicky.
Q. What do you guys do during those long rain delays, like Saturday in Bristol?
A. Not enough to keep it interesting. I wasn't even in Bristol, and it was still an incredibly exhausting day because the rain was so intermittent that there was almost always a chance we'd be running in 45 minutes, but it ended up stretching into about a 10-hour marathon. At the track, there's a lot of waiting. In the media center, there are a lot of stories being told, lies being imagined, and many laptops with MLB.com on the screen, as PR people follow their favorite baseball teams.
Q. With the new evidence released this week, should Pete Rose ever be allowed in the Hall of Fame?
A. No. And, I was in the "maybe" camp for a long time, when all we thought was that he bet on baseball when he was managing. Pete's not very good at "contrite" but I felt like if he really came clean and begged for forgiveness, maybe he should be allowed in. After all, betting didn't have anything to do with him being the all-time hit leader (once again, see Bonds, Barry). But now that we know he bet on the game when he was still playing? No way.
Q. What's your favorite track?
A. I have many, and can't really narrow it to one favorite. But, the leaders are Charlotte, Bristol, Sonoma, Las Vegas, Chicago, St. Louis, Gainesville, and Pomona, in no particular order.
Q. Will you be in Sonoma this year?
A. Sadly, no. It's one of my favorites (see prior question) and I absolutely love the area. Much fun has been had in Sonoma over the years, especially back in the CSK years. Many dinners in Sausalito and San Francisco, limo trips with teammates to go wine-tasting on Monday. Just a wonderful place. Sorry I won't be there.
But guess what? I'm going to be there this weekend! With no racing to cover, Barbara and I are headed to the Bay Area for a couple of days. She's in Seattle right now, so I'm leaving tomorrow and we'll come back to Spokane together on Saturday. Friday night, when we'll head up to the actual town of Sonoma, is something I'm really looking forward to.
Thanks to Facebook (and this is really what Facebook does right) I've reconnected with a large number of former classmates and baseball teammates, all over the country. I even reconnected with the first player I signed when I was a scout for the Blue Jays, a pitcher named Keith Gilliam. But, the connection to Sonoma is that I also reconnected with Vince Bienek, who played Class-A minor league ball with me in 1978, on the Paintsville Hilanders. Vince was a really good player, but we never saw each other again after that season ended, nor did we ever connect again in any way. Until Facebook.
Vince actually married a girl from the tiny town of Paintsville, in rural eastern Kentucky, and I remember Mary very well from that summer. Now, as it turns out, they are both in real estate and living in Sonoma. The plan is for Barbara and I to drive up there on Friday (about an hour's drive from where we're staying) to meet Vince and Mary for dinner. I have an old faded photo of the two of us, taken way back then in the Paintsville clubhouse before a game, and I think we should re-do the same pose, 37 years later. I'm really looking forward to it.
One of the coolest race tracks in the world. Good work, Jon!
I honestly don't recall if I ever wrote about Vince here on this blog, but I know I have over on my Bob On Baseball blog. Paintsville was a co-op team in the Appalachian League, so our roster was made up of a bunch of guys from different organizations and some guys who were free agents and didn't belong to any Major League club. I was the property of the Detroit Tigers and Vince belonged to the White Sox. When we all reported to Paintsville, the P.A. announcer asked all of us if we had any nicknames. I told him my college teammates had dubbed me "The Hawk" and Vince then took it to a whole new level by insisting his nickname was "The Bronze Fox". Imagine our surprise when, during our home opener, the announcer introduced him like this: "Now batting, the bronze fox, right-fielder Vince Bienek." I got the same treatment. And, for the record, neither one of us asked him to stop announcing that way. It was too funny, and too classically minor league. The Hawk and The Bronze Fox will be back together this weekend.
Since I wasn't in Bristol, I really had no photos for today, but then I remembered a solution!
One of our part-time volunteer guys, who comes to a bunch of races to help with washing parts and other jobs, is Jon David Culver, and he takes a lot of photos throughout each race, then posts a bunch of them on our Team Wilk Facebook Fan Page. So, I poached a bunch of his great shots for the gallery today. All of the Bristol photos are credited to Jon David Culver. I simply liberated them. Or stole them. It's all just semantics, right?
Well okay then… It's off to the Bay Area tomorrow for some fun, food, and I'm sure a glass or two of Sonoma's finest. Then, next week I get back into travel mode. Norwalk and Chicago are next, followed by my much-anticipated trip to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown with my college teammates, and then the Western Swing. I'm not going to be here in Liberty Lake too much for the next month and a half. I'll rack up a bunch of Delta miles, though…
See you again soon.
This three-race swing the NHRA Mello Yello tour is wrapping up doesn't have a name, and frankly maybe it doesn't need one. This part of the season is a pretty flexible time, when you compare year to year, and things like the day in May upon which Memorial Day falls, as well as other big sports events in local markets (not to mention weather) are all influences on the order in which the races will be scheduled, and on what days of each month they will inhabit on the NHRA Mello Yello tour. The Western Swing, as you may remember, has changed its order many times too, once even going in complete opposite order by starting in Seattle, then going south to Sonoma, and then east to Denver (2010 was the year) but it's scheduled during a time of year that allows it to have a firm grip on the end of July and early part of August. It, therefore, has a name.
In my pre-Bristol preview story I used the term "Trifecta" simply as a reference to something composed of three things (triad and trio also work) and I got seven emails and about 25 Facebook messages imploring me to campaign heavily in support of "Eastern Trifecta" as the unofficial name of this swing, but I think I'll just let it be whatever it is. Plus, what if my campaign was a roaring success and then next year these three didn't fall all in a row, or worse yet they became part of a four-race swing. Been there, done that.
For me, personally, this weekend's Bristol event is simply the third of three, and it'll be the third of three races in a row at which I will not be in attendance. I love Bristol Dragway, I love the area (let us not forget that on the very day I arrived to be a professional baseball player, I was a Bristol Tiger) and I love the fans there. I don't much care for the difficulty involved in getting there, especially from Spokane (the cross-country trip includes numerous airplanes and airports as well as a covered wagon, bicycle, and possibly a yak) but I'll miss the actual "being there" part of it quite a bit.
I'll miss my colleagues again, too, and that's the part of this "doing your homework at home" thing that bugs me the most. Our young team is a lot of fun to watch and be around, and I enjoy watching them work and grow as a unit. That's why winning Atlanta was very special. Watching those guys get to win one was off the charts, as a "feel good moment."
We also have such a talented, dedicated, and enjoyable group of PR people in the sport right now, at both the team and NHRA levels, and this non-travel stuff is reminiscent of having the chicken pox in grade school and being confined to the house while all the other kids are having fun. But, the good news is that most of my stay-at-home work will be over after this weekend. The only other two "regular season" races I am not scheduled to attend are Sonoma and Brainerd, and we'll see about Brainerd.
I actually went ahead and reserved a room at Madden's Resort for the Brainerd race, only because I can't imagine not going to it, especially if we're going to be in Minnesota anyway. I don't know if we will be there or not, but I thought I better reserve a room while there was still a room left to reserve. In other words, I didn't have any reservations about making a reservation. See what I did there?
As for races after Indy, I'm going to wait and see how the Countdown shakes out for us. As long as we're in it and in contention, I'll go to every playoff race. If not, there are a few at which we won't have hospitality, so we'll see. I'll definitely be in Pomona, no matter what. That's a rule.
Other midweek ramblings on the third of three weeks…
We were really on a roll there at Atlanta and Topeka, and then I didn't travel to Englishtown or Epping and we lost in the first round at both. I'm just sayin'… The guys need to break that trend this weekend at Thunder Valley.
Point of fact in the Wilber family: Birthdays need to be flexible. When you grow up with a dad like mine, who was constantly traveling as a baseball man, you pick a date as close to your birthday as possible and you go with the flow. Because of that, June 19 has always been my birthday but it never felt like all that special of a day. Certainly not in the league with Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Halloween, when I was growing up.
Barbara's family was much more rigid about birthdays being on birth dates, and she originally couldn't understand the Wilber family "moving birthdays" concept, but she's come around. My actual birthday is Friday, and I'll be 38 (if you start counting over again from when I turned 21) but Barb has some important stuff to do back in Minnesota and she won't be here. So, we're going out to dinner at Anthony's overlooking Spokane Falls on Sunday night. Easy as that.
Barb also took the whole thing a step further, when she created the concept of Birthday Week. You get to enjoy the moment for the whole week instead of just one day. And think about it. Your mom may have been in labor for many hours, and you might have been born either late at night or just after midnight. To a great degree, the specific date on your birth certificate is almost arbitrary. So I'm all-in on the Birthday Week concept. Major props to my wonderful wife for having come up with the theory.
As part of that, I bought a new car this week. My previous machine, a beautiful crossover SUV (rhymes with Schmaudi) was at "peak value" it turned out, at 40-months old but with only 32,000 miles on it, and when I started nosing around at a few local dealerships to see what was out there, the sales managers were frothing at the mouth to get my car. I'd never seen anything quite like it, and I've bought, sold, and traded something just short of a million cars in my life. Within a day they were in what I can only describe as a bidding war, driving the offers up, up, and up.
I had done the research on the Kelley Blue Book site, and I always hesitate to click on the "Perfect" button when they ask for condition. Heck, some brand new cars aren't perfect. By the time the best offer came, from the dealer who had the top car on my list to replace my old car, the trade-in offer was just about retail instead of wholesale, and it was well over Kelley Blue Book for "Perfect" condition. It was simply too good to pass up. In the end, it only took a few thousand dollars to make the deal and trade keys. It's another crossover SUV, but it's on a sport platform and it's a terrific vehicle (rhymes with Schmlexus). Happy birthday to me!
Cats. Namely, Boofus and Buster. We had a new family move in next-door (actually a single mom and her kids moving in with her parents temporarily, while she looks for a home) and they brought Emma with them. Emma is an adorable, fluffy, black & white girl who is an indoor/outdoor cat, and she roams our part of the neighborhood in the afternoons. We happened to have the boyz outside in their hut on the day we met Emma, and although Buster was only slightly bemused by a strange feline in his yard, Boofie was apoplectic. His tail went huge, the hair on his back stood up, and he was howling at this dangerous intruder.
We got over and beyond that introduction, but then Emma decided it would be fun to regularly hang out in the backyard and even stare through the sliding doors to see if she could spot the boyz. Whenever that happened, Boofie would get so worked up he couldn't even be spoken to, and then he'd hiss at Buster and try to fight him. Hmmm… It was ugly there for a while, but I did some research and this is pretty common for indoor cats who don't get much contact with other kitties. Boofus was being just territorial and he considered Emma to be a threat (she's not, she's very sweet, but to Boof she was a vicious psychopath).
Once that feeling locks in, everyone and everything that might keep Boofie from protecting his territory becomes another enemy, so you can't jump in and forcefully separate them or pick Boofie up (Buster only gets worked up in his own defense when Boof goes after him). Instead, you have to verbally walk him back from the edge with pleasant sounds and words he knows, letting him know he's a good boy, it's all okay, and you're here to protect him. It takes a minute, but pretty soon you see the hair on his back lay back down and he snaps out of it. Poor little guy (and I haven't used the PLG appellation since the days of Shasta, the original PLG).
Emma's humans have found their new home and will be moving about a mile away soon, and that's kind of sad because we really like them a lot and we've simply removed most of the contact with Emma by keeping curtains closed when it's "Emma Time" out there. We haven't had a big blow-up in over a week. They're not moving far, so hopefully we can still see them all on a regular basis.
I'll wrap up this edition with the mention of a fun book. I was on Twitter a few months ago, and I saw a teaser about a new book coming out, and it's a biography about Tony Oliva, one of the greatest Minnesota Twins ever. Tony is a wonderful guy, who still speaks with 99 percent of that thick Cuban accent he had when he came to the U.S. to play baseball, and when he was a raw rookie it was my dad who worked with him endlessly to turn him into a player.
When I saw the teaser about the upcoming book, I found a way to reach out to the author and introduce myself. Thom Henninger wrote back immediately to let me know that many of the Twins greats from that era in the early 60s spoke glowingly about the work my father did with Tony on a daily basis, to mold him into an All Star, and that Del Wilber would certainly be in the book.
This is how I watched the Epping and E-Town races. On ESPN3
It finally arrived in my mailbox just a couple of days ago (rhymes with Schmamazon) and I tore it open fast, then flipped directly to the index in the back. Sure enough, there was the listing: Wilber, Del. 34, 58, 60. The numbers, of course, are the pages on which he's mentioned. All three pages were really complimentary and I felt a wave of warm emotion wash over me, remembering those days when "Skip" was with the Twins, molding people like Tony O, Rod Carew, Pat Kelley, and Graig Nettles into great big leaguers when he was manager of the Twins' Fall Instructional League team (where prized prospects go after the regular season, to learn more and play more).
I'd usually get to skip out of school for a week to go down there to sunny Florida, during my grade school days, where I'd get to run around the outfield catching fly balls during morning batting practice and then be the team's batboy during the games in the afternoon. Pure joy, and my big loving father in charge of the whole scene. Some of my best memories…
I also recall, during one of those magical trips to Bradenton, seeing large aluminum cans around the clubhouse (the size of the popular Hi-C or Hawaiian Punch cans we'd have in the house regularly) and hearing how the liquid inside the cans had been developed by scientists at the University of Florida, who had sent cases of it to the Fall Instructional League for the players to try. Each can had a simple green wrapper around it with one word stenciled on the wrapper. It said "Gatorade". Fun to think about on all that stuff. Good times, indeed!
So let's get this show on the road to Bristol. We're still qualifying well, but for the last two races the opening round hasn't been very kind to us. Bristol is a track Wilk, the team, and I all collectively love and it's treated us well over the years.
Remember 2010? We went to Bristol outside the top 10 in points and went all the way to the final, where we raced John Force. We lost, when the safety system on the car malfunctioned, shutting the motor off at 330 feet while also throwing the 'chutes out, but we got on a roll and went on to win the next two races, in Norwalk and Seattle. Last year, we went into Bristol doing okay, but not great, and again Wilk went to the final. We lost there, too, but it got us into Countdown contention and we never left the top 10 again.
This year, let's just win the thing. Would that be okay? I think so…
Behold the internet. It's a marvelous thing that has completely changed the world, from the way we shop to the way doctors diagnose and share opinions. From the way we spread information, to the way we "read the paper" without getting ink on our hands. And most importantly, it gives us a chance to browse funny pictures of adorable cats and share the most critical information, that being important facts like where we are right now and what we're about to do, or are doing, or just did, with a million friends on Facebook. That last one is really critical and I'm as guilty as anyone.
One of the more popular trends on Facebook is that marvelous thing called Throwback Thursday, or TBT for short, in which you and your friends wait until Thursday to dig out old photos of yourself or family members and post them for the enjoyment of everyone else. In the "olden days" all you could do was haul out the old photo albums and sit right down next to whatever friend happened to be in your living room that day, and flip through the pages, giving a play-by-play as you went. "And here's Johnny when we brought him home after he was born. Here he is when he was one. Here he is when he was two.." You know you've done it. We all have.
And yes, I regularly partake in Throwback Thursday because for most of my life I've been a pack-rat. I've not only kept many of the photos, I've almost always kept objects that represent momentous times in my life or any of my various careers. It was chronic problem, really, until I finally looked around our prior (very large) home in Woodbury and all I could see was a mountain of "stuff" I refused to let go of. Baseball uniforms, soccer shoes, soccer balls, baseball equipment, 27+ Wally trophies (I've kinda lost count), 27+ NHRA winner's jackets, every Winner's Circle hat I'd ever collected, and on and on.
So, I finally started cleaning up and parting with stuff a few years ago. I've given away a number of winner's jackets (despite the fact they all have my name embroidered on them) and decided to only keep one event-winner's hat from each series title-sponsor era. I've parted with many of the Wally trophies, but still have enough to fill any bookcase. For the record, after Atlanta I made the tough choice to not buy a Wally, but I made up for it by ordering a jacket. Hey, jackets are functional! Wally trophies are just symbolic(and expensive). And, of course, I kept the Mello Yello hat. That's a sponsor era I hadn't collected yet.
In today's epic (gigantic) photo gallery, I shall tell a tale in reverse order, starting with the present and working backwards, using only objects as my TBT memories. No, I do not go back to childhood. I don't even go back to high school, although I could because I still have my St. Louis U. High letter jacket, class of 1974. But hey, you gotta draw the line somewhere, so I only go back as far as college. Call it revisionist history. And the college object is the cover of the program for the 1977 NCAA Division II National Championship (aka the Div. II World Series). It's autographed by all of my SIUE teammates, but oddly my autograph is not on there. Why? Because it was my program and I guess I just wanted all the other guys to sign it for me. Seems inappropriate to go back now and retro-sign it as if I had back then.
And, you're actually quite fortunate because not all of my keepsakes (stuff I've hoarded) made the trip out to Spokane when we moved here. I have a ton of baseball and soccer stuff still in storage back in Minnesota, including my Detroit Tigers, Toronto Blue Jays, and Paintsville Hilanders duffel bags, still full of dirt, equipment, shoes, and empty bags of Red Man tobacco. Thank goodness I broke that nasty habit. If I had all that stuff in one place, this might have to be an ongoing series of blogs about Throwback Thursdays. Consider yourselves extremely fortunate that it's not all here.
There will be a lot of stuff to look at in the photo gallery, including hats, a trophy, a series of jackets, and a few other things. The last game-used Rawlings glove I ever used is in there, and one of the last two remaining Bob Wilber autographed Louisville Slugger bats (model U-1, 31.5 ounces, cupped end) is in there too, but like I said, there's a ton of stuff saved for the next rainy day (if said rainy day happens when all of my stuff is in one place).
Among the AWOL items sitting in the dark elsewhere is a side window out of Del Worsham's CSK Funny Car from the day the team won in Denver without me. A decal that says "In Memory of Del Wilber" is still on it, from that weekend after my father passed away. Del presented it to me at the next event.
I've worked in three different indoor soccer leagues for three different franchises, but you'll only be confronted with one game ball. The third team, for the record, was the Indianapolis Twisters in 1996, when I was their GM for only a matter of weeks before the owner surprised us all (and the league, and our players) by shutting down the franchise. I never had time to "liberate" a game ball. I think they were all confiscated. I do have plenty of memorabilia from the St. Louis Storm and Kansas City Attack.
The game ball I picked is from the Major Indoor Soccer League, and I chose it for a reason. The autograph of the MISL commissioner is visible, and it's Bill Kentling's signature. Just a few years later, Bill brought me over to help him in his new venture, at Heartland Park. That's the one degree of separation between soccer and racing. Kind of a neat (practically precious) collectible, I think. Dots connected.
The only three baseball hats I could find are my Bristol Tigers hat, my Detroit spring-training hat, and my Oakland A's hat. I know for a fact that Mr. Keep It All (me) would never have let go of my Paintsville Hilanders hat or my Toronto Blue Jays lid (or any of my college hats from SIUE) so they must be safely tucked away in storage.
In lieu of my Paintsville hat (or my actual game-used Paintsville jersey complete with pine-tar stains on the shoulder, which is also somewhere but not here) I've utilized the Paintsville pocket schedule I bought on eBay recently. The internet. It's a marvelous thing.
My first NHRA Winner's Circle hat (not shown because it's in storage too) was a Winston one, and it predated my time with the Worshams and CSK. My first job doing PR was with the guy in New Jersey who represented Chuck Etchells, and when we won the World Finals in Pomona that fall (1992) I got to go have team photos taken and was given a hat. Since Chuck had won previously that year (at races I didn't attend) my short history as a PR guy was already full of victories. I figured this stuff was easy! It's going to happen all the time, right?
I just remember standing in front of the old stucco building on the right side of the Pomona track, in the full darkness of the evening, slightly bemused by how important this all seemed to be in the eyes of the crew guys. Little did I know… The word is spelled "naive".
Once I joined the Worshams and I realized just how difficult and valuable these wins are, I started collecting everything and paying great attention to all the hoopla after the race. I celebrated as heartily as anyone, and for good reason. By that time, I was a key piece of the team and those wins were all incredibly special, to all of us. Our Team Wilk win a few weeks ago, in Atlanta, was among the best of the best, especially in terms of that emotional celebration of pure joy.
There were not just the jackets and trophies kept from every victory. If we landed on the cover of National Dragster I'd order a copy of it laminated onto a wooden board. I have a stack of those in storage still.
Photos of us in various Winner's Circles, whether it be the CSK or LRS teams, were routinely ordered and framed. Custom framing is not cheap, as you may know, so I'm guessing if you added up all the team photos, the "reaction" photos of us leaping in the air at the starting line, other shots related to wins, and the ND covers laminated and mounted on wood, I must have spent a grand total of well over $1,500 on framing and mounting during the last two decades. Heck, probably double that. Crazy, I know, but at the time they were all important enough to be treated with such care.
I also have all of my Bud Shootout plaques, which featured a full-size replica six-shooter. You didn't try to take those through TSA when you went home.
I've sold most of my die-cast cars, but still have a few important ones, including two renditions of the Levi, Ray & Shoup Mustang. At one time, I'm sure I had at least 20 different Del Worsham or CSK blue-team cars, because we did a lot of special-edition bodies back then, and each one of them got produced in 24th scale. I had an entire four-shelf bookcase completely loaded with those at one time. Most hit the auction block at a garage sale.
Collectibles. And plenty of them…
So here it is. Throwback Thursday in the form of a scant few of all my collected symbolic objects. And you don't even have to be stuck on the living room sofa to be shown all these (and the many others).
Okay, back to the present day. It's time to move on to Epping, the second in this three-race series of races in which I'll be working from home for the entire trifecta. Our goal in Epping is to put the first-round loss in Englishtown behind us, and the best way to do that will be to qualify well once again and win some more rounds.
Did you know… Wilk's qualifying positions this year, so far, have been 10th, 9th, 4th, 12th, 6th, 5th, 6th, 2nd, and 8th. That's pretty good, right? And our round record is 8-8, but idiot me had a hard time figuring out how we could be 8-8 when we've already run nine races. I went back and re-counted, round by round, while scratching my dumbfounded head (emphasis on dumb). And then the lightbulb went on. You don't earn a loss at a race you win. Duh. That moment when you look around the room and think "Boy I'm glad nobody by Boofus and Buster witnessed this idiocy."
When I was doing some research for my pre-race feature story, I looked back at last year's Epping race and remembered that we lost by inches to Ron Capps in the opening round, despite the fact Wilk ran low e.t. of the entire day on that run. And, of course, we lost by an inch to Ron in Gainesville this year, we beat him for the win in Atlanta, and we lost last weekend in E-Town to him in the first round. As Tim is quoted in the story "No offense to Ron, but I think it's time we start racing other people."
So let's focus on New England (including, perhaps, the "Lobstah" and the "Chowdah") and go win us some more rounds. After all, there's more stuff to collect!!!
I think most of us have a few universes we pass through and invade throughout our lives. There's family, and neighbors, and "friends from home," not to mention old schoolmates and other orbiting planets of individuals. There's also our work colleagues, and to me that's a very special group of people and for that I am forever grateful. It's a good thing when many of the most fascinating (and enjoyable) people you know are people with whom you work.
But, even within that work group, there are various subdivisions. There are those you see at almost every race, including my PR colleagues, the NHRA marketing and management staff, Chief Starter Mark Lyle, and the Safety Safari. There are many we see on an occasional basis, like the NHRA PR staff and National Dragster reporters, who alternate races. And there are a few we see only a few times a year. For most of my career, Phil Burgess fit into that last group.
He's attending more races now, but with my hit-and-miss travel schedule we can go many months without seeing each other. Considering he's Editor in Chief of the National Dragster and NHRA.com, we correspond on a regular basis so we're very often in touch, and that's not all strictly business either because we do enjoy each other's sense of humor, but the face-to-face moments have been a little rare over the last 20-some years, and even when they occur we're "at work" and both focused on those tasks.
As I stated in last week's blog installment, you might be able to imagine my surprise and excitement when I heard from Phil a couple of weeks ago, at which time he asked me for some tips on seeing Spokane because he and his wife had picked my adopted hometown as a place to go see the Eagles in concert.
But first a quick aside, which only makes this story better. When you hear about a guy flying off to a distant city to see a concert, you immediately assume he's a huge fan who follows his favorite band wherever he can. I've flown all over the country to see Rush shows when they're not playing near me. Turns out, Phil had never seen the Eagles in concert.
He'd been a casual fan over the decades, but then he stumbled onto a documentary about the group (I know a few other folks who have seen it and raved about it) and it got him interested. He started digging into their catalog of music and realized how much of it he'd always liked, so the mission then was to combine a quick little birthday getaway with a concert. Originally, the destination was going to be Buffalo, but Phil and his wife Marie didn't want to be that far from home, so Spokane was the alternate choice.
Back to the story… Phil sent me that first note and I think I made it clear that Barbara and I were both excited about their trip and eager to do anything and everything they wanted, including guided tours and meals at our favorite restaurants. We wanted to be good hosts, but we also didn't want to intrude if what Phil and Marie were looking for included some quality time alone. I think Phil was on the other side of the same wavelength, hoping we could show them around but not wanting to intrude into what was a weekend off for me. Nonsense, I exclaimed! So, before they arrived last Thursday we had it all mapped out. They got in during the afternoon and checked into a downtown hotel that was convenient to many of the sights we were going to see, as well as the Spokane Arena where the concert was scheduled.
I drove downtown to get them, and we came back out to Liberty Lake for a quick drive-through tour of our little suburb and then a walking tour of the Wilber/Doyle mansion, complete with a social hour on the back porch, before heading up to Hay J's for dinner. As always, Hay J's delivered all aces and our favorite waiter Christian took total care of us. We ate well, we talked, we laughed, and we had a great time. Then we took them back to the hotel and kicked them out.
Funny thing about perspective. As Californians (they live in Glendora) where home prices are way higher than they are here, their perspective on just how much house you need is a little different than ours. We downsized by close to half when we sold our big house in Woodbury and got this nice little house in Liberty Lake. To us, the perception was that this place is really small and it took us a while to adapt. To Phil and Marie, the first comment after seeing the house was "This is way too big for just two people," and they're right, I guess. Plus, this place would cost a fortune in L.A. Seriously. A nice house on a golf course? We couldn't afford this house in So Cal. Not even close.
On Friday, Barbara had to work so I acted as tour guide and we had a fantastic time walking all over Riverfront Park (site of the 1974 World's Fair), Spokane Falls, the historic Davenport Hotel, and many other destinations in and around downtown Spokane. I'm sure we walked five miles, but it was all fun and it was a beautiful day to be a tourist. We even took the gondola ride that swoops down over the lower falls, and we pondered just when that ride might finally break and dump someone into the river. It's been operating since Expo '74, but fortunately it didn't happen when we were on it. Or, as a young girl exclaimed when she got off the ride as we were getting on, "We didn't die! Woo Hoo!" Well said.
I let them get back to their hotel a little early, to rest up for the concert, and the plan was for them to come out to our house on Saturday morning, because Idaho was the destination for that day and picking them up downtown was going in the wrong direction.
They were a little tired, I'm sure, after our big day walking all over Spokane followed by a fabulous concert that didn't end until after 11:00 p.m. but they got out here early and off we went. First stop, Wallace.
Wallace is a fascinating little town, on the far side of what people call the Idaho panhandle. I think that's a misnomer. Florida and Oklahoma have panhandles, because they look like panhandles. Idaho's is vertical though. I think it should be called the Idaho chimney or the Idaho stovepipe, but that's just me. Anyway, stovepipe aside, Wallace is about 80 miles from Liberty Lake, over by the Montana border, and it's a beautiful drive, so that was part of the allure.
The little western town was right in the way of I-90 when the interstate system was being built, and since it sits in a very narrow little valley the highway was basically going to have to plow right through it, and little Wallace looked to be not long for this world. The problem was, Wallace is pretty historic and it's right in the middle of a silver-mining region that is still going, so people not only wanted to save it, they needed to save it. One way to do that was to lobby to get every building in downtown listed on the National Historic Register, and they were successful in doing that. I-90, then, had to be elevated and built over the northern edge of town. While that was done, traffic was diverted through town and the last stoplight on I-90 was right in the middle of Wallace. They've left one hanging in place, although it doesn't work, just to commemorate that fact.
Our first stop was the guided tour of the Sierra Silver Mine, complete with hard hats. You don't, of course, go 3,000 feet down into a working mine, but they've done a great job of allowing folks to walk through what was the original shaft when the mine was started, and they even fire up some loud and powerful mining equipment to give you a feel for what goes on. Our guide, Wally, said "This gets pretty loud, so you might want to cover your ears" as he fired up a huge drill. Wally had clearly never heard two Funny Cars launch before. Okay, it was loud, but really…
The moment he flipped a switch and turned all the lights off? Now that was fun. Great tour, great information, and a lot of smiles. And, as Barbara said, we rocked those hard hats!
Then it was off to one very unusual museum. With all those miners living and working in and around Wallace, the ratio of men to women was heavily weighted in the male direction, so you can imagine that there was a call for "working girls" to set up shop. The mayor and police looked the other way, and the Oasis Bordello stayed open until the late '80s. No, not the 1880s, the 1980s! By all accounts, the madame was a solid citizen and benefactor in Wallace, but the FBI finally figured enough was enough and they planned a raid. The girls were tipped off, and all fled before the Feds got to town, but they left almost everything behind. It has been kept as it was, and the 1980s decor is pretty incredible.
It was fun, even though our tour guide was a young version of Bill Murray's character Carl Spackler (Assistant Greenskeeper, in "Caddyshack"). And with all honesty I can state for an absolute fact that my first trip inside a brothel was this one, and it's been closed for decades. Worth seeing, though.
Turning back to the west, we retreated to Coeur d'Alene, which has no brothel that I'm aware of, but it does have a plethora of great restaurants. We were starved by then, so we stopped in at Cricket's and had lunch, before more walking because walking is good. And Cricket's is just the restaurant's name. They are NOT on the menu (deep-fried or otherwise).
We had booked tickets on the final cruise of the day on Coeur d'Alene Lake, and at 4:30 we were onboard and on the rooftop of the cruise boat. For 90 minutes we saw the sights, enjoyed the scenery, and relaxed in a way only a boat trip can provide. Great stuff and I highly recommend this cruise if you're ever in Coeur d'Alene.
Once safely back at the dock (I was relieved it wasn't a "three-hour tour" and our ship's mate wasn't named Gilligan) we headed over to Cedars, the floating restaurant we've come to enjoy, and we collectively appreciated another spectacular meal. Life is good.
We headed back to Liberty Lake and enjoyed one last chance to visit on the porch, before Phil and Marie headed back to their downtown room. I'd say, without reservation, that we crammed about as much into three days as possible (and that's not counting the concert, which Barb and I did not attend). But, it was all good and it was really a pleasure to spend all that time with a guy I've known for so long, but never really socialized with. And Marie was a total treat, as well.
Throughout the weekend, Barb and Marie were noticing how similar Phil and I are, in terms of our humor, our interests, our passions, and the way we look at things. I don't think he and I ever realized it, frankly, but it was becoming more and more apparent as the days went on. Then, what capped it off was the moment they rang the doorbell at our house on Saturday morning. I opened the door and Phil and I just laughed. We both said "I guess you got the memo" while our wives just shook their heads and laughed. We were, basically, dressed exactly the same. You can't make this stuff up.
It was really great to spend so much time with my mentor, the guy who has taught me so much about writing and PR work (whether it was overtly or by example). When I first got into this gig, I had no PR training whatsoever. I was a decent writer, but I didn't know the first thing about press release formatting and AP style, or even working with the media, for that matter. I fumbled my way into this, never planning on being in drag racing at all, and then I found a niche doing something else I had never planned to do, as the PR rep for a couple of fantastic drivers and great teams.
Just an editor and a PR guy, hanging out by the Spokane Falls
All throughout that, I've learned from Phil and developed my individual version of this craft. There might not be a better editor to work with. And, when we were finally afforded the chance to just hang out and have fun for a few days, it was a valuable and completely enjoyable diversion. Many stories told, many names from the past resurrected, and a million laughs.
Gosh, I hope Phil and Marie enjoyed it as much as Barbara and I did. I think the most interesting factoid I learned throughout the weekend was that this trip marked the first time Phil and Marie had ever gone on a vacation alone. Amazing, but thinking about how hard and diligently Phil works and the fact they've raised kids, I guess I can see how that's possible. It was a pleasure to be a part of it.
And now… Englishtown awaits. Well, it awaits the NHRA Mello Yello tour, but for the first time since I've joined this team LRS is not going to host hospitality at Raceway Park so yours truly is not traveling. Like many of you, I'll be following along at home.
Go get 'em boys! And since I was fortunate enough to be in Atlanta when we finally won, you're all free to go ahead and win this one without me.