Catchy title, but perhaps I should change it to, “Back on the Road again” as an homage to REO Speedwagon…and I hope I don’t have to explain who they are! What the title references is my ongoing effort to transform my first car (which I last ran as a bracket racer) back into a nice, streetable hot rod that I can still occasionally take to the track.
Since getting my 1968 El Camino back home after 3 years of sitting over at Rodger and Karen Comstock’s storage building, it’s been a flood of memories, most of them very pleasant. I actually found my temporary driver’s license, dated June 28, 1966, in the glove compartment. I remember driving over to DMV with my dad on my 16th birthday, taking the test (I scored 100%), then dropping him off at home so I could head over to Malibu Gran Prix and get my license in their vehicles later that night.
When I was away for Basic Training and Tech School in the Air Force, I left the car in my mother’s garage for safekeeping. I asked her to start it up and drive it around a couple of times a month, but later she confessed to me that she had taken it out and cruised Van Nuys Boulevard (and apparently gotten into a couple of “acceleration contests” with other vehicles). She passed away on January 24, 1994, so anything that brings back memories of her is wonderful…I just didn’t realize an automobile sitting in my garage could do that!
I’ve disassembled quite a bit from the car, as many of the items that I installed to make it a better drag race vehicle simply aren’t the best way to go for a street rod. The engine, a 396 bored out to 402, was assembled by my late friend Don Rehor (I handed him the tools and took lots of pictures) back in 1983! It probably only has 7,000 miles on it, and I sure hope 15 years of sitting hasn’t negatively affected it. I’d love to eventually put something with aluminum heads and more power (it’s probably 415-420 HP), or even go with the LS3 small block, which would take nearly 250 pounds off the front of the car…but that’s likely farther down the road.
I even took in a car show in Pomona with Jason just to research some things for the car. I’ve owned the Elco since 1981 (my dad bought it from the original owner in 1979), and it’s tough to remember how all the wiring, sending units, brake lines, heater ducts, etc. are supposed to look when many of them are sitting in boxes in the attic! I took several pics of similar cars at the show and even have made a new friend who told me I can come crawl under his dash and take all the photos I want. That may prove hugely beneficial.
If you guys are hoping that the car will be up and running in a few weeks (or even months), let me quell your optimism: I am NOT a sportsman-crastinator. Nope, I am far beyond that. I am what you would refer to as a “PRO-crastinator.” So, throw in two small kids, yard work, and a relatively busy schedule doing my “day-job,” and I hope that you all will bear with me and enjoy my tales of “woe-and-go” during this project.
I suppose I should give you guys a status update on where I am. I’ve already pulled off the exhaust system (more on that as we progress), the transmission (no one needs a full-manual valve body on a street driven automatic vehicle), the engine (for access to clean the entire front of the car, update brakes and suspension, and figure out where the heck all that wiring came from).
I’ve pressure washed the motor, trans and engine compartment (By the way, it’s no small feat to move a car with a spool rear-end in a driveway with a slight grade).
While Bruce and Brian prepped the garage floor, Layla showed off her fashion sense, telling them she was a rock star.
I’m not saying that the house garage looked horrible before the paint, but this is certainly a case where the picture doesn’t lie!
At first I thought Brian was stuck to the fresh paint, but Bruce told me the shot was for advertising purposes. That trophy almost looks as good as the finished floor, doesn’t it?
I can’t tell you how tickled I was to actually get to use the I-beam in the newer garage to pull an engine. If you have followed along through the garage build, I was worried my 240 pound beam was kinda like lipstick on a pig…but not anymore!
In addition to a tarp, pressure washer, can of Simple Green, and some awesome coveralls (and the pup is helping too), getting this Sherman tank back in the garage involved two tow straps, a come-along, wheel dollies, a floor jack, and several Tylenol after the fact!
This may be the definition of “too much time on my hands”, which was also a great song by Styx!
Amanda Busick and camerawoman Lauren came out to shoot a piece that should air during the race coverage, and I couldn’t resist the temptation to lay out many of the parts that have already been removed. God, if only I can remember how they go back on!
Dig the outfits they give the kids, and Jason LOVED flying (quit the lame jokes about “getting high”, you guys!). I’d really like to give this a try once the season ends. That way I’ll have enough time to heal a broken arm and go through therapy!
Gas was able to attend the Winternationals as part of the 50th anniversary of Funny Car tribute. Here we are next to his restored ’69 Mustang. Mr. Hajek did an amazing job putting a piece of drag race history back into the eyes of the public. At 89, Gas still has that, “je ne sais quoi” (Latin for, “tall, dark, and handsome Italian”) about him!
I’ve taken out the 48-year-old, well- worn instrument cluster in hopes of cleaning everything up and making it look new again (THAT should prove interesting).
I’ve taken a good portion of the interior out for the same reason and even headed over to the local paint store to order product that should match. Getting replacement interior parts is a snap with all of the GM “A-Body” restoration shops out there. Getting the factory color (which, apparently on mine is “dark saddle”) is nearly impossible, so my friend Randy Haapala is going to have to clean out his paint gun and get to work!
I also need to figure out how to patch all those screw holes I drilled to mount aftermarket parts to the firewall. Perhaps I should mention that I have no painting skills whatsoever (with the exception of being reasonable with a “rattle-can”), and my welding skills may be even worse (though I do own a wire-feed unit). However, I have some wickedly talented friends, and I’m not bashful about asking favors when it comes to my car!
I’m excited about this entire project. The wonderful thing about cars, and probably what drew me into hot-rodding and drag racing, is that we truly get to enjoy the journey AND the destination. Yes, it’s going to be fantastic when I can cruise over to the local Bob’s Big Boy with Jason, Layla, or Jenna in the passenger seat (probably not Jenna…she prefers heated seats!). It also will be great to head up to Fontana for a SCEDA race and get some quarter-mile time slips. That being said, the hundreds of hours spent in the garage tinkering, sanding, painting, wiring, fitting, improvising, and sometimes just daydreaming are really what makes these projects so fulfilling. I have no deadline; I don’t even have a “perfect car” scenario in my head just yet. What I do have is that fire that I haven’t felt in years to use my hands, head (and friends) to improve and personalize 3,500 pounds of life.
I’m really excited about the prospect of you guys being able to follow this project on the NHRA race shows on FOX Sports as well. Amanda Busick and expert camera lady Lauren actually have already been out to film a segment.
OK, on to other stuff! Many of you know that I had built a separate garage in the backyard (again, with the help of many friends), which was finished (or so I thought) back in 2014. However, a REAL garage needs floor paint, so not only did I (Jenna) decide to do the backyard garage, but also the house garage. Painting epoxy floor coatings the correct way is very labor intensive, takes four days (not to mention having to empty the entire garage, and then reload everything once the floor dries). Did I mention that I have good friends?
Brian and Bruce Shepherd own Finish Line Epoxy Floors and do all custom work, use top-end products, and have years of experience to make sure the end result is perfect. I got a great education in the process, got my hands (and knees) dirty, and got two fantastic looking garages to boot!
I’m stressing a bit right now because we are trying to get everything ready for our trip to Las Vegas. We shall load up the family tonight (Wednesday), and head out right after Jason’s baseball game, assuming it doesn’t get cancelled due to muddy fields. Hitting the road at 10 at night is right up the Beckmans’ alley, but it will make for a long day on Thursday. I will again do my VA hospital visit in Vegas (I think this is my 16th or 17th time interacting with the veterans and the active duty folks who take care of them), and that night I will participate in the NHRA autograph session at NYNY.
Did I mention muddy fields in regards to Jason’s baseball? Yes, with the severe “El Nino” conditions promised this year for Southern California, complete with an anticipated three feet of rain, it has been a complete letdown, with well under a third of what was expected. However, I found a way to encourage more precipitation: all I had to do was wash the RV yesterday and, PRESTO…a downpour complete with hail. What are the odds? At least I was able to push the Elco back in the garage before it got pelted with ice.
We’ve stayed plenty busy with Layla’s preschool, speech therapy, swimming and gymnastics, plus Jason’s homeschool, 6 classes in Yorba Linda at the Arbor, piano, baseball, hockey, and swimming. With the flu going around the Beckman house, we had to postpone Jason’s 9th birthday celebration one week. We took him to an indoor skydiving place in Perris (not the city with the Eifel Tower). He absolutely loved the feeling of flying…his sister not so much! He and I really want to go do the “real” skydiving thing sometime, and Jenna told us it will be the day after they serve frozen yogurt in Hades. I think that’s next Thursday.
Anyway, sometimes getting to the track and hopping into the Infinite Hero Dodge actually is LESS stress than all the other things I have going on!
Speaking of the racing, our year so far has had some highs and lows. During preseason testing in Phoenix, we were absolutely thundering (3 separate sub-3.90 runs) with last year’s chassis, and then a mid-track wheelstand put an abrupt end to the fun. After bending the chassis (did I mention that I helped the crew while we attempted to straighten it, and I managed to break my finger?), we were forced to unload a brand new car (with one full pass on it) for Pomona. I was very proud of the team when we were able to qualify No. 1, but we dropped a cylinder at the start in round two and lost to John Force.
Phoenix we weren’t as strong in qualifying, and we again lost to Force in the second round.
Gainesville had me back in last year’s car with a new front half just installed by our chassis shop. Qualifying saw us grab the pole again, reset our own national record with a 3.897, and set top speed of the meet (including Top Fuel!) at 329.26. Any guess as to whom we faced in the second round? Go ahead…give it a shot! If you guessed “John Force,” congratulations…maybe you can go skydiving with Jason and I. We can take the flying pigs that Jenna mentioned.
Anyway, this time we were able to defeat John, but our luck ran out in the semi’s when we destroyed the bearing in the blower drive (which looked pretty cool on TV) shortly after the burnout. Knowing the car wasn’t going to move once I stepped on the throttle, I did the only thing I could do and rolled up and lit both staging lights before Capps pulled up. It didn’t work, but sometimes you have to think outside of the box.
Speaking of Gainesville, on Thursday before the race I had the honor of inducting my friend Gas Ronda into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame. I can’t tell you what a thrill it was for me. Gas was not able to attend, but, with the help of my friends at NHRA, including Lewis Bloom, we were able to head over to Palm Desert and spend the afternoon with Gas and Nina a month before the event. We used some of the footage from that visit during the induction into the Hall of Fame, and I hope I did justice to a great racer and man.
I’d sure like to redo all the windows on the RV since the showers last night, but I’m afraid all my effort will just encourage more rain, and who needs that?
Stay tuned, stay out of the rain, muscle cars rule, RV don’t, and please tell my wife it’s OK to jump out of a plane!
I know it’s a bit out of season for a Christmas photo, but it’s the only one I had showing Apollo and the family he adopted. I just found out Jenna will NEVER let him outside unattended for fear of coyotes. Had I known that, I’d have bought a wolf pup!
I’ve always been a numbers guy, and stats also interest me. This sport has let me utilize my love of both of these, and they also figured heavily into this blog. In fact, the title and text you are reading represent (by my unofficial count) my 239th NHRA blog entry.
I had done several prior blogs for various organizations, but January 15, 2007 (there’s a stat for you guys) was my first for NHRA.com. Back then I was only five races into my funny car career, married for only two months, and yet to have any children. Wow, have things changed for me!
This has also been the longest stretch between blogs since I began my entries more than nine years ago, and I truly apologize to the many long-term readers that I left hanging (all six of you!). If you’re a first timer, I shall endeavor NOT to take five months before my next entry (plus, I don’t want my buddy Phil Burgess to cut me off as a phone-a-friend on historical questions!).
I promise you folks that I have not been idle (no pun intended), and I’ll give you a brief recap of what has transpired since that August 6, 2015 entry:
On the racing side, our Infinite Hero team had really started to show some consistent and incredible performance. We had just taken the trophy and National ET record at Sonoma, and would continue those kinds of performances for the rest of the season. We set multiple track records, reset the ET record three more times (!), and took home the Wally’s from Maple Grove and Indy (a weekend where we swept the race; qualifying No. 1, setting a new track record, plus the Traxxas Shootout win and the double-up on Monday).
We basically did all a team could dream of in 2015. All, except for the ultimate goal: taking the Championship. We lost a thrilling fight with the Kalitta Motorsports team and Del Worsham, and it definitely stings. We aren’t looking back, however, but we do feel there is unfinished business for 2016.
We decided to head down to Gainesville in December and put eight runs on a litany of different components to give us a head start on 2016. With a best lap of 3.903, plus how much we learned about the various parts we tried, we all felt vindicated spending the time and money to make that trek.
Earlier in January I flew out to our shop to be fitted in a brand new chassis, plus do the photo shoot for our new handout cards (Mark Rebilas and the DSR shop did an amazing job on them and I know you guys will dig the finished product). By the time you read this I will be on my way to Phoenix for a four-day test session, which supplants our former pre-season testing in Palm Beach, Fla. As much as I love South Florida and hanging out with my friends down there, the data we got didn’t seem to carry over once we got on an NHRA national event track. So…we’ll try Phoenix.
As a related issue (while still on the racing topic), back in August I got a chance to “drive the finish line” in a sportsman car for the first time since 2009. The whole family flew up to Idaho and we stayed with our good friends, the VanderMeers. Dick, Kathi and Hannah were not only perfect hosts at their residence, but Dick was kind (dumb?) enough to let me drive his Top Dragster for all four days of the NightFire Nationals. To be honest, after going five rounds on the opening day, I was starting to think I was back in championship form in the sportsman ranks. And then reality set it, and I proceeded to lose five times (they have buybacks if you lose early) in every possible way a sportsman can: red-light, late light, taking too much stripe and braking out, giving back the stripe, and running too far off the dial-in. Actually, the car never broke, I didn’t hit the wall, and the parachute never came out at half-track, so I guess I’ll have to go back next year!
I believe my last blog ended with another blowout on the RV, and the ensuing debacle that it caused. Well, after a trip to the Allison transmission shop, another to the body shop (two, actually, and thankfully that was covered by insurance), it was time to break open my piggy bank and make sure we had fresh rubber all around (that wasn’t cheap!). I also recently replaced all ten (yep, that is not a typo!) batteries with some Odyssey units that I hope will exorcise all the electronic demons that seem to possess this Monaco.
The good news is, we hopefully should have at least two weeks of trouble-free operation out of the unit (if you own an RV, you totally understand what I mean. Also, the word “boat” can be freely substituted and carry the exact same meaning). The bad news is, I still have a boat, err…RV. What I REALLY want to buy for it is a big sign with the words, “FOR SALE,” but Jenna won’t let me!
Now, as far as the VERY important stuff goes, the family is doing great. Our calendar is overflowing, and Jenna still finds things to enroll the kids in and squeeze into our itinerary. Layla is doing nature camp, gymnastics, and swimming along with preschool. She also goes twice a week for speech therapy. Poor thing, she struggles to pronounce her “L’s,” so she introduces herself as “Yay-ya” to all of her new friends. C’s, K’s, Th’s, and G’s also are an issue for her, but she’s improved dramatically. Funny enough, her crying doesn’t seem to need any help at all!
Jason, though technically now fully homeschooled, is attending an amazing school called “Arbor” that is about 40 minutes away. I think the word “arbor” must be Latin for, “we accept all major credit cards,” as we have to pay for this out of pocket. Thankfully our great friends, the Prutzman family, allow us to carpool with them and save some gas and aggravation. In addition to the three days a week Jason attends that campus, he’s also in swimming, and takes piano and baseball lessons. Knowing we had no more spare time at all, we enrolled him in hockey. Now, I’m a baseball guy and know nothing about ice hockey, but it turns out Jason took to it like an Anaheim Duck to water. Get it? So…cross two more days a week off of my “free time” list, plus it’s likely he’ll be back in baseball next month, though we are debating that.
Realizing that we now clearly have no extra time, Jenna made a command decision that a puppy would be a wonderful creature to throw into our mix. Yes, the Beckman household added another family member, a little hairy white dude that goes by the name of “Apollo,” late last year. Jason has an allergy to many pets, causing him to sneeze and get stuffy (kind of like the way I get around motorhomes!), so we had to get a hypo-allergenic variety, which apparently is French for “three times the price.” I wanted to name the dog “Silver,” because that’s about what he cost if calculated by the pound.
We’ve spent lots of quality time together during my off season, taking the kids many places, including the Discovery Science Center, Monster Jam, Super cross, up in mountains when So Cal finally got some snow, the Queen Mary, the Norco City Fair, a Ducks hockey game, Frozen on Ice (I got out of that one), Medieval Times, the Bodies Exhibit (the science- related one, for those whose minds were in the gutter), several movies, etc. Layla even got to accompany her brother on a rocket launch mission, which she actually quite enjoyed.
Model rocketry is totally bitchin’…there’s just no other way to phrase it. It has all the components of entertainment wrapped into one launch: excitement, fire, noise, high probability of disaster, small likelihood of total success, and isn’t very expensive. Heck, except for that last one, I could have been describing Funny Car racing! Anyway, on our latest launch, Jason and Layla shared “launch controller” duties, while dad chased the rockets on descent and continually relocated the launch platform to compensate for wind drift. Knowing that we had already lost two rockets (on three previous days of rocketeering), we were extra diligent about picking a huge open area on a day with relatively low winds.(Perhaps I should mention that we also purchased several more rockets, which really is the only way to ensure continued viability in this hobby.) Anyway, after three successful launches AND recoveries (and only having to climb one fence), the inevitable happened. Not that I am trying to shirk responsibility, but I must say that our launch was perfect, wind compensation looked fantastic, parachute deployment was right on target (I even cut a hole in the middle of the chute to minimize wind loft carrying the rocket too far off course), and…hold on…”Houston, we have a problem!”
I’ll cut to the chase…literally. After running across the soccer field, jumping the fence in the baseball outfield, barreling through the infield, past the dugout, through the parking lot, and stopping at the barbed wire fence, it became quite clear that this rocket was a goner. Did I mention the barbed wire fence? Um, seems our little Atlas Mark IV ended up several hundred feet inside the perimeter of this fenced off area. A quick check of your Google Earth app. will display the exact coordinates of Norco Prison, and I’d say we managed a “splashdown” nearly dead-center of the facility. Perhaps now is a good time to mention what Jason and I now do to each of our rockets since we lost the first two. In an effort to increase the chances of recovery should they “go askew”, I’ve taken to using a Sharpie to clearly write our home phone number on the fins. Yeah, I kind of think you know what I’m talking about! Fortunately, “that” call from the warden hasn’t happened, and I’m thinking it wouldn’t be too funny to try another launch attempt with hacksaw blades inside the rocket.
It was very odd how the memories started flooding back once I got the El Camino back home. My father bought it from the original owner in 1978, and I’ve owned it since I was 15. June 28, 1982 I celebrated my 16th birthday at DMV getting my driver’s license in this car. Since then, it’s taken a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Wait ‘til Jenna sees how much of the kid’s college fund it’s going to take to put it back on the street!
When Wayne Phillips from the NHRA Museum showed up to load up, it was a bit surreal letting go of a car I first took possession of on December 18, 1994. It’s now on loan to the Museum, but they said I can come by and feed it anytime!
Under the “me time,” which we can alternatively refer to as “Jack time,” it’s been wonderful to get to surf as much as I have in the past two months. I probably get to go on average once a week, which is a lot for me. Stat Guy Lewis Bloom (who just moved to California after a lifetime in Jersey) has gone out with Rich Camou and me a couple of times, and he’s really starting to dig the California life. Once the season starts I often go a couple of months without getting wet, so this has been a real treat.
Saving the best for last, I did something that I haven’t been able to do since we moved into this house back in August of 2009: I saw the garage floor! Yes, it may seem like a small accomplishment to many of you, but to me it’s opened up new borders. When the Chinese invented gun powder, who knew it would eventually lead to putting a human on the moon? Who knew that the discovery of microorganisms would lead to the creation of antibiotics and inoculations, saving millions of lives? Okay, maybe I’m suffering from delusions of grandeur, but to me this is a big deal. Once I got the “house” garage cleaned and organized I can now easily tackle more projects, which allowed me to focus on the “backyard” garage and its clutter…
And now on top of the priority list was “the Blackbird,” my Super Comp dragster that, since November of 2009, had officially become a 21-foot dust collector, and tripping hazard. I got it all polished, waxed, and spiffed up last week for a trip that I never thought I would see; one to the NHRA Museum!
Yes, my car currently resides underneath Swamp Rat 32 (it sort of looks like Big Daddy’s car gave birth to a baby dragster), and that is mind-blowing to me.
So…you probably want to know what is going to fill that narrow, twenty-one foot void in the garage where the Blackbird formally resided? Glad you asked! I had asked Rodger and Karen Comstock if they could store my ’68 El Camino for about six months while I completed the backyard garage. That was 3 years ago, which is about right for “driver math”. So, now I have an entirely new project which, ironically enough, is the same project that occupied so much of my time between the ages of 15 and 30.
Stay tuned! And remember: Museums are cool, El Caminos rule, and RV owners are fools.
The view from the RV at Sonoma is spectacular. Here 4 of my friends take it all in. Their brother, ZMax, went home earlier this year with Terry Chandler. This is the first time I’ve been able to take them home, as they’re difficult to get through the airport metal detector!
There’s really no way to sugar-coat it: Jimmy Prock is from another planet. Yes, I do believe that he, John Medlen, and Chris Cunningham must’ve escaped Vulcan before the place exploded, and they’re just taking a siesta here on the “blue planet”. How else can you explain the way our Infinite Hero/Sandvik Dodge Charger has been running? THIS is what happens when you put three guys with an average IQ of about 180 inside the same trailer: magic!
After just winning Sonoma and resetting the ET record with a staggering 3.92 (it still doesn’t look right when I write it down…it’s just TOO quick!), and doing that a week after taking the trophy off the mountain at the Mopar Parts Mile High Nats, and doing THAT two races after posing with the Wally in Norwalk, I’m simply in awe of those guys, as well as Sam, Ryan, Joe, Matt, Al, Nate, and Chris. Everyone is doing their job perfectly, and the results show it. Heck, for three races we have a Western Tech intern, Gus, who has NEVER lost a round of racing. I just want to keep his record perfect through Seattle this weekend.
At Bristol the crew got a chance for a photo with our inspiration, Officer Gary Linfoot. Whether in his wheelchair or standing with the exoskeleton, I think Gary is 8 feet tall!
I’d like to recap some of the recent events, as I haven’t been good about keeping up with the blog. Bristol was not the kindest to us on raceday, but it did have its highlights: having my dad there on Father’s Day and doing the track walk with him for the second consecutive year was fulfilling. Having Mari and Gary Linfoot (Gary is the soldier pictured on the back of our semi wearing the bionic exoskeleton) on hand felt good. Gary, who was paralyzed when his helicopter suffered catastrophic mechanical failure on a mission during his 19th combat tour, had NEVER stood for the National Anthem since his crash on May 31, 2008. Sunday at Bristol he did, with his wife Mari by his side. Terry Chandler, who’s heart and funding have made such a difference for so many injured veterans (and sick children) stood a couple of feet away. I stood in reverence about 20 feet away, soaking up the moment and reinforcing in my mind and heart what great things we can do this year in support of the IHF.
Chris Demke and I proudly displaying our Southwest Airlines “trophies. He wears his pretzels well, but my nuts don’t seem to fit!
Norwalk was special because we got to put our Infinite Hero Charger in the winner’s circle on Independence Day weekend, a very poignant date for our cause. I want to congratulate my buddy Todd Veney on his first ever national event win. I know how special it was for him, especially with his parents (Ken Veney was so good as a driver and tuner in the day) in attendance. On the flight home, Chris Demke, who won TAD, and I were treated like kings by the Southwest Airlines attendants. He was presented with a crown of pretzels, and I with nuts. Wonder if there was some hidden message in that?
Even though we didn’t win in Chicago (congrats to John Collins, Rip Reynolds and the entire Make-A-Wish team for TJ’s first win of the year!), I had a good weekend. We again had a Sandvik appearance with Spencer’s dragster and team in attendance, I attended a Matco function with Antron where IHF was presented with a nice check that the distributors were able to raise, and I got to attend a game at Wrigley Field, which was very cool!
Denver was great because we maintained Mopar’s streak of Professional wins at their signature race, plus my dad was there. He stayed with my good friend and former Top Fuel racer, Ray Stutz, and the celebration was fantastic. It also was the first race win we’ve had where Laurie Baker, the Executive Director of IHF was able to attend. She was beyond happy for our (her) team!
Sportscaster Chris McGee and Medal of Honor Recipient Sal Guinta flanked yours truly, and Oakley’s Erick Poston (who also sits on the IHF board) showed me the difference between a putter and a driver. I always thought the driver was the one wearing the firesuit!
You can always tell the driver: He’s the one facing away from the work!
I stayed Monday for a charity golf tournament for the IHF, and I certainly deserve charity if you watch me (attempt) to play. “Goose” Gossage, former Yankee (and Padre, and Cub) pitcher was there, and very approachable. Medal of Honor recipient Sal Guinta really provided the inspiration and the correct “feel” for the entire event. I was honored to meet him and really hope he can come out to a race and hang out with the team someday.
Sonoma marked the first time my family has been to a winning race since St. Louis of ’12. I was thinking “1912”, but I think it actually was 2012. We all five (Grandma Cindy was on board) piled into the RV and had a nice, uneventful 450 mile trip there. Once we parked late Wednesday night, I had a full Thursday. Starting with a media event way out in Sacramento, and ending with emceeing the Eric Medlen Nitro Night for the third straight year, it was a good day. The rest of the weekend went just as well, culminating with Jason winning an impromptu ESPN dance contest that apparently made the event coverage (I haven’t gotten that far into my DVR yet). And, in between, our car quite simply may have put down the most dominating funny car performance in recent memory. Beating teammate Tommy Johnson Jr. in the final meant that Terry Chandler was guaranteed her sixth victory of the year (Terry completely funds both teams), and I couldn’t be happier for her, IHF, Sandvik, MTS (now back on board!), and all of our folks. It was a magical weekend and I feel so fortunate to be a part of it.
And then came the trip home! If you are able, go back to July 31, 2014 blog. Talk about déjà vu. This time blowout number one came 100 miles from the track, about 11:30 pm Sunday night. After limping to the nearest town at 12 mph, we considered our options.
I’m going to digress here and reference some folk’s comments on social media. While many of them were helpful, even supportive, it amazes me how often mean and/or ill-informed people feel obligated to share their out-of-touch, skewed and flawed opinions with the world. It’s the reason I refuse to read any social media, and it taints it for those of you who are normal.
Don’t forget to set your DVRs. Dave is doing a stellar job of giving drag racing due recognition amongst other motorsports.
Anyway, unless we wanted to wait until late in the day Sunday, perhaps into Monday, the only option was a mobile tire service with a used tire. RV tires are not really a “standard” size relative to the multitude of 22 ½ inch tires sold on the market, so we did what we had to. I purchased the gold-plated, infinite warranty tire that senses road conditions, makes coffee for you, and gives good back rubs. For $515 for a used tire, that’s what I SHOULD have got. What we got was 300 miles further down the road. Then, a mere 46 miles from home, that tire decided its warranty was done. So, another two hours, another $300 (this next tire was just silver plated) and we arrived at home.
Oh, maybe I should’ve mentioned the big rig tow that had to get us “unstuck” at midnight Sunday night when we tried to pull into a parking lot for sleep. Yes, one of those small towns with radically sloping streets, and the hitch dug in deep. I tried raising and lowering the airbags, putting boards under the tires, dancing an Irish Jig while screaming in Ukrainian, all to no avail.
Oh, maybe I also should mention that the RV no longer goes into reverse, and that the last few miles coming home it wouldn’t shift properly, and that as I type it’s being hooked up to be towed to a repair facility. Yes, folks, family motorhome vacations are only really good for a couple types of people: therapists, and people who own stock in anti-depressants!
Still, dealing with all of this in 2015, after the fantastic few weeks that we’ve enjoyed, certainly was MUCH easier than in 2014. By the Vegas race, the RV will have visited the trans shop, the body shop, the tire shop, the rim polishing and re-plating shop, and hopefully the chop shop!
Mickey Ganitz served aboard the USS Pennsylvania. The story of this ship is one of legend, and Mickey and his wife Barbara were just beyond cool. I will cherish this photo of my son with him forever.
Don on Richie Crampton’s Lucas Oil team has gone out of his way during the races when their team is hosting WWII vets. I’ve already met a half dozen of the coolest men of all time, and at Sonoma I got to spend a half hour with Mickey Ganitz, who served aboard the USS Pennsylvania. He was onboard when it was bombed in Pearl Harbor, and he was onboard when it was torpedoed the day before the Japanese surrendered. At 96, he is sharp as a tack, and having my son Jason there to experience our discussion (Jason even got to ask several questions) was a lifetime experience for me. I don’t know how old Jason will be when he realizes just how special that encounter was. I’ve met veterans of Iwo Jima, Pearl Harbor, the Army Air Corps, and the 82nd Airborne thanks to Don. How amazing!
Way back when the RV was performing flawlessly (three weeks ago), we spent several days down in San Diego for our second annual “Layla’s birthday bash”. Yes, the only thing better than owning a motorhome that costs far more money, time, and effort than I have, is paying $90 a day to park it next to 500 other RV’s in a congested park, just so we can pack everything into our passenger car each day to drive around! Did I mention that it rained for two of the days we were there? In July!
Besides the racing, we’ve kept plenty busy with Layla’s gymnastics class, Jason’s piano and skateboard lessons, and Jenna’s use of the American Express at fine establishments such as Nordstrom’s, Bed, Bath & Beyond, as well as many others (kidding, honey!). I’ve also got to repair some broken irrigation line (that made a nice mess out back), and keep my skills sharp with the mower and edger.
I better wrap for now. In a couple of hours it’s off to Seattle for what I hope will be an epic weekend for the Infinite Hero/ Sandvik car. After that we’re packing for a trip to visit our good friends, the Vandermeer’s, up in Idaho. I never thought Jenna would go for this, but I’m actually going to be racing three days at the Firebird Nightfire Nationals in Dick’s Top Dragster! I can’t tell you how excited I am to be back in a car where I can actually SEE my opponent! It should be a hoot, and hopefully I’ll have some good stories to share about that.
And yes, we’re flying up to Boise! You think I’m crazy?
Stay tuned; celebrate our older veterans, the devil created RVs, and Wally’s rule!
Taken by my buddy Rich Shute, this pic of the Bristol track walk on Father’s Day was very special. Someone else took a photo nearly identical, except it was blurry, out of focus, and not well framed. Thanks, Rich!
No, my title this entry does not refer to my son Jason’s comments when I get done doling out his portion of the French fries at In-N-Out, but rather to my pitiful blog this time.
I have my notes, I have many photos picked out, and I have the computer up and ready. What I don’t have right now is any ambition, motivation, or time before the dinner bell rings.
Typically I don’t have an issue with completing my blog somewhere around midnight the night before I depart on an early morning flight (out at 5:55am tomorrow). However, I’m flirting with a cold right now, I feel like I weigh about 400 pounds, and the lethargy monster has ahold of me.
Why then, you may ask, am I even bothering right now? Good question. With so much going on in our schedule during this period, I’m just not sure when my next opportunity to chat with all of you is going to happen.
Layla will be turning 4 on July 12, and I will be on the road for her big day. That’s the toughest part about racing, but we’ve got a family RV trip (those can be even tougher than being away!) planned for the weekend after, right before I leave for the Western Swing.
Once I leave tomorrow for Norwalk (by the way, I hope everyone enjoys their Independence Day holiday…and I hope I get to celebrate mine with my favorite midget: that little gold dude named ‘Wally’!), I will only return home for ONE day before heading right back out for an early appearance and some events that lead into the Chicago race.
Why then, you may ask (boy, are you guys inquisitive today!), even bother coming home? Well, if any of you are married with two small children, I think the question answers itself. I’m sure there’ll be days when both kids are teenagers, Jenna is mad about something, and staying on the road seems like a wonderful idea, but I try to spend as much time with the family as possible. No regrets… and I never want my kids to feel like that song by Harry Chapin, “Cats in the Cradle”, has any semblance to their formative years.
So, instead of me writing a weekly blog, lately I’ve been writing my blog weakly. Get it? That was kind of clever. Okay, time to wrap things up. Next entry I’ll fill you guys in on a decent outing at Bristol with some powerful back-story events, why I shouldn’t be an irrigation specialist, and anything else cool that transpires…like winning a race!
Stay tuned, keep your frequent flyer card handy, preschool is just around the corner, and the US is still the greatest country in the land.