Hello from Woodbury, on the first day of October. I'm sure missing my wife and my two fuzzy little knuckleheads, but the thought of just coming back here on Sunday night after St. Louis, and not wasting two entire days traveling to Spokane and then back to Reading, during yet another short week, was too enticing to pass up.
Anyway, I'm surely not delivering any breaking news when I remind you that we made it to the semifinals in St. Loo, and by doing that we continued our upward trajectory in the standings and are now officially 5th on the points sheet. Or, as we've been saying "We got into the playoffs 10th, and there are six playoff races. If you're aiming for the top, the playoffs are half over and we're halfway there."
Okay, in the interest of logic and fair reporting, it gets a little more challenging from here. We're just single digits out of 4th place right now, but the 1-2-3 guys have a good cushion on the rest of us, and we're going to have to run a few tables to really be able to have a shot at the big prize, while we'll also have to have some help knocking those top three guys out early, but that's not really a concern for us. Our only goal, lately, has been the next run ahead of us, whether it's qualifying or racing. I know "take 'em one at a time" is a worn-out and tired cliche, but that's exactly how we've been looking at it.
Just like we've been saying since Indy, "We got in 10th, so there's nothing to lose. The worst we can do is 10th. The best we can do is keep winning rounds and we'll see where we end up." At this point, we're just trying to earn the lowest possible number for the car next year. It's had a 10 on the sides for two seasons in a row, and we only want a single digit on there in 2013.
And now, back to today's headline... Yep, I'm pretty tired. By the time Colin and I got here to Woodbury last night, neither of us could do anything but head straight to bed, even though it was only about 9:30. This morning, we got up at 7:30 so that I could take him to MSP to catch his flight back to Pittsburgh, and we're both lucky we woke up on time without an alarm or a wakeup call. Sleep seems precious right now. Just relaxing seems necessary.
But, that's just me. I've been flying a ton, going back and forth across the country week after week, and this weekend in Reading will make it six in a row. How about for our guys? Well, looking back at the schedule you can see that the NHRA tour will have raced 10 out of the last 12 weeks once we're done with Reading, thanks to the Indy rain out. Right? Right, except for our guys it's been something like 12 or 13 in a row, because we did match races in Norwalk and Cordova on a couple of those off-weekends. I can't imagine...
So here we are, in the most important stretch of the season, with so much on the line, and our guys have been running themselves into the ground, working relentlessly. And with all that piled on them, how do they handle it? Oh, they just rip off 10 round wins at the last six races, to somehow magically get in the playoffs and then leap halfway up the Top 10. Amazing. But yeah, they really need these two off weeks after Reading, for sure. They've more than earned it.
And yes, I will admit that I've peeked at the weather forecast. Everyone was talking about the temps they're calling for, and that does appear to be the forecast, with some days only getting up to 60 or so, but the good news is they're not calling for a big chance of rain at all. Anything like that would be deemed "piling on" at this point in the season.
Alright, back to St. Louis...
I went straight from the airport to Farotto's, to satisfy that craving, and it did not disappoint. It never disappoints. I did stop at the hotel on the way, but just to check in, so as I sat in my rental car there I turned on my phone and dialed the number for Farotto's. And, I did that without so much as Googling or anything else. I'm 56 years old, I haven't lived in St. Louis since 1994, and I often completely blank out on my own phone number, but when a Farotto's "Deluxe" is on my mind, I can pick up the phone and dial 314-962-0048 from memory. You know why? Because that number was written right on the wall above the phone in the kitchen, at our house in Kirkwood. When we'd paint, we'd write it on there again. Until I went off to college, I saw "Farotto's 962-0048" on the wall every day. And some of you might not even be able to conceive of a phone on the wall, with a long spiral cord that could stretch into the dining room. Most people under 21 probably can't even conceive of that phone ringing, and someone in the house yelling "I'll get it..." then yelling "Mary, it's for you..."
Colin, my official intern for these two weeks, arrived late on Thursday night and we headed for his first race as a team member on Friday morning. With Springfield being so close, our guest list in the pitside hospitality was about 150 per day, and then LRS also reserved a trackside tent for overflow and other invitees. On the personal side, you can imagine how many close friends and relatives of the Wilkersons wanted to be there (including three actual Wilkersons themselves, named Daniel, Kevin, and Rachel) and the first half of my Friday was instantly eaten up by multiple trips out to the Credentials trailer, putting tickets in envelopes and getting them properly distributed.
On this particular weekend, Colin was going to learn mostly about the corporate sponsorship and hospitality side of things, helping Annette out with her big crowds, but we also had time to show him around the Media Center, where he met my band of merry colleagues who gave him a taste for what's it like to have Elon Werner and Dave Densmore around... Hilarity ensued.
It was all good, and Colin really got a good taste of it all, including (pun intended) a fabulous dinner on Saturday night, at Zia's on The Hill. Oh my... We would've needed major reinforcements to not leave our plates half full. Maybe the toasted ravioli appetizer wasn't necessary, but it was required. I mean, you just have to.
On Sunday, I'll admit my nerves were ratcheting up pretty high as the morning slowly crept by, and the one thought I kept unsuccessfully trying to banish from my head was "What are the odds we can beat Robert Hight in the opening round, two weeks in a row? What are the odds? He's Robert Hight. Tuned by Jimmy Prock. We're just the little team of underdogs from Springfield..." As much as I kept trying to divert my own attention, the thought kept coming back. Even as Tim and Robert staged.
So, we won two rounds, we moved up to 5th place, and all was good. All would've been very good had we gotten by Matt Hagan in the semis, and all would've been outstanding if we would've won the race, but when I look at the points sheet I really only see one team rising in the standings with any real movement, and that's us. These guys are amazing...
As for Colin, I think he was a little surprised by how long the days were, and we were both pretty beat by Sunday. Even on Saturday night he was nodding off in the car on the way back to the hotel. As I said "It's a cruel trick in our sport. As the weekend goes on, and you get more and more tired, the wakeup call comes earlier and earlier. By Sunday, when you'd auction off a limb to get a little more sleep, you're up at 6:30...
The Meagher family, from Lincoln, Ill. attended the race. They were actually LRS guests in Indy, and I had a few pleasant conversations with them, but they came to St. Louis on their own and their little daughter, Allyson, drew a wonderful picture for our team. It's in the gallery today, right up front, and it's classic. She included the race car, all of our names, and our current motto "Swing for the fences..." Tim absolutely loved it, and hung it on the wall right next to his computer in the lounge.
Thank you Allyson. This is priceless!
I saw my old CSK teammate Tom Abbett on Sunday, also more popularly known as Tommy Nitro. Great to see him, again.
I guess, the best thing I can say is it was just fantastic to be back home again. St. Louis is hard-wired into my DNA, and as I grew up there I was always quite aware of how great a place it is, and I was proud to tell people I lived there. I'm still proud to tell them I'm from there.
When Colin, Nick, and I headed for Lambert Airport on Sunday night, we had a few extra minutes so I swung through Kirkwood and showed them the house I grew up in. It's kind of hard to look at 513 Woodleaf Court and see it as just a house, with another family living in it. I know the feeling of that driveway under my sneakers, playing endless games of basketball, deep into the night with one lonely spotlight illuminating our "home court". I know the feeling of knocking a Wiffle Ball out of Wilber Stadium, clearing the middle line in the street for a home run, but only if you could avoid the "Green Monster" encroaching on the left side of the driveway, that being the big majestic oak. Sometimes you'd crush a ball, but a branch of The Monster would knock it down. Sometimes you'd hit a bloop, but The Monster would redirect it for a safe hit. As we used to say, even as 12-year olds, "The Monster giveth, and The Monster taketh away."
I know what it's like to lay on that living room floor, watching TV with my sister and my dad, a Sunday night ritual during the winter when he was home. I'll never forget how all the kids in the surrounding neighborhoods gathered at our house, every summer day, with nothing planned, but with ball gloves over the handlebars and a full day ahead of us to enjoy. Whether we had four, six, or eight kids together, we could make up a version of baseball and play all day, with real balls and bats. If I close my eyes I can still be there, on the open stretch of land we called Fred's Field, catching fly balls and hitting home runs, until one day we simply got a little too big, a little too old, and a little too able to hit those home runs into the Hartmans’ yard.
As we drove down Woodlawn Ave. toward Woodleaf Court, I looked at the sidewalk the runs along the east side of the road. How many times have I ridden my bike on that sidewalk, or walked its entire length? Too many to count.
I remember a childhood filled with ballparks, baseball, and baseball players, and a dad who liked Farotto's and Steak 'N Shake as much as we did. I counted the years until I was old enough to drive and have a little money in my pocket, not necessarily for the rites-of-passage freedom it provided, but more specifically because that meant I could have a Farotto's pizza anytime I wanted one! That was goal worth growing up for!
But time marches on, and my life couldn't be any better. It was a great place to grow up, and I know I would not be the person I am today, with so much love and friendship in my life, had I not grown up in that house, on that street, as the son of my parents. Talk about lucky. I'm the luckiest.
I can't wait to get back there next year! Until then...