Brainerd, we loved ya! We've just wrapped up a heck of a Brainerd race, putting a wrap and a ribbon on it, and that pretty much wraps up what we've been doing. And then there was the wrap, but that's another story. Photos to follow!
Anyway, after the great displays in Shoreview and Elk River, the guys all headed north to Brainerd and I followed them up the next day. Lucky for me, I hit three major traffic tie-ups in Minneapolis (trying to outsmart the construction I was already aware of on the 694 loop) and then plodded through a large construction zone on 169 headed north, and my door-to-door Brainerd trip took almost four and a half hours. It can be done in two and a half, if everything goes 100 percent smoothly, but the only time things go that perfectly is when you're actually hoping to see a delay. It was nice to get to Cragun's and check into my room.
I also learned that I've been wasting money at Cragun's the last few times I've stayed there. In order to have room to stretch out and prepare a few meals, I had been reserving one of their Shoreline Suite rooms the last few years, and they were really nice. This time around, they didn't have any of those available so I just went with a standard King room, and holy cow the thing was almost as big as the suite! It was a very comfortable room, with a living area and king-sized bed, with a wood-burning fireplace. I can't remember the last hotel room I was in that had an actual wood-burning fireplace... They even had a small stack of wood right there in the room.
Cragun's is not flashy or glitzy (in case you're ever in the Brainerd Lakes region and are thinking of staying there) but its "rustic" quality is really pretty nice, and the lakeshore is fantastic. Plus it's got a good family vibe, so there's that.
Once we got to the race track, all of our attention turned to getting into the show solidly and then winning rounds on Sunday. When we put a cylinder out right at the hit of the throttle, in Q1 on Friday, the car made a move to the left and Tim clicked it off, so we were basically at the bottom of the heap going into Q2, when the conditions were obviously going to be the best they'd be all weekend.
Usually, the only time we feel any nerves during qualifying is if you put yourself in that unfortunate spot of being outside the field going into Q4 on Saturday. If that's the case, it's pretty hard not to be nervous, but we could all look at the schedule, and look at the points standings, and realize Q2 was a critical run. If we messed up there, we might not have a chance to even get in the top half of the field on Saturday, when both runs were in the middle of the afternoon (as it turned out, there was enough cloud cover and a cool enough track on Saturday to actually run that well, but there was no way to know that on Friday night.) So, I know we were all a little tense for Q2. It "felt" like a really important lap.
Wilk, therefore, went right out there and made it happen. Our 4.056 was low when we ran it, and it stayed that way for a long time until a couple of other guys ran better, but we earned a bonus point and right about now, even one little bonus point felt like a million bucks.
Now here's the interesting thing... The car ran over 312 mph in Q2, and when it came back from that lap the vinyl all looked good. Speed was not the issue in terms of keeping the vinyl on the car.
On Saturday, we smoked the tires twice. After the first one, the left side of the car came back quite a bit distorted, wrinkled, ripped, and bubbled. I got to work massaging it, pushing it back into place, and in some spots I had to cut it and lay the vinyl down again to get it to look somewhat normal. After Q4, when we once again smoked the tires, it came back looking REALLY bad. It was a major effort to put it back into so-so shape, and I used a ton of heavy-duty clear "helicopter tape" ( a clear tape that's so strong they use it on helicopters) to smooth it all down and give it some integrity. For some reason, the heat from the headers was doing the damage on runs when we smoked the tires, but only on the left side of the car. Very odd.
On Sunday, I arrived at the track at my normal hour and then went down to the media tower to get a ladder sheet. The inimitable Elon Werner and sidekick Dave Densmore were coming out of the luxurious and spacious media center (slight sarcasm alert) and Elon actually had to say "Okay, I kid around a lot but this time I'm not kidding. I'm being totally serious. Jeff Arend broke his heel jumping over a fence so he can't drive. You guys have a single in round one."
My quizzical look clearly tipped off my skepticism, which I'm sure Elon expected because he does, for the record, kid around just a little... "No, really. It's official" he said again. As soon as my two JFR colleagues departed, I called Tim in the pits and told him. At this point, we still were not 100 percent convinced of the veracity of this rumor.
But, by the time I got back to the pit, Big Jim Dunn had come over to inform Tim that Jeff was, indeed, too injured to drive. That was a classy thing to do, and Big Jim added "So if you want to test anything or go for low e.t., you ought to do that..." Bingo. Turns out, we had the same blower on the car for the two runs when we dropped cylinders, and it was going to be in the rotation on Sunday if we got as far as the semifinals. We'd cleaned it up and serviced it, but at that point all you can do is hope that the thing isn't causing the dropped holes. With the single, we could run that blower in round one and not worry about it. We were either going to run great, and get lane choice, or that blower was going to cause us to drop a hole again. The latter happened, so Tim lifted and coasted down the track, but we got the win light running our single. And that blower went under the bench and was "retired" for the rest of the weekend.
We faced Robert Hight in round two, as many of you I'm sure have seen, and we really put a pretty good lap on the board. Put it this way, we ran (by far) well enough for Robert's car to need an outstanding lap to beat us (we call that putting ourselves in a position to win and making the other guy earn it) and when his run wasn't flawless we beat him going away.
Of course, what had everybody buzzing was the fact the wrap on the left side of the car basically disintegrated at around 660 feet, and by the time the car crossed the finish line it was mostly gone from the side-window to the tail light. Shredded. Confetti. Gone.
When the car got back to the pit, I was up in the lounge when Krista and Tim bounded in, excitedly, and while Krista had a look of horror on her face Tim just said "I'd hate to be you, but you can't fix it now." I went outside and looked, and Barbara's face was nearly white as if we'd destroyed the car. To me, it was by that time kind of funny. I'd worked awfully hard to keep repairing that side of the car, and now there was nothing left to repair! Tim agreed with my instant assessment, which was that our only option was going to be trimming off all the loose vinyl that remained, and running it blank on that side in the semi. That was the only choice we had.
In retrospect, it would've been smart to have our vinyl guys make up a few spare Circle K logos (just the logo, not the full wrap) in case anything like this happened. If we had one of those, I could've at least put the big Circle K on the side, but we only had a handful of much smaller ones made, and we put them in spots where the cameras might catch them at the starting line.
Dave Kroona, the guy who made this all happen and the owner of the two stores where we did the displays, understood the situation completely (he's a former racer himself, so he understands the tempestuous nature of race cars) and he was just happy we were going rounds and getting a LOT of television time. Hey, if you can't be good be spectacular and if you can be good, like we were in round two, you can really cap it off by also being spectacular. That was us. Good and spectacular! Dave was also happy that the right side of the car was undamaged all weekend (it's a mystery why it only hurt the left side) because the main grandstands in Brainerd are on the right side of the track.
The ESPN2 camera (with its pet operator, Matt Ilas) was in the pit by the time I was getting ready to do some trimming, and Matt took some shots of me working with a very technical tool to remove the shreds of torn vinyl. It's a purpose built tool, very difficult to operate, and it works great for removing shredded vinyl. It's call a razor blade. Please, folks, don't try this at home! I'm a trained professional.
We also then did an ESPN2 piece that was on the show Sunday night, where I held up the remains of the torn Circle K part of the wrap, staring through two holes in it right at the lens, and then Jamie Howe interviewed Wilk. At that point, Mike Dunn referred to me as a former major league pitcher. Well... Maybe I slept through that part of my career. I did pitch a little, but only in the minors in terms of real games. I also spent one day with the Oakland A's, wearing a big league uniform when the A's were in Kansas City, and I did pitch in the bullpen that day, but I wasn't on the roster or anything. So, if you add all of those facts up, maybe you could say I'm a former major league pitcher, but you really can't. I'm a former minor league wash-out. But I appreciate the kind words from Mike, and maybe it's worthwhile for me to contact the MLB Players Association to check on that major league pension I never got... Worth a shot. Mike Dunn said it!
We smoked the tires in the semis, and Wilk was pretty mad at himself for doing that, but in my mind it was a very good day and a successful Brainerd weekend. We came into the race in 8th place, but only three points ahead of Bob Tasca and a round ahead of both Robert and Del. We left with a lead that's slightly more than four rounds over Del, who is in 11th right now, so we gave ourselves a little bit of breathing room going into Indy. It's not enough, and we can still be knocked out of this thing, but I'm confident Wilk will get us some more points at "The Big Go" and we'll be in the playoffs. Good work, all-around, by our guys and our driver.
Other Brainerd jottings...
My buddy Jeff Finger was there, along with his dad John. You remember him, right? Jeff played for the Colorado Avalanche and the Toronto Maple Leafs, but his career was cut short by as series of nagging injuries and a couple of concussions a couple of years ago. Wanting to have a good quality of life and not have to deal with more permanent effects from the concussions made it an easy decision for him to retire, and it's really cool that he and his father enjoy each other's company so much they'll get in the truck and drive from Pennsylvania to Brainerd just to go to a drag race. Seriously, that's what they did.
And when we were going rounds, Jeff jumped right in to be the guy who cleaned the windows and the windshield, crawling under the body to get access through the injector opening. I got the impression he never enjoyed window washing as much as he did on Sunday...
Nick Casertano had a 7:30 flight booked, out of Minneapolis, and our consensus going into the day was that if we made it to the final, he'd be spending the night with Barb and me, because there'd be no way to make that. If we made the semifinals, it would be close. Fortunately, since Barbara had driven up separately on Saturday morning, she was available to drive Nick back down to MSP and, despite some horrible traffic on I-94, she got him there with air to spare. Thanks Sweetie! I'm sure Nick's wife Shannon, and their little girl Ally, appreciated it too.
If you saw, on TV, the guy in the pits who was dressed and costumed as a life-sized Wally, you were probably impressed. Let me state, for the record, that he was even better in person. The dude WAS a life-sized Wally. It was one of the best costumes I've ever seen.
The weather in Brainerd was perfect.
The crowd in Brainerd was outstanding. It's always tough to gauge how many people are at the Brainerd race by looking at the grandstands, because a large number of people in attendance skip entire days of watching the racing. They're camping, having fun in The Zoo, and enjoying all the other incredible stuff this unique race has to offer, but the main stands were pretty well covered with people for all three days. And all I hear about from naysayers is that our attendance is horrible, the sky is falling, and the world ends tomorrow. The funny thing is, those negative types aren't actually at the events. The Brainerd crowd was great. Period. And man, those people have a patent on ways to have fun.
Annette wasn't there, because she took her mom on vacation to Alaska this past week, but Rich came up and he once again illustrated his classic MacGyver ability to fix and fabricate things. The on/off button on our video camera finally broke to the point of being inoperable during the Seattle race, so Rich disassembled everything and made an entire new switch out of the piece of plastic they include as a "spreader" in those little packets of crackers and cheese. Seriously! The guy is amazing.
Here's hoping my buddy Jeff Arend heals quickly (more specifically that his heel heals quickly, so he can wear heels again, since he is a "drag" racer). He texted me on Sunday morning, wishing us well, which is just another indication of what a good guy he is. Get better, eh!
What a beauty!
And now the truly important part of this blog...
WE NEED YOUR VOTE!!!!
Yep, it's that time of year again and we put ourselves in this spot by not winning a race so far this year. We've been to six semifinals, and have been runner-up once already, but we haven't won and that means we're in the fan vote for the final slot in the Traxxas Shootout.
As a quick refresher, this is how it works: You go to the NHRA page on Facebook (I'll post a link below) and if you haven't already "Liked" the page you should do so. Then go to the Traxxas Voting page, and click on the little button next to Wilk's picture. You can only vote once, so make your vote count!
The percentage of the vote we earn will also be the number of lottery balls we have in the hopper. Right now, Wilk and Robert are nearly tied, at around 33 percent, so if the lottery were held today we'd each have a 33 percent chance of winning. It isn't today, though, it's next Wednesday so we need your vote.
Can I count on you? Go here and vote: https://www.facebook.com/NHRA
Thanks everyone... Back again soon.
Just a quick one today, because I've been running around like crazy for a week and now I really need to get going up to Brainerd. I had an appointment here in Woodbury this morning, and now I'm waiting on the mail carrier because Barbara has something arriving this morning that I really need to be here for, to make sure it's secure, but after that I'm backtracking over a lot of the same roads I was on yesterday, then continuing on to Brainerd.
It's Thursday now, but this week's fun began on Monday when the consensus was reached that the guys in the rig, the guys in the Explorer, and (and this was the big "and") Tim and Krista in the motorhome were all aiming to make it to Woodbury on Tuesday night. We had offered to feed the whole gang with a big old Minnesota spread of steaks, salad, baked potatoes, and more but it's not easy moving a race team and any little delay (even one on the road) can throw everything off, so Dave and I waited until Tuesday morning before we leapt into action.
When we got the green light that everyone was rolling and they all thought they'd be here by 5:00, Dave got busy making runs to the grocery store while I headed over to our local butcher shop and had them carve me a dozen 6-ounce filet mignons from the tenderloin. By early afternoon we were getting updates from the road, and for a while there it looked like all three vehicles were going to arrive at the same time, but it was Travis driving the big rig who got in first.
I'd reserved three rooms for the group, over at the Holiday Inn Express, but the bigger issue was parking and maneuverability. You just don't hop into an 18-wheel transporter that's as low to the ground as ours and "just drive to Woodbury". Everything has to be plotted out, including the turns. We had a sporting goods place go out of business near here (coincidentally right across the street from the hotel) so the giant lot out in front of it is always empty, but I still had to find a route to get in there for Travis. He spotted it right away, and made a perfect landing right along the edge of the lot. The first eagle had landed. It was Travis, Dave, and Travis' girlfriend Jill in the big rig, and Tim and Krista were coming in right behind them.
The motorhome is smaller than the transporter, but it's still a monster when it comes to neighborhood streets, so I gave them directions to get off I-94 at the Woodbury exit, and then told them to call me after they turned left on Valley Creek Road, which would take them to our place here. Unfortunately, they missed that turn and ended up in a sprawling new subdivision with winding streets and street names that all sound the same, in that cute suburban way. We were on the phone and it seemed like they were getting deeper and deeper into the abyss, so I hopped in my car and drove about a mile to where they were, but the streets are all so curvy you can never see very far. Krista was on the phone to me, and every street name she'd say I was always one behind them, or one street over, or just around the corner. I finally caught up at a stop sign back at Valley Creek, so I shot around ahead and they followed me here.
After they hung out here for a bit, just to meet Boofus and Buster, they followed me over to Dave's house and parked the motorhome in his driveway. He had about two feet to spare between the tail and the garage door, and the nose of the bus was right on the curb, but it fit and that's all that matters!
Finally, the guys in the Explorer made their way into Minnesota, but no one knew the way to Dave's house so I went back out to the hotel and picked up Travis, Jill, and Dave while the other guys followed. Whew, that's what you call logistics!
Dave and Nichol (along with son Justin) put on a fantastic spread, and we ate like Kings! It was really well done (not the steaks, they were perfectly done), and appreciated by everyone. Bravo! Thanks Team Jacobsen!!!
Once dinner was over, one of the guys was talking sunglasses with Dave, who just picked up SPY as a sales account, and that conversation immediately turned into an epic session of trying on different styles. Dave brought his sample boxes out, and everyone must have tried on 20 pairs. All the guys ordered a pair or two, and everyone went home happy.
On Wednesday morning, everyone was rolling by 8:30 for our first display stop, at the Circle K in Shoreview, where the entrance road into the station is being rebuilt by the city and is currently made of dirt and gravel. Travis has become a magician with the transporter though, and he got it in there perfectly, while Tim parked the motorhome over across the way in the Target parking lot. By 10:00 sharp, we had the car out, the rig in position, and everyone at attention. Great work by the guys.
The Circle K wrap had just gotten finished on Monday, so the car had no other decals on it and Tim thought it really needed them to make the display look right, so instead of standing around chatting or taking Krista and Jill to lunch, I got all of our decals out and started slapping them on. I finished just as the display was over, but I did get to take a break long enough to enjoy one of the free hamburgers the station was giving away to the fans who attended.
And speaking of fans who attended, the Shoreview display was one of the best I've ever been a part of. Considering how messed up the road next to the store was, the fans just kept coming and coming, and for three hours we never had less than a couple dozen people there, as wave after wave would pull in to see the car and meet Tim. Great stuff.
Once it got to be 1:00, it was time to load up again and make our way up to Elk River. Shoreview is a north side suburb of the Twin Cities, kind of right above both Minneapolis and St. Paul, and right on the outer loop I-694. Elk River, though, is a stand-alone town about 25 miles away, outside the loop on the northwest side of town. There was much great discussion about the best way for Travis and Tim to get the big vehicles there, and the challenge began with the fact the on-ramp to 694 right by the Circle K was closed, so they had to head east one exit to get turned around. There's construction on 694 too, and it gets pretty jammed up, but the alternate routes all had their own challenges, ranging from lots of stop lights to tight turns, so I jumped in my car and went on ahead on 694, as the lead scout for our platoon of vehicles.
As soon as I got to the construction zone, it did back up a little but I never came to a stop, so I called back and told them to take the highway. It was the most direct and the best route, and it ended up working like a charm for everyone. I was the first one to the Elk River store, but a few minutes later the full caravan (big rig, motorhome, Explorer, and a couple of cars full of Circle K people) came rolling up the big road right in front. This place was tight as well, but after the Shoreview stop Travis was up for anything and he had the rig parked right out front, so that the thousands of people who drive by every hour on Rt. 169 couldn't miss it.
Travis arrived first, and got the big rig parked in Woodbury
We had another great turnout, with a lot of interested people stopping in for photos and autographs, and then everything went back in the box once again, and off they went to Brainerd, straight up 169 past Mille Lacs and then over to the hotel there.
Erica Moon has been reading this blog since Day 1, and is a huge Wilk fan. She lives a bit northwest of Elk River, but she was there as soon as the display started, and we got a pic of her and Tim standing by her car, so that you can see her license plates. Check that out in the gallery!
Now, I need to get packed (hopefully with the boyz noticing) get the mail (hopefully with Barb's package in the mix) and get on the road. Brainerd, here I come!
I'm staying at Cragun's Resort again, right on Gull Lake, and Barbara is hoping to make it up there by Friday evening. She was in Vail for the first part of this week, at a conference (about business, not about high altitude, although it took its toll on her and others, as it always does there) and then she flew to Boston yesterday for more work. I hope she can get up there, but as tired as she is I also worry about her making the drive if she's too exhausted. Better to be prudent than remorseful (or something like that...)
Hey, remember my buddy Jeff Finger, who used to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Colorado Avalanche? He and his dad are planning to be at the race on Saturday and Sunday, so that will be great. I haven't seen Jeff for a couple of years, but we stay in touch via text messages all the time.
Shorty Shannon will not only be keeping us fed with his great food again, but he's also going to be racing at Brainerd! Way to go Shorty!!! He bought a Super Gas car, ready to go, and will be making his National Event debut in it this weekend.
Other than that, the big thing is to go some rounds with the beautiful Circle K car. That's the real mission here. We need to secure our playoff spot and just about the only way to do that is win rounds, baby. I think the Circle K car would look GORGEOUS in the Winner's Circle. Just sayin'... Winner's Circle - Circle K. It just sounds right.
Thanks to everyone who came out to the two displays, especially all the great folks who took the time to shake my hand and say high. Lots of blog readers in Minnesota! Now, I gotta go...
Today's headline refers to the uncharacteristic ending to our weekend in Seattle, when Wilk fouled at the tree in the semifinals. He took it hard, and not because he was feeling sorry for himself but because he felt so bad for his crew, for his fans, for LRS, and for all of us and all of you. He wasn't trying "extra hard" to cut a great light, he never does that. He's a very standard and predictable "leaver" at the line, pretty much always in the .080 to .100 range, and he relies on that consistency and a good tune-up to win rounds. I have never seen him try to do anything different at the line.
But, if you've ever driven a car down a drag strip you know what it's like to watch that tree and react to it. Heck, all I've ever done is race courtesy cars back in the CSK days, when we'd gather about 50 employees and team members and all have a big old hoedown racing each other. Even in that situation, your neck tenses up and you can tell you're gripping the wheel with white knuckles. Every now and then, your foot just thinks it's time to go.
And, of course, the law of the jungle states that if you do red-light, your opponent will surely smoke the tires just to make it all feel a little worse. Nobody felt worse than Tim, but it was time for us to turn the tables on him and give him the kind of support he always provides. Once it happened, it was ancient history. It's over. We move on. We've got a great race car, a great crew, and a great driver (the crew chief and team owner aren't bad either). It's ancient history.
As a guy who has spent his entire life in sports, I know the scenario all too well when you make a mistake that costs your team a game. It's far too easy to heap that all on your shoulders, but when I'd see any other teammate fall victim to that the first thing I'd say was "You know, we wouldn't have been in a position to win that game without you, and we wouldn't have won a lot of other games without you. We're a team. We do this together. It's not on you, it's on all of us." The same applies now.
If you were following along you know it was a funky weekend in Seattle (Auburn, Washington to be precise). Friday featured a 30 percent chance of rain and so, of course, the whole day was washed out. By my recollection, that puts us somewhere around eight rounds of racing that have been cancelled this year, and I might be forgetting a couple. What it has also done is create these one-day qualifying efforts, and frankly we've done pretty well at all of those. This time, we did "okay" on our first Saturday run but with 19 cars there we did leave ourselves a little vulnerable in the final session. We were 14th by the time we ran in what was either Q2 or Q4, depending on who you asked, but by then we actually were locked in the field because of Ron Capps' impossible, improbable, unlikely DNQ. This sure is a humbling sport, isn't it? The only good thing about Ron's DNQ was the fact we all got to enjoy his work in the ESPN booth with Dave and Mike. Capps is a GREAT commentator, with a fantastically smooth presence in the booth.
Anyway, on that last run we made a fine lap and moved up to the seventh spot. It was all good. We took out Jeff Arend and then Robert Hight, and by the time we did that I was really having serious thoughts about us winning the race. If we could just get by Bob Tasca... It's ancient history. Tim preaches about putting things like that behind us, and that's the absolute best way to do it.
My teammate and buddy Travis Wirth (aka "Hollywood" and the brunt of a couple of Ron Capps jokes during the telecast) acted as my eyes during the race, taking phone pics and shooting them off to me. At one point he made a comment along the lines of "Hey, this PR stuff is easy." Of course it is, but we're not supposed to tell people! We have to keep up the illusion that this stuff is REALLY hard.
On the way up to Seattle, from Sonoma, the guys stopped and did a display at Rottler Manufacturing, a great company that makes CNC engine building machinery. Tim wasn't with them (he was driving up the coast staring at Redwoods and Oregon beaches) but the guys sent me some great shots of the display, and I'm proud of how great they looked and how professional they were. What I didn't notice until today, though, was something that cracked me up in one of the photos. All of the employees came out to take a group shot with the car, and someone had obviously forgotten a water bottle on the asphalt, in the foreground. In the shot, it looks like the whole group is honoring the majesty of the magic water bottle, in reverent silence. All hail the water bottle!
We have this weekend off, of course, but then the following week is going to be pretty fun. The guys will be coming up early, arriving in the Twin Cities on Tuesday night. Neighbor Dave and I are trying to convince them to get here, in Woodbury, at a reasonable enough time to have a cookout over at his house. That will be kind of dependent upon what time they get out of Springfield... Here's hoping!
Then, on Wednesday we have to have the transporter and the race car at the first of our two appearances by 10:00 a.m. The first one is at the Circle K Exxon in Shoreview, on the north side of the Twin Cities (I-694 at Lexington, for those of you keeping score at home) and then when that's over it's time to load up and head to the Circle K Exxon out in Elk River, which is just outside the loop on the northwest side of town. That one goes from 3:00 to 5:00. Then, the guys will head on up Brainerd way. Yah? Oh yah! ("Fargo" references).
Tim's going to do a "media tour" on Thursday, in support of the Circle K deal. Josh Hachat, the newest member of the NHRA Media Relations Department, will take him over to Duluth to do some TV and newspaper interviews, so that should be good. Duluth! Right on the shores of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee. (Gordon Lightfoot reference).
So... Lots going on right now in the racing world, not the least of which is this incredibly tight dash to the finish line to make the Countdown. And we swore, after last year, that we'd eliminate the drama this time. Promises promises...
Here on the home front, I'm still enjoying being based out of Woodbury for the summer. The weather's been great and the boyz love the screened porch. It's hard to get them to come inside! It's flown by, though, and I'm already making reservations for the long ride back out to Washington, right after Indy. Hard to believe, and it's probably a good thing Buster and Boofus don't know about it.
The boys doing their display at Rottler. They clean up well.
Barbara has been traveling a ton, and is back in Spokane for the second straight week, but she's been getting back here on the weekends. Next week, she's hopscotching all over the country from coast to coast, but she hopes to get back here in time to drive up to Brainerd on Saturday. That would be great!
I've booked all of my travel for the rest of the year now, and at the last minute I did decide to go ahead and skip Charlotte. I was going to go to all of the races from Brainerd to the end of the season, but we'll be back in Liberty Lake after Indy and the cheapest ticket I could find was ridiculously expensive with A route of travel as complicated as a corn maze. (Midwestern rural Halloween reference). So, I'll skip that one but then get right back at it for Dallas, St. Louis, Reading, Las Vegas, and Pomona.
You might recall that I was all set to go to Barcelona last winter, with Barb, but my neck problems popped up and I couldn't go. I'd already bought a very expensive ticket for that vacation, but since it was a medical issue Delta allowed me to keep the whole thing as a credit, with no fees attached. With that much "e credit" in my account, I was able to book all of those last five races on Delta for nothing, and I still had $72 left! Woo Hoo. I even booked a few of the longer trips in First Class, so I have a front cabin seat guaranteed and I don't have to sweat out the upgrade. Livin' large and totally in charge, baby.
Let's see.... What else?
Well, Rush played in Kansas City the other night, and that marked the end of the incredibly successful "Clockwork Angels" tour. Sad face... At this point, they're going to all take a collective break for a bit and then maybe they'll think about touring again in 2015, when it will be their 40th anniversary. Any fan, though, does have to wonder just how long they'll keep doing this as they all turn 60! This tour was probably their finest ever, and it's amazing that they're playing better than they ever have, so here's hoping the boys keep cranking out the new stuff and thrilling their generations of fans. Living in the limelight, the universal dream...
I guess that will do it for today. I'm officially out of material! Have a great week, everyone. And a great weekend. And then let's all have a GREAT race in Brainerd!!! Yah? Oh yah, you betcha!
How'd you like Sonoma? Did you make a dash down across the Golden Gate Bridge to San Francisco and then discover that it's 30 degrees cooler there, so you had to buy one of those $30 sweatshirts that won't survive two cycles through the washer? Or did you make a day-trip to the north, through the most legendary wine region in the United States? What was that? I can barely hear you. What? Oh, you weren't there? Funny, I wasn't there either.
I contemplated recycling a few photos from last year, just to see if anyone would notice, but I nixed that idea in the interest of fair reporting. Like most of you, I "watched" the race on my computer and on TV this past weekend, but I was in touch constantly and with all the "live" tools at my disposal it almost felt like I was there. I've been to Sonoma Raceway enough to have no problem empathizing with the crew guys at the starting line during Q2, when the sun sets behind the hill out beyond the end of the track and the thermometer falls off a cliff. Quite literally, one minute you're standing there as comfortable as can be in your short-sleeve crew shirt and the next minute you realize you're getting chilly. And then you're freezing. I bet the sweatshirt sales in the Nitro Mall go through a spike just like the one the tourist souvenir stores down on Fisherman's Wharf see just about every night.
Interesting note, in terms of nervousness. I get more nervous watching our car run on ESPN3.com than I do listening to it run on the live NHRA.com audiocast. I think just seeing the car and my teammates is the little extra bit of connection that my brain needs to kick in the nerves. Perhaps there's something to the old cliche' "out of sight, out of mind" because listening to Alan on the audiocast is fantastic, but I don't seem to get nervous. On Friday night, though, as we pulled forward for our run in Q2, I was pacing.
And let's address that fabulous run, as well. As you may recall, we were lined up with Matt Hagan, just after the sun had set and the conditions were getting better by the second. I was, as mentioned above, nervous to begin with but it's compounded by the history of Q2 in Sonoma, when most of the really big important laps are made. It's one of the bigger "home run sessions" of any season. Here's a screen grab from the NHRA.com video, which I've only watched about 30 times.
Watching live on ESPN3, my mantra was "keep going, keep going" as the flames went up and stayed up over the roof. Sometimes, four seconds seems to take forever. Both cars were charging hard and I was almost peeking between my fingers, hoping it would stay that way. As the video feed cut to the camera beyond the finish line, it looked like the LRS car was slowing down as Matt's car pulled away. I had an instantaneous thought of "Oh man, we slowed down out there" and I was fearful of hearing "Wilkerson posts a 4.14, and he probably won't be happy with that..." but instead I heard the announcing crew all about explode as they reported Hagan's 3.986, which tied for the all-time quickest run in a Funny Car. Then the times popped up on the screen and Wilk's 4.026 was there next to it. Turns out, we had run great. Matt simply had a VERY great lap.
The 4.026 was a new career best for Wilk, and the speed of 314.09 mph was big for us (second fastest run at 1,000 feet for the Pride of Springfield). As the video illustrates clearly, our tuning approach is not one that usually provides a ton of top-end speed. The visual of Matt's car just powering away, as if it had another gear, was the perfect example of what six miles-per-hour can do for you in the last 100 feet. Matt's speed was 320.51 mph, and you could easily see the difference. What a spectacular lap by those guys. Amazing. Hats off and kudos to Dickie Venables, Matt, and their team.
And speaking of both ESPN3 and the word "amazing" it should be once again stated that the feed on that site is one of the greatest innovations our sport has seen in a long time, and it's made very special by Dave Rieff, Mike Dunn, Gary Gerould, Lewis Bloom, and Jamie Howe, who are all so relaxed and full of fun it's like having them in your living room. I know some of you can't even get access to it, so I hope over time they figure out a way to make it available to everyone. It's wonderful "TV" even though it's on the Web.
And then, of course, we lost in the first round and that was kinda lousy for all of us. The car just decided to get bratty on Sunday, and not do as it was told, and when that happens you have to be extraordinarily lucky to win. You know, like run a 4.90 but the other guy crosses the center line kind of lucky. We weren't that lucky. As a matter of fact, our bad luck really came in Q4 and I spotted the possibility of it a mile away. Johnny Gray went into that final session not in the show, and as soon as I saw that and looked at the conditions and the times already on the board, it occurred to me that if he made a nice solid run, he'd probably end up around 12th. We were 5th. 12th runs 5th in round one. What are the odds? Well, the odds were 1:1, because that's exactly what Johnny did and we ended up running one of the best cars in the class in the opening round, instead of a slower one. Don't you just love drag racing?
So now, I'm here in Minnesota and everyone else is out west, including Nick Casertano who, this year, stayed out there for the Sonoma - Seattle trip, instead of killing himself by flying home on a red-eye on Sunday night, and then turning around and flying all the way back across the country on Wednesday or Thursday. The guys had some fun, as almost all the teams do, on their way up the left coast, stopping at Lake Shasta for a day.
I kinda sorta stole this photo from Travis Wirth's Facebook page, but I choose to state, for the record, that I technically "liberated" it from his Facebook. I set it free. I returned it to the wild.
And I think this photo illustrates that our crew is all collectively on the good side of our nation's weight crisis, while they are also a collective set of walking billboards for the use of sunscreen. Just sayin'... And I'm also just sayin' that everyone is lucky I wasn't there. Not a good visual...
Tim and Krista have once again teamed up with their friends from Springfield, Tom and LuAnn, to make the drive up the coast, on the little roads that shoot in and out of the bays and inlets, and go through the Redwood forests. That drive, along the coast from just north of San Francisco up to Portland, is one of the prettiest and most awe inspiring you can ever make.
Me? Since everyone else was having fun on the road, and it was a gorgeous day here yesterday, I decided to get in the car and go for a drive. I went north out of Woodbury, up to White Bear Lake, then further north on the smallest roads by car's navigation system could find. Finally to Osceola, Wisconsin, then east for a while before plotting out another course to return south through some thrilling curvy roads, until I returned to Minnesota by crossing the the lift bridge into Stillwater (yes, you are correct when you say "Didn't you show that bridge in a recent blog installment?"). Fun little drive on roads I had never before traveled, and that's always a good thing.
Today, back to work. Wrote my Seattle preview feature story this morning and now I'm finishing up this blog. After I'm done I'll plow the south 40, split three cords of firewood, build a new outbuilding, pour some new asphalt for the driveway, and then go to the nearest lake to catch dinner. Everything I wrote up to the words "After I'm done..." was true.
Whattaya say we go win Seattle this weekend? That, as we say in very technical racing jargon, would be a good thing. We've got a little bit of a track record there, don't ya think? Like a 13-1 round record over the last four years. We won that race three seasons in a row, and as I was writing my preview story today the memories of last year came back, when that dreaded bad racing luck was all that might've kept us from winning it a fourth time. In round two, we had the second-best lap of the round. Ron Capps had the best lap. He was in the other lane...
I say let's just go win it. See you in the Winner's Circle! I'll be the one on the phone that Krista is holding up.
PS: Oh my gosh, I basically forgot one of the key reasons for writing this blog. We're just a day or so away from announcing a really cool special-edition car for the Brainerd race, and I think everyone will be pretty excited about it. I can't spill the beans (who spills beans?) but let's just say it's a tie-in with a huge international retailer. It all came together very quickly, and we're still in full-speed mode to make it all happen, but it's coming along and I think all the pieces will be in place. The plan right now even includes having the team, the car, and the transporter make two appearances right here in the Twin Cities, on the Wednesday before Brainerd. How cool is that? Very cool. Keep an eye on NHRA.com and our social media platforms. It's just a one-race deal, so if you like the program we've put together, it would be great if the company on the car heard your positive feedback. Ya think?