Aliens…Tuesday, April 15, 2014

It's not my fault that I've been away from here for so long. I was on sabbatical. No, I was on hiatus. Actually, I was abducted by aliens! Little gray guys with big heads and gigantic eyes. Also long pointy fingers. They beamed me up to their spaceship and I have to say it was fairly cool, although I'm still not sure why all the instruments looked like they were lifted from a 1963 Impala. I mean, why would an intergalactic space ship need an AM radio?

I'm back now, after a whirlwind tour of the solar system, so it's time to get back to work… Good thing they got me back here, because I'm not even sure how you file an income tax extension from the rings of Saturn.

One place I definitely wasn't during the last week was Charlotte. No hospitality and a very long and expensive trip from Spokane to CLT made the decision easy, so I covered the race from home, in terms of the PR work. Point No. 1 about that: I get far more nervous at home, staring at the computer screen or listening to Alan and Joe on the audio-cast, than I do when I'm there. I think it's just the fact that at the track it all happens in a standard progression and after so many thousands of trips to the starting line the nerves only escalate with the additional rounds. At home, where I have no contact, I start getting nervous by the first qualifying run.

As you know, we had a good weekend at the 4-Wides. The car is really consistent right now, and the only reason we didn't put four "bracket car" qualifying laps together is because Tim knew there was no way to improve on our Friday 4.08 on a warmer Saturday afternoon, so for Q3 he took the opportunity to do something we just don't get a chance to do very often. He tested!  As he put it, it was time to "try some stuff" when the moment presented itself.

I knew we were in a good position pick up some points, but being in a "good position" and having a one-dollar bill will add up to having the chance to buy something off the "Dollar Menu" at McDonald's (plus applicable sales tax). We all know you still have to make it work on the track, and frankly the position you're in means nothing when it's time to fire the cars and make the run. Having to deal with three other good cars, instead of just one, only makes it more stressful.

Of course, I was just as stunned as anyone when our quad lined up for round one and it turned out to instead be a trio. The news that Cruz Pedregon's guys were making a pulley change and couldn't get the blower belt back on in time seemed impossible, but in retrospect I can see how tension makes things more difficult, and as the minutes ticked by and it was obvious they were in dire shape to make the run, the tension must have been almost paralyzing. Strange deal, and I feel badly for those guys. Tim was willing to stall, but with a tight window and two other teams involved in the round, all the teams were told to fire up. Just weird all the way around.

We ran great in the that round though, and ended up winning our way outright to the second round. Once we got there, we ran great again and advanced by coming in second, although we did that literally by inches. Even the stop-action replay made it look like a dead heat between Wilk and Del, but the timing system said the LRS car beat the DHL car by a thousandth of a second or so, with both cars running 308 mph. Del left 3-thousandths quicker, Tim ran 3-thousandths quicker, and it was "that close" at the stripe.

In the third round, which is of course the final round at the 4-Wides, the difference in strategy at this race came clearly into play. Tim absolutely hates making the mistake of trying to do too much in the final. I've been a part of too many final rounds to count where Tim (or Del, in the earlier years) would totally focus on making sure we raced the track and the lane, aiming to be certain that we gave ourselves a chance to win. I would go so far as to guess that a majority of the wins I've been a part of have come in final rounds where our car made a clean lap and the other guys messed up.

Well, at the 4-Wides that literally seems three times as unlikely to happen. You just can't expect three other great teams to all screw up at once, so you have to go for it. We'd run a 4.08 on Friday and Tim thought it was going to take that kind of run to win the final, but in that lane, on that day, with that tune-up, it didn't hold and we spun the tires. But, you just had to go for it. That was exactly the right strategy, but we weren't in the right place to make it happen.  Still a great day, though.

And now we're in a tie for eighth place with Courtney, after having gone into Charlotte in 12th, so that's what going some rounds will do for you. The trick now is to keep it going.

My best friend Rachel Wilkerson was there, but I didn't know that until she texted me on Friday. Turns out, Krista didn't tell her I wasn't going to be there because she was afraid Rachel wouldn't go. LOL.

It was thrilling and excruciating to watch eliminations on ESPN3, but it was also another example of how I'm a far more productive PR person when I'm not at the track. I probably tweeted and posted on Facebook more in three days than I normally am able to do at three races, when I'm there.

Here's some fun stuff.  Kari Meux (Gerald Meux newly minted wife) who used to be Kari Kieger, is a fantastic video artist, and she's done a few videos for us. She finally had some time to edit some new stuff, and it's all fun, but the most popular one so far is a 2.5-minute video of the first five minutes in the pit after a round. Right after it starts, it basically goes into 2x speed, but it's still amazing to watch our crew guys get after it servicing the car. Love these guys, and they've really become a tight unit.

You can see all the new videos here:


Last night, Barbara and I went for a 45-minute walk around Liberty Lake, and both hit 10,000 steps on our Fit Bits, so after that kind of exertion we felt we'd earned the right to have any kind of meal we wanted for dinner. We made the decision to go to Barlow's, where I was going to have the salmon, but my car mysteriously drove us straight to Palenque's instead, where we had margaritas and carne asada (plus a basket full of chips and a bowl of salsa, not to mention the rice and frijoles and that shredded-beef enchilada that magically appeared on my plate…)  Hmmmm.  Maybe the aliens made that happen. Not as healthy as what we were planning on, but it was good. Thanks aliens!

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My best friend, pinch-hitting for me with the body cleaning
The NHL playoffs are about to get underway, so there's that.

What that means is that grown men will stop shaving, fans will go to work wearing hockey sweaters (jerseys) and the NHRA hockey pool is now complete, since it only operates during the regular season.  Your 2013-2014 NHRA hockey pool winner is….  Greg Griffin from the Texas Motorplex.  Congrats buddy!

I passed Rob Flynn and moved into fourth place on the last day of the season, by picking up five more points than him. The final standings are in the photo gallery, and you can see that my early prediction that Mike Guger had last place sewn up (I made that call just weeks into the season last fall) was absolutely accurate. Congrats buddy!  LOL

As you know, we have this weekend off and then we go to Houston, where we went to the more conventional version of a final round last year, and Travis Wirth is still getting name-checked for "Best Performance By An Exhausted Crew Member on Cable TV" on all the awards shows.  I'm going to do my standard overnight stops in Woodbury both going and coming back, and as soon as I am back here from Houston we'll be turning right around to head back to Minnesota, except this time we'll be driving and Boofus and Buster will be coming along again.

Barbara will have to be commuting almost weekly, back and forth to Liberty Lake (she'll be here as much as she's there, I bet) but I'll be doing almost all of my work and travel from Minnesota instead of Washington, and the boyz will be there with me for another wonderful Minnesota summer. What's too bad is that Spokane summers might be even nicer than Woodbury summers, but it's good to get back there and frankly the long drive is actually kind of a fun adventure, if by "fun adventure" you mean flying cat hair and peanut butter sandwiches at 75 mph.  Actually, I'm looking forward to the drive. It's a beautiful part of the country we get to travel through, and with all the curves and mountain passes it's a very "attentive" drive, as opposed to long monotonous slogs through the plains. We'll retrace our steps from last year's trip by leaving late in the afternoon and just making the jaunt over to Missoula, and then the next day it's the long trip all the way to Bismarck, before making the half-day drive to the Twin Cities on Day 3.

Right now I have this strange compulsion to sculpt a pile of mashed potatoes into something that looks like Devil's Tower…  The aliens must be around again…

Wilber, out!


Spin the wheel…Friday, April 04, 2014

I wrote in my last blog about how I try not to use cliché "Vegas bomb" references in my PR work before, during, or after our twice-annual trips to Sin City, but it hit me this morning that "risk" is certainly part of this sport, as are "gambles" and "playing the odds".  Every time you run your car, you're calculating just how fast and quick you can go, and gambling on your tune-up to make that happen. As we all know, the odds of you getting it right are not always in your favor.

With all that said, I'm still going to try to steer clear of headlines that incorporate those Vegas bombs, but the connection is real and I might as well accept that. When the staging bulbs are lit, you're basically about to spin the big bonus wheel. Where it lands and whether or not you're a big winner, are subject to the odds.

Good news:  The LRS Mustang ran better and better as the weekend progressed. There's a certain look in Tim's eye when I can tell he's getting a solid handle on it, and I'm seeing that look more and more. It was a tough and tight field, so the fact we qualified in the 11th spot was not necessarily a negative thing. Lane choice really didn't look that critical going into the first round, and we ended up running not only our best run of the weekend in the opener, but one of the better runs of the day, so that's all good.

Bad news: We lost. Wilk is one of the most consistent "leavers" in the class, and you can just about bank on his standard .080 light during any given round. He never tries to chop down the Tree (drag racing cliché, but a good one) and he's rarely dead late. This time, he was exactly one frame of video too early. I know this because we watched the video I had shot, frame by frame, and it took about six frames from when you see the amber lights come on and stay on, while the car sits perfectly still. In the very last frame, you can see the car twist and torque like it does at the hit of the throttle, but instead of a green light you see the red one. Wilk saw it himself as he went by the tree, and all he said to me was "I couldn't believe it. I sure saw an awful lot of yellow, and I didn't think I was early, but I guess I was."

He's not the kind of guy who beats himself up over anything, so mostly he was just sorry for the guys, and that's just one of a many qualities he possesses that I admire so much. As we say, we're not curing diseases here, we're just racing cars. It happens, and it's over. You don't get too high on the wins and you can't get too low on the losses. You just do your best.

There are a million things the crew guys have to get right in order for the car to make a great lap and win a round, and all of that makes this one of the best "team sports" around. A running back might be able to juke and weave his way to the end zone even if his teammates miss their blocks, but everyone is involved in the ultimate success or failure in drag racing. We truly win or lose as a team, and the way Wilk treats his guys makes it automatic that all they felt was sorry for him, while he was feeling sorry for them. Believe me, there are teams out there where it's not like that. I'm lucky to be with this group.

We take away from Vegas the positive things. We ran better. We kicked butt in round one. We know how good we can be, and everyone on the team is pulling in the same direction. Good things are going to happen.

Vegas rambles…

Seeing the Hujabre family was a real highlight. It was the first time Krista Wilkerson had met Buck's wife Mary, and now she understands all the wonderful things I've told her about Mary. And the boys are getting so big it's stunning. Good things are happening in Buck's world, in terms of auditions and inquiries, and I would not be surprised at all to see him land something very high-profile in the near future. Not that being part of "Jersey Boys" is anything short of high-profile, but TV and movies are out there and he's going to land something in that realm. When he does, you can all feel a bit like you know him because you know me.

We had our old-school single pit area in Vegas, so I did my PR work in the Media Center, which is on the second floor of the tower behind the starting line. It's actually great to spend time there with Elon Werner, Kelly Wade, Leah Vaughn, Todd Myers, Rob Goodman, and all of my other PR colleagues, as well as media folks like Louie Brewster, Susan Wade, Bobby Bennett, and all the rest. It's a great group of very talented people, and I appreciate them all a lot more every time I work side-by-side with them.

During one of our warm-ups, we attached one of Nick Shaff's ActionCams to Travis Wirth's gas mask, and shot a complete video of the entire warm-up. We're working on getting it uploaded to our TimWilkerson.com site, although it's not up yet. It's not perfect, but it's a good starting point for doing neat things like this and we'll get better at it as we go. I'll post on Facebook and Twitter when it's up on the site.  The ActionCam NX is really cool, and I already bought one from Nick so we'll have lots of new content in the future.

Okay, now the really important stuff.  I did "okay" on the slots at The Cannery. I checked out on Sunday morning and when I did I think I was up about $400 or so, and I did that by playing with a very conservative approach. I always play $1 slots, and usually I don't cash out unless I'm up double what I put in, but this time I decided that I'd put in a Ben Franklin and even if I got to a pot of $125 I'd cash out and move to another machine. I did hit one $250 winner on a Wheel of Fortune machine but most of my profits came in small doses.

So, Sunday night I was down on The Strip at The Quad, the hotel/casino formerly known as the Imperial Palace, and I wasn't even sure I was going to play at all but I got bored in a hurry so down to the casino I went. I messed around on a few Wheel of Fortune machines and was burning up my winnings in a hurry, when I spotted a different machine across the aisle. I'd never seen it before, and it kind of looked fun, so I dropped another Ben Franklin in it and discovered it really was fun. The best way for a slot machine to treat you is for it to let you win enough small pots to keep going, and this particular machine did just that. As long as credits roll in regularly, even if they're not much more than getting back what you spent on that spin, you at least are having enough luck to want to keep going.

Finally, it landed on some bonus thing I didn't even understand (I still have no clue what happened to trigger the bonus) and in effect it gave me 14 free spins automatically. The thing just kept going and going, and there were some solid winners in there. It ended well.  Basically, I came home with twice what I took, so in terms of Vegas and slots, that's a good thing. I still wonder what triggered that machine to be so kind, but I took the money and ran.

On the way home on Monday, I flew from LAS over to LAX and then had a three-hour layover there, all of which was spent in the Sky Club. Taking off on the nonstop flight from LAX to GEG, on the standard westbound departure out over the beach and the Pacific Ocean, it struck me how odd it was to see that familiar scene without ever having technically been in L.A.  I fly out of LAX regularly, but I've always been there for a while. Weird to see that after having only been in the airport.

And now we have a weekend off. I think I'll stretch the culinary skills out some more and try something new, although I'm not sure what. Last night was broiled chicken over wild rice, with grilled asparagus. It might be time to blacken some salmon this weekend, although I could also be persuaded by my lovely wife to simply take her somewhere so that a real chef prepares it for us. I'm just a cook.

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Just hangin' with the Hujabres
And you know what happens next week, right?

Yep, it's 4-Wide time at the Bellagio of drag strips. We're going old-school there, as well, with no hospitality, so I'm actually going to skip the travel and do that one remote control. What that means is that those of you who follow me on Facebook and Twitter will be experiencing about 10 times as much interaction, since I'll be behind my own desk and not running back and forth to the starting line, staging lanes, Media Center, and pit area.

When we started this, a couple of years ago, the entire concept of not being at the race track was really odd to me and more than a bit disconcerting. Considering I'd been going to every race for about 16 years, it just felt really strange and I definitely missed the interaction with my teammates and colleagues. Over time, I've learned that I'm a far more productive PR person when I'm actually not at the track, because I don't have all of those other things to do and distances to walk, but I still miss the people.

Plus, when I'm working from home Alan Reinhart makes sure he always "talks to me" over the P.A. system, because he knows I'm listening to the audio cast. 

Talk to you next week. Here's hoping the crew guys have to send me selfie pics from the Winner's Circle. I'd be all for that.

Wilber, out!


What are the odds?Tuesday, March 25, 2014

I broke one of my own PR rules yesterday. Okay, maybe I just bent it gently, but I definitely crossed a line I had, personally, drawn in the press release sand a few years back. I used a Las Vegas reference in my headline when I wrote that Wilk aimed to "cash in" on some of the progress we've been making at the last two races. I didn't want to do it, but I did it anyway. It's possible I felt, subconsciously, that my efforts to treat the Vegas race as "just another stop on the tour" for the last few years gave me the freedom to drop a quick "Vegas bomb" into the headline. Plus, after 18-some years of doing this, at some point you feel like you're running out of all new words to use. There are only so many in the English language, I guess.

Anyway, this blog installment will likely be brief, and that's something that's totally uncommon around here. I just felt the compulsion to get something written, but nothing has really happened since we completed Gainesville, and I don't leave for Vegas until Thursday. So, we'll just ramble a bit in a look back at Vegas races in the past, while we look forward to this weekend.

Things to look forward to…

It's supposed to be dry with highs in the upper 70s or low 80s all weekend. And, since it's in a desert and not in a place where weird storms pop up out of nowhere, Vegas is one of those places where you can almost believe the forecast. If it's going to rain in Vegas, the weather people can generally spot it coming from a long way away, and even then it often dries up and doesn't rain.

My actor friend Buck Hujabre is planning on being there Friday, and the latest I heard the plan was for his wife Mary and their two boys, Gibson and Hudson, to be there as well. I'm enormously looking forward to seeing all of them, and I can't wait to see how big the boys have gotten. I'm assuming Buck and Mary are still the same height, but I guess you never know.

After many years of staying down on the south end of The Strip, this season we've "moved north" to a different hotel only about 10 minutes from the track. Mandalay Bay was an outstandingly nice place, and our partnership with them was very generous and a real honor to be a part of, but I will admit that the drive from down by the Las Vegas airport up to the track each day could get pretty tiresome, especially if there were traffic backups. Generally, it's the drive back to the hotel at the end of each day that seemed worse. When you pull out of the track, you can see The Stratosphere and downtown Vegas clearly in the distance, but it's a mirage in terms of how close you actually are. It could sometimes take as long as an hour just to get to the giant Stratosphere, and then it could often be another 45 minutes just to get to the hotel from there.

Plus, those giant casino/resorts on The Strip aren't quite like regular hotels. You have to park in a giant garage and then hike through the entire gigantic casino just to get to the huge banks of elevators that take you up to your sprawling floor. You can have a lot of fun and eat some amazing food while staying in a luxurious room, but I'm fine with being at The Cannery this year, right up by the track. Plus, way back in the prehistoric CSK days we stayed there for preseason testing one year and in five minutes, on two slot machines that sat right next to each other, I won enough money to buy Barbara the nice big diamond I couldn't afford when we got married. So there's that…

We really are making progress with the LRS Ford, and it's really just a matter of time before Wilk starts rattling off round wins in succession. This weekend? Why not? We'll just play the cards we're dealt, ante up, go all in, rake in the chips, and win the jackpot. The odds are in our favor, and we aim to cash in. There, I've done it. That's enough "Vegas bombs" to last another couple of years. Hey, there's a knock on my door and I think it's the Cliche' Police…

Travis Wirth and I have a plan to put together some fun videos during warm-ups this weekend. If we succeed, you can count on them being uploaded to our TimWilkerson.com website. Stand by for that.

We don't have hospitality this weekend, so technically I actually don't even have to go to this race, but all of the things listed above are included in the reasons why I am indeed going and I'm really looking forward to it. I feel the need to hold a new Wally up high, so maybe we can make that happen, too.

With no hospitality, that means there will also be no hospitality area in our pit, so I'm going to have to spend a lot more time up in the Media Center doing my PR work. It's just too crowded up in the transporter lounge, and frankly my quick wit and hilarious jokes are a distraction to the crew chief. Or maybe it's the other way around. Seriously, though, three people are about 1.5 people too many up in the lounge, so I'll carve out a spot in the Media Center.

Things to fondly look back upon…

In 2004, Phil Burkart was driving the CSK blue car, and he ran the table (Vegas bomb!). He beat Wilk in round one, then went on to beat Gary Scelzi, John Force, and in the final round he beat Whit Bazemore to get the Wally. Boy did we have a fun dinner at the Monte Carlo that night. I recall a fairly decent (classic) prank being hatched that night, and it included dinner leftovers being secretly stashed in the travel bag of one crew member who was flying out that night on a "red eye" flight. Boys will be boys…

Do you remember when the song "Ladies and Gentlemen" by the band Saliva was the theme music for the nitro classes? One year, during preseason testing in Vegas, the band came out to the track and did a couple of music videos for that song, and one of those videos was shot in our CSK pit area. That was pretty cool. It was also wild to see those guys just milling around looking bored as each shot was set up, and then as soon as the music started they went into totally over-the-top "rock star mode" as they played along to the song.

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Looking forward to seeing these two Wilk fans this weekend, along with Mary and Hudson
The regular "free air shows" we get almost every time we race there are usually awesome. If you've ever been to the Vegas race, you know what I mean. Fighter jets with afterburners cranking, big tanker planes, and big bombers as well.

Having our friend Gerald Meux and his then girlfriend Kari (they're married now) not only come out and spend the Vegas weekends with us, but also pamper us ridiculously with incredible food all weekend. Gerald is a certified "rising star" at Hormel, though, and because of his enormous dedication and smarts he keeps getting promoted. His latest upward move was from Vegas to Southern California right at the beginning of this year, but the timing was off to see him in Pomona, and now Kari has joined him there so they can't come to Vegas. Here's hoping we see those two crazy cats this fall, at the final race of the year. Great people!

Any of a long list of Fan Fest gatherings, whether they were on Fremont Street or down at the New York - New York casino. The Vegas fans are simply amazing, and those Fan Fest deals are all the evidence you need to confirm that. We'd show up 30 minutes before the start each year, and every time I'd wonder if the same huge crowd was going to show up or not. Every time, they did. They'd be lined up waiting for us.

Unfortunately, Wilk doesn't get into town in time to do the Fan Fest this year. Maybe next time…

So that's about it. I'm heading down on Thursday, doing my now common connection in Salt Lake City. On the way back next Monday, though, I'm taking advantage of a new nonstop Delta flight from LAX to GEG here in Spokane. I'll make the quick flight from LAS to LAX, and then fly straight on up here without ever having to see Concourses B, C, or D in Salt Lake. We'll see how this works…

Wish us luck (sort of a Vegas bomb, but also usable in other contexts) and root for us, Wilk fans. Let's parlay this race into a big jackpot. (Ouch, that was awful).

Wilber, out!

A Gainesville whirlwind…Monday, March 17, 2014

Whew. It's Monday afternoon and I'm back in Woodbury for one night. Last week, just as spring was making its annual return to Liberty Lake and the greater Spokane metropolitan area (why is there no lesser Spokane metropolitan area?) I took off and left the newly minted nice weather behind to make a one-night stop here, and it was still very much winter in Minnesota. Then on Thursday I flew down to Jacksonville (JAX) and drove down to Gainesville, were in comparison it felt very much like summer. Three days at the track, each with bright sun and warm afternoon temps, and then back up to Jacksonville on Sunday night before getting up this morning to catch my flight back up here. And here I am. Tomorrow, back to Liberty Lake.

It was a good weekend for us, although we always want it to be great. We did get another round win, and that makes us 2-3 on the season with both wins coming over Chad Head. We spun the tires in the same spot that was plaguing a lot of teams, against Courtney Force in round two, and that was that. Instead of going to the semifinals, I got to work back in the pit, first by doing my PR stuff and writing my post-event story, and then by pitching in to tear the circus down. We could use a couple of elephants…

I think I'll just ramble, because that's the way I roll…

One of the best parts of the weekend can be summed up in two words: John Fink. Finkster hung up his racing gear a few years back and this was his first visit to see us in a long time, but the second I saw him in the lobby of the hotel it felt like just another race and like we'd just seen each other two weeks before.

He could only stay for Friday, and had to drive back to his home in Fort Myers that night, but we made it like old times by having him ride from our hotel to the track with me, and then I drove him back there after our second session so he could hit the road and get back home. I can't possibly overstate how fantastic it was to see him. Some handshakes and hugs are perfunctory, or simply habit. This was different. I think it's fair to say that John is one of the best and most valued friends I ever made in this sport, so it was just really terrific to have him with us for a day. And he remembered our lucky fist bump during the burnout with no prompting.

Mike Cunningham, who is Chris Cunningham's dad and who is roundly referred to as Mother Mike by just about everyone, has also been retired as of late, but he made the drive up from Fort Lauderdale. He also made it clear that he noticed something I forgot to do, and it really made me cringe because Mike is a valued friend as well. Remember all the names of former CSK and LRS teammates I listed in a previous blog? I absolutely knew I couldn't list everyone, and I also knew I'd forget someone (or many someones). I even sent a couple of extra emails to Phil Burgess after that blog was posted, as other names popped into my head, but the nagging thought of knowing I was leaving some guys out was still there. You can tell where this is going, right? Yep, Mother Mike approached me and the first thing he said was "I can tell where I rate in your book…" Crud.

So I promised him I'd bring him up in this one. And I just did. Mike Cunningham. There, I did it again. Mike Cunningham, Mike Cunningham, Mike Cunningham.

On the same front, and as proof that I never learn a lesson, Gainesville also featured an endless stream of blog reader visitors, and I'm just as sure that I'll leave someone out, but Lisa, Denis, Keith, Gary, Sue, Vinny (plus his dad and grandfather), and the Kuehn family were all there, as well as many others. It was all kind of a blur because I seemed to be running around nonstop all weekend, and I mean that literally because we were parked a long way from the starting line and I averaged about 16,000 steps a day on my FitBit. So, it was great to see everyone who stopped by. Especially Mike Cunningham!

The Vinny I mentioned is a guy I've known since he was a little kid. He's from Tampa, and we met back when Del Worsham won Gainesville for the first time, in 2004. As our guys were towing the car back up the return road to get to the Winner's Circle, they saw "little Vinny" standing at the fence, wearing one of our humorous t-shirts that featured the tag line "Seeing Del Worsham Beat John Force in the Final Round: Priceless!" We had just beaten John in the final round, and Vinny was cheering for us, so a couple of our guys reached over the fence and lifted him over to be in the Winner's Circle with us. That's how small he was. He's not that small anymore… How come everyone is getting so much older? Am I? Time flies...

Remember a while back when I wrote about the difficult search for some embroidered duffel bags? Sue Nethers was one of many people who contacted me with advice or offers of assistance, and she found a fantastic rolling duffel that was just perfect for us. It's made for fire fighters, and can hold all the big bulky stuff like their helmets and boots, so it's a great size and it's really durable. She also embroidered our logo on the front panels, and I got my bag when I got to the track. They really look fantastic, and I think our guys will look just a touch more professional when they travel now.

Had a good long talk in the staging lanes with Jack Beckman, catching up on a lot of stories and thoughts. That was good.

On Saturday, we had over 100 guests in our hospitality area, and they were a fantastic bunch. Many were LRS guests, but there was a sizable group invited by the people at Diversified Yacht Services, and on top of that we had our first Dick Levi appearance of the year. It's always great to see Dick, and it's even better to see him enjoying himself so much.

We also had Annette at the race, for her first appearance on the year, so that was another example of things immediately feeling exactly back to normal the second I saw her. It's just not the same without Annette in the house, but she's made the commitment to cut way back on her travel and spend more time with her mom, Betty, so I can't fault her for that. Plus, Shelley from LRS came down as well, so we triple-teamed all of our guests on Saturday, and everyone had a good time. Much fun was had.

I had three other guests on Saturday as well, and I didn't know they were coming until Friday. Barb's sister Kitty, her son Todd, and Todd's girlfriend Angelique made the trip up from Orlando, and it was great to have them there with us. It's always great to have family at the race track!

Here's some t-shirt news… The new 2014 souvenir shirt is selling like proverbial hotcakes! We're selling a bunch through our "Store" page on TimWilkerson.com, and in Gainesville we made the official move to have our merchandise in the Pirana Z trailer, thanks to Mark Whisnant who operates that trailer. I know we sold more than a few in G'ville because Tim was signing them all weekend.

With the timing of the Gatornationals always constantly happening in mid-March, we always seem to get there right when pollen season kicks off, and this year was no different. Wow. By Sunday, my black rental car was more a shade of greenish yellow. Any of you with allergies know what many of us were going through…

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This made me smile
My buddy Nelson "Nelly" Jones, of ESPN camera fame, was not only on my flight from JAX to MSP today, we actually sat next to each other. Now that ESPN doesn't have the camera guys down there with us on the track, we don't get to see each other as much, so it was great to spend some time with him today, catching up.

Nelly's former starting-line sidekick, Dana Sherman, had to pinch-hit as the roving pit camera guy one day in Gainesville, when our other buddy Matt Ilas was under the weather. I saw Dana more in one day than I have in the last year… Good guys, all of them!

Leah Vaughn, who does PR with a focus on social media for the DSR teams, is one of my valued friends in this gig, and I met her way back when she was still in school and just looking for a way to get into this sport. We talked back then, and I gave her a few pointers, and now she's a superstar in the PR realm. I'm really proud of her, and it's just neat that someone I met when she was so young is now a fixture in the PR realm here.

Back then, I met her dad Brad at the St. Louis race and I got to see Brad in Gainesville as well. I also saw Mike Cunningham! Did I mention Mike Cunningham? If not, Mike Cunningham.

Although I'm a little tired and road weary, it's about to be dinner time here in Woodbury, so that's next on my agenda, as soon as I hit the "Send" button on this blog.

Back to Liberty Lake tomorrow. I'll get back here soon, but in the meantime remember these two words: Mike Cunningham!!!

Wilber, out!

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