Posted by: Jack Beckman, Valvoline MaxLife Dodge

Strike up the band, notify Satan that the cold weather is approaching, and somebody bake some cupcakes, for God’s sake! I, the king of the cheap, finally bit the bullet, threw caution to the wind, and watched the bank account take a pretty hefty hit…but it was all worth it!

Yep, Captain Saves-a- Lot bought a new vehicle! Now, if you’re poo-pooing that, thinking that I’ve done this already, three years ago (with the Flex), allow me to clarify: THAT’S JENNA’S CAR…NOT MINE! Gee, I hope you caught that subtle message I sent your way. Yes, while my wife has been cruising in style, and leather (seats that is, not apparel), I likened myself more to poor Lamont Sanford (you’d probably have to at least be in your 40’s to get that reference), tooling around in either the beat-up old Nissan mini-truck or the slightly-less-beat-up PT Cruiser, with a combined total of 411,000 miles on them! You see, I’m a low-maintenance kind of guy…until now! In the interest of full disclosure, I did purchase my Yamaha brand new in 1985, for $2800, and I also bought a 23-foot motorhome to tow my Super Comp car, brand new in 2000, and its purchase price was almost exactly the same as the MSRP on my new Ram, though I took out a second on my house to pay for it!

I know I have mentioned much of this in a recent blog, but since I’m the one typing, I suppose I’m allowed to ramble somewhat:

In the market to “upgrade” (a lobotomy would have been an upgrade over the old truck), I’d casually looked at used trucks for the past year or so, figuring to budget about 25K. Once I started getting more serious, it became obvious that the quad cab units just didn’t have enough room for the kid seats in the back…not unless I wanted to have the steering wheel in my navel! So, I would have to go the crew cab route, and that really limited the choices. I was raised a Chevy guy, Jenna really liked the Fords, but Mopar is where my heart is, due to the racing. I always felt that the Dodge pickups historically were…err…um…can I just say, “ugly” and get past it? That being said, I think they hit a home run with the latest iteration, and I don’t think the other brands even come close in exterior appearance.

Having nailed down my manufacturer, the next step was figuring out where to find a nice, used unit. Mopar track representative Dale Aldo, who’s been encouraging me each step of the way, informed me of current rebates, plus my “employee discount” qualification, and that opened up quite a few doors, pardon the pun! Turns out that a brand new unit basically would be about 5-6 grand more than a used one (there were hardly any crew cabs available, and nothing around 25 grand unless it had very few options, OR 65,000 miles). So…I headed over to the Dodge dealer and sat in a truck…and nearly cried. With my short legs and long torso the bench seat just wasn’t comfortable, and I didn’t have the budget to upgrade to the leather buckets…big roadblock (another cool pun!).

Fortunately, with the help of the local (Browning) Dodge dealer, it turns out that I could get everything I wanted (okay, I didn’t upgrade the stereo or get the nav system, but I did get what I think is the perfect truck for me) in the Big Horn model, including bucket seats. I took delivery last week, and I really dig this thing. It’s SO much bigger than the PT that it barely, and I mean barely, fits in the garage, but I made it work. I’m going to hold on to the PT to tow behind the RV, take surfing (my board fits nice with the seats folded down), and generally abuse to keep excess miles off my truck. I already have my K&N air filter kit ready to install, and I’m looking for a quality lowering kit to drop it 2” in front and 4 in the back. Also, I may add some tasteful side “nerf” bars/rocker steps so everyone else can get in without a small step stool.

While Marla, Nate, Sterling and Chris look on, Jacob is all business in his cockpit. This guy loves to get dirty, loves to feel every inch of the mechanical stuff we have around the pits, and loves to chow down in DSR hospitality! My kinda man.

While his friend Derek attempts a headlock on our young soccer protégé, Jason uses his hand to acknowledge how many sizes too big his shirt is!

These fans obviously watched the ESPN special on my garage project (cleverly disguised as the “Houston race coverage”), and brought me the perfect finishing touch!

Norwalk was a decent weekend for us. We went three rounds, pulled back into the top 10, and spent time with a wonderful young man. Many of you will remember Jacob Delling, who twice has hung out with my team at the races, the last time being when we won the Traxxas Shootout last year in Indy. Jacob also has been interviewed on the ESPN2 show, and he’s a die-hard Mopar dude. In fact, Jacob is so “normal” in every sense that I tend to forget that he can’t see…at least not with his eyes. Blind since he was four due to retinal cancer, Jacob doesn’t bitch or complain (except when he’s hungry); he just hangs out and keeps us all on our toes.

I must give high praise to Phil Shuler, Khalid al Balooshi, and the entire Al-Anabi group for taking care of all Jacob’s travel and accommodations…they just love my buddy! Jacob rode with me to the track Sunday morning, and we just chatted about whatever we felt like. Like Phil says, it’s impossible to have a bad day when Jacob is around!

Unfortunately, no one told Rahn and Ron, and the NAPA group ended our day in the semis. Talk about a group of “buzz-kills”!

Jason really has wanted to try soccer this year, so Jenna signed him up. Being as that he’s not necessarily the most athletic kid around (I don’t think being good at Minecraft qualifies), and he’s also a bit on the lazy side (hmm…wonder where that came from?), we thought soccer might be too much for him. But, we want to throw every experience we can his way to help him find his passions, so we also took him to a week-long, 3-hour-a-day soccer “camp”, hosted by chaps from the UK (yet another clever pun!). I must say (that sounded very British, didn’t it?), I was completely impressed by every aspect of this kid’s program, from the coaches to the curriculum. I thought it was so beneficial that we’ll sign him up for yet another at the end of this month. Money well spent, great training and exercise, and Jason loved it.

As far as my garage project, really the only things left are paint and concrete for the driveway. I was going to hold off on painting until after we made a mess with the concrete, but getting Sully’s tractor over here (he’s so busy right now, with operators and heavy equipment in high demand on projects all around) has been more difficult than either one of us thought. We were planning to have the grading done in May, but it now realistically (considering how many weeks I’ve been on the road and will continue to be) looks like September. With that in mind, I didn’t want to leave the eave wood unpainted throughout the summer, fearing it could split and cause me much mental anguish and suffering. So…we had our trusty painters come out and spray it on…and I now have a garage that truly matches the house. When time permits I can now hang the shutters, and it’ll just look that much cooler.

I suppose I should mention that we just got back from three days in San Diego, which I believe is Spanish for, “a Whale’s something” (if you never saw Anchorman, this would make no sense to you). Layla turned three on Saturday, and Jenna wanted to book us two days in the Disneyland hotel, complete with two days at Disneyland. I politely said, “Hell, no”, so I had no choice when she came up with plan B: Three days in a campground, plus trips to Sea World AND the Wild Animal Safari Park. I really was hoping for another option, maybe one that included parking overnight at Newport Beach and having the family watch me surf for two days, but I dared not make a sound after crushing the Disneyland fantasy for everyone!

So, the four of us and Cindy packed up and headed south…

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My little guy and I…these moments are the greatest. The other great thing is, with this lighting, no one can tell how pale I really am!
Turns out we DID get to spend some time in the Pacific, as Saturday we packed everyone to the local beach, got wet (and sandy), and even borrowed a kid’s boogie board so I could tow Jason around and push him into some waves (not in an abusive way!). For a kid that swims like an injured dog when we’re at Grandma’s pool, Jason wasn’t too bad in the ocean. The waves were very small, I never let him more than 10 feet from me, and I held him nearly all the time…but he did well!

Layla, who wouldn’t even walk in the sand for the first few minutes, and was having NOTHING to do with that cold water, eventually got wet up to her waist and had a grand old time; splashing, running, kicking and laughing until it was time to go.

Saturday night we opened presents in the RV, and then opened each individual little pony, outfit, toy, etc. so our little princess could experience them all before bedtime.

Sunday it was off to see the Wild Animal Park, and we must’ve walked 3-4 miles up and down hills, pushing the stroller, carrying kids on the shoulders, and generally getting worn out. Still, a nice experience, and some good memories with the family. That night we made some S’mores on the fire, drank wine, and sung show tunes until three in the morning. Okay, we did one and a half of those!

Monday it was time for Sea World. Jenna scheduled this on a Monday so we could, A: save some admission money off the weekend price….check! , and B: avoid a hefty Sunday crowd…not so much!

Layla got to feed the sea lions, Jason and Jenna got to touch a dolphin, Cindy made the mistake of promising the kids souvenirs, and I got to pay $46 for lunch (I won’t even go into the 40 gallons of diesel fuel at 4-plus bucks a gallon. Oops, I guess I just did!). But, hey, I just chalk this up as “priceless” on the family-fun meter!

Once we got home, it was time to UNLOAD…EVERYTHING! Next week Jenna gets to repack for our Sonoma trip…and that ain’t easy. If I’m allowed to make a birthday suggestion next year, I may throw in, “a day at the local park” or, “a local matinee on dollar day”…you get the idea!

Anyway, it’s nearing midnight. I guess I didn’t mention that by the time we got finished, got in a work-out, got the lawn mowed, got Jason cleaned up and to bed, and ate dinner…it just kind of made the time fly.

I have to fly into Denver early to do media work for NHRA, so I’ll be heading out at 4:15am tomorrow to my most frequent destination: Ontario Airport! And, no, I won’t be taking the new Ram pickup…the PT can sit and get dirty in the parking lot…the truck stays in the garage!

Stay tuned…yes, it’s a HEMI!...yes, “them’s twenties”…and no, you can’t drive it!