Quick, who are The Dovells? Do you know? Are you shouting the answer at your screen already?
I originally wrote "Who were The Dovells?" in the past tense, but then I did 30-seconds worth of research and it appears a couple of members are still actively performing, despite the fact they formed The Dovells in the late 1950s.
As for the answer, The Dovells were a singing group, and I mean that in the classic late 50s and early 60s doo-wop sort of way, because they were simply singers. They were from Philadelphia and scuffled around making a few records until they recorded "The Bristol Stomp" and it took off, selling more than one million copies. One of those copies was in the Wilber house on Woodleaf Court in Kirkwood, Mo. We had the 45, of course, and we played the grooves right out of it on our "record player" (quizzical looks now being generated by anyone under 30).
The Dovells weren't precisely certified as "one-hit wonders" because they had another hit with "You Can't Sit Down" but "The Bristol Stomp" left a lasting impression on anyone who was around then to hear it, thanks to some creative vocals, tight street-corner harmonies, and a great hook. "The kids in Bristol are sharp as a pistol, when they do the Bristol Stomp…" I can hear it now.
When Bruton Smith first opened the completely rebuilt Bristol Dragway, one of the first pre-race feature stories I wrote had "The Bristol Stomp" right up front as a reference, so I can no longer ever do that, just like I do my best to avoid gambling references in my Las Vegas stories. But, after putting out my Bristol preview yesterday I quickly got an email from my brother-in-law, Jim Doyle, who asked if I remembered the song, despite the fact it was not mentioned in the story. I'm sure simply seeing the word "Bristol" brought it to mind for him.
I wrote back and told him that I not only remember the song, I also actually owned the record, and I think I impressed him with my "maturity." In other words, we're old.
So, moving along from The Dovells and into 2014, let's look ahead to Bristol in a detached sort of way. I say detached because, like last year and the year before it, I'm not going to actually technically be there. No hospitality, no Bob. I feel a little guilty, because the tour is assaulting this four-in-a-row series of races after just having completed a three-in-a-row, and yet I'm only going to one of the four (Joliet). No Epping and no Norwalk for me, either. I'll be a PR guy behind a desk many miles away, but like always I'll be in direct contact and dialed in via apps, websites, and the audio-cast.
I miss the people most of all, when I don't go to the races, and that will be the case again this weekend. When you have an owner, a crew chief, and a driver with Tim Wilkerson's sense of humor, it makes the experience all the better. When you have a crew like ours, with so many varied personalities, it makes it all the better. When you work with people like my PR colleagues and the NHRA staff, not to mention the ESPN folks and the P.A. announcers (Hi Alan!) it makes it all the better. I'm very fortunate to know and work with so many smart and talented people…
Bristol is a little different, though, because it's a track I really miss when I don't go, and now I'm working on three straight years of being absent. I love the area, I love the people, and I totally love the track. The staff is amazing (well duh, they work for Bruton Smith) and the venue itself is just so cool you can't help but look around and admire it even though you've been there for years on end. I will officially miss all of the above, but I'll be diligent in my PR work and tied to my desk for all three days.
So, I'll be there mentally but I won't be there in person. Somehow, Elon Werner is going to have to survive without me… And yes, there are some vividly great memories for me, personally, in Bristol, as many of you know. After signing my first contract with the Detroit Tigers, in 1978 (for $500 per month with a $500 signing bonus!) I was assigned to the Bristol Tigers in the Appalachian League. You'd probably expect me to remember that somewhat vividly.
Looking back over the years at Bristol Dragway, I dug back through my old photos from seasons gone by and did some research on how we've done there, when I was writing my preview story, and it all brought back some other good memories.
For instance, in 2011 we had our deal in place with Summit Racing Equipment, to have Dan Wilkerson run a few races for them, and the first big Summit race as part of that program was Norwalk, but Tim and Dan both thought it would be best for his team to have a shake-down race in Bristol, just to make sure everything was in top form the next week up in northern Ohio. It was a cool looking car, that's for sure, and it photographed extremely well, as you'll see in the gallery. You'll also see, in the gallery, what is perhaps the greatest photo of Dan Wilkerson and Elon Werner ever taken in the history of photography. Just sayin'…
The year before, in 2010, we beat Melanie Troxel in round one, Ashley Force Hood in round two, and Del Worsham in the semifinals to make it all the way to the final, where we faced John Force. Just after the hit of the throttle, the LRS car went silent and the parachutes came out, so we all figured we somehow had banged the blower. Afterward, we found out that the automatic safety switch had malfunctioned, and it shut the car off and tossed out the 'chutes for no good reason. That was a little frustrating, but we went on to Norwalk the next weekend and we won there. I guess the Bristol win was just not to be, but the runner-up finish launched us on a pretty solid run for the rest of the year.
As I wrote in my preview story, getting to the final this weekend would be great and if you could guarantee us that the runner-up deal would be followed by a win at the next event, that would also be great, but by now all of us just want to win. The albatross around our necks has joined the big hairy monkey on our backs, and after 64 straight races without a visit to the Winner's Circle, we're over it. Right now, we're all like Al Davis. It's "Just win, baby" for us.
Other odds and/or ends…
The current issue of National Dragster has my third column of the year in it, on page 28. This "Behind The Ropes" edition is a little more on the light side than the first two this year, which were kind of wonky "Sports Marketing 101" technical monologues about perceived value, ticket pricing, and ticket sales. It's entitled "Livin' The Dream" because that's a term so many of us throw out automatically when we're at the track and someone says "How are ya?"
If you haven't seen it yet, the column starts out by focusing on the crew, and on people who think they have what it takes to be on a crew. Most don't, and those that do still have challenges awaiting them on a daily basis. In the piece I recall the world record for shortest tenure by a new crew person, when the Worshams brought in a new guy during pre-season testing in Phoenix, and at noon he said he was going to get a burger. He never came back. There are probably some shorter stints than that, but it's the one I was present for so I'll never forget it.
It's been very rewarding to write this column, because it took me out of my comfort zone and made my stretch my writing skills in a new direction. I write this blog in a very relaxed "stream of consciousness" way, just writing whatever pops into my head, and I write my PR stuff in a very formulaic way as well, with a reporter's mindset to get the facts out in a "Who-What-Where-When" sort of style while still trying to create it in an enjoyable fashion. The column, though, is another animal altogether and I found myself really slaving over every detail from the first paragraph of the first one, last year. It needs to be entertaining, but it also needs to be professional and informative, so the last thing I want is for it to sound like I dashed it off in 15 minutes. Generally, I spend close to a week writing and editing each one.
Bristol Dragway. Easily one of the coolest dragstrips in the world.
Like the muscles in your body, you have to stretch out and go through some pain with your "writing muscles" to build them up and take them to a different level. I'd say this "Behind The Ropes" experience has been one of the more memorable of my career, although there's a lot to be said for having crunched out about three million words for this blog over the course of nearly nine years. The blog changed my career (and therefore my life) because it totally redefined how I do my job, how I communicate, and how much I have to stay disciplined and motivated, so I'd think it's fair to say that without the blog there might not have been a "Behind The Ropes". And I have no idea what the next one will be about. Probably time to get thinking about that…
On a totally different subject, late last week I saw the local forecast for Sunday and every expert was calling for it to be one of the nicest days of the year, so when I saw that and noticed the Twins were playing the Astros in an afternoon game, I got online at once and found two seats right down by the railing, just behind first base. The day was exactly as advertised, and it was great to be at Target Field in the sun, but the Astros didn't comply by letting the Twins do much of anything. The blowout score was secondary to the experience, though…
Our seats were so good. How good? SO good, and all I did was buy the best available tickets on the Twins website. Early in the game an Astros runner dove back into first to avoid being picked off, and we could clearly hear the scrape of his jersey on the dirt. We were THAT close… At that point, I turned to Barb and tried to articulate how great it was to be down there, almost in the action. When you sit up higher in the grandstand, even if you're in the lower level, the game seems different than the one I played for so many years. It all just seems bigger, in every way.
When we sat down just off the field, I could look out there and see that it really is still the same game. It's the same 90 feet between bases and the same 60 feet and six inches from the mound to the plate. The players are amazing, but I played at a high enough level to know what most of those double-plays and diving catches are like. It warmed my heart to be down there and realize that even at the highest level, it's still the same game and these guys play it with the same love and intensity I'm familiar with. When you sit that close, you can see it in their eyes. I remember the look.
Later in the game, a towering foul ball seemed to be coming straight to us, but even at my advanced age I pretty much immediately knew that it would spin back and land a few feet in front of us. Everyone around us was jumping up to catch it, and Barb was a little nervous, but I said "Don't worry, it's going to be short" and sure enough the Astros first baseman caught it right in front of us. Towering foul balls like that have a ton of spin on them, because the hitter just barely got wood on the ball, so they go up and come down in a sort of elliptical path, like the top half of a figure eight. That's why catchers immediately go out and turn around to face the backstop when one goes straight up, because it will be curving toward the mound as it comes down. Okay, that's enough baseball… Strike three, you're out.
One other different subject… I've written about and shown photos here before, of our friends Gerald and Kari, who have come to a bunch of races and fed us like royalty at most of them. They got engaged last year, and then got married a few months ago, but they kept the whole thing very low-key and with Kari being a Minnesota native, from White Bear Lake, her family wanted to have a party for them as soon as they could both fly back here. That was this past weekend, and we were invited! We met a ton of great people and really enjoyed sharing the evening with two truly fantastic friends. Congrats you two crazy kids!!!
I guess that's about it… Remember, the kids in Bristol are sharp as a pistol, when they do the Bristol Stomp!
Okay, so I'm in the Norfolk airport and I only have about 18 minutes to write this, but I figured I could maximize the use of these 18 minutes by dashing something off. So dash away I shall. I'll fill in the blanks in the next few days.
Englishtown: The operative words were as follows… Pollen. Round win. Beat Courtney. Lost to Del in a battle of my bosses.
Also things like "all turns from the right lane" and the barricaded compound that was my hotel by the Newark Airport on Sunday night.
There you have it. Bye!
Just kidding. I still have about 16 minutes. One of the highlights for me is always the "yellow haze" at exactly 10:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, and it did not disappoint. 32 nitro cars warming up mostly at once, and this time the only "rule breaker" was a team firing up at 9:59 while some others waited until the mayhem was over before spinning over their motors. If you've never experienced anything like it, you should.
Another highlight was the attendance of my buddy Nathan Scherich and his wife. Way back when I had first met Buck Hujabre (and Buck was still in the touring company for "Jersey Boys") our race in St. Louis coincided with their run there, so Buck came out to the track (I was still working for Del at the time) and he brought Nathan with him. We've stayed friends ever since, and now Nathan is in the Broadway production of the show, so this is the second time he's come to E-Town. It was, however, the first time Allie has ever attended a race, and that was the extra-fun part. I think he filled her full of stories so overwhelming that he had her almost completely psyched out about it, but she quickly came to appreciate what was going on and it was 100 percent fun to have both of them there.
After the "one up - one down" day on Sunday (a recurring theme for us this year, so far) I helped tear down the circus and then headed north for my hotel near the Newark airport. Let's just say that it's never really easy to find where you're going in that area, if you're not already totally familiar with the spaghetti bowl of roads, but this one was an even greater challenge and a few poor prompts from the hotel's own website sent me into a neighborhood where I might not be interested in buying a house. Or renting. I finally got out of there and to the hotel, then passed through by guard shack and the metal gate, to enter the defenses of the compound. Once in there, it was actually fabulous and the room was terrific. But, it seemed somewhat wise to just stay there. In the morning, the same deal only in reverse as the hotel's directions were so nebulous and inaccurate I made four wrong turns just to get to an airport I could clearly see from my hotel window. Sheesh.
The trick at that point was to see if Delta could get Barbara and I together despite the fact we were flying into or out of three huge airports, two of which are fairly well known for either late departures or missed connections. She flew from MSP down to ATL while I flew from EWR down there as well, and amazingly we were both on-time and we met in the Sky Club right next door to our gate for our flight to Norfolk. The airport code here in Norfolk is ORF, and that always looks like much more of a sound than an airport, when I see it. Like maybe the sound you'd make if someone socked you in the solar plexus.
All went well, we flew to ORF (ouch) and drove four hours down to Hatteras Village on the southern edge of the Outer Banks. For three days we crammed all of the fun and relaxation we could into it, and we ate like royalty with every meal at home (one made by me, the others by Barb's cousin John or her Aunt Angie). Tuna, red snapper, blackened chicken, you name it we ate it. Beach time, fun time, good time.
On Wednesday, Barb and I took the ferry over to Ocracoke Island for another fun day… Fact, Ocracoke is where the good guys finally killed Blackbeard, the famous pirate of ill-repute. The Outer Banks are such a challenging area to navigate by boat that there are literally thousands of shipwrecks there, and it was a good place for "real" pirates (as opposed to Johnny Depp) to hang out. Needless to say, there's lots of pirate stuff on the island, which makes it even more fun. Argh.
The ferry ride used to be about 20 minutes, but the latest "super-storm" that crushed the east coast also crushed the Outer Banks, and the huge tides and massive currents pushed so much sand through the inlet from the Atlantic into Pamlico Sound, it is still too shallow and therefore impassable as a direct route. So, the ferries have to make a circuitous route that is initially "S" shaped and then become a large square, wherein they go about five miles out into the sound to get to safe water. It makes for a lengthy ride, but we mingled with other passengers and enjoyed ourselves.
(I'm down to three minutes)
My buddy Nathan and his lovely wife Allie. Good times!
Once on the island, we parked the car and rented a golf cart, making it far easier to get around and see the sights, hit the shops, and grab a bite at a dockside bar, with pelicans watching us while belligerent seagulls dive-bombed the tables with impunity. All in all, a great day, a great few days, some fun beach time, and spectacular company.
Now, back to reality. We made the four-hour return trip earlier today, and from ORF (ouch) we split up again as Barb headed to New York for a day of meetings tomorrow while I head back to MSP to spend the week in Woodbury. Her flight into LaGuardia was delayed two hours, however, but we found a flight to JFK at the next gate and she got on with the last available seat.
Time for me to board now, so here I go. If you ever get the chance to visit the Outer Banks, don't miss it. If you ever have to stay at a hotel right by Newark airport, confirm the "real" directions first.
Just a quick one today, because it's a very short week and I need to get everything in order to make the transition from Topeka to Englishtown. And what a transition that is… From Kansas to New Jersey. It's a bit jarring, to say the least, and we're not even talking about things like jug-handle turns or what exit you need to take to get where you're going off the New Jersey Turnpike.
When thinking of this Toe-Town to E-Town transition, it's natural to think of things like traffic, diners, and accents, but it struck me today (when I was flipping through photos) that the biggest transition is really all about the two race tracks…
Heartland Park Topeka is sprawling. Old Bridge Township Raceway Park is compact. HPT is out in the open fields south of a small city. Raceway Park is crammed into a small footprint in a residential neighborhood south of the most iconic and congested city in America. The grandstands at HPT are far apart and separated, while the old historic stands at Raceway Park are as old-school as you can get. It's night and day, really… And then there is the difference between a Kansas "hello" and a Jersey "What? You lookin' at me?" but you knew that.
I love both places, really, but for such different reasons. Both can be "difficult" in some ways, but a joy in others. Heartland Park is so spread out, because of the road course running through it, that time and space appear to be warped. Our pit area was right at the finish line, but to get to the starting line you needed a vehicle or sturdy shoes, because it's about a mile to walk it.
Even with the golf cart, Topeka is the only track on the tour where the tow vehicle and race car can get back to the pit before Krista and I can on the cart. First we had to walk back under the tower and around the bend to the staging lanes just to get to the golf cart, then we swam upstream against the flow of other race cars to get back out of the staging lanes, around another bend, across the road course, through a gate, and back into the enormous pit area, at which point we still had to putt-putt in the cart until we got to our pit. After each run, just as we were pulling up to the Team Wilk set-up, the tow vehicle was pulling the car in at the same time. At any other track, including Englishtown this weekend, we'll get back to the pit and have anywhere from two to five minutes of calm before the race car comes back and the cacophony of engine service fills the air.
Englishtown is bold and brash and every bit of New Jersey, where life in general seems like it's all a bit caffeinated, if you know what I mean. The audience at Raceway Park is made up of absolutely huge fans, and they really know their racing. They cheer robustly and crowd around the pit for every warm up. And then there's that fabulous deal on Sunday morning when every nitro car in the pits warms up at the exact same time, due to the noise curfew. That, right there, is worth the price of admission. The yellow haze is epic!
We seem to float around the Englishtown area to a different hotel each year, although I'm not sure why, and this season we're back up at East Brunswick, north of the track and right at the exit from the turnpike. The last time we stayed at this place it hosted a massive high school prom in the banquet room, much to our surprise. Dozens of charter buses were in line to drop off the kids in their formal attire, and just wading through that group in the lobby was a bit like being on one of those New Jersey reality shows. I'm pretty sure I saw Snooki (just kidding).
Anyway, back to Topeka. We qualified well, we beat a Pedregon in round one, but then we lost to a Pedregon in round two. The headline on my post-event report was "Wilk Bats .500 Against Pedregons". It's good to win round one, that's for sure, and we've done that at five of the eight races so far, but we all want to win more rounds than just that one and every person on the team is focused on doing that. Winning four this weekend would be just what we all need.
It rained in Topeka, but never hard, and this year we felt fortunate to not hear any weather sirens and not have to seek shelter from rotating masses of clouds that conjure images of Dorothy and Toto. Just a little drizzle, and none of us melted.
Daniel Wilkerson was there, along with his lovely wife Brianna, and it was great to see both of them. We had a good sized crowd of LRS guests on Saturday, so Brianna came along to pinch-hit and help us with the hospitality and she did great.
On Sunday, after we were eliminated, we got to work tearing down the pit and hospitality center, and it was the first day this year when it was summer-like and really pretty hot. I know I worked up a soaking sweat, but I'll take that over freezing cold or driving rain any day, and it felt good to be hot for the first time in 2014. Then, Nick Casertano needed a ride to the Kansas City airport so just as the final round was about to happen we got in my rental car and made the hour-long drive over there. Nicky kept an eye on the NHRA app on his phone and we were both happy to learn that Courtney Force had won the race, marking the 100th win for female professional in NHRA history.
Speaking of that, I was in the Media Center on Saturday night when Courtney and her sister Brittany both qualified number one, and when the two of them were joined by their dad in front of the media, well… Pretty much vintage Force hilarity and also pretty hard for Brittany to get a word in edgewise.
Back to Sunday after the race… Nicky had a night flight back to Newark, but my flight was Monday morning, so I checked in at the Hilton. When I got there, I saw chartered buses all over the parking lot, and you can imagine my joy when I discovered that those buses had all been used to transport about 100 youth baseball players (who all looked to be about 12 years old) for some big tournament. Like 12-year old boys, they were all on their best behavior, very quiet, very respectful, and absolutely none of them crowded 16-at-a-time into the elevators and hijacked them all to the top floors, not letting them back to the lobby. That sentence right there is what we call "sarcasm".
Dan Wilkerson, in the house!
The hallways were quickly turned into party central, but finally around midnight a few adults put an end to the shenanigans. Hey, I was that age once and I can recall having no concept of adult people trying to sleep behind every door on the floor. The elevator thing wasn't that funny, though…
So now I'm finishing up this blog, and wondering if it is even in the slightest bit entertaining (I'm feeling rushed today). I'm thinking it's not, but I promise to make it up to you all with the next one, which will surely win a Pulitzer. And don't call me Shirley.
Time to finish up my pre-race work, think about getting packed, and also remembering that on Monday instead of coming back here I'll be meeting Barbara down in Norfolk so that we can join some of her extended family at their vacation home on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It's an amazingly wonderful place, but now I have to figure out how to pack for a race and for a quick three-day vacation at the same time. Maybe I'll just wear shorts and flip-flops to the race track. I said "maybe".
The beach is incredible, and there are lots of fun things to do, plus I'm really looking forward to seeing all of the extended Doyle clan. We'll have fun, that's for sure!
Next stop New Jersey. What? You lookin' at me?
The word I used in the headline today is totally made up, but it was the first thing that popped into my head when I sat down to write this so I'm claiming it as my own. I'd copyright it if I could, but I don't think you're allowed to copyright made-up stuff. Something about "frivolous copyrighting statutes" or the like…
Anyway, we're all on a very short break between Atlanta and Topeka and this past weekend was just bizarre, surreal, exhilarating, and confounding. Also expensive.
The good news first…
Friday was a really good day at the track, with some very nice laps made by a few of the teams. It was a late schedule to begin with, but we were all out there bright and early anyway and that just made it an even longer deal than it was officially supposed to be. I think on Friday we were at the track for about 14 hours. What happily surprised me was the number of people who ventured out to rural Commerce for Friday qualifying, and once again the negative naysayers were confronted by those pesky facts and didn't have a leg to stand on when crying that the world is coming to an end and drag racing is washed up and kaput. Friday was really pretty strong for any track in any market.
Saturday was amazing. At our last race, in Houston, they finally had to declare it "SOLD OUT" on Saturday, and although I don't know if they did that at Atlanta Dragway, they certainly had to be very close. It was packed, wall to wall and end to end, on both sides of the track, and one of our corporate hospitality guests called an LRS staffer around midday to say that he had arrived a little late and the state troopers out in front of the facility had told him they wouldn't let him in because there was no more room.
As I traversed the pits each day, I also noticed another pleasant bit of demographic goodness. It's been said a lot lately that our crowd is getting older and "the kids" aren't interested in drag racing anymore. Well, I need to start looking around more at other tracks, because the crowd at Atlanta Dragway was many things (including huge) but one thing it wasn't was old. There were a lot of families there, but more importantly there were a lot of teens and 20-somethings in the mix, and that bodes well for all of us. And Bob Bode was there, so that bodes well for Bodes.
The Friday evening session got pushed back about two hours, due to various delays and a little surprise weather, and that's when the bizarre stuff started, led off by Antron's mishap that started with a motor that was "all blowed up" and ended with a scary looking crash that he walked away from with no ill effects.
On Saturday, during Q3, Wilk was in the right lane and Jack Beckman was in the left, and as I stood there behind the car holding the video camera to my eye, I watched as our LRS Mustang took off and ran right down the middle for what was sure to be a fine run. Then all I saw was fire and much of the body disintegrating.
For the record, I will admit to having video-taped a goodly number of runs that have ended with explosions or crashes, going all the way back to the early CSK days with the Worshams. I do not believe, thinking back, that I was ever able to keep my thumb away from the on/off button for any one of them. I don't know why, but it's just impossible. Your brain sees the explosion and your thumb turns the camera off before you can even process the thoughts.
What's weird is that I've also shot a number of final round winners where the car in the other lane either red lights or smokes the tires early, and I can hear all of my teammates cheering and celebrating behind me, but I still stand there and dutifully do my job, holding the camera steady until the car crosses the finish line, and holding my celebration in because I'm taping the whole run. So, my brain thinks quickly enough to overcome that temptation but it doesn't have the available neurons to keep shooting when the car blows up. This time, it was a little different but not in any kind of better way. I saw the car blow up and instead of just turning it off I subconsciously lowered the camera so that I could look with my own two eyes, instead of through the tiny viewfinder. Then my brain announced "Hey, the camera is still running dummy but you have it pointed at the ground" so I lifted it back up again and pointed it down track, as if that was going to make up for it. It's just really weird, and I've never been able to overcome it.
Del had quite a few calamities over the year, tossing a number of bodies into the air (we all remember the Mountain Dew car, the Max Life car, and the all red car we called "Big Red") but I never managed to get more than a tenth of a second of any of those explosions on tape. See bad thing - Turn camera off. I hope there are no other times in my career where I even have a chance to make good on my pledge to keep the camera running, but we'll see…
Anyway, we did that in Q3 with Fast Jack in the other lane, and as it turned out we were paired up again in Q4, with Jack now over in the right. And that's when his motor exploded and his carbon-fiber body shredded into a bazillion pieces. That's a real number. It comes right before a gajillion on the periodic scale. Tim had smoked the tires at the hit so he was way behind, but one little piece of Jack's car hit our LRS body (our back-up, since we trashed the new one in Q3) right in the nose. It put a nice dent in our car, but we kept it like that as a point of pride and toughness.
And let me say a word about our guys. After Q3, they didn't just have to replace the body, they had to strip the chassis down quite a ways to find everything that was destroyed and either fix or replace all that stuff. And it was a lot of stuff, let me tell you. We had broken parts spread all over the pit, including the blower and intake manifold, with said manifold still being slightly attached to the blower but about 99 percent separated and grotesquely destroyed. It looked like something you'd see in the Zapruder film. So, bottom line is our guys rallied and got the work done, and we were actually ready to run and waiting to go in the lanes when Q4 came around. Well played, boys!
We'd been watching the weather all weekend, and the Sunday forecast just kept getting worse and worse. Still, it is Georgia in the springtime and things change fast, including weather arriving when it's not expecting and expected weather not arriving at all. All we could do was hit the sack on Saturday night, after another enormously long day at the track, and hope for the best.
Our hope didn't help. I got up at 6:30 and looked out my window to see the gloom and the rain. And it rained all day…
There are long days at the track, and both Friday and Saturday were prime examples of real marathons, but there's nothing quite like a complete wash-out. It's pretty tough on everyone, really.
As you all know, they did all they could to get a round or two in, late on Sunday, but the reality of it was that it just couldn't be done. It was cold, wet, and pretty horrible and after a few pairs of Top Fuel it had to be called off. The Safety Safari gave it everything they had, but it just wasn't possible
My flight home was Monday morning, out of GSP, and I had planned on driving up there on Sunday night to stay right by the airport. I took one quick look at a few websites and the numbers associated with changing my travel plans were not pretty. Between changing the Delta ticket and extending my rental car another day, plus the fact the race wasn't officially called until well after when I could cancel my hotel room, it was going to cost close to $400 to make the changes, so Tim told me to hit the road and go home.
I drove up to GSP in the dark of a rainy night, and when I approached Greenville I realized I only had a general idea where the Holiday Inn Express was, and I wasn't really sure how to get there. Two exits from the airport I saw a Holiday Inn Express sign and my brain thought "Geez, there can't be two Holiday Inn Express hotels here by the airport, so this has to be it". This is the same brain that can't find a way to keep the camera running when things explode.
I had a memory of looking at the hotel map on their website, and did recall it being on the right side of the road and down around a curve somewhere. This Holiday Inn Express was on the left right by the road. Hmmm… And it was about 10:30 after three really long days and a 90-mile drive, and all I wanted in the whole wide world was to get to my room. I was pretty sure I was at the wrong place, so I left all my stuff in the car. Sure enough, it was not the right place and my hotel was one exit further on the interstate.
It was still hard to find and on my first try I found nothing, so I pulled over and called the hotel from a parking lot. The very nice young lady gave me directions in the way only a southerner can. She said (and use your best Georgia accent here) "Okay then, you're gonna wanna go left at the Bi-Lo, then go up two lights and you're gonna see a Walgreens on the left. So you're gonna wanna turn left at the Walgreens and you'll come to a stop sign. Just go straight on through there, though, until you come to another stop sign, and you're gonna wanna turn left there and follow that road until the picket fence ends. When the picket fence ends, you're gonna wanna turn right and we're just up ahead around the corner."
When I got there, I entered the lobby and found a welcoming sign by the front desk. You'll see it in the photo gallery. For one night, I was a big celebrity!
The race on Monday was supposed to start at 10:00, and that worried me because my flight was at 9:45 and the little regional jet I'd flown down there on, out of Detroit, did not have WiFi. Fortunately, after I ate breakfast and got to the gate, I saw that the start had been pushed back some more, and it was going to be a little after 11:15 when they'd run. My flight arrived in Detroit around 11:20, so I had hope. I figured that with three more pairs of Top Fuel and with Tim and some guy named Force being the third pair of Funny Cars, I might just make it to the Sky Club in time to be a PR guy.
As soon as we landed I turned on my phone and saw that the timing was perfect. I got off the plane, headed down the concourse and through the LSD-like "tunnel of light" at DTW (I'm speculating, since I've never taken LSD, but I saw all those 60s movies so it seems pretty accurate) and into the Sky Club that sits on the second level of DTW right across from the cool fountain that shoots ribbons of water back and forth, mesmerizing little kids but also attracting a constant flow of adults who find it equally as fascinating.
Once I sat down and set everything up, I was right on time and I followed Alan Reinhart's audio-cast from there. I couldn't gain access to ESPN3 from the club, but Alan gave me all the info I needed so with that and the "Live Timing" app it was just like being there, except without the nitro fumes. And I could hear one car smoke the tires and then the other smoke the tires, and I knew we had ourselves a pedalfest… When Alan informed me that Wilk had won, I was on Twitter and Facebook within seconds, spreading the word. Sweet!
Then, with my layover being about 2 hours and 30 minutes, I was able to stay right there and report on the second round, which of course we lost. One up and one down, but we took out the 16-time champ in the first one so that's a good thing (for us).
After that, I got on the flight to MSP and was happy to see an all new interior on the 757-300 we were on, including entertainment units, a USB port, and an electrical outlet right there at my seat! That was a good thing, because my iPad was about done and it needed juice. I'm so dependent upon that thing now, when I fly, I think I might spontaneously combust it I didn't have it on…
Barb picked me up at the airport, we went back to Woodbury, and I got right to work, putting together my post-event report and holding off the sheer exhausted tiredness I was feeling. When I sent that out, I congratulated myself for handling the PR as if I was there, even though I was not only doing it remote control but also while traveling home. I got lucky, in other words.
After I finished my work, we went out to eat at Lakes Grill (I had the walleye) and then back home to watch a little TV and try to make it to a respectable bedtime. It was actually all I could do to make it to 10:00… And I slept about 12 hours that night.
Packed, all the way to the end of the grandstands, on Saturday
So now we ramp it all back up and head to Topeka, which of course means we head to Kansas City and drive to Topeka, and the next week we'll head to Newark and drive to Englishtown. This apparently happens a lot.
There are some destinations on our tour that I don't look forward to getting to. I'm happy at all the race tracks, but it's the "getting there" part of it that can be unpleasant and stressful, especially if overcrowded busy airports with notoriously bad TSA lines are involved, or if there's really bad traffic and long drives to be made, which is specifically why I fly into GSP instead of Atlanta's airport, so that I don't have to deal with the first 45 miles just getting through the Atlanta madness.
And even though it's a pretty decent hike from KC to Topeka, I still enjoy that drive and I always very much look forward to getting to T-Town. It's where I started in this sport, and I have a lot of great memories of not only Heartland Park, but the people and the town as well. And I usually make a slight detour on the way to the track one day, just to drive by the house I used to live in there. And I enjoy Kansas City too, considering I lived there for two very enjoyable years when I was the GM of the Kansas City Attack indoor soccer team. It's a great town with great people and I look back on those days and that job very fondly.
It's all good. And here's hoping for good weather, on-schedule runs, a great crowd, and a win. A win would be great!