Heading into the marathonFriday, May 16, 2014
Posted by: Jack Beckman, Valvoline MaxLife Dodge

Whatever rest we were going to get, whatever breath we were going to “catch”, and whatever projects needed to get done…BETTER be done by now. When I hit the airport tomorrow, it will be for the first of 13 events in 16 weeks. Yep, we’ll do three-in-row, take a week off, four-in-a-row, take a short rest, the infamous three-in-a-row Western Swing, catch a quick breath, and then hit Brainerd for the penultimate (tough word to work into a blog!) “regular season” event. Some teams will get to take a week off before heading to Indy for the biggest event of the year, but we absolutely will take advantage of the test session at that track to ensure the best chance of: a) defending our Traxxas Shootout title; b) finishing strong going into the Countdown; c) taking home the Wally from the US Nationals, and; d) ALL OF THE ABOVE!

My point in telling you about this certainly isn’t to complain, but rather to emphasize the point that NOW is the time for teams to get their acts together. We can all afford to struggle several times during the first 18 events of the season, and hope to be “hitting on all cylinders” (boy, that’s a terrible metaphor for a race car driver!) during the Countdown. That being said, take a look at the Funny Car points right now: Currently we sit in 6th place, but we’re barely one round out of 4th. In the other direction, 10th place is only three rounds back, and 12th is less than four!

With only five rounds separating 4th from 12th, teams simply cannot afford to be struggling at this point in the season. In four months we will have the potential of earning points in 48 rounds of competition. Once we get through Indy on Labor Day weekend, I think we’re all going to realize that half the season just flew by in a blur…and I hope our team is smiling big!

I am very optimistic about our chances to not only make a solid move up in the points, but also to get our first win of the season soon and lock a spot in the Traxxas Shootout. I think our showing in Houston last race supports my enthusiasm.

Not only was Houston our best showing of the year by far, but we debuted the Infinite Hero car and started doing some serious fundraising for our wounded veterans. If you guys aren’t up to speed on what I am doing for the rest of the year (not just at the five remaining races where we fly the Infinite Hero paint scheme), allow me…

Nearly every squadron in the military has what is referred to as a “challenge coin”. You’re always supposed to carry your coin, as at any time a member of your (or another) unit can “challenge” you to see it. Let’s just say that many a round of drinks were grudgingly purchased by those who left their coin in the pocket of their work pants!

This is what the challenge coin looks like on each side. The purple inlay will be on the limited edition coins after E-town. The only difference in the ones I am doing now is the colored inlay…still a wonderful souvenir for a great cause.

Anyway, Oakley decided to do a little spin on that theme, and produced some cool looking souvenir items for the Infinite Hero fundraising effort. Apparently, starting in Englishtown they will provide me with some limited edition versions, which only I will be able to give to the fans. However, I didn’t want to waste any time raising money to assist our soldiers, so here’s what I am doing: Each and every run I make for the rest of the year I will carry several coins, either in my firesuit pocket or in a container bolted to the car. After every run, on a first-come, first-served basis, fans who donate $100 or more to the cause will get an autographed challenge coin from me. All you have to do is come by the pit and let me know.

The feedback from the inception of this program has been so strong that we are attempting to make it possible for folks who aren’t at a race to be able to donate online and have an autographed coin mailed to them. I’ll keep you updated on how that’s going to work.

As you can see, that’s another upside to going rounds: more opportunity to generate “nitro coins”, and more funds raised for rehab, counseling, and other worthwhile projects for those who gave so much.

Just in case you think (maybe because of my reference to resting in the opening line) that I’ve been slacking lately, let me assure you that this airshow attending, palm tree trimming, light replacing, garage finishing, wall restoring, toilet tank tuning, sprinkler line digging, dragster towing, baseball winning, and rocket launching daddy has been quite busy, thank you.

In the background is a C-53 that actually flew WWII combat missions. In the foreground is a seven year old whose father clearly let him dress himself!
A P-51 Mustang, P-47 Thunderbolt, and P-38 Lightning look small, slow and out of date being chased by an F-22 Raptor. That’s what 60 years of evolution looks like!
Even though I removed the four doors, these things were still HEAVY. You can already see the unit sagging…and it didn’t get better after this! Fortunately, Jason did provide plenty of help as a video documentation specialist.
At least there was plenty of room to get the unit past the RV up to the new garage. This time Jason supplied his expert navigation services in the Nissan, and I did the photography.
After I got done carefully chiseling and grinding out the old mortar, this was my pallet, ready for my art to be applied…
I wonder if Michelangelo had to work in this conditions?
While Truman, Melissa and Jeff work on their projects, Greg and I show off our revolutionary rocket design. Check out Jason’s austere piece…it smoked all of us!
Jason and Truman got to meet an astronaut, while Layla walked around in the background looking for bugs!

On the third we got wind that Chino airport, which is a modest field but features a cool museum and is home to many restored and flying WWII aircraft, was having an airshow. I attended so many military airshows in my youth and teens, and I was just addicted to all things flying. I suppose that listening to jets nearly non-stop for four years during my service may have jaded me a bit, as I haven’t been to a show since I was discharged (that’s a military term…not an awful medical reference) back in ’88.

Well, Jason said he wanted to go, even though it was 97 degrees, so us boys made the trek over. Actually we were forced to take a mandatory detour through a local International House of Pancakes…there was no avoiding it. I shall endeavor to explain this to you: After five months of eating gluten free, my yearning for those buttermilk delights from the IHOP had only grown stronger. Plus, Jenna finally found a nutritionist that doesn’t seem like a “quack” (that’s an awful medical reference, not the sound that a duck makes), and I needed to have some gluten in my system in order to do the food allergen blood test. Man, did I apply the glutten (with two “T’s”) to the gluten. And I digress…

The airshow was all WWII and Korean vintage planes, but still very enjoyable. The only modern aircraft that flew was the F-22 Raptor. This craft basically is taking over as our front-line fighter plane, and it is spectacular. This is the first time, other than watching take-offs and landings at Vegas during the races there, that I saw the Raptor in action. That thing seems to defy physics with some of the maneuvers it can pull off. I wonder if it’s allergic to gluten?

One of the last things I needed to do before being able to “use” my new garage was to relocate some cabinets from the house garage up to the backyard. I’d already moved these units once, right after we first moved in, so I thought it would be a snap. They were “built in place”, which means that the installers start at the wall and work their way out, stapling the cabinets together until they end up with the finished product. So, moving them is much tougher than moving, say, a Home-Depot style unit. This I learned on the initial effort, but I apparently forgot. Also, I didn’t truly appreciate how heavy, cumbersome, and weak they are until I had to load them (by myself), strap them, drive them up into the backyard, unload them (solo), drag them into the garage through the dirt, uphill, with no shoes, by myself, and then stand them upright (did I mention that I had no help?).

All that moving around was not too kind to some of the bracing, which I replaced after getting everything mounted. Oh, perhaps this is the time where I should tell you that I also had to shave 2 1/8” off of the back, up to a distance of 37”…THEN I was able to mount them! Yeah…that was fun.

I also ran out of excuses as to why I couldn’t finish the wall repair. When we dug the footing for the garage and had to do so much jackhammering (with a 2000 pound unit attached to Randy Sullivan’s huge excavator), it seems that many of the wall caps (and one block) fell victim to Sully’s hydraulic wrath. I didn’t want to repair them until we were done making a mess (which it seems we are…for now). So, I got out my hammer, chisel, die grinder with diamond wheel attachment, rebar, mortar, grout, and as many tools as I thought would make me look professional. It turned out very nice, but I definitely should not quit my day job.

It was about this time that I could tell Jenna was getting upset that I was ignoring her, so I rebuilt the last toilet in the house (I don’t mean that we’re down to only one commode in our residence…I meant that I had already rebuilt the other three, and number four was last on my list!), and trimmed the palm trees. Getting that high up on the ladder always concerns me. Now, if you’re thinking to yourself, “why was Jack on a ladder rebuilding a toilet”, then you haven’t been paying close attention! Yeah, I’m a little apprehensive about heights (not the kind that race Funny Car, I’m talking about the excessive elevation kind!

Once I got through the “Jenna list”, it was time to dig up, locate, splice and rerun some sprinkler lines that will run under one of the short walls that I built adjacent to the garage. Then it was time to replace the $100 light that got knocked over when the RV slide mysteriously decided to extend on its own one day…what fun!

Hey, I’d love to finish this blog tonight, but it is 12:30 in the morning and I do need to take Jason to school in the AM. Fortunately my flight tomorrow isn’t until noon, so I actually will have time to complete this literary masterpiece sometime between 9:15 and 10:45 manana. G’nite!

Okay…got Jason fed and off to school. Today his class is practicing for their first play. I won’t be here, which is tough, but when I am home I try to do as much as possible with my little man. Last week we packed up Grandma (she’s fairly easy to load) and the kids and headed over to the Boeing Corp. in Huntington Beach. They were hosting (along with the Discovery Science Center) a “rocket” build and launch for kids of all ages. The task is to construct a homemade rocket from a 2-liter soda bottle and a kit which includes fins and various around-the-house items for a parachute and nose cone. The objective is total time in the air. Once you complete the build, you fill your rocket with as much water as you think will be optimal, and then head over to the launch sit.

Once your rocket is inserted onto one of the fixtures, it is pressurized (they tell me all stations are supposed to be the same pressure) before you press the release lever and “let it fly”. If all goes well, your rocket attains a reasonable altitude AND the parachute slows its descent to gain more air time. Let me digress…

We were met at the Boeing facility by Greg and Didi Stanley. I met Greg back in 1998 at the Hawley School, and we have been great friends ever since. Though he lives in NorCal, we spent many a weekend hanging out at National and Divisional races when he raced Super Gas with his homebuilt S-10 truck. I don’t get to see Greg often anymore, as the Pro racing limits my time, and Greg sold his operation a few years ago.

Anyway, Didi wanted to surprise Greg with an early present for his upcoming 50th, so she planned a mini vacation for them in SoCal. And, what better way to spend your vacation than launching soda bottles with your buddy and his family?

Which brings me back to my story…

While Jenna assisted Jason building what I thought looked like a lame, bland, “lucky-if-it’ll-fly” effort, Greg and I teamed up on what I knew would be the star of the show. We elected to go with three fins instead of four for less aerodynamic drag, and we even profiled our leading edges to gain a bigger advantage. I custom made probably the coolest parachute that had ever been developed by a hobby rocketeer, and we carefully chose just the right amount of water to ensure a high apogee (that’s a rocket engineer term, cuz that’s what I was feeling like). While in line for the launches, I tried my best not to snicker at Jason’s crude-appearing effort, and I even helped him fix his nose cone when it fell off. I just hoped he wasn’t going to be too hurt at the disparity between our two rockets once they launched. I don’t think he was…

Watching many of these builds disintegrate at liftoff, I became a bit nervous about how ours would perform. Many a launch ended with what looked like confetti, as the fins, nosecone, and parachute often went their own separate ways barely 5 feet into the launch. Some efforts went reasonably high, but nearly no one’s parachute system seemed to work, greatly limiting the amount of time the rocket spent in air.

Now, if a question on the TV show Jeopardy featured the answer, “3.14”, an intelligent person may answer, “the first three digits of pi” and be correct. However, that also would be the answer for Greg and mine’s rocket attempt, though I think the guy on the stopwatch was slow activating his button. Ours went up about 30 feet…and came straight down with a thud. When Jenna and Jason shot a 6.84, also without parachute assistance, I learned a valuable lesson: crude is better! Though NASA may not agree with my assessment, I have the data to support it!

When I got home from dropping Jason at school, Layla was already up and downstairs (that’s a confusing phrase…let’s say she was ‘awake’ and in the lower level of our dwelling). She had opened the pantry, got herself a box of cookies, and had neatly organized them on a chair while she munched a few and carried on a conversation with the rest (they were animal cookies, so I guess she isn’t crazy). We spent some quality time cuddling, I got her a fresh diaper, and then it was time to finish talking to you guys. I sure do love my kids.

I’ll wrap this up with a couple of milestones of sorts. First, Jason’s baseball team broke its perfect streak. Yes, after 15 games and probably 30 practices, our White Sox had yet to win! Sporting a record of 0-13-2, it had been an arduous, patience-testing season for our band of ADD ball handlers. When we finally broke through for the first win, the kids didn’t seem too phased. Us coaches were all hugging, kissing (okay, maybe I exaggerated a bit), breaking down in tears, and uncorking champagne. Suddenly the White Sox were unstoppable, dominating the division and continuing their winning ways (translation: we squeaked out two more wins). With six teams in the division, it appears that four of us are fairly evenly matched, and the win typically goes to the team that hits the fewest  batters with pitches, and chews on their gloves while in the field the least. The Yankees are a notch above the other teams, and at the top are the Dodger, who stacked their team with the older, bigger, better players. Those happened to be the last two stops during our regular season, and the outcome was predictable. If I told you we scored the same number of runs in each game, and it’s a round number (think, “very round”, as in a geometric shape), then I think you’d accurately guess the results. Still, it felt good to finally beat something other than our heads against the wall.

MacGyver would have been proud of me! All it takes its some basic tools, an old pickup truck…
…and an older forklift, and there you have it!

The other milestone that I was referring to involved my Blackbird Super Comp dragster. I don’t think the trailer had moved 1 inch in our backyard in over three years, and the car has sat quietly inside. Well, now that my garage in done, it was time to put a car into it. Since the El Camino is a distance away at the Comstock’s car museum (and I have no way to tow it back here), then the dragster made the most since. The plan is to empty out the contents of the trailer and put it up for sale. What happens with the racecar is still up in the air.

Putting the dragster in the garage was an easy concept to grasp, but the logistics were considerably tougher: With a long wheelbase, a terrible turning radius, and a steep ramp up into a dirt area with a tight turn into the garage, this effort took some ingenious planning and execution.

Who am I kidding? What it took was a floorjack, the trusty Nissan, the forklift, 3 ratchet straps, one slightly smoked clutch, a shovel to repeatedly dig out the tires of the forklift, and some old plywood to mitigate the old Clark from spinning the tires and sinking into the dirt. It also took a couple of hours, and several glasses of water. At 102 degrees, I think I picked the most opportune day to spend playing in the dirt.

After all was said and done, the dragster was in the garage safely, the Clark was no longer stuck in the dirt, and the Nissan clutch is just fine. The bumper may be a little worse for wear, but that’s just splitting hairs.

Okay, I’ve got to finish packing and hit the road for Ontario airport. It’s time to head to Atlanta and go get our trophy!

Stay tuned, rockets and airplanes rule, don’t bet on baseball, and shoveling dirt is hard on the back!

Heroes and parades, bubbles and eggsThursday, April 24, 2014
Posted by: Jack Beckman, Valvoline MaxLife Dodge

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Mary and Gary Linfoot continue to sacrifice every day for defense of our way of life. They gave…now it’s OUR turn!
Contrary to what I thought, apparently the race in Charlotte was NOT intended to get this team started on our winning ways. Nope, it appears that the gods of racing did not favor us during the four-wide event this year, as we fell from competition in round one by .000. No, that’s not a typo…had we been one- stinking -thousandth of a second better, it would have been the Valvoline team (and not eventual winner Robert Hight) advancing to the “semis” (it’s a bit confusing for the four wide, so I won’t elaborate on how the second round and the semis are technically one and the same).

What was awesome about Charlotte actually took place long before we even warmed the car up for qualifying. We did the official press conference and unveiled our new “Infinite Hero” car, which will debut this weekend in Houston and run five more times during the season. It’s simply one of the most bitchin’ looking funny cars ever, AND the cause we are helping is something that everyone can support with pride.

Please take a moment, log onto infinitehero.org, and check out how you can be a part of helping our wounded veterans.

Gary and Mary Linfoot were on hand for the conference and debut of the car, and they put a true face on why this cause is so important. Gary spent 23 years in the Army, and was a Special Operations helicopter pilot. When a mechanical failure caused his craft to crash, Gary spent four years confined to a wheelchair. I believe there is no hope to reverse his paralysis, but through the help of Infinite Hero, Gary was provided an “exoskeleton” to enable him to stand up and actually walk again. Meeting Gary, as well as his wife Mary (who is a hero in a different capacity and just as important to the IH cause), was very inspirational for me, making me want to put in the extra effort to ensure the maximum success with our campaign.

I would like to stress the point that our racecar not only doesn’t cost the foundation one dime, but that all expenses to provide this awareness platform for our troops were covered by two very special folks: Terry Chandler and Don Schumacher. Those two combined to pay the entire bill for each and every race where we will proudly carry the purple and black into competition.

All of you should be familiar with Mr. Schumacher, but many of you may not recognize Terry’s name. She is an incredible lady who also felt strongly enough about helping out seriously ill children that she personally funded an entire season for the Make-A-Wish race team, similarly helping that cause use racing to increase awareness and funding for a much-needed program. I couldn’t possibly express in words how proud and thankful I am towards Terry and Don.

I think the lower section of the left wall turned out real nice. It’s hard to tell if this looks like a surgery center, OR more like Dr. Frankenstein’s lab!
Carpet remnants from the house…check. Attic Insulation…check.  Grandpa’s old homework desk…check. Two kids ready to convert dad’s new garage into their own play house…you bet!

By the time this blog posts I should be well on my way to Houston, and I’m really getting “jacked- up” (I suppose I’m allowed to say that!) about hopping into our Infinite Hero Dodge. Later this year we again will run the “Wounded Warrior Project” paint scheme, and as a veteran it gives me such satisfaction and pride to be able to do something solid for our injured vets.

Lest you think that I’ve been slacking on the home front…err…you may be partially correct. (I wonder if subconsciously, knowing the garage project is nearing completion, if perhaps I have “milked” a couple of items of completion). That being said, I pretty much am done with the detail work on the inside, finally finishing the cover on the last lower section of wall. I really wanted to cover the three-foot-tall concrete wall that makes up the footing on the property-line side (it also doubles as a retaining wall for the dirt slope) with polished diamond-plate aluminum, but I really didn’t feel like spending another $550 just to look cool. Drywall wouldn’t look good and would surely get run into several times, paint wouldn’t cover all the imperfections, and I don’t have enough Valvoline decals to completely cover the wall, so I had to brainstorm.

I went with the material that is used for dry erase boards because: it’s white and shiny, it would only take four sheets, its low maintenance, AND…it’s less than $70 total to finish the wall! Once I got it all cut, glued on, topped with molding (then painted and caulked that)…I was a pretty happy camper. Once back from Houston I will remove a large cabinet from the main garage to install in the new project, then I should be ready to start cramming a bunch of random “stuff” into my new baby.

I actually have already packed about 1/3 of the attic. To appease the wife, I have emptied quite a bit from the house closets, so she now can fill THOSE with more crap…but HER crap! Boxes of National Dragsters, old car magazines, and trophies not only from my bracket racing days, but a couple dozen dating back to the late ‘70’s from my BMX adventures. While going through boxes and deciding what stays/goes, I’ve come across many things that have sparked some memories. I actually found the timeslips from the first day that I ever raced on a dragstrip. I wish they were dated (this was back in 1986 and Lubbock filled theirs out by hand), but they still are cool to me. I’ve got marbles from the 1940’s that belonged to my dad, I’ve got his father’s World War I Army uniform (!!), baseball card sets that I purchased in the early 80’s and just left in the boxes, and certificates and training manuals from my time in the Air Force.

It’s neat digging through that old stuff, but it’s also easy to get caught up in it all and waste half a day.

Fortunately, I didn’t have half a day to waste, as we had family stuff to do….

Baseball is at least two (sometimes three) times a week, and our White Sox boast an unblemished record. Yep, we have lost every single game (and we’ve played quite a few!) we’ve played! Actually, I think we may have tied once (like that will get us into the playoffs!), but who’s counting?

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Proudly wearing my Oakley Infinite Hero glasses, sporting my “participant” ribbon, and working on my parade walk, here I dodge horse poop and follow my son and his posse as they fling candy to the unsuspecting throngs of onlookers.
Norco has lots of parades, I think so the residents can show off their horses on Sixth Street. Many of the little leaguers were invited to participate in one the day before Easter, so I felt obliged (Jenna made me) to help out. While Jason and the other ball players threw candy to the spectators, I got to walk along next to their trailer, doing my best to avoid all the trophies left in the road by the hooved manure generators. I don’t know what these folks are feeding their horses, but I was in total disbelief (and disgust)!

Speaking of Easter, of course we did the requisite egg-dying and hunting. I am proud to say that no eggs were harmed in the making of our Easter. Okay… about 5 didn’t make it…but it was Layla’s fault.

We also took the kids back to the Discovery Science Center, as it apparently was the end of “bubble month”. I may have my opinions on the excitement I feel at staring at translucent orbs of soap, but I dare not “pop the bubble” of my children when it comes to their fun. Also, Jenna made it clear this wasn’t a “voluntary” assignment for me.

Other than that, there’s not too much excitement to report at Beckman Central, unless your idea of fun is running sprinkler line underneath the footing of a wall, or having to dig down through 4 feet of dirt on the other side to make the connection. Nope, that wasn’t very enjoyable for me, either. However, mounting exterior gable lights on both sides of the garage wasn’t the hardest project, nor was mounting an additional handle on the garage door. Seems there’s always two or three more detail items that get added to the list…

Stay tuned, support our troops, don’t pop people’s bubbles, and definitely don’t step in horse poo. 

Posted by: Jack Beckman, Valvoline MaxLife Dodge
Pam Robinson and her daughter Michelle, as well as administrator David Martinez stand tall and proud with me outside the new Vegas VA hospital. My fifteen trips to visit our troops are the hospital visits that I most look forward to!
With the big door installed, it really looks like a garage now. All that’s left is some detail work, then loading it to the rafters with crap that I no longer need!
Oooh…look how pretty and shiny! No, not me…I’m talking about the paint on the ceiling and walls! Silly reader.
Oooh…look how good it looks! Hey, this time I AM talking about me! Think Jenna would have been pleased if I would have left the inset partially primered? Yeah…probably NOT the best place to pull a practical joke on her.
When Ludwig Von Sunglasses grows up to be a famous pianist, you can say that you saw it here first! Notice Shortzart is the only one sitting on his feet…nothing a phone book won’t fix!
Here’s Stan Musical (I think that was really clever!) working on his hitting game. Sure, the blue jeans aren’t league-approved, but a guy’s got to be comfy!

After more than seven years of penning (typing!) this blog for NHRA, you’d think that I’d have all the tricks of the trade down pat. You know, like shortcuts to attaching photos, ways to expedite each entry, and general efficiency regarding writing about my life. Well, you’d be wrong!

For instance, I’d guess the best way to keep up with my own blog would be to peck out a paragraph or two each day, then submit a new entry about once a week. All you’d have to do to “bust” that theory is look at the post dates from my last 50 or so blogs…it just doesn’t happen. Perhaps the next logical tip would be to type out my submissions in the morning, after Jason is at school and before Layla is awake and screaming for attention. Then, my mind would be clearer, there’d be much less in the way of distractions, and eking out a literary masterpiece would be much less encumbered by life’s hectic pace. Again, that’s just not me.

Nope…old Jack prefers to wait until LATE in the evening, on the very LAST day I’m in town before flying to the next race, and do a mad scramble to see what I can come up with. I know it’s not the most sensible way to conduct a consistent, long-term personal blogging effort, but so far it’s seemed to work for me.( Funny, I thought I heard laughter in the background as I finished that last sentence….and I digress…)

So, as you may well imagine, I will be heading into the great blue skies tomorrow to try again to bag that elusive Wally trophy. Charlotte has been good to me, as I have won both the four-wide, and the standard format races there (I actually got the inaugural win back in 2008). I can’t think of a better time for our Valvoline team to break out and get on a winning streak, plus we have an awesome announcement/unveiling on Friday of the race. (Hopefully you guys can get some updates from the drag websites to see what I’m referring to.)

The Vegas race was quite a struggle for our team. We qualified out of the top half for the first time this year, running only well enough to get the 14th spot on the ladder. We also hurt parts on two of our aborted qualifying passes, which isn’t our style. Looking heavily outmatched by a much quicker (and consistent) team car, the Make-A-Wish ride of Tommy Johnson, Jr., I wasn’t feeling very optimistic Sunday morning. Still, we were able to rally, lay down a good winning lap, and again came “oh-so-close-but-not-enough” in round two against ANOTHER DSR teammate, the NAPA car of Ron Capps. We fell to tenth place in the points, but I truly feel like we are getting our stride and will have our day, soon.

We stayed on Monday for a planned test session, where we made three pretty decent laps. We wanted to test another supercharger plus a new clutch disk that will soon go into our rotation, and we were pleased with the results. Often on test days I will shut the car off well before the finish line, as running it past the point where the clutch locks up (750’ is nearly always adequate) really only adds lots of strain and wear to the entire package.

On the plus side, there were no major issues with the RV during the few days that we were there. Heck, there weren’t ANY issues at all until I pulled into the truck stop to refuel Monday evening. Jenna, Cindy and the kids had driven home Sunday night, so I was by myself for testing and the trip home. Anyway, when I shut the engine off, three of the awnings decided to extend themselves. Fortunately, THIS time the remote worked, they retracted, and that was that.

Perhaps the most satisfying part of the Vegas experience for me took place Friday morning. If you stay up on my entries, you know that I try to visit the military hospital at Nellis AFB every time we are in town for the races. To date I had done 14, and this time I was able to get over to the brand new VA facility for the first time. It’s very rewarding spending some time with the veterans, and I hope to get a longer opportunity during visit #16 for the Fall race.

Back home, with another week off between races, it was time to get some surfing in. It’s just so difficult to find the time, plus hope that the surf cooperates on the days that I’m available. Thank God for Rich Camou, who not only is an early riser, but a damn fine surf prognosticator. I can always count on Rich giving me the skinny on all things rideable (maybe that didn’t come out right?!), and he can always count on me to drop in on him and steal some of his waves. Reciprocity is a great thing!

In addition to my oft-sought-after lawn maintenance skills (pushing a mower comes natural to me, as I’m used to having an engine out in front of me!), there still is plenty to do on the garage project. Though completion is tantalizingly close to occurring, I’m running out of time before the season gets super hectic, and I really want to start loading the new building. Hector got all the drywall taped, mudded, and sanded while I was in Vegas, so I went to town with a brush, a roller, three and a half gallons of primer and 2-plus gallons of semi-gloss White Shadow. It may sound complicated, but it really was just six hours or so of back and forth, up and down, side to side…and repeat. I got pretty good at it, but it wasn’t without its hassles. The ceiling was definitely the biggest pain. The ladder proved too cumbersome, so I again enlisted the faithful milk crate. By the time I finished the 400 or so square feet, my neck was plenty sore from tilting my head all the way back for better than two hours. I have a much deeper appreciation for Michelangelo, and I feel we are kindred spirits now. Sure, his work on the Sistine Chapel probably will endure slightly longer than mine, some may argue his mural took a bit more skill than mine, and one could make the point that paint quality has improved over the years, making his effort all the more impressive, but I still digress…He and I have more in common now than ever. And…if you still think he’s cooler than me, let’s see him suit up and hop into a fuel coupe for a blast down the track! Yeah…I didn’t think so!

I also cut, installed, nailed, patched, sanded, caulked, primed and painted the door casing for the small garage door. It looks good, I didn’t hurt myself, and I feel like a proud parent!

I’m excited that my new garage door (the big one) was installed. I think I’ve opened and closed it a few dozen times, just to get the feel for it and imagine what may roll through it in the years to come…

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this in any past blogs, but when we moved here in August of ’09, it was for one reason: my wife insisted. Yep, for better or worse I understood, and I’m now starting to get the “for richer or poor” part, loud and clear. I distinctly remember her, like a nine year old kid begging for a puppy dog, telling me over and over again that she would, “never, EVER ask for ANYTHING else again”…and that’s a quote.

Clearly she had her fingers crossed, or I was just a stooge to believe that vow. Anyway, once she saw that I had all my painting stuff out, Jenna decided that it was time for color change number three to go up adjacent to the stairwell. She said something to the effect that THIS color was THE ONE; having less yellow, providing a subtler, brighter presentation to the world. Whatever…here comes the ladder…

Also, our enormous living room obviously is just too big. You see, the wall-to-wall entertainment center/bookcase that we had purchased for the old house (and to me it looked and functioned just fine in this place, thank you very much!), now had to go. Jenna has had visions of a custom (that means, “expensive” in any language), built-in (that means, “even more expensive”) unit that provided that feng-shui (I think that’s a curse word in Oriental) that we so desperately needed. I’m not sure if the sarcasm is coming through the keyboard as heavy as I intend it to, but I shall endeavor on.

What this all means is a tremendous investment in a piece of furniture that basically will stay with the house, really won’t increase the resale value, but hopefully will do wonders to improve the marital bliss that we so fortunately enjoy.

Oh, yeah: Our 47 inch TV is no longer going to work, either. Truth be told, I knew it was time to upgrade on that end. It looked so huge in the old house, but really was a bit small with the depth of this living room. I was thinking we’d really take a leap and jump clear up to a 60”, and the prices aren’t so bad on those. So, when Jenna sent me to Costco to pick up our new unit, I didn’t realize we’d need a moving van and the forklift to get it here. Seems my myopic (which could be taken in a couple of contexts) and lovely bride decided that the 75-incher was what we needed…and now we have!

Of course, the TV stays in the box until the cabinet maker finishes the built-in, which I’m told will be about 6 weeks (and 3 pay periods) from now. Until then, we shall suffer through staring and squinting at the miniscule 47” version. 

Jason started piano lessons last week, and he appears to be pretty quick at picking up the basics. We ordered him an entry level keyboard so he can practice at home, so now I can enjoy the mellifluence of my seven year old Mozart-in-training, AND watch Hitler invade Poland on History Channel…all 75 inches worth…AT THE SAME TIME!

I continue to help coach Jason’s little league team (and test my patience), and last week we were able to take most of the kids to the local semi-pro field to watch the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (I can’t make this stuff up!) play. Before the game, all the little-leaguers were able to take the outfield and enjoy coaching from the players in various disciplines, such as running, throwing, fielding, listening….well; three out of four ain’t bad!

I need to sign off for now. It’s well past midnight and Beethoven has school tomorrow.

Stay tuned, prime first, C Major sounds cool, big screens are big-bucks,use two hands to catch pop flys, and paint up, Daniel-son!

Posted by: Jack Beckman, Valvoline MaxLife Dodge

When last I left you, I was really looking forward to watching Jason perform his initial model rocket launch, and I couldn’t wait for Gainesville due to some great stuff I was involved in. Well, I’m here to tell you that both of those were resounding successes. However, if you want to know the REST of the story…

I wanted to find a big, open space for Jason’s first launch, so we figured we would do it immediately after his baseball game, as there are acres of fields, plus we wrapped the game up with about 40 minutes left until dusk. That being said, I just didn’t feel comfortable (that means I was afraid of getting busted) around the ball fields, as there were a couple of night games going to be played, and still a decent amount of people around (and perhaps an off-duty cop or two!).

Plan B was to head to a small park fairly close to our house… which also had people practicing baseball on it. Wow, day one at “NASA Junior” already had several wrenches thrown into it! Okay, Plan C took us to a remote area of the local golf course, parking down a dead-end road, crawling under a chain, and hiking all our gear about ¼ mile (okay…1000 feet!) in to allow for the wind that was starting to increase. Now, if I were an astute reader, I’d be clueing in on that “wind” mention, as that probably ain’t real conducive to a successful rocket flight! Once Jason and I had the spot picked out, we prepared for liftoff. I had purchased several of the recommended “A8-3” rocket engines. Basically each letter further in the alphabet doubles the power of the engine (with “A” being the least powerful), and the numbers that follow refer to seconds of thrust, followed by seconds of delay before “reverse thrust” pops out the parachute. Simple enough, I got it…let’s go!

I wonder if Cpt. Smith looked this happy before setting sail? We had all the right equipment: baseball gear, fire extinguisher, clear and safe launch site, etc. What we didn’t have is a wind calculator, night vision goggles (or, a “glow in the dark” rocket would have sufficed), or enough restraint to call it a day after launch one.

Launch number one went nearly flawlessly. The rocket did settle downwind from our launchpad about 200 feet, but we had more than accounted for that with our initial hike. About the only thing that we could complain about was that the parachute had a couple slightly melted points from the deployment phase. To counteract that, you stuff “wadding” (Spanish for “expensive toilet paper”) between the rocket engine and the parachute, so apparently I was one or two squares shy on that. Now getting pretty close to dusk (if you’re closely following, “strike one” would be my mention about the wind increasing, “strike two” is the impending approach of night, and hang tight for “strike three”!), we had to make a decision: Go home now with one successful mission under our belts, or “damn the torpedoes” (I’m taking artistic license with that one), let’s go again!

Guess which one we chose?

Satisfied with the drift our rocket had encountered, there was one more very important decision to be made for our second and final (and boy…was it FINAL!) flight of the day: Stick with the safe, albeit boring (the rocket probably only attained about 500 feet of altitude) A8 engine, or stick one of the C6-4 babies in…the ones I bought just for such times! Yes, daddy wanted to see some altitude, and Jason would have none of that, “let’s go home now,” or “no dad, just stick with the smaller engine” attitude. My boy wanted to GO BIG…and we did!

Flight two was a bit perplexing. Firstly, the rocket FLEW into space with a ferocity nothing like flight # 1, but it actually drifted INTO the wind on the ascent. When it got out of sight, I shouted at Jason to keep his eyes open for the parachute. We’re still looking for that today. In fact, that was the last we saw of our silver and blue beauty (not exactly highlight colors when launching at dusk, by the way). We did walk around a bit, at least til darkness fell, but I don’t know where our rocket fell. So, roughly two hours of build time equated to a total of about 41 seconds of joy: a “work/play” ratio of over 175:1.(By the way…that’s not very good.)

What is good is that our rocket kit came with TWO units, so there will be an addendum to this story!

Gainesville was okay. We qualified number 3 on a very tough track, ran solid in our first round victory over the most recent Funny Car winner, Alexis DeJoria, but then had a dose of misfortune in round two against Ron Capps. Our C02 unit, which powers all the clutch and timing management systems in the car, had a bad case of “empty bottle” by the time I stood on the throttle. That never is a good thing, and always results in way too much power (the system, amongst other things, takes a chunk of timing out of the car just past the Christmas Tree, and this time it didn’t).

One of the absolute highlights of my career: Inducting Frank Hawley into the IDRHoF. It’s tough to put into words how special this was.
Not sure about the gentleman on the left, but how about: Big Daddy, the Farmer (Arnie Beswick), Hand Grenade (Harry Hibler), TV (Tommy Ivo), and Ray Motes! Hey, we’re gonna have to get Ray a cool nickname if he’s going to stand with this group! I just like that all these guys still call me “kid.”
Apparently something’s far more interesting to Layla than that large pachyderm in the background. I can tell by the ears that’s an Asian elephant, and I’d say that one is left-handed and prefers slightly drier grass. I’m pretty good with my elephants!
That is one WEIRD creature (the hippo, not the Homo sapiens). Crazy teeth, fat body, hairy face…reminds me of some of the folks who shop at Wal-Mart late at night!
Capps, Pollacheck, and me with Gabby, daughter of one of the participants. I’m amazed I’m smiling after the butt-kicking I took out on the track. At least all the spinning didn’t make me nauseous!
When the instructors tell you to take it easy until the tires heat up…listen! Until you get 3 laps in, driving aggressively will only cause excess time in the grassy part of the track… not that I know anything about that!

Gainesville was great. Thursday night my induction of Frank Hawley into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame went smooth. I think Frank stole the show from all other speakers, and I’m pretty sure the coverage should be available somewhere so you can enjoy his and the other inductees speeches. Just wonderful to be a part of, with a room full of legends and getting to induct one of my favorite people…even cooler than launching a rocket!

We had decided to stay Monday after the race and test our backup chassis, so the week before I paid the $200 change fee (thanks, United!) to extend my flight for one more day. Wouldn’t you know that it started pouring late Sunday night, washing out any chance to run on Monday! Knowing that several hours in advance, I changed back to my original flight (and of course was charged ANOTHER $200…love you, United).

Arriving at the airport at 4:45 Monday morning, I headed over to the ticket counter to get my boarding pass. That’s when I was greeted with the worst message a traveler can receive: “Flight cancelled” scrawled across the screen! To make a long story (and even longer day) short, I spent a total of 17 hours on planes, or sitting in a terminal waiting for a plane, before finally landing back in good old CA. Yep, I got to fly from Gainesville to Tampa, Tampa to Jacksonville, Jacksonville to Dallas, and Dallas to Ontario. Ah, the life of a professional racecar driver!

In addition to my garage building duties, it was time to get the RV road worthy for our upcoming trip to Las Vegas. I’d mentioned a couple of our phantom issues lately, and my phone call to the Monaco tech support center didn’t give me any revelations, so I just started checking anything and everything connected to the batteries. I checked connections, voltage, load tested all ten (!) of them, topped the water, checked voltage and load tested again, checked for voltage drop across the disconnect switches, cleaned connections, replaced one auxiliary wire terminal, said ten Hail Mary’s and buttoned everything back up. I’m starting to wonder if the ignition switch possibly is sticking half way between “off” and “on,” causing some weird problems. Either that or this coach is cursed.

In between battery tests, I had to track down some masonry blocks. I know I told you guys that I was all done building walls, and that technically is correct. However, several caps got knocked off the wall lining our ramp when Sully jackhammered for the garage footing, and the stucco guy seemed to not like to put plastic down, making a mess of several of those blocks. Anyway, the place where I have purchased all the blocks that I have used for walls doesn’t match the color of the ones on the ramp. So, I started my investigation. Seems there are four suppliers of “tan” blocks in Southern California. After getting the locations of the other three, I decided to start with the closest one to me. Hey…bingo! Alright, now I just have to get out my mortaring tools and block working equipment one more time, and I should be done (okay…if you stick around I bet you’ll find at least one more “wall” will be constructed this year).

The drywall prep is nearly done. Hector, who did the finish work on our loft project in the house last year is back out for this. No way I have the time (or the talent, though I did do the entire drywall project on my last garage) to get this done, but Hector will have it ready for priming once I get back from Vegas.

I got my deadbolt/locking doorknob combo installed today. Heck, I even got them rekeyed to match the house, just to be fancy. However, with the big garage door not slated for installation for a couple more weeks, I doubt locking the deadbolt is going to keep anyone out!

Yesterday we took the kids to the San Diego Zoo as part of a “field trip” for Jason’s school. Layla is such an animal lover. She’s the only person I know who thinks that lizards are “cute,” and she even thought watching the elephants and hippos poo was awesome. I thought it was kinda funny, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say, “Awesome!”

Lastly, I again participated in the Sonoma go-cart event for Speedway Children’s Charities. This was my third year, but the first time that it wasn’t raining. I sort of knew that my luck probably would run out, as I was pretty fast in the water but had no clue how hard to drive those Rotax-powered carts all-out. Scotty Pollacheck (Pro Stock Bike) and Ron Capps were the other pro celebrities. Capps has done this nearly every year they’ve had it, and Scotty was a first-timer. I think the past two years I won my heat and finished top three or four in the main, but this year the best I could do was fifth…in my heat! There were so many fast guys in group 1 (why I was put in there is a mystery). Capps also had some quick competition in group three, but he was super-fast and won that heat. I think he finished 3rd in the main, going as quick as 58 seconds. I was back in 8th place, with a best of 60 seconds. I just couldn’t get under that “one minute” mark. Next year either I’m going on a diet or putting 20% nitro in my car. I’m also going to wear camouflage, as spinning around on the grass ain’t cool when wearing a bright red “Valvoline Max Life” firesuit!

It was perfect weather, a fun day, and a great cause, and I’m proud to be a part of it. Plus, I made six other racers (and Capps) feel much better about themselves as they roared past me on the track. I’m a giver!

That’s it for now. I hope Vegas is the start of something big for our team. We have an announcement coming up soon that I think all of you will like. Also, our clutch assistant, Marla Weidenaar, is now Marla O’Guinn. She and Michael (clutch guy for Antron) tied the knot last Saturday and will both miss Vegas while on their honeymoon. I just hope that means I don’t have to grind flywheels and stack clutch packs…I have a hard enough time packing chutes!

Stay tuned, hippos have bad teeth, exit speed is GOOD if you’re in a go-cart, RV’s still suck, and who ever came up with four different shades of TAN MASONRY BLOCK???  Also, if anyone finds a blue and silver rocket, please return to……..

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