A few days in the life…Friday, April 25, 2014

It's actually Tuesday as I'm typing this, but it's Friday to you. Did I find a rip in the time/space continuum?  Am I part of an alien time-travel plot?  Am I just confused?  Answers are No, No, and Probably.  Actually, it just struck me that I haven't done a "travelogue" style blog in a long time. Eons, really. Approximately 1, 846 years!  See, time travel is real…

Anyway, it's a damp and gloomy Tuesday afternoon in Liberty Lake, Washington and I've got all my PR work done for the race. Considering the weather, I guess I'm not going to "go outside and play" so I made the executive decision to start this blog and then I'll update on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Tomorrow, which will be Wednesday to me but still Friday to you (unless you read this on Saturday, or the middle of next week) I'll be getting on airplane No. 1 for the week, flying from GEG to MSP in order to get halfway to Houston and also spend the night in Woodbury. The next day (Thursday to me) I'll fly from MSP down to IAH, then make the circuitous drive around the outside of Houston (or the direct drive through the center of Houston, I'll decide later) in order to get down to our hotel in La Porte. On Friday (maybe we're both on the same day by now) I'll head out to the track in the morning, armed with the knowledge that we don't make qualifying passes until 4:00 and 7:00. Sometime in the middle of the morning someone in the pit area will say "We better hurry up, we only have five more hours until we run." That someone will likely be me.

The PR work this week was actually multifaceted. I did my normal pre-race preview feature story, which of course dealt heavily with our runner-up finish in Houston last year, and those unforgettable television images of our crew and Cruz Pedregon's crew working feverishly to make the tight turn-around deadline on "live" TV, capped off by Travis Wirth's close-up, which won "Best Performance By An Exhausted Clutch Specialist In A Dramatic Role" at the Drag Racing Oscars. Very memorable performance.

There was also a full preview feature story about us put out by the NHRA Media Relations Dept., and I was involved with that in a collaborative way. Media folks know that when they need input or quotes, they always go to the PR rep first. Every team has a different policy, because some drivers are busier than others, and in many of those cases it's imperative to go to the PR person first, so that an interview can be scheduled or even "squeezed in" as the situation may dictate. In my case, I have no problem with any media people seeking out Tim directly if I'm not available, or if it's a deadline emergency, but 99 percent of the reporters and media reps I work with still follow the professional protocol and that always makes the process work more smoothly.  And hey, it was a really nice story, too!

Finally, we're also in the process of getting the word out about a new marketing and technology partnership we've developed, with a company named Rottler. They're industry leaders in the manufacturing of heavy-duty machines that are involved in engine building and other machine shop work. It's a creative partnership, and we're honored to have their support while we try to reciprocate by helping them build their customer base in the drag racing world. We have two of their machines already with a third one on the way, and it's phenomenal stuff.  I think we're in the rotation to have a spot on the front page here at NHRA.com next week, complete with a rendering of the special-edition body we're going to run in Seattle this summer. Keep an eye out for that!

Meanwhile, watch us on TV this weekend and see how many Rottler decals you can spot on our Levi, Ray & Shoup Funny Car.  (Hint: There are more than four but less than six).

Looks like the sun is trying to pop through the gloom, which would be nice. With my work done, it's probably time to run some errands and start the process of packing for my trip.  Next stop, Minnesota.


Wednesday 4/23 

Interesting notes from Wednesday…

Mike Dunn's "Power Rankings" came out today on NHRA.com, and even though he has scaled the rankings back to just three driver's in each pro class, a certain Tim Wilkerson got a mention despite not being in the top three, due to our recent performance and our history in Houston. Mike Dunn is a fine man.

We're picking up a lot of other media "hits" these days, too. More pickups of the story the NHRA Media Relations Dept. put out as well as some additional postings from my preview story. PR is a wonderful thing.

And then it was time to travel. Just regular travel today, not time travel. It was "time to travel" not time to time-travel.

During all those years when we lived in Minnesota, MSP was my "home airport" on a weekly basis, and I probably posted photos of just about every aspect of what really is a fine hub airport, right here on this blog. Now, after two years of flying out of GEG in Spokane, the stark difference between the two airports has sort of blurred in my mind. They're still starkly different, as diametrically opposed as you might imagine when considering the size differential, as well as the fact MSP is a major hub for Delta while GEG is simply a small regional airport with a handful of gates.

This morning I finished up some work and got packed (while Boofus and Buster weren't looking) and at 11:45 I headed for the airport. I made the 25-minute drive, through Spokane Valley and then downtown Spokane, before arriving at what was originally called Geiger Field (hence the odd GEG designation), parking my car, checking my bag, and sailing through TSA without ever slowing down. Delta has exactly two gates, both on Concourse B, and if you're going to Minneapolis you're at B-8. If you're going to Salt Lake City, you're at B-6. Not a lot of mystery involved.

About 2.5 hours later we descended into the Twin Cities and pulled up to F-14 at this sprawling international airport. MSP was its normal huge crazy beehive of traveling activity, with passengers everywhere, walking, jogging, running, or riding in golf carts to any of the gates scattered on six massive concourses. Apples, meet oranges.

But, after all this time it's finally not a jarring thing. GEG is what it is, and when flying out of there it's a pleasure to only have to deal with a handful of people. Heck, I know the counter and gate people now, by name. But MSP still feels like home, and I miss being spoiled by the fact I made about 75 percent of my flights as non-stops from the middle of the country. Now I have to connect at MSP or SLC for just about everything, and I'm leaving from way up there in the upper lefthand corner of the map. But, both places have their good points and bad and I can appreciate all of it.  It's just always an interesting day to split my time between Home A and Home B.

Barbara has been coping with her quarterly craziness when Itron announces their earnings to their shareholders (she's the quarterback in charge of putting all of that together) so her hours have been typically insane.  All this week, she's gotten home well after I've gone to bed (I don't even ask her what time she got home because she usually doesn't even know) and then she's up at 7:00 a.m. and right back at it the next morning. I frankly don't know how she does it, and she's been doing it for years.  This morning, at 11:00, she walked in from the garage to surprise me, and we had 45 minutes to spend together and use the juicer. For the record, it was red kale, spinach, cucumber, carrots, apples, grapefruit, lime, strawberries, blueberries, and pears. Very much yum…  And very much wonderful to spend some time together when one or both of us weren't asleep.

Monday is Barb's birthday, and after 16 years of marriage she's finally coming around to understanding the way birthdays were always celebrated in the Wilber family. With my dad's crazy baseball life, and my mom's busy career in radio and PR, birthdays had to be portable holidays and we, as Wilber kids, quickly came to understand that the particular day was just a suggestion. If Dad was going to be home five days later, your birthday was moved to that day. It worked.  Barb's home life as a kid was much more normal and standard, so she had a hard time understanding my willingness to be flexible, as I've had to be with my birthday many times.  I've had my birthday at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park more than I have had it at home, so you can understand.

I'm traveling on Monday next week, and won't get home to Liberty Lake until Tuesday, but I'm pleased that my wonderful wife is now willing to consider the whole week her "birth-week" and not dwell on the 28th. We'll have a wonderful dinner on the 29th, and then on Thursday we'll head over to the Coeur d'Alene Resort for a quick luxurious overnight getaway, including dinner at Beverly's (one of the finest restaurants I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing). All of that beats not being able to have a birthday celebration on the right day!

Okay, time for a good night's sleep, and then down to Houston tomorrow….


Thursday 4/24

Now, to write about Thursday. Not much happened.  I got up, and it was 41degrees and raining sideways, heavily. At least it wasn't snow.

I hadn't really unpacked so all I had to do was put a few things in my bag and head for the airport, to make my way to Houston where the weather would hopefully be better. A quick stop to top off the tank in the rental car, a 25-minute drive to MSP to drop off my Hertzmobile at the Return Center, a ride on the MSP underground tram to get to the underground ticketing area, a quick show of the boarding pass and ID and my bag was tagged and off it went on the conveyor belt to places most of us have never seen and likely can't imagine (although I do believe gnomes or trolls are involved). Then, up the escalator to the main terminal, through TSA Pre-Check in a breeze, and then to the Sky Club because everything had gone so smoothly I now had 30 minutes to kill.

Then to my gate, and onto my CRJ-900 in the front cabin. It was still raining sideways and I suspect it was still about 41 degrees.

Three hours later we skidded to a halt at the gate at IAH, and I stepped off the plane to 80 degrees and about 80% humidity. Hello Houston!

It was also 4:45, so rush hour in Houston was about to be in full swing and I had to get from the north side of this massive sprawling metropolitan area to the southeast side. There are loops around Houston, multiple versions actually, but I've found that your odds of having a slightly less painful experience are incrementally (maybe) better if you simply attack things head on. So, the decision was made and I headed straight south to downtown, right by Minute Maid stadium, then caught I-45 south to 610, where I went east just a mile or two on 610 to catch the parkway that runs straight east to La Porte.  It wasn't awful, but it wasn't easy either. I get spoiled in Liberty Lake, where four cars at a stoplight constitutes a massive traffic jam.

I got to the hotel around 6:30, got checked in, and unpacked. Early in the unpacking process I had that familiar nagging feeling that I'd forgotten something, although I also reminded myself that I've been packing and unpacking for races for 18 years and 99 percent of the time I'm afraid of having forgotten something it magically appears in my bag anyway. That's the value of having routines. Even if you think you forgot something, your routine means you usually didn't. This time I did. I forgot to pack any socks!  Yippee!

So, off I go to Super Target in Pasadena, about 15 minutes away. In the door, find a pack of black socks, head to checkout, pick up some almonds as an impulse buy, back out to the generic white rental car, and back to the hotel. I got there around 8:00 p.m., just in time to follow the Wild vs. Avalanche hockey game online (no CNBC on the hotel TV). Wild win, 2-1, and the series is tied at two games apiece.

I toasted this accomplishment with a swig of bottled water and a handful of almonds, and off to bed I went, at roughly 11:40.  At 7:00 a.m., I arose to more warm temps and high humidity and left for the track at 9:00 after making the rounds of a dozen newspaper and sports websites on my laptop.

There you have it. 24 hours just getting to Houston, getting to the hotel, getting socks, and rooting for my favorite hockey team. And sleeping.

And now I'm here…


Friday 4/25

See, I promised this would first appear on Friday. Our first session is at 4:00ish, and I told Krista Wilkerson on the phone last night that I had "all day to get all this writing done, so I'll just do it all in the pit."  Little did I know that I had a major piece of work to do…

I strolled leisurely into the pit area around 9:45, and lo and behold what did I see but a new Levi, Ray & Shoup  Shelby Mustang body.  We're talking brand-spanking-new. Which means the major decals and logos were on it, but all of the little ones were still in need of installation and application. So much for killing time doing nothing more taxing that writing.

I dug through our decal files, and got most everything I needed. I had to head over to the Goodyear trailer, the Simpson trailer, and even the NHRA Tech trailer to get the last few I had run out of, and the best part was that I had smartly taken iPhone pics of all the contingency and associate stickers on the last car, because Tim and the guys created a new "cleaner" look for the body. With the iPhone epics, I had a road map for making sure everything went where it's supposed to go. Except for the fact that this is a new body, and somehow they never seem to be exactly the same when it comes to wing struts and wing wires, so I had to juggle a few things.

At around 2:00, I was done.  Hooray for me!

 1 of 9 
The B Concourse at GEG, with both of Delta's two gates.
And now, as I type, we're warming up the car for Q1. Hooray for fumes!

And did I mention it's hot?  And humid?  Well, hot and humid both start with "H" and this is Houston, so I should not be surprised.  Plus, frankly we were just getting into the 50s out in Liberty Lake and Minnesota is still dealing with a lot of weather I mentioned above, so I'm not exactly in "game shape" when it comes to this kind of weather.

Dennis Peek, my good buddy from the blog who is a killer rock star in these parts, playing for various bands and musical projects when he's not a all-star lighting technician for everything from big rock concerts to NBA Playoffs, is here today, and it's always great to have Dennis in the house. Right as the guys began to warm the car up, we took a selfie on my iPhone because, well you know the rule. Pics or it didn't happen.

Not too long ago, Dennis and his regular group of bandmates were actually the opening act for Gin Blossoms at a concert in his home town. How cool is that!

So now I'm wrestling with the thought of whether to send this in now or wait until after we make a run, but I think I'll send it in. After all, when I wrote of time travel at the start of this extravaganza, I said it was Friday. And now it's Friday. If I don't send this in, the Saturday me might change some of things the Friday me was supposed to do, and that would be bad.

I'll try some more time travel on the back end of this race, so that I can get back here during my trip back home to the upper lefthand corner of the USA, and we'll let you know how the race went. You'll certainly know the results, so I'll add the color. If anyone can travel back to Friday from Monday, please do that and let me know how we did. I'll keep it a secret.

Wilber, out!