Features

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.

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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….

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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…

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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!


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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!


 

Aliens…Tuesday, April 15, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can see all the new videos here:

http://www.timwilkerson.com/Multimedia

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Wilber, out!

 

Spin the wheel…Friday, April 04, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vegas rambles…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Wilber, out!

 

What are the odds?Tuesday, March 25, 2014

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

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

Things to look forward to…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things to fondly look back upon…

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Wilber, out!

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