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……..
I’ve always been a used-car sort of guy (that’s a euphemism for, “cheap bastard”!). I just couldn’t see plunking down all that money (or worse yet, a long-term loan with high monthly payments) for an object that would depreciate the instant you signed the title. I bought my Yamaha brand new in 1985, my 23’ motorhome in 2000, and my wife’s Flex in 2012. Other than that, I’m a high-mileage dude, with a “used” attitude!
I have, however, began to question whether or not it’s time to bite the bullet on some fresh wheels (I want a quad-cab truck) for myself. Spoiler alert: none of this applies to motorhomes… they’re all money pits, whether you pay five grand or five hundred grand (it’s just more technical headaches on the expensive units).
Why my poor vehicular outlook, you ask? Well, let’s just start with the RV. A couple of weeks ago Jenna phoned me to inform me that our Monaco was making weird noises, the driver’s side slide out had come out all by itself (not the first time for either), and apparently our decorative, wall-mounted light was struck and killed by the wayward pop-out. Nice! I suppose it could have been worse, as the light is under a hundred bucks, and the RV didn’t suffer any damage.
Then, while parked in the pits during the race at Phoenix, we experienced some odd ghostly noises starting around 2 a.m. both Friday and Saturday night. Firing up the generator and leaving it run all night seemed to fix that issue, and at $4.09 a gallon for diesel fuel, who’s to complain? Once back home, it seems the spirits got restless again, powering out 3 of the 4 awnings. Again… not the first time. What was special about this time is that they would not retract… period. Nope, not with the generator on, not with shore power hooked up, not with the inverter on, and definitely NOT with green eggs and ham! Even a call to tech support at Monaco didn’t get me any closer. Finally, I conducted an amateur exorcism, sacrificed a chicken (I’m joking… no accusations of heresy, please!), clapped three times, and finally got the remotes to retract all units. One small step for man, but a big sigh of relief for me.
My car adventures continued with the old, trusty, rusty and dusty Nissan, and my plugged catalytic converter. Not even Preparation H could fix it, so I had to make the painful decision to perform surgery on a dying patient. Yep, I elected to pony-up $198 to rearrange the Titanic’s deck chairs. Call it honor for a long time friend, but I think I still can milk a few more miracles out of “the Red Dragon” (that’s a reference from “Old School”).
Now THIS is living! Yes, 7:30 on a Friday morning, broke down in the middle of the high desert. Hey, the paint’s not much to look at, but those tires have plenty of good miles left on them!
I don’t recall any tattoos, facial hair, or grey last time I saw Harry, but February of 1988 was quite some time ago… and I was a baby back then!
At the steel yard. It’s hard to tell where the scrap metal ends and the pickup begins. The paint’s not much to look at, but those tires are plenty fresh!
Welding around wood, with tons of sawdust and other flammable things in proximity is always fun! As you can see, Jack doesn’t weld without a fire extinguisher handy. The way I weld, I probably should also have ‘911’ on hold!
Thank God Jason was able to hold the cap down with his foot, or I may never have finished this wall! He has a knack for showing up for the picture, and disappearing once the work starts. Hey, he must be a driver!
So, that leaves my PT Cruiser to be the last thorn in my side. Funny, I just had checked it over the night before to make sure all fluids looked good, as Brent Cannon and I were heading up to Bakersfield for the March Meet. Friday was the only day that I could go (Jason’s seventh birthday was Saturday), so I headed out at 6:15 to pick Brent up. Seventy miles into my trip, and about 15 since picking up Brent, things got awfully quiet. Yep, the car just shut off. Now, this had happened to me a couple months prior, on my way to surf. That time it was the positive battery cable corroding to the point that it had broken, and I “MacGyvered” it by removing the air box and jury-rigging it with the jumper cables.
This time the prognosis was not so good. Apparently on the PT’s, one is supposed to replace the timing belt at 100,000 miles. Well, I went the, “just say no” route on that. I’m here to tell you, 157K may be the magic number, as mine broke… bad. Anyhoo, after the Auto Club loaded us on a flatbed, took us to Cal Auto in Phelan (owned by bracket racer Chris Lee, who works on Brent’s stuff), Staci Cannon and son Brad brought Brent’s car up, and we were back on the road and heading to the track, albeit an hour and a half later than expected.
Man, do I think we dodged a bullet (as opposed to biting it, which I alluded to earlier in the blog) on that. First, if it would have happened anywhere later in our drive we would have been marooned. Secondly, having a reputable auto shop within 15 minutes was fantastic. Thirdly, it didn’t tag any valves when the belt let loose.
About the time Brent and I were pulling into Famoso, Chris let me know the news: Timing belt and pulleys, water pump, motor mount, fan and a/c belts, coolant and labor came to a cool $695. Yes, again I felt as though I had just given a Rolex watch to a homeless man (perhaps I should have stuck to my “…deckchairs on the Titanic” metaphor?). However, Brent and I had a great day, the car was ready when we got back into town, and it got me to the beach and home the following day. Maybe that new truck can wait a few more months!
Okay, I’m coming off my soapbox regarding vehicles, and let’s catch up since last blog:
On our way to Phoenix, about 90 miles into the trip, Layla started getting a fever. If you read the last blog, the doctor had put her on antibiotics but cautioned us if she began to get a high temperature. It was very stressful for over an hour, as Jenna continued monitoring Layla. I couldn’t turn the rig around, as I had to be at the starting line at 7:15 the following morning to do media ride-alongs in the Frank Hawley school two-seat dragster. Phoenix has no Kaiser health care facilities, and we didn’t want to be out of pocket and away from home if Layla needed care, so the only alternative was to unhook the PT off the back of the RV and send Jenna and the kids back home. Fortunately, about that time Layla’s temp came down, and we soldiered on.
Phoenix, in my eyes, will be the race where Rob Flynn began to show his muscle. We ran quick, consistent, and fairly predictably, getting our first round win of the year with the best ET of round one. Unfortunately, we were in the lane adjacent to Robert Hight when HE layed down low ET of round two, and that was that.
In Phoenix I ran into Harry Weber, who occupied the room right next door to me for the last couple of years I was in the Air Force. I hadn’t seen him since early in 1988, and he was only there doing some vendor work for the track when he noticed my name on the pit layout paperwork. Small world!
I’m very much looking forward to Gainesville, as not only do I think we have a car capable of winning, but I’m going to have a Thursday to remember. Frank Hawley is being inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame, and I get to do the honors! I’ve known Frank for 17 years, worked for and with him since 1998, and think the world of the guy. I’m humbled and excited that he asked me to do this.
If you’re wondering what else I’ve been up to, I’ve spent quite a bit of time on the toilet. Hmmm, maybe that didn’t come out right… allow me to clarify: Our area apparently has pretty hard water (we recently had a softener and reverse osmosis filter system installed… and it wasn’t free!), which apparently is eating up the rubber gaskets inside the toilet tanks. I’ve slowly been changing everything out in each unit, and I’ve completed 3 out of 4. My other time on the toilet is not for public knowledge!
The garage is still taking shape. I drove out to Anaheim to pick up a 15’4” I-beam to use as an engine puller. There’s actually a steel supplier much closer to me, but I hate giving my business to people whose customer service skills, well, SUCK! So, I made the longer trip, took plenty of tie-downs, and sweated all the way back home that this 225-pound monster would stay on top of the Nissan. After unloading it, cleaning, priming, and painting it, I convinced neighbors Matt and Curtis that I’d be far less likely to incur a hernia if they would do the heavy lifting. I had built a life-size mockup out of wood to be certain how long a beam would swing into that size pocket (I had 15’8” of span for the top plates, but only 15’1” between walls). Rather than learn advanced Calculus, I just screwed a bunch of pieces of wood together, tried three attempts to insert it, and ended up with a magic number of 184”. And…. it cleared the wall by less than ¼” when we swung it up there. Otherwise, Curtis and Matt would not have been happy hanging out while I burned up Saw-zall blades! Once I welded the support plates to the beam, I can now drywall around the top of the beam and complete the sheetrock. Then it’s time to have someone come tape and mud, because I’m OVER that part of it!
I just completed (stop me if you’ve heard this before) a couple of walls. Yes, I believe the Beckman-era wall building has now officially come to an end. Oh, there may be some cosmetic stuff still in the works, but I think my structural masonry is complete. I installed walls on either end of the garage to encase the dirt slope and act as retention. They actually came out damn nice (though it took me about 4 times longer than a professional would), so I can retire on a positive note. The thing that wasn’t fun (mind you that I was building one on a slope, having to climb up and down a short retaining wall every time I needed anything) was humping the 94 pound bags of concrete, 90 pound bags of mortar, 30 pound bricks that slowly grind off your fingertip skin, mixing concrete to the point that my hands looked like a desert landscape, and frying the back of my neck in 85-degree weather. All that being said… I loved the satisfaction!
I’ve got the garage door on order and probably will start loading the attic by the end of this month. I’ll just have to find another project to keep pushing myself after this one’s done (like I’ll ever be done!).
That’s about 615 years worth of experience in this photo, and let’s just say that Brent and I shifted the “curve” down slightly! Hot-rodders from back in the time before the phrase was even a phrase!
You may have wondered, when reading about my PT Cruiser episode, why I just didn’t cancel the rest of the 160-mile trip to Bakersfield last Friday. Well, not only do I love the nostalgia stuff, but I was the featured speaker for the Smokers car club annual dinner Friday night. The Smokers, founded in 1951, were responsible for the Famoso track coming into existence. They promoted the original March Meets, starting in 1959. In fact, they are the reason that Don Garlits originally came out west, as they paid him appearance money to come out and prove he was competition for the California cars. At that race in 1959, he wasn’t. However, the next week he had a supercharger mounted on top of Swamp Rat 1 (just like the West Coast hitters), and the rest really is history. The gentleman who won that race, Art Chrisman, was in attendance at the dinner. In fact, six of the original (as in, from 1951!!!!) Smokers showed up. It was just awesome to be in the same room, and surreal to be the guest of honor.
We had Jason’s official party the day after his birthday, the 9th. He got some cool gifts, but I think this year I hit the home run. Jenna has incredible taste for picking the perfect presents, and I have zero creativity or insight, so I typically just rely on her. However, I remember when I was Jason’s age how cool model rockets were, so I got him a kit. Don’t tell Jenna, but he informed me that was the best gift he got this year, so I know he’s excited to go and press the launch button for the first time. We built the smaller of the two rockets today, and tomorrow we’ll see if we can go catch some stuff on fire, melt the launch pad, break the rocket, and get him over this phase quickly. Seriously, I sure hope he loves watching this thing streak towards the heavens.
My dad celebrated (maybe that’s not the right word… I doubt he was jumping up and down, especially with his new knee) his 77th today, and that should pretty much wrap this entire blog up. We’ve talked about birthdays, seeing old friends, and what money-pits cars can be. I can’t think of anything else!
Stay tuned, keep your rocket pointed straight, don’t let your mortar get wet, your beam rust, or your belt break. And keep your toilet time to a minimum!
When Layla found out Matt and Dave were filming, she cancelled all her plans in order to steal my limelight. This is the first time I’ve seen the pool table in about a year, and I just remembered where I put the lights that need to be mounted on the back wall!
Tell me this doesn’t look like a MAN’s yard!! Plus, we found another use for the forklift, and that always makes me smile. Two hours from the time they showed up, all this was done…amazing!
While William sweats to support nearly the entire weight of the drywall, you can see I am barely straining. Sure, he has muscular calves, but I was pacing myself, taking frequent breaks, and complaining about how heavy the drill was!
The gap in the ceiling drywall is where I will install a beam/trolley in case I want to do any engine pulling. I’ve got most of the rear wall insulated and ready for sheetrock, and you can see I won’t have any shortage of electrical outlets…no extension cord needed!
While William calculates and cuts drywall, I’m screwing around…again. See how I have a nice Werner attic ladder, my cool Little Giant work ladder, and yet I am standing on two cheap milk crates…go figure!
While I kept her dad busy with heavy projects in the garage, Kristen handled the more “delicate” issues in the house! And Layla prefers her animal cookies straight from the cup!
This may be Jason’s favorite thing to do at the Discovery Science Center. He sure does make a cute outline! I’d have to say my favorite spot there is the Taco Bell located in the back corner!
Honest, officer, I was just cleaning the exhaust system to get my truck ready for the local car show! This photo is the answer to the question; “What kind of idiot would attempt to cut off their exhaust while sitting in the road?” And…we have a winner!
Big Ben Wilkinson. If you like surf, or if you have a curiosity for what it’s like to paddle into a five-story tall monster wave, just Google this cat. He’s craaazy!
Yes, I am clever with my titles. And yes, I crack myself up often…even if no one else appreciates the humor. Lately my life has oscillated between swinging my 19 ounce Estwing framing hammer, and slamming my right foot to put the hammer to 10,000 horsepower…and I love them both.
Pomona was a bit of a struggle for our new team, but I am very encouraged by the way Sterling, Chris, Ryan, Marla, Bill, Chase, and Nate performed. Our mechanics, though new together, really did their thing and were flawless on their opening competitive outing. Rob and Terry are in the process of collecting and analyzing data to try and get a quick handle on our Valvoline Dodge.
I suppose you may be wondering why a DSR team car could possibly be short of data to make quality runs. Well, not only does each driver have their own idiosyncrasies, but each car behaves slightly different, wanting subtly different input than our team cars. Also, last year at Indy we made a move in the tune-up department, basically rendering all data collected before September of 2013 irrelevant. Combine that with the fact that the weather conditions at the Winternationals weren’t like any we had in those last seven races of 2013, and you can see why Rob and Terry had their work cut out for them. My hope is that the next 2-3 races yield enough quality runs for us that the guys will have plenty of useable data to fall back on throughout the year.
When I referenced that we struggled in Pomona, we didn’t even qualify until the fourth and last session, and that is more stress than any driver, crewchief, or mechanic wants. We were on a nice pass in the second session (Q2) when a broken antenna connection caused our emergency shutoff device to activate, deploying the chutes and shutting the car off. That may actually have been a blessing in disguise, as my teammate Ron Capps disintegrated his NAPA Charger at the top end, scattering pieces all over the track. I avoided the biggest chunks of Mopar (or so I thought) by pulling over next to the wall, but the entire rear section of his Dodge came bouncing right in front of me, slamming into the front of the Valvoline MaxLife car, knocking some large holes through the body and even caving in the fuel tank. Our guys changed bodies (I changed undies), fixed and inspected the chassis, and we came back strong on Saturday with a 4.04 that not only got us in, but moved us right into the top half of the field.
First round we were up against new teammate Tommy Johnson, Jr., driving the Make A Wish car for Terry Chandler (Johnny Gray’s sister). We laid down a nice lap, but our car wore much more clutch than it should have, which slowed us quite a bit in the middle of the run. Still, we’re all feeling positive, optimistic, and ready to start winning.
The Wednesday before Pomona Frank Hawley and I were at the track bright and early for a live shot on KTLA 5, a local news station. Gayle Anderson not only is a heck of a reporter, but she’s also apparently a G-Force addict (and if she wasn’t, she is now!). I took Gayle on an eight-second, 152-mph blast in the Hawley School two-seat dragster, and she loved it so much we did an encore for the next hour’s news coverage. Frank and I also took many media folks and celebs in an effort to spread the word about how awesome our sport is. The timing couldn’t be better, as the school will be coming back to the west coast starting in April! I’ll touch on that more later.
Thursday before Pomona ESPN showed up at our house. No, they weren’t doing an episode of “Cribs”, or even “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” (I’m zero-for-two on that one), but rather filming a couple segments to use later in the year. First, we set up in the house and shot a piece about the big turnover with my team, working with the new crew, and my feelings about our chances for success. Second, we spent a good deal of time with me showing Matt and Dave all my pretty tools, my awesome tool belt, and my wicked cordless “stuff”. We talked about all the projects around Beckman Manor, what I had got accomplished in the off season, and I even cut some wood and drove some nails for the camera. I just hope they didn’t get me on film when I cut the cheese and bit my nails!
When I say “ESPN”, Dave Dobson is the segment producer, and Matt Ilas is the cameraman. Truthfully, these two are so important to the show and wear so many hats throughout the year. I’m also grateful to call both of them friends, and we really had a great time hanging out, bouncing ideas off each other, and trying to come up with the best product for you guys.
Speaking of the garage…it’s really taking shape! The roof is completely done, and all but the final color coat for the stucco is on. I had nothing to do with either of them (unless you count writing the check). When I got the first quote for having the roof done, I decided that, for $2250 (the difference between the cost of materials and the quote), I’d quickly learn how to roof. I got a complete supply list, spent some time on the internet researching, and prepared myself for 2 weeks of hard labor. Then Jim Costanza saved me. Jim, who with partner Andy Montgomery runs Twin Palms RV Storage (and sponsors the car), suggested I have Mike Tocco do the job. If that name sounds familiar to any of you longtime fans, Mike co-owned the War Horse FC back in the day (he also co-owns the new nostalgia version with Roger Garten). In fact, the two of them raced a fuel altered together in the 60’s! Anyway, Mike lives in Henderson, NV, but comes out every weekend to work on the racecar. With the quote he gave me, I’d have been a fool (no comments, please) to attempt it on my own. His guys unloaded all the materials, papered the roof, installed the battens, and stacked all the tiles in two hours. The next day, it took them 3 more hours and they were GONE…and DONE! Wow, was that impressive. I think I could have got about ¼ of the tar paper up in the time they completed the entire job. Plus, I didn’t have to transport over three tons of tiles up a ladder. Best of all, avoiding falls from high places always makes me feel like I got my money’s worth!
As far as the stucco goes, I knew from the outset that I wasn’t going to attempt to tackle that. I love taking on challenges, but I also wanted my walls straight and crack-free. Jerry (my bud that’s guided me through basically this whole project) found us a good stuccoer (is that a word?). Hmmm…people who apply paint are called painters, people who install lath are called lathers (though I always chuckle at that), but who came up with “fletcher”, or “ferrier” for job titles? I’ll just stick with… “driver”.
I guess I got on a bit of a tangent…again! I was talking about cool stuff around the Pomona event. Friday night was another special moment for me, as the NHRA Museum asked me to emcee (that’s when you speak at a function, so we’ll just say my job was, “talker”) their bi-annual Night of Champions. I had often been one of the racers on the panel, but had never hosted. It was quite enjoyable, and I got some nice feedback from many of those in attendance. The panel consisted of Tommy Ivo, Jeg Coughlin, Erica Enders, and Matt Hagan. I liked it so much that maybe I’ll do it again!
With plenty of off time between Pomona and Phoenix, it was time to get cracking on the garage again. Poor Jerry hurt himself and is lying low until he’s back to 100%, and I felt a bit overwhelmed flying solo with all the stuff left to do. Then I found help.
Our friends the Zahorsky’s, who run the RFC Kid’s program at the races, are staying at our house between races. Otherwise, they’d either need to circle back to Oklahoma, or stay in a hotel for a week and a half. Jason loves Kristen, their 13 year old, and Stacy and William are about the easiest houseguests you could ever have. Last time they stayed William helped me with RV stuff, mowing the lawn, and various small projects. This time, I really got my money’s worth from him! William’s background is in construction, so he’s no dummy when it comes to projects like this. The “dummy” part comes in with him volunteering to help me! We got so much done in the past 8 days that it’s really shortened the time needed to be totally done with the new garage. He and I completely drywalled the entire garage (try doing ceiling sheetrock by yourself!!!). We insulated all the exterior walls, nearly got the attic completely insulated, and knocked out a boatload of things that just eat up time. It’s really coming down the final stretch, and with two weeks off between Phoenix and Gainesville I’m hoping to be close to done by the time I return from Florida. Then I will have the world’s most expensive storage unit!
Last time the Zahorsky’s stayed here (after the Finals), we made lots of sightseeing and fun trips with them. This time, I confined William’s activities to my backyard. However, the gals took the kids to the Discovery Science Center for a nice reprieve from the sound of hammering, sawing, and cursing.
William and I, in all candor, have made several exciting trips…all to Home Depot. During one of these, after loading the little Nissan with hundreds of pounds of wood, drywall, insulation, and various screws, fasteners, and tools, my little red pony didn’t want to make it home. Seems that rattle I’ve been hearing lately (right before I turn the radio up) is probably the aftermarket catalytic converter coming apart. Not just that, but I think it’s plugged itself up. How do I know, you ask? Well, when the throttle is floored, I’m pretty sure 4 mph is not what the automaker had envisioned…and it made for a really long trip home. You’d have thought I’d get it fixed right away, but William and I had stuff to do. So, when it came time for the next trip, I hammered briskly on the exhaust to try and dislodge anything…and it worked…for about quarter-mile. Yep, well before arriving at our destination, we found ourselves on the side of the road. However, this time I had a secret weapon. We had packed my cordless jigsaw, complete with metal cutting blade. It worked great, easily cutting through half of the exhaust pipe before snapping said blade into two. The police woman who had pulled over was really quite amused with us grownups looking like we were stealing some poor guys expensive catalytic converter, but I explained to her that I was simply trying to boost the performance of my mini-pickup. After all was said and done, we were up and running again. I’m stunned how a 2 inch long, .062 wide cut could make such a dramatic difference in the truck. Yes, soon William and I were speeding (figuratively, not literally) along, windows down, wind in our hair, with a truck that really wasn’t much louder than before my minor “surgery”. Heck, I think I just bought several more weeks before I REALLY need to address the problem!
Earlier I mentioned that the Frank Hawley School will be returning to Southern California, and that’s very exciting. It’s been nearly six years since we stopped running the school at Pomona, and now the school will operate on a rotating basis in Fontana, which is reopening. In fact, last Saturday I went to the Auto Club Dragway media event/open house. That’s VERY exciting news for everyone in the area, as we have not had a quarter-mile facility for regular competition since they shut down over noise abatement issues nearly two years ago. Southern California has lost so many dragstrips over the past 50 years, and we can ill afford to not have a quarter-mile venue for all the hardcore, bracket, and street legal racers that need a safe, sanctioned facility.
By the time you read this, we should be on the way to Phoenix in the RV. Or, perhaps I’ll be cruising solo in the PT down I-10. That all depends on how things go for the first part of the day. Jenna had to take Layla to the docs today, as our little girl just wasn’t feeling well. Turns out she had an ear infection and strep butt. No, that’s not a typo. No, I’ve never heard of it before, either. And no, I’m not going to use my sophomoric humor right now. Anyway, I hope everyone is healthy so we can go as a family. We only get to do that six times a year, and I’d hate to lose one opportunity.
Frank and I will do more 2-seater ride-alongs in the dragster during the “new” Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park media event, and hopefully hook several more influential folks on our pastime. I just have to remember: quarter- mile for the dragster, 1000 feet for the Funny Car, and I’ll be just fine!
Stay tuned, reroof, scratch-brown-color (that’s stucco talk), drywall is heavy, and cordless tools rule!
Though it may look like I’m holding on for dear life, I’m just loading trusses on the roof. I just KNEW someday I’d discover a REAL use for the forklift. After the garage is done I’m thinking of donating the old Clark to the NHRA Museum.
Now there’s a catchy title if ever I read one. And yes, it’s all true. Tune in this week (or “month,” with the frequency of my latest blogs) for all this and more. In fact, since I can’t think of anything else to procrastinate about, let’s just jump right in:
I’ve been juicing. No, that is not to say that I’ve been hitting the steroids or any other form of growth hormone (Mint and Chip ice cream notwithstanding), but rather that Jenna and I are making a better effort to get more fresh fruit and veggies in our diets. It tastes pretty good (even without the Jack Daniels), and I’m sure it’ll be beneficial in the long run. Not that I am equating the two, but our house got leveled with the flu a week ago. When Jason started feeling bad after school on Wednesday, I knew it wouldn’t be long until I caught whatever he had. Fortunately for our little man, his symptoms and pain were rather brief. Friday I didn’t move, and Jenna was only a notch above me. I don’t think I’ve hurt that bad in 10 years, and even by Sunday I could only spend about 2 hours working out back. Being sick sucks! I’m probably down 6-7 pounds right now, but with trying to stay gluten free I’m not so sure the “all-you-can-eat” pancakes at IHOP are such a good idea.
I got a good surf session in before the flu hit, and even fired up the GoPro camera and got a few decent pics. Unfortunately I won’t be heading out into the waves again for at least another week, as things are getting plenty hectic around here. I get on a plane Monday at 6am to head for St. Louis, where I’ll be making a late-night appearance for Valvoline. Tuesday bright and early I’ll be heading back home at 500mph. Wednesday I’ll be driving the Frank Hawley School 2-seat dragster for some promo stuff for the Winternationals with a local news station, and two days later we’ll officially kick off the season. Remember, this is the first time in as long as I can remember that we’re NOT running on Thursday…and I’m glad. One run per day is just too slow a pace, so getting two in on Friday (like every other national event…Indy is a different story) should be much nicer.
In between I’ll also have one inspection on my construction project, and I’ll have to figure out how to get the RV out to Pomona and parked.
Whilst on the subject of hammers and nails, I’m totally satisfied with the progress I’ve made on the backyard garage. As I look back over the 2 ½ years of this project (I believe you can verify that right here in the blog archives!), I wouldn’t even be near this far along if it weren’t for neighbor Curtis (who not only engineered the building, but has been my “phone a friend” for all questions related to his expertise), my buddy Sully (who jackhammered out tons of granite and moved 9 truckloads of dirt to make room for my playhouse), and naïve Jerry, who unassumingly promised to help me frame the building for free when the time came. And you know what…the time came! Poor Jerry sees me more than his wife and two boys, but without him I’d just have a pile of wood and nails…and tears. With his lead, I’ve been able to learn a few things about carpentry. For instance; it really hurts EVERY time I slam my forehead into a beam, truss, edge, sheathing, molding, and/or scaffold. I may be healed by Pomona, but it looks like I got my butt kicked a couple of times.
Between Jerry and I (and yes, there have been several others who have lent a hand) we’ve basically taken the dirt that Sully groomed for me, the plans that Curtis drafted, and are turning out a garage that is going to look beautiful in the not-too-distant future.
At the Discovery Science Center, a likeness of Robert Wadlow, the World’s Tallest Man. Is it me, or does Jenna have her nose in his business?
Lest you think all Jack is good for is driving 16 penny nails into studs, let me reassure you: we’ve done plenty with the kids, and I’m throwing pictures in for proof this time. Jason just lost his first upper tooth, and I think he looks pretty cute with it missing. I’m afraid he’s going to get a big, ungainly adult tooth pretty soon, and lose his little boy charm. Though he really needs to work on focusing and listening better (it’s clearly hereditary!), he is just my pride and joy. He’s such a good, sensitive child with an inquisitive mind and sharp wit (not sure where he got any of that from?). Then there’s his sister. Layla is going to be very high maintenance. She has this defiant streak a mile wide (Jenna swears Jason was like that when he was younger, but I think our little Princess has taken it to a new level). She’s also showing some smarts in many areas, and has a very strong personality. No question who’s going to be running the roost pretty soon.
Rich, my friend that I surf with, went and got married. Though I tried and tried to talk him out of it (Just kidding, Nicci!), they tied the knot right on the beach in Redondo last weekend. Though Jenna and I were still feeling ill (I didn’t even want to chance driving, so Jenna took over. We also skipped the reception so we didn’t spread germs), we didn’t want to miss what should be rarer than Haley’s comet. Yep, Rich Camou is married. (You folks down in hell, that cold stuff you’re feeling is called, “snow”!).
Another cool thing I did was go to lunch in Orange County with Brent Cannon, and a few dozen legends. Apparently the group tries to get together several times a year, and I couldn’t believe the firepower in that room. I’m actually going to attach a list at the bottom of this blog of who was there, but it was just an All-Star gathering. As if that wasn’t enough, “Spider” Razon presented me with a jacket that his company made. He knows what a fan of the sport I am, and I was really moved by his gift. Never mind that it was 80 degrees outside that day…I had to wear it home!
Curtis and I took the boys to a local track to use their Traxxas trucks. We’ve had ours for probably two years, and we did more damage to it in two laps on that track! Those things take an unbelievable amount of abuse, and the triplets have even managed to break several parts on theirs. No worries: Curtis sets up his pit spot, changes out a couple of components, and they’re back on their way. Fun stuff!
We did our yearly Anaheim Monster Jam trip, and my friend Brandon (who seems like he knows everybody everywhere) introduced us to Tom Meents (owner/driver of the Maximum Destruction line of trucks). Turns out that Tom is a hardcore drag race fan, and I’m going to try and get him to come watch us race Sunday in Pomona. He’ll already be in town, as Saturday he’s doing another Anaheim show. How cool would it be to use his truck as our tow vehicle? Hey, we could “accidently” run over our competition in the staging lanes…each round!
And then there was testing! Yes, we ran for five days in south Florida, and we tested…our patience! That’s not to say that the Valvoline team didn’t run okay. In fact, we probably made as many “good” runs as any funny car team. It just was one of the most difficult, frustrating test sessions I can ever recall. The staff at Palm Beach Raceway bent over backwards (figuratively…of course) to try and give us a great racetrack. I think the biggest issue was that there had been so much rain in the past month that the rubber bonded to the track really suffered. I’ve never heard so many cars smoke the tires before they even got to the Christmas Tree, but that is what we all were dealing with. Still, I’m glad we went. In fact, it was essential for us, as a team that has never worked together before, to have a chance to simulate national event work conditions and get comfortable around each other. I’d say we gelled, coagulated, melted, bonded, and overall adhered well with the new group. Terry Snyder and I are the only familiar faces from last year (and I’m not even sure I’d recognize either of us in a dark alley!). Rob Flynn is at the helm, and Chris, Bill, Chase, Marla, Nate, Ryan, and Sterling will be spinning the wrenches to get us into the winner’s circle. The cool thing is that four of our folks have never won a race, so hopefully we can get them conditioned early…and often! When we do win, you’d better bring a camera to the winner’s circle…it’s going to be special (I’d also bring mouthwash, some gum, and maybe a taser).
Man do I hope next blog has got some great (and long awaited) news!
Stay tuned, keep your teeth, pass your inspections, drink your juice, and (ladies) take Rich’s number out of your phone!
Luncheon with Legends list: "Watchdog" Tommy Allen and son Randy; Gary Beck; "Fast" Jack Beckman; Larry Bowers; Jim Brissette; Danny "Buzz" Broussard; Brent Cannon; Jay Carpenter; Pam Conrad; Sam Davis; Joel Embick; John Ewald; Leon Fitzgerald; Roger Garten; Bill Genco; Frank Genco; Steve Gibbs; Gerry "The Hunter" Glenn; Marvin "Who" Graham; Noel Grise; Joel Gruzen; Bob Higginson; Donnie Irvin; Tom Jobe; Roland Kleinsorge; Roland Leong; Rod McCarrell; Manny Maldanado; Jerry Mallicoat; Terry Maestrejuan; Drew Mraz; Carl Olson; John Phillips; Bill Pitts; Dennis Prater; Don Prieto; Bud Rasner; Spider Razon; Gary Read; Lee Schelin; Bill Schultz; Jimmy Scott; Jess "The Flea" Sturgeon; Frank Vanderbruck; Henry Walther; Tom West.