My cup is half-something!Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Posted by: Jack Beckman, Infinite Hero Dodge

I think I’m an optimist...but I could be wrong. Try as I might to see the up-side of each situation, sometimes there are just days that it doesn’t pay to get out of bed. However, I also feel like people tend to find what they’re looking for (except for U2...they still haven’t found it!). (The previous joke may require asking a friend for an explanation, but if you’re between the ages of 30-50, you should be able to make the connection).

Anyway, I think it’s easy to find the silver lining if you’re an upbeat person, and the pessimists tend to more easily notice the negative side of things (duh, Jack: that would be the definition of “pessimist”). So, though I may sound like I’m complaining during much of this blog, my good fortune is not lost on me...but let’s go ahead and have some fun at my last couple weeks adventures anyway:

(Above) Trevor Bayne, me, and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. model the latest in Valvoline apparel. (Below) It was rainy, and COLD. I want to thank Chris and Wendy Avery for loaning me the gloves and saving me from frostbite. Good thing I brought a dry change of clothes, or the flight home would have been very interesting.

I again headed up to Sears Point for the Speedway Children’s Charities go-kart event, and it again was rainy and cold...great! Actually, I hadn’t sat in a go-kart since the event the year before (except for 14 hours before). I’ll explain: Valvoline wanted to do some filming with some of their drivers, and the NASCAR circuit was in town for the Fontana race. Since I was already committed to being in Sonoma on Saturday, they arranged for Trevor Bayne, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and me to rendezvous Friday at Speed Zone, which is only about 35 miles from where I live. The three of us went out on the slick-track go-karts and had quite a bit of fun, then headed over to the dragsters so I could teach the boys a thing or two about my sport. Well, it didn’t quite work out that way. On the go-karts, I think I held my own for several laps before realizing that young Ricky plays to win...and that includes spinning out nearly every family member that was out on the track with us. I believe Trevor got the checkered flag, but Ricky got the most style points. You could score that event as; NASCAR: 1, NHRA: 0. Next, four of us lined up and did four or five races in the dragsters. I showed everyone who was boss, with a redlight on the first run (picking up right where I left off from Gainesville). I finished second on all the remaining heats, even coming up on the short end of a Trevor Bayne holeshot on one heat! Final score; NASCAR 1 ½, NHRA ½. (At least I got some practice for the upcoming 4-Wide at Charlotte!).

From that event, I headed straight to the airport to catch my flight up to Oakland. The temperature dropped more than 20 degrees, and the rain fell consistently during the entire event and, even though we were given rain suits, I was pretty well saturated by the end of our fun. I actually edged out Ron Capps this year, and I again finished fourth in the main event, but the important thing is that we raised a lot of money for a great cause. In the interest of full disclosure, Capps was not feeling 100%, and sat out the entire practice session.

I needed to replace the brakes on the PT Cruiser, so I went ahead and bought all new hardware, including rotors (not sure why, but the current ones were grooved quite a bit). I don’t know what kind of wacky driving Jenna and I are doing, but the right front and left rear brakes were worn significantly, while the left front and right rear still had plenty of mileage left on them! With two young children, I don’t cut any corners (no pun intended) when it comes to tires and brakes. So, I purchased four rotors, four sets of brake pads, one wheel stud, and one new lug nut (no comment!).

The PT has disc brakes all around, and the parking brake setup is actually just like drum brakes within the rear rotors. Anyway, I took my time adjusting the linings to get a “good” parking brake feel without any dragging on the rotor. Or so I thought...

Rich called at 6:15 the next morning, and I already had the surfboard and wetsuit loaded, the car pointed out the garage, and the tank filled. I was feeling pretty good as I zipped down the street, heading towards Redondo Beach. That feeling lasted about 1 ½ miles, or 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Apparently Jack’s adjusting was a bit on the tight side, causing the linings to heat up the rotor and cause a vibration. Around I turned, transferring all wave equipment into the trusty Nissan PU, and off I sped (okay, no one speeds in a 4-cylinder with 250,000 miles on it) to the beach.

Later that evening I readjusted the brakes, replaced the broken wheel stud, and life with the Chrysler is good again.

Clearly Jason isn’t the biggest kid on our team! However, his throwing style and cool attire more than make up for his lack of stature.
Here’s Baby Ruth attempting to hit my fastball in practice.
Apparently even two innings is too much for these two. Caleb and Jason give a new meaning to the phrase, “Short Stop!”

I’m coaching Jason’s T-Ball team, and it’s every bit as much fun as I thought it would be. I had volunteered to be an assistant, knowing I would miss five out of their nine games with my race schedule. When I arrived at the first meeting to organize teams, it was obvious there weren’t enough coaches to go around, so I was immediately promoted to “head coach”, and given a healthy raise. Fortunately we have several parents who have stepped up to assist with our team, the Athletics. Jason really wanted to be on the Angels, but that name was already taken. We’ve already had two practices and played our first game, which was quite a hoot. For today’s practice I believe we will work on fielding, as game 1 highlighted some issues in that area. Picture 11 kids, ages 4-7, scattered throughout the infield. Whenever the other team hit the ball, at least 5 of our players would virtually dog-pile on the ball, acting like they just discovered gold! I’ll see if we can work on fundamentals a little more. Perhaps Bob Wilber can come out one Tuesday and give us some pointers!

Vegas was...interesting. This would be the first trip for our newer motorhome, which had basically sat at Rodger and Karen’s for more than a year. We were slated to leave on Wednesday after Jason got home from school, but those plans soon changed. Layla had a cold, and Jenna was ready to pull the plug on going, not wanting to have a sick child stuck in the RV all weekend. Wanting to be safe, mom took daughter over to Kaiser to make sure it was nothing serious (it wasn’t...yet).

As part of my pre-trip procedures, I checked the air pressure on all eight of the RV tires. 87.5% of them were just fine! Yep, an inner dual tire was flat, and I didn’t have any tools capable of working on that monster. I phoned my good friend Paul Mitsos, who had me take the RV over to their Corona location (Mountain View Tire). I remember how crappy I felt with the way my day had been going, driving down the freeway (I managed to get 50 pounds  of air in the tire with my compressor, but that took quite a while), when the phone rang. I can’t divulge any names, but it was a friend of mine who wanted to do something special for a young lady (also a friend) who recently found was diagnosed with cancer and was just starting treatments. Man, did that reality check remind me that my issues PALE in comparison to what some folks are going through! More good news once the guys at Mountain View started checking things: turns out it was just a bad valve stem extender, so the fix was cheap and easy...just like me! Amazing how fast your cup can go from half-empty to half-full!

Cindy wasn’t able to accompany us to Vegas this year, as she was back in Delaware with her parents. Jenna’s Grandma, Inez, was having surgery for breast cancer, and Cindy just wanted to be there for her folks. Here’s hoping Inez makes a speedy recovery, and Bill doesn’t have to do the cooking!

Thursday at Vegas I met my friend Pam Robinson over at Nellis AFB, for what I believe was my 13th visit to the military hospital. Spending an extended amount of time with the folks in the mental health ward really underscored how fortunate all of us really are. These poor folks are broken, and it’s hard to know if they’ll ever be back to where they used to be. One man just sobbed the entire 20 minutes I spent with the group, and I was so humbled and saddened, yet I can’t tell you how much I respected him for staying with the group despite his situation.

When I got back to the track, poor Layla wasn’t feeling well at all. Her cold and respiratory issues had worsened, and she just was not herself. I was supposed to leave in 2 hours for the NHRA driver’s autograph session at New York, New York, but that didn’t happen, didn’t happen (get it?)

To make a long story short, at one point we had three ambulances surrounding the RV, and eventually we took Layla over to the Children’s Hospital emergency room. After some adrenaline, steroids, a breathing treatment and a “#2”, (I don’t remember if that last one was her or me), we were on our way back to the track for another night of minimal sleep. I felt as though we were living in a 45-foot Petri dish for the weekend, as all of us were a bit under the weather. The upside is that our little girl is feeling much better now, and we can cross “the Croup” off of list.

The race was fairly typical for our team this year. We ran great in qualifying, ending up No. 3, and made two more good runs in eliminations (I believe that makes 18 good runs in a row for the Valvoline NextGen car). We had the second best ET in thesecond round (in fact, I think it was the second best ET of the weekend for the Funny Cars), and, true to form for 2012 thus far, we lost to the quickest run of the weekend when Cruz dropped the hammer on us.

As most of you know by now, Tim and Kim Richards resigned Saturday night (as crewchiefs on the NAPA car driven by Ron Capps). By Sunday morning it was pretty clear that Don Schumacher was making some large changes to try and get all four Funny Cars running consistently, and that meant a crew chief reassignment. Rahn Tobler and John Collins will be tuning the NAPA car from now on, and Todd Smith will come on board to serve as my crewchief (Terry Snyder will remain as assistant, and the entire (former) NAPA crew will now be the Valvoline crew). If this sounds confusing to you, I think I’m going to have to pass out nametags at Charlotte so we don’t get lost! The reason for the seven crewmembers swapping cars is very straightforward: Don does not hire the crew; that is left to the discretion of the chiefs, so anytime they swap teams the rest of the crew typically follows, keeping that “team” intact.

Apparently our little man thought wearing his Easter egg basket on his head would really impress the ladies at school. Next year I think we’ll just send him with a Valvoline hat, and he can put his eggs in that!
Layla sported the Cat-in-the-Hat look for her first Easter picnic.
Here Jason explains the birds and the bees to his little sister. (If you don’t get it, her little toy is a bee. Now does it seem funnier?)

Though it was highly disappointing to hear this news, there is more than a silver lining in this cloud; even though the Valvoline crew will be new to me, this group is highly experienced, talented, and motivated to get back into the winner’s circle. Deciding it best to forego preplanned testing in Vegas, both rigs headed straight back to Indy to get right to work. Ron will hop in the car that I had driven all year, but his NAPA chassis would have been a tight fit for me. Both crews, plus our fab guys in Indy, have worked tirelessly for the past week to take what was the NAPA backup car (a brand-new chassis that had never been run) and duplicate everything from the car that I vacated. Rahn and John oversaw both teams, and we should pull into Charlotte with two cars totally capable of winning. I appreciate all the extra work both teams have done, and I would like nothing more than to reward them with a win!

Our plan going into Vegas was to have motorhome expert Darin Parker do a walk-through Thursday, make a list of everything that needed to be fixed, and drop the RV off after testing on Monday. Well, none of that went according to plan! Darin and I had just started our Thursday inspection when Layla’s aforementioned health issues forced a postponement. Then, after testing was cancelled, we decided to head home Sunday night in the PT. We took the RV over to Rodger and Karen’s Vegas place, had dinner, and packed two sick kids and all the dirty laundry, toys, perishable food, and Full Throttle drinks we could into the Chrysler. We pulled into the garage back home at 4am, feeling ‘bout half past dead (with respect to The Band). Darin picked the RV up the next day, and we should have it back in another week.

We didn’t do much for Easter, as we were still pretty much wore down from everything over the past week. Jason’s school had an Easter egg hunt on Good Friday, and Saturday was our little guy’s first baseball game. Sunday we hid some eggs for Jason in the backyard, and threw down a blanket for an informal family picnic.

After T-Ball practice tonight (Tuesday), it’s time to pack the suitcase again. I leave Wednesday for Charlotte, as we want to be extra sure there are no surprises with the new chassis. Both Ron and I spent time Sunday at Vegas getting fitted into our (new) respective rides, so the transition should be simple. Still, we had to move some things around on my new car, so it’s important to be there early with the crew.

By the time many of you read this, you’ll know how both teams fared with all the big changes.

Stay tuned, swing level, don’t over torque your lugs, stay positive, the Croup sucks, but U2 and the Band rule!