I’ve been asked several times how it felt, standing at the starting line, watching Ron Capps drive the NAPA Dodge to victory lane recently at Atlanta. Good question. There certainly is still some awkwardness to watching all the guys that used to crew the Valvoline car now wearing NAPA uniforms and working on Ron’s car (actually, it’s the same car). That being said, I was totally happy seeing my teammate get back into a well-deserved winner’s circle. Like I told all the guys on that team, I would never root against them, and I’m tickled that they got back in the winner’s circle.
Now, it’s time for the Valvoline NextGen car, with Todd and Terry, Mark and Dan, Kyle and Chris, Jim and James, and Matt and me to get ourselves back into that Wally kind of mood. These guys have been through two drivers, four crewchiefs, untold emotional highs and lows in the past few years, and we just need some good fortune to get us back into the swing of things. Houston was simply a disaster for us, and the first time I’ve had Sunday off since back in 2008. There’s no more visceral a gut-check that not even being able to warm your race car on race day, wondering what gremlin is hindering us.
Monday we stayed and tested, and Todd Okuhara (along with Rahn Tobler and John Collins) lent his expertise to help us get a handle on our hotrod. After five runs, we certainly felt better than we did Saturday night, but we still had yet to get our car to the finish line under power two runs in a row. We loaded up, headed to Atlanta, and kept our fingers crossed.
Brent Cannon and Louie Senter. A WWII Navy veteran, Louie revolutionized the aftermarket wheel business and supplied countless other parts to hot rodders in the burgeoning post-war period.
Fred Carrillo, himself an Army Air Corps enlistee during the war, forged a name for himself (pun intended) by making the best connecting rods in the automotive aftermarket. Losing a leg in a Bonneville accident never slowed Fred one bit.
Anemic engines and large wings were no match for two jars of talcum powder
Being the defending event champ, you’d think I’d be full of confidence pulling into Georgia. Honestly, I was just hoping we could continue picking away at the tuneup we used while testing in Houston, and qualify solidly. Well, not only did we do that, but we were in the quick eighh every run down the track, including first round. Though we lost by .006 to Courtney Force in that heat, I think all of us on the Valvoline team felt a huge sense of relief. Losing first round is never satisfactory on a team of this caliber, but it appears we are heading in a direction that should have us back in the hunt immediately. I think that says a lot for Todd and the guys, and I again want to thank them for their perseverance.
Aside from the racetrack, there’s been plenty of action at Beckman Central: Brent Cannon and I were able to attend a very special event at the NHRA Museum for some of the earliest pioneers of hot rodding. Fred Carrillo (Carrillo Rods), Louie Senter (Ansen Automotive), Nick Arias (Arias Pistons), and Ed Iskendarian (Isky Cams) were all honored. Stu Hilborn (Hilborn Fuel Injection) was scheduled, but health issues intervened. I also saw Prudhomme, Gale Banks, Dick Gullstrand, and many other legends in the house.
I took a jaunt (Latin for “Southwest flight 440”) to Charlotte to do an appearance for Valvoline. I get asked all the time if I fly first class. If seat 27F is first class, then I guess the answer is, “yes.”.About the only thing I consistently get on my flights is a neck-ache from trying to sleep.
Thursday of the Houston race star a bunch (as in 50-plus) of us drag racers (drivers and crews) headed over to a local slick-track go-kart place for an evening of fun. There were 11 heat races, with six per heat, and then started the arduous task of running the “mains” to qualify for the final race. The better you finished (as an average) in your heat races, the more chance you had of being in the “A main” and running for the trophy. For instance; if you finished first and first, you went straight to that last race. If you finished third and third, you’d have to win or place top two in about three straight races to be in the money round. As for me, my stellar sixth and fifth place finishes had me in the very first main, surrounded by elderly folks, fourth graders, and a couple of severely myopic, night-blind drivers. After somehow managing to win that heat, I had the privilege of starting dead last in the next qualifier. After deftly maneuvering (French for, “dodging spinning cars”) my way clear up to fourth, I was done for the night. The talcum powder that they used to make the track slick had several unintended consequences. It stung the eyes, clouded the clothing, and made all of us smell fresh as babies for the next day!
The cornerstone of Frank’s collection is that “swiss-cheese” Pontiac in the foreground, so named for the hundreds of two-inch holes drilled into the frame to lighten the car for dragstrip competition. I believe there are only 9 of 13 original units left...very rare.
After having the day off on Sunday, that evening co-crewchief Terry Snyder and I headed over to Texas Stagecoach guru Frank Gilchrist’s personal car collection. Frank bought, tore down, transported and reassembled a huge airplane hangar for the purpose of stuffing his manly possessions inside, and it was cool.
I love my wife. Though I tease her at times about being high-maintenance, she really isn’t. Take Mother’s Day. She didn’t want any part of going out to dinner that night (busiest restaurant night of the year). All it cost me was a card and three hours labor. Yeah, for her special day she was planning on pulling out all of our stray Rosemary (that’s a plant, not a person) from the side of the driveway. She and Cindy were planning on getting after it, but I didn’t like the idea of her getting stung by a bee (they love Rosemary [the plant...not the person]) or falling off of the wall. Nope, if she was injured, there’s simply no way I’m taking over the breast feeding. I’ll pull weeds all day!
I wonder how many of you were able to impress your wife by filling the recycling bin and the back of your pickup with Rosemary (the plant....not the person) on Mother’s Day. Maybe next year I’ll splurge, and bring home a six-pack and a copy of Gone in 60 Seconds for my little lady!
My wife is also far more talented than she gives herself credit for. I truly believe that she’s one of those people who could learn practically any white collar trade if she put her mind to it. Dog grooming is NOT white collar, and I shall explain; though my lovely bride cuts my hair each time (the #6 attachment on the clippers, plus some scissor work over the ears), her skills certainly don’t transfer over to Golden Retriever’s). Wanting to give my dog, Peaches, a summer hairdo, Jenna sent away for some rather expensive dog trimmers (to save us money on taking Peaches to the groomer). However, for some reason Jenna didn’t think she needed any of the “sold separately” attachments...or she just forgot to order them. Anyway, when my lovely lady gets her mind set on a project, nothing gets in her way. (She puts the “O” in “O.C.D.”) Attachments be damned, Jenna took on the task...and failed. My poor dog looks like she got the crap kicked out of her by three pit bulls, or like she just came out of surgery from the vets. She has racing stripes more visible than the new Dodge Challenger’s, but I bet she won’t overheat this summer!
As a Star Wars fanatic, Jason just loved all the miniature sets on display.
Apparently, Jenna felt that the money we are now saving on husband and pet grooming could be spent on a new booster seat for Jason. Now that he’s at the ripe age of five, he can transfer out of his toddler seat and into something a bit more austere...or so I thought. The day the seat arrived, my bride was so excited to get it put into the car. Once I handled that task, I was informed how much we paid for Jason’s new butt pad. I felt like inspecting the seat and finding where the manufacturer stashed those extra hundred dollar bills! Then, I wondered if I cleaned and repackaged it, could I return it for credit without Jenna finding out. Seeing as how I was in need of another haircut, I decided to bite my tongue and move on.
Then, Jenna informs me that it’s time to take Jason to Legoland in San Diego. Still stinging from the price of the car seat, I nearly fainted when I saw the admission fees to this theme park (and I think their theme was, “robbery and extortion”). $72 a pop for the Missus and me, plus another $62 for Jason! I was about to tuck Layla underneath my jacket and sneak her in, but I guess they felt guilty and let her in for free. If you’ve got this place on your bucket list, cross it off. Unless they’re offering half-price admission, save your money (You may need it for a car seat, or haircut, or to have your dog groomed).
By the time you read this, I probably will be well on my way to Topeka, in seat 27F, trying to catch a nap. Keep your fingers crossed (for our racing in Kansas, not that I get some good sleep on the plane).
Stay tuned, go easy on the talc, and think twice about Legoland and dog grooming!