A matter of timingTuesday, March 15, 2011

Timing can be everything in life — who knows that better than drag racers and drag racing fans? — and the fact that I'm writing this on Monday at the Dallas/Fort Worth Int’l Airport during a five-hour layover (cue the Gilligan's Island theme … "A five-hour layover, a five-hour layover) is Exhibit A in my mind as I reach the halfway point on the trek home from the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals in Florida.

So, anyway, this ship's aground on the shore of this heavily charted isle — for those like me, almost always a middle stop on the way to somewhere else — so instead of skipping today's column (which I wrote yesterday, remember, but as I write it is today for tomorrow's column … hey, timing is everything, right?), I thought I'd share some of the Gatornationals adventure with you. People say that blogs about other people's travel tales are lame, but as a fairly heavy traveler, I always find them interesting and can often relate to the woes set forth.

Unless you're fortunate enough to get one of the rare flights into the Gainesville airport, traveling to the Gatornationals means flying into either Jacksonville to the north or Tampa or Orlando to the south and a two-hour ride to G-town. NHRA almost always flies into Jacksonville — in fact, other than when I met Little Brad to drop off his rental car Saturday, I hadn’t been in the Gainesville airport since 1984, when I took a flight home after my week on the road with Jim DePasse's Top Alcohol Funny Car team.

A few years ago in this space, I wrote a bit about the infamous and fraught-filled Florida frolic that are Highway 301 and 24 that takes you not through the heart of Florida but through the dangerous lairs of many a Smokey Bear. It may be one of the most rigidly enforced speed traps in the nation if not the world, and woe be it to the traveler whose eye veers from a steady (and legal) spot on the speedometer dial.

It's a lonely old night ... just me and a few friends cruising Highway 301.

From Jacksonville, it's about 100 miles of two-lane road with speed limits that rise and fall like the stock market. I made the trek solo this year because McKenna was already in Florida visiting family and Little Brad's travel plans got whacked into the ether by a scheduling snafu, and thanks to a lengthy line at the rental-car counter with a one-person staff, it was well into dark before I hit the road.

Now, like most of you, I'm not one who regularly pays a lot of heed to posted speed limits, usually inching 5 to 10 mph above the maximum, but when I hit 301, I'm a choir boy, a nominee for the Safe Driving Hall of Fame. It's not like I don’t have a good Smokey sense and a keen eye, and even with the perils of radar, I haven't gotten a ticket in (knock on the simulated wood of the Samsung Mobile Courtesy Lounge) many years, but on 301, it's cruise control on and the speedo needle nailed to within a millimeter of the target speed, whether that's 65, 60, 55, 45, 35, or 15 (yes, you'll see them all on this ride!).

Timing being everything again, this year's Gatornationals fell on the weekend of the switch back to daylight saving time. I usually have pretty good fortune combating jet lag, even if it's tough in the Eastern zone to tuck myself into bed at what would be 9 p.m. back home, but this time, I just couldn't do it. I couldn't sleep and stayed up each night/morning way too late checking hockey scores, watching CNN coverage of the disaster in Japan, and playing a handful of those irritatingly addicting Facebook games. When we lost an hour Sunday morning and I had to crawl out of bed at 6 a.m. (the "new" 7 a.m.), it was like getting up at 3 a.m. back home. OK, I know a lot of folks have to regularly get up at o'dark-thirty to go to work, but my cushy office job and 3.1-mile daily commute don't require that.

But you know what? I would have stayed up all night to watch the kind of stuff that went down at Gainesville Raceway. As I pointed out in the story that I wrote for this week's National DRAGSTER, Gainesville is usually the place where history gets made in the nitro classes — first 260-, 270-, and 300-mph runs, etc.), but this year was all about the gas burners.

It started early, in the first Pro Stock Motorcycle session, when Hector Arana became the first bike rider to venture into the 6.7s, and never relented all weekend with the four-wheel Pro Stockers either; all four national records were toppled, and by substantial amounts. By the time that the event was completed, we had witnessed 14 of the 15 quickest e.t.s (including the 10 quickest) in Pro Stock along with the top 14 speeds in that class' history. The incoming quickest and fastest passes of 6.509 and 212.46 ended up 11th and 15th on the all-time lists, and, in that weird phenomenon that accompanies such events where history is made, passes equal to those old bests that, taken alone, would have had us on our feet cheering were met with ho-hum reactions. Simply a matter of timing.

The bike class also battered the record books, with the three quickest e.t.s (and six of the quickest 10) and the five fastest speeds, topped by event winner Eddie Krawiec's jaw-dropping 199.26. I think that a lot of people thought that we'd never see a 200-mph Pro Stock Motorcycle pass, but it's coming. Maybe not this year according to E.K., but it's coming.

As good as those runs were, even Pro Stock winner Jason Line later admitted that all of those who ran in the 6.4s left something on the table during those prime conditions and didn’t catch up to the tune-up until it was too late. Again, it was just a matter of timing.

The other highlight, of course, was the army of drag racing legends at the event, where greats such as Dale Funk, Marvin Graham, Wayne Gapp, Jerry Baltes, Herm Petersen, Dale Emery, Joe Mondello, and many, many, many others signed autographs. There also was a mini Cacklefest Sunday, and longtime Florida photog and friend Steve Gruenwald tipped me off that the driver of the Jim and Alison Lee car was going to be Art Marshall, whom many of you already know has a unique place in our sport's history as the last Top Fuel driver to win an NHRA national event in a front-engine Top Fueler.

Chatting with front-engine-dragster trivia answer Art Marshall, right

After the last cackle had faded, I introduced myself to him, and he seemed genuinely happy that people still knew who he was. Man, how could we forget? I was finally able to get the answer to whose ex-Hot Wheels dragster he was driving to win that event — I've been told, read, and probably even written that it was Don Prudhomme's car and that it was Tom McEwen's nearly identical car — but he told me flat out that it was the ex-Prudhomme car, so that should put that little mystery to rest. I got his number and will follow up about that event win, which has a good story beyond the front-engine angle. It's something I've always been interested in, and meeting him was just a matter of good, well, you know.

The time change may have kicked my butt Sunday morning, but it saved my ass Monday morning. I almost always use my cell-phone alarm or the in-room alarm clock as a wake-up instead of relying on the front desk, but the in-room clocks at the hotel do not auto adjust, and with the time change taking place at 2 a.m. and no way to check to make sure that my cell phone would automatically adjust (I know they're supposed to, but I'm paranoid), I decided to cover all bases by setting a wake-up call anyway for Sunday morning and authorizing the system to keep it for the duration of my stay.

Well, I'm not sure what happened, but the Sunday call never came (!), but the old LG Dare woke me up with a noisy rattle, and all was good. That night, I set the phone's alarm to wake me at 6:30 a.m. for the drive up to Jacksonville. I also had asked Little Brad to text me, regardless of time, when he had e-mailed me his new Monday Morning Crew Chief column so that I could post it before heading out at 7. Apparently, though, when I opened one eye to read his early-morning text, I must have turned off the phone alarm. The next thing I know, the room phone is ringing, and it's just before 7 a.m. Man, I hate it when that happens.

I set a new world record for a shave and shower, tossed all of the remaining stuff in the suitcase, and played the computer keyboard like a virtuoso pianist to get Brad's column ready for your enjoyment. By the time I hit the parking lot, it was after 7:30.

You see more brake lights driving through Waldo than you would at a weekend full of bracket racing. No one (except John Force) speeds in Waldo.

As I laid out earlier, this part of town is not exactly conducive to making up for lost time, and a heavy, heavy fog that at times limited visibility to 50 feet didn't help. I crept along as wearily as I could, even occasionally nudging the needle north of the limit. On the morning-drive radio, the talk was about how John Force got a ticket earlier in the week in Waldo, which sits at the intersection of 301 and 24 and solidly in the Police Officer Speed Ticket Writing Hall of Fame. The place is notorious for its enforcement — “stringent” would be a pretty good understatement. Force couldn’t talk his way out of a ticket and quipped that the officer told him that they even ticket people for driving too fast in the McDonald's drive-thru (in the spirit of fair reporting, there's no McDonald's in Waldo).

Sure enough, as I poked my way through town at a speed that easily could have been bested by a 10-year-old on a skateboard, at the far edge of town, ol' Johnny Law had another victim pulled over. It was foggy all the way until 301 hit Interstate 10, and then it magically lifted, as if saying, "OK kid, you made it through the darkest spot."

I had had visions of trying to change my flight to avoid the long layover, but the only connecting flight leaving DFW for Ontario gave me just a 20-minute window, and the ticket agent not only told me I would never make it, but also refused to let me take that gamble. Sitting at the gate a few minutes later, when they announced that our flight was delayed, I was glad that I had heeded her advice. Good timing, I think.

The captain apologized and said that we'd probably land in Dallas 35 to 40 minutes late, and with a five-hour layover awaiting, it was the first time that I had ever greeted news like that with a yawn. It was bad news for fellow NHRA travelers Steve Gibbs and Dana Mariotti, whose layover already was a short one, and suddenly it looked as if I might have company during my extended stay. Well, apparently, the Good Pilot had the hammer seriously down and the nitrous spraying because we actually arrived at the gate three minutes ahead of the original schedule. It's easy to make up time when there's no law with radar guns in the sky.

So I grabbed a burger at Chili's, fired up Ol' Lappy, and started writing. Now that I'm done, I'm going to dive back into my latest read, Don Garlits and His Cars, which is a fascinating recount by the man himself of the construction, sometimes demise, and re-creations/resurrections of his many Swamp Rats that goes far beyond what he has posted on his website. I thought I knew Swamp Rat history pretty well, but I've already learned a lot just halfway through. In fact, unless something else comes up, for Friday's column, I'm going to try to put together a Swamp Rat cheat sheet for you.

I'll certainly not be delivering but a fraction of the good info in this book, which I'm going to review, along with the new Tommy Ivo, Chrisman family, and Mickey Thompson books that I've been power-reading the last few weeks.

Well, I sense that the timing is right for a Diet Coke break, then back into the "Big Daddy" book. I'll see you Friday … unless I forget to set my alarm.

My greatest Gatornats hitsTuesday, March 08, 2011

With the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals just two weeks after the season opener for the first time in ages, I'm already again finding myself gearing up for a trip to the drags. Unlike the Pomona lid-lifter, this one will require more than a 10-minute dash in the ol' Mustang from home to Parker Avenue. Heck, it will take twice that long just to drive to the airport.

We have new stuff planned for race coverage at the Gatornats that will keep me hopping while I'm there, and – stop me if you've heard this before — it's a frantic week here at National DRAGSTER before I head out. You know, this is a glorious job and all and I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but 29 straight years of weekly deadlines will drive a guy to drink. You should see my Diet Coke bill.

Anyway, as I did before the Winternationals, and knowing that the rest of the week will preclude my usual Friday entry, I thought I'd look in the archives at some of my past Gatornationals-themed columns to give you more than enough stuff to tide you over into next week.

In 2008, I penned a column all about gators – and I don’t mean just the race name. I took a look at the famed reptile that for years graced the event logo and got the story behind the illustration from National DRAGSTER's own John Jodauga. [Read column]

That entry – as is tradition around here – spawned a bunch of responses about other gator-themed things, from race cars to parts advertisements to a reminder of the Gainesville Raceway pet gator Clyde to Chase Knight's very cool Golden Gator turbocharged Top Alcohol Dragster. [Read column]

In 2009, the 25th anniversary of my first trip to the Gatornationals, I shared the tale of that trip east to the race, which was made in far more time than it will take this year. I rode in the tractor-trailer of Top Alcohol Funny Car racer Jim DePasse on a story assignment to see what it was like to be a member of a travel team and crewmember for an event. It was a wild time, and one I'll never forget. At the time, DePasse was a quasi teammate to the Larry Minor crew, so our road mates for the cross-country journey were Gary Beck, Bernie Fedderly, Willie Wolter, and the rest of the Hemet gang. Talk about some fine company.

The trip was fraught with misadventure, from highway breakdowns to corny jokes to a bout with gout to broken engine parts and other assorted nuisances, but I still had a great time. [Read column]

When I finally did get back to Gainesville, I marveled over how much the place had changed and talked about the still-running staff joke we call "the Gators curse." Who will be this year's victim? [Read column]

That year was the event's 40th, so I sat down and – in one of the many learn-how lessons that helped me pull together this year's NHRA 60 Greatest Moments -- powered through my 40 greatest Gatornationals moments. In Part 1, which spanned the first race in 1970 through 1981, I covered such fine occurrences as the first all-team Funny Car final (1970), Don Garlits' first Gatornats win (1972), Jim Bucher's rare Chevy-powered Top Fuel national record (1973), AMC's first Pro Stock win (1974), Don Prudhomme's back-to-back Funny Car wins (1974-75), James Warren's Top Fuel win (1976), Len Imbrogno's wild Funny Car crash (1980), Jeb Allen finally breaking Garlits' six-year-old class mark of 5.63 with a 5.62 (1981), and many others. [Read column]

In Part 2, I hit such highlights as the Chi-Town Hustler's surprising Funny Car win and Raymond Beadle's midtrack barrel roll (1982), the dual 260-mph passes of Joe Amato and Kenny Bernstein (1984), the loss of Lee Shepherd prior to the 1985 race, the huge forest fire that year caused by Bob Gottschalk's flaming flopper, Garlits' debut of Swamp Rat XXX and breaking the 270-mph barrier (1987), Darrell Gwynn's back-to-back Top Fuel wins (1989-90), Bernstein's shattering of the 300-mph barrier (1992), Scott Kalitta's blowover in the 1996 Top Fuel final, Al Hofmann's fiery Funny Car win (1997), the all-Harley Pro Stock Motorcycle final (2004), and much more. In fact, my original plan for 40 great moments had to be expanded to 50. That's how great a race the Gatornationals is. [Read column]

Anyway, that's it for me for the week. Thursday I'll be eastbound and down and come to you guys live from Gainesville Raceway with another round of NHRA Interactive chatting, so hop on there, and let's talk racing. I'll be back the following week (day to be determined by what happens in G-ville), so keep those cards and letters coming in the meantime.

Your stuffFriday, March 04, 2011

Even though I can’t sing and can’t play a single musical note, I like to think of myself as the creative sort. I've shown a fair amount of ability to put words to paper to construct semi-meaningful sentences (and sometimes even paragraphs on occasion!) about your passion and mine: drag racing. I'm a self-taught Photoshop hack with moderate technical skills that far outweigh any kind of artistic vision I might need to exploit them. I'm a semi-decent photographer. I can see the big picture even if I can’t draw a straight line to create one.

You guys, on the other hand, never cease to amaze me with your creative nature. In the past, I've showcased a bit of your artistry here and there as pieces and parts of various columns, and today I'm devoting this column to showing off more of that.

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One of my all-time faves, the Mickey Thompson Grand Am!
Because this column has become almost purely devoted to the history of our sport (a far cry from its original vision), let's start there, with artwork from the prodigious palette of British artist Mark Gredzinski. I've exchanged e-mails in the past several years with Mark and shown some of his paintings of historic drag cars here before but didn’t really realize the scope of his talent until I viewed an online gallery of his work, which also includes paint schemes, photos, posters, and much more.

"I'm known as the Kenny Youngblood equivalent in this country, with which I'm flattered," he told me modestly, "but there's much to do before I'm up with the master!" He has been a race fan since the late 1960s and attending events since 1976 before combining his passion for the sport with his artistic ability.

He sent several of his works, including the lead photo in the gallery at right, his gouache on illustration board painting of Mickey Thompson's Butch Maas-driven Revelleader from 1973 (I had to look up "gouache"; it's "a method of painting with opaque watercolors mixed with a preparation of gum), and a great photo of the Sundance Monza flopper. Though some of these could have drawn their inspiration from photographs, that's not always the case. "Note that [the Maas painting] is a head-on wide-angle shot that would be impossible to get as a photograph," he pointed out. "I do much research to get these details correct, such as it's Russell Long in the Sundance Funny Car and not Tripp Shumake driving as someone thought."

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"The Snake's" 'Cuda takes flight
From this side of the pond comes a half-dozen fully dazzling works of art from the airbrush of Ricky Farrow of Katy, Texas. "I had to send you this e-mail saying how much I enjoy reading your column on NHRA.com," he wrote. "The photos and your interviews remind me how interesting the '60s, '70s, and '80s were. If you view the attached images, you can tell I'm a big Don Prudhomme fan like you. I airbrushed some of his most memorable cars. The only non-'Snake' cars I airbrushed were the Pat Foster-driven Barry Setzer Vega and Ed McCulloch's Revellution. I planned this year on having Prudhomme autograph the Skoal Bandit Pontiac painting when the NHRA tour came to Houston, but unfortunately, Prudhomme was unable to secure the sponsorship he needed to field a topflight team and disbanded his team."

These are really cool images, in a completely different medium than that used by Gredzinski. I've arranged them in the gallery at right in chronological order beginning with "the Snake's" '70 Cuda, replete with the short-lived top wing that Chrysler engineers thought was the ticket to creating a stable machine but in fact did the opposite. Of the six, it's the most outlandish-looking painting, but I dig it for its sense of speed. The others depicted therein – the Carefree 'Cuda racing McCulloch in Indy, the '78 Arrow, the '82 Pepsi Challenger, the '89 Skoal Bandit, and the previously mentioned art of "Patty Faster" at OCIR -- all are more realistic-looking portrayals. Most of them are autographed, too. Very cool!

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The Kosty Ivanoff car started out life as the Don Schumacher Super Shoe pictured at top left. "The Snake" wedge was made from an AMT kit that later was released in Steve McGee's colors (after he bought it from Kenney Goodell).
On to yet another form of art: the plastic model. Me, I built a ton of Revell and Monogram kits when I was a kid, but, of course, there's no way a model company could ever make a 1/24th replica of every fan's particular favorite, so many fans have gotten very creative in adapting existing model kits to create their own favorites. Decal manufacturers such as Slixx have done boffo box-office biz in creating new decal sheets for tons of current or nostalgia cars, but some people, like Insider regular "Chicago Jon" Hoffman, like to do it more old-school, with paint and cement and spare pieces from this and that.

"We all built whatever the companies churned out," he wrote, "whether they were good (the '71 Mickey Thompson Mustang by Johan), bad (Shirley's '73 Satellite; shame on you, MPC), or the ridiculous (Revell's interpretation of 'Jungle's' Camaro from '71; what were they smoking?). For every actual car made, I probably had five of what I attempted to fabricate myself."

Through craftsmanship, a steady paint hand, some ingenuity, and plenty of patience, he's been able to create his own small-scale versions of Kosty Ivanoff's Boston Shaker, Prudhomme's Hot Wheels wedge, Johnny White's Houston Hustler Mustang, the Gapp & Roush Pinto, the R.C. Sherman-piloted Black Magic Vega, and a trio of Prudhomme's early Barracudas. You can see the front-fender bubbles on some of the cars that were not part of the original kits but painstakingly created, carefully whittled pieces of a particular grade of Styrofoam that could only be attached with a dab of paint as he quickly found out that model glue melts Styrofoam!

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The Pack Attack
If you're a photographer whose stalking grounds include Great Lakes Dragaway in Union Grove, Wis., it's a pretty good bet that when it comes to passes on the football field rather than on the dragstrip, your leanings are toward the Pack, the legendary Green Bay Packers, and that's obviously the case with Mark Bruederle, who sent his collection of Packer-themed NHRA race cars for me to ogle, all sporting the green and gold and the name of number of former Packers quarterback Brett Favre.

"Please excuse the #4 and Favre name on them; these were painted when he was still a 'hero' in cheeseheads' eyes," wrote Mark's wife, Laura, without even the slightest hint of venom dripping from her letters. "Good news, though, those are vinyl letters and numbers, and these cars have never been displayed, so a sharp knife would be perfect!"

These are really great-looking pieces, and, hey, if the New York Yankees can sponsor a Top Fueler, why not the world champion Green Bay Packers? Hike!

And finally, earning first place in the diorama division is this photo from Rick Rzepka of Clinton Township, Mich., with cotton-ball burnout smoke boiling off the tires of the Black Magic Funny Car at his homemade version of good old Detroit Dragway.
OK, that was kinda fun, and I'm sure that now I will be besieged with photos of everyone else's great art projects and nifty models. I certainly admire the hard work, forethought, and artistry. Again, I'm no artist, but it's easy for me to draw a conclusion about your passion for our great sport. Thanks for sharing.

In the Snake PitTuesday, March 01, 2011

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Welcome to the Snake Pit!
Though we didn't completely dodge the rain bullet at the Winternationals, we got away with pretty much just a grazing wound from losing Friday, which only gave folks like me time to better explore the Snake Pit, the collection of Don Prudhomme's race cars that was on display to honor "the Snake," who not only served as the event's grand marshal but also took part in a fun Track Walk with fans Sunday morning and had a section of the Pomona grandstands named in his honor.

While the Snake Pit included many of the cars that we all know are in Prudhomme's collection – the white and yellow Barracudas (the latter still strapped to the back of the Dodge ramp truck), the '74 Army Vega, the '78 Army Arrow, the '82 Pepsi Challenger Trans Am, the '89 Skoal Bandit Trans Am – the display was rounded out by other famous cars with which Prudhomme is associated, including the reproduction of the 1965 Winternationals-winning Hawaiian dragster and the Shelby Super Snake dragster, both of which Prudhomme drove, plus two of former partner Tom McEwen's cars, longtime pal Tommy Ivo's Barnstormer, and many more. The Howard Cam Rattler, Art Chrisman's Hustler VI, the Warren-Coburn-Miller front-engine car, Twin Bear, and Yeakel Plymouth dragsters were among the others out to wow the fans as NHRA kicked off its 60th Anniversary season.

Prudhomme and Roland Leong signed autographs for a flock of fans, and former "Snake" crew chief Bob Brandt was also a very visible part of the scene.

Prudhomme owns the blue McEwen/Hot Wheels Duster, but "the 'Goose's" '78 Corvette was also there, and I got to meet its current owner, Don Trasin, who told me that he was inspired to bring it for the display after reading some of my columns here. I'm honored. What was really cool about having that car there was that it was displayed alongside the Army Arrow in a "rematch" of that memorable 1978 U.S. Nationals Funny Car final that McEwen won shortly after the death of his young son, Jamie. (Sure, they were in "the wrong lanes" as far as positioning went, with the Corvette displayed to the right of the Arrow, but only a nitpicker like me would point that out.)

As you can imagine, it took quite a bit of logistics to get all of "Snake's" hot rods up from his Vista, Calif., shop. Other than the yellow 'Cuda, which had its own built-in transportation, everything else had to be trailered to Pomona, no small feat in itself.

The beautifully restored vintage machines usually fill the cavernous inside of the Prudhomme Racing shop, but after they left for the weekend, the place was looking kinda empty, as evidenced by this photo that Prudhomme's right-hand man Skip Allum sent me Thursday. Compare that to the photo below that we shot two years ago when ND Photo Editor Teresa Long and I spent a day with "the Snake" and his cars for a memorable column that I wrote back then [read All 'The Snake's' Horses].

That was one of the great days of my life as we not only got to spend the day with "the Snake" but also to actually lay hands on those pristine machines and take a ride with him in the fabled ramp truck.

The Snake Pit in Pomona was a worthy tribute to the man who gave us so many memories there throughout the years, and, in an unprecedented honor at an NHRA-owned track, NHRA President Tom Compton announced during Sunday's pre-race activity that a section of the Pomona grandstands would be named in his honor. We've named towers (the Parks Tower in Indy) and media centers in honor of individuals but never a grandstand, and Prudhomme clearly was taken aback by the gesture. "This is really cool," said the king of cool.

Just like the entire weekend.

The weather forecast all weekend was pretty lousy, and we had all heard that the Arctic Express weather front was barreling our way with the promise of super-cold weather and even a vague threat of snow at pretty low elevations.

I had joked with Teresa that if we actually got snow, I wanted to re-create the famous 1978 Winternationals snow-on-the-starting-line photo. Of course, no one thought that we would until Teresa was talking to a racer in the pits -- who will go unnamed other than to say he is the tuner/driver of an independent Funny Car – who got it in his head that Mother Nature would engineer a snowstorm for us, guaranteeing us 2 inches of snow at neighboring Brackett Field Saturday.

Teresa got the amazing idea to contact our mutual good friend Al Kirschenbaum, subject of that famous Jon Asher photo, to see if "K-bomb" wanted to come down from his desert hideaway to pose for a sequel. "If not," she wrote, "Phil will be honored to follow in your legendary footsteps. And I will be honored to follow in Jon's."

"When I heard about the predicted low snow levels, I actually had the same thought," he wrote her back. "Unfortunately, I didn't make plans to attend this year's event and will thereby blow what surely amounts to this second opportunity of my lifetime. Therefore, I hereby authorize Phil to stand in for [me], but for the sake of authenticity, please ask [Phil] not to shave for the occasion, to wear a hat, and to assume the same awkward stance required back then to help preserve [my] way-inappropriate footwear."

Well, it never snowed, but we did get a 10-minute hailstorm that morning, which was good enough reason for me to traipse out to the starting line (with hail pelting my ears) to get some shots, and our own Marc Gewertz wasn't far behind to document me being there. The pose is kinda close, but obviously there's not near enough white stuff on the ground; you have to look hard to see the hail [here's a better photo I took]. I did have a hat and inappropriate footwear, but I did shave that morning. Close enough for now, but my photo will never replace the original classic.

OK, that's it for today. See you later this week. Thanks to everyone who stopped me in the Snake Pit and elsewhere on the grounds to express their love for the column. It means a lot to me and, just as importantly, impresses the hell out of anyone walking with me.
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