A Gainesville whirlwind…Monday, March 17, 2014

Whew. It's Monday afternoon and I'm back in Woodbury for one night. Last week, just as spring was making its annual return to Liberty Lake and the greater Spokane metropolitan area (why is there no lesser Spokane metropolitan area?) I took off and left the newly minted nice weather behind to make a one-night stop here, and it was still very much winter in Minnesota. Then on Thursday I flew down to Jacksonville (JAX) and drove down to Gainesville, were in comparison it felt very much like summer. Three days at the track, each with bright sun and warm afternoon temps, and then back up to Jacksonville on Sunday night before getting up this morning to catch my flight back up here. And here I am. Tomorrow, back to Liberty Lake.

It was a good weekend for us, although we always want it to be great. We did get another round win, and that makes us 2-3 on the season with both wins coming over Chad Head. We spun the tires in the same spot that was plaguing a lot of teams, against Courtney Force in round two, and that was that. Instead of going to the semifinals, I got to work back in the pit, first by doing my PR stuff and writing my post-event story, and then by pitching in to tear the circus down. We could use a couple of elephants…

I think I'll just ramble, because that's the way I roll…

One of the best parts of the weekend can be summed up in two words: John Fink. Finkster hung up his racing gear a few years back and this was his first visit to see us in a long time, but the second I saw him in the lobby of the hotel it felt like just another race and like we'd just seen each other two weeks before.

He could only stay for Friday, and had to drive back to his home in Fort Myers that night, but we made it like old times by having him ride from our hotel to the track with me, and then I drove him back there after our second session so he could hit the road and get back home. I can't possibly overstate how fantastic it was to see him. Some handshakes and hugs are perfunctory, or simply habit. This was different. I think it's fair to say that John is one of the best and most valued friends I ever made in this sport, so it was just really terrific to have him with us for a day. And he remembered our lucky fist bump during the burnout with no prompting.

Mike Cunningham, who is Chris Cunningham's dad and who is roundly referred to as Mother Mike by just about everyone, has also been retired as of late, but he made the drive up from Fort Lauderdale. He also made it clear that he noticed something I forgot to do, and it really made me cringe because Mike is a valued friend as well. Remember all the names of former CSK and LRS teammates I listed in a previous blog? I absolutely knew I couldn't list everyone, and I also knew I'd forget someone (or many someones). I even sent a couple of extra emails to Phil Burgess after that blog was posted, as other names popped into my head, but the nagging thought of knowing I was leaving some guys out was still there. You can tell where this is going, right? Yep, Mother Mike approached me and the first thing he said was "I can tell where I rate in your book…" Crud.

So I promised him I'd bring him up in this one. And I just did. Mike Cunningham. There, I did it again. Mike Cunningham, Mike Cunningham, Mike Cunningham.

On the same front, and as proof that I never learn a lesson, Gainesville also featured an endless stream of blog reader visitors, and I'm just as sure that I'll leave someone out, but Lisa, Denis, Keith, Gary, Sue, Vinny (plus his dad and grandfather), and the Kuehn family were all there, as well as many others. It was all kind of a blur because I seemed to be running around nonstop all weekend, and I mean that literally because we were parked a long way from the starting line and I averaged about 16,000 steps a day on my FitBit. So, it was great to see everyone who stopped by. Especially Mike Cunningham!

The Vinny I mentioned is a guy I've known since he was a little kid. He's from Tampa, and we met back when Del Worsham won Gainesville for the first time, in 2004. As our guys were towing the car back up the return road to get to the Winner's Circle, they saw "little Vinny" standing at the fence, wearing one of our humorous t-shirts that featured the tag line "Seeing Del Worsham Beat John Force in the Final Round: Priceless!" We had just beaten John in the final round, and Vinny was cheering for us, so a couple of our guys reached over the fence and lifted him over to be in the Winner's Circle with us. That's how small he was. He's not that small anymore… How come everyone is getting so much older? Am I? Time flies...

Remember a while back when I wrote about the difficult search for some embroidered duffel bags? Sue Nethers was one of many people who contacted me with advice or offers of assistance, and she found a fantastic rolling duffel that was just perfect for us. It's made for fire fighters, and can hold all the big bulky stuff like their helmets and boots, so it's a great size and it's really durable. She also embroidered our logo on the front panels, and I got my bag when I got to the track. They really look fantastic, and I think our guys will look just a touch more professional when they travel now.

Had a good long talk in the staging lanes with Jack Beckman, catching up on a lot of stories and thoughts. That was good.

On Saturday, we had over 100 guests in our hospitality area, and they were a fantastic bunch. Many were LRS guests, but there was a sizable group invited by the people at Diversified Yacht Services, and on top of that we had our first Dick Levi appearance of the year. It's always great to see Dick, and it's even better to see him enjoying himself so much.

We also had Annette at the race, for her first appearance on the year, so that was another example of things immediately feeling exactly back to normal the second I saw her. It's just not the same without Annette in the house, but she's made the commitment to cut way back on her travel and spend more time with her mom, Betty, so I can't fault her for that. Plus, Shelley from LRS came down as well, so we triple-teamed all of our guests on Saturday, and everyone had a good time. Much fun was had.

I had three other guests on Saturday as well, and I didn't know they were coming until Friday. Barb's sister Kitty, her son Todd, and Todd's girlfriend Angelique made the trip up from Orlando, and it was great to have them there with us. It's always great to have family at the race track!

Here's some t-shirt news… The new 2014 souvenir shirt is selling like proverbial hotcakes! We're selling a bunch through our "Store" page on TimWilkerson.com, and in Gainesville we made the official move to have our merchandise in the Pirana Z trailer, thanks to Mark Whisnant who operates that trailer. I know we sold more than a few in G'ville because Tim was signing them all weekend.

With the timing of the Gatornationals always constantly happening in mid-March, we always seem to get there right when pollen season kicks off, and this year was no different. Wow. By Sunday, my black rental car was more a shade of greenish yellow. Any of you with allergies know what many of us were going through…

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This made me smile
My buddy Nelson "Nelly" Jones, of ESPN camera fame, was not only on my flight from JAX to MSP today, we actually sat next to each other. Now that ESPN doesn't have the camera guys down there with us on the track, we don't get to see each other as much, so it was great to spend some time with him today, catching up.

Nelly's former starting-line sidekick, Dana Sherman, had to pinch-hit as the roving pit camera guy one day in Gainesville, when our other buddy Matt Ilas was under the weather. I saw Dana more in one day than I have in the last year… Good guys, all of them!

Leah Vaughn, who does PR with a focus on social media for the DSR teams, is one of my valued friends in this gig, and I met her way back when she was still in school and just looking for a way to get into this sport. We talked back then, and I gave her a few pointers, and now she's a superstar in the PR realm. I'm really proud of her, and it's just neat that someone I met when she was so young is now a fixture in the PR realm here.

Back then, I met her dad Brad at the St. Louis race and I got to see Brad in Gainesville as well. I also saw Mike Cunningham! Did I mention Mike Cunningham? If not, Mike Cunningham.

Although I'm a little tired and road weary, it's about to be dinner time here in Woodbury, so that's next on my agenda, as soon as I hit the "Send" button on this blog.

Back to Liberty Lake tomorrow. I'll get back here soon, but in the meantime remember these two words: Mike Cunningham!!!

Wilber, out!