BizarrityWednesday, May 21, 2014

The word I used in the headline today is totally made up, but it was the first thing that popped into my head when I sat down to write this so I'm claiming it as my own. I'd copyright it if I could, but I don't think you're allowed to copyright made-up stuff. Something about "frivolous copyrighting statutes" or the like…

Anyway, we're all on a very short break between Atlanta and Topeka and this past weekend was just bizarre, surreal, exhilarating, and confounding. Also expensive.

The good news first…

Friday was a really good day at the track, with some very nice laps made by a few of the teams.  It was a late schedule to begin with, but we were all out there bright and early anyway and that just made it an even longer deal than it was officially supposed to be. I think on Friday we were at the track for about 14 hours. What happily surprised me was the number of people who ventured out to rural Commerce for Friday qualifying, and once again the negative naysayers were confronted by those pesky facts and didn't have a leg to stand on when crying that the world is coming to an end and drag racing is washed up and kaput. Friday was really pretty strong for any track in any market.

Saturday was amazing. At our last race, in Houston, they finally had to declare it "SOLD OUT" on Saturday, and although I don't know if they did that at Atlanta Dragway, they certainly had to be very close. It was packed, wall to wall and end to end, on both sides of the track, and one of our corporate hospitality guests called an LRS staffer around midday to say that he had arrived a little late and the state troopers out in front of the facility had told him they wouldn't let him in because there was no more room.

As I traversed the pits each day, I also noticed another pleasant bit of demographic goodness. It's been said a lot lately that our crowd is getting older and "the kids" aren't interested in drag racing anymore. Well, I need to start looking around more at other tracks, because the crowd at Atlanta Dragway was many things (including huge) but one thing it wasn't was old. There were a lot of families there, but more importantly there were a lot of teens and 20-somethings in the mix, and that bodes well for all of us. And Bob Bode was there, so that bodes well for Bodes.

The Friday evening session got pushed back about two hours, due to various delays and a little surprise weather, and that's when the bizarre stuff started, led off by Antron's mishap that started with a motor that was "all blowed up" and ended with a scary looking crash that he walked away from with no ill effects.

On Saturday, during Q3, Wilk was in the right lane and Jack Beckman was in the left, and as I stood there behind the car holding the video camera to my eye, I watched as our LRS Mustang took off and ran right down the middle for what was sure to be a fine run. Then all I saw was fire and much of the body disintegrating.

For the record, I will admit to having video-taped a goodly number of runs that have ended with explosions or crashes, going all the way back to the early CSK days with the Worshams. I do not believe, thinking back, that I was ever able to keep my thumb away from the on/off button for any one of them. I don't know why, but it's just impossible. Your brain sees the explosion and your thumb turns the camera off before you can even process the thoughts.

What's weird is that I've also shot a number of final round winners where the car in the other lane either red lights or smokes the tires early, and I can hear all of my teammates cheering and celebrating behind me, but I still stand there and dutifully do my job, holding the camera steady until the car crosses the finish line, and holding my celebration in because I'm taping the whole run. So, my brain thinks quickly enough to overcome that temptation but it doesn't have the available neurons to keep shooting when the car blows up. This time, it was a little different but not in any kind of better way. I saw the car blow up and instead of just turning it off I subconsciously lowered the camera so that I could look with my own two eyes, instead of through the tiny viewfinder. Then my brain announced "Hey, the camera is still running dummy but you have it pointed at the ground" so I lifted it back up again and pointed it down track, as if that was going to make up for it. It's just really weird, and I've never been able to overcome it.

Del had quite a few calamities over the year, tossing a number of bodies into the air (we all remember the Mountain Dew car, the Max Life car, and the all red car we called "Big Red") but I never managed to get more than a tenth of a second of any of those explosions on tape. See bad thing - Turn camera off.  I hope there are no other times in my career where I even have a chance to make good on my pledge to keep the camera running, but we'll see…

Anyway, we did that in Q3 with Fast Jack in the other lane, and as it turned out we were paired up again in Q4, with Jack now over in the right. And that's when his motor exploded and his carbon-fiber body shredded into a bazillion pieces. That's a real number. It comes right before a gajillion on the periodic scale. Tim had smoked the tires at the hit so he was way behind, but one little piece of Jack's car hit our LRS body (our back-up, since we trashed the new one in Q3) right in the nose. It put a nice dent in our car, but we kept it like that as a point of pride and toughness.

And let me say a word about our guys. After Q3, they didn't just have to replace the body, they had to strip the chassis down quite a ways to find everything that was destroyed and either fix or replace all that stuff. And it was a lot of stuff, let me tell you. We had broken parts spread all over the pit, including the blower and intake manifold, with said manifold still being slightly attached to the blower but about 99 percent separated and grotesquely destroyed. It looked like something you'd see in the Zapruder film.  So, bottom line is our guys rallied and got the work done, and we were actually ready to run and waiting to go in the lanes when Q4 came around. Well played, boys!

We'd been watching the weather all weekend, and the Sunday forecast just kept getting worse and worse. Still, it is Georgia in the springtime and things change fast, including weather arriving when it's not expecting and expected weather not arriving at all. All we could do was hit the sack on Saturday night, after another enormously long day at the track, and hope for the best.

Our hope didn't help. I got up at 6:30 and looked out my window to see the gloom and the rain. And it rained all day…

There are long days at the track, and both Friday and Saturday were prime examples of real marathons, but there's nothing quite like a complete wash-out. It's pretty tough on everyone, really.

As you all know, they did all they could to get a round or two in, late on Sunday, but the reality of it was that it just couldn't be done. It was cold, wet, and pretty horrible and after a few pairs of Top Fuel it had to be called off.  The Safety Safari gave it everything they had, but it just wasn't possible

My flight home was Monday morning, out of GSP, and I had planned on driving up there on Sunday night to stay right by the airport. I took one quick look at a few websites and the numbers associated with changing my travel plans were not pretty. Between changing the Delta ticket and extending my rental car another day, plus the fact the race wasn't officially called until well after when I could cancel my hotel room, it was going to cost close to $400 to make the changes, so Tim told me to hit the road and go home.

I drove up to GSP in the dark of a rainy night, and when I approached Greenville I realized I only had a general idea where the Holiday Inn Express was, and I wasn't really sure how to get there. Two exits from the airport I saw a Holiday Inn Express sign and my brain thought "Geez, there can't be two Holiday Inn Express hotels here by the airport, so this has to be it". This is the same brain that can't find a way to keep the camera running when things explode.

I had a memory of looking at the hotel map on their website, and did recall it being on the right side of the road and down around a curve somewhere. This Holiday Inn Express was on the left right by the road. Hmmm…  And it was about 10:30 after three really long days and a 90-mile drive, and all I wanted in the whole wide world was to get to my room. I was pretty sure I was at the wrong place, so I left all my stuff in the car. Sure enough, it was not the right place and my hotel was one exit further on the interstate.

It was still hard to find and on my first try I found nothing, so I pulled over and called the hotel from a parking lot. The very nice young lady gave me directions in the way only a southerner can. She said (and use your best Georgia accent here) "Okay then, you're gonna wanna go left at the Bi-Lo, then go up two lights and you're gonna see a Walgreens on the left. So you're gonna wanna turn left at the Walgreens and you'll come to a stop sign. Just go straight on through there, though, until you come to another stop sign, and you're gonna wanna turn left there and follow that road until the picket fence ends. When the picket fence ends, you're gonna wanna turn right and we're just up ahead around the corner."

When I got there, I entered the lobby and found a welcoming sign by the front desk. You'll see it in the photo gallery. For one night, I was a big celebrity!

The race on Monday was supposed to start at 10:00, and that worried me because my flight was at 9:45 and the little regional jet I'd flown down there on, out of Detroit, did not have WiFi.  Fortunately, after I ate breakfast and got to the gate, I saw that the start had been pushed back some more, and it was going to be a little after 11:15 when they'd run. My flight arrived in Detroit around 11:20, so I had hope.  I figured that with three more pairs of Top Fuel and with Tim and some guy named Force being the third pair of Funny Cars, I might just make it to the Sky Club in time to be a PR guy.

As soon as we landed I turned on my phone and saw that the timing was perfect. I got off the plane, headed down the concourse and through the LSD-like "tunnel of light" at DTW (I'm speculating, since I've never taken LSD, but I saw all those 60s movies so it seems pretty accurate) and into the Sky Club that sits on the second level of DTW right across from the cool fountain that shoots ribbons of water back and forth, mesmerizing little kids but also attracting a constant flow of adults who find it equally as fascinating.

Once I sat down and set everything up, I was right on time and I followed Alan Reinhart's audio-cast from there. I couldn't gain access to ESPN3 from the club, but Alan gave me all the info I needed so with that and the "Live Timing" app it was just like being there, except without the nitro fumes.  And I could hear one car smoke the tires and then the other smoke the tires, and I knew we had ourselves a pedalfest…  When Alan informed me that Wilk had won, I was on Twitter and Facebook within seconds, spreading the word.  Sweet!

Then, with my layover being about 2 hours and 30 minutes, I was able to stay right there and report on the second round, which of course we lost. One up and one down, but we took out the 16-time champ in the first one so that's a good thing (for us).

After that, I got on the flight to MSP and was happy to see an all new interior on the 757-300 we were on, including entertainment units, a USB port, and an electrical outlet right there at my seat!  That was a good thing, because my iPad was about done and it needed juice. I'm so dependent upon that thing now, when I fly, I think I might spontaneously combust it I didn't have it on…

Barb picked me up at the airport, we went back to Woodbury, and I got right to work, putting together my post-event report and holding off the sheer exhausted tiredness I was feeling. When I sent that out, I congratulated myself for handling the PR as if I was there, even though I was not only doing it remote control but also while traveling home. I got lucky, in other words.

After I finished my work, we went out to eat at Lakes Grill (I had the walleye) and then back home to watch a little TV and try to make it to a respectable bedtime. It was actually all I could do to make it to 10:00…  And I slept about 12 hours that night.

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Packed, all the way to the end of the grandstands, on Saturday
So now we ramp it all back up and head to Topeka, which of course means we head to Kansas City and drive to Topeka, and the next week we'll head to Newark and drive to Englishtown. This apparently happens a lot.

There are some destinations on our tour that I don't look forward to getting to. I'm happy at all the race tracks, but it's the "getting there" part of it that can be unpleasant and stressful, especially if overcrowded busy airports with notoriously bad TSA lines are involved, or if there's really bad traffic and long drives to be made, which is specifically why I fly into GSP instead of Atlanta's airport, so that I don't have to deal with the first 45 miles just getting through the Atlanta madness.

And even though it's a pretty decent hike from KC to Topeka, I still enjoy that drive and I always very much look forward to getting to T-Town.  It's where I started in this sport, and I have a lot of great memories of not only Heartland Park, but the people and the town as well.  And I usually make a slight detour on the way to the track one day, just to drive by the house I used to live in there. And I enjoy Kansas City too, considering I lived there for two very enjoyable years when I was the GM of the Kansas City Attack indoor soccer team. It's a great town with great people and I look back on those days and that job very fondly.

It's all good. And here's hoping for good weather, on-schedule runs, a great crowd, and a win. A win would be great!

Wilber, out!