Of stats and trendsTuesday, September 01, 2015

It's Tuesday before a race. It's also September (how can that be?) and the race is the US Nationals in Indy, but the more important opening line here is the fact it's Tuesday, before a race. Why? Because it occurred to me, when I sat at my desk this morning and dove into my stats and numbers (which I do on Tuesday) that writing about such stuff might be fun.

I'm not a "stat geek" like some people are (rhymes with Elon Werner), although I will admit that when I was playing baseball I could pretty much calculate my batting average on the way to first base, but I do keep a few stats going throughout each season. They're just for me, really, because I don't publish them anywhere and really just keep them because, well, I always have! Actually, they are a part of the Year In Review binder I do for LRS at the end of each season, but mostly it's just a comforting and interesting thing to do every race and every year.

My numbers might not even match up with any official stats out there, in many ways, because I have my own methodology and format for them. Like I said, I just like to look at our stats like I'd look at a baseball box score or the AL Central standings. Rankings and averages have simply always been a part of my life, and it's fun to find the trends.

One thing I keep track of that actually must match the official NHRA numbers is the Mello Yello points standings. You can't have any guesswork there, when you're trying to catch or not be caught by another driver. When I was updating my spreadsheet yesterday, I was thinking that we've had a pretty good summer by getting just hot enough to flip the numbers a little in the standings, so I went back to the end of June and did a comparison, just to see if my assumptions were correct.

On June 30, as we prepared to race in Norwalk, we were in 10th place and it was a precarious position. We were only 41 points ahead of Courtney Force at the time, and that lead could've easily evaporated in two rounds if some bonus points were added in. The good news was the fact that the spread from Cruz Pedregon in seventh to Wilk in 10th was only 22 points, and Alexis DeJoria and Robert Hight were squeezed in there between us. I remember writing at the time that "You could cover the seventh to 11th place drivers with an average-size blanket."

Through July and August we then went on to win eight rounds in six races, by going semifinal, semifinal, second round, first round, second round, and semifinal. Not a win or a final round in the bunch, but if you keep consistently getting out of the first round, and throw in a few semis in the process, you're going to be in good shape. It's just math.

So here we are on September 1 and we're in seventh, with a 159-point lead on Courtney, who remains in 11th. Robert is right behind us, after his win in Brainerd, trailing only by seven points. We're 58 ahead of Cruz in ninth, and 86 ahead of Alexis in 10th. As I wrote in my preview story, we're not mathematically in the Countdown, but the scenario for us getting leap-frogged by four drivers at Indy, despite the 30-point rounds we'll have there, is almost (but not quite) impossible. One thing working against such a miracle is the almost zero percent chance anyone in the Funny Car class will walk out of there with another new national record, unless the weather forecasts are off by about 30 degrees. Those bonus points would almost (but not quite) need to be part of the miracle equation.

Factoid: Of the 10 drivers who are currently in the Top 10, only Robert Hight is in the same position (eighth) as he was on June 30. I'll put the standings from the end of June and the start of September in the photo gallery. They're just numbers, but what's fun is to look beyond the numbers at the trends. Who's on the upswing, who's just muddling along, and who's heading in the wrong direction at the wrong time. Interesting stuff.

The other two stat documents I keep are called "Year In Review" and "Race By Race" and these are the ones that are really just for me. They're my racing version of a box score. The reason they can be personalized and may not perfectly match other such stats out there is because of two things. First, I only use full laps for my average eliminations times and speeds. I don't think it's fair to drag the average down by including runs that could've been quicker and faster had the driver whacked the throttle a few more times, so I don't count the laps when the car idles down any large portion of the track. That's just me, I think.

Secondly, there's the problem of tracking wins and losses against other drivers in the 4-Wide race. Who did you beat? Who did you lose to? Different people keep track of that in different ways, but I've always seen the logic in considering that the car that finishes a round first beats the car that finishes fourth, and the second car to the line beats the third. Why? Because the split second the first car crosses the line, the car that ends up being fourth is eliminated by the first car across the stripe, and if you're second across the line it's the third-quickest car you need to beat. Right? Well, I don't know if it's right, but it's the way I do it.

My Year In Review and Race By Race documents will also be included in the photo gallery, and just like the standings they're more fun to analyze than to just look at as sheer numbers. In the Race By Race format, you can see trends in how well we're qualifying, how many times we get out of the first round, and how our points position alters, all in a chronological way (hence the title). In The Year In Review, it's more of a recap of how we've done in terms of rounds, opponents, and venues. I guess I actually am a "stat geek" after all. See you at the monthly Geek Conventions, Mr. Werner.

Actually, I know I'm not a total stat geek because in my documents (other than the points) I clearly just care that they're close to correct and don't spend much (any) time poring over every number to make sure it's all 100 percent accurate. I just like the 30,000-foot view of the trends...

Anyway, I thought you might enjoy seeing how I keep track of the season in terms of numbers and trends. And remember, a broken-bat bloop single looks like a line-drive in the box score. They all count. And now (as I'm running to first) I'm thinking "That one puts me over .300"

Speaking of baseball, I watched Jake Arrieta throw his no-hitter the other night, and I put on Facebook that watching that made me look back and realize I'd only been a part of a no-no once, and it was during my summer with the Danville Roosters of the Central Illinois Collegiate League, after my junior year in college. The Roosters were a very good team in a very good league, and I was thrilled to play there in front of some great crowds in Danville, Ill.

I didn't even play in the game that night, but I warmed up the pitcher before it started just to give our catcher's a break. Despite the fact I'm the son of a Major League catcher, I have never once caught a game in my life and I never considered myself very good at even warming guys up, but that night I put on a mask, borrowed a mitt, and warmed up Charlie Liebrandt. He held them hitless that night, and then went on to a stellar career in the big leagues. I had nothing to do with it, other than getting him ready and then saying "Go get em, Charlie" as he took the field.

Many years later I was in right field, playing for the Sauget Wizards (the semipro team I played on for about a decade after I got out of pro baseball) and my good buddy John Parke was mowing them down. It was probably around the fifth inning when we all became aware of it, and that's what makes no-hitters so special. It's the one time when an entire team starts to get nervous because nobody wants to blow it and you're all pulling for your teammate to do it. If he does, it's a huge celebration at the mound, all for one guy. When JP (that's what we all called John) was closing in on his, we were all fired up and counting the outs. Then, with an 0-2 count on the last guy with two outs in the final inning, he put one right over the middle and it wasn't just a hit, it was a home run. Ouch. We won the game, so that was key, but JP did crack me up later by saying "I just wanted to hurry up and throw it so I could see how it was going to turn out" as if he was simply watching himself in a movie instead of pitching.

And, yes, it's true. You never speak of a no-hitter in the dugout when one is underway. Absolutely never.

Okay, back to this weekend. It's not just Indy, it's not just the Traxxas Nitro Shootout, and it's not just all the hoopla and money surrounding all of it. It's Indy in 2015. That means it was 10 years ago that Del Worsham drove the CSK car to the Skoal Showdown title (and the oversized check for $100,000) and then won Indy on Monday, to double-up.  Meanwhile, there was the surreal juxtaposition of all of that success and joy being counterbalanced by the sheer tragedy happening on TV, down in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, as Katrina devastated so many lives.

You get very focused at the race track, and whether we're racers, officials, or souvenir sales people we all had jobs to do. If it's a personal tragedy, like the loss of someone in your own family, the racing can soothe that a little. When it's a natural catastrophe playing out on news channels 24/7, it's horrifying and sad, but it's on TV. It's hard to look around you at the US Nationals and even believe it's going on. Then you get back to the hotel and your heart sinks again, and you find yourself living this strange double life for a few days. You're a teammate and friend enjoying the weekend of a racing lifetime, and then a concerned human being watching fellow humans suffer so much. Very surreal to be experiencing such highs and lows at the same time.

Winning the Skoal Showdown was a riot, and we all got a piece of the bonus money as part of our compensation, so that was good too. I remember looking ahead to the race on Monday thinking it was daunting task to even remotely consider that we could somehow win four rounds there, as well.

And then we won round one over Jim Head, who smoked the tires. In round two it was Bob Gilbertson, who had upset Tommy Johnson in round one. It was hot and dicey out there, but we got by Bob as well. Whit Bazemore was our opponent in the semifinal, and that's when it "got real" for us. Lose there, and we're just a footnote. Win, and we actually have a chance to climb to the top of that mountain. In other words, you can see the peak from there. We pretty much duplicated our round two run, solid and safe, and Whit smoked the tires on the hot track. We were final-round bound, and I have NEVER been as nervous as I was for the next 90 minutes.

I recall, as race day went on, that Bernie Fedderly (one of the nicest men to ever work in this sport) kept talking to me after every round. He'd say "This is your day, Bob. Just keep going. Del's the best on a track like this."

Do you remember who we beat in the final? It was Frankie Pedregon, who had been having a heck of a good day, by beating Tony Bartone, Eric Medlen, and Gary Scelzi to get there. He was tuned by Brian Corradi, and Brian had that car running every bit as well as we were, round after round. In the final, Frankie left first by a little, but Del put the CSK car's nose out in front about 100 feet before the finish line and it held on for the win.

When we went up there, to face Frankie, I started feeling a little dizzy and then I realized I wasn't actually breathing. I had to mentally remind myself to inhale every few seconds. That's some serious nervousness, right there, when you're so nervous you forget to breathe.

And that was 10 years ago. Seems like yesterday. Here's hoping for more of the same, in any way, shape, or form, this time around in 2015.  Let's go to The Big Go!

I'm in Liberty Lake right now, and Barbara is in the Twin Cities. She comes back here tonight, and then tomorrow afternoon I trade spots with her when I fly back there for a night. I'll then head down to Indy on Thursday.

While she's been gone, we've really had it rough here in terms of the wildfires that have been burning all over the northwest. The ones out in the central part of Washington are the biggest, and when the normal prevailing winds come at us out of the west, all of that smoke blankets Spokane. It was getting pretty thick and smelly early last week, but then when Saturday rolled around we ended up with the "perfect storm" of smoke, wind, and dust.

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The standings on June 30
The winds kicked up to 40 mph with gusts up to 60 mph, and that created bigger fires, more smoke, and a huge dust storm. I went out to get the paper in the morning and it was like walking into a campfire. The smell was overwhelming.

As I sat at my desk, I looked out the window and realized I'd never seen it quite like that before. It was hard to make out any features on the hills and mountains, so I took a photo with my phone. An hour or so later, the peak in the background disappeared altogether and I could barely see the hills just down the street from us, so I took another photo. An hour later it was simply a wall of brown. All I could see were the houses on our street. Crazy. 

The forecast for Sunday included rain, and thankfully we got it, as did much of the state. And it was perfect rain for the situation, as well. A nice "sleep in" kind of morning shower, just gently falling for hours on end. When that moved out on Sunday afternoon, it was a whole new (and better) world here. I know the fires are still burning, but I think we've turned a corner in terms of hot and windy days, so they should be able to battle them better now. More rain wouldn't hurt…

I've actually been able to go for brisk walks the last two days and it's been glorious. And yes, I took the boyz for a walk in their stroller last night, too. The neighbors think it's adorable, and it probably is.

Time to send this in and get back to those stats. Geek time!

Wilber, out!

Off the chartsWednesday, August 26, 2015

By the end of the day, Sunday, in Brainerd it was almost comical. Run after run, record after record, speed after more speed, and the consensus by those of us who witnessed it first-hand was something along the lines of "Are we really seeing this?" In a year that's been off the charts, Brainerd set a whole new standard, and I'm still not sure I truly understand or even comprehend what I saw.

Thanks to the brilliant work of Elon Werner, who "geeks out" on stuff like this and then shares it with the rest of us in the team PR world, I'll give you some numbers and you can let them sink in.

In 2011, we all recall that Matt Hagan was the man who broke the barrier, by running 3.995 at the fall Charlotte race. It was the only three that season.

In 2012 there were four runs in the threes.

In 2013 there were 10 three-second runs total, in the Funny Car class. .

In 2014 there were 19 three-second runs.

So far (with seven races left!) in 2015 there are have been 74 three-second runs.

In Brainerd alone, there were 24 three-second runs, topped off by Hagan's 3.879 to give him a bookend to being the first in the 3.9s, way back when in 2011.

Collectively, we've truly never seen anything like this.

We thought Topeka was crazy. We thought Chicago was nuts. Frankly we've been saying "This is crazy" at just about every race since Topeka, but cumulatively this is just totally off the charts.

I got a number of emails from folks asking everything from "How is this possible?" to "Are some of those guys cheating?" and my responses were something along the lines of "It must be possible, because we're seeing it. And no, I honestly do not believe anyone is cheating, nor do I think there's really any way to cheat yourself to these performances. Plus, we're seeing these runs from just about all the full-time touring teams. We all see all the data, all the incrementals, and we stand there and watch the runs with our own eyes, as well. These crew chiefs are smart, and they'd spot anything questionable in an instant."

You can address the landslide of threes in Brainerd by simply saying "It was a perfect storm of conditions" on a track that is pretty darned good when it cools off. The thing about Brainerd is that the lanes are so equal, the threes can come in bigger bunches when it's cool, because they can come in both lanes just as easily.

This weekend, it was basically perfect. And the Safety Safari have been doing a masterful job of giving us incredible traction and track conditions all year. In Brainerd, it all added up to a three-fest, and I don't see anything but the weather getting in the way of a lot more.

There's also some history to landmarks like this. It takes a long time for these guys to inch up on a new record, pushing the envelope in a lot of different ways to find the edge and pick up a thousandth of a second, here and there, along the way. By the time Matt ran his 3.99 in Charlotte back in 2011 there was a ton of data to back up how they got there. Even with each smoke-the-tires failure, you learn.

So, once it's done there's all that information to work with, and these tuners start to figure out where they're leaving any little bit of e.t. on the table. They continue to learn, they continue to tweak, and in effect they all become a lot smarter because of all the data and the new combinations they're adding to their strategy and committing to memory. Talk about learning on the job!

So here we are. Wilk ran "okay" in qualifying but we went into the race in the No. 10 spot because the car dropped a cylinder on all three qualifying runs. We qualified with a 4.018 on a run that was on seven for almost the entire lap. Mind boggling. And Tim said "If we can figure out how to get this thing to run on eight the whole way, we'll be right there in the middle of all this, running with anyone out here."

In round one, after a lengthy rain delay on Sunday, it ran on all eight. and Wilk's personal best of 3.971 (from his first-ever three, back at Topeka) stood absolutely no chance. This time, it ran 3.927.

So Wilk went his whole career aiming at landmarks like this, and he was the 13th driver to finally dip into the threes when he did it at Heartland Park. He'd run three more since then but that first one held as his career best until Sunday at Brainerd. And then that new career best lasted about two hours.  In round two, the LRS car ran 3.921 at a huge 328.70 mph. Incredible.

We were human (rather than flawless) in the semifinal against eventual race winner Robert Hight, "only" putting a 4.005 on the board when it, again, dropped a cylinder. Crazy.

That semifinal finish, however, provided a big boost to our Countdown prospects. Courtney Force, Alexis DeJoria, and Cruz Pedregon all surprisingly went out in the first round, so we picked up two rounds on each of them. Only Robert gained on us.

Courtney remains in 11th place, so the one number we focus on in terms of clinching our spot is her point total. Right now we are 159 points ahead of her with only Indy left to go. Again, because Indy is going to be 30 points per round instead of 20, we have not mathematically clinched, but basically Courtney is going to have to run the table in just about every possible way at Indy to overtake us, and we'd have to probably cooperate by not qualifying. On top of that, of the trio made up of Alexis, Robert, and Cruz, all three of those drivers would have to get around us too. We don't have anything in our hands yet, but I'd greatly prefer to be in our position than in any of the others. It's going to be a very interesting Indy, that's for sure.

And speaking of Indy, the fan vote for the final Top Fuel and Funny Car slots in the Traxxas Nitro Shootout is underway. Yes, I'm the happiest guy in the world to not have to mount another campaign for that. And, it's easier to vote this year, because the ballot is at NHRA.com instead of Facebook. Just go here:



Other Brainerd ramblings…

It was such a unique event for me. I did the PR from Woodbury on Friday and Saturday, which allowed me to multitask doing a bunch of other stuff while I followed along with Alan Reinhart on the Audiocast. I was also watching the radar and could see the big line of storms approaching Brainerd from the west on Saturday, and that line finally washed out Q4.

I needed to get to St. Cloud that night, so I watched and tried to time it so that I wouldn't have to drive through the worst of the storm on my way there. As I backed my rental car out onto the street, the bright red line was right over St. Cloud and moving to the east/northeast. I was hoping it would track north enough to miss my drive altogether, but it didn't.

My rental car was a midsize but it was a very lightweight midsize car. Add to that the fact most major highways in Minnesota are grooved to help with driving in snow, and top it off with very strong gusty winds along the way, and it was a "two hands on the wheel, at 10:00 and 2:00" deal the whole way. That little car was darting all over the place, and I wouldn't have wanted to be a big-rig driver that night either. Those guys were battling the elements the whole way.

I got to St. Cloud around 9:00, relaxed for a bit and then hit the sack. Up at 6:30 and driving to Brainerd in mist and drizzle by 7:30. It rained the whole way, until I got to the track.

It held off right up until the end of driver introductions, and when it did start to come down I went to the Media Center (atop the left-side grandstand) rather than our pit. For one thing, we had an old-school single pit area and it was crowded, and for another I could at least be productive on social media with my laptop, in the Media Center. Plus, I was surrounded by all my PR colleagues and they are as solid a family as any you could have. Also funny.

As a group, we watched it drizzle, mist, and rain for about three hours, and we escaped the boredom as best we could.

When it stopped, the rain drops ceased to fall from the sky but the three-second runs started falling like maple leaves on a windy fall day. (Oooh, that was some descriptive writin' right there, baby. I'm a trained professional!)

Hey, before I write one more word…  A huge Thank You and major kudos to everyone at Brainerd International Raceway and the Brainerd Lakes region. The track staff and an enormous army of volunteers did an amazing (stunning) job of fixing and repairing everything that was damaged or destroyed just five weeks ago. Still lots of broken trees and other evidence, but in most ways you couldn't tell anything had happened.

The roof on the Media Center had been mostly blown off, and the whole place was trashed, so we got almost an entirely new room out of their hard work and ceaseless dedication. Way to go Brainerd!

I left right before the final round, which was threatened not by rain but by darkness (no lights at BIR). They got it in, and I got back to Woodbury around 8:45. Event complete.

I had originally booked an 11:30 a.m. flight on Monday, but as the weekend progressed that seemed less and less desirable. My "Behind The Ropes" column, for National Dragster, was due on Monday and I thought it would be better if I switched to the night flight and got the column written during the day. I gave up my seat in First Class to change the flight, and instead went out on the 9:30 p.m. flight. I was in this new "middle" class on that flight, and it worked out okay. On certain aircraft (this was a 757) they've configured the seats to create a new couple of rows that have better chairs, free drinks, and more legroom. I got one of those, and honestly had more legroom than on my last flight on an A320 in the front cabin. Plus, no one sat in the middle seat, so the other Diamond Elite guy in my row and I were happy about that.

Changing that flight led to another surprising and unexpected pleasure (and I'm really glad I got my column written and submitted as my first priority in the morning so I could take advantage of it.) Had I stayed on the morning flight, I would've left MSP about two hours before Barbara landed there, to make her connection to Chicago. With me still being in town, and with her discovering that she had nearly a four-hour layover at MSP, she called me when she landed and I jumped in the car to drive over there and pick her up. Cool!

I needed a couple of things at the Apple Store, so we drove across the freeway to Mall of America and hung out there for 90 minutes. I got what I needed, we spent some time in the new Hard Rock Cafe (needless to say, an amazing collection of Prince stage costumes!), then we stared up at the red seat for a sec before I took her back to the airport. Yes, that's the red seat that marks the approximate location of the landing spot for the longest home run Harmon Killebrew ever hit at old Metropolitan Stadium, which is exactly where Mall of America sits now.

Back when Harmon hit it, they painted the seat where it landed bright red, so any fan could walk into the park and marvel at the distance covered by that wallop. Hence the red seat inside the theme park at MOA. For years it just hung there anonymously, as if you needed to be "in the know" to catch the reference. This time, I was pleased to see a new banner hanging next to it. If you're ever there, it's on the wall just above the log-flume ride. And if you then turn around and walk diagonally across the theme park, about 500 feet, you'll find a bronze home-plate on the floor. That one is exactly where home was in the ballpark. If you didn't know that, now you know…

After I dropped Barb off I went back to Woodbury to finish packing and then I headed right back to the airport a good three hours before my flight, because I had dinner plans…

I've written about Ike's at MSP before, but it once again did not disappoint (and no, they have no idea I write this blog and I didn't tell them, I just enjoyed a meal and paid the bill.) Granted, being the best steakhouse at any airport in America is not exactly a high bar to clear, but Ike's is really fantastic. I had the Filet Mignon with asparagus and Bernaise sauce. Basically, that's a Filet Oscar-style, without the crab meat. Superb!

The three-hour night flight crawled along about as slowly as I expected, and it still does frustrate me that I can never sleep on a plane when doing so would really be advantageous. I only fall asleep when it doesn't matter. So, I just surfed the web and answered emails on my iPad for the duration, listening the the new Breaking Benjamin album on my headphones, along with lots of other music. You can cover a lot of musical ground in three hours. Everything from Evans Blue, to Evanescence, to Nothing More, with some Chevelle and Tool thrown in. Yeah, I'm 59 years old but I think you're as young as the music you listen to, and there's lots of new rock out there that I really admire and enjoy. Also a lot of vocal-chord-shredding guttural screaming, which I can't stand, but there's plenty of good new stuff out there, with some real depth and talent. I love it when I hear little bits of unexpected extra technicality in a song, because that shows the band really cares about the craft, slipping in something new or different that doesn't "need" to be there but makes the song better by its very presence. That's the music nerd in me...

We finally landed around 11:30 (to make the flight even later, it was 30-minutes late coming into MSP) and by the time I drove through a very quiet Spokane and walked into the house from the garage, it was well after midnight. Liberty Lake was effectively asleep. I didn't see another car on the road in our little town here, and not one business open.

The boyz were sleeping right on the bed when I got home, which always cracks me up. They actually "go to bed" at night, even if we're not there. I was still pretty wired from the long day and the long flight, and despite the fact my body still felt like  it was on Central Time, it took me two hours to wind down. When I went to bed at 2:00 a.m. Pacific, it felt like 4:00 in the morning to me. Boy was that a short night. I couldn't help waking up at 6:30…  All caught up now, though.

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This was what we had to stare at, for three hours on Sunday morning. And it was cold, too!
And for your Washington wildfire report, I'll let you know that they're all still burning. All the firefighters, volunteers, National Guard troops, and tanker planes don't stand a chance unless we finally get some rain out here. Maybe this weekend…

It's so bad the AQI (Air Quality Index) has been off the charts as well, like it is today. The Washington State Cougars football team is trying to decide what to do with their home opener against Portland State on September 5th. An AQI over 100 is considered dangerous and unhealthy for anyone who suffers from asthma or has any sort of lung issues whatsoever. Right now the AQI is hovering near 150. And yes, it's hard to breathe out there. If it's still up this high on September 5th, they're not going to play in Pullman. They don't know where they'll play, but you can't put on a football game in air like this.

Here's hoping for some rain.

And here's hoping all of you have a great rest of the week and a spectacular weekend. Can you believe it's about to be September? Wow.

Indy's next week. Strap in and hold on…

Wilber, out!

10 Years After…Tuesday, August 18, 2015

I was flipping channels on the big screen last night, and when I got to the Palladia network they were showing the movie "Woodstock" which (you're not going to believe this) is a documentary about some random rock concert in a field out in upstate New York. I think the star of the show was some dairy farmer named Max Yasgur. And, instead of opening the festivities (which appear to have stretched over multiple days in widely varying weather conditions) the Star Spangled Banner actually was played as the show ended, by some groovy cat name Jimi Hendrix.

In all seriousness, I've probably watched "Woodstock" two dozen times, because it's clearly the most epic gathering of rock fans ever, the most epic gathering of rock groups ever, and the craziest gathering of humanity in my lifetime, all taking place on Max Yasgur's farm near Bethel, N.Y.  One of the groups in the show was a band fronted by Alvin Lee, and the name of that band was 10 Years After. I actually owned one album by that outfit, but the song that prompted me to buy said album (a hit single entitled "I'd Love To Change The World") was recorded two years after Woodstock, so it's not in the movie (or on the Woodstock triple-album, which I also owned). Instead, from 10 Years After we get what is one of my least favorite songs from the entire concert, called "I'm Going Home" and it consists mostly of Alvin Lee making funny faces while he plays the guitar and sings the line "Going home. See my baby" over and over for about six hours. Or at least it seems that way. Some songs you  just don't get, and that's one of those for me. I'm not saying it's a bad song, I'm just saying I don't get it. I still don't get it. Great movie, though.

And all that is just a roundabout way of getting to this moment. Guess what? We missed a very big anniversary a week ago Sunday. I knew I had started this blog back in 2005, and had a memory that it was just before Brainerd, and I was correct. Except Brainerd, that year, was August 11-14. My first-ever blog, which was nothing more than an introduction for me, since I was a guy basically no one had ever heard of, was short and sweet and it was put out there to the world on August 9, 2005. I'm sure it was met with many quizzical looks and a lot of "Who cares?" responses.

But, here we are 10 years later (or 10 Years After - "Going home. See my baby…"). To be precise, here we are 10 years and nine days later. And they said it would never last.

Everyone was pretty fired up about these blog things back then, and a lot of my teammates on the old CSK crew thought they'd jump right in and contribute on a monthly basis, but like most things that don't come naturally that turned out to require more effort than overworked crew guys felt like putting in, so it didn't take long for me to be here all by myself. By early 2006, it was pretty obvious I'd have to do all the writing or this wasn't going to last very long. How much writing? At the time I was cranking these out three or four times a week and as far as I knew, this thing might just last an entire year. When we started, it was supposed to go for an entire month. A year seemed completely impossible. I wasn't sure I could do it for a month.

To this point I've written somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,100 installments. With each one being in the range of about 2,500 words (that's a conservative estimate) it's pretty much guaranteed that I've now written something like 2.75 million words here. A better guess would be well over 3 million. Heck, it could be closer to 4 million. I'm not going to count them all, I know that.

And, as you read this you know you're not the only one doing so, right? I mean, after all, I regularly write about a large number of crazy characters I've met because of this blog, so there are certainly multiple others who are reading this. Well, tracking that stuff varies over time and by methodology, but it's safe to say (I think) that on a regular basis there are close to 10,000 of you spread around the globe. We're tight-knit little group.

The most important thing about this blog and the last 10 years ("Going home. See my baby…") has been the experience for me. I started out almost convinced that this would fail horribly, but I dove in anyway. The challenge was to write the sort of stories that at least seemed interesting enough to keep people coming back, whether it was racing-related or not. We've been on cruises together, you watched Pond Cam for the first six or so years, you knew Shasta before he died and Boofus and Buster after that, and we've had a riot doing it all. I've stretched out my writing muscles to find a way to continually get on here and use that "stream of consciousness" technique that often starts with me having no idea what I'm going to write about, but then I watch my fingers clack on the keyboard for an hour and I get to read what I just wrote. It's a weird thing.

And how long will this crazy thing continue? I've had no idea from the start, so I don't see any reason to have an idea about that now. I think it will last as long as it can.

August 9, 2005 was a long time ago. A decade (see, I avoided the 10 Years After reference there). Just a few days after I wrote that first introductory blog, we raced in Brainerd. For the record, my team at the time went 1-for-2 in the first round, with Del Worsham taking out some guy named Tim Wilkerson despite the fact both guys had reaction times that could calculated with a calendar, while Phil Burkart (driving the blue CSK car after he spent the night at our Woodbury house before the race) lost to the eventual race winner. That would be a guy we all miss, to this day. Eric Medlen.

Other winners that weekend were Doug Kalitta in Top Fuel, Kurt Johnson in Pro Stock, GT Tonglet in Pro Stock Motorcycle, Steve Torrence (yep) in Top Alcohol Dragster, Bob Newberry in Top Alcohol Funny Car, and Bo Butner (yep) in Comp.

And that week, when these blogs began, I was joined by fellow bloggers David Grubnic, Doug Herbert, Karen Stoffer, Hillary Will, and Tommy Johnson Jr.

So now it's Brainerd week again. 10 Years After. "Going home. See my baby…"  Thank  you, Alvin Lee. And thank you to the descendants of the late Max Yasgur, without whom Woodstock couldn't have happened.  But mostly, like 99.9 percent mostly, I just have this to say:

Thank you for your loyalty and your amazing support.

It's been a wonderful trip. There have been ups and downs, wins and losses, thrills and spills, and too many tall tales to recollect, but it's all been an honor and a privilege to provide.

It's been an experience of a lifetime for me, and it's added so many good friends and familiar faces to my world that my time at each race track is now utterly different than it was before I started this.

It's been slightly more than half of my entire 19-year PR career, with the Worshams and the Wilkersons. That can't be possible.

The best part of it has been all of you. The kindness, the support, the friendships, and the shout-outs at the race tracks ("Hey Wilber!") are priceless. What a ride. And it continues…

Let's go to Brainerd again, just like it's 2005!

"The New York State Thruway is closed, man!" - Arlo Guthrie

Wilber, out!

The Great Pacific NorthwestTuesday, August 11, 2015
The headline today is both a description and a name. This part of the country is known, collectively, as the Great Northwest or the Great Pacific Northwest, and many people think that's a truly accurate description, myself included. It's a pretty great part of the country. As a subset of the Great Northwest, the Spokane area calls itself the Great Inland Northwest, since we're all the way across the state from the Pacific, but I think to someone in Florida, Texas, or New York it probably is included in the overall term, which generally means Washington and Oregon.

Okay, with the geographic story out of the way, it's time to describe my last week, which started right about this time one week ago, on last Tuesday, when I drove down to Portland. Of course, you would know that if you read my last blog installment, but it seemed appropriate to once again set the stage. On Wednesday, I was up early, packed up, checked out, and on my way to the Western Star truck assembly plant, and I arrived at our rendezvous point at the McDonald's on Swan Island right on time. Amazingly I got there just a minute after Jason Curry from Curry's Transportation pulled in, and also just behind the Western Star rep who had just  arrived. I did beat someone there, since I got there about one minute before that big gorgeous Team Wilkerson transporter turned the corner as well.

You've probably seen the Curry's Transportation logo on our race car (rear quarter panels). Jason and his wife Hope own the company, based in Muscatine, Iowa, and they've become a valued partner in our racing organization. As a Western Star dealer, they made it happen for us to take delivery of our new Western Star truck this summer. We often call sponsors "valued partners" and Jason and Hope are the perfect example of that. Great people, too.

We headed over to the plant, and it took a while to get us checked in through the security gate and parked in front of the building, but it all went well and we were all truly excited to be there. Western Star had thought this through, and set up a company cookout lunch for all the employees on the day we were scheduled to be there, so they parked our rig out front and we set up the race car right where all of them would come out of the door to get their lunch. Before that, though, it was time to tour the plant.

We got our yellow vests and our safety glasses, as well as ear pieces so we could hear our guide explain things via radio (too noisy in there to have to shout all time), and then we put some stylish yellow plastic caps on the toes of our shoes. When our guide said "If you want to wear these clackers, we can get off the tour trail and go anywhere we want in there. Do you want to wear them?"  As you can probably imagine, there was an instantaneous and unanimous positive reply to that comment.

I've toured other plants and businesses before, including automobile assembly plants, breweries, and wineries and they've almost universally been pre-planned and carefully choreographed deals that stuck to a safe route where we could only observe the work being done from a safe distance. This deal was going to be very different, and it was one of the cooler things I've done.

Our guide John took us in and our first impression was a little bit of awe, looking at the size of the place and all the work going on. We traced the assembly process from the bare chassis to the finished product. We saw the paint booth in action, saw the motors get installed on the chassis, watched as the cabs were mated to the trucks, saw interior assembly of the day cabs and sleepers, and saw finished trucks roll off the line.

I'm not what you'd call "a truck guy" and I really never knew if there was much of a difference between any of the brands, but it didn't take long for even a PR guy like me to realize just how different these Western Star trucks are. The level of craftsmanship, the attention to detail, the ability to totally customize each truck in just about every way ("Do you want two horns or four horns on the roof?") and the commitment to making the best trucks in the world, even if the assembly process takes longer, is far more labor-intensive, and costs more, was beyond impressive. And if you're thinking "Well that sounds like Western Star trucks are the Mercedes-Benz of the trucking industry, Bob" you'd be absolutely right. Western Star is a division of Daimler, the company that also owns and builds Mercedes automobiles.

There really wasn't anywhere we couldn't go, and one of our biggest concerns was staying out of the way as the units were inching along the assembly line, but the workers were very gracious and treated us with great acceptance. We also had our heads on swivels to make sure nothing was going to roll over us, into us, or on top of us!

When the tour was sadly over, we made our way back outside just as the lunch cookout was about to start, and that's when the interaction really kicked up a notch. The workforce grabbed their hot dogs and drinks, and after they ate they descended on the race car to have a closer look and get Tim's autograph. Easily one of the best displays I've ever been a part of, and as soon as it was time for all of them to get back to work we loaded the car back into the transporter to head about a mile away, where Stage 2 of our day was another display at the Daimler Trucks corporate headquarters.

Daimler is building a new headquarters right next door, but the current one is still a spacious and modern place. They blocked off the right lane of the road out front, for our rig, and then we rolled the Funny Car up onto the plaza right in front of the building, which houses not only the executive team but also a large contingent of engineers who design these fantastic trucks.

So try to picture this… A Funny Car rolls up right below all of the front windows in a building full of automotive engineers. What happens next? Well, it looked like a fire drill. The doors opened and too many people to count came pouring out to see what we'd put in front of their office building. Now at almost any other display, especially if it's just for the general public at a retail store, the people who come to look at the car tend to be a little shy (maybe intimidated, even) and a bit standoffish, because they don't want to get too close to something like this. You generally have to say "Come closer, and get a better look at this thing…" to even get them to peek under the body. Truck engineers are not the general public.

These men and women poured out of the doors and never hesitated to crawl right up under the body, to point at different parts of the car and marvel at all of it. I have never been a part of a more enjoyable display. I think the reason for that is because these men and women asked really intelligent questions about every function on the race car. They make huge and powerful trucks, but the concept of 10,000 horsepower and 0-to-300 mph in less than four seconds made their eyes wide and, typically, made them laugh in amazement.

It was a fantastic day, and we even let it run a little long because the Daimler people kept asking questions we enjoyed answering. Tim even made sure a couple of them got to sit in the car, including the President of the company. Awesome day, awesome display.

Most of our team had actually taken the support rig straight up to Seattle from Sonoma, to get our Hospitality Center set up, so it was just Nitro Nick and Joe Serena with the rig, Tim and Krista in their rental car, me in my new car, and Jason and Hope in their rental car. We got loaded up, and the Wilkersons and the crew guys hit the road for the race track. Jason and Hope had more Great Northwest touring to do, and I was headed for the coast.

It was a fun ride over to Seaside, and I got there late in the afternoon at the RiverTide Suites hotel. As the name would imply, there's a river running right in front of the place (the ocean beach is a couple of blocks to the west) and I saw firsthand why the hotel has that name. The ocean tide backs up into the channel and the river can either be right up on its banks, like it was when I looked out my window, or it can be almost empty, like it was when I checked again in the morning. Fascinating. Also, the hotel was a really nice place and Seaside is a great little town. I'd recommend it to anyone.

The next morning, it was my time to tour the coast, heading up US 101. The only problem with driving on 101 by yourself is that you have to be so focused on the actual driving part of the deal and that makes it a little hard to soak it all in. When the choice is keeping the car in its lane or driving off a cliff, the option is pretty clear-cut. But, I did love the drive, especially the really winding and curvy parts, and then I came to Astoria, where the Columbia River empties in to the Pacific Ocean.

Big tanker ships have to get through there, but 101 has to get over the river too, so they built a truly massive bridge to make that happen. There's not a lot of flat land between the steep hills and the water, so to actually get up onto the bridge you have to drive up a circular ramp, like you might see in a parking garage except roughly 10 times bigger. Then, it's up and over the bridge, with one lane in each direction. I'd like to tell you how fantastic the view was from up there, but I have to admit I was pretty focused on just going straight. Big bridge. Very big. And very high.

(10 minutes later…) I'm back. Yesterday, I didn't have the energy or the interest to do much more than write a column for National Dragster, compile all my receipts from the trip and enter the amounts on my "Travel Expenses" spreadsheet, and answer a bunch of emails. Today I'm doing laundry. I dropped off all my dry cleaning before I started this, and had four loads of clothes to put in the washer. The last load of colors just got done and I needed to do the folding before it got out of hand. The whites are in the dryer now. I'm sure this is all really pertinent and entertaining stuff I'm writing, right? Laundry time!

The difference between flying out on a standard four-day racing trip and being on the road for a week, doing a lot more other than just flying and working at the race, can be measured in laundry. I took a lot of extra stuff (no need to worry about checking bags!) and although I didn't wear all of it, I consider it all "dirty by association" because the clean stuff and the worn stuff all shared the suitcase on the way back. It's almost done…

Back to the trip. So after I didn't die driving across the mammoth bridge at Astoria, my GPS did an odd thing. My eyeballs saw the signs for 101, and I followed the signs. According to my GPS, though, I had wandered off the road and was driving around on a peninsula with no pavement whatsoever. Just as I was about to sort that out (or possibly backtrack) I saw another sign for 101, so I just kept going. After 30 minutes, another road merged with 101 and I think possibly that other road was a short-cut of some kind, that my GPS liked. But why it thought I was driving through the forests is still a question that remains unanswered.

My next destination was Aberdeen and Grays Harbor, to find that old ballpark I told you about in the last installment. Well before the days of everyone having GPS, back in the dark ages when you had to carry maps or an atlas, I had an absolutely uncanny ability to arrive in any town (when I was a baseball scout for the Blue Jays) and simply find the ballpark without any effort. I'd almost always just drive right to it, despite the fact I'd never been there before or hadn't been there in years. It's still an ability I have, apparently. I drove straight to Olympic Stadium. It's still there. I also recognized the motel we stayed in, when we came there to play the Mets in 1979. That's how my brain works. I remember all of this stuff from so long ago, but can't remember any of my passwords.

Also, smartphones have made us all lose the ability to know anyone's actual phone number, because we just tap on their names or faces on our phones. When I was five years old, our phone number at home was 966-3237. Right now, I have no idea what Barb's work number is, and it usually takes me a while to get her cell number right. I don't know anyone else's number in my phone. I need to remember Barb's because it's the number tied to a lot of our "frequent purchaser" accounts at various retail stores, but I still have to think about it to get it right, and it often takes two tries. But, I digress.

Olympic Stadium is, indeed, still standing and still in use. The baseball field is tucked over in one corner (I could see the mound from where I parked out beyond left field) and there are football goal posts where they play that sport too, with the end zones being in the right field corner and out in center field. The place is not huge in the sense of having hundreds of rows of seats or multiple decks, but it's enormous in terms of its footprint. As they did when I played there, they have to put up a temporary fence from the right-center gap to the left field foul line, or a home run to left would have to travel about 600 feet. Crazy place.

And did I ever tell you the story about one of our pitchers being thrown out of the game at Grays Harbor? It was, of course, drizzling and we were all pretty miserable. On top of that, we felt like the home-plate umpire was missing calls terribly, and over the course of one inning he just seemed to get worse and worse. Being in foul moods to begin with, we first began chirping at him about his strike zone, but as it got worse so did our shouted complaints. Finally, he'd had enough and he whipped off his mask and headed straight for our dugout. Looking at us sitting on the bench, he pointed at one guy and said "You're okay" and then went down the line for four or five other guys saying "You're okay, and you're okay, and you're okay, but YOU are OUTTA HERE!" and he threw out Keith Call, one of our starting pitchers. Keith never spoke all summer, and he surely didn't yell anything at the umpire, so that only made us more indignant and we all started yelling back "You idiot, he didn't say a thing" or lines of that sort. Then, our manager Rich Morales yelled at us all to shut up. When we did, and the umpire went back to the plate, and Keith went to sit in the bus, Rich taught us a lesson about something we had missed. He said, "Don't you realize what he just did? He knew Keith pitched last night. He threw out a player we didn't need. You guys are the idiots." I guess we were. Still felt bad for Keith, though.

Okay, after that diversion it was time to finally head up to Seattle, and I got to the hotel right around rush hour. I know this, because after a full day of leisurely driving through incredible scenery, the last 50 miles of this trip, basically from Olympia to the hotel in Auburn, were awful. There were times the traffic stopped for minutes on end, especially in Tacoma. That was not a fun way to finish a great day. What was great, though, was my view out of my hotel window. Yes, I-5 was down below, but I had an unobstructed view of Mt. Rainier. Awesomeness.

With it being a big weekend for Rottler, our great partners who make the best engine building machines in the world, we knew it was going to be a busy weekend but they had assigned a couple of really great people to this adventure, and between the Rottler staff and our staff, I think we pulled off a huge and popular event. Basically, they loved it. We had a very big crowd on Saturday, and it was a ton of fun to have them all there. A giant shout-out to Anthony, Ed, and Melissa. You guys were fantastic, and thanks for taking care of everything on your end so that we could focus on entertaining your staff and your customers. I love it when teamwork comes together!

We "Rottler-ized" our hospitality area pretty well, too. When this new set-up was made, Tim had the foresight to order one privacy panel (the smaller waist-high "fence" that goes around the base of the area) with a Rottler logo on it, and another with a Summit logo, because we knew we'd be hosting hospitality for both great companies this year (Summit Racing Equipment hosted guests at Norwalk). It all looked great for Rottler, and they were all-smiles.

It helped that we ran great all weekend, running better every run from Q1 through the first round on Sunday. I'm not sure I remember another race where we ran right in the thick of things in every session and improved on every run on top of that. And we ran our best lap of the weekend in round one (4.010). Unfortunately, against my buddy Del Worsham, in the second round, we put a hole out at the hit of throttle and he whacked us.

In terms of a second-round finish, though, it couldn't have gone much better. We beat Cruz Pedregon in round one, and he's the driver right ahead of us in points. We left Seattle only two points behind him (he's in seventh, we're in eighth). Behind us, Robert Hight was a round ahead of Alexis DeJoria, who came into Seattle in 10th. She raced Courtney Force, who came into Seattle right behind her in 11th. Alexis beat Courtney, and Robert lost to Chad Head. When Alexis lost in round two, she moved into a tie with Robert and we kept the same gap on her. We picked up a round on both Robert and Courtney, and we're now 124 points ahead of Courtney. That would basically be seven rounds, and you might say "But Bob, that's seven rounds and there are only eight rounds left. You're a lock!" but if you said that you'd be forgetting that this year they made Indy more "interesting" (also read that as "stressful") by making it "points and a half" for each round. It'll be 30 points a round in Indy, instead of the 20 per round everywhere else. That's a throwback to the old days when the points for "The Big Go" were (I think) double what they were at other races. So, there's still a lot to be settled, but we're running well and I'd sure rather be in our position that in some of the others…

In terms of friendly faces in Seattle, I really have to say that it's become my single biggest race in terms of not only seeing blog readers who have become real friends, but also meeting longtime readers who I had never met before. This time I think I shook hands and chatted with at least 12 people who have been reading this since Day 1, and I'd never met any of them before. I also had a number of people say hello, who live either right here in Liberty Lake or near here in the greater Spokane area. Crazy.

The longtime group was out in full force. We had Crazy Jane and her hubby Chris, Tom From West Linn (TomFWL) and his son Doug, Scott The Pilot (STP - and we even went out for pizza together Friday night), Kim The Lawyer and his son Andrew, Terry the Poster Man, Tristan my longtime buddy from back in the CSK days, Rush fan Wayne, and Ryan from Walla Walla, among many others. I'm sure I'm leaving someone off this list, so I'm sorry about that but you all know I appreciate the support and, in many cases, great friendships.

 1 of 14 
Touring the Western Star assembly plant, with our yellow "clackers" on our shoes
And now we're closing in on an important date in blog history. The Brainerd race is next week, and that marks a big anniversary for this behemoth. 10 YEARS! That's impossible to believe, and I can't even fathom how many millions of words I've written over this decade of Blogmania.

It's been a pleasure. It's been an honor. And it's been a real privilege to do this. And the biggest thanks go to my esteemed editor and mentor, Phil Burgess. It was Phil who heard me loud and clear back in August of 2005, when I said "I can't really do this ghost-writing it for Del, because I'm in Minnesota and he's in So Cal, and he won't have any desire to write it and have me edit it. So what do we do?" His idea was to see if a guy nobody ever heard of could write about stuff most people didn't care about, and still keep them entertained. And I was supposed to do it for a whole MONTH! I figured that was impossible, but I'd give it a shot.

My wife Barbara thought I was nuts and destined to both fail (because why would anyone want to read about my life?) and on top of that I'd probably be publicly humiliated. Well, okay, that second part is fairly routine for me, but I don't think I failed. It's been riot to do this, and we still have more of this interaction to come. Thanks, to all of you, for hanging in there this long. I'm still stunned, on a weekly basis, how many of you are out there.

Finally, on a lighter note, Barbara and I have officially taken the step to go from "Class A - Crazy Cat People" to "Elite Platinum-Level Certifiably Insane Crazy Cat People" with the delivery of our new deluxe "Cat Stroller." I got the idea from Tina Hartman, Richard's wife, who brought their dog to the races in a purpose-built pet stroller, and Boofus and Buster absolutely love this thing. They jump right in and the mesh top snaps down over them, and it allows them to see in all directions.

Last night, when it was dusk and the final golfers had left the green, I loaded them up and we took a long stroll on the cart path. They just sit in there and stare at everything. Pretty much sublime, for them. So, we're guilty-as-charged, but they really are our kids… And yes, they're pretty spoiled, if by "pretty" you mean completely and utterly.

Hey, we get a weekend off now but Brainerd beckons. See you next week. Has it really been 10 years? Wow...

Wilber, out!
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