I sat here at my desk at our Liberty Lake home trying to come up with the perfect headline for today's blog, and I kept drawing a blank. I think it's because there were actually so many options, and there will be (I think) a lot of important content in this installment, so my brain was trying to somehow tie all that together into something witty, pertinent, and all-encompassing. And then I looked at the "dock" along the lower edge of my MacBook Pro screen, where all the little icons for various apps are situated, and I saw the number 29 staring at me from the icon that represents my iCal calendar. It's September 29th. Holy guacamole, it's almost October. That settled it.
I have no idea how it got to be almost October so fast, but my calendar doesn't lie. If it did, I'd hire a new calendar, so I'm thinking it's legit. And we have only four races left to go. If I was texting all of you instead of typing on a computer, I'd just insert the letters SMH, which of course stand for Shaking My Head. LOL. ICYMI. IMHO. FYI. OYCSN. (That last one stands for "Okay You Can Stop Now")
First of all, let's take a quick look back at St. Louis…
Once again, the records fell and the general consensus was "How long can we keep doing this?" with regards to all the record-setting performances. My answer to that question would be "I have no Earthly idea" and that's because I could never have imagined anything like this. Topeka, way back then on Memorial Day, seemed to knock over a very large bucket of performance and it's been spreading across the ground ever since.
We are, at the root of it, slaves to the conditions. It just seems like we've had good to great conditions at a lot of races, and St. Louis was the prime example of that. Heading into the race, all of the forecasts called for very comfortable temperatures, which are always a treat at a race that used to be known for being a blast furnace when it was run in the summer, but sunny skies. Instead, it was slightly cooler than anticipated and we had a lot of cloud cover. If you don't like seeing cars running very fast, cloud cover means "run for cover" because the record book was shredded and left in tatters once again.
Yes, Del Worsham won his second straight playoff race (congrats, buddy) and he beat us in a tight race in round two, but he also reset the national record along the way to give himself a strong grip on the points lead. On the other end of the performance festival, Wilk went 3.99 on Friday and at the time that made him the first Funny Car driver to ever run in the threes at Gateway Motorsports Park. About 20 minutes later we were qualified 10th, and Wilk became the footnote to the story, in which he achieved the ignominious feat of being the first driver in the threes to qualify 10th. Crazy.
On Sunday, with another great St. Louis crowd filling the grandstands and lining the fences, we ran our two best laps of the weekend, with a 3.98 to beat Courtney and a 3.97 against Del, where the only problem for us was his 3.95. Did I mention it was crazy? It was.
So we're ninth in the points now and the mission becomes "Play loose, go fast, and have fun" I think. In team sports, you never know if the teams that suddenly find themselves realistically out of the running for the crown will play worse because of that, or play better. A loose team often plays more up to its potential than a team that's tense or tight, so we'll see. If we take over from Del and win the next two, it's a whole different "ballgame" so to speak, but all we can do is our best and I know we'll do that. All we can do is go as fast as we can as quickly as possible. Remember, drag racing is more like golf or bowling than football or baseball. You can't play defense. All you can do is put your best score on the board and see how that stacks up. And hope you don't run Del in round two. That helps, as well.
The other St. Louis highlight is an annual one. I ate a lot and I ate what I loved. Farotto's on Thursday night with my niece Kim and her husband Chris (and the leftovers were dinner again when I got back to the hotel on Friday night) and as I do every year I bought Imo's Pizza for the whole team on Friday afternoon. I officially maxed out and hit the red line on St. Louis-style pizza, but I loved every single little thin-crust square of it.
We also had our new one-race sponsor on the car and at the track. Karmak Technologies joined us for the race, and a big group of them came out on Sunday. Trust me, many photos were taken and I'll be sure to put one in the gallery today. Great people who really enjoyed their weekend at the races.
Dick Levi joined an enormous crowd of guests both in our pit and in an auxiliary tent by the track, on Saturday. It's always great to see Dick, and he had a great time, like he always does. He's a great man, and the best sponsor any team could ever hope to have.
As for me, personally, this might be the craziest week in a long time, or possibly ever. I spent both Wednesday night and Sunday night in Woodbury, on either side of the race. Then I flew back out to Spokane on Monday evening, on the night flight that leaves MSP at 7:30 p.m. this time of year, and lands at GEG around 8:30 Pacific Time. I'm home today, and then tomorrow I fly back to MSP to spend Wednesday night in Woodbury again, before I head to Harrisburg (with a connection in Detroit) on Thursday. I don't get to Harrisburg until midnight Thursday night, so I won't even head to Reading until the morning. Then, on Sunday night it's back to the same hotel in Harrisburg so that I can catch a morning flight back to MSP, and I'll spend Monday in Woodbury one more time, a before heading back out here to Liberty Lake on Tuesday, at which point I'll sleep for three days.
And as I typed that a little box opened on my screen to let me know I just got an email from Delta and it's time to check in for my flight tomorrow morning. Wow. I just got here!
What a great weekend in St. Louis!
So, St. Louis is in the rearview and Reading is ahead of us. The forecast is typical for Reading, but we all know not to put too much stock into that when it comes to that part of the country. The fronts swirl around, change directions, and fail to materialize at all just as much as they do what the forecasters say they'll do. We'll see…
I've been really procrastinating about this for a while, but it's time.
People ask me all the time how long I'll keep writing this blog. It's been 10 years, after all, and that's a LOT longer than the one month I was supposed to write it, back in 2005.
The answer is this: I'll write it as long as I feel I can keep it fresh and interesting, and by that I mean I hope to write it for many more years. But… Starting a couple of months from now, it will be in a different place.
It will still be online, and I hope many all of you will keep reading, but it won't be here. After what is really 20 years in this sport, I've decided it's time to make a change and do something different while there's time to do such things. I'm not 100 percent sure what all the "something different" things will be, but I'm committed to writing at least one book, and maybe more. I've been saying that I'm going to do this for a long time, but I never pulled the trigger. Consider the trigger pulled.
So, this will be my last season as Team Manager for Wilk (or any other team) and, therefore, at some point before the end of 2015 my blog will cease to be located here on NHRA.com. I told Tim of my decision in Indy, and I've let my other PR colleagues know about it, but I've actually been a little afraid to put it out here in public. It's a big step, but today is that day. I better hit "SEND" before I change my mind.
I know a lot of you will reach out after you read this, but there's really no need to do that. I know fully well how loyal and wonderful all of you are, and I can't even come up with the words to describe what it all means to me. If you'll stick with me, I'd be thrilled.
As for the book… The first concept is simply the befuddling and amazing story of my life and career. As you all know, it goes a little something like this: Boy is born to two amazing parents. His dad is a former Major League catcher who spends the rest of his life in the game of baseball as a scout, coach, and manager. His mom is a radio personality who becomes one of the first female executives for a Major League team, and then opens her own PR agency. The boy grows up playing ball and meeting all of his dad's friends, going to banquets where the other guests have last names like Musial, Mays, Aaron, Berra, Mantle, and Williams. He gets to spend a summer shagging fly balls at RFK Stadium while the old Washington Senators take batting practice. He is the batboy for the Denver Bears for two years, then a hanger-on for the Spokane Indians for two more. He earns a full athletic scholarship to SIU-Edwardsville and gets his degree in Television-Radio Broadcasting while being a part of two great teams that advanced to the NCAA Div. II College World Series. He signs with the Detroit Tigers and spends two seasons in their organization before signing with Oakland to spend a summer with them. He spends one day in a big league uniform, although not on the roster. He spends four years scouting for the Toronto Blue Jays, discovering Jim Gott in the Mexican Winter League along the way. He heads into the sports marketing world, putting Converse shoes on famous athletes (Magic Johnson qualifies as "famous" right?) and then works for his brother's agency, handling sports sponsorships for IBM, Chrysler, Black & Decker, and M&M Mars, among others. He ends up successfully running two different professional indoor soccer franchises, and then… Nearing the age of 40, he stumbles onto NHRA Drag Racing and he spends the next two decades doing PR in that world, despite the fact he'd never so much as seen a drag race or done any PR prior to that move. It all just happened.
It's been a wild and amazing ride. But, it's time to be true to myself and just write. I have so much in me to get on the page and in print, and I'm having some conversations with other people in other other sports about doing some writing work for them, in book form, so there's no telling where all of this will go. I'm just along for the ride. Just the way I like it.
My 12 years with Del and my seven years with Tim have been an honor, a privilege, and a lot of very rewarding fun. I wouldn't change anything and I'll miss all of my friends and colleagues (my family!) at the races. I'll probably miss the Nitro fumes, too, but I'll make my way back to selected events in the years to come. I can't possibly stay away completely. I have far too many valued friends at the track.
I have met and gotten to know so many incredible people, thanks to being in this sport and writing this blog. It's been beyond any wild dream I'd ever had. And I never knew I'd do this until I did it. So I think it's time I go do the next thing.
I'm going to be setting up my new personal blog in the coming weeks, and I'll be finishing the season with Tim and the LRS team anyway, so it's business as usual for a while. Once I get the new blog set up, I'll make sure to give you all a link on numerous occasions before I sign off here and put a bow on this gift. It's truly been a gift.
When I took Dick Levi to his limo at the end of the day on Saturday, he shook my hand earnestly and said some incredibly wonderful things to me, and then we shared a "man hug" with one arm and a pat on the back. Then he came back for more and we shared a real hug. It hit me right then that I'm really doing this. It's real.
It's a huge step, but I've approached my whole life and career this way. I'm just following my heart, and I hope all of you will come along for the rest of the ride. It's time to be home more, with my incredible wife and two fuzzy "kids". It's time to write the book. I hope a couple of you will buy it, too. And, since writing can be a full-time deal but it doesn't take up all your time, there's always the chance to do something else part-time along the way. It's just a matter of what.
But in the short term, I'll be right here. Probably through November. But remember the headline? Geez, it's almost October right now, so it's going to be a blur before it all settles down. Will you hang with me? I hope so.
This will technically be a tale of two blog installments meshed into one, as it's actually Tuesday as I'm starting this (and I'm actually in Spokane right now). I'm running out of time during a very busy early part of the week, and tomorrow I'll be in the air for two and a half hours, flying from Spokane to the Twin Cities, so I'm just starting this now. My aim is to then finish it on the plane. That's my plan, anyway. (Disclaimer: All plans subject to change.)
I have an appointment in Minneapolis at 11:00 on Thursday morning and then a 3:00 flight down to STL for the race, and other important (as in critical) things, starting with checking into my hotel in Clayton before heading straight to my favorite pizza restaurant, Farotto's, for dinner with my niece Kim and her husband Chris! Yep, I met up with them at Farotto's last year, but since then they got married on Key West when I was at the Seattle race. I so badly wanted to be there, but I could hardly have been any further away and still be in the continental U.S.
There will be toasted ravioli, of course. That St. Louis invention is never questioned when at any restaurant that serves St. Louis-style pizza. And, personally, I think Farotto's has the best "toasted ravs" as we call them, affectionately.
There is a chance another valued guest will join us for at least part of dinner, but he shall remain nameless in case his world blows up (it does that) and he can't make it. If that ends up being the case, I'll brutalize him here in my next installment. Yeah buddy, that's a threat and a half.
Here's something you probably didn't know… You might've seen that a new young driver in the Nitro Funny Car class made his third career appearance in Charlotte. Shane Westerfield has been a very talented Top Alcohol Funny Car driver for about five years, and he made the move to Nitro last year. To do that, Del and Chuck Worsham got him licensed in the family Funny Car.
This time around, Del and Chuck wanted to use the car to promote a new concept Del's putting together, and people are pretty excited about it. They've put a complete Top Fuel Dragster together, to couple with the Funny Car, and are starting up a unique new deal. It's not a "school" in the same sense some other drag racing operations are run, but it's more of an "experience" instead, while it also offers current drivers a chance to move up to Nitro as part of their career path. On the side of the car Shane is driving now (they'll be racing in St. Louis this weekend, as well) a large decal says "Drive This Car!"
If you're already an NHRA driver and want to upgrade to a Nitro license, they have a package you can buy that will hopefully get that done in all the correct ways and in the minimum amount of runs, but you can also buy additional laps on a run-by-run basis. If you just want to experience what it's like to drive a Top Fueler or a Funny Car, they can make that happen too, but if you're totally inexperienced they'll probably start you out in something slower to get you up to speed. Pretty neat deal, really, and it seems like it's already attracting attention from some people with "bucket list" items, or guys who just want to experience something they've been watching and enjoying forever.
With all that in mind, Del called and asked me if there was any way I could help him out with a press release and a little PR work to get the word out. He wanted to know what I'd charge him for that, and while I was sorely tempted to pull his leg by replying (in a slow Dr. Evil voice) "Ten THOUSAND dollars" I instead told him the truth, which was really the fact that I didn't care what he paid me, or frankly if he paid me at all. I worked for Del and Chuck for 12 years, and although the first season was a bit of a financial struggle with our little baby CSK deal, the last 11 years were wonderful and prosperous. I owe them both a lot, for allowing me to make myself the PR rep that I am today and for trusting me to handle that entire side of the Worsham Racing operation. That means more to me that any compensation for a couple of press releases that have been fun to write anyway. And since I didn't travel to Charlotte and thereby didn't have to waste two entire days just flying diagonally across most of the United States coming and going, I had the time. My Team Wilk work came first, of course, but I altered my typical writing schedule to get that done early so I'd have time to dash off something for Del, Chuck, and Shane. Plus, I got to "meet" Shane on the phone and he's really a great guy. Glad to help in any way I can.
And if you have any sincere interest in learning more to see if this is something you'd want to do, they've set up a special email address to collect the info from people who might have an inclination to do this. It's not Del's actual email, and he's not going to be personally returning any notes from people who just want to say hello, but if this sounds like something you'd really like to look into, you can send your name and contact information here: email@example.com
And here's something else you didn't know and it comes under the heading "It Never Works That Way".
Just a couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by Kristy Page, the Executive Assistant for the President and CEO of a company called Karmak, based in Carlinville, Ill., which is a little north of St. Louis and not far at all from our shop in Springfield. They specialize in business management technologies for the heavy-duty transportation industry. You know, like companies that run fleets of big trucks.
Since Carlinville is close to Springfield, some of the folks at Karmak knew about Tim and our team, and since their theme for this year is "Racing" and they're having their big annual conference in St. Louis, on the Tuesday after Dallas, Kristy called me just to gather info about having Tim possibly come down to the conference for a couple of hours to do a "meet & greet" and sign some autographs, and then she said "And we'd like to know what it would cost to have our logo on your car."
None of them really knew what to expect in that regard, but the first step was to make sure Karmak's business model didn't overlap with Levi, Ray & Shoup's, because that would've been a conflict. Turns out, the CEO knows Dick Levi, so he gave Dick a call and they quickly agreed that there would be no conflict at all, while Dick also recommended that they try to work something out with us.
Within about 48 hours (and this was just about a week ago) we went from that first phone call to figuring out what they could afford, to putting a quick concept together, which was instantly approved. The lynch-pin to that was to show them why giving Karmak a small little decal on the car for the rest of the season, one that only they would probably notice, would not be a very impactful or cost-effective deal. Instead, we pitched that we should simply focus on the St. Louis race, since it's just an hour from their headquarters. That way, we could give them a much better bang for their buck, right in their backyard, and we're even going to host a few of their executives on Sunday.
With only days to go before the event, I fired off an invoice and told Kristy that because this was such a last-minute deal and it was done on a virtual handshake over the phone, I knew not to expect their Accounts Payable department to get that turned around overnight, but they basically did. That right there tells me all I need to know about the people at Karmak, and Kristy has been great to work with. One week from introduction, to concept, to payment in full, and we're thrilled to get to meet them and have them on the LRS Funny Car in St. Louis. Look for their logo on the rear quarter panels, just below Curry's Transportation.
I told Kristy how many pitches and proposals I've been a part of over the last 20 years, and how some of them could drag on for more than a year, as ideas are altered and benefits changed, while the "presentation phase" drags on forever. I'm really not sure I've ever been a part of a deal that came together this fast. Pretty cool package, and Tim will indeed be heading down to St. Louis to sign autographs at their conference.
And now I've got to get back to real work (this blog isn't work, it's fun!). I have some other interesting news coming through the pipeline, but I want to get further along with it before I spill any beans. And why is giving out information called "spilling the beans" anyway? Hmmm
Back at you tomorrow from seat 3-A on Delta 2428, nonstop service from Spokane International Airport to Minneapolis - St. Paul International Airport, but not before we reach 10,000 feet…
Wednesday - 10:30 a.m.
Good morning, and welcome to the B Concourse at Spokane International Airport. All eight gates of it. I'm flying out of B-8 in just a few minutes. Pretty long line at TSA when I got here. I think there were four other people trapped in the endless maze with me. Yes, there are some benefits to flying out of a small airport in a relatively small town, although the drawback with GEG is that it's a long way from everywhere but Seattle.
Anyway, I wasn't going to open the laptop and get back to this until we were in the air, but the first thing I saw on my computer this morning changed that plan. I got up early, opened up my MacBook Pro, and saw an email from sister Mary informing me that Yogi Berra had passed away, at the age of 90.
Like the vast majority of people, you probably remember Yogi as a New York Yankee, and that's appropriate because he spent most of his illustrious career in pinstripes. But to any member of the St. Louis baseball community, he's part of the family. Yogi grew up on The Hill in south St. Louis, and one of his boyhood friends was another future big league catcher, Joe Garagiola. They played organized ball and pick-up games often, usually at Sublette Park, and I played many high school games there myself, 35 or so years later.
And, like many, you might only think Yogi was famous for being a bit of a clown. His "Yogi-isms" are legend, and he really was like that. To be fair, later in life when he realized how many people enjoyed laughing at the way he could garble sentences, he surely played that up a little bit, but, in the beginning, those were straight from Yogi's mouth.
If you thought that was all Yogi was about, though, you were wrong. Yogi was a spectacular ballplayer and if he wasn't the greatest catcher to ever play the game he's on a very short list. He had a lifetime batting average of .285, he hit 358 career home runs, and he was considered an expert handler of pitchers.
Those Yogi-isms, however, will live forever, and many of them are part of our national vernacular. "It was deja vu, all over again" or "It ain't over 'til it's over" or "90% of this game is half mental". On The Hill in St. Louis, when I was a kid, a fine restaurant called Ruggeri's was the place for all the baseball players to gather (Joe Garagiola's brother Mickey was the maitre d) and when asked about the restaurant Yogi once said "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded." The list is actually endless.
The Wilber family knew Yogi well, and he and my father were longtime friends. In one of my "Bob On Baseball" blogs I wrote about Yogi once, in my installment about 1981; a year that crammed a lifetime of unbelievable memories into just 12 months. I was describing the night during which the Toronto Blue Jays executives and I had been to Dodger Stadium for a World Series banquet the night before Game 1.
"As we departed the stadium, one member of the Yankees’ staff asked if he could hop in for a ride back to the hotel. He and I sat in the back seat, and I turned to him and said “Yogi, I’m Bob Wilber. I’m sure you know my father Del.” For the next 20 minutes, I had the unbelievable pleasure of listening to Yogi Berra tell hilarious stories about my dad. It doesn’t really get much better than that."
If you want to read the whole long installment, which ranges from Fresno to the Mexican League, with too many other stops or rich stories to tap into here, just follow this link:
Yogi Berra was a funny man. He was a great baseball player and a Yankee legend. But more importantly, he was one of the most genuine and kind men I ever met in the game. Rest in peace, Yogi. You're starting behind the plate tomorrow, with Mick, Joe D. and the Babe playing the outfield. Thurman said he needed a rest anyway, so get your gear on.
Time to board…
Two hours later…
Well, after an eventful departure from GEG we are soaring over the upper tier of the USA at 33,000 feet and I've just finished a fine Caesar Salad with chicken. But, my plan to finish this blog and file it from up here in the air has been foiled by some really sketchy Wi-Fi on this plane. I'm way too afraid that I'd send this thing, or the photos for that matter, and they'd be lost in the interwebs forever, never to land anywhere much less in the In-Box of that famous French editor Monsieur Phillippe Burgesse. So, I'll finish writing here and then I'll duck into the Sky Club at MSP and send it from there, where the signal has more meat on its bones.
We did have a little drama before we got off the ground in Spokane. I had my headphones on, so I wasn't totally dialed in to what was happening, but we pushed off the gate right on time and then for a solid 15 minutes they couldn't unhook the tow bar from the front landing gear. We lurch forward, pushed back, rolled again, and each time you feel the tugging and pushing, but no go.
The young lady holding the sticks to let the captain know when he was clear to leave was looking more and more perplexed as the minutes passed, and I could read her lips when she shouted "What's wrong" to the other crew members trying to free our airplane from the grip of the tug. Finally, I turned my music off just as the captain said we were going back to the gate for a few minutes (hopefully) to get this sorted out. I'm sure STP (Scott The Pilot) can tell me what this all meant, but from the cockpit they said they were having "an airflow problem with our Auxiliary Power Unit…" and after a quick visit from the Maintenance Supervisor he announced they had a plan, and that was to start both engines while we were at the gate, rather than hold one until after the pushback. STP, I'm awaiting your analysis and explanation. Whatever it was, that worked and we were only about 30 minutes late, but we've already made it up in the air.
So, we're headed toward St. Louis again. My hometown and one of my favorite cities in the world. It's not perfect, but it's home, and man is there some good food there.
Quick, explain the shape of the Gateway Arch. You have 5 seconds… tick, tock, tick, tock. BUZZZZ.
Too late. It's an inverted catenary curve. A catenary curve is created when you hold a heavy flexible rope or chain and place the two ends as far apart as the depth of the chain. A perfect curve, in other words. If you then invert the curve you have the upright shape of the Gateway Arch, aka "The Gateway To The West". It's exactly as wide at the bottom as it is tall. 630 feet.
And when I was a kid at Mary Queen of Peace grade school, they brought the old Philco black & white TVs into our classrooms so that we could watch the final piece be put in place, at the top. There is no truth to the rumor that East St. Louis, across the river, contemplated building a giant croquet ball.
On the track, it would behoove us to have a really good race at Gateway Motorsports Park. We're now 9th in the points, but the truth about Charlotte is that Fast Jack also lost in the first round, and by doing that he condensed the points more than he spread them out. Had Jack won the race (and nobody would've been surprised by that) he would've put some serious and probably unsurpassable distance between himself and those of us at the bottom of the top 10. Instead, Tommy Johnson and Del Worsham went to the final, and Del won it. Good on him! I was proud of my longtime close friend. And thrilled for him, too.
And what about Tommy Johnson? Has he taken over the role Jack has held since the Swing? He sure looks to have the most dominant car right now, and he's a helluva driver. But that's the beauty of this sport. You are as good and as dominant as not just your last pass, but your next one as well. Things change, and Wilk can be right in the middle of the good stuff with one good day on Sunday.
Our compact little airport. No fuss, no muss.
And on Friday I'll do my annual thing and order Imo's Pizza for the crew. Always fun to head out to the main gate at Gateway and wait in the golf cart for the driver to bring me those hot boxes of thin-crust joy. And then laugh the whole way back to the pit area as everyone I pass yells "We want Imo's!!!"
Tonight, weather permitting, I'll have the unmitigated joy of being able to sit down and turn on my TV to watch the Twins, rather than watch the game streamed live on MLB.com. Everyone talks about platforms and new ways of accessing content and programming, and live-streaming is a constant mention, but MLB.com is roundly considered the absolute gold standard of streaming content and even with that reputation I rarely get through two innings without the screen freezing or going black altogether. If streaming is going to be the future, they still have to work on the amount of data they can squeeze from one end to the other seamlessly. Tonight, an HD flat screen and Fox Sports North. I'll gladly welcome Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven into the room with me. Win Twins!
That's about enough I guess. Time to close this email, put my laptop away, and get on the ground. I can feel the nose of the plane dipping right now. Tomorrow, down to STL and dinner at Farotto's. Friday, switch the pizza to Imo's (they have stores all over the St. Louis metro and they deliver, while there is only one Farotto's and they don't) and then get after it on the track.
We'll have legions of Wilk's Warriors with us, not to mention many hundred LRS guests and staffers split between our hospitality area and a private tent, but you know what?
We are ALL Wilk's Warriors. Put your shirt on and get behind that Levi, Ray & Shoup car. Let's win some rounds!
So, in just a couple of days qualifying will begin in Charlotte at the NHRA Carolina Nationals. And before you know it, the Countdown playoffs will be half over, thanks to the quirks of scheduling. With Charlotte, St. Louis, and Reading all on consecutive weekends, it won't take long for either the excitement and nervousness to ramp up, for those who do well at those three races, or for the disappointment to creep in for those who get off to a slow start.
As I mentioned in my pre-race feature story, the Countdown is like a whole new season for the 10 drivers and teams who make it, but it's a very short season at only six races. This season, we got off to a really slow start and were outside the top 10 until the middle of May. But, then we won Atlanta and the ball began to roll. After Atlanta, we were never out of the top 10 again, and then just when it was looking a little tenuous, going into Norwalk, the ball started rolling faster and we went to enough semifinals and second rounds to cement our spot.
It's all in my story, in much greater detail, here:
And then I was thinking to myself "Self, you haven't been to Charlotte in a while" and I answered back "That's right. I wonder just how much of a while it's been." So I did the research. My last trip to Charlotte was the spring race in 2013, otherwise known as the 4-Wide Nationals. That's almost three years ago, and that's crazy. "See Self, I told you it had been a while."
That spring 2013 race also coincided with our softball game against the NASCAR boys, so it was kind a fun to go back into my iPhoto gallery from then to look at those pics. That was a very fun night, and I'll share a few in the pictures below.
And speaking of photo galleries, with there having been no race this past weekend, all I have are those flashback Charlotte photos from the last time I was there, and some other miscellaneous stuff from around here. It'll have to do.
Okay, so let's dispense with the stats and get them over with in short order. Now that the points have been reset, we're in eighth place and only 90 points out of first. So there you have it, the only stat that really matters at this point. That's five rounds of racing with six races (24 rounds) left. Might as well go big or go home, right?
It's supposed to be hot and humid down there this weekend, so in that particular case I'm happy to say that it feels like we've turned a corner into fall, here in scenic Liberty Lake. I refuse to switch over from A/C to heat yet, because we're due to be back into the upper 70s later this week, but right now it's actually a little chilly in the house. I'm wearing a sweatshirt. And yes, it's a black LRS Team Wilk sweatshirt. Because I can.
It was a brisk 63 inside the house when we woke up this morning, and it's still not quite at 60 outside yet. It's a gorgeous day, the wildfires are still burning but the change in seasons will help them put them out much more quickly.
And, more good news, on Monday I had a meeting with my local State Farm agent, just to give her all the details from the wreck in Indy, and then yesterday and today I spoke with adjusters from Allstate, who insure the young girl who crashed into me. I gave my statement, which was recorded, and then I was told that it's clear their client was completely at fault I would not be liable for anything. They're even reimbursing me for the taxi rides I had to take and the fact that the wrecked car didn't get registered as "returned" until Monday night, when the people at National's damage lot finally got around to it. So, I was technically renting two cars at the same time for three days, and Allstate is reimbursing me for the second car I rented. The one that didn't get wrecked. Fair enough, and I'm glad we got all this taken care of quickly. I'm sure there's still more paperwork ahead of me, but at least it looks like it's all going to be good in terms of finances and/or claims.
(Five minutes later…)
I had to take a break to answer yet another insurance phone call, and this time it was State Farm wanting an update. I gave them the good news that Allstate said I was in the clear, so they're going to call Allstate and National Car Rental to hopefully close this whole thing up.
On the social media side of my job, it was cool to see @TeamWilkerson tagged in a tweet by @DemandDetroit, who posted a photo of our big rig (with its Western Star tractor) and our team, in front of the shop. Next to the transporter is the car we ran at the Cordova match race, which had Curry's Transportation and Western Star all over it. Twitter is a marvelous thing…
And this morning, we sewed up the details of a new one-race associate sponsor for the St. Louis event. A neat deal with a very interesting company, but more details for that will be in next week's blog, as we approach the St. Louis event.
Just for the record, Boofus and Buster both say hello, but in the interest of fair reporting the "hello" sound they make also sounds an awful lot like the one that means "Give me treats" so it's kind of hard to tell.
Okay, here's something else ultra-cool about Twitter and social media. There's a Twitter account called @BottommCards which is a pun related to baseball cards, since Topps has long been the number one manufacturer of those things. Someone at @BottommCards read my "Bob On Baseball" blog entitled "The Lost Art of Wearing a Uniform" and they mocked-up a baseball card for me. Way cool.
Back when I played, not only were there no cards for guys playing in Class A ball, there weren't many cards for the guys in Double-A or Triple-A either. Now, once you sign a contract and get sent to Rookie Ball, there will probably be a card made with you on it. It was fun to get the tweet from Bottomm Cards, needless to say, because after 36 years since my last professional ballgame, I now finally have a baseball card. Even if it is unofficial, digital, and mocked up. Still cool.
Oh, and if you never read that blog and agree that a lot of today's big-leaguers don't know how to dress on the field, you can read it here:
Flashback to 2013 and the epic blowout by the NHRA team. #Smackdown
If you enjoy it, feel free to "Like" it or leave a comment.
Well. That was short and sweet.
There will be more pertinent stuff to write about over the next three weeks, not to mention the next six races, and the biggest challenge there is going to be having the time to do this. My travel schedule looks insane for St. Louis and Reading.
It's so bad for Reading that I'm even spending Thursday night near the Harrisburg airport, because my day-long flight schedule doesn't get me in there until midnight! I'll be tired, the Pennsylvania deer population will be out in full force, and I'd rather drive over to Maple Grove on Friday morning.
Dallas isn't much better, because it's a long way from here, but at least Las Vegas and Pomona are pretty simple deals from out here in the upper lefthand part of the United States. And yes, even though we don't have hospitality at either of those two, I will be going to Vegas and Pomona.
And I've gotten the alert that my great friend John Fink will be joining us in Vegas. The two of us are absolutely going to see my buddy Buck in "Jersey Boys" on Thursday night, and Tim and Krista are trying to work out their flights so they can go, too.
Au revoir. Auf Wiedersehen. Adios. See ya later!
So how's that for a cryptic headline? While it may appear to make no sense, you'll just have to trust me that it does and the words that follow in this blog installment will make that (hopefully) clear.
I'll start off with some big overview recollections about Indy, before I get into the details I've hinted about in the headline. It was truly a great event, both in terms of the racing and the crowds. Indy is special, of course, and this year it was even more so because of the "round and a half" points scenario, in which every round on Monday (boy, it's hard to make your fingers type "Monday" when you're writing about race day) was worth 30 points instead of 20. That opened up all sorts of playoff scenarios that wouldn't have existed if Indy was "just another race" with 20-point rounds, like it has been for a long time.
And here's an opinion, which is strictly my own and not intended to be a reflection of what anyone else believes, although I'm certain the vast majority share it. Remember when the Countdown was devised, and a small vocal minority who simply didn't like change wailed against it? I do. I didn't agree with them then, and I disagree even more now. Well, guess what? It's part of the very fabric of our sport now, and with Indy being the final race of the regular season it was tense and exciting all weekend, as we waited to see who was in and who was out. Thrilling stuff, top to bottom. And it's Indy, so raise it all by another factor of 10.
Before the Countdown, when I was working for Del Worsham, he used to say to me "Keep track of the points, but I don't even want to know what they are until July or August. Until then, they don't mean much." Well, now they mean a lot on the first day of the season in Pomona, and we're all constantly updating our spreadsheets and keeping track. Plus, with the Traxxas Shootout awarding spots to the first seven different drivers to win a race, you've got that on your plate starting in Pomona, too.
It all adds up to a totally different feel and structure, and it makes every day and every race seem just that much more important. Trust me, every Top Fuel and Funny Car driver knows exactly how important it is to be one of those seven drivers to win a race. When we won in Atlanta, the Traxxas Shootout was the second thing we thought about, with the first being "Wow, we just won!!!"
This year, the battle for the Countdown in Funny Car was intense, dating all the way back to May when it was starting to become apparent that there were five or six really top-notch teams all fighting for spots that wouldn't hold all of us. In the end, it really came down to Courtney Force and Alexis DeJoria, with Alexis holding enough of an edge to create a scenario where Courtney would need Alexis to lose in the first round, and then she'd have to go to the final. So, of course the ladder shook out with them racing each other. Of course it did.
There's a first round match-up between two drivers at the bottom of the Top 10, at a race that is seventh from the end of the season. Ho hum? Hardly. Courtney edged Alexis in a great side-by-side race, but Tommy Johnson defeated her in the next round and Alexis was the one who claimed the 10th spot. Great drama, great racing, and great theater.
Dave Connolly did something similar in Top Fuel, by getting all the way to final to claim the final spot in the Countdown in that class. Congrats to Dave and everyone at Bob Vandergriff Racing.
Oh. And Jack Beckman might actually be human, but I'm beginning to believe that Jimmy Prock is an alien, sent here from a planet where everyone and everything goes faster and quicker than we mere humans can imagine. Amazing. I'd congratulate Fast Jack here, but I already did via email and he was gracious enough to send me a very thoughtful and sincere reply.
Now… On to the headline.
As you probably know, Friday was rained out in the same sort of manner we seem to be having regular problems with. It never poured, it just started drizzling when the motorcycles were starting Q1 on Friday night, and it wouldn't stop. Rain delays are awful no matter what, but the kind that are so meek they barely show up on radar are truly frustrating. And you wait. And you hope. And you wait some more… And it won't quit. They are the Longest. Days. Ever.
Finally, well after 9:00 p.m., the plug was pulled and we had accomplished nothing more than simply being there. It was still drizzling and it was a really dark night, as we loaded up and got out of there. I didn't quite beat the crowd, and it took a solid 30 minutes to get from my parking spot in the infield of the circle track out onto Crawfordsville Road. Every one of those minutes, and the very seconds that made them up, turned out to be critically important.
When you leave out of the "back gate" at Lucas Oil Raceway, the police officers block northbound Raceway Road to keep the traffic flowing, so I cut through the neighborhood for a few blocks (I needed to go north to get back to our hotel) and then drove over to Crawfordsville Road to head east, toward Dandy Trail, which turns into 38th Street, and that takes you to the interstate.
There was a lot of race traffic on Crawfordsville, which is one lane in each direction, and as I approached the light at Dandy Trail there were about 10 cars in line to either go straight or turn right. On the right, there is a gas station and convenience store, and ahead of me there were one or two cars in the left-turn lane, which is where I was headed.
Just as the left-turn lane began, the light turned green and the arrow was on. I was going to make it easily, so I was only doing maybe 10-12 mph. And then two people made really dumb mistakes. As I was passing most of the line of cars going straight, minding my own business, my world went from peaceful driving to pure mayhem, as another car came out of nowhere to crash heavily into the passenger side of my car. It was loud, it was violent, and it has my heart rate up even now, just writing this.
I vaguely remember a big truck in the line of cars going straight, which blocked my view of anything in that direction. Dumb mistake No. 1 was the driver of that truck leaving a gap in the line, then flashing his lights and waving through a young girl who wanted to make a left onto Crawfordsville, to head in the opposite direction. Dumb mistake No. 2 was her putting her foot down heavily to shoot through that gap, despite the fact she couldn't see anything on the other side of that truck, until she T-boned me heavily.
I knew I was sitting out in the middle of the road, and my adrenalin was pumping, but my first thought was to simply get my rental car off the street. I pressed the throttle and it was clear the car had some heavy damage to the wheels on the right side, and it was making an awful sound as I pushed harder and forced it to go, but somehow I got it around the corner, back onto the parking lot at the convenience store, and I even managed to put it in a parking space. I'm not really sure how I did that, but I did.
I got out to take a look, just as a few witnesses came over to see if I was okay (I was, just shaken a little) and it didn't surprise me a bit to see the right-front wheel severely bent out of shape and now at an angle instead of vertical, while the back-right tire had a huge piece missing, which of course made it flat. Lots of dents, scrapes, and other damage, plus the two right side air-bags had deployed. That's the first time I've ever been in a car when the air-bags went off, and I hope it's the last. I feel fortunate the steering column bag did not deploy, as well. That's the one that can hurt you pretty badly just to save you.
I called 911, I caught my breathe, and I waited a few minutes for the police officer to arrive, while a few witnesses gave me their personal information in case I needed to prove my innocence. Good people. The officer arrived and was very professional. I described what had happened, and I might not have been describing it completely coherently but he finally understood how it happened, and then he went across the street to where the girl who had hit me had moved her car, which was also not drivable.
The guy in the truck who waved her through? Long gone.
A half-hour or so later, the paperwork was wrapped up, all the details were shared, and I'd already called National Car Rental to report the wreck. They said they'd send a wrecker right away, and I should then get in the wrecker to have the driver take me back to the airport, where I could get another car. They also said it might be 45 minutes until the wrecker got there. It was around 10:15 at the time (I know this because my 911 call is still on my phone, and that was 9:59 p.m.)
So, I waited. And waited. And watched the wrecker the police officer had called load up the girl's car. And I waited. I got to know the guy who worked in the store pretty well, too. At 11:45, I finally called National back and the girl said "Gosh, I'm so sorry. None of our wreckers were available but unfortunately nobody called you back to tell you, and now the airport is closing in 15 minutes so we can't even come get the car until tomorrow morning." Well that's just swell.
I called a cab, and finally around 1:00 I got to my hotel room. In the cab, I mentioned to the driver that I'd need a ride to the airport in the morning, around 8:30, and I asked if should just call his dispatcher. He said "No need. Here's my cell phone number and I'll just plan on being here at 8:30." And sure enough, my phone rang at 8:30 the next morning and it was Muhammad, letting me know he was out front. Good guy, who got a very good tip.
So there's my "Crunch" segment. No fun whatsoever, but I just got another call from National letting me know that they had seen the police report and no claims would be sent my way, since I was completely not at fault.
And that's why every second of every minute on Friday night was critical. Five seconds earlier, I would have seen an idiot driver pull out in front of me but I could've stopped, and one second earlier she would've pulled out right in front of me and I would have T-boned her right in the driver's door. It could've been much worse.
Okay, this segment will be much shorter, but it was the most important thing that happened all weekend.
By qualifying for the race, we clinched our playoff spot. And we did it masterfully.
On Saturday, with my new (much larger) rental car parked inside the oval after I dashed back to the track from the airport, we joined the vast majority of Funny Car and Top Fuel teams by smoking the tires in the first session. But let me digress a second. I must be wrong about this, because nobody really agreed with me, but to me that was Q2. Q1 was Friday night, and even though it was rained out it was still Q1. But all the official run sheets called Saturday's session Q1, because it was the first session contested. I was mightily confused, and likely the only one who thought that way.
Anyway, we smoked the tires on the first run and then the second one was held under the lights on Saturday night. It was sort of an important "big deal" kind of run, as you might imagine, because both of Sunday's sessions were set for the middle of the afternoon and it was going to be hot. And there were 17 Funny Cars there, so we had to qualify.
And we did. With a 3.997 that put us in the fifth spot. By the time we high-fived at the line, I knew what it meant. There was no way were could DNQ with a 3.99 on the board, so we were in. We were pretty much in no matter what, but that made it official (as soon as the final session was over).
Sunday was also the Traxxas Shootout, with the first round of that also being Sunday's first qualifying run (Q4 to me, but Q3 to those in charge), and we put another great lap on the board to beat Tommy Johnson. With the Traxxas event being a three-round race, that put us in the semifinals and that means we were "in the money" because the Traxxas race pays out for semifinalists, runner-up, and winner. That was a good thing, but we slowed a bit in the semi and lost. And did I mention it was really hot?
The semifinal was run as a stand-alone round, not part of the final session, and as soon as we crossed the finish line in that loss I knew one thing: There's was probably no more than a 1 percent chance that we'd run in the final session. It was hot, traction was hard to come by, and there wasn't much to be learned out there.
When I got back to the pit I went up into the lounge and said to Tim "We're not running the last one, are we?" He said "No way. There's nothing to learn and the guys are exhausted. We're going to put the car away and I'm sending them back to the hotel to get some rest. They're going to need to be ready for the race tomorrow. That's what's most important here."
I couldn't have agreed more.
So, we clinched our playoff spot, and Tim got his trophy at Monday's driver introductions, although we were only a few points ahead of Robert Hight, who was in eighth place, right behind us. When he went further than we did (we made it to the second round on Monday) he moved around us. We'll start the Countdown, in Charlotte, from that No. 8 spot.
My gosh it was hot. Like sauna hot. Really, really hot. And really, really humid.
So many teams are based in Indy (Brownsburg, actually) and all of those guys were saying that it hadn't been that hot in Indy all summer. Great timing.
NHRA did a huge favor for all of us who are team PR folks, by moving our work area out of its previous location and into a corner suite on the top floor of the tower, right behind the starting line. For the record, our previous location was the Media Center atop the grandstands at the circle track, which of course looks down on the circle track. And it's a million miles away, or thereabouts.
So, being actually in the correct tower was a good thing, and having a suite with strong A/C was even better. But it was REALLY hot, and all those trips back and forth to our pit would leave anyone soaking wet. Ugh. At least we were all sweaty and smelly as a group!
And, the unintended good news was that all of that stair climbing to get up to the fourth floor (eight flights with a landing between each floor) actually improved my fitness. The first time we all climbed up to the top, on Friday, I could feel the burn in my quads and I was winded. By Monday, I was flying up and down those stairways like it was nothing. Amazing how that works.
But, seriously, did I mention how hot it was? Wow… We baked
What a great race. Truly and honestly, the Big Go!
After we lost, and I got all my PR work written, I saved my Post-Event Report without sending it out. You know why, right?
Because many years ago I learned that when the race is tape-delayed for that night, just seeing a Post-Even Report pop up in any reader's in-box before the final has been run is all that person needs to realize we didn't win. Doesn't matter what the words in the email say, if it's there we didnt win. So, I always hold it until after the race is complete.
Right before the final, I got out of there and headed for the airport, to turn in rental car number two. Since it wasn't wrecked, at least I was 1-for-2 in that regard.
I got through TSA in a flash (boy do I love me some TSA Pre-Check, greatest thing ever invented), and headed to the Sky Club where I arrived just minutes after the final rounds had been run. More perfect timing. I hit "Send" and off my report went, out to the 2,000 or so people on my various mailing lists.
It was still a solid 90 minutes until my flight boarded, but within a few seconds after I accomplished the final bit of Indy work by sending out that report, I could feel how tired I was. I actually went to the gate an hour before the flight because I was worried I'd fall asleep in the Sky Club and miss my plane.
So there's Indy in the shell of a somewhat large nut.
No real aftereffects from the wreck. My left ankle was sore for a few day, but no neck or back issues and that's a very fortunate thing.
And did I mention how hot it was?