We stole out of Indy like thieves in the night under cover of early-morning darkness, me, Kelly, and "Bad Brad" with Big Go hangovers and three suitcases full of U.S. Nationals-soaked memories tucked in the trunk of the G6 rental. The o'dark-30 departure ensured a late-morning return to SoCal to begin the dangerous and daunting business of somehow turning four days worth of furious notetaking, keen observing, and wishful thinking into the coverage that you all will read when issue 35 hits your mailboxes in a week or so.
While some of the staff slept in for a four-hour-later departure, the flight from Indy to Dallas was crammed with other NHRA refugees heading home, including Senior Editor Kevin McKenna and his bride-to-be, Jill Caliendo of the marketing department; photographer Richard Wong; marketing veep (and my hockey teammate) Glen Cromwell; ticketing veep Don Kraushar (one of the few people with a current NHRA tenure longer than mine); Brian Hacker of the media department (and local Indy TV news fame); Josh Peterson of the NHRA Xplōd Sport Compact Series; Danny Gracia from the tech department (who regaled us with tales from the teardown barn); Jon Chase of the IT department, and others.
I hoped to get to SoCal on schedule to rush home and see the new grandkid (see entry below) and maybe even log some office time before unwinding with about 10 hours of DVR'ed Indy TV, but The Summer of Flying Hell preordained that we spend an extra hour in Dallas while "the maintenance crew" fixed a balky "ice shield"; I'm pretty certain Alan Johnson and the boys could've turned us around in 15 minutes or so. I text-messaged the new mommy to tell her that Trevor would have to wait a bit longer to get his first lesson about drag racing and to try on the NHRA-themed (name-cringe alert) "onesie" and baby booties I bought him at the Nitro Mall.
Once safely aloft again, I cranked up the eclectic iPod on shuffle -– a little Springsteen (naturally) followed by some Toby Keith (now there's a guy's guy), some Cowboy Junkies (Margo Timmins' velvety voice and silky lyrics), The Spinners (old-school soul; hey, I graduated from the Southern California cultural melting pot that was Venice High School, which later doubled as Rydell High in the movie Grease), and more -– put away the Maxim (after learning the secrets on how to avoid a dragnet if I ever bust out of a prison), and broke out the laptop. This, of course, was precisely the cue that the cat in the seat in front of me needed to recline his seatback to the Full and Maximum Inconvenient Location so that he could diligently work on the American Way's Sudoku puzzle, leaving me the option of trying to type with my elbows firmly implanted in my ribs or close up shop.
I gutted it out for a few more sentences, grateful to have gotten some work in, I guess, a far cry from my early days of DRAGSTER travel, back in the year 1982 B.L. (Before Laptops). I remember flying home from races scratching out, on yellow legal pads, the first rough prose that later would be transferred peck by peck to my typewriter. We eventually got word processors -- dedicated Smith Coronas that only allowed you to see six lines of type at a time -- that we thought were amazing if a bit confounding with a confusing save menu. (The next time you see Todd Veney, ask him about how he lost entire stories. It'll be a pleasant memory to him, I'm sure.)
The protocol for transferring the stories from them to ancient Burroughs word processors (no Spider Solitaire games on those babies) at the office involved enough cabling to strangle an elephant and a voodoo priest to oversee, but still we were happy to be in the electronic age.
Years later, I'm receiving grandbaby photos on my phone, texting racers and their publicists, transferring hundreds of megabytes worth of photos from Indiana to California each night to produce a daily newspaper, and sharing it with all of you here.
Landing in Ontario around noon, about an hour behind schedule, I walked out of the dark of the terminal into the bright sunlight of a scorching Ontario day -– I left Indy for this? –- but at least it had cooled over the last few days to 105 degrees (a downright nippy 102 when I snapped this pic after pulling into the DRAGSTER parking lot 20 minutes later). The rest of the staff is either still in the air or headed home after arriving with me, eager to enjoy a little family time before diving back into the work tomorrow; not that they won’t be stealing a little monitor time tonight to polish the pieces they'll hand in tomorrow morning. Me, I'm just catching up on some e-mail and this column while I await the call that the little guy's on his way home from the hospital, then I'm outta here.
Teresa Long and Jerry Foss of the photo department left Indy Monday morning (I just don't know how they can do that …) to get back here to sort through the thousands of images snapped over the weekend in preparation for tomorrow's first detailed staff confab on how we're going to portray this event. I can already tell you that, as is our tradition, all four Pro winners will grace this week's cover. It's just too damn hard any year to tell someone they won Indy but didn't earn a cover, let alone with three first-time Big Go winners.
NHRA members can look forward to seeing our coverage online later this week in the Members section of the site, but for right now, it's all in the capable minds and the fast fingers of the staff.