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Spreading Christmas cheer ... and more SIMO

Looking back at Christmas gifts past; Stuff in my office: Piece of the old Pomona tower
28 Dec 2007
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider

It's the day after the day after Christmas, when eyes get refocused on work for a couple of days before we ring in a new year and begin the countdown to the start of another season of racing.

Christmas was pretty low-key this year. Every other year we travel north to meet my sister, in Santa Rosa, Calif., where she's the city attorney, and with my folks, who journey down from Oregon. This was the in-between year, so we spent it at home and shared gifts across the miles. It's funny how Christmas changes when you're older, and in the wee hours of Christmas morning, waiting for the kids to roll out of bed, it struck me how different the holiday has become.

When I was a kid, my sister and I couldn't wait to get out of bed and see what Santa had brought. Our parents presented us a reasonable hour at which they could be awoken and insisted that we wake them with a couple of mugs of coffee. This year, waiting for my teenage sleepyheads to drag their butts out of bed, I thought about younger kids all over the world, eagerly tearing through wrapping paper and how I never could never resist, in the days before zero hour, trying carefully to delicately peel back an edge of wrapping paper to sneak a peek.

As we bundled up this year's gifts for the short ride over to my oldest daughter's house to share Christmas with the grandkids, I watched VH-1's "I Love Toys" special that counted down the 100 top toys of all time. From 1-10, they were Hula Hoop, Barbie, LEGO, G.I. Joe, Mr. Potato Head, Monopoly, Star Wars figures, Yo-Yo, Slinky, and Wiffle Ball & Bat.

Hula hoop? Are you kidding me?

Hot Wheels/Matchbox cars came in at No. 15; they clearly should have been No.1. Well, Hot Wheels should have been. One of the celebrities noted the difference between the plain-Jane Matchbox machines and the coolly wild Hot Wheels. Holding up a Matchbox car he said, "You drove to the store in this car," then held up a Hot Wheels, "to buy this car." So true. Man, I still have hundreds of my Hot Wheels from my youth.

It wasn't all that long ago that Christmas shopping was a true adventure for parents. The kids made lists -- if you're old enough, you well remember the Sears "Wish Book" that fueled our ambitious lists – that parents tried to fulfill. When my son Chris was going through his Power Rangers phase, his mom worked the phones and drove all over Southern California looking for the elusive Tommy green Power Ranger or the MegaZord villain. We scoured stores for hours looking for Star Wars figures and ships when that was his thing. Now, you can bid for these items on eBay or just order them online at Amazon. Where's the challenge inthat?

Teenagers these days, they're all about the cash. And who could blame them? Most moms and pops probably don’t know 50 Cent from Nickleback or how loose or tight any particular item of apparel is supposed to be so that it fits "right" these days.

Yesterday we finished off a months-long crusade to get my son Chris a new car. Well, a newer car. When he started driving, we handed him down our 4x4 Bronco and spent a fair sum getting it up to "pimped" status: new paint and interior, a lift kit, offroad tires, K&N Filtercharger, and more. It was his pride and joy but gets about 9 mpg, which was wiping out his weekly paycheck.

We finally found a great deal on an '05 Mustang, and now he's about to find out for the next five years what it feels like to make car payments. And pay more insurance and a larger registration fee. Ain't growing up grand? Our small driveway looks like a parking lot until he's able to sell the Bronco (a great deal at $6,000 if you're interested), but the kid has a permagrin plastered on his face. Priceless.

It was a great father-son experience, the kind us dads live for, where we can share our worldly knowledge with our sons to prepare them for life. Anyone who's ever bought a car knows The Art of the Deal, how to haggle, how "that's our final offer" never really is, especially when you scoot back your chair to head for the door, how to get nicer floor mats or a warranty upgrade. I felt a bit like Trump dispensing advice as we worked to stay one step ahead of the salesguy (who, I'm sure, also was thinking he was one step ahead of us, and probably was).

Me, I got the requested Best Buy gift cards from the family and assorted other goodies, but my sister gets the props for the best gift of the year, one that seriously choked me up when I unwrapped it. I lost my dad when I was just nine and, of course, Christmas is the time those kind of things mean the most to you, how you'd like Dad to be there, bouncing the grandchildren on his knee while he unwraps yet another tie or pair of socks they so lovingly bought for him. How he could smile and pose for photos that your kids and their kids will share decades down the road. I don't have all that many pictures of my dad, and the ones I do have are very treasured.

My sister proved yet again that the best gifts aren't always the kind you can buy at the store. In a handsome frame, she mounted an amazing copy of an original picture painting of our dad, then a proud member of England's Royal Fusiliers, a London-based infantry regiment in the British Army. He couldn't have been much older than 19 or 20 when this photo was taken, about the same age as Chris is. I've seen the picture many times before but knew that my sister had the only copy, and now I also have one to proudly display. I always feel he's still watching over us anyway, but now I can watch him watching us.

I hope you all had wonderful Christmases, too, and would love for you to share your Christmas stories and amazing gifts. 

More SIMO: The first installment of Stuff in my Office was a big hit as a lot of you remembered Don Prudhomme's retirement party at the Playboy Mansion, so here's another mid-1990s memory. The little red chunk of cement is a piece of the red NHRA oval from the side of the Pomona Raceway tower that was demolished in early 1993. Leslie Lovett was there to photograph the demo and brought me back a souvenir.

The three-story tower was built in 1968 – for just $3,000 – and made its debut at the 1969 Winternationals. It sat on the west side of the track near the starting line, and held the announcing deck and pressroom. The side of the tower facing us in this picture also was where the winner's circle was. Look at any 1980s or so Pomona winner's circle and you'll see what I mean.

As you can see in this photo, the new (and current) tower suites complex is already was going up in the background. Longtime Pomona fans will also recall that there was a two-story tower at the back of the property for years that served as race control. I think I have a photo of it somewhere that I'll dig up. Pomona also had a fourth tower in its history for a short time, the modern-looking control tower from Ontario Motor Speedway. It's visible at the top left of the fallen tower. These days, it serves as a lookout post for the security staff at the nearby Fairplex parking lot.

Little-known fact: The guy driving the frontend loader who knocked down this tower was former Top Fuel racer Bobby Baldwin. Baldwin, who died in 2001, ran a construction business at the Fairplex and got the honors, as well as a memorable quip: "I knocked down the victory circle before I could get a trophy there."