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Return to Norwalk

A return to the place I first drove a racecar, some 24 years earlier; travel misadventures
27 Jun 2008
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider

Well, we’re here at beautiful Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park for the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, and I’ve opened the Summit Racing Equipment notebook left in my assigned place by the Summit FastNews guys … are we sensing a theme here?

The old place sure looks different than it did in the 1980s, when the right-lane grandstands were about 30 rows high. From my vantage point in the media center, which is just behind the starting line on the left side, I can see the staging lanes where 24 years ago this summer I excitedly/worriedly buckled up into Frank and Linda Mazi’s supercharged Opel for my first passes toward earning an NHRA license in Competition Eliminator. You can read the entire two-part story that ran later that year in National DRAGSTER here, on Dawn Mazi-Hovsepian’s site. She did a great job of recreating the article the photos (many of which she took), and you can get a glimpse of 1984 Norwalk in a few of the pics and a look at a (much) younger me. Ah, those were the days.

The first order of business was to track down Bill Bader Sr., who had been so gracious to me way back then and allowed us to make the licensing runs at his track, risking financial ruin and ridicule to let the kid behind the wheel of that wild machine when people were probably asking him and Frank the drag racing equivalent of "You’re gonna send a kid like this up in a crate like that?” I’ve known and liked Bill for years (even when he was Mr. IHRA) and took to heart his reprimand for missing last year’s inaugural event here.

I asked for him in the main office, and the girl looked at me as if I’d asked if Kermit the Frog were in.

No, Bill Sr. was “out among ‘em,” as we like to say and, as I could have expected, catering to the “Norwalk experience,” no doubt, and making sure everyone is having a good time and have what they need. I made a quick lap of the pits, figuring I could spot him by the huge crowd of people swarming around him but came up empty. I did get to ogle the 30-deep line for the infamous “pound of ice cream for a dollar” booth and the “Roast Beef Sundae” offering: mashed potatoes, roast beef, and gravy in a sundae-like bowl topped with a cherry tomato. Brilliant idea. (Update: Little Brad just brought a pound of ice cream to me and 'Dida in the pressroom, melting all the way -- the ice cream, not Brad. What a guy!)

I rode back to the media center with Jim O. and Hillary Will, who were heading off to a drivers meeting and, having not been in E-Town, was able to express my condolences for the loss of Scott.

I ran into Bill Jr., got a warm family-like hug, and asked where his dad might be. “He’s probably out there somewhere grading a road,” he said pointing out onto the grounds. “You know him.” He promised to send the Big Kahuna my way when he finds him.

It’s great to be here, and some of the team are really glad to be here after their travel nightmares yesterday. Photogs Teresa Long and Marc Gewertz had flown out of Orange County (Calif.) yesterday morning at 6:45 a.m., heading to Chicago and then on to Cleveland, and planned to be here in time for the Kalitta memorial service at 7 p.m. Me, Little Bradfield, and ‘Dida were stuck on a 12:40 p.m. flight out of Ontario to Phoenix, where we had a two-hour layover and then a four-hour flight that was scheduled to arrive in Cleveland at 11 p.m. We were all quite envious that the photo team would be here, get to attend the memorial, and probably be in bed before we arrived.

That envy lasted until Brad checked in with Marc and found out that, after a two-hour wait on the runway, their flight out of Chicago had been canceled – it was raining like hell in Cleveland – and that their options at that point were very limited: try to get on the one later flight, on standby, or fly this morning on a flight that went first to New York and then back to Cleveland, with both legs also on standby. Slim odds either way.

They opted instead to drive from Chicago to Cleveland, a good six-plus-hour drive, and waited for their luggage to be offloaded “in about an hour.” The hour came and went as did their hopes for a good night’s sleep. They were joined in their misery by Susie Arnold, longtime publicist for Kenny Bernstein, who finally stepped to the plate and offered a cool $100 to one of the airline workers to “expedite” the retrieval of their three pieces of luggage.

They grabbed a rental car and headed out for the long ride. We, meanwhile, were just preparing to board to Cleveland and figured we faced an unknown destination once airborne. Columbus? Cincinnati? Indy?

Well, turns out we had zero problems and even arrived ahead of schedule. I called Teresa to gloat and learned they were still three or four hours out. Seems like the early bird got the worm indeed. She had been up since 3:45 a.m. Thursday to drive from her home near NHRA headquarters down to the OC airport, and it was now looking like a 24-hour day. For Marc, this was the second straight year he had been forced to drive from Chicago to Cleveland for this event, so I guess I won’t be booking my flight with him next year.

We finally rolled into our hotel – the fabulous waterpark-themed Kalahari Resort in Sandusky, Ohio – about 12:30 a.m., checked in, and made sure that Teresa’s room was going to be held for her. She wouldn’t arrive for another three-plus hours, and she and Marc didn’t hit the rack (separately, of course) until 5 a.m., but they were out here bright and early for today.

Speaking of today, and even this weekend, looks like I might get the unfortunate opportunity to reprise my Bristol rainy-day blog. There’s reportedly a major storm headed this way for early evening, so the chances of getting in both sessions seem dubious. Bill Jr. told me they’ve had five inches of rain here since last Friday. The rest of the weekend is apparently going to be a weather crapshoot, but we’ll hang tough and keep you in the know.

I may update this entry if and when that happens, so check back later.