Wow, just five days into the off-season, and it has been pretty eventful already. Rumors of firings and hirings (some of them even true) are flying faster than fuelers, Austin Coil ends his 26-year relationship with John Force, and yesterday, we hear the tragic news about the Summit Racing team's transporter and Greg Anderson's Pontiac race car being damaged in a fire shortly after leaving the Pomona track. Is it a champion's curse? If I were LE Tonglet and Larry Dixon, I'd be careful the next few days.
Actually, Dixon is entrusting himself to the DRAGSTER staff today as he returns to the office for the first time as the champ since he won the 2003 Top Fuel crown, and he's returning for the same reason seven years later: to buy us lunch. There are a lot of reasons to like Dixon – humble to a fault, a racer's racer, the son of a racer, student of the sport – but remembering folks like us is a really good way, too.
Dixon even thanked us in his acceptance speech at the Full Throttle Awards Ceremony, which is pretty special. We don’t expect anyone to do that – and certainly hold nothing against those who don't; how could we? – because we consider ourselves just part of the behind-the-scenes team that helps make NHRA what it is and work to make the accomplishments of our racers known to all.
The reporters and photographers on our staff certainly get to see these racing heroes at every event, get to know them, even sometimes break bread with them, but it's extra special to the folks behind the scenes of the behind-the-scenes people – I'm talking about the fine ladies and gentlemen on the publication staff whose only contact with these legends is in helping to prepare each week's issue – to not only get to meet a Top Fuel world champ but also to sit down and have lunch with him.
As he did in 2002 and 2003, Dixon forked over the digits of his American Express card to us to cater in a meal from local-fave Mexican restaurant Sergio's, and he'll be here at about 11 a.m. We have a few surprises of our own in store for him as our way of saying thanks for thinking of us.
Traffic dispatches about the fire give a hint of what happened. (View bigger)
Back to the Anderson story and all of the sorrow involved in that. As many of you know, Greg and Kim Anderson began the new year on a sorrowful note when a fire heavily damaged their home in North Carolina (check out Anderson's championship speech for details), then the whole team worried and weathered the storm surrounding the medical issues of team owner Ken Black. Then, just when all was right with their world – Ken was back at the races, Greg was the champ, and Kim's wardrobe had been restocked – this happens.
Although we learned of the fire shortly after it happened – Carl Landkammer, one of those behind-the-scenes people I was talking about (he's our image-scanning and -adjustment ace who makes the photos all look so good every week), has a California Highway Patrol traffic-alert app on his computer, and we looked up the details – and through multiple sources confirmed that it was Anderson's rig, we didn’t publish the news out of respect to Black and Anderson. Anderson was in the air flying home, and the last thing I wanted for Black or Anderson was to find out the bad news from someone who couldn’t break it to them gently. I'm sure you've all been there; you get off the plane, and you have 10 missed calls. It's a sickening feeling.
It's such a small world. I got a call from a fan, Ken, whose buddy was the fire captain on the unit that responded to the blaze and called him with details, knowing that Ken was a fan. It was from them that we learned the extent of the damage, although apparently Anderson's oversized championship check was not damaged, and I'm sure that the real one is safely in someone's pocket. We also heard from Freddy Aguilar, husband of another of those behind-the-scenes people here, Maria, who is our senior ad services rep. Freddy is a UPS driver and saw the fire firsthand from the other side of the freeway on his route. Small world, indeed.
I can’t tell you how heartsick we all are for the Summit team. Theirs certainly is not the first rig lost to fire or accident on the way to or from a race, but with all that they suffered through this year and how good they must have felt to put it all behind them, it just sucks.