Championship Drag Racing

This month, NHRA’s POWERade Pros take part in the sometimes grueling, often entertaining, and always pivotal Western Swing, back-to-back-to-back events in Colorado, Washington, and California that test the mettle of the teams on the tour. Veteran crewmember John Collins, car chief on the Larry Dixon-driven Don Prudhomme Racing Top Fuel dragster, will provide fans with regular updates from the road as the Miller Lite team traverses the road and track.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Home at last

When we left off yesterday, we were washing at the Blue Beacon in Des Moines. After we finished, Reagan took over driving our nice, clean rig and headed up I-35 towards Minnesota. We ran into a bunch of traffic in Minneapolis.

About 40 miles from Brainerd, we stopped in Clearwater, Minn. to top off the tanks with fuel. We got all the way to within five miles of Brainerd and it started pouring, so our wash job got ruined. Itís amazing how the rain seems to follow us NHRA guys wherever we go. I took a picture of the Welcome to Brainerd sign, but it was raining so hard that you couldnít read it.

Once we arrived in Brainerd, we stopped at the Ramada to check in. After everyone got there, we drove to Brainerd Used Cars, which is owned by our buddy Marty Johnson. He takes care of our stuff while weíre back in Indy. We were introduced to Marty through Toad. They met at the Brainerd race and have turned into good friends. Now, Marty is a great friend to the entire Miller Lite team. We spend a lot of time with Marty and his family each year when weíre in town for the race at B.I.R. After parking the rigs, we turned around and went back to the hotel and went to bed. We all needed some rest after the long trip.

This morning, we arrived at the Brainerd airport around 6. We left there on time, but had a two-hour delay in Minneapolis. Thereís nothing like a delay on the last leg of the trip. We finally landed in Indy about 2:05 p.m. (CT). Waltís girlfriend Stacey and Adamís wife Lisa picked us up and took us to the shop to get our vehicles. It was nice to get behind the wheel of my í97 Chevy pickup instead of the rig. Itís just nice to be home. Tonight, Iíll stay at home and relax with the family. It was my daughter Courtney's 12th birthday July 31 and weíre going to go downtown and have dinner at Spaghetti Works on Friday evening. Iíll fly airplanes with my son Tyler Saturday and go to dinner with Kelly Saturday night. And, Iím sure Iíll find some time to work on my around-the-house projects before we fly back to Brainerd for the Lucas Oil Nationals next week.

Thanks for spending the past three or so weeks with me and our Miller Lite team. I hope you had a fun time following our journey. Iíve really enjoyed reading all the positive e-mails and feedback on the internet message boards. Hey Maters, we do more than just eat! Iím glad that everyone enjoyed the blog. And thanks to for the opportunity to let you all in on our lives for a few weeks. Perhaps next year we can have a camera follow us and do the Western Swing reality TV show. Now that would be some quality television, trust me. Oh, and if you're at the track, stop by the pit and say hello. Thanks again everybody!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Meet the guys

Well, we made it to Des Moines and while weíre washing at the Blue Beacon, I thought Iíd tell you a little bit about my teammates since youíve heard about them for the past few weeks.

Aaron Reagan is new to the team this year. Heís a rotating truck driver that drives when someone flies, as Shawn did this trip. Aaron is an all-around good guy. Heís learned a lot and heíll do anything for the team. Heís also the talker of the Miller Lite team. Heís always talking and telling stories.

Adam Morton has been on the NHRA tour for awhile. He joined our team last June. Heís quiet most of the time, but can be real sarcastic and witty. Heís from Melbourne, Australia. I have a lot of respect for the guy. When he says something, you listen because heís been around and has a lot of experience.

Anthony Vanetti is the go-getter of the team. He works really hard. He does racks and tires and is learning to do the bottom end this year. He tends to talk on his phone a lot. In fact, his cell phone should be attached to his ear.

Shawn Ford is probably the cleanest and most organized person that Iíve ever worked with. That comes in handy for the short-block guy because thereís a lot to a short block and it needs to be perfect. Shawn is very thorough at what he does. You can bet that when Shawn does something, itís done right. He might just be the hardest working guy on the team. When his stuff is done, heíll help anybody else with their work. You never see Shawn standing around.

Walt Herr has to be one of the best clutch guys out there on tour. Itís so important because the clutch has to be the same all the time. To go as many rounds as this car has the past few years, shows how good Walt is. Plus, heís great for team morale. Heís fun to hang out with. Walt always has a smile on his face.

If anyone knows cylinder heads, itís Toad (Kevin Secco). Heís been doing heads since he started on Larryís team in the 1990s. Plus, he has a general knowledge of the entire race team. Heís been here the longest. I have a lot of respect for both him and Walt because theyíve been here a long time.

Donnie Bender has been doing this drag racing stuff for many years. He really knows a lot. I listen to what he says because heís seen and done it all. He and Dick LaHaie have worked together for something like 13 years now. Dickís reputation speaks for itself. Itís just an honor to be working for him.

Itís not just the guys that work on the car. Chris Key, our hospitality guy, and Chef Dale Johnson are with us pretty much all the time as well. If it wasnít for those guys, we wouldnít eat the great meals that we do. With all the work we do, Snake definitely looks out to make sure that weíre eating quality, nutritious meals, not just chips and junk food.

After we finishing washing, itís back on the road for another five or so hours to Brainerd. Then, we fly out first thing Thursday morning to Indy.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The long haul

We got up before sunrise on Tuesday morning, and did a pre-trip on the truck. Itís a DOT deal to make sure the truck is ready for the road.

We hit the road and drove to Reno, Nev., where we stopped at the Travel America to get fuel and we went to the Western Village Restaurant & Casino for breakfast. I also happened to donate $20 to the roulette wheel.

After our stop in Reno, I continued driving. About 80 miles into Nevada, there is a photographer named John, who stands in the back of his truck and takes pictures of every rig on the way from Sonoma to Brainerd. We see him every year. I stopped driving in Wells, Nev., where we stopped at a Pilot, and Reagan took over at the wheel. We drove past the Bonneville Salt Flats on I-80. Itís flat and looks like snow; everything looks white.

Aaron drove to Cheyenne, Wyo. and then I took over driving again after a nice long eight-hour nap. Weíll drive to Des Moines and hit a truck wash before we head up to Brainerd today.

We ran into the Skoal Racing guys in Lincoln, Neb. So, the entire Don Prudhomme Racing team is pretty close together.

You see some unusual things when traveling the highways of America. We got a picture of a Honda Civic that was filled with so much stuff that I couldnít see the driver. Whoever was driving couldnít see anywhere except in front and out of the driverís-side window. Iíve never seen a car packed with so much junk.

Otherwise, itís a long boring trip for 2,400 miles. When we get to Brainerd, Iíll give you an exact mileage update from when we left the Indy shop before Denver all the way to Brainerd International Raceway. And, if I can get internet service in Des Moines, Iíll e-mail some photos to the guys.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Headed home, via Brainerd

After we finished up at the track on Sunday night, most of the guys went to In-N-Out Burger to grab dinner. Monday was a long day at the track. When we got to the pit on Monday morning, we rolled up the flooring and got all three of our Miller Lite dragsters out of the haulers. We did some swapping around as we'll run a new race car at Brainerd next weekend. That project took up most of the day.

Shawn did some motor work, Toad worked on heads, Anthony did racks, Aaron worked on tires and clutch stuff, and Walt and Donnie worked on the cars. I worked on the race cars as well.

On our way to the track on Monday, we stopped a deli in Novato, Calif., where you make your own sandwich, and then they let you guess the price and if you guess correctly, it's free. Shawn was the closest, he missed by 11-cents. I missed by like a dollar.

After a long day at the track, we parked the rigs at the hotel and then we grabbed a bite to eat at Rings inside the hotel. I showered, packed and then it was time for bed.

We'll leave pretty early Tuesday morning because the drive from Sonoma to Brainerd is the longest drive of the year. We planned out our route Monday night at the hotel because we want to stick pretty close together since it is such a long drive.

We'll take I-80 all the way to Des Moines, Iowa and then I-35 to Minneapolis. After we park the rigs in Brainerd, we'll drive the Miller Lite tow van back to Minneapolis and then fly home for a few days of R-and-R.

I can't tell you how excited I am to see the family and sleep in my own bed. The next few days, I'll keep you all updated on our trek from California to Minnesota.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Eating good, running good

It was another routine Friday for us. The first qualifying session went fine and on time, but the second session was late, which caused another long Friday night at the track. Thatís something that weíre all too used to. Chef Dale cooked up a mesquite grilled chicken and his special pasta salad along with green bean casserole. As usual, it was excellent. Itís definitely nice to get a good meal at the track, rather than stopping off at some fast food joint and eating really late at night.

The highlight of the day came before Fridayís first run. We were in the lanes and one of the Infineon track workers came up to me and gave me a $5 gift certificate for Cold Stone Creamery. He said that he had been reading the blog and thought that Iíd make better use of it. Thereís a great chance Iíll use it Saturday night after we finish up.

Iím still getting a lot of feedback on the blog. In fact, Iíve had many more fans come up to me here at Sonoma than at the past two races. Everyone really seems to be enjoying it. Again, I want to thank you all for reading about our Western Swing journey.

We made a couple of good runs on Friday. Itís nice when you open the day with a good pass. Larryís quickest run at Infineon Raceway coming into yesterday was a 4.584, so to run 4.599 on the first run of the weekend was a good start. I was a little concerned before the second run because it was really cold and windy out and right before our run, there was an oildown in the left lane. The NHRA Safety Safari did a great job of cleaning the track up and giving us a good track to race on and we went 4.550 and then Tony Schumacher ran 4.529 right behind us, so the oildown wasnít a factor at all. Hopefully, we can make a few more nice runs today and work on our race day setup and consistency.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Watching the bulls run

Thursday morning was a pretty easy day for us. In fact, most of the team had the day off. After breakfast at the Embassy Suites, a few of us went to the track, while the rest of the team had a play day.

Staying at the Embassy is really nice because they have a complimentary breakfast each morning, so we definitely take advantage of that. Adam and Toad had some cylinder head work to get caught up on. I was caught up, but I had a few things that I wanted to tinker around with.

Donnie Bender, Aaron and Anthony all went to Marine World for the day, while Walt, Shawn and Ted went into San Francisco to play tourist. After we finished up at the track, we went up to the go-cart track at Infineon Raceway to see what was going on there. We ran into a bunch of high-end cars, like Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Maseratis, BMWs, Mercedes-Benz, and so on. That sparked our interest, so we cruised over to see what was going on.

The cars had a decal that said ĎThe Bull Run.í That made me even more curious, so I had to find out what it was all about. Apparently, itís some type of Cannonball Run-style event that takes these guys from New York to Los Angeles in 32 hours, and one of their tasks on Thursday was to drive go-carts at Infineon. As I was walking around, I bumped into Dennis Rodman, so, of course, I took a picture with him. Right after that, he got into some wild Lamborghini and they were off to finish up in L.A.

We left the track and Toad and I went to eat supper at a place called Roast Haus in San Rafael. Itís a local joint that Toad really likes. Then it was on to the daily cocktail reception at the Embassy and then to the room. I watched The Day After Tomorrow and went to bed.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The final stop

Like we planned, we got up extra early to beat all the other teams to the truck wash and it worked. We hit the Blue Beacon at the Petro Truck Wash on Wednesday morning and then we had breakfast at the Iron Skillet.

After getting fuel and water, we hopped back on the road and headed to Infineon Raceway in Sonoma. We pulled into the track right around noon. Infineon is notorious for having long lines to wait in before you park, but we drove right on in, parked and setup the pit area. I noticed an exhaust noise on the rig, so I called a few local Kenworth dealers, but nobody had the parts that we need. So, I took the exhaust off and we had to weld it up. That turned into a pretty good side job for the day. We worked on it for a good four hours. Walt and Toad helped me on that project, but we got it fixed, and thatís the important thing.

Besides that, we all worked ahead so we can have an off day on Thursday. Some of the guys are going to Marine World in Vallejo, Calif. to ride roller coasters, and a few of the other guys are going to San Francisco to mess around in the city. Wednesday night, Aaron and I went to In-N-Out Burger for dinner. Us Indy guys love our In-N-Out when weíre in California.

I read online where some people think all we do is eat. Well, when you work as much as we do, you need a good meal every now and then. Pretty much, all we eat is breakfast, lunch and dinner with the occasional ice cream for dessert. After dinner, I updated the blog and hit the sack.

Real quick, itís kind of strange how all the race tracks run together when youíre on the road so much. The pit area looks the same each race and sometimes when I back the Miller Lite tow van out of the pit, you sometimes you lose track of where youíre at because everything looks the same. Itís like you have to think for a second, where are we at this week? Itís sort of like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. It doesnít happen all the time, but every now and than, that happens to me, especially during these back-to-back-to-back races.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Sonoma bound

We left the hotel in Washington right around 7 a.m., and Aaron Reagan took off driving in our rig. We hit some traffic in Washington and more once we got to Portland, Ore. We stopped and got fuel and some snacks at the Travel America in the middle of Oregon.

When we were about 60 miles north of California, we stopped at a rest area and I took over driving and Reagan went in the back to the sleeper area to take a nap. We had to stop at every weigh station on the trip from Washington to Redding, Calif. They make us run across the scales to make sure that weíre under 80,000 pounds.

The mountainous area of Oregon and California is beautiful country, but you canít get a cell signal in many parts. My old buddy, Fred Stover, who works on Cory Macís Fram AirHog dragster, called and told me he was pulling off to go fishing for a few hours in Northern California. Well, I had no reception and didnít get the message until I was in Redding. I missed out on fishing again.

One of the neat things about the drive is that you see Mount Rainier in Washington, Mount Hood near Portland, and Mount Shasta in California. All were snow-capped, even during the hot summer months.

It was extremely hot in California. We talked to the guys in the van, and they said it reached 111 degrees in some areas. They also told me that they stopped at a bakery/restaurant called Heaven on Earth at Exit 86 in Azalea, Ore. Adam, Anthony, and Ted said they had a great lunch and that the owner, Christine Jackson, hooked them up with pies, cinnamon rolls, apple turnovers, and toffee. Sometimes it does pay to be associated with a race team. Top Alcohol Dragster racer Hillary Will gave them the tip about Heaven on Earth.

The guys in the Miller Lite tow van drove all the way through to the hotel in San Rafael, Calif. The four of us (Walt, Kevin, Aaron, and me) and the two Miller Lite rigs spent Tuesday night at the La Quinta in Redding. After we checked in to the hotel, all four of us went to Jackís for our annual steak dinner. I had a 12-ounce sirloin and baked potato, and we made our typical Cold Stone Creamery stop.

On Wednesday morning, weíll head out pretty early and hopefully hit the truck wash before the other race teams. After that, itís on to Infineon Raceway to park and set up.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Ready to hit the road (again)

It gets busy at the track, so I apologize for not updating the blog for a few days. You can read Saturdayís and Sundayís entries below this one.

This morning, after a waffle breakfast at the hotel, we stopped at the Circle K to grab ice on the way to the track, and then we serviced our parts and tore down. Weíll pull out of the hotel around 7 a.m. Tuesday and drive to Redding, Calif., for the night.

When youíre on the road as much as we are, you tend to know where the good restaurants are, and thereís a little joint called Jackís in Redding that has great food. Itís a little mom and pop place with the best steaks. Plus, thereís a really good ice cream parlor just around the corner.

Weíll drive from Redding to Infineon Raceway on Wednesday and set up. Weíre thinking about doing a tour of Alcatraz on Thursday once we get into the Bay Area or maybe touring a battleship or submarine. Iím sure weíll stop by Scomaís at Fishermanís Wharf for dinner one evening as well.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Out early, but still in the game

Sunday morning, we left the hotel a little earlier than normal to beat the traffic. The track exit on Route 18 gets pretty backed up, and it can be tough getting into the track as well, especially on race day. After we unload the car, we have to make sure that we have four rounds of equipment ready to go in case youíre lucky enough to make it to the final. We made a really good pass in the first round and then smoked the tires at the hit in round two. It gets frustrating because we have such a good race car.

After we went out, Tommy Johnson Jr. advanced to the semifinals, but before the warm-up prior to the semiís, they had a mechanical problem in the motor. So, a bunch of us from the Miller Lite team went over to the Skoal Racing pit to help those guys thrash and get everything figured out. Talk about an adrenaline rush. That was a lot of fun to help those guys make it to the line for the semiís. Itís weird because their Funny Car is set up so much differently from our dragster and weíre not familiar with their pit area, so you donít know where tools are and where to find things, but we got it done. Thatís one of the great things about being part of a team. It was pretty amazing; from when Mike Green told them to pull the motor and they called us over, we put a new block in, put everything back together, fired the motor, and towed to the staging lanes in 21 minutes. Thatís teamwork.

Once we lose, we take the car apart and check the chassis for cracks and check everything over really well. We started servicing parts to get a head start on todayís work. After we were done at the track, we went back to the hotel to clean up, and then Walt, "Toad," Ted, and I went to dinner at Red Robin at the Super Mall in Auburn, Wash. After dinner, it was back to Cold Stone and then to bed.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Saturday in Seattle

Saturday morning, "Dicko," Donnie, Ted, and I went to breakfast at Dennyís before going to the track. We ran the 4.49 at 331 on Saturdayís first pass and came back and ran 4.57 on our final qualifying pass. The car spun the tires from about half-track, and that hurt the e.t. on the last run.

Tony Schumacher ran right in front of us in the left lane, and we didnít realize the potential of how bad it could have been when his chassis broke on that pass. A lot of times, itís hard to tell what happens from the starting line until you can see the replay on Motel 6 Vision, and then we saw the super slow-mo replay on ESPN2 that night back at the pit. Itís always a scary feeling when you see that because we went through it with Larry in Bristol in 2003.

Saturday evening, we had a normal service, and Chef Dale cooked London broil. It was very good. In fact, it might be the best thing heís cooked since coming onboard in Bristol this season. After we left the track, I dropped most of the guys off at the hotel and ran over to Target. Then, "Toad," Shawn Ford. and I went to Cold Stone Creamery. If you havenít figured out by now, Iím an ice cream junkie. Later that night, I did laundry since I slacked on that Thursday night to have some fun at BBM and with the go-karts.

Friday, July 23, 2005

We're No. 1!

First off, Iíve gotta say how amazed I am with all the great feedback that Iím getting from the blog on From race fans to crewmembers to NHRA officials, so many people have come up to me and said how much they enjoy reading the blog each day. So, thanks to everyone for checking in on our Western Swing journey.

Friday was pretty much an uneventful day except for the rain delay. That definitely got us behind schedule. We always hope to make a good run on the first pass, but we were a little too aggressive on Fridayís opening run.

Knowing we were behind schedule and the sun was going down, we did a normal race day service following the first run and really hustled only to find out it was the typical hurry up and wait deal because of an oildown in one of the alcohol classes.

When we were in the lanes, we were all wondering if weíd get the chance to make a second run because the sun was going down and there arenít many lights at Pacific Raceways. Letís just say this place hasnít changed much since ďSnakeĒ won here a few times in the mid-1970s. We saw that T.J. ran that 4.77, and thatís great for the morale of our team when both cars run well. Thankfully, it stays light pretty late here in the Pacific Northwest, and Larry got the chance to make a pass; it was nice to see the 4.54 pop on the board.

After the run, it was a normal service. I stripped a blower, and Iíll finish it up on Saturday morning. It was definitely another long Friday night at the track. The mood in the pit is pretty good knowing that we are the low qualifier for the moment. On Saturday, weíll work on our race day tune-up and see if we can maintain the top spot. There are so many tough cars in Top Fuel these days that it will be tough to do, but weíve got a really strong car.

Overall, everything went well today. Anthony Vanetti did a really great job. Heís learning to do the bottom end, and heís really getting up to speed. He was excellent today, as was our entire Miller Lite team.

Friday, July 22, 2005

A soggy start

Friday morning, our assistant crew chief, Donnie Bender, Ted, and I went to breakfast at Dennyís before heading out to the track. When I woke up, it was raining. We certainly didnít expect it to rain because weíve had such great weather. I guess that saying "If you want to end a drought, hold an NHRA drag race" lives true because it seems to rain every place that we go. I think the rain will blow out, though.

Once we get to the track, weíll gear up for the day and hopefully make two solid qualifying runs. If I get a few free minutes, Iíll update you guys on our weekend in Seattle.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

A busy day

We ate breakfast at the hotel in Auburn, Wash., and then drove to the track to set up our Miller Lite pit area. Weíre at a new hotel this year, and itís only about 10 to 15 minutes from the racetrack. Itís definitely nice to stay close to the track, especially after a long day at the track.

We had a brief safety meeting with Jim Wagner, who many of the Pro teams hire to handle all the Department of Transportation (DOT) rules and regulations. Jim makes sure that weíre filling out our paperwork and logbook properly, that weíre working the legal amount of hours, taking our required days off, and just making sure that weíre playing by the rules. He gave the Snake Racing teams an A-plus. Weíre doing everything that we should, and thatís nice to hear.

After the meeting with Jim, we continued setting up throughout the morning. My son, Tyler, took his first flying lesson on Thursday, so I was really anxious to find out how he did. He blew through it with no problem at all, so I guess that Microsoft Flight Simulator really works. Ted, our PR guy, ran to Jack In The Box to get the team lunch. I had two monster tacos.

After lunch, I helped the guys get ready for the weekend as I was caught up. We left that track around 4 p.m., and it was playtime for a few of the guys on the team. Anthony, Kevin, Aaron, me, and Brad Morrison and Neal Strausbaugh from Tommy Johnson Jr.ís Skoal Racing Funny Car team went to tour the BBM Motorsports facility right near the track. BBM makes racing mini bikes and full-size race bikes. We took a tour of the facility and then went to their private test track to ride. It was a blast. Anthony and Kevin are really into dirt bikes, so they had a great time. After riding bikes, Kevin hooked us up with a guy from the Wide Open Sports Arena in Renton, Wash. Itís an indoor dirt go-kart track. The go-karts were fast and really fun to drive. They were closed but kept it open for our team. We rode until we couldnít hold the steering wheel any longer. Itís unusual to have that much fun during the Western Swing, so you need to take advantage of it. I should have been at the hotel doing some laundry, but now Iíll just have to fit it in sometime this weekend. Friday might be an extra long night, but riding the bikes and go-karts was well worth it.

It wasnít all fun and games on Thursday night because there were some pretty nasty storms ripping through Indy. I got calls from Kelly saying that she and the kids were in the basement and the tornado sirens were going off and that it was storming really bad. Itís a helpless feeling when youíre 2,000 miles away and not there for your family. Thankfully, nothing bad happened besides some strong winds and rain.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Eating, cleaning, and playing

Tuesday morning, we slept in until 9. Then, we went to breakfast at Jack In The Box and walked across the street to the Iron Horse Casino, where "Toad" (Kevin Secco) and Walt played a couple of hands of blackjack.

We had the oil changed in the van while we ate breakfast; 3,000 miles goes pretty quick when youíre driving back and forth across the country. After that, we hopped in the trucks and headed to Western Beer Distributors in Sumner, Wash., to wash the trucks and tow van. Things tend to get a little buggy when you drive thousands of miles. Western Beer Distributors is the local Miller distributor near the track. The entire crew pitched in, and it took about an hour and a half to wash both haulers and the van.

By then, it was lunchtime, so the guys from Western Beer decided to take us to a new local pizza joint. We werenít in a rush since there was a long line at the track to get parked. I had the Italian Trio sandwich with foccacia bread. It was excellent. "Toad" and Walt beat Anthony and me both times we played pool while we were waiting for the food to arrive. Walt is pretty good at most bar games. Then we drove to the track and parked the rigs. Weíll set up the pit area Thursday morning and then prep for the weekend in the afternoon.

After we left the track, we dropped a few guys off at the hotel and drove to the Boeing surplus store. They have machinery, tooling, electronics, and all kinds of oddball stuff. We were looking for titanium bolts, which we have not yet found, and the Boeing store didnít have any. "Toad" bought some earmuffs for the track. Then we came back to the hotel to get cleaned up before going to Seattle for a few hours. We ate dinner at The Fisherman at one of the piers along the water. It was a beautiful evening. After dinner, we drove by the Space Needle and headed back to the hotel because we have some work to get done at the track on Thursday.

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