Championship Drag Racing

Mac Tools U.S. Nationals
Indianapolis, IN
(August 29-September 3)

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with Senior Editor Rob Geiger

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Friday, March 28, 2008

Welcome to Texas, y’all...

It's Thursday evening as I'm starting this blog, but it will be Friday morning when I finish it. The sun is setting in the west, beyond the marina I can see below the balcony outside my hotel room, I've just had a sublime dinner of filet mignon with peppercorn sauce, rice pilaf on the side, and a "wedge" salad with ranch (gotta be ranch, every time), and a glass of Charles Krug Cabernet, which went well with everything. It's all good, here at the hotel some 20 miles south of the track, and I can't say too many negative things about the day...

Our crew guys might have felt this resort was too far from the track (and that's cool, whatever they want is fine by me as long as the rates are similar), but I made the drive in less than 30 minutes, and that beats the commute in a lot of cities we race in. I mean, try getting from LVMS to the Monte Carlo on the Las Vegas Strip in less than an hour... With this room, this view, and that dinner I just had, well it's hard to conceive of trading this for a roadside motel where you park your car outside your room and eat your dinner out of a McDonald's bag, but that's just me.

Starting at the top, we'll recap the day on Thursday and look forward to Friday and the race. Barbara was stuck in her office for a while late last night, so we had a bit of a delayed dinner (prepared by Chef Bob) and then watched the hockey game as the Wild took on the Oilers again, in that "must win" match-up I referenced in the last blog. There is joy in Minnesota, as our boys scored early, got ahead, stayed ahead, and beat the Edmonton squad 3-1 to move quite a bit closer to a playoff berth. It was a huge win for our team, and a pretty tough blow for the Oilers, who came from "out of nowhere" in the last few weeks to go on such a winning streak they had just about played themselves right into the top 8. They can still make it, and the Wild can still get knocked out, but both of those scenarios are now, after last night's game, much more mathematical than likely. If the Wild can win one more game, out of their final four, any of the teams chasing them from outside the top 8 would have to win them all. Neighbor Dave and I were talking yesterday before the game, about all this, and we both agreed a loss, last night, would probably end the Wild's season, but a win might send them on to big things. It was all resting on one huge game...

Anyway, despite that digression about hockey, what I was going to say is that I went to bed first last night, since Barb was still pretty wound-up from work and needed to decompress on the sofa. I slept fast, slept well, and slept with two fuzzy Boyce on me almost all night. I woke up at 3:00 a.m. and was sleeping on my back, with little Boofus curled up in the crook of my arm, purring away with his chin on my bicep. Buster loves to lay on top of the covers, but between your legs, and that's where he was, sleeping there with all four legs stretched out as far as they would go. You wouldn't think a couple of little cats could pin you to the bed, but you find yourself allowing your arms and legs to fall asleep so that you don't disturb them...

Up and at 'em at 6:00, I was at the airport by 7:15 for my 9:00 flight, and was a little dismayed to hear the agent at the lower-level check-in kiosk actually tell me (out loud!!!) about "a better way to get to your gate than going up into the main terminal." Hey! That's my secret entrance into MSP, don't be telling every Tom, Dick, or Harry who walks up here with a boarding pass and a rolling bag about how he can save 20 minutes by going back out into the parking garage and... Oops. Shhhhh... It's a secret.

As for the new Bombardier CRJ 900 aircraft, I give it a solid thumbs-up. I was in seat 1-A, so I didn't have a chance to go back to the main cabin to see if those seats were made of the same sweat-inducing, rock-hard "pleather" (it looks like leather, but it's plastic!) they use on the other regional jets, but I can say the little First Class cabin had real-live leather seats, and a 1-2 configuration (meaning one seat on the left, and two seats on the right). Better yet, the little jet had a real galley, so scrambled eggs and sausage were served. All in all, a huge improvement over the smaller regional jets, and we won't even get into a comparison with the little Saab turbo-props. I'll have to "get into" one of the little Saabs soon enough, as that's how I get to Bristol... Saab cars? Love 'em and have owned three of them. Saab commuter planes? Not so much, but you're not going to find a Boeing jet flying into Tri-Cities...

I headed out to the track after arrival, and found the boys hard at work. It was just the crew guys, since Del, Chuck, and Marc drove Del's motorhome from So Cal to Houston and didn't arrive until late in the afternoon (I still haven't seen them). Ryan, Carl, Matt, Kevin, and Chad had the car out, and were fixing some struts on the K&N body, and working away. I got my office set-up, solved some ticket issues (I think), and wandered the pits a bit...

Once 4:00 rolled around, it was time to the hotel and my sublime dinner... Now, it's time for a little TV and some more sleep. No Boyce and no wife to keep me company tonight, but I'll try to do my best. I'll pick this up again in the morning... Let's go racing!

Friday morning, around 8:00 a.m.

Good morning everyone, time to hit the road and head up to the track. On the trip yesterday, when driving through the town of La Porte, I saw a place and rekindled a memory I had shuffled off into the nether regions of my mind for many years. As soon as I passed the hotel, however, it all came back to me in detail far too vivid. The year was 1996, the year before I joined Worsham Racing. I was working for Whit Bazemore then, and we were staying at a very nice roadside motel in La Porte, making the short trip up to Houston Raceway Park every day. All went well for me, and the hotel was just fine, until Sunday night. I awoke in the middle of the night, not feeling well (there's your understatement for this blog) and the next time I exited my room was Wednesday! I don't know if it was food poisoning or a flu bug, but it laid me low and knocked me over.

Like I said, I didn't leave the room again until Wednesday, but by then I was so weak and still sick, which conspired to make it difficult for me to complete my task for the team; driving the mini-van back to Indianapolis! I made it, spending the first night in northern Mississippi, and actually stopped and ate a ham sandwich somewhere in central Illinois (Mount Vernon or Effingham, I'm sure), which was the first sign of life I had shown in nearly a week. Those days in that La Porte hotel room were ones I had successfully repressed in terms of memories, until I passed the place yesterday. Here's hoping for no more of that stuff anytime soon.

I'm off to the track, and will report in throughout the weekend. Fire 'em up!

Wilber, out!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hotel tales and other stories...

Welcome to Wednesday on a race week. I just said "thank you" and "goodbye" to a real honest-to-goodness Maytag repairman (apparently actually NOT the loneliest guy in town, though a nice young man), who was here to replace all the wiring and the front panel on our dishwasher. It seems the model we have in our house was designed a little less than perfectly, and a few of the washers have been having some problems with water seeping through the seals into the wiring, which would cause odd little things like, oh, sparks and fires, so Maytag issued a recall and one of their world famous technicians arrived at our house bright and early this morning. We're all swapped out now, no fuss/no muss, and all is well with the dishwasher world... And now that he's done the work, it actually runs quieter, so that's a double bonus. It's not going to catch on fire, and it's quieter. Both good things.

Our crew guys arrived in Baytown yesterday, so we had their hotel rooms in Seabrook changed to reflect an arrival date one day earlier than anticipated. That sentence, right there, was the first domino that fell over in a strand of happenings that neither surprised nor frustrated me, but is much more just kind of "par for the course" when you're dealing with hotels and the human beings who run them, on a weekly basis. Two of our guys, Matt and Chad, went to the hotel (an "Inn" which shall remain nameless but rhymes with Frampton), got checked in, and moments later my phone rang. It was our booking agent Laurie, who had the new General Manager of the hotel on her other line, and since I figured Laurie probably wasn't calling me just to see how the Minnesota weather was, I was kind of expecting a problem.

Seems the new GM is taking over for the old GM, who took all of our room information from Laurie but then failed to actually, technically, input the data into the hotel's system. So, Matt and Chad were good to go, but anyone else from our team who would've arrived at the hotel was going to be out of luck, as they were far overbooked. The new man in charge was a bit exasperated by what had fallen onto his lap, but the offer he made was a very generous one... He promised to move us ("walk us" in hotel terminology) to a very nice resort just south of his establishment, and cover the difference in cost, so we are now staying in quite the posh digs, for the same rate we would've been paying at the other place. It's an entire mile further from the track, and Laurie did offer to move us to a roadside motel in Baytown if the guys think the drive is just too far, but as of last night they seemed quite content to remain at the resort on the marina as opposed to the motel on the freeway.

(UPDATE: I just heard from Ryan, and the guys actually do want to move to the motel in Baytown. As nice as the resort is, they said the 40-minute drive was just a bit too far. Neighbor Dave and I, however, are going for the nicer place and the longer commute.)

Hey, speaking of Inns that rhyme with Frampton, and rock stars named Peter, who just happened to have his biggest hit with a song called "Show Me The Way" (an appropriate title considering the guys were "walked" to a different hotel and needed directions to get there) here's a bit of music trivia. The device Peter Frampton used in many of his songs, to make it sound like his guitar was singing the words, is called a "Talk Box." Some people refer to it as a Vocoder, but that's not actually true.

A Vocoder creates its own sound electronically, often with a synthesizer, whereas a Talk Box is an amazingly simple device that uses an external source, and then allows the singer/player to "shape" the sound with his mouth. Basically, the guitar sound is fed through a small amplifier enclosed in a box, and the only way for that sound to escape the box is via a rubber hose, which is attached to the microphone stand and the mic, protruding just a few inches further than the actual microphone. Frampton would then insert the end of the hose into his mouth, the guitar sound would flow into his mouth from the end of the hose, and by shaping his tongue and lips as if he was speaking, he could make the guitar "talk" right into the mic. He just replaced his own voice with the sound of the guitar, and sent those words and sounds right back into the P.A. system. Music Trivia 101, free of charge...

Staying with the arts but shifting the subject from music to drawing, I got this pencil sketch of the old Mountain Dew car the other day, from blog reader Caleb. He's a huge die-cast collector, and is the guy whose display case full of cars was featured on this blog a few months back. When Caleb first contacted me, he had quite a nice Del Worsham and Team CSK collection, but since then he's added a few cars he was missing and now just about has it covered.

There are a couple of rare platinum and gold-colored cars, which were never sold but only given to VIP guests at CSK's national convention, and I don't believe he has those. They do show up on eBay, but they can be quite pricey. I don't even have the gold one myself, but I do have the platinum car. It has the CSK logos etched on the sides and hood, and actually has Del's name on one side-window and Frankie Pedregon's name on the other. That, of course, means this particular car was given to us in either 2000 or 2001, but I don't recall which.

Those CSK conventions were always in Las Vegas, and were quite the big deal back then. We'd spend a few days there, and Del would often have to sign as many as 2,000 t-shirts at one time, so that every attendee would get one. There would be a big "all hands" dinner on the final night, in the ballroom of whatever mega-hotel we were staying at (the Hilton, MGM Grand, or Paris) and after dinner we'd have live musical entertainment, and I'm not talking about the lounge act from the hotel. We had Brooks & Dunn one year, Huey Lewis and The News the next, and Earth, Wind, and Fire the year after that.

The year Huey Lewis played, we ended up inviting him to hang out with us after the show, and we all went "clubbing" together into the wee hours, which was a lot of fun while it was going on, but not so much fun when we had to catch an 8:00 a.m. flight the next morning... The price you pay for living the "rock star life" I guess...

Finally, today, here's your hockey update... If any of you non- affiliated fans have adopted our Wild as your team, this would be a good time to send all those "fan vibes" their way. They got creamed by the Edmonton Oilers the other night, up in Alberta, and have a rematch tonight in St. Paul. Right now, the Wild are clinging to the 6th spot in the conference, but the Oilers are charging hard from the 10th spot, trying to bump their way in, and the Wild really need to get their game going again. Their final five games are against Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary, and Colorado (twice) and those are all teams they're fighting for a playoff spot. If you include Nashville and Dallas, that's seven teams battling for five spots, so two of those teams are going to be playing golf while the other five go after the Stanley Cup. Unless the Wild kick it in gear, they might be hitting 8-irons rather than hitting opponents in the corner.

Hotel rooms, Peter Frampton, pencil sketches, platinum cars, Huey Lewis, and hockey. You get it all here, for one low price (free!)

Wilber, out!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Back from La Crosse, ready for Houston...

Well, that was interesting! As outlined in my last blog, I spent much of the day in La Crosse on Monday, at the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse and I hope the students in the two "Principles of Marketing" classes I spoke to got something out of it.

Lisa, the class instructor, pulled two video clips off of YouTube, and we showed those as the students filed in and found their seats. The first one was ESPN's standard highlight package from last year, accompanied by that Saliva song we all got to know far too well ("Ladies and gentlemen, please...") and that got their attention. Lots of header flames, speed, and a few spectacular explosions, just to liven things up. The second video was Dave Rieff's "Thrills and Spills" interview with Del, from Pomona this year, which is basically jam-packed with some of our more astounding "big bangs" from the last few years, including Del's gold medal-winning double-forward pike in the tuck position, through the Pomona sand trap. That one caused some eyeballs to open just a little bit wider.

Truth is, yesterday was their first day back from spring break, so I think both groups were probably happy to leave the text books behind and just listen to a guest speaker. We covered a lot of stuff in about 45 minutes, from marketing angles and techniques, to PR, creative writing, and communications. And, since not all of the students are actually marketing or communications majors (some are majoring in things totally unrelated, but take one core marketing class as part of their general studies) I also tried to tie a lot of the specifics of my job into larger "life lessons" that will transfer to other vocations or careers. The key message there was "don't settle" when trying to establish a career.

As I told them, I know it's hard to find that career you're meant to have, the one that's a passion and not just a job, but you should always keep looking and keep trying to find it. I didn't see my first drag race until I was 35 years old, and didn't start working for Del until I was 40, so I know a little bit about what I preached. Had I settled, had I found a cushy job where I could clock in and clock out, pick up a paycheck, and leave my work behind when I headed for home, I never would have ended up here. There were a lot of very attentive faces in the room, and a lot of focused eye contact, so I hope they all got something of value from my 45 minutes of rambling. Hey, all of you know about my propensity for "rambling," right?

After the second class, we met up with Lisa's son and daughter, both students at the school, and walked over to a local burger place for a fine lunch of cheeseburgers and Diet Coke. Finally, it was time to point the car back north and head home, this time taking the shorter and more scenic route, following Route 61 up the Mississippi River, through Winona, Red Wing, Hastings, and then finally back into the Twin Cities. It's the shortest route to La Crosse, but it takes about the same amount of time as the longer ways, because it's a smaller road with a lot of little towns in the way.

The scenery, however, is terrific and the more southerly part of the route is one of the largest Bald Eagle territories in the country. I saw three circling overhead in the first five minutes of the trip. Of all the small towns along the way, Red Wing is one that stands out. If you're interested in pottery, you're probably well aware of the Red Wing pottery brand, and if you own a pair of heavy-duty work shoes, you might just be wearing a pair of those world-famous Red Wing Boots.

In summary, I'd like to say "Thanks!" to all the students in the class, for letting me spend part of their day with them, and to Lisa for inviting me down to UW-La Crosse. If nothing else, I think there are about 80 young people who now know quite a bit more about NHRA Drag Racing, Del Worsham, and Checker, Schuck's, Kragen than they did prior to Monday. That's a good thing.

When I got home last night, I found a note from teammate Chad "Snacks" Stockwell in my email in-box, complete with pics from the trip some of the boys made to Carl Boyd's home, just outside of College Station, Texas. Carl is actually from North Zulch, Tex. (you can't make that up) but it's close to College Station (home of Texas A&M) which is far more well known, so he generally just tells people he's from there. Kind of like how I just say I live in the Twin Cities, rather than Woodbury. Here's what Chad had to say:

"We've had fun in Texas, hangin' out at Carl's. We haven't gone hungry, that's for sure, since we've been living at Sonic, where the car hops bring you your food. Carl's family had Kevin, Matt, and me over for Easter dinner, where the menu consisted of the traditional ham, salads, and other fixings washed down with sweet tea. We were all sent packing with choclate bunnies! Much of our time off has been spent watching Carl poke his head under the hood of one vehicle or another, but we did go out to Prarie Hill Dragway on Saturday night, to see the locals drive down a dark scary path marked with barrels and some dim lighting. Kind of cool to get off the beaten path and see the grassroots side of things. Today I have dry cleaning to pick up, including Del's fire suit and our starting line shirts, and I might make a trip to Wal-Mart for socks. Tomorrow we will pick up the trucks from Kenworth and head to the track. Snacks, out!"

Our thanks to our intrepid reporter in the field, Chad Stockwell.

Now it's time to get this blog finished and sent in, so that I can shuffle the computer over to "press release mode" and get my Houston preview story done. As you've probably seen on, we will be teammates with the Shell V-Power Top Fuel team this weekend, as Alan Bradshaw, Dexter Tuttle, and their group take on one of our special-edition cars for the next two races. Del's car will still be wrapped in its K&N Filters colors this weekend, so it's going to be a bit confusing when people walk by our pit, seeing two cars they're mostly likely not expecting to see, but when companies like K&N and Shell want to be associated with your racing program, you're just thankful and hope you can do a good enough job to exceed their expectations.

I'll be heading down to Houston on the 9:00 a.m. flight out of MSP on Thursday morning, and that in itself will be a new adventure. Northwest has started adding a new, slightly larger, regional jet to the fleet; the Bombardier CRJ 900. It's the first NWA regional jet that has a First Class compartment, and I'm already in seat 3-C, so we'll get a chance to check out the "front cabin" on the new RJ, with fingers crossed that the seats up there are at least slightly more comfortable than the ones in back.

Finally, since Chad was speaking of Easter and it's still very un-springlike here, I thought I'd share this last pic of a giant Snow Rabbit, seen in our neighborhood as I arrived back home from La Crosse yesterday. This guy is close to 6-feet tall, and although he's gone through some melting since Sunday (and appears to have lost his whiskers on one side of his face) he was so well made I had to stop and look.

Okay, I just checked and my Houston press release is not writing itself, so I have to go now...

Wilber, out!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Back to school...

As they say at the end of the credits for the TV program : Hello Wisconsin! I'm actually writing this blog late on Sunday night, because Monday is going to be pretty busy and I haven't been blogging since Friday (gasp!). Since I need to be on-campus at U of Wisconsin - La Crosse at 10:00 in the morning, and it's about a three-hour drive from Woodbury to La Crosse, I decided to come down here tonight so that I can be rested and alert for the two classes I'm speaking to, rather than get up at 5:00 a.m. and be worried about being late the whole way down here.

Before I go any further, is it just me or do far more people now watch That 70s Show in syndicated re-runs than ever watched it when it was in production? Maybe it's because, at least where I live, it's on three or four times a night. We have one channel that fills every evening with nothing but Family Guy, The Simpsons, and That 70s Show... Pretty funny show, actually, especially for people like me who were young in the 70s...

Anyway, let's backtrack to Friday night before moving through the weekend and then, finally, looking forward to Monday. Friday night was our evening out with the neighbors, as we all trekked to that far- away foreign city, Minneapolis, for the Minnesota Orchestra's Led Zeppelin show. When we moved here, we heard people in St. Paul and Woodbury talking about Minneapolis as if it were as far away as Seattle, which surprised us because as newbies to the Twin Cities we just figured everyone went everywhere and it was really all one big place. Well, it is, but the truth is St. Paul and Minneapolis, and their surrounding suburbs, really are distinct places, and when we go to over to "the big city" it's a bit like being somewhere else, especially when we're in downtown. It's easy to get to the Dome for a Twins game, you just get off the interstate and park, but we only go to Target Center once a year or so, and you always have to find your way, like you're from Iowa or something... No offense if you're from Iowa, I just picked a neighboring state and Wisconsin had already been used.

They had the arena sectioned off into a fairly intimate little theater, with the stage set up about where the hoop would be for basketball, which created a nice little horseshoe of about 3,500 seats, and the sound was great. I might have mentioned before that we had pretty good seats. When the usher says "Wow!" when you hand him your ticket, you know you're in a good spot. "Good spot" in this case meant dead-center, front row. I'm not sure I've ever sat in the front row for a concert before, and as you can see in this pic, we were basically "right there" looking up at the performers (and hey, the iPhone takes good pics, doesn't it!)

All I can say about the show is we were all pretty much blown away. Between the four of us, our level of avid Led Zep interest didn't add up to one mild case of fanaticism, but Zeppelin music is so pervasive, so well known, and so good, there really wasn't a part of the show we weren't all totally familiar with. All four of us left the show with a solid new-found respect and appreciation for the "real" Led Zep, after having heard this powerful and deep performance by a rocking band, a great orchestra, and a singer who nails Robert Plant, note for note. If this show comes to a venue near you, check it out.

Back at home, Saturday and Sunday were, in terms of weather for us, repeats of the prior two days. During the afternoon, it would warm up and melt a lot of the snow, making slushy puddles everywhere, and then each night while we slept, it snowed again. I think we've gotten close to 9 inches in the last few days, but I've only had to scrape the driveway once. My kind of snow... It melts before you have to shovel it.

The next two photos illustrate the difference between Arizona and Minnesota, during the third week of March. You might remember blog reader David, out in Surprise, Ariz., who designated himself my personal assistant, and dubbed himself Scooter. Note to Scooter: A guy who is going to speak to a pair of marketing and PR classes at a major university needs a personal assistant; someone to carry his files, fetch coffee, hang his jacket up, and stuff like that. I'm here by myself... Hmmmm... My clothes will probably be all wrinkled tomorrow, too.

Anyway, Scooter sent me a bunch of great pics from his home, perfectly showing that spring has sprung in his part of the world. As my counterpoint, I simply took the less colorful shot out of my office window at noon today. One of these days, spring will find its way to the northern plains. It can't be too far away, the ducks are flying over in droves and we had our first pair of Canada Geese strutting around right in front of the house today, as if they thought the front pond looked familiar from autumns gone by. Great!

While you're admiring the juxtaposition of March 23rd images from Arizona and Minnesota, I'll answer some great questions from reader Mike Hohler, who also just happens to be a Producer at KNBR 680, in San Francisco. Mike wanted to know how things like lane choice and running order are decided, both in qualifying and during eliminations.

The short version of that answer is as follows: In qualifying, we're all given a "run sheet" before each session, and that sheet tells us where we're supposed to be in line, who we'll be paired up with, and what lane we'll run in. Every team will run in each lane twice during qualifying (barring wet stuff messing up the schedule) and that's all pre-planned before the first run., so we'll know what lanes we're going to be in for each lap before we even make the first one. In Q1, the running order is simply the current points standings inverted, so the No. 1 and 2 drivers will be the final pair. For Q2, you take the results from Q1 and invert them, although you have to make allowances for lanes (you have to stay in the lane you're assigned to, so if the five best times all came in the left lane, they have to juggle the order to keep people where they're supposed to be. Confused yet?) Q3 is the same thing, except it's just the results from Q2 inverted. Q4 is simply the qualifying ladder, to that point, inverted (as opposed to being just Q3 inverted). That way, for Q4, the cars outside the field should be the ones that run first, and the final field will shake out in something approaching a cohesive, chronological order. Not necessarily logical, but chronological.

On Sunday, first choice for lane and pairing always goes to the best qualified team for round one, and then for round two it goes to the team with the lowest E.T. from the round before. So for round one on Sunday, the No. 1 qualifier gets his choice of lanes, and his choice of which pair his team wants to be. Since the No. 8 qualifier gets last choice of pairs, the 8 vs. 9 match-up is almost always last pair or first pair, which are the two least attractive choices. For round two, the low E.T. from round one gets first choice for picking what pair they will be, and it works that way right to the final round, where it doesn't matter what choice you have, because there's only one pair!

Hey, time to get my beauty sleep so I can wake up sharp and "professorial." I think I'll wear that sweatshirt that says "COLLEGE" on the front. Or not.

Wilber, out!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Remembering Al, and other Friday subjects

And we were just talking about Al Hofmann this past weekend. That's not really unusual, since Al was a Florida guy and it was pretty common to be thinking of him at the Gatornationals, but it still came as a shock to get the word, late yesterday afternoon, that Al had died of a heart attack at the too-young age of 60. Say what you will about Al Hofmann, and a lot of people said a lot of things about him when he was driving, he was a purely honest guy. He was the sort of guy we refer to by saying "He had no filter" when he spoke, no thought of sugar-coating anything and no desire to worry about someone else's perception. He was Al Hofmann, and he was an honest, straight-shooting, tell-it-like-it-is guy. He could be cranky, he could be funny, and he could be far more generous than the casual fan probably ever knew, but above all that he could also really drive a Funny Car. You can talk to everyone in this sport, and you're going to have a hard time finding anyone who didn't respect Al, especially when he was behind the wheel.

Once I heard, I text messaged all the guys I'm associated with who knew Al, guys like Del, Jeff Arend, Phil Burkart, Marc Denner, Larry Lush, and a few others. Most hadn't heard, or had only heard rumors and were looking for confirmation. The general consensus was that we all suffered a big loss yesterday, as another of the legendary "old school" guys, the drivers who are the foundation of the sport's history, had left us. Rest in peace, Al Hofmann. You were one of a kind.

I know one thing about Al, he wouldn't want anyone being morose over his passing. He'd be telling us all to get over it and get our butts to work, so that's what I'll do.

Just two days ago, I wrote about our fickle spring weather up here in Minny-soda, and showed evidence of how we'd gone from a blanket of fresh snow to being able to see the yard for the first time since winter began, all in the course of 24 hours. I also mentioned we might have yet another snowfall in our future. Well, the future is now. We watched the weather last night and heard about this impending last gasp of winter, and of how its track was so hard to define we might be in for an inch, or maybe much more. Right now, we have two inches on the ground, and it shows no sign of wanting to ease up.

Just south of us, in Rochester (and La Crosse, Wis., where I'll be headed on Monday) they may be in for as much as a foot of heavy wet white stuff. This is the sort of snow that is hard to shovel, because it's very heavy. In the middle of winter, when it's 5 degrees out and we get snow, you can practically get it off the drive with a leaf blower (I know this, because I tried that once just to test my theory) but this 32-degree stuff is fat, wet, and very heavy. I think I'll just stay here in my office for now, to see how much we get...

On a totally different subject, I got a really great question the other day, from blog reader Dan, who lives up the road a piece in St. Cloud, Minn. Dan asked me about scaling a Funny Car after a big explosion, having seen Cruz Pedregon's big bang (and the disintegration of his Impala body) when he won his lap on Sunday in Gainesville. How do you weigh a car that just blew up? Well, I wasn't sure, so I went to the ultimate source, the Senior Vice President of Racing Operations at NHRA, Graham Light. Graham was kind enough to fire back this response almost immediately:

Bob: In most cases, on a winning run, the components are weighed following an incident. Cruz’s car was weighed without the body and then the recovered body pieces were weighed separately with both weights being added together. If the combination of these weights comes up light (which was NOT the case in Cruz’s incident), weight estimates can be made of the unrecovered pieces. Also, every time a vehicle is weighed during an event (qualifying and eliminations), the weight is recorded. Hence when an incident occurs, the tech department can refer back to the scale sheet to determine if the car has been weighing heavy. If it has, the assumption can be made that the vehicle was of legal weight during the run in question. Go Ducks!!! Graham

Thanks Graham. Go Wild!!!

Speaking of the Wild (do I ever do that here on the blog? I mean, really...) I think you can say the next two nights are fairly critical, if you consider making or breaking your season in just two games a "critical" thing. They are in Vancouver tonight, and Calgary tomorrow night, and both of those teams won their games last night, leaving them each just one point behind the Wild. In hockey parlance, these are called "4-point games" since winning means you not only pick up two points yourself, but you also keep the other team from picking up any at all. It's not completely "do or die" for the Wild, because they're still seven points ahead of Nashville, the team currently trying to "bump its way in" from the 9th spot, but the next two nights are going to be pretty huge, there's no getting around that.

In our sport, some of us have taken that "4-point game" theory and adapted it to drag racing. When you're battling another particular driver for a spot in the standings, and you face that driver in eliminations, it's a "40-point round." It's controlling your own destiny, knowing if you win you've absolutely gained ground without having to hope someone else helps you out by beating the guy you're chasing. In that one run, you're either going to gain 20 points or lose 20 points, a 40-point swing. Just like tonight's Wild/Canucks game will decide a lot about who is going to the playoffs, and in what position.

Snow update: Man, it's REALLY coming down now. I can no longer see the front pond at all! Welcome to spring...

Right now, I'm going to finish preparing my materials for my big day on campus on Monday. I'll be speaking to two classes, and each session is an hour long, but I think my biggest worry is knowing when to shut up. I've rarely been accused of being too quiet... For "show & tell" material, we've already uploaded a copy of my National DRAGSTER story for the students, and this morning I sent along copies of two press releases, both from the Phoenix race. Two of the points in the ND story were about being creative and being honest, and I think the Phoenix releases are good examples. I tried to be creative in the pre-race release, but then had to be honest and tell the story straight about the DNQ. There are times to "spin" and there are times you have to just tell it like it is.

That's about it for today. I have a conference call coming up, to discuss the PR plan for the new "special edition" wrap we're putting on Dexter Tuttle's Top Fuel Dragster, next week in Houston. It's one of our deals with CSK, but since we're already dressed in K&N colors for Houston, Dexter is going to wrap the car Alan Bradshaw drives to give this particular sponsor some great exposure. It should be a cool deal, and you'll be hearing about it early next week.

Looking ahead to this Sunday, I am reminded of one of the truly funny guys who used to play ball for my dad, when he was managing at the Triple-A level. Donnie Castle was one of his outfielders, and he was a No. 1 draft pick and a solid major league prospect until he ruptured his spleen diving for a ball one day. He almost died from that, and his career was never the same. Through it all, though, Donnie never lost his sense of humor. It was Donnie who, when he had been called up to the big leagues, said goodbye his minor league teammates by saying (in the thickest Mississippi accent you ever heard), "Hey ya'll, if I don't see ya by Easter, go ahead and hide the eggs..."

What he said.

Wilber, out!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

As Steve Martin once said...

"Ramblin', ramblin', ramblin'... I'm a ramblin' guy." He sang those lines while playing a banjo, only moments after having stood on stage with an arrow through his head. I know this because I was a huge Steve Martin fan when I was in college, back when he burst onto the scene with his hilarious stand-up act. I saw him once, at the beautiful Kiel Opera House in downtown St. Louis, which was packed with about 3,500 die-hard fans. The one line I remember most clearly was "This is for all of you way up in the upper balcony. I call it the 'disappearing dime trick' and it goes like this..." Maybe you had to be there...

Anyway, it is time to ramble a bit (or "ramble on" if you're a Led Zep fan) and we'll start with science, because today is a big day. Today is the Vernal Equinox, the first day of spring. For many of you, that's clearly on display in your yards already, but up here we're lucky enough to have our second straight day with sunny skies and temps in the 40s, so it does feel like spring. Of course, there is a chance for us to get anywhere from one to six inches of new snow tomorrow, but this is Minnesota. Today, it's the first day of spring. Tomorrow, we'll deal with what tomorrow brings.

For those who recall high school science class, you know that today is the day the Earth tilts enough, on its axis, so that the equator is pointed directly at the sun. From our perspective, of course, it seems like the sun is moving higher in the sky, but of course the sun isn't going anywhere, it's the Earth that's moving. In this position (also on the Autumnal Equinox in the fall), we come closest to having a day with equal parts daylight and darkness (sunrise here today was 7:15 and sunset will be 7:25). Who can answer the question "Why aren't sunrise and sunset exactly 12 hours apart?" Anybody? Raise your hands. Anybody? Okay, well it's because the sun is a big orb, and sunrise happens when the first tip of the sun appears over the horizon. Likewise, sunset is when the last bit of sun disappears in the west. If you measured sunrise and sunset as exactly the moment one-half of the sun was up or down, it would be 12 hours, but you get those extra minutes on either side. Class dismissed. That was all for no extra charge.

I have no photographs to go with that, or with anything else I'm going to write about, so I'll include two pics of Da Boyce (representing early spring) for all their fans out there. When we built the screened porch, we ended up with two windows in the sun room that open up onto that porch, and it didn't take long for the cats (or their owners) to figure out we could crack one of those windows open and they could come and go as they please on warmer days. As much as they dig the porch now, when it's 38 degrees, you know they're never going to want to come in when it's 70 out there...

As for the guys on the team (who use doors to enter or exit rooms), they all get the weekend off and are either heading to their various homes, or going wherever they please. I spoke with Ryan McGilvry this morning, who is spending the weekend with his wife Krista and their boys, in Springfield, Mo. He'll be heading down to the track in Houston on Tuesday, so we were discussing arrival dates for their hotel rooms, as well as info about the hotel.

For years, we've been staying in Baytown, just a couple of miles from the track, at a roadside motel that shall remain nameless. It was never what you'd call a "nice" place but it was decent enough, very inexpensive (compared to the price gouging going on at the other hotels in Baytown), and very close to where we needed to be. As the years have gone by, the old motel kept taking a beating, the area kept getting a little worse (when was the last time you saw an I-Hop right off the interstate go out of business?), and it was really beginning to feel both unsafe and uncomfortable there. So, finally, this year we requested a move to something different.

Motorsports Travel found a new hotel, quite a bit farther from the track but very reasonable in terms of cost and in a much nicer part of town. Therefore, we're all quickly learning where Seabrook, Tex. is, because that's where we'll be next week. It's about 18 miles to the track, coming up Route 146 through La Porte, but it's also only about four miles from one of the locations of our favorite Mexican restaurant, Lupe Tortilla, so we'll all be eating "Steak Lupe" on multiple occasions, I'm sure.

There's a weekend to be enjoyed, though, before we all convene at Houston Raceway Park. Tomorrow night is when we have our four front-row seats to the Minnesota Orchestra playing the music of Led Zeppelin (two Led Zep references in one blog, a new record). We're looking forward to that, and since the show is at Target Center in downtown Minneapolis, we'll probably have dinner at one of the many fabulous restaurants there, perhaps Murray's Steakhouse...

On Monday, I'm going down to La Crosse, Wis. for what should be a really interesting day. I've been invited to speak to students in a Principles Of Marketing class, at the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse. Many of the students are involved the sports management curriculum at the school, and their course work for this class includes PR and marketing applications, so the instructor, Lisa McLain-Sharp (who just happens to be, you guessed it, a drag racing fan and a blog reader) asked me if I'd come down to speak to them.

I'm honored to do it, and am really looking forward to talking with the students. It's been a while since I've been on a college campus, and it's already very clear to me that things have changed quite a bit since the Stone Age, when I was majoring in TV/Radio Broadcasting at SIU Edwardsville. Apparently, chalk boards and photocopies have been replaced by laptops and uploaded assignments. I bet I'm going to look and seem like a dinosaur to these kids, but I'm looking forward to it. Maybe I'll start with "If you'll all open your notebooks and take out your No. 2 pencils, we'll begin..."

In the hockey world, it's coming down to crunch time to make the Stanley Cup playoffs, and all the teams in each conference are jostling for position, trying to be one of the top eight. Only the top eight make the playoffs, so it's kind of like trying to make the show with our Funny Car, except it's an 8-car field. In the Western Conference, where our Wild play, it could hardly be any closer.

Even though it's the top eight in the whole conference that make it, there are three divisions within each conference and the teams that finish first in their divisions are guaranteed the top three seeds in the playoffs. Right now, the Wild lead the Northwest division, so they are ranked third in the conference, with 87 points. Vancouver, Calgary, and Colorado are also in the Northwest, and they are all tied with 84 points. Consider Colorado to be "on the bump spot" because the tie-breakers have them 8th right now. Behind them, trying to bump their way in, are Nashville and Edmonton, who have 80 and 79 respectively. With eight games left to play in the regular season, the Wild are not in a bad spot, but only if they keep earning points (they got one in San Jose last night, when they tied the Sharks with only 28 seconds to go in regulation) but all those other teams could pass them in a blink. Since they're all playing each other over these last few games, that could easily happen. Keep on eye on the standings in your local sports page (or at and if you don't have any other allegiance, root for the Wild!!!

Wilber, out!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The keys to success, and good questions...

I have a bit of catching up to do, today, there's no doubt about that. First off, I'll begin with two Pond Cam shots, taken only 24 hours apart. As you can see in the first photo, we had a bit of a surprise snowfall on Monday night, when three inches came down in the wee hours. It was a bit like waking up in that old "winter wonderland" scene again... The best part about snow this time of year, though, is that it goes away in a hurry. Sure enough, if you look down at the second pic, that's the same view again, this afternoon. It's about 40, the sun is out, and for the first time since late November, I can see our yard!

That same system of snow was responsible for my late arrival home on Monday night. We left JAX right on time, but the storm was just arriving in the Twin Cities as we made our approach, and air traffic control started vectoring us around the sky for a while. When you fly as much as we do, you can tell when the plane is in a holding pattern. The engine noise is much less, as they slow the plane down, and you seem to just be making lazy circles for the longest time. We finally did come in to land, but were then told to "go around" before we ever popped out from under the clouds. After hearing the roar of the throttles, and a quick climb, we finally did touch down, and I was back in my house by about 10:30 on Monday night. It wasn't too long before I had both of Da Boyce on my lap.

The pond, of course, is still covered with ice and it'll be a while before that goes away. You might recall from blogs in years past that the ice out there is pretty thick, and even in warm weather it takes a while for 8-10 inches of ice to melt... We'll see it first along the edges, where the water is shallowest, and then it will spread out and finally, weeks later, we'll have clear water.

Clear water, of course, is the perfect invitation for all the ducks, geese, and other critters who are now making their return to the region. One step outside is all you need, to hear the squawks, honks, quacks, and other "voices" that signal the onset of spring.

The initial part of the headline for this blog installment has to do with a certain blog reader by the name of Gregg, who lives in Omaha and works for a computer solutions company named Digital Dot Systems. He saw my previous blog about how I had worn the letters right off the keys of my three-year-old computer, so what did Gregg do? He put all the replacement key caps in an envelope and sent them off to me.

With some great instructions from Gregg, I just dove in and replaced all the worn out keys. There were some tense moments, when I had to learn how to manipulate the little plastic swivels beneath the caps (especially when they get twisted and their little tiny tabs pop out of the slots they're in) but we figured it out and now I have what looks like a brand new keyboard, except for the space bar which is a bit over my head... Thanks, Gregg!

This whole scenario does bring up, once again, the weird situation where I'm very thankful for the largesse shown by a blog reader, yet somewhat uncomfortable because I sure don't want anyone to think this blog is about free stuff. It consistently stuns me when people show up at the races with cool stuff, or when things like this happen, but I'm not here for that. On the other hand, if someone wants to pay off my mortgage, or provide a private jet, that sort of thing... Well, gosh, who could turn that down? Seriously, though, all the cool stuff is great (and you should see that Kodak printer at work!) but we really appreciate the thoughts as much as the deeds. But like I said, private planes, new cars, stuff like that... :-) I am kidding. Sort of. I mean, if anyone at Apple is reading this, you know... (wink).

Okay, time to shift to a couple of great questions I've gotten from readers the last few days. For unknown reasons, I've gotten a string of emails from people asking about driver numbers. Most want to know how the drivers get their numbers, and why they sometimes run other numbers. The basic answer is as follows: Every driver gets a permanent number when he or she licenses in the class. I know that, in the pro ranks, the first digit is usually the NHRA Division the driver is from, so in Del's case his permanent number is 750. He's from Division 7.

If you finish the prior year in the POWERade Top 10, you have the right to use your finishing position as your number the next year, which is why you see the digit 1 on Tony Pedregon's car, 2 on Robert Hight's, etc. Del could have run the number 9 this year, but chose instead to stick with 750. Some drivers do that, if only because they have their sights set on a bigger prize. You can also secure a permanent two-digit number, but frankly I'm not sure how that works. Like personalized license plates, I imagine there's some sort of fee involved, and the number has to be available (Ron Capps is 28, TJ is 33, and our old buddy Cory Lee is 13).

The other deluge of questions had to do with the mysterious "timer box" on the car, since it was the culprit in costing us our second- round race in Gainesville. A lot of people have wanted to know how all that works... Well, it's pretty complicated stuff, actually, but I'll do my best to simplify it here:

The timing, clutch, and fuel management systems on the car are activated with a pneumatic air line, connected to the throttle. When the driver mashes the pedal, the air line activates all the systems. They are no longer air-controlled (a lot of it used to be, and back then the box was the biggest mess of plastic air lines you ever saw, like a giant bowl of nonsensical white plastic spaghetti) but the air bottle on the car does activate them.

Keep in mind, all of the systems have to be "dumb" rather than intelligent. They can only be preset to bring the clutch in, advance or retard the timing, or manage the fuel curve at specific intervals during the lap; intervals the crew chiefs decide upon ahead of time. Nothing in the box can "think" or react in any way. What happened to us involved a small control box that is positioned right at the onset of the system. When that box failed, nothing inside the box would operate. It was such a rare deal, no one could figure it out in the time allowed, and we actually have the piece back at its manufacturer right now, because even they are stumped as to why it failed.

We do learn from all of these things, though. Talking to Del today, he now knows (with the beauty of that priceless hindsight) that there were ways to work around the issue to at least have been able to limp the car to the finish line, and that would've been enough for the win, but in the mad thrash between rounds, and with no experience of this ever happening before, it was impossible to think in those terms. As he said "I never expected Gary (Densham) to smoke the tires, so we were strictly in the mode of fixing the problem so that we could win a full drag race. Had we known he was going to lose a blower belt and be coasting for half the lap, we could've rigged the thing to at least let us track him down, but at the time we were only trying to fix it."

As Del then said, "If this ever happens again, we'll know what to do." Amen, brother.

Wilber, out!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Monday musings and memories...

Greetings from the Delta Crown Room, at JAX Airport, as I await my flight home to the Twin Cities. It's 72 and partly sunny here, with a hefty little wind blowing, and although I'm not sure of the weather at home, I can certainly guarantee that it's not 72. I am wearing a short-sleeved shirt, but I have a Team CSK sweatshirt right on the top of my clothes inside my suitcase, so I should be okay. I was, just moments ago, trying to remember exactly where my car is in the MSP garage when it hit me that my car is actually not in the MSP garage. The garage was full, so I'm parked at a private lot about 5 miles from the terminal, which means I'll have to catch a shuttle bus to get there... Good thing I thought of that, or I might have been walking around Level 5 of the garage for quite some time.

Today is March 17th, which is also known as St. Patrick's Day. 'Tis the day people named Kowalski, Ramirez, Hofmeister, Chin, or even Wilber can all claim to be just a little bit Irish... Happy St. Patty's Day, everyone... And I am part Irish, so it's not a charade for me.

As for Gainesville, which is now beyond my rearview mirror, you probably know that we had a decent day, but it could have been magnificent. Our driver delivered in round one, out-pedaling Robert Hight when both cars lost traction, and that was pretty huge for all of us. Making two good passes in qualifying, getting in the field in the N0. 10 spot, and getting to race on Sunday was all good, and we felt positive about all of those steps, but it was hard not to be disappointed after the glitch that cost us a win in round two. If you've seen our Post-Event Report (in the Team Reports section at you know we had a complete failure in our timer box, that mysterious collection of "stuff" that runs the clutch, fuel management, and ignition, and because of that we had almost no chance to win.

It was a mad thrash in the pit, with experts from other teams coming over, and our guys did all they could to track the problem and fix it, but we ran out of time. Pit Control was standing there waiting on us, as the first Top Fuel cars ran in round two, because Del and Gary Densham were the first pair of Funny Cars. We finally had to just take the car to the lanes, where all sorts of smart people wearing a wide variety of uniforms, continued to pore over the box with no luck. The whole system simply ceased to operate... When it was our turn to run (where's a good 45-minute oil down when you need one?) we just had to go up there "broken," knowing the only way we could win was if Gary fouled, crossed the centerline, or couldn't start.

Although Gary smoked the tires and had to idle the whole second-half of the track, Del was dead in the water and really couldn't do anything about it. He did hit the throttle at the start, but with no management system the car went into tire smoke almost at once, and he couldn't hit the pedal again. Had he done that, things would've liekly gone "Boom!"

So, that part of the deal was very frustrating, but we took it as part of the step-by-step process of getting this season back on track, and we feel it is, now.

In terms of the race, I also want to mention a special friend of John Fink's. John Grimm, a very good friend of the Finkster, is not feeling too well, and John wanted to make sure his friend knew he was thinking of him. So, we had some decals made and put them right on the car. I know our John is deeply concerned about his friend John, so all of us were happy to run the decals and we wish John's friend the best.

Speaking of the car, most of you probably saw it on television, but I also thought it was worth posting a shot of the K&N car in today's blog. It's a great looking design (thanks again, Danny Rubin) and it really looked cool in person. I, for one, really dig the way the logos are designed to be slightly "too big" for the car, so that the edges of the letters run right off the body in places. I saw the ESPN2 show last night, back at the hotel, and it also looked great on TV...

Once we did get everything buttoned up at the track, the crew guys and I headed back to the hotel, and we all walked over to the Ale House for dinner; sharing calamari, spinach dip, conch fritters, and a few frosty adult beverages. The place was packed with crew guys from a wide variety of teams, as well as NHRA people and Safety Safari folks. You work with and against most of these people all year, but on a night like Sunday in Gainesville, we're all one big family.

Of course, boys will be boys, and when we were all in the elevator together Marc Denner got a dig in on one of the guys, and the whole bunch paid him back by jamming him into the corner. Little old Marc had about 1,000 pounds of crew guys smashing and punching him, but he took it like a true Denner and survived.

This morning, I got up and went downstairs to the lobby for an orange juice, and once again I was struck by how our world changes once the race is over. For four days, you share a hotel with your teammates, other teams, and a lot of race fans, because we tend to take over whatever hotel we're in. You get used to seeing the other teams and your friends every day, in the lobby and around the building, and it becomes your "home away from home" for those days.

Then, you get up on Monday morning and everyone is gone. It's startling, really... All of a sudden, I'm walking around "home" but it's really just another nameless/faceless hotel, and instead of seeing Bernie Fedderly, Jimmy Prock, and Chuck Worsham in the lobby, you see two generic businessmen, laptops open, suits on, having a meeting. It's just a hotel again, after having been "home" for days...

Leaving the hotel mid-morning, I did have an extra hour before I needed to be here at JAX, so I detoured through the city and went over to Jacksonville Beach, just to smell the salt water and see the ocean. It was partly cloudy, only in the low 70s, and the wind was whipping the sand, but people were still out there sunbathing and enjoying the zest that comes with being at the ocean. For me, even though I was in jeans with a black business shirt on, just parking the car and walking out to the edge of the sand was great. There's something very therapeutic about being at the beach...

From there, after my 15 minutes of beach time, I headed up here to the airport and now I'm about 30 minutes away from boarding. A couple of hours of flying time, and we'll be touching down at MSP. An hour after that, I hope to be walking in the door to find Da Boyce waiting for me. Barbara is on a trip this week, and won't be home until Wednesday, so Boofus and Buster will almost certainly need my undivided attention when I get there... I can't wait.

Wilber, out!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

And a fine Sunday morning it is...

Greetings from Gainesville Raceway at 7:30 on Sunday morning. That sentence is relevant in many ways, but the biggest reason it's good to write is that we're out here to race. With only two qualifying sessions, the intensity level surely does get ramped up, and although we made two very nice, very solid, passes yesterday, there was no escaping the tension and the reality of it. We needed to come through, and we did, and now we're getting ready to race in round one. The boys are here, all set up and ready to go, and the sun has yet to break the horizon...

Del, Chuck, and I met in the hotel lobby at 6:30, when it was still dark as midnight, but the crew guys had already left by then. Dave stopped by to wish us all luck before he headed for Jacksonville, in order to catch his flight to Chicago, and by 6:30 we were at the convenience store next door, where Del and Chuck stocked up on coffee for the ride. It was a popular spot, as J.R. Todd, Robert Hight (our first round opponent) and Mike Neff were in there too. We beat most of the traffic into the track, although even at 7:20 the State Police were out there in full force, waving people into specific lanes and doing their best to keep the flow moving.

When we talk about coming out to the track in Gainesville, we always talk about "the window." Yes, if you leave your hotel by 6:30 you'll pretty much drive right in here, and now we have more than three hours to go before first round, but if you wait until 7:00 or 7:15 to leave, you might be stuck in traffic for an hour or more (wait until 8:00 to leave, and you might miss first round). You have to hit the window.

Yesterday, the weather was just bizarre, and very Floridian. The humidity ramped up and the breeze turned into a pretty exhausting wind, which pretty much just ripped in from the northwest all day. When standing in one place takes concentration and effort, you find yourself pretty worn out by the wind in a hurry... What that wind brought was a lot of low level clouds, and some of them were pretty dark, but in the end all but a few light sprinkles missed us, so we were pretty lucky on that account. We got both sessions in, and although the conditions weren't conducive to record runs, they were consistent for everybody, so all that mattered was putting up one of the top 16 E.T.s, and by late afternoon we were not just in, but sitting 10th, with a pair of clean runs (4.956 in the first session and 4.903 on the later run) and let me tell you, it felt good to finish the day on Saturday, knowing we now had to sleep fast and sleep well, so that we could be ready to race on Sunday.

The way I just wrote that makes it all sound pretty simple, but of course nothing is out here. The 4.95 left us 8th after one run, and as much as you'd like to think 8th is safe for the field, we knew it wasn't. Pretty soon, you're doing all the math, looking at all the cars behind you, and figuring out all the scenarios, many of which aren't good. You don't want to, but you can't help it. When you're going into the last session with Ashley Force, Tommy Johnson, Melanie Troxel, Gary Densham, Ron Capps, Jerry Toliver, John Force, Gary Scelzi, Scott Kalitta, Jim Head, Tony Bartone, and others all below you on the sheet, you know there's going to be a lot of shuffling going on. Frankly, we completely assumed we'd actually be outside the field by the time we ran, but when it all shook out we had the 16th spot locked up by then. Del and the guys then went out there and went A-to-B again, with the 4.90, and then jumped us back up in the pack.

As thrilling as all that was, I had a different but equally important thrill as part of my day on Saturday. My sister Mary, and her husband Lonnie, came up from Sarasota (where they both work in the real estate business) to attend their first NHRA event. Mary (or Mares, as I've called her for all of my life) and I are, to say the least, pretty close. She's 11 months older than me, and the two of us were the final pair of the five Wilber kids growing up on Woodleaf Court in Kirkwood, Mo. All of our other siblings were a carefully-planned four years apart, until I came along less than a year after Mary, so we grew up almost like twins, taking on the world as a pretty tight unit. Through childhood illnesses, grade school drama, and too many "kick the can" games to count out on the street with our neighborhood friends, Mary and I were pretty inseparable. In high school, we went to as many concerts and movies with each other as we did with "dates," and although we had our share of sibling squabbles, we only grew tighter as the years went on.

She and Lon moved to Florida quite a few years ago, first to Orlando and then to Sarasota, so we don't get to see each other nearly enough. We email and talk on the phone as often as we can, but I'm pretty sure it's been close to two years since we were together. To say I was pretty excited to see both of them is putting it far too lightly.

Like most first-timers, I think they had an idea what they were in for, but still weren't really prepared for it. The sights, sounds, and thunder of it all were pretty mesmerizing for both of them, but what really impressed me was how fast they picked it all up. I know some people who have been coming to drag races for a decade who still don't really understand how qualifying works, but Mary and Lonnie listened to one brief description of how we were racing the clock, trying to be in the top 16, how the bump spot worked, and they totally "got it." And heck, even though it was just qualifying, there was a "hole shot" in Pro Stock, and they both grasped that concept in seconds. Some people NEVER get that!

They sat around the pit with us last night, and Lonnie was quick to tell Del "That was actually pretty intense, what you all just went through. How do deal with that every week?" He had seen, first- hand, just how stressful and tough it is, to outrun enough of these great teams to be part of the show.

Well, there's stuff to do and nerves to build. I mean, from here on out I've got a lot of pacing to do, so I better get after it and get busy.

Robert Hight in round one, so the ladder didn't do us any favors, but we're fixing this season in a series of steps, and the first one was to make the field when 23 Funny Cars showed up here to try. Step one complete...

Wilber, out!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Are you kiddin' me...?

We came all the way down here to the Sunshine State, arrived and set-up in beautiful Florida weather, rolled out of the hotel at 7:45 this morning (a full car-load, with Del, Chuck, and Neighbor Dave all climbing in my rental for the prerequisite stop at the McDonald's drive-thru before heading toward the track), and arrived here on a cool cloudy day. Now, as the top photo on today's blog so clearly illustrates, it's drizzling... Precipitation: The least favorite sort of weather for any drag racer... Frankly, looking at the radar and looking at the sky, it doesn't look too good for today, but we'll be ready if the weather pattern shifts, and the forecast for tomorrow is much more Floridian in nature, with a projected high near 80 and sunny skies.

Until then, we wait... There's always something to do, for the crew guys, the tuners, and for me. Dave has his laptop out and is getting ready for a huge sponsorship/marketing conference he's headed to, on behalf of Worsham Racing, in Chicago on Sunday. It's quite a conference, with sponsors, sports teams, organizations, even city tourism people attending, all networking and sharing information on how to cut through the clutter and make each marketing partnership as valuable as it can be. It's a great conference (I'd say easily the most respected one in the marketing industry) and we're thrilled to have Dave there, working the room on our behalf, while also picking up quite a few new tricks for this old dog to learn.

Dave is going to have to bail out of here early on Sunday, in order to make his late afternoon flight out of JAX, but as he said, "If me leaving early gives the team the mojo to win the race, I'll take that one for the team..."

Hey, while we're in a rain delay, here's something interesting/noteworthy/funny. With all the upgrades I've made to my computer in the last week, it runs like it's brand new again (even faster actually) but there's one part of the old laptop that is absolutely looking its age. Ever seen a keyboard like this?

Considering the amount of typing I've done on this keyboard over the last three years, I guess it's no wonder I've worn the letters right off a bunch of the keys. The funny part is, it's mostly keys on the left-hand side of the keyboard. You can see that "a," "s," "d," "e," and "c" are completely gone. There are few worn out on the right side, but all I can figure is that I hold my left hand at a slightly different angle, so the contact with the keys is different. And if you look at the space bar, you'll see a black scar there, too. That's exactly the spot where my left thumb hits the bar to create a space... It's a good thing I know where all the letters are...

The banging you just heard was Marc Denner working on a blower, here in the dry and warm confines of the transporter. Like I said, there's always something for the guys to do, even if it's just "getting ahead" on the projects that are always there. Chuck is next door the team transporter, rebuilding oil pumps, Del is refitting his helmet to better fit his HANS device, and Carl (who just came up here to say hello) is very busy as well, eating Cheerio's. He has a small box of Lucky Charms, as well, but those are only to be consumed once we know we're actually going to go racing. You have to have all this stuff sorted out, and you can't waste the Lucky Charms during a rain delay!

My teammate and great friend John Fink is here, after being unable to attend the first two races of the year. Johnny just came up here to shoot the breeze for a while, and when my screensaver started scrolling through a couple dozen pics of Da Boyce, John got into that. He's a lifelong cat person, and I have some great pics of the Little Man and the Big Fella on the screen saver...

Chad "Snacks" Stockwell just posed for an endorsement photo, which allows us to promote the product that backs our entire racing series. Can you tell we're bored?

Well, if that's the case, this sounds like the perfect time to provide the Adam and Francine update I have been promising. I got a great note from Adam a few days back, and then another wonderful note from Francine yesterday. We'll start with Adam:

"Aloha Bob, and thank you for asking about our welfare. Also, thanks to all the fans of Bob's blog. We still keep in touch with some of the people who have helped us, some of them two or three times. Friendship is a wonderful gift from God. Financially, we stil have challenges. No luxuries , only need-to-have things, but that is a test and we have faith God will see us through it. This I know: We went to the beach on Francine's birthday. I was able to get in the water to my waist, no higher. I saw a seal beach itself for a sun-tan, for a couple of hours. With the thought of friends, the healing salt water, and God's animals, I felt privileged as I stood in the ocean, up to my hips, and I thanked God for that day of beauty. I felt so very fortunate. Please tell all of the angels that helped us.... WE LOVE YOU ALL. I will never give up on my battle. Thank You. Adam"

Francine's note included the news that, now that she is back at work, she will have a couple of trips to go on for her employer, and one of those trips may allow her to attend the Las Vegas race. That would be wonderful.

"Aloha Bob. Adam has been keeping a positive attitude despite our struggles. We continue to live day by day, knowing the Lord will help us through the next. Although we're still playing catch-up, we've managed to get by week after week. Adam had his last four teeth removed the other week. He suffered after the Novocain wore off as the dentist had to work on his jaw bone to allow the dentures to sit correctly. The subsequent pains lasted a whole week. Boy, he was such a bear the whole time!

Our son Mike continues his studies at the community college and works his off-days and weekends. Still, he manages some time to spend with his close friends and they usually gather to "jam" (play music). His oceanography class includes studies where they do reef walks every other week, and at the end of class he also gets to surf. He's a really good kid; never complains and is always very thoughtful. I always wish there was more we could provide for him, but he's learned a lot about life through this process and I know that he will succeed in whatever he undertakes. He has honest values and a lot of aloha for others.

Anyway Bob, thank you again for all you and your readers have done for us. We think the world of you, Barbara, and everyone who cared so much, and continue to root for Del and the Team every week. Please tell him to "listen" for us cheering, okay? LOL.

Love, Francine"

I think those two notes pretty much put any inconvenience we have, with the rain in Gainesville, into perspective.

Thanks again, to all of you who helped Adam and his family. We'll keep the faith and, perhaps, we'll even get to see Francine in Las Vegas...

We would like to do some racing, though. I mean, we all traveled here, brought all this equipment, and are wearing these funny uniforms. It would be nice to make some noise...

Wilber, out!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Welcome to Gainesville and "Way to go, Chuck!"

First of all, welcome to Gainesville Raceway and the AC Delco Gatornationals. All went well yesterday, with an on-time departure, an upgrade to seat 4-D, a smooth flight, and a nice clean rental car at the JAX Hertz center. If you look on a map, you can see that the interstate route from Jacksonville to Gainesville is a big backwards 7, as you have to go west on I-10 to pick up 75 south, but there is a way to cut off the angle and take a more direct route, on some state and county roads. I had planned to do that, but Del advised me not to, since there are a string of little towns, stoplights, and stop-and-go traffic that whole way (not to mention local police constables who generate a great deal of each little town's annual income by pulling over "tourists" who might be exceeding the posted limits). So, I took the longer route, but the traffic never slowed and I was checked into the hotel by 7:30 last night.

A quick dinner at Steak 'N Shake was followed by a short walk over to the local watering hole, where most of the racers gather, and I enjoyed a couple of cold beverages with Del, Connie, Marc, Jerry Toliver, Tony Shortall, and most of our crew, before heading back to my room just before midnight...

Marc and I headed out here this morning, and the first thing I noticed was that our new teammate situation, with Dexter Tuttle's guys, created a new pit set-up for us when we're in non-CSK markets. Before, when we'd set up without hospitality, we'd park the third rig (the one my office is in) around the right side of our blue team (creating the little walkway we called "Bob's Alley") because this trailer doesn't have its own generator and we could plug it into the blue team's transporter. Now, that would require us either running a long power cord all the way around Dexter's rig, or tapping into their power (which doesn't seem quite right) so we just decided to move this rig to the left side of Del's trailer. The only problem with that is the fact this trailer opens on the left side...

So, as you can see here, I'm still only a few feet from our pit, but my trailer actually opens up right into Bob Bode's pit area... We've roped off a little walkway, which is kind of funny, and the set-up makes no difference to me, but I bet these guys are going to be tired of seeing me come in and out of their pit all weekend.

The next thing I just had to do once we got here (after parking my rental car in the swampy sand along a drainage ditch, rather than take it back out to where I'll park all weekend) was walk up to the new Gainesville tower. I'm sure most of you have been keeping up with it on, where they've been showing construction updates over the past many months, but let me tell you it's far more impressive in person.

The big Gatornationals logo on the wall in front is a great touch, and the whole place just takes this fabulous race track to a whole new level. The Media Room is on the top level, and is pretty enormous, with a great view straight down the track. There's room for all the PR people who need to space to set-up their computers (a group which doesn't include me, since my team provides an office for me here in the rig), as well as all the reporters, radio hosts, and web gurus who cover the sport. This place joins Sonoma (where the press room was built for those guys on that other tour; NASCAR) and Norwalk (where the Baders spared no expense to "do it right") as the best press rooms on the tour.

We have a bunch of tracks where the media facilities are functional and "very good," a few where they are "not so good" (unless you like no space whatsoever and the smell of mildew), and one where the PR people are still (yes, this is true) working out of temporary trailers with no view of the track. What do you think the press room will look like in Charlotte, when Bruton Smith opens that new track later this year? I don't suspect there will be any portable trailers involved...

Bottom line, the new tower here in Gainesville is Big League, and that's a very good thing. We hear people (fans and racers) talking about how the various media outlets sometimes don't give us the respect we deserve, and in some cases I'm right on-board with that, because we do go to a few markets where the fans know we're there, but the media seems to ignore us. I know a lot of it is based on preconceived notions, incorrect ones at that, and the editors and reporters who would cover us don't think of NHRA Drag Racing in quite the same terms as their local baseball or football teams, not to mention those guys I mentioned above, who generally drive in circles and "swap paint." Usually, when we get them out to a race, we open their eyes and they improve their coverage, but if you bring them out to a track where the "press box" (the term used just about everywhere else, in the "stick and ball" world) is small, hot, smelly, or perhaps even not a real building, those preconceived notions are only reinforced. Press rooms like this one are as major league as any, and as all of our tracks improve, upgrade, and expand, we'll keep showing the media how relevant we are. This is really good stuff.

Speaking of "major league," I think that term absolutely reflects the level of skill shown by our friends who click the shutters for National DRAGSTER. I'm not sucking up here, these guys are already my friends and I really mean it, but the truth is all the ND photogs are really talented, and as much as it might sound like fun to spend four days doing nothing but taking pictures of race cars, the reality of it is far less glamorous than that. It's a job that comes with long days, lots of rubber, lots of deafening noise, and tired feet, but they keep clicking away, always in search of that one perfect shot.

I wrote all that because two of my good buddies on the ND photography staff, Richard Wong and Jerry Foss, just drove by on a golf cart. Whenever I see Richard at the starting line, we share a ritual "tipping of the cap and bending at the waist" to bow to each other, and when Jerry comes along, I take on the role of "Newman" from Seinfeld, by saying "Helloooo Jerry" with that trademark Newman snarl... Call us wacky. Anyway, this was yet another chance for me to take a pic of the guys who usually take all the pics.

Finally, let's get to the truly important news.... And for that, let's bust out the "News Bulletin" theme music and interrupt our regularly scheduled blogging.

Dateline: Orange, Calif.

The place: Worsham Racing Headquarters, upper level, bowling alley.

The news: Chuck Worsham, last night, rolled his first-ever 300 game!!! I just got the word from Dave Walery this morning, who heard from Chuck and his buddy Rod Corning last night, right after Chuck threw 12 straight strikes to record his first perfect game. I've been told there are photos of the scoring machine, for back-up, but all we needed to hear was Chuck admitting he did it. He's been bowling all his life, searching for this first one, and I know he's a happy dude right now...

Chuck Worsham, ladies and gentleman, a guy we call "Mr. 300." Way to go Skipper!

Hey, time to get back up to the tower to grab their wireless signal and get this sent out. Here's hoping for a great Gainesville weekend.

Wilber, out!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A whole new world...

Does the blog look any different? It doesn't, of course, but everything on my end is different, and it's all great. I think you could say I had a pretty productive day on Monday. More on that in a bit, but first let's catch up on the latest news.

Our guys are headed for Gainesville right now, having spent yesterday servicing parts and getting ready for the race in the pit area at Valdosta. Testing results are like exhibition games (they don't count) but I always wanted to go 4-for-4 in exhibition games too, because success breeds success. Therefore, no one is upset that the car ran great in Valdosta, and on the other side of the coin no one is crowing too loudly either, because it was just "practice," but... Del did run 4.868 shutting off a bit early (his speed was only 294.56 mph, so he obviously clicked it well before the finish line) and as far as I can see by looking at various websites, that was the best Funny Car run by a long way... Looks like Tommy Johnson was next-quickest, with a 5.184, so it's all good.

Del, Connie, and the girls spent yesterday at one of the wild animal theme parks in the Orlando area, looking at lions, tigers, (no bears), and giraffes. It could probably go without saying that Kate and Maddy thought that was pretty cool. Today, they're headed over to Epcot, and then maybe a quick "last dash" through the Magic Kingdom, at Disney World. Living in So Cal, the girls are already veteran Disneyland regulars, so they knew what to expect when Connie took them to the Magic Kingdom on Sunday, but they also immediately noticed how everything is just plain bigger in Orlando than it is in Anaheim, where Disneyland is locked into a much smaller footprint. I've been to both many times, and have always thought that the most impressive part about Disneyland is how well the illusion of "space" is done in the park. It's really quite small, but it feels huge when you're in there. In Orlando, it pretty much just really is huge...

Marc Denner and Ryan McGilvry have both called me this morning, asking about their hotel rooms for Gainesville. We usually start our crew rooms on Wednesday, but now that the guys are done in Valdosta, the next thing on their agenda is to get to G'ville and get the rigs parked in the pit area. They can't just show up at the hotel and hope they have rooms tonight (our rooms are contracted by our booking agent, Motorsports Travel, and we have to go through them for any last- second changes) so I'm trying to find out if they can check-in today. If the hotel is sold-out tonight, they'll have to find another motel for a night, before moving over to the team hotel tomorrow. This sort of thing is actually a regular part of the equation, so the guys are pretty accustomed to dealing with it...

Okay, before I go any further I have to tell you this story, with the accompanying wildlife photo. Barbara was working from home yesterday, camped out at the kitchen table with her laptop. Sitting there, she was just a couple of feet from a large picture window that overlooks the pond, and just below that window are the slats that make up the "roof" of the arbor we have over the patio. I had headed out to run all the errands I had on my list, when all the fun started...

She said "I was just sitting there typing, and out of the corner of my eye I saw something so big I thought it was a person climbing up on the arbor. It scared me to death, because I thought someone was trying to break into the house or something."

Instead, it was the biggest owl she'd ever seen, and he had just landed on the arbor, not five feet from her. He had his back turned, and while she attempted to catch her breath and not spook him, he did the Linda Blair "rotating head" thing and slowly turned his head all the way around, to look right at her. She slowly got up, to get the camera, but he gracefully flew off the arbor to the safety of a tree branch, about 60 feet away. She did get this shot of him, and said he was surely close to two-feet tall. A quick bit of research informs us this guy is a Barred Owl. And a cool dude, too.

I also saw a full flock of Mallards yesterday, and a "V" squadron of Canada Geese. Here they come...

As for my agenda yesterday, all I can say is that, in the end, it all went about as well as it could possibly go. I went to the Apple Store to see if they could figure out why my PowerBook wouldn't load the disc for the new Leopard operating system, and the problem was quickly traced to my computer's RAM. It came, originally, with 512 mb of RAM, but a quick diagnostic showed it was only running on 256! That's like a Funny Car with half its cylinders out, so I'm surprised this thing was operating at all.

The techie at the Apple Genius Bar figured all that out in no time, and could see that the problem was with the slot itself, not the chip, so I took the laptop over to a local Apple service place, here in Woodbury, where they had all the parts and pieces I needed, in stock. Five minutes later, we were not only back up and running, but had upgraded all the way to 1 gig of RAM, so my ancient 3-year old laptop has a new spunky lease on life.

After dinner last night, I nervously popped the disc back in, and one hour later I was completely switched over to Leopard, with all its new bells and whistles. Not a glitch, not a hang-up, nary a problem at all. I'm still getting used to the new mail program (better, snazzier, and cooler, although things are in slightly different places) but overall the whole deal is great, and was totally painless once we got the RAM thing sorted out.

The next step, last night, was activating the iPhone (finally!). I plugged it in, and within 15 minutes the deal was done, my number was switched from Verizon to AT&T, and I was on the phone. Amazing. "Painless" doesn't even come close to describing how easy that was... I'm not a technophobe, but I generally expect the worst and hope for the best when I'm updating or setting-up anything with my computer or phone. You can usually count on Murphy's Law, but this whole experience was a breeze...

As for the phone, it's just too cool. Basically, it's the full internet, a phone, an iPod, a camera, and about 25 other gizmos, right in the palm of your hand... We were sitting on the sofa, messing around with it, last night, and I touched the button for "Maps" on the main screen. Within a minute, we were looking at a satellite photo of our house... All those old science fiction movies have finally come to life...

On the complete other end of the spectrum, we also added a new piece of low tech (practically no tech) equipment to the house. This was a present we received for Christmas, and it's a barometric pressure gauge! If the water in the spout is low, like it is in this pic, the pressure is high and we're probably in for some good weather. As the pressure drops, the water in the spout will rise, which generally means bad weather is on the way. On the box, it showed the water at various heights, and the final rendering showed the water actually spilling out of the spout, with the caption "Run for cover!"

Finally, a lot of people have been asking about Adam in Hawaii. I got a wonderful note from him the other day, and will share it with all of you in the next blog. Adam Vincent is a good man.

Wilber, out!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Of odds, ends, and Beetles...

After a nice couple of weekends off, it’s now officially race week, and it has, therefore, been a busy morning. I’m flying down to Jacksonville on Wednesday, so my first priority this morning was to get the Media Guide updated and printed (step one complete, step two to take place as soon as I finish this blog and head up to Kinko’s). After that, the next item on the agenda was the writing and distribution of our Gainesville preview press release, which I finished up about 10 minutes ago, so we’re checking off the boxes one by one here.

Now, I’ll put this blog together and then head out to get some other stuff done, and that will entail another trip back to Mall Of America. You see, it goes like this: When I got home with the iPhone, I plugged it into my laptop only to find out the operating system I’m using is one generation too old for the iPhone to communicate with. My PowerBook is three years old, which in computer years is kind of like being 93 and over the hill, and although it uses Mac OS X (that’s 10, as in the Roman numeral for 10), I have version 3.1, while these days they’re all the way up to version 10.5; the entirely new ultra-cool “Leopard” system. Turns out, the iPhone needed 4.1 or later in order to communicate with my computer.

So, rather than just upgrade one notch, I went ahead and bought a copy of Leopard, which as you can see comes in a box that's cool enough to match the system itself. All fine and dandy, right? Well, now we discover there’s something wrong with the CD drive on my laptop (banged around too many times in airplane overhead bins?), and I can’t get the new OS X to load. So, when I’m done with this blog, it’s back to the Apple store to have their people at the “Genius Bar” take a look. Maybe I just should’ve bought a new laptop while I was buying the phone. Have you seen the new Apple MacBook Air? It’s so thin and light I think it might actually hover over your desk if you don't hold it down.

One thing that has been fun over the last few days has been the response to my admission that my first car was a ’73 Volkswagen Beetle. As blog reader Jeff wrote: “Hey Bob... So your first car was a Beetle? Ditto here. Mine was a ’67 Beetle when I was 16, followed by a ’71 Super Beetle, before upping the high school ‘cool factor’ significantly with a ’69 Camaro in my senior year. I’ve always kept a soft spot for old Beetles and hope to add another one to the ‘fleet’ someday. As I knew that you’d want to admire my early rides, I’ve attached a photo of the aforementioned Bugs. I hope that yours looked better than mine!”

Although I can't find any pics of my old baby blue VeeDub, I can say it did look better than that. Even with about 15 decals plastered all over the back bumper and rear window. I did covet a Super Beetle, but couldn't afford the upgrade. By 1973, the Super Beetle actually had a dashboard and a curved windshield, almost like a real car. The basic Beetle had the classic flat windshield and no dash at all, just a flat front wall. At least it had a gas gauge... When I was younger, my brother had a mid-60s bug and they didn’t have gas gauges. They did have a small reserve tank, in case you weren’t paying attention to how far you had driven since the last fill-up.

Next up were some great pics from Stephen out in Hawaii, who goes by the nickname Fergie. He said: “Howzit Wilber! It’s me Fergie, from Lanai City. Just thought you would like to know I am 42 and been a drag race fan since my dad took me to Maui Raceway Park when I was 8. It’s the same track that Connie Worsham wrote about in your Dec. 20th entry. As far as cars go, there is no shame in VWs. My first car was a ’67 VW custom chop top with an 1835cc duel 48 IDA Webers, 240Z seats diamond tucked with gold buttons, and Pioneer stereo with the house speaker in the back seat. It took me to school during the week and was my drag race car on the weekends. Needless to say, it kept me out of trouble MOST of the time. Since I was 16 I have only raced VWs, but I am a huge NHRA FAN!!!! Here's a picture from 1982. I eventually got the car to run 13.50s, not bad for a VW back then! And yes that’s me at 16 getting ready for my bracket race. Til next time, ALOHA. FERGIE”

How cool are those shots, especially the old grainy print of Fergie’s VeeDub as it launches at Maui Raceway... And anyone who has ever been in an old Beetle knows all of them pretty much smelled the same. It must have been the rubber flooring in those cars because every Beetle I’ve ever sat in had that unique VeeDub aroma (no, my current Touareg does not).

My Beetle was also my first car with a manual transmission. When I got my driver’s license, I drove my mom’s ’72 Chevy Impala, a big old boat of an automatic, but my sister, Mary, had a little Austin-Healy Sprite, which was about the size of a Converse All-Star (our joke was that you didn’t get in the Sprite, you put it on). It had a stick, so I learned the concept of shifting and using the clutch in her car but never drove it much. When we bought the VW, I just hopped in and, like any teenage boy, acted like I knew what I was doing. It was only a little embarrassing when I killed it trying to drive off the lot with my dad and the VW salesman watching me. I got the hang of it quickly enough.

One of my best friends in high school, Bob Mitchell, also had a Beetle, and we compared notes, tips, and even did most of our own repair and service work. My current teammates here at Worsham Racing will find this impossible to believe, but I adjusted the brakes regularly, replaced them twice, put a new muffler on the car, changed the oil at specified intervals, and even knew how to adjust the idle, which was fortunate because Beetles had a tendency to idle too slowly and would want to die at stop lights. You learned the two-footed trick of keeping the clutch in, braking, and feathering the throttle to keep it running... Those were the days.

Moving on from the letters V and W to the letters B and B. Here at the ranch, I’ll once again bow to the pressure of the Boofus and Buster Fan Club (you guys make up a formidable group of advocates for Da Boyce, I’ll tell you that) with their latest portrait. I liked this one because of the facial expressions. They’re both very expressive little guys, and this one just smacks of “Hey, waddaya doing? Why are you always pointing that camera at us?”

Finally, after I head to the Mall Of America, I’m heading into downtown Minneapolis to complete an assignment that truly says “It’s really almost spring.” Yup, I’m heading to the Metrodome to pick up our Twins tickets! We get 20 games per year and get to pick the games we want with the plan we have, so we spent some time over the weekend comparing the Twins home schedule with our two busy agendas and picked out all the games we want. We’ll start with Opening Night, against the Angels, on March 31. After that, we’ll average about three games per month right through September. Win Twins!

Okay, gotta run...

Wilber, out!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Heading into the weekend with odds and ends...

Welcome to Friday. And, it sounds like a lot of you are either in the midst of, or are preparing for, some interesting weather. As Pond Cam shows today, we have a nice blue sky and still have plenty of white snow on the ground, but it's a little chilly. I think -1 qualifies as a little chilly (that's -18 Celsius), at least on March 7th. I kind of figured this was coming, after I got blog reader Brad's news of the arctic conditions they had yesterday up in Saskatchewan, because our winter weather tends to come from that direction... Sure enough, we dipped down to about -5 or so last night, and it's not going to warm up much today. Starting tomorrow, we work toward our first real thaw in a while, and they're even talking about 45 degrees by mid-week. I promise you; people will be outside in shorts and t-shirts if it gets to 45 around here. Expect to see kids with baseball gloves on, playing catch, if it gets that warm.

I heard from blog reader Heather, who says they're supposed to get up to 15 inches of snow in southeastern Indiana today, and Mike (down in Orange Park, Fla.) was quick to point out that the same huge storm that's going to bury Heather with snow is ripping through south Georgia and north Florida right now, as thunderstorms and tornadoes. Hope everyone is alright down there.

As for all of you in the entire western half of North America, the radar screen is blank. Enjoy the good stuff, while the rest of us deal with the final stages of winter.

Now here's one of the best questions any reader has ever sent to me. It comes from Wayne in New Mexico, who writes: "Howdy Wilber. I was wondering if you could tell me what BLOG stands for. All I know is I look forward to reading them everyday."

Many of you surely know this, or have come to assume it I guess, but it was such a basic and honest question I thought I'd address it here, on the blog! There are some great long explanations about the dawn of blogging, on places like, but the short version is this: At some point, when web page hosting became simple enough for just about anyone to launch a basic site, people began to use their personal web pages as the internet version of those long letters people often include with their Christmas cards. It was a way for someone to keep a diary, a "log" if you will, of what they were doing, maybe post some pictures, and update it regularly. Most of those were designed for family and friends to log-on to, just to see what was going on in Cousin Freddy or Aunt Martha's world. Since it was a log, and it was on the web, a diary like that became known as a web log, or weblog, or... A "blog" for short!

Basically, a blog is a diary or log (usually with photos) and a standard blog is updated at the top, so that the older material simply moves down the page (just like this one.) Or, it might stand for Berry Lovers Of Georgia (they're big into strawberries), or Big League Outfielders Group (a subcommittee of the player's union, who have taken it upon themselves to protect the rights of those ballplayers who have to run the furthest to get to their positions, and then often have nothing to do out there but be heckled by the drunks in the bleachers).

On a different subject altogether, I got this pic from blog reader Jeff, who owns and races this car. Jeff was wondering what the breakdown was, of our blog readers, in terms of actual racers versus fans. I don't have access to that information, specifically, but my anecdotal evidence supports the theory that at least 95 percent of the people here are fans, although that doesn't mean that a lot of them don't wish they had a car like Jeff's out in the garage.

Jeff also asked me to write about all the cars I've owned, but that seemed kind of silly. Considering I was 35 years old when I saw my first drag race, I'm not the kind of guy who spent his teens and 20s with a small-block Chevy or a Mopar "muscle car" in the garage. My first car, at the age of 16, was a baby blue 1973 Volkswagen Beetle! I customized it with red shag carpeting, a killer 8-track system (hidden in the glove compartment) and a wide variety of decals. Okay, since you asked Jeff, I've also owned all of the following (and more), starting in college, and basically in order: Triumph TR-7, Ford Fiesta, Datsun 200SX, Chrysler Voyager (seriously!), Saab 900 Turbo, Volvo 750 Turbo, Chrysler LeBaron, Toyota Camry, Saab 9-3, BMW 325i, Saab 9-5, Acura CL, Pontiac Trans Am, Volkswagen Passat, and Volkswagen Touareg. So there you have it. I have no idea what my next car will be. The Touareg is doing just fine and only has 22,000 miles on it after three years.

Next on the Friday agenda are some great responses from readers, who saw Lindsay's note yesterday, about her first visit to an NHRA event. Jeff, in Palm Springs, asked me to forward this note to Lindsay, but what the heck, I'll do better than that. I'll post it here!

"Lindsay, First off, let me say WELCOME to the group!!! We are a dedicated bunch of addicted (nitro fumes, what else???) NHRA loyalists. I can fully relate to what you were feeling, as I had the same experience when I was introduced to the sport at the ripe old age of 7, and that was 42 years ago. I STILL get the same feeling every time I go to a NHRA race; I'm worse than a kid in a candy store. Maybe you already know what kind of family NHRA Drag Racing is... We will come together to help those in need regardless of who we are fans of. I know Bob can attest to the warmth and generosity of the NHRA fans that read his blog and what we did for his friends in Hawaii. It's one of the things that has really endeared me to the sport all these years. I also have experienced the help of my competitors when I raced for a bit when I was young(er). We had broken a distributor and didn't have another one with us. One of my biggest rivals came to my rescue, I met him in the final that night and, yup, I won! We had one heck of a celebration afterward and had a lot of fun racing each other. We are still in contact now. So look out; once you're in this, you're in it for life! Welcome and enjoy everything this sport has to offer!"

And there was Jerry, who wrote: "I too have introduced a few “first timers” to Nitro power. The body language they give off when they experience their first fuel pass is priceless. Some of them jump and some just freeze, but all are in awe of the power of a nitro car."

Or Cori, from Omaha, who wrote: "I enjoyed today's blog about Lindsay and her first experience at the races! I too felt the exact same way she did when I attended my first race at Topeka. The feeling is surreal when you walk through those gates. Whenever I hear that the NHRA race teams are a family, I know that it is the truth. You all let us fans into your 'world' and treat us as if we are family too. There is no greater excitement for us fans then the moment we step through the gates into what I call the friendliest place on earth!!! This year, at Topeka, we are introducing two more friends to the experience. No one ever believes us, until they go, that you really do get up-close and personal at a NHRA event. I just wanted to second Lindsay's comments and say thank you again for letting us fans into "your world. Take care and see ya in Topeka!!!"

Thanks everyone! There's more to blog about, I just don't have any more time today. Maybe we'll hit it once over the weekend, but if not have a great one and we'll see ya next week!

Wilber, out!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Welcome to a "Great Stuff" Thursday

Sometimes interesting blog stuff comes in bunches, and this is one of those times... Jump aboard, strap in, hold on, and let's go careening around the Team CSK blog world with a wide variety of topics...

First off, I just got off the phone with a fine hotel in Adel, Ga., booking five rooms there for our team. Quick, who can figure out why? The answer is South Georgia Motorsports Park, which is located in Adel (just north of Valdosta, if that helps). SGMP is hosting a drag racing event called the Eastern Spring Test Nationals this weekend, and a whole bunch of Pro Mod, Pro Stock, Pro Stock Motorcycle, and fuel cars will be there. About 24 hours ago, Del and Marc figured the best thing for our team was to get there as well. No problem! It's just a short drive from Orange, Calif. to Adel, Ga., just cruising over on I-10 for, say, 2,500 miles or so.

The guys finished up their work, loaded the transporter, and were on the road last night. I found a nice "national chain" hotel right in Adel (it's a good thing I went to the track's website, because everyone refers to it as "Valdosta" but it's actually in Adel, about 25 miles north of Valdosta) and the boys should be there by the end of the day tomorrow (crew members driving, crew chiefs and driver flying). The Team Manager will be "managing" via remote control, from here in sunny yet brisk Minnesota.

Speaking of "sunny yet brisk," I got a great email from blog reader Brad who lives in Regina, Saskatchewan. Where, you might ask, is Regina, Saskatchewan? Well, to save you the trouble of grabbing the dog-eared atlas from under the back seat of your car, I can say that Regina is quite a bit northwest of here. The Canadian province that borders the northern edge of Minnesota is Manitoba (where Winnipeg is located). The next province to the west of Manitoba is Saskatchewan, and Regina sits about 100 miles north of the border. Basically, if you stood at the US/Canadian border, right where North Dakota and Montana come together, you'd go north. It's up there a ways.

Brad sent along a shot of their current weather, wondering if I could institute a "Coldest Blog Reader" contest. The -30 you see here is in Celsius, but frankly when you get that far below zero, Celsius and Fahrenheit start to come together (really cold is really cold, no matter what sort of degrees you're counting in). A quick check of the conversion chart shows that -30 C is the same as -22 F. In other words, really cold.

Note the description of the Regina "Condition:". It's just listed as "Ice Crystals" which is interesting. When it gets that cold, every ounce of humidity in the air just freezes. I wonder how cold it is in Saskatoon? That's another 150 miles north of Regina! Stay warm, Brad. As far as I know, you're the current title holder of Coldest Blog Reader.

Here in Woodbury, we're in prime icicle conditions right now, which means it's much warmer here than in Regina. You need dripping water to form icicles, so it has to be just warm enough (a bright sun helps, even on a cold day) to cause some of the snow on the roof to melt, but then as soon as it drips off the edge, it starts to freeze again. Just like these beauties out back, hanging from the arbor over our patio...

Here's a totally different subject: Culture. And no, I don't mean the stuff in which you grow bacteria in a petrie dish. Last night, Barbara and I truly enjoyed a night of some sophisticated culture, over in the "big brother" Twin City: Minneapolis. The fairly famous Guthrie Theater is located in downtown Minneapolis, and last night was our first trip there, since Barb had purchased some tickets for us to see a play. It's a modern facility, is widely considered one of the best centers for the performing arts in the country, if not the world, and it did not disappoint us. Basically, we were blown away by the place...

We had a sublime dinner in the Guthrie's finest restaurant, called Cue, where we enjoyed an unparalleled meal and a nice bottle of Spanish wine, then went upstairs to the Proscenium Theater and watched a performance of a show entitled "Third" which was the final play written by Wendy Wasserstein before she died in 2006. It's a serious play, with a cast of only five characters, but it was really well done and Barbara and I joined in the standing ovation when the curtain came down. I feel so cultured. I even wore a tweed jacket!

Another form of culture is the world of drag racing, and my next bit here today has to do with a first-timer's tale of attending a national event. I got this note from Lindsay M., who just became a dedicated blog reader "a couple of weeks ago" and is now part of our group. I did tell her I'd give her the afternoon to go back and catch up on the last two and a half years of the blog, and there would be a test later today.

Lindsay's description of her first visit to a race was so great, the excitement practically jumped off the page, so I thought I'd share it here with everyone. Welcome to the blog, Lindsay! Oh, and it's just "Bob." My dad was Mr. Wilber...

Mr. Wilber,

I've been a fan of NHRA for as long as I can remember (not that long I'm only 21). Every weekend, I would sit with my dad and tune into the races. It was our ritual. So, when I moved away and got married it didn't feel the same watching it on TV. With nothing to lose and everything to gain, my husband and I went to our first NHRA race in Richmond last year, and it was by far the best experience of my life. It will stay with me forever.

I'm a fan of John Force Racing (then again who isn't) and was feeling very bummed to be going to my first race right after John had his horrific crash two weeks before. However, that feeling left the minute I walked into the gates. I was on overload. I felt like a giddy school girl who had her first crush. As a walked down "NITRO ALLEY" I was amazed at the ability to just walk up to people behind "the ropes" and chat with whoever was willing to listen.

I did really felt sorry for the guys that have the task of re-folding the parachutes. Not only are they responsible for putting probably one the the most important things together correctly, its seems as if a crowd forms to make sure they do it right! A guy was folding Robert Hight's 'chute, and by the time I found my camera to take a shot for my dad, at least 15-20 people were gathered around. Talk about pressure! We walked around until my face was burning from the sun and the smell of nitro was permanently lodged in my nose, and made our way to the stands. I never expected to be almost floored by the "shockwave" when the cars took off. We were there for both Saturday and Sunday and I'll tell you it still wasn't enough.

Lindsay also attached some pics she took, including this one of our car nearing the starting line, and she was wondering if I was in the shot. Yup, that's me on the far side of Del's car, holding the video camera to my eye. It's a good thing she clicked the shutter when she did, because just seconds later I would have been kneeling down to shoot the video, and probably would have disappeared behind the car...

Thanks, Brad and Lindsay, for some great material, and thank you to the Guthrie Theater, for such an enjoyable night. Not sure when I'll break the tweed jacket out again, but we had fun.

Wilber, out!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Turn switch to "on" position

You know how we often find ourselves in the midst of one of those "random nonsensical rambling" blogs when there's nothing to report on from the track or the shop? Ever wonder where the inspiration for those blogs comes from? Yeah, me too. Usually, I just sit here at the computer, excited about writing a new blog, but the slate is clean and I don't know where I'm going with it, so I turn the inspiration switch to "on" and hope for the best. Sometimes, I guess, I hit a few screaming line drives, but I'm sure I've had my share of "whiffs" as well.

Today, I put my fingers on the appropriate keys but nothing happened. Hmmmm... "C'mon fingers, start typing!" And then it hit me...

When it comes right down to it, I'm never above stealing someone else's good idea! Phil Burgess often fills his DRAGSTER Insider blog with cool stories about stuff he has in his office, and frankly when I'm starting to feel that wave of "Why aren't my fingers typing anything?" come over me, my first tendency is to look around my office for inspiration. We have covered most of it before, but with our K&N Funny Car coming up next week in Gainesville, the whole idea of special-edition cars seems worthy of mention. No matter how many times I've addressed the subject in one way or another, people still send me an awful lot of emails with questions about these cars, why we do them, what sponsors get them, and why we do fewer of them now than we used to. Good questions, all...

We have done quite a few over the years, and 2001 was the year we kind of went nuts with them. It seemed like, between our blue car (driven by Frankie Pedregon then) and Del's car, we were doing a special-edition car almost every week. The group shown here, arranged neatly on my desk, is representative of the sort of season it was. To make matters even more complicated, this was back before full vinyl wraps were in vogue and perfected, so every one of these cars started with a paint job, and then had vinyl decals applied on top of the custom paint. One look at the 3A and Autolite cars (front row) would lead you to think those are wraps, just like we do these days, but those were full paint jobs, complete with fades from front to back.

Side note about the 3A car: The sponsor was, of course, a CSK vendor (3A Racing makes custom car accessories and "dress up" parts) and they had a real interest in buying the body from us after the one race where it ran (Englishtown). They wanted to put it in the lobby of their headquarters, and it was a fairly old and beat-up body by that point so Del was happy to agree to the deal. Its final lap, though, featured an engine explosion which basically destroyed the body. Best laid plans and all... The 3A guys were at the race, and Del did point to the pile of rubble in our pit and ask them if they still wanted it... They didn't.

In my advanced age, with a brain full of minutiae, I actually have only vague memories of how we got involved with the Jurassic Park thing. As I recall, NHRA put the deal together and there were other teams in Denver with the same movie theme. Because CSK got to keep their logo on the hood and sides (just re-done in the cool Jurassic Park lettering) they happily agreed to do it. I recall flying into Denver two days early, before we were even allowed in the pits, and doing all the vinyl and decal work out in the gravel parking lot, with the help of John Chindemi, who made and installed the big dinosaurs.

Side note on that body: After the Denver race, the decals came off and we kept the solid red body as a spare. We put standard CSK logos back on it, and called it "Big Red." Some of you might remember a huge engine explosion, just off the starting line, in Reading that year, in which we fireballed the car and blew the body right off it. So long, Big Red, it was nice knowing ya...

Why do we do fewer of these nowadays? Well, a lot of that has to do with the die-cast market. We went kind of nuts in 2001, because part of the motivation was for CSK to sell all these cars in their stores. Unfortunately, between the time we all decided to do it and we actually did produce the cars, the public's previously insatiable appetite for anything small and with wheels, began to fade. They didn't sell as well as we would have liked, and these days selling die-casts is an even trickier proposition. Back then, I'm pretty sure you could have done a die-cast of our tow vehicle and 5,000 people would've bought it, but now only the most popular teams get deals and only the most well-known cars get made. It's just a standard cyclical sales deal; few things stay that popular for very long.

Even though the Jurassic Park car was not a CSK-initiated thing, they were the ones approached by NHRA and were an integral part of the process. Only once, in our team's history, have we done a special-edition car that we brought to the table and presented to CSK as something we wanted to do. Graciously, they agreed to let us be part of the Mac Tools team at the 50th Annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indy, in 2004. It was Del, Cory Mac, Jason Line, and Shawn Gann, and we all shared this same rip-roarin' red,white, & blue design.

Side note about that car: It was the first full wrap we'd ever done, and Mac Tools set it all up for us with a company they were working with in Indy. That company was Square One, and we've been doing vinyl wraps with them ever since.

Okay, so what else do I have here in my office? Let me look around... Well, this ties in with the trivia quiz from Monday. One of the most commonly missed questions was No. 4, the one about the guy who hit three home runs in one game for the Phillies in 1951. It was pretty easy to see the theme of the quiz was the name "Del" and a ton of people answered Del Ennis for that question. It was an obvious guess, as Del Ennis was a heck of a major league ballplayer (I guess so, 288 career home runs!) and he did play for the Phillies in 1951. The correct answer, however, was another Del on that same team: Del Wilber. Two Del's on one team, who would've imagined that? Well, it was the second time my dad played with another Del, as he also was on the 1947 Cardinals with Del Rice. Small world for Dels...

Here in my office, I have the bat that hit those three home runs. You might be able to make out my dad's autograph, burned into the wood by the fine folks at Louisville Slugger, and see that he then decorated the bat with the line score and information about the game. It's a keepsake I'll always have in my home. A quick analysis of the bat indicates no cork. And I guarantee you my dad didn't take steroids! A few cups of coffee before the game, maybe some chewing tobacco, but no "juice"...

Well there you have it, we've done it again. I can't guarantee that was interesting, but hopefully I haven't put anyone to sleep at work with this one... I wonder what I'll write about next time?

Wilber, out!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Wanna go to the mall...?

In the spirit of this week's Team CSK Variety Blog concept (introduced yesterday,) we shall endeavor, on this Tuesday, to go on yet another road trip. Over that past couple of years we have, as a blog group, gone to races, worked our way through airports, gone on a cruise, taken a long drive to Mt. Rushmore, shoveled the driveway, and watched the seasons come and go, but I don't believe we've ever gone to the mall. Today, we check that box off the list as well. If a trip to the mall doesn't interest you, here's your chance to beat a hasty retreat...

The reason I'm writing about this adventure is because we not going to just any old mall. No sir, not your standard suburban mall, not your cookie-cutter "two anchor stores and long concourse of specialty shops." Today, I needed to go to Mall Of America, a genuine Twin Cities landmark, for a special purchase (more on that at the bottom) so I took the camera and figured some of you (especially those who have heard of MOA but haven't seen it) might enjoy a peek inside this behemoth...

Before we do that, a quick word of thanks to all the people who took a stab at yesterday's trivia quiz. Yes, the common theme had to do with the first name of the guy who is the first answer, but it wasn't that easy to get all 10 questions right, so I salute those of you who did (and I won't give all the answers yet, because some people are still taking their shots at it). Since I think I must personally know every person who could've answered all 10 without the use of Google, I also salute your detective skills. It was blog reader Tina S. who was the first to get all 10 right, and get all 10 spellings right, so we're going to figure out a special prize for her...

Now, let's go to the Mall Of America. It's in Bloomington, which is south of Minneapolis on the interstate "loop" that goes around the metro area, is right next to the airport, and is probably the biggest tourist attraction in the Twin Cities.

First of all, it's huge. It's like really really gigantic. Imagine the biggest mall you've ever been to (other than you folks who have been to Edmonton and have seen the West Edmonton Mall, which I believe is actually bigger) and then stack three more shopping centers of the same size on top of that one, and you're coming close to MOA. Whereas most malls might have a large food court in the central atrium, MOA has a complete amusement park. It used to be called Camp Snoopy, but recently the mall management signed a new sponsorship deal with Nickelodeon, so the park is under renovation while it stays open. This pic is just a part of the park, because I don't have a wide-angle lens and there was no way to get the whole place in one shot. There are multiple roller coasters, a log flume, and many other rides

The shopping mall surrounds the amusement park (it's a bit more than a half-mile around), features more than 500 stores, 20 sit-down restaurants, 14 movie screens, an aquarium, and more than 12,000 parking spaces that link directly to the mall (yes, I looked all that up.) Did I mention it's really big?

If you're like me (typical guy) the mall presents few challenges. I know what I'm after, I'll find that store on the map, head directly to that store (no side trips, no stops along the way), buy what I came for, and retrace my steps. If you're someone who thinks of shopping as a sport, MOA could possibly be seen as a huge vortex of a black hole, from which you can never escape. There's always one more level, one more corridor, one more store... I can't imagine how a professional shopper could get in and out of MOA in less than a full day. That's why they have so many restaurants!

For me, the coolest thing about the mall is where it sits; directly on top of the site of old Metropolitan Stadium, the original home of the Minnesota Twins. With a little dead reckoning, and some knowledge of how The Met was configured, it's usually not hard to walk into the amusement park and find home plate, which they've marked with a brass version of an actual plate, in the same spot where it was located at the ballpark. I say it's usually not hard to locate, because today I was flummoxed... Turns out, the new Nickelodeon deal brings with it a new Sponge Bob ride, and the home plate marker was tucked just behind the construction wall for that ride. With the help of one of the workers, I managed to spot it. It's obviously been stood upon by quite a few people, and needs some cleaning, but here it is...

From that spot, if you had a direct line of sight you could see something amazing. As it is, you have to walk half-way across the park just to see this... At the old Met, Harmon Killebrew (my first-ever "favorite player" when I was a kid) hit the longest home run in the old stadium, well up into the huge leftfield grandstand. After he hit it, the Twins removed the standard folding seat where the ball had landed, and replaced it with a bright red chair, so that anyone walking into the ballpark could marvel at how far he had hit that homer.

Well... Not to be outdone, the MOA people attached the red chair to the wall overlooking the amusement park, in approximately the same spot it would've been had the ballpark still been standing. From home plate, it appears to be approximately 2.5 miles away. It looks impossibly far away. And it's really cool that they did that. The chair has no sign next to it, no explanation whatsoever, but is just up there hanging on the wall by itself. It's one of those "inside" deals that you'd have to know about to understand. I wonder how many visitors spot the red chair up on the wall and wonder why it's there...

Once I found home plate and took these shots, it was time to do that "guy thing" and walk directly to the Apple store. Upon entering I walked right up to the first smiling Apple rep and said "Sell me an iPhone." Yes, after nearly a year of coveting Del's iPhone, and marveling over its features and how he cruises the web, gets his email, reads documents, and listens to music, I finally broke down and got one. As soon as I finish this blog (and get something to eat) I'll be plugging it in, logging-on to iTunes, switching my cell number over to AT&T, and then I'll load all my music, since the iPhone is also an iPod. I also had to buy a cool daddy-o holster, so that it will be on my belt wherever I go. Once I have it up and running, I'll have to have some sort of ceremony to retire my beat-up old flip phone, which looks like an antique next to the Apple device...

Not sure what we'll talk about for the rest of this week, since most of the guys are taking time off before we launch off into 20 races in the next 31 weeks, spanning the USA from coast to coast and border to border. For instance, Del is finishing up his backyard project, and then will be leaving this weekend to head to Orlando, where he and Connie will give Kate and Maddy the full Disney/Epcot experience for a few days before the Gatornationals...

What the heck, I'll come up with something to write about....

Wilber, out!

Monday, March 03, 2008

The Team CSK Variety Blog

You don't see "variety shows" on TV anymore. I guess they've gone the way of console televisions, remote units that actually "clicked" when you pressed the button (hence, your Uncle Fred's use of the word "clicker" when asking for the remote,) and the "vertical hold" dial (entire generations have now moved into adulthood without ever having seen the picture on a TV screen "roll"). No more Carol Burnett, Red Skelton, Dean Martin (Deano baby, he was THE MAN!) or Ed Sullivan, who always had "a really great shew for you tonight." So, to leap into the void created by the demise of the classic variety show, we'll attempt to spend this week as a variety blog, since we get this extra week off between Phoenix and Gainesville and there won't be any travel, set-up, qualifying, or racing. We'll make do, but I can't promise any singing, dancing, or juggling. And remember the first rule of variety shows: Never follow an animal act!

Speaking of the extra week off, this is the last time we'll have two free weekends in a row until mid-October. From here on out, it's pretty much back to the regular schedule of a race every two weeks, combined with two pairs of "back-to-back" events and two sets of "three-in-a-row" races. Everyone on our team is trying to make the most of these days off, because the season will basically be over the next time we spend two straight weekends at home. That's something, isn't it?

In terms of our guys, I got a number of calls from Del over the weekend, as he watched Chuck bowl in a tournament in So Cal. As you know, Chuck is a seriously good bowler, and has recovered almost fully from his shoulder surgery. He easily bowls in the low to mid-200s, so it was fun for him to enter a regional tournament like that (not the PBA, just a local thing) against some other good players. Also cool that Del took the day to go support him, and take him to lunch during the mid-day break.

Del said Chuck was feeling the pressure, and playing "tight", and when Chuck made mention of that, Del replied "Pressure? This isn't pressure. Strapping me in before the final round, and making those tuning calls; that's pressure!" I think that loosened the Big Skipper up a bit.

Chad "Snacks" Stockwell, one of our new guys, spent the weekend with his girlfriend and his son Tanner (who is also known as T-Bucket) up at Lake Havasu. I know the pic is a bit dark, but if any of you are wondering why they're standing in front of a bridge, or if said bridge is important in any way, you need to Google "London Bridge in Havasu" and read up on how they tore down, transported, and reassembled much of the actual London Bridge, putting it in place right here in the USA, in Arizona. Okay, not all of it, but a lot of the stones that had made up the old London Bridge... And you thought the line "Hey buddy, wanna buy a bridge?" was only uttered by hucksters...

Last night, Barbara and I, along with neighbor Nichol (Dave was busy painting the entire interior of their lower level), headed to the Xcel Arena to see the Wild take on the Los Angeles Kings. Of course, my first task upon taking my seat was to send a pic and a text message to my esteemed mentor and editor, Phil Burgess, who is a major Kings fan. As you can see, we had our regular seats in row 9, just behind the Wild bench. Nichol had their two seats, in the opposite corner, so Barb went back and forth throughout the game and kept us both company.

It was a tight game, with each team scoring one goal and barely missing a half-dozen others throughout regulation. It ended up going to overtime at 1-1, and ended with about 1:30 left on the clock, as Wild defenseman Martin Skoula put one "through the five hole" (between the goalie's legs) for the game winner.

The good news for Wild fans lately has been a spark of ignition from star player Marian Gaborik, seen here. Gabby was just named captain of the team for the month of March, which is cool for him since it's the first time in his pro career he's worn the captain's "C" on his jersey. Most teams name a captain for the year, but the Wild name a new one every month. The captain wears the "C" and two other players wear an "A" as assistant captains, and those are the only players who can speak to the officials on the team's behalf. More than that, it's an honor for a player to be chosen, because the "C" signifies respect and dedication. Gabby responded with the goal that tied it and an assist on the game winner.

Much fun was had by all (it's always good to end the night on your feet, giving your team a standing ovation) and with the early 6:00 starting time, we were back home and relaxing by 9:00. We only have one game left with our season tickets (March 28 against the Canucks) and I'll be at the Houston race then, so unless we pick up some more tickets from various sources, that might have been my last Wild game of the regular season (the author purposefully used the term "regular season" to signify his great hope the Wild will make the Stanley Cup playoffs.) But hey, it's a great time of year because hockey is in the stretch drive and every goal is huge, baseball is ramping up and spring training games are happening every day, and drag racing is about to go "full throttle" right into October. Life is good.

Okay, in the spirit of a true variety blog, let's have some fun. With Google at everyone's fingertips, it's fruitless to really do a trivia contest anymore, so we'll do this just for fun. See how long it takes you to figure out the theme that connects all 10 answers...

1. He has 21 career Funny Car wins and adorable twin daughters

2. He had a #1 hit in 1961, with the smash song "Little Runaway"

3. He is the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars

4. He hit three home runs in one game (on three swings) for the Phillies in 1951

5. It's where you'd go to get a Macho Burrito

6. He taught me much of what I know and is still a sports marketing executive

7. He is a reporter for the Washington Post

8. He played 15 years in the big leagues (1968-1982) with the Senators, Expos, Phillies, and other teams

9. He is an Academy Award winner, and was in The Usual Suspects

10. It's a beautiful community on the ocean, just north of San Diego

What the heck, maybe there will be a prize for the first person who sends me all 10 correct answers... Get your Google skills going but do your own work and don't be looking over at your neighbors answers.

That will do it for a Monday. My thanks to Carol Burnett (pull on your earlobe), Red Skelton ("Thank you, and may God bless..."), Dean Martin ("Everybody loves somebody, sometime..."), and Ed Sullivan ("And right now, here on our stage... THE BEATLES!").

Wilber, out!

Friday, February 29, 2008

Happy Leap Day!

Once every four years we have a February 29th. Which means, had I been born on February 29th instead of June 19th, I'd be 13 years old right now, instead of 51. Talk about the fountain of youth! I'd be the oldest, most broken-down 13-year-old in the country, but I'd be 13 any way you added it up.

I wasn't going to do a blog today, since yesterday's edition was done so late in the day, but I can't guarantee I won't be distracted all weekend by "normal" stuff around the house, including spending quality time with my wife and the two little guys, who now are most often called "The Little Man" (that would be Boofus, who is smaller than Buster) and "The Big Fella" (self explanatory.) More on them later.

Just to have something to look at, while I launch off in random nonsensical directions, here's evidence of a small Alberta Clipper that rolled through last night. I was out on the driveway in the dark, at around 8:30, scraping an inch-and-a-half of white stuff to the sides, but the sun is out today, and the Minnesota sky is blue, so all is pretty good in our world.

My Thursday blog created quite a bit of email, much of it centered around people's memories of Norman Wilding, which was cool. I'm always afraid that not enough people even remember Norm, or some of the great stuff he did, so I appreciated all those notes. Norm was known for somehow getting his Funny Car on the track without two nickels to rub together, as well as those gorgeous paint jobs he did himself, and massive burnouts.

The topic of massive burnouts and cool guys triggered a couple of emails about Dean Skuza, which was also cool. Funny how that works; you write a blog about Norm Wilding and two different people take that and send you notes about Deano. Dean was such a favorite, not only of the fans but of the racers as well, and it's not quite the same without him out there.

My favorite Dean Skuza story surrounded the Budweiser Shootout (now known as the US Smokeless Shootout,) a few years back. You can skip ahead if you've heard this one (it's one of my favorite Skuza stories, so I can't guarantee I haven't written about it on here before...) The Shootout is, of course, an 8-car field, and Deano was one of the participants this particular year (I don't know specifically which season it was, but I suspect we could figure it out.) When all eight drivers were up on stage, Alan Reinhart interviewed each one, and when he came to Dean he said, "Deano, this is a tough field in the Bud Shootout. What do you think your chances are, of winning today?"

Dean gave Alan a very serious look (a slight nod, pursed lips, a pensive expression) and said "Well Alan, I stayed up most of the night last night, thinking of this very topic. I thought about it long and hard, I analyzed it from every direction, and I'm pretty sure my chances are one-in-eight." Alan was speechless. The crowd waited a second, as if they had to figure that comment out, and then started laughing. I, for one, was in stitches. That's Dean Skuza, folks...

Barbara spent the morning working from home, and is now getting ready to head into St. Paul to her office. But, before she did that, she walked in and said "I bought you a present, to help you get ready for spring..." She then presented me with this little guy, who quacks when you squeeze him. Pretty funny, because within the next month the Mallards, the Canada Geese, and all sorts of other flying creatures will be swooping back in, looking for a place to stop on the long migration back to the north. And some of them will hit our pond and think "Heck, I'm tired. Whaddaya say we just stay here!" Quack, quack, quack....

Okay, here's a unique topic. How often do you sit down to watch TV, turn to the National Geographic channel to watch one of the cool shows about modern factories (guy stuff) and then see one of your college roommates being interviewed? Happened to me last night. I was flipping channels when I came to Nat-Geo HD, and they were doing a show about the Ferrari factory in Italy. It was fascinating, so I watched the last 45 minutes, and at the top of the hour the next episode was about the Corvette factory, in Kentucky. At this point I thought, "I wonder if Tom Hill will be on this show?" Not 10 minutes into the program, there he was, my former college roomie Tom Hill, who has been working for Chevy in the Corvette division since he graduated in 1978, saying "When you step on that pedal, something special happens..."

When Tom roomed with us (and by calling him Tom there, I've broken the master rule, because Tom Hill was one of those guys everyone called by both names; not Tom, not Hill, just Tom Hill) he was constantly drawing incredibly detailed pencil sketches of Vettes, and he was always in the midst of a restoration project on an actual car. He also had a double major in Calculus and Engineering, and graduated early! He was kinda smart.

Looking back at Tom Hill and those days, I think it's striking how that core group of SIU-E baseball players turned out. My ex-roomie Lance is the CFO of a company in Raleigh, our buddy Steve Novak is the Executive Vice President at Tehama, a golf apparel company. His boss is Clint Eastwood. Bob "Radar" Ricker is one of the top State Farm agents in Southern Illinois. Fernando Aguirre, who was a couple of years behind us as a utility infielder, is the CEO of Chiquita Brands (seriously!) James "Oscar" Noffke returned to his small hometown of Stewardson, Ill. and has been teaching school there since 1979. Me? I work for Del Worsham.

As a group, we did okay. Funny thing, though... None of us were exactly buried in our text books, but we all took our educations very seriously (and were thankful for the baseball scholarships we were on.) We did make sure we had our share of college fun, and baseball kept us busier than normal students, but we all graduated with honors, and like I said, we did okay.

Well, bowing to the constant pressure to update my readers on Da Boyce, I leave you today with a newly taken photograph of The Little Man and The Big Fella, in one of their favorite spots atop their kitty condo, by the living room windows. They're doing great, and are still so full of energy it's nearly impossible to slow them down enough to take their picture.

Here's looking forward to a nice weekend, for us and for all of you!

Quack, quack, quack...

Wilber, out!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The "Lost Installment" and Gator memories ...

It's been an interesting day. It started with a conference call this morning, and after that it included quite a bit of writing, gathering, and formatting work for some materials Neighbor Dave and I are putting together. Right in the middle of all of that, I wrote a blog. I wasn't too sure about what I had written, so I put it aside and finished the rest of the projects I was in the process of completing, and then took a look again a few minutes ago. At that point, I purposefully deleted the whole thing and now I'm starting over. It just wasn't right, and it wasn't easily edited, so we'll start from scratch and that particular blog entry will forever be known as the "Lost Installment" of the Team CSK blog. I'll never tell, and no one will ever know, what nonsense was covered. Trust me, you're not missing anything.

Once I decided to start over, the first thought that popped into my head was the Gatornationals (how odd, huh, considering the Gators are next on the schedule.) For me, the answer to the oft-asked question "What's your favorite race on the tour?" is usually the Gatornationals. The crowds are awesome, the atmosphere is electric, and there's just something about Florida in the early spring that brings back wonderful memories of spring training trips to see my dad, when I was a kid. We'd get a week off from school (we took our books and promised to do the work, but, well... We were in St. Petersburg, for cryin' out loud!) I'm old enough that I have memories of actually making that spring training pilgrimage by taking the train from St. Louis to St. Pete! That was cool...

On top of all those feelings and memories, the Gainesville race is also a landmark for me, since it was the first NHRA race I ever attended. The year was 1991, I had just been hired as the general manager at Heartland Park, and the owner sent a few key staff members and me down to the Gatornationals, to get our first taste of what it is we had all signed up for. I don't recall if my PR guy, Jade Gurss, was along on that trip, but I assume he was. Jade moved on to other things a couple of years later, and now has an "okay gig," I guess. He's been Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s PR guy for many years now...

My first day at the track, back then in '91, was a blur. I basically have only two memories of it. The first was standing atop the old tower (can't wait to see the new tower in Gainesville this year!) wearing a white polo shirt, watching the Top Fuel cars shatter the world with their noise and fury. After a bit, I looked down and was puzzled to see that I was covered in ground pepper. Weird. That story begets rule No. 1 for first-timers: Don't wear white to the drags!

The other thing I remember is heading over to Lori Johns' pit, to introduce myself and have a meeting. Within minutes, we'd worked out the details for her and her team to do a match race at our NHRA Divisional event, in May. As has been documented on this blog before, she raced Gary Ormsby, who passed away soon thereafter and never drove again after that event.

My next experience with the Gatornationals came in 1995, when I was actually the general manager for the Kansas City Attack indoor soccer team, but wanted to head down there to see my buddy Norm Wilding. I had promised Norm that if he ever got the money and parts together to race again, I'd be there, no matter when or where. I flew to Florida, and got to see the incredibly gorgeous all-black Funny Car Norman had put together (one of the most beautiful paint jobs I've ever seen) before the whole event got rained out. One week later, I was back in Kansas City when the race was finally held, and the only way to get "up to the minute" results way back then was to call the Castrol Hot Line, to hear a report from Dave McClelland (for a buck a minute, or something like that.) I called the line on Saturday night and heard Dave's wonderful voice, as he said:

"After qualifying here at the Gatornationals, the big story was independent British Funny Car driver Norman Wilding..." My heart raced! Could Norm have actually qualified? Then the recording said "...who crashed hard into both walls, was knocked unconscious, and then was along for the ride as his car's throttle hung open, taking him all the way down the track. Wilding was transported to the hospital, where his condition is stable." My heart sunk. Norm did recover, but he was knocked around pretty hard by that wreck.

Moving forward, my next trip to Gainesville included this hat. It was 1996, and I had left the Attack to become general manager of Whit Bazemore's team, after he had landed his Smokin' Joe's sponsorship. On that team were Rob Flynn, Chris Cunningham, Dickie Venables, Kurt Elliott, Lew Arrington, and (of course) Mike Cunningham, Chris' dad. Frankly, I have almost no memory of that race, or how we did. I do remember that Norm came up from his home in Kissimmee, and hung out at the races with us, sleeping on the floor of my hotel room.

One year later, I'd moved over to work for some guy named Worsham, Del Worsham, and we attended our first Gatornationals together just a couple of months after I started working for the team. What do I remember from that year? I remember Steve "Fuel Boy" Brown making quite an impression on me (Fuellie was in top form) and I remember Del taking me around to the back of the Funny Car body, where he pointed out some hand-lettered paint, next to the parachute. The lettering, about an inch tall, said "Special Thanks to Bob Wilber" Wow, my name on the race car! That was a pretty cool deal.

The statistical archives at go back to 1997, so I dug into the stats and found the final qualifying order. Apparently we qualified 15th, though I don't recall that. I know we must have lost in round one, because Al Hofmann was our first opponent, and he won the race. I see the likes of Randy Anderson, Dean Skuza, Kenji Okazaki, Chuck Etchells, Mark Oswald (the In-N-Out car!!!) and others on there, including a certain Norman Wilding. I'll never forget that one... Norm hopped it up a bit for his final qualifying pass, and when the blower exploded and the engine caught on fire, another beautifully painted car basically burned to the ground. Ouch...

And how about Cruz setting the track records for both E.T. and speed, by running 4.965 at 308.64 mph. Absolutely rippin'...

Since then, the Gatornationals have remained one of my favorite stops on the tour. We won there, of course, in 2004, so that would be nice to experience again. We qualified there, after missing the show at the first two races last year (sound familiar?) so even that would be appreciated.

And there's the new tower, Steak 'n Shake right next door to the hotel, the huge crowds, and the warm Florida sun...

Wish it was this weekend....

Wilber, out!

Wedneday, February 27, 2008

A sneak peek, just for you...

Through the magic of digital photography, email, skillful work, and some vast creativity, today I will share with you the creation of a race car. No magic wands, no rabbits in top hats, no smoke, and no "abra cadabra," just good old ingenuity.

So it goes like this... Over the off-season, the folks in charge of our sponsorship at CSK sit down with some key vendors (people who sell their products in CSK stores) and discuss various opportunities with our racing team. The fine folks at Chevron, Autolite, Pepsi, and K&N have been highly involved with our team for many years now, as part of their overall relationship with CSK, and as you probably know, we have a history of doing "special-edition" Funny Cars for a number of these major-associate sponsors.

Once the agreements are in place, and we know which sponsors are going to take over the car at which races, we need an actual design. Do we hire a major auto racing design firm? No. Do we design it ourselves? Absolutely not! Over the years, we've often relied on a guy by the name of Chris Bowen, who is a very creative designer at CSK, to come up with the look of our specialty cars, but if you recall the blog we did last year, about the Havoline car (I think...) we've also started utilizing an amazing new resource, who goes by the name of Danny Rubin.

Danny's dad, Paul Rubin, is a former CSK staffer, and when Chris Bowen saw some of Danny's drawings, he asked Paul if Danny would like to take a shot at designing one of our 2006 cars. Danny jumped at the chance (I believe he was 16 years old at the time) and got to work with the most basic of tools: Colored pencils and a sheet of paper.

Now, here we are in 2008 and Gainesville will once again be the first race for our annual K&N Filters car. The drawings you see here are Danny's work, and they are exactly what he sent to Square One (the people who do the vinyl for our cars) in Indy. Somehow (here's the whole magic part) the guys at Square One take these drawings and turn them into real panels of vinyl, and then they expertly apply all that vinyl to one of our Impala bodies.

To be clear, the K&N car is actually a little different than most of our vinyl wraps, in that it's made from solid colors of basic vinyl, which are just die-cut and applied to the car. These days, many of the special designs require the printing of intricate artwork directly on the vinyl, which is then cut to size and applied to the car, but this one is designed to look big, bold, and very K&N. I hope you agree it's a really cool looking race car.

What's also a bit of magic, and something that has to be handled "on the fly" when this process is underway, is how the transition from two dimensions to three takes place. The drawings are done on a flat piece of paper, and although the template Danny starts with (the outline of an Impala) is a pretty good representation of the car, it's still flat and I doubt it's completely and accurately to scale. The real car (here in the real world) is curved and has bumps, flares, and aerodynamic features on it, so the vinyl guys are constantly having to follow the art, while they're still slaves to what's "real." Magic, I tell ya...

The shots of the real car, taken the other day at our shop in So Cal, show it about 80 percent done. All the basic K&N features are complete, but the car still needs all its associate sponsors, Del's name and number, all the contingency decals along the bottom edge, and a few other details. We'll finish all that up in Gainesville on Thursday, March 13th. If you think it would be cool to, one day, leave a car this plain, without all the other little decals that have to go on there, I'd have to say I agree with you. Yes, I think it would look cool if we could just put Del's name, his number, and a POWERade sticker on this car and race it like this, but I'd be guilty of gross negligence if I ever let that happen. You see, here in that pesky "real world" we have obligations and commitments to give tangible marketing value to dozens of companies that step up to help our program. Believe me, I would not want one of our race cars to ever head out onto the track without a Mac Tools logo on it, or Walery's Pizza, or Autolite, or Goodyear, or Pepsi, the list goes on...

So there you have it. Somewhere in Arizona, young Danny Rubin closes his eyes and imagines a race car. He takes out his pencils, starts to create, and sends his vision off to the fine folks at CSK, Square One, the special-edition sponsor, and little old me. Weeks later, a real live race car is produced, and lo and behold the thing looks just like Danny's sketch. Magic!

And by the way... If you think installing the vinyl on a curvy Funny Car sounds easy, you are mistaken. Having been the guy in charge of this stuff at Worsham Racing since 1997, I can tell you that small decals (anything you can completely hold in your two hands) aren't too tough to get on a race car; it's mostly just a challenge of getting them on straight and keeping the bubbles to a minimum. But this big stuff, like the K&N car or the huge panels that run completely down the side of our Checker, Schuck's, Kragen car, are for the experts. It's pretty impressive to watch these guys work... The line I once heard, about a young kid who was really a great installer, was "The kid is so good, he could vinyl wrap a basketball..." LOL.

So there you have today's lesson in the magic of special-edition designs...

As for our Minnesota Wild... Well, I wrote yesterday that last night's game against the Washington Capitals would either ease our concerns around here, or ratchet up the panic. Consider Wild Nation to be on the doorstep of a nervous breakdown. The final score was 4-1 Caps, and from what I watched it wasn't even that close. Somehow, our highly skilled hockey team seems to have lost a half-step, gotten timid in the corners, and forgotten how to put that little black disc into the thing with the netting hanging on it. It's hard to win if you can't score...

Tonight, they're down in Tampa to play the Lightning, so by later this evening either Dave Rieff or yours truly will be happy about the final score, but not both of us.

That's it for today... I have an idea about a poll I want to do with all of you, to let you have some input on the blog, so maybe we can do that tomorrow...

Wilber, out!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Now that that's behind us...

We move on, and I mean that in a variety of ways. Physically, Phoenix is now completely over for us. I flew home, with Neighbor Dave, late on Sunday night, pulling into the driveway around 1:00 in the morning. The team stayed around at Firebird on Monday, making test passes (more on that in a bit) and is now moving everything back to the shop in So Cal. Del is back home with Connie and the girls. We have, quite literally, moved on.

We've also filed Phoenix under the heading of "Old News" and moved on from that. You know, we did this exact same thing last year, not making the show at the first two races, and although repeating that ignominious feat was the last thing we wanted to do in '08, the lesson of 2007 is still clear. We finished 9th in points last year, despite the terrible start, and we did that without winning a race. As a matter of fact, we worked our way back into the Top 10 by Las Vegas, just three races after Phoenix, so the hole we've dug is big and muddy, but it's not something we can't get out of.

Before I go any further, it's time to thank all of you once again. Seems like I do this a lot, but as a group and a community, you guys are almost always surprising me with your support, and as many times as I've hit "Reply" in the last two days, just to send off a quick word of thanks, it's still worth saying it one more time, here on the blog. The emails started pouring in by late in the day Saturday, and frankly they're still coming this morning. Some are short and sweet, others are full of quotes or stories of similar challenges, and they all revolve around the theme "Hang in there, we're with you." Lots of great stuff, all around, and every one of your notes was very much appreciated.

As I mentioned at the top, the team stayed in Phoenix to make some test laps yesterday, and that went well (of course it did...) Even on the aborted runs, Del's E.T. was easily good enough to have qualified for the race, and on the better ones he'd have not only made the show, but would've been solidly in the top half. While it's easy to be frustrated by stuff like that, and wonder why your car will behave on Monday after being a brat on Saturday, the truth is it all remains a learning process and Del was happy to get a lot of things sorted out. The second time he called me, to tell me about a run where he clicked it off a bit early but still ran a mid-4.80, I heard a car launch and shut off in the background and he said "There's another one smoking the tires, and we're just going right down the track."

Perhaps the trick was changing the way we mount and fill the tires? Rather than filling them with air, the guys tried filling one of the slicks with Carl. Guess it worked... Carl Boyd ladies and gentleman! Let's give it up for Carl and his tire act, and remember to tip those waitresses...

One interesting thing that happened late on Sunday included members of the San Francisco Giants. If you read Tommy Johnson's blog, you know that he and Melanie have become good friends with outfielder Aaron Rowand, who used to play for the White Sox and Phillies but now is with the Giants. They all met at the ESPY Awards a couple of years ago, and have stayed in touch. Aaron, along with third baseman Kevin Frandsen, came to the track on Sunday (they have spring training in Scottsdale) and wandered over to our pit. I introduced myself, we started talking, and the first thing I noticed was a familiar "ease" with which I could converse. TJ and I traded emails yesterday, and in my note to him I mentioned "Even after 11 seasons, when I'm at the race track and talking about racing, I still have to think about what I'm saying, as if I'm speaking a foreign language. Just shooting the breeze with those guys was like having a chance to speak my native tongue again." It was really weird. I know just enough about these cars and drag racing in general to pass for "fluent" but just talking about nothing with a couple of ballplayers was like stumbling onto a couple of "home boys" in a slightly foreign land.

Oh, and speaking of people you might have heard of, I traded a couple of emails yesterday with a guy who will be coming up to join us in Gainesville. If you've been reading this blog since the beginning (and have a very good memory) you might recall a tale I told during the 2006 Brainerd race, when a gentleman walked up to me in our pit and introduce himself as Fred Turner. He had been given tickets by a CSK staffer, and was excited to be at the race. We talked for quite some time, just getting to know each other, and then I asked him how he knew Carl Panicucci (the guy at CSK who took care of his tickets.) He said "Oh, he's a fan of the band I used to be in." I bit, of course, and asked "Oh really, so you were in a band. That's cool, what was the name of the band?" Say it with me if you recall this story.... He said "Bachman Turner Overdrive. I'm Turner." Oh.

Well, I was just thinking of Fred yesterday (must've heard "Takin' Care Of Business" on the radio or something,) and I was just about to email him when I got a note from the same Carl at CSK. He'd been trading notes with Fred, and in one of those Fred had written "Say hi to Bob for me", so I quickly dropped him a line and now he and his lady Donna are making plans to join us at the Gatornationals. I'll provide "Fred Cam" during the race blogs...

Shifting gears back to Phoenix, how 'bout a big shout-out to Fast Jack Beckman, for his Funny Car victory. See Jack, you start the week sharing a table with Del and me, at the press conference, and you end it in the Winner's Circle! Must be the company you keep... Congrats, Jack! Now you have a black CSK hat too, just like the ones we wear. Well, except yours says "2008 Winner's Circle" on the back. Wear it proudly!

Now, let's talk hockey for a bit. Oddly enough, I received three different emails from Philadelphia Flyers' fans yesterday, and all three were bemoaning their favorite team's collapse as of late. They'd lost something like 10 games in a row, and I commiserated by relaying the fact our Minnesota Wild have been on the skids recently, including a frustrating 2-1 loss to the Flames on Sunday. Well, my words of empathy seemed to work for Philly, as they snapped out of it with a thrilling win over Buffalo last night, in a shoot-out after overtime. The Wild, meanwhile, are in Washington and will play the Capitals tonight. I'll be watching on TV with my new "Old Time Hockey" hat on, so if you wake up tomorrow and check the sports page, you'll see whether I went to bed feeling better about my team's chances, or if "panic mode" has been reached here in Wild Nation...

Okay, enough of this frivolity. Time to upload my Phoenix photos and stats to my famous webmaster, Jerrod, so that he can update our website. After that, time for lunch!

Wilber, out!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Facing the music...

I gotta be honest; writing a blog was not my first thought this morning. But, I believe you sign up to do these things through the good times and the bad, and that means putting fingers to keyboard even on a Sunday when you're at the track but not racing. Even when it's the second race of the year and you're 0-for-2 in terms of qualifying. Even when it's the second year in a row you've experienced this exact scenario. I have no idea where the cliché "face the music" came from, but that line means you have to stand up and accept the reality of it, so we're all here facing the music and I'm here blogging.

As you can see, we have both cars out (the primary and the back-up) and all the guys are hard at work. There's service to do, and there's prep work to be completed for tomorrow, when the guys will make as many test laps as they can. Anyone wanna bet the car goes right out there and puts a 4.81 on the board on its first pass tomorrow? You just know it will, and that's almost as frustrating as anything else. You don't get paid, and you don't earn any points, by winning the Monday Nationals.

The bottom line is that this race field was set on two laps, and we didn't get down the track. Technically speaking, there are reams of reasons for that, some easy to understand (too much power on the first pass, that's pretty simple and straightforward) and some much more nuanced and hard to grasp. But every team had the same equal shot at it and I haven't heard any excuses around here. It's bad, it's very disappointing, and it's depressing in a lot of ways, but it's not tragic and it's not the end of the world (or the end of the season, for that matter.) Racing is how we make our living, it's what we do, and success on the track is how we're measured, but it's still part of life, and you can't jump off the hotel roof because you DNQd. You have to dig deep within yourself to see how much determination and dedication you have...

Carl was just up in my office, and we were talking about the dynamics of team chemistry, and how that impacts the race car. There are plenty of examples, in the entire sports world, of teams that could barely stand to be around each other, but they still won. And there are groups that are so tight, they're like brothers, but the results don't come. These guys are already tight, even though this group is still learning how to be a team instead of a group of teammates, and we were discussing the topic of how a team faces adversity, and how that is usually a real indicator of a team's potential. Every team has go-getters and leaders, and just about every team has guys who don't have quite as much limitless energy. When the going gets tough, do the leaders lead, or does the whole group slide to the lowest common denominator? From what I'm seeing, and hearing from the guys individually, they're all leading. We can't ask for more than that.

Before I go any further, I do want to thank all of you who have sent notes of support. It really does help to read those emails, and to know our fans and supporters are still behind us, and haven't jumped ship. You find out who your friends are when things aren't all wine and roses, and when this does turn around, and we put the CSK Chevy in the winner's circle, you'll all be there with us.

Speaking of finding out who your friends are, Jim Schoenberger (Vice President at CSK) was just here in my office, and his demeanor and support was terrific, and very uplifting. His first question, asked completely sincerely, was "How's Del?" Jim wants to win as badly as we do, and he's just as crushed when things don't go well, but he also knows how tough this is and he knows you can't yell at the race car. You might want to, but it serves no purpose. He's behind us, and he wants to make sure Del knows that... And you know what? Just like us, he wants to have fun! Doing well in this sport is fun. Winning is a veritable laugh riot. When you get right down to it, and boil it down to its essence, we all really just want to have fun. Patting each other on the back, telling your teammates to "hang in there" is valuable, and supportive, but we need to have some fun.

Del is working with the guys right now, testing parts, measuring the tiniest tolerances, and staying focused on the task. That doesn't mean, though, that he wouldn't drop everything to give a CSK family a VIP thrill. Paul Dudley, one of our key colleagues at CSK for many years, is out here with his boys and some friends, and Del made sure anyone who wanted to sit in the race car could. How often do you get to sit in a real Funny Car? Not very often.

As a matter of fact, I have actually never sat in the car! The fact it's built for Del, and at 6-foot-one I'd barely fit, has something to do with that, but the truth is I've never sat in the car. I've steered it in the staging lanes, but only by jumping on the side pipes, with my feet on the headers, to steer and hold the brake, without ever getting in the seat. So these guys are one step ahead of me...

We'll be out here all day, keeping an ear on the race and entertaining CSK people and their guests. Neighbor Dave and I did switch our flights from midday tomorrow to the last flight out tonight (8:15, getting us back to MSP a bit after midnight) so we'll hang out here until the last guest has left, and then we'll make the run to the airport. I will sleep in my own bed tonight, with my wife and Da Boyce, and that's a good thing.

Well, I guess I better get out there and mingle. We'll just keep facing that music... And then we'll bounce back and get this thing going in the right direction. It will happen. And you'll be there with us.

Wilber, out!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Now this is much better...

For all of you who can't be with us here in Phoenix, who wished you could spend the day at the race track on Friday, let me just say that you didn't miss anything yesterday, and were probably better off than we were. There's almost nothing more exhausting than a full day of nothing at the track, when you're sitting around hoping the weather will give you a chance to do what you came here for, but you know the odds of that are slim.

Yesterday, it was one of those days where you easily could've played golf and not noticed the rain. It was just the smallest of drizzles, all day long. Just one little drop at a time, but for us that's the same as a downpour. The worst part is, when the rain is that light, it seems even more frustrating that we can't get out there. I mean, it was hardly even WET!

Today, the world is a better place! I just went out in front of the transporter to take a shot of our pit with a clear blue sky above it, but right after that this nice young man came along to introduce himself. I've traded a few emails with Cole, answering some questions about how he should proceed if he wants to work in this industry, and I was happy to meet him just a few minutes ago. He plans to attend WyoTech, so that's a good start. His mom was nice enough to take this picture of the two of us, which I'll post here to serve the dual purposes of motivating Cole to keep pursuing his dream while I also show all of you that the sky is blue and the sun is out (and was in my eyes for this pic.) Good luck, Cole!

Yesterday, we came out here ready to rock. As you might recall from yesterday's blog, I described it as cool and overcast when I was writing, but it soon turned into the "drip, drip, drip" I referenced above. We did have ESPN2 in our pit for a while, as Dave Rieff and Mike Dunn did a piece on the 90 percent nitro rule, and how that changes the wear and tear we put on the moving parts (at least I think that's what they were discussing,) and it's always good to have those pros in the pit. Matt Ilas, camera operator extraordinaire, and Jason Pidgeon, a guy who is on everyone's short list for "favorite segment producer," were here for a while, and these guys always know they can show up here whenever they want, and we'll give them all the props and space they need. We call that a standing invitation, and they take us up on it a lot.

Once the bit was "in the can" (old school reference to "finished," since in the old days of film it literally went into a metal can when the shot was complete) Rieff came over to my area and bemoaned his disappointing hockey team, the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning have tons of talent, but they're driving him and many other fans a little nuts with their performance lately. I commiserated with him, because the Wild haven't been playing all that well lately either, and what had been a comfortable lead in the standings is now a sliver of an edge. The top eight teams in each conference make the Stanley Cup playoffs, and right now the Wild are third in the west. Within a day or two, they could be ninth. It's that close.

After the TV crew left the pit, the rain did hold off enough to warm up the car, which we did in the faint hope we might actually get to race. We made a lot of noise, kicked up some fumes, and made a large group of fans happy by giving them something to hear, feel, and smell. And then it rained some more. And some more. We ate Walery's pizza from our custom-installed pizza oven (boy are we popular with a lot of other teams, now that Dave Walery is making a habit of bringing a stack of pizzas with him to each race) and basically just hung out. There's an awful lot of miserable "sitting around" that goes on when the rain is coming down.

We did have the AccuWeather radar going on my computer, and throughout the day there were just enough breaks in the rain to give you hope. We'd stare at the green blobs moving through Arizona and postulate "If this moves just a little north, we could be in the clear for six hours..." and then that exact scenario would work out, but it would drizzle anyway. You can't always believe the radar. I can't count how many times Del has come into my office and asked "How does it look on radar?" and I'll reply "Well, looking at this screen I'd say it's not raining here." One peek outside, of course, would illustrate the fallacy of that assumption.

Leave it to Chad "Snacks" Stockwell to use his rain-delay time for something useful. He grabbed the car wax and some soft towels and went to work. Tell me, is this one shiny looking race car or what? That's how you burn off some energy, pass the time, and do something beneficial all at the same time.

The other major project yesterday also happened up here in my office, when Chuck came in and wanted to see all the scoring from the Pro Bowlers tournament in Indy. His buddy Danny Wiseman went into the round of 16 seeded No. 2, and had been knocking them down in big numbers all day, but was then upset by the No. 15 guy, by a score of four games to three. The way we figured it out, it seems the total pin count matters up until the round of 16, and then it's games. Best four out of seven, just like the World Series, to move on, and Danny lost four games to three. We passed an hour or so just watching the results update on-line, and that's kind of cool when you know the guys who are playing...

Now, as referenced above, it's sunny and beautiful and I'm confident we'll get a chance to do some racing today. We'll set the field on two sessions only, so it's going to be a bit stressful and very exciting out there. Hey, it's just like the new qualifying system, except for there being four spots held for Saturday, we have 16 spots up for grabs!

I'd bet the concept of "going A to B without tire smoke" is on a lot of crew chiefs' minds right now. I know it's on Del's, because we talked about that very subject driving over here this morning.

A bit of a short blog today, but it's better than no blog at all, I think. Time to get to work...

Have a great Saturday, everyone, wherever you are. If it's cold and snowy where you are, stay warm. If it's wet, stay dry. If it's nice, like it is here, get out there and enjoy it. Let's go racing (for real, this time.)

Wilber, out!

Friday, February 22, 2008

We started racin' last night!

Welcome to Firebird International Raceway in lovely Chandler, Ariz. It's a bit overcast today, and nicely cool, which isn't exactly what the Arizona Tourism Bureau wants you to imagine when you think of their desert state, but if it stays like this we'll see some big-time qualifying runs later today. It's likely we'll be one of the first Funny Cars on the track, if not the actual first one in line, when we run at 2:30 (it's 10:00 a.m. as I'm writing this) so it ought to be fun... Fire 'em up!

A couple of years ago, we did a deal on the blog where readers sent in "the view from my window" pics, so I thought I'd start today's blog with the singularly unique view I have from my office in the hospitality transporter. Yes, it's the only time all year I can spin around in my chair to take in a serene "lake view" vista from my office. Often, I have a view of another transporter, all of 12 inches away, so this is nice.

Here in Phoenix, since it's the Checker, Schuck's, Kragen Nationals, we get what has to be considered the No. 1 pit spot. If you've never been to Firebird, just envision the drag strip and the drag boat lake running parallel, and then envision the pro fuel pits running lengthwise between them, right up against the lake. The Top Fuel and Funny Car pits, here, are one long row of transporters, and we're in the first spot as you walk into this part of the facility. The perks of running at your sponsor's race!

Working back to yesterday, Del and I started our Thursday with a shopping trip. Yes you read that correctly, we went shopping. Seems it's the boy's 9th anniversary and he needed to get something special for Connie, plus he needed a new keyboard for the race computer in his office, so we stopped at a Best Buy and got the keyboard, then headed over to a very nice mall and did a little browsing and purchasing. Since Connie isn't here yet, I obviously can't divulge what Del picked out, but let's just say we didn't let it bother us to be two racing guys flipping through the racks in the Ladies Apparel department at a top-end department store. Nice gift, too!

After that, we came out here to the track and took care of some other business. At his new home, Del is in the midst of a finishing his back yard, and part of that project entails a custom-built outdoor grill. He's been researching various grills on-line, so yesterday we set up the computer in the hospitality area, fired up the air card, and he flipped through various websites, comparing grills and overhead exhaust hoods (with what he wants to build, city code will require one.) Should be VERY cool when it's done...

Late in the afternoon, the boys got their work done and put the car away, and at that point in time we fired up my iPod and cranked it through the transporter's sound system. I put it on "shuffle" and we played a spirited game of "Name That Band" with each song. Most of our crew guys weren't even born when I was in high school, and my iPod has music on it ranging from the late 60s to last week, but they showed me something with their knowledge of rock music history. They got every song by Led Zeppelin, Rush, and Van Halen within two notes and, of course, they had almost no trouble with stuff like 3 Doors Down, Trapt, Disturbed, or Hoobastank. Cheap Trick and David Bowie tripped 'em up, but the songs were pretty obscure so you can't expect too much from these "kids"... Major props to Chad, though, when an obscure and very old Genesis song came on, a song none of them could have possibly ever heard before, and Chad listened to it carefully before guessing Peter Gabriel. I not only gave him that one, I gave him bonus points. The song was "Cinema Show" from the album Selling England By The Pound, and Peter Gabriel was the lead singer for Genesis at that time. Good ear, dude!

Finally, around 5:00 last evening, we all headed down to the starting line for our annual CSK Manager's Race, in which about 40 CSK people (including Executive Vice President Brian Woods) and all of us tangle in a six-round drag race with the NHRA Pontiac G6 courtesy cars. It's always a lot of fun, and it starts with a fine catered meal behind the tower. Dig in boys!

Once we had our fill of chicken, ribs, slaw, and veggies, we all wandered out front to the starting line, to get our pre-race instructions from the NHRA guys. Let's see... "Go when the yellow flashes, keep it straight, and the race ends at the finish line. DO NOT race back through the pits!" Basically stuff like that.

They then asked Del to give a few pointers, and he did a fine job explaining all the dirty tricks people can try to pull on you in this race. Things like stuffing the floor mat up under the gas pedal so you can't push it to the floor, or turning on the air conditioner to sap power. You have to watch these guys every step of the way. Nothing is considered cheating unless you get caught.

Every year, when we do this, it starts out calm and everyone is just ready to do it, like it's nothing more than any type of pre-race promotion we might do as a team. As soon as it starts, though, everyone (and I mean everyone, including Del) gets into it and gets fired up. It doesn't matter that you're running 15 seconds at 92 mph, it's a race and everyone's competitive side comes out.

Just about all of our guys entered, and were all plotting their strategies. In the end, none of us made it as far as the semifinal though. The only hitch with the race is that the cars are all the same, but they don't run the same. Within a round or two you can easily spot which ones are a little quicker, and and every year it seems there's one car that's just a little slower (could be as simple as the NHRA person still having their luggage in the trunk, or it having a full tank of gas while the other's are half-full) but you can't pick your car. When it's your time to go, you have to take the car that's next in line. I had one of those in round two, when I raced our crew buy Matt. I left on him big-time (sorry dude, I'm just reporting the facts) but by 330 feet his car came around me and there wasn't much I could do about it.

In the same interest of fair reporting, however, I will state clearly that someone did all they could to sabotage my run. When I hopped in the car, the heater was on, the radio was blaring, the windows were down, and the seat warmer was cranked to the max. I spent 20 seconds just turning everything off before I could stage the car. I never found the button for the seat warmer until the lap was over... You gotta watch these guys, I'm telling ya.

So there you have it. We did some racin' last night, but now it's getting to be time to go do it for real! Let's rock...

Wilber, out!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Welcome to Phoenix!

Where do I begin...? I'll start with the brief apology about how late in the day I'm writing this, but we've had some stuff going on and it seemed more prudent to wait until the main thing (the NHRA press conference) was over, so here we are... I'll start right where I left off yesterday, and we'll go from there...

My flight left right on time, landed right on time, and wasn't too bad, despite the fact I was crammed in a window seat in row 21 and the five seats next to, and in front of, me featured two exhausted parents and three children, the oldest of which was, perhaps, five. It's pretty common, in coach, to have a child (or someone acting like a child) behind you, beating on the tray table like it's a set of bongo drums, not realizing said tray table is permanently affixed to the back of your chair, but this time it was the opposite. I had my iPod and the book I was reading on my own tray table, but the nice young lass in the window seat ahead of me was convinced that a solid hour of slamming her back into her seat (thereby knocking my book out of my hands and my iPod onto my lap) would, at some point, convince her mom to let her have whatever it was she was craving. I'm not sure who won that battle, but it wasn't me...

I cranked the volume, put up the tray table, opened my book, and went off into a world the likes of which only Michael Crichton can take you. It was his book Next from late in 2006, all about genetic engineering and scientific shenanigans, and even at 550 pages it was such a page-turner I managed to finish it before going to bed last night. Much like Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park, I'd be very surprised if we don't see this one on the big screen fairly soon.

Upon arrival at the hotel late yesterday afternoon, I began my own sordid journey of exactly the sort of frustrating thing every manager of every rock band has most likely also experienced (and you know, the parallels between being the manager of a drag racing team and being the manager of a rock band are many, not the least of which are the hours and the noise level...)

Once I approached the front desk I discovered we had missing rooms, guys reserved for the wrong types of rooms (doubles instead of kings, suites instead of doubles) and incorrect arrival dates. I won't name the hotel (it rhymes with Holly Day Inn) but let's just say it's been a fun 24 hours here, shuffling people around, asking stone-faced clerks questions as simple as "Now why would you give Mr. Worsham's guaranteed room away at 3:00 in the afternoon?" and having our allies at Motorsports Travel call the manager to ask the same questions... Such fun. For the record, the hotel is under renovation, but still...

This is why, almost universally, the first thing I do when I arrive in the race city is check in at the hotel, even if it's in the wrong direction from the airport. Over the years, you come to expect these establishments to operate at a certain consistent level (notice I didn't say "level of competence") and until I'm safely checked in, and see that all my guys have rooms, I'm stressed out. This time, the stress followed me to bed and right into the next day. 24 hours later, we have Del in something closer to what he's supposed to be in (they're going to move him again, on Friday, or so they say) and I think we're okay. I'm still in the wrong kind of room but gave up worrying about it, and we still have four more people due to arrive, so anything is possible...

This morning, with a fresh new attitude, we headed up to Phoenix for the NHRA press conference, at Morton's Steakhouse. Our show car, which we parked on the curb outside the restaurant, was with us, along with Jack Beckman and "Hot Rod" Fuller. The only bad thing happened to be related to a certain large guy named Shaq (Mr. Diesel, to you and me) who is making his debut with the local b-ballers, the Phoenix Suns, tonight. Since the Suns shoot-around was the media's big chance to interview Mr. O'Neal prior to his Suns' debut, our soiree was less well attended than his.

It reminded me of the time we had the pre-race press conference at Mike Ditka's restaurant, in downtown Chicago, and all the big-time Chicago papers and TV stations confirmed they'd be there. That confirmation held up right until the moment some guy named Michael Jordan called a press conference, on the same day and at the same time, to announce he was coming out of retirement. And I bet some poor guy threw a no-hitter the day the Hindenburg crashed, too. Someone always gets the short end of the stick with the media...

We had a nice lunch, did some interviews with the writers who were there, and it was actually better than the Chicago deal, because the NHRA Media Relations guys (Zak and Brian, at this race) did a great job getting a few reporters to ignore the basketball story and come out anyway. How you compete, at all, with Shaquille O'Neal's local debut is a very good question and, frankly, I don't have the answer (other than calling all the stations and pretending you're Shaq, saying "All a mistake. I'm not playing tonight. Sorry.")

Speaking of the Suns, though, they are playing the Lakers tonight and apparently the L.A. team is staying at the fine hotel (known as the Ritz) right next door to Morton's. While we were inside, according to the doorman, a number of very tall guys in warm-up suits came over and looked at our show car, and most took pics of it. So how 'bout that!

As my final reference to the press conference, I shall indulge in a bit of cross-blogination. Today's final photo is of Fast Jack, who shared a table with us. I believe he's offering to sign my shirt, or something... Funny guy, that Beckman. Actually, I really mean that! He's a very funny guy, who can keep a whole table in stitches. And his blog is very good, too. (Jack, send the check to my office, and make it out to me.)

Now, Del and I are back at our favorite hotel in the whole wide world. Do you think the Lakers had room issues when they showed up at their place last night? I wonder if the desk clerk said "I'm sorry Mr. Kobe, or Mr. Bryant, or whatever your name is, all we have is a room with one single bed. Would that be okay?"

In two hours, we're heading up the road where a certain restaurant is holding a table for 12 at 6:30. We're having dinner with small group of truly dear friends, all of whom used to work for CSK throughout most of our 12 years with the company. It's going to be a fun night out, just enjoying a meal and a beverage with good friends. I suspect we'll fall right back into ribbing each other, and then we'll blame it all on Joe... Some things never change!

Wilber, out!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Random thoughts prior to winging my way westward...

Nothing cohesive here today, but I have 45 minutes to kill before I board my flight to PHX (still stuck, as of now, in 21-A) so why not cram a whole slew of disconnected thoughts into a quick blog...?

Going back to yesterday, the final part of my pre-race thrash had to do with juggling hotels rooms. As it turned out, Del and Chuck discovered the motorhome had decided it wanted no part of a trip to Phoenix, so it's out of commission this week and getting repaired. That meant I needed to add a room at the hotel for Chuck, and change Del's arrival date by three days, since he had planned on staying in the motorhome until Friday. With the hotel fully booked, that wasn't exactly as easy task, but we worked it out.

On top of that, the crew guys' rooms were scheduled to start on Wednesday, but they're obviously torqued up and ready to go racing because they asked me if I could move their arrival up to today. I guess they just can't wait to get to Phoenix. We had to do some shuffling there, but as of this morning it sounds like Motorsports Travel has it all worked out for us. And Chuck won't have to sleep in the lobby, which is a good thing.

Moving ahead to this morning... Ah, the wonders of the human brain and the overriding desire to not oversleep. I didn't even have to get up any earlier than usual today, as I wanted to be pulling out of the driveway at 9:00, but I woke up three times in the early morning hours, convinced it was time to get up. The odd thing was, reality and dreams were mixing together in a surreal sort of way... Apparently still asleep, I was convinced I had opened my eyes and looked at my watch, to see the hands at 6:35 a.m., only to then really open my eyes to see that it was actually only 3:45 (the first time,) and then 4:30, and finally 5:45. Amazing what the brain can do (or at least this mess of confusion I have inside my head) all on its own.

Finally, when it got to be about 6:30, a certain large black rug by the name of Buster decided to take matters into his own paws by laying directly on top of Barb's entire left arm, in an effort to pin her permanently in place. It didn't work, in the long run, but it made finally getting out of bed all the harder for both of us. Boofus, for some reason, has developed a new habit in which he moves immediately from the bed to a chair by the window, every morning, as soon as the sun comes up. After all, there are birds out there and he doesn't want to miss any of that action!

I'm not paying for parking this week (a good thing, considering I'll be gone more than six days) because a really nice and attractive cab driver, named Barbara, drove me to MSP. First time I've ever been in an Audi A6 Quattro taxi, which was nice. The funny part was, Barb didn't have any cash on her so when we got to the airport I got out of the car and handed her some money, for breakfast and lunch. I said "The airport police will probably pull you over and arrest you for being an illegal and unlicensed taxi service. You'll somehow have to convince them your fare was really your husband, who just happened to be paying you for the ride." Apparently, she got away with it...

She did, however, call me just a few minutes ago to let me know that WCCO Radio has announced that the long-rumored Northwest/Delta merger appears imminent. A couple of years ago, I was sitting here in the World Club writing a blog, and I mentioned the uncomfortable news I had just heard, that the airline I fly every week had just declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Today, it's a merger. Wonder how long I'll be able to look out the window from the World Club and see one of these planes...?

We've been hearing about this for a long time, and no one has said how the new airline will look, act, or where they'll have their hubs. I really don't care what name is on the outside of the plane, and the seats can hardly get any less comfortable, but what I do care about are all the miles I've earned, my elite status, and having a major hub here at MSP. If I have to start over in a new frequent flier program, or have to start connecting in Atlanta or Salt Lake City, I might was well fly American and just connect in Chicago... Neither of those options sound good to me. Here's hoping the new combined airline will keep a hub here in the Twin Cities...

Sounds like Del will be flying over to Phoenix tonight, so I'll have to connect with him once I land, to see if he needs me to pick him up at the airport or not. Connie is coming over the weekend, so I suspect Del might rent a car so that she can get around on her own. Our hotel is no more than five minutes from the track, so convenience is a big plus this week.

Got a note this morning from blog reader Tom, who took my advice and downloaded the song "Sylvia" by Focus. He liked it quite a bit, and nailed the ambience of the song with his comment, "Ah the sound of an old Stratocaster thru a tubed Marshall stack....almost like 90% Nitro."

I hadn't thought of it that way, but his analysis was right on. There's a reason Alex Lifeson, the guitarist from Rush, still plays through old-school amps on stage, and then has that sound piped through the P.A. There's a certain rich sound those old-style amps produced that can't be replicated by today's technology. I told Tom he might be ready to download his next Focus song, the 24-minute opus called "Eruption." Now there's a song you have to be in shape for...

Finally, about a year ago I got a note from a blog reader in New York, who told me he reads the blog regularly while working as an actor on Broadway! First of all, how cool is that! His name is Buck, and he's just landed a role in the touring company of "Jersey Boys", a musical about Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, and his first stop on the tour will be the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis, in about a month. Barbara and I will be his guests at a show, and then get to do something neither of us have ever done: Wait at the stage door to meet one of the actors! What this blog hath wrought... We're looking forward to it!

Time to head to the gate... See you in Phoenix!

Wilber, out!

Monday, February 18, 2008

The pre-race thrash...

We usually say about the race car, "Give us six months or six minutes, either one, and we'll be thrashing to get it ready in the end." The same goes for all the stuff I have to do before a race, and since this is the week of the Checker, Schuck's, Kragen Nationals, it's all amped up a few more notches.

Usually, I fly out to meet the team on Thursday. In Pomona, because we race on Thursday, I go out on Wednesday. In Phoenix, because it's the CSK Nationals, it's a Tuesday departure, so today is my "thrash day". LOL, it's also "trash day" here in Woodbury, where it's about 6 degrees, the wind is howling, the snow is blowing, and my trash cans (positioned by the curb) look to be about four miles away. At some point, I have to go out there and get them, because they're empty now and a good gust of wind could send them rolling down the street. Hang on, I'll go do that now... (play theme music.)

Boy, it's really nice out! It's not snowing, but it did last night and now all of those sharp little crystals are flying through the air like miniature darts, looking for any exposed skin. They particularly like it if you don't have your jacket zipped up all the way up, so that they can fly down the back of your neck. Sweet! Anyway, "trash day" is now concluded, so it's back to "thrash day."

Yes, I've been home for nearly a week. But, the first day after Pomona was consumed by travel, and the next couple of days were my chance to wrap up all those details (updating stats, working on our new Media Guide stuff, etc.) and then I tried to relax a bit over the weekend.

That plan wasn't 100 percent accomplished, because I actually spent an hour or so yesterday writing a pre-Phoenix feature story about Del, our team, and the CSK Nationals in Phoenix. A lot of people come to this blog by heading to first, then clicking on the blog box, then coming here, but I know many of you simply bookmark the blog page, or even this blog, to get here, so it's worth showing you what the front page of looks like right now. By getting this story put together on Sunday, we were able to take advantage of a Monday morning "open slot" and get our story posted...

If you've read the feature, my guess is that many of you might not have realized we're in a one-year extension of our deal with CSK, but that's exactly the situation and it was worth doing a story about how all of us (we use Del as the point man to represent us, because he is, was, and always will be "the man" around here) want to step up in Phoenix in the most extreme way. I don't mean that necessarily just for our own good, because we feel very good about ourselves and the car, and our sponsorship situation for 2009 will resolve itself one way or another (we have a lot of good people working on it.) We just know this would be a great time to step up and give our friends at CSK a big weekend.

Every year, we head to Phoenix hoping to do well, hoping to give ourselves and our sponsors something to cheer about. Twice, in the last six years, we've ended the weekend in Phoenix by jumping around and going crazy, and the sight of our sponsor partners doing that with us, and then joining us in the Winner's Circle, would qualify as two of those "priceless" moments. Looking ahead at this weekend, as Brian Wilson once wrote... "Wouldn't it be nice..." Well, we're going there this week with that as a goal, for all of our friends at CSK, past and present, and if we don't succeed, it won't be due to a lack of effort, I promise you that. And yes, it would be nice...

As for race week, it does begin early. I'll fly out to Phoenix tomorrow afternoon, and Del will come in first thing Wednesday. Our initial stop will be the NHRA Press Conference right after he lands, and just to make it a bit more enjoyable they're having it at Morton's Steakhouse! We can combine some great publicity, for the race, for CSK, and for Del, with some great food. You'll hear no complaints from the Worsham Racing contingent.

We have other media stuff to do, as well as some fun activities with the CSK staff and a lot of their key vendors (remember the VIP race we do on Thursday night, driving NHRA Pontiac courtesy cars on the Firebird track?) We look forward to all of it, and we mostly look forward to seeing our friends; people we've shared this sponsorship with for 12 years.

Before I head to the airport tomorrow morning, there are Media Guides to pick up from Kinko's, a few more small assignments to handle with the press, and some creative packing to do (getting six days worth of clothes into the same bag that's full when I'm leaving for four days.) One assignment that is complete is the update of our website at, and all the new guys can be seen in all their proud glory on the TEAM CSK page. We've also posted pics from Pomona...

Well, I just took a minute to check-in for my flight, and the whole "fingers crossed for an upgrade" scenario is not going well. Right now I'm in seat 21-A, which means I might have to check my legs as baggage, since those coach seats were not designed for a guy who is over 6 feet tall. No worries, I'll take a book, crank up the iPod, and deal with it.

Speaking of the iPod, I just downloaded some new stuff yesterday, including a bunch of music from one of my favorite "brainiac" bands from the 1970s; a Dutch band called Focus. You might remember their one hit, a goofy song called "Hocus Pocus" that featured the keyboard player yodeling. As is often the case, that song came nowhere near illustrating just how talented they were. If you want to hear guitar work from another dimension, just listen to Jan Akkerman play on the Focus song called "Sylvia", which is easy to find on iTunes or other download sites. Amazing stuff, really... The band didn't actually have a singer, because Akkerman could make his guitar "sing" the vocals...

So there you have it, a little impromptu music tip to cap off this pre-race week blog. We referenced Brian Wilson, Focus, and could easily have slipped in the Glen Campbell nod with "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" but that seemed far too easy...

Now let's get to Phoenix and have some fun!

Wilber, out!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Have a great weekend!

It's late on a Friday afternoon, which means all of you who regularly follow this blog will probably be catching up to this installment over the next couple of days, rather than the standard "first thing in the morning." That's a good thing, because I plan to spend the weekend with my lovely wife and two fuzzy cats, doing not much of anything but enjoying our time together.

Barbara and I have been flying in different directions lately, the Phoenix race just happens to be known as the Checker, Schuck's, Kragen Nationals, so my schedule is going to be pretty hectic once the sun comes up on Monday, and all of that adds up our mutual desire to spend some valuable quality time here at home. Therefore, even though I rarely blog on a Friday afternoon, I thought I'd release myself from the work I was doing, writing new bios for all of our new crew guys and updating all the bios for our team members who are returning, in order write this "have a good weekend" blog...

I have two more of these bios to go, and then our Media Guide will be completely updated for 2008. I'm more than happy to point out that crew guys Carl and Kevin apparently thought the "Crew Member Bio Form" I gave them to fill out was treated with some sort of invisible poison, since they managed to keep them hidden and untouched for a couple of weeks. Kind of hard to write a bio about a guy when all you know is his name. Chad, on the other hand, handed in his homework in Pomona. Way to go, Snacks! Better late than never.

I finally grabbed a note pad at the track last week, and cornered the guys to get the abbreviated versions of their life stories. Combine that with the results of "Photo Day" (everyone's new headshots) and I had what I needed to get this all updated. What you see here is the first draft of the printed versions, but before the weekend is out we should have all the new stuff uploaded to our website as well.

One of the first calls I got this morning was from Jeff Arend, who rang me up just to thank me for getting his story and the whole "day at the commercial shoot" into yesterday's blog. I said "Dude, don't thank me. I'm thanking you! That was so well done all I had to do was cut and paste." I think Jeff really did a great job on that, and the excitement of how cool the whole experience was really came through in what he wrote. He did tell me today, though, about how the Cayenne "camera car" was following him off the starting line to get a cool live-action "chase" shot, when the Blue Max suddenly smoked the tires. Jeff got back on the throttle and got it down the track for the shot, but I guess the driver of the Cayenne came pretty close to rear-ending our favorite Nostalgia FC when it lost traction and slowed suddenly... But, hey, don't tell Del, we'll just keep that as our secret. And, apparently Jeff's expert pedaling job created a heck of a great shot, with the camera car staying right with the Max going down the first part of the track.

Up here in the north country, we've had some real winter going on since I got back from So Cal. I believe Sven Sundgaard mentioned, in the paper today, that this morning was the 18th day we've started with sub-zero temperatures, so far this winter, and that's actually still a little behind our average. You do get somewhat accustomed to it, though... I went out to get a hair cut today, and on the way back needed to put gas in my car. As I was doing that, my cell phone rang and it was Del asking "What are you doing?" I said "I'm putting gas in my car, with a light jacket on, and no gloves. I only say that because it's 6 degrees." He laughed and said, "Well, it was 56 here yesterday, and everyone had on more clothes than you do right now. You're nuts!" That I am. It's a Minnesota thing...

On my way to getting my haircut, I passed a small park here in Woodbury and saw something I've been thinking about mentioning, and showing, for a while. I pulled into the parking lot, grabbed the camera, and got this quick pic. Nothing unusual, right? Just an outdoor skating rink. There are outdoor skating rinks in lots of places. Heck, in St. Louis I grew up skating on Friday nights at the Webster Groves outdoor rink, with all my grade-school friends. The only difference is, those other rinks are refrigerated, to keep the ice frozen...

Here, they just pour asphalt, put up some boards, and then flood it with a couple of inches of water. Instant skating rink, for the whole winter! And, since it's a much more controlled environment and the Parks Dept. can work on the ice, the surface is much smoother than on the pond. There are rinks like this all over the state, anyplace there's a flat piece of public ground... Grab your skates and come on up!!!

Side note: Pitchers and catchers are reporting to Spring Training right now. The world will once again spin normally on its axis, and I'm but weeks away from the joy of watching "Baseball Tonight" every evening on ESPN. My wife is, of course, thrilled by that prospect.

Speaking of sports, though, I'm surprised I haven't heard from Jane and Chris, my blog reader friends up Vancouver way, after last night's Wild/Canucks game. Jane is the avid (nutty) Canucks fan who wagered with me on a game last year (which my boys lost in a shoot-out). Well, I missed the first half of the game because Barbara and I finally had a chance to go up to Prestwick Country Club for our Valentine's dinner last night (oh no, we DO NOT belong there, but the restaurant is open to the public, and we call going there "having dinner at Bushwood") but when we got home it was obvious both teams were fired up and the pace was terrific. The Wild were up, but the Canucks came back. They were up, but the Wild came back. It finally ended in a tie. Overtime couldn't settle it, but this time the Wild sent the Canucks' fans home quietly, by winning the shoot-out. Somehow I think I might have heard about it had the shoot-out gone the other way, eh Jane? Just kidding. Sort of.

I'll close today with the best example of "brotherly love" I can come up with. Tons of people have been harping at me to keep a regular rotation of Boofus and Buster pics in the blog, but it really is hard to get shots of them, other than when they're sleepy-heads. I can't tell you how many digital pics I have of their tails, butts, one paw, or their heads turned the wrong way, because I wasn't quick enough to catch them doing something hilarious.

Yesterday, I walked into the living room and found them both sleeping on the middle level of their "kitty condo," which is barely big enough for one of them... They allowed me one shot before putting their heads back down and going back to sleep...

Once again, have a great weekend. I'll be back on Monday, and then head for Phoenix on Tuesday for those Checker, Schuck's, Kragen Nationals (that name sounds so familiar...)

Wilber, out!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Check the date, fellas...

I'm here for you. I've got your back. Today is February 14th, and you should all know what that means! Here, it means a dozen red roses, a sincere note in a card, and a nice dinner out. And boy does my wife deserve some pampering today. She spent the last two days in New York City, walking around mid-town Manhattan from meeting to meeting. On Tuesday, it was snowing so hard she was covered in snow by the time she walked a block. Yesterday, it was pouring rain and she only had a little travel umbrella, so she got totally soaked before she could even get to her flight home. It might have been cold and snowy last night, but we enjoyed a 30-minute session in the hot tub, just to help her recover from all of that.

Yes, it's still winter around these here parts, and that can mean snow, just like those two or three fluffy inches we got last night. So, since I need to get out there and scrape it off the driveway, I'm enlisting the expert help of my friend and colleague, Jeff Arend, who will tell you all about the commercial shoot he, Grant Downing, Cory Lee, and Seth Randall were part of on Wednesday. We still can't name the company, but this ad will air eventually and then you'll remember you heard it all here first! Take it away, Jeff...

How a normal Wednesday turned into an awesome experience.

Tuesday night I got a call from my buddy Del Worsham, who asked me if I could drive his "Blue Max" nostalgia Funny Car for an upcoming commercial over at Irwindale Speedway on Wednesday, because he was busy testing in Vegas and wanted to stay another day to make sure he was back up to speed. Of course I said "No way!"... NOT!!

I showed up at the dragstrip at 8:00 a.m. and met with Grant Downing, Seth Randall, and the infamous Cory Lee. I was expecting a few camera guys and their helpers, but instead there were over 100 people hustling and bustling, three or four top-of-the-line motor coaches, as well as the cool movie tractor trailers with the "Wardrobe" and "Make-up" signs on them. I must be better looking than I thought because I never got called into the make-up trailer. Oh, and there just happened to be two of the top running backs in the NFL there, to take part in this commercial. Here's the Vikings' star rookie, Adrian Peterson, checking out his last "take."

Anyway, Leonard (our liaison to the producer) came over around 9:00 and said, "Why don't you guys get some breakfast?" We looked over and saw a normal-looking catering truck, and thought, okay, no big deal. We finally walked over there and, lo and behold, this was big time grub! After a little smoked salmon and one of the best bacon and egg burritos ever; I was full. Later we went by the snack tent and had some chocolate-covered strawberries, fresh fruit and about any other "snack" you could think of. After that we had lunch, as in a sirloin steak cooked to perfection, with green beans and rice on a china plate, with real silverware and a presentation you would find at a Ruth's Chris. Unbelievable... I'm glad I don't do that everyday, otherwise I wouldn't have fit into my trusty CSK blue fire suit, or the race car for that matter!

Now let's get to the cool stuff... Driving the Blue Max. It is way different than a contemporary Funny Car. You've got the two-speed transmission, with the old-school manual shifter handle between your legs, lay-down seat, low roof, no throttle stop, no side windows and lots of visibility, except for the injector which is as high as the roof! It was fun to drive but during a commercial you do things a little differently, like doing a burnout and then backing up and shutting the motor off for a half-hour, and then starting it back up and, with no burnout, launching it from 60 feet behind the starting line, hitting the 'chute at the Christmas Tree and then, instead of letting off, keeping it floored for another 150 feet so they can film the 'chute at full blossom. Basically all the stuff you are not supposed to do when you race one for real!!

Oh, I forgot to mention the awesome matte black Porsche Cayenne "camera car". This thing was so cool it was unbelievable, and the cockpit looked like the Space Shuttle.

We all had a great time and the "shoot" went well. We even got to launch it at dusk with the flames popping out of the headers as it idled! Thanks again to Del for giving me another "once in a lifetime experience!"

Finally, I have to insert a shameless plug here for my boss. Since 2001 I have worked, on and off, for Gale Banks Engineering or Banks Power. I just went back to work last Monday and immediately took a few hours off on Wednesday for a dentist appointment and then two half-days on Thursday and Friday to go to the Winternationals. Imagine their surprise when I told them last night that I wouldn't be in on Wednesday either! Luckily they understood... So if you ever need any "hop up parts" for your Ford ,Chevy or Dodge diesel or gas truck, make sure to call me at work!! 1-800-GET-POWER

Arend out (of days off at work!)

Thanks, Jeff! I think we can all agree that your day with the Hollywood moguls sounded like a very cool experience. And, you know, I'm just gonna go out on a limb here and mention that it does look like Adrian Peterson might spend just a little time in the weight room, eh? Geez, I wouldn't want to tackle the guy. No wonder he rushed for all those yards.

In the bottom pic, you can see how they wrapped the Blue Max in black and green vinyl (and yes, the company did sign an agreement promising to have it completely restored and repainted if the vinyl pulled off any of the paint or gold foil upon removal). What you can also see is the fact the producers hung fake billboards over the real ones at Irwindale. They're just generic nonsense products, rather than real companies... It's all part of the movie-making illusion!

Oh, and special thanks to Windy Arend, for sending me all the pics! I wonder if she'll be listed on the credits as "Key Grip" or "Best Boy" or "Special Assistant to Mr. Arend"...?

So there you have it for today. That driveway isn't going to shovel itself, so I have to go...

Wilber, out!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Kodak moment...

I'll explain the headline in a minute, and it ranks as one of those "you'll never believe this" moments in our blog's history, but first it's time to file an update from Las Vegas, where the team headed after Pomona. They were able to get on the track three times yesterday, and made a really nice pass on the first run (a mid-4.80 shutting off a little early), then got aggressive on the next one and smoked the tires. On the last try, the sun was going down, the Vegas track was growing those famous teeth it often bares, and they shook. I just talked to Marc Denner, who said "That last one was just our fault; we got behind a little and really weren't paying attention to what time it was. We backed it down a little from the second run, where we overpowered the track, but the track got so much better we probably could've just left it alone and zipped right down there. Basically, we changed the tune-up from the run before, but the track changed so much we went the wrong way."

So, rather than pack up and head home, they stayed over another night and are back out there today. More on this subject in later blogs. The stayover did cause one alteration in plans, for Del and Chuck. They had agreed to let a certain "very famous" company use our Blue Max nostalgia car for a TV commercial today, and Del was going to drive it, although you wouldn't have known that, because the car will be covered in some other vinyl, and the driver won't be visible. The producer just really wanted a car like the Max so Del agreed to do it. The "real" race car comes first on the priority list, though, so Jeff Arend is driving the Max at the TV shoot, with Grant Downing and Cory Lee helping him. I just talked to Jeff, who said it's quite the impressive deal, with rows of big rigs, about 100 people working, and high-tech Hollywood equipment everywhere. Once the ad is done, and starts to run, you'll find out who the company is (I'm not sure if I'm allowed to say here) so keep an eye out for an old-style Funny Car on a TV commercial later this year.

Okay, back to the headline on this blog... Being members of this newly formed cyber-world known as "the blogosphere," most of us who write these columns also keep track of other blogs, whether they're in the same industry (I never miss Burgess' blog, or Todd Myers' for that matter, which I always rush to see when it's been updated) or are about something else completely. I also have a dozen other blogs, about a wide variety of subjects not related to racing, tabbed on the "Bookmarks Bar" on my laptop (if the term "Bookmarks Bar" sounds unfamiliar, it's a Mac thing...) and it's amazing how many really good blogs there are out there.

One other blog writer, who just happens to be a man of some corporate importance, spotted the piece I wrote a few weeks back, where I showed the new digital picture frame Barbara and I got (and love) while I also mentioned the difficult (slow) procedures involved with printing your own digital pics at home...

Tom Hoehn was the guy, and he dropped me a quick line to tell me about a new Kodak printer/scanner/copier that is taking the market by storm. He should know, since he's Kodak's Director of Brand Communications & New Media. We traded a few emails, caught up on each other's work, and decided to stay in touch, since Tom seems like an all-around ace of a guy and is into racing. Wanting me to have a pleasant "Kodak experience" was a priority for Tom, as well, and when I came home from Pomona I was surprised to see this new Kodak EasyShare 5300 in my office!

It scans, prints, copies, and I'm pretty sure it will make you breakfast if you know which button to push. It's incredible, and I really have to thank Tom and the fine people at Kodak for sending this to me to try out. Tom writes a blog for Kodak, which you see here

Thanks, Tom!

On the subject of photographs, I have to relay this brief story and the next pic with you. I was standing near our Funny Car body in the pit area in Pomona, when a guy walked up to me, introduced himself as Paul, and asked if we could have our picture taken together. After asking him if he really wanted his pic taken with me (as opposed to someone important, like say ... Del Worsham!) he said yes and asked me just to play along and not be surprised by the way he was going to act when the shutter was clicked. We took the pic, he said "You'll see what I'm up to soon," shook my hand, and walked away...

A couple of days later, Paul's masterwork arrived via email and is presented here, for your viewing enjoyment. Now that's hilarious! Thanks Paul, you had me worried for a second, but it turned out great and I laughed out loud when I saw it. A lot of other readers have been clamoring for more pics of Da Boyce, but I haven't been able to get any new shots of them lately. They run too fast...

Switching gears from funny pics to racing-related jewelry, I recently had one of my favorite rings resized (either the gold band was shrinking or my fingers were getting thicker; I'm guessing maybe the latter option is more viable) and I picked it up yesterday. Yes, boys and girls, this is my very own Castrol 4-Second Club ring, from back in the olden days, when getting a Funny Car to the finish line in less than five seconds was quite a feat. Enough of a feat, actually, that rings like this were offered to the teams that did it. We accomplished the deal on May 2, 1998, at the Texas Motorplex, by running 4.983. Now, with my ring resized to fit my finger (I've been doing a lot of working out, bulking up my digits; yeah, that's it, that's the ticket!) I can proudly wear it again.

For those who are wondering, the Castrol 4-Second Club recognized the first 16 drivers who dipped into "the 4s" in a Funny Car. For the record, Chuck Etchells was the first to do it (October 1, 1993), Del was the 14th member, and Tom Hoover was the final inductee (Oct. 23, 1998.) It's kind of hard to believe that it took more than five years to fill the 16 spots, and now we have bump spots in the 4.80s all the time...

Another ring I don't wear, but am very proud to own is shown in today's final pic. It belonged to my father, and was given to him by the Minnesota Twins after they won the American League pennant in 1965. My dad wasn't in uniform with the team. He was their top scout at the time, but the club made sure to give him a diamond-less version of their A.L. Championship rings, which was very generous of them. When Dad passed away, my sister Mary went through all of his memorabilia, and his Twins ring was the one piece I chose.

The detail on the side of the ring is my favorite part, with the two "Twin" ballplayers (the guy on the left represents Minneapolis, and his buddy represents St. Paul) and an overhead view of old Metropolitan Stadium behind them... The other side of the ring has my dad's name on it, under the famous "TC" logo.

Well that's it for today. Thanks again, to Tom at Kodak!

Wilber, out!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Heading home...

Greetings from John Wayne Airport in Orange County (gate 3 to be precise.) I've got a couple of hours until my flight leaves, and won't be home until pretty late tonight, Minnesota time, so this seems like a good time to clack away at the keyboard for a while...

We spent the full day at the track yesterday, entertaining CSK customers and watching each round. The guys did all their service work, while Del and I made some calls to see where they might go test for a day. He wanted to go to Firebird Raceway in Phoenix, but in the end they had some contracted functions going on at their facility, and the track was not available. So, the decision was made to go over to Las Vegas for a day, just to make a couple of shakedown laps all the way to the finish line. The track conditions in Vegas are often kind of "off the charts" (in a "too good" sort of way) but it's the best place to go on short notice, and I know the guys are eager to get back on the track for a day.

With that in mind, we needed to find the guys some hotel rooms for tonight, but The Cannery was booked solid so I contacted our booking agent Laurie, at Motorsports Travel, and they found a great rate at the Palace Station. It's not quite as convenient as The Cannery (no other hotel on our list of possibilities is) but it is closer than all the big resorts on The Strip, so it should work out okay

Once I got up this morning, got checked out, and hit the road, I had some time to spare before my afternoon flight, so I decided to take a bit of a detour and do a little 20-mile drive up "the PCH", the beautiful Pacific Coast Highway. I actually used to live in the little town of Dana Point, which is on the coast down near San Clemente (way back, in 1990 when I was doing promotions for Converse Shoes) so I drove down there to see if my favorite little doughnut shop was still there (it is) and then got on the PCH with the intention of having lunch in Laguna Beach, at a great little Mexican restaurant called Javier's. That all went well, and the scenery was beautiful, but Javier's is, sadly, not in the same "still in business" category as my little doughnut shop in Dana Point. It's still a Mexican restaurant, but I had my heart set on their special queso fundido, so I didn't even bother to park once I saw it's now called "The Cabana."

I did park the car atop the bluff in Laguna Beach, though, just to take some beautiful So Cal shots I could share with all of you who are in the midst of a real winter. It was 73 degrees, the sky was blue, the water azure, and the surfers were even catching a few waves. Basically, it was "post card gorgeous" and well worth the trip, just to smell the sea breeze and hear the ocean... In just a few hours, I'll be walking off NWA flight 149 back home in The Land of 10,000 Lakes, and it will be about 73 degrees "cooler" than here. These pics will be fun to see tomorrow, as I look out my office window and see nothing but frozen ponds and snow...

Here's a quick aside, full of nothing more than anecdotal evidence, but noteworthy just the same. This is my 12th season doing this, getting on airplanes wearing my CSK Racing apparel, and over the grand majority of that span of time, outgoing sorts who would notice the logos on my shirt would usually ask either "Do you work for Checker?" or "Are you into racing, like NASCAR or something?" Nothing much changed in that department for many seasons, but just in the last couple of years I have sensed a shift, and it happened again when I returned my Hertz car here at John Wayne. The guy didn't ask either of the more standard questions, he was much more specific in a way I'm hearing more and more often. He saw my shirt and said, "Cool. Do you work for Del Worsham?" That used to never happen, but now it does all the time.

A few weeks ago, I was even checking out at Kowalski's, our local Woodbury grocery store, wearing my 2005 Indy "winner's jacket," which has no mention of our team on it, and the kid bagging my stuff looked at it, knew who had won the 2005 Funny Car trophy, and said "You must work for Del Worsham!" Now how cool is that! Not only is our sport getting more well-known (I credit the ESPN2 agreement for much of that, since we're on a popular network for upwards of 200 hours each year) but my boss himself is becoming more of a recognized guy, so much so that a high school kid in Woodbury, Minn. could add it all up and ask me about Del...

Shifting back to the track now, I know I've posted this first pic on here before (probably about a year ago) but it's worth posting again, as part of a two-part "magical aging machine" thing... This first shot features fan and friend Juliet, who asked me if I'd pose for this picture, in Seattle, way back in 1998. Since then, I see Juliet and her family at least three times a year, at West Coast races, and we always take a new group shot to add to the archives. This year, they even brought me the complete set, from over the years, in a little photo album! Way cool!

Anyway, this time we decided, on Sunday, to do a new version of our original shot, just to compare how we've changed over the last decade or so...

I do not think it's fair that Juliet simply went from being a cute little girl to such an attractive young lady, while I just appear to have gotten much older. Kind of scary to look at, actually...

I mentioned in one of my race blogs from Pomona that I was going to put together an "On The Run..." column with Chuck, and we got that done on Sunday (we had some spare time, if you know what I mean.) He was pretty happy to do it, and I think we got some good stuff, including (of course) a couple of paragraphs about bowling. Look for it in the Phoenix souvenir issue...

In that same issue, you can also look for an interview ND writer Brad Littlefield did with Del, and a surprise new deal I completed recently for that issue. It's a new sort of feature Phil Burgess came up with, and he asked me to help kick it off with a piece about marketing and public relations. Since all of that is in the issue for the CSK Nationals, I'd say we'll have a pretty good "presence" for that week.

Well, I just talked to Barbara at home, as she is preparing to do her part in yet another of our "ships passing in the night" routines. She's headed for MSP now, to fly out on a short trip, and I'll land about two hours after she takes off. At least Da Boyce won't even notice they're alone for long...

Time to wrap this up, I guess. My aircraft just landed, so once all of those people vacate the premises, we'll find our seats and I'll be heading home. I'll be back with you soon!

Wilber, out!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

That bright light in the sky....

Is the sun. It came up this morning. As horrible as yesterday was for us, the guys did get right back to work, kept their heads up, and were back out here this morning, bright and early on an already-warm Sunday, preparing for the next battle. The car is out, the work goes on, and not a single one of these guys is in the least bit "down" over our DNQ. Frustrated and mad? Sure, but not down.

Basically, the new format didn't get us. The track didn't get us. Gremlins didn't get us. Bad luck didn't, either. We just happened to have a really bad day at a really bad time. If you want the basics of the technical side of "what went wrong" it can be traced to the ignition. We dropped cylinders on our runs Thursday and Friday, and after Q2 the guys traced that problem to a bad coil. Obviously, in hindsight, we were leaning on the motor pretty heavily to overcome that issue (though nobody knew it was there, they were just giving the car the tune-up it was "asking for") and when they replaced the faulty part for Saturday, we discovered we were pretty far "over center" on the tune-up, now that the car was making full power. Even after the first run, even with a full-on effort to slow the car down in Q4, it still overpowered the track. You wouldn't think "too much power" would be problem out here, but it most definitely can be. As Del said, "The tune-up on that last lap was pushed out and backed down, but it looks like it was still trying to be a 4.73. The problem was, we had a 4.79 race track..."

The disappointment around here, from Del's perspective as well as mine, was palpable. It wasn't the furthest thing from our minds (DNQs are, now, a fact of life in this class, so you're always aware of them) but it was the last thing we expected. Still, you can't throw up your arms and run around the pit wailing in despair. You just think about it, learn from it, and move on. And you know what? We're tied with six other teams out here, on the points sheet, and once first round is over, we'll be exactly one round behind half the field. We'll just come back out in Phoenix and make that up.

Before I go any further, I wanted to pass along thanks, once again, for the terrific outpouring of support, by all of you. If you saw the ESPN2 qualifying show yesterday, you saw Dave Rieff do a short bit from our pit, showing all your emails (and Larry from Indiana even saw his note!) and that was very cool. The only downside to the massive response was my complete inability to respond to all of you. Since Day One I've made it a priority to respond to readers when you contact me, even if it's just a short note to say hello, but there just wasn't enough time in the day to respond to each of your "good luck" emails. I feel bad about that, but I want you each to know your message made it to the transporter, and we all appreciated the support!

It's a little after 10:00 now, and nitro engines are firing up all around the pro pit area, including one right here in our neighborhood, as Dexter Tuttle, Alan Bradshaw, and the Vis Viva team get their dragster ready to go for round one. We'll be pulling for them, and supporting them today, so here's hoping for a successful (and long) day.

Our guys, like Carl here, are just hard at work servicing all of our stuff. If we can find a place to run, Del wants to test on Monday and/or Tuesday. We're working on that plan right now...

Speaking of our crew member Carl, he is a graduate of WyoTech. Knowing that, the WyoTech people came over to our pit yesterday, with a group of incoming students, and Jon Capps (their spokesman and, of course, Ron's brother) gave them a verbal tour of what was going on while the guys serviced the car between sessions. We then opened the floor for questions and the the group was really sharp, asking some very intelligent things. Once the visit was over, I asked Jon for the microphone and made sure the students knew how lucky they were, to have a guy like Jon Capps telling them about Funny Cars and what it's like to work in this business. A fun deal, all around.

Once the day was over, and the disappointment abated some, Dexter put a smile on everyone's faces by catering the pit area last night, with food for both teams. It was great stuff, and very much appreciated by all the guys. While we were eating, an old familiar face happened to walk into the pit to say hello. Eric Scheumann worked for us back in 1999, and although he's gone on to do a lot of other stuff (including working for IRL teams and being a Las Vegas firefighter) he still comes to see us every now and then. When he walked into the pit, Del and I both noticed the eerie resemblance between Eric and Chase Steele. These two guys actually grew up within a hundred miles of each other, but this was the first time they'd met. Separated at birth, I'd say!!!

I can hear Bob Frey doing the driver introductions, out on the track, right now. Very strange not to be up there, nervous, amped up, and ready to race.

Well, my next assignment will be a "first" as well. You're probably all familiar with the regular column in National DRAGSTER, called "On The Run..." We are regular contributors to that column, and will be featured again in the issue that will coincide with the Checker, Schuck's, Kragen Nationals in Phoenix. But, since they already have an interview with Del planned for that issue, they've asked me to sit down with Chuck and get him to do this one. We've never done an "On The Run..." with Chuck, so this ought to be fun. I'll basically just interview him, get all his words down, and then put it all together into a narrative. He's such a interesting and funny guy, it will be easy. And, I'm pretty sure bowling will be mentioned...

We do have CSK guests with us today, so we'll do our best to make sure everyone has a great time, despite the fact our car is on the sidelines. Then, one more night in the hotel here and I'll be flying home tomorrow. Can't wait to get home to my "family" of a wife and two little Boyce... Yes, it's goofy, but Barb did put the phone on "speaker" this morning, and I said hi to both of them. She said it was pretty hilarious, because they both ran right to the phone and were sniffing it, trying to figure out how I got inside that little thing.

Just about time for first round now. Time to go up there and cheer on Alan and Dexter.

Wilber, out!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

No longer just a theory...

Well.... Here we are on Saturday in Pomona and now, very much for real, the new qualifying format gets its first "shake down run," live and in-person at the Winternationals. The impact of it really isn't going to be felt until we get to the first race where Friday night is just about the whole enchilada and Saturday dawns hot, sunny, perhaps even muggy (can anyone say Houston?) Here in Pomona, the weather is so consistent and it's not really a major factor, so the whole thing seems a little foggy and hard to understand. I know this because the tally of emails I have received in the last 24 hours, all asking questions about how this deal works, is now over 20...

It's really a pretty easy thing to understand, once you "get it," but frankly the more I try to explain it to people, the less well I seem to be able to spell it out. Still, for any of you who are looking at the stats on and can't figure out why the No. 12 position is now the "bump spot," here goes: The bottom line is that now, through the first two qualifying sessions, the drivers who end up 13th or lower are just lumped into a group that is outside the field. So as we get ready for Q3 here in Pomona today, there are 12 drivers whose E.T.s count and are ranked. The rest, including us and guys named Force, Hight, Johnson, and more than a few others, have two runs to bump our way into the eventual 16-car field. No one's numbers are locked in; you can still bump in all the way up to the No. 1 spot, but this group of 10 we're a part of is simply "outside" going into this first Saturday pass. Consider us "the outsiders."

Confused? Yeah I know... The whole thing will make more sense when we get to that first hot race. Then, instead of the whole field being locked-in and set on Friday night, there will be four spots held for Saturday, and everyone in that "outside" group will be, at the very least, able to fight for one of those four spots. The key is the hot/cold disparity, which we don't really have here, but that's the beauty of the system NHRA came up with because, in a case like what we have here, the new format naturally adapts without having to be adjusted. As far as we're concerned, we're just outside the field like we would've been before, and have to run better to get in. When we get to one of those summer races, and you see the bump spot get down into the 4.82 range on Friday night, we won't be coming out to the track on Saturday knowing a 4.90 is the best you can do and if you're not yet in, you have no chance. At least now, you have a chance...

Some people say "Everyone gets the same shot at it, why give people a second chance?" and the answer isn't "second chances" or handouts. It's about competitiveness and giving the fans the best possible show. Last year, on one of those hot Saturdays, you not only knew the field was already set from the Friday night "hero session" (which also means we were basically setting the pro field on only one run, since the other three were much slower, and how good of a show is that?) you also knew that any car smoking the tires on Saturday would simply coast down the track, because they couldn't improve, so there was no need to pedal the car. Now, if eight cars are outside going into Saturday in Bristol (for instance), those eight are competing for the last four spots based solely on their Saturday runs, so you'll see guys doing anything to get to the finish line quicker than the other "outsiders" just to be one of the four. It adds a LOT of excitement to Saturday qualifying.

Here, we don't need any added excitement. You'll still be able to jump up into the top half today, and I wouldn't rule out a new No. 1 qualifier before Saturday is over. It will be plenty exciting... And a little nerve wracking...

Side note: I took Neighbor Dave to In-N-Out last night, for his inaugural taste of a Double-Double. I'm proud to have been the witness to such a momentous occasion! Needless to say, he thought it was great. It's very cold and snowy at home, yet there we were with the windows rolled down, eating In-N-Out in the parking lot, with KLOS on the radio, digging the whole So Cal vibe...

Another part of that So Cal vibe are the mountains behind the track here, and I'm sure ESPN2 will have a multitude of "snow cap" shots, because it's a beautiful view. It's Pomona, it's California, it's like drag racing heaven... (Reminds me of that great line in Field Of Dreams when Shoeless Joe asks "Is this heaven?" and Ray says "No. It's Iowa.")

The "good luck" notes keep coming, and we're now up to 68 pages of emails taped to the transporter (I'm guessing that adds up to about 340 individual emails) and I've had to move over to the other side door and start taping them up in that direction.

Funniest one today was from a guy named Skip, who signed his note "From Carl Spackler. Assistant Greenskeeper, Bushwood CC" His note to Del said, "Cinderella story. Outta nowhere, 18th hole at Augusta. He's gonna use a 5-iron I think. Beautiful backswing... IT'S IN THE HOLE! IT'S IN THE HOLE!!!"

There was also a note from Jimmy Delgado in Queens, N.Y., who told Del to go for it and bring home the win, but also added "Dear Bob. Thanks for Johan Santana!" Mets fan...

My informal polling research here in Pomona, when talking to so many blog readers who stop by to say hi or run into me in the pit area, shows that the No. 1 favorite blog-related topic remains Boofus and Buster, followed closely by our friends Adam and Francine in Hawaii. Seems everyone has a cat story to share, and everyone wants to know how Adam and Francine are doing. Well, I got a nice note from Adam last night, in which he told me he continues to hear from a number of blog readers, who have stayed in touch with him and Francine. The original outpouring of support for the Vincents blew me away, but to see such honest integrity and support, from people all over the country, well... You guys are too much. I know I say that a lot, but it's true...

Time to get back to the rest of my job... And in a couple of hours, we'll go A-to-B and jam this Checker, Schuck's, Kragen Impala right in the field. With the support we're getting from all of you, there's no way we can't.

Wilber, out!

Friday, February 08, 2008

What a fun madhouse...

I've been pretty excited about getting this blog installment written (so much has happened!) but the whirling dervish of the Winternationals has barely slowed enough for me to find a way to hide myself in my office and actually write... For now, anyway, I've got Green Day on the iPod, cranking out "American Idiot" at high volume, and I'm focused on the task at hand. Until the next new fun side project comes up...

To start... The "good luck" telegram-style emails keep coming in, and we're now up to 58 pages of them all taped to the transporter. Dave Rieff, from ESPN, was just over here, and when he saw the "wall of fame" he not only thought it was cool, he also saw a story, so keep those notes coming and maybe Rieffer will be able to haul a camera man over here to do a bit on what you all have accomplished.

We did get on the track yesterday, which was invigorating in its own right. To be back at the Pomona starting line, smelling the fumes and feeling the power, was like being back in our own version of Nirvana... It's simply where we're supposed to be. Del drove our car wire-to-wire, which was not a common thing out there, but it ran most of the lap on seven cylinders, so the E.T. was not what we're after. Keep an eye on us today...

Last night, Neighbor Dave and I headed back to our rooms at the hotel but then got a call from Del inviting us over to his house for some great Mexican food, courtesy of his wonderful wife Connie and Barbara Gilchrist. Let's see... Hotel restaurant or Del and Connie's house...??? Tough call... We were in the car within 10 minutes. A small group of us (the Worshams, the Denners, the Gilchrists, Chuck, Paul Andrews, Krysta's mom, Dave, and me) all chowed down on some fine food (even the prepared stuff Connie picked up at the store is better than the Mexican restaurant food in Minnesota!) and then relaxed. I did get a shot of the love birds on the couch, after the first day of racing in 2008.

We came back out here this morning and the first thing we did was have "photo day" for Worsham Racing. Each of the guys knew I'd be taking their "head shots" for our website and Media Guide today, so they all got their hair just how they wanted it, lined up on cue, stood on the spot I'd marked, and posed for the camera. Carl and I will be the only ones with hats on in our shots because, in Carl's case he took his hat off and let us vote... "Hat on" was the unanimous verdict. For me, well it's just a matter of not blinding the camera with a forehead that seems to get taller by the month. I am forever reminded of the line they guys had for me at my 50th birthday "roast" when Del stood and asked "Bob, when you're in the shower, how do you know where to stop using soap and start using shampoo?" Funny guy...

Once we got the pics taken, Del got in his fire suit, grabbed his helmet, and we headed over to a warehouse on the other side of the track property, where ESPN had three HD "sets" going, to shoot all the cool "driver intro" shots they'll use throughout the year. As you can see here, the first set was just a head shot, with flashing lights around Del. They'll add special effects to all these shots later. For the second shot, they had Del in front of a green screen, but had him perched on a turntable, and they shot him spinning around in circles. It was very cool to watch these guys work.

The third set was the big one, but it was too dark and smoky to get any good shots with my little camera there. They had Del standing in the middle of lights, flash pots, smoke, and aluminum strips, and had the HD camera on a big boom, swooping in and out. At one point, they even hooked Del up with some hand-held pyrotechnics and, I'm not kidding, fire shot out of his hands! You'll just have to wait and see how this all looks on ESPN2... Very cool stuff, and they got us in and out of there in 15 minutes, with plenty of laughs along the way.

When we got back over here, blog reader Tim came by with a special gift. He brought me his vintage vinyl version of Rush's first "live album" the classic All The World's A Stage double-LP. It was recorded in 1976 at the historic Massey Hall in Toronto, and is kind of a landmark album for the band. They'd just experienced their first real "star status" with the release of "2112" and this live album was a huge success. I don't have a turntable anymore, but just to have an actual copy of it again (of course I had it back in college, everyone did, but almost all of my old albums were lost in a flood) is really cool. Thanks Tim!!!

Moments later, we were standing in the front of our pit when my good friends from ESPN, starting line camera operators Dana and Nelly, came by to say hi, share a handshake and a hug, and officially kick the year off. They are two terrific guys, who I always trade fist bumps or handshakes with at the starting line, and they are truly two of the best camera guys in the world. True artists! Nelly lives in Winnipeg, so we often fly together coming into races. His first flight is always from Winnipeg to Minneapolis, where he connects to a flight into wherever we're racing, and I always expect to see him in the gate area...

Right after they showed up, Rieff reappeared with a copy of the 2008 NHRA Fan Guide, and don't you know it, there's a great shot of Dana in the magazine, holding his camera right over Morgan Lucas' car at the starting line. This large "celebrity" shot of Dana did not escape the full-throttle ribbing of Nelly and Rieff, who rightfully gave him grief for his appearance "in front of the camera"... You could spend $20 on a cover charge, in most comedy clubs, and not laugh as hard as we did over this bit.

Here's a rather hilarious photograph of our friends, making sure Dana (on the left here) takes no more than the prescribed amount of joy out of his magazine debut...

Okay, now it's time to have some fantastic Walery's pizza right here in the pit area (you would not want to be on a diet here at this race) and shoot one more quick video with Del, then it's time to get back on the track.

Man, this is fun!

Wilber, out!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Knock, knock... Western Union!!!

I should have expected it. I hoped, and I kind of did have great trust in the support and loyalty from all of you, but whenever you cast an idea out there like a fishing lure, you're just not sure what the response will be. Not sure if you'll get a bite.

By the time I landed at John Wayne, well over 100 "Good luck!" emails had arrived, just like telegrams. By the time I finished up my work here at the track, retreated to my hotel room, and fired up the computer again, another batch nearing 200 more had come in. My first thought was to simply print each email and tape them to the transporter, like telegrams, but not only would that have been a huge waste of paper (each email would probably only take up an inch or two), but I'm not sure we have enough transporter space for that concept.

So, I spent about two hours last night, and another hour this morning, cutting and pasting all the emails onto one master document. What you see here are the first 46 pages we've taped up. I say "first" because in just the 15 minutes it took to tape all these up, another dozen have come in. Each sheet you see, has anywhere from three to eight emails on... This is WAY COOL, and you guys are the best. I only had to tell a couple of the guys and the word spread, and now, all weekend, the crew, our sponsors, and our other guests can walk by the "wall of fame" and get motivated by tons of great notes...

Rest completely assured... If you sent me a note yesterday, last night, or this morning, your email is successfully attached to the side of our hospitality transporter. If you sent me one in the last few hours (it's 11:15 in the morning here) it will be added as soon as I finish this blog. Thanks, to all of you!

Speaking of our pit area, I felt I had to include one "master shot" of the pit, with the huge Pomona grandstands behind us. It's beautiful So Cal weather, right from the Chamber of Commerce, and the crowd is already filing in here at the Auto Club Raceway.

I wrote everything you see above about an hour ago, but then had to bail out of here to attend our annual meeting of P.R. people, hosted by the NHRA Media Relations staff and the Marketing Department. We go over procedures for how pre-race, Winner's Circle, and post-race stuff will go (that stuff doesn't "just happen", it's carefully orchestrated to make sure each driver gets the maximum amount of time, and the reporters get quick quotes after the race) and then we talked about P.R. procedures and things associated with how we, the individuals who are charged with promoting our drivers and sponsors, will work with NHRA, the group that is charged with promoting the sport. They're a great bunch of people, very hard working, and great to work with.

Speaking of P.R. and promoting the sport, I want to take a second to backtrack to the first thing I saw this morning, when I picked up my newspaper from the floor outside my hotel room. What did my bleary eyes see, but a four-page special NHRA section in USA Today! Knowing how many millions of people read USA Today everyday (fly on any plane and count the percentage of passengers with one in their hands) it's great to see this kind of massive exposure. Let's go racing!

We're just a few hours away now. A few hours from firing the car in the pit area, and then we'll head up to the lanes to get this thing going. We're still waiting on Chase Steele, who landed at John Wayne about 30 minutes ago. Neighbor Dave is flying in right now, too, so they're going to hook up at baggage claim and come on up here. The decision has been made to switch Carl over to the clutch job, and he and Marc put the clutch in the car last night, so that work is done. Chase is here to work side-by-side with Carl, to help him get up to speed on the service turn-around, and will probably be with us again in Phoenix, just to have an extra pair of experienced hands around.

I'll wrap this up with a little shared motivation. Three people (one of whom was Neighbor Dave) sent along the transcript of Coach Herb Brooks' great speech to the 1980 USA Hockey team, which he gave moments before they hit the ice to play the Soviet team, in the game in which they beat the "unbeatable" Russians before going on to win the "Miracle On Ice" gold medal at Lake Placid. This is about hockey, but it applies to our drag racing team just as well:

“Great moments... are born from great opportunity. And that's what you have here, tonight, boys. That's what you've earned here tonight. One game. If we played 'em ten times, they might win nine. But not this game. Not tonight. Tonight, we skate with them. Tonight, we stay with them. And we shut them down because we can! Tonight, WE are the greatest hockey team in the world. You were born to be hockey players. Every one of you. And you were meant to be here tonight. This is your time. Their time is done. It's over. I'm sick and tired of hearing about what a great hockey team the Soviets have. Heck with 'em. This is your time. Now go out there and take it.”- Herb Brooks, 1980

I get goosebumps reading that. Okay, he didn't actually say "Heck with 'em". I cleaned it up a little. Use your imagination...

We were born to be drag racers, every one of us.

Wilber, out!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A day (or two) in the life...

The dateline atop this blog says Wednesday, but it's actually Tuesday night when I'm beginning this. My bag is packed and it's just me, Da Boyce, and the TV for the next couple of hours before I head to bed to sleep as fast as I can before it's time to head to the airport at around 7:00 in the morning. It's just us, because I dropped Barbara at the airport (short overnight trip to Boston) around 6:00. Anyway, here I am flipping back and forth between the hockey game (Wild vs. Red Wings) and the Super Tuesday election results (too many competitors to list and too many scores too close to call) and it's all pretty fascinating.

On the hockey front, the Red Wings continue to be so much better than any other team in the NHL it seems they should have their own league to play in. Anyone who is old enough to remember the Lake Placid "Miracle On Ice" victory also remembers, no doubt, the monumentally strong Soviet "Red Army" teams from that era. Soviet players weren't allowed to play in the NHL back then (not because the NHL didn't want them, but because they had to risk their lives by defecting just to get out of their country), and they were so much better than anyone else it seemed unfair. They just KNEW they were going to win, and would easily rout any other national team in the Olympics, as well as any NHL teams (or even NHL All-Star teams) that dared take them on in exhibition games. The Wings, wearing very similar red and white uniforms and carrying themselves with the same sort of well-earned confidence, could have a CCCP logo on their jerseys instead of their classic Detroit logo, and I wouldn't do a double take. They are that dominant.

Score after two periods: Wild 2, Red Wings 1. Easily the best two periods the Wild have played in recent memory, as the game is truly not as close as the score indicates and the Wild have really been taking it to them. Funny thing that score, though. It's all that matters. There are no "style points" in hockey. You can dominate the whole game, but if they other team flips one in, or gets a lucky break, that goal light tells the tale. I'll go watch the third period, and will report in with the final score... Then, we'll continue this on Wednesday, as I head west to Pomona...

(Later Tuesday night...) Grrrrrrr. The Red Army (oh, I mean the Red Wings) scored the tying goal with a minute to play and then won in overtime, taking two points while the Wild got one. I guess getting a point against the Wings is a triumph, considering how great they are, and may be a moral victory, but I know the Minnesota boys had a big upset within their grasp tonight.

Off to bed, and then let's head to Pomona!

Wednesday - 8:00 am

I'm up (6:00 alarm), out the door, and as this photographic evidence illustrates, I'm at the airport (parked on level 5, of course) and through security. As you can see, it's a bit of gray day, as seen from the crossover skyway between the C and G concourses. Now, I'm safely seated in the warmth (a little too much warmth, where's the thermostat in here?) in the World Club. I conceived a brilliant new plan since my last trip, tried it out today, and it worked like a charm. I knew my flight was leaving out of G-22 (at the end of the 1,265-mile long G concourse) so the "secret" security entrance was in play, except for the fact I needed to check my large rolling suitcase for this trip... In a moment of sheer brilliance, it occurred to me that I could park, take the underground tram to the terminal, check my back at the lower level kiosks (meaning I never actually went up the escalators into the main terminal), and then get back on the tram to go back out to the parking garage, where I'd take the elevator up to the 2nd floor and enter through the magic security gate. As they say in Jersey, "badda boom, badda bing" the whole thing worked like clockwork. I walked right up to an empty kiosk, had my bag checked in less than a minute, took the 30-second ride back out on the tram, and was the only person in line at the checkpoint. Slick!

My flight leaves in one hour, so I've only got about 30 minutes to get this written and sent, and as of right now I will be snugly seated in coach. Maybe I'll get that wonderful call "Passenger Wilber to the podium please" at the gate area...

Upon arrival at John Wayne Airport, I'll head straight out to Pomona ("take the 55 to the 5, then the 5 to the 57, north to the 10, get off at Fairplex, and you're there" in So Cal parlance) and get to work. Okay, perhaps upon arrival I'll say hi to all the guys, soak it all in for a bit, and then get to work finishing the decals on the red car, organizing my office, and making sure the hospitality area is ready for the influx of CSK guests this weekend.

I just met this passenger, who was "snooping" around here in the World Club. He says he's also headed to Orange County and he's like REALLY excited to be getting on a plane. Hope he's not sitting next t me...

Here's my new idea: Way back when (as in, "when I was young"), if people needed to get a quick message to someone, they sent them a telegram. Before opening night on Broadway, or before a big game in sports, the "good luck" telegrams would pour in from fans and friends, and would usually get taped to the wall for motivation. I referenced the USA Hockey "Miracle On Ice" team at the top of this blog, and most of the guys on that team knew they had reached into the hearts of a whole country when they walked out of their locker room before their game against the Soviets, and saw thousands of telegrams taped to the wall.

We don't need telegrams now, because we have email. So how about this... If you're behind Del, and are rooting for us, send me a quick email, nothing fancy and nothing long, just a sentence or two to wish the team luck, get them fired up, and let them all know you're out there, pulling for Team CSK.

If you do that, I'll print them out and tape them up in the pit area. It will be your way of patting the boys on the back and telling them to "go for the gold." Deal? Deal!

Time to run.

I'll talk to you tomorrow, from the track!!!

Wilber, out!

Monday, February 04, 2008

Welcome to race week...

The first call I got this morning was from Del, which is noteworthy because, with the two-hour time difference, I usually don't hear from him until mid-morning, or sometimes even lunch time. When I saw the read-out on my cell say "Del i-Phone" I just answered it with the statement "It's race week, brother..." He said "I know, it's awesome. I woke up at 4:00 this morning, ready to go." The storms that rolled through So Cal have passed, the sky is blue, everything is green ("You won't believe how green it is out here" was the official statement from the boss) and there's snow on the mountains. Let's go racing...

If you wanted to go racing around here, though, you'd need a sled, because although we don't have any mountains we do have plenty of white stuff coming down. For visual back-up, I provide this slightly different version of Pond Cam (taken from the lower level). We're actually under a "Snow Advisory" for most of today, which is uncommon in these parts. When we watched the news last night, the word was we'd see the snow in late afternoon, and it might be a 2-4 inch deal. As Barb was leaving for work this morning, at 7:20, it was already starting to come down, so it's ahead of schedule, it's bigger than it was supposed to be, and we'll just have to see how bad it gets later today. Once the storm ends, the crack MnDot (Dept. of Transportation guys, referred to as "Minn Dot") crews will get out there and clear the roads.

Okay, so how about that Super Bowl last night... We joined a bunch of neighbors at the Martin's house, two doors down, and had a great time, ate way too much good food, and indulged in a couple of frosty beverages. As well-played as the first half was, anything dominated by that much defense is like the football equivalent of a "pitcher's duel", and while those two quarters were playing out I'd say most of the gathered crowd was more engrossed in the commercials than the game. Our faves: The Dalmatian training the Budweiser Clydesdale to make the beer wagon team the next year, the talking stain on the job applicant's shirt, and the Dwayne Wade/Charles Barkley ad, where "Chuck" starts bugging Wade constantly on the phone. As for that one ad (I think the company was that showed the girl's heart jumping out of her chest and walking around, well that one was greeted by boos and cries of "gross!"

When the game started, there were only a few in the room with specific preferences (including at least one still-heartbroken Packer fan), but most people seemed to just be watching the game without a team to root for. As the second half unfolded, the attention level ratcheted up, and the mood swung almost completely to a full "Go Giants" atmosphere. I think the standard American desire to root for the underdog took over. When they won, high fives were traded all around the room. I was sort of in the middle, because I'm always interested in witnessing history (and no matter what you think of the Pats, 19-0 would've been big-time history) but I also was hoping Eli Manning would have a great game to establish his own identity. For me, being the "little brother" of my incredibly successful sibling, Del Jr., means I know what it's like to grow up with the bar set at a very high level. Like Peyton and Eli, my brother Del and I get along great, and he's taught me much of what I know in this business, but it's hard to walk into a room where people know him and not feel that "I hope they don't compare me to Del" sensation. Hey, I'm funnier! Even my brother will admit that. And as for looks, I'm a four-point favorite.

As soon as I finish this blog, the next item on my agenda is to write my first pre-race press release of the year. There will be 24 of these, as well as 24 post-event reports and far more "Notes & Quotes" updates from the track at every race. The trick is to keep them original and interesting, and even though I have no idea what I'm going to write about today, and also have no idea if I'll succeed in keeping it interesting, I'm up for the challenge. Maybe, one of these times I'll write my release and then have the whole thing translated into a foreign language, just to see if anyone is paying attention... Como se dice "Funny Car" en espanol?

But seriously, when you've written as many Del Worsham pre-race releases as I have, it's not uncommon to get done with one and have a slight pang of deja vu creep over you, as if your brain is sensing that you wrote this exact same story eight years ago (the same sort of thing happens with this blog, from time to time). I guess that's something else I could do, just to see who's paying attention. I could just re-issue last year's pre-Pomona release and change the date! Nah, I'll write a new one, just to get those press release writing muscles limbered up.

Back here at the ranch, we had a bizarre weather-related thing happen yesterday. We've seen this happen before, to a lesser degree, but this time around it was kind of mesmerizing. We had fairly high temperatures throughout the day Saturday, right into the night, and when you have that kind of warmth with snow on the ground, you get fog. If the temperatures then do a rapid drop, the fog will actually freeze to whatever it's clinging to (trees, bushes, cars, etc). Well, one thing it was clinging to was much of our screened porch! We got up on Sunday morning to find the left side and front of the porch completely opaque, as if the screens had wax paper on them. It was very strange, and Da Boyce went running out there to take a look, too.

It took a while, but at one point in the morning something about the atmosphere changed, and the screens "cleared up" as if someone had thrown a switch. Go figure...

Well, I really need to get this pre-race release written (or translated, or re-issued, or whatever trick I have up my sleeve) so I'll wrap this up with one final tale of crazy cat behavior. Everybody knows cats don't like water, right? Turns out, wild cats aren't afraid of water at all, and are natural swimmers. I can't vouch for the swimming ability of either Boofus or Buster, but it's become clearly obvious that the little guy (Boofus) has very little fear of anything, and a lot of curious interest in the unknown. His larger brother Buster (aka "The big fella"), is much more conservative when it comes to stuff like this.

Boofus, on Sunday, jumped from the back of the sofa, to the back of one of our bar stools, and onto the breakfast bar behind the sink, all because Barbara had the water running. Within seconds, he had his entire head under the faucet, trying to figure out what this whole "running water" thing was all about. At first we thought he didn't realize he was getting soaked, but that wasn't the case. He'd stick his head under there and try to lap up the water as it rolled down his nose, or he'd attempt to turn his head sideways to get a drink, all while trying to understand what it was he was sticking his front paws in... His brother, meanwhile, sat on one of the bar stools and watched in horror. He's a Boofus, he is. Of the first degree!

This is Del Wilber Jr.'s little brother saying,

Wilber, out!

Saturday, February 02, 2008

T-minus five days and counting...

Today is Saturday. Tomorrow is Sunday (stay with me, it works this way every week). Five days from now, the CSK Impala will be in the pit area, on the jackstands, ready to go. In five days and a few hours, we'll be in those familiar Pomona staging lanes, looking at the backside of the main grandstand in one direction, and the mountains in the other. You work your way forward, following the car in front of you, and finally find yourself just on the outside of the big "gate" that separates the lanes from the track. When it's your turn, the tow vehicle peels off and parks to the left, and your driver makes a turn to the right to position the car just in front of the tower, bringing you out onto the "playing field" of the historic Pomona quarter-mile.

It's a funny little "S" turn you have to make to get from the staging lanes to the "real" lanes, and the way you come through that gate is a bit like walking onstage. You're literally "in the wings" until you come through that opening, and once you make the hard left to line up behind the water box, the massive Pomona grandstands, full of smiling race fans, are laid out in front of you, and small private aircraft are zooming across the shut-down area on their final approach to Brackett Field, across the street. It's Pomona, baby. It's unlike any other place...

As yet another sign of the impending season, my "hard card" credential and parking pass arrived this week. We usually pick these up at the NHRA Museum on the day we arrive in Pomona, but the Media Relations department sent a few of them out ahead of time, for those of us who sent our applications and photos in "very early." That's me: Mr. Prompt. Thanks, Anthony!

Of course, the Southern California sunshine and warm weather seem like a million miles from here, but that's the beauty of air travel at 36,000 feet. You walk into that metal tube, sit in an uncomfortable seat for three hours, and when you get off you're in a different world. I mentioned the short runway at John Wayne the other day, which prompted longtime blog reader Scott, who is a commercial pilot (he signs his emails "STP" for Scott The Pilot), to trade a few notes with me regarding other "interesting" landings around the country. There's Midway in Chicago, where you practically skim across the rooftops of the buildings across the road from the end of the runway, and San Diego, where the runway is long enough but the approach brings you in just a few feet above a parking garage before you go "nose down" to touch down, and when you look to your left you notice you're well below the height of the downtown buildings. Oh, and Washington National, where the pilots have to swoop in on approach, dipping their wings back and forth to follow the curves of the Potomac River, so as not to fly over any sensitive government buildings or monuments. All in all, though, Scott is pretty sure the runway at John Wayne is the shortest for regular commercial travel.

Today, as Pond Cam barely shows, we have a beautiful little "snow globe" flurry coming down, it's in the 20s, and it's a lazy Saturday. The last lazy Saturday in a long time, I'd think. Barbara got home from her most recent trip late last night, and was up bright an early to go do some of that "girly stuff" women enjoy, in this case getting her nails done. I understand why she wanted a manicure, though, because I picked up her new ring at the jewelry store yesterday, and it's gorgeous. The band she picked out is stunning, and the new rock sits in the middle of cluster of small diamonds, shining so bright you need shades to look at it. She just told me "It's exactly what I wanted, even though I didn't know what I wanted until I saw it." We'll always know I was responsible for the surprise 10th anniversary gift of the rock, and we'll always remember that the Wheel Of Fortune slot machines at The Cannery contributed mightily for the setting!

On the culinary front, I baked a meatloaf last night. Not so much for a big dinner (I just had a couple of slices around 9:00 when it was done) but more for sandwich material today. Why is it that you'd never even consider eating a leftover hamburger cold, but meatloaf sandwiches, straight from the 'fridge are delicious? Just one of those mysteries...

Looking ahead, once again, to Pomona, there will be plenty of activity in the early days of the race. We'll be putting the red body back on the car (after having tested with the blue one) and it's in need of some new contingency decals, so I'll have to make that happen right away. There are "start of season" meetings to attend, including one with the NHRA Media Relations and Event Marketing staffs, and videos for Del to shoot. If you watch the races on TV you see those canned "driver intro" videos before each round, where the guys are in their fire suits, with their helmets, staring at the camera or goofing around. ESPN is shooting those, in High Def, on Thursday and Friday, so we'll get Del over to the temporary studio they'll have set up at the track to get that done. One can expect smoke machines and strobe lights to be part of the set...

One thing that won't be happening this weekend is the Team CSK debut of crew guy Adam Hiller, and we all want to send out our best wishes to him. As reported here during Vegas testing, Adam joined us before the start of the season and is the guy who was hurt very badly last year, when the tow strap broke while they were pulling Whit Bazemore's dragster through the Indy staging lanes. He spent months going through a variety of reconstructive surgeries, and was in great spirits when we got to Vegas. I liked the guy instantly, and knew he'd be a strong addition to the team.

Unfortunately, in Phoenix, it became clear to Adam that despite all the facial surgery and reconstruction, he's still not quite ready to do this. He needed to head back home, see his doctors, and plot a new course for his overall recovery, because he's just not there yet. We all feel for him, and all of us send out a huge "Get Well, Adam!" to our buddy.

In the meantime, blog reader Breanna in North Dakota will be happy to hear that Chase Steele will by flying in to pinch-hit as our clutch guy in Pomona. Breanna, you might recall, came to the Brainerd race armed with a large "Chase Steele Fan Club" poster last year, successfully embarrassing our boy... Chase has gone back to college to get his bachelor's degree, but eagerly agreed to come help us out in this moment of need, and that's cool. Chase is a great guy and very talented clutch man. We were happy to hear his college plans, but sad to lose him after last year. Once we get through this race, Del will have to figure out what the long term solution is, especially if Adam can't make it.

I'll wrap up today with a pic from yesterday. The sun was out, the birds were flying around, and the little "kitty condo" by the living room window was the place to be if your name was Boofus or Buster. Sometimes it's hard to understand how they can be comfortable in the contortive positions they put themselves in, but a purring cat is a happy cat, and boy they were happy...

T-minus five days, everyone. Rev your engines.

Wilber, out!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Say goodbye to January, now let's get ready to rock...

You know what that means. February begins tomorrow, and the Winternationals can't be far behind. With that in mind, I have some funny stuff to share with you today, and then I'm going to finish up by "setting the mood" for the 2008 season. It's time to get our game faces on...

You may recall, a couple of blogs ago, I got a hilarious note from blog reader David, out in Arizona, who suggested he could become my sidekick, named Scooter, and help me around the track, in the pit, getting my lunch, fending off admirers, stuff like that. Well, my illness kept me away from the Phoenix test session, but Scooter attended anyway, and he sent me a full report with photographic evidence. You can't make this stuff up, it's too funny...

Scooter paid close attention to how Chuck, the Big Skipper, prepared the car and got his boy ready to run, but like many teams in Phoenix, we lost traction early on that pass. Old "Scoots" thought it best to head back to the pit, in my absence, to ask Chuck and Del (who were busy packing the parachutes) if he could help because he is, after all, my sidekick. Oh, and by the way, why did they smoke the tires? As you can see, a well-meaning Scooter was summarily dismissed from the CSK pit, tossed aside by a now-healed Chuck, who enjoyed trying out his surgically repaired rotator cuff by flinging Scooter to the curb.

Later, as you can see in the second pic, Scooter was dismayed, depressed, and a little tired, so he found a comfortable spot to relax, lick his wounds, and plot his strategy for further assistance. He did finish by asking me if he still had a job, and I quickly replied that he had not yet broken any terms of his initial probation, and I'd be happy to keep paying him to be my sidekick, at the same rate of compensation he enjoyed in Phoenix (that would be $0.00 per hour.)

Thanks Scooter (David), you're too much! Glad to see Chuck getting into the act, too. Are the Worshams hilarious or what? Now you know why I've been working here for 12 seasons...

Now, let's talk about motivation. Let's talk about being ready to rock, right out of the gate in Pomona. I've known Del a long time, and he rarely shows his inner feelings about how he thinks things are going to go, or even how he hopes they'll go. This game is so tough, and the competition is so overwhelmingly fierce, you can be right on top of your game and still fail. You can do everything right, and still get beaten. When it all comes together, and you have a moment of pure joy and excitement at the starting line, knowing you've just etched your driver's name in the record book yet again, it's hard to describe, but you quickly look back over four qualifying runs, and four eliminations rounds, and marvel at how you got to this particular moment. It's odd to climb a mountain that actually looks and feels taller when you're at the top, than it did when you took your first step. "How did we ever get up here?"

I know this about Del, this year, because I can hear it in his voice and sense it in everything he does. I've never seen him more committed, more determined, more focused, or more motivated. He's a man on a mission, and it's all business. He's not cocky, he's not sure of anything, but he's confident and he's excited about what he and the team are doing.

As a group, we have so much to prove, to everyone else and to ourselves. And, as a group, we know we carry the image and the name "Del Worsham" into every lap. There aren't that many jobs in the world where you have the success, reputation, and legacy of one man on your plate, every day, where everything you do is really for him. If he's "just a boss" who can tick you off from time to time (or even a lot of the time), I can guess that it would be hard to find motivation in helping him succeed. I'm sure you'd still want to win, if only for yourself, but that's a shallow motivation, in my book. If, on the other hand, he's the best in the business, and your friend, and your leader, there is no shortage of motivation. It's the true essence of "team."

Look at those guys in the first winner's shot. I'm just out of camera range in that one, but I assure you I was feeling the same wave of unbridled excitement, and pure joy. I want to feel that again. I want to look my teammates in the eye, join in a massive group hug, bouncing around like school kids at recess, screaming like lottery winners. I want to see my guy holding that trophy at the top end, talking to Gary Gerould in rapid cadence, firing off a list of people he knows he has to thank, or dedicate the win to, and he means every word of it.

And then look at that group of teammates dressed in black (more on the wardrobe in a sec). That's the image of a hard-working group of guys watching the win light come on in Del's lane, even though John Force was in the other lane running a quicker E.T. A win. A trophy. Beating Force in the final. Doing it on a hole-shot! It doesn't get any better than that. It really doesn't. Of course, that's me still dutifully keeping the video camera focused on our fearless leader's car, catching the win light and the E.T. before I join in the celebration. But I promise you, I could hear my teammates behind me, and even in this shot, I knew we had won.

This is why I keep my Wally trophies and these winner's pics in my office, so that all I have to do is look around and re-live these moments. I can look at this stuff and actually feel the adrenalin begin to pump through my veins. I'm serious, I can feel it right now, just a slice and a small memory of what the moment felt like, but a real "sensation" nonetheless. It's a mind-bending thing.

And why are we all dressed in black in the bottom pic? Do you remember? Think about the wildest looking green car Del ever drove, and about us launching that car 30-feet in the air during the final qualifying run, but then spending the night transferring the huge Mountain Dew decals onto Del's regular red CSK car, creating a sort of Dew/CSK hybrid at 2:00 in the morning. Of course, we went on to win the race, on that hole-shot, and the National DRAGSTER cover said "Del Dew Run Run." The shirts were Mountain Dew polos they gave us. I still have mine, needless to say.

Tomorrow is February. The Winternationals are next week. Can you feel it?

Wilber, out!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A little nippy, still testing, and let's talk baseball...

Hi, everybody. I have a few odds and ends to write about today, including a rather lengthy dissertation from this former ballplayer and scout, about the No. 1 story in the game right now; the Twins trade of Johan Santana to the Mets. I'll leave that for last, though, so you can click out of here early if baseball doesn't interest you. .

In one week, I will board NWA flight #152 for a non-stop flight from MSP to SNA (otherwise known as John Wayne Airport, in Orange County). One week! Of course, when I land at John Wayne (and the plane screeches to a halt a few feet from the end of one of the shortest runways in commercial aviation), it is apt to be just a little bit warmer than it is here right now. Last night, I believe we dropped down into the -17 range, but I was warm and indoors, so that was just a number. This morning, I got in my car to run an errand and made sure to take the camera with me. The temperature read-out on my dash was 8 degrees when I pulled out of the relative warmth of the garage, and as I drove the first few blocks it kept dropping. Finally, it bottomed out just as you see it here: 12 degrees below zero. Hey, it's not so bad, really. The sun is out and it's going to climb all the way up to 1 or 2 degrees later this afternoon. I'll actually take this over 33 and rain, every time.

I talked to Del at length this morning, as he was heading back out to Firebird for one last day of testing. They're heading home tonight to start the final process of getting everything ready for next week (hear that? NEXT WEEK!) They made a few more laps yesterday, and he was on a good one and planning to drive it to the finish line when he felt the car drop a couple of cylinders late in the run, so he clicked it off at about 1,000 feet. Today, the mission is to leg it to the other end, just to make sure all these incremental numbers add up and the engine stays looking as good as it has so far. You might recall that one year ago, through testing and then at the first few races, Del's car was also running very well, but had this nasty little habit of blowing up at around 900 feet. Even when it didn't, it came back with all the pistons looking gnarly, as if it was just about to give up but somehow managed not to, and after months of carnage, it all culminated with the big "kaboom" at Norwalk. Since then, things have been much better and, right now, (knock on wood) the car is running very well and not hurting much of anything.

In the spirit of testing, I included one more photo from Curt out in Arizona. If you look carefully, you might see a plastic bag on the table, at the far left. It's full of oranges, which Curt brought for me, but our guys were honest enough to tell him it was unlikely any would remain uneaten by the time I got out there. You have to respect honesty!

In one week, it all starts to count. In one week, we begin the 18-race regular season. As we learned last year, this Countdown format raises the pressure and ratchets up the drama on the first day. Every lap is critical, and every round is huge. It will all start in Pomona, with the snow-capped mountains overlooking the track from behind the starting line. Q1 is Thursday, with the Funny Cars running at around 3:30. From then on, it's a race through the spring and summer, all the way to Indy on Labor Day, to see who will make the Top 10 and advance to the Countdown. More than ever, every run counts.

Our house gets a little more empty today, as Barb leaves late this afternoon for a few days of meetings in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Portland. She'll be home for the weekend, and then she's off to Boston and New York early next week, getting home just after I've left for Pomona. And so it goes, around here... We've been reminding each other that it's been a wonderful winter, being home together for most of three months with Da Boyce on our laps. Now, our crazy schedules begin to go typically nuts but, you know what? We have jobs, we love our jobs, and we have two crazy cats in a wonderful home. For all of that, we're very thankful.

Now, if things like baseball, the Minnesota Twins, and my opinion on those two subjects mean nothing to you, feel free to bail out and I'll see you in the next blog installment with no offense taken. For the rest of you (hello? Anybody out there?) this is my chance to weigh in on a subject every so-called "sports expert" has been ranting about for 24 hours. Yesterday, the Twins finally pulled the trigger on a deal with the Mets, sending Johan Santana, our two-time Cy Young Award winner, to New York for four prospects. As you can see by the front page of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press, the consensus is not a positive one, and these are the local writers who actually like the team! I've heard the Twins are getting roasted on the national news, by the New York press (who are sure they've pulled off the heist of the century) and anyone else with an opinion.

I have an opinion too, based on my life in the game, but I seem to be in the minority. First off, they had to trade Santana. He would be a free agent at the end of '08 and his contract demands were insane (why a team would sign any starting pitcher, whose career could be over with any pitch he throws, to a six or seven-year deal is beyond me, I don't care if he's Santana or Cy Young himself) and he made it clear he had no loyalty to the team that turned him into a superstar. The Yankees and Red Sox each had interest, but were obviously not going to give away the ranch to get him.

The Mets offered four young players with a lot of potential. One of them (Carlos Gomez) will probably step right in to be the Twins new centerfielder, and he has huge "upside" as they say. The other three are young pitchers, one of whom is only 18. Did the Twins screw up? Did the Mets pull a fast one on them? Some people think so, but I think the Twins scouting department (known as one of the best, dating back to the 60s when their top scout was a guy named Del Wilber; my dad) has earned enough respect to be trusted. This isn't the first time Twins' scouts have seen some young players and projected them to be far better than the were rated by the club who originally had them. In 1999, the Twins claimed a little-known minor league lefty in the Rule 5 draft (where minor leaguers not on the 40-man roster can be plucked away for $50,000). The Astros had signed the kid but didn't think much of him. His name was Johan Santana.

A couple of years back, the Twins wanted to dump their catcher, A.J. Pierzynski, so they traded him to San Francisco for three players the Giants felt were expendable. One was a guy the Giants saw as an average middle reliever, Joe Nathan, who the Twins turned into one of the best closers in the game. Another was a minor league guy with a funny name, Boof Bonser, who is now one of the Twins' starters. The third, a young minor leaguer the Giants had little faith in, was thrown in the deal too. That would be Francisco Liriano, who exploded onto the big league scene with the Twins as a true pheenom. There are many other such trades through Twins' history. You can do those sorts of things with the best scouting department in the game.

This time, it's four young players for one superstar. Only time will tell, and maybe it won't work out this time. But I give the Twins and their staff the benefit of the doubt. They've earned it, in my book.

Wilber, out!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Knock, knock...

Who's there? Old Man. Old Man who? Old Man Winter, back with a vengeance!!! What's the difference between Woodbury, Minn. right now and the same place yesterday? Oh, about 45 degrees... It was so warm yesterday, as I reported in the Monday blog, that the snow on the roof was melting and pouring off like rainwater. That same "water," which never even had a chance to flow down the driveway, is now in a solid state, as this first photo illustrates. No, that's not water on the drive, it's pure ice. Our front walk is the same way, and even though you couldn't get very far, you could indeed ice skate on both of them. With that in mind, along with visions of a neighborhood 12-year-old trying to knock on our door to sell us some Girl Scout Cookies, only to slip and crack her noggin, I made an early morning trip to Home Depot, to restock on the de-icing crystals I had run out of.

At the time, it was a toasty 5 degrees, with a bit of a breeze blowing. I got a little lucky, in that the de-icing stuff only works down to 5 above zero, and it did have time to break up most of the sheet of ice on the front walk. It is not 5 degrees any longer, however, and the breeze has become a "killer wind" because we are now entering the real danger zone where exposed skin can be frostbitten in very short order. I shall not be hanging around outside much more today. At least not without a hat and gloves.

I got some advance warning on this weather shift by watching Sven Sundgaard last night (you betcha!) but also got a tip from blog reader Jon, from Montana, who was kind enough to send me this note: "Buckle your seat belts, Bobby, I'm sending you our Northeast Montana weather. At 3:45 Tuesday morning, it's 22 below zero, and the weatherman (not Sven) says it's headed your way. And to think that Sunday we had a high of 42. Kind of a turn-around." Yeah, kind of... He didn't tell me what he was doing up at 3:45 in the morning.

I just took a shot of my computer screen, dialed-in to Accuweather, and as you can see we hit our "high" today right after midnight, when it was a nice warm 16, and it's been dropping like a rock ever since. They're calling for a low tonight in the -15 range, with a wind chill of -38. That's serious stuff! I will point out, though, that they may have the temperature right, but Accuweather is a bit off on the "Sunny" conditions they're showing. All I have to do is look to my right or left to see the heavy gray clouds that all look like they might be bringing some snow with them. If it starts snowing now, with this wind, it's not going to be good.

Out in Phoenix, where it's approximately 65 degrees warmer than it is here, testing continues and Del is feeling positive about it. If you've been watching any of the results on-line, you've seen that a few guys have run it out the back door to some very good E.T.s, but almost everyone else is either shaking the tires, smoking the tires, or shutting off early. One of those "guys" who did okay yesterday was named Force. John Force. You might have heard of him. A 4.78 at 327 mph... Did you expect any less?

Update: It just started snowing. That's just swell.

Anyway, everyone was impressed by Force's run, but Del is really only focused on his car and he's feeling good about where they are. They haven't made a "full pull" yet, but he expects to today, and if the track hangs in there he thinks he'll be able to put some good numbers up. Better than that, the engine looks good, the car handles great, the crew is becoming a team, and it's all coming together.

In other NHRA news today, you may have seen the headline story about our 2008 ESPN2 TV schedule. Almost all of our races will be shown in prime time, which is very good news. Our sport does not lend itself to "live" coverage, so the next best thing is to make it routine for viewers to find us in the same place, at the same time, when they're most likely to be watching TV anyway. The move, a number of years ago, from a variety of networks to strictly working with ESPN was the first step, because it used to be like an Easter egg hunt to find the drag races on TV each weekend. You never knew what network we were on. We continue to make the next step, with a schedule that gets more "firm" each year, and more consistent. Kudos to ESPN and NHRA for this!

The next two photos are purposefully placed here to placate all of the legions of Boofus and Buster fans out there. I'm often shy about showing "the kids" too much, but considering that the single most popular theme in all the emails I receive is "Da Boyce", and people love to send me their cat stories, well why not. Those stories include this recent one from Jim, who lives in Honey Brook, Pa., who told me all about the two little maniacal orange Tabby kittens his wife Dee brought home, saying: "You see, Dee really believes everything you say and show about the kittens and as a result has introduced into our somewhat peaceful home two WILD orange Tabby kittens. Her thinking was if the Wilbers can do it so can we. Well, the wild bunch has been here close to 3 weeks now and nothing has been close to normal since they arrived!" The author of this blog is not responsible for the behavior of any kittens! But aren't they fun???

Just minutes ago, Boofus and his brother discovered a roll of "return address" labels I have on my desk. They obviously thought these were just for them, and I caught them under my desk just seconds later. Although I didn't have time to frame the shot very well, I think you get the picture... When one of the labels would slightly peel off, and get stuck to a paw or a nose, non-stop hilarity ensued.

The second shot somewhat illustrates a new design feature in our living room, made necessary by Da Boyce and their zest for rough-house play. Yes, we did have their front claws removed, which went a long way toward making them less destructive to things like chairs, screens, and curtains, but we left their back ones in. At some point the little guys will grow up a little and just start sleeping all day, but for now they still love to rev up their motors and tear around the house at Mach 2, leaping from the sofa to the chair to half-way up the stairs. We noticed our leather furniture was starting to really show the effects of those take-offs, so we've decided to put blankets over it for a while. It's all good for them. Tearing the blankets off is just another new game!

Finally, I'll wrap this up today with a personal paragraph that's not upbeat at all, but just the opposite. One of my best friends, who I've known for more than a decade and have really become close to, was laid off from his job today. It was a surprise move, and for a guy who has worked for his company for something like 37 years, I know it came as a shock. It was a shock to me, so I can't even comprehend what he's feeling. He was great at his job, and well-liked by all his colleagues, but like in far too many instances these days, his deal was an economic issue. I talked to him on the phone, and told him what he already knew. "I'm here for you. We all are! This is a new chapter, but our great friendship will never falter."

That's it for today, gang. Remember to tip those bartenders and waitresses!

Wilber, out!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Back to blogging...

The emails and the calls regarding Doug Herbert's tragedy continue to come in, and as I've said to a large number of correspondents today "The NHRA community really is family, and I know we are, collectively, a huge source of strength for Doug, Sonnie, and everyone in the extended Herbert family." It doesn't matter if you aren't able to contact Doug directly (few should, at a time like this) because he knows. Anyone who has been around this sport for more than a few years knows. This is a family, and we're there for each other.

Now, because it's become a major part of what I do, it's time to get back to the blog. It's back to reality, back to my desk, and back to work. I basically shut everything off yesterday, just laying low and helping Barbara around the house. Because of that, I spent the first couple of hours this morning just catching up on email, and now it's time to blog.

First off, a big "thank you!" to Curt M. from Mesa, Ariz. who was the first to answer my call for pics from the test session (a nice CSK-related gift is on its way to Curt as a reward for his rapid response). Of all the shots he sent me, I've chosen the first two you see here, of our pit area at Firebird and of our intrepid contributor posing with the Big Skipper. Thanks Curt!

As for testing, our guys got on the track for a couple of laps on Friday, and plan to make three runs today. For once, the weather forecasters were dead-on correct about Sunday, as it basically rained all day, washing out all activities on the track. I spoke with Marc Denner this morning, who reported in that our guys used the day for quite a bit of valuable work, putting the back-up car together under the awning. Now, the sun is out, both out there in Phoenix and here in Woodbury, where the temperature is soaring up through the 30s and the melting snow is dripping off the roof as if there's a hose running up there. We'll enjoy this warmth today, because another major deep-freeze is due in town tonight, and tomorrow's low temp is predicted to be -10, or thereabouts.

While it was raining in Arizona, it was quite pleasant here and even though I'm still not over this head & chest crud (it's the never-ending congestion, and every day I hear from two or three other people who can't seem to shake it) I am feeling better and Barb and I spent the day reading the paper, watching TV (skating of two varieties, as the NHL All-Star game was on one network while the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, being held right here in St. Paul, were on another) and playing with the wacky cats, who were in prime form most of the day.

Had we both felt better (Barbara is still feeling the last vestiges of the same thing, which she landed about three weeks ago) there would've been so much fun stuff to do around the Twin Cities, but we both knew we needed to stay inside and take care of ourselves. There was the figure skating, at the Xcel Arena, and the annual St. Paul Winter Carnival is in full swing, with snow and ice sculptures on display in Rice Park. Next weekend is the culmination, when Vulcanus Rex and his Vulcan Crewe storm the castle and to vanquish King Boreas of the North Wind, thereby ensuring summer. The Vulcan's 100-year winning streak is on the line...

Speaking of summer, though, this weekend was also TwinsFest at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, where almost all the Twins players gathered for autograph sessions, interviews, interactive stuff on the field, and an all-around good time. TwinsFest is a fairly amazing thing, in that 30,000 fans paid to attend and almost all of the players gathered for free (the team does fly them in, but they attend the event for nothing). It gets everyone revved up for baseball, despite the fact the one notable no-show this year was Johan Santana, who is still likely to be traded before spring training starts. It was just great to see Morneau, Mauer, Cuddyer, Liriano, and the other Twins on TV and in the paper, all talkin' baseball and sounding excited to get to spring training.

As has been documented here, I have been on a bit of lucky streak lately, especially on those Wheel Of Fortune machines in Las Vegas. I did, indeed, bring all that money home and Barbara did, indeed, take that money to the jewelry store (along with the diamond I bought her for our anniversary) where she picked out a stunning ring to hold the new rock. She said the sales person only did a slight double-take when she pulled out cash and started counting out the bills. We get the new ring back on Thursday, and I can't wait to see it on her hand. Hey, it only took me 10 years to get her a ring she deserves! Better late than never.

On the subject of luck, though, I worked my magic again on Saturday. Barb saw an ad in the paper for a concert that sounded really cool, but we knew tickets would go fast for it. It's a one-night-only show at Target Center, in Minneapolis, featuring the 50-piece Minnesota Orchestra, along with a full rock band, doing a complete concert of the music of Led Zeppelin! Led Zep's arrangements were often thick, complicated, and orchestral, and both of us saw the ad and said "That looks cool!" so when tickets went on sale at 11:00 Saturday morning, Barb got on the phone but couldn't get through. They're setting the stage up at what would be half-court on the arena floor, so they're only using less than half of the seats, and we knew it would be hard to get something good. She got on-line after giving up on the phone, and finally found some seats 10 rows up on the side, but was having a hard time beating the clock (you have to complete the whole transaction in about four minutes, and she's not used to the touch pad on my computer) so I took over and started the process again. The first seats that came up, for me, were Row 1, on the floor, center section!!! We grabbed four (Dave and Nichol will come with us) and couldn't believe our luck. Front row, center!

And, in terms of concerts, we'll actually be heading for the Xcel Arena next Monday night, with tickets to see Matchbox 20. We both like their music, and I'm sure we'll have a great time, but I'm not sure we would've bought tickets just to see them. What swung the deal for us was the fact Alanis Morissette will be the warm-up act, and I'm a big Alanis fan. Yeah, I know, not exactly "macho man" heavy duty rock, but I think she's a terrific talent and I've always dug the honesty of her lyrics. Bet you didn't know that Phil Burkart is a huge Alanis fan, as well! He used to come up into my office at the track and we'd put Alanis on the iPod and tell everyone else to go away. Ah, the good old days...

Finally, here's something I really consider an honor. I often talk about the wide variety of wonderful people I've met, and in some cases gotten to know a little bit, because of this blog, and one of those great individuals is Tom Miller, out in Oregon. Tom's been to a few races, and we're fairly regularly email buddies, but imagine my surprise when he sent me photographs from his surprise 70th birthday party, and on the poster of Tom through the years, the one picture that stands out as different is the one from the track, featuring Del, Tom, his son Doug, and me. What an honor! Happy Birthday Tom!

That's it for today gang. I'll be here in the blog lounge, all week.

Wilber, out!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

What devastating news...

I slept in this morning. The combination of a couple of warm cats, some nighttime cold medicine, the desire to finally knock this bug out of my system, and the relaxation of a Saturday morning conspired to keep me planted firmly under the covers until nearly 10:00. It all felt good, as did that first cup of hot green tea and the chance to relax with the newspaper. Then I got on the computer, checked my email (and happily saw that Curt, out in Phoenix, was the first person to answer my call for pics from the CSK pit area), and then I saw the impossible news.

The blog I had planned to write became irrelevant.

As you probably know by now, Top Fuel star Doug Herbert tragically lost his two teenaged sons in a car accident this morning. Jon (17) and James (12) were killed instantly in a collision. I'm not sure what to think, much less what to write.

I know this: Doug adored his boys, and was so proud of them. I regularly read his team's blog just like many of you do, and every time there was a pic of Doug with one of his boys, he was just beaming in the photo. Of course, Doug is almost always beaming in his photos, and in real life. He's that kind of guy. This is so hard to even comprehend...

I've known Doug on a first-name basis for many years, and he's the kind of guy who will, even in crowd, make eye contact and shout "hello." In the car, many drivers are zoned-in and oblivious to the outside world, but Doug is one of the few who actually enjoys spotting friends as his car is pulled forward toward the water box, and is quick with a wave, a thumbs-up, or a nod of the head. I consider him a friend, and he's always been great to me.

I have many other friends on his team, including Larry Lush (who has been working for us for the last few years), Larry's wonderful wife Allison, Shannon Plumley (who also used to work for us), and Lisa Powers, the team's PR rep who is a class act and very talented. In addition, I can honestly say that I've never met a member of Doug Herbert Racing who didn't represent their boss extremely well. That team is always considered to be "good guys" in our book, and that starts at the top.

Nothing I can say can possibly help. I just want Doug, his family, and my friends to know that our hearts are shattered but our thoughts are with them. I don't know how you recover from something like this, and I have no experience to help me understand it. I just hope all of you send your thoughts and support to Doug, his family, and his team.

Let's just think about Doug for the next day or two... Be strong, my friend.

Friday, January 25, 2008

What's the over/under on this deal?

As in, I'm so "over" this cough and cold but I'm still under the weather, so instead of being on a flight right now, I'm in my office with the little space-heater radiator turned up and the computer up and running. I had 99.9 percent made up my mind last night, but that last one-tenth of a percent was an easy call this morning, considering I scared the cats right out of the bed with one coughing fit. As Gloria Gaynor once sang, in the glory days of disco, "I will survive..." although I don't think she was talking about sneezing and coughing. Speaking of the glory days of disco, I'm always happy to admit that I was in college then, and it is indeed something we all look back on and laugh about, while we also hope no one has photos. It's better to leave the leisure suits, silk shirts, and platform shoes to the imagination. Stayin' alive, stayin' alive...

Our crew is in Phoenix (current weather: 48 degrees and partly cloudy) and they'll get the pit set up today. Del and Marc are headed over tomorrow morning, and the guys may try to make a lap in the afternoon. I know all about weather forecasts, and how unreliable they can be, but this is a pretty big storm rolling in from SoCal, and it's likely to be wet starting Saturday night, right through Sunday. Or as blog reader David W. said, in an email this morning, "C'mon Bob, it never rains in Arizona. That's why everybody moves here. And besides, it's a dry rain!" I hadn't thought of it that way...

Of course, David then went on a rant about dropping everything to become my personal assistant, or my sidekick, as he put it. "There are no sidekicks in drag racing that I know of. I could be the guy who you hand the video camera to while you do the secret hand shake or whatever it is you have up your sleeve. I could give you the joke of the day, get you your lunch ("Honest Boss, the burger came with one bite missing") and I could be your personal assistant, your driver, your Boy Friday, all the time wearing my xx-small Murray's shirt! You could even come up with a funny name for me, like Itchy, or Scooter." It was at this point that David was really worrying me, but I think (with a lot of therapy) he'll be fine. Scooter is a good name, though...

Speaking of the weather, does any region of the country have the copyright on the line "Oh, you know (insert city or state name here). If you don't like the weather, just stick around five minutes and it will change." I thought, growing up in Missouri, that we owned that line, but apparently everyone seems to share in it equally.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. Was there a topic at hand? Can you tell this cold medicine is making me loopy? I think I was talking about the crew being in Phoenix now, and the fact they might make a lap on Saturday. If it does rain Sunday, it should clear up by Monday and the plan is to get on the track then. So, if in fact the guys don't make a run on Saturday, and if in fact it does rain Sunday, I will have missed nothing (but the camaraderie and the fun of air travel), since my return flight was set for noon on Monday anyway. There, I've successfully reduced my guilt level by 26 percent...

On to a totally different, but very popular, subject. I've gotten a lot of emails from readers who have been asking about the Checker, Schuck's, Kragen NHRA Fantasy League, and whether or not it would be running again this year. Although the CSK guys told me, a month ago, that it was all in the works and about ready to go, they asked if I'd hold off on any announcements until that had all the details worked out. Consider that done, because it's up and running on right now. It's easy, it's fun, and (best part) it's FREE! And, despite the fact I'd strongly recommend it, you are under no obligation to pick Del as your FC driver each week.

A few weeks back, I got this surprise note from major blog fan Michael B., who lives in San Jose, along with the attached photo. "By profession, I'm an automotive mechanic for the City of San Jose, where I work on police cars, fire trucks, etc. (I'm going somewhere with this, I promise.) This year, I played in the annual CSK Fantasy League from start to finish and, long story short, I came out on top! Numero Uno! So, a few days before Xmas I got a package in the mail with all of the goods in it. A little pre-Christmas gift to get the holidays started! So there ya have it, a HUGE fan of CSK, a mechanic (who can always find use for $500 to spend on Kragen Auto parts), and a loyal blog reader! I'm hoping to use a few of the race tickets to take my friend Garth to a race. He too is a loyal blog reader & CSK fan (he lives in Canada, and likes your blogs about hockey, eh!) Thanks to CSK for making a couple of CSK fans' holidays that much more exciting!"

Well there you have it, right from the winner's mouth. Congrats, Michael, and good luck this year.

I see Michael won a die-cast car as part of his loot, and on that subject I got an interesting note from Chris in Kalamazoo, who said "I just picked up one of Del's Autolite die-casts, from the 2001 season, and I see a decal for Vanguard Airlines above the side window. I never heard of them, so I'm wondering what that was about." I have one of those Autolite cars, with the Vanguard logo shown here, and you can also see the Vanguard sticker on the Mountain Dew, 3-A Racing, Havoline, Fram, and Jurassic Park special edition cars from that year.

Well Chris, apparently a lot of people never heard of Vanguard, especially when they were flying, which is one reason they've been out of business since 2003 or thereabouts. They had their hub in Kansas City, and flew to a lot of our race markets. We did a trade with them, putting their decals on the cars for 40 free round-trip tickets, but in the end it was hard for us to use the tickets (and hard for them to stay in business) because they were (how do I say this?) completely unreliable. Every time you flew Vanguard, you wondered where you might spend the night, because there was a pretty good chance you weren't going to make it to wherever you wanted to go. It's too bad, because they were great people to work with (many of their pilots and their CEO came out to the races and had a great time) and it would've been the sort of program that could've grown into something big for all of us. Instead, they are but another footnote in the annals of the airline business... A little-known footnote, but one just the same.

Well, time to spin the big prize wheel to see what's next for my personal consumption. Will it be DayQuil, Alka Seltzer Cold, or Tylenol??? Spin and win...

If you're headed out to Firebird this weekend, take your camera and shoot a pic of our team for me. I'll send a nice CSK gift to the first person who can do that!

Wilber, out (of my mind!)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

It's official... Charlotte, here we come!

I suspect most of you, by now, have seen the headline story at today, announcing the addition of a fine little place called The Dragway @ Lowe's Motor Speedway, to the 2008 POWERade schedule. Filling the Sept. 11-14 date that had been listed as "TBA", the new Charlotte (actually, Concord, N.C.) race may have been one of the worst-kept secrets in quite some time, but it's still great to see it officially announced and even better to see the spectacular renderings. If you want to see the renderings, go here.

If you think in terms of Bristol Dragway and The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, you not only spot the connections in the tracks' names, but you'll quickly see a common stylistic design thread. Bristol and Vegas are two of the most strikingly impressive drag racing venues in the world, and the new track at Lowe's appears to uphold that tradition of not only going to every length to make sure the fan experience is the ultimate one, but to take it all one more step by knocking you over you with a "major league" impression.

I think all of us are unanimously excited to add another Bruton Smith track to the tour, and we're looking forward to making our debut in the absolute cradle of NASCAR country. Looks like the stock car boys will be off in New Hampshire that weekend, but I bet we still see an enormous amount of engine shop and chassis shop guys at the track. Most of them are pretty interested in how much power we make, to say the least...

On the topic of Bruton Smith and the term "major league", people ask me all the time what my favorite tracks are, and it should not come as much of a surprise when the names Bristol, Las Vegas, and Sonoma always make the top of the list. I dig Pomona a lot, too (it's definitely in my upper "elite" echelon), as well as Joliet, Gainesville (which I'll love even more with the new tower they're building), and Denver, of course. Norwalk is pretty awesome, Dallas is great, and there will always be a soft spot in my heart for Topeka. The rest are all pretty much tied for "honorable mention" but the ones I listed here all rank as "special" to me, and I can already tell that the new track in Charlotte will be on that list.

In terms of the Charlotte renderings, and what we see in Bristol and Las Vegas, you can make the connection immediately, just like I mentioned earlier. Rather than just put up grandstands, build your basic timing and media tower, and call it a race track, the people from Speedway Motorsports Inc. (SMI) seem to always take it one step further, to make the facility stand out and look unforgettable. I'm really looking forward to getting there.

As for our more short-term travel plans, this weekend's test session in Phoenix remains a bit up in the air, for me and for the teams. Although I'm very pleased to say I'm not feeling any worse, I can also say I'm not feeling any better, which is kind of depressing but also a fairly normal fact of life. I just don't like those pesky facts of life when they get in the way of my plans, so it makes me mad when I can't somehow take my over-the-counter stuff, snap my fingers, and feel all better. I have a ticket for a 9:00 am flight tomorrow, but I'm going to have to play it by ear (quite literally, if this cold gets into my ears or clogs up my head much more, I'm probably not getting on a airplane for a preseason test session) and if this were football or hockey, the team would be listing me as a "game-time decision." We'll see...

What makes the decision harder is that the Phoenix area weather forecast changes about as fast as you can try a different weather website. Last night, it all looked pretty good except for heavy rain on Saturday night. Now, as of this morning, it looks cloudy and drizzly on Saturday, with rain most of the day Sunday. It's tough on our guys, when it's like this, because it's just not that easy to load up the transporters and go. It's not like throwing your suitcase in the trunk and jumping in your car... As of this minute, they still plan to head out toward Phoenix late this afternoon. Del is now planning on coming over Saturday morning. I'm still a game-time decision... I'm smart enough to know I shouldn't play around with this stuff (people who do keep telling me how they stayed sick for a month, or even longer) and if all I'm going to do is fly out there to sit in the rain, well... Game-time decision...

If I don't go, I guess I'm warning you that I therefore wouldn't have any cool tales from the Southwestern Front this weekend, but I'll stay in touch with the guys and I'll make it up to all of you by blogging extra hard all season.

The good news for all the teams is that the forecast for Monday on out is pretty good, and most teams stick around to make more laps early in the week anyway. Del is feeling good about our car, and only made a couple of minor adjustments to it after the Vegas test, so as long as he gets a chance to get out there and shake it down a couple more times, I think he'll be happy and I think we'll all be heading into Pomona with a lot of excitement and some cautious optimism. That's a good thing.

In all of our years, I never remember coming into any season feeling cocky or "sure" that we had a fast car, but it's easy to remember some years when we started the season feeling like "if we do what we're fully capable of, this will be a very good year." I think we all feel that way now, but like a football team, it's just a matter of executing the game plan. We have the quarterback ("Mr. Brady, meet Mr. Worsham...") we have a good running game, we can strike deep when we want to, and we can stop the other guys. If we execute the game plan, we can win.

Well that's about it for all the racing news, but it was some big impressive news so that's not all bad, is it? Sorry I didn't have any pics or artwork to go with today's topics, so to make up for that I'll show you what I just had to do, head cold and all, a few minutes ago. I needed to check the hot tub to see how it's doing, and add a few chemicals. This is what a hot tub looks like when it's -4 degrees.... Maybe tonight, I'll get out there and enjoy this purifying healthy air. I think inhaling subzero air can be good for you, because it sure feels like it freezes everything in your nose when you breathe. Take that, you nasty germs!!! But maybe that's just me...

And what the heck, I'll probably be on that flight tomorrow, anyway... Stupid old facts of life aren't stopping me!

Wilber, out!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Pardon the interruption...

I know it's a pretty rare deal when we go a full couple of days without something new here, but I basically wasn't up to it yesterday. Once I finally landed at MSP on Monday night, hopped in my very chilly car (dashboard temp readout: -6), heard it moan to life (it had been sitting in an open-air garage for three days of sub-zero weather) and drove it home in a snow storm, it was about time to collapse. Barb and I did sit on the sofa for a while, to watch the Wild surprise us and the Vancouver Canucks with a 4-2 win and then it was off to bed with my cold and cough medicine in hand... We won't go into the Wild's 2-1 loss to the Flames last night, or the potential tying goal they almost scored in the final minutes that hit the right goal post, ricocheted over to then hit the left goal post, then came back and hit the right one again, all without ever crossing the goal line. I would've thought it impossible had I not seen it with my own bleary eyes...

(BTW, I'm not too proud to admit when I'm under the weather, as opposed to a certain editor of mine who sliced, diced, and removed an entire paragraph from my last blog, in which I disclosed that he, too, is not feeling all that well. I won't say any more, other than his name rhymes with Burgess.)

Here at home, one of the wonderful things about our master bedroom is the full wall of east-facing windows, which overlook the pond and let the light in every morning. Well, it's wonderful unless you're laid low by a head and chest thing and just want to sleep late, because it's about impossible to stay in bed when bright Minnesota sunlight is pouring in, reflecting off all the snow. So, yesterday I got up, got dressed, and "commuted" to my office, one flight below. Although I didn't really have the mental acuity I felt I needed to write a blog, I did tackle an In-Box full of email, and I think I got through most of those yesterday. If you were the recipient of one of those emails, and it made no sense, I blame the extenuating circumstances.

Last night, I made the tactical decision to sleep in the lower level "mother-in-law suite" (which is where Mother-In-Law stays when she comes to our house and is otherwise known as "the Bat Cave" because it stays so much darker down there in the morning), and although I didn't sleep all that well, I finally did put about four good hours together and now I'm proudly proclaiming that I've turned the corner and am on the way back to robust health. That's my story, anyway...

As Pond Cam shows, it is a beautiful day here. The snow is sparkly, the sky is blue, and the big bright light in the sky is providing all that solar energy that helps heat our homes even without those fancy panels on the roof. When you have floor to ceiling windows in your living room, and everything is fully insulated, the sun alone will heat up the house. I can tell, from my office, when it gets to be around 12 noon, because that's when the sun stops coming through the windows and the indoor temperature rapidly drops to the thermostat setting (usually about 63)... Current outdoor temp: 0 degrees, according to Accuweather. I believe them, according to my nose after going out for the paper.

I also thought I'd include pics of Ryan McGilvry and Matt Madden in today's blog. They're not strangers, since they both worked for us last year, but after having introduced you to Adam, Carl, Kevin, and Chad, it's only fair to give the two returning guys their pre-season plugs. That's Ryan turning over the motor in the top pic. Yet another of our long line of southwest Missouri boys, Ryan joined us before last season and spent the whole 2007 season doing the bottom end of the red car. He has since "graduated" to the top of the motor, and will (as we say in the pits) "yank the right side head" when we service the car between laps. As you might recall from last year, he's also a huge macaroni & cheese freak.

Matt joined us at Norwalk last year, and although he's not from southwest Missouri (he's from the Richmond, Va. area) he is another product of that fine institution of higher education, the University of Northwestern Ohio. UNO has a fantastic Advanced Performance Automotive program, and we've become quite accustomed to receiving resume's from grads. Matt is the third such graduate we've hired, and if you remember Tom "The Big Man" Leskovan and Chase Steele, you know all three and can see how much we respect what they teach there. Matt was our "floater" last year, pitching in where needed, and will join Ryan on the top end this season, pulling off the left side head between rounds.

The guys are back at the shop now, and last I heard they had the car all serviced and ready for departure for Phoenix. Hold tight, while I click over to to check the latest forecast for Chandler, Ariz. (play suitable theme music while I'm gone...) Well, it's not all that great but it could be a lot worse. It looks like it will rain there on Thursday, then Friday looks pretty good, with a high of 64. Saturday is supposed to be cloudy, with a slight chance of rain (high of 62) but then they're calling for a "soaking rain" on Saturday night, which I'm sure will be good news for those who live there. Sunday, it's supposed to be 66 with a "chance of a little rain." That must be some technical jargon for "we're not sure." Seems to me, as long as the soaking rain shows up on time, we should be okay...

Speaking of "okay", I keep getting stacks of emails about our fun little guys, Boofus and Buster. Since I was home with them just about every day over the winter, they'd really attached themselves to me and were prone to basically following me around the house. That would kind of drive Barbara nuts if she was on the sofa with one of them, just relaxing, only to have him dive off her lap because I left the room. With that in mind, they did some much-needed bonding with Barb while I was in Vegas, and don't seem so "clingy" with me now. I will say they were happy to see me when I got home, though...

They spend the morning by the east-side windows, laying in the sun, and then once those hot spots go away they come into my office to curl up by this portable radiator I have in here. The way we have our heating system set for the winter (with almost all of the hot air diverted to the lower level) I actually have the vents shut in my office. This neat little closed-system radiator gives off just enough heat to warm one room, which means I don't have to run the furnace harder by sending any of the hot air in here. It's a nice gentle heat, and since it's totally enclosed there's no danger like those old "hot wire" space heaters we had when I was a kid (how in the world were those considered safe?) Da Boyce have quickly discovered the joy of curling up right next to it...

Okay, time for another round of meds. But remember, I have turned the corner and am on my way back to robust health! That's my story, and I'll see you in Phoenix!

Wilber, out

Monday, January 21, 2008

Hacking my way back to Minnesota...

I don’t know why, but I always seem to pick up a "hack" when I'm in Vegas or Phoenix and woke up this morning downright sick. Del called me at 8:00 this morning, and as much as I wanted to talk to him I couldn't answer the phone because I had no voice. Nice. Who put all these needles in my lungs?

So now I'm safely through security at my least favorite airport, sitting at an empty gate on the D concourse waiting for my NWA Boeing 757 to arrive, so that we can kick all those people off the aircraft, take their places, and go home. I tried the "Bewitched" nose-twitch thing, hoping I might just disappear from here and find myself in Woodbury (anywhere in Woodbury would be fine, it's not that big and I could be home in short order) but I'm no Samantha, so here I sit. I did pop a couple of DayQuil tablets, so maybe they'll kick in soon. If this blog turns into jibberish, I may have overdone it...

First, to the truly important part. We made two laps yesterday, and both of them got off the line without shake. Both of the warm-ups went without a hitch (despite the fumes, as you can see in this fairly humorous photo of our fearless leader) and everything seems to be coming together pretty well. We dropped a cylinder at the hit of the throttle on the first one, so Del only drove it a couple of hundred feet and clicked it off. On the last one, it went straight, strong, and true, right down the middle with the front tires dancing. As Del said, "Man, it was hard to lift, but we just wanted to get past 330. I drove it to nearly half-track, it was running so well, but it was awfully tempting to just keep going. I think the guys would've killed me if I did that and we hurt the motor in any way..." Handshakes and "atta boys" were shared all around, the boys serviced the motor, and we packed up and got out of there.

Now, the big concern is the Phoenix weather forecast for next weekend. It's not very encouraging in a wet sort of way, but we'll just keep an eye on it. The team can get over there pretty quickly from So Cal, and Del has already told me (we just talked, because I now have a voice, though it's pretty deep and husky) they are not going to drive over there just to sit in the rain. If it looks like it will be dry, the guys will head that way. I have a flight on Friday, so my cough and the rain will both be factored into my decision...

I mentioned, earlier in the weekend, that I'd get pics of the other two new guys, Kevin and Chad on here, so say hello to these two dudes. None of the guys have filled out their "bio" forms yet, which I need to put the short version of the life stories together, so I can't actually tell you all that much about either of these guys, other than they seem like fine fellows and neither one of the seems to be allergic to work. Those are good attributes in this line of work.

Kevin Maddux is the guy in the first pic here, and I have reported that he is yet another guy from southwest Missouri. Kevin is our new bottom end guy, and is also in charge of lowering the body after we start the car, guiding Del back from the burnout, and then lifting the body after the car gets back to the starting line area. What that also means is that Kevin is the one who jogs by me after the car goes screaming by on the burnout, and that means he and I have to come up with out ritual for that momentary passing. This weekend we just did a "high five" as he went by, which isn't a bad thing, but maybe we'll get more creative.

Chad is the local SoCal guy who is also a true rookie, having not worked on a Funny Car before. His job is to be the "catch all" guy who supports all the other crew guys. He assists with parts cleaning, filling the oil jugs, mounting tires, and anything else that needs to get done. He's a cool dude, and he also has an amazing digital SLR camera he let me play around with. I'm so used to the little Olympus I have, it was like heaven picking that bad boy up and clicking away like I was shooting 35mm.

This gate where I'm sitting is actually used by Allegiant Air (the Northwest gates are down at the end of this concourse and it's always packed down there) and the Allegiant gate agent just announced the departure of their flight to Springfield. I suspect anyone who is on that flight knows which Springfield they're going to, but it was kind of funny to hear that because there are so many Springfields in this country, and she didn't say which one it was. That's the reason Matt Groening chose the name Springfield for the Simpsons, because it could be anywhere. I looked around the gate and didn't see Mayor Quimby, Principal Skinner, Montgomery Burns, or any of the Simpson family. See, the DayQuil is kicking in!

Well, this might be the shortest blog I've written in a while but I'm about out of mental fuel, and I'm REALLY ready to get on this plane and get home. Hopefully, that clean and crisp Minnesota air will be just the medicine I need.

Oh yeah, I do want to take just a sec to thank everyone who sent me notes about our one millionth hit here on the blog (especially you, Mickey!) Rather than congratulating me, you should've been patting yourselves on the back. After all, you're the ones who added up to a million...

Wilber, out!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

All sorts of momentous achievements....

Greetings from chilly LVMS, where I have a sweatshirt on and some of the So Cal boys look like they'd prefer full snowmobile suits. It is a little nippy, I'll give 'em that. The thermostat in the office of Del's transporter read 39 when they fired up the heat... I'm pretty sure I can deal with it, though, because I just talked to Barb at home and she said Boofus and Buster broke with all tradition this morning by insisting they all stay in bed for an extra hour. She said they were hilarious, and very snuggly, and nobody really wanted to get up. Boofus even got under the covers and wanted to stay there, all curled up in the crook of her arm. It was -8 at the time, so I understand fully.

From here, in this Sunday blog, most of what I'll be writing about falls under the heading of significant news. Not the least of which is that we fired the car, took it to the starting line, and made a launch yesterday, thereby officially "breaking in" all the new crew guys. There were some nerves, and a few last-second discussions in the staging lanes, about removing the body pole, when to lift the body, stuff like that. In the end, the car launched well but then went into the all-too-familiar Vegas tire shake. We were kind of expecting that, and the run itself was only a part of what we were doing yesterday, so no one was too unhappy, and for their first lap as a team, the guys did great. We're discussing some new handshake/fist bump rituals, but haven't broken any of them out yet. The guys are all in the planning process for what they want to do...

Yesterday, I mentioned Adam and Carl, the two guys we picked up right after the Millican team was parked. Here they are, with Carl on the left and Adam on the right. Good guys. Perfect Team CSK guys... On the next blog, we'll get more "up close and personal" with Kevin and Chad.

Last night, Marc Denner and I met in the casino and headed over to the Italian restaurant within The Cannery. Within minutes, our table for two turned into a long table for eight, as the rest of the crew and Chuck showed up. Our first team dinner, and not only was the food terrific, but the chance to (literally) break bread as a group was also much appreciated (not to mention fun). For the record, I had the Lasagna Bolognese...

As long as we're on the Italian tangent, I should mention the book I read on the flight out here. I read it, cover to cover, in about two and a half hours, so we're not talking "War And Peace" here, but it was really a fun read. I'm sure you're all familiar with John Grisham, and his string of wildly successful legal thrillers. Lately, he's been delving into other subjects, and this book is entitled "Playing For Pizza." It's about a third-string NFL quarterback who blows a playoff game, gets hurt, gets run out of Cleveland (and the league) and then finds himself playing American football in Parma, Italy, for the Parma Panthers, where the locals on the team are literally playing for pizza. It's all based on true stuff, there really is a team in Parma and they play for the love of the game (and free pizza). Consider this book to be officially recommended by Bob's Book Club.

Another big moment around here occurred last night in the casino, where I sat at three consecutive Wheel Of Fortune slot machines and cashed out a winner on all three, within about 15 minutes. I'm not going to divulge how much I won, but let's just say it was "one of those nights" and it's all going home with me where it will go toward the new ring Barbara picked out for the 10th anniversary diamond I bought her. It was fate, I guess... And kind of fun! I won a little bit on the first two machines (enough to have a few fresh hundred-dollar bills in my hand) and thought it was all good. Since that had me up quite a bit, and I was playing with house money at that point, I decided to put one more Ben Franklin in the third machine, hit the "Spin The Wheel" bonus, and pressed the button. If you've ever played Wheel Of Fortune, you know what the biggest prize is on the wheel, and there you have it.... Lights flashed, bells went off, and I just shook my head and laughed. I called Barb immediately, and I'm sure she scared the cats, because she was screaming pretty loud... I cashed out, took the new "ring fund" to my room, and went to bed. With a smile on my face.

We all checked out of The Cannery this morning. The guys will head back to the shop tonight, and since my flight is tomorrow morning, I got on and found a great rate at The Rio. I've been to The Rio, but haven't stayed there before, so I figured I'd give it a shot and this way I'm way closer to the airport in the morning. I have put my winnings away, though, so there's no danger of giving any of The Cannery casino's money to The Rio. I'll probably just have room service and watch the Packers/Giants game from the truly frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.

Today, the guys are still a bit bundled up but are putting the car together, getting ready for another lap. Del was just up here, seeing if my room was any warmer than his, and we were talking about the conditions. There's no reason to even think about getting on the track before 12 noon...

Del also did an interview with Bobby Bennett yesterday, talking about a lot of stuff including the chassis changes, using the blue body for testing, and other things. Bobby is one of the real go-getters out here, when it comes to reporting on drag racing. He's not afraid to dig past the press releases and ask the next question, but in my book he's always been fair. When I tell him something is "off the record" it stays that way, and when he does print something on his site ( that I'm not thrilled with, he'll always discuss it with me and make changes if I have a legitimate point. Bottom line: Bobby works hard, and is making a name for himself.

Finally, one of the biggest of the momentous achievements to be reported upon today is going to happen in the next hour or two, and it's something each and every one of you played a part in. I don't recall having ever discussed the specific number of readers we have, although I'm always quick to say I'm stunned how large the number is, but today is different. You see, as of this second, we have recorded a grand total of 999,524 total "hits" on this blog, dating back to its debut in August of 2005. That's what we call a "raw number" because you can drill down inside that total to find a lot more specific detail, but what it means is that, sometime in the next hour, our blog will have been clicked on and looked at one million times. Not a million different people, mind you, but a lot of people who have combined to "hit" this blog one million times. Well... That's pretty humbling.

With that in mind, I send a million THANKS to all of you. Thank you, for being along for the ride, for helping when I asked for your assistance, for seeking me out at the track to say hi (just like Tom C. did yesterday), for all the great emails, and for just being part of this "team" we call the CSK blog. You guys are the best!

Wilber, out!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Start me up...

I always wondered if the Rolling Stones had a thought in their minds, when they wrote the huge hit song "Start Me Up", that it was likely to get a lot of airplay in stadiums and arenas, as the theme music for the start of the game. Every now and then you hear a song that smacks of "arena sports" ("We Are The Champions" comes to mind) and you can't help but wonder if there were ulterior motives during the writing process.

Whatever the case, cue the Stones and "Start Me Up", because we are here and we are ready to rock! It's a beautiful 48 degrees right now, but in the sun it's practically hot (at least to me, considering it was -8 this morning at home) and the sky is a deep blue in the Nevada desert. Speaking of this state, today is the Nevada caucuses, for both parties, and that means you might be able to listen to the radio again (if you can stand the programming), beginning tonight and tomorrow. When I landed yesterday, and got in my snazzy Impala rental, I flipped from station to station and all I heard was "I'm (insert name), and I approved this message". It was non-stop political ads, the latest and greatest hits from the likes of Obama and Clinton, Romney and McCain, with a little Edwards thrown in for good measure. I follow the political process, and support my chosen candidates, but it would not be a bad thing if political ads were banned, and we'd just have to vote based on things like debates and written policy statements... Imagine that, each candidate just having to state "Here's what I believe..." in plain English, and then you choose. But that's just me, and I apparently must be way off base because the radio is full of this stuff.

Turns out, I was the first one here yesterday. Once I checked into the hotel, I got a phone call from crew guy Ryan, saying they were about 150 miles away but still needed to wash the big rig, so I didn't actually hook up with any of the guys until about 6:00 last night, when we all pulled some chairs together in the main bar at The Cannery. I'll cut straight to the important part, because I'm a big believer in first impressions... This is a great group of guys we've put together. We sat and got to know each other, talked about what we've done and we want to do, and we talked about winning. We talked about winning races and winning the championship. These guys want it, and I was really impressed by them all, as well as their results-oriented attitudes.

They're all working hard right now, just a few feet away from me, so I'll probably wait until later this afternoon to start taking pictures of them individually, or in pairs, and then I'll give you a close-up look at these characters in the next blog. For now, I just wanted to make contact from a real race track and let you all know it has begun. As you can see, we parked our two rigs right next to each other, and the guys chose not to put the awning up today, preferring to let the sun shine in..

In the meantime, I will tell you the new guys are Adam Hiller, Carl Boyd, Kevin Maddux, and Chad Stockwell. You might remember Adam from last year, as he was the very unfortunate crew guy, on Whit Bazemore's team, who was seriously injured when the tow strap broke and the large heavy buckle hit him in the face. Adam was hurt very badly in that incident, so badly that he went through months of reconstructive surgery and still has some limited vision in his right eye, but he looks great and is more motivated than ever. Carl was his teammate on the Bazemore team last year, and they had both made a move to Clay Millican's organization, to work on the dragster Jessie Harris was tabbed to drive. They had moved to Memphis, gotten to work, and were all settled in and getting ready for the season, when the Torco sponsorship news came out and they found themselves as parked as their race car. As instant free agents, they weren't on the market for long, as Del snatched them up and brought them on board here.

Chad is So Cal boy who has been applying for work at Worsham Racing for a few years. Each time he'd contact us, Del would give him a list of things he needed to do to make his resume' more appropriate, and this year Del finally decided he was ready, so he'll get his start in a support role. Kevin, who will do the bottom end, is the latest in a seemingly endless list of guys we've had from central and southwest Missouri. It started when we hired Tom Abbett many years ago, and since then we've had Chad Wilson, Kevin Douglas, Rick Ducusin, Ryan McGilvry, and now Kevin. I wonder what they put in the water around there, to churn so many good crew guys out of one small region....

Filling out the team, we have Ryan and Matt, who were with us last year, although it struck me last night, when we were all having a beer together, that Matt joined us at Norwalk last year, so there are still quite a few tracks he hasn't been to. A few months from now, he'll have made the whole circuit.

Susan Wade, of, was just here. She and I caught up on our off-season news, and then we grabbed the Big Skipper, Chuck, for an on-line interview. I'm not sure when it will be posted, but if you want to see lots of drag racing interviews on video, Susan's website is a great source. I may be warm in the Nevada sunshine, but Susan didn't appear to be as toasty!

Chuck, BTW, is really doing well and has actually been cleared to bowl, with his left hand! As he put it, though, "My physical therapist also saw the note that cleared me to bowl, so now he's really stepping up the therapy and I'm too sore to bowl. But I'll be out there soon." The best he did, right-handed, was a 175.

Del, who has been working out and eating healthier since the end of last year, rolled in here this morning and he really does look good. He had to get his physical the other day, to renew his competition license for this year, and it was the first time he'd weighed himself since his physical one year ago. He's 20 pounds lighter! Amazing what an elliptical machine and smaller portions of healthy food will do for a guy. Me, I weigh exactly what I weighed last year...

Looking around the pit area, we see the Kalitta teams down the way a bit, Gary Densham's team across the aisle, Larry Dixon's dragster, and Dexter Tuttle is here as well, with Alan Bradshaw and their dragster. Our guys are putting the motor together now, and I'd suspect that, if all goes well, we might be firing up in an hour or so. At that point, I really will get my first face-full of nitro.

In the meantime, our uniform shirts arrived and I've been sorting those. Each guy will get three to start the season, and I hold one back for each of them, as well. That way, if all their shirts start looking pretty sad by the end of the summer, we can put one fresh clean one on them for the last part of the season. Same design as last year, but with snaps down the front instead of a pullover style. We will be stylin'....

Well, let's get this first blog from the race track posted... I'll keep tabs on things here, and should have some "action" pics soon, and I promise I'll corral Del long enough to get a shot of him.

In the meantime, if you're in the large part of the country that rarely gets winter weather, but are seeing snow and sleet, stay warm and stay off the roads!

Wilber, out!

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