"On The Road," April 2010
There have been some changes in my world since my last “On the Road” column back in December. For one, it’s 2010. In addition to the start of a new decade, 2010 marks the tenth consecutive year of “On the Road” here on DRR (that makes me feel kinda old). It’s really hard to believe, it seems like I just started penning these blogs yesterday. It’s been a great ride too; I can’t begin to count the number of people I’ve met at tracks around the country who have introduced themselves by saying “Man, I really enjoy your column. I’m so glad I’m not the only one who does stupid %&^$.”
Or better yet, there’s the guy that beat me in a $10,000 final, and came walking over after the race, holding his phone to his ear and said,
“Hey man, aren’t you the guy that writes that column on the internet?”
When I said yes, he turned back away, and while walking away said into the phone, “Yea! That’s the guy I beat in the final!”
At any rate, I suppose “On the Road” has brought me a level of fame, at least in my own little world, and that’s pretty cool. Thanks to all of you for reading; whether you’re looking at this for the first time thinking “Who is this clown?” or you’ve been entertained by my exploits for a decade.
The off season was pretty full on my end, as usual. I put together a new American Race Cars Dragster that we raffled off on New Year’s Eve. The actual drawing was pretty exciting: we narrowed down 5 finalists New Year’s Eve with a drawing at Huntsville Engine. Then those five guys got to sit on pins and needles for a few hours while my girlfriend Jessica and I drove to BTE near Memphis. There, Bill Taylor himself pulled our winner: Russ Adams from Ontario, Canada. When I called Russ to inform him of his fate, his response was priceless.
“I won the car??? I won the %*&^$ car!!!”
Over the winter I also bought another truck and trailer. It’s nothing new, just a small tag trailer that I could put two cars in and not have to drag the big trailer around. My trusty F350 has crested the 375,000 mile mark. Since I haven’t killed it yet, I figured the old 7.3 diesel must be a good combination. So, when I stumbled into a deal on a similar truck (a low mileage beauty at 215,000), I latched on to it. My goal (and it’s still in the works) is to have two completely separate rigs: the big trailer, fast dragster, and Stocker for NHRA racing; and the little trailer, old dragster, and Vega to go bracket racing. I’ve got the cars to do it now, and it’ll be so nice when I get everything the way I want. I’ll be able to leave rigs at various spots across the country, save some time on the road by flying, and keep a lot of extra junk out of the trailers (by not having to carry spare parts for all four cars). It looks good on paper at least; we’ll see if the finances hold out before the wheels come flying off.
ThisIsBracketRacing.com occupied a lot of my time and effort over the winter; as we launched a handful of new programs and features for 2010. We’ve added a message board forum for our members, which seems to have been very well received. We also started a new “Tech Talk” forum in which we get a little bit more into the mechanical side of successful racing (the site has always focused more on the physical act of driving). Plus, we’ve re-designed the BTE Power Rankings program, and added a host of great instructors for 2010; including Michael Beard, Bruce Deveau, James Monroe, Tommy Phillips, and Shawn Langdon.
On a personal note, I decided it’s time to seriously pursue a life with my girlfriend, Jessica Camden. Over the winter, I put my home in Alabama up for sale and it sold quickly. We’ve since closed there and I’m officially out of Alabama. As I write this column, Jess and I are eagerly awaiting closing on our new home here in Carterville, IL (living in her parents’ basement at the moment). As fellow Illinoisan Bfolk says, I’ll be a FIB (*&^%’in Illinois Bastard) before you know it!
I had full intentions of doing a lot of testing over the winter, but as most of you longtime readers have come to accept, things rarely go as I plan. As it ended up, I loaded Bryan Robinson’s Stocker and my ThisIsBracketRacing.com American Race Cars Dragster into the trailer in time to make it to Bradenton Motorsports Park for a Wednesday track rental prior to the opening NHRA LODRS event of 2010 in early February. I was really glad I tested… I ended up getting myself so far out of whack with the throttle stop setup on the dragster that I literally had to back up and start over (but I did learn from the experience, and that’s the point, right?). By the time Saturday afternoon rolled around (some 15 runs later) I wasn’t 100% satisfied with the tune up, but I felt like I had a lot better handle on it.
The stocker was consistent as ever, but Bryan and I were disappointed in it’s speed. So, Thursday evening I elected to change transmissions, which is not exactly the most enjoyable job in the sand at Bradenton. But, with the help of Don O’Neal and Gaines Hickman, I was able to knock out the chore in short order (the swap, of course, didn’t help ET in any measurable way. But I did learn something, and that’s the point, right?).
Once eliminations started, things took a turn for the better in Super Comp. I managed to continue what had been a yearlong streak of hooking the wrong opponent in Stock: my first round foe was .025 and dead-on which sent me packing. In Super Comp, however, I could seemingly do no wrong. I’d love to tell you a story about how I couldn’t miss the tree, drove the eyeballs out of the finish line, and just demolished everything in my path… Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t drive badly; but I didn’t really have to do much. Here’s my weekend in Super Comp:
Round 1: Opponent Deep Stages. I wait for the tree to light, and make my time trial. I shut off at 1000’ and ring up an 8.903 (Yep, I was set up a little hotter than I thought!), which is good for the low qualifier.
Round 2: Bye run (as a result of qualifying on the pole)
Round 3: My opponent goes 8.94 wide open and I manage to get in on it.
Round 4: My only real race of the day… I’m .016 to my opponents .004, and I drop. He’s 8.899 and I get the win with an 8.91. That was .001 away from being a loser.
Round 5: My opponent red lights
Round 6: Bye run
As I pulled through the water for my bye run, I watched in horror as Ray Miller III (Ray Ray) wins in front of me and crashes after the finish line. The wreck looked bad. From my vantage point it looked like Ray Ray went head on into the right guardrail from the left lane. The car did it’s job, as did his safety equipment, and I was relieved to see him get out of the car seemingly before it stopped moving.
Once they cleaned up the carnage, I idled down the race track twice to take the least fulfilling win of my career. You see something like that happen, especially to one of your friends, and it really takes you out of the mood to race. That’s obviously not the way anyone wants to win a race, I’m just glad Ray Ray escaped without injury; the car can be replaced.
It wasn’t the way I wanted to win my first NHRA LODRS event, but I did manage to hoist the mini-Wally following the Division 2 opener at Bradenton. With a win, runner-up, and semi at my first three Super Comp events, it’s hard to say the 2010 campaign isn’t off to a promising start.
From Bradenton, I loaded up and headed north to Gainesville, the site of another NHRA LODRS event the following weekend. I dropped my trailer off in Gville at John Rollins’ house (thanks John for letting it take up space all week) and headed home to catch up on some work and get the moving process started. I made my way back to Gainesville in time to make one time run on Saturday morning and race. My outing was frustrating, but good, as I managed to advance to the final round in both Super Comp and Stock, only to get beat in both finals.
The Super Comp final was up first, as I put my perfect 2010 record on the line against my buddy and superstar racer Troy Williams, Jr. Troy and I had a great race (it seems like we have a lot of those. Thankfully, we’ve had a lot in final rounds), and he did a much better job than I did at the finish line and took home the Wally. In Stock, I pretty much didn’t have a prayer in the final, as it was a heads-up A/SA battle with my buddy Robbie Shaw, who had me covered by a little under a year. I got the starting line advantage by nearly a tenth, as Robbie’s only realistic chance to lose was going red, and my reaction time advantage would have been enough to make the race somewhat close (I wasn’t winning even at that), but I blew the tires off on the starting line.
All in all, it was a good day, and it’s hard to be disappointed with that start to the season: I made 3 finals in the first two events. And, if I couldn’t win there aren’t two people at the track I’d rather see win than Robbie and Troy. But, runner-ups kind of leave you with an empty feeling. And having two runner-ups in the same day… Well, for lack of a better word… Sucks.
After Gainesville, I took a weekend off and Jessica and her family came down to really get the move started. We loaded one trailer full of junk (I mean literally, JUNK, it went to the dump. It’s incredible how much crap you can accumulate), and one trailer full of furniture and shop equipment to head north.
The following weekend took me to Atlanta Dragway for the third NHRA Division 2 LODRS of the 2010 season. Atlanta has always been good to me, but I think that’s due in part to the fact that I don’t have any false illusions about the place. For whatever reason, the racing surface is incredibly slick. It always has been, and until it proves otherwise, it always will be as far as I’m concerned. As such, I didn’t even attempt to go 8.90 at 183 mph as I had at the first two events. Instead, I left the rocket ship at home and instead raced my ‘08 dragster for the first time in 2010. That car now has a conventional head motor in it with an iron block, so it’s got a little more weight on the back end. Even with that, I knocked some timing out of it, put a gas carburetor on, and installed the 34.5” Mickey Thompson monster truck tires off the fast car. In short, I tried to make it “Atlanta Friendly.”
As the weekend wore on, I was feeling pretty darn smart. The track was suspect at best, and the majority of the faster cars were having traction issues, especially in the right lane for some reason. In fact, in what has become a very alarming string of events, the track collected another pair of Super Comp Cars (there have been an absurd number of wrecks in that category at the first handful of races this year). Nonetheless, my old lead sled was going right down Broadway and I felt really good about my chances.
Meanwhile, the Stocker somehow magically decided it could pick up about .15 since our last outing (amazing how making a final and getting embarrassed heads-up can light a fire under your car owner’s seat). Seriously, we made some changes to the setup, but I’m still kind of floored that the car picked up that much: it really shouldn’t have. But who are we to argue? Bryan and I have been searching for that tenth and a half for over a year!
At any rate, once eliminations got underway things were once again falling into place. I advanced to the semi-final round in both cars for the second consecutive event. There, I all but had a wreck of my own in Super Comp, as the car I thought could go down a dirt road couldn’t go down the track that round for whatever reason. I had the advantage on the tree, but could only muster an 8.94 wide open (set up 8.86 from the round before). I should’ve given up long before the finish line, but I thought I had the tree, and what little bit I could look back at my opponent (I was pretty pre-occupied with trying not to hit anything), it looked like it was going to be close. It sucks to lose that way, but the bottom line is that my opponent dealt with the same race track I did, and he had a fast car. But he navigated the course a lot better than I did and made a representative run. I thought I’d done all I could to make sure I got down the race track, but in retrospect I should’ve made some more changes.
In Stock, I advanced to the final despite one of my worst starting line performances in recent memory. In the final, I bettered my previous best reaction time of the event by a smooth .040, to come up -.020. Yep, driving like a stud!!
We’re finally going some rounds with the Stocker. We started this project in 2008 with a pair of IHRA National Event victories and a 2nd place national finish. 2009 was very forgettable in Stock, but 2010 is off to a decent start. After a first round loss in Bradenton, we posted back-to-back runner-ups at the Gainesville and Atlanta LODRS events, then advanced to the quarterfinals at the Gatornationals.
On the way to Atlanta, the “Newer” truck that I’d just bought over the winter started acting up. For all intensive purposes, it’s blown up: it’s got one cylinder that pretty much won’t seal at all. It gets better with heat, but it’s not a good situation. When I fired it up to leave Atlanta it’s a good thing the races were over: I pretty well smoked out the entire pit area. But I can’t knock it too much, it did get me home.
Once I got there, I swapped trucks and dragsters and made my way back to Gainesville for the Gator Nationals. I got there late and parked in what would soon become a swamp as rains set in for the better part of two days. Jess flew in Friday morning so we could watch it rain together all day. By the time Saturday rolled around we had a beautiful day, but our pit area was so saturated that most of the sportsman couldn’t physically get from the trailer to the staging lanes without a tractor to pull us through the mud; so NHRA kept us off the schedule Saturday as well. Sunday morning, we braved the elements and got one time trial. The schedule said we’d watch the entire pro show, then get into eliminations Sunday evening.
When I started the Stocker Sunday morning (for the first time since getting tech’d in on Wednesday), it kicked back and knocked two teeth off the flex plate. I got it started and made the qualifying run, but it was just enough to make me nervous (and if I sat around for five days only to have it fail to start first round I wouldn’t be pleasant). So, while the pro’s were running I decided to pull the tranny and change flex plates, in the mud (sound familiar). Of course, Don O’Neal once again came to my rescue, as did my buddy Michael Rastall (Whopper, Jr.) and a few others. We actually got her fixed up in short order.
In round two of Super Comp my dragster sprung a leak; the trans cooler line split, and I fought off a near wreck for the second week in a row. Once again, I didn’t have the brains to give up, and I fought it all the way down the track for a losing 8.96 (once again, I had over .01 advantage on the starting line). I did manage to advance to the quarterfinal round in the Stocker, only to have my opponent lay down a .006 and -.001 under lap to send me home (I was a fairly representative .035 and took .003). Wait… It gets better. After beating Peter Biondo the round before, then laying that lap on me; my opponent is a nice, conservative .186 on the tree in the semi’s. Where was that last round?
As much of a mess as the Gator’s were from a sportsman standpoint, I think we’ve got to give NHRA some credit. When I looked at the pits Friday afternoon, I didn’t think there was any way we’d get a race in. They actually got everything finished up Sunday night. In fact, maybe we found a really cool format for a national event: just bring the sportsman in Sunday morning, give us one time shot, and run us that night after the pro’s. It would’ve been perfect had we not had to be there Wednesday!
The Sunday finish was great for me and Jess; as she had a flight out of Huntsville Monday afternoon. After a brief period of sulking following my defeat in Stock, I got everything loaded up and we hit the road about 11 that evening. We stopped a few hours later and slept for awhile, then got rolling again to get home in time to make her flight. We hit a traffic jam North of Atlanta that made things a little stressful, but we did manage to get her to the airport in time to catch her flight.
Shortly after I dropped her off, she calls to say her flight is delayed. No problem, we figured that would give her a few minutes to catch her breath and get some dinner. Well, by the time I got home (about 45 minutes from the airport), she called to say that her flight had been delayed again, and now she wouldn’t be able to make her connecting flight (and of course, she needed to be at work Tuesday morning). So, I hopped in the newer (half blown up) truck, and drove back to the airport. I put her in the drivers seat and sent her north to Illinois, where a group of 6th graders was waiting to learn from her. My mother picked me up at the airport and brought me back home.
The good news: the truck made it to Illinois and Jess got to work on Tuesday. The bad news: I left my keys in the truck. Obviously, the key that starts the truck is crucial: she needed that. But the keys to get into my house, shop, trailer, and other truck; those weren’t as important to her. They were, however, fairly important to me. I had spare keys for everything but the truck and trailer; so I was homebound for a couple days, and the cars didn’t get unloaded in very short order… Rest assured my friend. You are not the only one who does stupid $^%&.
I had full intentions of attending the first Tenn-Tuck event of the season the following weekend at Beech Bend Park in Bowling Green; it’s such a great bracket series. But, by Wednesday I was feeling a little under the weather. Doc said it was a sinus infection, and I told him I didn’t have time to be sick: give me a shot, give me some drugs; whatever I need.
I was actually proud of myself; figured I nipped that little health issue in the butt. Yea… I didn’t get out of bed until the following Monday. So, I missed Tenn-Tuck, I didn’t get anything accomplished toward moving, and I managed to get even further behind at work. I did, however, get to watch nearly every minute of the first two rounds of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. I guess if I had to be sick for a few days, I picked a good few days. That is by far and away the most exciting sporting event of the year.
Suddenly, the move was upon us. My Mom, Jessica, her grandfather Jack, and our buddy Chuck Broy put in some long hours getting everything packed up and sent north. Jason Lynch even got into the act, as he took the black dragster and the Vega up north to keep them at his place (about halfway between the Alabama home and the Illinois home). By Sunday evening, I had an empty house in Woodville.
We closed on Monday morning, and that afternoon I set out to Red Bay, Alabama, home of Jeff Strickland and Strickland Signs & Graphix. Jeff had printed up a wrap for the back door of my trailer over the winter, and I hadn’t gotten a chance to get by to let him apply it. So, we did that Monday evening (We? More like He… I offered plenty of moral support).
Jeff Strickland put together this back door wrap for my trailer and applied it before I went to Atco. Pretty sweet!
About 5AM Tuesday morning I left out from Red Bay to Atco, NJ. What do you mean New Jersey isn’t on my way from Alabama to Illinois? Peter Biondo and I had scheduled a ThisIsBracketRacing.com “Live” school presented by BRODIX Cylinder Heads at Atco months in advance. We had a full class, and the school led up to a Summer Series bracket race at the facility (two 5 granders and a 10 grander). Like Ron White says, I ended up at Atco “because my agent doesn’t own a globe…”
At any rate, I made the stellar decision to drive to Atco, because I figured since I was there already I’d run my fast dragster on the quarter mile for some big money: it’ll be great.
I was making great time on Tuesday, driving around the beltway in Washington D.C. by about 6:30... When the wheels came running off. Literally.
As I was rounding the beltway, jibber jabbering with Jeremy Jensen on the phone, the left rear wheel studs on my truck sheared off. In retrospect, I was really, really fortunate. I managed to skid off to the shoulder without hitting anything. As far as I know, my wheels and tires didn’t kill anyone (I never found either of them). Save for a fender, two wheels and tires, and a brake rotor, there wasn’t any significant damage to my truck or trailer. Once I collected myself, I faced the next dilemma… How am I going to get this thing off the highway, and how am I going to get to Atco in time for the school?
To the rescue came my old buddy, Waterhead. Tom Pistole has run a wrecker business in Maryland for decades. I gave him a call and he rounded up all the right people. A man named Steve Geyer came out with a flatbed; and we drug my three-legged duallie up on it. His son brought out a truck with a gooseneck ball, and we hooked the trailer to it. We managed to get it all to Steve’s lot (although in the process we burned up the transmission in his son’s truck). Wednesday morning, Steve and his guys helped me get everything apart and ordered the replacement parts that I needed. I actually thought I was going to be able to make it up to Atco for school that afternoon with my own rig, but we couldn’t get the right brake rotor from Ford. So, a little after lunchtime I finally gave up and rented a hot rod Kia; then took off for New Jersey.
I got in about 10 minutes after school was set to begin, but we had a really understanding group of guys who seemed to understand completely. Peter and I had an absolute blast over the next two days doing the school. I can’t thank everyone involved enough. To our students: you guys are awesome. As I said in closing; everyone in the class did something on the track that made Pete and I look at one another and say “Wow, that was impressive.” We had a great group of guys (and gal), and I really believe everyone left feeling more confident and more competitive; feeling like it was a worthwhile investment. That’s all we can hope for.
Thank you Brian Casper and Kevin Ingraldi: Brian was instrumental in bringing TIBR “Live” presented by BRODIX to Atco, and his help was priceless. The duo kept us fed throughout the school with some of the best eats I’ve ever had. The only thing better than dinner was dessert!
Thank you to the Sway family and the staff at Atco. These guys are so good. Atco Raceway runs as a model of business efficiency. They’re so professional, prepared, and organized: they seem to think of everything. Throughout the school and the race over the weekend I was constantly amazed and impressed. Every race track in the country could take notes from Atco and improve their program. It’s top notch in every respect.
Thank you to Peter Biondo. I’ve come to the conclusion that Pete doesn’t agree to do anything without putting 110% into it. His excitement, interest, and attention to detail throughout the planning process and the school were incredible. Add that to the fact that he’s a 5-time world champion and has seen just about any scenario on the race track you could imagine; and he’s obviously someone we could all learn a great deal from. Working alongside him was an honor and a privilege.
One funny note from the school: Obviously without my trailer I didn’t have anywhere to stay Wednesday night. So, Peter offered to let me stay with him at the motel. I didn’t have anywhere to keep my dog Matty, so we decided to “smuggle” her into the room. We got on the elevator (Matty, Peter, and myself), as a couple boarded at the same time. The man swiped his room key card in the elevator, and Pete, amazed, said:
“You guys got the honeymoon suite or something?”
“Yea,” the guy explained. “Top floor.”
Pete laughed and said “You two are going up to the honeymoon suite. And I’m sleeping with a dog.”
Once school was out Thursday afternoon, I drove to Steve Everett’s shop and borrowed a wheel and tire; the last piece of the puzzle to get my truck back running. Tom Stalba had ordered me a pair of wheels and tires, but couldn’t have them until Friday; so he orchestrated the trade out with Steve… Huge thanks to both of those guys for going out of their way to get me rolling again.
I got back to DC that evening, dropped off the hot rod Kia, and had dinner with Waterhead. Friday morning, we got the truck back together and I headed back north to Atco for the first day of their 3-day bracket race. Once again: thank you to Tom, Steve Geyer, his crew, and most of all his son (sorry about your truck dude).
On the track, I had a decent outing but couldn’t seem to break through like I’d hoped. In the Thursday race, I advanced to round four and missed the tree. In Saturday’s ten grander I got to the semi-finals and got beat by Bryan “Chicken” Balducci, who went on to beat Wayne Horton in the final. Sunday, I broke an input shaft second round, loaded up, and set out on the long ride to my new home in Southern Illinois. Although I wasn’t able to make a final, I did manage to win the weekend points at Atco, which is an accomplishment at that place, there are a lot of really good racers in that area & it’s a very tough place to race. And, with the purse structure (so much deeper payout than we’re used to down South) I actually made decent money on the weekend (if you throw out the whole wheels running off episode).
I got back here to Illinois with no further issues, and as I said we’re currently in the process of getting moved into our new home. As any of you who have ever moved and/or bought a home know, it’s exciting, stressful, and scary all at the same time! I’m going to focus on getting moved in and maybe race around here for a couple weeks, then I’ll head to Bristol for Peter Biondo and Kyle Seipel’s K&N Spring Fling 20’s. Then I’ve got what is now my “Home” national event at Gateway. We’ve got a couple of schools planned for May; Folk Race Cars school at Byron which I’ll be involved in for the second year, and our 2nd annual Junior Dragster school at Holiday Raceway where I’ll be joined once again by Jared Pennington and Jeff Kile. I’ll also try to defend my Super Comp title at the Southern Nationals in Atlanta, and make another pair of big dollar events with the Thunder Valley Bracket Challenge in Bristol and the Ultimate 64 Shootout near Cincinnati.
Overall, I’m looking forward to a busy couple of months, and I’m looking forward to getting back on the bracket racing scene between events in my chase for “precious points“ on the NHRA Lucas Oil trail. Thanks again for reading, and please support my marketing partners when possible: I could not compete at this level without their quality components and support. Those partners include ThisIsBracketRacing.com, JEGS, American Race Cars, Bill Taylor Enterprises, Mickey Thompson Tires & Wheels, Huntsville Engine & Performance, K&N, Auto Meter, Brodix Cylinder Heads, Ohlins Shocks, Dixie Racing Products, K&R Performance Engineering, B&M, Figspeed.com, Sparco, Moser Engineering, DragRaceResults.com, Rockett Brand Race Fuels, Frankenstein Cylinder Heads, Advanced Product Design, Hedman Hedders, Nitroplate, Todd’s Extreme Paint, Goza Racing Products, ISC Racers Tape, Nitrous Express, PimpMyCrew.com, J&J Engine Diapers, Sunset Racecraft, and Milodon.