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PhilZone

Phoenix Day One: Getting There

By Phil R. Elliott

For the record, being in Chandler, Arizona, for the Checker-Shucks-Kragen Nationals marks the first time I've been to more than one national event in a season since I left the IHRA. And this is two in less than two weeks. Not bad.

First, the weather is fine; wish you were here.

With the post card out of the way, let's talk about my getting here.

On September 11, 2001, I believed with all my heart I'd never fly commercially again. But, as the adage goes, time heals all wounds. So, the attraction of another NHRA national event, and fairly cheap fairs on Southwest, here I am in the media center of Charlie Allen's Firebird International Raceway.

I left Holland Communications in Chatsworth at 4pm yesterday and headed for Burbank, following Tom West to make sure I found the proper parking lot. A shuttle ride got us to the terminal building where the military presence reminded me of my fears. The line was pleasantly short to get to the counter where a nice young man plugged my name into his computer. All was well until he said; "You'll need to give your bags to the inspectors…" I'd been hit by the random inspection.

Now if you could see my packing job, you'd understand why this wasn't the most pleasant sentence I'd heard. You see, some photogs go to national events with a change of socks and a pair of shorts in their camera bag and walk on the plane. Not Phil. I'm a writer, too. Then I have goodies to carry. And, I've got race clothes and biz-type clothes because after the race I'm headed to T&D Machine Products in Carson City, Nevada, to discuss rocker arm ads with Larry Torres. So, I have too much stuff in the world's largest suitcase – actually the size of a shipboard container – and suddenly all bazillion pounds of it was on a table in an airport terminal in Burbank, California. The good news was that the only thing security found questionable was my taste in Hawaiian shirts.

OK, so that hurdle had been made without too much problem. Everything seemed to go back into the container fairly well and off I went to the gate.

The next faux pas was totally mine. West wanted something to eat so we waited in a line again. I had an "Orange Sunshine Smoothy." Tom bought a slice of pizza and a similar icy drink.

The terminal was packed to beyond capacity, so I chose a spot on the floor. Trying to get situated, my nickname turned into "Smoothy" as I dumped over the cup, the lid of which popped off and my refreshing beverage was suddenly so much orange mud on the carpet.

Then, I got the giggles.

My "Flyin' Phil" moniker did not come from drug use, but at that moment, I'm certain airport security was wondering just what they were dealing with. Here was an aging, bleached-blonde freak in a Big Dog shirt, sitting on the floor cross-legged, dumping piles of potentially dangerous matter on their floor, and acting like he was actually on the mind-enhancing drug from the ‘60s the Smoothy was named for… I'm kind of amazed I wasn't escorted into a padded room.

I wasn't amazed an hour or so later when my number came up for yet another random search, this time as I was going on the plane. I removed everything from my pockets, took off my shirt and shoes, was patted down, scanned with an electronic wand and treated to just about everything but an anal probe.

OK, so these people are doing their jobs, and whether I look terrorist-like, off the wall, or it was just my turn, they are there to make things safer for all of us. I'm not complaining, only reporting. Yea, right…

The plane ride was OK. My peanuts were lovely, and Rich Carlson was there to pick me up when we arrived at Phoenix. Getting my suitcase into the trunk of his Buick was the next trick but we managed. Then, we had some half-priced hors d oeuvres at Applebee's and headed for the motel.

I can't say the Chandler Inn is a bad place – I have a bed, a shower, a TV (with cable), and a place to plug in my iBook. It looks like it was plucked off of Route 66 in the ‘40s, however, with little but paint since.

"Set the alarm for six," Rich said as he headed for bed. I fussed with my belongings until about 1:30am. Stock Eliminator rolled at 8am, and Carlson has multiple customers.

We drove through the gate here at 7:30am, unloaded cameras on the starting line, then I drove back out the gate to get credentials at a casino a mile or so away. That was easy, except for one thing. Pam Gorman said, "You've got media access but no starting line. You'll have to see Anthony (Vestal)." No problem.

I came straight back and hotfooted to the tower. No Anthony. So, I discussed the state of a number of things with NHRA-ESPN announcer Bob Frey, photographer Dave Kommel, Clay Millican's PR guy Bill Walters, and a few others until Vestal arrived.

My conversation with Frey will be a future column, I promise. He did tell me he knew of several writing assignments that would pay me two-to-three times what Bill is paying me to do this. Pretty impressive. I didn't write down any phone numbers.

When Anthony arrived, he quickly signed the back of my media pass and sent me to the credential trailer, down past the finish line. A nice brisk walk there got me a little green sticker. An even brisker walk back to the tower netted the netted "photo" vest and finally, I headed to the starting line. Of course, by then Stock and half of Super Stock had gone by, and I was unable to help Rich shoot as much as I'd hoped.

So now, it is a nearly 4:30pm local, and Pro session two is about to begin. Lots happened in the first session and I'll brief you now, with a little more detail later.

In Pro Stock, the bump is a decent 6.959. I say that because nearly every early runner shook and shut-off. The only driver among the first ten pairs to do anything was J.R. Carr, who recorded a 6.934. Later, the hitters went right down Firebird, and all the usual names are right where they should be – Krisher, WJ, Yates, Allen, Kurt, Morgan, etc. Ron Krisher's 6.883, 201.97 provisional pole is a new track record.

Three things happened in Funny Car. First, in about the second pairing, Phil Burkart shoed Geronimo/Nitro Fish to a seemingly soft 5.167 at a whopping 312.50 speed. Second, every car smoked the tires at just about 300 feet, except for (third) John Force, who broke their backs with a stunning 4.831, 314.31 clocking.

Top Fuel was somewhat better, with two drivers, Millican and Yuichi Oyama, in the 70s and Tony Schumacher on top at 4.632, 329.26.

I've got to pay attention to the track now, but I'll give you another report later tonight.

Phil Elliott

 

Thanks for checking out the PhilZone portion of Draglist.com. If you have accolades, complaints, comments, questions, or if you want to share a story, please feel free to post it on the PhilZone Message Board. Phil
 

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