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