THE 50TH ANNUAL MARCH MEET 2008
I guess the pressure is on. By now most everyone one knows I write a “What I did Last Weekend” story. It isn’t a race report, just a bit about my time at the races. You can read all the stats and who beat whom all over the web. As all the racers know, when you are running your own program the only 2-races you really know about is the one just ahead of you as you watch from the cockpit, and the race you are in. You just don’t have time to see any of the others usually.
I really have no idea where to start. How do you describe the feeling of racing at one of the most prestigious nostalgia races in the country? From the time Danny Miller and Chi Town Brown asked me to drive the Hot Rod for them the excitement has been building for me. I went up the tower steps to see Mike English and the guys. I got one of those weird feelings. Just thinking of all the hero drag racers that have walked up the same stairs ahead of me was humbling. I could almost feel Big Daddy or the Snake blocking the stairs saying, “Kid you don’t belong here. Now just go back from wherever you came from.” It is probably a good thing Cindy Gibbs was behind me; I might not have gone up the rest of the stairs. When I made it to the top, everything was different. It was like, hey I am racing at the 50th March Meet,,,,somebody smack me I must be dreaming. Mike and Bob said, “Hey lets talk to the fans,” and stuck a microphone in my face. I guess they figured if I could drive a Nitro Funny car, that I could talk. Who knew??
Jeff Utterback, the driver of Danny Pisano’s Funnycar, and I have been talking smack all winter. How do you like that, I have about 10-laps total in a Funnycar, and I am telling him he should watch out. Drivers, what are you going to do with them? Just for the record, I was lucky not to line up with him. They laid down a 6.01 a couple weeks ago, and a new team record of 6.00 at the MM. I heard a rumor it was the new “Hot Dog” bottom end guy Slick Vic they have on the team. If you ever get a chance, stop by their pit. They are at the top of the heap in class in my book. My friends, Bob Bradley and Bob Godfrey are almost like family. I get to talk to Bob B, a lot and Bob G. has been at every funnycar event I have attended. His team always makes me feel right at home. The cool thing is they let me hang out, but don’t put me to work. That is kind of rare in a Nitro funnycar pit,,,trust me on this one. They haven’t offered up a hammock spot yet, but it can’t be far off can it?
While we are on the subject of great teams out there, every single funnycar team that was at the MM showed us an incredible amount of friendship. All weekend long everybody was offering help; parts or whatever it took so all the cars could make the runs and put on a great show for the crowd. I don’t know how many people were there, but the place was packed. Our friend Mark Stuckey helped us to get there, even knowing that he would have to race us when we came out. It was just so cool. Blake Bowser did everything he could to make sure that we had what we needed to compete and have a good time. We even had a racer come over and offer his complete car to us if we could not get ours back together in time. How can you top that? He just wanted to help, and yes it was one of the really nice cars there. The new NFC driver, Mendy Fry, was pitted right behind us with the Gary Messenger car. It is easy to see why she is a favorite of the fans and the other racers.
OK, now for the racing part. Friday we had decided to make a 1000-foot pass and click it off. This was only the 2nd event for the car and at Indy last year we had some oiling issues. Danny wanted to make sure they were solved before we let it hang out there for 1320-feet. We thought since it was early in the year, we should back it down a bit and just make an A to B pass. The track wasn’t having any of that. I should have known something was up when the guys put a pitcher of Margaritas in the back of the car. When I had gone about 30-40 feet it was completely shaken I assure you. I know this because I sure was. It was just down on power enough to shake and not get up on the tires. I let it calm down and gave it another stab about half-track hoping to maybe get some info on the back half of the run. I kicked the rear end out like a sprint car, so I just gave up and idled down the track. I figured by now the crowd would have figured out the “Altered Guy” was behind the wheel.
Qualifying round 2 on Saturday, we were ready. We had put some timing in it, a couple of more % of Nitro and felt pretty good about the decisions. Time to fire it, pull it into high, roll thru the water nail it. Just as it is about ½-way through the burnout, it died. Instant like, so I was pretty sure it was electrical. I knew I hadn’t hit the kill switch, as I can hardly reach it when I need to anyway. Two chances down, and we haven’t been down the track yet. Not exactly how we had planned the weekend so far.
Back in the pits, we started checking and found the mag went bad. We are pretty sure the tire shake killed it. When we changed it the car fired right off. We decided to switch the coil out as well just to be sure. Now we are down to the last shot to make it into the field. 16-slots and 31-cars, you do the math, no pressure right? It is nighttime at the March Meet, and I have one more shot. We race at night a lot here in the Midwest; it is my favorite time actually. The engine starts, always a good sign, down with the body, into the water box. On the throttle and it does a decent smoky burnout. With it stopped, into reverse, time to back up quickly to not hang up anybody. Yes, I did check about 3-times to make sure it was in 1st. I moved into the prestage bulb, put the fuel on the high side, and rolled on in as shallow as possible. I wasn’t worried about the light I just needed it to make the trip. At the hit it picked the front up and marched. Time to reach down pull the lever into high gear and head for the stripe. Around 1100-feet it stopped pulling so I lifted. It felt like a pretty decent run until that point. Hit the chutes, fuel off, coast across the line then ease on the brake. Things at that point we still OK, then I hit a couple of the bumps in the shut down area. Now that was only a problem due to the position of the throttle pedal in the car. Imagine if you will the Capt. Morgan guy with his leg up. That is what it is like in the car with my foot on the pedal. My leg bounced up and down on the throttle as the car bounced. Now remember, fuel is off, motor is slowing down and now the throttle blades are opening and closing with the bumps. It would appear this is “OK” for about 3-bumps, because on the 4th one the motor banged and I could see fire in the fire windows of the cowl. I took the next turnout and got it stopped. I was watching the fire in the window, since it wasn’t going out I figured I probably should get out now. Up and out through the roof hatch; and then do the “John Force” slide off the quarter panel. I was being careful not to scratch the car as I slid. The painter in me was showing I guess. There were only 1 or 2 top end guys there at that time, but the fire trucks were rolling. I couldn’t help it. I let out a yell, because it was such a fun ride down there. Then the fire trucks were there, and I said, “What did it run?” One of them said, 6.27, you are in the show. Time for another “OH YEAH!!” Then I asked them to please put the fire out since they were there and all. It was a small oil fire and not a lot of damages to the car.
It was such a cool feeling to know I was going to be racing at the MM! When we got it back to the pits, dropped the diaper and found 3-rods in the pan. We had a spare engine, but it wasn’t put together. We all worked on the car until 5AM. Then “Chi Town” Dan Brown had me take the team back to the motel while he stayed and finished putting the top end back together. We cleaned up, and came back to the track around 8:30 AM or so. The car was almost done. I can’t believe Chi got so far along in that short a time. We sent him to get cleaned up, and he made it back with plenty of time for the first round.
Sunday, race day, clear sunny and the track has been really letting the racers lay down some numbers. To say our team was excited would be the understatement of the decade! I had the Dan’s Electric Mustang for the 1st round. He has been racing a long time so I know we are going to have to be on our A-game. This is going to be our 5th or 6th run on the car and we are lining up at the MM. Insert another big grin here. I was away 1st, around 3-400 feet the car moved over to the wall. It didn’t seem real inclined to come back to the groove so I pedaled it a couple of times. I was telling her to move over, the car said, “Hey I thought you were the hero painter guy?” I told it that maybe true, but your garage is 6-hours away from my house so it might not be me painting you. I guess I convinced her because she straightened right up, and marched to the finish line. I pulled high gear, and didn’t see Dan so I kept my foot buried to the stripe. Time for chutes, fuel off again, and having been to this rodeo I reached down and grabbed a handful of my fire suit pants leg and held it off the throttle pedal until it was time to make the turn off. I wasn’t chancing another leg bouncing deal like last night. It was clean and dry after the run. It went a 6.44 after having to pedal it that seemed about right for where we had it set up. About this time it dawns on me, we have just won a round at the March MEET!! Incredible!
In the pits servicing the car everything looks great. Danny steps on it a little bit, as we have a tough round coming. It is the Pleuger and Gyger car, with Mike Grekul driving. It sure was nice to have the car responding and acting like it should again. We are ready and waiting when the called us to the lanes.
The minute it fired I knew Danny had worked his magic on it. I could hear it in the pipes as I rolled into the water. The car went upstairs and was really floating along in the burnout. Then disaster struck. I heard a slight noise, and then felt the dreaded vibration. The last time I felt this was at KCIR when the rods let loose in the Nitro Madness car. I immediately pulled off to the side, and clicked it off. In an effort to not hold up Mike, I unbuckle to get out when the body is raised. When the body went up, I saw a ton of oil everywhere, dang it. My plan was to go over the wall so they can run Mike in the other lane. However, there as a fire going on our car. I made a couple of attempts to get it out while waiting for the hand held fire extinguishers to show up with no real success. The track official was telling me to set off the bottles. I decided he probably was right, as even though it was a small fire now, it if got a hold of some fuel it could really jump up quickly. I hit the bottles, with some additional help from a remote extinguisher we got it out. It was decided to haul it on a flat bed to keep from dripping any oil on the rest of the track. The track personnel were top notch and had everything well taken care of in short order.
Our MM racing was over but the memories will last forever. I really appreciate being able to drive the Plastic Fantastic for Danny, Chi and the team. The team for the weekend was Danny Miller, Dan Brown, Seth Rook, Rich Kemp, and Harry Baumheager. We had a ton of assistance from a group of friends as well. Darr Hawthorne, and Mark “Sharky” spent a ton of time with us as well.
I hope you enjoyed my “What I Did Last Weekend” story. I know I have left a ton of things out. It was just way too cool to recall it all here.