2012 Month of Money tour blog
The Blog shown below is from our Month of Money tour to the mid west of America in July / August 2012. Plus the famous Knoxville Nationals of course ….
We endeavour to keep everybody at home informed day by day on how the tour is going and of course provide all the info from the many race meetings we attend and the juicy bits of gossip about the adventures of our guests.
And all the fun …
The Gallery has been updated with dozens of new photos and if you are a Facebook person please ask Peter Physick to be your friend to see a hundred or more different ones.
Several years ago, Australian driver Trevor Green said that watching sprintcars in America, especially at Eldora, was like watching in fast forward on your video player. Nothing has changed to make that statement any less relevant in 2012 when our Month of Money tour members began their tour at the half mile of clay in the middle of some very sunburnt Rossburg, Ohio cornfields.
So let’s see what happened both before and after Eldora ….
Day 1 – Thursday July 12th 2012
An early start out of Sydney International this morning allowed the Delta wide bodied jet to lift 14 people to new heights as they commenced the first of their next 32 days in North America. Nothing of any consequence happened 35,000 feet high above the Pacific, nor did the sometimes confronting task of clearing Border Security and Customs in Los Angeles cause any grief. And to continue the good news, our arrival at Gate 68 to board the Minneapolis flight was a smooth process, once everyone had got dressed again that is after enduring the domestic security screening procedures.
A change of planes in Minneapolis for Chicago was a snap and before anyone knew it, the last 21 hours of air travel was forgotten as a whole new wide world of excitement awaited.
Henry the Hotel Shuttle bus driver conveyed the group to Schiller Park and the Comfort Inn & Suites which just happened to have a classic American Sports Bar & Grille located next door. Dinner and a “get to know everyone” drink occupied the rest of the night before most retired to a well-earned sleep. Some however introduced themselves to the Legends Bar inside the Hotel. One in particular went back next morning (when the bar area is in breakfast mode) to actually check the level of the Makers Mark bottle which had been opened especially for him. He was disappointed to find an inch still left in it ….
Day 2 – Friday July 13th 2012
We are travelling for the next 32 days in a 15 seater Chevy van which will carry 12 and a Toyota Kluger which is the luggage mule, plus a driver and passenger. Our first of many big days was on the cards for today and given the one hour lost going into Indiana, we set off at 8.00am to tackle the Windy City’s extraordinary freeway system which is there to provide access for Chicago’s seven million residents. It was peak hour, but we took the Express lanes (legally) that carry the through traffic to the east and west of the city.
In our case we were headed east to the top of Indiana and then southeast on I-65 towards Indianapolis. We took a break at a Pilot Truck stop which epitomises mid America. The hundreds of trucks plying the interstates need fuel, the drivers need a place to sleep (in the truck), eat and shower. In our case it was hot dogs and good old American food for the first timers. In Ash’s case it was a lot of water and litres of Gatorade ….
Our first destination was Winchester Speedway which really has to be seen through your own eyes. The 32° banking on a paved ½ mile oval cannot be described in words, or indeed pictures. Just how more than the 14 who have died at this track didn’t, remains a mystery to me. Our hosts for the visit were Gary McFarland and Kirk Daugherty who brought out Gary’s Pontiac Firebird for everyone to have three laps around the track as a passenger. 12.66 seconds is the lap record. We did it in a more sedate 31 seconds.
Some gifts for all and a complimentary beer finished off a most eye opening 90 minutes.
20 minutes later we were 20 miles closer to Eldora Speedway when we arrived at the Greenville Inn, our home for the next two nights. A more typical American Motel you wouldn’t find. The adrenaline must have been building, because although the announcement was made that we would leave for Eldora 30 minutes after checking in, the small foyer was full of Aussies 10 mins later. No point in hanging around here they must have figured.
You can buy a T-shirt which has these words printed across the front. “If you can find your way to Eldora without a map, then you must be a true sprintcar fan”. Tony Stewart may have bought the track a few years ago and improved upon Earl’s efforts, but it still remains an adventure to find it. But not for us. Due north, 22 miles up State Route 118 lies the speedway fan’s own Field of Dreams. As the Chevy crested the slight hill on 118, the expansive grounds of Eldora emerged in their full glory.
When Earl Baltes built this place 60 years ago, he either had great foresight to buy as much land as he did, or it must have been cheap at $10 / acre. Whatever the correct answer is doesn’t matter because every which way you looked there was an RV next to an RV next to another RV. 75% of people begin to arrive for the Kings Royal 3-4 days before and take up their regular spot in the camp grounds. Literally, there were thousands of them. Motorhomes that is, not people.
We were to meet up with Scott “Stubb” Phillips who quickly developed legendary status with our group over the next 36 hours. We had a pre-arranged parking spot next to the equally legendary Palace, Stubb and Gail’s ancient camper. He paid $500 for it years ago and now reckons it worth 10 times that because he has slept in it. The Palace is an institution at Eldora and is usually the site of many cornboard championships. But more about that tomorrow.
Our arrival tonight was around 6.00pm so it was with great anticipation that the lads waited for me to return with our reserved seat tickets. Having to stand outside what is perhaps the world’s best speedway (and not be able to get in) for just five minutes is an imposition that no one should have to bear. I took 20 minutes, such was the crowd wanting to get tickets. A look on the faces of the boys as they gleefully grabbed the tickets told me that it was ‘go time’ for them. We would all meet up later in grandstand NH which borders turn 4.
The infield pit area was relatively jam packed with 79 transporters and sprintcars. 48 410’s for the Knight before the Royal and 31 NRA Sprint Invader 360’s. It had room for plenty more if extras had turned up. Nominations (as Australians know them) are not required for races over here. If you want to run, then just turn up and pay your pit admission and you’re in the show. The Knoxville Nationals is the only race I know of that requires a pre-nomination.
With hot laps out of the way, qualifying commenced. The fastest part of Eldora is the back straight and it is awesome (not a word I am prone to use very often) to see how deep they drive into turn 3 before attempting to tweak the steering a little to get to turn 4 without first testing the concrete wall. The high banking off course is of great assistance to complete the task. David Gravel had quick time, the heats were set and it was now on with the show.
But first the track chaplain provided his thoughts, concluding with a resounding amen from the 17,000 strong crowd. America’s greatest song (that’s the national anthem we are told) followed, fireworks exploded from behind the back straight billboards and then the first of 23 nights racing exploded into action for us. Four heats, a dash, a C, B and an A for the 410’s and three heats, a B and an A for the 360’s occupied the night. At the end of it all perennial Australian visitor Randy Hannagan had won the 360’s. Joey Saldana took the money in the 410’s and our boy Kerry Madsen was a disappointing 20th or so, having been taken out on the notorious turn 2.
I say notorious because if you looked at Eldora from an aerial photograph, turns 1, 3 & 4 are perfectly symmetrical. But turn 2 has a kink in the fence line which brings the best undone at any time. You could call it ‘Eldora’s Bermuda Triangle’. Tonight was no exception with many an incident happening at this point. If it didn’t happen here, it was in turns 3 & 4 when the damage done to the car from hitting the turn 2 wall, announced itself most unexpectedly.
The leader of the 360 feature discovered that in a massive way when he drove fast and deep into turn 3 as always, but after whatever it was that broke on the car and stopped doing its job, he found the wall and his car disintegrated around him as he flipped and gyrated along the catch fence. He came down to the track at the same time as his right rear which had long ago departed the chassis. The car and most of the now separated parts began to slide down the banking into the path of the oncoming pack. Just as in the same way you would flip a coin from a table, the right rear wheel with rim and tyre intact, was launched high into the air by a passing car and cleared the high safety fence by five metres. Its orbit took it straight into the crowd on turn 4 and an eerie hush came over 17,000 people in a heartbeat. Surely this was going to be serious. (I should say to readers that we were well clear of the landing spot of the errant Goodyear.)
And as quickly as it happened, those in the immediate area signalled all was well to track officials and Ohio’s finest, all of whom were running to the scene expecting the worst. I guess if you have the courage to sit down near the fence at Eldora, you must expect a similar result at some stage. All in all there were six major high speed flips tonight, but we’ll count the tally as seven after we witnessed the acrobatics of a well fed middle aged lady who catapulted herself down the bleachers from the top row.
A 12.45am meet time back at Stubb’s compound allowed those who wanted to visit the pits plenty of time to so. Trev Jordan had spent the entire night in there having paid $34 for his pit pass. He was happy with that until he discovered that it was only $5. He had omitted to tell the dude on the gate that he already had a $29 ticket ….
Our own race drivers in the tour group, Steve Lyall (sprints up in Carnarvon) and Jason Kavanagh (Super Rods in Victoria) appeared despondent that they hadn’t packed a race suit in the luggage. They would have loved to have been out there!
After a couple of icy cold dollar beers with Stubb and friends we made the 22 mile trip home amazed at what had been witnessed and could only wonder what was in store for tomorrow night when $50,000 was on the line.
Day 3 – Saturday July 14th 2012
Telephones were a priority this morning and those who needed a SIM card headed off to obtain same. On the way to Wal-Mart where the T-Mobile office was located, the journey took them past many a sprintcar transporter wedged in to various Hotel parking lots. Kerry Madsen was spied and of course it was compulsory to stop and say hi, inspect what was going on and generally be a nuisance to the crew who were building a new car after last night’s turn 2 wreck. Kerry was confident of a strong showing tonight.
Meanwhile back at the track, Stubb was busy cooking his famous seasoned and spiced BBQ’d chicken for the tour group, in between setting up the inaugural Corey ‘Petey’ Martin memorial cornboard challenge. ‘Petey’ was a guy, just like anyone of us, who loved sprintcars and travelling across America to watch ‘em race, whilst at the same time enjoying the fellowship of thousands of others who do the same. Unfortunately Corey decided to end his life seven months ago, hence Stubb had invited his parents to the 2012 Kings Royal to see what their son had enjoyed so much.
The Chevy cruised into the Palace compound around 2.30pm ready for what was likely to be one hell of a day. There was merchandise to buy from the vendors, the pits with 92 cars were open to inspect, a Cornboard Challenge needed to be run, Stubb’s lunch with chicken, pulled pork, beans and baked potato had to be eaten, Miller Genuine Drafts, Budweiser and Coors had to be consumed, new people had to be met. Oh, and the Kings Royal was there to be run and won.
Drivers, pit crew and fans, you name it. Aussies were spread far and wide across the enormous Eldora complex. At the compound, Hanson and Ingham (as a team) nearly won through to the final of the “Petey Challenge”, while McLaughlin, De Groot, Physick, Topp were defeated in qualifying. The balance were down in the pits, learning and watching.
In terms of the racing, group members are saying that they are unlikely to see anything better on tour, but we know they will. Sammy Swindell took the honours, but only just, as a fast finishing Kerry Madsen lived up to his promise to our lads this morning that he would have his race face on. Second place sucks for the driver, but Kerry provided such a strong challenge that the 25,000 strong crowd will look back on this night with great memories.
Day 4 – Sunday July 15th 2012
Seeing as how the Kings Royal wasn’t interrupted by rain, we were able to fulfil our wish to get to Lawrenceburg this evening for night 3 of Indiana Sprintweek. As the only one in the group who had been there before, I knew it would be an eye opener when they saw this track for the first time, so I chose to keep the characteristics of this track a secret. But the look on their faces as the extreme high banks at each end of the 3/8th mile track came into view was absolutely worth it.
Before Lawrenceburg however we called into the Air Force Museum at the Wright- Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton. At just 75 minutes by road from Greenville, it was a pleasant Sunday morning drive through what is usually lush and leafy countryside. Regretfully though, the extreme heat the Mid-west has endured of late has left the lawns of most properties scorched, dry and brown from the sun. The corn and maize fields on the other hand are alive and well with irrigation being kept up to ensure survival of their income producing crops.
Subdivided into Galleries, the Air Force Museum records the history of A) The Early Years, B) WW2, C) Korean War, D) South East Asia War, E) The Cold War, F) Missile & Space, G) The Presidential and H) Research & Development. The exhibits are housed within gigantic purpose built hangers, all conjoined by above ground tunnels. To quote from their website:
“The National Museum of the United States Air Force galleries presents military aviation history, boasting more than 360 aerospace vehicles and missiles on display — many rare and one-of-a-kind — along with thousands of historical items and powerful sensory exhibits that bring history to life and connect the Wright brothers’ legacy with today’s stealth and precision technology. We invite you to take an online glimpse of our galleries. Click on a gallery name to see exhibits, including aircraft, engines, equipment and weapons of the USAF. The section also highlights special exhibits, current exhibits and restoration projects.” http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/index.asp
When standing under the Bockscar, the B-29 superfortress which dropped the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, its sheer physical size and the fact that this was the plane which actually flew the mission, simply makes the head spin. There are even stealth bombers in there plus rocket missiles which were stored underground and in barn silos around America to disguise them during the Cold War. They remained engaged and ready to be fired at any moment, if the President of the day had decided to do so.
To an aircraft enthusiast, this place would be the Knoxville Nationals on a stick.
After a quick check in at the Hotel, it was into the tour vehicles for the 61 mile drive back into Indiana and on to Lawrenceburg. As usual the classic Australian manner came to the fore when upon confronting a gigantic line up at the ticket office, we were invited to drive around behind the grandstand where a lovely lady took our money and we were in.
There were 39 top class non wing USAC sprintcars in the pits and to be honest the competitiveness of these guys is such that anyone of 20 could win on any given night. That became very evident during the heats and again I must say that the completely involuntary smiles on our guy’s dials throughout the night said it all. The lads watched in amazement at the skill and courage of these drivers …. and I watched them watch the racing. I had just as much fun seeing that.
It was probably a perfect night for everybody …..
Day 5 – Monday July 16th 2012
We have five Peter’s on this tour. To assist with identification, nicknames will be developed not only for the Petes, but everyone as the days go by. They will occasionally be dropped into the Blog, so keep an eye out …
We hit the Interstates again today for the third longest driving day of the tour. 306 miles (489km) from Dayton in Ohio to Butler in Pennsylvania. Interestingly we have now already done the 3rd and 4th longest driving days. The township of Butler is just 10 miles from Lernerville Speedway where we will be tomorrow night. Tonight therefore will be one where we won’t have to shower before bed!!
I forgot to mention earlier that as fabulous as Eldora was, the dust level was high. Night 1 was worse than the second, but it has been like that for many years now, but the crowds keep coming back because of the calibre of the racing. The track’s clay surface after the end of racing was as moist as plasticine, so where the dust comes from is beyond me. Lawrenceburg wasn’t as bad, but it hung in the air …
The drive to Butler went without incident but was punctuated by a stop at Wal-Mart for some healthy food. Now that may sound like a contradiction in terms but their stores actually have tremendous fresh food for takeaway. Their subs are a real 12 inches long (and about 5 inches thick) and are huge value at $5.95. Fresh fruit and sea food all packaged up that morning ready for purchase was another popular choice for the boys.
Sounds weird doesn’t it on a speedway tour, but our thanks go to ‘Carbo’ for the suggestion … you’ll have to work out who that is. I can’t tell you his name, but he drives a Super Rod.
Dinner tonight was in an Italian Restaurant where all the good work of earlier today was totally undone…
Day 6 – Tuesday July 17th 2012
For the first time on the tour a lengthy sleep in was permitted for those who needed it this morning. I’m not sure that I can tell you who did what, but I do know that some of the guys who didn’t need to sleep went for long walk into downtown Butler. Easy to start because it was all downhill, but the walk back was a significant achievement up the hill to the very comfortable Marriott Fairfield Inn & Suites.
The walk into the Hotel property takes you straight past Dingbats. And just what might Dingbats be you ask? The real question should be, what was it? The best laid plans for a tour host can go astray when the lacklustre American economy dictates that the owners of a lovely American Bar & Grill must not only close the joint down, but hold an auction on site to sell every fixture and fitting in the place on the day we arrive. That’s why we finished up eating Italian last night ….
The day was hot. To a point where it reached 96° in the old money, so we delayed our departure for Lernerville Speedway until 4.30pm. Looking very much the shape and size of Parramatta Raceway (now Sydney Speedway), Lernerville’s most remarkable feature is the 40 feet drop off the back straight. It looks dangerous but doesn’t appear to faze the drivers who just get on with the job of trying to win. And tonight there were two chances to win with twin features for the Don Martin Silver Cup.
Craig Dollansky took the honours in the first which took an hour to run 30 laps. In previous tour Blogs I have expressed my views about the infuriating work area now used by the Outlaws. It uses up so much time that officials then need to put the red lights on to allow cars to top up with fuel because they have been idling around so long waiting for those who went to the work area to come back out again!! It becomes a vicious circle in the end and is totally unacceptable to the fans.
What was good however was seeing Tony Stewart win the second one. Although not a true Outlaw race for points, Smoke started off the pole and was good enough to keep the howling pack at bay.
All in all, I’m thankful that the tour members saw Eldora and Lawrenceburg first, rather than to have had tonight at Lernerville as their first memory of sprintcar racing in the USA.
Day 7 – Wednesday July 18th 2012
On each morning when we hit the road the chief luggage packer (another Peter known as Junior) tackles the task of loading up the Kluger with suitcases and airline carry-on bags. It’s becoming an art form for him now and each time a little bit more unused space can be seen appearing as he gets better at his juggling act. Although, as purchases are made, that remaining space progressively becomes smaller and smaller.
Speaking of spending money, this morning saw the convoy make an unscheduled stop in Sarver where some members of the touring party did their bit to improve the local economy at the “Precise Race Poducts” store. A Super Rod in Victoria and a limited sprintcar in Carnarvon should now go a bit faster next season as a result.
Then it was off to the southeast to join the Pennsylvania Turnpike and make our way through Pittsburgh and on to Mechanicsburg where Williams Grove Speedway awaits us on Friday and Saturday night. A deliberate excursion into Shanksville to view the Flight 93 Memorial was brief, but important to acknowledge that dreadful day for the USA on Sept 11th 2001. Rain prevented us from getting out to the preserved crash site, however the other displays were more than enough to set the scene.
On the way back to the Turnpike (a fancy name for a toll road by the way) we stopped for lunch at the Fireside Inn along US30. A very pleasant hour was spent in there consuming a variety of different choices. However one of them wasn’t the Monster Burger. “Two 1.5kg Angus beef patties, 0.5kg of bacon, 0.5kg of American cheese, 0.5kg of Swiss cheese, 0.5kg of ham, fried eggs, onion rings, all of which is topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, sweet pickles, peppers and spicy southwest dressing”.
One must firstly call ahead to order and secondly it’s free if one person can finish it within an hour. Plenty try apparently…
Locating the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel where we will be sleeping for the next five days was a snack. Even easier was the check-in procedure with all room allocations and key cards waiting for us. This is a superb hotel with very large modern rooms, excellent all you can eat hot cooked breakfasts and highly efficient air-conditioning. The weather outside is hot and humid, believe me.
No racing tonight so it was off to Arooga’s Sports Bar and Grille on the Gettysburg Pike. I didn’t count ‘em but there would have to have been a minimum of 50 large screen TV’s around the walls showing every live sporting event from around the world at that time. The baseball held most attention understandably and if you didn’t like what was on the big screens you could always watch what you wanted on the small screen TV’s in each booth.
Day 8 – Thursday July 19th 2012
History was the word of the day as we explored Gettysburg, some 30 miles south. The Battle of Gettysburg is described as the major Turning Point of the Civil War. Fought across three days (July 1st – 3rd, 1863) the fighting claimed the most number of casualties in the entire war with calculated estimates being between 46,000 and 51,000.
$25 secured a two hour tour of the entire area where Americans fought Americans in hand to hand mortal combat. Surely it’s a four year war that no one is at all proud of …. and it was essentially all over slavery in the USA. The 11 southern states (the Confederates) seceded from the United States because they wanted to keep slavery, while the 25 other states of the then 36 in total, supported the abolishment of slavery and wanted to keep the Union intact. The American Civil War was the result. After four bloody years, the Confederacy surrendered and slavery was abolished throughout the nation.
The weather remained threatening while touring Gettysburg which meant Lincoln Speedway tonight was certainly in doubt. We arrived early and “tailgated” with the locals until the track opened. Our group’s attendance received some great pre-arranged coverage from the local track announcer and in return he now wears a lovely Global Speedway Tours cap and a spectator would win one as well later in the night.
Unfortunately that wasn’t to be as after just five races the heavens opened and rain smashed the track and the complex. As lightning lit up the sky, the thunder (which should have been from sprintcars racing on the track) reverberated around the valley and we witnessed a typical American summer thunderstorm launch itself throughout southern Pennsylvania.
The drive home was both happy and sad. Happy because the lads at least saw some racing at Lincoln, but sad of course that we had our first rained out show. Unfortunately tomorrow and Saturday for the Summer nationals at Williams Grove is not looking good. If that happens, we will be angry this time ….
Day 9 – Friday July 20th 2012
Thanks to the wonders of modern technology I awoke this morning to the ABC Grandstand commentators calling the Geelong / Essendon match at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne via my iPhone. I then pulled the curtains open to see a miserable, wet and gloomy morning. Our Hotel is just five miles from the speedway and it was instantly apparent to me that the chances of running this evening were very remote.
I found this to be an interesting contradiction in terms. Why can’t speedways have a roof like Etihad?
Nevertheless after an excellent breakfast it was off to York, which is often called the World’s capital of Factory Tours. Harley Davidson plays their part in that legend with their renowned Vehicle Operations Plant tour. They have just finished tooling up to produce the new 2013 model, hence the tour was modified accordingly because the first viewing of the new bike is restricted to dealers only.
Even so, it was an unexpected tour bonus for the group who thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
After which we spent 90 minutes in Intercourse. Intercourse, Pennsylvania that is, where the Amish people occupy hundreds of acres of land. And gift shops!!
The obligatory sign to welcome people entering Intercourse was a popular Kodak moment for most. I soon quickly came to learn that sprintcar fans aren’t necessarily Amish fans and after 40 minutes or so, the majority wanted to retreat back down the way we came to DJ’s “Fifties Diner”. Lollipop music, chocolate milkshakes, burgers and fries were the order of the day as we watched the rain get heavier.
We knew that a decision of “to race or not to race” was due at 3.30pm, but we quickly realised that the writing was on the wall as we drove into the complex at around 4.00pm. Only the diehards in dozens of motorhomes in the back RV lot were defying the weather. The drivers and transporters had long disappeared. There was no one within cooee at the track, so we took the opportunity of driving in via the open turn 1 gate. 14 downcast Australians tumbled out to assess for themselves whether the Promoter had made the correct decision. Sadly he had ….
It had been cancelled outright and tomorrow night will be a one night program.
Dinner tonight was pizza around the breakfast bar tables and as far as I know most were in bed by 10.00pm. Easily a tour record which is unlikely to be surpassed again. Weather permitting …
Day 10 – Saturday July 21st 2012
Sybil is a good girl. In fact she is the most knowledgeable female we have met so far on the tour. The guys have taken quite a fancy to her and she has travelled with us since Chicago. She is easy to maintain, requires no drinks or food to keep her happy and surprisingly is quite comfortable with sleeping each night in the Chevy. Each morning she greets us happily, no matter whether she is kept waiting an hour or so before getting back on the road.
This morning we had many things for her to do. Firstly she had to help us post some parcels back to Australia which contained sundry items purchased en route. She waited patiently while some of our tour members struggled with Customs declarations and the US way of doing things. She didn’t even complain when the Post Office manager popped out to see us and asked us to park the Chevy parallel to the lines, rather than take up five parking spots length wise.
We explained that if his staff were able to do what they had to do in ten minutes rather than the hour it took, we wouldn’t have been there that long. While all that was going on, from across the road wafted the smell of BBQ’d chicken. Sybil didn’t know who or what is was, but upon enquiry we discovered it was the Williams Grove Speedway Fire crew raising money for charity. The boys assured us the misty and damp weather this morning would clear and racing would be on tonight.
From there we travelled south down US15 to Latimore Valley to the Eastern Museum of Motor Racing. It is fair to say that if anyone had travelled to the USA on their own, they would not have known about the EMMR. But Sybil knew where it was and 15 minutes after the smell of the Fire crew’s charcoal chickens had left us, we were drooling over vintage midgets and sprintcars magnificently displayed in their prime by the WGOT (Williams Grove Old Timers).
It was during this wonderful 90 minutes that we became aware of a long lost uncle of Peter Hanson’s. Not even Pete knew of this dude who we estimate was a racer from the early sixties. If you look in the Photo Gallery you will see photographic evidence of the similarities. The presentation of cars and literature from days of old was humbling, not just because drivers were incredibly brave in those days, but because in 2012 there are sufficient people in this day and age who want to preserve past glories.
We had a few hours to spare so it was off to the Bass Pro store which just has to be the ultimate male domain. Sybil didn’t go in, preferring again to wait outside and let the boys do their thing. When they returned they talked of the massive range of guns, fishing rods, boats, clothing, quad bikes, camping gear … in fact anything you need to kill something was available to buy. Naturally, once killed you have to cook and eat it. Deep fried was popular of course, or frying pans (skillets) one metre across. As I’ve said before in these blogs, words alone still can’t describe a Bass Pro store.
On the way home to the Marriott Courtyard, Sybil reminded us that we would need to hurry if we were to get to Williams Grove by 5.30pm when gates opened. The weather had held all day and there was little doubt that the 10% chance of rain would eventuate. Like Eldora, tickets were distributed and within 10 seconds there were no more Global Speedway Tours’ members remaining to be seen.
They scattered quicker than Cody Darrah who blitzed the field tonight to take the honours in the Summer Nationals. I don’t blame them one bit. The Grove is one hell of a place. Steeped in history, it is on every sprintcar fan’s bucket list. The “Lone Wolf” was the most impressive tonight. He’s not a driver, but one of our own. The people in his home town of Monash, South Australia will not believe the positions he can get himself into to secure the definitive photo. Tonight he proudly got into the King’s compound where Steve Kinser even shook his hand in the Grove pits when having yet another photo shoot with our Trev. “Don’t I remember you from Eldora?”, he remarked to no one in particular ….
Tonight saw what may be the biggest accident in the history of Williams Grove. The multiple Grove track champion Freddie Rahmer tangled wheels with S Kinser and the irrational Sammy Swindell going down the back straight. Speeds are at their maximum here and would reach 170 mph. Going under the bridge, Swindell and Kinser locked wheels with Fast Freddie who had no choice but to start flipping and gyrating. He would have flipped end for end and barrel rolled for no less than 200 metres into Turn 3 and at times was around the 15 metre height.
Even Beer Hill fell silent and held their breath for this one. It had to be bad. But the father of triplets unbuckled and staggered out of the race car to create the illusion he was OK. He probably is, but will surely be sore for many weeks to come.
Back at the Chevy (post races), Sybil was calling the roll and once the Lone Wolf turned up, we were on our way, suitably stunned at what we had just seen. A Steetz servo provided some non-race track sustenance on the way home ….
PS Sybil wasn’t hungry, but then again GPS units generally don’t need feeding.
Day 11 – Sunday July 22nd 2012
After a relatively late finish at the Grove last night, a few traffic clearers (beers) were enjoyed in the parking lot to let the crowds get out. I should note at this point for our readers that all references to drinking exclude the driver(s) who maintain their due diligence in complete abstinence. At least until the Chevy is put to sleep at the Hotel and a couple of “staffies” whet the whistle very nicely.
Today was a scheduled free day just in case Williams Grove was rained out and Sunday night was needed. That wasn’t the case, so people went their own ways today. Some went back to Aroogas Sports Bar & Grille to count the now confirmed 92 plasma televisions. There are 88, if you exclude the three in the men’s above each urinal … and, we are reliably informed, there is just the one in the ladies. Their afternoon was spent watching the Speed and ESPN channels which had wall to wall race cars from anywhere, including the German Grand Prix, Late Models from Lernerville and the Nationwide cars from Chicagoland. What more could you want …
The balance had a sleep in, hanging around the excellently appointed Courtyard Marriott Hotel before wandering down the road to a local diner for dinner.
Oh, those that went to Aroogas finished up at the nearby Texas Roadhouse for their evening sustenance. It is certain that none of them have enjoyed a finer meal whilst in the States. Or even perhaps at home for the value, quality and quantity of what was served. Highly recommended ….
It is to be specially noted that Big Ash reached the 50 ounces of steak progressive total at this venue.
Day 12 – Monday July 23rd 2012
Time to leave Pennsylvania. After five days in the one spot it had become a mini holiday of sorts. We bade farewell to the staff who had come to enjoy our company and proudly displayed the Koala on the front desk that Global Speedway Tours give to every Hotel. The ones we stay at for more than one day get a proportionately larger marsupial. The staff at The Royal Amsterdam Hotel in Pella are in for a treat when we get there for the first of 12 nights. It will be a pleasure to get the large stuffed kangaroo out of my suitcase.
A stop in New Oxford at Pancho’s Race parts shop was a pre-requisite on the way to Washington DC this morning. However those on the tour who need such stuff only made minor purchases on this occasion. In no time we were back on the Interstate to do battle with the Washington DC rush hour traffic.
We had made good time so just after passing into Maryland we stopped at a Cracker Barrel store for lunch. Again, just like most quality restaurant chains in this country, the food was cheap and excellent. Young Junior spied “Momma’s all-day breakfast” and soon enough for $6.49 he had two plates in front of him. One had scrambled eggs, toast and the best bacon you can imagine. The other had three pancakes smothered in maple syrup and cream. Just sensational. Over on the other table, Ash got up to 62 ozs ….
As we neared Washington the traffic became intense. And we were going into the city, whereas most were driving out. The DC in the name refers to ‘District of Columbia’ which solely exists inside the state of Maryland. However it is has no connection to that State, or indeed any state of the USA. As the national capital it presides over all States. Some people live in Washington DC of course, but most travel from Maryland and Virginia to work each day in the city, hence the chaotic nature of the roads into and out of the place.
Locating the Comfort Inn and Suites in Arlington was easy. An hour after checking in we hit the road again to orientate ourselves with DC ready for tomorrow’s sightseeing. It was early evening and quite pleasant to drive around including the task of finding Phillip’s Seafood Restaurant where ‘Pistol Pete’ Hanson had eaten before. After the food at Cracker Barrel just a few hours ago, some opted out for a return to the Hotel, but the Super Rod boys, the Carnarvon kids and Pistol ventured in to tackle the ‘all you can eat’ seafood buffet.
Ash remains at 62ozs obviously, but word has it he and Ingo performed admirably at the Buffet table. The Chevy driver returned to pick them up and delivered them to Chinatown for a stroll. By 11.30pm most heads were on pillows ready for tomorrow’s adventures.
Day 13 – Tuesday July 24th 2012
Today was a big day. A 9.00am kick-off at the Washington DC Tourist Centre to board the hop on hop off trolley bus for seven hours, followed by a 211 mile (337kms) drive to Morgantown in West Virginia. But it was all achieved though and some very weary folks hopped into bed around 11.00pm.
There were some highlights however. Your scribe didn’t go on the DC tour so gossip is a bit short, but perhaps the incident at the otherwise sombre and sedate Changing of the Guard ceremony within Arlington cemetery is worth describing. The link above describes what happens there. However in addition to the usual today, the Relief Commander spied a tourist (not one of us) with his legs and feet encroaching on to the sacred Black Mat where the ceremony occurs. Without batting an eyelid he marched silently towards him, as if on another part of his regular ritual.
As he passed him, he stopped, spun around on his heels and looked at the poor bloke who was still blissfully ignorant of his transgression. The 3rd US Army Infantryman then bellowed at the top of his lungs, as only these guys can. “Sir, please remove your feet from the Parade Ground, Sir.” The poor dude just curled up and died in embarrassment – after removing his feet.
All landmarks were seen. The White House, Washington Monument, Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, the Capitol and so many other buildings as described by the tour guide, but the name is forgotten by the time you turn the next corner. Sadly, time did not permit a more extensive review of the Smithsonian Institute which would require three full days on its own.
At 4.00pm the Chev and Kluger glided into the DC precinct, picked up its passengers and we were off to fight the rush hour traffic which carried what appeared to us to be millions of workers returning home. If there were a million leaving, they all left in one million cars, with just one person in each of them. US interstate freeways are magnificent, but even 18 lanes can’t handle the peak hour volumes.
We inched our way along for nearly 50 miles when at last the traffic exiting the city cleared. But then a thunderstorm arrived, reduced visibility and slowed the traffic once again. All of this turned what should have been a four hour journey into nearly a six hour one. The one shining light however of the journey was the absolutely spectacular I-68 freeway which runs east west through West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and finally Ohio. It would have to be the finest piece of road I have ever driven on over here.
The scenery, the wide open spaces, the lack of trucks and the smoothest continuous bitumen surface you can imagine for 130 miles. It was so good I wanted to drive back to Washington DC to do it all again. But one look in the rear vision mirror revealed a set of faces that told me I would be lynched if it was even contemplated.
Hence Stanley the night manager checked us in at the Comfort Suites in Morgantown and several seconds later the only thing you could hear was snoring, which sounded distinctly like a Super Rod.
Day 14 – Wednesday July 25th 2012
Travelling long distances is tiring for everyone. Today we faced a 383 mile (613 km) drive through to Indianapolis and although it is only 6½ hours on the Interstates (without stops), we obviously do take spells from time to time. Today we split the driving time and had a first, second, third and last quarter, each of 90 minutes. We rotated the passengers as best we could between the Kluger and the Chevy and all agreed it made the journey appear much quicker.
Unfortunately I-68 finished pretty quickly this morning when it became I-79 and eventually I-70 was the path we took into Indianapolis. The freeways are beautifully signposted with ample warning of upcoming exits and points further on. Naturally most vehicles these days use GPS to assist their driver, however it is helpful to have a good sense of direction as the Americans live or die by their compass points. Knowing which way is south, north, east and west, plus a working knowledge of where cities are on a US map is a must. It is thus difficult to believe that people can still get lost in this day and age.
We arrived into the racing capital of the USA around 5.00pm and were warmly welcomed by the staff of the Courtyard Marriott who remembered us from last year’s Indy 500 tour.
The weather was ridiculously hot. When we arrived and emerged from the air-conditioned vehicles the oven like heat hit us like a blast furnace. It was 102°F (39°C) and remained over the 100 degree mark until almost 10.00pm. The highest for the day was 109°F.
Dinner and a few drinks at the Bourbon Street Distillery across the road rounded off a long, but fun day.
Day 15 – Thursday July 26th 2012
The heat was less intense today, but still very hot. Indiana has been without real rain now for three months and sadly it shows dramatically around the state. The usual lush green lawns, so meticulously kept by their house proud owners, are now a shadow of what they should be. If the grass hasn’t already died, it won’t be long.
For lunch today we ate at the Pit Stop BBQ & Grille, owned by a long time dirt track fan who keeps two midgets (race cars that is) in the foyer and at the rear of the restaurant for patrons to admire and sit in (if they fit). Along with dozens and dozens of photos which sit proudly framed on every available bit of wall space.
It was here that I asked him whether Hoosier race fans (they are people living in Indiana) would prefer to see a race rained out these days, or see the race go ahead. His reply summed it all up when he replied that you may as well have the race because any rain would not help the 80% of crops in the State that have already failed.
Prior to lunch we had a great 90 minute tour of the Target Ganassi Indy car team headquarters. Grant was waiting for our arrival and he took great interest in us as we travelled between various operating areas in the race shop. 120 employees and a multi-million dollar budget keep things humming along for the Indy car, NASCAR and Rolex Sports car teams. Most of the staff were out in Ohio practicing with the Indy cars and of course the Sports cars were already at the Indianapolis Speedway ready for tomorrow’s racing. But that didn’t matter … it allowed us more freedom and time to listen to everything Grant had to say.
After Ganassi, it was off to leave some money in Tony Stewart’s pocket at his retail merchandise outlet before heading into Brownsburg and what is now called Nitro Alley. The city of Brownsburg made some tax concessions to attract the race teams out there from the famous Gasoline Alley which is very near the “big track” as it is fondly known. Many took the offer and now have vast buildings purpose built to house people, race cars, transporters and the machines to manufacture all the race parts they need …. and trophies!! Some such as the Don Schumacher drag racing team have indoor facilities for 19 transporters. The sheer scale is immense ….
Other shops were located and leering eyes peered through all possible windows if there was nobody to let us in. Numerous clothing items were acquired with the Lone Wolf easily taking the prize for the most creative purchase down in Gasoline Alley. Which wife will soon see her husband wearing a genuine NASCAR Official’s shirt?
After a return ‘home’ to prepare for the speedway, we headed out to Lucas Oil Raceway, formerly known as Indianapolis Raceway Park – IRP for short. Tonight we would see the USAC midgets and Silver Crown cars on the 686 metre paved oval. The midget 30 lap feature was the best race of the night punctuated by a ginormous three car flip. Lucky the fences at IRP are so high!! All caputured on my video camera. Check out the Global Speedway Tours Facebook page for the vision.
The Silver Crown cars were interesting, but very much follow the leader stuff for 100 laps. Beautiful to look at, but fast losing their appeal it appears.
As usual when a track does not have a curfew, the promotion appears not to give a toss about what time everything finishes up. We walked out of the premises at around the 12.45am mark. Way too late for a Mum & Dad and their two kids on a weeknight.
Day 16 – Friday July 27th 2012
Today was day one of three at that famous track on the corner of Georgetown and 16th Street. Sports car racing is a specialist field (for the fan). Some just don’t rate it at all, whereas others appreciate the finer points of the category. Even within our own group the differences in opinion are there. However when that sports car racing is at Indianapolis Speedway, one must go.
As with every race for our group, all tickets are included within the tour price. Some chose to go very early to watch practice and qualifying, such was their eagerness to get there. The Chevy made several courtesy shuttle runs to and from the track ferrying excited people to what will become a three day life experience never to be forgotten.
The crowd in attendance was perhaps 25,000 which reflects the category’s popularity amongst the fans. The complex could have fitted another 415,000 in if they had chosen to turn up. Rain interfered throughout the day, but unlike sprintcars and NASCARS, they simply put on wet weather tyres and kept going. The first race (the Continental Series) had 76 starters in it while the latter race (the Rolex Grand Am cars) had around 30 or so. They use the infield road course which incorporates part of the front straight where the pits are. Interestingly this category races clockwise which is quite unnerving when one is used to seeing Indy cars and NASCARS racing in the other direction down the front straight.
As I said earlier, some liked it and some didn’t, so those who wanted to wander had plenty of opportunity to do so before the crowds arrive across the weekend. The Indy Museum proved popular, plus unhindered access to the pit area. When going for a walk, one must remember that the track length is 2.5 miles (4 km) in length. Each straight is 1 mile long (1.6km) so if you find yourself down in turn 2 for example, it is a loooong walk back to turn 4. And on Sunday with 250,000 people to negotiate, it will be harder to move than on a Washington DC freeway in rush hour.
5.30pm was the appointed meeting time when we all jumped back into the vehicles to make the trip to Gas City. That was until the dreaded text message came through to advise they had been rained out. Fortunately we had only travelled several miles so reluctantly the Chev returned to the Hotel to disgorge its passengers who then went every different which way for the night.
I hate rained out speedway meetings!! I feel so much for the guys who have paid to come over here to see the best at their craft, but Mother Nature chooses otherwise. Indiana needs rain, but a 10 minute thunderstorm won’t fix their problems.
Day 17 – Saturday July 28th 2012
A glorious Indiana morning greeted the early risers and it was the same in the afternoon for others! Today we would split up for the only time on tour. Several shuttle trips to the Indianapolis Speedway provided transport for those who had chosen to watch the Nationwide cars at Indy, whilst for the rest it was a 2.30pm departure for Tony Stewart’s Eldora Speedway in Ohio. Your scribe went to Eldora, so the rest of today will be about ‘dust city’.
Pat Topp, the tractor enthusiast from Toowoomba had long planned attendance at his first ever Tractor Pull. Earlier research revealed that just 10 miles away from Rossburg lay the town of Fort Recovery, so the Chevy was more than happy to deliver him there and then pick him up after the Eldora USAC race.
As we neared Fort Recovery, it was easy to tell that Pat was excited. He encouraged the rest of the group on board to spend 15 minutes walking the pits to look at the machinery, so we politely obliged thinking that this won’t take long at all. What we saw however was an extraordinary eye opener to everybody. 45 minutes later we walked out of there (without Pat) dumbstruck with the creations that “little ol’ American farm boys” can dream up. The Gallery will show you what I mean.
The principle of Tractor Pulling is best described as building a machine that generally resembles a tractor and using it to pull a very heavy sled further than anyone else can down a specially constructed dirt track. Watch this video to see what I mean. Sprintcar racing is a white collar sport compared to these guys ….
Meanwhile back at Eldora we trooped in to watch the USAC non winged 410 sprintcars. There were 39 on hand to compete for $10,000 to win and $1,000 to start the A Main. The field oozed class and a great night was expected. At night’s end, it depended on your point of view as to whether it was a great night or not. By now there should be some photos in the Gallery which graphically illustrate the dust problem. Some watched it from the relative safety of high up over turns 3&4, while some idiots watched from suicide corner (turn 4 virtually on the fence). You’ll notice from the photos just who they were.
Dave Darland won from our mate Bryan Clauson, or at least we think they went across the line as first and second. The support category were the 360 Sprint Invaders and guess who popped in to put his bum in a seat? Fresh from qualifying at Indianapolis for tomorrow’s Brickyard 400, Tony Stewart helicoptered in and promptly took out the 360 Feature with a great drive from about 8th on the grid. You really must admire his devotion to dirt track racing. In an interview after hot laps earlier in the night, he said that in those three laps he had more fun in 40 seconds than he had had all day at Indy in the NASCAR.
The drive back to the Hotel was long and late. Pat was waiting patiently in Fort Recovery. Eldora finished after midnight and the tractors had stopped pulling around 10.30pm, so he was happy to see us cruise in to pick him up. We drove in to the Courtyard Marriott at 2.40am and even though the Bourbon Distillery across the road had 20 minutes to go, no one was interested.
Day 18 – Sunday July 29th 2012
On our last tour we were advised to leave for the track at 6.30am in order to get to the Indy 500 at a reasonable time. Back then it took us over two and a half hours to travel the four miles from the Hotel. Bearing this in mind for today, but balanced against the anticipated smaller crowd plus an hour later starting time, we decided that an 8.00am departure would be about right.
Would you believe that 15 minutes later we were parked outside turn 4 ready to go in. Later reports described the crowd as one of the poorest in the 13 years of running the Brickyard 400. My estimate was maybe 150,000, which still left 290,000 seats vacant. Global Speedway Tours had obtained surprise Pit Road Walk tickets for everybody, so from 10.00am we spent a pleasant hour strolling up and down the main straight “inspecting” the cars and crews as they drank in the abundant morning sunshine. As each minute passed however, the temperature rose and we knew that it was not going to be too pleasant at all sitting in the vast open air stands for the rest of the day.
With time still to kill before the 1.00pm race start, most strolled throughout the massive complex exploring the event. And really that is what it is. Sure it’s a race, but the corporates make it into an event. All sponsors have displays, some of which cover up to an acre of space. There are giveaways galore to receive as long as you provide your contact details to Ford or Chevrolet or Toyota or Coke or whoever wants to give you stuff. The lads figured they were safe by putting in dodgy addresses because none of the computers would accept an Aussie postcode.
And the race? Well it was won in a canter by Jimmy Johnson. Some stayed to see the checker fall and others had returned to the Hotel to watch the race in their rooms and catch a nap before Kokomo tonight. I had arranged a pickup of those who stayed at Indy, based on the anticipated finish time of the race. I was listening to it on the radio in the Chevy and at a time which I thought would coincide with the finish, I commenced the drive back to the track. Big error!!
I should have remembered that on the morning of the Indy 500 and the Brickyard 400, the police turn every road which leads to the track into a one way street. This of course allows traffic to move as freely as possible. Conversely at the end of the race, they reverse everything and the streets provide one way access out from the precinct to all the major Interstates. I missed the turnaround by three minutes and was denied access to those roads I needed to get back to the pre-arranged pick up spot. I was stranded about 2½ kilometres away but fortunately through the beauty of mobile phones we worked out a plan of attack for the lads to walk to meet the Chev.
On arrival Jason and Dean used the “very expensive” bottled water from the Esky to douse themselves with, rather than drink it. It was a brisk walk after all in a blazing hot sun. But not to worry about the cost. 38 bottles of water from Wal-Mart costs just $3.69, plus tax!! The ice is free from every hotel and the beers are still a dollar. What more could you want???
This little escapade put us about 80 minutes behind our planned departure time for the racy little Kokomo Speedway, 51 miles north of Indy. We would now miss hot laps and qualifying but were unconcerned at that. The website itinerary for this tour makes a big deal out of Kokomo describing it to be everyone’ s favourite track. There is no question after tonight’s feature race for the non-wingers that this track now has a legion of new downunder fans.
The night was dedicated as the Bob Darland Memorial, (father to the “People’s Champ”, Dave) and it was one trophy that everyone wanted in their pool room. And nobody more so than son Dave. After the heats, Bryan Clauson and crew decided to use their back up car in the Feature, which of course meant that he lost his qualifying time and had to start right up the back.
The crowd were hushed at this news because they figured they were in for a show. With Darland, Cottle and co starting up front, the fans quietly thought they might see Clauson climb up to maybe 6th or so over 30 laps of the little Kokomo bullring. What followed what perhaps the best racing you could ever want to see. And you could see it because there wasn’t a skerrick of dust. With multiple racing lanes, cars were four wide at most times in all corners. Clauson was set up for the bottom and on and on he came.
He said later in his victory lane speech that with about 12 to go, he could feel his car improve dramatically. He like everyone else gave it his all and cherry picked cars at will as he moved closer and closer to Darland and Cottle who were having their own battle out front. When Clauson also joined in, it became war. The horsepower these cars have, when combined with the usual hooky Kokomo surface, presents an image that the driver is simply just a passenger in the race car.
How is it possible to steer into turn 1 when both front wheels are off the ground and there are cars left and right of you doing the same thing? Is it a case of shut your eyes and hope like hell you get round. No it’s not, because these guys have enormous skill and bravery to get the job done. Wild applause and admiration greeted Clauso as went across the line just a matter of metres ahead of Bob’s son Dave.
We may have missed some of the earlier action, but to use a hackneyed old phrase, the A Main was worth the price of admission alone.
Day 19 – Monday July 30th 2012
It was a leisurely drive up I-65 this morning from Indianapolis to Chicago. Time was on our side for a change with the gaining of an hour as we crossed back into Illinois – plus the fact that it was only three hours maximum to get back to the Windy City.
I think it was just as we drove into the outskirts of Merriville that the Entertainment Director saw the sign for “Happy hour at Hooters”. The fact that Happy Hour was between 4.30pm and 6.30pm and that it was currently only Midday, mattered little. Hooters sounded like a great place for lunch. And it was. The Olympics were on the TVs and to be honest we sat and watched what we could. Sadly the Games are quickly passing us by as there is so little time available to watch.
But back to Hooters. The food was terrific, the service was with a smile and at the end of lunch the manageress brought all the girls out into the sun for a team photo in front of the store. Once again proof positive that the Aussie manner opens plenty of doors.
From there we tackled Chicago and it was an easy process to negotiate the interstates and downtown roads. Within two hours of Hooters most were settled in to the Essex Hotel planning the next 36 hours. Two however had fun in parking the vehicles. Not wanting to pay $200 for two nights we sought a cheaper alternative. However in doing so, Junior, driving the Kluger behind the Chevy, just missed the last car (me) to be allowed back into the precinct of Chicago where we needed to be. The cops closed it down for a major police operation and despite young Pete flashing his NSW police badge, he had no success in convincing one of Chicago’s finest to let him drive 300 metres down the closed road. “Go get a soda and sit it out” was the continual response from the tough as nails female copper. Pete was forced to find a refuge for several hours before the cars met up again in a $20 / day car-park. Which is where they stayed until Wednesday morning.
At night some went to Wrigley Field to watch the Chicago Cubs v the Pittsburgh Pirates, while others chose to walk around the city and / or take a river cruise which from all reports was a very successful choice. As was the baseball. Wrigley Field is as old as baseball itself and the classic ivy covered ballpark was in its element for 35,000 fans on a Monday night. We caught the subway out there and back and understandably that too was an experience in itself. The Cubs smacked the Pirates by the way …
Day 20 – Tuesday July 31st 2012
‘Exploration Chicago’ was the code name for today. Again the guys went their own different ways. The hop on hop off city bus tour was popular which took in such places as Navy Pier, John Hancock Tower, the Chicago Theatre and several Al Capone haunts, amongst many other attractions. Some headed for Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse which contrary to what you might think Michael Jordan’s steakhouse would be like, was a major disappointment. Not a skerrick of memorabilia, or indeed anything to suggest it even belongs to MJ. Perhaps it doesn’t anymore?
Nightfall saw the House of Blues as the designated eating place. Again it was optional and although we travelled from the Hotel to the HOB in a stretch limo, we walked the couple of miles back to the Essex Inn to experience Chicago at night. If you have seen the movies filmed here and remember the Untouchables, then your imagination of just what Chicago would look like is yours alone. And when you finally get here, it can be whatever you want it to be.
On the trek through the city we stopped for a couple at Millers Pub on Wabash Avenue. The server (read waiter) was delighted to recall the golden times of the joint for us. And it has had plenty. Check out the history page on the above website link. The barman was happy to relate some stories that will never appear on the website. Established in 1935 just two years after the great depression, it became a place to be seen at. 1935 was several years after Al Capone was at his peak. In fact big Al was doing time in Alcatraz when Millers opened. And although it wasn’t the site of such massacres as the St Valentine’s Day killings, Millers saw its fair share of action over the years. Just such great stuff to be able to just walk inside such a joint, order a beer and relive the era in words and from the photos that line every wall.
Although there are plenty of subway lines for the trains, the most visible feature of the city is the elevated Red line which meanders around the downtown area. It makes a hell of a noise as it rumbles above your head every two mins or so, always full of people no matter the time of day or night. We followed it home ….
PS Big Ash has reached the 130oz mark. But be prepared for different record attempts across the 12 days of Knoxville.
Day 21 – Wednesday August 1st 2012
The Chevy and the Kluger were retrieved from their resting spots (this time without incident) and we were on our way to the Sprintcar capital of the world. Once again I cannot let the following fact go unrecorded. We drove left out of the street which served the Essex Inn. It had a traffic light. We drove two blocks on Michigan and turned left. This put us on Congress Parkway. Five blocks down Congress was the entrance ramp for I-290 west. No more traffic lights were encountered until we reached Pella some 350 miles (560kms) later. Simply fantastic.
After I-290, I-88 takes over. This one is a toll road, however it was only about $5 to travel 120 miles or so before it met up with the free Interstate 80 to Iowa. The toll dollars were at work on I-88 however as we encountered significant road works which slowed us down somewhat. One of the breaks we took along the way was at the World’s Biggest Truckstop. There are plenty of “World’s Biggest” things in America, but this one was probably true. The three massive Peterbilt trucks sitting inside proved the point. Acres of shopping and an indoor truck museum occupied our time spent here.
The spirit in the Chevy was high. The weather was hot and clear outside which meant that the three days of the 360 Nationals scheduled to start tomorrow were a certainty not to be interrupted by adverse weather. Like Indiana, Iowa has lost 80% of its crops and although the cornfields look OK to the naked eye, the farmers we meet along the way point out that the lack of rainfall this summer has meant there are next to no kernels inside them, hence all they can do is plough them back into the ground, or feed it to the animals.
The Royal Amsterdam in Pella is the one hotel I hadn’t seen before when including it on our itinerary. A gamble perhaps, as we are to spend the next 12 nights in it. Any fears were allayed however once we stepped foot inside. The staff are fabulous, the rooms are enormous, the restaurant food is sensational and we can eat again with a knife & fork. The town itself is very Dutch and whilst it is pretty, it won’t take us long to see all of it. However we won’t be spending much time here as the next 10 days see us at a speedway every night and we have various activities lined up during most days.
While the guys checked in, and then checked out Pella, the Chevy made the trip to Des Moines airport to pick up two more tour members, David and Fran Eames who have flown in from Australind in WA to enjoy all that Knoxville and Oskaloosa offer. We had included welcome drinks at the bar so that they could meet up and learn all about the last 21 days.
Knoxville is just 12 miles south, with Oskaloosa the same distance east. Iowa Speedway in Newton, where four of our guys will be doing the Richard Petty Driving Experience in a week’s time, is 19 miles away. Great for us but some Australians here for the Nationals will be travelling about 150 miles in a roundtrip to go racing every day.
Given that tonight was our last night without racing until we leave for home in 13 days’ time, we elected to “eat in” at the Hotel and consequently made our mark with all the staff and the restaurant owner, Richard Phillips and his lovely wife Kelly. Now Richard is unique to say the least. He would have to be the only opera singing Welsh sprintcar fan in the world I would imagine. He is great friends with the Madsen clan and also Barry Lewis, a Sydney sprintcar owner. But more about Barry tomorrow.
There appears to be nothing Richard doesn’t know about Knoxville and the sprintcar fraternity and we have already become firm friends. I think it will pay off handsomely whilst we are here and for future tours. As a matter of interest, the 10oz Rib Eye steak with sides on the menu is $14.95. The steak sandwich and sides is $9.95. The cut of meat in the steak sanger is exactly the same in quality and size as the $14.95 meal. Great value …. just thought you’d like to know.
Day 22 – Thursday August 2nd 2012
I guess I wasn’t the only one to sneak a look out through the curtains early this morning to check the weather. As usual it was fine, hot and sunny. Perfect.
We scheduled a Midday departure from Pella to Knoxville because for most it would be their first glimpse of the town and the track which sits squarely in the middle of the joint. No point sitting in Pella when you could be in mecca. As we drove slowly through Knoxville, the enormous facility suddenly came into view. And then it was on. We parked at the Hall of Fame museum and everyone filed in. Separately I went to meet Bob Baker to pick up our tickets for tonight and tomorrow for the “Big Game Tree Stands” suite up on Level 4. These guys sponsor Sammy Swindell and Craig Dollansky.
We took everybody up to the suite in the lift on the pretence of allowing them to see the view from up there and of course it was spectacular. The coup de grace then came when the announcement was made that this is where we will be watching from tonight and tomorrow night. You could say that everyone was suitably impressed! Free admission to the museum was included, hence time was spent in there as well before heading over to the Dingus Lounge. Dingus is famous of course amongst visitors to Knoxville, but it is what is now next door that may also become equally as famous.
There has been a disused gas station next to Dingus for some years now so the enterprising Barry Lewis and AJ, the owner of Dingus, have created the Downunder Grille which amongst other things, serves hamburgers with a fried egg, beetroot and pineapple. Not only that, but also …. Barry has imported a pallet load of Four & Twenty meat pies to serve to hungry Aussies thirsting for a pie and sauce. Given that he intends to match the opening hours of the adjacent Dingus Lounge, he should have truckloads of customers.
Strolling amongst the vendor trailers outside the track was also a favourite pastime before the real crowds arrive next week. Plenty of stock was snapped up by eager GST members and soon enough 5.00pm arrived which signalled entry was permissible up to the suites. The air-conditioning was eagerly sought after. The suites allow BYO food and grog so our dollar beer esky was removed from the Chevy and it made its way up to Suite 4I. Casey’s General Store pizzas were ordered in and delivered to the door. What more could you want? Direct TV vision of the racing? Yep, that was there too.
Oh yes, the sprintcar racing. There were 54 360’s tonight and it was Danny ‘the Dude’ Lasoski who took the honours. A bit processional at times but as the A main progressed drivers found something in the track and Brian Brown showed his hand as a favourite by coming from 19th to finish second. One to watch I would suggest on Saturday night.
PS The Downunder Grille pie eating record was created today by the Lone Wolf, otherwise known as Trevor Jordan. I’m sure it will get broken again (probably by Trevor) in coming days, but today our Trev ordered two pies, immediately wolfing both down (pun intended). He then sat and stared out the window at the track across the road for a while, contemplating just where he was and what he had already seen and done across America. Then without warning, he jumped out of his seat, fronted the counter again and ordered a pie and chips this time. We shall report on future record attempts.
Day 23 – Friday August 3rd 2012
The plan of attack for shopping has worked perfectly on tour so far. With space at a premium in the luggage mule (the Kluger), everyone has limited their clothing purchases, apart from speedway merchandise. After all you can’t pass up the opportunity of buying a T-shirt, jacket, cap or memorabilia from any of the following:-
Eldora, Kings Royal, Tony Stewart or anyone of hundreds of different drivers, Lawrenceburg, USAC, Lernerville, World of Outlaws, Gettysburg, Lincoln, Williams Grove, Harley Davidson, Dingbats, Intercourse, Eastern Museum of Motor Racing, Washington DC, Lucas Oil Raceway, Gasoline Alley, Hinchman, Arizona T-Shirts, Bourbon Street Distillery, Target Ganassi Racing, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Gas City (well we would have if it hadn’t rained out), The Fort Recovery Tractor Pull, NASCAR, Kokomo, Hooters, Chicago and Knoxville Raceway.
Just thought you might want a quick recap of the tour so far ….
But today was to be different. The Tanger Outlet Stores in Williamsburg were the objective. An arrival at 10.30am prompted a call of 3.30pm to be back at the cars. Most thought this an abnormally long time to shop. After all men don’t even spend that many hours Christmas shopping. But as expected five hours later everybody struggled back laden down with bags inside other bags trying to disguise the amount they had bought. The Kluger was choc-a-block with bags, as was the Chevy in the end. I would estimate that our group alone dropped nearly $5,000 into the economy today.
However the State of Iowa didn’t benefit because today and tomorrow are designated tax free days, so all clothing purchases were 7% cheaper. Beautifully planned for our guys. Ladies you would have been proud of your men. You know the old saying: “The more you shop, the more you save.”
A 6.00pm departure from RAH (Royal Amsterdam Hotel – not Royal Adelaide Hospital) had us in Knoxville for night 2 of the 360’s. Once again we were back in the Suite and the cooler (read esky), was filled to the brim with beer, water and soft drink. No pizzas tonight, with individuals choosing their own sustenance.
Our 17th & 18th tour members joined us tonight. Jim and Wendy Andreoli (more Carnarvon people!!) flew in from Canada where they had been conferencing courtesy of Daikin Air-conditioning. Good friend to Global Speedway Tours and Knoxville resident Brian Shearer drove into Des Moines to meet them and fortunately both their flight was on time and Knoxville were running late, so the three of them were able to see the B and A mains from the suite.
Australia’s Brooke Tatnell won the A and he rightfully should be considered a favourite for tomorrow. Shane Stewart however remains my choice. He is shooting for four in a row and looks the goods.
Some members gave Dingus a solid workout tonight …. the Chevy however dutifully returned the others to Pella in a longer than usual journey. We had to stop and talk to a local city of Pella employee who insisted that we pull over to chat ….
Day 24 – Saturday August 4th 2012
Sunday is usually the day of rest, but on a 32 day speedway tour any available opportunity is welcomed. Those who had been on the long tour made a variety of choices for R&R whilst our newer arrivals walked the town of Pella to discover the Dutch delights.
Armageddon closed in on Pella and surrounds this morning. At about 10.00am the sky turned as black as midnight when an almighty T Storm (thunderstorm) hit the area. It dumped significant water (most of it horizontally because of the concurent wind) into the gardens and streets. We were confident though that because the grounds have not have much moisture of recent times, the Knoxville track would stand up OK. Which it did easily ….
The Chevy made two trips between the RAH and Knoxville to cater for those who wanted to arrive at the celebrated track a little earlier than others. Tonight was our first evening in the stands on the front straight high up above Doug Clark and his son Justin, who are the starters for the track. These guys have some volunteer flaggers to help them at Knoxville. Down the bottom at each end of the giant front stretch grandstand are two little kids armed with the same number of flags as the Clarks. Through the entire night these youngsters duplicate every move made with the flags and are quite entertaining with the way they go about it.
I have been meaning to mention in earlier updates, but kept forgetting to comment about the extraordinarily high number of females who frequent race tracks over here. And in the main, all of them drink beer. The ratio of M to F is way higher than Australia and all of them appear very knowledgeable about the drivers and the sport. Food for thought. Maybe Aust tracks should be encouraging Mum & the children to the races instead of Dad and the kids?
Someone tonight will be crowned the 2012 Knoxville 360 Nationals champion. Opinions varied but no one (even those who tipped him) expected Shane Stewart to be so dominant. He won going away and in the end was several hundred metres in front of second. In fact at the time of writing this on Tuesday morning, I can’t even remember who came second.
Day 25 – Sunday August 5th 2012
During our stay at the RAH, Richard and his wife Kelly have become good friends. Their restaurant is the site of our Dave Argabright lunch on Wednesday next and last night Richard offered the golf course, where he is a member, to those who had taken up the option of chasing the white ball today. Not only that, but clubs and carts were supplied as well. American hospitality is excellent, but sometimes it is outstanding.
While the boys were golfing, the Chevy was fired up and away it went for a very impromptu excursion for those who wanted to go. It headed for a town called Winterset, some 80 miles away. Its claim to fame is twofold. Marion Morrison was born and raised there on Second Street. Having grown up with a name like that, it would have been no surprise to his mates that he changed it to John Wayne at the first opportunity.
Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep strolled into town as well some years ago and filmed “The Bridges of Madison County” in the area. Six covered bridges surround the township in outer lying rural areas and all are available for viewing, but only one can be driven on. The idea of a covered bridge arose back in the day, because the extreme weather temperatures that Iowa endures from blistering heat to snowdrifts 10 feet high made it expensive to maintain the timber in the floor of the bridge. It was less costly in the long run to put a roof on them.
Judging by the efforts of the Andreoli’s this afternoon, Winterset may also have been the home town of Adam and Eve. Jim casually plucked an apple from a tree on the street outside Marion’s house and together they demolished it as though it was the first they had ever eaten. Hmmm … maybe that’s their nicknames for their short time with us?
At 5.30pm the golfers, apple eaters and others gathered in the foyer for night 4 at Knoxville. Richard travelled down with us as well. The Capitani Classic for 410 sprintcars was looming. 65 cars and mercifully the temps were cooler than the last three nights. It becomes an interesting exercise to see where people go to after the cars are parked and tickets distributed. The Dingus Lounge is always popular, the vendors outside the track are well scouted, the new Downunder Grille is now always on the Agenda and one member went walking down the street to look at old discarded farm machinery he had seen from the Chev.
He who went early to the Downunder (that’s Trev) now has a total of seven pies. It is not known however if a late night return visit under the cover of darkness was undertaken. Whilst on the subject of records, we believe Ash is now up to 152ozs of prime rib steak.
Tonight was the first Capitani Classic, named after the long-time Knoxville promoter Ralph. It promised plenty on paper, but sadly it was not a great race meeting. However it certainly was for the local driver Bronson Maeschen when he spanked many big names to record a comprehensive victory. The racing wasn’t as intense as anticipated, but that can be understood when the biggest four nights in world sprintcar racing are just 72 hours away. They were fast, but there were none of the desperate moves made which will be in abundance when $1 million is on the line.
Day 26 – Monday August 6th 2012
After 26 days on the road for the majority of the group, the Oskaloosa Front Row Challenge party race wasn’t what most needed at this point. It was very impressive however to see everyone grow a third leg and rise to our own challenge to show the Yanks what we had. But it was those female fans I spoke of earlier who showed us a thing or two. Quite often more than once …..
A collection of beads is a sign of liberty over here. The more you have around your neck, the more liberal you must have been. A warm night makes the opportunities to flash more abundant.
We arrived at the track at 12.30pm precisely on time to join Brian and Tammy Shearer’s group who we had engaged to make lunch for us. Of course it was no show without Stubb and he and Gail drove from Ohio to join in the fun. Stubb returned all the friendly Aussie fire from those who had met him at Eldora without batting an eyelid. He loves Australians and it’s fair to say there are now some new Aussies who also love him too. Brian cooked a great BBQ pork lunch to finish off the first few hours of the day.
All of the above happened in the RV parking lot outside the track. At 3.30pm or so, the gates were opened to the infield where all tonight’s action would take place. Trucks, pick-ups and anything that can carry a BBQ, beer, fridges, beer, eskies, beer, chairs, tents, beer and corn boards entered the infield. Did I mention beer?
It is first come first served as to where your truck is positioned. Brian has been doing it for years and he and his buddy had had their two vehicles first in line, having put them there yesterday afternoon!! Hence their regular spot on the back straight was easily secured. The Chev and the Kluger followed once the rush had died down and we parked ‘em up right next to the site of the bean bag cornboard challenge. It was hot, but not as severe as previous days. I understand that the last eight years of this race has been weather affected in some way. That wouldn’t be the case tonight though.
From that point on it was open slather to what you wanted to do. Two designated drivers were appointed and the rest partied. Some harder than others I should point out with one being right at the “top” of his game. Tomorrow will see some sore heads and heavy eyelids to be sure. Australians attract Americans like opposites in a magnet. They just materialise out of nowhere and although Brian’s friends claimed us as theirs, it wasn’t to be solely the case.
Don’t get me wrong, we were loyal, but ya gotta pass the time of day with anyone who wants to give you a drink. And not always beer. Shots (not Donny) mysteriously emerge out of thin air usually with a Yankee twang inviting you to drink one with them. It’s rude to refuse …..
Junior, the Big E and Ash did well in the bean bag challenge and actually won back their entry fees. I can see a couple of corn boards finding their way to Port Hedland in the next few months. As the sun dropped in the western sky, the place became even more alive as the lights took over. Our troops made friends with people on either side of us and they were welcomed to stand up on top of their trucks to get an elevated view of the racing, rather than just the back straight. Others just preferred the view from ground level, which more often than not didn’t involve racecars.
At around 11.30pm it was over. Thousands of people had to get out of the infield so it was an hour or so later before Junior and Trev took to the wheel and conveyed everyone back to Pella. Tonight it would have been very helpful if RAH was in fact the Royal Adelaide Hospital ….
Oh, almost forgot. Daryn Pittman and Kyle Larson won what we went there to watch.
Day 27 – Tuesday August 7th 2012
Walking around town today saw a remarkable increase in people, most of whom are wearing sprintcar T-shirts. And that is just in Pella. Knoxville itself must also be alive and well, but we haven’t been down there since Sunday. The Royal Amsterdam appears not to have anyone in it who isn’t Australian.
When we got home from Oskaloosa tonight the entire Keneric Racing Team entourage had arrived. When Global Speedway Tours first decided to stay at the RAH we took 17 rooms in anticipation of upwards of 35 people touring with us. When it became apparent that this would not be, we returned eight rooms to the Hotel which were immediately snapped up by Kerry Madsen’s team owners and sponsors. Bob Gavranich, Geoff Kendrick and executives and wives from team sponsors are all here for the races.
Our day was a temperate one. One guy, who writes the Blog, went down to the local Windmill Café for breakfast, opened the computer to catch up on said diary and was still there at 2.00pm in the same seat, having had lunch as well. Sleep came easily for most before hopping back in the trusty Chevy and the Kluger to head for Oskaloosa again. Neither vehicle has missed a beat since we picked them up and they have been a joy to drive.
Pella is a great place. Not unlike most towns in Iowa it has a town square which is the feature attraction and streets which run due north, south, east & west which make it super easy to get around. Very Dutch in its heritage, Pella has some magnificent bakeries, the best of which is Jaarsmas. It’s very difficult to walk past their store without going in, particularly when they deliberately expel the exhaust fans from the kitchen straight into the street.
Tonight was Oskaloosa part 2. The winged 410’s had gone, but Kyle Larson was still there hoping to get the running double up from last year in the USAC Ultimate Challenge. Paying $15,000 to win, it remains the race with the highest payout for the season to he who finishes first. No party and no beads tonight. Reserved seats in the uncovered grandstand were the ticket. The grandstands are as old as the track itself I would think. Oskaloosa is a typical 1950 / 1960’s Fairground facility and I swear you can hear the ghosts of long ago drivers who have toiled here over the years.
We met up with Dave Argabright who was there with pen and notebook in hand to collect background colour for the stories he writes for numerous magazines. Dave confirmed his attendance tomorrow at lunch as our guest at the RAH.
It could be argued that there are too many “big tracks” around for sprintcars. Oskaloosa is just one more ½ mile dirt oval on the landscape. Take the party away and things could become pretty tame. And as much as we have grown to love 410 non winged sprintcar racing over here, it wasn’t anything beyond a hi-speed procession tonight. Kyle Larson did in fact win back to back Ultimate Challenges and he now goes into tomorrow’s Knoxville Nationals with huge confidence and form.
Meanwhile back in the Hotel, Bob Gavranich and entourage had arrived and we joined them for some hours in the bar as two unrelated parties joined up for the common cause of seeing Kerry Madsen win the Knoxville Nationals.
Day 28-31 /Wednesday August 8th through to Saturday August 11th 2012
The day had finally arrived for the group to experience their first Nationals – the event that most had travelled such a long way for.
Ask any one of the guys on the Full tour exactly how is it that the Nationals are now with us, when it was only yesterday that we were in Rossburg, Ohio watching Swindell beat Madsen in the KR? Time moves ever so slowly when it moves quick. Sit in a plane or in a Chevy going somewhere and the hands of the clock almost stand so still that you want to reach out and wrench them into next week. But put it all together and time goes faster than Donny Schatz winning his sixth Knoxville Nationals in seven years.
Yes, most would know by now that the master won again. His season has had its ups and downs to this point, but when the Nationals are on the line, Schatz is almost unbeatable. Just like Steve Kinser had been …. for 35 consecutive years fans had seen Kinser qualify for the Saturday night A Main final. He and Sammy Swindell had never missed it. Never missed it. An incredible record. But in 2012 we were there for the passing of an era when both missed their usual starting spot in the 24 car final. Both will bounce back and win more WoO races before the season is done, but the Knoxville Nationals may just have passed them by.
Celebrated author, columnist and TV commentator Dave Argabright spoke to us over a beautiful buffet lunch in Monarch’s Restaurant at the RAH. Dave spoke of the history of the Nationals and what it means to every driver who enters. Q&A finished off an enthralling two hours with him.
Wednesday night started with a bang. In the sky that is, with a typical Iowa line of thunderstorms passing through. The photo in the Gallery shows the intensity of the weather on this night. Driving down from Pella we watched out over Lake Red Rock as the front inched closer, figuring that we would both arrive in Knoxville at the same time. And surely we did. The heavens opened and rainwater was dumped by the bucket load all over Marion County. Badly needed, but not on race night.
The storm hit around 4.30pm and lasted 20 minutes. It would surely cancel proceedings for the night!! But no, Toby Kruse and team were determined to get the racing in and worked and worked the track. In the meantime over at Dingus the cash registers were working overtime. AJ didn’t mind the delay. More beer sold at his bar, instead of in the speedway. Eventually at 11.00pm we got underway with qualifying on a fast, but pretty much a one lane race track.
Qualifying times were the quickest of the season so far and if you timed late it would not present an ideal situation. Steve Kinser was to begin learning about his diminishing dominance tonight. Kyle Larson continued his form from previous nights (let’s just say his whole career so far) to take the win from local Davey Heskin and an ominous Donny Schatz filling third. Points were accumulated in the traditional Knoxville fashion and those who had done well tonight anxiously awaited Thursday night’s proceedings to see if they would finish in the top 16 of both nights combined.
Yet another organised excursion awaited our Global Speedway Tours’ members on Thursday when we rolled them back into Knoxville, driving a mile or so north to the site of an old lumber yard. Last year the yard was purchased by a wealthy West Australian who just happens to be staying in our Hotel and who owns a World of Outlaws team. Yes, Keneric Racing are now stabled at the wood yard and have converted the magnificent old buildings into race shops for the Kerry Madsen team.
The distinct smell of timber still hovers around, even though seven sprintcars sit patiently on the floor waiting for their turn to be let loose on a racetrack somewhere. One of them was Ian Madsen’s 55 car which was to completely upset the applecart tonight in qualifying. Kerry was kind enough to act as host and tour guide to us when he showed us around and took questions from the guys. He explained why he pulled out of last night’s A Main when the motor developed a vibration, thus costing him any chance of a direct transfer to Saturday night. Crew Chief Rob Hart later confirmed the engine issue but no matter, there would be yet another $50,000 Morrison engine in there for Friday night.
Following the visit to Kerry’s we lunched at Casa Grande, Knoxville’s only Mexican restaurant. After which some wished to return home to Pella while others walked around the town and the remaining crew had a sudden urge to savor some ice cream and jelly.
Tonight’s track was much better in terms of width with no rain to hinder preparation. Last night we sat on the back straight, (which is fabulous by the way) but tonight our tickets had us closer to turn 4 on the front stretch. A different star studded field of cars and drivers took up battle tonight. 56 last night and 50 tonight making the total field over 100 for the first time in a number of years. We may never return to the days of 160+ cars attempting to make it through to Saturday night, but 106 in this financial climate is commendable.
Probably more intense and cut throat racing tonight with track conditions permitting some wild and woolly moves that may not necessarily have been pulled at the local track on a Friday night. Former Outlaws champion and now retired Jason Meyers drove for the Tommy Tarlton team out of California and was very impressive in surprisingly his first ever win at Knoxville in anything, let alone a Nationals qualifying night. Tim Shaffer and Kraig Kinser filled the next two spots and p
Friday night was to be vastly different to anything Knoxville had seen before. For decades the format had been to run “scrambles” races for the top point scorers who were locked into Saturday night, but Friday’s scrambles had determined their starting spot. However new promoter Toby Kruse abandoned that idea in 2012 when he revolutionised what would happen. Almost as though he had a crystal ball, he prophesised to his Fair Board that those who had misfortune during Wednesday and Thursday should be given another chance to qualify directly into Saturday night.
Hence, apart from the 16 already locked in and those who wanted to keep their secured spot in Saturday’s B Main, all others could qualify all over again. This was great news to Kinser, Swindell, Madsen and Dale Blaney etc, all of whom would struggle to make the show from their respective efforts over the last two nights. Blaney in fact didn’t even race Wednesday night as he blew a motor in hot laps.
All of the above is complicated I know, but suffice to say Blaney loved Friday night as he went straight into position 19 in Sat’s main with a 3rd place finish in Friday’s A main. Kinser, Kerry Madsen and Swindell however failed to take advantage of their second chance and look to have an impossible task tomorrow night. Tonight’s racing was fantastic and easily surpassed the first two for drama and excitement.
Saturday dawned overcast and a touch gloomy but soon cleared to a clear but cooler day. The turnaround in the weather has been spectacular. From 100+° days to now needing a jacket at night was unexpected, but welcome. An earlier than normal arrival in Knoxville again saw individuals go their own separate ways. Within the raceway itself there were simulated sprintcars to drive, merchandise to buy including more clothing, model cars, racing jewellery, and food. The latter ranged from cheeseburgers, or double and triple cheeseburgers (with fries of course), pizzas and corn dogs (known as a pluto pup to Aussies), to more exotic stuff like giant turkey legs, breaded tenderloin pork (deep fried of course) on a bun that was 10 times too small for the pork, corn (smothered in butter), ribs in BBQ sauce, deep fried ice cream and of course the pies across the road.
Before I forget, we believe that Ash finished up at 175 eligible ozs of prime ribeye steak and probably another 130 ozs or so of ineligible meat. In real money that means 4.9 kgs of rib eye and about 3.8kgs of “other”. The Wolf finished up on 13 pies or an average of 1.3 per day since he found out about them.
Oh, and throughout the tour we saw 44 flips, with three of them being spectacular triple deckers.
The E Main had only 14 starters in it, with 11 transferring to the D. Many drivers elect to return to their own tracks on Saturday night to be a big fish in a smaller pond rather than stay to contest the well-paying finals at Knoxville. Consequently these two lower races are arguably non-events to the paying public, many of whom do not even enter the raceway before the C Main, preferring to stay at Dingus or at their own tailgate party.
Another reason is that it is virtually impossible for any driver who has misfortune on the Wed & Thurs nights to now “do the alphabet” and win his way to the A through the E, D, C & B Mains. Two reasons. Firstly the quality of cars and their common speeds make it too tough and secondly Toby Kruse opened the door to allow those who needed it, Friday night to re-qualify. Hence Saturday night is really now just three races for your money. The C, B and the A.
It wasn’t just Madsen, Kinser and Swindell who failed to make the big one, but others like Lasoski, Shaffer, Jason Johnson, Tatnell, Kevin Swindell, Terry McCarl, Chad Kemenah, Jac Haudenschild, Brad Sweet also missed out. Indeed when the A Main went under the starter’s flag, there were only two previous winners in the field. Schatz and Kraig Kinser. We not only witnessed the changing of the guard in Washington DC last month but also at Knoxville, Iowa during the 2012 Nationals.
Schatz ran away and hid, much the same as he did last night in the Australia / American Challenge. But he was given quite a scare in the last five laps of the 50 lap race by local favourite Brian Brown who chased him down, only to lose by half a car length at the line. Schatz is now $150,000 richer, but as any driver will tell you, the cheque is secondary to the prestige of the trophy and your name on it.
Day 32 – Sunday August 12th 2012
August 12th is Bob Gavranich’s birthday it appears and upon our arrival back in Pella, Kelly had the bar open for the WA group to celebrate. Not that Kerry Madsen had given them anything to celebrate about, but it was a birthday and besides Bob had bought himself a very nice present before he left the track tonight!! We were invited to join in and did so willingly.
Given that Knoxville didn’t need a rain date, today was allocated to the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. The fun of the fair was different to that of an Australian Royal Show. The US version is heavily devoted to the rural areas and pigs have a huge part to play as Iowa is the pork capital of the US. The Late Model racing on the fairground track was delayed to tomorrow night, so we missed out on our 25th race on tour.
At night we had a farewell dinner in Pella, this time choosing Mexican again at the local joint down the street.
Day 33 – Monday August 13th 2012
Today was D Day. Departure day. Your scribe and Peter Hanson had to return both vehicles to Chicago so after some fond farewells to 16 great new friends, we took off from Pella around 9.00am and headed back east along I-80 and I-88.
The rest of the group were picked up by a bus to take them (and their vastly increased luggage accumulation) to Des Moines International Airport to catch the first of three connecting flights to Sydney. I did feel for the Port Hedland and Carnarvon boys though who have five flight sectors to finally get home.
Day 34 – Wednesday August 15th 2012
At the time of writing this over the Hawaiian Islands, I have no news yet of their arrival in Australia, but will update the Blog as and when info comes through.
The tour was fabulous. Whilst many days sleep is required upon return to Australia to recover, we will be ready to do it again in 12 month’s time. It is a tour which is full on, with lots of miles to be covered. We can cater for both the younger more active variety of the human race, plus those who want to do it at a more leisurely pace.
If you think you would like to join us on the 2013 trip, which will be almost identical but with a few enhancements built in, then please make contact with us at your earliest to ensure your place in the 18 person tour group. It will still be personally escorted all the way, each and every day ….
PS All tour members reported in that they arrived safely back in their respective homes, ready to relate numerous tales tall and true to neighbours, workmates and friends about life on the road with Global Speedway Tours.