2016 Month of Money Blog
Day 1 – Tuesday July 12th
The blonde in the red uniform smiled as she answered my question. “Right here sir”, pointing to where newly arrived people into Australia were waiting to board the bus to the Domestic Terminal.” I had asked her where transferring passengers, who had flown into Sydney on Virgin, would arrive after being bussed to the International.
So I waited where she pointed for Steve, Steve and Deryk to get off the shuttle after their flight this morning from Melbourne. And I waited and I waited. No sign of them. Time was marching on towards 10.00am when our Delta 777 would depart for Los Angeles.
A hurried phone call was made which revealed they were already inside the international Terminal “at the top of the escalator”. Just how that happened was beyond me until I found out that the blonde in the red Virgin uniform had no clue about her job. She had directed me to wait in an area some 700 metres from where they were actually dropped off.
So now we had just 30 minutes to negotiate Customs & Immigration and Airport security, plus get to Gate 56 which in itself is a 10 min walk. We actually made it in plenty of time because today all flights heading to the USA were 100% full and long lines to board meant delayed departures.
United Airlines had cancelled one of their flights to LA this morning leaving 240 people to be transferred to other airlines, or simply be stranded in Sydney. I’m guessing some unhappy people were left behind.
The flight was unspectacular, as far as 14 hours sitting in a capsule travelling at 750 mph is concerned. I had more bourbons than I had hours sleep is all I can say. The transfer between terminals in LA to Indianapolis bound flights was easy and upon arrival in Indy our Sydney group met up with the guys who flown from Melbourne. Plus Russell, who in fact was still here, having decided to not go home after the recently completed Indy 500 tour.
This Month of Money escapade is Russ’ sixth tour with us and, amazingly his seventh will be Ultimate 4 which starts in Knoxville on August 9th.
Hall of Fame material I reckon ….
The only matters of drama were that Delta mislaid (I won’t say lost just yet) the tour leader’s luggage. After failing to transfer the luggage at Minneapolis Airport, the state of Minnesota still has all the giveaways and important material for the tour locked in a hangar somewhere. Although, believe it or not, Delta contacted me via a website called http://www.wheresmysuitcase.com to let me know they have it and I should receive it in Indy by the morning.
The Bourbon Street Distillery across the road from our Courtyard Marriott Hotel was the scene for dinner and some welcoming drinks to enable everyone to get to know each other, ready for the next 34 days!!
Day 2 – Wednesday July 13th
Quite a day this turned out to be.
The morning was normal by visiting Bree in the Washington Street T-Mobile store for American SIM cards for phones. Once upon a time it used to be an easy process. Buy a phone card and you were done. But now with the advent of smart phones, the options are endless. Best to get the unlimited everything, including the lightning quick LTE data for internet coverage. The only place T-Mobile doesn’t have a signal is at Eldora Speedway but to be honest that’s not unexpected given the location of the track in rural Ohio. You used to be able to buy t-shirts that say “if you can find your way to Eldora without a map, then you’re a true sprintcar fan”.
From there it was off to the “big track” to drop off Luke and Reece to discover Indianapolis Speedway. Later in the tour when we return to Indy, the brothers Grinter won’t be able to explore this iconic facility as they are off to Rantoul in Illinois to attend a Truck show. I’m thinking they are going to see so many rigs on the road over the next 6,000 miles, they might change their minds pretty soon …..
The rest of us made the first visit of many no doubt to Wal-Mart, mainly to pick up esky supplies. Russell had returned the Indy 500 esky after minding it for us while on his “Hell tour” swallowing Late Model dust. That done we readied ourselves for tonight’s opening race on the itinerary in Terre Haute. 410 non winged sprintcars in round 4 of Indiana Sprintweek are always a favourite on this storied track and tonight was expected to be no different.
The “fun” started just before departing the hotel when yours truly began experiencing gastro pains. It’s not unusual for a malady to strike after getting off long haul flights, so I wasn’t concerned and gleefully jumped behind the wheel of the Ford to get going down I-70. The weather was hot and humid creating ideal conditions for a thunderstorm, however there was no visual cloud accumulation. But the radar was giving ominous warnings.
Halfway there around Putnamville rumblings were heard, but it wasn’t thunder. My stomach had begun to audibly object to whatever was in there. A stop was desperately required at an exit. Continuing on, many bottles of water were emptied down there in an attempt to overcome the dehydration that had set in. Riding high in the saddle with bum cheeks clenched together, I steered the Ford on to Terre Haute and the 500 Wheels Museum.
By this stage the focus of attention shifted from me to the weather as conditions had deteriorated rapidly. Those of you reading who are race fans will know the feeling when the first drops of rain appear on the windscreen. The excited chatter in the car immediately stops and the only sound you can hear are the wipers whirring away to clear the vision for the driver. At this stage I too needed some wipers to get rid of the beads of perspiration forming on my forehead from whatever it was that I had.
As we entered Terre Haute the rain disappeared and hopes remained high that we would get the show in. A quick detour to the track for a preliminary check revealed all was good with folks streaming in the gates, the pits were full and the Vigo County Fair was in full swing. Buoyed by that good news we headed to the Museum only to find that the other side of town had massive amounts of standing water deep across the roads. Great conditions to splash pedestrians walking on the footpaths. The thunder bumper clouds building up were not good though.
The Museum visit was enjoyable, but minds weren’t on the inside. It was what was happening outside that was the issue. It was only 5.00pm and it was dark, very dark out there. We needed to wait out the T-Storm in the museum as the heavens had opened and across the next 45 minutes or so Mother Nature dumped 4 inches of rain on Terre Haute. This time it included the Fairgrounds. Although we had already heard the racing had been cancelled, it was still the done thing that one should visit the track to pay our respects.
As we headed in the transporters were headed out ready to move on to Round 5 tomorrow night at Lincoln Park. The rain had temporarily ceased so we parked the Ford and walked into the track to at least see it. There was only one other spectator still in the stands. He was mournfully sitting there on his lonesome, too devastated to move it appeared. And with good reason. He was from Melbourne and like us had travelled 14,000 kms only to have a rain out.
After commiserating with each other we walked along the long line of food vendors who know that race night at the Fair is their best opportunity to make a lot of money. They looked more forlorn than us I reckon, as only a handful of potential customers were stupid enough to still be there. Knowing that the race had been re-scheduled for next Sunday night I asked if the Fair was still on then. “Nope it finishes Saturday night” was the answer. Nobody was a winner tonight ….
And that included me I’m afraid. The continuing tummy problems meant that I couldn’t have the totally deep fried anything the vendors offered. And probably wouldn’t have anyway. Except of course, (for you Terry Barry), Grandma’s Apple or Cherry Pie with ice cream would definitely have been given a run.
Earlier in the day at Wal-Mart I had bought a plastic bucket for ice collection from the Hotel machines. But on the way back to Indianapolis it came in very handy in another very important way. As we turned out of the Fairgrounds yet another storm cell came through and for the next 30 minutes northeast up I-70 the rain tumbled down. About 10 miles out of Terre Haute yet another indigestion burp was the catalyst for an avalanche inside the vehicle. You would all know the feeling of when you know you are going to vomit. Well that time was very near for me. An urgent call was made to the back of the van for the bucket to be retrieved and passed down the line.
Outside the rain hammered down on traffic travelling at speed on a freeway with very little shoulder room for broken down vehicles, let alone one with a driver and a bucket between his knees. And no exits were due for 15 miles or so. And then it started. It would be unfair to describe in great detail just how it all unfolded, but by the time I had finished, three litres of liquid were in the bucket. Probably more. There was no opportunity to stop with any safety in the pouring rain, so the only thing to do was keep driving and put on the hazard lights, which on the interstates indicate that you are driving at a reduced speed. For the first five minutes the vehicle was in my control but eventually Steve P decided that if I kept my foot on the accelerator, he would reach over and steer from the right hand passenger seat. And that’s the way we continued to Putnamville which was the next exit. It was here that eventually we could stop to allow a change of drivers and Russell took over for the remaining 40 miles or so to Indy.
Needless to say that on arrival at the Hotel in Indy one person went to bed while the others paid an unexpected visit to the Bourbon for dinner and drinks.
PS It was also discovered during this infamous journey that the van leaked badly into the luggage and cargo area. Just something else to add to the list.
Day 3 – Thursday July 14th
After last night’s episode, surprisingly I woke up at 6.30am good as gold and eager to do battle with the rental company. They were expecting me, but perhaps not at 7.15am. Nevertheless the bus was swapped with a new one and an hour later it was back in the Hotel parking lot having the two back seats removed to accommodate the increase in luggage. Well not really luggage, but the esky had to now be fitted in, along with required supplies for life on the road.
Our first port of call was the Indiana Fairgrounds to check out the mile track used for the Silver Crown cars in the Hoosier Hundred. At least that’s what I thought they would want to see, but it was the architecture of the buildings in the Fairgrounds that appeared to be of most interest. I must admit I hadn’t really studied them before. They are classic Art Deco where schools willingly hold their senior proms. The boys and the girls dress accordingly and one can only imagine the classic limos rolling up to deliver them to the front door for their night of nights. Pity help them I guess if they book it on the same night as 45 un muffled race cars are screaming around the one mile of dirt road.
From the second largest track in Indiana we went to one of the smallest where the Little 500 is held in Anderson each May. As luck would have it Late Models were racing that night and cars were already arriving and practicing. It wasn’t yet 11.00am.
Winchester Speedway on the border of Indiana and Ohio was next to receive our attention. Visiting Winchester has become a long held tradition on the Month of Money tour and owner Charlie Shaw along with Kirk Daugherty (a dead ringer for Kraig Kinser) and Bob Lemons look after us with kid gloves every year.
We were ushered into the corporate facilities and cream pies produced to sample whilst we listened to Bob (the track historian) enthral with the tales of the speedway. It was built in 1913 by Frank Funk and improved upon since those original heady days. Funk only constructed the track until he found something better to do with his land. Which, fortunately he never did. Such is the heritage of this iconic and fearsome race track, Charlie regards himself as the Gatekeeper for the generations to come who must be allowed to experience it like we do today. It is always sad to know that Winchester now only opens the gates on five occasions each summer.
Bob always has his Nissan 370C on hand to give Global Speedway Tours’ people three laps at speed around the high banked (38 degrees) oval. But today his special treat was he trailered along his newly purchased Thunder Roadster, and no, I hadn’t heard of them before either. It’s an exact replica of AJ Foyt’s early 60’s Indy car and he drove eight or so laps at speed, with an eager group watching on. These beauties are built by the same people who make the Legend Cars. Check them out at this link. www.uslegendcars.com/cars/thunder_roadster
The Greenville Inn was our home for the night but before bedtime we had to spend eight hours at night 1 of the Kings Royal at the equally legendary Eldora Speedway. As always, first time visitors to Eldora are gob smacked by the place. From the first view of the complex off Route 118 to the impossible number of campers in the grounds, most of whom have been there since Monday night. As we wound our way along the cement roads which separate the camping bays and are also used by the transporters to deliver the precious cargo to the pits, a teeming mass of people happily walked aimlessly around drinking in the vibe of the place.
Stubb was back in town and our group was about to meet a unique person indeed. We parked opposite his three camping bays which he has rented for the last 31 Kings Royals. Stubb and his good friend Geoff each have their caravans on site in two of the bays, but the third is needed for space to accommodate the vast number of people who continually drop in to see him and his wife Gail and share a beer or four. Plus allow the cornhole boards to be put in place for the “Petey” Memorial Challenge on Saturday.
Racing tonight was excellent on a great track surface with David Gravel taking the win in a thriller.
Day 4 – Friday July 15th
Next Sunday after the Kings Royal had been designated as the day to visit the world renowned US Air Force Museum in Dayton. However because Terre Haute had been postponed to Sunday and it was a 620 km round trip to get there from Dayton, we decided to drive the short 60 kms to the Museum today.
Once again the weather was superb as we set off along the magnificently picturesque rural Ohio “back roads” which are so often a very pleasant way to go if you have the time. And we did. The Kings Royal has always been a two day event, but for 2016 they added in a third night which meant that we had to find something to do outside of Greenville because there ain’t much to do there. Now kind old Mother Nature had given us an alternative.
The group was dropped off at the Museum and even though it was Russell’s fifth visit there in seven years, he was first out and into it. Reason being that a fourth super hangar has now been opened which contains all the exhibits that used to be out in the open air. I had actually intended touring the complex again today rather than write the Blog in the cafeteria as usually happens, but today had taken yet another twist with the Ford.
During the rain storm on Wednesday at Terre Haute the roof had leaked badly at the back where the luggage is stored so yesterday morning before leaving Indy we exchanged it for another one. Lo and behold when closing it up last night after returning from Eldora, the actuator in the passenger door decided to fail and the vehicle became unlockable. Hence today was spent searching Ford Dealers in Dayton for the appropriate part. And, if they had it, did they have the time to fit it?
The answer to both questions was no, so six hours later I returned to the Museum to pick up the group and head back to Greenville. And then Eldora for night 2, known as the “Knight before the Kings Royal”. Last night’s new name by the way was “Jokers’ Wild”. Once again there was no rain in sight and a beautiful evening awaited us. Eldora tonight had a few more fans in there. Probably around 18,000, with the 50/50 getting to $16,000, but it didn’t finish up in any or our pockets. Tomorrow night it will be huge.
Last night we had reserved seats in the front straight grandstand, but tonight we returned to our regular spots in the back row of the seating between turns 3 & 4. Just like going home actually …..
The Ford remained unlocked at Stubb’s RV compound but to be honest, if you have to leave a vehicle unlocked anywhere, then a speedway carpark is the best place. Might sound weird, but sprintcar fans really do respect each other’s property. After arriving back in Greenville this afternoon I paid a visit to the town’s small Ford Dealer who was most helpful in locating an actuator for me at a Dealer in Beavercreek, some 70 miles away. Grateful for that, I made arrangements with them to fit the lock tomorrow morning.
The gastro germs I had inherited from Laima on the eve of last Tuesday’s flight, have now been transferred to Luke and Reece who had an uncomfortable day to say the least. The only good news is that it’s gone in 24 hours, but the old body certainly gets a complete clean out in the meantime. However as the true sprintcar fans the brothers Grinter are, they soldiered on to watch Daryn Pittman take the honours on the track from Rico Abreu who fell just a little short of getting on the top step of the podium. Schatz was third.
Day 5 – Saturday July 16th
When Laima and I drove out of the Hotel carpark at 6.45am headed for the Beavercreek Ford Dealer, an eerie feeling of déjà vu came over me. 12 months ago I was driving the 2015 Month of Money folk back into the same parking lot at exactly the same time, having arrived back from a very, very late Kings Royal finish. Armed with cups of coffee in the numerous cup holders in this Ford we set off, hoping like hell that we would be back by Midday to make the festivities at Eldora.
Whilst Beavercreek sounds an odd name it is actually a suburb of Dayton. The Dealership is not the biggest I’ve seen but the service was excellent. They had told me yesterday that their technicians (you and I would call ‘em mechanics) were totally booked out all Saturday, but because we’re on a time schedule and because “you’re an Aussie” we’ll fit you in. Which they did!! We sat in the waiting room for about two hours at most before the call came out that the job had been completed under warranty and we were free to get back on the road.
Great service Ford, just too bad it happened in the first place.
A text back to the group to have them ready for a 12.15pm departure did the job and at 12.50pm we rolled into Eldora ready for a concentrated afternoon of socialising with everybody who drops into to say hi to Stubb and Gail and their Global Speedway Tours’ friends. As always the enormous transporters rumbled straight past our camp. Like one metre away!! From 1.30pm the 5th annual Petey Memorial Cornboard Challenge was due to commence. 16 starters were required and that was easily and quickly filled.
Everyone pays a $5 entry fee and draws for their partner. There are some gun players who turn up and we’re chuffed that a small part of the reason is because they are super keen to win the two GST tour shirts we supply as the first prize to the winning team. The major reason of course is to pay their respects to the memory of Corey Martin who sadly took his own life six years ago.
The winning duo were Alexander and Scott and to see a happier kid than young 16 year old Alex when he put the shirt on would not be possible. You would have thought he had just won the green jacket at Augusta. He thanked us profusely and then strode proudly up the road to no doubt show his Mum & Dad. The final throws by the way saw seven out of eight bags finish in the hole to give them victory by just a few points.
Inside the cauldron that is Eldora, similar feelings of joy went to Donny Schatz who won his third Kings Royal title from Rico Abreu and Brad Sweet.
Day 6 – Sunday July 17th
According to the published itinerary, today was meant to be a day of rest as Sunday’s should be. Apart from if there is a race on of course. And there was, but it was a 620 km round trip away back down in Terre Haute.
Our accom for the night was in the Hampton Inn in Dayton, so it was on the road again down 49 and onto I-70. (Don’t you love that kind of talk!) Checked in and then almost immediately checked out for the drive to the postponed Round 4 of Indiana Sprintweek. Luke and Reece had recovered from the bug and were raring to see some more sprintcars, albeit without wings. Nine hours on the road and three hours at the track. Seems like a fair ratio.
On the way the men became kids again with a stop at the World’s Largest Fireworks shop on the border of Ohio and Indiana. Always an eye opener to see the sheer volume of imported Chinese fireworks, today was no exception with stories galore emerging for the next 100 miles or so of everything that went wrong when letting off crackers in our youth.
The satellite radio in the Ford is a god send. Not only because it gets its signal direct from space, with zero interference anywhere across the USA, but it has a selection of around 120 different channels. 70’s on 7, 60’s on 6, Elvis radio, the specialised list is endless. But perhaps the best on a Sunday afternoon while driving to a sprintcar race is Channel 90 – the NASCAR station. We listened to the New Hampshire race and it finished just as we cruised into the Vigo County Fairgrounds to the dulcet sounds of un-muffled 410 cubic inch engines firing into life. What timing! Last Wednesday’s puddles had dried away, the fair was still in full swing having been given an extra day to cash in from the race fans, the sun was shining brightly and the stands were filling with excited, but tired fans. After all many of them had been following Sprintweek since it started eight days ago.
Was it worth it to go all that way? The general agreement was yes, but non winged sprints on a half mile track recovering from a severe weather battering, didn’t really present the spectacle we were looking for. Chase Stockon became the seventh different winner of the 2016 Indiana Sprintweek. Remarkable indeed and proves without any doubt how competitive the division is. Brady Bacon was the overall champ by the way.
The drive back successfully passed the point of Wednesday night’s volcanic eruptions from the driver’s seat and he was able to steer the vehicle all by himself without the assistance of Steve’s left hand ….
When I think back on that first night after a week or so, I realise now that without a doubt, this episode was the most dramatic introduction of all time by the host to a group of people who had never met each other before in their life.
Day 7 – Monday July 18th
We do about 6,000 miles (9,600 kms) on this tour and today we would chew up 480 of those with the drive east out of Ohio, through West Virginia and into Pennsylvania. You could do it in five hours but there are always stops along the way, either scheduled, or unintended. Today would be a day with a couple of unintended stopovers because lo and behold Deryk and Russell had now caught the bug. They patiently rode along with us with a new small foam esky sitting adjacent to them just in case.
Just so you know all the grisly facts, the “Terre Haute plastic bucket” I used had been consigned to the nearest rubbish bin after it had served its purpose. Originally purchased for carrying ice pinched from the Hotel ice machines that are located on every floor, we needed a new one to continue the practice, but not to be used ever again for the secondary purpose. The 50 cent foam esky was perfect for that. Besides it’s got a lid!
Once again it was a sensational day and the drive along the magnificent freeways was effortless. We have some truck freaks on board with us on this tour and they were in their element this morning as I-70 was full of the monsters plying their way east with precious cargo for someone. Honestly they are never ending, but sometimes they have to stop as well. And that’s usually in a Truck stop for gas and / or a sleep. Hence when we stop it’s always near the trucks and we lose the boys for 10 minutes or so as they go exploring and talking to drivers, hoping like hell they’ll get an invite into the cab for a look.
Lunch was in Saint Clairesville just a few miles from the West Virginia border. The Ohio River is the border and crossing it we encountered the first of the uniquely American steel bridges that span most of the mighty rivers in the country. Surely every one of them must have been designed by the same architect as their majestic beauty is a sight to see. Usually they come into view from a distance as you wind your way down from a hill to the river. As they get closer, the size of them becomes apparent with most having a separate railway bridge adjacent to them. On a few occasions there isn’t a truck in the lane next to us, so we can see the rivers in all their glory.
The Ohio River seems to be the catalyst for a complete change in scenery. From the flat, rolling cornfields of Ohio, West Virginia is hilly, eventually becoming mountainous in Pennsylvania as we make our way through the Allegheny Mountain Range. The Ford is perfect now as it effortlessly climbs up the hills. Outside the temperature is well over a 100 in the old money, but inside we’re as cool as the beer in the esky.
Deryk and Russell were handling it well and around 5.00pm we hit Butler, which is the nearest town with the standard of Hotel we use. The cookies on the counter of the Fairfield Inn & Suites were a welcome sight. As was Pam behind the reception desk who immediately, before even saying hello, asked how Trevor was. 😆 It’s nice to be remembered, but maybe not for the reasons she does. It was Pam who was on the desk at 2.00am last year when, after retrieving Trev from 25 metres down a 45 degree hill, we wheeled him into reception on a luggage trolley. Much to her horror. However a toy kangaroo and koala fixed the problem back then. There should be no such issue this year. I think …..
We did however position the Ford at the same spot so this year’s tour members could inspect the scene of the crime and raise a can or two at the picnic table in remembrance of Trev. The man himself was at Eldora and he and Tammy sat with us all three nights so he was indeed well known to all. After refreshing drinks and picking Steve H up from the chiropractors, where he had undergone some first class treatment on a recurring neck problem, we adjourned to the nearby Rachael’s Roadhouse to celebrate Reece’s birthday over dinner. Deryk managed to join us, but poor old Russ was still examining the porcelain bottom of the toilet bowl in his room.
Day 8 – Tuesday July 19th
We were back to our full complement this morning as Russell strode proudly into the breakfast room ready to eat again. That’s the remarkable thing about this bug. It’s hits hard, but then finds someone else and recovery is almost instantaneous. We still have folks who haven’t gone down yet though ….
The washing machines received a workout this morning along with I’m sure, the beds with some tired people in them, as the next official duty was not until 1.00pm. Laima wanted to walk and the nearest and best place was the Butler cemetery, so off she went for an hour or so.
If you owned a Chop Shop in years gone by you probably also employed thieves to steal specific cars. People knew you had a chop shop, so if they needed cheap parts for their car, then it was to you they turned. You then sent out your man under the cover of darkness to steal the one you wanted and bring it back to the shop. Within 15 minutes it was “chopped up” and the parts distributed to those who needed them and the rest were retained. The police had no possible chance to trace the stolen car. One such chop shop still exists in Butler, but it’s now a restaurant. Typical American fare, but highly unusual surroundings to eat it in.
The evening belonged to Lernerville Speedway about 12 miles down the road from Butler. A track that I think resembles Parramatta in a lot of ways in shape and layout. Tonight was the Don Martin Silver Cup Memorial. The World of Outlaws were there along with a heap of Pennsylvania Posse drivers. 48 cars made it the strongest field for some time. Unfortunately however they have abandoned the twin feature concept in favour of one 40 lap race paying $25,000 to win.
Schatz has six letters in his name but it wasn’t his on the winner’s cheque for once. It could have been (Kerry) Madsen because he shone in the heats, but inexplicably spun twice in the feature to finish the worst of the four Aussies in the race. Ian Madsen performed the best, finishing 13th with James McFadden (in Kasey Khane’s #4) and Jamie Veal all in a bunch together.
The absolute star of the show was David Gravel who ran away and hid after being challenged by Schatz at around lap 30. Once Donny had shown his nose Gravel pulled away and was never headed to demonstrate that he is a very real candidate come the Knoxville Nationals next month.
Day 9 – Wednesday July 20th
Although Mechanicsburg was our endpoint tonight, a must see landmark lies midway between Butler and the home of Williams Grove Speedway. On September 11th, 2001 two planes departed from Boston, one from Washington and one from Newark in NYC. Of course none of them ever made it to their final destination. Flight 93 had departed from Newark bound for San Francisco, but because it left 42 minutes late the al Qaeda hijackers’ plans were thrown into disarray. Authorities believe its intended target was the Capitol Building in Washington, but no one really knows for sure.
The 40 passengers and crew on board had heard about the Twin Towers and the Pentagon via radio and in calls to their loved ones from the air phones on board. Their plane had already been hi-jacked by terrorists with bombs strapped on and they must have known they were going to die, one way or the other. Their heroism in charging the cockpit may never be surpassed. In doing so the plane never reached its intended target but flew erratically and upside down at 595 mph into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
The Flight 93 Memorial has always been a must to visit on our Month of Money Tour, but now it is even more so with the recent completion of the Visitors’ Centre high on the hill over which the plane flew on its death dive. The existing Memorial Plaza we have always visited is still there and can be accessed via pathway down from the Visitors’ Centre. The whole complex is now complete and it provides an extremely sombre introduction to our tour members who will also see first-hand the effects of the attacks when we visit Ground Zero in New York City early next week.
25 minutes along US30 is the delightfully historic Jean Bonnet Tavern built in 1863 to cater for the folk heading west to seek a new start to their life. It was essentially a watering hole for horses and cattle then, but now more than adequately serves the same purpose for hungry and thirsty Australian sprintcar fans.
Three hours later we strolled into the Courtyard Marriott in Mechanicsburg which is where we will be for the next four nights. After some welcoming drinks in the courtyard of the Courtyard, we adjourned to Aroogas Sports Bar with its 120 + TV’s, every one of which shows sport from somewhere around the world. Prior arrangements meant that we had tables reserved right in front of two big screens both of which were tuned to Fox Sports 1 who were showing the NASCAR Trucks live from Eldora Speedway. Heaven in a beer glass you might say. $0.59 cent wings were the most popular choice for dinner while we watched Kyle Larson come from one lap down to win his first Eldora truck race on the dirt. In fact, the first five across the line were all dirt track drivers which isn’t surprising I guess …..
Day 10 – Thursday July 21st
Thursday morning in Pennsylvania has been the Harley Davidson Motorcycle Factory tour for five years. Always a popular inclusion, we were disappointed to learn a month or so ago that the tours had been discontinued for July and August because of some major changes being made to all models this year. Such is the strict policy that Harley Davidson have where Dealers must be the first to know what those new models will look like, the public have been barred from the Assembly line. But the visitor centre was still open so we headed there anyway to watch the movie and make out we owned the display models in the foyer. A lesser substitute, but good fun nevertheless.
Gettysburg was next along with a stop in Abbottstown to inspect Lincoln Speedway on US30. This track usually races on the Thursday night of Summer Nationals week, but tonight it would be dark regretfully.
The Civil War was America’s bloodiest conflict with more people killed during this war than all other wars the US has been involved in combined. 620,000 Americans were killed by other Americans. 2% of the country’s male population did not survive the Civil War. The human cost of the war was beyond anyone’s expectations with the nation experiencing bloodshed of a magnitude that has not be equalled since by any other conflict America has been involved in.
Gettysburg played a major part in those stats. In just three days of August 1863, there were 51,000 casualties as the confederates launched attack after attack on the Yankee soldiers. All because several years earlier the northern states wanted to abolish slavery and the south didn’t. There was a political unrest building up as well because the south figured that the northerners were favoured by decisions coming out of the White House. The only way to solve it apparently was by shooting each other. Much the same as today really …..
The Battlefields tour the group took was superb. Any tour is only as good as the guide you get and last year the guy was terrible. But today the female hostess was excellent and she received rave reviews from all who went along. Further accentuated by receipt of a souvenir replica silver bullet whilst up on Cemetery Ridge from a city employee dressed in battle uniform.
Lunch by the way was in the leafy garden of Farnsworth House in Baltimore Street. The most haunted place in all of Gettysburg we’re told, it features prominently in the night tours of scary places. The hundreds of bullet holes in the bricks demonstrate that it was the site of many a battle in 1863.
With the temperature hovering constantly around the ton, the Ford lumbered off to Hannover where former champion sprintcar driver Bobby (Scruff) Allen has his race shop adjacent to his go kart complex. Tonight was in aid of Jeff Gordon’s “Kick-It” Foundation for kids with cancer and a number of drivers were in attendance to race against the locals who fancied themselves in rental karts. James McFadden and Shane Stewart were notables. The large crowd who turned up to watch meant that our own kart racing was somewhat curtailed unfortunately.
Day 11 – Friday July 22nd
Just how much time do you allocate for a visit to a Bass Pro store? Depends on your sex I guess. Guys and shopping really don’t go together, but give them a place which sells anything to do with hunting, fishing, shooting, boating, outdoor cooking, or clothing to wear while doing all of the above and they will stay for hours. Many hundreds of dollars were dropped by a couple of guys from Stawell who saw added value in many things on offer.
Lunch was an all you can eat buffet in Hibachi, mainly featuring great Chinese food but with all American sweets and desserts, plus delicious Hershey ice cream. Bit disappointed though as the price had gone up by 40 cents to $7.99!!
And then it was off to what is really a hidden gem. You wouldn’t know this place existed even if you were looking for it. The Eastern Museum of Motor Racing www.emmr.org sits proudly on a hill overlooking the old Latimore Valley speedway which is where the Williams Grove Old Timers now drive their priceless restored race cars in “spirited demonstration” runs.
Any visit to EMMR is enhanced when the official curator of the Museum gives the personal guided tour. Lynn Paxton won 49 features at the Grove and more than 250 A Mains at tracks around Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York state. His knowledge and the humour with which he disperses it, makes 90 minutes with him go very quickly. There wouldn’t be a car, a sign or a book in there for which he doesn’t have a story. He’s not always available when we are there, but today he was and he delights in showing passionate fans around, especially Aussies who give him a Global Speedway Tours cap to say thanks.
I would have loved to have been around in the days when Lynn won those feature races. The beers would have been cold and the stories hilarious in the pits afterwards.
As much as the sightseeing is an important component of the tour, it is racing we have come to see, so an early arrival at Williams Grove to secure a shady parking spot under the massive trees was imperative. Not just to park, but to meet the locals over the tailgate of their Dodge Ram, or Chevy pick-ups.
Here in Pennsylvania the PA posse are very, very good. The local drivers know their uniquely shaped track very well and although the Outlaws constantly travel the country stopping at the Grove three times a year, they cannot often match the locals’ knowledge of conditions. Hence when Daryn Pittman won tonight he was roundly booed by the fans who just simply expect that one of their own will win every time the Outlaws ride into town.
Day 12 – Saturday July 23rd
At 8.00am this morning on my way to the shops to refill water, coke, bourbon and beer supplies, the temperature was already in the 90’s. It would be a hot one today and we were headed to Hershey for a looksee at Chocolate World. Anyone silly enough to buy chocolate today would regret it.
And anyone who went to Hershey Park, the gigantic 14 roller coaster Amusement Park next door, was even sillier. But thousands upon thousands of people appeared to be as they packed into the joint presumably to wait for an hour at a time to get a ride on anything. Having seen Chocolate World and experienced the animated Disneyland style ride through the factory, we skedaddled out of there and took the “Foreplay Highway”. So named because 30 minutes later you’re in Intercourse.
It’s a town of course and received that name in yesteryear because it was the meeting point of the original trails to and from Baltimore and Philadelphia. It’s home to a large Amish community, many of whom still practice the traditional way of living without electricity and motor cars and shun the public from their lives. But some have succumbed to the lure of the tourist dollar and the village of Intercourse now has an enormous trade set up to sell to the bus loads of tourists who want to say they spent time in Intercourse on their holiday.
Meanwhile back at the ranch called Williams Grove, night 2 of the Summer Nationals awaited the 10,000 or so fans who were there to watch it. The temperature had moderated a little but a brief and super loud thunderstorm rolled in at around 4.00pm, but it wouldn’t affect the track or the conditions for racing tonight.
The posse and their fans on Beer Hill got their wish tonight with Lance Dewease taking home the $25,000 for winning the big one. The number of fans who swarmed onto the main straight post race for the ceremonies was the most I have seen for years. They love their racing here in these parts that’s for sure. Daryn Pittman completed a good weekend for him with second and Fred Rahmer’s kid Freddie drove to probably his best finish in his young career when he nailed third.
Fortunately it was a relatively early finish as it’s a 6.30am start in the morning to tackle the next three nights and four days in New York City.
Day 13 – Sunday July 24th
Off for some R&R this morning. Usually on a Global Speedway Tours trip R&R stands for “Racing and (more) Racing” but for the next four days it doesn’t mean “Rest & Relaxation” either. You see when one goes to New York, it really means “Requires Resuscitation”.
A 6.30am start from the hotel saw us at Harrisburg’s AMTRAK station by 7.20am to board the 660 Keystone service to the Big Apple. At times this train scoots along at 180 kph such is the manner in which the line has been constructed. Most snoozed, only to awake as we glided into Philadelphia. Not that we saw much of this historic city because as you would imagine the station is underground.
From Philly we headed north east up through Trenton, Edison, and Newark before once again heading below the earth to enter Manhattan under the Hudson River (no planes landed on it while we there) eventually pulling in to Penn Station in midtown right on the scheduled arrival time of 10.49am. Penn Station sits underneath Madison Square Garden which is home to the NBA Knicks, the NHL Rangers, women’s basketball, concerts, boxing, wrestling and singer song writer Billy Joel who has permanent residency there.
The island of Manhattan is one of five boroughs in New York City, the others being Queens, Staten Island, Brooklyn and the Bronx. Nearly every tourist to New York stays in Manhattan which is just 13.4 miles (21.6 km) long and 2.3 miles (3.7 kms) at its widest point. The most densely populated city in the USA, in July 2015 it had a population of 8.55 million people living in the five boroughs. Manhattan itself only has a population of 1.6 million permanent residents, but that swells each working day when another two million commuters come in by train to work each day.
Then do the sums and add in a yearly tourist intake of 54,000,000 people, 75% of which are there in the three months of summer. Like July …. when we are there. The end result is a seething mass of people eagerly spilling thousands of dollars from their pockets because they have finally been able to save enough to holiday in New York City. The four most expensive days of the Month of Month tour as the ones we are in right now. Accommodation prices have no ceiling. It’s simply what the market will bear. Food and beverage costs are three to four times what it is to do the same thing in (say Indiana).
But hey, if I’ve got the chance to have a drink or a meal in Times Square, then what the hell. I’ll mortgage the house again. Now speaking of Times Square, let’s get back to the MoM tour members who you’ll remember have just stepped off the train 50 metres below Madison Square Garden. It could have been just 25 metres, but the regular subway system (there are 20 different criss-crossing lines) were built above the out of state commuter lines.
Their first look at NYC in the daylight is from the corner of 7th Avenue and 34th Street. Look right and the first building you see is the Empire State. Quite a sight for anyone, let alone first time tourists in the city that never sleeps. We could have taken the subway the 14 blocks to the Belvedere Hotel, but that would have been no fun. Instead, knowing that luggage was kept to a minimum, we walked straight up 7th Avenue to Times Square, just because we could. Remember it was 11.00am on a Sunday morning.
Maybe you could shoot a rifle down the main street of any other US city and not hit anyone on a Sunday morn (sorry bad analogy when I think about it) but in NYC you couldn’t miss. Humanity is everywhere. On every footpath, every restaurant, every coffee shop, every gift shop, every deli, every taxi with the driver honking the horn, every double decker tourist bus stuck in traffic and every fire engine, ambulance or police car that finds it necessary to navigate down the road siren blaring, whether moving or not.
Yep it’s all there with Times Square the worst …. and the most vibrant. Hard to put into words. You dread having to enter the precinct, but once inside the zone a magnet like effect appears to have an all-powerful spell to keep you in there. Legend has it that you could take a seat at the window of a TS bar and be guaranteed to see someone you know walk past within the hour.
Our hotel The Belvedere (new for this year) is beautifully located in midtown Manhattan on 49th Street and 8th Avenue. Particularly close to the Grayline Hop on Hop off double decker buses we would be using for the next 72 hours. The subway was at 50th St and the nearest three bars were 20, 30 and 40 metres away.
We checked in but knew rooms wouldn’t be available before midday so headed of to the West End Bar & Grill to watch the Brickyard 400 live from Indianapolis. A few years ago a journalist in Indy wrote after the 2013 race that there are now two parades in Indianapolis each year. The official Indy 500 parade through the streets of downtown Indy each May and the other is now the Brickyard 400. Judging by the abysmal attendance this year, it might well be the last one.
In the evening we caught the subway down to Chinatown in lower Manhattan where the Chinese entertained us with an inability to understand the Aussie lingo. If they can understand someone from Brooklyn or “Nu Joisee”, then how come the Oz accent is impossible to decipher. Still it was a terrific meal followed by a long, long walk in still searing temperatures. Today was New York’s sixth successive day in the high 90’s (read 36-37C) and when you have that heat in streets that are really just canyons with skyscrapers either side, there is little to no breeze.
We walked from Chinatown down to the East River and the Manhattan Bridge, then along the riverfront towards Battery Park. Under the Brooklyn Bridge and on to Fulton Street which winds its way up to Wall Street and Ground Zero. From there it was the underground maze of the subway again back to the Hotel.
Day 14 – Monday July 25th
Orientation day today. It’s critical really that any visitor has a reasonable understanding of Manhattan’s layout. It’s not at all hard. Downtown is south and uptown is north. All 13 Avenues run north-south and all streets run east-west. That’s OK from 1st Street in SoHo up to 271st Street in Queens because everything is in a grid. Unfortunately below Soho, the streets are not as kind with all having regular names and are twisty turny which can totally confuse taxi drivers, let alone tourists.
Hence it was onto the bus to allow the guide to educate the folks from Downunder. First was the Downtown tour which gets to New York Harbour on the lower tip some 80 minutes later, depending always on traffic. Impossible to relate the route, but suffice to say every sight is something to savour. The three most popular in NYC are the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty and Ground Zero. We would be visiting each in significant detail later on.
We jumped off at Battery Park and made our way to where Steve H would hide his pocket knife. Newly purchased at Bass Pro last Friday, it travels everywhere with him. Unfortunately it wouldn’t ever pass the airport style x-ray machines leading into the Statue of Liberty boat embarkation area. Hence under threat of having it confiscated, he nicked back outside and buried it under a tree!!
The boat ride out to the old girl is spectacular. At least the view is. The skyline is looking real good again, now that the 104 storey Freedom Tower is finished and Towers 3 & 4 (both to be around 80 stories) are nearing completion. The cranes on the Manhattan skyline are many which always augers well for any economy. 50 minutes is more than enough to circumnavigate Liberty Island and see the Lady from 360 degrees. An audio headset tour is of interest, but not absolutely compulsory.
Back on land Bugs dug up his knife which was still intact. Obviously no security cameras had recorded the burial service. Still extremely hot and humid, we boarded the Downtown bus tour which was headed back up to its starting point in Midtown so that we could join the Uptown tour. If all that makes sense, please call me.
Whilst waiting for the Uptown bus to take off, we looked to the western skies from our seats on the top deck and they were rapidly changing colour to dark black. Masses of cloud were rolling in and quickly. The bus left from 45th Street and by 59th at Columbus Circle the plastic rain ponchos were being handed out. By 61st Street we were drenched. According to the 11.00pm news, in 17 minutes 1½ inches (40mls) of rain had been dumped on the dry and steamy streets of NYC. Most of it we reckon into the top deck of the bus. In fact rather than proceed through the rain and lightning, the bus pulled to the side of the 8th Avenue to allow those who wanted to go downstairs the opportunity to do so. If only I could have done that back on I-70 in Terre Haute …..
The Uptown bus eventually got going again and the skies cleared sufficiently for us to see what was on the agenda right through Harlem. Until that is the skies clouded over again and grey was the predominate colour. Just as we entered 5th Avenue at 262nd Street the rain came again. Nowhere near as intense as before, but this time it was going to hang around for hours, which it did. Like drowned rats we eventually alighted in Times Square and joined the tens of thousands of others on the streets who had been caught out by the speed of the weather change. I can tell you that an experienced wet T-shirt competition judge would have had a hard time choosing a winner during this 15 minute walk back to the Hotel …….
Rejuvenated and refreshed we met for dinner. The least said about tonight the better. The service and the food were dreadful. So much so that for the first time ever on any tour I refused to pay the automatically included tip of 18% for a group. I realise full well that these people do rely on tips to survive, but they get nuthin’ when they give us nuthin’.
The restaurant? Applebees on 42nd Street. A place we have been to many times before both in NYC and around America. But they’re off the list now. Hope this goes viral for them. The boss agreed that the tip was not required. I paid the bill and promptly left with what felt like a dozen sets of eyes watching me walk down the stairs.
The drama and embarrassment were not over yet. It was now time to see Times Square in all its electrical glory. I had it all planned out damn it. Dinner on 42nd St, then mosey on over to TS. But no. There were police barricades completely ringing every entrance to the Square and there was no one in there except a handful of police and some rather large trucks. No official was saying anything and the tourists weren’t game to ask. We all had to detour via other streets, which put thousands of people unexpectedly into these areas much to the delight of those street traders.
The late news was reporting that a suspicious backpack had been left under a seat and the cops were taking no chances. I wonder whether it had a pocket knife in it?
Day 15 – Tuesday July 26th
Yesterday was a full on day and today was to be no different. I’ve worked out that Chinese tourists don’t wake up until around 9.00am, so it’s wise to be at attractions early before they arrive in their thousands. One should always engage this line of thinking when the Empire State Building is involved. Consequently we set off on foot at 7.45am to walk through the city streets as New Yorkers arrived into Manhattan in their millions to commence work.
The Port Authority hub on 8th Avenue has 223 gates and during an average day 8,000 buses arrive from various places surrounding Manhattan. They disgorge 225,000 people all of whom make the daily journey to earn a dollar. Add that number to the 5,650,610 people who ride the subway each day and you will get the picture of just how crowded the footpaths can become when they are all trying to walk a straight line to where they want to go.
That’s assuming all these people know where they are going. Which absolutely isn’t the case. It’s fascinating to watch people (tourists that is) who in days gone by used to consult a map that flapped wildly in the hot wind blowing down the canyons of any New York street at the height of summer. Nowadays of course it’s a phone, with every app known to man on it. The authorities are progressively eradicating those very dangerous things called poles because of the number of people who walk straight into them whilst staring into their smartphone trying to work out where they hell they are. In fact the next best seller app invention will have to be one which has a sensor in the camera lens. Much like a reversing camera on cars which beeps when you get close to an obstruction. Geez, maybe I should patent that??
Anyway back to the ESB. 350 Fifth Avenue between 33rd and 34th Streets is the address of the famous 102 storey Art deco skyscraper that, 86 years ago, took just 12 months to build. Extraordinary when you think about that fact on its own. With the spire included it stands 1,454 feet high. 443 metres. It was the tallest building in New York until 1970 when the World Trade Centre towers were completed. After they came down, the ESB resumed the title but has now lost it to the Freedom Tower at Ground Zero which is 1,776 feet in height.
We entered the building around 8.00am on a gloriously hot day and immediately the guys realised why it was an early start this morning. The areas where ropes guide the punters to trudge up and down only moving at a snail’s pace to advance just a few feet each minute, were empty. We breezed through and were at the lifts to the 86th floor observation deck in five minutes. The wait for the 30,000 visitors each day can be up to three hours around 10.00am and 7.00pm at dusk.
Of course the view was simply spectacular with the five NY boroughs, plus New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania all visible on a super clear day. Today was a great viewing day, and one of the best I’ve experienced for years. Maybe the cleansing the city got yesterday in the storm did the trick. 45 mins is enough up there and the descent was made the same way by lift. Exiting from the building even further reinforced the decision to visit as soon as it opens because those roped off areas now had hundreds and hundreds of soulful people queued. Little did they know there was a very long wait in front of them.
Back on to the Hop on Hop off bus with the VIP tickets working a treat. At this time of the day the lines at each stop can be large. Especially at the popular attractions. There’s something superior about just turning up and waiting for the arriving bus tour guide to see the VIP pass around your neck. “Sir, please come this way and board the bus first” are magic words indeed. The looks on the faces of those who have been waiting an hour or so are priceless. Buses arrive frequently, but not all have available seating. Sometimes none at all, because no one gets off.
This time we alighted at Ground Zero down in the Financial District. We had 911 Museum tickets for midday and with time to spare wandered around the “free” areas which commemorate the memory of all 2,996 people killed on Sept 11th 2001. We had of course already visited the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, PA but it really only set the scene for the real disaster site here. Work is ongoing at the site to finish and perfect what the authorities want to do. It is almost five years behind schedule, but what has been achieved so far is truly special.
The new Freedom Tower (otherwise known as One World Trade Centre) is not on the exact site of the original towers. And deliberately so, because each of the precise footprints of the Towers have a square reflecting pool of an acre in size, with the largest man made waterfalls in North America. The names of every person who died that day are inscribed into bronze panels edging the Memorial pools.
The 911 Museum is a must see. If you go, book on-line well in advance and pick a day and time that suits. You could spend upwards of five hours in there if you wanted. Constructed deep below the Ground Zero site it’s a magnificent recollection of how and why it unfolded. Way too difficult for me to put into words. Just go see it one day.
Lunch on the run from a sidewalk food vendor (halal was popular!) reignited the energy to visit Wall Street and all the sights around the NY Stock Exchange including the iconic 16 feet long Charging Bull. It symbolises the stock markets. A ‘bull market’ means shares are rising. A ‘bear market’ means they are on the way down. Most people like to have their picture taken patting the bull’s horns, but some prefer the other end where the sculptor decided to place a couple of quite large protuberances between its legs. We have a great shot of Steve and Steve supporting these monstrous testicles, one in each hand.
Time was marching on and the heat index was rising rapidly so it was decided to take the subway back uptown to the Hotel for a spell, before heading out again on the Night tour. Once again this is a spectacular two hour ride where the bus goes down some of the same Avenues and Streets that the day tours take, but even so with a different guide you hear diverse things with stories and anecdotes being different. However once you hit Chinatown and Little Italy the bus heads for the Manhattan Bridge over the East River into Brooklyn. The view from here is superb, both from the ride across the bridge and from the Brooklyn riverfront, although greedy developers are quickly pinching all the good spots.
Day 16 – Wednesday July 27th
Having seen as much as possible on an organised basis across the first three days, Wednesday is designated as catch up day. Everyone went separate ways to see stuff on a personal basis that has taken their eye from high up the top of the bus, or is something else they have always wanted to do should they ever visit New York City.
It was quite diverse with the Circle Line cruise around Manhattan being popular, as was walking aimlessly through Central Park. Jimmy’s Corner on 44th Street was popular for last drinks in NYC before boarding the AMTRAK train back at Penn Station for the three hour ride back to Harrisburg and the sanctity of a white Ford bus!! An 11.00pm arrival back in Harrisburg saw some weary travellers climb into bed that’s for sure.
Day 17 – Thursday July 28th
A few months before we left Australia, a race popped up its head for tonight in mid Ohio. Round 6 of the Buckeye Stars Late Model Speedweek was on, so arrangements were made to shift hotel bookings from Columbus to Millersburg because as I’ve said before, “if it’s on you gotta be there”.
After some 600 kms along I-76, and later many country roads, we arrived in Ohio Amish country and Millersburg. Great scenery along the way actually with rolling hills and lush green pastures. Gee we missed all those cornfields while in New York. Not. Part of the journey took us through Pittsburgh which has three rivers flowing into, or through it. Quite a sight to see the Monongahela and the Allegheny form the large Ohio River which then travels onwards for another 981 miles through West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois. In many cases it forms the border between these states.
The Hilltop Speedway in Millersburg was great fun. Always good to return to grassroots racing, this was surely a text book example of that. The big Late Model teams were there with their Haulers, but parked side by side with them in the pits were the open trailers with a variety of things that go fast on them. Besides the 32 Late Models, we had 18 Modifieds, 19 Street Stocks and 13 Mini Stocks. For now we’ll call them Hornets!
On arrival at Hilltop we parked alongside the pit fence and over a few pre-race beers on a glorious afternoon, our resident touring sedan race drivers from Stawell in Victoria made acquaintances with local Bob Chilcote through the fence. Australians will think Holden and Ford bodies on Street Stocks. Not here. They all have Late Model bodies simply because it’s cheaper to buy a Late Model chassis and body to drop a motor into, than construct your own from an old body out of the wrecking yard. They look real sharp and put on a good show. Anything that has fenders on it here has a V8 in it. (Well maybe not the Hornets!)
Brandon Sheppard took home first place in the LM feature and our new friend Bob Chilcote was well placed for a podium finish until he got mixed up in skirmish on turn 2 and went to the tail. All in all, a unique night at the skids in rural Ohio at a track I had never heard of before, but be guaranteed if future Month of Money itineraries coincide with a round of the Buckeye Late Model speedweek, then we’ll be there.
Day 18 – Friday July 29th
Friday, Saturday and Sunday are race nights somewhere in Indiana, so this morning we loaded up and headed west again. The aim was to be back in Indianapolis by 1.00pm and that was easy as the big Ford chewed up the miles progressively making our way through the countryside to Columbus where we re-joined I-70 through Dayton and Richmond, eventually pulling in to that hotel next to the Bourbon Street Distillery in North Senate Avenue.
After the world’s largest BLT sandwich with fries and coleslaw ($8.00) we headed for our favourite Indycar raceshop, Target Ganassi. Although from next year we will be calling it something else as Target has just announced its withdrawal of sponsorship with Ganassi’s Indycar operations after 27 years. Target however will remain with Kyle Larson and the Ganassi NASCAR team which operates out of North Carolina for at least one more year.
Today’s tour was supplemented by the surprise presence of the cars which finished 1st and 3rd in the GT category at Le Mans last month. They were silently sitting there without their bodies and we were afforded a very close up look at these unique machines. No pictures of course and that was entirely understood.
From Ganassi’s it was on to Bloomington Speedway, some 55 miles (80 kms) south. Steamy and humid weather abounds in summer and the clouds were getting darker and darker overhead, but surprisingly they held their moisture for at least while we were in Indy. As we drove south, fortunately those clouds remained stationery and as we heard later gave Indianapolis an almighty storm around 6.00pm which also rained out North Vernon who were running sprintcars as well tonight.
But today we got it right and the gates at Bloomington welcomed us on a bright sunny late afternoon. The red clay tonight would have non wing 410 sprints, the Super Stocks (with Late Model bodies), Mini sprints (Litre cars in our lingo) and Racesaver sprintcars (winged 305’s). Big fields in all classes and another very pleasant night watching grass roots racing. A surprise ending to the sprintcar feature saw winner Max McGhee leave the track with his trophy and go into the stands. He picked out a young boy just in front of us and handed him the trophy. The kid had no idea it was coming and was gob smacked by the show of kindness, to the extent that he didn’t close his mouth for at least three minutes as he just sat and stared at what was in his hands.
Day 19 – Saturday July 30th
Luke and Reece headed off this morning for Rantoul, Illinois to go to a Truck Show. (As if they haven’t seen enough on the Interstates already!) Just like any other male renting a car in America, they had to get the biggest they could, so settled on a Ford F150 pickup and off they headed. The rest of us went to Indy to visit the Museum and take the 90 minute track tour. Once again, very well worth the $30. Arizona Sports shirts also received some Aussie visitors and cash changed hands for t-shirts and hoodies before more dollars came out of pockets at the Pit Stop BBQ for lunch.
Before pointing the vehicle towards Putnamville for tonight’s racing, we stopped in at Lucas Oil Raceway with the expectation that something might be happening in there. The Pure Speed Drag Racing Experience was in the house. Essentially it’s identical to the Richard Petty Driving Experience for NASCARS, but these were single seater 800 horsepower dragsters which, for $649, you can take four runs of firstly 330 feet, 1/8th mile and then finishing with two ¼ mile runs. They will do the quarter mile in 10 secs which I guess is fast enough for the average punter.
Lincoln Park Speedway (aka Putnamville) is in my view the most picturesque Indiana track of all 52 of them in the state. We took the usual parking spot under the trees in the RV area which tonight, unlike Indiana Midget week a few months ago, was devoid of the big houses on wheels. Except for Bob Clauson (Bryan’s grandpa) who travels from California with wife Monica for every summer in the Midwest. He told us tonight that his best effort over the five month race season was a few years ago when they got to 115 races in five months. Ben and Tim’s grandpa might have to do that one day…..
Once again no complaints from anyone as the Putnamville Clash unfolded with at my estimate anyone of 11 of 29 drivers present capable of winning. By the way, down in Lawrenceburg tonight (80 miles to the east) were another 38 non wing 410 teams who decided to race there. Things are good in the Indiana sprintcar world.
A couple of scary flips in the heats paved the way for a great feature won by Kevin Thomas Jnr from Tyler Thomas and last night’s winner Max McGhee. Luke and Reece had joined us after their inspection of 4,962 (I’m guessing) trucks in Rantoul and the F150 was dropped off back at Enterprise Car Rental on the way back to the Hotel. But it wasn’t to bed just yet. After all it was Saturday night and a midnight drive down Meridian Street to the nightclub area was required. It was like New York City all over again with literally thousands of people spilling out onto the street with drinks in hand, music blaring out from the clubs and bars and from most cars and motorcycles that were cruising like us. It was a first for me. Never knew there was side to Indianapolis like this …..
Day 20 – Sunday July 31st
For decades every sprintcar fan has headed for Kokomo Speedway on a Sunday night. Previously because it was the only track that ran Sunday night. Now it’s because it’s well known as the raciest ¼ mile dirt track in Indiana and it’s a bucket list item for touring Aussies. But not this year. Tonight it was dark (closed) and the gates would remain shut until next Sunday when regular racing resumed. Heartbreaking stuff indeed.
But not to worry. Angell Park up in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin is also a Sunday track, so we went there. 330 miles wasn’t a problem and besides we gained an hour in the process. Indianapolis disappeared behind us as we headed up I-65 direct to Chicago on a cloudless summer’s day. Suddenly in the northern distance what appeared to be smoke hovered across the horizon. As we got closer what we now realised was fog became denser just at the point where the Meadow Lake Wind Farm commences. What we didn’t see were the 303 massive wind turbines that hug the highway on both sides.
Whilst we didn’t go into Chicago itself (that comes tomorrow) I-90 took us right past the city which enabled us to get caught up in super long traffic jams on a Sunday afternoon. Inching along wasn’t pleasant but at least you could see the sights of the windy city, which today was anything but. Still, calm and hot were the orders from above.
One of the longest road re-constructions I’ve seen is on I-90 from Chicago to Madison, Wisconsin. It would have to be over 100 miles. But if it turns out to all be as good as the 50 miles already completed, it’ll be worth the wait. The land that has been acquired to widen these interstates must be of inestimable worth.
Sun Prairie arrived in due course and one of the first places of interest we went past was the Fire Station. Coincidental because it’s the Volunteer Fire Department who have run Angell Park Speedway since 1939. May 30th was the date and four races were run followed by a dance. All for $0.25 cents. In one of those four races that night the boys and girls who had probably gone just for the dance, saw the first death of a racer at the speedway. Quite an introduction I guess.
There were no deaths tonight of course, but at one stage it looked as if there was. Race 1, lap 1 for the non winged sprints saw Mike Sullivan bicycle on turn 4 and take a vicious series of flips which had the car finishing up cage first high into the bill boards surrounding the track. Parts of the car cleared the fence into the pit area and things didn’t look good at all. The ambulance immediately removed the stretcher when it arrived – usually not a good sign. But after a few minutes the crowd cheered when Mike emerged from the car under his own steam. But he was done for the night that’s for sure. Later on in the midget feature a spectacular double flip in turn one in front of the Midget Hall of Fame pavilion hushed the crowd as well.
All in all a very worthy night of racing and making friends with the locals.
Day 21 – Monday August 1st
At some point this exceptional weather has to stop I guess, but this morning wasn’t it. Again a clear blue sky greeted bleary eyes as curtains were pulled back to find out the story for the rest of the day.
And the story would be yet another big day. The drive from Sun Prairie (very aptly named by the way) was an easy one back south to Chicago. Although we did detour via Downers Grove to eat at the original Hooters in Illinois. Yesterday’s NASCAR race had been rained out in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania and was rescheduled for today, so we had a pleasant drive listening to the NASCAR broadcast of the race on Satellite radio. And watched the end of the race in Hooters where the girls arranged it so that five TV’s surrounding us were all tuned to NBC for the coverage.
Checked in to the very well located, full of character, rock ‘n roll themed Hard Rock Hotel in Michigan Avenue around 3.00pm. Situated in the former Carbide & Carbon building, it is an official Chicago Landmark 40 storey building featuring art deco design from 1929. It became the Hard Rock Hotel in 2004. It was an excellent place to stay in a city that has so much history and which is fast becoming my favourite. Although there were 468 murders in the metropolis in 2015, we did eventually leave the joint with the same number of people as we went in with!
Baseball is a US pastime and folks love it as much as AFL fans in Melbourne love their footy. Chicago has two baseball franchises. The White Sox at Cellular Field (formerly Comiskey Park) and the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Their rivalry is well known and when it comes time to play each other the “Crosstown Classic” takes place. Great name actually. On field results have not been good for these two clubs over the years. The 1906 World Series was the only time they have faced each other for the title. Although the White Sox won the 2005 World Series, historically each team’s fans felt bad for their own team’s relatively poor performance, but took solace in the fact that the other team was doing just as badly.
In previous years when visiting Chicago with Global Speedway Tours we have just rocked up to Wrigley Field to buy tickets at the gate to watch the Cubs play whoever. But that’s all changed in 2016 as the Cubs have rocketed up the favourite’s ladder to maybe participate in their first World Series for 108 years. The longest drought in baseball history. It would be a full house for sure tonight, so three months ago I purchased tickets on-line to ensure we got in.
Riding the red line subway to Addison station is an experience in itself. At 5.00pm the subway is chockas with peak hour commuters going home. Add in 40,000 who want to go to go to Wrigley Field and it becomes like riding the trains in Tokyo. Didn’t see any “human pushers” on the platform, but they would have been useful. Blue caps and shirts with a big red C on them were everywhere. Remember it was a Monday night and they would play the Miami Marlins again on Tuesday and Wednesday night.
People were cheerful and well mannered …. just happy that they can go to a Cubs game and expect victory, rather than having to bet on the losing margin. We made our way to Section 529, Row 9. They were nosebleed height I always knew that, but on arrival we found them in the very back row at the highest point possible on the first base line. Behind us were big open “glassless windows” which allowed a cooling breeze to flow through all night. Very pleasant indeed. In front of a packed house the Cubs won with a shut out 5 to 0. They went on to win all three games of the Marlin’s swing into Chicago to continue their quest for the playoffs and perhaps World Series success. Should that happen, Chicago will go berserk.
Day 22 – Tuesday August 2nd
A day set aside to do your own thing in Chicago. It’s a city which almost begs tourists to walk it. Hop on Hop off buses are available as well as river and Lake Michigan cruises, but over a number of years now it’s apparent that walking the extra wide pavements is preferred.
Dinner was at the incomparable Dick’s Last Resort restaurant on the riverfront. It’s here that the servers are trained (encouraged?) to be rude to the patrons and equally, in return, they expect the punters to respond accordingly. We never did get the name of our middle aged married to a New Zealander waitress, but she was easily the funniest and best in the joint. The predominant feature of this place is that after an hour or so, during which your server sums up each guest’s character, he or she will tear off a big sheet of butchers paper, fashion a tall paper hat and then write something on the front of it for everyone to read, except the person whose head it has been placed on. This causes much merriment and laughter as phones are pulled out of pockets to take a picture and send them around the world in a flash to friends at home.
We spent plenty of time here before adjourning to the House of Blues next door. We had an Australian girl from Wollongong playing bass guitar and leading the singing, so of course we received plenty of mentions. Some tour members nicknamed it the “House of Pain” next morning as we started out down Route 66.
Day 23 – Wednesday August 3rd
There’s a sign on the corner of Adams Street and Michigan Avenue that proudly says “Route 66 starts here”. The people who chose to put brown historic signposts on R66 from Chicago to Los Angeles (distance of 3,945 kms) decided to put the starting post on Adams. Other will tell you it actually started elsewhere, but I’ll let them argue that.
It’s simply too hard to try to follow R66 out of downtown Chicago, so we let I-55 whisk us out of the city and down to the Joliet exit, from which point on it’s possible to drive 70% of the original road. But to be perfectly honest you wouldn’t want to as parts are particularly bumpy and cause havoc for the folks sitting over the rear axle in a long wheel base vehicle. The entire road was eventually paved in 1937 prior to which much of it was dirt. Call it mud in winter.
The Blues Brothers movie started in Joliet when Jake was released from prison. The havoc they created commenced from there. About 10 minutes from Joliet along R66 a vast drag strip and NASCAR complex suddenly materialises to your left. It’s compulsory to stop in at Route 66 Raceway and Chicagoland Speedway where the wonderful Charlie always takes our group on a deluxe tour of his pride and joy sitting on 900 acres of prime land. Today however we received the deluxe bonus tour. As always it starts at the drag strip, which today physically sucked the thongs of my feet. (Americans should read “flip flops” for thongs.) Last weekend they had used 350 gallons of burn out fluid because of the heat and the sheer number of competitors. It became like glue and Charlie’s crew today had the job of burning it off after we had left. Stats galore are provided but the most mind blowing is that in the 15 feet (4 metres) between the ‘christmas tree” starting lights and the black box that determines a false start, the top fuelers are already doing 100mph (160 kms/hour). 3.2 seconds later they have reached their 1,000 feet target distance at 330mph. The rest of the ¾ mile drag strip is simply used for slowing down.
The half mile dirt speedway was next and for us as oval track fans it was sad to learn that sprintcars, midgets, late models etc can no longer race at this facility because using it for demolition derbies and monster truck shows only makes the lady who leases the joint, way too much money. Besides no one would race there now anyway as the rocks beginning to make their way to the surface would kill a Hornet driver at 40mph.
Next up was the super speedway. 1½ miles in length, it was built 10 years or so ago to try to get a NASCAR date. They eventually achieved that aim when they were awarded the first race in the Chase as the season begins to wind down. Charlie said follow me, so we did. His car headed through the tunnel onto the infield and drove right to the Victory Lane circle where the Ford took pride of place. Another guy then turned up, handed Charlie some keys, whispered in his ear and took off at a zillion miles an hour in his red pickup. Anti-clockwise around the track. Charlie followed and I followed Charlie. Although not as fast as old mate in the pickup, we hit maybe 100kph, but the real thrill came when Charlie veered off the apron down the bottom to go up track onto the banking coming off turn 2.
The significant change in equilibrium was vivid as the bus dramatically “tipped over” to the left giving an unexpected thrill to everyone as we charged down the back straight, eventually returning to the bottom in turn 3. And there was more …. We drove under the massive 85,000 capacity grandstand, parked the cars and headed for the lift which took us to the ultra top level. Only the spotters on race day get up here. The view was spectacular. We were afforded this view last year, but the clarity of air quality today was significantly better.
Then back into Race Control and the Media centre one level below. One day I need to be able to watch a race from up there. Charlie, if you’re reading this, take note!! Thanks so much for your incredible hospitality today.
Lunch was at Nelly’s in Wilmington followed by ice creams at Polka Dot in Braidwood where Marilyn Monroe watches over the men’s bathroom via 60 – 70 framed photos of her in various poses. Pontiac, named after the Indian tribe and not the car, was next for leg stretches and iced water such was the temperature of the day.
At Bloomington (Illinois) we gladly walked into the lovely and cold Holiday Inn Express foyer to check in. The pool looked inviting but there was no time as it was immediately off to the McLean County Fair for the ITPA Tractor Pull. I won’t offer the line I’ve used before about Tractor Pulling. Suffice to say when you have $250,000 invested in a motor to win $575 on the night, something is horribly wrong with your logic. Or the Tax office in the US thinks there are some very expensive tractors ploughing the cornfields out here in the mid-west.
Day 24 – Thursday August 4th
On just about every previous tour when we have a day without racing that night, the weather is perfect. On other days you spend the daylight hours wondering if the track will survive any rain received. Nothing could be further from the truth in 2016. Every day, be it a race day or not, it’s a glorious morning when the first cup of coffee is squeezed out of the Hotel dispenser. The only thing that changes is that it getter hotter. (The weather that is.)
Today had only 64 miles scheduled, but there was much to see. First stop was Atlanta (Illinois, not Georgia) where the “Angel less” Palms Café still greets weary R66 travellers. Gunnar Lars who (sometimes) runs the sensational R66 memorabilia shop in Atlanta was again missing in action. The locals describe him as, at best, ‘weird’. He has so much in his store that anyone would buy, but it’s only he that knows when he’s going to show up. Anyway the Pinball Museum and various R66 museums occupied us for an hour or so.
20 mins further down the road was the city of Lincoln. It’s becoming apparent that good old Abe must have been one of a set of identical quadruplets. Every third town in Illinois seems to lay claim to some form of Abraham Lincoln association. “He was born here, grew up here, studied here, wrote his speeches here, practiced law here, was married here, his children were born here, he died here or he is buried here.” One day it may be worth finding out the answers to all those questions.
What is in Lincoln however is the Logan Lanes Bowling alley where for some years now we have conducted the Global Speedway Tours 10 pin bowling championship. On a boiling hot day, the opportunity to roll a few balls down the alley and roll a few ice cold Buds down the throat while doing so, is welcomed. Different skills emerge out of people in bowling and today was no different with Steve Honeyman thrilled to win a beautifully embossed collectors’ tin of Dale Earnhardt Jnr playing cards when he took out the 2016 GST title.
Sleep-time was in Springfield where we also visited the Mile track at the Illinois Fairgrounds. One can only your shut your eyes and imagine a full field of Harley Davidsons racing around the dirt oval for 25 or so laps.
Mexican food was introduced to the troops tonight at Xochimilco’s across the road. Free food should be offered if you can pronounce it I reckon. The food is magnificent, the service lightning fast and the frozen tequila margaritas at $2 are unbelievable.
Day 25 – Friday August 5th
Another short driving day but truckloads to see. There’s a classic old R66 gas station in Farmersville that I always take the Month of Money tour groups to see. It’s never been open yet, but in the past that hasn’t been a problem because I never knew that there was anything inside it. Just seeing the stuff outside on display has always satisfied us. Well today it was open and “old mate” was sittin’ outside at a table ready willing and keen to talk. Turns out that he was selling up and everything had a price. Just haggle with him.
Inside was enough stuff to fill 100 man caves. Offers of as low as $2 were accepted for a variety of memorabilia that would fit in a suitcase. Anyone living locally would have filled 10 pick-up trucks if the price was right. In fact another “old mate” was there negotiating to buy the lot in one hit but first “old mate” was pretty hesitant. So we got in with some offers before second “old mate” became the owner.
Next stop was at Classic Country Cars in Staunton where 546 classic cars awaited our inspection. All were for sale as usual and 90 minutes were spent there perusing just about every one of them before moving on to Livingstone and the Pink Elephant Mall. The Aussie flag is still proudly displayed on the wall of the entry foyer …. thanks Shayne. The new 50’s themed Diner is now complete so Adam’s favourite Philly Cheese Steaks were popular.
Matty Hollands joined us tonight in St Louis for the short Iron Man 55 races and the Knoxville Nationals tour. Not unusually he had flight delays and arrived 12 hours late to “meet us in St Louis”. But no dramas. We had scheduled him to arrive a day early anyway, hence he was able to see his first US sprintcar race at Pevely Speedway when the Outlaws came to town to tackle the absurdly high banks of the renowned I-55 oval.
In my view the POWRi midgets stole the show and tonight the sprintcars were the supports. David Gravel battled the rain showers to take the win, his second consecutive World of Outlaws victory and the seventh of his career. Not a big crowd tonight, but still large enough to mean it took 40 minutes for the exiting traffic to file down the only road (a narrow two lane country track) out onto the highway. One can only imagine what it will be like tomorrow night.
Day 26 – Saturday August 6th
Today is a day that all speedway fans should remember forever. Whilst at Pevely speedway tonight, the very sad news of Bryan Clauson’s midget accident in Belleville, Kansas broke when Rico Abreu announced it during an interview with Johnny Gibson. We weren’t to know at that stage of the night, but BC’s injuries were so severe he passed away the following day, but not before five vital organs from his body were removed and transplanted into people who needed them. An extraordinary way for such a talented race driver to be eternally remembered.
This morning the group went to the top of the Gateway Arch for the spectacular view 200 metres above the city. The ride to the top can be claustrophobic in the little trams that climb their way to the top, but the view is well worth the effort. Construction of this very impressive monument was completed in 1965 and is a permanent public memorial to the men who made possible the western territorial expansion of the United States.
The Gateway Arch sits right on the Mississippi riverbank and it’s only appropriate of course that a riverboat cruise on the mighty Miss was next on our agenda. For a very pleasant hour we cruised in the significant heat of the day but we had a gentle breeze coming off the river as we heard all about the history of St Louis and the contribution the almighty river has made throughout the years. Whilst out there today we made way for a tugboat shepherding 16 barges upstream to the north. 16 barges joined together are 370 metres long, 61 metres wide and have a surface area of six acres. The Tug boat captain is a genius to steer that monstrosity against the tide and through the 29 locks that lift the river 123 metres in height. The contents of a 16 barge tow means that 1,050 trucks are taken off the road each time. Thanks god for the river barges is all I can say…..
Next up was the always interesting Budweiser Brewery tour, albeit a bit shorter these days as they try to reduce the lines of people waiting. As always the Clydesdales are the big hit, but maybe not as much as the free beer at the end of the tour.
The Iron Man 55 race at Pevely is always a hum dinger of a race and almost invariably has a twist in the tale somewhere throughout the night. This time it was Rico Abreu who provided it. Clearly upset and emotional about his good friend Bryan Clauson, Rico took some time to “get going” as he languished in 5th place for ages. In the meantime Kerry Madsen was way out in front with what appeared to be an unassailable lead, but on lap 26 (of 55) Rico started coming.
He battled past Pittman and Sweet and set off to find Madsen who was almost half a lap ahead. Mind you around this track that is only 5.5 seconds and in sprintcar racing that can be made up super quickly if your crew chief has given you the right set up. On lap 38 he caught Kerry and whilst continually negotiating lapped traffic both drivers then discovered Brad Sweet had joined them and a four lap, three way ‘slide job city’ exhibition was on display for the capacity crowd. Abreu came out ahead but disaster nearly struck the little guy on the last turn of lap 55 when he bobbled and very nearly flipped, such was his “almost out of control” speed and desire to win the Iron Man for BC.
Last night it took 40 minutes to get out of the parking lot. Tonight it took one hour 40 mins, such was the size of the crowd.
Day 27 – Sunday August 7th
“North to Knoxville, go north the race is on.” (With apologies to Johnny Horton.)
Yes it was now time to commence the final part of the tour in Iowa and the Knoxville Nationals. The delightful Dutch town of Pella was our objective today, all the while hugging the Mississippi as it meanders around forming the border between Missouri and Illinois. Arby’s in Mt Pleasant was again the lunch stop for this drive and before we knew it we were pulling in to Royal Amsterdam Hotel, our home for the next eight nights.
Counting the last two evenings at Pevely, we will finish the Month of Money tour with nine consecutive race nights and tonight was the third. Knoxville Raceway had just finished the 360 Nationals (won by the imitable Sammy Swindell) and 410’s had not been on the card. Hence to give visiting teams an opportunity to dial into the black clay of the Marion County Fairgrounds, the Sunday night Capitani Classic is now a regular on the calendar.
It was great to see the looks on the faces of those who had not been to Knoxville before as we toured up and down Highway 14 which has the unique honour of having turns 1 & 2 of the speedway right on its footpath. Quite a sight indeed. Although the town will explode on Wednesday through Saturday, there was enough going on to excite even the casual race fan tonight. There were 62 sprintcars in the pits and their transporters were already inside, but other teams who had chosen not to race tonight have their haulers dotted around the town in any place which legally permits parking.
Kustom Concrete Pumping owned by Australian Matt Barbara, was the major sponsor of the night and to our delight he invited Richard Phillips, our mine host at the Royal Amsterdam, to sing the Australian National Anthem. Being a Welsh baritone of some note, Richard nailed it with a great rendition.
Shane Stewart became the first driver to double up Capitani wins as he repeated last year’s success on the same night. Our own Kerry Madsen was 3 seconds behind the impressive Stewart and Brian Brown was third, setting up the final stage for the Nationals starting on Wednesday night.
Day 28 – Monday August 8th
A rest day was well overdue on this hectic tour so the day time hours were earmarked to do just that. Folks were at liberty to sleep, eat, catch up on news back home, walk, talk & sightsee, or just get the washing done. Not that you had to do it yourself. The staff at the Amsterdam took care of that task.
Although I’m sure that everybody took a few private moments to mourn the death of Bryan Clauson whose passing was announced officially this morning.
Mid afternoon we headed off the 14 miles to Oskaloosa where Terry McCarl has conducted his Front Row Challenge race for many years now. Known as “Come to our party and watch a race break out” this event has been viewed as the Party races ever since inception. Today however the mood at the track and in the stands was somewhat sombre following the news that had been released this morning. Bryan’s 17W winged sprintcar was on show outside the entrance gates and nobody could have missed it. Flowers, tributes and tears were many at this unexpected exhibit.
A very good friend to Global Speedway Tours is Toby Kruse. Toby is well known through Iowa and the neighbouring states as a mover and shaker in mid west speedway. He’s a race announcer, flagman, promoter of Marshalltown Speedway & 141 Speedway in Wisconsin, bar and restaurant owner, gas station owner, wedding reception hall owner and former General Manager of Knoxville Raceway. Some weeks ago Toby had made me an offer which I had difficulty in working out how it could be shared within the group. Today was the day I had to reach a resolution to the problem.
Toby had flagged the “party races” last year and was to do so again in 2016. The deal with him was for two of our group to join him separately up on the flag stand as he officiated in two of the heats that night. Trouble was of course, we had more than two on the tour. Decisions, decisions …..
On arrival at the track we quickly found Toby’s beautiful Motorhome parked exactly where he said it would be. And laid out on a table in the shade provided by the awning of the RV were multiple bottles of all types of different liquor, as well as a cooler full of beer. All for us. Toby refrained of course until his flagging duties were done, but we couldn’t resist! We sat with Toby and his good friend Dave for at least two hours enjoying his hospitality, but more importantly listening to the tales of his life in speedway. Four hours wouldn’t have been enough. But we would have some more time post races tonight however.
How exhilarating is it to be just a metre above 12 sprintcars as they race beneath you at 190 kph on a half mile track!! Toby fulfilled his offer and more. Although we did do a draw for the lucky two, Toby could see the disappointment on the faces of the rest of the group and quickly figured that there were enough heat races and hot lap sessions which would allow everyone who wanted to, to join him for their own individual experience.
The Clauson 17W car paced the field for the start of the feature race and emotions were high. Daryn Pittman was the star of the night netting US$22,500 for his work in winning nearly everything. Fast time, the King of the Hill pole shuffle and the A Main.
I’ve not seen people return to an RV as quickly as tonight to once again enjoy some more stories from Toby. At 1.40am we figured that time was up and sadly departed Oskaloosa, but buoyed by the news we would encounter Mr Kruse once again on Friday at Marshalltown Speedway after lunch at his bar Toby K’s in Boone. Thank you so much Toby and please make sure you do make it out to Australia again this summer as you will have many folks from all over Australia wanting to re-pay you.
Day 29 – Tuesday August 9th
Shopping day. Located about 70 miles from Pella is Williamsburg, Iowa. Here, sitting just off I-80, is an Outlet Store complex. Now males going shopping may be considered an unusual pastime, but when confronted by the prices in these Outlet Stores, pulling out the cash and credit cards can’t be helped. Particularly if it is clothing that’s needed. All high quality, totally new brand name stuff from stores you may only see in capital cities.
Not sure how many hundreds of dollars may have been spent here, but the back of the bus was piled high with bags and new suitcases to get it all home.
On the way to Williamsburg, we had stopped in at Iowa Speedway on I-80 at Newton, which although still operating for Indy Cars, NASCAR XFinity and Truck races, ARCA and K&N cars, they have failed to secure a NASCAR Sprint Cup race date. It’s a spectacular view from the back straight RV parking area which is where we had to inspect the track from because for the first time in five years we couldn’t get onto the infield.
And after Williamsburg, the shopping remained in the back of the bus for the journey to West Liberty, a further 50 miles east. Knowing we would be early arrivals, arrangements were made to re-acquaint Global Speedway Tours with JB’s Grub & Pub. Last time we were there the locals made us so welcome it was impossible not to return, given we were in their territory for the $10,000 to win Late Model race in their town.
On arrival at said establishment, there was a handwritten sign on the door announcing to all the townsfolk that “the Aussies will be in town on August 9th” and Jeff the barman was wearing a specially purchased Australian Rugby t-shirt. It was just us to start with, but the grapevine was alive and well as the West Libertarians began filing in to drink and talk with the Aussies. The line in the sand was drawn early with Jeff providing complimentary rocket fuel cocktails. These quickly became the choice of drink between 4.00pm and 7.00pm when we eventually made it out of there to get to the track. But with the “promise” of a return if the racing finished early.
During this explosion of food, drink and friendship news broke of Delta Airlines’ massive computer meltdown which had grounded 2,000 flights across the country. Our sister tour group Ultimate 4 had arrived in Los Angeles earlier in the day and some were stranded on the west coast. Numerous telephone calls later arrangements were made with Richard Phillips to have those who had made it to Des Moines picked up for the late night journey to Pella. Others spent the night in the San Francisco airport terminal hoping that tomorrow would be bring better news as to when they would make it to their final destination.
Much to the delight of the MoM group though, racing did indeed finish early. 9.16pm to be exact, so it was back to JB’s for more rocket fuel and banter with the neighbourhood. Even the local copper was in there with he and Russell apparently becoming great mates. The driver remained outside however, still tidying up loose ends with the Ultimate 4 tour guys.
Around midnight it was time to start the two hour drive home to Pella. As you might imagine it was a raucous drive back, punctuated by necessary bladder emptying stops. Reece lost his beloved Elwood cap tonight when it became an unfortunate victim of the bucket that was needed to collect some of the said rocket fuel that was being rejected by his stomach. Yes, it fell in and now sadly lies somewhere along I-80 drying out.
Days 30, 31, 32 & 34 – Wed, Thurs, Friday & Sat August 10th, 11th, 12th & 13th
Best to condense the four days of the Nationals into one. So much happens so quickly that every day melds into the next.
Together with 60% of the Ultimate 4 group, Wednesday saw us visit Kerry Madsen’s race shop in Knoxville mid afternoon. Kerry was waiting for us and as always offered us a splendid tour of his facility. As is now well known, this was the last time we will be afforded this opportunity as the Keneric Race team announced on Sunday after the Nationals that the team is being disbanded in the USA. However it will still support Kerry in his racing in Australia during the American off season.
Taking pride of place in the immaculate workshop was his Knoxville Nationals car with its new livery proudly displaying Aust 1. “Could it get the job done this year”, was the question on everyone’s lips? Thanks Kerry for all the time and courtesy you have allocated to our visiting groups over the years. Every request made of you has been fulfilled in every way. Good luck in your future endeavours and in particular, congratulations on the honour bestowed upon you to drive the 17W ex Bryan Clauson car for at least the remainder of 2016. May you “park it” in victory lane just like BC used to do.
The balance of Wednesday afternoon was spent in the Dingus Bar by some, whilst others investigated every possible nook and cranny of a crammed Knoxville Raceway and town. The fans had arrived in droves as did other race teams who had chosen not to compete on Sunday night. We were seated on the back straight tonight, which is certainly my preferred place to watch racing at Knoxville.
On the track Shane Stewart continued his rich vein of form to win night 1 holding off Donny Schatz and Chad Kemenah. Warrnambool’s Jamie Veal had a great night to finish second in points thus guaranteeing him a probable second row start in Saturday’s $150,000 to win A Main.
Thursday saw another great Global Speedway Tours friend in Dave Argabright join us for lunch in Pella, followed by a presentation to all the two groups (everyone had arrived by then) on the evolution of speedway racing in the USA, how wings became part of the racing scene and why winning the Knoxville Nationals is so important to a driver and team. Plus plenty of Earl Baltes’ stories. Thankyou Dave for your always valued and welcomed contributions to our tours.
The heat was astounding with today forecast to have a heat index (it means a feels like temperature) of 116°F, hence not many wanted to hit Knoxville until around 5.30pm. Whilst it didn’t quite reach that marker, it was still very hot sitting in the shade of what looked like an old war time hut in the Veteran’s Administration parking lot where we had spots allocated to us each night. The chairs came out along with the dollar esky and because it was so close to the track we had no trouble hearing the national anthems which is the signal these days that it’s time to go in for heat 1. This was the regular routine for every night.
TK Tim Kaeding swept all before him tonight with victory over Jason Johnson and Terry McCarl. But both last night and tonight are all about points gathering and after tallying the points and merging them with last night, Australia has K Madsen and Jamie Veal both on the second row for Saturday night’s A Main. Pittman and Johnson are on the front row. A superb effort from Jason Johnson, whose season so far has been very lacklustre. Crouching right behind these four is nine times Nationals winner Donny Schatz, just waiting to pounce.
Friday was “back in the bus day” as we paid a visit to Ian Madsen’s race shop up in Granger, north of Des Moines. After last night’s racing the top 16 in points are locked into Saturday’s A Main. Ian was 17th would you believe!! He must now race the B Main on Saturday to secure a spot in the A in either of positions 21, 22, 23 or 24. Ian’s KCP Racing shop is as immaculate as his brother Kerry’s. Superbly presented, Ian has six cars lined up together ready for racing as required. With the former Schatz transporter sitting inside as well, it makes for some impressive photos indeed. Thanks as always Ian if you’re reading this.
Next up was Toby K’s Hideaway in Boone a further 25 miles north of Granger. What a great place this is. With old Modified panels lining the ceiling and historic framed photos everywhere, Toby proudly showed us around. It was great to have him there, but it was unexpected. The heavy rain overnight had already caused him to cancel the races at his Marshalltown Speedway track tonight, so we had the pleasure of his company once again.
With lunch done and there being no point in driving to Marshalltown, we paid a visit to Boone Speedway where during the Super Nationals in September they have 800+ cars in the pits across the course of the week long event. For 2016, they have 535 entries already paid up for their chance to win some of the $285,000 purse. Car classes are Modifieds, (205 already pre entered), Stock cars, Sport Mods, Hobby Stocks, Sport Compacts and Late Models.
Night time saw us back at Knoxville of course where the overnight rain had been nowhere near as heavy. Racing tonight has a very large Toby Kruse thumbprint on it as it was back in 2012 when he was appointed as the GM at Knoxville, he decided to dramatically alter the format of Friday night to allow those drivers who had experienced trouble in their qualifying night to receive a second chance. Hence now every driver who is not locked into the A Main has the opportunity to throw away their accumulated points so far and go again on Friday to see if they can finish 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th in the Friday night A Main, thus guaranteeing them a start in the big one on Saturday out of 17, 18, 19 and 20.
Frenetic action can occur on this night as drivers strive to make the most of their second chance. Rico was one of those and he did race his way into position 17 on Saturday by, as he shrieked over the PA, “parking it for BC”. Grabbing the other three spots were Greg Hodnett, Danny Lasoski and Lucas Wolfe. Kraig Kinser also won his way into the A Main by taking out the World Challenge which now offers a spot starting 25th if the winner of this race hasn’t already qualified for Saturday night.
Americans love a parade and although the Knoxville version is nowhere near the standard of the Indy 500 parade through Indianapolis in May, the town is justly proud of what it presents. Unbelievable weather had presented itself this morning. No clouds and no summer heat. Perfect conditions for the locals to do what they love to do, although as the morning went on the temperature rose accordingly. Members went their own way in the afternoon with some choosing to join Stubb at Brian Shearer’s house for corn board challenges, beer and bench racing. While others chose to cool their heels in the hotel ready for the big night or continue to explore Knoxville just in case they had missed anything.
No doubt those who are enthusiasts already know that an unlikely, but unbelievably popular victory went to Jason Johnson in the 2016 Knoxville Nationals. In perhaps the most thrilling race of the last 20-25 years, Johnson aggressively held off Donny Schatz who so desperately wanted to win his 10th title. But as Jason said to Dave Argabright over the PA in victory lane when questioned over a couple of manoeuvres, “well Dave I know he wasn’t happy with me for crowding him, but shit I wanted to win too.” Third was Shane Stewart although I had to look that up in the records because no one at the track was watching anyone but Johnson & Schatz towards the end. The Aussies? Jamie Veal finished sixth, Ian Madsen a great ninth from position 23, James McFadden 25th and Kerry Madsen 22nd after retiring with engine woes, but not before taking second spot away from Schatz on lap 38. He was a real chance until that moment. The last time sadly that Kerry will drag himself out of a Keneric car in the USA.
Day 34 – Sunday August 14th
Just in case Sunday is needed as a rain date, we always remain in Pella. Besides it helps with getting preferred flights out of Des Moines on the Monday, as so many book to leave Sunday. So it was off to the Iowa State Fair today. A van was leaving for those who wanted to go and around 10 took up the opportunity.
It’s billed as the oldest State Fair in the USA and perhaps the largest. Probably is, although I’ve not been to any others. It also has the title of the testing point for anything deep fried. Over 70 foods are available on-a-stick. The list includes pickle, pork chop, corn dog, corn on the cob, cotton candy, veggie dog, turkey drumstick, fried pickle, hot bologna, Monkey Tails, honey, deep fried candy bars, deep fried hot dog , chocolate covered cheesecake, pineapple, Chicken Lips, Cornbrat, salad, hard-boiled egg.
My favourite (but not consumed) was the Deep Fried Fruit Kebab. Strawberries, pineapple and peaches on a stick, dipped in batter and deep fried. Then topped with melted chocolate.
Wandering around the various exhibits made for a good day with an in depth look at the 2017 models for new RV’s, caravans and fifth wheelers. Unbelievably good value with every conceivable mod con built in. And at pricing levels that make equivalent Australian products a joke.
Back in Pella our traditional farewell dinner was held at the El Charro Mexican restaurant where, over beers, fajitas and margaritas many memories were recounted, goodbyes were exchanged and best wishes extended to the U4 tour members who fly out tomorrow to Indiana to continue their adventures around the country.
Don’t miss keeping up to date with the Ultimate 4 tour blog which can be found at this link. http://globalspeedwaytours.com.au/2016/04/21/2016-ultimate-4-tour-blog
Day 35 – Monday August 15th
Folks departed at various times today from Des Moines, so three shuttle services were made between Pella and the airport across the morning. Everybody made their flights in time and all flights left on time, although some had a longer wait for theirs than others. Unavoidable unfortunately as the MoM tour vehicle needed to be back in Indianapolis and it was eight hours and 750 kms away.
Pleased to report that everyone made it home safely and soundly, although Matt did have his bags, (which were filled with specially requested gifts and merchandise purchases), minded by American Airlines and Qantas for 48 hours somewhere in the USA. Always a worry that, but with the volume of luggage carried by planes these days, you can rest assured some will be mislaid. You just hope it’s not yours …..
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Thanks to all our readers …… Peter Physick