2018 Month of Money Tour Blog
Completely updated through to Tour’s end on Monday August 13th.
Day 1 – Thursday July 19th
After spending 10 days in Van Buren, Ohio it was time to venture south to Indianapolis to meet the first intake of incoming guests on this Month of Money tour.
Just why I was in Ohio is a story in itself. I had taken up an offer from the infamous Scott (Stubb) Phillips to spend these days with he and his wife Gail at their home in the country. “What a lovely offer” I thought, so accepted. Of course during this time there were five days of racing included. Races I had been to many times before with the tour group, but this time it was, well, different. The task was to spend four solid days 24/7 with Stubb in his caravan at Eldora for the Kings Royal races.
Just think about it. I figured it would be very restful staying on-site at the track with an estimated 5,000 other campers in their RV’s, caravans and 5th wheelers, all of different shapes and sizes. A chair, a steaming mug of coffee and a book sitting under the awning each morning soaking up the sun would hit the spot each day. Maybe mid-afternoon would bring the delightful sound of a ring pull opening up a cold beer to drink with a few friends who, might drop in for a chat. When they had gone all we had to do was wander 100 metres or so into the track and take up our spots in the Members’ area in Turn 4.
Perfect, let’s go Stubb and Gail ….
Night 1 Sunday night meant recounting memories of our time together since first meeting in 2004. Gail tells us it took until 3.30am to do that.
Monday night apparently required a “race meeting” to determine arrangements at Eldora from Wednesday onwards. In attendance were:
He had to be there because it was held in his four car garage with a 75 inch TV anchored to the wall near the beer fridge. The enormous barn on the property (as well as the equally enormous house) intrigued me. I didn’t see inside either, but the American Pickers show would love to get in the barn for a look I reckon.
He lives over the road from Lenny. Now it’s not really “just over the road” because these guys live out on rural acreage. Not just one acre, but maybe five, 10 or 20. Which of course means that you need the latest and biggest ride-on-mower to create perfectly manicured lawns which lie there quietly growing daily between the remaining acres of corn and soya beans. Denny also has a boat in his garage, which most definitely needs the biggest model Jeep to pull it. (It’s an Aussie expression.)
He is Greg Wilson’s father-in-law. Greg Wilson being a World of Outlaws’ sprintcar racer from just up the road (there’s that saying again). Greg wasn’t at the meeting cos he was preparing for Eldora, so Coop represented the team.
My host for the 10 days who also has all of the above. Except the sprintcar team. Although “Stubb Racing” may make an appearance next season I understand. Stubb has the rural home on acreage, the ride-on, a new deck (the one we sat on Monday night til 3.30am) a huge TV (which was never turned off once while I was there), a brand new barn that is so new, he hasn’t had time to fill it properly with ‘stuff’ just yet. The boat is up at the holiday house on Lake Erie. Just next to the nuclear power station which feeds out electricity over power lines that run straight over the top of the house. The crackling of the lines makes the serenity up there even more amazing.
- The Talking Beard
A guru who would win any speedway trivia contest held. Brian brought his own BBQ’d chicken legs wrapped in foil which were shared around. Good bloke who we would meet up with often during the tour.
- The next door neighbour, but one
He lived up the road (as opposed to down the road) and I never found out his name. He was hauling hay when he saw the garage lights on so stopped in for a couple and then left.
- The Ossi … that was me and I think they meant Aussie
My contribution to the meeting was adding colour where necessary. Mainly that was making brown bourbon turn to black by adding Pepsi.
The meeting itself formed no resolutions, nor made any decisions, however there was significant discussion ….. about absolutely nothing, which I was to learn over the next four days is not uncommon.
Tuesday saw a warm up for Eldora when we went to Attica Raceway Park for the Outlaws at the Brad Doty Classic. Many more Ohioan sprintcar fans in the Stubb circle of acquaintances were to emerge from the woodwork on this night.
Wednesday was spent preparing the caravan (which Stubb calls “Son of Palace”) ready for its annual visit to Eldora. A thorough check was done to ensure everything worked. Such as the wheels were on it and the tyres had air. I understand as well that Stubb extensively checked and double checked the electrical system which subsequently refused to work upon arrival at Eldora and remained that way for the duration!
At 3pm we set off. Gail, Stubb and the Ossi. We traversed what seemed like every possible rural country road in northern Ohio. At one point Denny sent me a text which had an attachment. Upon opening it up I was able to play Holiday Road to G&S. First port of call was the Moeller Brew Barn in Chickasaw. It was apparently important to have a couple in there first before we touched any of the 300 cans that were in the back of the tow vehicle. In retrospect it was a fortuitous stop. We were able to watch England lose their World Cup semi-final …..
Picked up two pizzas for our first meal on Eldora soil. One of them was a Taco pizza. Tastiest thing I’ve had for years. If you’re ever travelling to Eldora through North Star on Route 127, stop at BG’s and pick one up.
From the time of arrival and the positioning of Son of Palace into Lots 19&20 alongside Geoff and family in #18, every daylight hour and up to 3.00am each morning saw literally hundreds of people drop in for a beer and a chat. Even the Eldora TV crew called in to film activities at Stubb compound on Saturday afternoon during the Petey Memorial Cornboard Tournament won by Chris and Anthony. It’s not only fans who stop by. Stubb and Geoff’s reserved spots have been right alongside the staging road for the sprintcar transporters who arrive early and can’t yet get into the pits. Many a driver hops down from the cab to say hi to the 5’2” legend from Van Buren, Ohio.
I re-met so many people from previous years and new folk were constantly introduced to me by the minute at such a pace that I can’t possibly mention all of them. Mainly because I can’t remember their names. So if I met you at the Kings Royal and you’re reading this, then thanks for stopping in and saying hi to Gail and Stubb and their Australian mate. Although I should mention Ethan’s friend Garrett who was a rookie at the Kings Royal and basically sprintcar racing in general. Our conversation at 3.00am Thursday morning about the out-workings of crop insurance in Ohio was highly stimulating (not). Although the frozen peanuts from Mark the Mortician were outstanding. Ask me about them one day ….
Stubb compound became even busier when the Aussies turned up in droves to say hi. Speedy and crew arrived each day around 3.00pm and the crowd at Stubb’s immediately swelled by another 20 or so people. We saved parking spots for them and the party got instantly merrier upon their entrance. Thanks to Bec for the amazing ‘shots’ produced each day of the Royal.
The whole 4-day extravaganza was exhausting. Stubb had warned me that upon arrival home on Sunday afternoon there is only one ritual to be followed. Back the caravan into the front yard, clean the fridge out of perishable items, have a shower and go to bed.
PS The racing was dusty, fast, good, dusty and well organised by the Eldora officials. A dusty Donny Schatz won the $50,000 on Saturday night, which was $199 less than the holder of the winning 50/50 ticket took home the same night.
But back to Day 1 of the tour.
I met up with Terry in Indianapolis around 1.30pm having been voluntarily chauffeured down from Van Buren by Stubb. It was during this three hour drive that I became aware that the remaining tour members, who had flown into Los Angeles this morning, had missed their connecting flights because of the late arrival of the aircraft from Melbourne. Re-routing via various airports around the country saw them scheduled to arrive in Indy around midnight.
Visions of the first ever tour in 2011 came flooding back. Back then, not one tour member arrived on time, or on their scheduled flight in to Indy. Thunderstorms right across the country were the sole reason. Today, we learned, was the day when tornadoes tore apart Iowa, including Pella and Marshalltown. Both of which are on our tour itinerary later in August.
But sure enough everyone eventually arrived into Indy before the bewitching hour and all was well again. The esky had been iced up for hours, so instead of a welcoming dinner at Scotty’s Brewhouse in Virginia Avenue, drinks were taken in the Hotel parking lot at 1.00am. It seemed only natural to do so ….
Day 2 – Friday July 20th
Perhaps the second best USAC event of the summer is Indiana Sprintweek. (The first best in my view is Indiana Midget week by the way.) And it starts tonight at Plymouth way up in the north of the state. Sprintcar fans across the country have been scouring weather apps to find one which says something different to all of the others. And that is rain, rain and more rain for the first three nights. Plymouth is followed by Kokomo and then Lawrenceburg across this coming weekend. None of them look likely to go ahead at the time of writing. However where there is desire, there is hope.
So we loaded up and headed north. Accommodation for tonight and tomorrow is in Kokomo to relieve us from what would have been a 200km drive back to Indy tonight. And we are also handily placed for tomorrow at the Kokomo Speedway. Our only objectives today were phone SIM cards and to beat the rain. We achieved both I’m pleased to say.
It was raining steadily as we arrived in Kokomo and checked in. Faces were glum. After all it’s a long way from Australia just to have your first race rained out. Spies we had up in Plymouth were phoning with news that it was as grim there as in the rest of Indiana. But, being a new track to everyone, including me, there was no debate that we drive up there, even if it was only to see the track underwater. And then, just as the automatic windscreen wipers on the Ford stopped wiping because there was suddenly no more rain to swish away anymore, Stubb rang to say that an announcement had come over the PA to advise they were going to give it their best shot to get the races in.
No guarantees, but the mood in the van lightened considerably. As we swung through the gates around 4.00pm, the regular crew that I had been with throughout my stay with Stubb welcomed us to Plymouth. Throughout the next three hours fierce looking black clouds relentlessly swept across the sky, but none dropped their load. The push cars finished their job of drying the track sufficiently to allow the sprintcars to get out there to complete the process by wheel-packing the track.
And lastly, all that those push cars had left to do was to get over to our spot in the parking lot and help dry out those who had had one or three too many waiting for racing to get underway.
Although it was now dark, everyone knew that the next line of thunderstorms were up there above us, just bursting to let go. But miraculously it only sprinkled now and again and our new found tour friends finally saw Brady Bacon win Round 1 of Sprintweek from Chris Windom and Dave Darland.
Day 3 – Saturday July 21st
Now it didn’t matter how much it rained in Plymouth after we left and throughout today. All eyes were on the Kokomo skies instead, but even Stevie Wonder could see that it was going to be impossible to beat her upstairs. Whilst driving around a sodden countryside up and down lanes between farms, it was clear that only the corn and the soya beans would be winners today. And sure enough around 1.15pm came the announcement that it had been called (off) for tonight and would be re-scheduled for Tuesday night.
That was fine by us as we have a free night and with the prospect of great weather for the next week we accepted the disappointment and went to lunch with Dave Argabright at the Half Moon Restaurant and Brewery. As always Dave captured everyone’s imagination with his presentation of how dirt track auto racing evolved in America and the part that many heroes (and villains) have played in it. The light hearted stories about the characters in the sport finished with lots of questions about Jimmy Wilson and where he is likely to finish up in years to come.
During lunch the Indianapolis Speedrome came up. Just why is anyone’s guess, but it was decided that because it was still on tonight with their Figure 8 stock car racing on pavement, we should be part of it too. So the Ford headed back south with a full load of folks on board to pay the $8 admission (Seniors’ price) to watch the racing. Watching the spectators who turned up was free.
Joining us was Andrew Quinn who I had noticed on Facebook had attended the sprintcar racing in Champaign, Illinois last night. His first race in around 18 months. Regular readers of these Blogs will know that ASQ was considered one of the most hard core sprintcar fans in the USA for decades, but who had unbelievably and abruptly stopped attending the races in the blink of an eye. A decision that even he can’t understand. Hoping that he might have a change of heart twice in 24 hours, I rang him. “Yep, I’ll see you there”, he said. And he did.
Light rain was constant and disrupted the program all night. Just before we were considering going home, the PA crackled into life to announce that the 100 lap Sunny Thompson Memorial was up next. We stayed. And to a person we’re so glad we did. Two times before I had tried to get to the Speedrome to watch Figure 8 racing, but rain won both times. Basically the cars are Late Models with additional concealed bar work at the front and on each side door for T-Boning prevention. These were schmick machines indeed with 350 Chev engines.
We had a rain free race with thrills galore. No spills, but Andrew assured the group that huge collisions do occur when ambition exceeds talent and judgement at the intersection.
I wouldn’t ordinarily record a Figure 8 race winner, but because three brothers finished 1st, 2nd and 3rd, the Tunny boys deserve a mention.
Day 4 – Sunday July 22nd
Kokomo to Lawrenceburg is 150 miles (240 km). Not a long drive by our usual standards and we had plenty of time to do it in. Being a Sunday, the morning church services were alive and thriving in the parts we drove through. Folks from Indiana are overwhelmingly Christian, but under that ‘tent’ the faith is widely dispersed. Southern Baptists rate highly and sit within the group known as ‘Evangelical Protestants. (I had to Google that one!)
The group referred to as ‘Unaffiliated’ is next. Apparently these people attend church and practice religious beliefs, but they are not sure why, or who they should be supporting. They used to be Mormon, Jewish or Catholic but now don’t want play for that team anymore. Bit like the AFL Free Agency system when you think about it. They still want to play football, but not for the weaker guys.
Then you have the Roman Catholics followed by the Methodists, Presbyterians and Lutherans. Indiana doesn’t have a large black population, so their slice of the pie is small. They are known religiously as the ‘Historically Black Protestants’. Just saying ….
We paid a visit to Anderson Speedway on the way through to Dayton, Ohio and the colossal US Air Force Museum. Always a favourite on the tours, today was no exception, although being a Sunday the place was packed. Fortunately the four massive hangers housing the aircraft displays are each large enough to run two Chili Bowls in them and have room left over. The new Memphis Belle B-17 bomber exhibition is outstanding. The plane completed an unheard of 25 combat missions over occupied Europe in WW2 without the loss of a single crewman.
We rolled into Lawrenceburg around 4.30pm and checked into the Hollywood Casino and Hotel. Just two minutes away is the Fairgrounds where the speedway was filling up with fans and sprintcars. Thanks to the Casino, which was required to inject funds into the community in 2009, the track was altered to a 3/8th mile with seriously high banking. What resulted is a complex which never fails to produce a great race. From non-wing cars to midgets to the World of Outlaws, the configuration allows every driver to “drop the hammer” as good friend Chet Christner from Speed Shift TV has become famous for saying at the start of every feature on their streaming website.
42 cars checked in, but only 41 went racing after the first man out for qualifying bicycled on the entry to turn 1 and flipped wildly up the banking and slammed the concrete fencing. The degree of banking saw him then finish up halfway down it upside down. Fortunately Joe Stornetta walked away from a nasty accident. To add an Australian flavour, the car he was driving was owned by Tasmanian Robin Dawkins.
The track had taken 4-5 inches of rain over the last two days and we were lucky to get it in at all. The surface was extremely soft in turns 1 & 2 and it was incredible to see not only the eventual winner Tyler Courtney pitch it in sideways at 160 kph into the first corner each lap of the feature knowing that that exact same corner had nailed Stornetta earlier in the night. Kevin Thomas Jnr was second and Brady Bacon third. By virtue of his third placing, Bacon still leads the Sprintweek points at this stage.
Day 5 – Monday July 23rd
Our first night of no racing on the itinerary. But we made up for that by what is now our Global Speedway Tours’ time honoured tour of the Ganassi Indycar race shop. Scheduled for 2.00pm back in Indianapolis, we had plenty of time to make a leisurely drive up from Lawrenceburg which included a surprise stop at Starbucks in Shelbyville on I-74. By surprise, I mean the driver thought of it, rather than a message from Terry at the back of the bus “can we please stop at a Starbucks”? He was impressed, as was I when I had my first vanilla flavoured Frappuccino. Maybe there will be more surprise Starbucks stops from now on ….
Grant Weaver at Ganassi is a terrific bloke. He knows what a ‘bloke’ is because he travelled to Australia with the team every time they visited the Gold Coast back when the Indycar circus visited Queensland. I asked him earlier this year what I might be able to give him to say thanks for all his kindness when I bring in a bunch of fans. His response was “how about two tickets on Qantas to Australia.” I have now worked out though what he’ll get next year from GST, when we make yet another visit during each of the Indy 500 and Midget week tour followed by the 2019 Month of Money tour.
After Ganassi it was back to our home away from home, the Courtyard Marriott in downtown Indy. The night was free to do whatever came to mind. Scotty’s Brewhouse got a run from those who missed getting there last Thursday night on arrival.
Day 6 – Tuesday July 24th
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. At many hotels we stay in there’s a buffet brekky laid out in a separate room of the hotel for all guests that is included in the room rate. The Courtyard Marriott hotels however choose to offer breakfast as an additional cost to the room rate. All our tour guests therefore receive a coupon to present each morning. Like anywhere else in this country, the morning meal is huge and here is no exception.
Prepared fresh to your liking, it’s usually two eggs, however you want, crispy Canadian bacon, toast, fruit and hash browns arrive at your table. The first movement of any part of that food causes some portion of the meal to fall off your plate. There is simply no room for an additional item like a knife and fork poking around in there. Some manage to finish it all, most don’t. Lunch is often foregone in Indianapolis …..
In perfect weather we gathered outside in the sunshine to board the bus to the Big Track, as the Indianapolis Speedway is known to all in this city. It’s called that to distinguish it from the 57 other speedways in Indiana! A state that is easily the foremost racing area of the country. Waiting for everybody at the big track was an included visit to the museum and the VIP Tour around the complex.
A tour which of course does the obligatory lap of the 2.5 mile track, the kissing of the bricks at the start finish line, a tour of Gasoline Alley, the Media Room and finally the very top level of the in-field Pagoda, which by the way, is the only place from where you can see the whole track. Mind you, giddiness sets in after a while if you’re fortunate enough to be up there during the 500.
The featured exhibition at the moment in the Museum acknowledges the Unser family dynasty (they have Swiss origins) and their contribution to auto racing in America. Three separate areas (perhaps 900 square metres in total) are devoted to a display of their Pikes Peak winning cars, the original Unser family tow vehicle, Indy 500 winning cars, sprintcars, midgets and NASCARS starting from Louis Unser, his nephews Jerry, Bobby and Al, followed by the 3rd generation of Johnny, Al Jnr and Robby and lastly Al Unser the 3rd. Between them they have nine Indy 500 wins, 26 Pikes Peak victories and hundreds of sprintcar and midget feature race wins.
Of particular interest this visit was the sighting of the new ¼ mile dirt track being built inside Turn 3 of the 2.5 mile oval. Currently the fencing and grandstands are being put up ready for the highly anticipated USAC midget race to be called Driven2SaveLives BC39 on Sept 5th & 6th. This race has captured the imagination of drivers and fans alike. Up to 90+ cars are expected along with an overflow crowd. Those who get places in the 5,000 seat temporary stands will be delighted. Those who don’t will be disappointed to learn they will be sitting in the permanent stands across the other side of the Indy 500 track. They will be a long, long way away ….
A speedway with stands real close to the racing track however is Kokomo: everyone’s favourite for sprintcar and midget racing. It was our objective this afternoon after lunch at Charlie Brown’s in Main Street, despite the breakfast this morning! The obligatory tail gating was enacted with lots of folk calling in to say hi as they passed by the Aust flag which is permanently taped to the inside of the rear door of the Ford. When the door is swung open the flag is on show for the world to see.
Once the sun lowers itself below the horizon Turn 1 is a great place to sit at Kokomo. And that’s where we did, even though a brand new 3,000 seat stand is now on the back stretch. Old habits die hard I guess. In a new car for tonight after struggling with the #5B at Plymouth and Lawrenceburg, Thomas Mesaurall put the Chase Briscoe Racing Team on the second row for the feature, but it was soon at the pointy end of the field and he went on to win from Chase Stockon and Justin Grant.
Day 7 – Wednesday July 25th
Another hectic day confronted us this morning. So far our usual record of never arriving back at the Hotel on the same day as we left it, is still applicable. After an omelette this morning we piled back into the very comfortable 2019 model Ford and headed out to Old Gasoline Alley behind the enormous Allison Transmission Plant. It was here in days of old that Indy car owners had their race shops in single door garages, just like Grandpa had at the back of his yard. Nowadays their race shops are 100 times bigger than Grandpa’s house and they have moved away into suburbs like Brownsburg where we are headed tomorrow.
What is still in Gasoline Alley however is the Arizona Sport Shirts factory. No visit to this street is complete without calling in to see what’s available in the $5 t-shirt bargain bins. And today they were full to the brim with hundreds of new shirts in them. They have a slight imperfection in the printing which you and I would never pick up, but the keen eye of the operator sees it and rejects it. So into the bin it goes and is snapped up by Global Speedway Tours people. This time we also got the full tour of the factory to learn how the multi-colour screen printing produces thousands of shirts and hoodies per day. Big thanks to Cherie for the tour.
Many race fans along the Sprintweek tour will tell you they won’t be at Terre Haute’s ½ mile Action Track. But they do, because we see them there. The reasons they give for not going are the dust and because it’s such a big track that only those with strong motors will turn up. The first reason was still valid. The dust made it very difficult to see, but the second myth was busted wide open when 42 cars showed up to play in the clay. A record number for Terre Haute.
As usual, from about 4.00pm onwards, the Aussies joined us in force for the compulsory tailgating. Ian Speed (aka Speedy, or Hi-Speed if son Nick is around because he’s Lo-Speed), Suggo (aka Matt Sugden), Wayne the Train, (sometimes we use his real surname of Trill), Adam Wray (aka ‘Get’s in the Way’ when he drove a sprintcar at PCR) and his wife Tina, plus the Americans, Laura and Mike (who were married on the main straight at Skagit Speedway in Washington State) Doc & Bec (Doc is a heart surgeon in Cincinnati believe it or not) with their 2 year old Nathan and boxer dog Shelby, Lyle (who definitely should have had a starring role in the TV show “Dallas”), Bob Clauson (the late Bryan’s grandpa) and many others whose names become lost in the crowd.
And then there was the racing. Tyler Courtney won his second Sprintweek race by 0.8 seconds from Robert Ballou who came from nearly half a lap back to chase down Courtney in a race that must have resembled what it was like to fight in Desert Storm all those years ago.
PS We have Robyn and Bruce from Gippsland on board with us. Around midnight, as we took the turn off from Terre Haute onto I-70 to drive the 80 minutes back to Indy, I jokingly said to Robyn that it was her job to count all the trucks going the other way down to St Louis. I thought no more about it until we neared the Courtyard Marriott when she proudly announced there were 585 semi-trailers headed the other way throughout the drive home. And I thought she was asleep like the rest of them ….
Next time I’ll make her count the cornfields.
Day 8 – Thursday July 26th
There is racing tonight at Putnamville Speedway, but the daylight hours were set aside to do anything the group wanted to do. And if the bus was needed it would take them around. Some chose to become acquainted with the washing machine and dryer while others slept or walked around downtown Indianapolis. Fresh from her numeric experience last night Robyn was keen to see some of the houses along Meridian Street in the Kessler area of Indy. Consider it similar to Toorak in Melbourne, or Vaucluse in Sydney.
Beautiful old but restored two and three storey mansions, all on at least an acre of land just outside the downtown area. When I was here back in 2011 for our first ever tour, houses in this area were selling for giveaway prices because of the global financial crisis. And the Oz dollar and the US dollar were about equal value. If only …. Now these same houses, although still very affordable compared to particularly Sydney standards, have regained all the value lost, and more, in just seven years.
On the way back from this jaunt, we just happened to go past Long’s Bakery on 16th Street. Regular readers of the Blog will remember the “Seinfeld Soup Nazi episode” story from the 2018 Indy 500 tour. This time there were no such issues. They had about 150 Cinnamon Fry donuts for me to choose two from. Robyn & Bruce each splurged on a caramel twist with cream from memory.
A late lunch was at the Pit Stop BBQ with Harold Cottingin and his team of devoted female waitresses. At age 84 Harold still loves getting out to Bluegrass music festivals and today they were fussing around him to make sure he remembered he was going!!
Putnamville tonight was packed. The top RV parking area had closed at 8.45am this morning. Late comers in RV’s, caravans and fifth wheelers were ushered into spare space in the pits. Those who drove in their cars were forced to park out on the US40 as every square inch of parking had gone by 3.00pm. But not us. In return for holding spots at Eldora for the Kings Royal for Speedy and gang, they did the same for us here and we just drove up and parked with them, pretty much adjacent to the entrance gate into the track. Surely there has never been a bigger crowd at this picturesque track?
It was to be the last time we would join these guys on this tour as we are heading into Illinois tomorrow and will miss the last two rounds of Sprintweek. Fond farewells were exchanged post racing with everybody and commitments were given to do it all again in 2019.
Racing wise for the record, the People’s Champ Dave Darland won comfortably. Darland is the only driver to reach 60+ USAC sprintcar wins, start in 700+ USAC feature races and win at least one USAC feature in each of 26 consecutive seasons. By virtue of this win tonight he now becomes the only driver to get 19 Sprintweek victories. Not bad going for a guy aged 52 who races against teenagers and gives them an ass whippin’ ….
Day 9 – Friday July 27th
Time for a change of category from non-winged sprintcars to Late Models. Open wheel fans refer to them as “sleds” and rarely, if ever, will cross the street to watch them. But in Fairbury, Illinois at the American Legion Speedway, an enormous number of top class Late Models turn up each year for the chance to win the Prairie Dirt Classic. We don’t just cross the street, we drive 200 miles to watch them race on a Friday and Saturday night in late July. As do thousands and thousands of other fans. My best guess is that there were 8,000 in each night and not a spare seat could be found.
I’m not sure what the equivalent of the Knoxville Nationals is for Late Models, but this has to be up there. Fairbury, with a population of 3,603, is smaller than Knoxville in Iowa, there is just one bank (see later) and there are no motels in the town, hence the Fairgrounds are saturated with RV’s and campers with just enough space between them for corn boards, a roaring fire after the races and of course the BBQ and the esky.
The format for the racing is so unique the World of Outlaws refused to sanction the race for years. But in recent times they have relented because of its popularity. The cars still qualify and they still run heats just like anywhere else. Except here the heats are 25 laps long. Each “heat” had 15 starters which essentially means that you have four Feature races on the night. Of the 60 cars on hand tonight, it is reasonable to say that 25 of them are good enough to win. The 60 Modifieds in the pits do the same thing, except their “heats” are over 20 laps.
The first Late Model heat had more action in it than a Dirty Harry movie. Breath taking moves on every corner all over the track. The surface was absolutely perfect for the drivers who threw their cars into slide jobs at a split second’s notice as soon as they saw a hint of an opening. The first four home in these 25 lap races were locked into tomorrow night’s A which will pay US$30,000 to win.
When the Modifieds hit the track at a race it’s usually the signal to get a burger or a beer until they are over. Not here at Fairbury. 99% of the crowd remain in their seats to watch the action these things unfurl as well. Nowhere else have I seen the Modifieds capture the audience like they do here.
And then there was no more racing. As we walked to the Ford parked up next to the Treatment Works and the adjacent sewerage pond just like last year, we agreed that four features in each class was more than enough to satisfy us for the night.
Day 10 – Saturday July 28th
What to do today? How could the small Route 66 town of Pontiac, Illinois possibly provide enough entertainment and things to do to last the day? Well it did and here’s how ….
First off it was a visit to the Oakland Automotive Museum on the Town Square. Featured displays are regularly rotated so a repeat visit each year will have different cars to look at. Oakland cars were made in Pontiac, Michigan until 1909 when it was bought by General Motors. GM continued to build Oaklands, which were modestly priced compared to some of their other brands. Amongst them were Oldsmobile, Buick, Cadillac and of course the Chevrolet. In 1931 the Oakland brand was dropped in favour of their newly introduced Pontiac marque.
We also learned that the name of the Indian Ottawa tribe’s Chief was the inspiration for the Pontiac brand. He would not have known that of course because he was killed 240 years ago fighting the British in the Colonial days around St Louis. Unfortunately the Pontiac car went the same way as the Chief when the brand was killed off in 2009 leaving collectors around the country scrambling to get the best ones.
Next was the Route 66 museum around the corner, which also has a WW2 historical section. As we neared this museum (on foot) there was a trolley bus waiting out the front. Turns out it was a free tour of the town. We jumped on and spent a very pleasant 40 minutes listening to and seeing the history of Pontiac.
Anyone who has been here will know that there are dozens of murals painted on what used to be featureless brick walls. Now they are adorned by whatever came in to the mind at the time of the Wall Dog artists who were called in to freshen up the town. The biggest and best one is the giant R66 mural on the wall of the Museum. Bricks have been laid on the small piece of road below it with colourful flower boxes lining the edge. Enthusiasts bring their historic cars to pose for photos in front of it. Tourists soak it up as well.
Parked near the mural was a trike (for want of a better word) which had a 350 cubic inch V8 Chev motor in it. Big 40cm wide rear tyres helped keep it on the ground and all the mod cons up top kept the rider and passenger comfortable. The owner was a middle aged lawyer from Chicago out for a ride down R66 with his wife. Such is life for these people who abound up and down the Mother Road. Needless to say pictures of Australians sitting on the bike were permitted ….
We still hadn’t yet got into the Museum, but that time eventually arrived and the tour members learned more about the history of Route 66 and the towns along the way in Illinois than they ever knew before. R66 eventually finishes in Santa Monica on the west coast, but before doing so it passes through the states of Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
The milkshakes in DeLongs Café in the Town Square were calling our name so it was to there we headed for lunch, sitting outside in the open air tables on a glorious Saturday afternoon. As we were eating, our lawyer mate from Chicago cruised past on the bike. We heard him coming first as the unique rumble from the Chev preceded any vision of him from around the corner. In fact it sounded pretty much like the deep burbling noise made by an inboard speedboat engine exhausting through water.
And then we found out that in Pontiac tonight was a car show. Held on the last Saturday of every month it is a popular place for collectors and enthusiasts alike to showcase their pride and joy. But it was of no use to us as we had the final night of the Prairie Dirt Classic to get to. And that we did around 3.30pm to make sure we could once again get the opportunity of parking next to the Treatment Works. To be fair, the grass where we park is immaculate and so it should be I guess when you think about it.
Eight hours becomes a long time to await the final of the PDC in a 100 lap marathon. Whilst the feature itself was a fantastic race, which regular Australian visitor Devin Moran won, the Last Chance Non Qualifiers event was the race of the tour so far. No, not the three 20 lap B Mains which had already transferred the final six cars to the back of the A, but the extra last chance race to get your car into the 25th spot. With so many great drivers and cars in attendance, there is always someone who has had some bad luck along the way.
And tonight it was the 21 year old Bobby Pierce who already has the 2016 World 100 title at Eldora amongst his credits. Starting 16th in the 25 lap race he put on a show riding the treacherous cushion, his car bouncing lap after lap, hitting the wall numerous times as he reached the front of the field on lap 18. He was in third and had to win to take the last spot in the A. So far it had been caution free and the crowd was going berserk. But the yellows came on with two to go. Pierce settled, the crowd went silent and the green came on.
What followed was easily the frenziest(?) and loudest fan reaction I have ever heard at a speedway. Everyone stood and shouted the house down as he took the lead on the last corner to take the chequered flag. It didn’t stop there. Pierce surely must have been able to hear the noise above his own engine and proceeded to do a lap of honour in the opposite direction with the hootin’ and hollerin’ now even louder as he went past each section of the grandstands around the track.
Unfortunately, just as he did in his heat and B Main, he suffered more engine problems in the feature and retired around lap 40, much to the fans’ disgust. But Devin Moran and Brandon Sheppard duked out the lead in the 100 lapper with Moran winning by a whisker on the line to take home the US$30k and the right to drive the Late Model down to the one and only bank in the town to deposit the cheque at the drive in teller. With police blocking off the streets of course, which only made the ride home for us even later.
Day 11 – Sunday July 29th
Another change of race categories tonight. The All Stars were at West Burlington in Iowa at 34 Raceway so it was to there we must head. Peoria was the first stop for the inevitable visit to their Bass Pro store next to the Illinois River. 15 minutes further on was a Golden Corral which took our money for a Sunday lunch along with dozens of others who clearly had just come from church as they were in their finest clobber. Our speedway t-shirts, shorts and thongs (flip flops) stood out in the crowd.
The check-in chick at tonight’s hotel was the only one in history to ever ask for our passports to photocopy and prove who we were. We obliged without protest, watched the end of the Pocono NASCAR race on TV, then took all their remaining ice from the machine for the esky and headed for the track.
This was another new notch for me on the track count register and I must say it is an impressive complex. The line up in the pits was top shelf indeed. No World of Outlaw drivers, as they cannot race with the All Stars, but Sammy Swindell, Kerry Madsen, Rico Abreu, Tony Stewart, Dave Blaney, Jac Haudenschild, Paul McMahon, Carmen Macedo, Jamie Veal, Lynton Jeffrey, Tim Kaeding, Joey Saldana, Aaron Reutzel, Jordan Brazier, Sammy Walsh, Chad Kemenah and 17 others were.
I had “forgotten” how fast winged sprintcars can be on a beautifully prepared surface. It was mind blowingly quick and with the amount of youngsters in the field no one, except the most die-hard Sammy fans, would have given him a chance. But the old fella did it in great style I must admit. And in his winner’s interview at race end, he was humble and enjoyable to listen to. To be honest I think he too was surprised he won. But he deserved it, as in super quick traffic he excelled over Cory Eliason and Carson Macedo.
Day 12 – Monday July 30th
It’s rare to find any racing on a Monday and Tuesday night, although there were Late Models up in Wisconsin. Hence the itinerary had us going back east a little to Chicago for some R&R to freshen us up for the run home through the Iron Man at Pevely and the full week of the Knoxville Nationals. Nine race nights in nine days coming up ….
Hooters in Joliet helped fill our bellies for lunch, although I must admit that this one had a sight I’ve never seen before. Two heavily pregnant Hooters’ girls still serving in their regular outfits. Not criticising, just sayin’. Our server was one of them and she was great.
I-55 up to Chicago for the last 40 miles was very congested as always. I figure the best time to drive into Chicago must be 2.00am in the morning! On the way through we came across our fifth rather serious road accident. Many tours we do don’t have any at all. This time after Day 12 it is already five. Today’s was a truck fire where the prime mover was totally burnt out and was on a crane at the time we went past to put the remains on a flat top truck. The trailer was 50% destroyed from the front. The most serious we have seen was at Chenoa coming back from night 1 at Fairbury. A midnight rollover looked to be a fatal one as the accident scene had police forensic officers there working under brilliant white temporary lighting.
We encountered no other issues and very easily parked the bus outside the Westin Hotel on Michigan Avenue, otherwise known as the Magnificent Mile. The van was stored away in an outside parking area that allows over height vehicles and we won’t see it again until Wednesday morning.
Dinner tonight was at Dick’s Last Resort, but although we had great seats overlooking the Chicago River, the atmosphere was not what it usually is. Our server was incapable of being “rude” to us as is their charter. Maybe time for a change of restaurant venue on night 1 in the Windy City?
Day 13 – Tuesday July 31st
A deliberate omission from the Month of Money tour price is the cost of breakfast in Chicago. It’s way better fun to go outside the Hotel and find a street-side diner to experience life in a city this size as it wakes up. And there are heaps to choose from. One such café is Tempo on the corner of State and Chestnut Streets. Tempo does not close, nor will it accept payment by card. Strictly cash. It’s been there for 35 years and has clientele of all shapes, sizes and occupations. Plus hanging pots and planter boxes with flowers to separate the outside eating area from the footpath.
Grab a table outside if you can, just like we did this morning. Watching the world go by can be a favourite pastime and this spot will satisfy that urge. The food quantity is way too much. Eg: a five egg cheese and ham omelette is served on a bed of hash browns in a skillet 8 inches (20 cm) wide and plenty deep. Big thick Texas toast on the side and bottomless cups of coffee. US$10.95. Impossible to eat it all …. Well, nearly impossible.
But it’s what happens around you that never ceases to amaze. This morning started off with two cars screeching to a halt on the corner in a V shape. The gold Dodge Caravan was wedged into the gutter, the black Toyota Camry was blocking a couple of lanes of State Street. The guy in the Camry threw open his door and headed for the Dodge on foot in an attempt to remonstrate with the driver who had locked his doors. No amount of pulling on the handle would open them.
The Dodge wasn’t going to hang around. I figure whatever had happened between these two earlier, the Dodge dude was in the wrong. He reversed back a little, swung the steering wheel to the right and drove up the gutter, onto the footpath, around various light poles and screeched back onto State St for his getaway. Seeing what was happening the aggressor ran back to his car and set sail for the chase. Both cars took the next left at great speed and we lost sight of whatever happened next.
Quite by coincidence a police car pulled up at the lights some 15 seconds later. Locals flagged him down to explain what had just happened. Presumably while listening to them, he was barking out instructions over the radio to his colleagues. Not sure about what happened after that. We then watched a one legged parking cop on crutches book several cars for parking infringements, only to see one owner later return and retrieve the ticket from his window. Clearly aggrieved he took out his frustration on an innocent female cop who was in the process of ticketing two illegally parked motorbikes across the street. She won …..
And then, there was the coffee incident. One of our party, when offered a re-fill of his coffee, asked if he could eliminate the existing cold coffee before the top up. “I’ll tip it in the flower box shall I”, he politely asked. “No, no, no, give it to me”, Manuel the waiter cried. He promptly moved between the planter boxes and tipped it out on the footpath. When returning the cup he explained. “Cannot tip in flower box. It kill flowers.” Said member of our party thought twice about whether he should have a second cup …
The balance of the daylight hours were spent exploring the great city of Chicago by foot, or the Hop On Hop Off bus. The tour guides on the buses know more about their city than I do. Besides I had to get the Blog up to date and it was a great opportunity to do so.
Come 5.30pm and it was time to “take me out to the ballgame”. This time it wasn’t the iconic Wrigley Field and the Cubs because they were playing away tonight. So it was over to their cross town rivals the Chicago White Sox that we caught the subway to. Guaranteed Rate Field is not the flashiest title for your home field. But at least it’s better than 1300SMILES Stadium in Townsville or Geelong’s GMHBA Stadium!
A perfect night weather wise didn’t bring out the expected crowd and the stadium, which holds 41,000, was probably only 30% full. Quite odd for a city of this size, even considering that it was a Tuesday night. The Sox are cellar dwellers in the American League at present and once again lost a home game to the Kansas City Royals 2-4. The entertainment between innings though was great. A night at the baseball was once again a winner for the tour.
Day 14 – Wednesday August 1st
Chicago never ceases to amaze every time we come here. Many tour members are apprehensive at first because of the city’s reputation from the pre WW2 days, prohibition, the Mafia, Al Capone and the Untouchables. Whilst all that happened and can’t be denied, the downtown area however is as safe as in any city in the country. Venturing out to the south side of the Chicago is a no no, as the suburbs out there like Fuller Park are the most dangerous of the city.
Walking up and down the Magnificent Mile (Michigan Avenue) is a real treat. Every brand name in fashion is there just waiting for you to walk in. The building facades are old and historical, but inside they are as modern as you would expect to find anywhere for a business that charges the prices they seek for their product. The old shopping adage of “if you see something you love, then the price doesn’t matter”, still applies. But more often than not, the canny shopper will make decisions about what they want, then buy it at the Outlet Stores that abound on the freeways that criss-cross the country.
The Chicago River which splits the city into north and south is beautiful. It is the only river in the world to be reversed. Or put in another way, it now flows backwards. Although only 156 miles long, it is the reason Chicago became an important place. It is the connection between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi Valley waterways for river transport of goods. The river used to flow into Lake Michigan, which was and still is the water supply for Chicago and surrounds. However in the late 1800’s all sewerage outlets flowed into the river and eventually the build-up of sewerage in the Lake after rain storms became too much.
Indeed in 1885 it caused a typhoid, cholera and dysentery epidemic which killed 12% of Chicago’s then population. Something had to be done, so the Army Engineers were called in to find a solution. The resultant canals built to create the reverse flow of the river was hailed as a monumental engineering achievement. What was learned on this project enabled the Panama Canal to be built, which previously was considered an impossible dream.
So many good things about this place. If you haven’t been to Chicago, put it on your bucket list.
Another bucket list item is probably Route 66. Although it starts in Chicago on Adams Street, it is very difficult to follow through the suburbs (the south side!) so it’s best to take I-55 out and then head for Joliet where you will quite easily pick it up. After Joliet, R66 takes you straight past the Chicagoland NASCAR track and the famous Route 66 Drag Strip. If you’re on a speedway tour then you’ll stop in as we do for an organised private tour. If not, then drive straight past!
Charlie looks after us here and again we got the full Monty. First the Dragway which was so sticky with rubber today, my thongs (read flip flops if you’re American) were genuinely sucked off my feet. Then over to the NASCAR track touring the infield before venturing to the very top of the grandstand up to where the spotters stand. You can literally reach out and touch the huge MUSCO lights. A remarkable view on a spectacular day. Thanks Charlie. Hope the grand kids like the koala and kangaroo.
Chicago to St Louis straight down I-55 takes 4 hours 38 mins to drive the 297 miles (475 km). Tracing the meandering R66 through Illinois can take as long as you want it to. But two, maybe three days is all you need. Stopping at places like Nelly’s Diner in Wilmington for lunch. The Polka Dot Ice Cream shoppe for dessert in Braidwood opposite the Zoo (that’s for you Peter Richards – I think of you every time we go past it.) The gas stations in Dwight, the tunnel under the road in Odell and a myriad of other sights.
Tonight was always going to be a stop in Bloomington, Illinois. Strategically chosen because the Holiday Inn there is adjacent to the McLean County Fairgrounds. With no speedway racing to keep us occupied tonight, it was off to the Tractor Pull at the Fair. In much the same way as the old IMCA sprintcars and midgets used to travel from town to town and race nightly at a different local Fair, the tractor pullers still do so. Requiring much less space to compete, these guys open the back of the transporter and out rolls a contraption much like a dragster, but is essentially a farm tractor.
Except that it may have between 1 and 8 engines hooked up to the chassis to provide the power to drag a sled down a straight dirt track of maybe 150 metres. Once they have done that, another one rolls out of the pits and does the same thing and like his predecessor, belches out 30 cubic metres of black diesel smoke all over the spectators. Once you’ve had enough of that, you can wander out into the Fair and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells.
Day 15 – Thursday August 2nd
Some more tour members are scheduled to join us in St Louis later today. Bearing that in mind, we picked the best of the rest of R66 to check out before heading for the airport. One of those sights is most definitely the Ariston Café in Litchfield, the oldest still operating diner on any part of R66 in any state. Just three weeks ago it changed ownership after the property had been in the hands of the original family for 70 years. Be assured it is still as classy a place as always. Try the potato skins and make sure you ask for the dessert selection.
Around 5.00pm we picked up Ron & Dawn from Perth, Russell from Sydney and the irrepressible Trevor from Waikerie in South Australia. Needless to say they were fatigued from all the air travel, but still had enough energy to join the rest of the group at the Old Spaghetti Factory down in the restored area of Laclede’s Landing. After dinner we strolled along the Mississippi for a short while before the still very hot evening got the better of them.
Day 16 – Friday August 3rd
One of the very few optional excursions included in the tour occurred this morning in St Louis. Pretty much everything else has the cost included. This is deliberate as the ride to the top of the Gateway Arch can be claustrophobic. Small trams that hold five people climb their way to the top (63 storeys high) where small windows allow 70 or so people at a time to enjoy the view in every direction. The Arch is as wide as it is tall, which adds to the perfect symmetry of the monument. It was built to recognise that the early settlers going west would probably have crossed the Mississippi at this point from Illinois into Missouri.
Our usual ride on the Tom Sawyer Riverboat followed before touring and then lunching at the Budweiser Brewery. With the temperature hovering around 100°F we returned to the Hotel to load up on sunscreen for the next five hours in the hot sun at Pevely’s I-55 Speedway. No shade where we park, except from the bus which fortunately is large enough to cast a decent shadow to sit in.
Tailgating occupied most of the time with various Americans always eager to meet “the Aussies” and as always, we are happy to oblige. As far as the racing was concerned, it was a capacity crowd on hand that saw Rico Abreu run away and hide from his opposition to win the rain delayed Iron-Man 55 from last year in 2017.
Day 17 – Saturday August 4th
Last year at this time Bob & Pat Whittle bought a 1962 Chevy Corvair at Classic Country Cars on I-55 in Staunton. Pleased with their purchase they headed to Knoxville with the rest of the group the next day. To their eternal surprise and subsequent horror they woke up on Wednesday morning to the news that 250 cars had been destroyed in a major fire in Staunton. Upon inspection of the aerial footage it was clear that their Corvair had indeed gone to God.
Bob had asked me on an earlier tour this year whether they had any more Corvairs in stock again. Yes they did I replied …. “a lovely 1966 convertible in blue with white roof” was my news for them. After some deliberation it may be that Bob has by now made his purchase after confirming today that it was still there for him. (Update: The Corvair is now Bob & Pat’s!!)
From Classic cars we headed to a Classic Diner at the Pink Elephant in Livingston. Although it turned out to be not the best day for one, with some rather shoddy service from an overloaded kitchen for the Tour Host. Another sell-out crowd was expected tonight so we headed down to Pevely even earlier this afternoon. We were surprised to find our regular spot still there for the taking, so we put the bus into last night’s tyre tracks and settled down for the wait.
Another inaugural winner for the Outlaw season tonight. Rico won his first feature last night since being badly injured last year at Eldora. Tonight it was Logan Schuchart who skinned everybody in an impressive display of speed on a track that is very well known for the G Forces it places on a driver’s body.
We had our own display of G Forces (G for Guy Fawkes) in the parking lot afterwards. It takes an age to get out of the place at Pevely, so most fans just shrug their shoulders and settle in to post race tailgating. At one stage we had 30 people in our group watching fireworks explode from various parts of the vast parking lot.
At one stage the Promoter’s grand-son turned up on a quad bike and realising that we were (predominantly) Aussies said “Don’t go away, I’ll be back.” He duly returned with a carton of Budweiser and an arsenal of fireworks. “We’ll show those guys down in the bottom parking lot” he cried out. And with that, an extraordinary display of sky rockets that are usually only seen at commercial functions lit up the sky. Spurred on by many, he eventually ran out, but was soon back with more.
A great way to finish off two superb nights of sprintcar racing …. although the finishing time on Friday night of 1.15am wasn’t appreciated by some. Just shows that you should expect late nights from tracks without curfews …..
Day 18 – Sunday August 5th
Someone e-mailed me on the last tour to say I mentioned the weather too much. How can you not?? Rain is the bane of a speedway fan’s life. You can travel for miles only to find out on arrival that the moisture got there before you did and there is no show. There is nothing worse than a dark, silent, wet and empty race track.
So with that in mind my pen pal mate from Australia will need to remain jealous of the splendid weather we are having here, because I’m going to mention it again. Usually you live in hope that the temperatures and conditions in Iowa will allow racing to go ahead for the week of the Nationals. Thunderstorms visit Iowa frequently each year. On average the state sees close to 60 tornadoes, hundreds of severe T-Storms and thousands of regular ones throughout the year. And August can produce some of the worst.
We are however going to be blessed with the best conditions for drivers, crews and spectators that we have had for decades over the forthcoming week. Temps in the 80’s, low humidity, no wind and just glorious for racing. That was the forecast and the boys at the Bureau nailed it spot on.
PS For what it’s worth I learned at Knoxville that -40°C is an identical temperature to -40°F. Did you know that?
Anyway back to the tour …..
So we left St Louis early Sunday morning headed for our first stop at Hannibal where Mark Twain was raised. Given Mr Twain’s propensity for the Mississippi to feature in all his novels, it’s not surprising that this mighty river flows straight through Hannibal. Milkshakes for most (blue moon beers for Trev) satisfied a thirst that had been building. The female server in the bar that Trev visited will now a lifetime fear of Australian Drop-Bears. Ask Trev about them next time you see him ….
Lunch was at something a little more austere. Hardee’s hamburger joint in Mt Pleasant. From there it was straight through to Pella and the introduction of this beautiful Dutch town and Hotel to our tour guests. Not that they needed it but the rooms on the second floor of the Royal Amsterdam have been refurbished since last year. The third floor will be done before next year’s visit.
Racing tonight was the Capitani Classic in Knoxville, just 14 miles away. An event especially created to capture the crowds in the region for the Nationals starting Wednesday. In a sign of possible things to come, Brad Sweet smashed everybody with a devastating drive. Although everyone said on the way out “don’t forget that Schatz wasn’t in the field tonight.”
Day 19 – Monday August 6th
What was meant to be an opportunity for exploring Pella on foot, turned into exploring Pella in the bus. “Plenty of time to walk later,” they said. We drove around the new estate areas established to the north of town. Man-made lakes are the feature of most folks backyards out here. Although the beauty of the properties have been marred by the dryness of the Iowan summer so far. Not enough T-Storms and follow up rains. The lawns are barren and brown which is a real pity. Except for my favourite house at the corner of Fountainview and Meadowcrest, which I now figure must be owned by the chief of the Water Board. His two acres of lawn are still immaculate.
And yes before you even ask. The cornfields are suffering badly this year as well.
We checked out the enormous Vermeer factory complex which had been hit by a tornado back on July 19th destroying three of the (at least) 20 plants they have on the site. Not a pretty picture even though three weeks had passed. Then we tried to get in to the Panda Garden which every tour member should fondly remember for their $6.99 all you can eat Chinese buffet. But despite the sign on the door, it was not open Mondays. So we brought forward the meal we were always going to have at Monarch’s Restaurant in the Hotel. Monarchs is run by good friends Richard and Kellie Phillips and their food is wonderful.
Around 3.00 pm we headed off to Oskaloosa for night 1 of Terry McCarl’s the Challenge. Known worldwide as “We held a party and a race broke out.” Folks have a good time here on the infield it must be said. Nowadays we head for the grandstand for a more gentile experience! An early arrival permitted more tailgating with Laura and Mike in the shade of their Motorhome, as races over here don’t start real early, or indeed on time. It’s a case of go in when you’re ready.
And tonight they wanted to make sure they were in and settled before getting up again to go visit Toby Kruse up on the flag stand. This extraordinary practice started three years ago and is now a regular feature of our visit to Osky. At least for those who want to go up there! It’s not for the faint hearted that’s for sure, as winged sprintcars race right below you at 140 mph (224 kph) on a half-mile track. The turbulence from the wings will lift your toupee off to be sure.
Kyle Larson, Kasey Khane and Tony Stewart were all in the field of around 40 cars and it was a promoter’s dream. Those three, many Outlaws and of course all the locals arrived to do battle. But really there was no one who was going to beat Larson. Brad Sweet tried, Shane Stewart tried and even Kerry Madsen poked his nose in there for a bit. But in a caution free race (except for one “debris” yellow flag to close them up for the last four laps), Kyle maintained his lead to the end.
A few post-race drinks to allow the traffic to clear certainly developed big-time after Toby turned up with his lady friend Dianna and another couple. Trev and I had met Dianna in Dingus on Sunday night when Toby called out through the fence as we walked past. We joined them and were introduced to Dianna’s life with show horses. Her property where she stables them is called ‘Shining Stars Percherons’ in Pleasant Hill outside Des Moines. An invitation to view the horses on Wednesday was eagerly accepted.
Tonight though Dianna, Toby and Jerry provided the entertainment for us as they kept us in hysterics with tales of life living in Iowa, auto racing and horses. We lost the second lady who retired hurt to her RV. Her consumption of Crown Royal had been way too much to sustain any further conversation, but Dianna carried on admirably in her absence. Toby just sat back and admired the performance. We all then watched the fireworks show from Jerry. By this time the only people in the Fairgrounds were those sleeping peacefully in their RV’s, with maybe just a few still celebrating Larson’s win.
The legality of letting fireworks off in Iowa is still hazier than the smoke left by commercial sky rockets. Which is exactly what Jerry had in the back of his truck. Certainly they are illegal after July 8th which permits them to be fired off on Independence Day and even then only up to 11.00 pm. Despite the fact that today was August 6th, it was 2.00 am and not a sound could be heard in the Fairgrounds, Jerry whispered, “I think I can get away with it!” Several monstrous sequential rockets were fired into the night sky and exploded long and loud high above the resting motorhomes.
Thrilled with his first foray, he returned to the truck for more, egged on by the innocent Aussies watching on. Just after these left their mark on our eardrums, the inevitable happened and the authorities arrived in force. Well Jerry was right, he did get away with it because they didn’t quite know the rules either. But they did say “2.00 am was a touch late …..”
Day 20 – Tuesday August 7th
A tradition started a few years ago that after the Outlet Shopping on Tuesday, we would continue on to West Liberty (or one year it was Tipton) for the Deery Brothers Late Model races. In doing so it put us 200 km away from Pella which made for a very, very late night home. Especially after visiting JB’s Pub & Grub post races. The Police Chief came in one year to drink with Russell. That same year Luke lost his prized Elwood cap along I-80 when it dropped off his head whilst filling up a plastic bucket.
But now Oskaloosa runs a second night, so the long drive isn’t necessary anymore, although Outlet Shopping is still on the itinerary. The guys did very well indeed this year, out purchasing the ladies on board. They certainly understood that “the more you spend the more you save at the Outlets.”
Back at Osky a little later this afternoon the night started off slowly and remained that way after last night’s shenanigans. The 360’s were on, along with the WAR 410 non winged sprintcars from POWRi. Neither were much chop, but as I’ve said before “all races are good, it’s just some are better than others.”
Tonight was one of those nights.
Day 21 – Wednesday August 8th
Uncertain as to what we would encounter this morning, we set off with an open mind for Pleasant Hill and the “Shining Stars Percherons” stables. The result was more than we could have expected. Dianna welcomed us with open arms, as did her staff who knew we were coming. Indeed our first glimpse of a horse on the property was Harriett; light brownish in colour with white markings. Exactly like television’s famous Mr Ed from years ago. And just like Mr Ed, Harriett also poked her head out of the stable window to see what all the fuss was about as these new visitors drove up the driveway.
Two of the 22 horses were being prepared to be hooked up to a buggy to give us rides around the 25 acre property. Not just any horses, but beautiful show horses standing in many cases at 19 hands. They are especially bred for exhibiting at fairs around the country. And aren’t there plenty of them! Behind the stables are the transportation haulers to get them to the next event as safely and in as much comfort as possible. Along with a huge fifth wheel RV for the staff who look after them.
We saw (an Amish) farrier re-shoeing the horses. If we had been here yesterday, we would have seen the vet and a chiropractor working all day on each individual horse. And if we were there next Sunday we would see $2 million of equine property being loaded up ready for the Iowa State Fair, literally 15 minutes ‘down the road’. Clearly they are looked after with kid gloves, hence their love of humans. We patted them, we stroked them, we scratched them under the chin and we fed them apples which they loved. In return they would nudge us gently, hoping that Dianna would allow more apples to be served up.
An unexpected lunch was included to top off what was truly a first for me and probably everybody. Thank you Dianna for the privilege of visiting Shining Stars Percherons and you can be assured that your invitation to do so again every tour will be accepted. After all, we see 900 horse power machines every night at Knoxville, so a reduction to one HP is warranted occasionally.
The small town of Knoxville was beckoning and it was now time to go visit the 26,000 seat stadium for night 1 of the Nationals. On arrival at the Veterans’ Parking Lot, the group immediately dispersed to all four quarters in search of the best merchandise and to visit the Hall of Fame and Museum. Vendors packed the allocated area inside the track confines and out on Highway 14 where dozens of others had set up.
Every available piece of real estate is grabbed by a race team for sales of their gear, or to park their transporter for the duration of the Nationals. If there are still spots left, they are taken up by race fans in their RV’s and caravans. It’s a phenomenal sight to behold. You could argue that the town of 7,241 population is simply not big enough to host an event which quadruples your own town population for a week. But they have been successfully doing it now for decades and doing it so well that no one would ever try to take it away.
Speaking of taking it away, that’s what Kyle Larson did, when with the permission of Mr Ganassi, he exchanged his NASCAR race suit for one with dirt on it, and simply showed his class to win night 1 and put himself into a great position to go straight into the A Main feature on Saturday evening. He like us has to await the results of night 2’s racing so the points gained tonight and tomorrow can be merged together to find the top 16.
Day 22 – Thursday August 9th
Sometimes you don’t have much luck with race car drivers. There is always something to be done. Particularly during the week of Knoxville. In Brooke Tatnell and Ian Madsen’s case it is regular high profile appearances in the Hall of Fame for scheduled autograph sessions, interviews with the media and / or sponsor commitments. For any one of those reasons, or more, Brooke could not be at his race shop this morning when we called in at 10.30am. We understood and accepted his absence as much as we appreciated crew chief Chad standing in and providing his contribution to our understanding of the work involved in preparing a car for its job at night 2 of the Nationals. Other Australians who have steered the famous Pella based #55 sprintcar over the years include Skip Jackson, Ian & Kerry Madsen and Terry McCarl.
After the visit to Brooke we headed into Knoxville to see Jaymie Moyle at his engine shop. His Dad John, the 1973 Australian Sprintcar title holder, is known to several members of the tour group, so some great discussion took place about John and his days driving at Rowley Park, plus of course Jaymie’s current role in the American sprintcar engine building scene.
From there it was a quick visit to Slideways hire kart complex which now includes a dirt oval. Back in Pella we finally got in the buffet at the Panda Bear and after a short hotel room break, heading into Knoxville for night 2 which was dominated by Brad Sweet in much the same way as he did on Sunday night.
Day 23 – Friday August 10th
Like Brooke yesterday, Ian Madsen wasn’t able to be present this morning during our visit to his immaculate race shop in Granger. ‘Dyno’ was called into Knoxville for an appearance session as one of the 16 drivers locked into Saturday’s A Main. However the good news was that every sprintcar in the KCP Racing armoury was in the shop, along with the brand spanking new transporter that now hauls its way to every track the Outlaws visit on their schedule.
Ian became an Outlaw driver this season and has held his own extremely well against the established teams and is in line for Rookie of the Year honours. Able to stay in his own house for a week or so is a welcome break for these guys who have 115 races on their schedule for this year.
In Ian’s absence KCP crewman Joe Van Hemert stepped up to the plate. He introduced his assistant, Sydney driver Blake Skipper, and then proceeded to give a great run down of the team, its season so far along with technical aspects of the cars, of which there were six on the shop floor and another two stored in the truck for life on the road. Thanks Joe and Blake …. most appreciated.
Lunch up in Boone at Toby K’s followed where Frank Packer and his wife Diane joined us, as is their custom each time we visit. Frank is a retired Queensland electrician and now they travel to Iowa each year to race Modifieds at anyone of the 59 speedway tracks in Iowa. At this time of the season they can race every night of the week including tonight at Marshalltown where Toby is the promoter. We called in to see him working the track on our way back to Pella.
With no rest for the wicked, within 20 mins of returning to the Hotel, we were back on the bitumen to Knoxville. As always this road takes us over Lake Red Rock across the dam wall. Soon (hopefully) they will finish building the add on Hydroelectric scheme at the dam. It has been in progress for at least the last three tours …..
Wildlife is prevalent on this road and the clearly marked Deer Crossing signs obviously work because on Sunday night we saw a deer prancing across the road about 20 metres ahead. Maybe it was the same one which lay dead on the side of the road on Thursday morning as we passed through? Why they don’t shift these designated Deer Crossings to safer parts is beyond me. Maybe they should move them next to the School Crossing signs in the towns. It would be much safer ….
The Friday night format at Knoxville gives those who have had engine problems, or bad luck in qualifying on Wed or Thursday or just had an off night, another chance to redeem themselves. Unless you are one of the 16 already locked into the A, or the first 10 in the B, a team can forfeit all their earned points and come back tonight to try it all again. The prize is positions 21, 22, 23 & 24 in Saturday’s A if you finish 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th. A big enough carrot which makes around 70 cars decide to stay and try again. After all, just to start the A Main on Saturday pays $9,500. $150,000 if you can win.
After his brain fade on night 1 when he failed to go to the scales, Logan Schuchart won tonight’s feature to start 21st on Sat. The final race on Friday night is always the Australian / American Challenge and only drivers who have raced in both America and Australia during the preceding year are eligible to enter. If you haven’t otherwise qualified for the Sat night A Main, then winning this Aust / USA Challenge gives you 25th starting spot on Saturday, so it is eagerly competed for.
Brooke Tatnell would have to consider himself the unluckiest driver out there when with 12 laps to go, first place was his with an almost half a lap lead. However a yellow came out and on the restart Brooke was swamped by the cars behind when he missed the start. Gone for now, but like Jamie Veal, James McFadden and other Aussies, a third and final chance remains tomorrow with the alphabet run. Kerry and Ian are both already locked in.
Day 24 – Saturday August 11th
If you’ve seen a parade before, chances are it was better than the Knoxville Nationals Parade. However there is something about the Knoxville one which makes you keep on coming back as we do each year with the tour. As simple as it is, this humble pageant is for the kids. They delight in scrounging for the hundreds of lollies (candy) thrown out of the passing floats onto the roadway. Even Bruce got into the spirit of things and filled Robyn’s handbag with sweets for the bus! For the first time that I know of, Dave Argabright was sitting up on the back of one of the lead convertibles taking in the sunshine and basking in the glory.
What to do for the rest of the day? Trev and Russell decided to take their chances and stay in Knoxville for the duration until the green flag would drop on the first race tonight. Whether they would be able to see it or not, remained the big question. Having seen most of everything Knoxville has to offer in the previous six days, Dingus remained the only other option …..
The rest returned to Pella via Lake Red Rock for a look at the fishermen. No crossbows today, just the conventional rod and line, but the fish must have been too clever this morning to bite on a hook as no one was reeling anything in.
At 4.30pm tired bodies rallied for one last crack at this sprintcar watching game. Our spot under the towering tree in the Veteran’s Parking Lot was there as always, thanks to Russell who maintained vigilance over it until we arrived. Chairs were put out as though we were going to have a board meeting, the esky was the source of cold drinks on a hot day and we sat and waited for Stubb to make his presence. In due course the most well-known person in Ohio sprintcar racing (well maybe after Jack Hewitt maybe) wandered up from Dingus with Trev.
The new arrivals to the group in St Louis hadn’t yet had the pleasure of Stubb’s company, but it didn’t take long for them to think they had known him all their lives. Tall tales and true flowed and it was up to everyone to make their own judgement as to which category the stories fell into. The fact that the chairs were in the positions they were was highly appropriate as Stubb had everyone’s attention, bar none. Nelson, another drop-in Ohioan, supplemented Stubb’s stories even though neither had ever met each other before. It was a great afternoon which put the exclamation mark on some wonderful pre-race tailgating we have had this tour.
But in the words of the great World of Outlaws commentator John Gibson, “it was now time to see the greatest sight in all of motorsports.” One by one various members left the shade of the tree to venture inside the huge Knoxville Raceway. It was a sell out tonight and space would be tight in the stands. Not as tight as previous years because the Fair board had decided during the off season to increase the width of each allocated seat space in the grandstands. In doing so it meant some 3,000 previous seats became non-existent which clearly affected their income. But full marks to them for this decision, as it increased the comfort levels remarkably.
The first actual race (the D Main because the E had been abandoned through insufficient cars remaining in Knoxville) only hit the track at 8.37pm. There had been hot laps for all competitors and the national anthems of Canada, Australia and the US had been sung so beautifully by Katie Davis. Katie is a local school teacher in Knoxville and gets this gig every year. She is outstandingly good. By far the best you’ll ever hear at any race track. Nevertheless 8.37pm is very late to start proceedings.
The D, the C, the B were run and won and then suddenly it was time to find out if anyone could stop Donny Schatz from winning his 11th Knoxville Nationals. My tip was Brad Sweet and as the laps drew down and the mandatory pit stop for all at the 25th lap had been completed, it became a shoot-out between Sweet, Larson and Schatz. Until of all people, Kerry Madsen upended between 3 & 4 to bring on the reds. Now with two to go, who could maintain their pace and courage the most? Sweet took off, Schatz bobbled a little and Larson was right there to pounce. Sweet stuck to the bottom while Schatz went to the middle, his trademark way to end a race. Larson just didn’t have the pace.
Although Kyle was only five metres behind, nobody watched him anymore. The crowd were on their feet willing Brad to keep going, as everyone knew Donny has perfected the ‘come from behind’ technique. Sweet virtually towed Schatz down the back straight for the final time. Schatz went wide through 3 & 4 to deliver the famed knockout punch down to the chequered flag, but just couldn’t pull it off. Brad Sweet had won his first Knoxville Nationals by the second closest margin in Nationals history.
The crowd went nuts, just as they did when the late Jason Johnson did the same thing to Schatz in 2016. Tears welled up in Sweet’s eyes, he was highly emotional and it was sometime before his composure permitted an interview. A truly great finale to a wonderful four days ….
Day 25 – Sunday August 12th
Allowing for a rain date is always on the itinerary. If it’s not needed, like this year, the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines is the ‘go to’ option. Some choose the Fair, some prefer to stay in Pella and relax. Walk the town once more, go to the movies, each the $6.99 Chinese buffet, have a rib eye steak at Monarch’s Restaurant, drink beer in the Peanut Pub, or sleep is often an option.
Whatever the choice, it becomes a prelude to our farewell Mexican dinner at El Charro in Pella. Fondest memories of the tour are re-counted, highlights discussed and humorous moments are relived over Mexican and margaritas.
Day 26 – Monday August 13th
The 80 minute drive from Pella to Des Moines Airport is a sombre one. You can almost hear the corn growing it is so quiet inside the bus because the realisation that the tour is finishing is now real.
Thanks so much to Terry, Robyn, Bruce, Deryk, Ron, Dawn, Russell and Trevor for their wonderful companionship. The bond that developed between everybody throughout the tour was solid and will remain for ever and a day between like-minded speedway fans ….. as it does on every Global Speedway Tours’ trip.
In 2019 we are offering the full Month of Money tour for sale once again. This year it was a shorter modified tour, but 2019 will be the full 41 day tour. Look for the itinerary for the MoM tour and the 2019 Indy 500 tour on the website soon. Clearly we need to await the dates of all key races to be released before we can publish the itinerary with any certainty. Although we do already know that the date of the 59th Knoxville Nationals is August 7th – 10th 2019.