2013 Month of Money – Blog
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Day 1 – Thursday July 11th 2013
We got away from Sydney on time … we arrived in LA on time … Peter Hanson’s finger prints were in order this time with the US Border Security authorities … we left LA on the dot … arrived in Minneapolis early … left Minneapolis according to schedule … and landed in Indianapolis at 6.14pm precisely and exactly when Delta said they would get us there.
What more could you ask for?
The only thing I can think of is to move Australia closer to the world headquarters of speedway racing so fans like us don’t have to fly 20 hours to see the best that our sport offers.
After checking in at the terrific Courtyard Marriott hotel in downtown Indy, where once again we were welcomed back by the very friendly staff, the mandatory SSS procedures were undertaken before heading across North Senate Avenue to the Bourbon Street Distillery for a meal, a drink(s) and an education on tipping in the USA. But you know, when you warn the staff that a bunch of rookie Aussies are dropping in, they take it upon themselves to make sure that their service is liberally sprinkled with huge doses of friendliness and smiles. Because they know they need to earn more than the $2 / hour their employer pays them to serve drinks and food.
That’s right. $2 / hour. It’s fair to say that they were more than happy with our Aussies, who passed their rookie tests with flying colours. Some crashed about 11.00pm while others remained to insist on giving more tips.
Day 2 – Friday July 12th 2013
One of the major concerns with speedway racing is that apart from the Chili Bowl every race track is outside. And therefore the weather becomes a major factor as to what you get to see. Fortunately this morning brought forth a perfect day and it still is as I type this at 4.00am.
We strolled up to the T-Mobile store on Washington Street to secure US SIM cards for those who wanted them. A very easy procedure saw us out of there in 30 minutes and it was interesting watching the group walk back busily texting and checking Facebook as they walked along the sidewalk.
A quick stop at the mammoth Indianapolis Speedway to pick up our Brickyard 400 tickets allowed the first glimpse of this iconic track. Even those who are veteran visitors to Indy are still gob smacked at the sheer size of the joint. In two weeks’ time we will be back and ready for the NASCARS to hit the tarmac.
But now it was time to head for Winchester and the classic high banked speedway that Fred Funk built in 1914. Whilst the track is still operational and proudly maintained by its current owner Charlie Shaw, the number of races it now hosts has fallen to around 6 or 7 per season. We met Charlie for the first time today. He had heard of the Global Speedway Tours folk who regularly call in to his track to check it out each year. So he, along with another gentlemen called Bob Lemmons, wanted to meet us and together they gave us a fascinating insight into this historical track from the time Frank built it, up to today.
And then it was out onto the track itself where sadly I noticed that our favourite red Pontiac was no longer to be seen. But in its place was Bob’s silver Nissan 370Z. It waited patiently for Bob to fire it up ready to take a single passenger each time at speeds up to 80mph (130kmh) around the 37 degree banked asphalt oval. It was exhilarating and he has promised it will be there again for next year’s MoM tour group.
Alas, after a great two hours at the “World’s Fastest 1/2 mile paved oval” it was time to move on to Greenville in Ohio which is base camp for the next two nights at Eldora and the Kings Royal. Check-in and departure was (not surprisingly) super quick as everyone was hanging out to see Eldora in the flesh for the first time. Oh, and to also meet Stubb for the first time as well. We parked at the Palace and before you could count the number of times Steve Kinser has won Knoxville, they were off to get inside and smell the rubber.
Hot laps, qualifying, (Kerry Madsen topped the charts here), heat races, C & B mains led us to the all-important A Main. Speeds here are an average of 138 mph (220kmh) per 1/2 mile lap remember. Phenomenal really, considering there is a very stout cement wall in front of them every time they turn left, which is always of course. The race started with Kerry out of position 4 and six minutes and 31 seconds later it finished. Not one stoppage and not one car dropped out.
At around lap 17 Madsen looked to be perfectly placed. He almost appeared to be stalking Brad Sweet who held the lead. Checking out his line and planning the pass. It came in turn 4 with a perfect slide job and the 29 car was through. For about three seconds anyway, until Sweet turned under him and retook the lead. It was thrilling hi-speed stuff. Madsen then figured that he would do it again the next lap in the same place. So did Sweet who by the time they reached the flag stand was in front again. Four times they practiced this manoeuvre until Kerry finally won out and kept the lead.
He would go on to take victory by 20 metres or so over Sweet and Joey Saldana who must have had an eye witness view of everything going on in front of him.
Our kangaroo group was pretty happy to say the least and we got to Kerry’s pit as soon as we were allowed. He saw us and we were warmly greeted by a very happy boy from St Mary’s NSW. So much so that our photo with the driver, the trophy and the cheque will take pride of place in many a family photo album back home. Look for it on Facebook and eventually in the Photo Gallery on the website.
Now for tomorrow night where another victory will yield him $50,000 ….
Day 3 – Saturday July 13th 2013
Although we didn’t know it, last night’s feature winner was staying in our Hotel. Kerry had seen us testing the bourbon in the parking lot when he drove in from the track, but wisely decided to remain invisible, given that he had a big race to win tonight. But more about him later.
Saturday morning was designated as a “do nothing period”. Our guests often comment that they see the references to these rest periods in their comprehensive itinerary and feel as though it is wasted time. Even after three days, the boys now realise they are very valuable inclusions indeed ….
This afternoon was Eldora time with Stubb. We arrived at the Palace compound around 1.15pm, ready for whatever might unfold over the next five hours. After introductions and the compulsory sampling of Gail’s homemade Apple Pie (it’s not what you think) nominations were called for the 2nd annual Corey “Petey” Martin cornboard championship. Petey was a fine young man who we had previously met at various American racetracks. For whatever reason, he sadly chose to end his life two years ago, almost to the day.
His Dad Ron was there to watch Stubb run the tournament “sponsored” by Global Speedway Tours. We were more than happy to supply two specially embroidered GST tour shirts to the winners. A $5 entry fee per person was collected, names were shuffled and it was on. 12 teams with the Aussies paired where possible with an American. Most of whom are all gun players so on the surface it appeared to be a forlorn hope that an Aussie would appear on the podium.
The star performer was someone who had never heard about the game, let alone ever played it. Hamilton, Victoria probably doesn’t have too many corn boards, but from late August I expect it will. Luke Schneider killed ‘em. I wonder whether his mum Leslie played softball, because ‘Schneids’ took to it like a duck to water and began nailing 3 pointers right from the start with his partner Ed at the other end doing the same. They sailed through all the minor round games and entered the playoffs without a loss. Pete Hanson, Rex Sutherland and yours truly also managed to make the semis and performed with distinction.
12 teams were whittled down to two and Lukey had made the big-time. Even a pseudo ESPN camera crew (me) interviewed him before the final. The crowd was hushed as the bags were thrown to start the contest. But alas the fairy tale could not be continued and a 21-15 result saw those pesky Yanks take the title and the shirts. Luke was chuffed though because he won $30 and couldn’t care about the shirt, because he already had one.
As good as the cornboard fun had been, we were at Eldora for the Kings Royal. The sun was sizzling so most delayed their entrance into the track until hot laps started. It was easy to know that because unmuffled motors can be heard from miles away through the Ohio cornfields. But of course being mates with Stubb we are blessed with a parking spot just 50 metres from the gate. The other 25,000 people who we estimate were there tonight aren’t so lucky. If it were that many there, then there would also have been 5,000 motorhomes camped on the vast property that is Eldora speedway. It truly is a sight to behold.
On arrival inside the track, the usual issue at an American speedway raised its head when we discovered a 240 kg guy sitting at the end of our row in seats 11, 12 & 13. Of course he’d only paid for one of them which meant the cornboard star and his mate Michael were forced to find another place to sit. Then we had the incredible sight of a guy sitting in front of us in army camouflage gear who reached into the bag he brought in with him and removed a lizard / iguana that was easily two foot long and 10 times as thick as a baby’s arm holding an apple. He then draped it around his neck whereupon it proceeded to scare the living daylights out of anyone within 10 feet of it.
Honestly if Gail Folpp of our recent Florida tour fame had been with us she would’ve walked down and kissed it on the lips …
The racing was dusty, but good value. Kerry didn’t win tonight as an eventual eighth place finish to the winner Brad Sweet was all he could muster. Each night we all put in $2 and pass it on to Robert Blackman who is now the official Treasurer for the Global Speedway Tours Punters’ Club. Each tour member picks who they think will win the A main each night and the winner or winners take all. A member can choose the same as another member.
Last night Michael Anson scooped the pool when he correctly tipped Madsen as the winner. The interesting thing about that was while every Australian in the house was cheering for Kerry and watching every move he made on the way to victory, poor old Russell Blackman had to ask who won. So tonight Russell headed down to the pits with his trusty camera and while there, took a photograph of every car and driver entered into the Kings Royal. While doing so he thought carefully about who he would choose as tonight’s winner. He made up his mind that he would back Brad Sweet cos he liked the look of the fresh faced young kid with the ginger hair.
So back he comes and places his wager on the 49 car. Unfortunately he remembered the yellow 49 car as a blue car numbered #4. That car, driven by Cody Darrah, dropped out of the race on about lap 6 and Russ was crestfallen. That was until his brother Robert placed the winnings in his hand for Brad Sweet’s victory. I think Russell is still a touch bewildered.
A couple of well-placed bourbon and cokes in the Greenville Inn parking lot upon arrival home were pleasantly interrupted by Kerry and Tina Madsen’s arrival from the track. Needless to say that without a racing commitment tomorrow, the Keneric Racing star figured that he too would have a drink or three. It was good fun and we solved the problems of the world whilst doing it.
Day 4 – Sunday July 14th 2013
We have been blessed by the weather so far, albeit just four days in. However compared to what the USA has encountered so far this year with abnormal rainfall, we have been very lucky. Fingers crossed too because the forecast for the next 10 days is fine, but hot and humid. Many speedways across the mid-west have had 50% or more of their race dates rained out so far this year. The humidity is what brings on the unexpected thunderstorms.
The drive from Greenville to Dayton was short at 50 miles or so, but it was a glorious Sunday morning. The Ohioan bible belt was out in force with worshippers galore attending their local services in delightful churches in picturesque surroundings on quiet country roads. Everything was good with the world today.
Dayton was our target because of the massive Air Force Museum. This joint is always a favourite on our Month of Money tours and it never fails to impress although it is a matter of taste as to exactly how long one spends in there. Today was no exception with some wanting more than the allocated four hours and others happy with half that. It is a huge place and can best be described by its own website. If you have time click on the following link and enjoy their Virtual tour of the entire Museum. www.nmusafvirtualtour.com
After checking in at the Holiday Inn in Centreville, Ohio we made our way back into Indiana so the guys could get their first taste of non-winged 410 sprintcar racing at Lawrenceburg on night 3 of Sprintweek. This track has 37° banking on the corners which is equal to Winchester and Eldora, but because it is smaller at 3/8 of a mile, the banking looks much more severe.
Despite the comments above about the weather, a brief shower from a typical rogue mid-west rain cell delayed proceedings for about 90 minutes while the track was reworked. This had the effect of changing what was going to be a super race track, into one which produced high speed freight train racing. Whilst the whole night was a brilliant spectacle, it could have been much better. But never mind, we have another three non-winged races scheduled for later in the tour.
Kevin Thomas Jnr took his second consecutive Indiana Sprintweek victory from Dave Darland and Chris Windom. A 1.30am arrival back at the Hotel saw some weary people climb out of the Chevy….
Day 5 – Monday July 15th 2013
We only have a few long drives on the tour and today was one of those with a 312 mile (502 km) journey from Dayton to Butler, Pennsylvania. While scooting along the freeways we listen to a variety of things. Mostly it is Peter Hanson entertaining the group with endless humorous stories from his life on the planet. Yesterday while making the short drive from Greenville to Dayton we listened to the exciting climax of the first cricket Test from Trent Bridge in England. Just find ABC Radio grandstand on the iPhone, tune it into 107.5 on the FM band on the car radio and away we go. On the weekends we use the AFL app on the phone and listen live to whichever match is on at the time.
But today it was time for the Twelfth Man, as Billy Birmingham and his cast of characters boomed throughout the Chevy. It makes for time to pass pretty quickly, along with stops every 90 minutes or so for leg stretches, food (both intake and disposal), gas (petrol) and hotdogs (Hanson).
Speaking of life on the road. On the way to Winchester last Friday (it seems like it was two weeks ago now to be honest) we were on a typical two lane rural Indiana road when in the distance was what appeared to be a police car approaching us from the opposite direction. The red and blue lights were flashing and a myriad of cars behind it all had their headlights on. Nothing unusual in that, because more often than not these days people regularly drive with their lights on during the day.
It wasn’t long before we realised it was a funeral procession and it was the hearse which had the flashing red and blue lights. The speed limit was 55mph and we were travelling at about 50 when suddenly some cars in the procession started veering off line and made out as though they would have a head on collision with us. By the time we worked out that we should have pulled off the road and stopped out of respect to the deceased, we had passed the final car in the convoy.
20 minutes later, after arriving at Winchester Speedway and meeting Charlie Shaw for the first time, I asked him if it was a local law that required oncoming traffic to stop in those circumstances, or just tradition. He didn’t know, which was weird because we later found out that most of his wealth has been made from having a business which is the third largest manufacturer of coffins in the world!!
An interesting stat given that Winchester Speedway has killed 35 drivers in its storied history.
But back to today. Our Hotel is the Fairfield Inn and suites, part of the Marriott chain and is wonderful. Many good things about this place with perhaps the best being the never ending supply of homemade cookies on the reception counter.
Dinner tonight was at Rachael’s next door. A typical good quality “Cheers” style restaurant.
PS Stubb has joined us in Butler for the Lernerville races tomorrow night. You can therefore assume it won’t be an early night for some.
Day 6 – Tuesday July 16th 2013
The suggestion in the last paragraph of yesterday proved to be very true. The parking lot of a US hotel has an amazing ability to lure you into it and then stand around a rental Chevy (which has an Esky) to drink beer and “bench race” until all of a sudden you realise it’s quarter past. I can’t say quarter past what hour because that would be unfair to the participants.
For lunch today it was off to the Chop Shop. Sounds sinister but as usual it had the regular American menu choice, but it was the décor that provided the name. Allegedly at some time in its past this place was a crash repairer / panel shop. The words “chop shop” come from a past era when such a place was a location or business which disassembled stolen motor vehicles very quickly for the purpose of selling them as parts.
A couple of pictures in the Gallery will show some of the style of decorations. The staff cooked the meals in full view of the patrons, presumably because the cars were chopped into parts in full view of anyone who wanted to watch in the “good old days”.
Before leaving for Lernerville, some of the guys settled in to watch the two hour DVD of our 2012 Florida tour. It is a real eye opener in its quality and is a marvellous tool for anyone to look at if considering touring with Global Speedway Tours in the future. We showed it in the Hotel foyer and it wasn’t just us who watched it!!
At night, was Lernerville worth it or not? Well up to the twin feature races the answer was no. The first, won by Donny Schatz went a long way to restoring our faith in sprintcar racing. But it was the second one which demonstrated just how good the sport can be.
Those cars which finished on the lead lap in the first race were inverted for the second, based on how many lapped cars there had been. Of the 26 who started in race 1, only five were lapped with the last being Steve Kinser who was taken right on the finish line by Schatz. Hence Schatz had to start 21st and those who had been lapped or dropped out started behind Donny. One of those was Kyle Larson who started dead last.
The fact that he finished second to Darren Pittman demonstrates how fantastic the show was that he put on. Car after car fell beneath his wheels as the kid from California took to the cushion on the hi-line and if it wasn’t for two late cautions he surely would have won. If you get a chance to see the video footage, grab a beer or a coffee and do so. You won’t be disappointed.
Day 7 – Wednesday July 17th 2013
Two weeks ago when I looked at the long range weather forecast for Pennsylvania (where we had two successive rainouts last year), things didn’t look good at all. According to those who get paid to forecast the weather, Lernerville shouldn’t have happened last night and now Lincoln and Williams Grove are dicey to say the least.
This morning was hot, but according to those same blokes it was going to get even hotter the further east we went. Well guess what? They got that right. Up in the Alleghany Mountains near a little town called Shanksville, it was comfortable as we walked the Flight 93 Memorial, especially built to commemorate the United Airline jet that took off from Newark, NJ in 2001 heading for San Francisco. 45 people were on board but unfortunately only 40 of them actually wanted to get to Frisco.
Once the passengers became aware of what was happening in New York City via the on board telephones, it is believed that they stormed the cockpit in an attempt to overpower the terrorists and prevent the plane from being flown into the Capitol in Washington DC. Whatever happened caused the plane to hurtle to the ground at 563mph (900kph) and from a point of about ½ mile from impact actually flew upside down hitting the ground roof first. Not that it would have mattered because 20,000 gallons of jet fuel erupted with the largest piece of debris found being a 6ft by 7ft part of the fuselage. There was nothing else left which was larger than a dinner plate.
A very sombre 60 minutes here brought home the stark reality of terrorism. The rest of the lesson will come at Ground Zero in New York City next week.
After lunch at the Fireside Inn (they’ve taken the Monster Burger off the menu) we continued on to Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania. An early look at Williams Grove Speedway was compulsory before heading to York, which is home for the next four nights. Another superb hotel and staff who were waiting to greet us on arrival.
Unlike last year’s Courtyard Marriott Hotel, this one is beautifully located near retail shops, restaurants and bars. The GST tour staff had suggested the Longhorn Steakhouse as the go for dinner so a three minute walk had us breasting the bar quicker than Kyle Larson last night.
From memory every one of the boys had a steak with the largest being a 20oz T Bone. Ash DeGroot would have been delighted with our efforts considering we kept a daily tally on his meat consumption on last year’s tour.
From there it was an early night for all but two who decided they needed to further investigate the night life of York compared to Penguin, Tasmania …..
Day 8 – Thursday July 18th 2013
About the weather. It’s looking more and more like a sustained heat wave is about to hover over the eastern seaboard bringing with it extreme heat and humidity. Put those two together and they spell thunderstorms. T-Storms are forecast tonight (Lincoln), Friday night (Williams Grove) and again Saturday night (Williams Grove).
Not much you can do about it, except accept the possibility of rainouts …
Once place that couldn’t be washed out was inside the Vehicle Operations plant of Harley Davidson Motorcycles in York. Just two miles from the Hotel, we arrived on the dot of 10.00am to be ready for our 10.15am tour. The new 2014 models are being produced here right now, but sadly for the tour group we were denied access to the final assembly line which builds the bikes. One of HD’s major corporate strategies is its undivided loyalty to its dealer network.
Hence the first people who will see the new models are those dealers in early August. Not some “Johnnie come latelys” from Downunder.
Headsets and safety glasses were supplied and off we went for about 40 minutes walking around the plant behind the tour leader. Harley Davidson have numerous other operations around America making various components which are then shipped to this plant, or the other assembly line in Kansas depending on what model is ordered. They do not make mass numbers of bikes and then ship them out to the dealers hoping like hell that they will be sold. Each bike is ordered by the customer, the details are sent through to HD and in three hours the bike is custom built to the exact specifications. Unsold excess stock is not an issue with this company. In 2012 they produced and sold 625,637 motorcycles.
Moving back out into the sunshine was like walking into a furnace. The sun was working overtime to spoil the day for everyone however the Chevy had the esky stocked with its usual supply of liquid refreshments. No surprise that ice cold water was the favourite.
Gettysburg was next on the day’s agenda. 40 minutes west along US30 did the job and reluctantly as the doors were opened, the heat flooded in to render useless the gains the Chevy’s air conditioning was providing. We had stopped at the offices of Battlefield tours where the optional choice of tours were $26 for an open double decker bus with headsets, or $30 for a single level air conditioned bus with a live Tour guide. What choice would you have made?
2.45pm was the next available departure time which gave us plenty of scope to explore the village that is Gettysburg. The town square (which is now a circle with a round-a-bout) has the famous Gettysburg Hotel where Lincoln is said to have written his Gettysburg address. He didn’t deliver it here, just gained the inspiration for it. Next to the Hotel (which is now a totally restored and modern Hotel) is a delightful pub and restaurant. It has the quaint old name of “The Pub and Restaurant”. Given the huge initiative shown in naming it we decided to give it a try and were very pleasantly surprised. One of our tables looked right out over the square and we had to look through numerous hanging baskets of flowers to do the people watching in the square.
2.45pm arrived, the bus took away our Aussies and at 5.00pm they were back. In the meantime the temp had risen above 105°F. I updated the Blog in an air conditioned fast food joint while the boys were gone, but from all reports the guide spoke too much and they weren’t allowed off the bus often enough. However, all except the youngest one on the tour enjoyed the experience and the knowledge gained about this most disastrous time in American history. The Civil War was horrible and Gettysburg is the site of the battle which still holds the record for the most number of Americans killed in one day in any conflict in any war.
At 5.00pm we should have headed for Lincoln Speedway but the choice of standing at the track in the blazing sun or wandering around Wal-Mart for an hour was an easy one.
At 6.00pm we set off back east to Abbottstown and Lincoln Speedway. At 6.05pm the skies opened up and dumped plenty of warm rain on the blistering hot roadways. Fortunately we were still 15 miles or so from the track, so fingers were crossed that it wasn’t raining there. Yay … it hadn’t. But you guessed it, the rain was following us and it provided the speedway with a decent dose, but not enough to abandon the meeting. It had come early enough (and then went away) to allow track staff to re-work the racing surface.
And thankfully they did. Very often on our tours a track like Lincoln provides the best racing of the trip. The 410 feature was a little pearler (thanks Max Walker) and the 358 feature was a ripper. Lincoln allows infield viewing as well and because reserved seating is not necessary, we scattered all over the place so unfortunately our Global Speedway Tours tipping comp was not operating tonight.
For the record though, Greg Hodnett knocked off Alan Krimes and Freddy Rahmer after what was honestly a 20 lap battle for the lead between the three of them. The 358 feature was a fabulous race as well, despite numerous red lights caused by some over aggressive driving.
The 410 A Main paid $4,000 to win, $300 to start and had an enhanced payout down the line. All this for $15 admission.
Lincoln Speedway. Make sure it’s on your bucket list to have a look at one day.
Day 9 – Friday July 19th 2013
If anything the heat had become more intense today. A quick glimpse outside the window showed a cloudless sky and a haze that was eerily reminiscent of Los Angeles. Williams Grove speedway was the destination tonight and any rain would be disastrous.
But first it was to the Bass Pro store in Harrisburg for a dose of male reality. Anything you need to hunt with is there in multiple choices, plus some fabulous clothing, boats, all-terrain vehicles – you name it. Then from one testosterone land to another we went. The Eastern Museum of Motor Racing (EMMR) lies just off SR15 some 10 miles south of Williams Grove. It is here that a dedicated band of enthusiasts have preserved the proud history of dirt track racing in Pennsylvania.
Our group had a fabulous two hours in here. Towards the end, the famous Lynn Paxton, who won 224 sprintcar features throughout his career, took a liking to us and conducted his own personal tour for us. All in all a great way to spend a hot day inside an air-conditioned sprintcar museum. Just like being married to the daughter of a publican when you think about it.
Although it was only 4.30pm we decided to head for the track, find a big tree, park under it and wait in the shade with a cold drink. The $1 esky needed to be topped up so the local Beer Shop became important not just for beer, ice and water, but for banners.
You see souveniring banners from race tracks has become an art form. But to Luke and Mick it also appears to be an obsession. We understand that 22 may be the record for an Australian tour group (not ours) but I reckon that could be in danger this time around. Many breweries are getting behind the sport and produce specially made one off banners to give to beer outlets near race tracks promoting both their brand of beer, plus the race.
Lukey asked for and received permission to take the very classy banner outside the front of this shop. But not until after Saturday night’s racing had concluded. We would need to make a return visit after midnight!!
The heat was not good, the humidity was worse, the clouds were building and most knew what was coming. But the storm went around the speedway and missed us. But a short time later announcer Johnny Gibson advised patrons to quickly return to their cars for shelter. It belted us and as we sat crestfallen in the Chevy for 10 minutes or so, it was eerily silent as everybody knew that the track could not recover from this.
The Williams Grove owners thought it could though and no announcement was forthcoming of the cancellation. They still had a few thousand hot dogs to sell before calling it a night. Eventually the axe fell and fans received their marching orders at about 8.30pm.
Just like last year, we had missed a major race on the schedule ….
Day 10 – Saturday July 20th 2013
This morning was always going to be a designated rest period. And it was welcomed indeed. Water was involved in most activities. Either the pool, the washing machine, or down the throat. Although to be fair it wasn’t quite as hot as previous days, so we held high hopes that that the fickle Pennsylvania weather might be in our favour tonight.
Last year we had Intercourse on the itinerary, but it didn’t go down very well with most of the group, so it was withdrawn for 2013. As it turned out we went anyway just so the lads could have their photos taken with the sign at the entrance to Intercourse. Plus yours truly could then buy a super large lilac candle for the lady of the house at home. It was quick and only took 25 minutes to experince this quaint Amish township.
After completing our brief interlude with Intercourse, we adjourned to “Bird in the Hand” travelling through “Blue ball”, “Dry Run” and “Paradise”. These are real names believe me of other Amish towns in the area. At the Bird some went inspecting classic cars at a Chrysler car show and the rest went into the Farmers’ Market, which was different to say the least.
Lunch was at DJ’s, an authentic 1950’s diner where milk shakes were the popular order of the day. From DJ’s we drove to Hershey, a town virtually entirely built to house the staff of the giant conglomerate called Hershey’s Chocolate. The ultimate attraction about Hershey is the superb Amusement Park there which has no less than 21 roller coasters in the park. Three or four are “old fashioned” wooden ones with the rest being giant twisting monoliths built of steel. However time didn’t permit the one roller coaster fan in the group to ride them, so we settled for a flying visit to Hershey Chocolate World. Rode the chocolate train to see how Hershey make it and came out in the gift shop … surprise, surpise.
Williams Grove beckoned and in 30 minutes we were in our seats on the front straight watching hot laps, time trials, 4 heat races, a C, B and an A Main all of which was achieved without any rain. The lightning in the distance was a small concern, but that was someone else’s problem tonight. Donny Schatz took the money in a race which went flag to flag and like the Kings Royal a week earlier, all 28 cars that started, finished.
The closing task for the day was to revisit the beer shop on US15 to enable Heath to do the dirty work for Luke. It was high up you see and a screw driver was needed to remove the Coors Light World of Outlaws banner. That’s why we take 23 year olds away with us to stand on old tables to get these things for his fellow tour members. Well, one tour member anyway ….
Day 11 – Sunday July 21st 2013
Do you remember the movie, the Great Escape? If so you would recall the scene at the railway station after the prisoners had escaped. Standing around Lancaster’s AMTRAK station this morning reminded me so much of that part of the movie. The escapees were nervous as they didn’t know whether the Germans would catch them and equally our guys appeared nervous because they too didn’t quite know what lay ahead for them. After all next stop was New York. The most populous city in the USA with 19 million people living in the greater New York area. 1.6 million alone in Manhattan.
Typical of nearly every train in the world (apart from Sydney) it arrived exactly when it said it would and pulled in to Penn Station underneath Madison Square Garden on the dot of 10.49am. The troops took a deep breath and followed the “tour guide” out on to 33rd Street and in convoy we walked up 6th Avenue to 42nd Street where our pre-paid NY City Sights “hop on hop off” bus passes were to be collected. The job was completed in less than 60 seconds thanks to a very capable young man called Kevin.
The convoy continued east down 42nd Street where the next intersection was 7th Avenue. It just so happens that this is also Times Square. Legend suggests that the volume of people traversing this area at any given time means that if you take a seat in a street side restaurant and watch people for an hour, you will see someone that you know. I reckon I believe that!! It is difficult to walk around with ease in Times Square at the best of times, but when you have been in town for just 15 minutes and you’ve never been in the Big Apple before and you’re craning your head every which way to see everything, it’s no wonder a few toes were ridden over by the carry-on bags the boys were pulling behind them. Understandable? Of course it was.
We deliberately walked the 20 blocks from Penn Station to the Sheraton Times Square New York Hotel. Could have caught a cab, or the subway, but buggar it. We wanted to experience the city ASAP. The Sheraton is a plush hotel with a foyer just like you imagine a New York hotel should have. It has 1,780 rooms and all are furnished very nicely. Wi-Fi isn’t complimentary, but the T Mobile 4G network in NYC more than makes up for that.
First job after checking in was to get a handle on the city and the best way to start is by using the Hop on Hop off double decker buses. There are a squillion to choose from but Global Speedway Tours use the blue buses of City Sights NY. Every tour member received these 3 day passes which also include entry into the Empire State Building, a 3 hour cruise around Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty cruise and entry to the New York Museum of the City.
We suggested that the guys stay on the bus for the whole downtown tour instead of getting off anywhere. Which we did, but to our expense because whilst Frank the tour guide was a lovely Italian man, he obviously didn’t come top of the class in his English lessons. Knowledgeable he was, but next to impossible to understand.
The traffic was chaotic in New York on a Sunday so a 2.5 hour tour blew out to three, hence the chance to also do the uptown tour today went out the window. So we went to the pub instead. An Irish pub in 49th St, where the boys quickly realised that their $1 beers in the Chevy are a good bargain after all. New York is an expensive place to do anything.
Dinner was downtown in Little Italy at Novella’s in Mulberry Street. Getting there was their first experience on the subway. There are 20 different subway line criss-crossing Manhattan and 468 stations. Fortunately the author knows the subway system well and it was the B train downtown from Seventh Avenue to Bleecker Street where we changed to the #6 line to continue downtown to Spring Street. Sounds easy doesn’t it!!
After dinner we walked down the rest of Mulberry Street to Canal Street which is the place to buy $10 Gucci watches, $10 designer Louis Vuitton handbags, $15 perfumes. I can’t believe those lovely polite and honest Mexican and Spanish people can sell them that cheap. It must be because they have some really nice Chinese men to help them ….
Getting ‘home’ was the yellow R Line from Canal Street to Herald Square where we changed to the D train to 7th Avenue. The subway station is adjacent to the Hotel, so as far as I know most were tucked up in bed by 11.00pm. I think ….
Day 12 – Monday July 22nd 2013
Brekkie was anywhere you wanted it to be this morning. We deliberately didn’t include it in the price because when in Rome etc. It gives everyone the chance to eat where the locals eat and New Yorkers are renowned for their fondness for delicatessens and street side cafes where superb breakfasts are served.
At 8.30am we were outside the Empire State Building. If ever you choose to visit NYC, just make sure you go up to the top of the ESB early. We breezed through and walked around the endless roped off areas for lines to form when the crowds grow later in the day. Because we went by subway nobody gave any thought to looking skywards to see what the weather might be like. It wasn’t until we got to the last checkpoint of about five we had to go through inside the building, that anyone offered the advice that visibility wasn’t very good up there this morning.
86 floors later we found that out for ourselves. Cloud and (probably fog) did obscure the far reaches of Manhattan and certainly the states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts were undetectable, whereas on a clear day you can see all four. Nevertheless it was still a bucket list event that can now be ticked off.
Whilst waiting for some stragglers, Rex and I were asked by two Australian women in the street if we knew where the Empire State Building was. The fact that we were standing on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th St, which is the precise location of the building, made us wonder just how some people get around without prescribed help. We actually didn’t answer them, choosing to just look up into the sky and point ….
Then a remarkable thing happened. The plan was to catch the City Sights NY bus from the ESB to Ground Zero. It’s about eight stops between them, but we figured we would listen to the on board guide to learn what we didn’t learn yesterday from Frank. Across all their five tour routes, this company must have at least 180 buses on the road every hour of every day. Guess who we got? Frank the Italian stallion again!! Needless to say there was simply no point in listening.
Fortunately it was for only 25 minutes as we jumped off at Ground Zero to see the new Freedom Tower which is rising on the spot where the #6 World Trade Centre building used to stand. At 16 acres, the site is fast becoming respectable again with significant construction already completed, or near to. The Freedom Tower (or its legal name of One World Trade Centre) has now topped out at 104 stories. Significantly, when the communications antenna is also factored in, the height is exactly 1776 feet in symbolic reference to the year of 1776 when America declared its independence. New York once again holds the title of having the tallest building in the western hemisphere and the third tallest in the world.
After being accosted by numerous book sellers, the GST group walked away with at least three ton of material about that fateful day. Heath carried most of it which means he won’t need a weights session in the gym tomorrow morning.
And then it started to rain and guess what provided us with protection? It was the small church of St Paul’s which is adjacent to the World Trade Centre and remained totally untouched when the buildings collapsed in 2001. It gave shelter and comfort to thousands of affected victims, relatives and rescuers in the months following the collapse and did so for us today.
Once the downpour had stopped we continued down Wall Street into the Financial area of not just New York, but the world. If ever this area is taken out, global business would stop instantly. Hence the NY Stock Exchange is now one the most heavily guarded buildings on the planet. You can see it, but can’t get within 30 metres of the joint. Sharpshooters remain in place throughout the day in high vantage points overlooking the NYSE, just in case.
Russ patted the Bull on the balls next. And posed for the GST camera in doing so. It will feature prominently in the 2013 Month of Money DVD when produced!!
From where the money is made (or lost), we had hoped to journey over to where it all started for a lot of Americans. Liberty and Ellis Islands are both in the upper New York Bay. Ellis was the gateway for millions of immigrants to the United States from 1892 to 1954 and houses a great museum chronicling that important part of US history. (Perhaps Kevin Rudd may want to look it over? It might come in handy for him.) Regretfully Ellis Island has been closed since Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 and no re-opening has yet been scheduled.
However the old girl on top of the pedestal was open so along with maybe 800 other people we boarded a large ferry for the 12 minute journey out to Liberty Island. Those 800 people joined an equivalent number of twice that, all of whom seemed intent on having their photo taken in front of the statue. Because of the relatively close distance we were to the statue and the fact that if you walked backwards you would be in the Atlantic Ocean, most photographers had no idea how to fit Lady Liberty and their subject into the view finder at the same time. A fish eye lens usually does the job. Always carry one in your pocket …..
She is actually an impressive statue close up and the Yanks should be proud of her as they fight to retain the USA as a free country.
Once back at Battery Point, the consensus was that Canal Street would be given a miss. Most already had their $10 Rolex’s anyway. So from Bowling Green station at the very bottom of downtown Manhattan, it was back to midtown and 53rd Street. Once again the subway proved to be no challenge whatsoever. 35 minutes later we were freshening up ready for the night time activities.
It was always going to be the night tour of Manhattan but the rain of the day and the expectation of more tonight prompted four gentlemen to decline the opportunity of sitting on top of a DD bus in the rain. But guess what? It did eventually rain but we had a great 90 minutes without any heavy stuff. The tour guide wasn’t Frank so that was a good start. Jose was the man, a 15 year veteran of the tour bus scene. We knew instantly he was gonna be good because anyone who wears their New York Yankees cap backwards is a cool dude. Most buses follow the same route, but not Jose. He kept telling the driver (Hose B?) to veer off the beaten track and we went to places I certainly haven’t seen before in NY. In fact the looks on the faces of the people in the streets suggested that “they ‘aint seen a tour bus in some time honey”.
We went over the Manhattan bridge into Brooklyn to see New York City lit up like a Christmas tree from across the East river. It was coming back across the GWB that the rain set in and Hose A ordered the bus back to base at Times Square. From here the party scattered and went their own ways. Me? I fired up Skype on the iPhone and used the 4G network to show those back home what the heart of New York looks like, live, wet and in colour.
Day 13 – Tuesday July 23rd 2013
After a busy 5.00am start for me personally, the balance of the day was set aside for everyone to do as they wanted. The Midtown Circle Cruise on the Hudson River was popular, as was the Bronx tour which includes Yankee Stadium, plus the Uptown Tour which takes in everything above 57th Street, including Central Park and right up to Harlem around 157th St. By the way the street numbering stops at 193rd St!!
Central Park really is an oasis in a city which, if it was a child, would best be described as being hyper active. It simply never stops, whether it is 5.00pm or 5.00am. Central Park however provides much needed relief to both the city dwellers and the workers who flood out of the office blocks or their apartments to walk around in an eerie peace and quiet. For a few moments, the world is shut out for them whilst sunbaking, roller blading, walking the dog, swimming or ice skating in winter.
Or they hire a horse and buggy to cuddle up and canoodle with their loved one while the driver takes them around the park. At 840 acres the real estate value must be inestimable, but of course it will never have any of it released for sale to developers. 7th Avenue runs right down alongside Central Park and is a most picturesque street, as well being known as Museum Mile.
The group I was with got off the Uptown tour at the Plaza Hotel which to this day still records Mick Dundee amongst its most famous inhabitants. It really is a fabulous place. We then walked to 8th Avenue and on to Broadway where at #1650 lies the Stardust Diner. This place employs budding actors and actresses who are understudies in Broadway shows to not only wait the tables, but to take a microphone and belt out the numbers from their show walking around the top of the booths. A novel concept indeed and one that works!!
By 4.30pm it was time to head for Penn Station and prepare for our AMTRAK train ride back to Lancaster at 6.35pm. We caught the subway from underneath our Hotel, but when attempting to get into the station, one member of the group who shall remain nameless, managed to create bedlam on the Seventh Avenue turnstiles. Entry is via rotating arms which flip over once you have passed through. Now to be fair, these entry points aren’t really designed for passengers carrying baggage.
The chaos started a little earlier when Peter Hanson (buggar I mentioned his name) managed to hold up 20-30 impatient New Yorkers when he couldn’t get his swipe ticket to register and allow him through. In the end, out of sheer frustration the guy behind him leaned over and swiped his own ticket which then allowed H through. Unfortunately for Pete, us and now 50 New Yorkers behind him, he managed to get through but his carry-on bag inexplicably got entangled in the rotating arm firmly bringing the whole mechanism to a dead stop.
Passengers wanting to catch their train then had to find other ways to get in, whilst in the meantime H just stood there mesmerised by what he had done and apparently oblivious to the fact that peak hour commuters weren’t happy at all. Enter Rex Sutherland to the rescue who diligently evaluated the situation and in a minute had extricated the handle of the bag from the rotating arm and midtown New York returned to normal life again.
The remainder of the subway journey went without incident ….
I’ve mentioned before about the incredibly cheap prices of beer and liquor in America. New York however appears not to have got that memo because to while away an hour or so, the lads dropped into TGI Friday’s for a drink. At $8.50 a beer and $12.50 for a bourbon and coke, (H had the bourbon to settle his nerves) we made the one drink last a long time.
The Keystone service #655 once again pulled out on time and headed for Philadelphia enroute to Lancaster. Unbeknowns to us we had chosen the “library car” to ride in. It’s called the library car because no noise whatsoever is permitted in the carriage. No talking on cell phones, no conversations with fellow passengers unless they are seated beside you and all electronic devices must be listened to with earpieces. The only thing they didn’t mention was snoring, which did come into play when H put the seat back and assumed his normal pose. A few digs in the ribs and he was OK though.
Arriving in Lancaster around 9.00pm and seeing the Chevy waiting for us in the parking lot was a tender moment for us all. Mainly because it had the esky in it. But in reality the Chevy is our home whilst on tour and it was like greeting an old friend after three days in the most vibrant and wide awake city you could ever go to. Everyone who lives there must drink gallons of undiluted red cordial every day …
Day 14 – Wednesday July 24th 2013
Today’s events weren’t originally on the itinerary when it was devised 15 months ago. After finalising the schedule and costing it accordingly, Eldora Speedway and NASCAR decided they would run a race for the Camping World Trucks on Tony Stewart’s half mile dirt oval. It was an opportunity too good to miss so with some great help from Jonathan Bateman at Eldora we secured 17 prime seats between turns 3&4 at this event that sold out in a matter of hours. Which meant that we had to drive from York, PA to Greenville, OH in the one day, plus pick up our newly arrived Short Tour passengers in Dayton on the way through, then get to Greenville to check in and on to the track.
At 759 kms it was a long day which started at 6.00am when we left York at dawn. Particular thanks to the staff at the Courtyard Marriott who also rose early to give us breakfast. We break these long trips into quarters with ¼ time today coinciding with a Starbucks’ service centre on the I-76 Pennsylvania Turnpike. The second quarter was a long one when we targeted a Wal-Mart for fresh food, sandwiches, rolls, salads and fruit. We have a health conscious lot on the Full Tour!!
The third quarter didn’t have much time on as it was very short with the last quarter finishing in Dayton at the Fairfield Inn where we welcomed the incoming folk. We had made up a lot of time on the freeways and actually arrived 40 minutes early which in turn gave us some much needed breathing space. Another hour to Greenville saw a super quick turnaround, bags were thrown into rooms and everybody was out the front ready to get to the Holy Grail.
With no Stubb to provide us with prime parking, we needed to use the pleb’s car parking lot, but no matter we were at the front gate when the last of the Trucks finished qualifying. From then on it was every man to himself as they scattered to buy as much merchandise as possible before settling in to the reserved seats to watch the night unfold.
And how was it? It’s difficult to say because if you were a first timer to Eldora, as many of the 25,000 strong crowd were, then it would have been an impressive spectacle. However for those who have seen sprintcars go round this track in 13.1 seconds compared to the lap times of 19-20 seconds for the trucks, then it may have been an anti-climax. Having later seen a replay of the event on TV, I can understand why those watching on the box have reacted as they did. The coverage was great, but it did make it look more exciting than it was live. But having said all that, it was fabulous to have been part of the inaugural event and if it is run again next year our 2014 Tour will be at it for sure. (Now confirmed for Wednesday July 23rd 2014.)
Day 15 – Thursday July 25th 2013
It was time to get back on the road again, but with an unscheduled stop at Winchester Speedway again for our new arrivals to also see this iconic speedway. Last night at Eldora we invited along Kirk Daugherty and Gary McFarlane from Winchester as our Global Speedway Tours’ guests as a means of thanking them for their continued hospitality over the years. They were thrilled because it had been a sold out event for months.
Kirk gave me the heads up that next year, assuming Eldora run the trucks again on Wednesday night, they want to run a “Thursday Night Thunder” race for wingless sprints at his track to capture the crowd (like us) who are in the area. Just keep your fingers crossed because if that happens it will be another huge bonus to our itinerary. Accommodation in Winchester won’t be a problem as the only Hotel in town is owned by Charlie Shaw the owner of the track!! Remember him?
There was no Nissan there for individual rides this time, so to compensate the Chevy did some laps (at a sedate speed of course) riding high on the 37° banking up on the fence.
Jason and the staff at the Courtyard Marriott in downtown Indianapolis welcomed us on arrival for our next three nights and our rooms were ready even though it was only 11.45am. After a quick lunch at the Bourbon we were off to the Target Ganassi Indy car race headquarters. Today we received the best tour yet of this establishment. We were taken to places that we had not seen before. Needless to say cameras were not permitted inside, but it was OK in the entry foyer where two race winning cars sit on display amongst the hundreds of trophies won over the years. And in the back garage area for the transporters it was “Kodak time” for as long as you like.
There are no Indy car races this coming weekend so all the cars allocated to Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti were perched up on stands where 14 or so of the 103 employees Ganassi were working on them. There were six cars in the no cameras area and even more again outside. The Franchitti car for the Mid-Ohio race the following weekend was being prepared with a special one off blue livery for GE and other major suppliers to Target. The gallery will soon show photos of the rear of the complex which had five immaculate transporters sitting there just itching to get back out on the open highways again carrying their precious cargo. Included in that number was the catering transporter which is where drivers crew and sponsors are entertained. Even the full time chef was there chatting away to us.
After 90 minutes at Ganassi’s it was a stop at Tony Stewart’s merchandise shop where hundreds more dollars transferred themselves from Aussie wallets to the cash register. As they also did in Brownsburg when the Simpson shop was raided. We actually arrived there just one minute before the doors shut. The young lady there (Kody Kinser’s sister) was initially a little miffed that she had to do some overtime, but when something like $1,300 was passed over to her for various goods, she became very delightful indeed. Turns out that Taylor actually travelled the length and breadth of Australia with her Dad Kelly and Uncles Steve, Randy and Mark who were the famous John Player Special (JPS) foursome in 1985/86. She has some difficulty in remembering much of it though, given that she was aged one at the time.
Dinner tonight was back at the Bourbon. It should have been at the famous El Rodeo Mexican restaurant where Indy car drivers used to regularly eat the night before the Indy 500 in case it was their last ever meal. Bodies were weary at this stage so the decision was to have a monstrous meal over there which allowed people to return to their rooms at their leisure.
Day 16 – Friday July 26th 2013
Scotty Jenkins’ birthday
Most left the Bourbon voluntarily last night and walked the 50 metres home, whilst others needed assistance to even make that distance. It really is a friendly “pub” where staff and patrons genuinely enjoy Australian company. Americans are infatuated with those from Downunder and love talking with us. Or better still they love having us talk to them. I reckon that at times our accent is very harsh, but apparently it’s not to an American ear.
Indeed we get bottled up in unlikely places by Yanks who simply want to keep us talking. Check out chicks in supermarkets and shops will deliberately make a mistake in the change so we have to wait around and talk to them while they fix it.
People reading this Blog may think it strange that we are in Indianapolis on the day of the Rolex Sports Cars racing at the “big track” and not one of us are in attendance. It really emphasises two things. Firstly the speedway has to be losing money hand over fist by continuing to have this class of racing there because no one else except relatives and friends of the drivers are there to watch. And secondly, it proves the point that it would be wrong for us to include this day in the overall tour price.It should always be optional …
So what was done? Washing, swimming, shopping, walking the canals, sleeping, putting in footy tips, cleaning souvenired banners in the bath and writing the Blog numbered amongst the most popular attractions.
PS Shayne Andrews. The number has risen to 19 banners with the coup de gras lined up from the Bourbon after the Brickyard has concluded. Watch this space for more details. Young Luke on this tour has been easily our best to date.
Around 3.00pm we assembled in the foyer ready to drive to the Union Jack Hotel. One of the main features of this pub is the Silver Crown car that sits right in the bar. Not to mention speedway photos, plus 20 TV’s tuned 24/7 to the Speed channel. All it needs is an Australian singer to entertain. (Gotta get you there one day Greg Hayes.) Plans for an early dinner were spoiled because of the time it took to get our meals. Hearty they were, but a 60 minute wait at 4.00pm was a bit odd. ‘H’ took the honours today when his pizza cost him $36. No one, most of all Pete, is yet to work that one out.
At 5.30pm we hit the road to the quaintly named Gas City. Formerly known as I-69 Speedway, it lies 70 miles north of Indianapolis and is a splendid little ¼ mile bullring. Tonight was a regular local show with 410 non winged sprintcars, UMP Modifieds followed by the good ol’ local boys in their Thundercars. Racing started at 7.10pm and finished at 9.20pm. Short sharp and terrific. Once again 410 non winged sprintcar racing has captivated the imagination of yet another tour load of Aussies.
Scotty enjoyed his 32nd birthday today and he couldn’t think of a better place to celebrate than watching sprintcars.
An early return to the Hotel in Indy also meant an early start across the road around 11.00pm. After all there was still four hours to while away. I’m reliably informed that a 2014 model Jeep became the centre of attention when the proud owner decided she wanted to show off its capabilities. One of which was the ability to start the engine when the remote control is activated while standing at the bar.
Having done so and with permission from the owner, Michael took the Jeep around the block for a spin. At least he’ll be able to evaluate the Jeep against the Ford Mustang that H has engineered for him to test drive in Pella. Apparently Michael wants to drive a Musty here in the US so an e-mail was fired off to the Pella Ford dealer telling him that a wealthy Australian from Warrnambool would be calling in. And could several different model Mustangs be made available for him to evaluate and test drive. Mr Anson and his adviser Mr Hanson (yes that is correct – it’s the old Anson & Hanson show) will then make a decision later as to which two to purchase and ship to Australia. Apparently a return e-mail confirmed that the bait had been swallowed.
Day 17 – Saturday July 27th 2013
Today was always going to be an interesting one. The Nationwide cars were not proving to be too attractive to most but Rex and Dennis chose to go along. The trusty Chevy conveyed its small payload to the track then took off to find other things to do such as have the back row of seats put back in. We had been travelling without them through the eastern swing but now with five more passengers the additional seating is required.
Meanwhile back at the Hotel many and varied things to do around downtown Indianapolis were found to occupy six or so hours before we left for Lucas Oil Raceway (still better known by its original name of Indianapolis Raceway Park) for tonight’s USAC Silver Crown and Midget show. Having delivered the majority of people there the Chevy took off again back to the ‘big track’ to pick up those who went to watch the Nationwide cars.
It was early and the race had not yet finished, so a very relaxing hour or so was spent parked under a shady tree right opposite the track while listening to the sound of engines from inside and the call of the race on the FM car radio. Probably not delightful to many, but it was very peaceful in a strange kind of way!! A whole hour without a deadline to meet, or anything to do.
The USAC show was disappointing from a car count point of view. Just 14 pavement midgets and 18 pavement Silver Crown cars. That was it. USAC strung out the qualifying, two midget heats and a feature race for both classes to finish at around 11.00pm. Not good enough really and to make matters worse the temperature dipped dramatically to the point where Gerard looked like he had hyperthermia when he got back in the van.
The less said the better about this race meeting. Although having said that, it was yet another famous track for our tour members to say they have been to. Next year we will be at Lincoln Park in Putnamville for non winged 410 sprintcars on the dirt. They had 53 in the house tonight ….
Day 18 – Sunday July 28th 2013
The lead sports’ story in Monday’s USA Today’s newspaper summed up the Brickyard 400 perfectly. The author wrote:
“I think it can be truthfully said that Indianapolis now has two famous annual parades in the city.
“The first is the Indy 500 parade throughout the streets of the city on the day before the famed 500 mile race in May of each year.
“The second is now firmly established as the annual Brickyard 400 in July at the Indy speedway”.
The crowd was poor, there was only one pass for the lead all day under green flag racing (apart from changes involving pit stops) and the race was totally processional. A huge disappointment and if it wasn’t for the desire to actually see the Indianapolis Speedway itself, this race should disappear from future itineraries. Illinois Sprint week runs parallel for four consecutive days at four different tracks. Perhaps that should be considered for future MoM tours. Having said that, Indy has to be seen, so we might do two Illinois Sprintweek events and therefore miss the Rolex and Nationwide races, but return for Sunday’s Brickyard 400. Sounds like a plan …
We arrived early at 9.00am to enable our members to take their surprise Track Walk which we hadn’t told them about. It enabled those who wanted to kiss the eight rows of bricks at the start / finish line to do so. For those readers not in the know, the Indy 500 and the Brickyard 400 winners traditionally get down on their knees and kiss the bricks. Patricia however didn’t want to kiss them, she just wanted her photo taken sitting on the bricks whilst knitting!! Of course we were able to accommodate that for her. Along with one of Indiana’s finest crouching behind her.
There is plenty to do and see on the infield including the Museum and the large commercial display in the Midway where all the car suppliers to NASCAR showcase their road going products. Or visit the Music festival, or line up behind thousands of others to watch the drivers make their traditional walk through the crowd to pit lane. Or get an unprecedented close up view of the cars undergoing final technical inspections.
At 1.00pm it kicked off and at 3.45pm it was over with former sprintcar driver Ryan Newman taking the win quite easily in the end. Our seats on the main straight were right on the start finish line and directly opposite the pit bays of Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jnr. Which proved helpful because it gave us something to watch. It must be remembered that there is no place at all anywhere in the complex where it is possible to see the whole track. At 4kms long (all as an oval) the grandstands are so immense that they restrict vision for main straight patrons to just the main straight. It and the back straight are 1.6km long, so you see ‘em once and then wait for them to come around again 40 seconds later.
To make matters worse, the giant jumbotrons (TV screens) that are out around the track so spectators on the infield and in the turns can see the TV broadcast are not available to main straight patrons who have paid for a premium seat. These people have to try to watch it on two smaller screens which are pretty well impossible to read names on.
But then it was on to Kokomo 75 minutes north for the annual Bob Darland Memorial non winged sprintcar race. It took an hour to get out of the Indy parking lot and then, because all the streets become one way to get the traffic out, you may finish up going in completely the wrong direction to where you really want to go. It was only a small setback but it and the traffic snarls caused by construction in Carmel meant we missed the first heat at Kokomo.
However the feature more than made up for it of course with Wes McIntyre taking victory over Bob Darland’s son Dave.
Bedtime was 4 miles down the road at the Courtyard Marriott in Kokomo.
Day 19 – Monday July 29th 2013
A leisurely departure from Kokomo was the order of the morning as it was a mere 180 miles to Chicago, plus we gained an hour in the process.
Merrillville saw the annual visit to their local Hooters restaurant where after a good feed at excellent prices, we started what I thought would be a harrowing journey into downtown Chicago. But the traffic was surprisingly light and we were outside the Essex Inn before we knew it.
The cars were put to bed around the corner at $20 / day each and the afternoon was free to do as you pleased. But at 5.15pm the optional trip to the baseball was on offer. Fortunately everyone wanted to go so a happy group of punters headed off on the Red L Line to Addison Road where the storied Wrigley Field sits. The Cubs were set to meet the Milwaukee Brewers tonight and twice again tomorrow. The fact that both teams occupy the bottom two spots on the National league ladder didn’t deter the fans from turning out in their thousands for a Monday night game.
Maybe they should have stayed home because at the end of the 8th innings the score was still 0-0. What makes it worse is that they stop selling beer at the end of the seventh!! The crowd remained hopeful of a late charge from then Cubs but the five runs Milwaukee scored in the top of the ninth emptied the stands quicker than a bomb scare. In reply the Cubs meekly surrendered their three 9th innings batters in quick succession.
This little duck went to bed after writing the Blog, but others ventured out on the town into bars that just drip with history of the prohibition and gangster era of the 30’s. Apparently they all made it back safe and sound …
Day 20 – Tuesday July 30th 2013
This morning brought forth news from Australia which would sadden all members of the Tour. Pete Hanson answered a call from his wife Jan to hear that her mother had passed away a few hours earlier. Understandably Pete made the only decision he could and that was to fly back to Australia to be with his family. He leaves Chicago tomorrow and will be in Sydney on Friday morning.
On behalf of all members of the current tour and those who have travelled with us before, Global Speedway Tours offer Peter, Jan and family our sincere condolences.
The day thus became one which was a bit uncoordinated because in our room arrangements were hastily made for H’s return flights with sterling help from Karen Caba at ECM Travel. With Delta’s assistance, Karen was able to secure Peter’s flights without a fee or an upgrade cost which is always the case when flight changes are made to early purchase fares. Full marks and thanks to Delta in offering their family bereavement policy to Pete.
The guys meanwhile explored Chicago in a variety of ways. Some chose the Hop on Hop off bus whilst others took subways to various sports stadiums around the city. Others chose to do it all on foot. One unfortunate couple decided that they would visit Hershey’s Chocolate World on the Magnificent Mile which runs down North Michigan Avenue only to find that all it had was chocolate ….. and not 21 roller coasters!!
The evening was a disappointment. On all previous tours which have had Chicago on the itinerary we have always had a group dinner at the House of Blues on the river. However for this tour we changed the venue to Buddy Guy’s Legends on South Wabash. It will change back again next year that’s for sure. The food was very poor and the servers were snarly and without humour all night. It seemed that they resented having anyone in there to disturb their peace.
A further cover charge of $10 which was doubled for tonight as the dude playing was apparently well known. His name was Michael Charles and whilst he was probably popular with Blues fans he did nothing for us I’m afraid.
Day 21 – Wednesday July 31st 2013
With Pete’s return to Sydney, we had lost our second driver, but Michael and Luke stepped up to the plate to carry on the cause. Arrangements were made with the rental company and we were all set to continue with the final 13 days of the tour.
“H” stood on the footpath outside the Essex inn and watched us drive six blocks up Michigan Avenue to Adams Street where there is a simple road sign stating “Route 66 starts here”. Our mission for the next three days or so is to follow as much of the “Mother Road” as possible in Illinois before we get to St Louis on Friday afternoon. We could do the trip in five hours on I-55, but why would you do that when (as we now know) you can have so much fun on Route 66. And get some kicks ….
The road itself was originally built in the 1920’s and eventually made it all the way from Chicago to Los Angeles. It was of course dirt and gravel at the time but together with the train it was an instrumental factor in opening up the west to the east. Even today it is accepted that the correct direction to travel Route 66 is from east to west. That is: Chicago to Los Angeles. So many of the gas stations, motels, bars and restaurants which line Route 66 are on the right hand side of the road to cater for the majority of the traffic. In those days if people went west seeking a new life, they often didn’t come back.
Legend has it that Al Capone contributed to the costs of paving Route 66 because he figured he could distribute his illicit booze quicker.
In deference to Mick’s first ever stint behind the wheel in the USA, it was decided to forego any attempt to trace 66 through the streets of Chicago. Instead we took I-55 south to the exit for Joliet. Blues Bros fans will remember this town for sure as it was here at Joliet prison that Jake Blues was released at the beginning of the movie. Interestingly enough, a fire destroyed part of the prison last week. Police have determined that it was arson. It was here in Joliet that we received a lot of help and advice from Phil the tour guide in the Route 66 information centre. We took massive quantities of literature and off we went. Rex became our Route 66 tour guide in the absence of H who was going to take on this task because he has travelled 66 before.
When the tour first started I remember saying to the group at Indianapolis Airport that something really good will happen on this tour that we don’t yet know about. Perhaps that happened today. Ironically the first thing we came across outside Joliet was Chicagoland Speedway which is built adjacent to Route 66 Raceway. The entire complex consists of a 1.5 mile NASCAR track, a ½ mile dirt oval and a ¼ mile full blown NHRA drag strip. This joint is renowned throughout the country as a must see complex. Not even I knew it was coming up.
So what did we do? Drove up to the entrance of course, not intending to drive in without permission but with the expectation that the Aussie accent would get us through the gate. We didn’t have to wait long as a pick-up truck waved us down just 50 metres inside the premises. Having explained the position to this guy he radioed “Charlie” who must have told him that having 15 Aussies at the track was in fact a good idea.
Our instructions were to drive up parallel to the drag strip, go around the back and we would see a break in the grandstand. We figured it would be from where we could peer through the fence at the drag strip. But no we were wrong. Charlie was waiting for us and ushered us through the shute that the dragsters enter the strips from. We drove in and parked a respectable distance from the sacred tarmac that was covered in rubber from last Saturday’s drags.
From here Charlie was kind enough to provide a wonderful spoken perspective of what it’s like for a top fuel driver to be at the Christmas tree lights, see the green appear and plant the foot. Within 35 feet from the green they are travelling at 160kph and reach 528kph just 190 meters later when they must shut off. In years gone by drag racing was over the ¼ mile, but Kenny Bernstein’s death prompted a shorter distance. But according to our guide they are now reaching the same terminal speeds at 200 metres that used to take 400 metres to get to.
It became very evident that the Chevy and the T&C should conduct their own drag race on the world’s fastest drag strip. The guy at the gate on the way out described it as such because several weeks ago the planets aligned in terms of weather, atmosphere and temperature to cause the track to have the fastest 1,000 foot run ever.
There is vision to be posted of the first ever Global Speedway Tours rental car drag race. To do it on Route 66 Raceway was something that was not on the itinerary folks, believe me. It’s just stuff that happens when you are nice to other people. Being an Aussie helps. We then viewed the ½ mile dirt track and although we are oval dirt track fans, it wasn’t a patch on the drag strip adventures. Charlie is now the proud owner of a GST cap and he promised to be wearing it when we take next year’s MoM tour to Route 66 Raceway.
So how do you beat that? You can’t really, but Nelly’s authentic Route 66 Diner came a close second. Just a few miles down the road (don’t you just love that expression) lies Wilmington. It was time for lunch and the literature we had taken from Joliet suggested a few places that were authentic diners from days gone by. For whatever reason, we ignored those and chose Nelly’s. So pleased we did ….
As soon as we walked in, the patrons already in there insisted we line up in front of the blackboard menu for photographs. Those who had video cameras with audio wanted us to keep on talking. “Just recite the menu, that’ll do”. Orders were taken, unlimited soft drinks were dispensed (Heath had a beer) and encouragement was given to leave our messages on the walls and / or ceiling. A ladder appeared out of nowhere and soon enough we had Global Speedway Tours stickers plastered in prominent positions along with insightful texta written comments like “Hawthorn sucks”. That’ll keep the tourists amused until we definitely take next years’ tour back to Nelly’s in Wilmington Illinois.
Willie Nelson took over when we got “Back on the Road again” to drive through towns such as Elwood, Diamond, Braidwood, Godley, Braceville and Gardner. All of which had character, but none required a stop for exploration. What did though was the town of Odell, just five miles south of Elton John country. (The proper name of the town was Dwight by the way.) At one stage during the height of traffic congestion on Route 66, the townsfolk of Odell became fed up because it became impossible for the students of the local elementary school to cross the road to get to the Catholic Church on the other side. So we’ll build a tunnel they said. It still remains, but the church side has been filled in.
Next stop Pontiac. I understand that a few years ago, driving the remaining sections of Route 66 was difficult as it was poorly signposted but since then various Route 66 enthusiasts have lobbied the Government hard to provide the funds to make navigation easier. Nowadays the prominent brown and white signage makes it a breeze to drive and to follow where those brave folk went before us.
Pontiac for today was the best place we went to, however tomorrow, Atlanta [Illinois] takes over that claim to fame. We probably walked around for 90 minutes here trying to take in everything the town offered. From a superb Museum which incorporated not only R66 memorabilia, but a history of the town. Then there was the auto museum. Privately owned and run, it had Pontiac cars by the dozen inside. I asked about the connection between the town of Pontiac and Pontiac the car brand. It turns out the someone has taken licence because the only connection is that Chief Pontiac of the Ottawa Tribe in Quebec, Canada during the late 1800’s just happened to have a great name. Someone named the town after him and then Detroit liked the name and a car brand was born. You just can’t read too much in to these things …….
Our overnight stop was in Bloomington. Illinois that is, not Indiana which as every sprintcar fan knows is the home of the Kinser clan.
We got to the Holiday Inn about 5.15pm and once again it was a rapid turnaround. The tour leader barked instructions that because the all-time highlight of the tour was starting at 6.00pm, we didn’t have any time to lose.
By 6.05pm we were standing outside the McLean County Fair, a venue which must be said was illuminating to say the least. Picture the following as best you can. To get in it appeared that a discount was offered to anyone wearing a bib and brace overalls and jeans. Secondly, to stay inside you need to be capable of inhaling 40 cubic metres of black diesel smoke every time a ‘good ‘ol boy’ attempted a pull with his Tractor. The maximum distance anyone could muster towing the gigantic sled was around 31 ft by the way.
The spectacle was good, but only to be surpassed by the Pig Racing at the fair!! 16 piglets in four heats of four, plus an A main to decide the feature winner. Or should I say “Oreo winner” because the winning pig each time gets to the chocolate Oreo biscuit first and doesn’t have to share it with the others.
It is so hard to believe that guys can spend tens of thousands of dollars on their Tractor Pull trucks just to make one pass per night in the hope of winning, I guess perhaps, $300. But they just keep turning up all throughout the Mid-West. Tomorrow night they have Pro Tractors on the card. These have up to eight V8 motors bolted into the one chassis!!
Bedtime was well deserved by all. Before that happened though, some went late night visiting to nearby establishments who had out of date banners. Wal-Mart suffered a loss, as did anything else to do with beer or sports.
Day 22 – Thursday August 1st 2013
We only had 60 miles to cover to Springfield today so a leisurely 10.00am time slot was set for departure. It was back onto Historic Route 66 which as I said before is now so easily found. First town today was Shirley and strangely enough the next one was McLean. A highlight between the two was Funks Grove Pure Maple Sirup store (that’s the way the Funks choose to spell syrup by the way) which was a major stopping point for the early travellers.
Next was Atlanta which we found to be a jewel in the crown. We actually only stopped to get pictures of the Bunyan Statue, a 19’ high photo opportunity of a guy holding a hot dog which used to promote Bunyan’s Restaurant in Cicero. Now it welcomes people to Atlanta. There are four such identical statues along the Illinois Route 66 section, but all hold different things. Whilst there we heard the sounds of approaching cars and turned to see a procession of half a dozen cars from the 50’s and 60’s who, as we found out, are taking Route 66 in their stride. They started in Los Angeles. A 1966 Mustang convertible was one which would have put Pete H in heaven.
It was nearing 11.00am so we were invited to watch the town’s clock being wound up so that it could chime 11 times. It sounded great but with the time on the clock showing 10.56am, it went off a little early methinks. We then discovered another hidden gem when we entered a building which was filled with old juke boxes and pinball machines. All in pristine working condition. Down the street from it was the Route 66 Memories Museum which claimed to have Elvis Presley’s Rolls Royce. It was a Rolls Royce and they did have an Elvis type dummy in the back seat, but I remain sceptical.
Then for the finale we entered a small “souvenir” shop which proved to be that and more. Gerard made the purchase of the trip when he bought the entire collection of Babe Ruth Trading cards in excellent condition and housed in the original tin from that era. He didn’t need a credit card because it was only $5.00!! Others bought similarly priced items from baseball, football and NASCAR racing. We found out that a local man is gradually selling off his lifetime collection of memorabilia and each day he brings in more stuff to the shop for sale.
From Atlanta it was on through Lawndale to Lincoln where probably much to the chagrin of the USA folk reading this we chose to ignore the Abraham Lincoln Heritage Museum in favour of going bowling for the inaugural Global Speedway Tours 10 pin bowling championship. Logan Lanes got our business where the price was $2 for shoe rental and $0.99 / game!! We had a great time and after the first game Pete Physick led with a 174 game but he capitulated in the second to Rex Sutherland who won on aggregate from Peter P 330 / 316. Third was Richard Day on 271 very narrowly from Scotty Jenkins on 270.
From Lincoln we again stuck religiously to Route 66, twisting and turning as required. Broadwell, Elkhart, Williamsville and Sherman rolled beneath our wheels before pulling into Springfield at a most respectable 3.00pm. The Ramada Hotel sat nicely amongst retail shops and time was well spent catching up on needed items.
What turned out to be an eventual long night started off in the Mexican restaurant across the road. Some very reluctant people were assured that Mexican food is actually very tasty, fresh and surprisingly cheap. Not to mention the huge helpings. Most were agreeably surprised with the food, not to mention the $2 margaritas and walked out quite content with what they had just discovered.
The rest of a perfect evening weather wise was spent in the hotel parking lot emptying the dollar beer esky.
Day 23 – Friday August 2nd 2013
If it’s Friday we must now be in St Louis. Keeping track sometimes is only possible by reading the comprehensive itinerary everyone was given. We are now in our 14th hotel since we started and surprisingly no one has yet been allocated room #410. It could still happen I guess. Remembering your room number each night when returning from the track, the pub or the car park is a challenging task after all!!
When leaving Springfield this morning we called into the Illinois State Fairgrounds to take a look at the 1 mile oval track where the Silver Crown cars race just once each year and the AMA Harley Davidson motorcycles on four occasions. Like the Indy Fairgrounds, a mile long dirt track is immense and often leads to processional racing.
From internet research Litchfield seemed to be a town that was a must see so we again followed the old road at all times. On many occasions it runs parallel to the Interstate and on others it is nowhere near it as it twists and turns through dozens of small towns. Often the options are twofold with the original road from the 1920’s going one way and the post WW2 re-aligned road splitting off.
Litchfield was a disappointment except for the fantastic ice cream shop on the main drag. We had two more tasks to complete before getting back on I-55 to reach St Louis. One was the old restored Shell gas station in Mt Olive and the other was the 4th big statue at Livingstone. This time the 19’ man held an ice cream cone whereas the others hold a muffler, an axe and a hotdog.
The Courtyard Marriott in St Louis is a fine establishment right in the heart of the downtown area. With three free hours available to explore before we left for the eagerly anticipated first night of the Iron Man 55 at I-55 speedway, people scattered and went their own ways.
The weather was becoming ominous as dark clouds gathered and began releasing their product about halfway down I-55. As we neared the track it stopped but a further obstacle confronted us when a semitrailer chose to pick exactly the moment we were exiting the Interstate to flip and lie on its side completely blocking the 4 southbound lanes. For us it didn’t present a problem but for those going beyond our exit and on to Memphis faced a lengthy delay.
Pevely Speedway has only one road into it and it’s about two miles between the nearest main road and the racetrack itself. We were to find out later just how congested traffic can get. With the threatening weather the crowd and the number of cars in the parking lot wasn’t great at all. Not sure how many folk were inside because just as we arrived the heavens really opened up and even the most optimistic fan knew that tonight would be cancelled.
We sheltered in the Chevy until we heard the dulcet tones of Johnny Gibson make the dreaded announcement that there would be no racing this evening. Those in the know scurried to get their cars in line to get back onto the tiny road to freedom. Merging them with the transporters leaving the pits created a nightmare which wasn’t helped by the fact that because of the truck accident the police were diverting all 1-55 southbound peak hour traffic onto the road the speedway traffic had to get onto.
All of that caused us to remain in the car park and the occupants, as glum as they were because of the cancellation, cheered themselves up with a few ice colds. At times it stopped raining and in between showers we went inside the complex to at least see what it looked like, because tomorrow night is looking equally as threatening at this stage. It was here that Luke and Michael commenced their friendship with the guy who runs the WoO STP merchandise trailer. It was to develop bigtime over the next fortnight.
To compensate for their loss, Global Speedway Tours shouted everybody to the Golden Corral on the way back to St Louis. An interesting choice because it is an all you can eat buffet of gigantic proportions. When you have a diverse group of people with differing tastes in food, a Golden Corral solves all problems of where to go for dinner.
Day 24 – Saturday August 3rd 2013
What do you do on a Saturday morning in St Louis to cheer yourself up following a rain out? Easy, go on a free tour of the Budweiser Brewery of course. The Anheuser Busch establishment is right in the heart of the city and is unbelievably popular for obvious reasons.
We arrived early as you should always do for such things in America. It appears if you want to beat the Japanese to anything just get there before Midday. Apparently they don’t get up too early. The Budweiser Clydesdales are simply magnificent. Their historic brick and stained glass stables alone must cost a fortune to maintain in the Brewery grounds, let alone the expense for taking three separate teams of ten on the road for eight months of the year. The horses are legendary in the US and companies, organisations, sports bodies and sponsors vie for the right to have the Budweiser Marketing team choose their function as a lucky one to send the horses to. In 2010 a team was sent to the Knoxville Nationals and they brought the house down each time they did a lap pulling the Budweiser wagon with the famous Dalmatian dog (a real one) sitting proudly atop the wagon with the driver.
The Brewery has some amazing stats. Apart from the fact that they hold a 49.2% share of the beer American beer market via more than 200 different product brands, the stat I most remember concerned the amount of beer stored at any one time in one of 2,500 massive “kegs”. If one bloke could drink one can of beer per hour every day for 137 years, then he would empty just one “keg”.
At the conclusion of the 90 minute tour everyone is invited to enjoy two beers of their choice from those on tap in the biergarten. Even at 10.30am in the morning that’s an offer one shouldn’t refuse.
From the Brewery we headed for the Arch down on the Mississippi but enormously long lines on a Saturday at Midday (see I told you) meant that any hope of taking the claustrophobic ride to the top was impossible. We therefore adjourned for lunch after a bit of Chevy sightseeing whilst at the same time keeping a wary eye on the weather.
As it turned out Missouri put on a wonderful day for night 2 (or night 1 for us) of the Iron Man 55. Situated some 25 miles south, it doesn’t take long to get there. Our arrival was at 4.30pm and even though we had great reserved seats it is always necessary to get to any track early to test the temperature of the beer with the locals in the parking lot.
Once achieved and the engines can be heard from inside it’s time to go in. What followed will forever be etched in my memory. I was a rookie at this track as was everybody except the Blackman brothers. It is impossible to think that a sprintcar can be any more spectacular as they are at the high banked I-55. I would describe what we saw tonight as the best total meeting I have ever been at. Big statement, but I believe it. The talents of the top drivers are mind boggling here as their average speeds are up around the 185kph mark remembering they are lapping an oval dirt track every 10.9 seconds with 23 other cars all wanting the same bit of dirt that you want.
It is truly astonishing that a human being can do that consistently for 55 laps. Craig Dollansky, who won for the third consecutive year, describes the G forces on his neck as the toughest of any track on the Outlaw tour. When the 2013 MoM DVD is produced for all participants, it will carry unbelievable vision of the cars hurtling through turns 3&4. Some idiot was stupid enough to stand up at the fence camera in hand …..
If there was a negative, it was that it finished at 1.15am. A classic example of when a track doesn’t have a curfew to comply with, the meeting drags on.
Day 25 – Sunday August 4th 2013
Today we travelled and raced. We dropped Richard Day off at St Louis airport to catch his flight to Denver from where in conjunction with a group of mates, he was to ride a rented Harley Davidson from Denver to Sturgis for the annual motorcycle rally in South Dakota.
It was then a 450km drive tracking the Mississippi northwest into Iowa. It was a pleasant enough drive knowing that at the end of it would be the truly magnificent Royal Amsterdam Hotel in Pella. On arrival in this splendid Dutch town, the troops were dropped off to settle in and then enjoy mine host Richard Phillips’ company, whilst I drove another 190 km into Des Moines and back to pick up Keith who had flown in from Australia especially for Nationals week and Daniel who was re-joining the tour after visiting Washington DC and New York.
Sunday night at Knoxville is the Capitani Classic in honour of former promoter Ralph Capitani who ruled the joint with an iron fist for 30 years. It provides a helpful look at the track for those out of town racers who only compete there one per year. 81 drivers took the opportunity to do so.
I’ll write more about Knoxville the town, and Knoxville Raceway the track, in later days but suffice to say those who had been waiting for 27 days to see the place were not disappointed. Kevin Swindell took the honours tonight.
Days 26 to 33 – Monday August 5th to Monday August 12th 2013
The intensity of the week of the Knoxville Nationals and Oskaloosa makes it virtually impossible to write a daily Blog. Instead I will update where I can and condense eight days of action into a Blog summary. It is honestly the only way that I can do it justice, so please bear with us as we enjoy the festival of speed that every Australian sprintcar fan should get to at least once in their life.
Knoxville Raceway has a big brick wall to separate turns 1 & 2 from US92 which runs right past the speedway. Built into that wall, using a clever combination of bricks, is the outline of a sprintcar. At some stage during Nationals week you hit the proverbial wall yourself and for me that came on day 30. I’m sure you too have experienced what I’m saying at some stage of your life. The time comes when you know the body is not responding. Strangely enough I hit my wall during the World Challenge on night 3 at Knoxville when I watched the 25 cars come out on to the track, watched Jason Johnson take the lead and then as far as I was concerned watched Jason take the chequered flag to win the race.
The fact that Brooke Tatnell won it from Tim Kaeding and Daryn Pittman is not my fault. The part of the race that I saw (the first 5 laps I’m told) had Johnson comfortably in the lead. Touring with GST for 32 days is full on and the Iowa Speedweek period with Oskaloosa and the Nationals is the load that brings the body back to reality.
This piece is being written on a glorious Saturday morning in Iowa. In 10 hours’ time we will know who the 2013 Knoxville Nationals champion will be. For what it’s worth, Brian Brown is my tip. Today is one where those who haven’t yet hit the wall (and those who have) summon up enough energy to experience and enjoy the day that most speedway fans have lived their entire lives for. But more about today, tomorrow.
After the Capitani Classic last Sunday, Oskaloosa Speedway popped its head up and demanded our attendance Monday night. In previous years the Front Row Challenge has had 410 winged sprintcars as the stars of the show. But diminishing entry numbers caused promoter Terry McCarl to reconsider and invite the 360’s to race that night for the chance to win $30,000. He was rewarded with around 50 cars, including Tony Stewart as a drawcard. Although these days because Tony races so much on dirt tracks, the danger to a promoter is that if you miss him one night then you can go on down the road a while and watch him later in the week. He is actually now reaching saturation point in my view.
Although, as most readers will know by now, an accident at Oskaloosa solved that problem for quite a few months. Josh Higday was leading with Stewart a close second when Higday hit one of those almightily stupid tractor tyres placed on the infield berm to stop drivers cutting the corner. He came to a sudden stop and the force bounced him back out on to the Turn 3 track right in the path of Stewart and even his reaction times were not enough to prevent a rapid collision. The chassis twisted so much on impact that the drive line came adrift and caused the compound fracture of the tibia and fibula leg bones.
The media went into overdrive from this point on with the usual beef being how NASCAR drivers are mad to be out there on dirt tracks risking their lives. But it will blow over in due course, at least until it happens again to someone else. Heaven forbid if Kyle Larson ever gets hurt ….
The weather was great for Osky on night 1 and although circumstances prevented us from enjoying the “over the top” infield partying, there was sufficient fun on the outside to satisfy everyone.
I always knew that Tuesday August 6th would be a great day. Dave Argabright joined us today to address the touring group over lunch. Richard and Kelly from Monarch’s Restaurant inside the Royal Amsterdam Hotel provided us with their wooden panelled Boardroom and it was a perfect setting to listen to Dave’s stories about the evolution of dirt track racing in the USA and the eventual creation of the Knoxville Nationals to see just who is the best from all over the country. Steve Green was in the restaurant so we invited him in as well to hear from not only the best journalist in the country, but a man who is also a very accomplished raconteur.
Dave left us at 1.30pm to head for Knoxville to MC the special function held in the Hall of Fame to honour Donny Schatz’ 20th anniversary of his participation in the Nationals. We too were headed for Knoxville to allow a long walk around before the real crowds descend on the joint tomorrow. So it was only natural that once in the HoF we went up to the second floor and made ourselves comfortable listening to Dave interview those people who have been instrumental in establishing Donny’s career.
I hadn’t seen Schatz in the flesh (so to speak) for ages, but I was immediately taken by his rather dramatic change in appearance. When the function had concluded, Dave introduced me to Donny and my first reaction was to congratulate him on his weight loss. It turned out that 34 pounds (16 kgs) is the mark at the moment with a further goal of another 8 kilos. It was at this point I introduced “Jimmy’s Kebab shop” in North Parramatta into the discussion. Readers probably wouldn’t know that Donny always ate there after racing at Parramatta. Often with T. Stewart if he was in town. A broad smile came over his face as he realised he had been sprung and refreshingly commented that Jimmy’s kebabs are right off the menu for him now.
Nightime was again back at Oskaloosa, but this time for the non winged 410’s from USAC. The weather was threatening as usual. Note that last night was only the second of six nights at Osky for me where rain hasn’t fallen. Tonight would again change that ratio when showers cut short the feature by 10 laps. Jon Stanborough’s name was put on the $10,000 cheque, but not before four spectacular accidents had stopped proceedings throughout the night.
Just several hours earlier at lunch Dave Argabright had told the group about the evolution of wings on sprintcars but went to great pains to point out that traditional sprintcars do not use wings and the resultant accidents can be severe to say the least. The most dramatic of the night saw Hunter Scheurenburg tangle with Bryan Clauson down the back straight of the half mile oval when he rode a wheel and headed for those infernal tractor tyres which caused last night’s Stewart accident. But this time they did him a favour because they protected him from flying headlong into the start of the turn 3 fence. Flipping end for end, he eventually disappeared out of the ballpark and the last the spectators saw of him was the car popping up several times from behind the fence as it somersaulted its way into oblivion. If you’ve ever seen old time racing footage of cars leaving the track and disappearing into bean fields or trees, then this was the 2013 version. Hunter eventually climbed his way back to the track but the car would never turn left again.
The drive home from Osky was entertaining as inside Heath and Daniel found it necessary to discuss everything that opened and shut through “Mike’s hard lemonade” infused minds. On the outside constant and irrational jagged horizontal lighting from nearby storms flashed across the skies. It was no different to inside the Chevy really ….
Oskaloosa was now done and Wednesday August 7th had arrived. Four successive nights at Knoxville Raceway for the 53rd Nationals would dominate all activity from here on in. If you don’t have your ducks all in a row before Wednesday there is very little, if any time, to fix that. Wednesday we had lunch in the RAH. That’s the Royal Amsterdam Hotel, although on Sunday it became the Royal Adelaide Hospital because it housed many a headache or two.
On the way to Kerry Madsen’s race shop just outside Knoxville, we dropped into the Lake Red Rock recreational area. The lake itself is immense at 11 miles long, but the most scenic part is the one mile dam wall which forms part of US14 between Pella and Knoxville. The spillway is here as well and several years ago I dropped in to have a look and to my eternal surprise found fisherman using crossbows to shoot fish with an arrow. Video evidence proved it but since that time I have never been successful in showing tour members an actual example of fishing with a bow and arrow. Until today ….
One guy skewered a very large European carp while we were there and he took great delight in explaining and showing how it’s done to some keen fisherman we had on tour. We’d be more than happy to include some early morning fishing as part of next year’s tour.
From LRR it was on to KMR otherwise known as Keneric Racing. Kerry’s shop is an old lumber yard which was purchased two years ago and since then some significant Gavranich money has been invested to make it into a showpiece. The central workshop had no less than nine cars in it at various stages of construction. The centrepiece was Kerry’s ride for the Nationals with its concept paint scheme. Matte black with grey and red made for a stunning car. All the others were the trademark white with red, as they were being readied for future Outlaw shows post the Nationals.
Kerry was very obliging to 16 Aussies who had free rein to wander around with cameras in hand and he happily posed for numerous photos including the obligatory group shot in front of the transporter. Ian’s cars are also housed at the Keneric workshop but one was missing today as it was already at the track ready for his qualifying night this evening. Kerry would run tomorrow night.
The Dingus Lounge is a popular place to gather at any time, let alone the week of the Nationals. Like the Raceway itself, Dingus takes more revenue in this week than for the entire rest of the 51 weeks in the year. Hence AJ the owner has moved into property development and is gradually buying adjacent properties, some of which will be useful when Dingus expands and the balance are as investments. Several very old, almost derelict houses with extra large yards are now in AJ’s hands and he has set them up as places for fans to rent a spot for their RV’s. For Global Speedway Tours the spots are complimentary as we usually give back way more than what the rental would be anyway in alcohol purchases.
Tonight we were to park next to a fabulous group of Yanks who were set up in a corral fashion with three campers (caravans) surrounding a set of corn boards shaded by a huge oak tree. Just perfect. So perfect that our new found friends kept this spot for our vehicles for the rest of the Nationals. The Aussies invaded the boards and the bags flew between them every afternoon.
I left the group for a couple of hours to have a drink with Toby Kruse who was the promoter last year at Knoxville but sadly for all sorts of reasons is no longer. Whilst I was with Toby and his Marshalltown mates in the Rib Shack, Jeff Gordon walked in with his step dad who has guided him right throughout his career. He had been up at Slideways go kart track competing against Kyle Larson. It was meant to be Stewart, but that plan went out the window 36 hours earlier.
In a remarkable turn of events he sat at a table with four other people in his group, ate his dinner, had a couple of drinks and only one fan bothered him with a photo request. Can you imagine that happening at a NASCAR event!! Either he is losing his popularity amongst sprintcar fans, or sprintcar fans are far more forgiving in allowing a superstar his privacy. I think the latter ….
We were seated on the back stretch tonight and would be again on Friday night with Thursday and Saturday on the front stretch. Most agreed at our post mortem Mexican last supper in Pella on Sunday night that the back stretch grandstand offers a way superior view.
Paul McMahon was quick time tonight followed by a surprisingly rapid Lynton Jeffrey. Jeffrey would outdo everyone however later on Friday night when after racing had finished and the pits were invaded by thousands of fans, he produced probably a hundred single stem roses sitting in a container of water. He proceeded to give a flower to every female who wanted one. Plus he usually got a kiss from what quickly became a very long line of adoring ladies. What a great idea!!!
David Gravel ran away and hid in the A Main with Kings Royal winner Brad Sweet second and Tim Kaeding third. It was a night with no reds and surprisingly few yellows. If it hadn’t started 90 minutes late, the night would have been done by 10.00pm. The usual procedure followed with 45-60 minutes allowed for pit visits before returning to the Chevy for the 22 minute ride back to Pella.
Blokes reckon that shopping is not their forte and hence it looked like a reluctant group who headed out on Thursday August 8th to Williamsburg on I-80 where the Tanger Outlet Stores sit peacefully awaiting an avalanche of bargain hunters each and every day. Of course the blokes were wrong once they saw what was available by way of clothing. Over 90 individual items were eventually bought across the four hours it takes to see every store properly. Leather jackets from Wilson’s Leather were the largest purchases. With a price tag of $700 for the same item in downtown department stores like Macey’s etc, $220 seemed like an acceptable bargain.
Like Peter Hanson and the New York subway system some weeks earlier, Bob Blackman nearly brought the VF Wrangler store to a screaming halt. At 72 years of age Bob is still a very spritely man who flys his own plane and tomorrow will hop into a NASCAR at Iowa Speedway. Daniel and I were waiting in line to pay for some purchases when all of a sudden a loud voice resonates across the store. “Hey Pete, have you got any of those extra 20% off vouchers”?
We both turned to see Bob had stripped off his shirt, but hadn’t yet put on the shirt he wanted to try on. The fitting rooms weren’t necessary for our Bob. To make it worse, he was standing behind a waist high counter of clothing which gave the appearance he was totally naked. The ladies at the check-out had a full view of the (nearly) full Monty and went into hysterics. Daniel and I sneaked out as fast as we could before Bob spoke again and they realised he was with us. The rest of the shopping expedition went without incident as far as I am aware although we did have to stop to pump the tyres up on the Chevy.
Back at the RAH, the troops unloaded their shopping from the Chevy under the watchful eye of the GST video camera. The vision will be included within the Global Speedway Tours’ DVD of the trip. But played at 4 x the speed accompanied by Benny Hill music!!
Stubb and Gail had arrived in town by this time. Besides watching the racing, Stubb will be driving the Town & Country back to Chicago for us in lieu of Pete H returning to Oz. They settled into my room and off we went to night 2 at Knoxville. Bags, bags and more bags occupied Daniel, Heath, Lukey and Scott for ages. The popularity of this cornboard game will shortly intrude into Melbourne, Penguin, Hamilton and Adelaide.
Night 2 saw 53 cars attempt to qualify for Saturday night’s big race but it was Brian Brown a very impressive winner over Kerry Madsen from Kevin Swindell. Most Aussie fans struggle with the format. Qualifying, one heat each and a C, B and A Main and with no reds again tonight, the evening was a short one, but with cut throat racing.
Most of our boys behaved themselves tonight and all caught the first ride back to Pella. Hmmm? There must have been a reason. Oh yes, that’s right Friday August 9th is Richard Petty Driving Experience day at Iowa Speedway. Up early, we were there by 9.00am ready for eight people to take the Ride-a-Long, two to do the Rookie Experience package and one to do the Lifetime. At 3, 8 and 30 laps respectively it proved to be an exciting morning for everybody.
As we drove in we followed Bob Gavranich into the track. He had shouted various members of the Keneric team a drive and at times it was Global Speedway Tours v Madsen Racing out there on the 7/8th mile high banked paved track. The Ride-a-long is, as the name suggests, a professional RPDE driver at the wheel and his passenger in the right hand seat. However the Rookie and Lifetime Experiences allow the student to drive, with the RPDE instructor in the passenger seat.
Depending on all sorts of factors, speeds can get up to 120mph (192kmh) and as the confidence grew, Luke, Daniel and Bob the Stripper reached those targeted speeds in their cars. Needless to say RPDE offer all sorts of optional extras and ‘in car” videos of the rides were bought along with very quickly made and extremely impressive plaques with photos of each person in the car along with speeds and lap times.
This afternoon we had a surprise. There was nothing to do!!
Late afternoon it was back via Lake Red Rock to Knoxville for night 3. Friday night’s racing has changed dramatically since Toby Kruse introduced a brand new format to allow those who had bad luck during Wednesday and Thursday to have a second chance of securing a Saturday A Main spot. Win Friday’s A Main and you secure position #17 on Saturday. Second, third and fourth get 18, 19 and 20. A full night of racing with 81 cars. Plus there was the Speed Sport sponsored World Challenge which had 25 cars in it tonight. Brooke Tatnell was the beneficiary of another newly introduced rule which allowed the winner of the World Challenge to take position 25 in Saturday’s A, if indeed they hadn’t already qualified through on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday.
Now repeat all that back to me!!
The wing manufacturers were a little happier tonight as quite a few red lights punctuated racing on Friday. Kyle Larson decimated the field to take position 17, plus Cap Henry, Chad Kemenah and Jac Haudenschild also picked up $10,000 just to start the A tomorrow night.
Bodies were starting to get weary by now so for Saturday August 10th it was a group decision for one vehicle to depart for Knoxville at Midday and the other would leave at 2.00pm. Just choose which one you wanted to be on. But we would all meet up under the oak tree at some stage. As it turned out that wasn’t to be until well after 1.30am and even then four were missing. You see once Dingus closes on the dot of 2.00am, the parties continue in the Fairgrounds behind turns 3 & 4. The sun always comes up on these and possibly up to 2,000 people are still going, drivers included who after a week of intense competition, take the chance to let their hair down with the fans before getting back on the gruelling World of Outlaw trail next Tuesday night in Nebraska.
But before the partying, there was a race to win. It was quite sad to hear the crowd boo Donny Schatz when he won his seventh Knoxville Nationals in remarkable fashion. He only made the starting line up by winning the B Main and started 21 in a 25 car field. 50 laps was the distance with $150,000 to the winner and $75,000 to the runner up. Brian Brown led the race easily and at lap 10 he was a full straightaway in front. But what he wouldn’t have known was that by then Schatz had advanced from 21st to 8th.
Ian and Kerry would have made Joe Madsen a proud father by both making the field, but any semblance of brotherly love was thrown out the window when Kerry clipped Ian and took out his front wing. The subsequent damage caused Ian to invoke a yellow while he had his car inspected in the work area. They couldn’t get it replaced in the allocated two minutes so the crew elected to send him out without one as they knew it was only a matter of time before the compulsory pit stop flag was shown.
They were right, it was displayed two laps later and the extra time allowed Ian to resume with a safe race car again. Schatz was up to 5th at the break and was looking ominous indeed. On the resumption, rubber was evident in turns 1 & 2 and to be honest things became a procession from that point on as King Donny powered away from everybody to win as he pleased. The furthest back anyone has ever started and won the Nationals is Steve Kinser from 13th spot years ago. Donny decided to do it from 21, such is his class.
We always include the day after the Nationals as a tour day in case of a rain out and Sunday is needed. It wasn’t, so those who were capable dragged themselves out of bed on Sunday August 11th to visit the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. Acknowledged as the biggest State Fair in the country it lives up to its name and four hours spent there is well recommended. One of the highlights is being able to buy virtually anything on a stick. The ultimate is fried coke. It is Coca-Cola flavoured batter that is deep fried and then topped with Coco-Cola syrup, whipped cream, cinnamon sugar and a cherry. It is estimated to have 830 calories per serve.
Wrapping up the tour is now a tradition to walk down to the El Charro Mexican restaurant in Pella where the last supper is held and stories are swapped about the tour over very potent margaritas. Friendships were cemented on this night and it became quite emotional with everyone describing their highlights and fun times. It was also an opportunity to get feedback about how the tour can be improved and constructive advice was willingly given, received and analysed by all.
Next door is Billy Jak’s saloon so an adjournment was made into there for a couple of nightcaps. The Global Speedway Tours’ 8 ball title was conducted for the first time and a Croweater took the honours. Scotty Jenkins defeated Gerard Pursell in the final. Like Rex Sutherland, who is our GST 10 pin bowling champ, Scotty received absolutely nothing for his win. Next year, we will be ready with prizes as these two comps will become staple items on the itinerary.
Monday August 12th
Sadly it all had to come to an end at some time and today was the day.
Patricia, Daniel, Scott, Luke and Keith went first when we got them to Des Moines to catch individual flights to various post tour holidays. Pat to Idaho, Daniel to LA to catch his employer Virgin Australia’s flight to Melbourne, Scott to Vegas, Luke to New York and Keith to Tulsa.
The rest were picked up by bus around 2.00pm to catch their 5.04pm flight to Minneapolis and then to LA and on to Sydney. As I complete this blog, they are still in the air and without doubt will be fast asleep after the most hectic 32 day tour you can imagine.
- Daniel bought 58 T-shirts, 12 Hoodies, 9 NASCAR models and 4 Sprintcar models.
- Luke didn’t buy any banners, but he souvenired a sum total of 45 on the last count I was given.In fact across the course of the tour, Luke and Michael became such good friends with the guy who ran the STP merchandise trailer for the Outlaws, that on the Friday of the Nationals he gave them an invitation to his wedding in November!! Unfortunately for Luke and Michael it is back in the USA.
- The main work horse, the Chevy, travelled 5,128 miles (8,204 kms) while the luxurious Town and Country did a bit less as it didn’t do the Pennsylvania swing.
- 10 pin bowling champ – Rex Sutherland
- 8 ball champ – Scott Jenkins
- Food eating champ – Daniel Kirby by a country mile. His capacity is immense. Even the waitress in Applebees in Pella admitted (without prompting) that she has never before seen anyone eat so much in a single sitting.
- Stripper of the Month – Bob Blackman
- Wit of the trip – Rex Sutherland. Quiet, reserved but amazingly quick with the funny one liners.
- Most creative. Patricia Little when she sat on the 8 rows of bricks on the Indianapolis start finish line and knitted.
- The T-Mobile champ – Michael Anson who managed to make more calls and send more text messages from his phone than everyone else combined. Of course that was after he was informed that he was initially sending his text messages to Pete Physick rather than his girlfriend.
- Heath and Gerard Pursell. Congratulations for putting Tassie on the map.
We will do it all again next year at the same time.
Not to mention the February 2014 Florida Speedweek tour. We still have a couple of places available should you be thinking of coming along for the ride.
Keep an eye on the website for details of prices and dates along with the 2014 Month of Money tour itinerary. The reduced value of the Aussie v US dollar will mean there will be a price increase.
It simply cannot be avoided as we do not want to diminish the tour’s added value in any way.
Watch the website for testimonials from this year’s tour members. When they recover it’ll be time to put pen to paper to record their thoughts for us.
Hope you enjoyed reading it all the way through.
If you have any comments we would love to hear from you via