2014 Month of Money Blog
All the fun and adventures of the 2014 Month of Money tour will appear here as regularly as we have time to post them.
Updated and completed in full as at Wednesday August 13th
Day 1 / Tuesday July 8th 2014
Seeing Indianapolis Speedway from the air is an awe inspiring sight. It will be a lasting memory for the 14 folks who jetted into Indy airport bang on time at 7.00pm tonight.
It had been a long 22 hours since leaving Sydney earlier today, but thanks to the miracle of international datelines we arrived in Indiana just “six hours” after leaving Australia via Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. Some even had a longer look at SLC than the others.
It was a weary but excited group who climbed into bed tonight after experiencing the hospitality of the Bourbon Street Distillery across the road from the Courtyard Marriott Hotel, which is always our home when in Indianapolis.
Day 2 / Wednesday July 9th 2014
Communication whilst on tour is vital as people tend to get lost from time to time, or simply just get engrossed in the atmosphere of the moment and lose track of time. So it was off to the T-Mobile shop to get US SIM cards for everybody. With that done it was off to Lima, Ohio for our first race at Limaland Speedway … the Brad Doty Classic.
The three hour drive was broken for lunch in Centreville at I-Hop which claims (like every fast food chain in this country) to have the “best burgers” in the land. Well I didn’t test that theory but Adam and I can vouch for the fact that they do have the best Philly Cheesesteaks we have ever tasted.
The exit we wanted to take off I-75 into Lima to our Hotel was closed for road works, so the next one got a run. What followed was an eye opener indeed as we travelled through an area of Lima which is best described as “the indigenous part of town”. The troops were slightly concerned as to what they were seeing assuming that the whole town may be like this. Although the Chevy has no door locks in the back (mainly because there are no doors back there) arms reached out instinctively for the lock. But as soon as crossed over the railway tracks, the scenery changed dramatically and Lima became just like any other US town … fantastic.
A quick turnaround at the Fairfield Inn had us on the road to the speedway. It just so happened that the ride was only 4 minutes such is the planning that goes into where we stay.
A racy hi-banked ¼ mile bullring is Limaland. 44 of the best teams in the Midwest were on hand to contest a race named in the honour of Brad Doty who became a paraplegic at Eldora in 1988 when he flipped out the ballpark in turn 1. The place was packed to the rafters with fans as this race marks the start of the annual Month of Money in sprintcar racing.
To demonstrate how racy the track is and how much speeds have increased since last year’s visit by the Outlaws, the track record was broken 19 times in qualifying. Quick time went to David Gravel who actually went out as the 38th car to qualify. Before racing started the promoters recognized Steve Kinser’s final year in the Outlaws by presenting him with a commemorative bottle of his favourite beverage.
With no support class racing the sprintcar heats, dash, C&B mains were over without a yellow or red light caution. And before we knew it the A Main over 40 laps was on. Four Aussies, Kerry & Ian Madsen, James McFadden and Jamie Veal were in the final. Donny Schatz and Steve Kinser had to use provisionals and started 25th & 26th respectively. Schatz would finish 4th after a great run through traffic. Sammy Swindell led for 22 laps but was run down by the pack to finish 7th. Paul McMahon took an emotional win followed by Kerry Madsen and Daryn Pittman.
The crowd was such that the parking lot took an hour to empty, but when on tour it is an accepted practice to empty something else while the traffic clears. The esky that is ….
Once that had happened we started on the short distance home during which it was decided that food should be obtained. Burger King was the choice and like in Australia the Drive thru was the only option late at night. So the Chevy drove through and stopped at the order microphone. Permission was received from the friendly female voice on the other end that we would give her a written order comprising of 14 different choices on arrival at the delivery window.
With no other vehicles in line (at this point) all was good. Individual orders were given and to save her the need to process 14 different payments, I paid for the lot using my visa card. And then the first car drove up behind us. Oooops. Several times I offered to move the massive vehicle, but no it was, “You can remain there sir”. And then another and another car appeared in the side mirror until such time as the line disappeared around the corner.
In the 18 minutes it took to get all the food and drinks inside the Chevy, two cars got that pissed off they left, and no doubt others would have as well, but they couldn’t move. Finally Ms. Burger King bade us farewell and we drove back to the Hotel car-park, distributed the orders and devoured them at 12.30am there and then. All the drink orders were Coke (to save time) and as usual they were massive cups. The Jim Beam available at the Chevy bar for two dollars a pour (use own discretion) came in handy to finish off the coke.
Now comes the sequel to this story which I’ll tell you about now rather than in tomorrow’s update.
Upon waking up on Thursday morning I discovered that my Visa card had been blocked by Citibank’s fraud department overnight. I guessed at a possible cause, but dismissed it as improbable, before ringing them in Australia.
But no, I was right. The dudes at Citibank considered that a single payment of US$83.97 at a Burger King in Lima, Ohio was probably not made by me and blocked any further transactions. I guess they must have thought it had been stolen by someone else on the opposite side of the railway tracks in Lima ….
The phone call cleared things up and further credit expenditure is now permitted.
Day 3 / Thursday July 10th 2014
Another day like today cannot happen again on tour. That doesn’t mean anything bad happened, it just means that nothing happened. No plans had been made other than for bodies to recover from flights. We only remained in Lima because if last night’s racing was rained out, it would have been held tonight. That wasn’t the case, so it was a day to explore the town, sleep, swim, go for a run (only Terry Barry did that) or think up nicknames for tour members.
We have young Jason Kitchen on board with us this year who is travelling with his Dad Peter. Pete by the way was one who did go swimming, but misjudged the depth of the Hotel pool and tried to clean the bottom with the bridge of his nose. The two band aids should come off in a week or so. But back to Jason. He not only has the same christian name as Jason Crump but there is an uncanny resemblance there as well. Hence Jason is no longer Jason, but “Crumpy”.
For dinner it was off to the Golden Corral which boasts an all you can eat buffet for $11.97. Always a popular choice on tour it caters for every possible food preference. Choosing places to eat and styles of food categories to please all palates is never easy, but the Golden Corral satisfies everyone, everyday. Tonight was no different.
The balance of the evening was spent taking over the Hotel foyer to “bench race” as the Yanks call it. Topped off by having Brad Doty join the group to speak with us. Always a thrill to have legendary people meet our tour guests.
Tomorrow is the first of seven races in nine days, so the pace is quickening. R&R in the form of three days in New York City follows!! Eldora Speedway has our company tomorrow and the popular tip amongst us and many good American judges is that Kerry Madsen will take his first Kings Royal win on Saturday night.
Keep an eye on this blog to see how it unfolds.
Day 4 / Friday July 11th 2014
Note to self.
Hotel in Lima is well located to shops and restaurants, but its proximity to the railroad line (missed on Google Earth) is of concern. American train drivers love blowing the horn long and loud. Especially those who travel through the level crossing to the adjacent grain silos every hour during the middle of the night.
Despite the above, it was a bright and bushy tailed lot who assembled in the foyer ready for the new day which would end with Eldora Speedway and the “Knight” before the Kings Royal race. Our first stop was Wapakoneta, the home town of Neil Armstrong, the first human to set foot on the moon. Our objective was the Neil Armstrong Air and Space Museum. The museum honours “all Ohioans who have attempted to defy gravity.” Besides Armstrong, that list includes the Wright Brothers and astronaut John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth. Must be something in the water ….
A very interesting couple of hours were spent there before heading back west to Greenville, our home for the next two nights. It just so happened that we had to drive right past Eldora. Who would have guessed? As those who have been there would know, this track truly sits in the middle of nowhere. In fact there are T-shirts which proudly proclaim that “if you know your way to Eldora without a map, then you are a true sprintcar fan.”
Upon arrival at the Greenville Inn, our rooms weren’t ready, so lunch was partaken of at Kathy’s Diner. A typical American rural restaurant which served essentially homemade food such as meatloaf, salmon patties, pot roast etc. Everything was delightful, except perhaps for those who ordered iced coffee. Hot coffee with milk and ice wasn’t what they were expecting.
Eldora sits right on Route 118, 17 miles north of Greenville and we were there around 4.00pm. The “Stubb compound” was our first point of call and as always Stubb, Gail and friends were waiting to warmly welcome the new group of Aussies to their favourite place on earth. There is always a parking spot there for us from where it’s a mere three minute walk to the entrance gates. I headed there to pick up the tickets and again, as always, most of the team walked with me so that they could get into the track without delay.
Taking people to Eldora is one of the highlights of the tour for me. To see the looks on their faces as they drink in the surroundings is very special. Not many words are spoken, simply because it is impossible to speak when your mouth is wide open in awe. Tickets were distributed, pit passes were purchased individually, (at just $5 per person by the way) and suddenly I was alone. They just vanished inside the cauldron that is the Big “E”.
Meanwhile back at the compound, Stubb was his usual self. Entertaining, informative and generous with his genuine love for Australians. As was Gail, whose loyalty to her exuberant husband continues to amaze me. A few beers and many laughs preceded 6.15pm which signalled our time to go inside. The proximity of the track to Stubb’s ancient caravan known as “The Palace” makes it impossible not to know when the cars have hit the track for engine starts and hot laps. Like Lima on Wednesday night, mufflers are non-existent at most mid-west rural tracks. The noise is just phenomenal.
The Friday before Saturday night’s Kings Royal is called the “Knight before the Royal” and is a stand-alone race program, not a two day show. The pits were full with 48 410’s and 38 360’s. All high quality cars and drivers. The 360’s might look like a support class but at Eldora they are treated as part of the show and provide excellent racing.
Merchandise Alley was given a huge workout with loads of T-shirts for self, family and friends transferred from the driver’s trailer to the Chevy for an eventual home across Australia. Entry to the infield pits is via a tunnel under the back straight and the pit pass gives access to anywhere you would like to go. Including standing up against the infield concrete fence on turn 3 where just a metre or two away are cars going at 160mph into the corner. Brandon has some Go Pro footage of what it’s like to do that and it will be included in the Global Speedway Tours (GST) video of the whole 35 day tour.
Before the race at Lima we introduced the GST tipping comp. $2 allows your tip as the night’s winner to be recorded by the resident bookie, Adam Hawkes. Until our Short tour guests arrive on July 23rd the pool is $28 / night, but jackpots if the winner is not selected. No one picked Paul McMahon in Lima, so the total pool became $48. Equally, no one picked Sammy Swindell tonight, so tomorrow the pool grows to $84 for the Kings Royal.
We had great seats to watch great drivers, racing great cars at a great track. Everybody had a ball interacting with the Yankee fans who love meeting and listening to Australians speak. Bedtime was around 1.30am which will be about the same for most race nights on tour. It is a grueling schedule, but you wouldn’t be dead for quids!!
Day 5 / Saturday July 12th 2014
Apart from beer, cameras still remain the foremost necessity to take away on holidays. On a speedway tour however, mobile phones with internet access to read weather forecasts and analyse radars are rapidly taking over. The US had a highly unpredictable past winter and summer this year is no exception. Today has forecasts of thunderstorms (T-storms) at various times which are not what is needed at a dirt track speedway.
Tonight is one of the “jewel in the crown” events on our whole tour. To be crowned as the King at the Kings Royal is highly sought after. Many good judges have the KR as the race that drivers most want to win, on a track which is the fastest and most dangerous in the country. There are no small accidents at Eldora. Just very large ones.
25,000 people packed in the complex tonight. More than half of them come out of the thousands of motorhomes (RV’s) which spread themselves across dozens of acres of Tony Stewart’s fertile Ohio soil. Nothing is grown in these paddocks. They are needed to accommodate the fans who come from across the country and the world for this race. Preferring to live their dream in an RV for three or four nights, rather than commute to hotels in neighbouring towns.
Our day started at Midday when we rolled the Chevy in the Stubb compound. The cornboards were out ready, the chicken was barbequing in the grill, the coolers (read eskies) were loaded ready and excitement was high. The annual GST sponsored “Petey Memorial” cornboard championship will be competed for today. Run in memory of the late Corey “Petey” Martin, who decided to end his life four years ago, we give two Global Speedway Tours’ shirts to the winning team.
Our Aussies are teamed up with Americans who come to play with their “race face” on knowing the importance of the competition. They are pretty good at it and it is rare that one of our guys plays in the final. Light rain interrupted the multiple games going on and the boards were put way under cover. When the umpire (Stubb) decided that the rain had stopped, the boards were brought out again but what followed was hilarious.
Stubb called a “drivers’ meeting” and everyone gathered around to hear what he had to say. He advised that the rain had adversely affected the competition surface between the boards and requested that all players “pack the track” to get it back into shape. Everyone duly followed his lead and commenced walking around and around the throwing area to ensure it was restored to a “safe surface”. Very, very funny sight …..
Last year’s winner Chris and his US partner were the repeat winners and are now proudly wearing two beautiful GST polo shirts. The chicken and salads were devoured quickly and six hours after arrival we were inside ready to see what drama could unfold tonight.
Apart from one or two exceptions the same drivers had returned to do battle once again. Brandon Wimmer was absent due to his very heavy crash last night in turn 4. Christopher Bell (a Kyle Larson clone if ever there is one) was a new starter and in fact took out the Hard Charger award in the big race. Kerry Madsen took quick time in qualifying, but the unique format of the Kings Royal can make that more of an imposition rather than an advantage.
The six heats were run and won and it was still anyone’s guess at this point as to who would win the $50,000. Kerry finished second to the retiring Steve Kinser and would start seventh, but Donny Schatz and David Gravel were off the front row. After a glittering and spectacular introduction of drivers to the crowd the first of 40 laps was in the books. Madsen looked fast and was keen to pass but he knew that you can’t win the race on the first lap, but you can certainly lose it.
The yellow caution lights came on for a spinning Logan Schuchart on lap 11 and Madsen was sitting behind Schatz and Gravel. At the restart Madsen astounded these two drivers (and everyone in the stadium) by unleashing an extraordinary restart to hit the front and powered away despite several more yellows. In an interview yesterday when asked how he was going to attack the race, Kerry replied that …. “there is only one way around Eldora. Six inches off the wall and don’t lift.”
He demonstrated that skill in bucket loads tonight. Incredibly he probably didn’t touch the wall once, except maybe coming out two each lap where the fence kinks in a little. Drivers deliberately put the right rear into this wall to get extra propulsion down the back straight. Even a fuel stop red light with two to go couldn’t beat him. Schatz and Gravel finished a distant third as the crowd went wild for Madsen’s victory. It wasn’t just because he beat Schatz, but they realised that this one time rookie from Australia had finally come of age in an arena which is the toughest in the world in his chosen sport.
We visited Kerry in the pits post-race and although there were literally hundreds of people crowded around his pit and hauler, he generously gave our group a valuable personal minute of his time to shake hands and accept some hugs & numerous pats on the back. We figured we represented thousands of Australians back home who wanted to do the same thing ….
The trip back to Greenville was a happy one indeed.
Day 6 / Sunday July 13th 2014
Couple of additional comments from yesterday …..
- Forgot to highlight that we had three winners in the GST tipping comp on Saturday night. Peter Hanson, Andrew and Brandon Turner all tipped Kerry for the Kings Royal win and split $90. We let Stubb in for the third round, provided he paid the price of entry for rounds 1 & 2. The rails bookie, A Hawkes Esq. decided that was fair.
- One of the more ridiculous things I’ve seen in recent years occurred at Eldora on both nights. The track has an enormously loud fireworks display after the conclusion of each feature race. To interview the winner at the same time is just plain dumb. Especially the prestigious Kings Royal. I can just about guarantee that no one could hear what Kerry was saying, which was sad indeed. Not good enough Eldora Speedway.
It was a late finish last night at the track but surprisingly the Greenville Inn car park was not required afterwards for post-race discussions / drinks for as long as last year when K Madsen turned up unexpectedly. This year I presume he was deservedly partying with wife Tina and crew. And in further news, John Gibson announced over the PA last night that in the last few weeks Kerry has taken American citizenship.
With all that out of the way, I should relate today’s happenings. A Sunday morning drive along the rural roads of Darke County was delightful this morning. Again the weather was a worry for us because tonight we have a date with Lawrenceburg Speedway back in Indiana for night 3 of Indiana Sprintweek. But for now we were concentrating on Dayton and the Air-Force Museum. Three hours were devoted to the exploration of this famous attraction.
Around 2.30pm we checked in at the Holiday Inn in Centreville after which people scattered to wash clothes, watch the NASCARS from New Hampshire or the Soccer World Cup final. A couple of hours later we hit the road for Lawrenceburg amid very threatening skies. A few miles down the interstate Huey sent it down. At times it was near torrential and speed had to be reduced. The trucks were the exception of course. The drivers of these monsters must have super powers of vision that other normal drivers are not endowed with.
On arrival at Lawrenceburg the smell coming from the track was fantastic until we realised it was the aroma from the Seagram’s Whisky distillery near door. The skies were relatively clear and no rain had fallen at the track, so a night of action was assured. Until they tried to get heat 4 underway as the rain was falling. We saw no more after that …. But was we did see whetted the appetites for more non winged sprintcar racing. That will come at Gas City, Putnamville and Kokomo in a couple of weeks time.
Day 7 / Monday July 14th 2014
Funny how the itinerary detailing race meetings dictates how you feel when you wake up. There is no racing tonight, so the fact that it was raining cats and dogs when we left Dayton this morning didn’t worry a soul.
Butler in Pennsylvania was our final destination 550 kms away but on the superb US freeways time flew by. Truck stops supplied the opportunities for leg stretches, tummy stretches (it’s the deep fried food) and fuel for the Chevy and the Chrysler Town & Country.
Butler is a cute little town situated just 10 miles away from Lernerville Speedway where the World of Outlaws run twin 30 lap feature races tomorrow night. Once again the accommodation is beautiful and after a long drive the spa and pool were favourites. Dinner tonight was at the legendary Texas Roadhouse where their steaks take pride of place on the menu. A few drinks for some at Monroe’s Pub followed and then the inevitable Hotel parking lot get together around the $1 beer esky rounded off the night.
Day 8 / Tuesday July 15th 2014
Right now it’s Thursday and I’m sitting in the magnificent shady beer garden of Sweeney’s Tavern in Baltimore Street, Gettysburg catching up on the Blog. But more about the town that hosted the bloodiest and costliest (in lives) battle of the Civil war later.
The drinks at the pub and the drinks in the car park on Monday night caused many to miss “roll call” at breakfast this morning. The first some saw of the outside world was the 12.30pm ride to the Chop Shop in Main Street for lunch. In days gone by a “Chop Shop” was a location where stolen motor vehicles were disassembled for purposes of selling them as parts. Lakemba in Sydney still has such places I reckon.
In Butler, Pennsylvania their Chop Shop still remains, but is now a restaurant. The kitchen (wide open to the public view) is where it all happened, however the presumably stolen equipment used to cut the cars up is now part of the Chef’s armory in food preparation. The meals were good except for the onion rings. We missed the menu reference to angel onion rings. I’d suggest that these are made by cutting the onions as finely as one possibly could and then deep frying the resultant mixture until it resembled fairy floss. Quite possibly the worst taste sensation I’ve ever had.
The balance of the afternoon was spent wandering the shops of Main Street (every town in America has a Main St) before returning to the Hotel only to leave again at 4.30pm for the Lernerville Speedway. The track is about 15 miles east of Butler in the tiny town of Sarver. The weather was sensational and the dreaded R word did not need to be discussed. The Chevy Bar was put to good use by some as they basked in the sunshine, while others used the included pitpass to once again circumnavigate the pits 12 times trying to see something that had been missed on previous circuits.
Race track food usually varies from pizza, fries, corndogs, pizza, pretzels, potato chips, hot dogs, pizza, fries, cheese burgers, fries and pizza. But Lernerville extends itself to also offer glazed pork chop sandwiches, steak on a stick (it’s a kebab) and most importantly Steve’s Sloppy Meat sandwich. The latter went down well (with fries).
Lernerville is very similar to Parramatta City Raceway, Sydney Speedway or Valvoline Raceway or whatever Barry Wauldron and Steve Green choose to name it in coming months. Perhaps Lernerville is a few metres longer in the straights, but it is the absence of a fence from turn 1 around to turn 3 which creates the illusion. And the pits are in exactly the same place. The big difference is that PCR does not have an enormous drop off from the back straight which leads to a junk yard 60- metres down. Quite an incredible and bizarre scenario to be honest.
Tonight’s racing was the usual World of Outlaws format, but supplemented by a second A Main feature race with starting positions set by reversing the finishing positions from the first feature. Donny Schatz won the first A main and started 17th in the second. After clawing his way up to eighth in the second one, Schatz had earned enough points on the night to win the Don Martin Silver Cup.
Day 9 / Wednesday July 16th 2014
Ever since the Month of Money tour started, we have always included the Flight 93 Memorial site (now a National Park) on the itinerary. And it will always remain an important component for future tours as the impact on our visitors demonstrated today. New York City quite rightfully has the World Trade Centre Memorial, and Washington DC pays its respects at the Pentagon where the third plane destroyed itself, but the fourth plane, United Flight 93 is sometimes forgotten.
The tiny Pennsylvanian town of Shanksville unwittingly put itself on the map on September 11th 2001 when the passengers overpowered the terrorists in the cockpit to cause the jet to fly upside down for the final part of its journey into oblivion. It hit the ground at 902kms / hour and subsequently destroyed itself to the extent that nothing bigger than a dinner plate was found from inside the plane. Mind you, rescuers had to dig 30 metres down before they even found the first of any wreckage. It had taken off from Newark, New Jersey bound for San Francisco just 30 minutes earlier, so the full fuel load on board exploded on impact to reduce any possibility of people recognition.
Shanksville is 120 miles from Butler and the change in the scenery as we went further east was quite distinct. The Dutch and German influence within Pennsylvania is quite marked, with their respective cultures and heritage reflected in homes, shops and names of towns. Some of today’s driving was on the Turnpike (that’s a fancy name for a Toll road) but the balance was on the highways and byways of the Keystone State through pretty little towns that one won’t remember individually, but collectively they created quite an impact.
Today was a first for us at Flight 93 because we actually arrived at a time that allowed us to hear the open air presentation from a National Parks volunteer. Her use of photos of the deceased passengers and crew to illustrate what they believe happened on board the aircraft was quite moving and informative. After which we strolled out to the crash site and paid our respects in the manner that those on board (except two) deserved.
I mentioned earlier that I am writing this on Thursday afternoon July 17th. We have today just learned about the MAS plane shot down several hours ago over the Ukraine, en route to Kuala Lumpur. The link here however is sad because many Americans fervently believe that United Flight 93 was shot down by US planes to prevent it reaching its intended target of the Capitol Building in Washington. The terrorists were quite open in the intentions. To kill as many people as possible and destroy US Trade (the Twin Towers), the Military (the Pentagon) and Government (the Capitol).
A late lunch was eaten at the home of the former Monster Burger. A restaurant in a little town south east of Shanksville. Although it’s no longer on the menu, it’s worth revealing what it was. A hamburger which weighs 15 pounds (6.7 kilos) and if you wanted one cooked, you had to ring ahead to order it for your arrival. Plenty tried and failed it appears.
Mechanicsburg beckoned and 85 miles later we had arrived at what I’ve always thought is the best hotel on the trip. The Courtyard Marriott has our head on their pillows for the next four nights. Just four miles from Williams Grove speedway and central to everything else we have planned around Harrisburg. Dinner was at Aroogas, the Sports Bar and Grille with 103 wide-screen TV’s showing every sport possible to be viewed in the United States. If anything is live, their satellite dishes pick it up.
The fact that bourbon and coke was served in beer jugs for $6 had nothing to do with the choice of venue …… much.
Day 10 / Thursday July 17th 2014
Today was an all-boys day. The delightful Fiona and the evergreen Adele elected to remain in the Hotel whilst the males went off to play at Harley Davidson, Gettysburg and Lincoln Speedway at night. A phone call mid afternoon revealed however that the Hotel couldn’t hold them. A cab had been called to take them to the nearest mall.
Meanwhile the guys rolled into Harley Davidson’s headquarters in York to undertake a tour of the production line which makes these iconic machines. Free and at no cost. Regretfully today’s tour was a modified one and whilst we saw plenty, access to the assembly line was denied. HD are very dealer loyal and if at any time they are producing new models, or varying existing ones, the public are off limits until the Dealers are called in to review the improvements. So be it I guess.
Our next stop was scheduled to be Gettysburg, but a detour to Bobby Allen’s race shop in Hanover was quickly added in. “Scruffy” (to his friends) is the original Outlaw, but now long retired. Shark Racing has been reformed for the 2014 World of Outlaw tour and fields two cars for his son Jacob, and his grandson Logan Schuchart. In an interesting genetic evolution, Jacob is aged 20 and Logan is 22!
From Hanover we drove to Gettysburg where the troops unloaded at the Tour Centre to buy tickets on the 3.00pm open top bus tour of the “Killing fields”. 51,000 Americans were casualties in the three days that the Battle of Gettysburg lasted. More were killed during this conflict than in the entire Vietnam War. Unfortunately at Gettysburg though, it was Americans killing Americans.
A beautiful clear and warm evening saw us at Lincoln Speedway in nearby Abbottstown. Lincoln is one of my favourite tracks on this tour and tonight was extra special because the World of Outlaws were making a rare stop at this 1/3rd mile oval. To have three chances to watch the Pennsylvania Posse match wits with the travelling Outlaws was a bonus. For the record Daryn Pittman took the win from a hard charging Brian Montieth from 15th. Most nights we don’t get back to the Hotel until after 1.00am and tonight was no different. A late night stop at the quaintly named Sheetz gas station satisfied all hunger pangs.
Day 11 / Friday July 18th 2014
Breakfast at the Mechanicsburg Courtyard Marriott is always superb, but now it is significantly improved by the addition of a jar of Vegemite discretely slipped in amongst the Peanut butter and Apple jelly so popular as a toast spread in this country. We have no fear of it being nicked of course as no one’s finger prints other than an Aussie’s will ever be on the jar.
Bass Pro in Harrisburg was the objective this morning. Two hours were allocated during which people wandered the store marvelling at the many different ways man can catch and kill their food. Of particular interest is always the guns and ammunition which are so freely sold in shops of this kind. Hand guns, rifles and automatic weapons are prominently on display along with massively deadly crossbows that can shoot an arrow at 305 feet per second. Clothing is of excellent quality in here and the Chevy got an early workout for the forthcoming Outlet Store expedition in Iowa.
From Bass Pro we travelled to the Eastern Museum of Motor Racing at Latimer Valley where Lynn Paxton kindly gave us a fabulous two hour personally guided tour. Paxton won 46 A mains at Williams Grove and lies sixth on the all-time feature race winners’ list there. As always the EMMR provided excellent entertainment in the form of an historical walk through of dirt track speedway racing on the eastern seaboard.
That was how we occupied the daylight hours. The famed “Grove” was where the Chevy took us tonight. Rain had knocked out the Friday of the two night National Open for the last two years of our tours here, but everything was go tonight. Historically Williams Grove ranks right up there as sprintcar racing has been conducted continuously since 1939 at this peculiarly paper clip shaped track. The fans who gather here are unique to say the least. Unbelievably parochial, they have no hesitation of instantly hating any driver who isn’t from Pennsylvania and dares to invade their space.
Sitting on the back straight tonight (adjacent to the Posse fans on Beer Hill) we watched as they avoided their worst nightmare of an Outlaw victory when Greg Hodnett won easily from fellow posse driver Brent Marks. Joey Saldana running third upheld the Outlaw hopes of a possible chance at the $20,000 tomorrow night.
Day 12 / Saturday July 19th 2014
Life on the road with Global Speedway Tours is hectic, with so much packed into each day. Occasionally one needs a sugar injection to boost energy levels followed by an hour in Intercourse. Well today was the day.
First off we drove to Hershey which was once a small town called Derry Church surrounded by thousands of acres of bare fields which no doubt yielded corn for various farmers. Then in 1903 along came Milton Hershey who decided he could build a chocolate plant outside the town where workers could live inexpensively and enjoy themselves. The chocolate bars produced here proved to be highly popular and the company grew rapidly. In 2014 the gigantic operation now makes 80 million candy and chocolate products every day.
Milton also liked roller coasters it appears because adjacent to the showpiece Chocolate World which we toured, is Hershey Park. Originally built by the very generous Milton as a leisure park for his employees, it has now grown to include 18 giant corkscrewing steel monolith roller coasters, but also retains several favourite old wooden coasters. There were more people paying for an $80 ticket to ride than you’d see at the MCG on AFL Grand Final day. The income that must be generated from outdoor entertainment complexes around the country such as Hershey Park, Disneyland and Universal Studios etc must surely outweigh the national debt.
From Hershey we continued on to DJ’s Diners on Route 340 to Intercourse. DJ’s is a 1950’s era diner we found several years ago. It’s always a great spot to stop for old fashioned burgers, fries and milkshakes. Sitting outside or inside doesn’t matter as the 50’s theming is throughout. Not to mention to speakers sending out the popular songs of the Happy Day’s era.
Intercourse is a unique place. One theory is that it was originally named because the roads (or courses as they were known in the 1800’s) connecting Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Wilmington and Erie all met in the town of Cross Keys. Some enterprising wag decided that Intercourse might be a name that could provide a way for the Amish to capture some tourist dollars. Well, give that man a medal because it worked. The village is really no different to others in the Amish community like nearby Blue Ball, Bird in the Hand and Paradise (true) but thousands flock to Intercourse to spend time in it.
We did too, for an hour or so before heading back to the Hotel avoiding the numerous Amish horse drawn buggies on the road, the drivers of which (I guess understandably) avoid photography as though their way of life will be uncovered if the modern invention of a camera records their daily exploits.
With the weather looking ominous we headed back to the Grove for night 2 of the Summer Nationals. Our usual shady parking spot was waiting for us, almost as if there was an “Aussies only” parking sign affixed to the glorious trees there. The jury is still out amongst our troops about Williams Grove. It’s a must see track of course and we will continue attending on future tours, but the half mile length causes the cars to often be strung out and little passing occurs when the best start at the front. Having said that the A Main which started at 1.15am after a four hour rain delay was a good race. Local favourite Lance Dewease off the pole headed the field for all of the 30 laps to win from Donny Schatz and Lucas Wolfe. The PA Posse finished with a sweep of wins on both nights at the paperclip shaped Williams Grove.
Day 13 / Sunday July 20th 2014
Last night’s write up should have been in today as we only got “home” at 2.20am and with a 6.30am start this morning, sleep was minimal.
The fabulous people in this Hotel had breakfast ready for us and after tummies were filled Harrisburg’s AMTRAK railway station had our full attention. The first stop is just 10 minutes down the line, but not many saw Mt Joy as they had already drifted off for some much needed sleep. When leaving Harrisburg passengers face the direction of the way the train is travelling. At Philadelphia the train splits in two with the half we were in headed for New York. The driver swaps ends in Philly and it was a mystery for most when they woke up to figure out why they were now travelling backwards.
It is fair to say that excitement was at high levels when we alighted at Penn Station underneath Madison Square Garden. Coming up from the bowels of the station onto 34th Street and 8th Avenue is quite stunning. Heads turned at all angles and one of the first sights is the Empire State Building which looms large, right before your eyes. Walking and looking at the skyscrapers is not a good simultaneous exercise. The sheer number of people on NY streets at any given time swells dramatically on a weekend. A few collisions caused some laughter but after an eight block walk we were at 42nd Street and the 56 story Westin Hotel Times Square.
No hotel on the tour will beat this one for class and location. Staff were everywhere bursting to make sure that you didn’t carry your own luggage and telling the first timer to their city everything they needed to know about it. It was almost as though they were deliberately competing for those few stray dollars you had in your pocket. Wink wink ….
Only two rooms were ready at this early time of the day so luggage was deposited in them and we hit the streets to take the first of many included New York attractions in the overall Month of Money tour price. This was the hop on hop off Downtown tour on the blue City Sights buses. We recommended on this occasion that everybody remained on board for the two hour duration which because of traffic blew out to 150 minutes. Seated up top in the sun with a great guide it was very enjoyable as Macy’s, the Empire State Building, Times Square, Freedom Tower (on the old World Trade Centre site), Wall Street and the Financial district, Battery Park, Brooklyn bridge, Soho, Little Italy, Chinatown, Greenwich Village, Washington Square …. the list is endless …. rolled beneath our wheels.
Even though the guys were seated all the way tiredness crept in from lifting cameras so often hence anything further planned for this afternoon was better left to Tuesday when time and how it is spent becomes a personal choice.
Dinner tonight was also optional with some headed out to explore for themselves, whilst a party of eight went by subway to Little Italy and Mulberry Street where at a minimum there would be 100 Italian restaurants competing for customer attention. All were filled to the brim but eventually we secured a table out the front where the passing parade of thousands could be viewed over a cold beer and some hot pasta.
A strolling accordionist was summonsed at one point to play Happy Birthday to Adam. “It’s my birthday today” is our friend Pumpa’s favourite pick up line. If he did in fact have a birthday on the days he says so, then he would be around the 750 years of age mark.
No post dinner activity occurred tonight (to my knowledge) as bodies were completely stuffed and besides there are no $2 bourbons (esky) or $6 jugs of the same (Aroogas) in New York. Adam bought one in the Hotel bar and $18 later he quickly decided that one would be enough.
Day 14 / Monday July 21st 2014
The sheer number of people in the Big Apple is mind numbing at this time of year. Times Square in particular becomes impassable due to the human mass that tries to go in every direction, irrespective of anyone else’s needs. It is said that if you can get a table at a Times Square street side café then within 20 minutes someone you know will walk past. That’s probably true, but getting the seat is the hard part.
Despite the number of tourists in town, most don’t get up till midday but on weekdays their numbers are replaced by the workers flooding into Manhattan in the morning from boroughs, suburbs and towns up to 100 miles away. 99.9% of them commute by subway and the various railroads serving the far way towns. But these guys don’t clog up the tourist attractions, just the sidewalks. Hence we again negotiated the crowds for an early 8.45am arrival at 350 Fifth Avenue. What’s there? Just look up 443 metres and 102 floors and you see the top of the Empire State Building.
From entering the building at street level, getting through the airline style security, to riding in two of the building’s 73 lifts took just 10 minutes at most. Later in the day it can take three hours waiting in lines just to reach the viewing platform on the 86th level. It was a cracker day and sightlines were great. The lower Manhattan Financial district skyline now looks striking again with the (near) finalisation of the Freedom Tower built on the footprint of the Twin Towers. Central Park to the north looked inviting as always and the Hudson River looked smooth enough to land a plane on.
The 09/11 Memorial at Ground Zero was next and the hop on hop off bus got us there. Naturally it is very sombre place nestled at the foot of the Freedom Tower. The actual Memorial has a cost to enter once you have survived the two hour wait to get in there. Apparently worth the price of admission but not the downtime to wait that long. Supplementing the Memorial are two deeply sunken pools around which are the names of those who died on September 11th 2001. Four new buildings have now been designed and are in various stages of construction to replace those which collapsed.
Wall Street and the Financial District were the next to take our footprints followed by Battery Park to join the queue to get on the Ferry for the Statue of Liberty. Once aboard, the journey was short, but the cool on board breeze was welcome indeed.
At the other end some got off to look at the Lady in all her glory and some returned on the same ferry. In particular it was our resident baseball fanatic Adam who took Terry and Gazza with him to Yankee Stadium to watch the Yankees play the Texas Rangers. He looked the part too in $200 of gear purchased the day before from the official Yankees shop on 42nd Street. It was a devastated man who saw them lose 2-4 to the Rangers. However a Facebook update a few hours after the game finished summed it up for him. “Guys, best night of my life. I think I nearly cried I was that excited.”
Meanwhile the rest went on the Night Tour of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Spectacular is a word that comes to mind. The view from Brooklyn across the East River is unsurpassed. And to finish, the bus drives right through Times Square where if you’re not pumped up, you haven’t got a pulse.
Day 15 / Tuesday July 22nd 2014
The first two days on the streets and subways were courtesy of yours truly, the local GST New York guide. Today was the day for everyone to break off and do their own thing having sussed out the joint in the previous two days. The choices made were many and varied ranging from inspecting the Aircraft Carrier Intrepid moored in the Hudson River, window shopping down Seventh Avenue, carriage riding in Central Park, the Uptown hop on hop off bus tour and finally the two hour Circle Line cruise.
Instructions were for all to be back at the Hotel by 5.15pm and that duly happened without any dramas. The return train trip to Harrisburg left Penn Station at 6.35pm, so for the final time 14 weary people trudged down 8th Avenue to 33rd Street and rode the escalator into the vast dungeon that is Penn Station.
One of the more intriguing sights down here is watching the thousands of people who have trains to catch home after work. Not the subway, but railroad lines leading out to nearby cities like Philadelphia which is 160 kms away. The board shows dozens of departures every hour and gets updated with new departures once trains have left. However the platform number is not shown until as late as 10 minutes before the train is due to leave. It’s like the start of an Olympic event with literally hundreds standing around with eyes peeled on the electronic board for their train. When the platform number flashes up they’re off and running hard for that door entrance to get on the front of the queue. All seats are reserved, so I’m not quite sure of their logic.
The train is beautifully air conditioned with very comfy and roomy seats plus complimentary Wi-Fi. This latest three day update was in fact written on the train and posted to the website from on board. It reaches speeds of 160km / hour and watching the little blue dot speed across the screen on Google maps is intriguing indeed.
At precisely 10.00pm to the second, we rolled into Harrisburg, boarded the Chevy and returned to the Mechanicsburg Courtyard Marriott just 10 minutes away. Tomorrow we have a 700 km drive to Greenville via Dayton where we pick up our six new Tour members and then it’s back to racin’ with the NASCAR Trucks on dirt at Eldora Speedway.
Sometimes we just never stop having fun …..
Day 16 / Wednesday July 23rd 2014
A barking dog at 5.30am in the morning is always annoying, but not when that dog is the wakeup alarm on your phone signalling the start of another new day on the road. The long haul across Pennsylvania through West Virginia and into Ohio was dominated by trucks on the I-76 Turnpike (a fancy name for a toll road by the way) and subsequently the free Interstate of I-70. Trucks were to be the major subject of the day for us as after dealing with the monsters on the road, we then had the pleasure of watching the Camping World Trucks at Eldora Speedway at night.
This is the longest drive we have on the tour and it’s broken into quarters to give everyone leg stretches and food breaks. ¼ time for coffee was at a Turnpike Service Plaza, after which we crossed the Appalachian Mountains, or rather we drove through them using tunnels originally built for the abandoned South Pennsylvania Railroad.
½ time was at a Wal-Mart to allow the healthy option for lunch in the fresh food section. Their turkey wraps at $2.98 appear to be the most popular. The third quarter passed fairly quickly thanks to Billy Birmingham and the 12th Man’s final CD of “Boned”. ¾ time was a quick “fill up and empty” stop at Zanesville. Fuel for the vehicles, with the other reference being to the passengers …..
At 3.45pm we motored into the Fairfield Inn at Dayton to meet our six new arrivals on the Short Tour. Introductions weren’t difficult, as four of them are named David! Fiona and Frances make the six. Within an hour we were at the Greenville Inn and 30 minutes later we were at Tony Stewart’s Eldora Speedway. Last year’s NASCAR Truck race was a sell out within 24 hours of tickets going on sale, but for 2014 seats were still available to walk ups at the gate. Whilst it was a good crowd, the promotion may have been a little disappointed. Tonight’s race however should result in another sell out next year. Having a driver like Kyle Larson in the field at the pointy end unquestionably helped. This young man certainly put on a show. His dirt track experience and fan popularity made the night. For me 2014 was a vast improvement on 2013 and in 2015 this race will again be on our tour itinerary for sure.
Day 17 / Thursday July 24th 2014
Today is a day that will linger in the memory for a long time.
- Winchester Speedway
- The Hauler Parade
- Lucas Oil Raceway
- Adam celebrates his birthday (again)
We drove in through the gates of the historic Winchester Speedway where the sign on to the track says “Through these gates pass the bravest drivers in the world”. No sign anywhere more accurately depicts what happens (and has happened) at this place. 2014 is its 100th year of operation and owner Charlie Shaw, promoter Kirk Daugherty and track historian Bob Lemons were there waiting for us on a brilliant sunny and warm morning.
Bob enthralled the group with his presentation on why the track was built and in particular how it became to have such high banking of 35° in places. He regularly brought Charlie and Kirk into the conversation for them to relate their favourite memories about Winchester and what it has meant to their life. An hour passed so quickly and I’m sure folks could have listened for two days if we had the time.
But we didn’t and besides everyone was busting to actually see the track in all its glory and to take the two high speed laps around the half mile paved oval in Bob’s Nissan 370z. All 20 had individual rides to experience the G forces in the corners and the sheer exhilaration that a driver must feel on “the hills” of Winchester.
Indianapolis was next and following a late lunch at the Bourbon Street Distillery we headed for our first look at the “big track” on the corner of 16th Street and Georgetown Road. Various classes were practicing for the forthcoming races, namely the Sportscars tomorrow, the Nationwide race Saturday and the Brickyard 400 on Sunday. It’s compulsory to drive along these two roads with the windows down simply to hear the noise. Even as I sit here writing this at the Hotel on Saturday afternoon, I can hear the cars racing from seven miles away. The city fathers don’t complain one bit however as they are too busy counting the dollars the racing industry and the fans bring into the town.
Across from this famous corner of 16th and Georgetown is Main Street. A tradition started some years ago and has now grown into the official “Hauler parade”. Race fans love race cars, but separately they sit in awe of the transporters which carry their beloved cars to the tracks around America. The parade also allows the hard working crews to get some recognition. There are no drivers at this cavalcade.
I was unsure of what was going to happen as we had never been in the right spot at the right time before to attend. I assumed that because the publicity says that the parade occurs on Main Street from 10th to 16th that the transporters would cruise along slowly allowing the fans to look, wave and cheer from the sidewalk. I was half right. At 6.00pm the first of these magnificent looking beasts came into view way down at 10th Street. They were crawling along side by side up this usually two way street. As they arrived at 16th Street the first of them stopped, followed of course in turn by those behind them.
Engines were turned off and suddenly it became apparent they would stay there. For two hours in fact. The last row of transporters stopped at 10th Street. Yes, it took six blocks to fit them all in and remember that they were lined up two by two. The trucks were pristine. The paint work on the prime movers and their hauler itself simply glistened in the late afternoon sun. It was indeed a spectacle to behold. Each truck left a gap of a metre between the one in front and a further metre sideways between them so the fans could walk around, in and out of everything.
Giveaways galore of course, but no drivers, which to me was a good thing for such an event.
Lucas Oil Raceway (otherwise known as Indianapolis Raceway Park) was beckoning so it was off to there for tonight’s Rich Vogler Classic for USAC’s Silver Crown cars. It took just 10 minutes to arrive and for everybody to have their first ever stare at these beautiful machines. They look so good just sitting silently waiting for the jockey to fire the engine and let them have their unmuffled head. Powered by 355 cubic inch motors, but bigger and heavier than a sprintcar, these cars have always been the marquee division for USAC. But lack of opportunities and some apparent dissent within USAC about how to use them, limits the number of times they race. Last year at this same event they had just 12 cars from memory. So it was with some trepidation that we took the group there knowing as well that the midgets had been canned for the night through lack of entries.
Qualifying was at 7.00pm and at 8.50pm the 100 lap race started. There were no other support divisions, nor any heat racing. A bonus however was the invitation that USAC extended to the “Old Timers’” to show off their lovingly restored racecars from yesteryear. No racing allowed, just spirited demonstrations by owners of cars from the golden era of midgets and sprintcars without roll cages. The men who drove these cars in the 50’s and 60’s, where death waited around every corner, were so brave. Just like the sign says on the entrance gate at Winchester Speedway.
At the midway point of the race I discovered the tunnel leading to the infield. Unmanned by any official I tested the water and within seconds I was out on the grass inspecting the pits and watching the cars scream down the back straight. A quick phone call to others to relay the good news saw many more GST tourists join me to give their cameras a real workout from a vantage point rarely obtained.
Unlike last year, the race itself was highly entertaining with 25 entries and as such this one will also now remain on the 2015 schedule! Tanner Swanson led for 99.75% of the race but was beaten out of turn 4 on the last lap by Wisconsin’s David Byrne who became the 100th different winner in USAC Silver Crown history.
Adam’s birthday ….. was once again celebrated, this time back at the Bourbon Street Distillery post races. A goodly size chunk of our people went over there and together with the locals (who really enjoy our company) much fun was had. It really is a terrific bar and grill. Massive servings of quality food and a fun bar where interaction never stops. Indeed we spoke at length with a local guy who is playing his first ever game of AFL football with the local Indianapolis Giants next Saturday when they meet the Columbus Jackaroos from Ohio.
You might be interested to know that after looking at their website, it shows that the Giants lost by 64 points to the Veggie Mights earlier in April. They have also played the Ohio Valley River Rats, the St Louis Blues, the Cincinnati Dockers and a second team from Columbus called the Banana Benders.
Meanwhile Adam, a single good looking Aussie bloke hoped that maximum expenditure on the $4 Jack Daniels and cokes might assist in whatever it was that he was hoping to get. After all it was his birthday. The end result of the night was very apparent the next morning to all who work at Target Ganassi ….
Day 18 / Friday July 25th 2014
Friday and Saturday are the two “most unorganised” days on the tour. In previous years we have arranged entry tickets to the Sportscars today and the Nationwide race tomorrow, but based on feedback from past tour members they were disappointed with what they experienced, so both days in 2014 have optional attendance.
This morning’s visit to the Target Ganassi Indy Car race headquarters was one of only two organised events for the day. The second was 410 non winged sprintcar racing at Gas City, 60 miles north of Indianapolis. Chip Ganassi runs cars in the Indy Car series for Scott Dixon (a New Zealander), Ryan Briscoe (Australian), Tony Kanaan (Brazilian) and Charlie Kimball the sole American driver in the squad. At NASCAR level he snapped up Kyle Larson to run the 42 car in a team with Jamie McMurray. And to make it complete he runs two Sportscars as well for Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas.
Grant from the Ganassi team kindly takes our group through each year even though they do not have public race shop tours on principle. The espionage which can occur within the industry is something they are very mindful of. Indeed, apart from the vast array of victory trophies on display in the foyer and the area where the Transporters live when not on the road, cameras are banned on this tour.
All eight pit bays were filled with cars today. The first time this has ever happened for us. Gleaming red Target liveried Indy cars sat in various stages of assembly and Grant took as much time as needed to explain everything he could about them and how the company managed to field such a large team. The NASCARS and Sportscars are separately maintained in their shop in Charlotte.
It was the next step in the tour where Adam realised the horrible truth of what he had done to himself the previous night at the Bourbon. On our earlier arrival at the race shop, he was first out of the Chev to run onto the immaculate lawns which surround the two storied purpose built complex. A variety of different liquids were immediately projectiled from his stomach. Food didn’t appear which was not surprising because eating breakfast is not one of Adam’s strong points anyway.
And so upon following Grant into the workshop area which attends to gear boxes, it was realised that what we thought were black painted walls from the outside are actually huge panoramic reflective windows which allow sunlight to stream in and for the workers to see outside across those immaculate lawns. Grant made reference to this fact, but keeping a straight face, not once did he suggest that Adam’s hurling display might have come to their attention. When that same realisation hit our boy “Pumpa”, the colour drained from his face quicker than a total blood transfusion would do.
The tour concluded with rear of the building which houses the transporters (eight of them) plus all their old roller chassis’ which are carefully placed one on top of each other up the walls of the workshop. They are for sale at US$25,000 apiece.
Next up we split into two groups with some headed for Brownsburg to take a look around and the rest headed back to the Hotel. On the way we dropped Phil, Andrew and Brandon off to watch the Sportscars through until 4.30pm at which time we headed off for Gas City. Formerly known as I-69 speedway this track is a racy 5/16th clay oval. Small but very fast, it provides thrilling racing every Friday night. Tonight was no exception with the non-winged 410 sprinters headlining. Robert Ballou continued his great form from Indiana Sprintweek to take the win. A bonus was the 2014 inclusion of midgets on the Gas City card and with 19 of them, they rounded off a very entertaining night.
Nicknamed “Crash City”, if you ever get the chance then Google “Gas City accidents’ and you’ll see some unbelievable rides “into the bean field” as the Yanks so easily say.
Day 19 / Saturday July 26th 2014
Shuttles ran backwards and forwards today from the Hotel to Indianapolis Speedway, or the “big track” as the locals call it. It enabled those who wanted to see some part of the Nationwide race to do so and it also took others to their preferred sightseeing place within the wonderful city that is Indianapolis.
An easy day for a change and one which was appreciated by all.
The evening however was a different story. We had a full agenda for the dark hours and headed for the very picturesque Lincoln Park Speedway down I-70. If you don’t get off the interstate at Putnamville, then you’ll finish up in St Louis where we’ll be in a week’s time. The “dark hours” unfortunately proved to be sad ones for us with the predicted storms moving in to the area just after the three heats of non-winged 410’s had been completed. We were to see no more racing tonight and it was a forlorn group who headed back in silence to drown some sorrows over a feed at the Bourbon Street Distillery.
Day 20 / Sunday July 27th 2014
Sunday means its NASCAR day in Indianapolis. The good ol’ boys have been in town since early in the week preparing for today’s Brickyard 400. And in tune with the poor summer the country is having, the weather forecast was not at all good. Showers and storms to persist until 2.00pm and then it would clear.
Which gave us plenty of headaches from a fixturing point of view. If the 400 gets away late in the afternoon it means that we would miss most, or all of the sprintcar racing at Kokomo 52 miles to the north tonight. And as anyone who has been to Kokomo knows full well, missing anything at this track is totally forbidden.
If the 400 isn’t raced at all today and is held over until Monday, then because tonight’s accommodation is in Kokomo we will need to drive south back to Indy for the race and then when it’s over make the four hour drive to Chicago where we’re booked in from Monday onwards.
You probably didn’t need to know all that, but now you do.
A part of our problem was solved when at 11.00am text messages started coming in from American friends to advise that Kokomo had been cancelled already. So that meant we didn’t have to bust a gut to get away from Indy as soon as the Brickyard 400 had concluded, if in fact it was even raced.
So now rewind to 8.30am when we left the Hotel, bags stowed into the vehicles bound for 16th and Georgetown. Driving up 16th Street was fun with every street corner closed off by Indiana’s finest who looked mean with dark glasses shading a nonexistent sun and guns mounted openly on their holsters. Yes, they’re the traffic cops whose sole job is to deal with the mountain of cars that descend upon the speedway.
The Lot 2 parking compound was our objective this morning and the carefully selected carpark was easy to enter. $30 greased the palm of the head parking attendant to allow us to put the overlarge Chevys directly adjacent to the exit gate so we could make a quick getaway for Kokomo. He suddenly became very helpful after that transaction took place.
Instead of taking up our seats on the main straight directly opposite the pits and in front of the start / finish line, our members were led down towards turn 4 where the entrance to the pit walk started. Global Speedway Tours had arranged for everyone to be able to walk the main straight and over the famous eight rows of bricks which mark that start / finish line. A bonus that was very much appreciated. The only thing missing was the cars because of the still threatening weather. They remained in their garages rather than outside on the main straight.
Photos with Indy promotional girls were taken, the bricks were kissed, videos and more photos were taken, (“selfies” mainly) until the walk concluded at the entry into Turn 1. From there the path led past the back of the pit garages and up to the scrutineering area where cars are measured from top to bottom by a swarming team of diligent NASCAR technical guys. Kyle Larson’s car was undergoing this rigorous procedure as we walked by and we watched as the official queried the crew chief as to why there was tiny scratch on the body work. It had to be buffed out just in case it was deliberately put there to gain some kind of aerodynamic advantage.
Still no rain, so we kept on strolling around past the giant Pagoda inspired Control Tower, through the Midway area where all contributing sponsors get to showcase their wares, then further on via the infield golf course to the back straight. It truly is a mammoth complex but today sadly the weather was inhibiting fans from showing up and the attendance looked miserable at around 11.30am. As glum as we were having heard 30 minutes earlier that Kokomo had already been canned.
But then without warning I absentmindedly put my hands up to my eyes to shield them from the sun. Then I quickly realised what I had done and looked to the heavens. There was a god after all as the stormy dark clouds were clearing, patches of sun and blue skies were appearing. We might just get this thing in on time. The people who had been outside waiting to see what the weather would do before paying their money, began to flock in.
The final “compulsory” thing to do on Indy 500 or the Brickyard 400 day is to try to get a glimpse of the drivers as they emerge from hibernation to walk down a corridor to the cars. This passageway is outdoors and fans line both sides 20-30 deep in the hope that they can get a sight of their favourite driver’s fingernail. After being presented trackside to the crowd and the millions watching on TV they all have to walk down a set of stairs at the back of the podium to get to their cars. This is the place to stand for pictures and hi fives.
Those stairs were easy for everyone to walk down, except Tony Stewart who struggled big time to negotiate them because of the clearly not yet healed broken leg he suffered at Oskaloosa last year. That and the excess weight he has on board hindered him dramatically. When you see the video you’ll be astonished.
And then it was 1.22pm and with formalities finalised the first of 160 laps was in the books. 43 unmuffled Sprint Cup cars going at full speed under acceleration down the one mile long main straight sending their decibels directly into the grandstand is something that lives with you forever. Attempting to describe it in words is like trying to take pictures to demonstrate the banking at Winchester Speedway. It just can’t be done!! So one day you’ll just have to see / hear it for yourself.
The race was uneventful throughout the middle stages but came alive when NASCAR decided to throw in some “competition cautions” in what looked like an effort to bunch the cars back up again. If any readers can help me understand how a “competition caution” comes about, please let me know one day. The crowd was delirious as Jeff Gordon took the chequered flag for his fifth win at Indianapolis Speedway. Californian by birth, but a long time resident of Indiana, it was abundantly clear that the local boy had won.
With no Kokomo racing to get to, there was no need to hasten the exit to the cars and we messed around a little before dawdling slowly along with the masses. But I was impressed when the $30 richer parking attendant saw us walking towards the cars and immediately came over to express concern that we would not get out fast enough to make the start at Kokomo. Bless his little heart.
He felt so sorry for us that he held up all traffic exiting the 1,000 acre car park to give us our own departure privileges. Sadly however that was only for the carpark he controlled. All vehicles on the streets are now at the mercy of those Indiana traffic cops who, without fear or favour, decide where they want you to go, irrespective of what direction you want to steer your car in.
The congestion was immense, but for once it didn’t matter to us so we just inched along staying in the same lane for an hour to move maybe two miles. Normally with Kokomo calling us, we would be fretting that the opening heats would start without us. Of course when that worry is not on your mind we eventually arrived in said city at 6.15pm, 45 minutes before racing would have started.
It’s always the way isn’t it?
Day 21 / Monday July 28th 2014
Time goes backwards for us today as Illinois returns one hour of our life when we cross her border. Kokomo to Chicago can be on the interstate freeways, but for us today that wasn’t to be. With plenty of time available we travelled the rural byways of Indiana through to Merriville where a couple of tables would await us at Hooters for lunch. The inevitable promotional photo (for Hooters and us) followed outside with the girls happily posing with the group before returning to the tables.
Whilst we have been travelling the American roads the scenery is always diverse around each corner, but some things always remain the same. Some observations follow which, on behalf of the group, really reflect what we would do if my wife Laima and I moved to live in America:
- The chosen city or town would have to be within a minimum 100 mile radius of three Outlet Shopping Centres and seven speedways. That ratio is important because in general speedways race only on Friday, Saturdays and Sundays. Whereas the Outlet shops are open every day and it would be highly unfair if Laima was to gain an advantage here.
- Our chosen house and property would be on a rural road, would be white with a flag pole erected in the front garden and an Australian flag would be flown constantly. Suitably illuminated at night of course.
- The house will have a minimum of two barns built “around the back” and will probably be painted white with a red roof. We would progressively fill them with stuff which the next generation will think they need to buy or collect.
- There will be a magnificent garden with tulips, daffodils, a magnolia tree and every colour of white, purple and lilac tree we can get. And at least an acre of lawn (Kentucky Blue grass) which will be cut every third day with my brand new ride on lawnmower. There won’t be a grass catcher and at every available opportunity the cuttings will be spewed out onto the road for the passing traffic to disperse.
- Parked somewhere on the property will be a Motorhome, which should look as though it hasn’t been moved for 12 months. Next to it will be a classic car with a For Sale sign attached advertising it at a ridiculously cheap price.
- We will accept the proposal from the Government offering to build us two silos. One we can use for ourselves, but the other we are not allowed to look into. Only the CIA will know if there is a rocket inside pointed towards Russia.
- We will also have a free swimming hole which has been dug by the road constructors who needed soil to build up the overpasses so abundant within the US road system.
- Each morning I would awake early (only in summer because in winter I probably can’t get out the front door due to the snow) and go for a walk. Whilst doing so I would lift up the little red flag on everyone’s letterbox to make the mailman think there are letters inside to be mailed.
- If the state we choose to live in isn’t in a designated tornado zone, we will watch for the warnings and do a “Helen Hunt” and go chase Twisters.
- Food shopping (I’m not aware that they have created Outlet Stores for food yet) would be done at Wal-Mart and whilst there, another $120 will be spent on stuff that is desirable, but totally unnecessary.
- Our vehicles will be black (of course) and won’t be cars as Australians know them. I will own a truck (read Chevy pickup) and Laima will need an SUV in order to bring back the entire Outlet shopping without requiring a U-Haul trailer.
- On Fridays at about midday, I will head for the nearest interstate freeway in our RV towing a white enclosed 25 foot trailer. Other rev heads will then look at me saying, “I bet he has a race car inside there”. Then they will be just like me.
- For a job I will own a liquor store and sell beer and bourbon at prices higher than $15.99 for a carton of 24 Budweisers and $15.28 for 1.75 litres of America’s favourite drink to have with Coke. Plus large jars of vegemite. Mind you, I’d go broke trying.
- Laima’s income would emerge from entering every game show on television. A few thousand each month from Jeopardy, Family Feud, Millionaire, (now even Super Millionaire), Wheel of Fortune, Deal or No Deal etc will be plenty. But she would excel on “Shop till you Drop”, which would make up for my business enterprise, or lack thereof in the alcohol business.
- If the income from the game shows wasn’t enough, she could moonlight as a Lawyer, based on her degree earned from watching four episodes of Law & Order every night preceded by 1½ hours of Judge Judy.
Enough of letting the mind wander …..
After Hooters we tackled the 50 minute drive into downtown Chicago and much to our surprise traffic was reasonably light relative to what it can be. In places the freeways traversing Chicago and suburbs are 24 lanes wide to cater for the massive number of trucks using the dual I-80 and I-94 to travel east and west.
The Essex Hotel on Michigan Avenue had our company for an hour or so whilst folks prepared for the baseball at Wrigley Field. This side trip is always optional but it proves popular every year as was the case again tonight. The perennially poor Chicago Cubs were playing the Colorado Rockies in the first of three successive 7.05pm games. It’s always a spectacular night (more of an event than a game) with the continual organ music grinding out the tunes in the breaks between plays.
Unfortunately for Adam who had just seen his beloved Yankees lose at home in New York, the Cubs, often described as the worst team in baseball, took the win 4-2 and the home crowd were delighted. It was the first time sce coming here that I have heard the Cubs song on the PA system such is their ability to lose at home. And it’s a great tune as well.
The final comment about today is seeing first-hand the “bottoms up beer” dispenser in action at Wrigley Field. See the video on www.bottomsupbeer.com These units inject beer through the bottom of a plastic cup at nine times the usual speed via tap. And they have a mere 5% wastage of the keg as the beer is poured perfectly every time.
Apparently invented by a 22 year old kid who got sick of waiting in line at the football for a beer, the secret is that the cup is specially manufactured with a hole in the bottom which has a metal donut style ring built into it. Affixed to the metal ring is a small circular magnet which is pushed off the metal ring when the cup is placed onto the dispenser. When the cup is removed from the dispenser the volume of beer in the cup pushes the magnet back down and it seals the hole perfectly.
When you’ve finished the beer, the magnet is yours to keep. They are totally covered in advertising logos making it a brilliant fridge magnet to keep. The cost of the cup is clearly more than usual, but the minimal beer wastage more than makes up for that. And experience shows that more people drink more beer when they can get it quickly. The best stat is that a four hole dispenser can pour 44 schooners in 60 seconds ……
Day 22 / Tuesday July 29th 2014
Chicago was “on offer” for everybody today, all day. Like New York, we don’t include breakfast in the tour price because it is ridiculously expensive in big city hotels, plus it is far better fun choosing your own deli or bistro from the dozens in the immediate vicinity of the Essex.
Everybody joined in the spirit of exploring and between them, I’m sure that each and every tourist highlight was seen by at least one of the group. Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) was popular as was Navy Pier and walking the Magnificent Mile, a prestigious section of Michigan Avenue running from the Chicago River to Oak Street on the north side. Shops along here have hugely expensive price tags as they exist amongst the Trump International Hotel, the Wrigley Building, the John Hancock Centre and the Chicago Water Tower.
A group dinner was planned for the House of Blues but because of a major event in the venue they would not accept our booking. So to compensate, we went next door to Dick’s Last Resort. Whilst there we became aware of exactly what was on at the HOB. Hundreds and hundreds of screaming schoolgirls were inside and out to watch the latest boy band “The Backstreet Blues” who were performing tonight. Thank goodness they didn’t honour our booking!!
Dick’s Last Resort was a hoot. The concept for the restaurant has waiters who are deliberately rude to you and encourage come backs at them to promote interaction. At times it was hilarious, particularly when each member of our party received an overlarge tall paper hat to wear. Vanity prevents me from telling you what people had written on their hats, but if you want to know, ask them to tell you when next you see them.
The Cubs played the Rockies again tonight at Wrigley Field, the second of four consecutive matches this week. Good job we went last night. This evening’s game went to 16 innings before a result was achieved 4-3 to the Cubs. 6 hours 27 minutes after the start at 7.05pm, the game finished at 1.32am. It was the longest game in the history of the Cubs at Wrigley Field. The stands were virtually empty when we watched the end of it on TV in our rooms.
Day 23 / Wednesday July 30th 2014
Route 66 was waiting for us as the city woke up on Wednesday morning. Whilst ours wasn’t an early start at 9.30am, most of the group were up and about to find another exciting place for breakfast and also to see a city such as Chicago wake up and come alive on a beautiful morning. The weather was great yesterday and today and will be again tomorrow. Why??? There are no races scheduled for each of these days.
Leaving from the corner of West Adams Street and Michigan Avenue, we coincided the departure with the exact starting point of Route 66. The entire road finishes 2,451 miles (3,945 kms) later on the west coast at Santa Monica, California. We however, will only cover 484 km over the next three days and then only just the Illinois section from Chicago to St Louis.
It’s too hard trying to follow the old Route 66 out of Chicago so we took I-55 south to the Joliet exit. The Blues Brothers fans amongst us will know that the movie opened with Jake being released from prison in Joliet. Although this facility doesn’t have guided tours (strange), it is the first thing we went past on the way to the Route 66 Welcome Centre. It was here that maps and info booklets were eagerly gathered to ensure that nothing was missed between here and St Louis.
The Welcome Centre was more welcoming than usual, especially to a group of speedway fans. Taking pride of place alongside life size statues of Jake and Elwood Blues was a beautifully restored cageless Kurtis Kraft Chevy II midget. It looked fast standing still and would’ve looked even better being towed behind a Chevy 15 seater van.
After Joliet we called into Route 66 Raceway which lies adjacent to the Chicagoland Super Speedway complex. The former is a fully fledged NHRA drag strip whilst the latter hosts the NASCARS. Like last year Tom on the gate (now the proud owner of a 2014 Global Speedway Tours cap) let us in to drive down to where Charlie (he owns a 2013 GST cap) was working on the starting gates cleaning the rubber and other garbage left by the dragsters last Friday. As usual Charlie was super helpful and spent as much time with us and answered as many questions as could be asked of him.
Then it was off the half mile dirt track on the property. Oval track fans like us are dismayed when they see such a place which is now merely used for Demolition Derbies. The fact that 8,500 people turn up to watch each time, probably means they will keep doing it for a while. But having later met the boss over at the NASCAR track inspection, we learned that plans are definitely afoot to restore the dirt track in an attempt to get the World of Outlaws into their world next season.
Lunch at Nelly’s in Wilmington was next. Nelly was thrilled to see us once again and immediately pointed out that our GST decals (stickers) were still on the walls and roof. Jason used the provided ladder to climb up and sign the roof. We were delighted to see him sign off as Crumpie and not Jason. Secretly I reckon he likes the nickname ….
Next stop was Pontiac which houses an automobile museum of (you guessed it) Pontiac classic cars. The Route 66 Hall of Fame is also in this township which is a place that Adele has now created as her favourite town so far. From there we meandered along a few dozen or more miles along old Route 66 which is easily signposted by looking for brown and white directional signs on each intersection.
Bloomington (Illinois – not Kinser country in Indiana) was our stop for the night at the Holiday Inn. For no other reason than the McLean County Fair had a Tractor Pull on tonight. $7 got us into the typically American Fairgrounds and another $8 entitled us to swallow five cubic metres of black diesel smoke every 120 seconds when another supercharged 10 litre tractor engine attempted to pull a heavy sled 300 feet or so down a dirt track. I think I’ve said before in these blogs, that Tractor Pulling makes sprintcar racing look like a white collar sport!!
Part of the group stayed right to the end (well it was actually only one person) while the others made the 10 minute walk to the Hotel or went into the amusement area for a bit of fun. Such as watching the annual pig racing. The dude who runs it has a transporter for the pigs and lays out a track for them to race on. The livery on the truck proudly states that he is a member of the NPRA. Impressive indeed, until you realise it stands for “National Pig Racing Association”.
Day 24 / Thursday July 31st 2014
Here’s another thing I had to Google. “How many towns and/or cities called Springfield are there in the United States?” Believe it or not the answer is 38. 39 I guess if you include Homer Simpson’s mythical home town. That’s why all Yanks proudly state their town and state when asked where they are from.
It was more of the same, but different today as we drove just 60 miles to Springfield, Illinois and the Ramada Inn for tonight’s bed. The wonderful town of Atlanta was one of the highlights of the day. It houses many things such as a Pinball Museum, Elvis’ Cadillac, Gunnar’s Trading Company (he did real well out of us) and the historic Palms Grill Café. Angel (that’s her name) was working in there and she took pride of place. Heavenly is a word that came instantly to mind. The young blokes in the group would have been quite happy to leave the tour early and live in Atlanta the rest of their life. She honestly looked good serving coffee, making milk shakes, cutting lemon meringue pie or just simply standing still like that Chevy II midget back in Joliet. Adam was besotted, but quickly discovered she was married and to make his day go from bad to worse, he learned that her husband’s name was Adam!
Next major stop was Lincoln. Abe wasn’t born there but he did practice law in the town from 1847 to 1859 and despite his immense popularity in the US, this town is the only one specifically named after him. The “world’s largest covered wagon” is found in Lincoln and a statue of Abe sits atop in the driver’s seat with reins in hand. Quite apt when you think about it because President Lincoln really did guide a large chunk of development in that period of America’s history. By the way there are 42 Lincolns in the USA!!
Next door to the covered wagon is Logan Lanes and like last year we had lunch in there whilst at the same time, the Global Speedway Tours 10 pin bowling challenge took place. 15 of us rolled the balls over two games, each of which cost the enormous sum of $0.99. Yours truly took the honours followed by Mitch and Dave P. Fiona finished a gallant last. Prizes were an ultra large and very snazzy Route 66 fridge magnet.
There’s not much to see along R66 between Lincoln and Springfield except the potholes in the original road. We took it nevertheless, just to say we had driven as much of the road as we could. We were ahead of schedule so called into the home of the Illinois State Fair which starts next week. But we were there to inspect the one mile dirt track at the Springfield Fairgrounds. Throughout the fair it will have horses on it, but at most other times auto racing is its purpose since 1910. August 16th will see the Silver Crown cars return to the “Springfield Mile” and the flat track AMA Harley Davidson’s are there again on August 31st.
As usual we checked into another great hotel. This time the Ramada took our money as did the Xochimilco – a fabulous Mexican Restaurant right across the road which will continue to receive our custom on each and every tour. Lovely owners who have very heavy hands when it comes to pouring drinks and putting food on a plate. The quantities are enormous.
Day 25 / Friday August 1st 2014
As each day passes, we are getting closer to Knoxville, Iowa. But first we have to get through the Iron Man 55 at Pevely Speedway 25 miles south of St Louis. If winged sprintcar racing in the USA had a “Triple Crown”, it would be the Kings Royal at Eldora, the Knoxville Nationals and the Iron Man race here at Pevely. One driver winning these three particular events during the Month of Money would be a huge achievement.
Litchfield was our first destination this morning. Located about 35 miles further south than Springfield, Litchfield has some great R66 places to see. One such establishment is the Ariston Café at 413 Old Route 66 North, believed to be the oldest café on Route 66 anywhere, not just in Illinois. Entering it is like going through a time warp with the furnishings exactly as they were in 1929 when weary travellers would stop to wipe the dust from their eyes (the road was unsealed back then) and re-energise in this precise same spot.
Some preferred milkshakes at the adjacent Jubelt’s Bakery, yet another institution on R66, but the majority went in for “morning tea” at Ariston, perhaps in the forlorn hope that Angel may have relocated to Litchfield. But alas that wasn’t be, although Heather was there. She resisted all requests to consider a permanent move to Georges Hall in NSW.
The Aussies quickly became the favourites of the other diners and the staff who obliged all photo requests made of them. The Café’s great reputation for service, food and unbelievable desserts captured the taste buds of Fiona, Jane, Frances and Adele who wanted to have another “Ladies Day” lunch in there, but sadly the Ariston would be too far away in a few days time.
Next stop was a brief one in Mt Joy for Russell and Henry Soulsby’s well-preserved Shell gas station. When I-55 opened and bypassed Mt Joy Russell taught himself the electronics business and repaired TV’s to make ends meet. Nowadays the station remains permanently open for tourists. There is no resident person on site and the T-Shirts and other mementoes on sale are simply kept in big plastic boxes on a serve yourself basis …. just leave your money in an old oil tin for whatever it is you buy. Can you imagine this still happening in 2014??
Further down the road was Country Classic Cars which features 600 vehicles all in varying states of condition. Housed inside massive sheds this took the breath away for some who could have spent 24 hours there carefully examining each and every one of them. Glynn took a complete catalogue with him having identified at least four classics he would put in a container and ship home to Brisbane. I think he’s deadly serious too.
And finally the Pink Elephant in Livingston was our last stop before re-joining I-55 for the short drive into St Louis. Country folk from around the district clean out their barns and houses of collectible items and place them in here on consignment for sale. Way too much to see, but it took us about an hour to find that out.
Dark grey clouds were gathering in the western sky and it was only the drivers who watched the road as we made our way to the Courtyard Marriott in downtown St Louis. The rest looked silently through the windows at the clouds coming closer and closer to where they were. Tonight was speedway night in Pevely and it increasingly looked like that this may not happen.
On the 27 mile journey south to Pevely, the only noise inside the van was the gentle rumble of the V8 engine purring away. The happy voices normally so alive were silent. No one spoke a word for fear that the constant rain already falling on the windscreen may increase if they did. As we entered Jefferson County, it was as if a switch had been turned off. The rain stopped and sunshine was evident. It still didn’t restart any conversation though, but what did was seeing the winding narrow two lane road to get to the track. Pevely Speedway sits right adjacent to the I-55 Interstate but the road to get to it takes you through some heavily wooded forests until all of a sudden the track just appears out of nowhere.
The rain did return at about 9.30pm during heat 2 of the sprintcars. Unfortunately it coincided with a spectacular accident on the extreme high banked circuit between turns 1&2 when 16 year old rookie Caleb Thomas nudged the fence at very high speed. The car took off and only came back down to earth again when it had completed tearing out 30 metres of the catch fence. He was uninjured but it took a team of 20 men with welding equipment to get the fence back to anything resembling safe racing conditions.
It was just as they were completing this exercise that the rain came again. Cancelling was not an option to the owner and promoter Kenny Schrader. So at around 11.30pm heat 2 of the sprintcars resumed and things went smoothly from there and we were on our way “home” arriving at 2.55am. Paul McMahon took the win on Night 1.
Day 26 / Saturday August 2nd 2014
St Louis sits on the banks of the mighty Mississippi and is actually a really good place to visit. Adele has it as her 3rd favourite at the moment, but that may change when she gets to Pella. It has always been known as the “Gateway to the West” so the construction of one half of a McDonald’s logo was constructed in 1965 to represent the Gateway. The Arch is 192 metres tall and has viewing windows at the very top. Unfortunately only those who do not suffer from claustrophobia can get up there. Each tram is a chain of small egg shaped five seat compartments which swing like a Ferris wheel as they ascend and descend inside the western arch.
The views from the top are worth it though as the Mississippi can be followed for miles as it winds its way to, through and away from St Louis. That river was the focus of our next outing as once back on terre firma, we boarded the Tom Sawyer Paddle steamer for a one hour cruise along the Ol’ Man River”. At 2,341 miles long, the river commences way up north from Lake Itasca in Minnesota and then meanders its way south through 10 states where it empties out into the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana. It was a very pleasant 60 mins on board listening to the excellent live commentary and seeing St Louis from the river.
The Anheuser-Busch Brewery tour was next cab off but sadly only Terry, Peter and Crumpie wanted to see how Budweiser and their 37 other brands are brewed. A new addition to the Brewery is the Biergarten which allows guests to not only see the operation but to enjoy lunch and additional beers on top of the complimentary glass of their product you get at tour end. I sat in the Biergarten and wrote the Blog while the three boys thoroughly enjoyed themselves on the free tour.
One great stat that comes to mind is the reference to their enormous vats which hold the beer while it conditions, or ages. The Brewery has dozens and dozens of these vats in various stages of the process. Each vat holds the exact amount of beer that would take one man drinking 24 cans of beer every day for 137 years to empty. Why does Stubb’s name come to mind as I type this?
Then it was back to Pevely Speedway for night 2 and to watch 29 cars compete for the winner’s cheque of $20,000 over 55 laps. No prizes for guessing why it is over 55 laps. Today was unique in that the weather forecasters were game enough to predict a zero percent chance of rain and they were spot on. The evening was perfect, made even better by the fact that our boy Kerry Madsen took home that cheque with his name on it in a commanding performance where at all times he looked to just simply be “in the zone”.
Kerry drove 55 laps in 11 minutes but it took us 90 minutes to get out of the joint, such was the crowd. Talk about “build it and they will come”. The single road to get in had a continual stream of traffic flowing in for hours. (We were wise enough to arrive at 5.00pm to tailgate with the locals.) But one still had to get out. Some of that time was spent with Kerry in the pits where perhaps he was contemplating winning the Knoxville Nationals next weekend to complete the third leg of what should be the World of Outlaws “Triple Crown.”
Day 27 / Sunday August 3rd 2014
The last two nights of racing at Pevely were the first of 10 successive race days. If one can get sick of sprintcar racing, then this tour is one that will do it for you.
Tonight is the Capitani Classic at Knoxville where upwards of 70 cars are expected.
Monday night is the Front Row Challenge at Oskaloosa.
Tuesday is Outlet Shopping at Williamsburg followed by a $10,000 to win Late Model race at West Liberty (a two hour drive home).
Wednesday is golf in the early am, lunch with Brooke Tatnell as our guest speaker, then a tour of King Kerry’s Knoxville race shop, followed by night 1 of the 410 Nationals.
Thursday is participating in events at the National Hall of Fame plus listening to Dave Argabright interview Steve Kinser, Donny Schatz and Tony Stewart in the Chevy Dealers’ marquee, plus night 2 of the Nationals.
Friday is a tour of Ian Madsen’s race shop up in Granger followed by lunch at Toby Kruse’s bar and grille in Boone (known as Toby K’s Hideaway), then night 3 of the Nationals.
Saturday is all day down in Knoxville for the parade through town and other events which will include a go kart race between Kyle Larson, Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart and Rico Abreu culminating with the final of the Knoxville Nationals.
Sunday is 305 sprintcar racing at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. Plus more pig racing probably.
So with all that don’t be surprised if the Blog doesn’t get updated during that time! But it will eventually carry all the news …
307 miles after leaving St Louis our entourage arrived at the delightful Royal Amsterdam Hotel in Pella. Rooms were checked into, drinks at Monarch’s Bar enjoyed before giving everyone their first view of the iconic Knoxville Raceway that sits right on Highway 14 that runs through town.
The Madsen brothers’ wonderful recent run of success (Ian won the feature two weeks ago at Knoxville) continued unabated when Ian took the win over 70 other cars and Kerry finished third. Dad Joe will be as proud as punch.
To celebrate (and with no racing tomorrow) Kerry and Ian joined Kyle Larson, Jason Sides, Kasey Kahne and Jac Haudenschild to enjoy a few cold ones with the fans in Dingus post races.
Only in Knoxville huh??
Day 28 / Monday August 4th 2014
To demonstrate just how nice Pella and the Royal Amsterdam are, about an hour or so after checking in yesterday, a text came through from Adele and Glynn. It simply said “You have left the best till last.” It was lovely to receive. Thanks Adele.
During that time and the eight or so daylight hours that followed, everybody had a chance to explore Pella in all its Dutch glory. From the canals, bakeries, windmills and tulips, the town is a sleepy one which comes alive in Knoxville Nationals week as race fans flock here to stay. Knoxville only has three motels and they are totally sold out year in year out by regulars who first booked their rooms decades ago and now have first choice each August.
Pella has six or so hotels and at just 14 miles from Knoxville it is a popular place to stay. Many fans, who travel in RV’s and caravans, book out the campgrounds and when they are full, try to legally secure a spot somewhere in the town in the back streets on private property. It is a very colourful sight indeed as the RVs vie with 110 sprintcar transporters for space. After all a driver and crew also need to sleep somewhere, not to mention spilling the contents of the transporter over the footpath to clean and attend to the object of everyone’s attention.
Tonight we were in Oskaloosa at the Southern Iowa Speedway, the site of Tony Stewart’s accident last year which badly broke his leg, the evidence of which is sadly still very apparent today. Tony was there again tonight, but not racing. He like other high profile team owners loves his sprintcar racing and takes every opportunity to get his dose of dirt whenever NASCAR commitments permit. Unbeknowns to probably everyone at the track, an ESPN film crew were following Josh Higday and his wife around the pits that night. I only became aware of it because these two guys were staying the night at our Hotel.
Josh Higday was the driver who Stewart hit last year in the accident which caused the resultant leg injury. Josh was not racing, but he and his wife were there for the film crew. Mrs. Higday had written to Stewart sometime after the 2013 crash thanking him for his extraordinarily quick reaction time to avoid T-boning her husband’s car in the driver’s cage. In doing so, Tony consequently rode the left rear wheel and cartwheeled upside down into the fence. Good judges say that this split second display of skill saved Josh Higday’s life. The ESPN crew was there to record the emotions of all involved a year later.
No one could envisage the news that was to break at Canandaigua Speedway five days later …..
360 sprintcar racing is always a great show. Again it’s only the diehards in the stands who can tell the cars are going a few 10th’s of a second slower than their big brother 410s. The night started spectacularly in heat 1, turn 2 when Cody Ledger rode a wheel and headed skywards. High enough to leapfrog the catch fence on the second flip and disappear out onto the grass between the fence and the public street. “Out of the ballpark and into the bean-field crashes” aren’t common in Australia but they happen all too often here in the USA. Cody wasn’t injured but he was done for the night. Mitch Bootland caught the whole thing on Full HD video so it will feature prominently on our Global Speedway Tours Month of Money video when produced. Thanks Mitch.
Brad Loyet finished up top in points and accepted the challenge to leave the front row and go to the back in an attempt to win $30,000. Needless to say, on a track devoid of much dirt, there was not enough in it for him to beat Brian Brown who won easily to take a lesser winner’s purse of $5,000.
As a point of interest, tonight was only the second time in eight visits for me that rain hasn’t affected racing in some way at Oskalooska. Unfortunately storms are a fact of life across Iowa at the peak of summer because of the high humidity.
Day 29 / Tuesday August 5th 2014
Oskaloosa has always had a second night of racing on the Tuesday, but not in 2014 because Terry McCarl and USAC could not agree terms for getting the non-winged cars there. So Osky was dark tonight.
What to do? Sometime ago a $10,000 to win Late Model race was scheduled for West Liberty and it was to be run tonight. Now West Liberty is two hours east of Pella and whilst a long way to drive there and back in the one day, having the Williamsburg Outlet Stores to visit on the way made the journey a happy one. As always happens, the ladies were looking forward to the shopping day and some of the blokes only went along because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t have seen tonight’s races.
After four hours, the Chevies were bulging with shopping bags. 99% of it was clothing with a few other odds and ends thrown in. My best estimate is that our group of 20 left between $6k and $8k at this place. And that’s in US dollars. The equivalent value at Australian prices would be way more than 150% of that, such are the amazingly low prices for high quality clothing in this country.
What happened next almost defies description. But I’ll try ….
The town of West Liberty lies a further 48 miles east (further away from Pella). Food was required so jointly we decided we would head for W Lib and eat there before the races. It was an easy drive along the always bursting with trucks, I-80. Included amongst them on occasions are trucks moving a variety of non-standard things, not the least of which are houses. Weirdly enough I can’t ever remember passing a house, they all seem to be going the opposite direction to us. The truck carrying the house (half of it) is easily 35 metres long and has, I would guess, 80 wheels and tyres holding it up. It is way over width and the usual convoy of cars warning drivers to be aware is ever present. You can be assured that the other half is about a mile behind travelling at easy 100kms / hour.
On other occasions the passing parade is a propeller being transported to its final resting place in a Wind Turbine farm. One of three on a tower, each blade can be up to 60 metres long and yes that is also carried by truck along the roads of America. These wind farms now produce 4.5% of the country’s power needs, with Google suggesting there are now 240,000 wind turbines in the USA.
But that isn’t what I want to tell you about. It’s West Liberty. The turnoff came for WL soon enough and we headed the six miles for this tiny town. What we hadn’t realised is that in this distance we crossed through a time warp and headed back into 1955. The race track is at the Fairgrounds (how strange) so it wasn’t hard to find. It was around 4.00pm so way too early to go in, but as race fans we had to have a look at it first. Overnight rain had done some major damage to the racing surface and the pits but crews of good ‘ol boys in their bib and brace jeans and a red neck bandana were out there working with earth moving equipment trying to shift the saturated clay.
We left them to it and drove back into “town” slowly cruising down various streets in an attempt to find somewhere to stop for a meal. Folks sat out on seats in the sun with not an apparent care in the world, except to find out who these interlopers were in Chevy vans. At one stage Terry reckons he saw the Mayor settin’ out there. He was a guy who had a long piece of straw protruding from his mouth, the farmers’ jeans on, an Al Borland flannel shirt (he’s from Tool Time) and a look on his face which suggested that on race nights he should have fitted a toll gate on the road into town. No one saw Doc Brown and Marty McFly, but they would’ve been there somewhere.
Anxious to make a decision about a meal, I stopped at J&B‘s Grub & Pub, jumped out and went inside. One customer was in there along with October, the barmaid who was on duty. I asked October if she could handle 20 Aussies for a meal and drinks for two hours or so. “Sure honey, bring ‘em all in”. Secretly I think she was doubtful that there were 19 others outside, but once everybody piled into JB’s the fun started. October immediately rang for staff reinforcements and five other staff and the owners (that’s J&B) turned up to meet these people from another land.
Adele didn’t want to go in. She wasn’t sure of what she would find, but once she was coaxed inside she became the life of the party. To the point where she moved aside the ladies behind the bar to casually walk around (without asking) videoing everybody who were seated up on stools “Cheers style” at the bar. Word got around on the country grapevine that J&B’s had some foreigners in there and before we knew it the crowd had multiplied to triple our numbers. Country folk put on their Sunday best to come to town to see what all the fuss was about. Drinks were bought, some great home cooked meals were eaten, tales were told and addresses exchanged as though we had known each other for years.
It was a phenomenal afternoon and is a typical example of what happens on our tours that are least expected. It was a jewel in the crown highlight that’s for sure. Reluctantly we eventually had to leave for the races, just half a mile away. This track exemplified the laid back country style as well. The three large trees growing on the infield on turns 1 & 2 personified that I guess. Because they were there before the track, then they should stay there.
We got a nice “shout out” from the announcer just before the feature welcoming our group to West Liberty. He also wished Adam Happy Birthday. Now I wonder how he found that out? The winner of “Tornado Tuesday’s” $10,000 was Brian Birkhofer. The two hour drive back passed quickly with a fun Q&A about things that have happened so far on the trip.
Day 30 -33 / Wednesday through Saturday August 5th to 8th 2014
This landmark, four day icon event that everybody had been waiting for finally arrived. But so did the rain and it decimated night one and essentially affected every other day as well. Wednesday’s races were totally washed out when the persistent all day rain increased in intensity at around 6.00pm. Deep pools began forming on Highway 14 and as cars and trucks sloshed their way past Dingus, it was just a matter of time before General Manager Brian Stickel and his 24 member Fairboard decided that it was futile to wait out the rain.
Announcements filtered out to those sheltering in their RVs and campers, in Dingus or under the cavernous grandstands that there would be nothing on the track tonight except rainwater. In Dingus we heard that Wednesday night will become Thursday night, Thursday night will become Friday morning (ie. raced after Wednesday night has concluded which meant at least a 3.00am finish), Friday night and Saturday nights will remain as scheduled.
All of the above assumed that the rain would stop. Overnight the Fairboard had a change of heart due to extensive criticism of their decision to race until 3.00am on a weeknight. So when we woke up Thursday morning to yet another wet and miserable day, the news had been circulated that now it would be Thursday night on Thursday night, Wednesday night Friday night, Friday night Saturday morning and Saturday night, on well, Saturday night. Hope you’re keeping up with us this.
We also had some changes of our own. Dave Argabright’s address to our group had been changed to Thursday afternoon because he had accepted extra MC commitments for his time in Knoxville, so Brooke Tatnell and his friend and car owner Barry Lewis ably substituted for lunch with the guys on Wednesday after which they spoke with passion, honesty and knowledge of their time in sprintcar racing in the USA and in particular at Knoxville.
Following lunch with Brooke and Barry we were off to tour Kerry Madsen’s immaculate Keneric Racing shop in Knoxville. Kerry and owner Bob Gavranich were generous with their time and eagerly showed us around the premises and answered as many questions as could be thrown at him. Photos and autographs were many.
Thursday arvo was spent by some attending as many different interview sessions in the Hall of Fame & Museum as they could fit in. Others spent time again evaluating whether they had yet bought a sample of every merchandise item available in the town whilst the rest spent time in Dingus. At 4.00pm we gathered at the Chevy Dealers marquee to listen to Dave Argabright interview Tony Stewart and his team drivers Donny Schatz and Steve Kinser. Obviously I am writing this after the dreadful events of last Saturday night in New York State, but thinking back on some of Stewart’s answers to Dave’s questions just makes you wonder a bit ….
The first night of racing was won by Brian Brown from Sam Hafertepe Jnr and Kerry Madsen, whilst the second night on Friday went to Shane Stewart from Kraig Kinser and Mark Dobmeier.
On Friday during the day we ventured out to Gardner some 30 miles north of Des Moines where Ian Madsen has his immaculate race shop. Given that these race cars compete on dirt and mechanics are renowned for being dirty and greasy creatures, we were disappointed to have not brought our lunch along because very honestly you could have eaten it off the highly polished cement floor. The whole operation was a credit to Ian and his Aussie mate Matt Barbra who collaborated to bring the whole thing together.
Like Kerry who has Bob Gavranich as owner and American Racing Wheels as the major sponsor, Ian and Matt introduced team owner Bret Nehring to sprintcar racing a couple of years ago. After experiencing the thrill of sprintcars just once, Bret agreed to fund Ian into a serious ride program and now Nehring Constructions are into it lock stock and barrel. Including the former D Schatz 2013 transporter.
Ian is currently leading the points at Knoxville and also at Huset’s Speedway in South Dakota which runs every Sunday night. What an effort if he can win one, let alone both.
After Ian’s we went a little further north to Boone and had lunch at Toby Kruse’s bar and grill. Yet another hidden gem where the outside does not do justice to the inside. Toby couldn’t make it so one Chevy went to visit him at the Marshalltown Speedway he promotes while the other went to Bass Pro in Altoona. Marshalltown was racing tonight and the rain had played havoc with his track as well.
Toby is a really great guy and extremely proud of his speedway and so he should be. No one had seen it before but all agreed that he needs to get a race there on the Tuesday night that Oskaloosa used to run. We’d be at it for sure, even foregoing the Mayor and our new found friends at West Liberty. By the way I can’t tell you in these pages what the B of JB’s stands for in the bar of the same name in WL. But if the girls did more of it then they would not have to keep changing the population sign on the way into town.
Saturday was wall to wall racing starting at Midday and finishing around 1.00am. Schatz took his eighth Knoxville Nationals win although it would have been nine in a row had Tim Shaffer not dented his run in the 50th anniversary of the race in 2010. Brian Brown was second to Donny for the third consecutive year and Kerry Madsen enjoyed his first podium at the Nationals. He would have been happy with that result although there is no doubt he thought he could win it.
Day 34 / Sunday August 9th 2014
Only five disciples could get out of bed early enough on Sunday morning to make the drive to Des Moines for the sprintcar racing at the Iowa State Fair. As it turned out, those five probably wished they didn’t go. 305’s on a big track leave a bit to be desired. It didn’t damage the memories of the last four days, but suffice to say this race meet won’t be on next year’s agenda.
In the evening we had a “last supper” to both celebrate and regret the end of the tour. Highlights were put forward and tall tales and true were bandied about, but most were thinking about that long plane flight back home. 14 hours with the usual headwinds across the Pacific makes for a long haul, but it must be done if you want to see the best of the best on their home territory.
Day 35 / Monday August 10th 2014
Have you ever been shopping with your wife and made the comment that if you buy anything more darl, I’ve have to get a truck to take it all home? Well it does happen. Just about everybody had bought a second suitcase to carry home all the purchases made along the way. Last Monday we returned the luggage mule to the rental company as it was no longer needed, but we always knew we had to get what would be a large amount of luggage to Des Moines today.
The solution believe it or not was to hire a U-Haul truck!! Yep it took 36 suitcases and 18 carry-ons / backpacks to Delta at the airport this morning. The Chevies took the people. Tears and hugs preceded Adam, Terry, Jane, David, David, David, David, Frances, Peter, Jason, Andrew, Brandon, Phil, Adele, Glynn, Gazza, Fiona and Mitchell trudging into the Terminal to check-in for their flight. When they turned back to wave at Peter Hanson and I the reality dawned that the tour was over. Sad but true, however each person now has 19 new friends to call, text, Facebook or sit with at their local track.
Pete and I took the Chevies back to Chicago where one got dropped off and the night spent with Karen Caba our Travel agent from ECM Travel. Tuesday saw a drive to Indianapolis to return the other one, just as the group stepped safely off the plane in Sydney.
Separately our travel troubles to get home then began, but that’s another story. You can read all about it on Peter Physick’s Facebook page ….