2015 Month of Money Blog
Written by Peter Physick
Day 1 – Tuesday July 14th …
Personalities usually come out early in a tour, but none more so than on this year’s sojourn. Immigration, Customs and Security at Sydney International prove to be a handful for most, but for 76 year old country boy Ross, it was just a touch overbearing.
Lining up at 9.30am with hundreds of people of all nationalities leaving Australia to surrender their green card and proving who you are to an anonymous machine, Ross commented that it reminded him of the cows and the bulls on his daughter’s cattle station lining up to either be milked, or castrated as the case may be.
Then to endure the body scans and x-raying of hand luggage was a further insult, especially when his backpack was rejected and searched. “Why can’t I take a 500 gram tube of toothpaste on the aeroplane” he lamented?
Fortunately Ross is still with us as the whole group begins its 35 day adventure in Indianapolis.
The flight over was pleasant, but 13.5 hours watching movies, or that little plane move just three millimetres per hour towards Los Angeles on your seatback screen can be very infuriating. A few beers, bourbon and breakfast made the time pass as quickly as it could and eventually Ross saw the west coast of the USA emerge from the clouds at around 7.15am. He changed the time on his watch and realised to his horror that he still had another 17 hours to go in the day ….
But there was plenty of stuff for Ross still to do to fill it up with. He had to give his finger prints to the US Dept of Homeland Security officer at the Immigration counter to be allowed into the country, pick up his suitcase, get through Customs (they missed the vegemite), virtually undress again at the Security to get into the Domestic Terminal (looks like the Aussies had found all the toothpaste) and then soft shoe shuffle all the way to Gate 69B to catch the 4½ hour flight to Detroit.
It was raining hard in Detroit, which wasn’t unusual as most of the mid-west has received a drenching in the first months of summer. The rain didn’t bother us physically as our departure gate for the last flight of the day to Indianapolis was just 15 metres away. Mentally however the rain was a real worry and Ross and his colleagues were most concerned about what lay ahead for racing over the next 35 days.
And then just a mere 22 hours after Delta whisked us away from Sydney we walked off our last plane until August 17th. The Indy city welcomed us with overcast but warm conditions as the adventure began with a monstrous meal in the Bourbon Street Distillery across the road from the Courtyard Marriott Hotel, our Global Speedway Tours’ home away from home.
It was at dinner tonight that Jason became “Chippy” for the balance of the tour. Through careful education from yours truly he knew that in the USA what “we call chips they call fries, and what we call potato crisps they call chips.” Poor Jase must have been practicing this all flight ready for the first time he had to use this new found knowledge. But sadly when the crunch came (pun intended) he failed miserably in the ordering process at the Bourbon.
Day 2 – Wednesday July 15th …
Significant planning goes into any personal holiday, or in our case, the holidays of 23 people across the course of the tour. These plans can’t easily be altered, however with the help of Karen Caba at ECM Travel and the folk at the Marriott chain we had to try to beat Mother Nature.
Even before leaving Sydney yesterday we had notice of the postponement of race #1 on the schedule which was set for Lima, Ohio tonight. The time honoured Brad Doty Classic was to be delayed by 24 hours due to saturated grounds. We could see on the short hop from Detroit yesterday that there was standing water across a lot of Indiana farmland, hence understood the decision.
The good news was that Terre Haute was racing tonight with Round 4 of USAC’s Indiana Sprintweek. But Terre Haute was some 251 miles (400 kilometres) from Lima where we would be for the night. Plan A was hatched and the request given to Karen to approach both Hotels to see whether we could swap the accom. Stay in Indy tonight and then Lima tomorrow night for the running of the Brad Doty Classic. Karen succeeded with two very cooperative Hotels and we were set.
At least until the sprintcar world was informed of the total cancellation of the Brad Doty Classic midway through Wednesday afternoon. Hmmm?? We had to see a race tomorrow night and there was the running of Putnamville’s Round 5 of USAC Sprintweek. It was always on our original schedule of course, but after the races we only had a leisurely 40 mile drive back to the Bourbon Street distillery (sorry the Courtyard Marriott) in Indianapolis. But we had already surrendered this night of accommodation to Lima, Ohio remember? Keeping up with all this?
There was no debate about it. We would do what any self-respecting race fan would do. We would go to Putnamville and then drive the 400 kilometres to Lima. But more about that tomorrow.
Today we had to get US SIM cards for phones, a procedure that is not without some time investment. 90 minutes or more after entering the T-Mobile store on Washington Street, the group left with new 10 digit phone numbers that could not possibly be remembered. But they were saved in each other’s phones and we are now all intrinsically linked for the next 35 days.
Around 2.30pm we hit I-74 southwest towards St Louis. But we would only go so far as the quaintly named town of Terre Haute. It means “high land” as it sits above the raging Wabash River in Vigo County. Urban myths suggest that Terre Haute is best known for its astronomically high meth labs and prostitution rings, but for speedway fans it is only known as the home of the historical half mile Terre Haute Action Track at the Fairgrounds. And the USAC stars were in town to entertain the locals.
And we were there too. The weather was kind and the fans were out in force to enjoy the spectacle. The Fair was in full force as well and if you wanted to watch the racing without paying the $25 admission price, then your other alternative was to pay $20 for a night of unlimited carnival rides that were situated outside turns 1 & 2. The Ferris Wheel would have given a great view (every 60 seconds or so) as it continually revolved, full of excited locals enjoying the travelling circus, just as sprintcar fans enjoyed the racing provided by the travelling troupe of race drivers. Every now and again some of the carnival fans chose to see the racing from an odd view indeed. Often a loud bang was heard and a quick look to Turn 1 saw a body flying through the air into a net some 150 metres away. A human cannon provided the propulsion to give such a trip to anyone game enough to see the world that way.
Food wasn’t a problem as the locals were out in force at the fair selling all their wares. Terry and I found “Grandma” who had especially cooked up a batch of seasoned pulled pork, which when put inside a large bun made for a delicious meal. For $3 more we finished with the largest slice of homemade pie and ice cream we could hope ever hope to get again on this tour. Terry had cherry and I had apple.
But we had come for the racing and as day turned into dusk and a beautiful evening we watched as Aaron Farley won his first ever feature race. To do it in a USAC sanctioned race in the Don Smith Classic and at a place which oozes history and tradition must have been a huge thrill for the 19 year old. Just who had the biggest smile in victory lane was debatable. I gave it to his Mum and Dad who were bursting with pride.
Day 3 – Thursday July 16th …
Just as a race driver must be adaptable and open for change in tactics every lap, so must the fan. We had to check out this morning and amuse ourselves until it was time to head down I-74 to what I reckon is the prettiest race track in Indiana. So after a visit to T-Mobile again to tidy up a couple of phone issues, it was off to the most famous address in all of motorsports. The corner of 16th Street and Georgetown Roads in Speedway, Indiana. Yes, there is a suburb called that. In fact I know a man who permanently moved from Maine just so he could have a zip code of 46224.
Later in the tour we return to Indianapolis and it was always going to be on Saturday August 1st when the iconic track Museum would get a run. But today we figured the track tour would be the go which included a ride around the racing line in a bus. But no, not today. The corporate world had taken over and the two seater Indy cars were in operation to make money for their employer.
So it was on from there to Brownsburg and the Pit Stop BBQ for lunch. A joint where if you’re so inclined you can sit in a fully functioning midget car and eat your barbequed ribs if that’s what you ordered.
Speaking of midgets, I haven’t mentioned Stubb yet. With Peter Hanson bringing another tour over starting at Knoxville this year called the Ultimate 4, I needed a tour co-host. Scott Phillips, aka Stubb had just retired and given he lives in Ohio and knows every other sprintcar fan in Ohio and neighbouring states, he was a perfect replacement. Stubb owns a long wheel base Chevy Silverado with a canopy which is ideal for luggage.
So he was engaged to come on board and he met the group in Indy on Tuesday and will be with us until the end at Day 35 in Iowa. Already he’s proven to be a big hit with the Aussies from WA, SA, Victoria and Tasmania. Once the balance arrive into Pella for Ultimate 3, we will have representation from every state.
From the Pitstop BBQ it was time to head for Putnamville. 47 miles in 40 minutes got us there just after 4.00pm and immediately drove up the hill behind the entrance gates to RV city. The motorhomes are totally ringed by trees giving shade to the tailgating patrons and assisting in keeping the ice in their eskies from melting. Note for our American readers: An esky is a cooler.
This was our second USAC non wing race and it’s very noticeable how passionate the fans are about watching their beloved cars without the “advertising billboards” above the roll cage. You could offer 10 free tickets and airfares to the Knoxville Nationals to a guy in Indiana and he wouldn’t take them. Mind you I totally understand and share their passion and I think our group did as well after watching 47 cars on a little ¼ mile bullring, so different to the wide open Terre Haute half mile. There were plenty of smiles on dials when Brady Bacon took the chequered flag.
The overflow crowd had occupied every square inch of available parking space which was always going to make it a tough ask to get out ready to start the 402 kilometre drive to Lima for a sleep. We left at 11.30pm and arrived at 3.30am. Some slept and the others embarked upon some great chatter and laughter, mainly I think to keep the driver awake and alert. Thanks guys, it was a great drive.
As we neared Lima around 3.00am (in total pitch black conditions) a mass of blinking red lights emerged in the distance. One could have been forgiven in thinking the Martians had arrived and were hovering ready to kidnap this weird category of person called a sprintcar fan. As we kept driving, more and more appeared, spaced out over miles and miles of countryside about 60 metres above the ground. Honestly there were hundreds and hundreds of them, maybe a thousand. And from a distance they were moving sideways, as well as rising and falling, obviously in order to assess the best position to quickly snatch the Aussie invaders.
We eventually decided we weren’t in any danger though, but remained mystified as to what confronted us. I had a theory and after ringing Stubb who was driving the Silverado, he confirmed that we were in the middle of one of the USA’s largest windmill farms to generate power from the wind. The red lights are at the top of the towers and shine into the blades which give the hallucinating effect of Martians coming to invade.
Lima eventually arrived and the Hotel front desk clerk had been waiting patiently for us. Keys were distributed; luggage hauled into the lifts and it was lights out. Thank God they weren’t red.
Day 4 – Friday July 17th …
If you thought last night was weird then read on. It is necessarily a long chapter.
We had arranged an 11.30am checkout and I reckon no one made it to breakfast, but then again Terry might have because one of the eskies has several small cartons of low fat yogurt, three bananas, packaged pastries and five apples. Stuff you would normally find in the breakfast bar at a Fairfield Inn.
Our tasks today were several. First was to drive from Lima back into Indiana to visit Winchester Speedway. Stubb, being an Ohian suggested that he lead the way, which I had no objection to. Darren jumped into the front passenger seat of the “bus”, which was great because he’s a good guy and conversation would be fun as it always is, no matter who sits there.
We set off in rain and gloom which in turn caused similar conditions inside the bus, as it is always does when it rains on race day. Stubb leading and us following the rear end of an all-white Chev Silverado with a white canopy. I decided to have the GPS on as well, but it wouldn’t be needed of course. There is no fast way from Lima to Winchester. By that I mean there is no direct interstate freeway, so rural roads would be the order of the day.
Off we went marvelling at the amount of free standing water in the fields which was the real cause of the Doty race cancellation. The parking lots were underwater. The cornfields adjoining the country roads were some two feet higher than last year as the soil lapped up the nourishment. Shoeless Joe Jackson would surely get lost in there this summer.
The Silverado glided along and the bus was right on its tail as we made good time for Winchester. We had an appointment with Charlie Shaw, Kirk Daugherty and Bob Lemmings, the owner, General Manager and Track historian respectively. Charlie is also the owner of the second largest casket making company in the USA. You could say death is his business, both at work and at Winchester Speedway which unfortunately has killed more drivers than any other short track in the USA.
You need to know all this background. It was this subject that caused me to relate to Darren the story from a previous tour when we encountered a funeral procession coming towards us on a two lane road. I slowed, but kept a reasonable speed until a car veered out of the procession and steered towards us. I had to swerve dramatically but kept going. When relating this story to Charlie Shaw he said it is an unwritten rule in Indiana for oncoming vehicles to stop completely until the procession has passed.
Darren then told me that for a part time job after retirement as an accountant, he drives the hearse for the local funeral parlour. We were both engrossed in each other’s conversation and stories but it was OK, there was still an all-white Chevy Silverado with a white canopy in front of us. It began to turn down some roads that became narrower and narrower and I was impressed that Stubb knew the back roads so well and so far away from where he lives. All was still good.
Until I noticed that the elapsed time to reach Winchester had begun to increase rather than decrease on the GPS, but Stubb knows what he’s doing. It was probably when the Silverado turned into a farmhouse that my world fell in. Stubb knows “everyone” in Ohio, but was he really going to invite all these Aussies to lunch with a mate in the middle of a cornfield?
Bob, from the first row of the bus was the first when he said “are you sure that’s Stubb’s vehicle?” Shayne, from the back row yelled out “it doesn’t have a Global Speedway Tours’ sticker on the back window”. Darren and I just looked at each other in mortal embarrassment. Me as the driver and he as the navigator. At least that’s the story I’m sticking with. I can’t possibly take all the blame.
“How long had we been following this foreign Silverado? 5, 10, 15, 20 miles …. more? And where the hell were we?” The laughter from the back just increased in proportion to the jibes that started and just didn’t finish. All very well deserved I might add.
GPS’s are good and it knew where it was, but the $6.97 Wal-Mart road atlas told us where we were. We were a long way off direction to Winchester. It took only moments plus a detour to get us back on track but I knew we were going to be at least an hour late, but couldn’t tell anyone because T-Mobile has never bothered to put up a tower in this neck of the Ohio woods.
After 50 minutes or so I heard a flood of e-mails come into my phone so figured it must now only be a matter of time before Stubb rings. He did 10 seconds later with the obvious question of “where the hell are you?” My response of “don’t even ask” prompted him to say no more. But we eventually made it to the world’s fastest half mile paved oval and greeted our hosts who laughed and laughed at our situation.
Neither Darren, nor I have any idea of how or when Stubb’s Silverado morphed into a local farmer’s Silverado. As a magic trick it was a beauty. As a dumb mistake it will become the source of many wildly varying tales in years to come, but that’s OK because it was all the navigator’s fault ……
Winchester was even better than years gone by. Only by virtue of the fact that Kirk supplied local WPC pies for us. (Winchester Pie Company by the way.) Sugar Cream, Pumpkin and Pecan were the flavours. The guys gave us the usual two laps each around the track at speed in Bob’s Nissan plus a great insight into the history of the track, the personalities and the stories, no doubt enhanced over the years. Just like today for us. No doubt the driver will get the blame in years to come.
The evening was at Eldora Speedway for the Knight before the Kings Royal. Massive complex and massive crowd, but unfortunately a less than desirable race track because of the enormous amounts of rain Ohio has had. The legendary Eldora cushion which is always right up at the fence was just halfway up from the pole line. It was fast freight train racing with no one game enough to step out of line.
Shane Stewart took the win with Australian Nick Speed as his crew chief. Dad Ian was in the stands watching proudly …..
Day 5 – Saturday July 18th …
One of Stubb’s tasks is to ensure all eskies are full for expected thirst along the daily journey. Across the two days of Eldora he was otherwise occupied, as this weekend is perhaps the biggest in his year. The Stubb compound at Eldora’s RV city is a hotbed of visitors who stop in to say hi and remove the ring pull from a frothy. His lovely wife Gail’s task is to watch when Stubb is hugged by some “long-time friend” and work out whether her husband has any idea of who he is talking to.
If she thinks he doesn’t, then Gail wanders up and says “Hi I’m Gail, Stubb’s wife. What’s your name?” Problem solved (for Stubb) and she goes and sits down again.
Anyway back to the story. We needed another esky preparer, so Bob volunteered and has done such a good job that his tour nickname and perhaps for all time is now “the Ice Man”. It came about at the Greenville Inn when, after commandeering the Hotel ice machine, he drained it entirely of the frozen stuff much to the dismay of the dude who was patiently waiting for some ice for his wife’s injured knee pack. It is understood that our Bob won the heated exchange that followed.
(Just so you know for later in today’s story, we sat on a plane from Australia to Los Angeles for near enough 14 hours.)
The day started reasonably enough. I recall opening the curtains and being greeted by a stunning cloudless blue sky. You beauty. The Kings Royal is on tonight. It simply won’t be rained out. Kathy’s Diner just down the road proved to be a hit again for an early lunch, although this year no one ordered the iced coffee. A cup of warm coffee with some of the Ice man’s product in it isn’t exactly what Aussies know as iced coffee.
By 1.30pm we were at the Stubb compound within the more than 70 acres of available RV parking area. People can only guess at the number of motorhomes at the Kings Royal. Mine is 5,000, all of which are symmetrically parked in rows for miles. Scott and Gail’s is two minutes’ walk from the entrance to the cauldron that is Eldora Speedway. Such is their longevity as veteran Eldora supporters.
A Kings Royal Saturday afternoon at Stubb’s is like feeding time at the zoo. Everyone knows that at a set time between 2.00pm and 5.00pm you can have your hunger for beer or corn boards satisfied at the Palace. Bring your own beer, but play on Stubb’s boards in the annual Petey Memorial tournament sponsored by Global Speedway Tours. We had upwards of 15 teams playing and the winners received two GST polo shirts suitably embroidered.
Intermittent rain throughout the afternoon interfered with the bags, but most minds were on the implications for a few hours later. The transporters were rolling in with their precious rocket ships. Last night the average speed around the half mile was 133 mph, which in real money is 216 kph. Staying with the numbers, close to 35,000 people packed in tonight. Huge and deserved numbers for the sport.
Midway during hot laps for the 360’s the big screen at the track flashed up the weather radar for the immediate area. This was the trigger for thousands upon thousands to depart the premises for the safety of their RV, caravan, or simply their car. It must have been the dark crimson shade of the radar that was the concerning bit. This was about 8.15pm and hot laps and qualifying had finished.
The sky was getting darker and darker. The wind had turned the proud US flags in a 180 degree direction, a fact which didn’t escape the dude in front of us. As soon as he saw Old Glory getting hammered from the south, he took off. But it was still dry. The Outlaws Officials lined up Heat 1 and the night was about to go from bad to worse for Steve Kinser who tangled with Sheldon Haudenschild coming out of turn two where the kink in the fence is. Kinser was turned sideways and the car dug in and began flipping and barrel rolling down the back straight. From our vantage point looking straight down the long back stretch, it was difficult to tell just how far he rolled but good judges say it would have been 100 metres or so.
After cleaning that up, the re-start was attempted but those same officials then called a halt to proceedings knowing that we were just about to get hammered. The gates were thrown open and everybody scattered to shelter. Most of us made it to the bus where we huddled through the Armageddon. The Yanks call these a “line of storms” and it was quite clear why that is so. It was almost an arrow straight line of dark black clouds that rolled in and dumped their contents, flooding Eldora Speedway and surrounds for 20 minutes.
Anywhere else except Eldora, the night would be done. But not here. Even before people had emerged from their shelter, the PA system tuned into 89.7FM on the car radio, proudly announced that they would recover the track and Kings Royal would be run tonight. Then it rained again and again and each time there was a commitment from the Eldora crew that they would get the track back.
To stop this from being too long winded, racing did get back under way at 1.00am, the A Main started at 3.50am and we walked out at 4.45am after a drama packed Kings Royal won by an ecstatic Shane Stewart who swept the weekend. There were still 25,000+ people in the joint and the grizzly and tired policemen who had charge of traffic control forced us to take a longer route back to Greenville which added to the delay as well. Dawn had well and truly broken when we drove in to the Hotel carpark.
A day at the speedway which stretched from 1.30pm to 4.45am meant we spent more time at Eldora than we did to fly from Sydney to Los Angeles five days ago ….
Day 6 – Sunday July 19th …
A negotiated late check out of Midday was welcomed by all. Unfortunately, by mutual agreement the Dayton Air Force Museum visit was cancelled with everybody happy to take the 120 mile drive to Findlay and our next Hotel. We were in Findlay because before Tony Stewart bought the All Stars and the newly formed Renegade series to merge them, a race was scheduled for Millstream Speedway tonight. But back in February, once the merger had gone through, a totally new All Stars schedule was constructed and Millstream was not on it for July 19th.
As soon as we pulled into the Holiday Inn parking lot a storm came through and dumped rain heavily. But no one cared because there was no racing to worry about. An easy afternoon was followed by dinner at the adjacent Outback Steakhouse where Global Speedway Tours picked up the bill as our travellers already had the Millstream ticket included in their tour price. It is always the right thing to do. And the meals were sensational ….
Day 7 – Monday July 20th …
Refreshed and alert after a fairly quiet Sunday, we headed further east into Pennsylvania along I-80 which is a turnpike whilst in Ohio. Turnpike is a fancy name for a toll road by the way.
Stopping periodically we called into Millstream and then Fremont Speedway to have a look. For those who may not know, Fremont has huge poly Styrofoam blocks on the racetrack walls to cushion the blow when a car gets into the wall. An interesting, but bizarre concept.
From Fremont it was on the road again headed for Butler in Pennsylvania to spend the next two nights at the Fairfield Inn and Suites. The Outlaws invade Lernerville Speedway tomorrow night for the annual Don Martin Memorial Twin Feature night and Butler is a mere 10 miles from the track.
We settled in to the rear of the Hotel on the lawn where a picnic table was thoughtfully provided. It was a delightfully warm day, but not too hot and we sat out there for several hours increasing the amount of $1 notes in the kitty for the dollar beer coolers.
Dinner time came and a short stroll to Rachael’s Roadhouse conjured up an appetite for dinner. But it was later at “Stubb’s Bar” (the drop down tailgate of his Silverado near the picnic table) that the action hotted up. It was our South Australian member Trevor who particularly enjoyed himself in the balmy weather. Around midnight and under the glow of a solitary electric light, Trev decided he needed to once again make room for some more Jim Beam and coke.
With some difficulty he found a convenient standing room only spot in front of the trees, beyond which was a 45 degree drop straight down the hill. Lou was keeping a watchful eye on Trev when suddenly he cried out “Shit he’s gone”. Our Croweater mate had bent his head just ever so slightly to do up his fly, however unfortunately his brain did not signal this change in equilibrium to his feet and away he went. We have now nicknamed him “The King” because he sure rolled more times than Steve Kinser did at Eldora on Saturday night.
Lou, Stubb and I immediately began the climb down the hill in absolute pitch black conditions. It was like a jungle down there. Our only means of illumination was from three iPhones. Darren was still with us, but we figured he should stay at the top and keep calling out to us so we knew where we were. A noble idea, but to be honest the Nav Man was in no condition to be clambering down a 45° slope. We had no idea where Trevor was and we did contemplate rolling Darren down the hill as well from the same spot, so we could watch where he finished up.
After about five minutes we found Trev wedged upside down between a tree and bush which fortunately stopped him from going further down. We looked back up and could just see that weak electric light and we estimated that we were about 20 metres / 60 feet down the hill. They say God looks after the inebriated and that old saying certainly held true for Trev. He was uninjured, but was totally incapable of standing up on a flat footpath, let alone the side of a hill. The three of us, whilst holding onto tree branches for support, managed to lift him and turn him over so we could drag him 20 metres up the hill inch by inch.
Lou’s strength was invaluable as he grabbed Trev’s belt at the back of his shorts and immediately gave him the best wedgie I’ve ever seen. Trev uttered a small yelp but then went quiet again. Lou pulled, Stubb and I pushed and after at least 20 minutes we got him to the top. The drama didn’t finish there however. Trev still couldn’t get vertical so the only solution was to get the Hotel luggage trolley and we propped him up on that along with a large aluminium rubbish bin just in case. As Lou entered the Hotel lobby pushing his baby in the pram, Trev decided right at that very moment to utilise the garbage bin much to the amazement of the night clerk behind the counter.
He was deposited into his bed alongside Ross who was fast asleep in his. He later related that he had heard the door open and secretly peeped above the sheets to see this big guy pushing a luggage trolley into his room with a body on it. Must have been a bigger shock to Rossco than having his toothpaste confiscated at the airport.
Some minutes later Global Speedway Tours presented a large toy koala bear to the poor girl at the counter who had to witness what really and truly was the funniest thing I have seen for decades. The sequel is that the following morning, a search party went looking for three sets of glasses and Trev’s iPhone that were lost in the rescue mission. All were found ….
Day 8 – Tuesday July 21st …
Most were bright and alert this morning and saluted at breakfast, but a couple were missing in action. No guesses for who they were. The morning was free to walk around Butler and although there’s not a great deal to see, the architecture of the houses and buildings is certainly quaint, if not unique and very worthy of a photographer’s interest.
Lunch was in the “Chop Shop” which even today I presume, but more so in decades past, is a business or a location which disassembles stolen cars for the purpose of selling them as parts. The term originated from the practice of building a car from two parts welded together. The Chop Shop employed the “Just in Time” management approach. By that I mean when they needed a particular style or model of car, they rang the local thief who simply went out and pinched one overnight and it was in the shop the next morning and in bits an hour later.
The restaurant in Butler is the site of a former Chop Shop with the kitchens on open display, exactly where the cutting torches and welders wielded their magic.
Whilst having lunch the heavens opened up outside which was not unusual given it was race night this evening. But a quick look at every fan’s best friend (the radar app on the phone) revealed that it would clear around 5.00pm and sunset would be beautiful tonight. And it was …..
Stubb had taken off to the track a little earlier than the group to purchase supplies for his famous chicken BBQ on the weber. He had it set up by the time we arrived and we parked right beside him and behind Donnie Schatz’s T-Shirt trailer. The aroma of seasoned chicken over the coals was delightful. There was some doubt that what he had bought was actually chicken because the size of the legs, the drumsticks and the breasts suggested it was once an emu in an earlier life. In fact comparisons were made between Stubb’s own legs and those on the grille to determine which were bigger.
Salads, potato chips and chicken were devoured eagerly before entering Lernerville Speedway complete with negotiated complimentary pit passes. The troops scattered only to eventually reunite again in our reserved seats in the top row of the grandstand near Turn 1. Back row seats are critical at US speedways owing to the rather gentle slope of the bleachers which means a big fella in front of you becomes a major problem. So you simply stand up on your seat during the races and enjoy an uninterrupted panoramic view of the track.
Tonight was Twin Feature night for the Don Martin Memorial Silver Cup. The only time to my knowledge that the Outlaws run two features on the one night. The first is lined up according to time trials as per the regular format. The second reverses the field with the last guy running on the lead lap in the first feature starting on the pole in the second. ie If 19 cars finished on the lead lap, then the winner starts 19th which makes for a fast and furious second feature.
Dale Blaney smashed past Schatz at about the halfway mark of the first race and went on to win comfortably. Cody Darrah won the second from the pole. The overall Silver Cup winner was Dale Blaney who accumulated more points across both races than any of the other 46 cars who signed in.
Day 9 – Wednesday July 22nd …
A poignant morning for all. Sombre, sad, distressing are other words that come to mind. Pennsylvania played an integral part of the horror on Sept 11th 2001 when Al-Qaeda terrorists brought down the twin towers in New York. Two planes hit the World Trade Centre, a third hit the Pentagon in Washington DC and the fourth was headed for either the White House or the Capitol in DC which had Congress sitting that morning.
We headed out of Butler around 9.00am making connection with the PA Pike (I-76) as it makes its way across the Keystone State. We exited at Somerset with our destination being the Flight 93 Memorial at Shanksville where the United Airlines Boeing 757 buried itself into oblivion in a farmer’s field. This Memorial has always been on our itinerary and will remain so on future tours as it provides a wonderful segue with Ground Zero in New York City when we arrive there.
The field and surrounding area into which the plane crashed (upside down and at 901 kph) is now a National Park with the first of two memorial stages completed. The second will open on September 10th this year. The following day should be a big one for the families and relatives of those who died. Indeed it will be a big one for all of America. Stage 2 is on the hill overlooking the crash site and is in direct alignment with the flight path during the last few seconds of life for those on board.
Next stop was at the historic Jean Bonnet Tavern on US-30 in Bedford. Built in 1767 it was originally an overnight stop for travellers who were making their way from Pennsylvania in the east to Indiana, which was about as far west as the settlers could go at that time. The 3.00pm lunch which followed, on an expansive balcony in a gentle breeze, was delightful indeed. Naturally every other diner and all the staff wanted to talk to us and listen to the accent.
Around 5.30pm the convoy rolled into Mechanicsburg to the welcome sight of our favourite Hotel chain – The Courtyard Marriott. Ideally situated to Williams Grove Speedway and adjoining towns, it is a lovely place to put our heads down for the next four days. Eldora Speedway, way back in Ohio was hosting the Mudsummer Classic for the NASCAR Trucks tonight and it was live on Fox Sports 1. Aroogas Sports Bar, with its 97 TV screens, had our reservation right in front of the biggest screen in the place. It was Buffalo wings and Burgers as we settled in to watch what turned into the most boring race of all time for a dirt track fan, even though Christopher Bell virtually led all the way. Thank goodness we were here and not there.
For the record, Trev and Darren tested the bar special of the night fortunately without any disastrous consequences. After all $8.00 jugs of bourbon and coke did have the potential to revive memories of Monday night ….
Day 10 – Thursday July 23rd …
We awoke to an outstandingly good morning. In previous tours and no doubt for time immemorial, the two day Summer Nationals at Williams Grove Speedway is usually rain affected. Each day was spent searching the sky for a break in the clouds or watching for stray rogue storm cells that have a habit of creeping up on you. But not this year it appears. The forecast is superb through to Sunday when we leave for New York City.
The smaller Pennsylvanian town of York was this morning’s target because that’s where the Harley Davidsons are assembled for distribution across the world. A modified tour was in place for this year yet again. When the new models are in production the plant closes off sections of the assembly line and the popular daily tours are restricted in what they are allowed to see. HD’s integrity and loyalty to their Dealers is such that no one is allowed to see the 2016 models until they have been released to the Dealers.
It appears after suitable enquiries that this will happen to us at this same time of year every time the Month of Money tour visits Pennsylvania. But it’s still worth going ….
From York we headed to Gettysburg via a quick squiz at Lincoln Speedway which sadly will not be running tonight having decided not to open the gates. In Gettysburg free time was allocated for lunch individually across this historical town before clambering aboard the bus for a two hour tour of the Battlefields.
With Lincoln not racing tonight we needed to find some alternative entertainment, so plans were made months ago that tonight would be go karting at Bobby Allen’s Speedway 94 complex in Hanover. Four different tracks and heaps of surprisingly super quick karts. Two tracks are the typical winding road course style but the other two are ovals with a deliberately slick surface to allow speedway style slide jobs. One indoor and one outdoor track.
$35 bought eight individual rides of 5 minutes. Tremendous value when compared with similar deals in Australia. Seven of us chose to participate and the competitive juices were rising even as we entered the joint. Some two hours later we emerged stiff and sore from battling the locals as well as each other out there on the pavement. The oval tracks were our favorite as not only were the karts painted as World of Outlaw cars and stars, the sheer excitement of throwing them into a corner knowing we had to turn right to go left was exhilarating.
There were no timing devices ….just go as hard as you dare and everyone came out a winner. Maybe this did make up for not having Lincoln to go to tonight ….
Day 11 – Friday July 24th …
The Harrisburg Bass Pro store was first up this morning. Regular readers of the Blog will know that if it lives and breathes and isn’t human, then Bass Pro has what you need to catch it, kill it and cook it. Sounds dreadful but hunters have to buy their gear from somewhere and Bass Pro has captured the market. Fortunately the store is part of a larger Mall so the females had alternatives to satisfy their shopping genes.
Lunch was extraordinary. Stubb had spied an all you can eat Buffet whilst on a rescue mission for more supplies for the eskies. “Hibachi’s” was its name and for $7.49 + tax you could choose from over 200 items. Mainly Chinese so that made it very palatable. Stubb excelled by consuming 40+ fresh mussels which he estimated would have cost him $35 – $40 back home in Ohio. He would later smash this “mussel record” in Chicago when he finally stopped after four bowls.
The afternoon activity was a very pleasant visit to the Eastern Museum of Motor Racing (EMMR) in Latimer Valley, some 12 miles down the US-15 from Williams Grove Speedway. It’s always a thrill to wander through the exhibits put together by Lynn Paxton and his staff. The Tommy Hinnershitz display of his garage as it was during his heyday as the sprintcar champ at the Grove, is so well done. They have now also completed the cataloguing of all the books, magazines and programs donated to the Museum over the years and a very sizeable room houses these documents under lock and key. I could spend the whole 35 days of the tour in that room.
And then it was off to the Grove for night 1 of the Summer Nationals which is after all what we are there for. The Outlaws v the PA Posse is always a torrid affair and 39 cars were in attendance to tackle the paperclip shaped track. The locals, who are very, very good anyway, certainly know how to master the odd shape track. The Outlaws are fast, but lack the week to week knowledge the locals obtain every time they hit the track. Hence it was going to be difficult.
Tonight’s tailgating occurred under the beautiful trees of the carpark near the old Williams Grove Amusement Park which now lies in disrepair across the road. The wooden roller coaster is still there, but its structure now shows its age big time and ivy is actually nearly reaching the very top of the rails. Shayne found it fascinating and he went on foot in search of photos. Alas he couldn’t get in and had to shoot through the fence. He therefore missed the old merry go round which still has the horses on it. They sit there as though any day now the music will start again, the carousel will go round and round and they can come to life and put smiles on kids’ faces as they used to.
Sadly for them the only things that go round and round now are over the road. From a one horse power equine, there are now 950 horsepower sprintcars that probably do one lap of the half mile track quicker than Prancer and Dancer do one revolution on the carousel.
Tonight’s winner was Danny Dietrich from Gettysburg who created his own battlefield as he left the Outlaw stars in his wake to win going away from Donny Schatz. Double D started from position nine and destroyed the field, leaving plenty of casualties. The local fans went crazy with delight in saluting their new hero.
Incidentally, Donny Schatz has not won a race since we have been in the USA. Before we left he was winning everywhere the Outlaw troupe went, but now has five consecutive seconds to his name. Tonight we watched proceedings unfold from the back straight grandstand, but tomorrow night we are on the front stretch right above the start finish line ….
Day 12 – Saturday July 25th …
Pennsylvania is home to a host of industries and attractions. Today we saw three under such a glorious blue sky that you would be forgiven if you thought you were in Hawaii. Just a hint of a gentle breeze kept the day perfect.
In 1894 Milton Hershey began making sweet chocolate as a coating for his caramels out the back of a shed in Lancaster, PA. Once he figured out that he could also produce milk chocolate in bars and wafers and lower the unit cost by mass production, he knew he needed larger premises. Milton went looking for land which importantly was surrounded by dairy farms so necessary for the milk supply and which was also close to distribution routes from New York where the cocoa and sugar he needed came in from South America.
He settled on several hundred acres close to where he was born and thus the Hershey Chocolate Corporation was born. As the company grew, so did the number of employees it needed and a small village developed around the factory. The town of Hershey was born and rapidly continued to expand as the unemployed from the east coast flocked to Hershey hoping to get a job. During WW2 Hershey produced more than one billion chocolate survival kits for the GI’s serving in Europe. Its work shops also turned out parts for machine guns required at the front.
Nowadays the chocolate conglomerate has 14,000 employees, sells its products in 70 countries and has sales of $6.6 billion annually. Plus it operates an amusement park which has no less than 13 roller coasters inside its gates. But today we went to the Chocolate Factory to see what it was all about. Rode the Disneyland style ride which shows in animation how Hershey gets the ingredients needed for the chocolate, how it makes it and sells it. Virtually everything except the recipe!!
After an hour or so in Hershey we drove further north to spend two hours in Intercourse. It’s an Amish village in case you were wondering!! With superb food, crafts and clothing, it’s a great place to explore on a sunny day. By 3.00pm we were back at the hotel readying ourselves for tonight’s racing. Just who would we park next to tonight and throw our company on to??
Turns out it was an Insurance man Craig, his buddy and their two sons. Never in their wildest dreams when they woke up this morning would they have expected to have 14 Aussie sprintcar fans rock up and pull in next to them. We had beer, they had beer (80 cans between four of ‘em) and they had food. Craig was so delighted to see us he just happened to have a box full of hamburger patties, three dozen hamburger rolls, cheese and a grill embedded into the back of his truck.
I can understand the beer quantity, (they ran out by the way) but why did he have sufficient food to feed 14 of us, plus four of them? I reckon he could have done it with loaves and fishes if he wanted to. Anyway he did and was bursting with pride to do so. He loved wearing the Global Speedway Tours cap that we parked on his head whilst he cooked on the grille. Arrangements have already been made for 2016 to further enhance his new found love of people from Downunder.
The racing … well that was another story. Vastly different from last night which was the best I’ve seen at Williams Grove in the last five years. Sadly tonight was nowhere near it with the only real excitement being the drawing of the 50/50. We had 56 entries in it but didn’t even get past the colour of the ticket, let alone the number.
Stevie Smith won in the retro black #19 colour scheme of his father Steve. $25,000 dropped in and he won it easily from guess who? Schatz finished second again. Now six in a row …..
Day 13 – Sunday July 26th …
Speedway has to take a back seat sometimes on these tours, although I should point out that actual period spent at a race track is only 5% of the whole time on tour. On our first Month of Money tour in 2012, we spent a couple of nights in Washington DC, but from 2013 onwards New York City has been the destination of choice for a bit of mid tour R&R.
At 7.20am the sleek AMTRAK train left Harrisburg Station. The weary Aussies on board were at first excited and talkative, but it didn’t take long for the rhythmic hi-speed chatter of the wheels to cause sleep to come quickly. There has been precious little time for anyone to gain recovery from the full on organised activity since we arrived. And the next three nights and four days in the most hyped city in the world bar none, won’t help!!
Almost as though on cue, the sleeping beauties (me included) woke as the train pulled into Philadelphia for a 20 minute spell. A quick stretch on the platform regenerated everybody to have them stay awake for 80 minute ride into Penn Station on 34th Street. Or perhaps it was the opportunity to be the first to glimpse the iconic New York City skyline from a distance. The tunnels of Manhattan put a stop to that and we soon gently pulled into NY underneath Madison Square Garden.
The next 60 minutes was a real experience. It was 11.00am and here we were standing on the corner of 32nd Street and Seventh Avenue. The Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel is also on Seventh Ave, but at 53rd Street. That’s right I made them walk 21 blocks through, as Shayne called it in his Facebook update, “a teeming mass of humanity”. It is the only way to be introduced to the city. You must fight it, otherwise it will total envelop and crush you.
Fortunately everyone had heeded the request to only take hand luggage and all the larger suitcases are safely stored in Mechanicsburg at the Courtyard Marriott. Thus the convoy set off. Me leading and Stubb the sweeper at the back to make sure no one got side tracked and was never to be seen again. The Bermuda Triangle has nothing on the Manhattan Matrix.
Straight up Seventh Avenue, (or uptown as the locals say) through Times Square onwards towards Central Park. It was Sunday and the 1.5 million extra people who flood Manhattan on a work day weren’t here!! But the tourists are and the city was teeming with people holding and reading phones.
Maps appear to be superfluous these days given that every conceivable piece of directional help you need is available via Google maps on your phone. The major difference is that when reading a map you actually stand still and work out where to go next. When using a phone people just follow the little blue dot and walk without looking where they are going. Twice already I’ve seen people walk into a wall and one smack bang into a Bus stop pole. Worst of all though is that the sidewalks become like a giant pinball machine with a million tourists assuming the role of the little steel ball and a demolition derby results with day trippers bouncing off each other every second. I’ve learned what ‘sorry’ is now in 12 different languages ….
The sanctity of the Sheraton was welcome and after room allocations were made, for some it was off to the Tonic Sports Bar to watch the Brickyard 400 from Indianapolis. From there we met at Rosie O’Grady’s for drinks courtesy of Global Speedway Tours’ Travel Agent, Karen Caba. Dinner followed at various locations dependent upon people’s tastes and desires. Seven of us found an Irish Pub and enjoyed Shepherd’s Pie with three of New York’s finest at the adjacent table. My pie was superb and it was a pleasure to eat a meal with a knife and fork!!
Day 14 – Monday July 27th …
Many kilometres were going to be walked over the next three days. Plan A was always going to be to stay as a group for today and tomorrow with Wednesday a free day to repeat something, or explore another attraction that takes the fancy.
A rule of thumb for me in New York is to first get an orientation of the city layout using the Hop on Hop off double decker buses, but without getting off. GST supplied the three day bus passes and the Downtown tour was first off. The weather was warm, but not too hot, so sitting on the top of the bus was rather pleasant with the breeze from movement welcoming. But stiflingly hot weather is forecast for Wednesday.
It can be a lottery with these buses, of which there are literally hundreds around the island at any one time chock full with holiday makers. The locals use the subway, but more about that later. You take pot luck with the quality of the guide in relation to their knowledge (or lack thereof) and their accent. Generally if you get a bad one the usual procedure is to get off at the next stop and board the following bus. But at the peak of summer, that is not a good idea as more than likely the next eight buses will have zero seats available.
Eventually we arrived at Battery Park right on the southern tip of Manhattan. Decades before Ellis Island was built and the Lady ruled the entrance to the harbour from Liberty Island, Battery Park was the place where immigrants from Europe and elsewhere were assessed. Nowadays it’s the place for ferries to dock and walking trips around New York to start.
It was here that we waited in line to cruise out to visit the Statue of Liberty. No easy task as airline style security checks are engaged to prevent anyone with sinister thoughts from joining us. The ferries hold 800 passengers and each one that departs every 15 minutes or so is chock a block. The island can only hold so many people, but miraculously the ferries return with 800 passengers each time they come back. To see the Lady close up however is worth the torment of the lines, the security checks, the crowds and the increasing heat. Not to mention the incredibly spectacular views of the NYC skyline when travelling over and back across New York Harbour.
Keeping the pace on we re-boarded the Downtown Tour bus again for the 90 minute journey uptown, if that makes sense. This particular tour is easily the most popular as on it one sees those sights that most want to see when visiting the Big Apple. Tomorrow we will do it again, but will utilise the Hop on Hop off facility more extensively. Arriving back at Times Square later than we had anticipated because of massive traffic congestion, meant that any hope of doing the equivalent Uptown Tour went out the window. This one takes in the north with Central Park and Harlem being the significant areas of interest.
Hence folk scattered for shopping, drinking, walking or resting as the case maybe. Tegan and Jason fulfilled a lifelong dream of jogging through Central Park and came back as happy as I’ve ever seen anyone yet. Stuff like that gives me goose bumps ….
The evening group dinner was a circus!! Not as funny as Trevor and the Butler Hotel luggage trolley last Monday night, but close. Everybody went to Little Italy by subway, from 53rd Street to Mulberry Street …. a long way downtown. Dozens and dozens of Italian restaurants line both sides of Mulberry and the choice is significant. No booking is ever made as it isn’t necessary. You just walk down the street as a group and the spotters see you and run over to hawk the qualities of their particular establishment.
The place we finished up in was called Taormina but a better name for it would be Fawlty Towers. It didn’t take long to identify Manuel who was a young Italian waiter whose job it was to put jugs of ice water on the tables. Uncannily he had an identical build and walked / ran with his head bowed all the time. I don’t recall him ever uttering a word. He also helped carry the plates out but was totally hopeless at that too as we were to find out.
Basil was a taller and slightly older Italian who although not the owner (he was the dude who enticed us in first up) appeared to be in charge. If it really was an act, he was bloody good at it. We were on two separate adjacent tables and there was much arm waving and running up and down the restaurant giving orders to other staff who quite simply ignored him.
The bread arrived and whilst warm could have been used as a baseball it was that hard. Basil offered his apologies and promised some more would be cooked!! We can only imagine the chaos in the kitchen when he went back in there with his instructions. Mind you that was the only complaint about the food. The rest was excellent.
Meanwhile Manuel continued to ply the tables with ice water, replacing full unused jugs with new ones. Eventually Basil decided that he would take drink orders. I cheekily ordered an “urgent beer” which he interpreted as a large beer. Most ordered Bud, or Bud Light etc. They duly arrived with mine much larger than others and all were Peroni, the Italian Fosters. Basil offered no reason as to why he decided what beer we should drink. But so be it, Peroni is a good beer. Having seen the size of mine (so to speak), subsequent orders from others were for urgent beers and they duly received the large ones as well.
The food orders were next. Basil scribbled each order onto a small piece of note paper which suggested further chaos when they came out. After one order of a classic Australian “Hawaiian” pizza, but with anchovies, he initially refused to ask the chef to make such a concoction. After gesticulating that no one could eat such a dish, he reluctantly agreed to make the request.
About three minutes after the food orders were taken, Manuel walked out of the kitchen, head bowed, juggling copious plates of food. He deposited them on to one of our tables in no known order, oblivious to instructions they weren’t ours. Whilst he didn’t exactly say “Que?” it was only Basil’s intervention with a burst of Italiano that he picked them all up again and proceeded to serve them to the right table.
It was at this point Shayne decided to use his phone to play Yakety Sax, otherwise known as the Benny Hill theme music. This prompted Trev to arise from his seat and impersonate Manuel in front of the whole restaurant. Simply hilarious ….
Patrons came and went, all apparently satisfied with their lot while we waited patiently for our food. More urgent beers were ordered and between them and the gallons of ice water, dehydration could not possibly set in. And then Basil, Manuel and some helpers brought the food out. Admittedly they got 50% of the plates correctly in front of the right person and a gentle round of applause broke out in admiration. As I said before the food was great, but the theatre restaurant antics of the last 90 minutes were outstanding. If in fact it was an act, but I don’t think for a moment that it was.
And then as if to top it all off, the owner came in from out the front with an old dude who had a piano accordion around his withered neck. The accordion must have been heavy because he looked as though he could fall forward “Trev style” at any given moment. He played and the owner sang duly serenading Karen, Michelle, Pam and Tegan with (we think) an Italian love song. While all this was going on, Basil brought out complimentary limoncello as a palate cleanser for all. Made with 100% proof Vodka, it topped off a wonderful night at the circus.
We all piled into a Limo for the trip back to the Hotel with Trev assuming his Butler pose, spreadeagled on the floor, such was the only way to get everyone in.
Day 15 – Tuesday July 28th …
The five boroughs of NYC (Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx) have a combined population of 8.5 million who live on a land area of 305 square miles. That’s a mere 28 kms by 28kms. Manhattan itself has 1.6 million permanent residents, but then we must add in double that number who come onto the island to work each day from the other boroughs. Then add in the 56 million tourists who visit NYC each year. That’s a million a week average, but probably two million a week in summer. They are massive numbers by any measurement. Those 56 million visitors spent $38.8 billion dollars in 2013.
The final remarkable figure my research reveals is that Australia ranks sixth out of all world countries in providing visitors to the city. In 2013, 619,000 Aussies spent three nights or more in New York City. It certainly proves the intrepid nature of Australians to see the world.
We helped boost those numbers today by being bright and early at the Empire State Building to avoid the crowds. An average of 22,000 people a day queue to “go up the top.” If you’ve been to the USA you know that for virtually anything here the lines are formed like sheep being herded up and down. We bypassed all of those empty barricades at 8.15am whereas in an hour or so the wait to get to the 86th floor would be hours. Security is serious in America and again Stubb had to surrender his pocket knife he carries with him religiously.
It was a cloudless sky up there (it was at the bottom too by the way) but the morning mist prevented the viewing into five neighbouring states as the claim is made. New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts. Nevertheless it was breathtaking as always.
From there it was on to Ground Zero where work still continues in re-creating the new World Trade Centre complex. One World Trade Centre (originally coined the Freedom Tower) is now fully complete at 1,776 feet tall including its 400 feet antenna. 7 World Trade Centre and 4 World Trade Centre have also been completed along with the Memorial and Museum. The Transport Hub, Towers 2, 3 and 5 are still under construction, but I’m unable to find any reference to Tower 6 in the new World Trade Centre.
The two large recessed pools into which water cascades 24/7 are exactly on the footprint of both buildings and surrounded by deciduous trees. The names of all 2,977 victims of 9/11 are inscribed on the parapets surrounding the waterfalls. Very tastefully done, but criticism has been levied at the time it has taken to get this far.
At Ground Zero the group separated a little with some staying to visit the Museum and Memorial, Shayne nicked off to the closest responding Fire Dept. whilst others continued on down to Wall Street, the Stock Exchange and the Bull to fondle it’s “you know whats”. Further separation occurred at the Bull when wives dragged husbands off shopping to Macey’s which left four to try their luck at the Circle Line Cruise on the East River.
Whatever and whoever went where, we all met up again at the Sheraton ready to tackle the Night Tour which goes over the Manhattan Bridge to Brooklyn, but returns via the very imposing Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan. The views of the NYC skyline from here are spectacular, although it’s sad to report that developers have bought the land on the East River frontage where 1,120,000 tour buses each year have pulled up to show those 56 million tourists how good it is. The apartment construction has already started to obscure the view …..
Those wearing Fitbits or Apple watches reported distances walked today of up to 20kms, with an equal number to be covered again tomorrow when it’s a free day to recover steps already taken, or explore places not yet seen.
Day 16 – Wednesday July 29th …
The group split today. It’s impossible to cater for a squad such as ours in NYC and cover everything. So today they were let loose!!
Darren covered the most ground when he decided to walk the length and breadth of Central Park. North to south, then east to west. Then to top off an already big day, he walked from the Intrepid Aircraft Carrier on the Hudson River at 46th Street across town to the East river and then back to the to the Hotel. A 25 km day.
Darryl, Pam, Lou, Shayne, Bob & Michelle bought helicopter tickets for a 20 minute ride over the metropolis from Pier 6. Tegan and Jason went on the Uptown tour and also visited the Natural History Museum and Ross slept until his pre-arranged late check out of 2.00pm. Trevor spent most of his time on the phone (see later) while Terry continued his search for perfume for the girls. Eventually he found what he was after back in Macey’s, where on Sunday he was told they didn’t stock it.
Stubb went out on the Bronx bus tour to see his beloved Yankee Stadium. He had never seen the new one which opened in 2009 on East 161st Street. The original Stadium, just one block north of the new one, is now a Public park called Heritage Field.
Me? I wrote what you have just read, plus agued the point with the Hotel over a few monetary issues. The Aussies are up 1 to nil!!
Late afternoon we trooped off by subway to Penn Station to catch the 6.35pm AMTRAK Keystone Service back to Harrisburg and the sacredness of a white “bus” which had a dollar esky in it. Three and half hours later we were in Harrisburg and couldn’t hear or see the following:
- Car horns,
- Halal food vendors on every corner (actually they’re pretty cool)
- $10 beers
- Basil & Manuel
- Double decker buses
- Women playing guitars in Times Square who should have had clothes on
- Street hustlers
- 400,000 tourists
Day 17 – Thursday July 30th …
Nowhere near enough downtime appears in this tour itinerary, however today was a slight exception. Our next race is Gas City on Friday night back in Indiana so the 564 mile (902 kms) drive was broken into two parts. Today was a leisurely 588 km drive on the Penn Turnpike and I-70 to Columbus where nothing awaited us except a terrific Comfort inn and suites Hotel with a pool, but a broken washing machine.
However that didn’t deter Bob who was determined to do his washing. He wandered into the adjacent Hawthorn Suites Hotel, wrote out a sign that said “Out of Order”, put it on the machine and then returned to his Hotel to assemble his washing. Very effective as it worked. It stopped others using it in his absence. Meanwhile the rest of the team opened up Stubb’s Bar at the tailgate of the Silverado in the carpark and enjoyed several hours in glorious late afternoon sunshine.
We had a Ford Dealer next to us so people wandered off from time to time to inspect the cars on the lot. Pam might get her Bunbury Mustang yet because I think Darryl was impressed.
Tonight’s dinner was a choice of many, but IHOP was selected. It stands for International House of Pancakes and while it still offers outstanding pancakes there is a lot more on the menu now.
Day 18 – Friday July 31st …
Friday morning in Ohio means it’s Friday evening in Australia. Which also means it’s Friday night footy somewhere in the country. When we got on the road at 8.00am heading for Indianapolis it was ¾ time in the Hawthorn Richmond game at the MCG so naturally with a bus full of AFL supporters (not one Rugby league fan on this tour at the moment) it was time to tune into the AFL app on my phone and pipe the last quarter call through the vehicle.
It was a surprise to most that the Tiges were up by three goals so the initial part of the journey was interrupted by shouts of glee from Shayne and groans from Darren as Richmond powered to an unexpected victory. A further bonus was at the end of the game when the ABC immediately swapped to the Third test from Edgbaston and we were able to listen to the Aussies get pummelled by the Poms. Nowhere can we pick up an internet stream of the cricket from England as it is electronically blocked in the USA so to get it on the AFL app was good news indeed.
Rooms weren’t ready in Indy so we jumped back into the tour vehicles and headed for Gasoline Alley to not only see this historic street but to spend in the Hinchman race suit shop, Arizona T-Shirt shop and Indy Race Parts. In the classic era of the Indianapolis Speedway, Gasoline Alley was the place where all race teams had their shops. It was originally connected directly to the track by a public road down which teams used to push, tow or easier still, fire up the gas gurgling monsters of the day and simply drive them to the track. Life was, and to a great degree still is, all about auto racing in this city. The powers that be just turn a blind eye to something otherwise “illegal” but which is of benefit to the town.
Carl, the owner of Arizona T-Shirts owns a lot of the properties along Gasoline Alley and rents them out to small low budget teams who cannot afford the high life in Brownsburg. He told us that just last night, a couple of midgets were fired up on the road and it shocked the you know what out of him. No mufflers needed here. The Indy Race Parts garage was selling Jac Haudenschild and Kevin Swindell merchandise including the superb T-Shirt Jac had in Australia earlier this year. In the back room area the mechanics were preparing Kevin’s winged sprint for Atomic Speedway in Ohio tomorrow night.
From there we had another crack at getting into Lucas Oil Raceway but again found it closed. So it was back to the Hotel and lunch at the Bourbon Street Distillery before making our way out to the Target Ganassi Indy Car race shop. To call it a shop is not right, seeing as how it is about an acre in size, two storeys and so clean you can eat your proverbial lunch off the floor.
Tours are not available of this complex but a polite enquiry five years ago has led to a great relationship with Grant Weaver who shows us around. Cameras are allowed in the foyer, which now badly needs more space to show every single trophy the team has won in Indy Cars, NASCARS and Sportscar racing, but not in the workshop and machine rooms.
Although the actual race cars were not there when we visited, the tour was excellent and the group thoroughly enjoyed it. This weekend the Indy Cars are racing at Mid-Ohio so more than half of the 110 employees were out there. The rest were back in the shop toiling away ready to repair or refurbish the cars when they return ready for Pocono on August 23rd.
The cameras come out again in the massive transporter bay at the rear. The highlight being the used Indy cars racked up the walls ready for sale. Circa $25,000 will get you everything except the motor. Just ideal for the ultimate man cave or to put on your roof at Christmas time and pop Santa in the cockpit.
From Indy cars to sprintcars was the next job. I-69 north out of Indianapolis takes you northeast to Fort Wayne and then further to Port Huron, Michigan on the Canadian border. But we only travel 62 miles before stopping at the quaintly named town of Gas City so called because of the discovery of large quantities of natural gas in the area in 1887. It only has a population of around 5,000 but importantly it does have a quarter mile dirt track speedway which has been there for decades. Tonight was nothing special in terms of any particular event of memorial being celebrated. Just a regular race night and about 1,500 folks were there to watch non winged 410 sprintcars, UMP Modifieds, stockcars and Hornets.
This track was resurrected by the O’Connor family from Kokomo. It had closed down last year but the area needed a Friday night Gas City for the locals to race three times each weekend finishing up at Kokomo on Sunday nights. A logical reason for the O’Connor family interest.
A quick fast night saw a finish around 10.00pm with the always popular Robert Ballou taking the checker and the cash. I mentioned Hornets earlier. Read more about them on Sunday from Kokomo.
That evening back at the Hotel carpark the iPad was set up and we watched the racing live from I-80 speedway in Nebraska courtesy of Darren Shanley at www.speedshifttv.com Looking forward to meeting Darren at Oskaloosa next week.
Day 19 – Saturday August 1st …
Another early morning start for a short ride of 10 minutes back to 16th Street and Georgetown Road to properly explore the iconic Indianapolis Speedway. It holds 440,000 spectators by the way, which makes the Indy 500 easily the largest one day sporting event in the world. It really is pointless to try to describe the joint. Its size can only really be understood by seeing it through your own eyes.
We knew today the track was clear of commitments and was available for the Indy tour bus to include a lap around the track as part of the complex tour. Also included was the tall Control Tower, aka the Pagoda and the associated Media rooms plus of course the opportunity to kiss the bricks on the start finish line. And finishing off with the world famous museum.
An unusual feature of the Indiana state borders with Illinois and Kentucky is that it has two different time zones within the state. Deep in southern Indiana is Evansville which has suburb called Haubstadt and you guessed it, a fabulous speedway. We set off from the Big Track, as Indianapolis Speedway is known, to a rather smaller but equally spectacular Tri-State Speedway 166 miles away.
We had plenty of time so lunch was at Denny’s and a leisurely drive along scenic rural mid-west roads for a change got us to Haubstadt at 5.30pm, but it was really 6.30pm if you know what I mean. Tri-City Speedway is a much smaller version of the Williams Grove “paper clip” shaped track but with steeply banked turns at each end. No need to lift here going into turn 1 or 3. There was $5,000 to win up for grabs for the non-winged 410’s from MCSC plus the real bonus was the inclusion of the POWRi midgets on the card.
Regretfully the car count in both categories was not high and B Mains were not required in either category, but the feature in each was superb. Many of the drivers were not household names but they could sure still pedal a car quickly. The track surface was manicured to the inch by the Helfrich team who run the show. Perhaps too much preparation some may say but it pays off in giving the fans what they paid for. Brady Short won a thrilling sprintcar feature by passing Chase Stockon on turn 4 of the 40th lap to win.
In my view the race of the night was the midget feature and although there were only 17 cars they were fast with fabulous battles all over the track at extraordinarily high speeds. The Chili Bowl earlier this year, together with tonight’s race confirmed something I have always known. An Australian speedway fan cannot die without seeing midget racing in the USA. Full stop.
Day 20 – Sunday August 2nd …
There is only one thing better than two consecutive nights of non-winged sprint car racing, and that’s three nights. Kokomo Speedway is fast gaining the reputation of the best track in America at which to watch these 410 cubic inch racers. The fact that Kokomo is in the north of the state wasn’t a problem. We simply loaded up and left for Kokomo, immediately losing the hour we gained last night.
Again a relaxed 220 mile (350 km) drive with stops for lunch and leg stretches when the need arose. This time it was the delightful fresh food within Wal-Mart at Terre Haute which got our money.
Today was the earliest the tour has ever arrived into Kokomo. It even allowed a nap time in the Hotel while Stubb took off early to set up the BBQ to cook the hamburgers and hot dogs we had bought at Wal-Mart a few hours earlier. They were nicer than the burgers we had spontaneously at Williams Grove a week earlier because at our insistence Stubb also bought pineapple and beetroot to add to the burger. He wouldn’t agree to fried eggs only because the egg would have fallen through the grill ….
At $3 for a hamburger and $1 for a hot dog, every last one of them was cleaned up. By the way Trev now calls the hot dogs “track steaks” such is their popularity. Dave Argabright turned up to chat, as did countless other Americans who either joined us because Stubb was there, or we were. Haven’t worked out which yet!!
The Mid West Old Timers were there in force with their vintage cars including some simply magnificent 1960/ 70’s sprintcars, minus roll cage. Just the roll bar. Parnelli Jones’ Fike Plumbing Special won two USAC titles and there it sat on the lawn outside the ticket office, its pearl white livery just glistening in the sun. It wasn’t for sale, but another car of that era was at US$15,000 which included everything. Except for Parnelli’s, which sat silently on the grass looking forlorn that it couldn’t join its mates, all the other cars were started and gave demo laps around Kokomo Speedway for the fans.
Another unforeseen bonus tonight was that the rained out Bob Darland memorial from last weekend was rescheduled for tonight. Father to Dave Darland, Bob was being honoured for his contribution to sprintcars in the area. Dave drove back through the night from the Belleville midget nationals in Kansas as he wanted to win his second Darland Memorial to honour his Dad.
He was not to do that however as Justin Grant beat C J O’Leary to the finish line in yet another memorable Kokomo sprintcar race.
I mentioned the Hornets back at Gas City. Whilst there weren’t that many on Friday night, they were out in force at Kokomo. The type of car will vary with Chevy Vegas being popular. 99% of them are front wheel drive with a roll cage, but not a lot else it appears in the safety field. The feature race for these started, which in itself surprised the hell out of Rossco because he was waiting patiently for the midget feature. After all they had midgets last night, why not tonight ….
Anyway Ross and the rest (including James McFadden who sat in front of us all night) looked on as the feature started. A pretty little pink number, which had been tipped as most likely to roll during the heats, hurtled down the inside of the back straight passing probably upwards of 10 cars in the process. He must thought cheating was a good idea as he went way through the infield on turn 3 and hit the infield tyre marking the track pole line.
The elevation he received from the tyre was remarkable. Shooting skywards he started flipping in mid-air and his momentum from cutting the corning propelled him into the path of all the other cars who were on the track proper. It was mayhem and his little pink car resembled a handbag after the wreck.
Day 21 – Monday August 3rd …
There are so many roads in the USA that a popular subject of debate between Yanks is “what route should be taken to get from point A to B”. Considerable argument occurs and of course no one ever mentions a street name, preferring simply to use the number allocated to a particular highway or road. They then leave the rest up to you to find it.
This happened this morning when leaving Kokomo to head northwest to Chicago. Stubb had a route in mind and so did I. In the end I think I won, but I’m still not sure, but whatever happened the way we went was very pretty as it wound its way through numerous Indiana towns. As I’ve said in just about every past Blog I never cease to be amazed by the veracity of Americans to mow their lawns using ride on lawn mowers. If they don’t do it twice a week, they do it three times. And there are no small lawns on these rural properties. The pride they take in their houses is amazing.
A time change into Illinois (and north western Indiana) meant we arrived at Hooters in Merriville at 11.45am for lunch. Once again we had prime seats and the company of the girls for a photo shoot outside afterwards.
We don’t drive in New York as you have just read. But Chicago is a different matter and the driver always gets prepared for what can be an adventurous excursion into America’s third biggest city. But today was easy. Using the Indiana Toll Road helps significantly as it eliminates the trucks who prefer to use the free Interstates of I-80 and I-94 which run concurrently south of Chicago with a freeway that at times has 20 lanes – 10 in each direction in an attempt to manage the traffic volumes.
Last weekend Chicago hosted Lollapalooza, a travelling music festival and it appears that every one of the million or so who attended stayed in the Essex Hotel and trashed every room. We arrived at 3.00pm but didn’t get the last GST guests checked in until 6.15pm when rooms finally became available after cleaning. Not good enough, but what can you do ….
A quick turnaround then saw most of the group troop off to the baseball at Cellular Field. [We are now gradually increasing in number with Fiona joining us today to complete the tour at Knoxville.] Usually we go to Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs, but this week they are away, so for us tonight it was the White Sox v Tampa Bay Rays. $20 got us surprisingly good seats on the third base line. The cheapest seats were $6 up in nose bleed territory high in the stands. Don’t let anyone tell you that going to the baseball is unaffordable.
A great night of entertainment which saw three home runs, plus the game could have gone either way with the last pitch of the night. Tampa were up 5-4 with the potential tying White Sox runner on second in the bottom of the ninth. A safe hit would have tied the score, or won it. The Sox batter struck out …..
Day 22 – Tuesday August 4th …
Got a surprise this morning when I woke up. Received an early morning e-mail from Fitbit congratulating me for achieving 15,000 steps in record time (for me anyway). I had purchased a Fitbit before leaving Sydney so that I could measure just how far we walk on these tours. It is constantly on my right wrist, but last night I took it off for the first time in 21 days.
The Essex Inn, like so many hotels, has floor mounted air conditioners which are always under the window and creep up the wall to about two feet high. In the Essex these conditioners are next to the double bed I was in so you can use the top of them as a receptacle for drink cups, watch, money etc. Plus on the occasion of last night, one Fitbit. Apparently, whilst fast asleep, I walked 17,878 steps, equivalent to around 15 kms.
Note to self. Do not put a Fitbit on a vibrating air-conditioner.
Today was a day for everyone to do their own thing. Darren surpassed his New York record by walking 25 kms during the day and almost the same distance again at night. Some took the Hop on Hop off double decker bus tours while others simply walked the city. The general consensus of all was that they couldn’t believe how clean the city is, how well set out it is, how wide its footpaths are and why didn’t someone ever tell me how great a joint this is.
In the evening half the group went to Dick’s Last Resort to be insulted by the staff and wear silly large paper hats. The servers deliberately go out of their way to insult you, or at least banter with each guest to work out what kind of person they are. Having done that, a two foot high paper hat is made up, a phrase written on it in texta and placed on your head. You can’t see it obviously, but it is usually the source of mirth to the rest. Trevor has retained his hat intending to wear it at the Classic in Warrnambool next year!!
It’s great fun and well worth visiting one of these establishments which are scattered across America.
Day 23 – Wednesday August 5th …
One of the all-time great roads in the USA was Route 66 which ran from Chicago to Santa Monica in Los Angeles. The Mother Road was established in 1926 and was 2,448 miles (3,940 kms) long before the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System made car travel so affordable and convenient post WW2.
Route 66 was the path to western promise for those escaping the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s. John Steinbeck’s novel the Grapes of Wrath gave Route 66 its most recognised nickname of the Mother Road when he wrote that it was “the road of flight” and provided protection like a mother does to her flock.
Today we started three days of exploring the Illinois section of R66 from Chicago to St Louis. You can use I-55 to drive the distance in 4 hours 42 minutes but we will need two nights and 2½ days as there is so much to see and do. The R66 start sign is in Adams Street at the corner of Michigan Avenue and can easily be missed if you didn’t know it was there. From this spot the route does wander and meander through the southern suburbs of Chicago, but it is way too hard to follow, so the best choice is to take I-55 for 12 or so miles to the Joliet exit. From this point there is no need to ever get back on I-55 should you not want to.
Joliet is the birthplace of the Blues Brothers movie and in fact it begins with Jake Blues being released from Joliet Prison which as an aside, was also the setting for the Fox Network’s Prison Break. Closed in 2002 it is now being developed as a tourist attraction for Route 66 travellers. The Welcome Centre in Joliet is a wonderful place to get geared up for the rest of the expedition. Not only is there a full blown Chevy 2 midget on display in there, maps, booklets and leaflets put you in full possession of everything you need … for Illinois anyway. Plus Jake and Elwood are there to have your picture taken with.
A few miles on from Joliet the Chicagoland Speedway (NASCARS) looms large on your left hand side. We were set for a guided tour of that complex as well as the Route 66 Dragstrip and half mile dirt oval. Rebecca and Charlie were waiting for us with a unusual request. They wanted to film a special piece for their Facebook page about the Australian visitors, so we all assembled under the brand new illuminated sign out on Historic Route 66 for the production. It didn’t take long at all before it was posted on their Facebook page for the world to see. Take a look at it if you have a moment.
Charlie then led us to the Dragstrip as we followed him in our own vehicles. As per previous tours, he was kind enough to allow us to drive the ‘bus’ and the “luggage mule” (Stubb’s Silverado” on to the starting area at the Christmas trees. The most amazing stat delivered is that by the time the top fuel dragsters reach a small black box 60 feet from the start line they are already doing 100 mph. Seating for 24,000 enables most to watch what is a very popular sport in the USA.
The adjacent half mile dirt oval is now sub licenced to a lady who runs World Series Demo Derbies on it. Gone forever for at least 10 years is the opportunity to get the World of Outlaws and USAC back on to it. But this year we did get to drive around it!!
Then it was off to the tri oval NASCAR track which has seating for 70,000. And bonus time for us. Instead of driving through the tunnel to the infield, Charlie led us into and under the grandstands and stopped his truck. He pulled out a set of keys and took us high into the corporate area of the stands and subsequently to the very top floor where the only people to have access on race day are the spotters for the teams. It was a magnificent view to the north and the Chicago skyline could be seen 50 miles in the distance.
A fun lunch at Nelly’s in Wilmington was followed by ice creams and milk shakes at the Polka Dot Inn at Braidwood where we were invaded by 50 or more Germans on rented Harley Davidson and Indian motorcycles on their way right through to LA. We had seen these people at our Hotel in Chicago but had no idea our paths would cross again. A company in Los Angeles provides the rental bikes, the tour guide (also on a bike) and a mechanic who drives the back-up vehicle towing a trailer with all their luggage.
Pontiac was next where probably the best R66 Museum exists, along with a Car Museum which not surprisingly has Pontiacs in it. Pontiac was named after the Indian Tribe by the way, not the motor car. Further meandering along the well signposted Historic Route 66 occurred until we arrived in Bloomington (Illinois, not Indiana where the Kinser clan come from). The McLean County Fair was in full swing next door to the Holiday Inn and the Tractor Pull was on this year’s Tour itinerary. Perhaps it won’t be on next years!! Not many liked swallowing two cubic metres of diesel smoke which each souped up tractor belched from its exhaust as it pulled the sled 280 feet down a groomed dirt track.
As I have said before a Tractor Pull makes sprintcar racing look like a white collar sport …. Only old Roscoe at 76 years young stayed to the end ….
Day 24 – Thursday August 6th …
Today was a big day … not. For once all we had to do on the road was 54 miles, but measured by fun it was much more. A lazy 10.00am start saw us head further south down R66 with the first stop being Atlanta (Illinois that is, not Georgia) where they have a pinball museum, a R66 museum, a 60 foot tall statue of a hot dog man, a town clock which still chimes at 55 minutes past the hour, a fantastic R66 memorabilia store and of course the Palms Grill & Café.
One disappointment though. The Café is famous for its history and its snacks, but mostly it is for Angel the beautiful lady who owns the place. Angel received quite a write up in last year’s Blog, but in 2015 she was absent holidaying in Canada. Never mind, the milk shakes, coffee and pie were still just as delightful.
Next stop down the road was Lincoln where Abe himself sits high upon a huge covered wagon reading a book of Law. That’s cool in itself and is always a Kodak moment but it is whats beside him that always attracts the eye on a hot and humid day in Lincoln. Yes, a Bowling Alley which serves lunch and provides the medium for the annual Global Speedway Tours 10 pin bowling championship. 12 elected to play so three lanes were set up and “the Chase” for the title began.
No team prize, just a straight up winner’s award which had been purchased in Atlanta just hours before. Shayne looked good early and shot out to an early lead but Tegan was gradually reeling him in. Stubb struggled at first until he realised a bowling ball is not a bean bag on a cornboard. At the end of game one, it was neck and neck between Shayne, Tegan and a rapidly improving Michelle.
Frames 3, 4, 5 and 6 were memorable for Michelle when she rolled four successive strikes and despite her low score in game one, she looked a big threat to steal the championship. The pressure got to her however and she fell back out of contention.
Whilst eating lunch the announcement was made of the order of finish, starting from position 12. Remarkably the three leaders’ scores were 262, 261 and 260. Tegan on 261 was proud to receive an original and beautifully embossed tin of Dale Earnhardt playing cards which I had found in Atlanta. Shayne on 260 wanted a re-match because he was keen to win the cards. The Tour host on 262 was not allowed to win his own competition.
Continuing on from Lincoln, again still on R66, the road in parts runs parallel to I-55 at times, but always departs from the Interstate to make its way through small towns that obviously were once large towns providing fuel, food and sleep to weary travellers who had to contend with a narrow dusty dirt road. There are numerous examples of gas stations, cafés and motels from that era which have either been restored, or just sit there waiting for nature to finally destroy them.
There are 38 towns / cities called Springfield in the USA. 39, if you include the fictional Simpson’s abode. We drove into the biggest of them all around 3.00pm and headed straight for the Illinois State Fairgrounds to perve on the one mile dirt oval from the uniquely American grandstand. I say that because every Fairground grandstand in the US (they seat 15 – 20,000 people) must surely have been designed and built by the same company. Massive structures that have enormous space beneath them.
There’s racing at the Fair next Saturday night except they will be one horsepower trotters tackling the dirt track. The Silver Crown cars return later in the year, as do the Harley Davidsons of the American Motorcycle Association.
And that was about it for the day. For the first time in 24 days “a rest period” emerged and three hours were gratefully grabbed to swim, hot tub, read the paper, or simply sleep, the most precious commodity of all.
But there was one more thing before putting the head down for the night and that was the traditional meal at Xochimilco’s – a fabulous Mexican restaurant right across the road. Lovely owners who have very heavy hands when it comes to pouring drinks and putting food on plates. The meals are enormous and delicious.
Day 25 – Friday August 7th …
Tonight at Pevely’s I-55 Speedway marks the first of nine successive nights of racing. It will be a gruelling final wash up to the tour. Now speaking of rain, the natural enemy of speedway racing, I must add at this point that we have not really seen any of the stuff since we have arrived. You’ll remember that we lost the Brad Doty Classic on Day 2, but that was from rain which had fallen before we had even left Australia. And anyway we replaced that race with USAC’s Terre Haute Indiana Sprintweek round.
We had a brief rain shower driving back to Indiana from Pennsylvania on Day 17, but apart from that the only time the wipers have come on is when we need to clear the dust and dirt from the racing.
Litchfield was the first stop this morning. It’s the home of the Ariston Café which is arguably the most famous stopping point on R66 in Illinois. Would have been even better if it was open!! But never mind Jubelt’s Bakery next door provided the perfect replacement for more coffee and pie for morning tea. Terry entertained seven dear old silver haired American ladies at a table by engaging them in conversation ranging from kangaroos to Hilary Clinton. Terry is fast becoming an expert as to whom the next occupant of the White House will be. It is his favourite subject of conversation with the locals and has now built up quite an “opinion poll like” knowledge.
It was time to leave for further R66 miles and Terry was nowhere to be seen so I went back to look for him. Previously he had been standing adjacent to their table and chatting. Now they had pulled up a seat for “this nice Australian man” and there he was sitting right in the middle of them all holding court as though he owned the joint. They were so sad to see him go ….
Russell Soulsby’s old Shell gas station at Mt Olive was next. On arrival we found dozens of Harleys already there and assumed it was the German regiment again but no, this time they were Argentinians doing the same thing. Next stop was the Country Classic Cars Collection just outside Staunton. 650 classic cars stored in giant purpose built sheds ready for sale there on the spot, by internet or by auction. Full printed inventories are available on site, but if you’re keen, just go to http://countryclassiccars.com
And finally the Pink Elephant Antique Mall in Livingston was the last of our stops along R66. Besides Terry polling the two dear old ladies who run it, we ate lunch there watching trucks endlessly ply I-55 between Chicago and St Louis. Three POWRi midget trailers went past which reminded us that we needed to make tracks to get to the fastest hi banked oval in the country.
We jumped back on to the Interstate and 45 minutes later were checking in to the Pear Tree Inn in Market Street where we caught up with Luke and Richard, two veteran Global Speedway Tours travellers. Richard is continuing with the Ultimate 3 tour post Knoxville and Luke just wanted to watch the Nationals again!!
Pevely is 30 minutes from St Louis and we were there by 5.00pm to enjoy the sunshine and the company of the locals. The absolute bonus to the program tonight and tomorrow is the inclusion of the POWRi midgets. In chatting to Johnny Gibson, the voice of the Outlaws tonight, he simply stated that the Ironman 55 was one of his preferred races on the long World of Outlaws schedule. When he found out that POWRi were also running, the weekend immediately became his favourite.
And we were both right. Forget the sprintcars tonight. The midgets stole the show. I’ve watched speedway for nigh on 45 years now and Friday night’s midget feature race was far and away the best I have ever seen in that class of racing. Tanner Thorson and Christopher Bell were mind blowing in their skill, precision and sheer courage to do what they do. There were 22 others behind them who had their own classic battles, but Thorson and Bell were exceptional. The track banking allows slide job after slide job in turns two and four and in a 30 lap race they executed the manoeuvres every lap at 120 mph around a 1/3rd mile dirt oval with a very hard concrete fence inches from them. If you can rate something as 15 out 10 then this was it.
That fence caught a few out too with three drivers misjudging the turn 1 wall resulting in spectacular end for end flips along the fencing and down to the bottom of the track such is the banking. All walked away ready to go again tomorrow night.
The Sprintcar feature was Kerry Madsen’s to keep until he was caught by that man Schatz on lap 16 and then seven others only to finish 9th (just like Richmond will!!) Schatz went on to win from a fast finishing Shane Stewart who looked ominous for tomorrow night.
Day 26 – Saturday August 8th …
An overcast but warm and very humid day greeted the troops as we arrived at the bottom of the north leg of the Gateway Arch in St Louis. The Arch deliberately sits north south to symbolise and welcome those who had migrated west to better their lives.
The ride to the top can be very claustrophobic, but everyone chose to make the two minute ride to the top at 63 stories or 630 feet or 192 metres. The view is spectacular, but is only 30 miles at best on any given day.
Construction abounds around the Arch precinct and will be so for another 18 months which must have a huge impact on tourism in the city. Getting from the Arch to the Mississippi River and the Paddle steamer Tom Sawyer required a tricky signposted walk through construction and fences. Once there it was interesting watching the bob cats at work to clear tons and tons of mud and flotsam that remained on the banks of the river from the hi water marks of the Mississippi during the enormous amounts of rain the area had prior to our arrival.
The Missouri river is the culprit according to the Captain. It and the Ohio River flow into the Mississippi way upstream and the Missouri brings with it huge tree trunks and branches which shipping on the river simply go straight over the top of, but which would sink a pleasure craft in a heartbeat. The piles of tree trunks just sit there until enough trucks can be mobilised to remove them.
The paddle steamer is always a very pleasant hour on the world’s most famous river. Right now it looks like the Yarra, but in time it will clean itself up again.
From brown water to more brown water. Next stop was the Anheuser Busch Brewery which offers free tours of the Budweiser plant. Today is August 8th. We just missed celebrating International Beer Day in the USA by 24 hours. The most striking thing about this brewery is that it is the operational centre for the world famous Budweiser Clydesdales. Their home in the grounds of the 100 acre Brewery complex is an ornate brick and stained glass stable built in 1885 and now registered as an historic landmark by the federal government.
One truly great stat of the tour comes in the massive buildings that house the vats of beer already brewed and due to be bottled, canned or kegged for shipment out every 24 hours. It would take one man who drank a case of beer every day for 137 years to empty them. Trev respectively offered his assistance to halve that statistic.
After lunch at the Brewery it was back to the Hotel for a short while before embarking on the trek down the road to I-55 Speedway again and tonight’s 55 lap Iron Man sprintcar race. The crowd was double last night’s and to me looked as if it was at capacity. The midgets were back again which prompts me to also add that Rico Abreu was in town tonight doing double duty in a midget and a sprintcar.
Rico really is a gun. He stands just 4 foot 4” inches tall (132 cms) and weighs 43 kgs. A dwarf is the best description for him, but in a just a few years’ time his name in worldwide motor racing will be as big as anyone’s. Rico finished second to Thomas Messeraul in the 30 lap midget A Main and he then backed up with a second to Shane Stewart in the 55 lap sprintcar feature. Stewart obliterated Madsen, Schatz and co with a drive that came out of nowhere. It shows the benefit of setting up your car to perform better at the end than at the start.
Day 27 – Sunday August 9th …
Whilst we have been travelling the American roads the scenery is always diverse around every 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 $17.99 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.
But enough of letting the mind wander …..
Today was an all travel day from St Louis north through Missouri and into Iowa with the beautiful Dutch town of Pella our end objective. The observations above reflect life on the roads and you can’t help but think about such things as the endless miles of bitumen disappear beneath your front wheels.
It was only 307 miles today but it does take our total mileage travelled to around the 5,000 miles (8,000 kms) mark since beginning on July 14th. Worth it? You bet, but exhausting at times.
Pella is home in my view. We have constantly stayed in the Royal Amsterdam Hotel (RAH) since finding it back in 2011. It, the people and the town are jewels in the crown. From now on, getting back to the Hotel after the racing will now simply be stated as “we arrived home”.
Richard Phillips, mine host of the Monarch Restaurant and Bar within the RAH kindly supplied some welcome drinks at the bar before leaving for Knoxville and the Capitani Classic. The list of people staying in the RAH with us over the next week is a bit of a who’s who. Something like Bob Gavranich (the billionaire owner of Kerry Madsen’s race team, (he has six rooms each night, but we have 13), Barry Wauldron (owner of Valvoline Raceway at Parramatta and Toowoomba Speedway) and Steve Green (General Manager Valvoline Raceway).
Down SR 15 and across Lake Red Rock dam always provides great views and memories and this afternoon was no different. They are turning the dam into a hydro-electric model but fortunately have left the road open during the Nationals. It would otherwise make the 14 mile journey 30 miles longer around the lake thus negating the lure of Pella and its close proximity to Knoxville.
A good crowd was in the house but was nowhere near what it will be on Wednesday when the Nationals start. One interesting addition to the crowd numbers was the inclusion of Australia’s Wade Aunger with an infield roving microphone. Wade immediately captured everyone’s attention and at the end the Yanks were hanging for more. The often critical sprintcar Message Boards on the internet were all raving about him on Monday morning.
I think he needs a new phone though. The race after Wade ran across the main straight from being in the grandstand talking amongst the crowd was yellow flagged as officials picked up mangled bits of a shattered mobile phone that cars had run over. Clearly it popped out of his top pocket while jogging across to the infield.
Shane Stewart continued his hot streak and ran down Danny Lasoski and Kerry Madsen to go on and win his third prestigious race since we have been here. He would give them all back though if it could ensure a win next Saturday night ….
Day 28 – Monday August 10th …
This year’s Month of Money tour has easily had the best weather of any of the previous four. In the lead up to leaving Australia most eyes were on weather apps on phones looking at what was happening in the US states we would be visiting and all they could see was rain, rain and more rain across the western plains. Since the day we arrived back on July 14th I can only recall it raining once and that was on a non-speedway day driving across Pennsylvania.
More of the same this morning as tired eyes looked out at the magnificent Dutch canals and walkways right outside our door of the Royal Amsterdam Hotel. Brilliant blue sky, little or no humidity, no clouds and no prospect of rain in the forecast.
Tonight is the Terry McCarl extravaganza that he invented years ago. He had an idea to create “a party at which a race broke out”. He secured the rights to Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa and started the Front Row Challenge in which the driver who had the highest points at the end of qualifying and heats had the opportunity to elect to go to the back row to collect $50,000 if he wins instead the usual $10k.
That doesn’t happen anymore as it’s virtually impossible to do that with today’s modern sprintcars so he has now doubled the winner’s share to $20,000 and you that can be won from the front row. He has kept the name though. Terry always has weather issues at Osky but today he could breathe easy as the gods were smiling upon him from above. He would have a bumper crowd that’s for sure.
Today was a day to explore the delightful town of Pella. As Dutch as Amsterdam, it is like finding an oasis in a desert. The Pella tulip festival is held in May and it attracts massive numbers. More than the races believe it or not. Squirrels run freely in the town square, the architecture is typically Dutch, people build homes and buildings to suit the theme (even Wal-Mart has a one off façade), bakeries abound with Dutch treats and the townsfolk look like they enjoy themselves day in day out.
At 4.30pm we headed for Oskaloosa some 14 miles down the road where Stubb was already with the BBQ grill fired up and meat patties, bratwurst and hot dogs sizzling away above the coals. We had chosen to offer “Stubb food” prior to going into the speedway, otherwise someone might have ordered an Oskaloosa hamburger (made with liquid mince) by mistake. No offence Terry if you’re ever reading this, but they are almost inedible my friend.
36 410 sprintcars took up the Front Row Challenge and across the course of the night the racing was interrupted by frisbees being thrown into the crowd, (four of which would reward the catcher with a 40” TV), beads for anyone who caught the thousands that were hurled into the stands and loud retro music which kept the crowd humming. Meanwhile on the infield thousands more were partying away and occasionally saw a race car go by …..
Tonight I was lucky enough to be invited up on to the starter’s stand by Toby Kruse who was flagging the racing. That was a thrill let me tell you. The stand shook every time a car went by and the turbulence created by the wings nearly blew us off the stand. A once off that probably won’t happen again in my lifetime.
Kerry started off the front row but could not catch Brad Sweet for the life of him. No matter how close he got, Sweet pulled away to win by probably no more than a few seconds.
Day 29 – Tuesday August 11th …
Everyday has been shopping day as the ever increasing suitcases being carried demonstrates. However today was “organised” Outlet Shopping day in Williamsburg off I-80. But before that we stopped in at Iowa Speedway in Newton to have a squiz at this 7/8th of a mile high banked paved track. The USAC Silver Crown cars, the NASCAR Xfinity series and the Camping World Trucks and Indy cars run here but not the NASCAR Sprint series. Too small for them apparently.
Upon arrival at the Outlet Stores, instructions were delivered as to how to work the discounting system along with coupon books only given to groups. And away they went. Or at least most of them. Some slept, while others attempted to save more by shopping more. The ladies were in their element, but some of the blokes dropped the ball a bit.
Around 3.30pm those who were going to the Late Models continued on to Tipton, another hour further east while the rest returned to Pella. A handful went to English Creek Speedway eight miles south of Knoxville, a small 1/6th mile high banked clay oval track which was hosting the 2015 Outlaw Dirt Kart Nationals. Not quite knowing what to expect those who went thoroughly enjoyed themselves where they saw entrants who had towed from states as far away as California in the west and Pennsylvania in the east. All classes competing (except one) were clad in sprintcar style bodies but on a kart chassis. It was surprisingly good entertainment.
34 Late Models and 41 UMP Modifieds were at Tipton and those who went reported a first class evening of entertainment. Shayne estimates he took more than 1,000 photos at a track that melded into the surrounding cornfields, had no fence or caution lights. Just a flag marshall. No doubt the pics will be up to the usual standard supplied by he and Darren.
Late tonight the second leg of the Twin features for Global Speedway Tours lobbed into Pella when Peter Hanson led his Ultimate Three tour members into town. We are now at 24 for the Knoxville Nationals.
Days 30, 31, 32, 33 – Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday – August 12th, 13th, 14th 15th …
For any sprintcar fan be they Australian, Kiwi or American, these four days in August are way at the top of the bucket list. Knoxville, Iowa is known throughout the speedway industry as the World Capital of Sprintcar racing. We know the Yanks have World Series baseball and we know that they think everything revolves around their country, but for this sport which we have driven 5,000 miles to religiously follow over the last 30 days, they are dead right.
There are plenty of dodgy tracks over here and there are plenty of really good ones but on Highway 14 through the town of Knoxville, there lies a dirt track stadium which is akin to “If you build it they will come”. On Wednesday Dave Argabright, America’s foremost racing author and now leading television commentator, joined our group for lunch followed by an address in the RAH Boardroom on how the racing world evolved to the extent that this town of just 7,251 people became the pinnacle.
Like so many others that still today remain in the same old condition, in the early 1900’s l’il old Knoxville had a half mile oval dirt track at the local Fairgrounds. It was built expressly for the local farmers to test whether their horse could pull a sulky faster than the neighbour’s horse. The locals, who would show up to watch, also needed something “fast” to eat so the concept of quickly deep frying virtually anything came about at the Fair. Across the course of time these fine healthy foods emerged. Deep fried zucchini, beer, alligator, Elvis on a stick, jelly beans, bubble gum, cheeseburgers, pigs’ ears, roadkill, sugar cubes, coca cola, the list is almost endless.
But I digress …
In time the farmers decided that more than one horsepower would be better, so as Henry Ford began to flood the country with Model T fords, the good ol’ boys started to experiment with driving these monstrosities on the half mile ovals. They cut the bodies down, experimented with and modified the engines and many killed themselves in the process. The fans loved it and flocked to the Fairgrounds to watch these new fandangled motorised machines roar around the track.
Because communication throughout the country was essentially non-existent and roads were like Route 66, unpaved and dusty, there was little travelling between towns, let alone the states. Hence unless you read about what was happening in the racing world in newspapers you simply didn’t know what was happening elsewhere in the country.
Therefore rules were different, shapes were different, engine sizes and types were different. The lack of consistency was at his highest. Drivers in California began to read about the hard chargers in the mid-west of the country and the competitive juices started to flow. Every now and again an adventurous high spirited but talented driver would head out east or west as the case may be to find out where he stood in the world of racing. It was the only way to discover how good he was.
Then in 1959, the Knoxville, Iowa Fairboard accepted a proposal from an enthusiastic local named Marion Robinson who had an idea on how he could create a means for which drivers from outside the state of Iowa could test themselves against these alleged “newspaper guns”. He wanted to formalise a “Nationals” where anyone could enter and run “whatcha brung”. He knew however that in time equality in engine size, weight, shape etc would need to be standardised. But for now he had his hands full processing the entries classed back then as super modifieds.
As the years went on the Fairboard was stubborn and refused to allow cars to run at their track with wings. Whilst it was nowhere near the speed of evolution which now occurs daily, there was sufficient progress in engine and chassis design that speeds climbed rapidly. Sadly the safety standards didn’t and drivers died regularly. After Roger Larson and Darryl Dawley were killed together on the front straight in 1979, the Fairboard conceded that wings should now be allowed at Knoxville.
Things went from strength to strength then. The old covered grandstand was torn down and replaced with a monolith on the front straight. Later a very large back straight grandstand was erected which is only used for the Nationals. The rest of the time it sits dormant. Knoxville has a population of 7,251 but these grandstands dwarf the town with seating for 29,000 people. Add in the number in the infield to those who just sit in their campers and RV’s and don’t even attempt to buy a ticket, then you really do have visitors to Knoxville in the region of 40,000 people. There are just three motels in town by the way!!
Despite apparent internal issues within the 24 man Fairboard as judged by the turnover of Race Directors in recent years, they are doing something right as attendances are still close to maximum and the town is full of fans many of whom travel up to 100 miles each way every day just to go racing. Vendors abound and hundreds of thousands of dollars are left in their pockets along with six million in ticket sales. The $150,000 first prize on Saturday night, which Donny Schatz has now pocketed nine times, pales into insignificance compared to the prestige and honour of being the Knoxville Nationals champion.
Another rising champion in Knoxville is AJ Mottet who owns the legendary Dingus lounge right across the street from the track in the middle of town. Almost as famous as the track itself AJ has built Dingus from a shabby little bar with writing on the walls to a big shabby bar with more writing on the walls. It’s not why people gather there however. It’s because of friends they have made over the years but only see at Nationals time, it’s because of the happy go lucky atmosphere and because it’s become a pit stop of sorts before and after the races.
Race shops abound in Iowa, two of which are Kerry and Ian Madsen’s teams. Kerry’s shop is in Knoxville, a former Timber Mill which the team bought several years ago and converted into their home away from the gruelling Outlaw trail criss-crossing the country. Kerry is always happy to have Aussies look over his immaculate shop which, as the saying goes, “you could eat your lunch off the floor”. 24 of us invaded on Wednesday afternoon and were amazed at the eight cars propped up on stands, or ready for action this week.
Ian’s is in Granger north of Des Moines and a very pleasant Friday indeed was spent inspecting the KCP operation before heading to Boone for lunch at Toby’s Hideaway. Toby being Toby Kruse, the former Knoxville Race Director and who now owns Marshalltown Speedway in Iowa and 141 Speedway in Wisconsin. He proudly showed us his Marshalltown track which was racing that night, but we declined to drive the 440 miles north east to Maribel (just a few miles south of the home of the Green Bay Packers). Toby drives up there every Saturday and back again Sunday!
Kerry Madsen has a new paint scheme for this week and as always it looked, sharp, very sharp. It was to reward him well when he finished second to Schatz, but not through lack of trying. He said at the presentation that he gave it everything he had over the last 15 laps but Donnie simply didn’t make a mistake and Kerry had no way to get past. He received $75,000 for his runner up possie and a trophy that was bigger than Rico Abreu who by the way lost himself some fans by qualifying for Saturday night’s A Main final (on the Wednesday night) knowing full well he couldn’t race Saturday because of commitments in Pennsylvania. Not good form Rico.
Although he did redeem himself a little by donating everything he earned from getting the car in the final to the Kevin Swindell recovery fund. Lap one of Heat one on Thursday night saw Kevin get bunched up and headed for the fence where he went skywards and landed with a thump on the back wheels. A landing like this is not good for a sprintcar driver as it tends to push the drive line and diff up through to the immovable seat. Fans quickly realised it was not a pretty picture for the “Bulldog” as the track rescue crew grappled with the task of extricating him from the car. When sheets were erected around the accident scene some fans feared the worst, but it was merely to give him privacy from prying eyes and cameras.
Eventually he was removed with a backboard and was transported by Medivac helicopter direct to Des Moines Hospital. Even as I write this four days later, the Swindell family have released no news on Kevin’s condition other than he was operated on Thursday night and will undergo another one Monday. Whilst we are all speculating, the prognosis for him being able to walk again must be low.
Our tour members amused themselves well throughout the four days by seeing everything that could be seen in and around Pella and Knoxville. Warnings should be sent to airlines I think given the amount of stuff bought in the last 34 days. Additional suitcases abound and the Global Speedway Tours’ scales are being given regular workouts to try to judge whether that last t-Shirt or model car (or in Shayne’s case another souvenired banner) can be fitted in.
Racing wise it was great, tempered by Kevin Swindell’s accident and unknown injuries. Donny Schatz won again and now with nine Nationals titles is creeping closer to the previously thought unapproachable level of Steve Kinser’s 12.
Day 34 – Sunday August 16th …
Kerry finishing second was a good enough reason to celebrate back at the Royal Amsterdam last night. He was third last year, so first is on the cards for 2016. Beat Schatz and he will.
Hence today was a varied one across the board. Some played golf, most weighed suitcases and re-packed them again and again, but they never got any lighter and four went to the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. This Fair is known as the largest in America and traffic and people were everywhere. Dropped off by yours truly at a designated entry and return to point out of the Fairgrounds, arrangements were made to meet at that exact same spot at 3.00pm. It was at the north eastern corner of the Fairgrounds complex.
After writing the Blog for hours inside a delightfully cool Burger King restaurant I returned at the appointed time. The two males Shayne and Bob (Blackman from the Ultimate 3 tour) were there waiting, but not the ladies. Now it’s unfair that I mention their names, so let’s just call them mother of Mitchell and wife of WA Bob. We waited for 10 minutes and were prepared to wait longer until the hot afternoon air was pierced by the shrill ring tone of my phone. A Des Moines cop was on the end advising she had two lost Aussies in her possession.
Now imagine this. All four were dropped off at the north eastern corner and they were now at the south western corner. Absolutely diagonally opposite where they should be and about two miles away. Both ladies offered money for no one to know about their misadventure, however it was declined, hence it has made the Blog. Some things don’t, but like “Trevorgate”, this episode had to.
Speaking of Trevor he came to the forefront again tonight when we had our farewell dinner in the local Pella Mexican restaurant. It is just around the corner from the RAH which is fortunate because Stubb made a special run to the Hotel to borrow their luggage trolley. After all when you re-enact the whole incident again in front of those who either had gone to bed on the night, or weren’t there at all (such as our Ultimate 3 friends) then it’s important that the scene is set correctly.
A small table was borrowed which became the picnic setting and Lou, Trev and Darren were called from the audience to recreate the crime. Trev stood in front of the rest in a position of urgent dispersement of bodily fluids and then fell forward and simply crashed onto the floor. (The Mexican beers helped in this authenticity.) At this point Lou yelled out from the ‘picnic table’ … “Shit, he’s gone again”. Darren moved into position and began making even stranger calls than he did on the night. Lou, Stubb and I turned on our phone torches and began peering down looking for Trev. He was actually right in front of us at our feet, but we ignored that for 15 seconds or so.
Stubb saw him first and we rolled him over to allow Lou to give Trev another giant wedgie which went down a treat. Trev yelped again and in time, just like on the night, we got him to the top. The luggage trolley was sitting out of sight and when it was brought in to play, the realism prompted a ripple of applause for the thespians out the front. That was meant to be where it stopped, but Roscoe rose from his seat and insisted on acting out the entry of Trev into his room, prostrate on a luggage trolley complete with a trash can on his lap. That may have actually been the funniest move of the night as Ross played his role to perfection and endeared himself to everybody even more so.
Day 35 – Monday August 17th …
Sadly it was now time to go our separate ways. There were a multitude of different departure times involved. Darryl and Pam left the Hotel at 4.00am by cab to Des Moines airport …. a nice fare for the cabbie considering its 50 miles (80 kms) away. The Ultimate 3 people left at 9.00am and the rest of us left at 9.30am, even though the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle would only be complete after Michelle, Bob, and Lou left at 5.10pm for five days in San Francisco.
For Stubb and I it was a long drive back to Chicago for me and Findlay, Ohio for Stubb and his wife Gail (who had flown in for the Nationals). The rental Ford had to be returned and the Chevy Silverado needed to have a rest in Stubb’s garage.
Subsequent e-mails, texts and Facebook updates revealed that everyone arrived where they were going to and a nice note from Trev revealed that he had retrieved Roscoe’s red Westpac carry bag from the bin in Pella in order to hang it on the wall in his Man Cave at home. Everyone had seen Ross carry this red bag into every race track we visited, but no one had ever seen him take anything out of it.
It was definitely an heirloom from the tour, along with the baseball Stubb found underneath Trevor down the hill on Day 7. Lou, Stubb and I autographed it as the Butler Rescue Crew and presented it to Trev last night as his memento.
Thanks to Bob, Michelle, Darryl, Pam, Lou, Trevor, Ross, Terry, Tegan, Jason, Shayne, Darren, Fiona, Richard and Luke for their wonderful friendship, sense of humour and memories throughout a fantastic trip.
Special thanks to Scott (Stubb) Phillips for his superb enthusiasm and co-hosting of the tour with me. Great job mate …