2017 Month of Money Blog
Hi and welcome to the Global Speedway Tours Blog for our 2017 Month of Money tour.
Even though we have now been in the USA for 48 hours, today (Saturday) is the first opportunity to put fingers to keyboard and start the Blog. And what better environment to be inspired by than the Indianapolis Speedway Museum. A truly magnificent special exhibition of AJ Foyt cars that he drove throughout his storied career. Midgets, sprintcars, silver crown cars, Indy cars, NASCARS, Le Mans sports cars – you name it, the original superbly maintained winning cars are here within this wonderful museum.
But more about that on Day 3 ……
Day 1 – Thursday July 6th
Unlike some past tours, the weather across American skies was fine and warm. That is, no thunderstorms which disrupt airline schedules. As a result everyone arrived on time and on their scheduled flight. 5.04pm into Indianapolis and the tour had started. A lovely evening permitted a short walk into downtown and the T-Mobile shop to organise phones and then on to Scotty’s Brewhouse for dinner.
Keen followers of these Blogs will probably ask “why didn’t they go to the Bourbon Street Distillery?” The very sad answer is that our favourite bar and restaurant on the tour is now closed.
Nevertheless Scotty’s proved to be a very able substitute and the ambiance around our table rivalled that of the Bourbon, especially when the corn boards were brought out and players began throwing the bags.
A special mention also at this point relates to room numbers. Since tour #1 back in 2011, we have been waiting for someone to be allocated a room (anywhere) numbered 410. Sprintcar fans will know that this is an important number when considering engine sizes. So congratulations John Ormsby who is putting his head down each night in Indy inside room 410.
Day 2 – Friday July 7th
Race day #1 (of 32 on this tour) dawned fine and sunny in Indianapolis but the problem was tonight’s racing wasn’t in Indy. It was 63 miles north in Gas City and the forecast up there wasn’t good. But we were optimistic, as you need to be when USAC’s Indiana Sprintweek is on.
Some took the extra free hours this morning to sleep in, while others woke up at 5.00am having not yet had a body clock adjustment. A quick trip to Wal-Mart to buy tape and blankets to mark out seats at race tracks was required. Blankets were too expensive, so a large double bed sheet was acquired for $2.97 and subsequently cut into three strips with a trusty pocket knife.
Having achieved our aim we set off up I-69 to Gas City, but with a five mile detour to Fairmount where a “shrine” of sorts has been established for James Dean. His legend lives on in Fairmount which was where he was born and lived until age 22 or so when he decided to move to Los Angeles to further his growing film career. It didn’t prove to be a good move though for young James because he was then killed in a dreadful car accident. After which a fan established a memorial to him in a house which wasn’t where he grew up, but I guess that hardly matters if you’re a James Dean fan.
Prior to reaching Fairmount the skies began to rapidly darken and it was clear that a classic American thunderstorm (aka T- storm) was about to dump its load. And it did for longer than we, and the track promoter at Gas City would have liked. But it did stop and we figured that with three hours before racing was due to start, they would have the track dried and ready to go. But a secondary front that arrived 20 minutes later proved to be unsustainable.
As we sat huddled inside the bus in the carpark, as miserable inside as it was outside, we saw the transporters begin to stream out of the speedway. We knew then that we were out of luck, along with thousands of others who had hoped for a race tonight. Faces were long and silence reigned supreme inside the bus as the realisation came that we had been “cheated” out of our first race by mother nature.
But the mood lightened considerably when I announced that social media was carrying the news that it will be rescheduled to Monday night. What a great evening to pick because we don’t have a race to go to that night. Even though we will be 2½ hours away in Dayton, Ohio it is only the right thing to do to drive five hours total to go watch it. It’s just what you do when on tour …..
After a Starbucks coffee stop to warm up (the temperature had dropped by 25 degrees F in 30 mins when the storm came) we decided to drive back to Indianapolis via Kokomo where we would dine at Golden Corral. Our favourite “all you can eat buffet”.
Upon return to Indy we spent the night out in the hotel carpark establishing our credentials with the dollar beer esky whilst listening to the dulcet tones of Johnny Gibson calling the World of Outlaws racing from Cedar Lake in Wisconsin. A very pleasant evening indeed …… especially given Kerry Madsen won.
Day 3 – Saturday July 8th
Again it was a beautiful morning, but we rested easy this time because the forecast was for clear skies all day and night. And it proved to be the case.
The Indianapolis Speedway was our first stop for three and a bit hours to experience the museum and take the VIP Grounds tour. All included in the Month of Money tour price. Every year the Museum curators feature an exhibition honouring a particular driver from years gone by. In 2017 that driver is the legendary AJ Foyt and they should rightfully be over the moon with what they have created.
The most famous (original) cars that he drove to hundreds of victories in midgets, sprintcars, silver crown cars, NASCARS, Indy Cars and Le Mans sports cars were all exhibited in the museum, having been loaned by various owners around the country. These folk are proud to have their pride and joy viewed by the fans who are flocking to see this collection.
At 11.15am we jumped into the Indy Speedway bus for a 90 minute tour of the grounds. Not just the obligatory ride around the 2.5 mile track either. We got that, but were also treated with access to the Media tower on the main straight, the winners victory podium and the famous Pagoda on the main straight which is the nerve centre on race day. The top floor belongs to the telephone company Verizon and is where it entertains its top corporate clients. Phenomenal views, but the fact remains that even at that height, there is still nowhere in the joint that a spectator can see the whole track.
The obligatory “kissing of the bricks”, a visit to Gasoline Alley and access to various other areas that are off limits to everyone except the VIP tour all followed before it was time to once again head for the sprintcars. The drive (to Kokomo) was full of fun and good spirits because outside there was not a cloud in the brilliant blue sky.
By 3.30pm were parked alongside the infamous Scott “Stubb” Phillips who had reserved a spot for us next to their camp in the parking lot. Our (refilled since last night) esky was placed next to theirs, chairs were produced and we sat down to reminisce about experiences from past tours. Only two members of this year’s tour had not met Stubb before so, it was an easy process to ease them into Stubb’s unique way of life.
The cooking gene within Stubb emerged around 5.00pm and the grille was fired to begin BBQ’ing bratwurst sausages that were eagerly devoured inside buns smothered in mustard and “special sauce”. Cheaper (and better) than eating track food ….
Like Gas City, Kokomo had been hammered by the rain yesterday afternoon and large areas of the carpark were soggy and underwater. The overflow crowd, which could usually be catered for within the expansive grounds, caused chaos out on Davis Road with parked cars lining both sides of the street for as far as the eye could see. No doubt the local council coffers benefitted immensely tonight.
But it was a different story inside where meticulous track preparation throughout the day got to the point where they were adding water to the surface in the late afternoon. But it couldn’t keep the dust down and although the feature was a great nonstop 30 lapper, the difficulties of the last 24 hours produced more dust than I have ever seen before at Kokomo. Thomas Meseraull (aka T-Mez) blitzed the field and although last year’s Sprintweek produced seven different winners from seven races, I think T-Mez will win more than the one this year.
Day 4 – Sunday July 9th
Ever wondered what happens when your credit card is swiped five times for the exact same amount by the same supplier? Well naturally Citibank (in my case) will consider your card as having been compromised after the first two and simply decline the others. And then put a block on it.
Now I actually knew all that from experience, but when sorting something else out separately, the check-in chic at the Lawrenceburg Hollywood Casino quite innocently put through the five transactions for the same amount, which were the “deposits hotels need from your credit card in case you steal the towels”. A reasonably small amount of $50.00 a room, but still enough to trigger the alarm bells in the fraud squad back home.
So bingo there goes the Visa card. I could have used a separate card, but there’s a principle at stake here so the only solution was to call and sort it out. Again….. It’s happened before to me. 19 minutes later the card is back in action with apologies galore, but no answers as to how to deal with a similar future situation.
Now the first question that will spring to your mind while reading this is why didn’t he put everything on the one room bill? Excellent question and the one that I asked upon walking in. “No sir, we need to run the card for every room, because we have arranged for the breakfast costs to go on each room account.” I was about to debate that point, but was distracted and before I knew it, bingo, the third one was declined.
Now fast forward to breakfast Monday morning. Opening at 8.00am, the group temporarily minus me, lined up at 8.00am outside the Epic Buffet (weird name) ready to devour breakfast. But they weren’t allowed in because the staff’s instructions were that Peter in room 353 had to sign the bill “because all costs are going on his room.” Next I go to the front counter to pay. It’s a different chic for check-out. “I’m covering all the rooms”, I said. Her immediate response was “why didn’t you ask us to create a Master account and put all the costs on your room? And just pay once.”
And there you have evidence that whilst Americans can put a man on the moon, there are some who still haven’t considered the rocket yet .….
So what else happened today?
We left Indianapolis at a very respectable 9.30am and headed for Lawrenceburg. But via the immensely large Indiana Fairgrounds where the legendary Hoosier Hundred for Silver Crown cars has been raced for decades on the one mile dirt oval. Regretfully however, that may not be the case in years to come, for reasons only the Fairgrounds Board would know.
The only horsepower on the track were trotters being exercised by lapping the circuit once every three minutes. From there it was south-east down I-74 stopping for a bite at Blimpies (version of Subway) before rolling into Lawrenceburg around 2.30pm. The speedway was on the way, so naturally we had to stop in and have a look, even though we would be back there in three hours’ time. Whilst driving through I heard a voice call out, looked around and saw Bob Clauson, the late Bryan’s grandfather.
Bob had seen us drive in so I immediately stopped to pay my respects to him as our paths had not crossed since that fateful day last August. As I expressed my condolences, he told me that the “best thing” about Bryan’s accident was that he wasn’t there at Belleville to see it.
Next stop was two minutes away at the Hollywood Casino who kindly provided me with the opportunity to ring Citibank (somewhere in Asia I guess). And then it was off to the ultra high banked Lawrenceburg Speedway. We could have walked actually, but as the shrewd Russell pointed out, “if we do that we will have nothing to drink in the carpark.” 10/10 Russ … good thinking.
We settled in under a reasonably hot sun to kill three hours before racing started. The whiff of gin wafted gently down from the adjacent Seagram’s Distillery up on the hill. But even that couldn’t drown out the smell of methanol when the USAC fire-breathing non winged sprintcars fired up. Their racing as usual was superb. The 30 lap feature ran flag to flag (just like last night) with CJ Leary running away to win comfortably. He would have been 20/1 if the TAB operated, but he was just too good tonight which shows the strength of competition these guys have to endure.
PS We now have our first banner, not stolen, but kindly provided by Chet Christner from Speed Shift TV. We will display it proudly at the next 29 racetracks we go to Chet.
Day 5 – Monday July 10th
Despite the difficulty in getting admittance to the “Epic Buffet” in the Hollywood Casino, it turned out to be an excellent repast to start the day. All you can eat breakfasts certainly set you up for the day and longer if you secretly carry out as well.
The ride home from the Lawrenceburg Speedway to the Hollywood Hotel last night took two minutes at most. The shortest ride in Global Speedway Tours’ history. However tonight we would be returning to our usual habits because we have the rescheduled Gas City race from last Friday. Given that we are committed to our pre-paid hotel in Dayton tonight, it will be close to a six hour return trip to watch what was originally Round 1 of Indiana Sprintweek.
Hence to fit everything in today we headed off early to Dayton and the world renowned US Air Force Museum. Regular readers will know that this establishment is always on our itinerary, such is the quality of its presentation of all things to do with flight. Russell, who is the first member of the GST Hall of Fame (soon to be elevated to Legend status) is on his eighth tour with us. Five of them have included this Dayton sightseeing event, but he is still first through the door to look at everything again.
After four hours or so there it was time to head off back into Indiana, but via the hotel to check in. Whilst there I asked Russ to Phil Ureski (sometimes known as an Australian soccer player) so that if we succeeded in getting the racing in at Gas City we would have supplies for some pre race tail gating. With this duly done we set off and travelled back west. All the time watching the sky for signs of the dark grey clouds to disappear. It would be a very long drive only to find out that it had been rained out again as the forecasters were predicting.
It seems however that avid speedway people are more adept at reading radar apps than the Weather Bureau, because as we put the miles beneath the wheels, we became more and more confident that it would be on. Others apparently weren’t, because on arrival we could see that cars in the parking lots were very scarce indeed. The show started promptly at 6.00pm and by 8.50pm it was over and done with when CJ Leary took his second chequered flag in 24 hours. The last driver to win two Sprintweek races in succession was Bryan Clauson in 2013.
Set for the drive home, I decided we would travel interstates all the way. I-69 to Indy and I-70 to Dayton. In theory we wouldn’t have to stop, whereas if we went home the way we came, two lane roads, detours and deers in headlights were probable. In practice however that didn’t happen. All was going well until about 15 miles out of Indy when traffic came to a standstill on I-69. One of those cases where you have absolutely no idea why the traffic has stopped, but you assume (in Yank speak) there’s a wreck up ahead.
30 minutes later our assumption proved correct as we inched past several cars being dragged onto tilt trays by exasperated cops who knew full well there was probably a bank up of five miles of traffic behind them, even at midnight. This and the food and coffee stop meant that what we hoped would be an early night, changed somewhat indeed. But we were safe, that was the main thing …. unlike some on I-69.
Day 6 – Tuesday July 11th
Again it was a race day and again we faced an agonising 12 hours between waking up and driving into Attica Raceway Park for the Brad Doty Classic. The weather forecaster dudes were predicting thunderstorms at 6 o’clock, which when you consider that Attica had three to four inches (90 mls) of rain yesterday, probably wasn’t guess work.
But the convoy must go on and on we did to Wapakoneta north up I-75. Strangely enough for a largish town in Ohio, it doesn’t have a speedway. But, besides the great coffee in the Wapa Maccas, the other thing this town is on the map for is the Neil Armstrong Air and Space Museum. Anyone born after 1959 would probably have watched Mr Armstrong and his buddy Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon on July 20th 1969. So it was with some trepidation that I asked Heath and Kelsey, both of whom were born in the nineties, whether they knew who Neil Armstrong was.
They had some idea but I was thrilled when they came out to hear how much they enjoyed the Museum and how they had learned a great deal about the moon landing and the planning and preparation put into the Apollo 11 program. Now if I can just get the check-in chic from the Hollywood Casino Hotel to do the same thing …..
25 more miles up the road lies the town of Lima, home to Limaland Speedway where the Brad Doty Classic was once held before being moved back to its initial home of Attica. I have seen one race at Limaland and missed two others because of rainouts. This time we missed it again because the gates were shut. The best laid plans don’t always go the way you want as we had driven deep into Lima to see the track, never expecting that on a weekday in the racing season it was shut tighter than a Citibank Visa card.
So it was on to Tiffin and the Hampton Inn to get ready for the night’s racing. The skies were looking good as we proceeded in an easterly direction (that’s the way cops talk) however our eyes were diverted from the wild blue yonder when Donny Schatz’s beautiful transporter cruised past us on US30 enroute to Attica. A majestic hauler indeed, we allowed it to overtake with no fuss so folks could take photos.
Like many speedways in America, Attica Raceway Park is inside the Fairgrounds. After dropping Terry off at a chiropractor in the main street we continued on a mile or so to the main entrance gates from where Stubb guided us to our saved parking spot right alongside his white Chevy Silverado. Two minutes walk to our seats. And as always, there were a myriad of US sprintcar fans who appear magnetically connected to Stubb. He appears and so do they. Terry eventually turned up too on the back of a golf cart having conned a lift up from the chiro.
I’ve never been to Attica before so I can now add it to an ever-growing list of US tracks. Brad Doty was paralysed from the waist down in 1982 or thereabouts at Eldora and this race is held in his honour each season. The new Brad Doty champion is now David Gravel who took the lead away from Tim Shaffer on the 40th of 40 laps in a thrilling finish.
Before leaving we saw photos of what the track looked like yesterday after being deluged by the rain. The great lakes region of Ohio is getting pummelled by the weather gods at present, so just how they got this race in is anybody’s guess. Later the next morning around 3.00am heavy thunderstorms woke most in the hotel and down it came again.
Day 7 – Wednesday July 12th
Well let me say that this day will definitely be kept on the itinerary forever. Let me explain how it unfolded.
Day 7 was always going to be one which could have gone either way between a rating of zero or ten. As it turned out it got an 11.
It was an early departure from Tiffin for Heath and Kelsey who opted to pay the big bucks to visit Cedar Point. Like Knoxville is known as the Sprintcar capital of the world, Cedar Point is the roller coaster capital of the world. Situated right on Lake Erie there are 17 roller coasters just waiting to scare the you know what out of you. Whilst there are a couple of good old wooden roller coasters, the rest are brand new corkscrew style rides with the highest and fastest being Top Thrill Dragster at 130 metres (40 stories) and maximum speed of 190 kph.
Stubb kindly swept past the hotel at 7.30am and picked them up for the hour’s drive north to Cedar Point. The rest had a small sleep in before following in the bus a couple of hours later. Not to ride the coasters, but just to have a look. Some sweet talking of the lady in the carpark allowed us to venture in without paying the $30 to park and as we slowly circumnavigated the park the immense size of it became apparent. 16 acres of rides plus separate hotels, campgrounds, restaurants and bars. Impressive by any standards.
Although we obviously didn’t see the Aussie thrill seekers, we left them to ride first and vomit later, whilst we made the short drive to Port Clinton. I had asked Stubb ten months ago what could be done in his part of the world on our racing day off between Attica and Eldora. With no delay in replying, he said, if you can book in to The Island House Hotel in Port Clinton and then go out to the islands that lie 20 miles out in Lake Erie. Seemed fair enough, but I must admit I hadn’t done much research on it, apart from getting the rooms in the hotel.
Don’t tell him but his suggestions were first class. The hotel was effectively right on the lake foreshore and directly opposite the Jet Express catamarans that make the fast trip to Put-In-Bay. But first the Hotel. It was built in 1870, destroyed by fire in 1882 and the current structure was erected in 1886. Improved since of course the list of people who have stayed in the hotel is impressive indeed. Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Bob Dylan, Babe Ruth, Al Capone, J Paul Getty, General MacArthur, Randolph Hearst, Julie Andrews, the Ringling Brothers, three US Presidents, Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe who they know was in room 2214. Terry and I had 2222 which I presume would have been Richie Benaud’s had he stayed there.
Wonderful architecture and dripping with history.
After checking in we headed for the Jet Express which absolutely flew across the 13 miles to Put-In-Bay on South Bass Island out on Lake Erie. The lake is fresh water by the way and its major outflow is through Niagara Falls. One of the staff on the big cat took a liking to us and most happily pointed out everything he could think of to make us more knowledgeable about what we were seeing on the 30 minute journey.
Perhaps the best way to describe Put-in-Bay is that it reminded me of Key West in Florida. Smaller, but just as vibrant and carefree. We lunched first up at the Boardwalk (recommended by our new found friend on the boat of course) with everyone ordering Walleye, a local fish prominent in the Lake. Together with a couple of drinks we were then ready to board the rented 8 seater golf buggy so we could explore the island. Seeing it all was impossible, but the driver T Barry managed to make a good fist of it. Except when he parked it for ice creams and drove straight off the cement slab especially put there for golf buggies. Once dragged out we discovered the buggy still worked which was fortunate indeed. After all an hour’s hire cost each of us the exorbitant sum of $2.50.
The return journey across the lake was in a different larger and faster vessel and off to the starboard side we could see the super large cooling tower of the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station at Oak Harbour on the southwest shore of the lake. I make this observation for good reason because an hour later we were standing in the back garden of Stubb and Gail’s holiday home in Oak Harbour. One mile from the Nuclear Power station and it’s giant cooling tower spewing steam, which looks exactly like smoke.
Above us were power lines on large towers taking electricity from the nuclear plant to distribute across Ohio. No wonder Stubb has always called his cottage Bonnie Doon, ever since he saw Darryl Kerrigan’s holiday shack in The Castle. Ah, the serenity ….
And it was a pleasant evening too spent with our hosts whilst munching on roast pork and sipping a quiet beer or two in the twilight.
Day 8 – Thursday July 13th
We awoke to what virtually could be called flash flooding around Port Clinton. Heavy downpours just before dawn left the streets awash. Not enough to prevent driving in suburbia, but once we got out into the rural areas the standing water in paddocks, people’s houses and the roads were sufficient to have driven people from their homes and cut off main roads to through traffic. Several times we had to detour before hitting I-75 to head south to Troy, Ohio. And yes, every sprintcar fan should know that’s where Jack Hewitt comes from.
Checked into the Greenville Inn, a hotel that is now becoming a favourite before heading off to Eldora and the “Joker’s Wild” night of racing. Before venturing inside the cauldron that is Eldora, we re-acquainted ourselves with Stubb and Gail at the palace which would become our “home for the next three days. What follows, as those who have experienced it before, is three days of fun, laughter and great friendships with new and old American friends.
But not unusually it rained. Heavy, but not heavy enough to deter the track staff from waiting it out and preparing a lightning fast surface. So fast that very little passing occurred once the first heat got underway at 11.55pm. 56 minutes later, the heats, all dashes and the B Main had been completed and we were ready for the A Main. Remarkable. There hadn’t been a yellow caution light stoppage in anyone of those races.
In the feature our own Kerry Madsen ran away and hid, he was that quick. He won the opening night by the length of the front straight from Brad Sweet.
Day 9 – Friday July 14th
If it’s Kings Royal time, it must also be time to visit Winchester Speedway. This iconic track sits back in Indiana just a few miles over the Ohio border. Driving past, it’s easy to miss, such is the distance it sits back from State Road 32. Acres of beautifully manicured lawn lie between the road and turn 1. Usually used for campers during the Winchester 400 weekend, the lawn has also been known to accommodate wayward race cars and drivers who have lost their way off the turn 1 or 2 high banked bends and cleared the fence.
Waiting for us on arrival were Charlie Shaw, the laconic track owner whose company Astral Industries is also one of the largest coffin manufacturers in the US. As Charlie says, “if you own a race track you have to have a real job as well.” With him was Kirk Daugherty Charlie’s right hand man at Astral and at the track, along with Bob Lemons the Winchester historian amongst other things.
Winchester is still the Winchester we have always visited, but is missing what I thought was an historic sign at entry onto the track which said “Through these gates pass the bravest drivers in the world.” But as it turns out it had only been there for a few years and is now replaced by one with the identical words, but in a much more colourful format.
We were ushered into the plush VIP corporate room to hear Bob explain the history of the track along with tall tales colourful and true of drivers who have raced there and the shenanigans some get up to. Mostly however it’s serious business for those who choose to race there. Banked at 37° on the turns the speeds for a half mile pavement track are claimed to be the fastest in the world. Evidence of the slope is proven when one tries to walk up them from the bottom as we all did of course.
Although Bob didn’t have the two seater Nissan with him today, he did have his Thunderbird Roadster with him to give us some “demonstration laps” in his Yamaha powered machine. These cars are built by the same company which manufactures Legend Cars and just maybe the next class to hit Australia?
Another great nostalgic day at what nearly every American speedway fan would say is the one track they sure would like to visit. Thanks Charlie, Kirk and Bob as always.
A most enlightening comment came today from Kirk, after noticing we are travelling in a brand new Ford Transit mini bus. “How do you like ‘em Pete?” he asked. “Great to drive, they look nice and plenty of room” I said. Kirk’s reply was “Yeah I agree. We’ve just bought some of these because we use them to ferry fans from the campground to the track entrance on big race days. Then at work we found that if we remove the seats we can exactly fit four coffins in there ……”
Kathy’s Diner just down from the Greenville Inn was the venue for a late lunch to set us up for night two at Eldora. Once again we have the luxury of pulling into a parking spot at “Stubb’s compound” in easily the most convenient spot you could imagine. Particularly when you consider there are probably and I’m guessing, 7,000 RV’s there. Only a select few have front row spots!!
Christopher Bell, the kid who looks like he just left his high school class to nick over to Eldora to jump into a sprintcar, took victory over a surging Donny Schatz in tonight’s race over 30 laps. Tomorrow night is over 40 and the extra 10 laps may be just what Schatz needs.
Day 10 – Saturday July 15th
An 11.00am run to the Beverage store to stock up for the Global Speedway Tours sponsored Saturday at Eldora was the only planned pre midday activity this morning. Once that was achieved we were off, north up Ohio State Route 118, the most famous road in sprintcar folklore I’d reckon. In fact the section of road from Ansonia to the speedway itself is now officially called the Earl Baltes Highway in memory of the man who built the complex from the ground up back in 1954.
On arrival at Stubb’s you could feel the atmosphere and excitement had gone up a notch or two, even though racing would not start for seven hours or so. But there was much to be done in those hours. The most important of which was to compete in the “Petey Memorial” cornboard tournament which was established several years ago to remember a young fan close to many at Eldora who chose to end his life in tragic fashion. Since the inauguration of the tournament, Global Speedway Tours have been proud to provide two of our tour shirts to the winning team and well sought after they are too I might say.
16 starters today were called to the boards including Australians Greg, Heath, Kelsey and yours truly. Everybody drew for partners and each of the Aussies were drawn with an American which was an excellent random result. A loss in the first round didn’t mean you were out of the competition because a losing team had a chance to redeem themselves in a later round and still make their way through to the final.
Unfortunately for Kelsey, Greg and I we were in that category, but Heath and partner Brian Shearer, a good friend of GST from Knoxville, won their first round and the second and the third and suddenly they found themselves in the grand final against two very experienced Yanks. A nervous Heath, who was throwing unbelievably well, was now to play off for the title. The game began and the scores were neck and neck for about 15 minutes until Brian threw the winning bag straight into the hole to clinch victory. The shirts were presented and although Heath already had a tour shirt, this was his trophy and he wasn’t donating it back to anyone. Nor was anyone expecting him to do so by the way.
Brian was thrilled to bits to win his. He knew what the prize was and desperately wanted one. I’m sure he will be wearing it in Knoxville when we arrive for the Nationals in about 20 days’ time. The following is the “press release” announcing Heath’s victory on Face book.
Breaking news for Australian sports fans.
In the “60th annual Petey Memorial” cornboard tournament held each year at the Eldora Speedway in Ohio, an Australian has taken victory in this prestigious event. Displaying nerves of steel combined with talents honed from his 2013 season in the American championships, the final was played out on centre court of Stubb Stadium watched by a lock in crowd. That is, no one was allowed to leave.
The final 16 contestants in the tournament, including Global Speedway Tours members, fought out a tight two hour lead up to the final with cut throat minor rounds and semi-finals.
Eventually it was the butcher from northern Tasmania who won what could be the most thrilling sports final ever seen since Angry Ash de Groot from Port Hedland won the “Petey” in 2012. Today it was our own chiselled and hardened athlete Heath Pursell who dominated the final with his throwing partner to win 21-14.
News outlets are permitted to copy and paste and use the accompanying photos. Look out for the local paper the Penguin Post to report this phenomenal result next Wednesday week in their bi monthly morning newspaper.
Celebrations have continued long into the night at Eldora only interrupted by things with wings and no mufflers a short distance away.
PS. Heath’s partner was Brian Shearer, Knoxville’s former Chili Bowl corn board champion. Shearer said “Heath was awesome. He carried my butt all day”.
30 minutes or so after the final, a former winner of the title turned up on his golf cart fresh from another cornboard championship elsewhere in the complex. A “Tournament of Champions” was quickly organised and Stubb partnered the former winner up against Brian and Heath. Brian and the former winner put on an amazing exhibition with at one stage each of them throwing all eight bags into the hole in one end. I’ve certainly never seen that before. And then they did it again!!
From a racing perspective the actual Saturday night Kings Royal was just so so. Schatz won it, but Christopher Bell was the star of the show coming from 20th to take 2nd on the line from David Gravel. The Eldora of old is sadly missed. The track that is, not the facilities which are first class. The days of all cars on the highline, just six inches or less off the fence at 200kph appear to be numbered, if not gone already. Sad, but always still a thrill to visit and watch racing at Eldora Speedway.
Day 11 – Sunday July 16th
Whilst driving this morning from Greenville to Mansfield, I pondered upon something that was entirely unexpected. Indiana Sprintweek is so powerful, fast and competitive, that accidents tend to be more prevalent in this week of racing than you’d find on a regular Friday or Saturday night program. The counter to this is that all the good guys from across the States show up and race. Hence the talent is ten fold what it is on a usual night’s racing.
The same goes for the Kings Royal. However you look at it, these three nights at Eldora can be scary. There are no small accidents at Eldora. Just big ones.
But guess what. Three nights of USAC non wing qualifying, 12 heats, several C Mains, three B Mains and three feature races did not produce one upside down race car. It was the same story at Eldora. The wing manufacturers made no money whatsoever at the Kings Royal. On any night. Amazing but true.
Mansfield Speedway was a night to behold. An impeccable, neat as a pin complex greeted us on a hot sultry day. A T-Storm was predicted for around 9.00pm, but with a 6.00pm start for the heats, it was gonna rain at 9.00pm, by which time we’d be done. But neither happened. It didn’t finish at nine and it didn’t rain.
This 4/10th mile semi-banked track used to be pavement (asphalt) with weekly racing of sedan categories. Crowds dropped off so an enterprising promoter came along, leased the track, brought the profilers in, ripped up the pavement and put clay down. A gutsy move indeed. The decision to open the (dirt) track early this year was way after all the sanctioning bodies and race teams had made their commitments to other tracks for the 2017 season. So he decided to play a waiting game and schedule races only when it fitted in with other neighbouring tracks.
A honourable strategy which appears to have already paid dividends. Tonight’s meeting was originally rained out earlier in the year so it was re-scheduled for a night when there were no conflicts, albeit a Sunday night. But he was rewarded with excellent fields of Late Models, non-wing and winged sprintcars. Each category was racing for $5,000 to win. And the spectators turned up in droves.
As did Ian Madsen, Rico Abreu and Dale Blaney, plus plenty of other local Ohio drivers.
All three features were excellent, but the winged sprintcar A main was superb with Rico and Spencer Bayston (in Kevin Swindell’s team car) putting on a clinic on a track where the cushion was six inches from the wall and they used it on every corner of every lap. Abreu took the win over Bayston by the length of his body. That’s 1.3 metres by the way
Day 12 – Monday July 17th
Time to head for Pennsylvania, although on this Month of Money tour we go no further east than Butler where we stay for the races at Lernerville tomorrow night. But before doing so we wanted to visit the Ohio State Reformatory (OSR) which we had tried to do yesterday, but a rock concert on the expansive lawns vetoed that.
This place is breathtakingly good. To read more than I can write about it, click on the following link – Ohio State Reformatory. Alcatraz on San Francisco Bay is deservedly #1, but the OSR is a hidden gem. For those who may not know, the Shawshank Redemption was filmed here and it drips history around every corner. I would recommend it to anyone who is visiting Ohio, or adjacent states. Make your way to Mansfield and when you get there consider staying in the Hampton Inn & Suites in Mansfield South. They have the biggest rooms of all time.
From Mansfield we headed due east through Ohio and into Pennsylvania, a drive of around 190 miles (308 km) on the interstates. It’s almost surreal how the countryside changed from the flat open fields of Ohio to the lush rolling hills of the Dutch populated Pennsylvania. In fact the Fairfield Inn & Suites (our hotel in Butler) sits on a hill, now known as “Mackereth Mountain” since 2015, which can be dangerous to drinkers late at night.
Rachael’s Roadhouse hosted us for dinner as usual and the jam jars used for drinking vessels were once again up to scratch.
Day 13 – Tuesday July 18th
A brilliantly hot day greeted us this morning, which is fabulous if it’s race day. Around midday we took off to explore a little of Butler which is where the original Jeep was designed and manufactured for WW2. It came into being when the US Army released a tender for an all-terrain vehicle. The only drawback being that interested parties had only 49 days to design and build it.
Lunch was in the Chop Shop in the Main Street. “Chop” meaning cut apart, as in cars that were specifically stolen for parts and then rebirthed as different vehicles and sold as new. Stuff that only early Americans would do. Of course Australians would never get up to that practice.
The World of Outlaws had followed us to town and tonight they had the Don Martin Silver Cup on the line. $25,000 to win over 40 laps. The Silver Cup used to be unique in that it was two features races run consecutively. Starting positions in the second one depended on finishing positions in the first one. The fans liked it, but the dissatisfied drivers won the day in 2016 and it returned to just the one lap 40 lapper.
For the record, Sheldon Haudenschild should have won, but his desperation in keeping a rampant Schatz at bay meant that he clipped the front straight fence coming out of turn four with five laps to go and cartwheeled down the front straight destroying his car and what looked likely to be a $25K cheque.
Day 14 – Wednesday July 19th
A long driving day ahead of us prompted a reasonably early departure back west to Ohio. Previous MoM tours had continued on to Williams Grove Speedway in Harrisburg, PA and subsequently three nights in New York, but the attraction of securing 10 more races on the itinerary by altering that schedule was too attractive. Hence it was a 480 mile (770 km) haul today and tonight.
One of the most unique races (I would never call it the best) on the USA season calendar occurs back at Eldora Speedway when the NASCAR Trucks roll up and race on the dirt half mile. It’s been going now for five years and it can best be described as “if you’re in the area you’d want to see it.” Although, be aware that last weekend at the Kings Royal, the sprintcars were lapping in 12.5 seconds. The fastest truck in practice did it in 19.57 seconds. They do weigh 3,000 pounds (1,340 kgs) so are a touch cumbersome. That’s all I’ll say.
We had been making excellent time back to Eldora, so decided to detour a little and head into the acclaimed Mid Ohio Sports car track, just outside Mansfield. (It appears everything happens around this town!!) Again another unexpected bonus. When we arrived we were pleasantly surprised to see six Indy car transporters in there. Two from Chip Ganassi Racing (where we go tomorrow), two from AJ Foyt’s team and two Dale Coyne Racing haulers. They were setting up for testing tomorrow so although we didn’t see them go round, we certainly got to spend time up close and personal with the crew members who, like all Americans, were more than happy to chat with us and show us stuff.
An arrival at 4.00pm or so at Eldora allowed us a little luxury in relaxing in the (very) hot sun for some tailgating and entertainment from adjacent Yanks. Terry and Heath were fed (freshly cooked hamburgers) and watered (beer) before everyone headed in to watch the Big Block Modifieds which were the support category. (They go round in 17 seconds!)
The entire night is dominated by the adherence to the Fox Sports Network producers who were providing a direct telecast of the race. Surprisingly it was shunted to the Fox Business News channel as the Sports channel was committed to a soccer match. Hence there was a massive amount of downtime all evening. When the 150 lap race finally got underway, only eight of the first 40 laps were run under a green flag. The other 32 were under the yellow caution flag. For speedway fans this is absolutely foreign because if it’s a 40 lap race, it’s a 40 lap race under a green flag. Laps run under caution are not counted.
Maybe I should just record for historical purposes that Matt Crafton won the race from Stewart Friesen and Chase Briscoe ….
At 11.50pm we were heading down 127 towards I-70 and the 180 km ride “home” to Indianapolis. Travelling the interstates at night is thrilling. Many others wouldn’t think so, mainly because 4 out of 5 vehicles are trucks, but I love the immense challenge of staying in the same game as them.
Day 15 – Thursday July 20th
No rest for the tourists. Despite a 2.15am arrival last night, the doors of the Hotel opened again early this morning to let out a ragged bunch of Aussies wearing sprintcar shirts to an Indy Car race shop. As you do ….
Grant Weaver was once again our host who showed us around to everything we are allowed to see. Despite one of the three team cars being at Mid Ohio, the other two Indy Car teams were here in the shop. However the Le Mans sports cars were absent. Close up inspections of the cars are permitted, all of which were in differing stages of being stripped down for maintenance. We ventured into the engineering area, the repair shop, the wrapping design section and lastly “out the back”.
To my knowledge Ganassi do not do public tours at all and our relationship with Grant at the shop builds each and every year. No cameras are permitted except in the back area with the transporters and where the former race winning chassis’ are beautifully presented and impressively stacked up the walls. Also displayed here is the driver’s tub out of Scott Dixon’s car that scared the living daylights out of everyone at this year’s Indy 500 when it flipped and soared down the back straight. Apart from a small scratch, the carbon fibre tub kept Scott uninjured and remained totally intact.
Where to next? It was off to Brownsburg to drive around seeing the various race shops in the Industrial Park especially created for Motor Sports and associated industries. There are Drag Racing teams, Indy Car teams, sprintcar and midget teams galore. And then it was off to what has become a favourite place for lunch. The Pit Stop BBQ. Today it became even more special. As we walked to our table a group of “old guys” were visible in the main area of the restaurant.
Then sitting up at the bar as we walked in was another “old guy” who I slightly recognised as being familiar, but no name came to mind. He was watching us take our seats and I couldn’t resist going up to him and make acquaintance with him. Turned out he was Harold Cottongim the owner of the Pit Stop. He was familiar because in a previous year he had shown us around the place which is adorned with photos and memorabilia from earlier days of racing.
He said he was watching us walk in through the big windows at the front and he said to me, “I was pleased to see you guys come in again. I can now stave off bankruptcy for another week or so.” Clearly tongue in cheek as the place is always very well patronised. But I liked his sense of humour and we got on very well.
It was then that he casually announced who the “bunch of old guys” were in the main restaurant. They were no less than:-
- Bill Vukovich
- Merle Bettenhausen
- Pancho Carter
- Robin Miller
- Kenny Wallace
Maybe not names known to non-speedway folk reading this, but let’s just say that it’s like an AFL fan walking into lunch and being introduced to Kevin Sheedy, Ron Barassi, Alex Jesaulenko, Tony Lockett and Bob Skilton. You then had a photo shoot with them and after the rest had departed, Sheeds comes over to your table, pulls up a chair and then spends 30 minutes with your group telling yarns and tales about his career. That’s what Merle Bettenhausen did for us totally and utterly unsolicited.
Merle by the way doesn’t have a right arm anymore since it was torn from his shoulder in an Indy car accident at Michigan Speedway in 1970. After the accident and subsequent recovery he continued to race midgets (speedcars in Oz language) and travelled to Australia to race many times with significant success and all with one arm.
Walking out of the Pit Stop BBQ wasn’t easy. We were floating high with wonderment about what had just happened to us. Heath and Kelsey were too young to even know of any of these guys but were respectful enough to know that because the other old timers at the table (the Australian ones that is) were on a high, they just sat there silently listening to Merle and watching our faces light up brighter than the track lights at the old Sydney Showground.
As if that wasn’t enough we then drove to the old Gasoline Alley about a ½ mile from the Indianapolis Speedway. It was here that the drivers from the era we had just heard about had their garages. The buildings are still there wholely intact, but now most have other automotive businesses in them. But importantly there are still some dirt track teams who still operate out of this famous road which very importantly is located in the suburb of Speedway, Indiana. US zip code – 46224.
Arizona Shirts, who supply t-shirts, hoodies, jackets etc to the entire racing community have their showroom in Gasoline Alley. It is always a stop along the way on the Month of Money tour and there is plenty purchased there believe me. The many large bargain bins are rifled through with a fine tooth comb looking for shirts that suit. You can walk out with five for $20, easy.
The hours after 6.00pm were spent at Lucas Oil Raceway in Clermont, Indianapolis. Call it a suburb as well because it’s only 20 mins from the Hotel. Today’s legends prefer to still call it IRP, short for Indy Raceway Park. USAC’s Silver Crown cars were racing there on the ½ mile paved oval in the Rich Vogler Memorial Classic. Not the most exciting race we’ve seen, but importantly the tour guys have now experienced these beautiful sleek cars which really do typify an era just passed. And we spent the afternoon with the guys who drove them in the 50’s and 60’s and are still alive to talk about it.
Late tonight the usual night caps were being consumed in the Courtyard Marriott parking lot when one of Indiana’s finest (that’s a policeman) quietly cruised in beside us and stopped. Although I knew what we were doing was legal and OK, others were somewhat concerned that maybe their tour might have just come to a sudden end.
The officer, whose card I now have so I can make contact with him about a police escort to next year’s Indy 500, quickly put minds at rest with his friendly nature and keenness to talk to some Aussies. He had driven into the parking lot to use the Hotel’s free Wi-Fi of all things. He chatted with us for what maybe could have been an hour about any subject the guys wanted to raise and some he wanted to ask about.
Besides the offer to assist in arranging a Police Escort next May, I also received a commitment that anytime the tour is in town to let him know and he’ll be happy to take people one at a time out in the squad car with him for the entire night as he patrols the city.
Day 16 – Friday July 21st
Plan A today was to drive to Medaryville 107 miles north of Indianapolis. Indiana has 54 speedways inside its borders such is the interest in racing within the Hoosier state. One of them is Shady Hill Speedway and even I hadn’t heard of this track before the ASCS 360 sprintcars months ago scheduled a national points paying race there for tonight. Call it intuition, call it sceptical but I wasn’t confident of this race going ahead.
And nor did it, having been called off about 10 days ago when it became clear that the owners and drivers were not going to support it. Only nine cars were prepared to make the journey, so it was knocked on the head.
Which was quite fortunate indeed because just before we left Australia NASCAR and the Indy Speedway powers that be announced that the Hauler Parade would be changed from yesterday afternoon to today. And this is a spectacle one should not miss. But more about that in a minute. I need to give Sarah Fisher’s 1911 Grill in Main Street a serve.
Their website says “great bar food with fast service”. Well never had we had such poor and slow service anywhere at any time. The upshot was that three people received their meals for free as management were too embarrassed to charge for the errors and mistakes which occurred. The rest were not charged for drinks and we left the establishment without leaving the mandatory tip.
The food once it arrived was reasonable, but gee whiz, the rest was dreadful.
One redeeming feature of Sarah’s business however is the two very large indoor karting tracks behind the 1911 Grill. A (very) high banked oval where karts reach amazing speeds, plus a road course that is super challenging. None of us raced, but it was good fun watching those who did.
We wandered up and down Main Street poking our noses into shops here and there before finishing the afternoon in conversation with yet another local cop – this time a Harley Davidson mounted one. He was happy to show his bullet proof vest under his uniform and his weapon (gun that is), plus allow the guys to be photographed sitting astride the Harley in Speedway, Indiana’s Main Street.
The transporters arrived dead on six o’clock and they filed down Main Street nose to tail before stopping and lining up two abreast. There were 50 of them, beautifully presented with blackened tyres and their outstanding sponsor wrapping glistening in the late afternoon sun. Plenty of giveaways were handed out from each hauler and I doubt that anyone could have gone away empty handed.
We finished off back at Lucas Oil Raceway for some door bangers. There were no open wheel sprintcar, midget or Silver Crown races to be found anywhere tonight within a reasonable distance of Indianapolis. Never mind, the ARCA cars (a lower division of NASCAR) had a 200 lapper so what else is there to do on a Friday night? Terry tells me that that guy who won did so with an excellent race strategy. I just thought he was faster than anyone else ……….
Day 17 – Saturday July 22nd
17 days in and there has not been one hint of a sniffle, cough or indeed, the host having to vomit in a bucket whilst driving in pelting rain coming back from Terre Haute which required the assistance of the passenger in the right hand front seat to steer the vehicle along I-70 at night time!! Usually there is a bug of some kind picked up in the plane on the way over, but I must admit the vomiting episode last year was a first. Thanks Steve P for your assistance that night…..
So even though everyone is in good health, when today arrived it provided welcome relief for many. The Month of Money is a very gruelling tour and a day off from being on the road during the day and a racetrack at night, is eagerly looked forward to. So far we’ve driven 2,750 miles (3,700 kms) and today was a day that if you didn’t want to get out of bed, you didn’t have to.
Whilst I’m not sure if anyone took that option, I do know that some visited the zoo, some strolled into downtown Indianapolis to sightsee and shop and others went to the NASCAR Xfinity race at the Speedway. This is the only race out of the 32 on our itinerary for which tickets are not included in the tour cost. Reason being is that the race is not everybody’s “cup of tea” which is as polite as I can put it. Those who did go were transported there ready to be picked up again at 5.30pm to drive to Lincoln Park Speedway, 60 miles away in Putnamville.
This race meeting was just a regular Saturday night show of non-wing 410 sprints, Modifieds, Late Model Super Stocks and Bombers. Ahhhh, the Bombers. 39 of them turned up. We arrived in plenty of time to do a little tailgating which always involves an American or three wandering into the conversation to become part of it. The Putnamville track is a “mighty purdy place” indeed as the Yanks would say. Surrounded by huge shady trees the carpark is ideal for RV’s and caravans to stay overnight.
But back to those Bombers. The night was hot and humid and when we arrived in brilliant sunshine there was not a cloud in the sky. So, as the various heat races were run and won in all classes, the sky eventually went black as it tends to do when the sun goes down. The temperature didn’t change and there was no wind so I doubt anybody even bothered to check radar apps to see if it might rain.
The sprintcars did their bit with AJ Hopkins taking the feature win. AJ was the man who made the front pages of the racing papers a couple of weeks ago in the Indiana Sprint Week round at Bloomington while we were at the Kings Royal. He rode a wheel on the main straight just before going into turn 1 and cartwheeled off the track gyrating madly in the air. He bounced hard, bounced a third, fourth and fifth time, but still didn’t stop flipping. It was only the two private cars that were parked on the other side of the big wire fence that was there to stop sprintcars like AJ’s that eventually stopped him. He won tonight’s feature in a brand new back up car and was a happy fella indeed.
Kenny Wallace, our new found friend from the Pit Stop BBQ, dropped into the track with his Toyota powered Modified. Kenny took that feature race, not unexpectedly. And then the Bombers began to roll out for their two features. These lads had great difficulty in their car control during the heats and some of their races had as many yellow flags as the Trucks at Eldora last Wednesday night. And then suddenly, almost as if by divine intervention from up above, the heavens opened up and the meeting was washed away ….
Day 18 – Sunday July 23rd
There has been much conjecture about just how many spectators today’s NASCAR Brickyard 400 would attract. The Indianapolis Speedway is reputed to hold 440,000 people. When the 400 first arrived at the “big track” in 1994 it was the most attended NASCAR race of all held that season with an estimated 250,000 fans. The Speedway never releases attendance figures for this race, or the Indy 500 in May. But the local paper the Indianapolis Star reported that as few as 35,000 remained in the track tonight to see Kasey Kahne take the chequered flag in an almost farcical race at 8.56pm. (There are no track lights at Indy by the way.)
For years now the attendance at this race has headed south as the Yanks say. Means fallen! In 2012 the same newspaper the Indy Star proclaimed in a Monday morning front page story that “There are now two official parades in Indianapolis each year. The Indy 500 parade through the streets of town on a Saturday morning in May is the first and the other one is the Brickyard 400.” Pretty well sums up what has become a very basic follow the leader single file race.
In moves to fix the monotony, NASCAR have changed the traditional date to September 9th in 2018. The last race in the schedule before the Chase playoffs start. Whatever that means. But that alone won’t help unless they also change the rules to institute restrictor plate racing like they experimented with in the Xfinity race on Saturday. That’s all the jargon and garbage you’ll get from me now.
Suffice to say that a number of records were achieved today.
- We made it to the speedway from the Hotel in 19 minutes. A world record “QuickTime” as the owner of Mackereth Mountain would say. Previous attempts to go the same distance for the Indy 500 have taken up to five hours.
- We had the closest ever parking spot to the track of all time.
- The race had 13 caution periods, the most of all time.
- The race was stopped for a pending severe thunderstorm after 10 laps or so. It resumed three hours later.
- The race had I don’t know how many crashes …. way too many to count. I think what must happen in NASCAR races is that when the 20 laps to go sign comes out, a full moon suddenly appears in the sky and the drivers go mad.
- The race did not officially have a winner, although Kahne was awarded it when it was quickly decided that the “98th accident” on lap 160 could not be cleaned up in time before the sun went down.
- On a day which started at 4.30am for me, when I took Heath and Kelsey to the airport so they could continue their holiday in New York, the race finally ended at 8.56pm. In darkness pretty much.
- Kokomo Speedway, where we were supposed to go tonight, was rained out although perhaps they foresaw the comedy of errors that was going to happen at Indy and just simply decided not to open??
Days 19 & 20 – Monday / Tuesday July 24th and 25th
Last Saturday we farewelled Heath and Kelsey to New York and today we said goodbye to Pat when we dropped him at Indy Airport ready for his marathon flight(s) home to Toowoomba. Peter E has joined us now for the second half of the tour and we will increase in number even further in St Louis on Day 29.
But today was all about getting to the beautiful city of Chicago. Yes, it can be, or put more succinctly, is a dangerous place. Like any city it has its problems, but you are worlds away from them in the downtown area. We were staying in the heart of the Magnificent Mile, otherwise known as Michigan Avenue. Right next door to the 100 story John Hancock building. And most importantly for Terry, at least 124 Starbucks.
But before arriving in the Windy City we broke for lunch at Hooters in Merrillville along I-65. It’s become a customary stop and is a very handy place to spend the additional hour we gain when passing from Indiana into Illinois. The only drawback was that the girls were super busy with a large number of people dining there and couldn’t make the traditional photo shoot outside the restaurant.
As crowded as it is with residents (2.7 million) the traffic in Chicago, albeit dense, is always easily manageable with the expansive interstates that run into and through the city. So it was a trouble free run right into the guts, as an Aussie would say. Finding a park for such a large vehicle however is a challenge, but that was covered off by a most hospitable cop who let me leave it in the University of Illinois parking lot just seven blocks away from the classy Westin Hotel on Michigan which became our home for the next two days. After finding out I was an Aussie, he said to me “anything for an ally mate.”
For your scribe, Chicago is always catch up time with paperwork and Blogs, but everyone else scatters to see the sights. The Double Decker Trolley company provided the Hop On Hop Off buses to enable them to get to most corners of the city and listen to the live on board commentary as they meander in and around Chicago and the picturesque Lake Michigan.
Judging by the comments of all, it was widely acknowledged that although they had some misgivings about staying in Chicago, it quickly dawned on them that this is a city which should be at the top of everyone’s bucket list to visit. Unbelievably clean, vibrant and alive with people strolling the streets in great weather who are very proud of their metropolis.
Monday in Chicago usually sees us at Wrigley Field for the Cubs v someone. However the current World Series champions were playing cross town rivals the White Sox, hence tickets were impossible to get and even if you could, the cheapest was in excess of US$120. Hence the tour budget, which had money set aside to buy tickets at what I thought may be somewhere near pre World Series win pricing, was spent on dinner at one of Harry Caray’s restaurants.
Harry was the “Bruce McAvaney” of baseball sportscasters who spent 30 years calling games, 16 of which were for the Cubs at Wrigley Field. He invested his money wisely and prior to his death in 1998 built up a chain of Harry Caray restaurants. We patronised the one in the Water Tower adjacent to the Westin Hotel and an enjoyable night (without root beer much to the chagrin of several in the group) was spent with our server Stevie. His humour matched ours and we traded barbs all night.
Tuesday night’s dinner was at Dick’s Last Resort on Dearborn Street, this time sitting out on the patio right alongside the Chicago River which flows through the centre of town. Bree was the server and she most certainly left her mark on my phone after being asked to take a group picture. Several hours later I found about 20 shots of herself on there as well when, after engaging us in conversation, had quickly reversed the camera on the iPhone to the front and bingo, numerous photos of Bree pulling faces were on there!!
Day 21 – Wednesday July 26th
On previous tours, the day we leave Chicago is always a fun time. Not because we have left the city, far from it. If the schedule allowed, I’d stay there for three nights. But it’s the start of travelling Route 66. And this year the added bonus is racing tonight at Peoria for the first round of Illinois Sprintweek. On all other tours we have had no racing at all for four nights until we reached St Louis. However this year, dropping New York meant that we were able to squeeze in ten more races for the tour.
The weather was lovely as we drove down Adams Street off Michigan Avenue to cruise past the “Start of Route 66” sign. The “end of Route 66” sign is at Santa Monica beach in Los Angeles, 3,940 kms away. Turning left off Adams into Wabash creates some nostalgic memories for “The Untouchables” fans. You would remember the elevated railway in this series (and plenty of movies). It’s still there and still in working order as the L Train runs on this line every two minutes it seems.
Trying to track R66 through the city and suburbs is way too time consuming so for us so it’s straight onto the I-55 Interstate headed south for St Louis. After 40 miles or so is the turn off for Joliet and it’s here that our exploration of the “Mother Road” begins at the Joliet R66 Welcome Centre. And yes, the Chevy 2 midget is still in there, albeit in a different position each year.
Next stop is at Chicagoland which sits right on R66, but is a little bit more modern as it’s here that the NASCAR track is along with the famous Route 66 Drag strip. Not to mention the ½ mile dirt oval which was used this year by the World of Outlaws sprintcars and late models. The first time in maybe 12 years. As usual Charlie Lindsey was waiting for us to provide a guided tour of the whole complex including to the very top of the NASCAR grandstands where the spotters and TV crews are only permitted on race days. The view from here is breath taking looking back north to the Chicago skyline 80 kms away.
Waiting for us at the drag strip was a crew working on removing the existing rubber laid down from their last race night. They showed us how it is burnt off and scraped up ready for this weekend’s competitors to arrive. Underneath this rubber is a hugely sticky surface which provides the grip the tyres need.
If you’re reading this Charlie, thank you so much for your continued cooperation to Global Speedway Tours over so many years. Hope your granddaughter loves her new koala backpack.
Nelly’s at Wilmington was next where Tina, Cathy and Kathy always look after us with typical R66 Diner food. Signatures were once again left on the ceiling, although available space is becoming very scarce. Ice creams with Elvis, Marilyn, James D and Betty Boop from the Polk-A-Dot Drive in at Braidwood followed, before moseying our way through Gardner, Dwight, Odell (with the tunnel under the road to the church) and Pontiac.
It was here at Pontiac that for the first time we noticed the cloud build-up in the south west. No worries the lads said. Peoria is 80 miles away yet. Except I knew that Peoria was in fact directly south west of Pontiac. Should I be worried? The answer was yes because as we flew down I-55 and onto I-74 at Bloomington, the darkness developing outside radiated into the bus. Talkative passengers suddenly became very quiet as the rain drops hit the massive windscreen and the automatic wipers jumped into action. And then they disappeared, not to be seen again until after the last heat of the MOWA sprintcars.
Americans refer to a line of thunderstorms when the heavens are about to break loose. Looking out from the grandstands at the speedway, the line of black cloud was clearly evident as it rapidly approached. Light rain fell and the crowd began to disappear to their cars. They knew what was coming. So did the competitors as the transporters were loaded and began leaving the pits well before any public announcement was made.
That light rain suddenly changed to big fat rain drops and we just made the bus before it unloaded. The short drive back to the Hotel was safely negotiated even though a garden hose at full volume appeared to be aimed at us. The rain was intense to say the least. Visibility was next to zero, but we were able to find a Five Guys hamburger joint and shelter in there to eat burgers with tomato, lettuce, fried egg, cheese, fried onion … in fact everything an Aussie would want, except for beetroot!
Day 22 – Thursday July 27th
When people peeked through the curtains this morning they found a similar day to yesterday afternoon. Miserable, but not raining. And the forecasters were suggesting that another 100 miles south, where Tri-City Speedway resided would have a possible T-Storm at 1.00pm and then clear. Good news indeed for Round 2 of Illinois Sprintweek tonight.
Springfield was our first objective though and after a quick look at the Illinois State Fairgrounds and its one mile dirt oval, we made our way to the Maxim Chassis Company factory for a pre-arranged tour. We had time up our sleeve so Terry suggested we lunch at Jungle Jim’s on Route 66. R66 runs right through the heart of Springfield and Jungle Jim’s racing memorabilia café was ideally placed for a visit. What a great joint! It’s owned and operated by Jim Davidson and his fourth wife Kathy (also now divorced from Jim). They work together, but don’t sleep together we established. The humour and laughs were in abundance during lunch as the Aussies took over the café much to the delight of other patrons.
Dan Musselman at Maxim was really interesting. Dan took us right through the operation and (for me anyway) it’s the first time I’ve seen how sprintcar chassis’ are built. From the first bending of the chrome moly tubing to the final addition of a wing strut. As far as I know nothing was left out. Greg and Terry were in their element …..
It was during our time at Maxim that today’s bombshell hit. Dan asked where we were headed next. Tri-City Speedway at Pontoon Beach was of course the answer. He said why. “It was cancelled at midday today.” We were shocked to say the least because the weather “looked OK”.
But we had to go down there anyway because accommodation had been booked and pre-paid as is our practice in expectation of the race going ahead. It was doubly sad because we had to come back right through Springfield tomorrow headed back to Pontiac for racing Friday and Saturday. Oh well it was going to be 230 miles for nothing.
But in an attempt to cheer the troops up, we stopped in at the Ariston Café in Litchfield at 4.00pm for coffee and their legendary home cooked dessert pies. It worked, as everyone elected to eat at least one and they were succulent, delicious and plentiful. So much so that no one had dinner that night in Pontoon Beach.
As we attempted to leave the Ariston, the rain returned and stayed with us for the rest of the drive to Pontoon Beach. Of course we had to stop at the track which was locked up, but the standing water in the carpark was enough to convince us that the promoter had made the right call at midday.
The night was spent “bench racing” in the hotel’s breakfast area, complete with the $ esky and joined by Paul from the Gold Coast.
Day 23 – Friday July 28th
Steps (miles?) were retraced today when it was back up to Pontiac some 180 miles north towards Chicago. This was always planned but we had hoped we would see some racing to make it worthwhile. The compensating factor in our favour though was that it gave us more time to explore R66. From Pontoon Beach we headed to Edwardsville. A dull name for sure, but such a pretty town. Some of the houses in the main street (old Route 66) would do me for the rest of my life. Quite affordable to an Australian, but only the top echelon of Americans could buy them.
We had plenty of time so we meandered along enjoying the brilliant weather (yes it had changed dramatically, as often happens here) and stopping in at places such as the Pink Elephant at Livingstone to explore the markets inside. And the ice cream shoppe outside.
Through Springfield and Bloomington (again) before eventually arriving at Pontiac around 3.30pm. It’s the closest town to Fairbury which has hotels!! Tonight’s track is known as Fairbury American Legion Speedway and is called that because it was originally supported by the American Legion, a US War Veterans’ Association, much like our RSL. A surprising partnership, but one that has endured.
Their biggest race by far is the Prairie Dirt Classic for Late Models. Many have told me we should be going to it so by leaving out New York, this year’s tour was able to get to it. I was totally unprepared for what we would find. The place was packed to the rafters. Like Knoxville in Iowa, Fairbury in llinois only has a population of 3,603 but has a speedway that is the envy of many holding maybe 10,000.
In the pits were 63 top class World of Outlaw Late Models, any 25 of whom could win the $30,000 on offer. Backing them as the support category were 79 Modifieds which were separately racing for a large (for them) first place money of $5,000. It was a two night show with the 100 lapper for Late Model’s tomorrow night. But tonight’s unusual format had four 25 lap qualifying races, each of which paid $2,500 to win. The Modifieds had five heats of 25 laps.
No overall winner tonight, except the fans of course who went home very happy that the rain had cleared and a high quality race meeting was in the books.
Day 24 – Saturday July 29th
A day of leisure. Today was going to be the Global Speedway Tours 10 pin bowling championship, but renovations at the Fiesta Lanes curtailed that activity. Pontiac, Illinois was therefore ours to investigate. A stalwart Route 66 town, it has a number of interesting features to explore.
The centre square, dominated by the Town Hall / Court House is ringed by shops, one of which was a little café where lunch was consumed under umbrellas in the warm midday sun. Much to the surprise of everybody, our table all ordered salads of some kind, except for John who had his usual hamburger in a bun with everything on the side in case he didn’t like some of it.
Next was a quick look at Bob Waldmire’s school bus which he converted into mobile living quarters 25 years ago to travel Route 66. It’s now permanently at rest outside the Pontiac R66 museum and attracts hundreds of visitors who walk through it, amazed at the memorabilia he collected and stored in the bus.
The time was creeping up on us and it was off to night 2 of the Prairie Dirt Classic. An overflowing crowd was expected tonight and the pundits weren’t wrong. When we arrived around 4.30pm all regular car parks were full, but through good fortune not design, we were ushered into a newly opened area and were amongst the first to go in. We picked a great spot under a towering tree and next to a small lake.
It wasn’t until after an hour or so into tailgating, the helpful guy parked next to us explained that just for this Classic race, the Town opens up the Water Board property next door to the track. The lake was in fact a treated sewerage outlet …..
What can you say about Fairbury American Legion Speedway?
Firstly, this race should be on every race fan’s bucket list. The calibre of cars and drivers is phenomenal. You may not be a Late Model fan (like me) but I’d go back there like a shot with next year’s group if the dates fit. You cannot look away for a second during the racing as it’s like the old “thrill a minute” fairground shows. Three hours of power just about sums it up. The commentator (name unknown) could easily get a job auctioning off cattle at the Illinois State Fair such was his speed and command of the English language.
There was no dust and the crowd ringed the track in grandstands that surely must have rivalled the Coliseum. The old covered grandstand is heritage listed and can’t be demolished, but to accommodate the crowds they have built good old trusty bleachers all around the track. At many races the cue to get a beer or something to eat is when the support classes come out. Not here!! The 73 modifieds entertained like nothing before. We understand the engines these things use are around the 460 cubic inch mark. No one seemed sure if in fact there was an engine size rule.
The number of speedways in the USA is mind boggling. Around 700 according to the National Speedway Directory, but I would question that figure I reckon. I’d say there are more! Every one of them has the local home town heroes who are the fasted and classiest around. Most of them were here tonight is my tip. You’ve heard the old saying of “if you put enough in the top of the funnel, something good has to drop out the bottom”. Well tonight we had all those guys who had dropped out the bottom.
I wondered if they have a desire to go further in their driving career? To NASCAR, to Indy cars to big money drag racing? I doubt it. I think most are more than content to race Late Models, as it’s reported that tonight’s Classic winner Brandon Sheppard is up around $400,000 prizemoney winnings already for 2017.
By the way a post script for the Prairie Dirt Classic winner’s ceremony is appropriate. The driver is given the usual large cardboard cheque (in this case it is for $30,000) and after speeches, kisses and photos, the cheque is put in the back of the Late Model and the way is cleared for the car to be re-fired and driven off the dais. Then out through the pit gate, out of the pits, along the street adjacent to the track, turn left at Maple Street (probably) and then it’s a quarter of a mile drive to the bank. The bank is open and ready to receive deposits, but only from one person. The front doors are shut, so the Late Model pulls up to the drive through window where the teller accepts the cheque and deposits it to his / her account. The Late Model then drives back to its pit bay at the track.
All of this at 1.00am or whenever the race finishes ….. what a tradition!!
Upon our return to the car parking spot we didn’t wind the windows down until a mile and a half on our way home. Actually, it wasn’t the threat of the lake … it was Terry up the back at about the one mile marker…..
Day 25 – Sunday July 30th
Haven’t mentioned the weather for a while. It was a sensational morning in Pontiac and remained so all day and night as we made our way into Missouri from Illinois. We’ll be back in Illinois a little later, but not until after we’ve chased the USAC midgets into Nebraska and Kansas. Tonight we’re headed for Moberly about 100 or so miles over the border into Cornhusker territory.
The border between Illinois and Missouri is actually a mighty big river called the Mississippi. Now I’m sure you’d know from your school history days that Hannibal crossed the Swiss Alps with his elephants in 218 BC to bypass the Romans and get to Italy. The difficulties he faced would have been immense. For us we crossed the mighty river at 65mph on a six lane bridge on I-72. On the other side of the bridge was the delightful town of Hannibal. No elephants, but it is the town where Mark Twain was raised.
Hence the river frontage is beautifully set up to showcase the town to visiting Paddle Steamers which ply the Mississippi with a full complement of tourists who are on board for 10-12 days as they make their way along the entire 3,734 km length of the world’s third longest river system. Two of these giant vessels were in town when we arrived and the crew of the “Queen of the Mississippi” were kind enough to spend time with us explaining what they could about the river and the boats.
Also in town (permanently) was the smaller Mark Twain paddle steamer which provides short daily cruises up and down the river. We declined because we’ll be doing exactly that next Saturday in St Louis. The Mark Twain constantly played music through its loud speakers from the era of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. It was easily possible to shut your eyes and just imagine what life in Hannibal would have been like back in the day.
An $8.99 turkey dinner (for lunch) followed in Planters restaurant in the main street before continuing the drive to Moberly and the Randolph County Raceway where the USAC sprintcars were in action tonight. A real neat facility is this track. Only used about five times a season, none of us in the group had been to it before, so another track is added for those who keep such lists. And plenty do!
For the record, Tyler (Sunshine) Courtney won, but the real centre of attention belonged to Chris Windom who, on lap 1 of the feature, hit a rut, bicycled and began to flip. It was ferocious enough to launch him over the fence and into the bean fields. The crowd hushed and then cheered as before the rescue crew could even get to the scene Chris had extricated himself from the car, climbed up the hill and suddenly appeared on the other side of the wall removing his helmet as he did so. The crowd erupted into applause and Chris waved to them, but I’m sure he will be sore tomorrow.
Day 26 – Monday July 31st
An unusual day today.
There is no racing tonight…..
This can be a welcome occurrence to most, but an annoyance to the super diehards!
Our destination was Lincoln, Nebraska some five hours and 300 miles northwest from Moberly. There are plenty of tracks up around these parts, but Monday is not their night for racing. But what is in Lincoln is something every sprintcar and midget fan should see at least once. A guy called Bill Smith commenced collecting Buck Rogers’ memorabilia at a very young age which started his interest in collectibles of all kinds, not just comic books.
But more about Bill and the American Museum of Speed tomorrow.
Not a lot to report about the daylight hours as most of it was spent on the road. As usual the highly impressive US interstate highways served us well, delivering us into Lincoln around 3.00pm ready to tour the Eagle Motorsports factory. Eagle build chassis for sprintcars, midgets and three quarter midgets and are very revolutionary in their ideas. Cameras were not permitted in the “back room” where a chassis of the future is being experimented with. Greg found this one to be of significant interest …..
After checking in at the Hyatt Place apartments in the historic Haymarket area of Lincoln, we dined at McFarland & Sons Irish pub. Host Rohan was rapt to have us in there on a Monday night and the Irish drinks (root beer for John) and in particular their food offerings were eagerly accepted. Cottage Pie was the popular choice. You can’t get that at a speedway concession stand ….
Lincoln is a particularly nice city and if you ever go there most definitely book your room in the downtown historic Haymarket area. Refurbished factories and warehouses abound, now disguised as hotels, restaurants and pubs. Particularly handy if you want to watch the Cornhuskers football team, the Cornhuskers basketball team or the Saltdogs baseball team. All have their stadiums in the Haymarket. And all are interconnected by walkways. Memorial Stadium for the college football seats 81,067 people on its own.
Day 27 – Tuesday August 1st
Lincoln has two very well-known speedways. Eagle and I-80. Not surprisingly they don’t run on a Tuesday morning, but that didn’t deter us from visiting them anyway. It occupied our time before midday when the Speedway Motors Museum of American Speed opened.
“Speedy Bill” Smith got hooked on cars as a teenager and began making some pocket money by buying, fixing and selling Model T Fords. After dabbling in racing, both cars and motorbikes, he borrowed $300 from his wife in 1952 to open a 20 x 20 feet store in Lincoln which over time, through passion, tenacity and innovation grew to be the largest manufacturer, distributor and retailer to the performance after market sector of the US automobile industry. It is now simply known throughout the country as Speedway Motors.
Fiercely competitive in everything he did, Bill fielded hundreds and hundreds of race cars from dragsters, hot rods, sprintcars, midgets and NASCARS for what probably were hundreds of drivers. For our sport of sprintcars and midgets, Jan Opperman and Doug Wolfgang are the biggest of the big names.
A desire to preserve racing history led Bill, his wife Joyce and their four sons to establish the Museum of American Speed in 1992. It has increased in size ever since, as an almost maniacal Smith family accumulated an unbelievable mass of race cars and anything to do with motorsport. The museum has now grown to 150,000 square feet (3.5 acres) and three floors of an immaculate building in downtown Lincoln. $15 ($10 for seniors!) gets you in and the guided tour is complimentary. Or just discover to your heart’s content.
When you go there (which you have to one day) look for the powder blue Greg Weld Dunseth sprintcar. The Kansas City driver won the 1967 USAC National championship in it. It is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. (On four wheels that is.)
At some stage of the day you have to forget about the past and go racing. It was now time to drive to Fairbury for the first of two nights of USAC midgets. The teams are making their way to Belleville in Kansas for the Nationals next weekend and a couple of lead up races have been scheduled for tonight and tomorrow night.
A regular Saturday night at Fairbury Speedway would be lucky to get 1,000 through the gate. But when the big boys from the national USAC circuit come to town, the track bursts at the seams. Featuring a classic covered grandstand and a Fairgrounds atmosphere, it was like a little slice of history unfolding in front of us. The town was small, the track was small at about a ¼ mile bullring, but the crowd packed out every nook and cranny. Tanner Thorson took the win in a great race. These drivers have extraordinary talent and big cahoonas to boot. They are very brave with disaster looming at any time for them as the speeds continue to get higher and higher in this class of car.
Later this evening while sitting out in the Hotel parking lot on a warm night we were joined by Jay Masur and his team from the Med-Star Dirt Track race rescue team. Their vehicles rolled in next to ours and the 45 minutes we spent talking to Jay and his team were fascinating. His team provide fire and rescue services to many tracks and sanctioning bodies. USAC amongst them. Thanks for the caps Jay and if you’re reading this keep up the great work keeping the drivers safe.
Day 28 – Wednesday August 2nd
We are in midget mode for this week so it only seemed fair that we called into Belleville, Kansas on the way south through to Beloit where USAC are racing tonight.
Belleville is the site of the Midget Nationals this weekend, but conflicting races in Pevely, Missouri meant that we couldn’t fit the Nationals in, as much as we would have loved to do both. We paid our respects at the fourth turn where Bryan Clauson was killed a year ago on Saturday. This track is deadly, believe me. It is an ultra-high banked half mile and is virtually circular with a clay surface. The speeds are so high, the G forces so strong and with no scenery (except corn) on the outside to distinguish the turns for the drivers, the track has big numbers in each turn to let them know exactly where they are.
A visit to the Belleville National Midget museum was well worthwhile because amongst other things we learned that the Fairgrounds track we had just visited was built 107 years ago. Whilst back then it didn’t look like it does now, it was a great 90 minutes we spent in there learning and looking at the history. Kansas and its neighbouring states were certainly race car mad in the pre and post WW2 periods.
Concordia was next where yet another home cooking family restaurant was discovered. This time we ate at “Kristy’s” and enjoyed more meat loaf, mashed potatoes, carrots, beans and gravy. Christopher Bell, who later tonight would win the feature at Beloit, was in there with his girlfriend, Chad Kemenah’s daughter.
I’m not sure who Kristy was, but surely it couldn’t have been the old sheila on the entrance desk who strongly resembled Granny out of the Beverley Hillbillies. Upon walking in we missed the “please seat yourself” sign. Hence Terry politely asked if we could have a table for seven which was our number at the time for this not to be missed encounter. Granny gave him a stare like you have never seen before. After what seemed like 30 seconds, but was probably five at most, she offered a deep guttural, rapid one word snapped response of “WHAT?” Then another stare and pause before “SIT ANYWHERE” emerged and then she looked at Terry as though he was the biggest idiot to come in for the week.
During what was a very delightful lunch with a fun waitress, I kept looking over at Granny who did nothing except “greet” new customers (greet is hardly the word) and take the money for the bills people presented to her. It was almost right out of the Seinfeld Soup Nazi episode. Graeme suggested she may not be real and was actually a voice activated store dummy.
At the Solomon Valley Raceway in Beloit, we found another perfect spot under a tree to park, open the back doors, get the seats out, open the esky, pour a bourbon and coke, (or flick the ring top off a beer) and sit back for a couple of hours and talk crap. Today however we were assisted in that task by Bryce Townsend’s tour group from New Zealand who were parked next to us. Good friendly banter and tales of adventures so far were swapped.
PS I’ve often said in previous tour blogs that I’ve never encountered worse track lighting than what exists at Bloomington in Indiana. But tonight I found it at Beloit.
Day 29 – Thursday August 3rd / Russell’s 70th birthday
In 1947 a little Blackman was born. Today 70 year old Russell celebrated his birthday sitting in the back of the Global Speedway Tours’ minibus for eight hours as we made the long drive from Concordia in Kansas through to St Louis, Missouri. Some say St Louis, Illinois but it makes no difference because the city is split by the Mississippi. One side of which is Missouri and the other is Illinois.
Later we would celebrate Rusty’s birthday in more traditional style, but for now, the objective was I-70 as we followed it for nearly 500 miles (800 kms). There is much to see, although sleep can come easily to passengers. Most dozed off but woke up the instant the bus slowed down to take an exit for the three L’s. A leg stretch, a leak and / or lunch. The latter was in a weird place today.
I had seen a partly obscured road side sign for an historic pub which proudly proclaimed it served meals and provided accommodation. We didn’t need a bed, but we certainly needed the former having rejected the usual truck stops and fast food joints on the Interstate. We pulled off at the nominated exit and followed the signs the historic Blackwater Inn. Three miles later we lobbed in Blackwater, Missouri which could quite honestly could easily have been the setting for Duelin’ Banjos.
The pub looked OK, but there was no sign of any movement outside, which generally means there are customers inside. Terry went in to check and he emerged (just as a tumble weed blew down the street), to advise that yes they do serve lunch, but only on weekends. That must have been the bit on the road sign that was obscured …..
We were directed across the road to Andi’s Café and assured that we would get well fed over there. Once again Terry was in the advance party to investigate and this time the green light was given to come on in. I was certain that at some stage the yellow flag would wave to advise caution and indeed if the red was shown we certainly would have stopped eating immediately. Not the best meal we’ve had, but in writing this several days later, I can let you know that all is still well within the camp.
I’m not sure that Blackwater was the correct name of this town. Backwater may have been more apt.
After several T-Storms enroute we eventually hit St Louis around 5.00pm to find Bob and Pat in Tigin’s, the Irish bar inside the Hampton Inn at the Arch. Great hotel and wonderfully located right in the heart of the city and within eight minutes walk of the Gateway Arch. (The Whittles had flown in from Melbourne this afternoon to join us for the last part of the tour.)
Russell’s birthday party was held in the Spaghetti Factory down near the mighty river in an area which once housed massive warehouses, but now these storage areas have been refurbished as restaurants etc. In fact the Spaghetti Factory must have once been a church. It’s a spectacular place and absolutely everyone loved the décor, the food, the friendliness of the staff and our own company. It was a great night to celebrate a 70th birthday.
Day 30 – Friday August 4th
Throughout this tour we have driven north and south several times along I-55 in our travels between Pontoon Beach, Springfield, Bloomington, Pontiac and Chicago. Each time we go past the Country Classic Cars collection at Staunton, I’m asked if we can stop so that they can wander through the collection. And each time the answer is no! Not because I don’t want them to see it, but it was always planned that the visit would be today after Bob & Pat had arrived from Geelong for the last 10 days of the tour.
So it was with anticipation that we set out this morning to drive the short 45 miles to the Country Classic Cars collection. All 700+ cars are on display and available for sale. Most are housed within five giant buildings with others kept under cover, but not enclosed. Two hours was allocated to the task of inspection with some taking longer than others to satisfy their desires to see all these classics. Some are restored, others are awaiting restoration by enthusiastic potential buyers.
Two of our party, no names but they are married and live in Geelong, decided they would like to own a 1962 Chevy Corvair Monza 900. They made an offer, negotiated a little ,then shook hands. The sold sticker went on it and we left to head back to St Louis. Little did we know then that this car would never be seen again.
Night 1 of the Iron Man Classic at 1-55 Speedway in Pevely occupied the late afternoon daylight hours and on into the evening. Beautiful weather had set in and the forecast for the next seven days was superb. We met all the usual friends in the parking lot who we have got to know over the years of coming here. There is never any shortage of folk who want to drop in and say hi. Including Kenny Schrader, the owner of the track. A former NASCAR driver and prolific winner in the Modifieds, Ken moseyed on up to us on his quad bike to say hi and to thank us for coming to his speedway.
Tonight’s track conditions and subsequent racing were not top shelf. Although not a hot day at all, the track curators had most certainly lost the keys to the water truck as the track went slick early on and remained that way until it eventually took rubber. And what that means is that every sprintcar stayed right at the bottom of what is a very high banked track which usually sees the right rear tyre of the race cars bouncing off the top fence.
Very disappointing indeed and even the winner Daryn Pittman said the same over the PA when receiving his cheque …..
Day 31 – Saturday August 5th
Disappointed with last night we were, but another gorgeous Missouri morning greeted us for the trip up the Arch. (Yes, you read that correctly.)
The stainless steel Gateway Arch is hugely impressive from a distance, but even more so when you stand beneath it and stare skywards towards the small windows 630 feet (200 metres) above. Interestingly the Arch is also exactly 630 feet in width which makes it perfectly symmetrical. Of course if a second Arch was added it would be an ideal landmark for McDonalds to sponsor. That will never happen of course, but guess who built the Arch back in 1963? Yep – the McDonald Construction Company out of Pittsburgh!
Those windows would soon have some Aussies staring out of them. But first one needs to get up there. There is no conventional lift as you might imagine, so a small enclosed tram makes the four minute ride to the top. Claustrophobic it may be, but it’s worth it. I’m sure that The Who must have written their song “I can see for miles and miles and miles” from up there. On a clear day you can see for 40 miles in every direction.
Looking west it’s a breathtaking view of downtown St Louis including the magnificent Busch Stadium, home of the Cardinals. To the east it’s the mighty Mississippi winding its way through Illinois and the rural countryside, being careful not to encroach on 325,678,000 acres of corn and soya beans. (Give or take a million or two.)
The same river was our next objective because for the following hour we rode the Mark Twain paddle steamer up stream and then back downstream, returning substantially quicker because of the unbelievably strong current. Last year the skipper had to dodge huge tree trunks floating downstream, essentially from the Missouri river which had flooded and was sending thousands of tons of driftwood downstream. But not this year. Somewhat opposite actually, as the country needs good rainfall right now. Just so long as that precipitation arrives after we have gone home.
Next up was the Budweiser Brewery, although its correct name these days is Anheuser-Busch. Nevertheless the free tour, the free beer afterwards and the free Biergarten (for a non-free lunch) are highly recommended. A major purchase for the Hunter Tavern in Castle Hill was made here today …..
What was it I said about the weather? As we made the 25 mile journey back to I-55 Speedway for night 2 the dreaded raindrops appeared on the windscreen. It didn’t look good with weather apps going off everywhere. How can so many apps in so many phones all provide a different answer as to what the weather is going to do?? In the long run though, it doesn’t really matter what a phone tells you. It’s all about what “her upstairs” wants to do. And tonight she didn’t want anyone to race at Pevely Speedway on I-55. So we didn’t. Heat 1 got into the books but nothing else, as rain forced the hand of the Promoter who postponed the race to a date TBA. No good to us though, unless he runs it in 2018 on Thursday August 2nd. (Hint, hint Mr Schrader.)
Day 32 – Sunday August 6th
The usual routine starts around the time the sun (yes there was a cloudless sky outside this morning) pokes its way through the curtains. It goes something like this..…
- Weary, sleep deprived bodies drag themselves out of bed, unconsciously showering, shaving (sometimes), packing the suitcase (that means throwing stuff in with the intent that “I’ll pack it properly tomorrow”), riding the elevator to the breakfast room not knowing exactly where it actually is in today’s hotel, to then deciding between pastries, waffles, muffins, omelettes, juice and coffee.
- Nature calls at this point so it’s a return to the room to answer it. However you can’t remember your room number. The night before last it was 319, but shit what is it today? I know I’ll look at the key. Nope the electronic cards don’t show the room number. That’s OK, I’ll ask at the front desk ….
- Go down stairs with the luggage thinking geez I wish I didn’t bring so much. (There’s a hint here for future tour members.)
- Wait out the front door for Peter to bring the bus around. It arrives. Each member has a task to fulfil. The back doors are opened and everybody just stares at the mess in the back from last night’s activities at the track. Seven fold up chairs are in there. A carton of 36 bottles of water , an empty diet Pepsi carton, a half empty proper Pepsi carton, A&W Root Beer cans, assorted Busch and Budweiser beer cartons each with varying numbers of cans left in them, a 1.75 litre bourbon bottle usually half full (or half empty, depending on whether you drink bourbon but a full one is always in reserve), miscellaneous jackets, sweaters, T-Shirts purchased at yesterday’s track and left overnight, and finally the $1 beer esky which sits there proudly waiting to be re-opened, refilled and re-iced courtesy of the Hotel ice machine.
- But in five minutes it’s all cleaned up. Someone drains and restocks the esky, someone refills it, someone gets the fresh ice, someone pulls all the chairs out, the rubbish is disposed of, the luggage is precisely loaded in as scientifically as it was yesterday morning. The chairs are thrown back in on top and bingo the whole back of the bus is transformed.
- Now to load the people. Favourite positions have been assumed although that routine gets upset by rotating the front passenger seat. The key is turned and away we go heading north, south, east or west, depending on where today’s final destination is. (32 times out 39 nights on this tour the next hotel will be very close to a speedway of course.) It seems that insufficient sleep in a bed has been achieved because within 15 minutes some are snoozing as the rhythmic motion of rubber on concrete interstates seems to work much better than counting sheep.
- Lunch must be had. Depending on time, it may be a quick fast food stop, or we may go in search of an establishment which requires the apparently forgotten art of using a knife and fork.
- Tonight’s hotel comes into view. Bodies in the back began to wake up and mutter “geez that was only a short trip today Pete”. The bus stops. Chairs are temporarily removed, luggage is unpacked, chairs are thrown back in, the esky has more bottles of water put in to replace those drunk during the day, it’s topped up with ice again and now it’s time to check in.
- The desk clerk needs ID and a credit card for possible incidentals which is standard practice in any hotel. We wait until the desk dude goes through the process. Why in this day and age of electronic pre-advice of names and rooming lists plus all rooms are pre-paid, can’t the hotel simply have room keys all ready for our arrival is beyond me ….
- The next question everyone asks is “how long have we got before going to the track.” The answer is always a generic 20 minutes. Off we go scurrying to the room (assuming you haven’t already forgotten tonight’s room number), bags are thrown in, bathroom is used if there’s an emergency, a note is written to self to tidy up the suitcase when I get back from the track, and race downstairs. Now that sometimes also becomes a problem if you’ve been allocated a ground floor room. You quickly find yourself in the basement and then begin asking yourself “how the hell did I get here”.
- Check that the chairs are back in the bus, throw the backpack with god knows what inside it, into the back, grab a water and a seat. Speedway here we come.
- More jobs come into play now. It is Russell’s job to pick the spot we park in. It must always be under a tree, with shade aplenty. Having satisfied that goal Lewis and Clark (actually Russell and Graeme) enquire as to whether we have reserved seats at this track. If not, they grab the bed sheets and tape and set off to explore the grandstand to secure the best seats. (Lewis & Clark by the way were two very famous American explorers who opened up the previously uncharted west.)
- Once that has been achieved they return from their journey with a raging thirst. In the meantime the rest of the party have arranged the seats under the towering tree to allow the tail gating to commence. The Australian flag is also affixed to the bus to ensure there is no doubt that the Yanks know we’re here. And it works every time. Usually within minutes friendly American fans wander over for a chinwag, refreshment in hand.
- And it continues on and on. Some go into the track early to wander the pits, watch hot laps and qualifying while others prefer to sit and enjoy the warmth of the sun until the national anthem is played. This is the signal to drink up, pack up and take our seats which precisely coincides with heat 1 rolling out onto the track. Oh, nearly forgot. A mandatory supply of 50/50 tickets are purchased on the way in. No success for anyone yet regretfully.
- Racing is over and it’s a return to the bus. Depending on the temperature and the level of tiredness, a drink for all but the driver may be required. A “traffic clearer” if you like.
- Jump in the bus and if it’s a Friday or Saturday night listen to the footy from Australia live on the AFL app which is piped through the bus. If Richmond are playing we like to listen to them lose.
- Arrive at Hotel and trudge up the room ready for a few hours sleep.
- Tear up note to self about tidying up the suitcase ….
Today was all about the drive between St Louis and Pella, a distance of about seven hours, give or take. Lunch at Arby’s in Mt Pleasant was indeed pleasant as always. It seems we stop here every year and maybe just as well for one member of the party who unknowingly dropped his MasterCard under the booth he was eating at.
On arrival at Knoxville Raceway two hours later to pick up the Nationals tickets from Kim at the office, there was a post-it note stuck to the envelope to call Cindy at Arby’s in Mt Pleasant. She has Mr X’s MasterCard. You see Cindy is married to a Late Model racer. Cindy had realised from our T-shirts that we were sprintcar fans. Cindy figured we were on our way to Knoxville Raceway. Cindy rings Knoxville and the person who answered the phone just happens to be Kim. Cindy says I have Mr X’s credit card and Kim says “I know him. He’s from Global Speedway Tours in Australia.”
Cindy says “tell him to call me and we’ll work out a way to get it back to him.” Mr X rings Cindy and thanks her profusely. Cindy puts the card in the mail to the Royal Amsterdam Hotel in Pella and Mr X gets it back Tuesday morning. Now no one would ever need to know about all this, except the bloke who is writing this Blog (Mr X) reckons you should about how cool the racing family is…..
The Capitani feature race at Knoxville tonight was a runaway victory to Brian Brown.
Day 33 – Monday August 7th
I must start today with yet another comment (and I promise it’s the last one) about the weather. I’m writing this (from inside a Burger King restaurant opposite the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines) after the Nationals has concluded. The eight days we spent in Pella and Knoxville were absolutely sensational. Locals say that it has been the most ideal conditions for Nationals week since they can remember. Cloudless blue skies with temps in the 80’s (around 26°C) every day. No humidity, no T-Storms. No nuthin’, except glorious weather.
Today was Oskaloosa day. So designated because the morning was devoted to rest and orientation with Pella where we would wake up every morning until we leave for Australia next Monday afternoon. Mid afternoon we made the short journey to Osky where we were to meet up with the incomparable Toby Kruse. A man who has become such a great friend to Global Speedway Tours.
Toby would be flagging the races tonight and everyone who wanted to was invited to join him up on the flag stand at some stage of the night to experience what it’s like to have a full field of 410 sprintcars racing 10 feet below you at 140 mph into turn 1. It’s most certainly an extraordinary experience and one which those who had the courage to do it will remember forever.
Thanks Toby for the opportunity and the few hours you spent tailgating with us before the races listening to your stories. We will be meeting Toby again on Friday which everyone was looking forward to.
Oskaloosa is billed as “I held a party and a race broke out” such is the atmosphere on the infield and in the stands. Fans gather on the infield and are actively encouraged to bring in the own food, beer and BBQ’s to party as hard as they responsibly can. We don’t have the necessary infrastructure to do that, so need to sit in the stands but it’s still great fun.
On the track we saw perhaps the most electrifying finish to a feature so far on the tour with Kyle Larson coming from deep in the pack to challenge for the lead with two to go. Brad Sweet had pulled out to a commanding lead all race and looked set to win easily. But all eyes were on Larson as he negotiated lapped traffic with a skill that only he has. Shane Stewart was doing something similar and in a classic turns 1&2 scenario they both caught Sweet at the same time. Sweet went low, Stewart went high and Larson went straight through the middle of them both. All three held the lead for a split second each before Larson bobbled, Sweet lost his early pace and with the crowd on their feet, Stewart took the lead and held it by inches for 1½ more laps to take Toby’s chequered flag.
Day 34 – Tuesday August 8th
Outlet shopping took precedence today and although not as much was purchased as in previous years, this unique adventure still remains a popular pastime.
Throughout the last few weeks much has been written and discussed about a midget race that a race car driver called Robert Bell had decided to promote at Indianola some 18 miles from Knoxville. In previous tours on this night we had travelled a long way to West Liberty for the Late Models, but the prospect of a two and bit hours drive home always make this a difficult one.
Hence a field of a suggested 50 midgets close to home was an enticing one indeed. So a group decision was made to abandon West Liberty and go to Warren County Speedway in Indianola. Just down the road as the locals say. With esky full and spirits high (excuse the pun) we set off early afternoon to what we hoped would be an outstanding night’s racing.
Russell found the appropriate tree and the big vehicle was parked for what we thought would be six hours or so. The previously defined routine was undertaken and I went off and bought the tickets. The lady at the ticket booth had no idea what 11 x $25 added up to be and had to close the ticket box window presumably to find a calculator. She came back and advised $275 which was the exact amount of cash I had in my hand to give to her of course. I’ll come back to this lady in a moment.
Returning to the tailgating spot saw everybody enjoying themselves in readiness for tonight’s racing. It was then that Chet from Speed Shift TV walked up having seen us drive in. His news left us open mouthed. There were only five midgets in the pits. Five. And no more were expected. Embarrassed to buggary and armed with the knowledge that English Creek Speedway was running with good fields 25 miles away, I returned to aforementioned mathematically useless ticket seller and dealt the tickets out on her window sill as though I was playing cards.
She looked at me in wonderment as I did it whilst at the same time listening to me explain to her that this race is being held under false pretences and I wanted my money back. She clearly knew what the situation was and this time she didn’t have to work it out. $275 cash was handed back and I returned to the party which by now had already packed up (having learned how to do so in the daylight) and within a few minutes we were on our way to English Creek.
The Outlaw sprintkart Nationals were in their second and final night and Brian Shearer, who partnered our own Heath Pursell to victory in the Petey corn board championships at Eldora five weeks ago, was racing with son Brandon. A fun and most different night was enjoyed by all. Made even better by a black BMW suddenly manoeuvring itself backwards into a tight parking spot next to us. I was annoyed at first, but it soon disappeared when Kerry Madsen jumped out with a wide smile on his face and said “Howdy folks …. mind if Tina and I join you?”
Day 35 – Wednesday August 9th
In what is becoming a tradition on the Month of Money tour, celebrated author, journalist and TV commentator Dave Argabright came to Pella for lunch with us in the Boardroom of the Royal Amsterdam. Also joining us were Jack and Bonnie Elam, the owners of the J&J chassis company. Amongst many others of course, Donny Schatz uses J&J as does Terry and Shannon Barry in Adelaide. Terry is on the tour and asked me if he could invite them both along.
Dave, Jack and Bonnie know each other very well so they were a welcome addition. As always Dave presented brilliantly with a fascinating historical presentation of dirt track racing down through the years “since the day that the second Model T Ford rolled off the production line.” His knowledge of racing and its people is unsurpassed and as a raconteur he is right up there with the best. As our ambassador to Global Speedway Tours, I am always extremely proud to have Dave meet the Month of Money group and entertain them. Thanks again good buddy.
Tonight was the first of four consecutive nights at Knoxville Raceway as the first block of 50 or so sprintcars attempt to qualify their way directly into Saturday night’s A Main paying $150,000 to win. Although we have reserved seats and reserved parking, it’s important to get to the track early (like about 4.00pm) to allow Russell to select his tree. Having done that the Ford is manoeuvred into position, unloading begins and compliments are expressed to Russ who surely must have agonised over his decision. You see the entire car park we had a pass for is concrete. And he knew this from previous tours!! However in his mind’s eye he thought he could remember shady trees on the way in …. which was correct. This same selected tree was thus engaged every afternoon and to be honest we could have left the chairs there overnight, every night, such is the camaradie between fans.
To get to the speedway one had to cross the railroad line which serves the giant 3M plant in Knoxville. No problem. A rough walking track is etched out between the RVs and caravans lined up within a couple of feet of the train line. These do not move for the whole week. When the train arrives each day with its 100 or so carriages, it inches its way through at snail’s pace with all the hootin’ and hollerin’ it can muster. It appears compulsory to destroy the eardrums of anyone near the level crossing on Highway 14, or the RVs and caravans. And the people walking into the track from the Media carpark like us.
I figured out ages ago that sitting in the back stretch grandstands provides a way better view. However newcomers to Knoxville understandably want to sit on the main straight, so to compensate we do Wednesday and Friday nights on the back straight and Thursday and Saturday on the front straight.
Crowds have been down in recent years for the Nationals and it is not a sell out like it has been. However the sport is regenerating itself in America and I have no doubt that dirt track racing will get a lot of fans crossing over from NASCAR in years to come. Besides the fact that it simply more thrilling, the real reason is the winner of tonight’s A main – Kyle Larson. A young kid from California who has taken sprintcar and midget racing by storm. And now NASCAR.
Kyle’s talents were recognised by many a couple of years ago. He was winning everything in dirt track racing and of course the NASCAR owners were watching as well. No one can reject the money these teams will pay for the right driver. But he had no experience on the super speedways so although the potential was there, the really big offers weren’t. But Larson did accept an offer from the Target Ganassi team to run their Xfinity car to learn the ropes. And he learnt extremely quickly to the point that in 2017 he is now regularly winning NASCAR Cup races.
However the problem is that NASCAR owners tend to think that sprintcar and midget racing is too dangerous and contracts are written which restrict Kyle from competing in his first love. Occasionally he is permitted when races don’t clash (usually within three days apart) but the Knoxville Nationals is always on the same weekend as a NASCAR race somewhere. This year it was Michigan. But the three day rule applied and he could only race at Oskaloosa last Monday night and tonight, Wednesday night at Knoxville.
The looming problem was what would happen if he qualifies through to Saturday night?? Probably the word should not be ‘if’ but ‘when’ as Larson blitzed the field to win tonight’s A Main, thus locking him in for Saturday. The crowd went off when he said in his victory speech that he would now make a call to Mr Ganassi to request permission to drive Saturday night. The plan had been hatched. Fellow NASCAR driver Kasey Khane would fly him from qualifying in Michigan Saturday afternoon and then fly him back again Sunday morning after hopefully winning the Knoxville Nationals.
Virtually no one expects Ganassi to agree, to the extent that T-Shirts with “Let Kyle race” across them were hastily printed. They sold out. A Twitter campaign in the same name was created. Facebook spread the message to 416,684 people. Even if the answer was yes, it would not be known until at least Friday, so it certainly created plenty of discussion in Dingus and every tailgating party.
Day 36 – Thursday August 10th
Kerry Madsen had told us on Tuesday night at English Creek that because he had lost the Keneric ride the day after last year’s Nationals, the race shop we had always visited in Knoxville was now locked up and indeed still remained for sale some 12 months later. Hence our regular Thursday afternoon sojourn was no more.
However it was replaced by a morning visit to Brooke Tatnell’s shop in Pella. Just a hop, step and a jump from Wal-Mart actually. Tony Vermeer from TK Concrete now owns the team, having bought it back from Barry Lewis last year. As usual Brooke was his always confident self and had high expectations for tonight. Fortunately no one asked him what his ride prospects were in Australia next summer. But I’m sure he wouldn’t have given anything away just yet even if a deal has been done somewhere. It was a great visit and if Brooke or any of his crew are reading this, then please accept my thanks on behalf of Global Speedway Tours Australia.
As always it’s difficult to make decisions for lunch, but we got it right today with a visit to the Chinese buffet just around the corner in Pella. For the ‘exorbitant’ price of $6.99 / person, it’s an all you can eat Chinese feast from dim sims to deep fried ice cream and everything in between. Just like a Golden Corral, it had something for everyone.
Knoxville has something for everyone as well. Besides the races Wednesday through Saturday, there is much to see via the Hall of Fame and Museum, Slideways Kart Centre, dozens of merchandise stands, bars, restaurants and literally a hundred or so transporters scattered around the town in any available vacant spot so they can work on the racecar during the day. Fans are welcome to walk around, in and amongst the teams, as they fiddle with the same things they fiddled with yesterday. Everything must be faultless on a sprintcar if you are going to win the Knoxville Nationals.
Our perfect spot under the tree was there again when we arrived, almost as though we had left a “no parking” sign there. Some folks wandered into the track area and the rest settled in to enjoy a pre-race drink. Or should I say drinks.
Someone who didn’t have a drink though was David Gravel who created history tonight when he racked up the maximum 500 points on the track. Fast qualifier, won his heat and won the A Main in unbelievably impressive style. The last time anyone did that was Steve Kinser in 1992! He’ll start on the pole on Saturday night and should give Donny Schatz a real run for his money as they will both start off the front row.
Day 37 – Friday August 11th
Another perfect day in Pella paradise greeted us this morning as we made our way 50 miles north to Granger where Ian Madsen’s collection of sprintcars and the ex Schatz transporter sleep. Or at least they usually do. On arrival Ian had to tell us that after the racing last night (he finished 4th and is locked into Saturday’s final out of 15) the Knoxville officials ordered a drivers’ meeting for those locked in at 2.00pm today so the decision was made to leave the car and truck at the track. But Ian was there along with all the spare cars and chassis and he gave us the usual guided tour of the raceshop. He’s a great guy is Dyno. He said I have to ask Trevor Green how he got that nickname!
A brand spanking new transporter and prime mover for the KCP team have been ordered for season 2018. Are there plans afoot to widen the I Madsen racing schedule I wonder?
From Granger we lunched at Toby K’s Hideaway in Boone. Always a neat time even though Toby isn’t usually there because he’s 60 miles away in Marshalltown preparing his speedway for their racing tonight. Caught up with Queenslander Frank Packer at Toby K’s. Frank spends most of the Australian winter racing Modifieds all over Iowa at more tracks than you have fingers and toes. Frank’s schedule this summer has him racing five nights of every week for three months. Honestly, the number of speedways in the USA never ceases to amaze.
Called into Marshalltown on the way back to Pella and Toby greeted us like he hadn’t seen us for months. He stopped the water truck and spoke to us for 30 minutes or so before giving everyone a Marshalltown Speedway t-shirt to add to their ever-growing collections.
A long but enjoyable day culminated in the revamped Friday night format at Knoxville. And guess who invented and introduced the new format four years ago? That’s right it was Toby when he was the GM of Knoxville Raceway. The tired old scrambles format was eliminated and replaced by an opportunity for everyone not already locked in to go again. The offer is made to the first 10 drivers already in the B Main on Saturday to toss their points away and requalify tonight in an endeavour to get locked into positions 17-20. It’s complicated, but I’m happy to verbally explain it to anyone should you ever want to understand it!
Russ’ tree was still standing, as was door #158 behind the building across the road which provided relief for those who needed such a place. (Russell found that as well. He’s a good explorer is Russell the love muscle.)
72 cars took qualifying including some huge names who missed out on Wednesday or Thursday night for varied reasons. Amongst them was Jason Johnson, last year’s Nationals’ winner. He wasn’t going to miss out tonight as he time trialled quickest in flight 2, won his heat and then won $12,500 in the A main to lock himself into position 17 on Saturday which pays a minimum of $9,500 to start. (In writing that I’ve only just realised that he actually equalled what David Gravel did last night. The only difference being that Jacob Allen in flight 1 got a quicker time.) But then Jason was a further $10,000 richer one race later when also won the Australian American World Challenge. Not a bad night indeed.
Day 38 – Saturday August 12th
And so, quicker than a Donny Schatz lap around Eldora, the tour end was just two days away. But first we had the quaint Knoxville parade around the town square this morning. The best part of it was seeing Max Dumesny’s daughter Michaela sitting high atop a local pick-up truck as the Knoxville Nationals Queen. The first non-American citizen to achieve the honour. Although nowhere near the standard of (say) the superb Indy 500 parade, it was a way to spend a pleasant hour or so in the morning sun watching young kids scramble for lollies (candy) randomly tossed from floats.
A $6.99 all you can eat Chinese followed after which we spent the afternoon at Brian and Tammy Shearer’s house for pre final drinks and a cornboard challenge. There were many people there all of whom are just so keen to chat to people who have flown such a great distance to be in their town for the Nationals. There is no doubt that sport of any kind brings folk together, especially when everyone shares the common interest that we do.
Late in the afternoon we paid our first visit to Dingus. It’s such an iconic place that a visit to Knoxville isn’t complete without a couple of beers in AJ’s establishment. It was in here, via Bernie Gordon, that we were introduced to Big Ed Wilbur and Leroy van Connet. Even though both were regular visitors to Australia in the 70’s and 80’s, Big Ed is probably better known to most Aussies as the skipper of the touring USA Sedan teams who inflicted havoc at most speedways they visited.
Ed told us some great stories of his days with Mike and Steve Raymond at Liverpool Raceway in particular. Mike would write most of his material that Ed had to say over the PA when being interviewed. 100% of it was designed to whip the crowd into a frenzy and build up a “hate the Yanks” atmosphere. They were booed from pillar to post at the track and derided in the media, but it increased the crowd through the turnstiles next Saturday night that’s for sure. No doubt Ed received a percentage of the extra gate takings each time!! A wonderful character is Big Ed and it was a pleasure to meet him with Bob and Pat this afternoon.
Yesterday it was announced that Chip Ganassi had agreed to allow Kyle Larson to run the Nationals A Main final. Kasey Kahne would fly him back to Michigan after the races for tomorrow’s NASCAR Cup event. There is no doubt that some of Mike Raymond and Big Ed’s publicity nouse had been played out since Wednesday night. Maybe there was never any doubt that Chip had already agreed to allow Larson to run if he qualified, but they spun it out for 48 hours before announcing anything. Maybe, just maybe this had something to do with tonight’s crowd being the largest Saturday night attendance for years ….
The scene was set for a shootout between Gravel, Schatz and Larson with nobody else really being given a chance. Drivers like Kerry and Ian Madsen, Brad Sweet, Shane Stewart, Brian Brown and last year’s winner Jason Johnson were rarely spoken about as the winner. Schatz fans said Schatz. Anyone else said Larson. Gravel deserved attention though as when the race started he put his stamp on it by shooting out to an extraordinary three second lead by lap 4. Lap 6 saw the leaders encounter the tail of the field and the leaders grouped up again. Gravel, Schatz, K Madsen and Sweet slugged it out for 12 thrilling laps until a yellow.
On the restart and with fresh air in his face, Gravel again pulled clear and it looked like he would win his first Nationals. He had the car speed, but could it last for another 30 laps. That question was answered on lap 22 when he slowed in turn 4 with a failed drive line component. 95% of the “anyone but Schatz” crowd groaned in unison and immediately turned their attention to Larson who “was coming”. Moving from 5th to 3rd on the restart he settled in behind Kerry and Schatz, who now had a clear track in his goggles. They remained this way for some time with all three drivers threading through cars at 140mph within inches of each other.
Larson brought the crowd to life when he took Kerry for second on lap 38. Surely it was now just a matter of time before the California kid did what the crowd came to see. Somebody, anybody to beat Schatz. But Donny simply wasn’t going to allow that to happen and his talent and ability in a sprintcar came to the fore. He just tore them up and although Larson got within a car length on lap 49 with an attempted slide job, Schatz took the chequered flag to win his 10th Knoxville Nationals and $150,000. Larson was second and our own Kerry Madsen third.
PS Kyle Larson flew back to Michigan, started his NASCAR up and won Michigan 15 hours later!!
Day 39 – Sunday August 13th
A Royal Show in Australia is always a must. Take the children and / or the grandkids. It’s a great day. So when the State Fair is on “just down the road” in Des Moines, it’s also a must. The Iowa State Fair attracts 1.1 million visitors across 11 days and is regarded as one of the foremost fairs in the country. Particularly when it comes to fried food. In fact if someone dreams up something new to be deep fried (it’s hard to believe that someone could) then Iowa is the place to test it. This year’s revelation was deep fried butter on a stick. At about the size of a corn dog, I’m guessing that no one ever lives to eat two.
Apparently the tastiest were Thanksgiving Balls. Yep, mashed up turkey and vegetables wrapped in stuffing and then deep fried and served with a touch of gravy. Wish I’d found them. Here’s some others:
- Apple Fritter Bites
- Apple Pie On-A-Stick
- Bacon Wrapped Riblet
- Bacon-Wrapped Smokies
- Cajun Chicken
- Cake Pops
- Caprese Salad On-a-Stick
- Caramel Apple
- Caramel Cocoa Crispy Crunch
- Cheddar Bacon Cheese On A Stick
- Cheese – Deep fried
- Chocolate-Covered Cheesecake
- Chocolate Covered Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
- Chocolate Covered Chunky Bacon Maple Nougat On-a-stick
- Chocolate Covered Cookies N Cream On-a-stick
- Chocolate-Covered Deep Fried Cheesecake
- Chocolate-Covered Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich
- Chocolate-Covered Key Lime Dream Bar
- Chocolate-Covered Peanut Butter Bar
- Coconut Mountain
- Corn on the Cob
- Cornbrat (bratwurst dipped in corndog batter and deep fried)
- Cotton Candy
- Crazy Tater
- Deep Fried Brownie
- Deep Fried Sweet Corn Corndog
- Deep-Fried Milky Way
- Deep-Fried Snickers
- Deep-Fried Twinkie
- Double Bacon Corn Dog
- Dutch Letter
- Egg on a Stick
- Fair Square (Original, Peanut Butter and Chocolate Marshmallow Malt flavors)
- Fried Fruit Kebab
- Fruit (with yogurt dipping sauce)
- Funnel Bacon On A Stick
- Funnel Cake Sticks
- German Sausage
- Gluten Free Corndog – new in 2017
- Golden Fried Peanut Butter and Jelly on a Stick
- Griddle Stick (turkey sausage wrapped in a pancake)
- Hard-Boiled Egg on a stick
- Hot Bologna
- Hot Dog
- Hot Lips (breaded chicken breast smothered with hot sauce, served with blue cheese dressing)
- Ice Cream Wonder Bar
- Italian Bacon Wrap On A Stick
- Jalapeno Corndog
- Jumbo Toasted Marshmallow On-a-stick
- Kebab Combo
- Kernel Kluster
- Lamb Sausage (brat)
- Loaded Tators On A Stick
- Mexican Grilled Corn On-the-Cob
- Monkey Tail (chocolate-covered deep fried banana)
- Nutty Bar
- Peanut Butter & Jelly
- Pineapple (fresh pineapple dipped in funnel cake batter and deep fried)
- Pork Chop
- Rainbow Popsicle
- Rib Shack Cowboy
- Rock Candy
- Salad – (I think this is an error)
- Sesame Chicken
- Shrimp Corndog
- Soft Salted Chocolate Dipped Almond Pretzel
- Spicy Shrimp
- Tater Dog On-a-stick
- Teriyaki Beef
- Toasted Coconut Caramel Cluster
- Turkey Drumstick
- Turkey Tenderloin
- Twinkie Log (frozen Twinkie dipped in white chocolate and rolled in cashews)
- Ultimate Bacon Brisket Bomb
- Unicorn Lollipops
- Veggie Corndog
None of that was served at our tour farewell dinner however. Tonight was good old Mexican food – great fare from the boys at El Charro in Pella. Not to mention the powerful margaritas to boot ….
Day 40 – Monday August 14th
Time to say goodbye although most of them were said last night whilst emptying the esky of various drinks left in it. It didn’t take too long outside the Royal Amsterdam on a beautiful night. By 2.00am most were in bed!! And by 10.45am we were on the way to Des Moines Airport where all flights to different locations were leaving from.
By the numbers ….. it has been a wonderful 40 days and 39 nights spent with a great bunch of people. We covered more than 7,000 miles (11,200 kms) in the bus, traversed through Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa. Saw racing on 29 nights (two rainouts) at 21 different tracks, stayed in 18 different hotels and made dozens and dozens of new friends. Both Aussies and Americans.
Thank you to Greg, Graeme, Terry, Russell, John, Peter, Heath, Kelsie, Patrick, Bob and Patricia who made it such an easy process to have the time of our lives …..
Global Speedway Tours is offering the Month of Money tour all over again in 2018 if you’d like to join us. Just ring Peter Physick on 0419 264159.
Or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org