The 2019 Month of Money Blog
Throughout the month of stories there are numerous live hyperlinks shown in orange. They are either a photo or video for you to look at which is relevant to the story of that day, or a link to another website. It’s the first time we have done that so we welcome any feedback you may have.
Day 1 – Monday July 15th 2019
Today was a complete blur up until 7.38pm when the first of the tour group flew into Dayton, Ohio on American Airlines from Sydney via Dallas, Texas. I was there to meet ‘n greet and ferry them to the first of 14 different hotels over the next 28 days.
And why was it a blur? Well I had flown into Indianapolis the day before, as I always do to ensure all transport arrangements are in place. I was a little sceptical this time as I had been dealing with a guy since the Indy 500 tour ended last month in early June. And sure enough my fears were realised when the requested Ford 12 seater passenger van was not available and waiting for me. Nor was he, having conveniently gone home 30 minutes before I arrived.
After some degree of angst I accepted delivery of a Chev, which although it is quite a satisfactory vehicle, it is no where near as passenger friendly as a Ford. But it was only to be for overnight as tomorrow I would pick up the preferred Ford. Or so I was told. After hours of going backwards and forwards between the airport and a storage depot unit I had rented to store unwanted seats from the now 15 seater Ford, no one at the car rental place had the necessary tools to remove the permanently locked in back row of seats. (We needed the space for luggage.)
This was a complete surprise to the Airport Manager for Budget, with whom I was now dealing, having gone through a chain of lesser ranked personnel. The outcome was that another Chev was delivered and it was now mine for the next 28 days. And, believe it or not, it was the exact same vehicle I had used in the Indy tour just gone. And the slow leak in the left hand rear tyre had been repaired.
But my thanks go to Rod Booher at Budget for his efforts in helping me through a somewhat difficult first 24 hours.
Dinner with the group was at the Outback Steakhouse, just “down the road” in Dayton.
Day 2 – Tuesday July 16th 2019
Here I am at Day 2 already and I haven’t mentioned the rain! The mid-west of America has had a dreadful start to summer. Spring has been monsoonal like. The Mississippi and associated rivers have risen to dangerously high levels, fields that by now would ordinarily have their crops in and beginning to shoot, still lie fallow as the farmers simply can’t get any heavy machinery onto them to plough and seed. Many have given up and will apply for payments under the crop insurance plans they have in place. Others have had a go and have been successful within a window of mere days in which to plant.
And of course the speedway promoters have been doing it really tough with races continually rained out weekend after weekend. But we are hopeful that the forthcoming month will be precipitation free whilst we are travelling to 24 races in 28 days across eight states. Quite a schedule huh!!
So, as we made our way out of the Quality Inn at Dayton, running to avoid getting totally drenched by the sheets of rain in the parking lot, I guess most tour members were wondering just what they had got themselves into as they quickly climbed into the Chev. After securing T-Mobile SIM Cards and a couple of new phones in some cases, we headed north up Interstate 75 with an objective to get to Stubb’s house in Van Buren around 2.30pm. He would be accompanying us to Attica tonight for the Brad Doty classic.
One of the more interesting places along I-75 is Wapakoneta, the home town of the late Neil Armstrong who, as we would all know, first stepped foot on the moon on July 20th 1969. Yep in just four days time, it would be the 50th anniversary of that amazing day. We would have stopped at the Armstrong Air and Space Museum in Wapakoneta but chose not to, as later in the tour we would be visiting the US Air Force Museum at the Wright-Patterson Air Base in Dayton.
Anyone’s first introduction to Stubb is a never to be forgotten occurrence. And it was no different this afternoon. We pulled in to the Phillips’ home with no one to be seen anywhere. But from around the corner he emerged to say hi. Usual shorts and no shirt, his body already brown from the sun, despite the recent miserable weather. A big welcoming smile immediately endeared him to everyone.
The next hour or so to Tiffin and our Hampton Inn hotel was delightfully punctuated by Stubb’s running commentary on local sights as we traversed miles of minor rural roads. The rain had long gone by this stage and the sun was shining, which understandably filled the Chev with optimism. After checking in and swapping travelling clothes for speedway t-shirts etc, we piled back into the big vehicle and headed for the Attica Fairgrounds.
We pulled in alongside the “talking beard’s” RV. Yes he has a real name, but no one ever calls him Brian. The same way that no one ever calls Stubb, Scott. Australian flags were permanently attached to the inside of the two rear Chevy doors, Global Speedway Tours stickers were placed at strategic places on the side and rear windows so our stark white Chev would not get confused with the other 100 or so stark white passenger Chevs in this and every other parking lot we put it in.
The wonderful sound of a ring pull top coming off a beer can resounded around the back of the Chev as the Esky (cooler for those Americans reading this) was opened for the first time. Entry tickets were bought and we settled in for some tailgating with new found friends. Until …..
The cheerfulness that invaded everyone on the way to Attica quickly disappeared as one look to the heavens revealed an intense build-up of black cumulus storm clouds. A massive storm was approaching and was headed directly for Attica. We stood no chance and as the line of storms grew closer and closer we retreated into the Chev to wait it out. I wanted the tour to see a typical US thunderstorm, but not this early and certainly not on a race day.
There was no chance the track or the pits could be negotiable after this 30 minute downpour and sure enough the word eventually filtered through that it had been cancelled and cash refunds were available at the ticket office, or via the World Racing Group if bought through the Outlaws like Global Speedway Tours do.
Dinner that night at was in Carmie’s BBQ and Grill next to the Hampton Inn. Disappointed but realistic, the group heard many a story about funny Global Speedway Tours’ adventures out of the past from Stubb and I. Trevor Mackereth featured prominently!
Day 3 – Wednesday July 17th 2019
About two months ago, Eldora Speedway hosted a double header race with the Outlaws winged cars on the same bill as USAC’s non winged sprintcars. Guess what? It was rained out and was re-scheduled for tonight, July 17th so without consulting the tour members a decision was made to forgo the planned stay tonight at the Island Hotel in Port Clinton on Lake Erie and go to the race instead. Accommodation was hastily arranged at the terrific Howard Johnson Hotel in Lima.
But we still had daylight hours to kill so we headed right up north to Cedar Point to see what 18 world Class roller coasters on 368 acres look like. The answer is “very impressive” let me tell you. The website is spectacular if you want to click the link above.
From Cedar Point we drove aimlessly around the shores of Lake Erie, the fourth largest of the five fresh water great lakes in North America. At 1,286 kms around, you certainly can’t drive it all but we managed about 100kms, part of which was past the Davis-Besse nuclear power station in Oak Harbour. And what else is at Oak Harbour, sitting lovingly under the power lines of the nuclear station? Stubb and Gail’s holiday lake cottage. Apparently the serenity is overpowering …..
Lunch was in Toledo at the Golden Corral. Something for everyone here. Then we hi-tailed it down I-75 to Lima, switched into speedway mode and started the one hour drive to Eldora. Straight into the path of yet another powerful thunderstorm. I did helpfully point out that we were still at least 50 miles from Eldora and these T-storm bands are usually very narrow. With every finger and toe crossed behind my back, I suggested that when we exit the T-storm it will be clear behind it.
Of course I was the genius when exactly that happened and in fact Eldora had not had any rain at all that day. Everyone was excited to see Eldora in the flesh so to speak and as soon as we arrived at Stubb’s campsite Global Speedway Tours’ people scattered far and wide to all parts of the complex. With no reserved seats for tonight, it was open to everyone to sit where they wanted to.
The driver of the #15 car, who has apparently changed his name to Anyone But Schatz, won going away. After all, it is the Month of Money. Tyler Courtney, whose nickname is Sunshine amongst all this rain, won the USAC feature.
Day 4 – Thursday July 18th 2019
Tonight it was back to Eldora for the second of four consecutive nights of racing at the Big E. But not before motoring across country to Winchester, Indiana. A town that is famous not for rifles, but the world’s highest banked paved half mile speedway. But more about that tomorrow.
T-Mobile in Findlay fixed up Kev’s phone and all is good there now. Shell provided the fuel for the Chev and Subway provided the fuel for the passengers. Always a good idea on race night is to get Subway. 6” now and 6” later at the track.
The Randolph Inn in Winchester is named after Randolph County and one of the owners is Charlie Shaw who owns the speedway at the western end of town. A very nice hotel indeed and I’d say it will become the home for future Eldora visits for years to come. It’s a 35 minute drive on easily negotiable roads. Cars and deer share the same piece of bitumen at times. Driving to Winchester this afternoon was yet another wet experience. Out of nowhere a rogue storm cell began forming in the west – the direction we were driving. It was travelling at the same speed that we were and when it decided to drop the first of millions of gallons of rainwater, it hit us and remained hovering over us for about an hour as we both headed for Winchester.
It was fortunate (we thought) that the storm was not heading towards Eldora, but as we neared Winchester it suddenly changed direction and raced away to the northeast. Later as we left Winchester for Eldora, Stubb texted from the campsite to say that they now had Lake Stubb at the caravan, such was the intensity of the storm when it hit the racetrack.
But one-off storms don’t bother the Eldora track crew. They just put their head down and work harder to get the place in shape for racing which they achieved and had it in top notch shape by about 8.00pm ready for The Jokers’ Wild. An odd name for a race. Brad Sweet had no problem in taking the win and the $12,000 that went with it. I’m sure though he has his eye on a bigger pot for Saturday night of $175,000.
Day 5 – Friday July 19th 2019
One of the best days on the Month of Money tour is our regular stop at the Winchester Speedway on the Friday of the Kings Royal weekend. Over the years owner Charlie Shaw, Managers Kirk Daugherty and Gary McFarland along with track historian Bob Lemons have opened their arms to us showing wonderful hospitality to our tour clients.
Today had a new twist with now retired USAC sprintcar driver Tom Bigelow also at the track to meet us. Tom started the Indy 500 nine times, won 52 USAC features in the days when roll cages were optional and was the national sprintcar champion in 1978 with 14 wins. What an incredible man. Turns 80 this year and his vitality and sense of humour is alive and well, let me tell you. A real honour indeed.
Plenty of photos were taken with the special guest before taking the Chevy for a spin around the banked oval. Kev used his gate opening experience to let the Chevy in. We paused at each end of the track to experience the degree of banking fully expecting the van to topple over. But no it stayed upright long enough for it to take us to Kathy’s Diner in Greenville for a late lunch. Peter Greenwood’s favourite of fried apples were on the menu again.
From Kathy’s it was off to Stubb’s where we joined a few dozen others who regularly drop in to say hi to the lad and his Australian friends. The continual stream of people through the camp is astonishing. Beware of Greeks bearing gifts they say. My version would be Beware of Yanks bearing alcoholic drinks. Any variety of booze will find its way in and the expectations are that you should sample it without question.
The “Knight before the Kings Royal” is the quaint name for the second night of the three day weekend. One in which the track preparation was superb. Eldora has taken some stick lately with dust problems prominent. Me being a vocal critic. But I am the first to admit that things have changed for the better in recent times. A B Schatz won again to take his last five Eldora races to be 4 to 1 in favour of the chequered flag.
Day 6 – Saturday July 20th 2019
As tired as we may be, King’s Royal Saturday can be (or is, if you let it be so) the biggest day of the tour. Expectations from the Stubbmaster were that we be back at his compound by 12.30pm. There is much to be done before racing starts at 8.00pm. So we duly left the terrific Randolph Hotel in Winchester around 11.30am and took yet another different route to Eldora. Being where the track is (ie in the middle of nowhere) there are virtually a hundred different ways to get to Eldora. So much so, that there are t-shirts available for sale which simply say “If you know your way to Eldora Speedway without a map, you are a true sprintcar fan.”
The numerous country roads that essentially service the farms in the area, are a delight to drive in daylight. But to use them to get back home again at night, is fraught with danger. The critters wandering the roads in darkness make it akin to riding the dodgem cars at Luna Park. But more about that later. This morning we got up close and personal with the numerous wind turbines strategically placed on local farming properties. I’m sure the famers appreciate the additional income these behemoths bring in.
Eventually we came out on SR118, the famous Ohio road where the late Earl Baltes used to live on his beloved Eldora Speedway property. Tony Stewart was the only person he would sell it to once he realised that death was not far away for him. There is no doubt now that after 10 years of ownership, Stewart has more than fulfilled Earl’s expectations.
Folks were already gathered around the Palace, beers in hand, awaiting the start of the Petey Memorial cornhole tournament. Corey ‘Petey’ Martin took his own life eight years ago, but today it was the 73rd running of “The Petey”. Yeah I know. Don’t ask me. Stubb’s the organiser.
16 teams were assembled including Jake and Kayne Briggs, already being hailed as the latest and greatest Tasmanian cornhole sensations. The Yanks were apprehensive about these two blow in brothers and were already concerned about the title being taken out of the country. The most recent Apple islander to show promise at the Petey was Heath Pursell. In fact I recall a Press release was written heralding his arrival at Camp Stubb back in 2017.
“Lake Stubb” had dried out somewhat with all the recent warm weather and centre court was in good condition for the competition. The spectators took up their positions in the nearest shady spot, the competitors limbered up with practice throws on the outside courts awaiting the chief steward Mr S Tubb to announce the teams for the Round 1. Expectations were high that the defending champions, the Bordner Boys from nearby Attica, could win their third title, but the Briggs kids were at attractive odds with StubbBet, a newly formed off course wagering company. It seemed that the same entity provided the land for the tournament, refereed the contest, took the bets and sold the beer and the food. Not a bad gig if you can get it.
Sadly the Tassie boys bowed out in the third round and had to watch the final which the father / son combo from Attica won handsomely. And they looked good in their brand new GST caps. Consolation prizes were rides with George, Chase Stockon’s grandfather, in his elongated golf cart.
A very special ceremony then occurred which recognised Stubb’s contribution to the success of Global Speedway Tours’ first 10 years of operation which comes up next May in 2020. Scott Phillips has been an integral part of our team since inception and in fact carries the title of Vice President US Operations. His Business card is impressive. Stubb was super excited to receive his award and as a fan of that legendary Australian film “The Castle” he was quick to say that the plaque was “going straight to the pool room.”
On the track the Kings Royal was a great race in front of a sell-out crowd. How many? My tip was 30,000 plus with more than 50% of them sitting in our row of the grandstand on turn 1. An over exaggeration of course, but the policing of who sits where in the reserved seat sections in very weak. In fact it’s non-existent at any race track. People just sit where they want to and then refuse to move.
But no one except Brad Sweet sat in the seat of the NAPA Auto Parts #49 as he took home $175,000 tonight. The biggest first place prizemoney in sprintcar racing history. But I did feel really sorry for Logan Schuchart who raced from position 8 at the start to lead inside 7 or 8 laps only to be beaten by a caution when Sweet (legally) jumped him on the re-start.
Saturday night post-race at Eldora is chaotic. The police are out in force, not to manage the drunks (maybe they should be) but to especially ensure that no driver leaving the track goes the way they actually want to go. As you will have read earlier, there are numerous ways to get to Eldora and therefore there are equally as many ways to leave. But most become one way roads for a few hours while the traffic disperses and the cops have this unique ability to study your vehicle from a distance in the pitch black of midnight and decide instantly that you’re going north when you actually want to go south.
And hence that’s why we found ourselves again driving the narrow roads belonging to “Farmer Brown and Sons.” We could hear the giant wind turbines whirring, but couldn’t see them as we scoured the road ahead for wayward critters. Then sure enough two majestic deer presented themselves in the headlights. Fortunately on this occasion they were not running at right angles to the way we were headed. Otherwise roast venison would have been available to the Brown family in the morning.
They were moving in the same direction as us and as a result were not looking into the headlights. Doing so makes deer freeze. They have multiple photoreceptors in their retinas giving them phenomenal night vision, but which also causes them to be totally blinded by bright light.
We slowed to watch these quite magnificent creatures dart in every direction to avoid our vehicle, which was in fact some 20 metres behind them. On one side of the road was a soya bean crop, no more than 30 cms high. It would give no shelter to them. On the other was a beautifully developing field of corn which stood maybe two metres high. Without warning they both decided to disappear into the corn as if a magician had made them instantly invisible. If you remember the movie “The Field of Dreams” then you will recall seeing Shoeless Joe Jackson emerge silently from the cornfield onto Kevin Costner’s baseball diamond.
These deer did the reverse and simply dissolved into nowhere.
Day 7 – Sunday July 21st 2019
Attending church is the dominant task for many on the sabbath and Hoosiers are no different to most others in the mid-west. I love driving the rural backroads on a Sunday to see the locals out and about in their Sunday best. Forgotten for the moment are the daily chores of ploughing, chopping, sewing and harvesting. Today its worshipping with others at the local. Cars with Methodists, Baptists, Catholics, Mormons, Anglicans, Presbyterians you name it pack the church parking lots.
And then they all go to Sunday lunch. I’m sure there must be other places, so don’t even bother trying to go to Cracker Barrel or Golden Corral for a feed after 11.00am on the day of rest…..
It was time to forget the wings for a while and go watch the USAC good old boys run at Lawrenceburg in Indiana Sprintweek Round 4. The Burg is right down the bottom of Indiana. In fact it’s so far south east it’s almost part of Kentucky. The “banks of the old Ohio” are actually the border between the two states as the vast river that Olivia Newton-John made famous entwines itself into the earth of these two states …. and Ohio. The Tri-States as they are known.
We arrived early on a beautiful day to find Laura and Mike relaxing outside their RV waiting for their travelling colleagues to arrive. And in due course they all did. The GST crew were first followed by some guys from Kalgoorlie we had seen before, but not met, Hi Speed (aka Speedie), Wayne the Train, the Bells from Warrnambool, Queenslanders Mick and Kim Sauer with sons Rusty and Ambrose along with Paul Broughton, Johnny Gibson on a rare night off from the Outlaws microphone, Doc and Beth with their little guy Nathan and, not to mention too loudly, Bryce Townsend from BT Tours out of New Zealand who called in to swap some yarns. The Global Speedway Tours Chevy bar was a popular place indeed.
You really wouldn’t be dead for quids on a superb late afternoon in the Indiana sunshine.
This entire group along with two ultra large and unknown Americans, who smoked continuously the entire time in front of us, sat high up in the turn two grandstands to watch Justin Grant win only his second ever Indiana Sprintweek victory at the same track where he won his first seven years ago. I remember it explicitly. In 2012 he arrived late at the track having been held up by roadworks (no different to anyone else) and had to start at the rear of his heat. He went on to win a great race with the late Bryan Clauson.
Given there was a Burger King right beside our Hotel most did not eat at the track preferring to wait until, we got back to the Hotel. The night was a very funny one indeed as drinks and food in the car park led to many a chat with visiting American race fans who were staying there. I’m sure many of them must have gone to bed dreaming of wild kangaroos on the Harbour Bridge, koalas clutching onto lamp posts in the city of Sydney, drop bears in the local parks and the recently introduced phenomenon of electricity into Australia …..
Day 8 – Monday July 22nd 2019
A night off from racing usually means the weather will fine up. But not on this tour. The weather is fine and dandy right now and the forecast for the rest of the week and next are excellent.
From Lawrenceburg we hi-tailed it up I-75 to Dayton where it all started exactly one week ago. The popular Wright Patterson Air Force Base and it’s USAF Museum was our target. Once again your scribe retired to the cafeteria to get the Blog up to date (or at least try) while the rest went walking throughout the four vast hangars that house over 360 original aircraft and missiles. As always the four hours went quickly. No one wanted to write about their viewing experience in the Blog, so if you want to read all about what they saw, click here.
The balance of the day was a pleasant drive to Mansfield, further north in Ohio. Yes there is a speedway there (a damn good one too) and no it wasn’t running tonight. Mansfield was chosen as an overnight stop because of the Ohio State Reformatory. Global Speedway Tours had visited here once before and the impact of the Reformatory tour was considerable, so it was included again on the 2019 itinerary. The tour was scheduled for tomorrow, so after getting lost in the enormous rooms of the Hampton Suites, we nicked across the road to Applebees for dinner.
Surprisingly they had never heard of Daniel Kirby’s eating exploits in Pella, Iowa.
Day 9 – Tuesday July 23rd 2019
It wasn’t an early rise this morning. No need to as the Reformatory didn’t open until 11.00am and it was a mere five miles away. We did however take the opportunity to inspect Mansfield Motor Speedway which although it was locked did have a gate over which the left leg could be thrown to check out the configuration.
Given that it was formerly an asphalt track at 4/10th of a mile with NASCAR style safe-T barriers on the fence, the fact that an enterprising promoter saw the opportunities in completely ripping up the bitumen and replacing it with clay was admirable. He has had some huge races there, but in the two years it has been operating as a dirt speedway, the rain has smashed him hard. He must have deep pockets as the big money races are still on the schedule.
The Reformatory was next. The tour leader took up residence in the Warden’s Office while the rest went on the tour of the cell blocks. I’d like to hyperlink you to their website but can’t as it has been down for weeks so presumably will be for ages. You could try here though. https://www.mrps.org/
Naughty boys and later (very) naughty adults were imprisoned here in cells, just like Alcatraz which is acknowledged as the best tourist attraction in the world. Whilst not as well known the Ohio State Reformatory, is nearly as good in my view. I’m convinced the place is haunted ….. but it certainly needs a paint and our resident expert painter and decorator took a good look at what would be required.
The third state on our tour so far was beckoning and as we drove east into Pennsylvania the weather remained simply super. Usually on the PA border there is a switch which is activated as soon as speedway fans drive past it. The rain just tumbles down. But maybe it’s turned off at the moment. Around 4.00pm we rolled into Butler. Rolled is a good word for this place. The Trevor Mackereth saga is now folklore amongst many, so it was important to show rookie GST tour members the scene of the crime, even though we weren’t staying at the same hotel this year.
Our new hotel, the Comfort Inn & Suites, was pleasant enough, but potentially equally as dangerous for wayward whisky drinkers. It too was high on a hill and had a rotunda with seats and a table under which the esky could be placed. We noted the exact position of the luggage trolleys in case they were needed, but I’m pleased to report they weren’t.
Racing tonight was at Lernerville Speedway some 15 miles south of Butler on the way to Pittsburgh. In days of old the Don Martin Silver Cup was two feature races raced consecutively on the same night. It is a stop on the World of Outlaws trail each year. Don died several years ago and current management have retained the Silver Cup race but eliminated the second feature. Positions in the second A Main were determined by reversing finishing positions in the first. I thought it was popular because the fans loved it, but apparently not.
The night’s winner was David Gravel in the #41 ex Jason Johnson car with the freak Kyle Larson second and our own James McFadden in third, on a track that had very little grip and quite frankly became a skating rink that could not display the incredible talents of these drivers. It was a long way to go to watch and an even longer 756 km drive back to traditional non-winged sprintcar racing at Terre Haute tomorrow night.
Day 10 – Wednesday July 24th 2019
Roll call was at 7.00am this morning and all were present and accounted for. A few more kilometres than anticipated were to be added to the trip today as the tour host decided to make the drive through Pittsburgh at rush hour. And it was worth it. Whilst this legendary steel city is no oil painting, it drips history with its architecture and astounding number of bridges. 446 to be precise. The Ohio and Alleghany rivers meet in downtown Pittsburgh.
KFC was the choice for lunch seeing as how Kayne missed out yesterday. (Long story!!) We ate in and left normally after finishing. After leaving, I raced back inside to use the bathroom and as I did I over-heard the head lady say to her staff “in Australia they have KFK – Kentucky Fried Kangaroo.” She was deadly serious.
We made excellent time as always on the tremendous Eisenhower Interstate Freeway system. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again. “It is a privilege to drive on it.” We found ourselves in Terre Haute at the Hampton Inn at 4.30pm with time for a quick nap even.
A huge crowd was on hand at one of the oldest speedways in the country. Now 67 years old it has operated continuously as the Action Track at the Vigo County Fairgrounds right in the middle of town. As most speedways are in this country. And racing goes on without mufflers. It’s a ½ mile track with wide open spaces in all four corners. The non wing USAC sprintcars love the wide open stuff as do the photographers. But regretfully one serious problem is that Terre Haute has a dreadful lighting system. But then again, this is not uncommon amongst even the best known tracks. But that’s another debate for another time.
With no love lost between Justin Grant and Tyler Courtney they battled race long in the failing light when, as dusk turned to darkness, virtually so did the track. Maybe it was just the angle I was sitting on. Courtney became the only driver in Sprintweek so far to fast qualify, win his heat and the feature.
Day 11 – Thursday July 25th 2019
Back in 2012 we had big Ash and Ingo on the tour. Two gents from country Victoria, who at the time of the tour lived in the north west of WA and worked in the mining industry. Ash and Ingo were Street Stock / Modified Production sedan guys and were large boys indeed. Ingo’s dimensions were 190 cms and 185 kgs. 6 feet 9 inches and 400 lbs in the old money. Ash was shorter and a little lighter. Great guys and a pleasure to have on board.
My purpose in relating that background is that 2012 was reincarnated this morning when we picked up Maso and big Leigh from Mildura in Indianapolis. Not only do they look uncannily like the 2012 boys, they are of a similar size and disposition. Great blokes who will be a pleasure to have travelling with us I’m sure. And would you believe Ash, Ingo, Leigh and Scott all know each other from their Victorian racing days together.
Maso had an immediate problem however which needed to be fixed before anything else. He had broken off a back tooth on the flight over and the jagged edges of the remaining molar were giving his tongue significant grief. There was no alternative. He had to get to an American dentist for some work. Now herein lies the issue of the cost of medical assistance in the USA. I rang around to several nearby dental practices suggested by Google. All had answering machines in operation. Some did eventually ring back, but not all of them cared apparently.
In the meantime the lovely Rosemary at Arizona Sports Shirts in Gasoline Alley recommended Star Dental Clinic on West Washington Street. I mention their name only because they were so good with Scott (Maso) that they deserve your business …… should you ever need a dentist while in Indianapolis that is. We entered the surgery with some trepidation wondering if, even between us, we had enough ready cash to pay for the work. Or would Scott need to empty the credit card after just four hours in the country. He had Travel Insurance of course, but you still have to pay the bill first. The fact that the first question every receptionist who I did eventually speak with, asked was “does the patient have insurance” didn’t exactly fill either of us with any confidence.
But back to the Star Dental Clinic. We walked in and noticed that the people in the waiting room were mainly afro American. That’s neither here nor there in this story, but we were intrigued by it. More on that later. Maso was asked to fill out a three page questionnaire on pretty much everything to do with his life on the planet so far. I could see $ signs rolling through his eyes like four reels on a poker machine. Angst was present, but so was the pain of the tooth and something had to be done. The sheet was handed back and the receptionist said “we will get the oral surgeon (dentist?) to do an examination first and then we will provide a quote for the work to be done.” At this point Maso was thinking that a piece of string and an open door handle might be a better bet. I left at this moment and was promised a return call from the receptionist to let me know when to pick him up.
The others went to lunch at Sarah Fisher’s 1911 Grille and whilst there the phone call arrived that the work had been completed on young Scott and he was free to leave. I drove back to the Dental clinic and out he walked from the waiting room with a spring in his step and a smile back on his face. He was fixed. The price? US$35.00 in total for the initial examination and X-Ray, plus the remedial work on the tooth. “Unbelievable stuff” as Alan Jones would say.
I found out later from some locals that this Dental Clinic is very well known in Indianapolis for its charitable work to the poorer parts of the community who can’t afford proper dental care. Well thanks to them, Maso is now pain free for his holiday in the USA.
Prior to the dental saga and after we had picked up Leigh and Scott from their first night hotel, we visited the Indianapolis Speedway museum where unfortunately for us we already knew that the VIP grounds Tour, which includes the ride around the track, had been cancelled because Ferrari of all companies would you believe had hired the complex for a corporate day. They had some governed Ferraris out there on the road course for special clients to test drive. But the Museum was still open and it sufficed for today’s visit.
Then it was off to Arizona Sports Shirts in the original Gasoline Alley for what I’d say turned out to be a bonanza for Arizona, with eager Aussies ripping into the overflowing $5 t-shirt bargain bins. All brand spanking new. While I was away getting Maso fixed up at the dentist, the gals at Arizona took the rest of the tour group for a behind the scenes tour of how they print thousands and thousands of t-shirts every day.
The late Lunch at Sarah Fisher’s was followed by the drive down I-70 to Putnamville and the Lincoln Park Speedway for Round 5 of Indiana Sprintweek. A night which coincided with an informal remembrance service to the late Bob Clauson, Bryan’s grandfather who had died suddenly during the winter in California. Bob and Monica had parked their RV on the same patch of grass in the top parking lot at Putnamville for decades. Monica drove the RV out to the Mid-West again this year for one last time so Bob’s racing friends in Indiana could farewell him. Speeches were made, some of his ashes were scattered and he now spends the remainder of his time peacefully together with Bryan.
It was also the first opportunity for Leigh and Scott to tailgate at the races in America. They soon got the hang of it pretty quick!
The race was a ripper. The sell-out crowd loved it despite a blown transformer which had plunged the track into darkness before emergency repairs produced sufficient lighting that allowed the race to start. “The night when the lights went out” race was won by the veteran Kyle Cummins. It would be only his 4th ever USAC sprintcar victory. 48 hours later at Haubstadt, Cummins won again. 2019 is certainly his best ever year in racing.
Day 12 – Friday July 26th 2019
Losing an hour today as we drove into Illinois meant a later than usual start was permitted out of Terre Haute where we had put our heads down for the last two nights. Apart from watching the hair brained (lunatic?) antics of a crop duster in his plane, it was an otherwise uneventful drive through the Illinois countryside.
Lunch was at the Palms Grill Cafe on old Route 66 in Atlanta. Always a favourite it appears to have new servers every time we go there. Of course their most famous was Angel from the 2014 tour, (good morning Adam if you’re reading this) but she is now long gone having fled tiny Atlanta for Canada with a young fellow from a neighbouring town. Last year we had the “American Dad” but he too has disappeared it seems. This year we had Carla Tortelli from Cheers. Our new girl was a dead ringer for Carla and spoke and walked like her too.
Before leaving Atlanta we were all impressed by the giant Hot Dog man opposite the Palms Grill, but were more intrigued when we walked around the back of the hot dog man which I had never done before. And there sitting in a rusted out trailer was an abandoned (non wing) sprintcar just exposed to the elements and presumably, ripe for stealing in the dead of night, if you were so inclined. The lettering on the cowl showed the driver was Jim Dandy, but somehow I don’t believe that was his proper name!! The trailer had evidence that it was from Joe’s Garage in a now obscured Illinois town name. We couldn’t believe it was still sitting there in silence, apparently in a public place ….
Pontiac was next and a check-in to the Best Western Plus Hotel for two nights. Pontiac is also on Route 66 and it will be explored tomorrow, but for now it was off to Fairbury and the American Legion Speedway. Simply known as the FALS. The American Legion being similar to our RSL in Australia. The two night Prairie Dirt Classic for Late Models and Modifieds takes place here and the pits were packed. The Late Model race is sanctioned by the World of Outlaws but it attracts cars from everywhere. There were 72 of them just sitting there waiting to be unleashed. The Modifieds had a similar number.
For both very warm nights we parked under the shady trees of the Fairbury Water Board courtesy of the chief engineer at the plant. Dave walked out to meet us and stayed for ages just chatting. He has promised to bring along his golf cart tomorrow night for our use.
Adjacent to us was a car full of females totally enjoying the tailgating until they realised they had locked all available keys in the car. 77 year old Bob Blackman (soon to be renamed Hugh Hefner) wandered over to them offering to help. But we’ll come back to that story tomorrow.
The Tasmanian Briggs connection of mother Teresa and her two sons Jake and Kayne were in seventh heaven, given it was the first Late Model race on the tour. And what a race to start with. The Prairie Dirt Classic (PDC) is more than a classic. It sets the standard for what a two day race should be. Here’s how it all unfolds …..
1. Like hundreds of others in the USA, the track is in the Fairbury Fairgrounds. I guess the fair still takes place in there, but race cars dominate now.
2. The Fairgrounds are just metres from adjoining houses.
3. The race track requires no mufflers.
4. The neighbours do not complain because of the money the track brings in through the thousands of spectators and campers who attend the weekend’s festivities. They embrace the entire weekend and collect some extra pocket money by charging for parking in their yards.
5. The town triples its population when the PDC comes to town.
6. Room in the grandstand is tight, but not full on Friday night. But it’s standing room only on the final night with seating sold out months in advance.
7. The race is sanctioned by the World of Outlaws Late Models but it attracts cars from all different sanctions such is the prestige associated with winning it.
8. 72 Late Models turned up along with a similar number of top class Modifieds. I’m not usually a fan of the Modifieds, but here at FALS they are very entertaining.
9. After Friday night qualifying there are four 25 lap “heats” (more like feature races if you ask me) to determine the line up for Saturday night’s 100 lap A main. Brandon Sheppard dominated proceedings tonight with fast time and a win in his heat.
10. This year Brandon Sheppard took the honours with an unbelievably aggressive (but legal) last lap last corner pass on fan favourite Bobby Pierce. Pierce had driven the entire race without power steering which failed him on lap 1. Totally exhausted by lap 99 he couldn’t put the car in the spot he needed to in order to block Sheppard from coming through.
11. Prizemoney was $30,000 to win the Late Models this year, rising to $50k for 2020, but still only a meagre $5k for the Modifieds.
12. By tradition after receiving the cheque post-race, the winner is then invited to drive his Late Model through the town to the local branch of the sponsor, the Bank of Pontiac. The cheque is deposited to his account via a drive in lane being opened for him at midnight.
13. The accompanying police car then escorts him back to the pits where presumably the partying commences.
Day 13 – Saturday July 27th 2019
What to do on a lazy Saturday before returning to Fairbury for night 2?
The town of Pontiac sits on the original historic Route 66, but also has the four lane I-55 interstate close by, so it gets plenty of traffic. A short two mile drive into the town gets you to several museums about Route 66, a number of luncheon diners (we used Edinger’s Filling Station) on Madison Street. An old gas station now redecorated as a Diner. A ride in the Pontiac tourist tram taking pictures rounded out the early afternoon.
By 3.00pm we were back on the road to Fairbury. Need to get there early you see for the 100 lapper. Once again we took up residence on Dave’s Water Board property but sadly neither he nor his promised golf cart turned up. But somebody who did, or at least our 77 year old Bob thought they did, were the car full of young ladies who yesterday locked their keys in the vehicle. “Young Bob” thought he would re-introduce himself to them.
However it didn’t take long for him to realise that it was a different set of ladies this afternoon. But no matter. He quickly switched his approach to gain their attention and it wasn’t long (maybe 90 seconds) before he was seated in the middle of them telling tales of his many adventures in 80 countries of the world. (That’s how many he reckons he’s been to.) As a result of Bob’s efforts yesterday and today he is no longer known as Bob Blackman, but Hugh Hefner. A smoking jacket will be purchased for him at the first opportunity.
One of those ladies was Jennifer. After about 10 minutes of Hugh, Jennifer realised that there were more Australians to talk to just 10 metres away and wandered over.
No doubt you’ve seen or heard of the Energiser Bunny! Well I’m here to tell you that Jennifer was full of batteries, fully charged. You couldn’t stop her talking, cheekily interrupting us every time we attempted to say something. It was extremely funny and the good natured bantering had everybody in stitches. Turns out that Jennifer is an ADHD sufferer, has four kids, is on the wrong side of 40, 15 pounds overweight and her current boyfriend is a Late Model driver who was in the pits helping a mate. He and his friends (whose partners were the other ladies in the group) later joined our ever growing party and the discussion expanded into all things Australian.
It was the perfect environment to introduce unusual occupations in Australia like “roo shooers” and “koala pokers” at peak hour on the Harbour Bridge. “Drop bears’ unexpectedly falling out of trees was a subject that concerned her, along with the numerous varieties of snakes, spiders and lizards that live in the outback where first time visitors to Australia are sent to acclimatise for their first week in Australia. And finally that good old Aussie word starting with a ‘p’ which describes a person of homosexual persuasion totally fascinated the entire American connection.
In time, everyone gradually left the party and wandered in to the races, but not before the indomitable Jennifer received a toy kangaroo and koala from the rapidly depleting Global Speedway Tours stock of bribes. She was genuinely thrilled and it was our way of saying thanks for the entertainment.
The Chevy sat silently under the trees waiting for its cargo to return after watching Brandon Sheppard take the lead from an ailing Bobby Pierce on lap 99 to win 30 grand.
Day 14 – Sunday July 28th 2019
An easy day today. The weather had cooled, a longish sleep-in was permitted this morning and it was only a relatively short drive over the border into Iowa for the All-Stars at 34 Raceway tonight.
As is the case for many adjoining states, the border between Illinois and Iowa is a river. In this case it’s a big river with a big name. The mighty Mississippi. The big M borders 10 different states as it makes its way south from Minnesota, where it originates at the mouth of Lake Itasca, down to Louisiana before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico at New Orleans. The river has 137 bridges which span its almighty girth. Interestingly no one has ever wanted to put a tunnel underneath the Mississippi. The length of it is 3,766 km and it’s said that if you put a corked bottle into the river at Lake Itasca it would empty out into the Gulf of Mexico 91 days later. Probably faster than Australia Post if you think about it.
We crossed old man river on US34 and stopped shortly afterwards to watch the incredibly fast flowing waters. The recent flooding has subsided somewhat to allow normal day to day operations to resume everywhere but the evidence is still there of how high the waters got. In St Louis they had the second highest recorded water level reading just two months ago. Fortunately all the towns and cities along the length of the river are prepared for the “big one” with flood levees and walls already in place permanently to prevent disaster.
Speaking of disaster prevention, the tour leader thought quickly when, after checking out the Bass Pro store in Peoria, the two big units from Mildura said they were hungry. “There’s only one choice,” I thought to myself and pointed the Chev towards the nearest Golden Corral. Not exactly sure of what it was, they paid their entrance fee and walked in. Like two bulls running in Pamplona, they just looked and looked at the available food that surrounded them, then pounced with plate in hand. Needless to say Leigh and Scotty had a most enjoyable lunch as indeed did we all.
Bass Pro Stores deserve more coverage in this Blog. They are outstandingly good places. Sure they sell stuff that hunts and kills animals, but putting that aside for a few moments, it’s worthwhile to visit one of their stores for the way in which they present what they are selling. Here are some photos to illustrate.
The lobby inside the front door
The Mildura boys with one of dozens of off road quads
Wanna buy a gun?
Need some ammo to go with it?
We met a couple of these on the way back to Winchester from Eldora
Need a new letterbox?
Now where were those deer? I thought I just saw them
There are live fish in that tank. The rest of the critters are stuffed ….
Maybe fishing is your thing
A drink sir before you go?
One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven
34 Raceway is an excellent facility for drivers and fans. Clean and tidy with abundant seating in high quality aluminium grandstands, the track is lightning fast ….. and racy. The fans there get quite dressed up! For numerology fans there were 34 cars that took qualifying. Australia had good representation with 17% of the field. (Half of 34!) Andrew Scheuerle, Marcus Dumesny, Rusty Hickman, James McFadden, Lynton Jeffrey and Kerry Madsen were our starters.
But it was the boss Tony Stewart who won the A main and would you believe US$26,000 to go with it. A big pay day for a Sunday night race. He outdrove a hornet’s nest of star drivers building behind him. Rico Abreu, Christopher Bell, Aaron Reutzel, Cory Eliason were all in contention at some stage but the wily veteran, and arguably part time driver these days, took home the cash.
Day 15 – Monday July 29th 2019
A first for Global Speedway Tours occurred today. We added in an additional Late Model race to the itinerary because there is no racing anywhere down through Route 66 next week as we make our way to St Louis for the Iron Man at Pevely. So months ago the decision was made to still go to Chicago for two nights, but it would be pushed forward by 24 hours to insert a race before and not after. If that all makes sense.
So it was off into Wisconsin and a new track to add to our repertoire. It was the Fairgrounds in Plymouth which meant a 334 mile (534 kms) drive. There’s that pesky #34 again! With stops, it was round about a seven hour drive. One of which was a must after realising we would be travelling within 10 miles of Sun Prairie. Readers may know that the very famous Angell Park Speedway is in Sun Prairie so it was a no brainer that we needed to have a look. Being a private facility, which incidentally has been run and promoted by the local Volunteer Fire Brigade since 1939, we anticipated that it would locked up tight. Which it was, so disappointment set in for just a minute of two until Kevvie the pit gate man at Murray Bridge Speedway used his skills to find an open pedestrian gate. Through which we marched to have an open slather look at the track with the famous red and white striped fence. They had raced last night while we were at Burlington, but unfortunately one can’t be at every speedway every night.
One further stop was at Beaver Dam Raceway where Jason Johnson was killed at a World of Outlaws race last June. Whilst we could get reasonably close to the complex, the track itself was locked tight and the only access was to jump a fence, but sanity and respect played its part and we did not do that.
From Beaver Dam it was non stop to Plymouth. Our hotel, the AmericInn, was just three minutes from the Fairgrounds. The adjoining houses were as close as the width of the street. Many home owners had constructed special balconies on parts of the house that you would never expect a balcony to be built. But hey, if you can invite the friends over for a feed and watch the races for free, then why not. The promoters don’t care because then the locals don’t complain about the noise.
It’s a neat track with an excellent grandstand facility and a monstrous pit area, so necessary these days to cater for the ever increasing size of the haulers. Donny Schatz had a night off from racing his sprintcar so it made perfect sense that he would dust off the Late Model and go race in northern Wisconsin on a Monday night. He missed the direct transfer from his heat, but won the B Main which started him off 17 in the 50 lap feature. He performed well and finished a strong 12th which in this company of WoO Late Model drivers was a good effort.
Brandon Sheppard brought his Prairie Dirt Classic winning form to Plymouth to win again. In a canter to be honest. No last lap last corner heroics here. He led all but two laps to collect his 15th WoO Late Model feature win for 2019. He also took quick time with a new track record and won his heat to “sweep the night” as they say.
Days 16 & 17 – Tuesday & Wednesday July 30th & 31st 2019
After 12 race nights in 13 days it was time for some R&R. For the Month of Money tour this break always occurs in Chicago, Illinois. A city made famous by gangsters, prohibition and Frank Sinatra singing about it. Leading up to this day there has been some degree of discussion (perhaps nervousness??) about going to the Windy City or as cranky Franky calls it “My kind of town.” Click the link and listen to Sinatra while reading the Blog.
During the days of Elliot Ness v the Mob in the 30’s there is no doubt that Chicago was probably not the place to take speedway fans to looking for some fun. But in the new millennium it most definitely is. Stick around in the downtown area and it is beautiful. The Chicago River flowing through the town, the Magnificent Mile (Michigan Avenue) the pride of the retail area, the diners, the bars, the hundreds of hotels, the classic old elevated railway, Wrigley Field, Trump Tower, Navy Pier, the House of Blues, the 103rd floor glass ledge on the Skydeck of the Willis Tower, deep dish pizza and polish sausage. It’s all there for you without venturing out of the downtown area.
But this morning we woke up in Wisconsin so needed to drive south through Milwaukee to get there. But one needs to stop (and so will you now that you know about it) at the Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee. Quite a phenomenal place. There is a fee of about $10 bucks, but it’s worth it for an hour or so of motorcycle gazing. Every model they’ve ever built is in there I reckon, plus some that no one knew had ever been built. Of great interest to the racing freaks amongst us is the area devoted to the wooden board tracks of the 1910’s when incredibly brave individuals raced motorcycles at breakneck speeds. Best you read this wonderful story to see what all the fuss was about.
Lunch was at the HD Museum in their restaurant simply called the Motor. From there we ventured down to Chicago aiming to arrive at the mammoth Hyatt Regency Hotel (2,019 rooms) at 3.00pm. Although I-41 had at least 60 miles of construction delays, we made it in good time. Driving into Chicago is a real eye opener for folks like the Briggs family from Hobart. Fair to say they (and everyone) were gob smacked by the sheer size of the place. The traffic is chaotic, but the view of the city coming in from the north is worth it one hundred times over. To then travel along Lakeshore Drive with Lake Michigan (as big as an ocean) on our left sparkling in the hot afternoon sun is worth whatever it costs to stay at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.
After negotiating the journey onto East Wacker Drive and the Hotel we checked into upgraded rooms, all of which had spectacular views of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. It was then time for me to jump back into the Chev and take it out to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport to meet two more tour members, Bob & Pat Whittle, plus Peter and Laima’s kid Tim Physick who will be driving the required second vehicle. Needless to say, 4.15pm on a weekday was not the right time to attempt a rapid journey on perhaps Chicago’s busiest freeway. As I inched along at snail’s pace I watched as the ETA on the GPS blew out by one minute every two minutes. But eventually the United Airlines Terminal came into view and there were the three of them in exactly the place agreed upon. As big and as complex as it is, Chicago’s airport actually numbers all its departure doors onto the street so you can find anyone at a glance in any Terminal. Excellent idea.
Night time saw us visit Dick’s Last Resort, but I should have followed my instinct after the last visit in June. Dick. You are now officially the last resort for Global Speedway Tours in Chicago. Time for a new venue.
Wednesday was a day for personal exploring. A choice everyone seemed happy with and excited stories of experiences were exchanged in the group at the baseball that evening. The Chicago White Sox played the New York Mets at Guaranteed Rate Stadium. An average game came alive in the last innings when the Mets scored three runs to take a healthy lead, but the Sox looked as though they might come back in the bottom of the ninth. If they had’ve, then 80% of disgruntled Sox fans would have missed it because they were already in their cars and driving home, pissed off with yet another home loss.
Day 18 – Thursday August 1st 2019
It was time to get a second vehicle to cater for the extra luggage being accumulated and the three new tour members who joined us here in Chicago, plus another two who will join us in St Louis. Tim is the driver of the second vehicle and together he and I took a 7.00am stroll to the downtown Clark Street Budget depot where a Chrysler Pacifica was awaiting us. As usual it was “Rental White”, a colour that is popular amongst organisations that charge you more to insure a vehicle than to hire it. A Pacifica is the 2019 model of a Town & Country which was the former name for this Tarago type passenger van.
Besides it’s baby bum smooth ride, the other outstanding feature of the Pacifica is its ability to hide four of the six captain’s chair type seats beneath the floor with the single pull of a strap. Whoosh. Away they go, disappearing like a half cut Phil Cass tie. To the casual observer the Pacifica has now become a cargo van which can hold a ton of luggage. Perfect for what we wanted for the remaining two weeks of the tour. Luggage space enroute and passenger space for the rides to and from Pevely, Oskaloosa and Knoxville.
Our first duty this morning was to negotiate Chicago’s morning peak traffic between the Hotel and Joliet Welcome Centre, which experience tells me that it’s best place to start following Route 66. I-55 was the road for that and Tim handled his initiation to the Eisenhower Freeway system with aplomb. Driving in convoy is never easy, so in the event of separation both vehicles have all the navigation aids necessary. They’re called Google Maps. Free and available to everybody. Updated every night on your smart phone. GPS units connected to satellites in the sky amaze me as to how we can freely use them without a direct charge, or subscription. Someone surely missed the boat on that opportunity!
Charlie Lindsey our man at Chicagoland Speedway was waiting as always to welcome us to his dragstrip, NASCAR track and ½ mile dirt track. Situated on hundreds of acres of land outside Joliet, the complex is meticulously maintained. The NASCAR track, with seating for 70,000, lies idle for most of the year. Certainly during the winter when it is mainly covered in snow and then during the short summer months it has just the one NASCAR weekend, usually in June for the Monster Cup, Infinity and Truck series cars. You really do wonder just how they manage to keep the doors open. Might have something to do with the TV rights huh?
The ½ mile Dirt Oval makes its money from Demolition Derbies and Monster Truck shows. On about six or seven occasions during the summer, they will open the gates to sprintcars, midgets and late models. But it is random and sporadic. The Drag Strip is the success story with events most weekends and it hosts the NHRA three times each summer. Its fair to say that the drags are our man Charlie’s baby.
This year, as well as the usual visit to the absolute top of the grandstands where the spotters and media gather, we were also invited to drive a lap of the 1.5 mile NASCAR track. We were sort of kinda meant to stay on the flat apron at the bottom, but Charlie turned a blind eye to a little bit of finessin’ up on the banked track. A super morning indeed and one which it’s fair to say surprised the tour guests as to what they were able to experience at the Chicagoland complex.
Next up (besides dodging blown truck tyres on the road for Tim and the Chrysler) was the Polka Dot drive in Ice Cream diner on historic Route 66 in Braidwood. Surrounded by statues of Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Betty Boop, James Dean and the Blues Brothers in the parking lot, the interior is typical 1950’s format with most things on the menu being deep fried or pan fried. But that’s the way of life in the USA unfortunately. Eating healthily is a skilful science indeed.
Route 66 got our attention for the next hour or so as we followed it meticulously through to Pontiac where, because of time pressures, we needed to jump back onto I-55 and skedaddle to St Louis in order to meet and greet Ian and Wayne, our final two new members to the tour. Both were waiting at the appointed spots in St Louis, which by the way was jam packed with people wearing red for the Cardinals and the others wearing navy blue for the Chicago Cubs who were in town for a three match series at Busch Stadium. For the Chicago fans, it’s just a 4½ hour drive down the interstate and a hotel room for the three nights. Which explained why the rates for accommodation were so high in St Louis and I was forced to secure rooms in the Comfort Inn & Suites in Cahokia about five miles from downtown St Louis.
Dinner tonight was in the outstandingly good Texas Roadhouse in O’Fallon. We were here just a couple of months ago on the Indy tour on the night when the St Louis Blues won the ice hockey Stanley Cup. Again there was live sport on all televisions in the joint and would you believe we sat at exactly the same line of tables adjacent to the bar as the Indy Tour did. The ribeye steaks are fabulous in this chain. They never fail to melt in your mouth, along with the baked potato.
I can’t wrap up today without making mention of Dave, a member of Cahokia’s finest who turned up in the squad car to make sure the group of 12 or so people enjoying a cold beverage at 11.00pm on a hot night in the hotel car park were honest law-abiding citizens. Like a similar occurrence in Indianapolis a few years ago, the tour guests were at first concerned that an arrest might soon be on the cards. But after a few reassuring few words from the tour host that we were doing nothing wrong, Dave revealed that he was delighted to have a group of Aussies to entertain. Apart from 30 minutes or so when he raced off in the car after being called out to assist another policeman, he spent a good 90 minutes with us.
His sense of humour was excellent and he could easily hold an audience as a stand-up comedian should he ever want to leave the police force. One (long) story we’ll never forget was about his life in the K9 squad. His German Shepherd dog (Feight) was born and bred in Berlin, being imported to the USA in a bulk supply of similar dogs. Hence it should come as no surprise that Feight was trained to obey commands in German. So, Dave had to learn as much German as he needed to, so he could tell it what to do. Of course, the crims had no idea what he was saying, or what the dog was likely to do. It made for some unpredictable times he would gleefully tell us. All while continuously monitoring the small speaker on his shoulder which carried the voice of the police radio operator.
Dave has several nieces and nephews who now have a koala and a kangaroo to make their life even happier.
We now have nine consecutive nights of sprintcar racing coming up. Not everyone’s cup of tea I suppose, but for those on the tour it definitely was … and I guess would be for most everybody reading this blog.
Day 19 – Friday August 2nd 2019
Like last night with Dave the cop, you can make your own fun in big cities, or you use the sights of the town to entertain the tour guests. In St Louis it is the Mississippi, the Gateway Arch and the Budweiser Brewery. At 10.30am the Tom Sawyer paddle steamer plied it way upstream with the GST crew on board against the flow of the mighty river. For an hour we witnessed the aftermath of the recent floods in St Louis when the river rose to its second highest level in recorded history.
The Arch is not for everybody, owing to the confined and cramped space in the trams which claw their way to the top, 63 stories above the river. Once up there, what appear from ground level to be narrow slits in the cement, suddenly become quite large windows to look out over the city to the west, or over the river into Illinois to the east. On a clear day you can see into Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Indiana.
Two further stats of interest for you are:
1. Not well known at all and absolutely not noticeable with the naked eye, is that the Arch is deliberately as wide as it is tall. ie. 192 metres.
2. Construction of the Arch was completed in 1965 to symbolise and remember those explorers who were the pioneers of opening up the west towards California. The position of the Arch is where the authorities best estimate the pioneers crossed the Mississippi in their quest to open up the west. Since McDonalds the burger chain has just about taken over the world, many folk (who have no idea why the Arch was built) ask “why didn’t McDonalds build the other half of the Golden Arches as well?” I guess you just ignore these people, but the incredible coincidence in all of this is that the name of the company which built the Arch in 1965 was McDonald Constructions of St Louis.
Next it was off to Budweiser. Unfortunately the Brewery has changed its philosophy on free tours, now offering many different tours at a cost and only very few free ones. And those free ones sometimes only show you the stables. So, we didn’t get a tour in, but we did eat lunch there before readying ourselves for night 1 of the Iron Man at I-55 Raceway.
It’s always an early arrival at Pevely, not only because the crowds are large here, but because for the last nine years we have been parking in exactly the same spot on the grassy mound near the entrance and ticket boxes. Our US friends know we should be there on Iron Man nights and it occurred again. We pulled in, parked the Chev and the Chrysler, opened the esky and the rest just happened right on cue.
One of whom is Andrew Muser who lives “just down the road” in Herculaneum on the Mississippi. Perhaps you’ve heard the famous southern USA saying of “we’ll git ‘er done if the Lord is willing and the creek don’t rise”. Well in the case of I-55 Raceway that creek did rise. It was the Mississippi of course, which rose to the extent that it flooded the entire speedway complex and tonight’s race was only the second one they have been able to hold since the season started.
But back to Andrew. He talks like that saying above. Except there is often the mother f word in there as well. Andrew has two friends who accompany him nearly everywhere. Both are called Billy. But it doesn’t really matter because both are usually fast asleep in Andrew’s truck as a result of way too much moonshine. A funny man is Andrew and he’s welcome to entertain the group every year he wants to. In fact, this year he became the proud owner of a brand new Global Speedway Tours cap. He was so excited, he proclaimed to all who were listening that he was going to super glue it to his head as “I ‘aint never gonna take this thang off”.
The racing tonight was a great prelude to tomorrow night’s 55 lapper for the Iron Man title. The smaller than expected crowd allowed folks to move around and watch from different places around the track. Of course it’s a well known fact that when at I-55 one must watch at least one sprintcar race from right up against the fence on turns 3 & 4. Suicide corner as it’s known. Most did, but not all. The track should make a bravery award available I reckon. Like a ride in his truck with Andrew ….
Rico Abreu won the POWRi midget main event and Brad Sweet held off a fast finishing Sheldon Haudenschild to win the Friday night feature for the Outlaws. If only there was a Bookie at the track to get a bet on for tomorrow night’s finale ….
Day 20 – Saturday August 3rd 2019
Staunton Classic Cars is always on the agenda if time permits. Its only 40 miles or so up I-55 and although we go there every time, there is always something new to see. In case you didn’t read about it in the Indy Tour blog just gone, not only did they lose a whole building (one of seven) to fire several years ago (including Bob & Pat Whittle’s newly purchased 1967 Chevrolet Corvair), late last year they lost the same newly built building when a tornado moved it and quite a few cars to the other side of I-55. But it was re-built yet again and filled up with cars just as quickly.
There are always around 650 cars to inspect. They are not necessarily in mint condition, but the people who purchase them soon make them so.
After Staunton we followed Route 66 to Mt Olive and the Soulsby Shell Gas Station. A great example of the opportunities that the opening of Route 66 gave to “Mum & Dad” entrepreneurs in that era. Lunch was at the truly magnificent Ariston Café in Litchfield. Acknowledged as the probably the oldest still operating café on Route 66, not just in Illinois but along the entire route of 3,940 kilometres from Chicago to Santa Monica beach in LA. No matter what you eat in there for lunch or dinner, it must be capped off with dessert from the astonishing array of pies.
The weather has not been an issue for the last three weeks since day 1 at Attica. And today was more of the same which meant that there would be a jam-packed full house at Pevely tonight. We were back at the Hotel around 3.30pm and by 4.15pm were at the track. Russell Blackman (who you will be surprised to learn was not actually on the tour) had rung from the parking lot to say that he had saved our traditional spots and that the car park attendant had been worded up to allow the two Australian cars through to the front!! Bless his soul.
When we arrived (with apologies to Johnny Gibson) we saw “the most beautiful sight in all of motor sport.” There parked on the gentle grassed slope, with not one car within 40 metres of him was Russell, sitting in a fold up chair behind his rented hybrid Ford Fusion with the boot (trunk) open to provide him with some degree of shade. He was gazing out into the yonder without a care in the world and certainly no idea that we had arrived. Alongside him was another (unopened) fold up chair with a Wal-Mart plastic bag on top, saving one car spot. The second parking spot was being held by his esky sitting out in the hot sun. What a sacrifice! What a guy!
For whatever reason, the car parking dude was not allowing any cars to park where we would be. He didn’t stop us from going there, but he did all others. And he didn’t even get a koala or a kangaroo. I must make a note for next year.
The usual folks dropped in to say hi and new ones, some pretty young, stopped by to see who these VIPs were that received special parking favours. Including another cop would you believe. This time he was a Pevely patrolman who I’m guessing could well have been engaged by the promoters to do exactly what he did with us. Make us feel welcome and stop and talk for as long as he wanted to, before driving off to visit someone else. Needless to say, anyone who wanted to could sit in the squad car for photos, with or without him. Ambrose and Rusty made the most of the photo op with their Mum Kim who also got to wear his police cap. Queensland sprintcar driver and hubby Mick just stood and shook his head, muttering something about “selling ice to eskimos”.
There was no opportunity to sit anywhere tonight other than your own designated reserved seat. It was chocka. Maybe they locked the gates to stop anymore coming in. Mind you there was still room on suicide corner ….
Johnny Gibson described tonight’s non-stop 55 lap final as one in a million. It was something he had never seen before with the winner Sheldon Haudenschild almost 11 seconds (virtually one whole lap) in front of 2nd and 3rd. He had lapped up to 5th place and was so far in front that Schatz and Pittman, who finished second and third, thought they were battling for the lead. Rico backed up again in the midgets to take out the POWRi A Main which needed three green, white chequered re-starts to complete the race following flips in a hotly contested feature.
PS Plenty of people reading this would have experienced standing on a corner and being pelted with clay as the cars go past at breakneck speed on the dirt. But have you ever sat in the grandstand and had it rain with dirt? A phenomenon I certainly hadn’t experienced. It was a hot 80F night with 90% humidity. And zero wind. The only air movement was created by the wings of the sprintcars. Almost as if in slow motion, the cars threw up dirt from the newly prepared race track and it just hovered above the grandstands before floating to earth continuously throughout the 9 minutes and 44 seconds it took to do 55 laps without a stoppage. A weird sensation indeed.
PPS There were no fireworks in the car park tonight…..
Day 21 – Sunday August 4th 2019
Hannibal in Missouri was our first stop on the way through to Iowa. Samuel Langhorne Clemens was raised here. So what you say. Who’s he? Well young Sam wrote books under the pen name of Mark Twain. Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and Becky Thatcher were all figments of Clemens’ imagination when he created these characters for his books. Hannibal is on the west bank of the Mississippi, so it’s of no surprise to have the great river as the inspiration for many of his stories.
Milk shakes at Becky Thatcher’s Ice Cream Shoppe were popular before continuing on to Mt Pleasant for lunch at Hardee’s fast food joint. Nothing special here, except that keen eyes saw Tim order and eat a 1/3rd pound low carb Thickburger in an iceberg lettuce leaf. See later for more of Tim’s food exploits.
And before we knew it were rolling into the delightful Dutch town of Pella right on 3.30pm. The Royal Amsterdam Hotel awaited us and although it didn’t need to be refurbished, it has been since last year. The outside is exactly the same as it still sits serenely on the canal running through that part of town. The inside however was vastly different. Monarch’s Restaurant run by Richard and Kellie Phillips is no more and is being replaced by a new restaurant yet to be opened. The outdoor tables running the length of the side of the building sadly are gone.
Everyone’s first ever sighting of Knoxville Raceway is a never to be forgotten occasion. Although the crowds for tonight’s Capitani Classic were nothing like what they will be later in the week for the Nationals, the experience tonight was unforgettable for those starry eyed Aussies who had never before visited Mecca. The four who had been before just watched in awe of the effect the Sprintcar Capital of the World has on a person. I especially watched Jake and Kayne to see how they managed the occasion. I reckon 15 year old Kayne held his emotions more tightly than his 25 year old brother. Mum Teresa deservedly had a tear or two as well as she no doubt thought of her late husband Rickie who had passed away from brain cancer in April 2017. It was always Rick’s dream to go to the USA to watch racing with the family. Sadly he never made it …..
The 8th running of the Capitani Classic was won by a seventh different driver this year. David Gravel fought hard to hold off Brian Brown and Gio Scelzi for the $7,500 win. Now just where is that Bookmaker again?
Day 22 – Monday August 5th 2019
A lie in, or an early start to explore Pella was the order of the day because the vehicles were going nowhere until 3.30pm when they were started up to head for Oskaloosa. Osky, Knoxville and Pella lie at the apexes of an equilateral triangle. Each is 14 miles from the other. So it’s not a long drive at all, unlike the distance some have to travel who stay in Des Moines, or further out still in places like Ottumwa. It is not unusual for some fans to only be able to get accommodation 60 miles away, thus making it a round trip of 190 kms each day just to go to the races.
Monday night at the Ultimate Challenge, or “Terry’s Race”, or simply the place where “I went to a party and a race broke out” is a fun evening. Made even more so by the fact that Global Speedway Tours folk can go up on to the flag stand with Toby Kruse as 410 sprintcars flash underneath you on the half mile at 180 kms an hour. This one came as a complete surprise to everybody as it was kept very quiet. Mainly because I had temporarily forgotten about it until driving into the Fairgrounds. The sunset displayed at this track is always spectacular. Tonight was no different.
As usual Toby kept his promise and those who wanted to do it were invited up to help wave the flags. It’s an unique sensation when standing up there. Not because of the speed or the turbulence of the cars, but because you know there are 3,000 sets of eyes looking at your back wanting to know why they can’t do the same thing.
Since way back at Eldora Speedway on Days 3, 4 & 5 of the tour, we have been joined on occasions by former GST tour members Patrick Topp and Ken & Marilyn Holland who are over here on a private holiday. Tonight was another occasion when our paths crossed and whenever that happens, they are most welcome to join our group for drinks and conversation. However no one was to know that tonight while at the speedway, Ken and Marilyn’s hotel room in Newton would burn down.
When they arrived back there later in the evening, they were prevented from going anywhere near the Hotel as although the fire had been put out, the danger of roof collapse etc was still imminent. Ken and Marilyn wondered whether their room was OK. Pat had already found out that his was, although in his absence he had been moved to another hotel in Newton. The Hollands weren’t so lucky. It was their room which had taken the brunt of the fire and the water damage inflicted by the firemen meant there wasn’t much left of their belongings. Including passports which will have to be re-issued in Chicago next Monday.
Something else that was on fire tonight as well was Daryn Pittman’s Roth Motorsports #83. He was unbeatable in the final. It was the fourth time he has collected the $20,000 cheque. Even the freak Kyle Larson couldn’t catch him.
Toby came by the GST camp post-race with Diana to meet everybody and share a cool drink on a hot night. They had their dog Smoke with them. The most delightful puppy I’ve seen for ages who is named after Tony Stewart. He’s a Havachon, a cross breed between a Havanese and a Bichon Frise. Get one if you can!
Day 23 – Tuesday August 6th 2019
Although the fire in Newton occurred last night, the news only filtered through to us this morning at breakfast via various social media outlets such as Facebook and Messenger. It was an eerie coincidence indeed for Bob and Pat Whittle. Two years earlier on the Tuesday of Nationals’ week, we were all sitting in the same breakfast area watching the morning news on TV when vision of the fire at Country Classic Cars in Staunton flashed across the screens. That certainly got Bob and Pat’s attention. One of the group shouted “hey Bob your Corvair was in that building which isn’t there anymore.” And sure enough the 1967 Chev Corvair had been cremated and sent to heaven.
But it has now been replaced and Geelong has a new historic left-hand drive car being driven on the roads around Kardinia Park. Russell Blackman and I had picked out a replacement for the Whittles on last year’s tour. We sent photos to Bob and Pat who approved and they bought it. Interestingly it travelled to Geelong in the same shipping container as Robby Farr’s Late Model!!
Tuesday in Knoxville and Pella is always shopping day for us. For eight years we drove the 250 km round trip to the Outlet Stores in Williamsburg. Often there was a Late Model race scheduled at West Liberty that same night which we also took in. Along with dinner and drinks at JB’s and what appeared to be the entire town who joined us. Those tour members who have been to West Liberty should fondly remember JB’s Pub & Grub. Except maybe Reece who lost his favourite cap into the bottom of the plastic bucket somewhere along I-80 at 1.30am when it got mixed up with samples from the bottom of his stomach.
But I digress. Altoona is a suburb of Des Moines, more favourably known however as the home town of the McCarl family. Well it now has a brand new Outlet Centre built right next to the giant Bass Pro store. Certainly it’s a significantly shorter trip now that West Liberty doesn’t race on a Tuesday night anymore. So that’s where we went to fill up the suitcases, both current and new ones.
Then it was back to Oskaloosa for the boys that night for the non-wing POWRi 410 sprintcars and the ASCS 360 winged sprintcars on the same program. A considerably smaller crowd was on hand but they saw a great show when Brady Bacon elected to go to the back of the non-winged race and take the challenge. He won from position 22 and took home considerably more dollars than he had in his pocket when he arrived. $9,600 in fact with all the contingencies. Wayne Johnson won the 360 race which was a bottler. In all honesty, if you didn’t know otherwise, you could be excused for thinking you were watching 410 engined cars go around tonight. They are pretty well just as quick.
Just like this Ford Superduty truck with 28 inch rims in the parking lot next to us. Colour coordinated to the fifth wheel it tows in the background.
Day 24 – Wednesday August 7th 2019
Arrangements for today went a little askew when Dave Argabright advised his inability to be with us for his annual address about the Knoxville Nationals to the group. We have held this luncheon in the Amsterdam Board Room for the last eight years, but given that the restaurant is not yet open we had to find an alternative venue. And that quickly became the Pella Golf and Country Club where Richard Phillips has taken over the General Manager duties. Wife Kellie is also working out there, but today she also took on another different task at a moment’s notice.
Not expecting my very tongue in cheek secret request to Richard for him to be our guest speaker to be fulfilled, everyone was pleasantly surprised when Kellie popped up from behind the curtains and announced that she would be happy to talk to us about Pella. Kellie if you’re reading this, you did a damn good job my lady. Thankyou. We are much more learned about Pella and its Dutch heritage than we ever were before.
And then following a clearly rehearsed handover between Mr & Mrs Phillips, Richard arrived on the scene at the head of the table and began telling us just how a Welshman became interested in sprintcar racing and finished up living in Pella. Clearly the Pella native called Kellie had something to do with that. We also needed to know just how he became best friends with Kerry and Ian Madsen and their wives. And with the Australian Matt Barbara who essentially owns Ian’s KCP Outlaw team. It was genuinely fascinating stuff and I’m very grateful to the Phillips’ for their thoughtfulness.
Richard had built everyone up to be early down in Knoxville for night 1 of the Nationals, so from the Golf Club via the Hotel to the Knoxville Raceway we went. Our parking arrangements for the next four nights were in the VA (Veterans’ Affairs) Hospital grounds outside turn 4 of the speedway. Click on the link if you want to read the fascinating story of this now shuttered hospital which still sits on 151 acres, but was closed down 15 years ago.
Tonight we sat in the back stretch grandstands which are only ever opened for the four nights of the Nationals. They remain closed on every other race night. On Sunday for the Capitani we were on the front straight and will be again tomorrow for night 2. Nights 3 & 4 will see us again on the back stretch. The view from here (in my view) is better than the front straight and less crowded, with the only drawback being that the ceremonies and presentations occur on the front straight. However, there are big screens to keep up with the video action.
On a track that took a bit of criticism later for it being too wet and heavy and hence a lack of passing, Trey Starks was a surprise winner of the A Main from James McFadden and that man Sheldon Haudenschild again. If that Bookmaker was around, Starks would have been 100/1 to win the race tonight. Perhaps only his Mum would have backed him. He was 15th in qualifying and 4th in his heat to just scrape into the A. But he was the fastest car out there and looked very solid.
Day 25 – Thursday August 8th 2019
Last year Toby convinced me that I should take the 2018 group to the Shining Stars Stables for Percheron horses up near Des Moines. The lovely Diana Marquardt owns the stables where she keeps upwards of 25 of these magnificent horses. The suggestion was met with some degree of scepticism last year and again this year. But exactly the same thing happened this time as it did last year. The tour members were absolutely and totally fascinated with these beautiful creatures, some of which stand 19 hands tall.
Everyone fell in love with the docile nature of these Percherons and with how they hold themselves so proudly. After all they are bred as show horses and in fact tomorrow most of them are off in two transporters to the Indiana State Fair to compete against the Clydesdales in the Draft Horse Hitch Show. (I bet they win.)
Thankyou sincerely once again Diana if you are reading this because I know you gave up valuable time to show us around and host us at lunch. You should be unbelievably proud of what you have built there at Shining Stars and if I can bring back more Australians next year then I surely will.
Lunch was at Jethro’s BBQ in Altoona where we went last year, and next year I hope. The difference being, in 2018 no one took the Adam Emmenecker Challenge, but this year they did. Here’s Tim being served with his Adam Emmenecker burger. He did finish it, but it was around 1.00am in the morning after getting back from night 2 of the Nationals.
The rest ate a little more discretely because most were just watching and waiting for Tim to regurgitate the lot!
Our usual spot under the trees in the VA Hospital parking lot was awaiting us, as was Russell who sits there patiently waiting for us to turn up. This is a private parking area mainly allocated to the media and vendors at the speedway, but we are lucky enough to secure passes each year from the track.
In recent days the first thing we do before people scatter to the four corners of Knoxville is to undertake the draw for the Global Speedway Tours sweep on each night’s feature. $5 apiece gives the right to select a card which will give you a starting position in the feature between 1 and 14. A driver will then be matched up to your number of course when the A Main line up is announced. We first started doing it on Sunday night at the Capitani and big Leigh from Mildura took the first pot. By the way if a driver wins from 15 or more, the amount jackpots to the next night.
Monday at Oskaloosa saw Graham, Pat Topp’s mate from Toowoomba win it all and on Tuesday at Osky, Wayno from Canberra scooped the pool. Finally, last night when Trey Starks won, yours truly held his name in my hot little hand as the car raced away from everyone to take a most unlikely victory.
Following the card draw, a visit to Dingus was in order. Some of us went in there and the rest walked the midway and bought whatever they could in the way of merchandise, t-shirts, jewellery, scaled sprintcar models, books, stickers, badges and in general, anything that related to the Knoxville Nationals.
Dingus has had a bit of a paint job. Certainly not inside the tiny bar. It still has the original signatures all over the walls and roof. But outside in the bar area the Joey Saldana Budweiser sprintcar mural has gone. (As has the big Global Speedway Tours sticker that also appeared in every photo taken of that mural.) Unfortunately, I didn’t get around to asking AJ the owner if I could put another one up there on the new paintwork!
The cars tonight certainly had a much better track to race on and the action was a little more intense I thought. Shane Stewart was the quickest qualifier so he earned the eighth starting spot in the first heat. The “penalty” for being fast time was an inverted eight in the heat. But poor old Shane didn’t survive one lap before he smacked the fence in turn 3 and took a nasty tumble flipping up against and along the fence all the way into Turn 4. He was not to be seen again tonight.
It was David Gravel who won the A Main from Brad Sweet and Carson Macedo. Then it was time to merge the points together from night 1 and 2 to see who the top 16 point scorers were. These guys go straight into Saturday night’s A Main, the next 10 are locked into Saturday’s B and the rest are invited to come back tomorrow night and do it all again. Re-qualify, heat race and then try to make it into the top four of the A Main tomorrow night. If they do, they take positions 21, 22, 23 and 24 in Saturday’s A. Complicated? I’m sure it is a little, but it works and works very well. Just ask Shane Stewart.
PS Car #41 won his owner $70 tonight. Patricia Whittle was very pleased with young Mr Gravel.
Day 26 – Friday August 9th 2019
Now that the Australian – American Challenge is no longer on the race card on the Friday night at Knoxville, it gives teams like Ian Madsen’s KCP Racing the night off. According to Ian it’s a much-needed break too. That is of course provided you do well on your Qualifying night and progress directly through to Saturday’s A Main by virtue of being in the top 16 on points.
For Ian that was the case as he was 14th in points and would start off in that position on Saturday. It also meant that his magnificently appointed transporter could stay in the shop all day Thursday and Friday in Granger, along with the spare cars …. and Ian could have a couple of rest days. Except for hosting us on Friday at 11.00am!
I must confess to being thrilled when at I-55 for the Iron Man last Saturday, after Ian had been interviewed by Gibbo he, like all drivers, walked around the track amongst the spectators before hopping in to their cars. When he saw me, he detoured off the beaten track and said “Are you guys still OK for next Friday?” For a driver to do that before one of the biggest races of the year, shows he is one cool customer and someone who cares deeply about his fans.
True to his word ‘Dyno’ was at the huge race shop and he talked and showed us around for 40 minutes or so. Happily posing for numerous pictures at the hauler, at the cars and in front of his ever-increasing trophy accumulation. A wonderful group photo was taken which has been re-produced here. I think the person most overawed by being there was, without any doubt at all, Jake Briggs. Mum Teresa nudged me at one stage to look at her oldest son who was just standing motionless with his mouth wide open, not believing he was where he was. Wish I had been fast enough to get a pic of that …. Thanks Ian, for your wonderful hospitality as always.
Lunch on Fridays is always at Toby K’s Hideaway up in Boone. Toby K being Toby Kruse who not only owns the Bar and Grill, but also Marshalltown Speedway, 141 Speedway up in Wisconsin, a large reception centre and a gas station in Boone, plus a number of other hi profile speedway related businesses. If the sun is shining on Friday Toby is never at Toby K’s because he’s 55 miles away in Marshalltown preparing the hi banked track for the night’s racing. If it’s raining, then he eats with us. But we haven’t seen rain for nearly 30 days now and it certainly didn’t look like starting any time soon.
So, after eating beneath a most intriguing roof (the entire ceiling is covered in side panels from wrecked IMCA Modifieds) we departed Boone, but not before checking out Boone Speedway. And yes, of course it’s right in the middle of town on US-30. The next stat you may find hard to believe. In early September of every year, this track hosts the Boone Nationals. For the last nine years, the car count attending the Nationals has exceeded 800. 2016 was the highest with 876. The classes that run at the Nationals are: Modifieds (259 of them is the best tally which requires 30 heats to sort them out), Late Models / Stock cars (191), Hobby Stocks, Northern SportMods and Sport Compacts. Various local versions of these classes add to the numbers.
From Boone it was off to meet Toby at his track, Marshalltown. You’ve heard of Knoxville Raceway of course but it’s not the only speedway in Iowa. There are another 33 dirt tracks all competing for the dollar in our pockets. Probably explains why the car count at Boone is so high huh? The adjoining states are all so close together that if you add in the tracks in Wisconsin, Minnesota, South and North Dakota, Nebraska and Illinois then you would have 200 or so tracks for these classes of cars. One of which is Marshalltown Speedway.
Despite the fact that night 3 of the Knoxville Nationals is on tonight exactly 94.5 kilometres away, Toby will get a full house in the stands and around 180 cars in the pits. Racing will start precisely at 7.28pm and given no major incidents, it will be done by 10.45pm. And he doesn’t have a curfew. One day, we’re going to offer an option on the Month of Money tour. Night 3 at Knoxville, or good old-fashioned speedway racing at Marshalltown with six classes and 180 cars. We’ll get you to and from whatever track you want to go to.
But that option wasn’t there for this year’s tour, so once again we were back in the VA parking lot under Russell’s tree drawing cards for drivers, cooling off with beer, bourbon or water as the preference may be. Today we had a few guys from Ohio stroll through our little camp. One in particular from Wayne County, who met us last year in the same spot, had just won the Steve King Foundation Knoxville Nationals Cornboard title earlier in the day. Now US$1,000 better off, he was celebrating big time. We agreed on a number of things for next year’s tour, so I hope he is reading this and will remember to write to me firstname.lastname@example.org
78 cars were on track tonight, all making their second shot at qualifying for tomorrow night’s A Main which pays $150,000 to win and $10k just to start. It promised to be the best night’s racing so far and it proved to be so, given the cut throat nature of the format. Since he has been with us after joining the tour in St Louis, Ian Heathorn has made no secret of the fact that K Madsen is his favourite driver. Earlier this afternoon Ian had picked out the two of spades which gave him whoever started out of 2 in the feature race. Which just happened to be the #2M of Kerry Madsen. All those 2’s added up for Ian as the Mad Man virtually led from go to whoa and the Red Rock Lobster man from Tasmania happily pocketed the $70 for Friday night.
Day 27 – Saturday August 10th 2019
We’re nearly at the end of what’s been a very happy and fun four weeks. Those on the full tour have seen racing at Attica (or at least we should have), Eldora, Lawrenceburg, Lernerville, Terre Haute, Putnamville, Fairbury’s FALS speedway, 34 Raceway, Plymouth (WI), I-55, Oskaloosa and Knoxville. 22 race nights in all at 11 different tracks and we called into these ones, just because we could, to have a look. Limaland, Winchester, Mansfield, Farmersville, Lincoln (IL), Angell Park in Sun Prairie, Beaver Dam, Boone and Marshalltown. (Did I forget any Jake?)
We’ve driven more than 5,700 miles on the full tour and 1,800 in just the last 10 days since Chicago. The group has seen more tracks and driven more miles than some Americans do in a lifetime.
But now you can forget all about those places just for 12 hours or so as you soak up the stirring atmosphere of a little town in Iowa of 7,000 people that just happened to create an event which draws 30,000 to their town and the three motels cannot cope! Hence the neighbouring towns also love the Knoxville Nationals because it brings prosperity to them as well.
The day commences with the parade through the town square. It is not like you might imagine. In fact, you might say that you would not get out of bed for the Knoxville Parade. It has no race cars in it, or transporters, just the townsfolk who are super proud of what their “little village” has built in the world of sprintcar racing. There is the local Fire Brigade, the Police, the Emergency Services, all of whom excitedly display their vehicles up and down the main streets. The Mayor comes out, as do other dignitaries from both sides of politics who have a ceasefire for the Saturday of the Nationals.
The streets are littered with candy which is thrown out from the parade vehicles for the kids to scrounge off the bitumen. If there’s anything demeaning about the parade, then it’s this part where it makes the little kids look like hungry dogs looking for scraps of food. By all means give out the candy, but why not present it to the lined-up kids in a bag already tied at the top and full of sweets. That way everyone wins, not just the biggest kids.
The Hall of Fame building is a busy place on the Saturday. People flock to the museum to see the display of historic cars and other memorabilia. This year the feature attraction was a salute to AJ Foyt and his time racing on the dirt tracks of America. An auction was on in the Hall of Fame with 120 items up for grabs. Naturally all speedway related. I could only hear what was going on, but it certainly sounded like a cattle sale as the auctioneer I’m sure had just come from the local livestock fair.
And of course, there’s Dingus. One must spend at least some part of Saturday in Dingus. To try to do so after the races is nigh impossible, hence pre-race is good for us. So many people in there who we knew, or had met in our 31 days on the road. Here are a few pictures that deserve to be seen.
1. Darren Shanley from Speed Shift TV tells a few tales …
2. Ian and Gail (Mrs Stubb)
3. Stubb finishes off his can in lots of different places
4. And checks his phone for messages …..
5. And loves his time spent with Kevvie the gateman from Murray Bridge ….
6. Somehow Bryce Townsend from BT Tours in NZ cracked the group!!
7. Toby Kruse entertains the troops ….
8. Jonathon Bateman (L), Peter and Tim with Jack Haudenschild’s major sponsor ….
9. Bob and Wayne enjoyed their time in Dingus …..
10. This is how AJ and the staff at Dingus keep the cans ice cold ….
11. This is how AJ and the staff at Dingus keep the empties so they can get 10 cents back on every can ….
Unfortunately, 15 year old Kayne could not be admitted, but we arranged for Stubb to venture outside to say hi and goodbye to a young man who has impressed everyone on tour. I’m pretty sure Stubb took a liking to him too as they went off out of earshot of Mum to discuss important men stuff. And that was to find out if Kayne had followed Stubb’s advice from day 2 at Eldora. “Write down the best parts so you can remember them forever (this blog will help you Kayne) and take in and absorb the sights and the sounds of every moment of every day because that’s what Dad would have wanted.”
Oh yeah there was a race on tonight. Or at least five of them. An E, D, C, B and the A. Just 109 laps of racing, but it took until well after midnight to see David Gravel win his first Knoxville Nationals from a super-fast finishing Logan Schuchart out of position 22 and Daryn Pittman. Kayne won the dough tonight for the Briggs family!!
Day 28 – Sunday August 11th 2019
We deliberately stay over on the Sunday just in case of rain causing chaos to Saturday’s racing. It hasn’t happened yet, but it will one day. Just as it has occurred twice to us on the Florida tours when rain postponed the Daytona 500 to the Monday on two different occasions.
The time was well spent though taking the opportunity to visit the Iowa State Fair, acknowledged as the fourth best (biggest?) fair in the country. As with all State Fairs it is a walk through of fried dining pleasures. This year the highlight was deep fried peaches and cream. Although some mischievous young boy or girl exceeded their authority in the butter moulding competition.
To finish off the tour we visited the sole Mexican restaurant in Pella – El Charro. We go here every year to celebrate the fun we have had and to reminisce about the best parts over margaritas, fajitas and burritos! Some just had steak and fries, but that’s OK. Next time maybe.
Day 29 – Monday August 12th 2019
It’s finally time to wrap up the tour. After last night’s farewell dinner, the troops were happy to be headed home to loved ones, but sad to be leaving new found “best friends.” The time spent together, the laughs shared, the new sights and experiences from four weeks of travel in the Chev will remain fabulous memories for time immemorial.
Some interesting sights were recorded on camera.
1. This one was fully registered and allegedly road worthy in Pontiac, Illinois
2. This unit was on I-70 and no doubt the owner loved it so much he just couldn’t part with it
3. The propellers on the wind turbines are monstrous. The freeway is the only way they can transport them
4. When you don’t have a load for the return journey, a good truckie must carry something
5. This dude on the train on the way home from the baseball must have been White Sox fan
6. Ya gotta love a Harley Davidson fan
7. Wish this guy would tidy up his hats
8. We tried to get the Chevy serviced in Pontiac, but the mechanic wouldn’t talk to us
9. We spent a lot on gas but this is ridiculous
10. I told the tour members to stop buying stuff, but they wouldn’t listen
The Mildura Marvels Scotty and Leigh were first to go when Tim dispatched them early in the morning to Des Moines Airport 52 miles away. A second run left Pella at 1.00pm which took the rest. Some had to wait another six hours and some three before they all left for different destinations. Tim and I now had the 850 km task of returning the Chevy to Indianapolis tomorrow.
Tiredness set in around Bloomington, Illinois so we settled on the Holiday Inn Express near the McLean County Fair Tractor Pull to give us a bed for the night.
Day 30 – Tuesday August 13th 2019
Only another 250 kms today, but we set off early knowing we would lose an hour when we crossed the Indiana border. Plus, there was much to be done before we parked our bums in a Delta jet to Minneapolis and then on to Los Angeles.
Heavy fog and constant rain hampered any attempts to maintain a reasonable speed, but we eventually pulled into Dave Argabright’s house in Noblesville where we were able to leave the fold up chairs and various other supplies until next year’s tour. Next was to the storage depot in Rockville to retrieve the seats we had taken out of the Chev to make room for the luggage. Then it was to Indianapolis Speedway to give Tim his first sight of this massive venue.
By now it was getting really close to the deadline to check-in, let alone to return the Chev as well. It needed gas too which we topped up right next to the Big Red Liquor store for the “take home” booze purchase. The usual 1.75 litres of bourbon for $18.75. Way cheaper than duty free in American airports. And then the phone buzzed with an update through the Delta app. “Flight 2691 to Minneapolis will be delayed from 4.15pm to 4.50pm.” Serious stuff, but even so the connection time in Minneapolis for LAX was still a legal 30 minutes.
The Chev was returned to the Avis / Budget group, but not without some drama that complimentary koalas and kangaroos fixed for the future. By this point I had exhausted my supply of stuffed Aussie icons, but all had served their bribery purpose very well.
The Delta app on the phone now began to reveal the story of the next 24 hours for Tim and I. It sent more messages with further blow out times for our flight. Now the connection in Minneapolis had become impossible for our scheduled flight. Given that MSP is a Delta hub, many flights leave for LAX throughout the day. But would there be any seats available on them?
On arrival at Indy’s Gate A11, Delta’s agent there was the one to see. We think Duke was a male, but the nail polish, eye shadow and perfect make up rendered some doubt. Nevertheless, Duke’s preferences did not mean he couldn’t serve us, so to speak. He quickly established that our position was poor and the aircraft would not be coming any time soon. He looked at other routes for us before declaring that “you two need a bed for tonight. Would you like me to do that for you boys?” After clarifying that Duke wasn’t also part of the package, we accepted vouchers for two separate rooms at the Wyndham Hotel near the old airport and re-arranged our flights for tomorrow.
A fun night then occurred. The Wyndham has a great bar and restaurant, complete with electronic dart boards. A highly competitive game of darts between father and son then commenced. For the next who knows how long, we played 501 until there was a minimum of a two game break between us. At $1 a game we racked up more than $20 worth, most of which was funded by left over quarters from accumulated change. The accompanying Blue Moon beers did neither of us any good. And much to Tim’s disgust, I should report that I won 11-9.
Day 31 – Wednesday August 14th 2019
Indy to Atlanta to Los Angeles to Sydney was the plan for the next 30 hours and that’s the way it turned out. No surprises this time.
If you’ve never been to Atlanta’s Hartsfield airport, then some fast facts might be worthwhile. It is the largest and busiest airport in the world. Exceeding those behemoths such as Heathrow, Singapore, Hong Kong etc. 260,000 people arrive or depart on an aeroplane each day, every day, 365 days a year. It has seven terminals, three of which are solely for Delta flights. All terminals are connected by driverless underground trains, but if you don’t want to use those, you can always walk. As Tim did during our four-hour layover there. Like a caged lion let off the leash, he prowled the airport with his Fitbit watch to get the steps up and “eliminate the junk from his legs.”
LAX received a similar workout from Tim as he investigated every possible square inch of the enormous complex that is Los Angeles Airport. Even out on the apron in the Terminal Transfer bus proved to be a never before seen highlight.
Friday August 16th 2019
Touchdown in Sydney was a successful one and all luggage was on board.
Sincere thanks from Peter go to Stubb, Teresa, Jake, Kayne, Kevin, Bob, Hugh, Leigh, Scott, Bob & Patricia, Ian, Wayne and Tim for the important part they have all played in making the tour such a success. 13 new lifelong friends have been made by everyone and adventures shared. The memories will be many ….. forever.
We now look forward to 2020 and our Global Speedway Tours’ 10th Anniversary Mega Month of Money tour. You could travel for up to 55 days if you wanted to …..
Stand by for the itinerary to be released.