The 2020 Mega Month of Money VIRTUAL blog – Part 1
We didn’t go anywhere in 2020. No one was allowed to. So, from the comfort of our office here at Global Speedway Tours, we decided that we’d go on a Virtual Tour of America. And share the fun with our clients and readers while they were in lockdown. Every day for 12 weeks a new daily update was released detailing all the fun of the “tour”.
Now some readers truly thought we were over there. Some said in Xoom conversations that they had actually sighted our group at various race tracks. Not true I kept saying, but then I figured that well maybe the magic of a person’s imagination truly does work. Why try to deny it then? So from about week seven onwards, I just agreed with people that we were really over there and had beaten all the rules to escape from Australia.
The Virtual Blog is now complete via Parts 1 & 2 and freely available to read on this website. There are numerous captioned photos and videos from previous real tours scattered throughout both documents. You’d think that would have given it away would you not? But no. There are still people out there who truly believe that all 12 weeks of the Blog did happen.
Each week is also available as a PDF for you to print off and read it that way, if you find that an easier method. You won’t miss out on any videos as there are QR codes for you to scan and watch them on your phone.
Now I need to go and check my passport to see if there’s a stamp to say I left Australia on June 9th 2020 ……
For daily and weekly episodes beyond July 15th, please switch to Part 2 of the 2020 Virtual tour Blog.
To commence reading please scroll down.
If you prefer to read from a PDF document, or print any or all of this Blog, please use the PDFs below. Click on the car number of the week you want. The PDFs have QR codes for you to scan and watch videos on your mobile device.
Firstly, let’s get the serious stuff out of the way ….
There probably isn’t a single person on earth today who has not heard about COVID-19, aka the Coronavirus. It has nearly brought the world to its knees, but affected countries are uniting quickly and fighting back.
Unfortunately our 2020 Mega Month of Money 10th birthday tour, like most things in our lives at the moment, is a casualty of the Coronavirus this year. However we are determined not to let it win the battle and thus did not cancel the tour, merely postponed it. Yes, given that the vaccines are developed, the virus subsides and countries and international borders are re-opened, we will be running the tour as identically as we can and as soon as we can. If it’s in 2021, we will leave Australia on or about Thursday June 8th 2021.
You can get the information you need by swapping to the Tour page to read all about it. The 2021 itinerary is now showing there, as if it will leave on June 8th 2021.
Most of the confirmed 2020 participants have re-committed for 2021 which means we will have a pretty full group indeed. However until we advise it is full, there will be some spots available upon request, so please don’t be shy and contact Peter Physick via this link , or ring him on +61(0)419 264159 to enquire.
Now for the fun stuff ….
The 2020 tour will be happening after all. Virtually that is. After 19 successive tours and 19 consecutive Blogs, we will be publishing a daily update on the exploits of our group ….. if they had gone away on the 20th tour in 2020.
I’ll enjoy writing it and hopefully you’ll enjoy reading it.
Just to be absolutely clear …. from the Oxford dictionary
Virtual = “being actually such, in almost every respect”
Or, “existing in essence or effect, not in actual fact”
Or, if you like, “it simply ‘aint real folks”.
The tour group was scheduled to leave June 11th. Racing is now getting back into full swing in the USA, just when we would have arrived and you may be asking “why aren’t they going”? Well we can’t get there. Australians are not presently permitted to fly internationally, unless it’s for essential travel. Whilst we would regard the Month of Money tour as critical, regretfully the folks in charge in Canberra see it differently.
We had to make the postponement call several months ago. It hurt, but people’s well-being was paramount. So, the Blog is being written as though we are there on the original itinerary as initially planned and established last November. No COVID-19 and a safe environment as we have known across the last 10 years.
Hopefully these stories, from the depths of my imagination, light up your life, as each day’s episode is released from the virtual Mega Month of Money tour for 2020. We are a collective total of twenty-three Aussie race fans, travelling for 68 days and 49 race nights at 30 different tracks across the roads that built America.
23 people who must now wait until next season to fulfill their dreams in person …..
Tuesday June 9th 2020
(two days before the group arrived)
As I sit on the Delta jet in Sydney waiting for take-off, I steal a quick look around. As usual it’s full of folk heading to the US of A. Businessmen, holiday makers, Americans returning home and flight staff treading wearily up and down the aisles helping people who, quite weirdly, have no idea how to find their seat on the massive aircraft.
I’m settled into a lovely Delta Comfort seat. It is absolutely worth the small additional expense for the extra legroom, the lovely leather seats, the ‘get on early’ access and of course the complimentary cocktails.
Perusing the menu for lunch I unexpectedly saw that the choice was chicken, or pasta. Quite a pleasant surprise indeed. Usually it’s pasta, or chicken. I chose the chook this time as it goes better with bourbon and coke. After lunch I put my new super-duper noise cancelling Sony headphones on and settled down to watching the movies.
I’m guessing it was somewhere past Hawaii when it happened. Did I really wake up in a ball of sweat? Or was I still asleep and hallucinating? Maybe it did really happen?
“He lives in a dream that has nothing to do with reality.”
The flight attendant approached and said through her mask, “please use this hand sanitiser Mr Physick and then the disinfectant to wipe down your tray table before I serve the midnight snack.”
What the ……?
I looked around. Those same people I saw when I got on in Sydney are now all wearing face masks. When I boarded, I had folks sitting either side of me in the same row. Now they were gone. Sitting three seats away. A metre and a half or more from me. Had I not washed? Forgotten the deodorant?
People were staring at me with accusing looks because I was without a mask. “What have, or haven’t I done?” Or worse. “What have I got?”
I contemplated all this for what seemed like a minute or two before leaning back hard and burying myself into the seat hoping to disappear from all sight.
Only to wake up when the man in the seat next to me prodded my arm and said “Hey buddy. You OK? Are y’all gonna have another one of them bourbons with me?”
It took some time before I answered, but I eventually said yes to my apparent new pal from Texas.
Thank the Lord that was only a dream. Who would want to live in a world like that, I privately pondered?
The bump of the big Boeing 777 hitting the runway at LAX woke me up yet again. 14 hours is a long time. But the good news was that there had been no more nightmares. Everything was back to normal. Not the new normal. Just normal.
Clearing Immigration and Customs was easy. Jeremiah, the giant of a man mountain who checked me in to his country was particularly welcoming for 5.45 in the morning.
“What brings you to the ‘U nighted States’ Sir?” Having been through this before, I answered “Here to watch NASCARs ….” A quizzical look came straight back at me. “Well then tell me why you have a sprintcar on your shirt?” he smirked.
How about that? There are 328 entry points into the US and 19,648 Border Protection agents and I get the only one who is a sprintcar fan. Or at least knows what one is.
Arriving in Los Angeles so early in the morning has many benefits, not the least of which is that the smog hasn’t had time to accumulate yet. The view from the plane as it floats in over South Catalina Island and onto the mainland is spectacular at dawn. The traffic is only just building up for the morning peak and the Interstates (freeways) are flowing quickly and easily as they snake through the city. And not one of them is a toll road .…..
Fast fact #1
Which is bigger in population? Sydney or Los Angeles?
Sydney by quite a bit with 4.9 million and LA at 4.1 mill. The big differential however is that Sydney’s population represents 19.6% of Australia’s total, while Los Angeles is a mere 1.2% of its national number. The USA is very big indeed. It has 71 cities that are larger in population than Hobart.
I walked out of the Tom Bradley International, where all incoming overseas flights now arrive, heading for Delta’s Terminal 3. I was struck by the cool crisp air of the early morning and found it quite refreshing. It reminded me once again that I should get up earlier at home, but never do.
The balance of the day was spent sitting on planes through to Detroit (4.5 hours) and then the short hop of an hour to Indianapolis. Eventually arriving there at 5.35pm. Including a three-hour time advancement.
Perennial Global Speedway Tours’ tourist Russell Blackman was waiting for me at the airport ready to begin his 12th tour!! He has been in the US since June 1st having followed Indiana Midget Week around.
By the way, Kyle Larson, now totally free of his NASCAR commitments for the summer, blitzed Midget Week winning two of the rounds and placing in three others. Only missing out on the podium at Lawrenceburg.
Russell was the original member of the Global Speedway Tours Hall of Fame. He was elevated to Legend status just last year. Waiting with him was Terry Barry, although he was nowhere to be seen when I walked out into the Arrivals Hall. Russ was there, but TB was in the line at Starbucks waiting for a flat white.
Our South Australian friend had come in via Houston back on May 22nd and has already notched up more than a dozen races around the Midwest. Also a veteran of touring with us, Terry is on his fifth Month of Money trip and this year in fact is the co-host and driver on the first half of the 68 day tour, then staying on for the second.
One of the more worrying tasks for a tour host now faced me. Picking up the rental buses. In years gone by since 2011, big thumping V8 Chevrolets have been the order of the day. However, on one tour circa 2015 when I asked Stubb to pick up the vehicles, he came back with two Ford minibuses.
I wasn’t at all happy …. until I drove the brand new futuristically designed Ford. They were an immediate hit. Passenger comfort was significantly enhanced and driver accessories were designed for a mini-bus.
So, it’s Fords from now on when we can get them. Today was a happy day because the two Henrys that sat patiently waiting in the last two bays on the Budget concrete for Terry and I, looked most inviting indeed. The extra good news was that one was traditional ‘car rental white’, but unusually the other was jet black. At least we’ll have good reason to tell them apart.
The evening was spent catching up with all the news from the two travellers over a nice meal at the Steak ‘n Shake opposite the Candlewood Suites hotel in Woodland Avenue, just a couple of hundred metres from the Ganassi Indycar shop. I told them all about my dream over the Pacific. I don’t think they believed a word of it …..
Tomorrow we start the quest of purchasing all the necessary supplies for the trip with the first of probably 30 Walmart visits across the course of the total tour.
Wednesday June 10th (one day before the group arrives)
Usually a kookaburra in the trees wakes me up back home every morning. Quite a pleasant way to do so I might add. But not even a woodpecker was required today. The body clock did that at 5.00am and will continue to do so for several more mornings I would expect. Nothing bad in that. It allowed me to write the opening day’s Blog.
The three of us set off from the hotel in the BF (that’s the Black Ford) en route to Dave Argabright’s house up in Noblesville. Yes, the same suburb where the late Bryan Clauson once lived. In 2019 after the MoM tour had concluded, Tim and I had dropped off a now forgotten quantity of fold up chairs and assorted other items, including an excellent esky. (Cooler for those Americans reading.) We were on our way to Dave’s to discover what I had left there and reclaim it for another tour around the Midwest.
It was terrific to see Dave and Lisa again and catch up over a coffee while gazing out over the lake their house was built next to. We even received some inside gossip on what Jimmy Wilson has been up to in the fictional ‘Best of Times’ series in Sprintcar & Midget magazine. He’s been around for 15 years now, but still lives in 1975, racing in USAC sanctioned events at tracks which sound remarkably similar to many real ones in Indiana, Illinois and Ohio. If you’ve never read the Best of Times’ stories, then get yourself in touch with Dave through this website and buy the books.
We left Lisa and her husband waving goodbye, until late August when we drop back with a bunch of new stuff to be stored. This time we pointed BF towards Lafayette Road where the nearest Walmart was. It turned out there had been nine fold-up chairs warehoused at Noblesville, so another eight are initially needed until we get to St Louis on Day 57. Then we’ll need to get another six.
Plus another esky for the WF, several bed sheets to be torn up and taped down in the bleachers at various racetracks to reserve grandstand seats, Budweiser in bottles, Bud Light in cans, Miller Genuine Draft in anything, Jim Beam, Old Crow, Coke, Pepsi (real and no sugar), Mike’s Hard Lemonade (in each of the six flavours), chips, cashews, (cheap as chips over here), red cups, eight dozen bottles of water, a broom and a bucket. Don’t think I’ve left anything out …..
Ice need not be purchased over here. The hotel ice machines located on every floor provide an abundant supply each and every day. Over 68 days I’m estimating we will save a total of around US$500 if we had to buy it each morning. That’s why the prices can be kept at $1 per beer and $2 for a bourbon, or a Mike’s. Everything else is complimentary, funded by the potential alcoholics amongst us!
Giveaways in the form of hi quality stuffed koalas and kangaroos, bottle openers, stubby holders (coozies over here) and vegemite have been brought from home. We’ve usually got most of the imported vegemite still in the back of the bus at tour’s end. Can’t understand why?
Tailgating, where the $1 beers etc are consumed, is a national past time over here. You will read plenty about our future race track exploits and hotel car park sessions in this VB. By the way that’s short for Virtual Blog, not Victoria Bitter, although I’m sure Stubb would prefer VBs in the esky. (He loves that kind a talk!)
A little cruising around Indianapolis occupied the ultra humid late afternoon before retiring to the Tavern on South Street for dinner and to toast those tour members leaving various ports in Australia right at that very moment, bound for the USA.
Located pretty much across the road from Lucas Oil Stadium, the Tavern closely recreates the atmosphere for us of the fondly remembered Bourbon Street Distillery. As long as it stays there on South Street, we’ll keep taking tour members to it, at least once per tour from now on.
Day 1 / Thursday June 11th
Oh boy. It’s a good job the rest of ‘em are still on a plane 35,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean and can’t see Indianapolis this morning. A good old-fashioned summer T-storm (thunderstorm) hit the streets just as I pulled the curtains apart. It bucketed down and if a speedway was scheduled to race somewhere around Indy this morning, then it surely wouldn’t have opened the gates.
It was still dark, but the view from the hotel window was illuminated by the incredible bolts of jagged and forked lightning as they continually tried to split the sky in half. The view from my window was across the city and it was spectacular. The hotel parking lot was lashed with torrents of rain, flooding instantly. The drains were unable to cope, but WF and BF stood there proudly defying the invitation to be washed out onto Woodland Avenue.
Sunrise came at 6.16am and another peek out the window revealed a cloudless blue sky. Yep it had been a typical Indiana storm designed to give the city a wash before the workers get on the road. Most Hoosiers (that’s what you call a person living in Indiana) wouldn’t bat an eyelid at that storm. They would say “Well at least there wasn’t a tornado inside it.”
Oh yeah. From the ‘I forgot to tell you department’. Last night we met a guy in the South Street Tavern who owns a house on Georgetown Road in Speedway, Indiana. If you don’t recognise that street name, then let me help you. Indianapolis Speedway has a postal address of the Cnr of 16th Street and Georgetown Road, Speedway, Indiana. Yes, there is a suburb of Indianapolis called Speedway, with its own zip code of 46224.
Just as an aside, Fast fact #2
America is divided into thousands of counties, (3,143 to be precise) much the same as Australia has hundreds of councils.
The most well-known paved oval racetrack in the USA is Indianapolis Speedway in Indiana.
The most well-known oval dirt track in the USA is Knoxville Raceway in Iowa.
Would you believe that both are located in similarly named Marion County, albeit they are 431 miles apart.
But back to old mate in the Tav. We got to talking and of course he, like everyone else we meet along the way, “has always wanted to go to Australia”. Hear it once, hear it a thousand times. Not unnaturally he sought more info about just where we go when on tour in America. As I reeled off where we would be across the 68 days of this tour, he was gob smacked. He has never been to 90% of the places we are going to this time and have gone to in past tours. That is not unusual because despite the fabulous Interstate freeway system in this country, not nearly enough people get out on it and go wherever their whim takes them.
His house is pretty well directly opposite Turn 4 of Indianapolis Speedway. He works 9-5 in a real job, but his “beer money” comes from making his front and back yards available to parked cars across the course of the Indy 500 and Brickyard 400 weekends. And that adds up to many hundreds of beers, I promise you. All quite legal and in fact encouraged by the local county and speedway officials.
When he heard about our May / June Indy 500 tour as well, he was rapt. Let’s just say that after two koalas and one kangaroo for his grandkids had changed hands, we won’t need to pay for parking on the day of the 500 ever again. It’s a good get, given that 440,000 people flock to the track by motor vehicle and there is virtually no public transport.
Hooray …. it’s officially day 1 of the tour. Yes, the moment has come to meet our group and that occurs this arvo in Columbus, 174 miles away in Ohio. Our first encounter with the tens of thousands of trucks which ply the freeways is eagerly anticipated. It’s a real challenge to keep out of their way.
Would you believe that amongst the 71 interstate freeways which criss-cross the continent, there are six which span the country from coast to coast? And there is a need for everyone of them. I-70 goes for 2,175 miles, passing straight through Indianapolis and it will become our most used highway on this entire tour.
As we sailed along 70 with the satellite radio on, I dangerously started to dream again. How good would it be if you could just turn off the news casts here every day? People would be surprised at just how amazing America really is without the doom and gloom of the national media. There are so many good things about this country that are torn down by various factions. But where we go you never see, or experience, their actions …. only hear about it on the news.
We flashed past the very impressive Go-Kart track at Spiceland next to the Flying J truck stop. We’ll be back there later in the tour for the inaugural Global Speedway Tours’ Grand Prix. Over the border into Ohio past the World’s Largest Fireworks store in Richmond. Requests will be taken for a stop there too if required. On towards Dayton where the late Earl Baltes used to promote Dayton Speedway, at the same time as looking after Eldora. It closed in 1982 and is now a landfill site, but before it did, many drivers made just a one-way trip into this track. One of whom was the late Jim Rigsby who met his demise in 1952 in the most spectacular way possible. Check out the link.
Before we knew it, Columbus had come into view and the signs to the John Glenn International Airport were clear and precise. Probably much clearer than when Commander Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth three times in 1962. Our first arrivals were right on time at 2.56pm, followed by the next lot at precisely 5.12pm. Terry operated a shuttle service to convey them each time to the Holiday Inn Express where they settled in before everyone adjourned to the Texas Roadhouse for a delightful dinner.
All except Dennis and Patricia that is. They missed their connecting flight in Dallas after they were denied exiting the plane (or was it the scene of the crime) from Sydney until the FBI had finished interrogating them. It appears from eye witness reports on board that there were various unruly incidents throughout the 15-hour flight in the Business Class cabin, of all places. You’d expect that sort of behaviour from the riffraff back in cattle class, but not from the high and mighty would be aristocrats in Row 3.
It must have been sorted out because the two Croweaters were eventually permitted to fly on to their final destination, but only after their carry-on luggage had been searched. I’m led to believe that various items with Qantas logos were confiscated, along with knitting needles and a pair of unused silk pyjamas.
With memories of the inaugural 2011 tour, I made the midnight journey back to the airport to meet the incoming American Airlines flight from Dallas. I waited patiently at the Arrivals gate and eventually Bonnie & Clyde appeared, trudging wearily up the corridor of conviction dragging their suitcases.
I needed to find out firsthand what had happened, so you guessed it. The esky was opened in the Hotel parking lot and even before the ring pull had been ripped off the first can, Terry, Russell, Deryk, Kevin, Bob, Pat, Robyn and Bruce had joined us to toast the fact that we were all safely together. The other twelve tour members will do the same thing as they join us along the way.
An apologetic footnote is necessary at this point. This Blog will carry photos, which has never been the case in previous years. Unfortunately I left my camera back home in Sydney, so to make up I’ll be fossicking through the GST photo library of the previous 19 tours to illustrate aspects of what the Blog is trying to say …..
Day 2 / Friday June 12th
To quote Johnny Gibson, “It’s now time to show you the greatest sight in all of motorsports”. And that of course is sprintcar racing at its finest. It’s our reward for tonight and it’s up in northern Ohio at Attica Raceway Park for race #1 of the nine consecutive nights of Ohio Speedweek. But first we needed to vacate Columbus to get the tour on the road.
The weather was hot and sunny as we piled into BF and WF to tackle the 95 miles to Lima. (Just in case it matters later in the Blog, Terry is driving WF and I have BF.) A detour along the way took us into a T-Mobile store for US SIM cards and 30-day plans that, for some, will need to be renewed halfway through the tour.
Now as you are aware this is a virtual blog, so some things can be said which are absolutely not true. Here’s the first one.
- We were only in the T-Mobile shop for 17 mins and in that time everyone was fixed up and totally understood the plan they bought and how to use it.
State Parks in America are great holiday places for camping plus swimming & boating on the lake …. if there is one. It just so happens that between Columbus and Lima on Route 117 is Indian Lake State Park and out in the middle of the lake is the Cranberry Resort Waterfront Bar & Grill suitably connected by a road fortunately. And so, contrary to what all tour members were expecting via their itinerary, which said they would be eating at Walmart in Lima, they were very pleasantly surprised indeed. We finished up by circumnavigating the lake and seeing what looked to be every kid in Ohio staying there at Camp Granada.
This interlude took up exactly enough time for us to arrive at the Howard Johnson Hotel in Lima right on check-in time of 3.00pm. We will be in this fabulous hotel for the next three nights. It’s a hub for drivers and teams on Ohio Speedweek, so we expect plenty of interaction with them at the bar. Breakfast bar that is.
At 3.30pm we were assembled in the foyer and ready to go racing. It’s a choice as to which bus you get in, although today’s trip would see the group grow by one just for tonight. The legendary Stubb was to make his first appearance as we drove to Attica via Van Buren, Stubb’s home town to pick him up. The next 45 or so miles to Attica was an hilarious interlude with our guest pointing out most things that people would just not see if it wasn’t for someone who has travelled that road for 40 years to watch sprintcars go round.
Eventually we got there and Attica Raceway Park looked very different to a few of us who last year had endured a massive thunderstorm that put paid to any racing for the Brad Doty Classic. But not tonight. The fairgrounds were full of fans who intended to also be full by the end of the night it seemed. The beer outlets were kept very busy indeed.
We didn’t help in that regard because the eskies and chairs came out of hibernation on arrival and a very pleasant couple of hours were spent in the late afternoon sun “shooting the breeze” before the noise of engines firing for hot laps attracted most into the stands.
Ohio Speedweek always draws a huge line up of stars and their cars, not the least of which was the Silva #57 team with Kyle Larson at the wheel, fresh from his dominance of USAC’s Indiana Midget Week. Given Larson’s phenomenal run with standing on the top step of the podium lately, I’d say he alone increased the attendance by 1,500 people. For the Promoter at Attica that’s about an additional $40,000 he didn’t expect to have in his pocket before Kyle uttered what he uttered a few months ago.
The promoters at the next eight tracks must be rubbing their hands with glee and praying for fine weather on their allotted night.
But Night 1 of Speedweek wasn’t to be a good one for the California kid. A triple end for end flip down the back straight smashed his chances of a decent heat placing and although he came back after repairs, he wasn’t able to transfer from the B. What may be the biggest surprise of the entire Speedweek came when Zeb Wise in the McGhee Motorsports #11 swept the night with fast time, a heat win, the dash and the feature. When he turns 18, this kid is going to be really good!
At race end our usual procedure is to allow the traffic to clear before attempting to leave the premises. Therefore allowing those who want to visit the pits to have tons of time to do so. It sometimes makes for a late night, but then again it is very rare that we ever get to go to bed on the same day as we woke up anyway …..
Day 3 / Saturday June 13th
Everyone who travels with GST gets a highly detailed and personalised itinerary sent to them in their Travel Pack, a week or so before flying out. They appreciate that very much because it sets out exactly what we are doing by way of daily sightseeing and racing, plus gives an accurate perspective of the time we will spend on the road each day. Even though this year’s tour didn’t actually proceed, that itinerary was still prepared and sent out as though it was, to give all participants at least a small sense of where they would have been at any given time. Hence this Virtual Blog to complement it.
The itinerary does have one additional item built into it for the first time this year. One of the most difficult things for a tour organiser is to decide where and what to have for lunch each day. The evening meal is easy. On 49 occasions it’s at a racetrack! (Later in the Blog we’ll take a light hearted look at American race track food.) But lunch is always difficult because it’s so hard to satisfy every person every day. So, for 2020, I’ve taken the heat off me and transferred it to the passengers.
Except for a few days where lunch is preordained, the itinerary shows whose responsibility it is to choose the lunch spot. Not just where it is, but what it is. Today is already pre-set, but Robyn should now be thinking about where we eat tomorrow.
You can always tell when there is someone on tour who hasn’t been to Eldora Speedway before. Early morning jitters often set in. They spill the cornflakes at breakfast, or put a teabag instead of milk in the nice fresh cup of coffee they have just poured. They are thinking about tonight and breakfast is just an unnecessary impediment for them.
Eldora simply has something that no other track in the USA has got. Cynics would say that is dust …. and lots of it. True it does, but when you have 24 winged sprintcars each doing an average speed of 141 mph (226 kph) lap after lap for 40 laps, then no track surface can stay moist under that pounding. By comparison the NASCAR Trucks when they have their dirt derby at Eldora average 90 mph and are slow and cumbersome in comparison.
That something about Eldora is called “unpredictable magic”. The excitement is still the same, whether you’ve already been there 50 times, or it’s your first visit. As Dave Argabright says in his biography of Earl Baltes who built the half mile: “It is pure American power at its ultimate. To me, going to Eldora has always been a near religious experience.”
Night 2 of Speedweek takes off in 10 hours’ time and who knows what will happen. Who cares perhaps? As long as it doesn’t rain. But there’s none of that likely today.
After exploring Lima in the morning, we set off for Eldora, once again with Stubb as our guest for the ride.
Lunch was at another lake today. Ohio doesn’t have that many lakes, it’s just that the third and fifth largest in the State are close to Lima. Grand Lake this time, at 13,500 acres, stops us from otherwise going in a straight line to Eldora. Bella’s Italian Grille has a good reputation for its food and our table was on the outdoor patio right on the lake front at St Marys. (We looked around for Ian and Kerry, but they were nowhere to be seen.) The spaghetti and meatballs were outstandingly good as the popular choice, followed by the lasagne classico, while Kevvie destroyed the Italian tradition by choosing the pork chops smothered in Irish Whiskey cream sauce, topped with drunken onions.
A stroll around the small town preceded our arrival at the speedway around 4.00pm. Unlike the Kings Royal, which is our next visit to Eldora in July, Stubb’s infamous caravan called The Palace was not in attendance today. But out of respect to the old girl, we parked the buses exactly where the Palace will be, come the Kings Royal. Put the chairs out and waited for all of Stubb’s friends to come a calling. Which they did in due course once the word had got out he was back in town. It was a great introduction for everyone to life at the track with Stubb.
Poor old Zeb Wise came crashing back to earth tonight, failing to even qualify for the feature. Eldora is intimidating indeed, especially for rookies with a ton of confidence stored up. Although he didn’t win, Greg Wilson finished a credible second at a track he relishes, as the chequered flag was waved to Aaron Reutzel who is as fast here as anyone. Third was Brock Zearfoss from Jonestown, Pennsylvania who is quickly coming of age on the National trail.
The hour-long ride back home to Lima was entertaining to say the least. Usually people take the opportunity to have a snooze during midnight runs. But Mr Storyteller held centre stage with tall tales and true of long days and nights at Eldora over four decades of attendance. The fact that one of his best friends has worked behind the bar in the front straight grandstand for just as long, provides him with significant ammunition. Ask him about Washington Apples one day.
And it continued in the Howard Johnson parking lot where we were joined by crew members from various teams as they filtered back in from Eldora. They aren’t yet as weary as they are going to be after the ninth successive night of racing.
Day 4 / Sunday June 14th
Waynesfield tonight. A mere 15 miles away. Just the one store, one cop and one racetrack. No need to get away early. Plenty of time to undertake some personal duties in the morning such as sleeping, eating, washing, running, walking, swimming, etc. But for Robyn it was the big decision as to where she took the group for lunch.
After chewing it over (pun intended) for hours she cleverly decided that because Wapakoneta, the home town of the first man to walk on the moon, was only 16 miles down I-75, we would first visit the Neil Armstrong Air & Space Museum to learn how the crew manoeuvred the Lunar Landing module down onto the surface of the moon. Then, because she found out that apparently it was quite fortunate that it was directed to exactly the right spot on the moon, we would adjourn to the nearby Lucky Steer restaurant restaurant for lunch. Unbelievable …… I must admit the meat loaf was superb.
Waynesfield was a track that no one except Russell had been to before, so the HOF Legend was put in charge of once again choosing the spot to park each night. Now those who know Russ well, also know that he won’t park anywhere in the summertime at a race track unless it is under a tree. Now take a good look at any photo of Waynesfield and you’ll see that trees are few and far between. Sadly, we had to park in the neighbouring fields. But fortunately the non-winged sprintcars weren’t on the program, so it was safe to be there.
Ohio Sprintweek brings lots of locals out to play. Not to race, but to simply have a good time. And if the speedway’s on, then fine, that’s where they’ll finish up. They park the truck, pull down the tailgate, slide the BBQ (or the smoker) off the back, fire it up, open the cooler and remove a beer. All of that is done in under 52 seconds, they are that good at it. Then they realise that they’ve parked next a bunch of Aussies, who also did all of the above, except for the BBQ.
We are welcomed with open arms and offered beer and hamburgers. In that order. It’s offensive to refuse, so you simply accept the offers. It never ceases to amaze that they had no idea they would be pulling up next to eleven Australians. Yet they always have more than enough hamburger buns, meat and condiments to feed us and themselves. We can’t reciprocate with food, nor do they expect it. But a kangaroo and/or koala for the main provider is always gleefully accepted.
Not knowing what to expect, other than it too might be a wee bit dusty, we were very pleasantly surprised at this “boondocks facility” as it has been described by some cruel people.
It provided quality racing and everything was much to K. Larson’s liking. He pretty well ran away and hid, he was that far in front of second. Quite stirringly for the Aussie contingent in town, second was the bearded bush ranger James McFadden. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better likeness to Ned Kelly.
Even though it was only a 15-minute drive home, we still didn’t manage it before midnight. Mainly because the thunder and lightning that threatened from a distance during the feature, eventually produced the storm we all expected. Let’s hope it isn’t hanging around for tomorrow.
Day 5 / Monday June 15th
Its time to pack up and leave Lima after three nights in a top hotel. The Howard Johnson is unique with the atrium interior in which all the balconies from the rooms face the inside, looking down over the lobby, the pool, breakfast area and shops.
Our objective today is Wooster, Ohio. Sprintcar fans around the globe should recognise that name as being the home town of the Haudenschild family. Sheldon is away on the Outlaw trail, but Dad Jac is running Sprintweek and was his usual spectacular self at Eldora, putting the right rear an inch or so from the fence and staying up there. He’s still fast that’s for sure, but the younger brigade is sadly passing him by too quickly.
The best route to Wooster from Lima is to use US 30. I mentioned earlier back on Day 1 about the Interstates that have their tentacles reaching far and wide across the country. Well before they were built in the 60’s and 70’s Americans had to use a jumbled network of two-lane roads to get anywhere. There was no pattern to them and certainly no foresight in pre-planning how they would all eventually dovetail together. You would know of Route 66, perhaps the most well-known of these “highways”. But US 30 should really be more celebrated. It was the road to take to get from the east to the west and back again. It’s still there, better known now as the Lincoln Highway and like 66, is dotted with historic gas stations, motels, bars, diners and museums.
104 miles from Lima is Mansfield, home to the currently closed Mansfield Motor Speedway. Formerly a paved ½ mile track where NASCAR used to run the Trucks and ARCA cars, it had the bitumen ripped up and replaced with clay in 2017. Sprintcars and Late Models flocked to the joint and it was very popular with fans …… and her upstairs. Yes, the number of scheduled races that were rained out caused the complex to close at the end of 2019 and regretfully it now lies dormant.
What has been re-opened in Mansfield however is the Ohio State Reformatory. Construction finished in 1896 and since then it has been both a reformatory for naughty boys and then a penitentiary for criminals, not unlike Alcatraz. It closed in 1990 because of “inhumane conditions” and remained untouched until the local Preservation Society decided to work towards stabilising the deterioration of the entire complex. They achieved most of that aim just recently and it is now open as a Museum for tours.
All I can say is if you are ever within 200 miles of Mansfield, then detour and visit the Ohio State Reformatory.
Both the speedway and the Reformatory received a tour from our group. The former by jumping the fence and the latter by paying a small admittance fee.
Bob Whittle had the yellow jacket on today for lunch and it was his decision to select Rocky’s Pub in downtown Mansfield. Always a fan of Rocky Balboa, Bob was never sure if he was a criminal or not, so after visiting the Reformatory, it was a no brainer to head off to Rocky’s and find out.
It was a short 34 miles to Wooster and the Quality Inn where we would put our heads down tonight. The early morning showers had cleared to another perfect day for racing. Most unlike the 2019 edition of Speedweek which had seven of the nine race meetings washed out, or cancelled because of the threat of rain.
Wayne County Speedway is only seven miles out of town. Besides being the parking boss for us, Russell is also the “chief putter downerer of the taped bedsheets on bleacher planks” man. An important job indeed which entails getting into the track early to secure prime grandstand seats for everybody. The reward upon returning to camp is his first bourbon and coke for the day.
From the truth vault: There was an episode maybe four or so years ago at Kokomo when I went with Russell to assist him with this task. Upon arriving at a spot which looked about right, we discovered we had left the all-important pocket knife, to cut up the bed sheet, back at the bus. Never mind, we’ll ask around. Someone already sitting up here will have one. First guy. “Sorry bud, don’t have one”. Second person. “Geez I left mine in the car” he said remorsefully. Third guy helpfully said “No I don’t, but I do have this, will that help?” having reached into his jacket to pull out his Smith & Wesson hand gun. The big grin on his face in no way resembled the look on ours let me tell you. Fair to say we moved to the other end of the grandstand.
Jac was the sentimental favourite for tonight with all the locals and they went bananas when he grabbed the final qualifying position in the B to put him off the last row in the feature. They knew he probably wouldn’t get the win, but he’d sure go down swinging …. which he did, but it was on lap 6 from an upside down sprintcar on the front straight right in front of his adoring fans. I’m sure that even Jac has lost count of how many times he has done that in his career.
Another new Speedweek winner emerged tonight when Dominic Scelzi, son of Californian drag racing champ Gary, gathered just his second All Stars Feature victory. The series points spread is getting wider and wider the further we get into this!
Day 6 / Tuesday June 16th
We’re still in a part of Ohio where the distance between Speedweek tracks isn’t that great. The travel can mostly be achieved within two hours at the moment, hence sightseeing becomes an important component of the day. So, what is there to do between Wooster and Youngstown, where tonight’s Hampton Inn is built?
The American Pro Football Hall of Fame is in nearby Canton, so it was a possibility to visit and take up a few hours. But no one was really interested in that, so it just became a drive by look. But a good one I must confess. We ended up spending some time walking around the exterior of the very large, almost village like Centre and the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
As the name suggests the NFL Hall of Fame is inside this building. Researching the website shows that there are 326 bronze busts and statues of the Hall of Famers in one super large gallery alone. To be increased to 346 in September when the 2020 inductees are brought in. We thought that it was a touch dangerous to go inside there as our own Hall of Fame member, a by now well-tanned Russell Blackman was with us. Coincidentally he was wearing a very plain and simple coffee coloured Eldora Speedway t-shirt with tan cargo shorts. He does move slowly these days, so we were concerned the security guys may confiscate him for this coming September intake.
It was Deryk’s turn to decide where lunch would be. We had plenty of time once again so he could choose somewhere which requires a knife and fork. At the Hall of Fame he had seen a sign for Tim’s Tavern – Famous for Fish. Tim was Tim Triner, a native of Canton who played baseball for the Milwaukee Brewers. On retirement he opened a fish shop next to, would you believe, yet another lake. In 1957 a piece of fish was a dime (10 cents), washed down by an equally priced draft beer. It sounded too good to miss, so Tim’s Tavern it was for some scrumptious fish in special beer batter. Two pieces, fries and coleslaw are now $11.99.
Moving on further north, we arrived in Youngstown around 3.30pm just in time to check-in to the Hampton Inn. These hotels are part of the Hilton chain and are particularly nice. Always getting good reviews on the Global Speedway Tours’ feedback questionnaire at tour’s end.
By 4.30pm we were on our way once again to the races. This time 20 miles away to the track that the Blaney family own in Hartford. It was Round 5 and that keen punter Adam Hawkes, who will be joining us for the second half of the tour, was phoning through offering to take bets that a fifth different driver would win tonight. Deryk looked tempted, only because (he says) of where we ate today. Now what could that have to do with anything?
Dave Blaney has improved Sharon Speedway no end since he bought it in 2002. We still had Russ with us so he made sure we parked on some of that beautifully manicured lawn. No trees, but that didn’t matter as there was a heavy cloud cover this afternoon and no doubt jackets would be needed for the first time this trip. No reserving of seats required today as thanks to Bob and Pat we are up in the patio seating area on the second floor.
Last night at Wayne County, while walking the pits after the races, the Geelong duo had introduced themselves to Dale Blaney, brother of Dave and a super sprintcar driver to boot. In fact, big Dale (he is 6’4” and a former college basketballer) is the only driver to date to have placed in the top five at each of the first four nights. He is currently second in the Speedweek points, such is his consistency.
He was keen to hear all about the tour so far and at the end said he has access to a bunch of spare seats up in the VIP area tomorrow night at Sharon. “How many do you need” asked Dale. “Eleven” said Bob matter of factly. As though that was a normal number to ask for. And so there we were. In the open-air “Whittle Suite”. Memories of Avalon hey Bob?
Once again nothing disappointed on this night. The atmosphere was electric, the friendship was warm, the beer was cold and the racing red hot. I must congratulate Deryk though. How did he know the Steel City Outlaw Tim Shaffer would win tonight? And you should have seen the satisfied look on his face as he asked me “what day is it exactly that you said Adam was arriving?”
At the completion of racing Dale wandered up to see us, having once again finished in the top five. It was fifth, but in this company it’s a super effort that. With him was brother Dave, both of whom were introduced all round by a beaming Bob Whittle. He couldn’t believe it and neither could anyone else to be honest.
Just another example of “you never know what is going to happen on a Global Speedway Tours holiday.”
Day 7 / Wednesday June 17th
A reasonably decent length run today of 117 miles, from Youngstown to Cambridge, down near Columbus where we started a week ago. It’s been good fun so far with fantastic weather and today is no different. If the Ford had a sun roof, it would have been open all day to boost those vitamin D levels and to take pictures of planes flying overhead.
Sitting up the front all the time, as I do when driving, I get a very clear view of the sky ahead. Rarely, if ever, is there not a plane in view somewhere. Like the trucks on the interstates here, where do they all go and why are there so many?
Fast fact #3
These are hard to believe.
Every day, an average of 2,789,971 passengers fly in an aircraft somewhere in the USA
Every day 302,825 passengers alone transit through Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport
At peak times there are an average of 5,000 aircraft in the US skies at any one time
In 2019 there were 7,628 commercial aeroplanes flying on one day in America
Qantas has 130 planes and Virgin Australia 94 …..
Anyway, our first sightseeing stop today was in New Springfield at Snyder Specialty Cars. Not a world-renowned place to visit, but highly interesting none the less. It took up enough time to mean that after we were back in the bus soaking up the Vitamin D again for an hour or so, it was time to stop for lunch. It was the promoter’s choice today because I had figured that as we would be in Amish country, we should be sampling Amish food.
Der Dutchman Amish Restaurant in Walnut Creek had been pre-selected.
The roast turkey lunch, including the Terry Barry organised Dutch Apple crumble with ice-cream pie eating contest, was delightful. We staggered out bloated from the experience.
Onwards we continued, avoiding the constant stream of unhurried Amish transport on the two-lane roads. The buggies pretty much have right of way over cars and trucks and progress can be slow. Photography is frowned upon, with Mum & Dad often shielding the children from the camera lens.
Eventually Cambridge and the Holiday Inn Express & Suites appeared and after depositing luggage etc in the rooms, most walked the kilometre or so underneath I-70 to Walmart. I’m guessing they felt guilty after the lunch they had just consumed.
R6 was tonight at Muskingum County Speedway (If you can pronounce it or spell it, you win a prize.)
Predominantly a Late Model track, tonight it opened the gates to 63 410 sprintcars, every one of which was intent on beating Kyle Larson. The fans who turned up just wanted to also see Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne and Dave Blaney. Four ex NASCAR drivers all on the one night at a little old dirt track in Zanesville. To be honest, apart from Larson, the other three were unlikely to win. Make the feature? Absolutely they could, but a win was a somewhat long bow to draw.
My first thoughts upon sitting down in the fold up chair at the rear of the bus in the parking lot with a red cup full of bourbon and coke (no sugar) was to glance over at Deryk and think back to where we had just had lunch. I wondered if anyone of tonight’s 63 drivers were Amish? Dutch maybe? Nah, no chance. But it was a pity that Apple Chevrolet the late Greg Hodnett’s long term sponsor in York, Pennsylvania wasn’t still involved with racing. Their car would have been a certainty to win tonight, based on Deryk’s lunch logic.
Muskingum is a 3/8th mile clay track and is quite a neat facility, with a very large grandstand extending the entire length of the front straight. Tons of spectator room and for once we could spread out and relax without putting knees in the back of the person in front. Usually that person is someone who insists on bringing one of those stadium chairs with them, fitting it to the timber bench and then occupying twice as much space as anyone else.
Aaron Reutzel became the only two time winner this week after a sensational 14 lap duel with Corey Eliason, in which neither gave an inch. Eliason on the bottom and Reutzel sticking to his favourite top. Eventually he pulled slightly ahead as they came into traffic and he went on to a thrilling win with a new 40 lap track record.
Day 8 / Thursday June 18th (Week 2 begins)
Our earliest departure yet saw us on the road at 7.00am. 18 hours later we would drag ourselves into bed at the Hotel in Port Clinton. Our day went like this:
A three-hour drive north along I-77, literally right to the edge of Lake Erie. On a pencil thin peninsula just off Sandusky lies Cedar Point – The Roller Coaster Capital of the World. A 364 acre Amusement Park that has been there since 1892 scaring the pants off the masses. Paying to go into Cedar Point was never on our itinerary because riding roller coasters is not everybody’s cup of tea, but everyone should at least see Cedar Point from the outside. It is humongous and simply breathtaking.
There is a road which circumnavigates the park. In theory, one shouldn’t stop along that route, but one must in order for one to take video and photos to prove that one has been there. Security didn’t catch us, but we did have the kangaroos and koalas ready just in case. A couple of photos follow, as well as a video which will adequately demonstrate the size of the rides here. This video shows the Millennium Force at work. It’s an initiation ride for first timers on a GST tour!
From Cedar Point it was off to Port Clinton and the Jet Express Terminal, virtually opposite our Hotel for tonight. It was from here that we made the 25-minute trip across Lake Erie on the ultra-fast Jet Express catamaran.
Put-In-Bay is a world away from the one we just left. The attractions on the island are relaxing, safe and usually involve alcohol. It is a haven for college kids to spend their summer holidays here and the many bars are more than capable of supplying what they want.
Fortunately they cook and serve mighty good meals as well. In particular Walleye, the best freshwater fish in Lake Erie. Stubb catches and eats it all the time, so that’s what most of us had, fried in breadcrumbs with dollops of coleslaw and french fries. Can’t say chips as most readers know. Bruce decided to have stuffed morel mushrooms. A local delicacy which Stubb had also suggested someone should try if we went to Put-In-Bay. Just as we were finishing lunch, an eight-seater golf cart cruised up the main street. Without us realising, Terry had nicked off to investigate the source. He returned in 15 minutes with two six seaters – $36 for an hour of fun. So off we went exploring the island at will. $3 each. You couldn’t buy the materials for that.
Check this link out for a five minute ride around Put-In-Bay island in that golf cart. Terry only crashed it once.
Time was getting away so the 4.45pm cat took us back to Port Clinton and the historic Island House Hotel. Click the link by all means, but if you don’t have the time to read the history, at least take a look at the video on their website.
We didn’t eat in the 1812 restaurant because we needed to hightail it to Fremont Speedway in the Sandusky Fairgrounds which, even to this day, uses big white foam blocks fastened to the fence to soften the blow for errant sprintcars.
Being a Fairgrounds track, a tree was not required as we parked undercover in the cattle pavilion. There was good shade, but unfortunately as we enjoyed the traditional tail gating, the aroma of previous tenants of this pavilion became over powering. We put it down to the bovines, but someone helpfully suggested that it had a kind of mushroomy smell to it.
2019 Fremont Track champion Buddy Kofoid used his local knowledge to take a comfortable win tonight.
Day 9 / Friday June 19th
Those of you who watched that short video of the Island House hotel will have heard that a whole bunch of famous people have spent their holidays staying in this hotel. On the wall of the hotel lobby, right next to the 1950’s lift, is the entire list of celebrity guests. Dennis and Patricia said they could feel the spirit of Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio in their room and Bob and Pat kept quoting Casablanca lines to each other when they found Bogart and Bacall’s photo on their bedroom wall. Russell and Deryk said some babe called Ruth occupied their room one long ago summer, while Robyn and Bruce kept hearing the sound of Julie Andrews’ music whenever they tried to get to sleep. Me? I had room 306. Apparently some guy called Al Capone had once holed up here with a calculator doing his tax return.
All this was discussed at breakfast, as was the state of the weather. It wasn’t just in Kev and Terry’s former Bob Dylan room that the hard rain’s a-gonna fall, but early this morning storms had moved into the northern Ohio area and lashed the countryside. Things look grim for tonight at Limaland Speedway for Round 8. But why should anyone be surprised? This track in Lima has a dreadful record for rainouts. I guess they have probably raced more often than not, but it must be close.
Undaunted by the heavy rain, we set off around 10.00am to head back south to the tiny township of Van Buren for lunch at Stubb’s house.
Along the way there were many detours for flooding across the various rural roads we had to take to get onto I-75. It wasn’t just the roads, but neighbouring paddocks and houses that were underwater. When it rains here, it definitely pours.
As we neared Van Buren the rain began to ease somewhat, which was a blessing, not for the racing tonight, but for Stubb who had invited eleven hungry Aussies for lunch at his place. But I figured he would have a solution, that being the giant new barn he had built a couple of winters ago. And sure enough, as we pulled up to his house, which sits on a couple of acres, there he was standing in the driveway with the historic Budweiser shorts on, no shirt, holding an umbrella in one hand and a Busch Light in the other. Simply the classic welcoming look.
He confirmed what we already knew that Limaland had been cancelled and that today’s party, now extended through to the evening, would be held in the new barn. I dropped everyone off and then quickly adjourned to the nearest Liquor Store for some additional supplies. Stubb, via GST, was supplying and cooking the food and GST were contributing the beer and wine. Not that I predicted a rain out, but given that it was Limaland Motorsports Park there was a fair chance it would. So, our accommodation for the night was already pre-paid in nearby Findlay, just a hop, step and jump from Van Buren.
When I returned the rain had almost stopped (for good we hoped) and the concrete outside the barn was now the temporary storage area for two ride-on-lawnmowers, three snow blowers and one trailered boat. Inside amongst the various tools neatly fixtured onto the walls were two battered sprintcar wings, proudly hanging from the loft roof. The lime green one was from the PJ Chesson #76 and the black Ingersoll Rand #19 was from his other hero Stevie Smith from Pennsylvania. These and their drivers became great talking points throughout the day, particularly PJ Chesson whose antics off the track were relayed by Stubb in some depth. Mainly because he was in most of them.
Fast fact #3
What is the difference between a shed and a barn?
A shed is a building with a roof that only slopes one way.
A barn is built with an A frame roof.
There can be big sheds and lil ones, but it is the roof which determines if it’s a shed or a barn.
Lunch (which had turned into an early dinner because we had no timeframe) was his speciality of BBQ chicken which, have no doubt were as big as turkey legs. Served with potato & bacon salad, grilled corn on the cob, baked beans, devilled egg salad and chocolate watermelon popsicles for sweets. Delicious …..
Some of Stubb’s race friends called in during the day. There was Lenny who lives eight miles or so away and whose house I have been to before. Besides an enormous barn, which American Pickers would love to get inside of, Lenny has a 4-car garage with a 75-inch TV anchored to the wall next to the beer fridge. I remember that from a ‘compulsory’ pre-2017 Kings Royal planning meeting I attended at his house. The only planning done was when they would meet for the next meeting.
Then there is Denny who lives directly across the road from Lenny. Well not really straight across the road as both live out on rural acreage. Denny’s barn is way bigger than Lenny’s big barn. But then again, that was back in 2017. Lenny has probably built a bigger one by now. Coop also turned up with Brian the Talking Beard.
Coop is Greg Wilson’s father in law and helps occasionally on the race car in between ‘meetings’ with his mates. The Talking Beard would win any speedway trivia contest anywhere, such is his knowledge of the world of sprintcars. All highly entertaining people who our group loved ‘having a meeting’ with.
Around 8.00pm we shuffled off to the Baymont Inn & Suites to check in and essentially go our own ways.
Perhaps a walk around town or a quiet drink with the GST esky on the little timber outdoor area overlooking the lake. Or if hunger was evident, the choice of any one of 13 different chain restaurants were within 300 metres of the front door.
Day 10 / Saturday June 20th
The day dawned with a sky exactly as per the definition of a perfect day, which made for a delightful stroll around the lake feeding the swans with bread rolls souvenired from the breakfast room.
The ride today to Portsmouth, down on the Ohio River near Cincinnati, was 193 miles and around 3½ hours. So clearly we had to pad that out and what better place is there to visit than the National Museum of the US Air Force, no matter how many times you have been to it? The Museum is in Dayton, an easy two hour drive to the massive complex of four gigantic aircraft hangars which provide 1.25 million square feet of exhibition space. No admission fee required.
The museum is segmented into eight display areas. The early years of First Flight, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Cold War, Space and Presidential aircraft. The entrance into the Space hangar is via the Missile Gallery which in itself is worth travelling halfway round the world to see. (Particularly the section dealing with farmer’s silos.) Some people reckon they can see everything in two hours, while others say six hours isn’t enough. So, we allocate three, with lunch in the cafeteria (for those keeping up with where lunch is had each day).
The ninth and final round of Sprintweek is tonight. This track is new for everybody on the tour, including your Host ….. and also Stubb would you believe. Not that he’s with us. Built in 1990, Portsmouth Raceway Park is renowned for its Late Model racing. Including $50,000 to win shows for the best in the land. This year the promoters have decided to put up $15,554 to win their only sprintcar race of the season in honour of Dean Knittel, a former car owner who died in 2018. And to top it off, the Late Models are also running to show the open wheel audience just how good the ground pounders can be.
This track is a showpiece for the sport, regularly drawing capacity crowds every time they race. Although occasionally it gets flooded by the massive Ohio River that runs peacefully past turns 1 & 2.
The final night of Speedweek was outstandingly good and the hometown Late Model crowd applauded wildly when Aaron Reutzel won his third feature to become the 2020 All Stars Ohio Speedweek champion. The fearless Texan, whose team owner recently bought Kerry Madsen’s old race shop in Knoxville, was simply too good over the duration. Brock Zearfoss was a very impressive second in points and Bob & Pat’s mate Dale Blaney came in third.
Day 11 / Sunday June 21st
During this entire trip we only backtrack twice to get to a race and today is one of them. And only because it’s Kokomo. When the First Half tour was originally designed, the gates at Kokomo tonight were shut. Hence today we would have been on the road to Pennsylvania. But then, for whatever reason a few months ago, the track announced that the Bob Darland Memorial would be held on the night of June 21st. So, the mutual decision everyone made was to drop New York back to three days from four … and head for Kokomo instead. Even though it means an 11-hour drive to Mechanicsburg tomorrow.
So away we went, travelling north by northwest back into northern Indiana. No sightings of Cary Grant or crop dusters were reported, but what we did see, just a dozen or so miles away from Portsmouth, was the town of Chillicothe.
In area the state of Ohio is half the size of Victoria, but still manages to squeeze no less than 43 dirt track speedways inside its borders. Just remarkable. One of those is Atomic Speedway, formerly also known as K-C Raceway. The written history of this track means that it really should be visited on the drive through to Kokomo. And fortunately the entrances were open and we could drive right up to the pit gate for a good look around.
Dennis Little had nominated the Golden Corral in Richmond, Indiana for lunch today at their all you can eat buffet. Always a solid choice, it constantly gets a 100% thumbs up from everyone as a place to stop. We had arrived before midday so all the over 60’s qualified for the Senior discount reducing the price to just $8.39 … plus tax of course.
We were only two hours from Kokomo and to get there we had time to forgo the freeways and follow the excellent rural roads diagonally across Indiana. US-35 to Muncie and then Fairmount with a slight detour to the James Dean Gallery.
Usually we visit here when Gas City is racing, but that great little track isn’t a stop on this year’s tour. So today was a perfect time to do so. From here it was a 15-minute drive to the hotel in Kokomo where, after checking in and a leg stretch, we jumped back into BF and WF for what is called the “baddest bullring in America”.
I guess sometimes there is a poor race at Kokomo, but I’m yet to see one. And tonight was no different, with an excellent field of 36 non-wing sprintcars turning up for an unsanctioned show to honour Dave Darland’s late father. The fairytale didn’t have a happy ending however because although Dave took quick time and won his heat, he fell away during the feature to haplessly sit back and watch from 20 metres or so behind Chris Windom and Justin Grant as they conducted a titanic battle for the lead. At the chequered flag it was Grant by .06 of a second. He was ecstatic as he drove the car up onto the Bryan Clauson podium to receive the impressive trophy.
It was only 9.00pm when the sprintcar feature ended and in fact the sun still hadn’t completely set. Mainly because Kokomo always move their program along on a Sunday night. Work day tomorrow. But tonight was also the Northern Hemisphere’s Summer Solstice, or its longest day. Sunset wasn’t until 9.19pm. So we stayed settled in the seats to watch the Thundercar feature, highlighted by a quadruple barrel roll through turn 1 when the right rear wheel suddenly decided to part company with the car. The front wheel drive Hornets were equally as spectacular. When they crash, a tow truck is not required. Just a couple of suitcases to put the bits into.
Day 12 / Monday June 22nd
The summer solstice may have been yesterday, but today would be our longest day …. on the road. The skippers rounded them all up after a super early breakfast and by 7.00am we had disposed of the first mile, but still had 579 (927 kms) to go.
Perhaps a look at what happens in order to get on the road each day and what happens out there might be worthwhile.
Different people get up at different times.
Some need every extra minute of sleep they can engineer and are always last (or don’t make it at all) into the breakfast room. This includes some of the people you were drinking with last night. For others, we will call them Exhibit A. It doesn’t seem to matter at all that they had a big night with the esky in the parking lot, as they are always up early, no matter their condition. It’s impressive stuff, it really is. There is always someone on every tour who puts everyone else to shame. Then there are those who stayed up sitting around the esky to be socially correct. Didn’t have a drink and are fresh as a daisy the next morning. The drawback for them however is that this is the best they are going to feel all day.
No matter your morning condition, there are always jobs to be done before casting off from the hotel. That dreaded esky must be loaded with today’s supply of bottled water, Coca-Cola, complimentary NOS Energy drinks collected from the last race we were at, and bottles of juice souvenired from the breakfast room. The iceman is appointed at the beginning of the tour. He or she is excused from doing anything else other than checking all ice machines on each floor each morning to determine which one will be raided for today’s ice supply. Then they have to get it. This very important job doubles in responsibility with two vehicles.
The vans need to be loaded up with luggage. Aside from the 2013 MoM tour, we have yet to get this right.
On that 2013 tour, unbeknowns to us, Daniel Kirby was (and still is) a “fleet service agent” with Virgin Australia. You and I would call him a baggage handler. Once we found out that bit of news, guess who got the job each morning? Never before, or since, has the luggage been so tightly packed in. I think his best effort on that tour was lobbing Gerard Pursell’s suitcase into exactly the right spot from five and a half metres away. It was inspirational stuff.
Stomachs and sleeping
OK, so now we are on the road. People choose their means of transport for the day (either with Terry, or with me) and they know that long trips such as this one are like a simulated AFL match. ie. Divided into four quarters. For today that means four different legs of about 150 miles each. Say 2.5 hours a piece. The first leg always demonstrates a few things.
Firstly, that guy who bounced out of bed on time this morning after a big night where he drank more than anyone else, also drinks way more bottled water than anyone else. The driver has no issue with this because said passenger is so dehydrated that a ‘you-know-what-stop’ isn’t required until about the 500-mile mark. You remember that bucket we bought for ice collection? It sits close by as well just in case. If it’s needed, as history records it has been on several occasions, it is then left behind at the next rest stop and a new one purchased and funded by the accused.
Secondly, as the wheels keep going round and round, the rhythmic movement of the van casts a spell on everybody. Unless you’re hanging on to a steering wheel, sleep becomes impossible to ignore and dozing off becomes a completely legitimate past time for an hour or more. The record for on board sleeping easily belongs to our good friend Ross from Willaston in SA. He missed a mountain of sightseeing in 2015, but did accumulate an excellent collection of caps.
Quarter time saw us rest for a 10-minute leg stretch at the Pilot Truck stop in Eaton on I-70. (There’s that freeway again.) Half time was for lunch at Walmart in Clairsville with the mob permitted 30 minutes to choose what they wanted. Three quarter time was at Bedford off the Pennsylvania Turnpike when the Fords were thirstier than the folks they were carrying. Fuel is US$2.49 / gallon over here at the moment. So how does that compare to Australia you ask? Well a US gallon is 3.78 litres whereas an Australian gallon is 4.54 litres. And AUD$1.47 buys US$1.00 at the moment. So, putting all that together means an Australian imperial gallon would cost AUD$4.39. Or AUD$0.97 / litre. Not as good as you think when you work it out that way.
Finally, at 5.50pm we reached the Holiday Inn in Mechanicsburg on the Carlisle Pike. Don’t you just love the street names? People were keen to eat, and eat plenty, so the general consensus was that we would return to a place we have been to many times before in Mechanicsburg. It’s called Aroogas and amongst other things sells jugs of bourbon and coke, not to forget the 50 varieties of draft beer and 120 (yes 120) television sets around the restaurant, all tuned to different sports from across the world. There’s no live auto racing anywhere so baseball and basketball it was all night. And just to make sure you don’t miss anything when you disperse some of that draft beer, each urinal in the men’s room has its own personal TV on the wall.
Day 13 / Tuesday June 23rd
Off for some R&R this morning. Usually on a Global Speedway Tours trip, R&R stands for “Racing and (more) Racing” but for the next three days it doesn’t mean Rest & Recreation either. You see when one goes to New York it really means “Requires Resuscitation” afterwards.
A 6.30am start from the hotel saw us at Harrisburg’s AMTRAK station by 7.20am to board the 660 Keystone service to the Big Apple. At times this train scoots along at 180 kph, such is the manner in which the line has been constructed. The weary Aussies on board at first were excited and talkative, but before long the train did what the Ford does. And most snoozed, only to awake as we glided into Philadelphia. Not that we saw much of this historic city because as you might imagine the station is underground.
From Philly we headed north east up through Trenton, Edison and Newark before once again heading below the earth to enter Manhattan under the Hudson River, eventually pulling in to Penn Station in midtown within 20 seconds of the scheduled 10.49am arrival time. Penn Station sits underneath Madison Square Garden and is home to the NBA Knicks, the NHL Rangers, women’s basketball, concerts, boxing, wrestling and Billy Joel has permanent residency there.
This is one of the first views you get of Manhattan as you come up out of Penn Station!
The island of Manhattan is one of five boroughs in New York City, the others being Queens, Staten Island, Brooklyn and the Bronx. Nearly every tourist to New York stays in Manhattan which is just 13.4 miles (21.6 km) long and 2.3 miles (3.7 kms) at its widest point. The most densely populated city in the USA, in July 2019 greater New York had a population of 8.3 million people living in the five boroughs. Manhattan itself only has a population of 1.6 million permanent residents, but that swells each working day when another two million commuters come in by train to work each day.
Then do the sums and add in a yearly tourist intake of 54,000,000 people, 75% of which are there in the three months of summer. Like June …. when we are. The end result is a seething mass of people eagerly spilling thousands of dollars from their pockets because they have finally been able to save enough to holiday in New York City. The three most expensive days of the Month of Month tour are the ones we are in right now. Accommodation prices have no ceiling. It’s simply what the market will bear. Food and beverage costs are three to four times what it is to buy the same thing in (say Indiana).
But most think, “hey, if I’ve got the chance to have a drink or a meal in Times Square, then what the hell. I’ll mortgage the house again”. Now speaking of Times Square, let’s get back to the MoM tour members who you’ll remember have just stepped off the train 60 metres in the rock below Madison Square Garden. It could have been just 25 metres, but the regular subway system, with its 21 different criss-crossing lines, was built above the out of state commuter tracks that bring in the workers each day.
The next 60 minutes was a real experience. It was 11.00am and here we were standing on the corner of 32nd Street and Seventh Avenue. The Radisson Hotel is on W 51st Street. That’s right, I made them walk 19 blocks through “a teeming mass of humanity”. It is the only way to be introduced to the city. You must fight it, otherwise it will total envelop and crush you.
Fortunately, everyone had heeded the request to only take hand luggage and all the larger suitcases are safely stored back in Mechanicsburg at the Holiday Inn. Thus, the convoy set off. Me leading and Terry the sweeper at the back to make sure no one got side tracked and was never to be seen again. The Bermuda Triangle has nothing on the Manhattan Matrix.
Straight up Seventh Avenue, (or uptown as the locals say) to Times Square. It was Tuesday and the two million extra people who flood Manhattan on a work day were here. As were the tourists and the city was teeming with people holding and reading phones. Paper maps appear to be superfluous these days, given that every conceivable piece of directional help you need is available via Google maps on your phone. The major difference is that when reading a “real map” you actually stand still and work out where to go next. When using a phone, people just follow the little blue dot and walk without looking where they are going. Twice already I’ve seen people walk into a wall and one smack bang into a Bus stop pole.
In fact, the next bestselling app will have to be one which has a sensor in the camera lens. Much like a reversing camera on cars which beeps when you get close to an obstruction. Hmmm, maybe I should patent that??
Worst of all though is that the sidewalks become like a giant pinball machine with a million tourists assuming the role of the little steel ball and a demolition derby results with day trippers bouncing off each other every second. Robyn has learned how to say ‘sorry’ now in 12 different languages. Humanity is everywhere. On every footpath, every restaurant, every coffee shop, every gift shop, every deli, every taxi with the driver honking the horn, every double decker tourist bus stuck in traffic and every fire engine, ambulance or police car that finds it necessary to navigate down the road siren blaring, whether moving or not.
Yep it’s all there with Times Square the worst …. and the most vibrant. Hard to put into words. You dread having to enter the precinct, but once inside the zone a magnet like effect appears to have an all-powerful spell to keep you in there. Legend has it that you could take a seat at the window of a Times Square café or bar and be guaranteed to see someone you know walk past within the hour.
Our hotel The Radisson (new for this year) is well located in midtown Manhattan on 51st Street between 5th & 6th Avenues. Particularly close to the unlimited Hop on Hop off double decker buses we will be using for the next 72 hours. The subway was at 53rd & 7th and the nearest three bars were 20, 30 and 40 metres away.
We checked in, but knew rooms wouldn’t be available at 12.15pm, so after making the concierge $30 richer for storing the bags, we headed off to the corner of 47th & 7th to catch the first of our Hop on Hop off buses. We had planned to take the Downtown Tour first, but not get off at all, just so the group could get a feel for the “lie of the land” if you like. The three most visited sites in NYC are on this tour. They are the Empire State Building, Ground Zero at the World Trade Centre and the Statue of Liberty out on the bay. We also saw Times Square, Madison Square Garden, Macys Dept store, Soho, Chinatown, Little Italy, Wall Street, the USS Intrepid Air Craft Carrier, the Financial District, Battery Park, the Lower East Side, Greenwich Village, United Nations, Rockefeller Centre, Carnegie Hall, Broadway Theatre District and much more.
The length (in time) of one of these tours is impossible to predict. Vehicles on the streets totally congest everything, with the duplicity of traffic lights and a cop on the same corner providing even more confusion. But let me tell you, it’s great fun watching it all unfold from the top deck of a bus. No care and no responsibility. Eventually you arrive back where you got on and while standing on the sidewalk, quickly work out whether there is time to catch the Uptown tour before adjourning for dinner.
The answer is always decided by adrenaline. “I’m beginning to get tired, but I don’t want to miss anything” is the usual response. Like the Downtown tour, the Uptown takes between 2.5 and three hours and covers Fifth Avenue, Museum Mile, the Dakota Building (where John Lennon was shot), Lincoln Centre, Time Warner Centre, Central Park, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Frick Collection, the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, the Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Modern Art and the Harlem Markets.
The scene had been set for tomorrow and the day after. The punters were now in a position to decide what they wanted to particularly see when they got off the bus and could plot a course accordingly. At least that was the plan. Turned out that everyone stuck to the host like glue.
After making the Concierge a total now of $60 richer to take the bags up to each room, we caught the subway down to Little Italy in lower Manhattan where it was an entertaining 30 minutes walking up and down Mulberry Street deciding where we would have dinner. Groups the size of ours are serenaded by touts who stand at the door pleading for you to eat there. Quite amusing at times, but tedious in the end. In particular I was looking for Taormina where we had eaten in 2015. An unbelievably funny meal in a restaurant, that although Italian, could easily have been the model for Fawlty Towers. But alas, it no longer exists. Eventually we settled on Angelo’s. Good food, great atmosphere.
After dinner, we walked from Little Italy down to the East River near the Manhattan Bridge, then along the riverfront towards Battery Park. Under the Brooklyn Bridge and on to Fulton Street which winds its way up to Wall Street and Ground Zero. From there it was the underground maze of the subway again back to the Hotel.
At this point, some chose bed and some wanted to “see more”. That really meant “I want a nightcap”. So it was off to Jimmy’s Corner on 44th Street. It’s almost impossible to describe this iconic bar. Other than it’s not on a corner and is long and narrow and full of boxing memorabilia.
One of the many photos up on the wall is of Jimmy Glenn with Muhammad Ali. For years Jimmy owned and operated the decidedly old school Times Square Gym two blocks away on 42nd, where he taught young fighters and worked the corner (of the ring) for his friend Ali when he was in town to fight at Madison Square Garden. The gym and the building that housed it are long gone, razed in the early 1990s amid a redevelopment that transformed the neighbourhood from a gallery of drug dealers, pickpockets and sex shops to the tourist hub it is today.
But Jimmy’s Corner has endured, one of the last vestiges of the area’s gritty, pre-tourist incarnation, hardly wider than a walk-in closet and not so different today than when it opened shop in 1971. Three-dollar beers are trafficked across the bar seven days a week from 11am till 4am, the jukebox is loaded with 60’s and 70’s classics and the walls are covered in posters, memorabilia and photographs culled from the proprietor’s life in the boxing business.
The $3 beers went down very well with every photo and poster being read with interest. Jimmy has joined previous GST groups for a drink in the past, but tonight he was regretfully nowhere to be seen.
(Footnote: Not meaning to diminish the purpose of this Virtual Blog and its attempt to lighten the load during the Coronavirus pandemic sweeping the world, I must pay homage to Jimmy Glenn who died on Thursday May 16th 2020 from the effects of COVID-19. This story from the NY Times sums the man up.)
Day 14 / Wednesday June 24th
Orientation day is over. Today it’s time to get stuck into the foot slog. But before we do, it’s important to get a proper understanding of Manhattan’s layout. It’s not hard. Downtown is south and uptown is north. All 13 Avenues run north-south and all Streets run east-west. Which is OK from 1st Street in SoHo up to 271st Street in Queens, because everything is in a grid. Unfortunately though, getting below Soho is not kind to sightseers as all the Streets have regular names and are twisty turny, totally confusing every taxi driver, let alone the tourists.
I’ve worked out over the years that the Chinese don’t wake up until around 9.00am, so it’s wise to be at attractions early before they arrive in their thousands. One should always engage this line of thinking when the Empire State Building (ESB) is involved. Consequently we set off on foot at 7.30am to walk through the city streets as New Yorkers arrived into Manhattan to commence work. Imagine 5,650,610 workers and tourists riding the subway each day and you will get the picture of just how crowded the footpaths become when they get off. Everyone trying to get where they want to go in a straight line.
Fast fact #4
Anyway, back to the Empire State Building. 350 Fifth Avenue between 33rd and 34th Streets is the address of the famous 102 storey Art deco skyscraper that, 90 years ago, took just 12 months to build. Extraordinary when you think about that fact on its own. With the spire included it stands 1,454 feet high. 443 metres. It was the tallest building in New York until 1970 when the World Trade Centre towers were completed. After they came down on Sept 11th 2001, the ESB resumed the title, but has now lost it to the Freedom Tower at Ground Zero which is 1,776 feet in height.
We entered the building around 8.00am on a gloriously hot day and immediately the guys realised why it was an early start this morning. The areas where ropes guide the punters to trudge up and down, only moving at a snail’s pace to advance just a few feet each minute, were empty. We breezed through and were at the lifts to the 86th floor observation deck in five minutes. The wait for the 30,000 visitors each day can be up to three hours around 10.00am and 7.00pm at dusk.
Of course the view was simply spectacular with the five NY boroughs, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania all visible on a super clear day.
Today was a good viewing day, and one of the best I’ve experienced. 45 mins is enough up there and the descent was made the same way by lift. Exiting from the building even further reinforced the decision to visit as soon as it opens because those roped off areas now had hundreds and hundreds of soulful people queued up. Little did they know there was a very long wait in front of them.
Back on to the Hop on Hop off bus with the VIP tickets working a treat. At this time of the day the lines at each stop can be large. Especially at the popular attractions. There’s something superior about just turning up and waiting for the arriving bus tour guide to see the VIP pass around your neck. “Sir and Madam, please come this way and board the bus first” are magic words indeed. The looks on the faces of those who have been waiting an hour or so are priceless. Buses arrive frequently, but not all have available seating. Sometimes none at all, because no one gets off.
This time we alighted at Ground Zero down in the Financial District. We have 911 Memorial Museum tickets for Midday and with time to spare wandered around the “free” areas which commemorate the memory of all 2,996 people killed on Sept 11th 2001. Work is continuous at this memorial to make it the best it can be for people to pay their respects to those who perished.
The new Freedom Tower (also known as One World Trade Centre) is not on the exact site of the original towers. And deliberately so, because each of the precise footprints of the Towers has a one-acre square reflecting pool, with the largest man-made waterfalls in North America. The names of every person who died that day are inscribed into bronze panels edging the Memorial pools.
Designed and built by the Australian company Lend Lease, the 911 Museum is a must see. If you decide to go, book on-line well in advance and pick a day and time that suits. You could spend upwards of five hours down there if you wanted. Constructed deep below the Ground Zero site it is a magnificent recollection of how and why it unfolded. Way too difficult for me to put into words. Just go see it one day.
Lunch on the run from a sidewalk food vendor (halal was popular!) reignited the energy to visit Wall Street and all the sights around the NY Stock Exchange, including the iconic 16 feet long Charging Bull. It symbolises the stock markets. A “bull market” means shares are rising. A “bear market” means they are on the way down. Most people like to have their picture taken patting the bull’s horn (at the front) but some prefer the other end where the sculptor decided to place a couple of quite large protuberances between its legs.
From Wall Street we walked through Battery Park and onto the entrance for the Statue of Liberty tour. Airport style X-ray machines are in place here. There is no way the Americans will allow Lady Liberty to be vandalised or terrorised.
Fast fact #5
Her real name is “Liberty Enlightening the World”
She is made out of copper and stands 305 feet (30 stories) high
She is green in colour because the copper has oxidised and the authorities refuse to scrape it off
She gets struck by lightning 600 times every year
She wears a size 379 shoe
The ferry ride over is about 20 minutes and costs $19.25.
Walking around Liberty is “free”.
It’s worth it, if only to say “I’ve been there”. The real bonus is the view of Manhattan from the ferry on the way over.
Hundreds of people know that trick, so they race to occupy every possible strategic position across the back of the boat. Fights can occur for prime viewing spots. They forget that they have to come back again and you can go to the front of the ferry for exactly the same view.
Time to head back uptown. Whilst waiting for the double decker, we looked to the western skies which were rapidly changing colour to dark black. Masses of cloud were rolling in and quickly. The bus left and by the time it had reached Tribeca the plastic rain ponchos were being handed out. In three minutes we were drenched.
According to the news later that night, 1½ inches (40mls) of rain had been dumped on the dry and steamy streets of NYC in eight minutes. Most of it we reckon into the top deck of the bus. In fact, rather than proceed through the rain and lightning, the bus pulled to the side of the street to allow those who wanted to go downstairs, the opportunity to do so. We didn’t …..
Like drowned rats we eventually alighted in Times Square and joined the tens of thousands of others on the streets who had been caught out by the speed of the weather change. I can tell you that an experienced wet T-shirt competition judge would have had a hard time choosing a winner during this 15-minute walk back to the Hotel …….
Rejuvenated and refreshed we met for an early dinner. Tonight it was Chinatown and as enjoyable as it was with delicious food, the waiters had no idea of what we were saying, or asking for. Fortunately the menus, which were in English also had numbers, so we were able to communicate that way. It wasn’t their grasp of the English language that was the problem. It was the accents and speed of speaking that troubled them.
The subway took us back to Times Square where the Night Tour bus leaves from. Once again this is a spectacular two hour ride where the bus goes down some of the same Avenues and Streets that the day rides take, but even so with a different guide you hear diverse things with stories and anecdotes being different. However, once you hit Chinatown and Little Italy the bus heads for the Manhattan Bridge over the East River into Brooklyn.
The view from here is superb, both from the ride across the bridge and from the Brooklyn riverfront, although developers are quickly pinching all the good spots.
Day 15 / Thursday June 25th (Week 3 begins)
Over dinner last night in Chinatown we talked freely about what we would do today. It didn’t matter what we said, as no one understood us anyway. It was decided there were so many places and sights that different people wanted to see that it would be improper to make everyone go to the same place. Any fears they may have had about exploring New York on their own had disappeared and each was keen to go in all different directions.
So, where did they go? Well the choices were certainly spread out with all of the following occupying some part of the day. The 840 acres that is Central Park was popular in the early morning for Peter and Laima. After a delightful stroll down to Strawberry Fields opposite the Dakota Building where John Lennon was murdered, Bruce shouted Robyn a carriage ride which finished back up at the famous Plaza Hotel on 5th Avenue. It’s the old “now this is a knife” hotel from Crocodile Dundee.
Robyn must have had a bit too much champagne on the ride and needed a wee stop. She strode up to the Plaza entrance and pleaded her case with the security guy on the door. He let her in (because of her accent she said that he said) and Robyn was able to experience the gold taps and handles in the ladies, which is all she ever wanted to do anyway …..
Others checked out the madhouse that is the glorious Grand Central Station on 42nd Street. In my opinion you must allocate at least an hour to experience this place. It is not the busiest railway station in America; that honour belongs to Penn Station where we arrived on Tuesday and where we will leave from this afternoon. But it is most certainly the grandest. To further emphasise that fact, let me also tell you that it is in the top 10 most visited places in the world. Just buy a beer at one of the many bars inside Grand Central and sit at the window and watch what happens.
Another popular place was Intrepid Aircraft Carrier at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum permanently moored in the Hudson River at the end of W 46th St. Very close to this site is the 43rd St departure point for the Circle Line Cruise around Manhattan, which is included as a free option in the 3 day Hop on Hop Off bus ticket. These two sightseeing attractions are a very good daily double, given their proximity to each other.
Some felt that the Empire State Building viewing area wasn’t tall enough at 86 stories, so headed back downtown to the One World Trade Centre (formerly the Freedom Tower) to ride the lifts to the observatory on the 102nd floor in 47 seconds. It can be an expensive exercise to take “the Experience” as they call it, but as a personal option it could be worth it.
Some just wanted to use up their Subway tickets and took a ride out to Coney Island in Brooklyn, to tackle the Boardwalk and eat Nathan’s Hotdogs. But no matter where they went, everyone had to be back at the Radisson Hotel on or before 5.15pm. We had a train to catch. This time we didn’t make the trek back to Penn Station on foot, preferring to go by subway. Being in the world’s busiest transportation hub at peak hour is nothing short of incredible.
Commuters in their tens of thousands are scurrying like ants to get to the platform once the number is released. Simply because of the vast number of trains arriving and departing in any given minute, platforms are not pre-allocated. Instead the commuter must obtain a vantage point for any one of 12 massive display boards which (eventually) show where your train will be leaving from.
The number and departure time of the train service you want shows on there, but not the platform #. People watch and wait with bated breath for the flash when the number is posted. Then it’s like the Stawell Gift to clear the waiting area to get down onto the platform. So, what’s the reason for the rush? It’s not that they won’t get a seat. They all want to get in the quiet car which is unreserved, doesn’t allow talking on mobile phones and talking to another human is only permitted in subdued tones or preferably not at all.
Ours was the #655 service to Harrisburg at 6.35pm. The display board we were near showed it would be leaving 37 minutes late, so we had plenty of time to explore the station and its dozens and dozens of food outlets, or just snooze, hoping that someone would wake you up. We were back in Harrisburg at 10.37pm and by 11.15pm I reckon all were tucked up in bed. Seeing those beautiful Fords waiting patiently for us in the AMTRAK parking lot was a sight for sore eyes. It meant that the hurly-burly of expensive New York City was behind us. But ask ‘em. They would go back there tomorrow, if they could.
Day 16 / Friday June 26th
We are back in the same Mechanicsburg Holiday Inn on the Carlisle Pike as we were before leaving for New York. Which was clever planning because the rest of our luggage had been stored here. It looks the same as when we left, but arriving back here last night like zombies meant that no one even noticed; and nor have they this morning because as I write this at 9.00am, I haven’t seen movement from anyone just yet. But 9.45am will fix that because breakfast finishes at 10.00am.
They know we are back on the road at 10.30am headed firstly for the Bass Pro store in Harrisburg. Many times throughout the last 10 years of blogging I have tried my level best to adequately describe a Bass Pro store. And in my view have never really mastered it. This time I have called on the Internet to help me.
Bass Pro Shops locations are more than just stores – they are destination experiences that draw more than 200 million visitors annually. Each of the 177 locations are heavily customized to reflect the character of the region they represent. In addition to giant aquariums teeming with live fish and extensive wildlife mounts and dioramas, many locations feature unique restaurants and ocean-themed bowling alleys.
Videos can help understand the enormity of them along with the creativity found inside each store. And I located this one for you to take a look at. We haven’t been to the granddaddy of them all in Springfield, Missouri yet, but have visited the Memphis Pyramid. Harrisburg is a great store, but is not a jaw-dropping one. In fact, to me Bass Pro is like a speedway. All of them are good, it’s just that some are better than others.
90 minutes was spent here while everyone immersed themselves inside a store that is clearly built for blokes. Sexist? Probably, but it’s true. There aren’t many people who go inside that don’t end up peeping at the gun gallery from behind the thousands of boxes of ammo that weigh down the shelves. Guests into the store are permitted to trial the product in a hands-on aim and test program. I guess they don’t really know that Steve H was unable to take back such a weapon to Australia. His mate Steve P stands back just in case.
Next was lunch at Line He Chinese Buffet behind Bass Pro. Easily the best value all you can eat Chinese buffet I’ve ever been into. There’s a lot you can eat for $8.99.
After lunch we drove to the Eastern Museum of Motor Racing. It’s virtually 95% dirt track speedway historical cars and mementos, although the name suggests it could be all classes of auto racing. There is no admission charge, but patrons are encouraged to donate a few notes to assist with the upkeep. It’s hard not to after seeing the care and attention put in.
The EMMR had now put us firmly back into sprintcar mode so upon leaving, we drove a couple of laps on the old Latimore Valley Speedway track at the back of the Museum, which the PA Old Timers use to “test and tune” their beautiful old 50’s and 60’s vintage sprintcars and midgets. These things are poetry in motion when they are allowed to “clear the throat”.
Then, without further delay it was an eleven-mile drive to Williams Grove Speedway for the first of seven nights of Pennsylvania Speedweek. The whole series is actually nine consecutive nights, but we will be leaving after #7 at Hagerstown in Maryland.
Williams Grove doesn’t always give you the best racing on the planet, but it certainly gives you a tremendous insight into the history of the area and the sport as you first approach the complex. Across from the track on Park Place used to be the Williams Grove Amusement Park, owned by the Hughes family since inception in 1928. They also owned the speedway and in light of failing attendances from the Roller Coaster fraternity, the family shut down the rides in 2005 to concentrate on the speedway which continued to attract huge crowds every Friday night. The Amusements are still there though, but falling into disrepair. They make for a very interesting 30-minute walk to visualise what life was like in the last century.
The parking lot entertainment was in full swing when those who ventured over to the Amusement Park returned. As usual the folks who we parked next to welcomed the Australian contingent and swiftly moved in to find out all they could about these people from downunder. For some Americans, kangaroos, koalas, Crocodile Dundee, Steve Irwin, Kerry Madsen and Brooke Tatnell are the limits of their knowledge. You don’t get angry, just try your best to enthusiastically help them learn more about the country. This happens every day, everywhere.
As time marches on and engines are fired inside the track for hot laps, both groups gradually diminish as the fans enter the arena to soak up as much of the atmosphere as they can and in our case, to buy as much merchandise as will fit in the current suitcase. Tonight we had seats on the back straight grandstand right next to the infamous Beer Hill for the PA Posse fans. To get there, the tunnel under Turn 1 is the first objective, bringing you up onto the beautifully grassed infield. Remember that Williams Grove is a half mile paperclip shaped track and like every PA speedway we will be going to, has a large expanse of infield allocated to spectators. From there it’s a memorable walk across the time honoured back straight bridge and then up to your seat.
Garden chairs out on the infield are the go, along with a rug for the kids to play on while Dad soaks up his passion of methanol and noise. My suggestion to anyone reading this who is going to attend WG one day is to ensure you get reserved grandstand seats for watching the heats and finals, but definitely experience hot laps and qualifying from the infield.
This is what it will look like. Donny Schatz shows the way round. Turn the sound up!! Trev Jordan will have already done that. And don’t forget to click the four arrows next to the Vimeo logo to get Full Screen vision.
The massive crowd on hand saw Kyle Larson attempt to continue his recent streak of success via midget week and some All Star racing. Mind you he had plenty of competition with 38 cars signed in, including Lance Dewease, perhaps PA’s most popular driver, now that Greg Hodnett is no longer with us. At no stage during the A main did Larson lead Dewease, but he hung in there like a puppy dog chewing the leg off his owner’s race suit. It was close enough to scare the living daylights out of the parochial Pennsylvania fans who thought that one of their own was about to be beaten. Dewease lasted long enough to win his 99th Williams Grove feature race.
Tonight’s second Speedweek race is at Lincoln Speedway in Abbottstown for the Kevin Gobrecht Memorial in honour of the PA local who died during a 1999 World of Outlaws race in Greenwood, Nebraska. It’s only 27 miles from the hotel and pretty well in between the two is Gettysburg. So that’s where we are headed this morning for a full day of history lessons.
For example, why, from 1861 to 1865 did Americans fight other Americans in the bloodiest and most costly war that the country has ever been involved in. The Civil War was fought up and down the eastern seaboard, but the biggest and deadliest battle occurred in Gettysburg, July 1st to the 3rd of 1863. Under a blazingly hot sun, the Confederates fought the Union and the Union won. But 51,000 men were slaughtered in three days.
Fast facts #6
It started because of uncompromising differences between states over slavery, or no slavery
For a one page overview of how and why, click here
The first major battle of the Civil War saw one million men fighting each other from Virginia to Missouri
It is estimated that the Civil War killed 850,000 soldiers …. mainly inexperienced farm boys
Kids who knew no better, or worse, had no idea of why they were trying to kill their fellow man
The Civil War killed more Americans than in all other world wars combined that the USA has ever been involved in.
The drive into Gettysburg from the east on Route 30 reveals nothing of the battlefield locations. In all respects it looks just like any other American town with a Walmart, Starbucks, every variety of fast food restaurant, gas stations and the local U-Haul depot. If we keep buying stuff at this rate, we’ll need a trailer. And there has been no visit yet to any Outlet Stores!
All the fighting occurred on the other side of town where it is permissible to drive around unimpeded, but far from me being an expert on American history, tour members are encouraged to take the two-hour Battlefield tour on a bus with a professional guide. Which they are happy to do for a price of $35. And that was booked for 1.30pm. So we parked as close as possible to the town square and started our walk around the town. With Steinwehr Avenue and its many touristy shops being popular. Given the history of the town, the architectural styles are many and varied. The houses (now shops) in the streets have been rebuilt many times. Antique shops, galleries, history (Americana), B&B’s, diners, coffee shops, cafes and restaurants dominate.
Midday saw us finish up at The Pub & Restaurant on the Gettysburg Square. We were fortunate to get a table for 11 at the big French windows that open up to provide open air eating. Those sitting on one side of the long table had a splendid view of the famous Gettysburg Hotel, where Abraham Lincoln stayed when he came to town to deliver the Gettysburg Address. The guys on the other side kept watch over both the men’s and ladies restrooms.
At 1.25pm we were at the bus centre ready for the Battlefield Tour. I declined, preferring to catch up on paper work so you’ll need to read the others’ Facebook pages to catch up on their thoughts about the Gettysburg Killing Fields.
Although I have never seen a PA Speedweek race at Lincoln before, I have made many journeys to tonight’s track and know how popular it can be. Given the cloudless sky with mild temperatures, they will be overflowing into the infield. Hence, we were parked in the field opposite the entrance gates, down near turn 1 well before 4.00pm. Russell had done his job, although he did report back that many had been in before him and we were more towards the bottom of the stands than the top. People took note of the section and row number and settled back in their fold up chairs to enjoy the sunshine.
An impressive 51 cars had rolled through the gate. 13 more than Williams Grove because some of the middle-ranked teams simply won’t run at WG due to its size and the harsh effect it has on motors. But the 3/8th mile Lincoln has their blessing and they turn up in droves, along with another 40 or so 358ci sprintcars as the support. We watched as the transporters came down Kinneman Road and into the pits. Most are plain white and we’ve got no idea who’s in them. Even if we did, to be fair we don’t know where each driver lives, but I’m willing to bet that quite a few are no more than 40 miles away. You’ve gotta wonder just why they need a 53-foot hauler that large? Still it was good fun speculating.
Once again, the indicator for some is to go into the track when engines are first fired. So as not to miss anything. For others the signal to enter is hearing the National Anthem rendition, which means Heat 1 is next. After a while you get the process down to a real fine art. Speaking of the Star Spangled Banner, it deserves a whole page on its own one day, based on the huge differential in interpretation of how it should be sung. It is by far the most heard song we hear on tour, even if we have the satellite radio on all day, every day as we drive.
Tonight’s winner was Danny Dietrich and to be honest I didn’t ask Deryk who he picked to win, but it was probably him. After all we did eat lunch in Danny’s home town of Gettysburg. I doubt if I’ve seen a happier winner. He wins often in PA, but not every day do you come from behind to pick off Kyle Larson and then move away to win by a couple of car lengths.
Day 18 / Sunday June 28th
When the itineraries for our tours get released on the website, people read them and sometimes call, or drop me a line, to say “couldn’t you find anything to do on day 18, or wasn’t there a race on night 31?” My explanation is concise and to the point. “Come on a tour my friend and when we get to day 18, you’ll be the first one to say how good is it not to have to sightsee today, or go to a race”.
Today is one of those days. We’ve got a race tonight, but that’s all there is. For those who want to stay around the Hotel and catch up on anything, then now’s their chance. Those who still have some energy in their batteries will find tons of things they can walk to around our hotel here in Mechanicsburg. All our hotels are chosen strategically so that when there is a rest day, we make sure there is stuff to do in and around where you sleep. Such as today. If in the mood for walking you can venture out to see the Conodoguinet Creek, a tributary of the Susquehanna River. The name is Native American, and means “A long way with many bends”. Those Indians were sure good with names!
Lunch could be at a variety of sprintcar team sponsors. Buffalo Wild Wings is right behind the hotel, a kilometre or so up the road is the PA Speedweek sponsor Red Robin Gourmet burgers, next to it is a Walmart Supercentre, and next to it is ABC West Lanes. Handy in case of a rain out. We can go bowling instead. But that is looking highly unlikely as the entire country is spoilt right now with weather you can only dream about.
Roll call in the foyer was at 3.00pm. You could tell the Richmond fans. They arrived sleepy eyed and hair ruffled from their own weird dreams they had been having about Richmond never winning again. We don’t actually have any Gold Coast Suns supporters on board, so can’t ask how they feel.
Selinsgrove Speedway is only an hour north on US-15, which hugs the Susquehanna river the entire way. Mind you we made doubly sure we were on the western side of the river because once you leave Harrisburg there ‘aint no more bridges for 65 miles. 15 is also known as the Susquehanna Trail as it winds its way north to Lake Ontario in upstate New York.
Selinsgrove Speedway is a half mile oval, which is a mere 35 miles from another half mile called Port Royal. Both tracks have operated for decades based on a good understanding of sharing race dates and catering for tens of thousands of Pennsylvanian sprintcar fans in the Susquehanna Valley. There certainly is no shortage of them. Stop for gas or something to eat and you see folks with sprintcar shirts on everywhere.
Speedway racing is a way of life for these Dutch heritage people. Still one of their favourites is the Flying Farmer Tommy Hinnershitz, who raced in the 30’s 40’s & 50’s and is immortalised as the hallmark of sprintcar racing in the area.
One of the criticisms that fans back in the mid-west have for the PA posse is that they “never leave the porch” to experience racing in other states. But when you’re here and can see the quality of racing and the passion the fans have for their own, why would they? They are unique to say the least. I’m thinking that if ever they need an AFL team over here, then Collingwood would fit in just right. There’s a ready made fanbase.
There were only 33 cars tonight at Selinsgrove. Once again indicative of the geographical nature of racing here. All the fast guys who think they are capable of winning Speedweek were present for their third successive race night, but the field fillers, good cars but not quite strong enough to win, took a rest. This was a virgin track for me, increasing my track count to a number that I must work out one day. One day …..
Not often does the same driver win consecutive Speedweek races, no matter what the state is. In fact, it’s quite rare, such is the quality of the competition. But Danny Dietrich did it again from Rico and Kyle. Two names you don’t need surnames for in this day and age.
At the end of tonight, Speedweek points see Dietrich leading on 487, Larson 444, Freddie Rahmer 414, Ryan Smith 352 and Brock Zearfoss on 351. There are six more nights and that list will get a shake-up – nothing surer.
Day 19 / Monday June 29th
Well day 18 of doing nothing is gone and its now back into sightseeing in a big way. There are so many things to see and do in and around Harrisburg, that it’s impossible to fit them all in. But someone has to make a decision and today the selections are a morning in Intercourse, an afternoon of inspecting motorbikes and an evening of dodging dirt.
After breakfast of apple juice, cereal, cheese omelettes on toast, fresh hot brewed coffee (the type Terry won’t go near) and a warm cinnamon bun borrowed for later, I freshened up the esky with the Ice man, cleaned out the Selinsgrove clay from the BF and neatly re-stacked the fold up chairs. Terry did similarly in the WF, but only after he came back from his run carrying a Starbucks latte. (It’s a morning ritual! Sometimes he runs five miles just to get his fix.)
45 miles southeast of Harrisburg is the city of Lancaster. We went through it at 110 mph on the AMTRAK train last Tuesday, but most were snoozing. We didn’t stop this time either, but it was a touch slower as we negotiated the morning traffic on the roads. One of those routes led to Intercourse. The town that is.
Fast facts #7
There are several theories on how Intercourse got its cheeky name. The first comes from an ancient horse racing track located on Old Philadelphia Pike, called “Entercourse.” Some think that the name “Entercourse” evolved to “Intercourse” and became the town name in 1814. The second theory stems from the two famous roads that intersected in the town, one running east and west from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and one running from Erie to Wilmington. Because of this, the town was called “Cross Keys” which may have eventually become “Intercourse.” The third theory concerns the language used during the town’s early days, when the word “intercourse” described fellowship and social support in the community. The town name of Intercourse would have described the camaraderie of the town.
Incidentally the word ‘pike’ at the end of a road’s name means that it was once a toll road. In the 1800’s a stick, or a pike, was placed across the road to block carriages from proceeding unless they paid the toll and ‘turned the pike’ to allow them through. A Turnpike however is the term for a current day toll road.
I’m sure the Amish don’t care what the truth is about Intercourse. After all the local community makes tens of thousands of dollars a day out of tourists like us. Every shop is alive and well, selling a variety of Amish farm goods, produce from the local garden, candles, clothing, bakery items (the favourite is shoofly pie), handmade craft items such as letterboxes and trolleys to pull your kids along in, (hello to Mick & Kim).
Not sure who owns the local Post Office, but there’s money to be made there too. There are two chutes for letters and postcards. Standard postage for the price of the stamp gets you no identifying postmark on the envelope. For a $1 extra you can have “mailed while in Intercourse” imprinted on it. Just to impress the neighbours no doubt …… The surrounding towns have all played their part in the tourism uprising as well. Once you’ve finished in Intercourse, you can rest your Blue Ball in nearby Paradise with your Bird in the Hand. Here’s how they got their town names, plus some more.
Despite the satire above, it is a very pretty area to visit and the locals are quite friendly, unless you point a camera at them. To see the menfolk still tending the crops with horse drawn ploughs is eye catching. You can’t help but stop and watch the technique.
Even though some Amish protocols allow tractors to be utilised on the farm for running equipment, it is not the norm. Nor is pesticide, considered to be a pest in itself. Working in the field does not come easy. Amish men don’t use equipment with comfortable seats and air-conditioned cabs. A straw hat and a cooler with water is as good as it gets. The reason behind the ban on tractors (and automobiles) is apparently to keep the community close together.
From Intercourse we drove the 36 miles to York using US 30. Remember that transcontinental road from Day 5 driving to Mansfield in Ohio? The Susquehanna River is crossed at historic Wrightsville and before not too much longer the massive complex that is the Harley Davidson vehicle operations plant comes into view. We had the Classic tour booked for 2.00pm and we were right on time after devouring Subways in the parking lot. From my point of view a foot-long Subway is easily the most economical and (nearly) healthiest lunch you can get on the run.
This $10 one-hour tour provided an excellent insight into the intricacies of a motorcycle assembly line, the paint shop and the panel fabrication areas. We were a month earlier than in previous years which was fortunate for us because in late July they usually begin assembling next year’s model and the public tours are temporarily halted. The philosophy of Harley Davidson is that the dealers around the country are always the first to see the new model(s).
We were back in the HD parking lot at about 3.30pm after giving the Gift shop a fair hammering indeed. There are quite a few grandkids, nephews, uncles and people you think you should buy a present for but aren’t sure what to get, back in Australia who will be receiving a Harley Davidson embossed something in a couple of months’ time.
Given the amount of speedways in Pennsylvania, I’m not exactly sure why the PA Speedweek organisers give Williams Grove, Lincoln and Port Royal two nights each to scoop up the vast amount of cash paid at the turnstiles. But I’m sure there’s a valid reason. Anyway, we were back at Lincoln again tonight for Round 4. But before getting there we had a small detour to make to Hanover where the legendary Bobby Allen runs Shark Racing out of a little shop next door to what used be his huge Speedway 94 Karting complex.
The land was sold in 2019 unfortunately and the four kart tracks now lie idle. However his race shop is still there and it was open, so we went in and chatted with the guys who don’t go out on the road with the World of Outlaws team. There were spare cars and chassis’ inside so it was of interest to see their operation. Most would know that Bobby’s son Jacob drives for Shark, as does Bobby’s grandson Logan Schuchart. Not many would know that Logan is three years older than Jacob!
We arrived later than we did on Saturday but that was deliberate because tonight we are going to watch from the infield at Lincoln. Russell didn’t have to do his thing. The speedway doesn’t sell alcohol; hence it permits consumption of BYO in eskies, but no bottles. That’s OK because again it was looking to be a nice mild night and sitting out on the lawn in the chairs with a couple of cans would be delightful. It’s just that you get a crook neck swivelling around to watch every lap.
41 410’s were in the pits and that’s all. No support classes. Tonight would be a short one. (Remember that hint.) The big news was Christopher Bell, Aaron Reutzel and Corey Eliason were bolstering the already strong fields for the next couple of rounds. It would be no shame whatsoever if you were starting off 24 in the feature tonight. The pits aren’t in the middle at Lincoln, but some drivers do set up merchandise tents in there and one of those was Rico Abreu.
An enormous fan favourite Rico would, in my view, rake in more money from T-shirt, hoodies and cap sales, than he does prizemoney from his on-track successes. That’s why he works at it with so much passion.
We had a fun time in the infield watching the little fella make his opposition shake their head in amazement when he almost swept the night. Rico won Round 4 from Reutzel, Bell and Larson. And if he hadn’t sold out of mullet caps after the A main, I’m sure Kevvie would have bought one. The Buds would have talked him into it!
Day 20 / Tuesday June 30th
An advice via text message was sent out to all tour members before dawn asking them to avoid all sugar-based products at breakfast this morning. A very difficult thing to do in America, but the request asked them to do their best. If wanting to know why, the text suggested reference to the itinerary.
There in big bold letters was the word HERSHEY. Yep, after checking out of the Holiday Inn where we’ve been for the last five nights, we hit the road to Grandview Speedway near Quakertown for R5 of Speedweek. Milton Hershey was to chocolate what Henry Ford was to automobiles. He became an unbelievably wealthy individual by making milk chocolate affordable to the working-class man. Previously the Swiss had cornered the market, mainly because they invented it, but kept it as a delicacy only. Milton established his own town on barren land in 1903 when he built his first chocolate factory and made it available to all Americans. It’s still there, along with an enormous community that is pretty well 100% employed by the Hershey Corporation.
By 9.00am we were in the parking lot for Chocolate World, across the road from Hershey Stadium. Now because this is a speedway Blog, I should point out that when Milton funded a building revolution in Hershey after the depression, he also wanted a sports stadium built. Which it duly was and every Monday and Thursday night for decades it hosted midget car racing to sold out audiences. On the other nights, these same people probably went into Hersheypark, the phenomenal amusement park built next to the Stadium. The next day, those same folks would all go to work for Milton producing his chocolate bars. It was the perfect society ….. utopia almost.
We went on the free chocolate tour and took the free chocolate offered before leaving and driving around the entire Hersheypark marvelling at how anyone could fit so much into so little space. On July 3rd Chocolatetown opens within the Park. Of course, it features a brand new roller coaster called Candymonium that has a near one mile long track painted dark chocolate brown and the cars are candy apple red. Of course they would be …..
One last thing before we set off for Quakertown. In 2007 Laima and I visited Hersheypark with friends Paddy and Sonya. The following videos demonstrate what it’s like to sit in the front row of the Sidewinder, Storm Runner, Great Bear and finally the Wildcat. Even if you don’t like roller coasters, do yourself a favour and watch these four classics. They are all short ones. How I kept the camera pointing in the right direction is anyone’s guess.
(Don’t forget to click the “square of arrows” next to the Vimeo logo for a full screen display).
Lunch today was Kevin’s responsibility. Hershey to Quakertown was only 86 miles so we had plenty of time for him to choose a venue where a knife and fork can be used. And he did with the choice of Cracker Barrel on I-78 at Hamburg. Maybe we should have had hamburgers in Hamburg, but no, Kev wanted Cracker Barrel. Maybe he knew that the delicious chicken Pot Pie is Tuesday’s lunch special.
I doubt that you can get better home cooking than at the Barrel. And also get your daily requirement of vegetables. One thing for sure that you can’t do at a speedway, is ask for a plate of veggies.
Quakertown was a homely place. Not many hotels, in fact just one – ours, the Best Western. Once again across the road was a Walmart Supercentre. Which to me means that Quakertown must have a population greater than 20,000, which is the rule of thumb population criteria as to where they put one.
Grandview Speedway is about 18 miles away and because this area of Pennsylvania might just be more passionate about its sprintcar racing than where we had just left from, it was a wise decision to get there early and allow Russ to stake his claim. The joint was packed to the rafters. There are many grandstands at this neat track and each was full, but fortunately we were high up on turn 4 in a good spot. The smallest track on the Speedweek trail, it was also the most efficient. Hardly surprising that, because it has a curfew. Speedways with a deadline to finish by operate with way more urgency and it makes for a much better show.
The Cali Kid won again tonight, although in saying that, it is his first Speedweek win, but his consistency has now elevated Kyle Larson to the top of the points ranking with 762 after Grandview. But Danny Dietrich sits just below on 734.
Day 21 / Wednesday July 21st
The planets aligned last night. Considering our usual timetable for getting home from a race track, 10.45pm was particularly early. It was a sensational night weather wise. The parking lot looked inviting. There were several tables and chairs on the lawn outside the back door. The esky was still reasonably full. And we were thirsty. All very good reasons to engage in a catch-up and review of where have been so far. In fact the scene reminded me very much of Butler in 2015, except there wasn’t a wooded hill anywhere close handy. But maybe there will be at a stop somewhere soon.
We were joined over drinks by a couple of other sprintcar fans from Philadelphia who were following Speedweek around, much the same as us. The subject of NASCAR came up and they pointed out how close we were to Pocono Raceway. A quick look at Google revealed that the plans we had for today would not be upset too much by detouring to the Raceway in the Alleghany Mountains for the free guided tour, available every weekday. An 8.00am departure time was agreed.
At 9.00am we rolled through the gates of the Tricky Triangle where they were still cleaning up after last weekend’s NASCAR races for the Cup cars, Nationwide and the Trucks. We had listened to Sunday’s Cup race on satellite radio, but the penny didn’t drop that we were so close. No wonder there was a hell of a crowd at Grandview last night. The NASCAR fans hung around to see some passing.
It was easy to find and the guys and gals in the Admin office were waiting for us even though I had only made phone contact 30 minutes earlier. They showed us everything they were allowed to (I presume). We followed the Pocono truck with Jeff and Steph in it to the base of the mega grandstands and then the lifts to the upper levels where the media centre and corporate boxes were. We were allowed to wander around in there at will before being taken to the very top where the spotters gather on race day. The view was spectacular to say the very least.
Back on terre firma we jumped back in the Fords and followed the truck down onto the infield through the twin entry and exit tunnels. From here the whole panorama opened up and the triangular nature of the track became highly apparent.
Of course everyone was hoping that we could do a couple of laps and in due course that offer was made without even asking for it. BF and WF took off gently and although we were given no instructions, common sense played its part. Not one of the Fords exceeded 100 mph. Only joking …… the fastest things in each bus were the zippers on bags getting cameras out to record the whole thing.
Our next objective for the day was the original one before Pocono popped up. From the mountains to the Susquehanna River was an hour and 50 mins and we made it on time for lunch at Max’s Grille and Sports Bar. Although lunch with Max was very nice, it wasn’t the reason we were in Millersburg. You might remember a little while ago I commented that from Harrisburg north for about 100 miles there are no bridges across this mighty river. But here at this historic town there is the glorious old Millersburg ferry which has carried traffic across the mile wide Susquehanna River since 1817.
It was a unique ride to say the least. A time warp might be the best way to describe it. We were on one of only two remaining true wooden paddle wheel ferries in the country, which putt putts its way across the river in slow motion. Wildlife abounds on the Susquehanna which many describe as the most scenic river in the USA. The ferry has no timetable. It leaves whatever side it’s on when there is someone ready to go on it. There is a hi-tech signalling system you must engage if you see the ferry on the other side and it’s not moving. You notify it by opening a door hinged to a tree. The white backside of the door is the signal to the boat operator across the river ……
One last thing to do before motoring on to Port Royal Speedway and tonight’s Speedweek R6, was to linger a little longer at (would you believe) Hunters’ Valley Wines for some grape tasting. Regretfully, because of the Pocono stop, we couldn’t stay as long as we would have liked. It was still another 30 minutes to Mifflintown and our Hotel for the night, the Econo Lodge, then checking in and express driving to Port Royal, albeit a mere four miles. We made it all in good time, parked inside the Fairgrounds facility (trees galore) and secured good seats in the huge front straight grandstand.
What a big day, topped off by tail-gating of a different nature with some cab savs and a couple of bottles of delicious Summer Days Peach citrus wine. The Stars and Stripes tonight was a trumpet rendition. There’s a growing number of tour members now who don’t enter the track until after qualifying has finished, so the trumpet was indeed a surprise to us all sitting nonchalantly in the parking lot behind the back of two Ford minibuses.
You can see from the photo above that this ½ mile speedway is smack bang in the middle of Port Royal. Like many tracks in the US, the townsfolk welcome the racers and the fans because they provide a fair chunk of their yearly income. One driver who enjoyed tonight better than most was Anthony Macri, who not only became the fifth different Speedweek winner, but he was the first driver in a decade to win four consecutive A mains at Port Royal. And to top things off, Macri then went out and won the 360 feature as well.
Day 22 / Thursday July 2nd (Week 4 begins)
We’re now into our fourth week on the trail and we are leaving Pennsylvania after eight wonderful nights in the Keystone State. Although PA Speedweek continues, tonight’s racing was in Maryland, a small state that shares borders with Pennsylvania, Virginia and the minuscule state of Delaware. Hagerstown provides the speedway, which is yet again another massive half mile, perhaps most famous for what is described as the worst ever crash in Late Model racing in 1996.
From Mifflintown we made our way southwest down PA75 and through the scenic Tuscarora State Forest to Hagerstown. It’s only 83 miles, but a couple of sightseeing stops on the way helped fill in the gaps. Coming through loud and clear via the app on my phone to the car radio speakers for those AFL fans on board (which is everyone except Russell) was the Thursday night Collingwood / Richmond clash back home at the MCG. It was an odd environment in that no one wanted either side to win. Just lose.
It was still too early an arrival for check-in, but hey who cares when you’ve got a Premium Outlet Stores complex within five minutes walk of the hotel. “The more you shop, the more you save” is the motto of Outlet Stores across the country. The first additional suitcase was purchased this morning and I have no doubt that will start the rush from here on in. The bags are getting heavier every morning when loading them on for the day’s ride.
It was an experience to say the least at Hagerstown tonight. My first ever visit there and while I can’t say my last, I won’t rush to get there again. First up I should say that the gap in the fence on the back straight that brought Jack Bland to a sudden halt back in ’96 is still there. Just how can that be, especially after losing Greg Hodnett two years ago in an identical accident at BAPS Speedway?? The car parking was pleasant enough. Russell gave it the thumbs up, so that’s about a 9/10.
But it was the seating in the grandstand that brought it all undone. Our 4.30pm taped down bed sheets which have done the job for years at all tracks were totally ignored by some ignorant fans arriving at 7.00pm expecting prime seats to still be available. They just sat anywhere they felt was a good view and said later to us how grateful they were to the track for putting down some seat coverings for them. That was what started it.
They wouldn’t move and nor would we. We simply stood in a line in front of them and blocked their view of the heat race which had Kyle Larson in it. Bearing in mind it was he who had attracted the mammoth crowd, so they were none too happy. Nor were others who, despite being on our side, didn’t see the race either. We didn’t relent and were prepared to maintain our position until one of two things happened. Either we departed, which wasn’t going to happen. Or they did, which was only going to occur when someone made them. And it appeared that would have to be us. Australia v the USA in Hagerstown welterweight boxing was on the verge of becoming a reality when the sheriff and two deputies turned up.
Now I’m not sure who it was that notified them, but good friend Chet Christner from Speed Shift TV told me later that they had a camera trained on the action in the bleachers just in case evidence was needed to back the Aussies up. The sheriff understood the accepted practice of traditionally reserving seats and pointed that out in no uncertain terms to our opposition. Magnificently assisted by the surrounding fans, some of whom knew us from following Speedweek around. There were words exchanged that night between the rival Yanks which I’ve never heard before!
Anyway, the trespassers eventually got the message and disappeared silently into the night leaving the score 1-0 in our favour. Thought I better keep a record, just in case they knew where we were parked after the racing finished! We resumed our seats to a round of applause and the offer of free beer for the night from those who witnessed the show.
Let’s hope that the squatters saw the rest of the racing because their golden-haired ex NASCAR favourite blitzed the field on a lightning fast track where the speeds on the straightaways caused trailing vortexes to form on the wings as they cut through the Hagerstown night air.
Nowhere near as fast were the historic cars from the Eastern Museum of Motor Racing who provided the downtime entertainment for the bumper crowd. Just days before we had seen quite a few of these cars displayed at the Museum. Here they were now stretching their legs on a track where they would have duked it out many, many times before.
Post racing saw us relaxing in the car park with a cool drink to let the traffic clear. However, for some mysterious reason our portable lights wouldn’t work tonight, so we just sat there in the dark. Later back at the hotel, I put the globes back in.
Day 23 / Friday July 3rd
Second longest drive of the tour so far today at 552 miles. PA Speedweek is over nine nights, with tonight back at Williams Grove, topped off by Port Royal again on Saturday. Given that we have already been to those two tracks, we have elected to forego these two races in favour of returning west into Indiana today and then up to cheesehead country in Wisconsin on Saturday.
We travelled through an extraordinary five states today commencing in Maryland, followed by Pennsylvania (for about 20 minutes), West Virginia, Ohio and finally Indiana. There was plenty to see, but it was all from inside the bus as we traversed the magnificent US road system. I know I keep harping on about these freeways, but in particular I-68 deserves an honourable mention. It’s a modern sweeping interstate through steep terrain for 112 miles. Completed in 1991 it took 25 years to construct with enormous amounts of earthmoving through cut and fill, rather than tunnelling beneath the ever-present West Virginia mountains.
Lunch was Pat Whittle’s choice today. “Start thinking about it Pat. There’s no chance of a knife and fork today”, I remarked to her before we set out from Hagerstown. I then forgot about it until about 11.00am, just as we were getting off the roller coaster I-68 expressway. A female voice popped up from the back. “Can we have a margarita with lunch Pete”. Hmmm I thought, that would be something different. Checked the mileage to Columbus and thought, that’s a perfect stop!
It was time for our quarter time break anyway so we pulled over in a rest stop and while folks were doing their business, I googled Taco Bell, Liquor store, Columbus and I-70 altogether. It gave me a text book answer and I put the number into my phone. Away we went, still with two hours and 140 miles until lunch. This is gonna make it into one helluva funny afternoon drive through to Plainfield, Indiana.
Right on 1.00pm I made the call to Taco Bell. “I’d like to order 44 Double Decker tacos to go please. Be there in 30 minutes to pick them up.” Certainly Sir, with your 10% discount for pick up, your total cost is $74.84.”
At 1.15pm we pulled up at Taco Bell, but went into the adjacent liquor store first. I grabbed two cold cases of Bud Light Lime-A-Rita’s for $60. A tasty 8% too.
Lunch total for everything was $12.29 each. So now we had 44 double decker tacos to share between 11 of us and 48 margaritas to share between nine. Terry and I were barred from the drinks of course, but we did have our eye on a couple upon arrival at Putnamville Speedway tonight.
As you might imagine the balance of 200 miles or so to Plainfield and our hotel for the night was hilarious to say the least. It became compulsory to tell a yarn after every taco or can was demolished and as the miles went on, the jokes became more and more R rated. It did make this leg of the journey about 20 minutes longer than it should have been with wee stops in Springfield, Richmond, New Lisbon and the appropriately named Mt Comfort. Not to mention the Comfort Suites Hotel when nine people piled out to use the bathroom in Plainfield even before checking in.
Still spirited and happy, the travelling margaritas loaded up again and we headed off to Putnamville and the picturesque Lincoln Park Speedway. We parked in the usual spot up the back of the track with all the RV’s and campers. Surrounded by friendly locals met on previous tours, they quickly became aware that these Aussies were a lot rowdier than other tours. Equally friendly, just a lot more more talkative.
When it became time to go inside to watch the racing, which by the way was a combined USAC and MSCS co-sanctioned non wing show, it became a circus. I had gone down to get the tickets, which tonight at Putnamville were wristbands, and brought them back to the campsite. Now putting on wristbands can be tricky at the best of times, even when sober. Tonight, it was bedlam. Most went on upside down and some were back to front. Making it pretty well impossible for the poor lady on the gate to see whether it was a valid band or not.
But all was OK. I had warned her 15 minutes beforehand. I suggested she just ask them to talk for a bit and when satisfied they were Australian, just let them in. Preferably without a breath test.
It wasn’t just the Aussies who were overflowing. The pits were too with 51 sprintcars, 29 modifieds, 31 Bombers and 38 Super Stocks, which looked remarkably like Late Models. There were endless hot laps, qualifying, heat races, B & C mains and eventually four feature races. At 12.45am they all walked out of there partially sobered up and ready for sleep.
It was the quietest ride ever back from a track to a hotel. They were all asleep before we got out the gate. I settled back behind the wheel, got onto I-70 and turned up the satellite radio.
Day 24 / Saturday July 4th (Independence Day)
Today was our first day with a time change. But only for a week. So, if friends and family back home are expecting their regular daily phone call to be assured that “I’m behaving myself, not drinking too much and always getting to bed early” then be aware that it will arrive one hour later for a while.
Wisconsin is not a state we often go to on the Month of Money tour. Nestled way up north of Illinois xbetween Lake Michigan and Minnesota, it is the home of the NFL’s all-conquering Green Bay Packers. Our destination is Sun Prairie, home of the equally famous (in our sport anyway) Angell Park Speedway where the Badger Midget Association has reigned supreme for decades. So named Badger because Wisconsin is known as the Badger State. However up at Green Bay they are known as Cheeseheads. If we don’t have any races to go to on Monday there’s a chance we’ll drive up to Green Bay and say hi to the cheeseheads, aka Packer fans.
Our first ride along I-65 was today for the trek up to Chicago. This freeway has one of the most intriguing sights you can ever hope to see when you get to a place called Meadow Lake Wind Farm. It spreads itself for miles and miles and miles on each side of the freeway.
Fast facts #8
414 wind turbines spread across three counties
23,000 houses are powered from these turbines
Tower height varies from 100 to 160 metres
Blade height at its tallest is 210 metres from the ground
Longest ever blade length is equivalent to a 32-storey building
The blades sit on a spinning rotor which always keeps them directly into the face of the wind
Max speed at the tip of a blade rotating at its fastest is 288 kph
Noise of a wind turbine at 330 metres away is 43 decibels. (Less than a room air conditioner in your window.
Transporting these things from factory to place of assembly is a mammoth exercise. We encounter them on the freeways where they can be easily overtaken, however off the interstate and onto rural roads is a masterpiece of planning. They are accompanied by numerous safety vehicles and a platoon of workers who often walk alongside to ensure the valuable cargo reaches the end point safely.
We didn’t get blown away and managed to reach Chicago in a couple of hours. Mind you we didn’t drive into the city (that will come later on the Second Half of the tour) simply staying on I-65, past Merrillville where we usually stop in for lunch at Hooters (that will happen later too) and on to I-94 / I-90 which in places is 16 lanes wide. The volume of traffic (read trucks) here is immense, but at the time of day we went through it was manageable.
It was Bruce’s day for choosing where lunch would be and although he wanted to say fried mushrooms Chinese takeaway style, he opted not to, given the repercussions that have been known to occur. So instead he said Burger King which, for readers who have never visited the US, is identical to Hungry Jacks. In my mind easily the best burgers in the country. Good choice Brucey. They are not hard to find, given there are 7,226 stores across the country.
After shadowing Lake Michigan from Chicago, we abruptly turned west to remain on I-94 as we drove high over the suburbs of Milwaukee never stopping once for traffic lights. Those road builders sure put the freeways wherever they wanted to. And before we knew it, we were slowing down to enter the delightful town of Sun Prairie. It really is pretty as a picture. The town’s own website describes these as the highlights of any visit (in order) and I quote:
Groundhog Day Celebrations, Stock car and midget truck racing at Angell Park Speedway, Mounds Pet Food Warehouse’s Dog Fest, Sweet Corn Fest, Sun Prairie Farmer’s Market, Artful Wine Walk and Cyclocross Racing.
One day I must try to get to see a groundhog and then some midget truck racing …..
The town has but one hotel and in fact it’s a beauty, with wood panelled ceilings and walls in some rooms, as if you were in an over-sized Swedish sauna. You could also walk to the speedway, if you felt energetic enough, because you would also have to carry the eskies. But after yesterday no one has yet recharged the batteries enough to do anything so silly. Besides the weather was looking very iffy with rain showing in the weather app as a 60% chance at 7.00pm.
We had driven this far to watch the Saturday and Sunday two-night Pepsi Nationals for midgets run by POWRi at Angell Park. And, as it happens, for the next three nights we had zero races to get to (within geographical reason) so it didn’t really matter what the weather did from Monday onwards. Just so long as it allowed us to race tonight and tomorrow.
Angell Park Speedway is run by the local Volunteer Fire Department and has been for 70 years. The first ever race on May 30th 1939 was marred when a driver was killed in his midget on lap one of the opening event. Since then the Badger Midgets have been a powerhouse in the country and legend has it that there was a waiting list for drivers to get a chance to be able to race there. Nowadays it’s still a very popular track, but the strength of the local competition has waned somewhat. But when the big dogs come to play at Angell Park, the fans turn out in their thousands.
Which they did tonight, but they didn’t see a car started in anger because at around 6.30pm the weight of water in the clouds became too much and the heavens opened. There was no chance of recovering the track so the announcement was made that tonight would be tomorrow night and tomorrow night would be Monday night. Quite frankly that was perfect for most GST folk. Yesterday’s margaritas had claimed victory late this arvo and if the speedway wasn’t on, then no one would have left the hotel. The announcement was music to their ears …..
Day 25 / Sunday July 5th
It was still a very overcast morning sky which means, if you’re familiar with the tradition of Groundhog Day on Feb 2nd each year, you’ll know that if the groundhog can’t see his shadow then Spring will come early. If it was sunny and he could see his shadow, then there would be another six weeks of winter and everything would remain the same as yesterday. And that’s the last thing our tour members would have wanted. Besides they looked as though they had their mojo back at breakfast.
A text had gone out earlier this morning to advise that a third night in the Quality Inn had been secured for Monday evening and they were happy with that because they had fallen in love with the indoor heated pool and spa. They said it had rejuvenating qualities (excuse the pun). The text also said we would take off for Madison, the capital of Wisconsin, at 10.00am.
There was a food festival in the city square and we took a tour of the Wisconsin State Capital which is the tallest building in town and affords magnificent views over the two lakes which straddle the city.
It was a great day as the weather gradually cleared into the kind it should be in July. There would be no problem in getting the racing in tonight. We walked heaps today with my Fitbit indicating nearly 20,000 steps all up. Just as well because the style of food available from the 70 or so street vendors was intoxicating. Not literally, it was just exciting and full of carbs.
By 5.00pm we were back in Sun Prairie ready to go. Our taped off seating was still in place on the front straight, so there was no reason to hurry. I suggested that a visit into the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame inside the pavilion on Turn 1 might be in order. This was a surprise because no one knew it was there. Complimentary entry and a wonderful way to spend 30 minutes. Besides the Hall of Fame exhibits, there is a large Social area open on race nights for sit down meals and drinks.
48 midgets and 37 360 winged sprintcars were in the pits. 48 is a magic number for speedway racing as it very nicely provides for four heats of 12 cars, first five to the A and the rest to sort out the C and the B. USAC weren’t racing anywhere tonight, so the field was extended by a dozen or so top teams who high tailed it to Angell Park as soon as they heard about the rain out last night. This was going to be just like Indiana Midget Week!! Cut throat. And it was …..
Being a two-night show, points were being gained tonight for tomorrow, but we still had preliminary features and it was edge of your seat stuff. It always is with the midgets who race entirely without fear or favour from anyone. If there’s a hole, take it because it won’t be there in two seconds time. This video from 2013 shows how hard they race in Wisconsin.
The racing saw three huge accidents. (No one was injured.) The first of these was in heat 1 when Rico, who most unusually had qualified poorly, was attempting a big run from the back of the 12-car field to get a transfer to the A Main.
In the previous video you will be able to see turn 3 and the wall that is there. On the other side of that fence there is a large grassy clearing. Well for Rico that was good news because after riding a wheel at full noise on the first lap going into turn 3, he cartwheeled and bounced end for end clearing the big advertising hoardings without touching them and then kept on snap rolling only to finally be stopped by a smaller wire fence in front of a parking lot. Sitting over in the main straight grandstand, you couldn’t miss the accident. Except for when he disappeared behind the advertising signs. The crowd was hushed until the announcer said that Rico was out of the car and wandering around waiting for the crash crew to arrive. Nothing could beat that “prang”. Nothing.
The other two tried hard. A 360 sprintcar clipped the wall on the back straight and flipped wildly into that same fence which had recently allowed Rico to fly right over the top of. He was OK, but the car will never see another race. And the third was a regulation multiple barrel roll from one of the local midget racers. Ordinarily this accident would have been the biggest of the night, but Rico and our old mate in the sprintcar beat him hands down.
Leading the midget points going into tomorrow night is Tanner Thorson, now fully recovered from his Californian highway accident in March last year. He is driving one of the eight cars the Keith Kunz team has here at the track. Probably seven now, seeing as how Rico was driving one.
Day 26 / Monday July 6th
A day off for everyone. They knew that before going to bed last night, so it was no surprise when the Manager told me that he didn’t see any of “your crew” at breakfast this morning. Well I also didn’t see them because I wasn’t there either.
Back to Angell Park this afternoon and the crowd was just as big, given that it was a holiday Monday for Independence Day. Our reserved seats were still there. Honest crowd these cheeseheads. Keith Kunz Racing had returned to eight cars with the resurrection of the #97 Rico mobile. It will have been a very good night indeed if, at the end of it, Rico has made the A Main. And he did so with fast and skillful driving, albeit a little more restrained than usual.
All the heats for sprintcars and midgets went flag to flag tonight which set the scene for the feature races. To win the Pepsi Nationals is quite a notch on the belt. With the demise of the Belleville Nationals after Bryan Clauson’s death in 2016, the Angell Park race sits up there with the Chili Bowl as one everybody wants to win. So, the field of 24 was set, with Rico off the back row. That feat alone electrified the crowd. The mullet hats would have been sold out again I reckon. But Kevvie bought his last night, politely enquiring whether they had any with grass stains.
The 40-lap thriller was between Thomas Meseraull (T-Mez), Kyle Larson, Justin Grant, Buddy Kofoid, Tyler Courtney and Tanner Thorson. There were others of course who added to the excitement, but as a spectator you simply could not take your eyes off these six Californians. They were in a world of their own, never more than a few car lengths between them. The only yellow light of the race was with 19 laps down. In those last 21 laps they encountered lapped traffic and like a squadron of spitfires weaving their way through the enemy, they all made it through still fighting each other for the lead.
Patricia Little was so excited she dropped 15 stitches in her knitting without realising and Dennis dropped his Go Pro preferring to watch with his own eyes. At the chequered flag it was line ball between Kofoid and Larson. To the naked eye it was Larson on the outside, but the transponder gave it to Kofoid by .004 of a second. Bernie Gordon would have collapsed with pride by now if he was here. It was Bernie who gave Buddy his first start in Australia a couple of years ago when the kid was 16 years and 1 day old.
At the presentation a jubilant Buddy, who is so very thin, looked like a cardboard cut-out standing beside his car with the trophy while posing for victory lane photos. It was a race for the ages and so worth coming so far for.
Day 27 / Tuesday July 7th
We have the next three days to get back down to Springfield, Illinois so what to do? Today was easy. From Sun Prairie it was northeast for two hours to a little town called Maribel, to take a look at 141 Speedway, promoted by good friend Toby Kruse. Toby also owns Marshalltown Speedway in Iowa which we pay a visit to every Knoxville Nationals. But 141 has never been anywhere near where we usually go on the regular Month of Money tour.
To get there we chose to hug Lake Winnebago. At 137,000 acres it’s a very large freshwater lake indeed, taking almost four hours to drive right around it. The town of Oshkosh sits on the western side of the lake. And just in case you wanted to know, Oshkosh B’Gosh clothes are no longer made in Oshkosh. In 1997, all manufacturing was moved to Asia.
141 Speedway has a unique feature being a large lake on the infield. I’ve seen infield trees before (at West Liberty Raceway in Iowa) but never a lake. Being a Tuesday Toby wasn’t there, but he has told me before that errant race cars have submerged themselves in the water on several occasions. We would have had lunch at the impressive “Left Turn Lounge” high up overlooking the track, but it’s only open Thursday through Sunday. Sorry Toby we’ll give you notice next time!
From there it was onto Green Bay, population 104,000. Including probably the most well-known NFL team in the country. In 100 years since inception they have only had 15 coaches, the most famous of course being Vince Lombardi. In these troubled times of racial upset, Lombardi was a pioneer of breaking down the colour barrier in American football. He once famously said that “he viewed his players as neither white nor black, but Packer green.”
The Green Bay home ground is Lambeau Field. As you might well imagine it is huge, with a current capacity of 81,441. The Packers have sold out every home game since 1960 and there is a waiting list for season tickets of 115,000 people. The guy who put his name down yesterday will be 30 years older when he finally gets that phone call. We just had to take a tour through the Stadium which has an imposing Atrium for the entrance. It finishes of course in the Pro Shop which on its own boasts a turnover each year of $20 million plus.
The final comment on the Packers is that they are the only team in the NFL which isn’t privately owned. Green Bay are owned by 361,311 shareholders, who between them own 5,009,518 shares. Each share cost US$250 to buy and is currently valued at $0.03, does not pay a dividend and does not offer a season ticket (let alone a discount). All they get is the right to buy a Packer polo top which has ‘stockholder’ embroidered on it.
The Packers only ever offer new stock when they have a need for capital to be raised. Like improving that place in the photo above. Since 1923 they have had five capital raisings. The shares are not publicly tradeable. If you want to buy one, or more, you need to find someone who will sell theirs. And that is like finding gold underneath my house. It ‘ain’t there.
Bedtime was in the Country Inn & Suites, a classic Radisson property in the heart of Green Bay. If the football was on then a) we could have walked there and b) if it was, we couldn’t have afforded it.
Day 28 / Wednesday July 8th (Week 5 begins)
Wisconsin is a hot bed of Late Model racing so while lying in bed this morning wondering what to do today, I decided to take another look at the very impressive Dirt on Dirt website. I check it reasonably regularly to keep an eye on any races that may have been rained out and re-scheduled for a day that we have off somewhere. I almost fell out of bed when it jumped off the page at me and hit me right between the eyes. The super impressive (and very close handy) Plymouth Dirt Track had the World of Outlaws Late Models racing there tonight in a postponed event from late June.
The next thing to do was spread the curtains to check the weather. I hadn’t bothered to watch the forecast for the last 48 hours because it didn’t matter. A big sigh of relief came over me as all I could see was the azure blue sky of North America. (Which is a different shade over here compared to Australia …. but that’s another discussion for another day.)
What to do next? I didn’t need to rush, Plymouth was at most, only an hour away. We did need a bed for tonight though. All our tours are planned to the last detail and accommodation is booked and paid for way in advance of leaving home. However, the last three days were deliberately left open to last minute opportunities because there was no racing scheduled anywhere. By a quirk of nature, which I won’t bother explaining, last year’s tour went to Plymouth so I was familiar with it. And excited to go there again. Fortunately, the AmericInn where we stayed last year, had three rooms available and Sophia on the front desk also undertook to ring around for me and book three more at adjacent hotels. Done. Within five minutes I had the call back and everything was confirmed.
At breakfast the troops were delighted and keen to see more Late Model racing than originally had been planned. We have the fabulous Prairie Dirt Classic coming up, but that is still three weeks away. (I kept the big surprise away from them until cocktails at sun down in the car park.) They were even happier when I pointed out that in between Green Bay and Plymouth was the historic town of Elkhart Lake. All motorsport fans should recognise that name from Sportscar racing back in the day. Road America currently manage the facility which still has the original road course with 14 turns in place, unchanged and still operating. It should be a thrill for everybody.
We lobbed at Elkhart Lake at around 10.30am and successfully did our best impression of being related to the late Sir Jack Brabham, which impressed the guy on the gate no end. Resulting in him permitting us (on fortunately a day when there was no track activity) to slip quickly around the 4.04 mile course, with the promise of no speeding. Not sure that will work ever again, but it was a real thrill to experience the sweeping turns and magnificent scenery as it winds its way through the 640-acre Elkhart Lake park. On departure he waved goodbye, none the wiser, but wealthier with a kangaroo and a koala.
Lunch was at a local café in the village which seethes with racing memorabilia and atmosphere believe it or not, even on a Wednesday afternoon with no events on.
Sophia welcomed us into the AmericInn and the nearby Plymouth Inn where the couples amongst us stayed. Arrangements were made to be picked up at 4.30pm and we would be off to the Sheboygan County Fairgrounds. Someone asked when we would get there and the answer was 4.34pm. Yes. it was that close.
The track is pretty well totally surrounded by private houses, most of which have specially constructed balconies on the front (or back as the case maybe) of their houses to invite friends over and watch the races for free. The promoters don’t mind, as happy neighbours mean no noise issues.
The pits were stacked with big names. It was a points race, so everybody who was anybody was there. The boys in the picture had already been over to check out the pits, but had missed seeing the surprise entry of Donny Schatz’s Late Model in there. Donny had been back home in Fargo, North Dakota (a mere two states to the left of Wisconsin) with a couple of well-earned nights off from the sprintcar, so the team decided to take the late Model for a run. Finding this piece of news out over a bourbon or two was thumbs up news indeed.
The sight lines at this track from the grandstand were superb wherever you sat. I took the opportunity of sitting down the front for a while and took the camera for a walk. Having the cars for the next heat line up right in front of you is pretty special as they sit there, engines purring and drivers staring dead ahead concentrating on their next race. Tears came to my eyes as I watched, but I think that may have really been from the spent methanol hanging under the grandstand.
Here’s a minute and 4 seconds of one of the Late Model heats from “down the front”.
Brandon Sheppard won the $15,000 and took his fourth successive WoO Late Model feature race win.
Day 29 / Thursday July 9th (Week 5 begins)
We didn’t visit any cheese factories while in Wisconsin. After all, you need to leave something to do when you go back. We’d had a great time over the last five days, but it was now time to depart and go back down south into Illinois. After much soul searching, the chosen route for our 337 miles, six-hour journey to Springfield was a rather lacklustre drive. Apologies to anyone reading this who lives along Interstates 43 or 39.
One of America’s favourite past times is arguing with your best friend or neighbour about what route to take when you’re driving long distance somewhere. There are so many choices and options that are possible, but every one of them will have some impediment that looms large in the mind of one of the debaters, but not at all to the other one. It’s actually good fun and it used to be standard procedure (pre-GPS units) in the days when road maps were indispensable for everyone. But not if you’re Stubb, the man with a mind like a steel trap.
The night before he sets out, he grabs a pen and paper and sits down at the kitchen table and stares blankly into space for about 10 minutes. Honestly, you’d think he was preparing for a meeting of the local Van Buren séance society. Some would think he’s about to fall asleep, but those who know better can see the cogs turning as he visualises and analyses the roads he will be driving on tomorrow.
Every now and again his left hand (with the short finger) will move. (It’s holding the pen because this time the right hand has a can of Busch in it.) He writes down a number. Then a letter, which is either a W, an E, an S or an N. Then after a little break and without warning, another number is quickly written down, followed by a letter. Then another and another. Nearing the end, it’s rapid fire numbers and letters being transcribed on to the paper.
At this point it resembles the scene in Forrest Gump when he stopped running in the middle of Utah’s Monument Valley after 3 years, 2 months, 14 days and 16 hours. Those running behind him stopped as well and everything fell silent until he chose to speak. With Stubb, Gail also knows not to talk to him until he finally puts down the pen, picks up the piece of paper, walks to the garage (still holding the can of Busch) and places it on the dashboard of the car. Gail knows that his job is now complete and there is no point in discussing whether what he has just done is correct or not. She knows it will be.
Which of course was to write down the numbers of all the different freeways and roads he will need to take tomorrow, along with the direction he needs to travel off the exit, in order to get from A to B in the timeliest manner. It’s like poetry in motion. One day I’ll get to that stage and my life will be complete!! I’ve already got the Budweiser shorts ……
But for now, I still need Google maps in some places, though not all I’m proud to say. But certainly for I-43 and I-39.
We arrived in Springfield in good time and found our rooms in the beautiful Holiday Inn Express. This place is surrounded by chain restaurants, fast food joints and a shopping mall. In fact, there’s enough places to eat that we could all separate and eat on our own in a different one and still have some of them disappointed that they didn’t get an Aussie in the house. But no one ate in Springfield because we needed to take off to the tiny town of Macon which has an equally tiny speedway.
There is nothing big about Macon. The population at the last census was 1,120. It pretty much stays at that number as each year goes by. Because you see as soon as a young girl in Macon gets pregnant, some young bloke has to leave town.
There are four churches. One Baptist, one Presbyterian, one Tabernacle and one Methodist. No hotel or motel, no fast food restaurants, but it does have a cemetery. And that is directly across the road from the Macon Speedway. Watching midgets race on the 1/5th mile oval here is phenomenal. So watching 24 Late Models in the World of Outlaws Hell Tour feature as we did tonight was an enormous spectacle.
For the record Gordy Gundaker (what a great name) was the victor from 41 others who have chosen to tackle the Summer Nationals – 32 races in 35 nights! No wonder they call it The Hell Tour.
- Although we were ready for them, none of the Macon owners turned up to tailgate with us. I guess that Kenny Wallace, Kenny Schrader and Tony Stewart were busy …
Day 30 / Friday July 10th
July 10th is an odd time to travel to Knoxville, Iowa with mid-August being the yearly date for the Nationals. But nowadays you can also go to Knoxville in July for the Nationals. The Cornbelt Nationals that is, for non-winged 410 sprintcars of the USAC and WAR series. But before getting on the road, there was some sightseeing to do in Springfield.
Abraham Lincoln was a much loved and remembered President of the United States. So much so that there are 35 towns and cities in the US called Lincoln. (Mind you there are 41 named Springfield; the Simpson’s town is apparently modelled on Springfield, Oregon in case you wanted to ask). My reason for pointing that out is that many towns also make a claim of some nature that Abraham Lincoln did this, or did that in their town.
But Springfield, Illinois most certainly takes the honours because the 16th President is buried here in the Lincoln Tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery. You might not think this is a sight to see, but it is. Being able to walk into the tomb and stand before the crypt, beneath which the bodies are buried, is an imposing experience. Abe, his wife Mary and three of their sons are entombed here. As you might imagine, the esteem in which Americans hold their Presidents, means that everything here is perfect to the last detail.
And now for something completely different, we drove a couple of miles over to the Illinois State Fairgrounds, the site of a very famous one-mile dirt oval track that has had race cars on it since 1927. Silver Crown and Late Models are the only category of our sport to still race there. Winged sprintcars on the ‘Springfield Mile’ were banned years ago. They were simply too fast to be safe. A quick walk up into the grandstand and a drive through the infield completed the visit and by 11.00am we were on the road to Iowa.
We stopped in Hannibal for sustenance at Becky’s Olde Fashioned Ice Cream parlour. A quick exploration of the town saw us cruise past Mark Twain’s old house where he wrote his books in the 1840’s. And for the first time in the last couple of years of stopping here for a break, there was a Riverboat in town tied up on the Mississippi. These giant vessels ply the mighty river from as far north as St Paul in Minnesota, all the way south to New Orleans, releasing their passengers and thousands of dollars on various river cities along the way.
Another one of those river cities is Quincy where we stopped for lunch at the Pier Restaurant right on the river where we could watch the activity on this enormous working water way. A lazy drive for the rest of the day saw us hit Pella in great shape to get down to Knoxville for the racing.
For the first time in 10 years we are not staying in the Royal Amsterdam Hotel. We certainly tried to get rooms there for tonight and tomorrow, but a (clearly very successful) corn farmer had rented the entire hotel for his daughter’s wedding. So, for those who know Pella, we were down by Walmart in the Baymont Inn & Suites. No harm done. It’s very pleasant and a short walk to Sam’s store for those who still haven’t yet spent enough time in one his monoliths.
The crowd building up at the Raceway was encouraging, even though it was a Friday and Iowa’s beloved winged 410 sprintcars weren’t running tonight. USAC and WAR had brought 53 cars and there were 37 360’s, 10 of whom were regular 410 drivers who just happened to have the smaller motor to put in the car to be able to race tonight. They could have otherwise driven to Burlington for a World of Outlaws show. But they didn’t and needless to say, these guys took the majority of the prizemoney home. Fair’s fair I guess in the sprintcar world.
Tyler Courtney won night 1 of the Cornbelt Nationals from Brady Bacon and Justin Grant. Those three are also in that order for points accumulated going into the final night’s racing tomorrow.
Day 31 / Saturday July 11th
Everyone on this First Half of the Mega Month of Money tour has been to Knoxville (and therefore Pella) at least once before, so no one needed to be shown around, but we did make the five-minute drive into the main tourist area to check that everything was the same. We made sure the Royal Amsterdam was still there and it looked great, standing proudly in the morning sun protecting all who walked the canals through the middle of town.
We continued slowly down Franklin Street past the Smokey Row coffee shop. Just as we drew level with it, a sustained bunch of shouting from the footpath grabbed our attention. It was a man standing in the doorway of the Smokey Row yelling “Terry, Terry, hey Terry …. stop. Come back we need you.” Turns out it was the owner who thought all his Tulip Festivals had come at once when he saw his best August customer drive past. We dropped Terry off with the promise we would come back and get him in an hour or so.
In the meantime, we took a leisurely drive down to Lake Red Rock to see if the crossbow fisherman were in residence this morning. They were and some video evidence of their results follow. Lake Red Rock is a monstrous man-made lake created when the town of Red Rock was flooded by the Des Moines river in 1969. It instantly became Iowa’s largest lake. The dam wall became a part of the road between Pella and Knoxville and at the moment is being converted into a Hydro Electric facility. It’s still not finished despite the completion timeline being 2018.
The fishing at the dam wall spillway is excellent, with catfish being most popular. This video will show you what fishing with a crossbow is like, although it’s not at Lake Red Rock.
Once you’ve speared the desired fish, they must be filleted. This catfish at Red Rock may still be alive now for all I know. This short piece of vision is from our 2011 tour video and is not for the faint hearted.
Seeing that poor catfish squirming reminded me that Terry was probably on his ninth or tenth flat white at this point back at the Smokey Row. We rushed over there to find him alive and well, but hyperventilating and in dire need of a bathroom.
The fact that Terry had already had his fill of liquid reminded others that they needed to return to Knoxville. Firstly, for a late lunch at the Rib Shack, followed by a visit to the Hall of Fame and Museum and then a couple of quiet ones at Dingus. It was only proper that we should renew acquaintances with the owner, after all we did grab our usual parking spot on AJ’s property out the back. He now owns the entire block surrounding Dingus by the way!
It had been sultry most of the day and as we drove towards Knoxville threatening clouds could be seen building up in the west. For once you didn’t need a weather app to tell you that something would break later this afternoon. You could feel it.
Informed locals in Dingus said it would happen right about qualifying time. But no matter, just like all other summer T-storms in Iowa it will dump heaps, but pass quickly. Then the Dunkins will look up their notebook and apply whatever past knowledge is necessary to get racing underway after ‘X’ hours. The promotion will never cancel a big night such as this. Besides, despite Knoxville Raceway being as close to the centre of town as you can possibly get, there is no track curfew whatsoever.
The Dunkins by the way are the track curators. A family of diehards led by Chris who love their racing and their graders. They get the black clay just right every race night.
Sitting around in Dingus is a great pastime. We had already enjoyed 90 minutes or so before the downpour started. Once it finished, info started to filter through pretty quickly on the Dingus grapevine that the track was going to have a go at getting things ready for racing to start at 11.00pm (yep, 11.00pm). We quickly realised we now had another 4½ hours in AJ’s company before we walked across the road to the Holy Grail.
Old racing videos on the big screens, live music and new people to talk to every time you turn around are a staple at Dingus. It doesn’t take long for 4½ hours to unwind. Besides you are in absolutely no danger of missing anything because the track is that close you can hear Katie Davis singing the national anthem from the front bar. Racing finally finished at 3.00am and we were all still there to watch Brady Bacon take his second consecutive Cornbelt Nationals win from Justin Grant and C J Leary.
Day 32 / Sunday July 12th
A 3.00am finish at Knoxville meant a 4.00am bed time in Pella. Not a perfect situation because we had to get back to Indiana for tonight’s World of Outlaws race in Terre Haute. And that was a 424 mile drive. Worse, was the additional loss of an hour with a time change in the Hoosier State. Working backwards it meant that if we wanted to arrive no later than 4.00pm we needed to leave Pella at 7.00am, because we also had to take into account Patricia’s request for lunch at Peoria’s Sonic Drive in. But more about that in a moment.
Three hours sleep is OK for the passengers who doze off down the back of the bus at the drop of a Global Speedway Tours hat. The drivers however were in for a long haul. But Terry and I were prepared. USAC are sponsored by NOS Energy Drinks and they have a pretty well unlimited (and complimentary) supply of their beverage available at the track. Terry has only just discovered that these drinks are highly caffeinated and are a great substitute for coffee when a Starbucks is not in sight. So in between races at Knoxville he was back and forth between the grandstand and the gals at NOS. We now have two dozen of the things in all the various flavours. Nitro is the most potent.
Straight after a very early brekky we turned the compass to the east and headed off into a blazingly bright sunrise. On the fastest route possible. A 12.30pm arrival into Peoria saw us at the Sonic Drive In. No not for the midday movies, but food ordered via an intercom speaker from the menu on a board at your chosen car park stall. The order is then delivered by carhops on roller skates.
The name Sonic was derived from the way the founder wanted the food served. “With the speed of sound” was what he wanted. After all he said, “the food is prepared hot, so it should be served hot. And quickly, by a carhop on skates straight to your car window.”
Time was always going to be an issue, so about 30 miles out from Peoria, I texted the on-line link for the menu. Then gave Patricia the job of writing down the choices, summarising it all and collecting the cash. Seven car hops delivered our meals all at once and I must confess that although it was hot dogs, burgers and fries kinda stuff, it was good fun and did the job for another four hours on the road.
To me the Action Track at Terre Haute is an enigma. Or, to quote Forrest Gump again, a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get. The only way to find out is to go early to see if they have found the keys to the water truck. And today somebody had located them as the track was heavy and cowboy rough early on. We’ve seen some great races at Terre Haute and some not so good ones, but tonight the track settled down to provide a humdinger for the feature.
Logan Schuchart won in a race that was a total contrast from yesterday. At least in terms of time. 3.00am finish this morning, 9.30pm tonight. No one had eaten at the track because to buy anything here is an exercise in futility. The lines to do so extend way back over the walkway for people trying to move around. To get through they must break the ranks of the folks who are waiting in the queue and hoping that sometime in the next hour it will inch forward. Back at B & WF in the parking lot it was with great delight that I learned we had a load of hungry people on board. I knew exactly where and why we should go to IHOP. A time-honoured 24-hour diner, always open across the country.
You do get a super meal in here. In fact, breakfast too, should you want it at 10.00pm at night. But I was always going to have a Philly Cheese steak. I thought it important to eat in an IHOP and have the Philly Cheese at exactly the same time as good friend Adam Hawkes is leading the next bunch of tour members on an American Airlines flight that took off from Sydney a couple of hours ago. They will meet up with us tomorrow afternoon in Indianapolis.
I’m sure Adam will have the Wi-Fi hooked up on board and he will read this and he will weep because an IHOP Philly Cheese steak is his favourite food in the world. “Hi Adam. Hope it’s a good flight so far. I’d give you a call but I’ve got a mouthful at the moment”.
We were back at the hotel in time for a very rare “get into bed on the same day as we woke up” scenario.
Day 33 / Monday July 13th
By the time we woke up Adam’s group had already landed in Los Angeles and were probably being grilled by big Jeremiah at the Border Control window. (It’s OK to mention sprintcars to him remember?) But for us it was a very leisurely drive (maybe the shortest daily jaunt of the entire trip) of just one hour and 18 minutes up to Indianapolis.
We had yet to spend any meaningful time in Indy so for the benefit of those leaving us tomorrow, a visit to the Indianapolis Speedway Museum seemed appropriate. Those doing the whole 68 days, along with the lads arriving this afternoon, will be having two entire days in Indianapolis in a couple of weeks’ time. And a whole tour of the Big Track is planned for then. But they were more than happy to take a squizz today as well. Besides, the cars on display might change in a fortnight.
The presentation of cars in the Museum is beyond belief. The staff are all volunteers who willingly give their time and knowledge to visitors who may need to know something extra about a car, other than what is written on the explanatory sign. The two Gift shops on either side of the exit do a roaring trade. It is impossible to visit here without leaving with something you didn’t have when you walked in. If not for you, then for someone at home who may never have the chance to come here.
We finished up at the Museum with time up our sleeve to roam around Indianapolis looking at other places without necessarily stopping. Historic old Gasoline Alley, Main Street, the site of the old 16th Street speedway, the Indianapolis Fairgrounds where the Hoosier Hundred used to be raced, Lucas Oil Stadium and finally a cruise around the suburb of Brownsburg, now home to a large part of the auto racing industry in Indianapolis.
For three of our tour members, the Comfort Inn & Suites in Plainfield tonight would mark their last evening in the USA before flying out tomorrow when the newly enlarged group continues on to the Brad Doty Classic in Attica, Ohio. Kevvie, Robyn and Bruce walked sadly around the hotel grounds in the afternoon sun, capturing as many final memories as they could. And they were there in the foyer when the BF arrived having picked up Adam and his entourage at the airport.
Steve, Leigh, Gary, Moose, Ken, Adam and Colin were tired, but itching for action through until the end of the tour on August 17th. In fact, our numbers grow to 23 when eight more join us in Chicago and St Louis for Pevely and the Knoxville Nationals. But for right now we had the largest group of the tour, though sadly only for one night. A night where memories of the last 33 days were shared with those just starting out on the next 36 days. And the venue for that was right where it should be. In the hotel parking lot with complimentary adult beverages from the esky. And after that it was the Coachman Restaurant directly across from the esky. Sorry, the hotel. The one that had the car keys safely locked away in my room.
Not sure when the night finished, but I do remember sneaking out of the Coachman after ordering my rib-eye in order to refill the esky on the (proven to be correct) assumption that the party would resume in the parking lot. We had picked up seven more fold up chairs to cater for the increased masses and they were put to good use until the early hours.
Day 34 / Tuesday July 14th
Hugs and kisses at breakfast saw us say farewell to Kevin, Robyn and Bruce who were going their various ways today, eventually returning to Australia in a week or so. It was fabulous having them on board and I trust that this Blog will give them of plenty of memories until they can do it all again.
But it’s a new dawn for the 15 of us who are setting out on the Second Half of the adventure known as the Month of Money tour. The black Ford (BF) still has me as the driver, but WF (the white Ford) now has Adam with the driving responsibilities. Today our destination was Lima and the Howard Johnson Hotel and then Attica Raceway Park. New for some; Groundhog day for others. I have to balance the needs of those who have just arrived, against those who have already seen most of the countryside we are now heading into.
The first decision came straight after driving out of the hotel parking lot. That road again, I-70 was the logical choice into Ohio. But our tyre tracks are well entrenched on this freeway and I figured we didn’t need to put any more down on it. Just a short bit of it. There was an excellent alternative. You see I had a room to myself last night, so I had my own personal séance and wrote down the digits and letters of 70E, 465N, 69N, 18E, 67E, 29E, 33E, 75N. Who needs a GPS?
I-69 was brand new for this tour. Usually we travel on it a fair bit, either to the speedways at Anderson (the little 500), Gas City (midget and sprint weeks and their regular Friday night show) or Montpelier (midget week). But this trip we had not gone near it, so it seemed an opportune time to stop in at each track on a sunny Tuesday morning to make sure they were still OK. After all it is a speedway tour. Each were in good shape and not unusually, all were easy to get into for the inspection. Trusting souls some of these owners.
Onwards we continued until Russell called out his lunch request. Russ was keen for a Subway, his favourite, so it wasn’t too hard to find one of their 24,798 stores. At last count. The new guys had been teed up with this lunch preference business and their turn would come. Back in 2013 when Russ took his first of twelve tours with us, he was the guy who made me realise that I didn’t stop enough, or sometimes not at all, for lunch. One day he asked me if I could have a break a little more often so he could eat regularly and at the same time every day. I had no idea he was a diabetic and to be honest didn’t know a lot about what was needed for diabetes to be controlled. Needless to say I do now, which is why lunch gets a good run in this Blog.
As we walked into the Howard Johnson at Lima we were welcomed back as though we were old friends. The front desk staff remembered us fondly. It sure helps to be friendly to people and take the time to be courteous. Kangaroos and koalas do their bit as well. The ones left with Summer last month still sit proudly on her desk. Every person checking in would see them every day. Public thanks as well to Adam who brought over some more to replenish the supply. One day I must get some made wearing Global Speedway Tours’ caps. Anyone know anyone in China?
There was no point in staying in the Hotel longer than we had to. There were seven brand new people who were itching to get to Attica for the Brad Doty Classic. Once again we detoured past Van Buren to pick up Stubb for the ride and some entertainment value. This time he travelled with Adam in the WF and the new lads in there received an education after their first introduction to the Ohio Traveller. (That’s a nickname attributed to Rick Ferkel, but Stubb fits the bill too.)
Fortunately we had an early arrival of 4.00pm. Even so there were already a few thousand in the Fairgrounds staying in their campers and RVs. A leisure activity that is extremely popular in the US and one which I’ll write about on another day.
Stubb knew where his friends were camped and they had two parking spots saved for us. We slid the Fords in between the boys and their toys and settled in to catch up on all the gossip from the lads we only ever see at Attica and Eldora.
After enjoying a couple with them I left the group, who were entrenched in making each other understood, but after a few frothies everyone was speaking the same language, so it all worked out. I walked over to get the tickets from the World of Outlaws trailer and ran across another bunch of friends who always gather together for the Month of Money races. Good mate “Speedy” was back again from Australia with Matt, plus Mike and Laura from Washington State, “Doc” from Ohio with wife Bec and son Nathan and “Wayne the Train” from Sydney. All were enjoying life in the Pavilion sheltering from the sun.
After I returned with the tickets, the GST Aussies scattered to various parts of the complex. Mainly to buy as much as they could. It was as though they wouldn’t see the World of Outlaws’ merchandise trailer ever again on this tour. Item by item they returned to base to put their purchases in the back of the Fords for safekeeping. And then marched out again in search of more. Forgetting perhaps that they would see that same WoO trailer again on 13 future occasions. But that’s OK. I know where all the cheap suitcase shops are …..
The ‘Doty’ is a race where only rain would make people miss it. The attendance this year was absolutely massive. The evidence of that was the line for the beer tent which extended hundreds of metres right back to the grandstands. If you got on the end of this line during qualifying you’d be lucky to get back to your seat before heat 1. Apart from the beer (and the merchandise trailers) the only other attractions were 42 sprintcars. No support categories. Just four heat races, the dash, a C, B and the A.
For the record, Kyle Larson and Donny Schatz started off the front row in Heat 4, the Dash and the A Main and they finished first and second in all of them. Larson in fact won everything he went in. Indeed, his wife Katelyn (Brad Sweet’s sister) is now becoming quite the photographers’ favourite at the trophy presentations when she shotguns a can of Busch Light every time Kyle wins.
And that is often ….. Click here to learn how to do it.
Day 35 / Wednesday July 15th
Four days of full on Kings Royal racing action confront us at Eldora Speedway between now and Saturday night. You think the Knoxville Nationals is a tough four days? People come from far and wide for that Iowa extravaganza, but believe me they also flock into Eldora for the Kings Royal. 30,000 + will be watching live on Saturday night and the 50/50 one day will reach $100,000. Maybe this is the year?
The morning was free to do what we wanted to do. The next 96 hours will not quickly be forgotten. A lazy long breakfast, a walk, a coffee in the sun watching someone else work on their sprintcar, a swim, some washing or just a nap. Whatever was chosen, it was best that we are rested up for some very long days and nights.
For years the Wednesday before the Kings Royal has always seen Eldora Speedway sit there in the dark with thousands of RV’s and campers in the parking lots with nothing to do except drink! Last year Tony Stewart changed all that when they experimented with an “unrelated to the Kings Royal” winged and non-winged show. It was a huge success, so it’s on again this year. To be honest, it’s probably the only time all season you’ll see the Outlaws and USAC on the same program.
We left Lima just after Midday with the intention of stopping for a ‘decided in advance’ lunch on the way to the track. Maria Stein (that’s a town not a human) is now the site of the brand new Moeller Brew Barn where you can eat lunch whilst enjoying one of their most popular beers, the Dirt Track Kolsch. It’s no coincidence that it has Dirt Track in its name given the proximity to Eldora. Getting a draft beer was to be a luxury that would not be enjoyed over the next three days.
Outside the track, the GST esky will be in use with $1 beers. Inside, if still thirsty, Tony Stewart is generous with a six pack on sale for $10, or 12 for $20. Including complimentary ice in a souvenir Eldora fridge bag!
It’s an experience that could and should blow the sensory organs apart with the sight, sound and smell of this place. For each of the next four nights we will be parking the Fords next to Stubb’s Palace (his and Gail’s iconic caravan) in the vast Eldora parking lot. The extent of the camping facilities is mind blowing. Australians generally tend to think of tents when camping is mentioned. Americans think 42-foot RVs and caravans with all the mod cons. Apart from the drive up car parking behind the main straight grandstand, the rest of the surrounding fields are for Motorhomes and caravans. You probably can’t get a better spot than where Stubb is. Just at the back of the corporate boxes off turns 3 & 4.
Understandably those who had never been to Eldora before wanted to get on with the job of exploring the world’s best-known dirt track cauldron. With apologies to their new host and hostess they were off, firstly with me to get the tickets and secondly to enter into heaven. With the promise they would come down from the clouds to store their purchases. This time there were way more retailers to take their money. The choice of merchandise is endless at Eldora and once they had all returned to lodge the shopping bags in the back, I made a mental note to pump the tyres up on the way back to Lima.
Tonight was not reserved seating. Even though 15,000 were in the house, there was room galore to move around and experience the view from wherever. The pits are on the infield with the transporters lined up with barely a metre between them. There is an overflow pit area outside the track, but each night every hauler must leave the premises and return the next day.
The scene was set and racing got underway, with the non-wing cars getting first use for qualifying. Remember it’s a half mile track. The USAC non-wing one lap track record is 14.712. The 410-winged record is 12.707. The latter represents an average speed of 270 kmh! Sideways, on dirt and inches off a concrete fence. Just let that sink in for a minute and then courtesy of YouTube watch this. They put a Go-Pro on a 950 HP projectile at Eldora. Watch out for your ear drums!
The night was a maze of lights, noise, smell and speed. It seemed to be over before it started. The spectacle couldn’t possibly be matched anywhere, with surprisingly little downtime because of the need to get through two of everything, given both premier classes were racing on the one night. Tyler Courtney won the USAC feature and in a warm up for the next three nights, Donny Schatz flexed his muscles, which always get bigger around this time of year. Curiously it also coincides with the winning cheques getting bigger.
PS We resolved on the way back to the Hotel that as a group we would create a pool of $150 each night for the next three of the Kings Royal and the four nights of Knoxville, in order to knock off the 50/50. Wish us luck.
Day 36 / Thursday July 16th (Week 6 begins)
How is it possible to survive the next three days?
Please now switch to Part 2 of the 2020 Mega Month of Money VIRTUAL Blog
You will be able to read from Day 36 Thursday July 16th (week 6) onwards to the end of the tour