The 2020 Mega Month of Money VIRTUAL blog – Part 2
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Day 36 / Thursday July 16th (Start of Week 6)
The journey from Lima to Winchester, where we are staying for the three nights of the Kings Royal, took us right through the heartland of the mid-west, definitely the core of the country. The states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Kansas, Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North and South Dakota are also known as the Bread Basket states because of the amount of wheat grown there. But I assure you, come on a ride with us one day, because you will see cornfields galore that completely dominate the wheat fields in acreage.
Despite last year’s unusually wet spring, America’s farmers planted even more than they did the year before. And that was 91.7 million acres of corn in 2019, far more than the next largest crop, soybeans.
Corn facts of America: That corn on the cob you enjoy in summer is just one of its many uses. Here are a few more:
- About one third of America’s corn crop is used for feeding cattle, pigs and poultry. It provides the “carbs” in animal feed, while soybeans provide the protein. It takes a couple of bushels of American corn to make one corn-fed steak. Estimates say that a beef cow will eat a ton of corn over its short lifetime if raised in a feedlot.
- Just over a third of the corn crop is used to make ethanol, which serves as a renewable fuel additive to gasoline. US laws require that 10% of petrol sold is renewable fuel, but you can find E15 (15 percent ethanol) or E85 (85 percent ethanol) all over the country, particularly in the Midwest.
(The Fords we have run perfectly well on E85, but the miles per gallon average drops somewhat.)
- The rest of the corn crop is used for human food, beverages, and industrial uses in the US, or exported to other countries for food or feed use. Corn has hundreds of different uses. Some of them are breakfast cereal, tortilla chips, grits, canned beer, soft drinks, cooking oil and bio-degradable packing materials. It’s even the key ingredient in the growing medium for life-saving medicines such as penicillin.
On the way through to Winchester, Terry decided that his luncheon choice would be pizza. I figured we could solve two problems in one with a detour into Fort Recovery for the pizza and where they were setting up for a big National Tractor Pull Association show on the weekend.
We lunched at the Trusty Woods pizza café which had a sign in the window of “Weird and unusual pizza toppings – Our speciality”. Well we figured we needed to test them out on that and consulted the menu.
- Terry had ‘Tuna fish salad’. He liked tuna but was a little disenchanted when it came out cold on a pre-cooked pizza base
- Adam had the ‘Full English Breakfast’: Sausages, bacon, eggs, tomato, onion and (sadly) baked beans and mushrooms
- Bob had the ‘Seven fishes’: Clams, mussels, shrimp, tuna, crab, anchovies and sardines
- Pat called for the ‘Whole lobster’:
- Dennis had the ‘Thanksgiving’. Turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potato and cranberry sauce
- Russell enjoyed the ‘Creamy Peanut Butter’ with bacon and provolone
- Leigh had the ‘Spicy Mutha’: Diced buffalo chicken garnished with celery
- Steve went local with the ‘Corn’. Sour cream, mozzarella, ham and corn
- The rest? That was easy. Once we saw what Dennis picked, that won hands down.
Totally stuffed, we wobbled out of there and drove to Ambassador Park where the boys with the extra big toys were already filing in, so we stopped and walked around the pits which were freely open. The photos show you the extent of the outlay on Tractor Pulling equipment for nominal prizemoney.
The Randolph Inn is Winchester’s only hotel and is partly owned by Charlie Shaw, the landlord of the iconic Winchester Speedway. Over the years we have been operating Global Speedway Tours, Charlie, Kirk, Bob and Gary have become firm friends of ours. Always opening up the track for guided tours, a talk on the history of the place and usually a couple of laps at speed in Bob’s Nissan 370z. But more about that tomorrow.
For now, we needed to check-in and get going to Eldora for Night 1 of the Kings Royal, quaintly titled “The Joker’s Wild”. The speedway is 30 miles away and the road there is certainly not a freeway! There are many left and right hand turns through the cornfields and it is well known in Ohio that if you can find your way to Eldora without a map (or GPS nowadays) then you must really be a true sprintcar fan. In fact, Eldora sell T-shirts with exactly that written on them. The ride back at night deserves a story all on its own and later I’ll recount an adventure from last year in 2019.
One of the reasons Eldora provides room for thousands of motorhomes and caravans during their big race weekends (Late Model shows included) is because of where the track is situated. The official street address is 9726-13929 OH-118, New Weston, OH 45348. Let me assure you that there is nothing on either side of #9726 and #13929 along Ohio Route 118. Sorry, yes there is. Cornfields. There are no hotels within miles of the place. The nearest geographically is probably Greenville, 18 miles away.
Stubb and Gail were eagerly awaiting us at their compound which is set up every year for the Royal with good friend Jeff Hatfield and his family. They pay for three spots, but use only two for their caravans. The third one (in the middle) is used to accommodate the huge influx of people who call in to visit them at any hour of the day or night. And for the Petey Memorial Cornboard Championships held on Saturday afternoon. I believe that this year Stubb has arranged for this to be the 98th running of the prestigious event. This is how the camp is set up and the view you get while playing.
Yesterday must have been more than enough for the merchandise collectors as today they elected to sit around with Stubb, Gail, Jeff and Diane and soak up the sunshine. The sound of the cars firing for hot laps is easy to hear from where we are and for most, it’s always the sign to enter. Particularly at a track like this. But not everybody. Some hang back a little longer every day as the attraction of going inside super early gradually wears off.
Moose was entrusted with the $150 for the 50/50 purchase, with any win being divided 15 ways. Here at Eldora the 50/50 is so big, the time-honoured method of dual ticket rolls is long gone. Now it’s like buying a lottery ticket at the local newsagent. Pay your money and get an electronic ticket printed on the spot by the seller with all your numbers on it. Tonight’s total got to $56,814 with half going to the winner. Had it have been us, we would have received $3,787.60 each.
Tonight’s seats are reserved in the grandstand on the front straight. As with most speedways, Eldora was built with a grandstand behind the flag stand and that was it. No spectator facilities anywhere else. But as the popularity of the track began to grow the grandstand was extended outwards and upwards, tiered cement seating appeared on turns 1 and 4, and then more grandstands and corporate facilities were added as time and money allowed. Now it comfortably holds 30,000 and as you can see from this video of the 2017 Kings Royal Saturday night, every square inch is occupied.
The Joker’s Wild is a completely separate standalone race which just happens to be part of the Kings Royal weekend, with no carryover points to Friday or Saturday. Logan Schuchart won the $10,000 tonight and is continuing to prove that he is definitely a man on the move in terms of one day being a World of Outlaws champion.
Day 37 / Friday July 17th
Winchester is a typical American town that you would see in the movies. You might even spy Doc, or Marty and the DeLorean from Back to the Future. But what Winchester does have, that no other town in the USA has got, is the “World’s Fastest Half mile paved speedway”.
Located just out of town on the western side, it sits there silently, almost as though it is constantly reflecting upon its own history and remembering those who have driven through the gates themselves, but didn’t have the opportunity of going out again the same way.
There have been many who have tackled the high banks, some unsuccessfully. And it’s not surprising when you actually walk up the 38 degree banking. The following photo shows the significant slope, but so does this video taken from inside Bob Lemons’ Nissan 370z at 130 kph.
This track just drips history and a big feature of our whole morning at Winchester is always the specially prepared talk that Bob, along with Charlie (on the right in the pic below) and Kirk provide for us every year. Often there will be a special guest they call in to make the day even better. Today it was Tom Bigelow (left in the picture) who started in nine Indy 500’s (with a best finish of 6th), was the 1978 USAC sprintcar champ and won the USAC Midget title in 1984. Tom started his career at the Angell Park Speedway up in Wisconsin. I asked him if he had ever hit the same patch of grass outside turn 3 that Rico did a couple of weeks ago when we were there. He laughed and said “he wasn’t the first and he definitely won’t be the last”.
Just to give you a further idea of the velocity Bob runs everybody at around Winchester in the Nissan, check this out. No cameras were hurt in the making of this video.
The time spent at Winchester never disappoints. We love going there and it appears Charlie loves having us there. Often, as well as a guest speaker, pies turn up from the local bakery in town. They range from Cranberry to Apple, to Blueberry, to Key Lime, to Sugar Cream, to Pecan. And that’s all at once. Not one or two each time. Truly a great day, on every tour.
Next thing to do was give Russell some sustenance by way of food. The others were grateful as well by the way! And it was going to be in an old favourite of ours in Greenville, just over the Ohio border. Kathy’s Diner has been there on Martin Street for years and we discovered it back in 2012. Don’t always get a chance to call in each tour, but today was a perfect opportunity. You can’t book, just take a chance that they can fit you in on arrival.
I’ve worked out over the years that Americans tend to eat a lot earlier than us. So, if you want to be assured of getting a table where a reservation can’t be made, then just turn up late. Even 2.00pm is regarded as late. Not that we deliberately chose that time, it was the earliest we could make it after such a great start to the day. And a healthy dose of pie as well for morning tea.
Kathy’s isn’t licenced and doesn’t need to be. Otherwise you might miss out on ordering the homemade lemonade. Surely in her youth, Kathy must have been one of those little kids who sold lemonade off the front lawn of her Dad’s house with the recipe being handed down through the family. Maybe Annie Oakley was a descendant seeing as how the gun toting gal was born in Greenville? Favourite choice for lunch was a tie between the Meatloaf, with mashed potato, gravy and broccoli, or the Spaghetti and meatballs with lashings of garlic bread. Those who had the latter were asked to travel with Adam on the way to Eldora.
Friday at Eldora and the tension is building up for tomorrow. You could feel it as we pulled up at the Stubb compound. And the reason was the weather. It’s hot and humid, usual tell-tale signs for late afternoon rain and storms in Ohio. Actually, anywhere really. Nevertheless, it was still fine and dandy when we arrived and the cornboards were out of storage, with “official practice” for the 98th Petey Memorial designated for this afternoon. The bags were in the air, transporters were rolling in, the night cart was on its rounds, talk was loose and beers were cold. But everyone had one eye on the south-west because that’s where it was comin’ from.
The Palace looked superb today, decorated by signage direct from Boonie Doon. Something about the serenity. And the sign at the foot of the caravan door seemed appropriate too. And to top it all off, Stubb had thoughtfully brought along a large blow up kangaroo, but unfortunately he draped it in a New Zealand flag.
I really don’t have to describe anything else that went on today. You now need to watch this brand new nine-minute video entitled “One dark and stormy Friday night” at Eldora. It will both “show and tell” you everything that happened.
50/50 tickets were being sold, but because of what happened, the draw was postponed until Saturday night. We had bought ours and will double up tomorrow night. We were told at least 50 times that it will be an “awesome” total. We’ll just be happy if it’s a big one.
Day 38 / Saturday July 18th
The big day had arrived. Adam’s early morning walk up and down Winchester’s main street was cancelled, seeing as how no one particularly wanted to do it at dawn when we got home. The good news was that we didn’t have a long interstate drive today to get to our next race. All we had to do was summon up enough energy to return to Stubb compound and experience the massive day which was in store.
The hotel staff are all sprintcar fans including the breakfast girls. The hotel is full of people like us – here for only the one reason. These thoughtful ladies knew it had been a late night, so they made up a sign and put it in the foyer for all to see at 5.30am this morning. It simply said; “Get some extra sleep. Breakfast extended to 11.00am”. Now that definitely deserved a koala and a kangaroo to put on top of the fridge in the kitchen. We duly arranged same and included a signed thank you card hanging around Joey’s neck.
As tired as we may be, King’s Royal Saturday can be (or is, if you let it be so) the biggest day of the tour. Expectations from the Stubbmaster are that we be back at his compound by 12.30pm. There is much to be done before racing starts at 8.00pm. So, we duly left the terrific Randolph Hotel around 11.30am and took a different route to Eldora. As you know, “it’s in the middle of nowhere”, so there are virtually dozens of different ways to get there.
The numerous country roads which essentially service the farms in the area, are delightful to drive in daylight. But to use them to get back home again, is fraught with danger. The critters wandering the roads in darkness make it akin to riding the dodgem cars at the Royal Show. But more about that later. This morning we again got up close and personal with the numerous wind turbines strategically placed on local farming properties. I’m sure the farmers appreciate the additional income these behemoths bring in.
Eventually we came out on 118, the famous Ohio road where the late Earl Baltes used to live on his beloved Eldora Speedway property. Tony Stewart was the only person he would sell it to once he realised that death was not far away for him. There is no doubt now that after 11 years of ownership, Stewart has more than fulfilled Earl’s expectations.
On arrival, we could see folks were already gathered around the still wet surrounds of the Palace, beers in hand, awaiting the start of the Petey Memorial cornboard tournament. Corey ‘Petey’ Martin took his own life nine years ago, but today it was the 98th running of “The Petey”. Yeah I know. Don’t ask me. Stubb’s the organiser.
16 teams were assembled including the majority of the GST tourists who were hoping to become the latest and greatest Australian cornhole sensations. The Yanks were apprehensive about how good these blow in “brothers and sisters” were going to be. Could the title leave the country? The last Aussie winner was that famous Apple island butcher Heath Pursell who won the 37th Petey back in ’17.
“Lake Stubb” had dried out somewhat after all last night’s torrential rain and the centre court was in reasonably good condition for competition. However, before any of the matches could start there needed to be work done on the strip. In addition to that activity, strange things were happening down at Tony Stewart’s Eldora helicopter pad. The spectators took up their positions in the nearest shady spot, the competitors limbered up with practice throws on the outside courts awaiting the chief steward Mr S Tubb to announce the teams for Round 1.
Expectations were high that the defending champions, the Bordner Boys from nearby Attica, could win their third title, but the Australians were likely to be a surprise formidable force. Then there was Jeff, Trey, Anthony, Mark the Mexican, Eric the gin drinker, Brian the Talking Beard, Denny & Lenny, RJ from Columbus, Ron (Petey’s Dad from Pevely, Missouri), the Chicago Thrower and his kid (previous dual winners by the way) along with Brian from Knoxville, Iowa himself a previous winner and then of course there was Stubb.
He’s never won his own tournament you know, something that bugs him to this day. StubbBet, a newly formed off course betting company had all the Yanks as favourites, headed up by the Bordners and the Chicago throwers. “Any Aussie” was showing at 100/1. 50/1 if partnered with a Yank. It seems that the same entity who runs StubbBet, also provided the land for the tournament, refereed the contest, took the bets and sold the beer and food. Not a bad gig if you can get it.
Well at this point the written Blog word isn’t going to tell you what happened. You now need to watch the new and original Video Blog of the 98th Petey to find out. Three and a half minutes of fun.
By the way, thanks for 50/1 Stubb. It paid a quite a few bills.
On the track the Kings Royal was a great race in front of a sell-out crowd. How many? 30,000 plus with more than 50% of them sitting in our row of the grandstand on turn 1. An over exaggeration of course, but the policing of who sits where in the reserved seat sections is very weak. In fact, it’s still virtually non-existent at any race track. People just sit where they want to and then refuse to move. But we have experience in standing our ground and won out in the end.
The Kings Royal used to be $50,000 to win for 35 years, but when the 50/50 winner started to take home more than the winning driver, Tony Stewart figured it was time up the ante last year to $175,000. King Kerry Madsen, who won it in 2014 and is very, very good at Eldora, was extremely fast and for most of the night looked to be a great chance to get his second crown. He started the feature out of 4 and immediately got the jump into the lead and held it through three caution flags and one fuel stop.
It really did look as though Madsen would be second Australian to win here at Eldora this weekend, but on the 33rd lap Kyle Larson went past him with the afterburners on. No one was going to catch the California kid and he went on to win a phenomenal 15th race in succession. And Katelyn shot-gunned her 15th Busch Light Tall boy in a row and on the biggest stage she’s yet had. Maybe Knoxville will be bigger?
The 50/50 pot of US$89,354 stayed in the USA tonight. None of us won it, but were only 8,702 off it.
Saturday night post-race at Eldora is chaotic. The police are out in force, not to manage the drunks (maybe they should be) but to especially ensure that no driver leaving the track goes home the way they actually want to go. As you will have read earlier, there are numerous ways to get to Eldora and therefore there are equally as many ways to leave. But most become one-way roads for a few hours while the traffic disperses and the cops have this unique ability to study your vehicle from a distance in the pitch black of midnight and decide instantly that you’re going north when you actually want to go south.
And that’s why we found ourselves back driving the narrow roads belonging to Farmer Brown and Sons. We could hear the giant wind turbines whirring, but couldn’t see them as we scoured the road ahead for wayward critters. When sure enough two majestic deer presented themselves in the headlights. Fortunately on this occasion they were not running at right angles to the way we were headed. Otherwise roast venison would have been available to the Brown family in the morning.
They were trotting in the same direction as us and as a result were not looking into the headlights. Doing so makes deer freeze. They have multiple photo-receptors in their retinas giving them phenomenal night vision, but which also cause them to be totally blinded by bright light.
We slowed to watch these quite magnificent creatures dart in every direction to avoid our vehicle, which was in fact some 20 metres behind them. On one side of the road was a soy bean crop, no more than 30 cms high. It would give no shelter to them. On the other was a beautifully developing field of corn which stood maybe two metres high. Without warning they both decided to disappear into the corn as if a magician had made them instantly invisible. If you remember the movie “The Field of Dreams” then you will recall seeing Shoeless Joe Jackson emerge silently from the cornfield onto Kevin Costner’s baseball diamond.
These deer did the reverse and simply dissolved into nowhere.
Day 39 / Sunday July 19th
A night off tonight. Not from any racing, just high profile racing, with no disrespect intended whatsoever to Paragon Speedway. We had to backtrack a little into Indiana to do so, but that was no hardship. 119 miles was nothing.
American fans are divided in their love for sprintcar racing. While tailgating they become very vocal when debating the merits of winged v non-winged over a few Budweisers. What they need to remember is that Australians are brought up on a diet of winged cars and hence prefer to watch them, in preference to the things with no wings. But we do squeeze in several visits to the non-wingers just to let you see (or remind you) how good they can be. That’s what tonight is all about. It’s a non-sanctioned show which means there is no pointscore at stake and you can expect pretty well anyone to turn up.
Paragon isn’t far from the town of Edinburgh where we always stay for races in this area of Indiana. Our hotel (tonight it’s the Comfort Inn) is literally 100 metres away from the Premium Outlet Stores with 74 high level retailers. We scattered after arriving in ‘Edinburg’ (as it is pronounced in the US) and folks went off to do their own thing. I went for a walk along Highway 31 and crossed over the road when I reached the First Financial Bank.
15 years ago there was an RV park right there which Laima and I stayed in a couple of times. (The more you spend the more you save remember.) She wrote a diary one trip called “He drove and I shopped”. But back to today. I wandered around the now vacant land to find two things. One was a dead tree that was totally hollow, but had a very large knot hole in it. Inside the hole was a small ladder deliberately built and inserted into the tree so the squirrels that slept in there for the winter could climb to get to the top without going outside. You can actually see the ladder by zooming in on this pic from 2005.
Secondly, I wanted to see if the Manager’s cottage was still there. It was, but the tree wasn’t sadly. One time I was walking a few circuits of the park which took me past the cottage each lap. There was a guy on the porch sitting in one of those hanging swing chairs just watching me go past. And every time I did, the tobacco he was chewing kept getting smaller because every time I did go by, he spat some of it out onto the porch. And his dog, which I couldn’t see, barked at me.
On the fourth or fifth go round the dog barked again as usual, but this time I could see it. A delightful little terrier whose tail couldn’t possibly wag any faster. I stopped and reached down to pat him as I do with most dogs. It was then I noticed that he only had three legs. Elvis up on the porch still hadn’t said anything. So to start the conversation I couldn’t help but call out “great dog, but how did he lose his leg?” “Wellllll” he said in his great southern drawl, “when you’ve got a dawg that good, you can’t eat him all at once.”
The ride to Paragon was light hearted and everyone was in a good mood. Mind you, no one except Russell had ever been to the track before, so we didn’t know what to expect. Russ had been there for their first ever Indiana Midget Week round seven weeks ago. He already knew which tree we should park under and he had plotted where the bed sheets would be taped down on the aluminium planks that serve as seating on the main straight hill.
Tree choice was excellent. We had shade right up to the point of departure into the track. Before which we sat there with red cups overflowing with ice cold bourbon and coke and sending texts to people back home saying “Having a great time. Wish you were here.” Simultaneously watching a parade of trailers with race cars roll down the lane that led to the pits. We began to become quite excited as the stream of competitors continued unabated. There were non-winged sprintcars, modifieds, super stocks, bombers and hornets on the program tonight. Surely they would run out of pit space.
Now tomorrow wasn’t a holiday or anything. It was a workday as normal. And Sunday isn’t their usual night to race. So tonight must have had some form of novelty value about it. At one point we thought there was going to be more race cars than spectators, but eventually the parking lot began to rapidly fill to bursting point. Actually it was a bit like Warrnambool. They just opened the gate to another field and let them in there.
While watching all this and for something to do, I looked up the various divisions’ rules on the Paragon website. Of interest were the sprintcar guidelines. All it said was “This is an open wheel ‘run what you brung’ class of race cars. No limitations on engines, no tire rules and no weight rules. All cars run a feature event in this class.” OK then. Let’s go in and watch …..
39 sprintcars, 38 modifieds, 19 super stocks, 18 bombers and 27 hornets. 141 cars all up. Mind you Kokomo was dark tonight, so no doubt that’s why Paragon planned a Sunday race. The weather was fine, we had good seats, the sun was behind us, the food was hot, the beer was cold and plentiful; everything was perfect. At least until the lights went out.
A semi-trailer carrying hundreds of gas bottles had swerved to avoid a car out on 67 and had brought down multiple electricity poles over several hundred metres. Live power lines were draped all over the truck and the road. The driver was still in the truck which had become a ticking time bomb. The Paragon flood lights were snuffed out in a heartbeat. The PA went silent. It was eerily dark. We could hear the sirens wailing in the night as ambulances, fire engines and emergency vehicles raced to get to the scene. It was close enough for us to see the flashing lights, but at that point we had no idea what had happened.
Eventually the track’s portable loud hailer came out of retirement and the promoter used it to announce that the night was over at 8.45pm. He told everyone to keep their tickets as they could be used at any one of the next five races. That was of no consequence to us, so we just sat there for a little while before trudging back to the Fords and hitting the road for home. 67 was our route back as well, but fortunately the totally blocked road was west of the track. We needed to go east back to Edinburgh.
We were never to find out just what those sprintcars had ‘brung with them’ that they shouldn’t have.
Day 40 / Monday July 20th
The alarm went off at 4.15am thanks to the previous room occupant prankster (why do they even have those clock radios anymore), the sun rose in the east, the curtains opened the same way as yesterday, the shower was as difficult to operate as any other hotel, the water still went down the plug hole in the opposite direction, the phone didn’t charge because the operator failed to plug it in again last night, but the bed was fabulous. What is it about American hotels; no matter what chain it is, the big queen double beds are the most comfortable there can be?
All of which meant that today’s drive to Mansfield would be like most other days. And so it was, that we headed off east once more to eventually drop back into Pennsylvania for the Outlaws at Lernerville tomorrow, Lincoln Thursday and Williams Grove on Friday and Saturday. In between is a night in majestic Niagara Falls. Mansfield is selected for tonight merely because it’s a natural stopping off point between Edinburgh and Butler in PA. No need to bust a gut to get to the town that Trevor Mackereth would love to forget. (You’ll find out, if you don’t already know what that means.)
Our journey today took us down to the south east of Indiana, almost to Lawrenceburg. But we went straight through the town with the high banked speedway at the Fairgrounds because we will be back there on Sunday for a round of Indiana Sprintweek. Continuing on through the outskirts of Cincinnati to locate I-71, a freeway we’d not driven on before. Quite a thrill! In fact, so exciting that we stayed on it all the way to Mansfield.
Although we have visited the Ohio State Reformatory before in the first half of the tour, we will be going there again early this evening for a night tour. It’s chilling enough during the day, let alone a Fright night. But when one of your tour members is a Prison Officer, which our Steve is back home, then we should be fine. And it was his turn to nominate his choice for lunch today as well. I did notice that he had porridge for breakfast, but what would we have for lunch?
A few miles south of Mansfield is the Mid-Ohio Sports car road course and with nothing else on the agenda for the afternoon, it seemed like a good idea to call in. Firstly, on the off chance it was open and secondly that cars were testing. Both assumptions proved to be correct. The guard on the gate enthusiastically exclaimed they were always open to visitors. His eagerness to let us in, cost his kid the chance to own a kangaroo!
We drove down the long entrance road to where quite a number of large buildings were. They turned out to be sheds that can be rented as garages for teams that have nowhere else to put their pride and joy. But it was what was parked in front of them that grabbed our instant attention. Five Indycar haulers, open and with their contents spread over the pit tarmac. They were testing for their next race here, the Honda 200 on August 9th. A stroke of luck for us, but that is not unusual, as those who have travelled with us before will attest to.
We couldn’t get into the middle of the course so had to do with standing on slightly elevated ground to permit us to at least partly follow the cars around. Two of the haulers belonged to the AJ Foyt team for Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball, one to Andretti Motorsport and Alexander Rossi, while the last one belonged to our old mates at Chip Ganassi Racing. Scott Dixon wasn’t there, but Marcus Ericsson in the #8 held the fort. I’m delighted to say that without a word of a lie a couple of the crew members recognised the caps and the Global Speedway Tours’ logo from one or more of our many visits to Ganassi in Indianapolis.
They were just testing, but I guess Ganassi really did need all these tyres to experiment with.
Our hotel in Mansfield is always the Hampton Inn. Their extra-large suites are so spacious you could have a party for everyone in there, with room left over. In fact, we did have a few drinks before we left for the Reformatory, mainly to boost our spirits (wish there was a better word) for Fright night. The tour didn’t start until 9.00pm when it was very dark. Before that I had reserved a couple of tables for dinner in the Reformatory Restaurant in the old galley for the prisoners, inside the actual premises. I confess that I had earlier asked Steve if he didn’t mind forgoing his luncheon choice because dinner would be of great occupational value for him. He agreed, but with some trepidation …..
They had our tables ready and we made sure we sat exactly where we were assigned. There were plenty of other daredevils in the restaurant as well, so it resembled a true prisoners’ meal time with us all sitting at long wooden tables in the Mess Hall. But no cutlery. Just plain old tablecloths.
Perhaps the only noticeable difference we could discern at this point was the alcohol. We could order beer, but I doubt the prisoners could’ve. Then after 15 minutes or so, a whistle sounded, followed by a loudspeaker calling out several table numbers. Steve knew the ropes. With some authority, he said “wait until our table number is called before going to get your meal”.
We watched as selected groups of people stood up and walked into the Galley. And came out again holding metal trays with little compartments on them. The next whistle was for us. We stood up and walked carefully into the galley. It was almost like ordering soup from the ‘Soup Nazi’ in Seinfeld. We lined up and saw men and women dressed as prisoners tending to bain maries with dozens of delicious steaming hot food varieties. Each “prisoner” would serve what you wanted and put it into bowls which fitted exactly in the space provided on your tray. For readers who have been to Lefty O’Doul’s in San Francisco, you can pretty much imagine how it was done.
There were self-serve salad bars, drink dispensers, everything you could want in a cafeteria. On the way out, cutlery was provided to us. Old metal knives, forks and spoons that clearly had once been used back in the day by real prisoners. Terrific authentic stuff. Full marks to the person who thought this up.
We had a rollicking time with real prison background sounds being played through speakers. Prisoners talking secretively while plotting escapes, guards telling them to shut up, sirens, hooters, fights, gun shots, the warden warning of reprisals, cells sliding shut, loudly locking their occupant inside. It was tremendous. Almost like a music hall experience, but we were the actors. It was a classic entrée (pun intended) to the night tour that started in the room with Old Sparky, the electric chair which ended 315 people’s lives.
There were lights on throughout the Fright night Reformatory tour but they were deliberately dimmed to create as much speculation as possible for what might be around the next corner. Ghosts? Well maybe there are some, but we couldn’t be persuaded there were any. The night tour didn’t go to any different places than the day version, but I will admit that it was disconcerting to be walking down through the cell block past open cells which intimated that the prisoner had escaped and was lurking nearby. Ready to follow you into the shower block to do a ‘Psycho’ and get blood flowing in the drains.
And then it was all over. We were shunted out of there (via the Gift shop) and on our way home in the dark.
Footnote: We had a great night, made all the better by a wonderful meal experience. For those of you reading this who may be interested in having dinner in the Reformatory, please don’t get too excited. The night “ghost tour” is real and does happen, but I’m afraid the Restaurant extravaganza is a figment of my imagination. Maybe one day someone will do it ….
PS. They searched us on the way out of the restaurant to see if we had any concealed cutlery. All was good, but they did confiscate Patricia’s knitting needles though.
PPS. The warden took a dim view of these goings on.
Day 41 / Tuesday July 21st
Checked out and drove up to the Mansfield Motor Speedway for a look at the complex. Originally a paved ½ mile NASCAR track, three years ago the promoter decided to rip up the asphalt and return it to dirt. He ran some super big money shows and it all looked promising for his track to maybe one day tackle Eldora head on. But too many rain outs smashed him and in early 2020 he closed the gates and it now sits idle as a dejected sight indeed. Fortunately, there are still another 41 speedways in Ohio …..
We now turned our sights back to racing with some real ‘Month of Money’ races coming up in Pennsylvania. The first of which is the Don Martin Silver Cup tonight at Lernerville. It was a mere three hours from Mansfield to ‘Mackereth Mountain’ just outside the township of Butler. In WW2 years Butler was famous as the birthplace of the Jeep, specially designed and built for the GI’s fighting in Europe by the American Bantam Car Company of Butler, PA. Eventually millions of these sturdy and ultra-reliable vehicles were built and sent to the front lines.
Nowadays the small patch of grass and its solitary wooden table and single lamp post behind the Fairfield Inn and Suites is the main tourist attraction in town. Now designated as an Historic Landmark by the Butler Heritage Trust, we visit it every year to pay our respects to the memory of not only he who fell, but also those first responders who risked life and limb and went to the rescue of their fallen comrade.
At the moment there is a simple plaque erected on the electric light pole which records the event and has this QR code available at the spot for interested parties to read the Illustrated history of the “Day Trev fell down the hill”. Go on try it with your scanner? It really works. Otherwise click or tap the orange link.
In years to come we will progressively bring back items of historical interest for a small museum to be established on the site. Things like the three iPhones used for lighting the search area, the caps the rescuers wore during the heroic mission, a torn pair of shorts from one of the rescuers, a branch of the tree Trev was jammed up against which prevented him from cascading another 50 metres down the hill, the Old Crow Bourbon bottle and red cup which caused all the problems, the belt which delivered the wedgie when lifted up, the koala presented as a bribe to the desk clerk on the night and finally, when DNA determination becomes more portable, we will track down the rubbish bin and luggage trolley that were pivotal to the whole operation.
Oh and Trev, one more thing. Yes, you were drinking Old Crow bourbon that night. Or whisky as you call it. Have you ever read the label on a bottle of Old Crow? Given your love of Johnny Gibson’s 4 wide salute call for the World of Outlaws parade lap, here’s a copy of the label for you to read.
Naturally our party entered this sacred site and paid our respects, before moving on to a different hotel for this year. Curiously this new hotel, the Comfort Inn & Suites sits high atop another hill in Butler. I feel we have several candidates on this trip who tonight may make an attempt to imitate and duplicate that iconic day of July 20th, 2015.
Who won tonight at Lernerville? Well some of you may have seen the race live streamed just a few days ago. The aforementioned John Gibson has called it the greatest race he has yet seen in 2,018 consecutive World of Outlaws races. He had to watch the replay to see what he actually said when calling the finish, he was so pumped. For the record Donny Schatz once again realised the size of the increasing Month of Money cheques and just pipped Kyle Larson and Brad Sweet.
Day 42 / Wednesday July 22nd
A first today for Global Speedway Tours when we ventured into Canada across the border at Niagara Falls. With a night free of racing, it was an opportunity to see what I think is one of the Wonders of the World. I can’t see it in a list anywhere, but with 168,000 cubic metres of water flowing over the Horseshoe and American Falls every minute, it certainly should be. One cubic metre = 1,000 litres. So, every minute 168 million litres flow from the Niagara River over the waterfalls and back into the river, eventually emptying itself out into Lake Ontario 20 kms north.
But first we had to get there, but it was only 213 miles, or four hours away. We had a 1.00pm booking on the Maid of the Mist, so that was our curfew if you like. Working backwards and allowing for sightseeing and traffic, we needed to leave Butler at 7.00am. There were some heavy heads around this morning at breakfast. The racing from Lernerville was over and done with last night before darkness fell. When there’s only one class programmed, the night goes very quickly. Qualifying, four heats, a dash and a B and an A main. The good news though was that everybody survived the impromptu post-race drinks in the cute little rotunda built in the Hotel garden for people like us. No luggage trolleys were needed .….
First up this morning was the speedy Interstates of 79 and 90 to a little town called Ripley on the shores of Lake Erie. To complete your education on these lakes it’s Erie that 100% feeds the Niagara River which, as you now know, transfers all this water to Lake Ontario. North of Lake Ontario is Montreal which is connected by the St Lawrence River. The St Lawrence continues further north to Quebec and then keeps on going until all its water becomes part of the Atlantic Ocean.
The Great Lakes are all interconnected and the water supply comes from the melting snow every Spring. There is an accompanying road system known as the Seaway Trail and it was this road that we joined at Ripley. The Trail hugs the shoreline of Lake Erie for 68 miles through to Buffalo, where we exit to prepare for Niagara Falls. But it then continues on for another 450 miles into upstate New York to finally end where the St Lawrence empties into the Atlantic.
Getting to the Maid of the Mist departure dock was an exercise in itself. The popularity of Niagara Falls at this time of year causes the road system to reach saturation point. One more vehicle breaks the bank you might say. We were lucky we left Butler as early as we did, only just boarding the Maid of Mist with seconds to spare for our “20-minute shower”. Raincoats were issued, and were much needed believe me, because the boat gets extremely close to the base of the Horseshoe Falls and the spray is unrelenting.
When this ride was over, and only if people felt they could manage it, was a walk up to the Crow’s Nest to stand as close as you can possibly get to the American Falls.
We were still in the USA at this stage but needed to now get across to Canada and our hotel, the Crown Plaza Fallsview. Some wanted to walk, others wanted the comfort of the Ford. It didn’t matter what choice you made, the Rainbow Bridge was the only method of crossing the river. And you had a wait in order to clear Border Control. For info, an ESTA for Canada is required by Australians if entering the country by air. However, if it’s by road at tourist places like Niagara Falls, we are permitted entry via our passports. Exiting Canada back into America however requires a valid United States ESTA, which you need to fly into the country in the first place.
Day 43 / Thursday July 23rd (Start of Week 7)
Dinner last night was intended to be a low-key affair. It was just going to be in any one of a zillion establishments along the Canadian Niagara strip. (I just made that name up.) We would just walk along and choose a place that looked half decent and go in there. But all that changed when we went into our very deliberately chosen Upper Fallsview guestrooms. (They were on special when I booked them!) Strategically placed on each bed (unbeknown to me) was a personally signed note from the General Manager. Yesterday he had seen on today’s reservation list, a group booking under the name of Global Speedway Tours, Australia. He’s had Aussies in his hotel tons of times, but never speedway fans before. He was stoked!
This is when good stuff started to happen. You see the GM was Rob, a 61 year old Aussie who had grown up in Melbourne and in particular had spent the early years of his life watching his father race sidecars around Victoria. Dad’s “suicide mission” on the bike was the passenger, whose task it was to make sure the bike turned right four times a lap.
A desire to wander the world, like so many other Australians, found Rob in London where he secured a job washing dishes in the Intercontinental Hotel on Mayfair. After 33 years with the IHG Group, that initial job eventually led him to the USA, a wife, three kids and the plum GM job at the Crowne Plaza.
We learnt all of that directly from the horse’s mouth so to speak, because the invitation from Rob saw us lining up to join him for 6.00pm drinks in the Rainbow Room on the 10th floor. Those drinks eventually turned into a superb Italian buffet dinner with Massimo during which we had front row seats for the nightly Falls fireworks display. Can’t say all that was planned, but the harder you work, the luckier you get …..
Breakfast was a somewhat more low key affair than last night’s dinner. Just the standard hotel cafeteria dining room for us this morning. Having said that the Hotel does have a permanent Starbucks in it. Terry could be found in there at any time of the day or night sampling the different styles available. He has now returned to his favourite flat white by the way.
The rest of the crew set out on foot in all different directions to see as much of the Niagara sights as they could before we hit the road back to Mechanicsburg. There was still lots of things to see this morning if time permitted and fortunately the group had planned well. The fabulous Journey behind the Falls was popular, as was the Zipline to the Falls.
I was sitting in Starbucks when my phone rang. An unknown number. Generally, I wouldn’t answer what are usually scam calls, but this time I did, for whatever reason. The conversation went something along these lines:
“Hello is this Mr Peter Physick?”
“Ah yes, who’s speaking please?”
“Mr Physick, this is Inspector Felix Clouseau from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Niagara Falls. Do you know a Mr & Mrs Little who say they are on your tour?”
“Yes, I do. Are they OK?”
“Yes sir, they are. Just a little shaken up. Where are you now?”
“Well I’m in Starbucks at the Crowne Plaza.”
“Ah right, you must be with Mr Barry then. We’ve had him under surveillance since yesterday. We think he’s been staking the joint out. He just doesn’t move. A squad car will be there in 15 minutes with the Littles”.
And sure enough Felix arrived with the car and pulled up across the road in a park next to a helicopter. Dennis and Patricia stepped out from the back seat looking sheepish, but none the worse for whatever had just happened to them. But Patricia did look nervous and was strangely not carrying anything, which I thought was most odd, but couldn’t put my finger on what it was exactly that wasn’t attached to her body any longer.
Felix started to tell us the story ……
He asked: “Peter have you ever had some guy called Trevor on one of your tours?”
“Why yes sir, I have. Several tours in fact”.
“And when he travels with you, does he have difficulty with hilly terrain? And wants to go swimming in canals? And lastly, did he ever buy a large yellow bag at Bass Pro?
“Yes, to all three Inspector” I replied, getting a little peeved at the direction this was heading in. “And sometimes we call him Trevi Fountain because he can also squirt water, beer and red wine out from between his two front teeth. Bet you didn’t know that”, I helpfully added.
Felix continued unfazed. “Apparently you write a blog Sir, which once published a picture of this Trevor person with the big yellow bag he had just purchased.” “Yes sir,” I responded “that is correct. It was 2015 in Harrisburg”.
“Well Mr Peter, it appears Patricia saw that photo and ever since she has fancied that exact style bag as being perfect to store her knitting in. I understand that it needed to be an extremely large bag to be able to fulfill this monumental task.”
That’s when the penny dropped. Patricia wasn’t carrying her knitting when she got out of the Mounties cop car.
“And …” I replied. “What happened next?” “Well”, said Felix without drawing a breath, “Dennis and Patricia caught a cab up to Niagara on the Lake about 10 miles from here. There’s a Bass Pro store there. They asked the taxi to wait, rushed inside, bought the big yellow bag, came out again, jumped in the cab and asked the driver to drop them off at the Horseshoe Falls viewing area. It was here that they sat on some seats that our Government thoughtfully provides for weary tourists like your friends here. They are special seats which are the closest you can get to the Niagara River and the roaring Horseshoe Falls.
“It was here on these seats that Patricia opened the brand new big yellow bag and began to transfer all her knitting, every last bit of it, into the bag. Every implement and every knitting aid she had brought from Australia and whatever she had purchased on the trip so far. Every garment she had knitted, every bit of wool that was still in the shape of a ball, and finally all knitting books and patterns. Even that piece she knitted while sitting on the bricks at the Indianapolis Speedway back in 2013. Satisfied with her efforts to pack, she zipped up the bag and put it on to the ground while she checked her pockets for anything she may have missed.
“It was at this precise moment that a young juvenile ran up to your friends, snatched the big yellow bag from between Patricia’s legs and ran off at great pace into the distance along the walking track beside the river before it gets to the Falls. Dennis and Patricia tried to chase him of course, but had to remorsefully stand and watch from afar as the young thief stopped to see what his booty was.
“He unzipped the bag and peered inside. His body language said it all once he saw what was in there. Completely annoyed and very, how you Aussies say, pissed off, he zipped it back up, stepped over to the small fence between him and the fast-flowing water and hurled the big yellow bag as far as he could into the Niagara River. He ran off again, but Dennis and Patricia just watched gob smacked and helpless as the bag floated down the turbulent river, bobbing and weaving every now and again as it ever so quickly neared the precipice that is the Horseshoe Falls.
“And then it happened,” climaxed Felix as he looked proudly around at his audience, which now included all of us and 227 locals who assumed there had been a body in the bag.
“The big yellow bag reached the edge, teetering a moment almost as though it was changing its mind, but eventually it shot over the top and plunged to a watery grave, never to be seen again”.
Still intrigued I asked Inspector Clouseau about why the helicopter was also here. Putting his index finger to his mouth as though he didn’t want the 227 locals to know, he said to our group, “We have been asked by ze American Customs and Immigration authorities to do a search for a Mr Heath Pursell, a Tasmanian Australian type of person, who they believe may be hiding out in the area. Do you happen to know him by any chance?”
The 313 mile trip to Mechanicsburg was swift and rather quiet. No one dared ask Patricia anything. She looked awkward sitting on her hands there in the front row because she didn’t otherwise know what to do with them. Before leaving Niagara, we had packed up our luggage, as is our usual practice every morning. However, on this occasion, just like they do when a driver has been lost to the racing world and the pole position remains open in the parade lap, we left the top right hand spot vacant in the back of the black Ford, in memory of the Big Yellow Bag.
Contrary to the itinerary sent out to participants, an extra event had been added to the schedule tonight. Originally down as a night off, Lincoln Speedway and the Outlaws had agreed a special midweek Gettysburg Clash race. If it’s on, we’ll get there. Later than our regular early arrival time, but we’ll do our best.
It wasn’t until 7.00pm that we cruised into the parking lot, receiving a bunch of Lincoln Speedway stickers because everybody in the bus was wearing their seatbelt. Cute promotion. There was room right down the back of the car park area which necessitated a long walk to the ticket box. We agreed that we would not stay together as a group this time, but would meet back up at the end of the night.
Lincoln was in fine condition for racing. Not a huge crowd, but still a good one. Sheldon Haudenschild grabbed the win which surprisingly was his first of the year so far. Now work these family trees out. Sheldon beat Logan Schuchart (second) and Jacob Allen (third). Sheldon is Jac’s son from Wooster, Ohio who didn’t get a place on the podium. Logan (28) and Jacob (26) are from Hanover, PA and are nephew and uncle respectively to each other. Yep, Logan is the grandson of Shark Racing team owner 75 year old Bobby, and Jacob is his son.
PS. Adam did not win the 50/50 tonight. He wasn’t happy.
Day 44 / Friday July 24th
Given this is a “rev heads” tour it’s reasonable to expect that we would seek to see horsepower in action now, and as it used to be. So first thing this morning we headed the 28 miles over to the Harley Davidson Factory in York, a city in itself really, but like Mechanicsburg, is essentially a suburb of Harrisburg.
We had booked in advance for the 10.00am Classic Factory Tour for US$10.00, which across the course of an hour takes you through the fabrication, paint and assembly areas. After which the HD Gift Shop was worthy of a 30 minute inspection.
Our luncheon venue today rested with Leigh and being from south of the border down there in Mildura, he decided that Mexican would be a good choice. And it most definitely was. El Rodeo on US30 was where we revitalized for 90 minutes or so while every food style possible was sampled by our party. Nachos, tacos, chimichangas, tamales, quesadillas, enchiladas, burritos and fajitas were all washed down by salt encrusted margaritas and a couple of ice-cold Coronas in beer glasses straight out of the freezer.
When Deryk chose a tasty strawberry daiquiri, it made me think back to earlier in the tour. Canton in Ohio it was. We lunched at Tim’s Fish Tavern and Deryk backed Tim Shaffer to win that night at Sharon. It made me dive for my phone and check the starting line-up for night 1 of the Summer Nationals. After all, Adam our resident bookie is now on board with us and can pay out on the spot. Hmmm. Who could it be that’s Mexican?
Although we had visited the Eastern Museum of Motor Racing on the earlier visit to Harrisburg, it would have been criminal not to let the new tour members also see the incredible range of vintage and historic cars from the dirt track speedways of Pennsylvania over the last eight decades. And we were lucky enough to have Curator Lynn Paxton in the Museum and his guided tour was hilarious. He loves Aussies and his humour is infectious as he walks proudly around his Museum pointing out every nook and cranny in it, along with having a story for every car on the floor. He is the real deal who just happened to win 224 sprintcar features before he retired at age 39.
A quick trip back to the Hotel to get ready for a night at the skids and before you knew it we were driving into the historic Williams Grove Speedway. It’s a mere 10-minute trip from the hotel to a track totally steeped in history. The new guys who hadn’t been here before took off to get inside and wander the pits and concession areas looking for merch (that’s the new buzz word for t-shirts and caps etc).
Some took to the grass to sleep, catching, up on the zzzz’s that don’t come naturally when in the vans. The “veterans” relaxed under the trees shielding themselves from the 100 degree heat that had descended on Pennsylvania in the last day or two. It’s here to stay we’re told. Still that’s better than the R word which is usually what we’re talking when at Williams Grove.
Tonight was unusual to a small extent because there was a support class on with the Outlaws. The 358ci winged sprintcars were also scheduled which signalled that it could be a late night. Which it was, with carnage in their heats delaying proceedings twice. The first was for one that cartwheeled down the front straight stopping miraculously short of entering the pit area about half way along.
The second and worse happened in the very next heat when two cars tangled going into turn 1 which is a piece of the track on this big half mile where sprintcars are at their fastest. The cars locked wheels and immediately both turned right and headed for the fence without shaving off any of their speed. The fence at this part of the track wouldn’t even be a metre high. It is just three battered Armco barriers one on top of the other.
There is nothing behind this fence that warrants it being any higher. Spectators cannot get there, nor are track workers allowed in there during races. Nevertheless, it presents a fearsome sight if you don’t know that. The two cars, still locked together, hit the fence simultaneously and exploded as they disappeared out of sight into the darkened area outside the track. The photo below was taken in 2012. It is still no different at turn 1 today.
Shane Stewart won tonight. (Is that a Mexican name?) His first feature win for a long time. Well done him!
Day 45 / Saturday July 25th
We left some of the group at the Hotel today. The married couples on the Full Tour had had enough of Intercourse, having experienced it five weeks ago. Once a month is enough when you get to that age. Besides Patricia was still recovering from the Niagara shock and she had a headache. So, the rest of us went on our own, stopping in at Hersheypark and Chocolate World first before continuing on out to Lancaster County.
Out in Iowa is Madison County. Famous for two things. One is the birthplace of Marion Morrison (aka John Wayne) and the other is the filming of The Bridges of Madison County. However Lancaster County, home to the Amish community has its fair share of magnificent covered bridges as well. 13 of them in various pockets of the spectacular country-side that these folk live in.
Most of America’s covered bridges were built between 1825 and 1875. The original reason for the cover was to protect the bridge trusses and decks from snow and rain, thus preventing decay and rot. The cover served other purposes as well. It kept horses from being spooked by the waters underneath, it was a reprieve from the weather to weary travellers, the bridges were used for political rallies, religious meetings, a night’s sleep for tramps, town meetings, poker parties, sweethearts’ rendezvous, drunken revellers, dances, even rainy day luncheons took place on the covered bridge. An uncovered bridge would last approximately 20 years, but a covered one could last 100 years.
Pool Forge Covered Bridge in Narvon is out near Blue Ball. It’s worth the drive and besides it’s in a direct line between Hershey and Intercourse. We continued on to the latter and parked in the extremely commercial Intercourse parking lot in amongst about 10 coaches waiting for their passengers to return from exploring the town. You don’t have to pay for parking, but I’m sure that’s not far away.
It was Adam’s turn to decide where we should all be eating today and of course I’m sure you can guess where he chose. No, it wasn’t in Intercourse. He especially picked out Dienners Homestyle Buffet an all you can eat Amish restaurant just outside Paradise on the way back to Lancaster. Their food differs in no specific way to what an American restaurant would offer on their menu. Amish main meals are usually built around hearty meat dishes, such as pork chops, ham, roast beef, or meatloaf. Dairy products, especially eggs and cheese, are also important to their diet. Plus chickens, to be eaten, as well as for their eggs. And just to keep Terry happy, hearty soups are prepared and eaten daily.
An excellent choice Adam. It provided so much sustenance that the usual track steaks (ie: hot dogs) will not be needed tonight.
Night 2 at Williams Grove was upon us and we were there in plenty of time to get our regular parking spot under the trees and across the road from the old Williams Grove Amusement Park. (Look back on Day 16 in Part 1 of the blog to get the full story of the connection between the speedway and the Fun Park.)
Last night we had seating in the grandstand near the deadly ‘Beer Hill’ which has to be accessed by the historic old bridge over the back straight. It’s a classic bridge, but a potentially dangerous one for a flipping sprintcar at 140 mph. Why is it still there, even in the year 2020? Tonight, we’re in the front straight grandstand, packed in like sardines from the capacity crowd on hand. Even though the Outlaws are not liked by the PA posse fans, they do admire their skill and perseverance to keep on travelling year in year out. And when they turn up in Pennsylvania three times a year, the reception is always booing and jeering, but deep down there must be great admiration for them.
There was no Kyle Larson last night, or tonight, so the winner’s cheque for $20,000 went to David Gravel. Usually they race for second place when Larson’s around.
Day 46 / Sunday July 26th
The Holiday Inn Express on the Carlisle Pike had become a bit of a home away from home. We had got to know the staff who made up the rooms every day, cooked and served the breakfast each morning and made up the lies about how we brightened the place up just by being around. It’s the accents you see. The Australian drawl, as broad as it is, is a popular one anywhere in the US.
In Walmart, supermarkets, the local bar, coffee shops and in gas stations the store assistant will deliberately fumble with change so they can make us say something more than just “gidday, ‘ow ya goin’ mate”? I’ve developed a theory over the years that maybe it isn’t just the accent that gets them. Could it also be that we are from a faraway country that they have heard of, but know very little about. And maybe if they can engage us in a longer conversation, they may learn something more about the land downunder, than just Steve Irwin, Crocodile Dundee, snakes and spiders.
Willie Nelson was belting out “On the Road Again” as we hopped onto the Pennsylvania turnpike (I-76) for the last time this tour, ready for a nine hour drive through to Lawrenceburg in Indiana for round 3 of Indiana Sprintweek tonight. If you live in Sydney or Melbourne and are reading this as a user of toll roads in those cities, then the following stat will be of interest. We drove on 76 today for 234 miles (375 kms) and the total toll charged to my E-Z Pass toll tag for each vehicle was $23.80. That is, $0.06 cents per kilometre. By way of comparison, the price for me to drive from Castle Hill, where I live, to Sydney airport and back is $34.68. $0.43 cents / km.
It was Gary’s choice for lunch today. It was never going to be anything fancy with knives and forks because time was of the essence today with such a long drive. “We’ll need to coordinate it with a stop for fuel and a stretch”, I suggested. “Righto” said Gary. “See if you can find a gas station that has a KFC near it somewhere”. Well that was easy and we slid into exactly that scenario around midday at Clairsville on (you guessed it) I-70 yet again. Loaded up with chicken, coleslaw, gravy and mashed potato we ventured back onto the highway to the sounds of Kenny Loggins to begin taking us the rest of the way to Lawrenceburg where the USAC sprinters are always in the Danger Zone.
In a race record time for this trip, we did the 776 km total journey in a fraction under eight hours, including stops for whatever was needed at any given time. Leave at seven, in at three. More than happy with that. The outside temperature was nudging 100F as the two Fords rolled under the canopy of the Quality Inn entrance without missing a beat, except for the “this vehicle needs a service” orange light on mine which just won’t go away. Budget can do that in Indianapolis during the next couple of days.
The heat stopped us from going down to the Fairgrounds until the last minute, even though it was precisely a mere three minute drive from the Hotel. We rested up with some sleep; I know Adam and I did for two hours and so did everyone else. Apparently, the snooze they had on board across I-70 wasn’t quite enough. The phone rang to wake me. It was Laura wanting to know if we had hit Lawrenceburg yet. As per usual for any USAC race, she and Mike were already at the track and saving us two parking spots next to their RV.
That was sufficient incentive to send out an ATM text to say “track in 10”. All Tour Members know that is interpreted as “be in the foyer in 10 minutes – we’re leaving for the races.” And we did. It wasn’t far. The Fairground parking lots were already ‘as full as Trev was in Butler’, but we made everyone jealous by driving right through the streams of cars searching for vacant spots and headed for the ticket box and Mike and Laura’s RV. That’s how close they were to the gates. Or, to put it another way. That’s the overnight parking place you get when you leave Kokomo (where R2 was last night) at 6.00am in order to get here to get the prime spot! The travelling troupe of RV’s, caravans and campers who follow every night of the trail is very large indeed. As it was for Ohio and Pennsylvania speedweeks.
We hadn’t seen each other since Putnamville back on day 23, so hugs and handshakes were exchanged, even before the first ring top was pulled back on a can. It was good to be with all the non-wing fans again and catch up with their gossip while we fed them our stories of life on the road with a wing. Not surprisingly it didn’t take long for the debate to start about winged V non-wing. All friendly fun and as usual, the question remained unresolved once again.
The win, on a night which was not as good as some I’ve seen at Lawrenceburg, was taken by CJ Leary over Windom and Bacon. It was his second consecutive Indiana Sprintweek victory, having been first past the post at Kokomo last night.
Day 47 / Monday July 27th
Monday and Tuesday nights rarely have racing scheduled and tonight and tomorrow are no different. It’s a legacy of crowds not wanting to go to the speedway so early after just finishing a weekend of racing. However, in my view things are changing in our world I reckon. There have been many recent upheavals in the live streaming industry such as Dirtvision essentially doubling their offering by including Late Models in the WoO sprintcar package and vice versa, FloSports adding Speed Shift to their Flo-Racing bundle and just last week they also bought SpeedVideo which have a monopoly over drag race streaming. Everything added for no increase in current cost to the consumer.
The large surge in subscribers that this is beginning to create will no doubt increase the bottom line of the live streamers. So, what will they do with this extra revenue? Keep it or spend it? My view is that they will invest in the race teams. In what way you ask? Well, at the moment they have an entire audience who currently get virtually nothing on a Monday to Thursday night. Unless of course something like Ohio or PA Speedweek, or similar is on. But they are few and far between.
It therefore hints at (say) FloRacing promoting their own races at rented quality tracks around the country and offering big prizemoney down the line to the teams to compete midweek. Sure, you and I could buy a ticket and go along and watch, but the number of bums on seats in the stands would be of no consequence to them. They want the live stream viewing public buying a subscription.
It’s almost identical to what ESPN did in the US with Thursday Night Thunder in the late 1980’s to kickstart the network. It subsequently changed its name to Saturday Night Thunder in the 90’s, but it most certainly established an audience foothold with mid-week short track racing. By the way if you’ve been to Winchester Speedway (or even if you haven’t) I suggest you click on the above Saturday Night link to watch midget and sprintcar racing from Winchester on ESPN in 1992.
Simply extraordinary. You might want to get a coffee or something stronger. It goes for an hour and 36 minutes!
All of that prelude and prediction was because I didn’t have much to tell you about the short trip from Lawrenceburg up to Indy. It’s a short two-hour drive, punctuated only by a coffee stop at guess where. Upon arrival we lunched in Shapiros, one of the city’s most famous restaurants with over 100 years of Jewish tradition in the joint. Here’s the menu.
Perhaps the most dominant feature of the Indianapolis skyline is Lucas Oil Stadium, the home of the Indianapolis Colts NFL team, which hosted the 2012 Super Bowl won by the NY Giants over the New England Patriots. After having looked at the stadium so often when driving past it over ten years, I decided to take a 75 minute tour a couple of years ago by myself and was dumbstruck as to how large and modern it is. I decided there and then that a tour of this monolith would always be on future itineraries when in Indianapolis. The group loved it.
Our home for the next two evenings was the delightfully named Comfort Inn & Suites at the Pyramids. So called because of these. They are office buildings on a lake that proved popular for morning walks and now thanks to Google, you can take a look around it too. The morning weather has been fabulous, but later in the day things start to get real sticky and uncomfortable as the humidity rises in line with the temperature. 49 days ago I arrived in Indianapolis to begin tour preparations and the storm that hit that night was humongous. Methinks there’s another one of those coming tonight. But we have not a care in the world.
The only racing we had to do tonight was between the hotel and the adjacent Texas Roadhouse to avoid the rain that had begun to fall.
Day 48 / Tuesday July 28th
Ah Indianapolis. Is it different to any other American city? Not really, but if you’re a race fan then the answer is a resounding yes. Aussie race fans tend to visit in midsummer, July and August, when our popular Month of Money tours operate. But if you want an incredible race schedule that is hard to believe can actually happen, then save your pennies for our Indy 500 and Midget Madness tour in late May and early June on every even numbered year.
Our schedule can have you at a race track every night (sometimes it’s twice – by day at one track and by night somewhere else) for an incredible 23 races in 21 days. And for the first 16 days you can return to your same bed in the same hotel 16 times. And all that is in Indianapolis itself, or within an easy 75-mile radius. The rest of the tour is in Illinois for six races in six nights. Check out the itinerary of the next Indy Tour (as we expect it to be in 2022) by clicking here.
Today, in the time available in one day, we tried to recreate just a small part of what those Indy 500 tour members experience by visiting as many racing landmarks in the city as we possibly could. We started at 8.00am and returned exhausted to the Hotel at 10.00pm.
- The Indianapolis Motor Speedway & the Hall of Fame Museum
- The Indianapolis Speedway VIP Grounds tour.
- Main Street in Speedway, Indiana (Yes there is a suburb called Speedway)
- The Dallara Indycar Factory in Main Street
- Charlie Brown’s Steakhouse in Main Street (lunch was here)
- Sarah Fisher’s 1911 Bar and Grille which also happens to have an immense top shelf indoor go kart track.
- The original Gasoline Alley where Arizona Sports Shirts have their factory and their $5 bargain bin for t-shirts
- The Indiana State Fairgrounds (where the Hoosier Hundred used to be held)
- The late Bryan Clauson’s historical Marker post in Noblesville
- Lucas Oil Raceway where we were fortunate to see a couple of top fuellers strutting their stuff in practice runs
- Brownsburg (the suburb) to do a drive by of all the race shops out there
- Pit Stop BBQ and Grill where we finally stopped for dinner amongst all the racing memorabilia (and the midget)
Day 49 / Wednesday July 29th
I don’t think there has ever been a tour which has included Indianapolis in the itinerary, where we didn’t go to the Ganassi Indy Car ‘shop’. That’s not the right word for it because they don’t sell one iota of merchandise there. It just houses all the team’s Indy cars and associated machinery to keep them going. (The NASCAR ‘race shop’ is in Concord, North Carolina). Back in 2011, we e-mailed Mr Ganassi cheekily asking if arrangements could be made for a group of touring Aussies (the Global Speedway Tours’ guinea pigs – aka the first ever tour group) to inspect his team’s race headquarters in Indy.
To our eternal surprise a reply was received, albeit not from Chip. It was from Grant who runs their sportscar team out of the same premises. Since that inaugural occasion, Grant has always been a willing supporter of GST every time we ask for another tour. Which we had yet again in 2020. The regulation group photos were taken in the foyer which is magnificently appointed with the display of every Indycar trophy ever won by the team’s cars. Along with race cars from years gone by.
Here is a selection of photos from the Ganassi tours over the years.
Point your phone’s camera or scanner at the QR code to get a surprise video from just before our 2014 Ganassi tour. Or click here to see Adam have all his birthdays at once.
The tour was spot on as always with Grant showing us everything he was allowed to show us. Cameras are not permitted in any of the car preparation areas, or the machine shops where the majority of the parts are made. A great morning to top off two really good race fan sightseeing only days in Indy.
Before moving on down to Terre Haute for tonight’s R4 of Indiana Sprintweek, we called into the Union Jack Hotel for lunch. Once again, yet another racing joint for hungry fans. A full-size Legend Car sits atop the sign out on Crawfordsville Road while a complete Silver Crown car in a replica 70’s workshop sits behind glass near the bar. Photographs of racing days gone by adorn the walls for us to look at while awaiting the arrival of the pub food.
We would now leave Indy for good, travelling further west each day from now on. Our time in the east has finished for this tour and in no time at all we were pulling into one of my favourite hotels every year. The Terre Haute Hampton Inn. I haven’t mentioned in this blog yet about room numbers. There is an unwritten ‘competition’ on most tours to see who (if anyone) is ever allocated room number 410. It’s rare that the hotels we stay in have a fourth floor, so getting a room with 4 as the first digit is most unlikely. John Ormsby was the only person to ever do it. Back in 2017.
Well aware of this rivalry and with the knowledge that no one had yet achieved said task since, I figured I better do something about it. Unbeknowns to the others, the Hampton Inn phone app now allows members of the Hilton Hotel chain, to choose the rooms for their group. So while at lunch, knowing that this particular Hampton Inn had four floors, I fiddled with the app and bingo, Room 410 was allocated to Russell (and his roommate Deryk). I figured it was the least I could do for the Hall of Famer, considering he has probably checked in to upwards of 300 hotel rooms with me over the last 10 years and has never won the comp.
The ‘Terre Haute Action Track’ was in the finest condition that I have ever seen it. Other old timers said “the best in 25 years”.
It was well groomed, moist (that means little dust), and racy from top to bottom. It was an exciting finish to the feature, with Chase Stockon the deserving winner, having led every lap with only two to go. Except he didn’t. The yellow caution flag came out. They lined back up single file with Justin Grant and Chris Windom right up the Stockon proverbial clacker. But no one could get near him as Chase pulled away to lead into turn 4 ready to take the chequered flag, but the yellows came out once more.
Again, they lined up for two laps to go. Grant set himself for an outside pass going through turn 2 on the last lap and pulled it off and at the same time Windom slipped through on the inside. In a flash Stockon had gone from hero to zero and had to be content with third place money. The crowd must have gone home super happy after that one. I know Russell did. He even declined a night cap in the now coolish evening saying “I’ve got a 410 upstairs that I must warm up”.
Day 50 / Thursday July 30th (Start of Week 8)
Oh oh, it had to start happening sometime. We’ve had such a good run with the weather over the last seven weeks. In fact, I just saw a tweet from John Gibson which stated that the Outlaws has had 20 successive races without a rain out. “That never happens” said Johnny. It’s not just here in Indiana where rain is pounding down, it’s right across the lower Midwest states. Here in Terre Haute we’re blaming Russell for it all. For the first time in his life he’s got himself a big 410 and can’t do anything with it, except sit on the bed and look mournfully out the window.
But something else was nagging away at me. Last Friday while at the Harley Davidson factory I had received a polite text message from Inspector Clouseau in Niagara Falls enquiring after the health of Dennis and Patricia following their traumatic robbery the day before. He hoped that they were well and also asked that I pass on his best wishes to Patricia for her 60th birthday yesterday. But the casual, almost secondary reference at the end of the text puzzled me. He asked if we might happen to know the whereabouts of two police hats and two red Royal Canadian Mounted Police jackets that he had in the squad car that day. I responded that I didn’t, but promised to let him know if I became aware of any news.
There was zero chance that tonight’s Indiana Sprintweek Round 5 at Lincoln Park Speedway could possibly go ahead. Putnamville is just 40 miles up the road from Terre Haute, so what we were getting was exactly what they would have been. Could guarantee that without even turning up. It wasn’t the standard “arrive, dump and get out” T-storm that usually hits this time of year, but solid and constant rain. A quick look at every one of the weather apps on my phone showed the same. Rain continuing until further advice.
There was no point in trying to go anywhere. Fortunately we had the rooms for two nights, so hanging around this excellent hotel, catching up on stuff you haven’t done much of lately was the flavour of the day. In fact, a record was created. The faithful Fords just sat out in the downpour all day and night wondering where in the hell everyone was.
They weren’t required for meals either. Folks either ate lunch in the hotel, or ducked across the road to the Longhorn Steakhouse. Those who went to the latter enjoyed a longer than anticipated stay with Blue Moons dominating the afternoon. In the evening it was race night via the Internet. I had arranged with the Hotel for us to use the breakfast area which has a lovely big flatscreen TV in it just waiting to be hooked up to FloRacing. Wisconsin wasn’t in the rainbelt, so the All Stars were running tonight with the $26,000 to win Rudeen Foundation race.
Kyle Larson had entered, so the Promoter had already written out the first place cheque with his name on it, but they raced anyway to see who would come second, which just happened to be Kerry Madsen. It was a fun evening with Global Speedway Tours using the $375, (which would otherwise have been paid to the promoter at Putnamville tonight), to cover the cost of sixteen Papa John pizzas and some red and white wine. The streaming from FloRacing was faultless, as were the pizzas which arrived piping hot.
Larson did win and the $26,000 he collected took his win tally to 21 from 33 starts since we arrived in his country on June 7th. To take that stat further, he has finished 2nd six times, 3rd once, 4th twice and 6th three times. Someone should send this kid up to the big leagues!
Day 51 / Friday July 31st
Sometime during the night it stopped raining, but by the time we left Terre Haute it had started again. You don’t want to lose any race on the itinerary, but if there was one you prayed for to be on, it’s the Prairie Dirt Classic at Fairbury American Legion Speedway (FALS for short). Fairbury is in Illinois which is a little further west than Terre Haute, but importantly it’s a hundred and twenty miles or so further north. Just maybe that was far enough to escape the rain band we were in.
We headed out from Terre Haute with some optimism that the dreadful weather will peter out as we go. The windscreen wipers were on constantly though as we crossed into Illinois on US36, just after the quaintly named town of Montezuma. We assumed that the town must have been a sign for ‘her upstairs’ getting revenge for whatever it is that we have done. We all looked at each other suspiciously for miles, wondering just who it was that was causing the rain. But no one would admit, or own up, to anything.
We motored on relentlessly, at times having to slow as the rain was coming at us horizontally. Passing trucks was out of the question. The spray made things impossible and eventually both Fords turned off into the next rest stop. We each just sat there, no one daring to get out. And then my phone rang. It was Adam who, amongst others, had the Whittles on board.
“Hey Pete have you talked with Bob and Pat lately?” he asked. “No, I haven’t, but I did notice they have been very quiet over the last few days”, I replied. “They didn’t go with us to Intercourse last Friday. I’m not sure what they did instead. I just figured that was probably because they have been on the go now for 51 days non-stop.”
“Hmmm, maybe” said Adam “but maybe not. To pass the time in the bus this morning, I asked them if they were OK. At first, they were reluctant to say anything, but then they blurted out their story and couldn’t stop”. He continued “I’ll text you a photo in a tick so you can see for yourself.”
Adam continued. “Do you remember when Inspector Clouseau was telling us and the 227 locals about the incident with the young thief in Niagara Falls? Well, apparently not everyone was listening as intently as you thought they may have been. Bob and Pat had drifted off the back of the pack and slipped over to look at the Inspector’s police car which was sitting there unattended.
“Pat then helpfully mentioned to me at this point that in 1956 when television first came to Australia, Bob was infatuated with the TV show Sgt Preston of the Yukon.
He used to race home from school every afternoon and sit in front of the Whittle family television with all the other kids in the street whose families couldn’t afford a TV. They’d watch William Preston go about his work arresting crooks as a Sergeant in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police with his dog Yukon and horse Rex. And then, when that day’s episode was finished, they’d go out in the street and make out they were Mounties until his mum called him in for tea.
“Because the TV was black and white, Bob never knew, until he was much older, that the jacket Sgt Preston wore was a beautiful shade of scarlet red. Once he knew that he always wanted one …..”
Right about now I started to think of Inspector Clouseau’s text last Friday and suddenly felt shivers down my spine. No, surely not …..
Adam continued. “As they walked around the car Bob saw the two dress jackets neatly folded up on the back seat with a hat sitting on each one. Pat said the colour instantly drained out of his face and he became quite animated. It was rapidly dawning on him that here was the opportunity to do what he had always wanted to do for 64 years. And that was to wear a genuine Mounties jacket and hat.
“Pat said well you’re not doing it without me and in a flash the two jackets and two hats were under Bob’s arm as they ran up the same pathway along the Niagara river that the young kid had done an hour earlier. Perhaps not as quickly, but fast enough to have evaded detection.
“They stopped at a small wooden platform that partly extended into the river. The government had thoughtfully provided seats here too which were gratefully used by the Geelong flyers to regain their breath. It was here that Bob fulfilled his fantasy when he took off his Global Speedway Tours hoodie (but not his beloved cap) and put on the magnificent red tunic.
Pat did the same and they then asked a young juvenile who was walking past to take their picture. Which he kindly did before then quickly running off with two brand new black and orange hoodies to replace the wool he had nicked.
“But Bob wasn’t concerned. His job was done, but then he began to think about the consequences of his impulsive actions. On their walk back to the Hotel they went past a dry-cleaning shop. Bob stopped, took both jackets in on a whim and asked for one of their urgent ‘30 minute clean’ jobs. Then they found Macy’s and bought two new sweaters while at the same time scoped out where the Post Office was.
“With the cleaned jackets and the address of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Niagara Falls, Bob and Pat then visited the Post Office and sent an anonymous parcel to Inspector Clouseau, along with a thank you note from a Mr Heath Pursell.”
I had the phone on loudspeaker so everyone in my bus now knew what everyone in the other bus already knew. When Adam finished telling the story, Bob and Pat got a stirring round of applause. And, at exactly the same time, the rain stopped and in 10 minutes the sun was out and the roads were steaming, it was that hot. The burden Bob had carried since last Thursday had finally been lifted from his shoulders and he had, it appeared, been forgiven ……. by everybody.
The photo that Adam sent me of Bob and Pat in the Mounties jackets was shown around on the bus, but cannot be reproduced on here ….
Out of politeness I texted Inspector Clouseau from under Russell’s car park trees tonight at FALS to let him know that I didn’t have any news on his two jackets, but hoped that he had been able to locate them. He responded with a quick note to say that they hadn’t been stolen after all. He’d forgotten that he had locked them in the boot of the police car. Yeah sure ……
Lunch was pre-selected in Atlanta, Illinois on Route 66. The Palms Grill Café has been a stop for years whenever we are in the vicinity. Which is often, because we are up and down I-55 almost as much as we do on I-70. The sun was shining outside, but it was a sad place inside with the news being relayed to us that Sunday would be the last day of trading for the current Management. Over the years we had seen a number of different teams in the Café. These two were the most memorable.
Our accommodation for the two nights of the Prairie Dirt Classic was the Best Western in Pontiac, also on Route 66. We checked in, loaded in and immediately left again for Fairbury. The PDC is an enormously popular event and is always sold out Saturday night with Friday pretty much the same. It’s all reserved seating and we have that, but the car parking situation is critical. Arrive any later than 4.30pm and you’ll be parking in the next town.
We were able to secure the same spot as we have had for the last four years. Lovely green grass which three years ago we found out was so lush because we were parked next to the Fairbury Treatment Works. Last year on the Friday we met the Manager of the plant who promised to reserve us a spot the next night, as well as the use of his golf cart to get to and from the track. Well that deserved a koala or kangaroo, or both, and we had them ready but he didn’t front. Nor did he tonight.
But the ladies who locked their keys in the car last year were back in their same spot next to us and asked if “Hugh” was on the tour again. So, Bob if you’re reading this, we said hello for you.
The World of Outlaws sanction the PDC and this year a multitude of high-quality Late Models have signed in. The usual saying here is that any one of 40 drivers could win the $50,000, let alone just make the Saturday feature. The same with the Modifieds. Not a class that excites me much, but they do here. No leaving the stands and getting something to eat when they are on the track at FALS. There’s 71 Late Models and 82 Modifieds in the pits this weekend so I could go hungry.
The format here for both classes is qualifying in the normal way, but the four ‘heat races’ are 25 laps each. Essentially eight feature races on opening night. The top 4 transfer directly to the Saturday A main. Tomorrow night sees three B Mains of 10 laps each for all but the 16 transferred cars, with the top two in each moving into the 22 car field for the 100 lap A Main. Provisionals are then added and last year 27 started on the high banked fairground ¼ miler.
I think I’m too old to have a hero now, but if I did, then Brandon Sheppard would be it. Definitely the Kyle Larson of the Late Model fraternity. The reigning Prairie Dirt champion, Sheppard comfortably transferred through his ‘heat’ and depending on what the Yanks call the re-draw, he will start in either of the first two rows tomorrow night.
Day 52 / Saturday August 1st
We almost tried to fit in a tad too much today knowing that we needed to be back at the Treatment Works no later than 3.00pm to secure a decent spot. If you’re late, you get sent right down the bottom near the lake and I’m sure you can reasonably guess what kind of a ‘body of water’ that is.
Even though we started out at 9.00am to drive the 26 miles to Streator to visit the irrepressible Dee Tattersall in her home, plus view her late husband’s mural and gravesite, then take her to an early lunch, then get back to the Best Western and then get the FALS deluxe car spot, we only just made it. Four hours before racing started, but it’s what ya gotta do.
Dee Tattersall is the widow of Bob Tattersall, a man who definitely deserves the Legend status he was afforded in Australian speedcar racing. Indeed, in America as well with USAC, but it was Australia where Tatts was most loved. Dee never refers to him as Bob, just Tatts. She was definitely fond of him that’s easy to tell.
If Tatts was still alive, he’d be 96 but sadly lung cancer took him to an early grave in 1971, aged 47. Guess how old Dee is. Don’t know? Add 33 to the number of the car in the mural and you’d be right.
We loved the visit and so did Dee. Especially lunch at the local Golf Club, the Eastwood. She had us in stitches with stories of goin’ racin’ with Tatts across the US. 1969 was the best she said. The year he won the USAC National Midget Title.
It was time to get Dee back home, but before doing so she asked to be taken to his gravesite one more time where we paid our respects with her. Then it was race pace back to the hotel to collect our stuff and then get to Fairbury for our prized parking spot. Which we did, timing it beautifully.
Four hours later racing commenced and our view from the packed turn 4 grandstand was as good as anywhere else because we could all see Brandon Sheppard go back to back for his third PDC victory. Two more and he will equal Bobby Pierce and Billy Moyer for the most since it started in 1990.
Day 53 / Sunday August 2nd
Further west into Iowa today with the three hour drive from Pontiac to Burlington on the Mississippi River. The All Stars had raced at Knoxville last night and on their way back east into Ohio made a Sunday night stop at a track that is way better than it gives itself credit for. 34 Raceway is a little jewel in the crown with spacious parking, several great grandstands and excellent concessions. And the track itself provided super racing.
Pontiac saw the last of us around 11.00am, making the most of a late check out allowance. Breakfast is an interesting phenomenon in a hotel. It’s not free, because clearly the cost is factored into the room price. But because you don’t have to pay extra to have breakfast, you tend not to miss turning up, no matter how much your head hurts from the night before. I’ve seen people (not us) wander in and eat in their pyjamas just before it closes at 9.00am, fully intending to go back to bed for a couple more hours afterwards. These people pile as much as they possibly can get onto their plate, just because it’s there. And then eat a quarter of it and throw the rest away.
The last time we went through Peoria on day 32 we stopped at the Sonic Drive-In. You remember it. The ‘order through the car window, get served on roller skates and eat in your own vehicle’ restaurant. This time we were allowed out of the bus to eat, choosing the lunch buffet at Golden Corral. We had yards of time so decided to pig out like all those people do at breakfast. It’s a popular choice as there is always something for everyone. And it’s constantly hot and fresh. If the servery is empty of what you want, just wait two minutes and it will be full again. And they have “Golden Corral police” watching for people who take too much and then don’t eat it.
And then there’s the ice-cream and the chocolate fountain for those so inclined.
The Comfort Suites Hotel in Burlington is a brand spanker. It’s nowhere near the river, or the freeway. There’s no shops, fast food joints, gas stations, nothing, anywhere near it. But it does have an aura all of its own having been built in the middle of what was once a cornfield. Probably won’t be long before T-Mobile, Maccas and BP etc do move in, but for now it’s isolated. It is the newest hotel on the tour and is great. The fact that we only need it for a bed tonight means we don’t care if its remote. Although as we were to find out later, it’s a great place for Sprintcar haulers to park overnight.
Yes, that man in the white #57 who’s on a tear at the moment was racing tonight, so we had a sweep for who would come second. Larson was left out of it. And yes, he did win again. But Corey Eliason won $80 for Moose, while Teresa was either worried by potential dust, or she was practicing for any future pandemic that may hit the world.
Later that evening while enjoying a nightcap in the carpark, we watched as a sprintcar hauler turned up and parked in the wide-open spaces of the massive parking lot, disgorging passengers only. There would be no washing of cars tonight. That job will get done when they arrive home. The photo below was just after dawn the next morning when it was silhouetted against daybreak.
Day 54 / Monday August 3rd
A touch of R&R today and tomorrow with the next two nights in Chicago. From Burlington we paced ourselves nicely against the traffic and as usual continued to encounter many and varied items being transported somewhere.
Today, these giant bears popped up on the inside lane of I-80 sitting on a trailer hooked up behind an RV.
And a few minutes later, a clearly unhappy semi-trailer driver without a return load decided to strap on his son’s Tonka truck, just to prove a point.
And here’s a video to prove just how big wind turbine blades are on the road.
And then as we were diving through the streets of Joliet, this ‘immaculate’ 1979 F150 Ford Explorer presented itself to us, presumably hoping against hope that its owner would forget where he parked his pride and joy.
As always Hooters was a terrific place to eat. This particular one in Joliet lays claim to being the first in Illinois after the chain was originally established in Florida in 1983. Joliet is an hour out of downtown Chicago where we need to be sometime after 3.00pm, so watching the clock as well was also important. The girls are always happy to oblige with a group photo out the front of their restaurant.
The Hyatt Regency on East Wacker Drive (yes that’s a real street name) is probably the highest profile hotel we stay in on the tour with 2,032 rooms to help you get lost in. The view we always get from every room is impressive. Looking east down the Chicago River to where it empties into Lake Michigan.
It was a quick check-in for me, as the black Ford needed to take off again to O’Hare Airport to pick up two new tour members who were hitting the tarmac at 4.58pm. Seeing as how it was my two sons Ben and Tim arriving, I figured I better go get them and Adam can have a break from driving for 48 hours. Both Fords will be safely left in one of Chicago’s quaint street corner vacant lot parking areas for the duration.
The airport pickup was completed without any drama and Ben and Tim were duly introduced to everybody over dinner on the Magnificent Mile (aka Michigan Avenue). Dick’s Last Resort has now been superseded by the 7th Inning Stretch, a restaurant in Water Tower Place. On the 7th Level (of course). It was established and operated by Harry Caray, the much beloved Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field sportscaster.
Harry died in 1998, but the restaurants (not surprisingly there are now seven locations) are maintained and run by his widow Dutchie. Importantly, dining at the 7th Inning Stretch entitles you to complimentary admission to the adjacent Chicago Sports Museum – the city’s playground for sports fans.
After dinner and the Sports Museum, we walked back up to the Chicago River where it runs right through the heart of the Windy City. The Riverwalk makes for a most beautiful night stroll to give you an image of Chicago that you would have never thought possible. After which, you take a left turn into State Street and walk to Lake. This corner provides the best view possible of the L Train, the elevated railway that runs through Chicago and gives it its “gangster feel”. At night makes it particularly eerie which could then then lead you to any one of these eight bars which had notorious mob connections.
Day 55 / Tuesday August 4th
One of the traditions on the Month of Money tour, is that sightseeing and exploring Chicago is left up to the individual. There are numerous options to choose from, with the most popular being a seat on the Double Deckers of the Big Bus Hop On, Hop Off Touring Company.
Breakfast is never included in Chicago, or New York for the same reason. It’s way better to get out onto the street and find a café where you can take a table on the sidewalk and eat and watch the world go by at the same time. This one on East Chestnut Street is highly recommended.
Everyone was required back in the foyer of the Hotel by 5.00pm so as a group we could head out on the train to Wrigley Field to watch the Chicago Cubs play the visiting Atlanta Braves. “Taking myself out to the Ballgame” is one of the non-speedway highlights of the Month of Money tour. Reserved seats up in the nose bleed area had been obtained months ago, so it wasn’t a case of hoping there would be some tickets left.
The Red Line subway gets you out to Addison, the station that since 1914 has dropped off close to 250 million Cubs’ fans at this fabulous old ball park with its ivy covered home run fence. There’s very little car parking, so train is the best bet.
The photo below was taken in 2016 outside one of the entrance gates to Wrigley Field, which as a matter of interest is named after the chewing gun magnate William Wrigley Jnr who bought the Cubs in 1920 and six years later changed the name of the stadium to Wrigley Field. In 1981 the family sold the team and all associated property, but the Stadium has remained as Wrigley Field and probably will for another 100 years. One assumes that some money changes hands for the naming rights.
In 2012, on our first ever Month of Money tour, we went to Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs play. Back then they were rated as one of, if not the worst, baseball franchise in the country. They had failed to do anything of substance by way of results since 1908 when they last won a World Series. In the intervening 104 years the trophy cabinet remained bare. Thus in 2012 you could buy a Cubs’ ticket for about $7.00. Mind you once inside a beer and a hot dog set you back $15.00.
Of course, it’s now history that the Cubs won the World Series in 2016 and hence on the 2017 tour we couldn’t afford a ticket to Wrigley Field. The price had skyrocketed into the hundreds, such was their popularity. Things have settled down a bit since and thankfully a ticket to a Cubs ballgame is now affordable once again.
Day 56 / Wednesday August 5th
It’s time to head south and take a look at the remarkable Route 66 (at least some of it) as it winds its way from Chicago to California. The entire 2,448 miles (3,940 kms) is driveable, but for now we only want the bit between Chicago and St Louis. You can take I-55 for this drive and it will only be 4 hours and 49 minutes, but we’ll take the next 40 hours or so to end up in the Gateway City ready for the Outlaws at the Iron Man 55 in Pevely on Friday and Saturday.
Although Route 66 starts in downtown Chicago, trying to follow it through the city and suburbs now is next to impossible. There is a map, but quite frankly it’s too hard, so jumping on the Interstate to clear the city traffic is easily the best bet. Which we do until Joliet. Not Hooters again, but the R66 Information Centre for some literature on the history of the road which makes for good reading ….. if you’re that way inclined. Plus, for the last 10 years there’s been a full-blown midget in the foyer which remembers the old Joliet Stadium, a hot bed track for the budding Bob Tattersalls of the sixties.
From Joliet it was to Chicagoland, the NASCAR track which is actually on the old Route 66. 66 is not an officially designated highway any longer and it carries other road numbers, but the historical society has, with Government assistance, erected hundreds of brown marker signs along the entire 2,448 miles, telling holiday makers exactly where the old ‘Mother Road’ alignment is at all times.
A stop at Chicagoland, Route 66 Raceway (the drag strip) and the half mile Dirt Oval is compulsory every time. We have established a wonderful rapport with Charlie Lindsey who takes care of the Dragstrip as if it was in his own backyard. And at the same time he has complete access to the giant NASCAR facility in the complex. And the dirt track. It looks as though it’s becoming something of a status symbol for NASCAR tracks now to have a short track speedway somewhere on their property.
All pre-arranged, Charlie knows when we are arriving and so must the guy on the gate (he’s been there as long as we have been turning up) who also must know when we are coming because he’s always got his 2013 Global Speedway Tours cap on to welcome us.
We drove into the drag strip via the staging area and stopped right on the starting strip next to the ‘Christmas tree’ starting lights. Charlie and crew are there waiting for us and what they were doing today was a sight to see. They were burning off the accumulated rubber that had been laid down last weekend courtesy of thousands of horsepower at the rear wheels of hundreds of drag cars. Here’s how they do it.
When Charlie’s finished telling us all he can about the drag strip he says, “righto, hop in and have your race and then follow me”. Yes, the two vehicles get to go head to head down the drag strip. But very responsibly of course. We meet down at the end where the sand trap is. And then it’s over to the ½ mile Dirt Track that occasionally hosts USAC, the All Stars and the Outlaws, but not regularly. In the main this oval clay track makes its money out of demolition derbies and monster trucks.
Our last stop on the Charlie tour is the NASCAR facility. We pull in under the massive main straight grandstand, park the Fords, the doors to the corporate lift area get unlocked and away we go up the top level where the media centre is. The view from up here, behind glass, is outstanding, but it’s even better one more level up when we go out into the open air and stand where the spotters do for the races.
It’s one of the highest points in the greater Chicago area and provides a wonderful view not only of the races, but the entire surrounding countryside in every direction.
Having seen the track from this height, it’s was only fair and reasonable that we headed back down and drove around it at some speed. Not fast because Charlie was leading us!! What we are offered year after year from Charlie is simply incredible. He never fails to deliver on each tour as he shows off his baby with even more pride than he did the year before. Last tour we gave him an Appreciation plaque which hopefully conveyed our gratitude for what he does for us. Judging by his body language, it more than did the job.
Eventually it all came to an end and after thanking our host profusely we drove out very satisfied, but hungry. So, Nelly’s at Wilmington it was. We have often stopped at Nelly’s, but as yet no one has attempted their famous super large hamburger called the Bomb, but it may well have given Tim some ideas for later in the tour. Tina always likes to have her guests sign the ceiling and provides a ladder and textas to do so.
Onwards down Route 66 we went through towns such as Elwood, Diamond, Braidwood, Godley, Braceville, Gardner, Dwight, Odell, Pontiac, Ocuya, Chenoa, Lexington and Towanda before arriving in Bloomington around 5.30pm. So, what’s in Bloomington?
Well it’s not the Kinser family because they’re in Bloomington, Indiana. We’re in Illinois and the McLean County Fair is on and there’s a Tractor Pull tonight. And we’re going because it makes sprintcar racing look like a white collar sport.
Ear plugs and face masks should be the order of the day, but no one has any so some people just make do with sticking their finger in their ear. Betcha he wished that about now he had a coffee to go with the noise.
Day 57 / Thursday August 6th (Start of Week 9)
Our only time obligation today is St Louis by 3.30pm in order to deposit current tour members at the Holiday Inn on South Lindbergh Boulevard. This hotel, besides being from the great IHG chain, is very handily placed to I-55 which runs down to Memphis. Importantly though, long before it gets to Elvis country, it goes straight past the outpost with the delightful name of Herculaneum. You may have heard of the adjacent town called Pevely, home of the Federated Auto Parts (I-55) Raceway which is our destination tomorrow and Saturday for the World of Outlaws Iron Man races. But for now, we need to see some more of Route 66 before picking up Grant and Jennifer from Waikerie along with father / son Ian and Shaun from Warrnambool.
Unlike some previous tours, last night was a quiet one in Bloomington after the Tractor Pull. The wind had come up out of nowhere so it was unpleasant to be sitting for too long around the two outdoor wooden tables provided by the hotel. While sitting there for the short time that we did though, Leigh noticed something etched into the timber of one of the table tops. We pondered upon it for some time before deciding that it said “2015 – Darren sat here.” I was able to fill the group in on the night Darren did sit there for a very long time with a red cup in front of him and in fact had to call for a luggage trolley to get him back to his room.
We followed R66 out of Bloomington through Atlanta. We didn’t stop for food because there was no place to stop at anymore, but did for a moment to get the obligatory photo with the big fella and his hotdog.
Next was Lincoln, where you can’t help but drive right past the Logan County Fairgrounds. Yep, there is a speedway there too. But they weren’t racing at 10.00am on a Thursday morning, so there was no valid reason to stop, but we did of course for a short time. As we did again a few hundred metres up the road where the Honourable Abe Lincoln sits in his giant covered wagon up by the bowling alley.
After Lincoln, 66 runs parallel to 55 for 30 miles or so. The speed limit on 66 is 55, whereas on 55 it is 70. It’s quite weird after 57 days of having the opposing traffic passing you on the left-hand side, in this situation the traffic speeding the other way on the freeway is on your right-hand side. If you understood all that, you’re better than I am Gunga Din.
Following Lincoln was a tiny place called Williamsville where you’ll find the Old Route 66 Gas Station.
Now closed, we were fortunate enough to be passing through on the 2016 MoM tour and we found the owner in the process of offering everything for sale. If you lived in the US, you could have had as much as you could have fitted in your truck. For us, sadly it was just small items that would fit in our luggage.
Next up was Springfield where after visiting the Illinois State Fairgrounds and Lincoln’s Tomb, lunch was beckoning. And there was no better place than Jungle Jim’s. Jim Davison is a long-retired speedway racer at the now shuttered Springfield Speedway, as well as most of the other 31 dirt ovals in Illinois. I’m sure Jim doesn’t sit there and wait for us to arrive in any given year, but he sure seems to have a lot of fun with us when we do turn up. He proudly shows the group all the photos on the walls of him in his cars and him with anyone else in their cars. He tells stories galore and always has “arguments” with his former wife who works in the business with him. Friendly of course and very much staged for the customers.
Springfield to St Louis is 108 miles and we needed an hour and 43 minutes to do that. Our 3.30pm arrival was perfect, allowing Tim and I to get on the road to the airport and also the Budget car rental place to pick up another Ford to accommodate our four new guests. All of that was achieved in good time and we were back at the Holiday Inn before 6.00pm with Grant, Jennifer, Ian and Shaun. All four had enjoyed short holidays in San Francisco and Las Vegas respectively before flying in to St Louis, so they were already adjusted to the American time zones and were ready to get going. We now have a black, a white and a silver Ford to shoot up and down the freeways.
The introduction to the group happened over dinner at the nearby Red Lobster which, despite its name, does offer excellent selections other than just seafood. Although I reckon you’d be mad not to at least consider these delicious combinations.
Day 58 / Friday August 7th
It was a glorious day to go sightseeing in St Louis and for night 1 of the Iron Man at Pevely. Prior arrangements and reservations had been made for us to take the traditional one hour voyage on the Tom Sawyer riverboat for a couple of miles up and down the Mississippi.
And after that it was the journey to the top of the Gateway Arch. It’s about 60 stories high and is accessed by small vertical tram like lifts which travel up and down the inside of each leg of the Arch. It can be claustrophobic and the feeling at the top looking out from the window slits is certainly not for everybody. So, it becomes a purely optional excursion.
What I always thought would be a reasonably rare occurrence happens more often than you think. One of the fascinations of the Mississippi for me has always been how the barges transport their cargo up and down the river with so much ease. The maximum is 15 barges tied together in what’s called a “tow”. Each holding 1,500 tons. That’s 22,500 tons in total. Every one of those ‘tows’ takes 630 semi-trailers off the interstates.
The following video is taken from the top of the Gateway Arch and looks east over St Louis back into Illinois. The appearance of the 15-barge ‘tow’ as I was shooting, proves that they are more regular than you might think. Each barge is 66 metres long and 12 metres wide. Tie up 15 together and the skipper of the tugboat has to manoeuvre a monolith that weighs 22½ million kilograms and is three acres in area, up river at 8 kph for 1,800 kilometres. I’m told that they get paid well ….
Looking the other way out of the Gateway Arch not only shows you the size of the windows up there, but also Busch Stadium where the Cardinals play (there was a game on at the time) and downtown St Louis.
Anheuser Busch’s Budweiser Brewery is still on the Friday agenda, but I’ll have to rethink the timing of it as they have dramatically altered the offering we have been accustomed to. The complimentary tours are still on, but the frequency of them has been dramatically reduced, with free beer no longer an inclusion. For $10 you can take the 75-minute “Day Fresh tour” which is much like the free tour, except it offers included beer samples and a (full) bottle to take with you. However, the timing of those tours is awkward for us. We can only get there around 1.00pm lunchtime and need to be gone by 2.45pm and although we took the tour and enjoyed it, lunch in the Biergarten did not happen this time unfortunately.
Re-energised with beer that couldn’t have been any fresher, we left the Brewery to get back to the Holiday Inn (via a Subway for some foot-longs) to prepare for the speedway. Friday night always has a great crowd, but it is nowhere near what it will be like tomorrow night, which requires an even earlier hotel departure. At 4.00pm we drove south out of the hotel car-park down I-55 and at 4.22pm drove in to the speedway car-park to be confronted by an horrendous sight.
Over the years we are always visited during tailgating by Andrew and his friends Billy and Billy. That ute they are sitting on was actually on its way to see if we had arrived yet and we followed it down to our regular parking spot, just below John Gibson’s RV up on the hill.
Andrew lives locally and is the curator for several school sporting fields near his home. Never misses a race at I-55, irrespective of what’s on. Loves a beer and looks after Billy and Billy like brothers. Perhaps they are? Both Billys are always around before the races, but rarely are they sighted afterwards. Generally, they’re passed out horizontally in, or on, that same truck. Andrew was overwhelmed when he became the proud owner of a brand new Global Speedway Tours’ cap. I think we can be reassured that it will now make an appearance every year the Iron Man is on and we are there to watch it. “In fact”, he said to nobody in particular, “I’m gonna wear this m’ fker when I’m flyin’ muh plane”. Those in earshot who heard this, dropped their own beers in shock and awe. A pilot??
Eventually the parking lot tailgating tapered off as people broke away to enter the track. Seating is now always on the back straight for both nights where you can overlook the pits as well, but in the early years we have been on the front straight. But the lack of allocated space per derriere is less than appealing, so we shifted. One of those times was six years ago. As this specially produced video for this Blog will demonstrate, Friday night in 2014 was spectacular … and a very late one.
Night 1 in 2015 also brought forth an opportunity for Perth tour member, Tegan Crake (now Durbridge) to capture a once in a lifetime shot from the front straight grandstand when she had her telephoto lens aimed at turn 3 when Kevin Petty went in too hard and clobbered the fence big time. So much so in fact, that Tegan’s photo graphically captures the moment when his helmet flew off in the impact, along with a rod end from somewhere on the car. This photo hasn’t seen the light of day before.
Jason, Tegan’s husband inspects the monster cushion at I-55 after racing had finished that same night.
But back to the here and now, it was Sheldon Haudenschild who drove away from Brad Sweet to win the Night before the Iron Man, as they call it. Seemingly Sheldon hadn’t changed a thing on the car since this same time 12 months ago when he put in what Johnny Gibson said at the time was the best drive he had ever seen to win the non stop 2019 Iron Man by an entire lap.
Day 59 / Saturday August 8th
More sightseeing on the cards today when everyone jumped in the Fords and in convoy we went back north up I-55 to a place that has become a regular stop for us. The Country Classic Cars collection in Staunton never fails to capture hearts and minds. For most it’s just the heart, but for some it’s the mind, and their money, with several purchases having been made either on the spot, or later on when back in Australia. This blue 1966 Chev Corvair convertible è was the second car purchased by the Mounties. But it was the only one which ever made it to Geelong. The first one was burnt to a crisp in a fire even before it left the show room in Staunton in 2017.
After inspecting Classic Cars we cruised for a while up Route 66 viewing old classic gas stations in Mt Olive, Pink Elephant markets in Livingstone (yes Shayne your flag is still there) before lunching in Litchfield at what is historically recorded as the oldest original Diner on the entire 2,448 miles of the Route 66 “Mother Road”.
Yes, it’s the marvellous Ariston Café which, over the years of going in there, we have agreed has the most delightful selection of desserts known to man. Whether it’s a full-blown lunch, or just coffee and a pie chaser, doesn’t matter. Step inside and experience what it was like to break the three-day trip between from Chicago to St Louis during the dustbowl of the 1930’s.
Built in 1935, the Ariston was a beacon for weary travellers fed up with car breakdowns, punctures and mud. It is a pleasant place that provided warmth from the snow in winter and ice-cold drinks in the sweltering summers. But most of all it’s the pies that did, and still do attract the travellers, some of whom simply drive up here from St Louis for lunch!
Time to start thinking about leaving Litchfield for the hotel to get ready for tonight. The weather is still amazingly good which is unusual for Pevely because we understand that the words Iron Man mean rain in the local Herculaneum language. Or if it’s not rain, the Mississippi which runs past the speedway has burst its banks and flooded the joint. Neither has happened today, so we’re looking good.
There was no Andrew as we drove in to the parking lot, but he’ll find us. There are two people on this tour who always find us. There’s Andrew and the other is our Aussie mate “Wayne the Train”, but he’s unlikely tonight as the sprintcars have wings on. Plenty did find us though, including the local constabulary. He was on promotional duty and was cruising in the cruiser, stopping when he liked. He found some Aussies and stayed for 30 minutes just chatting. The number of those “Osssies” though had increased remarkably thanks to the Straya flags permanently attached to the back doors of the Fords. Mick and Kim with their kids Rusty and Ambrose were some of those guests.
Inside the track, where we eventually finished up I took the opportunity to film from right up at the fence on suicide corner, otherwise known as turn 4. The speed the cars approach and go through here is mind-boggling, as is the noise. Oh, and turn up the sound so you can annoy the full gamut of yours and everyone else’s senses.
For once I haven’t yet mentioned Kyle Larson. He raced last night, but in his mind he had a fail because he could only finish sixth, meaning Katelyn had to buy her own beer. But this evening the photographers had the Busch Light for her to shotgun in front of the cameras as he won narrowly from Sheldon Haudenschild, Shane Stewart and Rico Abreu, despite Rico giving his Californian buddy a massive “hip and shoulder bump” on turn 1 to get through to the lead. Larson is continuing to steal Donny Schatz’s usual limelight at this time of year with Donny only winning one feature in the last 22 WoO races.
Here’s the World of Outlaws highlights video of tonight’s feature. And in particular take careful note of Rico’s pass for the lead at the 4.17 min mark. Anyone else, but Larson would have upended it.
There’s one more happening for this day that needs to be reported. For once we were ‘home’ before midnight and given that the built-up adrenaline hadn’t yet subsided after that humdinger of a race, I detected there was a need for a nightcap. It’s not hard to work that out when no one moves an inch after they get out of the bus. And besides, Kerry Madsen had won the 360 Nationals in Knoxville tonight, so a celebration was called for. And when you’ve got a classy hotel with a lovely big parking lot, there is no real reason why you shouldn’t use it.
Now all readers should understand that we are a quiet, no issues bunch who are just excited that the Knoxville Nationals start next week. That’s all. And it’s legal (well nearly) to have an adult beverage on someone else’s private property. So, the appearance of the police car around 1.00am both was, and wasn’t a surprise really. The koalas and kangaroos stayed inside the bus for the moment as it could be implied that they rendered a suggestion of immediate bribery.
The car pulled up and the occupant got out, but stayed in the dark for a few seconds before eventually emerging from the shadows. And then at exactly the same time, the police officer and those who were on last year’s tour, realised it was Groundhog Day for everybody. Us, because it was the same cop who dropped in on us last year in Cahokia and Dave because he instantly said “Well welcome back you guys. Where the hell have you been? I’ve been drivin’ by the last two nights after the races and you weren’t here.”
What an amazing coincidence, made even more so by the fact we are in a different hotel this year. “How did you know we were here?” was the first question that needed to be asked. “Well I am a cop, ain’t I” he shot back. “You have a website don’t ya! I looked up your itinerary and you show the hotel name everywhere you go, so it weren’t that hard!” With that everyone relaxed, topped up their drinks and proceeded to listen to Dave tell some super stories. Just like last year, he had us in stitches with stories of his police dog Feight, born and trained in Munich and who could only understand commands in German. “We caught plenty of crooks, but never any Germans”. Could easily have been a stand-up comic this man.
His final words before being called away to some “trailer park foreplay” (his words for a domestic dispute) were “I wanted to say thanks again for the koala bear and the skippy you gave me last year. And also to let you know that my daughter had twins late last year and I need two more.” They were duly handed over in return for another incredible evening.
Day 60 / Sunday August 9th
Today’s the day that some consider is the start of the real tour! Well that’s not the case as you now know, having read all of this Blog. But you can’t blame those who have never been to Knoxville before for being just a teensy-weensy bit excited. It is said that all roads lead to Knoxville.
Well maybe that’s not quite right, but at least with us they’re assured of going to the right Knoxville. Similar to town names like Riverside (46), Franklin (39), Lincoln (36), Greenville (34), Clinton (27), Springfield (20) etc, there are 15 Knoxvilles scattered across the continent. And how do you know that Iowa is the one you want to go? Some finish up in Tennessee, 797 miles away.
But today it’s a trip that is the last long journey we will make on the tour. A mere five hours and 298 miles. In case you were wondering, before leaving this morning my black Ford (BF) has clocked up 11,137 miles (17,820 kms). Double that to add in the white one. No scrapes or bruises on either van. And importantly, no breakdowns. Who said FORD stands for “Fix Or Repair Daily”? And now Tim will also maintain that fine record as he makes the convoy a threesome, so to speak.
Morning tea was in Hannibal on the Mississippi. The town that is, not the morning tea. It was in Becky’s Old-Fashioned Ice Cream Parlour in the main street. If Mark Twain had known about Becky’s when he lived here, I’m sure he too would have bought his morning tea there. The thick shakes are thicker than a bowl of Tom Sawyer’s oatmeal.
Onwards from Hannibal was along Route 6 to 63 and then to Kirksville where Moose had carefully selected a Hardees fast food restaurant to have lunch. A good choice too although it wasn’t the usual Hardees we stop in at Mt Pleasant on 34. But who cares, they are all the same. Or, are some better than others perhaps? Every time I eat in a Hardees it reminds me of the year 2014 when (without realising) I dropped a credit card underneath the booth I was sitting at in the Mt Pleasant store.
Upon reaching Knoxville we stopped at the racetrack to pick up all the pre-paid tickets for the forthcoming week of racing. Kim, the ticket office Manager, cheekily said “did you enjoy your lunch at Hardees in Mt Pleasant”? I was flabbergasted. How did she know that? Kim unfolded the story for me. After we left the restaurant, the staff swept around the tables and found a Visa card on the floor in my name. Knowing we were Aussies and that we all had sprintcar t-shirts or caps on, they guessed (correctly) that we, like many others, were on our way to Knoxville.
Cindy was the Manager and her husband was a Late Model racer, so she took charge and rang the Raceway. By a stroke of sheer good fortune, Kim answered the call and confirmed that yes, she did know Peter Physick and yes, she would get him to call her when he arrives later this afternoon. And I did call immediately and on Tuesday morning I had the Visa card back in my wallet courtesy of Fed Ex. So that’s why Hardees get our business on this same day every year!
Today, after first checking that I had all my credit cards, we went straight through to Pella instead of stopping in at Knoxville. After all, we would be back there in two hours’ time for Capitani night. The staff at the Royal Amsterdam Hotel in Pella welcomed us back with open arms. It was like old home week. I was going to say that everything was exactly the same, but it wasn’t. It was better than that. The total refurbishment of all the rooms was now complete including the updates to Monarch’s Restaurant, now known as the Liberty Street Kitchen. The only items missing were Richard and Kellie, the former proprietors of Monarchs, now at the Pella Golf Club.
The ride down to Knoxville is only 14 miles for us, each and every day. For some though during Nationals Week their return journey from hotel to race track can be 200 miles per day as available rooms are very thin on the ground.
Sunday night at Knoxville is a non-sanctioned race put on by the track to give the growing crowd something to do on the Sunday night, as well as providing an opportunity for teams from out of state to get a few laps in before the Nationals begin on Wednesday night. As a result, usually about 70-80 cars turn up, but some don’t as well. D Schatz for example believes he’s already done as many laps around the half mile ribbon of Marion County clay as he needs to.
There might only be 8,000 to 10,000 spectators which is a lot, but not at Knoxville which has grandstands that seat 29,500. And everyone of those seats will be occupied come Saturday night. Hence tonight there was ample opportunity to browse amongst the merchandisers for prized purchases before the big crowds filter in. And to visit the National Sprintcar Hall of Fame with its Museum and new Bryan Clauson wing. And having done that, and because the temperature and the humidity were vying to reach 100 first, the Dingus Lounge proved popular for what no doubt will be the first of many. First of what you say? Well the photo spells it out.
Over at the track, the racing was a great lead into what is still to come. In fact, so were the results. Kyle Larson had a night off which allowed everyone else a chance of the win. But strangely enough while victory tonight would be good, no one looked to be busting a gut trying. All they want to do is experiment with some different set up configurations and learn new tricks from watching others. If a win comes, well and good. The bank manager will be happy. Brian Brown streaked away from the field to take the win which he is good at doing in regular racing here at Knoxville. But luck has eluded him countless times in the Nationals finishing second four times. Will this year be his to celebrate?
Day 61 / Monday August 10th
The weather is still steamy, hot and humid. There’s a storm coming, if not today, tomorrow. Or both. Hopefully Oskaloosa will be OK, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens. The morning and the early afternoon were designated as ‘do it yourself hours’. But what I saw at 8.00am (out my hotel window of course) is surely a modern miracle.
There they were, Ben, Tim, Deryk, Leigh, Gary, Moose, Steve and Shaun, all about the same age, walking in a line up the left-hand side of the canal, before turning right over the little bridge towards the Cinema and then disappearing out of sight. They each wore a headband, shorts, singlet and runners and had a hotel towel around their neck. I kid you not the procession looked like a scene from the Great Escape when the prisoners marched out of the camp on work detail.
I’m guessing Adam would have been there too, but he’d gone off to the airport in Des Moines to pick up Grant, our last member to join the tour.
I thought about this for a while before it clicked. Back in Australia, Ben runs a very successful international weight loss business and Tim manages the health and fitness of all the staff and executives in Woolworth’s Head Office in Sydney. The Royal Amsterdam does not have a gym, but has negotiated the use of one for guests. And guess where it is? Up past the cinema and around the corner. There must have been some pretty serious talking going on in St Louis and in the bus that Tim was driving with all these “young” guys in it yesterday. Or was it a bet and six of them lost? One day we might find out …..
At 4.00pm we gathered in the foyer and welcomed Ando to the group. We are now 25 in total for the last seven nights. Everyone figured that their sprintcar knowledge will buff up a bit over the next week with the driver of #37 on board with us. Adam sponsors Grant Anderson through WASP Steering & Suspension and after this tour is done, both are staying on in the US for another month or so to go NASCAR watching on the eastern seaboard.
But now it was time to do some more sprintcar watching. There has been no rain, although it has threatened all day and still is. Oskaloosa is the same distance from Pella as Knoxville is. 14 miles, but in a different direction. Terry McCarl runs the Oskaloosa races when he hires the Fairgrounds for two nights. From what I have deduced over the years, if McCarl is promoting a race then expect rain on at least one night. He has loads of bad luck in that regard, but fortunately keeps on persevering with what was once called the Front Row Challenge, but is now known as the Osky Challenges.
Tonight is the 410 winged cars supported by the 305’s. Tomorrow is the ASCS 360’s, plus the 410 non-winged cars. Sorry for the gobbledygook if you’re just a keen Blog reader. But if you’re a race fan as well, you’ll understand. But before we go inside there’s some serious meet ‘n greet tailgating to be done in the parking lot. Plenty of folks we’ve met over the last 60 days have all descended into Oskaloosa, which is well known amongst the fans as “I went to a party and a race broke out”. Although we don’t go into the infield anymore, the shenanigans that go on in there are enormous. Once on the infield you cannot get back into the grandstand. Or at least, “them’s the rules”. But I think they get broken a few times.
Toby Kruse is a name you may have heard of. Like Dave Argabright, Toby has become a good friend to Global Speedway Tours. He has been a speedway person all his life. Growing up as a kid in Boone, Iowa all Toby wanted to do was be the flagman at the local dirt track. He did. Then he wanted to be a promoter. He is, with 141 Speedway in Wisconsin and Marshalltown in Iowa under his control. He didn’t really have any ambitions to be GM of Knoxville Raceway, but they made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Two years he did that. He always wanted to own a bar. He does, with Toby K’s Hideaway in Boone. He also owns the gas station next door and the wedding reception hall. And he started Speed Shift TV (with others) before selling it this year to FloRacing. But there’s still one thing he wants to do though. Visit Australia again …..
Despite all of that activity in his life, Toby still circles one date in his diary at the beginning of every year. The Monday night of the Osky Challenge when Terry McCarl invites him to take the flag stand as his own for the night. About five years ago Toby and I were enjoying a beer in Dingus when right out of the blue he said “Hey, why don’t you devise a system in your group to allow some folks to join me up on the flag stand one at a time during a race”? I thought for a bit and then asked “now how am I going to work that out? The ones that draw the short straw and miss out will shoot me.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right” replied Toby. I feared at this point he may withdraw his offer. But he didn’t. He simply fired back with “OK, bring ‘em all up during the night. There’s enough qualifying and heat races to satisfy everybody”. And that’s what has happened every Oskaloosa Monday night ever since. The accompanying photo shows Wayne up top with Toby.
Not everyone wants to do it. It’s a bit like the Gateway Arch in St Louis. Some can’t wait for their turn. Others politely decline without needing to give a reason. The adrenaline rush is unbelievable. Sprintcars virtually flying at 200 kph beneath your feet with the turbulence from the wing enough to blow your toupée off.
Wanna see what it’s like? Well this is the view they get. Watch this 10 lap heat race with Toby Kruse on the flags.
The night’s winner? Well, following the fortnight he’s just had, it was well deserved. After being released from the KCP Racing #18, Ian Madsen found a ride with Guy Forbrook’s #5 and after a couple of impressive early showings at Knoxville and Husets, the team unexpectedly rolled through the pit gate at Oskaloosa to steal $11,000 of Terry McCarl’s money. It must give them an enormous boost in confidence for the Nationals. The only bad luck on the night was for Global Speedway Tours. Our regular favourite Friday visit to see Ian in Granger and to get a tour of KCP Racing’s shop has now disappeared.
Day 62 / Tuesday August 11th
Remember the reference to the heat and humidity? We were able to manage yesterday afternoon’s tailgating by keeping our fluids up and her upstairs kept the rain away all night. But clearly, she was unable to restrain herself any longer and at around 8.00am the winds were pounding Pella and the storm had arrived. Looking out my window again I saw the destruction beginning to occur. Those beautiful flower baskets, so used to hanging motionless every day were now becoming dangerous as they were whipped up by the winds and flung all over the place like lumps of clay off Ando’s right rear at Warrnambool.
Speaking of which. You know what else I saw? Yesterday’s troupe of eight marching line abreast had now increased to ten, with Adam and Ando joining the pilgrimage. Dressed identically again, they boldly ignored the flowery basketballs as they were hurled around by the wind, with most finishing up in the canals. Once again, they crossed the little bridge and disappeared around past the Cinema. Off to the gym ….. !!
The storm continued unabated for about an hour, with monsoonal rain arriving a few minutes after the lads vanished from sight. Now unfortunately I didn’t get any vision of this 2020 storm, but have a look at what I captured on the Saturday of the 360 Nationals in 2012 outside the hotel front door. It’s hard to believe this was 10.00am in the morning. It was almost Armageddon stuff.
But the racing went ahead that night at Knoxville without a delay. The winner was Shane Stewart, in a car owned and set up by none other than Paul Silva. In fact, Stewart won four 360 Nationals from 2010 to 2013 in Paul Silva cars. This has to be an omen for Kyle Larson next Saturday night …..
Storms don’t last long here as you’ve probably learned by now through your reading of the Blogs over the years. They are simply an occupational hazard to the promoter and usually if they come through early enough in the day the clean-up can quickly occur to allow racing to go ahead. This one this morning though might cause some issues as there are trees down everywhere and Oskaloosa is a fairgrounds track with plenty of trees in the parking lot. It’s one of Russell’s favourites! We can only wait for the decision later in the day.
In the meantime, everyone knew they had to be assembled in the foyer at 10.00am for our annual Outlet Shopping extravaganza. This time we were heading to Des Moines and the brand new Outlets built there last year. Everyone was on time including the gym junkies who looked refreshed and ready to shop ‘til they drop.
At around 2.00pm the news came through that Oskaloosa had packed up for the day. There would be no racing tonight and without another available day on the Southern Iowa Speedweek calendar, there was no option but to cancel totally. The troops were disappointed of course and expenditure at the outlet Stores dropped noticeably for about three minutes when the group text when around. Fortunately for the retailers, it picked up again almost instantaneously when a second text was sent to advise that instead of Oskaloosa, we would be heading to English Creek Speedway tonight instead.
No one quite knew what English Creek was, but the fact that it had ‘speedway’ after its name looked good to them. A quick squiz at Twitter revealed that the promoter of this little gem of a track was going to make the most of the Osky cancellation and try to lure as many of their intending patrons over to him as possible. It was night 2 of the Outlaw Dirt Kart Nationals. A high banked 1/8th mile dirt oval it is, with over a hundred entries. It will do for some racing action tonight.
We were in no rush to get back to the Hotel, so after spending all they wanted to here, the group deposited their 100 or so shopping bags in the back of the Fords before trooping across the road to the adjacent Bass Pro. It was very handily placed for those who hadn’t yet experienced life in one of these showcase stores.
By the time we got back to the Royal Amsterdam, the tyres on all three Fords needed to be pumped up such was the volume of shopping taken on board. Opening the rear doors was a hoot as people struggled to recognise what was theirs and what wasn’t.
English Creek was something different I suppose. Not what they signed up on the tour for to watch, but an able substitute nonetheless.
Day 63 / Wednesday August 12th
Preparing itineraries for each day is mandatory for a tour like this. It keeps you on track and motivated as you read ahead to see what’s still to come. But for a tour organiser, it can be fraught with danger. Rain is an unfortunate influence as we saw last night and on a couple of other isolated occasions over the last 63 days. (Just as an aside, the forecast for the next four days and nights is almost perfect. We will not lose another race.) And car owners can bring you undone as well. Witness Ian Madsen’s untimely departure from his KCP ride just a fortnight ago.
Today we were down to go see Brooke Tatnell in his race shop here in Pella. The Vermeer Motorsports TK Concrete #55 team. We’ve visited Brooke in each of the last four years, but in January he lost the ride to Hunter Schuerenberg. Knowing that in advance however was helpful because I was able to get in touch via e-mail with the crew chief and asked him if it was OK if we still called in to say hi and make out that we knew what we were looking at! Pleased to say that happened and it filled in the morning very nicely.
A similar occurrence occurred three years ago when Kerry lost the Keneric sponsorship and the beautifully set up race shop in the old timber mill just outside Knoxville. I still fondly remember the stunning livery of his 2013 Nationals car which was on display in the workshop just waiting to be loaded up and let loose. Kerry was always an accommodating person to us and still is when our paths cross. These days his ride with Tod Quiring is based up in Minnesota and that’s not somewhere we go on this tour.
Back to 2020 though and we still had stuff to do today. It was over at the Pella Golf and Country Club, the new workplace of Richard and Kellie Phillips. We had their VIP room booked for lunch with Dave Argabright as our guest speaker. It’s a date that is always set for Knoxville Nationals time and provided Dave doesn’t have any duties with MAV TV for the Wednesday, he loves travelling to Pella to get away from the madhouse that Knoxville can become for this broadcaster.
Dave is a journalistic authority on racing and I regard him as the Bruce McAvaney of the sport in the USA. Extremely knowledgeable and a terrific raconteur who is easy to listen to. Dave’s opening line of “auto racing started in America on the same day that Henry Ford built his second Model T” set the tone of the day. He retraced the steps that caused wings to be put on traditional sprintcars and he actually will happily tell you which class of sprintcar he prefers. But you’ll need to come along on tour one day to find out that answer.
He continued with the history of the Knoxville Nationals and why it means so much to a driver, owner and crew to win it. He discussed all the books he has written and published and took as many questions as he could fit into the time available. A fabulous two hours, for which I’m always forever grateful. It’s a major highlight of the tour when Dave is able to join us. And thanks Richard for the superb lunch. The rib eye was up to your usual excellent standard.
It was now time to get to the Knoxville Raceway. We had 30 minutes to do everything that needed to be done. The Terrific Ten were delighted to see that Noni had washed all their gym clothing, headbands and all, from their 6.00am session this morning. I did ask Tim if he could perhaps enlighten me as to what’s going on, but all he would say is that “it’s to get the junk out of our calves”. Not for one moment do I believe that, but I am impressed by their dedication.
Perhaps the Health-e Men were dehydrated from all the exercise because we needed to stock up on the way. Here’s the receipt for the purchase. A carton of Bud Light (24) and one 30 pack of Busch. A carton of Coke cans and one of Diet Pepsi. 3½ litres of bourbon (1.75 litres of Old Crow and one of Ten High) plus a dozen Mike’s 8% Harder Lemonade. Plus, the Govt mandated container deposit on the cans and state tax. All up $112.10.
For the Yanks reading this, be aware that one 1.75 litre bottle of Old Crow bourbon in Australia will set you back $90 bucks.
Having secured all this extra liquidity for the boys, plus enough ice for three eskies from the Hotel ice machine, we settled in under the trees in our fold up chairs in the Veterans’ Hospital Administration parking lot. I’ll tell you more about the VA Hospital later, but suffice to say the Raceway hires the land to accommodate the number of cars having to be parked each night of the Nationals.
So, there we were with copious amounts of adult beverages, when all of sudden the “youngsters” decided they wanted to visit Dingus. Not an unusual decision I must admit. You never know who you’re going to find in there. And besides AJ puts on some fabulous entertainers every afternoon. By the time we caught up with them a few hours later, they had already finished a cornboard tournament and were on their second shout each. Remember that there are 10 of them. And to soak it all up, the Four and Twenty meat pies AJ and Richard had freighted over from Australia again for the Australians were in high demand.
In case you’re wondering, Kyle Larson had the night off preferring to attempt to qualify tomorrow night for Saturday night’s $150,000 to win A Main. All entrants are separated into either Wednesday or Thursday to qualify. So, he ducked over to Dingus to say hi to all this fans and Adam made sure that Kyle knew it was his birthday. As he went on to prove later in the week, Larson wasn’t the only person Adam had his photo taken with in the bar, or at the track.
Both photos prove you can definitely meet anyone at Dingus. Stand there long enough and someone will walk past that you know. Bit like Times Square in New York. Old time speedway fans who were around in the 70’s will enjoy the second photo above. They will remember the names of Big Ed Wilbur (2nd from the right) and Leroy Van Connett (middle) with Bob and Pat and yours truly. We were introduced to these two great characters by Bernie Gordon and we chatted with them for at least an hour I’d say. Wonderful memories.
Eventually racing won out over all the frivolity of the Dingus Bar and people gradually moved to cross Highway 14 at the pedestrian lights. Heaven can’t help you if you don’t. It’s considered a crime worse than murder I reckon. On the way across Bob and Pat needed something to eat and a Philly Cheesesteak and a pork chop sambo won out.
I had a walking taco. A great invention where a bag of corn chips is gently crushed before opening it up. All the taco ingredients of lettuce, cheese, onion, beans and the protein, a mixture of chicken, pork and beef, are scooped into the bag together sour cream and a plastic fork. $5 changes hands and away you go walking while eating. Sensational invention. I still hadn’t finished by the time we arrived at the back straight grandstand where we were sitting tonight. Practice over many years provides evidence that this gives you the best experience.
The winners on track? Brad Sweet first, Kerry Madsen second and Aaron Reutzel in third. Kerry, fresh from his 360 Nationals win, was true to his word and retained the chassis that won him that title and simply put his 410 engine in that. It wasn’t Plan A, but the ease with which he won last weekend prompted the late call. Will it work???
Oh, a couple more pics of Adam.
Day 64 / Thursday August 13th (Start of Week 10)
Two years ago, a very funny (and late) night at Oskaloosa involving high powered sky rockets, saw the arrival of County officers to shut down festivities, but they had no more knowledge of the regulations surrounding use of fireworks at 1.30am in the morning than we did. Particularly in a parking lot that doubled as a campground for folks already fast asleep in RVs. So the fun continued. Mind you, the ones with the matches weren’t us, but mates of Toby’s who had brought his friends to ‘meet the Aussies’.
We just sat back and enjoyed the show which was equal to, if not superior to the parking lot fireworks at I-55 a few days earlier. On that occasion it was the son of the promoter who decided to bring out leftovers not used at the end of the feature. “Fire in the hole” was the call each time one went up, if I remember correctly.
On this same night of supercharged entertainment from the “Kruse Krew” we met Dianna, Toby’s partner. A delightful lady with energy galore to burn. We learned that Dianna owned Shining Stars Stables just outside Des Moines which is home to 19 Percheron show horses that are floated around the country for showing at State Fairs. “Would I like to bring the group up to see the horses”? It was a potentially fascinating invitation to spend a morning seeing horsepower of a different kind. I wasn’t totally sure the if the group would find it of interest, but said yes anyway.
The outcome was 1,000% better than I thought it would be. People were mesmerised by these magnificent animals, so there and then on the spot, it became a guaranteed inclusion on the Thursday morning Knoxville itinerary for ever more. But that was two years ago. Last year when we visited, it was even more excitedly received. On each occasion lunch was at Jethro’s BBQ in Altoona afterwards. Now bear with me here. I’m setting the scene for you. Tim (and Leigh) were on the tour last year as well and went to lunch at Jethro’s where Tim decided to order something that was decidedly indecent.
I’m thinking all this through on the way to the stables this morning and suddenly it all became clear. The gym junkies, (except for Grant) were all in the same bus travelling up from St Louis on Sunday. Tim had told the rest of them the story and before you could say Adam Emmenecker, all agreed to be part of the 2020 Global Speedway Tours challenge. But, said Tim and Ben, “you guys need to do some workouts to get ready for it”, hence the four successive visits to the gym.
As we drove up the road on the property leading to the stables, we could clearly see the row of open windows on the stables, all with equal distances between them. Out of each window, almost as if they had been told to do it, was a horse with its head as far out as possible welcoming us to Shining Stars.
These magnificent Percheron horses can be as tall as 19 hands. To provide some perspective, Tim in the above photo is 5’10” or 178 cms. Dianna and her staff gave us a terrific personal tour which included the blacksmith’s shop where plates the size of what you’d eat your dinner off are fitted to the hooves, the transporters she uses to get them from State Fair to State Fair and an introduction to every horse in the stable by name.
This vision provides a little piece of what it’s like inside.
Our next objective was to take Dianna to lunch to thank her for the splendid morning we had just experienced. Terry McCarl “is from Altoona, Iowa” and so is a Jethro’s BBQ Restaurant. We didn’t see Terry, but the patrons who happened to be eating there on Thursday August 13th witnessed something they won’t forget in a hurry.
Thanks to Dianna ringing ahead, we had a table for 24 prominently positioned in the middle of the rather large open plan dining room. Menus were distributed and people settled in to choose what they wanted. But there were 10 in our party who already knew what they wanted and in fact, thanks to the sneaky Tim and Dianna, had phoned through their order two hours earlier. There was a popular basketballer called Adam Emmenecker who played for Drake University in Des Moines and ate regularly at one of the Jethro’s near the Uni. His appetite was legendary, to the extent that Jethro’s devised a special burger just for him and chose to name it after him when Des Moines won the Championship in 2008.
Its ingredients are listed next and a photo of it is below. “Start with our huge pork tenderloin, add an Angus steak burger, top it with slabs of Texas brisket, apple wood bacon, fried cheese and finish with buffalo chicken tenders. Smother this mountain of food with melted cheddar cheese and white cheddar sauce. Serve it with your choice of side.” Cost $25.95. The boys had all chipped in $50 each to cover the cost of their meal and a couple of drinks with about $15 leftover (total $150) to go to the winner of the inaugural Global Speedway Tours Emmenecker eating challenge. This link describes the history of the Challenge as it exists across all Jethro’s restaurants in Iowa. The current record is 3 minutes and one second, held by Molly Schuyler a 59 kg mother of four. The record at the Altoona restaurant is seven minutes and 8 seconds.
So, the scene is set and now we know why the gym visits were compulsory for all contestants.
The rules were agreed beforehand. The winner would be the first to finish the burger only. Not the non-compulsory pound of waffle fries. A knife and fork were optional. As many beers (or water) could be drunk to wash it down as required. Servers from Jethro’s were there to satisfy every request. In fact, the restaurant also supplied the official referee and timekeeper who has presided over many a similar challenge. But this was the first involving Aussies. The prizemoney had now increased to $490. Jethro’s threw in $100 and then it became a bit like a Greek wedding. Other diners started walking over to throw some greenbacks on the table as well. I could have asked FloRacing to live stream this if I’d been given some notice.
The freshly prepared Emmeneckers were brought out by a procession of servers to a spirited round of applause from other diners.
They were positioned on the tables in front of the contestants. Beers were refilled and cups of water placed at the ready. Those not in the contest elected to eat later, preferring to watch the Challenge. The contestants were: Adam, Ando, Ben, Deryk, Gary, Leigh, Moose, Shaun, Steve and Tim. All the youngsters. The Australian flags from the back doors of the Fords came off for the first time in 64 days and were hung around the restaurant for atmosphere.
There was no clear favourite and anticipation was mounting. And then a bell was rung (bit like Pavlov’s dog actually) and the gates were opened. Hootin’ and hollerin’ erupted around the restaurant: more beer was called for by the cheering spectators. It was a packed house. People had to resort to looking through windows from the outside. Tim had taken an early lead, but only because he knew what to do from last year. He was soon overtaken by Steve who had knowledge from watching prisoners eat in gaol. Deryk was struggling, falling behind in the tempo because he was using a knife and fork.
The brothers Leigh and Gary were doing very nicely thank you. The years of eating in Truck stops every night was doing them no harm at all and after two and a half minutes they were a chicken tender in front of the field. Not far behind though was Ben who was calling on experience gained from end of season footy trip contests involving McDonald’s cheeseburgers. My information is that 13 in one sitting is his record.
We were now three minutes in and no one was even a quarter way through. So much for the national Jethro’s record of 3 minutes and 1 second. If they can do it within 15 minutes there’s a free T-Shirt and a place in the Altoona Hall of Fame. Six minutes gone and Ben was still in front, but tiring. Coming from the rear of the field for jumping the start was Ando. He was doing well, but had a lot of ground to catch up. Adam looked the pick of the bunch after he told the cute waitress (whose name was Angel) that it was his birthday, but we believe she may have secretly removed a slab of brisket before giving him the plate. A steward’s enquiry will be needed if he wins.
Shaun, the silent assassin from Warrnambool was a surprise packet and at the 10 minute mark was leading, urged on by his Dad who was feeding him Sungold Milk as a lubricant. It was a masterstroke. But the man who looked to have the stamina and was pacing himself well for a run home was Moose. He hadn’t used any implements, choosing to tear the burger apart with his hands and then shovel it in as quickly as he could with his fingers like a Japanese subway train pusher.
The crowd was still involved and were roaring when Ando started to come through the field. We had now passed the 15 minute mark, so no one would win a T-Shirt, but there was still the small matter of $490 to collect. Urged on by the audience, Ando (wearing his own #37 sprintcar t-shirt would you believe) began to catch Moose, who had passed Shaun two laps beforehand when he demolished the Brady Bacon in three gulps. It was neck and neck as they took the white flag together. Just one item was left on each plate.
On Ando’s it was the big lump of deep-fried cheese. On Moose’s plate everything was gone, except for the giant dill pickle which had been stuck through the top of the two skewers holding each burger together. Ando had already eaten his, but Moose didn’t think the pickle was part of the deal. But Jethro the referee said it had to be eaten. With one hand on his stomach and the other hovering in front of his mouth, Moose just sat there and looked at the pickle. For someone who has picked the pickle out of every Big Mac he’s ever had, this was going to be a big call. He just gazed at it and the aroma of sour vinegar was unfortunately the tipping point for him.
Just as Ando swallowed the last bit of deep-fried Mozzarella to take the chequered flag, Moose’s Emmenecker came rapidly back up his throat and was ejected in several sizeable chunks into the handily placed bucket beside each contestant. “Better out than in,” he said with a broad smile on his face while congratulating Ando who was already on the podium ready for an interview. And to top off the day, a slender and vaguely familiar blonde girl from the audience broke ranks and jumped up with Ando and Moose and shot gunned a can of Busch Light. To do so she had to ask the lady she was with to look after her young son and daughter just for a moment.
For clarification purposes on all of the above you might like to see how an Adam Emmenecker burger is made and also if you really want to, you can watch the 3 minute and 1 second record holder eat hers.
In the second YouTube video, start watching from the 8 minute mark. The videos will also prove the existence of the pickle
So there you have it. Ando generously split the prizemoney with Moose and then both men agreed that if everyone else tipped in $10 a piece, they would put their entire winnings into the kitty and we would buy $340 of 50/50 tickets on Friday night and then again on Saturday night. You just never know …..
Thursday night at Knoxville is a repeat of Wednesday night, just with a different bunch of cars. It’s exactly the same format and points are awarded which are tallied up after the A Main. This final pointscore list of drivers is then merged with those from last night and the overall top 16 drivers are locked into Saturday night’s A Main which pays $10,000 to start, $150,000 to win and $75,000 for second.
Kyle Larson was in scintillating form once again and no one could hold a candle to him tonight. The same as it has been for all other drivers right across the country since his departure from NASCAR earlier this season. Shane Stewart joined him with a great run for second and David Gravel ran third.
A heart-warming side to Knoxville Raceway is the way in which junior flagmen are encouraged to practice their skills on race night. This personal video shows what happens.
Day 65 / Friday August 14th
Our arrangements for the morning activity were thrown into disarray when Ian Madsen lost the ride with KCP Racing several weeks ago. Although people were disappointed, they totally understood and welcomed the small break in the hectic program so far. The visits to Ian’s race shop were always enjoyable and the hospitality he and his team provided was outstanding. To help us remember the relationship with Ian and KCP, this photo is our favourite. Taken on the 2019 Month of Money tour, it shows the great expanse of the shop. The transporter fitted easily!
Our day was not totally disrupted however as we still jumped into the buses and headed up to Boone for our traditional Friday lunch at Toby K’s Hideaway. The name refers of course to Toby Kruse of Oskaloosa flag waving fame. The bar / restaurant is in the same town as he lives, at least when he’s at home. Ownership of Marshalltown in Iowa and 141 Speedway in Wisconsin keep him active and away from Boone for days on end. One of Marshalltown’s most popular classes of race cars is the Modifieds.
They attract great crowds and hence the teams flock to the high banks with many a modified returning home without everything it started the night with. The ceiling in Toby K’s is 100% covered with side panels from those modifieds which have fallen foul of misguided mayhem over the years at his tracks.
We left Toby K’s at the same time as saying hello to Rosie who was just walking in the front door. Which was a good thing! Rosie is as rusted on in Toby K’s as the taps are that serve her favourite Budweiser beer. When her time in there coincides with ours, everyone gets a hug and kiss and a long conversation about life at Rosie’s house! She means well ….
Next stop was at Boone Speedway, yet another track which is smack bang in the middle of town. As I’ve said before many times in these pages, small town America really does understand and appreciate the economic contribution that their Saturday night short track speedway brings to the businesses in the town. Boone is very successful with two particular promotions each year. First, it’s the IMCA Super Nationals for seven divisions of cars over six successive nights.
Here are the stats for 2019 showing the number of cars that turned up. Except for the Late Models, which only race Monday night, all the rest stay in the pits all week. The most that competed on any one night was Wednesday when 484 cars raced!!
Late Models 35
Sport Mods 140
Hobby stocks 122
Sport compacts 66
N Sport Mods 30
The second promotion they have is the Hawkeye Challenge. Wheel to wheel action with six classes all on the track at the same time! Mod Lites, IMCA Hobby Stocks, IMCA Sportmods, IMCA Stock Cars, IMCA Modifieds, and RaceSaver 305 winged sprintcars Here’s the link to watch the 2020 edition. Phenomenal spectacle. (You need to have a Facebook account to watch.)
Now it was off to Marshalltown Speedway where Toby was preparing the track for tonight’s racing. 50 miles east it was and a few nodded off in the back after a big lunch and the sun streaming in. I haven’t mentioned previously that tonight sees the group separate, but just for tonight. Before leaving Australia, they had been given a choice of Night 3 at Knoxville, or a night at Marshalltown Speedway with Late Models, Modifieds, Stockcars, Mod Lites and Hobby Stocks. Needless to say, the folks who haven’t been to Knoxville before picked the Nationals, while those who have, picked Marshalltown.
So, after 30 minutes inspecting Marshalltown with Toby, who always gets down from the grader or the water truck to greet us, two of the Fords returned to Pella and then went on to Knoxville. The third Ford stayed where it was and would return to Pella later tonight. Those who stayed went for rides in the water truck with Toby and his dog Smoke, a beautiful Havachon; it’s a cross between a Havanese and a Bichon Frise. Get one if you can.
Eventually the competitors started rolling in, dozens and dozens, one after the other. I think Toby said the car count that night stopped at 162. He had plenty to do, so we went off into town to grab a quick feed before returning to our VIP seats in the grandstand. I’m unable to tell you who the winners of the various classes were. Suffice to say that it was a fabulous night with Global Speedway Tours getting plenty of mentions and also treks to the infield for everyone to watch some heat racing. Thank you Toby, for your wonderful hospitality.
Meanwhile at Knoxville, many rate the Friday as the most cut throat night of racing. You’ll remember that the top 16 in points from Wednesday and Thursday are already locked in to the Saturday night A and the next 10 are locked in to the B on Saturday. All other teams toss their accumulated points away and come back on Friday to qualify again, race in one of six heats and then the C, B or A as the case maybe. The top four in Friday’s A Main take positions 21-24 in Saturday’s A. That leaves positions 17-20 still to be filled. They go to the first four from Saturday’s B Main.
All very simple and easy to understand …..
That format was devised by Toby when he was the GM to give teams who had bad luck on the first two nights to recover and still get a locked in position on Saturday. Whereas otherwise they would be down in the D or the E and virtually no chance of making it. As it turned out, Logan Schuchart and Donny Schatz both had engine dramas on Thursday, but tonight finished 1st and 4th respectively. Putting Donny out of 24 in Saturday. If he wins from there it will be a hell of a race.
PS The winning 50/50 number was 636558 worth $9,791. As at the time of writing it still hadn’t been claimed!!
Day 66 / Saturday August 15th
A very long 18 hour day started at breakfast this morning. Those who went to Marshalltown wanted to know all about last night at Knoxville and vice versa. We also double checked our 50/50 tickets (there were over 300 of them) but the keepers of the tickets had not overlooked the winning one last night in the stands. Someone else out there is short $9,791.
First task today was to drive into Knoxville to watch the Nationals Parade. It’s not what you might imagine it to be. There are no sprintcars in it, nor transporters. In fact, one of the only racing references is to the “Queen of the Nationals” who gets a start and is paraded through the town on a truck with the runners up. In 2016 the Queen was Michaela Dumesny who gave me a quick wave as she drove around the town square.
One of the kid friendly aspects of the morning is that pretty well everything in the parade, be it a police car, fire engine, hot rod, tractor, a float with dignitaries, high school marching band, you name it, has candy (lollies) thrown out by the occupants to all the children lining the street with Mum and Dad. The kids come armed with bags to collect as many as they can. Good fun, but sometimes to me it appears to be demeaning to the little guys picking candy up off the street.
Here’s some footage of the Knoxville High School Marching band.
After 45 minutes or so it’s all over and the spectators scatter to work out just what they are going to do between now and the start of the E Main at 8.00pm. For us it was appropriate to check out the town from inside the Fords, rather than on foot, as we have been doing.
One of the favourite past times of many Knoxville visitors is calling in at Slideways the go kart track which seems to draw hundreds of people at Nationals time to drive the hire karts and also to watch sprintcar drivers like Tony Stewart, Kyle Larson, Kasey Kahne etc race each other for charity.
From there we cruised at a very slow pace through town. ‘Through town’ means driving along Highway 14 from one end to the other. A length of about three kilometres. In the following six minute video, the camera was placed on the front window and looks at life in the streets of the Sprintcar Capital of the World at Nationals time. Transporters (haulers) are parked anywhere there is a free spot for the crew to disgorge the contents and work on the race car in the open air. And to make it available to all the fans who can just stroll past and watch the teams at work. In fact, it’s encouraged throughout the whole town.
You’ll see in that video that we stopped in at the Hall of Fame and Museum for those who wanted to take one more look at the displays in there and no doubt to make last minute purchases in the gift shop. Some wanted to spend the whole afternoon in Dingus and some were happy to return to Pella for lunch at the Fuji Chinese buffet around the corner from the Hotel. A visit there is now a compulsory tradition on the Saturday of the Nationals.
Around 4.00pm we returned to our car park spots in the Knoxville VA Hospital grounds and settled in under the trees. This massive hospital complex is entirely closed and boarded up. It sits on 345 acres and at its peak had 1,631 operating beds for military veterans. Essentially a city within a town, it has been closed since 2009 and in doing the research for this piece of the Blog, discovered the news of Jan 15th 2020 which was the day the US Federal Government sold the entire complex to the town of Knoxville for $1. You can read about that and watch a short video here of Knoxville covered in snow for the news cross to the Des Moines TV station. This article and the video clip explain what the townsfolk have in mind for the grounds.
At the adjacent Fairgrounds, 24,192 fans from across the world were progressively filing into the track. Absolutely everyone was talking about Kyle Larson. In their minds he was unbeatable and more than likely his past performances, since we have been in the USA over the last 66 days, have also completely altered the mindset of those who race against him. His style of driving is quite unique. He and his car owner Paul Silva have absolutely worked out how to carry far more speed into turns 1 & 3 than anyone has ever done before them. Not just Knoxville, but every track they go to.
It has been an absolute privilege to have watched him put on a clinic everywhere he has raced across this summer. No one deserves to win a Knoxville Nationals, or a Super Bowl, or an AFL Grand Final. You’ve got to be the best on the day, but when you are the best by a country mile, you can safely say he should win it. His performance on the Thursday night had him starting on the front row and most who know the sport inside out were saying he will be in front by the first corner of lap 1 and will go across the line on lap 50, eight seconds in front of the runner up.
And that’s exactly what happened. When the planned compulsory pit stop came at the 30 lap mark for everybody, the kid from Elk Grove, California was half a lap in front. In the final 20, he went further ahead. There was no carnage in this race. No red lights and only one yellow for a blown engine. It gave the drivers every chance to show what they had and to be fair, everyone was brilliant. The spectacle was outstanding, but Larson was head and shoulders above the pack.
He accepted the Nationals trophy with his usual humility and comments that he was lucky to win it. Well we know luck plays no part in his make-up. In his acceptance speech he doesn’t recount every lap and how it unfolded. But he could if he was asked! He must have a mind and temperament like a steel trap. And cat like reflexes. If as expected, he returns to NASCAR in 2021 with Tony Stewart, then watch out for what he could do with the equipment he will have. Those competing for second and third provided a great spectacle. Schatz started from 24 and finished with the hard charger award when he crossed the line in 7th. But he couldn’t catch Aaron Reutzel who finished second and last year’s winner David Gravel in third.
The 50/50 was won by someone sitting on the back straight some distance from us. I think I heard over the roar of the crowd, and the two-seater which was on the track at the time, that the winner was an Aussie. Apparently a butcher from Tasmania. I’m sure the announcer said it was Heath Pursell, or something like that …..
Day 67 / Sunday August 16th
Our final full day in America. We always stay on for the Sunday night because although the promotion at Knoxville move heaven and earth to get the race in on Saturday despite any weather gods, sometimes they just can’t do it and Sunday is needed. It would be heartbreaking to have to jump on a jet home knowing that what you came over for to watch is going to be raced while you’re 40,000 feet in the air.
So, we stay over and those who want to go are transported into Des Moines to visit the Iowa State Fair. Me? I park the Ford and locate myself in the adjacent Burger King across the road and sit in there catching up with the blog. But it never gets totally finished before we fly out on the Monday and just like this one, is completed once back in Australia.
After the Fair there are two more traditional things to do. The first one, at around 5.00pm after getting back from Des Moines, it is to sit out in the tables and chairs supplied by the Hotel near the canal and finish off whatever is left in the eskies. Can’t take it home so the remnants of assorted beers, soft drink, Mike’s hard lemonades in various flavours and bits of bourbon are all offered up for free to get rid of it.
Having done that, or given it a good nudge, the second task is to make the short walk down to El Charro the local Mexican Restaurant for our farewell dinner. The servings here are enormous in size and the margaritas are loaded with added tequila. For those who don’t fancy a delightful chicken fajita, enchilada or a burrito, you can always order a steak and fries, so please don’t despair.
Across the course of this dinner your Tour hosts always go round the table and ask each tour participant what the most memorable part of the trip was for them. The answers range from the old favourite of “everything”, to wonderful individually specific situations that provide great mirth and merriment for the whole group. Sometimes the drama is re-enacted in the restaurant, which the owners keep open for us until we’re ready to leave. Even I can’t remember what was happening here.
If there are still drinks left in the eskies then the job of finishing them is resumed outside the Royal Amsterdam with entertainment provided by those who are still capable.
Day 68 / Monday August 17th
Some very weary bodies were dragged out of bed this morning ready to finish the final pack. Folks began emptying out suitcases in their rooms days ago ready to start the trial pack to determine if they needed to make one final visit to Walmart for another suitcase. Everybody travelling economy is permitted two suitcases of no more than 23kgs (50lbs). If you’re up the pointy end, then three of 32kgs are allowed. One of the most important items to be shared around during these last few days are the tour host’s scales. 23kgs is 23kgs. Go over and the airline will charge like a wounded bull.
Tears began around breakfast time when the realisation hit home that they’re going home. Yes, they were happy, but at the same time they were sad that it was actually all over. Except for the 50 miles drive to Des Moines airport (DSM), there was no more tour time. Adam and Ando were the odd ones out though. They would be going back to firstly St Louis and then Indianapolis with Terry, Tim, Ben and I to return all the Fords. And then Terry, Adam and Ando were off to Tennessee. But first we had to get everyone safely to DSM. And even before that we had to get all the luggage packed up. We had so much of it, a U-Haul truck had to be rented one way from Pella to Des Moines.
Although hardly any tour member was on the same flight from DSM, we moved everyone out of Pella at the same time. Some had a neat one-hour connection at the airport, others had up to a six hour wait for their outbound flight to either Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas or Houston. Their Australia bound flight departed from one of those cities.
Meanwhile the drivers had a 643 mile (1,028 kms) trip in front of them from Pella to Des Moines, to St Louis, to Indianapolis. Yes, we had a break, staying the night in St Louis after returning Tim’s Ford back to Budget. It was a Monday night, but guess what we did? POWRi, the sanctioning body for those excellent midgets mainly based in Illinois, had a previously rained out race re-scheduled for tonight at the sensational 1/5th mile Belle Clair Fairgrounds track. Well, well, well. What an unexpected surprise? We just had to go. Here’s some evidence ….. and believe it or not, Stubb and his ‘nephew’ Rico were also there.
Now let me tell about who won, who crashed and what we did afterwards …..
Yeah sure. No way Josè ……
Me? I just slept for two weeks after getting home
Just like Bob and Pat Whittle did before leaving Pella for the final time after 68 days on the entire Virtual Tour of 2020.
You have now concluded the 10 weeks of the Virtual Blog for the “2020 Mega Month of Money tour”.
Thank you for reading this far. I trust you have enjoyed my imagination as it described what may have happened each day on a tour that so many were so disappointed to miss out on this year.
However if we are permitted to fly internationally in 2021, we will endeavour to try again to get to the American mid-west across the same dates as this Virtual diary. Assuming it is safe to do so.
If you would like to return to Part 1 or go back to the start of Part 2, please click on the following links.