The 2022 Best of the Best USA Blog – Part 1
The words in italics below explain why there was a delay in writing the blog while we were in the USA.
The good news is that I’m back home and back to normal. Part 1 is now up to date finishing with Day 26, Sunday Ju1y 10th 2022 at Huset’s Speedway in Sioux Falls, SD.
July 22nd, 2022 : Winchester, IN
I thought I’d write an update on why I have been way more silent on here than is usual. Sincere thanks go to Shayne Andrews however for his wonderful daily Facebook updates.
I know that a lot of you enjoy reading the Blog when it is published on the website. But it has been very irregular this trip and for that I apologise. The tour has been smashed with the flu. Not Covid, as individual testing has been carried out. The bus became (do you like this) “a cacophony of coughing” for a couple of weeks, but is beginning to settle down now.
Importantly though, we have not missed any scheduled race on the itinerary. Although sadly, one was cancelled and two were rained out. To achieve all that we have so far undertaken nearly 11,000 kilometres through 13 states from New York in the east to South Dakota in the west and attended 21 races with eight still to come.
Such a gruelling schedule comes with consequences. For me the debilitating effect of the flu has dragged the energy right out of me. I managed to keep up with the first 19 days of the blog, but it has taken its toll.
It became too hard. The current circumstances we find ourselves in mean that the days of being able to drive all day, tailgate at the race track, stay up til 2.00am enjoying a few post race hotel car park drinks, then write the blog, then go to bed, then get up at 7.30am and do it all again, mean that this carefree lifestyle can’t continue right now.
So unfortunately, I need to advise that you should not look for any more blog updates until after we arrive home. And even then, it will only be after the “Chariots of Thunder” tour has been completed. The rest will be written and published from my home office to ensure completeness for the historical record.
There are other reasons as well that have made this decision unavoidable. Like developing cellulitis in my right leg. This can be a very deadly infection if allowed to creep along unchecked. I’m currently on my third day of hospital issued antibiotics, so fingers crossed it’s under control. How does it happen you ask? Well, if you have an open wound (a small cut will do) on your leg and some bacteria just happens to be floating past, then it may decide that your leg looks to be a comfy place to settle into.
Somewhere at Eldora that happened to me. Game over.
After 10 hours in a Selinsgrove hospital receiving every test known to man from ultra sounds on both legs, a full body CT scan, chest X-rays, ECG and at least seven different blood tests it was concluded that I did not have any blood clots!! And only then would they issue an antibiotics script for the cellulitis. Which is all I frigging well asked for when I walked in!
So that was on Wednesday. On Thursday at our first roadside rest stop, I failed to raise my very painful right leg high enough to step up the gutter, ending up flat on my face halfway across the concrete walkway. Result some damaged ribs as well. You tend to forget how much of your body movement travels through the ribs. (God, I hope I stop coughing.)
The final 11 days will still be great fun in and around the terrific state of Indiana. Very little travel, eight days of Indiana Sprintweek and (for some) NASCARS at the Indianapolis Speedway. But we do lose Ian, Steve E and Ben on Monday when they fly home a week before the rest of us
Thank you for everybody’s support, especially those on the tour with me.
This last minute week long journey, which we have titled “The Prelude to the Best of the Best”, takes in the Kevin Huntley Memorial at Bloomington (Indiana), the final round of Ohio Sprint week at Portsmouth (Ohio), the Flight 93 memorial at Stoystown (Pennsylvania) plus an Air Bnb night on a Bison farm and finally three nights in New York City (I guess I don’t need to tell you where that is.)
And then on June 23rd the rest of the crew fly into Harrisburg and the Best of the Best tour officially starts in earnest.
Keep an eye on this page for updates on the Prelude, but more importantly from June 24th you’ll be able to keep right up to date as we always do with the happenings and activities of life on the road with Global Speedway Tours.
Day 1 – Wednesday June 15th, 2022
With a racing heart and a mind that was already worn out from months of tour preparation, I sank back in the comfy Delta seat after nearly three years out of the saddle and sighed. And then I coughed, rubbed my eyes because they were sore and finally wiped my runny nose, something I haven’t had to do for 10 years since beginning a course of regular flu vaccinations.
It was eerily similar to the Virtual Blog I had written back in 2020 when our Mega Month of Money tour failed to leave Australia. So, a Covid induced make believe 10-week blog was written every day for 70 days. And on that “first day” back in 2020, I boarded, had a few bourbons and promptly fell asleep only to dream that people all around me were wearing masks while coughing and sniffing.
Today however it was real. I was the one wearing a mask and people were looking at me muttering such things as “what the f …”. No it wasn’t Covid, just the good old fashioned flu that I was taking to America. I was feeling as crook as I’d ever felt before, couldn’t eat, couldn’t drink and most of the time couldn’t breathe.
Arrival at LAX saw the return of the long lines at Border Security. Eight international flights arriving all at once create significant congestion, made worse by only having a dozen officers on duty to admit hundreds and hundreds of folks in the line. That’s the major reason it took 2½ hours to clear immigration and then Customs. Causing most connecting passengers to miss their flights.
Onwards I soldiered, mask equipped, to the Delta Domestic Terminal. Determined to keep on keeping on, but at the same time trying my best to steer clear of healthy passengers. For their sake. Back through security and onwards to Gate 26B, which is where I needed to be to get to Gate 133. On a bus! Quite an adventure to be honest. Driving across the tarmac with the driver skillfully dodging moving aircraft as they too tried their best to get to where they had to be. It turned out that Gate 133 was all the way back in the Tom Bradley Terminal where I had landed three hours before.
Minneapolis was next but nothing of interest happened here. Indianapolis followed and it was the last time for 42 days that I would have to board a plane. It was now 11.00pm and the local cab service took $25 from me and I was deposited at the Quality Inn in Plainfield where Terry was waiting in the lobby. A late night Whopper from Burger King formed the first food I had eaten since leaving Sydney 27 hours ago.
Day 2 – Thursday June 16th, 2022
It was about now that things began to go haywire. Not with T-Mobile, not with Enterprise Car Rental, not with the Hotel, but with the Airlines who were ferrying the balance of the tour members for this first seven-day jaunt, quaintly called the Prelude. First of all news flowed that United Airlines had totally cancelled their June 16th flight from Melbourne to San Francisco. That put an end to Bob, Pat and Deryk’s hopes of a good start to their holiday. They simply went back home with food and taxi vouchers to try again tomorrow.
In the meantime, up in Sydney Russell and Shayne did leave but nowhere near to being on time thanks to the chaotic scenes in the Sydney Airport Immigration hall. The rest. Well they weren’t flying until next week.
In Indy Terry and I began planning our day not yet knowing that we wouldn’t have anyone to meet and greet tonight from the airport. We picked up the Ford Hi-top 12-seater from Enterprise, returned Terry’s car to Budget that he has had for a month, bought T-Mobile SIM cards, had a Starbucks coffee, (the first for me and the 79th for Terry), then drove to Dave Argabright’s house to pick up stored chairs and eskies.
It was at Dave’s that we found out our duties for the day had nearly come to an end. Russell and Shayne were stuck in San Francisco for 18 hours (please send photos of Fisherman’s Wharf) and would arrive at 6.00am tomorrow morning. Bob, Pat and Deryk had been found seats on Qantas planes to Los Angeles and were due into Indianapolis at 10.46pm Friday night.
So with that, Terry and I had four hotel rooms to share between us …..
Day 3 – Friday June 17th, 2022
Friday morning started with a bang on the door at 4.30am. ‘Twas Terry who I’m sure must have forgotten we can get to the airport in eight minutes. I shoo’ed him away and he went and had his 81st coffee and I had another hour’s sleep. At 6.30am two Aussies appeared at the Arrivals door haggared and worn out. But never mind they each had four hour’s sleep time in the two empty hotel rooms in Plainfield.
The Whittles and Deryk meanwhile had arrived in LA, but they too missed their connecting flights, thanks to the complete arrogance of the Border Protection authorities who decided to again schedule less officers than there were arriving aircraft with several thousand arriving passengers to process.
So after the San Fran holiday makers woke up, we checked out and made our way back up to Dave Argabright’s home again to this time leave him with two seats out of the Ford, reducing capacity to 10, but creating loads more luggage space. And then, because it was a speedway trip, we headed for Bloomington and the Kevin Huntley Memorial races.
Parked the hi-top up on the grassy banks of turn 4 where Randy Kinser, Speedy and plenty of others had stationed themselves for a big night. We joined in and made it bigger still. Except for the driver who was scheduled to drive back to Indianapolis (100 kms) to pick up they who were due in at 10.15pm. But that kept on blowing out hour by hour until eventually it became a fixed 1.16am time slot. So in the end we all drove up to Indy after Kevin Thomas had won the sprintcar feature, picked them up and returned to the Hampton Inn in Bloomington for five more hours sleep.
Day 4 – Saturday June 18th, 2022
So at last we were now seven. A beautifully picturesque drive from Bloomington to Columbus (Indiana) on a delightful summer’s day brought us out at the race shop of the KKR (Keith Kunz Racing) midget racing team. Planned yes, but only 50/50 that it would happen. The only car parked outside the shop was a Corvette C8, one I had seen before, but couldn’t remember why.
Inside in his office was Pete Willoughby, Keith Kunz’ silent partner. He looked up surprised at the sight of me coming towards his office through the open front door. But he wasn’t fazed because entertaining visitors is now part of their mantra. In the past they were quite a secretive organisation and shunned the spotlight, but not now as fame has well and truly come their way on the racetrack.
Pete took us into the work area and mouths dropped as more than enough midgets to start their own 24 car feature were in various stages of assembly. The Chili Bowl cars up on racks high up above the shop floor weren’t counted in that number. Pete talked with pride about his operation, as he did the Corvette out the front. His one and only show of extravagance.
We said our goodbyes and hoped that we would catch up with each other again at Huset’s for the USAC Nationals, July 8th, 9th and 10th.
The balance of the drive to Portsmouth in Ohio was without incident and pleasant enough. Portsmouth Raceway Park is a new track for everybody on board and eyes were eager to see the All Stars in action in the final round of Ohio Sprintweek. Regretfully, we and the entire crowd would see very little of the racing tonight. Not because of rain, but blindingly bad dust across every inch of the racing surface. The spectators couldn’t see. The drivers presumably couldn’t see, but the speeds they carried suggested they were either mad or very, very good at their craft.
Cars in the parking lots were caked in layers of dust. Surely more than half the track surface was spread out across the streets of Portsmouth after the race. Car washes would have done an amazing trade. Here’s some video to prove how it looked from the outside.
Day 5 – Sunday June 19th, 2022
After leaving most of Portsmouth Raceway Park in the bathtub and on the nice white hotel towels, we headed further east hugging the banks of the Old Ohio. Not surprisingly the appropriate audio floated from the back of the bus with Olivia belting out her signature tune. Pretty much every town along the route had its own Pittsburgh steel bridge to allow its citizens to get across the river. And every one of them was different. almost as though a competition had been run and every design got approved.
Onwards we continued across Ohio and into Pennsylvania avoiding the turnpikes (fancy name for a toll road) until we reached the tiny town of Shanksville which, up until September 11th 2001, was just a sleepy village minding its own business. And then a commercial airliner fell out of the sky into oblivion, upside down at 563 miles per hour with 33 passengers and seven crew on board. All had wanted to go to San Francisco, but knew they were going to die horribly for 25 minutes before they did. These were the people who overcame the four hijackers whose intention was to fly the plane into the US Capitol Building in Washington.
The bravery of the passengers didn’t allow that to happen. Instead they overpowered the al-Qaeda terrorists by storming the cockpit, thereby leaving the plane with no one knowing how to fly it and destined to end in a hole in the ground that held nothing larger than the size of a dinner plate.
Sombre scenes indeed for all our tour guests who firstly inspected the newly built memorial and secondly walked the distance out to the crash site to pay their respects.
From the solemnity of Flight 93 we switched off from the thoughts of the passengers, as we again alighted from the bus 20 km down the road at Schellsburg which is where we would sleep the night. On a Bison Farm with Ann, Richard and son Austin – hard working farmers on their 1,400 acre property which has quite a few residences on it, including the three story red brick Airbnb house we slept the night in.
Ann was delightful as she jumped up into the bus and took us for at least a 30 minute tour of the farm. We saw the bison herd (250 at least of them), we saw the cattle, we saw the bulls who couldn’t take their eyes of the cows (well it was that time of year), we saw Terry take a selfie of him and the cows, we saw the magnificent pond at which many a BBQ has been had, I’m sure. Fish in it by all means, but the snapping turtles ruled out any potential swimmers entering the water.
Coming back from the pond at a leisurely 15mph we were confronted by the magnificent sight of a deer crossing our path from the right. He/she appeared from nowhere (as they do on the interstates and country roads at night), leapt across the track we were on and then hurdled the property fence on the left never to be seen again (by us anyway). Far too quick to get a photo ….
That evening we cooked up Bison burgers from the well patronised store on Highway 30 that pays quite a few bills for the family. An interesting delicacy that resembled beef but was much, much leaner and required three times the cooking time. Tasty but not quite “my cup of tea”.
Thank you so much Ann, Richard and Austin for your hospitality and at dinner where we educated both groups about each other’s country.
Day 6 – Monday June 20th, 2022
Although we had loads of bacon and eggs in the fridge for breakfast, time did not permit us to undertake a big cook up and then clean afterwards, so we decided to donate the food back to Ann for her family. Instead, we departed the big red brick house (that was once their home), until next time.
We chose McDonalds in Everett on Highway 30 to do our breakfast washing up for us. Much easier and quicker, but certainly not as tasty as eggs and bacon on vegemite toast with a steaming hot cup of tea. We were on a deadline this morning as we needed to be aboard an AMTRAK train out of Harrisburg at 12.05pm. Prior to that we had to pull into the Holiday Inn Express Hotel on the Carlisle Pike at Mechanicsburg to drop off our large suitcases. Small roller board carry-on bags were the order of the day for New York City. As you’ll see the tour leader toed a hard line on arrival at Penn Station!
All of this was accomplished with ease and at one second after 12.05pm the electric locomotive pushed out of Harrisburg on Track 9. I say pushed because that is exactly what it did. It fooled us all who were sitting in the wrong direction when it moved out. Yes the powerful loco pushed the eight cars all the way to Philadelphia where it glided gracefully into the William H Gray 30th Street station. Underground of course.
Here it disgorged many passengers and took on others for the ride to New York. Some of our Global Speedway Tours’ folk decided they would take this opportunity to swap seats so they would be facing the right way on the second leg. Little did they know that this time the train would leave the station the way it came in. Yep, for the next two hours or so they sat backwards again while the train sped along at speeds up to 200 kph, this time pulling the carriages.
As the New York skyline came into view phones clicked away taking those all important early shots of a city that is pretty much indescribable. And then all of a sudden we disappeared underground and stayed that way until stopping at 34th Street and Seventh Avenue, underneath Madison Square Garden at Penn Station. The challenge had started. Pulling the bags along on wheels we made our way out into the open air for the first sight, sounds and smells of New York City.
Our hotel for the next three nights was the Manhattan on Seventh Avenue at Times Square. Quite a mouthful indeed and an address that was 17 blocks away uptown. The tour leader wouldn’t permit a taxi, nor the subway. This journey must be made on foot, straight through the bustling crowds on the sidewalks, all of whom are going somewhere, but never (of course) in the same direction. Onwards we went like good troopers with one leading and the other sweeping at the back to make sure no one disappeared into the ether never to be seen again.
34th St (Empire State Building), 35th (Macy’s), 42nd St, (Times Square begins), 44th St (Jimmy’s Corner), 48th St (Times Square ends), 51st (the Manhattan Hotel). And tons of stuff in between.
Checking in was super easy, rooms were allocated and an agreement to meet at 5.30pm in the foyer was put in place. The order of the day now was for people to go back out on the streets and locate some diners to have breakfast at over the next three mornings. Nothing better than eating with the locals.
Following which we walked further uptown to Central Park (ate ice creams next to the horse and buggies), walked further into Central Park coming back out at 5th Avenue and the Palace Hotel. (“Now this is a knife” territory). Then down 5th Avenue past Tiffany’s (sorry girls, didn’t stop) all with the intention of landing at Rockefeller Centre on 50th Street at 7.20pm. Our appointed time to visit the Top of the Rock at sunset to watch the city slide from day to night from the 70th floor.
The Rock had been pre-selected by all as their preference over the Empire State, the Freedom Tower and the brand new (and clearly terrifying) “The Edge”. A glass bottom viewing platform 100 stories high in the brand new Hudson Yards precinct of the city.
It was good fun and we stayed as long as we could to do exactly what we came for. To see the city transition into night mode. From there, the length of the day began to catch a few out, besides we were hungry so a late night snack at Applebee’s on 50th near the Hotel was in order.
Day 7 – Tuesday June 21st, 2022
Hop on, Hop off bus time today, although we would ignore the second option. We just hopped on and stayed on for the duration of the trips around Manhattan. First up it was the Downtown tour leaving from Eighth Avenue at 49th St. It takes you south from Times Square and meanders along all the way to Battery Park stopping at all the iconic places to offload folks and pick up others who have completed their inspection of that particular attraction.
From Battery Park (where we will be coming back to tomorrow), the bus made a schedule change from previous years when it returned uptown via the Hudson River, instead of tracking back along the East River. Lots of stuff along there that I hadn’t seen before, including the newly developed Hudson Yards around 30th Street. It’s a large scale redevelopment program of what used to be rail yards, amongst other things. Eventually 19 new skyscrapers will be built there above the rail storage areas which are vital to the city’s transportation needs.
Back at Seventh Avenue we did eventually hop off pretty much right outside our Hotel, not to retire and rest, but to board the Uptown bus that commences its journey to Harlem from the front door. Away it goes, negotiating endless streams of traffic, all of whom are constantly jostling for every available piece of asphalt so they can get to their final destination at least four seconds quicker than otherwise.
This time we travelled north up Central Park West, essentially the continuation of Eighth Avenue up along Central Park. A shorter journey than it used to be, the bus now doesn’t show you the famous landmarks such as the famed Apollo Theatre, preferring instead to return to Manhattan down Fifth Avenue once it has reached 110th Street. Apparently I was snoozing about this time, so missed everything from 110th Street back to 59th.
An R&R break was due at this time so a 90 minute lie down on the Hotel bed was required until we met again in the foyer around 5.30pm to make our way on foot to Jimmy’s Corner on 44th. It’s a bar that isn’t on a corner at all, but is the longest, narrowest establishment you could imagine. Budweiser beers in ice cold bottles are just $3 (cheapest in town) and folks pack the little joint for a glimpse at Jimmy’s career in pictures up on the walls. He was a boxing trainer and promoter from the end of WW2 (hence the term “Jimmy’s Corner”). A most loved man in New York history, he sadly died of Covid in 2020 at the height of the pandemic. Fortunately his family have vowed to keep the bar going and the donations to the homeless kids of New York who show a prowess in the pugilistic stakes.
The rain started as we emerged from Jimmy’s, so instead of making the trek down to Little Italy, we chose Rosie O’Grady’s right next to our hotel. (Hello to Heath and Gerard if you are reading this Blog today.) Some terrific Irish food was on the menu and a very pleasant meal was enjoyed by all.
Day 8 – Wednesday June 22nd, 2022
Meanwhile back in Australia, the balance of the touring group were now in the air on their 18 hour journey to Harrisburg in Pennsylvania to meet up with us tomorrow. Little did we (or they) realise that none of them would arrive on their scheduled flights and most had upwards of a 40 hour experience in front of them to get to where they wanted to be.
At the corner of Broadway and 50th is the subway station for the 1 Red line. Using the included Metro passes supplied to all tour members, we disappeared underground and into the fascinating world of very fast and noisy trains. The ones which stop at every station are what we wanted, but the experience of seeing the express trains surge through the station at great speed, carrying people who do it every day just to get to their workplace, is special indeed.
Anyway, we had 19 stations to count off while totally surrounded by people of all shapes, colours, religions and sizes. The latter is surely a matter for concern to the US Health authorities!! Seats gradually became available as we neared South Ferry which was our stop for this morning’s Statue of Liberty Cruise. Those homeless who had spent the night sleeping on the trains as they criss-crossed the city all night gradually began to wake up and instead of occupying six seats horizontally, diplomatically let others sit beside them. Although not many wanted to.
At South Ferry most subway passengers hopped onto the Staten Island Ferry, but we made our way out into Battery Park for the short walk to the Statue of Liberty ferry terminal for our 9.00am cruise out to the old girl. We were passed by numerous bicyclists who offered helpful advice as they passed by us like “get the f*** out of the way.” After all, we didn’t know we were walking along a designated cycle path through the park. Bet they didn’t say that to the squirrels who were following us hopeful of receiving some stray peanuts thrown their way.
The airport style security at the boarding point was easily negotiated and by 9.05am we were on board waiting for the first ferry of the day to slide out into the Upper New York Bay. I had paid extra for these tickets after seeing an offer on the website to include a journey to the top of the massive stone pedestal upon which she stands. The offer was too good to refuse, so I lashed out impulsively and bought them without consulting the guests. After all it was only an extra 53 cents each.
And it turned out to be well worth it, although the 195 steps to the top brought a few undone. We waited for the small three person lift instead. An excellent view across to Manhattan is provided, but in particular there is the opportunity to inspect close up from the inside as to how they constructed the giant gift from France.
Liberty Island was quickly filling up as more and more boats disgorged their contents at the dock, so it was time for us to head back. The boat always returns via Ellis Island, but there is no real point in getting off there, so we didn’t.
A stroll around the Financial District was next seeing Wall Street, the NY Stock Exchange, plus the bull’s balls on constant display and with access to everyone to caress and fondle them. The brass coating wore off that part of his anatomy years ago. Crossing Broadway at this point takes you into the World Trade Centre precinct and in particular the two very large 911 Memorial Reflection Pools which stand on the exact footprints of the north and south towers.
The very popular underground National Museum is curiously shut Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday since Covid hit, so consequently our tickets for this “mandatory” two hour stroll had been purchased for tomorrow. The spectacular new Oculus Transportation Hub is now complete and wow what a spectacle this is. Home to 12 subway lines and with underground access to every building within the 16 acre World Trade Centre complex, the Oculus also has dozens and dozens of retailers inside, all managed by Westfield.
Rain had begun to fall and tonight was our night tour on the Hop on Hop off bus. But we didn’t get wet as we simply used the Oculus to get us to the Red line and then back to 50th St up town. That’s when we got wet emerging back up onto the streets of New York. A spell in the Hotel came next before venturing out again for dinner in a terrific Irish pub on 51st called McHales. Highly recommended is the Bangers and Mash.
Still raining, we ummed and ahhed about the night tour, but decided it was a required experienced. We boarded, struggled with putting on the ponchos supplied, sat down up the back of the open-air double decker and the rain immediately stopped. It only started again the moment we arrived back from where we left two hours earlier ….
Our night trip was complete and a big success. The bus still goes into Brooklyn, but it now uses the Manhattan Bridge over the East River as the NY authorities have banned buses from the Brooklyn Bridge. Unlike the day buses, the night version still returns to Times Square along the East River path up First Avenue which takes in the massive Stuyvesant Town (110 red brick apartment buildings on an 80 acre tract of land) and the United Nations Building.
And that completed Wednesday in New York. Tomorrow we leave, but not before an enlightening visit to the 911 Memorial Museum.
Day 9 – Thursday June 23rd, 2022
Somewhere in the skies of the world our fellow Global Speedway Tours’ members were attempting to negotiate their way to Harrisburg ready to join the group tonight. Their attempts to do so have been hampered by a combination of factors, not the least of which has been the length of the lines trying to depart Australia. Checking in is fine. The airlines can handle that bit OK, but the Commonwealth Government’s attempts to move people through the outgoing Immigration lines and then the subsequent security debacle means that the airlines have a tough decision to make.
“Do we leave on time without all the paying customers on board?” Or “do we wait for them to clear the hordes of people all of whom are becoming more and more anxious about missing their flight?” The answer is the latter in nearly every case. Which means the pressure point is immediately transferred to the US airlines who have to deal with hundreds of travellers who now miss their connecting flights, in our case at Los Angeles and San Francisco. The situation at the gateway American cities is exacerbated by the lack of US Border Security officials operating locally to process the arriving passengers.
All of our members missed their flights, but were given complimentary accommodation accordingly. We did not see them in Harrisburg until 24 hours after their scheduled arrival.
Meanwhile back in the Big Apple we checked out of the Manhattan Hotel leaving our meagre luggage supplies with the concierge before making the short walk to the 50th St Red Line subway station around the corner. For some obscure reason (no doubt Covid inspired) the 911 Memorial and Museum, one of the most popular tourist attractions in town is not open on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. Whilst we were there anyway. Hence a Thursday morning visit worked well with our schedule today which centred around being on the 2.11pm Keystone Express back to Harrisburg.
Our 9.00am tickets saw us amongst the first 100 people to enter. The thousands subsequently queuing to get in, looked upon us with disdain.
Inside, deep beneath the Ground Zero complex lies a comprehensive history of what happened. The original substructure of each tower remains to show visitors the exact footprint of each building, as do the reflection pools high above us out in the sunshine. The pools (as you can see in the video above) were constructed to exactly replicate each tower in position, shape and size. On display in the underground museum are graphic photos, real artefacts from lost souls, twisted pieces of original iron, crushed fire engines and one of my favourites, the section devoted to the rescue dogs that located dozens of still alive victims of the collapsed towers.
By 11.30am we were done. Naturally we all became separated during this exploration, but the Oculus was designated as the meeting place and a perfect reunion occurred at the appointed time. Back on the subway we went to collect our luggage and venture outside onto the streets of New York for the final time. At this point a memorable happening occurred.
We had walked out those same hotel doors for the last three days and nights, probably dozens of times. And consequently became “buddies” with the Topview Hop on Hop off bus ticket sellers on the sidewalk.They had very quickly learned we already had our tickets so all we did each time was exchange high fives, some friendly banter and clown around. But this afternoon was our last encounter, so big Michael decided to give me a farewell hug and pretended to stop me from leaving. But within the Topview crew outside the hotel today was some guy we had never seen before. Obviously a boss of some kind who became most upset with his staff for accosting a random innocent member of the public.
An almighty argument then ensued between the two of them, in English of course but flavoured with the accent and body language of a bunch of guys born in Harlem. It was hilarious. Maybe it was all make believe and planned. Who knows? But we watched with great mirth as it unfolded.
Nearly every time we walked out of the hotel, we had to walk past the Weed Bus. And if I didn’t have a photo, I wouldn’t bother putting this in the blog because you’d struggle to believe me. But yes, this motorhome is owned and operated by Weed World as are 29 others around the Big Apple. Allegedly only selling cannibis infested candy, cookies, popcorn, gummi bears etc these “food trucks” occupy (presumably illegally) prime street corners and openly promote their products.
The Harrisburg train leaves from the brand new Moynihan AMTRAK Centre (still at Penn Station) a block or two away. We found it, sat down, got up to buy food, sat down again and then walked downstairs to the train when it was announced by a guy in a strong Nu Joisee accent, that the Keystone Service is leaving from Track 29. Just like they do in the song.
We already knew that our latest arrivals (except for Ian who was due in yesterday) were not arriving tonight, so dinner was hastily convened at the Buffalo Wild Wings (adjacent to the Holiday Inn in Mechanicsburg) who completed the day nicely by serving up wings with the hottest sauce ever consumed by Shayne. He hasn’t been the same since!
Day 10 Friday June 24th, 2022
Given the non-arrival of Steve and Steve (now scheduled for 6.24pm tonight) we elected not to visit the Eastern Museum of Motor Racing (EMMR) until they are with us. It is so good, it cannot be missed. Hence we departed our home for the next five days later than planned for the first of dozens of sightseeing sojourns on this tour. The destination? Well of course it was the Bass Pro store. As always it draws breath as you walk through the front door, with stuffed and wall mounted (real) animals of all kinds that have been killed by instruments of death available in store. In contrast though, the proprietors do have excellent displays of live animals in their natural habitat inside the mammoth store.
Besides, the guns, bows and arrows, fishing rods, hunting aids, knives and tree stands, the array of quality clothing is spectacular. Plus boating, quads, ATVs, a massive area devoted to outdoors and camping, a bowling alley, bars, restaurants and wide mouth bass letter boxes. My favourite. I’d love to put one of those in front of 2 Hunter Place and see what the postman does.
A late buffet lunch at the Lin He Hibachi all you can eat Chinese buffet next door complemented the morning so far. Then back to the hotel for a variety of things but most importantly to replenish the ice supply for the first of 32 nights of tailgating at a speedway. This time it is the iconic Williams Grove which has been providing thrills to the locals and folks like us from afar, since 1939. Although you could argue that the track is too big at a half mile paperclip shape, it is something that every fan should experience at least once.
The locals flock to this entertainment venue every Friday night. For US$20 the next five hours are good value at $4 / hour. We pulled up in our regular spot from over 10 years of attendance. Under the trees between the track and the old Williams Grove Amusement Park, the remnants of which are visible through the trees. In particular, the western curve of the old wooden roller coaster which must have give the patrons back in 1939, the same thrill a driver gets now by slinging his 900 hp sprintcar through turn one at the Grove.
Someone had to drive to the airport to pick up the two Steve’s and it was me who drew the short straw. (They were all short ones I believe.) So at around 5.30pm I set off hoping like hell they would be on the flight. And they were!! Hurray. Steve Evans felt hot after the trip so took his jeans off in the car park and changed into shorts. His bright red undies saved him from any embarrassing wardrobe malfunction.
As we pulled into the Williams Grove carpark, the chairs holding the spot for us parted like the red sea. Did Moses wear red undies too? Introductions were made, but only marginally before the drinks were made, such was the thirst the two Steve’s had. As we were enjoying the time before entering the track a gentleman approached who I thought I had met before. He carried with him brochures for the Eastern Museum of Motor Racing. Turns out that tomorrow at the EMMR former sprintcar and modified driver Billy Pauch Jnr would be at the Museum signing copies of his new book.
In addition, the WGOT (Williams Grove Old Timers) would be holding “spirited demonstrations” at the adjacent Latimore Valley Fairgrounds track. “Historics” going round a track we would have travelled to see anyway. Heaven on a stick. We quickly changed our arrangements for tomorrow and committed to bringing the “Ossssies” to a day at the Museum and Latimore Valley.
This evening was night 1 of Pennsylvania Sprintweek and Anthony Macri, the concrete kid from Dillsburg just around the corner from the Grove was simply too good for everyone tonight.
Day 11 – Saturday June 25th, 2022
An overwhelming number of vintage tractors dominated the Latimore Valley Fairgrounds when we arrived to commence a long day of speedway watching. First up we ventured up the hill to the EMMR where any number of Museum members were on hold to explain the history of any given car that took your eye. A splendid 90 minutes or so were spent inside this tremendous tribute to Pennsylvania short track speedway racing.
The real treat of the day though was down at the dirt track. About 20 years ago the members of the WGOT re-discovered this long-forgotten speedway. It was overgrown with weeds, bushes and trees, the buildings and sheds were long gone and the fence had disappeared. But through diligent detective work and working from old black and white photos they were able to reconstruct the outline of the track and worked from there to recreate the whole complex. It now provides great enjoyment to those who love historic race cars. Especially those that still go fast. In fact, faster than they probably should …..
For three hours or so we watched from the infield and also outside the fence under the shade of trees as a bevy of sprintcars from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s tore up the track with their drivers straining at the bit to go faster. But their rules do not permit such mischief, and all were obedient in that regard. Some earlier cars than 1950 were present and a couple of them took the local TV presenters around in the passenger seats complete with cameras to no doubt show on the news services that night.
A great day for sure in perfect weather for the day’s proceedings, plus the night time racing at Lincoln Speedway for Round 2 of PA Sprintweek. We arrived at Lincoln around 4.00pm to secure a good parking position (read tailgating spot) and to our surprise we found all the transporters lined up right through to the back of the parking lot while they waited for the pits to open at 5.30pm. We had great fun watching as these monolith trucks inched their way forward within three metres of us down towards the pit gate.
Rob Hart, an American crew chief who married Bill Barrows’ daughter from Mt Gambier in South Australia, jumped down from the cab of his truck when he saw the Aussie flags resplendent on the rear doors of the bus. A great chat ensued with him having nothing to do for 30 minutes or so. Many people came up to say hi to us. I’m guessing it was up to 30 just today. All wanted at least a say hi and welcome to America. But really deep down they wanted to hear us talk, our voices, our accents, to find out about racing in Australia, discover more about our deadly snakes and critters, tell us that “they want to go down under but the flight’s too long and besides, they can’t afford it.”
Another superb night for racing and Lincoln turned it on with a great program. The winningest 410 sprintcar driver in the country Anthony Macri swept the card and won his second Sprintweek feature and surely looks to be the man to beat across the next seven rounds.
In view of the number of people who came up to visit us, we felt we should add a layer of protection to the Ford hi top 12 seater, so we left Steve Evans minding the bus, sitting upright in his chair and fast asleep. It would have scared anyone away I reckon. Must have been something he ate …..
Day 12 – Sunday June 26th, 2022
Our hotel for our five nights in Harrisburg is the Holiday Inn Express on the Carlisle Pike in Mechanicsburg. It’s probably really Silver Spring to be exact. I only point this out because totally unknowns to me when booking the rooms, this piece of land has great history. Well, to a speedway fan it does anyway.
I always knew there had been a track in Silver Spring but really had no concept of where it used to be. All I knew was it that it wasn’t alive anymore and that a shopping centre sat right over the top of it. But while at the EMMR yesterday, I asked that wonderful Aussie loving Lynn Paxton where Silver Spring Speedway actually used to be.
He told me it was out on the Carlisle Pike. “Hmmm” I said very softly to him. “Just exactly where Lynn?” “Well”, he said, no doubt thinking back to his glory days at the wheel, “if you find Wegman’s Supermarket and go in the front door, you’ll be standing right at the entrance gate to Silver Spring.” Furthermore, he added, “if you walk east for a few hundred yards from there you’ll be in the middle of the track.” So, when I got back to the hotel yesterday, I found Wegmans, looked east and calculated with astonishment that my room at the adjacent Holiday Inn was probably just off turn 4. Being on the third floor I would have had a great view of the action!! How about that eh?
Yesterday’s sojourn to Latimore Valley meant that we had to postpone our scheduled Gettysburg exploration to today. Geographically it fitted well with the racing tonight at BAPS Motor Speedway, previously called Susquehanna Speedway because of its proximity to the mighty river.
Gettysburg is a fascinating place if you know the history. In previous years we used to drop off the tour members at the Battlefield Tours bus depot to pay $45 for a two-hour tour and maybe strike it lucky to get a good guide. This year a $10 purchase changed all that and robbed Battlefield Tours of US$450. It was an audio guide that played via Bluetooth through the bus radio. Using GPS satellite technology the app (in the phone) knows where we are at any given time and a beautifully spoken voice describes exactly what we are driving past or looking at. Along with background sounds of men in battle fighting each other.
If you ever use this app (from Action Tour Guide – Gettysburg edition) please be aware that the moving line on the app showing the way is a trap for young players. If it’s a red line you are going the right way. If it’s a green line you are off course. Just a quick note to the developers if they happen to be reading this. Don’t you reckon it should be the other way around!?
The app wasn’t responsible though for us running across a most unlikely demo of a battle on the Battlefield. We came around a corner and there they were. If I could put music to it, then the Dad’s Army theme would be it! Here’s a look at what we saw.
The views from Big Round Top are spectacular with more than a 180 degree vision of the land where most of the battles occurred. Unfortunately these three days of fighting between American citizens killed 7,058 men and children (some aged just 10), wounded 33,264, and 10,790 remained missing buried in the mud presumed dead. And some 5,000 horses and mules.
Even in a nation that had already seen too many reports of great battles and long casualty lists, Gettysburg set a new standard of suffering and death.
Rain unfortunately won the battle we had with the weather tonight. We had made it to BAPS early, settling in to tailgate with even more new friends and some from the last 48 hours who, like us, are following the series around. In typical fashion it precipitated down in thunderous fashion. It was during the drive back to the Hotel that we discovered the bus leaked. The interior lights in the roof filled up with water and began sloshing out on top of the passengers seated in those rows. Funny at the time, but clearly unsatisfactory. Enterprise Car Rental were advised the next day of the leaks along with numerous other faults. We will pick up a replacement vehicle on our return to Indianapolis next Friday.
Dinner in lieu of the races was at Aroogas, a restaurant some readers will be familiar with. When we have a rainout, the money that would have been paid to the speedway for admission is used to cover dinner, either in full or part, depending on the quality of the establishment.
Day 13 – Monday June 27th, 2022
Lancaster County, some 50 kms or so from Harrisburg is the home of the Pennsylvania Amish. You may remember the quaintly named town of Intercourse from previous blogs. Usually we take the direct route, but this year we played around by visiting four covered bridges on the way. Back in the mid 1800’s when these bridges were built, the engineers of the era figured that the harsh American winters would damage the wooden trusses and decks so the answer was simple. Put a roof on them.
The first was Shearer’s Mill in Manheim, a smallish town that’s famous for the world’s largest Auto Auction company of the same name. Not that they operate out of this town anymore, but it sure started here with the classic old story of “I started it in my Dad’s garage!”
From Manheim we continued on to Lititz and Erb’s Bridge. A truly spectacular example of an 1800’s covered bridge. As the accompanying video will attest.
After paying our respects to Erb, it was just three miles to Keller’s Mill bridge across Middle Creek. It’s worth mentioning that all of these crossings (except the first one) are working bridges. By that I mean vehicles can pass through them one at a time. Next was Zook’s Mill Covered Bridge over the Cocalico Creek on Log Cabin Road. Perhaps the best of the lot was next. Hunsecker’s Mill bridge over the Conestoga River, just off (would you believe) Butter Road. We spread out to look at this one.
Following this trail was easy thanks to Google’s map planning capabilities. It eventually led us into Intercourse and the inevitable pictures were taken at the sign leading into town. Lunch was in the village, which although it’s a genuine grab for the tourist money, does provide a good insight into the life of the Amish. Their horse drawn buggies were numerous out on the roads where they have complete right of way over every other moving vehicle.
An adjacent town is called Paradise and that was where we went next. Just to sample some Shoofly pie . Go on, Google it. You’ll find it’s made from molasses which the Pennsylvanian Dutch community found useful for food additives when times were tough during the Civil War. It’s actually a breakfast cake, designed to be eaten with your morning coffee rather than as a dessert with the evening meal.
Time was ticking on and soon it was time to start the trek to Lincoln Speedway for R4 of Sprintweek. From Lancaster County it was an easy 80-minute drive on US30 to Abbottstown. The very wide expanses of the Susquehanna are yet another highlight for sightseeing anytime you get near this river. 30 crosses it at Columbia using the two mile long Wright’s Ferry Bridge. Onwards we went, through York where the Harley Davidson Factory would have had our company today as well, had they not shut down their motorcycle assembly tour for the year, eventually reaching the speedway at an ideal time of 4.30pm.
Considering the heat the sun generates in these parts in the summer, a purchase was made this morning of two gazebos which get quickly erected by the those charged with this job at each tailgating opportunity. Here at Lincoln, we parked in exactly the same spot as on Saturday night and settled in to entertain those around us.
NASCAR stars Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell were in town in an attempt to steal the Posse’s money and will be doing so through until Hagerstown on Thursday night. Most fans figured it would be Larson first and daylight second. But no one factored in the Myerstown Missile Brent Marks. Starting in 13th spot, the #19 took the lead from Larson on lap 19 and powered away with the victory. The confidence he gained from this win quickly became evident from this point onwards.
Day 14 – Tuesday June 28th, 2022
Our first five nights in PA have come to an end and it was time to leave turn 4 of the old Silver Spring Speedway and head northeast to Reading (pronounced Redding), our stop for tonight’s Sprintweek round at Grandview Speedway. Rain was not an issue and apart from BAPS on Sunday night, every race has been held under clear afternoon azure blue and sparkling night skies.
We needed a diversion however before hitting Reading. And that was Hershey. The town (city??) that grew out of brown liquid cocoa and formulated into chocolate by Milton Hershey. He made himself truck loads of money by making what was previously an exclusive delicacy for the rich into a commodity that was affordable by everyone in the USA. Mr Hershey didn’t keep all that cash for himself. He decided to grow a town for his employees, the numbers of whom were growing week by week. He built them everything they would need on weekends to keep their families happy in leisure time. Including an Amusement Park that today has grown into what quite frankly is the largest park of its kind I’ve ever seen. (Disneyland excepted.)
15 mild to wild roller coasters populate the grounds. They snake around everywhere including entwining themselves inside others. There’s even a classic old first of its kind wooden coaster called Lightning Racer which features duelling “trains” on a double track. Both leave at the same time and then race each other for a kilometre side by side along identical tracks, which sometimes diverge but always come back together again. Park management steadfastly maintain they do not manipulate in any way which one wins each time. It totally depends on the weight of the riders as they file into each car ready for take off.
When visiting the separate Chocolate World in previous tours I have always considered the achievement of conning the parking attendants into a spot somewhat near the Chocolate town complex as one of the triumphs of the tour. Otherwise, we would be herded into the massive car parking lots and then transported by shuttle to Hershey Park, it’s that far away. And it costs AUD$59.00 to park a vehicle of our size. But today we broke all previous records by a country mile.
First obstacle was the young fella at the initial booth letting people into the car parking areas. There were five booths to choose from and he was it. Given there was a reasonably high percentage that he knew what a sprintcar was because of the enormous interest in the sport in Pennsylvania, he was informed that we are an Australian sprintcar team enroute to Grandview for tonight’s racing. We had left the race car transporter a few miles away in a truck parking lot and everyone had piled into the support vehicle to take a look at Chocolate World. And we only have a hour to see it all. Can we park behind the complex (for free) and we would walk the 500 metres or so to the entrance?
He thought for a while, peered into the bus, and suddenly pointed down the road and said, “You guys drive down to where that guy in the blue jacket is directing traffic. I’ll radio him and tell him you’re comin’.” First hurdle cleared, even without a gift of a kangaroo or koala. But we weren’t real sure of what was next. We glided down to the blue jacketed one, at the same time passing the turn off to where we have parked before. Not for a moment did we expect that any radio contact had been made.
Upon approach, the man in the blue jacket raised his hand, not to us, but to all the other traffic flowing that way. The traffic stopped obediently and he then signalled for us to pull out of the line and make a right hand turn exactly where he standing. A boom gate went up, we went through and stopped to talk to him. He said “welcome to Hershey guys. Just pull up down there in front of those courtesy vehicles. Park it there. We’ll keep an eye on it for you.” I kid you not. We were less than 50 metres from the entrance to Chocolate World.
This same road was the path for thousands of people streaming in from the outer lying car parks having been dropped off by the shuttles. Each person walking down that street was worth US$74.95 to the owners at the turnstiles. Whereas Chocolate World was free admission. We did what we wanted to do, saw what we wanted and bought what we wanted. Then returned to the bus, piled in, swung it around to drive out and blue jacket was gone. Replaced by a very attractive African American lass. I stopped at the gate and asked her whether she knew blue jacket. “Yep, what do you want?” I gave her a big cuddly kangaroo and asked her to pass it on to him. I bet that transaction never occurred.
The road from Hershey to Reading goes through Myerstown, the home of Brent Marks. We thought there might be a chance we would see his transporter somewhere, but no such luck. Onwards to Reading where we took the opportunity of stopping for lunch at The Olive Garden, a recommendation from one Ian Speed. Pleased we did too, with a superb Italian menu served at a table in surroundings with a hint of romance, but with the speed of a fast food joint. We walked out full as a State School wondering just why we had never stopped at one of these before.
Reading was also where our home for the night was. The excellent Best Western Plus hotel. A quick turn around and it wasn’t long before we were on the way to Grandview. A first happened at this hotel. After checking everyone in, the very nice man on the desk leaned forward towards me to talk as though it was going to be a very serious and private conversation. I expected the usual such as “I’ve always wanted to go to Australia, but oh that flight. I can’t sit in a plane for 14 hours!” But it wasn’t that at all, nor any other standard question we hear daily. He whispered, “do they still make Holden cars in Australia?” Turns out that he was an enthusiast of the GMH muscle cars of past eras. The easy answer that was “I’ll get Steve (Perry) and Shayne Andrews to talk to you. You’ll get every answer you want from them.”
I’m sorry to say that Grandview was a big disappointment to me. It was a new track to tick off my list and I had been looking forward to it. It wasn’t what I thought it would be at all. The seating was typically US, with bleacher seating offering a width for your bum that assumed you had one the size of Kylie Minogue’s, not your average burly Aussie or American race fan. Squeezy, squeezy and very uneasy in that grandstand it was.
It would be remiss of me though not to mention the impressive efforts of Terry Barry this afternoon. As usual Terry left the bus soon after setting up under a tree in the car park, to do his traditional canvass of the complex to see what he can find or who he can talk to. At Grandview they don’t let people into the track until 5.30pm so the lines were extremely long with fans queuing to run in and mark off seating with blankets, rugs and in our case torn up Walmart bed sheets.
To entertain the waiting crowd the commentators come down with radio mikes and interview random people. Everyone in the various lines and in the carpark can hear what’s going on courtesy of the many speakers scattered around. Terry saw what was happening and caught their eye when pointing to his shirt which has GLOBAL SPEEDWAY TOURS AUSTRALIA prominently positioned over the left breast. Of course they saw him doing so and wandered over to interview him.
It went for probably three minutes, maybe more and we all downed our red cups and beer cans to listen to him. He did a great job promoting our tour and Australia in general. When finished he couldn’t get back to the bus quick enough to accept the plaudits of the group for his contribution to Australian / American relations.
He was devastated when we told him that we hadn’t heard anything …….
Rico Abreu turned up tonight much to the delight of the fans who buy every available piece of merchandise he has in the trailer. The fact that he won tonight’s fifth round meant he picked up $9,000 for the win. I guarantee you he would have netted double that from t-shirt sales, just tonight.
Macri was second followed by Marks which only served to increase the level of competition between the two locals for final Sprintweek honours.
Day 15 – Wednesday June 29th, 2022
An eagerly awaited day by everyone, except Terry. And possibly Russell.
We left Reading at a completely normal 9.30am as we didn’t have a lot to do today, except catch the ferry across the mile wide Susquehanna at Millersburg. Russell had done his homework and had seen pictures of the ferry, thus expressing his doubts to anyone who would listen. Terry hadn’t it appears. His first vision of it was ‘in the flesh’ at the river bank.
But before Millersburg we had to drop in at the Action Track USA in Kutztown for a looksee. They usually run Wednesday nights but were dark tonight due to the Fair opening up for this weekend. Upwards of 90 open wheel cars in turn up each night across a variety of classes. It’s a tiny ¼ mile track right in the middle of town.
Nearby Dirt Tracks
Just in case you were wondering how popular speedway racing is in Pennsylvania, check out the following list of tracks that are with 100 miles (160 kms) of Kutztown. Now you realise why they race Wednesday nights! (As generously shown on the Action Track’s own website.)
Distance information is “as the crow flies” – actual driving distance will differ due to road routes and things like lakes or mountains.
- Shellhammers Speedway 10 miles away – Shoemakersville, Pennsylvania, USA
- Grandview Speedway 13 miles away – Bechtelsville, Pennsylvania, USA
- Montgomery County Speedway 29 miles away – Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, USA
- Big Diamond Speedway 30 miles away – Pottsville, Pennsylvania, USA
- Clyde Martin Memorial Speedway 30 miles away – Newmanstown, Pennsylvania, USA
- West End Fairgrounds 32 miles away – Gilbert, Pennsylvania, USA
- Lindas Speedway 38 miles away – Jonestown, Pennsylvania, USA
- Snydersville Raceway 41 miles away – Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, USA
- Bloomsburg Fairgrounds 48 miles away – Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, USA
- Bridgeport Speedway 54 miles away – Swedesboro, New Jersey, USA
- Greenwood Valley Action Track 54 miles away – Orangeville, Pennsylvania, USA
- Spirit Auto Center Speedway54 miles away – Swedesboro, New Jersey, USA
- Airport Speedway 57 miles away – New Castle, Delaware, USA
- Selinsgrove Speedway 60 miles away – Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, USA
- BAPS Motor Speedway 61 miles away – York Haven, Pennsylvania, USA
- Hamlin Speedway 62 miles away – Hamlin, Pennsylvania, USA
- Williams Grove Speedway 70 miles away – Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, USA
- Seven Stars Speedway 71 miles away – Thompsontown, Pennsylvania, USA
- Penns Creek Raceway Park 71 miles away – Middleburg, Pennsylvania, USA
- New Egypt Speedway 75 miles away – New Egypt, New Jersey, USA
- Lincoln Speedway77 miles away – Abbottstown, Pennsylvania, USA
- Port Royal Speedway 84 miles away – Port Royal, Pennsylvania, USA
- Hunterstown Speedway 84 miles away – Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, USA
- Happy Ramblers Motorcycle Club 84 miles away – Hanover, Pennsylvania, USA
- The Hill Speedway 91 miles away – Monroeton, Pennsylvania, USA
- Clinton County Speedway 95 miles away – Mill Hall, Pennsylvania, USA
- Orange County Fair Speedway 96 miles away – Middletown, New York, USA
- Penn Can Speedway 99 miles away – Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, USA
For us, our next track to inspect was Big Diamond Speedway near Minersville in the Appalachians. Again, all we wanted to do was call in to see if it was unlocked and we could have a squizz. It was, and we did, at the same time saying hi to the guy who was trying to get the water truck started. Unfortunately his school teacher hadn’t bothered to tell him where Australia was.
Then it was on to Millersburg where we dined at Max’s Bar and Grille. Lunches were somewhat mixed up here with the young lady having great difficulty getting the orders for the sides to agree with the requested meal. Worse still was the host and driver’s meal was totally forgotten about.
The next disappointment was that the Millersburg Ferry was not running on a Wednesday anymore despite their website proclaiming it ran everyday. Terry was delighted with the news, but others were genuinely disappointed. This is what it would have been like ….
Hence, we had to drive 15 miles south to cross the river at Duncannon and then back north up 22 to Burnham where our Quality Inn was waiting for us. Unfortunately for them it won’t be ever again having ruled itself out with less than Quality service and facilities. The difficulty however is that Port Royal Speedway is in a town that is so small it doesn’t have a Hotel and neither do many towns in the immediate vicinity. Next time it will be a longer drive between track and chosen hotel.
Port Royal Speedway is a mint facility. To use the words that many folks in these parts use. A lot of money has been spent by both the promoter, the county and the speedway club to make it now one of the five ‘most wanted to visit tracks’ in the country. The gazebos came out immediately as the sun blazed down on us in the car park.
After a while I wandered over to get the tickets and struck up a conversation with Becky in the ticket booth. The conversation ended with “have any of your group ever been in a push car here at Port Royal?” The answer was (an obvious no) and I thought a throwaway line from someone who wanted to impress a visiting Aussie, but as it turned out she was dead set serious. She took my phone number and after 10 minutes or so back under the shade tents, my phone rang. It was Jim Wagner who asked who wanted to do it and how many.
We had intended to draw straws if it happened but the speed with which it did happen didn’t allow that. So three of us, Ian, Terry and myself, ventured down to the speedway office and were ushered into the Boardroom where we were given the full explanation that the club wanted to spread the word about the revamped Port Royal Speedway as widely as possible across the racing world. What better way to do it than what was about to happen to us? And It could be reported as such in our Global Speedway Tours Blog. This what happened …..
- We were given access all access wrist bands.
- We could go into the pits, the corporate areas, anywhere on the infield including standing with the crash crew on the corners
- Our first ride was in a regular push cars that we see at any sprintcar track. The three of us all had our individual drivers so there was no sharing.
- Our second rides however were in ‘side by sides’. If not familiar with these imagine a dune buggy with two seats in the front. But these were special highly manoeuvrable versions used to push start the sprintcars for qualifying. Port Royal is a big half mile track with infield spectators and there is no return path for the regular push cars to get back to where they need to be to start the next lot. Hence, they use these vehicles that can turn on a dime and get back to the start hoping like hell they don’t collide with an oncoming sprintcar being started by another side by side.
I was allocated to a great guy called Seth Koser who just so happened to be the President of the whole Port Royal shebang. Seth was a terrific bloke, who although he could get others to do what he does on race nights, can’t give up the job because of the adrenaline rush it provides. I certainly felt it too as I hung on for dear life for 30 minutes or so.
At one stage early in the piece, we were pushing off cars for hot laps. Many of the Pennsylvania cars I was not familiar with, but at one stage while cruising down the back straight coming around to push off some more, I spied Kyle Larson 100 metres ahead of us just rolling around. I shouted at Seth over the noise of all the engines, “do you reckon you can catch up to Kyle.” With no reply necessary, he planted his foot and we accelerated away in the Larson direction catching up with him through turns 3 & 4. Naturally I’m videoing all this but only until we hit a rut and the phone jumped totally out of my right hand. Miraculously I caught it between my thumb and forefinger in mid air whilst on the way to oblivion in the clay below. No idea how I managed to somehow hold onto it.
If not, the cars following us would have hot lapped with an iPhone buried into the turn 3 clay at Port Royal. Here’s the proof.
During qualifying Seth and I pushed off about 20 cars amongst who were Larson, Christopher Bell, Anthony Macri, Brent Marks and Freddie Rahmer Jnr, just to name drop a few ….
During the B Main I was standing in turn 1 with the crash crew when I detected a quad pull up behind me. I looked back and saw it was Brent Marks who had come out of the pits to watch. I couldn’t help but not do it, so introduced myself to him. I asked if anyone had ever approached him for a ride in Australia. He smiled and said “no not yet, but I have from New Zealand”. What a personable well mannered young man this guy is and as we found out an hour later he became the Port Royal A Main winner tonight. It took him to the top of the Sprintweek points table.
If there are any sprintcar owners out there who want a gun (driver that is) then look no further than Brent Marks. He’s my early tip for the ultimate Knoxville Nationals success this year.
Oh and by the way Seth I know you’re going to read this, thank you so much for your Club’s hospitality tonight. It was outstanding. We’ll all be back for the Outlaws at Port Royal on July 20th.
Day 16 – Thursday June 30th, 2022
A fairly short summary of this day. We only had a shortish drive of two hours from Burnham to Hagerstown (in Maryland) where Round seven of Sprintweek would play out tonight. Another new track for pretty much all of us and again like many on Sprintweek, it’s a half mile with long straights and paper clip turns. Plus some nice trees to park next to this time.
On the way through we were surprised to round a corner and have the whole panorama in front of us open up to a lake. Turns out it was Raystown Lake, formed when the US Army Corp of Engineers damned part of the Juniata River in 1973 primarily to control floods, provide electricity, and support recreational activities. Wev didn’t see the Hydroelectric bit but we sure were impressed with the recreational facility that emerged absolutely out of nowhere.
I’m too old to have a hero these days but if I did, I could say that he won again tonight at Hagerstown Speedway. Brent Marks chased down Kyle Larson, the early mover and shaker, and took the lead with eight to go. It’s not something that Kyle sees that often. Tail tanks of a sprintcar passing him.
Day 17 – Friday July 1st, 2022
Hagerstown to Putnamville Speedway is a long way, so to cater for the distance (905 kms) it was a 7.00am start. We left the hotel (the Sleep Inn – excellent venue by the way) and travelled through five states to get to our destination. Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and finally Indiana. Not only did we have to drive that far we also had to detour in Indianapolis to the Enterprise Rental depot where Gabbi had organised a replacement Ford medium-top 12 seater for us. One that had no rainwater leaks, no slow tyre leaks, no punctures, new wiper blades, and Bluetooth with USB connections.
From Plainfield it was a mere 40 miles to Cloverdale where my first stay in an American hotel with a number in its name occurred. In this case it was the Super 8 and it turned out to be quite OK. Putnamville Speedway is just off I-70 which in 2016 caused me some difficulties in negotiating the traffic while vomiting into a bucket at 90 kms / hour. In that case we couldn’t stop on the shoulder of the freeway as it wasn’t wide enough to safely do so. So Steve Perry steered from the front passenger seat while I operated the pedals and regurgitated everything and more of what I had eaten in the past 24 hours.
And it happened again tonight. Putnamville Speedway regulars rave about their ice cream (frozen soft serve actually) so having some was eagerly looked forward to. But it was closed. The machine had broken down. But halfway through the night I noticed that the door to the ice-cream shop was opening and they were about to start dispensing their fan favourite cold stuff. I would have been the second or third person to be served. It tasted delicious so I alerted the others by text and a stampede occurred to see who could get onto the line first which by now was 30 metres long.
Everything was fine until about the B Main of the sprintcars when kaleidoscope colours began circulating in my eyes. I immediately felt as though I was freezing and then started to feel very cold and clammy before sweat started to pour off me. By this time I’m back at the bus trying to keep warm in 32 degree temps. The racing finished and the group returned to find me in not a very good state at all. Such as down on all fours facing the grass of the RV parking lot and just about ready to bring it all up.
And then it came in a big rush. White vanilla ice cream. The smell was unmistakeable. Loads of it. My apologies go to Terry who boldly approached me asking if I needed assistance. I thought that I had ‘politely asked’ him if he wouldn’t mind leaving me alone, but apparently being asked to f*#% off isn’t the same, such was my state of mind at the time. He retreated and left me alone to recover. My sincere apologies Mr Barry.
We have a retired pharmacist on board with us who later identified what may have happened. Consider a broken down machine from the week before, a freezing system which may have had some remnants of ingredients left in there from the previous week and the first few uses of the machine tonight might have included some of that left over ice-cream. Me and the guy in front of me copped it in our cone. Anyway, too bad. It was no big deal, but I did miss the feature.
Day 18 – Saturday July 2nd, 2022
The most difficult task each day for a tour operator is selecting where and what to have for lunch while on the road. Any group of people all have differing tastes and ideas and there is always someone who will not like the choice and voice their opinion. Night time is easy. Everyone is at the track and they know what that’s likely to be. But lunchtime is another matter altogether. So I solved that for this tour. Actually it was dreamed up as an idea to test in the 2020 Virtual Tour, the Blog for which Part 1 can be found here.
To further set the scene, every tour has someone who seems to unable to keep out of trouble. For us it’s Steve Evans. An absolute circus broke out today in the Hardees Fast Food restaurant in Palmyra, Missouri. I’ll try and set the scene.
Folks (us and others) are queuing to order. Many had made their purchase and were standing to the side waiting to pick it up. Others were at the counter ordering. Suddenly and without warning Terry barges down to the front immediately needing to talk to the lady taking the orders. Which he did without stopping for breath. “Ma’am. There’s a man in your bathroom who urgently needs toilet paper. There’s none in the cubicle and he’s desperate. Can you please send someone in there with a roll.” No prizes for guessing who it was.
The server just looked at Terry as though he was an alien from Mars. Then she ignored him and continued to take Russell’s order. Terry interrupted again. “Ma’am. You don’t understand the situation we have. A roll of toilet paper is urgently needed in the men’s bathroom.” She left her post and went to another older lady and appeared to discuss the position with her. Clearly they weren’t considering poor old Steve sitting on a throne with no paper. They simply opened another register to cope with the increasing throng in their restaurant.
Meanwhile Russell was still trying to order his food. Terry was too frustrated at this point and I thought I had better step in to see if I could help, being behind Russell in the line. My turn arrived and missy looked at me and snapped “What would you like?” My reply was quite civil which was along the lines of “a ham and cheese meltburger, some curly fries, a small lemonade and a roll of toilet paper please.” Totally unmoved I was charged for the first three, but not the last. Nor did it arrive in my paper bag. At this point, everyone in the restaurant except the staff on the other side of the counter was aware of Steve Evans’ plight and were feeling for him.
The only movement that had occurred in the whole restaurant was in Steve’s cubicle. After some time people’s food started arriving and it’s not that we forgot about Steve in the dunny, but we were hungry and that took precedence. Then to everyone’s surprise the bathroom door opened and out walked Steve. He went straight to the counter and ordered the most ironic thing he could which was a cinnamon roll to eat. Everyone secretly hoped he didn’t sit down beside them, not knowing how he had managed to escape the cubicle calamity.
He later explained that fortunately because it was an American toilet bowl, the level of the water was quite high and of a large amount. He remembered his time in France on a previous holiday when he was forced to use a bidet. Apparently continually flushing an American toilet while sitting low in the saddle can achieve the same result. So out he came all refreshed, but still wondered why no one tried to help him. It is my considered opinion that Hardees may have still not replaced said toilet roll.
Knoxville Raceway in Iowa was our destination today and we arrived there via Macon, Illinois where we had a squizz at this fabulous 1/5th mile high banked track. Shayne was first out of the bus and the drone was up before any of us even stepped foot on the black clay of Macon Speedway. The promoter turned up while we were “inspecting the facility” and we had a great chat. Naturally he tried to get us to stay here, rather than continue on to Knoxville. The basis of his plea was that they had 200 + cars entered for tonight’s racing. Had they been midgets, then the decision would have been awfully difficult.
Newton was where we would rest our heads tonight but it was 20 miles beyond Knoxville, so we just left all the luggage in the bus. After dropping a few members off at the Sprintcar Hall of Fame and Museum, we parked in AJ’s field behind the Dingus Lounge. A short walk to said bar saw us settling into some ice cold Buds with good friend Richard Phillips and his mate Joey who had driven from Pella to meet us. Dinner was a magnificent ’four meats’ pizza from next door to Dingus. The same shop from which Barry Lewis unsuccessfully attempted to flood the market with Four ‘n Twenty meat pies imported fresh from Melbourne in 2012.
The racing at Knoxville was superb. It was not a special night, simply a regular Saturday night show with 410’s, 360’s and 305’s. 82 in all. Great racing, great track and great weather all combined to make it a no brainer to travel the few extra hundred miles that we did. Feature winners were Aaron Reutzel in the 410s, Terry McCarl in the 360s and I forget in the 305s.
Day 19 – Sunday July 3rd, 2022
Did you know that there are 19 different speedways between Newton in Iowa and Sun Prairie in Wisconsin, our destination for tonight’s 10th race in 10 days? And we didn’t stop at any of them. The objective was solely Angell Park Speedway.
Naturally a stop was made for lunch and today’s nominated person to choose what we eat (but not where) was Bob Whittle. His choice was IHOP and one was found by Shayne the Siri king. Somewhat off the chosen track to Sun Prairie, but nevertheless doable. But not eatable as it turned out. The IHOP was nowhere to be seen. Somewhat puzzled, Shayne decided to scroll down a little to find the news “venue closed 2021”. Mortified by this oversight, the group decided to try the Panera Bread option. Speedie had recommended this and the Olive Garden. The latter we had already tried and loved it, so we figured that Speedie’s gastronomy skills could be relied upon again.
Just to pick on Steve Evans again (well someone has to) I was waiting in line with him to be served. The menu board looked a little confusing. So I texted Ian and asked “what do you recommend at Panera Bread”. Quick as a flash the reply came back as “cup of soup and the half sandwich”. I relayed this Steve who was in front of me. When it was his turn he boldly strode to the cashier. She said “order please”. He said, “soup and the half sandwich”. She said, “well that’s fine, but what kind of soup and what do you want on your half sandwich.”
Now Steve wasn’t expecting this answer. He assumed it was a special menu item, or she would decide for him. Stuck for words he just looked at her mesmerised and speechless. Others were becoming annoyed behind us. So I whispered tomato for the soup and chicken for the sandwich. He mouthed that to her without any audible sound. She understood and the order went through. Not as funny perhaps in writing, but at the time it would have made for a classic Seinfeld episode.
Angell Park is one track most look forward to with great anticipation. This group were no different. The usual tree was located and parked under, whilst we settled back for first drinks about 5.00pm when lo and behold cars were heard on the track. An early Sunday start perhaps? And it was with racing getting underway around 6.00pm and us all in the stands on turn 1.
But not for long. I was gazing around and noticed that the specially built corporate balcony adjacent to us was less than half full. So I quietly slipped away and spoke to the guy guarding the entrance. I proposed that he could have 10 Aussies join his guests to liven them up a bit and if so what might be the cost? He thought for a while and said $20. I wondered whether that was $2 / head, or $20? Of course it was the latter, but the deal was sweetened with five extra words. “That includes dinner and drinks”. Of the alcoholic variety. “Done,” I said before he could change his mind, at the same time signalling the hungry and thirsty crew to transfer to the corporate box? I think it was about the B main that he had to go get some more beer.
After what was a fabulous pre-July 4th night of fireworks, midget and non-wing sprintcar racing, we made the short two minute drive to the hotel. It was a beautiful still night with fireworks being set off from backyards right across Sun Prairie. We thought, “why not?” And got the chairs out, the esky, plus the red cups and formed a circle on the hotel’s manicured lawns and settled in watching the fire engines race past us on the way to all the involuntary fires.
Day 20 – Monday July 4th (Independence Day)
No racing tonight. I figure the hundreds of promoters around the country have learned from experience that running on Independence Day is not a good idea. There were only four races on tonight around the whole country. And upper Wisconsin was not amongst them. So, it was a 100% sightseeing day.
First up was Road America at Elkhart Lake. The NASCARS had raced here yesterday and the place was in clean up mode. As usual a small white lie was needed to get in. This time no kangaroos or koalas changed hands. All it required was that we were a group of Aussies returning to our motor home to drive it out after breakfasting in Plymouth (a nearby town). It was just too easy.
It was interesting to witness all the sponsors pulling down displays, staff tidying up the grounds from the massive mess left by drunks the previous day, rented golf karts left scattered wherever their “owner” decided to leave them and RV’s still sitting silently in the 100’s of acres of grassed area where they are corralled. Many no doubt with sore heads inside sleeping off a big day and night.
Next was Plymouth Speedway at the Sheboygan Fairgrounds. It was closed because of the NASCARS nearby, but we could still access the grounds to get an idea. From Plymouth it was north to a track called 141 Speedway, owned by good friend Toby Kruse in Maribel. I rang Toby from there to say we were inspecting his pride and joy and he said that last week they had 189 cars from six divisions in the pits and the racing was over and done with inside 3½ hours. He prides himself in running a tight show.
Green Bay was next where Lambeau Field sits, the home of the hugely successful Green Bay Packers. A team solely owned by the townsfolk. Shares are rarely traded because, like Chili Bowl tickets which are passed down to surviving members of the family, so are the Green Bay shares. You must have a Green Bay zip code to be able to own them. Merchandise was purchased, Shayne sent the drone up to photograph the stadium and Vince Lombardi’s statue now features on every iPhone.
Green Bay sits north of Lake Winnebago. Just one of 15,000 lakes in Wisconsin, it is not named after the RV of the same name, but a creature of monster proportions that allegedly lived down there back in the ice age. South of Lake Winnebago is Fond-du-Lac, an old original Indian settlement where we stayed overnight and dined on the lakefront at the Sunset on the Water Grill and Bar.
This evening was an unusual experience for those who didn’t return to the Hotel straight after dinner. I would’ve, but Shayne needed a driver. You see he had decided he wanted to send the drone up at Lakeside Park, the site of tonight’s Independence Day fireworks. Apparently with the plan to have it hovering up there amongst the rockets as they hurtle skywards before exploding. I dropped him off there to prepare, with the understanding I would meet him back at the Pavilion.
I delivered those who wanted to grab some shuteye back to the Hampton Inn before setting off again to Lakeside Park. We had had quite a bit of rain during the day, but it had now tapered off somewhat, however not enough to convince the townsfolk to go ahead with the fireworks. I found that out when driving into the park from a hand written sign resting against a bucket on the road next the local cop car. Right, so now I know that, but did Shayne?
The Ford was parked right next to the Pavilion, given that everyone else had gone home to set off their own crackers in their own backyard. Now to find Shayne. That wasn’t difficult because there he was sitting all on his lonesome at a table with his equipment still in the case. He looked up as I walked towards him and smiled. “Not many people here is there”, he said. He doesn’t know, I thought to myself. He continued on with how he was going to do it, explaining how his beloved drone would handle the flight. I let him go for a while before conveying the bad news. We were the only two people standing there in the rain, but he still didn’t believe me. It took a good few minutes before he accepted the fact that he wasn’t going to be able to risk destroying his drone high above Lake Fond du Lac on a wet and rainy night in July.
Day 21 – Tuesday July 5th, 2022
50 kms down the road from Fond du Lac, no one expected what we saw first up today. Our first stop was always going to be the Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee. But I had put a note in the itinerary months ago that if the weather puts a stop to racing at Angell Park (36 hours ago) it would also curtail Slinger Speedway. Slinger had a rain date of last night and Angell Park didn’t. But there was no rain and we were left with calling in for a looksee on our way to Milwaukee. Now no one had ever heard of Slinger Speedway before, but all agreed it was a great name. I-41 got us there in a hurry and the exit to the delightful town of Slinger, Wisconsin was easy to find. As was Cedar Creek Drive, which had two huge landmarks on it. For us anyway.
The first was the speedway and the second, directly across the road, was the Little Switzerland Ski Area with five ski lifts and downhill trails galore. We have often talked in the bus about what the countryside we go to would look like in the winter. Well here was an example in living colour (and it wasn’t white) of how cold the places we go to (in summer) can get in winter.
Slinger Speedway was fabulous. Regularly drawing crowds of 5,000+ every night when they open their ultra high banked quarter mile paved track to the Super Late Models. As luck would have it, some staff were cleaning up when we arrived. They happily opened the gates to a bunch of Aussies and we looked around for as long as we wanted at a track that one should definitely return to next time we’re in Wisconsin. The merchandise shop got a workover as well and when our folk go to their local track back home, Slinger Speedway shirts should be prominent.
Another 50 kms further on is Milwaukee, probably most famous for its beer, breweries and baseball. But I tend to remember it for Happy Days, the American sitcom which ran for 11 seasons from 1974 to 1984. I often wondered whether Fonzie’s motorcycle was a Harley Davidson, but alas no, it was a Triumph. Hence we’re not at all likely to see a British built bike in the Milwaukee museum. Although further research on “The Fonz” confirms that in the first two seasons of HD, Fonzie did in fact ride an HD. But being someone who had dyslexia Henry Winkler found it too hard to handle the heavy Harley bike, so the producers got him a lighter one. The fact that it wasn’t a US manufactured bike demonstrates how much the American public loved Athur Herbert Fonzarelli.
Shayne is not a fan of Harley Davidson but he went into the Museum anyway although only after flying the drone over the building and the adjacent Menomonee River. I wrote the blog sitting at the base of this magnificent statue.
Onwards we went towards Chicago with the plan to arrive after 3.00pm so we could check straight into the Hampton Inn on Wacker Place, just one block back from the Chicago River. Time was on our side so seeing as how the lunch venue was Ian’s choice, he too sided for a Golden Corral meal. But we didn’t tell the Corral’s greatest advocates (Terry, Shayne) that we would be stopping in Kenosha at their favourite chophouse. But it was Steve who stole the show with the amount of food he put away. Indeed we had to wait for him to emerge from the restaurant because the needed to refill the chocolate side of the Dairy Queen icecream machine. He’d already emptied the vanilla ….
The drive into Chicago from the north is spectacular to say the least as the city emerges in all its glory as we get further south along US41. The coup de grace at this point is to then take Lake shore Drive onto Michigan Avenue. You might know it better as “The Magnificent Mile”. We drove sedately along here soaking it all up knowing we would not have time to walk it. Terry held hands with whoever was next to him in the bus as we crossed over the Chicago River towards Wacker Place. He hates bridges.
But he loved the foyer of the Hampton Inn and sat there for sometime thinking about just what could have happened in here in the 1930’s when Al Capone may have walked in for a drink. At night Ian and Steve ventured to the White Sox v Twins game at the baseball while others flew drones and ate ice cream at Navy Pier and some just relaxed over dinner at the Sweetwater Tavern.
Day 22 – Wednesday July 6th, 2022
Leaving Chicago is always sad. It’s such a good city for a tourist, as long as you don’t venture too far out of downtown. There are many suburbs you wouldn’t think of entering and assuming you don’t, then you’ll love your visit to the Windy City as much as we do. The gangsters from the 30’s occupied pretty much every square inch of the city. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus late night drinking and gambling made the city what it is today. Every time you go past a building that was standing during that era you can’t help but wonder whether a shootout occured in there and are the bullet holes still visible? Nothing wrong with that. Everyone else does the same thing. Fortunately there are tours to show you exactly what you want to see.
We were headed south down I-55, an easy exit from a very busy city, towards Streator. It’s not a town that 99.9% of tourists would never have on their list of places to see. But if you’re a midget fan from the 1960’s then the name of Tattersall would mean a lot to you. Bob “Two Gun” Tattersall lived here together with his bouncy bride Delores, simply known as Dee. After smashing every track record and winning 50% of the races he started in, Two Gun died in October 1971 not from an accident, but a brain tumour.
She was waiting for us as we pulled up outside the small white cottage where which has been her home ever since Bob bought it just before he died. Sitting on the porch as though we were a suitor arriving to take her to a dance. In a way we were because after a visit inside to see the small shrine set up in Bob’s honour with trophies, photos and priceless memorabilia, we invited her to lunch. But not before we went Hombaker Automotive Building to see these two items.
As with all photos in this Blog, please click on the picture to enlarge it.
Lunch with Dee was an hilarious affair. At 93 years of age she is in wonderful condition. She swings up into the front passenger seat with the ease of a cat and tells stories as though they happened yesterday. Her mind is razor sharp. An absolute delight to be with.
Davenport was next with our next home (the Holiday Inn) right on the Mississippi in Rock Island, Quad Cities. We arrived early enough for those who wanted to get their first glimpse of the mighty river to do so before heading off to Davenport Speedway and the Lucas Oil Late Models. A good crowd was on hand for a Wednesday night to witness some superb drivers put on a great show. 37 cars were in the pits with Hudson O’Neal winning the A main from Brandon Overton and Mike Marlar third.
Day 23 – Thursday July 7th, 2022
A day I had long waited for ever since first watching the Field of Dreams movie back in 1989 was about to be realised. Yes, on the way through to Deer Creek Speedway in Spring Valley, Minnesota lies a town called Dyersville in Iowa. Well maybe it’s not quite in a direct path to Spring Valley, but the detour is worth it. Lying 90 minutes due north of Davenport, Dyersville’s greatest claim to fame until baseball came along was Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, a massive church built to service the large Catholic German community who had come to live in the area in the late 1800’s.
If you remember the scene right at the end of the movie showing the cars heading to the cornfield late at night with lights blazing, then the end of that line is in Dyersville. 1,500 residents were asked to drive their cars up to the field and were stationery when they shot the famous scene. To simulate movement of the cars for the filming, drivers were asked to continually switch their headlights between lo and hi beam. A trick that worked a treat.
The final comment on the movie is that the corn planted by the producers for the various apprpriate scenes was not growing quickly enough to allow filming to be sequential. Hence they used two different farmer’s fields. One with the Kinsella house on it and the actual baseball field and the other with just a baedball field where most of the baseball segments were staged. The second guy returned his field to corn as soon as filming fin sihed but thankfully the first guy (Don Lansing) decided to retain it as a tourist attraction. In 2010 a company (with inside knowledge perhaps) bought it for US$5.4 million. No coincidence that the Major League Baseball Commissioners announced a couple of years later they would build a stadium there and play for points to commemorate America’s favourite past time.
Fortunately it’s still there and we had a ball exploring it. Even to the point of walking into the corn and emerging back out of it for the camera.
If you happen to be driving on a non Interstate Freeway highway starting with US followed by two digits and the second one is a zero, then you’re on a pretty famous road. Leaving Dyersville put us onto US20 which immediately tells us that it is an original coast to coast transcontinental highway that starts on the east coast and finishes on the west coast. In the case of 20, more specifically that means it starts in Boston and finishes in Newport, Oregon. It travels in the high northern area of the USA.
We were only on it for 100 kms through to Waterloo, a town that sits on the intersection of nine different incoming roads which can only mean one thing. There are literally dozens of fast food joints all clumped together at various exits. Take your pick for what you want. In our case the designated chooser today picked KFC. Never again Jose. Not because of the food. It was delicious once we got it. And the delay wasn’t the restaurant’s fault either. They worked their butts off trying to clear the backlog of customers caused when three bus loads of African American ladies were disgorged onto the streets just as we arrived. They were travelling back to Chicago after taking part in a gospel singing festival …..
The makeup on their faces and the bling on their bodies of these ladies together with their choice of clothing to wear on a bus trip defied anything I’ve ever seen before. Not all 150 of them descended on KFC thank goodness. They spread out across the jungle of different restaurants available, but at least 40 got into KFC just as we did. In fact we were stupid enough to be gentlemanly and hold the door open for them not realising that doing so put us right at the back of the line. I need to tell you that as each female approached the poor young bloke charged with taking their orders, they had no idea in hell what they wanted. Despite the well appointed menu being right before their eyes above and behind the by now scared shitless young KFC employee. I can only imagine when he woke up this morning he figured today would be an easy one …..
The noise inside the restaurant was barely tolerable. The chatter in their own imitable style became more high pitched once they had placed their order and sat down at the tables (absolutely none left for us). Here they broke into what sounded like “The Housewives of Harlem” being filmed in little old Iowa. Of course, because of this bedlam, no one could hear the poor young girl yelling out completed order numbers at the top of her voice. In the end Terry did his usual trick and helped out by hand delivering brown paper bags of fried chicken to the tables.
Yes we eventually did make it to the young fella taking the orders and he was delighted with the Aussssies ordering by number from the menu. I always worry about whether the food I’ll get in these places will be cold or at best lukewarm. But no such worries here. The only concern we had was whether there was anything left! Lunch took a while, but to be honest it was rib ticklingly funny to watch the whole thing unfold. You’d swear that not one of these people had ever been in a fast food joint in their lives before.
Racing tonight was at Deer Creek Speedway and it was the same Lucas Oil Late Models that we saw last night in Davenport. Another great field of cars all of whom were going to be here for three nights of racing in the Gopher 50. Gopher because Minnesota is called the Gopher State and 50 because Saturday Night paid $50,000 to win. Tonight Chris Madden won from Brandon Sheppard and Jonathan Davenport while Saturday night’s $50k went to Brandon Overton from Madden and Tim McCreadie in third.
Day 24 – Friday July 8th, 2022
Hot was the word of the next three days. Hot under the sun and hot on the track with all the guns of USAC midget and (non winged) sprintcar racing in Sioux Falls for the USAC Nationals. We left the surprisingly good America’s Best Value Inn & Suites in Spring Valley to get onto I-90 and head the furthest west we have ever been on a Global Speedway Tours trip. That is if you ignore the planes arriving and departing from Los Angeles and / or San Francisco. One town along the way though deserved a stop. One which has a speedway of course. Jackson, MN has the very impressive track (modelled on Knoxville) owned by Tod Quiring, the owner of Big Game Tree Stands and the same man who saved Huset’s from extinction. Regretfully things were all locked up when we arrived and with rain falling we elected not to get out for a look.
FridayToday’s drive was only two hours, so our arrival in Sioux Falls was well before we could check in to the posh Spring Hill Suites. (From Spring Valley to Spring Hill!) Lunch on the way was in a venue no one had eaten at before – the very reliable Perkins Family Restaurant chain – whose food is excellent and well priced. The sweet tooths in the group particularly loved the pies on offer at the end. Our choice of a luncheon spot each day depends totally upon available time in our endeavours to get to the next track. Either we eat with a knife and fork in a restaurant, or eat with fingers sitting in the back of the bus hurtling along the Interstate. Today was a very respectable luncheon. Perkins will be chosen again, of that I have no doubt.
The 4 star rated Hotel is very well located being adjacent to the giant Empire Mall. The heat of each day we were in Sioux Falls meant that if we did venture out of the Hotel it was to the mall and its air conditioning. On Sunday the “real feel” temperature climbed to around 40C (104F) and power failures began around the city. One such affected outlet was Panda Express, another fan favourite amongst the troops for good quality Chinese buffet. But the interesting story to tell here was that although they cooked with gas, they couldn’t sell any food because their EFTPOS system had gone down. Would you believe they refused to take cash?
The heat of the day didn’t stop us from venturing out at 4.00pm to make our way to Huset’s Speedway in Brandon for the first time. We thought the next three nights would be good, but no one expected them to provide the quality of racing that emerged from the midgets and traditional sprintcars. (It has become common in the US of late to use the word “traditional” when describing a sprintcar without a wing.) The midgets in particular were breathtaking. I know that I forget to breathe at times when they are racing. Quite consciously you avoid taking a breath just in case if doing so may cause you to miss something! The guys and gals who race these things are on the edge from go to whoa.
Huset’s had been hit by a tornado just before we left Australia and some of the buildings and track lighting were left damaged with no chance of complete repair before the USAC Nationals were due. Or the World of Outlaws who had raced there the previous weekend. But they made do with make shift lighting and temporary repairs to the corporate suites that had been partly blown away.
We were deliberately early expecting that the crowd would be good on a Friday night. But when we drove in to what really is a super racetrack complex, the carparks were as empty as a church on a Tuesday. In fact the designated RV overnight parking area where we were meeting Mike and Laura Henderson for the first time this tour, had maybe five RV’s in it. And didn’t get any better tonight, tomorrow or Sunday night. Very sad indeed and a scenario that must weigh heavily on the promoters whether to do it again 2023.
Terry’s boy Robert Ballou took the honours tonight in the sprintcars from Justin Grant and Thomas Meseraull while in the midgets it was the standout Buddy Kofoid from (this time) Thomas Meseraull and Justin Grant.
Day 25 – Saturday July 9th, 2022
Having been on the go non-stop since June 15th, day 25 was always going to be a day of rest. Yes it would still be racing at night, but during the day we had zero miles to do on the roads and nowhere to be before it was too late. So with that info many missed breakfast preferring to sleep in and have a late lunch instead out in the mall. Or across 41st Street at the Fryn’ Pan Family Restaurant. You know Grandma has a lot to answer for in this day and age. Every family eating house worth its salt boasts of “good ol country cookin’ just like Grandma used to make”.
At 3.45pm, despite the heat, it was time to leave for the track. But we needed esky supplies. Ice wasn’t an issue as the ice man Bobby Whittle had depleted the machine on level 2 of all its contents before we left the hotel. But beer and bourbon were required. No problem ….. the HyVee Wine & Spirits on Edna Avenue was the place to re-stock. Grabbing the money out of the red cup I raced into the store, selected the required items and waited to be served. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a guy in the adjacent queue staring intensely at me. I figured he must have seen the GST shirt with the sprintcar artwork (see top of the Blog) and was a speedway fan.
Both of us were served at the same time and he held the door open as I walked out. It was then I heard him shout, “Hey Peter is Stubb with you? Matt said he wasn’t comin’ this year.” I nearly dropped the 3.5 litres of Old Crow bourbon in shock, such was the unexpected nature of the voice I heard. Who was he? Turns out he was a mate of Matt Kappes who lives here in Sioux Falls and Stubb had stayed with them last year for this same race. Small world huh? The speedway family is alive and well on the look out for each other as always. (PS the 3.5 litres cost US$33.60.)
Back in the RV parking lot again and still no more RV’s had turned up. A worrying trend for the man who pays the purse. Laura and Mike and their friends were waiting for us and once again we used the shade of their 42 feet long RV and our own bus to shelter us from the baking sun.
As usual from where we are tailgating you can generally hear the PA system and certainly you can hear the cars as they come onto the track. Some tour members go in for qualifying, while the others prefer to relax a little longer at the bus, or perhaps its the esky that’s the attraction. Tonight most stayed and then time it to arrive in our seats just as the national anthem commences.
Bernie Gordon, wearing the Buddy Kofoid shirt, is the voice singing the anthem you can hear …. not me!~ Bernie travels to America every year and follows his young protégé wherever he can. You see the Gordon family flew Buddy to Australia in 2018 as soon as he became old enough to drive in our country and put him in the family sprintcar having recognised his prodigious talent in California a few years before. Buddy won last night in the midgets and he would do so again tonight. Second was Cannon McIntosh followed by Jacob Denney.
A great story was emerging from the sprintcars. Eleven years after his first USAC start, California’s Ryan Bernal won his first feature which just happened to be night 2 of the Nationals. It doesn’t matter that Mitchel Moles and Jadon Rogers were way out ahead of the field when on lap 21 Moles tagged the turn 3 fence and started tumbling end over end into the path of Rogers who just clipped him causing the #14 car to provide a synchronised flipping demonstation to the sparse crowd. Neither of those two drivers had ever won a USAC feature before either!
Bernal was sixth at the time of this accident and from his fourth place restarting spot, he went on to blitz Grant, Bacon and Ballou who finished in that order.
Day 26 – Sunday July 10th, 2022
The hottest day of the three we were in town for saw us on the road into Iowa. After all it was only 25 kms away and the address we had belonged to Steve Folkens of Folkens Brothers Trucking. We had met Steve for the first time at Lincoln Speedway on night 2 of PA Sprintweek. He saw (and heard) us enjoying ourselves and wandered over to welcome the rogue bunch of Aussies to America. We chatted for some time and did so again at Port Royal on night 6 which was when he asked us if we would be at Huset’s for the USAC Nationals. Upon receiving an affirmative answer, he said he’d catch up with us there again. Which we did and discovered his connection to sprintcar racing was via sponsorship of Kyle Larson, Aaron Reutzel and several local cars at Huset’s.
Steve had extended an invitation firstly to his house, secondly to the Tri-State monument in Valley Springs and lastly to his business property in Lester where he had “some items that would be of interest” to us.
He was waiting outside next to the obligatory large barn adjoining his house, something that seems to be compulsory if you own a home in the country. His dogs were with him and they welcomed us with open paws as we drove down the driveway. Barking at the bus and at the same time seemingly trying to bite the tyres. We pulled up where Steve was standing with his wife and after introductions all round he invited one of us to join him in his car for the next part of the adventure. Steve Perry accepted that honour and away they went to the north.
A right turn was made after a mile or two and then several hundred metres later he pulled off to the side of the road at the T junction of 100th Street and 488th Avenue! You’d be quite right in describing it as “God knows where country”. If you’ve ever seen the movie Castaway, where Tom Hanks finds himself in the middle of nowhere trying to deliver a long overdue Fed-Ex package, then that scene could have been filmed here too! The wind was blowing a gale across the prairie, but we got out of the bus and followed the two Steve’s to this. ↓
Steve Folkens, on the far left in the photo, then helpfully pointed out that the monument had to be moved from its exact spot some years ago because people kept hitting it at 65mph. After all it was smack bang in the middle of the road, right where that crack is.
Next stop was the Trucking operation where Steve proudly showed us the fleet, predominantly livestock transport, which make daily journeys to both the east and west coast for shipping off shore. But it was his office that has become his pride and joy as he continually fills it with trophies won by Kyle Larson in the 57 car with Folkens Bros Trucking on the wing. The 37th Kings Royal was won by Larson in 2021 and best of all is the 2021 / 60th anniversary Knoxville Nationals trophy which is taller than the driver is. Then he invited us to go into his private office to choose any style of merchandise clothing we wanted. As I write this back home in Sydney, I am wearing a very comfortable Folkens Bros hoodie.
We said farewell to Steve and promised we would make his office a regular stop on the tour in future years. Where to go now? Well Sioux Falls must have a water fall in it somewhere. We knew it did, but hadn’t realised how extensive it would turn out to be. Falls Park is 128 acres and an ideal place to have a picnic, but we weren’t about to do that in the heat.
I only wish I had a photo to post of the Falls in winter but we weren’t there in January. But here’s a link so that you can see how cold it gets in Sioux Falls in winter. Falls Park under snow and ice.
The next few hours were spent in the hotel cooling down. In fact we delayed the departure time for Huset’s by 90 minutes eventually finding Mike and Laura inside the RV with the air conditioning on. Proceedings on the track started a little earlier this arvo, but we didn’t miss anything. The city’s Fire Dept provided a full complement of fire fighting trucks to add to the spectacle which always accompanies the final night of big shows. It would have been far better if the fire engines emptied their water supply by pointing the hoses at the crowd as they went by. Would have cooled everyone down a touch.
The sprintcars had a 40 lap feature to conclude their three nights, but the midgets gazumped everyone by running 100. Mitchel Moles was desperate to come back from his own error last night when he tagged the fence and flipped while in the lead of the sprintcar A main. And he did just that, leading every lap while surviving seven yellow flags, two of which were green, white checkers. Nobody flipped in the sprintcars tonight. It appears they left all that mumbo jumbo to the midgets who had four monstrous upenders across their century of laps. Kofoid, Avedisian, Reimer and Grant.
Not surprisingly Buddy Kofoid was the favourite to receive the $22,000 payable to first home in the Midget A main, but it wasn’t to be as he took himself out of contention on lap 10, turns 1 & 2, when he slipped over the cushion and tagged the wall only to launch himself high into the night sky, coming to rest after five revolutions. The following You Tube video features Buddy’s flip as #4 in Flo Racing’s Top 5 Moments for the Week. Justin Grant’s flip, when skewered by eventual winner Cannon McIntosh is also featured in this same highlight #4.
Next to see the planets from a different angle was Jade Avedisian when she flipped in turn 2 reaching the top rails of the fence in an attempt to hang her car off them.
Lap 45 saw Taylor Reimer charge into turn 1, hooked a rut and the rest was history at full noise. That pesky turn 1 had foiled yet another race car driver. This accident caused a lengthy red light break which was going to happen at around this stage anyway.
The first lap of the re-start saw Cannon McIntosh completely stuff up an attempted slide job under Justin Grant. The result you’ve already seen in Chet Christner’s Top 5. McIntosh went on to win from Shane Golobic and Logan Seavey.
Today concludes the end of Part 1 of the Best of the Best USA 2022 Blog. With all the photos and videos included, the blog was becoming a touch unwieldy.