A Big Time in Big D

Nov 14, 2019   //   by bwilber   //   Bob's Blog  //  Add a Comment

Welcome back, blog faithful. I’m happy to report it was an eventful weekend full of many laughs and some great socializing. All in all, I’d have to give it six stars on a five-star scale. Yeah, it was pretty wonderful from start to finish. I’ve been to Dallas too many times to count, but over the course of my racing career that really means I’ve been “through” Dallas too many times to count. Fly to DFW, rent a car, drive south the Waxahachie and then attend the “Dallas” race in Ennis for three days. Then, back up to DFW to fly home. This time, we actually experienced a few parts of Dallas, and it was great.

Barbara and I flew down on Friday afternoon, arriving at DFW right around 6:00, which means it was already dark when we got there. Following GPS directions, we easily made our way down to the Residence Inn – Arlington South, just off I-20. This would be a good time to mention that having a solid GPS system on your phone is a critical part of enjoying your trip to Dallas. Lots of freeways. Lots (way too many) outer “service roads” alongside those freeways. Lots of confusing off-ramps. We all know how off-ramps work, when transitioning from one freeway to another. You’re heading south. At the next interstate, you want to go west (right) on that road. That off-ramp should come first, right? Not in Texas, or at least in Dallas. The eastbound ramp will come first, and that can be really confusing, but Siri’s comforting voice got us there seamlessly. Piece of cake. Also, the service roads mean you can’t always get off the freeway at the cross-road you’d like to use. Sometimes you have to get off way early and follow along that outer road to get there. Sometimes you have pass right by where you’re going to get off at the next exit and then circle back. I guess the locals are used to it.

When we arrived at the area around the hotel, an upscale development of shopping, hotels, and restaurants, we passed a beacon of sheer delight, basically on the same mega-sized parking lot as the Residence Inn. Its red, yellow, and white colors called to us as we drove by. There it was…  An In-N-Out right by the hotel! On Google Maps I’d already seen that a Total Wine was there, as well, and that was good because we wanted to bring a couple of bottles to the party at Elon Werner’s house on Saturday evening. But, the In-N-Out was a total surprise. We got into our room, unpacked a little, and started walking. The Double-Double and fries “well done” were sublime. We were off to a very good start.

After a not-so-quick stop at Total Wine, we had our two bottles (one purple, one yellow, as we say) and headed back to the room. We had decided to stay at the Residence Inn for a couple of reasons. One, it’s a Marriott property and Barbara is (this isn’t a joke) a Titanium Elite Marriot Rewards member. Seriously. So we get all sorts of spiffs when we stay at Marriott hotels, and she earns more points. Two, the Residence Inn gives us a full living room, a kitchen with  full-sized fridge, a nice bathroom, and a great bedroom with a king bed. There’s ample room to stretch out and relax without having to sit on the bed in a standard hotel room, and two TVs in case we wanted to watch different stuff or go to bed at different times. It was really comfortable.

We slept in a little in the morning, although Barb was kind enough to go downstairs and bring some warm cinnamon rolls up from the lobby. We figured we had to leave the hotel at 11:30 to make sure we’d make it up to a certain restaurant in order to meet a certain pair of people at 12:30, north of downtown Dallas. That would be Pete and Jacque Delkus, of course. Siri got us there just fine, and that’s a good thing. I would’ve taken the wrong ramp at least three times had she not gently steered me the correct way. Right on time, we pulled into the parking area at R+D Kitchen, a wonderful and charming restaurant in a really cool part of Dallas. These were parts of Big D I’d never seen before, and this entire trip really completely changed my opinion of the whole DFW metroplex, as they call it. I was really impressed.

Like it was yesterday. (Click on any image to enlarge)

As soon as we walked in the door, Pete and Jacque came in right behind us. I can’t overstate this. It was like I’d seen them both yesterday. In every sense. I can’t remember the last time I saw both of them, but I think it was when Pete was doing the weather in Cincinnati, and he’s been at WFAA in Dallas for 15 years, so there you go. It was a homecoming. It was a reunion. It was heartwarming. It was wonderful.

Barbara had never met Pete and Jacque, and they were just as eager to meet her as she was to meet them. We had a nice booth in the restaurant and let’s just say there was never a moment when the conversation lagged or it felt like we were searching for things to say. Never. It was just like it was in 1989 when Pete and I were rooming together in a cool 3-level apartment in the westside suburbs of St. Louis. He was a quirky, hilarious, sarcastic, and fantastic roomie. You really can’t get any better. We spent, I’d guess, about six months rooming together, while he was dating Jacque, until he had to report to Spring Training in Orlando. Let me restate that. You don’t really “have” to report to Spring Training. You “get” to.

He’d been helping me out down at the St. Louis Storm indoor soccer offices at the old St. Louis Arena, selling group tickets and just keeping busy while we both grew frustrated over the fact there’d been a work stoppage at the Major League level on the first-ever spring when he’d been added to the Minnesota Twins 40-man roster. More than 30 days after camp was supposed to start, they finally settled it and my roomie packed up and headed south. On the night before, we had a home game. I was the P.A. announcer, of course, and during a quiet stoppage in play I said something like “Ladies and gentlemen, all of us with the St. Louis Storm would like to bid a fond farewell and send all of our best wishes to a colleague who will be leaving tomorrow. Pete Delkus will be heading to Orlando to take part in his first Major League Spring Training with the Minnesota Twins. Good luck, Pete. We’re all pulling for you!”  I was ever so pleased that he got a rousing ovation from the crowd.

We had a great lunch. We reminisced and grew nostalgic over the old stuff, but we spent even more time on the present, bringing each other up to speed on all we’ve done and where we are now. It was absolutely priceless.

Just a couple of old roomies.

Two old roomies. Through good times and bad. I still can’t read the foreward Pete wrote for “Bats, Balls, & Burnouts” without getting a little misty. I know he always meant a lot to me, and I respected him so much, but to hear it all come back to me was just too much. He’s a helluva guy, with a wonderful wife I introduced him to by sheer luck and whimsy. Life is funny like that.

Suffice to say, we spent a full two hours there, and the laughter absolutely never stopped. The hugs at the end were pretty good too. All in all, I think we’ve done OK for two old broken down baseball players. Not bad, huh.

We said our goodbyes and then Barbara and I had to hustle a little to get back to the hotel before it was time for Abby Werner’s 20th birthday party. Oh yeah, and her dad Elon was having his 50th too, but let’s be serious.

Funny thing, Siri took us back to the hotel a totally different way, and I think it’s because she has a handle on which exit ramps work and which ones drop you off short or beyond your target. 30 minutes later, we’d seen another part of Big D and were in our room. We freshened up a bit, gathered our gifts (the vino) and headed down to Mansfield, where Elon lives. It was an easy shot, straight down the big boulevard than ran south from just a block away from the hotel. Siri helped us navigate the winding roads in the development where the Werner’s live, but the mass of cars along the curb outside one particular home was all we needed to see.

I wasn’t really sure what Elon’s home would look like, but I figured it would be nice. It was spectacular, but not in an over-the-top “Look at me!” way. It was, indeed, beautiful and impressive, but more than that it was charming and welcoming. I felt like I was home the second we walked in. Getting a spine-crushing hug from Elon, who towers over me in a world where I tend to at least have equal stature if not a little advantage over almost everyone else, was like a trip to the chiropractor.

Barbara knows Elon well, they actually communicate about shows they binge watch without even involving me, but neither of us had met his lovely wife Jenn or the two kids, Abby and Nick. That was a true pleasure, and the two younger Werners are clearly a product of their parents. Not just in terms of their attractive good looks, but in the way they carry themselves and interact with others. They’re gems, who have been brought up well.

The kids had lots of friends there, and the neighborhood was well represented, so I wondered if we’d even know anyone else at the party. I’m OK with stuff like that. I have no problem being introduced to total strangers and then getting to know them before sharing life stories. Then I felt a tap on my shoulder and heard “Hey Bob, didn’t know you were here…”

It was Jim Oberhofer, famed and damn-near legendary crew chief and tuner in the NHRA world. Jim O worked for Kalitta Racing for so long I actually don’t remember what he did (or what the team did) before he got there. Now, he’s just opened a quick-service oil-change and lube shop in the Dallas area. “Just opened” as in about a week ago. It was awesome to see him. His new place is called Victory Lane Quick Oil Change and it’s in Plano. If you live anywhere nearby, stop in and get your oil changed (and say hi to Jim O).

And then Elon walked by and said “Densie is here, too” and at that moment the one and only Dave Densmore entered the room. I’m sure I was beaming.

Dave Densmore…  I have never met a more respected and more accomplished PR person. He’s got more talent in his little finger than I have in every fiber of my being. I have adored him and respected him since my first day in racing, and that’s not an exaggeration. And what has always blown me away about Densie, is that he treats nobodies like me just like people treat him. From Day One, I’ve held him in the highest esteem, and it’s a big crowd of us who all feel that way. He’s a walking encyclopedia and a fountain of memories and statistics, but above that he’s caring, engaged, and not only hilarious but also appreciative of anyone who can make him laugh. He loves to laugh, and when he does the whole room can’t help but laugh with him.

We toss around the word “legend” far too loosely. Dave Densmore is a legend. It has been my honor and privilege to work alongside him, befriend him, laugh with him, and get through all the ups and downs that NHRA Drag Racing can throw at a PR person, for well more than 20 years.

A pretty wonderful gang to have together at Elon’s house

Randy Anderson is a photographer of the highest caliber, who lives in Dallas and shoots everything that looks interesting, from bridges and skylines to Funny Cars blasting off the line. He was also there, at the party, and by the time this whole group was together there was never any worry about having something to talk (and laugh) about. This was one spectacular evening at the Werner home. And both Barbara and I were so thrilled we’d decided to fly down to be a part of it. Priceless!

From left to right in the photo: Randy (far left), Elon in the back, towering over everyone, Jim O next to Elon, and little old me on the far right. In the front, two of my favorite people in the world. Dave Densmore and Barbara Doyle. What a great time. And the food was amazing, as well.

Our flight on Sunday wasn’t until around 4:30, so Barbara and I were initially unsure what we were going to do. As a Marriott Titanium hero, she can arrange a 4:00 check-out whenever she wants one, but we weren’t just going to sit in the room. Therefore, when Elon mentioned having brunch around noon, we were thrilled to do that. He got a reservation at a great place just a few exits from the hotel (although, yes, Siri had to navigate which actual ramp we’d use since you couldn’t get off I-20 at the restaurant) and the whole Werner clan attended, along with a very good friend of their’s.

This was our best chance to get into some deeper conversations with Abby and Nick, and we took advantage of that. Abby is a sophomore journalism major at Mizzou (the University of Missouri, in my home state – Go Tigers!) which is roundly considered to have the best journalism program in the country, so that tells you something. Nick is a senior at Mansfield high and is an accomplished member of the school’s swimming team. He’s narrowed his college choices down to University of Texas, down in Austin, or Texas A&M in College Station. I’m not sure that he’s totally sure, but it seemed like he’s leaning a little toward being an Aggie, rather than a Longhorn. But hey, when you’ve done so well in order to have both of those schools as your options, you should be proud and you should make the decision carefully.

Abby is totally amazing. So mature beyond her years, and so much a reflection of her parents (Abby, that’s a GOOD thing). We both really enjoyed talking with both of them. They are at such a great moment in their lives. They may not fully appreciate that, in the here and now, but they will always look back on these years with memories they will cherish forever. Barbara and I wish all the best to both of them. Kick butt and take names later, Abby and Nick!

So, it may not be completely apparent here, but we kinda sorta had a great time. Not just in the “hey that was fun and we did some neat stuff” sort of way, but in a really deeply personal and unique way. Pete is one of my best friends ever. Elon is clearly my best friend and former colleague in my modern life, in NHRA Drag Racing. He’s a phenomenal guy who would do anything for you, yet you feel the need to give it right back to him. Two class acts I’ve been so fortunate to know and appreciate. Two amazing friends. And having Barbara there with me, so that she could meet everyone and get to know them, took it to another level.

Memorable? Yeah, I’d say so.

That’s it for this trip around the blog week. I’m actually going to be home this weekend, before heading off to St. Louis and New York the next two. I plan to enjoy my time with my wife and two sweet boyz.

As always, feel free to click on the “Like” button at the top if that seems appropriate. Good thing there’s not a “Dislike” button, LOL.

See ya next week. Take care, everyone.

Bob Wilber, at your service and still reveling in the memories of this past weekend.

 

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