Pomona – Looking Back

Nov 8, 2018   //   by bwilber   //   Bob's Blog  //  Add a Comment

Right about now, many of my friends and colleagues are gathering in a place far from here. They’re in Pomona, where unlike Minnesota it most likely did not snow yesterday and they didn’t have a hard freeze last night. I’m not there, and that’s more melancholy than I expected it to be. I could’ve gone, and in Vegas I heard the “Will you be in Pomona?” question a lot, but it’s an expensive race to get to and at some point you just have to say no to spending that much money when you’re not going there to work. Especially after having done just that when I went to Las Vegas.

So, with that in mind I think today I’m just going to ramble about a lot of Pomona memories from over the years, and I’ll sprinkle in various photos from 2010 through 2015. Why those years? Because that was the range of time during which I was regularly shooting photos with my Nikon, and downloading them into iPhoto on my laptop. Prior to 2010, I shot a lot of pics with various other cameras but most of those photos are on thumb drives or memory cards and it could take me all day to go through those. Some are still in a stack of floppy discs, from back in the early CSK days, and I don’t even have a way to get to those anymore. So the Nikon years it shall be.

Last day. Last run. One last look. (Click on any image to enlarge)

I was shooting with the Nikon right up through the Finals in 2015. That would’ve been my last race as a professional PR guy prior to me becoming an amateur author. Since these photos don’t have to be in any chronological order, I shall begin with the last one. I didn’t take this, obviously. I think Marc Gewertz from National Dragster took it, as I stared down track after Wilk smoked the tires in round one on the season’s last Sunday. I think the look tells it all.

My first Pomona experience was documented in “Bats, Balls, & Burnouts” to some degree. It was the Winternationals in 1992 (I think. It was a long time ago) and I went out to the race to interview with NHRA about joining their Media Relations staff, after my year at Heartland Park Topeka. I helped out writing notes throughout the race, and actually got paid to do that, and I wrote a couple of press releases as well. It sounded like a great opportunity but it didn’t address the one thing I wanted to do most. I wanted to get back to working for a team, and winning or losing as a team. Working for the organization wouldn’t be a lot different than working for the track. I decided not to do it. The price of housing in that part of SoCal played a part in the decision, too.

Just a few months later, I’d be back for the Finals. I was, by then, working for the guy in New Jersey who represented Chuck Etchells. On Sunday, we won the race. I thought it must be easy, and I remember thinking the Winner’s Circle photos were no big deal. I had a lot to learn, clearly.

I went to the Winternationals and the Finals in 1993 and the Winternationals in 1994, before taking the job as GM for the Kansas City Attack. While in Kansas City, I was too busy with the indoor soccer team to attend the ’94 Finals or the ’95 Winters or Finals. In 1996, I joined Whit Bazemore and the consecutive streak of Pomona visits began. From the 1996 Winternationals to the 2015 Finals I never missed a trip to Pomona. That’s two races a year for 20 years plus the one year we had a midsummer race there too. Add in the 2017 Finals, the last race I attended to sell and promote the book, and I think that all adds up to 46 races at the venerable facility, but math is not my strong suit.

The season ends in Hollywood

I’ve had lots of highly valued guests in attendance with me over the years. Nieces, nephews, friends, and celebrities. Both annual races are always fun, but it’s the Finals weekend that is in a league of its own. Championships are decided, parties are included, and goodbyes are exchanged. And then there’s the banquet. My first one of those was back in ’92 with the Etchells team. It was at the Red Lion Hotel by the Ontario airport. Since then, we’ve celebrated at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, Universal Studios, the Kodak Theater, a big hotel on Avenue of the Stars in Century City (Century Plaza?). and the ballroom at Hollywood and Highland, where you might just be able to see the HOLLYWOOD sign from your room.

There was 2001, when Del Worsham lined up against Whit Bazemore in the final round of the Finals, and the CSK car smoked the tires at the hit. We were all crestfallen for a second or two, but then we noticed that Bazemore had fouled. It was a weird way to win a race, but not the weirdest. Also at the Finals, in 2003, Del won in about as crazy a way as you can. Running our teammate Cory Lee, who was driving the Artisan Entertainment car, Del fouled at the start. We were all pretty dejected when that big red light was staring at us, but then Cory crossed the centerline. He could’ve coasted to his first career Wally, but he didn’t realize Del had red lit and he let the car get away from him. We stood at the starting line for what seemed like 10 minutes but was probably just 20 or 30 seconds, until the announcement was made official. Del had won. It was nuts.

Jeff Finger takes advantage of the Olympic break to come to Pomona

There was the Winternationals in 2010, when my NHL hockey buddy Jeff Finger came to the race. How did he do that in February, when the NHL season is in full swing? Well, the Winter Olympics were that month in Vancouver, and since NHL players were allowed to play the NHL took a hiatus right in the middle of the season. Jeff loved NHRA enough to fly out for the race. He was playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs then.

MegaRita was a big part of our annual Worsham Racing pit parties at the Finals. Over the years, the party got so big and so close to out-of-hand we finally had to make it invitation only and put up fences, and we asked the biggest and strongest guys to wear bright yellow shirts that said SECURITY on the front and back. Still, making about 12 gallons of margaritas with a full Nitro motor was always a crazy way to cap off the season. And I don’t seem to have any photos of it, because they would be on one of those floppy discs. That’s too bad. Maybe some day I’ll find a way to save all those old digital pics. Plus, my scanner is nonfunctional so I can’t even scan old prints right now. These days, printer/scanner/copier machines are so cheap they’re almost throw away pieces, and the scanner function always seems to be the first to go. They sell them to you cheap so they can make a huge margin on all the ink cartridges you’re going to burn through.

Crispy.

There was the Finals in 2010 when the LRS Funny Car suffered a major engine explosion and was burned beyond use. The weird thing was we didn’t have a backup body in the LRS colors because we had run a special edition Summit Racing Equipment body in Vegas. It was a beautiful body, with super-cool airbrush art on it, but all the vinyl was Summit.

It happened during the Friday Q2 qualifying run and somehow John Fink and I found a vinyl shop out in Ontario that was still open. And somehow we managed to get our vinyl guy back in Springfield, Illinois to email the digitized Levi, Ray, & Shoup artwork to them. Then the guys at the vinyl place worked late and stayed open until John and I could drive over there.

We stripped the Summit logos off that body (good thing they weren’t painted on) and got to work creating a new LRS car.

We were pretty darn proud of ourselves over the whole escapade. Just finding a vinyl shop at that time of the evening seemed impossible enough. Getting it all printed and stuck on the car was magic. I’m not sure how we managed to make it look as good as it did.

Pretty gorgeous, right?

It was a lot of work for a car that lost in the first round, but it was an accomplishment for the Finkster and yours truly. It ended up being a really beautiful car.

Typically, the weather for either race in Pomona can range from “not bad” all the way to “awesome.” But, over the decades we’ve dealt with rain, hail, fog, snow up in the mountains, and even some nearby wild fires that made the sky glow red. The rain would often be of the strange variety. We’ve been rained out when the drops were so sparse and so small they didn’t even appear on radar. We once lost a key qualifying run when Wilk was trying to bump into the field in 2009 at the Winternationals, which was my first race with Team Wilkerson. It rained us out of Friday and then Saturday looked fantastic. We weren’t in the field going into Q4 under blue skies, and then one renegade dark cloud rolled in and parked itself right over the track. It just stopped. And then it dumped a big shower on us and the session never happened. There’s something about Pomona that can provide you some seriously goofy weather.

It’s a truly historic place. It’s the kickoff and the final whistle of every season. It’s SoCal at its most SoCal. It’s avid fans who haven’t missed a race in more than 20 years. It’s Pomona. And I’m not there. I hope my PR and racing colleagues have a wonderful and safe Auto Club Finals, and congratulations in advance to all the World Champions. And then enjoy the dress-up party on Monday night in Hollywood. I’ll be looking for photos.

This was a quick blog today, but I’m really into the writing process for my upcoming fictional book “How Far?” and want to get back into that. I’m starting Chapter 8 as soon as I post this blog. It’s coming along great!

As always, if you just read this rambling blog about Pomona, and you kinda sorta maybe liked it, please click on the “Like” button at the top. Thank you!

See you next week, blog nation.

Bob Wilber, at your service and typing as quickly as I can while NOT in Pomona.

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