Questions That Need Answering

Dec 12, 2019   //   by bwilber   //   Bob's Blog  //  Add a Comment

Every now and then, when the well of blog material runs a little dry, I fall back on a time-tested remedy for such a lack of material. I do a “Q & A” blog by answering questions I’ve received, over the months, from readers. I typically privately answer the emails or messages immediately, but I save the questions for these installments that don’t have fun things like a trip to New York, or St. Louis, or Amsterdam, as the prime theme.

Usually, those questions are kind of tame. Like “What’s your favorite NHRA track?” or “What’s your biggest baseball highlight?” and stuff like that. Over the course of a few years, though, I managed to put away a few more pointed and personal questions, just for a rainy day like this one. Except it’s not rainy. It’s snowy. Here in the this part of Minnesota we’re already running way ahead of normal for snowfall, and today we added a couple of new inches to the total. I’m hoping we’re over the threshold for the HOA contractor to come through the neighborhood and clear it all away again. Nothing worse than coming up a half-inch short of what they deem “plowable” and then having to scrape it off myself. I should deduct my hourly wages from the monthly HOA fee each time we don’t quite reach the minimum depth. But I digress.

So here are a few interesting questions I’ve received over the years. Like normal, I answered them all privately but saved them in a special file in my Apple Mail program. I just never knew if I’d answer them publicly. Today, I feel like doing that. Let’s go! (With respect to full disclosure, I have taken the time to edit the questions a bit, if only for grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc.)

From Buddy H. in Boise, Idaho.

Q: “You’ve been doing this a long time. Is it 20 years yet? My wife and I love the “nonsense” you write about but we wonder if it’s been easy. What gave you the confidence, or even arrogance, to start the blog on NHRA.com? The others were by famous drivers. Did you get any hate mail when you started?”

A: There are a whole slew of questions here, thanks to Buddy. I’ll try to answer them all. It’s not quite 20 years yet. I started the NHRA blog in mid-August of 2005, so to this point it’s been a little over 14 years. Time flies when you’re having fun! Was it, or is it still, easy? That’s hard to answer. To me, it’s pretty easy because I just engage my brain and watch my fingers move on the keyboard. Words seem to appear on the screen as I think of them, so it’s not like it’s hard work or real labor. But still, it doesn’t write itself and I don’t want it to be awful, even if it’s all “nonsense” or gibberish. So, as a writer, I think I have to take credit for the fact it’s something I’m proud of. Writing can be really hard. Writing books can be overwhelming. Even writing a blog for 14 years can’t really be classified as “easy” but I don’t dwell on that. I do it because I love it. I could easily quit doing this tomorrow, and I’m sure I’d miss it, but I think of all the loyal readers out there who look forward to it and give me feedback about it, and I can’t imagine just walking away.

I think the terms “confidence” and “arrogance” are great reflections of how it happened. The central theme of my autobiography “Bats, Balls, & Burnouts” was the “plow forward” mentality I seem to have always had. Maybe not always. As a little kid I was sick a lot, didn’t have a lot of confidence, and I was pretty timid. Especially about new things or new people. I seem to have gotten over that at some point, and I’m glad I did. My entire career was all about jumping at every new opportunity no matter the risk. Just go for it. Without that approach, I never would have ended up with a 20+ year career in drag racing, which kind of presented itself out of nowhere (Thank You, again, Bill Kentling.) I also doubt I’d have ever worked for one professional indoor soccer franchise, much less three. Heck, I might still be a baseball scout now, at 63 after having started at 23. That would’ve been the safe and easy route. Just following in my dad’s footsteps and there’s nothing wrong with that. I admire my dad more than just about anyone. But I just kept trying new things. I failed at a bunch of them, but I never stopped plowing forward. And, let’s face one of the biggest things: Had all these dominoes not fallen in the order they did, there’s a really good chance I never would’ve met Barbara Doyle. Things happen for a reason. I wouldn’t go back and alter the fall of any single domino. This is where I’m supposed to be.

As for the last question Buddy posed, I did get some negative emails way early on. A few I’d even describe as “hate mail” like he mentioned. People can be really mean, for no reason other than to please themselves, I guess. Maybe they need that. The vast majority of all the correspondence I’ve ever gotten, as a blogger and writer, has been incredibly positive and uplifting. I’m continually amazed and thankful for it. But, way back in late 2005 and early 2006, as I was finding my way as a blogger in the NHRA world, there were a few guys (always guys, by the way, for whatever that’s worth) who lashed out as if I was stealing their wallet or cursing their mother’s name.

I guess they would’ve rather read a blog ghost-written with no real content than the honest words I was posting. But, of course, they wouldn’t have sent the nastygram had they not read it, so there’s that. At first, I did my best to reply and try to engage them in an honest conversation, but it was pretty clear that only got them more riled up. Why? I have no idea. Finally, my response would be “Sorry you don’t like it. I’d suggest you not read it” and that would generally end it. It wasn’t pleasant, but fortunately it was a very rare thing. Over the course of the first two years or so, maybe five or six of those negative notes compared to hundreds of nice ones. By the end of 2006 all of that negativity seemed to just go away.

I see my blog career as something I really did earn. I had to prove myself, I had to have the confidence (and maybe arrogance) to think anyone would want to read my nonsense. And I just had to keep going. Now I can’t quit. For all of you who come back here to follow along, even after my retirement from the NHRA world and the shift here, to The Perfect Game Foundation site, all I can do is thank you profusely. It’s been an honor since the first day, and it continues to be just that.

From Dennis W. in Longmont, Colorado:

Q: “Blog reader from Day One here. And book reader too. I’ve really enjoyed your words and your perspective on everything from drag racing to life in general. But I’ve always wondered if people in high places agreed with what you were doing from the start. Compared to the other driver blogs back when it started, your stuff was pretty out there, but I mean that in a good way.”

A: And I take that in a good way. I think I’ve written about this before, but maybe it was in the book. About two years into it, when Pond Cam was a huge hit and Boofus and Buster were becoming key characters, I did get a little pushback from a couple of highly placed folks. They didn’t really get it, and didn’t really like it. We had a discussion at the track one day, and talked it out. Basically, I said I’d quit writing it if they didn’t like it. I understood that. It was their website, for crying out loud. Just tell me to quit, and I’ll quit. But if you let me keep writing it, I don’t want to change it and I don’t think my readers would like that either. I just kind of put my foot down. Gently, but that’s what I did. My point was this: My goofy blog was drawing traffic to the site. A lot if it. That’s a good thing, and I hoped they’d understand that.

The rest is history, although not exactly the Earth-shattering type of history.

From Carla in Denton, Texas:

Q: “Love all your stories. You write so well about emotional moments. Throughout all those NHRA years, can you remember one moment that was the most emotional for you? Good or bad. It’s such a sport of incredible highs and lows.”

A: I can answer both of those. On the good side, winning the U.S. Nationals and the Skoal Showdown with Del Worsham and the CSK team cannot be matched in terms of a stratospheric high. I’ve never felt jubilation quite like that. As I wrote about in the book, I felt light-headed at the starting line as we fired the car for the final round, and I was worried about that. Then I realized I wasn’t breathing. I was too nervous to breathe. It was a lot of money, and we all got a piece of it, but it wasn’t about the money. It was about being forever etched in NHRA history as a team that “doubled-up” and swept it all at Indy. We got all the big promotional checks and proudly held them up in the Winner’s Circle. I have a series of photos from that day in my office here. I look at them every day. The emotions will never fade

As for the bad side, that’s another that immediately comes to mind. Drag racing is dangerous. Bad things can happen. Sometimes really bad things. In 2004, the St. Louis race was an all night-time deal. It was just too hot and humid in the middle of summer to run a normal schedule. So, we as race team members had time to kill each day, and we aren’t really wired for that so sitting around was hard. On the first day I was there, on Friday I guess, I got a call from PR guy Rob Geiger, who represented Top Fuel star Darrell Russell. They had just landed at the St. Louis Airport and wanted me to meet them for lunch down on The Hill in south St. Louis. I didn’t really know Darrell at the time. He’d always smile and say hello in the lanes or in the pits, but we’d never even had a conversation.

That day, over a fine Italian lunch at Rigazzi’s, we talked at length, and Darrell asked most of the questions. He wanted to know all about me, my upbringing, my baseball career, my dad’s career, and my hometown of St. Louis. I’ve never quite had another conversation like it.

He was charming. He was so friendly. His default setting was a smile and twinkle in his eye. He was handsome, smart, and super talented. It was my honor and pleasure to share that lunch with him and Rob.

On Sunday, during eliminations, Darrell’s dragster was involved in a horrible crash. When that happens and the driver is OK, we generally hear about that over the P.A. system immediately. When we hear nothing, we worry. I called Barbara to tell her. I could barely speak. When we did hear that he had succumbed to his injures, after the race, I was shattered and broken and devastated. I called Barbara from my car and the only words I could utter were “We lost him.” She talked to me all the way back to the hotel, just helping me get there through the tears.

I basically knew him as a person for a couple of days. I felt I lost a true friend. You never forget that sort of thing.

And finally, from Adam W. in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania:

Q: “Loved the book and have been reading the blog since the beginning. How do you keep doing this? Aren’t you out of words yet?”

A: Not yet. I think there are plenty more words in me. It’s just a matter of lining them up right.

And now, here’s a question I’m going to ask of all of you. If you follow me on Facebook, you might recognize the name Keith Kaufman. He’s been a blog reader since the first installment and he stays in touch a lot. Plus, he and his wife Kelly are massive cat people. They have a big group of furry friends at their house.

Sadly, Kelly suffered a serious stroke recently and the future is going to be tough for them, going forward. As of right now, there are many more difficult questions than easy answers and Keith is trying to handle all of this. They have limited insurance coverage, and Kelly’s treatment and recovery are going to be long-lasting and expensive.

Keith started a Go Fund Me page and I donated immediately. He and his wife, who means the world to him, need help. It’s hard to ask for help. By doing so, I know how serious it must be.

If you can help, even with a small donation, go here:

https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-kelly-recover?

So that’s it. No photos today, but I’m good with that. It didn’t seem like that sort of blog. It’s also been another exercise in making something out of nothing, but that’s not giving credit to the people who send me so many emails or Facebook messages. It’s all just further motivation, even on a snowy day like this one. And no, the crew hasn’t shown up to plow yet. C’mon guys…

As is our regular procedure here, it’s been my pleasure to write this. If it’s been your pleasure to read it, clicking the “Like” button at the top is a wonderful thing.

See you next week!

Bob Wilber, at your service and more than 14 years into this.

 

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