Rings And Things

Oct 4, 2018   //   by bwilber   //   Bob's Blog  //  Add a Comment

Greetings, blog faithful, on yet another Thursday in our long history of Thursdays. No big breaking news or recent huge stories to tell, this time around, but I’ve dug through the closet to come up with some fun trivia and hopefully some entertaining photos. The only racing news this week is that the NHRA Mello Yello tour will be at the Texas Motorplex, south of Dallas, and this year I won’t be one of the many people in attendance. I did book my flight for Las Vegas, though, so by the end of the month I’ll be back out there.

The gang’s all here! (Click on any image to enlarge).

I have some history at the Motorplex, and a lot of it is really fun to look back on. This photo comes to mind first. It was the first week of May in 1998 (as you can see by the time stamp on the print). We are all gathered for a photo with red Solo cups in hand. There was no beer in the cups. There was Dom Perignon champagne brought to us by another Funny Car team and then carefully divvied up into all the cups so we could make one toast. Why? We as a group and Del Worsham as a driver had just secured our place in the Castrol 4-Second Club during a qualifying run.

Going left to right in the photo, in order of how the heads line up and not bothering with front or back locations, we have the following folks: Steve “Fuel Boy” Brown, the late Larry Liu, Lynne Downing, Frank Gilchrist, Grant Downing, Barbara Gilchrist, Connie Medina (she wasn’t Connie Worsham yet), Del, Marc Denner (grubby as always), Chuck Worsham, me (with a cigar no less!), John Fink, and the one and only Grandma Worsham, may she rest in eternal peace.

We’d been sneaking up on better performance in the early part of ’98, which was our second year with the Checker, Schuck’s, Kragen sponsorship, and on the all-concrete Motorplex track we jumped all the way into “the Club” with a 4.983-second run. Of course, that was quarter-mile racing then but it’s still staggering to think that basically everyone is now putting up times more than a second quicker (to 1,000 feet). It’s a whole new world.

I was thinking about Dallas this morning and how that first run under five seconds really changed things for Team CSK. It gave Del and Chuck a lot of confidence and it kept the team fired up. A year later, we’d win Seattle for Del’s first Wally since 1991. By the time the CSK deal was up, after the 2008 season, we’d won dozens of races in the Nitro Funny Car class. Another thing that changed had to do with jewelry.

My wife Barbara has multiple jewelry storage spaces, and they’re all crammed with a wide array of beautiful things. When we had our closet done, one of the things she wanted for both of us was custom jewelry storage in the top drawer. Her top drawer is jammed. Mine has just a few rings in it and a bunch of watches ranging from really old to really nice.

A keeper.

I wore this ring for many years, as the wear and tear on it illustrates. Del got his Castrol 4-Second Club ring for free, but Castrol made them available for anyone else on the team who wanted to buy one. I definitely wanted one, and they were kind enough to put my last name on one side of it, with the ET and date on the other.

Throughout all of the Team CSK years, I wore this ring almost daily. I’d clean it a couple of times a year, and back then had to take it off to get through security at the airport (it’s heavy) but it was on my right hand just about every day. Finally, it miraculously got smaller, just like how many of my shirts in the closet shrink just hanging there. That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.

Actually, I think the arthritis I dealt with throughout those years made my knuckles just a little bigger and it was getting really difficult to get it on and off. So now it lives in my custom closet top drawer and after more than a year I finally no longer have a farmer’s tan on that finger.

As for the ring on my left hand, I may have to have it cut off at some point. The ring, not my finger!! I’ve been trying to get my wedding ring off for a few months, and so far no luck. If I can ever get it off, we’ll have it resized a bit larger so I can proudly wear it for many more years.

And it’s not just my knuckles that get larger as I grow older. I’m not sure I can even understand why I wore size 9 1/2 shoes until I was 40, and now I wear 11 1/2. Two full sizes in a little over a decade? Crazy.

Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville

Then there’s this ring. This is my college class ring from Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville and it’s noteworthy in a few ways. 1) The word “Edwardsville” does not appear anywhere on the ring, and the school logo on one side is just a generic SIU logo with a cougar above it, as if SIUE and SIUC (Carbondale) were one and the same. 2) The graduation date on one side says 1978, and that should’ve been when I graduated. But, being a full-time student athlete it took me a few extra quarters to actually get my diploma. The 1978 date is basically two years off. 3) The degree shown on the other side is a BA (Bachelor of Arts). Being in the school of Mass Communications, I assumed that would be a BA. I found out after the ring was made that I was actually going to get a BS (Bachelor of Science) degree. Oops. 4) And… The 1976 SIUE Cougar baseball team was only a couple of innings away from winning the NCAA Div. II World Series over Cal Poly Pomona. We all would’ve gotten championship rings if we’d held on to win. We lost that game and then lost the next day as well. We were <that> close. The baseball emblem on this ring was my way of honoring my teammates on what was a fantastic squad. Like the 1977 team, the ’76 group was collectively inducted into the SIUE Hall of Fame.

I could wear the SIUE ring right up until around 1999 or 2000. I could wear it on my pinky now, and that would look really cool in a “Sopranos” sort of mobster way. It lives next to the Castrol ring in my drawer. It’s in good company.

The next ring is one that does not live in that drawer. It sat on a shelf in my office for a year or two, but then I decided it needed to go in a locked safe. Rings are really easy for people to pick up and walk away with, and I don’t want to ever lose this one.

1965 American League Champs.

This is my dad’s 1965 American League Champions ring. His name is on one side and Minny and Paul are shaking hands on the other side. Why there is no stone is something I’ve never known, but there are a couple of logical options. One could be that, since my father was the Minnesota Twins top scout and not in uniform with the team, this is then a “second tier” ring for non-uniformed members of the organization. Or, it could simply be that championship rings weren’t nearly as gaudy back then, and since the actual World Champions back then only had one or two diamonds on their World Series rings, the losing team perhaps didn’t get any.

I was nine years old that year, and it was my first summer of really following the Twins closely throughout the season. That wasn’t all that easy from suburban St. Louis. I was lucky to see the Twins on the “Game of the Week” once or twice a summer, although my dad and I would sometimes sit in the Chevy Impala in the driveway and dial in the Twins flagship radio station, WCCO in Minneapolis, all the way from Kirkwood, Mo.

The Twins were a very good team going in, and a great team in the end. Harmon Killebrew, Bob Allison, Tony Oliva, Zoilo Versalles, Earl Battey, Jim Kaat, Rich Rollins, Mudcat Grant, Jim Perry, Don Mincher, and many more, became familiar names for me. The Twins and the L.A. Dodgers battled it out for seven games, with Jim “Kitty” Kaat and Sandy Koufax dueling in three epic games. The Dodgers and Koufax won in seven. The nine-year old version of me was crushed.

I still remember when Big Del got this ring, all these years later. It went into storage with a lot of other memorabilia for a long time, and when he passed away my sister Mary acted as the distributor of all the old stuff. My dad also had championship rings from the 1946 Cardinals, the 1971 Denver Bears, and the 1973 Spokane Indians. I chose this one, because 1965 was really the year I paid full attention to the Twins, while I also rooted for my hometown Cardinals. Someone else in the family (possibly my nephew Ewan) has some or all of the other rings.

By the way, according to what I’ve seen online, the highest paid player on the ’65 Twins team was Harmon Killebrew, and he obviously should have been the highest paid guy. He made $50,000 that year. Tony Oliva made $20,000. That’s stunning.

One ring that is not on display here is my high school class ring from St. Louis. U. High, and that’s because I lost it before I even graduated. I remember washing my hands after playing golf somewhere, and I left it on the sink in the clubhouse. It was 24 hours later that I realized my oversight but when I called they informed me that no one had turned it in. As I said, rings are really easy to pick up and walk away with, although I don’t know why a golfer would want a high school kid’s class ring.

Darn near indestructible…

As I wrote earlier, I also have a lot of watches in my top drawer, ranging from a Wittnauer I bought as my first “nice watch” back in the early 80s, to a TAG Heuer I got in the late 90s. There are some other very nice watches in there, including a Raymond Weil I hardly ever wear because I’m afraid to scratch it or lose it. It’s gorgeous. But, there are also two Oakley watches and this is one of them.

We got these for being in the Budweiser Shootout one year, at Indy. Budweiser always gave each of the eight teams a gift just for being in it, so this doesn’t necessarily have to be from the year Frankie Pedregon won it for us in the blue CSK car, although it could be. It was a really cool watch, and it was one that changed my taste in watches all at once. I’m hard on watches, and I was especially rough on them for the 20 years I was doing the full NHRA tour front to back. This Oakley took a beating, and has the scars to prove it. It also had a band made of rubber, and that solved a problem I’d been dealing with since high school. I never liked metal bands on my watches, but if you wear a leather band and are outdoors working up a sweat a lot, the band is going to break in a year or two. All the regular watches I’ve worn since getting this Bud Shootout watch have had a band made out of rubber, including the Fossil watch I wear these days.

So that’s it for this week. Just a string of tales about getting from Point A to Point B in under five seconds, and then a bunch of rings, and finally a watch. How’s that for a blog about basically nothing!

I’ll be following the action down at the Motorplex from up here in Minnesota, so here’s hoping for close racing and a great show.

As always, if somehow you just read all this nonsense and kinda sorta maybe liked it, please click on the “Like” button at the top. That’s critically important, if by “critical” you mean not really at all.

See you next week!

Bob Wilber, at your service and surrounded by rings and watches.



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