What Are The Odds…?

Jul 13, 2017   //   by bwilber   //   Bob's Blog  //  Add a Comment

Hello blog faithful. I have returned from Route 66 Raceway and my first foray back into the NHRA Mello Racing Drag Racing world unscathed, and very happy I went, for many reasons. Much like last year, when I’d venture out to an event after having left the sport in order to write the book, there was always a sense of trepidation as I drove toward the track the first day. What if no one remembered me? What if there are so many new PR and NHRA people that I’m now a complete stranger?

That second question is inescapable. People come and go all the time, and sure enough there are some new NHRA people in high positions, whom I had never met and who may certainly have no clue who I am or what I did out there for 20 years. But, for the most part, the experience is a great one once I get there and the smiling faces are heartwarming.

The fun started, however, on the six-hour drive from Woodbury to Naperville, where I was staying for two nights. From our driveway, I’m only about 10-minutes from Wisconsin. For the record, in case you were wondering, there’s a whole lot of Wisconsin to get through before you reach Illinois. It’s a long slog, and the section from Madison down to the state line is a mess, with construction bottling everything up. But, and this is a fun story, the most entertaining thing happened when I was further north.

Traffic was moving but somewhat heavy, and I had noticed a sedan pacing alongside me for a while. Then it would get ahead of me before slowing down to get behind me. Once, when I was on the right and it passed me, the passenger window went down but the angle of my vision prevented me from seeing who was inside.

Finally, I was in the left lane and I pulled up next to the car from behind it. The driver’s window went down and I saw a big “thumbs-up” gesture. I smiled and waved. Then, the driver showed his cellphone to me, but I was wearing sunglasses and my windows are tinted so all I saw was a black screen. At that point, I noticed a car coming up on me fast from behind, so I had to speed up and leave the sedan behind.

On Sunday, I received the explanation, via a message sent to our TPGF website. I provide it here, for your reading pleasure, in its entirety:

Good afternoon Bob,

So I am the crazy driver that was waving like a madman and following you like a borderline stalker on Friday morning along I 94 just past Osseo, WI. I’ve been a longtime blog reader and follower of Del and Team Wilk and I’m currently in the middle of reading your book. I had just read your latest Thursday blog and saw you were heading down to Illinois for the weekend. My wife and I had just flown in from Vegas to visit family in Tomah, Wi. So here we are cruising along and see a license plate NHRA FC and I’m like I wonder if that’s you, a guy I’ve been reading since the beginning of NHRA blogs and the author of the book I’m currently reading. Sure enough. Then I geek out. I’m driving alongside a celebrity. I wanted to show you the book so you didn’t think I was totally insane but of course it was in the trunk so I did the next best thing and show you my phone with the Bob’s Blog page pulled up and give you a thumbs up. Anyway I have always enjoyed reading your blogs and love the book. Apologies for driving like an idiot. Take it easy.

Dan Jolly

Amazing. What are the odds that we’d be side-by-side on I-94 in the middle of Wisconsin. Crazy. I do have license plates that say NHRA FC and I also have an oval YYZ decal on my back window, which any fan of the band Rush would recognize, so I wasn’t sure what the thumbs-up had been all about. Now I know. Cool stuff. Thanks for the note, Dan!

Once I got to Illinois I partook in something new for me. There have always been a lot of tollways in Illinois, especially up in Chicago, and I can remember when I worked for Converse and our office was there, all the guys had huge coin racks on their center consoles, to constantly feed the machines by tossing those coins in the plastic baskets. Things are different now.

The vast majority of tolls are now collected electronically as cars pass under the toll station. But what if you’re from out of state? Do you have to stop and pay cash? Well, you certainly can but I don’t carry a lot of cash and I almost never have coins anymore. Instead, you can just drive under the sensors and speed right on through. Then, you have seven days to go online and fill out the forms to pay your tolls with no added fees or penalties. They even have a nice app that helps you plot your routes so that the site can figure out what toll booths you passed through. Yesterday, I got them all paid. Simple as that.

Not hard to spot! (Click any image to enlarge)

At the track, it was easy to find the Wilkerson pit area. Being an Illinois team, NHRA always parks them at the end of an aisle for the greatest possible visibility, so finding the LRS transporter was simple.

It was also the first time I’d seen the team’s new hospitality set-up and it was very impressive. You can imagine how impressive, considering Wilk bought it from Kenny Bernstein. Timing is everything, though. This rig comes complete with a ton of storage, a machine shop, and a lounge that would’ve made a perfect office for a guy like me, back in those days. And the AC absolutely rips in there.

I got my obligatory hugs in, with Krista Wilkerson, Jon and Susan Cagle, Tom Meyer, and even Annette and Rich Schendel, who were in attendance. Plus, Daniel Wilkerson was tuning Brian Stewart’s car, parked right next door, so it was full-on “Old Homes Week” for me. Those hugs and handshakes went on all day. They never got old.

Krista and I then commandeered the golf cart and went back out to my car to get the six cases of books I’d brought along for the merchandise trailer. If you’re going to a race and want to buy a book, here are two pieces of information that will be key. They are sold in the trailer where Wilk’s stuff is, called the “Stupid Fast Racing” trailer. And also, I hope they still have some. They sold very fast on Saturday. More on that later.

A real friend and motivator.

My dear friend Kelly Topolinski, who is now doing the PR for both Tim and Summit Racing Equipment, showed up moments later, saying “I brought this with me from Tennessee to see if I could get the author to sign it.” We then had a 20-minute heartfelt conversation about the process and how, even now, I’m still learning new things about my own confidence and my sense of accomplishment. If you’ve read the book and have gotten past the Seattle race in 2015, you know what a huge influence Kelly was on me. I think it’s safe to say we probably wouldn’t have “Bats, Balls, & Burnouts” in our hands without her motivation and friendship.

I was also thrilled to see the turnout of fans on Saturday. I think that’s as good a crowd as I’ve seen on a Saturday at Route 66 for many years, maybe going all the way back to when the place opened. Both sides of the massive stadium were heavily populated with fans, while they also stood 10-12 deep along the fences for the length of the track. Good stuff, on a gorgeous day.

Our plan was for me to hang out in the Media Center during Q3 for Funny Cars, and I’d need to be ready to jump at a moment’s notice. We figured the best time to sell books was between the two sessions, and NHRA and Alan Reinhart were gracious enough to block out a “TV timeout” for me to be on the P.A. with Alan. The trick would be any unexpected delays, like an oil down. If that happened one pair before I was due to be on, we’d switch on the fly and do it then. As it turned out, we went on right on schedule and I got two minutes to plug the book while talking to Alan.

The view from the Media Center. Big crowd!

We told the crowd where to buy it and where to bring it if they wanted it signed. I’d consigned 42 books to the trailer, with the belief that those would easily last until Brainerd, where I could drive some more to the track.

Once we were done, and the session was over, I headed back to Wilk’s pit and talked with a bunch of LRS people in the hospitality area. And then one of the hospitality coordinators tapped me on the shoulder and said, “There’s some people here who want you to sign their books.”

I can honestly say that the sight of five or six people, all lined up by the ropes, holding the book I’d just published, was something I’d never seen before. By the time the day ended, I’d say no fewer than a dozen were brought and presented to me for signatures. The sales person at the merchandise trailer said, “We heard you on the P.A. with Alan, and right after that we just started killing it. They were flying out of here.”

So now I don’t have much of a way to gracefully get more books to the trailer before Brainerd, unless I take a big suitcase to Denver or Sonoma and put six books in there. Shipping them would be really expensive, and we’re already only making a few bucks per book. I hope anyone who comes to a race and can’t get one will reach out to me. We can work something out. But, let’s face it, this is a good problem for me to have!

The best way to tie that P.A. work into additional sales was to have two of the most gracious guys in racing step up to help me out. Both Wilk and Del Worsham put a decal of the book cover on the “rear window” area of their Funny Cars. That lent a real air of legitimacy to the whole thing. And for the record, when the body is on the stand, the lower part of the rear window is one of the hardest places to reach. It’s too far forward to come at it from the rear, and the spill plates make it hard to get to from the sides. Somehow, we managed.

Me and The Finkster, together again.

I got to spend some great time over in the Worsham pit, hanging with Del, Chuck, and my longtime buddy John Fink. They’re rocking it old school, right down to the transporter and a lot of the other stuff that dates back to the CSK red car. Those are some friends of the highest order, and I’ll never stop appreciating what they allowed me to do when I joined their team in 1997, and how much that changed my life forever.

After Q4 was over, and a few more fans came by with books for me to sign, I headed back to the hotel in Naperville to get a good night’s sleep. In the morning, utilizing the same “Pay Later” technique for the tolls, I headed back to Woodbury, arriving in the late afternoon. I was, no doubt, a little out of practice for road trips, and I was pretty weary when I got home. Nearly 900 miles in three days, with a full day at the track in the middle of it, can do that. It was good to be home, and just as good to have been there.

And now we hit the road for some more fun. Denver, Sonoma, Brainerd, Indy, Charlotte, St. Louis, Dallas, Las Vegas, and Pomona are all on the agenda for this ex-PR guy now an author with a book to sell. I’ll be at all those tracks for Saturday qualifying, except for Indy. I’ll be there on Sunday for that one, because the race is Monday on Labor Day. There will be airplanes and rental cars involved in all of them other than Brainerd.

Have you bought the book yet? It’s still selling steadily on Amazon and some other online retail sites and the Kindle and Nook versions are moving nicely, as well.

https://www.amazon.com/Bats-Balls-Burnouts-Sports-Marketing/dp/1478775726/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1498841315&sr=8-1&keywords=bats+balls+and+burnouts

Here on the home front, Barbara has spent the week out in Spokane but is returning tomorrow night, in time for a concert we’re really looking forward to. It’s Queen with Adam Lambert at the Xcel Arena in St. Paul. I was a big Queen fan in high school and saw them with the incomparable Freddie Mercury many times. I was skeptical that anyone else could ever be the lead singer for the band, but everything I’ve seen and heard about Adam Lambert is that he’s terrific and very natural in the role. He doesn’t try to imitate Freddie. He just sings their amazing songs very very well. Can’t wait to see the show!

As always, if you peruse this blog installment and like the content, please click the “Like” button at the top. The more likes the merrier!

I’ll see you next week, hopefully with more positive news on the book and with my review of the Queen show. “Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango? Thunderbolt and lightning, very very frightening, me! Galileo (Galileo). Galileo (Galileo). Galileo Figaro. Magnifico-o-o-o…”

Bob Wilber, at your service and still wondering “What are the odds?”

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