Never Wear White to a Drag Race, and Other Tips

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April 8th, 2021

So here we go with another stellar installment from Mr. Elon Werner. I think I’ve touched on this subject once or twice over the years, but he digs in deep and delivers the goods about a subject most people, other than those on the racing tour, don’t know that much about.

It’s the lifestyle. It’s the apparel. It’s the closet. It’s how it all goes down in the world of NHRA Drag Racing. To us, it’s second nature. To those who only travel occasionally on vacations or for the odd business trip, it’s a different world.

As you’ll see below, Elon and I lived parallel lives when it came to travel for work. Same procedures, same schedules, same packing schemes, and many other things. And none of us in the PR or marketing world ever really talked about it. We all just fell into the same rhythms and routines.

We have two guest bedrooms on the lower level of our house. With no guests coming to see us for the last year, one has a closet that has become our Covid storage unit for paper towels and toilet tissue. We’re still in good shape. The other is known as the “kitty litter room” since that where two litter boxes are kept and maintained. The boyz have their habits and routines, as well, and they get out of sorts when they are interrupted.

What’s in your closet?

The closet in that room is home to an entire rack of jerseys, shirts, and jackets. And it’s only a small percentage of all that sort of stuff I’ve owned or still have. There is another rack full of newer stuff from the Team Wilkerson years in the utility room. There is also my NHRA baseball jersey from the night we played the NASCAR boys in a softball game near Charlotte. I was the “manager” although that quickly devolved into just standing back and letting everyone play. Rules be damned! Yes, it drove me a bit nuts. And we killed them. I’m undefeated as a manager in softball games pitting drivers from two different racing disciplines, in which no rules were followed.

This particular closet is not restricted to racing stuff. Yes, there are a lot of racing jerseys and jackets, from the old original embroidered stuff right up to the printed (the technical word is “sublimated”) apparel.

On this one rack you can find old baseball jerseys and jackets, soccer jerseys, a signed USA Hockey jersey from Jim Craig, the goalie for the 1980 Olympic “Miracle On Ice” team, and even a football jersey signed by Lui Passaglia, the greatest kicker in Canadian Football League history. Thank you, Kim The Lawyer, for that great gift. The BC Lions are well represented in my closet.

Two of the jackets in the closet are near and dear to me, and for good reason. Throughout the Worsham Racing years, we won a lot of races. Del would often buy “winner’s jackets” for us, or we’d buy them ourselves. It got to be a superstition. It was like, “If I don’t buy one this time, maybe we’ll never win again.” They piled up into a very expensive rack of heavy coats. I’ve given at least half of them away.

But, the Labor Day weekend of 2005 was special. We had earned our way into the 8-car Skoal Showdown and we won it. $100,000 in the bank just like that. The next day, we somehow managed to plow straight through four round-wins to “double up” and win the Mac Tools US Nationals as well. That was another $75,000 plus a $50,000 NHRA bonus for winning both events. Add in sponsor bonuses and contingency prizes, and we had won about a quarter-million dollars in just 48 hours. Our first sponsorship with CSK, back in 1997, was far less than that. It was huge and none of us will ever forget it. It was also the most nervous I’ve ever been at a sporting even I was involved in. I have no idea how I held the video camera steady during the final round.

We talked about jackets and had two ideas. The first was: Can the company that makes the jackets do a Skoal Showdown version for us? The second one was: How can we make the Mac Tools US Nationals jacket even more special? We’d just completed what had to be considered a career-defining week. We needed to do something outside the box.

I called the company and asked them if they could do a Skoal jacket for us. The answer was, “Well, we’ve never done one but we can do it. We’ll have to digitize the logo but we’ll do that for you guys. You earned it. And we have some cool green leather we’ve never used before. Want to use that for the sleeves? It will really stand out as something unique.” That sounded awesome.

Two one-of-a-kind jackets. I’ll never lose these.

I then asked if we could take the regular Mac Tools US Nationals jacket and put a huge logo on the back, in addition to the stuff on the front. A regular winner’s jacket only had the race logo, the current NHRA series sponsor (POWERade at the time) and our names embroidered on the front. We wanted this bad boy to stand out in a crowd and forever remind us of what we’d done. The answer was “Cool! No problem.”

As for the packing and traveling, Elon nails it below. It’s a real benefit to know that every time you get on a plane to head to another race, the exact same stuff goes in your suitcase. Black slacks, at least three starting line shirts, t-shirts, black shoes and socks, your shaving kit, and underwear. Just like Elon, I could pack for a race in less than 5 minutes. As for my traveling clothes, I’d usually wear jeans with an embroidered team golf shirt. Sometimes, if I left the track on race day and went straight to the airport, I’d fly home in my starting line stuff. That always felt weird and kind of filthy, especially if it had been hot and humid. And speaking of dirty clothes, the first stop when I got home was the dry cleaners. They knew me when I walked in and knew just what to do with all those speckled shirts and slacks. I was such a valuable customer I got a big discount and “next day” pick-up.

So, again, I hope I haven’t stolen any of Elon’s thunder. I just wanted to add my own harmony of thunder to his. We’re kind of like Lennon and McCartney. Right?

Here’s his magic. Please click on that “Like” button at the bottom to show Elon how much you appreciate his work.

See you next week!

Bob Wilber

Hello again, everyone!

The second NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series event is coming up in Las Vegas, which just sounds weird since throughout my entire drag racing career the first two races have been Pomona and Phoenix. There are certain rites and passages, as well as memories, that go along with the start of the NHRA season. I touched on a few of the “first day of school” memories a few weeks ago but one topic that also came to the front of my mind was something that is unique to the world of motorsports and sports in general. There are a variety of uniforms involved, and every year those uniforms have to be updated. I know people who have a closet full of suits or really nice business wear to go into the office, or even be presentable from the chest up on a Zoom call. For more than 30 years I was lucky to have most of my working wardrobe provided to me. It was a great cost savings but if black wasn’t your favorite color you were definitely out of luck.

Pomona was always the highlight to get the season started during my early years with John Force Racing because it felt like Christmas. I knew I would get two big bags full of gear, compliments of Castrol, as well as a few items from the sponsors representing our other teams. Castrol was always the big haul.

Every year everyone on the JFR marketing team received two or three very nice sweatshirts, half a dozen t-shirts, three or four long-sleeve t-shirts and a lightweight jacket. Every other year we either received a rain coat or a very nice three-in-one jacket. That bounty of gear was to insure that no matter what the occasion or personal appearance was coming up, you were expected to be representing Castrol. We also got six to eight uniform shirts which we were expected to wear every day at the races. All of these items had the Castrol logo on the front breast and many of them added a huge Castrol logo on the back. 

The ill-fated white Castrol shirt. My friend Candida Benson, who wrote for National Dragster, appears incredulous.

After a few years of this program my closet could easily have been confused for Johnny Cash’s, since my working wardrobe made me look like the motorsports man in black. The one exception was the one year Castrol gave a few of us white uniform shirts. This was a good idea in theory since the shirts looked like the Castrol GTX bottle but the race track is a dirty place. Every race it felt like I was getting a rubber marks or grease stains on my uniform, just by being around the race cars. I wasn’t working on them, but I would occasionally brush up against them or there were a couple times I received a post-win hug for John Force who was covered in clutch dust, which meant I became covered in clutch dust. Those stains did not wash out completely, no matter how quickly they were treated. I burned through about 25 uniform shirts that season. The white shirts did not return and we were back in black the rest of my career.

The man in black… My closet.

Over the years I accumulated quite a few sweatshirts to the point that I ran out of space to keep them. At one point I had over a dozen barely-worn Castrol sweatshirts promoting their various brands. I gave some out as gifts to my motorsports buddies but I still had quite a few filling up space in my closet. My wife asked me one day if she could take them to her job and give them to her patients. She worked as a social worker at a dialysis center and they kept the treatment room very cold so sweatshirts were a great addition for some of her patients that were on a fixed income. I said sure and loaded her down with a huge bag of shirts. I was quite pleased with myself that I had done a good deed and cleared out a lot of space in my closet. A few days later my PR brain went into overdrive and I asked my wife if she could maybe ask her patients to wear the shirts on the same day and see if she could get a photo for me to promote the generosity of Castrol. Sadly, and appropriately, that was a big “No” when you consider medical privacy issues. I totally got it and simply passed word along to my Castrol reps that I had found a nice home for their gear and they were getting maximum logo saturation in the Dallas/Fort Worth dialysis community.

Castrol spared no expense on the quality of their gear. I left John Force Racing in 2017 and I kept a couple items because they were just so nice and fit so well I didn’t want to let them go. Sponsors and team loyalties had changed so I didn’t feel comfortable wearing them out and about but I held onto them. With the switch to Camping World as the NHRA series sponsor I saw an opportunity to get a couple items back into the rotation. I reached out to Evan Jonat, with the NHRA marketing department, about getting a couple Camping World logo patches. He said no problem and had them sent to my house. As soon as they arrived I pulled out a JFR pullover and a JFR/Castrol rain coat from the back of my closet. The new Camping World logos were the perfect size to cover up the original logos and I was back in business representing the new series sponsor on two items of clothing I had been holding onto for nearly four years. This was not a new technique of course but I was very fired up to be able to get these articles of clothing back in the game.

Now that I am with Kalitta Motorsports I have been able to add their various sponsor gear to my wardrobe and it is great to represent Kalitta Air, DHL, Mac Tools, Mobil 1 and Toyota. Again lots of black but the price is right. When I left the world of motorsports, the shock of having to buy work clothes, combined with having to pay for soft drinks in an office, contributed to my return one year later. Sometimes the grass is not greener on the other side of the fence. For over two decades I had unfettered access to a nearly unlimited supply of free soft drinks and bottled water in the press room or pit area. People in offices had to pay almost two dollars PER DRINK! That alone, to a Diet Coke addict like myself, was a huge shock.

I was very appreciative of all our sponsors and their willingness to provide gear throughout the season. I liked the fact that it made packing very easy and there was really no mental energy expended with the age old question of “What am I going to wear today?” Geniuses like Steve Jobs wore the same outfit every day because they did not want to waste any brainpower making frivolous decisions about what to wear. Before every race I throw four black polos, four black undershirts, a couple black pullovers and dark slacks into my suitcase along with socks and underwear and I am done packing. It takes about three minutes.

Still one of my favorites. Bombs away!

I have one jacket that I will hold on to for a long time thanks to the great folks at Castrol. The year Force won his 15th championship was also the 25th anniversary year of Castrol being his sponsor. It was an amazing feat considering it was his first championship after the accident in 2007. At the end of the season Castrol sent a few key people amazing bomber style jackets with the 25th anniversary logo on the back. It is the most John Force over-the-top jacket and I loved to wear when it got cold enough in Texas. It was a 100 percent conversation starter kind of fashion statement.

As a reward for making it this far in the blog I will leave you with one John Force fashion story I personally witnessed during one of the Charlotte races. The second or third year of the Spring Four-Wide Nationals, Bruton Smith invited some of the NHRA team owners and NHRA officials to a special event on Friday night at the Speedway Club, which is attached to the NASCAR track. The invitation said the dress code for the event was business casual but the race ran long that night and Force and I came straight from the track. When we walked in, the first person we saw was rival team owner Don Schumacher and at the time he and Force were in the middle of a tense portion of their relationship. Schumacher had obviously had a chance to get away and change clothes at his hotel while Force was in a clean uniform shirt, his standard black jeans and boots. As we were walking in Schumacher asked Force if he considered his outfit business casual, to which Force replied he did, because he did a lot of business wearing his uniform shirt, which I thought was a pretty good response. Schumacher followed his first question up with what he thought would be a good zinger and pointedly asked Force what he wore for serious business meetings. Without missing a beat Force told him he wore a leather jacket that said “15-time Funny Car World Champion” on the back. I about cracked up and we strolled into the party. It was classic Force and I will never forget the look on Don’s face.

That scene and memory always remind me of a great line from the must-watch HBO series “The Wire” where Omar, one of the best tough-guy characters in all of TV history, issues the line, “If you come at the King you best not miss.”