NHRA News, Great Sports Moments, and a Tree

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October 14th, 2021

Greetings and salutations everyone. Today really feels like fall, here in the great state of Minnesota. We’ve had a glorious start to the season here, with multiple sunny days in the 70s, but yesterday was chilly, blustery, gray, and wet. The official forecast for yesterday, by KARE-11 TV here in the Twin Cities, was “Raw.” That’s what it was. Today is warmer, but still overcast.

The leaves on the trees are all changing and falling to the ground. Our sprinkler system has been “blown out” and winterized by the HOA. My snow marker sticks are probably next but not just yet. And “not just yet” for winterizing the outdoor spigots and getting that water turned off, either. I’ll still want to change the water in the hot tub one last time in 2021 so I’ll need that hose to accomplish the task. Fresh water at the end of October should get us all the way through until March, if I stay on top of the chemicals. I usually do, but mistakes have happened over the years.

So let’s start with the NHRA Drag Racing world. It’s been a big week. There have been new sponsorships announced, and Travis Shumake began his licensing process in Del Worsham’s car, with Del tuning it. Travis ran a 4.009 at more than 319 mph after the recent race at the Texas Motorplex. He still needs one more solid lap to get his license and I’m sure he’ll do that before the end of the season. Watching the video of his 4.009 run, the looks and smiles on the faces of Del, Alexis DeJoria, and Jeff Arend were priceless. Travis’ late father, Tripp Shumake, was a star on the Funny Car circuit back in the 70s and 80s, and Travis can carry on that legacy with talent handed down by DNA and sheer determination.

It’s a great story, and a bit of a historic one at that. I’m pulling for Travis and all he stands for and represents. He’ll be a great addition to the NHRA tour and to professional sports. You can read about it here:

https://www.nhra.com/news/2021/travis-shumake-continues-historic-journey-earn-funny-car-license

The latest giant news came today, at a press conference in Charlotte. Racing legend Tony Stewart announced he will be launching a two-car NHRA team, featuring Leah Pruett in a Top Fuel dragster and Matt Hagan in a Funny Car. That’s pretty huge.

It was always fun to go to Charlotte for our races there, and not just because zMAX Dragway is so spectacular, but also because so many NASCAR drivers and teams would come over during the race weekend to check out the straight-line racing. Their reactions were always very similar at the starting line. Eyes wide open, mouth agape, and then finally something like “Whoa” or “No way!” would be yelled above the din. They were typically fascinated by it.

Tony Stewart was no different. And the more he’s been around the sport, and the more he’s learned about it, the more he has fallen in love with it. Stepping up to own a team and run for not just race wins but championships is a “very Tony Stewart” thing. He’s there to win.

It’s a new era in the NHRA world.

And stay tuned. I don’t think the NHRA news is done yet. Still lots of “Silly Season” announcements to make and championships to be won.

People ask me all the time if I miss it. I always have the same answer.

I must miss it. If I didn’t, why would I follow every race online, or via NHRA.TV, or on FOX? And why am I ecstatic when Tim Wilkerson gets on a roll, or then feel crushed when he loses by inches. But… Do I miss being away from home for more than half the weekends every year? Do I miss the airports, planes, rental cars, and hotels? Answer: Not really. That’s why I retired to be an author. I miss the people, the camaraderie, and the excitement. I don’t miss the travel.

I spent parts of 22 seasons out there plying my PR and management trade. I made some great friends and stay in touch with most of them. And I experienced some of the most vivid and emotional moments of sheer joy and happiness at the starting line. I also had to deal with the losses, the explosions, the accidents, and the fires. The good comes with the bad, but I wouldn’t trade my NHRA career for anything.

And that brings me to my next subject.

What are some of the greatest sports moments I’ve witnessed in person? I’ve been in sports my whole life. I’ve seen a lot, but not all in the arena or stadium. Many of what I’d consider my greatest thrills came while watching games on TV. But, here are some things I saw while being there.

BASEBALL

Best. Game. Ever.

The most thrilling game I’ve ever seen was “Game 163” in 2009, when the Twins and the Tigers had to play one game to settle the division title after finishing the regular season in a tie. No game I’ve ever seen was as nerve-wracking and exciting as that one game.

The photo is a blurry shot from the days when iPhone pics were still like that. The Metrodome was electric. The game went back and forth so many times it was mind boggling and dizzying. The Twins won in the bottom of the 12th and no “winning moment” celebration was like that one. It was unbelievable what the Dome was like at that moment.

Here’s a neat little compilation of the key plays throughout the game:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ICnb1fXNCi8

Now keep this in mind. I saw the Cardinals play the Yankees in the World Series (at old Sportsman’s Park) in 1964. I saw all three home games when the Cardinals won the World Series over the Red Sox in 1967. I saw all four home games of the World Series (which the Cardinals lost in seven) in 1968, including the game in which Bob Gibson set a new MLB record by striking out 17 Tigers. I saw all four home games of the 1982 World Series at Busch Stadium when the Cardinals beat the Brewers and I was working for the Blue Jays. None of those could measure up to Game 163.

But what about baseball games I actually played in? Well, there was the NCAA Regional Championship game in 1977 when my SIUE Cougars beat Northern Kentucky to earn our spot in the NCAA Div. II World Series. That was an amazing celebration, but my late home run (with my mom there to see it) had kind of set us up for the win a few innings earlier. It wasn’t all that tense. We just needed six more outs.

There was a big win over the Korean National Team when I was playing for a semipro team in Fairfax, Virginia in 1987, at the University of Maryland’s stadium. I hit a bomb in that game as well. Crushed it. No doubt. Gone. Drop the bat and jog. High fives everywhere.

And, of course, my Sauget Wizards win over the USA National Team in 1989, at their home stadium near Memphis. Yep, I hit a bomb in that one. Dead center field. Surprised the hell out of myself.

Of all those celebrations, the win over the USA team was probably the best and most emotional. That USA team was full of future big leaguers. We were just a bunch of washed up ex-minor leaguers, some washed up ex-college players, and a couple of current college players who no doubt wondered why these “old guys” were still playing the game. We had no business beating the USA team, but we did. We probably had no business still playing in our 30s, but we loved the game.

But…  Game 163 at the Metrodome was the real deal.

FOOTBALL

Sadly, my experience at being present in the stadium for huge NFL moments is basically nonexistent. No team I’ve rooted for passionately (that would be the old St. Louis Football Cardinals and then the Vikings) have ever sealed the deal. I did watch one of the greatest moments in Vikings’ history on TV, the “Miracle in Minneapolis” when they beat the Saints on the final play of the game, but that doesn’t count.

My freshman yearbook. What great memories of incredible players and spectacular young men. We idolized these guys.

The most thrilling football game I saw, of any type, came as a freshman in high school. Our St. Louis University High team, the formidable Junior Billikens, won the Missouri state championship for large schools (even though we only had about 1,000 students) at the University of Missouri’s stadium, beating a team from Kansas City. It was nuts. It was loud. It was crazy. And we all collectively lost our minds when the Jr. Bills won.

That team was amazing. We thought they were grown men. To us  as young freshmen, they could’ve been an NFL team. We all traveled to Mizzou in a caravan of chartered Greyhound buses. It was insanity, but the most insane thing was that our feeble little freshman brains couldn’t really process how special it was at the time. I clearly remember thinking “I can’t wait until the team does this again next year.” Silly me.

One of the guys on that team was Joe Castellano. Like so many of his teammates, he appeared to be a fully grown and mature man, to us. We were just kids. He was handsome, he was well spoken, he was incredibly smart, and he was a great student. He was also a leader and a great football player.

Thank you, Joe Castellano. You put it into words perfectly.

Joe went on to a phenomenal career in sports marketing. When he decided to write it all down, all about that team and the class of 1971, I bought the book the day it went on sale.

It’s fantastic. I think anyone would love it. I’m a little prejudiced for having been there for that incredible game, and sharing the halls with all those older role models, but it truly is a great book.

BASKETBALL

Also sadly, my life has had almost zero “big moments” at any basketball games. The closest I can come is when the Spirits of St. Louis upset the supposedly unbeatable New York Nets who were led by Julius “Dr. J” Erving, but the final game of that ABA series was on Long Island so I watched it on TV with my roomie at SIUE. Freddie Lewis drained a 15-foot jumper at the buzzer to stun the Nets, who had never lost a game to the Spirits until that playoff series.

SOCCER

The only highlight of my outdoor soccer fandom came when Barbara and I went to see Minnesota United play a regular-season game a few years back, before their spectacular Allianz Field was built. They played at the University of Minnesota’s football stadium. It was great fun, and a fabulous experience, but just a solid win in front of great fans.

In terms of indoor soccer, I’ve had more luck. The best was an impossible comeback for the Kansas City Attack against the Baltimore Spirit at Kemper Arena. I was not only there, I was standing behind one of the goals wearing a dark blue suit, as the GM of the team.

It was rough game, and we were down by four points with just 40 or so seconds to play. The rules in the NPSL then were that a regular goal was worth two points and any shot beyond the long-distance arc painted on the turf was worth three, just like in basketball.

Our coach, Zoran Savic, pulled his goalie and put a sixth attacker on the floor. We scored a two-point goal with 30 seconds to play, maybe less. We had a good crowd that night, and they were on their feet, screaming.

As the clock ticked down, our sixth attacker (Jim Schwab) ran up the field to be in the play, leaving the goal completely empty. He took his spot just outside the 3-point arc and was fed a prefect pass by Wes Wade. Schwabbie never hesitated. He one-timed it perfectly into the lower right corner for a three and the game was over. The place went nuts. That was a big thrill for the GM.

HOCKEY

Again, just a few highlights from games I’ve been in attendance for, but most of the huge moments were on TV.

When we originally moved to Woodbury in 2002 we became instant fans of the Minnesota Wild. We’d only been living here about a year when the Wild made the playoffs and faced the Colorado Avalanche in round one. It started out poorly. By the time we even got into it, the Wild were down 3 games to 1.

Two days later, at the last second (literally) Barbara’s CEO at Lawson Software offered her his two tickets for Game 6 at Xcel Energy Center. They were on the glass! Row 1. I jumped in my car and sped to downtown St. Paul to meet Barb at her office. We got to our primo seats just as the opening face-off was happening. Of course, the game was back-and-forth and finally went into sudden-death overtime. My favorite Wild player was a guy named Richard Park, a rare Korean American in the NHL. With us on our feet, he streaked down the far boards and scored to send the Xcel arena into bedlam.

In Game 7, our nearby Woodbury neighbor Andrew Brunette scored in overtime, getting the puck past Patrick Roy, one of the greatest goalies of all time. We went crazy, but we were in the living room. We had a chance to congratulate Andrew a couple days later, when he was walking his dog in front of our house.

Here’s that goal. It’s still routinely listed as the best moment in Wild history.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXWQUUsSpzI

DRAG RACING

You can’t beat this…

No doubt about it. Nothing comes close. This one is another one of those great moments I was part of. Unfortunately, I’m not in the photo. For the CSK team, I shot our video kneeling by the retaining wall, so that I could get a good shot of the rear tire as the car planted and then took off. And I had to keep the camera pointed at the car until after it crossed the finish line. It took me a while to shoot the full run, then stand up, and then join my teammates. I wasn’t quite there yet when this shot was taken.

2005. Indy. Mac Tools US Nationals. We’d earned $100,000 by winning the Skoal Showdown on Sunday. On Monday, we beat four tough teams to win the US Nationals. It was impossible. It was inconceivable. It was beyond any emotion I’ve ever felt at a sporting event, and I was part of it. We earned more than $225,000 in two days. Considering our first sponsorship contract with CSK Auto, in 1997, was for roughly $200,000 (for the whole year!) that was unfathomable. Pure elation. Pure unfiltered joy. It’s still hard to believe we did that, but all I have to do is close my eyes and think about it, and it all comes back.

Finally, my final thought for this week, this day, and this blog.

When we bought this house in 2012, we had sold our original Woodbury home and were renting our place out in Liberty Lake, Washington. As you know, we bought this house so we’d have it when it came time to move back. Woodbury and Minnesota were home by then, and we knew we’d come back. Being out there, though, meant the best we could do was keep a distant eye on the place until we moved back in 2016.

What we learned quickly, after the landscaping was done, had to do with the backyard. It was a swampy mess. There were all sorts of drainage and ground water problems. Now, years later and many dollars spent on drain tiles and new soil, we’ve pretty much conquered it. But it was a mess those first few years, and the ground water was so bad many of our trees and shrubs died.

We had one new tree that wasn’t going to make it. Branch by branch it was dying. If you so much as touched the soil around it with a shovel, water would bubble to the surface.

We hired a company to tackle the problem and all those drain lines helped by moving all that water to a nearby pond, but the tree didn’t look like it was going to make it.

Keep in mind, I’ve never been rumored to have a green thumb. Plants and flowers challenge me. Trees seemed out of my league.

But, I wasn’t going to let this tree die without giving it everything I had. I pruned it. I talked to it. I clipped off any branch that looked like it was done and gone.

A big effort, but a huge payback

And here it is today. I’m damn proud of this tree. I saved its life and it’s repaying me with its health and beauty now.

This is my tree. I did good.

So that’s it for today. I hope you enjoyed some of these words. If you did, don’t be shy. Click on that “Like” button at the bottom.

The tree would really appreciate that, and so would Joe Castellano, Jim Schwab, Travis Shumake, and all the others listed above.

See ya next time!

BW