Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Cops race at Beatrice Speedway

Cops racing at Beatrice Speedway

When we get ready for the upcoming racing season, we always look ahead to the schedules of not only Beatrice Speedway, but other area tracks. My work schedule only lets me have every other Friday, Saturday and Sunday off. Last year, I raced on my weekend off and Jeremy and Jason traded off on my weekends to work. This year we ended up with two cars. With a change in rules, the factory stock class at Beatrice Speedway has had a better car count than last year.

A lot of people my age look at more sedentary hobbies. I’m probably a bit different. When I’m not working on the race car or racing, I’m riding the Gold Wing. When I’d come back to work on Monday, other officers would ask me “Did you win??” They didn’t believe me when I said that there is a lot more to it than jumping in a car and driving in circles.

After thinking about it for a while, I posted a list of dates when I would be racing at Beatrice Speedway. I asked officers to sign up for a date, and I would take both cars to the race track and they could take a turn at the wheel. Several people signed up, but with changing work schedules, only Chief Bruce Lang and Sgt Jay Murphy were able to race during the regular season. The last officer that was signed up for a regular season night, Colleen Morabito, lost her chance when the car she was scheduled to drive was damaged beyond repair.

Earlier in the season, I thought about how cool it would be if a bunch of the officers could race against each other. At a lodge meeting of the FOP, I brought up the idea of a “Charity Race” in which we raised funds and donated the money to local charities according to how each driver finished in the race. There was enough interest in the idea that we moved forward.

The charities that were selected were the Salvation Army, the YMCA, Make a Wish Foundation, the Beatrice Youth Center, the Food Pantry, Special Olympics, American Cancer Society Relay for Life, Habitat for Humanity and Mother to Mother Ministry.

Once again, with work schedules and other unexpected things, several people signed up that ultimately could not make it that night. The Women for Racing organization made a generous donation, as did Gage County Auto Racing and FOP Lodge 45. A collection bucket was set up at the WFR booth and individual donations were made by Cheryl & Mike Honea, Jason & Emily Rosenthal and Jay Murphy. Jan and I also made a donation.

During the week, we matched drivers with cars by a draw. We also matched the drivers up with a charity. The final driver’s list was Chief Lang, Sgt Jay Murphy, Sgt Wes Henning, Officer Rob Mierau, Officer Colleen Morabito, Dispatcher Cecilia Rosentreader, Corrections Officer Tiffanie Lottman and I. I hadn’t planned to drive as I had organized this, but we ended up with enough cars so I could get behind the wheel, too.
During the Gage County Fair, I had information sheets handed out to all the factory stock and hobby stock drivers about the race. I asked them to allow us to use their cars for the event and they stepped forward. There’s always the “What if??” in the back of everyone’s minds…. What if somebody’s car gets wrecked?

I stressed to everybody that the cars are very expensive to fix and that we were not in a demolition derby. All joking aside, everybody knew this would be a “test drive” and if all went well, we would be allowed to do it again next year.

Talk about a busy day for me! I made some last minute contacts to be sure the cars we had lined up were still available. At the last minute, it looked like we’d be one short. However, Travis Burger came over and asked if I had enough cars and if not, we could use his. As it worked out, it was Travis’ car that I ended up in. First time I ever raced a Ford!!

We did a draw in my pit for starting positions, then the drivers headed out to meet up with the drivers & crews they would be working with for the evening. Chief Lang was paired up with Tony Spangle’s #6s factory stock and Wes Henning ended up with my #6 factory stock. Tiffanie had Justin Theasmeyer’s #19 hobby stock while Colleen got Joel Hespen’s Y85 factory stock. Jay ended up with Ryan Roschewski’s #2 hobby stock and Rob Mierau with Pete Kruse’s #69 hobby stock. Robert Soldo got Gary Laflin’s #9 factory stock and Cecilia Rosentreader was in Nathan Rosentreader’s #C4 factory stock. I started last in Travis Burger’s #6b hobby stock.

By hanging out with the drivers and crews, the guys and gals rubbed shoulders with them and saw what went into making the cars go around in circles. Jay’s ride was in question most of the evening as the Roschewski crew fought to get the car to even run. Gary Laflin was involved in a mishap in his heat race and he wasn’t even sure if he’d be able to finish the A Feature, let alone the charity race. Justin Theasmeyer had some minor overheating problems, and Joel Hespen got caught up in another driver’s spin in the A Feature, bending an upper control arm. They had to really push in order to get their car going. At any time, these guys could have thrown their hands up and giving up, but not one of them did. When the charity race began to line up, all 9 drivers had a car to race!

I made arrangements to let the drivers get a few hot laps before the race went green. Rob Mierau drew the pole and Chief lined up on the outside pole. The 6s is a fast car, and with Chief having the experience, I knew he’d be hard to beat. Jay and Wes were in the 2nd row, with Colleen and Cecilia in the 3rd row, and Robert “Tin Man” Soldo and Tiffanie in the 4th row. I was just wanting to try to get through traffic without any mishaps.

Once lined up, we got our customary parade lap. Cars got pretty well lined up on the back stretch and as we came out of turn 4, the green was waving. We are racing!

Chief jumped out to the early lead and stretched it out immediately. In the meantime, I was wheeling the 6b toward the front of the field. Having never been in the car, I felt a bit out of place as the pedals and seat just didn’t feel the same as in my own car. I got past Tiff, Cecilia and Colleen on the 1st lap and set sail on the next car, which was my own 6 that Wes was piloting. I caught up to him going into turn 1 and passed him on the outside, hoping that both cars would turn the corner. I got around him without any contact. Next car was Tin Man in the 9 of Gary Laflin. I passed him on the bottom coming out of 2, putting me in 4th place. Chief was still leading, with Rob in 2nd and Jay in 3rd. It looked like I had a long way to go to catch Jay. In the meantime, he looked like he was catching up to Rob.

With 4 laps to go, I knew time was running out. The 6b was handling flawlessly and I was wishing that my own car handled that good. Another lap and I was on Murphy’s back bumper. It looked like I could maybe pass him on the bottom on the back straightaway, but he moved down, blocking me. I tried him higher for the next lap, but he seemed like he had a mirror and moved up. We were also gaining on Rob and Chief while this was going on. Going into 3, Rob went in a bit high and jumped the cushion, with Jay and I passing him at that point.

Coming up on lap traffic out of 4, I was able to pass Jay on the outside on the front chute. Then, in 1, I went wide around a lap car and Jay led me out of 2. Down the back chute, I moved to the bottom again. Into 3, and we touched fenders. I backed off a bit to avoid a crash, and jay beat me out of 4. White flag is out and we’re bearing down on Chief! Out of 2 and I have just a couple of more chances to get past Jay. Into 3 and Chief goes high - we both pass him! Out of 4 and it’s a drag race for the checkers - Jay beat me to the line by a car length! What a race!

During the post race interview, Jay mentioned that he may not be a day shift sergeant any more after beating Chief. His crew was really happy as they finally got their car running and they got a win for the evening. The crowd really got into the race before the end, yelling and cheering for Jay when he got out of the car. But, the biggest winners of the night were the charities that we had chosen to race for. Jay took home 40% of the purse for the YMCA, I nailed down 30% for Special Olympics, Chief made 20% for the Salvation Army and Rob made 10% for American Cancer Society Relay for Life.

In addition, we all got a 9-minute spot on the radio show “Speed Secrets,” hosted by Wayne Dake, who announces at Junction Motor Speedway in McCool Junction. Everybody thought that was cool. We’ll also be on Beatrice radio station KWBE this Friday at 5:30 in the afternoon.
Plans are already being made to do this race again in 2010. Our FOP Lodge will be doing some fund raisers during the year to try to make the purse big enough so all of the chosen charities get a piece of the pie. We hope to be able to get more advertising out there so there is more awareness of what we will be doing.

Now I need to get busy working on my car so we can finish out the last week of the season on a good note. Thanks for taking the time to read my blog.

Friday, August 14, 2009

All about me

Let me introduce myself. My name is Ernie Reiss. I live in Beatrice, Nebraska where I’ve been a Police Officer since November of 1989. Before that, I was a Police Officer in Grand Island, Nebraska for almost 5 years.

I was born and raised in Crete, which is about 35 miles northwest of Beatrice. My parents still live in the house I grew up in. My brother Dave and his wife Anita live just a few blocks away from Dad & Mom. He has two sons; Charlie, who is a career Marine based out of Camp LeJeune, North Carolina; and Dean, who manages a retail store in Kansas City. My sister Ann and her husband Randy also live in Crete. She has two sons; Aaron and Dale, and a daughter, Emily. Dale will graduate from high school in 2010.

I graduated from Crete High in 1970 and attended Technical School in Milford, studying automotive mechanics. I graduated from Milford in October 1973.

I have spent all of my life since graduating from high school wearing some kind of uniform. In February 1970 I joined the Nebraska National Guard. When I moved to Grand Island, I transferred to the U.S. Army Reserves where I remained until September 1988. I started working for the Hall County Sheriff’s Department as a Corrections Officer in May 1983 and in November 1983 I was hired by the Grand Island Police Department.

I have three daughters. Heather and her husband Dana live in Greeley, Colorado and are proud parents of Landon, who was born February 28th this year. Hollie and her husband live in Grand Island and have a daughter, Tatyana, and two sons, Talon and Hayden, who was born on my birthday two years ago. That’s one birthday I should never forget; of course, sometimes I miss my own birthday. Abby and her husband, Joey, also live in Grand Island, where Abby works in her mom’s flower shop and Joey works at a local implement dealership.

I am a dirt track racing enthusiast. When I lived in Grand Island, we went to stock car races at Mid Continent Raceway located near Doniphan, Nebraska. I met a late model driver, Al Humphrey, and started working on his pit crew in 1975. Back then, we raced 3 nights a week and sometimes more. On a normal weekend, we would race at either Hastings or Red Cloud on Friday, Doniphan on Saturday, and either Lexington or Midwest Speedway in Lincoln on Sunday. In 1976, Al started racing at Sunset Speedway in Omaha on Sundays. That made for a long Sunday night and a real early Monday morning. We were all young and foolish then. I’m now almost 58 years old and I know I could not race three nights a week like we did then.

I met my wife, Jan, at the Beatrice Speedway. I was on Peanuts Volesky’s pit crew and we raced at Beatrice on Saturday nights. Jan is a LPN and worked with Peanuts’ wife at Beatrice Community Hospital. One night after the races she came into the pits. A few weeks later we had our first date - we went to the late model races at Sunset Speedway.

At the time we met, I was riding a 1981 Honda Gold Wing and was (and still am) a member of Blue Knights, which is an International Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club. My chapter, Nebraska I, is chartered in Grand Island, having come into being in 1986. The Midwest Regional Conference, which Nebraska I belongs to, Has a Spring Conference in June and a Fall Conference in September. There is also an International Conference in July of each year. The 2010 International is at Billings, Montana and we are looking forward to making that trip on our 2006 Gold Wing.

Jan’s two sons, Jason and Jeremy Rosenthal, live in Beatrice. Jason is married to Emily and they have a son, Evan and a daughter, Ava. Jason also has a daughter, Mikayla, from a previous relationship. Jeremy is married to Carin, and they have a son, Isaak, who was born July 27th. Their lives have suddenly changed with the addition to their family.
Jan and I got married in June of 1996. We planned our honeymoon for several months. No, it wasn’t a romantic cruise to a foreign destination. We spent over two weeks on the motorcycle, which by then was a 1984 Honda Gold Wing Interstate. We got married at the Gage County Courthouse on a Friday afternoon with Jan’s parents, Jason and Jeremy, Heather, Hollie and Abby, Dave and Anita, Peanuts and his wife Kathy and several Blue Knights from Grand Island in attendance. We had an informal reception with a DJ in the park and later in the evening we took off for a Blue Knights gathering at Hiawatha, Kansas.

We got back home Sunday afternoon and did some laundry and packing and we left on Monday morning, taking a general southwest direction. Somebody made a “Just Married” sign at the courthouse and we put it on the back of the trailer we pulled with the motorcycle. As we traveled, we had a lot of people pass us and honk, giving the thumbs up. We stayed at Dodge City, KS Monday night, Albuquerque Tuesday night, Flagstaff Wednesday night, rode up to the Grand Canyon early on Thursday morning, and stayed at Blythe, CA on Thursday night. Hollie was living at Irvine, CA at the time and we got to her house just after noon on Friday. We spent the weekend with her, going to Santa Monica Pier on Friday night for Jan’s first-ever visit to the ocean, Universal Studios on Saturday and Disneyland on Sunday. On Monday we rode the Pacific Coast Highway from Huntington Beach to Camarillo, where we stayed the night with my uncle and aunt. On Tuesday we rode to Las Vegas, staying there until Friday morning. On Friday we rode from Las Vegas to Richfield, Utah and on Saturday we rode to Rifle, Colorado where we visited Jan’s uncle and aunt. Sunday was a long day as we rode all the way to Republican City, where we stayed over night. We then rode back to Beatrice, getting home Monday evening.

We plan to someday ride east. We want to visit Nashville, and I think the best way to travel is by the motorcycle. We got the 2006 Gold Wing new in July of 2006 and currently have 24,000 miles on it. The big 1832 CC six cylinder engine has all the power we need to occasionally go fast, but the electronic cruise control never lets the speed vary on road trips. Sirius satellite radio makes the rides even more enjoyable.

Towards the end of 1997, Jason and I bought a race car together. During the winter, we rebuilt it and for the next three seasons, 1998, 1999, and 2000, Jason drove the car every Saturday night at Beatrice Speedway. We sat out the 2001 season and put up a garage. That being done, we got a car ready to race for 2002. A week before the season started, Jason broke his leg. I thought about driving the car myself, while Jan suggested we sit out another season while Jason healed. I finally made a deal with her - I would drive the car myself. If, after the first night, my underwear was still clean, I would keep driving.

I admit, as each Saturday arrived, I was scared to death. I hoped it would rain. I prayed for rain! As the season went on, something happened. I got a bit more confident and started to feel more comfortable in the car, even though I sucked as a driver. When I was able to drive the car onto the trailer at the end of the night, I felt like I’d had a good night. By the end of the season, I was starting to feel pretty comfortable in the car, even though I still sucked as a driver. I stayed with it because I mostly enjoy doing it, and this year there are two stock cars in the garage. We’ve been racing both at Beatrice Speedway on Friday nights, with Jason and Jeremy splitting time in a 2004 Jet Phantom while I’ve been piloting an SCS chassis we bought at the end of last season and put together over the winter. On my weekends to work, Jeremy has been driving that car for me. Other weekends have seen Bruce Lang, our Police Chief, and Jay Murphy, who is a Sergeant with the Police Department, driving the Phantom. At the Gage County Fair this year, I finally got to race against Jason. He finished 11th and I finished 12th. I was practically glued to his back bumper the entire A Feature, but just couldn’t make a pass on him. I hope we can do that again.

On my Saturdays off, I’ve been pulling to McCool Junction, Nebraska to race on the track there. It’s a big, wide track and I like racing there. The last time I looked at the track points standings, we’re in 8th place in points at Beatrice and 10th in points at McCool Junction.

The summer has been pretty busy what with trying to keep two race cars running and ready to race every weekend. We always try to get a couple of weekends away on the motorcycle during the summer, too. We’d planned to go to Des Moines in June for the Blue Knights gathering, but Landon was baptized that weekend, so we didn’t make the ride. We will be going to the Fall Conference, even though it’s only in Omaha. Since Jan & I both work nights and a lot of times we work opposite nights, we really look forward to having a day or two off together.

I was able to take off on the Gold Wing for a few days the end of July. I rode out to Greeley and spent two days there before coming back to Beatrice. Talon was staying with Heather and Dana and we took a motorcycle ride around Greeley on Tuesday afternoon. The skies were pretty dark and I was sure it would start raining at any time, so we didn’t go very far. I’d have just LOVED to go up to Estes Park as Hwy 34 from Loveland to Estes Park is one of my favorite rides. However, I also HATE getting wet on the motorcycle!!

Talon seemed to always want me to make a right hand turn when I was already in the left turn or straight ahead lane. I’m not sure he really knew where he wanted to go, just that he wanted to go. He really enjoys riding and made the comment he wanted me to take him back to Grand Island when I went home. However, I had no room for his bags as well as mine.
The second day, we all piled into the SUV and took a trip to the Royal Gorge. When you look on the map, it’s not too far; just about 3 inches or so. But when you start looking at the miles, it’s about 150 miles each way. Even though we left shortly after 8 AM, it was well after dark when we got back.

I’d spent some time at Ft Carson in the early ‘70’s and had the opportunity to get out and do some sightseeing then. In the 30-plus years since, things have changed so much. Colorado Springs has gotten so much bigger. Even Hwy 115, which runs along the edge of Ft Carson to Penrose, didn’t look the same with all the housing along the road. One thing hasn’t changed, though. We ran into a heavy thunderstorm along the way. When I was at Ft Carson in the summer, there was always at least one thunderstorm daily. This was a typical gully-washer that made me REALLY happy that we were in the SUV instead of being on the Gold Wing.

Having satellite radio on the Gold Wing makes the riding even more enjoyable. I change back and forth between the NASCAR station, 50’s on 6, and some of the country stations. If I wanted, I could ride from coast to coast without having to change stations. Before our first trip was over after we got the Gold Wing, we’d decided to invest in a satellite radio. We rode to Minot, North Dakota and about 40 miles out of Grand Island, I had to start searching for a new radio station about every 15 miles or so. I swear that we’ve ridden through areas where there should have been signs posted that said “You are in the middle of Nowhere!”

On my way home from Greeley I had the Nascar channel tuned in. There is a morning program called “Trading Paint” which is hosted by Danny “Chocolate” Myers and Rock Benjamin. This is a call-in program that covers a wide variety of topics and there’s usually a lot of good discussion. Chocolate started telling about how he got a phone call from his 20-yr old college student daughter. She had been pulled over by a police officer and she told her dad she didn’t know why she’d been stopped, but the officer was pretty upset with her. When the traffic stop drew to a conclusion, she received a stern lecture from the officer and a written warning for aggressive driving. She told Chocolate what happened to initiate the traffic contact and said she didn’t feel she’d done anything wrong.
This started a serious discussion about the youth of today learning to drive. Here in Nebraska, there are so many different classes of Operator’s Licenses that it is confusing at times to know if the driver is legal. However, the entire discussion centered not just on the driver’s license itself, rather the training our children and grandchildren today get prior to obtaining their driver’s licenses.

Driver’s Education classes are still being taught in most places. When I took Driver’s Ed, it was during the summer and, if I remember correctly, my parents paid $20 or $25 for me to attend. During the course of the summer, we had textbook training as well as actual driving time. It’s been so long ago, I don’t remember how long the classes were, or even how many hours of actual driving time we got. One thing I do remember is that the driving was under very controlled conditions. We drove around town at or under the speed limit. Same thing with when we left town. We had the big “Student Driver” sign on the roof of the car. I don’t think our Driver’s Ed car even had a radio in it. The teacher had a brake pedal on his side in case we didn’t slow down soon enough to his liking.

We did slow speed maneuvers. We practiced parking using traffic cones at first. When we mastered that, we got to park between real cars. I don’t know how much the training has changed these days, but what I don’t remember is learning to do maneuvers at a higher speed. There was a lot of discussion of what to do if you had a blow-out or if you dropped a wheel off the edge of the road, but I don’t remember ever having a blow-out or dropping a wheel off the edge of the road in Driver’s Ed. I know we didn’t drive on snow or ice since it was summer. I’m thinking we may have driven on some gravel roads.

I was talking to a friend about this the other day. He said he has had two of his kids through Drivers’ Ed classes in the last couple of years. The cost now is very high, so I’m sure there are fewer students. It’s too bad, because these kids NEED to take Drivers’ Ed. But, they also need some realistic training.

Myers and Benjamin talked of driving schools in their neck of the woods that actually teach the kids high speed maneuvers under more realistic driving conditions. Given the news reports in Nebraska the last couple of weeks of young people being killed on the highways, I think we need to change the ways our youth are being taught to drive.

We all have opinions of events that happen in life. Some people in certain professions are not allowed to voice their opinions publicly on certain issues. Police officers are in that category. We may have a strong opinion on something controversial, but if we voice our opinion, we may get in hot water. Sometimes, I look forward to no longer being a member of the Law Enforcement community.

Jan & I have talked about what we would do when we retire. Each of my paychecks has money withheld and that money is put in a retirement fund. The city also matches what is taken out of my pay and puts that into the retirement fund, too. In the past, there have been peaks and valleys in this fund, but over the first 18 years, it earned modestly. However, since January 2008, it has lost money consistently. I am now concerned whether I will actually be able to EVER retire!! We said in the past that in order for that to happen, our house would have to be paid for and we would have to have all our other bills paid. We are slowly reaching these goals. However, with my being diabetic, what will I do for insurance? I have insurance through the city, and also am eligible for care through the V.A. In reading through the pros and cons of the “ObamaCare” package, I do not think that is the way that America wants to go. I certainly don’t want to be a Police Officer until I’m 70 years old.