Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Gathering of Heroes

Jan and I had the opportunity and the privilege of going to San Antonio, Texas with Dad & Mom to attend a reunion of World War II heroes last week. I call them heroes, even though they do not think they are. These men and women served their country in its time of need. Many went back home when their time of service was up. Some continued to serve. Now their legacy is being kept alive through their annual reunions, which are becoming smaller as the members pass away. Their memories are being kept alive by spouses, children, grandchildren, even great grandchildren and nieces and nephews.

I heard stories of survival and courage that are usually reserved for books and movies. I met a member of Dad’s flight crew who was wounded when their plane was shot down. Even though Richard uses a power chair due in part to injuries he received on that day, he attends each year. He even said he wanted to thank the German pilot who shot him down, because that pilot actually saved his life.

Another attendee told us as we parted ways “I’ll see you in Chicago next year,” even though he is 97 years old!! The grit and determination of these veterans should serve as an inspiration for everybody today.

The first day of our trip was fairly short as we stayed in Oklahoma City.  The weather was unseasonably cool, but we visited the Oklahoma City Memorial and ate in Bricktown.

On the trip to San Antonio, we were able to meet up with Dad’s cousin, “Babe” Monroe, who lives between Copperas Cove and Lampassas, Texas. We spent a delightful evening listening to stories of them growing up in the Crete, Nebraska area. Many of the stories I’d heard before, others I hadn’t. One evening was not enough….

Before leaving the area, we met “Babe” and his wife, Jean, for coffee and rolls at a coffee shop in Lampassas called “Perks.” Perks is owned by Babe & Jean’s son, Monte. If you are by chance ever in the Lampassas area, a stop at Perks would be well worth your time.

We saw a lot of country in the 6 days we were gone. The tour of San Antonio was great, but way too fast. There is so much history in the area. I’ve seen movies depicting the Alamo, and had always imagined it to be in the middle of nowhere. I guess it was when the battle took place, but now it’s smack dab in the middle of San Antonio.

We walked part of the river walk when we left Joe’s Crab Shack on Friday evening. On Saturday afternoon, we were able to get on one of the boats and take a ride on the river walk, going from the Tropicana Holiday Inn where we were staying to downtown where all the shops and eating places are, back to the Tropicana.

We also took an hour-long bus ride to the Bexar area where a BBQ was hosted by a family who owns a ranch in the area. The BBQ was on the grounds of a Methodist Church that was dedicated in 1882 and served as a meeting point for families settled in the area. Once again, it was an interesting piece of history.

The suppers on Friday and Saturday evenings were great with music being provided by bands which played music from the WWII era. Maybe the younger people reading this would think of it as being funny, but it was great watching our veterans enjoying themselves once again.

Leaving San Antonio early Sunday morning gave us the chance to go to Houston, then to Galveston where we were able to see the Gulf of Mexico. We rode the ferry north and continued on Hwy 87 until being able to turn north and head back to I-10. We got our feet wet in the Gulf before leaving. A note of interest is that at this time, most homes destroyed in the last hurricane have not been rebuilt.. Even in Galveston it looked like there were many vacant homes.

It made for an extremely long day, but we made our way back to Oklahoma City before stopping for the night. A leisurely drive on Monday, with a late start, still got us home before dark. Plans are already being made for the 2010 reunion to be held in the Chicago area.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

We raced at the Abe Lincoln Memorial Street Stock and Hobby Stock Nationals

With all points races at the local level having been decided, it’s time for end of year racing specials. On Saturday, September 19th, Jeremy and I pulled the cars to Columbus, Nebraska’s U.S. 30 Speedway for the Abe Lincoln Memorial Street Stock and Hobby Stock Nationals. This was the first time I’d ever driven at this track, even though it was the 2nd time I had a car there. When Tyler Phelps was driving my Jet Phantom in 2006, we came to this race. It was an entirely different track last night as it was a dry slick by the time our heat races came onto the track.

I felt that the track kind of owed us something as in 2006, Tyler didn’t make the invert in his heat race. He started at the back of a consi race and had raced his way into the back of the A Feature when a trailing arm broke, ending our night. I was hoping we would fare better.

If I’d been racing in the ‘60’s, U.S. 30 is the image of what the race tracks back then must have looked like. I have already made myself a note to bring lights to hook up to the generator next time we come so we have some lights to work by. We did get a concrete pad, but didn’t have a broom to push all the dirt off the concrete. Most of the cars in the street stock class were guys whose names I’d seen in the results section of dirt drivers.com. Besides Jeremy, I’d only raced against the 55 of Ron Veleba and the 46 of Jason Van Winkle. Oh, yes, I’d been lapped by the 1 of Shawn Primrose in the opener at McCool Junction this spring. L

The grandstands are a concrete affair that more than likely require some type of cushion for comfort. The lighting on the track is sufficient, but not what Beatrice Speedway or Junction Motor Speedway is like. The track itself is surrounded by railroad ties buried in the ground and protected by a guard rail. The front straightaway is a solid concrete wall. In the corners, the track levels off at the top for about a car width.

The track itself reminds me somewhat of the track at the State Fair Park. I seemed to be on the brake as much as I was on the throttle. I’ve heard it said the track is a 3/8 mile, but I’m sure the chutes aren’t as long as at Beatrice.

Jeremy drew 16, which put him on the inside of the 2nd row in his heat. I drew 26, putting me on the outside of the 2nd row in the 1st heat. We got a few hot laps and at the end, I looped my car going into turn 1. Jeremy said his engine was cutting out bad at 5,000 RPM. A carburetor change took care of that problem, even though we were afraid we’d be lacking in that department since all we had was a smaller carb. As it turned out, it may have helped instead of hurt him due to the dry slick track.

I was still trying to get a feel for the car as I only had a few laps in it at McCool Junction a couple of weeks before this. Shawn Primrose started on the outside pole, and the car alongside me was a past winner at U.S. 30. The track was already dry slock as our heat race pulled onto the track, and I was wishing I was on the inside row instead of the outside. One slow lap around the track and as we came through 3 and into 4, the green flag was flying. It’s race time!! Power down the front chute and into 1, out of 2 and into the back chute. Into 3 and I’m in about 5th or 6th place, but I’ve been able to move to the inside where I wanted to be. Most of the rest of the cars are running a higher line, but it looks like in the corners they’re having a handling problem. I can work my brakes a little and it helps my car turn.

Into 3 on the 2nd lap and the car in front of me makes a lazy spin across the nose of my car. I’m able to let off and go around him on the top, but there is a yellow thrown for him, putting him to the back. On the re-start I’m in 4th, with the top 3 going to the A Feature and all other cars going to a consi.

On the green, the cars ahead of me once again take a higher line. The track is already slick and being this is just my 1st time in this car on a track like this, I want to stay on the bottom. I’m able to close on the 3rd place car, and keep watching for him to make a mistake. Another lap or so, and I’m able to get under him in the corner, but he pulls ahead a little on the chute. One more lap and I drive by in the corner and set sail on the 2nd place car. Into 3 and he goes a little high and again, I’m able to make the pass. The leader is in sight and I wonder if I can catch him. However, all I want to do is concentrate on holding my line and not making any mistakes. The white flag is out and I still don’t have any challenges from behind, and I’m closing the gap on the leader. I’m in the Feature, so let’s not make any mistakes - concentrate, concentrate on what I’m doing and not on what the leader is doing. Into 3 and out of 4 and the checkers are out. I’ve finished 2nd and made the A Feature!! J

Jeremy is in the 2nd heat so I want to get back to the pits and out of the car so I can watch him. He’s waiting in line as I go in and I hold up two fingers as I go by to let him know I’d finished 2nd. With all the competition, I feel like I’d WON!!

I get to our pit area as fast as I can and get unbuckled and back to the stands so I can watch Jeremy. He does a good job of keeping the car on the bottom and is keeping up with everybody. Then he gets in a bit high going into 3 and almost spins the car. He loses a lot of ground with that slip and can’t get it back. At the end, he has a 6th place finish. When the line-ups come out, he’s on the inside of the 3rd row in his consi.

I’m wanting to be sure the carburetor worked, and Jeremy said it was fine. Except for the near spin, I thought the car looked good. With the track being so dry slick, I don’t think the smaller carb hurt him at all.

We don’t have a lot of extra time to get Jeremy’s 6x fueled and the tires checked before it’s time to start getting lined up for his consi. There are 9 cars in his consi; three will fall in at the back of the A Feature. All the rest will load up and watch the A Feature from the grandstands.

The consi is lined up and as the lead cars are in the middle of 3 & 4, the green is out and they’re racing! However, a car behind Jeremy gets into his left rear and spins him to the infield, bringing out a yellow. The driver that got into Jeremy gets stopped by an official in 4 and is apparently spoken to. Jeremy gets his spot back and once the field is lined back up, the green is flying again and they’re racing! This time, it’s a clean start. Jeremy is able to hold his line and looks pretty good once again. He’s able to move up to 4th and needs one more spot to advance to the back of the A Feature. He’s closing the gap on the 3rd place gap when, going into 1, the 3rd place car spins in front of Jeremy. Jeremy is on the brake and gets stopped as he lightly hits the car that spun. However, the car behind Jeremy hit’s the 6x in the left front suspension, breaking the tie rod and ending Jeremy’s night.

The re-draw for all A Features takes place after the GOTRA Trophy Dash in front of the flagstand. I’d never seen it done like this before, but it’s different and I like it. The 12 drivers who are in the A Feature pick out a Frisbee that is in a line of 12 Frisbees. Each one has a number from 1 to 12 on the side that’s facing down. The drivers are called in the order they finished their qualifiers in, and they pick a Frisbee. The number on the Frisbee is your starting position. After finding out your starting position, you sign the Frisbee and toss it into the grandstands for some lucky fan. I find 10 on mine, putting me in the outside of the 5th row.

Last minute checks are made and the fuel cell is topped off. I hope everything goes OK. I’ll go watch the hobby stock A Feature and see what the track is doing. After watching a few laps, it looks like the best place to be isw still on the bottom. I go back to the pits and get strapped into the car. I’d much rather be on the inside row or at the very back of the pack. I’m nervous already.

Time to start lining up. Turn the ignition switch on and hit the starter button and all I can hear is the starter spinning but the drive is not engaging! Jeremy gets some help and pushes me out of the stall, then gets a push so the car will start. Out onto the track and time to get in place for the parade lap. We go 4 rows of 4 wide as the officials wave checkered flags between us as we go past, then drop back into our 2 wide formation to get our start. One more lap and we’re two by two - into 3 and the green is out. We’re racing!! However, before a lap is completed, the yellow is out andx it’s a complete re-start. Once again, we’re lined up and go green - something happens behind me and there’s another yellow. Once again, we’re lined back up for a complete re-start. We’re green again . Out of 2 and down the back chute - into 3 and in the middle of the turn, 5 cars are spinning ahead of me. I somehow miss the mess, but there’s a red flag as it looks like it will be a while before it’s cleaned up. We’re all directed to the infield and crews are allowed to come out and work on the cars.

The track is finally cleared and we’re lined up again. One of the cars involved is towed off, moving me to the inside of the 5th row. I’m still wishing I was at the very back so I wouldn’t be in the middle of the sandwich if something happens. At least now I’m on the inside row…..

Into 3 and the green is waving in the middle of the turn. On the gas, I’m on the inside where I want to be and feel a bit more comfortable. Into 1 and a car behind me gets inot my back bumper. I can feel it start to come around and try to save it, but the track is too slick and I’m going around. As I do, I’m hit by other cars going by me. I come to a stop in the middle of 1 & 2.

The safety crew is at the car immediately. One guy is over to check on me and another is checking on the other car that is stopped. Once they know I’m OK, they check the damage on my car. I’m told I have a flat left front tire and the nose piece is half torn off. He says they can pull me into the pits where I can get the tire changed and get back onto the track.

The wrecker gets me to the trailer and keeps me off the ground so Jeremy can get the tire changed. The nose piece is only hanging on by one side, so they pull it off. The wrecker lets me down and goes around behind me to push start me. I get going and pull up to the track - there’s a yellow out, so I’m able to pull onto the track. I fall in behind the pack and when we’re lined up, the green waves. I notice the lap counter - I only lost 3 laps. The car handles fairly decently and even though I’m down 3 laps, I pass several cars. At one time, it seems like the engine may be smoking, but I can’t tell if it’s my engine or somebody else’s. I keep an eye on the oil pressure and water temperature and all seems OK. The white flag is finally out and in another lap, it’s checkered flags. When all is sorted out, I finish 16th in my first U.S. 30 Speedway Abe Lincoln Memorial Street Stock Nationals.

In checking the total damage later, I find both the upper and lower control arms and tie rod ends on the right side of the car are bent. I’m hoping that the car handles as well when everything is back in place the way it’s supposed to be.

Next race for R & R Racing - Octoberfest 2009. We hope to have both cars at Beatrice Speedway on Saturday October 10th for the stock car portion of the show. We’ll close out the season on October 17th & 18th at the Cool McCool 100 at Junction Motor Speedway in McCool Junction.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Family vacations in days gone by

In addition to turning circles on the dirt tracks, we enjoy taking trips on our Gold Wing. Since I got my first Gold Wing, we’ve ridden over 137,000 miles. Our current ride is a 2006 GL1800 Gold Wing that we bought new in 2006. I’m kind of the Black Sheep of the family in that I currently have the only motorcycle - touring, that is - that’s not a Harley.

Sometimes, while cruising on the Gold Wing, I’ll think back to vacations my family went on when I was growing up. The first long trip I remember taking was when I was 8 years old. We loaded up the family Studebaker and left Crete on a Sunday evening the first part of August. The year was 1960. The destination - California.

For “youngsters” reading this, the trip might be likened to riding in a covered wagon. The Studebaker didn’t have air conditioning and I don’t remember it having a radio. Even worse, the car didn’t even have SEAT BELTS!! It’s a wonder we made it back home alive! Another thing - no cruise control. I also don’t remember the car having turn signals.

We drove all night with us kids sleeping in the back seat. Dad & Mom had some type of thing that hung over the back of the front seat, then laid across the gap between the back seat and the back of the front seat. This created a bed for us to sleep on. Once again - NO SEAT BELTS!! Believe it or not, nobody even made a child abuse or neglect complaint… How times change!

When we woke up in the morning, we were stopping for breakfast at Dalhart, Texas. I seem to remember eating pancakes and sausages. Leaving out of Dalhart, we got on Rte 66 at Tucumcari, New Mexico. Back then it really WAS Rte 66, and none of it was interstate. Around noon we stopped at a park at Santa Rosa, New Mexico. Mom had packed a cooler with all the fixings for sandwiches and we had a picnic lunch by a lake. I also remember seeing little lizards - maybe chameleons?

Not having the interstate highway system in place, I also remember going through the mountains. It was a lot different than it is now. The highways went around and around up the mountain back then, then around and around back down. I don’t know for sure if our night stops were planned, but there wasn’t any internet to look for motels. We didn’t have reservations, so when it was time to stop, we just looked for a place that looked decent. We stayed at Gallup, New Mexico, but I don’t remember anything about the place we stayed at.

Call home to let the folks back home know that everything is OK? Be sure to have a lot of change for the pay phone. Cell phones? Yah, right! If somebody had told us back then that in the future we would carry our phone in our pocket, we’d have been calling the funny farm.

After leaving Gallup, we went through the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest. At one of those places, near the ranger’s booth, somebody either caught or killed a small rattlesnake. I don’t remember which place it was, and don’t remember if they killed it or just caught it. Even back then, I did not like snakes and preferred to keep my distance.

We also stopped at Sunset Crater just north of Flagstaff on the way to the Grand Canyon. I’d seen pictures of the Grand Canyon, but still had a hard time imagining what it would be like in real life. Standing at the top and looking down at the Colorado River was awesome when I was told it was a mile to the bottom of the canyon. If I remember correctly, there was a thunderstorm coming as we left the Grand Canyon and headed south. We stayed in Williams, Arizona that night.

The next day we angled off toward Blythe, California. From there we went south to Yuma. I don’t remember a lot of that stretch except that it was HOT! From Yuma we went west and got into San Diego after dark. I wonder if there were very many cars in 1960 that had air conditioning?? I know that Studebaker didn’t.

If people in 1960 could have had a crystal ball and looked 40 years into the future, chances are they would have thought they were watching science fiction. When we tell the children of today what it was like in the “Old days”, they must really think we’re ancient.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Last Nebraska State Fair in Lincoln

After a more than 100 year run in Lincoln, the Nebraska State Fair moves to a new home in Grand Island in 2010. I had the privilege of attending the last State Fair in Lincoln with the same people that took me to my first State Fair - Dad & Mom. My memories of that first State Fair back in the 1950’s are hazy. I don’t even remember if seeing Roy Rogers was the first time I went to the State Fair, but I remember wishing that the show would never end. I remember the sights, sounds and smells of the midway and the roaring of the race cars on the big track in front of the grandstands. We always went to the Nebraska Game & Parks display to see the fish. Even back then, I liked walking through the display put on by Law Enforcement. I remember walking through the military history building next to the main entrance of the fairgrounds. We would take in the exhibitions and walk through the barns to see the animals. The smell of the fresh straw in the barns always comes back to me. The food vendors with hamburgers, hot dogs, polish sausages, funnel cakes and snow cones are things I will never forget.

Later on I went to the stock car races held at the fair. When I was going to school at Milford, a bunch of us in automotive went to the State Fair to watch the stock cars on the big track. In 1975, I was in the pits helping Al Humphrey as he raced at the State Fair races. Most recently, I raced my own car on the new track. It was real cool to race down the front chute in front of that huge grandstand and all those people. The ferris wheels were just off of turn 1 and at times I think some of the drivers were watching the ferris wheels instead of the track as they failed to negotiate turn 1. It was a lot of fun meeting other racers from all over the state, some that I’d only read about in some racing publication. The last couple of years, only IMCA sanctioned classes raced so I didn’t get to race. It looks like the races on September 4th will be the last held at the State Fair.

I attended one of my first Nebraska State Fairs to watch a boyhood hero perform. I attended the last Nebraska State Fair in Lincoln with a hero. It was Veteran’s Day at the State Fair on September 4th and there was a special Veteran’s Day program in the open air auditorium. Special guests were WW II veterans who participated in the VFW Honor Flights to Washington, D.C. in the last year. The participants received invitations in the mail and were encouraged to wear the red shirts they got when they went on their respective flights. I am happy and proud to say that Dad went on the next to last Honor Flight.

The program featured music by the Bobby Layne Orchestra and a short talk by Governor Dave Heinemann, who is also a veteran. Veterans of all services and all wars were recognized. It was an inspiring program and one befitting of our heroes. I am proud to have been able to attend.

Many people say moving the Nebraska State Fair to Grand Island is a mistake, and that the State Fair will die with such a move. It is sad that it will no longer be in Lincoln, but with the move there will be new blood and new ideas for the Nebraska State Fair. I hope it is a smashing success.

Racing season winds down

Where has the summer gone? The last points race of the season at Beatrice Speedway has been run. The points race came down to the last night as bad luck fell on Jeff Watts, who led the points battle since opening night. After being 30 points out front, going into the last night of the season he was tied with newcomer Jed Williams of Deshler.

In our own bid for a top 10 finish, we were in 7th place by 2 points. Jeremy drove as it was my week to work. I tried to work on the car as I worked around all the stuff piled up in the garage. We didn’t need any mechanical failures on the last night. Jeremy had to be aggressive, but still take care of the car and finish the race. With 20 cars going in circles for 20 laps, it takes a combination of skill and more than a little luck for things to come together.

I was able to stop in and watch the heat races and later on, the A Feature. John Meyer was behind us by 2 points, and we hoped to be able to either finish ahead of him or no more than 2 spots behind him. However, he made the invert and Jeremy didn’t. John started on the front row and Jeremy started deep in the pack.

At the drop of the green, Jeremy started moving up. Driving a steady race, he was soon within sight of the back bumper of the 29 of John Meyer. John had a lot of company up front with 3 and 4-wide racing at times. John had started to drop back a bit and at one time Jeremy was just 2 spots back. Tony Spunagle was about to make a pass on John, which would have put us one point into 7th, when a yellow came out, bunching up the field. Once the track was cleared and the field set, it was green flag again! This time, John pulled away from Tony, and it looked like the handle went away on our car as Jeremy struggled to make it turn the corner. At the end, John finished 8th and Jeremy finished 12th, giving us a final finish in season points at Beatrice Speedway of 8th place.

Nothing to be ashamed of considering we changed drivers every other week and Jeremy had two weeks in a row where he didn’t finish his heat race. His first week in the car, he had the clutch blow up and his second week in the car, he crashed out in the heat race.

I have two weeks left to race at McCool Junction hope to finish in the top 10 in points there. I’d planned to race on the 5th and attend a Blue Knights function on the weekend of the 12th. However, it’s Jan’s weekend to work, and she isn’t allowed to take time off on her weekend to work. Then, in looking at the points at McCool Junction, I found that if I don’t race the last two nights, I will be out of the top 10 in points. So, instead of riding the Gold Wing for the weekend, I will be racing on September 12th instead.