Blah, Blah, Blah, BLOG!
I have always been accused of talking too much...now it may be the case of writing too much.
My name is Lewis Bloom and I was asked on behalf of The Strip's Chris Blair to write a blog for the upcoming NHRA AC Delco Las Vegas Nationals. Several people in the drag racing media have asked me to write some type of column, blog or article about the sport we all know and love. Why I chose to write for Chris, I have not a clue.
My normal gig (job) at the races is to work on the TV show for ESPN. I am now known in the business as the "Stat Guy," a nickname given to me by show host Paul Page. My friends back home in the Garden State call me "Stat Boy." I provide statistical information for the show; everything from hard-cold facts to what I like to call "vibe" statistics. What I mean by a "vibe" stat is anything that tells a story but does not really need hard, cold, sometimes boring facts behind it.
Here's an example: how cool it would be for Hillary Will (the blogger for all others to be judged by) to finally beat Tony Schumacher in a Final Round here at The Strip? Now here is a "vibe" statement: Las Vegas is the home of car owner Ken Black and the sight of her first-ever race win (TAD 2005 spring race). I spend a lot of time trying to connect the dots in the sport of drag racing. I have to thank Bob Frey for his friendship but also for the use of some of the great databases he has created to do research with on a daily basis.
The other job I have in the sport is and will always be drag racing announcer. I have been working on the mic since the spring of 1974 when the late Vince Napp (of Raceway Park fame), for some bizarre reason, thought a 14-year-old would be someone he could mold into the perfect announcer. My debut race at Englishtown was the Spring Funny Car Bonanza. If my memory serves me correctly, it was probably eight Nitro cars, including of course, Jungle Jim Liberman. Back in the day (really a poor cliché') you could see Nitro Funny Cars almost every couple of weeks at places like Raceway Park.
Remember, I did not even have a driver's license so the thought of a road trip to Atco or Maple Grove was out of the question. That brings me to my current situation, sitting in the Maple Grove control tower on a rain filled Saturday waiting for Bob Lang and crew to dry the track so we can continue racing this weekend at the National Open know as the Dutch Classic. I still love announcing and this weekend I had a chance to call the quickest SS/AH pass of all time by Charlie Westcott Jr. in the "Warfish," 8.383 seconds to be exact! (Does anyone really know how fast the "Warfish" can go?) The thrill of announcing still has not been lost, but in the current world of drag racing the EPSN show has worked out really well. Yes, I have even announced at The Strip, not only at the National Event but also at the pre- season PS race. I love the facility, the air show (thanks Nellis) and the ice cream (blue truck- right behind the grand stands). So we shall see how this goes. I really hate to write, I do love the concept of it, especially when done well, like in the case of Bob Frey, Brad Littlefield, Kevin McKenna, Todd Veney (former writer, now paid Funny Car team guy), and too many others to mention. Now onto the race and the Las Vegas drag racing experience.
I love the nightlife...that would be something I would like to establish right off the bat. I live on the Jersey shore, hard to believe but, a vacation spot for many and home for yours truly. Going out to have fun, (note: I did not use the phrase "party", too old to pull that one off!) makes the Vegas race THE event on the tour for me. The "Ale House" in Gainesville probably is THE one stop on the tour for the entire NHRA group as a whole, but Las Vegas as you know, is LAS VEGAS! The toughest part of the weekend is getting enough sleep. That is even more difficult in the hotel the ESPN crew stays at, which could be the worst bed on the tour for the entire season (notice no names mentioned!) I really do keep track of the best hotel, best bed and best shower pressure, but in no way do to I write any of that information down. Some day I will come to a Vegas race and hopefully stay at the Palms or the Hard Rock (both right up my somewhat old, but always trying to be hip, alley).
The typical NHRA race weekend, for me, is travel on Thursday, (Continental Airlines is the official airlines of "Stat Boy!") work the race all weekend and go home on Monday. The Vegas race is so much fun that I usually spend my own money and come in a day earlier so I can get adjusted to the time change. Translation: stay out late, sleep late. I have never really caught onto the show aspect of Las Vegas, but I have seen Penn & Teller, Phantom of the Opera (Tim and Kim Richards were in the house that night ) and a couple of years back, a comedy show featuring Howard Stern and sidekick Artie Lang. The Lang Show was truly an act of male bonding since I went with some of the gentleman from The Strip including Mr. Blair. We laughed, we cried....not really, but it was fun.
My typical Vegas experience would be going to a really trendy restaurant and a club of some type. Just so you know I HAVE seen Bob Frey dining at Nobu in the Hardrock! The only club I can get into is the Palms...Playboy Club, thanks to Jim Baker. He is involved with the Pedregon Brothers and could not be a nicer gentleman...other than the Palms; I fail the velvet rope test every time. I can say back in the late 1970's I did catch the last moments of the world famous Studio 54 in New York City. I got in on the guest list. I was out of my element being a kid from the suburbs but really wanted to see what the big deal was! In some ways nothing has really changed in all these years, whether 20 years old or close to 50 I like to go out and have a good time. So that's my Vegas, have fun, try to get in the coolest clubs (with no luck) and enjoy spending time with my friends. THE FACT that you also get to work at a world class Drag Strip in a sport that I really enjoy makes the Vegas race even more special than most. Notice in the last paragraph I never once mentioned gambling or drinking....just wanted to point that out, not that there's anything wrong with either one.
Now onto the reason why we are here this weekend. Race number 23 of 24 in the NHRA Powerade Drag Racing Series.
Personally for me this year has been a breakthrough year in terms of what I do to make a living in Drag Racing. It was 1 year ago at this event where my producer, we will call him for "Eric," decided that he was tired of hearing me on his headset going on and on about Drag Racing Stats. He came up with the brilliant idea that I could add the stats on the show. It would be a new element and hopefully something fun for everyone watching at home. The idea comes from the show PTI seen by many on EPSN, which features their own version of "Stat Boy". Since then we have found a groove for what I do and it has been a success. The season has had some incredible highs and some really sad lows. I have to mention the loss of Scott Kalitta, words cannot describe what it was like when I realized he was gone. The fact that it happened at my beloved Raceway Park made it even worse. Like the loss of Eric Medlen and Darrell Russell, we can hopefully learn from their passing and make the sport safer for everyone else. From Scott's passing came 1000 foot Nitro racing. I am a purist and like so many it has taken time to adjust to the new length of the Drag Strip. The Richmond race featured about as good a racing and qualifying as we have seen in a long time. I think now when I look at the scoreboards or the scoring computer I can react quickly to a 3.7 second run in TF and a 4.0 second run in FC and say WOW that was impressive. If the powers that be decide Drag Racing in TF and FC will be 1000 foot forever, I can live with that...... new records, new barriers will be broken. For example I am still waiting for someone other than Gary Scezli to run sub-3 seconds in the 1/8th mile!...(STAT!). I do hope PS car and PSM along with the rest of Drag Racing stays ¼ mile. Since I consider myself a hardcore fan I do appreciate 1/8 mile racing and have announced some 1/8 mile door car events over the years...it's all good. The highlights are pretty obvious. Bruton Smith did build an incredible facility in Charlotte. I was not only impressed by the place, which everyone loved, but what was even more impressive was the crowd! That new facility might be the highlight of the year. Hopefully new fans enjoyed what they saw and will not only return next season but watch the TV show and find some drivers they can root for or against.
This season will be the last for Tony Schumacher and Alan Johnson as a team...you know that already but their total domination especially in the 1000-foot era is simply incredible. To be 39 - 1 (STAT!) since Denver is just amazing. Anyone know who is going to drive for Alan next season? I don't. I have to give props to Hillary Will. I really hope her team finds some funding for next season. Over the long haul they, Jim O' and crew, have done a really nice job. Antron Brown has also made the transition to TF look almost too easy (maybe I could drive the Alan Johnson TF car? Not!). In FC I have to say that Tim Wilkerson has been inspirational to all future Drag Racers who think they might not be able to take on the Super Teams. He has had a dream season and I hope he can close the deal; you do get bonus points for driving the car and tuning the car. Mike Dunn always points out the fact that he had a heavy car last season so the weight change and 90% Nitro played into his hand. Jack Beckman and his team have also been a nice surprise especially since they went a good part of the season without winning a round of racing. Jack surfs so he also get's points for that too! PS is a favorite of mine.... The racing is close and Richmond provided a lot of Stats for yours truly. CB's were flying. CB, stands for career best, as in Elapsed Time or Speed (Not Chris Blair). Jeg Coughlin is as cool as they come. He does not get rattled, so pretty much it is his Championship to lose. I secretly root for Kurt Johnson because, A, he has never won a Championship and B, his speech at the Awards Ceremony would be ALL TIME! KJ like his Dad is a piece of work! PSM is dear to my heart since most of the PSM racers in the class at one time have raced in the AMA/ Drag bike series, which I also work in. Matt Smith has been consistent, steady and very good on the tree this year. He has been no lower than 5th in qualifying all season and seems determined to win his 2nd Championship this year. Eddie Krawiec rider of the Vance & Hines V- Rod is in the best position of any #2 driver in the points to win a Championship this season. He has yet to win a race but has a really fast Motorcycle....if he would win the Championship without a race win that would be something else. Ask your parents about Rob Bruins? I could go on about Frank Manzo winning the Championship again but.......Like fellow announcers Bob Frey, Alan Reinhart and Leo Taugher, we really do love sportsman racing.
Finally, Chris asked me to pick the race winners for this weekend's NHRA ACDelco Las Vegas Nationals. Since it is Las Vegas think about this bet: take Tony Schumacher and give the field! Wonder if any casino would come up with that one? You would have to assume that the soon-to-be champ will win another race. Really going out on a limb, huh! In Funny Car, I like Robert Hight's chances. He has the quickest Funny Car at any distance and the last two years at the fall Vegas race, it has been a disaster for him. He is due to rebound. In Pro Stock car I have not a clue, or a pick I will say out loud. We have seen first-time winners this fall including Justin Humphreys (his Lexus four-door Turbo Car RULES!) and Greg Stanfield, who both scored their first Wally's. Maybe someone who has not won in a while will take home the trophy (WJ, Larry Morgan, and Jim Yates for example). In Pro Stock Motorcycle, I would have to say there are a few riders who really need a win. Angelle Sampey, Chip Ellis and Andrew Hines just to name a few, could really use a breakout weekend. Maybe one of them will win the race, and in the case of Mr. Hines, help out his teammate in terms of the championship.
That's about it for now. They are drying the track here at the Dutch Classic and hopefully we will run cars. If not ,so be it. The nightlife in Reading is OK...it's no Vegas though! See you at the track.... please just call me Lewis!