I am waiting for my flight back to New Jersey, usually on Mondays I like to sleep in and take my time going home. I am in the Continental Airlines Club, a must for frequent fliers.
They have snacks, drinks, comfortable chairs and most important free Wi- Fi! I forgot to mention that the entire airport here in Las Vegas has free Wi- Fi. Maybe Newark Airport will get the message and do the same. Probably not! The best part about the lounge is that there is not one Wheel of Fortune slot machine in view. Thank God for that one. I might have lost 30 dollars playing random slot machines this weekend. I did not place one bet on the races, and that was a good thing because most of the favorites won the race.
First, a few things I forgot to mention in my prior blogs: One was my chance encounter meeting with NASCAR car owner Ray Evernham on Friday in the tower press room. He was just inside the door when I walked in to say hi to some friends and I could not resist a chance to chat with him. He, like yours truly, grew up close to the Jersey Shore (What exit?) so we have some things in common. When Ray was just a local short track racer at Wall Speedway he would do odds and ends on customers' racecars. Back in the 80's he installed the roll bar in my friend Joe Mocci's M/SA 1969 Camaro. I mentioned that to him and he asked if my friend ever needed it and I said, no way. He brought up the fact that Wall Speedway was going to have what might be their last ever Turkey Derby race on Thanksgiving weekend. The track is due to close and that is a real shame for everyone. We chatted for a few more seconds. I knew at that point my time was up. I thanked him for coming to the drags and wished him an enjoyable afternoon. The other celebrity I met was a woman named "Brooklyn," as in New York, who I met at a club on Saturday night. She was way cool, 90 under the index in Comp Eliminator Speak. I did not get her real name but I knew where she was from so that's what I called her. You can meet some nice people in Las Vegas in the middle of the night.
Race Day; Things got crazy.
On Sunday morning I woke about at 7:30 a.m. which was about half an hour later than I wanted to. While getting ready I received at phone call from Eric (the show producer) asking me where I was. I told him I was still at the hotel and asked if there was anything I could help him with? He was getting ready for race day (a Dave Reiff and Mike Dunn Spectacular) and had some "stat" questions for me. When he realized I was not at the track he said goodbye and that left me with the usual thoughts about my job security. I would buzz out to the track and arrive in the TV Compound just after the Live Race day show was finished. I ran into Eric right off the bat and it seemed everything was cool. My next stop was breakfast in the tent with the rest of the crew. For some reason everyone looked a little bit sleepy!
Post breakfast, it was time to start preparing for the first round of eliminations coming up at 11 a.m. I had already done work on the TF and FC class on Saturday night so all that was left was PS car. The PSM class first round is highlights so I typically see what happens and give info to Paul and Mike about each rider. PS car "stat" usually take about one hour to look up. Most of the work, as I said in a prior blog, is done before I get to the racetrack. Once done with PS, I spent time checking out the ladder in the Professional Classes to see what stat I can give the guys when the ladders are shown on TV. Sometimes the pairs speak for themselves. Next on my list is a social visit to the tower to say hi to all my friends in the business that work the control room and the press room plus a stop to say hi to Bob, Alan and Leo. That proved to be a lot of fun, as everyone knew what trouble I got into the night before. They all had a good laugh at my expense and that was OK with me! I went back to the TV truck to get ready for the first round and as we say in the business "sell" my stat adds to my boss Eric. The best one that did not make air was how Laurie Force took John to her 40th High School reunion. She said that as usual her husband was the star of the night working the room as only he can. With some quick math you can guess how old Laurie is. She is a really nice lady. My job as the "Stat Guy" is to come up with something that no one else would know. Except maybe Bob Frey! I keep track of Team Force and when Ashley won the first round that was the 1,700th round of racing won by Team Force drivers. That was my add for round one...nothing out of the box, but a decent number. I did also mention that John is responsible for over 1,000 of those round wins and that he became a team back in 1996. The best part of that number is that a couple of those round wins came from Phil Burkart, who filled in for John at the last two races of last season. I totally forgot about Phil when I complied my list a couple of months ago, but was reminded when Dave Densmore (PR guy for all others to be judged by) took a look at it for me. Imagine when Team Force wins their 2,000th round of racing; I will be all over that one. There were some surprises in the first round of FC when Tim Wilkerson lost to Mike Neff. Then Jack Beckman fouled out and the entire ball game changed in FC. PS continued and then we went into the PSM class.
The one problem about my job is that there is virtually no time to prepare for the second round racing since there is a very quick turnaround. I really have no issues with that because a good, tight, quick show is way better drag racing entertainment. Tony Schumacher continued his march towards the history books in round two. For the second round of the show, we had Tim Wilkerson in the booth. I have to say Tim did a great job, he did not hold back and had some great lines. Consider the fact that his loss in the first round could eventually cost him $400,000! He came in and worked with Paul and Mike and showed some real dignity and class. I came up with some numbers, worst-case scenario, on where he would be in the points if Cruz Pedregon, Tony Pedregon or Robert Hight won the race. We used a shot of my brand new Apple Computer (I am a huge fan and so is Mike Dunn) and I showed the Excel Program I use to calculate points. Round two continued and we would have some awesome match-up's in the semis of FC and PSM. Tony Pedregon would take on his former teammate Robert Hight and Eddie Krawiec would take on Matt Smith.
The semis are a chance for me to take a breath and do some serious research. The whole time in the back of my brain is the thought "What would Bob do?" I really try to find info that no one would know, but sometimes I miss the obvious. If you read Bob's column on Drag Race Central you know what I am talking about. His Tuesday race review is my way to check my work from the previous race. I looked up information about all the drivers still in and had a chance to use some of my numbers about how dominant Tony Schumacher and Alan Johnson have been in the 1,000 foot era. I stumbled my way through that on the air and at that point I was already thinking about the finals. Robert Hight would take out Tony Pedregon and Eddie Krawiec (former E- town Manager and soon to be married to the lovely Ann Marie) beat Matt Smith on a hole-shot in an incredible race. The finals were set and I was ready to get to work on my notes.
I had two stats ready for the FINALS but they needed some help from two drivers. Unfortunately, Eddie lost with a terrible reaction time to Chris Rivas so there goes that opportunity. Chris, a very nice man, has already won this season and is in position to possibly win the championship. If Eddie would have won, I would have had a couple of stats, but it would have been more about my long relationship with his family. I am actually going to be his wedding photographer Thanksgiving weekend! I had nothing for the PS Final other than what I gave Paul. Jeg won and pretty much locked up the championship. The guy is MONEY! FC had several possibilities stats-wise. Cruz won Richmond, so I looked up the last time he won back-to-back races, well with the help of Dave Reiff (assistant stat guy and good friend) we found the last time Cruz won back-to-back was 14 years ago! Wow! My other add was the last time both the TF and FC number one qualifier won back-to-back races from the pole was 10 years ago. Well, Robert Hight lost and that one went by the way side. I thought the Cruz add was better for Paul and he took and care of that one as did Dave Reiff when he interviewed Rahn Tobler. Shoe took care of Rod Fuller, whose car looked awesome and the race was over.
I headed over to the winner's circle to congratulate the drivers who have won the race. I first look for Anthony and Malinda Bertozzi to help celebrate Anthony's Super Stock win. Anthony beat one of the best in Dan Fletcher who was trying once again to pull off the double. Fletcher won Comp in Rick Braun's car but could not close the deal in Super Stock when he was a little late on the tree. Some day Fletch will score the big one! I talked to all of the Pro winners; Cruz knew it had been a long time since he won back-to-back races. Eventually, I made my way up to the press room to pick up copies of the race results so I can add the information to my files. After that I said a couple of good-byes (Kim!) and left The Strip. It is kind of melancholy when I leave a race. I feel I have some emotional contact with the place after spending three days there. Matt and I headed back to our hotel for some relaxation and good food.
Dinner was awesome. We went to a restaurant in the Forum Shops at Caesar's; I believe Wolfgang Puck owned it. Dinner was great and we even saw several drag racing family members, most notable Richie Stevens and his girlfriend Erica Enders. The sport really needs her back in a PS car! We went back to our hotel and Matt chilled while I went for a drink with some of my ESPN workers. I was exhausted, so an early bedtime was in order. We took our time going to the airport on Monday and by now you know the rest of my trip.
I want to thank you for reading my first-ever NHRA race weekend blog. Who knows, maybe it will be the start of something big. Thanks to the staff at LVMS for their help. And most of all Chris Blair who I believe now OWES me lunch! Lastly, writing is really a very good form of therapy. I feel much better now. See you at the FINALS!
Dateline: Saturday morning....LIVE from the ESPN TV Compound!
Last night was an early night...really sad for yours truly! Dinner at the Hard Rock was fun and then a quick tour of the casino to check out the Halloween-themed costumes was a blast but at 11:30 p.m. I was in sleep mode... bummer, total bummer!
Wow, what a day for a drag race. Nice weather and hopefully a great crowd. As I write this it is the start of Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying session number three. I have been in the truck since 9:30 a.m. getting ready for our first show of the weekend. We, as in yours truly, Paul Page, Mike Dunn and our producer Eric S. go over highlights from Friday's qualifying. Of course we pick the best runs from the Sarge and the race for second in Top Fuel. In Funny Car we pretty much stick with the top five in points. Last night we saw the third quickest run in the 1000 foot era by Tony Schumacher and his crew chief Alan Johnson. What's great about the Las Vegas race this year is the amount of cars racing in both Nitro classes. Is it the location of the race, the facility or is the fact that you can race and have a whole lot of fun in town that brings out all the competitors?
I have pretty much done all my work prior to the event so I spent some time this morning in the tower working the room. I love to see Kim, the woman who works the clocks here at The Strip. She is smart, funny and a real pleasure to talk to. Her nickname among those in the know is "Super Cute," which is a dead on the "DIAL" nickname. After some time in the control room I had a chance to talk to Bob Tasca III who was in the press room to announce his alliance with Tim Wilkerson for next season. Tim will be driving a Ford, just as "Stat Guy" does. Mine has over 237,000 miles on it though. I would say the alliance is a great deal for both teams. After a quick tour of the Super Stock lanes to say hi to some of my friends from both coasts, it was time to go back to the truck and get ready for work.
At the moment Paul and Mike are practicing the open for the qualifying show seen tonight on ESPN2. I am in the process of getting ready for session 4 of Pro Stock Motorcycle. I have already looked up the fact that Angelle Sampey will possibly score her first pole of the season on the Buell that she rides for Karl Klemment. She would also become the Pro Stock Motorcycle rider with the most number one's in history. I would call that a COOL STAT. She has not won a race this season, so maybe her first number one finish on the Buell would give her some momentum on race day. We will see......I do love the bikes, it is a great class. My favorite thing about a Pro Stock Motorcycle class is the fact that you can actually see the person in control of the vehicle as it rockets down the race track. We do not promote that fact enough in the drag racing media. Pro Stock Motorcycle driver Eddie Krawiec looks like he will pick up qualifying points on Matt Smith and turn a three-round deficit into just two.
Pro Stock car is on the track right now so things are going to get crazy in here real soon. Jason Line just made a really awesome pass. He was a field bet at the Palace Station at 18 - 1, did yours truly place a bet, no way! Mr. Cool Jeg Coughlin was number one after last night and so far, I do not see that changing in any way. He is so good under pressure it would take a major disaster for him not to win his fourth Pro Stock Car Championship. What I love most about Jeg is the fact that he still bracket races in his time off and wins in that arena just as much as he does in Pro Stock car.
Time to focus. Stat Guy needs to concentrate! Be back later with more updates.....
Top Fuel is on the race track. This is the Top Fuel debut of Terry Haddock. He won the last possible IHRA Funny Car Championship a couple of weeks ago and is here racing Top Fuel for the first time ever. He is a man determined on making a career in drag racing. He has raced Funny Car for many years and has survived some of the most wicked Funny Car fires ever. I wish him the best racing in Top Fuel. There is another oil down so I have time to get ready for Pro Stock car. We usually show about six to eight pairs of cars in the FINAL session. As I said earlier, I did all my work at home so all I have to do is add some notes here and there and hit the print button. Back in the Marty Reid era I wrote things by hand. He thought I could have been a doctor based on my penmanship. My mom would have loved a Jewish doctor in the family. She got a drag racing announcer/Stat Guy instead.
Next up is my first add involving Tim Richards when Brandon Bernstein runs, hopefully I will not screw it up. How's my hair? Well, we ran out of time so no "Stat Guy" just yet. I do get nervous before going on air, I think that is natural but my personality is not to be calm. Top Fuel features the quickest field in 1,000-foot history. We also have 23 cars in Top Fuel this weekend, the most this season. All facts I am responsible to look up and keep track of. Antron Brown made a fantastic pass, low for the session. Shoe and Cory Mac are last up, then it's time for the reason I became a drag racing fan: Funny Car. Blame it all on the late "Jungle Jim," or maybe "Jungle Pam". Shoe makes another good pass but Antron Brown and Lee Beard are low for the round. It's Funny Car time!
First up, Robert Hight and Jimmy Prock made a great run going 4.08 seconds. I then received a text message from Alan Reinhart on when John Force was last #1 qualifier. The answer is Indy 2006. It has been a while for the 14-time champ. Things seem to be going well, no stat drama yet. Qualifying has had some decent runs. Cloud cover always helps out a race track. The best part about TV is lunch which is coming up real soon, I am starving. Funny Car ends with a nice side by side run by Force and Cruz. I had a great add about Lori Force and John's time off between races, but once again no time. I keep selling stats as we say in the ‘biz.'
Lunch is over and it's time to go back to work. We will see how much I can blog here in the fourth session. It should be busy. We have some guests in the booth: Mike Dunn's sister, Patty, who brought her friend Patty to the booth also, how weird is that. She lives on the West coast and if you saw her you would know she was a member of the Dunn Family.
Did my first "Stat Guy" add on my one year anniversary about qualifying in points in Pro Stock Motorcycle relating to Matt Smith and Eddie Krawiec. Angelle stayed number one, her first this season. I have watched her career as long as anyone since she had her star racing debut at Atlanta racing Top Gas at the time at an AMA/Dragbike Event. She has been a friend for a long time. Congrats to her and her team.
Pro Stock car went by with Jeg Coughlin staying number one, no surprise there. He has not lost in the first round since Seattle, so I look for him to leave here with the championship or a substantial lead tomorrow.
TF is on the race track. Shoe virtually clinches based on the number of cars left to run. We announce he is the champion. NHRA will make it official after qualifying. Alan Johnson is the man and think about this stat: Tony has only lost one round of racing in the 1,000-foot era, the final round at Dallas and that was on a slight hole shot. He is now a six-time TF Champion. Congrats to the entire Army TF team. Qualifying continues so we will see what happens next. The track has a pretty good cloud cover it and JR Todd and Brandon Bernstein both run 3.86 seconds. I did an add on Tim Richards and his only NHRA race win back at Atco in 1971 racing in Super Stock. I wonder if Bob Frey was announcing that race? Shoe will most likely stay number one and he would be one pole away from tying Joe Amato for first on the all time number one qualifying list in TF. Any moment now Shoe will take his victory lap or is it victory run down the quarter-mile here at The Strip. The last two years he has won the championship on the final run of the season. This year he will have two weeks to work on his speech. What a victory lap it was, the fastest speed in the 1000 foot era almost 319 mph. Someone will run 320 at the FINALS!
One class away from being done for today and that will be to set the field in FC. Then the real work starts getting ready for race day. I work on TF and FC before leaving the truck to go to dinner. Where that will be and what time it will be remains to be seen. The story in FC is weather John Force will stay #1 and who Tim Wilkerson and Jack Beckman will race in round one tomorrow. The Schumacher celebration is under way just prior Bob Tasca makes an excellent pass to get in the field. They say some weather is on the way, hopefully we will get the entire session in. Tony Pedregon goes from out of the field to #3 and Jerry Toliver along side runs even quicker at 4.06 seconds. I can SMELL the Nitro here in the TV truck, YUM! The cloud cover has provided us with some great Hi-Def shots of Header Flames, reason number one to get a new LCD TV. Wilkerson and Beckman do not improve their qualifying position. Two pairs away from being done. All that is left is three-fourths of Team Force. Ashley, Robert and John. Robert Hight and Jimmy Prock steal the pole from John Force with another monster run, alongside Ashley Force becomes the 1st FC driver to run over 310 in the 1000 foot era of Drag Racing. The fastest speed ever in FC history both in the ¼ mile and 1000 foot era have come here at the Strip. That's something everyone here should be proud of.
That's blog number three for the weekend. I will probably have less time to update on Sunday. I really do work non- stop once racing starts. We will see if time allows.
Hey LVMS blog fans, part 2 of the "Stat Guy" takes on Las Vegas.
First, I would like to answer the two people who left comments about my first blog entry. One was : "Were you the guy who was at the Stone Pony (in the world famous Asbury Park, NJ) wearing jeans and drinking a beer that I met?" The answer would be of course, not sure about the beer part; it would depend on which decade. The first time I went to the Pony, as we locals call it, was in 1977 and at the time I drank beer, lately water.
The next comment was very funny about going over to Bob Frey's house for National Dragster archive parties. I HAVE NEVER been to Mr. Frey's house, the Shrine of Drag Racing Statistics. He does own every copy of National Dragster besides countless other drag racing goodies. I am not sure why I have never been invited. He always has a pre-Englishtown get together and for some reason I am never on the guest list. I have even met the lovely Diana Frey (Bob's wife and comedic teammate) at Kevin and Jill McKenna's wedding last year. Both do work for NHRA but Jill is from Central Jersey (both her Father and sister race NHRA) so the wedding was in the state last fall and Bob brought along Mrs. Frey. Personally, I thought we hit it off so I figured I am in! But still no invite to play among the treasure trove of drag racing history. Maybe someday I will get the invite!
Now onto the first two days at Vegas. I arrived in Las Vegas from New Jersey on Wednesday afternoon. The only drag racing moment was when the gentleman next to me asked what I was going to Las Vegas for. I said I am working for ESPN at a drag racing event. His first comment in response was, as usual, ‘drag racing, huh?' I explained to him the basics and he made the connection to the sport based on what he had seen on Speed Channel watching "Pinks." I was like, if you think that's cool you should check out NHRA drag racing. If you are reading this, you probably know the rest of the story! He did mention his son went to Englishtown a couple of years ago and had a really good time. He then went on to bring up his reason for coming to Las Vegas and the fact that he worked for insurance giant Prudential. If you are familiar with Newark, N.J., Prudential is very involved in the city. He continued to talk about drag racing and its potential from a marketing point of view. He then shifted to NASCAR and how his company looked really hard at getting involved in the sport a couple of years ago. For some reason, Prudential passed on NASCAR but I felt that he was fishing for some information about NHRA. Since I am just the lowly "Stat Guy," I told him NHRA was a great buy, really good bang for the buck and that if he ever wanted an entre to the sport I could make that happen. What you don't know is that prior to our conversation about NASCAR, we made the connection that one of his fellow employees was a longtime friend of yours truly. You may never see a Prudential Race car anywhere but as always, I was working the room. By the way, Continental Airlines: thanks for the upgrade! Many a deal, and I am not looking for one in any way, has been made by pure accident.
Once at McCarran Airport I walk right past the "Wheel of Fortune" slot machines or as they are known to my friends, "Wheel of Torture," to meet my longtime friend and travel companion Matt Polito. Matt grew up in New Jersey and gave up a corporate job years ago to become the guru of motorcycle drag racing through his web site Dragbike.com. He is an EXCELLENT photographer and an even better writer. He has "mad skills" in many other areas too: cooking, culture and even snowboarding. Matt and I have been going to races together since the spring of 1990. Our first road trip was to Budds Creek to see a Pro Mod race. I will never forget our first trip together. If you know Matt, you can ask him why. (Hint, it involves my ex- wife, he is thankfully happily married. He currently does a blog on his web site from the NHRA national events and services clients like Harley Davidson. It is great to have a friend like him on tour!
We would start the Las Vegas experience with a trip to Caesar's to see the Elton John Red Piano show. This time it was courtesy of Jay Wells, public relations man to the Lucas team who long ago introduced Bob Frey and others to a man they call "Sticks." He was kind enough to get Matt and I into the show and in the sound room in the middle of the theatre. We saw a terrific show, the highlight for me being Pinball Wizard from the rock opera "Tommy." It is also amazing how many Elton John songs are classics. The show had and incredible video backdrop, not a show for children, which is ok with me! I had heard through the grape-vine that Tim and Kim Richards, along with Rahn Tobler and his wife Ellen, were in the house so I will track them down for a review later on this weekend. The night concluded with dinner in the Paris hotel and a walk through the Bellagio. I walk through the Bellagio every time I am in Vegas because it makes me feel like some day I could actually afford to stay here. It's one of those moments where I miss former Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Marco Andreano who used to let my play at the Bellagio with his money. I never won much but it was REALLY COOL to sit at one of those $100 tables. Realize that when you are from the East coast and in Las Vegas at midnight it is definitely time to go to sleep!
Odds are is that I will not win any bets this weekend. Oh, first you have to place the bets......
First thing on Thursday morning is to go to the Palace Station and pick up the latest odds for the race this weekend. Only in Vegas can you place bets, and get odds on your favorite racers. I usually get the odds not only for personal entertainment, but also for graphics for the TV show. The last time I cashed in was the spring race here in 2007 when Robert Hight was part of the field bet. With Tony Schumacher a virtual lock in the 1000-foot era to win the race why even look at a Top Fuel pick? But I do like JR Todd at 25 -1. Todd, of course, is the only 1000- foot winner other than Schumacher. In Funny Car the favorites are, of course, anyone in the top five in the points. John Force at 12 -1 looked like a pretty good deal but his last couple of trips to The Strip have resulted in DNQ's. John's luck here has to change! I saw a very young member of the National Dragster staff Thursday night put some of his hard earned cash to work placing a bet on, as he said, "my boy Mike Neff." Mike had his debut here last year so as I always say, that is pretty good karma. In Pro Stock Car how could you bet against the Cagnazzi, or KB cars but this year we have had plenty of different winners, 10 to be exact. I mentioned Morgan, WJ and Yates in my previous blog so why not go with one of the long shots. Remember bet responsibly!
Next on tap for the day was some time spent walking around the Strip taking some photos. For the first time ever, I went to the famous Las Vegas welcome sign to take some photographs and have my picture taken with my pal Matty Polito. I was surprised how cool the sign was up close, a true icon of the Las Vegas strip. We went for lunch and then it was back to our hotel for a quick power nap. After that, it was time for another show "Jersey Boys" at the Palazzo. How ironic, a Jersey Boy at "Jersey Boys." It is the story about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Not normally my cup of tea but it was all Jersey. The music, staging and story were terrific. The most surprising part was how funny the show was. I laughed out loud several times. After the show, we went to the Palms for our night out at the Playboy Club. We were there for several hours, saw some crazy stuff and called it a night at 1 p.m. In terms of Las Vegas I was a total loser, in bed on a Thursday at 1 a.m., what, are you joking!
This brings us to day one of the ACDelco Las Vegas Nationals at the Strip. I have been here since 10 a.m., not an early start to the day to say the least, working and getting ready for the race. I will have more about that tomorrow.
Three things before I go: Tim and Kim Richards loved the Elton John show, Bob Frey is so skinny because of the water in New Jersey (look at me!) and Alan is really that cool....or is he?
Enjoy the blog and the races! Where do we go tonight? I am thinking an early bedtime. Let's see Friday night in Las Vegas on Halloween......do I stay in or do I go out. Such drama.......
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!