Monday, January 23, 2017

TMC Racing Stories: Loudon 1

Schaefer co-founder Philly and I flew to Manchester, New Hampshire on a Friday morning in July 2005 for a great weekend culminating in the New England 300 Cup race at what was then Bob Bahre's New Hampshire International Speedway.

We dropped our bags and keys after a rental car's drive to our hotel on the outskirts of Boston. The hotel shuttle guy dropped us at a nearby T station, and off we headed to Fenway and uncertain destinations afterwards.

A co-worker and I did a similar trip two years earlier. In 2003, he and I got a pair of BoSox v. Toronto Blue Jays tickets at less than face from an angry young lady. She was livid because her boyfriend hadn't showed or called. She sold us the tickets for $25 each, we thanked her and bought her a drink, and grinned all the way to our seats.

Philly and I weren't quite as fortunate in 2005. One, the opponent was the New York Yankees. Two, we didn't cross paths with a scorned Bostonian female. Despite holding out until the bottom of the first, street prices didn't flex down much. We begrudgingly parted with a hundred bucks each ... and then some, but we were about to experience Red Sox vs. Yankees in Fenway.

I'm no baseball fan, but I truly dig a baseball park experience. The game itself was a blowout with the home team winning 17-1. But to be in the park and soak in all the animosity the Boston fans for their New York rival was surreal to say the least.

Leaving the park, we decided to clear our heads a bit by walking to Back Bay and beyond. We made our way to the obligatory tourist trap of the Cheers bar, formerly known as the Bull and Finch Pub.

Source: Wikipedia
With nowhere else to go until mid-morning Saturday, we asked the waitress to keep bringing 'em until it was near time for the final T run for the night.

A good time was had - and Philly was particularly generous. On a return trip from the john, he stopped by the bar and bought two nice, ornate steins for us. Philly's goal is to spend ZERO on race trips so this was an extremely kind and unexpected gesture on his part. (Plus he was already over budget with his Fenway spend.)

The waitress finally said "OK, you've got about 15 minutes to make the final T for the night." Somehow we paid her and got directions to the subway station.

After dropping our tokens and bumbling down the stairs, there sat the T with the doors open. We prided ourselves on a job-well-done. Maximum enjoyment time on a Friday night before race weekend. But the doors didn't close. With it being the last train of the night, we surmised the operator was holding it a bit longer for the extra stragglers.

Suddenly, standing wasn't good for Philly.
Philly: I gotta take a leak man.
TMC: No way. The subway is about to leave.
Philly: I'll never make it to our stop. I'll be right back.
And boom off he went. I knew our stop, but I wasn't sure if Phil remembered. He could hail a cab if necessary, but I'm not sure he could provide a cogent address. He fortunately made it back in time before the doors closed, and I immediately declined any intel as to where he watered the concrete flowers.

We made it to our stop, lumbered to the top of the stairs, plopped on the curb, called the hotel, and sighed as we waited for the hotel shuttle.

Then ever so calmly, Philly said simply "Well. Damn."

What??

"Remember when I went to take a leak? Well, I took the steins with me. And when I zipped and walked, I reckon I forgot to pick 'em back up."

- - - - - - - - - -

The recently retired Tony Stewart won the Cup race in dominating fashion. The race was the second and final time I saw Smoke take the checkers.

Credit: Motorsport.com
And though Philly may have lost his newly purchased steins, at least he didn't present the winner of a 300-mile race with a 400 flag.

Credit: Motorsport.com


TMC

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

TMC Racing Stories: Texas 2

As I noted in Part 1 of my Texas racing stories, I attended the first race weekend at Texas Motor Speedway in April 1997.

On race day for the Cup event, my brother-in-law Chuckles and I got to the track early for a special event he had arranged for us. Chevrolet was commemorating some sort of anniversary or release at Texas. Local Dallas / Ft. Worth Chevy dealers supplied 75 Monte Carlos to tour the track for a couple of pre-race laps.

After Chuckles gathered himself from his morning adventures (refer to Part 1), we got a bite to eat and then the the call to head for the infield to ready for the pre-race parade.

When we arrived to the fleet of red, white, and black Montes, we found them parked tightly side by side. Word spread quickly that the plan for passengers wasn't going to work. Each car's driver would jump in and GO as soon as the car to the left pulled away.

Chuckles apologized, but I was OK with the revised plan. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. We tried. Besides, I had a pass. As a race fan, I was perfectly content with roaming along pit road, watching inspections, and keeping an eye open for drivers and crew members.

So off I strolled as Chuckles stayed to talk with some co-workers and peers from other dealers. One of my first stops was pit road near the start-finish line. Using my binoculars, I spotted Schaefer Hall of Fame co-founder Philly and my sister - already in their seats.

I continued roaming for about an hour before making the decision to leave the infield and head for my seat.  As I passed back through the field of Montes, some of Chuckles' buds spotted me and started grabbing at my shoulder bag.
Hey man, pass one this way!
Me: What?

A beer! Chuckles said you went back to hospitality to grab a few for us.
Me: No I didn't. This is my scanner bag. I told him I was headed to the pits and garage. Where is he?

He went back to hospitality to find you. They rearranged the cars, and passengers get to ride after all! 
Almost immediately, we heard someone holler "Saddle up! Find a car!" Everyone did exactly that. In the hour I was gone, many of the cars had been moved nose-to-tail to make for easier entry and procession to the track.

I jumped in the passenger side of a car - and waited. As the coordinator went car to car, he got to mine and asked about my driver. Feigning ignorance, I shrugged and replied "Dunno." A couple of minutes later, the driver's side door opened. Instead of Chuckles, a woman sat down behind the wheel. I introduced myself as did she. In an exchange of small talk, I learned she was the wife of one of the dealership's owners.

Basic instructions were given to each car.
  1. No gapping - stay close to the car in front of you.
  2. No riding high on the banking.
  3. No heavy acceleration. 
With those easily understood directions, we headed for pit road, then to the apron, and then into the first turn.

It didn't take long for the instructions to be discarded. Our car was in about the middle of the caravan. We could see in turn 2, however, that a few cars had already started gapping the one in front of them - but would then burst back upon their bumper. I was grinning the entire time as I wondered who was losing their mind over this Chinese fire drill of an orderly pace lap.

She didn't goose ours right away. Instead, she started asking my opinion about what to do. I recall telling her:
  • you are married to one of the dealers which I think gives you some sort of executive privilege
  • I'm only along for the ride, and
  • when in Rome...
As we rolled out of four and down the frontstretch, I unbuckled my seat belt, lowered the window, popped upon the door, spotted Philly and my sister, and ripped the biggest WHOOOO! I could muster. Sure enough, they made eye contact and waved back while laughing.

I settled back in for lap 2, looked to my driver, and said "See? I don't care. Let 'er rip if you'd like." As she exited turn 2 again, she slowed almost to a crawl to let the car in front of us get way ahead. Then she punched it. We certainly didn't hit NASCAR speeds, but the rush of hitting 90-100 MPH for a short period down the backstretch of a NASCAR speedway was immense.

My new best friend and I were laughing heartily as we continued through the tri-oval again and back to the infield with a hard left at the end of pit road. As we neared our parking spot, there he was. There stood Chuckles - a beer in one hand, a smirk on his face, and a middle finger fully extended.
Me: That was incredible!
You sonuva... I spent weeks setting that up and didn't even get to go!
Me: Well, if you hadn't wanted that next beer so badly.
When we got to our seats, Philly said dryly but apparently factually "Seventy-five cars on the track, and only one fool was hanging out the window hollering. You."

Twenty years later, the story is told regularly at each race. And twenty years later, the experience - or lack thereof - still burns for Chuckles. Each Thanksgiving when I remind him of it, he replies "Still can't believe you left me behind."

TMC

Monday, January 16, 2017

TMC Racing Stories: Texas 1

In April 1997, Schaefer Hall of Famer co-founder Philly, my sister, my brother-in-law Chuckles, and I attend the inaugural race weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Chuckles arranged a special event at the track on Sunday morning for he and my sister. But when my sister learned how early they had to be at the track, she declined and gave me the offer.

I was all-in even though it meant we had to be at the Dallas Cowboys' Texas Stadium at o'dark early to ride city buses to the speedway. After check-in and a biscuit, we loaded the buses for the ride. Not long after departure, Chuckles cracked a joke and proudly popped a cold one. *P'st*

After downing a couple of more - at around 6AM mind you - he started getting a bit antsy and began to look behind him for the bathroom. One problem: we were on a city bus - not a chartered coach. No facilities.

As the bus crept along a road leading to TMS, he started brainstorming out loud. "There's a 7-Eleven. I wonder if I could make it." His co-workers and I all laughed as we told him no way.

We finally turned onto track property, and Chuckles was about to burst. The bus stopped as did all in-bound traffic. Chuckles spotted a single port-a-john in a grassy area about 100 yards from the bus and bolted for the door.

Somewhat a bit surprisingly, he sort of just ambled his way to the can. On the other hand, I've never seen him run - then or since. The rancor at the back of the bus rose as we all wondered if he could pull the return trip. Sure nuff, the door opened - and out he strutted with a smile of pride. But then...

His face fell a bit as traffic opened and the bus began moving forward again. At first Chuckles tried a quicker walk - and then a light jog - and then a full run. A once in a lifetime viewing. But it was too late.

The bus proceeded through security and stopped near the hospitality area. I knew I was good. I was behind the secured area, and I had Chuckle's bag with the race tickets. How he planned to get into the area he arranged, I had no idea.

But about 15 minutes after our arrival, he trotted into the tent. Sweaty and red-faced - but he made it. He held court as he talked about his walk - and then the ride he hitched in the back of a gracious Texan's truck - and then the sad sack sordid affair he had to explain to a rent-a-cop minding the gate. Amazingly and perhaps with some empathy, the guy let him pass!

After a quick recap of his planes, trains, and automobiles to those under the tent, his radar then led him to the tub of iced brews.

And then things got really fun, but I'll save that story for part 2.

TMC

Monday, January 9, 2017

TMC Racing Stories: Daytona 1

Trying to convince someone to give racing a shot is challenging when the other person stubbornly rejects pretty much anything outside of baseball, football, and hoops.

When two friends and I got an apartment in college, the arguments soon started about the legitimacy of racing, identification of drivers as athletes, my "misplaced" fandom, etc. Some got pretty heated, but most just involved good-natured ribbing.

One of the two friends and I continued sharing an apartment after graduation. Some of the banter continued, but I tried a different angle. I suggested he put his money where his mouth was: Go to a race and see if you don't return with a changed opinion.

Initially, he didn't take the bait. But then Ken Schrader's Red Baron Ford caught his eye during the 1987 Firecracker 400 on TV.

We lived on frozen pizza, Rotel tomato cheese dip, and cereal in the apartment, so Schrader's sponsor was right in his wheel house. Soon after, he softened his stance. "Let's go."

When the next year's Firecracker rolled around, he and I made the drive from Chattanooga to Daytona. Schrader had moved to another red car. He was out of Junie Donlavey's #90 Ford and into Rick Hendrick's #25 Folger's Coffee Chevy. By then, however, he was a Schrader guy regardless.

He took a VHS camcorder and made his way to the fence on the final pace lap as the cars came out of turn 4 to the tri-oval. He glanced back at me as the drivers prepared to hammer down, shrugged his shoulders, and sneered as if to say "not impressed".

I waved him back and mouthed "Just watch!" Ignoring the Barney Fife Security Force's admonition to move away from the fence, he stayed as the cars came up to speed in turn 1.

When they roared through 4 at speed, he quickly lowered his camcorder and instinctively snagged his cap as the wind tried to make off with it. He then slowly turned back towards me, smiled broadly, and mouthed "I. Like. This."

While he never became a rabid NASCAR fan, he certainly became much more interested in it. After his debut at Daytona, he went with me a couple of times to Talladega and once to Atlanta - where he got to see Schrader win in the Kodiak Chevy in 1991.

Concerned about TV ratings or attendance for NASCAR events? Have a friend or family member skeptical about racing? Know someone who enjoys racing but has never experienced the thrill of being at the track? Invite them!

TMC

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Schaefer Year in Review: 2016

The Schaefer Hall of Fame and Ring of Honor - a bunch of good-time-havers and ne'er-do-wells - once again had a fantastic year of fun. As best I can tell, The SHOF and SROH were represented at eight NASCAR Cup races, the Daytona qualifying twins, the All Star Race, and a handful of cable-company and truck division races.

The year started with a bang at the Daytona 500. For the first time since 1997, Schaefer HOF co-founder Philly and I were in the seats. Unlike 20 years ago, our experience was on a much grander scale - but with little out-of-pocket spend.

Good fortune plopped us into a friend's winter home free o'charge. No flea bag inn. No overpriced hotel. FREE! - the favorite price of the SHOF. After our arrival on Thursday, we dropped our gear, celebrated with a quick cold one, and made our way to the track.

It was quite the sight to see and experience the completed Daytona Rising renovated facility.

It was also cool to see the twins for the first time on a balmy Florida night.

On Friday, we headed to what has become one of our favorite spots in the area: Racing's North Turn on the beach in Ponce Inlet. The food is fantastic, the service is very polite and prompt, the view is spectacular, the racing history is rich, and the brews are ice cold.

Though the North Turn doesn't serve Schaefer, they do sell good times - and interesting coincidences. After I tweeted the following picture of our beachfront scenery, a guy walked from just a few chairs from us.
"Are you toomuchcountry?"
"Umm, yeah. I guess you'd say that. Why?"
"Holy cow, I only follow about 20 people on Twitter - and you're one of them. I saw your tweet and that Starters koozie. Figured it had to be you."
On our way out the door, we noticed an elderly gentleman signing books and shaking hands at a table near the front door. I stopped to talk with him and learned he was Russ Truelove. Russ is from the northeast and still lives there. In the 1950s, however, he made a handful of trips to Daytona to run the famed beach and road course.

After I returned a bit of history knowledge of my own, Russ realized I wasn't there to simply get a selfie with someone I thought might be famous. He took me to his restored race car outside, and we had a great conversation for about 20 minutes. We chatted about Fish carburetors, the process for measured mile qualifying on the beach, car owner Carl Kiekhaefer (which coincidentally rhymes with Schaefer), how he got number #226, etc.

He also talked about his tremendous tumble on February 26, 1956. #226 flat wiped out on 2/26.


After concluding a fun encounter with Russ, we headed back to the house before we got wiped out at the North Turn. Once home, we found the rest of our crew had rolled in. They were prepared for a night of fun - which we had. The good times, of course, started with a Schaefer.

On race day, we felt the palm fronds provided an element of dignity and class to our tailgating set-up. Don't think so? Well then, that's a you problem.

Though a fair argument can be made that racing is better at other tracks, few if any compete with the sheer speed and spectacle of Daytona.

As has been the case for many years, the Schaefer Hall of Fame and Ring of Honor were well represented at Charlotte's version of Speedweeks in May.

Woodhead, 2015 Schaefer Ring of Honor inductee, enjoyed Schaefer at the NASCAR All Star Race the week before the Coca-Cola 600.

We enjoyed hot passes for the 600 weekend thanks to a new acquaintance of SHOFer Cuba. Like many of us, Cuba usually just settles in before a plane's departure. But on a flight from Texas to North Carolina, he struck up a conversation with his seatmate. After some small talk, bada bing, bada boom, he learned his seatmate was involved with NASCAR. A couple of days later, he arranged for Cuba and his contingent to get hot passes for the weekend. Mighty fortuitous.

Though plenty of other drink options were available, Schaefer had its own dedicated cooler. And what better way to identify the designated cooler than with bacon tape!

Schaefer is the perfect thirst quenching complement to a good ol' fashioned low country boil.

Among our new guests at the 600 in 2016, was SHOFer Rookie's Uncle Joey. Though he was new to our group and a Cup track, he arrived ready to roll with his Kyle Busch swag.

Hard to believe 2017 will the 25th anniversary of the launch of the Schaefer tradition and resulting SHOF and SROH. Some mighty good friendships have been developed with this crowd.

Rookie wasted no time after the 600 in continuing the Schaefer tradition at the beach near Wilmington NC with a few of his friends.

One of the challenges for the SHOF is the increasing scarcity of Schaefer. I don't travel as much as I once did; therefore, opportunities to bootleg Schaefer in a suitcase have dwindled significantly. Both Bruton and Philly, however, were able to leverage their far-reaching networks to have folks bring the Schaefer to them in 2016.

Schaefer isn't all about racing. Schaefer Hall of Famers often find other varied ways to enjoy it. For instance, Bruton enjoyed Schaefer on the links...

...out on the boat dropping a line...

...and on opening day of Georgia Bulldogs football season.

Though Schaefer isn't all about racing, who's kidding who. It's mainly about racing.

Four SHOFers returned to Daytona for July's Coke 400.

This guy wouldn't sit down and kept blocking my view. I started to have a word with him. But since he was a fellow SHOFer, I let it slide.

Labor Day weekend was a true treat for me. From the mid 1980s through 2000, I went to a handful of races that were tagged as part of the Winston Million incentive program. As tough as it was for a driver to win 3 of the 4 biggies, it was even tougher for me to attend 3 of the 4.

The program has long been discontinued, but I accomplished my own version of winning the Winston Million in 2016 by attending the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600, and the Southern 500 at Darlington. I embraced the old school, throwback theme for the weekend by breaking out some old racing gear from days gone by.

I'd only been to one other race at Darlington, and the 2016 Southern 500 was my first legit Labor Day weekend race at the track. Adding to the excitement was our privilege to walk the garage and pits from stem to stern both days.

The highlight of our walkabout was easily meeting Leonard, Delano, Len and Eddie Wood and Richard and Kyle Petty.

And as icing on the cake, we also ran into 8-time Cup champion crew chief and NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Inman. None of these encounters had anything to do with Schaefer, but the chance to chat a bit with so many legends ranks right up there with it.

With a few hours to kill before the green flag on Sunday, we returned to our parking spot. A couple of racing and Schaefer noobs parked behind us, and we soon struck up a conversation. They earned a rookie stripe for attending their first race.

We also introduced them to Schaefer. They almost forfeited the opportunity to drink it when one of them said "Never heard of it. Is it a microbrew?"

Their response after a first taste? Same one as we get time after time. "Hmm. It's not that bad."

With our hospitality out of the way, it was soon time to go racing boys! We hiked our sun-scorched selves to our seats near the start-finish line and settled in for an evening of racing dominated by Martin Truex Jr. 

Again with this guy! Dude! Please sit down.

"Oh my bad. Need a fresh Schaefer?"

The only currently active father-son, SHOF / SROH combo - Philly and Woodhead - took in the action.

Traveling light, we didn't have the set-up for another low-country boil. As a substitute, some homemade pork rinds washed down well with a cold Schaef.

A few weeks after Darlington, Schaefer Ring of Honor member 200WINZ had the good fortune to run into his longtime idol, The King, at dinner before the fall Dover race.

As the calendar turned to October, the Schaefer HOF had somewhat of an impromptu Most Photogenic contest. Thoughts on a winner?

SHOFer Philly & Lanie at the fall Charlotte race?

...or SHOFer Rookie and Uncle Joey at Talladega? Yikes.

The SHOF closed its 2016 racing adventures with a trip to Martinsville - my first race at the paperclip. As we roamed the garage on Saturday, we had the good fortune to cross paths with Dale Inman again. He, Maurice Petty, and Kyle Petty had been inducted into the Randleman High School Athletic Hall of Fame the night before, and Dale was proudly sporting the ring presented to him.

Though not on our original agenda, we called an audible and chose to hit Saturday's truck race. Cold morning temps rose to reveal a spectacular fall afternoon for racing.

On Sunday morning, we enjoyed a cold one with some folks from South Boston, Virginia...

...and enjoyed it again ourselves high atop the grandstands.

With the racing season completed, I made my annual trip to Newark NJ and New York City. Once again, I enjoyed a Schaefer at The Liberty NYC - just a few clicks from Madison Square Garden and Penn Station. As I ordered it, the bartender said I looked familiar. I told her I'd stopped in a year earlier to enjoy one. Shockingly, she replied "Yeah! You're the guy that travels all over trying to find Schaefer. I remember you!"

I did a bit of research a couple of nights later and learned The Greene Hook in Jersey City had Schaefer as a beer offering. Though I wasn't sure how current the menu was, I figured it was worth an Uber ride to find out. Sure enough, they had several in the chiller. The Schaef was a nice addition to one of their fantastic burgers and fries.

The Schaefer Hall of Fame and Ring of Honor hopes you had a wonderful Christmas and New Year.

With the calendar now turned to 2017, let's enjoy a new batch of memories with the recently re-branded NASCAR Schaefer Cup... I mean Monster Energy Cup Series.

As always, please let me know if you see Schaefer for sale - or being enjoyed by yourself or others. Reply with a comment here, hit me on Twitter, or email me at toomuchcountry(at)gmail(dot)com.

TMC