Sepember 9, 2009 By Wags
The trip up to Calistoga was a smooth operation from start to finish. Since Mrs Wags decided she would stay home and not miss any work on this trip due to her upcoming foot surgeries, I was on my own and was to catch a ride up to the Louie Vermeil Classic with the Kittle Krew. I arrived in LA town on Wednesday afternoon and parked at Crew Chief Randy Shiosaki's work/hauler storage area and took off with him to the Howell Motorsports shop. There Randy, Big "D", little "D" and Gene all did the things needed to get their Midget ready for the trip. Dennis was going to hit the big track with his little toy Fontana powered small car called a midget as all the overheating problems were fixed. After that little soiree, we went to the house (Randy & Julie's) and when Fran and Jim arrived from Arizona, we all went to an El Torito for dinner. Wow, the Fajitas were really good.
It was an early rising for me in the AM as I had stuff to do and by 8:30 am on Thursday we were in the hauler and on the road north with Paul Dean the driver on the move. Randy, Julie and Gary Tanaka were making the run also, so there was activity going on in the Toter as we rolled along. Julie and I had our PC’s up and running and Randy was watching pro wrestling or something mindless while Gary helped the GPS lady keep tabs on the long road trip. We stopped at the Harris Ranch for fuel and food and then headed on towards the Napa Valley and the racetrack. A stop in Livermore put Gary Tanaka and I in a rental car and following the hauler on to Calistoga.
When we arrived there, we got the rig located under the big covered area just outside the pit entrance. Then, it was on a short trip to town for dinner. We later ate at the Italian Restaurant on the main street and were slugging down some wild watermelon martini things when an idea suddenly struck me. Mrs Wags was home alone with the dogs, so I wanted to call and cheer her up. She sounded like she was sad at missing all the fun and games, and I missed her, but understood why she couldn’t take the time off to go touring with me this week. So I put Fran on the phone and told her to talk her into a little road trip. When I got the phone back, my bride said call me in a few minutes and I'll see if I can get a dog sitter”. When she answered the second time, we were in Susie's bar down the street and she said SUCCESS! I was so tickled, I turned the plane booking over to my travel agent Julie, before Mrs Wags could change her mind, and walaa, she would be arriving about the same time that Steve, a Kittle Krew member and often truck driver for them, was coming in at Oakland. Our Taxi driver, Mike Clark, could pick them both up at the same time on Saturday. He was already schedule to taxi himself, Julie's mother Joyce, Little Dennis and his mom Mary Anne from their flight on Friday, so it would mean another trip to the Oakland airport and he could handle that, couldn’t he? With that all settled, the weekend could begin.
We had a beer and visited with Dick and Sue Fry from Hayward, my Chili Bowl ticket connection, and enjoyed the ambiance for a while. I was supposed to go spend the night at my friend “The” Barber’s place in Petaluma like we have every time we go racing at Calistoga, but after several tries and failing to get a hold of him, I travelled with Gary and Paul to the hotel where everyone was staying and roomed with Gary that night. Friday morning we got up and the three of us had breakfast with Gary's boyhood friend and his wife Sandy in the hotel dining room before heading to the track.
It wasn't long before we jumped in two vehicles and began our “Gary Kittle” led wine tour. It seemed at times that Gary might have been lost, a little confused, somewhat baffled or something otherwise outrageously in tuned to, but we eventually found a starting point for our first wine tasting. We went to 4 different wineries over the 5 hour plus trip and had fun tasting and shopping. I bought a few bottles myself! At the Ferrari Winery I found two desert wines that were beyond tasty and added them and some chocolate blueberry’s to my bag. Some good times and a little funny stuff went on until it was closing time for the tasting rooms and we headed back to the track, Jack!
When we headed back to the racetrack, one car had to stop at a store while the other went to Kamp to start the cooking. So as soon as we all arrived, the night began in the Kittle Kamp for real. This began the start of a perpetual feed hosted by Brian and Chris Kittle that was especially tasty and the crowd warm and fun loving besides. Pork tenderloins, chicken, tri-tips, you name it Brian was the master chef and it was all good. The Kittle Krew, the Howell's and all those who took part were fed well and the several feedings that followed were all amazing, filling and fun. Again I didn't make it to "The" Barber's house that night, go figure, but promised I would bring my bride the next night when she arrived. It might have been the wine????
Saturday began a whirlwind happening as I arrived and went and found my mule that had been graciously brought up in the USAC trailer, arranged by Julie who else. I found it with a dead battery and out of fuel. The USAC officials were disappointed they couldn't go play in it and accused me of leaving it out of gas on purpose, but I swear there was some in it when I left it at Perris last time. Maybe it evaporated? Nevertheless, Ray Stansberry towed me over to the Kittle hauler where I had already received a battery that Randy had located for me, and who else but Jimbo to the rescue. Not only did he change the battery, he changed the single plug and added gas, so quickly I had a sharp running mule again and I was off to the races for the two days. I soon discovered I was popular as I gave rides and ran errands and collected things for many. Not a problem as I was thankful not to be walking around the big fairgrounds to each event and far off location.
Anyway the day started and my Taximan, who needs a GPS for his Taxi by the way, finally arrived after a small stop for the local lawman in Calistoga, and Mrs Wags was now on the go with me. The wine tasting and autograph sessions were fun and before you knew it Saturday and Sunday were gone, but not before some good racing.
During the wine tasting, that I did not participate in this time, but still got the memorial wine glasses, I wandered around and took a few pics and visited with many. The highlights included so many, but at the top of the list were Lealand and Janet McSpadden. They both looked great and this couple radiated their happiness throughout both days as they came and had a good time. Lealand looks great and I heard he even had time to visit an old friend and big time fan of his, Clarence, who doesn’t get out to the races anymore. They have known each other for years and even I know Clarence as well.
I met Jimmy Boyd, first WOO winner in history, for the first time, and enjoyed his smile. I had several encounters with Shane Carson who I have enjoyed over the years, talked with Tim Green, Johnny Anderson and many more legendary driver’s, that only can be seen rarely in public anymore. You know talking with any of these legends is very special and we should try to make this happen more often. In fact, wouldn’t it be nice to have one of these at Perris like maybe during the Glenn Howard Memorial race. You know adding the wine tasting and autograph sessions could bring out many more legends from the southland and maybe help with our crowds. The current Legends of Ascot event is on a hiatus, so it wouldn’t hurt to plan more. Calistoga was packed and I heard even the vaunted WOO never did that? My highlight of the weekend was just seeing Lealand and watching him do his famous smile and greet for the many fans, it was very special.
My racing highlights included Blake Miller setting a new track record, Danny Sheridan leading mightily for 11 laps until an evil slider put his front end out of kilter, Josh Ford winning the midget final and hitting the podium in his sprinter, Blake Miller, after getting crashed out in his record setting car, using the back-up #16 car from the back of the semi and main to get 8th after a 3rd the first night, watching Jesse Hockett change an evil handling car to a rocket ship and blowing away the field until he crashed, and finally Mike Spencer getting the job done with two amazing clean as a whistle slide jobs to beat the youngster from Tennessee and take home the bacon to So Cal!!!!
There were rumors that the event would be moved to July. Not hardly, as the truth is they are trying to get a July one day event in addition to the two day current affair. Steve Howard did a monster job of collecting $20,000 extra money for the racers as well as other things and should have been given a big pat on the back. Thru his efforts that extra cash got into the hands of the racers and in these times, I know it was appreciated.
This event could become a real 410 saver with it’s success at this vaunted track, but it won’t happen on it’s own. Next year they will still need more help to get it done and increase the purse and car count. For a change the crowds were packed, but the blanket situation caused a lot of grief for the security personnel. Reserved seats would eliminate that problem if they can’t make the traditional open seating plan work!!!!! At the Calistoga track, the first person at the entry gate puts down a square box using chalk or tapes a card down. This lets those who are behind them know who will go in first and they follow that on down the line. That way they don’t have to stand in line for hours waiting for the opening. Still, when the gates open at 4 pm, and that crowd rushes in to put down their blankets to save their seats, many go back to their campers or even to town to eat. So when others come in and there is no one on a blanket, some problems seem to arise. Don’t people understand the tradition of blanketing and honor it?? No, it is a different world and ME FIRST is their battle cry. The lines were extremely long to get in, but in an hour or so the crush was over and you could just walk in.
I thought it was great racing, with few boo boo’s, and a real tacky track the first night with one not too bad the next. There were some motor ails, including Garrett Hansen’s # 7, but the track didn’t quite act like it’s traditional killer self (hard on motors), with the racing hard and fast. The So Cal Boys done good, getting one win, a new track record and lots of high finishes making it more of a success for our boys than last year. Actually, I am already thinking of the third annual. I can’t wait until next year!