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January 31, 2010

By Ken Wagner

My pics from the Chili Bowl click here to see. As usual Doug Allen's great photos Click here to review.

I knew this trip was going to be different when I had an errand to run early Monday morning before I hit the airport to head to Tulsa, Oklahoma for the annual Chili Bowl. I was only gone a couple of hours, but the first thing I noticed when I returned and began to pack, my recently refreshed polka dot hat was missing? I left it high above my suitcase, too high for my little Weiner dog legs to reach, but I forgot one thing, our new rat dog Sugar has long legs and apparently she took a liking to my hat. Yes it was on their play area, my bed, and was a little worse for wear. A few rips and I knew I was in trouble. Not to worry, there is always something red & white polka dotted around the house.

As always, Las Vegas is a pain to get on a plane. First you must get thru the check in area that has a zillion people lined up, but my trusty new cane, I actually use now occasionally, put me to the head of a short line and thankfully I bypassed the long line. After going thru the new x-ray box where you stand with your hands on your head and they check your private secrets, and then run that stick around your body looking for a turbine, I was granted access. Next the long walk, and or the tram ride, yes itís always the tram since I never go anywhere that a close terminal could possibly be ready to put my body on a plane. Now I am so early I began reading and when it was time to load, I had to find my Southwest loading number so I wonít take advantage of those who think their number is # 1.

It was a short3 hour trip and after landing and walking from the farthest terminal like normal,my Taxi was at the curb when I walked out. Tony Mishler, my one time roommate and now my weeklong landlord when I come to town, was happy to see me. His home is where I stay when I am in town, even if itís not racing. It was cold and plenty of snow was still on the ground from a Xmas snowstorm, but the streets were pretty clear. We got to his place and he had dinner ready. The Deer meat goulash was hot and tasty and after a long visit, it was time for some rest.

Tuesday morning Tony was gone to work when I got up and I had some work to do before planning my day. I called my other old roommate, Ron Tunin, and he came by with his wife Carolyn and we went to lunch at a barbeque place called Elmerís. Pretty good stuff as we had a good visit and some tasty food. They dropped me off at the Expo Center and my racing week began. This year I was smarter than usual as I didnít bring anything I didnít need. Normally in addition to my camera, I would bring my camera bag with all the extra stuff like another lens, spare battery, Wagtimes decals and much more. Also I always had a coat for the cold trips outside, and that meant I would wander the pits with too much stuff. Now I have a lens that does close and far, so I eliminated the bag. I didnít bring a jacket so I was light and loose with only the camera in my hands. I checked in the VIP place and got my credentials and then I was ready to go. I went right in and it began.

As always, there are so many to greet and talk with, it never stops. I am not alone inside that big building as the numbers of friends I share is pretty amazing. The day was early as I traversed the pits looking at and taking pics of all the cars that were in their pit. It was the first night of the race and some were already out doing hot laps and getting their game face on. I think it was 250 some cars in the pits and remember the pit area contained all the cars and trailers with little room to spare. The place was really packed. Each pit had that anxious look that happens when hope is in the air, and everyone was thinking of one thing. Racing and winning, of course. I hit the grandstands and soon my son Kevin arrived to spend the week with me.

The week was interrupted when Kevin and I went down to Okie city to see Jim Wolfe former mechanic of all things including Indy cars, drag racing and sprint cars, most recently with Danny Sheridan and Mike Kirby. His wife Carol was off working somewhere out of town, but a tour of their lovely ranch style home on 5 acres out in the middle of nowhere, Oklahoma (Mustang), and some good visiting was a pleasure. Jim took us to Charlestonís, a nice medium priced restaurant with great food, and then Kevin and I were off to see the wizard, no make that the Thunder, for an NBA game with the San Antonio Spurs, thanks to Carol who wrangled us tickets. It was an overtime game before a packed house and was fun.

The rest of the 4 racing days we roamed the pits each day visiting with many, then hit the grandstands to watch each nightís race. The track seemed to be better this year, yet it wasnít as heavy as some years past. Racing was very good with some surprising winners, especially young Zach Daum on the opening night. Kevin Swindell, Darren Hagen, and Cory Kruseman won the other three nights as preparations for Saturday night were ready.

Since Sammy Swindell was the defending champion, and wasnít seeded in the A Main by his qualifying night results, I knew he would pass on the charge from where he would have started, and tag the A Main for a serious charge. Starting at noon, the 19 features preceding the finale were mostly exciting and some boring, but since I didnít get there until about half were done, I settled in and tried to pick the winners.

Watching the main was very interesting as young Kevin burst into the lead early and it looked like only Cole Whitt had a shot at him late. Never count the black number 1 out as Sammy was Sammy and he began his blast thru the pack. It didnít look promising at first, but with yellows spaced out like normal, he came charging to the front. With a few laps to go he was in 3rd and who could predict what would happen. Cole made one last slider on the leader that missed and Kevin hung on for the checkers with his dad joining him on the podium for a family celebration. A good year inside the Expo center as next yearís race is already in the planning.

My trip wasnít over yet as I stuck around T-Town for a day with Tony before heading up to Douglas, Kansas where Cousin Gary and wife Barbara were waiting for me. Kevin drove over from his Springfield, Missouri home and we four went to the Wichita State game where they beat the conference leader Northern Iowa in a close one. The next day it was on to Lawrence, Kansas to see the Jayhawks take on Baylor courtesy of Rich Jantz, a longtime buddy of Cousin Gary. You havenít lived until you go to a Kansas Game in their house! The museum featuring basketball inventer James Naismith, plus WIlt Chamberlin, Danny Manning and many more Kansas greats was thrilling to view. They won a close one and immediately Kevin went home and Gary and I headed back to Douglas where I jumped in Tonyís truck and headed back to T-Town. I got a couple of hours of sleep and then my other roommate Ron came by to feed me lunch and take me to the airport. Unfortunately, my 1:30 flight was delayed for 4 plus hours as Las Vegas was raining and Phoenix was closed so many flights were diverted to my destination. I was in my brides arms by 7:30 after an 8 hour scenario and my trip was done. I canít say thanks enough to all those who made my trip great including my son Kevin, Tony and Ron, Gary and Barbara, Jim and Carol, Rich and a few more that were in my fun times.

Itís time to concentrate on the 2010 racing season as I get started on my quest for help for the 19th annual Wagsdash which features Richard Griffin as our Grand Marshal. I am in need of a few pictures of him in his early years like stocker and early sprinters, so give me a call. I think we have the little red sucker covered plus the Pepper Fite # 7 as well. Let me know if you have something that will go into the annual poster Jim Naylor prepares that we can use.

I know all the USAC race teams are out there eagerly pursuing sponsorship money for the new season, but word reached me officially yesterday that the Kittle Motorsports team is parked and not planning on running in 2010 due to lack of money! That is very painful as I have enjoyed a few trips with the team and I know they are all devastated with the news. Somewhere out there is someone who has the means to make it happen for the little blue bugger and I hope their dream comes true. For now Danny Sheridan is no doubt looking for a ride.

My winter basketball that usually hits about 120 games was a dud this year as I only went to about 25 games total, even though there are a few left to see. I didnít go to LA for the tourneyís I normally go to for lack of time, and Iíll miss my favorite Nike Tourney this year due to Mrs. Wags finally going under the knife for her arthritic feet this coming Friday. This is the first of several operations that should get her back to walking without pain.

The season opens in Tucson and I hope to be there as they do that and then hit Vegas for a one nighter before opening at the PAS. Lets all get it started and get involved this year. Help me with Wagsbucks, help some team with tires or fuel, help in other ways as only you know you can. Lets go!

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