Getting there is three-quarters of the fun
Sorry for the long delay between updates, but if you're a regular, or even infrequent visitor to this website, you must be used to it by now. Let's jump ahead nearly six weeks from the rained out and postponed and rescheduled Mission Raceway Lucas Oil Series event and move across the Rocky Mountains to the third annual Western RV Rocky Mountain Nationals (the name sort of fits, doesn' it?) at Edmonton's Budwesier Motorsport Park.
Myself and SpeedZone honcho Dean Murdoch arrived in style in our rented Chevrolet Impala after a fairly quick traversing of the mountains on the Yellowhead Highway last night. Left Dean's place in Mission at 8:45, stopped for the neccesities (beef jerky, chips, salsa, vodka coolers, and more chips and assorted junk food and a big bag of Wet Ones to remove the residue from our faces) at Harrison Mills, another stop for gas at the Blue River Husky at 3:00 am (more about that later) and we rolled into Edmonton just after 7:00am Vancouver time. No speeding tickets either.
We spent most of the day checking out the situation at BudPark, visiting with the racers that were already pitted and chatting with those in the interminably long lines waiting to enter the site (here's a typical situation: John Evans of SuperComp and Top Comp fame from Surrey is holding entry ticket #57.... out of 252.... and there's a very long line of trucks and trailers stretching off to the horizon behind him. Looks like it's going to be a very long night for the IHRA and BudPark staff accomodating all the entrants. We'll report on how successful they were tomorrow.
For us it's time for dinner and a bit of sightseeing at West Edmonton Mall, then off to bed early in preparation for the first of three very big days of competition at the "Rockies". We hope to be able to bring you a travel diary and a few pit notes from earlier today before we hit the sack tonight. Check back later and hit the reload/refresh button to see if we were successful.
Here's the latest installment of our ever-popular... okay, mildly amusing.... all right, not exactly libellous Dragster Diary, with this episode featuring our (myself and Dean Murdoch) journey from the west coast to the not-that-badlands of Alberta. It begins in North Vancouver in the early evening of Wednesday, June 22nd and finishes early in the morning of Thursday, June 23rd.
As usual, I'm late, this time about an hour, but at least I'm finally in motion heading east. Backtracking a bit, my planning for this trip didn't hit high gear until about two hours ago. No rental car arranged, no packing done, everything left to the last minute... as always.
The rental car situation almost turned into a bit of a drama, as every agency was booked out for the weekend (oh yes, it's the start of the holiday season for most people), and I was only able to secure a suitable car (a refrigerator white Chevy Impala with big seats and a big trunk) with ten minutes to spare before the Avis folks went home for the night.
Back home and packed in ten minutes, only forgetting a hat and earmuffs, and out the door and headed east with just a small amount of guilt clouding my conscience.
Arriving in Mission, I spend a minute or so driving up and down the street Dean's moved to, looking for the SpeedZone-ish looking house until I realize it's hidden behind a gigantic hedge and the garage and Dean are accessible only by way of the lane behind his new home.
While Dean loads boxes of the latest issue of the magazine into the trunk, he hands the portable phone to me and lets me talk to the Horsepower Heaven guy, Larry Pfister, for awhile and catch up on all the details of his "busier than anyone has a right to be" life. Afte a few false starts (got the music ?), we're off and headed for the highway just after 8:30.
Barely into high gear and less than 20 miles from Dean's place, we're stopping at the Harrison Mills general store for the necessary roadtrip supplies. Twizzlers, chips, salsa, more chips, dips, even more chips, beverages of several sorts, more candy and assorted jerkys and pepperonis, we finally get everything taken care of and are fully mobile again by 9:00 pm. It's looking like it's going to be a long night and we haven't even discussed the possibilities for stopping over enroute.
We're just passing through Kamloops and the gas gauge is starting to take a serious dive as the Coquihalla highway does tend to eat up the petrol.... that and a sometimes "waaay too heavy for my own good" right foot. The decision is to forego fueling here and press on to Clearwater as Dean assures me that "there's always one 24-hr gas station in that town; it's a local bylaw or something". And onward we go.
Oh, oh, we're slowly cruising through Clearwater and there's nothing open. Absolutely nothing. Whadda we gonna do now, Dean? is the question coursing through both our brains; but better left unsaid at this point. Finally, Mr. Murdoch clears his throat and comes up with the idea of asking the Clearwater Lodge folks where the nearest station is. After waking a not-altogether-happy night clerk, Dean finds out we have two choices: back to Kamloops (100km) or ahead to Blue River (100km). Either way it looks like we're screwed as the gas gauge is really starting to sink rapdily towards the horizon.
After one of the longest hours of our lives, we pull into the very welcome Husky station at Blue River. Seeing the well-lit sign looming in the distance settled the pteradactyls circling in our stomachs and allowed us to exhale for the first time in many minutes after watching the "need fuel NOW!!!" light blinking at us and seeing the needle on the gauge pegged solidly on Empty for far too many miles. Whew....... where's the washroom and where's the coffee.
Footnote: after pumping 61.5 liters of gas into the tank, we check the owner's manual and see we had absolutely nothing to worry about as the tank capacity is 64,3 liters. Heck, we had enough gas left in the tank to go another 20 or 25 kms before running out. Also, the area of the province we were passing through was out of cell phone range and we would have been absolutely stranded if we'd run out.
The sun is coming up as we pass through Jasper and we're able to see a family of mountain goats ambling up a hillside and a big male elk grazing for breakfast at the side of the highway. Not as much wildlife as we've seen on previous trips, but this is a little early for most of the beasts to be on duty. Since they're residing in a national park, they must be unionized and don't have to start "work" this early in the day.
We've also crossed the BC - Alberta border and it's time to set our watches ahead an hour, except for my smart cell phone which does so automatically. It's now Thursday morning and we're commited to arriving in Edmonton without stopping for sleep, other than the few minutes we can catch in the passenger seat. I've driven the whole way so far, but it's getting very difficult to keep my eyes focused at this point and any minute now I'll be turning the wheel over to Dean, who's probably had all of 20 minutes sleep so far.
After an hour or so's fitful rest, I awake to find us on the Highway 16A bypass route to get south of Edmonton, in the direction of the race track and hotel in Nisku. We find the hotel easily (had to guess which one it was since neither of us wrote down the name or address and brought it with us), and struck it lucky as they immediately confirmed our reservation and said we could come back at 2pm and check-in. Hmm, looks like it's time for some breakfast.
And the nearest restaurant we can find is the "Pipeline Alley Cafe", just down the road from the hotel. In retrospect, we would have been farther, much farther ahead to have breakfasted at the hotel's Gazebo Cafe. But we turn off into the muddy parking lot, finding a spot between the puddles and entered through the solid steel door - hey, is this starting to look like something we shouldn't be doing? - and enter the cafe.
There's no question as to where the smoking and non-smoking sections are located, as the entire establishment is dedicated to tobacco addicts, but thankfully, only a few are in attendance this morning.
We order up a decent omelette and toast breakfast and are out the door and headed towards the track in short order. No, we didn't add the Pipeline to our fine dining database.
We arrive at the very chilly and very, very windy Budweiser Motorsports Park and drive directly into the pro pits, parking behind the Sitko Funny Car team. They're hard at work trying to secure their pit area, as the awning is threatening to blow away, but the weight of the pickup truck is enough to anchor it for now. After a few minutes to freezing in the breeze, we're invited into the team's motorhome to escape the elements.
At this time we meet the legendary George Sitko (Ken's father and Nathan's grandfather), who's come up for a bit of a visit and to help with the race car while he's here. Our bench racing session barely gets into high gear before it's time to get busy and attend to the day's activities, which for the Sitko team include a media conference, and the installation of a just-arrived AutoMeter datalogger.
Since the team is providing the race car body as a display item for this morning's media conference, we're recruited as temporary crew members to help carry the flopper's body into the media tent. After towing it as close as we can to the tent, it's a bit of a walk with the very heavy fibreglass body into the tent.
While we're waiting for the conference, and the free lunch, to start, we schmooze with the attendees and catch up on the latest gossip with Quick Times publisher Don MacGowan, Funny Car racer Terry McMillen, Top Fuel racer Bruce Litton, and Western RV owner Craig Anstadt.
Surprising us with their appearance are Ron Hodgson and Terry Capp, one of the big stories of last year's event, when Capp came out of retirement and set the crowd on fire with a 319 mph pass in the first round of eliminations. Unfortunately, no such feat is on tap for this weekend as any future racing plans of Capp and Hodgson are currently up in the air.
Finally, the lunch is ready and we dig in before sitting down and listening to a series of speeches by the various important people connected with the event. Behind the podium that they're using, is the logo of the new national lacrosse league expansion team, the Edmonton Rush. Partly owned by the principals of Bud Park, Rob Reeves and Ron Hodgson, the team is set to begin play next season.
The conference begins with IHRA President Aaron Polburn saying all the right things, especially "this race will be here forever". However, the general consensus is that this is a matter very much up for debate.
Next up is Rob Reeves, who apologizes for the weather and thanks the media and the sponsors and mentions that "$750,000 has been spent on asphalt this month alone".
Terry McMillen is next, and the Torco and Amalie-sponsored racer runs through his well practised racing spiel for the "straight" media. He's a good, humourous speaker with a smooth delivery and goes over well.
More racers, including Nathan Sitko, Doug Foley and Bruce Litton follow and all have different speaking styles. Most entertaining of the trio is young Sitko, who comes out with refreshing, but politically incorrect, statements that connect with the insiders. Foley spends the majority of his time talking about his racing school (which is well promoted with a strategically placed school dragster in the back of the tent), and Litton charms everyone with his humble, downhome speaking style.
With the conference over, it's time to take inventory of the arriving racers, watch the antics of the parking crew and various other functionaries and prepare ourselves for the next three days of the Rocky Mountain Nationals.
That's it from move-in and tech day at Budweiser Park; tomorrow we've got the first day of qualifying from the IHRA Rocky Mountain Nationals