Back in elementary school I had this buddy named Eddie. A total goofball. Always joking, poking fun at everything…the guy was a constant laugh riot. So, one day he walks into class and it’s obvious he’s been crying. At first, we all thought he was trying to play another of his patented practical jokes on us, but after about 30 minutes it became obvious that something was up.
Our teacher noticed this and visited with him privately outside the classroom doors. Immediately we could tell his mood improved. Later on the playground, I walked over and asked him, “Dude, what happened?”, expecting him to share something traumatic, like the death of a family member or a beloved pet. “Aww…it was nothing” he replied, “This morning my mom spanked me because I put white plastic vampire teeth on my sister’s Yorkie. I thought it looked cool, but my sister got really ticked off. Later, my mom said that if I kept doing goofy things like that, Santa was gonna bring me a box of rocks for Christmas. I hope she was kidding, but she was really mad!”
Two months later, all was forgotten. Santa brought the bike Eddie had begged for and life was good. But that one horrible day, all he could think about was what might have been under the tree.
Today, he’s still a goofball. But, I love the guy. He keeps me laughing constantly.
But you gotta admit, the thought of getting a box of rocks under the tree would’ve been pretty dang traumatic for most of us. Seriously…rocks? After the initial shock, what could we have done with ‘em? At least they wouldn’t have needed batteries…anyway, just don’t tell Lanny Miglizzi that story. He might look at you and ask, “Really? That would’ve been a heckuva gift. I would’ve LOVED that!”
Lanny Miglizzi. Nope, he’s not a geologist or petrologist, but the dude loves to study roads that can be created from, you got it, rocks! More specifically, the 1000-foot kind, the type found at drag strips across the country. Known as the “Track Whisperer” in NHRA circles, Lanny is a track specialist for John Force Racing, an asphalt savant who spends his weekends on the Mello Yello Tour surrounded by the constant deafening blasts from 10,000 horsepower, nitro-fueled Funny Cars and Top Fuel rides. His passion? To gather data from every square inch of the track, then to pass that information along to drivers and crew chiefs in the Force camp in hopes of gaining every possible advantage over their opponents.
You might be thinking, “Seriously. It’s a race track, a paved asphalt road. It’s flat, it’s straight…what else do drivers need to know?” Actually, every track on the Tour has it’s very own secrets and story to tell, and to learn everything about those tales, someone has to be willing to listen.
As it turns out, Miglizzi loves hearing what each track has to say. Nope, it’s not a matter of simply walking the lanes to look for wear and tear, but much like a detective, Lanny digs much deeper, using a wide range of tools carried on the belt that circles his waist, including a radio to keep in constant communication with the crews in the pit area, multiple gauges to measure track temperature, a homemade map specifically created for each track detailing every possible nook and cranny in and on the lanes, a pair of binoculars, and even a camera to take close-up shots of the residue left after a car has launched. Finally, Miglizzi carries a small notebook, one so valuable that he ties it to the ever-present black pants he wears. Full of notes and sketches, this prized document details his thoughts and suggestions regarding the track for that particular weekend. Complete with page after page of drawings with measurements taken, he’s gathered a wealth of information that goes back for many years, all designed to give his drivers every possible advantage over their opponents. He’s even been observed on raceday mornings, all by himself, lying prone on the track, viewing the length of the lanes with his trusted binoculars, trying to find any possible imperfections.
His career as a “concrete communicator” and his connection with the NHRA evolved from his previous vocation, one in which he built clutches for racers with his dad Tony. Occasionally, drivers expressed concerns that the parts were inconsistent, but true to his inquisitive nature, Lanny became convinced that the real culprit was actually the tracks themselves, so he began studying the lanes and creating measurements to answer his questions and prove his beliefs. His efforts paid off in 2001, when he was hired as a “track consultant and clutch guru” by none other than the legendary Don Schumacher.
To accomplish his goals means putting in the extra hours necessary, and Miglizzi takes those experiences seriously. “I get here before anyone else to have the eight or ten hours to lie down and look on the track for imperfections, which anyone can do, but you just have to take the time”, adding, “I’m just trying to get the lay of the land. Actually being able to touch the track is important.”
His efforts have been noticed and widely praised by drag racing’s elite, as drivers, crew chiefs, and even team owners comment that Lanny’s efforts give them notes “…from any track at any point in the year. He’s invaluable to us.”
Whether you want to call it “lane language”, “track talk”, or “asphalt articulation”, Miglizzi loves everything related to rock, and nowhere is this passion more apparent than in a story shared by writer extraordinaire Susan Wade, whose thoughtfulness towards Lanny created a moment in time she will always remember.
Wade recalls that, “In January of 2004, racing legends Bucky Austin and Dick Kalivoda manned the heavy machinery and ripped up the first 700 feet of the dragstrip at Pacific Raceways, near Seattle. They were helping make way for a new racing surface, and man, it was a huge pile of rubble when they were done.”
She adds, “Just for fun, I grabbed two or three jagged pieces from the mess, thinking I’d give them to Lanny at the next race as a goofy little gift. I thought he’d get a kick out of that. I figured he’d laugh, then toss them away.”
However, Wade was taken back by Miglizzi’s response. “When I presented these non-descript chunks of useless, old, rubber-encrusted asphalt, Lanny’s eyes got as huge as clutch plates and this giddy grin broke out on his sweet, dirty face.”
With an look resembling a 10-year-old who had just received two tickets to the World Series, or the largest chocolate chip cookie from the bakery case, Miglizzi responded with boyish awe, “Oooooh…could I have it? I’m going to put this on the shelf with the others.”
Puzzled, Wade thought, “The others?”
Yep, as it turns out, Lanny has a cross-country concrete and asphalt collection composed of dragstrips from Sonoma to Indianapolis. Who woulda thunk it?
Then again, this passion for pavement makes sense. Miglizzi crawls on it, measures it, smells it, rubs his hands over it, and films it, making every effort to go the extra quarter mile and give the JFR team even the slightest advantage. It’s a truly dirty job, but Lanny’s just gotta do it…and he loves every moment. Best of all, he’s paving the way for JFR team safety and success!
Hey…remember my buddy Eddie? Just the threat of receiving a box of rocks for Christmas made him cry in despair. Had that been Lanny Miglizzi, he might’ve jumped for joy!