Believe it or not, racing folks have lives. Yep, actual lives. Occasionally, just occasionally, they break away from their cars and do other things. Fun things. Cool things. Traveling 250-plus miles per hour down an asphalt strip is just one of the many aspects of their lives.
The problem? Many fans just don’t get to see that side of ‘em. All we see on TV are guys and girls in firesuits and helmets blowing down the track, and it’s easy to think that this is their entire existence, 24/7, 365.
That’s the point of “Getting Off Track”, a column that purposely takes them away from the track to let you see what goes on outside the asphalt, and folks, everyone has a story. Whether it’s a driver, crew chief, tuner, or crew member, cool stories are everywhere.
Included in this group are the members of the Fox 1 Sports broadcasting team, the folks who bring the event to viewers each week. At each and every tour stop, they work themselves silly to bring you the inside scoop, the info-you-need-to-know, the backgrounds of tales you might not be aware of, and in the case of this column’s subject, the history of drag racing.
You might know him as “The Stat Guy”, but he’s actually Lewis Bloom, a native New Yorker and current California resident who has an amazing job, combining his love of racing and history to create stories that interest and amaze viewers each week. Bloom is well-known for his ability to provide drag racing stats, info, history, and details. In short, he’s a walking, talking, digital racing encyclopedia!
But, Lewis also loves baseball. Wait, that’s not even close. He LOVES baseball, and that was easy to see when he agreed to the format of this interview, for at the bottom of his acceptance e-mail was a single sentence, simply stating: “I’m a die-hard Mets fan.”
So, let’s get off the track and out to the diamond with Lewis Bloom!
GOT–Talk about baseball in the Northeast and the incredible interest fans have there for their teams. What is it about that part of the country that creates such passion?
LB–Basically, you grow up in a market where there’s millions of people, and everybody is either a Yankee or a Mets fan. I got it from my father, and within an hour of the New York metropolitan area, you’ve got baseball games all the time. It’s on the news, it’s on the radio, the newspapers. You can’t escape it, so that’s why it’s easy to get involved in. I got involved in baseball when I was a young kid. I saw Willie Mays play at Shea Stadium. I played in the Gil Hodges Little League. You know…Gil Hodges. And, if you hit a homerun, you hit one of the subway cars.
GOT–Talk about your first memory of being a Mets fan. When did you decide, “They’re my team.”?
LB–Well, my dad was a Brooklyn Dodger fan. You know, Ebbets Field, and when “Dem bums” left Brooklyn to move to Chavez Ravine, (Los Angeles) which I can almost walk to now, he became a Mets fan because he hated the Yankees. So, I was exposed to the Mets because of him. There was no choice.
GOT–What age were you?
LB–I was probably five or six.
GOT–Talk about walking into Shea Stadium for the first time.
LB–Well, I was super-young. I remember a lot of concrete. I also remember that you walked around the outside of the building, and you could see the World’s Fair, and LaGuardia Airport was right there. I remember it being kind of chilly, because Shea Stadium, even during the summer, was cold. It was one of those places that never really seemed to get warm.
GOT–When you go to a game, where is your favorite place to sit?
LB–Oh, I would love…I actually sat in the first row, the first permanent seat, center, right behind home plate at Yankee Stadium one time, and I did it with this guy Mike Dunn, who used to be sponsored by the Yankees, which was kind of funny. It was myself, my niece, Mike, and his son, and just to be that close, and really see the pitches, and the crack of the mitt when the pitches came in. You know…Jeter, A-Rod…barely four feet away, and you can really see how big they are, how these guys are incredible athletes. Being that close was amazing. I like the first base side, any place down low enough that you can hear what’s going on in the field. I also like sitting out in the outfield, but I don’t get to do that too often.
GOT–Let’s say you win a contest and get to have lunch with a current Met of your choice. And you get to choose where the two of you will have lunch. Where are you going to eat, who are you going to visit with, and what do you want to talk about?
LB–Well, I would probably want to talk to…Yoenis Cespedes, because he’s a car guy, and he loves crazy-fast supercars, hypercars, and I’d probably want to go to a Cuban restaurant of his choice, because he’s Cuban. I would want to ask him what it was like growing up in Cuba, you know, with probably very little in terms of resources, and now being one of the highest-paid baseball players in the game, and how that has changed him, if it’s changed him, and what that would be like to have that experience.
GOT–Let’s say you’re a manager building an expansion baseball team. What are the initial pieces you think you will need to start a successful club?
LB–(Immediately) Pitching. Pitching. To me it’s all about pitching. deGrom, (Jacob) Syndergaard (Noah), great closers, you know. The Yankees have some great closers, and pretty reliable four or five guys in the rotation. They don’t have to be lights-out, they just gotta get to do five to six innings.
GOT–You’re known as “The Stat Guy.” Where do you stand on analytics? How do you feel it impacts the game on a daily basis?
LB–Well, I kind of not a fan of it, because sometimes I’m like, “Why did he do that?” Sometimes I like when a manager just goes by feel. Like, I feel that on some days, this guy would be a better matchup…you know, they go by all those numbers that say, “You know, so-and-so can only hit righties this many times” or, “This guy’s only a low-ball pitcher or a high-ball pitcher” and I think it’s kind of ruining it for me in terms of knowing that those matchups are always going to happen, that they go by that book. I like when my manager doesn’t do that. I do like when the broadcasters talk about it and say, “This is what the book says. This is what the analytics say.”
GOT–What is your favorite baseball movie?
LB–Bull Durham, probably. I really love that movie, and The Natural. I mean, Robert Redford was great. I mean…oh, The Jackie Robinson movie was fantastic. It was about Jackie Robinson and what he went through…you know, Walter O’ Malley, the whole Brooklyn Dodgers. Part of my life.
GOT–OK, clubhouse chemistry. How much does it matter?
LB–Oh. Huge…huge. I think you need a clubhouse with people who motivate people, people who know when to come over and say, “Hey, you’ll do better tomorrow.” I think the clubhouse has to be…you know, they live together 162 games a year, plus spring training and hopefully the playoffs. They need to be able to have a good relationship.
GOT–Sometimes when reporters talk to the players about analytics, the players often look at them as if to say, “Huh? I don’t even understand what you’re talking about!”
LB–Well, I think a good baseball player just goes up there and does his job. You don’t have to tell him much. I mean, pitchers should learn what the other players are capable of, like, “This guy’s a good lowball hitter”, but any professional baseball player…that’s their job, they’re going to know that. I don’t think they have to be taught that much at this point.
GOT–Designated hitter or not?
LB–(Immediately and emphatically) Oh. Totally horrible. Hate it. I’m a National League guy, 100 percent.
GOT–You’ve been chosen to be Commissioner of Baseball. What are your first two decisions?
LB–Wow. That’s a great question. Well, you can’t get rid of the designated hitter. That’s never going to happen. You know, the Players’ Union would have an issue with that, based on the American League. But…wow. I don’t know. I think the game’s pretty much perfect, though I’m not a fan of the one-game playoff to get in. Not a fan of that. I think I would change that. I would basically go back to the three teams that win the divisions and the best team that doesn’t, the one wild card. And that’s it. I would get rid of the one-game playoff.
GOT–What does the game look like in ten years?
LB–Hopefully it’s still diverse. Hopefully it’s fast. I really love watching a team that has speed, which the Mets do not. They’re as slow as molasses. I like a real speed game, stealing bases, bunting. The grand slam home run is the best, but the suicide squeeze is just as exciting to me.
GOT–Do you collect any type of memorabilia at all?
LB–Well, actually I do have a couple of Mets baseball cards. They’re in the box right now (His actual cards are below in a container Lewis carries with him on the road) because I’m mad at the Mets because they got pummeled last night. And I actually have a Matt Harvey card, and Matt Harvey got shelled. It’s sad to say, but I think “The Dark Knight” is no longer, and it’s a shame. But I have a Keith Hernandez and Mookie Wilson card. I carry them with me at every race. I have them right back there (Points back to a container) in my little travel box.
GOT–Have you ever been to the Hall of Fame?
LB–No! I would love to go.
GOT–If you were to go, what single item would you most want to see?
LB–(Immediately) Anything related to Babe Ruth. Babe Ruth is just…his greatness and his swagger, and the gloves they used, the bat. I actually have a drag racing story at the next race that involves Yogi Berra, because one of the race cars that I talk about at my “Night At The Museum” piece was sponsored by Yoo-Hoo beverage, and when they approved the contract to spend the money on the racecar, Yogi Berra was on the Board of Directors. He had to sign off on it. I love Yogi Berra. You know, the Yankees have the history so you can’t ignore that. I might hate the Yankees like nothing else, but ultimately their history you can’t deny.
GOT–What three other stadiums would you like to visit?
LB–I’ve never been to Fenway, which is a crime since I lived in the Northeast. I’ve been to a lot of stadiums. I’ve been to Wrigley. I can basically walk to Dodger Stadium. I like San Francisco. I’d like to go to the stadium here in Houston, I’ve never done that. So, there’s a couple. Oh, and Kansas City I’d like to go to also.
GOT–Talk about the San Francisco stadium. What’s it like?
LB–Well, it’s typically chilly, but if you go there on a beautiful day it’s amazing. It’s a great stadium, it’s got a great view, you can see the whole Bay. And the fans! The fans are really knowledgeable, die-hard baseball fans, and that’s what I really respond to. The more knowledgeable fans are, the more into it or passionate they are, even though I’m the other team, I’m OK with that.
GOT–Talk about a game in history that you wish you had been able to attend.
LB–Ummm, that would be the “Bill Buckner Ball Goes Through The Legs-Mookie Wilson Ground Ball Game of 1986”, thank you. (Big laugh–Buckner, the Red Sox first baseman, is remembered for a ground ball hit by Wilson that went through Buckner’s legs, allowing the Mets to score and win Game Six of the 1986 World Series and eventually win the Series over the Red Sox) And I have the photo signed by both of Buckner and Mookie hanging up on my wall at home.
GOT–Name a player, either living or non-living, that you would want to sit and watch a game with.
LB–Wow. Probably…and on the bench, too?
GOT–On the bench.
LB–Probably Willie Mays. Yeah. I’m a huge Willie Mays fan. Or probably Hank Aaron. Either one.
GOT–What would either of them bring that causes them to be your choices?
LB–I just think it’s what they went through. I mean, Jackie Robinson, too. Any one of those would be fine in terms of sitting there. Also, I think sitting next to a catcher, though, and talking about pitching…I’ve actually talked to Randy Johnson (Hall of Fame pitcher) about baseball. The “Big Unit.” He used to come to the drag races and one time I finally broke down and…he doesn’t want to be bothered because he’s at the races taking pictures of drag racing cars, but I found a way to talk to him. He loves rock and roll photos, and I had photographed a lot of bands, so I showed him some pictures, and that broke the ice. And then he goes, “What’s your favorite team?” and I said, “I’m a die-hard Mets fan”, so we talked about deGrom, Syndergaard, Harvey. He was amazing. He’s super-cool, because I realized that I had something he liked, that he respected. He liked my photographs, and I have a picture that I took of Bruce Springsteen that I took 40-something years ago, and he really loved it, so that broke the ice, and we started talking baseball.
GOT–Have you seen Springsteen on Broadway?
GOT–Talk about it.
LB–It’s an incredible…you laugh, you cry. His voice sounds amazing in the theatre. It’s completely engaging. It’s very emotional, and for me, since I grew up in the very next town from where he grew up, he’s talking about where I grew up, you know? It’s things I relate to, places I’ve been to.
GOT–Is Bruce a baseball fan also?
LB–Oh yeah! “Glory Days.” (Springsteen song) All you gotta do is listen to that song.