Motorsports Recap And Behind The Scenes Access

Livin’ The Wild Life At “The Zoo”–It’s The Recliner Report!


Stop #17–The Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, Brainerd International Raceway, Brainerd, Minnesota

So, you sit down to watch a little TV. You’ve got the drink in hand, some snacks ready to roll, then, you flip ‘er on. Next, the show begins, and moments later a smile crosses your face, ’cause it’s easy to realize that this show…well, it’s gonna be epic. What gives it away? Simple. You know you’re in for a full-on freakout of a program when, after coming back from a commercial, you see a stuffed deer head sticking out of a school bus. Or, you watch racing fans compete in nighttime “Runaway Rickshaw” contests, complete with an electric-powered Christmas tree to begin each head-to-head matchup. Yep, welcome to Brainerd, Minnesota, home of “The Zoo”, a playground for racing fans outside the gates of Brainerd International Raceway and the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals. Yeah, you just thought the NHRA “Nitro Circus” was nuts. Man, allz ya gotta do is add “The Zoo” and you’ve got epic and total insanity, and also one heckuva way to spend a Sunday afternoon watching Fox 1 Sports coverage of the 37th running of this event on the 2018 Mello Yello tour!

By the way, there was also some drag racing on the side, ya know, just to keep things interesting, and in this installment of the “Recliner Report”, we’ll detail a giant Jack Beckman helmet sighting, a duel to the death (Well, sorta) at the finish line with REAL swords, and witness a monstrous, man-sized mosh like Brainerd’s never seen! Let’s get on the throttle!

GIMME TWO T’S FROM TEXAS—The boys from Tejas brought a Lone Star-sized one-two punch in Top Fuel qualifying, as Billy Torrence, followed by son Steve, became the first father and son in history to begin Elimination Day in the top two spots. Also, this was Billy’s first-ever visit to Brainerd. Just wonderin’…you think he and Steve visited “The Zoo”? Nah. Them there Texas dudes don’t like to have fun at all…said no one ever…

I LOVES ME SOME NITRO—Chris Karamasines is a stud. He’s over 85 years young and still bringing the nitro. Nope, he’s not at every tour stop, and he was sent to the trailer after being defeated in Round One in Brainerd, but when “The Greek” brings it, look out, ‘cause the dude means biz. A lot of folks half his age are just lookin’ for a La-Z-Boy, but Karamasines is searching for a 300-plus mile-per-hour thrill ride. Nothing but epic.

HE’S GOT THE GIFT—A Round One slugfest between Top Fuelers Mike Salinas and Doug Kalitta ended with a Salinas victory, along with the introduction of a new racing term courtesy of Fox behind-the-mic dude extraordinaire Dave Rieff. Following a race featuring both drivers bringing their slightly out-of-hand rides under control while at max speed heading towards the finish line, Reiff labeled the pair’s efforts, “Synchronized Sliding.” Lotsa folks lose their cookies in the middle of a slight skid down an icy driveway, much less going 300-plus. The Rieffer paints pictures with words. Sweet.

WHAD YA SAY?—Tim Wilkerson took out John Force in first-round Funny Car action…at Brainerd…for the third consecutive time the duo have dueled at Brainerd. The third. Here’s bettin’ the next time Force sees the pair lined up at the same Minnesota track, he thinks to himself, “DBggnh@&#@vrghffh#@!&mlohfggghykitfdefvt@!!!”  In “Force Talk”, that means, “Phooey.” Sort of.

THAT’S WHAT YOU CALL A DROUGHT—OK, so let’s say that you have a job, I dunno, racing cars. And for 14 years straight, you bring that car out several times a year and race it against other folks who like to race cars. But, in those 14 years, you win only once. One time. Uno. One less than two. So, after a couple of years, you might be a little bit, well, frustrated. Several years later without a victory, you might feel sorta hot under the hood. But, fourteen years down the road, still winless, you’re wondering if taking up professional croquet is your life’s calling. Seriously…fourteen years with no wins at all! It’s just gotta drive some folks over the edge. But, don’t tell Fernando Cuandra that story and expect any sympathy whatsoever. Not even a little bit. The Pro Stocker from Mexico, after 14 years of not winning even a single round in an NHRA event, defeated Bo Butner (Or Bob Utner—the staffers aren’t sure) in first round action. Man, in today’s world where kids get participation ribbons for simply taking part in a sneezing contest, it’s pretty dang cool to watch a guy with such perseverance. Can we get Fernando a ribbon or somethin’? Dude deserves it!

YEP, IT TOOK AWHILE, BUT…–Another winless streak ended Sunday, as Mark Hogan took his first Pro Stock victory ever following 23 previous attempts after his defeat of Chris McGaha. Folks at the starting line thought trouble might be brewin’ for McGaha when he didn’t attempt a pre-race burnout. Turns out the whispers became a reality, and Hogan celebrated for the first time ever. Them there hot rods can be finicky at times, and McGaha’s ride was the proof.

CAN’T WE JUST ALL GET ALONG? YEP, WE CAN–Four additional names were added to the Pro Stock category in the Countdown, as Jeg Coughlin, Tanner Gray, Erica Enders, and Vincent Nobile all added their John Hancocks to the board. Before sticking their individual nameplates to the display, each driver signed his or her card, and guess who shared a Sharpie? Yup, Erica and Tanner, two folks who previously haven’t exactly been in the “Let’s Share Recipes Club” with each other, took turns using the marker to first autograph their cards. Sounds like a small thing, but it’s cool to see that hard-charging competitors can leave differences behind and be pros when it counts. Makes for better racing, yeah?

A VERY POINTED CONVERSATION–On the “Walk 1000 Feet” segment with Amanda Busick, we learned that Pro Stocker Deric Kramer was sitting in a cockpit at the age of five months. Nah, the dude wasn’t slammin’ gears, but sitting in his dad’s lap, and needless to say, he learned the biz at an early age. A part-time racer, he makes his living as an IOS Application Engineer for Apple, which translated means he designs apps. Currently, his favorite is Blinker, one which is utilized to buy and sell used cars. He stated that after hearing of the burnout competition that will be taking place at the upcoming U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, his first thought was, “Aww, I’m going to win that. Absolutely.” Outside the lanes, he loves to take part in Historical Fencing, and no, we’re not talking about the type of fencing that keeps the neighbor’s kids from launching soccer balls into your yard. Instead, Kramer was introduced to the sport by a friend who owned a hobby store who just happened to mention, “Hey, we fight with swords on Thursdays in the park. Wanna come out?” Well…shazam! Deric, an instant convert, quickly signed on. Finally, after being asked to demonstrate his victory dance for any future wins, Kramer donned a fencing mask, handed Amanda a full-sized sword of her own, picked up his own weapon, and proceeded to demonstrate his skills for all. Busick, though laughing, backed away quickly as she she ended the segment. Let’s hope no one ever has a beef with Kramer, ’cause with his sword skills, well…he’s pretty sharp. (I know…that’s a really bad joke…) At this point, four staffers rolled off the couch and bolted for the snack food table, quickly grabbed and unwrapped one Twinkie apiece, and pretended to be Kramer as they fast food jousted against each other in the light of the big screen. Each match ended with one competitor receiving a cream-filled slash to the chest, immediately wasting a perfectly good dessert . Those guys need to take some kind of pill, but I’m not sure there’s one large enough. Goobers, I tell ya.

SOMEONE’S GOTTA WIN, BUT...–Racers gotta have a killer instinct on Eliminations Day. Once you’re on the starting line, there are no buddies, pals, friends, compadres, etc. So, what happens when your opponent just happens to be…your wife? Just guessing the word might be...”Yikes.” So, when Matt Smith went head-to-head with wife Angie in Round Two Pro Bike action, we knew someone had to win the race, but also remembered that the pair also had to go home together at the end of the day. Ouch. Following Angie’s victory, she was glad to be moving on, while Matt was slightly underwhelmed by what he called, “A bad deal on my part in the clutch. Something in the clutch.” But, you’ve gotta give the pair big props for being pros. Angie, though glad to head off to the semifinals, admitted that celebrating was tough, while Matt shouldered the blame for his loss. Cool to watch folks who know how to act like pros, even under the most challenging of circumstances.

THIS HEAD HAS IT’S OWN ZIP CODE–Following Jack Beckman’s win over Courtney Force in the Funny Car semis, a fan wearing a gigantically humongous Beckman helmet was shown on camera flashing the two-pronged (Index and pinky finger both pointed up) sign of “rock and roll”, which was Giant Headed Dude’s way of saying, “I, the dude with the giant Beckman head, give my blessing to Jack and his valiant race day efforts.” (Actually, he was just saying, “Yeah! Sweet! Epic! Killer!” in Beckman’s honor for the win.) Anyway, this tickled announcer Dave Rieff’s funnybone, causing him to reference a similar character in the amazing comedy, “Spaceballs.” If you have seen it, you dig Rieff’s reference, but if not, you gotta watch the flick. An instant classic.

OK, SO WHEN’S IT GONNA BE?–The Pro Bike final featured an all-Harley final, and following Eddie Krawiec’s win over Andrew Hines, and earning his fourth win of the season, Eddie announced that he and his wife are expecting a boy. Great news, but Krawiec also mentioned that the newest kiddo is expected during the week of Pomona. Oof. Eddie’s gotta be hopin’ that maybe the little dude will either be a tiny bit early or maybe even a slightly later arrival. Staffers immediately starting taking bets, determining that that the person who misses the date by the largest margin has to eat salad everyday for a week. Salads? They’re healthy. Staffers? As far as they’re concerned, healthy is a vulgar word. This betting pool is gonna get weird…

A GOLD WALLY, ORANGE-COLORED FINGERS–Deric Kramer’s win in the Pro Stock final over Tanner Gray was his second of the season after Gray lit up that nasty little red light, immediately ending any chance he had of taking home the Wally. But, a sense of disappointment overtook the staffers when Kramer didn’t pull out the swords in celebration, as Twinkies that were at the ready to imitate Kramer’s swordfight (Remember his “1000-Foot Walk” victory dance promise?) had to remained wrapped. Oh well. They drowned their sorrows by plowing through two bags of Cheetohs…

SURE, THIS TROPHY IS NICE, BUT…–“Fast Jack” Beckman’s win over Tommy Johnson, Jr. in the Funny Car final, his second of the season, resulted in another epic shot of Giant Helmet Head Dude clapping for the winner, with the sight causing Dave Rieff to laugh in mid-sentence. Beckman needs to take this person to Indy for some “Giant Head” mojo. Hey, it can’t hurt! As always, Beckman was gracious in his top end interview, thanking everyone but himself for the win. While referring to the Wally as, “Just a 12-pound chunk of metal”, Jack thanked Johnson, Jr., team owner Don Schumacher, and all their sponsors for changing lives for those less fortunate. Dang. Nothing but cool.

WORDS CAN’T DESCRIBE THE SCENE–One word: Major League, massive, no-holds-barred, monstrous MOSH! OK, that was eight words, but a single group of letters can’t begin to describe the starting line beatdown that took place among “Them CAPCO boys” following Billy Torrence’s 38 ten-thousandth of a second (22 inches) victory over Antron Brown in the Top Fuel final. Simply put, it was legendary. Bodies were flying, slamming, jamming, pushing, shoving, and pummeling, as crew members descended on some poor soul who was simply hammered to the asphalt in celebration. After the chaos ended, the bottom feeder was determined to be none other than Billy’s son Steve, who picked himself up off the black turf feeling no ill effects. Momma Kay, the family matriarch, smartly stood away for safety reasons. Far, far away. We’re betting Steve’s glad to know the next event doesn’t take place for two weeks. The dude’s gotta have some time to peel off all of the ground-in asphalt that covered him following the mega-mosh!

Dang, what a stellar show! We witnessed the craziness of “The Zoo”, the NHRA Nitro Circus, sword fights, and finally, a gigantic Jack Beckman head. Seems like it was way beyond insanity, but truthfully, it was just another stop in Brainerd. But, there’s no letting up, ’cause in two weeks, we’ve got…”The Big Go.” Yep, it’s U.S. Nationals time, and Indy is gonna deliver. Till then, keep reclining!



Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: