It was a strange sight for me last month when I got up at daybreak and saw the sun starting to come through the east window of my double-wide trailer.
As confusing as it looked to me to see this (I was under the impression that the sun came up in the west, as that is where I usually see it when I get up), I knew I had to get out of my bean bag bed and get ready to head over to my car owner Donnie Kleven’s house in Stoughton, Wis.
Why? To begin that special January journey to Tulsa, Okla., and the biggest winter event in the whole free world: the Chili Bowl.
This would be the 34th annual Chili Bowl, although there were actually 35 races in the “House that Emmett and Lanny Built.” The first year they held a race there in December before the inaugural Chili Bowl.
I have spent exactly half of my life going to this sacred palace, and for me it involves a lot of preliminary planning and packing before I can leave.
Weeks before the event, I begin the process of treating my original and unique Brent “Hurricane” Holden-designed T-shirts with the asbestos and lead lining.
This expensive and time-consuming process involves a minimum of two weeks for my three shirt specialists – Robert Bell, Honest Jack Olson and Johnny Murdock – to properly apply the ingredients in the special fabric of these shirts.
In addition to all this work, this year’s shirts offered and included another unique quality that the Munchkin Man himself, Mike Fedorchak, designed and developed: a uranium collar that doesn’t allow any yellowing and fends off mosquitoes and cicadas.
With the T-shirts finally done and boxed, I then began my extensive packing, which involves selecting my wardrobe sent to me by the one man who has been my mentor for over a half-century, “The Bopper” Steve Stapp.
This year, the Bopper selected attire for the week that included my Rico Abreu mullet hat and my snappy and neatly-pressed trench coat, complete with the finest jewelry and watches direct from Tiffany’s of Columbus, Ind. (where former USAC midget star Tony Stewart has gotten all of his engagement rings).
Also, in my extensive wardrobe, The Bopper included one of his very own signature flannel shirts, which I proudly wore the entire 1/36th of the year that I was on Tulsa time last month.
Finally, I loaded my fake arm into my suitcase to throw on the track hoping to get a yellow if needed, 14 boxes of stink bombs, 83 rubber nuts, my devoted monkey with the Bob Tattersall button pinned on its chest, and my red and blue bandannas, goggles and open-face helmet, which has kept me safe through all 34 Chili Bowls.
I know Kyle Larson must go through the same basic drill as me, and believe it is just one of the pieces of the puzzle making it possible to win the Chili Bowl.
So, with all the packing done and loaded, I headed out in the early morning rain with a dollar in my hand. I rolled the windows down to keep awake for the tiring 12-mile ride to Donnie’s famous mink farm, where he herds over a hundred head of cattle and raises close to 150 mink annually, which is currently Wisconsin’s largest mink farm.
When I finally arrived at Donnie’s some 15 minutes later, I found Donnie and famous longtime car owner and mechanic Harlan Kittleson sitting in the truck and rig ready to head off on our 13-hour cross country adventure.
Due to a lack of sleep from getting up in the middle of the night to leave, I suggested Donnie drive the first leg of 20 or 30 miles so that I could get just a few moments of sleep, promising I’d finish driving the rest of the way.
I crawled into the back seat of the truck and somehow immediately fell asleep (a trait Stan Fox taught me years ago when it was time to drive) and when I woke up, we were some 300 miles away in St. Louis getting gas.
I dozed off briefly and was awakened by the truck rocking back and forth and being pelted by rain in Rolla, Mo., which I later found out was actually a tornado.
When my suggestion that Donnie drive on the shoulder of the road the rest of the way to eliminate the bumps I felt in the back seat while I was sleeping fell on deaf ears, I decided to get up and finish our ride awake and alert.
The Chili Bowl week now extends to 10 days, as we leave on Friday to get there in time to load in on Saturday before starting the racing on Monday night.
With close to 350 cars entered this year, loading in was an all-day event with the big trailers with multiple cars in them. I have proposed to Emmett Hahn that he only allow open trailers to pit indoors next year so we can play basketball and have butt dart tournaments like we did in the early days.
He said that this is what’s going to happen next year. Enclosed trailers will be allowed in the parking lot and you still can work out of them. Also, Emmett has hired me to direct parking of the trailers. I am going to institute a shotgun start. You can race to any desired spot in the pits, which will cut the load in time to approximately 34 minutes.
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