So, this will kind of be like an old Beatles song, you know the ones where they would split the thing and made a bookended piece, great songs. But I digress. Anyhow, let me ask you a question while your sitting here looking at the site with your cup of coffee or beer in your hand. Is there a much better feeling than heading off to a new track you’ve never been to? Didn’t think so. That sense of anticipation of going into uncharted territory, well at least to you because you’ve never seen it, feels like a natural high every time you go someplace new.
So what is presented here, is the timeline so to speak, of a journey I took earlier this week, and an inside look about what it’s like to work here at TDN when we’re actually on the road which is a rare treat for some of us. There’s something here for everyone, we’re all pretty much dirt addicts, and I happen to love talking to dirt addicts. If you should stumble upon this and just want to see racing thoughts and musings, you can skip to the middle, I’ll tell you all about the Super DIRTCar Series event won by Mr. Stewart Friesen and what I observed. But, when you’re travelling out of your area, and especially to a new place, getting there is half the fun, and it should be, even if you’re driving by yourself!
The scene opens in Pittsburgh, PA on a bright and sunny Tuesday morning. Ransomville, NY is the destination, the site of the Alex Friesen Summer Nationals:
11:52 am: After a morning of doing some homework on the race to take place later on that night, followed by some packing and a hot shower, I stop by to pick up provisions and make a trip to the bank. It’s gorgeous outside, I can’t wait to get up there and see my Canadian brother from another mother, Frank Iudiciani, a staff member here at TDN that I’ve known since the TDN hashtag days. Yes, before we were a website, we were #thedirtnetwork on twitter formed in the summer of 2011. If you look up the history of that hashtag, you’ll see some interesting stuff for sure. Frank was part of that, and serves in several different capacities now. Anyhow, here’s the basic list of provisions:
1 Digital Camera
1 Cell Phone
1 Pack of Gum- It’s wintergreen, some kind of gum, I have no idea who the hell made it and could care less generally speaking. Gum is gum, end of story.
1 media bag with Toshiba laptop, charger..etc
35 TDN Decals
1 paper notebook and several pens in case electricity fails and I still feel like writing.
1 case of beer (Great Lakes Assorted) for Frank
Enough clothes to last for three days even though I’m staying over night (be prepared)
1 Sweet Ice Tea, 20 oz
1 Full Tank of Gas
Toothpaste and stuff (like stuff you need to get ready in the morning, I don’t feel the need to list everything, stuff’s kind of personal and of course hand lotion is included in stuff!)
1 Saint Christopher’s Medallion even though I’m not the slightest bit Catholic…I lose stuff and need the help!
Okay so it’s not a real roady if you’re not into some tunes somewhere along the line. Most of us have our own special playlists we use on the way to the track. But for new road trips, I recommend Sirius Satellite Radio which most of us probably have. A roady is the perfect time to search out new stuff and keep adding to your play list, so I breakout the preset channels. (First one of you that laughs at my stations is going to get lashes with a wet noodle) Next to each station, is a song I actually heard on it during the drive either up or down that stood out for one reason or another. It’s kind of like making a soundtrack for your journey, one that you’ll remember for as long as you remember your trip!
60’s on 6: The Animals: “It My Life”
70’s on 7: Chicago: “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is”
80’s on 8: The Art Of Noise: “Peter Gunn Theme Featuring Duane Eddy”
Margaritavile: Jimmy Buffet: “Southern Cross-LIVE”
Classic Rewind: The Black Crows: “Jealous Again”
Classic Vinyl: Led Zeppelin “Misty Mountain Hop”
Deep Tracks: The Allman Brothers “Mountain Jam from Fillmore East”
The Spectrum: The Band “The Weight”
Lithium: Tool “Forty Six and Two”
11:55 am: Onto I-79, there’s 252 miles to go before I see Ransomville. Let’s get this bitch in gear!
12:45 pm: So far so good except that it’s orange barrel season and people have no idea how to drive, took three slidejobs from cars in the slow lane that ducked underneath me to get one spot ahead before a merge point. As soon as lane closure comes to an end, I re-pass them and never see them again, was it really worth it for them? I’m near I 80 just past the Grove City Outlets, home to a million stores that sell irregular crap at just less than full retail prices parading as a tourist destination. I decide not to stop, who needs more crap in their house, I’d rather have a mind full of race memories than a house full of crap!
1:45 pm: I stop to check the cell phone, we have a locker room at TDN on our twitter page that only TDN correspondents can use and we can all talk in. It’s funny stuff most of the time and banter and sick jokes and gifs, I love it and the correspondents that make the chatter so lively. But once in a while somebody says something useful. Our own Kyle Symons has just informed me that he’s finished a great piece on the Prairie Dirt Classic he was working on, just needs proofed and published. I really don’t have time to do it justice, to really read it and pay attention so I have to put it off. I’m starting to get hungry, forgot to get breakfast and previous lunch plans had to be changed. The iced tea is gone. I should probably stop for a bite, but want to keep going and get there as soon as I can, maybe if I can get to Angola, NY before 3, I’ll eat.
|I got kicked off this piano|
2:32 pm: Holy s—! Got to Angola quicker than I’d thought! Decide to stop and get grub, Moe’s Southwestern Grill. There’s a Piano in the lobby, it’s playing with itself. For a joke, I climb over the pink ropes surrounding it, sit down at the bench, and act like I’m playing it much to the delight of onlookers at the various food court stations until security tells me to get off it! Scumbags! Pick up a bottle water at the newsstand while in line, a 60 year old lady reaches in the cooler and picks up a bottle and walks right out of the store with it! Nobody says a word, she never even thought of paying for it! I wasn’t about to turn her in, her skin looked dehydrated! It’s only water for Christ sake. Anticipation for race is building! I’m actually going to see the likes of Sheppard, Friesen, Tomkins, Hearn, and others without having to go to Charlotte!!
4:00 pm: Having gone through all the tolls and driving past Buffalo, I’m at Niagara falls, route 104 off of I 190. The approach has begun. I’d seen most of the terrain through the trip due to several hockey related trips over the years and my grandparents lived in the Niagara region for years, (North Tonawanda), but I’d never seen the area north of it before. It’s quite picturesque, some rolling hills, and then farmland with a smattering of nice looking houses. Plenty of corn too! The area looks very dry though, browned out. I notice a perfectly good John Deere tractor in somebody’s yard, a decent sized one with a flat tire. Then I start to get worried, like I’d made a wrong turn. I’m not seeing a sign. Decide to turn on google maps. One four way stop after another…and then…I see the sign!
|Skiz and Frop (Heeman and Iudiciani)|
4:30 pm: Arrive at Ransomville and find a good parking spot. Contact Frank and we meet up with a friend of his named AJ, a 21 year old guy that looks a bit diminutive, but actually works security at Oshweken Speedway and is personably responsible for multiple apprehensions of belligerent fans by use of his hands!!! I sure as hell wouldn’t mess with him. I check in at the pit pass window and take a pit walk, meet up with Mat Williamson and then say hello to sportsman modified driver and friend Greg Martin who was the first ever Niagara driver I ever did a feature story on. Greg helped get the ball rolling for the RUSH sportsman series and has been a fixture in the area for years. I give him some decals, maybe they’ll bring him a little luck! Back to pits with Frank and AJ to drink some beers before the race. Always great to have pre race beers and race memory exchange with dear friends! Find seat in the grandstands to the left of the flag stand! Great seats!
5:45 pm: Place looks phenomenal! There’s even a jumbotron in the infield! It’s kind of got a slight fairground feel to it behind the grandstands, there’s open spaces to run and play, several kids engage in pre race football, and looks charming with multiple concessions and a beer stand operating. I’m informed that I’ll need to change my large bills for singles, something I normally only do if I’m anticipating going to a…., anyhow. I meet up with another friend as Sean Robertson and his girlfriend have joined the company. Sean is the Merrittville videographer and has been to Lernerville a few times over the years. Always a pleasure to see him. We exchange decals and grab a grilled chicken dinner courtesy of the local volunteer fire department, yummy! As track prep goes on, I hear a Genesis song for the first time ever at a dirt track!! I record the historic moment on my cell, look for the video on my facebook page! Should be a fantastic night of racing. There’s stocks, sportsman mods and SDS tour action under crystal clear skies, no threat of rain, and a stout field of cars…..now about that..
Alex Friesen Summer Nationals Thoughts and Musings
Yep, Friesen won. For once I actually called it beforehand (Ask Frank for verification). It just seemed like there was no way he was getting out of this two race stretch without a win. It was an awesome race, multiple grooves, still some bite left in different areas, and some passing, but not due to mismatched cars, this was a different kind of passing, like the type you have to earn with focus and a little studying on how best to go about it. Calculated passing. I kept waiting for Friesen to put it up top and get to work, and after some feeling out in the first 30 laps, he did.
It wasn’t an easy win though, and if it were 103 laps, Sheppard had him dead to rights. Friesen had said beforehand that it was just another race. But his reaction in victory lane says otherwise. He looks and sounds genuinely thrilled. Here’s some notes driver by driver.
Chad Brachmann: What a great two races, and on Tuesday, he was really coming hard. He got the most out of the 358 for sure and battled as hard as he could. It’s been kind of a rough year for him, I’d love to see him come down my way for a few races later on this year, always a pleasure to watch!
Ryan Susice: I was really hoping for a great run for him, but he had a wrong tire choice and a vibration so he went backward here. Still, I can see why he’ll be one to watch for years to come and could have watched his battle with Hearn in heat two all night long!
Matt Sheppard: He just came up short, and not by much, but what can you say, he can’t win em all. Just about all perhaps, but even he needs luck once in a while, and he ran out of laps.
Peter Britten: When he drew the pole, my heart sank. I’ve seen him start up front before only to finish out of the top 10. But on this night, he fought and fought hard. His defense was awesome and he gave Sheppard fits all night! He went back to fourth after some battles, and then lo and behold, he fought back up to third! Finishing second to Sheppard and Friesen at Ransomville at a place you’ve only seen twice, that’s a great performance! I was proud of him, and the season he’s been having this year. The flashes of brilliance, have turned into consistent performances. He’s ready to win one of these things now. Three years ago, you could have called it a fluke. This year….whenever it happens, it’s totally legit!!
11:15 pm: Met up with Lernerville Pick’Em player and area resident Corey Brachmann, great to talk with him. Everyone I talked to up here was as friendly as could be. Ransomville is home to some great fans, not entirely salty, not classless drunkards, but really knowledgeable fans who are very friendly. I really liked this place!
The Way Home
11:20 pm: I say goodbye to Frank and AJ in the parking lot as I discover that I left my windows open slightly and the inside of my car is a dustbowl. It was kind of dusty that night, but not so you couldn’t see and it was a true driver’s track. I’ll take it.
11:34 pm: With no street light to go by, it’s hard to tell if you’re lost in unfamiliar surroundings. And yep, I’m as lost as it gets. Should have made a right out of the parking lot. I could be on my way to Rochester for all I know. Nothing looks familiar, I’m hungry and starting to get really sleepy. Hotel is in Tonawanda/Niagara Falls area, but if things don’t change soon, I’ll be driving into a finger lake. I stop and discover I’m not as lost as I think I am by checking cell phone where I discover a facebook follower has offered to become a TDN bodyguard after I announce how lost I am. People are awesome!
12:00 am: Arrive at hotel with cops! They’re at the front door and talking with the receptionist. I have no idea what happened, I just want some grub and a pillow and blankets. Wait 14 minutes until stuff dies down, check in and then off to Denny’s a tenth of a mile away for food!
12:20 am: A nice 60 something waitress with a hunched back is waiting on half of a dining room, I get my coffee and oj 20 minutes later. I feel bad for her and offer to help pour coffee around the dining room for her. Order (this sounds bad) Peanut Butter and Hot Fudge topped chocolate chip pancakes! Hot Damn!!! I’ve got a sweet tooth like nobody’s business, hey I eat cupcakes most Friday’s at Lernerville in the press box for dinner! (Thanks Amy “The Goods” Olinger!) so I take it a step further and pour maple syrup on top of them just to make sure they’re sweet enough, can’t take chances ya know! They’re perfect and hit the spot! Headache from before is going away. To the hotel I go where the cops are gone and make my way to bed checking TDN reads stats and email and twitter interactions along the way. One thing we pride ourselves on is being interactive with the audience, so we typically answer almost every question or comment. Knoxville Nationals Pick’Em Contest is doing well, and Kyle’s article looks phenomenal. I read it, add a picture and read it again. Won’t publish it until later in the day so it can get some momentum on social media! Got a phone number from the waitress on my receipt…she’s not my type though.
Awake at 7:30 am: Feels like I got run over by a train. Was going to do a recap of the race, but decided to take the Charles Kuralt road and do a journal instead. Shower, pack and dress, I get to the parking lot and discover my car completely covered in dirt! No car wash around, no rain in sight, so I write “wash me” on the trunk. Decide to go a step further and write the preamble to the United States Constitution on the hood!!
9:00 am: Dunkin Donuts for coffee and two of the most stale donuts I’ve ever eaten in my life, good coffee though!
9:24 am: Why in the hell do you have to pay a dollar to go over Grand Island?
11:00 am: I stop at Ripley, NY at the state line rest area to steal grapes from a local vineyard. I believe it to be super late model driver Mike Knight’s vineyard. But the grapes are small, and not ripe. Was planning on picking enough to make a bottle of wine, maybe next year! I take a minute to publish Kyle’s story via cell phone, and it connects somewhere. That means it got shared and Re tweeted by the right people and the reads are going off the chain! I’m happy for Kyle, he’s works his ass off and deserves the reads. We all work our ass off! I felt the same way when Tyler’s stuff got national attention and when Josh’s stuff got four digit reads, or when Aaron Clay or Daylon Barr or Jamie breaks the twitter acct doing updates, or when Caitie’s story on Pit Lizards went viral, or Pat got nominated for a national award, like a proud uncle!
3:00 pm: After a lunch stop and a car wash, I’m home. Most of the time I get home from a roady, I feel completely drained. But at this time, I could go for another race, I really want to see another race! TDN will never be a living, it’ll probably never afford me the opportunity to travel for a living and that’s fine, I’m happy writing, I’m happy helping others learn to write and get opportunities, and helping drivers and area tracks. But if the opportunity to travel full time arose, I might just be able to hold up better than I might think. I’ll never know, but what a great dream even if we never get there. This a great sport, I’m honored to be a part of it, an the Ransomville experience will live in my memory forever, you never forget the first time you went to a new track
3;30 pm: Back to work at TDN, we’ve got prizes to get away, another contest to tend to, I’ve got to study for Lernerville on Friday night and have three assignments for Three Wide Media on the side. Such is a day in the life of a part time motorsports journalist, and I love every minute of it…. We’re a sport of storytellers, and the stories need to live forever through the generations of fans. Sure the stories will get hazy, and the urban myths will come true, but they still need to be told. So we can build ourselves rich in memories. Memories build passion, and passion can become contagious. Now we’ve just got to find a way to make it infections to the next generation of fans.