Jerry Turner NHRA Pomona Adventure, 2015 edition
First, is the Wally. Only one person will win a NHRA Summit ET Motorcycle National Championship Wally each year. Then there are $5,000 other reasons that go along with the Wally. But there’s much more than that. It begins when you arrive at the Auto Club Raceway in Pomona for parking and tech. It’s obviously not just another race and obviously not another track when you get escorted to your designated parking area and you start meeting the other division winning racers from around the country.
Next is the Thursday evening banquet at the Wally Parks Museum. At a time when the museum would be its busiest, it’s closed to the public so 32 racers and crew can be dined, introduced and pairings drawn for the upcoming race. This year, supporting the 3 car classes were Summit Racing’s Tim Wilkerson, Jason Line and Greg Anderson. Supporting the motorcycles was Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec. Pretty cool since they finished 1st and 2nd in Prostock Motorcycles. Oh, and they give you a nice little check for $3,000 for your travel expenses to the race. Plus a goody bag full of Summit stuff and plenty of time to meeting the pro racers and tour the museum. The funniest part of the evening was Greg Anderson telling the racers that we have it better than he does, we don’t have to race Erica Enders-Stevens.
Friday is one time run and done and the rest of the day can be spent watching pro qualifying and sportsman racing. Saturday was two more time runs and more time to watch qualifying and racing. Sunday morning you’re brought together and introduced on the big stage and on the big screen before the professional driver’s introductions. It’s pretty awesome to be introduced in front of 40,000 people by Alan Reinhart. It’s even more awesome to actually get to race in front of the same 40,000 people.
So how did I do? Obviously I didn’t bring the Wally home or that would have been on the first line of the story, but more on that later. As several of the professional racers told us, enjoy the experience.
I made the trip to Pomona in 2011. At the time, a good friend and employee of Bristol Dragway came with me, Ben Knight. Ben had been racing cars for a few years but only started racing motorcycles the year before and was doing pretty darn good already. Ben had just made it home from his first win at Rockingham. Even though he slept the first two days, it was a great trip, great food, incredible sights and memories that will last a lifetime. In 2011, I wanted to take my own trailer, kinda like a security blanket for having everything I could possibly need at the race. This year, I was over that and hoped to find someone headed to the race that could haul my bike and let me fly out. Missing 2 weeks of work would be painful as well as the pain of riding 4,500 miles in a truck. I explored several options including having Roy Koch haul the bike from Florida to Pomona but in the end none of them worked out.
Another good friend and former bike racer, Mike Conley volunteered to make the two week trip with me. Mike is now retired so his schedule was perfect. After hip surgery, Mike gave up bike racing and now has a dragster, but still has a passion for motorcycle drag racing. About 8 years ago, Mike was one win light away from his own trip to Pomona. In a way, it was Mike’s unfinished business to finally make the Pomona trip. Since we were not hauling my daughter’s junior dragster or 4wheeler, we downsized by borrowing a small enclosed trailer from Dustin Lee. Mike even volunteered to use his V6 Silverado to pull the “suitcase on wheels” to save even more fuel. We loaded on Saturday and left Sunday morning. Our westward adventure from East Tennessee to California begins.
First stop was Memphis for dinner and an evening with my childhood best friend, Lee Barclay and his family. But I completely forgot about the time change plus we made great time so we arrived in Memphis a little too early. No problem, a little sightseeing to Mud River by the Bass Pro Pyramid (when did that happen), Beale Street and even a stop at Graceland took care of our extra time. Then it’s on to ribs at Corky’s. I became a drag racer, Lee became a hunter. We both have several trophies but his stare back at you.
Monday we put the pedal down and made up miles. Well except for the stop at the Big Texan in Amarillo for an 18oz ribeye steak. We watched a guy from Minnesota take on and win the 72oz steak challenge. Great job guy! Then we drove till we hit Arizona and spent the night in a town I can’t spell but we made it in time to see the latest Street Outlaws episode (don’t tell NHRA).
Tuesday we drove through Arizona and New Mexico but somehow made a wrong turn and ended up in Las Vegas. It happens I guess. We found a Travel Lodge on the strip that would let us park the truck and trailer. Mike had never been to Vegas. I was married there once (but that’s a different story). We bought a bus pass and headed off to explore. I would tell you more, but I can’t, it’s Vegas. I can tell you we were on a bus leaving Freemont Street when I got a call and nearly threw-up. It wasn’t from alcohol or the $11.99 steak and lobster. It was Roy Koch telling me that their truck, trailer, drag bike and everything else had been stolen in California. Did you catch that my bike could have also been in Roy’s trailer? That ended our Vegas sightseeing as Mike and I both decided it was best to head back and check on our own truck and trailer.
Wednesday, after a detour to Pawn Stars and Counts Kustoms, we rolled into Pomona and I remembered why I love motorcycle drag racing so much. The first racer we met was Joe Lind from Washington. He wanted to know if I could contact Roy because he had a race ready 2015 zx14R that he would let Roy ride. We called Roy. Originally Roy was ready to pack up and head home. He talked to Division Director Rich Schaefer and Rich would not hear of it. It turns out he got several offers for bikes to ride. That says a lot for the west coast drag racing community. Roy had accepted an offer from Glenn Merchant, Aaron Pine and son Dakota of Bronze Star Racing to ride a zx-14R. They were already at Pomona to help Freddie Camarena. They ended up pitting behind California Katie Sullivan and her father Charlie who were a big help and encouragement to Roy and the crew. As were several of the pro stock motorcycle teams that heard about Roy’s bike being stolen. Bob LaGuardia and Brock Roberts came through with leathers and boots, a new helmet from Simpson and Roy was ready to race. Roy’s first pass on the borrowed bike was…well… eventful. It was a huge wheelie and a hard landing but Roy kept the bike upright. A clutch and shock adjustment before the second pass and Roy was running smooth, straight and cutting good lights. Roy was in the race after all.
Getting to know Joe Lind and his whole team was great. They are a fantastic bunch of guys. I also got to meet Fast Eddie Glaze from Texas and his family. We had a lot of fun with Fast Eddie, except maybe when his wheelie bar panel flew over my head on the final time run. No harm, no foul and Eddie fixed that problem for good before first round. I also talked to Don Caesar from California and Mark Schwalm from Pennsylvania. Both are also great guys and serious racers. I also met Rick Poole from Ohio, with his beautiful chromed Busa.
And then there’s the other guy. We met in 2011. It’s Tom Klemme from Iowa, 3 time world champion and this was his 5th trip to Pomona. He had been keeping a low profile for the past couple years and he wasn’t wearing his Evel Knievel leathers, but was definitely back and looking for his 4th national championship. So when Andrew Hines drew for the ladder Thursday night, guess who I get to race first round? That’s right, 3 time world champion Tom Klemme. But that’s a good thing. I figured that if I was going to be the world champion then I would have to beat the world champion sometime. If I beat Tom first round, it could only get better from there. And I almost did. Well, if .0015 at the stripe at 149mph is almost. The good news is I did not redlight first round like I did in 2011. That monkey was off my back, but I had given Tom a .013 advantage at the start. Tom gave me a chance at the stripe but I missed it by just that much.
It turned out that Mark Schwalm’s 177mph Kawasaki proved a challenge for Tom to judge in the semi’s and also Rick Poole in the final as Mark took the Wally back home to Ringgold, PA. Congratulations to Mark who proved you could win a national championship without using a delay box.
Sigh, so that’s about it. My wife Eva and daughter Hannah had flown in Friday night. We did some sightseeing on Monday to Hollywood and had Bubba Gump Shrimp on the Santa Monica pier while high winds and snow hit Arizona and heavy rain and flooding hit Oklahoma and Arkansas. We got to experience a 3 hour California traffic jam but still made it to the hotel in time to see the latest Street Outlaws episode. We left Tuesday morning with blue skies the whole trip back. Of course we did make a quick stop at the Cadillac Ranch on the way back. And since we were going through Oklahoma City anyway, we just had to detour by Midwest Street Cars to see how Big Chief was recovering from his crash. He wasn’t there of course but I did buy a t-shirt (but don’t tell NHRA).
I guess some of the other highlights of the trip were getting to meet Kalle Lyrén and his father and family from Sweden at our hotel. We would check up on each other’s runs every morning at breakfast. I was really hoping they would make the race field and much like me, they missed it by just that much. The other food highlights of the trip were eating Mexican in New Mexico (or was it Arizona), Marie Calendar’s in California (love that pie), a trip to the In and Out Burger (animal style Double-Double combo with those little peppers) and catfish from the Steak and Catfish barn in Oklahoma City (from man vs food episode).
A big thank you goes to MPS for getting me a set of their bracket racer leathers. NHRA passed the 360 degree metal zipper rule and I knew that would be checked in Pomona. Neither set of leathers that I owned had a metal zipper at the waist. Quick call to Sidney at MPS and I had the leathers in plenty of time and made going through tech a breeze (3 of us were wearing them and they are on sale in December). Also a big thank you to all my DRR buddies and Bristol buddies that kept a check on us throughout our trip.
And a huge thank you to Brandi and Dragbike.com for putting the word out on Roy’s bike and for everything else she does to support the sport we love. Eva and Hannah said they would go back to Pomona again if I’m blessed enough to get another chance. So maybe, just maybe, the third time will be the charm.
– Jerry Turner