The Nitro Joint w / "Chicago Jon" Hoffman



Begins with the final attempt to locate 'Media Lot 3', which roughly nine track employees that I've asked have no idea where this is. Mind you, everyone is polite, and WANTS to help, but they just can't. Everyone’s response kicks off with the same three words, that being "Uhm, I think", which has me visualizing a training session for new employees, where an instructor tells the class, "Remember, if a guest has a question, your response starts with ‘Uhm, I Think...’.”


Oh well, I'm just across the street, so it's not really a big deal. While trying to get on the roof, a guard thinks I'm looking for the Media Room and points me to the ACTUAL place. (Turns out the broom closet is where lunch is served.) I get to the roof, and even though I've stood atop Parks Tower before, a divisional points race is NOT the U.S. Nationals. I refrain from going full-on 'Cody Jarrett', screaming "Made it Ma, Top of the WORLD!" and instead see one of my favorite guys from back when Pro Stock mattered making a pass, one Roy Hill. Bump into Jon Asher on the way down, and instead of going all 'Timmy The Tourist' on him ("Remember when we talked in the lanes in 1977?!??") I simply compliment him on his work, and he in turn compliments ME.


Night falls, and it's over to the yearly concert in Raceview thrown by Ike’s Guitars. Ike can really entertain a crowd, and the shows generate a lot of scratch for DRAW, so it's cool on many levels. Heading back to the campsite, I strike up a conversation with a dude who was a part of the infamous 2001'cacklefest in the campground' -- probably the last time a nitro car was fired up at Raceview, that being the 2001 edition of Indy, and what a night THAT was!



Today kicks off with finally connecting with Mugs. We catch up in rapid-fire fashion and stage a picture invoking the old days. Back then his wife, Donna, missed the yearly class picture on most occasions, so we would do a 'missing camper' deal, with the empty lawn chair signifying her presence. (Later on all three of us did have a great visit, recalling things like the year all the wives in the campsite tried to disguise themselves "as men", to avoid the catcalls of drunk guys -- a move that failed miserably.)


Back on the nitro side of the pits, I forget that I'm wearing my uniform-clothes and have a thing hanging around my neck that says PRESS, and become of the belief that I have "snuck into" the TRAXXAS Shootout pre-party. Even though I have busted on Ron Capps for talking about Van Halen a lot, I strike up a conversation with Ron about...VAN HALEN! He really knows his stuff, explains a lot of studio production techniques to me, he even asks what my favorite songs and albums are! I try to get a photo of us, but the millennial I pass my camera to doesn't know what it (a camera) is, so I get the old "Marie Antoinette Special". (My head is cut off.)

Chicago Jon Goes to Indy

On the excellent 'Van Hagar' album 5150 is one of my favorite songs ever, which also pretty much sums up my Labor Day weekend for 2017. This year’s U.S. Nationals was truly 'The Best of Both Worlds' for this gung-ho Indy freak, and as I sit here, peeling like a snake (what is this "sunblocker" you speak of?), allow me to try to cram a weekend of fun into the confines of this column, which would be like trying to cram that Kardashian-chick’s rump into a Pinto, but I'll try.


Before I go any further, some of you may recall that I penned a piece two years back ('The Last Waltz') where I said I was done going to Clermont, things had changed too much. Well, the passage of time, and a few tall glasses of "Get Over It" juice have shown me that NOTHING is the 'way it was', so just adapt, Hippie. Plus, there is a mystery guest to this equation, are reading! This year, decades of dreaming about being a reporter at The Nationals became reality. I did not even plan on going, until my managing editor sent me credentials (known to be a 'game-changer', ya think?) In those early years, I'd carry around a little spiral notebook, jotting down every little detail, on a minute to minute basis, but for here and now, I'll just break down the days’ highlights, starting with...




Which is always a busy and taxing day, regardless of the year with the long drive springing into a long day, and this year, there is also "finding stuff". I need to find a camping spot, and as I already knew, Raceview is a smaller place, now that the Reagan Parkway is there. Thankfully, it's not finished, so one can still get a night’s sleep (next year? not a chance) but camp is struck, so it's time to find the credential trailer. According to the map, it's in the bean field on the south side of County Road 300 (which is 'incorrect') but I take a stab on where I'm betting it is, and get signed in.


While strolling through the 'Winston Concourse' (pretty sure it's not called that anymore, but I don't know WHAT to call it) I find a sweet looking '41 Willys that makes me stop, going "wait, I KNOW this car!" Turns out I know it from emails sent by my old 'Turkey Brother' Mugs, aka Jim Mulligan. Mugs was one of the old Raceview gang. He is not around at the moment, but I make it a point to keep coming back til he is.


I also find what I was told is the MEDIA ROOM. A window-less broom closet that seats sixteen people at best has me going "this can't be right", but there's time for that matter tomorrow.



Trying to make good on my promise to get as many angles as possible, Monday is chock full of hauling my beat up old carcass around one last time, but what TJ Zizzo said to me this year at Joliet is coming home to roost. (He said, "Hey, Chicago, you’re getting too OLD to hustle around the track anymore!") But, hustle I do, and with Ron Capps towing through the lanes for the finals, I begin plodding up the tower stairs one last time, wondering why my feet have been mysteriously replaced by cinder blocks. (This is my 35th Indy, and maybe TJ is onto something.) This big-time Capps fan is certain that this is the year…but lo and behold, he just plain old got beat. A favorite word of Seattle Pilots Coach Joe Schultz was going through my head at that moment....


Well, it was not the ending I was hoping for, I really, REALLY wanted Capps to win, and I still think Kebin Kinsley winning would have been a cooler ending then little "Steve-O" getting the Wally, but that's just me.


As I schlep down the stairs of Parks Tower one last time and head my tired bones toward the car, I see something that hits me over the head "El KaBong"-style. All those "Uhm...I think" track personnel who had no idea where MEDIA Lot 3 was?? I was STANDING in it! I had a space, marked just for DRO! I was tempted to STEAL the damn thing, seriously! Oh well, that's life I guess.


Thanks for hanging out. Til next time, I AM Chicago Jon, C-YAAAAAAAAA!!!



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