The Nitro Joint w / "Chicago Jon" Hoffman

The Annual OLIAS Awards

Well, as you can see I arrived at the saloon for this year’s festive OLIAS Awards ceremony, but it turns out it had shut down days before. Don't you hate it when something you wanted to live on forever is taken away from you? Well, no matter, I have Spencer Massey’s old cooler full of brewskies and a pizza joint on speed-dial, so let the party begin! The first envelope, please...


The 'truer words were never spoken' OLIAS goes to Alan Reinhart, for his call of the Pro Stock final at Indy this year. With Alex Laughlin stumbling, Alan said (to the effect) that "as long as the engine doesn't fall out of the car, start writing the check to Erica." Sure enough, her problems became bigger than Alex’s, and the trophy is on young Laughlin’s shelf.


The 'were you guys HIGH?' OLIAS goes to the design team that came up with the Tesla 'CYBERTRUCK'.  Seriously, that thing looks like an F-minus metal-shop project. I don't care HOW much money the Dude has, the thing is atrocious.


Maintaining his stranglehold of pulling in OLIAS awards is Dayton, Ohio’s Pat Dakin, for his runner-up at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals. I have been in Pat Dakin’s corner from square one. Old racing footage routinely surfaces on youTube, and I keep hoping that the episode of NBCs "GO!" (a Saturday morning kid show) that showcased Patty winning the 1973 GrandNationals at St. Pie floats up someday.


A special late-night PART-ON!! OLIAS goes to the 'Bar-crew' from the south-west corner of Raceview Family Campgrounds. These cats blow me away with their spirit, and their SPIRITS!! They bring a funky old tear-drop trailer, that evolves into a bar like you wouldn't believe. And of COURSE we all know that the perfect accent to impaired motor skills is trying to play Jenga. Not just ANY Jenga, but a Godzilla size version of the game! Party on, Garth!!

The 'Kid, you got MOXIE' OLIAS goes to Jianna Salinas, after crashing her Pro Stock Motorcycle at the NHRA National event at Joliet this year. Up and moving around on her own power after a high-speed crash, she was even back by the starting line watching the next round of eliminations. Great stuff from this young racer [in a Forest Gump voice] "And that's all I go to say about that."


The "call Chip & Joanna Gaines" OLIAS goes to Lucas Oil Raceway. For those of us who were around to see Bob Daniels turn it from 'just another dragstrip' into a first-rate facility, it was sort of a bitter pill to be at the 2019 running of the US Nationals. From the dimly lit press lunchroom [insert 'how-many-guys-does-it-take-to-change-a-lightbulb' joke HERE] to the canopy half-off the tower, roped off broken washroom facilities and trash that used to be picked up "quicker", for me anyway there was a we-can-do-better vibe.


We all saw, if not in real-time but certainly in the commercials that followed, Washington Nationals fan Jeff Adams and the 'don't catch the ball' moment during the World Series. The 'Matt Hooper' OLIAS, where "I got that beat" goes to my buddy Rick Huseth, who pulled an even BETTER stunt at Indy in 2007. Those guys with the T-shirt gun were coming up the return road, and launched one our direction, in the 'Thousand Foot Club'. (yeah, I know, 700 foot, whatever.) Rick, chowing down on a sandwich, fields the thing on a hop off the LUCAS OIL sign, free and clear! Didn't drop the shirt, didn't lose his burger, and sure as heck didn't get free tickets to the World Series! Still one of the coolest catches I ever saw.


Cue up some Beach Boys, because the ‘Be True To Your School' OLIAS goes to Scott Palmer. I, too, rooted for Evel Knievel during his days in the '70s, and when Scott tricked out his Top Fueler in Knievel colors for the NHRA race at Topeka we at the Nitro Joint thought that was a pretty cool thing to do. Hey, let’s be honest, the Evel Knievel Museum probably kicked in a few bucks, but that had more to do with Scott’s loyalty than money, and THAT is pretty awesome in my book.


Guts were discussed in the award to Jianna Salinas, but there are many, MANY forms of guts, fortitude and proper attitude. The "I love you, my brother" OLIAS goes to Division Five Super Comp racer Chris Mitchell. A member of my oft-mentioned 'Minnesota Mafia', Chris, he of 'Rock Star good looks', fell in with a fast crowd, and began making mistakes even faster. Before you could say, 'how did I get here?’, Chris found himself in prison. And he manned up, took his punishment, served his time, and saw clearly the mistakes he made. Now back on the outside, he's rebuilding his life, and his race team one day at a time. A first-rate fabricator, he welds and builds, and will be back on track this year.


I had planned an in-depth piece on my good friend, but a little birdie tells me my days of reporting (here, anyway) may be coming to an end. But not the racing career of a fine son of the State of Minnesota. Vince Lombardi once said, "the glory is not in the rising, it is in rising after you have fallen", and those fake-friends who dropped Chris like a hot potato will NOT have a seat at the table when we all celebrate the day he gets back to the winner’s circle. For the record, that isn't ALWAYS a place at the end of the day, with big checks and bigger trophies, but a place in the heart. Maybe you cut a bad light, got skunked in the first round and had a bologna and cheese with a generic-brand soda before loading up and heading home. You're still a winner in the hearts and minds of the people who really care about you, and at the end of the day, that is what really matters.


Earlier this year we lost the legend that was the driving force of Byron Dragway. I discussed this in an earlier column, but will take this opportunity to close out what may be the last ever OLIAS awards to give the Lifetime Achievement Award to the one and only Ron Leek. Mister Leek went from running the streets (after fleeing an abusive orphanage) to sleeping in an ambulance to go on to build a racing empire, and a huge trucking business to boot.


Some of the best summer days of my life only existed because of the hard work and drive of this man. While at 'The Playground of Power' this year, I took a look at the still existing yet no longer used return road. During my first trip to that track, I saw a local funny car racer have his tow vehicle cough and bang to a halt, leaving him and his Barracuda Funny Car high and dry, much to the amusement of the fans. Well, Don Schumacher didn't let that moment bother him, and last I saw, he's "doing pretty well for himself".


But that road, where does it really go? It, like life, can go anywhere you want it to. Did I know, back in 1988 when Chicago Jon Productions was officially born that 'the road' would lead me to having the time of my life here at the venerable Phlegm Building? Hell no.


As we look forward to the 2020 racing season, I say let's not over-think things. Get out there, grab your gear, pack the cooler and let’s DO this thing! Sitting around making stomach-acid and worrying junk into the ground is for schmucks. I'm looking up at a post-it, it reads "Burk says write February’s column", and that is what I'm getting ready to do, in the meantime I want you to get ready for one heck of a racing season.


Till we meet again, C-YAAAAAaaaa!!! 



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