The Nitro Joint w / "Chicago Jon" Hoffman

The Last One

"And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer. Benefits of a classical education...."

- Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), DIE HARD, 1988


As the cliche goes, I 'remember it like it was yesterday'. After years of scraping and struggling, we had finally put together enough scratch to take the kids on a huge, money-was-no-object family vacation. And on that twenty-third day of June 2000, it was closing time and as we were heading to the exit of Cedar Point, the roller coaster Capital of the World, a feeling was washing over me. While there would be other vacations, this was the last time that the kids would be kids. Time was marching on, and soon they were going to be assholes...errr, TEENAGERS. This type of day would, nor could NOT, ever happen again. And there I was, sunburned and juggling a bunch of pennants and stuffed animals, knowing that this particular brand of fun would never ever happen again.


Which brings me to this, the last Nitro Joint, and the end of my business relationship with the Burk family and Drag Racing Online. Jeff had given me instructions for the last column. He used to do those columns, headed by a banner like "notes scribbled on the back of my coaster from the Dew Drop Inn", and as I write, my frosty cold malt-themed beverage is using Jeff’s note AS a coaster, ha-ha! Seriously, I'll stand here saying good-bye till the band cues up 'Get Off The Stage', and I still won't want to go. I will follow the Burkster’s lead to a degree. He wanted me to write about Broadway Bob Metzler. I did that once, and I know I can never top that one, so I will link it here for you all to enjoy again:  //2018/february/the-nitro-joint-2-12-19.html


The thing that hits me about those days, and my time here at the Phlegm Building, is that there is a common bond. When I left Great Lakes Dragway, I felt like that was IT, and there would never be anything awesome ever again. And, oh, how wrong I was. After Union Grove, the United Drag Racers Association came calling. And while that ride could be compared to one of the old Cedar Point wooden coasters, it depends on how one looks at it, and how one chose to embrace it. Some would say that the ride was short, wasn't too scary, and was made of WOOD. I say it was classic, iconic, and something that this world could use a hell of a lot more of. The body would suspend operations by the end of the decade, and I was proud to have had my brief moment of time being a part of it.


Scott and Laura Gardner, now a part of Clay Millican’s Top Fuel team were there, so I'll say goodbye and thanks ever so much to them at this point. And as this Joint is about saying goodbye, the UDRA is how I'll segue into a so-long to Mister Bret Kepner, whom I always felt was the de-facto Mayor of the 'Thousand Foot Club' (he will deny that with robust aplomb). It was during the UDRA 1993 Gateway Nationals at the original St. Louis racetrack that I saw Bret, leaning up against the tower. He wasn't announcing that night, he wasn't shooting pictures, he was just...just a big old drag racing fan, watching the show. I'll never forget that image, and I always saw the dude in a different light since then. As I said on a social media site, Sir, it has been an honor to get canned alongside you. He might read this, and promptly call me a PUD on Facebook, but truthfully I wouldn't have it any other way.


I do not have a stack of Casey Araiza stories, but the one I'll tell here is pretty good. Our interactions for years had been via emails. Finally, one year my musician friend, mentioned in many of my Nationals columns reached out to the magazine for my contact info. Now, we just refer to him as Ike, but his birth-name is Kelly. Casey calls, and says "some girl from the campground is looking for you". I chuckle, on two levels. Secondly, Kelly is a dude, and first, Casey, I never knew you were Jeff’s DAUGHTER, I was thinking you were 'at the bat', or a famous railroad engineer or perhaps the first coach of the New York Mets! In the years since we've talked about everything from Chris Martin jumping into a fountain to whose cat is getting in the way most. More than anything else, she has had to endure my countless "can't-miss ideas". Most of those said boondoggles would figure out how to miss the Atlantic Ocean if they were chucked out of a plane halfway from New York to London, but none the less, Casey it has been a ball.


Kay. Poor Kay Burk, having to deal with my moribund computer skills and 'Norm Crosby-esque' command of the English language. It is safe to say that "more than once" did poor Kay have to send myself an email after I had turned in a column, asking "what did you mean here?" or 'why is this photo upside-down'? The answer would be a consistent, 'Oh, I messed that up, let me fix it.' Well, she married JEFF, so that she has the patience of a saint has already been MORE than established. I thank you for everything, and for walking me through a ton of the basics needed to properly run a computer. You Rock.


And now for the Titan From Texas, the guy who put up with this stray mutt that kept showing up at the kitchen door at meal time year after year, the one, the ONLY, the Burkster, my boss Jeff Burk. From my early ramblings in Agent 1320, to the earliest feature, which was written while I was strapped to a post-surgery recovery machine in November 2011 (no pharmaceuticals were abused during that opus -- well, SOME, but...) through Chicago Jon’s Movie List and the SEQUEL to that, REVENGE of The List, to here, the Nitro Joint -- what a ride.


Truthfully, I believe I got my first inkling of this day’s coming back in 2016. We were at the Big Show race in Joliet, and after a fantastic meal at Al’s Steakhouse, we bench-raced into the night. But here I go again with the roller-coasters. If you stay on one long enough, it will indeed make you heave, and I was getting the vibe that after five decades of traveling to the drags and hearing the same people bitching about the same things, the Burkster was starting to contemplate a future without the grind of working the sport that I KNOW he still indeed loves. And so, Big Dog, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You took this big old stupid fan, and made his dreams come true. As James Cagney screamed in WHITE HEAT, "Made it, Ma! TOP OF THE WORLD!"


I am WAY over my "pitch count", and the band is now playing at a decibel level that would rival a Deep Purple concert, and yet I still have a million thanks to dole out. To Miss Fahey, my fourth-grade teacher who put a story I wrote on the corkboard, and said I was a good writer. Chicago TV icon Bill Jackson, who had the rug pulled out from under him by the 'corporate bastards', (“Your last show is tomorrow”) said that he had hoped that he fueled creative sparks in all his viewers. Sir, yes you did, at least with this big old Jamoke.


To Patrick Capone and the whole gang from the 'little station in the cornfield'. You showed me SO many things, both big and little. Most importantly, grace under fire when the rapture nears. I wrote about their demise last spring, and that Joint was so well received the Burkster ordered a sequel. THAT will never get to happen, so relive that fun here:  http://www.dragracingonline.com/2019/april/the-nitro-joint-4-15-19.html


To TJ Zizzo, and his father who was my first video customer ever, and their whole team, a big shout out to you. The Rustoleum Rocket was ranked number ten in the NHRA power rankings last year, which means you out-performed many countdown cars, pretty cool.

The last thank you goes to my big brother, Tom 'Longest Eight Miles' Hoffman. He took me to my first races and my first Indy Nationals. He made sure there was always a big stack of racing magazines around and put up with all my stupid questions. And he got me going on the long journey of this sport that I so love. I would not be where I am today without you, Tom, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.


What happens next? Who knows, I do know this, I've never been to Heaven, but I've been to Oklahoma. It had the biggest massage parlor I've ever seen. [At this point, the violin player from the band storms the stage and smacks Jon across the face with his fiddle, screaming 'JUST GO ALREADY!!'] OK, I get it!


To the people who took the time to read my nonsense, thanks for hanging out, and for one final time, from the hallowed halls of the venerable Phlegm Building, I AM Chicago Jon, time to say...C-YAAAAaaaa!!!!!




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