‘Lotta Wildlife – Like a Magnet

We always seems to attract wildlife without really trying.  In the Hill Country we had the deer and in now in North Texas, we have ducks and geese.

Cripple was a disabled deer who hung around several years.  Each year she would disappear and show up several weeks later with two fawns in tow.  This was the last year (2008) we saw her — but this time she only had one.  Click here to see Cripple’s addition.   Here’s another video in 2007 of me feeding her in 2007 —fawns and dad too.   We were sad the day Cripple never returned.

Fast forward to 2014.  We’re here in North Texas with more mothers and their offspring!  Here’s when we first saw the ducklings.  Oopsie!  Wrong Exit here!!   What a difference a month or two makes!!  Houston, we have a problem!!!  Click here!!  All is in control — kind of!  Click here.

 

 

 

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‘Lotta Happenings — Love of Speed

This is my July column published in Hill Country Happenings magazine.

June brought me another birthday and the NASCAR trucks and Indycars back to North Texas. Texas Motor Speedway dodged this year’s weekly NASCAR rain curse and instead steamy, hot temperatures and George Strait’s last hurrah in Dallas beleaguered the event numbers. Those choosing to battle the desert-like temperatures were an interesting combination of true diehard NASCAR devotees and the fast Indycar aficionados. The common denominator was a love of speed and racing.

The afternoon of the truck race, I met up with Jennifer Jo Cobb, the auburn-haired owner/driver of the #10 truck. She grew up watching her dad Joe race and found herself racing at Kansas’s Lakeside Speedway by the age of eighteen. Being owner in addition to driving puts more responsibility on the forty-one year old. It takes money to operate the car, get crews and equipment so on non-racing weeks, she works hard at getting sponsorships for her truck. If I wanted to sponsor her truck one race, the costs ran from $1,000 – $15,000 depending on extras like appearances. Perhaps if I win the Powerball…. As we talked, I learned that Jen is not in racing to be a “token” female. Instead she is in it because she loves it and wants to be respected as an equal. Her favorite track other than her home track Kansas Speedway? She laughed as she explained it would have to be Las Vegas because of South Point Hotel Casino’s full infield spa offering pedicures! At that point I spotted a pink chandelier hanging over her as she filed, then blew on her nails. She looked more like a model than a racecar driver and it was hard to visualize a helmet would be smashing the auburn locks in just a few hours. This is the fourth year that Steve Kuykendall has been her Crew Chief. She shook her head as she explained that he was currently using a crutch due to twisting his knee. Sure enough, we later spotted him hobbling on one foot as he pushed the #10 truck through inspection. Later that night, Jen finished twentieth.

The following day Rick was working so I gave my brother, Craig, his ticket for the Indycars. Poor Craig experienced the “Lotta Sports obsession with sports.” As usual, I was like a kid in a candy-store visiting with other fans, TMS workers, car crews and of course, driving the simulator. After losing me twice in the Indycar garage alley, Craig said “I’m putting you on a five-minute limit and no wandering!” I can’t help myself. With my flight attendant background, talking to strangers was my way of life. While in the garage alley, I met a father/son duo, Mike and Zach Jankelson from the state of Washington. Mike (dad) flies to North Texas every year for the three NASCAR race weekends. He is a diehard stock car follower. Last April, because of the rain one-day postponement, he found himself watching the race on an airport TV. Son Zach was a college student and a huge Indycar fan. Will Power was “his driver.” The Indycar organization offered an open garage to all those holding pit passes. It was thrilling to many of us to actually get feet away from the cars and their parts. The only drawback I noticed was because some fans were so zealous; it was pulling some of the garage team from their duties. At one car, the gal next to me was shouting, “Cameron! Cameron! One more picture! Let’s do a selfie!” Poor ruddy faced Cameron couldn’t say no and found himself posing repeatedly as she clicked away. I couldn’t help but laugh when his garage boss gave him “the eyebrow.” There’s a fine line between customer service and getting the job done. Adding to the excitement of the day was the last leg of the Triple Crown so at five pm, Craig found us with front-row stools at Fuzzy’s Taco Bar in the pit. There were two local radio guys doing their show and my brother watched nervously as I asked them if they would mind breaking away during the race. Fortunately, they wanted to see the race too. It was an exciting few minutes when the Belmont Stakes ran and we almost saw history made. Sadly, California Chrome was literally out of gas having raced the Derby and Preakness while some of his competition rested. A collective groan filled Fuzzy’s as we watched him come up short.

For every person who purchased a pit pass, we were allowed at the start-finish line for pre-race introductions. Waiting for the festivities to start were the Great American Sweethearts who would be announcing the drivers. I approached them and asked, “Is one of you friends with Donnave Abt?” (Donnave worked at Delta with me) A tall blonde named Katie, in a definitive Texas drawl proclaimed, “I am! My daddy works with her husband Jim!” (I wondered if she knew she made Rick’s day when he posed with her at Big Hoss’s debut.) During the ceremonies, it was great as we found ourselves standing by a guy with a loud voice. As each driver came out, he would shout their name and say something personable. The driver would look our way and wave back so it was as if they were posing for us. Except for Marco Andretti ‘s crash on the third lap, the race itself was rather boring — until the final twelve laps. Crowd favorite Will Power had a miscommunication and exited to pit row to find his crew not ready for his arrival. A collective gasp radiated from the crowd as he passed through without stopping. He tanked to eighth, however a caution and restart gave Power one final chance to win. The crowd stayed on their feet as Power sped his way back to the front. After dominating the entire race, Power finished second to #20’s Ed Carpenter. It was not a good weekend for ANY of my favorites!

Click here to see Craig drive the Indycar simulator

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‘Lotta Pups — Fun at Bark at the Park

It was the Baltimore Orioles at the Texas Rangers.  770 dogs of all sizes and ages paraded around the perimeter of the field during pre-game.  Rex was pulled aside by a Ranger rep and asked to wear the dog cam.  Rex had some great footage on Rangers Insider on Fox Sports SW the following evening.  More of the excitement was with me having an exclusive with Susannah Moreland (hubby is Mitch, first baseman of the Rangers) for my ‘Lotta Sports monthly column in Hill Country Happenings magazine.

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‘Lotta Happenings – Playoff Mania

Why do the people who schedule athletic events make springtime such a challenge for sports fanatics like me? Somehow I found myself balancing NBA and NHL playoffs, the NFL draft, the run for the Triple Crown, a Rangers pitcher flirting with a no-hitter and a former NASCAR champion making a lot of enemies. To further complicate my life, I gave into peer pressure and added The Voice to watching American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, Castle and General Hospital. Thank goodness for two TVs and Internet capabilities or I would have lost my mind.

This was the year NBA record books were rewritten. For the first time ever, the Knicks, Celtics, and Lakers were all missing! As if the playoffs aren’t nail biting enough, a record eight of the first round games went into overtime! For my cousin Ann, her Memphis Grizzlies went into four straight overtimes with the Oklahoma Thunder, another NBA record! Another rarity was the first round of the NBA playoffs found all three Texas cities participating. I was thrilled as finally my Houston Rockets were showing signs of being champs again. I dug out my T-shirts from ’94 and ’95 and wore them for the games. I couldn’t find the shirt with an Interstate 10 decal for the Rockets and Spurs playoff series in the 90s. That should have been my “sign”. Game six was a “win or sit on the couch the rest of the playoffs”. The Rockets played with the look of rats lost in a maze, then looked like they had finally found the cheese. The Trail Blazers, Willard, who up until then had air balls, planted hit feet and hit his first three-pointer — on the buzzer! Rockets lost 99-98. There was no game seven. Coach Kevin Hale and I both buried our heads in our hands. I repacked the keepsakes and wondered what the heck happened to the Interstate 10 shirt. Cousin Ann’s torture was ended when her Grizzlies lost their game seven. Sadly for Dallas Mavericks fans, despite being four and one all-time in game sevens, the most Mavericks shots successfully made were during pre-game instead of during the blowout by the Spurs.

Rockets Relic

Things got interesting in the hockey playoffs too when I started a challenge email to some of my Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers fans with a cc: to a couple of friends in New England. I simply put, “Well, well, well….. It’s the NY Rangers vs. the Penguins. Now what I want to know is WHO will win in this series AND in how many games ——— and will then hopefully meet the Bruins.” Little did I know that the innocent email would have more impact than Putin’s advancement into Ukraine! Two of the New York gals got a little zealous with their trash talking about the Penguins. It was good stuff like: “The Rangers can hold their own against the Penguins if they show up to play. I think they beat them twice this season and lost one game in a shoot-out. Personally, can’t stand Crosby or Malkin so I hope the Rangers kick butt.” “I’m certainly not looking forward to watching Crosby whine because he hurt his widdle pinky finger or got a boo-boo when someone dared to touch him. But he does possess an extraordinary amount of talent, and has the potential to do a lot of damage on the scoreboard. Hopefully we can contain him.” One of my guy friends responded, “Really, you ask me this? You know I bleed Black and Gold and I always will….Nuff said.” However, another Pittsburgh fan got her feelings hurt with the written attacks at her team. I quickly wrote everyone else an apology and encouraged deleting future threads. It was a long series going seven games with the Rangers moving on to the next round and me making a mental note not to ever do that again.

I find it really is hard to be a fan. It is a huge emotional investment and a crap shoot on the outcome. The hardest part is accepting that your team may not always win and dealing with it when they don’t. One of my favorite NASCAR drivers still hasn’t won this year. The other day someone posted, “He should be winning by now. Three more races without a win and he loses a longtime fan.” I immediately responded, “You’ve got to be kidding… you would dump Matt just because he didn’t win??? Hate that mentality… a true fan stays for better or for worse… like a marriage.” I wish schools had a course on sportsmanship. Unfortunately, kids are impressionable and our professional athletes can be a terrible example of a good sport. What message do the kids get when they see players kicking over Gatorade barrels, putting fists into dugout walls, brawls on the field or ice and deliberately crashing a car into another car after the race? It’s time to put respectably back into sports and be reasonable in our expectations as fans — of all ages.

My parents taught me that winning or being the best isn’t the requirement. Yep, I was lucky they felt that way since I was the one who fell off the vault, missed the balls in outfield, hit tennis balls over the back fence, knocked a windmill off a miniature golf course, did face plants in the snow ……

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‘Lotta Happenings – Brendan Gaughan Exclusive

This exclusive with Brendan Gaughan appeared in the May Hill Country Happenings

The first time I met Brendan Gaughan was June 2013 when he was in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in Texas. It was my first truck series to cover and a press conference was held with him and Joey Coulter, fifteen years his junior. When I asked him what was considered as “old” in truck racing, he grinned and replied, “Me!” To me, mature drivers were more reliable and less apt to do something dumb “to make something happen.” I knew I had found “my” driver. Brendan did well during the race until he spun his tires on the last re-start and settled for 5th place. Our paths crossed again last November when NASCAR was back in North Texas. I was at Brendan’s truck and an inspector was clarifying to me that what I thought was the engine was actually the carburetor. I heard a snicker and turned to find Brendan standing there. Wanting to overshadow my naivety of car parts and knowing he had played basketball at Georgetown, I switched subjects to the hoops. I was defeated there also when Gaughan reminded me about how his Hoyas had taken the “slama” out of my Houston Cougars “jama” in the National Championship in 1984. He did very well in the race with a fourth place finish and ended the season in seventh place for the truck standings. For the year he had thirteen top ten finishes with ten of those in the top five.

I was pleasantly surprised when the announcement came that Gaughan would be driving fulltime in the Nationwide series this year. He was keeping his number 62 and his father’s hotel, South Point in Las Vegas, would be his sponsor. Last month when NASCAR returned to North Texas, I had the opportunity to sit down with Brendan and I learned there’s a lot more to him than his stock car racing. I began the interview with presenting him with my “Phi Slama Jama” tee-shirt from 1984 and a black sharpie. He chuckled as he scribed, “Hoyas AXA … Brendan 62 Gaughan .“ That out of the way, we started our chat. It was like two old friends at a high school reunion.

Growing up in Vegas, his dad, who dirt-raced as a hobby, took Brendan to desert races and the boy was immediately hooked on off-road racing. I asked him, “Have you ever flipped over and thought while airborne… now I’ve really done it!?!”  His face lit up. His first rollover was at age fifteen. He not only turned upside down, he did it several times! “I knew, thanks to JC Dean, to get that seatbelt released right away!” Not only was Brendan into racing during his teenage years, he also was an All-American in high school football.

His college years found him at Georgetown University earning a business management degree. Between studies he shared the court with NBA great Allen Iverson when the basketball team made it to the Elite Eight. He also kicked for the Hoyas football team. He was their placekicker and very good … perfection almost every time the ball left his toe. “Almost?” I questioned. “I couldn’t believe it! I missed the last kick of my career!” he groaned. Brendan’s talents don’t end there; he is also certified to teach scuba diving. One of his favorite places to dive is Socorro Island off of Mexico. He showed me a picture of himself with a Manta Ray, an underwater creature which appeared much bigger than him. I cringed. I told him I still had my fear of man-of-war and jelly fish lurking in the gulf at Galveston. He assured me that the Manta Rays are not like that.

As you can see, Gaughan could have gone many directions with a career including working in the family casino business. Instead Brendan followed his passion for racing. How lucky to be making a living doing what you love, not many can. He loves it all – desert riding, dirt tracks, ovals and my passion, the road courses.   He even likes the pesky bumps at Texas Motor Speedway at Turn 2 and between Turns 3 and 4 caused by the tunnels under the track. What he doesn’t love are re-paved tracks like Michigan’s. His Crew Chief, Shane Wilson, provides a seamless transition from trucks to cars, as the two worked in tandem last year. According to Brendan, the car is practically the same as the truck with the exception of the position of the windshield. Gaughan’s goal is to bring Richard Childress Racing their second consecutive championship.   “Speaking of winning, what about times you have a teammate who is in position to get a win? Do you give them the push which will enable their victory?” I asked.   “If I have a good enough car to win, I race to win,” he replied.  “You earn respect,” he continued. “There are those out there that don’t have it.” “Any names?” I prodded. He shook his head sideways.

Although Brendan grew up listening to Classic Rock like the Doors thanks to his older brothers, his heart has always been with Classic Country. He also loves “spaghetti westerns” and treasures moments when he can catch Bonanza reruns.   Off-season, he enjoys time with his wife Tatum and two boys Michael and William at their home in Vail. He bragged that his son Michael is already quite a skier. Athleticism has carried on to the next generation. In March, Brendan lost one of his biggest supporters. His grandfather, Jackie Gaughan, who was the last of the founding fathers of Las Vegas, passed away at the age of ninety-three.   Jackie was buried in true Irish fashion with bagpipes on St. Patrick’s Day. As we got ready to end the interview, I asked Brendan what was on his bucket list. With a smile perfect for a toothpaste commercial, he responded, “Life is….”

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‘Lotta Happenings — Turn Left!!

My May column which was in the May Hill Country Happenings.

My spring NASCAR experience this year came a month earlier than the race when Rick and I attended the unveiling of Big Hoss, the largest high-definition LED video board in the world. The Texas Motor Speedway infield area was filled with over eight thousand fans along with dignitaries, NASCAR driver Kyle Busch, Indy car driver Helio Castroneves and the stars of Duck Dynasty. While waiting on the event to start, I went wandering and discovered the TMS Great American Sweethearts autographing and posing for pictures. I felt it was my wifely duty to return with Rick. There was nothing more entertaining than watching him suck in his gut as he sneaked peeks at the obvious cleavage. I got my thrills too that night when I spotted myself on Big Hoss during an interview of a fan in front of us.

Before I knew it, race weekend was here. Thursday was the arrival of the Nationwide haulers. It was like seeing a little city develop as we peered through the wrought iron fences surrounding the garage area. Hauler drivers like my friend Eloy Trevino were busy setting up barbeque grills because many also serve as cooks for the teams. This activity was short-lived since it was soon time for my one-on-one with Nationwide driver Brendan Gaughan (see exclusive column) and then practice. Thank goodness everyone’s name was scribed over the driver’s window as there were so many changes from last year’s crop. On the way out, I signed the tunnel between the pit and the stands. My legacy joined thousands of others on the grooved wall and left me wondering if, on a return trip, I’d ever find where I had signed.

Friday turned into a long day …. according to our dogs who patiently waited at home. Our first stop was at OneMain Financial in Denton for an autograph/picture session with Elliott Sadler and his car. He laughed when I held out my lug nut from his race last year. I know …. It’s a lug nut fetish I can’t seem to control! While we were waiting in line, we found out from the couple behind us that Marcos Ambrose, my favorite road course driver, was signing at Wal-Mart in Roanoke. Meeting Marcos was fun and listening to his “down-under” accent was an added extra. That afternoon found us watching the Sprint Cup practice and Nationwide qualifying. We saw Brendan briefly and wished him good luck in the race. The rest of the pre-race found me talking to several pit crews and snapping photos of tires and gas containers. It’s the little things in life that make me happy. When we found our way to our seats for the Nationwide race, we were pleasantly surprised with their location — Turn 4 was to our left and the start-finish line to our right. The weather was ideal for night racing with only a lightweight jacket needed. It was an exciting race with the typical multi-car crashes because of so many novice drivers participating. Even more exciting was that a rookie, Chase Elliott, beat out a very experienced handful of Sprint Cup guys and won his first Nationwide race!

Saturday morning found me killing time before Sprint Cup qualifying with a visit to the tire change display. I was determined to better last year’s fifty-eight seconds combat with the lug nut installer. There I was in line with guys, some who worked at car shops for a living. There was a lot at stake –winning automotive gadgets as well as bragging rights. I was in it for the latter. My first attempt was over thirteen seconds as I had to coax my fingers into grasping the lug nut. Remember, I was still recovering from my accident in November. Back into the line I went and my second attempt was ten and fifty-two hundredths seconds. I even beat a couple of guys in line with me. Unlike the horse races, I quit while I was ahead. Later was Sprint Cup qualifying amid a light shower so I got to see the drivers substitute their helmets with umbrellas as the jet-dryers dehydrated the track. There wasn’t a race because of the Final Four in college basketball being that evening.

Severe storms woke us up in the wee hours with downpours all morning. We left for the track at the last minute and tromped through mud lots after parking. While weathering a four hour delay, our entertainment was watching Big Hoss which provided fan interviews in the stands, an episode of Duck Dynasty and promos about the concession stands. They finally postponed the race until the next morning. After a night of thawing and drying out, we were relieved to find sunny skies and pleasant temperatures for the race morning. Despite being a work/school day, there were about seventy-eight thousand fans there. During our pre-race visit in the pit, we met up with John Johnson, whose son is the “engine turner” for Matt Kenseth. He said to me, “Hey, I checked out your website last year after the November race and there was only older stuff.” When I explained about being out of commission for months after my accident walking the dog, he felt bad — for throwing my card away. I next met up with Chris Taylor, rear tire changer for Matt Kenseth. We follow each other on Twitter so it was fun meeting him in person. He had a beard similar to the ones that the Red Sox players had last year during their World Series run. Rick and I also watched the pit crews doing their limbering exercises. I think a prerequisite for the job is being tall, lanky and ambidextrous! As predicted when we headed to the stands, I couldn’t find my signature in the tunnel. It was an unusual start for the race with the cars under the caution flag for several laps as the jet dryers completed drying the track. Things immediately got contentious as wind from one jet dryer affected several cars including last year’s champion, Jimmie Johnson. Once they were racing full speed, fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. slipped into the grass and plowed across the track into wall. He caught on fire, but was able to escape before the car was engulfed in flames and black smoke. I could not believe I had my video running when the wreck occurred. What are the odds of that?!? Many Aggies were present as Jeff Gordon’s car was trimmed in maroon and white with Texas A&M logos. It became evident he was destined to win the race until there was a caution flag the last few laps. Gordon took two tires and said on the radio, “Please tell me the others didn’t take four.” Much to Jeff’s chagrin as well as John Phillips, a Gordon fan seated next to us, the other contenders took four. Gordon was engulfed in the restart and Joey Logano took the checkered flag. <sigh> Maybe in my next life I’ll be a stock car driver …. or better yet since I never exceed the speed limit, be on a pit crew.

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‘Lotta Fun — NASCAR at TMS in the Spring

NASCAR weekend is not complete without real action!!  Thanks to EJ Coleman and Jimmy Hurd of Ingersoll Rand for helping me with the lug nuts experience.     click here for the action.  (and there are more videos at the end of the pictures)

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EXCLUSIVE

There’s more to RCR’s Brendan Gaughan than just racing!  My fun one-on-one with the South Point driver will be in the May issue of HCH.   Here’s a preview!

IN THE PIT

BEING A FAN IS WHAT NASCAR IS ALL ABOUT

IT’S ALL ABOUT RACING

CARS, CARS AND MORE CARS

Check out these action videos!

Nationwide

Time to go racing!!

Restart under the lights.

Pit stop

Sprint Cup

Unusual Start — Race started with track still being dried

The track is dry — Let’s go racing!!

Dale Earnhardt Crash

End of Race

Winning Burn

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