We’ve all heard the Disney song “It’s A Small World.” In April, I found myself in one of those situations while at Texas Motor Speedway for NASCAR race weekend. Hubby Rick and I had gone over to see one of our favs, Brendan Gaughan at the Chevrolet display. I first met Brendan in 2013 and interviewed him the following spring so he immediately called us out by name and planted a kiss on my cheek. Just as previous times seeing him, Rick was still waiting for the camera to focus, so the picture was me reciprocating back the kiss. After Brendan, three of the newer Xfinity drivers came out. One was named Garrett Smithley and immediately caught my attention when he shared he was into theater. One just doesn’t picture a guy, who risks his life driving high speeds, being into the arts. He mentioned he was from Pennsylvania and then pointed out his parents who proudly smiled and waved. Since no one is a stranger to me (remember I am a retired flight attendant), I approached the couple. I introduced myself and asked what part of Pennsylvania they were from. When they answered that it was a small town in Western Pennsylvania, I told them my best friend lived in Ligonier. Bethanie Smithley’s jaw dropped and she replied, “Garrett, tell Carlotta where you were born.” “Ligonier, Pennsylvania,” he replied. We’re talking a town of 1,549 in the last census. But it didn’t end there. Garrett’s mom was also a former flight attendant and his dad,R K, was a pilot who flew military charters at World Airways with Barb Lambert, one of my flight attendant friends from Delta! It is indeed a small world.
The following month, we again found ourselves at the speedway. This time it was for Wheel of Fortune auditions! I begged poor Rick to go along just in case I got chosen to go on stage so he could take pictures. The next thing we knew, we were in a long line of cars to enter the midfield where auditions were being held. When we joined a two-hour line already snaking through the NASCAR garage, I realized that I was not the only one with the great idea of going!! There were several hundred people!!! We had to fill out a small 4” by 5” yellow piece of paper (the “application”) telling our names, ages, contact info and what made us unique from the others in the line. Try being original given just four lines as well as writing legibly using one’s other hand as a clipboard!! The rope finally dropped and we ended up very close to the stage. There were to be three rounds of an hour each with the names being drawn from a hopper for several games. Our Pat Sajek was a guy named Marty Lublin who was personality extraordinaire!! Our Vanna was a perky blonde named Mallory Harden with a body I will wish for in my next life. Marty did a quick interview of each contestant that was even more important than the actual puzzle solving. After all, the producers didn’t want someone whose hobby was watching paint dry, for the real show! As people came and went on stage, I was mentally rehearsing my spiel. They got to the last group for round one. They called, “Carlotta…..” finally!! “Gonzales.” Not me. They announced the last person for the round. “Rick…..” My hubby got a look of horror since everyone pauses before they try to say our last name. “Schmittgen!” Oh boy! The man, who I talked into coming as well as filling out an application and was bailing after round one, was chosen!! Rick did pretty well on the interview pointing me out in the audience…. I just wished he had added something like sports guru. I knew from the Smithleys at NASCAR to just proudly smile and wave. He mentioned he liked gardening and woodworking, then “playing with our two-month-old Boxer Katie” who was actually almost five months. I had to smile – nerves. As for the rest of the twelve hour day, my “application” was never drawn. I knew it wasn’t meant to be. They didn’t have one sports puzzle!!
This was my column for the quarterly magazine, Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country Spring 2017 issue.
As I write this column, it is Super Bowl Sunday. Normally, my favorite day of the year, but this year God threw a curve ball and took our Boxer Rex away from us a week ago. It just won’t be the same without him. “Big Boy” Rex was the one who would obediently come to the closet when I said, “Game Day! Where’s your bandana?” He would sit and hold his neck up, still as a statue, as I put his New England Patriots scarf on. He knew it came with his mom’s crazy superstitions on game day! You ask how could a gal who lives in Texas like a team who deflates footballs? Well, I’ve lived in three areas of Texas all but 14 years of my life, but I was born in New England. Patriots football is in my blood along with fall foliage, skiing on ice, “pahking the cahr” and loving “lobstah.”
It was fortunate for Rex that he was so big that I couldn’t find game jerseys to fit him. He just wasn’t into clothes. He made his point with one torn football jersey from his puppy days. He drew the line at bandanas. One time when I put my ski hat on him, you could tell by his look that it wasn’t a game face; it was instead a “Seriously, Mom?” There were exceptions to the rule like the time Rex helped me with a Duck Dynasty contest entry at Texas Motor Speedway by donning a beard … well, sort of … it was Rex posing behind a cardboard beard.
Rex’s claim to fame came at the Texas Rangers Bark in the Park. The first year we went, Rex became the hit of section 11 as he howled at the hotdog vendor. The guy yelled back, “Ain’t no dogs for you Bud!” The following year he was chosen from over 700 canines to wear the FanCam in the pregame walk around the ballpark. He proudly stood stoic while they mounted the camera around his neck. I could tell he was thinking this was something important happening and to not to screw it up. What a great job he did! As he did his lap around the perimeter, he got the attention of the Ranger players and coaches observing from the dugout as well as fans hanging over the guardrail. He was the envy of every dog attending! And his footage ran on a Fox Sports Southwest Special including his shot of his “sister” Roxie licking his camera.
Yes, Rex led a life many dogs only dream of. R.I.P. Rex. Sports will never be the same without you.
You Tube — Rex and the Hot Dog Vendor — Texas Rangers Bark in the Park — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c423zq5PIOU A classic Rex moment !!!
My article in Heartbeat of the Texas Hill Country – Winter Issue
What an exciting year 2016 was for sports! It’s not too often that one sees so much history in the making as we did. The year started out with a Cinderella ending for NFL great Peyton Manning as he guided the Denver Broncos to a Super Bowl win. What a way to end a career!! He hasn’t done too badly in post-football either. There’s rarely a day that doesn’t go by that I don’t see Peyton in a commercial. I think the funniest is the one where he’s sitting on the couch in his bathrobe and sipping coffee. Lionel Richie is singing in the background, “It’s Peyton on Sunday morning.” Manning is on the phone with brother Eli wanting him to come and watch Sunday football on his DirecTV set-up. Eli’s seen in the Giants locker room explaining why he can’t – he’s playing football. “I’ll pencil you in for Tuesday,” and Peyton writes “Eli” in the empty calendar.
March Madness in college basketball made history too when the number fifteen seed Middle Tennessee upset number two seed Michigan State in the first round destroying just about every basketball fan’s bracket including mine! The “experts” had predicted Michigan State to make the Final Four and some had even picked them to win the championship. And it didn’t end there! The fourteenth seed Stephen F. Austin upset number three seed West Virginia and Syracuse became the first tenth seed in history to advance to the Final Four. The finals were held in Houston where Villanova upset North Carolina to win the championship on a three-point shot at the buzzer!
The NBA followed suit when the Cavaliers brought Cleveland their first sports championship in fifty-two years! Hubby was happy as he’s from the suburbs of that city on the lake. As Rick watched the TV coverage, he wondered which speck was his nephew Bret and was probably secretly envious because he wasn’t there too.
Even car racing re-wrote history when both the June and July NASCAR races at Pocono Speedway had to be postponed due to weather as well as the Indycars at Texas Motor Speedway finishing the end of the June race in August due to weather. Weather delays are never fun for fans as a lot of the spectators travel in and postponements cause havoc on hotels, car rentals, transportation and work plans. We know only too well after waiting out a few ourselves only to be watching concession stand commercials on Big Hoss and covered cars on the track as the rain dripped off our hair and clothes.
But no greater history was made with the conclusion of the Major League Baseball season! For a while, it looked like both Texas teams, the Astros and Rangers were destined for the playoffs. Houston had a September meltdown, and then the best in the American League Texas Rangers found themselves swept by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1st round of the playoffs. Our home became a war zone with my husband’s Cleveland Indians and my Boston Red Sox meeting in the AL Championship. I was the queen of trash-talking only to eat my words as Rick’s Indians swept Boston and moved on to the World Series.
I quickly found myself OK with t he loss when I realized that I was watching sports history unfold yet again! The Indians were in the World Series in 1997 when they lost in extra innings in game seven to the Florida Marlins. They hadn’t won the title since 1948. The Cubs hadn’t won the title since 1908, and hadn’t made it to the World Series since 1945 – the infamous series where the Billy-goat curse was put on the team. We were witnessing one of the two longest championship droughts in baseball finally come to an end! It looked like destiny was going to hang onto the coattails of the Cavaliers and side with the Tribe, who jumped out to a lead of three games to one. Then Chicago shocked themselves and the Indians not to only to piece together back-to-back wins, but they also forced a game seven and won in extra innings! . I just wonder if sports will ever repeat a year like 2016!
My heart broke for UT’s Charlie Strong today. I don’t know who I felt sorrier for — him or the players of Houston knowing that their coach was in negotiations for two other schools. Distractions for both teams and staffs and because of those, losses for both teams. Texas will not see a bowl game and Houston will see one, but because of today, one of the lower tiers as well as drop out of the polls again. I am disgusted with the system which allows college coaches to be approached by teams before the playoffs are over (unlike NFL). I am disgusted that only money and notoriety is what the coaches care about rather than loyalty to the kids who committed to the program because of them. And I am disgusted with the media — for their hammering of the coaches involved and the players. Bon Voyage Tom Herman!
This column ran in the fall issue of Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country.
This year’s Olympics in Rio had special meaning for me. How exciting to cheer for and see someone on the medal podium I knew! The last time I saw Katie Meili was the day after Christmas, 2014. We rang the doorbell and were greeted by Karen my friend from Delta, and Rio the chocolate lab rescue dog. Responding to Karen’s sweeping arm motion that the door was not for him, Rio retreated to a room with the lit tree and evidence of a family Christmas still under it. Karen’s daughter, Katie appeared — a slender, beautiful young woman with big brown eyes. She certainly wasn’t the little girl that I remembered from my airlines days with her mom.
It was her older sister’s fault that Katie got involved in swimming. Maureen broke her ankle on the trampoline she had for gymnastics. First came a cast and then the orthopedic specialist suggested joining a swimming team for her rehabilitation. Karen was relieved; swimming was a much safer sport. Typical of younger siblings, Katie tagged along – she wanted to do anything Maureen did! Katie proved to be a natural once she got the hang of swimming. And with her ability, came classes and lots of hours of practice. Karen chimed in, “Remember the place that wanted you there for 5:30am swim classes?!?!?” She quickly followed with, “Oh sorry, this is your interview…” Katie smiled at the woman she knew had made lots of monetary and career sacrifices to help her “Dream big… Execute well. “
The Columbia graduate who sat across the table from me was now a professional swimmer. Her goal was to be in Rio in 2016, but that was a year and half away and she knew from experience, things can happen to delay a goal. Fate had already stepped in right before the 2012 Olympic Trials. During warmups while pushing off the wall, her hand got caught on another swimmer. “I think I hurt my hand.” Sure enough, x-rays showed the bone had snapped. Katie displayed her right hand and described a piece inside. I held up my left arm with my Titanium rod showing through. I knew without asking — there had been no London Olympics for Katie.
Katie’s face lit up when I asked about her college years. “Columbia – I wanted East Coast. It was a small school in a big city! “ Ivy League, just like her dad who went to Dartmouth. She majored in Psychology and of course made her mark with swimming. After graduating in 2013, she was invited to North Carolina to train at SwimMAC with David Marsh. Once getting settled in, she worked part-time for Direct ChassisLink, Inc. who currently sponsors her.
The pool where she practices is also where NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson swims. “Really?!?” This racing enthusiast wanted more details. “He swims with us on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I am in awe of him,” she responded. NASCAR sharing the same turf as some of the most elite swimmers in the world! “You like any other sports?” I asked. “I like the Cowboys and Mavs…. and I’m a HUGE Red Sox fan.” Bingo! Sox are my team too. We shared high fives.
Fast forward to 2016. Katie has been travelling the world competing as a pro– winning titles and setting a record or two. I had lunch with Karen in July. Olympics Trials for Rio were coming up. “I think she has a shot to make it,” Karen whispered. Days later the text, “She made it!!” And boy did she ever!! I loved the media hype at Rio about the swimmer named Meili. “Where did she come from?” they were writing and saying. They found out soon with the 100m Breaststroke. In prelims, Katie tagged the wall right after Lilly King, also on the USA team. In the finals, Katie was edged out nineteenth hundreds of a second by silver medalist, Yulia Efimova. The Russian had previously failed two drug tests – don’t get me started!!
Yes … the family dog, a chocolate lab named Rio and Katie Meili with an Olympic Bronze medal draped around her neck in Rio. It’s only fitting.
As I write this column, I am watching the running of the 142nd Kentucky Derby. A flood of memories begins with connections to the sport of horse racing that I have made throughout my life. When I was a child, my dad used to take us to New Hampshire to watch harness racing at Hinsdale Raceway. The horses raced pulling a driver in a two-wheeled cart equipped with bicycle wheels. I “helped” my dad pick a possible winner by choosing my favorite colors. I would love to visit my Aunt Harriet, my dad’s sister in Brunswick, New York, as she always shared stories of winning at Saratoga, an elite race track in upstate New York. At the time, they didn’t allow children so I had to imagine the horse races by way of my Aunt Harriet’s stories. Years later my dad used to joke that we never heard of all the money she lost between her big wins. In the early sixties, construction began on a thoroughbred horse racing track in the next town over from where we lived. I never got to experience that since they didn’t open until after we moved from New England.
Fast forward to the 70s when I was a flight attendant for Delta Air Lines. Very early in my career, I worked flights into Louisville, Kentucky, home of the Kentucky Derby. Our planes were DC-9s with an overhead shelf where passengers could put coats and hats, but not luggage. The week of the Derby, heavily-perfumed women boarded with their lightweight round hat boxes containing their fancy bonnets to wear to the race. Meanwhile the men had their newspapers out studying and highlighting statistics of the horses running. Because the race drew so many people, hotels were at a premium so we didn’t get to layover and be part of the action.
In May of 1987, I was working a night flight out of DFW “puddle-jumping” through Shreveport, Memphis, Louisville and Detroit. I only had one passenger in first class so I knelt in the seat in front of him and began to chat. He was going as far as Louisville for the Kentucky Derby. He seemed very knowledgeable of horse-racing and even told me I should bet on a bay colt called Alysheba. The day before the race I told my husband about the conversation and that was the end it — no bet was made. The next day we sat before the TV and watched the race. Mid-race, Alysheba was cut off by another horse and just about fell with his jockey. Somehow he regrouped and kept racing. As my passenger in first class predicted, Alysheba won. While they were putting the blanket of roses over his back, the owners and trainer surrounded the beautiful colt. I excitedly turned to my husband and said, “There’s Mr. Van Berg! I guess we should of bet on him! “ My husband looked in disbelief at the person I am pointing at, and then said “You didn’t tell me the person on your flight was his trainer!!” Alysheba went on to win the Preakness Stakes, but failed at his run at the Triple Crown. Thinking back on it, I’ll bet my Aunt Harriet would have had a wager on him.
Part of my exclusive with NASCAR’s Landon Cassill during his recent visit in Texas.
This aired on 1610am 106.3fm KWQQRadio.com this week. Hope you’ll tune in for ‘Lotta Sports and Sports Snapshot — Daily on KWQQ Radio!