One to Remember!

Car guys. We love our cars and respect and appreciate the fine rides of our car-loving brothers and sisters. Every now and then a certain car will turn our heads so fast our necks hurt. Such is the case with John Labuda’s gorgeous ’56 Pontiac. In a nostalgic drag racing world full of Willys, Chevys, and Fords, John’s Pontiac stands out in a class by itself. Sure, we “ooohhh” and “ahhhh” over the typical ’55-’57 Chevys, but when was the last time you saw a mid-’50s Pontiac at the drag strip? The inspiration behind this great car came when John realized that he spent too much time working and decided it was time to “just have fun.” There was no doubt in John’s mind that he would build a Pontiac and being an “older guy” he wanted to build an “older car.”

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For a guy that repairs lawn mowers for a living, John certainly built a top-notch ride. This car also sounds and runs as good as it looks. True to the spirit of the car, it’s powered by a 455 Pontiac engine, not a typical hot rod power plant. While this Pontiac shares some of the classic lines of it’s ’56 Chevy cousin, only doors and window glass are the same. John has owned this car for 5 years and if looks are any indication, it’s been a wonderful 5 years full of fun!

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Back to Reality

Okay, you regular followers (you know who you are) know that I haven’t added a post for awhile. No, I haven’t gotten bored with the blogging thing, I’ve been up to something. It was time to write something more in-depth than a blog post, so I began work on a new project. I am now anxiously awaiting the proof copy of my book, “The Jesus Rock” so I can pull the trigger and make it available to the masses. Check out the cover under the “Books” tab on this blog for a peek. It’s written in a fast-paced style to match the short attention span of today’s modern readers. First availability will be a print edition with a Kindle version to shortly follow. Stay tuned for updates and links on where to find it and how to buy it. Thank you all for your support in the past and future!

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Steeler Camp/Steeler Nation – Simply the Best

Every member of the Steeler Nation should take in the spectacle that is Steeler Training Camp at least once in their life. With all of the hate, division, and violence in today’s world, it’s a breath of fresh air to be a part of a crowd that is courteous to one another and respectful to all. Such is the effect of the love affair with the group that calls themselves Steeler Nation and their beloved Steelers.

It always starts innocently enough. People standing in line waiting to get in. Chatting with perfect strangers about their favorite players, who they most want to meet, the team’s chances this season, you know, the usual stuff. When it’s time to go in, there is no pushing or shoving, but some do run to capture their favorite spot. You can always tell the fans who make this trek on a regular basis. They are the ones that run straight for that prime real estate that has a great view of the field and provides shade to keep them out of the hot midday sun. These are usually the diehard fans who plan their summer vacations around training camp. The beauty of the experience is that even if you’re a first-timer with no clue, you can still find a good spot to see your favorite players up close. Not sure you know what you’re doing? Just ask anyone how things usually work, and they’re only too happy to share the wisdom of Steeler Nation.

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It’s a bit of a thrill as they come out of the locker room to walk to the field. Even the most unknown of the rookies will draw a cheer, with fans of all ages lining the fence to shout to the players, most of the youngsters sticking their hands out to get a “high five” from a real, live professional football player. Even though the crowd gives a hearty cheer for every player, it’s easy to tell the fan favorites by the volume of the cheering. On most teams the quarterback is the most popular player and although there were lots of cheers for Ben Roethlisberger, there was one other player who clearly brought the loudest cheers from the crowd. At first, I thought Kiesel’s beard had gone to a whole new level, but then I saw Troy Polamalu behind him and I knew who the cheer was for.

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Wandering through the crowd one can hear all kinds of conversations, but all are centered around the team. Some people talk of injuries to veterans, others the potential of the new group of rookies. The most touching of the conversations revolve around the parents passing the Steeler Nation torch on to their children, telling them stories of the legendary players, teaching them how to identify the players on the field, you know, all the things a typical Steeler fan needs to know. It almost rivals a religious experience. In fact, I’d be willing to bet it may be the biggest religious experience some of the people in the crowd will ever have.

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Watching the players head to the showers is an experience all its’ own. Adoring fans lined up hoping to get an autograph from their favorite player. I always like watching the youngsters getting excited to collect those special autographs. They’re all primed to get their favorite player, but the guy that stops to give them a smile and an autograph instantly becomes they’re new favorite. I can’t lie, I always enjoy getting an autograph and giving a word of encouragement to the new guys myself. I was lucky enough to win a hat at the traveling “Great Hall” so I had the perfect thing to collect autographs on. No, the chances of any of the guys that signed it making it into the Hall of Fame aren’t aren’t a sure thing, but it will always serve as a reminder of a day spent among the faithful of Steeler Nation.

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It’s amazing to consider that these guys were still happily signing so many autographs this late in camp, but such is the bond between the team and their fans. One of the most special scenes I’ve witnessed was presented by Ryan Clark, one of my own personal favorites. Mr. Clark came out….suddenly dropped to the ground, signed his shoes and gave each one to an excited youngster. Even more excited than one of the youngsters was the giddy father that got to hold the shoe himself afterward. I was standing next to him so I got to see it up close and got to hear the excitement in the father’s voice as I talked with him. Chris Rainey also tossed his sweat bands out into the crowd, something this talented young man may get to do for years to come.

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Thus ended my day at Steeler training camp, always a special gathering for members of Steeler Nation. And thanks to Kyle Jolly, Ikponmwosa Igbinosun, Doug Legursky, Chris Carter, Chris Rainey, and Alameda Ta’Amu for signing my hat!

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A Day at the Zoo

I thoroughly enjoy watching the wildlife that lives outside my window, but every now and then I like to check out those sights that I can’t see in the yard. When those urges strike, it’s tough to beat a day at the Pittsburgh Zoo.

The day didn’t look like it would be a good day for animal watching. Most of the ride out on the PA Turnpike involved adjusting the speed on the windshield wipers to match the speed of the rain hitting the windshield. Not what most consider a formula for a good day at the zoo. The outlook didn’t change much in the parking lot with the dark skies and sounds of thunder not too far away. Any doubt of having a good day vanished at the tiger’s domain. The majestic stance of the tiger can brighten any day. One of the tigers was out prancing around, a sign of things to come. The darker day played havoc with my cheap camera (it doesn’t do very well in low-light conditions) but that was okay.

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The rain started to fall so we rushed to the elephants for shelter. The crowd was much smaller because of the weather, but it was a good crowd. Everyone was friendly and courteous, perhaps a sign of the type of character one has to have to enjoy the zoo in the rain. The elephants seemed to enjoy the rain, two of the younger ones frolicking in the water most of the time we were there. By that time, it was obvious that a lot of the animals were enjoying the cooler, rainy day.

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Dian Fossey would have been proud of the majestic “gorilla in the mist” who was frolicking around much to the delight of those present. I got to hear him pounding on his chest a little bit, a sound I’ve thankfully never heard in my own yard.

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Fishes, snakes, penguins, kangaroos, and other exotic animals were all around, but it was hard to beat the playful frolicking of the sea otters swimming around in the tank. The guy who was watching over the baby sea otter told us that playful quality made them very dangerous. It seems people think they’re as friendly as they look and end up losing pieces of their face when they get too close. Who knew? I still like the sharks, myself. There’s just something about seeing those teeth up close that I find thrilling.

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One memorable moment for me came when I was watching the meerkats. I turned and saw one of my favorite singers with her family. I didn’t say hello or bother them for an autograph because I didn’t think it right to interrupt a family memory in the making and I was determined to respect their privacy. Besides that, I was too chicken. Maybe they’ll be lucky enough to meet me the next time.

This day at the zoo was a wonderful experience. I’ll always remember all those wonderful animals. I’ll also remember what most people consider a waste of a day because of rain can be a very special day when we appreciate the wonder of creation.

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The Empty Chair

Graduation 2012. Your chair was empty, but you were there.

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Your friends and classmates all around, ready for their big day, you were in their thoughts.

Their plans for service, college, or whatever might lie ahead were on their minds, but they were still remembering your smile.

Even though the speaker’s jokes brought laughter, there were still tears shed for you.

During the moment of silence in your honor they all heard your voice in their memory.

When the swish of the tassels was heard through the audience, the whisper of your spirit was there too.

Several mentioned of this being the last night they would see each other. Their last sight of you was already a memory but one that won’t be forgotten.

Through the years as families start and grow, careers flourish and fade, lives are lived, you will always be with them.

They’ve all left the stage now, the first step in pursuing the dreams they’ve had since childhood.

Your chair is still empty. You left the stage with them. You are now a memory that will live forever in their hearts and a spirit that follows them everywhere they go.

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In memory of Ashlyn Nicole Buterbaugh 1993-2012

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The End of Mr. Turtle

I struggled with how to continue with this story. As readers of this blog know, I had great hopes of Mr. Turtle ringing in the beginning of spring as he had done so many times in the past. It was one of those early extra warm spring days in March when I realized that Mr. Turtle probably didn’t make it. A quick check did indeed prove out my worst fears. Mr. Turtle had passed on. His state of decomposition told me that it had only been a short time since he had died, perhaps struggling to come out of his hibernation but not quite making it. I had read that for turtles coming out of hibernation, it is a dangerous time since they are barely alive in this stage. Maybe his age caught up to him like it will for all of us. Maybe his will to go on wasn’t strong enough (Mrs. Turtle met a tragic end in a traffic accident last year). Whatever the reason, Mr. Turtle was gone, leaving his shell behind as a memorial. I thought about what I should do with that shell and finally settled on just leaving it under the apple tree near where he made his last resting place. A rather fitting memorial for a turtle, much like we use a headstone. As long as the shell is there, he won’t be forgotten.

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That being said, Mr. Turtle may have left another reminder of his presence behind. Last weekend, not too far from his final resting place, a somewhat familiar face showed itself from the tall grass. Without DNA testing, there’s no way of knowing if it was indeed Mr. Turtle II, but there sure was quite a resemblance. This young turtle has a mighty big shell to fill, but I’m hoping to see him wandering around for many years to come, just like Mr. Turtle. The turtle flame has been passed on!

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Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins – A Legend has Passed

When people talk about the beginning years of the Pro Stock class, the days when people were passionate about their cars and went to the drag strips on the weekend to cheer on the guys who drove their favorite brand of car, three names were at the forefront. The Ford camp had “Dyno” Don Nicholson, the Mopar guys had legendary four-speed wizard Ronnie Sox, and the Chevy lovers had Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins. I was one of those kids who were inspired by this little guy with the big cigar that had a gift for getting more out of his car than the next guy. Jenkins was smart enough that he could have done about anything, but he did what he wanted to do and his passion was finding a way to get his car down the quarter mile quicker than anyone else. I admired him from afar as a youngster, reading all the articles in the car magazines, drawing his car in class instead of paying attention to the teacher, wanting to grow up and do the same thing as he did. I’ll never forget that magical day when my brother-in-law so graciously took me along to the old York US30 Dragway and I got to see my hero in person. I can still recall how exciting it was to see the “Grumpy’s Toy” Camaro lift its front wheels in the air and scream down the strip. I must have drawn that car a hundred times, almost always with those wheels up. The Grump won the first two races of the new Pro Stock class in a Camaro, but his most successful car was a lowly Vega. That little car with the little engine defeated all the giants in ’72 and made Jenkins a national celebrity of sorts by earning as much money as Wilt Chamberlain that year. Not only was he a winner as a driver, but Jenkins built a large number of engines for a wide variety of cars, including an engine that earned the pole position of the Daytona 500 one year. He had a hand in a lot of success for a lot of people. Just as I was thrilled to see him as a youngster, I was thrilled again to watch him many years later working on the engine for Jim Yates at Englishtown. All those years later the intensity was still there. I mentioned earlier about that first sighting at York US30. There was another Camaro that caught my eye that day, the USA-1 funny car of Bruce Larson which immediately became my favorite funny car. His nitro-belching car was on the cover of the souvenir program I bought that day and I still have that program. That makes it somewhat ironic that I finally got to meet Bill Jenkins in person last fall at Bruce Larson’s place. Jenkins got his nickname “Grumpy” not by having a grumpy demeanor but from his no-nonsense approach. I’ve heard it said that was his personality at the track, but on that day I got to meet him, it seemed to be an integral part of him. I had to chuckle out loud watching one gentleman that came up to him. The exchange went sort of as follows.

Man: Remember me? We always met at so and so’s restaurant for breakfast at Englishtown and yada, yada, yada, yada and so on.

Jenkins: Yeah.

That old no-nonsense “Grump” was still there and I loved watching it up close. I saw it again shortly thereafter. The moment is captured in the picture below. The guy he came with was going on and on about an engine he had never seen before.

He ended by asking Jenkins, “Have you ever seen anything like it?”
Jenkins just replied, “Worked on a couple.”

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I seized the moment after that to introduce myself, shake his hand, and tell him how he provided an inspiration in my life that led to an automotive degree. He just smiled and said “Thank you.” That is a moment I am so very thankful that I was able to have and will always cherish.

Godspeed, Bill. The world of drag racing has lost a true legend.

Posted in Automobiles, Cars, Drag Racing, Sports, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments