Photos courtesy Bob Wilber

New book takes fans on compelling, humorous journey into world of NHRA drag racing

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Tens of thousands of people will attend this weekend’s Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway in suburban Indianapolis.

They’ll be there to see some of the best performers that the world of NHRA drag racing has to offer.

But between burnouts, finishes and between rounds, don’t be surprised to see at least a few doing some reading in the grandstands and suites.

Veteran NHRA public relations representative Bob Wilber has written a very compelling and humorous book – “Bats, Balls and Burnouts – A Life of Sports, Marketing and Mayhem” – that details his long tenure in the world of sports as an athlete and PR rep.

Wilber grew up steeped in Major League Baseball as his father, Del, played in the big leagues for several years before Bob was born. Bob followed in his father’s athletic footsteps, playing high school, college and six years of minor league baseball and becoming a baseball scout before moving on to administrative roles in soccer and as a player agent.

But that was all a prelude to Wilber changing careers shortly before turning 40, and then spending more than 20 years in the NHRA in a variety of roles, including marketer, racetrack operator and ultimately a team PR rep.

“Looking back over all of my career, playing ball, college ball, professional ball, at the time was my dream and all I cared about,” Wilber said. “That was my dream.

“But looking back over all of it, the 20 years in NHRA drag racing were the most rewarding. That was not handed to me. I was not the son of a drag racer, I was the son of a baseball player.

“And the soccer part of it, I was a marketing guy, which was not my forte. But what I really am is a communicator. So to be a PR guy for all those years, to go from being nobody and then look back over my career, to see what we did and where I got and the respect I earned, that is my greatest accomplishment. I started from nothing in this sport, I didn’t know anything about the sport.”

Wilber’s new book tells a number of great stories of the Minnesota resident’s time in the straight-line world – which is quite appropriate to be discussed here, as the U.S. Nationals is the biggest and most popular drag race in the world.

And has been for nearly 65 years.

“Probably the biggest memory of my drag racing career was the 2005 U.S. Nationals, when Del (Funny Car driver and one of Wilber’s closest friends, Del Worsham) won the Skoal Showdown (an exhibition race within a race), and then doubled-up and won the Nationals,” Wilber said. “That was pretty remarkable for a group like us.

Bob Wilber, right and Del Worsham celebrate after winning the 2005 U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.

“And we didn’t luck into any of it. We just beat all the big hitters. That was one of the most excited moments of my life, and that’s what I love about drag racing, is that every race win is a walk-off winner.

“I walked up to the starting line for the final round, I knelt down to shoot the video and the thought came into my head, ‘In four seconds, this is going to be over, and nobody knows how it’s going to end.’ It’s not like you’re up 9 runs in the ninth inning or 42 points in the fourth quarter.

“I love that about drag racing because every one is a complete explosion of emotion. It’s like it’s tied in the bottom of the ninth and someone is going to hit a home run.”

That Wilber, whose book went on sale recently on Amazon, would be at the U.S. Nationals this weekend to sell and autograph his book as well as catch up with longtime friends and fans, was an easy choice.

That race has figured highly throughout his career in the sport, providing a number of memories that he candidly describes in the book.

Wilber spent 12 years working with Worsham, one of only three drivers in NHRA history to win world championships in the sport’s two most popular classes: Top Fuel (2011) and Funny Car (2015).

Other drivers Wilber worked with in his career included two other veteran Funny Car drivers, Tim Wilkerson and Whit Bazemore.

Bob Wilber was a promising baseball player like his father before making a career change and spending 20 years in drag racing as a PR rep and administrator.

Having grown tired of constant travel, he decided heading into the 2015 U.S. Nationals that he would retire at season’s end and put his life story on paper. It took him one year to write.

The theme of the book, Wilber said, is “plow forward” – and that’s exactly what he did. He wrote 5-6 days per week for one full year, writing 1,000 pages before trimming it down to the final in-print version of 510 pages across 33 chapters.

The book came out this July and has been very well-received, so much so that Wilber is thinking about additional book projects, maybe even a sequel.

“There are still many, many stories to tell,” Wilber said. “There’s probably a decade’s worth of books to write if you want to do drag racing, I guarantee you.”

And indeed, Wilber, now 61, is already preparing to do two more books, one on drag racing and the other on minor league baseball.

Drag racing books are rare to come by. How Wilber arrived at writing his book is interesting. It was during his final season on the NHRA circuit – and during the 2015 U.S. Nationals – when Wilber confided in a fellow PR rep who was also at a similar career crossroads about retiring and pursuing other opportunities.

Close friends for many years, they looked at each other and the answer just struck Wilber.

“I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up,” Wilber said, recalling the conversation with a laugh. “What am I really supposed to be doing here?

“I looked at her and it was right then and there that I decided to write my book. I just made up my mind and I’ve done it.”

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“Bats, Balls and Burnouts” is available on Amazon.com, on Kindle and Nook formats, and will be on sale at Tim Wilkerson’s souvenir trailer this weekend at LOR.

Wilber will be at the trailer during much of Sunday, signing books, as well.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

NASCAR America: Scott Speed’s quest for Red Bull GRC three-peat

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Red Bull Global Rallycross points leader Scott Speed is going for his third consecutive championship next month (Saturday, October 14, 4:30 p.m. ET, NBC from Los Angeles) for the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team.

Prior to that, he joined Thursday’s edition of NBCSN’s NASCAR America, checking in with his former Red Bull Racing teammate Brian Vickers, show host Carolyn Manno and analyst Steve Letarte.

Speed talked teammate dynamics – he and Tanner Foust have been the class of the Red Bull GRC field for several years – and what it takes to succeed in the diverse championship that features racing on both pavement and dirt.

“Tanner comes from more of a more rally background and I come from more of an open-wheel, road course background,” Speed explained. “You have to meet in the middle and often times that creates success. Our personalties are polar opposites and that’s a good thing.”

One other thing Speed addressed was Austin Cindric’s couple notable incidents in the last month or so. Going for his maiden NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win, Cindric hit Kaz Grala at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park to move for the lead and ultimately the win.

Cindric then made his GRC Supercars debut at the most recent weekend in Seattle and the two collided after a miscommunication in a preliminary race, prior to the Joker section of the course.

“He’s a young kid with not a lot of experience. He’s made a couple big mistakes. He came in like a wrecking ball,” Speed laughed.

“I was more mad because the car couldn’t restart at first. But it did, and we got going.”

Public clashes over future of Detroit Grand Prix

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DETROIT (AP) State officials are deciding whether to continue hosting the Detroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle, a state park and island that opponents say is negatively impacted by the annual event.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is considering whether to allow the race to continue after its current five-year contract expires after the 2018 race.

The department held a public meeting Wednesday at the Belle Isle Nature Center to gather feedback. Dozens of residents attended.

Opponents voiced concerns about the race’s environmental impact. Several conservation groups have requested a third-party environmental impact study on how the race affects island habitat.

But supporters say the race shines a spotlight on Detroit and stimulates the economy.

The Grand Prix has occurred on Belle Isle periodically since 1992 and annually since 2012.

FIA confirms Halo crash test details, International F3 plans and more

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Following the latest meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council in Paris, France, a number of updates concerning the championships under the governing body’s umbrella for 2018 had been confirmed.

The stand-out news was the confirmation of a Formula E race in Zurich for June 2018, marking motorsport’s return to Switzerland after being outlawed back in 1955.

A number of tweaks have also been made to the FIA Super Licence points allocation from next year, placing a greater onus on drivers to race in Formula 2 before stepping up to Formula 1.

Here’s a run-down of all the other news from the WMSC’s meeting in Paris.

FORMULA 1

Following the F1 Strategy Group’s approval of ‘Halo’ cockpit protection being introduced to F1 from 2018, the WMSC gave its approval to the required updates in the technical regulations to allow its implementation.

The various technical details can be found in the regulations by clicking here (under Article 17), but the key point is that teams will now be able to finalize their chassis designs for 2018 now they know the crash test details.

The WMSC also confirmed that Sentronics will be the exclusive supplier of fuel flow meters in F1 for 2018 and 2019.

There is also a clampdown on oil burn in F1 for 2018 following the controversy with Mercedes and Ferrari in 2017, as well as continued plans to ban the ‘shark fin’ from next year’s regulations.

One point we already knew but is nevertheless of interest is the reduction in power unit elements permitted to each driver per season. As of 2018, each driver will be limited to just three internal combustion engines, three MGU-Hs, three turbochargers, two control electronics and two MGU-Ks per season, down from four for each element in 2017.

No updates were made to the F1 calendar for 2018, but Bahrain and China are tipped to switch places, the latter becoming the third round of the season.

INTERNATIONAL FORMULA 3

The WMSC confirmed plans to form an International Formula 3 series in 2019 in a bid to complete the pyramid from Formula 4 to F1.

Both the FIA European F3 and GP3 Series co-exist as the third rung on the single-seater ladder at the moment, with the international championship tipped to replace the latter.

The WMSC called for expressions of interest for chassis and engine suppliers for an international series, as well as a promoter.

Loose regulations have also been formed that are similar to GP3’s current rules, with a 24-car grid desired over a nine-to-10 round season featuring single-make chassis, engines and tires.

The FIA is also pushing to create more regional F3 series in the future to bridge the gap between F4 and International F3.

FIA WORLD ENDURANCE CHAMPIONSHIP

Following confirmation of Silverstone’s return to the 2018/19 ‘super season’ calendar last week, the WMSC ratified the schedule for the next WEC campaign that will last 13 months.

The technical regulation amendments for 2018 were also approved as part of the WEC’s bid to attract more manufacturers to the LMP1 class following Porsche’s shock exit.

“The FIA Endurance Commission was also encouraged to pursue a number of exciting and innovative proposals that it is currently working on, with the aim of enticing new manufacturers to the Championship,” part of the WMSC’s release reads.

FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

The FIA confirmed its calendar for the 2018 WRC season, with the addition of a rally in Turkey being announced in place of Poland.

1. Rally Monte Carlo – January 28
2. Rally Sweden – February 18
3. Rally Mexico – March 11
4. Tour de Corse – April 8
5. Rally Argentina – April 29
6. Rally de Portugal – May 20
7. Rally Italia – June 10
8. Rally Finland – July 29
9. Rally Germany – August 19
10. Rally Turkey – September 16
11. Rally Great Britain – October 7
12. Rally Spain – October 28
13. Rally Australia – November 18

To see the full release from the WMSC, click here.

FIA tweaks Super Licence points allocation for 2018

FIA Formula 2
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The FIA has tweaked its points allocation for the Super Licence required to race in Formula 1 for 2018, placing a greater onus on Formula 2 as being the final step on the single-seater ladder.

In a bid to tighten up on the route drivers took to reach F1, the FIA introduced a new points system for the Super Licence from 2016.

Drivers require a score of 40 points in a three-year period to be granted an FIA Super Licence, with different scores being awarded for success across a variety of categories.

Previously, drivers scored the full 40 points required for a top-two finish in GP2 (now F2) or winning the title in IndyCar, FIA Formula 3, Formula E or the FIA World Endurance Championship’s LMP1 class.

As of 2018, 40 points will only be awarded for a top-three finish in F2 or winning the IndyCar drivers’ title, with the other series facing points reductions.

One of the most devalued championships is Formula V8 3.5, formerly seen as being equivalent to GP2, with a title win previously worth 35 points now worth just 20.

Here are the points breakdowns for the most valuable championships, running from P1 in the final standings to P10.

FIA Super Licence Points Allocations

Formula 2: 40-40-40-30-20-10-8-6-4-3
IndyCar: 40-30-20-10-8-6-4-3-2-1
FIA F3: 30-25-20-10-8-6-4-3-2-1
Formula E: 30-25-20-10-8-6-4-3-2-1
WEC LMP1: 30-24-20-16-12-10-8-6-4-2
GP3: 25-20-15-10-7-5-3-2-1-0
Formula V8 3.5: 20-15-10-8-6-4-3-2-1-0
Super Formula: 20-15-10-8-6-4-3-2-1-0

You can see the full breakdown by clicking here.