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

Photos courtesy Bob Wilber
0 Comments

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.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“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

IndyCar releases schedule for 2023 season

IndyCar schedule 2023
Douglas Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
0 Comments

The NTT IndyCar Series’ 2023 schedule will feature the same number of races and tracks as this season with some minor reshuffling of dates.

IndyCar will open the 2023 season March 5 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, and will conclude Sept. 10 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California. The 107th Indy 500 will take place May 28 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The 17-race schedule will conclude with a stretch of eight races in the final nine weeks.

“The NTT IndyCar Series is on an impactful upward trajectory, making progress at a pace that befits our thrilling style of competition,” Penske Entertainment Corp. president and CEO Mark Miles said in a release. “The 2023 season provides an opportunity to further build on this trend, bringing our sport and its stars to more markets and households and reaching new consumers across the globe.”

There will be 15 events on NBC: 13 races (including six of the final seven) plus Indy 500 qualifying May 20-21. There also are three races on USA Network and the Toronto race exclusively on Peacock. All races on NBC and USA also will have live simulstreams on Peacock.

In partnership with NBC Sports, the 2022 IndyCar season was the most-watched in six years and the most-watched across NBC Sports on record. The 2022 season also was the most streamed season on record.

“We’re very excited for our 2023 NTT IndyCar Series schedule and to build on this past season’s viewership milestones,” NBC Sports vice president of programming Mike Perman said in a release. “In providing comprehensive coverage across NBC, Peacock and USA Network, NBC Sports is once again looking forward to telling the stories of these world-class drivers and this compelling series.”

Notable elements on the 2023 schedule:

–There will be the same balance of seven road course races, five street courses and five ovals.

–St. Pete will be the season opener for the 13th time.

–The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix will move from Belle Isle to the streets of downtown.

–The NASCAR doubleheader weekend at the IMS road course will shift to mid-August.

–The World Wide Technology Raceway event will move from Saturday to Sunday.

Start times for the 2023 events will be announced at a later date.

Here’s the 2023 IndyCar schedule:


Date Race/Track Network/Platform
Sun., March 5 Streets of St. Petersburg NBC, Peacock
Sun., April 2 Texas Motor Speedway NBC, Peacock
Sun., April 16 Streets of Long Beach NBC, Peacock
Sun., April 30 Barber Motorsports Park NBC, Peacock
Sat., May 13 Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Road Course) NBC, Peacock
Sun., May 28 The 107th Indianapolis 500 NBC, Peacock
Sun., June 4 Streets of Detroit NBC, Peacock
Sun., June 18 Road America USA Network, Peacock
Sun., July 2 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course USA Network, Peacock
Sun., July 16 Streets of Toronto Peacock
Sat., July 22 Iowa Speedway – Race 1 NBC, Peacock
Sun., July 23 Iowa Speedway – Race 2 NBC, Peacock
Sun., Aug. 6 Streets of Nashville NBC, Peacock
Sat., Aug. 12 Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Road Course) USA Network, Peacock
Sun., Aug. 27 World Wide Technology Raceway NBC, Peacock
Sun., Sept. 3 Portland International Raceway NBC, Peacock
Sun., Sept. 10 WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca NBC, Peacock

*dates and networks/platforms are subject to change