Reality Bites

AGTAmerica’s Got Talent returns this week to NBC. In its tenth season, it’s become a summer staple in our house.

When Howard Stern joined  the judging panel three seasons ago, the live elimination shows were moved to the East Coast to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. Matt and I took full advantage of the show being only a half hour from home, and we went to two live tapings. Except for one act that had to be pre-taped because of a complex set-up, what happened in front of us was exactly what was being broadcast on TV at home.

This past March, AGT was back at NJPAC to tape auditions for season 10. Matt and I headed into a slushy Newark for one of the tapings.

Everyone was settled into their seats, and the anticipation started growing. But before we got even a glimpse of Howard, Heidi, Mel B., and Howie, we spent a half hour taping crowd reaction shots that would be cut into the auditions during editing.

“OK, everybody! Stand up and applaud!”

“Alright. We need you all to look surprised!”

“How about some laughter?”

“Now we need to you look horrified!”

“Stand up and cheer!”

Matt looked around in disbelief as everyone pretended for the camera. It was as if he found out there was no Santa.

So much for reality television.

P.S. Heidi Klum has the longest legs I’ve ever seen.

Best Day in Racing (Monaco, Indy, Charlotte)

On its face, the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend looks like any other Sunday for a race fan. There’s an F1 race in the morning, an IndyCar in the afternoon, and a NASCAR race at night.

But these aren’t your average races.

In fact, they’re legendary. The day starts with the F1 cars taking to the streets of Monaco. Next, it’s the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 (you might have heard of it). Finally, it’s the longest race of the NASCAR season—600 miles at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The Sunday of Memorial Day has become something of a holiday in our house (to the point that I’m trying to come up with a name for it). So that’s why I blogged it.

Monaco

7:28 a.m. EDT I’m hunkered down in the family room, ready for race #1—Monaco! Just a half hour until the race goes green.

7:49 a.m. Monaco is always fun for the celebrity sightings. So far it’s been one of the kids from One Direction (who had never been to an F1 race before—nice first race!) and Michael Fassbender (who picked Kyvat—bold pick).

Monaco breakfast7:55 a.m. Monaco breakfast. A couple croissants and some fresh fruit. Pretty European, huh?

8:02 a.m. The lights go out and we are underway! Matt is happy because Lewis Hamilton is on pole and used it to his advantage. I’m not so happy that Ricciardo got passed on the start by Kyvat. Maybe Fassbender does know something.

8:10 a.m. That piece of debris would have brought any NASCAR race to a screeching halt.

8:18 a.m. One of the things that intrigues me about Monaco is all of the spectator locations. Grandstands, balconies, rooftops, yachts, bars. Monaco, Indy, and Charlotte are definitely on my bucket list. Indy and Charlotte feel attainable. Monaco? Not so much.

8:44 a.m. Hamilton has pulled out to an 8.5-second lead. Gives me some time to think. I need a name for this awesome day of racing. I thought about Mario Andretti Day because he raced in all three series and won the Indy 500. But leave it to Juan Pablo Montoya to ruin my plan. Because he ran in all three series and won Monaco AND the Indy 500. Back to the drawing board.

8:59 a.m. Alonso out. In the exact same place as qualifying the day before. McLaren has to turn the corner at some point, right?

9:19 a.m. I can’t imagine what these streets are like on a regular day in Monte Carlo. Curves, hills, hairpin turns. Matt says if he ever goes there, he’s not driving. But he’d be more than happy to let someone else take him.

9:24 a.m. What a scary hit by Verstappen. Even scarier because we saw the whole thing happen in real time. But thankfully he walked away. Matt noticed that, within a second of Verstappen going head-on into the barrier, the display on his steering wheel flashed “FLAG.”

9:35 a.m. Hamilton pits. Rosberg and Vettel do not. Drama ensues.

9:38 a.m. “Please stop talking to me. Please.” – Lewis Hamilton

9:51 a.m. Rosberg lucks into his third win in a row at Monaco, thanks to Mercedes engineering. This is going to be an interesting podium. Matt calls it “an absolute load of crap.”

9:59 a.m. No podium on TV? Very disappointing, NBC.

10:05 a.m. Found coverage online. Missed the podium, but saw Lewis’ very diplomatic interview. Crash, safety car, bizarre pit strategy, Nico wins third in a row. That’s Monaco, folks. Can’t wait to see what the rest of the day has in store. Off for a shower…

Indianapolis 500

11:15 a.m. Pre-race coverage is in full swing. Takeaway so far? Racing is fast and dangerous.

11:28 a.m. Watching your cars run in the Indy 500. Not a bad way to start your retirement, David Letterman.

11:34 a.m. Penske roundtable the best thing on the pre-race so far. And it’s good to see Marty Smith.

11:41 a.m. First appearance today for Jeff Gordon, pace car driver.

11:50 a.m.  Yup. I still miss Dario.

11:59 a.m. Thank you, ABC, for reminding us of what Memorial Day is really about.

12:09 p.m. Pre-race ceremonies complete. Time to get this thing going. Wishing everyone a safe race today.

12:19 p.m. Great rendition of “Back Home in Indiana” from Straight No Chaser. Takes away the sting of no Jim Nabors.

12:20 p.m. But a little awkward command to start engines.

12:29 p.m. Green! (Nice job on the flag, Patrick Dempsey!)

12:30 p.m. Yellow! And there goes Sage Karam’s day. And no , Sato, you cannot win the Indy 500 in the first corner.

1:12 p.m. Things seem to have settled down and the first round of pit stops are complete. Time for some lunch.

1:25 p.m. Clauson gets into the gray and crashes into the wall coming out of Turn 4. He’s OK and walks away. Pagenaud wins this round of pit stops.

1:34 p.m. Tell me how you really feel, Sage?

1:55 p.m. Halfway!

2:05 p.m. Carpenter and Servia crash in Turn 1. Carpenter looks despondent.

2:11 p.m. Things not as good down on pit lane. The 19 hits two crew members from the 18. Hoping everyone is OK.

2:25 p.m. So it’s going to be a Penske car or a Ganassi car that wins, right? If not, then something crazy happened.

2:33 p.m. So if one wanted to go to the Indianapolis, where would one stay? Where is the best place to stay? How bad is the traffic and parking? Asking for a friend.

2:42 p.m. TK is out of the race after a crash in Turn 1. He could have won this race. Such a shame. Less than 50 laps to go.

3:00 p.m. Caution for debris. This is getting good.

3:09 p.m. Hard crash out of Turn 4. Saaverda, Hawksworth, and Coletti involved. Debris flying everywhere.

3:24 p.m. 15 laps remain. Here we go!

3:35 p.m. Montoya wins! What a finish! From 30th to 1st. I think JP is trying to make the case that I should name this day after him.

indy snack3:41 p.m. Mid-afternoon snack. Sharing some milk with Juan Pablo. We just have a chocolate chip cookie with ours.

3:55 p.m. That decision to leave NASCAR and come back to IndyCar is looking pretty brilliant, Juan Pablo. Matt’s favorite driver—Will Power— loses the lead in this race too.

3:59 p.m. Glad to see a strong finish for Graham Rahal. And Montoya know holds the record for the longest gap between wins (15 years). Time to catch my breath for a little bit. Maybe some fresh air? Back in a few…

Charlotte

5:36 p.m. More pre-race. Settling in for 600 miles. I’ll be rooting for Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart (as per usual), and I have Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray, Greg Biffle, and David Ragan in my fantasy NASCAR. Matt will be pulling for Kyle Busch in his return.

5:39 p.m. First appearance for Jeff Gordon, race car driver.

6:00 p.m. What’s the over/under on how many times they show the Dale Jr. Nationwide commercial?

6:05 p.m. Very moving and patriotic opening ceremony. Perfect national anthem.

6:11 p.m. And a very fitting command to start engines for this weekend.

6:18 p.m. Hooray! They gave “rules analyst” Andy Petree a window tonight. I feel like he’s been broadcasting from a closet all season.

6:21 p.m. Boogity, boogity!

6:38 p.m. Story lines so far: a competition caution because the track washed down a couple turns and Carl’s sticky feet.

6:45 p.m “You don’t mess with the Biff.”

Charlotte dinner7:12 p.m. Jimmie Johnson spins. Yellow flag comes out.

7:13 p.m. Oh, and it’s dinnertime! BBQ seemed appropriate for Charlotte.

7:20 p.m. We are a quarter of the way there…

7:39 p.m. Caution for Allgaier and the big yellow stripe down the side of his car.

7:55 p.m. Not that Juan Pablo didn’t make a good case today for naming the Sunday after Memorial Day after him, but maybe we need to consider other options. An acronym always works. I say M.I.C. Day (Monaco, Indy, Charlotte). Matt says F.I.N. Day (Formula 1, IndyCar, NASCAR). What do you think?

8:12 p.m. If there was ever a race in which your crew chief is going to “take a big swing at it,” this is it.

8:13 p.m. Darrell Hammond as Col. Sanders is pretty entertaining.

8:16 p.m. We are HALFWAY! We can do this, people!

8:25 p.m. The leader at the halfway point has only won once in the last eight runnings of the Coke 600. So, not exactly great news for Martin Truex Jr. fans.

8:47 p.m. Burnt Rubber. The Essence of Racing. I don’t know, Sunoco. I just don’t know.

8:54 p.m. Jimmie Johnson spins again. This time he tags the wall. Not helping my fantasy NASCAR this week, Six Time.

9:06 p.m. The silver lining to Ryan Blaney’s blown engine? Fewer mosquitoes at Charlotte Motor Speedway. That was quite a bit of smoke.

9:25 p.m. Three-quarters of the way there! If we’ve made it this far, we can make it to the end, right?

9:59 p.m. 50 laps to go. I think I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Or is this going to be like a basketball game where the last two minutes take forever?

10:07 p.m. They’ve only played the Dale Jr. Nationwide commercial four times so far tonight. Matt took six. I took seven.

10:12 p.m. 25 to go. So close. Prove the stats wrong, Truex!

10:16 p.m. Maybe Carl Edwards can go the distance?

10:19 p.m. 10. To. Go.

10:23 p.m. 4 to go. This can’t be over soon enough. Go Carl!

10:24 p.m. Carl wins!!!! And he is in the Chase!

10:25 p.m. I’ve missed that backflip.

And 15 hours, 678 laps, and three winners later, the best day in racing is over.

When Our Worlds Collide

 

Welcome to Pocono

Matt and I spent this past Sunday morning at Pocono Raceway. I know, it’s not really a surprise to find us at the racetrack. But our agenda was not to watch race cars (although there were some cars on the track today for HPDE events that made for a lovely soundtrack).

Instead, we were at the racetrack to participate in the MS Walk, a cause that is near and dear to our heart. We walked in memory of Matt’s dad, who passed away this past October. He was a big supporter of his MS Society chapter in Florida, and even served as Walk Ambassador one year. And he was also a big NASCAR fan, so Pocono seemed like the right place to walk.

A big THANK YOU to our family and friends who helped us raise more than $4,000 for the National MS Society. There are still a couple donations coming in, so we’ll have an exact number soon. And there is still time to support us. Click here if you’d like to make a donation.

We couldn’t have asked for a better day. Here are a few pictures from the walk:

Eddie McDonald

Posing with the show car for NASCAR K&N East driver Eddie McDonald.

Pocono mascot

Matt and I chilling with Tricky, Pocono Raceway’s mascot, before the walk.

pace truck

The Pocono pace truck leads the way for the walk.

under the stands

Following the walk route under the stands.

selfie grandstand

Success! A post-walk selfie from the grandstands.

 

Celebrating My Guys

1995 NJ DEVILS in order

Photo by Matthew Lowell Thompson

When I went to my first New Jersey Devils game ever—which was also my first hockey game ever—in March 1994, I had no idea how everything was about to change. Who knew that this one game would turn me into a hockey addict and rabid Devils fan, torturing, um, I mean, delighting everyone with my new knowledge and begging people to go to games with me? (I am still torturing and begging my loved ones to this day.)

I also had no idea that the team I had hitched my wagon to would win the Stanley Cup the very next year. Each player worked hard, did his job, and did what no one thought they could—bring the Stanley Cup to New Jersey. After that, players would come and go, and the Devils would win two more Stanley Cups. But that 1995 team? That was MY team. They were MY guys.

STEVENS

Photo by Matthew Lowell Thompson

So when the Devils announced that they would be honoring the 1995 Stanley Cup championship team, I circled the date on the calendar. And this past weekend, I got to celebrate my guys.

I’ll never forget those bone-shattering hits from team captain Scott Stevens and his threat that “you’re next.” Or the performance of that young goaltender Martin Brodeur. We knew he was good, but could we ever have imagined where his career would go? Or the dedication of Ken Daneyko, who had been with the Devils for his entire career, through thick and thin. How about the speed of offensive defensemen Scott Niedermayer? And the MVP performance of Claude Lemieux.

MARTY

Photo by Matthew Lowell Thompson

There was the “Crash Line”—Randy McKayMike Peluso, and Bobby Holik—who brought both grit and timely goals. The impressive offense from Stephane Richer and John MacLean. The contributions from younger players like Bill Guerin and Brian Rolston. And the sweet victory for Jersey native Jim Dowd.

And the Cup-winning goal scored by Neal Broten. While he wasn’t around for long, Broten was one of my favorites. Not only was he the first American to score a Cup-winning goal, but he was also a member of the 1980 U.S. hockey team that pulled off the Miracle on Ice. You may have heard of it.

My thanks to the New Jersey Devils for bringing back so many memories of 1995. And for reminding of the time that I fell in love with hockey.

ONE MORE TIME AROUND

Photo by Matthew Lowell Thompson

 

 

Horsepower

traffic jam amish style

Photo by Jen Thompson

If you head about two hours west from where we live, you’ll find yourself smack in the middle of Pennsylvania Dutch Country. The area is home to many Amish families, who live in a “Plain” lifestyle. That means no phones, no electricity, and no cars or tractors. The main form of transportation is horse and buggy, just like the one we stopped behind a couple months ago.

Coming up on a horse and buggy while driving through the Pennsylvania countryside can be a little jarring. However, spotting this single-horsepower vehicle during our visit was even more jarring because we had just spent the day watching 10,000 horsepower (times two) speed down the track at Maple Grove Raceway. You know, kind of like this—

TF D Dixon 2

Photo by Matthew Lowell Thompson

Or this—

TF FC Capps

Photo by Matthew Lowell Thompson

 

Things I Like This Week … Nitromethane Edition

TA FC Lombardo 2

Photo by Matthew Lowell Thompson

1. NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway. This past weekend Matt and I made our second trip to the NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, PA. Traveling to the track each day meant a picturesque trip through Amish country with changing leaves, farms, and expansive corn fields (and one corn maze). In the middle of all this quaint scenery is a drag strip with with cars making 10,000 horsepower.

The Sarge

Photo by Matthew Lowell Thompson

2. NHRA drag racing. Many people think drag racing is simply driving a high horsepower car really fast for a quarter mile (or 1,000 feet in some cases). But there really is so much more to it than that. Exhibit A for that proposition? The photo above. That’s Top Alcohol Funny Car driver John Lombardo Jr. during Saturday’s qualifying session. Notice that none of his tires are actually touching the racing surface. Conditions were a bit tricky this weekend due to some rain on Friday night and cooler temperatures. Those cooler temperatures meant the potential for more horsepower. the crew chiefs and drivers went for it, and there some near record breaking passes.

3. Every NHRA ticket is a pit pass. Unlike other types of racing, NHRA gives its fans access to the pits. So Matt and I got up close and personal with the crews and drivers this weekend. In many cases, there was only a rope separating us from the crews working on the cars. That means we were only a few feet away from the drivers starting their top fuel dragsters and funny cars (and the resulting tear-inducing nitromethane fumes). And the NHRA drivers are some of the most accessible (and nicest) drivers in motorsports.

And on an unrelated topic …

4. Hockey is back! As a fan of a team that did not make the playoffs, it’s been six long months since I’ve seen my team on the ice. But the Devils and the rest of the NHL are back this week. Each team starts with a clean slate, and (most) fans are full of hope for their teams’ seasons. Of course, check back with me in a couple months.

Things I Like This Week … The Return Edition

Tix1. Our season tickets are here! Yesterday, I headed over to the Prudential Center to pick up our Devils season tickets. Picking up the box meant that the return of the hockey season is right around the corner. And I’d like to believe there is more than just tickets in that box. I think there’s also the excitement and hope that each new season brings. Each team starts with a clean slate, with the same chance at winning the Stanley Cup. Fingers crossed it’s a good season.

2. The Mindy Project is back. One of my favorite shows last season was The Mindy Project. And it’s not just because I’d like to be Mindy Kaling when I grow up (even though she’s almost 10 years younger than me). The show really hit its stride in the second half of last season, and I can’t wait to see what happens now that Mindy and Danny are dating. It really has become must-see TV for me. Speaking of returning shows …

3. Boardwalk Empire. I’ve been watching Boardwalk Empire since it started. Now that we’re down to the final eight episodes (OK, six now), I’m tuning in every Sunday night at 9 to see how this drama is going to end. This is probably the right time for the show to end. With everything he has done, Nucky Thompson can’t live forever, right?

4. Bryan Cranston’s one-man baseball show. Baseball’s post-season returns in a couple weeks. While last season’s post-season was magical (thanks to a Red Sox World Series win), this year’s post-season means nothing (thanks to a horrible Red Sox regular season). Bryan Cranston’s new video about his one-man baseball show pays homage to some of the greatest baseball moments (and has an appearance from a former Red Sox). I think this will tide me over until next season.

 

Things I Like This Week … Back in the Saddle Edition

Aerosmith full stage

Photos by Matthew Lowell Thompson

Dream on

1. Aerosmith. Aerosmith was the latest stop in our Last Chance Tour (as in this might be the last chance to see them). The Last Chance Tour is kind of a crapshoot—you never know exactly what you’re going to get. The big question is always this—are they going to sound as good as they used to? Sometimes you’re disappointed, and sometimes you’re surprised. And on Wednesday night, Aerosmith did not disappoint. Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, and the rest of the band have not lost a beat. To Matt’s delight, they played some of their older songs. The best past of the night? Now I can cross off “Seeing Aerosmith perform Dream On live” off my bucket list.

SLASH2. Slash. Slash, who opened for Aerosmith, was a reminder that Matt and I will not be seeing Guns N’ Roses on the Last Chance Tour. But we did get a nice G N’ R substitute Wednesday night when Slash, performing with Myles Kennedy, played a few songs from the past, including Sweet Child ‘O Mine and Paradise City. We got to see one of the best guitar players ever play some of the greatest guitar riffs ever. Not a bad little appetizer for the Aerosmith show. Not bad, indeed.

3. Football is back! I may not have grown up as a football fan, but I sure am one now. In our house, we’ll be rooting for the Patriots (we’re deep in enemy territory) and the Panthers (that’s where Matt’s cousin plays). Not following the home team means that we don’t always get the game on TV. Thankfully, we have SiriusXM to fill the void.

4. The family football pool. It’s become an annual tradition. Aunts, uncles, and cousins gather together online to pick the winner of every NFL game every week. To keep things interesting, there may be a small wager on the outcome. But what’s a little competition among family members, right?

Things I Like This Week … Labor Day Edition

WP BGP

Will Power on his way to victory in the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix./Photo by Matthew Lowell Thompson

1. Will Power, IndyCar Champion. If you’re an IndyCar fan, there’s only two opinions of Will Power—you love him or you hate him. Our house falls in the pro-Will Power camp, so we were happy (and relieved) to see Will finally win the IndyCar championship on Saturday night (which we didn’t watch until Sunday morning because there was no way I could stay up that late). Will didn’t have the championship wrapped up until the last few laps. Just one more indication of how competitive the IndyCar series was this season. Too bad the season had to end so early.

2. Cirque du Soleil. It’s a staple on the Vegas strip. While I’ve been to Vegas a couple times, I’ve never taken in the show. So when Cirque du Soleil’s Varekai took up residence at the Prudential Center for a few days, I had to go. And it did not disappoint. I know I overuse the word “amazing,” but it is the only word I can think of to describe the performance. Aerial acts, tumblers, hand balancers. There were times I didn’t know what direction to look in.

3. Guardians of the Galaxy. Matt and I rarely go to the movies. But  we thought Guardians of the Galaxy was one of those movies we should see on the big screen. We were right. Fun story and characters. Chris Pratt is hysterical. Catchy soundtrack (which I purchased today). And two sub-things I like? The AMC Fork and Dine Theater (where you can catch the movie while having a beer and eating dinner) and 3D movies (which apparently I have been missing out on).

4. I am Alain Prost. There are all kinds of quizzes out there on the Internet. Thanks to McLaren, now you can take a quiz to figure out which F1 driver you are.

Alexis

Photo by Matthew Lowell Thompson

Eddie K

Photo by Matthew Lowell Thompson

5. U.S. Nationals. It’s the biggest race of the year for the NHRA. It’s the one that every driver wants to win. And it’s always on Labor Day weekend. So in preparation for the busy fall that’s coming, we’re spending a lazy Monday afternoon watching ESPN’s six hours of coverage of the U.S. Nationals. And counting down the 30 days until we get to see these cars live and in person.

Things I Like This Week … Oak Tree Edition

Oak tree-1

Photo by Matthew Lowell Thompson

1. Return of the Son of Oak Tree. OK, this may sound like a bad horror or sci-fi movie, but it’s actually good news to me and other racing fans. Last summer I lamented the loss of the Oak Tree at Virginia International Raceway. But on Sunday morning, I was very pleased to wake up to an article from Racer that VIR had found a descendant of the original oak tree and that it would be moved from its current location to to the Oak Tree turn at VIR (on the outside of the track though) in November. Welcome back, Son of Oak Tree!

2. The Knick. It sounds like many of the medical dramas on television today—talented and dedicated surgeon who can only function while under the influence of cocaine, hospital administrators trying to keep the institution afloat, and doctors trying to save lives. What makes The Knick different is that it is set in 1900, not present day. Surgery techniques are rudimentary and experimental. Directed by Steven Soderbergh (one of my favorites), The Knick is visually stunning. (Another visually stunning work? The Grand Budapest Hotel, which we watched this past weekend. There’s a bonus thing I like.)

3. Oh, so that’s how the Chase works. All season long, I’ve been hearing about the new Chase format works. I know you have win to get in, but that was about all I got. Well, now NASCAR has a video from some of your favorite drivers explaining how the new format works. (Side note: is the format too complicated if we need a video to explain it?) The video is fun, and the format could be interesting. I know I’ll be tuning in to see what happens.

4. The Emmys. The Emmy are tonight! It’s my second favorite awards show after the Golden Globes (the lack of tables and lack of alcohol at said tables drops it down a notch). I watch a lot of television, so I enjoy watching my favorite shows get rewarded for a job well done. My pick for best drama? Breaking Bad, by far. Most interesting category? Best actor in a drama. Bryan Cranston gave an amazing performance in his last season as Walter White, but Matthew McConaughey’s portrayal of Rust Cohle in True Detective was just the latest step in the McConaissance.

5. My new favorite F1 driver. I’ve admitted in the past that I am a relatively new F1 fan. I enjoy watching the F1 race every Sunday morning. I know the drivers like and the ones I don’t. But I never had a favorite F1 driver. Until today. The Vettel dominance is a thing of the past. The drama at Mercedes and Ferrari is compelling. But what I’ve enjoyed the most this season is watching Daniel Ricciardo win. So it’s official—Ricciardo is my new driver.