Archive for the ‘Racing’ Category

NASCAR and Rock & Roll

Posted: December 19, 2014 in Music, Racing

With Speedway Motorsports, Inc. removing nearly 60,000 seats between two tracks, you can’t help but wonder what led to once normally sold out tracks being resorted to such demolitions.  Charlotte Motor Speedway will be losing 41,000 seats while Atlanta Motor Speedway will get a reduction of 17,000.  Fans have obviously stopped going to not just these, but a large number of tracks around the NASCAR series as is very evident with even just a quick glance at the television coverage.  Why this big of a drop in attendance figures?

Is the television product becoming so advanced and well accepted that folks feel it is a better experience to stay home?  Why not?  It beats the hours of travel, hundreds or even thousands of dollars of expenses, the horrible traffic most tracks are guilty of, and being crammed next to sweaty, smelly strangers in 100 degree heat for roughly four or five hours.  Yet, no TV presentation can substitute the sounds, smells of the cars, and first person sights of actually being there.

Or, let’s be honest and face the possible truth – has the interest begun to dwindle?  Think back to when Brian France took over control of the organization in October of 2003.  That’s when I and a lot of other traditional lovers of the sport began to take a step back.  I will stand by the thought that Brian ruined the sport by essentially selling out and grossly exploiting the exposure that came from the still mind-rattling death of Dale Earnhardt nearly three years prior.  Yes, more sponsors coming in was great, but at what cost?  The sport began being marketed toward a younger crowd; a non-traditional crowd in hopes of growing the fan base.

More celebrities began showing up.  Figures from other sports started to appear.  It made one wonder if the footage from the garage area was a race track, or the red carpet at the Oscars or ESPYs.  Then the gimmicks came.  There were big changes to the cars (for better or for worse) as well as the move that officially ended my tenure as a NASCAR fan – the introduction of the new post-season playoff format for the championship.  Well, what if all of those things have run their courses?

Yes, NASCAR is still extremely popular throughout all three of its elite series, but to what extent?  The big NASCAR fans will spend as much time (if not more) in front of their TV on Saturdays on Sundays during the spring and summer as what football fans do during the fall and winter.  Those are the big NASCAR fans, however.  You will hear or see smatterings of casual followers tuning in for the big Cup races on Sundays, but overall TV ratings are declining as a whole.  So, did that younger, non-traditional new crowd realize there was a reason they hadn’t been a fan of the sport before?  Did the star athletes and the celebrities enjoy their invite for a free trip to a new experience and just chalk it up as a one-off perk of their career choice?

A lot of people have been quick to back-up SMI’s claim that the seat removal is to erase seats that weren’t being used anyway and increase space for higher quality hospitality options.  Which basically means, “we will have better experiences with which to treat the guests of sponsors (a lot of whom are there for free), and we can give up on trying to entice new, paying fans”.  But, what does SMI care?  Fewer seats means they can jack-up the prices for all of their other seats because of that whole “supply-and-demand” thing.  Well, they can at least try because there obviously isn’t the same demand.

Better TV?  The newer fans are beginning to walk away?  Those celebrities couldn’t be converted into ambassadors?  However you look at it, you have to question the popularity of NASCAR 11-years into Brian France’s involvement.

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The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced its 2015 induction class and they induce some serious head scratching.  This seems to be rather normal from the 700-plus member voting panel.  The most glaring inclusion is Green Day getting in on their very first ballot.  Yes, they have been around for 25 years, but when you factor in bands still outside-looking-in like Deep Purple, Bon Jovi, Yes, Def Leppard, and many others it seems a bit atrocious that Green Day can just waltz on in with only one turn on the ballot.

On the other hand, a couple of positives are that talent such as Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, as well as, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts have been voted in.  Both are extremely deserving as Joan Jett is in the Top-5 for a large number of the population when you ask them for their favorite female artists, or just ask them to name off female singers.  Factor in what the Blackhearts can and continue to do.  Factor in that they’re still out touring (albeit it casinos and state fairs).  That’s an act that deserves to be in.

SRV goes without saying that he and his band are no-doubt hall of famers.  The only troublesome thought is that it took this long for it to happen, and that it came as result of a “popular vote” from the public.  Yes, the public had to demand it.  Not sure where the members of the voting panel have been for the past four decades.  His talent and success cannot be questioned, and even if that wasn’t enough to get him in, his legacy and continued popularity since that night in August of 1990 should have been more than sufficient grounds for this honor years ago.

Overall, congrats to everyone who is going into the hall this upcoming spring.  It makes us eager to see what next winter’s selections will bring.  Also, probably a bit hesitant.

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A Quick Thank-You

Posted: November 3, 2013 in Racing

With the 2013 racing season coming to a close, I would like to congratulate Justyn Cox on a great year and to thank him for allowing JRD Endeavors to tag along for the ride.  From a great set of races in Arizona through a trio of wins in Petaluma, Marysville and at the historic Belleville Highbanks; from starting on the pole of an A-main at Knoxville through not quite finishing with the results the team deserved: Justyn raced his butt off every night he hit the track in Harley Van Dyke’s 5H.  Which, on a personal note, it was awesome to see the JRD Endeavors sticker on the side of a car I grew up watching; owned by a man who was such a heavy supporter of Fred’s and the Northern Sprint Tour.  The three man team of Harley, Justyn and Fez should be extremely proud of everything they accomplished though I know there is a number of other people behind the scenes that also deserve some credit.

I don’t know in which direction this adventure of JRD Endeavors will head or where it will ultimately end up, but I’m proud to be associated with a class act such as Justyn.  Several years ago when I dabbled into this business idea with other athletes – Kelsy, Eric, Tamara and Shaina – it was a lot of fun but I had no idea what I was really doing. I’ve come to realize that I still don’t, but it doesn’t change how much fun I have doing it.

Congrats again, Justyn.  You put up a fight every night and wrote another great chapter in your career.  I can’t wait to be a part of the next one when you hit the track in 2014.

Wow, where to begin.  I guess I really let things slip being that I haven’t written in three months.  I always thought I’d have to die before that happened…again.  Seriously though, I don’t know how to get started so I guess I’ll just blow through some key points on my mind and see where things end up going.

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  • The biggest news on an overall scale is the return of the NHL for the 2013 season.  Yes, I said 2013 because I cannot stand anyone who still references it as 2012-13.  How can you include the ’12 when there was no existence of any play during that half of the season?  Anyway, as I had said all along I will not give a damn about how things play out because the season is one big, tainted joke.  That’s not to say that I won’t somewhat pay attention.  Out of all the games that have been played, I’ve watched parts of four and listened on radio to parts of three others.  One of those TV games and all three radio games have gone to shootouts but that’s a rant that deserves its own time and space.

Some of you probably are accusing me of being hypocritical  for even tuning in, but I genuinely don’t care.  Who has the best record in the league?  Couldn’t tell you.  Who has the worst? Again, couldn’t tell you.  Who is leading in goals scored or points?  You know my answer.  Where’s my NHL gear that I own?  Still in the closet where showing support for the owners belongs.  When this 48-game regular season comes to an end, I will pay slightly more attention.  My belief is that the top teams heading into the playoffs at the end of 48-games would be the same teams as if it were a full 82-game season.  Yes, seeding might be different and the bottom couple of teams might have changed, but as a whole it will still be the best teams playing for the Stanley Cup.

  • Earlier this month the Silvertips relieved second year Head Coach Mark Ferner and Assistant Coach Chris Hartsburg of their duties; General Manager Garry Davidson is carrying the “Interim Head Coach” title for the rest of the season.  I still find this a bit of a confusing move as the team was doing much better this season despite rebuilding than it was at the same point last year.  Since Davidson’s decision, you can argue that the team has been much less consistent.  Why not make the move before the season even began if you knew that the coach and GM weren’t on the same page?
  • My second-to-last posting was in regards to the idea NASCAR was floating around of holding a dirt race for their truck series.  Just a matter of days after I wrote that, the official announcement was made.  Last week in a press conference NASCAR’s front man Brian France referenced judgment and decision making errors that the organization has made in the past couple of decades.  Once the novelty of this idea wears off it will be brought up in that same light a few years down the road.
  • The IndyCar Series announced changes to their format for several races this upcoming season.  They involve combinations of various aspects including different qualifying systems, heat races, double-segmented races, standing starts and some other tweaks.  A key note is that most of these things only apply to road/street course races.  Unlike the NASCAR Truck thing, I have no problems with these format changes.  There’s one glaring reason: consistency.  All of these things will be utilized on several occasions; they won’t be a one-off anomaly that goes against everything the series has always stood for.  These different elements have been dabbled in over the past few seasons and they are things that all of the drivers are accustomed to from previous series and experience.
  • On a personal front, 2013 is starting off great from a music standpoint.  My top three favorite artists of Bon Jovi (What About Now), Goo Goo Dolls (Magnetic) and Michelle Branch (West Coast Time [a year-and-a-half delayed]) are all releasing new music throughout the first handful of months.  The Boys from Jersey have already put out the first single – “Because We Can” – though no release date on the album has been publicized.  As for Buffalo’s own, “Rebel Beat” has been released on the internet ahead of the album’s May 7th release, but we have to wait until February 12th to purchase the single.  In terms of Michelle’s next musical installment, the spring is all that has been mentioned.  However, back in late summer of 2011, “Loud Music” was the first single to hit the airwaves to promote the album that was victimized by hold-ups at the label level.

Bottom line is that ‘13 is going to be amazing and all of this new music at the start is perfect timing because it will give an incredible soundtrack to my life for it all.

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So, there you have it.  Three months of randomness condensed into a few bullet points of, well – randomness.  My prediction is that there will be even more randomness to randomly attempt putting into words for another random blog at a random time some point not too far down the line.  No, I didn’t plan all of that it just came out that way.  I guess you could say it was…everybody at once now…random.

 

— JRD

NASCAR on dirt is a dirty idea

Posted: October 31, 2012 in Racing

Though details haven’t been elaborated, last week NASCAR held a test at Eldora Speedway involving members of the truck series.  Yes, a dirt track hosted a test session for one of NASCAR’s top three series.  Once again NASCAR you make it way too easy.  What the hell are you thinking?

Maybe 15-years ago when the series was fledgling you could have pulled this off and made it a combined dirt and pavement series but not now.  The only way this novelty of an idea makes any sense is as a standalone exhibition event.  With the amount of money involved in the sport and how much of those dollars ride on results at the end of the season, a dirt race as a points paying event would be a travesty.

First off, how would you run it?  Would you make it a traditional “Saturday night” style event with several races culminating in one main event?  Would you keep it in line with all of the other races on the schedule and make it a standard 200 lap race on the half mile track?  Well the latter would be quite the pain in the neck because at Eldora it’s not really feasible to create a pit road style of set-up and trust me when I say a pit road would be crucial.

Think about it.  If it was to be run as a 200 or 250 lap race it’s not going to play out the same way we envision sprint cars or dirt late models flying around that place.  Instead, look more to ARCA at Springfield or the super modifieds at Syracuse – slicked off, one groove, around the bottom.  Okay, so Eldora has quite a bit more banking than those other two tracks but we’re talking about 3,400 pound trucks.  Plus, many of the drivers have extremely limited dirt tracking background (if any at all) so when you couple in those two factors  the number of tires they’d be blowing through (I don’t care how hard you make them) would be huge when you figure in practice, qualifying and the race.  You need a flawless pit road.

Another issue would be those drivers I just mentioned.  No, not in the sense that they’d be a hazard but that they’d be easy pickings.  Drivers who are not regulars on the series would love to take advantage of such competitors and find their way into a seat for the event.  You would see a huge increase of entries for this one race and that is in no way fair to the regulars who bust their butts every weekend of the year.  Say you have a points leader who isn’t well versed on dirt and then this event draws in 15-20 dirt track ringers who have never raced in the series before and never will outside of this event.  You would have to figure most of those 15-20 would make the show and have a great chance of finishing ahead of the points leader.  If other series regulars are comfortable on dirt they could finish amongst the ringers and relegate the points leader to a bottom half of the field finish which ultimately may lead to him losing the title by a points deficit at season’s end that could be attributed to the Eldora event.

All for the sake of a made-for-TV spectacle.  Let’s face it, that’s all this is.  It’s NASCAR looking to suck up a few more bucks mixed in with Eldora’s owner Tony Stewart looking to drum up some positive publicity surrounding his track that has been nothing but bashed in everything I’ve heard about it over the last couple of seasons.  Yes, I realize it has only been one test.  Yes, I realize there has not been recognition of serious intent, but things have still been placed in motion nonetheless.

Don’t get me wrong on the aspect of this turning out to be an exhibition event.  If a race at Eldora does in fact happen and it’s utilized as a mid-season version of the truck’s own all-star race then I’m all for it.  But if it’s an actual points paying date on the schedule, I have one suggestion:

Host it on the weekend closest to April 1st.  Because this would be the ultimate joke.

It has not been officially announced yet, but U.S. fans of Formula 1 racing will have to tune their televisions to a new network starting next season.  SPEED TV – part of the Fox family of networks – will no longer be this country’s supplier of the world’s top echelon of motorsport (after 17 years) as the F1 airing rights switch hands to NBC Sports.  The main factor at play in all of this is that Fox is choosing to rebrand SPEED as an all-sports type of network.  Yes, there is already Fox Sports Network but it is working at a much smaller level than what SPEED has been at for the past decade.

I for one am highly disappointed in this forthcoming change.  Not so much the reworking and ultimately the loss of SPEED, but more so for the change in F1 coverage.  The current on-air crew is spectacular: Bob Varsha – the broadcaster with decades of experience covering F1 and all racing ; David Hobbs – the ex-racer with an immense racing resume and full of incredible stories; Steve Matchett – the former F1 mechanic throughout the 90s who is an encyclopedia of technical knowledge.  Toss in long time on-site paddock reporter Peter Windsor (whose F1 credentials are endless) and his successor the past three seasons Will Buxton and you have arguably the best Formula 1 broadcasting team in the world.

I know it is very early on in this change and details from NBC will eventually emerge, but based on their racing coverage in the past and what is being left behind at SPEED, I do not foresee much of an appetite to give the same devotion toward watching the series.

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On Tuesday afternoon, the Everett Silvertips made a bit of a splash by trading second year forward Ryan Chynoweth to the Tri-City Americans in exchange for a conditional fifth round bantam draft pick.  It became well documented after the move that Ryan had made a request to be traded.  A large reason for that was due to a bit of a slow start to his season and getting bounced around at the bottom of the lines sheet by new faces.

I was really surprised when I saw the news as Ryan was definitely a long-term piece of the rebuilding process for the Tips.  Sure the first couple of weeks to the season weren’t anything eye opening from him but last season was a very solid, promising year.  It seemed that it would only be a matter of time before he hit his stride and began to be a steady contributor to the team.  Beyond that you can’t deny his pedigree and figure that, at some point, his bloodlines alone would give him that little bit of an extra boost.

Now don’t even get me started on junior hockey players requesting trades.  Unless it’s for a family situation back home I find it completely uncalled for and a huge mistake by the player.  However, that’s a path to kick some rocks down at a later time.  That was my first real assessment of the situation.  My second?  The chance to have a little bit of fun with it in terms of potential underlying factors.  Let’s see if the Silvertips and Kootenay ICE make a decent deal at some point this season.  Kootenay’s General Manager is Jeff Chynoweth – Ryan’s dad.  Jeff’s dad – Ed Chynoweth – is the founding father of the Western Hockey League and the Canadian Hockey League umbrella itself.  Needless to say, the name has some clout and when one of them talks people listen.  So, would it really be that far-fetched to wonder if Jeff offered possibilities of future business between the teams in exchange for the Tips granting his son his wish?  Or if that wasn’t discussed but the Tips choose to play that card if they ever do put in a call to Cranbrook?

How far off base – or, more appropriately, off the rink – am I with that?  Hell, I’m probably not even in the same building.  It’s just something fun to ponder and to keep in the back of your mind; more entertaining than anything else.  Which, with watching a rebuilding team on the ice, entertaining mental distractions could be a good thing to have at the ready.

 

Chris Economaki passed away.  I know I’m slow in mentioning this as it happened almost two weeks ago, but I knew I needed to join the ever growing stack of tributes for the greatest, most influential journalist the sport of racing has ever known; the greatest it will ever know.  In absolutely no way can you begin to tabulate how many lives Mr. Economaki impacted (tens of thousands would be a safe bet) or how many race tracks and series he helped to grow (easily in the thousands).  He was the one man who you wanted to know your name.  If you saw your name in print and he was the one who put it there, you knew you were legitimate within the sport.

From the time he started his involvement at the age of 13 up until the time of his death at the age of 91, he always stayed true to his beliefs and ideals about the sport.  As so many aspiring journalists and media members these days sell themselves out, Chris never did; never caved to the pressures of what the higher powers at be would prefer to see him write.  He wrote what he wanted to, he wrote it how he wanted to and he defended, promoted and denounced who he wanted to.  Whether you were a weekend warrior who only raced locally a few Saturday nights out of the year or if you were one of the world’s elite racers touring the world, you hung onto and cherished every word he wrote or said.

Given what he did for the sport I can say that I honestly believe I would never have had a job writing in racing if not for Chris Economaki.  One of our most important voices is silenced.  Easily our most important pen has run dry.

There’s only one thing that every member of the racing family can say: thank you Mr. Economaki.

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There’s no secret what my true feelings about NASCAR are.  I think it’s a joke of a racing organization that epitomizes the corruption of politics and money in sports.  If the corporation cared more about the racing than padding their back pocket then maybe they wouldn’t be pissing people off every time their cars take to the track.  Whether it be fans, owners, drivers or sponsors it seems that each weekend there’s someone who feels betrayed after the last checkered flag flies.  This past weekend was no different.

I do not watch the Cup series but it is the NFL of racing here in the states.  It doesn’t matter where you are or what you’re doing it is only a matter of time before you overhear or see information and results regarding the races.  That was no different on Sunday evening when I flipped on Sports Center and saw the footage of the last lap crash at Talladega.  My first reaction: turn the channel because I don’t give enough of a damn to give the series even 45-seconds of my time.  So, that’s what I did but not before I saw the smoke starting to billow and Tony Stewart’s car begin going airborne.  No, I don’t know how it all ended but I saw all I needed to know that NASCAR had struck again.

In a post I made last year about this same time I called out the organization for scripting and manufacturing the outcome of their championship.  Restrictor plate racing – what Talladega and Daytona are – is the same exact concept just on a smaller scale.  Instead of playing out over the course of months as the title script does, these races play out over just a few hours.  The racing at these two tracks is nothing more than made for TV cheapened sport.  NASCAR wants the big packs of cars which lead to the big wrecks, plain and simple.  Why do they want that?  Because the supposed “racing fans” who tune in to watch plate races only want to see “The Big One” – more viewers on TV lead to more people wanting to put their butts in the seats which leads to more bottom line dollars for the company.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has now retracted his post-race comments from Sunday in which he referred to restrictor plate racing as “blood thirsty” and if every race were like that he’d find another job.  I for one full on applaud him for saying what he did; I am discouraged to hear that he apologized.  The only way this will get fixed is if more drivers had the pair of attachments necessary to make these comments and then stand behind them.  All of the drivers hate it, but none have what it takes to speak up as an individual because they are scared of NASCAR.  That makes it even more important for the guys in the garage who strap on the helmets to band together and become one voice.  No, there is not a drivers union but that doesn’t mean they can’t act like there’s one.

Good job, NASCAR.  You once again managed to manufacture a disgusting spectacle that resulted in millions of dollars lost to the teams in wrecked racecars and put dozens of lives in jeopardy all for your own personal satisfaction.  I understand that it’s all about trying to make as much money as is necessary to sustain a business, but there comes a time where you have to draw a line – a fine line – between a hard earned dollar and what you are putting it on the verge of becoming.

Blood money will not benefit anyone, not even you.

First and foremost, Alex Zanardi won Paracycling gold today at the Paralympics in London.  His horrendous Champ Car crash in Europe in 2001 was a fatal accident in all respects.  The ferociousness of the impact itself, the loss of blood, the injuries – if you’ve ever read or heard the information from the doctors who were involved in the situation there is no reason to believe that he stood a chance of survival.  But, survive he did.  Not only did he recuperate to a normal life without his legs, he went on to compete again in racing thanks to his prosthetics.  As if that weren’t accomplishment enough he proceeded to win races again, win another championship and now a gold medal.

He has already written one book and is now almost assuredly necessitated into writing a second.  Alex is my number one example of inspiration and a never give up attitude.  If anyone in the world is in a state of their lives where they need a role model to look up to, Alex Zanardi is their guy.

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The Grand-Am series and the American Le Mans Series announced today that they are merging beginning with the 2014 racing season.  This is a great step forward for sports car racing in this country but I am very cautiously optimistic.  In my opinion, sports cars are the purest form of four wheeled racing that there is.  From distinctive manufacturers to the challenge of racing through all hours of the day and night no matter what the weather conditions are.  That is why I lean toward ALMS more than Grand-Am.  The latter is essentially owned by NASCAR and it shows: cars look identical with the only difference being engine manufacturers, races are on (slightly) smaller tracks, rules packages created to cause close racing.  Where ALMS on the other hand displays very distinguishable differences amongst the manufacturers, races tend to be a bit longer and are done on tracks that really test man and machine.

With that said, the way in which this merger transpires is extremely crucial for the success of the series.  While sports car racing is my personal favorite, it’s not suited for the typical American race fan.  That’s why NASCAR is so popular in this country: it’s straightforward, designed (and in my opinion sometimes “scripted” – for lack of a better word) for close racing and easy to follow.  Sports car racing has been solid but not overly successful in this nation with two separate series.  However, this stretches beyond our domestic boarders and has international concerns.  ALMS is named after the world’s most famous race: 24 Hours of Le Mans.  Depending on what rules packages the new series incorporates, that could jeopardize American based teams getting invites to compete every June in France.  That would be a massive heartbreaker and killer for the potential growth of the series.  I certainly don’t think any of the powers-at-be are stupid enough to ignore that aspect of the merger, but I have my concerns.  After all, it basically includes NASCAR involvement and I don’t trust that organization one bit.

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The first game of the NFL’s regular season was played tonight.  What’s my favorite part about football season?  The fact that it means it’s damn near hockey season.  The purest, most beautiful team sport in the world is at risk of losing yet another season from its premiere league.  The NHL needs to get its crap together.  The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires next Saturday and for all intents and purposes from a fan’s perspective absolutely zero progress has been made.  Now I know I’m just a simple man who doesn’t fully know the true extent of the negotiations, but I do know the whole situation stinks.  I know there should be more efforts being made to get meetings put into session.  I know Gary Bettman is a horrible commissioner.  Seriously, in my opinion he’s brutal.  Shouldn’t his primary concern be not having a repeat of the last lockout in which an entire season was lost?  What has he done to this point to prevent that?  Again, I know I’m just a dullard when it comes to the current CBA situation but from my perspective he hasn’t done nearly enough to get the two sides together to hash out an agreement.  He is the commissioner.  It’s not his job to pick a side; it’s his job to make sure a new CBA gets done.  Period.

I absolutely love hockey.  It’s my saving grace.  When I’m having a bad day or needing a “pick-me-up” in life and Bon Jovi’s music isn’t available, I know that a hockey game will do the trick.  With that said, I will lose an incredible amount of respect for the NHL if a lockout happens yet again.  I will in no way look at the league the same and won’t hesitate to distance myself from it.  Those who know me need look no further than my life growing up in racing to understand that I mean it when I stand up for what I believe in and denounce the people, places and things that I don’t believe in.  If this lockout happens, I will lose a lot of belief in the NHL.  Almost as much as I’ve lost in Bettman.  Almost, but not quite.

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I’ve never really gotten too personal on these pages before.  Yes, everything I type is a personal chunk of me but I’ve always tried to keep it professional.  However, in my personal life next week something very incredible is going to happen.  My cousin and absolute best friend is getting married and I get to be her Man of Honor.  Yes, that’s right.  I’m standing on her side of the wedding party.  I cannot stress enough how incredibly honored and insanely proud I am to have such a role.  To even be told that you get to be in a wedding is quite the experience that not everyone gets to enjoy, but to be a Man of Honor?  How many men get to say that?  Yes, I have faced a lot of laughs and weird looks when I’ve told people my title, but I just beam a huge smile back and tell them to screw off.  It will for sure be an absolute highlight of my life – not just for the obvious selfish reason, but because I get to be standing up there with my best friend to watch her enter into the new chapter of her life with her soul mate and true love.  I can’t wait!