Fairytale in Racing: Not Just Another Princess

When Caitlin Siem set out for Michigan Speedway that June morning, she only knew that she was going to go meet Nathalie Bijeau with BJ McLeod Motorsports. Riding a tornado for the next two months was not on her list of “to dos” for the summer. As with all great adventures, the main character never knows what is in store.

Her next race would come at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the most historic of tracks in this great nation. A complicated weekend with XFINITY and Cup series competition challenges the most seasoned of all NASCAR veterans. Through the hustle and bustle Caitlin found calm and serenity that enabled her to do her job, to put her nose to the grindstone and learn all she could.

“I definitely bonded with some of my team members right away. They didn’t make me feel unwelcome in any way and I felt like a part of the team even though, at that point, I thought this was a temporary endeavor. In a way, I felt comfortable. The race weekend was so unbearably hot (Honestly, Indianapolis in July does not play well with others) and you have to walk what feels like hundreds of miles to get anywhere inside that speedway (I’m being a little dramatic). But none of that seemed to matter. I mean, it did on some scale because there was never a moment I wasn’t sweating, but I was with the team and it felt so right. When the team left after the race Saturday (I was sticking around for the Cup race Sunday), I felt like a piece of me was missing. I’m pretty good about not feeling lonely, but I did that night.”

As quickly as the IMS weekend ended, Iowa Speedway began. With just two days to do laundry, reload, and prepare she was tested. She let up from her home in Michigan to continue chasing her dream. Pinching pennies and working on borrowed time, determination pushed her forward through a great weekend at the stand alone event in Iowa.

“Time. My time was so limited. Between work starting back up in August and only being allowed to go to so many races on credentials, my time was running out and it’s all I could think about, it seemed. I’d known this was what I wanted to do for ages, but within one weekend working with the team, I knew they were the crew I wanted to be with. It was like love at first sight, but with a race team I wanted to work with. When I left Iowa, there was only one more race left for me if I wasn’t hired in. Imagine reaching your dream, something you’ve wanted since you were a kid, but knowing there was a deadline to it. It was like looking into a black hole where my future was.”

Caitlin had a clock ticking. August 21 was coming quick, the date meant she would have to return to her life in a school library. Though she is a writer and loves books and loves the library, it was far from her dream. A dream 15 years in the making was at grasp and she knew she had to make things happen.

“I loved working at the library, I loved the staff and the students there. Writing and books are a huge part of my life. But it wasn’t racing, it wasn’t NASCAR, it wasn’t my dream. It wasn’t so much my feelings toward going back to the library as it was the thought of losing my dream. I honestly think I would have been completely miserable. I would’ve bounced back at some point, I wouldn’t have given up on my dream if I had to walk away from BJMM after four races with them. The recovery time would have been a long one though. My dad half-joked that I would have been impossible to deal with if I had to go back to the library. And he was probably right. I think I wouldn’t have been all there come August 21.”

Her first objective was finding a caterer for Watkin’s Glen International. This combined with preparing sample paperwork and all while she had just 3 days to get home and back on the road.

Life on the road quickly became a series of stops to do work, make calls, visit friends. As the days ticked down she learned she had to get a “Yes” from two different people if she was to join a team, join the crew, and live the dream she had been chasing.

I was lucky enough to be on the phone when the first of the two “Yes” answers came. An explosion of happiness and excitement. Emotions raced and overwhelmed us both. While I am easily moved, I’ve not seen this from Caitlin, not like this. This was something special. Then came the realization, that was only the first answer needed.

“I mean, I technically knew I needed more than one yes to get in. But sometimes the mind plays tricks on you and that part slipped my mind briefly. I half blame you, Couch, for that one. It sucked for a minute but I eventually pulled back together and focused on the next yes. In racing, you always need to be looking forward. Then again, that works in most aspects of life.”

Watkin’s Glen came quickly and so did her second “Yes” that she needed. Friday afternoon she called. Hiding between tire stacks, fuel cans, and a truck those words she spoke will be forever memorable to me, “I made it!” Three simple words held the weight to move the world, change the stars.

As the weekend flew by, Caitlin would have just 3 days to prepare to move from Michigan to North Carolina. We talked through the night as she drove for home, making tracks and setting plans as she drove through the dark to a destiny she had been chasing.

It is only fitting that she chased the stars through the night to make it home Sunday morning. Having chased those stars of destiny, she now ran them down on the horizon to give herself the time it would take to prepare. The days clicked off as she visited with friends, with family, visited those places that meant the most before she said her final “good byes” to that which she’s known for her lifetime.

Wednesday came as quickly as the last weekend had left. With her family, friends, work, and former life in the rear view mirror, Caitlin turned her wheels to Mid Ohio. With one last deep breath and asking tears not to fall, she left Michigan for the last time of the summer. As darkness fell she once again chased her stars onto the next horizon.

Having hopes, having dreams, that is something we all possess. The willingness to chase those is what truly epic stories are made from. Caitlin’s story is just beginning and only a few weekends have passed. The sky is the limit for those who give it all for that which they want. I believe we all have the ability to chase our own stars, but sometimes you have to work to change those stars for yourself.

“It kind of feels like I was at sea, enjoying life but I knew I was missing something. Then the fog up ahead clears and right there was the land I was searching for. It’s still my life, I don’t feel like a different person, but I stepped off my ship and onto land and it feels right.”

We can all learn to live more in the moment, to fight for that which we want. Only by doing that, can one achieve greatness.

“You need to learn to be invaluable. Don’t put yourself in a box. The more you have to offer a team, the better off you are. You have to be passionate about this sport or it’ll eat you alive, but if you’re a fan, you have to contain it. When you’re at the track, you’re at work. You can’t be freaking out about seeing a driver if you’re there to work. Don’t bad mouth anyone. The sport might be big but it’s tightknit. And because of that, the key to getting in, is knowing someone. It’s all on who you know in this sport. At the end of the day, just don’t give up. It took me years to get in, but I never stopped reaching for my dream. And here I am living it. Pursuing your dreams takes persistence. Never forget that.”

By doing this, one day… maybe…

I’ll see you in the box.

Keeping the Drive.


The measure of a small team is not just how well they run, how many races they make, how well they finish. The true measure of a small team is can they keep doing it? It’s easy to go back to the track every week when you have the best equipment on the track, but what happens when you’re a small team that is fighting to make ends meet? The answer, you have to have drive. Not only do you have to have it, you have to keep it. That is exactlay what BJ McLeod and his team of “Highlanders” has done!

From the men who drive the haulers, to the mechanics, the car chiefs, crew chiefs, and drivers. Everyone has to play not just one role or two, they each have to be an entire crew. When they unload, it is a week of work for each member in just a few days.

The year has not been all roses for this small team. Daytona was particularly unkind and saw the team swept away in incidents they did not cause. The challenges have rolled and rolled, but like the Highlanders of Scottish yesteryear, this entire team has battled back, over and over.

The hardest week was Talladega. The 78 car missed the race due to a part failure as BJ took off. This left the team with just the 99 of David Starr and the 8 of Jeff Green in the race. As the team mourned the loss of their “Racing Star” Ana Lucila Perdomo, grandmother of car chief Kevyn Rebolledo, all looked on. Sometimes when things seem their darkest you can receive some Heavenly help. That is exactly what the Highlanders got. With BJ on the radio and cheering from the pits, Jeff Green expertly drove to a tenth place finish! The highest in team history.

As the team van rolls down the highway, Car Chief Kevyn sits in the back seat recalling the weeks leading up to Talladega. “There was a lot leading up to Talladega. As a team we had been going 42 straight hours before loading up to head to the track. Morale was pretty low after having the parts failure which led to BJ not making the race. It ran a little deeper for me since I had lost my grandmother [who helped raise me] during the week of Richmond. I had spent all of the last few days with her which gave us time to talk. One of the last things she told me was that she was sorry she never made it to one of my races.  I was 19 during my first race as a Crew Chief. We tried many times to get her to a race but the stars never lined up. After she passed I spoke with the team and mentioned what she had said and that’s what lead to the decal we ran in her memory. Eerily enough, the graphic designer chose a font that was virtually identical to my grandmother’s signature. I was in pretty rough shape before the race, so I spent a lot of time on the grid talking to my grandmother’s decal. It was really tough. When the race fired off we didn’t waste much time getting into the top 15. I don’t get nervous easily but the whole race felt kind of eerie. My family was texting me nonstop once we took the lead. They were crying when they saw my grandmother’s decal on TV. My family knows next to nothing about racing and have never felt any connection to it. When the race was over, I lost it. My grandmother had finally made a race and I feel like she made her presence felt. I’ve never had such and emotional race and I don’t believe I ever will again.”

Teams live for the high points and for this team, that was the highest of highs when it could have been the lowest of lows. Though the 78 would miss the race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, it would make its presence felt at Dover. While Jordan Anderson piloted the flagship 78 to a 26th place finish, BJ McLeod would see his best finish of 22nd this year while driving the number 8. Building on that momentum, all 3 of the team cars finished in the top 30 at Pocono!

A team this small working with a very limited budget has built itself on small successes. Every top 30, every top 25, every second on camera is a victory. That’s what it takes to make it in this industry. Determination, passion, drive. All of that can only be matched by their fans who don’t expect wins, they don’t expect to lead a lot of laps. The fans of BJ McLeod Motorsports revel in the heart of this team. To them, every race is a win and the team embraces them at every turn, inviting them to not just be a fan, but to help keep the drive alive as part of the team.

The team travels as I write, heading back to Mooresville. There they will prepare the cars to load up and head to Michigan. While some teams will take a day to rest, this band of travelers drives on. Rest coming only while they are on the road.

Drive on!

Cold & Old, Moving Up in Hot’lanta

Atlanta Motor Speedway stands as one of the last historic reminders of NASCAR’s roots. It’s surface has not been repaved since 1996 and provides one of the most difficult challenges to even the most seasoned driver. This early appearance in the schedule provides a launching point for teams, a chance to see how they will likely compare to all other teams week-to-week. It’s shape has birthed a slew of mile and a half tracks which seek to capture the excitement of this oval. This is where the young team looks to mark its presence in this year’s competition.

As the shadows grew long late on Thursday, the BJ McLeod Motorsports team pulled into Atlanta Motor Speedway. With just two short hours to work on tech day, the team would unload cars and get them prepared for the weekend’s first technical inspections. After a five hour ride, the team was anxious to stretch out and get their new cars ready to run.

Friday morning would see three practices unfold. With a concentration on qualifying, all three teams would turn just a few laps. Practice number one saw Jeff Green lead the way at 23rd quick. Practice number two would see rookie driver, Clint King, lead the Skull Racing contingent 28th quick. After the second practice, Jeff Green was happy with his car and they would cover it for the final session. The Final “Happy Hour” practice would see Clint King finish the day 32nd quick and David Starr 38th quick.

Satuday morning would see arrival of the VIP sponsor guests, Triple R Containers and Warehouse Design Incorporated. They would be treated to a cold morning of horsepower and happiness. The flagship 78 Chevrolet sponsored by Warehouse Design, Momo Motorsport, and Roux Helmets driven this weekend by Clint King would time in to start 34th. The 8 car sponsored by Triple R Containers, OMP racing, and Ice-Frost driven by Jeff Green would qualify 32nd. Finally, the 99 driven by David Starr would finish qualifying in 38th position with the Striping Technologies L.P. Chevrolet after the 13 car retired due to contact with the wall which broke the rear end and caused a spin.

Just a few short hours later the team would have all three cars set up in race trim, adjusted air pressures and tape on the grill, ready to race. After invocation and anthem the drivers took to their cars. Crew Chiefs spoke final words of advice and encouragement, then the window nets went up.

The green flag flew, quickly followed by the yellow! Ty Dillon’s number 3 spun and collected the 11 of Blake Koch. All 3 of the BJMM cars had moved up on the initial start. Jeff Green had jumped up to 26th with the 78 jumping to 31st and David Starr up to 34th in just one lap. Too early to make any adjustments every team chose to stay out and wait.

The first run would see Clint’s 78 turning well but the 8 sliding the front tires and then snapping the rear end around once the front tires got grip. Jeff fought through the first run and held position around 28th. King would hold around 30th position. First pit stops worked to loosen up the Triple R Containers Chevrolet of Jeff Green and provide better overall grip for the 78 and 99. The next stops would improve handling and performance for all three teams which continued to hold position.

With just twenty laps remaining in the event the 78 suffered a mechanical failure which relegated Clint to a 35th place finish. David Starr would hold on for a 32nd place finish, and Jeff Green would pilot his Camaro to a 26th place finish.

Team principal, B.J. McLeod watched his team from the pit area.

“All 3 cars were fast during practices and we were happy with qualifying results. Everything looked promising and was going good. Our teams made some solid adjustments and had good pit stops. Regrettably only 20 laps from the end, Clint King’s #78 had a mechanical failure. We want to thank all of our sponsors for their partnership with BJ McLeod Motorsports. We enjoyed having you part of our team at Atlanta Motor Speedway. While we are satisfied with the final results, we look to continuously improve and perform better each and every week. See you at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.”

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B.J. McLeod Motorsports leaves Atlanta Motor Speedway with Jeff Green 28th in driver points, David Starr 32nd in driver points, and Clint King 35th in driver points.

It Comes in Threes

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When the weekend begins there is always hope. Any given day a miracle can happen, especially at God’s “House of Speed” that we call Daytona. BJ McLeod Motorsports entered their second full season with 3 cars, the 8 driven by Champion Jeff Green, the 78 driven this weekend by development driver Clint King, and the 99 driven by veteran driver David Starr. All three were ready for a great weekend on the high banks.

Thursday started for the team as a simple “tech” day, going over all the new rules and inspecting the new cars for 2017. Without incident the team made it through the day and prepared for their first practice of the year.

Friday, “I wanna go fast!” With two practice sessions totaling less than two hours, the team didn’t have much time to work on any set up. Each car made a few single car, qualifying runs in Practice 1. Carefree Catering supplied lunch before the next session. Practice 2 saw more of the same from the team, single car runs to work on qualifying speed. The sessions flew by quickly and before you could look at the stopwatch, darkness was setting upon us.

The truck race, what a crazy event. It was filled with cautions and bent sheetmetal as the excited group waged war high and low. As the event went on you could hear the rumblings of the new rules, the new stages. Action couldn’t pick up anymore before Stage 1 ended. In those short laps, the truck drivers schooled the world on what the new format would bring. By the end of the race we had seen trucks take to the skies and mow the lawn multiple times over. When the checkered flag finally waved to call for peace, most trucks had seen their share of battle scars.

Overnight I think many owners and drivers hoped that Saturday would prove to be different, that drivers who were a little older and more experienced would be more set on the “Big Picture” of racing. With all the torn up pieces loading up there was plenty to remind everyone of how expensive this pay-to-play sport can be.

Fog lifted on the Saturday morning, the sun shining off the Atlantic and calling the combatants to arms. As the crews worked through prequalifying technical inspection, the drivers suited up in their modern day fire proof armor and set to mount their steeds. With the 99 locked in and Jeff Green the likely would-be recipient of the “Past Champion” provisional, the main worry would be the 78.

Jeff Green was the second to take time and jumped well out in front. Clint King took time and needed to outrun four others. He got three and when the 13 car failed to post time, Clint was in. David Starr was the eleventh to post time and easily qualified. The lineup was set. Starr would roll off P33, King and Green would roll P38 & P40 respectively. There was just a 3 hour wait before the green flag would unleash these knights on a battle long prepared for.

The cruelest of fates always seem to happen to the greatest of people. Sadly, the BJMM team was bit, immediately. Lap 1 would see the 3 fates turn their eyes on the 99 almost immediately, the engine that easily powered David Starr to P33 for the start would expire before even stretching it’s legs on the backstretch. Before the caution could halt the ensuing battle the fates then turned to the 8 car.

Jeff Green would suddenly lose power entering the backstretch. The car slowly rolled and Jeff would describe to the crew that there was an issue with the main power switch. As they pit under caution, all purpose team player Hunter Bullins would manipulate the switch in the dash to reestablish power and give life back to this iron horse. [Note: This was a mechanical issue. It does not pertain to the garage rule or the 5 minute rule. Those rules only apply to incident damaged vehicles. The team could have gone to the garage, taken three hours to repair it and still rejoined the race.] 

With the 8 back under power and the 78 behind (penalized back of field for pit road infraction after a subsequent caution) the team looked strong as they began to work their way through the draft. Jeff had already made up 2 of the 3 laps he fell during the first incident with the power switch. Poised to work their way into the fray they gained ground on the main pack.

The fates are known for being numbered in threes; so they struck. With the 99 in the garage the fates took to spinning their yarns. Jeff and Clint both looked to escape a large scale accident, they got slowed up, but as is so often the case, you get tied up in another’s mess. The 8 car would sustain terminal damage immediately. Crew Chief, David Ingram, called it directly to the garage. Clint came to the attention of his crew. A red flag would interrupt work and pause their 5 minute clock at 3 minutes, 30 seconds.

As the red flag was withdrawn, the crew set to work trying to mend the wounded vehicle. There are times when seconds feel like minutes, but under these conditions it is quite the opposite. The minutes streamed by as quickly as water under a bridge. Time was up before the crew could get it rolling again. The day was done.

Though the results were not at all what any member of the team wanted, the drivers were safe, nothing hurt save a little pride. That is what matters the most, people.

People make this sport go and I believe that when people unite with a common goal they can and often do achieve uncommon feats. The team will have all hands on these cars, shaping and bending and molding and nurturing them back to health.

The BJMM team records finishes P38, P39, and P40. However, they were there. All three cars made it into the race and none of them retired due to something they did. This is a humbling experience, but the team is up to the Herculian effort it takes to come back.

We will see them back again and I will see you in the box.

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BJ McLeod with wife Jessica prior to the Powershares QQQ 300 at Daytona.

 

…and if you need an Ice-Frost Cold drink after this, I will join you…

Clark Houston 2017

“I think I’ve always dreamed of driving race cars from the time I could understand what the sport was really about. I didn’t think of it as a reality until my dad started working for Richard Childress Racing and I got to know Austin and all the other guys over there who helped me get started racing go karts at 10 years old.”

Clark Houston, 15, is racing his own way through in the number 6 Outlaw Kart at Millbridge Speedway in Salisbury, North Carolina. You can find him racing adults, like Kyle Larson and Ricky Stenhouse, in the Wednesday night program with the entire family looking on.

“My dad [Andy] gets into the crew chief mode and is only worried about one thing, winning. Mom gets more nervous and worried but most of the time keeps cool until I’m on the track.”

Mother, Lorie, admits she gets nervous but enjoys watching. She also enjoys watching Andy because he gets excited for Clark. It would be hard not to get excited for the young man. He won his first race in the Boxstock Divion which he entered mid year of 2013. The following year he won the Boxstock Division Championship before entering the adult division, Outlaw Karts.

“Most of the consistency came from my dad helping to give me one of the fastest karts out there each week. It was still very surprising for us to be as competitive as we were that early on.”

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Entering the Outlaw Karts, Clark has already had early success. Winning heats, starting on the pole, and racking up top 5’s and some top 2’s. He is already making his mark. While not currently sponsored he is helped by Loren Ranier who lets Clark run his kart, try different motors, and helps with setups and other equipment to be fast. The step from Boxstock to Outlaw is huge, going from 12 HP to around 70 HP in a kart that is roughly the same size has had it’s challenges.

“This was a huge change for me because it was also a completely different driving style. When I was qualifying, practicing, and making laps I was fine. It was the racing that was the hard part. It took me a little while to learn that you didn’t always have to go all out to be fast during a race. You see, during a race it’s all about trying new things to figure out how you can find speed and get around the guy in front of you which, in the beginning, is what I really struggled with.”

Clark’s first race is March 15th at Milbridge Speedway. With his history, willingness to learn, and natural talent, he is ready to win.

“I have had a few close races, we just need the luck to go with it and I really feel like this year is my year.”

 

Follow Clark on Twitter: @clarkanator6

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Couch Sessions: Jason Larivee Jr.

Welcome to the newest edition of “Couch Sessions” your place for interviews big and small, hop on the couch for some race therapy! This week I welcome Jason Larivee to the couch.

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CCC: Welcome to “Couch Sessions” today I have Jason Larivee Jr with me. He is a young racer & has been around Motorsports for quite awhile. Jason, thank you for being here, can you give us some of your race background?

JL: I certainly can. Starting from the time I was three, sixteen now, I’ve had an extreme passion for Motorsports. I started off racing and riding dirt bikes in the New England Hillclimbers association, where I won a championship and numerous races. Yet, after a 7 year tenure with that, I wanted to go the stock car route, and eventually was given an opportunity to run social media and assist in marketing with the NASCAR Xfinity Series team Derrike Cope Racing. This soon led me to where I am now, racing in the Super-X division at the Waterford Speedbowl.

CCC: You had a very early start! So you are a natural born competitor then. What have you noticed about the competition so far in Super-X versus in Hillclimb?

JL: One thing I can attest to is the strength of the field in both series. New to Super-X, it’s tough to get inclined to the setup and various things with the chassis, but we are learning, just as we did early with hill climbing. But, ultimately both are pretty tough to win and be competitive.

CCC: Which has more regulations and restrictions, from your viewpoint?

JL: I feel like the Super-X cars have more strict rule book, because you are in control of a couple thousand pound car. While in hill climbing, you are by yourself with a much lighter machine.

CCC: You mentioned you became involved with Derrike Cope Racing, how did that come about?

JL: Actually that’s a funny story. I actually friended Elyshia, Derrike’s wife, on Facebook and pretty much asked if I could help the race team in any way, and fortunately they gave me an opportunity to do social media and marketing for them.

CCC: Awesome! Just shows the American Dream is alive and well, if you want it, go get it! How long have you been involved in their social media?

JL: For sure. I started back in Febuary of 2015.

CCC: What’s been your favorite part of that? What type of things do you do?

JL: I really enjoy the time I get to spend at the racetrack, and the things I’m able to do there. It’s an opportunity like no other to be able to go into the NASCAR garage and see it all.

CCC: I completely agree. How do your pit duties differ from your Super-X team to your duties with DCR?

JL: It’s different in many aspects, yet the same in other ways. We have to tune the car and spend the long nights in the shop, but there isn’t a stressful tech, Etc. the short track series is much more of a relaxed atmosphere.

CCC: Tell me about your Super-X car, make, model, number, sponsors?

JL: My car is the #70 1985 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Obviously, you, @CouchCrewChief, are one of my sponsors, and I have many people helping me including S.H. Concrete Works.

CCC: I was happy to help in a very small way, S.H. Concrete Works deserves a big hand from everyone for helping a young racer out. That number 70, I like it. Following in Derrike’s steps I see. Lots of hard work, hands-on, late nights. How many races have you been in?

JL: This last Thursday was my second race, unfortunately a DNF, but we will get them next week!

CCC: Those early races are hard, lots of learning curve. Have you been enjoying the seat time? How have the heats treated you? How are the other drivers with you?

JL: It’s a lot of fun. The other drivers are friendly, many helping with adjustments to the car. The heat races have gone well, with my best finish of 5th this Thursday. The features have been a different story, with mechanical failures in each of the events.

CCC: New cars tend to have those. How long did it take you, from idea to your first race, to get the team together with sponsors and car and testing and inspection?

JL: It was about a month of many long hours!

CCC: That’s a lot to shoehorn in a very short time. So this week you raced Thursday night and are now at Pocono with DCR?

JL: Yes I am.

CCC: Busy young man! How’s Nathalie, Elyshia, and Derrike doing this weekend? How’s the car? Got plenty of E-Hydrate on Ice-Aid™?

JL: Very good! Sure do!

CCC: Great to hear! Before we go, I have to know more about Hillclimb, how many races & championships did you win?

JL: Not sure about victory numbers, but I had one championship in the 85cc class.

CCC: So any sponsor who is looking for a champion should look you up is what you’re saying! If a company or individual wants to help sponsor you, should they look you up on Twitter?

JL: You can find me on all social media at @JasonLarivee

CCC: I hope we can help find you some more support! I’m happy I was able to be part of it and I believe you have a great future in stock cars. Is there anything else you’d like to add before we finish?

JL: Thanks for having me. Ready to race in Pocono!

Thank you all for joining us today, remember you can be featured on “Couch Sessions” anytime, drop me a line and come lay on the couch! I’d like to thank Jason, S.H. Concrete Works, DCR, Ice-Aid, E-Hydrate for their time and consideration. Have a good day and remember…

Keep your nuts tight, especially the one behind the wheel.