Dover Blows and they aren’t kidding!
I could not believe it was October already. It seemed like just yesterday we were doing the test cook in my driveway. The summer had flown by, I guess because I was so busy. Oh well, it was time to get ready for what would be our last contest of the season. Bobby was out of town on vacation and would not make the trip to Dover, we would miss him.
The contest would be held in the infield at Dover Downs Racetrack. This is a track that hosts the NASCAR teams twice a year for a race. The BBQ teams set up on the pads where the NASCAR drivers park their campers when they are in town. Each site has its own hookup for water, electric and sewage. A very nice setup.
We had everything in the trailer that we needed and those items pretty much stayed put. I did like to look things over and make sure we had everything before we took off. We kept a list in the trailer during contests, when we found we needed something, we would note it on the list. I would check the list and get the needed items, if possible, before the next event. One exception was after Bel Air, Bobby noted that we needed an RV, I think we will hold off on that purchase for a little while.
Responsibilities at my new job would prevent me from taking the entire day off on Friday. Erich and Mike came by around 9:00 AM and hooked up the trailer to head for Dover Downs. They would meet up with Al out on Route 95 and make the trip together. I would take off as soon as I could. We did not have time to trim the meat beforehand, so the trimming would have to be done on site.
I worked in the office until around 11:30 before I was able to sneak away for the weekend. Around 2:30, when I arrived, the boys had the site set up and everything was in great shape. Mike and I began to prep the meat, we had decided on one extra butt and brisket along with two additional slabs of spares in addition to the amount we had been cooking. The prep work would take a little longer than usual, but we had time.
Mistakenly, I had packed only one boning knife in the case that I carry to each contest. I do not think I will make that mistake again. I had other knifes in the case, but it’s hard to make time trimming with a slicing knife, lest you would like to add a little fillet-O-finga into the mix. Believe me, I have a hard enough time working with the proper sharp knife without requiring a transfusion, as the nicks and scars on my ageing digits will bear witness to. So needless to say, having only one boning knife, and now with additional meat, we were a little behind on our prep work.
Chris, from IQUE, was flying solo this weekend and was next door to us. Believe me when I tell you, doing a contest is a lot of work when you have four others helping, I can’t imagine doing one alone. I had corresponded with Chris several times on various BBQ forums but had never met him in person. After introducing myself, I asked him to join us for dinner.
Steve was also cooking this contest. He was working with Jack McDavid of Jacks Down Home and was set up not far away. I told him to be sure and stop by for some chili and a shot of agave juice, which, in the tradition of my mentor, we now kept on hand in the trailer for just such occasions.
Erich and Al attended the cooks meeting and collected the boxes. We finished with the trim work by early evening and then enjoyed a fine dinner of chili, cornbread and sweet corn on the cob, the last of the summer, prepared by Al. A nice dinner, a couple of beers, a fine cigar, a few laughs, it was starting out to be a very enjoyable night.
The weather around these parts can be very unsettled in the month of October. It can be cool, you might even see a heavy frost in the later days or a possible snow flurry. You may have to switch the air conditioning back on, as some October days can be down right hot. Of course, the transitional days between these differing weather systems can always be a little exciting.
So far this year had been fairly mild, we really had not seen any sign of fall and or winter as of yet. On Friday we were wearing short pants and tee shirts, the nights were cool, but the daytime temps were very enjoyable. On Friday afternoon, the weatherman was calling for a front to move through the Delaware area, with a possibility of severe storms accompanied by strong and gusty winds. We took the normal precautions when setting our site and anchored our canopies down with five gallon buckets filled with water. During the afternoon and evening, I tried to keep things in the storage boxes in case we had to move into the trailer due to rain.
Folks that cooked this contest the year before talked about the wind and how strong it blew on Friday that year. I had seen pictures of some of the damage, it did not look like fun. One competitor even coined the expression, Dover Blows, in reference to the winds, of course. Around 10:00, I spoke to Jo on the phone. She was watching the Weather Channel and said that it looked like we were about to be clobbered. I will never tell her, but I wish for once I had listened to her, please, keep this between us, and do not tell her. I looked up at the sky, no lightning, no thunder, a few stars, just a slight breeze out of the south, nah, we would be all right, lets go visiting.
We were about 200 yards from our site at the first stop on our meet and greet tour. We found the Pequea boys visiting at another site and we stopped in hopes of scoring a few cherries. While we stood talking, a slight breeze came and lifted the canopy we were next to and dropped it on the road. We all grabbed a post and tried to remove the nylon to prevent the thing from sailing off again, the breeze was still increasing. We had more or less stabilized this canopy, when we noticed the wind was still getting stronger.
Hadn’t we better get back to check on our site? As soon as we started walking in that direction, the wind really started to blow. I looked across the infield and could see multiple canopies taking flight, along with dirt, dust, cooler lids, coolers, paper towels, and anything else that was not anchored down, along with a few things that were. I am not sure, but I think I saw Mrs. Gulch and Dorothy sail by, Auntie Em, Auntie Em! We all began to run in hopes of preventing damage to our site. I was a little concerned that someone was going to be hit by the flying debris. For a while, it was down right scary. The wind was ripping through the aluminum bleachers making a tremendous rumbling sound. It sounded like the benches were about to break off and join the aerial bombardment. I hoped they stayed put.
We arrived at our site just in time and were able to remove the nylon coverings from our two larger canopies before they lifted off. The smaller canopy over our cookers was not as lucky and already went for a ride, laying in a twisted pile against the chain link fence to the rear of our site. Other than a brief shower, it never really rained at all. Almost a quick as it had started, the wind began to subside, the damage already done.
I made a quick assessment of our situation, which really was not that bad. Power restored to the Guru, the cooker was working. We set off to see if we could lend a hand to the others around us that did not fair as well. Property damage seemed to be abundant, the EZ-UP folks would be happy, as numerous canopies were headed for the dumpster. Thank God no one was hurt.
I had heard that a few teams packed up after the storm and left, but I do not know for sure. What I do know is the people that were not hit hard went around and helped those that were. Even people that had minimal damage were out helping those with more extensive damage. “What do you need?” was a question that I most heard that evening, as teams helped each other, lending equipment, supplies, cookers, what ever it took. I, for one, was very impressed by the way that folks came together after the storm, it made me very proud to be a part of this community called BBQ.
The wind subsided, the stars came out and by 2:00 AM, it was an enjoyable night. The rest of the team bunked down for the night while I sat up and had a few more beers. From my spot, with the huge lights over the infield, I could see the smoke from all of the cookers wafting by, what a sight. Life is good.
Morning arrived, unfortunately, a free breakfast was not on the schedule. I understood the contest organizers had put out a nice spread for the cooks meeting that I did not attend. Al and Erich must have forgotten to tell us about that, they surely did not return with any carryout bags. We enjoyed a continental breakfast of coffee and Danish, in house, it was not too bad.
Erich, the fill-in runner, timed the walk to the turn in area to be about two minutes. We would have to be careful with the time. The turn ins went very smoothly as the guys worked very well as a team, many times anticipating the next step and moving forward to get things ready. When we would finish with an item for the day, it was washed and put away. A well oiled machine might be a bit over the top to describe our team at this point, but we were definitely getting with the program, the guys had really come together to move as one. I was sad that this would be the last contest of the season.
After the site was pretty much broken down, I thought I would walk over and see how Steve and Jack were doing. While on the way to their site, I found them behind the RV that belonged to Tuffy Stone from Cool Smoke. Tuffy was last years Grand Champion in this event and has scored numerous wins during his time on the BBQ circuit. Steve waved me over and I found myself in a conversation with three BBQ greats. The talk was about how the turn-ins went and about past contests, I didn’t have much to offer to the conversation when I noticed another fellow headed our way. “Who’s buying the ice cream?” asked Johnny Trigg, a legend in the BBQ world, as he joined the group for a little pre awards banter.
Let me set the scene for you, four guys with who knows how many contests and Grand Championships between them and one fat guy with his jaw hanging open, a large cranium, and BBQ sauce on his shirt, standing in a circle discussing their turn-ins. The fat guy, by the way, has not won a single Championship, is cooking in his forth contest and can barely win an argument with his wife. What was I doing here? At least I was not slobbering that I knew of, babbling yes, but I do not think I slobbered. I had nothing to offer that made any sense, when I could get my mouth to work, nothing would come out, an extreme rarity for me, as anyone that knows me would tell you. Steve tried to involve me in the discussion, but to no avail, it was not his fault, I was mortified. I couldn’t string two words together to make a sentence, I even had trouble trying to produce a coherent thought. The only thought in my mind was, how do I get myself out of here? Finally, the pause I had been waiting for, I spun on my heel and hobbled away, tail between my legs, a broken man. I did not hear it, but I am sure someone had to say as I walked away, “what’s up with that guy?” At least that’s what I would have said. For once in a very long time, I didn’t have anything to say, a rarity, that’s for sure. Somebody notify the press and call me a doctor.
I stumbled back to our site only to find everyone had left to go to the awards, good, that would give me a chance to gather my thoughts and make up a story about where I had been. Surely I could not be honest and tell the whole story about how the cat had gotten my tongue, could I? Speechless, that’s not me.
I located the gang at the awards and it was not long before the fun began. Eighty-three teams were present and they would be calling from tenth place up. Chicken, ribs, and pork came without a mention of our name. I knew it would happen, it was bound to, I just wished that it wouldn’t. A contest without a call, no big deal, look around at who was here, some pretty stiff competition.
Brisket category, tenth through second, no call. First place goes to…….a pause…..”who are those guys?”…. Wow, a first place in brisket, can you believe that one, I know I couldn’t. I had barely settled back into my seat when they started on the overall winners. Seventh place would be ours. I tried to get the others up, but they wouldn’t budge, I was happy to walk again and had completely forgotten about my earlier brush with awkwardness at the BBQ roundtable.
We had worked to improve our pork and must have done something right, as we took 11th place pork, just one position from getting a call. Chicken was 48th and ribs finished 31st, a solid showing overall in a large, deep and talented field.
Dover was our forth and final contest of the season, we would all agree, we had a heck of a run during our rookie year. We learned a lot and met many very nice people, all the while having a good time ourselves. We still have a lot to learn and many mistakes yet to make, some I am sure we will make over and over again. However, as long as you have good friends, cold beer, a little grub, and a warm fire, who could ask for anything more?