Columbus Ag Park, Columbus, NE, Sunday, August 5, 2001 (Track #111)

Morning, I-90, heading west from Albert Lea, MN (tornado capital of MN):

The Harleys are thick this morning. Mostly headed west, for ... Sturgis. And eternal fame. But some headed east, too. Where the heck do they think they're going? No eternal fame for them.

The saga of the dirty tape player continues. There was a Wally World right next door to last night's motel, and a tape cleaning cassette was scored. However, this morning's discovery is that a pin or needle is required to initiate the flow of the secret cleaning solution to be applied to the tape. The ChumpMobile proves to be fresh out of pins or needles.

Late morning, I-29, south of Sioux Falls:

Somewhere out there is the land of O.E. Rolvaag's "Giants In The Earth". Here Per Hansa and his family homesteaded, and here he died in a blizzard. Maybe north, maybe south, maybe west, maybe east. Somewhere around here.

But I dunno: Doesn't look to be all that forbidding a landscape to me. I turn up the air conditioning just a bit.

Yikes! US-30 west of Omaha. I don't think I'm going to make it to Columbus on time! These Nebraska folks are the wimpiest passers of slowmobiles. The two-lane traffic drags.

Columbus itself can best be described as a major impediment to the free flow of traffic along US-30. But there's a helpful kid at the gas station, once I clarified that I was interested in the horse racing and not the car racing: "Oh yeah, just go down to the Conoco station and turn left". So I did. And soon found myself at the Columbus Ag Park. Parking: Free. Admission: $1.50. Program: $2.00.

And no, I have not made it in time to bet the first race. The results of the first are up on the tote. Those wimpy passers have cost the UPF $2.00. The dogs!

I'd had high hopes for Columbus racing. An Internet correspondent had touted it as the racing hot spot in Nebraska. And yes, it was hot, very hot, much like the Lincoln Fair and Fonner Park when I visited those. But as a racing experience I found it severely lacking. Pretty much boring and generic, much like Lincoln Fair and Fonner Park when I visited those.

Allow me to explain. Or don't allow me, see if I care: It's my website.

As a change of pace, we'll talk about the concessions first, as this was definitely the worst part of the whole operation. The Columbus concessions are on a par with the worst I've ever experienced, which was Mt. Pleasant Meadows. There was a $2 polish sausage, $1.50 hot dogs, and unrecorded sloppy joes. The polish sausage was of the pre-foil wrapped variety, and was horrible. The only bright spot was Falstaff beer on sale, $1.75/can, but on closer inspection it was revealed that this venerable Midwest staple is now brewed by the Pearl brewing company of Texas, itself no purveyor of fine brews. Next we'll find that Grain Belt is coming from St. Louis these days. Or worse.

Enough of that. Maybe 300 people had turned out for the racing on this hot and windy day, and as they were creating no discernible buzz or excitement, there was plenty of opportunity for me to wander and inpect the facilities, unhindered by human interaction.

What we've got here as a facility is a medium-big grandstand with bare-bones lower concourse and 2nd-floor concourse of finest concrete, painted up in a dark, brooding blue color, and open-air covered seating up top, the seating being wood-backed bleacher type seats, painted up in an interesting pastel color scheme of pink, yellow, and sea-foam green, which color scheme also extended to the steel I-beam skeleton holding up the corrugated steel roof, and then a nice corrugated steel press box/announcer's booth perched on top of the whole shebang. Some folded-chair type boxes down front of the grandstand seating.

Down on the 1st concourse there were also some tables positioned in front of some big windows looking out across the apron to the track, while up on the 2nd floor concourse there were some additional tables for the convenience of simulcast-type bettors (showing LaD and couple of others this day, but no Monmouth for the Haskell), and these tables and the accompanying chairs seemed to be refugees from bad kitchen sets of the 50's. Betting windows at the back of each concourse. Concession stands, such as they were, also on the concourses.

Out front there's a spacious concrete apron with many picnic tables (my choice for the afternoon), with a small Winner's Circle, with astroturf, backed into it from the track. The track itself is a 5f dirt job with chute, with a tube steel inner rail and a white wooden fence outer. Small low-feature toteboard located out front, the only redeeming feature of a bare grass infield. Barns off the backside and 1st turn, some trees and houses visible in the background. Paddock off the right of the apron, but I seem to have neglected to document it. An exceptionally interesting feature was the very busy railroad which ran past the right (south) end of the property, upon which long train after long train loaded with coal ran past every few minutes, headed from the environmentally-unfriendly high-sulfur-coal strip mines of Gillette, Wyoming to the environmentally-unfriendly coal-fired power plants of the acid-rain producing Midwest, but what the hey, when we turn on our electricity in Illinois, it comes on.

The racing program itself wasn't bad at all. Eight races, with from 7 to 10 runners per race, 8 being about the average. All quite bettable. A MSW purse was $4000, conditioned 2500 claimers $3500, and the big race of the day, $10k claimers (no conditions), $4400. The teeny crowd was not responding enthusiastically to the nice card, however. The only pools I wrote down were for the 3rd, and just before post they had $2766 in the win, $923 in the place, and $659 in the show.

I really did not recognize any of the trainers and jocks, and it seemed to be a very Nebraska-oriented program, as most all of the horses were bred there. Two jocks' names that rang a bell were Megan Ludlow and Jerry Carkeek. Jerry seemed to the hot man.

On the betting front, I was not The King, doing things like hitting $11.40 and $14.40 quinellas to stay more or less even, and missing other races totally, while managing to piddle away $34.80 of the spare change bankroll overall. The one bright spot was hitting the 3rd consectutive bet for UPF, selecting Missed in the 5th, a 6f event for 2500 claimers that hadn't won 3 races in 2001. I took him just because he'd just done a respectable job in a starter allowance at Horseman's Park in Omaha in his last. No trick there, and he came through. Paid $4.80. Woo hoo. Better than losing.

Overall, my impression of Columbus was disappointing. Maybe if more locals had showed up to liven things up it would have been different, and I can't blame them if they stayed home from that heat, but this was typical of every Nebraska racing experience so far, where people just don't show up, and then you have to go nit-picking on the facilities. Though in this case, I'm not really sure if I'm nit-picking.

I wasn't treated badly, so no thumbs down, but a definite shoulder shrug, and no thoughts of ever going back. And damn, I'd been looking forward to this one for a couple of years.

Total miles traveled to get to this track: 501

After the races, US-30 heading southwest:

Damn! There's turkeys out here! Turkeys, standing alongside of the road!

Evening, I-80 heading west:

Nebraska loves David Lee Roth.

I don't know why it is, but every time I drive across Nebraska, all the small town FM stations are playing David Lee Roth, either solo (the worst) or with Van Halen (tolerable for awhile). Tonight it seems to be a Van Halen marathon. PANAMA! Soon intolerable.

The cleaning light on the tape deck seems a bit less ominous. I dig through the tape box and extract a case proclaiming Tom Tom Club. What's inside is not Tom Tom Club. In fact, there's no telling what it is. Play it anyhow. The welcome strains of Zappa's "Joe's Garage" accompany the ChumpMobile's rocket ride into the sunset along "the Great River Road". Bonus find!

Later, North Platte:

There's a big line of beautiful Harleys parked in the motel lot. I saunter on up to a guy out there looking over his bike and ask him, "Ya comin' or goin'? I saw some bikes up in Minnesota heading back already."

"Goin'", says he. "It doesn't really start till tomorrow. This weekend was just a pre thing".

Now there's some folks who will achieve the everlasting fame ... of Sturgis. They ain't wimping out early and going back to work on Monday like those weekend warriors. And oh yeah, I'm not going back to work either.