Monday, October 27, 2008

Still heading home from the Jack

This started out to be a short, interim post while I wait for the mechanics to repair the Pellet Envy wagon. Seems it's more than just bearings, but maybe not quite so bad that they have to replace the entire axle. Instead, this is the whole enchilada from this past weekend. Either way, the trailer breakdown is the crowning jewel on a fun but somewhat frustrating weekend. As most of you know, we competed in the 2008 Jack Daniel's World Invitational. Typical of our last three years there, we did not do as well as we had hoped, finishing 41st overall. I don't even remember our category finishes, but I remember the judges liked our chicken and ribs better than our pork and brisket. A nameless fellow competitor who had similar results this past weekend called me yesterday to rub a little salt in the wound, asking why it was the judges like our entries everywhere but the Jack or Royal. All you can do is shrug your shoulders and answer honestly with "I have no idea." Seriously though, I don't put a lot of thought into that. It would just hurt my head. The bright spot was winning the Sauce category. That was awesome.

For anyone who's never been, there is some sort of magic to the park down in the hollow in Lynchburg, Tennessee. All the teams come early, plan parties and gatherings, and generally have a great time. I can't quite put my finger on exactly what it is, but this event is like no other. It could be the exclusiveness of the contest. This past weekend several of the best teams in the country, including the 2008 Kansas City Barbeque Society Team of the Year, were not there to compete. It could be the surroundings. The contest is held in a park area just a short distance from the town square. It's a rustic, casual setting with plenty of grass and trees plus a few poll barn type structures, a walking horse track and a very out of place skateboard pad. I'm sure once the contest is over the park returns to it's normal everyday uses and the skateboard area fits right in. It could be the hospitality that make this event special too. We no more than arrived when Kathy Brazier delivered her gift of baked goods and sweets. Kathy's gift has become a tradition and we always look forward to it and cherish it's contents. Whatever the reason, the Jack Daniel's event holds a special place in the hearts of the cooks.

We had a blast this year. We arrived early afternoon on Thursday and immediately headed up to the square for our traditional visit to the Hardware Store. This store is actually the Jack Daniel's memorabilia shop. It's stuffed to the gills with all things Jack. Teams are seen carrying handled Jack Daniel bags brimming with merchandise. We also ate dinner at Ms. Mary Bo Bo's on Friday. That's another tradition. This year the meal was chicken and dressing, meatloaf, baked macaroni and cheese, fried okra, butter beans, baked apples with a little Jack Daniel's, corn muffins, several other great dishes and a chocolate pie with a little Jack Daniel's whipped cream. Honestly, this year was the best meal we've ever had at Ms. Mary Bo Bo's. It may have been the company. Sheri even found Ms. Tolley up on the hill Friday evening to tell her. We also got to set up our canopy and give out goody bags from Greased Lightning. They included samples of the original cleaner, hand sanitizer, koozies, coupons and information about their "Sponsor Anything" promotion. Folks loved them. Thanks to Holly, Heather and Jessica, local Lynchburg girls who helped us distribute over a thousand bags, running out in just over two hours. It was so awesome. The crowds loved our give aways, were eager to hear about how fabulous Greased Lightning is, and some even had their own stories about this great product. Folks even stopped by during turn-ins to ask if we had any more.

For most teams, well those not lucky enough to get to Tennessee in late October, the American Royal signifies the end of the season. At least is does in the midwest. However, things are definitely changing. For those that get to compete in the Jack, that event was always considered the season ender. Not so of either these days. This year, there are 30 events after the American Royal and they stretch all the way into December. Not wanting the year to end, teams are competing long after what used to be the season enders. Heck, there were nearly 50 teams in Jenks, Oklahoma this past weekend and 35 teams in Garden City, Missouri. Although the Lakeland, Florida event in late January has been around for many years, with contests now in February and early March, the next contest season is fast approaching. Before we all know it, we'll be able to compete year round. My point in all this I guess is to say that competition barbecue is still growing. Yes, we've seen numbers of teams down this year at most events. I believe that is directly related to fuel prices. I also believe the economy is effecting participation in these events and will effect the actual events soon, if it hasn't already. It's a unique time in competition barbeque, one that could bring some interesting changes.

As with many, our season is not over yet. We get to cook for our major sponsor, Greased Lightning at their headquarters next week near Atlanta. We'll follow that event up with our class in Covington, Georgia. Then the next two weekends we'll be competing in Florida, with events in Ft. Lauderdale and Plant City. Then the season will finally be over. That's a good thing too. It's been a long year. Fuel prices, additional responsibilities and more events then ever has all taken it's toll on our season. Don't get me wrong, it's been a great year. We could not have done it without Greased Lightning and I'll never forget the year we won our most events ever. It's been a great ride.

Congrats to Kelly, Ronnie and Chelsea on winning the Jack Daniel's World Invitational this past weekend. You would be hard pressed to find a more deserving family. Kelly's been cooking well this year and he peaked at just the right time. Also, congrats to Four Mile Fred for finishing as the Reserve Grand Champion of the Jack. That's way cool as well. Also, congrats to all who heard their names in Lynchburg. There is no better feeling.

A note to folks with trailers. I am very diligent about keeping the bearings packed and the trailer in good shape. I have the bearings packed and inspected annually. I inspect the trailer and check tire pressure before each long trip. It's a good idea to do the same. We've traveled many, many problem free miles with this trailer over the years. This is the first serious issue we've had with it and it's over six years old. I would say it was due, but with proper care and preventative maintenance, I hope you never have something like this happen to your trailer. Sometimes this stuff isn't preventable.

Thank you all for reading our blog. It's fun that friends and family are interested in our barbeque adventure. I'm writing this from the lobby of the Hampton Inn in Paducah. I think I have some great pictures but didn't bring the connection needed to transfer them from the camera to the computer. So, you're all going to have to check back later in the week to get a peek. The mechanic just called and it looks like I could be back on the road by about lunch time. Keep your fingers crossed. That would be very, very cool.

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