BY DENNIS BERGENDORF
A tournament that epitomizes collegiate team bowling in the 21st century will take a page from the past when it makes its Indianapolis run in February.
The Hoosier Classic has invited Len Nicholson (known as "The Phantom" of "Phantom Radio" fame) to personally condition the lanes in the rounds of eight, in both the men’s and women’s division. And, he’ll use his iconic spray gun to lay down the oil.
“We wanted to do something special for the 50th Anniversary of the tournament,” said director Nick Hoagland. “Since 1998, the tournament has always been bowled on ‘tough, unique oil patterns.' This will just add to the legacy and brand of the event.”
Nicholson has long been affiliated with Kegel, whose lane machines will put down the pattern for qualifying and Sunday’s Baker games. During the round of eight competitions, a Kegel Flex machine will strip the old oil, and the Phantom will apply the new coat using the spray gun.
"Steve [Cross] found my spray gun back in the back room at Kegel [Training Center in Lake Wales, Fla.], sitting on the exact same towels I used to use, with the same thickness with no seams in the towel and the perfect felt on it," Nicholson said. "Steve wanted to make sure today's oil would work in it, so he used it it himself and says it works perfectly."
Nicholson was the PBA’s lane maintenance supervisor from 1971-'77, briefly in 1983, and then again from 1988-'95. He is considered an expert in making lanes as fair, and challenging, as possible.
"When I started out in 1971, spray guns were pretty common," Nicholson said. "As time went by, we'd replace them from time to time because they'd get clogged up and dented, with traveling and all that around the country. I went through four or five spray guns in my career, but the one Steve found I haven't used since 1995. I can't wait to get my hands on it. It's still in working order because when I retired and went to work for Kegel, I just put it there in the storage room. Nobody's used it since."
Nicholson, elected to the PBA Hall of Fame in 2011, earned the nickname “Phantom” because many pros found his conditioning regimens mysterious.
"It's kind of funny because Nick, when he was a kid, he fell in love with doing lanes. He loved all those patterns. I used to draw the patterns out. This was before they started drawing them up with computers with the blue and the darker blue and all that. I did it by hand. I'd spray four pumps from the foul line to six feet, then three pumps from there to 15 feet, and so on. I would taper it to whatever distance the pattern was going to be.
"We knew that if it went long, like 45 feet, they'd play inside. If it went short, like 33 feet, they'd play outside. It was pretty simple to put down an inside shot and an outside shot. It was just a matter of how much volume we would use from week to week, and then all the surfaces were different because it was mostly wood back in the day.
"I'm looking forward to this," Nicholson added. "This is a big deal for the history of the game. It's one last hurrah!"
Nicholson has hosted Phantom Radio for decades, speaking at length to top bowlers and industry insiders. He’ll “broadcast” the program at the Classic, set for Feb. 15-17 at Indianapolis’ Western Bowl.
For those who want to see how lanes were oiled prior to the introduction of the robotic lane machine, Nicholson will spray the round of eight lanes for the men at approximately 11:30 AM Sunday, and for the women at about 3:30 PM.
A total of 144 teams are entered in the event, the final Tier 1 event of the 2018-2019 United States Bowling Congress Collegiate season.