He’ll Get It Done

Furman's Bruce Fowler and I know each other pretty well. (Monte Dutton sketch)
Furman’s Bruce Fowler and I know each other pretty well. (Monte Dutton sketch)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, November 23, 2014, 5:44 p.m.

I remember a snowy day on campus in the late 1970s. Bruce Fowler, Tim Sorrells, Paul Sorrells, Jeff Snipes, and I were walking from “A Dorm” to the Herman W. Lay Physical Activities Center, the PAC, to play a little basketball. The snow had a crust of ice, and we were stomping our way to the gym. Naturally, snowballs started flying, and I reached down to press one, and a big chunk of ice came up, and I hurled it at Paul, who ducked, and it hit Jeff, which had not been my intention.

I knew I was in trouble when I saw Jeff’s eyes. He was a thoroughly dangerous man, and I knew he was going to tear me apart, limb from limb, as they say, if I didn’t buy enough time for Jeff to settle down. It was quite an image. Did you ever know a kid, who, when chased by a bully on the playground, would wait for him to almost catch up, then hit the ground, and come up running in the opposite direction? I wasn’t a kid, and I wasn’t small, and I wasn’t agile, but that’s what I did, and much to my amazement, Jeff settled down, and I lived to see another day.

Just as vivid a memory as my desperate attempt to avoid the wrath of Jeff Snipes is how much Bruce Fowler enjoyed watching it. Yes. Those were the days.

Bruce grew up in Cincinnati. Jeff somehow persuaded him to reveal the school cheer of Mariemont High School. Bruce allowed as how it was, “M! A-R-I-E! M-O-N-T! Mariemont!” Jeff immediately provided his own, highly profane and obscene cheer for his own high school, Belton-Honea Path. As in the movie Animal House, decorum prevents that cheer from being repeated here.

Jeff Snipes was the most memorable human being I’ve ever known. He had the spirit of a lion. He could have been a character in a Dan Jenkins novel. Come to think of it, Jeff and Mark Taylor could have been Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It’s still hard for me to believe that a man who seemed utterly indestructible has been dead for more than five years. I think of him every day.

Now Bruce, who like all the others mentioned here except me, played football for the Furman Paladins, is the head coach. Tim Sorrells, his roommate, is assistant head coach. I expect they’re as close as ever. Tim once wrecked Bruce’s car – as I recall, it wasn’t his fault — and it had no effect at all on the friendship. In fact, it benefited Tim because being banged up in the crash wound up giving him an extra year to be the Paladins’ record-setting quarterback. Even bad things wound up good back in those magical years of shocking upsets and Southern Conference championships.


“Certainly there are lots of things we’ve got to correct. … Every day is connected. They don’t stand alone. You make progress day to day. We’ve just got to keep building this program and moving forward.” — Bruce Fowler


 

Bruce Fowler and Tim Sorrells were there at the dawning of Furman football’s Golden Age, and now they are in charge of restoring it.

The only way “two steps forward, one step back” could be more literal would be a person actually taking two steps forward and one step back. In Bruce’s first year as head coach, the Paladins went six and five. Next was three and eight. In 2013, Furman roared back from a slow start to win the Southern Conference’s automatic bid in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoffs and advanced to the second round, finishing eight and six.

On Saturday, I watched and wrote about the concluding game of a three-and-nine season. This year I started writing high school and college game stories for a little spending money, and I was only too happy to go back to Furman and write about the team. I was there for the high point of the season, an upset of rival Wofford, but I was also there on Saturday to watch the curtain fall with a forty-five to nineteen loss to this year’s SoCon titlist, the Chattanooga Mocs.

As Coach Fowler freely declares, I, too, love Furman. It doesn’t mean I can shirk my responsibility to report unsparingly when the news is bad. This year, the quarterback, Reese Hannon, was lost for the season in the opening game. After starting the season with two victories, the team lost eight games in a row and nine of the final ten.

Bringing back the glory days is no easy task. (Monte Dutton)
Bringing back the glory days is no easy task. (Monte Dutton)

Talking to the Furman players, I see not a trace of discord. They seem to have every attribute of a winning program except the actual winning. Their head coach never stops trying, never lets the losses pile up. He just hitches up his britches, a term used more in South Carolina than Cincinnati, and goes back to work. Bruce was once the defensive coordinator at Vanderbilt. He’s not going to let problems at Furman get him down. He answers every question forthrightly, takes responsibility for every mistake, and at the end of many replies, he simply adds, “We’ve just got to get better.”

I don’t think Furman could have a better coach, and, given the results of the disappointing season, I’m happy that most of the people to whom I talk feel the same way.

The Furman football graduation rate is ninety-five percent, which is on a par, statistically, to such schools as Harvard and Penn. Brown and Davidson are at ninety-eight percent; Dartmouth, Yale, Bucknell, and Northwestern are at ninety-seven; and Holy Cross, Lafayette, and Rice are at ninety-six. It’s pretty good company the Paladins keep. It remains plausible to refer to them as student-athletes.

Next year, they turn the competitive corner for good. And, if not then, the one after that. I think it was Abraham Lincoln who once said he’d fight till hell freezes over and then lay siege on the ice.

On the one hand, I’m partial to Bruce Fowler because I’ve known him for thirty-seven years. On the other, I think I’m qualified to extol his virtues because I know them very well.

My latest short story, “The Lucky Break,” is a bit of a fable on the loyalty of two men who once played ball together. You can find it at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com. Take a look at my books, whether of the non-fiction variety or my two novels, The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope. You can buy them here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

A Brand-New Wizard

Kevin Harvick's title hopes finally came to fruition. (HHP/Garry Eller photo for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick’s title hopes finally came to fruition. (HHP/Garry Eller photo for Chevy Racing)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, November 19, 2014, 11:04 a.m.

Another NASCAR year is over. The Sprint Cup Series, by the miracle of the Etch a Sketch, has produced a new champion, Kevin Harvick, and it was a bit overdue. Harvick, who turns thirty-nine on the eighth day of December, is of the same generation as Dale Earnhardt Jr., and several others who have had potential titles vacuumed away by the Great Hoover of Jimmie Johnson.

In short, Harvick is a deserving champion, fast all year, and positioned perfectly, in the end, to exploit the Etch a Sketch’s more advanced features. The season had a rousing start, Earnhardt’s victory in the Daytona 500, and a frenetic finish, with enough “Game Seven Moments” in between to thump the NASCAR tub.

How about Etch a Sketches for both the December 8 birthday boys? (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevy Racing)
How about Etch a Sketches for both the December 8 birthday boys? (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevy Racing)

Let’s take a break with a bit of useless trivia. Ryan Newman, who finished second in the intertwined race (Ford 400, Homestead-Miami Speedway) and Chase, was also born on December the eighth, though he will turn thirty-seven instead of thirty-nine.

The season had many worthy champions, if for no other reason than worth is defined by an Etch a Sketch that draws it rather broadly. When the Empire’s minions shook that box one last time, Harvick was best equipped to twist the knobs.

That, as they say in Daytona Beach, is the bottom line, and it is what it is at the end of the day. The Chase is fully integrated, multifaceted, debris-strewn, thoroughly waved around, and situated exactly where the rubber meets the road. It’s a rich language the business folks talk.

For Jeff Gordon, another championship year slipped away. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevy Racing)
For Jeff Gordon, another championship year slipped away. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevy Racing)

Somehow, out of all those red Solo cups on the back straight, those checkpoints where a roughhousing eleventh beat a futile second, those one wrong moves that dispatched other worthy candidates to the broadening purgatory … a fun-loving, mischievous champion emerged.

So give Harvick his credit. In an age where many of his peers play video games, Harvick plays mind games. He loves to stir things up.

As such, he fits the format perfectly. Just as Johnson knew how to seal the old deal, Harvick proved himself a wizard at etching the sketch.

Thanks for taking time off from your busy schedule to read this blog. Do me the favor of considering my novels, The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope, along with my other books at: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1414631316&sr=1-1

 

Passing Perfection and Knee Rejection

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Paladin Stadium is such a lovely setting. (Monte Dutton)
Paladin Stadium is such a lovely setting. (Monte Dutton)
Peering through a portal. (Monte Dutton)
Peering through a portal. (Monte Dutton)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, November 17, 2014, 8:57 a.m.

You win some. You lose some. Furman tore up Wofford. I tore up my knee.

I’m hobbling around in the “maybe it’ll get better” stage. My right knee has been bothering me for

several years. I had it x-rayed a couple months back. It had some damage, but I was getting around well enough to perform the not-too-demanding tasks of going to the grocery store and writing about ballgames. I didn’t have a fall or anything dramatic. My hand slipped when I got up out of a chair, and I guess the knee turned awkwardly. I noticed it starting to ache while I was picking up a gallon of milk and some crackers at the Dollar General. By the time I got home, it was much worse. Fortunately, I have ice packs and a chair that reclines. If another day of “putting ice on it,” the athletic trainer’s miracle drug, doesn’t show some results, I’ll make an appointment. Lack of mobility won’t slow my writing.

But enough of my piddling concerns.

Dusk settles, game long over. (Monte Dutton)
Dusk settles, game long over. (Monte Dutton)

The Paladins, losers of eight consecutive game, played host to rival Wofford on Saturday. The Terriers entered the game with a record of five and four. Furman didn’t play host very graciously, but that’s understandable where tackle football games are concerned.

A Furman freshman – truly a freshman, as is invariably stipulated – named P.J. Blazejowski let it fly fifteen times and every single one found an accommodating receiver. Fifteen for fifteen. A school record. Over three hundred passing yards for the second week in a row. First time for a Paladin quarterback since someone named Cleve Hightower in 1969 and Furman had a shield instead of a diamond on the side of its helmets.

Thirty-one to fourteen. Three and eight. One game to play. The Citadel won the previous week in overtime. One victory does not alone compensate for an otherwise miserable campaign, but it sure was nice to see my old friend, head coach Bruce Fowler, with his eyes twinkling again.

“You’ve got to get through that ‘what’s going to happen next’ mentality,” said Fowler, who was not talking about my knee (which was fine, or at least operable, at the time).

“We were making some progress, but it just comes down to we were executing well and playing with great effort. You could see some progress. We were executing better. We’ve had some guys hurt, and that’s been part of it, but we executed much better, and it feels good to see some results for all the work.

“In the locker room, I was really kind of emotional. I don’t know if it was relief or just that I love Furman so much, but when people started talking to me about streaks and stuff, I just kept saying, well, we just got to keep trying. I’m really proud of our guys.”

With apologies to Jeff Gluck, "silent stadium." (Monte Dutton)
With apologies to Jeff Gluck, “silent stadium.” (Monte Dutton)

Blazejowski’s first pass would have been an incompletion, but by the grace of a holding penalty (how many times can you write that?) that Wofford accepted, it was negated, and he never erred again. Nor did his crack receivers.

Reese Hannon began the season at quarterback but didn’t last an entire game. Next was red-shirt freshman Dillon Woodruff. Blazejowski, from St. Augustine, Fla., didn’t lead the offense until the second half of the fifth game. It hasn’t all been sweetness and light.

“I got off to a hot start, but then (losses to Samford and VMI, in particular) were pretty rough for me,” Blazejowski said. “I just had to keep learning. Not everyone gets to start, or has to start, as a true freshman.

“If you keep learning and keep listening, ultimately, it’s going to go your way.”

Fowler called Blazejowski’s resurgence “a pretty normal progression,” though progressing through fifteen straight completions was a bit beyond that.

The 125th anniversary of the first college football game ever played in South Carolina. (Monte Dutton)
The 125th anniversary of the first college football game ever played in South Carolina. (Monte Dutton)

“For any quarterback in college, you come in first game, and nobody knows who you are,” he added. “You just kind of react, and you don’t know whether you’re doing things right or wrong sometimes. He has some ability, a quick release, he made some plays, and people start to see what he can do, and you have to reach that next level where you work on game plans and manage all the stuff that you do.

“He’s made progress in maturity, and now he’s starting to make some plays. He’s pretty poised. He just stayed there and got better as he went along.”

It was already a happy day. Going back to Furman invariably involved bumping into an old friend I haven’t seen in twenty years. We commiserated about the Paladins – I called the season “Football in the Age of Cholera” – but mainly we talked old times. Unfortunately, I was busy afterwards. I would have enjoyed the happy faces in the parking lot.

Meanwhile, about a ninety-minute drive away, the hometown school was finishing its season with a winning record for the first time since 2007. A six and five record is pretty impressive when one notes that three of the Blue Hose losses were to Ole Miss, Northern Illinois, and North Carolina State. Presbyterian prevailed at Gardner-Webb, 14-7. I watched the first half in the wee hours of Sunday morning, discovering it on an obscure satellite channel, before succumbing to fatigue and going to sleep.

In retrospect, I wish I’d slept in a little longer. As noted earlier, you win some, and you lose some.

Football plays a small role in my first novel, The Audacity of Dope, and a major role in the second, The Intangibles. Most all my books are available here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1414631316&sr=1-1#

 

Go ‘Round Merrily

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If this happens Sunday night, NASCAR officials will have survived their format. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas photo for Chevy Racing)
If this happens Sunday night, NASCAR officials will have survived their format. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas photo for Chevy Racing)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, November 14, 2014, 9:04 a.m.

Readers hate to read lectures. This I understand more because I’m more of a reader now. The lack of common ground between many fans and the media resonates more. I talk to people at hardware stores and music venues. I don’t go to NASCAR venues anymore. A few more of the trees make up my forest.

Ten years ago, the Chase was completing its first year, and I was at Homestead-Miami Speedway to watch Kurt Busch win the championship. I clashed in the media center with a writer who had written an ingratiating column, the gist of which was that anyone who didn’t love the Chase should just “get out.” I confronted the person who wrote it, saying that since I disagreed with the Chase, I obviously needed to find something else to do.

(He just missed it by eight years.)

First he (or she) denied writing it, to which I said something subtle like, “Oh, yes, hell, you did.” Then he (or she) got all weepy-eyed and said he (or she) had all the respect in the world for me, yada, yada, yada.

He (or she) just didn’t expect to be called on it. History was on his (her) side. He (she) got the last laugh. He (she) is still out there, prospering. I’m hoping this next novel makes it big.

I’ve got a long history of rather being right than president. In spite of watching Doctor Strangelove at least two dozen times, I still haven’t learned to stop worrying and love the bomb.

I hated the Chase in all its previous incarnations, but this one is to the original as nuclear is to atomic, Oxycontin to aspirin, moonshine to wine spritzer, and Alabama to Savannah State.

I watched a Torino like this one win at Greenville-Pickens when I was eleven. It was a dirt track then.
I watched a Torino like this one win at Greenville-Pickens when I was eleven. It was a dirt track then.

I just reflect my own thoughts. If you like this, it is your right, and it’s quite possible that NASCAR is attracting more of you than losing those like me. It’s also possible that guys like me will continue to watch, even if we don’t like it as much, because we simply like racing, and even watered down, it beats spending all my time reading and writing, playing guitar and tweeting in haiku.

Wait a minute. Did I just write that?

It’s not been unusual for people who know me to see a certain inconsistency in my barbaric enjoyment of watching cars go around and around. Furman University wasn’t a hotbed of stock car racing in the late seventies and early eighties. Steve Bishop, a fine fullback, and I used to go to Riverside, a dirt track, and paved Greenville-Pickens, where we’d sit on the tailgate of his Chevy pickup and swig beer amidst the racing tumult. Another friend, Bernard Durham, and I went to the 1984 fall race at Charlotte, and I remember how shocked Bernard was when the fans cheered. What shocked him was that they were cheering Darrell Waltrip for wrecking.

I never liked wrestling. NASCAR was my guilty pleasure.

The Silver Fox, David Pearson, circa 1977.
The Silver Fox, David Pearson, circa 1977. (Thomas Pope photo)

Just because I loved NASCAR, I didn’t stop loving the novels of John Steinbeck, black-and-white movies from the thirties and forties, the poetry of Robert Frost, the songs of Tom T. Hall, and every word Carl Sandburg wrote about Abraham Lincoln.

It’s a long way from my literary idol, Steinbeck, to my racing idol, David Pearson. Hmm. Where is there common ground? Okay. Steinbeck wrote Of Mice and Men. Lots of drivers were mice. Pearson was one of the men. It’s not a valid comparison, but it’s all I got.

Maybe I just like it now where once I loved it. Maybe when the sport goes into hibernation for the winter, I’ll rekindle a yearning for the high banks of Daytona and the boisterous bumps and runs of Martinsville. Maybe, come February, I’ll think of the chill winds and how the flocks of seagulls rise skyward at the first roar of an engine.

Maybe it's the Boy Wonder's year. He's the biggest winner left. (Sean Gardner/Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Maybe it’s the Boy Wonder’s year. He’s the biggest winner left. (Sean Gardner/Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

I keep reading where fans are “pumped,” and “stoked,”  for this final race. I can’t make up my mind whether I’d rather see a deserving champion emerge from the smoke and mirrors of this format or a winless champion who it exposes it for the fraud it is. Some would say the format defines the championship and thus is anyone who wins it legitimized.

It’s the same way winning the Powerball defines a rich man (or woman).

As Tom T. once wrote in regard to his native music, “They might pat your fanny, and say you’re a dandy, but they still don’t like picking on network TV.”

In the off chance that you’d like to my books — the novels, The Audacity of Dope and The Intangibles, and non-fiction books about NASCAR and music – they’re available here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1414631316&sr=1-1

My short stories and essays are at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com.

 

You Can Have the Big Time

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Frank Hill Stadium, Emerald High School, Greenwood, South Carolina. (Monte Dutton)
Frank Hill Stadium, Emerald High School, Greenwood, South Carolina. (Monte Dutton)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, November 10, 2014, 7:05 p.m.

Had I been, oh, I don’t know, writing about the Alabama-LSU game on Saturday night, I would have had: (a.) a great story to tell; (b.) a vast readership; and (c.) the prestige that goes with being there.

Wilder Stadium
Clinton’s Wilder Stadium sits idle until next year. (Monte Dutton)

On the flip side, I would also have had: (a.) less access; (b.) difficulty finding something original to write; and (c.) deadline pressure even greater than what I experience writing about the Broome-Emerald high school game.

I wouldn’t have been filing at McDonald’s, which has become an invaluable ally due to the presence of reliable wi-fi and doors that remain open late enough to take advantage of these conditions.

I bought a cup of coffee because it seemed only fair that I should buy something, even though I wasn’t hungry. The kid in the next line wore long johns, long white basketball shorts over them, a white sweatshirt and a tee shirt over it. I asked him if he had been to the game. He said he played in it, and he told me he was Number Three.

Number Three was J.P. Parker, who had scored on a sixty-nine-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Isaiah Brown in Emerald’s 28-14 victory. I told him nice catch. I might have interviewed him, but I was covering the game for the Spartanburg paper, and the focus of my coverage was Broome, which is located just outside Spartanburg, though the game was played in Greenwood.

Parker, a junior, asked about some other scores once he found out I was a sportswriter. He mistakenly thought Clinton had knocked off undefeated Greer. It was my sad duty – sad because I live in Clinton – to inform him that the Yellow Jackets had edged the Red Devils, 17-13.

This doesn't have anything to do with the column. It was just sitting next to my car in the McDonald's parking lot. (Monte Dutton)
This doesn’t have anything to do with the column. It was just sitting next to my car in the McDonald’s parking lot. (Monte Dutton)

My point is that, if you want exposure and upward mobility, the place to be over the weekend would have been Baton Rouge. As journalism is now an avocation, I’d rather have the intimacy of writing about high schools and small colleges, or, for that matter, local short tracks. This is just about getting back to my roots, making a little spending money, and going to places where folks are generally glad to see me.

I loved the Alabama-LSU game … on TV. The same was true of the Phoenix NASCAR race, and it’s going to be true about the Carolina Panthers game in Philadelphia that’s on TV tonight. For the last two years I covered NASCAR, I also wrote occasional columns at NFL games. I enjoyed it. It was a change of pace. I don’t need that change of pace anymore. It doesn’t do me any good.

I’d rather write about the kid wearing the longjohns at McDonald’s. Or even see him.

If you’d like to purchase signed copies of my novels, The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope, click on “merchandise” here. I’d appreciate it if you’d take a look at my other blog site, www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com.

Perversely Perfect

If Ryan Newman wins the championship by taking his first checkered flag at Homestead, many will sigh with relief. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
If Ryan Newman wins the championship by taking his first checkered flag at Homestead, many will sigh with relief. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, November 10, 2014, 10:23 a.m.

Kevin Harvick’s fine NASCAR resume is notably lacking in a championship, Winston or Sprint, and he has his best chance by far next week when the series visits Homestead-Miami Speedway for the final race. Of course, by rule (as referees and umpires are fond of saying), his chance is only one in four. As Harvick is coming off his fourth victory of the season – he is practically an honorary Sun Devil, what with four victories in his last five races at Phoenix International Raceway – many will cast him in the favorite’s role.

Kevin Harvick deserves to win a championship. Maybe, miraculously, he will. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick deserves to win a championship. Maybe, miraculously, he will. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

The other name that springs to the front is that of Joey Logano, who has two more wins and three more top-five finishes than the presumptive favorite. Neither, however, has particularly distinguished himself at the 1.5-mile track where the title is decided.

That brings us to the two drivers, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin, who have, by the wonder of the new NASCAR format, capitalized on the contrived format that now determines the champion. Hamlin has a lone victory. Newman doesn’t. No Cup champion has ever failed to win a race, and the format was ostensibly designed to make such a phenomenon impossible. This claim had already been undermined ever since some pesky compiler ran the 2013 results and determined it would have produced a winless champion.

Joey Logano is most useful of the four finalists. (Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Joey Logano is most useful of the four finalists. (Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Perhaps the rationale was surely it can’t happen again! It can. Not only does Newman lack a victory; he’s only finished in the top five four times. Hamlin has seven top fives. Only by the wonder of the Etch a Sketch is it possible to conclude that either has had anything more than a disappointing season, but the aforementioned wonder is the only one that matters. If Jeff Gordon had had such a season and been able, like Newman, to make an unruly pass for 11th place on the final lap, he’d be cast as the favorite right now.

Denny Hamlin has competed for championships before but this year has benefited in particular from the new system. (Monte Dutton)
Denny Hamlin has competed for championships before but this year has benefited in particular from the new system. (Monte Dutton)

What this format really produces is excitement. Zany excitement. The kind invented by the Marx Brothers. The kind provided by a Final Four that includes both Ringling Brothers, Barnum, and Bailey.

That it will be. If Newman wins the championship, he will be Cinderella, and when the fireworks go off, three other cars will turn into pumpkins, and somehow, for the burly Newman, who looks like a high school linebacker, a glass slipper will fit, and someone at NASCAR will point out that, at the end of the day, it is what it is, and many will rejoice at the isness of the itness.

The process is exciting, unjust and gimmicky, which is to say, from NASCAR’s obvious view, perfect.

It’s sort of a shame that all the drivers who managed more than Newman and Hamlin – Gordon, Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, even Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch – have to compete in the Ford 400. They should be allowed to watch from a mountaintop, impossible in south Florida though it may be (sorry, I’m still thinking Phoenix), and peruse the great works and deeds of those mortal in comparison.

It’s the bravest new world since Aldous Huxley sat down his pen.

Thanks for reading me. Give my short stories and essays a look at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com a look if you think of it. My books, fiction and non, can be considered and purchased here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1415634579&sr=1-1

 

Go Crazy But Not Nuts

The sun will not set peacefully on this NASCAR season. (Monte Dutton)
The sun will not set peacefully on this NASCAR season. (Monte Dutton)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, November 9, 2014, 1:10 p.m.

Many years ago, when I was a mischievous college student, a soccer coach and I conspired to get his team ready for a match against a nearby rival. I cut off the heading of that rival’s stationery and fashioned a facsimile of a news release previewing the aforementioned match. It wasn’t outlandish, and was meant to be believable if a bit, uh, aggressive.

“Furman’s kids really play hard,” the rival coach was quoted as saying, “but they don’t really have a lot of talent.”

No one who doesn’t have a lot of talent fancies himself that way. The coach made a few copies and posted them around his team’s locker room. I accompanied the team to the match, which Furman won, three to one, I believe, but there were unexpected developments.

For instance, a full-fledged brawl broke out, and the coach and I participated in breaking it up. On the way back to Greenville, he drove the van, and I sat in the passenger seat. Both of us were partially coated in mud. I had a skint elbow, and one cheek was scratched.

Though he was driving, as lights from the street flickered through the van, our eyes met for a second.

“You reckon we might have overdone it a mite?” I asked him, and we both chuckled.

At the center of the tempest, at least now, is Brad Keselowski.  (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR)
At the center of the tempest, at least now, is Brad Keselowski. (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR)

With this Chase format, NASCAR has lathered up the sport. The action has continued after the checkered flag fell in two of the past three races. Let’s just say a few drivers and crewmen have strained the bounds of professionalism. All week long, I thought about what has been transpiring, but I didn’t have anything but random observations until this morning when I remembered the thirty-five-year-old tale of the soccer match.

I didn’t just strain the bounds of public relations. I ripped them to shreds. The soccer coach and I both looked and felt like the Tasmanian Devil when we emerged from the mess. The question for NASCAR, entering the Phoenix race that these words precede, is whether or not it’s possible to put on the brakes as everything spins further out of control.

Last week, "Harvick" became a verb. (Sean Gardner/Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Last week, “Harvick” became a verb. (Sean Gardner/Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

The instructions appear to be, Hey, go crazy, but, by all means, don’t go nuts. It’s a hard distinction to draw. “Boys, have at it” doesn’t seem like a judgment call. Right now, NASCAR is dancing, as gracefully as Fred Astaire and considerably more so than Michael Waltrip, on the edge of the active volcano’s cone. They’ve turned the sport into the rough equivalent of a political campaign ad.

When the smoke clears, they approved this ad.

Thanks for reading my modest offerings, cultivated from afar. I’m a little closer to the books I’m writing, and I would be appreciative if you would read them, too. They don’t cost too much, and you can find them here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1414631316&sr=1-1

 

Chase of Fools

Jimmie Johnson coolly captured the race of No Limits. No one else was cool, let alone calm. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Jimmie Johnson coolly captured the race of No Limits. No one else was cool, let alone calm. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, November 3, 2014, 10:18 a.m. Okay, first things first. As to the sordid affair that occurred last night after the race in No Limits, Texas, let’s make a few points

A number of observers believe a typical short-track race is what occurs when NASCAR drivers who know nothing about dirt, race at Eldora, and for some of the observers, this is true because it’s the only dirt track where they have ever been.

It wasn’t typical of local short tracks, as my friend Rick Minter pointed out this morning. “There’s one big difference,” Rick said. “If you act like that at a local track, you spend the night in jail.”

The Silver Fox, David Pearson, circa 1977. He wasn't a fighter. He was a lover.
The Silver Fox, David Pearson, circa 1977. He wasn’t a fighter. He was a lover.

It wasn’t typical of the good, old days, either. If you think Petty, Pearson, Cale, Bobby, Fireball, and D.W. behaved like that three nights a week for two decades, you are sadly mistaken. That was an age in which drivers often had to fix what they tore up and, one way or another, pay for it. The biggest reason was that they were working-class heroes, not rich punks. The reason the brawl at the 1979 Daytona 500 is remembered so vividly is that it happened infrequently, unlike the present wrestling circuit, where it happens twice in three weeks. However, if the Etch a Sketch format had been in place, it would have happened more often “back in the day.” What is happening now is similar to the difference between Let’s Make a Deal and a video game. The championship that used to be behind Door Number Three is now a matter of avoiding the banana peels in Super Mario Karts. In other words, NASCAR’s Imperial Hierarchy is experiencing a great example of the old saying, “Watch what you ask for. You might just get it.” They didn’t know “have at it, boys” had a nuclear option, right up until they legislated it with the Etch a Sketch.

Brad Keselowski is under fire for shaking the Etch a Sketch too vigorously. (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Brad Keselowski is under fire for shaking the Etch a Sketch too vigorously. (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Really, no one in the competing class is wrong, and no one is right. Everyone is out of his mind. Brad Keselowski, who must win in order to advance, did everything he possibly could to do so. He tried to bust through a hole that closed. When he said, “There was a hole, and I went for. It closed up, and we bounced off each other, and [I] kept going. It was just a battle for a win,” he was telling the truth. “I came here to race, not to fight. I raced as hard as I could, and these guys just didn’t like it.” Of course, they didn’t. That’s the plan.

Kevin Harvick has been known to stir things up. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
Kevin Harvick has been known to stir things up. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

“It’s being played rough,” said Kevin Harvick, who despite finishing second, is eighth going to Phoenix. “It’s one of those deals where everybody is trying to get everything they can. You just do everything you can do to do the best for your team.” Gordon’s hope of advancing is suddenly precarious. “I had to show my displeasure,” he said. “It got ugly down there, obviously, and, you know, that is all right. A lot of things are going to happen in the next couple of weeks.

Were you aware this man sometimes cusses? (Garry Eller/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Were you aware this man sometimes cusses? (Garry Eller/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

“It’s emotion that is a part of this Chase and this format, as well as towards people that make dumb decisions. He (KeselowskI) has been making a lot of them lately. That’s why people have been running after him and chasing him down. It’s why his team has got to defend him over there because of what he does on the race track. “I am so proud of my team, and I’m proud of Jimmie Johnson for winning that race and not letting that little you-know-what win that race.” “You know what” apparently translates as “dipshit” because that’s the word Gordon used on TV before he cooled down. “To them (NASCAR), I’m sure it’s a ‘racing incident,’ but, to me, it’s just a bunch of crap,” he also said, so he hadn’t cooled down that much, just enough not to say “shit” again. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won at Martinsville. Guess what? He no longer gets to shake the Etch a Sketch. Johnson won at No Limits. He’s out of contention, too. It works pretty well for them, other than, oh, the championship part. They’ve got no pressure, and most all the etchers and the sketchers are pissed off at one another. Just what is NASCAR to do? Its customized Frankenstein is aliiiiiive. Someone at NASCAR should have watched Bridge on the River Kwai. It’s too late to say, as Colonel Nicholson did, “My God. What have I done?” The chief influence on the Etch a Sketch apparently was Days of Thunder and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, which was named for a track where there are no races at night and doesn’t have a ballad. Oh, I like them, but, as movies, not real life. I don’t really want to see Keselowski dancing around naked on imaginary fire. Most of the time, it ticks me off when every shoving match involving a couple overheated NASCAR drivers is ridiculed on all the shows, Today, Nightly News, Fox & Friends, Good Morning America, Letterman, Fallon, Kimmel, et al., that wouldn’t normally give either NASCAR or an NBA clash of elbows a decent mention. But this! By God, they looked like the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street just happened to schedule marches in opposite directions on the Gettysburg battlefield. Or the main drag in Ferguson. It’s a good thing they hadn’t unlocked the rifles in No Limits Victory Lane yet. It wasn’t tough. It was infantile. They’d better be glad it wasn’t the checkout lane at Walmart, or else they’d really have had a rumble on their hands. I think I’m going to fiction because this is too strange. If you get a chance, take an occasional look at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com or shop for my books, fiction and non, at: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1414631316&sr=1-1

Just Another Snowy Weekend

Here come the Red Devils, but these were just the latest.
Here come the Red Devils, but these were just the latest.

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, November 2, 2014, 9:46 a.m.

A November snow is one thing, but it seemed unbelievable when I awakened on Saturday morning and found snow on the ground the very first day of November. I had gone to bed secure in the assurances from several “staff meteorologists” that none of the white stuff was going to penetrate our version of the snow Maginot Line, Interstate Eighty-Five.

It was already melting when I left for the Presbyterian game.
It was already melting when I left for the Presbyterian game.

I should have been suspicious when the electricity flicked on and off several times in the wee hours.

Sometimes the ballgames don’t go well, but it doesn’t mean one can’t have fun.

Some of Clinton High School's heroes from the past.
Some of Clinton High School’s heroes from the past.

On Friday night, Clinton High School celebrated a thousand football games – the thousandth actually happened in Chester, so South Pointe visited for a thousand and one – by honoring players from olden times to the present, and I was the emcee, which meant I read a long script on Red Devil history to the accompaniment of scenes on the video message board and the presence of banners and erstwhile ballplayers on the field. I spent most of the game sitting in the press box with my old line coach, Harold Williams, chatting on a wide range of topics. Unfortunately, the Red Devils fell short in their upset bid against the Stallions, twenty-one to fourteen, but it was an admirable performance.

Snow wasn’t Saturday’s only surprise. I thought it even more miraculous to learn that Clinton had made the playoffs by virtue of being two and eight overall … but two and three in the region. In 1965, ten and one wasn’t good enough to make the playoffs. In 1970 and ’71, nine victories weren’t enough.

Times change. Sometimes a flame is but an ember, and sometimes snow falls in November.

Sharon Sanders and Presbyterian College's Scotsman mascot were ready to rumble. (Monte Dutton)
Sharon Sanders and Presbyterian College’s Scotsman mascot were ready to rumble. (Monte Dutton)

It was brisk at Presbyterian College, raining when I got there, to join friends who allow me to behave as if I went to college there, principally because my old friend Brent Sanders, who, like me, went to Furman, has a son, Hayden, who plays for the Blue Hose.

Where miracles are concerned, this year’s Blue Hose have provided their share. A year removed from three and eight, Presbyterian is five and four at present, and the losses have been against Northern Illinois, North Carolina State, and FCS (that’s Football Championship Subdivision) powers Coastal Carolina and Liberty.

Hexing the Flames didn't help, but it was all in good fun. (Monte Dutton)
Hexing the Flames didn’t help, but it was all in good fun. (Monte Dutton)

Unfortunately, the Liberty game was Saturday, and the Flames quenched the high Hose hopes by a score of twenty-eight to seven.

As Brent said, “The chief problem is that Liberty is good.”

The Blue Hose played hard, and so, too, did the tailgate party across the street from Bailey Memorial Stadium’s end-zone fieldhouse. Everything was plentiful, and there might have been enough to tailgate the whole home crowd.

I went home thoroughly tailgated, which I didn’t fully realize until I came in from the cold.

I don’t just write blogs, friends. I write actual books. You can find them here. http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1414631316&sr=1-1#

Be True to Your School

This has been on the wall of Wilder Stadium since the 1970s. I believe it was painted by my teammate, Kim Carper. (Monte Dutton)
This has been on the wall of Wilder Stadium since the 1980s. It was the work of Joe Lynch and Kenny Mann.. (Monte Dutton)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, October 30, 2014, 6:52 a.m.

This amazes me because it’s so sentimental and hokey in comparison with the way the world is now.

When I played football at Clinton High School, an undistinguished member of distinguished teams, every time we came from a road game, and we didn’t lose any of those in my two years on the varsity, when the bus pulled through the gates, everyone on the team sang the alma mater.

Honest.

Here's to our old Clinton High School. (Monte Dutton)
Here’s to our old Clinton High School. (Monte Dutton)

Here’s to our old Clinton High School / Hail, hail, hail / Here’s to our old Clinton High School / Hail, hail, hail / High school days and childhood days and light of life soon fail / But our love for Clinton High School / Will never fail.

Now, it was popular to ad-lib “It’s hell, hell, hell,” but it was still amazingly sentimental. As best I know, it was a tradition that perpetuated itself spontaneously. No one told us to do it. Of course, no one told us to chant and sing all the way home from Inman or York or Greer, either. That wouldn’t have happened if we’d ever lost, but I think the alma mater would have been sung regardless.

We were proud of our school. For the most part, we still are. That’s why Clinton High School is celebrating a thousand football games, dating back to 1920, on Friday night. It’s actually a thousand and one. The thousandth game was in Chester last week.

Old Number Fifty will be there.
Old Number Fifty will be there.

My school has won eight state championships, the first in 1939 and the most recent five years ago. My brother played on one (1978) and I was on another (1975). Four were in the seventies and two in the eighties.

The team has fallen into a rough patch, but Clinton High will be back. When I look across the Wilder Stadium stands, I’ll see men whose grandsons are playing for the team, and moms who were cheerleaders before I blinked and awakened thirty years later.

My daddy was number thirty-three. My brother was ten. I was fifty. Brack played in the Shrine Bowl. The best that was ever said about my athletic ability was that I was smart.

Now I’m fifty-six. I cling to the belief that I’m smarter.

The stadium, which dates back to 1960, is named after Robert Perry Wilder, who served the Clinton school district for half a century and coached the first state championship team. The field is named after William Keith Richardson, who won six state championships. (Monte Dutton)
The stadium, which dates back to 1960, is named after Robert Perry Wilder, who served the Clinton school district for half a century and coached the first state championship team. The field is named after William Keith Richardson, who won six state championships. (Monte Dutton)

It’s Halloween, but Halloween doesn’t scare a Red Devil. Out on the lawn of the old high school, they’re holding a community trick-or-treat, Trunk or Treat, actually, before the game.

At the end of the halftime ceremonies, the band is going to play the alma mater. That’s because our love for Clinton High School “will nevvverrr failll.”

I drew heavily on my high school and childhood days in my novel, The Intangibles, which is set in the 1960s in a town, Fairmont, that bears some similarity to this one. Here’s how you can buy it, as well as my other books: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1414631316&sr=1-1