The Latest Big News from Danica Patrick

Danica Patrick sets the NASCAR standard for gradual ascent. (HHP/Rusty Jarrett photo for Chevrolet)
Danica Patrick sets the NASCAR standard for gradual ascent. (HHP/Rusty Jarrett photo for Chevrolet)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, March 30, 2015, 11:45 a.m.

Last week someone on social media – I forget whether it was Twitter, or Facebook, or Google+ — asked a question I hear from time to time. It went – and goes – something like this:

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

How many times are there really big stories that never get told?

What’s [insert name] really like?

Apparently my readers think I’m guilty of knowing more than I let on. I’m sure this belief about writers has been spread by writers who reply to such queries with knowing glances and arched eyebrows, thus hinting at self-aggrandizement.

I could tell you, but I’d have to kill you.

There’s a certain mystery in being coy, but usually this mystery is comprised of hocus-pocus.

For the record, I let you know everything I responsibly can, unless I just don’t care enough to be concerned with something I don’t deem important. In regard to NASCAR, I don’t go to the track anymore. Writing about NASCAR still brings in a little, but I don’t cover the races like the dew covers Dixie. I write more what I like because I no longer have any obligation to write what I don’t.

Oddly enough, Danica Patrick's No. 10 wasn't green at Martinsville.  (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Oddly enough, Danica Patrick’s No. 10 wasn’t green at Martinsville. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

I don’t particularly like writing the weekly recitation on Danica Patrick, not because I don’t like her. Though some readers will scoff at this notion, I do like her. I’d like to see her do well. What I like and what happens are different things. She finished seventh on Sunday in her 88th Sprint Cup race, and it was her first top-10 finish of the season. Earlier this year, I wrote a story about Patrick, and I did my damned-level best to be fair, and one of the reasons this was a chore is that I don’t think many people have a fair view of her. To some, her every wrong is a right. To others, her rights all add up to wrongs. Here’s that story, written before the season started (February 17) at Bleacher Report:

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2362005-no-end-in-sight-for-danica-patricks-search-for-sprint-cup-success

At some point – and 88 Sprint Cup races is a valid one – Patrick must be judged as a race driver, not a woman. I can’t imagine her differing with that assessment. What that means, at this stage, is, the fact she finished seventh at Martinsville is impressive, but it’s not as impressive as David Ragan finishing fifth because, well, fifth is better than seventh.

On Sunday, when someone else pointed out that Patrick’s fifth career top-10 finish tied her with Janet Guthrie for the all-time record for such finishes by a woman, I merely pointed out that Guthrie had compiled five top 10s in 33 career races, and it took Patrick 55 more. One gentleman took great exception to his bit of information and took the mere citing of a fact as the most inexcusable of editorial observations, and I replied that it was merely a fact, which, by definition, was not an expression of opinion at all.

So, to summarize, here I am writing about Danica Patrick, who finished seventh, instead of David Ragan, who finished fifth. If there is a problem, I am part of it.

At the moment, Jeff Gordon and Danica Patrick are tied in Sprint Cup points. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas for Chevy Racing)
At the moment, Jeff Gordon and Danica Patrick are tied in Sprint Cup points. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas for Chevy Racing)

One must concede that that more factors are in play. Regardless of how unspectacular the record is, people like to read about Patrick. Some of the same people who go nuts over the notion that they are tired of reading about Patrick … read about Patrick. It’s the same way that some readers point out that they are through with NASCAR, and they probably won’t watch any races at all, and yet they still care enough about it to read what I write, not to mention many others, apparently just so they can declare how they don’t care a bit about it anymore. It’s quite a compliment that they will read my writing about that which they no longer enjoy.

I think.

Patrick finished higher than her three Stewart-Haas Racing teammates. Kevin Harvick, the reigning Sprint Cup champion, finished eighth, Kurt Busch 14th, and Tony Stewart 20th. It was a good day for her, but comparing her to her teammates on her best day of the season to date is sort of grading on a curve. For the season, she ranks 17th in the standings, 115 points behind Harvick, who has 263, but ahead of Kurt Busch, who has taken part in only half the races, and Stewart, who is off to the poorest start of his career and almost anyone else’s.

So far, Tony Stewart is down and Danica Patrick up. (John Clark photo)
So far, Tony Stewart is down and Danica Patrick up. (John Clark photo)

Harvick, Busch, and Stewart are all champions. Stewart has won three. He’s 61 points behind Patrick right now. Six races have been won. I’d bet, and I think most people would, that, by season’s end, Stewart will have more points than Patrick, as will Jeff Gordon, with whom she is tied, and Carl Edwards and Clint Bowyer, both of whom she leads. In part, this is because Patrick is about where she figures to be. She ranks 17th. Her best-ever points finish is 27th, so she has exceeded expectations based on her past. It is, however, only six races into a season of 36. The others have arrows that have not fired as straight and true as in the past.

It’s encouraging, but six races do not a season make. She has a new crew chief, Daniel Knost, which by itself isn’t anything new because personnel around her has been shuffled before, but, she said afterwards, “I think that we’re on our way, and we’re learning what changes I feel and the best way to communicate.”

As noted earlier, I like her. It was difficult to get to know her back when I was on the beat, and my access was limited to the same contact-by-media-conference that email affords me now.

“The car has to be good, or I can’t go fast,” Patrick said, “and the first half of [Sunday’s] race was a perfect example of that. When the car is right, you can go fast, but if the driver is making mistakes and not doing a good job and crashing or getting off line, that won’t have you get a good result, and, then, overall, we can’t do well. I can’t do well if the team doesn’t provide the people and equipment that I need to perform.

Has she gotten the hang of it, or is it just too soon to tell? (HHP/Rusty Jarrett photo for Chevrolet)
Has she gotten the hang of it, or is it just too soon to tell? (HHP/Rusty Jarrett photo for Chevrolet)

“A couple years ago, if you had asked how we all felt everything was going on the team, there probably wouldn’t have been a lot of positive things to say, but that’s an example of an organization digging deep and finding ways, and, by all means, the last couple of years here, we’ve been much stronger, and it makes it much more fun out there. The team has to provide what they need to, to do well.”

To the extent that Patrick has climbed, it has been excruciatingly slow, but modest progress beats none. The story linked above notes my interest in whether or not Patrick, as a result of being the object of patience rare by NASCAR owners, can actually become successful by a slow, gradual ascent. Few of her predecessors have ever gotten the luxury of being able to run 88 races without ever finishing better than sixth.

Danica Patrick’s ceiling hasn’t been explored. No one knows where her potential has its limit or where she levels off, if she hasn’t already. Most NASCAR stars have been fast learners. In fact, I can’t remember one who wasn’t, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

In spite of all the attention that accompanies every two steps forward, and every one step back, Patrick’s future remains a bit of a mystery. She has gone 88 races without coming close to winning one, and that is uncharted territory. No one else who has gone this far before has enjoyed the benefit of top-flight equipment.

My hunch is that Danica Patrick is never going to win a Cup race, never going to make a Cup Chase, and while, one day, a woman is going to blossom into a NASCAR champion, that woman is not she.

I can’t say, though, because I have no precedent to cite. NASCAR has never seen a career that matches Patrick’s, and it’s difficult to derive insight from the mere numbers she has posted.

You can find me by name on Facebook, and by @montedutton on Twitter, and I appreciate you following my non-fiction writing here, my short fiction at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, and my books that are available here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

Okay, Now I Got It

This here is what they call lacrosse. (Monte Dutton photo)
This here is what they call lacrosse. (Monte Dutton photo)

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Greenville, South Carolina, Saturday, March 28, 2015, 2:45 p.m.

When I was driving this morning, I knew I was going to see something for the first time, though I’ve passed up opportunities in my own hometown, because the college in Clinton, Presbyterian, and my alma mater, Furman University, now field lacrosse teams.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

I watched my first lacrosse game, women’s variety, as the Paladins defeated the Mercer University Bears, 15-7, in front of a hundred or so. A band of Mercer fans near me were most helpful. In front of me were several rows of elementary-school kids from Tryon, North Carolina. In front of them were the Paladin fans. As I thought it more likely that the parents of Mercer players would be able to provide me with expertise, I asked questions in order to make myself qualified to write an account of the game.

Lacrosse was invented as far back as 1100 A.D. by American Indians, making it slightly older than Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and Pop Tarts, and, like Pop Tarts, lacrosse was originally unfrosted. The greatest modern lacrosse player was Jim Brown, who was also the greatest modern football player. The rules were changed to control the Syracuse dynamo. After Brown, no lacrosse players were allowed to leap over tall buildings in a single bound anymore.

Harass them! Harass them! Make them relinquish the ball! (Monte Dutton photo)
Harass them! Harass them! Make them relinquish the ball! (Monte Dutton photo)

Few records were kept in the early days, but, one great was Steaming Maize, the Pawnee without a Pony, who kept Gen. George Armstrong Custer’s advance guard at bay with a bushel of Golden Delicious apples (those were the early balls) and a stick. Then, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse took over and annihilated the Seventh Cavalry. That was back in 1876.

The ball is now called a Sargasso. The stick is the Igwebuike. Players wear uniforms known as Pelelius. The goal mouth is called the Iroquois Hoya, which roughly translates to “what a big-mouthed Iroquois.”

Lacrosse players are fond of sprinting down the field rushing toward the opposition goal. (Monte Dutton photo)
Lacrosse players are fond of sprinting down the field rushing toward the opposition goal. (Monte Dutton photo)

In the victory over Mercer, two Paladins, Ashley Trice and Britt Douglass, scored five goals apiece. This feat is known as the Archipelago.

It was at this point that I began to suspect the Mercer parents were joshing with me on these technical terms. When the Bears’ Kate Leone scored her fourth goal, my trusted technical adviser said that when one player scored the majority of a team’s goals, it was known as a Bataan, and when the team lost, it was a Bataan Death March. I knew Bataan was in the Philippines, so I asked the Mercer parents, “What do you think I am, a moron?” to which no one answered but several smirked.

I’ve been wondering ever since whether that man was Kate Leone’s father.

Paladins on the attack. (Monte Dutton)
Paladins on the attack. (Monte Dutton)

My favorite part of Saturday’s game was watching a nerdy kid with Coke-bottle lenses in his glasses hip and hop to a hip-hop number that must have been named “Jump Around” because that phrase constituted about two thirds of the lyrics. My second favorite part was at the end, when Furman was significantly ahead and, perhaps on account of sportsmanship, didn’t particularly care to score again. The Paladins kept rushing the goal, holding their sargassos in their igwebuikes, and then rushing off behind the goal with Bears in hot pursuit. I imagined the young woman whooping – “woop-woop-woop-woop” – like The Three Stooges. Or The Three Stoogesses.

Later, I went online to test the accuracy of the lacrosse jargon the man had given me. I discovered that the ball is actually known as “the ball,” and the stick is actually known as “the stick.” Having watched my first game, I can see the American Indian influence. The act of throwing a ball from the webbing of the stick is a great exercise for honing wrist skills. Someone who can accurately propel the ball in this fashion would undoubtedly be adept at fly fishing, arrow shooting, spear throwing, and running casinos.

As I watched my first lacrosse match, it occurred to me that Elly May Clampett would have been great at it, and this thought may have implanted itself in my mind because one of the Furman women with five goals was Britt Douglass, and Elly May Clampett was portrayed by the late Donna Douglas, but the names aren’t spelled the same, so there went another brilliant theory, huh?

I don’t know why I posted this here, as a good portion of this blog is, of course, fiction, and I normally post fiction at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com. I expect whether you enjoy this blog or not will hinge on the nature of your humor and, perhaps even, your mood. Either it will be uproariously funny or not funny at all. My books, two of which are fiction and the rest of which are not, are available here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

The Damned Hot Dog Is the Least of It

This was my favorite race of 2014. Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning at Martinsville when Jeff Gordon, his teammate, needed it more. (Garry Eller/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
This was my favorite race of 2014. Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning at Martinsville when Jeff Gordon, his teammate, needed it more. (Garry Eller/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, March 27, 2015, 10:54 a.m.

One of the smaller reasons why I love Martinsville Speedway is the hot dogs, which is not to say I don’t like them. The beauty of the Martinsville hot dog is that it isn’t just the hot dog one buys at a thousand concession stands. It’s good in the sense that it’s mass-produced, and it’s unusual to find anything unique created under such circumstances.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

I come from a part of the country where there isn’t any such thing as a chili dog. A hot dog has chili. To get slaw on it, too, one has to request a slaw dog, and, as a reference, most readers of this blog are unlikely to try the slaw dogs at Whiteford’s Drive-In here in Clinton (or Laurens), but they are better than Martinsville, almost certainly because they are produced in smaller masses.

Three paragraphs are enough. Were I there, as I was for every Sprint Cup race beginning in 1993 and ending in 2012, I would likely have three. It would be on Friday, and that would satisfy me. Clinton High School football games at Wilder Stadium also feature hot dogs that are similar to Martinsville’s, and, believe it or not, they are actually cheaper.

These guys -- Cale Yarborough, Junior Johnson and Fred Lorenzen -- knew their way around Martinsville.
These guys — Cale Yarborough, Junior Johnson and Fred Lorenzen — knew their way around Martinsville.

So much for discussion of what I consider one of Martinsville’s lesser virtues. If I got up before dawn Sunday, and drove all the way to Martinsville to watch a stock car race, a hot dog wouldn’t be the reason. I’m not going to do that, but I will probably be more excited on race morning than before any of the races in the season to date.

My favorite track was, is, and always will be Darlington, but if I had to choose one race to attend, it would be one of the two at Martinsville. In the latter years of my on-site NASCAR career, I came to refer to my favorite track as The Track Too Tough to Cover. Watching Darlington on TV, and even writing about it, isn’t much more difficult in my living room than it is in the press box conveniently located on the wrong side of the track. The late Jim Hunter used to claim that they kept the press box over in the third turn, when it stopped being the first turn, because the sportswriters loved it. I still went there because, yes, I did love to watch those thundering stock cars rampage into the third turn beneath me, but there was no silver lining in writing from over there. It was, and, I suspect, still is a royal pain in the ass.

Several cars probably won't fit the templates afterwards. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Several cars probably won’t fit the templates afterwards. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

If Queen Elizabeth II wrote about auto racing, which probably last entered her mind in the 1950s, and Stirling Moss was involved, she would confirm this. Now I’m going to imagine the Queen at Darlington for the rest of the day. With Joe Weatherly, Curtis Turner, and moonshine.

How quaint.

Some fans don’t like Martinsville. They say it’s too slow, too flat, and too in the middle of nowhere. My suspicion is that most have never been there. As hard as the TV networks try to convey the race, it still seems slow, sort of a boisterous parade consisting entirely of warring Hatfields and McCoys, on TV. In person, it’s, Goldarn and dadgum, Fred, ain’t it incredible how fast they can go around this little bitty place?

This was at Charlotte, but the only song I've written that was about NASCAR is called "Martinsville." (Chase Whitaker photo)
This was at Charlotte, but the only song I’ve written that was about NASCAR is called “Martinsville.” (Chase Whitaker photo)

I’ve probably had more fun at Martinsville, Bristol, and Richmond than any ten other tracks combined.

One reason is that all three are among the tracks where I played my guitar in front of people in the parking lot. Another reason was that beer was sometimes involved (though not at Martinsville).

Martinsville provides a clear understanding of racing ethics. If you’re holding up one of the big boys, you better get your business done quickly because Martinsville does not afford the luxury of patience. If you don’t get out of the way, you’re going for a spin, or if the particular big boy happens to be in a charitable mood, he will merely bump you in a manner designed to nudge your car up a lane, where he can speed by you as you wrestle the wheel, shake your fist, and yell, “Curses, you oaf!”

If every minute of the movie Days of Thunder provided the wisdom of one Harry Hogge (Robert Duvall) line – “He didn’t wreck you, Cole. He rubbed you. And rubbin’ is racin’” – it would have been a great movie and not just an amusing Hollywood treatment. One of the movie’s flaws is that it makes rubbin’ racin’ at tracks where such rules don’t work.

Daytona, for instance.

It's not just like this after restarts at Martinsville. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas photo for Chevy racing)
It’s not just like this after restarts at Martinsville. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas photo for Chevy racing)

Not only is rubbin’ racin’ at Martinsville, but racin’ is also rubbin’. They are as correlated as bacon and eggs, pizza and beer, potatoes and deep fryers. (The hot dog discussion has put unhealthy food on the burner.) Some people think the racing at Martinsville is unhealthy, particularly those who aren’t any good at it.

Remember this when you’re watching on Sunday. When a driver gets mad and pile-drives into the object of his ire, it is an act of destruction. If the driver nudges the left-rear of that driver’s car, moves him up the track, and goes on his way, it is an act of skill. Drivers without that skill seldom win at Martinsville. Drivers with great all-around skill tend to win there. It’s a vastly different kind of racing than “all the cookie-cutter tracks,” but it requires great ability, composure, and timing.

This won't happen Sunday. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
This won’t happen Sunday. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Martinsville may not bring out the higher virtues in the competitors, but there is something to be said for a driver who frequently gets in one scrap after another, and, yet, in almost every instance, the aftermath involves continuing on his merry way, and the other driver stopping by the infield care center to make sure he can tell the difference between two fingers and three. Such a man was the late Dale Earnhardt.

Another reason Martinsville is rough is that it’s rare for anyone to get anything bruised but his (or her) ego. Unruly behavior doesn’t have much down side.

Every time I hear a driver say he doesn’t like Martinsville, two thoughts enter my mind: (1.) No one loves Martinsville. It’s a pain in the ass. The greatest drivers there are the ones who are good at it, not the ones who love riding the bumper cars at forty years of age; (2.) He’d better learn to indulge the old biddy because he’s stuck with her. If Martinsville were a woman, she’d be one you’d best not cross, and you’d best not divorce her because she’s going to take you for every penny you’ve got.

As an old football coach of mine was fond of saying, “It’ll put the fear of God in your ass,” and, oh, forty years ago, I’d think, So that’s why I’m feeling a little queasy.

Bobby Allison raced many times at Martinsville, though not in a Dirt Modified.
Bobby Allison raced many times at Martinsville, though not in a Dirt Modified.

It’s raining up there, but I’ve still got Fox Sports1 on because I want to see Cale Yarborough hit Bobby Allison in the fist with his nose another thousand times. That’s how many times the greatest stock car racers are going to dive into the Martinsville turns on Sunday, that is, if all goes according to plan.

My attention will not often wander.

Read my fiction in short doses for free at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com and in longer doses for a modest price, along with non-fiction books, here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

Off in the Wilds of the Next County Over

Newberry  College's Patrick Clary in the wind. (Zara Pearson photo)
Newberry College’s Patrick Clary in the wind. (Zara Pearson photo)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, March 26, 2015, 12:28 p.m.

Fatigue can be functional. Function can also be fatiguing, but that’s not important.

For my day trip to Newberry – the drive down there takes 26 minutes by interstate, 32 by scenic route – I got up at 5, readied myself, played a little guitar, got there at just before 7:30, and talked to college students until about ten. Then Dr. Jodie Peeler and I chatted for quite a while until I decided to let her get some work done and commenced to occupying myself at a coffee shop and a library. I wrote a blog at the library, but the coffee wore off, and I was drowsy, and I needed to overcome this by doing something interesting, and reading a book only made me sleepier, and, so, I just hit the road.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

Sometimes roads that are close to home grow unfamiliar. For instance, I live on South Carolina Highway 56. Interstate 26 is about two miles away. I haven’t driven to Spartanburg via 56 but once in about the last five years. I used to take that route from time to time, just because I enjoyed driving past the old Orr farm, where one of my father’s great friends once lived; Musgrove Mill, the golf course and the state park; the Enoree River; the road to the right that led to Tyger Ranch, where my father conducted horse and cattle auctions three and four decades ago; and all the little crossroads, one of which is named Cross Anchor; on the way to Spartanburg. I still go to Spartanburg a lot, but I’m always in a hurry.

The Wolves fell to Belmont Abbey, but they made a game of it at the end. (Zara Pearson photo)
The Wolves fell to Belmont Abbey, but they made a game of it at the end. (Zara Pearson photo)

Kids, factor in this when you’re looking forward to adulthood. The older you get, the more you’re in a hurry. Being in a hurry is common for kids, but when they’re in a hurry, they’re on a fast break or a bicycle. When I’m in a hurry, I’ve got to get this story written by midnight on the West Coast, last day of the month. Or I’ve got to go through this stack of bills before it’s time to give my mother a ride home from work because Ginger’s got the car.

Ballgames and parties have given way to deadlines and commitments. Well, most of the time.

Back to Wednesday.

Old school, Silverstreet, South Carolina. (Monte Dutton photo)
Old school, Silverstreet, South Carolina. (Monte Dutton photo)
Silverstreet, South Carolina. (Monte Dutton photo)
Silverstreet, South Carolina. (Monte Dutton photo)

I drove through Silverstreet and Chappells. I took some photos. I wanted to take a photo of the Buzzard’s Roost dam, which stops up the Saluda River enough to provide us Lake Greenwood, which, in turn, borders Laurens County as well as the one after which it’s named, and Laurens County contains Clinton, in addition to Laurens and other towns, villages, and blinking yellow lights. I couldn’t get close enough to the dam to frame it in a way that suited me, so I took some photos of the dilapidated old school in Silverstreet, and I rode by where the Panorama Lodge used to be, and that was a place our family used to visit from time to time, and it was where, after he had peroxided his hair, one of the servers once thought my father was Dusty Rhodes, and that delighted him and embarrassed me, but where Daddy was concerned, it happened all the time.

Once upon a time, I played football here. (Monte Dutton photo)
Once upon a time, I played football here. (Monte Dutton photo)

Then I made my lonely way back to Newberry and took some photos of Setzler Field, the football stadium with a cemetery beyond one end zone; the cemetery, stretching across one side of the campus; and the cozy baseball park, tucked over beyond the cemetery, its right field still overlooked by the remains of Newberrians, or Newberryites, or folks from The Berry, and some who left and came back home for eternity.

The cemetery across the street. (Monte Dutton photo)
The cemetery across the street. (Monte Dutton photo)

The Wolves, who were Indians when I was growing up, got overrun by the Crusaders, who represented Belmont Abbey College, and the first time I ever heard of Belmont Abbey, the basketball coach was Al McGuire. Where Newberry once played baseball is now the site of a dormitory. I once played football at Setzler Field, but that was because Newberry High played there when I played for Clinton, and now the high school has its own stadium, and where the college’s baseball team plays is much nicer, but that didn’t do a thing to prevent the Abbey from scoring eight runs in the top of the first inning.

Holland Hall, Newberry College. (Monte Dutton photo)
Holland Hall, Newberry College. (Monte Dutton photo)

Not only do I digress, but digression is the whole purpose.

Two and a half years ago, when I spoke to Dr. Peeler’s classes, I met a kid named Alex Kirby who played for the baseball team then as now. The best thing about the game was Alex collected two hits, one of them a double, before I left with the Wolves trailing 13-5. The final was 14-10, and I listened to it on the radio. I waved at him. We exchanged tweets later. He’s just about convinced me that I need to go back down there for another game before the season is out.

IMG_0654
Taking down the batting cage. (Monte Dutton photo)

By the way, the Australian whom I mentioned in the previous blog plays basketball at Newberry, or did until her senior season ended a few weeks ago. Her name is Zara Pearson, and we chatted a while before she left to go take photos of the baseball team in action. She is full of life, which is true of every Aussie I’ve ever known, and she has heard of Marcos Ambrose, the former NASCAR driver from Tasmania, an island off the southern coast of Australia, and that was a good portion of what the two of us had in common.

Thanks for reading my travelogues. I don’t travel enough anymore to provide them regularly. If you’d like, sample my short fiction at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, and if you want a larger sampling of what I do for a living, buy one, or two, or however many you can handle, of my books here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

Just a Little Ways Down the Road

I try to keep a fine group of Newberry College students awake during an 8 o'clock class. (Jodie Peeler photo)
I try to keep a fine group of Newberry College students awake during an 8 o’clock class. (Jodie Peeler photo)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Newberry, South Carolina, Wednesday, March 25, 2015, 1:34 p.m.

I’m in the “liebrie.” That’s how “library” is pronounced in these parts, and as I have lived most of my life in the aforementioned parts, I’m prone to say it that way, too. Just this morning, I was talking with a young Australian woman who is enrolled at Newberry College, where I was lecturing her communications class, and we talked about how pronunciation was often a consequence of dialect. This came up after she told me she was from a small town not too far outside Melbourne, which, of course, is pronounced “Melbun” the same way that, here in the South, Greenville is pronounced “Grainvul” and, as far away as Kentucky, Louisville is “Louavul.”

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

I gave the young woman a simple observation that goes a long way in explaining the way Southerners speak. I told her we make long words short and short words long. A Southerner can take “damn” and make it four syllables, but the home of the Kuhtucky Derby is “Louavul,” not “Lou-ee-ville.” Same with “N’Awlins,” “Chat-nooga,” and “Coach K.”

(David Poole, tossing and turning in the hereafter, is grousing at the moment about the reference to Mike Krzyzewski. David was a graduate of the Uversty of Nawkuhlina, and he always insisted the school nearby was really the University of New Jersey at Durham.)

Being from Sawkuhlina, I’ve never allowed myself to be aggravated by such insignifica. When they play, I don’t even care who wins. I just want to see a good game, and most times I do.

Chill, kids. My song will not be on the test. (Jodie Peeler photo)
Chill, kids. My song will not be on the test. (Jodie Peeler photo)

I didn’t even get the young Australian student’s name, though she told me she was “shooting” the baseball game tonight, which meant, of course, she was taking photographs of it. I had mentioned that I was going to the game and that, in fact, when her teacher, Dr. Jodie Peeler, asked me to talk to her 8 and 9 a.m. classes, I scheduled my appearance based on the existence of a baseball game between the Wolves and Belmont Abbey.

I got to the “librie” as a means of killing time, or, actually, a secondary means, because I’ve already spent time sipping coffee and sampling the pound cake at a little café on Main Street.

Some people go to Hawaii or Vegas. I go to a town a great deal like Clinton, and only a half hour away, talk to students about the brave, new world they will soon face, talk the ears off their professor, which works all the better because we are friends, and drive around town, and wonder if anyone cool is playing the Opera House soon, and now sit in the fine local library and write a blog as a means of staving off drowsiness.

The coffee has worn off, and now I’m yawning again, but there’s baseball ahead, and I’ve got a blog, albeit a frivolous one, written, and a book about vampires to read, and of all the points mentioned above, reading a book about vampires is the only thing new.

So, buddy row (it’s one of those terms I don’t understand, but I’ve been hearing people called buddy row for as long as I can remember), believe you me, I am set. If I were any happier, I’d undoubtedly have a hot rod Ford, a two-dollar bill, and there’d be somebody good looking to say hey to.

Visit www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com to read my short fiction, and click on this link to buy my books, two of which are long fiction: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

The Season Is Off to a Typically Absurd Start

Who's idea was this, anyway? (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Who’s idea was this, anyway? (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, March 23, 2015, 10:44 a.m.

Five races into the NASCAR Sprint Cup season, it seems worse than it is.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

For instance, it seems like the same driver wins every week, when, in fact, four different drivers – Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick (2) and, now, Brad Keselowski – have taken checkered flags. This is because, every race, if Harvick doesn’t win, he finishes second, which, contrary to what is sometimes claimed, is the next best thing, and the third best thing is, when Harvick finishes second, someone else necessarily wins.

Eight straight races count as a trend. It’s not a coincidence. Harvick won the championship last year, and he’s the best so far this year, by hook or crook, rule changes be damned.

Joey Mumbles. (Sean Gardner/Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Joey Mumbles. (Sean Gardner/Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

The Chase is far away. In terms of importance, it will be far away the day before it starts. It won’t come down to Harvick the Happy, Danger Mouse, Little Daddy, Joey Mumbles, Citizen Jimmie, and the Second Coming of Dale. Hell, there’s room for a party of sixteen. They don’t even have to move any tables.

Harvick’s average finish is 1.6. Kurt Busch, with a statistical sample of two, which makes it less valid but still impressive, is at 2.5. They are teammates, driving Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolets. Two more Impalas are in that stable, divided each week among three champions, five championships, and Danica Patrick. Patrick has a significantly better average finish (21.8) than Tony Stewart (31.6). Kurt Busch, in two races, is higher in the point standings (28th) than Stewart (32nd) in five.

Stomp them grapes, Tony. (Jeff Curry/Gety Images for NASCAR)
Stomp them grapes, Tony. (Jeff Curry/Gety Images for NASCAR)

Thus far, for Tony, it hasn’t been a vintage year. If he doesn’t get better grapes, the Cabernet is going to suck.

If Stewart wins a race, and nothing else goes wrong, he’ll make the Chase. So will Busch. So, ahem, will Patrick, because NASCAR is a great nation, even though it’s not particularly free. Half the teams can’t even get their cars free. Ask them.

Getting “freed up” in front of a large crowd was no less important at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday than it was at Woodstock in 1969. It was reportedly easier at Woodstock because they didn’t worry about getting the balance right. As Richard Petty might say, them cats just let the good times roll.

If the race had been at night, Brad Keselowski would have been a thief in it. (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR)
If the race had been at night, Brad Keselowski would have been a thief in it. (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Keselowski stole a race, and NASCAR can use a little criminal mischief every now and then. He took a chance that wouldn’t have worked had there been not one, but two, green-white-checkered finishes, which, of course, meant the former wasn’t a finish at all.

It took two debris cautions, including one in which the debris was race cars, to open that window of opportunity for Keselowski, and he didn’t just open it. He put a fan in it, plugged it in, switched it to wide-open, passed Kurt Busch’s Chevy in a Ford with fresh rubber, and then Busch got so flustered that his Chevy glanced off the wall, and Harvick slipped by, too.

It's enough to make a man Happy without even the hint of sarcasm. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
It’s enough to make a man Happy without even the hint of sarcasm. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

This is the plot most often used in modern Sprint Cup Stock Car Auto Racing extravaganzas:

Dum, de, dum, dum. Dum, de, dum, dum. Ooga, ooga, ooga, shocka. Duh, duh, duh, duh. Cue the Batman theme. Biff! Pow! Zowie! Holy wavearound, Caped Crusader!

It’s like watching the first 105 minutes of Wuthering Heights and the last fifteen of Liam Neeson Kicks Ass VII.

Then the winner has a media conference, and everyone goes home with “wow, that was really something” stamped into their brains by fiber-optic impulses. Little-known fact: An average of twelve heads explode during every NASCAR race. Fortunately, most are cylinder heads, just as most of the car lengths on the radio are railroad cars.

Matt Kenseth is nonplussed by the whole situation. (John Clark photo)
Matt Kenseth is nonplussed by the whole situation. (John Clark photo)

Amazingly, in a sport based on cars going as fast as possible, some things are still slow. For instance, it took NASCAR officials well over a year to determine that, if you make forty-something cars back out of their pit stalls as if they were leaving Chuck E Cheez, it’s aggravating. They rolled out their new “Nose First” initiative at Auto Club Speedway as if it were the New Deal. It reminded me of the old Geezinslaw Brothers gag about how Austin, Texas, had commissioned a six-million-dollar study to determine whether or not an Air Force base could be converted into an airport.

NASCAR officials have commissioned marketing surveys, huddled with stakeholders, and concluded that it’s easier to drive on the track frontwards instead of having to back out of a parking space first.

Then there’s the broken record:

We’re thrilled by the way we’ve completely revamped the cars for the 2015 season, but, confidentially, the real changes are going to be in store for 2016.

We’re thrilled by the way we’ve completely revamped the cars for the 2016 season, but, confidentially, the real changes are going to be in store for 2017.

And, oh, by the way, we anticipate cost-cutting measures for our teams are going to be in the millions of dollars sometime in the distant future when we finally let them go through the offseason without rebuilding everything they’ve got.

All in the name of competition, it is. That’s why, over the past five seasons, inclusive, Chevrolet drivers have won eighty percent of the championships and just under half the races. The last time a Toyota won, Kurt Busch and Patricia Driscoll made such a cute couple. It was in the spring, less than a year ago, “when grass was green, and grain was yellow.”

Try to remember.

After another gala weekend here at the farm, watching music videos, basketball games, and stock car races, I’m trying to get back on track with bills, taxes, deadlines, and commitments. I’ll write some short fiction at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, and if I long for truth-based prose, I’ll write it here. What I’d really love for you to do is give my books a read: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

Bouncing Down the Back Straight and Reeling in the Years

"Chad, the boogity is fine. The car needs to kabunkit better. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
“Chad, the boogity is fine. The car needs to kabunkit better.” (Photo by Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, March 21, 2015, 9:40 a.m.

When the green flag falls, and Darrell Waltrip yells “boogity, boogity, boogity!” on your TV screen, causing the babies to bawl and the dogs to bark, he is mimicking the sound of a galloping horse. I grew up around horses and cattle, and for my entire life, I’ve heard people say things like, “And here he comes, boogity, boogity, boogity, down the hill.”

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

Now, personally, I always preferred “Kabunkit!” for the sound of hooves across pasture. This is just what it sounded like thirty years or so ago, the last time I rode a quarter horse.

Kabunkit! Kabunkit! Kabunkit!

On Friday afternoon, I was doing something else, with some session of NASCAR practice on TV in the background. I looked up and watched stock cars bouncing down the Auto Club Speedway back straight, and it was the first time it ever looked like stock cars were going “boogity, boogity, boogity,” or “kabunkit, kabunkit, kabunkit,” for that matter.

Think horses, Tony. (John Clark photo)
Think horses, Tony. (John Clark photo)

This spectacle elicited my attention. If I were of a mind to exaggerate more this morning, I’d suggest they were Slinkies, or that they could play “leap frog,” but that would be hyperbole, and hyperbole is dangerous for those who don’t own dictionaries and don’t like to Google.

I started thinking about how the sensation of going 205 miles per hour down the Fontana, California, back straight probably felt quite a bit like galloping wide open across a field crisscrossed by terraces. At, oh, twenty-five miles per hour. I don’t know. We never used stopwatches back when I was riding horses.

Boogity, boogity, boogity! It’s a … newwwww back-pasture recorrrd!

I’ve never driven a race car, other than a few laps in a Legends car close to twenty years ago, and riding horses many times during the first twenty-five years of my life is my only real means of comparison, though I have driven race cars in computers.

They aren’t nearly as bumpy, at least not unless one has to call the Customer Support Team.

This is a result of my traditionally minimal Saturday-morning thought process. Against all odds, I hope reading what I write in this space will somehow possess you to buy at least one of my many books: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

In Sports, I’m No Revolutionary

When the lights go down. (Monte Dutton)
When the lights go down. (Monte Dutton)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, March 20, 2015, 6:45 p.m.

I’m stodgy. Always have been resistant to change where sports is concerned. I’m not that way in other areas of life, but, in sports, I might as well be a cranky old man yelling for the kids to get off my property.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

I love the Boston Red Sox. Watching them on TV will take up too much of my time over the next half year, but if I were the commissioner of baseball, there would be no designated hitter, and I cling to this view in spite of the existence on earth of one David Ortiz.

I make my stand on principle. Principle!

I think football was better when offensive linemen didn’t get to use their hands. I was once an offensive lineman who didn’t get to use my hands. Defensive linemen used to be allowed to pummel me in the head with their forearms. I’m not calling for that.

Me? I see all the big games. (Monte Dutton)
Me? I see all the big games. (Monte Dutton)

I like my home teams to wear white and my visiting teams to wear gray. I think the home jersey should have the nickname and the road jersey the town. At home, the fans all know where they are.

I wish even little leaguers still played with wooden bats.

I like natural surfaces, outdoor stadiums, and day games. I don’t have a bit of a problem with penalties for excessive celebrations. Act like you come from good people.

Get a fight song, but not if you’re going to play it through a P.A. system instead of with a band. I am all in favor of graceful and rousing dance routines, and I like gymnastics, but part of what cheerleaders do should also be to cheer.

I haven’t liked the way a golfer dressed since Sam Snead.

You realize, of course, that when you start reading a blog, and the writer unleashes a litany of philosophical beliefs, then what is on the way is a …

I was a regular visitor to Blue Hose home games. (Monte Dutton)
I was a regular visitor to Blue Hose home games. (Monte Dutton)

… But.

Something’s got to be done about college basketball, not to keep my attention, because, I’ve had basketball played on a never-ending loop in my living room for what seems like forever. Little Champions’ Week, all the Woffords and Robert Morrises punching their respective tickets to the Big Dance. Then Big Champions Week with the hyperventilating Dick Vitales, the Roys yelling dadgums, and the Caliparis saying with straight faces that undefeated teams aren’t really all that impressive.

“We’re just starting to come around.”

God help us.

Now it’s March Madness and maybe even the NCAA Basketball Tournament. They’ve already played four in, and now they’re about to advance from the Round of 64, which was not a very difficult level to reach since sixty had already, uh, punched their tickets, to the Round of 32, and next week it all gets lofty … Sweet Sixteen … Elite Eight … Final Four … and The Final.

Lately the superlatives haven’t seemed as super. Or even as lative.

The college game is becoming a blur of leading scorers averaging 14.2 points, every play aiming to penetrate the middle and kick it out for a three, and a lane that needs only ropes and turnbuckles. Everybody talks about triple doubles and double doubles, and various other In-N-Out Burgers, and what I look for is the Triple Scroop, which involves double figures in turnovers, missed free throws, and pulling up for a trey when you’re the only guy in the forecourt.

I keep myself busy by fretting about the Red Sox. (Monte Dutton)
I keep myself busy by fretting about the Red Sox. (Monte Dutton)

There’s a widespread call for a shorter shot clock. If there exists a person who read what I wrote thirty years ago, he (or she, as it could be my mother) knows I was opposed to there being a shot clock at all. I thought basketball needed the diabolical precision of Dean Smith’s Four Corners stall tactics.

I was wrong. And Dean’s gone.

I now think a 35-second clock is fine. Predictably.

Some say let 'em play. I say let 'em ref. (Monte Dutton)
Some say let ‘em play. I say let ‘em ref. (Monte Dutton)

I miss going to basketball games to watch one or two stars just fill it up. It seems to me that modern college basketball has stifled the creative impulse.

I think the referees could bring it back. I think it might help if they put the walk, the double dribble, the palming, and the three seconds back in the rulebook. I’m sure no referees have been fired recently for ignoring them. They all have great insurance. I know that. At the end of Madness, they all have to have all those whistles they swallowed surgically removed.

I think what’s her name – ah, Katie Nolan – is right!

I’m in the midst of a short story about crazy college kids and stodgy alums over at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, and after I draw you into my web of intrigue, I hope you’ll consider some of my books here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

How to Kill a Day or Two

This would have made a great Couch by Couchwest video site, what with the rainbow, but this was back a decade or so, before I traded this guitar for some speakers.
This would have made a great Couch by Couchwest video site, what with the rainbow, but this was back a decade or so, before I traded this guitar for some speakers.

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, March 18, 2015, 10:16 a.m.

The grass needs cutting. I spent a good bit of Tuesday afternoon taping a music video and a good bit of Tuesday night trying to find a program that will allow me to do what I want to do with the video. In the past year, I’ve replaced my laptop, and the old program isn’t available for the latest version of Windows. In fact, I don’t think it’s available any more for anything.

Guitars don't kill audiences. Guitarists kill audiences. This might have been my very first sketch.
Guitars don’t kill audiences. Guitarists kill audiences. This might have been my very first sketch.

So, I’m going back to that attempt shortly, and then, perhaps, with the video of songs I’ve written safely tucked away on YouTube, life can return to normal. A placid life of long periods on hold listening to soft music, of staring at that stack of mail and wondering which ones I need to deal with today, and subscribing to a television service that provides hundreds and hundreds of channels, but not the one that is providing what one wants to see.

What? Great American Country isn’t a part of my package? And the NASA Channel is? And something called EVINE Live is?

When I was fifteen, I worried about whether or not the rains were going to flood the pastures we were renting on the opposite side of town and worked out a relief plan for … cattle.

Gotta have some "merch" on the table. (Monte Dutton)
Gotta have some “merch” on the table. (Monte Dutton)

Now I wonder what ION East HD is. With the cattle, I knew when the rain had stopped and the waters had crested. Now I know that “HD” stands for High Definition and the apparent new third baseman of the Sioux Junction Log Rollers is @hotcornerdude27.

5:31 p.m.

Most of the time since I wrote the above has been spent editing a video for Couch by Couchwest, an online music festival that runs every year at the same time as South by Southwest in Austin, Texas.

http://couchbycouchwest.com/

Not only do I write songs. I invent songwriters for my short stories ... and draw what I think they look like. (Monte Dutton sketch)
Not only do I write songs. I invent songwriters for my short stories … and draw what I think they look like. (Monte Dutton sketch)

You owe it to yourself to check it out. Follow on Twitter, and song after song will both enrich your day and impede your work.

I’m not sure when my entry will be posted. I’ll let you know via social media when it’s up, but, it’s already up on YouTube, so, if you’d like to watch my entry, and I’d appreciate it if you would, here it is:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RMQZfFzhdtU&list=UUyi8WtOwXdOnitREqPEeVcA

This sketch was for a character in my short story "Facebook Friends."
This sketch was for a character in my short story “Facebook Friends.”

I wrote a brand-new song, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” just for Couch by Couchwest, and another song I’ve written in the past year called “Scuppernongs and Muscadines.” Since I just wrote the former, I shot the video in my living room because I needed my laptop for reference on the lyrics. Then I went out on the form to shoot each of the verses of “Scuppernongs and Muscadines” in a different location.

Videos of many of my songs are available on the “Monte Dutton” YouTube channel. Occasionally there are lyrics in the short stories posted at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com.

Please consider my books, most of which can be purchased here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

 

Let’s See How Harvick Putts

Kevin Harvick is the reigning champion. The confetti keeps right on flying. (Christa L. Thomas/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick is the reigning champion (Homestead, 2014). The confetti keeps right on flying. (Christa L. Thomas/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, March 16, 2015, 9:37 a.m.

Kevin Harvick has lots of fans, and they’re happy today, as they’ve been happy for quite a while, and they’ve always liked that word. Their favorite driver has won twice this year, four times in the space of seven races dating back to 2014, and in the other three races, he’s finished second.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

It’s so hard to digest, Harvick’s accomplishments are comparable to a mouth full of peanut butter.

In the current young season, Harvick’s average finish is a nice, quaint 1.5. The co-owner of his team, Tony Stewart, has a big, fat 36.0. Another teammate, Kurt Busch, has more points in one race (39) than the boss (32) in four.

Then there’s Danica Patrick.

Kevin Harvick and his crew chief, Rodney Childers, are dominating the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Stewart-Haas Racing is not.

Let’s forget whether you’re a fan of Harvick or not. It matters not where your sentiments lie, whether you’re a card-carrying citizen of Junior Nation or you live in a shack near the blinking caution light of Gilliland Gulch. Let’s just assume you’re in favor of tight, competitive racing and duels for the lead that go on for lap after lap.

Also, nice, long walks on the beach at sunrise.

A sense of deja vu must be familiar to the great Richard Petty. (John Clark photo)
A sense of deja vu must be familiar to the great Richard Petty. (John Clark photo)

It could be worse. Harvick’s finished first or second in seven consecutive races. Big deal. It’s been done before. Just 40 years ago, and Richard Petty, when he had his big, bad seven straight, heck, when the year was over, all he had to show for it was 13 victories.

And a championship.

Compared to the past, the significance of Harvick’s valiant early exploits, in terms of the hallowed Sprint Cup Trophy that will soon have another name, is minuscule. It’s said that golfers drive for show and putt for dough. (And, as Kurt Busch once said, everybody knows that NASCAR is just like golf.)

Yes, Harvick is pulling in his share, but the real dough is in the championship, and, by that standard, Harvick isn’t going to reach the green until September, and the putt that matters won’t be struck till Thanksgiving is nigh.

It just doesn’t matter … much.

Harvick's going to wear that right arm out with all those fist pumps. (HHP Photo for Chevy Racing)
Harvick’s going to wear that right arm out with all those fist pumps. (HHP Photo for Chevy Racing)

Harvick could finish first or second in the first 26 races of the season, and a week later, he’d still have 15 other drivers, fortified by The Truly Great Wave-Around Also Known as The Chase. He can finish first or second nine more weeks in a row, and when it all ends at Homestead-Miami Speedway, he’s still going to have three other drivers dead even with him.

Resistance to the Chase is futile.

By the way, not even Harvick, the Sultan of Swagger, can maintain his current pace. This year he strode out onto the first tee flashing a “wood” made of rare metals and space-age polymers, and he’s hitting it so straight and true that the rest of the boys (and somewhere back there, a girl) are getting a little restless, but they all have the same wishful thought.

Let’s see how Harvick putts.

Last year he putted right well.

For more thought-provoking insight on the most recent race, you may find my latest Bleacher Report column instructive, or, of course, maybe not. http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2398034-kevin-harvicks-early-nascar-domination-wont-do-him-much-good-come-chase-time

Take a look at my books (and, preferably, buy at least one) here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1