The Iceman Goeth

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Terry Labonte (NASCAR Photo)
Terry Labonte (NASCAR Photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, October 23, 2014, 9:50 a.m.

When I started writing about NASCAR, young drivers spoke the same way about Terry Labonte they later did about Mark Martin, though Labonte was fond of saying that he wasn’t old enough to be deemed a wizened veteran.

Labonte had gone four seasons without a victory, 1990-93, but when Rick Hendrick hired him, he was “only” thirty-seven. Restored to top-flight equipment, Labonte won three races in both 1994 and ’95, and his second Winston Cup championship in 1996.

He was the driver’s driver, the one who best understood the give and take of the high banks. He drove unto others the way they drove unto him. Terry Labonte would give another fellow room, but he’d better not take advantage of the courtesy. Labonte’s memory was strong, too.

Now, after all of these years, Labonte, who won championships twelve years apart, has decided it’s time to say when. He’s only run a few races here and there in the past few years. Last week, at Talladega Superspeedway, he decided this time would be the last time.

Labonte finished thirty-third. Started thirty-second. He always was consistent.

Terry Labonte (Monte Dutton sketch).
Terry Labonte (Monte Dutton sketch).

 

Even eleven years removed from his final and twenty-second victory, Labonte had a hard time giving it up. Fans watch the front, but drivers actually get something out of starting thirty-second and finishing thirty-third. It’s infectious, that racing.

“You know,” Labonte said beforehand, “it’s only about the third time I’ve said this is going to be my last race, but this is really going to be the last one.

“Another time I said it was my last race would have been in Texas about eight years ago, and then, last year, I told them this was going to be my last race, and then Frank (Stoddard) and I got to talking, so we decided to run one more year.”

Written by me, as usual.
Written by me, as usual.

Back in the mid-nineties, Terry Labonte greatly amused me. He has these piercing blue eyes that express more than his words. I’m not sure why the eyes that pierce are always blue. Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson are others. I’ve got brown eyes. They never pierce anything.

Neither he nor his brother, 2000 Winston Cup champion Bobby, is an easy interview. Bobby rambles, and it has to be for show. I used to say that the average Bobby Labonte answer to any question is, Here’s what I think, or, perhaps, the opposite.

Terry’s comedic style is subtle and more advanced than his younger brother. He rolls those piercing eyes, opens his palms and spreads his hands, and lets the poor interviewer know, in a nice way, just how insipid his question was. Once Terry won a pole at Rockingham and conducted what I considered a masterpiece of a press conference, which, from his mindset, likely had the goal of being quoted as little as possible. Labonte was so nice, though, his voice so soft and pleasant.

Somehow the topic of NASCAR’s then-fledgling Truck Series came up, and someone asked Terry to compare and contrast the trucks with cars. He rolled the eyes, spread the hands, ended up with the eyes piercing the ceiling, and said, “Uhhhhhhh, I don’t know.”

That was it. The questioner waited for more. Fruitlessly.

Next was a reciter, who pointed out Labonte had won one pole in the previous four seasons, two in the past seven, but this was his fourth of 1996. Why was that?”

Friendly look. Kind set to the eyes. Forthright. “I haven’t been around this sport but a brief time,” he said, “but it’s been my experience that it helps a lot when you’re in good equipment.”

I had a hard time keeping a straight face and was surprised that others in the room didn’t seem to appreciate the great humorist in our midst.

He got mad at me one time. I don’t remember the circumstances. He didn’t say anything. He just got unusually, even by his standards, terse when I was among those asking questions of him. Those eyes and expressions he relied upon so strongly either betrayed him, or more likely, performed the function of letting me know I’d written or said something that pissed him off. I’m satisfied that, if I’d touched his shoulder, it would have been cold.

I just waited. I didn’t want to discuss the matter, whatever it was, with a frenzy in progress. I passed him in the garage, felt the lasers from his eyes boring into mine, and stopped. He was a bit defensive, yes, but we talked it through, and I think, in a span of just a few moments, we knew where each other stood.

Hell, I liked him even when he didn’t like me. He may still not like me. It doesn’t matter.

This isn’t timely. It was a blog I wanted to write, but I needed to think about it a while. I hope you’ll read my www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com blog from time to time. What I really hope is that you’ll buy my books. Most all of them are here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144

 

Man in a Hurry

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Brad Keselowski is a student of history who wants to make it. (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Brad Keselowski is a student of history who wants to make it. (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, October 20, 2014, 11:22 a.m.

After Brad Keselowski won the Geico 500 at Talladega, NASCAR’s Kerry Tharp asked the 2012 Sprint Cup champion about his race, which is normal for a moderator, and Keselowski strangely said that he had been watching Roger Penske, his owner, and Paul Wolfe, his crew chief, discuss the race while feeling his face.

Not feeding his face. Feeling his face. Keselowski, ever inquisitive, said, “They say, when you have a lot of adrenaline, your facial hair grows faster and fingernails grow faster. I have a shadow, and my nails need to be trimmed.”

Eureka! The key to victory!

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s championship will have to wait until at least next year. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s championship will have to wait until at least next year. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Then Tharp said one word, “Wolfman,” and Keselowski’s answer took approximately five hundred words, none of which had anything to do with wolfmen.

That’s Brad. I wasn’t there, of course. I was just reading the transcript this morning. Some weeks I don’t even read the transcripts. Some weeks Keselowski doesn’t win.

The gist of it was: We had great cars at the restrictor-plate tracks. Nothing went our way in the first three. To actually quote him, “In the back of my mind, those three races, that we had so much speed at, and no results to show for it, made me feel like we were due.”

Jeff Gordon won his first championship in 1995. He's still in the hunt 19 years later. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon won his first championship in 1995. He’s still in the hunt 19 years later. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevy Racing)

Let’s put this victory in perspective with all its layers. Keselowski had to win to continue his quest for the championship. Had he finished second, he would have been like Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, and Kasey Kahne, which was to say kaput. Finished. Out of it. Back among the rabble. Out of sight, out of mind. Keselowski would hate being there. Keselowski loves the spotlight. For thirty-five drivers, next week at Martinsville is a race and also a bummer.

When Keselowski was racing for this victory, he got some needed help from his teammate, Joey Logano, but when he was actually guarding his lead on the last lap, the driver most in position to help or hinder him was the driver who slammed into him – not with his speeding car but his speeding body — and clamped his arm around Keselowski’s equine head after the race the previous weekend ended at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Matt Kenseth was, incredibly, there for Keselowski.  He's still there in the Chase, too. (John Clark photo)
Matt Kenseth was, incredibly, there for Keselowski. He’s still there in the Chase, too. (John Clark photo)

What did Keselowski think about having Matt Kenseth in his rear-view mirror? Humor.

“To me, it was funny how this racing world works out,” he said. “I don’t know why it’s that way. I don’t know why it seems, every week, there’s either a fight in the garage, or a mishap or something like that happens, those two cars and people end up together, whether it was our cars were parked together in the garage area or on the race track for the win in the closing laps at Talladega. I don’t know why that happens.

“I got a chuckle out of that, personally. I didn’t feel uncomfortable the least bit.”

In other words, it wasn’t just a matter of staying in the Chase and going from Contender to Eliminator or some other ZZ Top album.

Apparently, while thousands of fans were saying, “Uh, oh, oh, oh, watch out, this is going to be fun” … so, too, was Keselowski.

NASCAR fans tend to eat their young. It’s hard to upset the apple cart as Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, and others did without taking a few hits. Every young driver who maximizes his success minimizes that of a revered veteran.

Sour grapes linger in the palate.

A champion, which, by the way, Keselowski already is, can’t get rattled. He wants to get along and be respected, but the main goal is to win. Again. And again. In baseball, Leo Durocher once said nice guys finish last. It’s a little different in racing. Oft times they finish second.

Said Penske of Keselowski, “I’ve told him a lot, it’s over, it’s over, let’s move on. Look, I like him. He’s a great driver. We have a long-term relationship with him. If he wants to get a little upset sometimes, that’s okay with me. We’ll let NASCAR figure out if he’s over the line or not. I guess it (Keselowski’s after-school extracurriculars) cost us fifty grand. I’ll take fifty grand and the win this week. Wouldn’t you?”

“I don’t think this is the first time we’ve seen Brad step up to the plate. Seems like everyone is against him. Seems like that fires him up more. I’ve got his back a hundred percent,” Wolfe said. “I didn’t see anything that he did out of line last weekend. I told him that. He does a great job and races hard. That’s why we like him driving our car.

“He sets his mind to something, he’s going to make it happen.”

It’s onto the final four races, the three that turn eight drivers into four and then the one race, in Homestead, Florida, for the championship. Any one of them can win it, mainly because the format is skewed toward happenstance as much as performance. The fastest are favored, but so are the fortunate, and all eight must remember that it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature, Father Time, Uncle Goodyear or Aunt Engine Block.

Keselowski is one of twenty-nine men to win Cup championships. About half that many have won more than one. Keselowski is thirty years old, still very much the young man in a hurry.

Thanks for reading me, and following me, and “friending” me, and “RTing” me, and “favoriting” me. I hope you’ll also read my other, different blog at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, and that you’ll buy my books, which can be located here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144.

There’s a Soul When You’re There

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I miss interactions with Jeff Gordon: tactful, but honest and helpful. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas for Chevy Racing)
I miss interactions with Jeff Gordon: tactful, but honest and helpful. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas for Chevy Racing)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, October 19, 2014, 9:30 a.m.

It’s a long way to Tallahassee and Talladega, though not with my trusty traveling machine, the fancy-looking, high-definition, satellite-connected television that has been gradually broadening my horizon since the day I was born. My cup runneth over.

I should shoot a new photo, with me in the recliner, wearing a  t-shirt and sweat pants, hair longer and unkempt. Not a selfie, though.
I should shoot a new photo, with me in the recliner, wearing a
t-shirt and sweat pants, hair longer and unkempt. Not a selfie, though.

It gives me enough rope to hang myself. It allows me to flip back and forth between ballgames – last night, for instance, in various stages of completion, Notre Dame-Florida State, Kentucky-LSU, Missouri-Florida, Utah State-Colorado State, Southern Cal-Arizona State, Washington-Oregon, Nevada-BYU, and several I cannot now recall – without paying close attention to any of them. I try to focus on one. Mainly, I just punch at the remote during commercials, but, then, if something exciting happens or seems as if it might be about to happen, I dawdle, and, next I know, half the quarter has passed on the other game.

It’s not as good as being there, or, to be more precise, as edifying. It is, however, a great deal less hassle.

I didn’t enjoy anything else this weekend as much as the high school football game I covered Friday night. Then again, I can see the glow of those stadium lights from my house. The local college was off in the Low Country (Presbyterian beat Charleston Southern, 7-3), and the alma mater was in Columbia, attritionally warring away a 42-10 decision to the Gamecocks.

This is about my speed these days. (Monte Dutton)
This is about my speed these days. (Monte Dutton)

No way I was going to fight that traffic, fork over twenty dollars to park, and watch the Furman Paladins get hammered to one extent or another. It didn’t seem so bad from the television screen. I never found myself saying, “I came all the way down here … for this?”

This is how I’ve evolved. I think it’s important to go out and see things live. I understand them better. Television offers few unique glimpses. I like talking to people face to face. For the entirety of my journalism career, I hated writing stories from phone interviews. I wanted to see expressions and reactions. I wanted to try to peer into people’s souls. That’s hard on long distance, maybe impossible, but, more and more, that’s the way people have to work in the big time.

Things are just fine at the high school and small college levels. Nobody knocks you down with unwelcome assistance as to how you should think and write. They’re generally tickled you want to think and write about them.

On the other hand, knowledge of my former sports beat has diminished, as is inevitable when one isn’t there. I still get media releases, transcripts, etc., all those black and white things. I don’t chat with a fabricator or a shock specialist in the space between the transporters. One of the reasons I’m not particularly upset that I’m not there anymore is that the frontiers were already being fenced in before I left. The cattlemen of NASCAR treat the sheepherders as if they are in another class, which is only because they are.

The story at Clinton High School on Friday night was more compelling than anything I’ve witnessed on TV lately. A winless team rose up against a team that had only won twice and pulled it out in the final seconds. No one stopped the presses over that, but the plates are burned in my memory.

For one brief, shining moment, it was … Camelot.

Talladega? I don’t know why they decided to qualify like that. Hell, I don’t even know how they qualified like that. I don’t understand the rule or the rationale. All I know is … well … it seemed ridiculous.

The hardest part is coming up with something to write. People seem to care about my opinions. I’m just not inclined to cultivate as many of them.

Confessions notwithstanding, I appreciate your indulgence of this blog and the other at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com. I hope you’ll like them enough to make a small investment in my novels, The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope. You can find them, as well as my non-fiction books about NASCAR and music, here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144.

Yesterday’s Wine

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It seemed like old times at Wilder Stadium. (Monte Dutton)
It seemed like old times at Wilder Stadium. (Monte Dutton)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, October 18, 2014, 9:02 a.m.

Here’s a lesson I learned from the Great Game of Football.

If one fails to execute his block, do not turn around, with one’s hands on one’s hips, to watch the man one was supposed to have blocked clobber the quarterback. One could not look more shameful were he staring into the cage of a starved bunny rabbit he was supposed to have kept fed.

Dive at him! Hit somebody! By all means, be on the ground. Do not draw undue attention to one’s failures.

With good reason, I often poke fun at myself and my less-than-spectacular career as an athlete, but the Clinton Red Devils of thirty-nine autumns ago were greater than the sum of my parts. Thirteen wins, one loss, state champions of Class AAA, fourteen to six over Myrtle Beach in the finals, on the road, back before titles were decided in large, mostly vacant college stadiums and teams wore white at home.

Some times you lose seven straight. Sometimes, though, you win. (Monte Dutton)
Some times you lose seven straight. Sometimes, though, you win. (Monte Dutton)

This town still remembers, though it’s never seemed so long ago. This year the Red Devils are one and seven, and after all these years, it still seems like my team. It’s not a big city, where a father who played for Westside had a father who played for Eastside, and he’s at a game watching his son play for Northside while he wonders if the younger one will play for Southside.

The Clinton Red Devils don’t just play for a school. They play for a town, and as a friend told me after one of the games, “When that team ain’t no count, this whole town goes into a funk.”

Clinton High School won its eighth state championship five years ago. It now seems as distant as mine, the third, or my brother’s, the fifth. A year ago, the lads lost their first six games, this year the first seven.

Yet, even in this decade of our discontent, miracles can happen.

It’s not like Vince Lombardi was on the opposition sideline. Union County was two and five when they hit the Wilder Stadium field, but so gaudy was the huge seven in the Clinton loss column that every prognosticator I spied rated the Yellow Jackets as somewhere in the neighborhood of a two-touchdown favorite. They were markedly larger in the lines, fleeter on the perimeter and sturdier in the backfield. The first time it assumed possession of the ball, Union County marched down the field but fumbled deep in Clinton territory. Then the Red Devils punted, and the Yellow Jackets fumbled it. Halftime arrived to home hosannas, the Red Devils leading fourteen to nothing.

That was the home side until 1975. (Monte Dutton)
That was the home side until 1975. (Monte Dutton)

The optimism was guarded. Second halves haven’t been kind to the lads this year. They’d been ahead before. At halftime.

Union County onsides-kicked successfully to open the second half and then proceeded to shred the Red Devil defense via the run, unusual for the Yellow Jackets. Fourteen to seven. Then fourteen to thirteen by the grace of a missed extra point. Early in the fourth quarter, the Yellow Jackets took the lead, nineteen to fourteen. The visiting side cheered. The home side sighed.

It’s a strange sound, a thousand or so, sighing at once. Ayyyyyyyyyy. Ooooooooooh. Ahhhhhhhhh. With just the edge of a shriek, like an off-key voice in a choir that carries over everyone else’s.

Somehow, though, against all odds, Clinton had one more chance. Alternating an I-formation with a wishbone, sophomore Charlie Craven, who looks exactly like a Charlie Craven, under center, down the field they moved, the adjective “inexorable” in play for the first time all year. Craven hit the tight end, Daniel Moore, for thirty-two yards. Shakeam Dowdy, who spent most of the second half looking wounded, rose to the occasion.

Boom, boom, boom. It had been pop, pop, pop, and thud, thud, thud.

There they were, the sad-sack Red Devils, circa Year of Our Lord two thousand and fourteen, five yards away from the goal and also Paradise, Shangri-La, and Nirvana. On third down, Clinton devised a perfect play. Craven pitched the ball to Dee Jennings and crept away unnoticed to an area of the end zone left unpatrolled by the Union swarm. The Red Devils devised the play but didn’t run it. Jennings didn’t throw it. He tried to run it in. He got tripped at the line.

Fourth down. Twenty-one seconds blazing on the scoreboard. The moment of destiny seemed to have passed.

No. Not for the quintessential Charlie Craven. He stepped back and calmly hit that tight end, Moore, again. Dowdy had a two-point conversion in the tank. Twenty-two to nineteen. Seventeen clicks.

Incredibly, Union County had one more sting, but a long pass play died at the twenty or thereabouts, and the Yellow Jackets were out of timeouts, and when the receiver fell and the chain crew caught up, and the ref wound the clock, it showed not two seconds, but two tenths of one second, and a team consisting of the entire Justice League of America couldn’t have gotten that game-tying kick off.

As Willie Nelson sang, “Miracles appear in the strangest of places. Fancy meeting you here.”

This non-fiction is a bit embellished. If you’d like to see full-blown fiction, check out www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com from time to time, and if you still like high school football, even after reading my accounts, you might well enjoy my novel, The Intangibles, about which you can learn more here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Intangibles-Monte-Dutton/dp/0988829088.

The Giants and I Go Way Back

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Little joy at Fenway this year. (Monte Dutton)
Little joy at Fenway this year. (Monte Dutton)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, October 17, 2014, 9:51 a.m.

In the first major league baseball game I ever saw, when I was eight years old and the Braves moved to Atlanta, Willie Mays of the San Francisco Giants hit a home run, which is why, for most of my life, the Giants have been my favorite team in the National League. I’ve never favored them over the Boston Red Sox, even though I never saw the Sox play in person until 1983, when I was out of college. I’m a legacy. My father rooted for the Red Sox. He spent parts of the summers of 1950 and 1951 visiting relatives in Boston. Uncle Cas was in the Army, stationed at Fort Devens.

Had Jimmy Dutton become a fan of the Boston Braves, it would have been so much more convenient, because they would have moved to Atlanta, after a little over a decade in Milwaukee, in 1966. But he didn’t. He idolized Ted Williams, and later I came along to idolize Carl Yastrzemski.

As Willie Nelson wrote, "Sad songs and waltzes aren't selling this year."
As Willie Nelson wrote, “Sad songs and waltzes aren’t selling this year.”

For most of those years, the exception being the time between when I saw Barry Bonds hit a grounder to second base and never leave the batter’s box and the end of Bonds’ career, my favorite National League team was the Giants, and that is the case now. Writing about NASCAR gave me a chance to see the Giants play at both Candlestick Park, their frigid former home, and the more temperate AT&T Park, which, like everything else in the San Francisco Bay Area except Alcatraz Island, is absolutely beautiful.

By the way, even though I wasn’t a fan of Bonds, he did hit one of the three tape-measure home runs I’ve seen in person. It was at the middle Yankee Stadium on a Pocono race weekend.

The other two were by Joe Charbonneau of the Cleveland Indians, also at Yankee Stadium in 1980, and Willie McCovey, who hit one into Atlanta Stadium’s upper deck at a Sunday doubleheader in 1969.

The Giants won the World Series in 2010 and 2012. The Red Sox won it in 2013. I’m on quite a roll because the Giants are there again.

I also like the Kansas City Royals, by the way. NASCAR also took me to Kansas City, and I remember once when, late in the season, I watched a horrendous game between the Royals and the Detroit Tigers in which both teams had lost a hundred games, and I thought it possible that the two teams would finish with double figures in runs, hits, and errors.

Apparently, that was in 2002, the most recent season the Royals and Tigers both lost in double figures.

I’m rooting for the Giants, but, if the Royals win, it won’t bother me too much. That’s the difference between a Series involving my favorite team, the Red Sox, and one involving the one I like the most in the National League.

It is my studied opinion that Giants manager Bruce Bochy is baseball’s best skipper. Years ago, when I covered and scored minor league baseball, I knew Royals manager Ned Yost a little and liked him. I say I knew him a little because, twenty-five years ago, I think he knew my name. Here’s my one anecdote about Yost.

The late Jim Beauchamp, one of my favorite sports personalities, managed the Greenville Braves. Hank Aaron was the Atlanta organization’s Director of Player Development. Due to an injury, the G-Braves needed a catcher. This was Beauchamp’s account of a telephone conversation with Aaron.

Aaron: “Hey, Beauch (Beech), I found you a catcher!”

Beauchamp: “Oh, yeah, who’d you sign?”

Aaron: “Signed Eddie Yost.”

Beauchamp: “Little old, ain’t he, Hank?”

Eddie Yost last played for the Los Angeles Angels in 1962. Ned Yost was the Greenville Braves’ new player-coach. Aaron misspoke in the same manner that people older than me here in Clinton often refer to me as Jimmy.

I’ve written a couple baseball-themed short stories at my other blog site, www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com. My latest is set on a car lot. I appreciate your consideration of my novels, The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope, both available in softcover and Kindle editions at http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Monte%20Dutton&sprefix=Monte%2Cstripbooks.

 

 

Out There from In Here

Texas Motor Speedway. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Texas Motor Speedway. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, October 15, 2014, 9:08 a.m.

On Tuesday, I wrote a chapter of fiction and had my teeth cleaned. Neither was painful.

I got home in time to watch the San Francisco Giants edge the Saint Louis Cardinals, five to four, then I used a Wendy’s coupon and returned home for the Kansas City Royals’ two-to-one victory over the Baltimore Orioles. The Giants won on an error by a pitcher, and the Royals’ two runs scored on a ground-out and a sacrifice fly.

Sometimes it’s enough.

Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever go back to Fenway again.
Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever go back to Fenway again.

During the game in Kansas City, the weather here at my house was frightful. Thus was my satellite-television service. The game was a bit like listening to a record skip.

Sometimes it’s enough.

I’ve got my book and my guitar, and the Boston Red Sox aren’t playing anymore, so I half-watch, “signal losses” be damned.

NASCAR officials announced punishments to Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart, and pardons for Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth, for Saturday night’s best-of-three falls extravaganza near Charlotte. My general view is that Keselowski got off light and Stewart heavy, but it’s no excuse to waste more than a paragraph.

Okay, two paragraphs. I was amused at the notion that Kenseth wasn’t punished because the video revealed “no closed fists.” The message is that the bitch slap is in.

Undoubtedly, the term will offend someone. I’m going to put myself on probation.

The Heisman Trophy is annually awarded to the best college football player who hasn’t been sufficiently scandalized. Yet. Perhaps someone can come up with the Amoral Heisman. How about the Theismann Trophy? After all, Joe never won it. Every day, I take a precautionary saw palmetto tablet. Theismann takes a dose a hundred times as strong, so he’s obviously healthy.

Super Beta Prostate. The Theismann Trophy Presented by Super Beta Prostate, awarded annually to the Best College Football Player Even Under Indictment.

Just remember the words of Edmund Kean: “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.”

Consider my novels, The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope, which, in marked contrast to this blog, include some episodes of clarity. If you frequent my other blog, at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, you’ll probably encounter a few stray short stories.

Day-old Chili and Other Thoughts

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All eyes on Talladega. (John Clark photo)
All eyes on Talladega. (John Clark photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, October 12, 2014, 7:39 p.m.

It’s been a day of watching football, thinking about NASCAR, and dining on day-old chili. I’m proud of my chili. I only ate a little yesterday because, for some reason, I’m not as interested in something I made on the day that I made it. I was more interested in what other folks brought to the tailgate party at the Presbyterian College football game.

A day later, though, that chili’s fine. Hell, I might live off it tomorrow. When I bought the meat at a local market, the bill was enough that I got a bonus of being allowed to pick one item out of the cooler for free. I picked out a package of franks. Maybe I’ll turn the rest of my Texas chili into Texas beanie-weenie.

"Oh-oh, say ... can you see .. by the dawn's ... early light..."
“Oh-oh, say … can you see .. by the dawn’s … early light…”

The Carolina Panthers and the Cincinnati Bengals played to a tie, which isn’t easy but can happen in the NFL when the two teams play all the way through an overtime period. The score was 37-37. It was an exceptionally exciting game, but it wasn’t classic because, in a classic, two teams do not play 75 minutes for no particular reason.

I wonder if Tony Stewart’s lawyer called him this morning to say, “Tony, if I’d been you, I don’t believe I would’ve backed into that car on pit road.” I also wonder how many other lawyers took notice.

Almost every sport is getting longer, and they all pay lip service to shortening them. The NFL probably does the best job of keeping the programming on schedule. Races are long. Baseball games are long. College football games are long. The TCU-Baylor game that kept the Bears undefeated and NASCAR fans pissed off didn’t go into overtime. Sixty minutes on a clock, and four hours on a television, were quite enough time for the two teams to score 119 points in this interesting hybrid of football and track.

I can’t help but think there is resistance to shortening events because that might also mean fewer opportunities to cram in commercials. They pay lip service but don’t do anything about it. Oddly enough, it doesn’t bother me. I’m a veteran of four-hour Red Sox games, and if that’s what it takes to win World Series in Boston, don’t worry about stopping. Work those opposition pitchers.

Uh, next year.

I’m not a typical fan. Were it up to me, there’d be no designated hitter, Chase for the Sprint Cup, playoff teams with losing records, interleague play, and penalties designed to prevent football players from playing football. As a friend once told me, “You might vote Democrat, but you sure write Republican.” I was taken aback by this remark, but I recognized that, to quote another colleague who isn’t with us anymore, he made ”a dadburn good point.”

For all you Alabamans – some say Alabamians, and they could be right since I’ve never heard of Carolinans – get ready in Talladega because the circus is coming to town.

I’m also not a big fan of daytime fireworks, by the way.

Did I mention that I figured out how to play “The Star Spangled Banner” on guitar?

I keep trying to differentiate this website and my other, www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, and all I can see is some blogs fit this one and some the other. This one is mainly sports. That one is mainly other topics. This one is non-fiction; a good bit of the other one is fiction. I expect to write a new short story in the next couple days. You’re getting all this stuff free. I’d appreciate it if you’d consider spending a little read my novels, The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope.

Home to … This

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Time for a smile from Kevin Harvick. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
Time for a smile from Kevin Harvick. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, October 11, 2014, 8:16 p.m.

The day has already been long. I tailgated with friends at the Coastal Carolina-Presbyterian game, won by the No. 3-ranked Chanticleers, 40-28. I got up early to finish seasoning the chili I took to the tailgate. I was over at Bailey Memorial Stadium at about noon. The game was at two. I stayed afterwards. Some of the PC players stopped by our party. It was dusk when I left. I saw the end of Baylor’s come-from-behind win over TCU and Mississippi State’s win over Auburn. The former game ran long, so the Bank of America 500 was about thirty laps old when TV switched to it.

I watched the first half of the game in the stands. I watched the second half from just outside the gates with, among others, Presbyterian basketball coach Gregg Nibert, his wife Peggy, ex-Blue Hose football players Robbie Strickland and John Cann. Then, when it was over, I walked back to the tailgate site, under a shade tree about fifty yards from the stadium.

I doubt I’d have been that close in Waco or Starkville, and if I had, I still wouldn’t have been able to see into the stadium. That’s one advantage of FCS football in the hometown.

Food was plentiful. So was beer. There were Jell-O shots. Lots of food, much of which I never got around to sampling. I brought the rest of the chili home. That will probably get me through Sunday.

Plus, after covering a 71-16 high school game on Friday night, 40-28 seemed really close.

8:51 p.m.

I’m having a hard time getting acclimated. The race is on (and here comes pride up the backstretch …), and I’m still surfing channels looking for football scores and perusing the Twitter feed to catch up on, well, everything. I was fairly oblivious to the outside world while at the Presbyterian game. Come to think of it, I was oblivious to the game I was allegedly watching for part of it.

I’ve always liked the yellow walls at Charlotte Motor Speedway, though. I’m not sure I’ve ever acknowledged that. They give it a distinctive look.

Jeff Gordon's smarts could win this title. (HHP/Garry Eller photo for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon’s smarts could win this title. (HHP/Garry Eller photo for Chevy Racing)

9:54 p.m.

Last night on South Carolina SportsTalk, I predicted Dale Earnhardt. Jr. to win. How silly of me to think his car had a gear shifter that would last.

10:10 p.m.

Talladega is bound to be controversial. Someone is going to wreck someone else, and that someone is going to be the teammate of someone who is desperate to get in the next Chase round, and it won’t matter whether or not it was intentional. That’s how it’s going to look.

Or something else along those lines.

It is an unavoidable consequence of this format, and it will be even more so in the third round.

10:38 p.m.

Doesn’t Kevin Harvick have to win again somewhere? Las Vegas should take bets on how he’s going to manage to lose each week.

Tire trouble? Five to one. Pit road speeding? Four to one. Broken shifter? Twenty-five to one. Ran over a terrapin? Five hundred to one.

11:22 p.m.

Harvick closed the deal. He stayed out after Brian Vickers’ engine failure, which, in retrospect, seems like a no-brainer. Good for them. He should’ve won so many more races this year, but, yet, stands a great chance of winning the championship. He’s a guy who should win a championship.

Mike Helton, NASCAR president (Getty Images for NASCAR).
Mike Helton, NASCAR president (Getty Images for NASCAR).

11:38 a.m.

And now for what everyone who normally makes no mention of NASCAR will be all obsessed about tomorrow. It’s going to read like a plot synopsis of an old-time potboiler.

The Old Neighborhood (2014), action, drama, comedy. Charlotte Motor Speedway isn’t big enough for Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski. When Keselowski takes the law into his own hands, Hamlin enlists the help of Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth to teach Keselowski a lesson. Violence, language.

I expect, sometime soon, we’re going to see Mike Helton in his best Mafia suit, lowering his head dramatically and looking somber.

Thanks for reading my observations about the race. I’d like to invite you to read the blogs at my other site, www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, and don’t forget my novels, The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope.

Popped It Up

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Behind the press box. (Monte Dutton)
Behind the press box. (Monte Dutton)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, October 11, 2014, 9:52 a.m.

On October 7, 1916, Georgia Tech played Cumberland and won 222-0. The Yellow Jackets scored sixty-three points each in the first and second quarters to lead 126-0 at halftime. Their offense then slowed to a crawl, producing only fifty-four points in the third quarter and forty-two in the fourth.

Coach John Heisman – yes, that Heisman – must have emptied the benches. Tech scored thirty-two touchdowns and gained 978 yards, averaging twenty-four yards a play.

Years ago, I read that, the first time Cumberland punted, the football lost all its air between the snapper and the punter.

Thunk.

I was in Woodruff last night, where the Wolverines had to settle for a 71-16 victory over Carolina. The halftime score was 57-9. At the beginning of the game, I was making my weekly appearance on the South Carolina Network’s sports talk show, talking NASCAR. I’m sure some listeners must have noticed when I seemed to lose my train of thought.

It’s because I was watching Carolina High School’s first punt go straight up in the air. It came within five yards or so of landing on top of the punter. Negative ten yards on the punt. Not a harbinger of great things.

The Wolverines hit the ground running. And throwing. And returning. (Monte Dutton)
The Wolverines hit the ground running. And throwing. And returning. (Monte Dutton)

In the second half, the clock ran mostly without interruption. Of The Wolverines’ (yes, 7-0) ten touchdowns, three of them were interception returns.

I thought of the lines of Johnny Cash’s “One Piece at a Time,” about his mismatched Cadillac whose “title weighed fifty pounds.” I was typing the scoring summary.

After I’d finished talking with Woodruff head coach Trey Elder, the Carolina (2-5) players were boarding the buses back to Greenville. Their visit to Woodruff must have been a little like John Denver’s time in Toledo, Ohio: “I once spent a week there one day.”

If you like this blog, I invite you to visit www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, where I often write of topics other than sports and often ones that are entirely made up. Consider my novels, The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope, please.

Confidence Men

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Sometimes the media race gets tight, too. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevy Racing)
Sometimes the media race gets tight, too. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevy Racing)

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, October 8, 2014, 8:31 a.m.

Those who covered stock car races with me for twenty years are aware of my Rules. Dutton’s Rules. There’s no list. I just cite one from time to time. They’re scattered on a floor somewhere in the back of my head. Occasionally one catches my eyes.

For instance:

The truth is never more evident than when vehemently denied.

If someone responds to a simple question with unwarranted alarm, he’s hiding something. Let’s say the question is some variation of, “Why did you do that?”

If the answer is, “Well, it wasn’t really a big deal. What happened was …” then it’s probably legit. If the answer is, “Hey what do you mean by that?” or, “What gives you the right to ask…?” or, “Hey, bud, you never drove a race car, all right?” then there’s something to hide there.

It’s not a hundred percent effective. Some are just natural-born assholes.

If no one will deny a rumor, it’s true.

Most people have enough sense to avoid being caught in lies. A few lie with great skill, and those almost always go far. Most liars are ineffective. If a journalist trusts someone and is double-crossed, he or she should never forget. Some let bygones be bygones. I was never one of them. No one who has ever been a writer for long has avoided the experience of having his trust exploited.

Another Rule: A guitar helps.
Another Rule: A guitar helps.

If someone tells you he (or she) will do anything for you, the last thing he ever wants is for you to ask.

Real friends don’t have to tell you. They don’t have to make a big show of it. Most overly friendly people are overly deceitful. Essentially they’re con men. Or con women. My grandfather used to insist on calling them “confidence men.”

When in doubt, satirize.

This is my favorite method, anyway.

Thanks, as always, for patronizing my humble web site. I’d like you to look at my other site, www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com. You might even enjoy reading something of mine that costs money, such as my two novels, The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope, both of which are available at www.amazon.com.