Back in My Day …

There sits a race car. (Monte Dutton)
There sits a race car. (Monte Dutton)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, March 2, 2015, 9:58 a.m.

People don’t pay attention. Sometimes I think about how they’ve changed since I was a kid. No, I think about it all the time. To borrow outrageously from the late John Hartford, I keep it “on the back roads, by the rivers of my memory … gentle on my mind.”

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

Most of the time, when a writer is accused of taking someone’s comments out of context, the accuser wouldn’t know context from constipation. The above was a genuine example of taking something out of context.

What brought this stream to consciousness was reading social-media calls for shortening Atlanta Motor Speedway’s Sprint Cup race to 400 miles.

From my youth: “Mama’s little baby loves shortening, shortening, Mama’s little baby loves shortening bread.”

Also wildly out of context.

The King. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images for NASCAR)
The King. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images for NASCAR)

My first thought upon hearing this: Land o’ Goshen, NASCAR already took away one race from Atlanta. Now they want to shorten the one they got?

Maybe I just came from a bargain-conscious generation. When I was kid, my father often took me and my brother to Atlanta to see the Braves on Sundays because, quite often, on Sundays, there were doubleheaders. It was sweltering. The Braves were lousy. We drove down early so we could eat at The Varsity, and then we went to Atlanta Stadium early so that we could watch batting practice. Then we sat through two big-league ballgames, and it didn’t matter if the Braves lost one game, 7-1, and the other, 6-3, we were grateful that the “the potential tying run” reached the on-deck circle in the ninth inning of the nightcap.

Mario Andretti with the Un-Sprint Girl, Daytona, 1967.
Mario Andretti with the Un-Sprint Girl, Daytona, 1967.

Ah, yes, I succumb to a “back in my day” rant. Sorry. I’m old. It wasn’t always so. Live with it. And get off my lawn.

Darlington races weren’t exactly compact, either. We sat on the back straight. If the tickets cost fifteen bucks, which is my memory, my dad cussed about it. The top racers were, according to what we heard, well off. A few of them earned $150,000 in a single year. Now the champion might earn $15 million.

In a year, Kevin Harvick earns a hundred times what Richard Petty earned in a year a little more than forty years ago. That’s a long time, but, surely, inflation hasn’t been 10,000 percent.

Cale Yarborough, Junior Johnson and Fred Lorenzen.
Cale Yarborough, Junior Johnson and Fred Lorenzen.

Back in 1970, 367 laps around Darlington Raceway comprised one long day’s journey into night. The winner of the race, Buddy Baker, looked like he’d been picking cotton in a field of axle grease. Today all the drivers have fitness coaches, dietitians, and strength conditioners, and they get out of their cars looking as if they might squeeze in nine holes before dark, so, Freddie, have the Gulfstream ready. By the time scribes get their copy shipped, the race winner is out on the lake.

Later, when my career intersected with the Age of Affluent Athletes, I remember Jeff Gordon pausing during a media conference, and saying, “I keep hearing you guys saying you hate night races. Don’t you enjoy having a Sunday off?”

The one season Richard Petty drove a Ford, 1969.
The one season Richard Petty drove a Ford, 1969.

The thoughts being hurled at Gordon’s direction caused a visible ruffle in the time-space continuum, brain waves screaming, We don’t have a private jet! We gotta file stories! We’ll be driving all day

What I’m Expecting Is the Unexpected

Enough about Joey Logano, already? Hey. He's starting out front and probably spend a good bit of time there. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
Enough about Joey Logano, already? Hey. He’s starting out front and probably spend a good bit of time there. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, March 1, 2015, 12:28 p.m.

Good afternoon, everyone. Most of the time, I place links on social media (Twitter, Facebook, the occasional Google+ item) several times so that you’ll come across my blogs whenever you sign on, or in, or however you sign. I apologize if I trick you into clicking on them several times. It’s not for money, and I hope I’m not taking advantage of my more loyal readers, but my intention is to make sure you don’t miss them if, indeed, you want to read them.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

I’m just going to post this one once because it will shortly be obsolete. The Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 is scheduled to begin soon, and it appears likely it will be completed today even though rain is going to be cropping up and dissipating as rain is wont to do. My guess is they’ll get it in.

This should be a fascinating race. It could be a very good race. New rules are in place. The cars have less horsepower, which theoretically makes them a little easier to handle, and downforce, which theoretically makes them harder. The countervailing changes are supposed to make the racing better, and we know that because it would really be silly to try to make it worse.

Nothing conclusive is going to happen today. It will take time to determine whether NASCAR has made some progress or it’s just another example of going one way and then back another.

A year ago, I thought the season’s early races were exciting, and I couldn’t understand why NASCAR, which had just made radical changes to the cars, had apparently decided to redraw again after the 2014 season.

Then, in the summer, when the Chase started growing near, it seemed as if more and more races were runaways, particularly on tracks like this one, Atlanta, and those tracks are very important because about 40 percent of the schedule is contested on them.

When I refer to “tracks like this one,” I’m not limiting it to the “mile-and-a-halves.” I think the two-mile tracks in Brooklyn, Michigan, and Fontana, California, are in the same category. I’d look 1.5-to-2.0, moderate banking, and call them “intermediate.”

Anyway, during the spring of 2014, I was sort of confused. During the summer, I got a bit conspiratorial.

It occurred to me that, during the first half of the early races, there might be a bit of what I’ve always called “formation flying” going on. In other words, early on, when the race is far from being decided, everyone is relaxed, patient, and anxious to make the sport look good, so it’s give and take, ah, you want the lead, go for it, I’m not going to get in your way, and it may have made the racing look better than it really was.

Once the Chase drew near, everyone got a lot more serious, and mean, and ruthless, and no one could afford to play nice anymore.

We don’t want racers to play nice, but I don’t want this to sound like more than it is. I don’t think the early races of 2014 were artificially contested. I just think they were more leisurely.

The test of whether this rules package is better will be when the competition gets more heated, and that may be a while.

In the short run, one unique aspect may be the large number of big names driving fast cars who are starting deep in the pack. This is a result of rampant problems getting new cars with new rules through new inspection processes, and that domino tumbled into more than a dozen cars not being approved in time to participate in qualifying.

This was a disaster.

Or was it? It would be a disaster if it happened every week, but just this once, it might give us all something extra to watch during the early going.

Thanks for reading me, folks, and I hope you’ll check out my short fiction at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, and once you read those, you’ll actually want to pay a modest amount (particularly if you own a Kindle) to buy my books, most of which are available here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

Perhaps There Will Be Racing

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One's hurt, and the Packers ain't playing. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
One’s hurt, and the Packers ain’t playing. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, February 28, 2015, 3:35 p.m.

Today is one in which I haven’t made many decisions. I’ve just taken the paths of least resistance, which isn’t something I recommend but just a frequent vice to which humans succumb.

Today, I sort of wanted to go to the Presbyterian College women’s basketball game, and I sort of wanted to go to the baseball game, but it’s a NASCAR doubleheader, and there it is, pretty as a picture because it is a picture, a moving one, there on my wide, high-definition screen.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

The doings at Atlanta Motor Speedway have left me a bit befuddled. Occasionally, I’ve even been discombobulated and stupefied.

A race car got stolen from a motel parking lot, probably by thieves who were not expecting it to be inside the plain white trailer and upscale pickup they stole. They probably figured they were getting a Cub Cadet, complete with leaf blower and various cutting instruments manufactured by Poulan, and when they found a fancy race car, well, they realized this was big trouble indeed and left the car out in the woods somewhere, where it was discovered, none the worse for wear, but having no need for wear since it was too late to qualify.

Okay. That’s the story from Atlanta Motor Speedway, or at least the Greater Atlanta Metropolitan Area. Oh, wait, there was the Sprint Cup qualifying session in which many of the big names couldn’t get through inspection, and then there was the Camping World Truck qualifying in which one driver, Brad Keselowski, won the pole but only one other driver tried.*

Then there were the motor coach and van wrecks in the infield. So far the big news hasn’t been about racing, but, rather, in racing’s extended neighborhood. I could’ve gotten big news that wasn’t about racing over at Presbyterian College this cool afternoon.

With 25 laps remaining in the Hisense 250 – isn’t “high sense” an oxymoron? – the second-place car is within a hundred yards of the first-place car, so, doggone it, there’s a reason to watch for now. Be right back.

The rules have changed, but Joey Logano still looks strong. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
The rules have changed, but Joey Logano still looks strong. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

New TV standards: (1.) When it’s two wide, it’s three wide, and it’s nose to tail when the distance separating one tail from another’s nose — quit it, dirty minds – is, oh, 30 yards, (2.) a car length is a railroad-car length, and (3.) Kevin Harvick’s Camaro is running away again, so no one wants to talk anymore about lengths and measures.

None of the weekend’s minutiae will be long remembered if the Sprint Cup race is a barnburner or even a stew scorcher.

The Sprint Cup champion won the Xfinity race. Ho hum.

I await the Truck race with optimism.

*Catch that. Turns out Keselowski didn’t get his lap completed in time. “Upon further review,” as they say.

If you’re not going to the race – there are lots of you – and your attention flags red, there’s some short fiction of mine you can read for free at www.welpilgrim.wordpress.com, and then, when you are undoubtedly impressed, you can buy most of my books here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

In My Hometown, There’s Always Something to Do

Ed Drew on the boards as DeSean Murray looks on. (Monte Dutton)
Ed Drew on the boards as Desean Murray looks on. (Monte Dutton)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, February 27, 2015, 9:59 a.m.

Presbyterian College’s presence in my hometown has been a distinct pleasure for most of my life. I didn’t go there. I went to Furman University because I wanted to be close enough to come home when I wanted but not so close that I’d have to come home every time the hogs got out.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

I know. It’s funny. It’s also true. If I had gone to college in my hometown, there would have been no peace from my late, great, larger than life father.

Last night, the Blue Hose men’s basketball team pulled off an upset, defeating Coastal Carolina, 80-69, in the final game at Templeton Center for seniors Jordan Downing and William Truss. The victory lifted Presbyterian to 10-20 overall, 6-12 in the Big South Conference. Coastal Carolina fell to 21-9 and 12-6. The seniors combined for 32 points and 15 rebounds. Downing surpassed 1,500 points for his career.

Head coach Gregg Nibert won for the 400th time in 26 seasons coaching the Blue Hose. I’ve known Gregg since he was an assistant at Furman and I was the sports information director. His young team lost seven straight before finally, Thursday night, in the final home game and penultimate conference game, No. 400 fell, and it was against Cliff Ellis. The Chanticleers’ coach formerly plied his trade at South Alabama, Clemson, and Auburn, and has won 688 games.

Davon Bell sets the Blue Hose offense as Cliff Ellis looks on. (Monte Dutton)
Davon Bell sets the Blue Hose offense as Cliff Ellis looks on. (Monte Dutton)

The college is worth a lot to our community, not the least of which is just giving us something to do. The Blue Hose kept me occupied when I was six and 56 (that’s not my won-lost record, except maybe in romance). Neither the football nor the basketball team play in the same place they did when I was a kid. The old Bailey Memorial Stadium (at one time known more as Walter Johnson Field, not for “The Big Train” but a PC coaching legend) is now used, I believe, for lacrosse. Leroy Springs Gymnasium is now the student center. When I was a boy, if PC had a women’s basketball team, I never knew it, and I don’t think I knew what lacrosse was. Johnson Field was a great place for kids to play tackle football with wadded-up paper cups on the grass behind the bleachers in one end zone. We kept up with the game by listening to the public-address announcer tell us that Wally Bowen had just hit Lynn Dreger for a 19-yard completion to the 37.

The home of the Blue Hose football team. It's stately. (Monte Dutton)
The home of the Blue Hose football team. It’s stately. (Monte Dutton)

And Springs! The weirdest gym ever. Three quarters of the seats were in a balcony behind one goal, with about five rows of stands on each side of the court and one long bench that ran the length of the floor on side balconies that were little more than walkways.

The Blue Hose have only been playing in their present home, Templeton Center (and Furman Pinson Court) for, oh, close to 40 years now. It has taken PC from the NAIA, to NCAA Division II, to Division I and, in football, the Football Championship Subdivision. After a long dry spell, Harold Nichols led the football team to a 6-5 record last fall, and let the record note that three of the losses were to Northern Illinois, North Carolina State, and Ole Miss, all of which played in bowl games.

I divide my football Saturdays between the Furman Paladins and the Presbyterian Blue Hose. Furman is the alma mater. PC is the hometown school. The worst night of the fall for me was the night PC beat Furman, 17-10. I was all in for the Blue Hose every other week.

Football tailgating. (Monte Dutton)
Football tailgating. (Monte Dutton)

On Thursday night, Justin Bethel, the Arizona Cardinals’ cornerback, two-time Pro Bowler, and ex-Blue Hose, was at the basketball game, and he must have shaken hands with half the crowd. When I go to PC games, I do more than watch. I talk football with Coach Nichols and some of his assistants. Both candidates for mayor in Tuesday’s election are at every home game. Last night I joked with Bob McLean, the incumbent, that I had been sitting on the Danny Cook side for most of the season, but it was just a coincidence, and I live just outside the city limits, anyway. I watched the game with the editor and publisher of The Clinton Chronicle, Larry Franklin. Before the game, I had steak teriyaki at Japan, along with two egg rolls, and I realized later that the Blue Hose are 2-0 when I eat there before the game. My bad. I didn’t figure out the superstition until too late.

In the lobby, beforehand and at half, I talk Clinton Red Devils, Clemson Tigers, Carolina Gamecocks, and what in tarnation is going to happen at South Carolina State, with a variety of people similarly inclined to pick up a box of popcorn and a 20-ounce Diet Pepsi (three dollars, can’t afford not to). Getting in the ballgame costs six. A man can’t beat that sitting at home watching ESPN.

The Blue Hose won the final home game. (Monte Dutton)
The Blue Hose won the final home game. (Monte Dutton)

Most games, the retired dean of students, Joe Nixon, and I loudly commiserate the inability of modern officials to call walking. Or traveling. Whichever one prefers, the refs prefer neither.

The Blue Hose are off to Winthrop on Saturday, then the Big South Tournament in Conway, which is the home of Coastal Carolina, which, as the name suggests, is near Myrtle Beach. The women’s team, which has won two straight in overtime, is at home against Winthrop on Saturday afternoon. Ronny Fisher, the women’s coach, is another of the nicer fellows in town. Offhand, I can’t think of anyone at PC who isn’t among the nicer fellows in town.

Clinton has lots of nice fellows and similarly nice ladies, and an inordinate amount of them are available for mingling at home football and basketball games. I’m also fond of Blue Hose baseball, and Holy Cross is in for single games on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, weather permitting. Despite a 3-0 setback at Georgia on Tuesday, the Blue Hose enter the weekend 6-3 on the young season. Athletic director Brian Reese has noted that the presence of a brand-new scoreboard has quieted my grumbling at the games. Now, however, I’m grousing about how they need new dugouts, real ones that are “dug out,” and that way they wouldn’t block the view as much.

The optimum fan, of course, spends three quarters of his time staunchly supporting the team and the rest complaining. It’s because we all want things to get better, no matter how they currently are.

I’ll be getting back to NASCAR shortly. Practice is on TV even as I write. I would also like to invite you to read my short fiction at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, and I’m hoping this, and that, will whet your appetite for my writing, and that way you’ll buy one or two or five of my books here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1#

 

The Weekend Wasn’t All Racing

The Spartans and Eagles on a Saturday afternoon. (Monte Dutton)
The Spartans and Eagles on a Saturday afternoon. (Monte Dutton)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, February 25, 2015, 10:30 a.m.

Understandably, the Daytona 500 dominated my weekend. It wasn’t the whole weekend. I’ve got a new writing gig at Bleacher Report, and late last week all the T’s were crossed and I’s dotted, and then, on race morning, I looked over a contract, signed it, scanned it, and emailed it back to the home office in Winnemucca, Nevada.

Your blogger, the guy with .com at the end of his address.
Your blogger, the guy with .com at the end of his address.

Just kidding. I was thinking about the old Letterman routine. Winnemucca may be the home of a media empire, but Bleacher Report is in San Francisco.

Saturday was a marvelous day. I spent all morning writing about NASCAR, then I hustled up to Spartanburg to write 500 words about a women’s basketball game between Florida Gulf Coast and USC Upstate for the Fort Myers News-Press. It was my second assignment for that paper. Someone referred me when FGCU’s men’s team visited USCU earlier in the year. The women’s game carried some significance in that the Eagles were bidding for their 20th consecutive victory and their coach, Karl Smesko, his 400th career win. FGCU was also attempting to clinch the Atlantic Sun Conference regular-season championship, which it did, 75-59.

The Eagles’ red-shirt junior guard, Whitney Knight, was splendid. She is 6-3, which means she both anchors the offense and covers the other team’s biggest player on defense. She swooped up and down the court like some gigantic bird of prey, driving to the basket but also popping 3-pointers with dazzling efficiency. She scored 26 points, hit six of nine from behind the arc, and grabbed eight rebounds while playing all but the final two minutes.

Watching her play was exhilarating.

The Eagles on the break. (Monte Dutton)
The Eagles on the break. (Monte Dutton)

Smesko is an unassuming man, which contrasted with his spectacular player, of whom he said, “Whit (Knight) is an exceptional talent. She made a lot of big shots for us. Excellent percentage, hit big shots. She played great. Her teammates found her when she was open and she knocked them down.

“It was an exceptional performance on a day when we needed one.”

By the way, the Eagles left Spartanburg 25-2 and got there ranked No. 22 in the nation. That’s Division I.

The game couldn’t have been easier to cover. The Spartans never got hopelessly behind nor did they get closer than 10 points after the first ten minutes. The story wrote itself. Adding quotes was like adding water to instant pudding, then giving it a few minutes to thicken. I was out of there in no time.

When I got back to the car, the Xfinity Series race in Daytona Beach was in its latter stages, so I dropped by a favorite restaurant for dinner. I had chicken-fried steak. When I finished and started heading home, about a half-hour drive, I managed to discern from a distant radio feed that there were sixteen laps remaining in Daytona. Most of the drive home was spent with the race under a red flag. When I got back, I turned on the TV, and there were still nine laps remaining.

That took a while, too.

You can read my short fiction at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, and my books are available here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

Daytona Down with a Long Way to Go

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It's the yellow car, driven by Joey Logano, that won. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
It’s the yellow car, driven by Joey Logano, that won. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, February 23, 2015, 12:23 p.m.

Imagine that you and your wife have enjoyed a nice dinner. You walk out into the Daytona International Speedway trioval grass and tell the kid, who’s wearing cargo shorts, a Bob Marley tee shirt, a backwards cap, and jogging shoes he didn’t get on special, to go fetch your yellow Ford.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

He doesn’t leave. You try to be polite, wondering why he’s waiting, and, then, all of a sudden, you and your wife realize, much to your alarm, that the parking lot is coming to you at slightly over two hundred miles per hour.

Ah, dinner at the Daytona 500! More exciting than breakfast at Wimbledon!

Every Daytona 500 – and every race of the season – will leave questions in its wake. Why, for instance, did NASCAR officials throw the caution flag after a crash occurred behind the leaders on the final lap, particularly since, one day earlier, they had done the opposite at the end of the Xfinity Series race? Joey Logano probably had the race won, but whether the lead is several car lengths, or the leaders are side by side, shouldn’t really be the reason for a call. It would be like it only being a strike if someone swung at it.

Trying to make sense of NASCAR’s madness would leave Sherlock Holmes befuddled.

One would think NASCAR would prescribe more caution for the less experienced drivers in the Xfinity Series. One would be wrong. NASCAR’s braintrust evaluates each situation on its merits, which is to say, it’s impossible to anticipate what they might do.

Joey Logano (Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Joey Logano (Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

But … it’s a footnote. Logano was a deserving winner. Last year trumpeted his arrival at or near the top of the sport. Now he’s perched on the precipice of superstardom, and just wait till all the talk shows get done with him this week. He might be one of the beautiful people by the time he arrives in Hampton, Georgia. He’ll be making cameo appearances in soap operas in no time.

“I love you, Joey!”

“And I you, my dear. But wait! What’s that sound? Is Heathcliff near?”

Logano is 24, and he’s already got all the merit badges. If NASCAR had Eagle Scouts, he’d be one.

Here comes the parking lot. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
Here comes the parking lot. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Next Sunday, it starts all over. The Daytona 500 is the biggest race, but it’s not much like most of the others. Someone who ran near the front at Daytona will magically disappear from sight. It happens almost every year.

Logano may win the Sprint Cup championship, but not because he won the Daytona 500. It’s just the take-off point. It’s not much different from the fan vote in the NASCAR Hall of Fame selection process. Millions together count for one vote out of 59.

That’s about the same as the Daytona 500 in relation to the Sprint Cup championship. Logano has a leg up, but it’s not his. It’s a chicken leg on a blue whale, and not much good in the water.

Thanks for reading my blogs here and at Bleacher Report. I hope you’ll enjoy the fiction available at my other site, www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com and that you’ll consider buying my various books here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

The Talented Mister Busch (Well, the Elder One, That Is)

Kurt Busch (left) with Clint Bowyer. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Kurt Busch (left) with Clint Bowyer. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, February 21, 2015, 9:53 a.m.

The long arm of the law has hung over Kurt Busch ever since the NASCAR weekend at Dover International Speedway that culminated in the AAA 400 on Sept. 28.

The older Busch brother started 22nd, finished 18th, and apparently experienced a moribund weekend.

But wait …

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

It was not a boring one, as it turned out. It wasn’t an insignificant one. The Sprint Cup race had nothing to do with its significance. Some sort of altercation (apparently, allegedly, perhaps, and/or in the considered opinion of a judge) occurred between Busch and his former girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll. In November, domestic violence was alleged. On Friday, NASCAR suspended Busch, though he hasn’t been criminally charged. Chevrolet cut off relations. I don’t think I’ve owned a Chevy in thirty years, but it hasn’t cut off relations with me. Chevy wants me back. It shut down the Kurt Busch embassy.

I’ve watched the Driscoll promotional video. I’ve heard the versions of both the Skipper and Gilligan. (Remember how that show would provide one jaded version of an incident, then the screen would flip-flop, and the scene would be depicted in an entirely different light? It was once one of those little mechanisms that popped up in old situation comedies.) I don’t know what happened. It’s lawyer versus lawyer.

The only insight I can provide that isn’t jaded or skewed by one version or another is my knowledge of Kurt Busch. By accident, I was in Las Vegas, researching a book (True to the Roots: Americana Music Revealed), on Kurt Busch Day in 2004, after he had won the first Chase. I was there after Busch and Jimmy Spencer tangled at Michigan. I can still see Spencer, coming out of the NASCAR transporter waggling a cigar, and Busch, wearing sunglasses to hide a shiner, leaving in a golf cart, lips poked out.

I have memories, good and bad, of Kurt Busch, because there is much good and bad in him.

Kurt Busch's worst enemy.  (HHP photo for Chevrolet)
Kurt Busch’s worst enemy. (HHP photo for Chevrolet)

Most of the time, Kurt Busch is an admirable fellow. No one in NASCAR has given more of his time to travel to a track and take part in some ticket-selling promotion. He’s given pep talks, ridden around tracks with lucky fans, and stood in actual ticket offices answering actual phones and selling actual tickets to fans actually lined up.

Most of the time, he is a really good guy, but, when things don’t go to suit him, the brat comes out.

Busch also has this awful tendency to make things worse by behaving boorishly. When he was detained outside Phoenix International Raceway by some of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s finest, he reportedly did the old “apparently you don’t know who the bleep I am?” routine.

That seldom works.

When Busch was suspended for threatening a reporter (Bob Pockrass), I thought it was wrong. First of all, I’m uncomfortable with NASCAR policing the relations between driver and media. Secondly, if that scene had happened to me, I wouldn’t have been surprised. For twenty years, I expected there to be a time or two during the season when someone – a driver, an owner, an official, a loner, an engineer, a producer, a winner, a loser – would cuss me out. They would take me to task for something I had written.

My favorite way to handle this was to let them have their say, and then reply, “In my defense, it was heartfelt.” Sometimes it took me by surprise, and I could not maintain my calm. With some, maintaining one’s calm was ineffective. Such a man was Dale Earnhardt, but that’s another story.

Now, with all that being said, my chief defense is that I sympathize with people. Being imperfect myself, I recognize that others often have foibles, too. That doesn’t mean Kurt Busch isn’t responsible for his actions, and this is hardly the first time his self-destructive bent has put his career in jeopardy.

His biggest mistake was letting it all go. Where he most needs self-control is in maintaining his future. I expect that, quite possibly, the two words that flit most often through Busch’s cacophonous mind are one that begins with an “F” and another that is an indefinite pronoun.

That simple credo can be constructive in regard to small matters. In anything beyond the matter of putting off mowing the lawn until tomorrow, it can lead to ruination, particularly at the end of a litany of failed attempts.

I hope it hasn’t come to that.

This is definitely stranger than the fiction that is available for your perusal at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com. I might could top it with my novels, The Audacity of Dope and The Intangibles, available along with many of my non-fiction books here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

Fame and Fortune and Fate

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon are popular choices. (John Clark photo)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon are popular choices. (John Clark photo)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, February 20, 2015, 11:38 a.m.

I’m digesting the results of Thursday night’s Budweiser Duel(s).

And breakfast. The link sausage I bought at Sam’s Club is tasty.

Your blogger, the guy with .com at the end of his address.
Your blogger, the guy with .com at the end of his address.

I’m delighted David Ragan made the Daytona 500. His was the good thing that happened as a result of Danica vs. Denny. I’m glad Patrick made it. I found her post-race confrontation with Hamlin wildly amusing. This morning a friend called and remarked that he could see why Hamlin hasn’t gotten married. “Putting your hands on a woman’s shoulder and saying, ‘Now, honey, settle down …’ that never works,” he said.

Perhaps I should now write “all kidding aside,” but, sorry, I can’t.

Though I'm sure the motorcoach is posh, Danica Patrick isn't a happy camper. (HHP/Rusty Jarrett photo for Chevrolet)
Though I’m sure the motorcoach is posh, Danica Patrick isn’t a happy camper. (HHP/Rusty Jarrett photo for Chevrolet)

What have we learned? Well, the front row is made up of Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. Johnson and another Hendrick pilot, Dale Earnhardt Jr., won the 150-milers. It appears to me that Earnhardt’s car is the fastest, but that’s not conclusive because I didn’t have Johnson’s presence in the first race to provide a direct means of comparison.

If someone else wins the Daytona 500, all this apparent gathering dominance will be quickly forgotten.

Watch Kevin Harvick very closely. He's sneaky. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
Watch Kevin Harvick very closely. He’s sneaky. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Jeff Gordon could win because he’s fast and smart. The way he kept Joey Logano’s Ford at bay in the final laps of the former qualifier erased any possible demonstration by Logano that Earnhardt could be had.

Fate runs up front at Daytona like a green-flag pace car. The winner will be the driver who best latches on. Fate will smile on some and scowl at others.

Joey Logano, poised to swoop. (Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Joey Logano, poised to swoop. (Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

At Daytona International Speedway, Kevin Harvick is a diabolical mastermind in addition to being the reigning Sprint Cup champion. Watch him. He’s sneaky.

Gordon and Matt Kenseth are fast and smart. Tony Stewart is overdue for Fate to smile. Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski and Logano also have the knack of being skillful at Daytona without the 500 victories to prove it to the masses.

Matt Kenseth knows what he's doing. (Getty Images for NASCAR).
Matt Kenseth knows what he’s doing. (Getty Images for NASCAR).

Just because they’re overdue, though, doesn’t mean this race will be any different. Each race is its own roll of the dice. They don’t tumble with knowledge of how they earlier tumbled.

Two who want it badly: Tony Stewart (left) with Kurt Busch. As it turns out, Busch isn't going to get the chance.  (Getty Images for NASCAR)
Two who want it badly: Tony Stewart (left) with Kurt Busch. As it turns out, Kurt isn’t going to get the chance, at least not this year. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

In the second duel, Ragan and Patrick made the race after seeming to have no chance with just a few laps remaining. Those races were 150 miles apiece. Imagine how many more Cinderella stories are possible amid the 200 laps/500 miles of Sunday, factoring in the scrutiny, the pressure, the emotions, the slings, the arrows, the miscellaneous other outrageous fortune, “the pomp, the pageantry, the human drama of athletic competition.”

For those who still remember where we once upon a time got our Daytona 500 coverage.

BUH, buh, buh, buh, BUH, buh, buh, buh … THIS is ABC’s Wide World of Sports!

I’m writing about Riley Mansfield (main character in The Audacity of Dope, my first novel) again at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com.

If you don’t know Riley already, you can buy the original story, as well as my other books, here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1#

 

Take Me Out to the Ice Chest

It looks beautiful, huh? Looks were deceiving. Temperatures were harsh. (Monte Dutton)
It looks beautiful, huh? Looks were deceiving. Temperatures were harsh. (Monte Dutton)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, February 18, 2015, 8:09 p.m.

I love baseball. That love was sorely tested today when I drove over to Presbyterian College to write about a baseball game between the Blue Hose and the Wofford Terriers.

Both teams were unbeaten. Wofford (4-0) still is, thanks to a 7-4 decision. I offered to cover the game a few days ago, and, when I checked my email this morning, I got the go-ahead “if they play it.”

I've been to Fenway Park many times, but that was in the summer or fall.
I’ve been to Fenway Park many times, but that was in the summer or fall.

Oh, they played it. I’m still shivering, and I’ve been home for more than an hour. At the beginning of the game, it was 37 degrees. The wind was whipping a cold front that is forecast to have the temperatures down to 12 by 7 a.m. on Thursday morning. Tomorrow night the estimate is 9.

At game’s end, it was 32, according to my phone, which apparently has a sense of humor. It felt like 2 according to my personal chill factor. Once my scoresheet went flying. It almost went flying again when the wind blew my folder opening when I set it next to me for a moment. The Wofford head coach, Todd Interdonato, got ejected in the seventh inning. I caught him on the bus, and when he walked out to talk to me, he was wearing shorts. I talked to him for 38 seconds. I didn’t have the heart to keep him any longer.

The Blue Hose (now 4-1, having taken four straight from Delaware State to open the campaign) broke on top, 3-0, before the cold reached the point where it must have seemed as if they were invading Russia in winter. Presbyterian used eight pitchers. Wofford got by with five. The Terriers took the lead with a run in the seventh, then busted it open with back-to-back homers by Matthew Pelt and Kody Ruedisili to lead off the ninth. While they were attempting to close, openings doomed the Blue Hose, who gave up consecutive doubles to open the sixth, hit two straight batters to start the seventh, and then came the aforementioned home runs in the ninth.

A baserunning blunder, by a pinchrunner who had subbed for a pinchhitter, who had doubled to lead off the eighth, cost Presbyterian a chance to tie it. The unfortunate Guy Casaceli got himself caught in a rundown between third base and home on a grounder with one out.

Had he scored that tying run, I might have cried. I was already shivering. My fingers had no feeling. I was “live tweeting” somehow. I got home and made coffee. That meant I was jumpy and shivering while I wrote my story.

It’s going to be warmer the next time I have fun at the old ballpark.

I should get the next episode of my short story published Thursday morning. The first three episodes are already posted at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com. Take a look at my books here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

I Can But Sigh

Always the cool customer, Matt Kenseth (Monte Dutton sketch)
Always the cool customer, Matt Kenseth (Monte Dutton sketch)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, February 16, 2015, 10:20 a.m.

NASCAR snuck up on me. I was busy enough that I sort of watched the weekend’s activities fresh. I went out to watch Presbyterian College’s opening baseball game – the Blue Hose beat Delaware State, 13-6, and, subsequently, three more times while I was otherwise occupied – on Friday, and covered a minor league hockey game in Greenville on Saturday afternoon. The Road Warriors won, too, 6-3 over the Evansville IceMen.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

The Road Warriors won at home, a harbinger of things to come.

I missed the ARCA race – I’ve been sort of looking for a replay somewhere, and the next opportunity is Tuesday at 9 p.m. on FoxSports2 – and got home with just enough time to prepare two pastrami sandwiches for a race that was allegedly Unlimited. In retrospect, it seems to make more sense for it to be titled the Unlimited Sprint, for that is possible, unlike the Sprint Unlimited, which implied an unlimited field that was, in fact, tightly limited, though not as much as the year before.

What occurred was, like its title, anarchic.

Matt Kenseth won it, and it wasn’t the first race he captured by keeping his wits while, all about him, others were losing theirs.

Kevin Harvick, who once succeeded The Intimidator, should not be nicknamed “Happy.” He is The Instigator, like him for it or not. I rather do, but that’s skewed a bit by the love of any writer for things that help him write.

Daytona 500 pole qualifying? When I was sixteen years old, I played in a donkey softball game that made more sense.

NASCAR claims it wanted to make it more exciting for the fans. I suspect the truth was it wanted to make it more exciting for TV, there not being many fans, at least as classified as wandering about the grounds and sitting in the grandstands. Undoubtedly, some in NASCAR believe the two, fans and TV, are the same. Great transfers of cash contribute to this belief.

Steve O’Donnell, who is Executive Vice President & Chief Racing Development Officer (unless, like Mike Helton, he has been “elevated”), said later that the new format put it back in the drivers’ hands.

The Daytona 500 pole winner, Jeff Gordon. (Monte Dutton sketch)
The Daytona 500 pole winner, Jeff Gordon. (Monte Dutton sketch)

Qualifying. At Daytona. So that two drivers, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, can know exactly where they will line up, while dozens of others know they will line up somewhere, and a few others know they are in big trouble.

Just another jolly good TV show, old chaps. Watching it made me think of what Sir Winston Churchill famously said of the Royal Air Force: “Never was so much owed by so many to so few.” Pole qualifying was a related, imprecise antithesis: Never was so little accomplished by so many for so little reason.

It took skill, though. Skill to get a good parking spot while all the smart guys mapped strategy. Skill to drive at full speed while weaving between a forest of others independently slowing as if under a yellow flag. The rarest skill was being able to control one’s emotions and toe the NASCAR line in good humor.

Amazingly, the dual winners, and occupiers of the front row next Sunday, Gordon and Johnson, were able to assess the day’s events with good humor, Gordon with his trademark affability and Johnson with knee jerking involuntarily. Such moments do not endear him to his detractors.

Now for a few days to get the bad taste out of our mouths and prepare for the Gatorade Twins, check that, Budweiser Duel, which is actually two duels on Thursday, making them dual.

Yes, Lord, it is what it is.

Take a break from this truth stranger than fiction and read some actual fiction of mine at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, and take a look at my books, which are priced reasonably here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1