Live from Somewhere Else on the Planet

They get younger every year. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, August 13, 2018, 9:37 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

I’ve probably seen a dozen races like the one Sunday at Michigan International Speedway. A rough estimate is I saw 37 Cup races there in 20 seasons.

One of the ones I missed was like Kevin Harvick’s Sunday beatdown. I had just been released from the only hospital into which I have been admitted since my birth. It was 19 years ago. I watched it on TV through what Tom T. Hall called “a medicated fog.”

It could be that fans started demanding that every race be a classic when NASCAR and TV started promising them.

Maybe, in the Age of Trump, everyone is just mad at one another.

Next month my alma mater, Furman University, is going to play Clemson. If the Tigers win 52-0, I don’t expect any of my Clemson-fan friends to claim it was a crummy game. They might claim Clemson didn’t play well.

Kevin Harvick leads a pack of cars. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

In my stock-car-writing prime, I mostly made my own schedule. A couple years, when I was popular and the syndication profitable, I went to every single race. I usually went to Michigan because it was fun to play my guitar at Captain Chuck’s, and to go to lake-side gatherings, and see the Tigers.

Michigan, I think, has the friendliest people inside the track and the meanest troopers outside the track. Don’t get mad. I base it solely on personal experience.

Next up is Bristol, where I missed only one race and it was for the reason cited in the second paragraph. I think I could have made it, but I was still I a weakened conditions, and doctors I no longer remember advised against it. I hate I didn’t have perfect attendance at Bristol.

Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick duel at MIS. (Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

Now it’s Bristol (Baby), the same way Harry Caray couldn’t say Lee Smith’s name without putting “Biiiiigggg” in front of it.

Now that I am exiled, I know TV announcers much better, and I think it would be wonderful if every single one of the didn’t use first and last name on every reference.

Kyle Busch is closing in on Martin Truex Jr. (pronounced ‘Trex’), but, oh, no, here comes Kevin Harvick. Kevin Harvick is within a car length (five) of Kyle Busch, and Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch are going to set sail for Martin Truex Jr.

Michigan (Monte Dutton photo)

Right you are.

I miss Bristol (Baby) Intergalactic Colosseumway. From outside at night, with the rotary hum whipping up tornadoes from within, it seems as if the Alien Mothership is revving up its Veluvian Generators and charting course to the opposite end of the galaxy, where, presumably, Kyle Busch will be examined closely.

“Meanwhile, the earthlings continue to go around and around, My Lord.”

 

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country.

My writing on other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

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As Fate Would Have It …

Pixabay

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, August 10, 2018, 3:09 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

How’d that song go?

I was in the right place, but it must have been the wrong time …

On Wednesday night, I got an email from the boss (at GoLaurens/GoClinton) that Clinton City Council had called a special meeting to consider splitting up its Department of Public Safety into separate police and fire departments. The boss suggested I might need to be there.

I wrote back to the effect that I’d be delighted to go, but that, coincidentally, the high school football teams of Laurens and Clinton were playing in a jamboree at Woodruff at the same time. He wrote back that he’d rather have me in Woodruff.

Little did I know that the jamboree would be at the M.S. Bailey Municipal Center.

(Monte Dutton photo)

I had fun in Woodruff. I sat in my truck for a half hour, confident that no football would be played as long as the Varner Stadium lights were off. After the storm, all the critters began scurrying out of their safe places, and soon life returned to its natural setting.

The skies remained threatening. A voice materialized, undoubtedly through a microphone located in the press box. The finale of the tripleheader, Woodruff against Dorman, would not be played. Clinton vs. Blue Ridge could possibly start as soon as 8:30 – it had been scheduled for two hours earlier – and Laurens could possibly play Chapman at approximately oh-dark-30 Eastern Daylight Time.

(Monte Dutton photo)

At about 8:15, uniformed lads loped out of the fieldhouse and headed out with the intention of loosening up whatever kinks had materialized in their sinews. Before the cadence of the first jumping jacks commenced, lightning flashed above the high school. A lightning strike requires a mandatory 30-minute delay. The voice from the press box had already noted that, “if one more thing happens, the whole thing is off.”

Thusly was it off. The announcement passed with tepid resignation. The press-box god had already informed the critters that gates would not open until 8:15, it would cost $7 to get in, and no refunds would be made. Given these conditions, only the few, the proud, the ones who got in free, had advanced into the zones reserved for paying customers, as well.

Little did I know what hijinks had ensued in the august chambers of city hall, a.k.a., M.S. Bailey Municipal Center, a.k.a., where The Bailey Bank used to be.

(Monte Dutton photo)

There, where discussions of garbage collection can linger into the night, City Council was dissolving its public-safety apparatus in a span of minutes. In fact, the meeting had already been adjourned when a former officer of said public safety arrived to provide vigorous opposition.

The relatively new City Manager got a bit hot and bothered at the hostile testimony, and then the prying questions of the media types who had assembled where I had not brought Bill Ed Cannon to a boil. Unpleasantries were exchanged. Even profanity was reportedly used.

Here’s my day-after news story.

The only reason I wish I had been there was that it would have left me with a story to tell more colorful than this one.

 

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country.

My writing on other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

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What Goes Up … Must Come Down

Chase Elliott is congratulated by his father and NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, August 6, 2018, 7:30 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

Chase Elliott won. Now we can get along with the rest of our lives.

I wasn’t that concerned. My basic view was, I’ve watched him race. He’s good. It’s going to happen. It’s the patience that comes from not having to rely much on assignments. Mostly, I can write what I want. Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.

Bill Elliott, who rose to stardom in an age in which NASCAR heroes could also be folk heroes, has a thoroughly modern son who just won a Monster Energy Cup race in Watkins Glen, N.Y.

Free at last. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

As soon as the race was over, all the fun facts started leaping across the World Wide Web!

Bill and Chase both finished second eight times before they won. Their first victories were on road courses. I paid attention to both for the first time at Darlington, though, in Chase’s case, it was on TV.

In 1981 and ’82, I wrote about Winston Cup races at Darlington. It was my first job out of college, and I persuaded the managing editor to let me go to the race. I’m fairly certain I paid my own way. I took pictures, hung out in the pits, observed real NASCAR writers at work, drove back home and wrote a column for the next day’s paper.

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

The master of Darlington was, is and forever will be David Pearson. Pearson’s career was winding down. He had already won his last race. Bill Elliott was the only driver I ever saw race at Darlington who reminded me of Pearson, who was so smooth that it didn’t look like he was fast enough to dominate the race the way he did.

Bill didn’t win his first Cup race until 1983. I knew he was good, though. He looked like Pearson on the track.

It was when I watched Chase win an Xfinity race at Darlington that I decided he was going to be a star, too.

It never hurts to get a healthy dose of evidence one is right.

8:32 p.m.

It was such an enjoyable weekend. The Red Sox defeated the Yankees four times in a row. I was in a good mood during last night’s Facebook Live, even though it was before Boston scored three times in the bottom of the ninth inning and won the game in the 10th.

Chase Elliott leads Kyle Busch. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

I slept so well last night.

Just what NASCAR needed, I thought. Great race. New winner who already has a fan base to energize. Hard earned. Well done. Carry on.

Mondays are full of busy work. Editing releases. Making phone calls. Paying some bills. I ran some errands. Trash dump. Dropped by L&L to pick up some reporter’s notebooks because a lifetime supply of free pads picked up at race tracks has recently run out.

I was listening to ancient country songs on SiriusXM as I tooled around town.

I went back to busy work. One of the obits was a guy I knew in high school. The school board is having a teleconference meeting, which probably means it’s hired a principal at E.B. Morse. Or maybe it means something else that doesn’t occur to me right now. The arrest report is short.

I finally decided to see what was happening on social media.

Brian France (Monte Dutton photo)

Brian France drove a Lexus when he shouldn’t have. It was out in the Hamptons, a place in New York that has little in common with Watkins Glen other than the proximity of water that is fresh in Seneca Lake and salty off Long Island. Sag Harbor. Swimming pools. Movie stars. Kids named Gatsby.

The NASCAR scion ran afoul of the authorities, allegedly overserved, with five pills to spare.

France is taking “a leave of absence,” which is basically the same headline as “Marion Wormer to vacation in Saratoga Springs.”

I’m not aghast. I’m not astonished. I’m not even surprised. I knew the sport was burning and had not known France to have a fiddle, though I did refer to him as “Nero” from time to time.

It’s not like the ship has lost its rudder. I don’t see anything getting worse. It’s just that I went to bed Sunday night thinking maybe, just maybe, times in NASCAR were about to start getting a little better.

 

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country.

My writing on other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

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Home with the Merciful God

Buddy Baker’s been waiting. (Photo by ISC Archives via Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, July 31, 2018, 3:27 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

When I arrived as a cadet on the NASCAR touring troupe in 1993, two men were responsible for my relatively quick acceptance.

One was Mike Hembree, then as now one of the best. I was fortunate. Mike and I were already friends. When I had worked in the Sports Information Office of Furman University, NASCAR had shared Mike with the Paladins in his duties at the Greenville News.

The other was Tom Higgins, “Pappy,” larger than life and damned large in life. He and I lost our fathers at the same time, and one day, in a media center, we walked about our dear old dads and what they had meant to us, and from then on, he made sure I was in the fraternity of racing scribes. Steve Waid and Tom were running buddies, and Steve is hurting now and always will a little at his loss. Tom and I were friendly, but I wanted to avoid being too close because I didn’t want to rely too much on Tom for acceptance. I wanted to make my own name.

This sketch wasn’t intentionally drawn to represent Tom Higgins. It wasn’t until after I finished that I realized it “favored” him.

The quick acceptance, though, was crucial. At the time, the racing media was dominated by giants such as Higgins & Waid, not to mention other extraordinary writers: the gruff, eloquent Gerald Martin, folksy Benny Phillips, all-knowing Bob Moore, the well-connected newshen (Dan Jenkins’ term) Deb Williams, the perspicacious Jim McLaurin, the hilarious Larry Woody and his foil Joe Caldwell, the self-assured Ed Hinton, the cynical Ben Blake, the aggressive Mike Mulhern, the persistent Bob Zeller, the courteous Bill Luther, the irreverent Clyde Bolton, the oracle of common sense Conner Gilbert, underappreciated Al Pearce and others I’m shortly going to regret omitting.

They were all hard to beat and harder to outwrite. I felt great pride to circulate among them. I don’t feel nearly as accomplished today. Newspapers were important then, and NASCAR was important to newspapers. A multitude of papers – Atlanta, Charlotte, Daytona Beach, Orlando, Greenville, Spartanburg, Columbia, Florence, Chattanooga, Nashville, Knoxville, Birmingham, Raleigh, Winston-Salem, Roanoke, Richmond, Newport News, High Point, Kannapolis, etc. – sent beat reporters out to track the racers.

After Jimmy Dutton died, a significant regret was not being able to regale him with tales from the road.

Once in New Hampshire, David Green and I picked up Tom at the Bay Side Inn to go to supper. He climbed in the back of David’s rental Taurus, and we started out when Tom demanded that the car be stopped.

“By God, I lost my ass betting on them dogs.” A greyhound track was near the track. “Sorry, boys. I’m a-going to win that money back.”

I expect he did, and if he didn’t, the next day he said he did.

Tom had a booming voice, the kind that immediately turned heads and commanded authority. He was an outdoorsman of renown. If God had ever decided to play Daniel Boone in a movie, He would have sounded like Tom.

That’s Robert Earl Keen Jr., performing behind me and David Poole at Texas Motor Speedway.

The man who succeeded Tom at the Charlotte Observer, David Poole, told a famous story about the time Michael Waltrip survived a crash at Bristol that appeared sure to be fatal. David was on the desk when the phone rang.

“David Poole, Observer Sports.”

“David,” Tom intoned somberly, “Michael Waltrip’s dead.”

“Oh, my,” David said.

“Nope, never mind,” Tom said. “He just climbed out the car. I’ll talk to you later.”

Click.

Tom loved the women, he did. He used that voice to good effect, sitting in the press box on race morning, watching them through his binoculars in their halter tops and floppy hats.

“Merciful God, boys! I want you to look at that filly coming yonder!”

He was courtly, charming and chivalrous in the presence of women, though. It was a different age.

I loved playing golf with Tom. For some reason, I played well when he was along. The same was not true with Poole, who loved golf as much as any man I ever knew. If Poole was playing badly, he’d combust. I once saw him berate a woman raking leaves in her yard because she happened to be standing near the errant location of one of David’s shots.

“What in hell are you looking at?”

Hembree and I made an excuse and left at the turn.

David is gone, and so, too, is Tom. The last race I described in David’s company is a distinct memory.

Tom’s suffered a stroke some time back, and Waid had been keeping many of us up to date on his condition. The word came today that he had succumbed just shy of age 81.

His life was long and productive, crowded with enough vivid adventures to sustain any man. I am more happy at his relief than saddened at his death. His impact on the hereafter will, I expect, be profound. Maybe he’ll tell God some Buddy Baker stories. God will then summon Buddy. Hilarity will ensue.

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

From Monday through Friday, a Kindle download of my fifth novel, Cowboys Come Home, is absolutely free. It’s set in Texas at the end of World War II, and two Marines, Ennis Middlebrooks and Harry Byerly, return home after heroic service in the Pacific.

(Steven Novak cover design)

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country.

My writing on other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

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A Snowball Headed for Hell

Kyle Busch leads a Pocono pack. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, July 30, 2018, 2:42 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

With every week that passes, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season settles in place. Its concrete hardens. Change becomes more unlikely. The story remains the same.

The Chevrolet Camaro is probably not going to win many races this year. It won right out of the box with Austin Dillon’s victory in the Daytona 500. Twenty fruitless attempts have followed. Surely a Camaro, one driven by Kyle Larson, or Chase Elliott, or someone else will win during the final 15 races of the season.

It is likely, and gets likelier with each passing week, that when the playoffs (I hate that term and wish they were called race-offs) begin, nine races will be run to benefit one driver to join three others – Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. – to settle the championship.

Busch celebrates. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

The prospect is not without its appeal, particularly for fans who adore either Busch, Harvick or Truex. Surely their ranks have swelled. Busch is clever. Harvick is canny. Truex is a hell of a guy.

Nixing the designation of the final 10 races as the Chase proved fitting and timely. It’s not going to be much of a chase. It’s not going to be wild. It’s not going to be crazy. It’s going to be appropriate. It’s going to reflect the course of the whole season, one which three men have utterly dominated. They have combined to win 16 races. Another, Clint Bowyer, has won two. Three others – Dillon, Joey Logano and Erik Jones – have combined to win … three.

Other cars, mostly Toyotas and Fords, are fast in fits and starts. Chevrolets are fast in bits and snatches. It seems as if Jimmie Johnson has spent the entire season in seventh place.

Fans who have said all season long that they wouldn’t be surprised if Brad Keselowski, or Denny Hamlin, or Larson, or Elliott, won, would now be surprised.

Busch celebrates some more. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Three drivers have cornered the market. It is fleeting and won’t last forever, but it’s likely going to last until at least the end of the year. Any victory by anyone other than Busch, Harvick or Truex is going to be an upset. If Johnson wins a race, I wonder if Rick Allen will say of a seven-time champion, “David beats Goliath!”

This is where NASCAR is.

Three recent races have been great. The Big Three deserve their status. They are both fast and efficient. One reason for their status is that others who rival them in speed do not rival them in cohesion. It’s not just the drivers. The crew chiefs – Adam Stevens with Busch, Rodney Childers with Harvick and Cole Pearn with Truex – are cool and efficient. The teams have no monopoly, but that’s what it looks like.

The excellence deserves celebration, but from the aerial shots of the grandstands, from TV numbers still getting tinier, and from other observations both scientific and personal, that’s not what it’s getting.

NASCAR is flunking both the multiple-choice and the essay exams, so it grades itself on a curve and keeps taking strikes.

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

From Monday through Friday, a Kindle download of my fifth novel, Cowboys Come Home, is absolutely free. It’s set in Texas at the end of World War II, and two Marines, Ennis Middlebrooks and Harry Byerly, return home after heroic service in the Pacific.

(Steven Novak cover design)

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country.

My writing on other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

Posted in NASCAR | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off on A Snowball Headed for Hell

It’s the Best Cure for What Ails Me

(Pixabay photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, July 28, 2018, 3:08 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

It’s a shame I didn’t feel better. Mookie Betts belted a game-winning, 10th-inning homer to beat the Minnesota Twins, and I felt like death warmed over, which is a hard phrase to understand unless you’re experiencing it.

My latest realization about advancing age is that I can’t handle heat like I used to. As recently as last year, I was fine. This summer I’ve been out in the sweltering heat twice, and both times I got parched like peanuts. Early in the summer, I spent about two and a half hours hanging out watching a half dozen high school football teams playing catch against each other. Seven-on-seven, it’s called. That time I just felt sick for an hour or two, thanks to judicious hydration once I got back to the house.

On Friday morning, I went out to watch the opening practices at Clinton and Laurens District high schools, and it must have been more than the heat. The heat must have just brought out some kind of nefarious infection or virus. I started shivering, so I put on a hoodie to warm myself up. Before long, I was sweating and hot. This also happened when I was trying to sleep.

I don’t often get sick. This I attribute to a daily zinc tablet.

Mookie Betts (Monte Dutton sketch)

If anyone could have relieved my suffering, it was Betts, who has become the most exciting all-around ballplayer I’ve seen since Willie Mays. In fact, in my mind, Betts has become the second coming Mays, and the Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout has become the second coming of Mickey Mantle. It will require longevity for either to cement those observations.

Mookie is magic. He is playful. He smiles a lot. Four nights ago, he came up right after Blake Swihart homered in Baltimore. The Orioles’ pitched yanked a fastball over Betts’ head. As they say, hello! He didn’t point at the Baltimore hurler. He sort motioned at him with his left hand and said something like, Hey, what was that? Then he homered on the next pitch. Mookie has the stuff of legend. Stardust. Oh, how I hope the Red Sox never let him get away. I want that “50” up with the retired numbers above right field at Fenway one day, along with The Kid, Yaz, Doerr, Cronin, Pesky, Rice, Boggs, Pudge, Big Papi and Pedro.

The Red Sox have one of the better defensive outfields I have ever seen. Andrew Benintendi is splendid in left, Jackie Bradley is superlative in center and Mookie is superb in right. The new Boston manager, Alex Cora, gives every player the occasional day off, which means J.D. Martinez sometimes plays in left or right in addition to being most often the designated hitter.

I felt too rotten to enjoy the latest Betts heroics. It was all I could do to stay awake.

A third of the season remains. Going into tonight, Boston’s record is 72-33. It’s the team’s best record at this point of a season since 1946. The Red Sox haven’t won 100 games since that year (when there were eight fewer games). To win 100 this year, Boston has to go 28-29 the rest of the way. It’s entirely possible.

Dustin Pedroia, Boston’s best second baseman since Doerr, has played in three games and may not play in another until next year.

Things are so good, it’s scary. Even after three World Series (2004, 2007, 2013), the Curse of the Bambino is not forgotten. Every day I see social media posts in which Sox fans insist on more pitching and a replacement for 21-year-old, error-prone Rafael Devers at third base.

But they’re 72-33. They have the best record in baseball. They’re five games ahead of the Yankees. Enjoy it while it lasts. There is no telling what the future holds. The American League has three dominant teams: the Red Sox, the Yankees and the Houston Astros.

So far, so good. Now if I can only shake what ails me. It’s absolutely not the Red Sox.

 

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

From Monday through Friday, a Kindle download of my fifth novel, Cowboys Come Home, is absolutely free. It’s set in Texas at the end of World War II, and two Marines, Ennis Middlebrooks and Harry Byerly, return home after heroic service in the Pacific.

(Steven Novak cover design)

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country.

My writing on other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

Posted in Sports | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off on It’s the Best Cure for What Ails Me

It’s All Part of My Bump-and-Run Fantasy

Kevin Harvick celebrates with a burnout after winning the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, July 23, 2018, 2:34 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

I like stock car races that go back and forth in relatively quick succession. Too many of them just go forth.

In this year of contenders and pretenders, the contenders number only three: Kevin Harvick, who won his sixth race of the season in New Hampshire; Kyle Busch, who was won five; and Martin Truex Jr., who has won four. Add in Clint Bowyer, who has twice escaped the pretender class, and four drivers have 17 of the 20 Monster Energy Cup races to date.

Never in recent years, and damned few ever, has the old saying been truer.

The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that is the way to bet.

That sentence began evolving with the Bible, and it has been written, stolen and attributed countless times since. The Bible didn’t include the codicil about the wager.

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

That’s Ecclesiastes 9:11.

Kurt Busch leads a pack of cars. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

New Hampshire Motor Speedway is basically Martinsville, doubled. The odds of a fine race such as the one that transpired after considerable delay in Loudon are greater in southern Virginia because the half-sized track is considerably more crowded, and all the back and forth takes place in closer proximity.

Kevin Harvick went thisaway. Kyle Busch went thataway. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

As the laps wound down, Harvick’s Ford gradually tracked down Busch’s Toyota. With seven to go, Harvick made his bump-and-run perfectly because the bump wasn’t enough to wreck him but it was enough to prevent him from returning the favor.

Busch knew it. Harvick was unrepentant.

Kevin Harvick likely yelled “Busssccchh!” more than once. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

He finished second, didn’t he?” Harvick declared in the form of a question.

Busch conceded that Harvick was faster. His only quibble, and it was a mild one, was that he wished Harvick had tried to pass him cleanly and waited a little longer before resorting to the legal mugging.

Harvick felt he had to rub while the rubbing was good. He was right.

At home, I wished Harvick had waited, too, but that was only because I had picked Busch to win when asked to do so by Phil Kornblut on S.C. SportsTalk on Friday. No big deal. No one ever trained me to predict what happens. My training is in the field of writing what already did.

The rest of the big three finished second and fourth, respectively. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

In this day and age, mindless prognostication gets in the way of partisanship. One reason heroic figures don’t ever get the appropriate credit is that too many viewers are allowing their minds to succumb to whom it is on their so-called “fantasy teams.”

Damn, I love Harvick, but like a fool, I didn’t put him in my lineup this week … so … go, Kyle.

In other words: If my brother drove race cars, and I picked his greatest rival, I wouldn’t mind it if my brother wrecked. I mean, as long as he didn’t get hurt or nothing …

It’s why I don’t bet. It’s why I don’t put athletes on something inexplicably called “a rotisserie.” I’d rather save my fantasies for when I’m asleep.

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country.

My writing on other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

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Here in Topeka

David allegedly slays Goliath. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, July 22, 2018, 8:35 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

It’s rainy outside. It’s rainy in New Hampshire, and I’m thinking of the words to Loretta Lynn’s old song, “One’s on the Way.”

Then there’s Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down.”

From time to time, usually on social media, someone young and tragically hip ridicules the fashions of the past: shorts that were too short, ties that were too wide, an absurd fascination with plaid sportcoats, etc.

Meanwhile, I’m old enough to recall, even as I chuckle at all the mistakes of the past that make me cringe, that, 40 years ago, those duds seemed way cool. It’s all a matter of fashion.

(Monte Dutton photo)

NASCAR went out of fashion.

Back in relative antiquity – oh, circa 2012 – I was considered by some to be an aging radical of the stock car movement.

Remain calm. All is well.

Brad Keselowski unintentionally mimics Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

It’s easy to identify the wide, wide world of excuses why NASCAR has fallen faster than Bill Cosby. There’s no need to list them here. They’ve been listed since the sport topped off in the middle of the last decade, tilted downhill and picked up speed like Merle Haggard’s “snowball headed for hell.” I tried to address them with two stock car racing novels, Lightning in a Bottle and Life Gets Complicated, in 2017.

Now I’ve become a sad voice of moderation. I still watch the races. I still like the sport. I liked it better in the 1990s. I must not be too off base. America liked it, too.

Old-time fans grew disillusioned. Kids determined it was no longer lit. The sport’s crack marketers opted for a policy of denial. They stopped divulging unimportant details such as how much money everyone made and how many people were watching. TV announcers became cheerleaders. Hyperbole works so much better when satirical. When NBC’s Rick Allen screamed “David beats Goliath!” at the end of Saturday’s Xfinity Series race, it sounded as if he was serious.

Christopher Bell celebrates. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Had I not started laughing at the equating of the mildly impressive with the biblical, I might have dwelt on the impressive abilities of young Christopher Bell.

Oh, the TV announcers, they try. Lord, how they try to whip up chicken salad from … hmm … in the interest of civility … hardboiled eggs.

The race didn’t need chicken salad. It was fried chicken on its own merits.

This blog is being written in anticipation of alternating between the British Open, Chris Sale pitching for the Red Sox in Detroit and checking back to see if it’s still raining in Loudon. NBC Sports will attempt to keep me there by means of the pulse-quickening anticipation of seeing which T-shirt Dale Earnhardt Jr. is wearing and which cap he’s got on backwards.

Someone important probably thinks the kids will love it because they have “short attention spans.” Here’s what I know. A kid who can play a video game for longer than it takes Tiger Woods to play his round at Carnoustie does not have a short attention span.

Someone important thinks auto racing, among the more technologically advanced of the world’s spectator pastimes, is a casualty of technology.

The technology is oppressive. It’s the presentation that is being dumbed to death.

 

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country.

My writing on other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Life is like a heap of boiled peanuts, though I don’t know exactly why. (Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, July 20, 2018, 3:51 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

I hate the All-Star Break. The game’s fine, though I didn’t get to watch it this year because I was watching Laurens City Council go into executive session and then two men debating whether or not the county’s two public school districts ought to be combined.

The City Council took no action when it emerged, and Districts 55 and 56 aren’t going to be combined any time soon. They almost were earlier this year, but I’m not going into those complications right now. I enjoyed watching the debate, which one of the debaters said was really “a forum.” A funny thing happened on the way to the forum: I didn’t get to watch the All-Star Game.

Things seem a bit out of kilter. (Monte Dutton photo)

Baseball often makes up the background of my day. Afternoon games are on while I’m writing something like this. I don’t pay close attention. In general, I just look up when announcers start yelling and/or crowds start yelling. Other backgrounds that I like are the constant drone of fans during World Cup matches and, the past two days, the martial music and quiet remarks emanating from the Scottish golf course called Carnoustie through the miracle of TV.

The Boston Red Sox resume at 7 p.m. When last I watched the Red Sox – they’ve been my favorite baseball team since I was nine years old – they had won 12 out of 13 and 17 out of 20. At the moment, all that could possibly be better for the Red Sox would be Dustin Pedroia playing in more than three games this year and Eduardo Rodriguez not hurting his right ankle.

(Monte Dutton photo)

It’s hard to beat a 68-30 record and a 4-1/2-game lead over the New York Yankees. In fact, no other team beats it. Nothing teaches the merits of enjoying good times while they last than being a fan of the Battlin’ Bosox of the Fens.

It’s a long season that has so far been marvelous. It’s nice to have a baseball team in Boston to keep me passionate about something.

For 20 years, life revolved around NASCAR. Comparatively, it seems rather gentle on my mind these days. I still follow it closely. It remains important to me, but the sinking feeling is oppressive. It’s the same feeling I have about most of the world.

(Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Football season will soon be here. Today I have buried myself in relatively menial tasks because I lack the motivation to do anything particularly creative. I value the televised background – Columbo reruns, the Open, a World Cup without the United States, old movies – because it helps me bide my time against the more significant backdrop of politics. The tone of this week was set by two men standing behind podiums in Helsinki on Monday.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I’m awaiting the will again. I can’t help but repeat the same phrase over and over in the privacy of my mind.

Nothing. Ever. Works.

It seems as if it’s the Red Sox and I against the world.

 

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country.

My writing on other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

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NASCAR Needs Others to Pick Up the Pace

Crew members push the Toyota of Martin Truex Jr., which then won everything but the land-speed record. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, July 15, 2018, 11:04 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Who could possibly dislike Martin Truex Jr.? He’s a pleasant fellow who laughs easily, gives to charity, is kind and agreeable to those around him, and, most pertinent to the subject at hand, drives a Toyota somewhat Camry with great verve.

Fans who dislike Truex mostly do so for lateral reasons. They don’t like Toyotas, or they don’t like people from New Jersey, or they don’t like Truex preventing their own favorite drivers from winning. They hold it against Truex when he does what he is supposed to do, which is to win races without being unduly concerned about stinking up the show.

A stunk-up show tends to reduce the variables that can prevent a deserving driver from winning.

On Saturday night, near the banks of the Ohio River, in front of crowds of fans and television viewers whose numbers were not the best, Truex put a garish whipping on the rest of NASCAR’s best and fastest.

Kevin Harvick pits during the Quaker State 400. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Truex was really good, and, without any blame in the matter, made many others look bad by comparison. He was suitably sheepish.

Really, the last three years [I]have been just having the time of my life, and [I’m] just lucky to have great people around us, a great car owner,” he said. “Barney Visser gives us all the tools we need, and [we’ve had] great partners throughout the years to continue to build this team up.

They call it The Streak.(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

[I] just feel really lucky. I’ve been on the other side of it before, where teams were struggling and struggled to get in position to win races, and having a lot of things kind of going against you and kind of fighting that uphill battle, so it’s amazing to be on this side of it. I can’t tell you how proud I am of all the guys on our team and what they’ve done, and I honestly just enjoy every single one of these wins like it’s my first because you never know when they’re going to come to an end. You never know when you’re going to have your last one. You never know what’s going to happen next. [I’m] just trying to ride the wave of momentum and enjoy it all, and my team is just so bad-ass, I can’t even explain it. They’re amazing. [I’m] really lucky to be a part of that.”

Among people and entities made to look bad by Truex were other drivers and teams, NASCAR commercials that led fans to believe the race was going to be something akin to an action-adventure film, announcers trying desperately to make it look like anyone else could plausibly win and television viewers wishing they had dropped by the liquor store on Saturday afternoon.

Martin Truex Jr. won for the fourth time. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Truex led only 174 out of 267 laps, mostly because occasionally, he had to pit, and sometimes he didn’t make it out of the pits first.

On Twitter, a frequent refrain was, NASCAR has to do something!

(Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

No, it doesn’t. NASCAR has done quite enough. Other teams have to do something. In the movie True Grit, after Rooster Cogburn shoots a rat dead in the presence of young Mattie Ross of Dardanelle in Yell County, Ark., she tells the tomcat in Cogburn’s untidy abode, “This is supposed to be your job,” and she could have been sitting in the Kentucky Speedway grandstands.

It’s not Truex every week. Sometimes it’s Kyle Busch. Sometimes it’s Kevin Harvick. Twice it’s even been Clint Bowyer. Three drivers have combined to win 14 of the season’s 18 races, and five have won 16 of them.

Victory lanes have had the level of privacy this year normally associated with Mount Rushmore.

 

 

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country. Beginning on Monday and running through Friday, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is available for a free Kindle download.

My writing on local sports, writing, books, and other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

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