Shock and Awe

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

If statues had feelings, the one outside Bailey Memorial Stadium would have been proud. (Monte Dutton)
If statues had feelings, the one outside Bailey Memorial Stadium would have been proud. (Monte Dutton)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, September 14, 2014, 1:02 p.m.

I can bookend the Presbyterian College football victories over Furman University, my alma mater, at least the two most recent.

Both games were at night. The former was at Sirrine Stadium, where now the Greenville High Red Raiders play. The latter was at Bailey Memorial Stadium. There was another back then, but the current one is somewhere between a quarter and a half mile away. Thirty-four complete seasons took place in between. The Blue Hose won by a score of 17-10 in 1979. On Saturday night, the score was 10-7. The Paladins won fifteen in a row in between. In 1979, I was a senior at Furman, on the sidelines as a team manager. Last night I was in the press box, writing about the game for a nearby paper. In between, I wrote about high schools, small colleges, minor league baseball, local auto racing, and, most notably, NASCAR, for six newspapers. I also spent three years working at Furman.

They are my two favorite college football teams, one my school and the other my town. At the moment, both are 2-1. Both are in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision, which is to say they are not among the monied elite. They are in separate conferences. Furman is Southern; Presbyterian is Big South.

The Blue Hose? They're fighting Scots, seldom more so than Saturday night. (Monte Dutton)
The Blue Hose? They’re fighting Scots, seldom more so than Saturday night. (Monte Dutton)

Now that I have avoided the obvious for three paragraphs … I love the Paladins and Blue Hose, but I hate it when they play. I’m happy for PC. They have already played Northern Illinois (3-55). Next week they visit North Carolina State. Later on they face Ole Miss. Theirs is a backbreaking schedule. Blood is thicker than water, though ours is exceptional here in Clinton. I’m glad the Blue Hose won a game like this, but if I’d had my druthers, it would have been against some other school, one like Wofford or The Citadel.

Lightning and thunder were in the air. Rain fell in sheets. It was nearly nine when the game started and 11:30 when it was over. Fog infested the field for most of the second half and the Furman offense for the whole game. The Paladins guarded a lead for roughly three quarters. They went up 7-0 early and fell behind 10-7 late. For the final eight minutes and fifteen seconds, the offense could do almost nothing, and left almost alone to its own devices, the defense was good but ultimately not good enough.

Nothing in the outcome was unjust. A blind man could have seen that Presbyterian deserved to win.

Back in 1979, I didn’t take it well. I remember a man I knew from Clinton ragging me unmercifully on the Sirrine Stadium field afterwards. It’s a wonder I didn’t do something stupid. Instead, I just acted stupid.

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

Now I occasionally, though not often enough, ponder the phenomenon of wisdom. Not much happens that I haven’t seen before. Many years in press boxes have thickened my skin and boosted my professional reserve. The story, written on oppressive deadline, had to be fair and give credit where it was due. At breakneck speed, I did the best I could.

It was such a great story, I wish I’d had time to write it. Occasionally, I’m a writer, but most of the time, I’m just a glorified typist.

Was the drama and the experience of seeing it worth the dampening of the heart?

Almost. But not quite.

Last night, I was talking to a Presbyterian alum who mentioned in passing the place where he and his friends drank beer back in the sixties. I told him there’s a beer joint a good bit like that place in my novel, The Intangibles, which is set in a town a good bit like this one.

The Show, Unadvertised

This was before the deluge. (Monte Dutton)
This was before the deluge. (Monte Dutton)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, September 13, 2014, 11:14 a.m.

Every cloud has a silver lining, it is inexplicably said.

Lightning? Not so much. It’s solid, fluorescent white, or perhaps silver, or maybe yellow. It’s gone so quickly. Who can properly consider the palette?

Here in town, the plan was to have a football game between the high schools of Clinton and Woodruff. I had a plan to write about it. As it turned out, the action, the color, the spectacle, all came as a result of Mother Nature’s Traveling Salvation Show, not to be confused with Neil Diamond’s Brother Love, other than that’s where I got it.

I watched the only show available from an enclosed facility high above Wilder Stadium and Richardson Field. There are probably better places to be in an electrical storm, but I couldn’t think of one closer than my truck, and they let me stay, and I’m sure I was safer than a couple dozen Woodruff partisans across the way who chose to take their chances in aluminum stands until they, too, were finally dissuaded.

Most wasted time doesn’t have to be. The best may not match expectations, but it’s still makeable.

I talked books with a retired teacher and coach. As the thunder rolled and the lightning crashed, Connie Hodges and I talked about Pat Conroy, James Michener, John Gresham, John Steinbeck, Tom Wolfe, John Irving, Elmore Leonard, Dick Francis, Larry McMurtry, Louis L’Amour, Wallace Stegner, Ken Kesey, and several others I cannot now recall.

Word later arrived that the game would not be played until Saturday at 7 p.m., perfectly overlapping a college game, Furman-Presbyterian, about which I am slated to write. The lights of two stadia, only a couple miles apart by route of crow, will be shining at the same time.

Coach Hodges headed on home. It took me a few minutes to get this laptop turned off and to pack my various cords, pads, binoculars, and other items from journalism’s pro shop. I hoisted my mini-umbrella, made my way carefully down the concrete steps, and headed with my coupon to the Hardee’s drive-through. I ended up watching the Red Sox win, and the Giants were ahead of the Dodgers when I tumbled off to sleep.

My novel, The Intangibles, is a tale of the sixties, the South, civil rights, bigotry, and high school football.

Chase Expectations

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

"Hey, Jimmie, how'd that pit-crew swap thing work out for you?" (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet)
“Hey, Jimmie, how’d that pit-crew swap thing work out for you?” (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet)

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, September 11, 2014, 1:01 p.m.

Chicagoland, which must seem a bit more like McDonaldland this week, is far, far away, and I’m grateful. Mayor McCheese has rolled out his Battle of the Nations campaign, and heavy security is in place to make sure some Hamburglar doesn’t make off with the goodies.

Think that’s a bit much? Okay. Explain Dinger Nation.

"Okay, one more time. G'day, mate. How's that?" (Getty Images for NASCAR)
“Okay, one more time. G’day, mate. How’s that?” (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Words can ill describe my opinion of how silly this is, but it’s my duty to God and country to try. I suppose I could write a story on how Marcos Ambrose didn’t make the Chase, but Aric Almirola is all conflicted about being Cuba, and being Ambrose’s teammate, he’s picked up a solid Aussie dialect, so he gets to be Australia.

Highbrow stuff, based on an old Keystone Kops silent flick.

"Vive le France! And ze fried chicken!" (HHP/Christa L. Thomas for Chevrolet)
“Vive le France! And ze fried chicken!” (HHP/Christa L. Thomas for Chevrolet)

It’s a world war, this new and improved Chase for the Sprint Cup. The winner of the first race gets to be Austria-Hungary because the fans are Hungary for war. Or maybe it’s the American Revolution. Kevin Harvick’s been reinforced by Hessians, as Tony Stewart’s pit crew is viewed in the proper historical context. Of course, Stewart-Haas Racing is spinning the pit crew as the forces of Lafayette. They’re not French, but they have been approved by Frances. You know. The Talking Mule.

"Follow the yellow brick road!" (Getty Images for NASCAR)
“Follow the yellow brick road!” (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Why is there no home edition? EA Sports, you know, is in the game. A.J. Allmendinger could be the foot-tall linebacker.

Okay. Silly promotion. Silly remarks from me to match. I can’t wait to watch Allen Bestwick try to make this seem glib.

Yuk, yuk, yuk.

1:19 p.m.

Last night, I was on a talk show. I think it was a podcast. My friend Al Pearce handled the questions. I was apparently one of several who, in addition to offering valuable and entertaining analysis, made picks.

I’m pretty sure I picked Jimmie Johnson to win. Duh. He may not, but I don’t see any getting around his being the favorite. Who is likelier to master a new nutty format than the six-time champion and his loyal mad scientist who have already mastered the previous, gradually less nutty, formats?

"We have ways of obtaining valuable information. Perhaps you can assist us." (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR)
“We have ways of obtaining valuable information. Perhaps you can assist us.” (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Somewhere Chad Knaus, amid the buzz of blue electric impulses, screeches, “It’s aliiiiive!”

I’ve never felt confident, though, in my gifts of prophecy. My training is in describing what already happened. I’d feel more confident in the ability of a groundhog to pick the champion. At least one groundhog has lots of experience. I don’t know whether it’s a shared attribute in others of the species or not.

At the same time, when someone asks me a question, I’ll try to answer as best I can even if I don’t have any idea. After all, I am on Twitter, and I’ve got a blog.

What surprises me is that everyone seems to pick a Final Four made up of the best drivers. Hahahahaha.

The Final Four will be like guests on a late-night talk show: “Tonight we’ve got Bill Murray, ladies and gentlemen! The great Bruce Springsteen! The lovely, the talented Scarlett Johannson! And the noted turtle psychologist Dr. Manfred Von Dithers!”

1:37 p.m.

Let’s analyze the format. It’s pretty simple. Here are the key points.

Anyone can win whose last name doesn’t begin in “A.” If Johnson wins again, he’ll have to spend 2015 on the island of Elba.

Don't forget. Nationwide is on his side. (HHP/Alan Marler for Chevrolet)
Don’t forget. Nationwide is on his side. (HHP/Alan Marler for Chevrolet)

This format was the only one that would have produced a Dale Earnhardt Jr. championship last year, based on “doing the models” or “the metrics” or “the optics.” Something. Well, it wasn’t the only one, but the others all involved the use of either drones or robotic cameras on guide wires. The Flying Wallendas said no.

How about a strategy? Whoever winds up with the most green stamps will probably claim he had a strategy afterwards, but it seems pretty straightforward to me. Try to win or finish as best as possible, unless you mess up, or you have bad luck, and then try to win at all costs, meaning that you’ve got some plan based on not having to pit when everyone else does near the end, if everything goes just right and someone is on the grassy knoll with tires that have been soaked from the inside.

1:51 p.m.

This format is likely to please conspiracy theorists. Too many possibilities, permutations, plausibilities, and those are just the “P’s,” are inherent in the roulette wheel. The potential conspiracies are three-dimensional: drivers, manufacturers, and, most notably, teams.

Some driver who has been eliminated, or wasn’t ever in it (they still exist, you know), is going to wreck another driver and eliminate him, and yet another driver is going to advance, and he’s going to just happen to be a teammate, or driving the same make of car. The, uh, bomber might even have, gasp, a vendetta against the guy he wrecks.

Even if it’s just because of a mistake, it’s not going to look that way.

I see the possibility of no wrongdoing, but I don’t see the possibility of the great, uh, Nation believing a word of it. The reason: the end of the latest Age of Innocence, Richmond 2013.

“He didn’t do that on purpose, Sluggo. What did he have to gain?”

“Perhaps you’ve forgotten, Barbie. He’s a Mason, intent on world domination and also acting on instructions handed down by a secret consortium of international bankers meeting in Zurich.”

The best-case scenario would be for whatever happens to help Junior win. Winners get to write the history, and who knew Rick Hendrick did his banking in Zurich?

I can’t take it all seriously, but, then again, I seldom have.

For fiction more believable than NASCAR, read my novels, The Audacity of Dope and The Intangibles. They’re available at the virtual souvenir rig at amazon.com, and they’ll deliver it to your Kindle for might-near nothing if you ask real nice.

Musing on the Mess

Perhaps I could use some reflection. (Monte Dutton photo)
Perhaps I could use some reflection. (Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, September 9, 2014, 9:26 a.m.

I thought about Ray Rice and domestic violence and the National Football League and the greater society, and I’m still not sure where to start and where to finish.

I also thought about privacy and whether or not a couple have a right to resolve their own problems and how far that right extends. I spent more time considering the eyes of God than the eyes of the law.

It's me, it's me, it's Monte D.
It’s me, it’s me, it’s Monte D.

Yet I have no answers, and it seems as if I’m one of the few. It seems odd that a Baltimore Ravens running back’s heinous act of aggression has the effect of making everyone who hears of it more aggressive.

Why is Rice not in jail? Why does Roger Goodell (NFL commissioner) still have a job? Why did the media not report this better? Who saw the video and when?

Inquiring minds want to know. Inquiring minds want blood. Are inquiring minds in the same hysterical fury as the man and his then-fiancee in the Atlantic City elevator?

I don’t mean to defend Rice. What he did was awful, and he compounded his errors by apparently basing everything afterwards on protecting his career and money and not telling the truth. He deserves to be punished.

What we don’t know is whether or not it revealed a pattern of behavior or one in which a man did something in the heat of anger that he would never have done otherwise. There seems to be an assumption that a pattern existed without actual evidence of it. People treat celebrities as if they know them, even though they don’t.

A fundamental question that ought to be considered is: Do they have the right to settle their own problems?

Last week, at a football game, I had a conversation with a friend in law enforcement, and the subject was the double-edged sword of celebrity. It was about an incident that occurred locally, not Ray and Janay Rice. We came to some agreement that being a celebrity has its benefits. Sometimes the authorities – and, well, most everyone else, too – look the other way when there is star power. One possible reason is they don’t want the hassle. Might can make right. A cop had better be ready if he alleges that, oh, a famous person, be he an athlete, a boss, the governor, a judge, etc., has done wrong.

Sometimes, if an incident becomes well known, the opposite occurs, and the incident involving the celebrity becomes, literally, a cause célèbre. At that point, all bets are off. The big shot may become an example. Justice may then be skewed toward overreaction.

I’m not claiming it happened here. I don’t know the whole story. No video camera can unlock the workings of the mind. It can only provide images of what happens while it is trained on the subjects.

No one is right. Not the Rices. Not the NFL. Not the police. Not the media. All the mistakes coalesced into a snowball headed to hell, to paraphrase no less an authority than Merle Haggard.

Are we rolling downhill like a snowball headed to hell?

Yes. That we have established.

Ray Rice deserves to be punished. Perhaps he doesn’t deserve to be crucified. Many people who ostensibly believe in Christian values don’t seem to believe in the doctrine of forgiveness.

I’m expending too many words in vain here. This is a convoluted way of expressing what I just don’t know. The purpose of a blog should be to make a point, but at about five this morning, I awakened and had a hard time getting back to sleep because my mind was fixated on a matter involving a man and woman that I don’t know.

In that regard, I’m like everyone else, and, guilty, too, if only to the crime of human nature. It’s only possible to ask “what if?” about that which we do not know.

That Old-Time Football Is Good Enough for Me

The men of PC walk down to the stadium. This was taken in 2013. (Monte Dutton photo)
The men of PC walk down to the stadium. This was taken in 2013. (Monte Dutton photo)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, September 7, 2014, 2:17 p.m.

A friend called this morning to offer his analysis of last night’s Furman victory (25-20) over Mercer, which, I’m sure, is a burning issue for all you readers. He watched the game on ESPN3 while I was watching part of the Presbyterian College victory (69-14) over Bluefield in person and part of the NASCAR race on TV.

Oh, boy, that was one of my better decisions.

Furman is my alma mater. Presbyterian is the hometown school. The former played in Macon, Georgia, the latter two miles from my house. Mercer is coached by a former Paladin head coach and quarterback, Bobby Lamb. I wish the Bears well every other game.

Next week the Paladins and Blue Hose play each other two miles away. Hmm. Guess where I’ll be.

My friend played at Furman. I just watched. “The game has changed,” he said. I agreed.

The Paladins at South Carolina State last year. (Monte Dutton photo)
The Paladins at South Carolina State last year. (Monte Dutton photo)

Furman is 2-0, with victories over Gardner-Webb (13-3) and Mercer. Presbyterian is an erratic 1-1, having lost to Northern Illinois (3-55) and defeated Bluefield, which has yielded a mere 131 points in its two contests to date. Northern Illinois and Bluefield are as comparable as the Seattle Seahawks and the Bad News Bears, but a cursory glance at the Blue Hose schedule reveals few opportunities to frolic, and a good time was had by all save the smattering of Bluefield followers.

On the field, by and large, they had the blues.

In the parking lot, I had the jello shots.

Next week I must exercise considerable diplomacy. I like PC, but I do not want them to defeat or even play the Paladins closely. Ideally, Furman will win, oh, about 24-7, and it will be comfortable and yet classy. The Blue Hose almost beat the Paladins last year. Strangely, I think it turned Furman’s entire season around.

Bailey Memorial Stadium should be fairly crowded when Furman comes to town. (Monte Dutton photo)
Bailey Memorial Stadium should be fairly crowded when Furman comes to town. (Monte Dutton photo)

I share my old friend’s complaints about modern football. Offensive linemen are strong and huge, so much so that they seem unable to get in a decent stance or leave any doubt whatsoever as to where they are going and whether they aim to instigate the run or the pass. Shotgun quarterbacks hand the ball to a back standing still next to them, making most every run look like a draw. I miss a time when runners hit the line hard, linemen “came off the ball,” men were men, and, apocryphally, sheep nervous.

I like old-fashioned football because I am old, and the present version of the game is not what I came to know and love as a young man. Change is inevitable, and so, to, is resistance to it. This isn’t the football of “my day,” and that’s because my day has been a while.

By the way, I still love football. I’m just nostalgic, and who at my age isn’t? I’ve been singing the All in the Family theme a lot lately and substituting my own words.

Boy, the way Gale Sayers played / Kickers kicked it straightaway / Monsters of the Midway / Those were the days / The way it was when you were there / Lombardi kept his teams prepared / Mister, we could use a man like Alex Karras again / Didn’t need no “in the grasp” / Deacon Jones could kick some ass / Unitas knew the forward pass / Those were the days!

Okay, here’s the plan. I’m going to wear purple. Lots of friends will gently chide me for it, and I’ll goodnaturedly say I’m a Furman man, take the Paladin stand, but that’s what a Blue Hose man wants me to do because, deep down, he’d think less of me if I wasn’t true to my school.

Unlike the government, I think we can all get along. And I’m not above a conciliatory blue jello shot in the name of sportsmanship and bonhomie.

There’s a lot of old-time tackle football in my novel, The Intangibles, set amid the tumult of the sixties. Buy a copy today.

Mistaken Impressions, Mostly

This was a barn, once upon a time. (Monte Dutton)
This was a barn, once upon a time. (Monte Dutton)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, September 5, 2014, 10:25 a.m.

 

Mama needs her medicine / She’s got that real bad cough / We’ll get our check on Monday / Tell ol’ Sam we’ll pay him off / You can catch a ride when you get to the black top road / Don’t forget the coffee, Billy Joe.

  • Tom T. Hall

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

 

Many were the things I thought I knew when I was but a lad.

I didn’t know the New York Yankees’ uniforms were navy blue and white. I’m sure I was in high school before I realized they weren’t black and white. The first reason I disliked the Yankees was that they fired Yogi Berra as manager when I was six. The second was that my father liked the Boston Red Sox. The third was that they were named Yankees. The fourth was the Red Sox’ Impossible Dream when I was nine. The relationship deteriorated more and more, the older I got.

 

The Silver Fox, David Pearson, circa 1977.
The Silver Fox, David Pearson, circa 1977.

I thought Willie Mays, Carl Yastrzemski, Johnny Unitas, Jim Brown, Dick Butkus (whom my sister called Buck Ditkus), Jerry West, David Pearson, A.J. Foyt, Jack Nicklaus, Rod Laver and Bobby Hull had super powers. I read comic books, so it was a nice transition from the Justice League of America.

Now that I am older and wiser, I realize that Mays, Unitas, Brown, and Pearson were really the only ones with super powers. The rest were like Batman.

 

I thought Michael Landon was the greatest actor who ever lived because he was Little Joe Cartwright.

I thought maybe, just maybe, Shane might come back. Several days later. After the closing credits.

I thought the world’s greatest author was Walter Farley, who wrote the Black Stallion novels.

I could imitate Clem Kadiddlehopper and recite the alphabet to the theme of High Chaparral where it ended just right. I still consider this a great accomplishment.

Surely, I thought, Nixon was innocent. He couldn’t have known. He was the president.

 

I thought it odd that Granddaddy always became ill at Christmas.

I thought everyone licked his lips while drinking. That’s because Daddy did. “Chp, chp. Chp, chp. How was the movie, Monte boy? Chp, chp, chp, chp.”

Pepsi was a soft drink. So was Orange Crush. Fresca, though, was “a chaser,” and the bottle in the brown paper bag under the seat of the truck was “a little something to knock the chill off.”

It seemed perfectly natural to hop in the back of a truck and “go see the fire.”

 

Lots of people smoked, but only kids in high school and college smoked lefthanded. I didn’t know why, but that’s what I heard. Those cigarettes were funny, probably because they were rolled by hand.

“Gay” and “queer” did not mean then what they mean now. Calling something “transparent” was not a compliment; it meant you could see right through it. Notoriety wasn’t good, either. Charles Manson had notoriety.

I was shocked to learn there were places where hot dogs did not automatically have chili. The first place I knew was Atlanta Stadium.

I never thought I’d drink beer or diet soft drinks. Tab was awful. Diet Rite, too.

My favorite food was “hamburgeroni.” My mother made a casserole with layers of crumbled hamburger, powdered potatoes, cheese, and, yes, catsup. We had it every Sunday night while watching Bonanza.

 

Now, of course, the world has gone to hell. I can’t remember the last time I had cornbread crumbled up in buttermilk. I was modern in some ways, though. I never salted the watermelon.

 

I seldom predict change correctly. If someone had brought me a Playstation when I was twelve, I would’ve said, “This is stupid. Why would you do this when you can actually go outside and really play football? Who wants to use a joystick? We got cap pistols!”

 

Reminiscences of days gone by are featured in my novel, The Intangibles, though more of them are of a serious nature.

Raise the Kahne!

Atlanta Motor Speedway: Into the Night. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
Atlanta Motor Speedway: Into the Night. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, September 1, 2014, 11:15 a.m.

There’s got to be a morning after, and the first waking thought here was, why the hell can’t Kasey Kahne win the Sprint Cup championship?

All it takes is a win. Then, who knows?

This Chase is going to be wild. Coyotes are wild, but there isn’t as much howling. NASCAR officials are always behind. What they want is a video game. What they’re going to get is a pinball machine. It’s going to be a Chase Mack Sennett would appreciate, or a screwball comedy, a la Preston Sturges.

Google, folks, google.

Now Kasey Kahne can get serious about the Chase. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
Now Kasey Kahne can get serious about the Chase. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Invariably, the victory produced a stream of tweets and one-liners about Kahne’s supposed legion of squealing, teeny-bopper fans. He’s thirty-four. The Biebs is outgrowing his fans. Kahne is, by comparison, ancient history, and if not, it’s kind of creepy. Nowadays, ladies want to just pinch his cheeks. No one charges him with a pair of scissors, demanding a lock of hair, anymore.

My God. It’s obvious he shaves.

Why is it that more people have forgotten Kahne’s rare skills than his apple cheeks? Probably because the aging joke about his lack of age is easier than pondering all the opportunities and predictions that have dissipated into pitiless ether.

‘I’ before ‘E,’ except after ‘C,’ and also in words such as ‘neighbor’ and ‘weigh.’

Nothing ever works for Kasey Kahne.

“I before E” has its exceptions, and sometimes races work for Kahne.

In NASCAR, there’s no “win or go home.” In NASCAR, it’s win or you still have to hang around. It’s like spending ten years on death row just to get in line for the hanging.

“So it was kind of like you just know that you have to win,” Kahne said.

Like, yeah.

“It was all that I could think about. I knew Atlanta was a better opportunity for myself (translation, ‘me’) to win at than Richmond. I feel better here than I do at Richmond, but we ran pretty good at Richmond earlier in the year, so that could be a good track for us.”

Kahne could have said, “Now Richmond means nothing to me,” but he didn’t because he seldom says anything snappy, and it’s not nice to fool Mother NASCAR.

“But I just knew that tonight was, you know, we needed it,” he added. “When I came off turn four, and I could see the checkered [flag], right there is the first time I knew I was in The Chase and it’s such a relief …”

Kevin Harvick: So close and yet so fast.  (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)
Kevin Harvick: So close and yet so fast. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)

Naturally, of course, Kahne’s beneficiary was Kevin Harvick, who has anchored more mysteries than Ellery Queen. Harvick has won twice this year. How many could he have won? Ten? Twelve? How many should he have won? Six? At least.

Until the final scenes – and surely there will be a “director’s cut” on DVD – Harvick was riding Seabiscuit against a posse of Adam Sandlers going to the whip on Gus the Kicking Mule. Then, as if by the whim of Merlin, Harvick couldn’t catch Kahne, or a cold, either, for that matter.

Kahne wouldn’t have won had it not been for a second overtime. The race went ten extra laps. The opportunity he needed was caused, in part, by Harvick, who crashed on a restart and wound up nineteenth in a race he paced for fifty-eight percent of the distance.

“Well,” said Harvick, “you just have to ride through it and do the best you can. You can’t control all the circumstances … It’s just unfortunate … that everything went the way it did, but what do you do?”

If Harvick bought a lottery ticket, he’d have to pay them a million bucks.

Thanks for clicking. At wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, my short stories admit to having no basis in fact.

Hope Springs Early

Paladin Stadium, Greenville, S.C. (Monte Dutton photo)
Paladin Stadium, Greenville, S.C. (Monte Dutton photo)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, August 31, 2014, 11:15 a.m.

In college football on Saturday, 3,328 points were scored. I saw sixteen of them, well, in a stadium. Come to think of it, maybe those didn’t count. They were in an FCS game, Gardner-Webb at Furman. FCS stands for Football Championship Subdivision. FBS is Football Bowl Subdivision, even though the big schools now have a championship.

(Monte Dutton photo)
(Monte Dutton photo)

It’s vexing, I know.

Furman won the game, 13-3, and lost the quarterback, Reese Hannon. The Paladin defense was exceptional, playing against type on a weekend in which points were generally easy to come by.

The best time of any sports season is the beginning. From here on out, the ranks thin. By the end, we’re interested but, in most cases, the passion has been drained by the loss, somewhere along the way, of our favorites. Ultimate triumph is rare, even among the craven lot of those who base their choices on whom they expect to win.

Or maybe they’re the smart ones.

Sentiments tilt most of us toward those with whom we have invested our souls. We are true to our schools, most notably when they win.

A few minutes before kickoff. (Monte Dutton photo)
A few minutes before kickoff. (Monte Dutton photo)

Things are often not as they seem. The two goliaths of this state took slingshots to the noggin. Before both games, I heard skilled analysts proclaim that the great strengths of South Carolina and Clemson were their stalwart defenses. The Gamecocks surrendered fifty-two points, the Tigers forty-five. They had stalwart sieves.

They’ll do better. Defense is possible. I saw it in Greenville. The Bulldogs of Gardner-Webb are hardly the Bulldogs of Georgia, but the skills are relative. Some big school will undoubtedly play defense this year. I’m sure of it.

My short stories and thoughts about writing are regularly displayed at wellpilgrim.wordpress.com. At the moment, I’m three installments into a short story with a baseball theme.

Tony Stewart Is Not Alone

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Tony Stewart is back, and he should be. He must be. (HHP photo for Chevrolet)
Tony Stewart is back, and he should be. He must be. (HHP photo for Chevrolet)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, August 29, 2014, 1:59 p.m.

“When the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, He writes not that you won or lost, but how you played the game.” – Grantland Rice (1880-1954)

On Thursday, I met an old friend for lunch, and, naturally, the subject of Tony Stewart came up.

“If that had been anyone else – if it had been another driver at that track, or even if it had been Landon Cassill, or Brian Scott – do you think, what, the story would have been over by Wednesday?”

“Well,” I said, “it wasn’t. It was Tony Stewart.”

Stewart (14) races Martin Truex Jr. at Bristol on March 16. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)
Stewart (14) races Martin Truex Jr. at Bristol on March 16. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)

It’s the price of being famous. It’s market value. Stories linger when inquiring minds want to know. When Stewart was a young star, he often railed about the obligations of stardom. “I just want to race,” he said. “I didn’t sign up for all this other stuff.”

“Well, then, why do you do it?” someone asked.

“I’ve got no choice.”

“Sure you do,” replied the questioner. “You can choose not to be famous. You can race sprint cars the rest of your life. If you don’t want the obligations, give up what goes with them.”

Stewart didn’t have a reply. He desperately wanted to think of himself as somehow all alone, but he knew he wasn’t.

More than a decade has passed. The great crisis of Stewart’s life occurred while he was racing without all the obligations.

Today I’ve heard several people express the view that no else has had to go through this. How utterly ridiculous. My guess is that most everyone who reads this has been touched by indescribable sorrow. A kid is in a crash that snuffs out the life of a friend or loved one. A coach orders wind sprints in which one of his players collapses and dies. A dad gives his son a shotgun, or a four-wheeler, or, yes, a race car, and something awful happens.

Tony Stewart practices for a race in which didn't compete: Watkins Glen. Fate intervened. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
Tony Stewart practices for a race in which didn’t compete: Watkins Glen. Fate intervened. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

No one survives a tragedy without contemplating what he or she could have done to avert it. The split second has already elapsed. It cannot be revisited. No good comes from the ruination of more lives. People move on as best they can. It’s a terrible price to pay for becoming a better man, but if there is a reason for the mysterious ways in which we believe God works, that has to be it, and, ultimately, Stewart’s obligation now is to save himself.

Another stage in the grief process is the understanding that no one is unique. People lose their loved ones to war, poverty, drug abuse, violence, insanity, suicide, and the accident of being in the wrong place, and the wrong state of mind, at the wrong time.

What separates Tony Stewart are the obligations of fame and the attention they entail.

People mistakenly believe that success makes people better. It doesn’t. It’s enjoyable, and wonderful, but one’s character is molded by how he or she reacts to the worst things that happen, not the best. It makes some and breaks others.

That is the reason Tony Stewart must race again. It’s not a matter of sensitivity. It’s not one of consideration or obligation. It’s one of survival.

What Stewart signed up for was being a racer. Like all rose gardens, it has its thorns.

Okay, Fine, but It Still Doesn’t Add Up

Jeff Gordon at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2013. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevolet)
Jeff Gordon at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2013. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevolet)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, August 26, 2014, 7:04 p.m.

I’ve got a few thoughts about the Sprint Cup schedule announced officially on Tuesday.

It still doesn’t add up to me. I don’t see as how a month warmer weather at Bristol is worth relegating Atlanta’s one date to the beginning of March. For Speedway Motorsports Inc., Bruton Smith’s empire, it just doesn’t seem to be a fair deal. Maybe I’m wrong. Smith and his advisors apparently disagree.

William C. France used to refer to Daytona Beach as his “bell cow” – he used that term for lots of things – and Smith’s bell cow must be Bristol, not Charlotte, as is widely assumed.

I’m still waiting for a punch line, understanding that it may be a while before anyone delivers it.

Next year at Phoenix, Kevin Harvick will be "swinging." (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet)
Next year at Phoenix, Kevin Harvick will be “swinging.” (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet)

Another change is a West Coast swing early in the season – Las Vegas to Phoenix to Fontana – that makes sense in terms of travel, how much remains to be seen, but perhaps not so much in terms of the consumer. Races are expensive affairs for fans, and if Westerners want to attend all three races, it’s going to cost a lot for families still paying for Christmas and shy of tax-refund time. I don’t think as many fans will go to all three of those races, though the ones for whom money is no object will make quite the festival of NASCAR’s merry Western month of March.

Like every other sport, NASCAR caters to the rich folks, and the rest will just have to watch on TV.

Undoubtedly, these considerations have been discussed by the great minds of NASCAR and its partners.

I bet David Pearson is smiling, too.
I bet David Pearson is smiling, too.

I’m a traditionalist and a sentimentalist, which naturally puts me at odds with the bean counters and marketers, but to please me more than having the Southern 500 restored to Labor Day weekend, the Colts would have to go back to Baltimore and the Dodgers to Brooklyn. I feel like singing the opening tune of “All in the Family.”

“… Guys like us, we had it made, those … were … the … days!”