Five for the Ages

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

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Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, May 21, 2015, 10:41 a.m.

NASCAR has announced five more members of its Hall of Fame: Jerry Cook, Bobby Isaac, Terry Labonte, Bruton Smith and Curtis Turner. Those wouldn’t have been my choices, at least not all of them, but I don’t have any particular qualms.

I don’t have a vote, and it would lessen my respect for the Hall if its selection process had room for me. It doesn’t matter what I think. I’m just going to write a little of what I know about the men who were selected.

Jerry Cook (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Jerry Cook (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Cook is the establishment alternative to a Modified driver inducted ahead of him, Richie Evans. Cook won more championships. Evans won more races. Cook was consistent. Evans was brilliant, but mercurial. It is said that Evans occasionally lost races but never parties. Cook survived his racing career and went to work for NASCAR. Evans died in a race car at Martinsville, the site of his most spectacular victory. Cook is a nice man, one who is absolutely sure he belongs in the Hall of Fame. He expected to be inducted several years ago, based on our occasional conversations.

Bobby Isaac (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Bobby Isaac (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Before I was even a teen-ager, I attended most of the Grand National (now Sprint Cup) races at Greenville-Pickens Speedway. In all those years, I only saw Richard Petty and Isaac win the 100-milers there. I always went to G-P hoping that David Pearson would win. Petty won the two on dirt I attended. When the half-mile track was paved, Isaac dominated. I couldn’t stand him. He seemed contrary and unfriendly. In those days, they opened the gates after the races, and it was fairly easy to have a picture made with drivers. Somewhere at my mother’s house, in a shoe box most likely, are Kodak Instamatic photos of me posing with Bobby Allison, Wendell Scott, Tiny Lund, and others.

What I later learned was that Isaac was uncomfortable because he was self-conscious. He was Pearson’s best friend, an unschooled country boy who never learned to read and write until long after he had learned to win races. I wish I had known this at the time.

The best story I ever heard about Isaac, who died of a heart attack after a Late Model race at Hickory Motor Speedway, was from one of the golf tournaments I later played in at Darlington. Supposedly, Isaac was having a miserable day. After he dumped a tee shot into a pond located in front of a tee box, he slammed his club into the bag, hoisted it above his head and threw it into the pond. Then he stomped off for the clubhouse.

A few minutes later, Isaac returned. Witnesses figured, well, he’s over it. Isaac, dressed in golfing attire, dove into the pond and retrieved his bag. Then he unzipped one of the pockets, found his car keys, threw the bag back into the pond and stomped away again.

Terry Labonte (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Terry Labonte (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Terry Labonte’s first and last victories occurred at Darlington. The former he inherited when a car blew its engine in front of Pearson, who may or may not have been the best who ever lived but was certainly the best at Darlington, and the Wood Brothers Mercury skidded in the oil. I remember calling Mike Hembree, who was there, and asking what happened. I was working in the sports information office at my alma mater, having graduated that year, and Hembree, whose Greenville News beat at the time was split between NASCAR and Furman athletics, had covered the race.

Thirteen years later, my beat was NASCAR, and I came to value Labonte for his low-key sense of humor. Anyone who asked Dale Earnhardt a dumb question got his head bitten off, but Labonte was more subtle. He could make a writer shrink to the size of a toddler while smiling and shrugging. Once, after he won the pole at Rockingham, someone asked him if his improved performance had anything to do with securing a ride at Hendrick Motorsports.

“Well, I haven’t been in this sport very long, but one of things I’ve noticed is that it helps to have good equipment,” Labonte said, smiling.

Another way he handled stupid questions was to smile, shrug, pause and say, “Uh … I don’t know.”

Labonte got mad at me once for something I’d written, and the way he showed it was simply to answer every question I asked in as few words as possible. Finally, I took him aside at a NASCAR Media Day, insisted on setting the matter straight, explained why I’d written what angered him, told him I didn’t take back a word of it but that I had always liked him and it was in no way personal, and, for the rest of my time on the beat, he and I got along fine.

Bruton Smith (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Bruton Smith (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Ah, Bruton Smith. There’s a charmer. He always reminded me of what I read about the baseball star Dizzy Dean, who was a broadcaster when I was a boy. Dean would tell one writer his name was Jay Hanna Dean from Hannibal, Missouri, and another that he was Jerome Herman Dean of Lucas, Arkansas. When a writer confronted him about his duplicity, Dean reportedly said, “I just wanted to give all y’uns a scoop.”

Smith has often driven his employees mad by unveiling incredible plans – oh, a roof over Bristol, a new grandstand in Las Vegas, hell, a chariot race in Las Vegas for all I know – that they knew nothing about and, quite possibly, he didn’t, either, until the words came out of his mouth. I imagine him at a meeting leading up to a race, hearing that ticket sales could use a boost.

Smith: “Let’s propose another football game in the infield. The local media always loves that. What did we say we’d pay each team the last time?”

Staffer: “Uh, $500,000.”

Smith: “Okay, uh, this time … let’s say, uh, $5 million.”

The story has a punch line. On September 10, 2016, Tennessee and Virginia Tech are really playing a game in the spacious infield of Bristol Motor Speedway. Doubt his motives if you will, but never underestimate him.

Curtis Turner (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Curtis Turner (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Finally, consider Curtis Turner, Smith’s onetime partner, and a racer of legendary renown. Old-timers say he drove dirt tracks by skidding his cars sideways down the straights, and they say they never saw anything like it. He made and lost millions, partied like a rock star, and died in a plane crash when I was 12 years old. I never saw him race, but the best story I ever read about a race car driver was the one Bob Myers wrote about Turner after his death. The last time I was there, the column was still on display at Darlington’s museum.

I’ve only read a handful of truly great racing books, none of which I wrote. One of them is Full Throttle: The Life and Fast Times of NASCAR Legend Curtis Turner, by Robert Edelstein.

In other words, the legend of Turner probably had the effect of making good writers great.

Regarding the latest additions to the Hall of Fame, that’s what I’ve got.

While my racing books aren’t great, they have their moments, and you can buy them, along with my two novels, here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

‘I’m Thankful That Old Road Is a Friend of Mine’ *

This rugged hurler guards the entrance to Dr. Pepper Ballpark in Frisco, Texas. (Monte Dutton photo)
This rugged hurler guards the entrance to Dr. Pepper Ballpark in Frisco, Texas. (Monte Dutton photo)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, May 19, 2015, 9:51 a.m.

The trouble with this road trip was that it started too late and ended too early.

I’ve been driving to Texas for an annual charity event for years. Normally, I take my time going out there. Last year, for instance, I watched minor-league baseball in Jackson, Mississippi, and visited the home of the great writer Eudora Welty. I’ve strayed over the years through Montgomery, New Orleans and Baton Rouge to the south, and Nashville, Memphis, and Oklahoma City to the north.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

This year, I discovered on Tuesday night that I wasn’t leaving on Wednesday, thanks to an unexpected development, and, leaving on Thursday, I had to rush to get to Texas in time to visit a friend on Friday.

This is the general pattern. I really enjoy the trip out, and sometimes I plan to take my time on the way home, but that never happens because, by the time the music stops, I want to go home as much as Bobby Bare in “Detroit City.” I always get home fast, and this time I might have kept right on, straight through, till I got to Clinton at 2 in the morning, but the weather got bad and I felt it prudent to call it a night just this side of Birmingham. It was just about the same as the way out, when I drove all the way to Shreveport, knowing I had to be near Dallas the next afternoon at 1.

This whole trip was too hectic. I like to wander a little and explore the curiosities I pass on the highway. For instance, I wondered about Poverty Point, a reservoir and historic site in Louisiana. As it turns out, it’s a prehistoric earthworks that was named for a nearby plantation. The name just intrigued me. I’d still like to take a look at it.

Corpus Christi Hooks at Frisco RoughRiders. (Monte Dutton photo)
Corpus Christi Hooks at Frisco RoughRiders. (Monte Dutton photo)

I did end up making one minor league baseball game, matching the visiting Corpus Christi Hooks against the Frisco RoughRiders. Dr. Pepper Ballpark in Frisco, northeast of Dallas, is surrounded by suburbia, right down to the fact that the buildings housing the various suites and boxes look like condominiums themselves. The park has elevated bullpens with grandstand seats above and below them, and also elevated prices at the concession stands and in the parking lots, but it’s a nice, prosperous ballpark, and the game I watched was a fine one. Corpus Christi won the Texas League contest, 7-6.

Downtown Gainesville, Texas. (Monte Dutton photo)
Downtown Gainesville, Texas. (Monte Dutton photo)

On Saturday, I spent the whole day hanging out in Gainesville, watching a pie-tasting competition, a silent auction and all sorts of other events leading up to an evening of music. I was very marginally the host, but the new format didn’t really call for one, and when I tried to host, folks mainly ignored me because I didn’t have any lucky numbers to draw from a jar. My leg was bothering me, and I didn’t get much relief until I drank several beers medicinally.

All the events of the VISTO fundraiser were moved inside in deference to the weather forecast. (Monte Dutton photo)
All the events of the VISTO fundraiser were moved inside in deference to the weather forecast. (Monte Dutton photo)

When I’m home, most of my music time is spent with my own, so I rely on driving, which I don’t do near as often anymore, to catch me up. Music took me a little over 2,100 miles over five days, all but about 500 on Thursday and Sunday.

As I crossed into Texas, I listened to Asleep at the Wheel’s version of “Miles and Miles of Texas,” and it occurred to me that, in the first verse, it would have been impossible for a boy to move from his Louisiana home into Texas across “that old Red River,” which mainly separates Texas from Oklahoma. It would have likely been the Sabine.

Then there was the matter of the oft-recorded Jack Clement song, “Miller’s Cave.” I’ve always known it would be unlikely for a Tiger Mountain and a Miller’s Cave to be located near Waycross, Georgia, which even the song notes is surrounded by “everglades.” Cowboy Jack just made them up, and I liked a quote “Alamo” Jones (AKA Chance Martin) used on SiriusXM 60. “Jack said he liked the song so much, he wrote it.”

Poetic license, I reckon. I’d never take such liberties with a song, but, then again, I’d probably never write one that good.

Twelve hours on the road in a single day leaves lots of time for rumination.

The days are winding down in the nomination process of my third novel, which, with your help, I’m trying to get published through Amazon’s KindleScout program. I’d appreciate it if you’d take a look at Crazy of Natural Causes and, if you see fit, nominate it here before the 30-day nomination period ends: https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/1H8P26P38KYW8

*From Townes Van Zandt’s “Snowing on Raton.”

The Rare Road Trip

Bugs on the windshield, sun in the eyes ... but at least I wasn't texting. (Monte Dutton photo)
Bugs on the windshield, sun in the eyes … but at least I wasn’t texting. (Monte Dutton photo)

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Bossier City, Louisiana, Thursday, May 14, 2015, 9:02 p.m.

Today I passed by hundreds of “historic” places of which I had never heard. Twice I got stopped dead in traffic, and neither was in a large city. I timed my trip around Atlanta perfectly, but it was before I got to Atlanta that I came to a near standstill twice.

I-20 is crumbling, especially around Jackson, Mississippi, where it’s a little like riding a roller coaster. The word is “undulations.” If an automobile race were held on that stretch of the highway, Robby Gordon would be the favorite.

I've been writing all along.
I’ve been writing all along.

I haven’t taken a long road trip in a while. I had barely gotten started before two casual drivers but serious texters put me in a bind. Exiting on I-85 near Greenville, South Carolina, a car in the right lane going about 40 miles an hour forced me to get on the brakes. When a line of cars finally roared by and I had enough time to move over without being overrun, I saw that a man driving a black Honda Civic was texting furiously but driving ponderously.

Once I was rid of him, I passed a woman, who looked like Sandy Dennis 40 years ago, only that I never saw the late Miss Dennis with a white dog in her lap while she texted earnestly and drove frivolously.

After that, I made a point not to look.

This trip was supposed to start on Wednesday, so I’m a little hurried. Once I planned to stop in Mississippi to watch a baseball game, but I’ve got a task to complete near Dallas on Friday, and a need to be up near the Oklahoma border on Saturday morning, and I had to put off my departure a day. I made it almost to Texas and would have had not rain appeared likely up ahead, so I pulled off, got a room, and played some tunes on my guitar for a family out by the pool.

Northern Louisiana is as flat as Kansas, but the road is, too, unlike Mississippi. In this age of neglected infrastructure, Louisiana’s stretch of I-20 seems to be in better shape than all the other states – South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi – that I passed through.

I’m going to be farther from Charlotte Motor Speedway in my mind on Saturday night than I am in distance. Here’s hoping the Sprint All-Star Race is an all-star race for a change. I’ll get my friends to tell me all about it.

Tomorrow I’ll see “Miles and Miles of Texas.” I heard the Asleep at the Wheel version today. I think I’ll cue the iPod in the morning and listen to Jerry Jeff Walker as soon as I cross the border.

Take a look at my books, fiction and non, here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

As Much As I Try, I Just Can’t Say

Views of NASCAR seem a little distorted.(Rusty Jarrett/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Views of NASCAR seem a little distorted.(Rusty Jarrett/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, May 11, 2015, 10:55 a.m.

Last week I bumped into an old friend in town. He was just back from Talladega, where he had camped in the second turn, and was quite happy at Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s victory. He told me he was setting up camp at Charlotte this Thursday.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

He went to Martinsville, too, and I’m almost certain he’s going to be at Darlington in September when the Southern 500 returns to Labor Day weekend. In fact, I know lots of people who swear to me they’re going back to Darlington if they haven’t been going there already while NASCAR was swapping its dates to the lowest bidder.

I talked to another friend on the phone Sunday. He said the racing was so bad in Kansas that he left the house when it started raining (in Kansas, not Georgia) and went to a nearby dirt track. He had a ball, came back home, and got depressed again, only it was that deep, dark depression that comes from watching something in the wee hours.

Opinion about NASCAR is sharply divided, even, and perhaps particularly, among those who love it the most.

The name of a Charlie Robison song just came to me: “These are desperate times.” It’s about a guy who robs a bank in cahoots with his wife, who is a teller, and at the end, he gets caught because she turns on him to the feds, and, when he asks her why, she says, “It wasn’t easy, Jack, but these are desperate times.”

Kevin Harvick leads Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Kansas in 2014. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick leads Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Kansas in 2014. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

I was singing along to this song while I was listening to it on my iPod, circling the yard on a grass-cutting mission. Some people who live in the nearby apartment complex might think I’m crazy since they can’t hear what I can hear through my sound-proof headphones, which are red because I bought them when it was still the Winston Cup.

When I started wearing those headphones cutting grass, I was plugging them into a transistor radio.

I have one friend who likes NASCAR as much now as he did 10 years ago. He likes it more than high school football, and, once upon a time, he was real good at playing that.

Lots of them still like it, just not as much, which is why I reckon they tend to watch it on TV instead of go see it live, and I don’t care how great fellows named Waltrip keep telling them it is, they’ve gradually stopped buying it.

I used to watch it from there. Now I watch it from here. Both ways I watched it for pay. Either I’ve got a great perspective or the worst one possible.

I’d appreciate it if you’d give my, uh, literary web site, www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, a look from time to time, not to mention the occasional consideration of my books at: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

You can nominate a third novel, Crazy of Natural Causes, for publication here: https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/1H8P26P38KYW8

 

At Least I Got My Laps In

As I post this, Kurt Busch is leading, though this photo was taken while he was qualifying. (Andrew Coppley/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
As I post this, Kurt Busch is leading, though this photo was taken while he was qualifying. (Andrew Coppley/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, May 9, 2015, 7:30 p.m.

Today two lawns got mowed, and my iPhone died a slower death than I thought.

Oops. Now Kevin Harvick is leading. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Oops. Now Kevin Harvick is leading. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Now there’s a NASCAR race scheduled, and I’m supposed to write about it. It’s in Kansas City, and I am at home. I get paid to do it from afar every single week, so I’ll be creating an assembly line that will have me chip away and assimilate as information becomes available … if information becomes available.

Maybe they’ll get it in tonight. Maybe they’ll get it in tomorrow. Maybe they’ll get it in Monday.

Today I realized the implications.

I’m going on a trip later this week. I needed to get the lawns, mine and my mother’s (about a quarter mile away), done. I figured I’d get it done this weekend, no problem, because the race was Saturday night … unless it’s Sunday.

I've been writing all along.
I’ve been writing all along.

Or, I could get it done Monday … except it’s supposed to rain here on Monday. And, quite possibly, Tuesday.

I got it done today, and I trimmed some bushes, and by the time that was all over, I was tired, so I came inside and poured myself a Diet Pepsi over ice, and picked up my phone, which had been charging while I was cutting grass, and the phone was dead, so I drove to the next town, Laurens, with my phone, and the nice fellow there got it on again and showed me how to do a “soft power-up,” which didn’t seem very soft because I pushed on two different buttons at the same time for 15 seconds.

I had to “soft power up” twice more, and then the iPhone went completely dead, and that won’t work anymore, so I’ll be going back to the cell-phone “store” again tomorrow in the off chance that I don’t have a race to watch that was rained out tonight.

They’ve started. Hallelujah. I’ll reserve the hosannas for later.

Now Martin Truex Jr. has taken the lead. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Now Martin Truex Jr. has taken the lead. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

My only good move was having Diet Pepsi in the refrigerator, because Dr. Pepper and Diet Dr. Pepper have spun in quick succession, and everyone knows that soft drinks that spin on TV will spin in your stomach.

I just came up with that hypothesis. It’s been one of those days.

Joey Logano was leading rain by about 30 minutes, and the action was so intense NASCAR had to throw a caution.

You can find my books here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

Coffee and Rain

Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman race at Kansas Speedway ojn October 5, 2014.  (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman race at Kansas Speedway ojn October 5, 2014. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, May 8, 2015, 8:26 a.m.

The NASCAR judicial process has run its course. Order has been restored.

Danica Patrick is looking for new sponsorship. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won his first race. The greatest racing month lies mostly ahead, with Kansas preceding the Two Weeks of Charlotte and Indianapolis set to climax with the Coca-Cola 600 at the former and The 500-Mile Race the latter.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

Meanwhile, I’m dealing with a personal crisis. Addiction is a terrible thing.

Coffee. I need coffee.

My coffee maker isn’t working. I messed around with it last night, feeling zombie-like after supper. I ordered a new one, using some “points.” I’m going to be going to the drive-through a lot in the next few days.

But enough about me. Rain is in the forecast in Kansas City. Like I wasn’t going to be needing coffee already.

I write again. Enough about me.

NASCAR practice comes on TV at noon. That’ll ensure that I need to go to the drive-through again around three. TCM’s running a movie called Purple Noon early, i.e., 11:30.

An American (Alain Delon) in Italy resorts to murder to have a playboy’s (Maurice Ronet) life and mistress (Marie Laforet).

Everything’s about Italy today, it seems. I don’t see any of these flicks diverting my attention from NASCAR.

Drivers, start your  Air Titans! (Getty Images for NASCAR)
Drivers, start your
Air Titans! (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Oh, let’s check the weather again. A tropical or sub-tropical something or other is anchoring itself off our coast, but supposedly rain isn’t likely here until Tuesday. In Kansas City, it’s listed as 20 percent today, 80 percent Saturday, and 80 percent Sunday. Sam Champion is interviewing a fan at Kansas Speedway. The kids are at Grandpa’s. Sarah Nelson is camping at the track with her husband. Sam says she needs to make sure she has The Weather Channel app.

Sam says there’s a 40 percent chance of a tornado. Storms in the area at race time. Beware hail and damaging winds.

What does he know? He looks like a foppish aristocrat by day. Oh, wait. I think that’s The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Hunker down, friends. Maybe this, too, will pass.

I’m hoping to finish a short story today or tomorrow. It’ll be posted at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com. You can buy my books here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

I’d like to get a third novel published. You can help by nominating Crazy of Natural Causes for publication here: https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/1H8P26P38KYW8

 

A Jedi Wins at Poker

Jimmie Johnson (right) congratulates Geico 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr.  (Rusty Jarrett/HHP photo  for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson (right) congratulates Geico 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Rusty Jarrett/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, May 4, 2015, 11:02 a.m.

It’s okay to like restrictor-plate racing.

Really. It is.

In this age, it’s popular to say fans don’t go to the races to see the wrecks. It’s popular and also untrue. It’s laudable. It’s the same way people claim they want more local news in their paper but wouldn’t read a story about the school board if they were standing in front of a firing squad.

Or the school board.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

As I’ve written many times, and as recently as last week, fans don’t come to see death. They come to see death defied. No track is more defiant than Talladega Superspeedway.

Plus, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won. All it cost fans was the price of admission. Over the weekend, a few bones cracked, lots of metal crumpled, and everyone got what they came for, which was, in many cases, the No. 88 winning and a chance, several times, to say, “God Almighty! I hope everybody’s all right.”

The Geico 500 was survival of the fittest. The fittest was Earnhardt Jr. What could be better than that?

Undoubtedly, these words are going to produce several who will say they absolutely do not want to see wrecks, just a good, clean race, but yet the grandstands were mostly filled, unusual these days, and I’m guessing the television ratings will see a nice, healthy boost. (As it turns out, I was guessing wrong.)

Most sports produce cringes of excitement. It’s not much different from football. Few of those fans claim they hate bone-jarring hits. They hate it when people get hurt, but it’s a distinct possibility.

People were disappointed in the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight. Why? Not enough hits, as best I can gather. I haven’t had much interest in boxing since it left Muhammad Ali punch-drunk, but I liked it up until then.

I guess there are hockey fans who don’t like fights. Watch the background on replay, though, and observe them. Not many are shrinking in revulsion. More are watering at the mouth, and a few are foaming.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., triumphant. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., triumphant. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

If anything bewildered me, watching the Geico 500, it was how the racing seemed reversed or, at least, premature. For the first three quarters of the race, the action was two, three, and four wide, and I was wondering, do these drivers know the race has 100 more laps to run?

Then, at the end, they all got in one line, and anyone who didn’t conform to this rather moribund sense of order all seemed to get punished for it, and I was wondering, do these drivers know it’s almost over?

What happened to, well, if you can’t win the race, at least tear up the car?

Oh, they tore up some cars on the last lap, anyway, perhaps as a result of some of those who had taken a chance trying so hard not to be punished for it that … they got punished for it.

Talladega is a great center of the very barbarism that lingers in society and somehow inspires it to advance in the 20-car Draft of Life.

Life is hard, no matter where you go. It’s a tortured path. Tough roe to hoe. Yes. It’s from one of my songs, “The Paved Road,” which has little to do with NASCAR, or at least I wasn’t conscious of it when I wrote it.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. masters the Talladega draft.  (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. masters the Talladega draft. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

The notion that anyone can win at Talladega and, to a slightly lesser extent, Daytona, is true but not overly enlightening. Inexperienced drivers think it, but, over time, the good ones get a special knack for nuance at a place that seems about as nuanced as an artillery barrage. Some are better than others. Some develop patience at a place that seems about as patient as flailing at a baseball that’s bouncing in the dirt.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is such a driver. His father, the late Dale Earnhardt, was such a driver. Junior once finished first or second in seven consecutive Talladega races, winning five of them, but, then, for slightly over a decade, playing Luke Skywalker to Obi-Wan Kenobi didn’t seem to work … until Sunday, when the Force was essentially a teammate, Jimmie Johnson, covering him in another Starfighter.

Return of the Jedi?

That metaphor wears a little thin. The race fell more like a poker game. They dealt and redealt the cards all afternoon, and, at the end, Earnhardt Jr. got a great hand and could stand pat while everyone else was rummaging through their pockets, discarding cards and drawing others, trying and ultimately failing to stay in the game. It didn’t hurt Earnhardt that most of them mainly bluffed.

The father was coy while performing at his best track. He left a lot unsaid. About the best he’d reveal was a knowing glance.

Earnhardt Jr. summed up his victory perfectly.

“I certainly hope [the victory] was a little bit of me,” he said, “but I know it was a lot race car.

“The car gives you the confidence to make the moves that make you look good. It’s the car really making it happen, but you’ve got to know what to do with it. You’ve got to put [the car] in those situations where it can excel, you know, and it can do the things it’s capable of doing. It doesn’t happen on its own.”

A pit-road penalty cost Jeff Gordon, (Andrew Coppley/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
A pit-road penalty cost Jeff Gordon, (Andrew Coppley/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Drivers like Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart had the boldness, not the help. What happened to them happened on its own, or, rather, their own.

The surprise of the race, rookie Ryan Blaney, didn’t have the help, either. Some will criticize him for just staying in line and behaving, but there was no way drivers who wouldn’t help Stewart or Gordon were going to take a dive of faith with Blaney, who had to be aware that other drivers were treating his Wood Brothers Ford as if it were radioactive all day.

Had the rookie gotten crazy, he likely would have wound up in the mass of spewing smoke and crumpling metal.

Blaney played it right, and the right guy, Earnhardt won, and now everyone can sigh and thank the Lord for a good, safe race.

Thanks for checking out this website from time to time. If you find yourself yearning strangely to read a short story or book review, I’d appreciate your patronage at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, and, then, stage three would be for you to actually materially invest in my writing by buying one of my books here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

Help me get a new novel, Crazy of Natural Causes, published by nominating it here: https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/1H8P26P38KYW8

 

The Talladega Frontier

Kasey Kahne (5) and Ryan Newman racing at Talladega on Oct. 19, 2014. (Alan Marler/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Kasey Kahne (5) and Ryan Newman racing at Talladega on Oct. 19, 2014. (Alan Marler/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, May 1, 2015, 9:30 a.m.

When I think of Talladega Superspeedway, I wonder if it’s changed since my streak of 40 straight races there ended in 2012. And, if so, how much it’s changed.

I’m not talking about the races. They rise and fall. Rules change, and each time they do, the racing changes, but it’s always exciting, perilous and fraught with the anticipation of doom at any second.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

I can’t even remember who it was, but someone asked me the other day if he should go to Talladega, and I told him, yes, it was an atmosphere he should experience at least once. I told him, if he went, to take binoculars because it’s a gigantic place, and one of the first impressions is just how vast is the distance looking across the infield to the back straight.

Talladega, though, is a unique experience. It’s sort of how Myrtle Beach is at the beginning of June, when all the recent high school graduates converge looking for trouble and forbidden fruit.

The beach has the ocean. Talladega has the infield.

At the places where the schoolbuses are an endangered species, NASCAR has gotten too big for its britches. If it takes a family that can afford a posh motor coach to afford a weekend in the infield, then the sport is shooting itself in the foot.

If a man can spend the weeks leading up to the track’s two Sprint Cup races fixing up his bus – painting it black and silver and scattering tilted “3’s” on the sides, bolting down another bed bought secondhand, putting some sort of hydraulic lift on the back to store a gas grill and an ice chest, a ladder on the side, railing on the top – and gathering all his working-class buddies to pretend together they are all still young enough to party, then the track is healthy.

You can feel the rumble every time the the steel chariots roar by. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet)
You can feel the rumble every time the the steel chariots roar by. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet)

They can still be found at Talladega, Charlotte, and Darlington, where they are the heart of the crowd at the scene of the crimes, but the old riffraff is getting older and there don’t seem to be many young bohemians to take their places. I think they’re still there, but I haven’t been to those tracks in two and a half years or more, and the times are changing fast.

Some local kids probably don’t even go to the race. They cruise on the highway out front on Friday and Saturday nights, idling along with their sweet babies sitting alongside, whooping and hollering “Juuuuunyerrrr!” and either “Roll Tide!” or “War Eagle!”

Once I was leaving the track, stuck in traffic behind an old camper bolted onto the bed of a pickup, and a kid balanced himself precariously on the roof, carrying a water-filled condom in one hand and a can of beer in the other, and somehow, he kept his balance and managed to fire that balloon skyward with a huge slingshot. I was in a rental car that featured a sun roof, and I looked up through it, watching that water-filled condom soaring through the darkening sky and judging it as if it were a pop fly, and it landed on top of the Malibu stopped next to me. The man driving the Malibu was too old for that crap, and he yelled at the kids, and I thought for a minute there was going to be a scene, but the traffic moved, and the man settled down, I reckon, and it was probably another few minutes before those kids got in more trouble, but I’m guessing it happened because that was obviously their goal.

Auto racing fans don’t go to see death. They go to see death defied, and that defiance is so strong that it makes some of them want to live life at their own brand of risk. It’s a miracle more of them don’t get hurt, or at least arrested, but, like the risk takers on the big, coiled blacksnake of a track, they live on to pursue further adventures at rock concerts, Bama and Auburn games, hunting big game, and barbecues far enough out in the country that the cops will let them be to play their other games.

Some of the fans grabbed some Buds one time when Jeff Gordon won. (Monte Dutton sketch)
Some of the fans grabbed some Buds one time when Jeff Gordon won. (Monte Dutton sketch)

The last few times I wrote about Talladega, when I got through with my daily work, I drove over near turn two, where an old high school buddy had his tent set up, and his grill afire, and his cooler full, and I brought my guitar, and a few others, who always camped there and formed a brotherhood that got together twice a year, wandered over, and a few of them had instruments of their own, and then everyone got involved because someone had a karaoke machine, and I enjoyed the atmosphere, even though I didn’t stay all night and pass out on the ground. Before too late, I’d leave and go back to civilization in the form of a motel, and the next morning, I’d rise and have a nice breakfast, and some coffee, and I’d go back to the track and act responsible for the rest of the time.

Oh, the memories. Jeff Gordon’s winning car being pelted by full beer cans, landing like liquid grenades as the No. 24 whirled around and around in the grass. The little kid and his parents, sitting in front of the press box, making familiar, digitized gestures at Gordon. Several of us interviewed them. They were from Indiana, as I recall. The time Carl Edwards’ Ford almost sailed into the front-straight stands at the finish, and going down to that scene, and finding a man with red-and-purple welts up and down his left forearm, and holding up a yellow-painted spring from the wreck, and I asked him if he’d sit in that location again, and he said, “Oh, yeah. That’s part of it!”

I wonder if Carl Edwards ever signed that spring. (Jerry Markland/Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
I wonder if Carl Edwards ever signed that spring. (Jerry Markland/Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Then he asked me a question. “You reckon Carl would autograph this for me?”

“Oh, yeah,” I said. “I believe he would.”

My favorite Talladega moment occurred in 2002, when Tony Stewart was quoted in a magazine, FHM, as saying the fans at the track were the sport’s most obnoxious.

On race day, during driver introductions, in order to prove just how ridiculous Stewart’s stereotyping was, about 25,000 “mooned” him. I believe all those white buttocks might have supplemented the sunshine and made the track ever so slightly brighter.

Well, that showed him.

Tony Stewart probably wondered what was the big deal. (John Clark photo)
Tony Stewart probably wondered what was the big deal. (John Clark photo)

Call them riffraff if you must, but running off those rogues and rapscallions is part of the reason interest is down. NASCAR is no different from every other professional sport that has grown less interested in the sport of it and more concerned with everybody getting rich together except for those who are paying the tab.

Be safe down there, old friends. It’s too much to expect for you to be good, but be good enough. Have fun, but don’t get hurt and don’t hurt anyone else.

It’s about the same message the officials will deliver at the drivers’ meeting.

Give some of my short fiction a look at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, and I hope that – and this – will entice you to give a book or two of mine a read: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

The Red Sox Right Now

Mookie Betts energizes the ballclub. (Monte Dutton sketch)
Mookie Betts energizes the ballclub. (Monte Dutton sketch)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, April 30, 2015, 4:50 p.m.

I’m not an expert or an insider. I’ve loved the Boston Red Sox since my earliest memory, and I watch them on TV every chance I can. Oft times my whole day revolves around getting everything done so that I can watch the Red Sox in peace.

Sometimes it’s not very peaceful.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

I love baseball in general, too, which is why the Angels and the Athletics are on right now. I’m less attentive to other teams. They are in the background while I peck away at this laptop. I watch the Yankees with some interest because I dislike them about half as much as I love the Red Sox, who were handed down by my father, who has been dead going on 22 years and never saw them win a World Series, and I don’t feel quite as badly about that because, near the end, he really didn’t care that much. The monster he created was I.

The season is 13.6 percent over now. It’s a little early to be either exultant or angry. There’s no statistically valid sample.

Unlike many, I was sort of mildly pessimistic when the season began. I was concerned that what had been built since the moribund 2014 season ended was a fascinating team that might not be particularly cohesive. This isn’t rare in the history of baseball in Boston. It’s always tempting to load up on luxury items for any team catered to the oddities of Fenway Park.

I have this theory that too many modern baseball teams are built as if the general managers are playing fantasy leagues. As a result, there are lots of fantasy teams.

I drew this in 2013, and Koji Uehara and Daniel Nava are still favorites of mine. (Monte Dutton sketch)
I drew this in 2013, and Koji Uehara and Daniel Nava are still favorites of mine. (Monte Dutton sketch)

As bad as the starting pitching has been, on balance, the rotation is more marked by inconsistency than ineptitude. Sometimes I get confused and think Clay Buchholz is Charlie Sheen. I think there’s hope, though. Boston doesn’t have a starter who can reliably be called upon to stop the opposition cold. Getting one will probably be too expensive.

Mistuh, we could use a man like Curtis Schilling again …

In recent years, one observer after another has griped about how the Red Sox have too many outfielders, and then the season starts, and there wind up being places for all of them. It’s no accident when Shane Victorino gets hurt. He does every year. Depth was the reason Boston won the World Series two years ago, and the wealth of interchangeable parts is a strength, not a weakness.

I hope Hanley Ramirez, the mismatched left fielder, stays healthy. So far, he’s the heart of the offense. I think David Ortiz will get better as the season develops because, until he doesn’t, his record suggests that he will. Mookie Betts is a pleasure to watch in center, as is Brock Holt, who is a pleasure there and most everywhere else. Sometimes I think they should let him pitch one time just for the hell of it.

Allen Craig looks like a Red Sox uniform gives him a rash or something. Maybe it’s the piping. Or the odd shape of the numerals. I keep waiting for him to be even a shadow of what he once was in St. Louis.

The loss of Christian Vazquez was awful, but I think Ryan Hanigan will suffice, and the backup, Sandy Leon, is good defensively.

The only thing I have against Hanigan is that right before the season started, I watched James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy, and, even though the name in the song was different, I can’t get the words out of my head, damn it.

H, A, Double-R, I, G-A-N spells Harrigan …

H-A, Single-N, I, G-A-N spells Hanigan …

Also, I find myself speaking in an Irish brogue.

The infield? Dustin Pedroia looks healthy, and he’s dazzling at second base even when he isn’t. Mike Napoli looks better physically than he ever has before, in Boston, at least, and he looks so good that I can’t believe he’s not going to start hitting. I’m fine with Xavier Bogaerts. He’s getting there. Leave him at short and let him develop. Pablo Sandoval is amazingly mobile at third for a panda bear, and if he gets hurt, and I expect he will, Holt is ready.

Fenway Park: I've been there many times, but not lately, and I'm unlikely to get back up there soon. (Monte Dutton photo)
Fenway Park: I’ve been there many times, but not lately, and I’m unlikely to get back up there soon. (Monte Dutton photo)

The bullpen’s still strong, though Koji Uehara, whom I revere, doesn’t epitomize perfection as he did in 2013. He’s old. He’s done yeoman’s work. I think he’s got a good year left. I’d rather have him than Jonathan Papelbon, or, for that matter, half the other closers in baseball. John Farrell can line them up: Craig Breslow, Alexi Ogando, Anthony Varvaro (sounds like the sound of a Porsche), Edwin Escobar, Robbie Ross, Junichi Tazawa, and Uehara.

Thanks to baseball’s most erratic collection of starters, Farrell has to line them up a lot, and I worry that they’ll all be worn out come August. Farrell must, too, because, occasionally, he uses Edward Mujica. Keep that knuckleballer, Steven Wright, in the bigs, if for no other reason because he can eat some innings and take one for the team, if need be.

Plus, I miss Tim Wakefield.

This was my most recent visit. (Monte Dutton photo)
This was my most recent visit. (Monte Dutton photo)

Among the rotating Roman candles starting, Rick Porcello looked great Wednesday night. Buchholz has looked great twice … and three times he has looked like he needed a Snickers bar to make the transition back from the second coming of Buddy Hackett. Everyone wants Joe Kelly to succeed. He might yet. They’re pretty much all the same, other than Wade Miley is left-handed. At 30, Justin Masterson ought to be more than the goofy kid he was when he first hurled for the Bosox.

The chief reason the starters will get better is that there’s no way they can get worse.

They’re going to win their share of slugfests, these Red Sox. They’re not going to win the AL East with them.

What of the East? Everyone is convinced no wild card is coming from it, and that it’s down, but I’m not sure that isn’t an early overreaction, too. Mainly, so far, the division members have been beating up on one another, and it won’t be clear, really, whether the division is weak, or tough top to bottom, until they prowl the rest of the league. The Red Sox have already won series against Philadelphia and Washington from the NL’s parallel region.

It's quaint, intimate, uncomfortable and righteous. (Monte Dutton photo)
It’s quaint, intimate, uncomfortable and righteous. (Monte Dutton photo)

My guess is the Orioles are going to win the division again, mainly because Buck Showalter has grown in my estimation over the years, and I think he’ll get the most out of his team. The Yankees are going to hang around because they have lots of money, and it’s just about impossible for them not to contend. Toronto, I expect, will end up underachieving again, and the Rays are bound to tumble into a post-Joe Maddon malaise.

I think the Red Sox are going to contend, too, because most of their problems will get better, and they’re 12-10 right now.

I could be wrong. I’m not an insider. I just go by what I hear and see, and it can be misleading.

If you think of it, give my short fiction a read at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, and consider my long fiction (and non-fiction) here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

I Bat My Brains on Most Mondays

Kurt Busch reminds me of "Flounder" at the end of Animal House. Oh, wait. I remind myself of "Flounder" at the end of Animal House. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Kurt Busch reminds me of “Flounder” at the end of Animal House. Oh, wait. I remind myself of “Flounder” at the end of Animal House. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, April 27, 2015, 9:34 a.m.

Every Monday finds me in the same predicament. I’ve written my weekly Bleacher Report column, and I take a look at how many have read it and how it’s been perceived. I look at the poll results. I go through the emails I didn’t go through the previous night. I think about where the next NASCAR race is (Talladega).

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

I sip coffee and try to come up with an idea for a day-after blog here. Sometimes I get this blog started before I really know what it’s going to be. This is such a morning. My mind is flitting around from one tidbit to another without committing to anything coherent.

So … I’ve got two paragraphs. This one makes three, but it doesn’t count because it’s about the two above it, and they’re about nothing.

In lieu of a topic that floats my boat – Selma Hamrick used to say that quite often when I worked at FasTrack, a racing periodical – I think I’m going to watch Aerial America on Smithsonian. It’s about Washington, D.C.

Kurt Busch dominates the Toyota Owners 400.  (Andrew Coppley/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Kurt Busch dominates the Toyota Owners 400. (Andrew Coppley/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

 

10:49 a.m.

Kurt Busch.

As a writer, I love him. Writers like those who give them material. He is complicated and interesting. I mentioned Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in the Bleacher Report column I wrote last night.

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2444262-kurt-buschs-richmond-win-gives-him-another-chance-to-leave-troubled-past-behind

I expect we’ll see another round of “New Kurt Busch” stories this week. “It is to laugh,” as Bugs Bunny said.

The test of a man’s character is not how he responds to prosperity. Kurt has always been cooperative, civilized, and occasionally even witty after winning races. Kurt’s problem has always been how he responds when things don’t go to suit him.

There is no new Kurt Busch. There are Dr. Jekyll when he wins and Mr. Hyde when he doesn’t.

Here’s what I’ve observed of both Kurt and Tony Stewart over the years. I think there’s a side of both of them that is scared to act magnanimously. Both of them believe showing their asses is what they are supposed to do when adversity strikes. They’ve got it in their heads that, if they don’t throw a tantrum, they don’t want it badly enough.

Most people go through this stage but grow and mature out of it. Most people aren’t great race drivers. Many great race drivers never grow up.

As I made mention of the 2003 incident at Michigan International Speedway in the Bleacher Report column, this morning I found this report on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wlaPj6lsGKc

11:20 a.m.

What is normally a great time of the season is taking place, and I think it’s been kind of disappointing. Three of the past four races have been on short tracks. In one of my recent Bleacher Report polls, about half of those who responded cited short tracks as their favorites. A little under 20 percent voted for the restrictor-plate tracks, Daytona and Talladega.

Jamie McMurray (left) with Kyle Larson.  (Christa L. Thomas/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Jamie McMurray (left) with Kyle Larson. (Christa L. Thomas/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

As noted above, Talladega is next.

Basically, I’ve been laboring over this blog because I’ve been laboring over this sport. I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure out just how so much has gone awry. The recent “double-file restarts” blog was an example of what I determined from thinking about this issue and discussing it with a couple close friends.

http://montedutton.com/blog/2015/04/15/why-double-file-restarts-stink/

The top 10 in Richmond’s Toyota Owners 400 were, in order: Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick , Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray, Joey Logano, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Jeff  Gordon, Clint Bowyer, and Martin Truex Jr .

Has a familiar ring to it, huh?

Kurt Busch led 291 out of 400 laps. It used to be rather unusual for anyone to dominate a short track like that.

The ninth-place finisher, McMurray, said, “Well, Kurt had what you needed to win (Sunday). I could run him down by the end of the green-flag runs, but he just – he had such a quick car on restarts, and I got three shots at him on the outside. They kept throwing the caution, and I tried a little something different each time to see if I could get him to spin his tires or make a mistake, and he just didn’t make any mistakes.”

Is it I, or does someone say approximately that every week?

11:42 a.m.

During the two decades in which I went to at least 75 percent of the races every year, one of my fascinations was rainout crowds. For instance, up until about 10 years ago, there were tracks – Martinsville and Talladega being the most apparent – where almost everyone came back to watch the race even if it was run on Monday.

Guess who finished second? (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Guess who finished second? (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

On the other hand, Atlanta was a track where only a small percentage returned. I thought this was because of rush-hour traffic and still do. In fact, a great tragedy of Atlanta Motor Speedway is that it used to be a nightmarish place to get in and out of, regardless of time. Now that problem has been fixed by the construction of the Bruton Smith Parkway. Unfortunately, by the time the problem had gone away, so had the fans.

It’s the embodiment of the old Yogi Berra line: “That place is so crowded, nobody goes there anymore.”

It’s not true anywhere anymore. (Or anymore anywhere.) Have the fans gotten richer? It used to be that when a race fan paid $100 for a ticket, he was not going to miss that race, come, well, seldom hell but often high water.

Maybe it’s high-definition TV. Maybe bosses have gotten stricter. Maybe the fans are getting older and less willing to stay all day and then drive home all night. It used to be the economy, but now the economy is better, and gas is cheaper, and nothing is changing.

I get chided from time to time for being negative. Hell, I’m not negative. I’m sorrowful. It troubles me to see a sport which has dominated a good portion of my life fall on such hard times, and it also troubles me that people get mad when they hear so-called “negativity” without doing a whole lot to fix it.

It’s the racing, stupid.

I actually hear fans now who openly favor corruption. In other words, if the race is boring, they want to see bogus cautions. They want an inspector to drop a piece of metal out the side window of a truck, then get out and go pick it up.

If they’re going to manipulate the finishes, at least be open about it. They have these “competition cautions” early in races. Why not have them late? It would be honest.

Besides, they’ve pulled out every trick that P.T. Barnum ever dreamed up, anyway.

NASCAR ended up being a bad influence. I like writing fiction nowadays. My most recent short story at wellpilgrim.wordpress.com may be my favorite, and it’s not all that long: https://wellpilgrim.wordpress.com/2015/04/23/the-smart-kid/

I’m trying to get a new novel, Crazy of Natural Causes, published through the KindleScout program. It’ll take two clicks, beginning with this one, to help me out: https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/1H8P26P38KYW8

I’m asking a lot in this blog, and leaving lots of links. Here’s one that will enable you to purchase my books: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1