Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show

Clint Bowyer is in a slump. Bristol must look like an oasis. (Nick Laham/Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Clint Bowyer is in a slump. Bristol must look like an oasis. (Nick Laham/Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore! Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, April 17, 2015, 2:56 p.m. A dry spell is ahead for those who love NASCAR short-track racing. It’s all the more reason to savor these next two weekends. Not only is it “Bristol, baby.” The following race is at Richmond. Martinsville was two weeks ago. Afterwards, there won’t be another short-track race until Aug. 22, at Bristol again, and then it’s on to Darlington, which isn’t a short track but is unique, and Richmond again in the final race before the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

Back before NASCAR officials turned Darlington into a rubber ball to bounce around the schedule, the end of the summer was, hands down, my favorite part of the schedule. I expect it to be the case again now that order has been restored. This week I’ve put a lot of thought into what makes short tracks so special and intermediate tracks so routine at this point in NASCAR history. I wrote one blog this week on how the number of probable winners seems greatly narrowed on the tracks that comprise a plurality of the schedule and another on my belief that the so-called “double-file restarts” have hurt racing at those tracks. Part of it, though, is that I love the three short tracks on the schedule.

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

“Whenever you run really [well], you want to feel like the driver made a huge difference,” Matt Kenseth said Friday. “I don’t know that the driver makes any more or less of a difference here than a lot of other tracks. Certainly there are some tracks – Daytona and Talladega, places like that — where going fast doesn’t necessarily have a lot to do with talent, but I think every track is very unique, but no matter how good you think you are at a certain track, if your car doesn’t do what you need it to do, you’re not going to run up front. It’s just too competitive. “Every week we all work as hard as we can to try to make the cars as fast as we can and try to make them drive as [well] as we can. Certainly, when we get to short tracks, they’re less dependent on aerodynamics and even the engine, to a certain extent. If you feel like you have a deficit in those areas, then it doesn’t make as big of a difference at a short track, but I’m not so sure that we have a deficit in those areas. I think each track is important, and you try to make as much of a difference as you can everywhere.” Kenseth is a tactful fellow. Without putting words in his mouth, or trying to replace some of them with others, I believe what Kenseth was saying, or perhaps intimating, was that, yes, the driver does make more of a difference on short tracks. There are more good drivers than good cars at the Atlantas, the Fontanas, the Vegases, the Texases, etc., of the NASCAR world. It doesn’t mean that Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson, the two drivers with two victories so far, are unlikely to win on Sunday at the track that considers itself a “Colosseum” like unto Rome, where chariots raced in antiquity. What it means is that Martin Truex Jr. has a better shot to win in a season in which he has repeatedly proved he can run in the top 10.

Stewart (14) races Martin Truex Jr. at Bristol on March 16, 2014. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)
Stewart (14) races Martin Truex Jr. at Bristol on March 16, 2014. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)

Fans like to ask, “Why don’t they build more short tracks?” Short tracks are untidy. They involve bumping and rubbing and all the parts of racing that occurred everywhere in Days of Thunder but not in real life. Short tracks fit Bristol, Tennessee, and Richmond and Martinsville, Virginia. They don’t fit Las Vegas any more than Del McCoury Band is likely to sell out the casinos. Vegas is “Elvis, baby,” or, rather, his class of impersonators. It’s not just racing. It’s culture. Short tracks involve camping out and spending little waking time without a beer in the hand and Lynyrd Skynyrd playing. Would the pre-race concert at Chicagoland Speedway be Old Crow Medicine Show? Doubtful. God, I wish I was there to see it. It’s said that Bristol isn’t what it used to be. At the moment, what the hell is? Thanks for reading my blogs here, and I hope you’ll sample the short fiction I post regularly at wellpilgrim.wordpress.com. Please consider buying my books, two of them novels, one of them on music, and the rest on NASCAR, at this link: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

Why “Double-file Restarts” Stink

Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads all the pretty race cars, most all in a row, at Auto Club Speedway. (Garry Eller/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads all the pretty race cars, most all in a row, at Auto Club Speedway. (Garry Eller/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, April 15, 2015, 10:59 a.m.

In June 2009, NASCAR instituted what it called “double-file restarts,” which was kind of a contradiction in terms because restarts were already “double-file.” What the change meant was that, at the end of every caution period, the field was aligned by position, same as the start.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

Previously, one line had consisted of cars on the lead lap, and the other had been made up of cars that weren’t. It thus provided a means for drivers to race their cars back onto the lead lap by managing to get ahead of the leader. If he could stay there until the next caution period, he could drive around the track and join the line of lead-lap cars. The rules at the time also provided for cars “on the tail end of the lead lap” (another woeful and redundant term) to start ahead of the car that was actually leading.

Many fans, roughly the same number that don’t understand what is now known as “the wave-around,” didn’t really understand how this worked. A good many writers and broadcasters didn’t seem to understand it, either, or, perhaps, more accurately, didn’t care to understand it.

“We’ve heard the fans loud and clear: ‘double-file restarts, shootout style,’ are coming to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. This addition to the race format is good for competition and good for the fans.” — Brian France, June 2009

The change was almost universally praised. I had my doubts, but I suppose I just didn’t want to buck public opinion and didn’t grasp the full implications. If a driver a lap down lined up in, say, 23rd position, he had virtually no chance to “race his way” back onto the lead lap. NASCAR officials had already instituted the “lucky-dog” rule, which provided that the driver running highest among those a lap down could get a “free pass” back on the lead lap.

Martin Truex Jr. has been one of the season's pleasant surprises. (Andrew Coppley/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Martin Truex Jr. has been one of the season’s pleasant surprises. (Andrew Coppley/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

In a sense, the free passes were necessary because they provided a means of upward mobility. Since the new meaning of “double-file restarts” didn’t provide a meaningful way for drivers to “race their way” back, something had to be done to, well, keep the number of competitive cars healthy at the end of races. I’m ready to write now what I didn’t write then. What I did write then was that the “wave-around rule” could be blocked. If all the lead-lap cars pitted, the “wave-around” would be awarded those drivers who didn’t. As it was originally announced, let’s say Hendrick Motorsports had three cars on the lead lap. One was damaged. If that car stayed out, he could block the wave-around by, essentially, taking one for the team. He might even take one for the team if his car wasn’t fast enough to win, or if he had teammates more likely to contend for the championship.

NASCAR fixed this simply by reading the rule differently. The only block of a wave-around became the leader staying out, which was quite a bit more risky than having the car running 18th stay out to keep fast cars that had experienced misfortune – a flat tire, a pit-road penalty, a short-lived mechanical problem – a lap down.

Paul Menard and Tony Stewart at Auto Club Speedway. (Garry Eller/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Paul Menard and Tony Stewart at Auto Club Speedway. (Garry Eller/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

This is sort of complicated to explain, but what I have concluded is that the racing was better before the rules changed. Particularly at intermediate tracks, having the lead cars start up front accentuated the effect of “aero push,” which gave the lead car, able to clear the cars behind, the advantage of “clean air.”

The relatively free pass to clean air has greatly diminished the quality of the racing at tracks that comprise over 40 percent of the schedule. Under the old system, the leader was often stuck in traffic. He had to race his own way past the lapped cars and those at the end of the lead lap, which were, oddly, in front of them instead of behind. Runaways had been, thus, quite a bit more difficult to pull off.

Wave-arounds have often come in handy for Danica Patrick. (Andrew Coppley/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Wave-arounds have often come in handy for Danica Patrick. (Andrew Coppley/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Many races at Atlanta, Charlotte, Las Vegas, Texas, Kansas, Chicagoland, Auto Club, Michigan, Kentucky, and Homestead have been snoozers ever since, or, at least, snoozers until the slam-bam final laps. Those tracks have been falling in the public’s eye ever since. Road courses have gone from being the least favorite tracks to the most in the eyes of many. Short tracks have risen in prestige. The “restrictor-plate tracks” have generally maintained their prestige, though technical changes have created some variance.

I’m late to the party, but, fortunately, there isn’t one. This morning, I mainly drink alone. If the damage done to NASCAR’s competitive reputation by the imprecisely worded “double-file restarts” has occurred to others, I missed their claims. I dreaded writing this blog for quite some time, measured in years, because I didn’t look forward to the tedium of explaining it. I hope, finally, I’ve managed to write this in a way that others can understand.

Give my short fiction a look at wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, and if, miraculously, you enjoy it, please consider the books I’ve written that you can purchase here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

The Usual Suspects Number Two

The No. 48 of Jimmie Johnson has a target on it, but it's too far away to hit. (Andrew Coppley/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
The No. 48 of Jimmie Johnson has a target on it, but it’s too far away to hit. (Andrew Coppley/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, April 13, 2015, 7:15 p.m.

I had a bit of a “Eureka moment” this morning.

The racing at NASCAR’s intermediate tracks has fallen into disfavor, and I was wondering why. By intermediate track, I’m referring to those that are intermediate in several ways. They are 1.5 to 2.0 miles in length, ovals by approximate configuration, 14 to 24 degrees in banking, and unrestricted in power.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

They comprise about 44 percent of the tracks and 39 percent of the races, the difference reflecting the fact that not every track has two annual points events.

As seems the case with every great burning issue in NASCAR and a goodly percentage of those elsewhere, it’s much easier to list the problems than it is to assign importance.

Among the reasons frequently mentioned are, in no particular order: (1.) the simple, intuitive “the racing stinks”; (2.) whoever is in front invariably pulls away; (3.) not enough passing; and, (4.) too many tricks designed to make it look better than it is.

We now live in a world where some approve of debris cautions even if they are bogus. If they bunch up the field for a few laps and inject some strategy, more and more fans are basically saying to NASCAR, “More power to you.”

I’m not willing to call for institutionalized corruption myself. If they’re waving a caution flag for competition reasons, be honest about it. Early in races, they have “competition cautions” many weeks. I often refer to them as “lack of competition cautions,” but at least they’re honest.

Kevin Harvick has won three of the past six races on intermediate tracks. Johnson won the other three. (Garry Eller/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick has won three of the past six races on intermediate tracks. Johnson won the other three. (Garry Eller/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Forget about all that, though. What occurred to me, lying in bed, half asleep, pondering whether or not I ought to sleep a little longer, was that what is most wrong at the intermediate tracks is their predictability. I think Denny Hamlin’s post-race remarks at Texas may have spurred my thought processes.

Perhaps Hamlin was a bad influence, but here’s what he said:

“Stats don’t lie, and the stats say that those guys (Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson) … [are] going to be capable of winning right now. To be realistic, we need stuff to go our way. We need cautions and track position. We just can’t drive through the field like that — what those guys are capable of — and we’re a work in progress.

“From ideas to design to on the race track is six months, and sometimes it’s a year, and I’m confident, though, that by the time we get to the Chase, we’re going to have something that’s capable of running with those guys. We don’t right now.”

Why is Kurt Busch smiling? He seems fast enough but hasn't managed to pull off a win yet. (Garry Eller/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Why is Kurt Busch smiling? He seems fast enough but hasn’t managed to pull off a win yet. (Garry Eller/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

I’d add Kurt Busch to the “cut above” category. The Penske Fords, driven by Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, are close. The remaining Hendrick Chevys – Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, and Kasey Kahne – are within range. So is the sport’s most notable underdog of the moment, Martin Truex Jr., and the Gibbs Toyotas of Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, and, at present, David Ragan. The Ganassi Chevys of Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson have their moments.

Still, when a race starts on an intermediate track, right now, it appears as if either Harvick or Johnson is going to win. This has some basis in fact, particularly if one narrows the track definition to the 1.5-mile tracks, where either Harvick or Johnson has won the past six. Each has won three.

It will get better. It could scarcely get worse.

Here’s my theory. The biggest reason for the dreary expectation is that there aren’t enough drivers and cars, at present, that can win.

The tracks aren’t made from one “cookie cutter,” as is often claimed, but three: (1.) the Bruton Smith model (truncated tri-ovals with sharp angles), (2.) the D-shaped model (rounded trioval, less banking), and (3.) the Michigan model (similar to No. 2 but slightly longer). Homestead-Miami isn’t a tri-oval but belongs in the class as the only unique one.

At Atlanta, Charlotte, Vegas, Texas, Kansas, Chicagoland, Auto Club, Michigan, Kentucky, and Homestead, the favorites are Harvick and Johnson. Someone else might win. Strategy affects the outcome, but if the end of the race is near, and Harvick or Johnson is out front, the heavy odds are that Harvick or Johnson will win.

The field of contenders is much broader at the plate tracks, the flat tracks, the short tracks, the road courses, and Darlington, which, of course, is a marvel unto itself.

Martin Truex Jr. leads Ryan Newman at Kansas Speedway last fall. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Martin Truex Jr. leads Ryan Newman at Kansas Speedway last fall. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Someone like, oh, Clint Bowyer might win. Or Truex. Or Ryan Newman.

He might even do it by outrunning Harvick and Johnson.

At the tracks that most affect who will win the Sprint Cup championship, most teams are trying to pull rabbits out of hats.

Read my short fiction at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, and when, invariably, you love what you read there, undoubtedly you’ll want to buy some of my books here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

The School of Hard Knocks (and Cold Beers)

Texas Motor Speedway. (Monte Dutton)
Texas Motor Speedway. (Monte Dutton photo)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, April 11, 2015, 11:51 a.m.

Years ago, I used to say that I didn’t like sports as much as I liked sports writing. Furthermore, I liked “being a sports writer.”

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

Back in those days, my favorite people were other sports writers. I liked the irreverent atmosphere of press row. I liked going out to dinner and telling stories we’d all heard a hundred times before, but they were so good, they still made us laugh.

“Tell that story about you and old Fred coming home from Middle Tennessee State, Tom.”

Ten, fifteen years ago, it was still a job worth doing. We spent eight to twelve hours at the track, and then we’d find other ways to spend the remainder of earth’s daily rotation. We might play golf. We might go to ballgames. We might go watch live music somewhere.

Bruce Robison at the Aardvark in Fort Worth in 2010. (Monte Dutton photo)
Bruce Robison at the Aardvark in Fort Worth in 2010. (Monte Dutton photo)

I always watched live music somewhere in Texas. One year, the night before the race, I went to a little dive in Denton to see Dale Watson or Max Stalling, and if there’s one thing in Texas you can’t depend on, it’s the time a headliner hits the stage. Eight often becomes eleven. I didn’t get out of there till two in the morning, and traffic was way worse back then than it is now, principally because crowds were way larger, and the worst traffic in NASCAR was outside Texas Motor Speedway because everything is bigger in Texas, and there’s also “a little bit of everythang” there.

The late Neal Sims was famous in the ranks for his ability to miss the traffic. He always said you could wait until right before the green flag and “drive right in.” I think it helped that Neal looked almost exactly like Mark Twain, though I can’t really say why that made a difference. What most people identified as the Singing of the National Anthem, we in the press box called the Arrival of Neal Sims. He’d walk in to a smattering of applause – I reckon we could cheer for each other, just not partisan interests – and say, “Yep. Drove right in.”

Traffic is also a problem on the actual track. It's much faster, though.  (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet)
Traffic is also a problem on the actual track. It’s much faster, though. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet)

On race morning, I awakened a bit the worse for wear and decided it was time to give the Neal Sims Strategy a try. Texas was not the place for a debut run. Compared to Neal, I was a novice, a track champion from Smoky Mountain Raceway who had been miraculously given a shot with the Wood Brothers.

Sometimes, as here at Captain Chuck's in Michigan, I went to play music myself.
Sometimes, as here at Captain Chuck’s in Michigan, I went to play music myself.

I heard the national anthem. It was on the radio. The track was barely in sight. When I walked into the press box, the leader was on lap 38. It was the only time in twenty years of regular service that I failed to see the start of a Cup race, or, maybe, there was that time at Rockingham when nature called. I’m not sure.

Neal and I walked into the lobby at the bottom of the main tower at the same time.

“First time I ever got burned,” he said.

“First time I ever tried,” I replied.

That’s the way a man learned life’s lessons back “in them days,” as Matt Kenseth might say.

The above is true. Stuff I make up is located at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, and my books, true and not, are available here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1415634579&sr=1-1

 

Well, That’s Baseball!

Opening Night for the Greenville Drive at Fluor Field. (Monte Dutton)
Opening Night for the Greenville Drive at Fluor Field. (Monte Dutton)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, April 10, 2015, 9:20 a.m.

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

I was thinking on the way home last night, trying to remember if I had ever been to a professional baseball Opening Night.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

I wrote about quite a few, but I couldn’t remember going to a team’s first game as a fan.

A notable Home Opener is rooted deep in my memory. My 16th birthday was April 8, 1974, and in one of the spur-of-the-moment decisions for which my father was famous, I was in Atlanta (later Fulton County, too) Stadium on the night Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run. That was a memorable night for Duttons as well as Aarons, though not entirely for the same reasons.

As a general rule, I’m the kind of fan who waits to the second game, when it won’t be so crowded and there won’t be a traffic jam, but, as luck would have it, an old college friend called – no, of course, he didn’t call; this is 2015; of course, he sent a message – and asked me to go with him and his father, whom I hadn’t seen in decades, to watch the Greenville Drive take on the Augusta GreenJackets.

We met at a sports bar near the park, and, naturally, Steve Grant, my friend, asked if I’d heard who was leading the Masters, and I thought, well, the tournament’s in Augusta, but the GreenJackets are here.

Later on, I found out that Jordan “I Before E, Unlike Keith” Spieth had, uh, carded a 64.

The Drive edged the Augusta GreenJackets, 3-2. (Monte Dutton)
The Drive edged the Augusta GreenJackets, 3-2. (Monte Dutton)

The first time I ever saw Lou Grant, he was pushing a rack of furs at his business in the Garment District of New York City. His son, who played first base at Furman, lived in Paramus, New Jersey, and I spent most of a week at their house the summer after we graduated in 1980. That was my summer of being a bum, knowing I was taking a graduate assistantship in the fall. I made some cash money driving used cars that had been purchased in auctions down south to dealerships up north. Sometimes I drove the car up there and took a bus home. I could make some of what seemed like serious money at the time if I could find a car somewhere around New York or Philadelphia to drive back home.

When I visited the Grants, I decided I’d wait a few days to see if I could find a car to drive back to South Carolina. It was a time of freedom and risk. That summer I took buses and trains, and made plans on the fly, and even hitchhiked across New Jersey once and happened upon an alumni celebration at Princeton in which the Ivy League nobility wore cheap slacks with growling tigers running across the fabric and drank heavily to the glory of Alma Mater. They were nice to me and even got me drunk, though I stuck out in that particular crowd.

“Bernice, come here! I want you to meet my new Southern friend!”

Good crowd on hand, though not a sellout, which I couldn't understand because Pabst Blue Ribbons were a buck apiece. (Monte Dutton)
Good crowd on hand, though not a sellout, which I couldn’t understand because Pabst Blue Ribbons were a buck apiece. (Monte Dutton)

I watched Lou play fast-pitch softball in a summer league and met one of the players who just happened to be the brother of Hall of Famer Juan Marichal. It was long ago. It only seems like yesterday.

Even though it was Opening Night, it was also Dollar Beverage Night, and the dollar beer was Pabst Blue Ribbon, and a friend of Steve’s who joined us kept coming back from the concession stand with two. This contributed to my boisterous singing along with “Sweet Caroline” – the Drive is (they would prefer “are”) an affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, whose affiliation I enjoy as a fan – in the middle of the eighth inning, just like at Fenway.

Steve and Lou are Yankee fans, but they don’t hold it against the local minor-league affiliate.

Lou and I talked old-time baseball, mostly about players he saw and I read about. We talked about Hank and Ted, and how I worry about the Red Sox’ fielding because they have too many players mismatched with their positions, and Lou offered his opinions of Joe Girardi, and I chimed in with mine of the New York general manager, Brian Cashman, but a lot of the names were relatively obscure, at least to the fans of today: Camilo Pascual, Joe Foy, Tom Tresh, Bobby Richardson, Tony Kubek, and a shortstop named John Kennedy who played five games for the Phillies the year before I was born.

“Who was that third baseman for the Red Sox in the Sixties?”

“Joe Foy? Dalton Jones?”

“Before them.”

“Frank Malzone?”

“That’s the guy.”

Steve and Lou left with the score tied, 2-2, after a first-round draft choice from Marietta, Georgia, named Michael Chavis cleared the Fluor Field center-field wall in the bottom of the seventh. It was a blast, a missile of four hundred feet.

Me, I can’t leave a tie game, and the old satirical cry from my days on the minor league beat occurred to me: “We are going nineteen!”

Thanks to Chavis, though, the game ended an out shy of regulation. He knocked in the winning run with what was almost a second homer. It bounced about a foot below the top of Greenville’s Green Monster clone, and the Drive won, 3-2.

I drove home, searching the AM band for some ballgame somewhere, not knowing that all the big-league action was already over. The best I could do was listen to a bit of the post-game talk from Philadelphia, where the Red Sox had taken two out of three from the Phillies.

It’s the time of the year when almost every question can be answered, “Well, that’s baseball.”

I’ve written a couple baseball-themed short stories at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, by short fiction depository, and I’d appreciate it if you’d take a look at my books here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1415634579&sr=1-1

 

On 57’s in General

The number '42' did not match my skill set in high school, either.
The number ’42’ did not match my skill set in high school, either.

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, April 8, 2015, 12:42 p.m.

The first race driver I ever considered a friend was Jason Keller. He drove No. 57.

I am 57 today. Small world, huh? No. Not really. It’s just the first one that occurred to me.

I was working mostly desk at the Greenville News, but they indulged my desire to write by letting me hobnob with the racers at places like Greenville-Pickens Speedway, I-85 Raceway (long gone, once located near the airport), Cherokee Speedway, and I’m not sure if I ever went up to Travelers Rest or whether that was strictly when I was enrolled at Furman University.

Bronson Arroyo wore '61' for both the Reds and the Red Sox, and it's the closest to '57' I can find in the file. (Monte Dutton)
Bronson Arroyo wore ’61’ for both the Reds and the Red Sox, and it’s the closest to ’57’ I can find in the file. (Monte Dutton)

Keller was then racing in the All Pro Series and preparing to make his first Busch (now Xfinity) start. His shop wasn’t too far from Furman, and it was near Associated Grocers, which had supplied my grandfather’s market while I was growing up. As a matter of fact, I worked on the farm for nothing save, I guess, room and board, but I got my spending money “putting up the grocery order” at the store every Thursday after school.

Small world, huh? No. Not really. It’s just what I remember.

The trip out to the Air Products shop – I laughed at “products made of air” – was also when I first met Steve Addington, who went on to become a journeyman crew chief who made his name with Keller and then went on to head up many Sprint Cup crews. He outlasted me on that circuit, at least in the traveling department.

When Tiny Lund won the Daytona 500 in 1963, he was driving the Wood Brothers' No. 21, but for most of his career, he drove No. 55.
When Tiny Lund won the Daytona 500 in 1963, he was driving the Wood Brothers’ No. 21, but for most of his career, he drove No. 55.

Fifty-seven is also the number of a steak sauce I’ve always liked. The first race car I ever noted wearing that number was a purple Dodge Charger driven by Johnny Halford in the Southern 500. I remember it slightly because it was purple, which wasn’t too common, and mostly because my father, brother and I were sitting on the back (now the front) straight, and that car was pitting in front of us, and several times, the driver climbed out and changed a couple tires himself.

It wasn’t easy being a Boy named Sue, either.

I’ve always liked ’57 Chevy BelAirs. It seems to me that very few didn’t. I’d have to say, though, that I liked the ’55 a little better. I liked it better without the fins.

Hut Stricklin later drove a No. 57 Pontiac that was sponsored by Heinz, though if memory serves, it was the ketchup (or was it catsup?) advertised on the sides and hood.

Tom Jackson wore “57” in the NFL. Steve Howe wore it in the big leagues. Mainly I wore “50” in high school football, but I wore “58” and “71” in junior high. The year before I was born was ’57. The first time I played golf, I shot 57 on the front nine, but I skied to 61 on the back. I was about 13, maybe.

That’s all I know about “57.” I’m expecting to go to school on it in the coming year.

My short fiction is available at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com. My long fiction available here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1415634579&sr=1-1

 

 

 

Rain … Just … Falls

Rosemont Cemetery, Clinton, SC. (Monte Dutton)
Rosemont Cemetery, Clinton, SC. (Monte Dutton)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, April 7, 2015, 11:32 a.m.

I can sing all them songs about Texas / And I still do all the sad ones that you know / They tell me I look like Merle Haggard / And sound a lot like David Allan Coe. – David Allan Coe, “Long-Haired Redneck”

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

Easter is gone. Racing will be back this weekend in the outlandish, rootin’ tootin,’ brisket-lovin’ State of Texas, where, if you’re not from there, you ought to be. Jeff Burton is through dancing in the streets of South Boston, Virginia, because the Dookies are triumphant, and I expect this week Darrell Waltrip’s going to be strangely silent about the ‘Cats.

The Boston Red Sox aren’t playing tonight, so I have a day to settle down from the 8-0, five-homerin,’ Opening Day whupping in and of Philadelphia. Sometime soon the Red Sox will lose, the Yankees will win, and the season will hinge on what patterns subsequently develop. The pattern that developed last year was that neither team made the postseason, but they’ll still be featured on Sunday Night Baseball, anyway, because that’s the way the Bosox and the Bombers roll. I don’t care whether they’re on ESPN or not because I’ll watch it on NESN.

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

Tomorrow I will have outlived my father, a modest achievement as it turned out. It’ll be 22 years in the fall. Lots of moving on takes place at the unexpected checkpoints in this stage of life. Each night we say our prayers for the living, but, increasingly, what we think about are the ones who are gone. A friend. A hero. A sibling. Some losses are sudden. Some are merely the sinking beneath the waves of burnt-out hulks that had been adrift for years.

There’s never been a man who ever shook this can / But I know a man who tried / The newspapers called it a jail break plan / But I know it was suicide / I know it was suicide. – Johnny Cash, “The Walls of a Prison”

I was commiserating when I wrote a song six or seven years back, when the century turned and a string of tragedies came with it.

You’ve had hard times / Most self-imposed / You’ve taken long trips / Down rocky roads / But for every hill you’ve tumbled down / It’s been worth it all / Having you around

When the sun comes up on that bright morn / In the quiet that follows every storm / When the demons have all died away / We’ll celebrate your independence day

You’ve thrown all caution / To the wind / There are few rules / You haven’t bent / You’ve turned your life into a game of chance / On the tightrope of life / You love to dance

You can’t live / On bread alone / When you’re nothing / But skin and bones / You’ve got to get your nourishment / They’ll throw you out / If you can’t pay the rent – “Your Independence Day”

My mother grew up on Peachtree Street in Lydia Mill. It's changed. Then again, it's been a while. (Monte Dutton)
My mother grew up on Peachtree Street in Lydia Mill. It’s changed. Then again, it’s been a while. (Monte Dutton)

My life has had its own Clayton Delaney, its own General Patton, its Scarlett O’Hara, its Meggie Cleary, its Shoeless Joe Jackson, and, Lord knows, its Huckleberry Finn and Holden Caulfield.

Someone even before Billy Joel observed that “only the good die young,” but it’s untrue. Those who die young never get a chance to cultivate the good sufficiently. Many more of those who die old are good. The young who die are the promising, and that makes them seem good at the time of their demise, and the goodness just grows in memory, slowly rooting out the weeds and flourishing in the mind’s eye.

“The good die young … because they see it’s no use living if you’ve got to be good.” – John Barrymore

Death takes the good / Too good to stay / And leaves the bad / Too bad to take away – Harold Kushner

I don’t often get this contemplative in this space. I’m not often able to anticipate what I will contemplate in the mornings, but what I do often ends up here. Please sample my short fiction at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com and consider buying my books at this link: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1415634579&sr=1-1

 

 

 

A Time of Illogical Hope

Latham Stadium, Furman University, Greenville, South Carolina. (Monte Dutton)
Latham Stadium, Furman University, Greenville, South Carolina. (Monte Dutton)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, April 6, 2015, 10:01 a.m.

Normally, at this point on Monday mornings, I’m collecting and recording my day-after observations and conclusions about a NASCAR race. For reasons both admirable and economic, stock car racing’s ruling body turns Easter over to the Lord, the bunny rabbits, and the hard-boiled eggs.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

Guess what? Baseball arrives with the first whiffs of summer air, the smell of freshly cut grass, the crack of the bat, and the sound of thousands and thousands of exhales – yes, it really is breathless – as that tiny ball soars uncertainly.

The exhale is often in the form of a moan. Either that or jumping around. Uh, huh! Uh, huh! Uh, huh! Aaaiiieee! Not too unlike the hee-haw of a donkey.

The season began last night with a logical outcome. The St. Louis Cardinals celebrated the messing up of Wrigley Field with a 3-0 decision over the Chicago Cubs. The Cardinals have the most fortunate rivals in sports. Imagine if Ohio State’s biggest game of the year matched the Buckeyes against Ohio University.

The Presbyterian Blue Hose. (Monte Dutton)
The Presbyterian Blue Hose. (Monte Dutton)

Yet I have always liked the Cubs in the same way Lee Clayton wrote for Waylon Jennings that babies love stray dogs (“Ladies Love Outlaws”).

Ray Milland starred in a screwball comedy of a baseball movie called It Happens Every Spring. Below are some of what happens every spring.

Some team will inexplicably get off to a fast start, but all the laughter will have died in sorrow long before the All-Star Break.

As luck would have it, I was sketching this while Tim Lincecum was throwing his second no-hitter. He was actually wearing a white jersey. I was trying to add color to the sketch. I had no idea it was going to be a gem. (Monte Dutton sketch)
As luck would have it, I was sketching this while Tim Lincecum was throwing his second no-hitter. He was actually wearing a white jersey. I was trying to add color to the sketch. I had no idea it was going to be a gem. (Monte Dutton sketch)

Someone will toss a no-hitter and then struggle in almost every other start. For the past two seasons, that pitcher has been Tim Lincecum.

Some kid who batted .467 in spring training will hit .167 in April. Some veteran who hit .167 in the spring will hit .467 in April.

A good team will get off to a slow start. It’s cause for concern. Don’t get too excited, though. Forget I wrote that. If it’s your favorite, you will get excited no matter what. Hot start? Woo-hoo! Slow start? Dadgummit! Playing .500 ball? We’re this far! This far from being a winner.

It reminds me of those fluorescent letters in the plate-glass windows of automobile dealerships: Good credit? Bad credit? No credit at all? Drive right in, and drive right out in a brand-new Daewoo!

Hey, thanks for reading. If you think of it, check out my short fiction at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, and my books here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

All the Dyed Easter Eggs of Sport

It's a little easier to compare Fenway Park now to Fenway Park then, but some things are timeless. (Monte Dutton)
It’s a little easier to compare Fenway Park now to Fenway Park then, but some things are timeless. (Monte Dutton)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, April 5, 2015, 9:32 a.m.

Happy Easter. May you ponder its significance, and may it mean more to you than dyed eggs and chocolate bunny rabbits. Don’t feel guilty about it, though, for kids like dyed eggs and chocolate rabbits. Christ is risen, and, coincidentally, here comes Peter Cottontail, hopping down the bunny trail.

So many Easter Bunnies in the world of sports.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

The present is glorified to the detriment of the past, and, ultimately, it’s because there isn’t much money to be made from the past.

Kentucky lost last night in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, falling two shy of the first 40-victory season. To be fair, it should be acknowledged that, for most of college basketball history, no one had a chance to win 40 games because a season wasn’t that long. Kentucky was 38-2 in 2012, 38-1 this year, the Wildcats that lost two won the national championship.

Indiana only had a chance to be 32-0 in 1976. North Carolina was 32-0 in 1957. San Francisco was 29-0 in 1956. UCLA went 30-0 in 1964, ’67, ’72, and ’73.

One cannot hold it against a school that it won as many games as it was allowed to play. The seasons get longer, but one cannot improve upon perfection.

When Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941, it was a percentage that hasn’t been equaled since. No one in college basketball has equaled 1.000 since 1976, and 1.000 cannot be exceeded, no matter how many times an athlete says he’s giving 110 percent.

Post-season home runs? The entire post-season in baseball consisted of the World Series until 1969. Mickey Mantle hit 18 home runs in the Series. That’s the pertinent record.

Would Clayton Kershaw overpower Babe Ruth?  (Monte Dutton sketch)
Would Clayton Kershaw overpower Babe Ruth? (Monte Dutton sketch)

Underneath this façade of hype, somehow it has become acceptable to defend the superiority of the present by citing the level of play. Athletes are better. Everything is bigger. Conditions have changed. Babe Ruth couldn’t touch Clayton Kershaw, or whoever the current pitching Flavor of the Month is.

That isn’t legitimate, either. An athlete can do no better than to dominate his era.

The football players of the 1960s weren’t as large. Or as fast. Well, guess what, if Jerry Kramer came along now, he’d have had the advantage of all that we know now that we didn’t then. He’d be larger. He’d be faster. He’d have the advantage of all the training techniques. So would Johnny Unitas. So would Wilt Chamberlain. So would Bobby Orr.

Petty Blue forever.
Petty Blue forever.

If Richard Petty was 22 again, now, and strapped himself into one of the Power Generics that pass for stock cars nowadays, he’d figure out how to get it around the track fast. He’d be more comfortable, too. Back in his day, winning drivers climbed out of their cars looking exhausted. Perhaps it was because a few climbed in looking hung over.

I get tired of this “but, uuhhh, back in Petty’s day, he used to lap the whole field.” Look into this a little more, bud. If not for free passes, wave-arounds, and hot-dog-wrapper cautions, drivers would lap the field now. NASCAR is highly competitive, but it’s not as much different from the old days as hype-aholics would have one believe. Engines and tires weren’t as reliable. More fell by the wayside. At the beginning of the races, particularly the big ones, there were lots of drivers in the lineup who had a shot.

Another fake measure is money. Most of it’s counterfeit. Today athletes make more in a game, or a match, or a tournament, or a contest, than many greats earned in their careers. Easter is probably the last day we should claim that money really means anything, but, for God’s sake (literally), if one must cite money, at least allow for inflation.

It’s not just sports, of course. Don’t tell me how much bigger than Gone with the Wind the latest box-office smash is until you charge everyone a nickel to get in.

I’m satisfied most readers of this blog will nod a couple of times while reading it, then go back to hinting darkly that Rory McIlroy is better than Arnold Palmer ever thought about being. At the very least, check back with me in 15 years. Let a career run its course, and try to compare mashies with mashies and not niblicks with spoons. Meanwhile, read my short fiction at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com and then visit here and buy a novel or two: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

Trying to Reason with the Season to Date

For Jeff Gordon, so far the last hurrahs haven't been that frequent.(Monte Dutton sketch)
For Jeff Gordon, so far the last hurrahs haven’t been that frequent.(Monte Dutton sketch)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, April 1, 2015, 12:42 p.m.

NASCAR has gotten quite a bit more complicated over the past few weeks.

From the very beginning, the Sprint Cup season has been marked by the unexpected, but not in the ways one might have anticipated.

It hasn't been this close since the Daytona 500, and it probably won't be again till Talladega. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
It hasn’t been this close since the Daytona 500, and it probably won’t be again till Talladega. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

One of the sport’s more talented drivers, Kyle Busch, seriously injured himself in a Daytona Beach crash, and when he will be back is a matter of great conjecture and little disclosure.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

Kurt Busch, Kyle’s older brother, started the season under suspension for his personal conduct. He is now back, though opinion is still divided somewhat over whether or not he ought to be.

Another driver, Brian Vickers, is in the never-never land that comes with a medical problem that periodically recurs. Blood clots have reappeared. Vickers is back on blood thinners. He can’t race on blood thinners, and it’s starting to look like maybe he should, in the name of health and well-being, just call it quits.

Martin Truex Jr. has the No. 78 on the rise again. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevy Racing)
Martin Truex Jr. has the No. 78 on the rise again. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevy Racing)

Kyle Larson sat out Martinsville after fainting in an autograph session. He’s no longer in the hospital. There’s no race on Easter. Perhaps he’ll be back at the next race in Fort Worth.

The president of a major team, J.D. Gibbs at Joe Gibbs Racing, is at least hindered by mental problems that are as shrouded in mystery as the problems themselves.

The great Kevin Harvick streak – eight consecutive races (last three of 2014, first five of ’15) finishing either first or second – has ended. An impressive and perhaps even more unexpected streak by Martin Truex Jr. – six straight top-10 finishes for a team that had a miserable year in 2014 – continues.

Jimmie Johnson has a win, but, otherwise, he has only rarely flexed his muscles. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson has a win, but, otherwise, he has only rarely flexed his muscles. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)

The past two races have greatly broadened the results. There have been no surprise winners, but six races into the season, five different drivers have won: Harvick twice, Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, and Denny Hamlin. Chevys have won three races, Fords two and Toyotas one.

Harvick may still be the championship favorite, but the current format means being the favorite isn’t what it used to be.

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

In conjunction with the festive occasion of Easter, when, inexplicably, eggs are hidden to honor the risen Christ, NASCAR officials excised a massive number (75) of the points that don’t matter that much from the team of driver Ryan Newman and owner Richard Childress. The crew chief, Luke Lambert, has been fined $125,000. This would be a really onerous penalty if NASCAR didn’t allow the team to pay it, and letting the team pay it sort of defeats the punitive effect.

But that, as Walter Cronkite once might have said, is the way it is.

Tony Stewart has been in every race but hasn’t done much racing. Truex is third in points. Jeff Gordon is tied for 16th. Some have been surprisingly reliable. Some have been shockingly erratic. The season is just starting to sort itself out.

Read my books. Please. They’re available here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1415634579&sr=1-1