The ‘PC Man’ with the Fighting Spirit

Cally Gault with that Bronze Derby he loved so well.

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, April 20, 2019, 2:16 p.m.

Presbyterian College is erecting student housing on the site of the old Bailey Memorial Stadium, which was known as Walter Johnson Field when I was a lad. The home stands were backed against Leroy Springs Gymnasium, which is now the student center. The unique aspect of the old stadium was that a smokestack attached to the gym went right through the middle of the press box.

I was never in that press box until the 1980s, when I was out of college and writing for The Clinton Chronicle about the Blue Hose.

Johnson Field was a place of great wonder. My father and I used to sit in the little bleachers behind the end zone, the better for me to crumple paper Coca-Cola cups and turn them into makeshift footballs for games of tackle behind the stands and inside the cinder track. Occasionally, I got to be a ball boy because one of my friends was Cal Gault, whose father coached the Blue Hose.

Cal Gault died in an automobile accident many years ago. His father – Cally, a.k.a. “The Houn” because his full first name was Calhoun – was the football coach from the time I was five to the time I was 26. He was athletics director for 11 years after that and athletics director emeritus until the day he died, which was Friday.

Cally was a man who laughed easily, never more so than when he was the butt of the joke, at which point he would say something even funnier about himself. He had a deep voice that carried, which was appropriate for a man prone to getting carried away. He laughed easily, cried easily, was as competitive as a cornered raccoon and as kind as a village pastor. Steve Earle sang of a road “straighter than a preacher, longer than a memory.” That was the one Cally rode.

At his induction into the first class of the Laurens County Sports Hall of Fame. (Monte Dutton photo)

A few may have thought him a bit much, but no one disliked him. Not a rival coach. Not a spurned athlete. Not a cynical scribe.

In the years since I returned home from the NASCAR frontier, I saw a lot of him. He and Joy were at most of the home basketball games, all of the home football games, and the President’s Box at the modern Bailey Memorial Stadium is right next to the press box. It wasn’t uncommon for us to chat in the hall at halftime. After he told me for approximately the 10th time that he’d like to hear me play guitar and sing, I took it over to the hospitality tent he frequented one Saturday and played him a few country songs before a Blue Hose home game.

I saw him at the Hall of Fame inductions. I saw him at the Touchdown Club. I went to the party in Greenville when he turned 90. I thought he might be ailing because he hadn’t been at Templeton Center for the basketball games late in the season, and I know he wanted to be there because the team was good in general and better at home.

Pixabay

“That Fighting Blue Hose Spirit” wasn’t a cliché to Cally. He believed in it. He preferred a fellow “PC Man,” which I wasn’t, but it was okay because I was a fellow Clinton man, and that was character-building, too, in his eyes.

He died at 91. I wish more people could have seen him at 41. He was a bantam rooster on the sideline, running up and down, slapping fannies, waving his arms at officials, but seldom crossing the line at the edge of sportsmanship. He said “Gollamighty” a lot, about as much as his coaching friend Art Baker yelled “Hot-dow, son!”

In summary, I’m not sad. I won’t see Cally anymore, but there are many humorous memories that will sustain me, just as it will all his friends, and he collected them like Facebook. When he arrived in heaven, God had to tell everybody to hold it down.

 

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

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

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

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

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

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

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Where Did All the Race Fans Go? Long Time Passing …

NASCAR can’t hide those Bristol empty seats. (NASCAR Media)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, April 14, 2019, 5:39 p.m.

Monte Dutton

Tiger Woods won the Masters, and the whole world is obsessed about it, and so many people are probably blogging about it that there’s nothing I could write that isn’t bettered by those who were there and those who watched it on TV more closely than I did.

Besides, the Red Sox were on so I kept switching back and forth, rooting for the Xaviers, Schauffele and Bogaerts. The Boston shortstop came through with a three-run homer, and I didn’t really care that much about the golfer. I was just looking for synchronicity, that’s all. A man’s got to have synchronicity. It just seldom occurs to him.

I spend lots of time thinking about stock car racing. Some fans get angry now any time the low attendance is mentioned. Sorry. It’s news, just as it was news when 162,000 attended races at Bristol.

After watching NASCAR spend the last 15 years like it was slowly getting “eat up with cancer,” I’m ready for remission. I’ve thought and thought, and out of all those thoughts and many others I’ve read, heard and seen, I think it’s complicated, easy to come up with reasons why but hard to assign values to them. Everyone has strong opinions, and I reckon I’m one of them.

(NASCAR Media)

But I can’t cite enough reasons to make them add up to 162,000 fans in 2004 and subtract into 38,000 now. Many of the items cited – price gouging, high prices, traffic, drivers are assholes, BZF, etc. – were just as true, in some cases more so, when NASCAR was preaching manifest destiny (and Mojo Nixon manifold destiny) in relation to the rest of the sporting landscape.

I’d almost pay to experience race traffic now. I remember when I left the hotel before dawn and read 100 pages of a Dick Francis novel before Texas Motor Speedway opened its gates.

Atlanta Motor Speedway once had hellish traffic. By the time a four-lane from the interstate was completed, the crowds were gone. The problem is solved and nobody knows it.

Martin Truex Jr. won at a short track for the first time in his career. (NASCAR Media)

Once upon a time, those of us in the media partied in the parking lot long after we’d finished our stories because, at places like Bristol and Richmond, the way out was gridlocked and all sportswriters know that time in traffic is time wasted. That plus, when the traffic finally got out, so too did the cops. That’s why I called those parties “perfect crimes.”

NASCAR is about racing. Now they race to tear down grandstands fast enough to keep them populated, and they’re still getting their asses kicked.

Yogi Berra died, and I don’t think anyone else could explain it.

Meanwhile, NASCAR is just spinning its wheels. The Lords of Daytona Beach haven’t had a good restart since Junie Donlavey owned a team. They’ve missed more shifts than Dale Earnhardt when he worked in the cotton mill.

I take no satisfaction in this. I’ve loved stock car racing since my daddy took me to the Greenwood fairgrounds to see Fireball Roberts race a modified. That little quarter mile of dirt hasn’t even been there in 50 years, and I just turned 61, and Roberts died almost 55 years ago, so my memories are sparse other than Fireball’s little coupe was gold and black.

Run every possible combination of ingredients through the meat grinder, and it’s still the same hamburger. Racing just went out of style. Not to me. Not to you. But with the relatively young, it went the way of Mario Brothers and Tetris.

That reminds me. Please do not tell me it’s because young people have short attention spans. No one who can play something called Fortnite for five straight hours has a short attention span.

It’s somewhat amazing the number of high school kids who idolize Earnhardt – I know at least three who display him on their social-media pages – even though they were born about the time he died, and if you asked them what they knew about Christopher Bell, they’d say, “I don’t know. Does he rap?”

His name is Christopher Bell. Duh.

Presbyterian College had a football player who transferred to Temple after the Blue Hose deemphasized their program. Now he’s about to be an early-round draft pick in the NFL. His name is Rock Ya-Sin.

That’s who needs to drive a race car.

 

 

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

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

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

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

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

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

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Spring Is a Blur

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, March 30, 2019, 12:49 p.m.

Sure, I find time to play my guitar a little. I’ve been reading a lot. Basketball games are going on while I track down who died or got arrested, which people are prone to do with regularity. I try to look for a ballgame that’s close and watch the end of it.

Late last night, the Boston Red Sox performed their first wildly improbable comeback of the year, turning a 6-1 deficit into a 7-6 victory in Seattle. I’ve learned better than to give up on the Sox. Mitch Moreland’s three-run homer in the top of the ninth was Boston’s fourth of the game. I went to bed happy, and when I got up, I wasn’t too sore.

Local sports is wild this time of year. Three high schools – Clinton, Laurens, Laurens Academy – and a college, Presbyterian, are playing baseball, softball, soccer, tennis, golf, lacrosse, Science Olympiad, robotics, academics, and, no, the last ones aren’t sports, but I write about more than sports, and I edit many times that. Heck, I even edited the bookmobile schedule a couple days ago, and since I like to read in addition to write – I find them intertwined – it’s the least I could do.

In the fall and spring, I seek out coverage of football and basketball. In the spring, it’s too much. What doesn’t get reported, I look for online, and if I can’t find it there, I try to get it when I can. This morning I’ve checked other papers, several websites, and the usual sources, and I believe I could get my hands on the full Mueller Report easier than the details of last night’s Red Devil baseball game.

This makes me suspect they lost. Undoubtedly I’ll update the County Sports Report once I get clear of the days obits and arrests.

The Laurens Raiders are rolling in baseball and softball and struggling in tennis and soccer. Everything else is somewhere in between. The LA Crusaders only play baseball and softball (though I saw something on social media about sporting clays), and they’re having a hard time in both. Clinton is undefeated in tennis but defeated in everything else. Girls’ soccer has been a surprise.

Last night I got so distracted at the Clinton-Union County boys’ soccer match that I forgot to call the radio station that likes me to talk about NASCAR on Friday nights. I tune out when I’m supposed to tune in once or twice a year because I have been absentminded all my life, and sometimes I get carried away, down at the end of the grandstands, telling funny stories and taking pictures, and the next time I think about going on the radio is when I’ve processed photos, the Red Sox game is starting, and I noticed my cell has received several texts.

Sorry. My fault. Like in Animal House: You trusted me …

South Carolina isn’t quite like Texas, where it’s claimed the chief sports are football and spring football. As a coincidence, however, spring football practices will begin soon.

 

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

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

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

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

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

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

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Bleary Reflections on Ichiro

Pixabay

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, March 21, 2019, 9:57 a.m.

Monte Dutton

Baseball began while I was asleep. The first two games were in Tokyo.

Had the Boston Red Sox been there, I would have gotten up at 5:30 the last two days. Instead, the Mariners played the Athletics and beat them twice. Everyone else begins next week, but for now, as soon as the Mariners land at Sea-Tac (Seattle-Tacoma, which I know is the airport because I’ve flown there), the best record in baseball will reside in Seattle.

I wouldn’t plan on being in the World Series just yet.

It was all worth it, I suppose, just as it was worth it for the local college basketball team to travel to, of all places, Seattle, to play last night in something called the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. Presbyterian won its first-ever postseason basketball game in Division I against Seattle University, Elgin Baylor’s alma mater.

On Wednesday, I got up when I got up and saw the last three innings of Seattle’s 9-8 victory. On Thursday, I went to sleep with the TV on and programmed to tune to ESPN at 5:30. This, of course, meant that, for a time, I was half-asleep but aware the game was going on. What little I perceived was clouded by the fanciful. The game was half real and half dream. For instance, I don’t think Ken Griffey Jr. really homered for the Mariners.

Seattle (Pixabay)

What did happen – and this game ended up going 12 innings, so I saw more of it in my right mind – was the end of Ichiro Suzuki’s brilliant career in both America and Japan.

First thought: This is stupid. Why start baseball in Japan? Why do these two teams get to start early? Why do 28 have to start late?

Second thought: Ichiro is going to retire in his native Japan? Cool.

I saw him play, live, that is, only once. Years ago, I took my nephew on a trip to Los Angeles because that’s where he wanted to go. We went to Disneyland, Universal Studios and Knotts Berry Farm for him. We went to see the Mariners play the Angels for me.

Two things I remember. One is the vantage point of Vince and me sitting in the upper deck down the left-field line. The second is a brilliant throw by Ichiro from right field to the plate. I don’t even remember which team won. I became fixated with watching Ichiro’s fundamental soundness in every aspect of the game.

Safeco Field (Pixabay)

When Ichiro left Japan to play for the Mariners, I was briefly annoyed that he had “ICHIRO” on his back above the numbers instead of “SUZUKI.” In time, I came to realize that he was one of those talented people who becomes defined by a single name. Elvis. Beethoven. Picasso. Gandhi. Ichiro. Besides, it’s hard for American fans to pronounce Japanese names. For instance, Boston fans seldom referred to Daisuke Matsuzaka. He was “Dice-K.” The Red Sox don’t even have names on their home jerseys.

Ichiro was underappreciated, partly because his American prime was in far Seattle and partly because he was stereotyped as this inscrutable Wizard of the Orient and people never really got to know him. He was just a ballplayer.

One of the best.

 

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

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

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

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

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

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

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Consensus in These Parts: What the Hell Is Going on?

There’s your polesitter, kids. Austin Dillon, leading the pack in the second round of qualifying. No one made a lap in the final round. (NASCAR Media)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, March 16, 2019, 9:17 a.m.

Monte Dutton

As is often the case, my perspective is clouded by the view of the folks at home. My view is a bit jaded by the fact that many people here know I used to write about NASCAR for a living. It’s probably not really as important as it seems because people mention it when they haven’t got anything else to say.

My view is skewed by the setting, far away from the tracks, just as it can be skewed by those who are at the track. Their views are affected by being surrounded by people who obviously love the sport by virtue of making the appropriate arrangements to be there.

If I boil down all the questions and comments into one, representing the consensus of the good folks of Laurens County, it is:

What in the hell is going on?

The Daytona 500 was same old same old in terms of rules. Atlanta was apparently some kind of transitional phase from one set of rules to another. Las Vegas was full fruition, fruition being an oddity in the desert. Phoenix was new aerodynamics matched with a brief return to full horsepower. Now Auto Club Speedway is allegedly where it all comes together.

Latest source of confusion: What if they held a qualifying session and nobody came?

I thought Phoenix was the best race so far. I liked the power. (NASCAR Media)

These are not people attuned to the details. These are people who, when NASCAR went after the casual fan, stopped being intense ones. It worked. They’re all casual now. They didn’t watch the qualifying debacle, as I did. They went to the JV soccer match and checked their Twitter feed a few times. I got there in time for the varsity match, and some of them asked me, yes …

What the hell is going on?

I’m sorry, Fred, but life is too short, and I’ve got to shoot 50 photos so that 15 of them will be somewhat in focus.

For a while, I sat in the grandstands so that I could talk about NASCAR on a statewide sports network which generally has me on every Friday at 7:30 unless the Clemson baseball game runs late or something. Sometimes it’s 7:45. I don’t mind. It’s fun.

Last night, with the authentic background of fans yelling, “Hey, ref, get a clue, how ’bout it!” I regaled the show’s hosts with my fresh reactions to a qualifying round in which 12 cars were eligible but none got on the track in time to make a lap before the clock ran out.

I must have been funny because everyone was laughing. Sometimes radio hosts sort of overdo the laughter, but I don’t think they were expecting me to do stand-up.

Everybody’s doing Trump. There might be a market for some young comic to do NASCAR.

 

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

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

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

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

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

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

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A Few Beers at the Honky Tonk, Diet Dr. Pepper in the Press Room, and Coffee (Lots of Coffee)

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, March 10, 2019, 11:15 a.m.

Monte Dutton

The Southern Conference Basketball Tournament is a multi-celled organism. My suspicion is that lots of basketball tournaments are.

It’s still going on. I had too much to do back home to stay. Being exhausted was inevitable. I decided I’d just drive home in the wee hours, through fog and rain, and get the exhaustion out of the way. I’m acclimated to tortuous drives now. I made one Friday night, too, from Knoxville back to Asheville because I hadn’t been anywhere in a while and I wanted to take advantage of it. I watched a good friend play music in a band because Knoxville is about as far south as it goes and about as far north as I go, or could go, in this instance.

I was an aging bucking horse let loose from his stall and wanted to kick up my hooves. I could kick a lot higher back when I was half my age, going to that tournament year after year before fate turned me toward lapped cars and blown engines instead of turnovers and shot clocks.

The SoCon has four really good teams, especially for me, a veteran of high school games where they shoot as many threes but not nearly as many go in. All four powerhouses – in order of seeding, Wofford, UNC Greensboro, Furman and East Tennessee State – won in the quarterfinals, but every game I watched – adding in the Furman-Chattanooga women’s game (Paladins, 73-67) on Friday that started shortly after I arrived – was interesting.

Furman’s Matt Rafferty

Wofford, which hasn’t lost a SoCon game and whose four losses read like a who’s who of college basketball, won by 27 (99-72), but VMI made a late first-half run that forced the Terriers to bear down a while. The only games that were close at the end were UNC Greensboro over Samford (77-70) and ETSU over Chattanooga (68-64). The Furman-Mercer game (85-74) was the only one I watched from start to finish as one of my priorities was seeing how the tournament had changed in 30-plus years.

Stan Pamfilis has been the sports director at WLOS-TV in Asheville for a while, which is a part of my home market, but I hadn’t seen him at least since saying hey at some NASCAR race in Bristol or Charlotte some odd years ago. I was surprised he remembered my name and told him so. He laughed and said nobody could forget me, and I reckon that’s true even though I’m too blind to see why.

Jeff Birchfield and Lindsey Young are old acquaintances from The NASCAR Age who were there, covering ETSU and Chattanooga, respectively. That means Jeff is still there. Jim Noble, whose broadcasts were mostly NASCAR-based for God knows how long, is now the Voice of the Wofford Terriers. Successful broadcasters become Voices with a capital “V.” Successful writers? Oh, maybe, scribes with a little “s.” That’s, oh, fair. I always have said on my good days, I’m a writer, but most of the time, I’m just a typist.

It rained as many threes inside U.S. Cellular Center – it was Asheville Civic Center back before there was cellular in the U.S. – as cold, clear water outside. Furman hit 15 and no one seemed the least bit surprised. It was about par for the 94-foot course.

I was impressed by most everything, partly because, as previously noted, I’d watched mostly high school games this dank, soggy winter. I was even impressed by the soupy fog when I was driving down the Interstate 26 descent into South Carolina, listening to a Willie Nelson-Loretta Lynn duet on Willie’s Roadhouse. I was too late for the Opry.

Besides, to quote the late, great Lefty Frizzell, “I’m an old, old man trying to live while I can,” and Garth Brooks, “I’m much to young to feel this damn old.”

It wasn’t that way till just this morning.

Hell’s bells. There’s a race today.

 

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

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

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

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

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

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

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The Threat of Terrierism

(Monte Dutton photos)

Asheville, North Carolina, Saturday, March 9, 2019, 1:58 p.m.

Monte Dutton

I’ve watched Wofford play quite a few times this year and have detected a recurring theme.

This isn’t scientific. The games I saw were on TV before this one. My knowledge is hardly authoritative enough to venture a question to head coach Mike Young.

The Terriers start out quickly. The opposition makes a run that doesn’t put the lead in jeopardy but does make it interesting at halftime. Wofford comes out in the second half and bludgeons the hapless opposition.

Mike Young

Hence are the Terriers 27-4. Hence does it seem impossible for Wofford to lose in this tournament, even though there are at least three other teams – UNC Greensboro, Furman and East Tennessee State – that could theoretically do it.

The 99-72 victory over Virginia Military was vintage Terrier, vintage Young and vintage his band of money players who do not happen to actually, literally make money. They are such a pleasure to watch in spite of the fact that I graduated from Furman. I don’t want them to win. I merely expect it, and it’s entirely possible that those expectations are contagious.

A basketball tournament is the ultimate war of attrition. Nine teams show, each towing various assemblages of fans, not to mention the athletics wardrobe of coaches, trainers, managers, marketers, publicists, tinkers, tailors and candlestick makers. Some are nonessential, but in contrast to the relatively narrow range of those engaged in the human drama of athletic competition, it’s all rather convivial.

Then the teams play, half of them lose and all the accompanying professionals pack their briefcases, stuff a handful of mixed nuts in their suitpockets and file out with hale and hearty handshakes. It’s a bit like the old cartoon with the coyote and sheepdog fighting each other all day over the sheep and then clocking out at the end of the day.

Give the wife my regards, Fred.

The songs of pep bands live forever. Most of them are the ones that were played here when I was a college student. “The Horse,” for instance, was released in 1968 by someone or something called Cliff Nobles and was the instrumental version of “Love Is All Right,” which was released as the “A” side of the record.

What I find a bit odd is that Furman’s pep band has never, in my presence, played “The Horse,” in spite of the Paladins actually having a horse at their football games. A paladin is a knight on horseback.

As a side note, Furman bands have never played the theme of “Have Gun – Will Travel,” a television show in which Richard Boone played a character named Paladin.

 

 

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

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

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

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

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

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

Posted in Sports | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Threat of Terrierism

A Blast from the Past

(Monte Dutton photos)

Asheville, N.C., Saturday, March 9, 2019, 11:02 a.m.

Monte Dutton

In front of the U.S. Cellular Center, which in days of yore I knew as Asheville Civic, musicians cavort around, sawing at a fiddle, plunking a banjo and dancing, though frozen in what I assume is bronze. It’s a nice touch for the plaza out front. On Friday, as I left the 99th Southern Conference Basketball Tournament – Kentucky won it in 1921, UNC Greensboro last year – across the street hip-hop was blaring from the stage of the SoCon Experience.

A man and presumably his wife were taking selfies with the statues.

In my best Richard Petty beatnik/good ol’ boys dialect, a dialect only The King possesses, I said, “Them cats is mismatched,” and the man chortled.

From there, I drove to Knoxville because a close friend was playing in a band there music that would have matched the statues of Asheville better. Half the trip was spent idly, as much of I-40 through the Smokies is one lane. The trip back was faster but foggier, and I made it almost back but not quite because my travels have shown me that the rooms in the towns are more reasonably priced than those in the cities. That plus there’s a heap of basketball fans in this burg.

Another lesson is that I am getting too old for this, but, fortunately, to paraphrase Toby Keith (and Scotty Emerick) grudgingly, I’m as good once as I ever was. I’m not as good twice, and this is day two.

The last time I went to the SoCon Tournament, many fewer called it the SoCon but it was then in Asheville, where after several short-term romances elsewhere, it has returned. This arena is the right size, and Asheville is the right place. Western Carolina, East Tennessee State, Furman and Wofford are within easy range. Chattanooga and UNC Greensboro aren’t too distant, and this year’s movers and shakes are from nearby. The women’s teams are here, too. I watched a part of the Paladins’ victory over the Moccasins (or are they just the Mocs nowadays?) before the rash sojourn to Knoxville.

Now I’m ready to walk out into the arena and watch the first of four Saturday men’s games. It’s VMI versus Wofford for just a few of the marbles.

 

 

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

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

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

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

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

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

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Kyle Wears His Own Kind of Hat

(NASCAR Media)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, March 2, 2019, 9:23 p.m.

Monte Dutton

I don’t think I’ve ever been so mystified at what is going on in NASCAR.

Every week so far has seen a different set of rules. The Daytona 500 was “once more with feeling.” Atlanta was “get a load of these new rules.” Sunday’s race in Las Vegas – Pennzoil 400, I think – is “this week the rules are fully in place.”

Early Friday night, I told a radio show I thought Kyle Busch would win Sunday because the weekend just had that feel about it. This, of course, is absurd because my feel is pretty tenuous being on the other end of the country and having to rely on TV for information.

Kyle and Brexton Busch. (NASCAR Media)

Most weeks the host of this show, which is on about 20 stations here in South Carolina, asks me whom I think will win. I’ve tried to tell him that my training is in the field of what already happened, that I never majored in prophecy, and Nostradamus and I have nothing in common, but, hell, I’ve spent most of my life as a journalist, and if someone asks me a question, I’ll answer it. I don’t believe in off the record, though I’ll grant it on occasion. I don’t believe in it from my end.

This prediction was made before Busch made a mockery of the Truck race later that night and triumphed with a bit greater resistance on Saturday in the race of Xfinity. It was partly because most of the time I pick Busch, he seems to win, and Las Vegas is his hometown. If I had picked him every week last year, I would have done better than I did. My record reflects my appraisal of my prognosticating facility.

Richard Petty’s kind of hat. (NASCAR Media)

By raising the subject of Busch’s prowess across series – and how it matches up against Richard Petty’s unprecedented prowess in one – I realize it is the NASCAR equivalent of writing the word “Trump.” I’ve written what I think before, but now that he has 197 victories, it seems timely to reiterate.

It’s remarkable. It’s historic. It would be more remarkable and historic if anyone else had tried to do what Busch has achieved. Ever since he’s competed in a NASCAR series, he’s wanted to run them all as often as Imperial NASCAR will allow. Kyle Busch has ants in his pants and he needs to dance. I admire drivers who want to race every time a track opens its gates.

The one season Richard Petty drove a Ford, 1969.

Some, almost all of whom weren’t around to see it, say 200 wins by Kyle Busch in “the three national touring series” is equivalent to Petty winning that number in what is now Monster Energy Cup.

For the record, I saw Petty win two 100-milers on dirt at Greenville-Pickens Speedway, before it was paved, and they were no easier than Busch in a garden-variety Truck race.

When I am long deceased and Busch stops winning races, he will go down in history, and his three-series victory total will be engraved on his likeness in the Hall of Fame, but it will be the same way that the various and sundry career victories of short-track legends are etched on theirs.

He’s got a lot of trophies. So did Dick Trickle. So did Larry Phillips. So does King Richard.

Busch’s place in history is secure. He’s got his own private niche.

The King in his prime. (NASCAR Media)

I can imagine something akin to the old baseball story, most often attributed to Stan Musial.

“Richard, how many races do you think you’d win now?”

“Aw, I don’t know. Maybe two or three.”

“Huh. So few?”

“Well, you gotta realize, I’m 81 years old.”

 

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

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

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

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

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

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

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Around and Around They Go

(NASCAR Media)

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, February 20, 2019, 12:37 p.m.

Denny Hamlin won the Daytona 500 for the second time. It was a rousing race in front of an enthusiastic crowd by all accounts of the telecasters charged with describing it.

The big race is over. Now we can progress to what is going to happen in the season. The next race, on Sunday, is at Atlanta Motor Speedway, actually located near a quaint Georgia town known as Hampton.

Hamlin will have less angst turning over his triumphant Toyota to the Daytona Beach tourist attraction – I assume this still happens – because he wouldn’t be able to race it anyway because the rules package is changing from here on out.

(NASCAR Media)

Oddly enough, these new incarnations of would-be stock cars are designed to make the racing at other tracks more like Daytona and its even scarier Talladega, Alabama, brother.

This leaves a quandary in its wake. The sleek, sculpted racers of Daytona Beach will not be used again, but the ones that replace them are designed to make other races more like them.

It’s enough to make me want to watch the QuikTrip 500. I want to see if racing fundamentally changes and how much.

Atlanta’s roughly a mile shorter (1.54 to 2.5) than Daytona. The racing isn’t going to be identical. NASCAR officials apparently hope it will be reminiscent. If so, the reminiscences are going to be comprehensive and far-reaching. They may affect who wins and who loses. They may make winning easier harder for some and easier for others. They may take away some of the best drivers’ edge.

NASCAR always reminds me of Charlie the Tuna, the cartoon character that used to appear on Starkist commercials, when they start tinkering. Charlie inexplicably wanted to be a Starkist tuna, meaning that he would be caught, killed, cut up and canned. He thought Starkist wanted tunas with good taste. In fact, Starkist wanted Tuna that tasted good. It seems to me that NASCAR officials are forever caught between good taste and tasting good.

This year is tasting good. Maybe if the fans see it that way, the best and brightest might let things sit for a year. I’d like that.

(NASCAR Media)

I’m trying to hold back and not let my skepticism, fortified by 20 years of watching at closer range, get the best of me. I’m trying just to let them race and see what happens.

Every year NASCAR unveils new packaging, something with “new and improved!” splashed in a band across the box. Meanwhile, many of its once and now would-be fans pine for the way things used to be. Maybe improvements will one day come full circle and stop. If that day is Sunday, it won’t be enough. The past suggests that it will take a whole, pleasing, upbeat season, and then Imperial NASCAR will find something to improve in that.

But I hope not. Damn it, I hope not.

 

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

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

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

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

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

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

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