Hail the Conquering Hero

Kyle Busch celebrates with the fans. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, April 22, 11:15 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Kyle Busch may be a flawed hero, but, at the moment, he’s the only hope.

That may be a consequence of immediacy, which seems to be all that matters anymore. In the Age of Technology, there is no past, no future, only present. Busch has won three races in a row. Kevin Harvick won three straight earlier in this very season, but no matter. Even before Busch increased the relevance of the title, Toyota Owners 400, the marketing engine was cranking. He and Dale Earnhardt Jr. publicly buried an old, rusty hatchet. The sudden Man of the People climbed into the grandstands to mingle with the fans.

Darrell Wallace Jr. leads a pack of cars. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

Richmond Raceway’s return to the springtime night was a good, not great, race, but if a classic is run every week, it ceases to be a classic. Five days earlier, in the gloom of a Monday afternoon, Busch won a marvelous Bristol race in front of a crowd that rounded down to zero. Saturday night’s was merely disappointing, in spite of lovely weather.

At the moment, there isn’t much else out there, and Busch is basically it. His Toyota advertised three flavors of M&Ms. None was vanilla. He’s got that going for him.

Busch started 32nd. It’s not the disadvantage it once was, what with all the bells and whistles, but it’s good for the sport to see a fast car slicing and dicing its way through the field.

I kept my head down, kept myself focused all night long, trying to bring home a win,” Busch said.

Who could dislike this guy? (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Perhaps the excursion into the stands was a good test of how fans are finally getting accustomed to Busch’s contrary ways. Those who lingered were happy to see him. Those who didn’t were either in their personal vehicles, trying to get out of there, or stomping toward them with invective on their breaths.

Aw, what the hell.

Don’t worry,” Busch said. “I was definitely eyeing it out, like, who’s there, who’s there, who’s there.  Saw a lot of ‘18’ stuff, so I just decided to go up there, give some guys and some kids some high fives, what’s ups. Fortunately, I got back out of there. They held onto me for a second, then my brute strength ripped me out of their arms and brought me back to civilization on the race track.”

The masses may not be fully acclimated, but they’ve lost their interest in fistfights. It’s called progress. As Virginia’s Statler Brothers almost sang, “Junior’s gone, and Disney’s dead, and the screen is filled with sex.”

Harvick still lurks. Chase Elliott still runs second. Jimmie Johnson is starting to rustle. The other kids are removing the training wheels from their bikes.

It’s natural to play the hot hand.

 

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

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

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

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

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

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No Need to Stop the Presses

A Mustang leads a Camaro leads a Camry. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, April 20, 2018, 11:45 a.m.

 

By Monte Dutton

As of the end of 2017, 125,809 Ford Mustangs were registered around the world. The United States had 81,866 of them tooling around. Next year, oh, 10 or so, maybe as many as 15, will be lapping a variety of tracks in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races.

 

It’s no surprise. Chevrolet debuted its version of the Camaro in Cup this year. Camaros and Mustangs have been the model of choice in the Xfinity Series and its precursors since 2011. Once they enjoyed the company of Dodge Challengers until Chrysler left the sport in 2013. Toyota persists with its NASCAR version of the Camry, mainly because the Japanese manufacturer enters no equivalent to Mustangs or Camaros on the highways, let alone the raceways.

NASCAR needs more such fans. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

 

I modestly called for “muscle cars” or whatever one chooses to call them – “muscle cars,” “sports cars,” “baby grands,” or, as Dale Earnhardt Jr. might say, “whatnot” – in NASCAR’s second-string series for most of a decade before they were adapted for such competition. My idea was that the Busch (then Nationwide, then Xfinity) Series would be a great place to get kids involved. It would provide an identity to a series that mainly consisted of racing between less powerful, minutely smaller cars that looked just like those in the more significant races run the following day or night.

 

It didn’t happen. Next year it’s back to slightly sportier basics.

 

This leaves with me with mixed feelings. I guess the benefits of pulses that could mildly quicken overweigh the concerns of renewed sameness. Forty percent of me is happy. Thirty-five percent thinks nothing matters. Twenty-five percent sinks into a blue oval funk.

 

I hope it works. I hope anything works. Camaros and Mustangs beat electric driverless cars.

 

I mean, don’t they?

 

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

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

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

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

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

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Watch What You Ask for: Kyle Busch Might Just Get It

Kyle Busch bows to the smattering. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, April 17, 2018, 10:01 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Kyle Busch wins a lot, particularly at Bristol Motor Speedway. Monday’s rain-postponed conclusion of the Food City 500 gave a unique flavor to his seventh BMS triumph. Neither Kyle nor his brother Kurt, who has won five times in the hills of the family’s own private Las Vegas, is warmly regarded in a locale that really shares little with their hometown.

The self-proclaimed Last Colosseum’s latest toga party was sparsely attended. Kyle enjoys bowing grandly when he departs his chariot, letting the masses know they might as well settle down because there’s nothng they can do to stop him.

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

A liberal estimate of those who trudged into the vast grandstands to sit through rain and finally get the goldarned race done was 8,000.

Hopefully, when we come back here in the fall time, August, we have a better opportunity to hear more boos after the race,” Busch said, most likely with some mischief in his vocal folds.

The Busch contingent, the Rowdy Nation, was reportedly little but loud. Sound gets amplified in the reverberations across vacant grandstands.

In the area where Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina meet, with Kentucky lingering nearby, a heap of people must have been out of sick days at work. It was a shame. TV ratings will reveal that millions of others missed a slobberknocker of a race.

Kyle Larson hangs on and winds up second. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Busch did his part. So did Kyle Larson, who seems to finish second every time they race there. Jimmie Johnson was third, six positions better than the seven-time champion’s best in the first seven races. Fords took five of the top 10, but none was better than fourth, and fourth was Ricky Stenhouse, another who wowed the smattering.

Notably unfortunate were Ryan Blaney, who dominated the Sunday activity before driving into a wreck he couldn’t possiby have avoided; Brad Keselowski, who won the two stages; and Darrell Wallace, who faded at the end to 16th but likely inspired many a fan who faced no traffic on the way home to proclaim, “One day, that’s kid’s gonna win here.”

Back home, I sort of wanted to cry. Such an extraordinary race. Such a small number to watch it.

Kyle Busch chases Darrell Wallace. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Fans said they wanted a Bristol race like the old days. They got it. Harry Hogge could have been the crew chief of every car on the track.

He didn’t wreck you, Cole. He rubbed you. And rubbin’ is racin’.

Thirteen caution flags. Eighteen lead changes. The only Toyota that finished in the top 10 was the one that took the checkered flag.

What sets Kyle Busch apart – and once distinguished his older brother – is what seems to be a natural ability to keep a car clean until the time when it needs to get dented.

 

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

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

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

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

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

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Even the Best Has Something to Prove

Jimmie Johnson sits in his car during practice for the Food City 500 at Bristol. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, April 13, 2018, 2:27 p.m.

Is this the week the mystery of Jimmie Johnson subsides? The dominant driver of his generation hasn’t won in 30 races. He’s won 83 Cup races and seven championships, but his best finish this year is ninth.

By Monte Dutton

He’s 42. He won the record-tying seventh title just two years ago. Are his skills starting to fade? Is the sport starting to pass Hendrick Motorsports by? Is the new Chevrolet Camaro, which has won only one of the season’s seven races to date, at a disadvantage?

Bristol Motor Speedway is a good place for Johnson’s troubles to end. He won the Food City 500 last year. Aerodynamics makes less difference on a short track. On the other hand, Johnson has only won at Bristol twice ever. The only current tracks where he has never won are Chicagoland, Kentucky and Watkins Glen.

Johnson is in phenomenal shape. He reportedly rode 100 mountainous miles on a bicycle recently, but cycling won’t make him better in race cars. He’ll just feel better when he’s in them.

This race track is one of my favorite ones to come to. It’s my favorite race track to watch a race,” Johnson said on Friday. “I’ve joked here in the past that I love to watch a race here and don’t necessarily enjoy driving in a race here. There isn’t another track in the country like this place to get used to it.

Some guys have taken to it really quickly. For me, it’s taken some time, and it’s been a crazy journey along the way.”

Johnson pits at Auto Club Speedway. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

Richard Petty won his seventh championship in 1979. Dale Earnhardt’s was in 1994. Both spent a long time chasing an eighth. Earnhardt pursued it for the rest of his life.

The window of opportunity varies in time from one driver to another, but eventually it closes. If Johnson’s skills are leveling off, he hasn’t noticed.

We have high expectations for ourselves, first and foremost,” he said, “and we think that we should be in a position to win races every year and compete for race wins each weekend, so I think, within that, there are a lot of fair questions being asked. I think there is overreaction by fans and media on that last upper percentile of it, especially all the kind and wonderful people on social media and the things that they have to say. … There are small increments from good to great, and right now, we’ve just been in that good category. We need to be great. We want to be great.”

Jimmie Johnson (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)

It seems absurd that one of the NASCAR all-time greats is feeling pressure. What does Johnson have to prove? Nothing in one sense, but every driver has to prove himself in another whenever he climbs into the car, no matter how short the ride or long the past.

By no means am I content with where I’m at and where this team is at in our performances, “Johnson said.We can’t work any harder. Manufacturer. Driver. Crew Chief. Team. Organization. We can’t. We are literally working around the clock and doing anything and everything we can. So, at some point you have to say, we’re all in. We just need time. We’ll get there. We need more from everywhere right now is our approach. There’s not just a silver bullet that’s like okay, boom, if it’s this, then everything would be fine. It’s not that.”

There’s one more factor. For the first time, Johnson’s team doesn’t have sponsorship next year. He has been identified, almost exclusively, with Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouses for his entire Cup career. Is Lowe’s moving on because its star is fading? That’s impossible to say because, even if it’s true, no one is going to admit it. Lowe’s may just believe it’s time to move on and that the benefit it derives from Johnson and NASCAR has run its course.

No matter the historic greatness of Johnson’s career, memories are short. At the moment, he is no better than his last 30 races. The man who has won everything has to win some more.

 

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

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

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

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

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

 

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Happiness is Hard, but Simple

Kyle Busch poses in Victory Lane with his son, Brexton, and wife Samantha after winning at Texas Motor Speedway. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, April 9, 2018, 9:59 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

I stared at the screen, seeing lucky stars. It was too good to be true. It was what I’ve written dozens of times.

After winning the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, Kyle Busch said it himself: “This ain’t no ‘new Kyle Busch talk’ again, is it? That doesn’t exist.”

Praise the Lord and pass the gravy.

The younger of Las Vegas-raised racing brothers has never subscribed to the gentlemanly model of sporting heroes. He’s closer to the poetic model of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

The was a little girl / Who had a little curl / Right in the middle of her forehead / When she was good / She was very good indeed / But when she was bad she was horrid.

Please do not succumb to the silly notion that Busch is being compared to a school girl. That would only make you, esteemed reader, the schoolgirl in question. It’s just the limerick that makes me think of him.

Busch is always proficient, and when he is good, which is to say, when he wins, he is just as good in the media conference. When he doesn’t win, he attempts to throw the world off its axis. He rubs it the wrong way.

For fans, not only is there no middle ground on Kyle Busch, but there’s none in his character, either.

Denny Hamlin (11) and Brad Keselowski were among many potential contenders eliminated in Texas crashes. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

All drivers want to win. Busch demands it. He abides nothing less. He wins enough to prevent his interior furnace from exploding.

In the final 25 laps or so, Kevin Harvick, three times a winner already in the Monster Energy Cup Series’ first seven races, gobbled up most of Busch’s lead. While Harvick and his trusty Ford had been traversing much of the country against scant resistance, Busch was finishing second three times and third once.

Adam Stevens, Busch’s crew chief, must have felt like Scotty in Star Trek.

I’m giving her all she’s got, Captain!

As the laps expired, the plot was simple. The variables were limited to two cars and two men in them.

The final few laps? Gosh, I don’t know,” Stevens said. “Once we made that last green-flag stop, I was committed to not pitting again. It was kind of out of my hands at that point. It was just to see if we could hold off the ‘4’ (Harvick). They had a really good car; they were fast. Seemed like we were pretty evenly matched. It was going to be a tall task to pass a car that was evenly matched, as it would have been for us to pass him.

Kyle got on the wheel, busted out those last 25 laps, and here we are.”

Busch is happy again. Happiness is never farther away than the next checkered flag.

 

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

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

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

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

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

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Why Not Share a Little Pain?

Trucks at Eldora. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, April 5, 2018, 3:09 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

This is an old idea. I proposed it many years ago, before there were playoffs. The late David Poole proposed something similar before I did. Miraculously, even though David and I kept close tabs on each other, I didn’t know he had written something similar.

In reality, the notion wasn’t original to David or me. We both got it, in separate conversations over dinner, or at a ballgame, from the late Ed Shull, who, for many years, directed Gatorade’s NASCAR program and was a peach of a fellow. He’s one of relatively few people ever to pitch an idea that David and I both liked.

The idea was how to reconfigure NASCAR’s schedule in order to work in more tracks without placing too onerous a burden on the ones currently involved. Back when we originally wrote about it, the idea was to keep some room for tracks that were endangered and are mainly out of business now.

This morning, while I was writing a chapter of fiction, at some point when I should have been thinking about baseball, it occurred to me that these same principles might apply, now that the 2019 schedule has been announced with almost no change from the existing one, and adjustments that won’t occur have stirred up some discussion over adjustments that should have.

Charlotte Motor Speedway (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Thirteen tracks have two annual races. Ten have one. I increased the group of 13 by five, adding tracks that once had two a year: Atlanta, California, Chicagoland, Darlington and New Hampshire. Then I left the tracks in the NASCAR capitals of Daytona Beach and Charlotte with two each. The remaining 16 are grouped, mostly geographically, in twos, with each track getting a combined total of three each year. One gets two of the three one year, the other track the next.

The groups are: (1.) Atlanta-Darlington; (2.) Bristol-Martinsville; (3.) Las Vegas-Phoenix; (4.) Chicagoland-Kansas; (5.) California-Michigan; (6.) New Hampshire-Pocono; (7.) Dover-Richmond; and (8.) Talladega-Texas.

The above groups could be paired differently, but the basic concept leaves a 36-race schedule with four races at Charlotte-Daytona, 24 among the eight groups, five at tracks with one date (Indianapolis, Kentucky, Miami, Sonoma and Watkins Glen) and three vacancies.

That makes room for Iowa, a short track; Road America (Elkhart Lake, Wis.), a road course; and Eldora (Rossburg, Ohio), a dirt track. Or the road course in Austin, Texas. Or the dirt track in Knoxville, Iowa. Or somewhere in the Rockies or the Northwest where NASCAR currently doesn’t go. Or Canada. Or Mexico. I don’t know. Bahrain. Australia. Japan. Rockingham. North Wilkesboro. The Nashville Fairgrounds. Mid-Ohio. Lucas Oil Raceway Park.

Everyone’s arguing now. Might as well argue some more.

NASCAR can play those three hands with whichever cards it draws. The all-star races could be left alone – both are parts of annual festivals, in a way – or even shopped around as tryouts where tracks could prove their ability to draw viewers.

NASCAR’s All-Stars Come to Newton, Iowa! It’ll be bigger than the tent revival!

This is a fantasy blog. It doesn’t really mean anything, but people love to talk.

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

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

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

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

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

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The Future Isn’t the Past

Texas Motor Speedway (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, April 4, 2018, 9:45 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Are you ready for a rewind?

NASCAR doesn’t race on Easter weekend. If such a word as tradition exists practically anymore, this one persists. Every informal, unscientific internet poll I’ve seen shows that the fans loved Martinsville, and I don’t question the legitimacy. Clint Bowyer’s surprising victory was a rousing spectacle. Perhaps it would have been beneficial to use the next weekend to build on that momentum, but if the race at Texas Motor Speedway had been last Sunday instead of next, it might have been one gigantic buzz kill.

An off week settles things down. One of the overlooked facets of sports is that everyone exaggerates everything. If Kevin Harvick wins three straight races, stories pop up with headlines such as:

Where Does Harvick Rank Among NASCAR’s All-Time Greats?

Kevin Harvick celebrates with his crew after winning at ISM Raceway on March 11. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Answer: It’s impossible to determine until Harvick’s career is over. He’ll make the NASCAR Hall of Fame one day, but, by then, its membership will be swelled far beyond even what it is now. Harvick is a very good driver who has had a very good career. He has time to achieve greatness. Every driver has a clock ticking, but no one knows how fast it tocks.

Martin Truex, the current champion, won in Fontana, setting off a short wave of “here we go again” that lasted up until Bowyer tamed Martinsville with the season’s second of many Cinderella stories to follow. The period since set off a wave of demands for more short tracks, and this summer will bring, along with its hurricanes, a demand for more road courses.

In evaluating the best path to the future, the people who half-populate the grandstands and media centers are at a distinct disadvantage in the prognostication racket. They don’t have to pay for it.

The most lavish, expensive, fan-friendly, interactive facilities in NASCAR are large tracks that were not built with cash on the barrelhead. They have debt service. They know the difference between one race and two. They know the difference in ticket and TV revenue, along with all the lesser revenues.

The answer isn’t shutting down tracks. The answer isn’t a once-great track lying dormant, such as the one in College Station, Texas, where thousands of cars damaged by Hurricane Harvey now reside.

(Monte Dutton photo)

The answer is making the racing at those tracks better. It was not always deemed moribund. Some of NASCAR’s more memorable events occurred at Charlotte Motor Speedway. One cannot go to races at Charlotte, Texas, Atlanta, Chicagoland, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Michigan, Fontana or Homestead without hearing the same refrain: You should’ve seen the races we used to run here.

I’ve always loved short tracks. I grew up watching races at Greenville-Pickens Speedway. Darlington is my favorite NASCAR track, but Martinsville, Bristol and Richmond queue up next in my mind’s line. I enjoy the road races more on TV than being there because it always annoyed me that I couldn’t see enough of what was going on to suit me.

I’m looking forward to Texas. I loved going there. It was an event as much as a race. Seldom have I failed to find something that interested me. Flamboyance wafts in the Texas breeze.

NASCAR keeps tearing down what it needs to build up, and my reference isn’t just to grandstands.

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

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

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

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

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

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What Little We Know So Far

(Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, March 28, 2018, 4:22 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

I suppose it’s time to take a breath.

Six Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races are in the books. One sixth (.167) of the season is done. Six out of 26 (.231) in the regular season. The statistical sample is worthwhile. Sunday is Easter. NASCAR doesn’t race on Easter weekend. A NASCAR official can say “nothing to see here” this weekend, and he will actually be right. Most of the time, when an official says “nothing to see here,” there’s something to see here.

(Photo by Bob Leverone/Getty Images for NASCAR)

The TV ratings are still falling. The crowds are still off. NASCAR officials still think they can do something about this. They can’t. People who drifted away are not going to drift back because, seven months from now, the race at Charlotte is going to be on “a roval.” Right now, all that means is a fruitless search of a dictionary. According to an unofficial dictionary, the Urban one, one definition is “a combination of a rectangle and an oval,” as opposed to a road (course) and an oval, and the other is “a made-up word,” derived from Internet jargon such as “ROFL,” which means “rolling on the floor laughing.”

I didn’t begin this blog intending to write about the “roval” in Charlotte or in general.

Reasons abound for why NASCAR raced off a cliff, but the hard part is applying comparative value to all the various and sundry excuses advanced. People moved on. They’ll move back when they get good and ready. The people who tell me almost every day that they used to love NASCAR, and now don’t care about it, have no idea how many people tell me that. They know I’m a writer, and they all think it’s a scoop.

I still like it. I’m doing what I think is appropriate. I’ve hunkered down. I’m still trying to describe what I see. I’m not a prophet of doom. I’m just resigned to the reality that the sport is not going to come back overnight, and the leaders of the sport need to settle down and act like they know what a long haul is. They hunted that goose that laid golden eggs for years till they finally killed him, and it’s going to take just as many years to find a new one.

Life is not a commercial, and people do not respond to commercials as if they were life.

If a gang of teens is hanging out before school, talking about pressing topics such as the latest hip-hop tunes and Nintendo “cheat codes,” if a kid runs up and says, “Hey, y’all, NASCAR’s racing in stages and handing out bonus points!” they’re not all going to whip themselves into a frenzy and buy tickets to Darlington.

Clint Bowyer (Nick Laham/Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Meanwhile, six races were long enough for things to even out. Kevin Harvick won three straight races, but now he’s gone two weeks without racing away and hiding. The champion, Martin Truex Jr., has served notice that he’s liable to win another. A couple of winners, Austin Dillon and Clint Bowyer, have surprised the would-be experts. Predictability had a run going, but it’s subsided.

Maybe it’s time for NASCAR to say, “It is what it is,” and really mean it.

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.

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

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Didn’t Have the Money to Waste

(Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, March 25, 2018, 12:04 p.m.

In retrospect, it’s not such a bad thing that I haven’t been able to go back to Martinsville Speedway yet.

I can’t afford to make the trip. I damned sure can’t afford to stay up there until Monday.

One of the reasons I want to go back to nearby NASCAR venues from time to time is to acquaint myself with some of the young men who have arrived on the scene since I departed it. I can’t hear them tick on TV, let alone what causes it.

By Monte Dutton

Charlotte Motor Speedway last year didn’t prove to be particularly useful because my visits were rain-marred and modern drivers don’t like to hang out in the garage as much as their forerunners did. The only one-on-one (one of sportswriting’s more inaccurately used words) I had was with Ryan Newman, and it was just a result of randomly crossing paths, which is among my favorite ways for conversations to occur, but even Charlotte is a long way for just one of them.

When I began my Patreon page, the goal was $500 a month to fund some trips to places like Darlington, Martinsville, Bristol, Charlotte and, perhaps, slightly beyond. I’m not there and may not get there, but the support of patrons does come in handy and leads me to write more in order to give supporters their money’s worth.

I’m trying as best I can.

If I was in Martinsville – more likely Eden, North Carolina, which is where my motel room was located twice a year for twenty consecutive ones – I’d be either resigned to staying over another night or trying to make my way through rough weather back home.

I would have cursed the fates and dratted the luck … and probably walked over to the Burger King next door, “never knowing if believing is a blessing or a curse” in much the same manner as Kris Kristofferson. If I was there, I wouldn’t be writing a bit better than I am right now.

Which, if not scary, is all the more reason to be safely at home.

(Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

I love Martinsville, though. I like the local writers. For obvious reasons, I like small towns, or, at least, feel comfortable in them. I expect I’d like the people who work at the track, though some have undoubtedly been succeeded and replaced.

Friends tell me how it is, but I’d like to see for myself.

Martinsville is one of just a few tracks where I like to watch qualifying. This time it wasn’t held.

It’s the best place for a Truck race. It’ll be on TV in the morning.

It’s the only place where I look through my binoculars to watch brake rotors blaze. Overcast days are best, at least until NASCAR races there at night.

Martinsville hot dogs are situated exactly where rustic, tasty, and cheap intersect.

Track president Clay Campbell will talk with you. His grandfather, H. Clay Earles, would talk with you. Many track presidents nowadays require a purpose. The same is true of the misinformation corps.

I’ll watch the NCAAs. I’m so lost in this blog that “Epic Warrior Women” was playing until ten seconds ago. The Grand Prix of Australia! D’oh!

It didn’t snow in Melbourne.

 

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.

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

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Time Changes Slower There

(Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, March 23, 2018, 12:44 p.m.

Every track evokes memories and a feel for the site. Martinsville Speedway makes me think of chilly mornings, law enforcement officers dressed in tan uniforms, trimmed in brown and pine green, rain dripping off wide-brimmed hats, and fans dressed in working-class garb of coveralls and caps with pull-down earmuffs.

By Monte Dutton

These are people who brave the elements and wait out a rain delay with stoic resignation. I remember walking down the steps into the small tunnel under the fourth turn. The tunnel is always damp, and it pays to be a little careful, lest some of that shine on the concrete floor be ice and not water.

I blow on my hands because I am not adroit at scribbling on a notepad with gloves on.

Perhaps my images are jaded. I just looked at the weather forecast. Even if it doesn’t rain enough to move races, it will be chilly, as March in Virginia is prone to be. The weather report I saw lists Saturday and Sunday both as 70 percent. Even a couple days away, experience tells me that it really isn’t 70 percent. It might be 100, and it might be 40. In any event, something might be racing on Monday there.

When I was there, sitting around wasn’t always such a bad thing. It was a good time to hang out in the garage area and chat with folks I hadn’t seen in a while. I liked it a lot better than watching telecasters prattle on and on.

(Monte Dutton photo)

Martinsville is a wonderful place. It’s just often cold. I’ve already been cold often this spring. Nighttime baseball is chilly in March, too. The one I was at Wednesday featured a combined 14 errors. The high school kids looked as if they were cold, too.

NASCAR’s shortest track (.526 mile, officially) is not immune to change, though. A decade ago, the tiny backstretch grandstands were full of people, not banners. In those days, all the other grandstands sold out in advance, but the track wouldn’t sell back-straight general admission until race day, and they filled up quickly after the box office opened.

A rainout didn’t dissuade the fans back then, either. I marveled at how 90 percent of the fans finagled a way to be there on Monday. I’m satisfied most of them had jobs. The last time I was there for a Monday race, it was only a little better than everywhere else. I can’t fully explain this, but it’s true.

I guess I was more excited about the Daytona 500. Maybe. If Daytona wasn’t the first race of the season, I’d probably be more pumped for the wee paper clip in the hills.

Some says there’s nothing to do at Martinsville.

I played golf on a Martinsville weekend. I played music before a performance of a stock-car racing themed play. I played at a tweet-up. Some friends and I went to a pro wrestling show in a high school gym. I had a book signing. I drank beer with a motel roommate, watching The History Channel back when it still had history, on the night before the race. I talked about movies in the press box with Dick Thompson, as nice a man as ever worked at a NASCAR track.

I have vivid memories of the day Ricky Craven won there, and the race run on the day of the Hendrick plane crash, and driving over to South Boston to watch Tony Stewart win in midgets, and watching the dirt race in Madison, N.C., another year in the grandstands with Stewart. I remember overhearing the waitress at a barbecue joint say she loved a hairy-chested man, as long as knew Jesus as his Personal Savior. I remember pitching a fit when a colleague of mine got hassled because his skin was brown and 9/11 was still fresh in local minds.

In my song about the track, I wrote that Martinsville was “a place frozen in space and time.” I guess it’s not really frozen. It’s more a glacier sliding slowly and against great resistance into inexorable modernity.

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.

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

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