What I Like(d) About Dover

Kasey Kahne (left) and Mark Martin chat during qualifying before the 2012 Daytona 500. (John Clark photo)
Kasey Kahne (left) and Mark Martin chat during qualifying before the 2012 Daytona 500. (John Clark photo)
Playing for tips outside the Dover slots casino.
Playing for tips outside the Dover slots casino.

Clinton, S.C., Friday, May 31, 2013, 10:02 a.m.

Timing probably has something to do with my love of Dover International Speedway. The first Sprint Cup weekend there falls each season after The Two Weeks of Charlotte.

Drivers, owners and crewmen always talk about Charlotte Motor Speedway being their home track and the joy of being able to sleep in their own beds. When I was at the Gaston Gazette for 16-1/2 years, CMS was the also the home track and, naturally, the work load was greater. During the early years, I’d have some help as another writer would show up for at least a couple days. Then I was allowed to hire “stringers,” which is newspaper-speak for free-lance writers, to add to the coverage.

Times change, nowhere more so than at newspapers during my career. By last year, I was all by my lonesome. Same workload, of course, so what Charlotte basically became was even more exhausting. The Coca-Cola 600 was particularly rough because hell hath no greater fury, in terms of my job, than a Sunday night race. What kept me at the Gazette as long I made it was the newspaper’s popular syndicated NASCAR page, the copy of which had to be written on Monday morning. So I’d be at the track until 2 in the morning, get up at 6 to write “NASCAR This Week,” check out of the motel and drive home to Clinton, where I would then morph into a zombie for a day.

At least.

Dover was great because it was back to normal. I’d fly to Philly on Thursday, write in the motel, then go to the track on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, write the syndicated copy on Monday, check out, drive back to Philly and fly home that afternoon. That was my standard week, with the only variation being whether I drove or flew.

For much of my time in Gastonia, I covered virtually every race. Over the final three or four seasons, I cut back to 28 races a year, which were still plenty.

I didn’t go to Dover last year, in part, because I had a feeling that I wouldn’t be around much longer and wanted to go back one more time to a few of the tracks I had passed up. Sonoma, for instance.

As a general rule, I’m leery of shortening races. Longer races add a level to the skill set of a Sprint Cup driver. Some drivers can’t make the adjustment from Nationwide and Camping World Truck to the premier series. It’s not a matter of conditioning as much as concentration. But, when Dover shortened its races from 500 to 400 miles, it made the racing better. At one time, I’d be sitting in the Dover press box with the guy on my left reading a novel and the one on my right working on crossword puzzles. I’d be listening to music while pretending it was the scanner.

The last 500-mile race at Dover, on June 1, 1997, was a classic, won by Ricky Rudd. It scared me to death. I was afraid the track would change its mind.

Herewith are a few of my favorite aspects of Dover International Speedway:

  1. The view from the press box, overlooking the first turn, is breathtaking. Stock cars dive into the high-banked, concrete turns of Dover like fighter jets in a dogfight. One of my better paragraphs went something like this: “The sight of Winston Cup stock cars diving into turns one and three is one of the sport’s dazzling spectacles. Unfortunately, they will do so 1,000 times on Sunday afternoon. Even the sublime can get old with repetition.”
  2. It is overly simplistic to claim that Dover is in “the middle of nowhere.” It’s not far from lots of somewheres. I often went to major-league games – in Baltimore, Philadelphia and, once, Washington, D.C. – while covering NASCAR there. I also saw a football game between the Naval Academy and Northwestern.
  3. I tried to pack light so that I could return home with a half dozen books from Atlantic Book Warehouse, conveniently located in front of the speedway near the main gate. It probably hurt sales there when the races were shortened.
  4. If South Carolina had a restaurant known as Sambo’s Tavern, pickets would likely be out front, but in Delaware, it’s just a place whose original owner was named Sam. It’s hidden in the middle of a small village and speed trap known as Leipsic, and it is one of the more original restaurants I’ve ever visited. Sambo’s is not a swanky place, and it’s not uncommon to leave there with bits of crab shells stuck to one’s elbows.
  5. Dover is the only place where I walked from my room to and from the track. That’s because the Dover Downs Hotel & Casino overlooks the third turn.
  6. My greatest conquest of slot machines occurred on a Monday afternoon after a race that had been rained out on Sunday. Unlike Vegas, Dover was a place where, generally, I got better than I gave. I was either superstitious or smart. I always gambled on Thursdays and Mondays, based on the suspicion that the slots would be “looser” before and after race fans were around. It may not have been true, but it worked.
  7. I used to play music on Fridays and Saturdays in front of a bar at the side entrance to the casino. Most everyone watching was at least a little tipsy with a pocket full of dollar bills. This made the atmosphere absolutely perfect for tips. A guy once offered me $20 to play a Creedence Clearwater Revival song, which I had never done. Hmm, I thought, “Proud Mary” ought to be easy. I think I know all the words. I did, and it was.
  8. They changed over the years, but I always enjoyed chatting with the women who worked in the press box.
  9. Dover has a great recruiting tool. I defy anyone to walk across the pedestrian bridge during practice and not be impressed. Ruhm-ruhm, ruhm-ruhm-ruhm …
  10. Some of my more memorable conversations occurred while sitting on the wall while cars were lined up for qualifying. For some reason, Mark Martin often happened by, and, in general, what we talked about had little to do with racing.

You Got Me Writing the Blues

"I never felt more like running away / No reason to go / No reason to stay / Without you / You got me singin' the blues."
“I never felt more like running away / No reason to go / No reason to stay / Without you / You got me singin’ the blues.”

Clinton, S.C., Thursday, May 30, 2013, 9:38 a.m.

Writing a daily blog is like writing a blues song.

No, I don’t have the blues. I’m suitably upbeat. But it’s a matter of getting up, brewing a cup of coffee, turning on the TV, and thinking, “Woke up this morning …”

The blog develops in much the same fashion, except that I don’t have trouble with no triflin’ woman, and I don’t drive a 1972 Olds 98, and I had coffee, not a beer, for breakfast.

Jerry Jeff Walker sang a song called “I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight,” written by Chris Wall, and it’s not literally feeling like Hank Williams. It means the singer wants to listen to Hank’s songs.

I play classical music when it rains / I play country when I am in pain / I won’t play Beethoven ‘cause the mood’s just not right / I feel like Hank Williams tonight

Sometimes I write a note to myself on my iPhone. Usually it’s either an idea for a blog or a hook for a song. One of the hooks I haven’t gotten around to yet – and may never – is, “Never trust a Man with a Year-Round Tan.” It’s been stored there for at least a month. I’ve got a lot more song ideas than actual songs.

9:49 a.m.

Someone just called regarding my inquiry into the status of Tavares Lipscomb. I think if I’d have just listened, I could have learned all about him, but, no, I had to tell the lady that I didn’t have any idea who Tavares Lipscomb was and that I had a strong suspicion she had the wrong number.

At first, she acted as if I was obviously mistaken, but I managed to convince her that I didn’t, in fact, care about his status. I do hope he’s all right, though, whoever he is and assuming he is, in fact, a “he.”

All else being equal, and knowing nothing, I generally favor the well-being of my fellow man. Or woman.

If you watch “The Andy Griffith Show” on TV Land, you’re going to see lots of commercials for the Acorn Stairlift.

Opie started his own newspaper, you know.

10:45 a.m.

One weakness of national politics is that it’s gotten too scientific. Everything is geared toward the “swing states.” If I didn’t live near the border of a swing state, North Carolina,” I’d have hardly known what was going on last year.

On the other hand, maybe I would’ve gotten a clearer picture if I hadn’t been assaulted by all those slanted ads.

I haven’t made up my mind on the issue, but it occurs to me that if the electoral college were abolished, candidates would have to run nationally again.

Many years ago, a man ran for County Council with the slogan, “A Cattle Farmer Who Believes in Laurens County.

A week later, someone ran an ad with a photo of Curly from the Three Stooges and the slogan “A Chicken Farmer Who Doesn’t Believe in Laurens County.”

The cattle farmer didn’t win.

10:58 a.m.

People often make the mistake of thinking small towns are just alike.

Clinton, my hometown, and Laurens, the county seat, are vastly different. Clinton has a college. Laurens has a Courthouse. Clinton has two McDonald’s and two Dollar Generals. Laurens has the Walmart. People in Clinton are constantly having to go to Laurens. Lots of people in Laurens never come to Clinton. Clinton is more orderly. Laurens is more open.

A handful of prominent families call the shots in Clinton. They’re fairly nice people, though, by and large.

Clinton and Laurens are every bit as different as Philadelphia and New York.

Assorted Thoughts of Wednesday

Near Petaluma, California.
Near Petaluma, California.

Clinton, S.C., Wednesday, May 29, 2013, 10:37 a.m.

Last night I watched Steve McQueen in “Bullitt.” Remember when actors didn’t talk so much? Clint Eastwood is the last one standing, I guess.

McQueen epitomized 1960s cool. I don’t think anyone now matches McQueen, but Brad Pitt wishes he did. He has aspirations.

Then again, this is a more talkative age. Maybe actors talk too much because people talk too much. I do not exclude myself from the indictment.

My sister Dee Dee would’ve turned 50 today. She died last summer. I was talking to my mother yesterday, and it occurred to me that a sister and two close friends have died at either 49 or 50.

This morning’s revelation: John F. Kennedy’s birthday was also May 29.

Coincidence? Completely.

11:04 a.m.

The funniest thing on TV is the small print in the pharmaceutical ads.

I finally memorized the words to a song, “Scuppernongs and Muscadines,” I wrote several months ago.

I wrote a new song, too. “All I Ever Did Was Hurt.” As you may suspect, it’s not a feel-good tune. It’s the kind of song one would memorize while drinking, and that’s not a good way to memorize.

I’ll provide more details soon, but suffice it to say I will be appearing in Winchester, Va., on June 22, and in the Philadelphia area on June 29. I’ll talk about my novel, The Audacity of Dope, preview my next, The Intangibles, and perform some songs. I’ll sign books if I do my job well enough that you want to buy them.

The Virginia appearance is at the Winchester Book Gallery and will begin at 5:30 p.m. (that’s a Saturday). It begins with a reading from The Audacity of Dope, followed by a musical performance. I’ll perform songs from the novel, the lyrics of which are scattered through the book.

Circle the dates. I’ll be following up with more information about my version of what NASCAR once called “the Northern Tour.”

11:48 a.m.

If a rumor is flying, and no one will deny it on the record, it’s true.

In decades of journalism, I’ve known few, if any, exceptions to this rule.

Most people who go out of their way to be confrontational have something to hide.

The truth is never more apparent than when being vehemently denied.

Football coaches often remind me of generals. Basketball coaches often remind me of car salesmen.

No good comes from reaching the point in life where you think the world owes you something. It’s the beginning of the end. You’ve got to work your way from the cradle to the grave, and that’s just the way it is.

Never trust a man who seems obsessed with appearing younger than he is. I call this the John Edwards Rule. He’s not the first, though.

I guess I’m building my own set of Intangibles.

When I was in high school, we referred to the slogans on the locker-room walls as “the Intangibles.” It’s the origin of the title of my next novel, which is scheduled for publication in November.

I had to write a novel. I don’t have a locker room.

Things of Which I Thought

Things are picking up again at Fenway Park this year ... at least so far.
Things are picking up again at Fenway Park this year … at least so far.

Clinton, S.C., Tuesday, May 28, 2013, 4:54 p.m.

Recent observations, listed here in lieu of any coherent subject on which to blog:

Furman was the only school in the Southern Conference Baseball Tournament whose fans didn’t wear camouflage caps with the school logo on them. Perhaps my alma mater has fewer outdoors types. Or fewer military types. I really don’t know. I mean it to neither praise nor criticize. It’s just something I noticed.

The Rockies-Astros game on TV right now has a crowd numbering well into the hundreds. This must be qualifying.

The white supremacist who resigned from S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley’s reelection campaign is not white. You can’t make this stuff up.

When I was growing up, I read about the athletes of yore. Nowadays, if any discussion occurs regarding the greatest of all-time in any sport, no one from the past is even considered. Part of it is ignorance, and part of it is arrogance.

Recent events have led to a fear of allowing anyone to hold an umbrella for me.

6:45 p.m.

A year ago, the question regarding the Red Sox was “can Bobby Valentine get his act together?” The fact that it was needed made it wishful thinking. In hindsight, of course, it was laughable.

Now the Red Sox are actually in first place (it may be a tie with the Yankees after tonight). The team hasn’t been free of injuries. Nothing appears to be a fluke. The players seem to enjoy playing for John Farrell. It’s not a powerhouse, but the 2013 Sox seem to play together and respond to adversity. Damn it, I’ve allowed myself to get optimistic.

If someone has to beat the Red Sox, I hope it’s Terry Francona’s Tribe, which just dropped three of four in Boston. I’m glad the Red Sox won, but I’m an Indians fan when they’re playing anyone else.

My theory for the Red Sox decline is that Theo Epstein started pretending he was running the Yankees. I don’t know if they’re back, but they’re getting there.

Sometimes I flip over to the Dodgers game just for a Vin Scully fix. It’s the broadcasting equivalent of classical music.

Baseball is killing the NBA and NHL for me. I feel a little guilty about watching so many unimportant games and missing so many important ones. I just love baseball. Guilty, your honor.

On the other hand, the question might be this: Is baseball my favorite sport because of the game itself, or is it because I love the Red Sox more than any other professional team?

I would, however, like to watch Game 7 between the Red Wings and Blackhawks Wednesday night.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Kevin Harvick crosses the finish line -- finally! -- to win the Coca-Cola 600. (Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet)
Kevin Harvick crosses the finish line — finally! — to win the Coca-Cola 600. (Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet)
Kevin Harvick hoists the Coca-Cola 600 trophy in the wee hours of Monday morning. (Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet.)
Kevin Harvick hoists the Coca-Cola 600 trophy in the wee hours of Monday morning. (Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet.)

Clinton, S.C., Monday, May 27, 2013, 9:20 a.m.

Who didn’t awaken Sunday morning and think, man, this is racing nirvana? Grand Prix of Monaco, Indianapolis 500, Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte … road racing, Indy cars, stock cars … most unique, greatest spectacle, longest race.

And who didn’t trudge to bed after midnight, after staring at high-def for 18 hours, and think, man ,this is too much of a good thing?

Sitting in a recliner takes a toll on a man. (Or, in turn, a woman.) Throw in snacks and beer (though certainly not in my case), and you’re looking at serious Memorial Day sluggishness. (Fun fact: Memorial Day is actually Monday.)

Hat’s off to Juan Valdez and all the fine folks who harvested the beans that wound up being my coffee this morning.

I wrote about Monte Carlo and Indy Sunday afternoon, so herewith I shall endeavor to dwell on NASCAR. “Endeavor to dwell.” Reads like I’m getting ready for the Oklahoma Land Rush. I used to have squatters’ rights at the speedways.

It should come as little surprise that Kevin Harvick won the Coke 600. Harvick’s profile suggests that he should win it every year. Harvick, 37, is NASCAR’s version of Mariano Rivera. He shows up at the end like a thief in the night. Out of his 21 Cup victories, Harvick has led fewer than 50 laps in 14 of them. Eight times he’s won while leading 10 or less. He’s won while leading only the last lap. He’s won leading only the last two twice. He’s also won while leading three, four and six.

On Sunday night, Harvick led 28 laps. By his standards, that’s utter domination.

It was also the Night of the Slithering Cable, which could’ve been the title of a George Romero movie. (He already made “Night of the Living Dead,” “Dawn of the Dead,” “Land of the Dead” and, of course, “Survival of the Dead.”)

It’s not unusual for a NASCAR race to be affected by a drive line, but when the drive line is for a camera, it’s a bit of an anomaly.

Harvick sounded like Jack Buck, who famously said, “I can’t believe what my eyes just saw!”

The cable fell to the track and whipped through speeding cars like a band of screaming banshees.

The winner’s description: “Hell, the first time I drove by, I said, my career is over, my eyes have taken a crap. I saw this streak go by me. What in the hell was that?

“I always have this thing with my eyes. It’s one of the biggest things we have as drivers. You got to believe in your eyes. I tell myself, you’ve got to believe what you saw.”

Ten fans were also injured by – you can’t make this up – flying cables. None of the injuries was deemed serious, though three required a trip to a nearby hospital.

In Monte Carlo, one driver, Nico Rosberg, led every lap. In Indianapolis, Tony Kanaan showed up at the front after a record 68 lead changes. In Concord, Harvick survived a D-Day Invasion of a race. It would’ve been “The Longest Day,” except for the fact that most of it was at night.

Thank God it ended just in time for the infomercials.

Racing It As It Comes

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

Clinton, S.C., Sunday, May 26, 8:17 a.m.

It’s not actually Memorial Day. That’s Monday. And, strictly speaking, it will be a day to mourn our war dead, not to cheer on the troops or to honor the veterans. Memorial Day should have a somber edge to it. At the very least, it should give us pause.

Pause.

I got up earlier than I planned this morning, as a result of a dead battery in my mother’s Pontiac that was probably, in turn, a result of someone at her house, likely a nephew, listening to the CD player and leaving the key on.

That’s just speculation.

In any event, it’s Sunday. I had to give my mother a ride to the Days Inn, where she works mostly on weekends. I tried and failed to go back to sleep. Now I’m pondering breakfast and watching the Grand Prix of Monaco, a cup of coffee having sufficiently fortified me and ended any possibility of sleeping any time soon.

The predicament is also an offshoot of the University of North Carolina’s baseball team, which required 18 innings to defeat N.C. State in the ACC tournament. I stayed up for 17 of them.

I must have thought, OK, one more inning, five different times. Then I gave up right before the Tar Heels won. I don’t know the details.

8:53 a.m.

Monaco must be the world’s most beautiful principality, I think. What’s a principality? I’ll check. “A principality (or princedom) can either be a monarchical, feudatory or a sovereign state, ruled or reigned over by a monarch with the title of prince or by a monarch with another title within the generic use of the word ‘prince.’”

Surviving principalities are Liechtenstein, Monaco and the co-principality of Andorra. Monaco is bordered for 2.7 miles by France and 2.5 miles by the Mediterranean. As Arthur Bach (movie “Arthur”) might say, “It’s not a large place.” The current prince, Albert II, may have said it, too.

All that the Grand Prix of Monaco has in common with I-40 through the Smokies is a tunnel. I-40 has two going one way and one the other.

An incident involving Pastor Maldonado just raised a red flag. I think I saw that in the plot of a movie once. The pastor was collaborating with the Nazis.

In the movie.

9:49 a.m.

Since Memorial Day isn’t really until Monday, it occurs to me that Sunday might be an unofficial memorial day for racers. I remember, as a small child, watching Lorenzo Bandini’s grisly death (May 10, 1967) at Monte Carlo on “ABC’s Wide World of Sports.” On this weekend in 1964, Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald died at Indy, and the fiery crash that led to Fireball Roberts’ death occurred at Charlotte.

It’s a good time for a moment of silence amid the roar. (I can mute the TV.)

10:28 a.m.

Nico Rosberg won the grand prix. He is Keke Rosberg’s son. Formula One apparently has a Finland Gang. Kimi Raikkonen is in there amongst them, too. No Rosberg has ever won at Daytona Beach, but, then again, no Allison has ever won at Monte Carlo.

On to Indy. Television was a wonderful invention. Take a trip and never leave the farm.

11:58 a.m.

I just observed the traditional Sunday Visit with My Mother at the Motel, timing it to fall between Monte Carlo and Indianapolis (OK, so Clinton is a bit off the direct route). I got home in time to hear “Taps” (which I can play on my guitar, by the way, similar to the intro of “Folsom Prison Blues”).

What a contrast between the visions of Memorial Day: “Back Home Again in Indiana,” Purdue marching band and “Taps” vs. Charlotte’s gaudy Invasion of the Tri-Oval.

I’m looking forward to really watching the Indianapolis 500. In the past, I always got to the CMS press box in time to watch Indy on the monitors, but I was often distracted and had work to do.

OK, I may play my guitar a little, which is another wonderful accessory and freedom that comes with not having a job that takes me to the track.

I wonder if I could write car-racing words to fit George Jones’ “The Race Is On”? I could, but I reckon my time would be best served writing something that’s all original.

12:08 p.m.

My boyhood memories of “the newborn hay in all its fragrance” are not quite as warm as they appear to be for Jim Nabors.

Imagine a start in rows of three at Talladega. Shazam.

1:04 p.m.

I was making a snack in the kitchen. I thought I heard the announcer say a car “ran over a toad.” Nah. On pit road. A hose. Since the nervous pigeon in Monte Carlo, I’ve been animal-distracted.

1:16 p.m.

Technology should create more, not less, options. This design of Indy cars creates a rousing show.

1:19 p.m.

During the five years (1988-92) in which I attended the Indy 500, I never saw an empty seat. I mailed in my ticket request for the following year the day after the race.

And I never thought that would change.

1:47 p.m.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the Indy 500 live, but this is one observation I’ve retained ever since: they go so fast, it doesn’t have to be as close to be exciting. One just marvels that something – anything! – can go that fast and still turn left.

Nowadays, by the way, they race pretty close.

2:21 p.m.

Sure, I’d like to see A.J. Allmendinger win. He should’ve been racing IndyCars all along. He came along when everyone was giving NASCAR a try. He’d have been better off if he hadn’t.

2:56 p.m.

Tony Kanaan is going to win the Indianapolis 500 at last, and I could scarcely be happier.

Now I think I’m going to blog about the Coca-Cola 600 afterwards, in the conventional fashion. I haven’t done a “stream-of-consciousness blog” in quite some time. Let me know what you think of the format.

Be True to Your School

The Paladins exited the Southern Conference tournament too early but still finished the season with 32 victories.
The Paladins exited the Southern Conference tournament too early but still finished the season with 32 victories.
The Citadel has added red to its powder blue, which makes little sense to me but seems to be working at the Southern Conference Baseball Tournament.
The Citadel has added red to its powder blue, which makes little sense to me but seems to be working at the Southern Conference Baseball Tournament.

Clinton, S.C., Saturday, May 25, 1:42 p.m.

Why did I have such a good time at the Southern Conference Baseball Tournament? Furman won its opener over Elon, 10-1, lost in excruciating fashion, 3-2, in its second game vs. Georgia Southern, and fell, 8-1, to Elon Friday night.

I didn’t go to bed earlier than 1:30 a.m. three nights in a row, which leaves me feeling at the moment as if I just got back from California. I’m non-jet-lagged in a jet-lagged sort of way.

It was the fellowship.

I watched game one with an old friend, David Hibbard, who is an Elon graduate. I spent games two and three, the Furman losses, with old pals Steve Grant and Bill Butler, both of whom once played baseball for the Paladins, along with Bill’s son Sean, who just finished his sophomore year.

What “Pa” (Grant), “Butts” and I have in common is our senses of humor. We can all be rather sarcastic and outrageous. Together we’re downright raucous.

While watching the games, we shared colorful times from our college years. Some were rather off-color — or, maybe, bright purple, come to think of it — which I think may have had something to do with the tendency of some more proper Furman fans to move to a seating location a bit more distant from us.

We talked and joked about people I hadn’t even thought of in 20 years. We recalled practical jokes and a wide variety of long-ago escapades and sordid episodes. I’ve been away, as a practical matter, for 20 years, and I’m sort of rediscovering my college roots. In my last year writing about NASCAR for a living, I didn’t get to go to a single Paladin football game. I saw the basketball team play here in Clinton against Presbyterian. Of all the uncertain aspects of my future, one bright spot is that I should be able to get up to Furman a lot more often. Lots of graduates of smaller schools don’t keep coming back, and many of them morph into fans of larger schools. I’m not that way. First and foremost, in college athletics, I am a fan of my alma mater. I would 10 times rather be at a Furman game than, say, a Clemson or South Carolina game, or, even, the Clemson-Carolina game. I have relatively little rooting interest in any other school. I like Vanderbilt because some Furman friends used to coach there. I like the University of Texas because it’s in Austin, a city I love, and I have some family connections.

But if Vanderbilt were playing Texas, I still would rather watch Furman play, oh, anyone.

One of the reasons is the presence of friends like Steve Grant and Bill Butler. The baseball coach, Ron Smith, was also in school with us. The head football coach, Bruce Fowler, is an old friend. It’s my school. I want it to win. If it loses, it diminishes my mood but not my loyalty.

I even enjoyed the bantering interaction with fans of The Citadel, which, now that top seed Western Carolina has been eliminated, appears likely to win it all. Word just arrived that the Bulldogs eliminated Appalachian State, 8-6. I have a grudging respect for The Citadel, but I would not pull for the Bulldogs against any team in America and quite likely a good many from throughout the world. The way we Furman fans feel about The Citadel is precisely reflected in the way fans of the Bulldogs feel about us. We can interact, though, in the same way the famed American general interacted with the Russian general in the movie “Patton.”

All right. Enough of the niceties. In conversation and thought, I still think of the Bulldogs as Bellhops. We mix like Athens (liberal arts) and Sparta (military). It’s a wonderful rivalry, in part, for those reasons. The schools love to hate each other.

It was a good time. Friday night was much better because the loss was painless. The score was 1-0 until the Phoenix broke it open in the seventh. By the time it ended, Steve, Bill and I were washing down chicken wings with beer at the watering hole behind Fluor Field’s Green Monster in left.

Thursday’s loss to Georgia Southern (a.) ended at close to 1 a.m. (so it was actually Friday’s loss, too), and the Paladins went to the ninth inning leading 2-1. In fact, they still led 2-1 with two outs and no one on base. What followed was a heart-breaking series of bad breaks and self-imposed wounds. Then Furman (b.) had a chance in the bottom of the ninth but squandered it. I drove home with my stomach in knots.

But … the bantering with my buddies was great. The night didn’t go bad until the end.

If our conversations had been taped, we’d all have some explaining to do.

The Sad Demise of the Name ‘Dick’

"Old Glory" flying at Fluor Field last night has absolutely nothing to do with this blog. I just thought it was a cool photo.
“Old Glory” flying at Fluor Field last night has absolutely nothing to do with this blog. I just thought it was a cool photo.

Clinton, S.C., Friday, May 24, 11:32 a.m.

When I was a kid, the top driver in NASCAR was occasionally referred to on television and in print as “Dick Petty,” though the King himself always preferred “Richard.” If the announcer said Dick Petty won the Atlanta 500, the announcer didn’t know much about stock car racing.

When I was at Furman University, the head football coach and athletic director was Dick Sheridan. For part of that time, the coach at the University of North Carolina was Dick Crum.

When I started writing about NASCAR, one of the best guys in the business was the public-relations director of Martinsville Speedway, Dick Thompson. Bud Moore’s driver was Dick Trickle.

The name “Dick” was already in decline, even then. Furman players routinely used a crude nickname – strictly in private, of course – for Coach Sheridan. Sportscenter made more references to Trickle than, oh, Bill Elliott.

All because it became popular to refer childishly to a male organ as the “dick.” The word has many other synonyms. It has decimated the ranks of other names, most notably “Peter,” “Willie” and “Wally,” but they have survived.

Dicks have just disappeared. It also became widely used as a general term of derision. For more than 30 years, kids named Richard have increasingly said, “Call me Rich.”

Partly as a result, the letter “J” has reaped the dividends. A healthy percentage of male children are promptly named Jake, Jeb, Jed, Jordan, Josh and Justin.

Dick is gone, but it’s also pertinent to ask what happened to once-respectable names like Boyce, Boyd, Clarence, Preston, Rufus, Virgil and Zeke? And, for girls, whatever happened to Alma, Clara, Fern, Juanita, June, Mabel, Madge, Mildred, Nanette, Prue, Velma and Zelda?

I apologize for the inevitable omissions.

For what it’s worth, I think Dick is a perfectly respectable name. So is Peter, which is, of course, in the Bible. When I encounter a man today who introduces himself as Dick, I think it reflects strength of character.

And if I’d had a son, I would’ve named him …

… Bill or George, anything but Dick.

I’d like to close by apologizing to Johnny Cash and Shel Silverstein.

It’s All About What Happens with Two Out

LHP Alex Smith was splendid in Furman's opening-round victory over Elon.
LHP Alex Smith was splendid in Furman’s opening-round victory over Elon.

Clinton, S.C., Thursday, May 23, 2013, 10:32 a.m.

I take pride in my baseball knowledge, but this was a bit extreme.

On Wednesday, I watched three baseball games at the Southern Conference tournament in Greenville (S.C.) at Fluor Field. Furman University, my alma mater, is the host school. I saw one great game (The Citadel beat Appalachian State with a walk-off homer) and two blowouts. Top-seeded Western Carolina clobbered Samford, 13-7, and the Paladins drubbed Elon, 10-1.

The final game, which I didn’t stay for anyway, was rained out, which in terms of, uh, me, makes Furman’s game at 8:30 p.m. instead of 5 today. One game is being moved to Furman’s Latham Stadium (Fluor Field is the home of the Greenville Drive minor-league team), and Furman will play the College of Charleston-Georgia Southern winner. That game is already under way in Greenville as these words are written.

I watched the Furman-Elon game with an old friend, David Hibbard, who graduated from Elon but served, over 20 years ago now, as Sports Information Director at Presbyterian College during the period when I covered the Blue Hose for the local paper. The only time I’ve seen David in, oh, about the last 20, was when I lectured classes at Elon some years back. He now lives in Laurinburg, N.C.

OK, back to what was “a bit extreme.”

I remarked to David what I thought was the difference between a baseball team on the skids and one on a winning streak. It’s all about two-out hits with men on base. Part of it is coming through in the clutch, but part of it is just random selection. When a team is struggling, it loads the bases with two out and can’t buy a hit. A hot team scores such runs in bunches, even without any outs to spare.

This conversation became painful for David. Without knowing for sure – I didn’t keep score because he and I were having fun, telling jokes and the like – but it seemed as if Furman hit about .750 with two outs and men in scoring position, and Elon didn’t hit much of anything at all under those conditions, which were plentiful.

I’d like to think I was a gracious winner and David was a sportsmanlike loser. It’s double elimination, so the Phoenix is (are*) still alive. (Yes, they could rise from the ashes.)

I also had unexpected company during the Samford-Western Carolina game. I discovered that the fellow sitting across the aisle from me had been an assistant basketball coach at Erskine College 30 years ago when I covered the Flying Fleet. Ken Robinson lives in Greenwood, S.C., now and has a son at WCU. I saw Robinson play in the late 1970s for Erskine and Red Myers, a coach I fondly remember.

Amazingly, Robinson remembered me – “You not Monte Dutton, are you?” – and I remembered him. We had a great time talking baseball. He had just been in Greenville on business and happened by the stadium to see what all the commotion was about.

It never rained a drop on me, though the Furman-Elon game was delayed for a time by lightning. When I got home, a fierce storm struck that left me sitting in total darkness. I nodded off to sleep in the easy chair, slightly worried that I’d never find my way to the bedroom anyway, and I awakened with the electricity restored at about 1:45 a.m. I slept to about 8:30 – it’s very unusual for me to be up after 7 – and now I’ve got plenty to do if I’m going back to Greenville tonight.

While I was enjoying fun at the old ballpark, the NASCAR Hall of Fame was announcing the impending induction of Dale Jarrett, Tim Flock, Fireball Roberts, Maurice Petty and Jack Ingram.

It’s sort of difficult to criticize the class for a Hall of Fame – my longheld standard is that anyone in a hall of fame ought to be famous in some sense, but that, like every other standard, requires personal judgment – so I won’t. All five inductees are deserving.

I don’t have a vote, so what I think doesn’t really matter, but if I’d had a vote, which I don’t even seek, I’d have voted for three of the inductees: Flock, Roberts and Petty. My two other votes would have been for Curtis Turner and Fred Lorenzen.

 

*I detest grammar being arbitrarily violated in the interest of sports teams. I believe Heat is singular, but it is now considered correct to refer to the Miami NBA team in the plural sense, as with the Jazz, Magic, etc. Phoenix, in most references, doesn’t have a plural, though the Latin would be phoenices. I don’t think Elon University wants to be the Phoenices, so I think it’s singular.

Reconciling Moore with a Loving God

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

Clinton, S.C., Tuesday, May 21, 2013, 10:52 a.m.

When I awakened this morning, halfway across the country, I suppose I was somewhat prepared for more news of tragedy in Moore, Okla.

Sometimes it strikes me as useless all the times my social-media feeds ask me to pray for someone or something I don’t know. “Every little bit helps,” I’m told, but I’m conscious of how little sway I justly hold with the Almighty whose responsibility stretches across the needs of billions on this wretched planet alone. I reserve my prayers for those I know, love, respect and admire. I feel as if all I can manage is compassion for my little corner of the world.

And forgiveness. I ask a lot for forgiveness.

I only know a few Oklahomans. This awful tornado doesn’t touch me personally, or does it? Seeing all these teachers, firefighters, policemen (and women), daddies and mamas does affect me because they are fellow citizens, however distant, of this dysfunctional community of human beings. Each night I offer general prayers for the righteousness of my country and the success of its president. I guess I should rightly include a general request for mercy on behalf of all the innocent victims of the world’s disasters.

So I did.

As is usually the case, I had gone to sleep with the TV on. At about 5 a.m., I briefly awakened, and there, harsh and ubiquitous, was the latest footage from Moore. I sat on the side of the bed for a moment, squinted at the screen, and two items came to mind. The first was a sermon I first read in high school, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” by the Puritan minister Jonathan Edwards. It wasn’t the content of Edwards’ sermon that grabbed me, but, rather, the title and the imagery of innocents, not sinners, being buffeted about in the fierce swirl of the tornado.

“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” is perhaps the ultimate hellfire-and-brimstone sermon. The Puritan’s concept of God doesn’t jive with mine. I see God as loving, not wrathful. But anyone who ever read it thinks of it from time to time, I think, if for no other reason the ferocity it conjures up.

The second was the opening of a song I wrote two winters ago, “The Paved Road,” which was named because, at the time, I couldn’t get to one. An unexpected snowfall left my vehicles trapped in the yard. Without much else to do – electricity out, house getting colder – I wrote the song. Its words are excerpted below:

The first thing that I saw / When I woke up this morning /Was bad news on the TV I left on the night before …

… Life is hard / No matter where you go / It’s a tortured path / Tough row to hoe / When the wheels spin / Got a heavy load / Hoping I can get / To the paved road …

… Like any man I yearn / For some measure of fulfillment / My ambition stretches far beyond / Just paying all the bills / When I wonder how the hell / I can make my fortune / My life’s nestled in a valley / Surrounded by hills

Here’s the whole song, from Youtube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PeXt48RiRtc

I thought about what I would do with this great disaster looming. My house has no basement, no storm cellar. The only “interior room” is sort of a hall where the bathroom, bedroom, office and living room intersect. But what, I thought, if I tried to stagger across the pasture behind the house and take refuge in the wooded ditch there? I could lie flat in its bottom. Perhaps uprooted trees would fall across the top without crushing me. Perhaps I’d drown as howling winds swept rain through the little chasm. Perhaps I’d be trapped there, and how would anyone find me?

I realized I’d be just another sinner in the hands of an angry God. Or an angry tornado, conjured up not by Good but by Evil.

Then I went back to sleep, but I don’t think I would’ve made it if I hadn’t prayed diligently, just for serenity, mercy and calm if nothing else.