Clinton, S.C., Saturday, July 27, 2013, 3:23 p.m.
As I settle into today’s blog, I’m sort of torn. It’s already edged past mid-afternoon. I’m still basking in the enjoyment of playing music Friday night. I just got back from a morning trip to Columbia, which was interesting and promising, and now I’m back in the living room, watching Sprint Cup cars qualify for the Brickyard (oops, Crown Royal Presents the Samuel Deeds) 400 (Powered by BigMachineRecords.com).
More than ever, “Jamlisco” (that’s a jam at El Jalisco Mexican Restaurant) matched its title. It was more jam than open mic. It was inspirational. Tribute was paid to a talented young woman who lost her life this summer in our town. Several of us took the stage to perform Emily Anna Asbill’s favorite song, “Wagon Wheel.” My friend Chuck Waldron, who was the murdered teen’s tennis coach, played her guitar. My perspective may have been skewed, but I thought the collaboration was very good. Friends of hers also played music. It was the first “Jamlisco” in more than a month, and it was the first time I played music in front of an audience since I got home from Pennsylvania almost a month ago.
As always, the night was saved by the presence of talents greater than mine. My greatest contribution was $25 for chicken tequila and beer. (It wasn’t chicken, tequila and beer. It was the dish “chicken tequila” and beer. I was into a little mischief, but not that much. My father used to say that he liked a drink to “knock the chill off.” I like a few beers before playing music to “knock the nerves off.” It works. Really. It does.)
Qualifying was fitting. NASCAR’s visit to Indianapolis Motor Speedway is not always exciting, but it is always historic. I saw a tweet by Kris (@Speed505): “Indy is one of the coolest places on earth to attend a race and one of the worst places on earth to watch a race.”
I wish I’d thought of that. I could only “retweet.”
Qualifying at Indy is more interesting than most, but it’s still not, oh, exciting. Like the race in general, though, it is historic, or, rather, was on Saturday. It was Ryan Newman’s 50th pole. Only eight drivers in history have won more.
No one has ever won this race — Cup at the Brickyard — five times. After all, Indy has hosted the cars that carry its name since 1911 but NASCAR only since 1994. In 19 NASCAR races, two drivers, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, have won it four times. In May, Tony Kanaan won the 97th Indianapolis 500, and in its entire history only A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears have won it four times. Now get this. The United States Grand Prix was run at Indy only eight times, and Michael Schumacher won five. The lesson, apparently, is that the fewer the races, the easier the wins.
Nothing NASCAR has done this year seems as popular as running the Camping World Truck Series on dirt at Eldora. That was Wednesday night. Nothing NASCAR has done this year seems less popular than running the Nationwide Series at “the big track” instead of IRP/ORP/LOR (that’s Indianapolis Raceway Park to O’Reilly Raceway Park to Lucas Oil Raceway if you’re keeping score). That was Saturday. The support series dove into the deep, blue sea and somehow found the devil.
It’s hard for me to comprehend how the image of Indy, or at least NASCAR at Indy, has changed. The mindset used to be (a.), okay, so maybe it’s not a great stock car track, but it is a great track; (b.) the atmosphere is unbelievable; and (c.) it’s a great test of driving ability.
Now the mindset isn’t divided into parts. It’s, basically, this sucks.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think it sucks, but I think the perception was absolutely poisoned by that 2008 tire disaster. The race may have stalled in fans’ minds before that inane, embarrassing series of “lack of” competition cautions, but it crashed afterwards.
I gained a friend that year. He’s a Texas country-music singer, who was a huge NASCAR fan, and we had a mutual friend who put us in touch when the singer brought his family to the race. The whole family and I had dinner one late afternoon at a Chili’s near Plainfield.
Since then, I’ve gone to see him perform a couple of times in Texas. We’ve even swapped songs at his apartment. He hasn’t been back to Indy. In fact, I don’t think he’s been back to Texas Motor Speedway. The experience apparently turned him against the whole sport.
We still exchange information about music from time to time, though.