The Barber on the Totem Pole

Is it Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s time? Perhaps. (John Clark photo)
Is it Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s time? Perhaps. (John Clark photo)

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Clinton, S.C., Friday, February 28, 2014, 8:50 a.m.

It’s the last day of February, and in three out of every four years, I think about the unlucky souls born on Feb. 29, which, of course, only occurs during leap years.

I could use a leap year, which, of course, this isn’t. Undoubtedly, this is a big day for birthdays since all the 29ers – that should be a Rookie League team in Leap Year, Iowa, and, by gosh, there should be a Leap Year, Iowa, or perhaps Louisiana where they’d figure out a better way to celebrate it – get thrown into the pool of 28ers.

Not a 29er. Nor fluent in Tlingit.
Not a 29er. Nor fluent in Tlingit.

At this point, it’s appropriate for me to point out that I’m not a 29er. But I sympathize.

Having a Feb. 29 birthday must be a little like being the low man on a totem pole, though I feel it incumbent to confess that I’m hardly an expert on totem-pole etiquette. I’m just guessing that the high man is more important. The low man might be his barber.

The Tlingit word for “barber” is *oh hoy kai qoonqua.

So what do the 29th of February and totem poles have to do with Sunday’s The Profit on CNBC 500, which is actually 312 miles and will take place at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz.?

Well, the name is just as confounding as the phantom birthday.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., and by extension NASCAR, has momentum, which is sort of like knocking down every pin except one at the local lanes. Momentum only matters if he picks up the spare. It would be quite the accomplishment for Earnhardt to win again. Phoenix could scarcely be more different from Daytona. The good news is that Earnhardt has won there twice, but the bad news outweighs the good in that the track has been reconfigured since Earnhardt won and both victories occurred during George W. Bush’s first term.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 88 at Michigan last year. (Steve Fecht photo for Chevrolet)
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 at Michigan last year. (Steve Fecht photo for Chevrolet)

Earnhardt’s former victory at the Desert Mile, on Nov. 2, 2003, was memorable, not for what happened in the race but in the media conference afterwards. At the side of the interview room was a window. While Earnhardt was answering questions, one of his fans walked up to the window and flashed him. Showed breasts. As you may have suspected, it was a woman.

Junior’s reaction? “Man, it gets crazier and crazier, don’t it? The demographic is changing. I hope it keeps changing.”

It did.

At the time, Earnhardt Jr. was 29. Between his Phoenix victories, he won his first Daytona 500. Some would suggest a correlation, but, actually, it was a coincidence, albeit one that could be duplicated on Sunday.

Now he’s 39, and the odds of being flashed during a media conference are probably a bit less. Let’s just say the nature of his appeal has changed. Junior once had the fan base of the early Beatles. Then it was an Elvis appeal. Now he’s picking up the Conway Twitty demographic.

It’s still huge, the fan base. It’s grown up with Earnhardt. Some of it grew up with his dad. It’s drinking a few less Budweisers and a few more Diet Mountain Dews. Ten years ago he won six races. He’s won four in all the years since.

Amid all the hurrahs, for the first time, it’s conceivable that one day there might be a last one.

There’s still time for a rebirth, a prime to go along with a golden age. This morning I read a story expressing the view that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a future NASCAR Hall of Famer right now, regardless of whether or not he ever wins another race. I don’t buy that. He needs more victories. He needs at least a championship. Besides, it’s impossible to measure until the final flag has fallen on a career.

He has plenty of time to establish the mantel of greatness, but this is the time to get started. If there is a grand destiny, it’s time to fulfill it.

For what it’s worth, I really hope he does.

*I made this up.

[cb_profit_poster Storytelling]

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Long Awaited Emergence

Dale Earnhardt is all atwitter. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)
Dale Earnhardt is all atwitter. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)

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Clinton, S.C., Monday, February 24, 2014, 10:03 a.m.

The first time I saw Dale Earnhardt Jr. drive a race car was at Martinsville Speedway sometime around 1993 or ’94. He was driving a Late Model and appeared to be nothing special. My impression at the time was that his sister Kelley was the better driver.

Then, of course, he emerged, and of all the questions I asked and answers I received, the one that sticks came from Mark Martin, who said the most impressive aspect of Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn’t how young he was but how little he had raced. Earnhardt Jr. didn’t start out racing go-karts when he was five. He was well into his teens before he ever gave it a try, and Martin was impressed that he had honed his skills in a relatively short time.

And now, going on 20 years later, that’s right, sports fans, *Dale Earnhardt Jr. is on Twitter.

This, obviously, is the one item he lacked. Already he’s mastered the art of the “selfie,” and now, working his way through the serpentine undulations of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase format is a mere formality.

Ah-hah, Jimmie Johnson, you’ve been had! Junior is on Twitter! Egads!

With Junior on Twitter, all bets are off. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet)
With Junior on Twitter, all bets are off. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet)

Neither rain nor wind nor a squadron of JGR Toyotas can dissuade the Second Coming of Dale from his appointed rounds, particularly the most recent 200.

“It’s not a weight when you’re able to deliver,” Earnhardt said. “It’s a weight when you’re not able to deliver. When people say you’re the face of the sport, you’re running fifth or 10th every week, it’s very challenging because you want to deliver and you’re not delivering.”

Incredibly, he wasn’t referring to Twitter, at least not in so many words.

The beard? That was so 2012, man. (John Clark photo)
The beard? That was so 2012, man. (John Clark photo)

All kidding aside – Jeff Gluck: Who’s kidding? – Earnhardt devoted an astonishing amount of a media conference Sunday night to talking about NASCAR. He actually mentioned such items as cars, tires and engines. It was very educational.

Each year, NASCAR holds a breakfast to honor its great social-media performers, and it’s not unusual for the winner of the Daytona 500 to be mentioned, too. On Monday morning, the fans were afforded a rare luxury. Why, sure, Earnhardt had won the Daytona 500 before, but he’d never been on Twitter, so it was special.

If that rascal starts fooling around with Snapchat, all bets are off.

What? He already does? My God. It’s over. Now it’s really over.

*Also won the Daytona 500 Sunday.

[cb_profit_poster Beer1]

Daytona Days Like This Seldom Do I Miss

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It's looking better all the time for Juan Pablo Montoya. (John Clark photo)
It’s looking better all the time for Juan Pablo Montoya. (John Clark photo)

Clinton, S.C., Sunday, February 23, 2014, 3:39 p.m.

Last night I was reading Frank Deford’s book Over Time in which he notes that, when Grantland Rice died in 1954, so ended the era in which sports columnists sprinkled poetry – Rice was humble so he called it verse – in their work.

You know. The One Great Scorer. The Four Horsemen. Stuff like that.

Much more patient than he'd be in Daytona Beach.
Much more patient than he’d be in Daytona Beach.

Before that, I read a novel, Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger, in which a major character, a little girl named Swede, was obsessed with writing an epic poem about a cowboy.

So with the Daytona 500 in rain delay, it’s time for poetry!

Hell, no, it’s not. Who could write poetry while watching Michael Waltrip interview 50 Cent, about whom Waltrip apparently knew nothing more than he could call him “Fitty” without getting his ass kicked?

So, I just surfed away from the bobsleds at the Olympic Winter Games and saw that a huge crash had occurred in Daytona Beach. The huge crash occurred in the 2013 Daytona 500, and I wondered if, instead of the tantalizing rain-day silliness, they switched to a year-old race hoping a hundred thousand or so would arrive home from the golf course and think they were watching something that was really happening.

Probably not in Minnesota. Okay, ice fishing there. In from the frozen pond, Olaf exults at Mark Martin running 14th. He’s the one who could write poetry, particularly if the pond is Lake Wobegon.

I, however, have no desire to watch last year’s Daytona 500. I didn’t like it that much the first time. Once again – for the second week in a row! – ESPN is showing professional bowling. ESPU has women’s college basketball – Rutgers at Louisville! – and ESPN2 is closing out Kentucky at Texas A&M. The Wildcats are, in fact, closing out the Aggies.

Fortunately, Deford’s remembrances are nearby, and so is the guitar, so the Daytona 500 can finishing winding its lonely way as soon as it gets around to it. I’ve got no flight to make, and the house here in the Palmetto State is paid up. Run it Tuesday for all I care. I don’t even know where the race next week is.

The joke about bacon and eggs, the one where the chicken is dedicated but the hog is committed? That’s kind of where I’ve moved in the sportswriting pantheon. I’ve gone from being committed to just being dedicated.

And, as soon as I get this posted, I may experience a drive-through window.

[cb_profit_poster Movies]

In It for the Tweets and Blogs

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Igor. Dr. Frankenstein. The Monster. Okay. So it's Chad Knaus, Rick Hendrick and Jimmie Johnson.(HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet)
Igor. Dr. Frankenstein. The Monster. Okay. So it’s Chad Knaus, Rick Hendrick and Jimmie Johnson.(HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet)

Clinton, S.C., Saturday, February 22, 2014, 4:49 p.m.

The Daytona 500 is tomorrow. Surely I should blog. For NASCAR fans, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. There’ll be comings and goings and crashes and towings, D.W.’s good cheeeerrrrr … the most wonderful time … of the year!

Take a seat, Christmas.

The carnival atmosphere is still building here in Clinton. I worked on my income taxes. I’ve established how little I made. Now I have to substantiate how much I spent. I visited my mother at work and gave my sister a ride home from her job. She gave me a cold hot dog, which, by the way, was still good. Friday night’s Truck shindig and today’s Nationwide hullabaloo were exactly the same. Only the tailgates were dropped to protect the innocent. The national anthem caused Reagan to turn over in his grave, and, so, naturally, Regan (Smith) won it.

Ultimately, justice was served.

gg ky busch 021812I’ve talked on two radio shows recently. Both asked me to pick the Daytona 500 winner. I told the former Matt Kenseth and the latter Kyle Busch. I was just trying to give each a scoop. I’m no better at picking a stock car race than I am at choosing a toothbrush. In both cases, I’d be better off going with what my dentist says. If either of the names above wins the 500, it will be in spite of me. Nor does it matter what other alleged “experts” think. Half don’t even pick the driver they really think will win, anyway. Some pick Dale Earnhardt Jr. because they think Junior Nation will read their words diligently in mystical adoration in the off chance that it occurs. Some pick a long shot “just in case,” the same way they’d buy Powerball tickets. Me? I’m honest. I’m just wrong.

Tony, Tony, sometimes ornery. (John Clark photo)
Tony, Tony, sometimes ornery. (John Clark photo)

What interests me about the 56th Daytona 500? Tony Stewart interests me. He’ll be 43 in May. He’s at the age where he’ll be compensating for the ravages of age, not to mention inactivity, with the instinct of experience. Stewart is one of those rare drivers I could never count out. In all those years tramping around tracks, I never saw more magic, that rare and oft misidentified pixie dust, than what Stewart splashed around in 2011. Stewart fights the good fight. He won’t go gently into that good night. He’ll grouse and cuss, and then he’ll charm and seduce, and his eyes will turn both black as coal and sweet as sugar, sometimes within the span of seconds. I expect he’ll still be interesting long after he stops being great. Watching him always amuses me, and it’s a little easier from a distance because he doesn’t piss me off as much.

Danica Patrick. If not Daytona, where? If not now, when? (John Clark photo)
Danica Patrick. If not Daytona, where? If not now, when? (John Clark photo)

I’ll watch Danica Patrick, partly because the green car draws eyes the way Sam Bass draws sparks. I’ve always watched her. I like her. I want her to do well. I just don’t expect it, and that’s because I’ve watched her so much.

I’ll watch Jimmie Johnson because I’m interested in how he and Dr. Frankenstein cope with the latest serum designed to chase away his infection from the Chase.

We’ll create a post-season. Johnson wins. We’ll make the field bigger. Johnson wins. We’ll make the field bigger after the final regular-season race even though it’s … unconstitutional or something. Johnson wins.

All right, damn it. You take last year’s results, and run the models, and no matter how gimmicky and strange it is, you find a format where Earnhardt Jr. wins the championship. … Okay, what you got? Hmm. Hey, wait! Junior didn’t win a race last year. What? He still would’ve been champion. In this format! Have you lost your mind? This can’t work. What? It did work.

Let me think. We’ll do it.

I’m not actually implying this is what happened. In fact, Johnson’s won a mere six of the past eight championships, so I’ve taken some liberties. Plus, I think it’s hilarious.

If I could will the exact same thing to happen – Junior wins a championship supposedly based on the all-powerful victory, but does so without winning a single race – I would do so.

Just for the tweets.

[cb_profit_poster Peace]

The Jokes Are Biting This Rainy Morning

Danica Patrick has horses and men, but not all the King's. (John Clark photo)
Danica Patrick has horses and men, but not all the King’s. (John Clark photo)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, S.C., Friday, February 21, 2014, 10:12 a.m.

Down the stretch!

That mug shot.
That mug shot.

During the 20 years I spent Februarys in Daytona Beach, it was always a gathering storm even though it seldom rained. For several years, I was down there for nearly three weeks, but that was because I was in a group that had a condo rented for the whole month, the Rolex 24 was then run at the beginning of February, and I went down and watched it just for the hell of it. In addition, being holed up in a condo all alone is a great way to get gobs of preseason work done.

The last few years, though, my travel habits were fairly standard for the corps of gadget wielders converging on the Birthplace of Speed. I’d drive down a day or two before Media Day and drive home a day or two after the 500. I liked to wait until Tuesday because the 5,000-car draft back to the Carolinas and beyond on Monday was nettlesome and quite possibly more dangerous than any stock car race.

I was in Ormond Beach so long I took two guitars, a small slot-car set and a slow cooker.

I was always cognizant of this gathering storm, this rising rumble and tidal wave building up to NASCAR’s first and inexplicably most important race.

Chitchat with drivers. Hum. Busch/Budweiser/Sprint Clash/Shootout/Unlimited. Rumble. Pole qualifying. Gatorade/Budweiser Twin/Duel 125s/150s. Lightning flashing on the horizon. I’m not going to try to recite all the titles of the Craftsman/Camping World/Truck and Busch/Nationwide races. Hellfire and damnation. Then the Daytona By God 500, run with the Old Testament God calling the shots.

I mean, if you believe Yahweh is a NASCAR fan … then you know He’s got a “3” sticker on his, uh, heavenly Silverado. Or silvery Heaverado. It’s way better than the Popemobile. It’s impossible to trade up from the silvery Heaverado.

But enough whimsical sacrilege. It’s raining outside. Wait. It’s picking up. And there’s a tremor! Okay, now. That’s enough. Besides, I’ve got a new coffee blend to try.

This morning a radio announcer asked me whom I was picking, and I realized I hadn’t even thought about it. It’s another sign of distance. No one cares what I think. Cool. It’s kind of … relaxing in a nothing-to-lose kind of way.

It didn’t exactly make my answer smooth, though. I think I said Matt Kenseth, probably because he happened to be leading on the muted rebroadcast of the first Duel I was watching while I was talking via phone on the radio.

This Italian espresso would take the spots off an Appaloosa.

A few observations:

Ask Richard Petty a question. He'll answer it. And he won't lose any sleep over political correctness. (John Clark photo)
Ask Richard Petty a question. He’ll answer it. And he won’t lose any sleep over political correctness. (John Clark photo)

Lots of topics of discussion are stupid on a grand scale, such as Tony Stewart saying Danica Patrick should race Richard Petty. Roll a couple 1967 Plymouths out and I figure the King’s got a chance, but it’s a little like the old Stan Musial joke. Guy asks Stan the Man how he thought he’d do against the pitching nowadays. Stan says he figures he’d hit about .280. Guy says is that all? Musial says, you gotta remember, I’m 75 years old. Musial has passed on, and Petty is 76. Why not see if Bruce Jenner would like to give the decathlon another shot?

Sir Winston Churchill said, “Never was so much owed by so many to so few,” and, incredibly, he wasn’t talking about the media and Ms. Patrick.

If you want to get wasted on Daytona 500 Sunday – and who doesn’t? – the drinking game is Larry McReynolds saying “that (insert number) car.” Lightweights won’t make it to the green flag. Chuck Norris will pass out before the halfway point. You better watch out for Jimmie Johnson in that 48 car, else him and that Jamie MAC-murray in that 1 car. Uh, oh, here comes Martin Truex Jr. in that 78 car. He’s just one and 3/8ths of a half a tenth behind Jeff Gordon in that 24 car.

Allen Bestwick started broadcasting college football games last fall and wasn’t half bad at it. Can you imagine Larry Mac? Durned if that Rashad Tadooronron ain’t caught another pass in that 39 jersey.

Of course, I have no business offering unsolicited advice to McReynolds on how to be a TV guy. It’s like trying to teach a kid how to color.

Buy my books. They’ve got harsh stuff in them, too.

[cb_profit_poster Movies]

Time Passages

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When I started covering NASCAR, Bill Elliott was in is prime. (John Clark photo)
When I started covering NASCAR, Bill Elliott was in his prime. (John Clark photo)

Clinton, S.C., Thursday, February 20, 2014, 9:38 a.m.

Time is slow before it happens. Then it speeds up once it passes. That, of course, is one of man’s great misperceptions. Time is immutable and constant. Exists there a better demonstration that things are not as they seem? I think not.

A year ago, being here in Clinton during Speedweeks seemed weird. Now it’s old hat. I haven’t been to a race track since November 2012, and my next visit is probably going to be to one covered in dirt. Being home grows ever more familiar. Being away is now the shock to the system. Like a ball team, I’m comfortable in the friendly confines.

I imagine people thinking, hey, give it a rest. Enough of this “used to cover NASCAR” business. They’re right. This blog isn’t really anything other than what’s on my mind at the time. Sometimes I write stuff because I’ve obligated myself to do this and it’s all I can come up with.

It’s as simple and as complicated as that.

Speaking economically and capitalistically, this is exactly where I need to be: watching from afar. If there was still a reason for me to be there, I would be. If there was money for me to make, I’d make it. I hate to write something as redundant as “it is what it is,” but … it is.

Tonight there’ll be candlelight and roses …

Me? I'll play anywhere. I hope I have some help tonight. (John Clark photo)
Me? I’ll play anywhere. I hope I have some help tonight. (John Clark photo)

Actually, there’ll be beer and fajitas, but I’m thinking about singing the Merle Haggard song “The Farmer’s Daughter” tonight in the Live Music Showcase I’m hosting at El Jalisco Mexican Restaurant here in town. I don’t know how it will go. I’ve created a Facebook event and put a few circulars on windows around town. I’d like to encourage the local music scene because, (a.) I think it’s a righteous thing to do, and (b.) I’m part of it. I may do this every other week, and I may do it just this once.

I can feel the draft slipping away. (John Clark photo)
I can feel the draft slipping away. (John Clark photo)

What I won’t be doing tonight is watching the dual Duel in Daytona Beach. Originally, the open mic was scheduled for last Thursday, but it snowed, so I put it off a week and now I’ll miss the “twins” – I like that designation better – unless Fox Sports 1 is available on the muted TVs in the El Jalisco bar. If it is, I’ll just glance at the screen every now and then.

It’s obvious the races can be “covered” on Twitter. But can they be followed? Both are matters of degree.

Oh, goody, the Nationwide Series race is on Saturday afternoon. That way I won’t have to choose between it on ESPN and the final home game of a dreary Presbyterian College basketball season. If I did, I’m honestly not sure which way I’d go, but I don’t have to agonize. I can watch the race and attend the game. Occasionally in my life, things work.

It looks like I’m good to go for the rest of Speedweeks. I may miss the cool February breezes of Daytona Beach, Fla., more than anything else. My conditions are a little unique, but I don’t think I am alone.

I bide my time now writing fiction and hoping to make it big. I hope you’ll consider my two novels to date, The Audacity of Dope and The Intangibles, neither of which is about racing but both of which are about life.

[cb_profit_poster Guitar2]

I Hate ‘Meeces’ to Pieces

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This blog makes no mention of Kevin Harvick, who won last year's Coca-Cola 600. I just wanted to use a funky photo. (HHP/Garry Eller photo for Chevrolet)
This blog makes no mention of Kevin Harvick, who won last year’s Coca-Cola 600. I just wanted to use a funky photo. (HHP/Garry Eller photo for Chevrolet)

Clinton, S.C., Tuesday, February 18, 2014, 8:45 a.m.

Most mornings I take a quick glance at numbers measuring the activity at montedutton.com, Twitter and Facebook. I try not to let that influence what I post. The principal effect isn’t “they like this, so I’ll write more”; it’s “I’ll be darned if a bunch of people didn’t like this.”

Or not.

I’m sort of stubborn that way. It’s not like I’m making a mint with these blogs. It’s more a way – I know I keep pointing this out – for me to warm up for the writing that I hope will make me a living.

Little causality can be traced between a NASCAR blog and a novel about a couple cowboys in Texas, but the best way to learn how to write is to write, and the second best way is to read.

I look at the graphs measuring “hits” and“clicks” (not to be confused with shits and giggles), comments, retweets, “likes,” etc. Based on this body of evidence, I figure today is officially the Daytona 500 version of rock bottom. Fans are regrouping from the limited Sprint Unlimited and preliminary qualifying (and what can qualifying that only determines the front row be but preliminary?). Thursday through Sunday is a four-course meal, and by Monday morning, most everyone will be full of something, be it joy, disappointment, rage, euphoria, frustration, suspicion, whatever.

For weeks now, I’ve been saving transcripts, and I figure now is as good a time as any to go through them looking for morsels of humor, the latter being both intentional and unintentional.

It’s Tuesday. I’m trying to cheer you up. Well, I hope that happens. I’m really trying to cheer me up.

Daytona 500 pole winner Austin Dillon, 23, drives the Dow Chevrolet, sponsored by the chemical company, not the actor in “Leave It to Beaver.” (Yes. I’m old.) Of “Not Tony” Dow, Dillon said, “They actually just won the first Olympic medal for us in the luge, in the women’s luge for a bronze, and now they got the pole at the Daytona 500.”

And I thought I was stretching the bounds of causality. Try credulity.

I like the words of crew chief Gil Martin better: “I think his youth is bringing a lot to us. I know it is for me. He’s getting me out of the dark ages. I’m thinking about getting rid of my house phone. I’m going to start texting pretty soon.”

Oh, well. There went any more quality remarks of substance.

Dillon also said “… you’ve got to have those blinders …” I hope he takes them off for the actual races. That was sooooo out of context.

Runner-up qualifier Martin Truex Jr., who was almost totally overlooked in the great Return of the Three celebration, said, “Well, it means a ton to me.”

Some things Danica Patrick just cannot "condone." (John Clark photo)
Some things Danica Patrick just cannot “condone.” (John Clark photo)

Danica Patrick said of her showing, “I learned that lap was just for the guys and to condone them for putting it all back together, getting another engine in it, and we crashed a car last night.”

Never mind what the rest of it means. Condone them?

Straighten up and fly right. (John Clark photo)
Straighten up and fly right. (John Clark photo)

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: “There’s nothing to it. You just go out there and try to hold the wheel straight and tight as you can.” I thought that was drag racing.

Brian Vickers spoke for 47 drivers when he said, “Well, we wanted to go faster.”

Young Alex Bowman said, “I think the biggest thing from learning last night is going to be staying out of trouble is huge.” By George, I think he’s got it.

Tony Stewart just loves racing to pieces. (John Clark photo)
Tony Stewart just loves racing to pieces. (John Clark photo)

Tony Stewart uttered a sentence, the gist of which was centered: “… today definitely feels like being back at work today …” None could argue.

This may have been abbreviated, or approximated, or something, but according to a transcript, one question to Stewart was, “How much does it confirm getting in a car that you just love racing to pieces?”

I so wish Tony had answered, simply, “As much as I hate meeces*.”

*Paraphrasing Jinx the Cat.

Now I’m going to wander around Texas in the form of fiction for a while. In the meantime, read some of what’s already published. But first, read all about it elsewhere on this site. Or trust me and just take a leap of faith.

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A Method to Qualifying Madness?

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Kurt Busch looks like this may be tougher than qualifying. Then again, it was two years ago. (John Clark photo)
Kurt Busch looks like this may be tougher than qualifying. Then again, it was two years ago. (John Clark photo)

Clinton, S.C., Sunday, February 16, 2014, 2:46 p.m.

I’m just sitting behind my laptop, and Daytona 500 pole qualifying on. It might as well be The Weather Channel, other than that particular channel not being on DirecTV anymore.

It’s better than WeatherNation.

Joey Logano has sort of put the Sliced Bread behind him now. (John Clark photo)
Joey Logano has sort of put the Sliced Bread behind him now. (John Clark photo)

All those cars – 49, I think – going around twice, all alone, the first lap intentionally slow, all following the same line and looking just alike, even though some were faster than others and that was the whole purpose for going around and around.

In most instances, intricacy and subtlety come into play. The only place that takes place for Daytona International Speedway (or Talladega Superspeedway) qualifying is behind closed doors.

What you see is what you get, and it is boring.

Fortunately, the Sprint Unlimited gave us some opening excitement to whet our appetites. For instance, the pace car caught on fire, which I think was borrowed from a Harold Lloyd silent movie.

So it was a Model T in the original. It’s all relative.

So why, pray tell, is this on network TV? I thought about this at length, and it occurred to me that this is actually more interesting for a larger audience. I wrote about NASCAR for 20 years. I know this too well. If I was a complete novice – if, say, I was channel surfing, and neither cross-country skiing, the Northern Trust Open, nor the Professional Bowling Association struck my fancy – I might look at Daytona 500 front-row qualifying in an entirely different light.

Oh, yeah, the Daytona 500. It’s that car race. Look at that blue and white car. It’s really quite snazzy. Bernice! Come watch. This is sort of neat.

If Herbert and Bernice like this, they’ll think the Daytona 500 is the greatest thing since Joey Logano became Sliced Bread. Herbert’s going to root for Miller Lite, and Bernice is already leaning toward Furniture Row.

[cb_profit_poster Guitar1]

Sensations of Daytona

What wonders lurk within? (John Clark photo)
What wonders lurk within? (John Clark photo)

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Clinton, S.C., Saturday, February 15, 2014, 4:00 p.m.

I don’t miss the big scenes of Daytona International Speedway in February. I miss the chill in the air and down my spine. I miss the stroll into the media center after parking in “the Horseshoe.” I miss strumming my guitar late at night in the damp little lot behind the press box, waiting for traffic to clear out.

I miss chatting over lunch with someone you know, like Brent Musberger, or someone you may not, like Ernie Saxton. I miss watching my musical friends playing nearby and occasionally taking the stage myself during their breaks.

I miss that otherworldly hum, that Sensurround effect that comes from the vibrations off the asphalt bouncing off the walls. There’s the staccato roar – vump, vuhvump, vuhvuhvuhvuhvump – but there’s the ever-present, reliable hum, too. It’s unpleasant but somehow comforting.

My old view.
My old view.

I miss the thousands of seagulls grazing in the infield, biding their time until right before practice begins, when the engines start roaring to life and the gulls rising in flight.

Somehow they never get … acclimated.

I miss binoculars, a stopwatch and a scanner. I still have them but they’re useless in the living room.

I miss climbing up the steps of the Daytona press box, which always reminded me just a little of a treehouse, and inquiring about some snippet of information deemed unworthy of widespread dissemination.

I miss my buddies, colleagues in the ranks, friendly or furtive, pressurized or irreverent, all trying to win the Great American Story. Not many of them are left, but what few remain are sorely missed.

I miss the fans, particularly those so deluded that they illogically want to meet me. It reminds me that I have my own, however dwindling.

The most familiar misunderstanding athletes have about the media is that writers and even the godforsaken broadcasters are competitive, too.

That’s why I also miss the thrill of the chase and, by extension, the Chase.

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It Seldom Snows in Daytona Beach, but …

Kevin Harvick won't be driving the red car. Kurt Busch won't be driving the black car.  (HHP/Brian Lawdermilk photo for Chevrolet)
Kevin Harvick won’t be driving the red car. Kurt Busch won’t be driving the black car. (HHP/Brian Lawdermilk photo for Chevrolet)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, S.C., Thursday, February 13, 2014, 9:46 a.m.

At the moment, writers are concentrated in a small space near Daytona International Speedway, and at least one, I’d wager, has a digital recorder in one hand and an iPhone shooting video in the other. That’s why some of these guys jog. Physical fitness is required to be asking one guy questions while hoisting the little phone high in the air with another, a slight fellow like Kasey Kahne, visible in the mass of people jockeying for position. They’re not jockeying in position to be in the video, but that’s the effect.

This evening about 9, they’re liable to find out what they’ve got.

It’s an aspect of the job I don’t miss, partly because I just shy away from both hustle and bustle, and partly because it’s been an awfully long time since I was a jogger.

Hustle reminds me of advancing age. Bustle pisses me off.

Kasey Kahne: "That's really a great question ..." (John Clark photo)
Kasey Kahne: “That’s really a great question …” (John Clark photo)

If I were in Daytona Beach right now, I’d probably play Media Day similarly to the way I’m playing it now: hang back and make whimsical observations. I didn’t hang back all the way to South Carolina till a year ago, but for me, Media Day was always sort of a social occasion. It was too late to help much. I would’ve already completed a mountain of preseason work.

Its chief benefit for me was watching Florida newsmen and newswomen ask race drivers questions like, “But what does that say to our children?”

I also enjoyed the ass kissing.

I lost the scent of the chase – and for that matter, the Chase – a long time ago.

I’m still interested. I’m moderately excited about the limited Unlimited – NASCAR’s most nonsensical title since the Winston Select Open – Saturday night. I want the racing to be exciting. I want to see a deserving champion, even though I think the new format turns that into a coincidence if it happens. Selling this format to me would be akin to explaining to an inquisitive four-year-old why we need enough bombs not only to destroy the planet but also to send its remains caroming out of the solar system.

It is what it is at the end of the day. NASCAR knows best. Trust NASCAR.

I’m probably a little less irritable up here in the barren, snowed-in waste of the South Carolina upstate. It takes less snow to make waste here than it does moisture to make snow.

It is what it is at the end of the day, and if, at the end of the day, it’s still like it is now, there isn’t going to be any live music tonight at El Jalisco.

I’m excited about NASCAR exactly as much as I would be if I were there, and that’s an excellent argument for not being there.

Now I get to write books. Buy one sometime.

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