The Prodigal Brother

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Clinton, S.C., Monday, March 31, 2014, 8:36 a.m.

While perusing the overnight emails, looking for some words to wrap a blog around, these words of Gene Haas advanced to the fore. The co-owner of Kurt Busch’s triumphant Chevy gave the company line about Busch’s breach in the comedy of manners that occurred on Martinsville Speedway’s pit road early in the race between the eventual winner and Brad Keselowski.

Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski: Therein lies the rub. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski: Therein lies the rub. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

“I’m sure he (Keselowski) sees it differently, but I will be honest with you,” said Haas, sounding very much like partner Tony Stewart. “I have been racing with stuff for a long time. Drivers run into us all the time, and I think that is just part of racing. As far as Kurt Busch handling it, I think he did a great job, and we have obviously found a solution for Kurt Busch. When he is in [the] Winner’s Circle, he doesn’t bitch about anything, so that is where we need to keep him.”

Haas underwrites a trio of drivers – Stewart, Busch, Kevin Harvick – for whom happiness is never farther away than the aforementioned winner’s circle, and one, Danica Patrick, who is cheerfully rationalized right out of the top 20. Many observers are so observant of Patrick’s moments of dim illumination that they’d all go blind if the sun ever shone. Twice, already, Stewart-Haas Racing has won. The skipper of the flagship, Stewart, is still a little shaky at the helm after his injury layoff. Harvick and Busch the Elder are Chase-bound. Patrick has a damn fine sponsor and a damn green car that is clearly visible no matter where on the track and in whose way it might be.

Oh, maybe she’ll come around. Maybe the glaciers will freeze again.

Haas deserves credit, though. His coalition government is holding together, and he is probably most responsible since he controls the purse strings. Its cohesion cannot but be tenuous. The personalities won’t allow stable government, just government that’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

Only one driver wins each week. Haas, whose fortune is in part due to the fact that he can do math, said, “Every time you win, you typically lose three times.”

Therein lies the rub, and forever shall it lie. This is a team whose happiness is fleeting.

10:08 a.m.

Kurt Busch has always been misunderstood, or perhaps the correct term is that he hasn’t been fully understood.

Kurt Busch didn't let a little tiff stop him at Martinsville. (Getty Images photo or NASCAR)
Kurt Busch didn’t let a little tiff stop him at Martinsville. (Getty Images photo or NASCAR)

During the term of his career, Busch has regularly made himself available for what, in NASCAR, are basically acts of civic responsibility. Track officials have often called on him to make promotional visits, sign autographs, and even sell tickets. He has always been a wonderful fellow when things are going his way.

Same with Stewart, same with Harvick, by the way.

When a race is on the line, and the pressure is on, Kurt Busch’s campfire often spreads into the surrounding forest. He’s paid for his transgressions. Joining Stewart-Haas has put Busch back in the forefront, as his inspirational victory at Martinsville attests. He’s back where his prodigious talents belong.

Busch outdueled Jimmie Johnson, which involves more than tugging on Superman’s cape. It involves yanking it loose. Busch isn’t the only driver to bristle at Johnson’s unprecedented success.

“You would think it would be worse today with not winning for two years,” he said. “It flashed through my mind when he passed me that I’m hungrier than he is. I’m ready to tackle 10 prime-rib steaks right now. I was hungry, and I wasn’t going to let this slip away with it being so close.

“You know, a few years back when we were battling, I was speaking for the fans. ‘Anybody but the 48,’ [because] when you have the same winner time and time again, it can get stale, and I wasn’t doing my job well enough on that team to challenge Jimmie for the win and to knock him off the top. When you win as much as he has, he has that target, and you want to go there and knock him off his podium.

“It was great to have raced him, and there was that respect today, because we don’t come from the same garage, but we do have some ties. We do have Mr. H (See Hendrick, Rick), we do have Tony Stewart and Gene Haas, and there is a little bit of that camaraderie of teammates back and forth, and you don’t want to start it off on a bad foot like that. But that’s an epic-type battle at a short track, with a six-time champion to go back and forth and exchange the lead, a couple taps, a couple moves, a little bit of a chess game. … I gave it all I had, and it felt good. It felt really good to give it my all, and deliver, and to win, knowing that after this two-year run, it can still be done.”

Keselowski says he's tired of Kurt Busch's "recklessness." (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Keselowski says Kurt Busch is reckless. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Keselowski, meanwhile, remains “tired of his recklessness,” and this brand of “tired” isn’t fatiguing. The escalating rivalry isn’t going away and will likely be contested with the minimum allowable civility.

Here’s how Keselowski, himself Chase-bound, as well, described the two faces of Busch the Elder: “He does awesome things for charity, and he’s probably the most talented race-car driver, but he’s also one of the dumbest, so put those three together.”

I heard an ESPN anchor say this morning that Keselowski threatened to rearrange Busch’s face. It was vice-versa, though the temper cooled when the checkered flag waved and victory begat relative tranquility

There’s another Busch brother, Kyle, who’s liable to find his way in, and the knife could cut either way. They’re all racers, not shopkeepers, and this is the way NASCAR is supposed to be.

Stewart-Haas Racing is composed, individually and collectively, of burning desire.

The next race is in Texas. For now, find yourself a book to read. I can help.

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Bee Gees, Bee Bees, Other Silliness …

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Denny Hamlin (left) explains everything to Jimmie Johnson. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
Denny Hamlin (left) explains everything to Jimmie Johnson. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clinton, S.C., Sunday, March 30, 2014, 9:28 a.m.

I started a blog, which started the whole world … blogging. I’m sure you all remember the early Bee Gees hit. Bee Gees stood for Brothers Gibb. That’s why I’ve sometimes called Kurt and Kyle Busch the Bee Bees.

That and the “Jive Talking.”

The reason for the start of this column is that it’s the second try. The “first lead” turned into the chorus of a song that almost certainly won’t be completed today owing to the intrusion of an almost-lethal dose of NASCAR. Not only is the Sprint Cup Series planning to complete at least 500 laps at Martinsville Speedway, but the Camping World Truck Series has budgeted at least 250 circuits after the Cup race is over.

All racing and no song (or fiction) writing makes Jack a dull boy, but not I! I’m in it for the long haul.

Another reason the song won’t get finished today is that it has nothing to do with NASCAR.

It’s nice to get a song from the abortive start of a NASCAR blog. I seldom get such inspiration from Fox Sports 1, which is understandable as inspiration is not the purpose of Fox Sports 1, and, furthermore, Fox Sports 1 seems uncertain about its own purpose. It seems illogically devoted to the strange bedfellows of automobile racing, major league baseball and worldwide soccer.

You may be able to tell this blog is still in search of definition as so far I have only digressed.

It’s time for one of the inspiration timeouts that are scheduled four times a half.

10:28 a.m.

Hasn’t this been a silly week?

Denny Hamlin got all hot and bothered because, apparently, at some remote outpost of the solar system and social media, “they all said” there was something fishy, not to be confused with something sharp and rusted, about his missing the race in Fontana.

People have a right to even their ridiculous, conspiratorial opinions. Hamlin’s just got to let it go.

For what it’s worth, here’s the balance. People will think what they want. As long as there is no specific person who says something happens, it should be ignored. “Party animal stays out all night and is too hung over to race” is a scenario that makes little sense. Plenty of allegations that do make sense are hindered by being untrue.

I understand Hamlin’s frustration, but by haranguing a mostly innocent audience, he created the old “Denny Hamlin lashed out at critics who allegedly claimed …” stories. There was no story until the story of there being no story popped up like a shower on the radar screen.

Martinsville's Saturday action: The factory Air Titan team lines up for the start. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
Martinsville’s Saturday action: The factory Air Titan team lines up for the start. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Herewith are other mild observations:

The chief effect of knockout qualifying is that television now considers it suitably compelling to be replayed during rain delays.

NASCAR can do nothing to stanch its bleeding except let the wounds heal. The best solution is not an artificial limb. The races are good. By and large, the people who left did so for good reason. Gimmicks ran them off. Gimmicks won’t bring them back.

Two more times, and I’ll have Curt Menefee’s entire interview with Jimmie Johnson memorized. If it was a song, at least there’d be something I could use.

I once got a snippy email complaining that I referred to Juan Montoya instead of Juan Pablo Montoya. This morning I heard that he now prefers to be Juan Montoya in Indy cars. At least he doesn’t insist on being called Geoffrey.

Thanks for reading. I’ll find out later if you’re a lovely audience.

[cb_profit_poster Guitar2]

Those All-Important, Cliche-Ridden Bonus Points

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Tony Stewart (left): "To be honest?" I didn't even go into Kurt Busch's various offenses. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
Tony Stewart (left): “To be honest?” I didn’t even go into Kurt Busch’s various offenses. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clinton, S.C., Friday, March 28, 2014, 12:53 p.m.

“Quite frankly,” Buddy Baker likes Tony Stewart “to be honest.”

Those are two NASCAR luminaries’ favorite clichés. I enjoy listening to Buddy on SiriusXM, and I listen to him enough to know how fond he is of saying “quite frankly.” As I haven’t been to the track and attended the media conferences in quite a while, I’m not sure if Tony Stewart still replies to a question with a question.

“To be honest?”

No, Tony. We all want you to be a politician.

I’m just noting this. I’m not passing judgment. Most people are cliché ridden. For instance, I say “actually” too often. When I listen to myself on tape, I always cringe when I hear that word come out of my mouth. Why do I hate myself for saying it? It could be because, when I was a kid, a popular sitcom was Gomer Pyle, USMC, and Gomer had a girlfriend – which he doesn’t have in real life – named Lou Ann Poovy, and she constantly said, “Wayull, Gomuh, actually …” Somehow, even though Private Pyle was stationed far away from Mayberry, it sounded as if Lou Ann was somehow from there, too.

Cliches cross all borders of education, income and prominence. Howard Cosell loved “plethoras,” especially the veritable ones. Cosell had one of the more idiotic clichés of all time.

“Tell us, Champ, in your own words …”

As opposed to … the words of Johnny Carson. Or Thomas Jefferson. Or Carol Channing.

"Remember, guys, just two tires on the right side." (HHP/Christa L. Thomas photo for Chevy Racing)
“Remember, guys, just two tires on the right side.” (HHP/Christa L. Thomas photo for Chevy Racing)

The great writer Larry McMurtry often finds matters “vexing.” Larry McReynolds loves to claim possession: “our race leader,” “our points leader,” “our Sprint Cup champion,” the one who gets at least two right-side. Goodyear Racing Eagles and fills up with Sunoco Racing Fuel.

As opposed to three right-side Goodyear Racing Eagles.

There’s Larry, there’s Darrell, and there’s his other brother, Michael.

A penalty might be having to go to the tail of the longer line (there are two, you might recall), but the announcer will always say “tail end of the longest line,” a needless superlative.

Then there’s that NEW TRACK RECORD! They never mention all those drivers who set old track records.

Cliches aren’t all bad. They can be used for effect. I used to be fond of saying, when all hell was breaking loose (as opposed to all those partial eruptions of hell), “Another … big … day.”

Another of my favorite clichés, self-evidently, is “as opposed to.”

Yet, still, I persist in writing novels. The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope are available here if you’d like to buy an autographed copy and have me ship it to you. If you’ve got a Kindle, they’re available at amazon.com, not to mention a growing number of bookstores.

For Old Times’ Sake

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It's quieter now, and less crowded. (Jared C. Tilton photo for Getty Images)
It’s quieter now, and less crowded. (Jared C. Tilton photo for Getty Images)

Clinton, S.C., Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 5:02 p.m.

I got out today. Not to some great adventure. Just a little get-together with someone I used to see all the time.

One of the consequences of having someone inform you that your job has been eliminated is that you never get a chance to say goodbye. You tweet. You assure people that you’ll be fine, whether or not it’s actually true. You move on, but you didn’t realize it would be so sudden and absolute.

People used to introduce me by saying I wrote "for NASCAR." I always corrected that and said I wrote "about NASCAR."
People used to introduce me by saying I wrote “for NASCAR.” I always corrected that and said I wrote “about NASCAR.”

Lots of people who were at best friends and at least acquaintances are long gone now. At the time my job disappeared, I was expecting to be at a media tour in a few weeks and near a well-known beach in a month.

None of that happened, and it’s been more than a year. Lots of people sent word they were sorry, and occasionally someone pays lip service to it now. I talk to one old friend several times a week by phone. I exchange occasional text messages or emails with others. One friend has visited a couple of times. I saw a few others at book signings.

Mainly, though, I’ve successfully attained “didn’t you used to be?” status.

It was thus a pleasant surprise when, last week, an old friend from the recent past invited me to meet him for lunch the next time I was in Charlotte. I replied that I’d certainly do so but it’s been quite a while since I was in Charlotte, and so he said he’d meet me in between, and we had lunch today in the shadow of a gigantic peach, which should indicate to a few of you that it was in Gaffney, S.C.

Things have changed quite a bit for both of us, but my friend still reportedly makes occasional appearances at race tracks.

We talked mostly about NASCAR but also about my books, my plans, and my plans for more books.

Tomorrow, incredibly, another old NASCAR pal is meeting me for lunch here in town. Two lunches in two days after a month of relative isolation. I’m feeling lucky.

I’m afraid that people find me awfully pessimistic. What others consider pessimism, I just deem reality. It surprises people less that I’m not at the track than that I don’t particularly want to go back there. I miss people and places but not the job. The log was rolling violently and had claimed many others before I got flung into the drink.

Those left are adept at survival. I ignored that all along.

My time is past, which I sensed right away. Everyone seems to miss me except for those who presumably could do something about it. I still write about racing when it strikes my fancy, and it still strikes quite a bit. It’s all about market, and there is no more market for what I have to offer, and that is ultimately self-evident.

It’s just good to reminisce every now and then.

My two novels, The Audacity of Dope and The Intangibles, are available in both standard book and Kindle editions at amazon.com. If you’d like an autographed copy of either or both, you can order them elsewhere on this site.

[cb_profit_poster Guitar1]

So Far, So … Spectacular

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Get ready for frequent, and premature, comparisons of Kyle Larson (42) and Tony Stewart. (HHP/Rusty Jarrett photo for Chevy Racing)
Get ready for frequent, and premature, comparisons of Kyle Larson (42) and Tony Stewart. (HHP/Rusty Jarrett photo for Chevy Racing)

Clinton, S.C., Monday, March 24, 2014, 9:48 a.m.

As the laps wound down at Auto Club Speedway, rookie Kyle Larson made a valiant run on Kyle Busch. Of course, no one thought he could catch him.

Maybe a few. A day earlier, in the track’s Nationwide Series race, Larson had outdueled both Kevin Harvick and Busch.

Nationwide is not Sprint Cup. The waters are more navigable. Larson, 21, avoided the shoals and eddies with a steady hand all weekend.

Larson’s five races into his Cup career, and, already, he’s made Juan Pablo Montoya look bad.

Kyle Miyata Larson, 21, is living up to high expectations. (HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Kyle Miyata Larson, 21, is living up to high expectations. (HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

It was already obvious Larson was going somewhere, somewhere with showers of bubbly, hordes of photographers and hundreds of caps. His next stage is going to be a crucial one.

Now he is a sensation. He’s going to be ogled at, pressed against transporter doors, profiled ad nauseum, photographed in convenience stores and drive-through lines, and otherwise endure what will start out as a novelty and wind up as a grind.

The attention he gets will raise chips on the shoulders of other drivers, who will grumble about some kid who thinks he owns the race track whether he actually does or not. They’ll mess with him. You watch.

The talented young driver has a tight ledge to walk. If he doesn’t stand up to the veterans, they’ll run over him, and if he does, they’ll say he ran over them.

It’s the same in any competitive endeavor. Ballplayers play mind games. Writers snipe at other writers. The corporate ladder is full of missing steps.

The trick for Larson is to keep focused and not be affected by the radical change in his environment. He’s going to get a lot more attention from the media but also the ladies. Lots of folks are going to want to be his buds.

Among the overlooked elements in his rapid rise is a head that seems exceedingly level. This, however, is an impression seen from quite a distance.

What next we’ll learn is how level that head is when the earthquake hits.

In the off chance that you like things like fiction and short stories, and in the even longer shot that you like mine, I write about a variety of topics at wellpilgrim.wordpress.com.

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NASCAR & Sergeant Schultz Know Nothing

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NASCAR likes to make everybody, not just Carl Edwards, turn flips. (John Clark photo)
NASCAR likes to make everybody, not just Carl Edwards, turn flips. (John Clark photo)

Clinton, S.C., Saturday, March 22, 2014, 11:02 a.m.

NASCAR. Can’t live with it. Can’t live without it.

This has been a week where the little imaginary men pop up on my shoulder. The devil on my right and the angel on my left. Like Animal House, and Just Shoot Me, and cartoons too numerous to mention.

Angel: “You’ve loved stock car racing all your life.”

Devil: “To hell with NASCAR.” Literally.

Not only has Imperial NASCAR grown Orwellian, but George Orwell, were he alive today, would probably say, “Aw, come on, no one would believe that could ever happen.”

1984 was a satire. So is NASCAR. In real time.

Incredibly, oft times the racing is still quite good. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas photo for Chevy Racing)
Incredibly, oft times the racing is still quite good. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas photo for Chevy Racing)

None of my latest wave of melancholy has anything to do with “knockout qualifying,” which I like fine but don’t think is really worth the trouble; or the Game Show for the Sprint Cup, which is NASCAR’s latest attempt to be both Original Recipe and Extra Crispy; or how NASCAR has been allowed to get away with a suppression of once-considerable items of interest such as money earnings and attendance; or many other issues that, on an intermittent basis, piss me off.

NASCAR’s fatal flaw isn’t dishonesty. It’s not believing in honesty.

The nascarnomics.com web site was honest. It wasn’t faultless. Sometimes I felt its owner, Andrew Maness, was a bit prone to beating dead horses by trying to make some sense out of numbers that were dubious. (Incredibly, they were disseminated by NASCAR.) It’s now www.racingnomics.com because NASCAR sicced its lawyers on yet another person without the money to make an otherwise sensible defense.

Sometimes that press box must seem like a prison.
Sometimes that press box must seem like a prison.

By the way, mere usage of the word “NASCAR” does not denote approval, which would often be obvious to those who read NASCAR stories on sites that would never consider placing so tawdry a word in the title.

The site will no longer contain any analysis of television ratings, this allegedly because the site is not contractually and by rights fees licensed by the Nielsen ratings service. Legal precedent of long standing provides that copyrights do not protect facts, but its practical usefulness is hindered, again, when the matter is between one party with money and another without.

Maness’s site didn’t have an agenda. It did, however, reveal some truths NASCAR apparently found inconvenient. NASCAR has a tendency to pay attention to those who tell it what it wants to hear. Why use “facts” for anything apart from propaganda?

When Maness posted that he’d have an important announcement, I figured he’d found a sponsor, or, more likely, that NASCAR, or one of its “partners,” oh, Crimea, maybe, had bought it. It wouldn’t have been surprising to me in the least had NASCAR begun using this method of influence.

NASCAR officials just took her down like the Lusitania.

It’s perfectly fine to run ILoveNASCARWhenJuniorWins.com, but forget a site that honestly analyzes the sport. That’s scary. Next thing they’ll start suggesting there’s no debris in turn three.

From the time I started not just going to races but writing about them, I saw a gradual but constant change in the attitude of Imperial NASCAR. Where once it was “there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” now it’s on the other side of the solar system, fretting about any rogue asteroid that might occasionally take an unanticipated deviation from the prescribed norm.

The Best and Brightest, confident of their omniscience, don’t understand that by believing in what can hardly be described as anything less onerous than mind control, they are destroying the sport and rendering it impotent and mundane.

Is attendance down? Stop estimating it. Are there lots of empty seats? Tear down grandstands. Does some web study indicate that what’s changing isn’t the racing but the rules? Suppress the evidence.

Is the Emperor stark naked? Those are beautiful clothes!

Is it any wonder than some NASCAR fans think races are manipulated? Everything else is.

As Waylon Jennings sang, “The sidemen all want to be frontmen, and the frontmen all want to go home.”

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Like We Really Know What’s Going On …

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Clinton, S.C., Thursday, March 20, 2014, 9:56 a.m.

My live basketball this season has been at Presbyterian College's Templeton Center, though I did watch a couple JV games at Clinton High.
My live basketball this season has been at Presbyterian College’s Templeton Center, though I did watch a couple JV games at Clinton High.

Last night Siri and I filled out some brackets. I don’t have any study going where I determine whether or not my iPhone can pick basketball games better than I.

It's just for fun, right?
It’s just for fun, right?

Sadly, I know the answer to that question, and the last thing I want to do is provide evidence.

I was channel-surfing between NCAA play-ins, the NHL game, and a Red Sox exhibition, and it occurred to me that not only had I not entered a “bracket” in any pool, but no one had even asked me. I wasn’t miffed. I’m sure there were several hundred others in the United States, let alone Canada and beyond, who hadn’t been asked by someone to “fill out a bracket.”

Naturally, I went to ESPN, where the lonely go, and started picking away. So as to assure that no skill is involved, ESPN allows everyone to fill out ten brackets. As of right before I started writing this, I had filled out six.

Obviously, early upsets are likely. It’s just a matter of picking which ones. Filling out multiple brackets allowed me to forecast nonsensical outcomes like Harvard over Cincinnati and Nebraska over Baylor, and then, on the next ballot, not. I think lots of teams could win it all, and that is why, thus far, I have picked Duke, Michigan, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, and Kansas twice.

I have so many options that there’s virtually no chance of losing interest. The closest I have to rooting interest is Texas, though the Furman’s women’s team did play in something called the WNIT, I’ll have you know.

I can fill out four more ballots, if I hurry.

Another advantage of being in competition with people I don’t actually know is that, regardless of what happens, I’ll be able to sit around at a bar or a barber shop or the local office supply and say, “Yeah, I saw that coming. State didn’t have the personnel to come out of that zone when the game was on the line,” or, “The Poly coach played right into the Shockers’ hands,” or, “Florida probably beats any other team in the field, but the matchup in the Sweet Sixteen was brutal.”

By then, I’ll have some new announcer lingo that no one except (perhaps) announcers understands.

Some will see me for the con artist I am, of course, and it could be because they read this blog.

My winning ten grand on the NCAA Tournament is unlikely. I’ll probably continue to depend on the public buying one (or both!) of my novels, The Audacity of Dope or The Intangibles. They are both good and good for you. They are even available for Kindles.

[cb_profit_poster Acting]

Bristol’s Duhg Bites

Carl Edwards celebrates victory in the usual manner.
Carl Edwards celebrates victory in the usual manner. (Drew Hallowell photo for Getty Images)

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Clinton, S.C., Monday, March 17, 2014, 10:02 a.m.

Carl Edwards’ victory in the NASCAR endurance race at Bristol Motor Speedway was strictly on the level. The Long Day’s Journey Into Night (officially Food City) 500 was a considerably more humorous version of Eugene O’Neill’s original.

Some thought the race and the play had nothing in common.

No, they played this one for laughs. The tipoff was Adam Sandler instead of Fredric March in the starring role.

The racing was often spectacular. (Jared C. Tilton photo for Getty Images)
The racing was often spectacular. (Jared C. Tilton photo for Getty Images)

Cinematic idiocy aside, it was a rousing affair, replete with all kinds of flourishes. The racing was four-dimensional, the dimensions being driver, team, car and weather. They raced, literally, like there was no tomorrow (Monday), and thanks to a moody, indecisive rain, there wasn’t. Several stayed to watch.

At one point, a jack in the box (okay, a battery) popped open and decorated the track with delightful white streamers. Faultlessly constructed, impeccably manufactured tires inexplicably withered. At the end, a flagman stumbled across a trip wire (okay, leaned on a switch) and then, and only then, did merciful Mother Nature decide she had seen enough. Several other plot twists are omitted here in the interest of coherence.

No one nails a feel-good story or a back flip like Edwards, the Ageless Boy Scout of Old Mizzou. He’s Everyman’s Cousin, that Carl. Did you know he’s 34 now? And did you know that he climbed out of his garishly decorated Ford and still did that celebratory back flip even though the concrete was wet? Edwards is a reading, writing, sponsor-reciting daredevil.

No one does "feel good" better than Carl Edwards. (Will Schneekloth photo for Getty Images)
No one does “feel good” better than Carl Edwards. (Will Schneekloth photo for Getty Images)

God love Edwards. He was one more nut in a night of them.

The good news at Bristol was that the ending wasn’t contrived. It was merely inept, and in NASCAR, that passes for good news. With Edwards’ car running away, had officials wanted to manufacture a crazy ending, they would certainly have had a “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” explanation handy. The “bumped against the manual override” explanation was NASCAR’s third. No telling what really happened, but surely Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau was involved.

No harm, no foul. Lack of hilarity makes NASCAR a dull sport. Madcap antics are acceptable, even preferable, and besides, everyone was too tired to play it straight.

Somewhere, Eugene O’Neill weeps, but it played well to the segment of the public that watches other reality shows.

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What to Do with the Rain

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Clinton, S.C., Sunday, March 16, 2014, 12:36 p.m.

What in the name of Jerry Jeff Walker is it doing raining at Bristol Motor Speedway? Doesn’t Mother Nature know about the Vortex, that great modern example of mythology? God didn’t make the Garden of Eden, and it don’t rain in the Colosseum in the month of March.*

Jeff Gordon and others: hoping ... and praying ... and wishing ... (HHP/Christa L. Thomas for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon and others: hoping … and praying … and wishing … (HHP/Christa L. Thomas for Chevy Racing)

This is for sure, though. Walker, a great American and a personal icon of mine, turns 72 today, meaning not only that there’s hope for me but also that there’s going to be some good today, in Austin, Texas if nowhere else.

Fortunately, I’m not at Bristol. If I were, I might be holed up in the room, determined not to fight traffic before its time, or I might be wandering around in the media center, occasionally peeking outside just so I could say I’d been rained on. Or I might be in the press box, which avails the best view of racing and also raining.

The rain is really clear from the press box. Instead of, “Uh, oh, uh, oh, not gonna work!” it’s “good goddamighty, that rain is forevermore coming down!”

The way Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s been running ... waiting ain't cool, man. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevy Racing)
The way Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s been running … waiting ain’t cool, man. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevy Racing)

For most of the time I threw away writing about NASCAR, the rainy-day roles were Larry Woody reading a novel, Jim McLaurin working crossword puzzles, David Poole playing simulated golf and me either listening to music or pretending I was racing at Williams Grove through the miracle of a laptop similar to Poole’s that turned into Pebble Beach. We are all gone now, Poole, sadly, a bit farther. Woodrow is in Nashville, Jimmy Mac outside Columbia, me here in Clinton, and all of us with the ACC basketball pregame show likely on TV. Woodrow could be fishing. I could be playing guitar but am obviously not at the moment.

Rick Minter wouldn’t be at the track yet if he’d found either a yard sale or a flea market nearby.

Those days are over. Now everybody’s just on Twitter.

I’ve done my part to occupy the waterlogged. This is the third blog I’ve written today. (There’s another one, wellpilgrim.wordpress.com.) Now I’m going to play Jerry Jeff Walker songs on my guitar.

Good luck, and may God bless.

*In the original song, written by Bobby Russell, God didn’t make the little green apples, and it don’t rain in Indianapolis in the summertime, and while the absence of rain in Indy is just as specious as the Vortex, God did actually make the Garden of Eden, or so the Bible says.

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The Track It Used To Be

Kurt Busch (Martin Truex Jr. now drives for Furniture Row) leads a pack at Bristol last fall. (HHP/Brian Lawdermilk photo for Chevy Racing)
Kurt Busch (Martin Truex Jr. now drives for Furniture Row) leads a pack at Bristol last fall. (HHP/Brian Lawdermilk photo for Chevy Racing)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, S.C., Friday, March 14, 2014, 9:35 a.m.

This morning I noticed that Darrell Waltrip compared driving around Bristol Motor Speedway to riding a bucking bull, and my first thought was, I never knew D.W. rode bulls!

I mean, I knew he ran track. It could be, I guess. Who knew?

Well, I never rode a live bull, and the mechanical one wasn't for long.
Well, I never rode a live bull, and the mechanical one wasn’t for long.

I can’t really say. I never rode a bull, except that one time, when it was mechanical, and I was very drunk. I do remember the sensation of seeing the entire room roll around and realizing that it was I doing the rolling.

Oof! I think my wrist still has a knot on it.

That may have been the night I discovered Long Island Iced Tea may taste like the sweet tea at Bojangles’, but it has a kick to it. Like a bull. A Schlitz Malt Liquor Bull. Relax, sports fans. It was more than sixty percent of my life ago, and I never do anything like that now. Seldom, anyway.

Where were we? Bristol!

I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t really miss being at the races. It’s better than watching on TV, but home is better than traveling, packing, unpacking and being stuck in traffic.

I miss certain places. Bristol is one. I miss the people working at the track (some of whom, theoretically, could still be there; this is my third race away). I miss the local media. I miss sitting high above the third and fourth turns, staring down upon all the thunderous chicanery. I miss playing my guitar in the parking lot. I miss Ridgewood Barbecue, Cootie Brown’s, the Peerless, and the used book store up on the hill in Johnson City.

It’s probably fair to observe that I’ve been a bit defensive about the changes made to the track several times in recent years. I’ve scoffed at Old Bristol, New Bristol, and, I guess, Intermediate Bristol. It’s still Bristol! When people say, or, more likely, tweet, “Bristol sucks,” I think, even if it sucks, comparatively, it’s still better than most tracks.

It used to be, they had to run low. Nowadays, they have to run high. It looks a little more like a mini-Darlington. It’s still entertaining. It used to be, faster cars would basically pry slower ones off the bottom. Nowadays, the prying is at the top. It takes some getting used to.

As Jerry Jeff Walker sang, “Now there’s no man stranger to himself than the man he used to be.”

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