The Vagaries of History

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Tiny Lund, with whom few messed, with Leonard (right) and Glen Wood in Daytona's victory lane in 1963.
Tiny Lund, with whom few messed, with Leonard (right) and Glen Wood in Daytona’s victory lane in 1963.

Clinton, S.C., Wednesday, April 30, 2014, 12:24 p.m.

This morning I didn’t have electricity. If I had, I’d have written this sooner, but I spent the idle time paying bills and reading by the window light, and somewhere amid the subliminal and the wandering, I thought a few things through.

How many times have I heard one of the garage area’s great unwashed wring his hands at race drivers tearing up his handiwork over foolishness? “Look, they can climb out of their cars and beat each other up. What do I care? But don’t tear up the race cars.”

This is the “take it outside” method of NASCAR enforcement philosophy.

I’m not saying some punishment for Marcos Ambrose and Casey Mears wasn’t justified. I’m just saying punishment was in order for the drivers pushing and shoving with their race cars.

Marcos Ambrose is an Aussie, and Aussies are tough. (John Clark photo)
Marcos Ambrose is an Aussie, and Aussies are tough. (John Clark photo)

Secondly, why was Ambrose fined $25,000 and Mears $15,000? Because he won? Because Mears got a shiner? Without knowing the full story and the words that were said, it seemed as if Mears started it by shoving Ambrose, and Ambrose finished it with a right cross.

Then they needed a ring announcer and a manager with a tennis racquet.

I keep reading “this sets a dangerous precedent.” In fact, I keep reading it about Donald Sterling, Cliven Bundy, Barack Obama, and even the Supreme Court, where occasionally it means something.

There is no such term in NASCAR. Bobby Vee’s “Rubber Ball” should play before every race.

And like a rubber ball / I come bouncing back to you / Uh-ooh, ooh, ooh.

Bobby Vee (Robert Thomas Velline, of Fargo, North Dakota) is now 71. Today, in fact.

Not enough downforce. Too much downforce. Speed them up. Slow them down. Boys, have at it. Hey, watch your ass. Talk. Shut up. The media’s important. The media means nothing. TV, that’s what means something. Ratings are down, but, hey, interest is up. Tear down the stands. The stands are full. Theoretically. We make so much from TV, attendance doesn’t mean anything. Hey, if we jazzed up qualifying, you think that’d help?

Casey Mears. No more Mr. Nice Guy? (John Clark photo)
Casey Mears. No more Mr. Nice Guy? (John Clark photo)

Way back when NASCAR was formed, they made sure everyone knew this was “stock car racing” because they wanted fans to identify with the racers. The phrase became antiquated and ironic as the technology between cars on the track and cars on the highway diverged. Hardly anyone in NASCAR uses the phrase “stock car racing” anymore. It’s just NASCAR, or, in The New York Times, Nascar. What if they’d called it “tap dance racing”? What if, at the Streamline Hotel in 1947, they had formed the National Association of Tap Dance Auto Racing? NATDAR.

If they had done that, now The New York Times would call it Natdar.

Indy cars would be a lot bigger, that is, unless they had been named Hoosier cars, in which case a movie would be vastly different and, more importantly, Driven would likely never have been made.

The tap dancing, though, would seem more authentic. And the rubber balls.

Bouncy, bouncy / Bouncy, bouncy.

By the way, recently I read that the old Streamline is being renovated into “a boutique hotel.” The hotel and the governing body founded there are running neck and neck.

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It’s So Different, It’s the Same

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I love this photo I took one day on the farm.
I love this photo I took one day on the farm.

Clinton, S.C., Tuesday, April 29, 2014, 1:15 p.m.

Another month, the fourth, is about to end. I’m mildly saddened by its passing in that it was the one in which I was born, but that was a long time ago, and my birthday isn’t the wild celebration it once was.

Another year. Oh, great. I’ve reached the point where, when I go see a doctor, if everything looks fine, he looks some more.

Buh-boom-chuh!

It’s funny how life has changed since I stopped going to NASCAR tracks.

The days are different. The segments are one at a time. It’s not that they weren’t all the same when I lived out of my suitcase. Tuesdays were always my recovery days. I usually arrived home sometime on Monday, mostly afternoons when I was driving and nights when I was flying. On Tuesdays I felt tired and, quite often, sore. I don’t know whether everyone is like this or just me, but I seldom felt overtly tired. My legs told me. They got restless, sitting in a car or a plane, or lying in bed. The rest of my body could handle denial; not my legs.

Nowadays, my legs are seldom tired, and if they are, it’s for a damn good reason.

It was a routine. Then it was the same every week. Now it’s the same every day. Then it was get home Monday, rest Tuesday, do the routine chores (bills, clothes, grass) on Wednesday, travel on Thursday, spend Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at the track, travel on Mondays, and then another lap on the same merry-go-round. There were small adjustments to accommodate races on Saturday nights and nightmares for the two on Sunday nights.

Every now and then, I go down to the banks of the pond to play my guitar.
Every now and then, I go down to the banks of the pond to play my guitar.

Now I get up in the morning, take some meds, fix some breakfast, fire up the laptop, and away I go. At night I usually read books and watch TV, often at the same time. If the Boston Red Sox are playing, I watch them.

At this moment, I haven’t left the county in three weeks. I traveled lots more when I was twelve and my father sold fertilizer.

I’m thinking about playing a few songs in Columbia on Thursday night. I’m way overdue for a trip to the movies with my niece’s kids. In a couple weeks, I’m going on a long trip involving my music and my fiction. I’m hoping to wander a bit, take my time, see some sights, experience things I can describe either in song or story.

It will be nice to break free from the pattern. It was nice to do that when the pattern was different.

I sleep, read, write and play my guitar more. I make less money, and that, really, is the rub. I’m trying to make my own living because I don’t have any choice. As ways to go broke go, this is a pretty good one. It’s like the doctor telling you, “You’ve had a stroke, but if you’re going to have a stroke, this is the one to have.”

Well, you know, one out of two ...
Well, you know, one out of two …

But I haven’t had a stroke. I just don’t have a job, and it has become patently obvious that I’m not going to get one, at least not one for which I am prepared and established.

So I write. And I contact people, hoping they will find something in that writing that leads them to make me more prosperous because they think that writing will do the same for them.

I’m a natural as a writer, but nothing seems natural about being an entrepreneur except standing in front of a crowd with a book or a guitar and entertaining them. I think I’ve gotten reasonably good at that part of it. People enjoy me once they get there. What’s difficult is getting them there.

Somewhere, someone is thinking, Ah, he should’ve majored in business, or asking, Why didn’t he go to law school?

Because I suck at business. I’m too hardheaded to be a lawyer.

I’m doing exactly what I should be doing. I just didn’t bargain on it going out of style.

P.S.

Don’t worry. I’ll be fine. But, if you really must worry, I think buying one or more of my books would be therapeutic. That’s the effect writing them has on me.

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The Gravy’s Great, But It Gets Too Much Attention

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Two, two, two drivers with two. Joey Logano picked up his second victory. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Two, two, two drivers with two. Joey Logano picked up his second victory. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Clinton, S.C., Sunday, April 27, 2014, 9:25 a.m.

Baseball players refer to the big leagues as “the show.” Old men look back warmly to “having a cup of coffee in the bigs,” which means they made it but not for very long.

When I was a kid, “going to the show” meant going to the movies, quite often on Saturday afternoons with bike racks out front full.

What exactly is “the show” in NASCAR now?

Second place: so close but yet so far for Jeff Gordon. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet)
Second place: so close but yet so far for Jeff Gordon. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet)

Is it a feverish battle between four equally matched cars and drivers as the final laps wind down at Richmond International Raceway? Or is it the foolishness that occurs afterwards? Is it a pass for the lead or a hop on the hood? Is it “bump and run” or “shove and punch”? Is it “wow, just wow” or “ooh, ooh, ooh, Brad’s mad”?

I just checked Youtube: “Marcos Ambrose Punches Casey Mears” has 43,369 views; “Joey Logano Wins in Chaotic Finish” has 4,439. My God. “Dale Earnhardt Jr. Comments …” has 627.

“Michael Waltrip’s Grid Walk at Richmond” has 38, so there is some justice.

This isn’t my first expression of concern about this gossipy world into which we are descending. Has the actual sporting event become secondary, or even tertiary, behind “who hit whom?” and “how’s this affect the [absurdly distant] Chase?”

It’s lonely out here among the few, the proud, those of us who tune in because we’d sort of like to see a stock car race.

Right now, it doesn’t matter to me that Logano “cemented” his place in the Chase. Previously, it was just a cedar post packed with mud. I don’t care who’s in, who’s out, who’s desperate, who’s relaxed, who’s anything about the godforsaken Chase. It will arrive soon enough, and that is nearly five months away. I’ll start thinking about Talladega about Wednesday. At the moment, I’m still ecstatic about what I perceived to be yet another high-quality race. I didn’t have that perception as much the past few years.

I’m trading in my nostalgia and sort of enjoying what’s going on now.

I was amused at the post-race tantrums, but I was exhilarated by the race, and I’ll take exhilaration over amusement most of the time.

How good was that race? Kyle Busch called it “crazy.” Kyle Busch knows crazy. He also called it “insane.” It’s a little more hazardous tiptoeing out there.

Brad Keselowski couldn't squeeze his Ford past Matt Kenseth's Toyota ... but teammate Logano could. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Brad Keselowski couldn’t squeeze his Ford past Matt Kenseth’s Toyota … but teammate Logano could. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

I’m calling it exciting. I’m admiring Matt Kenseth for fighting the good fight and doing what he thought he had to do to win. I’m no less pleased that Brad Keselowski and Jeff Gordon didn’t much care for Kenseth’s tactics. I loved watching Logano take advantage of all that rapacity by displaying his own at the opportune moment.

Ambrose popping Mears? Aw, that’s just gravy.

 

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Who Knew?

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. pits at Richmond last fall. (Christa L. Thomas photo for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. pits at Richmond last fall. (Christa L. Thomas photo for Chevy Racing)

Clinton, S.C., Friday, April 25, 2014, 10:15 a.m.

One opportunity the NASCAR schedule seldom affords is simply “to take a breath.”

It’s not easy to pause and consider. Most often the talk turns to speculation when NASCAR takes a siesta. Changing the schedule, for instance. To my knowledge, no one has suggested the schedule is going to be radically altered, though given the apparent futility of current changes to move the attendance/ratings needle, it wouldn’t be a shock.

Already the Lords of Daytona have very nearly made points – points! – irrelevant. The championship is going to be decided by an engine-driven game of Jeopardy. I’m not sure whether the host should be Art Fleming, Alex Trebek or Jon Gruden.

Occasionally, it reminds me of Alice in Wonderland. Or Monty Python’s Life of Brian. I can’t remember whether I’m in the Judean People’s Front or the People’s Front of Judea. (How’s that for obscure?)

Chase Elliott is taking off like a house afire. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Chase Elliott is taking off like a house afire. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Who knew?

… That somewhere, right now, in Richmond, Kyle Busch is thinking, in regard to the Nationwide Series, Chase Elliott must be stopped!

… That, in spite of seven different winners in eight races and a general perception that the quality of racing has gotten better, NASCAR officials seem intent on making even more changes. Following the current trend, perhaps in two years, there will be a rule stipulating that each car must be set on fire sometime during the race.

Why the frown? Kevin Harvick is the only 2-time winner. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)
Why the frown? Kevin Harvick is the only 2-time winner. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)

… In some ways, this seems like a sport run by men and women intent on justifying their salaries. The cars are faster. Slow them down. The tires are softer. Harden them. The ratings still sag. For God’s sake, do something! Anything!

… Not everything can be fixed quickly. To a considerable segment of onetime fans, NASCAR just went out of style. The NBA was struggling before Magic Johnson and Larry Bird came along. Its leaders had enough sense not to raise the baskets. A sport does not get the luxury of multiple reinventions. At some point – in NASCAR’s case, some time back now – fans get confused, and if the changes keep coming, stay that way.

… I must have heard this at least a dozen times while driving around listening to the radio: “The fans can’t tell the difference between 195 mph and 180.” True. Drivers can, though. Faster cars are harder to drive. The best drivers should win at the Sprint Cup level. Nationwide racing is slower. It is a developmental series.

… There better not be any pine tar smeared on the front fascia of Jimmie Johnson’s car. A little around the edge of the grille, okay. But don’t flaunt it. Baseball has never looked more like NASCAR than this week.

If you get a chance, look up my novels at www.neverlandpublishing.com. There’s not much about racing in them, but lots of racing fans seem to like them. They’re available at amazon.com, bn.com and at several independent bookstores in the Carolinas. Send me a check (see “merchandise” above), and I’ll ship signed copies.

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The Distance Ain’t Half Bad

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Getty Images for NASCAR.
Getty Images for NASCAR.

Clinton, S.C., Tuesday, April 22, 2014, 1:04 p.m.

Things around here have been stable. A friend called this morning to check on me, noting that I haven’t been blogging much. I have. Just not here.

Sometimes I relate to the exchange between Boon and Katy in Animal House:

Boon: “It’s a fraternity party. I’m in the fraternity. How can I miss it?”

Katy: “I’ll write you a note. I’ll say you’re too well to attend.”

NASCAR had an off week for officials to plot further ways to get people interested. They’ve got seven winners in eight races. Even the sport’s great detractors, the ones who claim they’ll never watch another race but bitch and moan about every single one, must concede that it’s gotten a little better.

Hi. How you doing? I'm pretending things are great in this photo. It's what people do when they pose.
Hi. How you doing? I’m pretending things are great in this photo. It’s what people do when they pose.

I am mindful that some will respond to the lead paragraph by thinking that, to paraphrase the Three Stooges or quote Groucho Marx, “I resemble that remark.” If being a detractor means regularly addressing issues I don’t like, I’m guilty.

I love NASCAR but not everything about it. I love baseball but not the designated hitter. I love basketball but wish they’d call traveling more often. I love country music but not most of it on the radio.

Somehow, as time passes, embattled NASCAR tends more and more to require loyalty oaths for its good graces. If one is not for NASCAR, it is against it. The sport uses words like “licensed” to mean “we will raise never-ending hell if you don’t report everything just so.” NASCAR wants the media to accept bygones as bygones and join the ranks of “the stakeholders.”

The racing has never been better in the Land of Oz. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
The racing has never been better in the Land of Oz. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

It is not enough to report. The social-media-stained wretches find their lives much easier if, instead, they promote. Some do it effortlessly and with great aplomb. Some never go around mirrors.

In the past month, three times old colleagues of mine have dropped by here or nearby for long, leisurely lunches in which we talked about how NASCAR used to be and how it is now. Each is still out on the circuit in some form while necessity has dictated that I watch from afar. Each has confirmed what I suspected from reading between their lines.

It’s not much fun anymore. Journalism is the Great Shrinking Profession, and those who still have jobs are damn determined to keep them. Most of the firebrands are gone. Survivors, by definition, linger. There are no martyrs to the cause. There is no cause. There is only self-preservation.

Since January 4, 2013, a day that will live in personal infamy, I have spoken to one NASCAR driver. He called to ask how I was doing, and I was so appreciative that I lied. It was almost a year ago.

I’m fond of a relatively obscure novelist named Wallace Stegner, most noted for the novel Angle of Repose. My favorite fiction of his is The Big Rock Candy Mountain. He also wrote Remembering Laughter and Crossing to Safety.

Incredibly, none of them even had race cars in them, and there were precious few automobiles of any sort. Stegner died in 1993, the year I started writing about NASCAR, so he wasn’t there to warn me when NASCAR started shredding all the documents.

I’ve been blogging as much as ever, but lately more of them have been at wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, where I’ve been cranking out serial short stories and the like. I started the other blog because I wanted to differentiate it from this one. If you’d like to sample my observations on “other things,” give it a look.

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The Track That Matters

Kevin Harvick (4), en route to victory at Darlington, passes Kasey Kahne. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas photo for Chevrolet)
Kevin Harvick (4), en route to victory at Darlington, passes Kasey Kahne. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas photo for Chevrolet)

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Clinton, S.C., Sunday, April 13, 2014, 9:08 a.m.

I can’t judge a NASCAR race at Darlington Raceway. I love it too much. It dissolves me in emotion. Memories flood back of Cotton Owens, Dale Earnhardt, Neil Bonnett and Tim Richmond, all men I saw win there (Owens as an owner) and all of whom have passed away since.

On Saturday night, Kevin Harvick tamed the track too tough to. He led 238 of the 374 laps. Harvick and his Stewart-Haas team earned $328,708 for 367 of them, and thanks to a woolly overtime, the final seven were free.

Darlington is the only track where one driver dominating numbs my interest not the least. At home, it perturbs me when the cameras ignore what I want to see, or move away from what I’m enjoying, but Fox did a decent job of finding the action, probably because it’s what covering Darlington demands. Besides, if I really want to watch it my own way, I ought to get my ass down there.

I’ve decided I’m not going back to “the track,” which is to mean “tracks in general,” without a better reason than that. I expect my next live attendance will be at some place like Greenville-Pickens (asphalt) or Laurens (dirt).

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (88) came within a lap of winning for the first time at Darlington. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (88) came within a lap of winning for the first time at Darlington. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)

It hurts a little – just a little, mind you – where Darlington is concerned.

At most tracks, with Harvick scattering edible dust in his wake, I would have started reading a book, or playing my guitar, or checking on a ballgame. Darlington held my interest. I was only distracted by that video game, “Need to Tweet.”

For those among you who cannot grasp the majesty of Darlington, there’s nothing I can do. If you don’t see the subtleties, you probably never will.

Winning most races is impressive. Winning Darlington is majestic. Watching Darlington is metaphysical.

To me. I didn’t learn independently. My daddy taught me, prying open messy boiled peanuts and swilling beer on the back straight. He’s gone 20 years, the back straight is the front straight, the one on the left is in the middle, and “the guy in the rear … is a Methodist.”

Bojangles and Budweiser ... what a smooth combination for Kevin Harvick. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas photo for Chevrolet)
Bojangles and Budweiser … what a smooth combination for Kevin Harvick. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas photo for Chevrolet)

Against all odds, I had a hunch, the kind I normally only got when I was at tracks, that Harvick was going to win. Sure, he started on the pole, but no one had won at Darlington from the pole since 1997. Harvick himself had never won a Sprint Cup race there. I’ve always thought there are two sides to statistics. On the one hand, a bountiful record is an indicator of prowess. Sometimes a fruitless record is an indicator of lack thereof. In Harvick’s case, though, I felt he had always had what it takes to win at the oldest and weirdest superspeedway.

He was due. That’s what I was thinking when Phil Kornblut asked me on South Carolina SportsTalk Friday night. I don’t consider myself much of a prognosticator. In fact, I don’t think the average writer is any better at picking winners than the Cub Scout leader sitting with Pack 3497 on the back straight.

No, Freddie, we’ll have sandwiches at the halfway point. Just stay hydrated. You’ll be fine. Who’s gonna win? Oh … Harvick. Brandon! Don’t make me come down there. Behave!

Earlier this year, the one week I got the pick right, Phil ran out of time before he asked me, or, more likely, I used up the time with my big mouth.

I don’t know if the pavement is aging or the cars are better – I suspect it’s some mingling of both, though I don’t know if the recipe has two cups of old and one of new, or vice-versa – but the racing roused me. I watched it with ardor and confined my departures to commercials and caution flags.

Again, though, I can’t judge. Darlington is Mecca to me, or, since I’m not Muslim, Mecca is Darlington. Skip the religion. Darlington is a mecca, not Mecca. It’s secular, but there’s a little spirituality. When I think the word – Darlington! – it sends chills down my spine and sometimes my eyes moisten. It’s similar in my psyche to Fenway Park, Ryman Auditorium, the Jefferson Memorial and my alma maters, Clinton High School and Furman University.

In my mind, Kevin Harvick finally arrived. Cue the fight song.

Take my books … please. The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope are available elsewhere on this site, at amazon.com, bn.com and independent bookstores such as Fiction Addiction in Greenville and others too numerous to mention. Here in town, you can pick up a signed copy at L&L Office Supply.

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A Diamond Off the Old Block

Casey Elliott during one of the stopping points en route to his Darlington victory. (NASCAR photo via Getty Images)
Chase Elliott during one of the stopping points en route to his Darlington victory. (NASCAR photo via Getty Images)

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Clinton, S.C., Saturday, April 12, 2014, 10:24 a.m.

I started attending races at Darlington Raceway in 1970 – and stopped in 2013 – but the first time I wrote about one was the CRC Chemicals Rebel 500 in 1981. Darrell Waltrip won it, and a young driver, Bill Elliott, started on the pole.

What I most remember about that race was the realization that the only driver I’d ever seen who reminded me of David Pearson at Darlington was Elliott, who would not win a Winston Cup race anywhere until two and a half years later. He wound up winning five times at the track.

That spring afternoon made me an Elliott fan. The first time I saw Elliott win, as in, being there, was at Charlotte in 1984.

I’m sure when I wrote that I’d covered a race in 1981, several writers who are covering NASCAR now thought, Gee, I wasn’t even born then.

That’s okay. The next generation has fully arrived. Bill isn’t racing, I’m not going to the track to write about it, and Chase Elliott has won consecutive Nationwide Series races.

On this morning, I’m more cognizant than normal of the concept of age.

VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200
The start of Friday night’s Nationwide Series race at Darlington Raceway. (NASCAR photo via Getty Images)

Chase Elliott, 18, still has to do homework. I’d claim he has to recite poetry or diagram sentences, but I’m not sure they do that anymore.

I’m old. I adapt to new technology at precisely the moment when everyone else already has.

"NAPA knowhow, NAPA knowhow ..." (NASCAR photo via Getty Images)
“NAPA knowhow, NAPA knowhow …” (NASCAR photo via Getty Images)

I have never met Chase Elliott and possibly never will. I can tell, though, that he is no clone of his father. Chase is the beneficiary of the preparation that all racers receive in NASCAR’s modern, corporate age. When Bill came along, racers were alarmingly what they were.

Bill was moody. He had an icy stare, and when his ass was on his shoulders, he would have considered a query on Einstein’s Theory of Relativity ignorant. (Not that I would ever ask such a question, or that he would’ve been wrong if I had.) On the other hand, when in a cheery mood, Bill would walk up and shoot the bull a while. Most everything is in between now. No one bites heads off, but it’s hard to prove because they seldom have conversations with media types who are rumored to make less than $100,000 a year.

Perhaps the last driver who gets pissed off and lets people see it is Tony Stewart. Dale Earnhardt was excessively guilty of honesty, too. Those two made the job … interesting. Earnhardt distributed his mood, regardless of the situation. Most of the brats of today just blow up when they lose their tempers, which happens when they lose. They’re all jolly good fellows when they get their ways.

A world of difference in personality spans Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr. So, too, I suspect, is there a difference between Elliott Original Recipe and Elliott Extra Crispy. One obvious reason is that sons benefit from the experience of fathers, and they have advantages their dads didn’t. No one’s ever looked down their noses at them. Racing has become a respectable profession, which often happens when populated with the affluent.

The trick is to capitalize on the expertise and advantages of the world-famous daddy without succumbing to the wretched excess of opulence.

By George (Bill’s late father), I think Chase Elliott’s got it.

If you’d like to read my more literary offerings, give wellpilgrim.wordpress.com a look every now and then.

The Track Too Tough To Cover

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These stately grandstands weren't at Darlington when I was growing up. It was then the back straight, and I sat in its rickety predecessors.
These stately grandstands weren’t at Darlington when I was growing up. It was then the back straight, and I sat in its rickety predecessors.

Clinton, S.C., Thursday, April 10, 2014, 5:33 p.m.

Darlington Raceway is my favorite track. This is only in part because it is great, though it undeniably is. It has to do with it being the place where my daddy took me over and over, and with being a South Carolinian because my native state is, like Darlington, rife with contradiction.

Whoever heard of a race track that was shaped like an egg?

Comparatively speaking, other tracks have straightaways. Darlington has sidewalks. The asphalt is theoretically wide, but very little of it is usable. Little of its water is potable, so to speak. The groove is little more than, well, the track.

Darlington is the only track that always gives me something to watch, which makes watching it on TV awful because I only see what TV chooses to show me, and, respectfully, that is most often not what I want to see.

This was Darlington's "board" ... in 1956.
This was Darlington’s “board” … in 1956.

Darlington is complex and hard to understand in an age when most fans don’t care to pay attention, so busy are they with their portable devices.

Yet I don’t want to go there anymore. It’s not much more than a two-hour drive from my house. Even though I love it more than any other track, the last couple years I covered its races, I commuted back and forth. Why? Because, as a writer, Darlington is one 1.366-mile pain in the ass. It is The Track Too Tough To Cover.

The last thing anyone in NASCAR wants to encourage is the watching of its races from the press box, probably because those who watch from the press box might see things that aren’t on TV. Darlington features a unique press box that offers a breathtaking view of the wrong side of the track. Pit road and the start-finish line cannot be seen from the press box.

That might be a '73 Mercury David Pearson is driving, but Carl Edwards still can't pass him. This photo was taken in 2008.
That might be a ’73 Mercury David Pearson is driving, but Carl Edwards still can’t pass him. This photo was taken in 2008.

The front and back straights were flip-flopped in 1997, but no more convenient press box has ever been constructed. Not too long ago, it was a fairly simple matter to hike over from the opposite side and cross the track, but then they closed that gate and built a new tunnel, only they didn’t allow anyone to drive through it, which, in turn, meant one could spend a half hour trying to snake through the mass of infield humanity in a car, or walk around the entire outside of the track – infield media center, inside of turn one, to press box, outside of three – and thus expend valuable time either way.

Which I still did, because I’m that much of a press-box stickler and I love Darlington so much.

Now that I don’t write about racing for a living, life is too short for that.

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It Stands On Its Merits

Tony Stewart, who won the pole in Texas, hasn't won yet. In 2000, he won none of the first 10 races but three of the next 16. (HHP/Tim Parks photo for Chevrolet)
Tony Stewart, who won the pole in Texas, hasn’t won yet. In 2000, he won none of the first 10 races but three of the next 16. (HHP/Tim Parks photo for Chevrolet)

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Clinton, S.C., Tuesday, April 8, 2014, 10:45 a.m.

The NASCAR season to date has been spectacular in that something memorable has happened in each of the seven Sprint Cup races. A different driver has won each. Some of the excitement has been contrived, but, after all this is NASCAR.

The season has been dominated by weather. Only Mother Nature has won more than once.

Joey Logano, come on down! (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Joey Logano, come on down! (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

The simple majesty of the season is, however, insufficient. Good isn’t enough. Neither is “as is.” NASCAR officials, and many without formal affiliation, must persist with delusions of grandeur.

What if a different driver continues to win every week? The obvious answer is that, if so, by season’s end, Danica Patrick will have won. Hang in there, Parker Kligerman. Your time is nigh.

In 2000, different drivers won the first 10 races. They were, in order, Dale Jarrett, Bobby Labonte, Jeff Burton, Dale Earnhardt, Ward Burton, Rusty Wallace, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon and Jeremy Mayfield. The first two-time winner was … Earnhardt Jr., who won for the second time in his career at Richmond after getting his first at Texas.

To fill the Chase with winners, after 26 races this year, 16 different drivers will have to win, and one of them would have to be the point leader. If the point leader is winless – Nos. 1 and 2 are now – then it would take 15 winners.

There are already seven winners. On the surface, one would think, well, it only takes eight or nine more. This is as unsustainable as deficit spending, in fact, less so, because deficit spending has been going on for decades, both in our government and our personal finances. If you really are morally opposed to deficit spending, don’t buy a house.

Back to 2000, when 10 different drivers won the first 10 races. By the time the 26th race had rolled around, Wallace had four victories, and Bobby Labonte, Jeff Burton, Gordon and Tony Stewart had all won three.

Stewart hadn’t won any of the first 10 races. Two-time winners were Earnhardt Jr. and Mayfield. Single winners were Jarrett, Earnhardt Sr., Ward Burton, Martin, Matt Kenseth and Steve Park. The total winners after 26 races – it was in New Hampshire – were 13.

It’s not happening. If it does, something is fishy. Period. Define “fishy”? A teammate with a victory allows one without to win, or he doesn’t try quite as hard to catch him. That may not happen, and we may not know it if it does. Bonus points for winning have value, but, then again, so does being in the Chase, and the value is in money, not points. Points are just potential money, not cash on the barrelhead. Until the Chase, points are play money, or at the very most, Bargain Bucks.

Funny. Jimmie Johnson doesn't look like a 300-pound gorilla. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)
Funny. Jimmie Johnson doesn’t look like a 300-pound gorilla. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)

And who keeps cash on a barrelhead? Besides the Louvin Brothers, neither of whom is alive?

It’s newsworthy that there have been seven different winners in the first seven races, the most since 2003 (nine). It’s a coincidence, though. It isn’t surprising that Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch and Joey Logano have won. It is surprising that Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth haven’t. I’ll hazard a prediction. By regular season’s end, Johnson and Kenseth will have victories and likely more than one. I’d put multiple-victory money on Kyle Busch and Keselowski, too.

It wasn’t too long ago that some fans thought Earnhardt Jr. would finish first or second in every race.

It’s all been great. Can’t we just appreciate what’s happened so far for what it is?

The best depiction of this festival of optimism is a quote from Robert Kennedy, who said, “There are those who look at things the way they are and ask why? … I dream of things that never were and ask why not?”

It’s a nice thought, but this is NASCAR, not Camelot, and it was written by George Bernard Shaw, not Kennedy (who credited him at the time, which is something NASCAR would never do).

If you’re interested in a broader range of my writings – oh, short fiction and the like – take a look at wellpilgrim.wordpress.com from time to time.

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Who’ll Stop the Rain?

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

The Elliotts and the Earnhardts didn't always fraternize in victory lanes. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
The Elliotts and the Earnhardts didn’t always fraternize in victory lanes. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clinton, S.C., Sunday, April 6, 2014, 9:45 a.m.

It’s raining in Texas. It’s cloudy here and is supposed to rain tomorrow.

That’s the news, sports fans.

Texas Motor Speedway has lights, which could make this yet another long day’s journey into night. There may be a race on Monday. Some of you will know by the time you read this.

I can’t think of a poetic device to prevent this. A few I’ve had to look up, like onomatopoeia.

What must sustain us – as for me, personally, I may get some seat time with my lawn tractor – is the memory of Friday night, when what few people who realized the race wasn’t on Saturday saw a great race that was also a great story. The son of a man who was one of the more popular drivers in history claimed a stirring victory in the Nationwide race.

It wasn’t Dale Earnhardt Jr.

This photo of Bill Elliott was from 2012. Who's the kid? (John Clark photo)
This photo of Bill Elliott was from 2012. Who’s the kid? (John Clark photo)

Chase Elliott at 18 did an awesome imitation – “awesome” is an overused word, but, really, what other could I use? – of Bill at 28. Rich Little was envious.

NASCAR officials often perplex me, but more so now that I am away from the grind and relying on dull, emotionless transcripts bereft of facial expressions. I also never have transcripts sidle up alongside to ask in a half-whisper, “You heard what they done to [so-and-so]?”

After I never say “no,” the source never begins every single time with, “Well, what I heard tell is …”

Sitting at home means playing it straight. B-O-R-I-N-G.

I don’t understand the winds of change brewing out in Texas along with the thunderstorms.

The racing has been lovely. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
The racing has been lovely. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

NASCAR officials made changes in the offseason that make Obamacare seem like a test of the Emergency Broadcast System.

None of the six races has met expectations. All six have exceeded them. NASCAR needs 16 winners to fill a Chase, and it’s already got six. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Daytona 500. Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth haven’t won yet. Both Busch brothers have.

Please don’t confuse me with someone who likes the new Chase. I’d rather they bring in bells, whistles and Pat Sajak and just make it a real game show. But … from what NASCAR, Mark Goodson, and Bill Todman would have expected, it’s a regular The Price Is Right.

Apparently, NASCAR officials want to slow the cars down. Why? Oh, the leakage is all about manufacturers wanting six-cylinder engines, the “green initiative” (as everyone knows, NASCAR no longer puts up with any sort of emissions), concussion studies, “cost controls,” and how, ad infinitum, “you can’t tell the difference between 195 and 180 miles an hour.”

Who’s “you”? Fans? Okay. Drivers? They can tell the difference. They have to be better to go faster.

NASCAR officials have apparently improved the racing. While acknowledging the truth of this assertion, they think they can still make it better.

Cost controls? The reason they can’t possibly work is that NASCAR keeps changing everything before anyone saves any money.

Hey, it’s raining in Texas. My novels may not be the very best, but they are definitely better than rain-delay TV. You can download The Intangibles and/or The Audacity of Dope for your electronic device at amazon.com.

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